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#1 Offline Reference Keeper Team

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Posted Jun 22 2011 - 11:13 PM

  

[color=#3A6378;]Bionicle Online Serials[/color]

 
 

Welcome to the Bionicle Serials division of BZPower's Reference Center. In this section you will find all of the serials found on BIONICLEstory.com conveniently placed in this one topic. You'll even find the podcasts in text form for those who are not fortunate enough to be able to download the audio versions off of BIONICLEstory.com. Many thanks to BionicleFanNuva for giving us the idea for this part of the Bionicle Reference Center, and Dual Matrix for helping to reformat these pages for the new forum.

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#2 Offline Reference Keeper Team

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Posted Jun 22 2011 - 11:58 PM

 

[color=#3A6378;]1: Toa Nuva Blog[/color]

[color=#840000;]Back to top [/color]

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 1[/color]

Since we have no Chronicler accompanying us on this, our most vital mission, I am taking the time to record events for posterity. Tahu thinks this is a foolish waste of time, and I am sure Kopaka agrees with him (so rare to see those two agreeing!). But Onua understands, so does Pohatu. Maybe its because fire and ice are both elements that are here one moment, gone the next, and rock and earth last on but Pohatu and Onua seem to have more respect for history.After our rescue by the Matoran resistance on Voya Nui, I thought we would surely join the Toa Inika in seeking the Mask of Life. But Axonn and Botar took us aside and told us that the time had come to prepare the universe for the awakening of Mata Nui. If the Inika succeeded in their mission, and save the Great Spirits life, the time will be ripe for us to fulfill our mission - to awaken Mata Nui and restore light to the universe.To do that, we had to first return to Metru Nui, at least according to Axonn. The Great Temple, he said, hid information on what we had to do to make ready for Mata Nuis return. We had to find that information and carry out whatever tasks are required, and get it done before it is our time to act. We could not tell anyone, not even the Inika what we were going to do - for if the Brotherhood of Makuta were to find out, they would surely try to destroy us. (I am surprised they have not done that already)At last, after so long and so many battles, we have begun the mission we exist to do. If we succeed, we will have helped save a universe from evil. If we fail well, it may be that not even the Great Beings can save us if we fail. 

[color=#3a6378;]Chapter 2[/color]

Even as I pause to write down my memories of recent events, I find it hard to believe we Toa Nuva have done what we have done.The information we found in the Great Temple of Metru Nui was in the form of a list. Each item on it was an action we were supposed to take to prepare the universe for the return of the Great Spirit. But the first item on that list was to free the monstrous Bahrag and unleash the Bohrok swarms on the island of Mata Nui!Although some of us doubted the wisdom of this - Pohatu especially - in the end, we did what seemed we had to do. Even now, I imagine the swarms are descending on the island above, burning, wrecking, and destroying. I do not know how this can be a good thing, or part of the Great Spirits plan.Our next task demanded that we retrieve an ancient artifact, the Staff of Artakha, from its hiding place in the Metru Nui Archives. But when we traveled there, it was not to be found. Onua recalls Turaga Whenua saying that the staff was stolen long ago by the band of thieves and killers called the Dark Hunters.It took us only a few seconds to decide out next course of action. We must seek out the Dark Hunters base and retrieve the Staff, even if we must battle each and every one of them to do it.   

[color=#3a6378;]Chapter 3[/color]

It should be understood that it goes against a Toas nature to sneak. Toa, by tradition, operate in broad daylight, so that the Matoran we protect can see us defending them and trust in us. So it was a little uncomfortable for some of us to be sneaking onto the shoreline of the island of Odina.Not that we had much choice. Odina is the home base of the Dark Hunters, heavily defended and notoriously difficult to invade. Even six Toa Nuva could not count on victory on these shores.We had approached from the north, intending to go over the mountains and attack the fortress by surprise. There were fewer guards in this region, since the natural barriers made it difficult to pass. A formidable blue and white Dark Hunter that Tahu recognized as Minion was the only sentry visible. Before we could decide how best to handle this, Kopaka Nuva had flash frozen him in mid-step.Now were on a deadline, joked Onua. We have to finish our mission before the spring thaw.Pohatu lead the way as we climbed into the mountains. None of us spoke. Our minds were on the job up ahead - invading a fortress filled with enemies to retrieve the Staff of Artakha.Lewa climbed up a rock, leapt off and used his Mask of Levitation to hover in the air and scout. I was about to warn him about being spotted when an energy web dropped from the sky and entangled him. It was rapidly followed by a stream of acid that just barely missed the falling Toa.I glanced up. A winged creature was swooping down toward us, more energy webs already flying from his chest-mounted launcher. Tahu threw a shield around us and the web bounced off. Kopaka iced the creatures wings and Onua threw his Mask of Strength behind a blow that knocked him out.Two down, smiled Lewa. And only 200 to go!Nobody laughed.      

[color=#3a6378;]Chapter 4[/color]

Approaching the fortress of the Dark Hunters on Odina is much like sticking ones face into a nest of fireflyers hungry fireflyers ANGRY, hungry fireflyers.Although my fellow Toa Nuva and I had chosen the least guarded approach to the fortress, we still had to deal with our share of sentries and wandering Dark Hunters. The trick was to knock them out before they could raise an alarm - something that is much easier to do when you have Lewa along. A Toa of Air can create a quick vacuum around an enemy, and with no air, the sound of his shouts cant travel.After making our way as quickly as we dared to the fortress, we stood at the rear stone wall. Pohatu made a stone hand emerge from the blocks to grab the lone guard and squeeze him into unconsciousness. Then another use of his power opened a way for us to get inside.The inside of the fortress was a maze. Worse, we had no real idea where the Staff of Artakha might be hidden. We might be searching for days. I whispered this to Tahu and he shook his head.The staff is valuable, he said quietly. The Dark Hunters will keep it with their treasures, which means not far from the Shadowed Ones throne. We find him, we find the staff.And find me you have, a harsh voice said. It came from all around us, but there was no one else present. Did you really think you could enter my fortress without my knowledge? Did you really think you could make it this far unless I wanted you here?All around us, the corridor walls began to shift. Before we could react, we were sealed off in a stone prison.Of course, I know six Toa Nuva could break out of this trap easily, said the voice, which we all now realized must belong to the Shadowed One, leader of the Dark Hunters. But I am hoping you will take the time to listen I have an offer to make, and a secret to share.      

[color=#3a6378;]Chapter 5[/color]

If a Chronicler told me this story, I would never believe it.The Shadowed One's story amounted to this; he had possessed he item we sought, the Staff of Artakha, but he had given it to the residents of the island of Xia, as payment for a supply of weapons. He was willing to set us free and tell us where to most likely find the Staff, if we did a service for him. It seemed Roodaka, one of Xia's "leading citizens," had been selling the Dark Hunter's information - and doing the same for their enemies, the Brotherhood of Makuta. The Shadowed One wanted her eliminated.To my surprise, Tahu agreed. It was only later he told me that he had other plans for Roodaka, plans that involved sending Lewa Nuva back to Metru Nui. Meanwhile, the rest of us headed to Xia. (Pohatu, of course, had to leave a little gift behind for the Dark Hunters. He told me later that within an hour after we left, every stone in the Shadowed One's fortress was going to suddenly crumble to dust.)I had never been there before, but I had heard the island was an industrialized nightmare. As it turned out, the accent was on the "nightmare" part - a massive beast called the Tahtorak was was rampaging through the place, and an even nastier Rahi matching the description of the Kanohi Dragon was battling him. Buildings were collapsing, factories burning, even their famed mountain had chunks torn out of it. It was utter chaos.Tahu sent Onua tunneling into the island to find the Staff in its underground hiding place. The rest of us did what we could to rescue the natives and get them out of the way of the beast battle. It was Kopaka who had the "good fortune" to find himself saving Roodaka."Toa," she spat, as if hating the taste of the word. "I don't need your help!""Perhaps not," Kopaka replied, with an icy smile. "But we are going to get yours."      

[color=#3a6378;]Chapter 6[/color]

As it turned out, Lewa Nuva did not have to go all the way back to Metru Nui to find who Tahu had sent them to find. The six Rahaga had heard about the events on Xia and, amazingly enough, were on their way to help the Vortixx. (I hope someday to be as generous as they are).Now, for the first time in over 1000 years, they were face to face with Roodaka, the being who had transformed them from Toa into their current bestial forms."Your island is being destroyed by the Tahtorak and the Kanohi Dragon," Kopaka said to her. "And the Dark Hunters want you dead - odds are the Brotherhood of Makuta does too, or soon will. Help us and maybe we can help you.""We want nothing from her," spat Rahaga Norik. "Let her meet the fate she so richly deserves."But Roodaka was smart enough to know when she was in an impossible situation. Making no effort to disguise her contempt for us, she nevertheless raised her Rhotuka launcher and fired at the Rahaga. The spinners struck all six of them, and before our eyes, a miracle happened - six twisted, mutated Rahaga transformed into six tall, strong, and powerful Toa Hagah!"This is ... amazing," said Toa Gaaki, looking with wonder at her reborn Toa armor. "Norik, it's over - we are heroes again!""You were always heroes," said Tahu, smiling. "Now you just look the part."Our celebration was cut short by the arrival of Onua Nuva. He had been sent to retrieve the Staff of Artakha from a store room deep underground. But he carried no staff and looked as if he had been beaten to within an inch of his life."A Makuta ... named Icarax ... he was already there ... stole the staff," the Toa of Earth gasped. "He was wearing the Mask of Shadows ... said the Brotherhood was his now ... and soon the realm of Karzahni will be too ..."Toa Hagah Bomonga spoke up. "It sounds like you have urgent matters to deal with, Toa Nuva. We will stay and deal with the situation here." He gave Roodaka a long, hard look. "We know how to deal with the likes of her."Tahu Nuva nodded his thanks, then turned to us. "We need that staff, and we're going to have it - even if we have to tear it from a Makuta's dead hands. Let's go."      

[color=#3a6378;]Chapter 7[/color]

I stand amidst the bodies of my friends and teammates, not knowing they are alive or dead. Before me stands Makuta Icarax, Staff of Artakha in his claw. Only I, Gali Nuva, stand between him and whatever nightmare is to come.When we came to the realm of Karzahni in pursuit of Icarax, we found hundreds of Matoran, their spirits as crushed as their bodies were distorted. These victims of Karzahni had been inexplicably abondoned (for there was no sign of the realm's ruler when we arrived, or the Manas he was said to command). With gentle words and a great deal of patience, Lewa and Onua were able to convince the Matoran to leave their prison and head north toward Metru Nui.It turned out we had no need to search for Icarax - he struck at us from ambush. At first we thought he was the Makuta we had fought before, for he wore the Mask of Shadows. But he was, if anything, a more skilled and ferocious warrior, felling my teammates with swift, sure blows.Now I must make a choice - do I do what I must to stop Icarax, risking my friend's lives (if they still live)? Or do I let him escape? There really is no choice. Even as he gloats over his triumph, I am summoning every last bit of moisture from the air for hundreds of kio around. I am merging it together, bending it to my will, preparing to unleash all my elemental power in one single explosion of force.And I do ... and I hope to the Great Beings I never will again.A wall of water a thousand feet high crashes into the realm of Karzahni, shattering buildings, leveling everything in its path. I strain to make the currents obey, but cannot snatch the Staff from Icarax's hand. I do succeed in using my mask power to allow my friends to breathe water.When the floodtide subsides, Icarax is gone and the Toa Nuva,somehow,survive. Of this realm, nothing is left ... nothing but a Noble Hau floating on the water, one which once belonged to a hero. Tahu saves it from being lost, and that is good. I look around at the destruction I have caused, and wonder if too much has been lost today.      

[color=#3a6378;]Chapter 8[/color]

After all that, we had failed. Makuta Icarax had escaped with the Staff of Artakha and all we had to show for it was a flooded and destroyed realm of Karzahni.Tahu insisted that we had to go on, regardless, and carry out the other tasks on the list. We decided to split up. Tahu and Kopaka traveled to an island chain far to the south of the universe to quell a series of active volcanoes. Pohatu and Onua journeyed south as well, seeking out an artifact known as the heart of the Visorak. I was assigned to return to the surface of the island of Mata Nui, while Lewa Lewa simply vanished. I assumed Tahu had given him orders in secret, and only later found out that was not the case.Mata Nui was much changed from when I had seen it last. The Bohrok had done their work well, scouring it of all trees, rocks, rivers and streams. Their job had not been an easy one, as evidenced by the number of shattered Bohrok scattered about and the badly wounded Rahi dragon that lay in their midst. The beast had evidently interfered with their mission and paid the price for it.I did what I could to ease its suffering then began my task. Very few geologic features remained on Mata Nui, but to my surprise, the cliffside and its telescope remained (just as the parchment had assured that they would). As instructed, I focused the telescope on the red star far above. I made careful note of the location of the star in space, its angle to the planet, its brightness and whether it seemed to be moving away from the island, toward it, or remaining parallel to it.Something I dont know what suddenly prompted me to combine the power of my Mask of X-Ray Vision with the telescopes ability. I focused on the red star and stumbled back, shocked. For I had seen inside the star, and where I expected there to be a fiery heart of energy, I instead saw I can hardly even carve the words on this stoneThere was something alive inside the star!      

[color=#3a6378;]Chapter 9[/color]

Gali Nuva sprang from the telescope and started running across the sands of Mata Nui. She had to track down the other Toa Nuva and let them know what she had seen. She was so intent on her course that when Botar suddenly appeared before her, she almost collided with him.You are needed, said the Order of Mata Nui member. The next instant, he reached out to take her hand and they both disappeared. When Gali could see clearly again, it was obvious she was no longer on the island of Mata Nui.She found herself standing in a vast, spherical chamber, alongside Botar and the other Toa Nuva. The place seemed familiar to her somehow, but she couldnt place it. Then the shadows in the chamber seemed to grow deeper and a female voice filled the room.You have done well, Toa, said the voice. You have justified the Order of Mata Nuis faith in you. That is why we have brought you here, to Daxia, to see the fruits of your labors.A light shone down from above on what looked like a power cradle of some kind. A massive warrior, easily nine feet in height, walked up to it carrying the Staff of Artakha. That alone was a surprise, since Gali and the others thought the Brotherhood of Makuta had the Staff. Even more shocking was what happened next the warrior placed the staff in a niche on the cradle, and the artifact began to glow and hum.Mata Nui suffered much due to the Makutas treacherous attack, said the voice. Now it is time to ease that suffering and prepare the way for his return.The hum grew louder, and the glow brighter. Finally, Tahu had had enough. Whats going on here?What you see is a but a fraction of the power of the staff, the voice replied. Even now, its energies are reaching out from Metru Nui to the southern islands, undoing the damage that was done by Mata Nuis fall. Chasms are sealed; buildings restored to glory; mountains rise, and rivers flow once more. And when your fellow heroes sever the cord that binds Voya Nui to Mahri Nui, it too will be restored to where it belongs and the hole it made sealed behind it.That one stick can do all that? asked Pohatu.And more, said the voice. Its only limitation is that it cannot reach into the universe core and heal the damage there, for the walls of that place are too well-shielded. But what it can do, it will do.Gali had a thought. What about the island of Mata Nui? Will it repair what the Bohrok did there?The voice laughed. No, the Bohrok did what they were meant to do, even as you have done. And now, Toa Nuva, you have one more task to perform the most dangerous of them all.      

[color=#3a6378;]Chapter 10[/color]

My fellow Toa and I stood in a small chamber, waiting for the one who would lead us to our next, and supposedly most dangerous, task. In the meantime, we checked our weapons and armor for any damage and got caught up on each others adventures. It was a good way to hide any worries we might have.It was a golden crystal, Onua was saying. About as big as Pohatus head, and suspended in mid-air dont ask me how. Wed been told not to let it touch the ground, and it was a good thing we listened.Why? I asked.Heart of the Visorak, they call it, answered Pohatu. Ever wonder how the Makuta get the horde assembled? Put this crystal in the ground and they all come, no matter where they might be, no matter how far away. I guess our hosts dont want the Brotherhood able to gather them quite so easily next time.What about you, Lewa? I said to the Toa of Air. Where did Tahu send you?No place, shrugged Lewa Nuva. Some weird voice sent me up to Mata Nui I must have been and gone just before you arrived, Gali to deep-dig up a sundial, of all things, and bring it to Metru Nui.And do what with it? asked Tahu, never looking up from his scorched armor. Kopaka looked even worse after their struggle to cap erupting volcanoes.Got me, said Lewa. I was told to leave it in the Archives, so thats what I did. By the way, after quick-seeing our old island, never hire the Bohrok as decorators.Its time to go. The words, spoken softly, came from a Matoran who stood in the doorway. We have a journey to make and little time in which to make it.A long journey where? asked Kopaka. I am getting a little tired of running around like a hungry stone rat with no idea why.The Matoran just smiled. You are being given a great honor to set foot on the island of Artakha. Once we are there, my master will speak with you or not depending on his whim. He may open his fortress for the first time in millennia and welcome you in or he may banish you forever without a second thought.Sounds like a party, said Pohatu. When do we leave?The world suddenly blurred around the Toa Nuva. When their vision cleared again, they were standing with the Matoran on a desolate beach. Leave? said the villager. Why, you have already arrived. Good fortune to you, Toa may you live to leave Artakha once more.(To learn more about the Toa Nuvas visit to Artakha, read BIONICLE Legends #8: Downfall.) TLH

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#3 Offline Reference Keeper Team

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Posted Jun 22 2011 - 11:59 PM

 

[color=#3A6378;]2: Dreams Of Destruction[/color]

[color=#840000;]Back to top [/color]

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 1[/color]


The Ta-Matoran named Sarda had no doubt he was living his last moments. He and his friends had been captured by Pridak, leader of the Barraki, and imprisoned in a sea cave. When Pridak grew angry at their refusal to give him information, he grabbed Sarda and hurled him out of the cave, right into the middle of a school of hungry Takea sharks.

Sarda had no doubt what was going to happen next. He wouldn’t be able to hold off a hoard of sharks for more than a couple moments. He hoped the end would at least be quick.

Something darted toward him - but it wasn’t a Takea shark. It was a masked figure on a mechanical sea sled, wielding a sword. In a flash, the newcomer had slammed into the center of the school, scattering the sharks. Before they could reform, a waterspout pulled them in and whirled them far from the site.

Stunned, Sarda watched his rescuer approach. Was there something familiar about him? Sarda wasn’t sure. But it certainly seemed like the stranger new the Matoran.

“Sarda?” he said. “Is it really you?”

“Of course it‘s me,” Sarda replied. “And right now, I have friends back in that cave that need rescuing. If you‘re any good with that sword, I could use your help.”

The newcomer looked at the cave mouth, then in the distance, where the sharks were already massing for an attack. Then he turned back to Sarda. “Somebody once told me that knowledge is a sharper weapon than a sword. Before I charge into a fight, I could use a little more of that.”

Something about the stranger’s words sparked a memory in Sarda. He peered closely at the unexpected arrival.

“Toa Lesovikk?” asked Sarda, almost afraid to hope he was right about the newcomer’s identity. “But… it can‘t be… how could you be here?”

The Toa flashed a sad smile. “Yes… I am Lesovikk, though no one has called me Toa in a long time. As for how I got here… it‘s a long story my friend.
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 2[/color]


As Toa Lesovikk began to began to share his tale with Sarda, neither was aware they were being watched with eyes that gleamed with madness…

The being known as Karzahni had journeyed far to reach the watery depths of the Pit. His travels had begun in his own isolated, forbidding realm. There he had encountered six wandering Matoran and attempted to imprison them as he had so many others over the millennia. But these Matoran escaped him, though not before he learned from them about beings much more powerful than he - the Great Spirit Mata Nui and the evil Makuta.

Mata Nui was asleep, he learned, and Makuta was presumed dead. That meant there was an opportunity for a brilliant, ruthless leader to seize power. He trailed the Matoran to an island named Voya Nui and watched them transform into more powerful figures called Toa. He witnessed their battles with thieves called Piraka over possession of the powerful Mask of Life. When the Toa journeyed down into the depths of the ocean, Karzahni followed, staying far enough behind that he was not noticed.

Reaching the Pit, he had become disoriented as the black waters mutated him. He lost track of the Toa and wandered for some time before chancing on this strange Toa speaking with a Matoran. He didn’t know who this “Lesovikk” was, or why he was here - perhaps searching for the Mask of Life as well? But he had learned enough about Toa in the last few days to know they could be powerful enemies.

Unlimbering one of his chains, he willed it to burst into flame. Whirling it above his head, he let it fly. It wrapped itself around the startled Lesovikk, who yelled in shock and pain. Karzahni yanked him off his feet even as the Ta-Matoran nearby charged.

“Stop! Leave him alone!” yelled Sarda.

“Nonsense,” said Karzahni. “There is a war to be fought in this place, and a universe to win. But first … I need to sharpen my claws in combat. When I am done with the two of you, I will be ready at last … ready to conquer!”
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 3[/color]


Lesovikk struggled in vain to escape the fiery chains of Karzahni. All the while, the smiling face of Karzahni loomed over him.

“Don’t bother to fight,” said his captor. “No one, not even the legendary Manas crab has been able to brake those bonds.”

“You… don't… remember me do you?” Lesovikk said. “No, I guess you wouldn’t - but we have crossed paths before. It was many, many thousands of years ago. I came to your realm seeking to free my friends, who had been sent there by a mad Turaga. I was driven off by your Manas crabs, but I came again, and again … only to fail each time. By the time I slipped past your guardians, my friends had been exiled from your realm, I knew not where.”

Karzahni laughed. “Then failure is nothing new to you, Toa. You can take comfort that your defeat today will come as no surprise.”

“He’s not a failure!” Sarda shouted. “I … I remember! I remember Lesovikk defending our home from Rahi beasts and anything else that threatened us … I remember when he and his team left, never to return … at least not while I was still there. He’s not a failure - he never was - he’s a hero!”

Lesovikk looked up at the Matoran. It had been a very, very long time since anyone had called him “hero.” The word acted on him like a bolt of energy. Drawing on every last bit of his power, Lesovikk flexed his muscles and snapped Karzahni's chain.

“Impossible,” whispered Karzahni. “You were downed … defeated … stunned.”

“I am stunned,” said Lesovikk, rising to his feet. “Shocked and amazed too, that you thought mere links of metal could hold a Toa.

There was something in the veteran warrior’s eyes now that made even the mighty Karzahni hesitate. Exhausted, weakened, Lesovikk still stood, weapon at the ready and primed for battle.

“Now, you rancid remains of a Rahi’s dinner,” said the Toa of Air. “Let’s try this again."
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 4[/color]


Lesovikk stood, ready for battle. Before him stood his ancient enemy, Karzahni. Faced with a fighting-mad Toa, Karzahni should have been at least a little worried. Instead, he was smiling.

“We have no reason to fight, Lesovikk, none at all,” said Karzahni. “Why should I waste my energy on you, when there is easier prey to be found?”

The emerald-hued villain turned his gaze to Sarda, the Ta-Matoran who swam nearby. Using his power to make others see what could be and what might have been, he touched Sarda’s mind. The Matoran stiffened as a vision filled his thoughts, a vision of the day the city of Mahri Nui broke off of its island and sank beneath the waves.

In real life, Sarda had survived the plunge, saved by finding a bubble of air emitted by the airweed below. But in the vision Karzahni gave him, he did not survive - none of the Matoran did - they all drowned before they ever reached the waters of the Pit. It was a horrible sight and Sarda’s eyes widened in fear.

“Stop it!” shouted Lesovikk. When Karzahni didn’t respond, he unleashed a mini-cyclone from his sword, striking the villain dead on. That was enough to break Karzahni’s concentration, but the damage was done: Sarda had passed out on the ocean floor from sheer shock and fear.

“I have better things to do than toy with the likes of you,” growled Karzahni. “So will you fight me, or will you help your little friend?"

Lesovikk wanted to batter the smile off Karzahni’s face. But he could see that Sarda’s air bubble had disappeared - the Matoran was drowning!

“This isn’t over, Karzahni,” said the Toa. “Wherever you go, you had better be looking over your shoulder - because one day, I will be there. And I promise I will be the last thing you ever see.”
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 5[/color]


There was no time to waste if Sarda was going to be saved. Scoping up the drowning Matoran’s body, Toa Lesovikk rushed him to a nearby, free-floating air bubble. What followed was one of the strangest things Lesovikk had witnessed in tens of thousands of years.

At first, it seemed to be working. Sarda gasped, choked, but the life-giving air was doing its job. Then it suddenly seemed as if he were drowning again, this time in air. It was then that Lesovikk noticed the changes to Sarda’s body. No longer protected by a personal air bubble that surrounded him, the waters of the Pit were mutating the Matoran. He had become a water-breather, and air was poisonous to him now!

Hastily, Lesovikk pulled him free of the bubble. Sarda took a deep “breath” of water and his spasms ceased. “Are you all right?” Lesovikk asked.

Sarda smiled weakly. “You … you promised me a story.”

Lesovikk nodded and began to speak. In as few words as possible, he told Sarda how he and his team of Toa had gone on a vital mission many ages ago. Lesovikk had hesitated for a crucial second in battle, with the result that his entire team had been killed. Haunted by guilt, he returned home - only to find that all the Matoran he had befriended had been sent to the realm of Karzahni.

Unable to free them, Lesovikk had become a wanderer. He had picked up new equipment along the way, including a combination sky and sea sled. And he had done some good, but never enough to atone for his past mistakes.

“Then maybe this is your chance to do that,” said Sarda. “Karzahni is a menace. If he were to ally with the Barraki, Mahri Nui wouldn’t stand a chance. We have to stop him!

Lesovikk shook his head. “If he is stopped here, he will just return to his realm and do more evil to his Matoran captives. No, Sarda, we need to do more than stop him - we need to destroy him.”
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 6[/color]


Karzahni yanked hard on his burning chain, tearing the black fire sword from the grasp of the Maxilos robot. With a second strike, he shattered the Toa of Water who swam behind the robot into pieces.

He had been heading for the Matoran settlement when he spotted Maxilos, the now destroyed Toa, and a Toa of Ice swimming in the opposite direction. His keen hearing picked up the robot saying something about a “Staff of Artakha.” Karzahni knew Artakha well … and hated him … and if something of his was down in this Pit, it had to be seized or destroyed.

The Toa of Ice turned as if to attack. Karzahni hit him with a nightmarish vision of failure, so horrible it would have driven anyone other than a Toa into a gibbering insanity. That left only the robot to deal with.

“Speak machine,” said Karzahni. “I know you have a voice. I am Karzahni, and I would know -- what is this Staff of Artakha, and where can I find it? Or do I need to dismantle you and tear the information out of your mechanical mind?"

The robot said something in reply, but so softly even Karzahni couldn’t hear it. He swam closer to Maxilos, then closer still. The robot was, after all, unarmed.

“Interesting,” said Karzahni. “Even if the design was not familiar, you have the stink of Artakha about you. Reason enough to turn you to scrap. Speak up you miserable machine, I cannot hear your words!”

Then the right arm of Maxilos lashed out faster than anything Karzahni had ever seen. The robot’s hand gripped Karzahni around the throat and squeezed.

“I said, so this is Karzahni,” came the reply. “Karzahni, the jailer of Matoran … Karzahni, the would-be avatar of evil … Karzahni, the fool … And soon to be a dead fool.”

“Who are you --?” Karzahni demanded.

“I am Makuta,” the robot replied. “I am power. You have broken my Toa and delayed my passage …”

Makuta, in the Maxilos robot, hurled Karzahni down toward the see floor. He plowed through a rock ledge and landed hard, half-buried in the mud. With Karzahni’s concentration shattered, Matoro shook himself free of the illusion that had paralyzed him.

“And I hate to be late,” Makuta finished.

Karzahni forced himself to his feet, forcing a twisted arm back into place. “Yes. I’ve heard of you, Makuta — a tin-covered tyrant who wishes to be lord of Matoran … as if being worshiped by insects has some meaning. I do not know where you were going … but your journey is about to end.”

Matoro felt a great disturbance in the water. He turned to look for its source and then gasped at the sight. It was Manas Crabs - hundreds of them - huge and hungry, and all of with only one thought in there bestial minds:

Kill the enemies of Karzahni.

To Be Continued In Into The Darkness, Chapter 5
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 7[/color]


IMPORTANT: Please listen to Biocast Part #5 before reading this chapter.

Makuta’s scream slowly died away into silence. Matoro wondered what had happened – had Karzahni’s power broken the villain, driven him mad … even killed him?

But a glance at the Maxilos robot Makuta possessed gave the answer. The eyes were fixed on Karzahni with a gaze that was made all the more frightening by the complete lack of emotion in it. After a long moment, Makuta spoke.

“You … made a … mistake, Karzahni,” he said. “You see, I don’t get nightmares …”

With one backhanded sweep of an armored fist, Makuta sent Karzahni sprawling. “I give them.”

Standing over his fallen foe, Makuta whispered, “Your shadow plays are impressive, tyrant – but never forget who is the true master of shadows.”

With that, Makuta plunged telepathically into the mind of Karzahni. It was a complex parchment of mad dreams, burning ambitions, twisted memories, and long-buried fears. Makuta considered all the subtle ways he could attack, and rejected them all. Karzahni had hurt him. Karzahni must pay in full.

Grasping Karzahni’s mind with his own, Makuta tore it to shreds. Then, with the merest sample of his magnetic power, he sent the dictator hurtling through the ocean until he was lost from sight.

***
Toa Lesovikk had watched the battle with Sarda and Idris. They had discovered the Ga-Matoran, mutated by the waters as Sarda had been, and recruited her in their task. Now both Matoran wondered if their quest was even necessary anymore.

“Karzahni doesn’t seem like he would still be a threat,” said Sarda. “Not after what Maxilos just did to him.”

“I’m not sure who this Maxilos is or what his powers are,” said Lesovikk. “But I once ran into a rock lion, half-dead from injuries received in battle, mad with pain. I thought it would be easy to end it and put the poor thing out of its misery.” He paused, then said, “That fight lasted three days … and the rock lion won. Don’t underestimate a wounded foe.”

Lesovikk began to swim in the direction Karzahni had traveled. “If anything, our enemy may be more dangerous now than ever before.”
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 8[/color]


Toa Lesovikk, Sarda and Idris swam slowly through the Pit, keeping an eye out for predators. They had been following the wounded Karzahni for the better part of a day, and had seen him finally take refuge in a sea cave. Lesovikk was fairly certain Karzahni had not spotted them, but he wasn’t going to take any chances.

“This is what we’re going to do,” he said to the two Matoran. “I spotted some equipment in a Barraki weapons cache. We’re going to make a trap, and then lure Karzahni into it. And then we can --”

Lesovikk abruptly stopped speaking. The world around him had changed. He wasn’t underwater anymore, side by side with two mutated Matoran in pursuit of a madbeing. No, he was with his old Toa team – his long dead Toa team – and they were battling for their lives against a massive cloud of acid. Two dozen Rahi and a handful of Matoran had already died on this island, turned to ashes by tendrils of the gaseous menace. Now it was bearing down on the eight Toa who dared to stand against it.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Lesovikk knew this had happened before. He had hesitated for the briefest of moments and the cloud had destroyed his teammates. But here he was, and here they were, and maybe he had a second chance. He summoned his elemental power and sent a cyclone at the cloud, tearing apart its substance and scattering it to the winds.

And just like that … it was over. His fellow Toa were smiling and bumping fists with him, already talking about the next adventure they would have. Grateful Matoran were pouring out of their homes to thank the heroes who had saved them all. He had done it! He had defeated the creature and his team was together and alive!

“Lesovikk?” said Toa Nikila. She was a Toa of Lightning and his closest friend on the team. “Are you all right? You seem so far away.”

“All right?” he responded. “Yes … no … it’s just … this doesn’t feel right somehow. Like it wasn’t supposed to happen this way.”

“Don’t be silly,” she laughed. “Of course it was – we won, didn’t we, thanks to you. We’re Toa. Don’t we always win in the end? So stop frowning and come on, the Matoran are putting on a celebration for us.”

Lesovikk followed along, but his thoughts were still elsewhere. He couldn’t escape the feeling that he wasn’t supposed to be here, that there was something else he should be doing right now. But for the life of him, he couldn’t think of what it was. And he wasn’t sure that he wanted to … because one thing he did know was that right now, this moment, he felt the happiest he had in a long, long time.

He was with his team, and that was where he intended to stay. No one and nothing would take him away from them, ever again.

***

Sarda and Idris stared with increasing concern at Lesovikk. He seemed to be in a trance of some kind and nothing they had done had been able to rouse him. It was Sarda who put their fears into words.

“Lesovikk said Karzahni can show you alternate events – usually horrifying ones, intended to terrify you. But, Idris … what if he showed you a future – or a past – that you wished for? And what if you wanted it so much … that you stayed trapped in that vision forever?”
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 9[/color]


“This is crazy!” whispered Idris, swimming fast to keep up with Sarda. “Would you just hold up for a second and listen?”

Sarda shook his head. “You saw what happened outside. Karzahni did … something to Lesovikk, I know he did. That leaves only us to fight him, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

The two villagers swam deeper into the sea cave. Lurking somewhere inside was the maddened Karzahni, a figure of fear for every villager. Was it bravery that drove the two Matoran to dare challenge him, or insanity? Even Sarda couldn’t say for sure.

“Now, remember the plan,” said Sarda. “I was able to find the material Lesovikk mentioned and rig a makeshift trap. We get him to chase us, he trips the trap, and wham!”

“I just hope it’s wham for him,” said Idris, “not wham for us.”

Outside the cave, Toa Lesovikk remained trapped in a vision of what might have been. His Toa team, which in reality had died thousands of years before, lived again in his Karzahni-created hallucination. There they were – Toa of Fire, Lightning, Sonics, Iron, Stone, Gravity, and Water, banded together in the first ever Toa team.

In his mind, millennia had passed, filled with hard-fought battles and great victories. Most recently, they had saved a band of Toa besieged by frostelus on a remote island. A novice Toa, Lhikan, had shown such bravery in the fight that Lesovikk was considering recruiting him. As he looked around the battlefield, Lesovikk knew that all was right in his world.

“That was fun,” said Toa Nikila, smiling. “I never get tired of bashing a few heads together. Hey, some of the guys were suggesting we patrol that zyglak hunting ground next week – what do you think?”

“Sure, I --” Lesovikk began, and then stopped. Something she had said had suddenly triggered a flash of memory. In it, Nikila and the others were dead, killed by the acid cloud they had defeated so long ago … but wait, that wasn’t right. They weren’t dead, they were alive … weren’t they? And they weren’t killed by an acid cloud …

“Zylglak,” the Toa of Air said abruptly. “You were killed by zyglak.”

“What?” asked Nikila. “Those losers kill me? Not on their best day.”

But Lesovikk could see it all now, as clearly as he saw Nikila’s armor, her trident, and her Mask of Possibilities. They had been in a battle, long ago, but not with an acid cloud, with a horde of zyglak. He had seen them coming, but hadn’t acted fast enough, and … and …

And his teammates died. They all died.

He looked at Nikila. She was fading, breaking apart, like the trick of the mind she had been all along. She pleaded with him to help her, but he forced himself to close his eyes and turn away. He had lost his chance to help her, or any of the others, long ago.

When he opened his eyes again, he was back in the Pit. His friends were gone; his future was gone; and all that was left to him was revenge.
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 10[/color]


Toa Lesovikk was about to charge into Karzahni’s cave when he saw red and blue streaks heading out of it. They turned out to be Sarda and Idris, with Karzahni in maddened pursuit behind them.

Lesovikk glanced around. The crude trap was already in place. As Sarda and Idris emerged from the cave, he grabbed them and threw them roughly to the side. Unable to halt his lunge, Karzahni struck the trap, which promptly slammed shut around him.

The Toa of Air had waited a long time for this moment. Now Karzahni would pay for his crimes against the Matoran. But as Lesovikk looked at what remained of the once fearsome ruler – now a maddened, pathetic shell, thanks to his previous battle – the Toa turned away, sickened. There was nothing more he could do to Karzahni than had already been done … and leaving him alive was a worse punishment than killing him.

“That Toa who told me about this place … Krakua, I think his name was … he said if Karzahni was captured, someone would come to take him away,” Lesovikk muttered.

“Wherever they take him, I hope they have strong chains,” said Sarda. “But … now what? Idris and I have become water-breathers – we can’t live in our own village anymore! What’s going to become of us?”

Lesovikk turned away in time to see a strange figure disappearing with Karzahni. (This was Botar from the Order of Mata Nui, still a stranger to Lesovikk.) “Follow me,” said the Toa. He led the two Matoran to a small cave in which were scattered fragments of equipment.

“I think this used to be some kind of breathing system,” said the Toa. “I found it when I was scouting around. It won’t work for breathing air, but I might be able to repair it for water-breathing. Only thing is, there’s only enough equipment here for one unit.”

Idris looked at Sarda, then back at Lesovikk. “You take it, Toa. The world needs you. Two Matoran more or less won’t matter.”

“I don’t know that there’s any place left for me in the world I’ve known,” Lesovikk replied. “Maybe there is in this one. Anyway, I am in no hurry to leave.”

“Then neither am I,” said Sarda. Before Idris could object, he cut her off. “You take it, Idris. Go back to Mahri Nui. Tell them … tell them I wanted a new adventure.”

Idris wanted to argue, but the look in Sarda’s eyes told her it would do no good. After many hours of work, Lesovikk had fashioned a crude helmet that would allow Idris to breathe sea water that would be held inside the device. Sarda kept his goodbye to her short, but Lesovikk could see how hard it was for both of them.

“Where will you go now?” the Toa asked.

“With you,” Sarda replied.“ I don’t know everything you’ve been through, but I think maybe you could use a friend.”

Lesovikk thought for a long time, and then slowly nodded. “And a reminder of what I once was … and maybe could be again.”

Together, Toa and Matoran swam off into the depths of the ocean, both being careful to look only ahead, never back.

 
—TLH


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Posted Jun 22 2011 - 11:59 PM

 

[color=#3A6378;]3: Into The Darkness[/color]

[color=#840000;]Back to top [/color]

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 1[/color]


Toa Matoro swam silently through the black waters of the Pit. Behind him, the robot guardian named Maxilos followed. To Matoro, it felt like having the shadow of doom hanging over him, for he knew what no one else did. That the mechanical body of Maxilos was possessed by the spirit of the evil Makuta.

"Why so quiet?" asked Makuta in the hallow voice of Maxilos. "We have seen death and destruction today with the promise of much more to come. We have seen heroes behaving like villains. You, yourself have even done things even I would be reluctant to do. It is a time for celebration."

"Shut up," said Matoro. "I'm doing only what I have to do to save the life of Mata Nui. A life you have put in jeopardy."

Makuta laughed. "Think what you like little Toa and try to avoid admitting to yourself that you are one bad day, one moment of cruelty, one fit of rage away from being me." Makuta swam past Matoro and then veered down toward the sea bottom. "Come with me. I want to show you something."

"What?" asked Matoro.

"Call it an answer to some of your questions," replied Makuta. He led Matoro down the depths of the black water. Here they came to a great gap in the sea floor. "I discovered this shortly after taking over the body of Maxilos. It's an entrance to the original Pit. The prison once inhabited by the Barraki and others like them. There is something down there I think you should see."

"How do I know this isn't a trap?" asked Matoro.

"You don't," answered Makuta. "But surely a strong and brave Toa like yourself fears nothing. Follow me." Makuta swam down through the opening. Matoro watching him go until the crimson form and disappeared into the Pit. The Toa of Ice checked his Cordak blaster, readied himself for anything that might happen and followed his greatest enemy into the darkness.
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 2[/color]


Makuta led Toa Mahri Matoro deep into the dark recesses of the former prison, known as the Pit. It was eerily quiet. Now and then a sea creature darted past, keeping its distance from two beings it, no doubt, regarded as predators.

Certainly one of us is, thought Matoro. Makuta has been preying on the fears of Matoran for as long I can remember. And I, what have I become? As soon as I realized I wore a mask that let me reanimate the dead, I should have cast it aside. I never should have used it.

“When you are through brooding, I have found what I was seeking,” said Makuta. “Here.”

Matoro looked where he was pointing. Half buried in rubble, was a Kanohi Mask of Power. One whose shape seemed vaguely familiar. Scattered nearby was blue Toa armor.

“What is this?” said Matoro.

“All that remains of a Toa of Water named Tuyet,” Makuta replied. “She was condemned here many thousands of years ago. She died here, though I don’t know why. Perhaps she was trying to escape.”

“Why was she sent here?”

“It is hard for me to give exact reasons, since I did not even know here existed until a few days ago, but I do know her crime. She tampered with an object of power that did not belong in her hands. It was too much for her. She went wild, was defeated by Toa Lhikan and Toa Nidhiki and the object was destroyed, or so the heroes thought.”

“Get to the point,” said Matoro.

Makuta laughed. “I would have thought it would be obvious. Tuyet is dead. She is also the only one who might know how that powerful artifact, the Nui Stone, could be recreated. I want you to use your mask Matoro. The Mask of Reanimation. I want you to bring her back.”
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 3[/color]


Toa Mahri Matoro and Makuta stood over the battered Mask and armor of the long dead Toa Tuyet.

“You are insane,” said Matoro. “I won’t do what you ask.”

“I must have missed the part where I gave you a choice,” Makuta replied. “I want you to use your mask power to reanimate this corpse, and I want you to do it now.”

After a moment he added, “I could just kill you Matoro, take the mask and do the job myself, but it’s so much more amusing this way.”

“Even if I bring her back, she won’t be able to help you recreate the Nui Stone,” insisted Matoro. “She’ll have no spirit. She’ll have no mind.”

“I have always found the minds of Toa to be vastly overrated anyways,” said Makuta. “Now get to work.”

Matoro concentrated, triggering the power of his Mask of Reanimation. He knew Makuta meant what he said. He would kill Matoro without a second thought. Beyond that, the Toa of Ice was curious to find out just what is was Makuta was up to here. Once he knew that he could always send Tuyet back to the grave by cutting off the power of the mask. At his feet, the Kanohi Mask and armor began to move slowly coming together. What had been a pile of junk a moment before now had taken on a form. Other pieces of armor were rising up through the layers of mud, struggling to rejoin the rest. It somehow managed to be amazing and sickening at the same time. Slowly, the body that once belonged to Toa Tuyet rose from the floor of the Pit and stood unsteadily waiting for commands. And that was when Matoro noticed something. Incredibly tiny, almost microscopic pieces of crystal embedded in the dead Toa’s armor.

“Behold,” said Makuta. “When the Nui Stone exploded thousands of years ago, most of it vaporized, but some fragments survived, buried in Tuyet’s armor. With these I can recreate the stone as it once was. All I need is the proper tool.”

“What tool,” asked Matoro.

“The Staff of Artakha,” answered Makuta, “and unless I am mistaken, your old friends, the Toa Nuva, are about to get it for me.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 4[/color]


Toa Matoro, Makuta in the body of the robot Maxilos, and the reanimated Toa Tuyet swam away from the long abandoned prison and into the open ocean.

Matoro’s mind raced. What did Makuta plan to do with the Nui Stone if he recreated it? What was the Staff of Artakha and why did Makuta believe that the Toa Nuva would help him get it? More importantly, how could Matoro stop this?

“Matoro!”

The Toa of Ice turned. Toa Hahli was swimming toward him. In the background Matoro see what looked like an ocean full of manta rays.

“Where are you going and who is that Toa with you? She looks uh… Matoro! What have you done?”

Matoro could hear Makuta’s voice in his mind. “We have a meeting to attend to if you haven’t forgotten. One of my Brotherhood awaits near Mahri Nui, but he will not wait long. You wouldn’t want to make us late, would you? And Matoro breath a word to Hahli and neither of you will live to see another tide.”

“Hahli, don’t worry. Everything’s fine. Just trust me.”

“I do trust you, but I think you have become a little too used to keeping secrets brother and I’m starting to wonder if you trust me or any of us.”

Matoro looked Hahli right in the eyes. “It will all work out. Everything is going just as planned. As smooth as that time Nuparu used his Mask of Flight transport you over the chasm. Remember? Now I... we have to go.”

The three figures swam off leaving Hahli disturbed and a little angry. Then a memory suddenly came to her.

“Wait a minute. When I flew, Nuparu dropped me. I almost got killed. Matoro was trying to send me a message. He’s in trouble and I wish I knew how to get him out.”
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 5[/color]


Important: Be sure to read Dreams of Destruction Chapter 6 before listening to this Biocast.

Matoro felt like he was in the middle of a nightmare and he dearly wished he could wake up. On his journey with Makuta and the reanimated Toa Tuyet, they had been attacked by Karzahni, the mad ruler of a realm of misery for Matoran. Karzahni sought the Staff of Artakha they carried, but Makuta was not about to give that up without a fight. When the battle began to go against him, Karzahni summoned a hoard of Manas crabs to his aid.

Manas. The word meant monster in Matoran. For that’s what they were. The Toa of Ice’s heart froze as the Manas moved in. He hurled his ice power at them, but they shrugged it off.

Once it had taken six Toa to stop only a pair of Manas and now he and Makuta faced hundreds. Strangely, the Master of Shadows did nothing. He didn’t hurl shadow bolts or chain lightning. He just waited and watched until the crabs were well within striking distance, then he reached out with his mind, his most powerful weapon. Using his power to control beasts of land, sea and air, he seized control of half the Manas and turned them against the others. It was a horrible sight, as the huge, savage Manas tore at each other.

Karzahni looked on in shock as his army disintegrated before his eyes.

Matoro looked away. Makuta simply laughed.

“Pests,” said the Master of Shadows. “They do make such a mess. Perhaps Karzahni, I should set the survivors on you.”

Now it was Karzahni’s turn to smile. He had powers of his own. Powers Makuta could not hope to cope with he was sure. Triggering his ability, he thrust a vision into Makuta’s mind. Now Makuta saw, as surely as if it were really happening, the future day when the Toa Nuva would awaken the Great Spirit Mata Nui. He saw Mata Nui rise, whole for the first time in 1000 years. And then he saw the Great Spirit’s power surge through the universe, seeking out those who would dare to rebel against him. He saw the terrible vengeance of Mata Nui and knew the final punishment that would awaited for him and Makuta screamed.

To Be Continued in Dreams of Destruction, Chapter 7.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 6[/color]


If Makuta was at all rattled by his fierce battle with Karzahni, he didn't show it. Nor had he displayed any particular emotion when he and Matoro had met with Makuta Icarax, who had brought the Staff of Artakha to the waters above the Pit. He had simply taken the object from his fellow Brotherhood member and dismissed Icarax with a nod.

Now he and Matoro stood over the shattered remains of Toa Tuyet's armor. A single fragment of the Nui Stone gleamed in the darkness.

"That is all the Staff needs," said Makuta quietly. "One piece, and its power will recreate the stone as it once was."

"And what good will that do you?" asked Matoro. "What do you plan to do with it?"

"Very will, my curious little Toa," Makuta replied. "Think on this: Tuyet, and later Nidhiki were not the only Toa to ever turn bad and if the next one should happen to fall under my sway, well what better than to use the Nui Stone to increase his power a hundred fold? A thousand fold? Imagine an all powerful Toa at my command, wiping your kind from the face of this planet."

Makuta aimed the Staff of Artakha at the Nui Stone fragment and triggered its power. Slowly, the pieces of the stone began to float to the water, drifting toward eachother, joining together for the first time in a thousand years.

"I can't let you do this!" yelled Matoro, charging forward.

Makuta waved his hand and a stasis field froze the Toa of Ice. "And I can't let you stop me," said Makuta. "No one can stop me now." A blast of sheer raw power struck the Master of Shadows squarely in the back. Makuta staggered, dropping the Staff. "Who dares!" he snarled.

"In my time, I've dared lots of things. Maybe too many things," came the reply. "I fell a long way from the light and I can never find my way back."

Makuta whirled. Hovering in the water was Brutaka, former guardian of the Mask of Life, now mutated prisoner of the Pit. Wisps of energy were still drifting from his open hand. His body has changed. Twisted spikes now jutting out of his armor and what looked like a long dorsal fin running down his back. Brutaka stood ready for battle.

"But the darkness is not so complete, that I can't recognize a monster when I see one."

Makuta hurled a blast of shadow energy at Brutaka. The warrior side stepped and dove past Makuta, snatching up the Staff of Artakha, even as he shouted, "Botar!"

Events happened quickly then. The Order of Mata Nui agent known as Botar appeared suddenly in the midst of battle, taking the Staff from Brutaka. He spared a moment for a nod of thanks to his former teammate, before vanishing once more.

"It's gone," Brutaka said to Makuta. "The Staff is gone where you cannot reach it. You lost."

"If I have lost the Staff, you are about to lose everything," said Makuta.

Brutaka did not tremble at the threat or back away. Instead, he just laughed. A long hard laugh, with a little trace of madness in it. "You seem to have me mistaken," he said, "for someone who has anything at all left to lose."
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 7[/color]


"Get out of here, now!" Brutaka shouted to Matoro. "Get back to the other Toa, I'll handle Makuta."

"As you handled the Toa Nuva and the Toa Inika," sneered Makuta. "Are you fool enough to think you can trust him Matoro?"

Toa Matoro weighed his choice. Brutaka had once been a member of the Order of Mata Nui before he had turned bad, but Makuta? His spirit had been black from the the day he had been created. There was no choice at all. He swam away as fast as he could, heading for a rendezvous with his teammates.

"You cost me the Nui Stone," growled Makuta, hurling a burst of shadow energy at Brutaka. "You have become an annoyance." But the shadow bolt never reached it's target.

Triggering the power of his Kanohi Mask, Brutaka opened a dimensional portal, and shunted the energy into the zone of darkness where it could harm nothing. "Then let's see if I can move up to an irritation," said Brutaka, firing his own blast of energy from his sword. The blast knocked Makuta's weapon from his hand. "You know Makuta, we could do this all day, but it won't get you what you want."

"And that is?" asked Makuta, even as he used his control over gravity to slam Brutaka into a nearby mountain.

"Ow," said Brutaka. "Well you don't want the Mask of Life. If you did, you would never have hired those bumbling Piraka to get it for you, but you do want to be there when it's found, pulling everyone's strings. You wanna decide who has it, how they use it, and when. Am I getting warm?"

"A little too warm for comfort," answered Makuta, throwing a stasis field around Brutaka. But the former Order of Mata Nui demolished the field with one swipe of his blade.

"Please," said Brutaka. "I was getting out of stasis fields when you were still on Destral raising Archives Moles.

"What is it you want, Brutaka?"

"Once, I would've said I wanted the mask myself," Brutaka replied. "Once, I would've seen myself ruling the universe with it. Now I guess you could say my vision's improved and I just want to see you sweat." Brutaka smiled. "Oh and by the way, Nocturn had the mask, last I saw, but Hydraxon was about to take it away from him and who knows what that lunatic will do with it? So maybe you'd better go see.

Makuta's instinct was to continue the battle, but Brutaka was right. He couldn't afford to lose control of events. Not at this late stage. "This isn't over," warned the Master of Shadows.

Brutaka ran a finger along the razor-sharp edge of his sword.

"Oh Makuta, I'm counting on that."
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 8[/color]


Makuta, in the body of Maxilos, swam rapidly through the dark waters of the Pit. As he did so, his mind drifted back to the past and the journey that had brought him to this place and time. Had it really only been some hundred thousand years ago that he first saw the light of day, along with his fellow Makuta? Chirox, Antroz, Vamprah, Mutran, and the others?

They had been selected by the Great Spirit Mata Nui for a special purpose. It would be their job to bring into being the plants and animals needed to keep the universe running smoothly. Over time, their role expanded. The Brotherhood of Makuta became responsible for watching over the lands and seas of the Matoran universe. Internal threats to the power of Mata Nui were crushed by armies led by Makuta.

While the Great Spirit focused on matters of cosmic importance, the day to day safety and security of the world fell on the shoulders of the Makuta. Oh there were Toa of course, blundering about and noisily dealing with what they laughingly referred to as menaces, but the true power to create and destroy rested with the Brotherhood.

Logic dictated that the Matoran would come to realize how much their puny lives depended on the Makuta and would behave accordingly. But no, when they held their naming day festivals, they did it on honor of Mata Nui. When they finished a day's work they thanked Mata Nui for the successful completion of their labors. Mata Nui, who was so far above them, they might as well have been fireflyers scurrying about his feet.

So many millenia of being passed over led to jealousy; and jealousy to resentment; and resentment to hatred. Until just beneath the surface of every Makuta, burned a desire to see the Great Spirit humbled.

But it was not until the failed rebellion of the Barraki that the Makuta of Metru Nui began to think maybe, just maybe, something could be done. But his plan extended beyond just Mata Nui's defeat. No it was a labyrinthine scheme; a plot that drew into its web multiple teams of Toa, Dark Hunters, Bohrok, Visorak, and more. And yet despite all its twists and turns, the plan was also breathtaking in its simplicity.

"There is a small Rahi, called a water wraith," he explained to the rest of the Brotherhood, some eighty thousand years ago. "So small, so insignificant is it, that larger fish do not even consider it a worthy meal. But every now and then, a bold water wraith will attack a much larger and more powerful than it. It is a one sided battle of course that ends with the poor water wraith in the mouth of its foe. Of course, what the larger fish quickly discovers is that the outer shell of a water wraith is coated with a deadly poison. The larger fish dies instantly and the water wraith escapes to feast for months on it's foolish and very dead opponent."

"Sometimes, my brothers," he said, seating himself obsidian throne, "the best way, the only way to win … is by losing."
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 9[/color]


Makuta was cold. Colder than he had ever been. Colder than even the darkness he inhabited. On his way to prevent Hydraxon from acquiring the Mask of Life, he had been ambushed by Toa Matoro and frozen inside super hard ice. Now even his energy was beginning to crystallize (not at all good from his point of view).

Through the clear ice, he could dimly make out the forms of the Toa Mahri, Barraki, and Hydraxon in a mad scramble for the artifact. None of them, he was sure, had the slightest idea what the mask could really do. To them, it was just a bright, golden treasure to be warred over like hungry Rahi after a meal.

Makuta, of course, knew better. He had pieced together half-remembered legends, whispered rumors, even fragments of information retrieved in the long past raid on the island of Artakha. The Mask of Life was intended as more than just a cure all for the Great Spirit Mata Nui in the event of his illness. No, no, the Mask of Life was a quick solution to another problem altogether. The Great Beings had created a universe, but they could not be certain it would operate as they wished and if it did not, if the population plunged into war, if pestilence, and famine took hold, if all hope was gone, the mask would activate, draining all life from every being and ending the universe once, and for all time.

When the time came, the mask would first turn from gold to silver and eventually to black when the end time had arrived. Axonn, Brutaka, Umbra, all the noble guardians of the Kanohi Ignika had never realized that they were protecting an item that could bring about complete annihilation. But Makuta knew its true importance and had factored that into his great plan. Of course, death by freezing had not been a part of his scheme.

That was when Makuta noticed something. Something quite wonderful. A lone drop of water was falling down the outside of his icy prison. Then he saw why. Jaller had created a wall of flame. The heat was melting Matoro's ice and freedom was moments away. The powerful limb of Maxilos shattered the prison and Makuta guided his new body into the battle. It was time to move the plan one step closer to completion.

The End … For Now

 
—TLH


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#5 Offline Reference Keeper Team

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Posted Jun 23 2011 - 12:00 AM

 

[color=#3A6378;]4: Federation of Fear[/color]

[color=#840000;]Back to top [/color]

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 1[/color]


Vezon opened his eyes, astonished to still be alive. The last thing he remembered, he was surrounded by Zyglak, who seemed immune to his wit and charm. Then there was a flash, the sensation of being grabbed by someone far stronger than he, a weird sensation of travel, and darkness.

He looked around. The room he occupied was a large cell and he wasn’t in it alone. Vezon didn’t recognize any of the other four occupants, all of whom stood well away from the others. By reflex, he started calculating how long it would take to disable them and how quickly he could pick the lock of the cell door.

Vezon’s musings were interrupted by the appearance of a sixth figure outside the cell. He was tall, lean and strong, wore a domed helmet, and carried a wicked double-bladed sword. The newcomer looked over the five prisoners as if they were cargo-hauling Ussal crabs up for auction.

“My name is Brutaka,” the visitor said. “I know you have questions – I’m not here to answer them. Where you are, who I work for, what this place is – you don’t need to know. What you do need to know is that there are two, and only two, ways you can get out of here.”

A Xian female stepped up to the bars and said in a dangerously soft voice, “And they are?”

“You can walk out, Roodaka, under your own power, and carry out a mission for some friends of mine,” Brutaka replied. “Or I can carry you out, plant you in a hole outside, and we’ll see if anything grows.”

Brutaka turned his attention to the others. “All of you have something in common – you have all had dealings with the Brotherhood of Makuta. Roodaka, here, betrayed them to the Dark Hunters, then betrayed the Dark Hunters as well – now both sides want her dead. Takadox and Carapar over there are Barraki, whose armies were crushed 80,000 years ago by the Brotherhood. The Makuta in the corner is Spiriah, who fouled up an experiment on the island of Zakaz so badly that his own people marked him for death.”

Vezon timidly raised a hand. “Excuse me, oh brutal, blade-wielding, lover of gardening. I have never met any Makuta face to mask and wouldn’t know one if he stepped on me and ground me into the dirt. I think maybe you wanted someone else … I’m Vezon with an ‘n,’ you see, not Vezok with a ‘k,’ and --”

The crab-like Carapar loped over, picked up Vezon by the neck, and bounced him off the back wall. “You talk too much,” the Barraki growled.

“Oh, yes,” Brutaka muttered, shaking his head. “This is going to work out just fine.”
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 2[/color]


Roodaka was furious. As she walked along the waterfront, clad in a cloak made of plant fibre, she imagined over and over again all the disgusting things she would someday turn Brutaka into with her Rhotuka spinner. One way or the other, he was going to pay for this.

Brutaka and his team – Roodaka, Vezon, Carapar, Takadox, and Makuta Spiriah – had arrived on the shores of the island of Stelt in a small boat. As soon as Roodaka recognized the skyline, she began to protest. Stelt was the home of the late Sidorak, her former comrade, and his people. Worse, Roodaka had set Sidorak up to be killed, and it was likely everyone on Stelt knew that. She would be about as welcome there as a Kikanalo stampede.

But Brutaka had insisted they would need a bigger boat to get where they were going, and this was the easiest place to get one. The only other team member to voice an objection was Spiriah, who believed Brotherhood of Makuta agents were waiting in every village to grab him.

“And just how are we going to purchase this boat?” Roodaka hissed. “We have no equipment, no arms other than yours, not even those ridiculous Matoran widgets. We have nothing of value to offer in exchange.”

“Of course we do,” Brutaka answered, as he pushed open the doors of a trading house. “We have you.”

No sooner were the words out of his mouth than Carapar had seized her from behind. The team, along with the struggling Roodaka, stepped inside the dimly lit and foul smelling shack. The proprietor was one of Sidorak’s species.

“We’re here to make a purchase,” said Brutaka. “Your fastest ship, outfitted with supplies for a long voyage to the south.”

“To the south?” snorted the trader. “Meaning I will never see my ship, or you, again? Unless you can make me rich --”

Brutaka took the hood off Roodaka, who glared at him with murder in her eyes. “Would the reward you’ll get for capturing the killer of Sidorak be payment enough?”

The trader smiled and invited the party out to view his prize craft. So excited was he by visions of the wealth that would soon be his that he never noticed Takadox had slipped away. The boat turned out to be good-sized, well armed with disk launchers, and large enough to accommodate at least a dozen beings. A crew of large, blue and gray armored bruisers were at work on it now.

“We’ll take it,” said Brutaka. There was a loud splash from the ocean side of the ship, but no one paid much mind to it.

“And I’ll take the murderer,” the trader said. “Sidorak was no prize, but we can’t let Vortixx and Rahi kill our kind and get away with it, now can we?”

There was another splash, then another, and another. Brutaka ignored them. “Of course not. But if you want people to believe you caught this dangerous criminal, you will need to look like you’ve been in a fight. A light tap to your head would do the trick, perhaps. My colleague, Vezon, can handle it – you won’t feel a thing.”

“Ever again,” Vezon chimed in, smiling.

Splash. Splash. Splash.

The trader looked over Vezon, who was nowhere near as physically imposing as the rest of the team. How much damage could he do? “All right,” said the trader. “One blow – a light one! – just to look convincing.”

Vezon’s grin grew wider. Roodaka struggled against Carapar’s grip. Brutaka walked casually away from the scene, surveying the boat. Vezon drew his fist back. Then, in one smooth motion, Brutaka whirled and whacked the trader in the back of the head. The trader crumpled to the ground, unconscious.

“Hey!” said Vezon. “He was mine! I woudn’t have hurt him … much … and I only would have needed three or four hours and the right tools, just to make sure he would be no trouble.”

“That’s the point,” Brutaka replied. “You enjoy your work a little too much. Now everyone on board – that includes you, Roodaka.”

They climbed on the ship to find Takadox standing alone. The Barraki took a little bow, pointed to his hypnotic eyes, and said, “The crew decided to go for a swim, all at once. Imagine that.”

“Why all the trouble?” muttered Carapar. “We could have just stormed in and stolen the ship.”

“And had all of Stelt after us?” asked Brutaka. “Not to mention every Dark Hunter and Brotherhood member around, as soon as they heard Roodaka was here?”

“But what about the trader, you fool?” said Roodaka. “He saw me!”

Brutaka laughed as the ship moved slowly away from shore. “Who’s going to believe anyone stupid enough to stand still and get hit?”
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 3[/color]


Brutaka and his bizarre crew had been at sea for three days when he called them all together. “It’s time to let you know our mission. And before you ask, you were all chosen for this trip for one very good reason: You’re expendable. No one is going to care if any of you live or die, which makes you ideal for this job.”

Carapar grumbled something unspeakably foul. Brutaka chose to ignore it.

“We are going to an island far south of anything on any chart,” Brutaka continued. “But it’s not uninhabited. In fact, it has one very special resident: a Makuta named Miserix.”

Now it was Spiriah’s turn to mutter something, though his words were more in shock than in anger.

“Miserix, for those of you who don’t know, was the leader of the Brotherhood of Makuta before the current holder of that title,” said Brutaka. “He was overthrown and wound up imprisoned on a volcanic island. He’s guarded by Rahi and the Great Beings know what else – things someone figured would be able to kill an escaping Makuta. And it’s our job to break him out.”

At first, none of the team members said anything. Then Takadox spoke up. “And what do we get out of this? Money? Power? Our freedom?”

Brutaka smiled. “You get to live another day.”

“And what do we do with him after we have him?” asked Roodaka. “Hold him for ransom?”

“That’s not your concern,” Brutaka replied. “All of you have a role to play in this mission. When we get close to the island, you will be given weapons and equipment. Try to run, at any time, and friends of mine will hunt you down – friends who make me look like a big, cuddly Ussal crab.”

It was Vezon who spotted them first. A small fleet of ragtag vessels was approaching from the west. They were about the ugliest boats one could imagine, slapped together from remnants and wreckage and barely sea-worthy. But he wasn’t focused on the look of the ships, but rather the identity of their crews.

“Zyglak!” he shouted.

The others rushed to the rail to look. Sure enough, the reptilian beings known as “the Great Beings’ mistakes” were manning the ships. Notoriously violent and destructive, Zyglak hated the Great Spirit Mata Nui and anything associated with him. It was doubtful they were paying a social call.

Brutaka tried to steer the ship away from them, but the wind and waves were not cooperating. After a few minutes, he realized why: Makuta Spiriah was using his power over weather to keep the ship in place.

“Did you really think it would be this easy?” said Spiriah.“ I deduced our goal days ago and passed a message to my Zyglak friends through channels on Stelt.”

Vezon looked horrified. He had spent many days a captive of the Zyglak not so long ago. It wasn’t an experience he was anxious to repeat. “Friends? Zyglak don’t have friends… just meals they haven’t eaten yet.”

“They are outcasts,” said Spiriah. “And so am I. Now, Brutaka, I am taking command of this ship. We will be setting a new course, for the island of Zakaz. It was there that I met defeat and disgrace – there that my grand experiment failed, because the inhabitants were too savage to know what to do with my gifts. It is their fault I was cast out of the Brotherhood – and now they are going to pay!”
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 4[/color]


It had been three days since Spiriah’s takeover of the team’s vessel. Since then, they had steered a course for the island of Zakaz, surrounded on every size by boats filled with murderous Zyglak. Spiriah had been acting every inch the captain of the ship, ordering the others about and being particularly hard on Brutaka. Through it all, Brutaka said nothing and made no attempt to strike at Spiriah.

“To think, we were beginning to feel a little afraid of him,” Takadox said, gesturing toward Brutaka.

“Speak for yourself,” Carapar replied.

“Home,” beamed Vezon. “True, I’ve never been to Zakaz… I’m not even really one of the native species... in fact, they’ll probably kill me on sight… or worse, tie me upside down over a spiked dagger plant… but at least I’ll die at home.”

Roodaka had abandoned any hope that Brutaka was going to act and concentrated instead on Spiriah. “The Brotherhood has overextended itself in recent years,” she assured him. “Warring with Dark Hunters and Toa… they are weak. If you struck at them now with your army, you could take over Destral and rule the universe. Of course, you would need someone by your side who knows all the factions and how best to use them…”

Spiriah looked at her as if she were something stuck to his boot. “I would sooner offer my neck to a dull axe blade than trust you, female. Your name has become another word for ‘treachery.’”

“Better that than being another word for ‘failure,’” Roodaka muttered.

The conversation was ended by the appearance of land off the port bow. It was the island of Zakaz, in all its ruined “glory.” A handful of Dark Hunter vessels could be seen in the waters nearby, on patrol. At a word from Spiriah, the Zyglak vessels attacked. Taken by surprise, three of the Dark Hunter ships were sunk immediately. The others beached on the shores of the island, only for the crews to be slain by a mob of Skakdi natives.

Spiriah laughed at the sight. “The Skakdi believe they know what savagery is,” he said. “But they have never met the Zyglak. And the Makuta believe they know all the colors and shapes of revenge… but I will introduce them to a shade darker than even they could imagine.”

The mini-armada surged forward, Zyglak already preparing to storm the beaches. They were still 500 yards from shore when the first Zyglak ship suddenly lurched and began to sink. This was followed by another and still another. Soon, Zyglak vessels on every side were taking on water, gaping holes torn in their hulls below the water line.

Takadox rushed to the rail. He caught a glimpse of beings just under the water, attacking the Zyglak craft. From a distance, they almost looked like his old ally, Ehlek. Whatever they were, they moved like fish underwater and the ships were no match for their claws.

Shocked by the abrupt annihilation of his force, Spiriah was unprepared for Brutaka’s attack. An energy blast knocked him off his feet, a well-placed kick kept him on the ground, and then Brutaka’s blade was pressed against his chest armor.

“Go ahead,” Brutaka said, coldly. “Use one of your powers. Think you can do it before I rip open your armor? And how long do you think your energy will last out here, with no body to occupy? Or maybe I should just throw you overboard right now.”

“How… ?” Spiriah began.

“How did I deal with the Zyglak?” said Brutaka. “Simple. You have friends; so do I. Mine are a species of water dwellers who were specially modified by my employers to kill Makuta. They live off the coast of Zakaz, and right now they are practicing their skills on your Zyglak. You don’t want to look… it’s messy.”

“Wait a minute,” said Takadox. “Not that I am complaining, but how did you manage to get in touch with these ‘friends’ of yours? You never left the ship.”

Brutaka hauled Spiriah to his feet. All around, the ocean was littered with wrecked ships and dead Zyglak. “Spiriah had his friends following us. And I had someone following us since we left Stelt, just in case of emergency… and here she comes now.”

The others turned to see a small skiff approaching from the east. Its lone pilot was a female, lithe and well-armed. As she came alongside and clambered above the ship, Roodaka noticed that her left arm was completely mechanical. For a moment, she almost felt sorry for Spiriah.

“This is the last member of our team,” said Brutaka. “Treat her as you would me… and be sure she will treat you even worse than I do. Her name’s Lariska.”
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 5[/color]


Lariska stood at the bow with Brutaka, watching the ship cleave through the water. Behind them, the other members of the team were keeping a careful eye on Makuta Spiriah – not that they could have done much to stop him if he tried to make a break. But Brutaka had done a little math and explained to Spiriah how many hours he was likely to survive once the Brotherhood of Makuta knew where he was. Then he assured Spiriah that if the ship and its occupants were all destroyed, the Brotherhood would be notified immediately where to start looking.

That was a bluff, of course. But Spiriah had spent a lot of his life fleeing from his former comrades, and running and hiding get to be habits after a while. As Brutaka expected, Spiriah bought it and backed off.

The ship had veered away from Zakaz and was on its way south. There was one more stop to make before they headed for their ultimate target. This was the one Brutaka dreaded – it was time to arm the team.

The island that came into view was little more than a piece of barren rock. It was not the original site for this meeting, but plans had changed. Two Order of Mata Nui members, Botar and the nine-foot tall warrior named Trinuma, had been dispatched with a cache of weapons for a rendezvous on a small, wooded island just off the mainland. But a Makuta named Icarax had spotted their appearance and attacked. The fight was furious, but brief. Botar was slain, crushed by the Makuta’s magnetic power, and Trinuma barely escaped to tell the tale. In desperation, he stored the weapons at the first place he came to before returning to Daxia with the tragic news.

The ship dropped anchor just off the coast. Brutaka warned Takadox and Carapar he would be keeping a careful eye on them on the swim over, just in case they got any funny ideas about diving deep and escaping. Vezon was the first to react when they set foot on the rocky shore.

“There is something… wrong here,” he said, his tone unusually serious. “Something beyond even my powers to cope with.”

“You don’t have any powers, freak,” Carapar roughly reminded him.

“I don’t?” Vezon said, seemingly confused. “Where was I when they were being handed out? Let me see… Makuta’s lair… Voya Nui… tunnels… prison… how could I have missed the meeting, I was always where the action was.”

“Quiet,” said Lariska, dagger drawn. “There is one true statement in your babble. There is something not right in this place.”

Brutaka approached, carrying the weapons. Takadox took a long, thin blade, while Carapar grabbed a broadsword. Roodaka pounced on a Rhotuka launcher. Brutaka handed Spiriah a projectile weapon and warned him with a cold smile not to point it at himself… or anyone else. Vezon got a spear, which he turned over in his hands with no real enthusiasm.

“What’s it do?” he asked.

“Nothing,” Brutaka answered. “But with your powers, you don’t need it, right?”

Vezon brightened. “Right,” he agreed, having forgotten once again that he had no powers. Carapar growled in frustration and stalked away.

“We have what we came for,” Takadox said nervously. “Let’s go.”

“There’s something in that cave up ahead,” said Lariska. “I can hear what sounds like breathing, but it’s a… wet sound, as if the being were inhaling through mud. And there’s something else… it almost sounds like… something slithering.”

Spiriah took a step back. “I know where we are,” he said, his eyes darting from side to side as if expecting an attack. “Mutran told me of this place, though it didn’t look like this ages ago. We have to go. We have to go now!”

But it was already too late. Vast walls of rock suddenly sprang up from the shore line, forming a 200-foot high wall around the island and cutting the team off from their boat. “Blast it down,” Brutaka ordered. But even the power of his blade was not enough to penetrate the stone.

Spiriah had shapeshifted himself some wings and was trying to fly over the top. A sharp spear of stone erupted out of the top of the wall and impaled one of his wings, sending him spiraling toward the ground. Lariska ran, leapt, hit the wall feet first, and propelled herself into mid-air to catch the falling Makuta.

There was no time to marvel at her athletic feat or make other attempts to escape. For now a voice was coming from the cave, but not a voice like anyone present had ever heard before. It sounded like the slimy, repulsive sound that comes when a nest of feeder worms is disturbed. Even Brutaka had to suppress a shudder.

“Visitors,” said the voice. “At last.”

“Who are you?” said Brutaka. “Did you imprison us here? I warn you, you don’t know the power you face.”

A massive tentacle shot out of the cave, wrapping itself around Brutaka and pulling him inside. The next moment, he was in the presence of something so horrible, so alien, that it took all his willpower just to hold on to his sanity.

“Now,” said the entity that held him in its grip. “Now tell Tren Krom of your power.”
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 6[/color]


Brutaka tried to close his eyes. It didn’t help. He couldn’t get the image of Tren Krom out of his mind – a writhing, crimson mass of tentacles emerging from a gelatinous central core, with two dead yellow eyes that somehow followed every movement without ever moving themselves. At least, that was what he had seen at a glance – somehow, Brutaka knew to gaze for long at Tren Krom would be to invite madness.

The entity seemed over time to have merged with the stone floor and walls of its cave, so that lurker and place of concealment were one. The acrid stench of decay hung over everything. In vain, Brutaka tried to break free of the grip of Tren Krom’s tentacle. He could feel the strange being trying to probe his mind, but so far, Brutaka’s mental training had allowed him to resist. If that should fail, he knew, the secrets of the Order of Mata Nui would be exposed to this monster.

“What wonders have come into my universe in the millennia since my exile?” Tren Krom said softly, his voice as revolting as his form. “I must know!”

Hesitantly, the other members of Brutaka’s team had entered the cave, only to wish they hadn’t. It was only Lariska, protosteel dagger in hand, who kept them from fleeing.

“You think me an alien… an ‘other’…” Tren Krom continued. “But I am of the substance of this universe, and I walked here long before you or even Mata Nui himself. Have you not heard the tales?”

“There is a Tren Krom in legend,” said Brutaka. “But… the tales obviously left some parts out.”

Tren Krom laughed. The sound made the team wish death would come for them right now. “Before the Great Spirit Mata Nui was born, the Great Beings created one being who was purely organic. They taught me the ways of the universe they were creating and they placed me in its core. There I was to remain, maintaining the heat, the light, all the forces that made their creation whole…”

Brutaka had managed to work an arm partway loose. With a little luck, he would be able to get his hand on a dagger and cut himself free… all he needed was time. “So what happened? How did you end up here?”

“My time was always to be short,” Tren Krom replied. “I was to shepherd this universe until Mata Nui was prepared to take power. A Matoran of Light came to me and said the hour had come for me to move on… a crafter of canisters he was, whose sanity did not survive our encounter. I surrendered myself to my fate, only to be exiled here by the Great Beings and bound to this rock.” His voice tuned heavy with bitterness. “The universe, it seems, did not need two entities supreme.”

“What… what do you want with us?” whispered Vezon. “And please don’t say someone to hold your mirror for you.”

“I would know what has gone on in the universe in the last 100 millennia,” Tren Krom answered. “My visitors have been few in number. You seven will remain here and I will gain the knowledge I need from your minds… of course, sadly, you may have no minds left when I am done.”

“Why ask us?” said Lariska. “You obviously don’t really care.”

“Would you shut up?” hissed Carapar. “Rule number one: don’t annoy the giant, tentacled monster, or don’t they teach that one in The Shadowed One’s school?”

“Be quiet,” snapped Lariska. “Tren Krom… your universe is in danger. It’s our job to help save it. If you keep us here, you’ll be hurting the one thing you helped bring into being.”

Carapar edged slowly to the side, sword in hand. No one paid any attention – all eyes were on Lariska, who had been grabbed by one of Tren Krom’s many arms. Without the discipline Brutaka possessed, her mind was an open book to the entity. She screamed as a lifetime of memories were sifted through in an instant, screamed as she saw glimpses of the ancient mind of Tren Krom. When he finally released her, she collapsed on the stone floor.

“Mutran,” Tren Krom muttered to himself. “So long ago now, I entered his mind … and he mine … and so he learned how best to strike at Mata Nui. He and his kind have dared reach for power that fate chose to deny them. How… intriguing.”

“It’s more than that,” Brutaka said. “ Tell him, Spiriah – tell him what will happen to him if the Makuta succeed in their plans.”

“If the Plan succeeds…” Spiriah began. He glanced around as if one of his former comrades might be somewhere nearby, listening. “A shadow will fall… Makuta will rule the universe, their will enforced by Rahkshi. Anyone with the power to threaten that rule will die… and that means anyone.”

“Impossible,” said Tren Krom. Suddenly, the minds of every team member were filled with nightmarish images projected by the tentacled entity, visions that would sicken even the mad. “No one can approach without my assent. No one can fight me. No one can kill me. I am eternal!”

Brutaka had his dagger in hand now. “Maybe not,” he said. “But I’m betting there was a time you said no one could bind you… and look what happened.”

Tren Krom paused in thought. Brutaka started to make his move, then caught Carapar out of the corner of his eye. The Barraki was raising his sword to strike the entity. It was too late to shout, too late to stop him.

Carapar brought his blade down, confident he had taken his enemy by surprise. Then a third eye suddenly appeared on Tren Krom, one gazing right at Carapar. The Barraki froze in mid-blow. A shaft of energy shot out from the eye, bathing him in its glow. The next instant, Carapar shattered into fragments as if he had been made of crystal. Then there was nothing left of him but a pile of glittering dust on the stone floor.

“I helped to birth a world of order,” Tren Krom whispered. “But from what I have seen in the female’s mind… you have turned it into a universe of madness and fear. It is not worth saving. But it is the universe you and your kind deserve.”

Tren Krom hurled Brutaka at his team. Spiriah used his magnetic powers to catch him before he could slam into the wall. The tentacles withdrew then, wrapping themselves around the core of Tren Krom’s being.

“Go,” the entity said. “Take yourselves from my prison… take your memories and plans with you… for the horrors already in your minds are worse than any I could visit upon you. I condemn you to your fate – life in the universe you and your kind have made.”

No one was going to take the time to argue. Gathering up Brutaka and Lariska, they fled the cave even as the stone walls that surrounded the island receded into the sand. Only Takadox paused to look back at the cavern where Carapar had died, wondering for a moment just what it would take to end the life of a being older than the stars.
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 7[/color]


Brutaka and Lariska stood together, watching Takadox standing silently by the rail of the ship.

“I worry about that one,” said Lariska. “He has not spoken a word since we left Tren Krom’s island, after the death of his friend Carapar.”

“Friend?” snorted Brutaka. “Barraki don’t have friends, just people they use – and Carapar was Takadox’s favorite puppet. Besides, don’t waste your worry on him – save it for us.” He pointed off the bow. “We’ve arrived.”

Looming out of the mist was an island of black sand and jagged rock, volcanic peaks and strange Rahi arcing and wheeling through the sky. Despite the bright light that played off the waters around it, the island seemed to be in perpetual shadow.

“Welcome to Artidax,” said Brutaka.

Vezon approached, chuckling. “Hope we survive our stay.”

Brutaka looked around at his team – a Barraki, half a Skakdi, a Makuta, a former queen of the Visorak, a Dark Hunter, and himself. “Well, if we don’t, who knows? The world might be better off without us.”

Brutaka and Spiriah, being the two most powerful team members, led the way to shore. As they trod on the ebon sands, all seemed quiet. “So you know nothing about the defenses here?” asked Brutaka.

“Only what Krika sometimes talked about. Ideas he had,” said Spiriah. “You realize this whole thing is a terrible idea.”

“What?”

“Freeing Miserix,” said Spiriah. “He can’t stop the Plan. All we will find here is an early death. Listen, we -- ”

What happened next was startlingly fast. The black sands began to swirl around Spiriah, forming a hand which grabbed the Makuta and started dragging him down. Brutaka grabbed Spiriah’s hand, calling to the others, “Help me!”

Lariska, Vezon and Roodaka rushed to his aid. Takadox hung back, occasionally glancing toward the ship as if contemplating escape. The pull of the sand was too strong and Spiriah’s mask had almost disappeared beneath it. Then Roodaka fired her Rhotuka launcher, the spinner striking the living sand and mutating the grains into a swarm of fireflyers. Unable to maintain its grip in this new form, it freed Spiriah. The Makuta crawled back onto the beach, cursing.

“I’m an idiot,” Brutaka said. “I should have realized – Krika rigged this place to sense the presence of a Makuta and react. He didn’t want Miserix escaping, or any other Brotherhood member finding him and finishing him off.”

“Then I would be insane to go any further,” said Spiriah. “I brought you here – you don’t need me anymore.”

“On the contrary,” said Lariska. “I think you would be very useful. Anyone ever hear of a stalking kinloka?”

Surprisingly, Vezon was the only one who nodded. When everyone turned to look at him, he shrugged. “Vezok. He saw lots of things, and since I came from him, I saw them too. Say, when we are done here, who’s up for killing him? I’ll even clean up after.”

Lariska turned back to Brutaka, ignoring their lunatic companion. “Kinloka are rodents, found in many places, among them Zakaz. When the Skakdi need to cross land that might be booby-trapped, they send the kinloka through first. The creatures set off the traps and the Skakdi can cross safely.”

“And the traps here are sensitive to Makuta,” said Roodaka, smiling. “I see, I see. And come to think of it, Spiriah is somewhat rodent-like.”

Spiriah, back on his feet, looked right at Brutaka. “No. Not even if you threw in the chance to eviscerate that Vortixx--”

“Watch your mouth,” Roodaka spat, aiming her launcher at him, “while you still have only one.”

Brutaka put his arm around Spiriah and led him away. “You’re not looking at the big picture here. When all this is over, the Brotherhood could still be a powerful creature, only without a head. It’s going to need a new leader… and the beings I work for will remember who helped them… and who didn’t. Trust me, they have long memories.”

It only took a few more minutes of whispered conversation before Spiriah turned back to the group and announced that he would be their guide to Artidax. He immediately set off inland, with the rest following. Lariska fell in beside Brutaka, saying, “You know full well he could never be leader of the Brotherhood.”

“Let him think he might get to be the head,” Brutaka replied. “It will distract him from the fact that he might well lose his own here.”

Their path took them right up to the slope of a volcano. A tunnel had been bored through the mountain at some point, the only way to directly traverse the island. Spiriah was striding on ahead when Vezon leapt in front of him, holding up his hands. Then he pointed downward, at a razor-thin vine stretched across the path. It led up to a pile of boulders poised precariously on the slope.

Spiriah stepped carefully over the vine, followed by the others, and went into the tunnel. It was only when they were already inside that Brutaka noticed someone was missing. “Where’s Takadox?”

Lariska turned. “There! Look out!”

Brutaka turned to see Takadox bringing his blade down on the vine. In the moment before an avalanche of rocks cut them off from the Barraki and trapped them in the tunnel, they all could see his evil smile.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 8[/color]


Brutaka pushed aside a pile of rubble and struggled to his feet. Around him, Spiriah and Roodaka were using shadow energy to blast themselves free. Vezon and Lariska were nowhere to be seen.

He glanced back toward the now blocked tunnel entrance. A few blasts of power would no doubt clear away the pile of rocks and stones, but Takadox would be long gone by now. There would be time to settle with him later.

“I’ve got him!”

Brutaka turned to see Lariska holding a squirming Vezon by the throat. “I caught him sneaking down a side tunnel,” the Dark Hunter said.

“Let us track down that traitor,” snarled Roodaka. “I want his shattered body beneath my heel.”

“We’re here to do a job,” Brutaka replied. “We keep moving. All of us,” he added, looking hard at Vezon.

The tunnel proved to be far more than a mere pathway. It opened upon a vast underground cavern spanned by a narrow bridge made of fibrous protodermis. Down below, the floor was littered with a massive tangle of what looked like dead branches intertwined with each other. Deep channels had been carved into the walls by lava flows over the centuries. Strange flying Rahi hung from the ceiling, their six eyes blinking slowly at the sight of intruders into their realm.

“Remind me not to let Makuta Krika arrange for my next pleasure trip,” muttered Spiriah.

“This whole island is volcanic,” said Brutaka. “Minor eruptions over the years, but nothing major. Tahu and Kopaka are supposed to have taken care of the problem. Otherwise, we would probably be flash fried by now.”

“No Carapar, no Takadox,” said Vezon in a sing-song voice. “Who will go next? Spiriah the Sullen? Brutaka the Boorish? Vezon the Vanquisher? Or Lariska --”

The Dark Hunter whipped out a dagger and flung it into the stone right at Vezon’s feet. The mad half-Skakdi turned to her, smiling, and said, “Or Lariska, the wise, wonderful, and gloriously homicidal.”

Brutaka led the way across the bridge. At the far side, light spilled through a narrow opening. The symbol of the Brotherhood of Makuta was seared into the stone beside that portal. Someone – maybe Krika, maybe Miserix – had marked their path, so long ago.

“What are we going to do with this legendary Makuta when we find him?” asked Roodaka. “What makes you think he will help the likes of you?”

“Miserix hates the Brotherhood for turning on him,” Brutaka replied. “He would ally with three Matoran and an Ussal crab if it would get him revenge on his fellow Makuta.”

“And so what will he be for you?” Roodaka pressed. “A general? A hero? A symbol around which to rally resistance to the Brotherhood?”

Brutaka shook his head. “Nothing quite so grand. He’ll be a weapon, like a Rhotuka launcher or a ghost blaster. And we’re going to aim him right at the Makuta fortress on Destral.”

Roodaka smiled. “And who, might I ask… are ‘we’?”

Brutaka smiled back, the grin of a Kavinika about to feast. “Now, now … what you don’t know won’t cut you in two and dump you off this bridge.”

“I hear something,” said Lariska. “Up ahead… it might be a voice… or the rumble of the volcano.”

“I hear something too,” said Vezon.

“Shut up,” replied Roodaka.

“And I see something as well,” Vezon continued. “But since you aren’t interested...”

“We’re not,” Roodaka snapped.

“Personally, I always find my comments and observations most interesting,” Vezon rambled on. “You haven’t truly lived until you have seen the world through the eyes of madness. Why, half the time I don’t know if what I see is what’s really there, or what I wish was there … or what I pray, I beg, I plead is not.”

“Why did we bring him again?” said Spiriah.

“He breaks up the monotony,” said Lariska.

“I’d like to break something much more satisfying,” hissed Roodaka. “I hear Skakdi make a most appealing sound when you snap them into pieces.”

“But, since you seem to have no interest,” Vezon continued, utterly disregarding his teammates’ comments. “Well, then, I won’t tell you that the floor is moving. You can find out on your own.”

“The floor is…?” Brutaka repeated. He looked down. Far below, the tangled growth of dead branches had indeed begun to shift. The reason why rapidly became clear: they weren’t branches at all, but the twisted limbs of thousands of crimson insects, now disentangling themselves from each other. Apparently, it was time to wake up and they were ready for their morning meal.

Swifter than anyone could have predicted, they began to swarm up the walls of the canyon on every side. In an instant, they had blocked the openings on both ends of the bridge. The surrounding rock was now gone, buried beneath a skittering sea of red and thousands of unblinking, predatory eyes.

“No, no, no,” said Vezon, shaking his head. “Too late to apologize. Much, much too late.”
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 9[/color]


Brutaka scanned the cavern with narrowed eyes. The glowing eyes of the insects all around made it feel as if he were trapped in some lunatic starfield. Behind him, he could hear Vezon humming softly to himself, as if out for an afternoon stroll.

“Do we fight our way out of here?” asked Lariska, hand on the hilt of her dagger.

Brutaka’s answer was to turn to Spiriah. “Okay. You control Rahi. Make them clear a path.”

“On one condition,” said Spiriah. “Once I do, I go free. I turn right around and march out, take the boat – if Takadox hasn’t already – and leave. And I never see or hear from any of you, or anyone associated with you, again.”

“I wasn’t asking you,” replied Brutaka. “I was telling you.”

“I am a Makuta,” said Spiriah. “Disgraced, perhaps; a victim of jealousy and prejudice, most definitely. But I will not be dictated to by some obnoxious, insane --”

Brutaka hit Spiriah a solid blow in the mask, knocking the Makuta over the side of the narrow bridge. Spiriah caught on to the span, just barely, and hung in space.

“I think this is what they call ‘in no position to deal,’” said Brutaka. He triggered his mask power, opening a dimensional portal in space just below Spiriah’s feet. “If I move that opening just a little bit further toward you, you’ll find yourself in a dimension full of beings made of solid light. K now what they eat there? Shadow. You’ll be a food bank for them, Spiriah, but I have to warn you – they’re always hungry. And they don’t close their mouths when they chew.”

Spiriah said nothing. Instead, he reduced his density and floated up and away from Brutaka’s portal. Then he drifted back down to the bridge and turned solid once more. “I’ll do it,” he said. “Then I leave. I advise you not to try and stop me.”

The Makuta concentrated, triggering his power to control Rahi beasts. Nothing happened, other than restless stirring among the insects. After a few moments, Spiriah gave up in frustration. “They’re already under the control of a more powerful will. It must be Miserix.”

Brutaka gestured toward the wall of insect life that blocked the way they had come. “Then I guess you’re not leaving.” He turned to Lariska. “And we’re fighting. You stay back with Vezon. Roodaka, Spiriah and I will lead the way.”

On Brutaka’s signal, he and his two powerful allies unleashed their powers at the insects who blocked the passage way up ahead. As quickly as the crimson creatures fell, more came to replace them. Worse, the ones behind were now skittering across the bridge, closing in on Vezon and Lariska.

“I have an idea,” said Roodaka, summoning a Rhotuka disk into her launcher. She fired at the insects up ahead, the power of her disk mutating them into unrecognizable creatures. An instant later, the other insects fell upon the unfortunate victims of her attack. The mutated insects were dead in seconds, killed for being different than the rest of the species.

Seeing that her ploy had worked, Roodaka repeated the process, this time focusing on the insects blocking the end of the bridge. As the mutations took hold and their former allies turned on them, an opening appeared in the wall of living creatures. With a roar of triumph, she led a charge across the bridge and into the tunnel beyond. The team didn’t stop running until they were well away from the cavern.

“Are they following?” asked Brutaka.

“They don’t seem to be,” Lariska answered. “Maybe they don’t like to leave their nest.”

”Or maybe they just know we have to go back out that way, so they can eat us then,” Vezon offered, cheerfully.

“Maybe there’s another way out up ahead,” said Brutaka.

“Or maybe we’ll get to like it here,” said Vezon. “A few grass mats, some cave drawings, the heads of my enemies mounted on the wall … it could be quite pleasant.”

“Brutaka!” Roodaka called from up ahead. “I think you had best see this.”

The team rushed through the tunnel to join Roodaka. She was standing at the tunnel’s end, looking out at another vast chamber. More specifically, she was looking at the largest occupant of the chamber, a massive dragon-like beast chained to the stone floor. All around it flew much smaller Rahi, darting and dodging the shadow hand that occasionally shot out from the creature’s chest.

“What … is that?” asked Lariska.

Brutaka shook his head in amazement. “Well, it’s about 40 feet tall, red and silver, with four legs, a tail, and a nasty disposition – and it’s who we’re here to rescue.”

“Miserix,” whispered Spiriah.

“All right, we can take him home,” said Vezon, “but don’t expect me to clean up after him.”
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 10[/color]


Vezon looked from the massive, chained form of the dragon-like beast to his partners, then back at the dragon, then over to Brutaka. He opened his mouth to speak, but Brutaka cut him off.

“Don’t say it,” said Brutaka.

“We’re going to need --” Vezon began.

“A bigger boat. I know,” Brutaka said. “Anybody know what those … things … are flying all around?”

Small, winged creatures were indeed flitting all around the dragon. Now and then, one would let out a scream that shattered rock. “They’re called klakk,” said Makuta Spiriah. “Something Mutran created a long time back – their sonic scream is formidable. They must be meant as guardians.”

Brutaka frowned. Guardians, all right, but against whom? He knew the dragon was in fact Makuta Miserix, ex-leader of the Brotherhood. He had been ordered executed, but Makuta Krika had instead chained him up here on the island of Artidax. It was Brutaka’s job to rescue him so the Order of Mata Nui could use him against his former organization.

At that moment, Miserix suddenly took notice of them. His great eyes narrowed as he spoke and his voice rumbled like a distant avalanche. “Who … are … you?”

Brutaka started to say, “Friends,” then decided he didn’t really want to be considered a friend of that thing. “We’re here to free you,” he said instead. “Can you shapeshift to a smaller form?”

“Why would I wish to do that?” asked Miserix. “Do you know how many of these creatures I had to absorb to reach a size where their screams no longer pain me?”

“See, the size is a problem, your immenseness,” Vezon cut in. “We only have a small boat, hardly more than a raft, really, and if it sinks we have to swim. Personally, I am not big on swimming – some friends of mine went for a swim, I heard, and now they look like sea snakes, just a head and a spine. And I have no spine, so I would be just a head, and --”

Miserix’s eyes glowed red. A burst of laser vision struck Vezon, sending him tumbling backwards. “Gnat,” muttered the Makuta.

Turning to check on Vezon, Brutaka saw that Spiriah had backed way up into the shadows. Miserix noticed too and bellowed, “Tell that one to come forth.”

Spiriah took a reluctant step forward. At the sight of another Makuta, the dragon smiled. “Spiriah. I do remember you. When Teridax rose against me, you were one of the first to be by his side. I have so looked forward to meeting you again.”
Brutaka tightened his grip on his weapon. He did not like Miserix’s tone at all.

“Do you know I have not seen one of my species since Krika left me here?” Miserix continued.

“We all meant to come,” Spiriah said hurriedly. “Teridax wouldn’t let us. We all knew we would benefit by your experience, your power, your very presence.”

“But you did not come,” rumbled Miserix. “So now I shall benefit from yours.”

A hand made of living shadow erupted from the dragon’s chest, grabbed Spiriah, and pulled him into Miserix’s body. There wasn’t even time for a scream.

Vezon, back on his feet, stopped dead when he saw the Makuta consumed. “I thought we were here to rescue him from captivity,” he whispered. “Not from that mid-day empty feeling.”

“You know, we could just leave you here to rot,” Brutaka said to Miserix. “Or wait for the next volcanic eruption to rain lava down on your oversized head. Or … you could have your chance to take revenge on your brothers. What’s it going to be?”

Miserix considered. Then he leaned forward as far as his chains would allow him and said, “Make your attempt, for what good it will do.”

“I have seen those kind of chains before,” said Lariska. “They grow and shrink with him. They feed on his own power and use it to hold him.”

Brutaka hefted his weapon. “Can they be broken?”

“Not without causing him great pain.”

Brutaka gave a grim smile. “I’ll cry tomorrow. Find me a weak link. Roodaka, we are going to need your help.”

The Vortixx had been silent since they had entered Miserix’s presence. Brutaka had no doubt she was planning something. But she dutifully stepped forward and stood beside him, her eyes never leaving the chained Makuta.

“There,” said Lariska, pointing to a segment of the chain that held Miserix’s right arm. “We concentrate our fire there.”

Brutaka and Roodaka took aim, he with his blade, she with her outstretched hand. Energy and shadow bolts struck the weak segment of chain, bathing it in a continuous stream of power. After several minutes, the substance of the chain began to flake off. After a few more, it began to crack. Then the link shattered to pieces. Miserix screamed, loud enough to crack the mountain itself.

The klakk reacted instantly, flying toward the rescue team and unleashing their sonic screams. Vezon and Lariska fought them off, while Brutaka used his blade to parry the streams of sound. Meanwhile, Miserix raised his arm tentatively. Seeing that it was indeed free of its bonds, he reached over with it and tore the other chain from the ground. This time, he did not scream, but only smiled.

The klakk were gaining ground now, driving the team back toward where the insects were still lurking. Miserix watched the battle for a moment in silence. Then he opened his mouth and unleashed a power scream that felled the klakk, along with Vezon and Lariska. Brutaka and Roodaka barely remained conscious. Crawling over, Brutaka checked on his two team members – both were still living.

“Now, then,” said Miserix. “Where is Teridax?”

Brutaka laughed. “And if I tell you, you have no reason to keep us alive. Gratitude is not high on the list of Makuta emotions. I’ll show you. But you are going to need to shrink down to make it out the way we came.”

“Your lack of imagination is disappointing,” said Miserix, in as close to good spirits as a Makuta ever got. He reared back and struck the side of the mountain with all his might, once, twice, again. The rock cracked and began to crumble. Miserix followed up with his fragmentation power, reducing the entire side of the volcano to shards of stone. Beyond it, Brutaka could see the sky and the sea.

“At last!” said Miserix. “After so many millennia – I am free!”

Before Brutaka’s startled eyes, the dragon grew wings. Then Miserix turned his crimson-scaled head to Brutaka and said, “Come. Show me where my enemy hides, so I may grind his armor to dust and feed on his energies.”

“No!” shouted Roodaka. “They want to lead you into a trap! Listen to me, I too am an enemy of the Brotherhood. Brutaka wants to use you, to sacrifice you as a pawn in a war against the Makuta. I want you for an ally!”

Miserix lowered his lead and leaned in so that his massive face was up against Roodaka’s. When he spoke, it was in a whisper. “Little one, I am Makuta Miserix. I am no one’s pawn. I am no one’s ally.” His next words came in a roar that drove Roodaka back into the rock wall. “And I am no one’s fool!!”

Brutaka watched, looking unimpressed. “Are you done?”

Miserix nodded slowly. “Let us go. I have a universe to rediscover.”

Brutaka loaded the stunned Roodaka and the now semi-conscious Lariska and Vezon onto the dragon’s back. Then he climbed on himself. Miserix unfurled his wings and stepped out into the open air. They soared high above the island, pausing only long enough for Miserix to make a muttered vow to come back and destroy the place one day. Brutaka noted that the team’s boat was gone – Takadox had gotten away after all, then.

Let him run. It doesn’t matter, thought Brutaka. A storm is coming to this universe, and when it hits, there will be nowhere for anyone to hide.

Miserix spread his wings and turned toward the north, carrying his passengers into the unknown.

The End

 
—TLH


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#6 Offline Reference Keeper Team

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Posted Jun 23 2011 - 12:01 AM

 

[color=#3A6378;]5: Dark Mirror[/color]

[color=#840000;]Back to top [/color]

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 1[/color]


Plunging through the void between dimensions, Takanuva, Toa of Light, could hardly believe what had happened to him in the last day. While patrolling the shores of Metru Nui he had been attacked by a creature he later learned was a Shadow Leech and barely survived.

When he awoke, he discovered that his light had been partially drained, leaving him with the ability to fire light from his left hand and shadow from his right. His rescuers turned out to be members of the secret organization called the Order of Mata Nui, who tasked him with a vital mission. He was to bring important information to the Toa Nuva in Karda Nui and if he failed, the six Toa were surely doomed. The fastest way to get him there was using the power of a Mask of Dimensional Gates worn by reformed member Brutaka. But the mask was ever so slightly damaged and the ride had already been a rough one.

A circle of light opened ahead of him. He plunged through it hoping to reach Karda Nui in time. Instead he landed flat on his mask in the familiar surroundings of the city of Metru Nui. Or was it familiar? The city was intact and beautiful as it had been when he left but something was odd. There were statues of Toa everywhere. Tahu, Gali, and the others, but not in their Nuva forms. As they had been before they transformed. There were other statues too of Toa Takanuva did not recognize and looming over them all was a massive sculpture of a Kanohi Mask. The Mask of Intangibility.

"How long have I been gone?" wondered Takanuva. "And who decided to redecorate?"

He spotted a Matoran he knew well: Kapura, scurrying quickly through the street. Takanuva stepped in front of him and said, "Wait friend! I don't think I've ever seen you run before. What's the hurry?"

Kapura looked up at him. There was shock and fear in the Matoran's eyes, but no recognition. "Forgive me great Toa!" he said so fast the words tumbled over themselves. "Was I not running fast enough? I promise I will try to do better!"

"Kapura, it's me, it's Takanuva. What's come over you?"

"Nothing! Nothing!" insisted Kapura. "All is well great Toa. For how could it be anything else with such wise and benevolent leaders?"

"Alright, I've had about enough of this," said Takanuva. "Where's Turaga Vakama? Where are the Toa Mahri?"

"I don't know who you're talking about," insisted Kapura. "Let me pass, please before-"

The temperature suddenly dropped all around. The next moment, Kapura was locked in a foot thick shell of ice from his neck down. The Matoran cried out from the intense cold. Takanuva looked up only to see Tahu and Kopaka standing nearby, frost still drifting from the sword of the Toa of Ice.

"Tahu! Kopaka! Thank the Great Beings you're here," said Takanuva. "Something's wrong with Kapura, maybe with the entire city."

"The only thing wrong here, stranger, is you," said Tahu. "Who are you? Why are you here? Where is your identity tablet?"

"I-I'm Takanuva. I live here! You know me and I don't know what an identity tablet is."

Kopaka raised his sword and unleashed a hail of ice at the shocked Takanuva, knocking the Toa of Light to the ground. Standing over him, Kopaka held the point of his sword to Takanuva's neck. "Well Takanuva (if that is your name), you are now a prisoner of the Toa Empire against which you have committed an act of war."

To Be Continued…
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 2[/color]


Tahu and Kopaka dragged a protesting Takanuva to the Coliseum. Vahki guardians saluted and stepped aside to let the Toa enter. Wordlessly, they hauled Takanuva through winding corridors, finally tossing him into a cold, dark cell.

"Make yourself comfortable," said Tahu. "Someone will be back for you when Toa Tuyet is ready to question you in a day, or a week."

"If this is some kind of a joke, it isn't funny anymore," said Takanuva. "What is going on around here?"

But Tahu and Kopaka had already walked away.

"What's going on, stranger, is that you came to the wrong place at the wrong time," said a weak voice behind Takanuva.

The Toa turned, surprised to find he was not alone. Hanging on the wall from chains around his wrists and ankles was a Matoran. Using the merest fraction of his light power, Takanuva illuminated the cell. He stumbled back against the cell door in shock. The imprisoned Matoran was none other than Takua — a fact that seemed impossible since Takanuva had been Takua before becoming a Toa.

"This is insane!" said Takanuva. "You're me! I mean, I'm you! how…"

"I see," said Takua. "You're not one of the smarter ones. You wouldn't happen to know how to pick a lock would you?"

Takanuva shook his head. If this was a dream or an illusion, it was a whopper, but just in case it wasn't, he fired a thin beam of laser-light from his left hand and sliced through Takua's chains. A quick move let him catch the Matoran before he fell to the stone floor.

"That's a new trick," said Takua. "So what are you in for?"

"I-I don't know," said Takanuva. "I'm not even sure where I am."

"Metru Nui, City of Legends," said Takua. "Of course, these days all the legends ended when the Toa crushed anyone who got in their way. Or, in my case, spent more time wandering than working. When the Vahki treatment didn't take, they put me here."

"I can't believe this," said Takanuva. "Tahu and Kopaka insane, or worse, Matoran jailed, and me sitting here talking to myself. Listen, where's Gali?"

"In Ga-Metru, of course," the Matoran replied. " She and Karzahni run the reeducation center."

"Listen, um…" Takanuva paused, unable to bring himself to say the name 'Takua'. " What happened here? How did things get so crazy?"

"It was about 3,500 years ago now," said Takua. "Toa Tuyet tapped into the power of something called the Nui Stone, which gave her the power of maybe a hundred Toa. When Toa Lhikan tried to stop her, he got killed by her and his traitorous friend, Toa Nidhiki. And that's it. Tuyet took over Metru Nui and convinced the other Toa it was their destiny to smash anyone who posed a threat to the Great Spirit. That meant anyone from the Makuta, to the Dark Hunters, to Toa who didn't seem enthusiastic enough, and Matoran who didn't work quite hard enough."

Takanuva suddenly reached up and took off his mask of power. Before Takua could protest, he had placed it on top of the Matoran's mask. Nothing happened.

Takua tore the Mask of Light off, saying, "What are you trying to do? Smother me?"

"Just testing a theory." said Takanuva, rising and putting his mask back on, "Come on, we're getting out of here."

"And go where?" asked Takua.

"We have a date in the Archives," the Toa of Light answered, "or rather, below them. And here's hoping Vakama's stories about what's down there, who's down there, were all true."

To be continued…
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 3[/color]


"Where are we going?" asked Takua. "How did you take out those Vahki guards so fast? What's down here? Have you been down here before?"

"Would you be quiet!" Takanuva snapped.

He had never realized before just how annoying he was as a Matoran.

"There's no telling who, or what, is down here and I'd rather not have unexpected company."

In truth, it was more than Takua's chattering that was bothering Takanuva. In his universe, the Metru Nui Archives were filled with exhibits of Rahi beasts, carvings, tools and other things that Onu-Matoran and Ko-Matoran scholars might study. But in this strange world that he had stumbled upon, the Archives were more like a museum of conquest. A long dead and mounted Visorak stared from the shadows with glassy eyes. A collection of weaponry was nearby, each item identified with a small inscribed tablet. The staff of the Shadowed One, the Spear of Fusion, Zamor sphere launchers, Rhotuka launchers and more. Next to that was the most amazing sight of all: the Kanohi Mask of Shadows, once the property of the leader of the Brotherhood of Makuta, now nailed to the wall like just another trophy.

Moving further into the depths of the Archives, the Toa and Matoran came upon a group of stasis tubes. These were used to keep Rahi in suspended animation so they could be studied. At least that's what they had been used for in Takanuva's universe. In this dimension, he saw with shock that they served a quite different purpose. One tube stood apart from the others, the glow of a light stone playing on its face. Takanuva wiped the dust from the crystal and gasped. Inside, trapped in stasis, was Turaga Dume, ruler of Metru Nui.

"I can't believe this," Takanuva said, "Even Toa as mad as they are here would never do this."

"Dume talked too much," said Takua sadly. "And coming from me, that's saying something. When Toa Tuyet took over, he stood up and said that true Toa value justice and mercy, and she had neither in her heart. You had to admire him for it, all the way up to the moment when they hauled him off and stuck him in there."

Takanuva fired a beam of laser light from his left hand, slicing open the crystal case. Takua grabbed his arm, trying to pull away.

"Are you crazy? What if there are alarms? You can't do that!"

"I just did," said Takanuva, catching the falling Dume. Consciousness slowly returned to the Turaga, and when he saw Takanuva, he said, "Who are you?"

"I'm a… friend," Takanuva replied.

"You? A Toa? No Toa is my friend," said Dume.

"I don't have time to argue with you," said Takanuva. "Somewhere down here there is an intelligent Rahi called a Krahka, at least I hope she's here. We need to find her, something is very, very wrong in this world, and I'm going to need help if I'm going to make things right."

"Help is exactly what you need Toa," said a voice behind Takanuva.

He whirled to see the one figure he never expected. Takua and Dume both backed away in fear. Standing before them, was the leader of the Toa Empire, the wielder of the Nui Stone and the unquestioned ruler of the known universe, Toa Tuyet.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 4[/color]


Takanuva, Takua, and Turaga Dume walked in single files through the depths of the archives, followed by the silent Toa Tuyet. The ruler of the Toa Empire had not spoken a word since capturing the three of them, simply gestured with her barbed broad sword for them to get moving. They marched for what seemed like hours, through twists and turns past long forgotten exhibits and into regions that probably even the archive caretakers didn't know existed.

Takanuva was puzzled. Tuyet could've just brought them back to a cell on the surface, or for that matter, killed them. Why go on a tour of the archives? Things got even more disturbing and bizarre as they rounded a corner and entered a large chamber. In the back were a dozen half badly damaged Rahkshi and an Exo-Toa armor suit missing its right arm. Even more surprising was the sight of two figures clad in black armor who sprang to their feet at the sight of the newcomers, shadow energy crackling in their hands. Takanuva turned around, but Tuyet was no longer there. Standing in her place was another Makuta. This one wearing a scarred and pitted Kanohi Hau. When he spoke, it was in the familiar, grading of the Makuta of Metru Nui.

"A simple strategy," he said. "Tuyet has left us with little choice, but to use our shape shifting powers when we venture out, even then we risk capture, just as we have captured you."

"I don't understand," said Takanuva. "Why aren't you wearing the Mask of Shadows? I saw it hanging in the archives."

Makuta gave Takanuva a look that would have chilled the snow atop of Mount Ihu. "The mask is warded. If it is so much as touched, Tuyet and her minions will know at once. She keeps it there unguarded as a taunt to me. Knowing I long for it and cannot touch it."

The two other Makuta and those Rahkshi that could still move closed in. "But you are not so protected Toa. Give me one good reason why we should not kill you now as your kind has killed ours for so many centuries."

"I'm not…" Takanuva began and stopped as he debated on how much to tell his captors. These were after all, Makuta. The most evil beings in the universe from which he came. Here though, they were hunted fugitives in a world gone mad. "I'm not one of Tuyet's Toa. My name is Takanuva. I am a Toa of Light." The three Makuta recoiled. Takanuva could understand why, a Toa of Light was the ultimate weapon against beings of shadow. "Listen to me," he continued, "I come from… someplace else where there is no Tuyet. No Toa Empire. I can't claim I understand what happened here, but I do know this: I don't belong here and I need to get back to my own universe."

The three Makuta were silent for a moment. Then they began to laugh. A horrible sound that echoed throughout the chamber for long minutes. "And just how," said the Makuta of Metru Nui, "do you propose to get back to this universe of yours my poor, mad Toa?"

"By finding the one who sent me on my journey," Takanuva replied. "A being named Brutaka."

One of the Makuta nodded. He was tall with armor lined with short, curved, and very sharp blades. "I have heard legends of a Brutaka. It is said he is a great hero who guards a valuable treasure, but in Matoran legend, every pile of rocks is a treasure, every rahi larger than a stone rat is a monster, and anyone who doesn't scream and run when the thunder cracks is a hero of great courage."

"Very true Krika. Very true indeed," said the Makuta of Metru Nui. "Very well then. You, Toa, are either a liar, a fool, or a madman. I know not which, but if you need our help, you will have to pay a price."

"And what is that price?" asked Takanuva.

"A Matoran expeditionist, escorted by a pair of Toa, left Metru Nui weeks ago, bound for the island of Artakha," said Makuta. "They would retrieve an object of power: a Legendary Mask of Time. One of the few weapons that might be affective against Tuyet. By now they have it and are on their way back. I want you to attack their force and steal the mask for us. In return, we will smuggle you out of this city so you can find your Brutaka. But be warned, the Matoran leader is a fanatic who would rather die than surrender his prize. You will have to grant him his wish."

"And just who is this leader?" asked Takanuva.

"No one you would know," said Makuta Krika. "A Ta-Matoran, someone named Jaller."
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 5[/color]


Toa Takanuva had experienced many strange things since arriving in what he now knew had to be some kind of alternate universe. But nothing quite equaled what he was experiencing right at the moment: the sensation of flying under his own power over a vast stretch of ocean. Even stranger was the fact that he had Makuta to thank for this ability. After telling him roughly where to look for the caravan that would be carrying the Mask of Time, Makuta Krika had commented that he would never be able to intercept them in time by sea, even if he managed to steal a boat and slip away from Metru Nui. Flight was the best choice. Before Takanuva could argue that he didn't have the ability to fly, Krika had blown a fine powder into his face. The Toa of Light couldn't have helped but breathe it in. With a laugh, Krika explained that he had just been exposed to a Makuta Virus, which would, at least temporarily, give him the power of flight. If it had any other side effects, Krika chose not to say. Takanuva didn't know whether to thank him, or hit him.

Still, his directions had been good. Up ahead, on the land, Takanuva spotted an Ussal crab drawn cart driven by a Matoran, flanked by a Toa of Ice and a Toa of Earth, mounted on Muaka tigers. Takanuva could only guess that both cart and Rahi had been loaded and unloaded from a ship, since part of the journey to Artakha had to be made by sea. Despite the Makuta's warning that he would have to kill the Toa and the Matoran with them (Jaller) Takanuva had another idea. He was a Toa, after all, in a world dominated by them. It was worth trying, anyway. He landed right in front of the cart, propping Jaller to reign it to an abrupt halt. The two Toa raised their spears and shields and took a step forward.

"Who are you?" said the black-armored warrior. "Speak or face the power of my Seismic Spear."

"What my grim friend is trying to say," said the Toa of Ice, "is that we were not expecting visitors, not even multi-toned ones such as yourself. Surprises make us nervous, and when we're nervous, other beings sometimes get hurt."

"Lower your weapons," said the Toa of Light. "My name is Takanuva. I am here on business of the Empire."

"I am Toa Kualus," said the white-armored Toa. "My surly friend is Toa Bomonga. And what might your business be, Takanuva?"

"I don't trust him," said Jaller.

Takanuva barely recognized him in his red Kanohi Komau.

"Kodan keeps a record of every Toa in the universe, and I've never seen his name before."

Takanuva fired a thin beam of light at Jaller, shooting the reigns out of his hands. Pewku, the Ussal crab, reared up, startled.

"When I want your opinion Matoran, I'll ask for it," Takanuva said, trying to sound like a Toa from this universe.

Kualus' response was a blast of Ice from his Sub-Zero Spear, but Takanuva easily shattered it with another light beam. Bomonga made a move to attack, but the Toa of Light temporarily blinded him with a flare.

"If you're done," said Takanuva. "Tuyet has received word of the plan to steal the Mask of Time. She has decided that two Toa are not enough to guard it. Particularly you two, so she has sent me to join you."

"And just what makes you the right choice?", growled Bomonga.

The Toa of Light though fast. "Have you ever heard of… Takutanuva?"

Both Toa shook their heads.

"How about Graalok the mighty Ash Bear?"

Again they shook their heads.

"And I suppose you haven't heard of the beasts of Mount Ihu, or the flame serpents of the Tren Krom Break, or even," he dropped his voice for effect, "even the Kolhii creature of Ga-Wahi."

"We haven't heard of any of those things," said Kualus.

Takanuva smiled, raised his lance high, and then plunged it into the sand in front of the two Toa. "There is a reason you haven't heard of them, brothers… and if I could defeat them, I could surely handle a threat to the Vahi."

Bomonga and Kualus glanced at each other, then Kualus shrugged. "Very well, brother, you may travel with us to Metru Nui, but since you're so powerful, why don't you walk in front of us? That way you can meet any challenge head-on. Incidentally, who is this that plans to steal this mask from us?"

"A very powerful and evil being called Brutaka," Takanuva replied.

This time, the two Toa obviously recognized the name. Bomonga even smiled.

"You know of him, then?" asked Takanuva.

"And well I should," said Bomonga. He plunged his spear into the ground near Takanuva's lance. "After all, I killed him."
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 6[/color]


Back when Takanuva was Takua, a Matoran in the village of Ta-Koro, he had once found himself walking through a stretch of jungle, being stalked by a monstrous Nui-Jaga scorpion. Whenever he moved, the scorpion moved. If he stopped, it stopped. If he turned to face it, it would kill him, but if he led it back to the village, it might harm others before it was driven off. He was finally saved by a sudden inspiration: he changed direction and led the Nui-Jaga straight toward a Muaka-cat cave. Angered at the intrusion of its territory by the other Rahi beast, the Muaka attacked the Nui-Jaga, and Takua escaped.

"Which just goes to show," thought Takanuva, "nowadays there's never a Muaka around when you need one." Here he was, trudging across the barren plains of Karzahni in this weird alternate universe. Behind him were two Toa, Bomonga and Kualus, both of whom served the oppressive dictatorship of the Toa Empire. Between them was Jaller, a Matoran, who in Takanuva's world, was the Toa of Light's best friend. In this universe, he was a servant of the Empire, transporting the Mask of Time back to Metru Nui. That wasn't the worst of it, though: Takanuva needed to find Brutaka and the Mask of Dimensional Gates if he was ever going to make it back to his own universe. And Bomonga had just announced that Brutaka was dead, killed by him, all of which left Takanuva exactly nowhere.

"Ah, Brutaka," said Bomonga. "He fought well, but when he turned to fight Gaaki and Pouks, I hit him from behind and that finished him."

"Not very… fair," muttered Takanuva.

"Fair?" asked Bomonga. "He was an enemy of the Empire. He tried to prevent our lawful exploration of Voya Nui. Who cares how he died, as long as he's dead?"

"Our friend, Takanuva, seems to be carrying a conscience," said Toa Kualus. "That is a heavy burden in a place like this. You would be amazed how many poor, dead beings I see on the side of the path who just couldn't go one more step with that load on their backs."

"Spare me the philosophy!" snapped Takanuva. "What about Brutaka's weapons and his mask? What happened to them?"

"You should know," said Bomonga. "If you really served Toa Tuyet as you claim, any treasure like that gets brought to the Coliseum on Metru Nui for safe-keeping."

"Right. Naturally," said Takanuva.

This was going to be a problem. How was he going to get into what happened to be the most heavily guarded spot in Metru Nui to get that mask?

"You know, you remind me a little of someone," said Bomonga. "A Toa of Water. One of Lhikan's old team. What was her name? Toa Naho, that was it. She came along on one of our missions to Odina to clean out that nest of Stone Rats. Offered to go after The Shadowed One herself, take all the risks. Turned out she was helping that creep escape. He got away, she didn't. Tuyet turned her over to her friend Roodaka and, well, she wound up an interesting exhibit in the Archives."

Takanuva knew he should keep quiet, but he couldn't.

"Do you think this is what Tuyet really wanted? Toa betraying other Toa, Matoran living in fear of their heroes. Toa were supposed to be respected, and looked up to!"

"But we are," said Kualus. "Everyone respects what they fear, and they can't help but look up to us when we always look down on them."

Takanuva heard a stirring behind him. He could guess what it was. Bomonga and/or Kualus getting ready to blast him from behind. While there was no choice, he would have to try and take them both out and get the mask from Jaller. It would take a lot of luck, probably more than he could hope for, but…

Then he heard other sounds; a rush of wind, startled cries from the two Toa which receded in the distance and the sound of a cart crashing. He turned to see a strange Toa standing amidst the wreckage of Jaller's Ussal cart. He was retrieving the Mask of Time, which lay next to the unconscious Jaller. When he noticed Takanuva, he stopped.

"You're not one of them," the Toa of Air said. "That's why you're still alive. Don't make me regret that decision."

"Who are you?" asked Takanuva. "What do you want here?"

"What do I want," said the Toa. "I want some peace, but I'm never going to get any while that crazy Toa of Water is running things. So I keep an eye out for things she wants, like this Mask here, then I take them from her. That's why when you see her list of enemies of the Empire, you'll find my name at the top: Toa Lesovikk."
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 7[/color]


Under the cover of darkness, Toa Lesovikk and Toa Takanuva darted through the sculpture fields of Po-Metru. They had slipped back to Metru Nui through an undercover chute a few hours before. Lesovikk knew a few there were closed for repair but were still functioning, and the best of all, unguarded.

"Where are we going," whispered Takanuva. "The Coliseum is the other way! And Brutaka's mask is in there, that's where I have to go."

"Right," said Lesovikk. "But if you want to get in there and out of there alive we do it my way. And my way starts from the Throne of Stone."

The Toa of Air pointed straight ahead. Not far away was indeed a huge throne made of rock, mounted on a base of Rahkshi parts. Po-Matoran carrying torches surrounded it, and sitting on the chair at the top was Toa Pohatu himself.

"Umm, excuse me," said Takanuva. "I met Tahu and Kopaka not long ago, and… are you sure this is a good idea?"

"Trust me," said Lesovikk, smiling.

After a few hours, the Po-Matoran left to get back to their homes. As Pohatu descended from his throne, Lesovikk scraped three times with his armoured boot against a nearby rock. The Toa of Stone stopped, head turned to listen. Then he said, "Lesovikk, you're out of your mind."

"It helps," said the Toa of Air, leading Takanuva to where Pohatu stood. "This is my new pal, Takanuva. He's waiting for the five widget tour of the Colisem, particularly the Hall of Masks."

"Wait a minute," said Takanuva. "I don't understand any of this. Tahu, Pohatu and the rest were supposed to stay asleep until they were needed to awaken Mata Nui. But Mata Nui never fell asleep here, so why are they here?"

"He talks a lot, doesn't he," Pohatu said to Lesovikk. Lesovikk shrugged.

"Ok, glowfish, let me tell you a story," Pohatu said. "Toa Tuyet found out where we were from Artakha. She sent some Toa to find us, but none of them survived the trip. That was when she found a spot in the Coliseum no one had never seen before. A place from which she could fake the signal that would launch our canisters. Next thing you know, here we are. She raided all out for us. How the Makuta and the Dark Hunters were planning to take over, and how it was our duty as Toa to stop them dead. It was the only way to make the universe really safe. So we all signed on, but after a while I started to have doubts. They turned into fears when I found out that Tuyet had set up a squad of Toa led by Toa Nidhiki to wipe out the Nynrah Ghosts, just because they might someday make something that would be used against her. Four dozen Matoran dead. Still makes me sick. That was when I made contact with Lesovikk, and we've been working together ever since. Of course, Tuyet doesn't know that."

"You're a regular stone Wall of History," said Lesovikk. "But it's going to be light soon. We need to get the troops together and get ready for a raid."

Pohatu led the two Toa back to his cavern. Once inside, he used his power to send a mild tremor that went through Metru Nui. Not enough to cause damage, just enough to signal those who would understand and then respond. They started filtering in through underground tunnels not long after. Nuju, Ahkmou, three Dark Hunters: Guardian, Darkness and Primal, one Toa (Krakua), and a Po-Matoran that Lesovikk introduced as Kodan.

"It's handy to have the Toa's Chronicler on our side," said Lesovikk. "Helps us stay informed."

"So what's the plan," asked Takanuva. "We sneak in, steal the mask and get out?"

"He thinks small, too," Pohatu said to Lesovikk. Lesovikk shrugged.

"Listen, junior. I don't know where you came from or why," said Pohatu. "But I'm betting Tuyet doesn't know either, and maybe that gives us an egde. So we're putting everything on one Akilini play. Ahkmou hears word of the Makuta in town, Darkness took care of any Dark Hunters nearby who were still on two legs. Everybody's in."

"In what?," asked Takanuva.

"Tuyet said her way for too long," Pohatu answered, grabbing a Protosteel Axe off the wall. "It's time to take her down."
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 8[/color]


Takanuva crouched behind a wall, a wounded Lesovikk beside him. All around, elemental power bursts were flying, warriors were screaming and a disaster beyond his imagination was taking place. It had all started out so well: Lesovikk's van had made it close to the Coliseum before being spotted. As planned, Takanuva had used his new found Shadow powers to blind the guards. Pohatu followed with a massive fist of stone that cracked the walls of the huge structure. To the east, Makuta Teridax led Krika, Kojol, Turaga Dume and Takua into battle.

At first, they made short work of the Matoran and Toa who guarded Tuyet's fortress. Then it all went wrong: a Toa of Iron appeared on the walls and a hail of spikes spelled the end of Takua. Takanuva watched in sheer horror as his other self collapsed and died. Kojol fell next, his armor crushed by the Toa's power, and his essence incinerated by a Toa of Plasma. Teridax was forced to pull back.

Things were going no better for Lesovikk's squad. Primal had run into Tahu in the eastern entrance, and killed the Toa of Fire. But the sudden appearance of Gali, and a sphere of Water around the Dark Hunter's head left him to drown on dry land. Toa Krakua hit Gali with a wave of solid sound, blasting apart her mask and armor. Pohatu cried out too late: Ahkmou had already dashed ahead and slain the fallen Toa of Water. He didn't get to enjoy his triumph long. Kopaka flash-froze Ahkmou, and a swipe from Onua's claws shattered the Matoran into little pieces of crystal and Protodermis.

Now it was no longer one battle, but a dozen seperate ones being fought at once, the lines moving back and forth. Pohatu fought his way into the Coliseum, but found himself too evenly matched with Onua to make much progress. Lesovikk fell with an ice dagger in his shoulder, but rallied to blow Kopaka off his post high atop the Coliseum. Takanuva winced as the Toa of Ice hit the ground and lay still.

"Now," said Lesovikk to Takanuva, "Darkness will lead the way. Get in there and do what you have to."

"What about you?" asked Takanuva.

"We'll give them something to remember," said Lesovikk.

Takanuva took one last look around. Nuju was side-by-side with Guardian, keeping a Toa of Magnetism too off-balance to use his powers. Teridax's forces had charged again. Krika used his vacuum power to absorb ruthless attacks as Teridax summoned a bolt of lightning, powerful enough to turn a Toa into ashes. Darkness was already on the move, slipping through the cracks in the Coliseum walls. Takanuva used his Shadow power to enlarge them and followed. Inside the Coliseum was strangely silent. One would never know a battle raged outside it's walls. A team of Toa rushed by on their way to join the fight. Stealing himself, Takanuva fired laser blasts at the ceiling, bringing the rubble down on top of them. He still found himseld hoping he had only stunned them, not killed them.

Together, Toa and Dark Hunter fought their way to their goal: the Hall of Masks. They had made it to the chamber door when Darkness paused. He heard something. The next instance, the door exploded outward as a wall of water erupted from within, sweeping Darkness away. Takanuva managed to grab hold of the doorway, holding on with all his might and holding his breath. Outside, Teridax's attack had met with success as Toa fell before him and Krika. Turaga Dume had rallied Lesovikk's group, although not before Nuju had been pulled into the Archives by plantlife gone wild. Guardian, too, fell, but took half a dozen Toa with him. Back in the Coliseum, the damage had finally stopped. There, framed in the chamber doors was Toa Tuyet: Nui Stone in one hand, Mask of Dimensional Gates in the other.

"I know who you are," she said. "Or rather, I had guessed. You don't belong here."

"Neither do you," said Takanuva. "You don't exist in my world. True Toa must have stood up and stopped you before you went too far."

"In my world, I am much more… competent," she replied, "How unfortunate for you."

"Alright then," said Takanuva, "For Takua, for Lesovikk, and for all the Toa and Matoran whose lives you have ruined, I strike."
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 9[/color]


Toa Tuyet stood over the battered, semi-conscious body of Takanuva, Toa of Light. He did not stir. Being blown through half a dozen walls by a focused tidal wave would do that to you. Tuyet smiled.

"Pathetic, truly pathetic. If you are an example of what Toa are like in your universe, it's a wonder you haven't all been hunted to extinction by now."

The ruler of the Toa Empire slipped off her Mask of Intangibility, and replaced it with a Kanohi Olmak: the mask Takanuva had come seeking. This mask alone, had the power to open gateways to inter-dimensional space, and it was Takanuva's only hope of escaping this twisted world.

"Your friends outside are dead, or soon will be. I admit I was surprised to find they still had some fight lefy in them after 3500 years. But, they can't be allowed to rob the Matoran of the peace I have brought them."

Takanuva managed to get to his hands and knees, rubble sliding off his back as he did so. He looked at Tuyet with eyes that held equal parts of contempt and pity.

"Peace?" he said in disbelief. "Is that what you call perverting the Toa into secret police, terrorrising the villagers, killing anyone who opposes your rule?"

"I did what had to be done. I made the world right. And who are you do judge me? You are nothing but an alien from some other dimension."

Takanuva hurled a blast of shadow at Tuyet, temporarily cloaking her in darkness. By the time she could see again, he was gone. But his voice came from high above her, saying:

"That's true, my world is messier than yours, more dangerous in some ways, but it is a world that's better because your not in it, Tuyet."

The Toa of Water unleashed her power, bringing the ceiling down, but Takanuva was not there. Instead, he sprang from the opening at the far end of the hall, hurling blinding light at Tuyet as he made a grab for her mask. She spun, caught him by the arm and threw him hard to the floor.

"I have hundreds of times your power. You are nothing but a lightstone to be ground to the dust beneath my heel."

Takanuva attacked again, hurling bolts of shadow and light. To his amazement, Tuyet parried them with ease. Seeing his surprise, she laughed.

"You know, we had no Toa of Light in this universe. We didn't need one. And in a few moments, we will be back to being without one."

Takanuva charged. The next few seconds were a blaze of battle. Lasers turning water to steam, waves crashing against walls, a race to see what would happen first: Takanuva drowning in the tide, or Tuyet drowning in darkness. When the fight was through, Tuyet stood once more triumphant.

"Enough! I have wasted enough time on you. Your rebellion is finished, and now, so are you."

Tuyet was about to strike when a strange sound penetrated the Coliseum. Takanuva raised his head and glanced at a hole in the wall. He saw hundreds, no, thousands of Matoran marching toward the building, all of them armed. In the distance he could see Airships and sea-going vessels carrying other Matoran, Dark Hunters, Vortixx and others. All of them were descending on the city, their eyes fixed on the Coliseum.

"Still think the rebellion is over?" Takanuva asked. "Or maybe it's just beginning."

"The fools. With my power, I can sweep them all away in a flood like no one has seen before."

Takanuva looked right into Tuyet's eyes.

"Then who would there be left to protect? Who would you have made your perfect universe for?"

Tuyet smiled.

"Very clever, Toa. True, a universe with only drowned Matoran would not be of much to anyone. But they must be taught respect."

"Why? If they're so ungrateful, why not use your mask to travel somewhere else? Some place that needs you. Start over again, in another Metru-Nui, one where they might welcome a ruler like you."

Tuyet glanced down at the street. The mob was coming closer, and though she could easily kill them all, to leave her as the ruler of an empire of corpses. Perhaps Takanuva was right. At the least, she could leave and return with an army of Toa from another dimension, enough to stamp out every last visage of rebellion in her own world. She turned away and activated her mask. A portal into inter-dimension space opened before her and she prepared to step in.

That was when Takanuva made his move. He somehow managed to hurl himself at Tuyet, snatching the mask from her face. For the second it lost contact with her, it's power shut off and the portal began to close. Takanuva, mask in hand, dove through, but Tuyet was not about to let him escape so easily. Even as he cleared the portal, she grabbed on to his leg, trying to follow him. She blasted him with hard bolts of Water, catching his hand and tearing the mask from his grasp. It floated away into the space between dimensions. Takanuva turned back.

What he saw horrified him, but his shout of warning came too late. Tuyet was halfway through the portal, trying to drag Takanuva back in. She was so consumed by rage that she never noticed the portal closing until it was much too late. She screamed as reality slammed shut on her body, leaving her upper half in the void, and the lower half in the Coliseum on her world. Mercifully, death came instantly. Takanuva hovered in space for a long moment. He wondered what would happen in Tuyet's Universe with her gone. Would the Toa become protectors again? Would the Matoran take control? Or would some group of the Dark Hunters and Makuta become new dictators? Perhaps someday, if he was able, he would return to find out the answer. He turned his head away from the remains of Tuyet, wondering how a Toa could go so wrong, and realizing with a shudder what a fine line it could be between justice and tyranny. Tuyet's life had been wasted, but the lives of no more Toa would be lost if he could prevent it. With grim resolve, he resumed his journey to Karda Nui.

 
—TLH


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Posted Jun 23 2011 - 12:01 AM

 

[color=#3A6378;]6: The Mutran Chronicles[/color]

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[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 1[/color]


As I, Makuta Mutran, recline in my hive in Karda Nui, carving this record, I am gratified by the sight of shadow leeches taking form in their bubbling vats. The invasion of the universe core is proceeding well, my newest creations are spreading darkness and corruption, and in general, it is good to be alive.

My assistant, Vican, is busily stuffing a failed experiment back into its crate. Normally, I dispose of any “accidents” as soon as possible… but in this case, this hissing, biting, and incredibly toxic creation would make a fine gift for Chirox.

Ah, Chirox … it was only 100 millennia or so ago that we were the best of friends, working together to create new and better Rahi to aid the Matoran.

It was during the reign of Makuta Miserix, first leader of the Brotherhood. The fortress of Destral had only recently been constructed and all Makuta were based there. Our sole job at the time was Rahi creation. I recall one particular day when Chirox and I were bent over our slab, trying to make something useful out of one of Spiriah’s experiments.

“Too many legs,” muttered Chirox. “And those teeth…”

“Do we break it down and start over?” I asked. “Or simply lock it in a room with Spiriah?”

Miserix chose this moment to enter. He took one look at the squirming thing on the table and snorted in disgust. Then he glanced up at us. “We have a… situation,” he said. “The inhabitants of Xia are demanding higher payments for their goods than most Matoran cities can afford. I want one of you to go with Makuta Icarax and his aide, Pridak, to explain the necessity of cooperation to them.”

After he left, we flipped the Rahi to see who would have to go. Unfortunately, it had two heads and no tail, so it took quite some time to arrive at a decision.

The mission was successful, of course. After days of negotiations, Icarax lost his temper. Later, after the rubble had been cleared away, the Xians were more than willing to be reasonable. We practically had to drag Pridak off the island, so taken was he with the place’s potential.

It was only when we were close to Destral that I realized I had forgotten my pet project, my favorite sentient rock. “I must have left it in the center of the island when we were inspecting the factories,” I said. “Most disturbing… I never travel without it, but it can be… difficult.”

“What’s the problem?” growled Icarax. “It’s a rock.”

“Well, true,” I answered. “That is, unless it starts eating Xians and grows into a Mountain. Still, what are the odds of that ever happening?”

We sailed on then, leaving behind an island full of factories, a hard-working population of Xians… and a very, very hungry rock.
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 2[/color]


Ah, Pridak … it was not so very long after our excursion to Xia that he left the service of the Brotherhood of Makuta for “greater things.” I gather that Makuta Miserix kept an eye on him, through an easily corruptible character named Takadox. And so the formation of the League of Six Kingdoms came of little surprise to us.

That’s not to say we were happy about it. Oh, my, no. It was one thing to know you were always below the Great Spirit on the ladder of power – quite another to be receiving strongly worded “requests” from six jumped-up warlords who didn’t know their proper place in things.

Well do I remember sitting in a cold, damp chamber in some Barraki tower, listening to Pridak and Kalmah discuss how they intended to carve up the known universe into territories. We Makuta would continue to provide Rahi beasts and anything else they might need that was within our power to give them. Miserix listened to all this with growing impatience until he could take no more.

“Insolent gnats,” he spat. “The Makuta serve only Mata Nui. We do not put our secret knowledge to work for every being with a strong arm and legions of rabble behind him.”

Pridak leaned forward, smiling. “That ‘rabble’ is prepared to march on Destral on my orders. Before your Toa and Rahkshi can even marshal their forces, we will have taken your fortress … and claimed your precious secrets. You would do well to remember that, while you serve Mata Nui, we are his chosen rulers in this universe.”

“Then perhaps the Great Spirit is not as smart as we have been led to believe,” said Icarax.

I glanced at Takadox then. A member of the League and a seller of information to the Brotherhood, he truly belonged with neither side. Perhaps that is why he looked like he wished he could sink into the floor.

Pridak rose, followed by Kalmah and the others. “You have a choice, Makuta – cooperation, or conquest. I trust you will choose wisely.”

“What about the places not on your map?” asked Makuta Chirox. “Artakha … Metru Nui … the unknown lands to the south …”

“We are in … discussions with Metru Nui,” said Kalmah. “As for Artakha, let the old fool putter among his creations. And the southern lands are fit only for stone rats and lohrak.”

“Then this lot should fit right in,” I muttered, earning a glare from Kalmah.

“This meeting is over,” said Pridak coldly. “We will expect fresh war beasts as requested. If you choose to obstruct the designs of the Great Spirit, then your fate will be on your own heads.”

One by one, the League members filed out, Takadox shooting a worried glance at Miserix as he departed. After they were gone, Miserix turned to his most trusted lieutenant and spoke the words that (though we did not know it then) sealed the Barraki’s fate:

“Swords so easily drawn beg to be used … and are rarely so easy to put away again. These Barraki may prove troublesome. Watch them.”
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 3[/color]


The war was over.

Not that I got to witness the final, grand battle between the forces of the Brotherhood of Makuta and the upstart League of Six Kingdoms. Oh, no – Miserix’s lieutenant claimed the honor of leading the attack and getting all the glory. I and another Makuta, Gorast, were sent on what amounted to clean-up duty in the fortress of Kalmah.

Needless to say, I was not excited about this task. If you have ever been to the northwestern regions of the League’s territory, you know that it stinks like the breath of a Kanohi Dragon and is littered with the carcasses of dead Rahi. Of course, that last is my fault – Kalmah never showed the proper respect due a Makuta, so I never sent him Rahi with a lifespan of more than three days.

Add to that the company of Gorast, as warm and friendly as cuddling up with a spiked lava eel. She said nothing on the trip north, other than to urge me to move faster, which was fine with me. Gorast is a fierce warrior, but once you have finished discussing dismemberment, slaughter, carnage, and decapitation, she has nothing much left to say.

Kalmah’s “fortress” was hardly that. Word of the League’s surrender had spread and that remnant of his army that had been left behind had sacked the place. They had fled before we arrived, so that all we found was a pile of rock and debris. A brief search revealed no signs of any weapons, charts, equipment, or anything else that would be of use.

After a while, Gorast spotted a few stragglers and hunted them down. I tried to clear some of the rubble to make a space to sit down. That was when I spotted the carving. Looking it over, I realized that some of my creations – the Rahi beasts I named “blade burrowers” – had defied the odds and survived. What’s more, Kalmah had discovered something most interesting about them. When enough blade burrowers are present, they start to tunnel every which way. At first glance, the tunnels look random – two long, curved ones running north and south, with smaller ones in between them – with the same pattern of construction, repeated over and over again. But Kalmah had realized they were not random at all, as any fool could see. No – the blade burrowers were constructing a map.

But… a map of what?

That question plagues me to this day. The shape of the tunnels looks like no land mass I know of. I even once tried having an imprisoned Toa wearing a Mask of Translation communicate with the burrowers, but to no avail. It seems the burrowers don’t know why they are building the tunnels in this pattern either, only that they must.

I felt certain then, and still do now, that this means something … perhaps something devastating. But it is a mystery beyond even the Brotherhood’s capacity to solve … and although a Makuta should never admit to feeling fear, I confess the memory of that carving haunts my dreams.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 4[/color]


There is nothing quite so… amusing… as Matoran at war with each other. There they are, with their powerless masks and their little weapons, trying to look formidable as they march into battle. One has to laugh.

Of course, Makuta Miserix did not find the situation at all amusing. A mere 500 years after the defeat of the League of Six Kingdoms, the Matoran of Metru Nui had gone to war with each other. It had begun as a simple dispute over boundaries and trade between Ta-Metru and Po-Metru. It escalated when Po-Matoran sank some of the transport barges and Ta-Matoran destroyed a Po-Matoran warehouse with molten protodermis. Onu-Metru sided with the fire Matoran, Le-Metru with the stone. The Ko-Matoran attempted to intervene and were rebuffed, which pushed them into the Po-Matoran camp. Ga-Matoran efforts to remain neutral failed miserably and they eventually sided with fire and earth as well.

Work ground to a halt as arguments evolved into pitched battles. Entire blocks of streets were badly damaged or destroyed. With no Toa stationed there, and the Turaga ineffective, it seemed as if nothing could halt the destruction. This suited me just fine, since I was using the chaos as an opening to slip new Rahi into the city to test their destructive potential.

Miserix ordered his lieutenant to step in and stop the fighting. By this time, that particular Makuta was already contemplating the overthrow of the Great Spirit Mata Nui, so no doubt he saw this as an opportunity to show how well the Makuta could impose order. Unfortunately, his solution was to seal large numbers of the opposing armies in the Archives and unleash the exhibits on them. It was, needless to say, quite a mess to clean up later. And it did nothing to inspire great love for the Brotherhood in the hearts of the Matoran, though they certainly behaved themselves afterwards.

What happened to the war leaders, we do not know. Possibly they were spirited off as the Barraki had been, to parts unknown. But from that time on, Miserix decided that each of us would be assigned a particular region to watch over. His lieutenant was assigned the prize of Metru Nui, while I was given the center section of the Matoran mainland. (Not that I ever paid much attention to what was going on there, being too busy with my experiments. Really, who cared what happened to a few Matoran here or there? There were always more where they came from.)

Of course, much of what I have related here, I did not witness personally. No, after the war was well underway, I was given another job by Miserix. By the time the Archives Massacre took place, I was well to the south, heading for a meeting with a legend… a legend named Tren Krom.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 5[/color]


Wherever you may travel in this vast universe of ours, it is likely you will run across someone who will tell you that Tren Krom is no more than a myth… just a legend of antiquity, no more real than Irnakk or any other figment of the imagination. Setting foot upon his island will not bring terrible consequences, they insist, just a pleasant walk on a rocky beach. To those beings, of course, I say, “What would you like for your memorial upon your death? So I can start planning it now.”

For it is a well known fact to those who know it well that Tren Krom is no myth. He is older than the stars themselves, born in a time when there was no Mata Nui, no Makuta, only never-ending darkness that encompassed all. He walked through a universe in the throes of its birth, and even the shadows feared him. To meet Tren Krom was to court madness, or worse… so naturally, the Brotherhood chose me to seek him out.

The reason for the meeting was obvious: the Brotherhood could not allow a being of such power to dwell unchecked in our universe. We had to know his intent and whether he posed a threat to the lands we watched over. Thus I followed a trail of half-remembered stories told by the mad until I reached the shore of an island whose shores had not welcomed a visitor in millennia.

In the interests of writing a complete record, I should include every detail of my time there. In the interests of the sanity anyone reading this, I will not. Even when I look back now, I remember only a scarlet mass, a face that was not a face, tentacles lined with tiny, sharpened hooks, eyes that were little more than holes in a gelatinous skull, and that voice… oh, that voice made Makuta Teridax sound lilting and sweet.

I expected to die. When Tren Krom’s mind touched mine, and I saw the reality of what he was, I almost wanted to perish in that moment… better that than to live with the memory. But he saw something in my thoughts that must have intrigued him… hard to imagine what it might have been, given how alien he was to any form of life. Rather than crush me in his grasp, Tren Krom explored my consciousness, like an Archives mole rooting about for a meal. It was amazing… it was horrifying… it was a view into a mind as far beyond mine as mine is beyond a fireflyer’s… and it was feeling my mind turn into a nest of serpents, hissing and slithering and trailing slime.

Then everything went black.

When I awoke again, I lay on the deserted beach. There was no sign of Tren Krom, or even the cavern in which I had encountered him. I thought perhaps the whole thing had been a nightmare, some trick of my fellow Makuta… and then I knew it could not be. For I understood now… I knew how the universe worked, and as much as my mind could stand, why the universe worked.

And I knew one thing more – that Makuta Teridax’s mad dreams of overthrowing the Great Spirit Mata Nui were not just fantasies. It was possible. It could work. The knowledge I held was the ammunition for the weapon Teridax would one day wield, a weapon that would win us a universe.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 6[/color]


Well do I remember the day Makuta Teridax first revealed his Plan. I had only recently returned with the information I learned on the island of Tren Krom, knowledge he listened to without comment. Then he did something no Makuta other than Miserix had ever done – he demanded a Convocation.

Technically, any Makuta could demand that all members assemble on Destral. But normally, only the leader of the Brotherhood would ever do it. Worse, Teridax had not bothered to get Miserix’s permission to do this. The two were on a collision course from the start.

Teridax stated his idea briefly and clearly: we were to strike at the Great Spirit Mata Nui and seize power in the universe. Some of our number, like Gorast and Bitil, were immediately on board. Vamprah and Krika kept silent, for reasons of their own. A handful of others raised objections. Teridax seemed to listen carefully to them, but I could tell he was really memorizing a list of who they were for later.

Miserix, of course, saw this for what it was – a naked bid to take over leadership of the Brotherhood. His response was to rise from the head of the table, hurl a bolt of shadow energy from his gauntlet and blast Teridax halfway through the wall. I started to rise, intending to help him back to his feet. But a look from Miserix froze me where I stood.

“Treason,” said Miserix. “Worse than treason – stupidity. Succeed in your grand design and you risk the death of the universe itself.”

“A risk,” said Teridax, brushing rock dust off his armor, “I am willing to take.”

“And what will you use to attack the Great Spirit?” sneered Miserix. “Your shadow hand? A troop of Rahkshi? You are an insect in the eyes of Mata Nui… and in mine.”

If I could have ducked under the table and maintained my dignity as a Makuta, I would have. Teridax vaulted the length of the room and caught Miserix by the throat. He slammed the leader of the Brotherhood against one wall, then another, before flinging him down to the ground. Before Miserix could react, Teridax had his staff at our leader’s throat.

“You are a relic,” Teridax snarled. “This universe belongs to the strong, and your position of power has made you weak.”

Miserix grabbed the staff, sending a surge of lightning up it that sent Teridax hurtling backwards. “Insolent worm,” Miserix shouted, rising. “You would lead the Brotherhood to destruction and disgrace!”

“I would lead it… to supremacy,” Teridax said. “Supremacy that is ours by right.” He turned to the rest of the assembled Makuta. “I leave it to you… to choose who you will follow.”

Gorast and Bitil moved immediately to his side. Vamprah, Antroz, Chirox and Spiriah followed. I hesitated for a moment, but could not escape the fact that of all present, I knew his Plan could work. So I too joined Teridax. Others did as well, with Krika and Icarax being the last to come stand beside us. Only a small number of Makuta sided with Miserix. Seeing that they were outnumbered, they moved – somewhat reluctantly – to our side. Miserix was left alone.

“I claim leadership of the Brotherhood, through the will of the Convocation,” Teridax said. “The Plan will go forward. As my first act… I sentence you, Miserix, to death. Krika, Spiriah, you will carry out my will.”

Miserix, stunned and enraged, looked at the assembled Makuta with contempt. “You are suicidal fools, tampering with the very order of the universe. And this… this maniac will lead you nowhere but to your deaths!”

The former leader of the Brotherhood stared hard into the crimson eyes of the new one. “This is not over, Teridax. Kill me, scatter my remains from here to Metru Nui, but someday… I will be avenged.”

Teridax had already lost interest. He was huddled with Chirox and myself, discussing how best to strike at the Great Spirit. Krika and Spiriah moved in quickly, knowing Miserix’s penchant for shapeshifting into exceedingly nasty reptilian creatures. They hauled him out of the chamber. I would never see him again.

This is not the end of the tale, of course. Over the next year, Gorast and Icarax tracked down and killed all the Makuta who had stood by Miserix’s side. Teridax would order their masks nailed to the wall in the Convocation Chamber as a warning to others who might consider rebellion.

The only thing that puzzled me was that one mask was missing from that group… the one worn by Miserix. What, I wondered, had Krika done with it?
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 7[/color]


Bitil was the first one to notice. We were both visiting Destral at the time, laying plans to support Teridax’s planned coup against Mata Nui. As I recall we were discussing how unfortunate it was so much of the plan might hinge on the actions of Makuta Kojol, who oversaw the region of Artakha. Kojol was a secretive sort, never sharing what he knew with anyone, not even the location of Artakha itself. His specialties were flying Rahi and sea Rahi, both of whom protected his region from any intrusion, even by us.

But I must stay on the subject. Bitil was making a point in his usual way, by throwing a weapon at the wall. He went to pick up an axe and found he couldn’t make his armor move. It was like all his muscles had turned to water. My amusement at his panic faded when I realized the same thing was happening to me.

Chirox pulled away some of Kojol’s armor, only to see a greenish-black mist rising from inside the shell. Worried, Chirox caught a sample, then did a crude patch of the armor. After extensive tests, he returned to inform us of his results.

“This,” he began, holding up a tube with the mist inside,“ is what is left of our bodies. We have evolved from muscle and tissue to pure energy. No longer do we need to eat, or breathe, nor do we need fear the pains that come with advanced age.

“But there is more,” he continued. “If a Makuta’s energy disperses, his consciousness will disappear and he will die. So it is critical to guard against damage to our armor that might allow our essence to escape.”

How did I feel about this, you might wonder. Intrigued… resentful that Chirox figured out what was happening before I did… and unsure what this meant for the future of we Makuta. Would we be more powerful now that we did not have to worry about organs and muscles being harmed? Would the fear of our armor being pierced and our energy dispersed make us too cautious?

Teridax wasted no time worrying. He ordered the “Nynrah ghosts” brought to Destral so that they could modify our armor to take advantage of our new “bodies.” They added additional layers of protosteel, possible now that we had no physical forms that required space.

An unexpected benefit of our new existence was discovered in quite a painful way (for me, at least). Wandering through the fortress, I encountered a lone Exo-Toa. When I tried to pass it, the robot picked me up and threw me the length of the hallway, all the while laughing a most familiar laugh.

“Chirox?” I asked, getting back to my feet – for that was whose laugh I heard.

“Our new forms,” came the reply. “With them, we can take over robot bodies – perhaps living ones, too, I do not know. Think of it – the ultimate disguise!”

“Ah, yes,” I answered. “Once again, you find a better way to hide.”

He fired a missile from the armor in response, but not fast enough. I stalked over and tore an arm off the robot, then smiled as I saw his energies begin to drift out of the gap. My smile grew broader as I heard him cursing in my mind, while he directed his energies back toward his empty Makuta armor in another chamber.

The idea of destroying the armor before he could reach it did, I admit, cross my mind. Did I refrain out of mercy, or kindness, or some sense of fellowship with my brother Makuta?

No, no, quite the opposite. I simply knew how long Chirox had been struggling to develop a flying serpent with just the right amount of exterior slime to allow it to slither through small crevices, while not so much that it left a trail wherever it went. And as soon as he was back in his body, I was going to take a great deal of joy in introducing him to my Lohrak, wings, slime, and all…
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 8[/color]


Well do I remember the first time I saw the Kanohi Avohkii, or Mask of Light. Truly no more vile or disgusting thing has ever been created in this universe. There it was in the hands of Teridax, not even having the courtesy to be the color of a lump of clay when not being worn – oh, no, the Avohkii gleamed golden. Locked within it was the one power we Makuta dreaded, and the unspoken promise of something far worse – the existence, someday, of an actual Toa of Light.

Whispered rumors had reached Destral that such a mask had come into existence on Artakha. Naturally, Makuta Kojol, being the idiot he was, had not learned this directly. But he was more than ready to lead an armada against the island and seize the thing.

Teridax wanted a subtle operation, a few Rahkshi, that’s all. Kojol, at his peril, chose to ignore this. He assembled a strike force of Visorak, Rahkshi, and even a few Exo-Toa, intending to overwhelm any defenses on the island with one crushing blow.

It didn’t quite work out that way. The first things the Visorak ran into when they hit the beach were two massive serpents that seemed to be made of crystal. The Visorak, supremely confident as always, thought they would make short work of such large Rahi. Instead, the rays of the sun focused through the bodies of the snakes promptly incinerated Kojol’s entire first wave.

Kojol pulled his ships back and tried another approach. Fortunately, Rahkshi are good climbers and were able to get a clawhold on more treacherous terrain. While the Matoran on the island posed little threat, the devices of the island’s ruler – also named Artakha – took a heavy toll on the Rahkshi. They bought enough time for the Exo-Toa to deploy, however, and with their power added to the battle, the island fell.

Kojol could have – should have – taken everything in sight from the fortress. But it took him so long to come ashore, and so long to find the Avohkii (since the interior of the fortress was booby-trapped), and then he claims there was this intense blizzard as he tried to depart. Worse, he was never supposed to have set foot on the island at all – the point was for this to be a secret raid, not one that could be tied to the Brotherhood. (True, Visorak and Rahkshi are associated with us, but without the actual presence of a Makuta there, we could still deny knowledge of what happened.)

Kojol returned to Destral in “triumph,” and despite disobeying orders, Teridax praised him for claiming the mask. The Toa Hagah who served us showed no indication they knew anything about the raid, meaning somehow our plans were still safe from view. The story, it seemed, was over.

Then something strange began to happen. Two squads of Rahkshi dispatched to a remote part of the southern continent were never seen alive again. When I found them, their armor was reduced to scraps and their kraata to dark smears on the ground. It seemed an interesting coincidence that they were the same Rahkshi who were on the Artakha raid.

The Exo-Toa were next. In the middle of the night, they vanished from their guard posts. To this day, we have no idea what became of them. By then, I was beginning to suspect that Artakha, or someone close to him, was taking revenge for our raid. That would mean Kojol would be next. Teridax needed to be informed immediately...

So, naturally, I did nothing.

Why? Because Kojol was a posturing, arrogant, obnoxious buffoon. If someone else wanted to spare me the trouble of killing him one day, so be it.

Oh, it looked like an accident, of course. He was visiting Xia, presenting them with a new armor-eating virus he wanted them to incorporate into a weapon. Either he made the virus better than he knew or else someone substituted a different one – for when it escaped, it turned out to have a taste for protosteel. His armor was devoured in seconds. Well, accidents happen. Of course, that didn’t explain how his energy form wound up in a high-temperature Vortixx furnace where it was completely destroyed.

The virus had died almost immediately upon finishing its work, and we have never seen its like again. The Vortixx claimed innocence, but Teridax ordered part of the island razed anyway, as a reminder to them to be more careful in future.

It was only later that I realized what a fool I had been. Kojol was the only one who knew where the island of Artakha was, and I should have forced the knowledge from him before he died. When the Brotherhood tried to seek out others likely to know where the island might be located, we found that all had mysteriously died. Artakha – if it was him – was being very thorough.

In the end, we did not keep the Mask of Light for long. Teridax’s squad of Toa Hagah actually dared invade the Destral fortress and steal the mask! They paid for it in the end – remind me to write sometime of Roodaka’s nasty sense of humor – but they did escape with the mask.

Once that happened – once we knew there were Toa who had divined our new purpose in life – the Plan had to go forward swiftly. The time had come to bring down the Great Spirit and begin our march to power.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 9[/color]


Perhaps readers of this chronicle will have heard the old saying, “When Teridax is away, the Rahi will play.” Our leader spent most of his time off of Destral, particularly after the Toa Hagah’s rebellion. This left the rest of us to our own devices, particularly when we were visiting that island.

For example, shortly after Teridax left for Metru Nui to initiate the next stage of the Plan, I had a visit from Chirox. He was holding a dead specimen of my new Rahi, the Lohrak. He did not look at all happy, which was nothing new.

“Lohrak! Lohrak???” Chirox raged. “I created the Lohrak, millennia ago, and it wasn’t this … this … winged waste of protodermis! How dare you use the same name and try to replace my creation!”

“Your creation is best forgotten,” I replied. “As usual, you design Rahi that are a bludgeon rather than a dagger. I, on the other hand, put some subtlety into my work. It’s as if I signed my name to them.”

“Signed your name?” spat Chirox. “You can’t even spell your name!”

I was about to crush him with the perfect insult in response when the world shook. We were both thrown off our feet as a violent earthquake struck Destral. Masonry cracked, ceilings collapsed, and it was all I could to do to shapeshift a pair of claws to dig into the stone floor and hold on. The shaking lasted perhaps a few seconds, or perhaps forever, depending on your viewpoint.

When it was over, I struggled to my feet. The fortress of Destral was in ruins. Some of our prisoners were dead, some wounded. At least one of my fellow Makuta had seen his armor damaged to the point where his energy was floating freely in the air (fortunately, we were able to get him into an Exo-Toa body until his armor could be repaired). Most beings would have reacted to this event with despair, even panic, and I have no doubt many of those mewling Matoran out in the larger universe were doing just that.

But not Chirox and I, for we knew what the tremors meant. They were a sign that the Plan had worked – Mata Nui had fallen before the Brotherhood’s attack! Now, if all went right, Teridax would seize complete control of the city of Metru Nui and we would be close to the power we all longed for.

Alas, the best laid plans of Makuta and Matoran … the days following the fall of the Great Spirit proved to be a complete fiasco. Consider:

• Our glorious leader was defeated in battle by six novice Toa and a Turaga.

• The Metru Nui Matoran we so prized were spirited out of the universe by those same Toa, leaving the city of legends abandoned.

• Sidorak was killed and our Visorak legions scattered to the winds.

• Teridax’s rash actions led to the deaths of two Dark Hunters and ended up sparking a war with that organization that rages to this day.

• The Mask of Time – a treasure beyond price – wound up in the hands of a Toa, along with a pledge by Teridax not to menace the Matoran for a full year!

It was around this time that Icarax began to grumble in earnest about Teridax’s leadership. He proposed his own plan: seize Metru Nui, Matoran or no Matoran, and from there launch a wave of conquest that would make the Barraki look like a bunch of irritable sand frogs. Crush entire continents beneath our heels, loot the halls of the Nynrah and Artakha (if we could ever find that island again), and dare Toa to try to dislodge us from power.

Icarax actually had the insane courage to try to implement his ideas without approval from the rest of the Brotherhood. He left his assigned realm of Karzahni and journeyed south with a small army of Manas crabs. A number of small settlements on the northern continent had fallen to him before Teridax confronted him.

The battle that followed was epic. Icarax was the better fighter, but Teridax was more cunning. He allowed Icarax to pound him for hours on end, until the rebel’s energies were almost exhausted. Then Teridax exerted the smallest amount of his will and turned the Manas against Icarax. Once he was surrounded, Teridax used every power at his command to defeat … no, demolish … no, perhaps humiliate would be a better word … Icarax.

Surprisingly, after all that, Teridax let him live. “Your talents are still of some use to me, and so I will not kill you … today,” the leader of the Brotherhood said. “But one day – perhaps in a year, or 1000 years, or 100,000 years – I may grow tired of you, Icarax. You may cease to be amusing, with your posturing and your boasting and your lust for battle. And on that day, your armor will be a meal for metal-eating scavengers, and your essence a wisp on the wind.”

Although Icarax made light of it later – claiming Teridax had been “too afraid” to try to kill him – I know he never forgot that battle. He remains to this day a danger to the Plan and a threat to Teridax – expecting him to be anything else would be like expecting a Zivon to place its head in your lap and purr.

Teridax did not linger on Destral to oversee repairs to the fortress. He returned to his lair at Mangaia, readying himself for the prophesied arrival of the Toa Mata, the keys to all our planning, all our hopes, and all our dreams of conquest.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 10[/color]


How quickly 1000 years can go by when you are busy outdoing Chirox in Rahi creation. While Teridax busied himself tormenting the Matoran of Mata Nui like a Muaka with a stone rat, I was bringing fabulous creatures into being. True, some of them did not live very long … and yes, one died quite an explosive death … but I had my successes as well. The shadow leech, for example – a mutated kraata that could drain the light out of any living being. Who couldn’t love that?

Naturally, I needed a test subject for it. I traveled to a village in my area of control in search of a Matoran brave/desperate/stupid enough to volunteer (I could have taken one by force, but after 100,000 years, all that screaming and begging grows tiresome to listen to). I was fortunate enough to run across a villager named Vican, eager to find a more adventurous life for himself. What he got for the loss of his light instead was a life of shadow and the honor of being my assistant … a more than fair trade, in my estimation.

It was shortly after I introduced him to the wonder that is Destral that a most fascinating incident took place: a Matoran went flying through my laboratory, to be dashed against the far wall. His armor was crimson, but it was obvious he was one of mine – meaning another beneficiary of the gift of a shadow leech. He was followed by Gorast, in her usual state of rage/psychosis.

The crumpled heap on the floor turned out to be Vultraz, a Matoran who had been in the service of Gorast for some time before becoming one with the shadows. On a far-flung scouting mission, he had discovered a way into the legendary Karda Nui, the core of the universe. That was the good news. The bad news was that he had decided to keep this knowledge to himself, apparently thinking he could benefit from it somehow. That he did, if you consider being beaten by Gorast to be a “benefit.”

Once she had the information in hand, Gorast informed Teridax (who was busy taking a long overdue bath beneath Voya Nui at the time). His reaction was predictable: we were to go to Karda Nui immediately, seize it, and see to it any Av-Matoran there would pose no threat. Eventually, he had no doubt the Toa Nuva would make an appearance there … if they did, his wishes were clear. Icarax, of course, thought his demands bordered on insanity if not treason to the Brotherhood, and he refused to go. Eventually, Antroz gave up trying to persuade him.

“We’ll call him when there is someone for him to break,” our team leader said. “Otherwise, I can do without his company.”

Karda Nui – how to describe its glory, its wonder, its sheer beauty? How to capture the feeling one gets at the first sight of it? It isn’t easy, but let me try.

It’s a big cave. With a swamp in it.

At least, there has been the sport of hunting Matoran, which has kept Vamprah happy. Gorast, Bitil and Krika went down below to ready themselves in case the Toa appear in the swamp first, and I have not seen them since. I am sure they are fine – certainly, they would not be foolish enough to go into water so obviously foul.

As for me, I am back to creating shadow leeches in my new hive. I have my doubts the Toa Nuva will ever arrive – what sane being would challenge seven Makuta? If they do, things will be most … interesting. Teridax tells us we must show restraint – asking Makuta to show restraint around Toa is like asking a Rahkshi to show table manners.

Hmmmm … what’s that? I could have sworn there was a flash of light outside. It must have been pretty powerful for me to see it all the way in here. Well, I suppose if it was anything important, I will find out about it in time…

 
—TLH


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Posted Jun 23 2011 - 12:03 AM

 

[color=#3A6378;]7: Destiny War[/color]

[color=#840000;]Back to top [/color]

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 1[/color]


Axonn charged across the landscape of Voya Nui, weapon at the ready. He had just spied two figures materializing in The Green Belt. One looked something like Botar, but obviously wasn't. The other resembled a Toa, but wasn't one Axonn knew. The first thing he had learned after being assigned to this place was subdue first, ask questions later.

The Botar look-alike spotted Axonn first, and tried to block him. A sweep of an armored first sent him sprawling. Axonn was on top of the Toa in the flash of a heartlight, axe blade at the intruder's throat.

"Who are you?" growled Axonn. "What do you want here? Talk!"

"My name is Krakua," the Toa answered, trying in vain to push the axe away from his neck. "I was sent to find you. You're needed."

"Who sent you?" asked Axonn.

"Toa Helryx. Use your mask, you'll see I'm speaking the truth."

Axonn did just that, calling on the powers of his Kanohi Rode, the Mask of Truth. To his surprise, it told him that his captive was indeed being honest. He got up and let Krakua get to his feet. "You're Order of Mata Nui then," Axonn said. "I see recruiting standards have slipped a little."

Krakua paid no attention to the remark. Instead, he said "Come with us. Your presence is required on Daxia."

Before Axonn could object, the Botar type had come close and activated his teleportation power. The three of them vanished from Voya Nui, only to reappear in the Order of Mata Nui fortress on Daxia. Axonn had been there before, so its appearance was no surprise to him. The sight of his former partner, Brutaka, was, though. Not to mention the huge dragon next to him whose bulk almost filled up the great hall.

"Things must be desperate if they're calling on an old war Rahi like you," Brutaka said with a smile. "Oh, by the way, have you met tall, green, and gruesome here? Don't mind the scales and teeth, but you might want to stay downwind of him."

"Brutaka!" said Axonn. "What are you - how did you get out of The Pit?"

"They let me out early for good behavior," Brutaka smiled." But I'm the least of the shocking faces around here. This is it, my friend. The Order is about to come out of hiding after all these years. Helryx told me so herself."

"What did she say?"

"Two words," said Brutaka, his smile disappearing. "Destiny war."


The Dark Hunter known as Ancient stood on the beach of the island of Odina. Behind him, rebuilding of the fortress destroyed by Pohatu Nuva went on rapidly. His eyes scanned the waters, watching for the return of Lariska from her mission. He was anxious to hear just what she had seen and heard.

A cry made him look up. It came from a bat-winged Rahi wheeling through the sky, one not native to Odina. He recognized the creature as one bred for long distance flying. More than once the Dark Hunters had used them to send messages back and forth to agents on other islands. But the flying creature up above did not come from another Dark Hunter. As a half dozen more joined it, they began flying in a pattern recognizable to no one on the island but Ancient. It was a message intended for him, and one that was urgent. The time had come. He had to seek out The Shadowed One and try to make him see the only possible future for the Dark Hunters. And if The Shadowed One, his old friend, failed to see reason, Ancient would have to kill him.

 

Elsewhere, Vezon paced in his cell on Daxia. Across the corrider were two great water tanks. In one swam the six Piraka, now mutated into water snakes. In the other was a bizarre looking being others referred to as Karzahni, who seemed to Vezon to be quite insane. And Vezon knew insane.

When Brutaka's team had first escaped the island of Artidax with Makuta Miserix, they had flown to a barren island in the middle of nowhere. After a short time, Brutaka had them on the move again, this time to a place called Daxia. Brutaka explained that the location of the island had always been a secret before, but that secrecy didn't matter anymore. Neither, apparently, did gratitude, as Vezon and Roodaka were both thrown into cells immediately upon arrival.

Vezon, frankly, was disapointed. Sure, he had tried to steal the Mask of Life, and, yes, he had tried to kill the Toa Inika once, well, twice. And, okay, he had made an effort to trade their lives to the Zyglak in exchanged for his, but it's not like that had worked. And he had volunteered, well, been forced, well, actually been threatened with bodily harm if he didn't help, but he did aide in the rescue of Makuta Miserix. And what was his reward? A cold cell, an uncaring guard, and nothing nearby he could use to kill the Piraka. Was that justice?

His musings were interrupted by the crimson armor of Trinuma. The Order member took a long look at Vezon, shrugged and shook his head. Then he unlocked the cell door and threw it open. "It's your lucky day, misfit," said Trinuma. "You're getting out."

"I am?" said Vezon. "I mean, of course I am. Keeping a being of my brilliance locked away is a terrible waste of resources. No doubt your masters want to consult me on matters of strategy and tactics."

"No," said Trinuma. "I think they said something about needing someone who could die horribly without being missed. So, naturally, they thought of you."

Vezon's addled brain processed what Trinuma said, and somehow decided it was a compliment. "Well, naturally," he replied. "Lead on, and let me show you all how dying's done."
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 2[/color]


Axonn crouched down behind a low stone wall, and watched the Fire and Ice bolts fly by overhead. Beside him, Brutaka was peering around the crumbling bit of cover now and then, hurling a blast from his sword.

"Knock on the front door," grumbled Axonn. "Great strategy. I think all that time in Mahri-Nui left you with a waterlogged brain."

"Oh, come on," said Brutaka, smiling. He picked off an attacker with a bolt of energy, then winged another. "You love this, and you know it. After thousands of years sitting around on Voya Nui waiting for something to happen, you need the exercise.

A green-fleshed Skakdi climbed over the wall, spiked club in hand. Axonn quickly made him regret it.

"This was supposed to be a nice, simple job. Go to Zakaz, find warlord Nektann, arrange an alliance between the Order and the Skakdi. Not get pinned on a beach by an angry horde."

"Are we pinned? We're not pinned," said Brutaka. "Watch."

Brutaka popped over the wall and fired an energy bolt at a half-crumbled building. Sheering through its only support, he sent the structure toppling down on a mob of Skakdi. When the dust cleared, all of them were trapped beneath the rubble.

"Now those guys, they're pinned," said Brutaka.

Axonn sighed. "Just like the good old days," he said. "Now I remember why I hated them so much."

"If you liked that idea, you'll love this one," Brutaka replied. Before Axonn could react, Brutaka had grabbed him by the back of the neck. He dragged Axonn to his feet and stood beside him, free arm in the air. "We surrender!" Brutaka shouted to the Skakdi army. "Take us, we're yours."

 

Elsewhere…

A trader on the island of Stelt would, over the course of his life, see pretty much everything at least once. The place was a crossroads for the crooked, the desperate and those just looking for fast money, or a deal best kept hidden from Toa. This particular trader, though, had recently seen more than he would have wished. A small group of warriors, including the hated Roodaka, had stolen one of his best ships. Worse, they had done it in such a way that no one would even believe it had happened. Things had at last settled down though. He had managed to find a replacement ship and recover those members of the old crew who were still alive. It was back to business as usual, at least until a 20 foot-tall dragon tore the roof off his shop.

"Where's Teridax?" the dragon growled.

"Teridax? Who or what is that? And how would I know?" said the trader, reaching frantically for a weapon, and coming up with nothing better than a cracked Kanoka disk.

"I know Stelt," said the dragon. "A Nui-Rama doesn't buzz on the Tren Krom Peninsula without you scum hearing it. So I'll ask again, where is he? Where is the Makuta of Metru Nui?"

"I don't know! I swear it!" shouted the trader.

The dragon scooped his victim up in a great claw. "I don't have time for this. I have places to be, and bodies to break. I want you to send out a message to all your friends, to everyone who sails in and out of this island. Tell them Miserix is back, and when I find him, Teridax is dead!"

 

Vezon sat in a small skiff with a jet black sail. Trinuma sat at the bow, keeping an eye out for potential threats. If he considered Vezon one, he didn't show it. For his part, Vezon was happy to just be out of his cell. Prison was far too … …confining, but then he guessed that was the point of it. Speaking of points, Trinuma had given him a lovely dagger. Vezon had said "thank you" by not trying to plunge it into his companion's back.

"Where are we going?" asked Vezon, “Why are we going? Are we going at all, or just sailing in a big circle? Or is it a spiral? I went down a spiral once: a big stone tunnel that went down and down and down, and ended in Zyglak. Whoever built it had no decorating sense at all."

"Would you be quiet?" said Trinuma. "This is a secret mission. Do you understand that?"

"Sure," answered Vezon. "Secret mission means if you get killed, I won't tell anyone. And you still haven't answered any of my one-hundred ten questions, or my follow ups."

Trinuma sighed in resignation. "We're going to place called Destral. Once we get there your job starts. If you succeed, you live to babble another day. If you fail, you die horribly. OK?"

"Destral… Destral. Wait a minute that's the Makuta base! Spiriah was a Makuta. At least, he was until Miserix killed him. I flew with Miserix, did I tell you that? At least until he did those loops and threw me off his back. Ocean water is really cold, don't let anyone tell you different. So what am I supposed to do on Destral? Theft? Assassination? Running with sharp objects?"

"You have the most important job of all," said Trinuma. "You're going to betray the Order of Mata Nui, and the entire universe, and this is how you're going to do it."
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 3[/color]


One of the peculiar things about a Skakdi warlord's base is the lack of any kind of a dungeon, torture chamber, or prisoner of war camp. History has shown that there's very little point in torturing a Skakdi, as they never talk except in trade, usually for their freedom, which few captors will agree to. And keeping prisoners means listening to them whine for trivial things like food, water, and a good-sized club to use on the Stone Rats who keep paying midnight visits.

So when Brutaka and Axonn were marched into warlord Nektann's camp, no one seemed quite sure what to do with them. Killing them immediately came to mind, but then it would be impossible to find out why they were on the island to start with. Unlike the famed Necrofinch of the Zakaz mountains, most beings did not continue to sing after they were dead. It was Axonn who insisted that they be brought before Nektann himself. Nektann was larger than the average Skakdi, or at least he appeared so sitting on his throne made from the fused weapons of his foes. He was accompanied by his pet, which looked like a Muaka cat covered in spiked armor. Nektann, ever the gracious host, asked them if they had anything to say before he had them painfully disassembled.

"Yes," said Axonn, "The Brotherhood of Makuta."

Nektann spat on the ground. The Muaka growled. "What about them?" asked the warlord.

"We offer you a chance to sack their fortresses, loot their weapons, and slay their warriors," Axonn said.

"We'd throw in 'Make their women weep,' but have you ever seen a female Makuta?" added Brutaka. "I-It's not pretty."

"Why should I listen to you when it would be so much quicker and easier to throw you into the Tahtorak pens?"

"Because we've already been to see the other warlords of Zakaz," lied Axonn. "What, did you think we would come to this puny hole first? They have all agreed to ally with us. If you refuse, you can sit on your petty throne and watch as they grow rich and powerful."

Nektann frowned, the only expression uglier than a Skakdi's smile. No self-respecting warlord wanted to be left out of a chance at glorious battle and even more glorious loot. In the end, he nodded.

"Why did you tell him we had talked to the other warlords?" whispered Brutaka. "We still have to go to all their camps and talk them into an alliance."

"That's a lot of work," Axonn agreed, "so I guess you better get started."

 

Toa Mahri Jaller stood in the center of Metru Nui, gazing up at the statue of the late Matoro. It had been constructed by Turaga Onewa himself as a tribute to the fallen hero. It was good to know that his comrade was remembered and always would be, but it did little to dispel the grief he felt over his death. He had to admit that thoughts of Matoro had distracted him. When the other Toa Mahri left to search the city for Takanuva, he chose to remain behind. When they returned, reporting that there had been no sign of the Toa of Light, he hardly paid any attention. It still troubled him that the Toa Mahri had been unable to fulfill their destiny without losing one of their own. Behind him, he could hear the other Toa in conference. Metru Nui was quiet for now, with the Kardas Dragon subdued and most of the other Rahi back in the Archives. Still, the heroes could never relax. Who knew where the next threat could come from?

There was a sudden flash of light. When Jaller could see again, six Toa stood in front of him. He didn't recognize any of them. Instinctively, he readied his weapons.

"Welcome to Metru Nui," said Jaller, "Who are you? Why have you come here?"

One of the newcomers, a Toa of Fire also, stepped forward, "My name is Norik, of the Toa Hagah. I ask you and your teammates to stand aside. We have no wish to see anyone hurt while we carry out our task here."

"The Toa Mahri stand aside for no one," said Toa Hewkii, stepping forward. "Tell us your business here, or be considered our enemies."

"Our business," said Norik, "is as simple as it is terrible. We have come to destroy the Coliseum."

 

Vezon landed hard on the stone floor of the Makuta Fortress of Destral. He had been captured by Rahkshi less than two minutes after Trinuma had dropped him off on the shore of the island. Vezon had never met a Rahkshi before, and found that he disliked them. Most beings had a scent, either pleasant or unpleasant; Rahkshi smelled of cold metal and death. The Makuta who came to greet him wore armor of purple and crimson. Although Vezon was polite enough to introduce himself, the Makuta did not bother to share his name. Vezon was tempted to complain about this, but the spear at his throat, the one dripping acid, convinced him to save it for another time.

"Who are you?" said the Makuta. "What are you? And how came you here?"

"My name is Vezon, your darkness, and I was brought here by an agent of a power that wishes you and your Brotherhood harm. They wanted me to come and tell you that they exist and plan to attack this island, but I'm not going to do that, no no no!"

"You just did," said the Makuta. Behind Vezon, three Rahkshi moved a little closer, staffs at the ready.

"Well, of course I did, but only to tell you that I won't!" said Vezon, exasperated. How could this being hope to conquer the universe, and yet be so slow? "It's all a trick, you see. They want me to pretend to betray them. They want you to concentrate your forces here against an attack that won't come. But I decided: Why pretend to betray them when actually doing it would be so much more fun?"

The Makuta grabbed Vezon by the throat and slammed him against the wall.

"Speak, fool! And let only truth and clarity come from your mouth if you wish to continue having one."

"Truth and clarity… Truth and clarity… I don't think I know them," answered Vezon. "Will you settle for 'white-lipped and trembling?' This Order of Mata Nui, it plans to mass an army and navy, threaten Destral, force you to teleport it away from where it is now, and then…"

When Vezon did not continue speaking right away, the Makuta tightened his grip.

"Alright, alright! I was only pausing for effect. They have a spy inside this fortress. They've sabotaged your means of teleportation. When you'll try to use it again… well, I wouldn't start reading any long tablets, let's put it that way. And now that you know, tell me, what are we going to do about it?"
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 4[/color]


Axonn and Brutaka stood on a steep rise, overlooking a battlefield. Down below, the assembled might of the Skakdi of Zakaz were locked in combat with a small army of Rahkshi. The setting was an unnamed island in one of the southern chains, set up as a staging area by the Brotherhood of Makuta for an invasion of the mainland continent. The Rahkshi had been brought there in secret, and allowed to practice their skills on the scattered Matoran residents. Needless to say, there were no longer any Matoran on this island. Initially, the Skakdi had suffered horrible losses, but they were capable of something the Rahkshi could only pretend to: rage. Hungry for victory, and filled with hatred for their enemy, the barbarians regrouped and tore through the Rahkshi ranks. It was overwhelming, thrilling, and sickening all at once.

"Come on," said Brutaka, tearing himself away from the spectacle. "You know what we're here for." Together they walked down the hill and deep into a small canyon. In the center, buried beneath the soil and rock, was a square metal trapdoor with an iron ring. After Axonn split the rock with his axe, Brutaka grasped the ring and pulled open the door. A stench rose from within. The smell of age and neglect, decay and rot. The two Order of Mata Nui members climbed down into the hole.

Axonn sent energy through his axe, illuminating the chamber. It was obvious that no one had walked here since perhaps the beginning of recorded time. The place was bare stone, with the only interesting feature a pool in the center. The waters were greenish-black and swirled angrily, despite there not being even the slightest breeze to stir them.

"So this is it?" asked Brutaka.

Axonn nodded. "Yes, this is the place the Great Spirit created the Makuta and the only place new Makuta could ever spring from. From that pool came their substance, made into living form by the powers of the Great Spirit until time made it into pure energy."

"Then if we destroy the pool?" said Brutaka.

"Yes. There can be no more Makuta ever. But do we have a right to end a species?"

Brutaka was looking at the pool, eyes wide. "I'd love to get into a philosophical debate with you, old friend, but I think we have a problem."

The waters of the pool suddenly exploded up and outward. Foul, scalding liquid struck Axonn and Brutaka, seeping into the openings in their masks and armor. It hissed and writhed, like a thing alive, burning wherever it touched. Temporarily blinded and in pain, the two warriors staggered and then stumbled, plunging into the pool itself.

 

Toa Helryx sat in the command chamber of her fortress on Daxia. The war against the Brotherhood of Makuta had begun, and it had not begun well. Although the Order, through the Dark Hunters, now held Xia, they had been unable to dislodge Makuta forces from the island of Nynrah. In other places, the Order's surprise attacks had met unexpectedly fierce resistance from Rahkshi and Exo-Toa. Being a leader meant making difficult decisions, something she had always known. In her time, she had sent agents on missions she knew they might well not come back from. She had ordered the deaths of everyone who knew the location of Artakha, and now she had to make two more vital choices that might lead to victory or disaster. The first had been easy. She dispatched a messenger to Metru Nui, carrying the Heart of the Visorak. This artifact could be used to summon the Visorak hordes from anywhere in the universe. It was to be placed in the hands of the Toa Mahri, with instructions to bring it to the volcanic island of Artidax and use it there. The second was more difficult. Brutaka had informed her of the presence of Hydraxon in The Pit, as well as the events that took place there. A second messenger had been sent to The Pit with orders for the jailer. She could not be sure he would follow them, given their nature, or she would simply be trading the Brotherhood in the end for a worse evil. But it had to be done. Sometimes she hated being the one in charge.

 

Hydraxon paced the dark, cavernous chamber that was The Pit. In his hand, he held a tablet that contained the orders from Helryx. The instructions carved in the stone were almost impossible to believe. The chamber door opened. It was Toa Lesovikk, bringing back another escaped prisoner. Although the two had clashed on first meeting, they had since become allies in the effort to recapture the former inmates of this vast prison. Hydraxon hesitated to show the orders to Lesovikk. After all, the existence of the Order of Mata Nui was supposed to be a secret, but if the situation, as outlined on the tablet was true, then he guessed it was a secret no longer.

Lesovikk let out a low whistle as he read the tablet. "So what are you going to do?" he asked.

"What I've always done," Hydraxon answered. "Follow orders."

He climbed down the iron ladder that led to the lowest tier of cells. Here, Pridak, Kalmah, Mantax, and Ehlek were imprisoned. The four Barraki looked at their jailer with undisguised contempt.

"Have you come here to mock us?" snarled Mantax.

Pridak smiled, revealing rows of sharp teeth. "We killed you once, you know. We can do it again."

Hydraxon ignored the obvious insanity. After all, he was alive and well, so obviously he had never been dead. "I have an… offer for you," he said, forcing out each word. "There's a war going on. A war to bring the reign of the Brotherhood of Makuta to an end. Agree to fight against the Makuta, and you will get your freedom."

"And if we refuse?" said Kalmah. "Why should we risk our lives to fight someone else's war?"

"If you refuse," said Hydraxon, "You will find that there are places you can be buried far deeper than this Pit."

"Another chance," said Pridak. "Another chance to fight, to lead armies, to conquer. And when the Brotherhood falls, the League of Six Kingdoms will rise again."
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 5[/color]


The Shadowed One - master of the Dark Hunters, mortal enemy of the Makuta, thief, assassin and conqueror - was bored. Since he and his people had been dispatched to occupy the island of Xia by the Order of Mata Nui, there had been precious little to do. The island has been pacified in a matter of hours. Except for the occasional two or three Dark Hunters tapped by the Order for a mission, the bulk of their forces had yet to act. The Shadowed One did not like feeling penned in on this island, or ignored. That was why this day found him prowling the factories of Xia seeking amusement. Despite his pressure to get all manufacturing centers working again, many of the buildings were still badly damaged by the battle between the Tahtorak and the Kanohi Dragon. It was while walking through one such building that he came upon a Vortixx frantically clearing away rubble.

"What are you doing here?" asked The Shadowed One.

The Vortixx gasped, surprised. When he saw who was addressing him, he dropped to one knee and bowed his head. The Vortixx, it seemed, had a long history of knowing when and to whom to submit.

"Nothing, Great Lord," said the Vortixx, "just… cleaning up so all factories can be working again as you ordered."

The Shadowed One said nothing. He knew what a lie sounded like. He had told enough of them himself. After several moments, he said, "Then I will help you."

"No!" the Vortixx cried out, "That's… that's unnecessary. This is work for a laborer, not a ruler like yourself."

Power flashed out from The Shadowed One's staff. A band of crystalline protodermis appeared around the Vortixx's mouth, gagging him.

"I said I will help you," repeated The Shadowed One.

Striding over to the heap of rubble, The Shadowed One began to dig, never taking his eye off the Vortixx. The deeper he got, the more visibly upset the Xian seemed to be.

What, he wondered, was waiting at the bottom of this hole?

He soon found out. Several feet down, he came across a protosteel box. Burned into the lid was the symbol of the Brotherhood of Makuta. The box was locked, but the lock was no match for the now very curious Dark Hunter. He opened it carefully (after all, this might be some clever trap). But when he saw what the box contained, his eyes widened.

"Oh, my, my," said The Shadowed One, as he gazed at something that soon might make him master of the world.

 

Vezon, it could truly be said, had a unique perspective on life. Perhaps it had been the fact that he had only been truly alive for a matter of weeks. Perhaps it was his time spent wearing the Mask of Life. Or perhaps it was just the fact that he was hopelessly insane. But the perspective he had today, he had to admit, was a new one: upside-down. The Makuta he had encountered in the fortress of Destral, who identified himself with a laugh as Tridax, had not entirely believed Vezon's story about cross and double-cross. In fact, he decided some follow-up questions were in order, the kind delivered when your guest is hanging by the ceiling by his ankles.

"I have checked our teleportation technology," Tridax said. "There was no sign of sabotage. You are a liar."

"Well, no one ever said Makuta were observant," said Vezon. "How could you be so sure? Suppose I sabotaged it myself using my incredible powers of the mind."

"You have no powers," said the Makuta, picking up a wickedly sharp blade. "You have no mind. You are about to have no head."

"You're right! You're right!" babbled Vezon. "There is no army, there is no navy, I simply wanted the pleasure of your company. Well, pleasure might be too strong a word. Did I tell you I once wore the Mask of Life? One stray thought back then, and you wouldn't have even left ashes. I do miss those days. Anyway, take pride in being correct. There is no threat to Destral at all."

The walls of the fortress suddenly shook violently from an incredible impact.

"Except that one." Vezon added helpfully.

Rock dust fell from the ceiling, masses of weapons clattered to the floor and even the anchors of Vezon's chains came loose. A second blast tore a hole in the wall and sent mangled Rahkshi flying into the chamber. This time, the anchors came loose all the way and Vezon fell to the stone floor.

Makuta Tridax was paying no attention. His orders were clear: maintain Destral in its current location unless attacked. In the event of a serious threat from Toa or Dark Hunters, teleport the island off the shores of Metru Nui and seize that city. He stalked off to carry out those commands. Vezon followed behind, unnoticed.

"That's right," thought the deranged ex-prisoner. "Lead me to your secrets. Ah, this plan is so cunning it might almost be one of mine. And perhaps it will be before I'm done."

 

Far to the west, Pridak watched the fortress burn, and smiled at the sight. He had been fortunate since his release from the Pit. His captors had provided him with ships and the resources with which to raise an army. From the worst holes in the Universe, he had found ex-Dark Hunters, exiled Vortixx, even a Skakdi or two for his crews. Before Kalmah had even devised a battle plan, Pridak had sounded off without him on a voyage of conquest. It felt good. Good to sack and burn and destroy again. Good to feel the warm glow of the lightstones on his body, even though his water-filled helm had kept him from smelling the wonderful smoke and stench of battle. He was back, and back to stay. His men had rounded the forces of the Makuta who occupied this place, but had found no actual Brotherhood member.

Now, as he surveyed his conquest, a few things captured his notice: the structure was not original, it had been rebuilt on the site of an earlier strong point. The lower levels were still incomplete, and it was while exploring them that he found a strange room. Deep below the basement was a room of rubble. The walls had been smashed, leaving only packed earth behind, and the remnants of those walls were littered around the floor. Intrigued, he picked one of the pieces up, only to find there was an inscription on it. The symbols made no sense to him and he was about to throw it away, when he noticed that another piece also had such an inscription. In fact, all the pieces did. There was some sort of message here, or there had been, he realized. Someone had tried to destroy it by shattering the walls, but the message was still here for someone who had the discipline to decipher it. And if someone had thought whatever information it contained worthy of destruction, it must be quite interesting indeed. With the infinite patience of a born hunter, Pridak began to assemble the stones.


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#9 Offline Reference Keeper Team

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Posted Jun 23 2011 - 12:03 AM

 
[Continued...]
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 6[/color]


Axonn was drowning. The greenish-black fluid filled his mouth and lungs before he could react. His mighty arms flailed about, trying to find something to grab on to, and failing. As he sank further toward the bottom, Axonn knew that here, in the birthplace of the Makuta species, he was going to die. Then he was suddenly rising rapidly up through the murky liquid. A strong hand had a hold of him and was yanking him away from his fate. A moment later he felt the hard stone of the floor beneath him. He choked and gasped. When the colors finally stopped swirling in front of his eyes, he looked up at his rescuer. Brutaka floated three feet off the floor. Green fire crackled from his eyes and the tips of his fingers. His armor hadplaces as the tissue it covered expanded cracked in numerous. An aura of pure power surrounded him, so bright that Axonn had to raise a hand to protect his sight.

"Axonn," said Brutaka, "We are glad to see you have survived."

"We? Brutaka, what's happened to you?"

"I… we are the essence of the Makuta species. We know what they were meant to know, but have forgotten. We see the error. The flaws. So much to repair, but it cannot be done."

Axonn stood, axe at the ready. He knew the effects the Makuta Antidermis had on Brutaka. Absorbing it somehow made him stronger, but he had never seen or heard anything like this. It was Brutaka's body and Brutaka's voice, but the words had not come from his old friend.

"Spherus Magna, the shattering," Brutaka muttered, seemingly more to himself than to Axonn, "The three that must be one. The two that must make them one."

Brutaka abruptly reached out and seized Axonn's arm in a grip of iron. His touch burned, but Axonn fought back the urge to scream.

"He must remember, he must be made to see, or the journey of 100,000 years will be for nothing. He hides beneath, preparing to meet his destiny. We must go there, we must right the wrong. So many wrongs before the shattering can end."

 

Ancient climbed a low rise, stepping carefully to avoid tripping over the rubble that was once a Xian factory. He had been searching for The Shadowed One for the better part of an hour. They were supposed to be discussing the defense of the city, but the Dark Hunter leader was nowhere to be found. He was concerned. Toa Helryx had asked Ancient, her spy within the Dark Hunters, for regular reports on the state of things at Xia and The Shadowed One's actions. She fully expected a Brotherhood of Makuta attack on the island, and he was already overdue with his latest dispatch. Ancient reached the top of the rise. The first thing he saw was The Shadowed One, standing amid a pile of debris. He was holding a small chest, which was open, and staring at the contents with a nasty smile on his face. As Ancient drew closer, he noticed two other things: a dead Vortixx on the ground, his face encased in Crystalline Protodermis and just what was in the chest: three vials.

"What have you found?" asked Ancient, "And why would a Vortixx be foolish enough to challenge you for it?"

The Shadowed One looked up, surprised. Then seeing it was Ancient, he visibly relaxed.

"A most amazing thing," he said. "Have you ever heard of Makuta Kojol?"

Ancient nodded. He knew the story from the Order of Mata Nui. Kojol had been visiting Xia to discuss having a virus added into a weapon the Vortixx were building for the Makuta. During his visit, he was "accidentally" killed by a different virus. Except it was no accident, but an Order operation to remove him.

"He brought a number of viruses with him when he came to Xia," The Shadowed One continued. "Some were never found. The story was they were incinerated along with his armor. But they weren't, and I have found them."

Ancient tried not to look as worried as he felt. Weapons like this in the hands of the Dark Hunters was a disaster in the making.

"Excellent," he said, "We could ransom these for a good price."

"Ransom them?" said The Shadowed One. "No, no, I intend to make use of them. I will learn what they are and what they do, and then Helryx and the Makuta will answer to me! But I will need time… a great deal of time and privacy to work. No one must know I have them. That is why the Vortixx here had to die. And it's why…"

Two beams of power lanced out of The Shadowed Ones' eyes, striking Ancient. The veteran Dark Hunter vanished, disintegrated by the force of the blast.

"Apologies, old friend," The Shadowed One said, "but you know the old saying: 'A secret shared is no longer a secret.'"

 

Vezon stalked through the halls of the fortress of Destral, following Makuta Tridax and doing his best to remain unseen. The walls of the ancient structure shook from a ferocious pounding. Tthe Order of Mata Nui had launched its attack on the Makuta base at last. His mission was simple, purposely so that even his deranged mind could keep it straight. He was to follow Tridax, find the means the Makuta use to teleport their island from place to place, and then disable it. He would then be most likely killed by Tridax, but then no plan was perfect.

At first it seemed like all was proceeding as expected. Tridax made his way to a sub-basement, seemingly oblivious to being followed. At the bottom of the basement was a massive chamber. What waited within that chamber staggered even the deeply disturbed Vezon. The walls towered forty feet, all around. Lining them were stasis tubes, close to one-hundred. And each tube was occupied by an identical figure. A few had armor of jet black, most white and gold, but it was obvious they were all the same being. They were in some kind of stasis. Tridax walked to the center of the room, where a small table sat. On the table was a Kanohi mask. Tridax reached for it, then suddenly whirled and hurled a blast of Shadow at Vezon. Before he could dodge, the shadow had pinned him to the wall.

"Did you think I could not hear your clumsy attempt to follow me?" said Tridax. "Very well, Skakdi trash. You want to learn the most powerful secret of Destral? You want the satisfaction of knowing what hides here before you die? Look around."

Vezon did, but he didn't learn anything more by doing that. "Quite a collection," he said. "I prefer sea shells, myself. Sometimes leaves. Oh, and the heads of my enemies, though those take up so much space."

Tridax smiled and held up the mask.

"Do you know what this is? A Kanohi Olmak, the Mask of Dimensional Gates. One of only two known to be in existence. Not long ago, my fellow Makuta Mutran and I began experiments to develop a creature called a Shadow Leech: a creature that could drain the Light of others and turn them into beings of Shadow. That was what sparked my idea. I knew the mask could reach not only other places of this dimension, but other realities as well. And so I have begun traveling to those other realities and collecting the Toa Takanuva of each, bringing him back here, and feeding his Light to my pets. When I am done, I will have an army of Shadow Toa, all made from the most dangerous enemy of the Makuta."

The walls shook again.

"I think you'd better hurry up and finish then," suggested Vezon.

"No need," said Tridax. "I have only to release the Shadow Takanuva I have already made, and they will dispose of the attackers. And then I can go back to work in earnest. And then I can…"

Tridax stopped at the sound of crystal shattering. Startled, he let his Shadow power lapse. Vezon slumped to the ground, but not before he saw the Makuta looking at his arm in horror. Something was dissolving his armored gauntlet before his eyes, and his Antidermis was leaking out into the air. Two beings stepped out of the shadows. One was a Matoran, the other another species, very tall and very dangerous in appearance. He looked at the Makuta and laughed - a harsh and malicious sound.

"The most dangerous enemy of the Makuta?" said Tobduk. "Get ready, you're just about to meet him."

To be continued in Brothers In Arms: Chapter 6.
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 7[/color]


Toa Helryx, leader of the Order of Mata Nui, picked her way across the remains of a battlefield. She was on the beach of the island of Nynrah, site of a struggle between the Brotherhood of Makuta and the Order. After a long and furious battle, the Order had won. Driving the Brotherhood forces from the island or crushing them on the beach. Now she wandered the sands, occasionally picking up a piece of Rahkshi armor, studying it for a moment and then discarding it.

There was a method to her madness. Using her Mask of Power, Helryx could read the past of an object simply by touching it. Her goal here was simple: Rahkshi were created using a powerful substance called energized protodermis. The Order wanted to know every source of that substance used by the Makuta so they could capture or destroy those sources. Without them, no new Rahkshi could come into being.

So far, all the ones she had identified here were sources the Order already knew about. Still, it was worth the effort. It would be far easier to defeat the Brotherhood by cutting off their source of power, rather than beating them in battle.

She picked up a piece of crimson Rahkshi armor and called on the power of her mask. This time, she saw a place she did not recognize. Makuta Chirox was there, and a silvery pool, but not just any pool, no, this one had a figure emerging from it. A being actually made of energized protodermis. She concentrated hard and the location came to her: an island just north of the one her newest ally came from.

Helryx dropped the piece of armor and turned to Keetongu. The Rahi had reluctantly agreed to break off his efforts to save the victims of Visorak long enough to help in the war. In return, Helryx had promised him the Visorak would never again be a threat to anyone else.

"We have to go," she said. "There's another source."

It was a short journey. Their destination had at first seemed uninhabited, but that illusion didn't last long. Helryx spotted… things skulking among the rocks. They weren't Matoran, or Rahi, but looked like something in between. The overall feeling was that something was very wrong here. The air, the ground, the inhabitants all felt off, somehow, in a way that obviously made Keetongu uneasy. There were no buildings on the island… none left standing, anyway. The most prominent feature was a large cave. Helryx and Keetongu entered cautiously. The passage narrowed considerably once they were a little ways in, forcing them to crawl to make any forward progress. Helryx couldn't help but think how easy it would be to get trapped in here.

As the passage widened again, Helryx saw more creatures. These obviously were Rahi beasts, but not like anything she'd seen before. They were short, pale bipeds, with large yellow eyes and spindly arms and legs. They backed away and moved to the side as she and her ally passed. But as soon as the two had moved on, they assembled into a group and followed close behind.

Helryx and Keetongu came to a huge chamber. In the center of it was not a pool of energized protodermis, but an actual lake of the stuff. And rising from the center was the figure of a living being. A head, two arms, a torso ending in the lake itself. Its features were barely there, and its substance was the silver color of energized protodermis. The sight triggered a memory. An agent on Metru Nui had reported that Turaga Vakama had once mentioned an Entity his team had fought when they were Toa Metru. Could this be the same being?

"I have been expecting you," said the figure. "I have felt your kind at work in my pools throughout this universe. Destructive, but ultimately futile. Cap one source of my substance and it will emerge somewhere else."

"Then we will destroy it there too." Helryx answered. "What are you?"

"I am creation and destruction," the Entity answered. "I am the power to transform and to destroy. I am every drop of energized protodermis that exists, and every drop is me. I am as far beyond you, creature of armor and tissue, as you are beyond an insect."

"And your purpose here?" asked Helryx.

"I did not choose to come here," the Entity replied. "I lived in the core of a planet, until one day a portion of my substance forced its way to the surface. It did not take long for the inhabitants of that world to discover my power, or to begin warring over it. But some of what makes up my form was taken and placed inside this universe, and so escaped before cataclysm overtook that world."

"And now?" said Helryx.

"Now I experiment on the creatures and things I find around me," said the Entity. "I have even let others make use of my power if I found their intentions intriguing enough."

"You have helped create beings that have brought terror and death to thousands," said Helryx. "It has to stop."

"Is a weapon responsible for the actions of the one who wields it?" asked the Entity.

"Perhaps not," said Helryx. "But a weapon can be broken and so never used again."

A soft sound that might have been laughter escaped from the Entity.

"I have met your kind before. So confident in your power to contain me, control me, or destroy me. You are no more than stone apes reaching for the stars, believing you could extinguish them if only you could get them in your grasp."

The lake began to boil and churn; a huge wave of energized protodermis rose up behind the Entity, so wide it spanned the whole chamber, and began to speed across the surface towards Helryx and Keetongu.

"Transformation, or destruction," said the Entity. "Which will be your fate? Let us find out, together."
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 8[/color]


There was nowhere to run. There was nowhere to hide. A tidal wave of Energized Protodermis was headed right for Toa Helryx and Keetongu. When it struck them, it would do one of two things: transform them forever into who knew what, or destroy them both. Desperate, Helryx reached out with her elemental power. Despite many thousands of years of honing her control over water to perfection, it did no good. Energized Protodermis, though in liquid form, was not water and was immune to her abilities. Doom was coming in a great silver wave.

Keetongu growled. Helryx glanced at him to see that his attention was directed behind them - specifically, he was looking at a hole in space that had just opened. Thoughts raced through Helryx's mind. Had Brutaka come to save them? Where did this portal lead? But there wasn't time for answers, only escape. Grabbing Keetongu's wrist, she pulled him toward the hole. They dove in together with no idea of where they would emerge.

At the same moment, a figure appeared in the portal. He stepped out into the chamber. If anyone had been present to see, they might have recognized him as the mad criminal Vezon, his face hidden behind a Kanohi Olmak, the Mask of Dimensional Gates. And if they peered closely, they might have seen his eyes widen at the sight of a wall of Energized Protodermis coming right at him.

"Uh-oh," he said.

 

Turaga Vakama walked slowly through the corridors of the Coliseum. It had been his work place since his return to the city of Metru Nui. Now it was his home as well, along with that of all the other Turaga. Much had changed in the city in recent days, not all of it good. Despite his confinement, he had been able to pick up snatches of information here and there. The fortunes of war had evidently turned against the Brotherhood of Makuta. Numerous Makuta-held islands had fallen, including, rumor had it, Destral itself. It was almost too much to hope for - perhaps the Great Spirit would awaken to find his arch-enemies vanquished for good.

He passed his chamber and headed down a flight of stairs to a secure room. Here were kept weapons, memorials to the Toa Mangai, and one very important Kanohi mask. Although Vakama knew that it was one of the safest spots in the city, he still checked on it every day. If the contents of that room were to fall into the wrong hands… he didn't even want to think about it.

He was halfway down the stairs when he heard the crash. He raced down to find a half a dozen, heavily armed Ta-Matoran, scattered like leaves in a wind storm. The door to the chamber had crumpled with age, and stepping through it was a being Vakama had hoped to never see again. A little over a thousand years ago, when he was still a Toa, Vakama had battled a being called Voporak. Surrounded by a field that aged anything it touched, Voporak seemed impossible to beat, and it took a Makuta to do it in the end. Voporak worked for the Dark Hunters and sought one thing in Metru Nui: the thing he now held in his great claw, the Kanohi Mask of Time.

Vakama froze. He wanted to attack, to avenge his fallen friends, but he knew that no attack of his would stop this creature. Voporak knew it too. He looked at Vakama with something like contempt. Then he shrugged and turned his back on the Turaga, walking away. Vakama followed. A few minutes later he watched Voporak walk out of a hole in the side of the Coliseum. A four-armed warrior wielding a multi bladed axe bellowed at the sight of the thief and charged. Voporak reached out and grabbed his attacker. In a matter of seconds, the warrior aged tens of thousands of years before collapsing on the ground. Voporak kept going, and there was nothing, Vakama knew, that could hope to stop him.

 

Kalmah moved warily through the main factory complex of Xia, flanked by Mantax and Ehlek. He did not want to be here. It would have been far more satisfying to be leading his new fleet against the Brotherhood of Makuta, but Pridak had contacted him and assured him that their old dream of overthrowing the Great Spirit might live again.

Up ahead, sitting on a makeshift throne was The Shadowed One, leader of the Dark Hunters. He eyed the three Barraki coldly. Perched on the rafters above was Darkness, who watched over The Shadowed One, though not out of any desire to guard him. No, Darkness waited for a sign of weakness in the leader, to kill him so another could take his place.

"Shadowed One, we bring you greetings from Pridak," said Kalmah. "And congratulate you on your seizure of this island."

The Shadowed One simply nodded, his gaze never leaving Kalmah's hideous face.

"It is Pridak's belief that the Barraki and the Dark Hunters would be well served by an alliance," Kalmah continued. "After this chaos is ended, someone will need to pick up the pieces of this universe. We see an opportunity."

"And what do you have to bargain with, besides your fearsome reputations?" The Shadowed One said, mockery in his voice.

Kalmah simply smiled. "Information. We know that Makuta Teridax struck the Great Spirit Mata Nui down, and we know how. We also know that a prototype of the virus used to do it was hidden on this island, and we believe you have it."

"I?" said the Shadowed One. "I am the humble administrator of Xia, a mere servant of the people. Nothing more."

Kalmah laughed. "You are a lying, treacherous sack of doom viper breath. But you are also very thorough. Oh yes, we've heard all about you and your organization since our release from captivity. If that virus is on Xia, you have it."

The Shadowed One's expression darkened. A lesser being would have quaked with fear at the sight. The Barraki, though, were not lesser beings.

"And if I do?"

"You know where it is, we know how it can be used. And so, a bargain."

The Shadowed One considered. He could just kill these three as he had Ancient, but if they really did know something about how the vials he had found could be turned against the Great Spirit, well, that was knowledge worth gaining. He could always kill them later, after all.

"On one condition," he said. "Pridak and I will meet on neutral ground, the land of Karzahni. If I am satisfied with what he has to offer, then, perhaps, Dark Hunter and Barraki will walk side-by-side into a new dawn."
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 9[/color]


It took the Mahri a long time to make it back from Artidax back to Metru Nui. Jaller's first thought upon arriving is that it had been way too long. Metru Nui was under attack. At first, he thought that was Metru Nui; it was surrounded by high walls with weapons mounted at the top of them, weapons belching fire and smoke at the attackers. The walls were manned by warriors of all sorts, none of which Jaller recognized. Wait, check that. The berserker battling three opponents at once looked a lot like Hewkii.

"What's going on?" said Nuparu. "Looks like we've walked into a full-scale war."

"It's been going on for a while," said Hahli. "But I think it's come home."

It was an awesome sight. Ships flying the banner of the Brotherhood of Makuta ringed the island-city, flying Rahkshi were assaulting from every direction, firing bolts of energy from their staffs while others pounded on the walls. In one section, a portion of the wall had already crumbled, and warriors fought in the gap, trying to keep the invaders out.

"They're breaking through!" shouted Nuparu.

"Let's go," said Jaller. "We stand or fall with our city."

The three Toa hit the gap from behind, using Fire, Water, and Earth to tear through the ranks of Rahkshi. They made it through the wall of the city. Beyond the ranks of Order of Mata Nui agents, they spotted a Turaga manning barricades.

Jaller rushed up to Vakama. "Turaga, what's happening, how did this battle begin?"

"We can thank the Order for that," Vakama replied. "Now our problem is how to end it before the city is destroyed."

"The Mask of Time," said Hahli. "Can one of us use it to, I don't know, slow down the Rahkshi somehow?"

"I wish you could," said Vakama. "But the mask is gone, stolen by a Dark Hunter. He made the gap in the wall you came through."

Jaller looked around. In his days as captain of the Ta-Koro Guard, he had learned a thing or two about battle strategy. A quick glance was enough to tell him that the Order had badly underestimated the ferocity of the Makuta attack. The Rahkshi had already gained the tops of the walls in three or four places, and in one southern section, had made it inside the walls as well. As he watched, the defenders of the wall fell back, and the invaders began pouring through.

"We need an edge," said Jaller. "Something the Rahkshi wouldn't expect."

"There are more Toa coming, but they won't get here in time," said Vakama. "But there might be one Toa here now who could help us. Listen well…"

 

It was Hahli who found the Toa in question, a Toa of Sonics named Krakua. When he heard Vakama's plan, he looked at her as if she had lost her mind."

"Let me get this straight," he said while blasting Rahkshi with sonic beams. "Vakama wants me to cycle through multiple frequencies until I find the one that will awaken something called the Bohrok?"

"Yes," said Hahli. "We know, well, we suspect, the signal that awakens them is sonic, but we don't know what it is or how to trigger it. If we can awaken the ones under Metru Nui, and if the Rahkshi try to get in their way, well, it might buy us some time for something else we're planning."

"All right, I'll try," said Krakua. "No promises."

Hahli left. Her next move was to be using her power to disturb the ocean to try to wreck the Makuta ships. But before she could do so, everything changed all around her. The stars brightened overhead, the breeze turned warm, the earth shook in a gentle tremor. She didn't know how, but somehow she was certain: the Great Spirit had awakened.

Beyond the city walls, a storm rose, tossing the Makuta fleet about like toys. Yet that did nothing to deter the Rahkshi, who kept on coming. They had broken through the walls in four places and were rampaging through Ta-Metru. Nothing could stop them, it seemed. At least until the ground erupted in front of them and a horde of Bohrok emerged. It was not a large number, only those specimens that were asleep in the archives and the small nest below it, but it was enough. The Rahkshi attacked immediately, and the Bohrok responded. The two sides were locked in combat, and as they fought, the Mahri and the Order agents picked off Rahkshi at will. The battle seesawed back and forth, with the Rahkshi never realizing that all the Bohrok wanted was to get to the island of Mata Nui. Had the Rahkshi just gotten out of their way, the fight would have been over.

The city slowly shook from a series of explosions, an Order agent from atop the walls yelled, "Fliers! Incoming!" Hahli looked up to see three incredibly fast aircraft soar over the city, bank as one, and head back to where the ships waited. One slowed and dipped its wing to her, and she recognized Pohatu in the pilot's seat. The Toa Nuva had come home.

Pohatu flew his vessel back out of the city to finish off the ships. Meanwhile, Lewa and Kopaka dove, peppering the Rahkshi with blasts of light. The sight seemed to rally the city's defenders, who surged back toward the gaps in the walls, led by Jaller and Hewkii, they drove the Rahkshi back.

Finally, the storm was over. The Brotherhood ships had gone to the bottom of the Silver Sea, the walls around the city had been battered down, but the rubble was littered with dead Kraata and shattered Rahkshi armor. Those of the invaders that were intact had flown away, provided they could escape the blasters of the Jetrax, Rockoh, and Axalara. Metru Nui was safe, and as the Toa Nuva confirmed, the Great Spirit had awakened. The power of the Brotherhood of Makuta was broken for all time. Turaga Dume and Turaga Vakama appeared side by side to announce that tomorrow would be a city-wide day of celebration in the Coliseum.

But Hahli did not feel like celebrating, even now. She could not help but remember Matoro, who had given his life that Mata Nui might live. And despite all the wounded and the dying among the defenders, she could not help but feel it had all been a little too… easy. True, there had been some unexpected help: the airships, the Bohrok, the storm. But they had faced an army of Rahkshi. Something told her they should not have won, at least not with so much of the city still intact. She smiled. Turaga Nokama would have chided her for worrying so much. No matter how things seemed, the Great Spirit was awake for the first time in over one thousand years. Light had triumphed over darkness, hadn't it? The Toa had achieved their destiny and saved the universe, hadn't they? And that meant all was well again; nothing very bad could happen now, could it?

Hahli turned to head toward Ga-Metru, humming a song Nokama had once taught her. One written long ago that spoke of hope for tomorrow. Perhaps, if not for the music, she might have heard the sound of dark laughter on the wind.

 
—TLH


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#10 Offline Reference Keeper Team

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Posted Jun 23 2011 - 12:04 AM

 

[color=#3A6378;]8: Dwellers In Darkness[/color]

[color=#840000;]Back to top [/color]

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 1[/color]


Toa Bomonga tightened his headlock on the Tahtorak and tried to wrestle the beast to the ground. Bomonga’s Mask of Growth allowed him to reach almost the size of the creature, but he could not match the Tahtorak in sheer strength. Still, he knew a few things about leverage and pressure points that the Rahi did not.

With a roar, the Tahtorak lost its footing and slammed hard into the ground of Xia. What was left of the island city trembled from the impact. “Now stay down,” Bomonga growled, even as Toa Pouks used his power to create bonds of solid stone for the monster.

After a long battle, the Tahtorak had battered the Kanohi Dragon enough that Toa Norik’s spinners had been able to slow it down, while Toa Kualus’ ice attack finished it off. It now lay unconscious, sprawled across much of the southern district of the city. Toa Iruini had taken the advice of a Vortixx and made sure to move the creature’s leg away from the Mountain, so it wouldn’t end up a big snack for that hungry landmark.

Only Toa Gaaki stood off to the side, her eyes fixed on the ocean but unseeing. The Toa Hagah had seen her like this before. She was focused inward, using the power of her Mask of Clairvoyance to see things they could not. Now she stiffened, cried out, and turned toward the others.

“They’re coming,” she said. “Hundreds of them.”

“Hundreds of who?” asked Iruini. He considered Gaaki a good friend, but her vague predictions did have a way of getting on his nerves at times.

“Seekers of shadows,” Gaaki muttered. “Slayers of the dark … ready for war … Vortixx cannot stand …”

Norik walked up beside her and gently eased Gaaki to a seat on a rock. He knelt in front of her and talked to her in a whisper. Now and then she would nod her head. After a few minutes, he gestured to Kualus.

Although the Toa of Ice was no longer a Rahaga, he had not lost his bond with flying Rahi or his ability to communicate with them. Now he signaled to a smoke hawk up above and spoke rapidly in a language none of the others understood. A moment later, the hawk flew off to the west.

“How is she?” Pouks asked Norik.

“It’s been a long time since she used her power,” answered the Toa Hagah of Fire. “Or, rather, since it used her. It’s never easy.”

“What she said – seekers of shadows – what do you think it means?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” asked Bomonga, shrinking down to his normal height. “Seekers of shadows – Dark Hunters.”

The smoke hawk picked that moment to return, flying in tight circles above the island and cawing loudly. Kualus nodded twice and rushed over to his fellow Toa.

“Bomonga is right, from the sound of it,” he said. “My winged ally sees ships coming, so many they blot out the waves. And the crews are armed, my friends … it’s a battle fleet.”

Iruini had climbed up the top of one of the few spires still standing in the city. “Score one for the birdie,” he yelled down. “We have company. I’m going to check them out!”

“Iruini, wait --” began Norik.

“Wait for what?” the Toa of Air said, smiling. “I spent thousands of years as a Rahaga – now I’m back in action, and I love it!”

An instant later, the Toa of Air used his Mask of Quick Travel to teleport from the spire to the flagship of the oncoming fleet. He found himself standing on the deck, facing two powerful looking figures. A handful of armed warriors immediately moved to surround him.

“Who are you?” asked Iruini. “What’s your business in these waters?”

“My business?” asked one of the figures. “My business is profit, and that profit has been strangled for too long. And who are you?”

“I am Toa Iruini. My friends and I have just completed a mission on Xia. That island was half-levelled in the process, and let me guess – you’re here to level the other half.”

“My name is The Shadowed One,” came the reply, “leader of the Dark Hunters. Standing beside me is my loyal lieutenant, Ancient. Standing in front of me is a very foolish Toa if he thinks he can get between me and my goal.”

Iruini ignored the jab. “If you’re looking to loot Xia, there’s precious little left to steal.”

“Loot?” repeated The Shadowed One, in mock surprise. “Steal? How little you think of me. Would I muster a fleet for petty thievery? No, Toa, I have made a bargain this day with a power I never knew existed – and my new allies have asked to me to insure that Xia provides no more weapons to the enemy. They wish me to blockade or occupy the island, but I do not believe in half-measures.”

The Shadowed One smiled, an expression as cold as one of Kualus’ ice blasts. “So I am going to destroy Xia, and every last living thing on it. And if your friends are unfortunate enough to be there when I arrive … well, perhaps I will be merciful, and leave enough of them to bury.”

Iruini raised his cyclone spear. Weapons were suddenly aimed at him from a dozen different directions.

“This is my war,” The Shadowed One said softly, “and welcome to it.”
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 2[/color]


At times like this, Iruini looked back fondly on his days as a Rahaga. It wasn’t so bad, being short and twisted and spending all your time chasing after Brakas monkeys. At least you didn’t have to stand on rolling decks, staring at the crazed leader of the Dark Hunters as he prepared to slaughter an entire island full of … well, not so innocent Vortixx.

“You know I can’t let you do this,” Toa Iruini said.

“I know you can’t stop me,” The Shadowed One replied, smiling. “My new partner suggested I occupy Xia … but I must have misheard. I could have sworn she said ‘destroy.’”

Iruini was about to make a smart comeback when the seas started to churn and heave. The next moment, a tidal wave big enough to swamp the entire Dark Hunter fleet rose from the ocean depths. It towered hundreds of feet in the air … and just stayed there, looming over the ships like the shadow of doom.

“Is that enough water to clean out your ears?”

Iruini turned. Standing on the bow of the ship was a Toa of Water he did not recognize, carrying a spiked mace and a shield. She was flanked by a warrior in golden armor and a four-armed giant with two long horns coming out of his head. He alone was heavy enough to almost swamp the ship. He carried a multi-bladed axe and a small object covered in a cloth.

The female Toa stepped down to the deck and marched up to The Shadowed One. Although he was taller than she, her bearing made her seem to dominate everyone on board.

“I hired the Dark Hunters for a simple task,” she said, her voice as quiet as a dying breath. “If you can’t do it …”
She held the mace aloft. The tidal wave suddenly rushed forward toward the ships, almost colliding with the flagship. It stopped dead again as she lowered her weapon.

“I’ll find someone who can,” she finished.

Iruini looked from the Toa to the obviously concerned Shadowed One, and back again. “Nice,” he said. “What do you do for an encore?”

The Toa nodded and the golden warrior vanished. He reappeared an instant later with the other five Toa Hagah in tow. They arrived to see The Shadowed One in intense whispered conversation with the Toa of Water. It ended when the Toa blasted three nearby Dark Hunters into the sea as casually as someone else might swat a gnat. Then she turned to the assembled Toa Hagah.

“Ah. Good,” she said. “I have a mission for the six of you.”

“Wait a minute!” snapped Norik. “Who are you? What’s going on here?”

“And we don’t take requests from anybody wearing a mask,” said Kualus. Then he turned to Norik and added, “Do we?”

Norik shook his head.

“My name is Helryx,” said the Toa of Water. “I run an organization you never heard of called the Order of Mata Nui. We are at war – and you’ve just been drafted.”

“And if we say no?” asked Toa Bomonga.

Helryx gave a slight smile. Her eyes darted toward the ocean off the starboard side, where the three Dark Hunters were desperately trying to tread water. Then she looked back at the Toa Hagah. “Yes, you don’t take requests, as I understand it – good thing I’m not making one.”

“What is it you want us to do?” asked Toa Pouks. Seeing Iruini’s glare, he said, “Well, it doesn’t hurt to ask.”

Helryx took a few steps closer and lowered her voice so the Dark Hunters could not overhear. “We are mounting an attack on the Brotherhood of Makuta, but their leader eludes us. Our best information is that he was last known to be inside a Maxilos robot near Mahri Nui, but where he may have gone to since then is unknown. We need Makuta Teridax found.”

“Why us?” asked Iruini.

“You’ve fought him before. You’ve beaten him before,” Helryx replied.

“And we all remember how well that turned out,” muttered Iruini.

Helryx ignored him. “If I am right, Teridax has gone somewhere no one else has ever dared to venture. Left free, he could do untold damage.”

“And just how are we supposed to track him down?” asked Bomonga. “Knock on the doors at Destral and ask if he can come out to play?”

Helryx chuckled. “There may not be doors left to knock on soon … but that’s another story. You will have a guide – someone who has generously offered to work with you in exchange for his freedom.”

The four-armed giant took a step forward, and at first they thought Helryx meant him. But instead he took the cloth off the object he carried, which was revealed to be a globe filled with water, and something else … what looked like a green sea snake with hate-filled crimson eyes.

“His name is Zaktan,” said Helryx. “He’s not as friendly as he looks. If he acts up, just haul him out of the tank and let him gasp for air a few times. That’s what I always do. And now I think it’s time you got started.”

The Toa Hagah looked at each other. One by one, each of them nodded … all except Gaaki. She was backing away, shaking her head, hands up to the sides of her mask. “Death,” she whispered. “All around … we are going to place of death … and one of us will not return!”
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 3[/color]


Toa Iruini dove for cover, barely dodging Toa Hewkii’s chain. Not far away, Norik was locked in a stalemate with Jaller, while Bomonga was having a hard time even finding the stealthy Nuparu. All in all, it was not one of the Toa Hagah’s better days.

They had hoped that their return to Metru Nui – the city they helped save when they were Rahaga – would be a joyous one. Instead, they were here on a mission from a shadowy organization called the Order of Mata Nui. Their goal: track down the missing Makuta Teridax before he could execute the final stages of his Plan.

Unfortunately, that was not as easy as it sounded (and it didn’t sound that easy). They had been saddled with a mutated Piraka, Zaktan, they had to carry around in a water-filled sphere. His information was that Teridax would be heading to an inaccessible spot below the Metru Nui Coliseum. As antidermis, he could slip through cracks too small even for Norik to make through with his Mask of Shrinking. The only way to follow him would be to shatter the foundation of the Coliseum, which would bring the structure down.

Needless to say, popping in and saying, “We’re here to wreck your most important building” had not sparked joy in the Toa Mahri. Given Takanuva’s recent unexplained disappearance, they were on edge to start with. This just set them off.

Hewkii swung his chain again. This time Iruini grabbed it in mid-air and yanked the Toa of Stone forward. At the last moment, Iruini sidestepped, letting his opponent slam into a rock wall. “Stone, meet stone,” muttered Iruini. “Now will you listen?”

Toa Kualus had teamed with Bomonga in an effort to pin down Nuparu, whose Mask of Stealth made him almost impossible to spot. A hastily created snowstorm revealed the Toa Mahri of Earth, but finding him and stopping him were two different things. Sixty feet in height just made Bomonga an easier target and a barrage of earth kept him off-balance.

Kualus frowned. He remembered these Mahri when they were Matoran villagers. He understood their suspicion and hostility, given the circumstances, but if this kept up, someone was going to get hurt. This called for drastic measures. Summoning the power of his Mask of Rahi Control, he touched the mind of a massive Rahi dwelling in the Archives not far below. In response, a huge claw smashed its way through the pavement and grabbed Nuparu.

“Let him go!” shouted Toa Hahli, blasting Kualus with a powerful jet of water. Even as he staggered from the impact, Kualus realized what was about to happen. The creature had been roused by his mask power, but his concentration was now broken. The Rahi was no longer under his control.

It erupted from below ground in a shower of rock and earth. Well over 60 feet high, it scanned the battlefield with its three heads. Muted light from the sunholes reflected off its brown scales as it spread its batlike wings. Its cry of triumph shattered crystal structures as far away as Ko-Metru.

The word “Toa” means “hero” in Matoran. And one of the characteristics of a hero is the ability to put aside personal feelings in a crisis. Thus it was that the Mahri and the Hagah forgot their fight in the face of this monstrosity from below. Still reeling from Hahli’s blow, Kualus could not reassert control. But Jaller and Norik had already discovered the beast feared fire, and their twin blasts drove it back toward the barren plains of Po-Metru.

The creature wasn’t about to go quietly. It hurled Nuparu through the sky at deadly speed. Hewkii whirled and used his Mask of Gravity as he never had before, applying just enough power to slow the Toa of Earth without ripping him apart.

Bomonga, still at his maximum size, landed a rain of blows on the Rahi. He might as well have been a Toa of Water summoning a light spring rain for all the good it did. Now it was Kongu and Iruini’s turn, as they combined their air power with the powers of the Toa of Fire to create a swirling tornado of flame.

The Rahi was directly in the eye of the storm, which was so hot it melted nearby mountains into slag. It roared and attempted to fly out of the trap, but its wings were already blazing. Finally, overcome by the heat, it toppled over. The impact shook the ground for kios around.

Eleven weary Toa stood around the unconscious beast. Already, Onu-Matoran would be on their way to help prepare the creature for its return to the Archives. Po-Metru was a disaster area, the ground scorched and burned. Not far away, Po-Matoran labored to put out fires in their villages, aided by Hahli and Gaaki. Only the fact that this area of the metru was sparsely populated had kept this from being a true cataclysm.

Norik glanced at Jaller. “We either need to stop fighting,” he said, “or find someplace uninhabited to settle things. Otherwise, Matoran are going to get killed – and neither of us wants that.”

“What do you think will happen if you destroy the Coliseum?” said Jaller.

“We’re not trying to hurt anyone,” said Pouks. “We’re trying to save them.”

“Yes, and we’re all cool dudes,” added Iruini. “We have almost a dozen Toa here … we should be able to figure out how to do what we have to and keep the building intact.”

“Just what is it you have to do?” asked Jaller. “Why are you here?”

“Listen to me,” said Norik. “The Toa Nuva are in the core of the universe right now, fighting for the Great Spirit. But the true mysteries, the true secrets … all the hidden knowledge about this cosmos and its workings aren’t there. They are somewhere beneath your feet, in a place no Toa, Matoran, Turaga has ever been. Right now, we think Makuta has reached that place – and if we’re right, then it may already be too late for us all.”

It took hours of planning, more to convince the Turaga the Toa hadn’t all lost their minds, and another half a day on top of that to complete the work needed. When they were ready, Jaller, Norik, Pouks and Nuparu used their powers to crack the foundation and create a tunnel where none had been before. Outside, Hewkii’s gravity power, Kualus’ ice power, and Bomonga’s vast strength struggled to keep the building intact. Once the tunnel was in place, Hahli and Gaaki used their water power to cool down the walls. Iruini and Kongu watched over Zaktan, with Kongu more than ready to send the Piraka’s glass case hurtling into the air at the first wrong word.

The hardest part came last. Bomonga and Kualus had to let go of the Coliseum to join the others as they prepared to venture into the unknown. That left Hewkii supporting the vast structure alone.

“My team will go with you,” said Jaller to Norik.

“No,” the leader of the Toa Hagah responded. “If we fail … if Teridax escapes … you may be the last hope to stop him. We will go, and Pouks and I will seal the tunnel behind us. Hurry, Hewkii cannot last long.”

Jaller wanted to argue, but Norik was right – the Toa of Stone was on the verge of collapse. He watched as the Toa Hagah disappeared below ground. A moment later, the powers of Stone and Fire resealed the entrance. He signaled to Hewkii, who slowly, slowly, eased back on his mask power to lower the Coliseum back to the ground. Then the Toa of Stone passed out.

“He’ll be all right,” said Hahli, after checking on their fallen friend. “But I still think we should have gone along. They may be facing great danger.”

“I know,” said the Toa of Fire. “I kept thinking as I watched Pouks and Norik closing the tunnel behind them … I have never seen anyone seal their own tomb before.”
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 4[/color]


The five Toa Mahri stood in a semi-circle, staring at the base of the Coliseum. A few moments before, the Toa Hagah had vanished down a tunnel in the foundation, heading for Mata Nui knew what. Now it seemed there was nothing for the Mahri to do but wait.

“What do you think they’ll find down there?” asked Nuparu.

“Pipes,” said Hewki dismissively. “Dirt. Stone Rats. Maybe an underground stream or two. There’s nothing down there.”

“How can you be so sure?” asked Jaller.

“Onu-Matoran have been all over beneath this city,” Hewkii replied. “If there was something down there, they would have found it by now.”

“Maybe,” said Nuparu, sounding not at all convinced.

“Let’s go,” said Hahli. “We’re not accomplishing anything standing here.”

The Toa Mahri of Water turned to head back to Ga-Metru. That was when she saw the golden crystal floating in the air. She reached out to touch it, and it moved away from her. “What is this?” she asked.

“Something you need.”

The Toa Mahri spun around to see an ebon-armored female standing just behind them. For a second, they thought she was a Vortixx, but a closer look revealed her to belong to a species they had never seen before. She carried a shield, but no weapon that they could see.

“They call it the Heart of the Visorak,” the figure continued. “It is active now and its power grows. Wherever it is, the Visorak will come, traveling from everywhere in the known universe to find it. You Toa must take it to the island of Artidax and plant it there. Draw the Visorak to that place, where they can be imprisoned forever.”

“Right,” said Jaller. “And who guards Metru Nui while we’re gone? You?”

“It will be protected, never fear,” said the woman. She produced a small stone tablet bearing a map to the island and handed it over. “Now you must take the Heart and go, before the Visorak descend on this city in search of it. Go now!”

Before the Toa could question her further, the armored woman’s body shattered into a million crystalline fragments. The fragments scattered on the breeze. In moments, they were gone.

“Well, that was … weird,” said Kongu.

“So what do we do?” asked Nuparu. “If she was telling the truth … this city isn’t ready for another full-scale infestation.”

“It’s a big ‘if,’” said Jaller. “So Kongu, Hewkii, you stay here. Hahli, Nuparu and I will go to this Artidax place.”

 

The three Toa Mahri departed by ship within the hour. Kongu and Hewkii watched them go, then spent some time agreeing on how best to split up their patrols of the city. Once that was done, they started back for the Coliseum.

Neither one noticed a cloud of crystal shards coalescing behind them into the form of their mysterious visitor. And once her shield struck them, knocking them both unconscious, they noticed nothing at all.

 

The trip to Artidax was long, but uneventful. Nuparu kept a careful watch out for Visorak, but saw none the first few days. As they got closer to the island, he would catch a glimpse of the spiders on the shores of islands that they passed. If their visitor was correct, the entire horde would be in pursuit of them now.

The first thing Jaller noticed when they reached the island was a set of recent tracks. A number of older ones had been partially obscured by the actions of wind and tide, but these looked like they had been just made. Nearby, various bits of wood floated in the water, apparently the wreckage of a ship or boat.

“Well, someone’s been here,” he said.

“And still is.” The voice belonged to a tall, blue biped, monstrous in appearance, wearing a water-filled helmet on his head. He held a crude stone dagger in his hand.

“Takadox!” said Jaller, in surprise. He and his team had fought Takadox, along with the other Barraki, in the Pit. “How did you escape? And where are your friends? Talk, you miserable insect.”

“I ‘escaped,’ as you put it, out of a desire to do my bit for Mata Nui,” Takadox answered, with a cold smile. “As for my fellow former rulers, they are no doubt rotting in cells by now, where they belong. But what brings you to this garden spot of the universe?”

“They do,” said Nuparu, pointing toward the ocean. It had become a sea of Boggarak, skating across the water’s surface, heading for the island. Behind them, floating on pieces of flotsam and jetsam of all types, were thousands more Visorak. All of them were coming right for Artidax.

“They’re after us,” Jaller said to Takadox. “But, don’t worry, we won’t be staying long … of course, they will be.”

“The entire horde?” said Takadox. “You’re carrying the Heart of the Visorak … I’ve heard of it, though never seen it, of course. And you’re leading them here … that explains a great deal.”

“Talk straight, Takadox,” said Hahli. “Or we’ll leave you here as company for the spiders.”

“Not at all a bad idea,” said Takadox. Summoning all his willpower, he focused his gaze first on Hahli, then on Jaller. When Nuparu tried to shield his eyes, his two allies grabbed him and forced him to meet Takadox’s stare. In moments, all three were in a hypnotic trance.

“That is more like it,” said the Barraki. “A short time ago, two strange beings appeared on the beach in a flash of light. They did not notice me, and I chose to follow and watch. I saw them mounting something on the slope of the largest volcano on the island … and even I could tell what it was for: they were planning to trigger an eruption. And when it happens, this island and everything on it will be ashes.

“They disappeared as quickly as they came, leaving me with no way to escape the disaster … until you arrived. Now I will take your boat and leave this rock – again – while you three stand nice and still, waiting for the end. If you’re lucky … very lucky … that volcano will explode before the Visorak get their pincers on you.”

Chuckling, Takadox climbed on board the Toa’s boat. Raising the anchor and adjusting the sail, he started it moving away from the coastline of Artidax. Behind him, the three Toa Mahri stood like statues, helpless to stop his departure. And as Takadox’s ship vanished over the horizon, and the volcano moved closer and closer to eruption, the first Visorak set their claws on the sands of the island.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 5[/color]


Toa Norik moved carefully through a narrow passage below the Coliseum of Metru Nui. Behind him, the other Toa Hagah walked single-file, eyes and ears alert for any threat. All of them knew they were in uncharted territory – going somewhere no Toa, Matoran, Turaga, or other intelligent native of this universe had ever gone before.

Well, that was not completely true. If what the Order of Mata Nui suspected was true, Makuta Teridax had traveled this route not long ago. Of course, that information came from an evil Piraka, Zaktan, who was now traveling along with the Toa Hagah. His recent mutation into a sea creature meant Zaktan had to be carried by Kualus in a water-filled globe.

“This reminds me of the Archives,” Toa Iruini whispered. After a pause he added, “I pretty much hated that place too.”

“You have to admit, though, Teridax fits right in here,” said Pouks. “Dark, dank, the kind of place only a stone rat could love.”

“We’re not looking for a new home,” snapped Norik. “Focus on the job.”

“That’s right, fight among yourselves,” hissed Zaktan. “You Toa are all alike – all mewling cool dudes.”

“Well, not all alike,” Kualus chuckled. “I, for one, am much clumsier than the average Toa. In fact, I feel your globe slipping from my fingers even as we speak. Certainly hope I don’t drop it.”

Zaktan cursed. Kualus responded by dropping the globe for an instant, then catching it again. “Whoops. There I go again,” said the Toa.

Up ahead, Norik had come to a stop. Using a small portion of his flame power, he was illuminating one of the walls of the tunnel. On it was a series of inscriptions, apparently very ancient in origin.

“Is that Matoran? It doesn’t look like it,” said Norik. “I don’t recognize the language.”

“Let me see,” said Bomonga. Being something of a master of the underground, Bomonga had seen more than his share of old inscriptions. “It’s not Matoran, I don’t think … maybe some kind of root language. I can make out a little of it … not much … I think it’s some kind of record.”

“A record of what?” asked Gaaki.

Bomonga stared at the writing for a while before answering, “I can’t tell. All I can make out is a name … not sure if it’s a person or a place … ‘Bara Magna.’”
No one said anything as they searched their memories for that name. After a few moments, all realized they had never heard it before. If it was somewhere in the universe they knew, then it must have been in an unexplored region.

“Does it say anything about how to stuff a Makuta into his armor and then flush it away?” asked Iruini.

“I wish,” muttered Bomonga.

“All right, let’s keep going,” said Norik. “Zaktan, how much farther do you think it is?”

“I don’t know,” snapped the Piraka. “I haven’t been here either. I just know that the inscriptions I read hinted that this was where the Makuta had to come. I’m not sure he even knew for sure what was down here, or that ‘here’ actually existed – I think he was guessing.”

“Nothing worse than a Makuta who’s a good guesser,” mumbled Iruini.

“I expected this trip to be more … dangerous,” said Pouks. “From the way Gaaki was talking when we left … about it being a place of death, and all that … I expected loads of traps and nasty Rahi. So far, this is a stroll through Metru Nui.”

The tunnel was suddenly filled with a low hum, which grew louder by the moment. Too late, Iruini cried out, “Out! Everybody out!” The next instant, he was slammed against the wall, followed by the other Toa Hagah. It was only by sheer luck that Kualus was able to twist his body so that Zaktan’s globe did not get smashed to pieces by the impact.

Now all six Toa Hagah were trapped, pinned to the wall by a powerful magnetic force. Norik immediately called on his power of fire, but the tunnel was fireproof. Each of the others tried their powers in turn, only to find that the wall was somehow impervious to their elemental energies.

“Makuta?” asked Iruini.

“I don’t think so,” Norik answered. “He’s not this subtle. I think this is one of those traps Pouks was so relieved we missed out on.”

“Well, it could be worse,” said Kualus. “I mean, given time, I’m sure we can figure a way to get free.”

“Why do I think time is the last thing we’ll be given?” said Bomonga. “Do you smell that?”

They all did. It was a hot, metallic scent that wafted from the tunnel up ahead. They all knew what it was, but Norik was the first to speak it aloud.

“It’s molten protodermis,” he said quietly. “And it’s headed this way.”


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#11 Offline Reference Keeper Team

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Posted Jun 23 2011 - 12:05 AM

 
[Continued...]
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 6[/color]


Toa Jaller stood on the beach of Artidax, his body locked rigid by Takadox’s hypnotic trance. Next to him, Hahli and Nuparu stood, similarly paralyzed. None of the three were aware of what was going on around them, which was probably for the best.

Artidax was about to be the scene of a disaster. Its volcano was mere moments away from exploding, raining fire and ash on anything unfortunate enough to be around. Not knowing this, the Toa Mahri had brought the Heart of the Visorak here, a beacon that would summon the entire Visorak horde to this spot. The idea had been to strand them here. What no one knew was that Takadox was hiding on this island, and he hypnotized the three Toa and stole their ship, intending to make his escape.

Worse, the Visorak had arrived, and were even now scuttling across the beach toward the Toa Mahri.

All in all, not the best day the Toa Mahri ever had …

 

Visorak, it is said, never forget.

The specimens now approaching the Toa Mahri had seen Toa before, 1000 years or so ago in Metru Nui. It had been a different team, of course, but to Visorak, one Toa looks much like another. They could remember, if dimly, the pain the Toa had caused them, and they could remember the hate.

But they recalled one thing more. Toa might appear weak, beaten, or defeated, and then suddenly lash out with devastating effectiveness. It wouldn’t do to rush up to their apparently helpless foes and possibly walk into a trap. So they hung back a bit, cautiously probing to see if the Toa would react. Others began to scout – if these Toa really were frozen, as they seemed to be, something had done it to them. Could that something still be on the island, waiting to do it to the Visorak?

 

Jaller had a thought. This was very strange, as he wasn’t capable of thinking at the moment. But some tiny part of his consciousness that was still active realized the answer: the thought was not his.

This is no way for a Toa to die.

That little spark of awareness was followed by a slightly larger one of recognition. He had heard that voice before. It belonged to Makuta. Although it had sounded different when it came from the mouth of the robotic Maxilos, the arrogant one was the same.

The voice continued. Paralyzed on a beach, about to be slain by Visorak or incinerated by lava? Is that the stuff of which legends are made? I think not.
No, don’t bother looking around for me … not that you could, in your condition. I am not on Artidax, but somewhere far away. Still, my powers have increased, so I can see and speak to you just the same. Jaller, Jaller … Vakama had such hopes for you, and look at you now. As a Toa, you make a good statue.

Of course, I should object to what you had planned for my Visorak … you and whoever set the volcano to erupt. But you didn’t know about that, did you? And it would be such a shame to miss “seeing” your expression when you find out the truth …

Jaller felt a sudden jolt of pain, sharp and agonizing. It cut through the fog caused by Takadox’s hypnosis. In that moment, he awakened, his mind reeling. Someone had been talking to him … but who? What had they said? What had just happened?

There wasn’t time to puzzle it out, not with Nuparu and Hahli in trances and Visorak now closing in. With no other choice, Jaller hurled small fireballs at his two partners, just enough to singe them. As he hoped, the pain shocked them awake.

“Hey!” snapped Nuparu. “What’s the idea?”

“Not dying, that’s the idea,” said Jaller. “We need to get off this island.”

Hahli was already at work, summoning a wall of water to smash into the oncoming Visorak. Jaller threw up a wall of flame to block those coming from behind. Both Toa and Visorak alike froze at the sound of a rumble like thunder, coming from the volcano.

“Uh oh,” said Nuparu. “I may not be the lava fan you are, Jaller, but I know enough about volcanoes to know what that sound means. It’s going to blow!”

“Mata Nui,” whispered Hahli. “Do you think that was why we were supposed to bring the Visorak here? So they could be killed?”

Something was nagging at Jaller, a memory of something he had heard, but he couldn’t put his finger on what. But somehow he knew he was speaking the truth when he said, “Yes. I think someone planned this … and I’m not sure they cared if we got caught in the middle.”

“Our ship is gone!” said Nuparu. A half dozen Visorak moved on them. A shot from his Cordak blaster convinced them to back off.

“Then we swim,” said Jaller.

“To where? We’re in the middle of nowhere,” Nuparu pointed out.

“It’s swim, fry, or be a Visorak’s lunch,” said Jaller. “Take your pick.”

“Did I ever tell you how much I love the water?” said Nuparu. Triggering his elemental power, he churned up the ground in front of the Toa, creating a path temporarily free of Visorak leading to the water.

“Go!” yelled Jaller.

The three broke into a run and dove into the ocean. Behind them, the Visorak milled about for a moment, confused. Their prey was getting away, but the Heart of the Visorak was here. They had to stay where the Heart was, didn’t they?

Out in the water, the Toa were battling their way through more of the Visorak horde, all headed inexorably for the island. Jaller looked over his shoulder. For a moment, he was tempted to destroy the Heart. But that would mean having a horde of Visorak on he and his friends in a moment.

It’s what a Toa should do, he thought. Toa don’t kill, after all … or help someone else do it. But maybe this is a new world – one where you can’t trust your friends or your enemies. Maybe all we can do is try to stay alive.

The Toa were still too close when the Artidax volcano exploded. Hahli grabbed her two friends and pulled them underwater just as flaming chunks of rock started landing all around them. On the beach, the assembled Visorak found themselves too close to the disaster to escape. The horde, which had brought pain and death to so many, now reaped the reward for their acts.

“Now what?” said Nuparu, when the Toa had surfaced again. “We’re a long way from home.”

“We’ll get there, one way or the other,” said Jaller. “And then we’re going to have a little talk with a certain black-armored female and get some answers … or we’re going to start a war of our own.”
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 7[/color]


The Toa Hagah had, in their time, gone through some pretty bad days. Finding out the Makuta they had been chosen to protect was a traitor who intended harm to the Matoran; getting turned into Rahaga by the power of evil Roodaka; getting attacked by a Toa Hordika gone bad in Metru Nui – all of those were pretty high up on the “bad day” scale.

But nothing quite compared to being magnetized to the walls of an underground tunnel while molten protodermis surged toward you and searing death was only a handful of seconds away. That was in a class by itself.

“Anyone got any great ideas?” asked Iruini.

No one answered.

“Then how about last words?”

The hissing sound of the protodermis as it drew closer was suddenly drowned out by the sound of smashing stone and tearing metal. Rock and dust rained down from above. The Hagah looked up to see a huge hole had been torn in the tunnel ceiling. Looking down at them through it was what looked like a giant reptilian creature.

“And what have we here?” the being rumbled. “Six Toa and their fish tank in danger?”

“It talks,” said Bomonga.

“I don’t care if it sings, dances, and can juggle Kanohi blindfolded,” said Iruini. “Can it get us out of here?”

The great beast nodded. “I can. I will … at least until I find out who you are. If I am not satisfied with the answer, then I will throw you back.”

There was a moment of terrible vertigo and complete disorientation. The next thing the Hagah knew, they were in another part of the tunnel. The beast was with them, though noticeably smaller in size. Also present was the water tank containing Zaktan.

“Now – by the right of salvage, I ask who you are, who you were before, and why you are here,” said the beast.

As swiftly as possible, Toa Norik explained the history of the Toa Hagah and then their mission in the tunnels. He left out any mention of Toa Helryx or the Order of Mata Nui. The beast listened, nodding occasionally, and when he was finished, it smiled.

“So the Makuta saw the need of protection, one day in the distant past? How … amusing. I am a Makuta as well – my name is Miserix – no doubt you have not heard of me, for which we can thank our mutual enemy, Teridax.”

Bomomga and Kualus were immediately ready to fight, but Norik gestured for them to hold back. Whoever this Miserix was, he had saved them.

“Not that I’m complaining, mind you, but how did you find us … and how did you save us?” asked Iruini.

“Ah, just like a Toa,” said Miserix. “Always assuming the universe revolves around you. I had no idea you were here. I was seeking Teridax. As for how I prevented your premature melting, teleportation – a minor, if useful, talent.”

“What makes you think Teridax is down here?” asked Toa Pouks. The others knew Pouks was just buying time. His mask was analyzing and copying Miserix’s power, but that took a while to do.

“I could say I smelled his stench,” said Miserix. “But the truth is, I found a Makuta who preferred talking to being shredded by my claws. He pointed me in the right direction … and in return, I did not tear him apart. He was quite intact when I absorbed him into my body. And by the way …”
Miserix lashed out, knocking Pouks against a wall. The Toa’s mask flew off.

“I dislike being … imitated,” the Makuta growled.

Gaaki helped Pouks to his feet and retrieved his mask for him. “So what now?” said the Toa of Water.

“Now?” said Miserix. “Now we best Teridax in his lair. Enough time has been wasted on that pretender to power.”

Miserix turned and walked away. If he was worried that the Toa Hagah would not follow, or that they would attack him from behind, he showed no sign of it. In truth, he was concerned about neither. If they didn’t come along, it mattered not a bit to him. If they attacked, he would kill them all.

They followed.

“He’s a Makuta,” Zaktan said, in a harsh whisper. “Your sworn enemy! Why don’t you kill him?”

“You’re a Piraka,” replied Pouks. “Also our sworn enemy. Why don’t we kill you? Because we need you, serpent – and we may well need him too.”

After what felt like hours of travel, the tunnel at last came to a stop. It ended in a mid-sized chamber, lined with sophisticated machinery. But that wasn’t what captured the attention of the Hagah. No, they were focused on the two corpses in the room.

Kualus was the first to check over the still, armored forms. Bomonga joined him. After a few moments, the Toa of Earth said, “They have been dead many, many thousands of years. They look something like Toa … as you can see, one is in red armor, one in green … and they wear masks, as we do. But there’s something … different. Maybe a lot of things.”

Miserix extended a claw and scraped a piece off the armor of one of the bodies. He examined it carefully. “Fascinating. This armor is not made of protodermis. I would guess nothing about them is, from their organic tissue to their masks. Yet all things are made of protodermis. If they are not, that can only mean --”

“That they’re not from around here,” finished Norik. “But what were they doing here, miles beneath Metru Nui? How did they die? And what is this place?”

Before Miserix could answer, there was a crackle of ozone. The group turned to see a hole forming in space behind them. Within the hole, they could see nothing but darkness at first … then the vague outline of figures coming toward them from the void.

“I believe we are about to have company,” said Miserix. “Perhaps, Hagah, we will get to see just how effective you are at ‘protecting’ a Makuta, after all.”
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 8[/color]


Hewkii was the first to awaken. Kongu was beside him, still unconscious. The Toa of Stone’s mind was full of questions – How? Where? Why?

The “how” was easily answered. Someone had attacked the two Toa Mahri from behind shortly after Jaller and his team left for the island of Artidax. Who that might have been, he had no idea, but he certainly looked forward to meeting them again.

“Where” was easy too – they were in the Coliseum in Metru Nui. He half-expected to wake up locked in a cell, but that wasn’t the case. He didn’t even see a guard out in the corridor. Their weapons were gone, but they still wore their masks.

“Why?” That was what he was about to find out. He gave Kongu a hard rap on the mask. “Wake up, stiff breeze!” he said. “We have work to do.”

“Hmmm? What?” said Kongu, shaking his head. “Where are we, and why are you hard-hitting me?”
Hewkii was already up and on his way out the door. “Let’s find out.”

He had gone only a few steps out into the corridor when a cloud of black, crystalline shards appeared in front of him. It rapidly coalesced into the form of the black-armored female who had first told the Mahri they had to go to Artidax. Hewkii suddenly thought he knew who the “who” had been.

“So,” he said. “It was all some kind of trick.”

“If you wish to think of it that way,” the figure replied. “I am Johmak, an agent of the Order of Mata Nui. For reasons of its own, the Order wanted the Toa Mahri out of Metru Nui for a time. And we wanted the Visorak taken off the board … hence our decision to kill two Gukko with one stone.”

Kongu was standing behind Hewkii now. “But you thought we would all quick-leave, didn’t you?”
Johmak nodded. “And when you didn’t, we had to step in. We couldn’t have you interfering.”

“With what?” asked Hewkii.

Johmak fragmented again and flew down to the end of the corridor. There was window here that looked out over southern Metru Nui. As she reformed, she said, “With this!”

Hewkii and Kongu looked out at their city, stunned. It no longer looked like the place they had been living in for weeks. Now it resembled nothing so much as a fortress. High walls had been constructed on the coastline, with huge weapons mounted atop them. Weapon emplacements were also visible atop buildings. Streets leading to the Coliseum were barricaded, with Order of Mata Nui agents on guard. Matoran of all kinds were visible frantically building more defenses.

“What is going on here??” Hewkii exploded.

“The Makuta have suffered serious defeats, but they are not yet vanquished,” said Johmak. “We know we will need one final battle to destroy them, but we want to pick the spot. So we leaked word through servants on Stelt that we have turned the Great Furnace into a virus works to replicate the protosteel –eating virus that killed Makuta Kojol.”

“You made Metru Nui a target?” said Kongu, in disbelief.

“It already was a target,” said Johmak. “We just made it a better prepared one.”

“Where are the Turaga?” demanded Hewkii.

“The Turaga proved … uncooperative,” Johmak replied. “They have been … asked … to remain in the Coliseum for the duration.”

“And just what is it you will be asking us to do?” asked Kongu.

“Nothing,” said Johmak. “Nothing at all. Stay out of our way. Your interference may well get Order agents killed … not to mention yourselves.”

With that, Johmak turned back into a cloud of crystal and floated out the open window. Hewkii watched her go, his anger building with every moment.

“Nobody picks a fight using my city, then tells me to stay out of it,” the Toa of Stone growled. “Nobody!”

 

Makuta Miserix and the six Toa Hagah turned as one to see figures emerging from the dimensional portal. They were ready for anything, except perhaps for what they saw.

Toa Helryx emerged first, followed by Keetongu. The portal began to shrink behind them, then suddenly widened again to admit two more figures. The Hagah recognized neither one, but it was obvious that Helryx did.

“Axonn! What are you doing here? And … what has happened to Brutaka?”

Axonn explained rapidly how he and Brutaka had tracked down the pool where the Makuta species was created, only to be attacked by it. Brutaka had been changed by it somehow and insisted that they come here immediately -- wherever “here” might be. He had used his Mask of Dimensional Gates to make the journey.

“Then … was it that which opened a gate allowing us to escape where we were?” wondered Helryx.
“No,” answered Brutaka, in a voice like thunder. “There is another Olmak … and it has been misused … and worse. It may well threaten us all.”

“It’s going to have to wait in line,” said Toa Iruini. “Listen, we all came down here looking for Makuta Teridax, on your instructions. Then we were told it was full of traps and a ‘place of death.’ Well, so far, I see no Teridax, I’ve run into one pretty good trap, and nobody’s died. When do things start happening?”

A bolt of energy shot out from a bank of machinery nearby. It struck Brutaka, shattering his mask to pieces.

“You had to ask,” Bomonga grumbled to Iruini.

“My apologies for the abrupt greeting,” said the voice of Teridax. It was strangely soft, and seemed to be coming from all around. “But I couldn’t have Brutaka helping you to leave prematurely. Not when we have so much to discuss.”

“Makuta!” said Helryx. “I know what you’re planning. You won’t get away with it.”

“You know?” Teridax repeated, amused. “If you knew, you would be fleeing in panic, Toa. No, you suspect … just as Zaktan does. Or perhaps he does more than that?”

A loud hum filled the room. A moment later, both Zaktan and the water tank in which he dwelled exploded.

“I suppose now we will never know,” said Teridax. “Now what shall we talk about? The economy of Stelt? The latest akilini scores? The efforts to turn Metru Nui into an armed camp? No, I know – let’s discuss the end of your universe as you have known it.”

 

The island of Destral was in ruins.

The fortress of the Makuta had been pounded largely to rubble. Vezon, the sole living and conscious occupant of the fortress, had already departed using a Mask of Dimensional Gates. Occupiers were already moving through the shattered rooms, looking for survivors or loot.

Inside a subterranean chamber, a lone figure awoke. He knew his name – Takanuva – and he remembered being kidnapped from his universe by a Makuta. After that, everything was a blank until he woke up here, in a cracked canister.

He kicked the lid of the canister to pieces and stepped out into the chamber. All around him were duplicates of him, some dead, some still trapped in suspended animation. That answered one question – he had not been the only one taken.

Something was nagging at him … something else that was not as it should be. What was it? He was certain that his armor had not been all black before … so that was one possibility. But was that the answer? No, no, it wasn’t. He was almost positive that one other thing had been different prior to his awakening.

He was pretty sure -- could have sworn, really -- that he hadn’t wanted to destroy the world before. But now?

The dark Takanuva just couldn’t wait to get started.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 9[/color]


The dark depths below the city of Metru Nui were a “place of death,” Toa Gaaki had warned. She had been right, at least for the Piraka named Zaktan, who had just been killed by Makuta Teridax. That was bad enough – worse was that it was impossible to tell just where Teridax was, as his voice came from everywhere. But of his body, there was no sign.

A formidable amount of power was arrayed against him in this chamber. Toa Helryx, leader of the Order of Mata Nui; Keetongu, powerful Rahi beast; the six Toa Hagah; Makuta Miserix; Axonn and Brutaka, agents of the Order. Of them all, Brutaka was the strangest, glowing green as he was and floating several inches off the floor. Even with his Kanohi mask shattered by Teridax, he seemed frighteningly powerful.

“Show yourself, you traitorous vermin!” bellowed Makuta Miserix. “ Let us settle once and for all who rules the Brotherhood!”

There came the sound of soft laughter from every corner of the room. “The Brotherhood? There is no more Brotherhood, Miserix. In a very short time, the Makuta of Karda Nui will be dead. Makuta Tridax has died already, as have Spiriah and others. The Order of Mata Nui has been most helpful in that regard.”

“And you seem unconcerned that your allies are perishing,” said Helryx. “Why?”

“I have no allies,” Teridax replied, “for I have no equals.”

A hum rose in the room, growing louder and louder until it drowned out all thought. All that existed was that head-splitting sound, which drove even Axonn to his knees. Only Brutaka stood. He lashed out with a bolt of power from his sword, shouting, “Enough!” The energy struck the machinery on the far wall and the sound stopped.

Teridax laughed. “A mere … sample … of what is to come.”

“I know all that you have forgotten,” Brutaka said. “I know that you put millions of lives at risk with your foolish grab at power. This is not what you were meant to do. This is not why you were created.”

“He is in the machines,” Miserix muttered. “Of course. So if we destroy the machines …”

The exiled Makuta hurled a bolt of gravitic power at the banks of machinery. Where it struck, metal began to crumple, folding in on itself as its gravity increased 100 times. But it was not Teridax who struck back at him – it was Brutaka! A blow from his sword sent Miserix sprawling.

“No! You do not understand!” shouted Brutaka.

“Then enlighten them,” said Teridax. “Please.”

Brutaka nodded. “We … we stand in as close to the mind of Mata Nui as it is possible to be. If we destroy this place, we destroy that mind, and doom the universe.”

“I don’t understand,” said Toa Norik. “If this is Mata Nui’s mind … where is his body?”

Brutaka gestured broadly, indicating everything around them. “It is our universe, Toa. We live inside the Great Spirit. But now Teridax has taken root in that body and controls it … controls all. As soon as the Toa Nuva awaken the body, Teridax will be unleashed to rain darkness on all who live.”

“How do we stop him?” said Toa Iruini.

“I will show you how!” Miserix roared. He reared back and hurled attack after attack at the machinery, the chamber walls, the ceiling, doing untold damage. Axonn, the Toa and Keetongu tried to stop him, only to be batted aside. “Let us all die,” Miserix continued. “Let the universe burn! I only want Teridax dead!”

“How … one dimensional of you,” Teridax replied.

Before the horrified eyes of the party, Miserix’s body began to change. It wavered, grew blurry, the colors seeming to run into each other. There was an explosive release of energy, blinding in its intensity. When the heroes could see again, a picture of Miserix existed on the wall of the chamber, but he himself was gone. Or was he?

“He makes a very unique decoration, does he not?” said Teridax.

“We’ll fight you,” said Toa Norik. “We’ll find some way.”

“You were the first Toa to do so,” said Teridax. “No doubt you would find a way … maybe even a way to win, if I allowed it.”

A wave of mental energy struck the six Toa Hagah, but did not seem to harm them. In fact, they seemed quite energized by it, even happy. They turned as a team and headed back out of the chamber, laughing and talking with each other as if this were the best day of their lives.

Helryx watched them go, shocked. “What … what did you do them?”

“Call it … mercy,” said Teridax. “In their minds, the battle is over – and the forces of ‘good’ have won. They remember seeing me defeated at their hands, and in the reality they will perceive from now on, there is no Teridax, no rule by Makuta, no Toa and Matoran in peril. All they will see will be peace and happiness wherever they look.”

“That’s monstrous!” said Axonn. “Toying with their minds – were you afraid to face them in battle?”
Teridax ignored him. “Unfortunately, I cannot do the same to Axonn, or Brutaka, or you, Helryx – your minds are too well shielded. Given time, I could break those shields … but why waste the energy? And as for Keetongu … I am on the verge of becoming a Great Spirit. I have no time for pets.”

“You are tampering with fate,” Brutaka warned. “And you will be punished.”

“But not by you, and not today,” Teridax replied.

Brutaka winked out of existence, followed by Axonn, then Keetongu. Only Helryx remained.

“Do not worry, they are not dead,” said Teridax. “Merely teleported to the southern edge of this universe, to lands so dangerous even Makuta never dared travel to them. You will see them again, I am sure … if they survive.”

“And what of me?” said Helryx. “Will you banish me, too?”

“No,” said Teridax. “You see, Mata Nui’s great failing is that he had no one to share his thoughts with, no one with whom he could communicate. He did not have a ‘friend,’ for want of a better term. I will not make that mistake. You will remain here, Helryx, where all your needs will be met … and you will share in the brilliant darkness that is my mind. My plans, my dreams, my hopes, I will share with you … for at least as long as your sanity remains intact.”

Anyone else would have been filled with dread at Teridax’s words, but not Helryx. She saw an opportunuity. She would be alive, her memories would be her own, and she would be in the center of Teridax’s thoughts. Right then, she made a vow – she would not break. She would not crumble before the weight of his darkness. No matter what, she would defy him, and somehow find a way to help others do the same.

“This isn’t over,” she said quietly. “You know that, don’t you, Teridax? No matter what your power, no matter what you can do to us all … this isn’t over.”

“Of course it isn’t,” Teridax answered. “How boring it would be if it was.”

TO BE CONTINUED IN 2009 IN “REIGN OF SHADOWS.”

 
—TLH


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Posted Jun 23 2011 - 12:06 AM

 
[color=#3A6378;]9: Brothers In Arms[/color]

[color=#840000;]Back to top [/color]

 
[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 1[/color]

Five years ago…

Mazeka dove aside even as the acid blade slashed through the air where he had been standing. He could hear the angry hiss of centuries-old rock dissolving where the sword had brushed against it. A step slower and that would have been his armor.

He hit the ground and rolled, ending up back on his feet with dagger at the ready. Vultraz twirled the blade over his head, smiling. “You knew it had to come down to this, didn’t you?” said the crimson-armored Matoran. “Just the two of us, mask to mask.”

“This isn’t one of your epic fables,” Mazeka replied. “You’re a thief and a murderer, Vultraz. You killed an entire village of Matoran who never did a thing to you.”

“Except have something I wanted – an intact lava-gem, a rare find on the Tren Krom peninsula,” Vultraz replied. “They didn’t want to give it up… thought it appeased the volcano or some such thing, kept it from erupting… a few well-timed explosions and one sea of lava later, and they found out how wrong they were.”

Mazeka lunged. Vultraz sidestepped and hit his foe with the flat of his blade, burning an impression of the weapon into his armor. Mazeka stumbled toward the edge of the cliff and caught himself just in time. The entire mountain slope was lined with razor crystals, sharp enough to shred armor and tissue into ribbons.

“How many times do we have to do this?” said Vultraz. “When are you going to realize that you’re not a Toa… just some crazy villager who thinks he has to risk his neck fighting the bad guys? Go home, Mazeka. Go back to your little life, before you force me to end it.”

Mazeka scrambled to his feet, his back to the cliff. Vultraz was right – he was just a Matoran, with no elemental or mask power. Of course, Vultraz was too, but his old enemy had years of experience at lying, cheating and killing. Up until a few years past, Mazeka had just been a scholar trying to solve the mysteries of the universe. That was before Vultraz killed his mentor and stole valuable tablets containing the results of years of research. The two had clashed many times since then, but the tablets had never been found.

“Put down your weapon, old friend, and walk away,” said Vultraz.

“We were never friends!” spat Mazeka.

“Sure, we were,” Vultraz grinned. “All those happy years toiling away in our backward little village, trying not to attract Makuta Gorast’s attention. I was just the more ambitious of the two of us. I got out.”

“And you’ve been running ever since,” said Mazeka. “Time for it to stop, before you run into something even you can’t handle.”

Vultraz charged, swinging his blade… but not at Mazeka. Instead, he sliced away at the piece of rock upon which his enemy stood. It disintegrated before the acid and fell away. Mazeka fell, too, grabbing onto the ledge and hanging suspended over the razor crystals.

“I really don’t want to kill you,” Vultraz said quietly. “You’re a link to my past… a reminder of all the things I avoided becoming. But you keep getting in my way, and I can’t have that.”

Vultraz lifted the blade over his head and brought it down. Mazeka swung to the side, letting go of the ledge with one hand, and used his momentum to carry his legs up. He kicked Vultraz in the side even as that Matoran’s attack was carrying him forward. The combination sent Vultraz over the edge of the cliff. He never screamed all the long way down.

Mazeka looked down and cursed. It was impossible to spot Vultraz’s body so far below, but that was a mercy, in a way. Sliding hundreds of feet down razor crystals would leave precious little to see. He concentrated on trying to climb back up to safety before he joined his enemy in death.

A hand shod in ocean blue armor grabbed his wrist and pulled him up. It belonged to a warrior Mazeka had never seen before. She carried a chain mace and a shield and looked powerful enough to down a Takea shark with one blow. She wasn’t a Toa, he was almost certain, but he had no idea who she might be.

“I’m a… friend,” the newcomer said. “Never mind my name. I saw what happened here. You are very brave, Matoran.”

Mazeka shook his head. “Not brave. Lucky. And not even that… he died before telling me what I needed to know. Now I have to return to my village and submit myself to the justice of my people.”

The warrior shook her head. “Don’t fear. You did them a service and will be rewarded… and who knows who else you may have helped today?”

Mazeka didn’t answer, just walked away with his head down. The warrior watched him go. When he was almost out of sight, the face and form of his rescuer began to shimmer and change. In a moment, the mighty warrior had been replaced by Makuta Gorast. She looked at Mazeka, then glanced over the cliff.

“Yes, little hero,” she said, smiling wickedly. “Who knows, indeed?”
 
 
 
 
 
[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 2[/color]

Five years ago…

Sometimes, a being does something so completely unexpected, so totally surprising, that it shocks even them. On this day, that being was Vultraz – and what he did was wake up.

After falling off a cliff, Vultraz fully expected to be very dead. Instead, he was lying on a slab in a darkened chamber, being tended to by… well, they were Rahi of some kind, and he preferred not to know just what type or why they were prodding him. He wondered if he had somehow survived the fall, only to be dragged off by wild animals as an evening snack.

He tried to move, thinking maybe he could make a quick escape. But his arms and legs were tied down with some kind of vines. These were either really intelligent Rahi, or else there was someone else involved.

That someone else chose that moment to walk in. Vultraz gasped. He had only caught a fleeting glimpse of her a few times, but he knew Makuta Gorast just the same. He tried to pretend he was still unconscious, even though he knew it would not fool her.

“I can read your thoughts,” the Makuta hissed. “And your fear, little Matoran. But you have nothing to be afraid of… you are safe here.”

If he had dared, Vultraz would have laughed. No one knew what happened to Matoran who wound up in Gorast’s clutches, but there were plenty of rumors. Each of them was worse than the last and some were downright revolting. Vultraz had done some pretty bad things in his life, but he was a cuddle-Rahi next to Gorast.

“If that were true, I would have let you fall, instead of having Rahi there to save you,” Gorast said. “True, you were damaged… badly… but you survived.”

“Why…?” Vultraz stopped. His voice did not sound like his voice. He looked down at his hands – the armor on them was completely different. What had happened here? What had she done?

“You are well known on the peninsula,” Gorast replied, once again reading his thoughts. “Too well known for my purposes. But your enemy is busy spreading the word of your death, and the changes I have made will insure no one will recognize you.”

“Just… just what is it you want me to do?” Vultraz asked, already knowing he wouldn’t like the answer.

“I want you to find a Matoran for me,” said Gorast. “A Matoran named Krakua… and when you find him, here is what I want you to do…”

 

Mazeka returned to his village, bringing word of Vultraz’s fatal fall. Some greeted him as a hero, though he did not feel like one. He had failed to regain what Vultraz had stolen, failed to capture him – and while the Ta-Matoran’s death brought his evil to an end, it was still not something he could bring himself to celebrate.

He was seated alone in his hut that night when someone rapped on the door. When he opened it, there was no one there. Annoyed, he slammed the door and went back to his sleep mat. It was then that he noticed the chair in the center of the room had moved out of position. He went to move it back to where it was, and found he couldn’t – it was as if it were rooted to the ground.

“I wouldn’t do that,” said a deep, rasping voice. “You’re only going to hurt yourself.”

Mazeka jumped back a good four feet. There was no one else in the room, but someone was talking to him. He grabbed a weapon and spun around. “Who’s here? Show yourself!”

“Ah, if only I could,” the voice replied. “Unfortunately, not every experiment has happy results. By the way, the only thing you will get from spinning is dizzy. I am in the chair.”

“Who are you?” demanded Mazeka, half-convinced he was just hallucinating the whole thing.

“My name is Jerbraz, once one of the most handsome and dashing members of my little circle of friends… that is, back when I could be seen. Now I have to rely on my charm alone to make an impression… that and this nasty sword that conveniently turned invisible with me. If you see someone’s head just suddenly go flying off for no reason, it’s not your imagination.”

Mazeka backed up against the wall, trying to get as far from the chair as he could. “Is that why you’re here? To kill me? But I’ve done nothing to you.”

“No,” Jerbraz replied. The chair moved back, as if he had risen and pushed it away. “But you did do something quite permanent to a foul little fellow named Vultraz. And the people I work for appreciate that kind of initiative. We want to hire you.”

“Who do you work for?” asked Mazeka, still not fully willing to accept the reality of invisible beings offering jobs.

“If I told you, and you declined the offer, I would have to… well, you know. So I guess you will just have to accept or reject…” Jerbraz gave a low chuckle. “…Sight unseen.”

“Then can you tell me what the job is?” said Mazeka.

“Yes,” replied Jerbraz. Mazeka could tell his visitor was standing right beside him now. An instant later, he felt an invisible hand resting on his shoulder. “It’s stopping people like Vultraz – there are more of them than you might think – and protecting their would-be victims. Specifically, to start with, one potential target – a Matoran named Krakua.”

Mazeka thought about Vultraz, all the evil things he had done, all the people he had harmed. If there were others out there like him, stealing and killing and ruining lives, how could he turn down a chance to stop them?

“All right,” said the Matoran. “As long as I don’t have to turn invisible too… I’m in. Just tell me what I have to do…”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 3[/color]

Five years ago…

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” whispered Mazeka.

“No,” answered the invisible Jerbraz. “But it’s the only idea I have.”

The two were on the outskirts of a small village on the Tren Krom peninsula. Mazeka had never seen it before, and he had explored much of the peninsula over the years. At first glance, it looked like any other village – a series of huts, a central meeting area, Matoran wandering about. The only thing that marked it as strange was the absolute silence that permeated every inch of the place.

“What’s going on?” Mazeka asked, so quietly he could barely hear himself. Despite that, one of the Matoran stopped and looked around.

“They are De-Matoran,” answered Jerbraz. “Matoran of Sonics. Very sensitive to noise, so they train themselves from early on to not make any more than is necessary. On the plus side, their hearing is so acute that they are probably listening to every word we say … and would be even if we were a kio away.”

Mazeka considered that. “Then why are we whispering?”

“Out of respect. Plus they hate loud sounds – that’s why no Toa are allowed into the place. Where Toa go, battles follow … and battles are noisy.”

Mazeka felt the invisible hand of Jerbaz tap him on the shoulder. “Krakua is over there, to the left of the clearing – he’s the one you’re after. Looks like just another villager to me, but the people in power say he matters. So you go in and bring him out … before someone else does.”

The one Jerbraz had identified was standing off by himself, but not by choice. The other Matoran were avoiding him, and giving him nasty looks besides. Mazeka quickly figured out why: Krakua was humming to himself.

“Someone thinks he may wind up a Toa someday,” Jerbraz continued. “I can see why. Matoran with the calling sometimes are a little … eccentric. Almost like their brain knows something it isn’t telling them.”

At Jerbraz’s urging, Mazeka slipped into the village and beckoned to Krakua. He was careful not to call out to them. No point in drawing unwanted attention to himself. When Krakua joined him at the outskirts, Mazeka said, “You don’t know me, but I’ve been sent here to find you.”

“By whom?” asked Krakua.

“I can’t tell you that,” answered Mazeka.

“Okay. How about why?”

“I can’t tell you that either,” Mazeka replied, already feeling very uncomfortable.

“Is there anything you can tell me?” asked Krakua, frustrated.

Mazeka looked over Krakua’s shoulder. Something was rolling into the center of the De-Matoran village. “Yes!” he yelled, diving for Krakua. “Trust me!”

The two hit the ground, hard. Mazeka clamped his hands over Krakua’s audio receptors just in time. A wall of sound struck the village, excruciatingly loud for a being with normal senses, beyond devastating for the Matoran of Sonics. Matoran hit the ground almost instantly, overcome by the sound. Mazeka almost passed out as well, but he fought to stay conscious and do what he could to protect Krakua.

When the effect finally ended, Mazeka couldn’t hear his own voice. He called out Jerbraz’s name a few times, but couldn’t have heard the answer if it came and felt no taps on his shoulder. Had the Order agent deserted him?

Before he could worry about that, someone entered the clearing. It was a Ta-Matoran, though not one Mazeka recognized. He idly picked up the device used to fell the villagers, smiled, and tossed it away. Then he surveyed the unconscious Matoran as if he were looking for someone in particular. Now and then, he would use his sword to roll one over and get a better look.

Mazeka took his hands away from Krakua’s head. Using hand signals, he told Krakua to follow him. Mazeka started away, but stepped on a branch, snapping it. He was still unable to hear, so he never noticed the noise. But the Ta-Matoran did.

An instant later, Krakua was spinning Mazeka around. As he did, a dagger thrown by the Ta-Matoran buried itself in a nearby tree. Mazeka drew his own blade, ready to fight. But the Ta-Matoran didn’t advance – in fact, he seemed a little startled.

“Go!” Mazeka yelled to Krakua. “Get out of here! I’ll handle this.”

Krakua hesitated. Then his feet left the ground and he was flying into the jungle. Mazeka almost smiled – Jerbraz hadn’t left after all. He was carrying Krakua to safety.

The Ta-Matoran advanced. Mazeka leaned back a little on his heels, ready to meet the attack. The Ta-Matoran made a few tentative attacks, then went to work, hacking and slashing. Mazeka parried the blows, even landing a few of his own. All the while, something was nagging at him. There was something familiar about his enemy – not how he looked, nor how he sounded, since he hadn’t said a word. No, it was his moves in combat. Once in a while, he would do something that struck a familiar chord, then it would be gone.

Unfortunately, the middle of a fight is not the best time to try to and jog one’s memory. The Ta-Matoran took advantage of his distraction to disarm him. Mazeka tried to retrieve his blade, but the Ta-Matoran got in between him and his weapon. A swift stroke and Mazeka had lost his mask. He stumbled and fell to the ground.

His enemy stood over him, smiling. He lifted his blade for the killing stroke, twirling it over his head for a moment.

And then Mazeka knew. Someone or something had changed his appearance, but that habit of twirling his blade before a final attack … only one person did that in Mazeka’s memory.

“Vultraz!” he gasped. “You’re … alive?”

“More than I can say for you,” whispered Vultraz, as he swung his razor-sharp sword at Mazeka’s head …
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 4[/color]

Five years ago …

Mazeka forced himself to keep his eyes open as Vultraz brought the blade down toward his head. He wouldn’t give his enemy the satisfaction of seeing he was afraid.

The razor-sharp steel came closer, closer … Mazeka accepted that it would be his last sight in life …

And then the sword stopped, less than a quarter of an inch from Mazeka’s mask. When he looked beyond the blade, Mazeka could see that Vultraz was smiling.

“No, I don’t need to kill you now,” said the Ta-Matoran. “I’ve beaten you. Every breath you take from now on is only because I allow it. No matter where you go, who you fight, how many battles you win – you’ll know you’re only walking, talking, living because of me.” Vultraz laughed. “I just saved your life, Mazeka … I think that rates a thank you, don’t you?”

Mazeka said nothing, just glared with hate-filled eyes at his enemy.

“Of course, it’s a shame that I lost the little De-Matoran, but no worries – I’ll catch up to him later, and give him what I didn’t give you,” Vultraz continued. “As for you … live a long life, Mazeka. I want you around to remember this day.”

With that, the Ta-Matoran withdrew his sword and vanished into the jungle. Mazeka got to his feet, ready to pursue him and settle things once and for all. But an invisible hand restrained him.

“That’s not what we’re here for,” said Jerbraz. Mazeka could hear him clearly, though he could not see him. “We got what we came to get. Be satisfied with that.”

“But --” Mazeka began, angry and frustrated. Then he stopped. Jerbraz was right. If this Krakua was so important, getting him before Vultraz did was what mattered most … wasn’t it?

“Krakua is someplace safe,” said Jerbraz. “Now he can be trained. There’s a reason you don’t see a lot of Toa of Sonics around – they are vulnerable to their own power. One of the Great Beings’ little jokes, I guess. We’ll make sure he can use his power – all of it – when he becomes a Toa someday … because we’re going to need it.”

Mazeka was only half listening. His mind was on his fight with Vultraz – a fight he vowed wasn’t over. “Listen,” he said. “I did what you asked. Now I want a favor in return. I want training.”

“What kind?” asked Jerbraz.

“I want to learn how to fight,” said Mazeka, his tone grim. “I want to learn how to win clean … and win dirty. When I’m done, I want to be a master with a blade, with my fists, with any kind of weapon – and then I want you to get out of my way.”

“You’re going after that Ta-Matoran, I’m guessing?” said Jerbraz.

Mazeka walked away from the voice, deeper into the jungle. “We’re wasting time. You have a Matoran to deliver … and I have a hunt to get ready for.”

 

Now …

Mazeka walked into an inn in one of the nastier parts of Stelt. The whole island was in an uproar – something about a monstrous, reptilian thing tearing the roof off a building. He didn’t see any sign of any giant creatures, so he dismissed it as just another wild Steltian story.

He was here to see a Fe-Matoran whose name changed every few months. A rogue Nynrah crafter, the Matoran had a bad right arm, the result of an accident in a forge. Of course, any Nynrah worth his tools could have made a new mechanical part to replace the damaged one, but he hadn’t – story was he kept it as is as a reminder that even the best can make a mistake.

Two big, blue warriors stood at the bottom of the stairs leading to the second floor. They made it clear that no visitors were allowed. Mazeka nodded, turned as if to leave, then spun and delivered a devastating kick to the knee joint of the nearest. When the second went for his blade, Mazeka’s own dagger flashed. His disarmed the brute in one swift motion. The guard charged and Mazeka evaded, winding up behind his larger opponent. Before the guard could turn, Mazeka did a leap from a standing start, got one hand onto the big warrior’s shoulder, and then slammed both knees into his face. It didn’t do much more than daze the bruiser, but that was all Mazeka needed to do. He took advantage of the situation to race up the stairs.

The door to the Fe-Matoran’s workshop was locked. Mazeka brought it down with a kick. The Matoran of Iron grabbed for a weapon, but Mazeka’s dagger was already primed to throw. “I just want to talk,” said Mazeka.

“You’ve got a noisy way of saying hello,” the Fe-Matoran answered. “I’m open for business – all you had to do was knock.”

“I know all about your business,” said Mazeka. “Someone will be talking to you about it another day. Right now, I just have one question – where’s Vultraz?”

The Fe-Matoran did his best to look confused. “I don’t know any Vultraz.”

“You helped him modify his vehicle,” Mazeka replied. “And he used it to raid a village on an island not far from here. Two Matoran were killed, 12 more were hurt. You’re responsible for that.”

“Why me?” said the Fe-Matoran. “I didn’t do that! He did that!”

Mazeka twirled his dagger, then hurled it at the Nynrah crafter. It struck his mask, knocking it off. The Fe-Matoran staggered and reached for his lost mask, but Mazeka was there first and kicked it away. “Vultraz. Now.”

“I don’t know anything!” the Matoran sputtered. “Give me my mask back!”

Mazeka held his foot poised over the fallen mask. “Tell me what I want to know or I’ll shatter it. And then you and I can have a nice long chat until you pass out. So what’s it going to be?”

“He said … he said he was going to get in good with a Makuta,” the Fe-Matoran said. “Said he was heading to the core …that’s all he said, I swear, the core … to bring something to somebody named Icarax.”

Mazeka nodded. That fit with other scraps of information he had picked up.

“Okay, thanks for the information,” he said. Almost casually, he brought his foot down and broke the mask to pieces. “Next time, don’t take so long to answer.”

Mazeka left the room, so lost in thought he almost didn’t notice the two guards waiting for him outside. He was distracted enough that it took him all of ten minutes to get away from them. On his way back to his swamp strider, he wondered -- what was Vultraz up to now? And how could he stop him?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 5[/color]

Daxia was a good place to visit, providing you were a member of the Order of Mata Nui and had been invited. There were places to relax and to train, libraries full of tablets on every imaginable subject, and a central well of energy for when one got hungry. Of course, there was also an armory, an equipment storehouse, and a vehicle center that members could access before going on missions.

If, on the other hand, you weren’t welcome … well, that was another story, as Mazeka was finding out. He had been to Daxia before, during his training, and had even been given his swamp strider vehicle by Toa Helryx, leader of the Order. With some reservation, she had approved his pursuit of Vultraz, providing it didn’t get in the way of other work she needed him to do. But it was also made clear to him that return trips to Daxia had to be cleared first, so the Order could make sure he was not being followed to their secret base.

This day, Mazeka had not done that. He had stormed the coast of Daxia, seeking information. His old enemy, Vultraz, was heading for someplace called the core, carrying something for a Makuta named Icarax. Mazeka was determined to stop him, but first, he had to learn what the core was and where it was. And he knew who would have the answers.

“Helryx!” he shouted, as he ran through the central corridor of the Order base, two guards in pursuit. “I request an audience!”

“Grab him!” one of the guards yelled. “He could be a Brotherhood spy!”

Mazeka stopped suddenly and dropped to the ground. The lead guard tripped over him and went sprawling. Mazeka shot up, grabbing the second guard’s wrist. With a quick movement, he tossed the guard over his shoulder, sending the sentry crashing to the ground.

“Sorry,” Mazeka said. “But I don’t have time for official channels.”

Both guards were getting back to their feet, so Mazeka took off. While he couldn’t become invisible like his old trainer, Jerbraz, he knew how to “disappear” when he had to. The shadows were his friend. He found a hiding place and waited for the guards to rush past before moving out again.

Mazeka knew where Helryx’s chamber was – he also knew all the traps and guard stations along the way. Jerbraz had trained him to pay attention to things like that. You never knew when you might need the knowledge. Now he used it to evade observation as he made his way to the center of the base.

Under normal circumstances, this would probably have been impossible to do. But with the Order now at war with the Brotherhood, the number of members on Daxia had dropped. Most agents were out leading operations against Makuta strongholds, meaning that many fewer guards to dodge.

Forcing his way into Helryx’s chamber would be impossible – too well protected. But he had noted an escape tunnel built into one wall and had made a point of searching for where it came out. Now he went in that hidden exit and followed the tunnel along, all the way back to his goal.

But when he emerged, he saw that Helryx wasn’t there. Instead, it was a senior Order of Mata Nui agent, Tobduk. This was just about the last person Mazeka wanted to see.

Tobduk was tall – easily 10 feet in height – and although he looked very lean, it was deceptive. He was all wiry muscle. He wore a Kanohi Sanok, the Mask of Accuracy, an appropriate one for him – for he was a killer.

This particular Order member got the ugly assignments, and thrived on them. He was most famous within the group for planning the deaths of or personally slaying everyone who knew the location of the island of Artakha – including other Order members and a Makuta. Although one would expect someone like him to be cold and calm, Tobduk was in a perpetual rage – he fed on anger, his and others, it made him stronger.

Mazeka had battled Tobduk a few times during his training. He had always lost. Despite the Matoran’s best efforts, frustration and anger would grow in him during the fight, making Tobduk even stronger. Then the fight would be over in seconds.

“Come out, Mazeka,” Tobduk said, with the grin of a hungry kavinika wolf. “I know you’re there.”

There was no point in denying it or postponing the inevitable. Mazeka kicked open the entrance to the tunnel and stepped out into the light. “I would have thought you would be out killing something,” he said. “Did Helryx ground you?”

“My time is coming,” Tobduk snapped. “I was made for war.”

“Great,” said Mazeka. He forced himself to stay calm and collected, so he could deny Tobduk any extra strength. “I hope you and your battles will be very happy together. I need information. Where’s Helryx?”

“Out. And you don’t come to us … we call you,” Tobduk growled menacingly.

“Vultraz is heading for the core, bringing something to a Makuta,” Mazeka explained. “I need to follow him, but I don’t know where the core is.”

“I do,” said Tobduk. His eyes somehow managed to gleam and yet remain cold and dead at the same time. “And I could tell you … but not yet.” He picked a dagger up off Helryx’s desk and toyed with it. “Jerbraz says you have come far. But do you have what it takes to kill?”

Here it comes, thought Mazeka. He’s going to challenge me to combat for the information I seek. And I’m better than I once was, but not better enough to beat him.

To Mazeka’s surprise, Tobduk put the dagger into a sheath on his hip and smiled. “No. Cutting you down wouldn’t even be sport anymore, not when there are so many better targets out there. I have a job to do, Mazeka … and I could use a little help. You aid me and I will tell you what you want to know … or you could refuse, and the guards will haul you off to a cell for interrogation while Vultraz roams free.”

Mazeka had no choice. His need for revenge on Vultraz mattered more to him than anything else. If he had to team with someone like Tobduk to achieve his goals, then so be it.

“What do I have to do?” asked Mazeka.

“Nothing too terrible,” said Tobduk, already walking out of the chamber and obviously expecting Mazeka to follow. “We’re just going hunting.”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 6[/color]

Mazeka grabbed Vezon‘s arm and yanked him away from where Makuta Tridax and Tobduk were fighting. “Come on, you fool,” the Matoran said. “You want to get killed?”

“Well ….” Vezon said, as if he were seriously debating the question. “Anyway, I want to see the end.”

“Trust me, there will be plenty of endings to see,” Mazeka said, with some bitterness in his voice. “Everything ends eventually … and sometimes, you’re not sure why.”

“How profound. How deep,” said Vezon. Then he added, “How boring. Who are you and why are you here?”

“I’m here to kill you,” said Mazeka.

“Oh,” brightened Vezon. “I knew there was something about you I liked.”

 

Tobduk watched the last of the Makuta’s armor dissolve before the protosteel-eating virus. That left just his free floating antidermis to deal with. Meanwhile, the fortress of Destral continued to shake and crumble before the onslaught outside.

“You Makuta,” Tobduk said, shaking his head. “In the end, you’re just wisps of corruption, aren’t you? No substance at all. Not like these Toa you have imprisoned all over the place in this chamber.”

Tobduk looked around. He didn’t recognize the Toa in the cases, but could tell they were – somehow – all the same being. “Someone’s been tampering with things best left alone,” he said, in a vaguely sinister, sing-song voice. “I’ve heard enough Turaga tales to know what that leads to.”

The antidermis floating in the middle of the room turned a darker shade of black and green. Tobduk had no doubt the Makuta was trying to mentally attack him … or perhaps even telepathically beg for his life? But with his mental shields up, nothing was getting through. That was okay, though. He hated to hear a grown gas cloud cry.

“I can guess what you’re thinking,” Tobduk said. “With all these Toa here, no one would dare destroy Destral. No one would risk the damage to all those other realities. No one would sacrifice all these lives.”

Tobduk smiled and pulled out a nasty looking staff. Its shaft was inscribed with Matoran symbols and its head was carved in the shape of a doom serpent’s head. “Well, let me tell you something. I used to live on an island to the east of here … just a simple place, where a few of us tried to get by day to day. We had a little Rahi trouble now and then, nothing too serious. That is, until the day a Makuta showed up.

“He had a little experiment he wanted to do. He mixed a little of this, a little of that, and before you knew it … he had a great big spider … and then a lot more. But that wasn’t enough … he had to see what they could do. So he unleashed them on our village … it was over in minutes. When they were done, the Makuta renamed the island Visorak in honor of their pets.”

Tobduk shuddered a little, from the memory. “I made it off the island … a few others did, too … and got to Nynrah, and from there, to Stelt. By the time we made it there, the horror of all I had seen had … changed me. When my new friends took me in, they named me ‘Tobduk,’ which I hear means ‘survivor.’ Their idea of a joke, I guess.”

Tobduk’s eyes gleamed with a mixture of rage and madness. “Cause, you see, I didn’t survive. I don’t even know who I used to be. I’m not who I was … and I’m not what the Order wanted to make me. I am no one.”

A beam of white-hot energy lanced from Tobduk’s staff. It struck the antidermis in mid-air, incinerating it in a matter of moments. Tobduk didn’t turn the weapon off until every last particle was gone.

“Impressive,” said Mazeka from the doorway.

Tobduk shrugged. “It passes the time. Where’s the other one? He’s a loose Rahi … needs to be contained.”

“He’s dead,” Mazeka lied. He had no idea who Vezon was, but had no reason to murder him either. He decided to let him take his chances with the army outside the gates, slim though those chances might be.

“You owe me,” the Matoran continued. “You said if I helped you, you would tell me how to find the core.”

The fortress was rocked by an explosion. The ceiling of the chamber cracked and rubble began to fall. “So I did,” said Tobduk, seemingly unconcerned about the destruction all around him. “Very well, Matoran, I will point you in the right direction.”

“What about all these Toa?” asked Mazeka.

“Wrong place, wrong time,” answered Tobduk. “They don’t belong here and we don’t have time to send them all home. They’re casualties of war. You can stay and try to save them if you like, but I’m done here … so I am going. If you want the secret of the core, you’ll come with me.”

Mazeka considered. The lives of a bunch of Toa he didn’t know vs. stopping whatever evil Vultraz had planned. He knew what a Toa would do – risk everything to save the helpless and let the villain escape, maybe putting more lives at risk in the long run. But maybe that was why there were only 50+ Toa left in the universe -- and anyway, Mazeka wasn’t one of them.

“Okay,” said the Matoran. “We go.”

 

When the Matoran and the Order agent had vanished from the chamber, Vezon stepped out of the shadows. Destral was falling to pieces all around him, but he ignored it. His eyes were on all those crystalline cases and the Toa sleeping inside.

He had mocked Makuta Tridax’s “collection” not so long ago. But as the madbeing traced a finger along one of the cases, he couldn’t help but wonder:

What couldn’t I do with an army of Toa by my side?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 7[/color]
Mazeka piloted his swamp strider through the outskirts of Karda Nui. It had taken too much time to get the directions to this place from Tobduk, and more time to retrieve his vehicle from Daxia. Mata Nui only knew what kind of trouble Vultraz could have caused in the meantime.

The strider moved quickly across the murky water. Magnetic force from the tips of its legs kept it aloft a few inches above the surface of the swamp. Now and then, a tentacle … or something worse … would emerge from the muck and try to grab the vehicle, and Mazeka would have to deal with it.

The sounds of battle were all around. Toa were locked in combat with bat-winged nightmares Mazeka assumed were Brotherhood of Makuta members. His sources had told him that Icarax had been summoned here, and that Icarax in turn had summoned Vultraz. There could only be one reason for doing that, and it was one that sickened Mazeka.

Five years before, Mazeka and his mentor had been hard at work, researching the origin of all things. Everyone knew about the Great Beings and the Great Spirit Mata Nui, but how much was myth, and how much fact? The two were determined to find out. Although they were nowhere near close to learning all there was to know, they had discovered much, including one dread secret: the origin of the Makuta. Carved on one of their tablets was their best theory of how the Great Spirit had brought the Makuta into being, and where. That tablet was among the many stolen by Vultraz.

At the time, it was a terrible crime. Now it could be a disaster. A Makuta armed with that knowledge could create an army of his brothers, or perhaps a more powerful form for himself. Mazeka wasn’t sure when Icarax learned what Vultraz knew, or why he wanted the information now, but he knew one thing for certain – Icarax could not be allowed to get his claws on it.

That was easier said that done. Karda Nui was an enormous place, so finding Vultraz would not be easy. And he had to do it while avoiding being drawn into the battle between the Toa and the Makuta.

One of these days, I really have to stop picking all the easy jobs, he thought.

 

Vultraz flew his skyfighter high above the waters of the swamp. He felt like he had visited a wonderland. Down below, Toa were getting pounded by Makuta, shadow Matoran were hunting down their former friends. It was a little slice of paradise.

He remembered what he had been like before becoming a shadow Matoran. In truth, there wasn’t much difference. He was a bit more powerful now, but he had never had much use for justice and morality before, so his new outlook on life was much like his old one.

Icarax’s weak telepathic summons had reached him on Destral. The Makuta was obviously badly injured. Vultraz had to first track down where he had hidden the tablets he had stolen so long ago, to verify his information. It would be a suicidally bad idea to give Icarax bad data.

He banked to the left, following the mental call from Icarax. It was then that his eye caught movement far below and well to the west. At first, he figured it was a Toa or one of the Av-Matoran, most likely fleeing. Then he picked up the distinctive outline of a swamp strider and knew at once who it had to be.

Vultraz smiled. Somehow, this was fitting. The Brotherhood was about to win its greatest – its final – victory … and fate had delivered his old enemy, Mazeka, into his hands. His only regret was that Mazeka would not live to see the triumph of shadow.

Icarax momentarily forgotten, he sent his craft into a power dive, right for Mazeka.

 

Mazeka spotted Vultraz with mere seconds to spare. The skyfighter was flying low over the water now, on a collision course with the swamp strider. As Vultraz opened up with his skyblasters, Mazeka did the same, even as he charged his vehicle right toward the oncoming flyer.

The two old enemies hurtled toward a final clash, or perhaps mutual destruction … but never reached each other.

A portal opened in space right between them. It was too late to stop, too late to turn … too late to do anything but plunge inside of it. And then they both were gone from Karda Nui …

 

There was a sickening moment of darkness and disorientation. When the lights came on again, the swamp strider was heading right for a massive tree banded with golden metal. Mazeka yanked hard on the controls and turned the vehicle. Thrown off balance, it toppled over. He jumped clear just in time.

Not far away, Vultraz found himself headed for what looked like a lake. It was only when he got close that he saw the “waters” undulating like some vast organism. Seconds later, shards of razor-sharp crystal flew from the depths of the pseudo-lake, slicing pieces off the skyfighter. Knocked out of control, the vehicle went into a spin. Vultraz leapt off just before it hit the surface of what he now believed to be a creature. The instant the vehicle made contact, it transformed into sheer energy and disappeared.

Vultraz, clinging to a tree branch, said, “Well, that was weird.”

Mazeka turned at the sound of someone approaching through the woods. He was surprised to see a Ga-Matoran emerge, followed by a Toa of Water. “Who are you?” he asked. “And … where am I?”

“Where are --?” the Ga-Matoran said, then laughed. “Oh, I see. Another test. All right, I’ll play along. You are on Spherus Magna, and I am Toa Macku. This oversized mass of muscle is one of my villagers. Always happy to meet another hero of the Melding.”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 8[/color]

“Spherus Magna?” said Mazeka, as he and Vultraz trod along behind their hosts. “What in Mata Nui’s name is a Spherus Magna?”

Toa Macku turned to look back at him. “You must have really hit your head when you crashed. And what’s a Mata Nui?”

“What’s a --” Mazeka responded, shocked.

“Hmmmm,” said Vultraz. “I don’t think we’re in Karda Nui anymore. Maybe if I tap my red feet together three times and wish real hard …”

“This is Spherus Magna,” Macku said, gesturing at the woods all around. “It’s the whole world. You should know, you helped save it.”

“I did?” said Mazeka.

“Of course we did,” said Vultraz. “Those were great times, right, Macku? I never get tired of hearing that story.”

Macku smiled. “Me either. But my Matoran friend Helryx here, she gets pretty sick of that story, I think.”

“That’s not true,” said the tall, blue-armored figure. “I just wish I could have been of some help, that’s all.”

“I know, I’m kidding,” Macku replied. “But you know the Great Beings intended for us Toa to take on the tough jobs – that’s why they made us so agile and fast, if a little small. You big Matoran are supposed to do the work the village needs done in order to thrive.”

Mazeka felt like the world had turned upside down. Matoran villagers were Toa here? And Toa were villagers? And Helryx – leader of the Order of Mata Nui – had been helpless in any situation? This was crazy.

“Vultraz is right, though,” he said, thinking fast. “It’s a great story. I bet you tell it well, too, Macku.”

“Not as well as Takua, but I do my best,” Macku said, pride in her voice. “Well, it was a little over 100,000 years ago. Some villagers discovered a silvery liquid leaking out of a fissure and went to see what it was. They touched it and – poof! – no more villagers. Later on, someone else tried to scoop a little up and their tool turned into a trident. Weird.”

Mazeka frowned. That sounded a like a description of energized protodermis. He had always thought that was something created by the Great Beings, but now it sounded like it came from the core of this world.

“Anyway, it was obviously pretty powerful stuff. So everyone started fighting over it … never paying attention to the fact that it was spreading all over. But the Great Beings saw what was happening, and they knew if it didn’t stop, the planet would be shattered into pieces.”

The four travelers emerged into a clearing. There was a village here, filled with beings like Helryx. There were no other beings visible the size of Macku.

“Welcome to Ga-Koro,” said Macku. “As I was saying – I guess the Great Beings rejected their first few ideas, whatever it was, but then finally arrived at a way of helping the situation. They created a handful of powerful beings called Toa – that’s us – with elemental powers and mask powers. And we went underground to retrieve the liquid in special containers and try to fix the damage. Wasn’t easy – there were already plenty of cave-ins, so good thing we weren’t as big as Helryx here. Took the better part of five years, but we managed to meld the planet back together.”

“And you’ve never heard of Mata Nui?” asked Mazeka.

Macku shook her head. “No. I can ask Toa Kapura next time I see him, if you like.”

“Oh, yes,” said Vultraz, chuckling. “Please do.”

Mazeka had had just about enough. “Macku, my companion and I, we’re … not from around here. And we need to get back home. It’s a long trip … I have a feeling a really long trip … and we’re not sure how to go about it. Do you know anyone who can help?”

Macku paused in thought. “Well, there’s Gali,” she said finally. “She runs a canoe business. I hear she’s been as far south as the mountains, but not much past that. I don’t think there’s much beyond the peaks worth seeing.”

“I think we’re going to need more than a canoe,” said Mazeka.

“What’s the rush?” said Vultraz. “I think I could get to like it here. ‘Toa Vultraz’ … has a nice ring, doesn’t it?”

“If you’re really worried, I suppose there’s only one thing to do,” said Macku. “You’re going to have to go see the Great Beings. They know this world better than anyone, from the Great Sea to the Northern Frost. I am a little busy, but I am sure I can find you a guide, if you like.”

“Yes, thanks,” said Mazeka. After Macku had left, he turned to Vultraz, furious. “We don’t belong here. We are going home, before we do damage to this … whatever this place is.”

“You couldn’t stop me in our own universe, where you had the whole Order of Mata Nui and real Toa behind you,” sneered Vultraz. “Here in the peaceful forest, with half-sized Toa, oversized villagers, and no Great Spirit to be found, you haven’t got a chance.”

Vultraz grinned. “Give me a month, Mazeka, and I’ll be running this place. And you – if you’re still alive – you’ll be Spherus Magna’s most wanted.”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 9[/color]

If Mazeka thought he had been rocked by all the differences between the world of Spherus Magna and the universe he was used to, he was in for an even bigger shock. Toa Macku returned with a guide to the fortress of the Great Beings – a tall, white-armored being he introduced as Makuta Teridax. The newcomer greeted both Vultraz and Mazeka and suggested they get started right away, as it was a treacherous journey in the dark.

“So, your title is Makuta?” asked Mazeka. “What do you do?”

“Whatever is necessary,” Teridax replied. “My role is to aid the Toa in looking after the villagers; to create new life forms, as needed; and to teach the virtues of unity, duty and destiny to those I and my brothers bring into being.”

Vultraz thought he was going to be sick. What had they done to the Makuta here? Where was the delicious evil, the complex plans, the ruthless ambition? Or … if the Makuta’s actions had been fueled by a hatred for/jealousy of Mata Nui, and there was no Mata Nui here, had things turned out differently?

“Must be a tough job,” said Vultraz.

“It is … time-consuming,” said Teridax. “A Makuta must be a being utterly without doubt, or fear, or any trace of shadow, so it takes long years of meditation before one is ready to assume the title. The powers that once ran this world were mad with a hunger for power – the Great Beings created the Makuta as an answer to that.”

No one spoke for the rest of the journey. Mazeka was filled with questions, but he wasn’t sure it would be wise to ask them. If the Makuta found out where he and Vultraz were really from, he might decide to imprison them, or worse. After all, why would the beings of Spherus Magna want those of a universe as war-torn as Mazeka’s to know about them, or their dimension?

It was a long and dangerous trip through thick forest and high mountains. Now and then, a great roar would shake the earth. The two Matoran didn’t ask the source – neither really wanted to know – and Teridax did not offer.

They came at last to a vast fortress made completely of crystal and iron. Two more Makuta guarded the main gate. Mazeka and Vultraz recognized them as Gorast and Icarax, also in white armor. They allowed the party to pass through unchallenged. The only uncertain moment was when Vultraz glanced at Gorast and muttered, “Like the outfit.” Gorast’s response was to lift him in the air telekinetically and then slam him down on the ground. It was her version of a gentle warning.

The trip to the fortress had been a long one. The journey from the main gate to the central chamber took even longer. After the 100th twist and turn, Mazeka became convinced this was all on purpose. The Great Beings evidently did not welcome visitors, and didn’t want those they did have to remember how to find them.

Mazeka expected to be ushered into a vast laboratory. Instead, the room Teridax brought them to looked more like a council chamber. A semi-circular stone dais sat at the far end of the room. The only illumination came from lightstones embedded high in the ceiling, and that was barely enough light to see one’s hand in front of one’s face. He thought he could dimly make out six figures seated at the dais, but then they were gone. Perhaps, like so many things, it had been a trick of shadows and light.

A soft voice, no more than a whisper, broke the stillness. “Who have you brought to us, Makuta, and why?”

“They say they came from another land, and seek to return there,” said Teridax. “They look like Toa, but I believe looks are deceiving. And one of them … one has a spirit filled with shadow.”

Mazeka cursed under his breath. He had been an cool dude – Makuta were telepathic. Order of Mata Nui training meant his mind was shielded, but Vultraz had no such protection against mental intrusion. Teridax had read his mind and knew all now.

“Step forward,” said another whisper. Mazeka was struck by how ancient the voice sounded.

He took a step. Vultraz hesitated until Teridax shoved him forward. There was an eternity of silence. Then more whispers came.

“Our work …but not our work. Interesting.”

“And one filled with shadow? How intriguing … was there a flaw in his creation, I wonder?”

“Perhaps we should take him apart and see.”

“No, no … too extreme. But there should be testing, I agree.”

“Now, wait a minute,” said Vultraz. “I’m not volunteering to be a lab Rahi.”

“We simply wish to go home,” said Mazeka. “We have … business to settle there. I ask that you let us leave.”

“It is a lost opportunity,” one of the Great Beings whispered.

“Perhaps not. Perhaps not. An exchange can be made.”

“What is your name, visitor?”

“Mazeka.”

“Mazeka, yes,” came the response. “We have many wondrous creations, Mazeka … some even loyal Teridax does not know about. Your visit is, in truth, fascinating, but not a surprise to us. We are well aware that we have counterparts elsewhere in the vast, uncounted realities that exist. It was only a matter of time before one of their creations pierced the dimensional walls … and considering the chaotic state of their creations, not an event we anticipated with glee.

“And so, we offer an exchange. You will be allowed to return from whence you came. We will keep your companion – I feel certain you have quite enough darkness in your universe, and do not need more. And we would be interested to see just where our other selves went wrong in his creation. In return, you will be allowed to bring one being from our universe back with you, to maintain the balance between the two realities.”

Mazeka wasn’t sure what to say. He hated Vultraz, had for years, but he wanted to beat him fairly and see him brought to justice. Instead, this would mean stranding him in an alien reality and facing who knew what future.

“I’m sorry,” Mazeka said. “I cannot agree to your request.”

“That would pain us greatly,” the Great Being answered, “if it had been a request. It was not.”

Chirox and Vamprah appeared out of the darkness and seized Vultraz. Mazeka moved to stop them, only to find his way blocked by Teridax.

“I have seen the rot in his spirit,” the Makuta said. “And much more … things that shame me. I have peered into a distorted mirror, one I wish I could smash to bits. He will get no more and no less than he deserves.”

“You don’t understand,” said Mazeka, as Vultraz was dragged away. “He’s my responsibility.”

“He is no one’s responsibility but his own,” said Teridax. “If you learn nothing else from your time here, learn that.”

“Make your choice,” said one of the Great Beings. “It is time for you to go.”

Mazeka considered. Did he want to bring someone back with him, and if so, who? Macku? Kapura? A Great Being? Was there anyone who could help in the struggle going on back home?

And then the answer came to him. He turned to Teridax and said, “You.”

Teridax nodded. “Through the mirror, then …”

“And your chance to smash it,” said Mazeka.

“Then make ready,” said the Great Being. “We do not envy you your journey or your destination. But it is a journey that must be made all the same … and a destination perhaps only you can save.”

TO BE CONTINUED IN REIGN OF SHADOWS …


 
—TLH


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Posted Jun 23 2011 - 12:07 AM

 

[color=#3A6378;]10: Takanuva's Blog[/color]

[color=#840000;]Back to top [/color]

[color=#3A6378;]1 July[/color]


My name is Takanuva, Toa of Light. For the past - day? month? year? - I have been traveling through other dimensions trying to find my way to Karda Nui. I was sent on my journey by the Order of Mata Nui, who gave me vital information I must share with the Toa Nuva. Unfortunately, the mask whose power hurled me into the space between dimensions was damaged, so the trip has been a rough one. Hopefully, my next stop will be my own universe.
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]3 July[/color]


I see a point of light in the distance. After three wrong destinations, I can only wish that this is Karda Nui. Fighting the currents of interdimensional space, I make for the spot. It is a portal opening to another reality. Desperately, I dive for it. On the other side, I land hard on a small island of mud. All around me is murky water and weird plant life. Have I found Karda Nui, the core of the universe, or simply another strange world not my own?
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]7 July[/color]


I am in a swamp, surrounded by mist. Now and then, I spot a fin or a tentacle break the surface of the muddy water, but I don't see many other Rahi around. Am I where I am supposed to be? Using my new power of flight, I rise into the air. That's when I spot her - a Toa of Water, being menaced by a pale-white, skeletal monstrosity. I don't know if that's Gali or not, but I know a Toa in danger when I see one. Let's see if I can shed a little light on this with my power lance!
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]10 July[/color]


A burst of light made the creature menacing my fellow Toa stop and take notice. I expected it to attack, or scream out its rage, or do something else I wouldn't enjoy at all. Instead, the look on its face was almost one of … sadness and resignation. Almost as if it knew that I, or someone like me, was coming, but had hoped against hope I wouldn't show up. Then it drifted down through the mud like a spirit and vanished. Wherever I am … this is a very strange place.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]14 July[/color]


Using my newfound ability to fly (the result of a Makuta virus I was exposed to in an alternate universe), I traveled to where the Toa was just getting to her feet. As I got closer, I realized that despite the differences in her appearance, it was Gali. And despite how I looked, she recognized me. "What are you doing here?" she asked, even as I said "Are you all right?" I told her it was a long, long story, and there wasn't time to tell it. We had to find the others - they had to know how much danger they were in!
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]17 July[/color]


Gali looked at me as if she were just seeing me for the first time. "What happened to you?" she asked. "Your armor … your mask … and is it me, or have you grown bigger?" The darkening of my armor and mask I already knew about. It was a side-effect of the shadow leech attack on Metru Nui. But I had grown in size? Yes, I guess I had, though I had no idea why. hat did it mean? Would it stop, or would I keep growing larger? A Turaga might know the answers, but there were none around. Like far too many situations I had been in lately, I would have to learn as I went.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]21 July[/color]


Gali was ready to head off in search of the other Toa Nuva, but I had something I felt I had to do first. I umlimbered the sundial I carried with me and placed it on the muddy ground. I shone a beam of light on its face and the shadow that resulted pointed to the east. "Okay, so I keep going that way," I said. Gali looked at me, confused. "Is that the sundial Lewa retrieved from the island of Mata Nui? How did it get so small? And what are you using it for?" Those, at least, were questions I could answer.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]24 July[/color]


"You know of the Order of Mata Nui," I said to Gali. "They told me you did. They shrunk the sundial down and gave it to me. When I shine light upon it, it points toward the spot from which the Great Spirit can be awakened." Gali looked at me as if I had grown two more heads … which, the way things were going, I would have believed. She was about to ask me if I was quite sure I was okay when we both spotted a gleam of orange off to the east. It was closing on us rapidly, and the dark side of me urged me to prepare to attack. It was getting harder and harder to resist those impulses - and maybe in this case they were right. After all, I didn't know any orange Toa…
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]28 July[/color]


I was ready for anything as the orange figure approached, flying at impossibly high speed. Gali, though, looked undisturbed by the new arrival. She placed a hand on my arm, a signal that all was well. And it turned out the new arrival was Pohatu, though he did not look much like the Toa of Stone I remembered.

He looked me up and down for a moment, before saying, "I can't say I think much of the color change."

"You should talk," I replied. "You're orange."

"Yeah, but I wear it well," said Pohatu, with a grin.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]31 July[/color]


Pohatu, Gali and I flew to the east, toward where my two friends said the other Toa Nuva could be found. Along the way, they brought me up to date on what had been happening – their arrival in Karda Nui, the discovery of the Makuta here, and the revelation that they had been turning Matoran of Light into shadow Matoran. That last sickened me. I knew now that I must have been a Matoran of Light in the past, though those memories were blocked. I probably worked alongside some of the Matoran the Makuta had corrupted. They might have even been good friends. Right then and there, I swore that no matter what – even if it meant Mata Nui stayed asleep, even at the cost of my own life – I would see to it that the shadow Matoran were cured.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]4 August[/color]


We had only been flying a few minutes when Gali spotted something down below. A moment later, so did I - half a dozen insectoids, each about seven feet high, flying close to the surface of the swamp. Each had four arms with nasty stingers on the ends. "What are they?" I asked.

"I heard them called Niazesk," answered Pohatu. "Some little pets of the Makuta who got transformed somehow into big pests you see. Better off staying away from them, they're --"

An angry buzz interrupted him. The Niazesk spotted us and were coming in our direction!
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]7 August[/color]


"We don't have time for this," growled Pohatu. He used his power to hurl stone blocks down at the approaching Niazesk. But they were good flyers and evaded his attack. Gali took down one with a water burst, but they were closing fast. I didn't need to be told that sting from one of them would do more than itch. I started to lower my lance to use a light blast against them … but then I thought, what if it isn't powerful enough? What if one or two get through and Pohatu or Gali gets harmed? I made my decision … and raised my right arm to call upon the power of shadow.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]11 August[/color]


I unleashed a blast of pure darkness at the oncoming Niazesk. It struck them like a solid wall. They spun, reeled, and then plunged down into the swamp. I turned to Pohatu and Gali, expecting to get congratulations for winning the fight. Instead, what I saw in their eyes was fear.

"What ... was I unleashed a blast of pure darkness at the oncoming Niazesk. It struck them like a solid wall. They spun, reeled, and then plunged down into the swamp. I turned to Pohatu and Gali, expecting to get congratulations for winning the fight. Instead, what I saw in their eyes was fear.

"What … was … that?" asked Pohatu. And he was actually aiming his weapon at me as he said it!

"There have been some … changes," I answered.

"So I see," said Pohatu. "I wondered where the Makuta of Metru Nui was still alive, and if so, where he had got to - I guess now I know, don't I?"
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]14 August[/color]


"Are you crazy?" I said, staring at Pohatu. "You think I'm a Makuta?"

"Well, you don't look much like a Toa of Light," The Toa of Stone replied, his weapon still aimed at me. "And we've all been fooled by Makuta before."

Gali looked from Pohatu to me. Even she was showing some doubt now - and who could blame her? I had grown in size and my armor color had changed from white and gold to white and grey. Frankly, if I had been a Makuta trying to impersonate a Toa of Light, I'd be doing a really lousy job.

I wracked my brain trying to come up with some way to prove I was me (try it sometime, it's not easy). I could use my light powers, but Pohatu might just think that was just a Makuta illusion. I could use my mask power to promote trust in him, but I had a feeling the second he felt a shift in mood, he would blast away.

"If you're really Takanuva, then I'm sorry," said Pohatu. "But if you're not, then all our lives aren't worth a widget. So I'm giving you to the count of 10 to tell me why I shouldn't skyblast you out of existence. 1… 2… 3…"
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]18 August[/color]


"6 … 7 … 8 … 9 …"

"What's a Toa?" I suddenly shouted.

Pohatu paused in his countdown and looked at me, puzzled. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"The first time you woke up on Daxia," I said, the words tumbling out of my mouth in my haste. "You were told you were a Toa, and your response was, 'What's a Toa?' There were no Makuta there, so how could one know about that?"

"There's only one problem," said Pohatu. "You weren't there either."

"But I saw it," I insisted. "I saw your creation, your training, I saw the team fighting avohkah here, and I saw the storm … that's why I'm here."

An idea struck me. I turned to Gali. "Remember, last year, when I was still Takua the Chronicler? You forged a mental link with me so I could see what you saw when you fought Makuta. Do you think you can do it again?"

"I … I don't know," said Gali.

"Don't do it," said Pohatu. "Makuta would just love to get inside your head."

"She has to," I said. "It's the only way. She has to look inside my mind, and if she doesn't like what she sees … you can kill me dead, right here."
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]21 August[/color]


Toa Gali shut her eyes. After a few moments, I felt the unique sensation of her mind reaching into mine. For an instant, I could see myself through her eyes (which was pretty disturbing - even I hadn't realized how much I had changed). Then I felt the link snap as she pulled away. Pohatu reached out and grabbed her to keep her from falling.

"Amazing," she said softly. "A place where Mata Nui died … another where the Toa rule as dictators … your journey here was … eventful, Takanuva"

"Then he is --?" asked Pohatu.

"He is," confirmed Gali. "Darker, perhaps, and not quite the innocent Takua or the eager hero we remember … but he is our friend."

"What's the situation here?" I asked.

Pohatu pointed towards the east. "The Makuta are putting up a good fight, but we're holding our own. We'll have Mata Nui awake again before you know it!"

"That," I said, taking to the sky, "is what I am afraid of."
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]25 August[/color]


Pohatu had just brought up the fact that even he didn't recall the story I had told of his early adventures when we arrived in the midst of a full-scale battle. The Toa Nuva were fighting a group of Makuta I had never seen before. Pohatu and Gali split off to attack from the flanks, while I rammed right up the middle. If my appearance took the Nuva by surprise, it seemed to do even more than that to the Makuta. My light powers tipped the balance and the masters of shadow retreated to the east.

Tahu wasted no time on welcoming me. He produced six fragments of stone and asked us all to read them. They contained, he said, the secret to awakening the Great Spirit. I really wished I could share in the moment ... so close to achieving their destiny … but the time had come to tell what I knew.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]28 August[/color]


I was about to speak up when someone new arrived - yet another Toa, though the others seemed a little wary of him. When he spoke, it sounded like he had just learned to use his voice. He related a stunning story. Apparently, he wasn't just wearing the Mask of Life - he was the Mask of Life. Worse, he was a Mask of Life on a countdown to the annihilation of every living being in the universe … something about things being out of balance and this the only way to make things right.

I gave the others a moment to absorb the news. Then it was my turn to add a little more cheer to the gathering. "We have another problem," I said. "If we succeed in waking up the Great Spirit, this place is going to be hit with an energy storm that will destroy everything in Karda Nui!"
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]1 September[/color]


I expected shock or anger or even panic at my news. I should have known better. "Then we'll just have to move fast," said Tahu. "We need to get into the Codrex. So we hit the Makuta hard and hope some of us make it inside. This may be our only shot at this."

I didn't have time to ask what a Codrex was before we were in the air and in combat with the Makuta. Lewa and Gali combined their powers to call down a raging thunderstorm while I struck with my light powers. The Makuta started to give way, and that's when I saw it through the mist - a great spherical structure, half-buried in the tip of a fallen stalactite, and looking like it had been here forever and was at the same time totally alien to this place. That, I realized, was a Codrex.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]4 September[/color]


We forced our way inside the Codrex, using the keystones to get us past a force barrier around it. Once inside, the Toa stopped short. This place, they realized, was where they had been for almost 100,000 years, sleeping in their canisters, waiting for the time they would be needed. I noticed that Tahu looked uncomfortable, but having only been a Toa such a short time, I didn't feel right asking him what was wrong.

Onua started examining some of the machinery in the chamber. He must have hit something, because the floor in the center of the room started to descend. Curious, we peered down into the darkness to see what waited below…
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]8 September[/color]


Down below, we saw a huge, cavernous chamber. As the section of flooring touched bottom, six great lightstones rose to form a circle. We descended down and began to explore. There were six pathways leading from the center. Lewa was the first to reach the end of his. I couldn't hear what he said, but the next instant, a huge metallic cocoon erupted from the floor. A moment later, it was gone, and in its place was an amazing crimson vehicle with a nameplate that read, "Axalara T9."

Lewa always did have incredible luck…
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]11 September[/color]


We barely had time to marvel at the vehicles we discovered in the depths of the Codrex - for there were three - before disaster happened. A red armored Makuta suddenly appeared in the cockpit of the Jetrax T6. Before we could react, he had flown off! Pohatu and Lewa wasted no time in leaping into the Axalara T9 and Rockoh T3 and heading off in pursuit, leaving the rest of us to wonder what would happen next.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]15 September[/color]


I knew I had to go back into the swamp. In the moments after Pohatu and Lewa left, I found myself filled with rage. The Makuta had to pay for what they had done, both here and in the rest of the universe. I existed to destroy them - I knew that now. More, I knew that at some point I must have been a Matoran of Light (even if, for some reason, I didn't remember being one). That meant those people were my people out there, fighting for their freedom. Although Tahu and Gali tried to talk me out of it, I left the Codrex and headed back to the fight.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]18 September[/color]


Kopaka had preceded me out. I caught up to him as he was pursuing the Jetrax and tangling with Radiak. I offered to deal with the shadow Matoran so he could go after the vehicle. Radiak jibed at me, calling me a "Toa of Twilight." I had to fight down an urge to show him just how much light power I still had. But seeing him reminded me of something else - that he wasn't a shadow Matoran by choice. He had been corrupted by the Makuta, and it was up to me to find some way to save him and the others. More, I had to get them out of Karda Nui before the energy storm hit.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]22 September[/color]


I had managed to collect Photok, Solek, and Tanma, and together we dragged a struggling Radiak through the sky. I had no idea how I was going to accomplish my task. But I knew I had to try. As a Matoran, I had looked up to the Toa and dreamed of being like them. Now I was, and it was time to live up to being a hero. I was still lost in thought when I heard Photok cry out, and looked up to see a shadow Matoran flying right toward me!
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]25 September[/color]


That was when things got really strange. The shadow Matoran, whose name was Vican, insisted that he was no longer a slave to the Makuta. He said that a Rahi's attack had shattered the hold shadow had over him. The other Matoran told me not to believe him. But something in Vican's eyes, his voice, made me wonder. I knew what it was like to be attacked by a shadow leech, as Vican claimed he once had been. If what he was saying was true now, then maybe there was a way to cure the shadow Matoran of Karda Nui. It was a chance I had to take.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]29 September[/color]


In a strange twist of fate, it was Radiak himself who found the Rahi he sought. Spotting it flying through the air, he hurled a bolt of shadow energy at it. He missed, but had managed to irritate the creature. It emitted a loud cry, the sheer volume of which seemed to stagger the Matoran. He struggled to get free of my grasp, and this time I didn't try to stop him. He looked around at Photok, Solek, and Tanma, as if he they were friends he had not seen in ages. "Are you all right?" he asked. "I didn't hurt you, did I?"

Tanma, of course, did not believe Radiak had returned to the side of the Av-Matoran. But the change seemed real. When pressed, Radiak revealed that the Makuta planned to allow Mata Nui to wake up, then slay the Toa Nuva and corrupt the rest of the Av-Matoran. But why? Why would they want to let the Great Spirit awaken, I wondered?
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]2 October[/color]


"Get the rest of the shadow Matoran here," I told Tanma. "We're going to cure them all, then we're getting you out of here."

"This is our home," the Av-Matoran protested. "And we'll stay and fight for it."

"Listen to me," I snapped. "In a little while, this isn't going to be anyone's home. When Mata Nui awakens, this place will be hit by the biggest energy storm anyone has ever seen. And that's why I am getting every Matoran out of here, even if I have to drag you."

Little did I know, as Tanma and his companions flew off, that I was about to come under attack.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]6 October[/color]


There were eight of them. Makuta Chirox and seven different incarnations of Makuta Bitil. Under ordinary circumstances, one Toa against eight Makuta … I wouldn't have stood a chance. But since being attacked by a shadow leech and walking the fine line between light and darkness … I wasn't the same being. And these weren't ordinary circumstances.

Light can do a lot of things. It can illuminate. It can welcome. It can warm. As it turns out, it can also make laser beams that slice through protosteel. "Come on, then!" I shouted. "This won't be some kolhii match masquerading as a battle! Any Makuta who gets near me, dies!"
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]9 October[/color]


I confess, I remember little of what happened next. I recall blasting a hole in Chirox's armor, then charging into the midst of the Makuta. All I felt was rage. In that moment, the shadow was the closest it had ever been to taking control. I was so caught up in the battle that I never noticed one of the Bitils about to strike me down.

But he never got a chance. A bolt from the Jetrax T6, piloted by Kopaka, saved me. A second rocked Bitil so much that he lost control of his mask power, causing his duplicates to disappear. But I wasn't done fighting. Chirox was mine, and he was going to pay.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]13 October[/color]


It was Kopaka who stopped me … who brought me to my senses before I killed the Makuta. As they fled back to the swamp, I told the Toa of Ice what I had learned: that the Makuta wanted Mata Nui awakened, for reasons I could not imagine.

Kopaka left me to warn the others, while I tracked down the last shadow Matoran needing to be saved. This was Gavla, and despite her protests, I managed to put her in the path of the klakk's scream … and myself as well. I could feel the barrier within me shatter and the light begin to return. I was cured, and so was she … but she was not so happy about it. The shadow, apparently, had been a place she felt she belonged, and I had taken her away from it.

I sent her after Tanma and the others. They would be making their way to the western portal and escape from Karda Nui. I had to rejoin my friends.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]16 October[/color]


The storm had begun.

It started out small, just in the center of the swamp, but grew bigger rapidly. It was terrible and beautiful at the same time, light and power released in a fury that nothing could compare to. Even I, releasing all my power in one mighty blast, could never have equalled what was going on below.

As I flew by, I saw Makuta Mutran tentatively hovering near the edges of the storm. It seemed as if he was trying to study it … the last foolish act of a wasted life. A bolt of lightning incinerated him as I watched. I didn't have it in me to feel any regret … perhaps in some ways, what I have been through has changed me for good.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]20 October[/color]


Along with my friends, I clung to one of the three vehicles discovered in the Codrex as we raced to escape Karda Nui. Around me, I could see the Makuta being consumed by the storm, and I thanked the Great Spirit I had been able to save the Matoran. Nothing could have survived this.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]23 October[/color]


Toa operate by a code, one that says we do not kill our enemies. To do so would make us no better than them. But when Pohatu called attention to the Makuta, now in mortal danger from the storm, I have to confess - I felt nothing. They had brought this upon themselves. They had chosen to tamper with the natural order of this universe in a petty effort to seize power, and now the universe was setting itself right. And it was a universe that had no room for such as them.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]27 October[/color]


I heard Pohatu say he thought he saw the Mask of Life. Gali told us of Toa Ignika's sacrifice, his decision to give up his new "life" to awaken Mata Nui. Although Ignika could not die, as Matoro had, he still put the universe before his own needs and desires. I wondered if I would have the strength to do the same, under similar circumstances.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]30 October[/color]


I thought surely we were going to crash. A wave of energy had rocked the vehicles and now we were headed for a solid wall. But at the last moment, all three and their passengers shimmered out of existence, only to reappear inside a twisting array of tunnels. How Lewa, Pohatu and Kopaka ever managed to pilot us through there, I do not know. Behind us, the storm had reached its peak… anyone and anything that was still in Karda Nui was now disintegrated. The threat of the Brotherhood of Makuta was destroyed … or so I hoped.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]3 November[/color]


We felt the universe jolt and tremble, as if the Great Cataclysm had happened again. But somehow we knew that this was no second disaster, but a sign of renewal and hope. I looked at the Toa Nuva, and I could see in their eyes that they knew - after so long, they had at last achieved their destiny. Mata Nui was awake once more!
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]6 November[/color]


The journey to Metru Nui took ages, or so it seemed, despite the speed of the vehicles. We were all exhausted and just longing to see our friends again. No doubt Jaller and the other Toa Mahri were wondering where I had disappeared to. I had no idea what had been happening in the universe since I left Metru Nui. Had the Order attacked the Brotherhood? Had the Toa Mahri been pressed into service? Was Metru Nui still standing?
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]10 November[/color]


Home! I can see the Coliseum, the spires of Ko-Metru, the Great Forge of Ta-Metru, and the beautiful gem that is the Great Temple. We made it … We're alive … and we have won!
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]13 November[/color]


Turaga Dume welcomed us warmly, even sparing me a lecture about deserting my post. There must be a celebration, he says, of the Toa Nuva's triumph and the awakening of Mata Nui. More, there must be a tribute to those Toa who lost their lives in the fight against the Makuta.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]17 November[/color]


What an experience this has been. I have been a part of many celebrations of the Toa's heroics - after they first defeated the Makuta, after the Bohrok were driven off - but to be a part of one as a Toa is an amazing thing. I look back at some of the things I have seen in recent days - a dimension where evil Toa ruled, another where there was no evidence of any Toa at all - and I realize how fortunate I am to have adventured beside heroes like Tahu, Gali, and Kopaka. Hopefully, this day is the start of a new era of peace for our people.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]20 November[/color]


Turaga Dume made a beautiful speech, honoring the heroes who had given their lives to save the universe. Looking back, I wish I could remember Toa Lhikan, or that I had gotten to know Matoro better. Somehow, you expect your friends to live forever … but I guess nothing lasts forever. Who knows? Someday, all that we have done, all that we are, may be nothing more than faded carvings on some long-abandoned Wall of History. But now isn’t the time for such grim thoughts … this is a celebration, after all.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]24 November[/color]


I am writing this from deep in the Archives … Gali is missing … Tahu badly injured … I don’t understand … how could this have happened? They’re coming … we have to keep moving … Onua says he knows a place we can hide and regroup. More later …
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]27 November[/color]


We seem to be safe for now. Kopaka and Lewa found Gali, she’s all right. The Turaga have brought as many Matoran as they could find to this chamber deep inside the Archives. While it is not much of a hiding place – can there be any hiding place? – it is defensible against Rahkshi attack. It is almost impossible to believe … Makuta Teridax in possession of the body of the Great Spirit, and so in control of this universe. Can any word be said he will not hear? Any plan carried out he will not know of in advance? Tahu says we will fight back … but how do you fight back against the sun and the stars and the world beneath your feet?
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]1 December[/color]


Onua is right, of course – we can’t stay here. We can’t hide in the darkness while the entire universe is at the mercy of that vile lunatic. Kapura reports that the surface of Metru Nui is teeming with Rahkshi, enforcing Makuta’s evil laws. So we must find another way out. Fortunately, the Turaga were able to find Krahka, a shapeshifting Rahi they once fought down here. She allied with them once against the Visorak, and is willing to do it again. She knows long unused tunnels that lead to the shoreline. If we can steal a boat, perhaps we can link up with other Toa in other lands.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]4 December[/color]


Tahu has a plan. True, Makuta has almost infinite power now, but his mind was not designed to control it. If we can split up, stir up trouble, force him to focus his attention in dozens of different places at once, perhaps he will lose his grip on the universe … anyway, it’s worth trying. We encountered an Order of Mata Nui agent named Trinuma on Stelt. He says Daxia is destroyed, but there are still some Order members who survive. I have to believe that as long as anyone who loves freedom is alive, there is still hope.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]8 December[/color]


I wonder what has happened to the Great Spirit Mata Nui? Makuta said he forced his mind and spirit into the Mask of Life, and then ejected the mask from this universe. But that doesn’t mean Mata Nui is dead – after all, the mask has already survived much. Could he still be out there somewhere, in the void beyond this universe? And if so … will he ever return to his people, who badly need him?
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]11 December[/color]


Pohatu and I have journeyed to Destral. There is precious little left here. How much of the damage we see was caused by the Order’s attack, and how much by Makuta Teridax himself, is impossible to say. I know one thing – nothing is left alive here. And from the shattered pieces of Makuta armor I see everywhere, it is hard not to believe that the new ruler of this universe has decided to eliminate all possible competition for his throne.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]15 December[/color]


Pohatu is occupied searching for weapons, but I am combing the ruins of this fortress looking for something else. If I can find whatever the Makuta used to teleport Destral from place to place, perhaps I can use it to return to some of the other dimensions I visited in past days. Maybe I can find help in one of those places, or some clue to how we can overthrow Teridax. If I could find Brutaka, he could help me, but I do not know if he is alive or dead.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]18 December[/color]


I received a message from Tahu via our new Rahi courier system – Teridax, it seems, pays little attention to the wildlife of his universe. The Toa Nuva of Fire reports that Rahkshi have overrun the island of Odina, but the Dark Hunters had already relocated to Xia. Teridax could, of course, destroy them at any time, but it seems like he wants the challenge of sending his armies against them. That may buy us a little more time.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]22 December[/color]


I have found it! It is badly damaged and I do not understand its workings, but it is here. I have sent out a message requesting aid from Nuparu. I pray that he arrives in time. This may be out best hope.

Gali elected to stay behind in Metru Nui. The latest word from her is that a troop of Ta-Matoran staged a break-out, evaded capture by the Rahkshi, and fled through the Bohrok tunnels toward the island of Mata Nui. They were supposed to send word back if they made it beyond the domes … but no word has been heard.

Things have never looked worse … but I swear by all I believe in, this battle is not over. And we will win, even if we must tear our universe apart to do it!


 
—TLH


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#14 Offline Reference Keeper Team

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Posted Jun 23 2011 - 12:09 AM

 

[color=#3A6378;]11: Empire Of The Skrall[/color]

[color=#840000;]Back to top [/color]

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 1[/color]


Tuma woke with a start. Sleep had been welcome, but the dreams it had brought had done nothing to soothe his spirit. Now he sat up in his darkened chamber, staring out the window at the starlit sky of Bara Magna.

He had never been one for deep thoughts, doubts, or reflection. His class within Skrall society – those intended by nature to be leaders and the fiercest of warriors – did not place great value on looking inward or backward. Life was simple: move ahead, conquer, secure what you have taken, and then move on. It was this which had made the Skrall such feared warriors in the great war, and which helped them to survive as a tribe after the Shattering.

Cut off from their homeland after that global disaster, the Skrall resolved to tame the lands in which they found themselves – the volcanic, unstable, and dangerous territory north of the Black Spike Mountains. Although some parts of it remained too treacherous even for them to explore even after tens of thousands of years, they became the undisputed masters of their empire.

Then everything changed. A new breed of warriors appeared, silent, lethal shapeshifters who struck from thin air and then vanished again. Skrall warriors died by the score, as did the other members of Tuma’s class until only he remained to lead the tribe. Although it went against his nature, Tuma finally assembled the Skrall army and the rock Agori and led them south through the Black Spikes to new territories and safety.

Tuma got up and walked out of his shelter. Even in the middle of the night, the city of Roxtus was busy. Skrall patrols were constantly on the move, while bone hunters rode up to the gates with captive Glatorian and Vorox to sell. Agori prisoners taken in the desert were hard at work building new walls and repairing Skrall weapons and armor. The work never stopped … it couldn’t be allowed to, Tuma knew.

He had learned many things during those last battles, when fighting raged from the Maze Valley to the very heart of the Skrall camps. His people could never hold too much territory, be too well defended, or hesitate even a moment in their march of conquest. Although the desert had little to offer in terms of resources, it did grant its owner one thing every leader wanted – space in which to fight. And one day they would fight again, Tuma was certain … one day, the things that stalked the northern mountains would follow them here.

For now, though, he could focus his attentions to the south. The villages of Bara Magna were scattered, their relations with each ranging from indifferent to tense. It was doubtful they would be able to mount much resistance if the Skrall attacked now, but “doubtful” was not good enough. Tuma was not going to risk a two-front war, with the Glatorian and Agori in front of him and his other enemies behind. When the Skrall were ready to strike, Bara Magna must be ready to fall.

The leader of a Skrall patrol appeared before him. Tuma eyed him for a moment, noting the damage to his sword and shield. The warrior had seen combat this night.

“Report,” snapped Tuma.

“Bone hunter attacks have isolated Tajun,” said the Skrall. “Your representative has met with the hunters to argue against their plans for a raid on Vulcanus.”

Tuma smiled. “And so guarantees the bone hunters will go ahead with it. Very good. And have their plans been drawn up?”

The Skrall nodded and produced a roll of parchment from his pack. He handed it to Tuma, who unrolled it and scanned its contents. After a moment, he looked back at the warrior. “The bone hunters do not know we have this copy?”

“No, leader,” said the Skrall.

“You realize, if I find out you are lying … or even mistaken … your head will decorate the walls of Roxtus?”

“Yes, leader.”

“Who did you battle tonight?” asked Tuma.

“A Glatorian from the fire village and a pack of Vorox, leader,” reported the Skrall. “We had paused our rock steeds north of the Skrall River when we were attacked.”

“You killed them all, of course,” Tuma replied.

The Skrall did not answer.

Tuma’s eyes narrowed. “Why not?”

“They vanished into the sand.”

Tuma leaned in close. “Glatorian do not vanish into desert dunes, warrior. Why do I not see the crimson one’s armor and sword among your gear?”

The Skrall said nothing. He didn’t have to. Tuma knew who he had encountered in the desert – Malum, exiled from the village of Vulcanus, now afflicted with desert madness and living with the Vorox. Malum was the most dangerous kind of warrior – one who did not fear death, for it would seem a comfort compared to the life he lived now. He could be a fierce enemy … which meant he could also be a valuable ally.

“Get fresh rock steeds,” Tuma ordered, “and take a dozen warriors. I want Malum brought here to me, alive. Do not return without him … I am sure you remember the fate of the last patrol that failed me.”

The Skrall nodded. The patrol assigned to find the book of Certavus among the western ruins had come back empty-handed. They had been reassigned to punishment duty, feeding the two-headed Spikit in their pens. Spikit being as they were, the feeders inevitably wound up also being the food.

“It will be done,” said the Skrall warrior.

Tuma nodded once, a sign of dismissal. As the warrior left, Tuma turned and gazed at the northern sky. Despite how well everything was falling into place, he still felt uneasy. For a moment, he imagined he could hear the shouts of long-dead Skrall and the sound of the invaders’ weapons, as if the battles of his past were being fought again.

Not now. Not yet, he said to himself. But one day … after Bara Magna has fallen … the Skrall will take revenge.
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 2[/color]


The Skrall patrol moved out at dawn. Their target, Malum, was living with the bestial Vorox now, and everyone knew Vorox were night hunters. During the day, they would be sleeping beneath the sand and prime targets for an ambush.

Despite this, there was a grim silence among the members of the unit. Of all the tribes on Bara Magna, only the Vorox showed no fear of Skrall. Maybe it was because their savage brains were too dull to know fear. Or maybe it was because, living their lives in the wasteland as they did, the prospect of death simply held no terror for them.

The leader of the patrol kept his eyes trained on the dunes ahead. Vorox were notoriously good at covering signs of their presence, when they felt the need to do so, but a good tracker could still spot where they had been. Their tunnels left a telltale disturbance in the sand, as if a miniature cyclone had touched down. Sighting such a thing didn’t mean there were Vorox right below ground, since they might have gone down one hole and emerged from another. But a fresh cluster of signs, as yet undisturbed by the wind, meant a good chance Vorox were somewhere nearby. And where they were, Malum would not be far away.

He spotted something up ahead. It looked like roughly a dozen tunnels had been made in a patch of sand beneath an outcropping. It was hard to tell how recent they were, as the rock would have protected them some from the wind, but it was the first sign the Skrall had seen. Even more interesting, there was a natural cave in the slope nearby. Shelter for Malum, perhaps, during the heat of the day?

The patrol leader held up a hand to stop the march. He gestured for half the troop to surround the tunnel entrances, and the others to stay back with him. It was time to set the trap.

Half a dozen Skrall rode up to the outcropping. Once they were there, they kept moving, pacing their rock steeds back and forth across the sand. If there were Vorox down there, they would sense the vibrations in the ground. Regardless of whether they thought what they heard was a potential meal or the presence of an enemy – often the same thing – they would come up to investigate.

Naturally, they would not come up the same way they went down. They would spring out of the sand behind the intruders and try to take them by surprise. That was why half the patrol had hung back, keeping their mounts perfectly still. Two could play at the ambush game.

The Skrall waited.

Five minutes.

Ten.

Twenty. Some of the warriors were starting to wonder if the Vorox were long gone from this place.

They got their answer, but not in the way they had expected. The ground suddenly opened up beneath the reserve Skrall, sending them and their mounts tumbling down into a pit. The Skrall near the outcropping turned and rode toward their comrades, just as two dozen Vorox emerged from their original tunnels. Howling, they hurled crude swords and spear at the backs of the Skrall riders. One spear found its mark in the side of a rock steed, sending mount and rider tumbling down into the sand. The Vorox were on the unfortunate warrior before he could rise, insuring that he never would again.

Malum appeared at the entrance to the cave, watching the carnage with a smile on his face. After the events of the night before, only a fool wouldn’t have expected Skrall retaliation. He’d had the Vorox leave just enough traces to lure the patrol in, without making it so obvious that they would suspect a trap.

The Skrall patrol leader and his warriors had managed to scramble out of the pit, leaving their rock steeds behind. Dropping to one knee, they took aim with their Thornax launchers and fired. The explosive, spiked spheres sailed into the ranks of the Vorox, felling a number of the beasts. The still mounted Skrall turned in the saddle and fired a volley of their own, scattering their attackers.

Regrouping, the Skrall made ready to charge. That was when they heard a chorus of growls coming from behind. At least 50 Vorox had sprung out of the sand some 500 yards behind them. The patrol leader wasted no time, ordering the Skrall on foot to join their comrades on their rock steeds. Then they charged, leaving the small army of Vorox in the dust and headed right for the battered first wave and Malum.

“Aim high!” the patrol leader yelled.

The Skrall rode into the midst of the Vorox, striking at them with their blades. The Skrall mounted behind fired their launchers at the rocks above Malum’s cave. Their shots brought down a rockslide on the ex-Glatorian, pinning him beneath a pile of stone. Behind them, the mob of Vorox was closing in.

The Skrall upon whose rock steed the patrol leader rode slumped over and fell from the mount, a Vorox sword having struck him down. The leader grabbed the reins and urged the steed up into the rocks. Reaching the point where Malum was trapped, he coolly dismounted and aimed his launcher at the Glatorian’s head.

“Back to your holes,” he shouted at the Vorox, “or he dies.”

The beasts might or might not have understood the words – the Skrall weren’t sure. But they knew what they were seeing and they comprehended the tone. The Vorox didn’t retreat, but they didn’t keep attacking, either. They simply stopped and waited.

“We strike now,” said one of the Skrall warriors. “Make them pay for what they have done.”

“They are vermin, no better than scarabax beetles,” said another. “Exterminate them all.”

The patrol leader agreed. He hated Vorox. They were too unpredictable and too dangerous to leave alive. But he had his orders: bring Malum back to the city of Roxtus, alive. There would be time enough later to satisfy the need for vengeance and wipe out the Vorox.

“Enough,” he commanded. Reaching down, he grabbed the unconscious Malum by the throat and hauled him out from under the pile of rubble. “We have what we came for. Malum will face Tuma’s justice … and so will all these beasts, in time.”

Throwing Malum’s body over his rock steed, the patrol leader mounted up. Once they realized what was happening, some of the Vorox moved to attack, only to be cut down by Skrall Thornax. The rest backed away. Was it sadness in their eyes as they saw the Skrall riding away with their leader? Could beasts of the desert feel such an emotion? Or was it dread of the day the Skrall would return, for all of them?

No one … perhaps not even the Vorox themselves … could say.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 3[/color]


The first thing Malum saw when he opened his eyes was a pair of Vorox. His first thought was that all of it – the attack by the Skrall, his capture – had been a bad dream. He had certainly had plenty of those lately.

But, no – these Vorox were in chains. Being desert dwellers, the Vorox hated any kind of confinement. It was sheer torture for them. Malum had no doubt that a Vorox penned in too long would simply lose the will to live. Rage grew in his heart for whoever had shackled these “beasts,” and he already knew who that was: the Skrall.

He looked up to see two of that hated species standing over him. One was a warrior, like those who had attacked his camp. The other was much taller, clad in green and black armor, and obviously in command.

“I am Tuma,” said the leader. “And you are Malum, disgraced Glatorian and friend to… the animals.”

“You are the trash of the desert,” Malum growled. “And I am the one who will celebrate at your grave.”

The Skrall warrior walked over to where Malum lay and kicked him in the side.

“That’s no way to talk,” said Tuma. “I brought you here to have a conversation.”

Malum got painfully to his feet. His wrists and ankles were surprisingly not shackled. Tuma had a great deal of confidence, it seemed.

“You brought me here for revenge,” said the ex-Glatorian. “My people bloodied yours and you can’t stand that.”

The warrior moved to strike Malum again, but Tuma stopped him. “Stand down. You are… half-right, Malum. Your Vorox have proven to be an annoyance lately. But killing you, though no doubt a great deal of fun, would not change that. Believe me, if I wanted you dead, even your pets would be unable to find all the pieces.”

Malum looked around. He was in the city of Roxtus, filled with rock Agori and Skrall troops. The place was notorious for welcoming Glatorian inside and then never letting them leave. He could see Agori guards all along the walls and Skrall patrols entering and leaving at a constant pace. It was not a spot one dropped by for a visit.

“Then why am I here?”

“You control the Vorox,” said Tuma, gesturing to the pathetic, chained creatures. “They do what you command. That makes you a threat… or a potentially valuable ally. But before we could make any arrangement with you, we would have to see proof that you really can make these beasts do what you say.”

“And if I refuse?” asked Malum, already sure of the answer.

Tuma smiled. On him, it was an ugly expression. “Then we send you back to your friends, of course… so they can have a funeral, or whatever ritual they do to honor the dead.”

“That’s what I thought,” Malum replied.

The Skrall had it all wrong, of course. They assumed he had some mysterious power to control the Vorox, but he did not. He had won dominance of the pack by defeating its previous leader in single combat. As long as he led them to food and water and kept them away from unnecessary danger – in other words, as long as he was an effective pack leader – they would follow him. But they did it as free beings, not as slaves. The Skrall, he knew, did not want allies – they wanted soldiers they could sacrifice without hesitation.

“Take him to the arena,” Tuma ordered. The Skrall warrior grabbed Malum roughly by the arm and dragged him to the Glatorian arena in the center of the large settlement. Chained against the far wall were two more Vorox, both members of Malum’s own pack. A plan began to form in his mind, but it would depend on a great many unknown factors. How hungry and desperate were the Vorox? Too far gone to remember him? Would they understand what he was trying to do?

A half dozen Skrall warriors appeared, ringing the sides of the arena. A seventh took a position in a box behind the Vorox. At Tuma’s signal, he released the chains that held the beasts prisoner.

The two Vorox charged toward Malum. He could tell even from a distance they had been mistreated. They were eager for prey, and might not care who or what it would be. But he stood his ground, making direct eye contact with first one Vorox, then the other. Then he raised his right arm and brought it down slowly, all the while giving a low whistle.

The Vorox slowed, then stopped completely. They sank down to all fours and looked up at Malum, expectantly. To the Skrall watching, it looked like a miracle: two savage beasts tamed in an instant.

“It’s really quite easy, once you gain their respect,” Malum said, never taking his eyes off the Vorox. “Judging from their wounds, I would say they at least respect your capacity to inflict punishment.”

“My warriors could be trained to do this?” asked Tuma. The Vorox had been a problem ever since the Skrall started capturing them. Now and then, they broke loose and did a lot of damage before they could be subdued or killed.

“They have seen me do it,” Malum answered. “I am sure they could it themselves now.”

The six Skrall warriors advanced on the beasts, who remained motionless at their approach. “Let them go,” Tuma said to Malum.

Malum gave a short, sharp whistle. The Vorox sprang to life, wild again. The Skrall grabbed them immediately and dragged them back to the other end of the arena, struggling to hold them still. Tuma ordered the Skrall who had kicked Malum forward. He would be the lucky one to show his newfound mastery of the Vorox.

At Tuma’s signal, the other warriors released their bestial captives. The Vorox charged toward the lone warrior who waited for them. In a perfect imitation of Malum’s action, the Skrall raised and lowered his arm while whistling in just the same tone as he had heard. The effect was stunning, at least to him.

The Vorox didn’t stop. They didn’t even slow down. They struck the Skrall like twin avalanches, and once he was down, headed for Tuma. Malum took advantage of the confusion to snatch up the fallen warrior’s weapon. He sprang out of the arena and shattered the chains holding another pair of Vorox with one swing.

“This way, brothers!” he yelled, charging for the gate.

The Vorox fell back and started after him, the Skrall in pursuit. The Agori at the gate, seeing a crazed Malum and four Vorox headed for them, wisely dove out of the way. A Thornax blast took out one of the Vorox, and another blast wounded a second. But Malum and the surviving two made it through the gate and out into the desert.

Tuma angrily got to his feet, ignoring the wounds inflicted by the Vorox. “After them! Drag them back here!” he shouted.

The Skrall would dutifully fan out into the desert in search of the escapees, but they would not find them. The Vorox network of tunnels extended even here, and Malum and his two pack mates had found refuge underground. When night fell, they would emerge and start the long trek back home.

The desert is a place of extremes, Malum said to himself. Blazing heat, chilling cold, fierce loyalty… and deep hatred. The Skrall won’t forget this day… and to their bitter regret, neither will I.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 4[/color]


Branar cracked his whip and muttered a Skrall curse under his breath. As a named warrior, he was no stranger to dangerous situations or assignments that require he get his armored hands dirty. But his task today was both disgusting and deadly, and the sooner it was finished, the happier he would be.

Tuma insisted on these “Vorox runs” once every month. The object was to drive some captured Vorox north, over the path the Skrall had used to travel to Roxtus the year before. The thinking was that if the shapeshifters who had driven the Skrall out of their original territory were moving south, the Vorox would encounter them along the way. The Vorox would no doubt die in the battle, but Branar might escape to make it back to Roxtus with the news. And if he didn’t escape, well, Tuma would learn just as much from his failure to return.

All of which explained why Branar and a Skrall warriors were driving a half dozen savage Vorox along a mountain trail. The twin challenges were keeping the beasts moving and waiting to see if one or more of them would die a horrible death at the hands of the Skrall’s old foes. It was hot, it was dusty, and the job was more than likely a waste of time -- combined, it made Branar about as happy as a hungry spikit.

Branar did understand Tuma’s worry, of course. He had been one of the first warriors to encounter the shapeshifters, who the Skrall dubbed “Baterra” (an ancient word meaning “silent death”). He had been leading a small patrol out scavenging for supplies in a wooded area. When the two warriors on the flanks failed to respond to hails, he ordered weapons drawn. The baterra appeared out of the darkness, struck, killed three of his troops, then vanished. Branar ordered a return to the fortress and he and one other warrior managed to fight their way back. For bringing word of this strange new enemy back, he was rewarded by Tuma with a name. For a Skrall warrior, there was no greater honor.

It was not the last time Branar would face the baterra, but none of the battles ended in a victory. Skrall were skilled, ruthless, and efficient warriors, but they could not fight a foe that seemed to appear and disappear at will. Despite their best efforts, the Skrall were never able to accomplish the first condition of victory: choosing the time and place of the battle. The baterra attacked when they chose to, sometimes multiple times in a day. Then they might vanish for weeks at a time, letting even under-manned patrols pass right by. It seemed to be impossible to bait them into a trap.

“Watch them!” Branar barked to the Skrall warrior. “One of the Vorox just wandered off the path.”

It was a constant problem. Vorox were creatures of the open desert. They hated captivity or being forced to travel one way or the other. Any chance to escape was seized upon. It wasn’t unusual to return from one of these missions with fewer Vorox than one had at the start.

The Skrall warrior glanced to his left. The Vorox was just vanishing into the rocks, so still close enough to recapture. A nod from Branar said that the squad leader would keep an eye on the rest of the herd while the escapee was brought back.
Grumbling, the warrior spurred his mount. The three Skrall were riding rock steeds received in trade from a nearby bone hunter troop. Sand stalkers were not the fighters that rock steeds were, and fighters were what might be needed on this trip.

He had just left the path when he heard the Vorox scream. Thornax launcher at the ready, he rode up a steep bank of shale. From that vantage point, he could see the remains of the Vorox scattered among the rocks below. There wasn’t much left of the beast. The Skrall swiftly scanned the area. There was no sign of sand bats or other desert predators. Whatever had killed the Vorox was gone.

Or was it? Remembering just what they were out here to find, the Skrall backed his rock steed down to the path, then wheeled and galloped toward Branar. “Contact,” he said quietly.

Branar gestured to the Vorox, saying, “Let them go.”

The warrior gave a yell and started driving the Vorox off the path. Branar did the same. Dozens of Vorox scrambled up the rocks toward where the suspected baterra was hiding. Branar and the Skrall followed behind, halting at the top of the ridge. They watched the Vorox climb down the slope, scattering in every direction to elude pursuit. But no one was following them, and more importantly, nothing was attacking them. In a matter of moments, free once more, they had all disappeared into the mountains.

Branar’s expression darkened. It was either another false alarm or the baterra were playing games again, more likely the former. He turned his head to look at his remaining warrior. In the micro-second it took him to make that movement, the other Skrall was dead. The warrior fell from his saddle with a vicious gash on his back. Of his attacker, there was no sign.

“Baterra,” Branar said. “Show yourself.”

It was a pointless thing to say and wouldn’t make very good last words, he realized. But there was nothing to attack and little point in running. With luck, the other warrior would make it back to warn the city and …

Branar hesitated. Why was he still alive, he wondered? It had been at least two minutes since the Skrall was killed. Baterra attacked quickly once their presence was known.

Unless …

Branar spurred his rock steed back down the shale. Nothing tried to stop him. Once back on the path, he started toward Roxtus. His senses were alert for any sign of an attack. But none came. And suddenly he knew why.

They want us to know they’re coming, he thought. The baterra are so certain we can’t stop them that they are giving us warning. They killed my warrior, but not me … to show they have the power to grant life or death to the Skrall.

Now the Skrall would face the same choice. Would they fight the baterra, and risk annihilation, or flee again? Only Tuma could make that decision. For the sake of their race, Branar hoped he would make the right one.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 5[/color]


Tuma sat in his chamber, brooding. The news brought back by Branar had been dire indeed. The baterra were closer than he had imagined they would be, and so his plans for Bara Magna had to be advanced. Already, he had moved up the date for the attack on Atero, and laid out ambitious plans to seize control of the other villages. If all went well, his troops would control all of Bara Magna before the baterra emerged from the Black Spike Mountains. But any organized resistance by the Glatorian and Agori would put his plans in jeopardy.

A rap came on the chamber door. One of his guards entered and said softly, “The one you called is here.”

Tuma nodded. The guard withdrew. A moment later, another figure entered the room, one who was not a Skrall. Tuma had been approached by this being some time ago, with an offer to provide useful information on the villages and their defenses as well as to act as a go-between for the Skrall and the bone hunters. This arrangement had so far proved profitable to both sides.

“You took a big chance sending me a summons,” the traitor said. “What if someone had stumbled on your message? Where would I be then?”

“That is not my concern,” growled Tuma. “Your safety is your responsibility. The welfare of my people is mine.”

The traitor looked around the chamber, then gestured toward the doorway that led to the fortified city. “Seems to me your people are doing just fine.”

Tuma rose to his full, imposing height. “We attack Atero tomorrow. Be prepared.”

“Tomorrow?” the traitor said, startled. “I thought you were going to wait for the end of the tournament.”

“Our plans have changed,” Tuma answered. The look in his eyes said he had no intention of explaining further.

“On their own, or did someone change them?” asked the traitor. “Let me guess … your neighbors to the north are coming to pay a visit.”

Now it was Tuma’s turn to be surprised. He stalked across the room, grabbed the traitor around the throat, and slammed that being into the wall. “What do you know of the baterra? Speak! Have you betrayed the Skrall to them, as you have betrayed your own people to us?”

“Urrrrk,” croaked the traitor, as the Skrall’s hand cut off all air. Tuma abruptly let go. The traitor crumpled to the ground, hand massaging a painful throat.

“I know… a great deal… about a great many things,” the traitor said hoarsely. “But if you want the benefit of that knowledge… we are going to have to come to a new arrangement.”

Tuma’s mouth curled into a sneer. “Your naked greed ill becomes you.”

“I don’t work for free,” spat the traitor. “Not this kind of work, anyway. Now let’s see if we understand each other – you fled south like a pack of frightened rodents because the baterra were decimating your people. Now they’re closing in on you again, so you’re in a big, fat hurry to seize the desert so you can buy some time and space. How am I doing so far?”

Tuma nodded, but said nothing.

“It’s an excellent plan… for old women,” the traitor said, with a harsh chuckle. “Run, until you can’t run anymore, and hope your enemy exhausts himself running after you. Tell me, Tuma – have you ever killed a baterra?”

“Of course,” said the Skrall leader. “How else do you think we learned they are machines, not living things?”

The traitor wandered to the back of the chamber, running a finger along the arm of Tuma’s throne. “I see. So you downed one by accident and saw it fizzle and spark … and then the baterra killed how many of yours? 100? 200?”

“Your point, sand worm,” hissed Tuma.

“My point, my point… oh, yes,” said the traitor, abruptly sitting down in Tuma’s grand chair. “My point is that I know how to kill the baterra, and you don’t. And I think that puts a new slant on things around here, doesn’t it?”

“You will tell me how to kill those… things,” Tuma said, his voice deathly quiet. “Or I will give you to the Spikit, as a snack. But you will not die, oh, no. We will keep you alive, patch you up, and when you are healed – we will give you to the Spikit again. And again. And again.”

“See, there’s only one problem, Tuma,” leaning forward in the chair and smiling broadly. “You don’t scare me. Sure, you can torture me, kill me… but what’s in my head stays there. Then it’s only a matter of time before the baterra come and finish you off.”

Tuma wanted to bellow in rage. He wanted to tear the traitor’s head off and mount it on a pole, for all to see. He wanted to storm the villages of Bara Magna, burn them to the ground, and slay the Agori the way the baterra had slain his people, little more than a year before. Had he been but a Skrall warrior, he would surely have done that. But he was more than that – he was the lone surviving Skrall leader left alive, and he had a responsibility to the empire.

“What is your price?” the Skrall said, slowly. “And be aware… you tread on dangerous ground. Push too far, and you may find I forget what is in the best interests of my people in favor of what would be most… satisfying… to myself.”

The traitor reclined on the throne. “No need to worry, Tuma. We both want what’s best for the Skrall and the rock tribe. Of course we do. And as of today, I no longer work for you. From now on… we’re partners.”

“Partners? In what?” asked Tuma.

“In the conquest of this pile of sand,” the traitor replied. “With my wits married to your warriors, we are going to carve Bara Magna up between us. Now you had better find a chair for yourself… we have a great deal of planning to do, don’t we?”


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#15 Offline Reference Keeper Team

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Posted Jun 23 2011 - 12:09 AM

 
[Continued...]
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 6[/color]


Tuma and Stronius rode north over mountain trails long unused. It had been along this very route one year before that the Skrall had fled from their last fortress. The vicious attacks of the baterra had driven them south through the Black Spikes to the borders of Bara Magna’s great desert. Now two of their number were going back.

“This is madness,” Stronius said. “You realize that.”

No one else in the Skrall legions would have dared speak to Tuma like that. But Stronius was an elite warrior known for saying whatever was on his mind. His services to the Skrall led Tuma to be a bit more tolerant of his outbursts than he would have been otherwise.

“Then turn back,” Tuma said calmly. “I did not order you to accompany me.”

“I wasn’t going to let you ride up here on your own,” Stronius replied. He turned from Tuma to look at the path ahead. “I have a duty to protect the life of my leader. And your life is doubly at risk here.”

“Baterra and… ?”

Stronius shot Tuma an annoyed look. “Baterra pale beside those you would visit, and you know it.”

“We share a common enemy,” Tuma said. “They will be… reasonable.”

“We abandoned them to that enemy,” Stronius snapped. “They will be merciless.”

The two rode for most of two nights and a day. They ran into no baterra, so far as they knew. If the rocks or the trees were their enemies in another shape, well, those enemies chose not to attack. Now and then, they paused at the sight of Skrall armor littering the path where one of their warriors had perished during the long retreat.

Dawn was still a few hours away when they veered sharply eastward. All of the Skrall fortresses in this region had been destroyed by the baterra long ago. Logically, no one here should have survived the last year. But logic had nothing to do with who Tuma was seeking.

Stronius was the first to feel it – an electricity in the air, an oppressive feeling that seemed to slow all movement. His mind felt dull, his body sluggish. He turned to shout a warning to Tuma and it felt like it took an hour to perform that simple action.

Tuma felt less of an effect than Stronius, being a little further away. He spotted a robed figure atop some nearby rocks, wielding a wooden staff. “You!” he shouted. “Tell her I want an audience!”

The robed figure’s head tilted, as if puzzled by the request, then the mysterious being disappeared among the rocks. A few minutes later, Stronius felt his head clear. H e glanced at Tuma, who nodded once. Side by side, the two rode on.

The sky darkened. From every side of the pass, more robed figures peered down at the two Skrall. Their faces were hidden, but Tuma could feel their hatred just the same.

Up ahead, a half dozen more figures blocked the way. Beyond them, a seventh sat on a crude throne carved from part of the mountain itself. “Dismount,” she ordered, in a voice that was surprisingly soft. Tuma tensed. He had not realized this one had ascended to leadership. His hope of surviving this journey dwindled considerably.

He and Stronius both got off their rock steeds. The seated figure then said, “The weapons of warriors are not allowed here.”

“No,” Stronius replied immediately. “An elite warrior never surrenders his weapon.”

The robed figure shrugged. “Then he can surrender his life instead.”

Pain exploded in Stronius’ head. It was worse than anything he had ever felt, worse than anything a blade or a Thornax could do. Yet no weapon had ever touched his body. The pain tore a scream from him as he dropped to his knees.

“Stop!” Tuma shouted. “We came here in peace!”

A chorus of whispers came from every side. The sound chilled Tuma as he realized what he was hearing was laughter.

“You came here out of fear,” the seated figure said. “Just as you abandoned us out of fear … just as your kind banished us millennia ago, out of fear. You stink of it, Tuma, despite your mighty legions, despite your conquests. You are a warrior made of straw.”

Tuma took three steps forward, ready to ram his sword into his tormentor. That was as far as he got before the pain hit him too. But he did not leave his feet, not even as the agony increased beyond all imaginable limits. He had made a vow long ago that he intended to keep – he would never kneel before the Sisters of the Skrall.

As quickly as it had appeared, the pain vanished. Tuma saw Stronius slowly standing back up again. He noted the elite warrior’s club still lay on the ground.

The figure on the throne rose and removed her hood. She wore no helmet or armor. Her face was a dark gray in color, wizened and weathered. Tuma knew appearances were deceiving. Though her body might seem feeble in comparison to a Skrall warrior, the energies at her command were more devastating than any sword or axe could ever be.

“You did not fall,” she said to Tuma, matter of factly.

“I prefer to remain standing,” the Skrall leader replied. “That is why I am here.”

“You risked your sanity and your life coming here.” She gestured at the other robed females. “ They would see you dead, and worse than dead… I see no reason to deny them.”

Tuma gave the slightest of shrugs, an acknowledgment that the female who faced him could do what she claimed – not an easy admission for him to make, but an honest one. “I thought you were a seeker of knowledge,” he said. “If you kill me, you’ll never learn what I came here to offer you.”

“You have nothing we want,” the female answered dismissively. “And we have nothing left to give you in return.”

She resumed her seat , her gaze never leaving Tuma. She stared straight into his eyes as she addressed her assembled people.

“Kill them,” she said. “Kill them both.”
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 7[/color]


Stronius stood at the edge of a glassy lake. It was a calm, clear day, warm for the mountains, with a soft breeze. Rock Agori were working nearby, building weapons of war. Not far away, a horde of Vorox, each chained to the other, was being marched off to labor in the mines.

Life was good.

Well, almost. As he looked down at his reflection in the water, Stronius noticed a small crack in the chestplate of his armor. When had that happened? Skrall armor was some of the toughest around and he couldn’t recall an opponent landing any blows lately that might have damaged it. This was puzzling.

Even more confusing –and disturbing – was that the crack was growing bigger as he watched. It was already more than two inches long, and spreading into a spider-web of tiny fractures. He staggered back a step. The crack was big enough now that he could see something through it. It looked like another layer of armor, this one silver.

The crack accelerated its pace. Before Stronius’ startled eyes, his chest armor split open, followed by his arm and leg plate. With a loud crack, his helmet shattered. He stared at his reflection in horror -- something was emerging from inside the ruin of his armor -- a baterra!

And Stronius could do nothing but scream.

Not far away, Tuma heard Stronius’ ragged cry. The female Skrall weren’t satisfied to just execute their prisoners. No, they wanted to torture them first, using their mental powers to create illusions . He had no idea what Stronius was seeing now, but it was a good guess that his elite warrior’s sanity would go before his life did.

Tuma’s weapon was on the ground, just out of his reach. The women had left it there to mock him. His mind told his arm to reach for it, but his arm wouldn’t move. His body was paralyzed by the mental force of his captors. Only his mouth still worked. When the time came, they wanted to hear his screams, too.

But a good warrior always had more than one strategy in mind. He’d hoped to use the threat of the baterra to talk the females into allying with him. If that wouldn’t work, he knew something that would … something that the females wouldn’t be able to resist.

He tried to rise. A stabbing pain tore through his mind. It was time, then. He opened his mouth and yelled one word: “Angonce.”

For a moment, the pain increased and he thought he would surely go mad or die. Then it eased, just enough for him to take a breath. The leader of the female Skrall approached. She grabbed Tuma’s jaw roughly and forced his head up to look at her.

“What do you know of Angonce?”

Tuma flicked his eyes toward Stronius. “Stop … whatever … you’re doing to him … and we’ll talk.”

The female Skrall nodded to one of the others. The next instant, Stronius stopped screaming and collapsed in a heap.

“I know where he might be,” said Tuma. “At least, where he once was.”

“Is that all?” the female Skrall spat. “We all know that. The great tower … the burning place … in the Valley of the Maze. That is where they all were.”

“And they all fled,” answered Tuma. “No one knows where. But Angonce always had more of a … curiosity … about the Agori than the others. He would stay close enough to keep an eye on them.”

The leader of the Sisters of the Skrall considered his words. The females of her species had been gifted from birth with psionic powers, strong enough to enable them to withstand the hatred and violence of the males and to resist the baterra. But the legends said that one female Skrall had once encountered the Great Being named Angonce, and Angonce had taught her how to ascend to a whole new level of power. Some said entire civilizations rose and fell on her whims now. She had evolved far past her own species and had no contact with them ever again. Still, every Skrall female hoped to one day find Angonce and learn his secrets.

“Why would you share this with us?” asked the female. “You know what we could do with that kind of power.”

“I could lie to you,” said Tuma, “and say I think greater power would make you virtuous and good. But the truth is, I think the whole story is a pile of rock steed droppings. It’s a load of nonsense you and your sisters tell each other to stay warm on cold nights in the mountains. Even if you find a Great Being, he will laugh in your face – that’s what they do best.”

“And if you’re wrong?” the female said, a wicked smile curving the edges of her mouth upward.

Tuma returned her smile. “Then I won’t live long enough to regret it, will I?”

“And what do you want in exchange?”

“Our freedom,” answered Tuma. “And your pledge to destroy any baterra you encounter on your journey.”

“The baterra pose no threat to us,” she countered. “We carry no weapons that they would recognize as such. Why should we start a war with them?”

“Because the alternative is two dead Skrall you have to bury, and no more idea of where Angonce is than you had before,” said Tuma. “You know, the problem with revenge is it is over so quickly. And when you are done, what is there left to do? Even miserable creatures like the Sisters of the Skrall need something to aspire to, to strive for … isn’t that true?”

Of course, thought the female. In this case, we aspire to the destruction of you and yours. So we will seek out baterra for you … and make sure they know just where you are.

She nodded. “We have a bargain, Tuma. You and Stronius can leave … but once we find our Great Being, we will see you two again. Be sure of that.”

That is what you think, witch, thought Tuma. As soon as we have seized the Bara Magna desert and destroyed any baterra that are left, we will find a way to eliminate you too.

“A bargain it is,” said Tuma. “And when – if – you return from your quest, be sure we will give you a… memorable welcome home.”
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 8[/color]


The Sisters of the Skrall sat in council. It had only been a short time since they had done the unthinkable – allow a Skrall leader and elite warrior to walk out of their camp, alive. But a bargain had been struck: the freedom of the two arrogant males in return for information on the location of a Great Being named Angonce.

“I do not believe their tale,” one of the female Skrall whispered. “Why would Angonce have remained when the other Skrall fled? Why would he be there?”

“As a guard?” the leader of the sisterhood asked. “They say there is great power there … power that could make someone an emperor … or an empress.”

“And we will seek out that power?”

The leader considered. Theirs had not been an easy existence. Banished from the sight of the male Skrall, abandoned to the wilds, struggling to survive while the males pursued their plans of conquest … and now Tuma, their hated enemy, had been forced to buy his freedom from them. His payment had been dear indeed, if it truly led to the secrets of the Great Beings. And if Angonce was still on Bara Magna, could he be far from that which was most treasured by his kind?

“We go,” she said. “Gather the sisters together. We will travel to the Valley of the Maze and pierce its heart. And when we find what is hidden there … we will do the same to our Skrall brothers.”


Tuma and Stronius had traveled in silence since they left the camp. Stronius was furious, that much was obvious. No doubt he would have preferred to die at the hands of the sisterhood than bargain with them. But a leader could not afford to allow personal pride to threaten the welfare of his people. Dying here would not have helped the Skrall legions at all. Sending the sisterhood off on a wild sand bat chase, and possibly having some baterra killed in the process, might prove to be a great boon.

Stronius is a fine warrior, thought Tuma. But he does not understand that sometimes a leader has to make deals with those he finds … repulsive.

Not for the first time, he thought of Metus. The ice Agori had proven somewhat useful up to now, helping to strike deals with the bone hunters and providing information on the defenses of the various villages and the skills of their Glatorian. Lately, he had promised to share the secret of how to defeat the shapeshifting baterra, but he had yet to deliver on that pledge. Privately, Tuma doubted Metus truly knew anything of use on the subject. But he preferred to keep the Agori close by for now, at least until the second phase of the war against the villages had begun. Better to let him keep thinking his best interests lay with an alliance with the Skrall than risk him betraying battle plans to the Glatorian. A traitor, after all, can never be trusted.

Once the war was over and the Agori had been subjugated, of course, things would be different. Metus’ usefulness would be at an end, along with his freedom … and quite possibly his life. He was a viper, and Tuma had no wish to suffer his company any longer than was necessary.

The Skrall leader abruptly stopped. The pass up ahead was narrow and dotted with trees. He and Stronius had traveled through it on the way to meet with the Sisterhood earlier that day and met with no incident. But things had been different then – for one thing, there had been fewer trees.

“You see it?” Tuma said, as softly as he could.

“Of course,” Stronius answered. “An ambush, no doubt … well, we will make them regret this day before we’re through.”

“Will we?” said Tuma. “There are six of those ‘trees,’ each a baterra in disguise, and two of us. I doubt we will make it through the pass alive.”

“So what do we do – call on the sisters for help?” Stronius sneered.

Tuma whirled and struck the elite warrior, sending Stronius sprawling on the ground. Before the warrior could leap up, weapon drawn, Tuma had his own weapon at the fallen fighter’s neck.

“Speak to me like that again,” Tuma snarled, “and you may find you have something caught in your throat.”

Stronius eyes flicked down to the point of the blade now pressing against his neck. He knew exactly what Tuma meant. He forced his anger down and bowed his head in the traditional Skrall sign of submission to a greater authority. Placated, Tuma withdrew his blade.

As Stronius got to his feet, he noticed something odd about the baterra who lay in wait for them. At first, he wasn’t sure just what did not seem right about the scene before him. Then it hit him, and his hand went to his weapon immediately.

“The roots,” he said. “Look at the roots.”

Tuma did as he asked. Baterra disguises were traditionally thorough. If one changed its shape to look like a rock, it could be mistaken for a rock that had been in place for years. If another became a plant or a tree, there was nothing to give away that it had not been growing in that spot for ages. Even the roots of the trees looked to be buried deep in the ground, an incredible illusion.

Only the roots of these new trees in the pass were not growing down into the dirt. Instead, they were resting on the surface, and some were torn and ragged. Either the baterra were getting sloppy or …

“Those trees have been uprooted and placed there,” said Tuma. “They wanted us to see them and mistake them for our enemy. And that means -- ”

Pain exploded in the center of Tuma’s back. He hit the ground, even as two baterra emerged from the rocks behind them -- or rather, the baterra had been the rocks behind them. They had run a double-bluff, focusing the attention of their prey on a fake ambush in front of them, while the true trap was behind them.

They are growing more clever, thought Stronius. Here is hoping we live long enough to share that cheerful bit of news with Roxtus …

Silently, the baterra advanced. Stronius readied himself for battle. He and Tuma would die with honor, at least. There would be no “deals” struck with this enemy.

He raised his war club and, with a guttural yell of rage, Stronius charged.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 9[/color]


Tuma opened his eyes. With a start, he realized he must have blacked out from his wound, leaving Stronius to face two deadly baterra alone.

The worst had happened. Stronius was unconscious on the ground, not far away. His war club and Thornax launcher were nowhere to be seen. Tuma knew that he had little chance of stopping the baterra on his own, but he would have to try. He reached for his sword … but it was gone. So was his launcher.

He was defenseless.

Tuma struggled painfully to his feet. His back throbbed with pain. The baterra’s attack had pierced his armor and damaged some of the organic tissue within. He could still fight, and if he had a weapon, he was sure he could take at least one baterra with him. As it was, all he could do was face his death like a true Skrall.

“Come on, then,” he shouted at the baterra. “Finish this!”

The baterra made no move to advance. They seemed puzzled, if such a word could be applied to machines.

“Sorry, Tuma. You’re going to be disappointed.”

The Skrall leader whirled at the sound. It was Metus, unarmed, leaning against a rock as if he didn’t have a care in the world. As the Skrall watched in surprise, Metus walked up the two baterra and regarded them like they were just annoyances.

“Move along. Nothing to see here,” he said to the two mechanical warriors.

To Tuma’s amazement, the baterra did just that. They turned and walked away! His first thought was a dark one: that Metus was truly in charge of the baterra and responsible for all the Skrall deaths they had caused, not to mention all the other warriors they had slain back in the Core War.

Metus was smart enough to guess where Tuma’s thoughts would be going. He turned to the Skrall with his arms out. “Now, Tuma, if I controlled them …. If I had decimated your legions and your fortresses … why would I leave you alive to maybe put a dagger in my back? Use your brain. Remember what I told you.”

Tuma charged forward, ignoring his pain, and backhanded Metus, knocking the Agori to the ground. “I have grown tired of your insolence. I need no weapon to end your life.”

“I just saved your life, yours and Stronius’,” Metus spat. “A simple ‘thank you’ would have sufficed.”

More than ever, Tuma wanted to shut Metus’ mouth for good. But he couldn’t escape the truth the Agori had spoken. The baterra were in a perfect position to kill him and his elite warrior, but hadn’t. Why?

“You said you had a secret … a way to stop the baterra,” Tuma said. “Is that what I saw here today?”

Metus got to his feet. “Just about. You’re not dead, are you? Yes, I know a secret, and it’s not one any Skrall would ever figure out on his own.”

The Agori smiled. For a change, he was actually telling the truth. Long ago, in the closing days of the Core War, Metus had hitched a ride on a supply caravan heading to an Ice army outpost. Normally, he would have preferred to make his way on his own, but his ice axe had broken and was in for repair. He hadn’t time to dig up a new weapon and didn’t much like the thought of traveling through a war zone unarmed.

The wagons were ambushed by a dozen baterra. The Ice warriors and other Agori put up a fight, but none of them survived the battle. Through it all, though, the baterra just ignored Metus. Even when he grabbed the reins of a wagon and made his escape, they didn’t pursue. The question of why dogged him all the way to the outpost. When he arrived, he told the warriors there that he had been knocked unconscious early in the battle and must have rolled under a wagon where the attackers couldn’t see him. They seemed to accept the explanation.

Metus knew better, of course. There had been something different about him, something that led the baterra to spare his life. Once he realized that, the answer was blindingly obvious.

I wasn’t armed, he thought. These creatures are killing warriors on every side. Their definition of “warrior” is anyone who has a weapon.

Now, here he was, years later, apparently the only being that had made this connection. The Skrall would never figure it out on their own, and even if they did, they would never want to do it – they would cut off their arms before they would lay their weapons down. When he saw Tuma and Stronius both unconscious, he had ditched his ice axe and rushed down, kicking their weapons well away from them. That brought the baterra up short, since their programming did not include attacking unarmed beings.

“You owe me,” said Metus. “I think it’s time we discussed payment.”

“Our deal stands,” Tuma growled. “Do not go too far, Agori.”

“Really? All right, then I can always bring the baterra back here. You can try negotiating with them. Or you can talk to me, like a … civilized warlord.”

Stronius was waking up. Metus decided he better wrap this conversation up fast. Stronius would snap him in half whether it was in the Skrall’s best interest or not.

“Listen, you’re a great and powerful leader,” the Agori said. “You’re going to be the ruler of Bara Magna pretty soon, and with my help, you’re going to wipe out the baterra. But just in case something should go wrong … if you were killed in battle, say … someone should be ready to step into your boots, don’t you think?”

“If a leader falls, an elite warrior takes over,” Tuma replied, already not liking where this was going.

Metus laughed. “Stronius? Please. The guy couldn’t lead a Spikit to dinner. And I won’t work with him, meaning the baterra carve your last legion to bits. No, I was thinking more of … me.”

Now it was Tuma’s turn to howl with laughter. “You?? You are no Skrall, just a miserable traitor to his own kind. Perhaps I should hand you over to the Agori and leave you to their justice, Metus. “

Metus crossed his arms over his chest. When he spoke, his voice had none of its usual bluster. It was cold and flat. “Those are my terms. If you get killed or become unfit to lead, the legion answers to me. Otherwise, just kill me now, Tuma. My death will only come a little earlier than yours and that of the rest of your warriors.”

“They will never accept it,” said Tuma. “They will never take orders from an Agori.”

Metus chuckled. “If you go down, things will be so desperate they would even take orders from a lummox like Stronius. Anyway, you let me worry about that. Do we have a deal?”

“For now,” Tuma said. “But once the baterra are defeated …”

“I’m on my own,” Metus finished for him. “I got it. Well, don’t be concerned – all of this will be over soon, and nothing’s going to happen to you, right? You’re just humoring an Agori.”

“Yes,” Tuma agreed. “Yes, it will all be over. Everything … and everyone … ends in time.”

Metus smiled. He quickly retrieved his ice axe, and then happily “discovered” where the Skrall weapons had fallen. It had been a good day. Perhaps Tuma really would conquer the villages and the baterra in time, but the Skrall leader was in a dangerous profession. There was always the potential for accidents. Of course, it might be wise to include Stronius in the “accident” as well, if at all possible. The thought was a very entertaining one, and it kept him amused all the way back to Roxtus.

As for Tuma, his thoughts were his own. He would have to make a formal announcement to his legion, one they would have a hard time believing. But he would also give a whispered order to Stronius: if anything were to happen to him in battle, even a noble death at the hands of a Glatorian, the elite warrior was to immediately slay Metus.

Yes, everything ends, Tuma said to himself. But some endings are more painful than others, my Agori friend. Pray you never learn just how painful.

Tuma smiled and resolved to put the whole matter out of his mind for now. He had, after all, a world to win.

THE END

 
—TLH


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#16 Offline Reference Keeper Team

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Posted Jun 23 2011 - 12:10 AM

 

[color=#3A6378;]12: Reign Of Shadows[/color]

[color=#840000;]Back to top [/color]

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 1[/color]


Vezon walked between worlds.

At least, that’s how he saw it. Lately, it seemed like every step he took left him somewhere completely different. One moment, he was out in the sunshine, seeing Matoran and Dark Hunters working together in perfect harmony (granted, they were building a giant cannon, but they were still getting along well). The next moment, everything had shifted and he was in a quite different place. Here, a group named the Great Beings had built a 40 million foot tall mechanical being they named Makuta. Unfortunately, his brother, Mata Nui, was plotting a rebellion against him.

How had this all begun? He tried to remember, never the easiest thing for Vezon to do. He had donned a Kanohi Olmak, the Mask of Dimensional Gates, which he had found on Destral. A portal opened up in front of him then. Eager to escape the island, he stepped through it – only to find himself facing an oncoming tidal wave. It washed over him, but he did not drown. Instead, he fell through another portal, winding up in the middle of a swamp. And then another, and then another …

It took him quite some time to figure out what had happened to him – that his body, his essence, had fused to that of the Olmak. He was now, for all intents and purposes, a walking dimensional gateway.

There was still a lot to learn, of course. Was the effect permanent? Could he ever learn to control the power, so he could pick and choose where he went to? If he was holding something or someone, would they travel with him?

Wouldn’t that be interesting? he thought. First thing I’d do is find Makuta Teridax and give him a great … big … hug.

 

Tahu used his elemental powers to light a small campfire. It was foolish, he knew. There were Exo-Toa in the area and they would zero in on the heat. Then again, being a Toa of Fire, they probably couldn’t miss him anyway.

He glanced around the camp at his “team.” It was not a sight to inspire confidence. In the days since Teridax took over the universe, the Toa Nuva had scattered (they were too easy of a target if they stayed together). Hooking up with other fugitives as they went, they made for places of relative safety in order to regroup and plan.

This explained why Tahu was sitting in the blasted ruins of Karzahni with a Ko-Matoran, Kopeke; Johmak, a female Order of Mata Nui member with the ability to shatter and reassemble her body; Krahka, female shapeshifting Rahi; and two Dark Hunters, Guardian and Lariska.

Not exactly Gali, Lewa and Kopaka, thought Tahu. But they will have to do.

“We’ll stay here a few more hours, then move out,” he said. “Onua said there were a few Order of Mata Nui agents somewhere south of here, looking for a cache of weapons and supplies. We’ll hook up with them.”

“And then what?” grumbled Guardian. “Throw rocks at the sky? Challenge the wind with Cordak blasters? All we’re doing is delaying the inevitable – and we all know it.”

“And the alternative?” asked Johmak. “Bow and scrape before Makuta, begging him for one more moment of life in which to serve him? Let me die, then, as long as I do it as a free being.”

“Tahu … what are we going to do?” Kopeke asked, in hardly more than a whisper. “Guardian is right. We’re trying to fight the universe itself.”

“No, we’re not,” said Tahu. “We’re fighting a madbeing who controls the power of a universe. And it’s not like learning a new machine at a Ta-Metru forge – it takes time and practice to master so complex a system. And we’re not going to give him that time … we’re going to do a Pohatu on him.”

“A Pohatu?” asked Kopeke.

Tahu smiled. “That’s right. ‘When in doubt, smash everything and hope you’re somewhere else when it all goes boom.’”

Guardian got up and walked away from the fire. He had nothing against Tahu, but there had to be a better way. Maybe instead of running from place to place, they should be trying to find a way out of this universe. Could be this place was lost, and it was time to accept it and move on. It wasn’t an easy choice, but those weren’t the kind he was used to making anyway.

Beneath his feet, the ground opened. Bonds made of solid stone wrapped around him, yanking him down into the hole even as he screamed. Then the barren earth slammed shut again, and he was gone.

The team was on its feet. “It’s Makuta,” said Tahu. “He knows where we are. He’s toying with us!”

“Tell us something we don’t know,” snapped Lariska. “Like what do we do about it?”

Before Tahu could answer, a dozen Exo-Toa appeared on the rise. Their missiles were loaded and aimed at the fugitives. The lead machine spoke in the voice of Makuta Teridax.

“Citizens of the Makutaverse, you are in an unauthorized area. You will accompany these Exo-Toa to Metru Nui, where you will be … retrained for new work that will benefit all my people. You will live out your lives there, in peace and prosperity, wanting for nothing … or you die, now.”

“You know what?” said Lariska. “This may turn out to be the shortest revolution on record.”
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 2[/color]


Axonn had been running for many days and nights. After being teleported from Metru Nui by the power of Makuta, he had found himself in a vast, barren landscape. At first, there was no sign of any life at all, Matoran or Rahi, or any habitation. That changed when he began to hear the screams. They were cries of agony and they were coming from Brutaka, though his old friend was nowhere to be seen.

The warrior had raced off in the direction of the screams. That had been – how long ago? A week ago? A month? He had crossed the wasteland that never seemed to end, but had been unable to find Brutaka. Strangely, he had felt neither hunger nor thirst on the journey, just an overpowering need to keep searching.

A few things had begun nagging at him, though, like the buzz of a fireflyer in his ear. The landscape never changed. He could swear he had seen the same rock formations time and time again, as if he were running in a circle. And Brutaka – not even he could endure what he seemed to be for weeks at a time. His screams should have died out long ago.

Then the crack appeared in the sky. It was only a small one, but bright light flowed through it from somewhere outside. That, too, made no sense. No sooner had Axonn said that to himself then the crack got bigger. Then more cracks started to appear, in the sky, in the ground, all around him.

This can’t be happening, Axonn thought. This can’t be real. This… isn’t real!

The next instant, Axonn was sitting on a beach. Water lapped against the shore in front of him, and behind, a gentle breeze stirred jungle trees. Flying Rahi circled in the sky overhead, now and then diving down to steal a fish from the sea. There was no sign of the endless waste had been in before.

Of course not, he thought. I was never there. With his powers increased by being in Mata Nui’s body, Makuta can pierce even an Order member’s mental shields. My days and nights of running, Brutaka’s screams … all an illusion.

Axonn rose. He still had his armor, his mask, and his axe. He wondered if perhaps his mask, which could see through any deception, had been the difference between his escaping Makuta’s trap and being lost in the fantasy forever.

He didn’t know for certain where he was, nor did he care at the moment. All that mattered to him was where Makuta was, and he knew that answer. Somehow, some way, he was going to make it back to Metru Nui – and Makuta was going to pay for what he had done, even if it cost Axonn his life.

 

Far away from Axonn’s island, Tahu and his ragtag team were facing the potential end of their own lives. The group was confronted by a squad of heavily armed Exo-Toa, prepared to imprison or execute them. Tahu doubted the machines much cared which option they pursued.

He calculated the odds. Lariska, Krahka, Johmak and he could take out four Exo-Toa, maybe even eight if they caught a break. That would still leave four of the machines free to cut them down. In the past, he would have just accepted the situation and vowed to go down fighting. Now he was trying to use his brain as much as his brawn, because the fight against Makuta could not afford to lose warriors to needless sacrifice.

He had settled on a plan – a mock surrender, followed by an escape attempt before they reached Metru Nui -- when the ground began to shake. At first, he thought it was another attack by Makuta. Then the tremors became more violent and some of the Exo-Toa lost their footing. They didn’t have to bother getting up again. A chasm opened up directly under the machines and swallowed them up. Tahu ran to the edge of it, and saw nothing but darkness. At least, at first…

“Brother! Can you give me a hand?”

Tahu smiled. Onua Nuva was clinging to the rocky wall of the crevice. The Exo-Toa had not been so lucky, having tumbled down into what looked like a bottomless pit.

The Toa of Fire helped the Toa of Earth back to solid ground. He nodded toward the chasm, saying, “You still do good work.”

“I have been keeping in practice,” said Onua.

“We were just about to head south to find those Order agents you mentioned, the ones looking for weapons,” said Tahu.

Onua shook his head. “Don’t bother. Rahkshi got them, and the supplies.”

“Then we pick another direction,” said Tahu, “and we keep moving.”

Lariska walked over, sheathing her dagger. “So. Any bright ideas? There are more Exo-Toa where those came from.”

“And more Rahkshi,” agreed Tahu.

“Onu-Matoran,” said Onua, smiling.

“What are you talking about?” asked Lariska.

“Onu-Matoran live underground most of their lives,” explained the Toa of Earth. “The first time they come to the surface, the bright light overwhelms them. Most are blinded for a short time, until they get used to the environment. That’s how Teridax is now. He’s not used to all this new power yet, or trying to see in every direction at once. He needs other eyes and ears within the universe – the Rahkshi and the Exo-Toa.”

“What do you have in mind, and does it include explosions?” asked Tahu, hoping it did.

“Oh, it does,” Onua assured him. “A Toa of Earth learns to … excuse the pun … keep his ear to the ground. Makuta may be all-powerful, but he still needs to make Rahkshi the same old way – by making worm-like kraata who then turn into his warriors. And I think I may know just where those kraata are coming into being.”

“We strike there,” said Tahu. “Maybe we can cut off his supply of Rahkshi, temporarily. It’s a start.”

“How far?” asked Lariska.

“We’ll get there,” said Onua. “Makuta picked the one source of energized protodermis the Order of Mata Nui wouldn’t think to try and shut down – the one on their own island of Daxia. He leveled their fortress and seized control of the island. That’s where we have to go.”

“Guarded?” asked the Dark Hunter.

“Like it’s the treasure of the Great Beings,” said Onua. “Bring an extra dagger.”

 

Lewa’s mission was simple and straightforward. With the help of information from a surviving Order agent, he was headed for the island of Artakha. Somehow, the powerful ruler of that land had to be convinced to do more than sit back and make armor and weapons. They needed him in the fight.

As he came within sight of the island, he could tell he was already too late. Shattered Rahkshi littered the coastline, but more were advancing on the fortress. Artakha’s Matoran workers were fighting a desperate holding action, but it was a lost cause. The only hope was to somehow pull off a rescue of Artakha himself before Makuta’s forces overcame him.

Lewa was about to launch himself into a power dive when a voice echoed in his head. Do not, it said. It is too late. But there is another who can aid you, if I have fallen. Go to him. Persuade him to join your fight.

“Who are you talking about? And where do I find him?” said Lewa.

There is still time, said the voice of Artakha. I will send you to him. The rest is up to you.

The world spun, and then Lewa was no longer in the air above Artakha. Instead, he was standing in a dark cave, facing a blank wall of stone. He could feel something behind him, the way one could feel a bog leech crawling up the back of the neck. Lewa wanted to turn around and see what was there – and at the same time, he knew he really didn’t want to see.

Turn. This voice was also in Lewa’s mind only, but it had none of the comfort and assurance that could be found in Artakha’s. If it was possible for a voice to have a scent, this one reeked of death and decay.

“Who are you? Where am I?” said Lewa, staying right where he was.

You are at the end of your journey … the end of all journeys, Toa. And my name is Tren Krom.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 3[/color]


Kapura moved swiftly (for him) through the shadows of Metru Nui. His destination was the outskirts of Ga-Metru, specifically a portion of the Archives underneath that spot. The sign carved into the wall outside his shelter had told him where to go, and even who was to meet him there, but not the most important answer: why.

Cautiously, he peered around the corner of a building. The way seemed clear. Rahkshi stood guard over most entrances to the Archives, but not this one. It led to a section of the vast museum that had been deemed unsafe decades ago and abandoned. Even when Matoran and Toa retreated below in the days right after Makuta’s take-over of the universe, they had avoided this region.

He slipped across the street and, with great effort, raised the hatch. It let out a shrill creak he was sure every Rahkshi in the city could hear. Kapura froze. Was that the whistling sound of Rahkshi flying through the air toward him? No, it was just steam escaping in Ta-Metru. He waited a moment more, and when no hostile force appeared, he ducked into the tunnel and closed the hatch behind him.

It was dark and dank inside. The faint stench of Muaka lingered in the air. Kapura found himself remembering another recent visit to the Archives, when he had gotten lost in the maze of passageways. That time, he had almost wound up a meal for an escaped exhibit and it was only the timely arrival of Toa Takanuva that saved him. He wished that his friend had picked a different place for their meeting… but then remembered that only this sort of a spot would do.

“You’re late.”

Macku stepped out from a recess in the wall. Her blue armor was stained with mud and she moved with a slight limp, a souvenir of an escape from some Exo-Toa a few days before.

“Sorry,” said Kapura. “I had to make sure I wasn’t followed.”

“We’ll wait a few more minutes for Hafu,” Macku said. She sounded tired… no, beyond tired, Kapura thought. More like she was barely holding herself together.

“Is he working today?”

Macku nodded.

Kapura frowned. All of the Po-Matoran carvers had been put to work carving statues of Makuta for placement all around the city. The order hadn’t come from their new “Great Spirit,” but rather from the new “Turaga” of Metru Nui – Ahkmou. No, he wasn’t a true Turaga – he had never been a Toa, after all, which was the prerequisite – but his past association with Makuta had put him in a position of power in the city.

“We should have killed that lousy traitor long ago,” Macku muttered.

Every Matoran remembered Ahkmou’s crimes on the island of Mata Nui, involving the sale of Kolhii balls tainted with Makuta’s darkness. Many had heard the tales of his sins on Metru Nui as well, in the weeks before the Great Cataclysm. Although he had largely kept to himself for the past year, no one really trusted him. But Turaga Vakama insisted he not be exiled. “Better to keep a doom viper beside your bed than to let it wander free. At least then, you will know from which direction its strike will come.”

The hatch opened again with a screech. A shaft of dirty light pierced the gloom of the Archives. Macku and Kapura instinctively hid until the light was gone. Then they heard the reassuring sound of Hafu’s voice, saying, “Anyone remember why we wanted to come back to this city?”

Macku laughed, though there really was nothing to laugh at. But it felt good to be around these two Matoran again. So many of the others up above had given up. Rahkshi and Exo-Toa were everywhere, and the only Toa visible were the Toa Hagah, who seemed oblivious to everything going on around them. When questioned, they insisted that Makuta Teridax had been defeated and all was well on Metru Nui. Worse, one could tell they really believed this delusion.

“What’s the situation?” asked Hafu. “You know that symbol is only supposed to be used in an emergency.”

“This is an emergency,” Macku assured him. She had taken a great risk drawing the “help” symbol – a crude sketch of a Rahkshi – near the homes of her friends. Ahkmou had forbidden the creation of any unauthorized art.

The Ga-Matoran turned and headed deeper into the Archives. Hafu and Kapura followed. She led them all the way down into the sub-levels, moving as if she knew the place as well as Ga-Metru. Kapura was completely lost and he suspected Hafu was, too.

“In here,” Macku said quietly. She beckoned them to follow her into a large chamber that had once housed a particularly nasty specimen of Rahi primate. There was someone else in there now – a Toa of Water, wounded, stretched out on the stone floor. But it wasn’t Gali or Gaaki or any other Toa Kapura recognized.

“Who is she? Where did she come from?” asked Hafu. Suspicion colored his voice. He had seen too many Makuta tricks to believe anything at first glance anymore.

“She says her name is Tuyet,” said Macku. “And that she’s here to help.”

Hafu had heard the name once… something to do with Toa Lhikan, if he recalled correctly, but he didn’t know the tale. “She doesn’t look like she can help herself, let alone us.”

“You might… be… surprised,” the female Toa said, lifting her head to look at Hafu. “So might a lot of people. Tell me, where is Toa Lhikan?”

“Dead,” said Kapura. “Killed by Makuta.”

Hafu shot him a look. It wasn’t smart to share information with strangers like that.

“And Toa Nidhiki?”

Kapura glanced at Hafu and shrugged. Then he turned back to Tuyet. “Dead, too. Makuta… ate him, I guess.”

“Look, we’re happy to see you and all,” said Hafu. “But one Toa more or less isn’t going to make a difference here. Not unless you have a super-weapon hidden away that can cleanse Metru Nui of Makuta’s forces.”

Tuyet sat up. She reached into her pouch and pulled out a piece of crystal about the size of her fist. “As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what I do have.”

“And do you think Makuta will give you the chance to use it?” asked Macku. Half hopeful, half skeptical.

“Makuta is the Great Spirit, correct?” asked Tuyet. “And the Great Spirit knows all about everyone who lives in his universe... where they are, what they’re doing… all he has to do is think about them?”

Kapura nodded.

Tuyet smiled. “Then I am the perfect ally, little ones. I am dead… and have been for some 2000 years.”
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 4[/color]


Makuta Teridax, in the huge robotic body that once belonged to Mata Nui, surveyed the world he stood upon. There was nothing but water for as far as the eye could see – and when one is 40 million feet tall, reflected Makuta, one can see quite far.

It was, he decided, quite a dull world. Oh, it was true that beneath the surface of the vast ocean, escaped prisoners of the Pit still struggled to survive. But they were so unimportant as to be beneath the notice of so great and powerful a being as himself. While it was true he could not affect their fates in the same way that he could one of the living things that dwelled inside his body – the Toa, Matoran, etc. – his new body had enough power to vaporize this ocean, if need be. Perhaps he would do it before he left this world, just for amusement.

And make no mistake – he would be leaving this planet of endless sea. There were other worlds out there, teeming with life, waiting to be conquered. Why should he be satisfied with ruling a "universe" inside this body, when he could master a true universe of planets and suns and stars? This robot body had the power to lay waste to cities, to shatter mountains, and yet Mata Nui had never used any of it. Well, Makuta would not be so foolish.

Naturally, there would be preparations to be made. He would need to extinguish any last bits of rebellion within the universe of the Matoran first. It would be stupid to risk some critical breakdown in his systems in the middle of a war, just because some tribe of Matoran decided to value the concept of freedom over the hard, cold facts of death. When this was done, Makuta would beckon to the red star above and begin his journey.

The thought sparked another, an even more wonderful idea. He had expelled the Mask of Life from inside him, with the mind of Mata Nui trapped in the mask. The powerful Kanohi had gone flying into space, perhaps to burn up, or shatter against an asteroid… or, somehow, to find refuge on some other world. Though far away, it was still a part of this body, and Makuta knew he could find it again. He could track it down, no matter where, and extinguish any flickers of hope that Mata Nui might be feeling. The mask and all its powers were a dust mote in Makuta’s eyes now, and he would prove it by crushing it to powder with his armored heel.

It was a pleasant fantasy, but there were realities that had to dealt with first. He had sensed the presence of another Makuta among the Matoran, which should have been impossible. All the other Makuta had been slain, either by him or by Order of Mata Nui agents. Well, that was not strictly true, he supposed… Miserix was still alive, though that former leader of the Makuta did not know it. As far as Teridax’s old enemy knew, he had been changed into a two-dimensional drawing on a wall, and that was how everyone else saw him too. In the old days, it would have taken a considerable amount of energy to maintain such a successful illusion, especially for another Makuta. But with his powers amplified by his new form, it was practically effortless.

But the Makuta he sensed was not Miserix. No, it was one who was totally unfamiliar… and yet disturbingly familiar at the same time. And since he could not be an existing one, nor one who was just created, there was only one answer.

He has come from another dimension. My enemies have recruited a Makuta to use against me. How… enterprising of them. I must give their new recruit a proper welcome.

 

Mazeka and his newfound Makuta ally found themselves in an uninhabited portion of the southern continent. The valley they stood in was actually quite lush and beautiful, but Mazeka remembered well the tales of this place. The tall grasses that swayed in the light breeze were guardians of this place. They could sense movement and responded by wrapping themselves around the offending foreign object and strangling it. The remains would then be pulled underground and the valley would go back to looking beautiful and unspoiled.

“Stay still,” he advised the white-armored Makuta beside him. This was an alternate universe version of Makuta Teridax, from a world where the Makuta had never gone bad. In return for agreeing to leave his old enemy Vultraz there, he had been given the opportunity to bring one inhabitant of that dimension back with him. He had chosen that world’s Teridax, hoping the double would be able to predict the actions of the original.

“We have such things in our world too,” said the alternate Teridax. “We know how to deal with them.”

As Mazeka watched, darkness began to creep over the valley. Wherever it passed, the grasses withered and died. “Wait a minute,” said Mazeka, suddenly suspicious. “You told me that Makuta in your world had banished all trace of shadow from inside them. How can you control the darkness then?”

The alternate Teridax gave a whisper of a smile. “I cannot. But I can absorb the light… and what is darkness, but the absence of light? And now, I believe we have someplace else we need to be.”

Walking down the now darkened path, the two allies made their way out of the valley as their quest truly began…

 

Toa Tuyet could hardly believe her good fortune. Thousands of beings she might have encountered in this universe, and she had found two who did not remember her or her deeds. That would make things so much easier.

Her momentary weakness, the result of a difficult journey to get here, had passed. Now she walked through the Archives behind the two Matoran, Kapura and Macku, listening to them talk. It had not taken her long to grasp the situation here. Her old fears had been proven right. The Makuta had rebelled against Mata Nui and now controlled this universe. If Lhikan and Nidhiki had listened to me, none of this would have happened… because there would have been no Makuta left alive, she thought.

How well she recalled how it had all come about. She had been a Toa in Metru Nui, millennia ago. Using a powerful artifact called a Nui Stone, she had tried to make herself mighty enough to destroy those she perceived as threats to peace – the Dark Hunters and the Makuta. She knew other Toa, like Lhikan, would object to her plans, so she had to keep it all a secret.

Unfortunately, it could not stay hidden for long. Dark Hunters arrived in Metru Nui, seeking the Nui Stone they believed she had. To neutralize them, she framed them for murders of Matoran that she herself had committed. Toa Lhikan and Toa Nidhiki captured the Dark Hunters, but later tumbled to the fact that she was the murderer and had the Stone. In the ensuing battle, the stone was shattered and she was captured.

The Toa locked her up in the Coliseum until they could decide what to do with her. One night, a golden figure appeared in her cell, identifying himself as Botar of the Order of Mata Nui. He told her what she had already figured out for herself: pieces of the Nui Stone were embedded in her body now, making her a living battery of Toa power. No conventional prison would be able to hold her for long, not as long as there were Toa anywhere around from whom she could drain power. But the Order wanted more than a more efficient way to lock her up – they wanted the secret of the Nui Stone so they could make more.

This was an effort so secret that only the highest ranks in the Order knew about it. So a complicated plot ensued. Botar teleported Tuyet to another dimension, one where no Toa existed for her Nui Stone to drain. To keep this concealed from lower-ranking Order members, a second Tuyet – from yet another dimension – was taken to the Pit in her place. This double was even altered so that she had crystals embedded in her, although not from a Nui Stone. She would remain in the Pit, while the original Tuyet would be locked up and interrogated about the nature of the Stone.

For 1500 years, the Order tried to pry the secret of the Stone out of her, with no success. All the while, she plotted her escape. Working on one of her guards, she managed to convince him of the justice of her cause (after all, the Order disliked Dark Hunters and Makuta as much as she did). Finally, the guard was sufficiently on her side to help her fake her own death in an explosion. Believing her body was vaporized, the Order didn’t bother to search for her. Meanwhile, she used technology from that dimension to escape.

With no map, it took her two thousand years to make it back to her own universe… two thousand years filled with visiting worlds teeming with Toa from whom she could draw strength. Finally, she found a way back home, ending up in the Metru Nui Archives.

As for what had happened to her double in the Pit, she had no idea. She supposed the Order would know, and one day, if she was bored, she would squeeze the information out of them. But for now, she had bigger tasks ahead of her.

Tuyet had no doubt she could organize and lead a successful rebellion against Teridax and bring him down. But she had no intention of allowing Mata Nui to regain control. Thousands of years to think about it had convinced her that Mata Nui was weak, or he would have wiped out the Makuta himself long ago. No, what this universe needed was a ruler who was strong, decisive, unafraid to do what had to be done.

Someone like me, she said to herself. Yes, someone very much like me.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 5[/color]


The all-too familiar blurring of reality and wave of nausea struck Vezon. He really did have to find a way to control this new power, if for no other reason than it was starting to make him feel really sick. He wasn’t sure how beings like Brutaka managed to move between dimensions all the time without losing their sanity… then again, like Vezon, maybe Brutaka didn’t have that much sanity to lose?

Anyway, here he was. He was here. Which, of course, begged the question – where was “here,” this time? The Kanohi Olmak that had become fused to his substance opened dimensional gates the way Matoran open gift boxes on Naming Day, and it was impossible to predict where one might end up.

He looked down. There was sand under his feet. In fact, there was sand in every direction. At first, he thought he was on a beach, but there was no water nearby. He could see trees and buildings in the distance, though, so he started walking in that direction.

The desert, as it turned out, was not very big. It gave way to a lush jungle, filled with a number of beings doing one of those things Vezon did his best to avoid: hard work. Some were obviously Le-Matoran… the others, Vezon did not recognize, though they had the look of villagers. He hated villagers. They were so… industrious.

One of the villagers loped over to him, using his arms as forelegs. He looked up at Vezon and said, smiling, “Are you a friend of Mata Nui?”

Vezon performed a complicated and challenging feat – he didn’t laugh. “Why, yes, little… whatever you are. I am.”

“Are you a Toa, then?”

“Nothing but,” Vezon said, giving his best “noble and heroic” smile.

“Come on, then,” the villager said, dashing off. “You’re late.”

Intrigued, Vezon followed along behind. This place had a Mata Nui and Toa, so it had to be something like home. But who were these other little runts? And just where was he?

“Um, excuse me, villager,” Vezon began.

“Tarduk!” the villager shouted back at him. Vezon ducked, like he was told, but saw no sign of any tar flying through the air. It took him a moment to realize that it wasn’t “Tar, duck!” he had heard.

“Right. Whatever. Where am I?” said Vezon.

Tarduk paused and looked over his shoulder. “Oh, you must be from up north. This is Tesara. Now, hurry up, please – Gresh and Toa Kongu need more help.”

Gresh? Vezon said to himself. What’s a Gresh? But Kongu… him, I know.

They pushed their way through some undergrowth, and Vezon stopped short. There were Toa – a lot of them – and some other warriors he didn’t recognize. They were repairing a huge, metallic shelter. Jaller was using his fire power to weld shut a seam, while a female in blue armor urged him to hurry up. She wasn’t a Toa of Water, at least Vezon didn’t think so – Toa of Water usually weren’t that pushy.

Vezon knew he shouldn’t go into the clearing – after all, he wasn’t extremely popular with Toa. Then again, if they saw him and attacked, it might make things interesting. It had been all of two days since someone had tried to kill him, and he was getting antsy.

Head held high, he marched up to where the Toa were working. A few nodded in his direction. One smiled. One Toa of Stone even waved! Vezon decided that he really hated this place.

“So who are you, exactly?” asked Tarduk.

“My name is… ah… Toa Vezon,” he said, loud enough for all the Toa to hear. “I’m the Toa of… of… Anarchy.”

Tarduk frowned. “Okay. I see. We were really hoping for Ice… gets pretty hot doing this work.”

Vezon looked around. No one had reacted at all to his name… not even Jaller. Was it possible --? No, it was too horrible to think about. Such a tragedy, such a loss, was beyond comprehension. But he had to face the fact:

This universe didn’t have a Vezon. It had never had one. Otherwise, surely someone would be shooting at him by now.

“We don’t get a lot of, um, news up north,” he said to Tarduk. “What exactly goes on here?”

“You don’t know?” said Tarduk. “Well, I suppose I should send you over to see Takua, but I think he is up in Roxtus today. It’s pretty simple really – the Great Beings, through Mata Nui, made things right around here. Then Mata Nui went up north, and a few months later, the Toa and Matoran and all the rest showed up.”

“And what happened to Mata Nui?”

Tarduk shrugged. “Tahu said something about the Valley of the Maze and power going back where it belonged. I didn’t catch too much of it. I’ve never been one for history, you know?”

Vezon turned at the sound of marching feet. A tall figure, unmistakably a Makuta, was leading a column of black-armored warriors in a drill.

“They’re early,” said Tarduk. “Ever since Tuma got deposed and the Makuta took over the Skrall, they’ve been nothing if not efficient. I’m glad they’re on our side!”

A few more questions spelled things out for Vezon, or at least came close to it. In this universe, the Makuta had never rebelled against Mata Nui. The Great Spirit had been allowed to proceed with his mission – whatever that was – without incident. After it was finished, he let at least some of the Toa and Matoran leave and live with the natives. That included the Makuta, who had smashed the ambitions of some local warlord but held onto the army.

Vezon was wondering what they even needed an army for in such a happy, peaceful, idyllic, mind-numbingly boring place as this when his question was answered, in very dramatic fashion. Coming over the dunes in the distance was an army, marching right for Tesara. Some of them he recognized – other Skakdi, like the Piraka, Roodaka and her Vortixx, and Makuta Miserix in dragon form. The black-armored riders on the two-legged reptiles were new to Vezon, but he doubted they had come to deliver fruit baskets.

“It’s an attack!” yelled Tarduk. “Quick, Toa Vezon – go help the Makuta. Use your power. I’ll get the others.”

Use my power. Right, thought Vezon. My power is to get the heck out of here. I just have to figure out how to turn it on.

The invaders smashed through the ranks of the Skrall warriors and headed for the village. The Skakdi in the lead hurled torches, setting the jungle ablaze.

Now would be a really good time for a dimensional gate to… anywhere! Vezon said to himself. Come on. Come on! I don’t want to die in a universe where I never lived… who will remember me, then?

But the power of the Olmak was strangely absent. And all Vezon could do was stand and watch as an onrushing horde surged toward him…
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 6[/color]


Vezon had had better days. His newfound ability to travel to other dimensions had landed him on an alternate world called Spherus Magna, where Makuta, Toa, and some other race called Agori were happily living together. Well, mostly – a pretty good sized army of Skadi, Vortixx, and Spherus Magna natives was headed for the right village in which Vezon stood.

It seemed a good time to leave. But Vezon had not yet achieved any mastery over the powers of the Kanohi Olmak that had been merged with him. It didn’t work just because he wanted it to, and right now, he was starting to wish he had never seen the miserable thing to start with.

For the sixth time in the last minute, he willed the Olmak’s power to take him away from this reality before the onrushing horde trampled him underfoot. This time, he felt the now familiar sensation of dizziness that preceded a dimension jump, and saw the world waver around him. But then something happened that had never happened before: everyone around him froze in place. When he tried to reach out and touch a Toa, his hand passed right through. Worst of all, he wasn’t “traveling” – he seemed to be stuck in a realm of statues.

“This is better than being killed,” he said to himself. “Not much better, but better.”

His addled mind ran through all the possible scenarios. This wasn’t much help, as he knew next to nothing about Masks of Power or how to repair them. If something had gone wrong with the Olmak, he might well be stuck forever.

Would that be so bad? The voice was in his head – this wasn’t an unusual experience for Vezon, although normally the voices he heard were his own.

“If it doesn’t get any more entertaining than this, yes,” Vezon replied. “Who am I speaking to?”

My given name wouldn’t mean anything to you. The people of Spherus Magna would call me a “Great Being.”

“And what makes you so great?”

I do not speak to the beings of this world. They never see me, or hear me, and so it is left to their imaginations to conjure what I am like, how I think, and what I believe. The imagination has an infinite capacity to fill in the blanks with what it wants to be there.

“That’s nice,” said Vezon, impatiently. “Can you help me get out of this situation?”

Why would I? I got you into it. My people created the first Masks of Power. We certainly know how to shut one off. You don’t belong here … in fact, I strongly suspect you don’t belong anywhere. And so, now you are nowhere.

“Is this what Great Beings do all day? Stick their phantom noses into things that don’t concern them and get in the way of a perfectly good lunatic rampage through realities?” asked Vezon.

I am, perhaps, not a typical Great Being, the voice replied. Eons ago, I made the error of touching the Mask of Life. As a result, everything around me – furniture, equipment, rays of light – came to life. For their own safety, my fellow rulers imprisoned me. Now all I need fear are my living chains … living blocks of stone … and the screams of light as the darkness extinguishes it.

Vezon didn’t know anything about what pains a living light might feel, but he did know a light at the end of the tunnel when he saw one. “So you’re in prison, and so am I. Would you set me free … if I could set you free?”

The voice in Vezon’s head was silent for a long time.

 

Lewa stood stock still. Artakha had teleported him into a cavern, but he was not alone there. No, evidently he was sharing it with some being named Tren Krom … and something told Lewa he really didn’t want to get a look at his host.

Turn, Tren Krom said again. His telepathic “voice” reminded Lewa of a nest of slithering borer worms.

“I am ever-fine right here, thanks,” said Lewa. “Artakha said --”

I can guess why you have come, Toa, Tren Krom replied. I too heard the voice of Makuta Teridax coming from every corner of the universe. But what would you have me do? I have knowledge that could be used as a weapon against him, but knowledge without the experience to use it is less than useless. And I am bound to this island by the Great Beings, unable to venture forth.

“And if the Great Beings did it, I doubt I have the power to quick-free you,” said Lewa. “So this journey was another waste of time.”

Perhaps … and perhaps, said Tren Krom. There may be a way. But it would involve great risk … and success, for you, might be worse than failure.

“Everyone I care about is at risk,” Lewa answered. “Everything that matters to me has been poisoned by Makuta’s corruption. I’ll do whatever it takes to stop him.”

You may live to regret your choice, said Tren Krom. But the choice has been made just the same.

Lewa felt a tentacle wrap around his neck. His arms went up to tear it away, then stopped halfway there. The next instant, the world began to spin and he felt as if his insides were being yanked out a piece at a time. There was light and pain and impenetrable darkness. And when the shadows cleared away, Lewa was staring at … himself.

He looked down, for only a micro-second, long enough to see a huge tentacled mass grafted to stone. Instinctively, he knew that was Tren Krom’s body – and his mind was inside it.

“Freedom.” The word came from Lewa’s mouth, in Lewa’s voice, but it was spoken by Tren Krom. “After so long, I have a body again … a strong, powerful body that can take me from this wretched place … thanks to you.”

Lewa tried to speak and couldn’t. At first, he panicked. Then he recalled that Tren Krom had spoken to him telepathically. He concentrated and his words echoed in “Lewa’s” brain.

What have you done? I didn’t quick-agree to this!

“You said ‘whatever it takes,’” Tren Krom replied. “This is what it took. But do not fear – I will honor our bargain. I will use what I know to stop Teridax. All I ask in return is freedom. Is a life spent in exile here so high a price to pay for the safety of all you know and love?”

Before Lewa could form an answer, Tren Krom – in the body of the Toa Nuva of Air – had left the cave. Lewa tried to pursue, but the great bulk of this body was a part of the island itself. He could not move.

And if I don’t find a way to get my body back, he said to himself, I’m going to be ever-trapped here for good.


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#17 Offline Reference Keeper Team

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Posted Jun 23 2011 - 12:12 AM

 
[Continued...]
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 7[/color]


Tren Krom stood on the shore of what had been “his” island for so many thousands of years – his home, his prison, his place of torment. For almost as long as he could remember, he had been trapped here by the power of the Great Beings. By all rights, he should hate them and their creation, Mata Nui, and want revenge.

Strangely, he did not. Yes, he had raged against his imprisonment and vowed vengeance more than once. But as time passed, he grew wiser, recalling the old saying that “no one fights in a burning house.” Pulling down the Great Beings’ creation would not profit him at all. In fact, it would mean his death as well. And, despite having been pushed aside for Mata Nui more than 100,000 years ago, Tren Krom still felt a sense of responsibility for the universe he once looked after.

That was why he had tricked Toa Nuva Lewa into swapping bodies with him, so he could escape the island at last. What he hadn’t counted on was that he would not get Lewa’s power over air in the bargain. Without this, and with no boat or air vehicle, he had no way to leave the shore. Still, that was no worry. He knew who had sent Lewa to him, and so he knew the answer to his power.

Artakha, hear me.

It was a telepathic message projected over an unimaginable distance. Yet the answer came within seconds.

I am here, Tren Krom. I see you are still … resourceful.

The body will be of use, Tren Krom conceded, but only if I can travel in it to Metru Nui. You can make that happen.

And should I unleash you on the universe, then? wondered Artakha. The Great Beings bound you for a reason, so that Mata Nui could rule with no rivals.

Tren Krom cursed. Stop wringing your hands, you ancient fool. If you did not need me free, why did you send the Toa? You knew what I would do.

Artakha sent no message back. Instead, the world around Tren Krom began to shimmer and fade. When his vision was clear again, he was standing in a subterranean tunnel filled with a collection of broken equipment and dust-covered artifacts. He had never physically been to this place before, but he knew what it was: the Metru Nui Archives.

My thanks, he thought.

Artakha’s reply was stern. See that you carry out your end of the bargain, Tren Krom. And do not even think of keeping a body that is not yours. I will find a way to destroy it before I will let you steal it for all eternity.

Tren Krom ignored him. He was more concerned with finding his way to where he needed to go before Makuta Teridax acted to stop him. The Archives were a labyrinth of tunnels and none of the minds he had read recently knew the layout. He reached out, looking for a sapient being nearby who might know how to navigate the maze.

He found something else entirely. His mind brushed against another, one of incredibly strong will and ambition. Before he could probe deeper, he heard figures approaching. Readying Toa Lewa’s weapon, Tren Krom braced for an attack.

“Lewa! Look, it’s Toa Lewa!”

The happy cry came from a Matoran villager. A quick scan of his mind revealed his name was Kapura, and his companion was Hafu. But it was the blue-armored female that traveled with them that most intrigued Tren Krom.

“Isn’t it great, Hafu? Now we have two Toa with us – Lewa and Tuyet.”

Tuyet? Tren Krom took the time to read her mind, being none too subtle about it. He saw her past efforts to take over the universe, and her plans to try again in future. This one was powerful and dangerous … but she might be useful, as well.

For her part, Tuyet just smiled. She knew this was no Toa of Air who stood before her. She had never met Lewa Nuva, but no Air warrior wearing a Mask of Levitation had the kind of mental powers she sensed. So who was this, really, and why was he disguising himself as a Toa Nuva?

“If you are opposed to Makuta, then your help would be very … ever-liked,” Tren Krom said, hastily adding in some treespeak for the benefit of the Matoran.

“I’m sure,” said Toa Tuyet. “You have a plan, I take it?”

“If I did not, I am sure you would,” Tren Krom replied, looking her right in the eyes. “Perhaps we can … quick-help … each other?”

“What a break,” Kapura said, smiling. “Don’t you think so, Hafu?”

The Po-Matoran looked from Toa Tuyet, who he didn’t trust, to Lewa Nuva, who didn’t seem like himself. “Yeah. Wonderful,” he muttered.

 

The small group waited until nightfall. Then they slipped out of the Archives, heading for the Coliseum. Along the way, they passed Toa Pouks and Toa Bomonga casually strolling through the city as if nothing was wrong.

“Who are they?” asked Tuyet. “Traitors to the Toa cause?”

“They’re the Toa Hagah,” Kapura explained. “Something happened to them … no one knows what. But they walk right past Rahkshi like the monsters aren’t even there.” He shrugged.

Intrigued, Tren Krom touched the minds of the two Toa Hagah. Ah, he thought, a simple trick. Teridax made these Toa see a false reality where all is peace and serenity. For them, it’s an iron-clad illusion they could never break free of on their own. But for me …

A fraction of Tren Krom’s mental power tore Makuta’s artificial reality to bits. Pouks and Bomonga shook their heads, as if waking from a dream. Even as he restored them to the real world, Tren Krom sent his power cascading to the minds of the other Toa Hagah, freeing them as well.

“Perhaps fortune will smile on Metru Nui, and these Toa will return to their senses soon,” Tren Krom said. “Time will tell.”

“It usually does,” said Tuyet. “What will time tell about us, I wonder?”

Tren Krom looked at her. “Hopefully, nothing either of us would regard with shame.”

“Oh, no, of course not,” she replied, with a chuckle.

“Where are we going?” asked Hafu. “And do I really want to know?”

Tren Krom pointed to the Coliseum. “There. I have a message for Mata Nui. It may mean the difference between life and death for everyone.”

“Mata Nui?” asked Hafu, incredulous. “But Mata Nui isn’t there. Makuta Teridax exiled him from the universe, maybe killed him. How are you going to get a message to him? And what could he do to help us now, anyway?”

Tren Krom looked at the Po-Matoran. A strange smile came to Lewa Nuva’s mouth, the corners of it bent at an odd angle. “The answer to both those questions is the same … you would be surprised, Hafu. Very surprised.”
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 8[/color]


Toa Helryx had made a decision.

Alone in her prison, with only the thoughts of Makuta Teridax and a portrait of Makuta Miserix for company, she’d had time to think. Teridax had made a point of telling her what he planned to do – harness the power of the Great Spirit’s body and use it to conquer worlds. She had no doubt he could do it, too, unless he was stopped.

But how?

The obvious answer lay with the Matoran. There was an obvious connection between their labors and the health of the mechanical in which they lived. Simply put, if they stopped working, the robot would die, and Makuta Teridax with it. The problem was that Teridax would not tolerate a strike. No doubt he would slaughter some Matoran, in particularly agonizing ways, until the rest gave in. Brave as they were, the Matoran couldn’t be counted on to stand firm in the face of their friends’ suffering.

There was, of course, another problem too. The robot’s death would inevitably mean the death of everyone that lived inside it – Matoran, Toa, Vortixx, Skakdi, everyone. The planet outside had no known land masses, and so no place to flee to. The inhabitants of the Matoran universe would suffocate or freeze in the darkness.

As leader of the Order of Mata Nui, Helryx had often had to make decisions that sent agents to their deaths. It came with the job. But could she make a decision that would send an entire universe to its grave?

Yes, as it turned out. She could.

Teridax had to be stopped before he killed or enslaved billions of innocents in the universe beyond. She wasn’t certain she could bring him down, but she had to try. Her prison was near a sensitive area, whose destruction might be enough to slay the Makuta. A nova blast using her water power might do enough damage. Even if all she could do was cripple him, perhaps others could finish him off.

She closed her eyes and drew upon all her power. If she had any doubt or regrets, she pushed them aside. Helryx would do what she had always done: whatever was necessary.

An impossibly loud pounding broke her concentration. Had Teridax already discovered what she was about to do?

The next moment, a wall caved in. Stepping through the rubble were two Matoran, Toa Nuva Lewa, and a figure Helryx never thought she would see again: Toa Tuyet.

“You!” the Order leader snapped. “What are you doing here?”

“You’re welcome,” Tuyet replied. “I had no idea you were locked up here, Helryx. Poetic justice, considering how your kind imprisoned me for centuries, isn’t it?”

Helryx looked to Lewa. Tuyet, free, was potentially a terrible menace. Perhaps if she and the Toa Nuva of Air acted quickly, they could take the rogue Toa down. But Lewa was paying no attention to Helryx. Instead, he seemed to be fixated on the picture of Miserix. Makuta Teridax had transformed his old enemy into a painting on the wall in a unique and nasty act of murder.

“Lewa? What are you doing?” she asked.

The Toa of Air ignored her. Instead, he muttered, “Interesting. Not dead, but so convinced that he is that he might as well be.”

“Don’t mind him,” said Tuyet. “He’s not this Lewa. I’m not sure who he is, only that he knew how to get us here. And now that we are here, I am sure I can find some way to use our arrival to my advantage.”

Helryx glanced back at Lewa. The Toa of Air had his eyes closed and was reaching out with his right hand. But no cyclone erupted from his outstretched palm. In fact, nothing was happening at all.

And then, suddenly, something did.

The portrait of Miserix warped, as if it was folding in on itself. An instant later, Makuta Miserix himself stood in the chamber, in full reptilian glory . The Makuta looked dazed at first, then his eyes filled with rage.

“Where is Teridax?” he bellowed, so loud the walls shook.

“Well,” said Tuyet. “That was a surprise.”

“Shut up,” Helryx barked, “all of you.” She turned to the two Matoran. “Hafu, Kapura … this is no place for you. Go back to Metru Nui and get word to the resistance. Tell them to be prepared to act, and tell them … to make their peace with the Great Spirit and each other.”

Hafu took a step forward, ready to argue for staying. But Kapura laid a hand on his arm and shook his head. There was no fight coming that they could be a part of … somehow, he knew that this Toa of Water was talking about the end of everything.

Now it was Lewa Nuva’s turn to speak. “A message must be sent. Mata Nui must be prepared.”

“Who are you?” demanded Helryx.

“You knew of me as Tren Krom,” said the Toa. “Like Tuyet, I am recently escaped from my prison. Now I have a task to perform.”

He advanced past Helryx, walked to wall panel, and tore it off. A small bank of machinery had been hidden behind it. As he started to manipulate the controls, Helryx, Tuyet and Miserix all moved to stop him.

“Hold!”

Everyone in the room whirled to see who had spoken. Standing in the opened wall were Brutaka and Axonn. Brutaka was levitating and a greenish aura surrounded him. Axonn’s left arm hung useless at his side. Both looked like they had been through a war.

“Tren Krom must do what he set out to do,” Brutaka said. “The three must be one. This universe must live so that a world can be whole once more.”

“This universe must die, and Teridax with it!” Helryx replied. “Axonn, Brutaka, I order you to subdue these three.”

Brutaka smiled. “We no longer take orders from you, Toa Helryx. We take our orders from destiny.”

“Just so you know,” Axonn added, “Brutaka’s his own ‘we’ these days. Long story.”

Tuyet had stopped paying attention. She was eavesdropping on Tren Krom. Whatever message he was sending was for the most part not an audible one, but now and then he would mutter something she could catch. So far, she had heard the words “Ignika” and “golden armor.” Both were intriguing, to say the least.

“Enough talk,” growled Miserix. “Teridax is inhabiting this metal shell, and that means it gets destroyed, along with anyone who gets in the way.”

“Don’t start something you can’t finish,” warned Tuyet. “I may have use for this universe.”

“Brutaka, maybe Helryx is right,” said Axonn. “Maybe this is the only sure way of stopping Teridax. Maybe it’s what Mata Nui would want us to do.”

Before the startled eyes of the Kapura and Hafu, battle lines were drawn. On one side stood Helryx, Miserix and Axonn – on the other, Tuyet, Lewa Nuva, and Brutaka.

“If it must be, it must,” said Brutaka. “To save this universe, then … Axonn, Helryx and Miserix must die.”
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 9[/color]


Mazeka stood on a ridge. Down below, he could see the remains of a dead village. He recognized it as having once been home to a small group of Ba-Matoran, those whose element was gravity. It looked like it had been overrun some time ago, but there were no sign of any Matoran corpses. Perhaps the villagers escaped into the hills, he thought, or maybe they were just captured.

“Your universe is very … turbulent,” said Makuta Teridax. The white-armored warrior stood beside Mazeka. He came from an alternate universe in which the Makuta had never rebelled, but had instead stayed loyal to the Great Beings and helped save a world. He had come to this universe with Mazeka to try and free it from the control of his evil counterpart.

“That’s one word for it,” replied Mazeka. “It’s hard to remember a time in my life when I wasn’t fighting. I’ve been lucky. I’m still alive. Not sure that can be said about the Matoran who lived down there.”

“If they died, maybe it was a mercy,” said Teridax. “Maybe they are better off not seeing what their universe has come to.”

“Now you sound like our Teridax,” said Mazeka. “I guess you two aren’t as far apart as I’d like to think.”

Teridax shook his head. “A turn to the left instead of the right, a wound received or avoided, rising from slumber an hour too early or too late … these are the little things lifetimes hinge on, Mazeka. Your Teridax took a step on a path that circumstances allowed me to avoid. If circumstances had been different, who knows?”

“Meaning that if you took control of this universe instead of him …?”

“I might be just as wicked,” Teridax answered. “It is always a possibility.”

Around them, the winds rose. In a moment, they had gone from gentle breeze to a screaming maelstrom, so powerful it knocked Mazeka off his feet and sent him tumbling toward the edge of the ridge. Teridax fought to stay focused, ignoring the storm as he used his power to keep Mazeka from falling. But the ground erupted beneath his feet, shattering his concentration. Mazeka fell down the slope, followed swiftly by Teridax.

They landed among the ruins. Mazeka’s impact shattered the long dead corpse of a Visorak into fine black powder. Teridax hit hard, but rolled with the fall and was back on his feet in an instant. Now that he looked around, he could see other bodies of Visorak spiders scattered here and there. The villagers who had lived here had gone down fighting.

Then a voice came from the dead mouths of the Visorak all around. Teridax recognized it as his own voice, but touched with madness and evil. “I see you have brought company, Mazeka … and such company.”

“It’s Makuta,” Mazeka said. “He’s found us.”

“Yes, I never noticed your entry, I must admit,” Makuta said through the dead spiders. “But did you really think a pale and weak version of myself could stop me now?”

“Weak?” said the white-armored Teridax. “Stronger, I say, for I resisted the temptations you could not.”

“Indeed. Then let us see just what you are capable of resisting.”

The air crackled with ozone, and then before Mazeka and Teridax’s eyes, three figures appeared. Each resembled Takanuva, the legendary Toa of Light, but their armor was jet black and shadow energy swirled about their hands.

“I have been a poor host, brother,” said the voice of Makuta. “Allow my new friends to welcome you properly to my universe.”

 

Helryx avoided Tuyet’s slashing attack and landed a side kick in her mid-section. The corrupt Toa of Water staggered backwards, only narrowly avoiding being accidentally struck by Brutaka. The battle had begun only moments before, but already the chamber in which they fought was a shambles.

The issue over which they fought was deadly serious. Helryx, Makuta Miserix, and Axonn had decided that Teridax’s control of the universe had to be ended, even if that meant destroying the universe itself. Tuyet, Brutaka and a possessed Lewa Nuva believed there was still hope of driving Makuta out without killing millions of Matoran in the process.

Miserix thought he would have the easiest opponent. He could sense that Lewa Nuva was not himself, but was under the control of another. Whoever that was, they had no access to the Toa’s air power. That would make him ripe for defeat.

Unfortunately, Lewa’s body was now home to Tren Krom, an ancient entity with enormous mental powers. Miserix’s first solid blow knocked Lewa to the ground. The fallen “Toa” responded with a mental shock blast that came close to turning Miserix’s brain to ash. Still, Miserix had been through a lot in the past millennia – imprisonment, torture, humiliation – and no mind power was going to be enough to stop him. He gathered Lewa up in his claw and slammed his foe against the wall, once, twice, three times.

Axonn’s heart wasn’t in this fight. He had only recently rediscovered Brutaka and regained their old friendship. He couldn’t believe they were already at each other’s throats again. And he wasn’t certain that Brutaka was wrong – maybe Helryx’s plans were too extreme. Maybe duty lay in protecting the Matoran until the very last moment.

For this moment, though, he had to concentrate on protecting himself. One good hit from Brutaka would take his head off.

Helryx had not wavered in her determination, but she also knew that this battle was sure to draw Makuta Teridax’s attention. Her chance to act could disappear at any moment. She had to do the nova blast now, before anyone could stop her.

Tuyet could guess what was about to happen. She slammed an elbow into Axonn even as Brutaka struck at him. Taking advantage of the moment, she wrested the warrior’s axe from him. With a yell, she vaulted into the air and smashed Miserix with the axe. With a roar of pain, the reptilian Makuta fell backwards, right towards Helryx.

The mad Toa hit the ground and turned to watch the end of her handiwork. But to her surprise, just as Miserix was about to crush Helryx, the ancient female warrior vanished. The Makuta landed in a heap, but was barely slowed by his wound and already seeking out his attacker.

Tuyet never got a chance to defend herself. Helryx was suddenly behind her, catching Tuyet in a headlock. “Time to say goodbye,” said Helryx. “We’ll all go down together, and the universe will be better for it.”

The world began to blur in front of Tuyet’s eyes. At first, she thought that Helryx must be choking the life from her. But then she realized that everyone was looking toward the chamber’s entrance, where space itself seemed to be warping. The next instant, a massive figure stepped out of the distortion and stood before them.

“You… imbeciles,” the figure said, in a voice both old and young at the same time. “You ignorant stone apes… is this how you try to save existence?”

No one in the room had ever seen the newcomer before. But there were some who knew his voice, and all felt a chill of fear at the sound of it. Only Helryx had the presence of mind to give their visitor a name, and even she spoke it in a whisper.

“Artakha.”
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 10[/color]


At the sight of Artakha, the chamber went silent.

He stood at least 10 feet tall. His armor was gray-green and covered in runes carved at the beginning of time. His mask was the most ornate anyone had ever seen – more than just a Kanohi, it was a true work of art. The metallic protodermis from which it was forged was arranged in intricate patterns and designs, each reflecting one of the many cultures that flourished in the universe. The eye slits were angular and pointed, giving him an air of both wisdom and a vague sense of menace.

Artakha stood in the shattered doorway, facing some of the most powerful beings in existence. His stance made it clear he was their equal, if not their superior.

His cold eyes fell first on Lewa Nuva. “Your task is done,” he said. “Return whence you came.”

Lewa Nuva stared at Artakha for a moment, then turned without a word and started to exit, only to be blocked by the newcomer.

“Without the body,” said Artakha.

Lewa Nuva shrugged. “Payment for services rendered?”

“The mind of Lewa Nuva is trapped within your old body, Tren Krom, as you well know,” Artakha replied. “He deserves better than to suffer a fate meant for you.”

The mouth of Lewa Nuva smiled, though it was the mind of Tren Krom that made it so. “The words come easily to you, Artakha. You chose to live as an exile. I did not.”

“None of us choose our destiny,” Artakha replied. “And none of us can defy it. Go, Tren Krom. Have faith Mata Nui will reward you when all is said and done.”

Lewa Nuva nodded. “Faith, yes … a drop of water in place of an ocean.”

Artakha reached out and placed the palm of his right hand on Lewa Nuva’s forehead. “It’s more than time.”

The Toa’s body spasmed, then dropped to the floor. After a moment, Lewa’s eyes opened and he looked around, dazed. “Where …? I was … in a cave … in an ever-ugly body … and …”

Artakha ignored him. Helryx had advanced up to him, staring up at his masked face and making no effort to contain her fury. “This is no affair of yours, Artakha. Actions must be taken to contain the threat of Makuta, here and now.”

“Creation is my essence,” Artakha replied. “And you would destroy all that exists. I can’t allow that.”

“You can’t stop it either --”

“But I can.”

The voice reverberated throughout the chamber. It belonged to Makuta Teridax.

“Oh, who invited him?” muttered Lewa.

“Invited me?” asked Teridax. “As I recall, you are all guests in my home. And you have been most rude and destructive ones. I am afraid I am going to have to ask you to leave.”

“And if we refuse?” bellowed Axonn. “What will you do then, you formless freak?”

Teridax gave a low, mocking laugh. Then he said softly, “Why, then … I will have to insist.”

One instant, Axonn, Brutaka, Helryx, Artakha, Miserix, Tuyet and two Matoran were inside a half-ruined chamber deep beneath Metru Nui. The next, they were floating in the airless, icy void of outer space, watching as the robot Makuta commanded soared away from them toward a distant world.

 

“I told you this was a bad idea,” said Toa Kongu.

“Quiet,” hissed Toa Hahli.

“Is the Order sure of its information?” asked Nuparu.

“As sure as they can be, with things as they are,” replied Hewkii.

“Then we better get to work,” said Jaller.

The five surviving Toa Mahri were crouched on the western shore of the island of Zakaz, home to the murderous Skakdi race. Ordinarily, it wasn’t the sort of place any sane person wanted to visit, wracked as it was by a millennia-old civil war. Back when they were Toa Inika, Jaller and his team had battled six Skakdi, the Piraka, and barely escaped with their lives.

Their mission here was as simple as it was perilous. The Order had learned that Nektann, a powerful Skakdi warlord, had allied with Makuta Teridax and led his army on a journey south. Now it was vital to find out if any of the other warlords were going to follow his lead.

On top of that, there was a mystery to be solved. Following the widespread destruction on Daxia, the sea snakes that were once the evil Piraka had vanished. It had been believed they were just buried in the rubble, but rumors were flying they had been rescued and spirited away to Zakaz. For what purpose, no one could say.

To accomplish either of these, they had to get past the Skadi guards on the shore. That was Kongu’s job. Using his control of air, he robbed the guards of anything to breathe until they passed out. Once they were down, the Toa Mahri advanced.

Their next obstacle was a small encampment of warriors, surrounded by a wall of thick stone. “Want me to bring the wall down?” asked Toa Hewkii.

“Just like we planned,” nodded Jaller.

Hewkii concentrated and extended his power over stone to the wall. The next moment, the rocks began to explode. The alarmed Skakdi, thinking they were under attack by another tribe, rushed to their defenses … but couldn’t spot the enemy.
After a few minutes of “bombardment,” they scaled the rubble and fled into the night.

Jaller turned to the Toa of Water. “Hahli?”

“It’s this way,” she answered, taking the lead. The Toa moved swiftly across the uneven terrain until they reached the mouth of the cave. By now, they could all hear the rushing of water. Hahli led them inside, where they saw an underground river.

“Perfect,” said Nuparu.

“The Order says that will take us right into one of the larger ruins,” said Hahli. “All we have to do is swim.”

“That again?” asked Hewkii, in mock protest.

The Mask of Life had transformed the Toa Inika into water-breathing Toa Mahri not long ago. Then it had changed them again, making them true amphibians. One by one, they dove into the river and began to swim through the cold, dark water.

After an hour or so, during which time Nuparu discovered that there were some very nasty fish under Zakaz, they emerged in another cavern. Just beyond the mouth of the cave was a large area of ruins, in which about 500 Skakdi were gathered. One, obviously a warlord, was addressing the gathering.

“The Brotherhood of Makuta is no more,” he bellowed. “The Dark Hunters are a battered ruin. The Toa are scattered and hiding like stone rats. Who is there left for anyone to fear?”

“The Skakdi!” yelled the crowd in response.

“I don’t like the sound of this,” said Hewkii.

“I think you’re about to like it less,” said Nuparu. He was crouched down, with one hand on the soil. “Something is moving underground, maybe 20 bio from where we are. Something big.”

“For too long, we have been penned up on this island, by the will of the Brotherhood,” the warlord continued. “And now one of their number controls our universe, and believes he controls us, as well. But we will show him he is wrong!”

“Okay, well, it doesn’t sound like he and Teridax will be playing kolhii together anytime soon,” said Jaller.

“And I think he’s just getting warmed up,” said Hahli.

“Let our salvation now rise,” shouted the warlord.

“Here it comes,” said Nuparu.

Now they could all feel the rumbling underground, and soon, they saw what was causing it. A huge tank was rising up in the center of the ruins. One glance and the Mahri knew all too well what was inside of it.

“That’s energized protodermis,” whispered Jaller. “How did they --?”

“Questions later,” said Kongu. “Look at who just joined the party.”

The Skadi were hauling prisoners toward the tank. One was a Zyglak, the savage race of outcasts known for being virtually invulnerable to the elemental powers of Toa; next came a Vortixx, the crafty race that had spawned the evil Roodaka; and after that, one of the brutish race that served as laborers on Stelt.

“This makes no sense,” said Hahli. “Even if they throw them into the liquid, the three of them might just be destroyed by it … probably will be. So what’s the point?”

“None,” said Nuparu. “Unless … unless, somehow they know those three are destined to transform.”

“But the only one who could know that would be --”

“Teridax,” finished Jaller. “They probably don’t even know he put this idea into their heads. It’s another one of his sick games.”

“Just got sicker,” said Hewkii. “Or are those not the Piraka I see?”

The Toa of Stone was correct. Five Skakdi were carrying five sea snakes, each of the serpents gasping to breathe. At the warlord’s signal, the three prisoners and the five snakes were thrown into the energized protodermis tank. So engrossed were the Skakdi that they failed to notice a strange, greenish cloud that emerged from the nearby lake, hovered in the air a moment, and then plunged into the energized protodermis tank.

The liquid began to froth and bubble. The Toa Mahri could see a shape forming in the silver fluid, something monstrous and horrible.

“Tell you what,” said Kongu, “call me when it’s over. I don’t think I want to look.”

“I don’t think the Order’s going to like this,” said Nuparu.

“I don’t think anyone is,” said Jaller.

And then, before their eyes, a new and terrible form of life began to climb from the tank…
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 11[/color]


How long is a fraction of an instant?

Long enough for Lewa Nuva to see the others in the chamber – Artakha, Helryx, Miserix, Tuyet, Axonn, Brutaka, Hafu and Kapura – starting to shimmer and fade … and long enough to realize he was not teleporting as they were. Teridax was leaving the Toa of Air behind, no doubt for some sinister reason.

Lewa wasn’t having it. Before that fraction of an instant was through, he had grabbed onto Brutaka. It was a risk – a big one – to try to latch onto a teleport in progress. But Lewa was determined that wherever the others went, he would go.

In the next split second, he found himself floating in the void of space alongside the others. Of them all, only Miserix wasn’t succumbing to suffocation, since antidermis didn’t need to breathe. But the cold of outer space would claim him eventually. Makuta Teridax had thrown some of the most powerful beings in his universe out like the trash, and it looked like they wouldn’t survive the experience.

Lewa summoned his elemental power, an effort in this environment, and created a thin bubble of air linked around the heads of all the castaways except Miserix. “Join hands!” yelled the Toa of Air, seeing the group members already beginning to drift away from each other.

Helryx turned to see the Mata Nui robot sailing away from them toward a planet in the distance. The world of the endless ocean was far beneath them. “Artakha, can you teleport us back inside?” she asked.

Artakha closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again, shaking his head. “Teridax is blocking our return. I can try to get us to his evident destination, but I cannot guarantee any of us will survive the journey.”

“More likely we will all find ourselves materialized inside trees and rocks,” muttered Tuyet. “We’ll be just as dead.”

“This is no way for a warrior to die,” growled Axonn.

“Teridax must be stopped,” said Brutaka. “We must do whatever we can, regardless of the danger.”

Artakha nodded. But before he could use his great power, a hole appeared in space before him. An armored hand reached out and grabbed his arm, pulling him, and the other along with him, into the portal.

The nine found themselves sprawled on a damp stone floor. Kapura was the first to realize that the stone was moving, not to mention breathing. He cried out and got to his feet, backing against a wall. The bricks in the wall reached out to embrace him, holding him fast.

An armored figure, his face set in a hideous grin, stepped into the light cast by the one window in the room. “Kind of rattles you until you get used to it, doesn’t it?”

Miserix’s eyes narrowed. “I know you. You were among my rescuers from Artidax. You were the one who never shut up. Where have you brought us?”

Helryx stood as best as she could on the moving floor, weapon at the ready. “Vezon,” she said. “Explain yourself.”

“Not even a thank you?” said the mad Skakdi. “See if I save you from the darkness of outer space again, even if I only did it because he told me to.”

“’He’?” said Axonn. “Who?”

“Oh, didn’t I introduce you? How rude of me,” said Vezon. “Over there, in the shadows.”

The occupants of the chamber turned as one to look in the direction Vezon was pointing. They could barely make out a figure seated on the floor, chains affixed to arms and legs. The chains were writhing like serpents.

“Be careful,” Vezon added, in a loud whisper. “He’s quite insane, you know.”

“Matoran,” said a voice from inside the darkness, “amazing … and the rest of you … how proud I am. If I could, I would embrace you all.”

Helryx took two steps forward, saying, “Is this another of your tricks, Vezon? Who is this?”

Vezon put out a hand to stop her. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

“You’re not me,” Helryx snapped, pushing him aside.

She had advanced as far as the edge of the shadow when her armor suddenly began to strangle her. The Toa of Water fell back, gasping for air.

“Would have been better if I were you,” said Vezon. “Less painful.”

Axonn slammed Vezon against a wall, pressing his arm against the lunatic’s throat. “Answers, Vezon. Now.”

“If you want answers,” choked Vezon, “you need to ask him. He’s the Great Being, after all, not me.”

A dry chuckle came from the darkness. “A Great Being, yes … that is what they called me … and my brothers and sisters. Angonce once said that name was the worst thing that ever happened to us, because we started to believe it was accurate. Perhaps he was right … perhaps that is why I am imprisoned here. But now you are here to free me.”

Lewa Nuva glanced out the window of the cell. He was stunned to see a forest that stretched as far as the eye could see, far larger than the jungle he had called home on the island of Mata Nui. “Where is here?” he asked.

“That’s right. You wouldn’t know,” said the Great Being. “Welcome, my friends, to Bota Magna.”

 

Pridak picked himself up off the ground, seething with rage.

His deal with the Shadowed One had been struck. He, Kalmah and Mantax had rebuilt their legions, while Ehlek had returned to the sea to gather his own troops. Of Carapar, there had been no sign for some time. They were poised to strike as soon as the Shadowed One unleashed the viruses on Makuta Teridax. The universe would be theirs to rule once more.

Then … nothing. The appointed time had come and gone, with only a violent earth tremor to mark it. At first, Pridak thought that quake was a sign that the Shadowed One had succeeded. But it rapidly became obvious that nothing had changed. Teridax was still in control.

Now Pridak had a choice. March on Metru Nui, and risk destruction at the hands of the Makuta, or stay put and risk rebellion by his legions. He had been a fool to rely on anyone else, he decided. The Shadowed One was, to use an old saying of his people, “either dead or fled.”

Pridak looked around. His legion was armed and ready. He was a warrior, a conqueror. There was no other choice.

“We march!” he yelled, to the cheers of his troops.

 

In a chamber on the island of Xia, the stone floor was littered with the shattered remains of precious vials. Of their contents – and of the Shadowed One – there was no trace. No one would look very hard for him. They were too busy trying to determine why every Vortixx in a kio radius had met a horrible death … and just what on their island could possibly have pulverized living beings into fragments, without leaving any sign of its presence.

 

The Toa Mahri watched in shock as the new lifeform emerged from the tank of energized protodermis. A mixture of a Zyglak, a Vortixx, a Steltian laborer, and the five surviving Piraka, it had been created by the barbaric Skakdi in an elaborate ritual. And now it was free.

It was terrible.

It was beautiful.

Towering 12 feet high, with gleaming golden skin, powerful muscles, and piercing green eyes, it regarded the assembled Skakdi with the benevolent gaze of a creator. Only the vaguely reptilian cast of its face took away from its stunning appearance.

“We live,” it said. “And we hunger.”

“I don’t like the sound of that,” said Jaller.

“I haven’t like the sound of anything in at least a year,” replied Kongu.

“Do you think … they’re going to be a meal?” asked Hahli.

“I wish it was that simple,” said Hewkii. “But somehow, I think it’s going to be worse.”

“You will feed me,” said the new creation. “And in return, you will be granted a wondrous gift.”

The Skakdi moved a little closer. They were not a cautious people as a rule, and the concept of someone wanting to give them something – as opposed to them just taking it – was a new and appealing one. As they drew near, their creation closed its eyes, an expression of rapture on its face.

“Is it … feeding?” asked Nuparu. “On what?”

“I don’t know, but let’s make sure we’re not the next course,” said Jaller. “The Skakdi are distracted, and so is that … whatever it is. Get ready.”

“Yes,” said the golden-skinned being. “So much to savor. And so much to give in return.”

“This is it,” said Jaller. “Whatever it’s going to do, it’s going to do now. So let’s … let’s …”

Jaller paused, confused. There was something the Toa Mahri needed to do, urgently. What was it? He knew it was important.

Suddenly, it became crystal clear. Why hadn’t he seen it before? It was so obvious, after all. “The Skakdi are the superior race,” he said to his teammates. “Stronger, smarter … we shouldn’t be opposing them. We should be following them.”

“Do you … do you think they would allow us to serve them?” asked Hahli.

“Even if they don’t … even if they kill us,” said Hewkii, “what better way to die?”

Throwing down their weapons, the five Toa Mahri rose and walked forward, ready and eager to obey the commands of their new masters.

Next: The Reign Comes to an End
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 12[/color]


Teridax studied the three shadow Takanuva who blocked his path. They had been sent by the Makuta Teridax of this universe – the one who controlled the giant robot inside of which millions lived – to kill him and his companion, Mazeka. It was a good plan. After all, one Takanuva would be a challenge – three corrupted ones were deadly.

Teridax had multiple powers of his own to choose from. In his time and in his universe, he had been a great warrior. No doubt Makuta expected him to pit his energies against those of the Takanuva in an apocalyptic final battle and, outnumbered, die horribly after a few minutes. Mazeka would most likely not even last that long, though the Matoran would make sure his killers remembered the fight.

Ah, Makuta, thought Teridax. We are the same being in different universes, but I am not you. You’re a plotter … a schemer … not wanting to get your claws dirty, if you can avoid it. You would think of all sorts of ways to fight the Takanuva from a distance … all of which would fail.

Teridax unlimbered his war hammer. You would never think of doing this.

He charged. Before the startled shadow Toa could react, Teridax had swung his hammer, striking one Toa in the face and shattering his mask to pieces. Whirling, he landed another hammer blow to the chest armor of a second Toa, cracking it down the center. Mazeka moved in then, catching the third Takanuva with a scissor kick and sending him to the ground. Teridax made sure he would never be getting up.

The now mask-less Toa staggered forward, firing shadow energy from his hands at random. One blast caught Teridax in the shoulder, badly damaging his armor. The warrior from another dimension did not have the luxury to feel pain just then, or worry about the antidermis escaping through the gap. He landed a side kick in the Toa’s middle, while swinging his hammer again to stop the charge of the other Takanuva. The latter, still in the fight despite badly damaged armor, created a swirling fog of darkness to conceal his movements.

“Let me,” whispered Mazeka.

The Matoran stood completely still, reaching out with all his senses. He knew that at any moment, the shadow Takanuva could strike and kill them both. But he could not dwell on that fear, not if he hoped to survive this battle.

There! The slightest scrape of boot on rock, about three feet behind him and to the left. Mazeka leapt, whirled in mid-air, and lashed out with a kick. His foot connected with the Toa’s mask, knocking it askew but not dislodging it. Even as his momentum carried him forward, Mazeka landed a second blow to the shadow Toa’s neck. Enraged, the Toa hurled tendrils of darkness that began to strangle the Matoran.

“Your friend is doomed,” the evil Takanuva said, smiling. “You’ll just beat him by a few --”

There was a sickening crunch. The shadow Toa’s face went blank. He staggered forward one step and then collapsed, revealing in the process just how much damage a war hammer in the hands of an expert could do. The tendrils dispersed and Mazeka scrambled to his feet.

“Where’s the third one?” asked the Matoran, as the darkness dispersed around them.

“There,” said Teridax, pointing to the north. “And there,” he added, gesturing toward the west. “Oh, and there’s some over there,” he finished, casually glancing to the east. “His mask was shattered. I thought he might like to join it.”

Mazeka chuckled. “You know, Toa wouldn’t approve of this … they don’t kill.”

Teridax shrugged. “Very noble … but considering the state of this universe, maybe they should have bent the rules a little more.”

“Try telling them --” Mazeka began.

Teridax held up a hand to stop him. “Wait. Something’s … something’s wrong. Quick, grab my hand!”

Mazeka did as he was told, even as Teridax began to teleport. The world blurred and vanished around them. When it reappeared, they were standing back on the ridge above the abandoned village. A violent tremor was shaking the ground and Mazeka could barely keep his feet.

“As I hoped,” said Teridax, wearily. “We escaped the worst of it.”

“The worst of what?” demanded Mazeka. “What just happened?”

“Your Makuta … has fallen,” said Teridax. “We need to keep moving, but first … first, we had better find some way to patch my wound. I prefer to walk out of this universe, not float.”

 

Taipu was used to the darkness. He was, after all, an Onu-Matoran, who had spent most of his life in the Metru Nui Archives or deep in mines. Of course, it was one thing to choose to live in the dark, and another to have all light suddenly extinguished around you.

He took stock of the situation. He was lying face down on the floor of an upper level of the Archives. The air was filled with dust. The lightstones were all shattered. Something extremely heavy was on top of him, making it impossible to get up and quite difficult to breathe. All of this was the result of a massive quake that had just struck Metru Nui, followed shortly after by a not quite as devastating aftershock.

Taipu tried to yell for help, but could only manage a hoarse whisper. This wasn’t a very good way to die, he decided. But it seemed to be one he had gotten stuck with.

Then he heard something. Someone was digging nearby. Maybe they would find him? He tried to yell again, but wound up choking on dust.

There were more sounds. He could hear voices now, familiar ones. Someone was yelling for others to keep digging. The terrible weight on his back was suddenly gone. Taipu felt two strong hands grabbing his wrists and pulling him out from under the rubble.

He looked up to see Tamaru and Macku were his rescuers. Not far away, Kopeke was helping other Onu-Matoran who had been caught in the quake. Macku propped Taipu up against a wall and dusted off his armor. “Are you all right?” she asked.

Taipu nodded. “What happened?”

Macku pointed up. Taipu looked and saw a massive hole, and beyond that, blue sky like he remembered from the island of Mata Nui. It had only been recently that Taipu and the other Matoran had learned their “universe” was the inside of a giant robot. Now someone had evidently punched a big hole in the robot’s head.

“I think Makuta ran into someone tougher than he was,” Macku explained. “Pretty sure the robot’s dead, and my guess is so is he. We’re going to need to get everyone out of here and hope there’s someplace outside we can live. But in the meantime … well, there are a lot more people trapped like you were.”

Taipu got to his feet. “Then I’ll help.”

“You need to rest,” said Macku sternly.

“I didn’t rest at Kini-Nui when those Rahi attacked,” Taipu replied. He looked around at Tamaru and Kopeke hard at work. “I don’t know where Hafu and Kapura are … but it looks to me like the Chronicler’s Company lives again.”

Macku smiled. “All right, then, old friend. Let’s get to work.”

 

Kopaka threw his weapon onto the sand slumped down a rock. He was tired, all the way down to the core of his being … tired of fighting and running and fighting some more. It seemed like that was all he had done since he and his teammates had arrived on the island of Mata Nui more than a year before. As he looked over the Bara Magna battlefield, and the hulking corpse of Makuta’s massive robot, he wondered if at last it was over.

He had answered Tahu’s call with all of the Toa Nuva, except for Lewa. Side by side with other Toa and the inhabitants of this world, they had battled Rahkshi, Skakdi, and vicious, black-armored warriors as well. Tahu had single-handedly defeated the Rahkshi, and the others had battered the rest of Makuta’s army into submission. The Makuta robot had been struck on the back of the head by an astral body and fallen faster than an avalanche on Mount Ihu. Now, one by one, Matoran and other inhabitants of the robot were emerging from the ruined shell into the sunlight of a new world.

Using his powers to create an ice ramp, Kopaka traveled over the treetops of the new jungle. He wanted some time alone.

Finding a likely spot, miles away from where the other Toa and Glatorian were assembled, he sat down to contemplate his future. The destiny of the Toa Nuva had been achieved, so he always had the option of giving up his Toa power and becoming a Turaga. But he had no real wish to wind up running a village or outpost somewhere.

He could always just retire from adventuring, of course. This was a whole new world for him, with plenty of places to explore and maybe even someplace to settle. It might be nice to do something besides battle for his life all the time. Of course, he had no idea what that “something” might be, but one thing he did know – there was no way he could lay down his weapons until Lewa was found.

The Toa of Air had been missing for days. It was possible he was simply in some other part of the robot and would be emerging. But he might also have been wounded or waylaid. As annoying as Lewa could be sometimes, he was a fellow Toa Nuva and … a friend. Kopaka made a silent vow to find him wherever he might be.

The first step would be to talk to the other Nuva and organize a search. Before he could do that, though, something extremely strange caught his eye. A section of the robot’s surface was simply disappearing. There had been no explosion, no heat, no sign of the metal being cut. One moment it was there, and the next it was gone.

What was even more bizarre was who emerged from the hole. A small army of Skakdi; a strange, golden-skinned creature; and … the Toa Mahri! The heroes did not seem to be hostages or prisoners. In fact, it looked like they were quite happily acting as beasts of burden for the Skakdi.

Lewa will have to wait, I’m afraid, thought Kopaka. I need to get to the bottom of this, for the Mahri’s sake if nothing else.

Fortunately, the new plant life created by Mata Nui provided a lot better cover than a desert ever could have. Kopaka trailed the Skakdi and their mysterious “allies” for miles. When they came to the shores of the ocean, the troop came to a halt. The Skakdi could be seen talking and gesturing to the golden-skinned creature.

The creature nodded once and turned to look at the cliffs beyond the beach. Before Kopaka’s startled eyes, a massive castle took shape atop the highest of the rock formations. The walls were made of stone and the towers bristled with weaponry. All of Metru Nui could probably have fit inside it, with room to spare.

This is extremely not good, thought Kopaka. One Toa Nuva can’t do anything here. Let’s find out what five can do.

 

Lewa Nuva was in the middle of his own mystery at the moment. Transported to someplace called Bota Magna along with Toa Helryx, Vezon, Toa Tuyet, Miserix, Brutaka, and others, he had found himself in the presence of someone claiming to be an imprisoned Great Being who sought freedom. The members of his party had immediately fallen into debate on whether it was wise to free someone with so much potential power and evidently a tenuous grasp on sanity. Lewa rapidly grew tired of the argument and found his way out of the fortress.

The area in which he now stood was one of the most beautiful he had ever seen, even more stunning than the jungles of Mata Nui. He used his power to soar above the trees, taking in the majestic forest, beautiful rivers, rolling fields, cybernetically enhanced giant reptiles, and –

Lewa circled back for a second look. Yes, that was a lizard, roughly forty feet high by the Toa’s rough estimate. And yes, it did have a laser targeting system in place of one eye, its teeth were polished metal, and its tail was covered in circuitry for its entire length. The Toa of Air watched as the beast pursued a smaller and much faster reptile. The prey looked likely to escape … at least, until something flashed from the giant’s mechanical eye and the ground exploded in front of his quarry. The smaller reptile flew backwards, tumbling end over end, and landed hard on the forest floor. The larger reptile swallowed it whole.

And we thought we had Rahi problems on the island, thought Lewa. They grow them big here.

Swooping down for a closer view, Lewa spotted movement on the forest floor. This time, it wasn’t reptiles, but villagers not too different in size from Matoran. They were marching at a steady pace, seemingly unaware of the proximity of the massive predator. Lewa decided he had better warn them.

Landing some distance away, so as not to startle the natives, he waited for their approach. As soon as they saw him, they spread out as if to surround them. He kept his arms at his sides, not wanting to appear hostile. Now that they were closer, he could see they were quite different from Matoran in some ways. They carried very crude weapons, axes and spears and clubs made from wood and rock. While they did wear armor, it was a strange hybrid of metal and plant life.

One of the villagers, obviously the leader of the patrol, stepped forward and addressed the Toa. But Lewa could not understand anything he said. He tried to use gestures to convey the message that a huge reptile was not far away, but the villagers did not seem to get it, or else just didn’t care. They seemed much more fascinated about him. A few of the braver ones poked and prodded him, as if they had never seen his like before.

Now the leader was making gestures of his own, evidently asking Lewa’s point of origin. The Toa of Air smiled and nodded, trying to show he understood, and pointed in the direction of the fortress. There was an immediate murmuring among the villagers, not at all a happy sound. The next thing Lewa knew, the points of countless spears were at his throat.

Oh, thought the Toa of Air. It’s going to be this kind of day.

 

Angonce studied his ancient equipment. It told him much about the state of the newly restored Spherus Magna. Mata Nui had gone dormant, at least temporarily; the original Mata Nui robot and its prototype had both been destroyed; the nanotech inhabitants of Mata Nui had somehow survived and were emerging onto Spherus Magna and interacting with the local inhabitants.

The Great Being should have been pleased by all this. After all, it was he and his brothers and sisters who had created Mata Nui and sent the robot on its mission, which culminated in the restoration of the planet. But things had changed a great deal in the last 101,000 years. W hat might once have been cause for celebration now provoked very different emotions.

They will seek the Great Beings now, he thought. They will want to tell us that all is well. Toa and Glatorian, Matoran and Agori, will join together on this ‘joyous’ mission. But all is not well … and if they go in search of those who brought so much glory and so much misery to this world … I fear they will find nothing but death.

TO BE CONTINUED IN THE NEW SERIAL “THE YESTERDAY QUEST,” STARTING SOON!

 
—TLH


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#18 Offline Reference Keeper Team

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Posted Jun 23 2011 - 12:13 AM

 

[color=#3A6378;]13: Riddle Of The Great Beings[/color]

[color=#840000;]Back to top [/color]

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 1[/color]


Tarduk blinked the sweat out of his eyes. Times like this he wished he didn't have to work in full helmet and armor. But even here, so close to the free city of Atero, it was a little too dangerous to be out in the desert on your own and unprotected. His task here was routine: along with Agori from various villages, Kyry, Crotesius, Scodonius, and Kirbold, he was in Atero to help prepare the arena for the coming tournament. Even with care throughout the year, there was always a need to do minor repairs before Glatorian from all over descended on the place.

Of course, Tarduk hadn't kept at that work for very long, not when there were ruins not far away that he could explore. Making an excuse about getting some supplies from his wagon, he had slipped out of the city and found a likely spot to dig. It was hard work, and hot work. He could have used a helper, but that wasn't doable. Kyry was much too dedicated to the work in Atero, Kirbold just wanted to get done and get back to Iconox, Scodonius was kind of a creep, and Crotesius he barely knew.

No, he decided, He digs best who digs alone. His tool hit something, buried about four feet down in the sand. Fishing it out, he found it was a square of metal, about twice the size of his hand and obviously broken off of something larger. Inscribed on it was a circle with a much smaller circle inside and at the bottom of it. Tarduk frowned. He had run across things like this before, with similar symbols. He had no idea what they meant, and neither did anyone else, so far as he knew. If they were a language - what language and spoken by whom? It was frustrating, because he had not found enough samples to even begin trying to decipher the symbols.

He turned the piece of metal over, hoping there would be another symbol on the back. Instead, he found something quite different. A map had been scratched into the metal. Some of the places on it he recognized, some he did not. At the bottom of the map was a mountain chain that looked a great deal like the Black Spike Mountains to the north. The features drawn just below the mountains seemed to bear out that it was the same range. Most of the map was areas north of the mountains, though, a region he was not familiar with. All he really knew about it was the Skrall were said to come from there. At the top of the map, there were two more symbols, but a bit different from the ones he had found before. One was just a mesh of interconnected lines looking almost like a net or a web. The other was a star. What made that last interesting was that it was the only symbol that was colored. The star was red.

A red star, thought Tarduk, Whoever heard of such a thing? It was certainly fascinating but impossible to investigate, at least on his own. By traveling north-west, he could skirt the black spikes and reach the northern region, but the map indicated raging rivers and other natural hazards along the way. Going up there without aid would be beyond dangerous, and no Glatorian would hire out for the job this close to the Atero tournament.

"Hey!"

Tarduk turned. Crotesius was walking over, looking a little annoyed.

"Are you going to help, or play in the sand? What's that you have?"

Tarduk showed the Vulcanus Agori what he had found. Crotesius didn't bother to take it - just looked at both sides and then shrugged.

"So what? It's a piece of junk. Maybe you could use it to patch your wagon, but other than that…"

What a Vorox… muttered Tarduk to himself. Aloud, he said "You're probably right. I mean, that red star - what's that all about? After all, everyone knows there's nothing valuable up that way. No hidden treasure, no hidden city, and no Water Stones, nothing."

This, of course, was a tremendous lie, and Tarduk knew that Crotesius would never believe it. In fact, he was counting on that. Rumors flew faster than grains of sand in a sandstorm about what might be to the north. In Iconox, they said the mountains were covered with valuable Exsidian. In Vulcanus, they said there were entire valleys of Water Stones, those valuable rocks that could be split open to reveal pure water inside. As for Tajun, well, they were pretty imaginative there, and the Agori of Tesara just didn't want to even talk about it.

Now Crotesius reached out to take the piece of metal and take a closer look. "You know, if you like, I could take this… um… scrap metal off your hands, maybe you'd like to trade?"

Later on, Tarduk would be unable to explain just why he said what he did. Maybe after years of digging in the sand and finding pieces of a puzzle, but no way to solve it, he had just had enough. If he didn't take a chance, he would never find any answers. "Sure, I'll trade you," he said. "You can have the piece of metal… if you go with me to find that red star, whatever it is."

"Go up there? Are you crazy?" said Crotesius.

"That's the offer," Tarduk said firmly. "We have enough time before the tournament starts to get there and get back." He actually wasn't sure that was true, but wasn't going to tell Crotesius that. "Think about it," he continued. "What if there's something really valuable up there, something that changes everyone's life in Bara Magna? We'll -- I mean, you'll be a hero."

Crotesius smiled. As a vehicle pilot in the arena, he was just one more Agori fighter in a world dominated by Glatorian. But if he did something truly great, well, Raanu wouldn't live forever, maybe he could lead Vulcanus someday.

"Okay Tarduk," Crotesius said. "I guess you can join my expedition, but we're going to need more help. See if you can recruit a few more Agori, without telling them about the star. And we leave at dawn."

Tarduk walked away, a grin spreading across his face. Sure, he hadn't been completely honest, but sometimes you have to take shortcuts in the pursuit of knowledge, right? Little did Tarduk know that shortcut was about to lead him right into a nightmare.
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 2[/color]


In the end, only Kirbold was willing to come along with Crotesius and Tarduk in search of the Red Star. Scodonius said it was crazy to go off on some wild Rock Steed chase so close to the date of the tournament. And Kyry was in a hurry to get back to Vulcanus.

Crotesius suggested they take vehicles north, but Tarduk vetoed that suggestion.

"Vehicles can't go where we're going, even tracked ones," said Tarduk. "Plus they make noise, and noise attracts Bone Hunters. No, we'll use Sand Stalkers."

It took a certain amount of wheeling and dealing to borrow three of the beasts from an Iconox trader, especially since Tarduk wouldn't say where they were going with them. But within in short time, the three Agori were mounted and ready to start their expedition.

The shortest route would be to go east to the Dark Falls and then north toward the volcanic region above the Black Spike Mountains. But the presence of Skrall, Vorox, and Bone Hunters up that way made it also the most dangerous. So Tarduk led the small party northwest, past the village of Tesara and Elbow Peak and into the White Quartz Mountains. Kirbold, being a native of Iconox, knew this region fairly well. There were paths that traders took through the peaks in search of anything of value they could sell.

It was cold here, even worse than the desert by night. More than once, the Sand Stalkers almost lost their footing on the smooth face of the crystal and rock. Although it made all three Agori nervous, they had to travel by day: it would be too easy to stray off the path in the dark and possibly tumble right off a cliff.

After two days, that had moved far enough north that they were in completely unfamiliar territory. Whatever creatures lived in this region would never have been in the desert to the south, since they obviously thrived on cold. Crotesius was on constant alert. That was why he was the first to notice that they were being stalked.

"Should we stop?" asked Tarduk.

"No," snapped Crotesius, "that's the worst thing we could do. We need to go faster. Maybe we can lose them."

Tarduk doubted it. He had spotted one of their pursuers. It looked a little like one of the wasteland wolves that lived in the desert. Their paws had evolved to be able to traverse across the loosest sand and they were highly effective trackers. But, Tarduk reminded himself, though it looked like one, their stalker wasn't one of those creatures. For one thing, this beast was half made of metal. Tarduk had never seen anything like it.

"How many?" asked Kirbold.

"More than one," answered Crotesius. "Six or eight, maybe. They're hard to spot."

Tarduk was unsure how anything could move through the White Quartz Mountains unseen like this. As the day wore on, that became the least of his worries. No matter how fast the party moved, the wolves kept on their trail. No matter what trick they tried to evade pursuit - sending one Sand Stalker off in another direction, doubling back on their own trail, even leaving some of the precious supply of food on the trail to distract the pack - the wolves kept coming. "What are those things?" Tarduk asked for the third time.

Now they had to ride through the night, like it or not. Kirbold shared Tarduk's mount and Crotesius led the way. Although it probably wouldn't matter anyway, Crotesius refused to light a torch, figuring the wolves would see the light. Tarduk argued that they were probably tracking by scent, but it did no good.

They wound up on a narrow, winding trail. On the right side was the face of the mountain. On the left, a sheer drop into darkness. The good news was that there was no place for the wolves to hide here. They would have to follow the trail as well or give up, it seemed. The bad news was that even the Sand Stalkers were having a hard time finding their footing. One slip, and someone wouldn't be coming back from this trip.

Moving as quickly as they dared, the three Agori made their way down the trail. Once, the mount carrying Kirbold and Tarduk stumbled and one pack of tools fell off and into the abyss. The sound of it striking bottom never came.

Kirbold looked back. In the bright light of the moons he could see no sign of their pursuers. "I think we lost them. Do you think we lost them?"

Tarduk glanced over his shoulder. He didn't see anything either, but said, "No, I don't think we lost them."

"Neither do I," agreed Kirbold.

The trail began to widen, becoming more of a plateau. Dawn was breaking, the first rays of light reflecting off the quartz peaks. Crotesius reined his Sand Stalker to a stop, and Tarduk did the same. They looked behind. There was no sign of the half-dozen fur and metal covered wolves that had been following them.

"Maybe they didn't make it across the trail," said Crotesius. "Or they found easier prey. Either way, I'm glad they're gone."

"Um, there's one other possibility," suggested Tarduk. "They stopped following because they didn't need to anymore."

Crotesius turned at the sound of a low growl, a hollow metallic sound that echoed throughout the mountains. Lined up on a ridge ahead were not six of the wolves, but sixty. They had evaded a hunting pack only to ride right into the den.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 3[/color]


The three Agori sat on their mounts, frozen with fear. Before them stood dozens of wolves, their bodies a weird mixture of muscle and fur and dull metal. Their eyes were gleaming points of savage light in the darkness. Tarduk could smell their musky odor, mixed with the scent of cold iron.

"Watch out," whispered Crotesius. "They'll try to circle around us so we're surrounded. Then they'll attack."

"Thanks for the nature lesson," Kirbold answered. "How do we get out of this?"

"Ride through them?" suggested Tarduk. "Maybe we can, I don't know, outrun them."

Crotesius patted the flank of his Sand Stalker. "I don't think these animals are going a step closer to those things if they can help it."

Tarduk wished he could come up with another idea. Going forward was out. Going backward meant trying to race across a narrow trail with a pack of wolves at their heels. If they didn't fall into a bottomless abyss, they would have the fun of being eaten. He couldn't believe their journey was coming to an end so soon, and in a such a horrible way.

Crotesius was the first to spot a new arrival. Something, no, someone, was coming up behind the wolf pack. The figure was bent and twisted and walked with a bad limp. He carried a staff in his left hand and seemed to be relying on it to stay upright. Even with the moonlight, it was impossible to see the armored being clearly. But then he spoke.

"Down."

It was a simple word, but delivered in a voice that sounded to Tarduk like the limbs of dead trees scraping against a shelter. To the amazement of the three Agori, the wolves crouched down against the frozen ground. The figure started hobbling forward, moving unmolested through the wolves. All Tarduk could think of was Malum, who, rumor had it, now lived among the bestial Vorox. But it wasn't Malum coming toward them. Tarduk heard Kirbold gasp in recognition. The Agori from the Ice Village of Iconox said, "Surel? But you're-"

"-Dead," the crippled warrior said. "Close to it, perhaps, but still among the living. Lost in the chaos of war was I, and left behind, bent and broken, when the fighting moved on. And here I have been ever since."

It was too much for Crotesius to take in. "You've been living in these mountains with these… these… things?"

"You are of the Fire people," Surel said, as if seeing the Agori's red armor for the first time. "So you wouldn't know about the Iron Wolves, one of the Great Beings' more… efficient creations. I trained this pack, led them into battle, and when the world shattered, they stayed by my side. It was the wolves who brought me food and protected me from harm. And there were many in these mountains who would have done me harm."

Surel reached down and petted one of the wolves, brushing his hand across fur and metal.

"Maybe you have forgotten, or you never knew, how things were before. Armies marching across the deserts, the jungles, the mountains, battling to claim the energy in the core of the world. The Element Lords led us into war, and when their actions destroyed the planet, they were trapped. Yes, they were trapped."

Tarduk shivered. Was it getting colder or was it fear that made him tremble? It would have been easy to blame the presence of Surel and his pets, but no, it was getting colder. The wind was picking up and snow had begun to fall, lightly at first, then more heavily. Soon he could barely make out the ancient warrior and his wolves through the storm.

"Wait a minute," said Kirbold. "I remember the war. I remember how it ended and I remember the Element Lords. But you said 'were trapped?'"

Surel nodded his head, a painful exercise due to his injuries. "I do not know why you have come here, but I tell you now to turn back. The Element Lords walk this planet once more and the fortunate among you will die first."

A roar filled Tarduk's ears. He looked towards the source of the sound. A massive wall of white was surging down the mountain, an avalanche of snow from which there could be no hope of escape, and standing atop of the mountain, watching as doom rushed down toward the Agori, stood a warrior made of ice.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 4[/color]


Tarduk closed his eyes tight. A massive avalanche of ice and snow was roaring down the mountainside toward him and his allies. There was no way to outrun it or evade it. He and his two fellow Agori, Surel and his Iron Wolves, were all doomed.

In what he was sure would be his last few moments of life, he thought about all the artifacts he would never discover, all the mysteries he would never solve. Most of all, he thought about the map that had brought him north into the mountains, the one with the carving of a red star upon it. It would be easier to die if he could at least know the meaning of that symbol.

There was a flash of light so bright he could see it through his eyelids, and a wave of almost unbearable heat. Tarduk opened his eyes to see the mountainside ablaze, the flames so intense they melted the snow to water and turned the water to steam in an instant. The Iron Wolves growled and backed away, Surel going with them. The two Sand Stalkers the Agori rode reared up in panic and it took all the riders' skill to keep them from bolting.

Tarduk peered through the flames to try and see the ice warrior he had spotted before atop the peak. Yes, the crystalline figure was still there, his body language speaking of unbridled rage. "We need to get out of here, now," Tarduk said.

"What convinced you?" asked Kirbold. "The avalanche, or the firestorm?"

"The possibility of meeting the cause of either one," Tarduk replied.

This time, there was no need to worry about riding into the midst of the Iron Wolves; the fire had driven them all away. Surel, however, had lingered in the area. As they rode up into a pass, he emerged from behind a rock and hailed them.

"Go back," Surel implored. "There is nothing for you beyond here. Go back to the safety of your homes."

Crotesius laughed bitterly. "You obviously haven't been to one of our homes lately."

"That jet of flames," said Tarduk. "That wasn't natural, was it? That was the Element Lord of Fire who saved us."

Now it was Surel's turn to laugh. "Saved you? You are dust to him, not even dust. That was an attack on his frozen enemy. You were simply caught between them."

"Wait a minute," Crotesius interrupted. "I remember the Element Lords, and the armies, and the war, but the war ended more than a hundred thousand years ago."

Surel shook his head. "It ended for you, for their soldiers, and it ended for Spherus Magna, as all things did in that one horrible moment. But for the Element Lords, the struggle goes on."

Tarduk glanced behind. He saw no sign of anyone following them, and so thought it safe to continue. "A struggle over what?" he asked. "The core war was fought over energies from the heart of the planet, but the planet no longer exists. What is there left to fight over?"

Surel said nothing, simply raised a withered arm and pointed toward the north. Tarduk felt a chill run up his spine. He didn't bother trying to convince himself it was just from the cold. He dug into his pack and produced the fragment with the map. Surel glanced down at it; Tarduk heard a sharp intake of breath.

"The Red Star," he muttered. "The valley of the maze." He looked at each Agori and turned. "You seek the same secrets as the Element Lords, and you risk the same fate. The heart of the maze holds the last riddle of the Great Beings. Many have entered the valley in hopes of solving the puzzle. None have ever emerged again."

"Let me guess," said Crotesius. "You think we should turn back."

Surel shrugged, not easy to do with a body so badly twisted. "I think the Red Star burns in your eyes and your heart as it has for so many before you. I think you will go on, no matter what warnings I give you. And I know, I know you will die."

Tarduk glanced at Crotesius and Kirbold. Neither looked afraid, or maybe they were just hiding it well. And he knew Surel was right. He had to discover the secrets hinted at on this map, even if it meant riding into danger.

"You're right," Tarduk said. "We will go on. Can you help us, tell us anything about what's up ahead?"

Surel was silent for a long time, then he shook his head and said, "We live in a broken world, Agori, and in such a place, nothing stays whole and untouched. The stream of life gets diverted, dammed up, misdirected, and even," he said, glancing down at his own ruined body. "Distorted beyond all imagining. What awaits you to the north? A realm of lies, a place where a beauty hides a rotten heart, where trees provide no shelter, the air no cooling breeze, and where water does not quench your thirst. And the moment where you believe what you see or hear, touch or taste, it will be too late for you."

"Stop speaking in riddles!" snapped Crotesius. "If you have nothing useful to say, get out of our way."

In a flash, Surel drew a dagger and had it at Crotesius' throat. Tarduk could not ever recall seeing even a prime Glatorian move that fast.

"I could kill you now and spare you the horrors to come," said Surel, eyes blazing. "But you don't deserve such mercy. Ride on, Agori. Beyond this path is the forest of blades. All who travel through become one with nature, and beyond that the oh-so-welcome waters of the River Dormas. And if you survive, the maze waits for you."
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 5[/color]


Tarduk, Crotesius, and Kirbold had been riding for a full day. They had left Surel, his Iron Wolves, and his dire warnings behind, but none could forget his words. Kirbold had been silent since then, lost in his own thoughts. Tarduk was more watchful than ever, hoping to spot the next attack before it was too late. For his part, Crotesius had decided that Surel had gone mad after so many years in the mountains, and there was little point paying attention to the ravings of a madman.

Tarduk paused to glance at the metal fragment he carried with the strange map inscribed upon it. Yes, they were almost far enough to the north. Soon, it would be time to turn east, and head for where the symbol of the red star was located on the crude chart. Kirbold abruptly reined the Sand Stalker to a halt.

"I've changed my mind. I want to turn back," he said.

"We're not turning back," Crotesius answered without turning around.

"I don't even know what we're doing here," snapped Kirbold. "Who cares what's beyond the mountains? We have our own problems at home."

"Maybe the two are connected," offered Tarduk. "Maybe there's something up here who can help us deal with the Bone Hunters, the Vorox and the Skrall."

"We're here for a weapon?" Kirbold asked. "If there was something that powerful up north, the elders would have sent Glatorian to get it."

"Maybe they didn't want something like that in the hands of Strakk," muttered Crotesius. "Or Kiina, for that matter."

"Shut up!" said Tarduk.

"Hey, I have a right to say what I think!" replied Crotesius.

"No, I mean shut up, I think I hear something up ahead," Tarduk said.

All three went silent - now they could all hear it. A harsh, keening sound like the song sung by a chorus of the dead. It seemed to coming from a forest in the distance.

"It's the wind," said Crotesius. "You know, big blast of hot air, enough to knock a person over. Sort of like Scodonius after a win in the arena."

"I know it's the wind," answered Tarduk. "I just never heard wind like that before."

"The Forest of Blades," said Kirbold. "Up ahead. Maybe that's the place Surel was talking about."

"I don't see any blades," said Crotesius. "I see trees. That means maybe there's some fruit or something else we can eat. I'm hungry enough to eat Thornax stew at this point. Even cold Thornax stew."

Tarduk started to say something back, but even the thought of cold Thornax stew was so nauseating that he had to swallow hard to keep from getting sick. Crotesius had spurred his Sand Stalker on, and was riding ahead. Kirbold hesitated for a long moment before following. Sitting on the animal right behind Kirbold, Tarduk felt a moment of relief. He didn't want to lose a team member, and he doubted Kirbold would be able to make it back to Iconox safely on his own. They needed to stick together.

As the small band rode closer, they noticed something strange. Faint sunlight was glittering off what appeared to be swords sticking out of trees. It almost looked as if the forest was armed, as strange as that seemed.

"Must be a weird kind of tree to grow branches like that," said Kirbold. "I guess we know how the place got its name."

"Do we?" said Tarduk. "Look closer."

Kirbold peered through the morning mist. What he had thought was just a gleaming branch was in fact a sword, and it wasn't sticking out of the wood. It was held in the hand of a warrior trapped halfway inside the trunk of the tree. Kirbold gasped. He suddenly realized that there were scores of warriors here, their bodies merged with the wood of the forest, still clutching their weapons. It was as if the trees had reached out and grabbed them and wouldn't let go. He couldn't tell if the warriors were still alive or not.

"That's… horrible," he said.

"What do you think?" Tarduk asked Crotesius.

The Fire Agori just stared at the awful forest for a long time. Then he said, "No natural forest behaves this way. I hate to say it, but Surel was right. The Element Lords were here. This is power over plant life at work. These warriors might have been here since the War, for all we know."

"If they're alive, we have to save them," said Tarduk.

"That means going in there," replied Crotesius.

Tarduk nodded. Kirbold yanked on the reins, turning the Sand Stalker around.

"You can get off right here, Tarduk," said Kirbold. "I'm going back."

Tarduk knew he should argue with him, but he couldn't think of a good argument. The sane thing to do was to head back to the desert and try to forget this terrible place existed. But something told him there was more at stake here than the discovery of new knowledge or the solving of a puzzle. More and more, he felt like they were on a mission, and a vital one.

Without a word, Tarduk jumped down from the Sand Stalker. Then he climbed up onto Crotesius' mount.

"Be careful, Kirbold. The way back might be more dangerous than the way here."

Kirbold nodded towards the Forest of Blades. "Same to you, friend. I think you're crazy to go in there, but… I'll make sure everyone back home knows you were trying to help others… and…"

His voice broke and he stopped speaking. Tarduk leaned over and shook his hand. In their hearts, both believed they would never see each other again.

Tarduk waited until Kirbold was well on his way before asking Crotesius to get the Sand Stalker moving. Together, they rode into the cool, green shade of the forest. They were so close to the warriors that Tarduk could have reached out and touched their armor, but he did not. He was doing his best to be brave, but he knew if one of the trapped warriors should suddenly move, he would have to scream.

None of them did. The two Agori rode deep into the forest. It was silent. No birds sang here, no rodents scurried across the leaf-strewn floor in search of a meal. It was a garden of sorts, but it was not a place of life. At least, that was how it seemed to Tarduk and Crotesius, right up until the moment when the wind gusted again, the howling noise rose, and the branches all around reached out to seize them both.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 6[/color]


Before they could react, Crotesius and Tarduk had been yanked from their Sand Stalker. The forest around them had come to life, branches reaching out to grab them, and vines knotting themselves around the two Agori. In a matter of moments, they were tied to trees. Crotesius looked around, the countless warriors whose bodies merged with the wood of the forest, and wondered if that would be his fate, too.

"I've got a little knife I use in my digging," said Tarduk. "Maybe I can cut the vines and get free." With some effort, Tarduk got his hands on the blade, and sliced deep into one of the vines. The plant reacted instantly, wrapping one of its tendrils around his neck and squeezing until he was sure he would black out. It wasn't until he dropped the knife that the pressure eased. "I guess they don't want us to leave," he said.

Not far away, a mini-cyclone whipped leaves into the air. More and more plant matter was drawn into its wake until an entire segment of the glade was filled with leaves, vines, and branches, spinning furiously in the grip of a tornado. Then a being emerged from out of the storm itself.

At first glance, Tarduk thought he might have been made of plants. He was tall and green, with thorns jutting out from his arms and legs and intertwined roots crisscrossing his chest. His eyes were an emerald so dark they were almost black. His arms were long, with thick vines wrapped around them, and more thorns served as his claws. Even his sword looked like it was a green and growing thing, though sharp and deadly.

It was only when he took a closer look that Tarduk began to have doubts. Perhaps this being was a living plant creature, or perhaps it was simply armor that made him seem that way. Regardless, Tarduk had no doubt who he was: the Element Lord of Jungle, Master of the Green.

The newcomer looked at Tarduk, then at Crotesius, then he gave a gentle shrug, which sounded like the snapping of twigs underfoot. "You don't know the way," the Element Lord said. "You are of no use to me."

Tarduk was going to ask just what it was he was talking about, but Crotesius spoke first. "How do you know we don't know the way? Why do you think we're here?"

What are you doing? thought Tarduk.

The Element Lord walked up to Crotesius and scraped a thorny nail across the Agori's helmet. "You're Fire," he said. "Fire only knows how to destroy. I have seen Fire try to penetrate the Maze and fail time after time." He turned to Tarduk. "You came here by accident, but you are of the Green, Agori, so I will let you go. Your companion must remain, however, and join my Forest of Blades."

"I remember you," said Tarduk. "Before the war, you led my people. You made things grow. You brought life. How can you just kill, as if it means nothing?"

The vines abruptly released Tarduk, and he tumbled to the forest floor. When he looked up, the Element Lord's eyes were blazing at him. "Have you ever been to the deep forest, Agori?" he asked. "There the creatures live in perpetual darkness because the roof of the woods is too thick to allow sunlight to pass through. Vines strangle the trees, leeching the life from them so they can take their place and capture whatever light they can find. Every living thing profits from the death of another."

Tarduk spotted a faint gleam of light in the distance beyond the Element Lord. He didn't know what it was, but if there was any chance it was help on the way, he had to keep talking. "What are you that you could do this?" he asked.

"Once I was a warrior, like the ones held here," the Element Lord answered. "Then I and five of my brothers were chosen by the Great Beings for the honor of leading the villages of Spherus Magna. We were changed by their power, made one with our elements, and given armor and weapons to defend our people. We were no longer like Agori, or anyone else. We became nature itself, as benevolent, giving, ruthless, and indifferent as that can mean. We-" The Element Lord's eyes suddenly went wide.

He let out a ragged scream and whirled around in rage. Behind him, Kirbold had appeared, carrying a torch. He had lit the vines that had bound Crotesius on fire, and the Agori was free again. But the Element Lord had felt the pain of his creations, and Tarduk suddenly doubted very much any of the three villagers would make it out of here alive.

"The torch!" Tarduk yelled. "Throw the torch!"

Kirbold hurled the flaming stick. It landed at the Element Lord's feet, among the leaves. Yellow-orange fire erupted, feeding off the plant matter all around. In seconds the Element Lord was surrounded by a blaze burning out of control.

"Run!" shouted Crotesius.

The three Agori took off as fast as they could, dodging trees and leaping over rocks. Only Tarduk looked back. The Element Lord was gone. Not dead, he was sure, simply vanished back into the forest. Possibly he was wounded, but more likely he was marshaling his power to stop the fire before it consumed the wood.

Tarduk saw trees and brushes and vines burning, all so that he and his two friends could escape, and he wondered about the Element Lord's words: that every living thing profits from the death of another.

Those words would echo in Tarduk's mind for a very long time to come.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 7[/color]


Tarduk, Crotesius, and Kirbold had left the woods far behind them, if not the memories of what had happened there. They had traveled in silence for the better part of the day. Tarduk had not even bothered to ask Kirbold why he had come back. He was just grateful the Ice Agori had changed his mind.

For much of the past several hours the group had been riding along the banks of a river. Tarduk had no doubt this was the River Dormus that Surel had spoken about. It certainly did not seem dangerous in any way. It was a placid and calm body of water without even any rapids visible. That alone made Tarduk a little nervous. His experience on Bara Magna was that anything that looked safe and welcoming usually wasn't either. At the same time, having spent much of his life in a desert, the sight of running water was an appealing one.

Eventually they reached a point where the river had to be forded if they were to keep moving north. Tarduk scouted until he found a spot that looked shallow enough.

"We'll cross here," he said. "According to the map, we're not too far from where we're going."

"That's a pretty old map," said Crotesius. "How do we know that 'Red Star' thing is even still there? Or anything else? The Skrall probably stormed all through this area before they came to Bara Magna. I doubt they left much standing."

"You just don't want to cross the river!" joked Kirbold. "You Fire types don't like to get wet, right?"

Crotesius frowned. He walked right up to the edge of the water and turned around to face his two companions.

"Right, I made it past the mechanical wolves and the hungry trees and everything else on this trip, and I'm scared of a stream? I'll cross it right now, and then…"

There wasn't time to shout a warning. Behind Crotesius, a giant hand made of water sprang from the river. In the blink of an eye it had seized the Fire Agori and pulled him below the surface. Tarduk and Kirbold rushed to the spot heedless of their own potential danger.

"Do you swim?" asked Tarduk.

"I'll manage," said Kirbold. "What's the plan?"

"We go in after him," Tarduk answered. "Let's go!"

The two Agori had taken three steps into the water when the hand appeared again. This time, it grabbed both of them. The next moment, they were being pulled down into the river. To Tarduk's amazement, he wasn't drowning. Some air had been pulled down with them, and suddenly he had a bad feeling he knew why.

The Element Lord of Jungle wanted information from us, he remembered. If this is the Element Lord of Water at work, maybe he wants the same thing, and we can't tell him anything if we're dead. But what happens when he finds out we have nothing to tell?

The water was dark and cold. Tarduk focused on a pinpoint of light up ahead. As they rapidly grew closer, he could make out Crotesius suspended in the water inside an air bubble. Soon, he and Kirbold were floating beside him.

Before them, the underwater current began to twist and writhe. The waters reshaped themselves into the semblance of a face easily as tall as one of the Agori. Its hollow voice came at them from every side.

"Do you know the way?" it said.

"One of your brothers already asked us," said Tarduk. "You are the Element Lord of Water, right?"

"I have that honor," the Element Lord answered. "And what did you tell my brother?"

Tarduk glanced at Crotesius. The Fire Agori gave the slightest of nods, signaling that he would back whatever play Tarduk wanted to make. As it turned out, Tarduk didn't have to decide what to do next -- Kirbold spoke up.

"The same thing we'll tell you," said the Ice Agori. "Sure we know the way. Would we have come this far out if we didn't? But why should we tell you?"

The Element Lord of Water paused, as if he was actually considering his answer.

"Self preservation," he said, finally.

This time, it was Crotesius who answered. "Highly overrated. Better a dead hero than a live coward, I always say."

This seemed to set the Element Lord back a bit. He and his kind weren't used to backtalk. Around the three Agori, the waters began to churn.

"Do you know how it feels to drown, villager?" asked the Element Lord. "To feel your lungs fill up with water and your vision go black? I could make you feel that a thousand times, and worse, never knowing when you will be allowed to finally die."

"Sure you could," said Tarduk. "But if you try, we'll make sure it goes that one step too far. Dead, we're of no use to you. Dead, we tell you nothing, and you'll never know the way. But maybe if you tell us why you're so desperate for the information, we could make a deal."

The Jungle Agori couldn't quite believe what he was saying. All this being had to do was increase the water pressure and he could crush them into paste, but after such a long journey and so many dangers, Tarduk had had enough of riddles and threats. Whatever their reasons, the Element Lords were desperate for knowledge, and it was time to use that against them.

"Why?" asked the Element Lord. "Because at the end of the way, there is power to be had. Power enough to end the war the only way it can end. With a victory for one of us."

Tarduk started to point out that the Core War had ended a hundred thousand years ago, but then remembered something Surel had said: how the war had ended for the Agori and the soldiers, but not for the Element Lords. Their hate still burned, even in the depths of the water.

"We can't tell you," said the Jungle Agori. "It's too complicated. You know, if you make a wrong turn, well, that would be that. We would have to show you." Tarduk held his breath. The Jungle Element Lord had almost seemed able to read their thoughts - if this one could as well, they were doomed.

But the Element Lord of Water did not attack, or rage at them. Perhaps Jungle just assumed no Agori would be carrying this kind of knowledge.

"Very well," said the Water Element Lord. "You will go forth, and the waters will go with you. You will show me the way, and in return…"

The three Agori never got to hear what their captor was willing to trade. The temperature of the waters around them suddenly plummeted. Crotesius looked downriver, and his eyes widened. The water was freezing rapidly and the effect was racing right toward them.

The Element Lord of Water let out a yell of rage and frustration. Ice had found him again. Now his essence would have to flee the river, or risk being frozen to death. Before the eyes of the Agori, the face in the water dissipated. Their captor had vanished, leaving them behind.

"It's moving too fast," cried Kirbold. "We'll never make it to the surface in time."

"I'm sorry," said Tarduk. "I'm sorry."

A few feet away, the river water turned to solid ice, the surface to the bottom. Any living thing unlucky enough to be in the waterway was frozen instantly. That was about to include three very brave Agori.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 8[/color]


The first thing Tarduk noticed was that it was hot. Really hot. That made no sense; the last thing he remembered was being beneath the River Dormus, about to be frozen solid by rapidly advancing ice. The second thing he noticed was that his mouth was full of sand. He was face down in the stuff. That ruled out lying on the banks of the Dormus, since there was no sand there.

With a little reluctance, he lifted his head. He was in the desert, surrounded by ruins. It looked like there had been some huge battle here not long ago.

Tarduk got to his feet and swayed, overcome by a wave of dizziness. When it passed, he started looking around. Right away, he saw Crotesius and Kirbold. Both were unconscious, but alive and apparently uninjured. Kirbold was lying next to a big chunk of stone, half-buried in the sand. It had writing carved on it. Tarduk cleared away the sand and read: 'Atero Arena.'

What? thought Tarduk. It can't be. When we left to go north, the Atero Arena was whole, the Tournament was about to start. What could have done this?

Tarduk searched the ground frantically for some clue. He saw Glatorian armor and weapons scattered all around, obvious signs of a struggle. And one thing more: a Skrall shield, planted in the ground like a victory banner.

That was it, then. The Skrall had attacked Atero and destroyed it. And now… what? Were they attacking the villages? Or had they perhaps gone north to find the same place of power he had been seeking? He had to find out.

Words rang in his head, then. Someone, not long ago, had said to him, 'Rock is already unyielding. Give it the power of the Great Beings to wield and no world is safe.' But who had said that, and where?

He had a vague memory of an archway, a slab of stone, and someone speaking to him. And then he walked into the archway and… suddenly it all came back to him, a flood of memories surging into his brain. Yes, he had been underwater with Crotesius and Kirbold. They had been captives of the Element Lord of Water. Then the river began to turn to ice, as the Lord of that element attacked. The Water Lord had been forced to flee, and moments later, the air bubbles that had kept the Agori alive vanished as well. But they would freeze long before they drowned.

Desperately, the three started swimming for shore. Even as they did so, they could feel a disturbance in the water coming from upriver. Tarduk turned and saw a huge black shape racing toward them underwater. As it got closer, he saw it was a massive slab of rock. He barely had time to register that before he was flying up and out of the water, along with his two friends. Tarduk landed hard on the muddy shore. He turned in time to see three pillars of rock retreating into the water. The next moment, there was the sound of a great impact, and shards of ice flew up from beneath the river. The huge rock had smashed the oncoming wave of ice to bits.

Tarduk stood up. At first, he thought he must have hit his head when he landed. Standing before him was a mirror image of himself made from rock. But when it spoke, it was not his voice, but the unmistakable tones of a Skrall.

"Go back," said the duplicate Tarduk. "You do not belong here. The Maze is mine to conquer, not yours."

"We're not looking to conquer anything," said Tarduk. "We're just looking for answers."

"And some of us aren't even sure of the questions anymore," added Crotesius.

Tarduk expected the rock-thing to threaten them, or even attack. Instead, it just nodded. "You have encountered many dangers coming here, have you not? You are missing your homes."

Crotesius and Tarduk said nothing. Kirbold just nodded.

"Then I will not delay your journey," said the Element Lord of Rock, for who else could it be. "But I will warn you. Rock is already unyielding. Give it the power of the Great Beings and no world is safe. That power will be mine and no one else's. Travel on, learn what you must. Take nothing back with you. And never return." With that, the rock statue of Tarduk crumbled to dust.

"Maybe it is time to go home," said Crotesius.

"No, not after we've come so far," said Tarduk. "We're close, I know it."

The three Agori traveled along the bank of the river, keeping a watchful eye out for another Element Lord attack. A few hours later, they had reached the headwaters. There before them was a massive archway decorated with ornate carvings. Written across the top in Agori were the words 'Spirit's Wish.'

Tarduk was stunned at the sight: "I thought that was just a legend."

"You've heard of this?" asked Crotesius.

"Read a carving once that referred to it," Tarduk replied. "According to the story, anyone who passes through it gets the dearest wish of their spirit, or something like that. If it works, maybe we can get where we want to go right away, instead of more traveling on foot. It's worth a try."

"Doesn't look like we have any choice anyway," said Kirbold. "There's no way around it. We have to go through."

Steeling themselves, the three Agori walked beneath the arch. There was a flash of light, a horrible sickening feeling and then utter and complete darkness… until Tarduk woke up in the sand. And now it made sense. The arch wasn't some magical wish-granter, it was a teleportation device, just the sort of thing the Great Beings would build. It was designed to scan the mind of anyone passing under and send them where they wanted to go. Or maybe where the Great Beings wanted them to go. There was no way to tell.

But why did I end up here? wondered Tarduk. I wanted to go to the Maze. I wanted answers. Or was the Element Lord of Rock right? Did I somewhere, deep down, just want to go home? And so that's where it sent me.

Crotesius and Kirbold were on their feet now, looking around at the ruins of Atero in shock. Tarduk knew that they would want to head back to their villages and so did he. But once he was certain Tesara was alright, he was heading back north. He had to. This time, he would make it through the arch and find what he was seeking. This time, he wouldn't waver. Even if he had to go alone, he was making the journey. He had set out to solve a riddle, and it seemed some pretty powerful beings were trying to solve it too. It was still out there, tantalizing him, a question without an answer. But he would answer it somehow - and soon.

Tarduk looked to the north. His destiny lay that way, he know. And nothing would stop him from achieving it.

 
—TLH


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#19 Offline Reference Keeper Team

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Posted Jun 23 2011 - 02:53 PM

 

[color=#3A6378;]14: Sahmad's Tale[/color]

[color=#840000;]Back to top [/color]

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 1[/color]


My name is Sahmad. It may be a name you've heard around the home fires of the Agori or whispered by Glatorian as they stand watch. It's a name spoken with respect, and with fear, and that is how it should be. History will tell you that I am a monster, a slaver, someone who made a living capturing my fellow Agori and selling them to the Skrall. I'd be a fool to lie and pretend I did not do those things; of course I did. But there is more to the story than just that, and there is one thing you always need to remember about history: the winners write all the books.

I am a member of the Iron Tribe, not that you could tell by the color of my armor, that's intentional. Advertising that you were part of that tribe was probably, or still is, an invitation to be ostracized, mobbed, even stoned. We're not welcome in the nice little villages of the other Agori, good enough to share their food and drink, or clean enough to trade with. We're creatures for late night tales told to new guards: "Better stay sharp or some Iron Agori will get you."

It wasn't always this way, of course. A long, long time ago, well before the Core War or the Shattering, my tribe lived in the mountains of Bota Magna and worked the mines. We sent the iron we dug out of the rock to the Fire Tribe for forging, and in return they provided us with finished tools and weapons. We were rough and coarse, but we were honored for our hard work and treated like any other Agori. Iron Tribe members lived a life of hard, honest work, and didn't ask for anything more. Outside of some arguments with our neighbors in the mountains, the Skrall, we didn't have any conflicts with anyone.

When the end came, it came swiftly and quietly, like a dagger thrust to the back. A few miners working on the outskirts of our land began to act strangely. They were distracted, quarrelsome, and as days went by they got worse. Asked if they felt sick, they said no. The only odd thing that they could report was that their sleep had been disturbed, for they had stopped dreaming. Most of us laughed. After all, what mattered was the strength of our backs as we carved metal out of the rock and hauled it to the surface. What did it matter if our sleep was just that: sleep, unmared by illusions of fantasies. And if you can't dream, then you don't have to worry about nightmares, right? Wrong. If you can't dream, your waking life becomes the nightmare.

The affected miners went from irritable to violent in short order, and from violent to mad. Dreams, it seemed, are needed to release the bad energies that accumulate in all of us. Without them, the mind tears itself to shreds in time. Worse, what we now saw as a plague was spreading. More and more of my tribe lost the ability to dream. Those whose condition was far enough along would die raving lunatics. Those who were most recently infected were seized by horror and desperation, knowing the fate that awaited them.

Some of us seemed to be immune: myself, Telluris, a handful of others. Naturally our neighbors were curious about why we were still able to dream. None of us knew the answer. That didn't stop others in our tribe from talking of trying to find out, even if their efforts would mean our deaths. We banded together and hid in a cave, ready to defend ourselves against mad Agori who used to be our friends.

As things got worse, our village leader appealed to other tribes for help. The Skrall just laughed. The other tribes wouldn't even allow him to cross the borders into their lands. No one wanted the little bit of iron we still dug up, believing it somehow might carry the disease. All trade came to a stop.

When one of the still healthy Agori tried to join another tribe, he was driven off into the forest and killed by one of the beasts there. As far as we were concerned, he just as well may have been killed by the Agori who rejected him. Being a member of the Iron Tribe now carried a death sentence. If the plague didn't claim you, your one-time trading partners would.

Telluris came up with the idea of using minerals to change the color of our armor and helmets in the hope of passing as members of some previously unknown tribe and finding sanctuary. It was a stupid idea, but I went along with it. I don't need to tell you how well it worked.

Still, we survived. We watched our tribe die off one by one until there were too few left in any condition to threaten us. We made our escape, but there was nowhere to go. Add to that, none of us were sure if one of the others might be a carrier of the plague, and you could see why we chose to go our separate ways.

I headed south, not knowing Telluris was as well. I lived off what I could scrounge or steal. I saw the Core War erupt, and saw Agori killed by weapons made by iron my people had mined, and I laughed. When the Shattering happened, I was in Bara Magna. I had found a wagon and gained the loyalty of a Spikit in the only way possible; I fed it. I didn't know what the future had in store for me, but I had transport and I had hate. I would find a way to marry the two and gain my revenge.

Telluris took a different path. He started robbing the desert in a war machine based on the Skopio, acting like crushing a caravan or two would somehow make a difference.

I made other plans. I would turn the tribes' Agori into commodities. I would sell them to the Skrall and leave them wishing they had died in the plague along with my friends.

Much has changed in recent days. The Skrall have been driven from Roxtus, two giant men made of metal are battling in the sky for reasons I cannot imagine. I have no doubt the end of the world is upon us, but before that happens I have a task I want to perform. Somewhere, someone knows about what happened to my people. They know if the plague was accident or attack, error or experiment. Before Bara Magna crumbles to dust, I am going to find those answers. And if someone caused this fate to befall my tribe, then I hope somewhere they are dreaming of me, and waking up screaming.
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 2[/color]


I like to sleep. I like to sleep because I like to dream. Dreaming reminds me that I'm still alive.

Last night, I dreamt I was back in the village of iron, working in the cold and damp of the mines. The air was filled with the rhythmic ching-ching of pick striking stone. Spherus Magna was generous that day and we emerged from the dark with loads of iron. I stood upon a peak and saw the Rock Agori in the distance scrambling to and fro like spider beetles. Then they stopped and turned as one to stare at our village. I turned to see what they might be looking at, and that was when I saw the first Iron Agori vanish. One moment he was unloading the ore cart, the next he was gone. In the next few moments, more disappeared, and then more. I knew that something terrible was happening. I had to stop it.

I ran through the village in search of the woman I loved. When I found her, I took her in my arms and held her tight, and an instant later, my arms held only empty air.

Help. We needed help. I rushed down the mountain toward the Rock Agori, I shouted for them to aid us, but no one paid any attention. I screamed, I pleaded, to no avail. I moved to strike one of the villagers down just to get their attention. And then I looked down and saw nothing. I had disappeared.

I woke up in a sweat. I had camped not far from the Skrall River. I took off my armor and knelt on the bank, trying to wash away my nightmare. In the moonlight, I could see something massive in the distance. When I took a better look, I saw it was the Skopio vehicle Telluris had built, now sprawled out on the sand like the carcass of a dead animal. The owner himself was crouched beside it. I hitched up the Spikit to my wagon and rode to Telluris. He seemed to be in mourning.

"What happened?" I asked.

"They ruined it," my tribesman answered. "The Glatorian, they sabotaged it. It won't work anymore."

I always thought the Skopio was a gaudy waste of time and materials. No matter how big your weapon, someone else can always build a bigger one. You don't conquer your enemies with something they can see coming ten miles away. You do it by working your way inside like the larva of a spiked worm, making yourself a part of their society, and then blotting them out from the inside. The Skopio was Telluris' crutch, his way of throwing an armed and armored tantrum at the world.

"You can't fix it?" I asked.

He shook his head. "I don't have the parts."

I looked at him. In a couple days, maybe, he would think to stop missing his machine and get out of the sun. By then he would be in no condition to be of use to anyone. But unstable as he was, he was still Iron Tribe, one of the few left, so I owed him.

"Maybe we can find what you need," I offered. "I'm headed north. Come with me."

Telluris glanced up at me, then gestured to the dead Skopio. "I can't just leave it."

"It's not going anywhere," I answered. "And when we come back, we'll rebuild it, bigger and better than before."

Telluris got up and climbed in the wagon. I yanked on the reigns, and the Spikit started plotting north. I wasn't sure exactly where we were going, but I had an idea. If the death of my tribesmen wasn't an accident, then it was murder. And if it was murder, someone had to benefit from it. Whoever that someone was, I was going to make them pay for every dead Iron Agori. I couldn't return to the scene of the crime because Bota Magna had split off a hundred thousand years ago, and wasn't coming back. All I could do was go north and hope I learned something, preferably before the two robots slugging it out overhead wrecked what was left of Bara Magna.

We had been traveling for a few hours when the Spikit suddenly reared up, both of its heads arching in panic. Telluris jumped off the wagon. He pointed to something, shouted, but I had already seen it myself. A long, gray serpent was coiled in the sand up ahead, a serpent with blue eyes, and there was madness in those eyes.

"Kill it!" I said to Telluris.

My tribesman grabbed a blade from the wagon and advanced on the snake cautiously. It was some kind of a viper, poisonous to the extreme, and it was of no use alive. Dead, it would at least be dinner. Telluris raise the weapon and was about to bring it down when the snake reared up, as if it were going to strike, but instead of attacking, it spoke.

"Go ahead," it said, "Kill me. I can't take this anymore."

Telluris looked to me to see if he had gone crazy. I nodded to let him know I heard it too. I was reminded of some wild tale I had heard from a few Rock Agori. They were fleeing Roxtus after losing a battle to the other villages, and claimed an Ice Agori named Metus had been turned into a snake. Sounded to me like they had been eating too many rotten Thornax, but now... Well, there were plenty of weird things in the Bara Magna desert, but talking snakes isn't one of them.

"You're… Metus?" I asked the serpent.

It hissed in response.

"They said you were vowing revenge for what happened to you," I said. "Give up on that, did you?"

"I still want revenge," Metus replied. "Being turned into this monster wouldn't stop me, being turned into an insect wouldn't stop me, I would still find a way somehow if it weren't for…" He stopped.

I waited. When he didn't continue, I said "Except for what?"

The serpent slithered through the sand and looked up at me with pleading in his ice blue eyes. "I've stopped dreaming" it whispered.

Suddenly, the desert seemed to grow very quiet and still, and all I could hear was my own voice saying "It's starting again."

 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 3[/color]


I was standing on the desert sands, having a conversation with a talking snake. The sad part is, that was the bright spot of sanity in my day. And right in the middle of our exchange, the world ended. At least, that was how it felt to me.

First the shadow passed over us; Telluris started babling that the moon was falling from the sky; Metus burried his head under the sand. I looked up to see a massive celestial body passing overhead, a fragment of which slammed into the head of one of the two giant robots. The robot fell, and the impact knocked me off my feet. I made no effort to get up. If the world is coming to an end, might as well face it lying down. The second impact was, surprisingly, not as severe.

After a few moments, when no more robots were falling or moons flying through the sky, I lifted my head. Telluris was saying that Spherus Magna was whole again. He seemed excited about that. I didn't join in his celebration. You might wonder why I wasn't overjoyed to have the three segments of my planet one again. As anyone who has been on Bara Magna can tell you, it's very cold in the desert. I grew very cold over a hundred thousand years ago, and now all I can think of was that the beings who unleashed the dreaming plague on my people were on Bota Magna, they were now within my reach again.

I got to my feet and brushed the sand off my armor. It was time to leave. "Let's go," I said to my two allies.

Telluris wasn't listening. He was still caught up in the miraculous return of Aqua Magna and Bota Magna, but then that's why I have the whip.

"You know what comes next," I said to both of my companions. "After the celebration is over, the Agori are going to want to start cleaning up the mess. Anyone who doesn't fit into their little well-ordered social structure will get shoved aside or trampled over. I don't intend to be either."

Metus looked unsure of what to do. He had stopped dreaming some time ago. The sickness had him. Within weeks, maybe days, he would be a raving lunatic, but before then I needed him. As he started toward where the Agori and Glatorian stood, I brought an armored foot down on his body and pinned him to the sand.

"Think about it," I said. "I heard all about you. You think they're going to welcome you back? You're an embarrassment to them at best. T hey let you off with your life last time. Show your face again and they'll make a pair of boots out of you."

"What do you want of me?" the serpent, who had once been an Agori, asked me.

"I want to know everywhere you've been since you left Roxtus and everything you've done. I want to retrace every inch you crawled. Somewhere along that route is a clue to what happened to you and my people, and we're going to find it."

Immediately after the battle in Roxtus, Metus had headed north into the mountains. Some of those mountains were gone now, reduced to pebbles by the battle between the two robots. But he said it wasn't until he had passed through them that his dreams ceased, so perhaps whatever I was looking for lay beyond.

He showed us where he had camped, near a pool. Had he drunk from it?

No.

What had he eaten?

"Rodents," he said.

"Did they taste strange in any way?" I asked.

"They were rats!" Metus snapped. "Of course they tasted strange!"

"There must be something here," I said, looking around here, "something that infected you."

"Maybe it's not something physical," said Telluris. "Maybe it's a… curse or something. Anyway, no one from our tribe would have traveled this far from the village, so how can this spot be the cause?"

"Perhaps whatever caused the plague moved on once its work was done," I answered. "Or maybe..."

I stopped. I had spotted something not far away, mostly hidden under plant growth. It was a scar on the earth in the shape of a rough triangle, perhaps three feet wide at its base. I crouched down to see if there was a hole, but none could be seen, just a pattern carved into dirt and rock.

"Look around," I told the others. "See if you can find another mark like this."

We searched for an hour. There was no sign of any other triangle on the ground, nor any sign of who or what might have made this one. Was it a footprint? The track left by a mechanical device? Or some natural phenomenon I simply had not seen before?

I turned to ask Telluris his opinion, since he had seen much in his travels in the Skopio, but he was gone. Metus insisted he had not seen where he had went to.

I followed my tribesman's footprints in the soft earth until they stopped in the middle of an open patch of ground. The dirt had been disturbed here, as if something had swept it clean.

I heard a soft sound behind me. I turned to see a sickly red tentacle covered in spines slithering up from beneath the soil. Before I could speak it wrapped itself around Metus and dragged him down into the ground. I didn't know whether to laugh or scream as a second tentacle briefly appeared to brush the dirt back into a normal pattern before it, too, vanished underground.

I aimed my Thornax Launcher at the spot and fired. It blew a hole in the ground, sending a shower of earth and rock into the air. When the dust has cleared, I saw no trace of my two allies, or their attacker. Whatever had taken them was gone.

I was furious, frustrated, stymied at every turn. Just when I had found the first sign of an answer, it might be snatched away from me. At any moment, the tentacles might return. I had no way to reach Telluris or Metus, and no hope of survival if I stayed. But if I left… If I left, I may never solve the mystery that plagued me. My people would go unavenged.

I stood, right on the spot where Metus had disappeared. "Come then!" I shouted. "Attack! Drag me down! But before I die, creature, I'll know your truth."

I was still standing there as three tentacles grew, winding from the earth and wrapped themselves around me. There wasn't even time to yell as the sky above me was replaced by earth and clay, as I was ripped from the realm of light and sent hurtling down into a world of shadows.

 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 4[/color]


I was dead. Three grotesque tentacles had erupted from the ground, wrapped themselves around me, and dragged me down to my death. That was the only explanation, for if I wasn't dead, then I was mad, and I'd much prefer extinction to insanity.
If you have been following this chronicle up to now, you know that I, Telluris, and an intelligent Agori turned serpent named Metus have been searching for the cause of the Dreaming Plague that had wiped out the Iron Tribe ages ago. Our investigation had not gone well, considering we evidently wound up a meal for a monster. But the world beyond death was not at all what I expected.

I was lying on a cot in a large room. There were perhaps three dozen other cots, half of them filled with wounded or ill Agori. Now and again a water Agori would walk by, bringing food and drink to my companions. When she noticed my eyes were open, she dropped her tray and rushed over.

"Sahmad, you're awake!" she said, smiling.

Agori do not smile at me. Sneer, yes. Curse, certainly. Even spit on occasion. But smile, never.

Hence my belief that if I was not dead, I was in an asylum of some sort.

I tried to sit up. My body refused to cooperate.

"Where am I?" I asked.

"The healer's chamber," she answered. "We thought you would never awaken."

"Let me rephrase my question," I said. "Where am I?"

"Where?" A light dawned in her eyes, "Oh, of course you wouldn't know. This is the city of New Atero on Bota Magna. You were found on northern Bara Magna and they took care of you as well as they could down there until things were ready here."

Yes, she was mad. There was no New Atero, certainly not in Bota Magna. And if they found me, they would have found my two companions, but I didn't see either of them here.

"Telluris, Metus, they were traveling with me. Where are they?"

My deranged new friend looked uncomfortable. "We never found Telluris. Metus survived for a few months, they even used the mask to turn him back into an Agori, but it didn't help. I'm sorry."

"I'm surprised you bothered," I said. "The three of us were not exactly popular with the majority of the Agori."

"That was a long time ago."

I recognized that voice. It was a little older, a little rougher, but it belonged to Kiina, the water Glatorian. Sure enough, there she was, her armor more battle scarred and her left arm hanging useless at her side.

"Really?" I said. I didn't think there was a time limit on hatred.

"A great deal of change after the fall of the Skrall," Kiina answered. "You missed all of it. You've been asleep for 750 years, Sahmad."

There was a moment then, just a moment, mind you, when I felt rattled. I mean, it could have been true. The monster might have chewed us up and spat us out. Someone might have found Metus and I and kept us alive. All Agori and Glatorian might be living as brothers and sisters in a beautiful new city, ready to welcome even survivors of the Iron Tribe into their arms.

And Thornax fruit might taste like boiled Skopio meat, and the Great Beings might be handing out gift baskets of implants, but I wasn't ready to believe that either.

I pushed myself up off the cot, ignoring my body's protests. The Agori handed me a stick I could use to support myself. She tried to talk me out of leaving the chamber. I told her I had places to go.

Outside, the city was as busy as a nest of dune spiders. Agori and Glatorian ran here and there, interacting with other beings, large and small. The strangers seemed more machine-like somehow. Yet at the same time, their movements were too fluent and graceful to be purely mechanical.

My first thought was that they would make good slaves. I guess old habits die hard.

It all looked, sounded, and felt real, but I knew it wasn't. If I hadn't been sure before, Kiina's appearance had quenched it. I don't care how much time had passed. She would never appear at my bedside except to stab me. And 750 years was not enough to wipe out over 100 millennia of suspicion, fear, and disgust. Someone wanted me to think this was a brand new world. But in my heart, I knew it was the same old one. Worse, even. Before there had been someone to fight. Who did you battle when the enemy was determined to stay hidden?

As I looked around at everyone wavering together for the greater good, I kept thinking, Who's dream is this? It certainly wasn't mine. My people were dead. They couldn't enjoy all this peace and good feeling, and if they couldn't benefit from it, I didn't want to either. I would just have seen New Atero go the way of old Atero.

I was pondering ways to make that happen when I spotted a flash of familiar armor. The metal bore the colors of latter-day Iron Tribe, post-plague. Okay, now I admit it, I was intrigued. Was this supposed to be some sort of survivor who made his or her way to the city and found acceptance? If there was one in this fantasy, could there be more? I wondered what if there was a grain of truth to all this? What if any Iron Tribe member who showed up in this illusion really was alive somewhere. Was that the point of this, to point me in the direction of other survivors?

I started to run, pushing my way past Agori and their mechanical helpers. I rounded the corner and wound up in the middle of a market. Tables were piled high with armor, food, cloth, pieces of art. I spotted my quarry at the far end of the square, turning into a side street. I kept moving, knocking over display stands and provoking angry exclamations all around. Ackar, a Fire Glatorian, tried to stop me, but he was too old and too slow.

I took the corner at top speed and skidded to a halt in the soft earth. An Iron Tribe member was standing in the center of the street, aiming a Thornax Launcher right at my head. But this wasn't just any of my brethren. This was the women I loved, who died from the dreaming plague more than one hundred thousand years ago. I started to say her name. She fired her weapon. The Thornax sped toward me. I felt an impact against my helmet, saw a flash of light, heard the dull roar of an explosion, and then I was dead. Again.

Darkness became light. I was back in the healer's chamber. This time, there was no water Agori, no Kiina, No Agori of other tribes in cots. All I saw were Iron Agori. The attendant stopped to stare at me. The patients sat up in their beds and they all spoke at once in the same voice.

"We thought you would be stronger, Sahmad. But you were just as weak as Telluris, Metus, and all the rest. Still, we can take some comfort. Weak souls taste lovely, after all."

 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 5[/color]


There are some days when you feel like every weapon in the world is loaded and aimed at you. There are some days when you know that even your best friend, if you had one, would be pointing you out to a Skopio as a possible meal.
I was having one of those kind of days. Let me explain.

I was sitting in an illusory healing tent facing a bunch of Agori who weren't really there, yet were all talking in the same voice. And they weren't sending warm greetings, they were talking about...well, let's just say they were good at making threats and leave it at that. Was I afraid? Sure. But just like you could take a Thornax fruit and turn it into a weapon, you can take fear and turn it into anger. Fear is a rock you can hide under. Anger is a rock you can throw at someone else.

"Are you going to show yourself?" I asked my unseen host, "Or just keep talking through your made-up Agori?"

Laughter filled the room. It sounded like crystal being shattered and then being ground into dust.

"You think the beings seen before you are the products of my imagination?" my captor asked. "Then look again."

The Agori were shimmering, fading, and in their place stood Sisters of the Skrall, maybe a dozen. I began to regret my question. I knew what the sisters could do to your brain. But there's a saying, "You don't get across the Skrall River by just dipping in your toe."

"So the sisters work for you? Are they responsible for what happened to the Iron Agori of the dreaming plague?"

There was that laughter again. I was starting to hate that sound. "The sisters are silly little fools," came the answer. "They actually believe a Great Being vested power upon them. It was I that gifted them with the psionic powers they wield. I thought it would be amusing to see them destroy the males of their species. But, like you, they were too weak, and allowed themselves to be driven out. They didn't have the will to conquer, and now they have no will at all.

"And was that what the plague was, just another one of your experiments!?" I demanded.

The mouths of every sister opened, and the same answer came from them all. "Experiment? Oh, no. That was lunch."

The Sisters of the Skrall dropped to the ground then, as if their legs could suddenly no longer support them. A pinpoint of light appeared near the far wall and rapidly grew larger and larger. My host was making his appearance. I was about to confront the being who wiped out my tribe.

Imagine staring directly into the sun, and the reddish streaks burned into your eyes, taking the shape of things too hideous to describe. Even when you close your eyes, look away, it makes no difference. You know you've seen something you can never erase from your memory. Would you be fortunate to stay sane, or would that be the worst possible luck?

"I hungered," said a voice from the center of the sphere of light. "And when I hunger, I feed. The dreams of your people were a very satisfying meal. Enough so that I did not need nourishment again for many years. Of course, once I was done, your people had no dreams left. But they, like the dreams themselves, were hardly to be missed."

I needed a weapon. I needed something to blow out this malevolent sun that was still expanding. It filled the room with light, but no heat. Just a bone-chilling cold that made the desert night seem tropical. But I had no weapon. Anger, defiance, stubbornness, willingness to die to avenge my people, those I had in abundance. They would have to do.

"Nice light show," I said. "Pretty fancy for something the Great Beings made and threw away. That is what you are, isn't it, another one of their projects gone wrong?"

The light flared brighter. Crimson tentacles erupted from the glowing sphere. I barely avoided their grasp.

"I existed before your Great Beings were born," said the creature. "I sensed their coming and wondered if they might pose some threat to me. I even tried to touch them with madness, but their minds were too... strange. Their minds fed on mine. They took the dreams from me and that energy inspired them to greater and greater feats of creation, and I was forced to hide in the depths of Spherus Magna."

Hide and wait, I thought. And while waiting, it got hungry. And the Agori paid the price.

I heard noises behind me. I glanced over to see Metus and Telluris rushing in. Or was it them? Last time I had seen Metus, he was a snake. Now he was walking on two legs, like any other Agori, and there was nothing serpentine about him.
"Dreams," said the creature, whose brightness filled the room now. "Is he a snake, who dreams he is an Agori, or an Agori who dreams he is a snake?"

"Come on!" said Telluris. "We have to get out of here!"

I admit it. I hesitated. I wasn't sure if my allies were real or more figments of imagination. By the time I made a decision, the Sisters of the Skrall were back on their feet and heading for us. We ran then, one fellow tribe member and one Agori who shouldn't have been able to run. We ran through tunnels who stretched for miles, ran until we saw the light shining from the surface up ahead. Telluris let out a whoop and forced ourselves to keep going. On the surface, in the sunlight, everything would be alright. We would relieve our fears behind us in the dark and find a way to banish their source forever. All we had to do was make it to the light. And we did. We climbed and clawed our way back to the surface, back to the bright Spherus Magna's morning. For now we were safe.

Only it wasn't morning. It was the middle of the night. And the light we had seen, the light we had run to through all endurance was not the sun. It was the thing. The creature we had tried so hard to escape, it was on the surface, it was freed from whatever had forced it to hide below ground for so long. And somehow I knew it was hungry.

 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 6[/color]


A long time ago, I stumbled upon a nest of desert leeches. If you've never seen one, they’re disgusting little things. They nest on the ceilings of caves and that’s where their young hatch. The babies hung to the roof waiting for someone to pass underneath. Then, they rain down on you, attach themselves to any exposed flesh and feed on your life energy. When you find yourself under a nest, the first thing you feel is anger. “How could I be so stupid as to walk into a cave and not look up?” And then the horror hits you, dragging your guts down to the ground, turning your arms and legs to water, making your spirit clench like a fist.

It’s the worst feeling you can imagine. And it’s how I was feeling right now as I watched the thing that had wiped out my people, manifesting itself on the surface of Spherus Magna. It was bellowing its triumph in my head. I could hear it shout its name “Annona” as it exulted in being free after so many years underground. And it only stayed hidden out fear of the Great Beings and last time I checked, no Great Beings were around.

This wasn’t good news. I looked at my two companions. Telluris was never a picture of sanity to begin with and this experience was close to rendering him catatonic. Metus was a greedy, backstabbing crook who’d been turned into a snake by this Mata Nui guy with a magic sword or some such thing. Now, he was back to walking on two legs. Not sure how.

“What are we standing here for?” he was saying. “We need to run away.”

I shook my head.

“Run where? Do you really think there’s anywhere this thing couldn’t follow? All we would do is wear ourselves out and make things easier for it.”

“I’ll get my Skopio,” Telluris babbled, referring to the war machine he built from scratch a while back. “That- that will save us.”

“Your Skopio is a pile of junk,” I snapped. “Not that it wasn’t much more than that when it was intact. No, we’re going to need something more than that to stop something that turns snakes back into Agori.”

Metus looked at me like I was crazy.

“Annona didn’t do that. What are you, nuts? Mata Nui never intended that snake thing to be permanent, I guess. Or maybe something happened to him. I don’t know. All of a sudden I was back to being myself again. Although granted, I still have a craving for rodents.”

Through all this, Annona’s radiance kept getting bigger and brighter. It looked like a star, a Red Star, although I can’t recall seeing a star with tentacles before. It was scouting- I guess is the best word for it. It fed on dreams. It would seek out a community and take that dream energy from them, driving them all mad in the process, and I had no idea how to stop it. Maybe it couldn’t be stopped.

I felt it pause. It had sensed a feast waiting for it. Where? Would it be back in the desert where the Bara Magna Agori were assembled or in some village in Bota Magna? Could its reach even extend to other worlds?

All I knew was someone was on the menu and they had to be warned or they would end up like the Iron Tribe. Annona flared brightly. It was getting ready to leave, heading for its next meal. I started to run.

“Come on,” I yelled. “It’s not going without us.”

“You are crazy,” said Metus. “I’m not going anywhere near that thing.”

“Telluris, get moving,” I answered. “This thing; it’s going after your Skopio, you need to stop it.”

That was enough to get Telluris moving, but Metus was rooted to the spot.

“Stay,” I told him. “You’re only in the middle of nowhere, unarmed, with no idea how to get home, and no home to go to. Why should you come with us? After all, you have so much to lose.”

Metus cursed and started running toward us. Together, we leapt into Annona’s radiating sphere, even as it blinked out of existence. The next thing I knew, I was drowning. By sheer instinct I kicked toward what I hoped was the surface. My head broke the water and I gasped for air. When I had my breath again I looked around stunned.

I was in Aqua Magna. Metus and Telluris were nearby, gasping and choking. In front of us, about fifty yards away, was a stretch of beach and beyond that, rocky cliffs. Perched atop one of the cliffs was a fortress, gleaming in the moonlight, bursting with defenses, and looking impregnable.

And there was Annona, slowly rising towards that fortress. I didn’t know whose fortress it was or who lived in it. I only knew they were all dead if Annona reached it. The three of us swam for the beach and started scrambling up the cliffs. Annona hadn’t noticed us or, if he had, simply didn’t care. But I knew we would never reach the top before it did. Our fight was over before it started. Sure enough, Annona vanished from view well before we made it to the top of the cliff, particularly given what a poor climber Metus turned out to be.

The sight we saw when we reached the fortress was something out of a nightmare. Weird warriors, heavily armed, powerful, with what looked like grins plastered on their faces were busy battling empty air. Annona had diverted them with illusions just as it had us. Now it would conceal itself and feed until these warriors and anyone else here were dead. The radiance moved toward the vast doors of the fortress. Nothing stood in its way.

Nothing that is, until the doors burst open from the inside, and something stepped out into the night. The newcomer was twelve feet tall with golden skin and rippling muscles. Its eyes and face were vaguely reptilian and it looked at Annona through the narrow slits of those eyes.

“I have come to feed” said Annona “surrender.”

The golden being smiled.

“You feed on dreams and we would not exist without them. They are food to you but we take them and make them real and in so doing, we conquer and enslave and thus it would appear you are destined to go hungry this night.”

Annona flared brighter, its radiance blinding. I couldn’t see anymore- only hear its voice and that of its new opponent.
“And who will deny me my feast?” asked Annona. “You, a pitiful amalgam of lesser races, bandits, thieves, and, yes, one thought dead, an experiment in desperation? You would stand against me?”

I don’t know for certain what happened next. I heard a sound like the sky ripping open. The ground shook violently beneath me and then I heard Annona screaming and one thing more.

The golden being said simply, “Yes creature, I would stand against you.”
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 7[/color]


I came to the shores of Aqua Magna once in my life, back when I had a life – and a tribe, friends and love. I was there to scout a trade route. Coming from the mountains, I had never seen so much water before. Even though the shoreline was rocky and desolate, it still looked like the most amazing, and in some ways terrifying, thing I had ever seen.

Since then, I have seen my people wiped out, my planet shattered, and a thousand other things that would make most people’s nightmares idle daydreams. But I… I had never seen anything quite like what I was seeing now.

Annona, all crimson and fiery brilliance of it, was in agony. Spears of rock had suddenly erupted from the ground and pierced the energy being, and it writhed in pain. How mere rock could affect someone so powerful I didn’t know. But it might have had something to do with who it was fighting.

The golden being didn’t have a name, at least not one I knew, but I had learned a great deal about him in the last few moments, as he watched his enemy fading. He was made from other beings, species whose names I had never heard before; kept referring to himself as ‘we’ and ‘us’, which was kind of creepy. But his argument with Annona was easy to see.

“The dreams of my people give me life,” said the golden being, “and in return I make their dreams real. And they dream of your death, Annona.”

“I know all this,” Annona replied. “Why do you think I sought you out, creature? Dreams are my meat and drink. With them, I am power. Without them, I am nothing.”

The golden being shrugged and turned away. His followers, warriors who had been fighting empty images conjured up by Annona, followed. Evidently, Annona was too busy dying to be able to keep his illusions up.

“It makes no difference to me what you are,” said the golden being dismissively, “as long as you are dead.”

For just a moment I felt satisfaction. The creature that had destroyed my tribe was going to die, and if it wasn’t by my hand, it still felt like justice had been done. I should have known better.

All around the golden being his warriors began to collapse. Some sank to their knees, some doubling insanely, others drew their weapons and started advancing on their leader. Taken off guard, I guess the golden being’s power weakened. Annona wrenched himself free of the spikes, a peal of laughter coming from its core.

“I have always preferred to eat my meals slowly,” it said. “I have never before tried consuming all the latent dream energy in beings all at once. But I see the result is the same. Madness. Now, my friend, I believe the topic at hand was imminent death?”

The golden being actually looked scared. I didn’t like that at all. Behind him, his fortress was starting to waver and blur. Worse, there were… things appearing in the windows. Others slithering or crawling across the landscape.

“You… imbecile!” the golden being cried. “You don’t understand. I bring dreams to life, even the dreams of the mad. Do you realize what that means?”

I did. All the sudden I was going for a walk through the head of my pal Telluris – the ground was buckling, the fortress was melting, and as for the warriors… I don’t get sick easily, but the dreams of the deranged are pretty horrible things.

Annona was going brighter. I doubted it had ever had so much energy inside it at once. As if it wasn’t dangerous enough before, it looked about ready to incinerate anyone who got too close. I wanted to run back to the ocean and swim across the planet, but I knew there was no place on this world that was safe.
A few of the warriors reacted to Annona’s approach by raising their weapons and charging. It was the last bad decision of their lives. The fortress was completely gone now; the horizon was full of jibbering things, some practically formless, some with forms you could still see even when you closed your eyes.

The golden being was retreating back toward them, but he was off balance and rattled. It was going to be over in a matter of minutes. That’s when Telluris broke: he vaulted out of our hiding place, screaming and waving a branch he had picked up from the beach. He headed right for Annona.

If this were a tale, Metus and I would have risked our lives to try to stop him. But it’s not a tale. Not that kind anyway. And neither one of us was going to die for Telluris. He wasn’t worth it. I’m not sure anyone is.

I’ll give him credit, he got within striking distance of Annona, but that was all he got. He died in mid-scream. It was a stupid, reckless, idiotic way to go, and I was about to repeat it, but I didn’t plan on dying today. Then again, there’s an old saying, “If you want to make the Great Beings laugh, tell them your plans.”

I was betting on the golden being having the power to take out Annona if he got the chance to use it. That meant getting my enemy of his back for a few moments. I thought I saw a way to do that. The only things the golden being had created that were still intact were those rock spikes. I didn’t know why they had been able to hurt Annona, maybe someone dreamt they could, but they had. They were about to hurt him again.

“Come on!” I said to Metus. “We need to break off one of those spikes.”

“Are you crazy?” he predictably answered. “I’m not going out there.”

I put a firm hand on his shoulder.

“Do you remember when you were a snake?” I asked. “Remember how that felt?”

“Sure,” said Metus.

“Well, I can make you feel a lot worse, and I don’t need a magic sword to do it,” I growled. “Now come on!”

Together we made a run for it, dodging crazed warriors and hoping Annona was too drunk with power to notice us. We made it to the nest of spikes all right, but then cheerful Metus pointed out a little problem.

“They’re solid rock,” he said. “What are we supposed to use to break them?”

I was tempted to suggest that we use his head. Instead, I noticed one of the spikes had been weakened when Annona wrestled itself free. With Metus’s help, I snapped it off. It wasn’t a very long weapon, but the pointy end was intact, and that was all I cared about.

“You stay here,” I told Metus. “If I fail, try to break off another piece and try yourself. What am I saying? You’re going to run as soon as my back is turned. All right, if I die, don’t tell anyone how. I don’t want people thinking I was quite this insane and idiotic in my final moments.”

I hefted the spike and I ran. As I got closer to Annona, I realized I had to close my eyes or be blinded, so I did. As soon as the heat became unbearable, I knew I was as close as I dared get. I reared back and threw the spike as hard as I could. I heard a sizzle. Then I heard a scream.

You know, a scream can be a delightful sound if the right person is doing it. I stumbled backwards until I couldn’t feel the heat anymore. I took a chance and opened one eye. Annona had stopped moving forward. The rock spike was… buried… near one of its energy tentacles joined to its main body. It was positioned just right to that its tentacle couldn’t reach to pull it out. It wasn’t a fatal blow, far from it, but it had slowed him down.

That was when I saw the golden being. He was looking right at me. Somehow I could hear what he was saying even with him so far away. Then I knew what I had to do.

Both of those powerful entities thrived on dreams. Annona fed off the kind you have at night, good or bad. The golden being took the ones you had in your heart, or the darkest parts of your soul, the aspirations, hopes, wishes – and made them real. There were a hundred ways he could attack Annona, but only one that would really hurt.

I closed my eyes again; I dreamed a dream. And in my dream, no one on Spherus Magna, no one in any world, anywhere near, could dream or wish or hope. I dreamed that there were no more dreams. I opened my eyes again and I felt it: the emptiness, the void left behind when dreaming stops. This was how my tribe had felt just before they died. But this time the energy had not gone into Annona, it had not gone anywhere. It had just ceased to be. The golden being had made the last dream real.

I saw him falter. I saw Annona flare up. Suddenly, it knew that even if it won today, there would be no more meals. It would be trapped on Spherus Magna as its inhabitants went mad and died, but it would starve long before the last Agori perished.

I expected Annona to rage and scream; instead it just hovered in the air and spoke directly to the golden being.

“You did this,” it said. “Why?”

“Perhaps… because monsters belong in dreams, rather than dreams in monsters,” the golden being replied. “Or perhaps… I just want you dead.”

There was a long silence. Then Annona said, “A deal.”

“What sort of deal?”

“A dream, of another world filled with other beings where I can live and feed. Your empire will be safe and I will be sated.”

The golden being pondered the offer for a while and then said, “Agreed.”

I started to protest and then something made me stop. I realized that I could have dreamed Annona out of existence before, but didn’t. Maybe because somehow I knew it wouldn’t work. If the golden being could have eliminated Annona that easily, he would have done so. Yet here was a second chance to do the job, and do it with some style.

“Sahmad will dream the dream,” the golden being said.

“No,” Annona answered. “I do not agree.”

“I have given my word to you,” the golden being said. “Sahmad will not dare to violate that.”

He was right. I had no need to violate it. I was going to give Annona just what he asked for. I closed my eyes. I imagined a lush green world, a paradise. I imagined there Annona free to feed with its heart content. And I imagined a population to feed off of, each and every one of them a being just like Annona. They would feed off each other and within a year and not one would be left.

I opened my eyes and looked at Annona as it faded away.

“Caught you,” I said.

When he was gone, the golden being approached me.

“You could have dreamed me out of existence as well, I’m surprised you did not.”

I looked him up and down. He was a weird one, and probably too clever by half, but for right now…

“You’re not my problem,” I said. “That thing was, and now it’s not. So we go our separate ways.”

“For now,” the golden being said. “After you give the world back the gift of dreaming.”

“And give you back your power,” I said. “All right. Done.”

“You will hear from me again, you know,” the golden being said. “I will not be content to stay on this spit of land forever.”

“Let me know when you and your army are coming,” I answered. “Maybe I’ll join up.”

I could have had him make me a boat, but I decided to walk. Annona was as good as dead and there was a lot going on in Bara Magna worth seeing these days. Not that I would really walk on to be a part of it. Metus either, wherever he had run off to. But that was all right. If I was right, they were going to have more trouble than they knew how to handle pretty soon, and I would enjoy watching their misery. As for me, I was heading north to the mountains. There were people I had lost a long time ago that I could finally say goodbye to. After that… well, that will be another tale entirely.

 
—TLH


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#20 Offline Reference Keeper Team

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Posted Jun 23 2011 - 03:00 PM

 

[color=#3A6378;]15: The Yesterday Quest[/color]

[color=#840000;]Back to top [/color]

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 1[/color]


“...And that’s the job Tahu Nuva wants you to do,” said Onua. “It won’t be an easy one. We don’t know if it is even possible. But it was Mata Nui’s wish that --”

“We find the Great Beings. We know,” Toa Orde cut in. “I’d read your mind before you even started talking. But I’m still not clear on why.”

Toa Chiara shot a narrow bolt of electricity from her finger. It struck the hunk of metal Orde was sitting on. The jolt made him jump to his feet.

“Less time reading,” said Chiara. “More time listening.”

Orde moved toward Chiara, about to say something unpleasant. She rose up to confront him. Onua sighed, ready to unleash an earth tremor to knock them both back to the sandy ground. He needn’t have bothered. The third Toa present, Zaria, made a gesture and both Toa dropped like rocks.

“Sit down and be quiet,” Zaria said quietly. “I want to hear this.”

Onua smiled. Apparently, including a Toa of Iron in the group had been a good idea, after all. “Thank you. As you know, the Great Beings created Mata Nui so that he would someday repair the damage done to Spherus Magna. He did that, and when he was done, he said we had to make sure the Great Beings knew their mission had been accomplished. Seems like a reasonable request.”

Orde shot a baleful look at Zaria. With a shrug, the Toa of Iron released him from the grip of his metal-controlling power . Orde got back to his feet. “Why isn’t Tahu going, if this is so important?”

Onua didn’t hesitate to answer. When you were dealing with a Toa of Psionics, there wasn’t much point in being dishonest anyway. “Let’s say there are... issues. It’s taking the Agori some time to learn to work together after so many years of competing, especially with the immediate danger apparently over. And many of them aren’t too sure about how they feel about Matoran yet.”

Chiara had been freed from Orde’s power too, but still lay on the ground. She hurled a bolt of lightning into the sky, which then split and took on the semblance of Tahu Nuva. “So he’s, what, negotiating for our side? Wouldn’t Gali be a better choice?”

Onua sighed. “Gali has her own mission. Tahu is working with Ackar and Kiina to resolve these disputes. You three are going to Bota Magna, to start with... from there, it’s impossible to say.”

Zaria spoke, never lifting his eyes from the ground. “Why us? We don’t know each other. We never worked together before.”

Onua nodded. Zaria was right. It had been many long nights talking with Toa and Matoran before he, Tahu and Gali had made their choices:

Orde, for all his attitude, had once used his powers to save a dozen trapped Matoran from a band of Dark Hunters. The Matoran escaped; Orde didn’t. He was finally saved by the rest of his Toa team, but not before enduring days of interrogation. Only his strength of will had kept him sane.

Chiara had a reputation as a loner, unusual in a Toa of Lightning. But she didn’t really need a team. During the Visorak invasion, she had single-handedly snuck into the spiders’ camp and electrified the colony drones. Anytime the Visorak came near to feed off the drones’ energies, they got jolted. Deprived of their food source, they had to disperse to look for more. Chiara took advantage of this to pick them off one by one until she had eliminated more than 50.

Zaria was a different case altogether. He was one of the last of the Toa of Iron, having seen most of his friends killed by Makuta. Somehow, he had survived the purge, even managing to destroy one member of the Brotherhood. It had been necessary, but also a violation of the Toa code against killing. It was believed that the experience left Zaria feeling like an outcast, in more ways than one. There were rumors that he began routinely slaying his enemies, but no one was certain if that was the truth. What was sure was that he was a driven being, one who needed somewhere to focus his energies. He had to have a mission, so Tahu decided to give him one that would test even his powers.

“We know the target,” said Chiara, “but we don’t know the territory.”

“She has a point,” said Orde. “None of us have been more than a couple of miles from the site of Makuta’s fall. We don’t know what might be between us and the Great Beings, if they are even up there.”

“That’s why I’m coming along.”

The three Toa turned to see a white-armored Glatorian walking toward them. He moved with the easy grace of a veteran of battle, the sort of fluid movement they all knew could morph into a deadly strike in an instant.

Before the Glatorian could say anything more, Orde said, “His name is Gelu. He’s going to be our guide, but he’s not too happy about it.”

Gelu took three quick strides and held his ice slicer up to Orde’s throat. “Good one,” said Gelu. “Why don’t you take a guess at what I’m going to do next?”

A lightning bolt sizzled between the two of them. “It’s too hot to fight, boys,” said Chiara. “I say if we’re going, then let’s go. It has to be more fun than watching Toa of Water hauling equipment out of Metru Nui all day.”

Gelu relaxed. Like Chiara, he was used to working on his own. Now he had to be a leader. Onua hadn’t told him why he was picked for the job, maybe because the Toa of Earth didn’t know... or didn’t want Orde to find out.

“Your mounts are ready,” Gelu said. “We have enough supplies for a week, then we forage. You’re going to see a lot of strange things on this trip. I’ll let you know which ones to worry about.”

“Fair enough,” said Chiara, standing and brushing the sand off her armor. “But who’s going to tell us if we need to worry about you?”

 

In another place...

Angonce, one of the Great Beings, had fought down his fear. It would do no good to panic at this stage. He had to be calm and go through the situation point by point. Maybe then he would find an answer.

When the Great Beings created the Mata Nui robot, their plan was a simple one. Mata Nui would return when the time was right, heal the shattered remains of Spherus Magna, and then power down. Neither it, nor the beings inside who kept it running, would be needed anymore. Some Great Beings wanted to keep a few intact to study; others felt the materials could be better used in other projects. No one advocated letting Toa, Matoran, etc. run free on Spherus Magna. They weren’t independent beings with a right to life and liberty, after all. They were tools to be used to keep the Mata Nui robot functioning... weren’t they?

Things had not gone quite as planned. There had evidently been glitches in the AI of Mata Nui, Makuta, and the Great Beings’ other creations. Instead of a simple repairing of the planet, there had been a robot war and the bizarre sight of nanotech creations nobly sacrificing themselves in battle and, in many cases, dying to save others. That was not the behavior of bio-mechanical servitors. That was an actual, new species fighting and dying for its freedom.

Ordinarily, this would have been a cause for celebration. But at the same time that the Great Beings had failed to predict the future, they had also planned a little too well.

During the Core War, the Great Beings had unleashed a “doomsday weapon” that came to be called “baterra.” Their role was to end the war by force by eliminating any armed combatant they encountered. Once it became inevitable that the Shattering would happen, the Great Beings tried to use their failsafe to shut the baterra down. It failed, and the baterra remained active to this day.

That failure made them think about how much power each Toa would have. If something went wrong upon Mata Nui’s return, and the Toa were unleashed, the Agori would stand no chance against them. Suppose the Toa went bad? Suppose they wanted to conquer this new world? If so, then once again Spherus Magna would be in mortal danger as a result of the Great Beings’ actions. That could not be allowed to happen.

They had little time, but they put it to good use, designing and building a new creation. It existed for one purpose, and one alone: to destroy Toa. The Great Beings believed no single Toa, or team of Toa, could hope to stand against it. It was christened Marendar, an Agori word meaning “salvation,” and placed in a vault.

Angonce knew the abrupt appearance of so many Toa on Spherus Magna might well activate Marendar. He hurried to the vault, but too late – the living weapon had already smashed its way through three feet of metallic protodermis and was gone. It would carry out its programming and kill any and every Toa on the planet.

They think they have found a new world, the Great Being said to himself. How could they know nothing waits here for them... but death?
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 2[/color]


The team had been traveling for several days when Toa Chiara finally asked Toa Orde the question that had been on her mind. Being a Toa of Psionics, he already knew the question was coming and could have answered it days ago. But he preferred to wait until she came to him.

“So,” Chiara said casually, “why aren’t you female?”

Orde had heard this question more than a few times in his long life and usually didn’t bother to answer. But he knew Chiara wouldn’t leave the issue alone until her curiosity was satisfied.

“I know, I know,” he replied. “All Psionics Matoran, Toa and Turaga are female, and I’m male. Simple answer is, I’m the reason they’re all female.”

Seeing the puzzlement in Chiara’s eyes, Orde smiled.

“I was the first Psionics Toa, and one of the first Toa ever created,” he continued. “But I was, let’s say, a little too … aggressive in using my powers. I had a temper then. A short fuse plus psionics leads to bad things … sometimes very bad things.”

“Like what?” asked Chiara, intrigued.

“You know the Zyglak? Those savage, brutal monstrosities that hate everything to do with Mata Nui and think everyone looks better with a dagger in them? Well, they didn’t used to be that bad. Oh, they were nasty and violent, but … see, my first job was to calm them down a bit. And, well, it didn’t quite work out that way.”

“Oh, no …” said Chiara.

“What can I say? I got annoyed and pushed when I should have pulled.”

“That still doesn’t explain why --”

“After that, someone decided that maybe a gentler touch was needed for Psionics … so all the subsequent Psionics types were made female.”

“Right,” said Chiara. She shot a bolt of electricity from her finger, frying a lizard that had been sunning itself on a rock. “We females are so gentle, after all.”

At the head of the column, Gelu glanced back, annoyed. He had warned the Toa about unnecessary talking as they crossed the border into Bota Magna. There was no telling how much this region had changed in the years since the Shattering or what dangers might be waiting. Bad enough to be saddled with a fool’s errand – finding the Great Beings, indeed, might as well try to find a sweet-natured Skrall – but the Toa seemed to be in no hurry to take his advice.

They were riding into a narrow valley bordered by deep woods. It was lush and green and the cool breeze felt good after so many years in the Bara Magna desert. Most travelers would focus on the fruit-bearing trees or the grasses waving in the wind. All Gelu could see was a perfect spot for an ambush.

“Orde, are you picking anything up?” he asked.

The Toa of Psionics nodded. “I thought I did … a lot of minds, all buzzing at once … but then something blanked it out. Either my power isn’t working right here, or else there’s a really powerful mind in the region that’s interfering with reception.”

“Zaria, Chiara, take the flanks,” Gelu ordered. “Be ready.”

The four adventurers rode in silence down a well-worn path covered with all manner of animal tracks. Gelu guessed they were not far from a water source. The local wildlife must have made the trip many times. The proximity of fresh water was the good news. The bad news was that predators would frequent an area like this, looking for any prey that might be heading for a drink.

There was a sudden flash of lightning off to the right. Gelu, weapon drawn, turned to see it was not a natural phenomenon. Chiara had hurled her electric power at something in the woods, but only succeeded in blasting a tree to splinters.

“I saw something,” she insisted. “But then it was gone.”

Orde shrugged. “I still have nothing.”

Gelu gave Chiara a look that said he didn’t doubt her word. He was getting the familiar feeling of being shadowed. He wished they could get off the path, where they were so exposed, but the woods were too thick for the mounts to make it through. They would have to take their chances.

Something exploded behind Orde’s sand stalker. The beast reared, almost throwing the Toa, then charged forward. Then there were more explosions all around and all the mounts panicked. The three Toa struggled to control their galloping animals, and Gelu found he wasn’t doing much better. The sand stalkers’ flight carried the riders almost to the other end of the valley. Too late, Gelu spotted the net rising up off the ground in front of them.

“Watch out!” he shouted.

The mounts charged into the net, which gave but held. Jolted by the sudden stop, the riders fell, getting tangled up with the net and their animals. The net was pulled roughly backwards and closed around them. Gelu looked back to see who was dragging them across the valley floor and was shocked to see it was Vorox.

“What in Mata Nui’s name are those?” asked Toa Zaria.

“They’re not much better than beasts,” Gelu answered. “We had them in Bara Magna. They live in packs, hunting for fresh meat under the command of the strongest male in the tribe. The Skrall treated them like wild animals, and that’s not far wrong. But this net doesn’t seem like something they would think to use …”

That was when Gelu took a second look at their captors. They weren’t carrying the crude weapons Bara Magnan Vorox sometimes did. Instead, each one wielded a sophisticated ranged weapon of a kind Gelu had not seen since the Core War. It fired spheres of explosive force, and despite the age of the equipment, it obviously still worked well. The tech level should have been well beyond the backwards Vorox, yet here they were using them like professional soldiers.

A single Vorox, taller and stronger than the rest, approached the net. This would be the alpha male, thought Gelu. If he decides we’re a possible meal, he’ll signal and the rest will fall on us before we can make a move. So let’s hope we don’t look appetizing.

The Vorox leader bent over and sniffed the air. Then he shifted position and did it a few more times. Finally, he rose, looked at Gelu, and did something remarkable – he spoke, in perfect Agori, saying, “Your kind, I know. These others are … unfamiliar.”

“You … you can talk?” asked Gelu.

“Naturally,” said the Vorox. “How do you think we communicate, grunts and screeches? You are confusing us with our southern brethren.”

Seeing the question on Gelu’s face, the Vorox continued. “Yes, we know all about the Vorox of Bara Magna and their fall from glory. But we are Bota Magna Vorox. When the Shattering happened, we found ourselves trapped here, in what turned out to be a paradise. There was plentiful food and water and we wanted for very little. Thus we never faced the challenges the desert Vorox did, nor did we fail at them so spectacularly. I am Kabrua, by the way, the leader of this society.”

Chiara had heard enough. She nodded to Zaria. On a whispered count of three, she used her electrical powers to burn through the net, even as Zaria triggered his control over metal to try to seize the weapons of the Vorox. As soon as the first Vorox felt his weapon being pulled from his hand by the Toa’s power, the scorpion-tailed creature opened fire. Both Toa were knocked off their feet by the explosive force. Chiara was knocked unconscious and Zaria lost a chunk of his shoulder armor.

Orde started to rise, struggling against the net. Gelu saw a dozen weapons swing toward him. “Orde, stop!” he yelled. “Just … stop.”

“Very wise,” said Kabrua. “My people are suspicious of strangers at the best of times. Strangers with the ability to create lightning or make objects move -- the world would be a far safer place if such beings were dead.”

“Congratulations on speaking complete sentences,” said Orde. “Sounds like you’re just as bad as your barbarian cousins.”

Gelu wasn’t listening to the argument. He was busy thinking. Bota Magna had only rejoined Bara Magna a short while ago, so how did Kabrua know about the state of the Bara Magna Vorox? And where had his people gotten those weapons? They were rare even during the war. Information they shouldn’t know plus tech they shouldn’t have added up to one thing – these Vorox might be in contact with a Great Being or at least have found one of their lairs.

“What do you intend to do with us?” asked Gelu. He was hoping Kabrua planned to keep them alive, so he could get some answers from the Vorox leader.

“I know something of how the Vorox were treated in the desert these past years,” Kabrua answered. “Hunted, hounded, treated like monsters … all by the so-called intelligent races. Perhaps it might be a good idea for you and your companions to experience some of what they experienced … it could prove to be a valuable lesson, if inevitably your last one.”

Kabrua turned to his tribesmen. “Take them to the city. Tonight, we feast …” The Vorox leader eyed Gelu and the Toa with a gleam in his eye that said he was not so very far from the savagery of his brothers after all. “And tomorrow … tomorrow, we hunt.”
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 3[/color]


Gelu, Zaria, Chiara and Orde stood at the edge of a thick forest. Their wrists were bound behind them. Nearby, three Bota Magna Vorox stood, weapons at the ready. A fourth held a flare.

“Good sport,” said one of the guards.

“Haven’t had any like this in a long time,” said another.

Gelu’s mind raced. It had been his job to get these “Toa” through the wilderness in safety, and so far he had failed miserably. They had been netted like amateurs by what turned out to be intelligent Vorox, whose leader, Kabrua, was angered at the treatment of his more barbaric cousins in Bara Magna. Thus he decided his captives would be the quarry in a hunt.

“It’s absurdly simple,” Kabrua explained. “You will be marched to the edge of the woods. At a certain point, your bonds will be cut and you will be free to run. One of my soldiers will light a flare to alert us to your starting point. Then I and my hand-picked trackers will hunt you down and kill you.”

“Why? We’ve done nothing to you,” Gelu had responded.

“Your kind has persecuted mine throughout Bara Magna,” Kabura had said. “That means you forfeit your life. Any who travel with you must share your guilt.”

It was a bad situation, but Gelu knew all hope wasn’t lost. They had taken away his weapon and those of the Toa, apparently not realizing that Toa did not need weapons to use their powers. That was going to give them an edge Kabrua would regret.

One of the guards slashed their bonds. “Run!” he barked.

Zaria glanced at Gelu. The Toa of Iron had wanted to fight as soon as they were freed, but Gelu had vetoed the suggestion. It would be easier to ambush Kabrua and his party in the woods. Gelu gave a nod and the four broke into a run, heading into the thick brush.

Almost immediately, it became clear it would be slow going. Thick growth and a dense concentration of branches meant progress was being made at a crawl. Frustrated, Chiara started using her electrical power to blast a pathway for them. “Stop it!” Gelu ordered. “You might as well be waving a sign telling Kabrua where we are.”

Zaria pointed up ahead to a rocky outcropping. “Chiara and I can take cover under there and blast them when they come by. You and Orde can be the bait.”

“Thanks,” said Orde. “Remind me to do the same for you one day.”

“He’s right,” said Gelu. “It’s a good plan. I can hear them coming up behind us. You two better get ready.”

Zaria and Chiara took up positions. Orde and Gelu stayed out in the open, even slowing their pace to make sure Kabrua could spot them. Within a few moments, the first Vorox tracker broke through the brush behind them and shouted that he had spotted the prey.

Kabrua and the rest of the hunting party were there in an instant. Gelu and Orde started running, with the trackers right behind them. Gelu waited for the sounds of the Toa’s attack … but it never came.

“I see only two of you,” Kabrua shouted. “The other two are in hiding, waiting to launch an ambush. Oh, yes, I know all about Toa power and how it works. As your friends have discovered, I also know how to shut it off.”

“Shut it off?” said Orde, incredulous. “You can’t shut off a Toa’s power. That’s like shutting off the ability to breathe!”

“Don’t look now, but that trick is next on the program,” Gelu replied. “Is your power still working?”

Orde reached out with his mind to try to read the thoughts of the Vorox. All he got back was dead silence. “No,” he answered, desolation in his voice.

“That settles it then,” said Gelu. “Kabrua must have information on the Great Beings. Who else would know how to turn off a Toa?”

Orde picked up a heavy branch. “Then let’s go beat it out of him.”

“No. We run,” Gelu decided. “He hasn’t found Zaria and Chiara. We have to lead the trackers away from them.”

The two started running east, directly away from where the other two Toa were in hiding. Something had been bothering Gelu. If Kabrua could shut down Toa power, why not do it from the start of the hunt? Why was Chiara able to use her power before? The only answer he could think of was that whatever Kabrua was using, it didn’t work at long range.

He looked behind. Kabrua and two of the trackers were following, but the other two had stayed behind. That clinched it. He couldn’t afford to leave the two Toa behind and risk their powers coming back, so he had left some of his soldiers behind, no doubt with the power-dampener.

Orde heard the sound of water rushing up ahead. “River – I think I have an idea.”

The two had managed to get far enough ahead of the trackers that they were nowhere in sight. They ran into the river, but Orde stopped Gelu from crossing all the way. “They’ll spot our tracks on the opposite bank,” the Toa said. “But not if we go up.”

Gelu smiled. With a boost from Orde, he reached a tree branch up above the water. Then he helped the Toa up. The two of them scrambled higher up into the tree where they could not be easily seen from the ground.

“Orde, I want you to do something for me,” said Gelu. “When Kabrua goes by, use your power. He got his information on Bara Magna and you Toa from someone. We need to find out who.”

“He might sense the probe,” warned Orde.

“It’s your mission,” said Gelu. “You can make the call. We can go back and rescue Chiara and Zaria and get out of this valley, just keep searching, if you like. Or we can take a chance and maybe learn something.”

“All right,” said Orde. “But be prepared. This can be a two-way street. He might wind up knowing exactly where we are.”

After a few moments, Kabrua and his trackers appeared. They saw the tracks leading into the river, but couldn’t spot any leaving. “They probably swam,” said Kabrua. “But they have to come out somewhere. We’ll search the banks going upriver and down.”

Up above, Orde closed his eyes. His mind brushed against Kabrua’s and encountered no resistance. He pushed a little harder, peeling away layers as quickly as he could to find the information he sought. Finally, he got a glimpse, no more than that, of the truth. But before he could fully explore it, he could feel Kabrua sensing the intrusion. Orde pulled back swiftly, hoping to escape detection.

He and Gelu waited. The Vorox shook his head, but did not look up in their direction. The Vorox no doubt knew they were somewhere in the area, but didn’t know where.

“What did you learn?” Gelu whispered.

Orde gestured for him to wait. Kabrua was looking around. Then, frowning, the Vorox crossed the river and started to search the opposite bank.

“All right,” said Gelu. “We’ll give it a minute and then head back for the others. What did you find out?”

That was when Gelu noticed the look in Orde’s eyes. Even though they were mechanical receptors of visual stimuli, somehow they still managed to reflect emotion – in this case, shock.

“It’s insane,” Orde muttered. “It’s … more than I can believe.”

The Toa turned to Gelu. “When the Great Beings made Mata Nui … one of them wanted to see, to know, exactly how their creation would function. So, without the knowledge of the others, he … I guess the best word is ‘transferred’ his spirit, his intellect, into one of the bio-mechanical beings they had made to inhabit the Great Spirit.”

Gelu looked puzzled.

“Don’t you see?” Orde said in a harsh whisper. “One of the beings from my universe … one who is on your world now … is really a Great Being. He’s been living among us all this time, hidden, fooling us all.”

“And he gave the information to Kabrua,” Gelu said. “Why?”

“I don’t know,” said Orde. “I had to break contact before I learned who he was. But he’s been waiting over 100,000 years to return here, concealed in another body … and I saw flashes of what he has planned for this world. He has to be stopped, Gelu … if there’s still time.”

 
—TLH


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#21 Offline Reference Keeper Team

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Posted Jun 23 2011 - 03:04 PM

 

[color=#3A6378;]16: The Powers That Be[/color]

[color=#840000;]Back to top [/color]

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 1[/color]


Toa Gaaki sat on a rock, exhausted. Along with a handful of other Toa of Water, she had been working for days to help sea creatures and other ocean dwellers to migrate from the ruined Makuta robot to the safety of Aqua Magna. It was grueling work, particularly after the most powerful of their number – Gali Nuva – was called away by Tahu for a special mission.

She created a gentle rain to cool herself down. The drops were colder than she expected and Gaaki actually shivered. She turned and saw the reason for the temperature change. Kopaka, Toa Nuva of Ice, was approaching.

“Have you seen Tahu?” he asked urgently.

“Gone north, with Gali, to search for a site for New Atero,” Gaaki answered. “What’s the matter?”

“The Toa Mahri are in danger,” said Kopaka. “Most likely, we all are. As much as I hate to admit it, I think it is more than I can handle on my own.”

Gaaki didn’t know Kopaka well, but she had heard enough stories to realize that an admission like that meant serious trouble. Not for the first time, she regretted the fact that she had no real control of her Mask of Clairvoyance. It would give her a flash of the near future when it chose to, not at her bidding. She didn’t need a mask power, though, to see how drained Kopaka looked.

“You’re tired,” she said. “I don’t know when Tahu will be back, and it sounds like whatever you found can’t wait. Give me the story and my team will check it out.”

Kopaka related how he had seen a band of barbaric Skakdi, trailed by an apparently subservient team of Toa Mahri, on a journey across Bara Magna. Both groups were following a strange, gold-skinned being, the like of which Kopaka had never seen before. As he watched, the being created a massive castle with just a wave of his hand. He had raced back to camp to warn the other Toa and find help.

It was against Kopaka’s nature to let someone else do his job for him. But he had to admit that Gaaki was right: he was exhausted. Going into battle this way would put both himself and any allies in jeopardy. She promised him the Toa Hagah would only scout out the situation and would check with him before taking any action.

Kopaka spent much of the day observing the efforts of the salvage teams, assisting where he could. Toward evening, he crossed paths with Pohatu Nuva and the two worked together to create a cooling shelter for those laboring in what was left of the Bara Magna desert. That was what they were doing when a strange Toa of Air came stalking across the sand toward them.

“How could you let them do it?” the green-armored Toa demanded. “How could any of you let them do it?”

Pohatu triggered his Mask of Speed and flashed forward to intercept the newcomer. “Slow down,” said the Toa Nuva of Stone. “Do what? What are you talking about?”

“Karzahni,” the Toa spat. “The most twisted, evil, sadistic excuse for a living being I have ever met – and someone set him free. He’s on this planet somewhere, and I’m going to find him.”

“That’s fine,” said Pohatu, trying to keep his gruff voice soothing. “Maybe my friend and I can help. But it would help if we knew who you were first.”

“My name is Lesovikk,” said the Toa of Air. “And I don’t need your help. Just tell me where to find Karzahni and I’ll take care of the rest.”

Pohatu shrugged. “No idea. Never met him.”

“The Toa Mahri have dealt with this Karzahni,” said Kopaka. “But they are … occupied at the moment. Still, we know him to be extremely dangerous. If he is on the loose here, we will organize a search come dawn.”

Lesovikk shook his head. “Dawn will be too late. We have to find him now. If you want to help, you can pick up my trail at first light.”

With that, Lesovikk disappeared into the growing darkness. Pohatu watched him go. “Intense,” he said.

“Indeed,” said Kopaka.

“Kind of reminds me of someone I know,” said the Toa of Stone.

Kopaka glared at him. “I can’t imagine who.”

 

The next morning, Kopaka and Pohatu set out to follow Lesovikk’s path. Kopaka had made arrangements that if Gaaki and the Toa Hagah returned with any news, he was to be notified immediately. The Toa of Air’s trail went east, toward the village of Vulcanus. As they neared that site, shifting sands obscured any signs of Lesovikk’s passing.

“Maybe he veered off this trail,” Pohatu said. “We might have missed it.”

“Perhaps,” said Kopaka. “Or perhaps he decided it was wise to cover his tracks.”

“I’m going to scout ahead,” said Pohatu.

“Be careful.”

“Don’t need to be,” the Toa of Stone replied, grinning. “I’m fast.”

Pohatu disappeared. An instant later, he was back. His smile had not returned with him.

“You had better come see this,” he said. Grasping Kopaka, he used his mask power again, racing the two of them across the sand. They came to a stop at the edge of Iron Canyon.

“Look,” said Pohatu.

Kopaka peered over the rim of the canyon. At the bottom, he could see the shattered remains of a figure.

“Dead?” asked Kopaka.

“Extremely,” said Pohatu. “Wait. It gets better.”

Pohatu whisked Kopaka down the steep slope to the bottom of the canyon. Even the Toa of Ice, who had seen his share of gruesome sights, was struck by the horror of the scene. It only took a moment’s glance to confirm that the corpse matched the description Toa Jaller once gave of Karzahni.

“So he was fleeing the camp, made it this far, stumbled and fell into the canyon,” said Kopaka. “Bad way to die, but it happens.”

If he died from the fall,” Pohatu replied. “Look at his back.”

Kopaka knelt down. There was a gash in Karzahni’s armor. It could have been made by a weapon, or just by one of the jagged rocks as he fell.

“And now look at this,” said the Toa of Stone. He held out his hand. In it, he grasped a sword with a curved blade. Kopaka had seen its like before. Lesovikk had been carrying it.

“You think …?”

“Could be,” nodded Pohatu. “He finds Karzahni, stabs him, and his enemy goes over the cliff into the canyon.”

“If that’s true, he has violated the code of the Toa,” said Kopaka. “We have to bring him down.”

Pohatu started to reply, then turned at the howl of the wind. A cyclone was hurtling through the canyon, directly at the two Toa.

“If we can, brother,” said Pohatu. “If we can.”
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 2[/color]


Pohatu reached out to grab Kopaka. A burst of super-speed and they could both outrace the oncoming cyclone. Kopaka shook him off.

“Some things, brother, I can do for myself,” said the Toa Nuva of Ice.

With that, Kopaka unleashed a blast of ice from his blizzard blade. It formed a wall three feet thick across the canyon. The cyclone hit it head-on. The ice wall began to fragment. Kopaka applied more power to shore it up.

“Why don’t we just --?” said Pohatu.

“Quiet,” Kopaka answered. “I have to concentrate.”

Pohatu shrugged. Sometimes, Kopaka chose to do things the most difficult way, just to be stubborn. In fact, most of the time he did that, and it never bothered Pohatu all that much. But doing it now, when they were standing over a dead body with a potential murderer on the loose, seemed like bad timing.

Triggering his mask power, Pohatu shot off toward the cyclone, vibrating through Kopaka’s ice wall as he went. Racing around and around it counter to the direction of its spin, he cancelled out the whirlwind’s power. It dissipated rapidly and Pohatu skidded to a stop on the rocky ground. He looked back toward Kopaka, but all he could see was the white wall. Annoyed, Pohatu kicked a boulder at it, punching a hole right in the center. Through the hole, he could see a startled Kopaka.

“The best defense is a good offense, right?” said Pohatu.

“Not when you’re trying to prove a point,” snapped Kopaka.

Pohatu sped back to the side of the Toa of Ice. “Which was?”

“Think about it. If Lewa sent a cyclone at someone, would a wall – any wall – stop it? Or would he just make his creation go up and over the barrier? But this whirlwind just kept battering the wall.”

“So Lesovikk wasn’t here to direct it, or …” began Pohatu.

“Or he didn’t create it in the first place,” finished Kopaka. “Sometimes a cyclone is just a cyclone … not an attempt to destroy evidence.”

Pohatu looked around the canyon floor. It was dotted with caves, rocky outcroppings, and a thousand other places someone could hide. “Can we get out of here? This place has ‘ambush’ written all over it.”

Kopaka gestured to the corpse of Karzahni. “I think he’d agree.”

 

The two Toa gathered up the body and brought it back to the Agori/Matoran camp. Tahu and Gali had returned from their scouting mission to the north. The Toa of Fire listened to the news with a grim expression. When Kopaka had finished telling the story, Tahu knelt to examine the body. After a moment, he rose and walked away, beckoning Kopaka to follow him.

“This is bad,” Tahu said quietly. “We have to earn the trust of these Agori and Glatorian if we want to carry out Mata Nui’s wishes and build a peaceful society here. We’re a long way from finding a site for New Atero. All we need right now is some rogue Toa running around pursuing his private wars.”

“Lesovikk is still our best suspect,” Kopaka agreed. “But we have no idea where he’s gone.”

“I do,” said Tahu.

 

“We saw him heading north,” Gali said to Pohatu. “And, come to think of it … I don’t think he had his sword with him.”

Pohatu frowned. “Well, that’s not good. But why leave it behind?”

“I don’t know,” said Gali. “Maybe someone should go ask him?”

“Maybe so,” Pohatu replied. “So how did your trip go?”

Gali shrugged. “Not so good. We searched all over, but nothing looked right to Tahu. We’re a long way from finding a site for New Atero. But we’ll get there. We owe it to our people and the people of Spherus Magna.”

Pohatu nodded. A cluster of Agori nearby caught his attention. They were whispering among themselves and pointing toward the Toa. Rumors were already spreading about a murder in the desert. Pohatu wondered if the Agori were thinking that he and Kopaka had not just found the body, but had done the killing.

Looks like we have one more reason to find Lesovikk, he thought. And it had better be soon.

 

The next morning, with mounts and provisions, the two Toa headed north. Tahu had offered to come along, but Kopaka said no. “If the Agori are getting suspicious of us, we need our leader here to keep a lid on things,” the Toa of Ice had reasoned. “You and Gali talk with Ackar, let him know what’s going on. Pohatu and I will handle the rest.”

Now, a few hours’ ride from the camp, Pohatu thought it was time to pose the question. “So how are we going to handle him?”

“What do you mean?” asked Kopaka.

“Look, we fought Tahu back on the island when he had that Rahkshi poison in him,” said Pohatu. “And other Toa have gone bad in the past and had to be stopped. But … he’s still one of us, and there aren’t too many of ‘us’ left these days. Besides, from what I hear … if he did kill Karzahni … he had good reason.”

“Maybe that’s the problem,” said Kopaka. “He felt he was justified. Karzahni was an abomination, after all. But fighting monsters is what we do. If we start thinking we have good reason to kill them, and we do it, then we become no better than they are. We’re meant to be defenders, not executioners.”

“I’m just saying …”

“I know what you’re saying … believe me, I do,” said Kopaka. “But there’s a fine line between being a hero and being a monster. If Lesovikk crossed it, we stop him. Cold.”

 

The two Toa rode north for three days. The land turned from brown to green, lush forest replacing sand dunes. They saw no sign of Lesovikk or anyone else. More than once, Pohatu wondered aloud what had happened to Lewa, the Toa Nuva of Air. Perhaps one air-wielder would be able to find another more easily, he suggested. But Lewa had vanished before the defeat of Makuta and not been seen since.

For his part, Kopaka was focusing on the murder. All the evidence pointed in one direction, but what if it wasn’t the right direction? Sure, Lesovikk had means, motive and opportunity to kill Karzahni, but so did a lot of others. For that matter, what if this wasn’t about Karzahni, not personally?

Pohatu didn’t get where his friend was going. “Someone stabbed him with a sword and pushed him over a cliff. How is that not personal?”

Kopaka shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s simply … what if it wasn’t about something Karzahni had done, so much as what he represented?”

“Crazy people with patchwork masks and really bad attitudes? Yeah, I can see Karzahni representing that.”

Before the debate could go any further, Kopaka held up a hand to signal for silence. Something was moving in the forest up ahead. Lesovikk? Someone else? Kopaka summoned his elemental energies, prepared for an attack.

Nothing could prepare either Toa for what happened next. A scream ripped through their minds, one made up of pure agony and something more … complete shock. The mental cry was so powerful both Toa fell from their mounts, hands covering their audio receptors. That did no good. The scream wasn’t a physical one, but a telepathic one, and it brought with it flashes of imagery neither Toa would ever forget.

When it finally subsided, Kopaka was the first to his feet. Before Pohatu could stop him, he ran for the woods. When the Toa of Stone caught up to him, he found Kopaka standing over what looked like a piece of scarlet gelatin. Pohatu glanced around and saw that similar objects covered the ground for hundreds of yards.

“Is that --?”

Kopaka nodded. “Even if I hadn’t heard a description of sorts, that mental flash told the story. That’s Tren Krom, all over.”

Pohatu’s eyes widened. “The Tren Krom? ‘Look at him and you go insane, used to rule the universe’ Tren Krom? What could do … that … to him?”

Kopaka didn’t answer. Tren Krom was supposed to be at a power level that dwarfed Karzahni. But someone or something had reduced him to pieces in an instant and left no obvious clues behind. It was certainly a crime a Toa of Air had the power to carry out, except for one thing. There had been one image telepathically sent into Kopaka’s mind that didn’t point to Lesovikk. It was a simple, clear image of a single object.

A red star.
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 3[/color]


Kopaka and Pohatu stood in the forest, staring at the remains of Tren Krom. Once one of the most powerful entities in the Matoran universe, now Tren Krom was just pieces scattered among the foliage, a truly disturbing sight for more reasons than one.

“I wonder who’s next,” said Pohatu.

“What are you talking about?” asked Kopaka.

“You don’t see it? First Karzahni, now Tren Krom … there’s a pattern here. Beings with great power dying, one after another.”

“Two deaths is hardly a pattern,” replied the Toa Nuva of Ice. “Two widely different locations, two different methods of murder … I’ll admit I wondered if Lesovikk might have killed Tren Krom, but I can’t see what motive he would have.”

Pohatu shook his head. “Lesovikk didn’t kill him. At least, I don’t think so. Lesovikk was angry at Karzahni, out for revenge, but he wasn’t insane. Whoever did this … well, let’s just say there were cleaner ways to get rid of Tren Krom.”

Kopaka crouched down to examine the remains. “That’s true. Plus we have to ask, who could have gotten close enough to Tren Krom to do this? His mind was strong enough to sense another intellect even at long range, as I understand it.”

“Maybe someone he trusted?” asked Pohatu.

Kopaka stood and looked around the forest. It felt oppressively still. “I doubt he trusted many, if anyone at all. But consider this: he was supposed to be physically bound to his island in our old universe, unable to move. But when the Order of Mata Nui agents went to retrieve him, he was gone. Next thing we know, he’s here, and dead.”

“The Order … do you think they --?”

Pohatu’s question was cut off by a sound from up above. Someone or something was in the trees. Pohatu couldn’t see it clearly, but could tell that whatever it was, it had huge wings.

“Shall I?” he asked Kopaka.

“Please,” said the Toa of Ice. “Some things I can do for myself.”

Kopaka summoned his elemental energies and hurled a blast of frost at the watcher in the trees. The effect was to ice up its wings and send the stranger tumbling from its perch and onto the ground.

Pohatu watched as the new arrival, dazed, tried to rise. It did indeed have scalloped wings, along with quite long arms and legs. It wore a Kanohi mask and a sword of fire had slipped from its hands when it fell. Not a native of Spherus Magna, then, Pohatu thought. It’s one of ours.

“Who are you?” demanded Kopaka. “Why were you spying on us?”

“Not spying,” gasped the winged stranger. “Hunting.”

“Like you hunted Tren Krom here?” said Pohatu.

The thing shook its head. “I didn’t hunt him … someone else did. But then he left without feasting, so the food became mine.”

“Who left? Who killed him?” asked Kopaka.

“I tried to see,” said the creature. “But he knew I was there. A howling wind knocked me from my watching spot and broke many limbs off the trees. By the time I touched the sky again, he was gone.”

“I scouted around,” said Pohatu. “I saw no tracks coming in or out of this area.”

“If I were one of your kind, you would believe,” said the creature, bitterly. “But I suppose you think truth is as alien to me as my appearance is to you.”

Pohatu glanced at Kopaka, then back at the winged being. “What’s your name?”

“When there was anyone to call me by name, it was Gaardus. But that was long ago, when I lived in a koro. Now I am just what you see.”

“You … were a Matoran?” asked Kopaka, trying and failing to keep the disbelief out of his voice.

Gaardus shook the remaining fragments of ice off his wings and rose to his feet. “You say the name as if there was some honor attached to it. Yes, I was a Matoran. I had a home, a job, a life. Then I was taken by a band of my brothers who had been exiled for crimes too horrible to relate. They were Nynrah Ghosts, hated and feared by even their own.”

“I’ve heard of the Nynrah,” said Kopaka. “Weaponsmiths.”

“So you say,” Gaardus replied. It shuddered as if the memories themselves were bringing pain. “They decided to make a living weapon … I was the result. But I was too smart for them. I escaped … and I hunted … until none of them were left.”

Pohatu was stunned. What kind of Matoran could so mutate another of their own species? How had the other Nynrah allowed this to happen? Were they so obsessed with the secrecy of their culture that they never thought to summon a Toa to stop their exiles from doing something so horrible?

“You got out of the robot, somehow,” said Pohatu. “Maybe with the Rahi, so you wouldn’t be noticed. My guess is you’re good at hiding by now. Then you headed north, as far away from your … the Matoran as possible.”

“I wanted to get away from the rage,” answered Gaardus. “But it followed me even to this peaceful place.”

Kopaka couldn’t help but feel pity for the tragic creature before him. But there were two deaths that had to be explained, and no time to redress old wrongs. Perhaps when this was all over …

“What did you see? Tell us everything,” he said.

“The one you call Tren Krom appeared in the forest, from nowhere,” Gaardus began, speaking slowly and carefully. “He was … confused. He could move, but not very far or very fast. I was going to hunt, but his mind touched mine, and it hurt. Then … there was someone else, and the winds came, and I saw the star, and …”

“Wait!” said Kopaka. “You saw a star? What star?”

“The red star,” Gaardus said, as if the answer was obvious. “I saw it in my mind.”

Kopaka was intrigued. He, too, had seen an image of the red star, projected telepathically by Tren Krom in his dying moments. The red star had hovered above the island of Mata Nui in the days when Kopaka and his allies first arrived. Much later, he and the others learned that the star was in fact some kind of booster rocket system used by the Mata Nui robot to break free of a planet’s gravitational pull. It was not a true star, but an engine. None of which explained why Tren Krom would be thinking of it so urgently at such a dire moment.

“I had not thought of the star in so long,” Gaardus continued. “Not since the death of the Nynrah. The star was why I stayed in the Nynrah’s village for so long after my escape. Now I wonder if what I was waiting for was up there, not down among the land and water.”

Kopaka looked up. The star was in the sky now above Spherus Magna, and had been since the arrival of the Mata Nui robot on the planet. With the robot destroyed, the red star would not be summoned into use again. Yet still it hung among the true stars, waiting, waiting for a call that would never come.

“If only we could get up there …” Kopaka said, more to himself than anyone else.

“The hunting would be poor,” said Gaardus.

“Not for what we’re seeking,” Pohatu said. “Doesn’t matter, though, neither one of us is equipped for space flight.”

Gaardus looked down at the ground for a long time. Then he said, very quietly, “I could bring you. But I do not want to return there. No one ever does.”

“Get us there how?” asked Kopaka.

“I was built to be a hunter,” said Gaardus. “And a hunter returns to the grounds that are rich in prey. Anywhere I have ever been, I can return to … even such a place as that.”

“Then take us there,” Kopaka said.

“Um, Kopaka?” said Pohatu. “Can I have a word?”

The Toa of Ice and Stone walked a few feet away from Gaardus and spoke in low tones. “Do we really want to leave the driving to the winged wonder over there? What if he doesn’t like Toa any better than Matoran?”

“Do you have a better suggestion? Tren Krom used his last seconds of life to tell us about the star … or warn us. There’s something up there connected to his death. We have to find out what it is.”

“Okay,” said Pohatu. “But this isn’t the first time I’ve wondered if you don’t have your Kanohi on too tight.”

The two Toa turned back to Gaardus. “If you can get us there, we need to go,” said Kopaka.

“And quickly, before one of us changes his mind, namely me,” added Pohatu.

If Gaardus thought they had both gone mad, he obviously saw no point in saying. He merely stepped up to them, unwrapped his wings, and then folded them around the two heroes. And in that instant, all three were gone.

Pohatu wasn’t sure what to expect – he had never been inside a “star” before. When Gaardus opened his wings and stepped away, the Toa of Stone looked around. He was inside a curved hallway. The walls seemed to be a combination of metal bands and organic tissue, much the way he imagined the inside of a Toa would look. Steeling himself, he reached out and touched one of the surfaces. Both metal and tissue were still and cold as ice.

At least I’m not inside something that’s alive, he thought. Kind of had enough of that.

“Company,” said Kopaka, under his breath.

Pohatu looked down the hallway. Three small beings clad in purple and black armor were moving toward them. Something about them seemed vaguely familiar, like Pohatu had heard them described before, but he couldn’t remember when. As soon as they saw the two Toa and their winged companion, they seemed to grow very alarmed.

“What are you doing here?” one of the beings asked. “You need to go back. You should be gone by now.”

“No,” said another. “Don’t you remember what happened the last time? They wouldn’t go back and we had to --”

The third interrupted, pointing at Gaardus. “That one has been here before. He was the last. He must know why no one can go now.”

“But look at them!” said the first to speak. “It must be working again, or how could they be here like that?”

The others paused, as if acknowledging their friend had a point. The one who had remembered Gaardus nodded, saying, “Very well. But if it doesn’t work, do we need to end them like the other ones?”

All three little beings produced wicked looking hand weapons. “Naturally,” said the first. “How else are we to make things right?”
 
 
 
 
 
 

[color=#3A6378;]Chapter 4[/color]


Baleful eyes started up at an imposing edifice of rock and mortar. Here, in the wooded region of Spherus Magna, the Great Beings had plied their trade many years agone. Now one remained inside that fortress, quite mad, but still brilliant and dangerous nonetheless.

For the watcher’s purposes, he hardly mattered. No, what was important about that building was who else was inside it now. Axonn, Brutaka and Toa Helryx, veteran warriors; Makuta Miserix, with all the power that title implied; Artakha, wearer of the Mask of Creation; Toa Tuyet, who was mightier than any of the others knew; and Vezon, gifted with the ability to move through dimensions the way others move through air. So many beings of power, all in one spot … it was quite delicious.

So far, he had killed Tren Krom and Karzahni… one a madman, the other a gelatinous mass of hot air. Neither proved to be much of a challenge. The Toa were keeping the whole thing quiet, as they often did. Although the two heroes investigating the murders, Kopaka and Pohatu, had recently vanished, he was not overly concerned. They would turn up eventually. The plan required it.

In the same way, the sight of Toa Lewa being dragged off by nature-loving Agori was at best a minor obstacle. If need be, he would effect a rescue in some indirect way before the Toa of Air could get into any real jeopardy. The Toa Mata were too important to have their lives sacrificed needlessly. Oh, they would die, eventually, but it would be at a time of his choosing.

No one would ever suspect him, of course. No one ever had. As time passed and things had become clear to him, he had known this time would come. The most powerful would need to be eliminated individually – no point in risking the grand plan because he had missed one, after all – and the rest could be dealt with at leisure. He had expected it to be a time-consuming, if amusing, exercise, a sort of living strategy game in which only he knew the rules.

Now, though, fate seemed to have altered the circumstances. So many of his targets, all in the same place, offered the opportunity to accelerate his timetable – much too good of an opportunity to miss. A little of this, a little of that, and the fortress would be so much rubble … and the universe far better off.

With a smile, the bio-mechanical murderer set to work. It was going to be a good day, if a noisy one.

 

Kopaka, Pohatu and Gaardus found themselves facing what seemed like energy weapons in the hands of the three small armored beings. The two Toa still had no idea if they were truly inside the red star, or just who their bizarre foes were. But they had begun to suspect Gaardus knew a great deal more than he was telling.

“Shorty over there said you had been here before,” Pohatu said to their winged companion. “What’s the story?”

“You knew that,” Gaardus replied. “I told you.”

“You did not say anything about these … whatever they are,” said Kopaka. “What else did you leave out?”

“I told you I did not want to come back here,” Gaardus said simply. “Now you know why.”

“We are the Kestora,” said one of the purple and black beings. “We are the ones who keep this place operating. But it has not been operating, not for a very long time. And it is his fault,” he added, pointing at Gaardus.

“I did nothing!” Gaardus hissed, unfurling his great wings. “I did not choose to come here. I did not choose to leave.”

“No one ever does,” replied the Kestora.

“Can you put the weapons down, so we can talk like civilized beings?” asked Pohatu.

The three Kestora raised their weapons higher in answer and began to squeeze the triggers. In an instant, Pohatu had seemingly vanished. When he reappeared, the Kestora had been disarmed and he held all their weapons.

“I said – oh, never mind, you know what I said,” Pohatu chuckled. “Now what’s all this about coming and going? What is this, some kind of a transport hub?”

“In a sense,” said one of the Kestora.

“Yes, you might say that,” said the second.

“Or you might not,” the third interjected. “Anyway, the three of you need to be going. You got what you came here for, time to leave.”

“Got what we ---?” Kopaka repeated. “By Mata Nui, someday I will meet a foe who gives a straight answer to a straight question, and I will be so shocked I will --”

“Crack a smile?” finished Pohatu. He turned to the three small beings. “Now, listen. Where is it we are supposed to be going?”

“Back to Mata Nui, of course,” said one of the Kestora, as if he we speaking to a child. “Back where you belong.”

“Mata Nui is so much junk in the Bara Magna desert by now,” said Pohatu. “You guys must not get out much.”

“If that’s true, then we can’t send them back,” said the first Kestora. “There is nowhere to send them back to.”

“Well, they can’t stay here,” said the second firmly. “We have too many as it is.”

“We could keep them,” suggested the third. “Maybe a dissection would tell us why they can’t go back. Of course, we tried that before, and all we wound up with was a mess … a lot of messes, actually … but maybe this time --”

Kopaka grimaced, raised his Toa weapon, and unleashed a blast of ice. It froze all three Kestora solid.

“What did you do that for?” asked Pohatu. “We might have learned something, and you killed them!”

“Not dead,” said Kopaka, already turning and walking away. “Just frozen. They’ll thaw out … eventually. I’m tired of villains spouting gibberish. Let’s look around.”

Pohatu turned to Gaardus to ask if he had ever seen anything like that, but the winged being had disappeared. The Toa of Stone headed off to tell Kopaka the news. They needed Gaardus if they were ever going to make it back to Spherus Magna.

The frozen eyes of the Kestora watched him as he went.

 

Back on Spherus Magna, a complicated and delicate job was done. At the proper signal, the Great Beings’ fortress and its occupants would be so much ash.

Their would-be murderer looked at his work and pronounced it good. He sat down on the ground and picked up a stone. Humming to himself, he began to carve it into a memorial marker for those about to die.

 

Kopaka was not happy to hear about Gaardus’ disappearance, but he wasn’t surprised either. The odds were the teleporter was gone for good, at least if he had any sense.

“We better hope the Kestora were wrong and there is way off of here,” said the Toa of Ice. “Otherwise …”

“Otherwise, we are going to get very tired of each other’s company,” agreed Pohatu. “Want me to scout ahead?”

“No, I --” Kopaka began, even as Pohatu winked out of existence and then back again.

“Too late,” said Pohatu. “Already did it. Not much to see. Lots of labs. Some old machinery, looks like it’s been jury-rigged a few hundred times. And I thought I saw someone moving, but I can’t be sure.”

“More Kestora?”

“Maybe. About the same height.”

“Let’s find them.”

The two Toa had gone about a hundred yards when the lights suddenly went out. Now they could hear movement from all around them. There were whispers, too, but they couldn’t make out the words. Kopaka triggered his Akaku Nuva, piercing the walls around him with x-ray vision. In one direction, there was nothing to see but outer space. In the other, he saw things – a lot of things – he could have lived without seeing. When he spoke, his voice was raw.

“We need to move,” said Kopaka. “Now.”

“What’s the matter?”

“You don’t want to know. Grab my hand. We’re finding a way out of this.”

The sounds were coming closer now. Some sounded like rodents skittering, others like bodies being dragged across a metal floor. At one point, they saw a lighted corridor up ahead, but as they approached, the lights went off there too. Worse, the noises were starting to come from up ahead as well as behind.

“I think we are surrounded,” said Kopaka.

“We’re never surrounded,” Pohatu answered. “We just prefer to be right in the center of the action.”

A sliver of light opened up off to the right. It revealed a small figure, beckoning to the two Toa. “Here, this way.”

Kopaka used the Akaku and saw that there were no other figures in the room beyond. If it was a trap, it probably wasn’t a very good one. The two Toa headed for the door and slipped inside. The figure closed it behind them.

“It’s not safe out there,” their rescuer said. “But then you probably figured that out. A lot of very unhappy people up here, you know.”

The Toa saw to their surprise that their “host” was not a Kestora, but a Matoran. An Onu-Matoran, to be exact, but not one that either recognized.

“Who are you?” asked Pohatu. “What are you doing here?”

“As far as the second question goes, I presume the same thing you are,” said the Matoran. “As for who I am – my name is Mavrah.”

 
—TLH


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