The room was large, a domed, opaque glass ceiling hiding the upper levels of the massive Spire-building. Cold blue light burned feverishly, their light shining down upon the faces of an ancient Matoran-like being. Two other beings, another, heavily armored being and a smaller but no less ancient Matoran who stood guard next to them. There was an air of weary tiredness about them all, as though their very existence caused them pain.
As soon as they saw the beings, Kyhrex's crossbow had been drawn and Blast had raised his scythe. But Shardak did not even attempt to raise the Blade of Arcturas, he simply stared at the being in shock.
"How-- how did you know my name?" he asked, wondering who these beings were. They obviously were not Ix, nor were they Asgard's strange minions. He wondered, for a moment, if they could be affiliated with the Toa Order, another remnant like Melnox and Ion. The Toa-like being could have--
"Within the Sanctum of the Mind, much is possible." said the being simply.
"Who are you? What is...the Sanctum of the Mind?" asked Shardak.
"I am Turaga Meilo." the being said. His voice was soft and calming, and Shardak felt almost instantly this being could be trusted. "This is Turaga Pierra and Krost." he said, gesturing to the armored being and the Matoran in turn.
"I am Kyhrex." said the female Glatorian. "This is Blast." but Shardak barely heard her.
"You're a Turaga?" gasped Shardak in shock.
"Then how did you survive the Purge?" asked Blast.
"The Purge?" echoed Meilo curiously. Then he seemed to understand, and his voice became sad. "Many beings in the world beyond shadows have spoken to me about what has transpired in the worlds that the Void bridges."
Meilo turned to Korst and Peirra. "Guard the entrance. I don't know if any of the demons from the Great Plain followed him here. "
"No, they didn't. I fought one, but he--"
Meilo's expression looked grim. "We must talk. I sensed you the moment you entered the Void, and thanks to my ability to move within the Shadowrealm, I know that you have come here from the Circle, have you not?"
"You've been to the Circle?" asked Blast. "Then you know--"
"Come." said Meilo, cutting him off. The ancient Turaga led Shardak, Kyhrex, and Blast through a glass door, into a darkened chamber. Only one light was burning within, a small Cold Fire torch that cast cold light upon a small chair and desk.
"This was once the library of the Sanctum. Millions of ancient, now illegible stone tablets fill these halls. When I am not wandering the Shadowrealm, I am here, descipering the ancient writings the Mindeaters left behind."
"How many beings are here?" asked Kyhrex. While she was no longer carrying her crossbow, she still looked slightly wary of Meilo.
"Nearly forty. All of us have--" Meilo paused. "Tell me everything, Toa Shardak. Tell me what has occured in the worlds beyond since I was there last."
Shardak had no idea where to start; he wasn't sure how much Meilo knew of the Ix, their empire, and the losing battle against the massive legions of darkness. He eventually decided to begin with his own involvement in the war, telling Meilo of the death of Arcturas, and how the he and Blast had been lured down into the Void by Nightshade and captured by Banrax. He told of the soul-rending torture he'd experienced within the Spire, and how Silencer had rescued him, and trained him briefly in the use of the aura field. Finally, he told Meilo how Silencer had sacrificed his life to defeat the Fury and allow him to escape.
Shardak held nothing back. Something about Meilo made him want to tell the Turaga everything that had transpired within the Circle, despite the danger that he could be an Ix agent. Shardak knew from bitter experience how the Ix could pretend they were your friends, only to stab you in the back when you turned away.
Meilo listened carefully to every detail, occastionally questioning him about the state of the worlds above the Circle. Once or twice, Blast and Kyhrex interjected, clarifying occasional points about Ion, Silencer, and the Shadow Orb.
"The Ix have nearly conquered the entire planet, and only the warring Skakdi and Kodax prevents them from overrunning the Kodax Fells from the Circle. There are many resistance groups scattered across the edges of the world, but at this point the Ix are merely cleaning up their domain." Shardak's voice nearly broke as he said the last words. Were the Ix simply too powerful to defeat?
Meilo nodded sadly. "I suspected this would come to pass." he said. "The beings locked within the Shadowrealm warned me of this, they warned me that the world I once knew had changed beyond recognition."
He turned to Kyhrex. "You are an water Elementalist, are you not?" he asked. She nodded.
"Silencer fought them. We spent two weeks fighting side by side against the Ix...then I finally got up the courage to ask him to help me free Blast." added Shardak.
"What did you do, mainly?" Meilo asked.
"Train, battle the Ix if they attacked us. We'd move from safe house to safe house, while Melnox would guard against attacks from Kranr. I never really participated in the action, Silencer's priority was to make sure I entered the Void with the Shadow Orb. But the Ix are here as well. They've already sent a Xhranr after us-- a three-tailed demon and his minions."
Meilo nodded again. "Not unusual. This Silencer seems to be a great scholar of the Mindeater Era; he obviously understood that the Abyss was a prison. But he was also wrong. The Void is a base of operations for the Ix as well, the Ix are not unaware of this."
"They're not? Then why--"
"Because it suits them to say that it devours its victims, feeds on their life force. In reality, it has been used as a prison for centuries before the Ix's rise to power."
Meilo paused for a moment as the Cold Fire torch flickered out, running his fingers over the torch and restoring the blue flames to life. Then he continued. "My friends and I, the Toa Teishu, were once protectors of an island on another Shadowrealm. We--"
"You continually mention the Shadowrealm? What is this?" asked Shardak.
"Silencer told you nothing of this?" asked Meilo. He sounded surprised. "The moment you entered the Void, you left a plane. The moment you entered the Sanctum of the Mind, you entered another. They are all interconnected; the world you come from is connected to nearly twenty other planes of existence. The Shadowrealms are the higher planes; the planes of thought where the Ix and others like them dwelled before the Year of Darkness."
Shardak nodded, Meilo had strayed onto familiar ground now. Silencer had mentioned that he'd been created during the Year of Darkness, as well as something about a prophecy the Ix feared. It was a common enough Matoran myth: the year when all light ceased from the world, only to return inexplicably a year later. He'd never heard of the Shadowrealms, but he'd heard of the planes, and remembered Silencer mention that no one knew where, exactly, the Ix originated.
"And you can travel into this Realm?" asked Shardak.
"One of the many higher planes, yes. There are many beings who dwell there, this particular Realm has no exit save for those who enter it willingly. You can speak with them, if you wish." added Meilo.
"You came from another Realm, a second Plane?" asked Shardak.
"The Realm coexists with the Plane you're from." said Meilo. "As well as this plane, the Sanctum of the Mind. Eventually, years after defeating our greatest foe, one of the primal Elemental Demons, we fell pray to the Ix. With no option but death, either by execution or the Eternal Game, we opened a gate between the planes, forcing us into the Sanctum of the Mind. The escape weakened us horribly, destroying everything we'd worked for as the Ix completed their conquest. We--"
"So the Ix rule all of the planes and Realms?" asked Shardak.
Meilo shook his head, surprising him. "No...the Ix are merely one of the branches of the race that ruled over the Shadowrealm Empire during the times before the Storm Wars."
Shardak was burning with questions about the Storm Wars and the Ix, but listened closely to the end of Meilo's tale.
"At last, we nearly lost the will to live, trapped within the Sanctum plane with no way out save for the Void. Then finally we managed to translate an ancient scroll, describing how to walk between worlds. We eventually discovered how to open a gateway into one of the planes of thought, and encountered beings from the outside world there.
"Occasionally once-powerful beings who could still sense the world outside spoke with us, and it was one such being who told me that he had sensed a powerful presence within the Void, from the worlds outside the Circle. They watched you battle the demons on the Great Plain, and told me of how you became separated from your friend."
"Did they tell you if Ion is alive?" asked Shardak eagerly. He could see Blast and Kyhrex were eager to know as well, and despite his anger at Ion for not explaining the world he'd been dragged into, he hoped desperately the mutated Toa still lived.
"They did not say. This was before you re-encountered the Elementalist and the Glatorian, before the soldiers attacked you. I don't know who these beings were, or what motivation they have for being in the Void, but they are not prisoners here."
"What do they want? Why did they attack us?" asked Kyhrex. "It's almost as if they could sense us, but that's impossible, neither the soldiers nor Asgard could use the aura field..."
"Perhaps they can sense Elemental power, like your friend Kyhrex." suggested Meilo. "But I agree it is rather strange that you'd be attacked by a demon and a group of soldiers in the same day. Most of the beings on the Great Plain are too slow or apathetic to bother with a Toa and a group of Glatorian."
"I have to go back, then." said Shardak grimly. "I can't leave him alone if the soldiers are still after him." Kyhrex nodded grimly.
"And get yourself killed?" said Meilo. "Your Stalker bite is dangerously close to becoming infected. You could die if the acid gets into your bloodstream. You've been cut twice by Shredsteel in the past three days, and that's obviously not going to give you a fighting chance to save your friends."
Shardak wanted to open his mouth to protest, but he knew Meilo was right. He'd be killed instantly if he tried to fight a trained soldier. He'd barely escaped a group of Ix once, and only narrowly held off a Kranr.
The thought of the slavemaster he'd killed saddened Shardak. Meilo had not even seemed annoyed that the Kranr had died by his hand when he'd told him, despite the fact that killing was a direct violation of the Toa Code.
It wasn't like you had a choice. whispered a voice within his head. He and the Ix had you surrounded.
"Meilo, about the Kranr I killed--" Shardak began, but Meilo cut him off.
"I have fought many beings, Toa Shardak." he said. "And while killing amorally or recklessly, or allowing others to die because of your neglect, is a violation of the Code, the Kranr would have killed you. I'm not saying killing in self-defense is the right thing to do, but when you have no other choice, when it's either you or your opponent, slaying a Kranr does not make you like them. Those who can kill with no emotion, with no sadness or regret-- they are the truly evil beings."
Shardak nodded. He opened his mouth to speak again, but Meilo silenced him. "Do not dwell on this further, Toa. His blood, like that of Silencer's, is on the Ix's hands."
Shardak nodded again, then asked, "What must I do to save my friends?"
Meilo opened his mouth to reply, and Shardak knew what he'd say before he said it.
"I will introduce you, Blast and Kyhrex to the rest of the beings who dwell within the Sanctum, including my fellow Turaga. Then, though I have not trained a student in years, and am weakened by age and battle, I will teach you how to Mind Walk, and find Ion." "Mind Walk?" asked Shardak. "You think that's possible?"
Meilo smiled. "Certainly. You, Toa Shardak, have no idea how much elemental power you control. What I don't understand is why I couldn't sense you earlier."
"You couldn't sense me earlier?" asked Shardak. "I thought you said--"
"I did. But seeing you standing before me is another matter. Like yoru Glatorian friend Kyhrex, I am an Elementalist. I can sense your elemental power when it is being used, and can certainly track you using Mind Walking. However, you seemed less powerful from a distance...I'm surprised the Ix didn't know you and Arcturas were hiding in Intax, considering the strength of your aura."
Kyhrex nodded in agreement, then broke off, confused. "Arcturas...was he--"
"I don't know if he was the same being who escaped the Circle." said Shardak. "He never told me anything about this."
As he said those words, he realized how true they were. Arcturas had obviously known of the Ix before his death. He'd told the Fury: I knew you'd find me someday. Could it be they were one and the same?
He remembered something else Melnox had told them, as they stood at the edge of the Void. Arcturas was their mortal enemy. He hadn't thought much of it at the time, they'd been cornered by Ix then, he didn't even know if they'd survive, but something within him wished fervently that they'd had more time to discuss what Ion, Melnox, and Silencer knew about Arcturas.
"Why didn't you tell me, when I mentioned his name?" asked Kyhrex, confused.
"No time." said Shardak. "I was wondering the same thing when the Eliminators attacked. And then..."
There was no need to finish. Everyone present knew what had happened after that.
"It would explain much if Arcturas and the only being to have escaped the Circle are one and the same." said Meilo. "Such as how you remained unknown to the Ix for so long. Why did Silencer give you the Shadow Orb? Did he know of an exit to the Void?"
"I don't know." said Shardak. "Do you?" he asked Kyhrex.
"No." she said. "Though Ion mentioned something about the Nameless City, so perhaps if it exists--"
"It exists." said Meilo confidently.
"Have you been there?" asked Shardak.
"No." said the Turaga. "But if you studied the ancient texts within this library, I'm sure you would find something on the subject of the ancient civilizations, such as the Shadowrealm Empire and the Nameless City of the Mindeaters."
"Do you have any idea who these beings, Atarus and Jareroden, are?" asked Shardak.
"I have never heard of either." said Meilo sadly. "I vanished from the known world over one hundred years ago, and know very little about the current state of the universe beyond what I have already told you."
Shardak was disappointed. But he told himself that obviously these beings weren't prisoners in the Void. Neither Ion or Silencer had ever been there. They must have had something to do with the "spirit or "victor" that Kyhrex had mentioned. Once more Silencer wondered how much the Fire Toa had kept from him.
Meilo looked as if he was about to speak, then broke off as another being entered the room. She was a Turaga, like Meilo, but armored in sapphire.
"You're needed in the main council chamber." she said grimly. "Ario wanted to execute the Toa and Glatorian right off, but fortunately Senkou and Izon overruled him."
"Thank you, Lilian." said Meilo. "Come." he said to Blast, Shardak, and Kyhrex. "There had been a development we must attend to."
"Development?" asked Blast. "Why does this Ario want us dead?"
Meilo made a face halfway between a smile and a grimace. "Turaga Ario is very strict. He was extremely upset when we were exiled to the Void."
"But he won't harm us, will he?" asked Shardak.
"No. I will not allow him." said Meilo. "Besides, Turaga Senkou and Izon have already dealt with him."
"How many Turaga and Matoran are here?" queried Blast.
"There are seven Turaga, the former Toa Teishu." said Meilo. "And Krost is, I believe, the only Matoran here, though there may be more. There are other beings here besides us, but they spend more time reading the ancient tablets within the Sanctum or Mind Walking that they rarely, if ever, bother us."
The ancient Turaga halted beefore a large, ornate door made of metal simular to that of the Circle's buildings. Like the Spire in the Circle, it was carved into the obsidian stone. For one moment, Shardak was back in the Circle, remembering the horrible torture he'd suffered within the Spire. Then he remembered their current, but no less dangerous, situation.
Entering the chamber, he immediately saw it was far larger then the library or the entrance chamber. Five Turaga were standing in the room, including the blue Turaga, Lilian. He looked around for either Krost or Pierra, but saw no sign of the Turaga. However, Krost was standing alongside the group of Turaga.
"Greetings, Meilo." said one of the Turaga, armored in green. His face was masked, but he smiled at the Toa, and seemed hightly energetic, as though he was about to leap into action. Another Turaga, in brown armor, glared at Shardak with undisguised contempt.
"Greetings, Duuril." answered Meilo. He nodded toward the brown Turaga. "You wished to speak with us, Ario?"
"Ario wanted to quick-slay the Toa and Glatorian." explained Duuril. "Lilian, Senkou and I tried to quick-change his mind, but he still-insisted to speak with you."
"That is correct." Ario scowled. "From what I have heard from Pierra and Krost, they bring the Ix with them. We all know the devastation they brought about in both the planes and the Void, and the influence they wield here even today. We in the Sanctum of the Mind have escaped destruction, and I will not condemn us all to a long, lingering death at the hands of the Veiled Ones."
Meilo looked solemn, as did Lilian and the two Turaga Shardak supposed must have been Izon and Senkou. Even Duuril's grin had faded slightly at the mention of the Ix.
"Even if that is so, we must completely-protect this Toa and his Glatorian friends!" said Duuril, recovering quickly. "If the shadow-Ix hunt-follow them here we'll protect them!"
Shardak relaxed as Ario seemed to relent slightly at Duuril's insistance. "Still, they will be the destruction of our Sanctum!"
"Do not presume it is our Sanctum, Ario." Meilo pointed out gently.
"There are hidden-secrets even I have not learned." agreed Duuril.
"I'm not sure." said Senkou. "While I believe that it is our duty to protect the Toa, I also believe that we should not allow him to destroy us all."
"You would simply hand him over to the Ix?" Duuril spat. "Asgard's still out there, and if the Ix are clustering, he should stay with us!"
"Of course not." said Senkou. "But we can't sacrifice everything to defend them."
"I have already agreed to teach Toa Shardak to Mind Walk." said Meilo, holding up his hand to silence them. "He stays with us."
"What?" burst out Krost. "It could tear apart his mind!"
"Toa Shardak has powers that most Toa can only ever dream of." said Meilo confidently. "He will not be harmed."
"If you're sure." he said.
"Meilo is rarely wrong." pointed out Izon, speaking for the first time. "While Senkou and Ario do make a point, I don't believe we would be worthy Turaga if we simply allowed them to be handed over to the Ix. Meilo has heard Shardak's tale, he belives and trusts them."
Ario looked furious, but Senkou nodded in acknowledgement of Izon's words. Robbed of the last of his support, Ario bowed his head.
"Very well. But if this Toa ends up destroying everything we have worked for here...I would regret to be him."
"Was that a threat, Ario?" asked Meilo, his voice now deathly calm.
"No, not at all." said Ario quickly. "Simply a statement."
"Thank you." said Meilo. "If there is nothing more to discuss, then this meeting is adjourned. Kyhrex, Blast, Shardak, Krost, come with me."
Without another word to the other Turaga, Meilo swept out of the room, the Shardak, the Glatorian, and Krost following him.
"What does Ario have against me?" asked Shardak, now confused.
Meilo sighed. "Ario has always been ambitious and talented. But he is also impatient and harsh, and our long exile between worlds has stripped him of his will and purpose. He obviously wishes to vent his anger on someone other then Krost or the other Turaga."
"How did you meet Krost?" asked Blast. "He wasn't with you during the final battle against the Elemental Demon, was he?"
"I was banished to the Void long before the Turaga arrived here. Like the others in this complex, I had lost all feeling, and I was near death." answered Krost. "Meilo and Izon and the others gave me new purpose. A will of my own to live."
Meilo led them into a darkened chamber, then drew three Cold Fire torches for them to carry. "These are for you. You may rest here for now; in the meantime I will treat Shardak's Stalker bite."
"We should be with him." said Blast flatly, and Shardak sensed mistrust and fear radiating from his aura. Shardak guessed he still didn't completely trust Meilo.
Meilo smiled faintly. "I am glad you do not blindly trust me, however, I assure you that if I'd wanted you dead, I could have allowed Ario to simply hand you over to the Ix."
Kyhrex hesitated for a moment, then relented. She and Blast vanished into the room, but her eyes blazed a warning. Tell him nothing more.
Shardak nodded briefly, wondering if he'd made a massive mistake in trusting Meilo.
No, because if he was a servant of the Ix he'd have simply given me over to Ario. Shardak reminded himself.
But that doesn't automatically mean he's trustworthy. whispered another voice.
Shardak sighed. The past three weeks had taught him to be suspicious of everyone, even a kind, ancient Turaga. He was more resolved then ever to trust Meilo, and tommarrow he would Mind Walk and find Ion under his guidance. If the Toa was still alive, the process would tell him.
Dredzek watched as the group of Ix warriors fought against their three remaining Shadow soldiers. Had he had a mouth, he would have smiled coldly. As it was, he did not, as he was forced to remain a ghostly, intangible being with no features whatsoever so the Ix could not notice him.
They stood no chance against the warriors, of course, but they had been well trained, he had told Corzkax to only select the best, most fanatical Shadow members to journey with him on this mission. So when he'd ordered them to buy him time to escape the Ix, they'd obeyed, despite the fact they'd all surely be killed.
Already weakened after his initial battle with the Ix, Dredzek's shapeshifting power was also painfully limited. While he didn't want to accept that he was dying, the pain he'd felt when he'd unleashed chain lightning on the Ix had confirmed the painful truth: he was far too weak to survive another battle against the Ix warriors.
He'd fled, the two surviving Shadow soldiers following him. They'd run into another Shadow soldier they'd lost in the Void, and he'd ordered them all to make their final stand here.
The Makuta had remained behind, despite the pain, however. He was curious why these Ix were so determined to hunt them down. Perhaps, they, too sought the Ignika, but had no idea how to find it or believed they had it. If they did, they would leave one of the Shadow soldiers alive for questioning. And maybe they new something he didn't about the legendary Kanohi's whereabouts.
Dredzek knew that the Ignika was the only object that could cure him of his weakness. The life he'd experienced since the horrible inferno in the arena had been nothing but a lone being trapped within an ancient weapon of power; he'd never encountered any other beings within the Scythe except when Corzkax had used the Scythe to bind his antidermis to the artificially created antidermis. Instead of feeling triumphant at his narrow escape from death, Dredzek felt completely empty inside, as though the small piece of antidermis that was still Dredzek was dying, but not allowed to die.
The Ignika was the key. It had to be. Turning his attention back to the battle, Dredzek saw that one of the Shadow soldiers lay dead, slain by repeated Scythe strokes. Another soldier had lost an arm, and was staggering away from the two warriors he'd been fighting. As he watched, the Ix delivered a blindingly fast blow to the soldier's throat, and he fell dead.
The remaining soldier had been completely surrounded. Two Ix warriors were closing in on him, scythes drawn. Another Ix, a female, had an arrow pointed at his heart. Dredzek listened as they began to question him, wondering what, exactly, they were after.