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#1 Offline Cederak

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Posted Jun 02 2012 - 12:12 PM

Life is a constant struggle to discover and fulfill one's purpose

 
 

Episode 00: My World, For What It's Worth

 
My name is Adrinor and I was born in the universe of the Great Spirit, Mata Nui. This place has been my home for thousands of years now, living and working among my fellow biomechs. I can assure you, there's nothing special about me. I wasn't gifted with elemental power, enhanced with immeasurable strength, or granted mental functions beyond what most others possess. For all intents and purposes, I am ordinary.
 
In the early days of my life, the universe functioned without order. It was common knowledge that Mata Nui presided over every land, silently, invisibly watching us. Those who might dare to break his laws had to be captured and sentenced by their brethren. Some took it upon themselves to uphold the law, and while Toa were the Great Spirit's chosen guardians, there were others who believed Toa were ineffective. There were those who would kill for Mata Nui, to rid our universe of undesirables. This system remained relatively effective for some time, until our maker implemented a change.
 
Mata Nui eventually decided to allow a half dozen biomechs to maintain order in his universe. Kalmah, Carapar, Takadox, Ehlek, Mantax, and Pridak were chosen for the task, but interpreted it for themselves. The peaceful era of their rule was short-lived, and they quickly began to conquer Mata Nui's many realms and divide the lands separately. Our protectors had become warlords, Barraki, that valued nothing but conquest and power. In time, the Barraki came together and formed the League of Six Kingdoms - an event so long ago, I can hardly remember it.
 
So instead, I'd like to tell you something still fresh in my mind. It began on a sunny morning, nearly fourteen thousand years after the League's inception. This is the story of my pursuit of a dream and the price some of us pay for our freedom.
 
 

Episode 01: Rovaius and the Dream

 
The skies above the Southern Continent were alive with fiery streaks of orange and glints of cherry red when I awoke in my cabin. As I stared up at the ceiling, I mentally prepared myself for the day ahead. I was a dreamer, and to be honest, I always have been. Resigning myself to an existence of expected monotony was not my ideal life, but it was modest work. Sitting upright in my bed, I tossed off the covers and unlocked the door to the cabin. Taking a glance at myself in the mirror on the far wall, I smiled at the reflection. As a male Meldin, I had a Toa-like frame, though my body armor (colored crimson and ivory) was thinner. I also lacked elemental powers. Grabbing a few tools from my worktable, I walked out the door and immediately found myself at work. Before me was a vast expanse of fields and the faint stench of unclean Rahi - Mahi to be specific.
 
The Torema Mahi Ranch supplied materials for making tools to crafters as far as Xia, and the occasional visit from far-flung lands like Nynrah. There were many grievances with the fact that the League of Six Kingdoms presently ran much of the world, but their armies needed weapons, and we had the supplies. I didn't concern myself with how they were used, but I always hoped to fashion a weapon of my own from Mahi horn. The horns never made weaponry of the same caliber as protosteel or anything, but most of our clientele had no intention of shredding through super-reinforced armor.
 
A familiar Rahi came bounding up to me, barking like crazy. One of Torema's Hapaka, Boomer, had taken a liking to me. The creature received its nickname from its ability to command the Mahi herds with a more booming sound than the other Hapaka on the ranch. I bent down to pet Boomer a few times on the head before continuing on my journey to the Mahi pens, closely trailed by the eager Rahi.
 
A slight breeze whistled its way into the ranch, headed south from the village of Kinatra, a tiny town that could get quieter than a Knowledge Tower. Living in the southwest part of the Southern Continent, however, meant life was often tranquil. It was a guaranteed peace, which only served to disappoint me. Most biomechs knew Barraki Takadox's forces controlled this region, but Kinatra and the ranch were of little importance to them. Unlike some of his fellow warlords, Takadox would not settle for second-rate material in a sword.
 
Marching down the hillside to the Mahi pens, I unlocked and opened each gate, releasing the Rahi corralled inside. Boomer barked as the Mahi filed out, as if ordering them to move faster. The idea of rushing these creatures toward another day of tedium almost seemed vindictive, but I wasn't about to stand in the way of Boomer's enthusiasm. Staring straight up, the bright yellow and orange shades of sunrise were giving way to the ordinary cool blue of the atmosphere. Deciding I ought to pay Torema a morning visit, I headed off for his office. Boomer started to follow, but a quick snap of my fingers was the indicator he translated as "stay."
 
I kicked a small rock along the dirt path leading up to Torema's main office, trying to keep the stone ahead of myself. I could see a few customers through the window by the front desk, and Torema was smiling happily at them. Torema was a Po-Matoran, armored in yellow with a sun-faded, gray Kanohi Pakari. I decided to enter through the storage room in the back, unlocking the door and stepping inside. The split second after, I heard the front door slam shut. Catching me by surprise, I quietly pulled the storage room door closed and crept forward. The storage room had a musty odor to it, but I stayed as silent as possible, anxious to hear the conversation in the next room.
 
"What can I do for you?" I heard Torema ask.
 
There was a short pause, and then I heard the distinct sound of weapons being cocked. There were maybe four or five, I couldn't be certain. Those sounds were followed by a few footsteps approaching the desk.
 
"There's an awful lot of Mahi out in those fields," a rough voice breathed. It was a male voice, and one that, despite its coarseness, sounded rather sophisticated. "Two horns to every head, if I'm not mistaken." I could imagine him smiling menacingly as he spoke. "It doesn't take a scholar to see that you're making a decent amount of money off of those Rahi."
 
"I can assure you," Torema began, his tone more shaky and nervous now, "the treatment of all Rahi at my ranch is entirely ethical and"-
 
The biomechs burst out laughing, somehow hysterical over Torema's remark. They then began exchanging small jokes with one another that mocked my employer. I couldn't make out any of their remarks over the constant laughter, but I caught Torema awkwardly laughing with them for a moment. Their laughter died down, but it was easy to tell they savored the humor in Torema's comment.
 
The rough voiced biomech hurled an object over the counter at Torema. Whatever it was, it barely made a sound when it landed on the floor. "The world has too few funny characters, sir. You start filling that bag with money, and I'll make sure you live to make someone else laugh."
 
I froze immediately. There was a roving gang of thieves on the other side of the wall, holding my boss at gunpoint. My eyes darted to the corner, where Torema's laser rifle sat. I had never seen him use the weapon, and the cobwebs and dust surrounding the object suggested no one else had either. Regaining control of my body, I tiptoed to the rifle and silently made my way out the back door. I lifted a small bag of laser shell ammunition off the barrel and tied it around my left hip's armor. Pulling back on the loading mechanism, I could hear the barrel charging a shot of laser energy.
 
I ran out past the front door to the office, heading for a far hill that overlooked the building. I then trained the rifle scope on the front door and held my position. There was no telling how fast these criminals were, or how fine of a shot they could be. The biomech I heard certainly sounded like he was accustomed to demanding money from innocent businesses. If he truly had an expertise in robberies, there was little doubt in my mind that his marksmanship was lacking. Otherwise, he'd probably be dead already.
 
It was hard to tell how long I stood like a statue on the hill, waiting for the door to open. Minutes passed like hours, working at my nerves. I tried my best to hold the rifle steady, maintaining my sight on the door. After a long eternity, the door was flung open. My arm locked up and I watched four biomechs step outside. I thought I could catch them by surprise, but one of the criminals caught sight of me and instantly drew his weapon in my direction. Through my scope, I could see it was a lightning rifle he was holding out at me. He hadn't bothered to line up his eye with the iron sight, which meant he didn't intend to make a direct hit, or he was very confident of a direct hit. His onyx and topaz armor gleamed brilliantly in the morning light, and my scope could see the violet of his eyes.
 
There was roughly thirty bio of distance between us, and two more thieves trained their weapons on me. The one carrying a burlap sack (which I assumed was full of money), started toward the hill where I stood. Clad in thick armor of ruby and obsidian, his lime green eyes made an attempt to study me briefly. At the same time, I had a chance to study him. He was from Nohtal, apparent from the faint trail of shadow surrounding his left arm and wrapping around his gunblade. Nohtalians were difficult to discern from heavily-armored Toa physically, but only Nohtalians had access to shadow energies. He made no attempt to draw the weapon on me, grinning as he approached.
 
"I'll shoot if I have to!" I shouted with a notable lack of confidence.
 
"So will we!" one of the criminals yelled back. His armor was a mixture of midnight blue and emerald, but I could tell it was entirely part of his form. He was slightly taller than myself, with a pair of garnet eyes on each side of his head. I had heard of his species, known as Dectraz. His clawed hands were sharp, and his mouth was surrounded by four mandibles. Examining his insectoid form was like staring down a giant bug - a rather disturbing sight, even without his gun being pointed at me.
 
The Nohtalian carrying the burlap sack motioned for his allies to lower their weapons before turning his attention back to me. "That's quite a laser rifle you have there," he said, still coming closer. "Doesn't look like it gets out much though." His charming demeanor suddenly turned into a dark glare. "So if you're going to shoot me, you better shut your mouth and just do it."
 
Both the Nohtalian and I knew I wouldn't pull the trigger. I had never harmed another biomech in my life. Before I could realize what was happening, the Nohtalian tugged the rifle from my grip and set it in the grass. His smile returned and he extended a hand. "You made a wise decision to stay your hand. What's your name?"
 
My hands were shaking both from anxiety and anger. "Why should I tell a piraka anything?"
 
The Nohtalian leaned forward and whispered, "Because my friends can take your head off in an instant if I tell them to. And your weapon is on the ground. Now, I'll ask you again. What's your name?"
 
"Adrinor," I muttered, loathingly accepting his handshake.
 
The Nohtalian shook his head. "You're an awfully stubborn type, Adrinor. If you hope to keep an honest job, and eventually be promoted, I'd recommend you be a little more flexible. Words of wisdom, from one hard-working biomech to another." He looked over his shoulder. "Let's get going. You're keeping my friend Adrinor from getting his job done."
 
"We're friends now, huh?" I said sarcastically.
 
The Nohtalian smiled. "Unless you point that rifle in my face again, yeah. You have a good day, Adrinor. Remember what I told you."
 
The Nohtalian and his fellow criminals strolled by me, walking over the hill toward some Kikanalo tied to the entrance gate. Wondering where they might have stolen the Rahi mounts from, I could see Torema peeking out from his office window. I had failed him, and allowed those thieves to make off with his money. At the same time, though, I didn't have it in me to fire on them. Torema's Mahi Ranch was an honest job, but the dreamer in me envied the thieves. They were free to wander and take as they pleased. A part of me had always wanted that life.
 
As I stared down at the dusty rifle, I had a choice to make. I could head down the hill, speak with Torema, and get back to work. Or I could run away. The piraka led lives of adventure at the risk of losing their lives. They operated on a side of the law I had never dared to consider following, until this moment. I had always been a dreamer, and I knew that part of me would regret it forever if I didn't take this chance. I grabbed the rifle and ran toward the biomechs holding Torema's money. The same one that spotted me earlier managed to catch me again, lining up his lightning rifle straight away.
 
"What'd I say about pointing that gun at me?" the Nohtalian hollered, dropping the burlap sack.
 
My eyes went wide with fear as I realized the rifle was pointed directly at the criminals. I dropped it at once and stopped dead in my tracks. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! Don't shoot!"
 
Each of the thieves flinched when I dropped the rifle, as if waiting for it to accidentally go off. The Nohtalian narrowed his eyes on me and growled, "You came back for the money, right?"
 
I stood still, unable to speak at first. My mind could hardly form into words the reason I had come after them.
 
"Adrinor," The Nohtalian addressed me sternly. "I asked you a question."
 
"I..."
 
"Just let me shoot him," the piraka who first spotted me suggested. A cold smile came over his face after the Nohtalian whispered something back.
 
"I want to come with you." I couldn't believe I said it.
 
The Nohtalian smirked, but his friend disdainfully lowered his rifle. "Is that right?"
 
"Yes," I nodded. "I want to come with you."
 
"We aren't accepting new hires right now," the Nohtalian chuckled. "But maybe I can make an exception." He glanced at the others, each grinning in return. He then looked me in the eyes, beckoning me forward. "Bring that rifle with you, but keep the barrel pointed at the sky."
 
I did as instructed, holding the rifle against my chest armor and tilting the barrel up. Carefully marching toward the group, I handed over the weapon to the Nohtalian. He looked it over, brushing some of the dust away before discharging the loaded laser shell. He then returned it to me and stared into my eyes.
 
"So, why did you leave your last job?" the Nohtalian asked.
 
I paused. "...What?"
 
"Your last job," the Nohtalian repeated. "You were a Mahi herder, right?" The other piraka were holding back their laughter at this point.
 
"Um...well...I..."-
 
"Freedom," the Nohtalian whispered.
 
"Excuse me?"
 
"You heard me," he nodded slowly. "Freedom. I can see it in your eyes, how badly you want to be released from this place. I've met a lot of biomechs over the years, but the intensity of your desire to be free from a normal life is a rarity. I pride myself on the ability to read others well, so I know what I'm talking about. You're looking for freedom."
 
"Yeah, you're right," I admitted. "I want to see the world, and I want to call the shots."
 
"Well I don't know about calling the shots," the Nohtalian replied, "but there are some beautiful places out there. Still, you're available to relocate." He looked at his Dectraz friend. "That's good for a job application, right?"
 
"You're asking me?" he said in surprise. "I haven't applied for a job in over 10,000 years."
 
"Okay, fair enough," the Nohtalian shrugged his shoulders, looking back at me. "What experience do you have as a...what did you call me? Oh...that's right. A piraka. What experience do you have as a piraka?" He placed an open hand next to his mouth and whispered with a grin, "If you've never killed anyone or stolen anything, just say 'none.'"
 
"None," I replied awkwardly.
 
The Nohtalian shook his head and sighed. "Then why should I hire you?"
 
"I'm a hard worker, a quick learner, and I'm a decent shot with a rifle." I was picking up on his game.
 
"Good answer," the Nohtalian said, clapping a hand against his weapon a few times. "Now, I've got one more question for you. What is more important in a job: money or work?"
 
"It's always nice to have money, but if your heartlight isn't in your work, it's not worth the money."
 
The Nohtalian smiled. "All right then. I'd like to offer you a position with my team, Adrinor. Before you accept, I should warn you that disloyalty will not be tolerated. You can call us piraka or anything you want, but we look out for one another. It's one of the few laws in our otherwise lawless lives."
 
"I understand and I accept." The notion of joining these criminals seemed absurd, but this was secretly the chance I had been hoping for. I was no murderer, true, but there was an entire world out there. I had to see it.
 
Without warning, the bitter piraka with the lightning rifle elevated his weapon and fired a single shot over my shoulder. As I observed the trail of dark energy on the rifle, I knew he was a Nohtalian as well. I whirled around and watched Torema drop an energy pistol to the ground.
 
"No!" I screamed instinctively, running to the Matoran's side. Judging from the clean shot to his heartlight, I knew he was dead before he hit the dirt. Seeing the Po-Matoran body in the grass reminded me of how dangerous these individuals were, and what I had just agreed to join.
 
"Why did you come out here?" I whispered, looking down at Torema's mask.
 
"No Matoran survives a shot like that," the Nohtalian told me.
 
The female in the group playfully shoved Torema's killer in the shoulder. "I think you just shot our new friend's job reference." I almost thought she might've been a Toa, but upon closer inspection, her frost white head was merely the shape of a Mask of Possibilities. The snowy texture made up parts of her armor as well, while other plates were a royal purple. There was only one species that had a head in her shape, and they hailed from Trelbin. Appropriately, they were named Trelbans.
 
"We'll have to take him at his word then," the second Nohtalian growled, putting his weapon on his back. He glanced at me. "Your name's Adrinor?"
 
"Yeah," I said with a glare, attaching my rifle to my back as well. "And that Matoran was Torema. He was a good biomech and a hard worker."
 
"No one said he wasn't," the Nohtalian replied with a smirk. "I was more interested in doing a hiring procedure of my own. I could've disarmed that little Matoran without hurting him a bit, but you needed to be tested. You're asking to live a selfish dream, Adrinor, and I don't think there's any shame in that. If you can't do it though, you better get a shovel and start digging that Po-Matoran's grave. What's it going to be?"
 
I glanced over my shoulder at Torema's corpse, trying to ignore my guilt. It was a silent moment and a chance to really think about the situation. Torema deserved a better end and a longer life, but asking to join this gang was my choice and left me responsible for his fate. It was a moment of impressionable foolishness - one I couldn't take back.
 
"I'm going," I breathed.
 
"Then it's settled," the first Nohtalian said. "I suppose we ought to introduce ourselves as well. My name is Rovaius."
 
"I'm Stalgrax," the Nohtalian who killed Torema added flatly.
 
I glanced at the Dectraz and he spoke a single word. "Trylac." He didn't appear irritated or anxious, so I assumed he just wasn't much of a talker.
 
"I'm Elendra," the female member said, climbing onto her Kikanalo. "And in case you have any curiosities about why a female is roaming around with these biomechs, bear in mind that I've earned my position here. But soon enough, so will you." She motioned me forward and narrowed her eyes. "Get on."
 
I started for the Kikanalo, watching the piraka do the same. I was with them now, but I wasn't one of them. Not yet anyway. I turned to face Rovaius and tilted my head. "Where are we going?"
 
"Doesn't matter much," Rovaius replied, disregarding the question. "What you learn on the way will be far more beneficial anyway."
 
With that ominous response, I rode off with the outlaws. I knew other employees at the ranch would be showing up soon to begin tending to daily tasks, and one of them would surely stumble upon my previous employer's corpse. I had paid Torema my silent apology, and I knew I couldn't stay any longer. I had adopted a new life, and as the Kikanalo dashed further from the Po-Matoran, from Kinatra, from my little cabin, and from the whole of the ranch, the gravity of my situation finally struck me. The world I was leaving behind suddenly felt more important than ever before, because I knew it was gone. I had ample opportunity to leap from the Kikanalo and hurry back to the ranch, explain Torema's death, and return to the job I had chosen so long ago. When I first left Meldio and came to the Southern Continent, I was excited about my new home, despite it falling short of what I really wanted. Only now was I really beginning to fulfill my life's dream. And yet, as energized as I felt, I was restraining a sickening feeling about how it all might conclude.
 

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Edited by Black Six, May 20 2014 - 07:17 AM.

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#2 Offline Cederak

Cederak
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Posted Jun 15 2012 - 11:21 PM

"...And you have every right to be scared." -Fun.

 

Episode 02: A Chance Reflection

 

I spent that first day with Rovaius and his gang in silence. They would exchange commentary with one another now and again, but keeping their attention on the Kikanalo was their main priority. Each of the biomechs would glance around every few minutes or so, but Trylac, the insectoid Dectraz, did so rather frequently. Whether they were making sure no one was following or that they were on the correct route, I didn't have it in me to ask. After all, one of their members shot and killed my boss that morning.

 

In time, the scent of fresh air that permeated the southern fields was replaced by the faint stench of smoke. The sun was long gone when we finally stopped, but I actually had something to talk about. The biomechs dismounted and their Kikanalo were tied safely to a couple sturdy trees. It was a warm night, and I had no reservations about sleeping out in the open, beneath the starry skies. Barraki Takadox's armies were nowhere to be seen and few Rahi seemed to wander the area.

 

"Rovaius," I started softly, "can you smell smoke?"

 

Rovaius sat down next to a tree and leaned his head back against it, cradling a rifle in his arms. "We're not far southwest of Mount Valmai. That's probably where it's coming from. Now get some sleep, Adrinor. We have another long day ahead of us tomorrow."

 

I laughed. "Riding these Kikanalo? Seems a little primitive, don't you think?"

 

"This whole region is primitive," Rovaius said. "Takadox has hardly done anything with his part of the Southern Continent, ignoring it in favor of other lands. The simplicity of this land is beautiful, really, but there's no hope for growth or serious industry here. In these less inhabited areas, finding swift transport isn't always an easy task. I'd rather not hijack a Mahi carrier that has half the top speed of a Kikanalo."

 

Stalgrax propped himself against the opposite side of Rovaius' tree, and Trylac climbed the branches, vanishing among the leaves in the dark. Eerily, I could spot the glow of his ruby eyes from the ground. Elendra had opted to sleep in a patch of grass, and I decided to do the same. For having done nothing but ride a Kikanalo for most of the day, I was surprisingly exhausted. I shut my eyes and dozed off shortly afterward. When sleep came quickly for me, it was often a dreamless affair, and that night was no exception. The swirling blackness of sleep was accompanied by the ambience of midnight insects chirping and chattering to one another - it was serenity. The calm of my slumber was disturbed abruptly, however, when I started hearing voices. They were difficult to discern at first and I tried to conceal the fact that I was awake. Keeping my eyes closed, I listened to a hushed conversation.

 

"We're really doing this?" Elendra asked angrily.

 

"If you don't want to accept Adrinor, you don't have to," Rovaius growled. "I have made my decision."

 

"This is dangerous," Trylac said in a harsh tone. "Adrinor is too inexperienced. He will weaken us and put our lives at greater risk."

 

"Once upon a time, Trylac, so did you," Rovaius replied. "Remember, you were all untested when I met you. When I look at Adrinor, I can see a younger version of myself - a naïve biomech wanting nothing more than to escape his simple life. I invited each of you into this group over the years because you were like Adrinor…because the life you had been offered wasn't good enough. I am beginning to think you have forgotten a time when you were developing and afraid to kill."

 

No one spoke for a couple moments, and I was fearful that they realized I was awake. Attempting to remain completely still, I waited for someone to continue the discussion.

 

"I think this argument has been resolved," Rovaius said confidently. "Adrinor will not become an expert of our craft overnight, but it's clear that none of you have any evidence to suggest his training would be any more risky than when each of you joined."

 

It was after Rovaius' seemingly certain victory that Stalgrax finally spoke. When he did, he uttered a single word I was entirely unfamiliar with. I wasn't sure at first if it was a swear word in another language, but Stalgrax's tone suggested it was very negative. "Trivolox."

 

This silenced the group for much longer than what Rovaius had said, and I could only imagine what was going through their minds. What could 'Trivolox' possibly mean and why did it quiet a roving gang of criminals so easily?

 

"Okay then," Rovaius said, sounding defeated this time. "If that's what you think, Stalgrax, then you might as well put a bullet through Adrinor's head right now."

 

"I just think"-

 

"Your attitude is justified," Rovaius interrupted, "but everyone's situation is special. Now if we're finished, I'm going back to sleep."

 

"Yes," Stalgrax grumbled, "if only for a few more hours."

 

That was the end of it. Everyone returned to sleep and I revisited my dreamless state until a clawed hand shook me awake.

 

"We're going," the voice breathed.

 

I rapidly blinked my eyes and glanced up. The skies were still relatively dark, but the sun would be joining us in a couple hours. Trylac's glowing eyes were staring into mine, and one of his powerful arms was outstretched towards me. I took the clawed hand and he got me to my feet. I would have thanked him, but Trylac hurried off to untie his Kikanalo. I walked up to Elendra and watched her climb atop her Rahi.

 

"Sleep well?" Elendra asked, making no attempt to hide her indifference on the matter.

 

"Yeah, pretty much," I replied, hopping onto the back of the Kikanalo. "Any chance I can get a straight answer about where we're going?"

 

Stalgrax glanced at Rovaius, receiving a nod. The Nohtalian strode toward me then, rifle in tow. He held it away from himself and pointed just over the kneeling Kikanalo's head, holding the rifle by the stock. "You see that waterway?"

 

I stared out past the plains, scanning for any sign of water. As I squinted, I could make out a waterway near the edge of a lush, massive forest. "I can see it."

 

"That is the Tren Krom River," Stalgrax said. "Just beyond it lies a dense woodland area the local Matoran refer to as the Green Belt."

 

"Don't you mean 'lays a dense woodland area,' Stalgrax?" Trylac said, half smirking at the Nohtalian.

 

Stalgrax glared at him. "If your shooting matched your grammar, Adrinor could outgun you." Rovaius and Elendra chuckled at this, and even Trylac cracked a bitter smile. Stalgrax then turned his attention back to me. "So here's the deal. Navigating the forest is troublesome, so we'll be following the river east until we reach a small town. It's a sleepy little place named Marilea. Your Matoran friend didn't have a lot to hand over, so we'll be making a withdrawal in Marilea."

 

"You're going to kill more innocents?" I asked, already anticipating the answer.

 

"Not if they follow the instructions they're given," Elendra replied.

 

"But if the law shows up, well…" Stalgrax trailed off, chuckling to himself. "Get on that Kikanalo, Adrinor. You've got quite a day ahead of yourself. And the rest of us have another day ahead of ourselves."

 

"Yes, if the Great Spirit actually listened, I might thank him that I remain alive," Rovaius said to Stalgrax with a laugh.

 

We rode east for several hours, catching the sunrise right around the time I anticipated. With the light of dawn, I could see Mount Valmai in the distance and the extent of denseness the Green Belt truly possessed. I must have stared at Valmai for some time, because Elendra finally smacked my leg a couple times and glanced over her shoulder at me.

 

"Never seen a volcano before?"

 

"Nope. I only lived on Meldio before coming to Kinatra," I said. "I heard there were volcanoes south of Meldio, on islands like Artidax, but this is my first glimpse of one."

 

"You should spend less time gawking and more time cleaning the dust off your weapon," Elendra suggested. "A rifle is like a close friend. If you treat it well, it'll return the favor…usually."

 

I pulled the rifle from my back and studied it, blowing on the side of the barrel. I watched Elendra open a magnetic compartment attached to her hip and pull a small cloth from it. She held it out in my general direction while she kept her eyes ahead. I took the cloth and started wiping down my weapon.

 

"Thanks," I said with a smile.

 

"Just keep that rifle clean," Elendra replied harshly. "And…don't mention it."

 

That was as close to "you're welcome" as I was getting. As I diligently cleaned off the work that months of particles managed to accomplish, I couldn't help but think about Torema. This was his rifle, purchased from a Xian traveler years ago. It was a shame he didn't take better care of it and odd considering the amount he paid. He probably kept it looking beautiful at first, but with nothing to shoot that required such power, it became untouched and forgotten as the years went by.

 

Our ride continued up into midmorning, when a small town came into view. The quaintness of the area, with its wooden buildings reminded me of Kinatra. Greenish plains surrounded the town and a small lake could be seen nearby. This was Marilea. Rovaius led the gang into Marilea, garnering a few waves on the way to our destination. The locals clearly had no idea who we were, but were apparently accustomed to the sight of Kikanalo riders. After a minute or so, Rovaius got his Rahi to slow its pace and come to a halt outside a small power plant facility. The others stopped their Kikanalo as well, dismounting with Rovaius.

 

The gang tied up their Rahi to the railing outside the facility and we casually strolled across the street to a building whose sign read "Marilea Investments." We were about to rob a bank and I knew I was the only one on edge about it. Rovaius took the lead and I realized Trylac was gone.

 

"Come with me, Adrinor. You're getting a front row seat," Rovaius said excitedly.

 

We stepped inside and I watched Stalgrax and Elendra separate themselves from Rovaius and I immediately. I tried not to pay them too much attention and decided to focus on Rovaius instead. He smiled at the Ta-Matoran guard, giving a short wave as we continued to the desk. We walked another nine or ten steps and I could feel myself becoming lightheaded. The Ga-Matoran at the desk grinned at Rovaius and he returned the expression.

 

"How are you doing this morning?" Rovaius asked, trying to conceal the general roughness his voice typically carried.

 

"Wonderful, thank you for asking," she said. "Are you making a withdrawal or a deposit?"

 

Rovaius smirked at me for a second or so and I nearly blurted out a warning to the Ga-Matoran teller. Instead, I was silent as he leaned forward on the desk, letting his arm rest on it as he spoke very closely to the Ga-Matoran. "Well, that really depends," he started, his voice hushed, and returning to its usual gruff quality. "You see, I noticed the violet in your eyes behind that Kanohi Mahiki you've got. I suppose you could say I have a soft spot for violet eyes."

 

The Ga-Matoran was slowly losing her smile and I tried to look as natural as possible. I didn't need a mirror to know I was doing a poor job - my nerves had gotten the best of me as I listened to Rovaius draw out his intentions. He glanced at the tiny nameplate on the desk and looked back to the Ga-Matoran.

 

"Look, Myelor, I want to tell you a couple things. If you look far enough behind us, you can see that a sniper has his rifle trained on your head. Don't stare too long, he may get suspicious. I would hate to see those precious violet eyes of yours go dark in an instant."

 

Rovaius seemed so well versed in taking things, it was almost disgusting to watch. He was treating crime as an art form and—though I hated to admit it—he was talented.

 

"Second," Rovaius continued, "the two biomechs we walked in with are not here to set up an account with the sack of money they have. But they're talking with your co-worker about the details anyway, because that's the plan. Now, here's where things get complicated. You asked me whether or not I was making a deposit or a withdrawal." Rovaius faintly chuckled for a moment. I was sure the Ta-Matoran guard was wary by this point, but I didn't dare look over my shoulder at him. "I need you to fill a bag larger than the one my friends are carrying, and I need it full of money. If you can do this quickly, quietly, and calmly, that will be the end of my transaction. You can go about your day and when you're home in bed, you can think back on the lovely morning minutes you spent with an interesting character."

 

"Maybe I"-

 

"Quiet," Rovaius growled at me, never looking away from Myelor. "This isn't an interactive lesson, so hold still and watch." His smile returned as he stared into Myelor's eyes. "I apologize for my companion here. He's still learning, and lucky you, you're playing a role in his experience today. Regarding my final point, though, if you draw too much attention while retrieving my money, I will be making a deposit. I'll undoubtedly have to shoot and kill the guard on my way out, but if you do anything to make his job easier, so help me, I'll deposit so many rounds into your head, they'll be finding Kanohi Mahiki shards in the floor for the next month."

 

"I'll…I'll get right on it," Myelor whispered, fear pouring out of her voice.

 

Rovaius stood upright, withdrawing a bit from the desk as he said, "Thank you." He turned to face me and his expression became serious. "Stalgrax and Elendra will be leaving through the window with our money and Trylac will be keeping an eye out for the law. Your interactive lesson will begin when Myelor comes back with a nice full bag. You'll be killing the Ta-Matoran guard."

 

My nerves suddenly tensed up and I froze on the spot. "He's just doing his job and"-

 

"He'll be doing his job pretty well if he starts shooting before you," Rovaius said, disrupting my argument. "I'll intervene if he manages to…incapacitate you, but you had better look like you're making an effort before that happens. A town this size means the law will be here a couple minutes after the first shots go off. We need to be leaving by the time they arrive, understood?"

 

"Okay, I got it," I said reluctantly.

 

Rovaius offered me a smile and pat my shoulder a couple times. "Good luck, Adrinor."

 

Myelor returned with a heavy bag that she was nearly dragging from behind the counter. I wanted to lend her a hand, but I had a feeling Rovaius would be against it. Without warning though, Rovaius lunged over the counter and shouted, "Now!"

 

I whirled around just in time to watch Stalgrax whip his rifle from his back and fire it off through the ceiling. "Everybody get down!" he demanded. Elendra shot out the window's glass and the two leapt into the street, taking off for their Kikanalo. I pulled the laser rifle from my back and realized I was an open target for the Ta-Matoran guard. I hurdled the counter and fell next to Rovaius, watching him hold his ill-gotten money. Myelor took my arrival as an opportunity and scurried off to join her fellow tellers in the far corner.

 

"Now or never, Adrinor," Rovaius said.

 

"Drop the money and put your hands up!" the guard hollered at us.

 

I loaded a laser shell into my weapon and waited a couple seconds. I didn't need a fully charged shell to kill a Matoran, but I needed to be faster than him. I immediately regretted not examining the guard's weapon when we walked in, but it only took a couple seconds for me to recall that Rovaius had time to check when he was greeting the Ta-Matoran.

 

"What is the guard carrying?" I asked.

 

"An energy pistol at the side, likely a dozen rounds in the clip. He also had a Kanoka launcher with what I think was either a shrink disk or a weaken disk. All I know is that the second digit was a three. I'm not as certain of what ability corresponds to a Kanoka's second number as Stalgrax. Look at it this way, Adrinor. If you're fast enough, my lack of Kanoka familiarity won't be a problem."

 

"Yeah…" I trailed off uncertainly. The laser rifle was charged and I took a deep breath. I crawled to the end of the counter, rolling into sight and taking aim at the Ta-Matoran.

 

"He's over there!" one of the tellers shouted to the Matoran guard.

 

The guard redirected his attention from Rovaius' position to mine, holding the energy pistol in both hands. Without hesitation, I fired my weapon, blasting a hole in the Matoran of fire's left shoulder. He dropped the pistol in agony, falling to the floor. Rovaius must've been listening carefully, because he suddenly dashed from behind the counter and raced out the door with the bag of money. I was still feeling the shock of intentionally harming another biomech and my reaction time was incredibly low. This gave the guard the time he needed to pick up his pistol with his right hand and draw it at me. I knew that if I didn't react soon enough, this would be the end of my very short journey. On occasion, local biomechs might mention in passing a crazy ranch worker who let his boss get killed only to be gunned down a day later in a bank robbery. I wasn't going to let that become my fate.

 

I dropped the dead shell out of my rifle and caught it, hurling the metallic cylinder at the guard. It struck him hard in the mask and I dove for him, clutching the hand that held the energy pistol. "Not fast enough," I snarled, stomping my foot onto his wounded shoulder. The Matoran screamed out in pain and I took advantage of the moment by tearing the pistol from his grasp. My hand shaking, I pressed the weapon to his crimson Kanohi Miru and stared into his fear-stricken, glowing lemon eyes.

 

"I don't want to die," he whispered, pleading for his life.

 

I shut my eyes tight, on the verge of fainting. Finally, I looked into his horrified face and frowned. "Neither do I."

 

To this day, I'm not really sure what happened after that. Rovaius said he came back and pulled me off the Ta-Matoran's corpse, forcing me to release the pistol. I vaguely recall being thrown behind Elendra on her Kikanalo and the distant sound of gunfire. Rovaius sounded urgent about hurrying north, but my only visual memory is of my laser rifle. As the Kikanalo galloped across the plains, I just remember staring into the weapon's glossy stock, staring at my reflection. There was no emotion to be found, short of feeling stunned anyway. I had killed a biomech and hadn't taken any pleasure in it. I had also willingly aided in a theft, which checked off the second of two qualifications that made me a full-fledged piraka. I knew then that my freedom would come at the price of ending the lives of biomechs who lived in law-abiding conformity. But in due time, I would learn freedom had a way of requesting more unusual payments as well.


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Edited by Cederak, Jan 26 2014 - 01:07 PM.

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#3 Offline Cederak

Cederak
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Posted Jun 22 2012 - 07:01 PM

"No one knows what it's like, to be the bad man, to be the sad man...behind blue eyes." -The Who

 

Episode 03: The King of Six Kingdoms

 

My actions in Marilea had left me in something of a trance until late in the afternoon. I recalled the sweet-smelling gas coming from my rifle, a toxic fume that could kill you if inhaled for too long. I could remember the Ta-Matoran guard and whispering the last words he would ever hear. After that, I only had fragmented memories. Someone screamed. It could've been me, maybe even the Ta-Matoran, but it was probably a teller.

 

"You all right?"

 

Rovaius' gruff voice forced me out of my daydreaming and I glanced up at him. I was the only one still sitting on a Kikanalo. "Is killing always so difficult?"

 

"No," Rovaius said flatly.

 

"It's your first kill," Trylac added. "The first of anything is always exciting…even if the excitement is terrifying."

 

"So it gets easier?" I asked, stepping down off the Rahi.

 

"Entirely," Trylac said. "The first kill is always a tenuous business. Second kill makes you think about the first kill. Third kill makes you think about the first two. It goes on like that until you reach a dozen or so. After that, they all start to feel the same. The faces change and the locations might too, but it becomes familiar and almost automatic. You can only wear your compassion so thin before you stop caring who was in your sights."

 

"You raise a good point, Trylac," Rovaius noted. "I can't honestly tell you how many biomechs I've killed."

 

"It sounds like you just become unfeeling," I said, a bit of contempt escaping my voice.

 

"We are murderers, Adrinor," Trylac coldly reminded me. "Empathizing with your enemies can be more dangerous than attempting to kill them. There are enough dead Toa to prove that much."

 

"I suppose there are," I agreed. I looked at the sky and realized sundown was coming in about four hours. "Hey, where are we?"

 

"North of the Tren Krom River," Elendra replied. "This is Barraki Mantax's realm and, unfortunately for us, he is rather distrusting of his fellow warlords. Any lands controlled by Mantax are often guarded near the sea gates by well-armored soldiers."

 

"But like any competent thieves, we know what we're doing," Rovaius said. "Our Kikanalo will be serving as a distraction for us to board a freighter headed to Xia. They smash through some cargo and we sneak aboard."

 

"You're just going to leave them?" I asked.

 

"We found them south of Kinatra," Stalgrax replied. "We've actually spent more time with them than we've known you."

 

"They respond to you as though they've been trained," I said skeptically.

 

"That's because they have been trained, but I'll let you guess how we found them," Stalgrax said, holding his grin at me. "Don't dwell on that; we need to be going."

 

We continued along the plains for another hour or so until a massive harbor came into sight. Colossal freighters of gray and black were being loaded with cargo crates, labeled with destinations I had never known of. Towering cranes stacked the crates and the biomechs at the controls were constantly working to keep a steady pace. The water surrounding the pier was a mixture of turquoise and a sickly green, appearing much less clean than the lake near Marilea. I seemed to recall the Tren Krom River being a similar shade to this, but my eyes had mostly been upon my rifle when we crossed.

 

"Beryl Harbor," Elendra laughed.

 

Stalgrax glanced at me with what was becoming his usual smirk. "Can you tell they named it before the shipping industry arrived?"

 

I said nothing, giving him a brief smile to show I appreciated his sarcasm. The gang halted their Kikanalo and Rovaius leapt from his Rahi.

 

"It'll be a few minutes' walk from here, but security doesn't look too tight today," Rovaius muttered, staring out at the harbor. "Trylac, I want you to get ready."

 

Trylac silently took a few steps away from the group, making odd clicking noises in the process. Meanwhile, Stalgrax untied their bags of money from the Kikanalo and handed one off to Elendra.

 

"Okay, Trylac will be just behind us," Rovaius said, probably more to me than anyone else. "We move as a team, and you follow my lead." He walked over to Trylac and pulled the sniper rifle from his back, peering through the sniper scope down toward the harbor. It only took a few seconds before Rovaius shouted, "Found one! We've got a ticket to Xia!" He returned the rifle to Trylac's back and walked ahead of us. "We don't stop unless I say so, Adrinor."

 

Rovaius took a few deep breaths and suddenly took off running for the harbor. Even from so far away, there were plenty of buildings and large cargo crates to hide around. I took off after him, managing to keep up with Elendra and Stalgrax. We weren't sprinting, but it was comforting to know I could maintain their jogging speed. I looked over my shoulder at Trylac who had opened his mouth wide, his mandibles separating further and further. He then lurched himself forward, and I thought I heard something. The sound I picked up lasted for a fraction of a second (if I wasn't actually hearing an object on the harbor), but the Kikanalo responded to it without delay. Trylac was using a frequency almost outside my range of hearing, allowing him to manipulate the Kikanalo. The Rahi started charging for the harbor and I watched as the beasts ran recklessly to the water. It wasn't long before the Kikanalo sped past us, moving with unprecedented speed now that they lacked passengers. Glancing further back, I could see Trylac was dashing after us.

 

I didn't want to waste precious breath asking Rovaius what the Kikanalo were supposed to hit and—as I thought about it—I figured only Trylac really knew. The Dectraz finally caught up with us, four insectoid wings extended as he bolted over the grass, starting to hover after a moment. I hadn't paid enough attention to realize Trylac possessed wings, but I was suddenly very curious to know how capable they were. I remembered my own advice on saving breath and decided to save the question for later. The Kikanalo smashed their way through several cargo crates just before we made it to the harbor, knocking a Vortixx into the air in the process. There was enough of a time lapse between that event and our arrival that the soldiers could gain some distance from their posts and we could sneak by.

 

Rovaius and his gang did this for a living and their execution was flawless. The guards fought to calm the Kikanalo and prevent any further damage and we boarded the stairway to a freighter heading north to Xia. Many of the olive and rust colored crates were labeled with the word "Xia" somewhere on them, and they were easily the size of three Kikanalo. Rovaius ran for a nearby cargo crate and pulled the handles down, opening the doorway.

 

"In here," he growled, motioning us to follow. We crept inside the crate, with only the bottom half containing three large energy generators of some kind. I sat atop a round sphere in the center of the middle generator and watched Trylac seal us into absolute darkness.

 

"So…" I started. "Why Xia?"

 

I listened as Rovaius fumbled with a small bag at his side and heard a metallic object connect with his hand. "This is why." He clicked part of the object and it exploded with light. A silvery, yellow orb rested in his hand, radiating power. "South of your home of Meldin is a place called Suizek. The local biomech scientists were working on a more compact way to power war mechs for Barraki Takadox. Commonly, a battle mech designed for one user comes with a heavy battery pack attached to the back. This can be a serious disadvantage if the enemy can strafe behind you. And so this was designed to be kept inside the armor and more difficult to damage or destroy."

 

"That's incredible," I whispered, marveling at the orb.

 

Rovaius smiled. "Yes it is. If the scientists who worked on this device were correct, it can produce more energy in its lifetime than the combined power of the three generators we're sitting on."

 

I grinned. "So we're going to sell it in Xia?"

 

Rovaius frowned before deactivating the mechanism, plunging us back into the dark. "When we met, I spoke against being able to call all the shots."

 

"Yeah, I remember. Your group works for someone in Xia then?"

 

"Barraki Pridak," Rovaius replied proudly.

 

"No," I uttered in disbelief, almost laughing. "Pridak would never allow you to do this! He would have you destroyed for stealing from him and killing his soldiers!"

 

"Keep your voice down, the guards will be returning soon," Rovaius growled. "And Pridak only asks us to be on our 'best behavior' when visiting islands under his jurisdiction. Outside his realm, we are free. In return for overlooking the chaos we bring to his brethren, we have agreed to work with Pridak to support his supremacy. His leadership is an informal title, but I would rather have Pridak in charge than any other Barraki."

 

I wasn't in the mood to argue the matter with Rovaius. "Okay then. So what do we do until we arrive in Xia?"

 

"Well," Rovaius sighed, thinking to himself, "we won't reach Xia for another twelve hours, and we're all rather sleep deprived at the moment. I think I'll be putting my efforts toward catching up on that. However you choose to spend the next dozen hours, just try to stay quiet."

 

"I can manage that," I replied, leaning back against the crate's wall. I hadn't gotten much sleep the night before and I was beginning to feel the effects. There was no way to tell how long I stayed awake in the crate, but I'm fairly certain that I slept for most of the journey. We finally got a rude awakening when a crane scooped up our crate and gently set us down on the southwestern Xian harbor. I squinted in the shadows, and I could hear one of the piraka attempting to unlock the internal latch.

 

The latch clicked and Stalgrax gave a short laugh. "Got it!" He barely pushed the door open, checking to see if we were clear. The light was blinding at first, but my eyes adjusted after a few moments.

 

"We're safe," Stalgrax said, leaving the crate and vanishing around the corner. Trylac and Elendra followed, while Rovaius remained behind me. I stepped out of the crate and nearly gagged, taking in a deep breath of awful fumes. I coughed several times as I adjusted to the smog in the air. Looking at the island's skyscrapers, I felt overwhelmed by a sickening feeling. Thick, dark clouds of noxious green formed around the atmosphere, only appearing to subside near the peak of a colossal mountain in the center of Xia. The distant sound of factory workers and machines hard at work rang through my audio receptors, and I watched smokestacks launch more harmful gases into the air over the island.

 

Rovaius gently pushed me forward and I immediately remembered why I was there. I hurried after the others and stood at the entrance of a city more dedicated to industry than I had ever imagined. I could see a large fortress filled with guards a few blocks away. Unlike castles of gray stone and brick, the structure was designed to be contemporary with Xia, plated with walls of dark metal and sharp spires jutting skyward. A tower lay in the center, adorned with a massive banner. The banner had a circle on it, divided six ways into the colors blue, red, green, white, yellow, and black. At the circle’s center was a golden Kanohi Hau (representing Mata Nui’s will that the six outer colors control the universe). This was the infamous League symbol and the tower had to be Pridak's. I glanced at Rovaius to confirm my theory. "Are we heading for that tower?"

 

"You and I will be, yes," Rovaius said. We watched as Trylac, Elendra, and Stalgrax strolled further down the street. "They'll be trading in our earnings for new weaponry and ammunition. You can't find finer weapons than the ones made right here in Xia. I'm sure one of them will be kind enough to purchase some new laser shells for you."

 

I opened the tiny bag at my side. I only had five rounds left. "Yeah, that'd help."

 

Rovaius and I walked side by side down the Xian streets, and I watched countless Vortixx go about their day.

 

"They get angry if you stare," Rovaius said. "Especially the females."

 

"Why do all the males seem so exhausted?"

 

"The Vortixx are a matriarchal society," Rovaius replied. "Males are the working class, and are seen as inferior. Living so far from Xia, I'm sure the only Vortixx customers you received were female. Males only seem to leave this island to work on the freighters."

 

I thought about it for a moment and Rovaius was right. Only Vortixx females ever came to the ranch and I wasn't ever curious enough to ask about the male population. "They must not care for Pridak much…"

 

"Pridak isn't a Vortixx," Rovaius said. "He's surprisingly popular among the male and female Vortixx inhabitants. Of course, he spends much of his time on Xia up in his tower." Rovaius pointed at the banner hanging over the fortress. "He calls it Anxious Solitude."

 

"Sounds nice," I said uncertainly. We finished the short walk up to the main gate and the guards opened the way for us ahead of time.

 

"Morning," Rovaius greeted them cheerfully.

 

"Does Pridak know about your guest, Rovaius?" one of the Vortixx guards asked. She was a thin, azure biomech wielding a long, black trident.

 

Rovaius stopped in his tracks. "No, actually. This is Adrinor. I was going to have him checked in at the front desk. You're going to be seeing more of him in the future."

 

She narrowed her eyes on me, pulling out a small communications device. "I'll be contacting the guards outside Pridak's chamber that you have a new ally with you this morning. We wouldn't want a mishap or anything."

 

"Thank you," Rovaius replied, motioning me to follow him inside the fortress. The service desk was directly ahead, while a pair of staircases wrapped their way up along the sides.

 

"Nice to see you again, Rovaius," the service clerk said, setting down a stack of tablets with a smile. He was a teal Vortixx, a bit short for his species considering his height rivaled my own.

 

"And the same to you," Rovaius grinned. "This is Adrinor. I'll need to check him in as a new member of my team."

 

"Naturally," the Vortixx laughed, pushing a few tablets off of a larger piece on the desk. He grabbed a carving tool and held it out at me. "I'll need your signature on this, and specify your species afterward."

 

I stepped up to the desk and signed "Adrinor, Meldin" onto the tablet. "That should do it."

 

He glanced down at where I signed and smiled. "Excellent. Pridak is in a fine mood this morning and I'm sure he has something lined up for you."

 

"He always does," Rovaius said, heading up the left staircase. I followed him, taking a moment to examine the ornate carpeting that covered the stairs. The banister had a sleek obsidian finish and, as I ascended, I realized a massive chandelier hung in the middle of the high ceiling. Rovaius pressed a button to call down the elevator and the doorway opened in a flash. We walked inside and Rovaius pushed a button for the twentieth floor. He pulled out the energy core from its bag, holding it in his right hand.

 

"What do you think he'll do with that thing?" I asked.

 

"He'll make sure it's finished first, then he'll mass produce it, and then he'll sell it to the other Barraki at an inflated price," Rovaius said, almost as if he were simply explaining what he would do with it. "That's how the game works."

 

"Are you saying the other Barraki employ gangs too?"

 

"Would it surprise you that other teams are hired to steal technology from Pridak and his legions? The other Barraki would be foolish not to at least consider the idea."

 

I smirked at Rovaius. "You're an interesting biomech all right. You seem very educated and not above etiquette when it helps you. I guess I always thought the bad guys would be…bad."

 

Rovaius gave me a strange look. "I can assure you, we aren't all psychos that wreck towns and bury villages to blow off some steam. We don't all kill because we're bored, and we haven't all lost our tact. Bad is a viewpoint, a word that can be used like a hammer or a sword. It has great potential if used properly. In the end, though, there is rational thought and the promotion of our freedom and continuity, and the refusal of those ideals. To reject thought, to lose your freedom to unbridled passion, is absolute evil."

 

The elevator opened and Rovaius strode into the hallway, passing several guards along the way. The Vortixx at the main gate clearly notified these soldiers, or I probably would have had a rifle at my head in seconds. The entire hallway was a bright white, with lights placed beneath glass cases in both the floor and ceiling. The walls were a glossy white, metallic and clean. The far door was built like the rest of the room, but in its center, a multitude of blue lights were glowing. The lights were a letter "P" and a clear display of Pridak's ego. A pair of guards simultaneously hit a button on each side of the wall, causing the doorway to slide open. Rovaius walked through without changing his pace and I awkwardly followed.

 

Once inside, the doorway suddenly resealed and we were standing in a circular chamber with a long window on the opposite end. A large chair was placed in front of a desk—nearly the length of the window—that was full of tablets. A white, armored hand pushed a button and several lights flickered on over us. The chair spun around and its occupant rose slowly, smirking at Rovaius and me.

 

"Good morning, Your Eminence," Rovaius greeted, marching up to the entity with an apparent sense of fulfillment.

 

The Barraki smiled in return, intently eyeing the energy core. "Hello," Pridak breathed.

 

Pridak was a tall, sturdy figure. His sheer stance radiated the power he commanded and I have to believe he was very aware of this. His armor was jet black and icy white, while his eyes were an intense, almost hypnotic sapphire. Extending down his back was a crimson cape, frayed at the ends. A white crest pointed backward atop his head, which appeared to be just as sharp as the katana at his hip.

 

I watched Rovaius hand over the energy core and Pridak took it carefully. As he studied the power source, activating it, he muttered, "Are you going to introduce the new recruit?"

 

Rovaius motioned me forward and I obeyed. Standing before Pridak was almost like standing before Mata Nui himself. This entity had been handpicked by the Great Spirit to preside over countless lands and, while he chose to conquer them, there was a brilliance and strength to his achievements that left me in awe.

 

I smiled. "My name is Adrinor. It's an honor to meet you, Barraki Pridak."

 

Pridak glanced up from the power source, shut it down, and looked into my eyes. "Load your rifle, Adrinor. I have a favor to ask." His voice was smooth and silky - carrying the same hypnotic quality as his eyes. It was a voice that could prattle on about anything and lull you to sleep not through boredom, but soothingly. I pulled the rifle from my back, turned the bolt handle, and listened to the laser shell hum. Pridak smirked at me and grabbed my shoulder armor, walking me across the room. He then drew his katana and held it aloft in Rovaius' direction. "Okay, Adrinor. I want you to shoot Rovaius...square in the heartlight."

 

My mind was suddenly racing as I held the loaded weapon, staring down Rovaius. Nothing about Pridak suggested he was kidding, but Rovaius definitely looked nervous. The Nohtalian took a few careful steps backward, remaining silent as he stared me down. It was true that he had killed so many biomechs that he lost count, but I wasn't sure I could execute him. I looked over my shoulder at Pridak for guidance. His silent response was a sinister grin. "Pridak...what if I refuse?"

 

"Refuse?" Pridak replied, stifling a laugh. He turned the katana toward my chest. "I do not take kindly to insubordination, Adrinor. You would do well to know that."

 

My eyes went wide as I looked over the shimmering blade pointed at me. My attention returned to my rifle, but I was frozen, just like on the ranch. Rovaius had shown me a great kindness to spare my life, to invite me into his group, and to allow me to live my dream. I owed him my loyalty over Pridak. That thought gave me strength when I stared hard into the Barraki's eyes and defiantly whispered, "No. I won't kill him."

 

"Are you sure about that?" Pridak asked, drawing the sword back in preparation to strike.

 

Rovaius stood still on the other side of the room, cautiously fumbling with his own weapon. Whether he planned to save me from Pridak's ultimatum or save himself if I chose to carry out the Barraki's order, I was uncertain. I closed my eyes then, prepared to accept whatever came next. "I'm sure, Pridak. I'm sorry."

 

I heard Pridak swiftly leap back before the sound of a blade cutting the air rang out through my audio receptors. It was so close, I was sure it would pierce me next. What came instead was the sound of a katana returning to its scabbard. I hesitantly opened my eyes and saw Pridak's head turned toward Rovaius. "You inspire quick devotion, Rovaius, I will give you that much."

 

"Thank you, Your Eminence," Rovaius replied modestly, giving a short nod.

 

Pridak whirled back to me, a wide grin plastered across his face. I fought the urge to shudder - he instantly reminded me of a shark. Pridak then pressed a button on my laser rifle, causing it to make a crunching sound before it ejected the charged shell through a compartment on the bottom. Pridak bent down and snatched up the shell, holding the charred black object at eye level with me. The cartridge's energy liquid had been vaporized and, by extension, wasted. "If you let a standard laser rifle hold a charge for several minutes, it will destroy the weapon. In most cases, it takes a hand with it too." Pridak casually let the empty cartridge drop to the floor. The metallic tube briefly clanged against the tile before rolling a short distance.

 

"Have you ever been to Zakaz, Adrinor?"

 

"I can't say I have," I confessed, picking up the dead cartridge. Pridak's demeanor while holding it managed to perfectly conceal how hot it remained and I instinctively let it fall back to the floor.

 

"By this time next week, your answer will have changed," Pridak replied before momentarily reflecting on his words. "Unless you die on the way, of course."

 

"I'm not planning on it," I replied coolly.

 

"We seldom do," Pridak said. "On Zakaz, you will find a technologically sufficient land, due in no small part to the efforts of Barraki Ehlek. The native Skakdi are capable builders, but their intelligence leaves something to be desired. It is for this reason, and the fact that Ehlek's species lives off the coast of Zakaz, that he was granted control of the region. Ehlek was created as a water-breathing biomech, but his lofty role in the universe required that he accommodate himself to the surface. As such, he wears a device around his head that essentially works like a Kanohi Kaukau in reverse."

 

"Must be awkward on the surface for him," I muttered.

 

Pridak smirked. "You might think so, but Ehlek took time to sharpen his skills above water. He wanted to be sure the rest of us would not have a serious physical advantage over him, and he succeeded. You should hope your paths do not cross."

 

I nodded slowly and watched Rovaius approach. "What do you need from Zakaz?" he asked.

 

"Ehlek put a team of clever Skakdi together to build a prototype for a weapon that appears to absorb a massive amount of ambient energy and redistribute it as raw power. Even though a clever Skakdi is still a dullard by comparison to me, Ehlek's 'Hyper Burst Cannon' prototype was successful. I have received evidence that it is being quietly placed onboard a high-speed magnet train and sent across the island tomorrow afternoon."

 

"That leaves us plenty of time to reach Zakaz," Rovaius smiled.

 

"Yes," Pridak agreed, "and the secretary down at the front desk will have the funds for your tickets. I had not anticipated Adrinor in your company, but getting a little extra for his ticket is no issue. You may hitch a boat ride with my soldiers out to Zakaz, but they will go no further than the dock."

 

"Typical," Rovaius said casually. "What is the train's name that we'll be boarding?"

 

"Ephemeral Wonder," Pridak groaned. "Ehlek came up with the pretentious title personally."

 

Says the biomech who calls his fortress "Anxious Solitude." I thought to myself.


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Edited by Cederak, Jan 26 2014 - 01:09 PM.

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#4 Offline Cederak

Cederak
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Posted Jun 29 2012 - 12:20 PM

"All the right friends in all the right places, all the right moves and all the right faces." -OneRepublic

 

Episode 04: An Ephemeral Journey

 

We left Xia early the next morning on a swift sailing vessel piloted by Pridak's soldiers. Sitting on the deck, I examined the two full pouches of laser rifle shells purchased for me by Elendra. I had an odd feeling she might be fonder of my weapon than she was of me, but I didn't think about it long. She took a seat next to me, the dark violet portions of her armor shimmering very brightly under the morning sun.

 

"Thanks again for the rifle shells," I said kindly.

 

Elendra smirked. "We can't expect you to be very effective without ammunition, now can we?"

 

I chuckled. "No, not really." My eyes darted around for a moment, before taking the discussion in another direction. "If you don't mind me asking, why did you leave Trelbin?"

 

Elendra raised an eyebrow at me. "Why are you suddenly concerned?"

 

"It was just a question," I replied uneasily. "You don't have to answer me if you don't want to."

 

Elendra leaned back and stared up at the clouds. "Why does anyone leave home?"

 

"I left because I wanted to see more of the world. Of course, Meldio being just south of the Southern Continent isn't too far."

 

"No, it's not," Elendra agreed flatly. "I left Trelbin after Pridak conquered it from my kind. I was arrested for attempting to rally my brethren against him and after he rambled on about keeping friends close and enemies closer, he offered me a position on Xia as a military advisor to some of his low ranking troops."

 

"And you took the job?"

 

Elendra smiled. "I declined. Pridak had me imprisoned for a week until Rovaius returned from a mission and learned about what I did. He came down to my cell and requested me for his team. I took that job."

 

I smiled back at her. "Do you like this? Y'know…this life?"

 

Elendra sighed happily. "It isn't a glamorous life, but it's one of my choosing. The Great Spirit sees all that we do. If that is true, then he knows the Barraki have conquered and divided the universe among themselves. He allowed them to kill and destroy, and never once raised a finger to stop them. Despite the virtues that Matoran preach about Mata Nui, he seems very tolerable of misconduct in his lands. I believe in having a sense of unity, duty, and destiny, but I also have a sense of free will, of choice. This is my life, and if I must live it while six kings preside over the world, I would rather work with them than serve before them."

 

"Hmm…" I thought aloud. "I suppose this is a glamorous life if the alternative means being enslaved."

 

Elendra pulled a small container from her hip and handed it to me. "I forgot to give you this yesterday. I guess you could call it an initiation gift or some such thing. Take it."

 

I accepted the container, examining the magnetic clip on the back before popping it open. A silver, silken cloth lay neatly folded inside. I looked back at Elendra and grinned. "This seems like more of a gift for my rifle."

 

"Do you want it or not!?" Elendra growled, narrowing her eyes.

 

"Yeah, yeah I'll keep it," I replied hastily, connecting it to my hip. "Thank you, Elendra."

 

"You're welcome," she spat. "I don't go out of my way to do stuff like this much, so don't get used to it."

 

"I wasn't planning on it," I said, rolling my eyes. It was clear that beneath her callous demeanor, Elendra had some degree of thoughtfulness to her, but it wasn't a side she was comfortable showing much. I felt like I had to say something, at least making an attempt to break through to her compassion. "I really do appreciate this though."

 

"I'm sure you do," Elendra said, half smiling as she stood up and walked off, heading below deck. Rovaius and Stalgrax were busy talking up near the front of the railing, and I hadn't seen Trylac since we boarded. I saw Stalgrax glance over his shoulder at me for a moment before turning back to Rovaius. They shared a brief laugh and Stalgrax decided to head my way. I tried not to pay him too much attention, staring out at the water.

 

Stalgrax chuckled at me. "Did you get her temper going?"

 

"Uh…no. She picked up this case for me and I told her it seemed like a gift for my weapon."

 

Stalgrax looked at the case on my hip and nodded. "I saw that case yesterday. Elendra said she was getting a new one for herself. That Trelban still can't find it in herself to be upfront about an act of kindness."

 

"She definitely seems a bit closed off," I muttered.

 

Stalgrax laughed. "You think? For what she lacks in emotion, though, she more than makes up for in weaponry skills. I've seen her pop someone in the head from over a kio out. It took a few shots, but she got him." Stalgrax looked away from the container and glanced at Rovaius for a couple seconds before turning back to me. "Rovaius says you think he's pretty smart."

 

"You all are," I assured him. "Otherwise, you'd be caught or dead."

 

"It doesn't take a lot of knowledge to avoid those fates, just a quick and steady hand. The inept look at the intelligent with awe, never aware their idols are mostly sophomoric imbeciles. We aren't scholars, Adrinor, but we remain active and alive because we have something most scholars lack - common sense."

 

I laughed softly and Stalgrax grinned at me. "I'll see you when we reach Zakaz in a couple hours." The Nohtalian walked off and I watched Rovaius stare out at the endless water for a few minutes. The sea gate to Zakaz was in the distance, but I had a feeling that Rovaius had more on his mind than waves. I had done enough questioning for one morning though, so I reclined in my seat and waited for the trip to end.

 

I drifted off to sleep after some time, because Rovaius had to shake me awake when we arrived at Zakaz's eastern port. I groggily opened my eyes and got to my feet, scooping up my laser rifle. I quickly disembarked the ship, taking in the beauty of Zakaz. Unlike the polluted land of Xia, Zakaz sat beneath a bright sky, filled with shimmering skyscrapers. Suspended high above the streets, a long track wrapped its way around the buildings, connected to the ground by metallic supports here and there.

 

"Quite the city, huh?" Rovaius asked.

 

"It's incredible," I whispered. "Does all of Zakaz look like this?"

 

"Mostly," Rovaius replied. "This is only one city though. It's called Tyderian. You'll be able to see most of the island from the train platform before we board."

 

My fellow piraka stepped off the ship, waiting for their next orders. I wanted to stare at Tyderian a bit longer, but I knew we had business to attend to. Rovaius led us up the street, past the numerous Skakdi heading about their day. I had only met a couple Skakdi in my life, but that permanent grin was so unnerving. Trying to avoid any direct eye contact, I continued following Rovaius. The streets were much busier than on Xia, but I believe that had something to do with the toxic air in the Vortixx homeland. Rovaius rounded a corner and walked up to a transparent set of doors. I glanced up at a large sign above the door reading "Tyderian Station."

 

"I'll let Elendra take this one," Rovaius said, pushing the doors open and stepping inside. The station's main lobby was a massive chamber, with a grand chandelier on the ceiling and a fountain on each end of the room. Six elevators transported biomechs up to the platform far above and the transparent glass casings allowed for a great view of the city. Skakdi were seated on the many benches throughout the room, but once Elendra took the lead, I could see our destination was a small door straight ahead. Just above the door was a wide screen listing arrivals and departures of magnet trains to the station. Elendra took us into the smaller room, containing a counter on the other end and a few small posters on the walls about magnet train safety protocol. Trylac closed the door behind us and Elendra walked toward the counter, suddenly halting and glancing over her shoulder at me.

 

"Come here, Adrinor," she ordered. I marched to her side and we reached the counter together.

 

A teal-armored Skakdi walked up to the desk from a room I couldn't see, his bright orange eyes watching Elendra carefully. All Skakdi have a lasting grin plastered on their faces, but this one lost as much of his smile as he could around the time Elendra found one. I looked at the Trelban and suspected I was brought forward for a performance.

 

"Hello," Elendra cooed. Her voice was impossibly kind and gentle. That would have been a comforting voice from anyone else, but it didn't match Elendra by any means. The Skakdi's eyes darted to me for a moment and I wondered if he was put off by her tone as well. The warm side of Elendra that I knew existed beneath her cold exterior had surfaced, only to be used like a puppet.

 

"Good morning," the Skakdi stammered, gripping the edges of the counter as though his life depended upon it. He had to sense something wasn't right. "Where are you headed?"

 

Elendra gave a soft giggle, reaching out to the Skakdi and lightly placing her hand atop his. At this point, I almost thought the Skakdi's hands were about to tear into the countertop. She held her smile at him, hiding a sinister agenda. "I'm headed for the Ephemeral Wonder…and I'll need five tickets."

 

The Skakdi laughed nervously, removing his hands from the counter and clicking something on the other side. It clicked five times and the Skakdi placed five tickets onto the counter. The tickets were thin and square, transparent for the most part. Only "Ephemeral Wonder" stood out in golden letters in the center of each ticket. He calculated the total cost on his holographic monitor, awkwardly grinning at Elendra.

 

"I'm not sure if you know, but the word 'ephemeral' actually means briefly, or momentarily." He finished the sentence, looked at his screen for a split second, and had one of Elendra's energy revolvers pointed at his head by the time he gazed up. I turned to Elendra in silent astonishment, wondering if she had less restraint about these matters than Rovaius. I wouldn't have been surprised if she shot him right there and that's why I was honestly terrified for the Skakdi. He and I just stared at the revolver, uncertain of Elendra's next move.

 

"Then let me clear that up for you," Elendra said in her disturbingly sweet voice. "I know what it means. Ephemeral means fleeting," she whispered, cocking the weapon's hammer, "much like life. Would you say that life is fleeting?"

 

The Skakdi nodded slowly and Elendra mirrored him, smiling into his fear-stricken eyes. "Yes," she whispered, "life is fleeting. You have one chance, one opportunity to live." She clicked the hammer back and forth a couple times, appearing to take an odd pleasure in watching the Skakdi panic. "Grab the tickets, we're leaving." Her voice had returned to normal and I felt slightly relieved.

 

I snatched the tickets from the desk, taking a few steps backward to see what Elendra might do next. She lowered the revolver and turned away, giving a short nod to Rovaius. "We have a train to catch, so let's move." She glanced back over her shoulder for a moment. "I'd recommend you keep quiet about all this, understood?"

 

The Skakdi forced an awkward smile. "Yeah…I won't say a word."

 

I handed a ticket to Rovaius and Stalgrax, catching Elendra spin back around out of the corner of my eye. I looked back in time to see her line up a perfect shot, pull the trigger, and then I heard the Skakdi scream. I stared at the biomech for a few seconds, finally realizing the Skakdi hadn't fallen to the floor, nor did he appear injured in any way. Elendra pulled out the cylinder, revealing it was empty. "I know you won't, because if I find out otherwise, I'll be coming back with a loaded revolver. And it won't be until the sixth shot that I kill you."

 

Trylac carefully pulled a ticket from my hand and I nearly jumped. He smirked at me, shaking his head. "You're nervous. That'll go away eventually."

 

Rovaius took the lead back to the elevators and I rode up with him. Trylac, Stalgrax and Elendra decided to take the capsule next to us. We shot up through the station and I peered out at Tyderian in amazement. I squinted against the intensity of the sunlight as I examined the skyscrapers. We hadn't even reached the platform and I could already see everything. The port was in sight, the magnet rail system could be seen wrapping its way out to a neighboring city, and the Skakdi all looked so small. From the street level, Tyderian's towering architecture also managed to block sight of a massive lake situated in the center of Zakaz, surrounded by greenery all around its borders.

 

"That's Lake Keliwa," Rovaius muttered, as if anticipating my next question. "I heard Ehlek was discussing a plan to build something under the water, but the Skakdi wouldn't have it. You'd have to travel a great distance to find cleaner water than what's in Keliwa and I think Ehlek figured that out too. He eventually made the area an aquatic preserve - likely influenced by his underwater background.

 

"If you ever get tired of stealing, you'd make an excellent tour guide," I teased.

 

Rovaius chuckled. "Tired of stealing…there's a joke. Does a Kinloka tire of eating?"

 

I cracked a smile. "I'm in for a big day. I can feel it."

 

"So can I," Rovaius replied, watching the elevator doors sweep open.

 

We walked onto the platform right when our fellow thieves arrived, but Rovaius spent no time waiting around for them. He marched across the platform to where the train would be arriving, staring out at the city. I glanced down the extensive platform, seeing a lot of Skakdi casually waiting for the train to pull in. Down toward the end of the platform, however, I could see several armed Skakdi guarding a crate. The size of the crate suggested it wouldn't require as much security as it was receiving, but I also knew why we were here. There was a strong chance Ehlek's prototype weapon was sealed inside that crate, but I needed a second opinion.

 

I cautiously approached the Nohtalian, staring out at the city with him. "Rovaius"-

 

"That's the one," Rovaius interrupted, sitting on a bench and propping his feet onto the far end. "You're rather obvious when you stare."

 

"Maybe to you," I muttered. "I doubt the guards noticed anything."

 

"They didn't," Rovaius replied, placing his hands behind his head. "Nine guards seems a little sparse though. The rest are probably headed here on the train."

 

Stalgrax grinned. "I'm calling first shot. I haven't tested any prototypes in a while."

 

"The magnet train will be arriving shortly," an automated computer informed us through several loudspeakers. "Please stay behind the white line while the train is in motion."

 

I glanced near the edge of the platform and found the line. Beyond the platform, a thin, chrome rail was wrapped in a bluish substance that appeared to be constantly shifting around itself. The magnetic power that ran the trains was surprisingly visible and I recall being slightly curious about what would happen if a biomech touched it. I visually followed the rail path out into the city, and watched as a silver tube of metal darted around a skyscraper. More tubes were connected behind it and all the tubes were hovering just over the rails. This was our train. I could also see thin streaks of emerald painted onto the sides of the train cars. The train had been moving rather quickly when I first caught sight of it, but it gradually slowed to a halt as it approached the station.

 

"Warning!" the loudspeakers blared. "The Ephemeral Wonder is about to reach Tyderian Station. Please allow passengers to disembark and wait for further instruction from the conductor before boarding."

 

The train pulled up to the station and I watched Skakdi after Skakdi step onto the platform and head for the elevators. Some opted for a stairwell I hadn't noticed in the lobby below, but I also started to wonder who was desperate enough to take that many flights of stairs as opposed to waiting for an elevator. Assuming some Skakdi liked exercise more than others, I watched an orange Skakdi with a badge connected to his left shoulder walk out from a nearby car and look in both directions of the station before putting a device to his mouth.

 

"Good morning, everyone," he said, his voice being sent through the loudspeaker system. "We will now begin boarding the Ephemeral Wonder. Please have your tickets ready when you board and a staff member will have it punched. Thank you."

 

I stepped up to the train, spotting a small opening between the platform and the train itself. I stared down into the break, seeing how shockingly far it was to the pavement. I didn't have a fear of heights, I was more mesmerized than anything else.

 

Trylac was at my side and gave me an awkward grin. "Mind the gap, Adrinor."

 

We boarded the train and had our tickets punched, quickly finding a seat back near the first freight car. I sat by the window next to Stalgrax, while Trylac and Elendra sat across from us. I stared out the window, thinking about how busy Tyderian was beneath me, thinking about our intentions for the day.

 

"Is he coming?" Elendra asked Stalgrax.

 

Stalgrax poked his head into the aisle and nodded. "Yeah, the engineer hasn't shut the doors yet. He's just talking with the conductor. They're laughing about something."

 

"Rovaius almost has more ways to make someone laugh than ways to kill someone," Trylac muttered.

 

"Almost," Elendra emphasized with a smirk.

 

A dark gray Skakdi came our way, doing his best to look enthused. The permanent grin certainly helped his effort. "Can I get you four anything?"

 

"We're fine," Elendra replied shortly.

 

"Actually, I'll have a reactor, if you serve them," Stalgrax piped up.

 

"We do," the Skakdi said, matter-of-factly. "I'll bring you one as soon as we leave the station."

 

Stalgrax smirked. "Fantastic," he said, handing over a few silvery coins to the Skakdi. Rovaius joined us shortly afterwards, squeezing in next to Trylac and Elendra.

 

"What'd I miss?" Rovaius asked, taking in a deep breath. He'd never looked so happy.

 

"Stalgrax ordered a reactor in the middle of the morning. That's about it," Elendra said.

 

"I've been awake longer than the sun's been up, Elendra," Stalgrax growled. "I'll order what I like."

 

Rovaius looked like he was about to interject, but he paused instead. Several troopers marched out from the freight car behind us, coming into my line of sight as they headed near the front of the train. They weren't the Skakdi I had seen on the platform, these were something else entirely.

 

Rovaius lightly tapped his fist against the table, letting his smile fade. "Well, this just got interesting."

 

"Not that we shouldn't have seen it coming," Trylac replied. "Ehlek would be more comfortable hiring amphibian guards than leaving the entire operation in the hands of a few foolish Skakdi."

 

I looked one of the amphibians over, impressed by his glossy, teal and gunmetal armor. The top of his face was concealed by an onyx helmet, but I caught a glimpse of his mouth, lined with sharp teeth and surrounded by green, scaly features. All the guards were tall, lean figures, carrying energy rifles on their backs. There was no way they knew we were coming, but they looked prepared for any mishaps all the same.

 

"Where are they from?" I whispered.

 

"Not sure, really," Rovaius muttered, tapping his chin a few times. "I've only met a couple before and the basic story is that their kind exist in underwater caverns all over the place. Sometimes they come and live on the surface of whatever landmass they're near to, but I don't think they have a single place of origin. I'm not even sure what they refer to themselves as."

 

"If air-breathers like us even have the ability to pronounce such a word," Stalgrax said, leaning back against his seat.

 

"Good morning and welcome aboard the Ephemeral Wonder," the conductor boomed over the train speakers. "We are running right on schedule and we're about to depart for Oandek City. If you're at all curious about the presence of several armed biomechs onboard the train this morning, they mean you no harm, and will be getting off in a few stops. They are in no way affiliated with any security measures our company intends to implement. With that said, the engineer will be sealing each car and you will need to manually open a door to go from car to car after that point. Once again, welcome aboard the Ephemeral Wonder. We thank you for choosing Zakaz Magnet Rails for your transportation services morning."

 

The train car doors slammed shut and I could see from the window that we were beginning to move. Finally, the magnetic system beneath us created a low sound that lasted a few seconds before we started picking up speed. We were on our way.

 

"Elendra's track record for the day has been spotless, so she'll take Adrinor back to get the weapon from the guards. I'll chat with the conductor if he gets suspicious, Stalgrax has a drink coming, and Trylac, well, he'll make himself useful when we've got the weapon."

 

The dark gray Skakdi returned promptly after Rovaius finished, this time with a small glass in his hand. He turned it over to Stalgrax and gave a short nod. "Your reactor. Can I get you anything else?"

 

Stalgrax held up the glass, swishing the bright purple liquid around for a moment. He then looked back at the Skakdi. "Thank you. That'll be all." The Skakdi walked back toward the front of the train, closing the door to our car behind him. Stalgrax sipped a bit of his drink and took in a quick breath.

 

"You okay?" I asked.

 

Stalgrax took another sip and smirked. "I haven't had one of these in a while and that Skakdi made it pretty strong. I like that. You want a taste?"

 

"Sure," I responded hesitantly, taking the glass. I drank a bit more than Stalgrax and choked it back out immediately, coughing all over the floor. I handed it back to him and could still taste it lingering in my mouth. "It tastes how a spent laser shell smells!"

 

Stalgrax smiled. "That's one opinion," he said, taking another sip.

 

Elendra pulled me from my chair and tugged me into the aisle. "Let's get to work, shall we?" The Trelban strolled back to the doorway leading to the first freight car and laughed at the "No Passengers Allowed Beyond This Point" sign. She slid the door open and mumbled, "Don't hold biomechs to a merit system when a lock works even better." Elendra darted inside the freight car, ducking behind a crate as I followed her. She drew her revolver and quickly loaded it up, doing the same with a second revolver. She placed the second weapon back in the armor along her upper left leg and pointed the other in my direction.

 

"Laser rifles have a loud charge. Don't load your weapon until I say so," she whispered.

 

"Got it," I replied, pulling my rifle from my back and keeping it ready.

 

Elendra glanced out from our cover, checking for any sign of guards. She climbed over the crate and bolted forward, dashing all the way to the next door. Elendra took a couple seconds to peer inside the next's doorway's window and glanced back at me. "We're about a dozen cars from the tail end. The guards seem to be clustered in the back four. Our weapon is probably somewhere in that general area. You need to watch from behind us, in case any of those guards from earlier start heading our way."

 

I turned around, seeing no sign of any guards. We were alone with the cargo, and as Elendra slid the next door open, I realized we had a long way to go. Ducking between crates and large machinery, we snuck our way further back along the cars, until Elendra halted our progress. I barely had a chance to look through the next window, but Elendra's initial examination had been correct - the last four cars were swarming with guards.

 

"What are we going to do?" I asked, trying not to sound frantic.

 

"What do you think?" Elendra hissed, holding her revolver close to her body. "Load your rifle."

 

I followed her instruction and dropped a laser shell into the rifle, clicking the bolt handle into place and listening to the charge gain power. "Ready when you are."

 

"Okay," Elendra whispered, "when I open the door, try to kill or at least hit one of the guards. I'll take it from there. Your job after the first shot will be to watch from behind and make sure we aren't surrounded."

 

I responded with a short nod, watching her reach for the door handle. I stepped around her, placing my eye behind the scope and ready to fire.

 

"Here we go," Elendra muttered, pulling the door wide open. Through my scope, I watched several of the guards (Skakdi and amphibians) turn in surprise as I held the rifle in their direction. They went to point their weapons at me, but I was already at an advantage. I fired, blasting a Skakdi through the upper right arm, severing its connection to his spine. He screamed out, gripping his arm in agony. I took the opportunity and dove for cover, watching as Elendra rolled out from the other side of the door, blasting away at the guards. She quickly pulled for her second revolver and rapidly unloaded it on the guards. I couldn't see where the rounds were going, but I heard something heavy drop with each shot. She was clearly aiming for heads or heartlights.

 

"Move in," she said, reloading her revolvers. I cautiously stepped into the next car, quickly discovering she had gone for the headshot route. One of the Skakdi was trying to get to his feet, but Elendra wasted no time shooting him through the heartlight. "Reload your rifle, Adrinor. We're using the same tactic in the next room."

 

I let the spent laser shell drop to the floor and loaded in a new one, aiming down the scope once again. Elendra pulled the door open and I fired, managing to shoot an amphibian through the left leg this time. I leapt off to the side and Elendra went to work again, executing each guard without hesitation. She retreated back behind the door, though, reloading her revolvers as footsteps marched toward our position.

 

"Stall them!" she yelled at me.

 

I reloaded my laser rifle and blindfired into the next car, well aware it wasn't charged long enough to do any critical damage. I heard one of the amphibians cry out, but I couldn't be sure where I hit him. Elendra had already reloaded and got a few more shots off. A body was still dropping with every energy bullet fired, but she looked worried.

 

"How many are left!?" I hollered, reloading my laser rifle in the process. I hadn't performed any kill shots, but Trylac's words about the first kill echoed through my mind. I couldn't help but think about the guard in Marilea, though the more I did, the sicker I felt. I tried to focus on my weapon, to keep my mind on the tool rather than the end result.

 

"Not sure," Elendra said. "I could see them coming up from the last car, but they're not coming any closer than that. Our weapon has to be in there somewhere." She dropped out of cover and fired on the guards again, draining both revolvers. "Another car cleared."

 

We moved up to the next car and Elendra grabbed one of the rifles. "Plasma rifle…that'll come in handy," she muttered. I watched as a burst of white-hot plasma came flying through from the car ahead and we both ducked. I looked over my shoulder to see what it would strike, finally letting a bit of panic set in once I did. More guards were coming our way from the front of the train.

 

"We've got company!" I shouted, pulling Elendra out of the aisle. She pushed me away, running for the next door and pulling it open. A couple plasma shots from behind nearly took her arm off, but she was undeterred. My laser rifle was sustaining a strong charge by this point and I went to fire behind us, but I could already hear them shooting in the other direction. Rather than worry about that, I fired my weapon into the next room, shooting a Skakdi in the torso and knocking him to the floor. Elendra followed up by firing her revolvers as fast as she could, getting a kill with every round.

 

Someone tapped my shoulder from behind, and I reacted by swinging around with a punch. The biomech grabbed my fist and held it steady. It was Stalgrax.

 

"I thought you two could use some help. Looks like I was right," he said.

 

"We had it under control," Elendra spat, walking to the next car. Stalgrax pulled me to my feet by my fist and let it go. We followed Elendra and watched her kick open the crate I remembered from the platform. "Another mission well done," she said.

 

"It's not over yet," Stalgrax replied, stepping up to the crate and pulling a rather large weapon out. "We still need to get off the train." Stalgrax examined the Hyper Burst Cannon, admiring the sleek, snowflake white and dark gray weapon. A traveler at the ranch once showed me an empty launcher that could fire explosive rockets out of its tube. This weapon was similar, only the tube was wider. "Let's go show this to Rovaius and Trylac. If they aren't too busy up there."

 

We ran back to the passenger cars, finding a scene of absolute chaos. Stalgrax must've attracted the attention of the guards when he came back to find Elendra and myself, because Rovaius and Trylac were dropped behind cover in a shootout with several of them. The amphibian guards aimed their weapons when they saw us arriving, but they were outmatched. Elendra emptied her clip in a flash, pulling off a sequence of six headshots. As she pulled the weapon toward her face, she popped open the cylinder and let the empty shells drop to the floor. Elendra immediately removed a metallic strip beneath the armor on her forearm. Six bullets were connected to the strip, which she rapidly placed into the revolver's cylinder, two at a time. The strip fell to the floor, and before I knew what was happening, Elendra was executing the remaining guards.

 

The passengers were in a panic at this point and my first instinct was to tell them to remain calm. I was still thinking like a ranch hand. I loaded and charged my laser rifle, causing the end of the barrel to begin producing a crimson glow as it drew in ambient energy. I felt a hand on my shoulder and almost shuddered when I looked back to see Trylac smirking (or what I thought was smirking) down at me.

 

"I'll show you how it's done," he assured. Trylac's mandibles separated outward and he took in a deep breath. After that, he began to emit a sound. I had heard that Toa aligned with the sonic element could released amplified blasts of sound energy and create sonic pulse waves to disrupt their enemies. Trylac's sound was nothing like that. Simply put, it was similar to a nightmarish chorus. I seemed to be hearing multiple voices in perfect harmony with one another, wailing out a slow song of anguish and fear. The voices sounded almost sweet, but it was absolutely terrifying.

 

Rovaius was a clever biomech and he must have been smart enough to subject the gang to Trylac's haunting sounds until they were unfazed by them. It seemed to be the only logical explanation, given that every passenger appeared to be experiencing the same overwhelming sense of dread that was filling my mind while the gang went about their work. Rovaius glanced out one of the right windows and nodded, turning to Stalgrax.

 

"I see you found our new toy," Rovaius grinned. "Show us what it can do."

 

Stalgrax smashed the window with the butt of his gun and held the prototype weapon out the broken glass. Trylac was still at it, but I had enough focus to follow Stalgrax's aim. He was targeting the magnetic track just beyond an upcoming curve. The sound finally faded away and I could only look on as Stalgrax charged up the Hyper Burst Cannon and prepared to fire. The weapon produced a loud, quickly rising hum as it drew in more and more power, and Stalgrax clearly wanted to be sure he would completely annihilate the portion of track in his sights.

 

"Attention passengers, if you look out the right side of the train you will see…" Stalgrax muttered, wavering only a second or two before firing, "your death."

 

A white laser beam bolted through the air, striking the magnetic tracks and demolishing the pillars that were keeping them aloft. Stalgrax's eyes went wide and he brought the cannon back inside. "Beautiful…"

 

The passengers screamed, gripping seats, walls, and anything they thought might save them from being thrown to a violent death when we inevitably crashed. The energies that struck the rails caused something in the magnetic field to shift and I could tell we were picking up speed. Stalgrax turned the cannon over to Rovaius, still marveling at its power.

 

Rovaius smiled at me. "It's been a while since we derailed a train and it's always more interesting from the inside."

 

My mouth dropped open in shock. "We're staying!?"

 

Stalgrax laughed. "You sound like you've never survived a train crash before. The passengers have it wrong. You're going to want to keep your body at whatever angle the train switches to after we fly off the rails. If you try and hang on like them, you're probably going to die."

 

By the time I looked out the right side windows, I realized it was too late. I was looking at inland Zakaz. The front of the train dipped down and I could hear the cars screeching and grinding against the metal frame of the railing as we plunged out of the air. Rovaius and the others started sliding down the aisle, staying on their feet the whole way. The passengers held on for their lives and I looked over my shoulder at the car behind us. In that moment, the back door snapped off and I watched as the disrupted magnetic field fiercely pushed us away. Separated from the upper portion of the train, I could see the remaining cars hanging over the ruined ledge. I went into a freefall as the train above became further and further away, the sound of countless screams filling the air. We hit the water a few seconds after, causing our train cars to violently snap sideways before plunging into the sea. I had no sense of direction as I continued to drop, watching passengers go flying in every direction. Rovaius and the others were nowhere in sight and I was fairly confident I was about to die.


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Edited by Cederak, Jan 26 2014 - 01:11 PM.

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#5 Offline Cederak

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Posted Jul 10 2012 - 01:19 PM

"My shadow side, so amplified, keeps coming back dissatisfied." -Red Hot Chili Peppers

 

Episode 05: Antithesis

 

After tightly shutting my eyes for a long eternity of what could've only been a few minutes, I slowly opened them and studied my surroundings. I managed to grab hold of a ceiling rail on the way down through the train, letting my legs hang helplessly in the chasm of cars leading to the dark water. All of the doorways leading to the head car were wide open, and I could see the water had broken through the windshield far beneath me. Outside the windows, pairs of glowing eyes were all around, examining the wreckage and staring me down. I could hear the constant sound of water pouring in from below and I knew my time was running out. Rovaius and his gang were nowhere in sight, and when I looked down to scan the front of the train, I could see the water level was quickly rising. Worse than that, something was swimming toward the surface.

 

"Not like ranching, huh?"

 

I glanced up to find the source of the voice, catching Stalgrax in the rail car above me, dangling the Hyper Burst Cannon around. Considering the train was nearly pointed straight down, he managed to stand on the back of a chair bolted to the floor.

 

"Where did the others go?" I asked, frantic about the entity in the water.

 

Stalgrax grinned. "Topside, of course. You may want to get moving, Adrinor, because this cannon won't be recharging for a while." With that, Stalgrax leapt off the chair all the way to the next rail car, continuing on with relative ease.

 

I knew I didn't possess enough strength to pull off the same maneuver, but I had to follow him. I wasn't terribly interested to see who (or what) was down in the constantly rising water. I studied the rail car above me for anything to grab. Unfortunately, my only option was the chairs. I couldn't push myself off of them like Stalgrax, but I could climb between them. I pulled my way up the ceiling rail until I was between the cars, lifting myself into the next car and grabbing the first chair.

 

"Okay, good start!" Stalgrax shouted down. "No pressure, but our guest is about to arrive!"

 

My heartlight sank when he said this and I heard a splash in the water below. I climbed up one more chair before looking back down, immediately regretting the decision. In that moment I connected with the insane, azure eyes of a maniacal entity. His powerful, jade armored legs allowed him to bound from rail car to rail car in a flash, all while he slashed his razor-sharp protosteel talons through the train walls.

 

"I will tear the limbs from your body!" the entity threatened, his voice distorted by some kind of breathing apparatus around his head. From Pridak's description on Xia, I assumed a very furious Barraki Ehlek was headed my way.

 

I scrambled for the next chair, struggling to keep distance between myself and the psychopath below me. I kept a close eye on him, but I could see more of his kind were waiting to kill me from the other side of the windows. When I turned my head up to the sky, I could see Stalgrax had successfully evacuated the last train car. He was waiting for me to join him, but I knew I couldn't outrace the Barraki beneath me. As I leapt to the second to last train car, I loaded my laser rifle and waited for it to charge. I had a few seconds before I would be caught and I knew that wasn't nearly enough time to do any significant damage.

 

Ehlek had taken notice of my loaded weapon and dug his silver claws into the side of the train car below me. He glared into my eyes, prepared for me to make a move.

 

"What happens if I pull that thing off your face?" I asked.

 

The Barraki's glare remained still. "Something similar to when I tear the lungs from your chest in a moment."

 

"I'd like to see that," I mocked, hiding my fear.

 

"So would I!" Ehlek hissed, leaping up toward the train car where I was waiting. Despite his momentum, I jumped from the chair, slamming into his chest and firing my weapon into his head. Without wasting a second, I propelled myself from his body and tried to jump as high as possible. I barely made it to the highest train car, but that was a victory in itself. Far below, I could see Ehlek had merely been dazed by the laser blast. He tore the damaged breathing apparatus from his face, clutching his mouth in anger as he stared up at me. He then slashed open a window and vanished into the dark water.

 

Without warning, I was tugged up to the top of the train car, hurled onto the beach of Zakaz. Stalgrax was standing over me, directly blocking the blazing sun.

 

"We must've done some serious damage, to directly draw the attention of Barraki Ehlek like that," Stalgrax said. "The train probably smashed through an undersea fortress or something."

 

"So that was Ehlek?" I asked, trying to catch my breath.

 

"Sure was. You were smart enough to disable his breathing apparatus though."

 

"It was a blind shot, honestly."

 

"Well we aren't out of Zakaz yet," Stalgrax said, offering me a hand. "Let's see if your lucky streak will get us to safety from the law enforcement on the surface. Skakdi aren't terribly clever, but like always, we're terribly outnumbered."

 

Stalgrax dashed toward the city and I hurried after him. He seemed to know where the others had gone, or he was looking for the fastest route to the nearest dock. We made it a couple streets into the maze of skyscrapers before I saw Elendra diving to cover - narrowly avoiding a volley of energy blasts. The shots managed to obliterate the wall of a nearby building and I peeked out to locate their origin. Seven Skakdi were following close behind a biomech that reminded me of a Toa of some sort.

 

"We need to reach Elendra across the street," Stalgrax muttered, loading his rifle. "When you see me start to move, I need you to sprint to Elendra, understood?"

 

I nodded. "Got it."

 

I loaded the laser rifle and anxiously waited for Stalgrax. He glanced around the corner for less than a second and bolted for Elendra. I took off after him, watching him fire a few shots at the Skakdi in the distance. I took aim at the biomech resembling a Toa and fired a laser shot. Keeping my eye in the scope, I stuck around to examine my handiwork. The biomech hurled a Kanoka disk at the laser, shooting it with his own weapon. The Kanoka exploded into an almost transparent barrier that caused the laser energy to rebound into the sky before dissipating. I realized the Skakdi were carrying plasma shotguns and stared in shock at their mysterious ally.

 

He channeled his power into his arms and shadow energies crackled and emanated from his hands. He had to be a Nohtalian. His sleek silver and jet black armor glimmered in the sunlight, and his head was a glossy white. His bright, golden eyes stood out the most, but I barely had time to look at them. The biomech hurled a torrent of shadow bolts at me and I dove out of the way. Stalgrax dragged me further from harm's way and lifted me to my feet.

 

"Who is that!?" I asked, terrified of what I had just seen.

 

"We need to find Trylac and Rovaius right now!" Elendra hollered, blindfiring her weapon at the Skakdi.

 

"There they are!" Stalgrax replied, pointing at a rooftop on the other side of the street.

 

The Nohtalian hurled a ball of dark energy their way and Rovaius countered it with one of his own. The sunlight was in their direction, but I could make out their forms when I squinted. With exceptional marksmanship, Trylac popped a couple shots into the skulls of two Skakdi, instantly terminating them. Their supporter turned his head in Trylac's direction and immediately fired back. Rovaius suddenly leapt from the rooftop, shooting a couple Skakdi through the chest and one more through the arm wielding a shotgun. Trylac took the opening to fire on another Skakdi, severing its spine at the back of the skull.

 

Rovaius landed and sliced the last Skakdi through the chest, tearing through his torso and slashing his spine apart. He then kicked the corpse off his weapon, staring down the Nohtalian for a moment. It looked like they were talking about something, but they were too quiet to hear.

 

"He'll have reinforcements here in no time," Elendra commented to Stalgrax. "We need to buy Rovaius some time."

 

I kept my eyes on the street, watching Rovaius expertly deflect the Nohtalian's shots with the sharp side of his gunblade. Upon closer inspection, I realized the Nohtalian was carrying a gunblade of his own. The pair rushed together then, clashing their weapons and echoing a mighty sound down the streets. I took a second to look behind me and Stalgrax and Elendra had disappeared. Deciding not to worry about it, I turned my attention back to where Trylac had been, also discovering he had vanished. The piraka seemed to assume their leader could handle a single Nohtalian and I was willing to trust their judgment for the moment.

 

Rovaius swung at the Nohtalian, within inches of ripping his opponent's arm off. He immediately followed with a horizontal slash, and their weapons met again. The Nohtalian was certainly strong, able to match Rovaius' strength and hold his blade in place. The pair channeled their shadow energies into their blades, causing bolts of darkness to crackle from their weapons. They both disconnected at the same moment, leaping backward before firing on one another. The Nohtalian hurled a Kanoka disk at Rovaius, but Rovaius mirrored the Nohtalian's earlier technique, shooting the disk in midflight. The resulting explosion was a concentrated ice storm that sent razor-sharp chunks of snow all across the street. Both Nohtalians were covered in a light layer of ice, but seemed unfazed. Rovaius opened fire again and I realized the other Nohtalian seemed to be using similar practices, peppering in shots from his weapon whenever Rovaius gave him an opening. Rovaius was swift though, and entirely prepared for the performance.

 

"It doesn't have to be this way!" the Nohtalian yelled, swinging his blade at Rovaius.

 

"I couldn't agree more! This can all end when you drop your weapon and accept your doom!" Rovaius roared back, launching an array of shadow bolts at the Nohtalian. In the short time I had known Rovaius, I had never seen him as furious or violent as he was here. On Xia, I was warned that unbridled passion without thought was an absolute evil. And now Rovaius had personified that evil, losing his freedom to rage.

 

The unknown Nohtalian left himself open for less than a second and Rovaius took full advantage of the opportunity. Rovaius stabbed the Nohtalian through the side of the abdomen, quickly firing his weapon off. The energy exploded inside the Nohtalian's muscle tissue and sent him flying backwards, causing him to crash into one of the fallen train cars. Rovaius ran headlong for the train car, keeping his gunblade ready as he hurled a burst of shadow energy at it. As Elendra had anticipated, more Skakdi were marching toward Rovaius' position.

 

I called out from my location to Rovaius, shouting, "Get to cover!"

 

Rovaius turned to look at me, leaving himself wide open. The Nohtalian rose from the train car debris, firing a few shadow bolts into Rovaius, tackling him to the ground and flinging his weapon away. I rushed for the gunblade as the Nohtalians grappled, listening to the Skakdi exchange fire with their enemies down the street. The other piraka had likely set up a trap and the local law enforcement had fallen for it. I scooped up the gunblade, firing on the Nohtalian and shooting him in his abdominal wound. The blast sent him spiraling toward one of the Skakdi corpses and he instantly picked up a plasma shotgun. I knew I was no match for him and with the gunblade in one hand and Rovaius in the other, I hurried to cover while Stalgrax, Elendra, and Trylac opened fire on the Nohtalian's position. The Skakdi were on their way with far more troops than we could handle and I knew we had to keep moving.

 

Rovaius tugged his arm from my grasp and offered me an open hand, expecting his gunblade. I turned the weapon over to him and he gave me a grim look. "Thank you, Adrinor."

 

"Hey, I got you distracted in the first place. I had to get you out of there."

 

"Very brave of you," Rovaius said. "Now we need to escape to the nearest dock."

 

"What about the others?" I questioned.

 

"I trust their abilities," Rovaius explained. "Trylac has surely told them I wanted to head to the dock. They can meet up with us there and we'll board a freighter back to Xia."

 

Rovaius and I managed to sneak our way along the outskirts of the city, staying out of the vigilant eyes of the Skakdi. The city was already on high alert after we crashed a train into the undersea realm of Barraki Ehlek, and we knew they would be searching the area for the party responsible for so much death and destruction. Rovaius quietly opened an empty cargo crate and I stepped into the darkness with him.

 

"How will they find us here?" I asked, overly curious.

 

"Trylac, like all Dectraz, has a keen sense of smell," Rovaius whispered. "After years in my company, he knows how to trail my scent quite well. He's no Energy Hound, but he's effective."

 

I could hear Rovaius grunting in slight pain now and again, and I assumed it was from touching—and applying pressure to—his wounds. I could see the faint glow of his heartlight steadily beating and I had more questions on my mind.

 

"You okay? You looked like you were having some trouble against that Nohtalian back in the city."

 

Rovaius didn't respond. I waited for a sound, for anything, but he was silent.

 

"I wasn't suggesting you're a poor fighter or anything," I continued. "You were actually pretty fast out there. I just thought, from the way you got shot…"

 

A claw tapped on the cargo crate and the door slightly creaked open. "Are you two all right?" Trylac asked. It was the first time I ever detected concern in his voice.

 

"We're fine," Rovaius replied, getting to his feet. "Let's board a ship and get back to Xia."

 

The five of us stealthily snuck onboard a nearby freighter and situated ourselves between a couple crates - staying completely out of sight. It would be a long journey to the Xian shore. I knew not to speak until the constant sound of the waves would prevent our voices from being heard by the ship's crew.

 

"Is he a Brotherhood agent or something?" I blurted out, still very interested in the astonishing Nohtalian. "Who would train him to be that precise?"

 

Rovaius stared angrily at me and muttered. "I did."

 

"Oh," Stalgrax piped up, suddenly aware of the topic at hand. "Trivolox."

 

I remembered him practically cursing the name that first night and now he said it so casually. Trying to hide my knowledge of the name, I had to know more. "That's his name? Trivolox? Where did he come from?"

 

"From Nohtal, obviously," Elendra said, almost taking no pleasure in her sarcasm. "You were probably perceptive enough to figure that much out."

 

"I don't want to talk about him right now," Rovaius snarled.

 

"Adrinor deserves to know," Stalgrax argued. Rovaius folded his arms, looking away in frustration. Stalgrax looked at me and frowned. "Back on Nohtal, when we first set out to take what we wanted and do as we please, we were known as the Rovaius-Trivolox Gang. Those two ran the show together and we were a team of five Nohtalians. When Mata Nui decided to place the Barraki in charge of the universe and allowed them to govern it as they saw fit, it wasn't long before they began to conquer lands. Trivolox heard about this and saw them as traitors to the Great Spirit and his will. To remove any hypocrisy, he knew our gang had broken Mata Nui's laws and wished to atone for his misdeeds to the Great Spirit."

 

"That's enough," Rovaius warned.

 

Stalgrax ignored him. "On a dark, cold night, he killed two of our members, practically his brothers, and almost did the same to me. Rovaius managed to intervene, saving my life. We attempted to injure Trivolox, but the shadows aided his escape. The next time we encountered each other, he said he was working for a higher power. We learned he had military contacts through the League and across many lands. He would never speak directly with the Barraki, however, given his unwavering allegiance to Mata Nui."

 

It all made sense. Stalgrax's initial hesitation about me was rooted in the fear that I would follow in the footsteps of Trivolox. Rovaius trained him exceptionally well and now he was using that guidance to try and kill him. I had never known the Nohtalians that Stalgrax was referring to, so I wasn't quite as opinionated on the matter. Trivolox was a Nohtalian who left behind a life of criminal activity to become a symbol of heroism. In the grand scheme of things, we were just villains to him - selfish and destructive.

 

I looked at Rovaius, distressed by his miserable expression. "I'm sorry. I wouldn't have brought it up if I had known."

 

Rovaius shook his head. "Don't pity me, Adrinor. I have lived some of my finest moments already. You dreamt of seeing the world…seeing the world and calling the shots. You wasted years because you were afraid to live as you dreamed. Well, this is it. This is freedom, bound to objects and allies only if you choose them. There's an entire world out there and there's no reason you have to see it with us. That's not to say I haven't enjoyed the past few days, but I won't stand in your way on this."

 

I averted my gaze from Rovaius. He gave me exactly what I wanted, the chance to be free of a normal life and live as I choose. There had never been a substantial plan for finding my freedom, but now I had it. A dream fulfilled so quickly. Rovaius gave me that and I needed to repay him, despite any lingering uncertainties. I wanted to repay him.

 

"I'm with you," I said with a smile. "All of you."


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Edited by Cederak, Jan 26 2014 - 01:13 PM.

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#6 Offline Cederak

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Posted Jul 25 2012 - 12:01 PM

"The wheel in the sky keeps on turnin', I don't know where I'll be tomorrow." -Journey

 

Episode 06: Piraka by Any Other Name…

 

Five years passed after our daring escape from Zakaz before we would return to the island. In that time, life became a routine of theft and destruction - though the methods (and weapons) were never quite the same. I killed Vortixx, Trelbans, Toa, Matoran, Turaga, Steltians, Meldin, Skakdi, Zyglak, and the list goes on. For a time, we were joined by a Vortixx named Jelveci, but one of Trivolox's rangers put a permanent end to her career. Rovaius stopped entertaining the idea of new recruits after we lost Jelveci - a decision that received a general consensus among us. In choosing not to become attached to other biomechs, we were very socially reliant on one another. Jelveci died on a bitter, rainy night in the Tren Krom Peninsula, shot through the back by a lightning shotgun. When her body collapsed into the mud, a part of us went with her. We had invited her into our group and then she was gone. In a stark contrast to the death of Torema, I knew there was a price to be paid for battling the law. Jelveci's death was depressing and more importantly, it was a sobering reminder of our mortality. I thought for the longest time that a criminal could only be punished by imprisonment or execution. I had neglected the idea of fear, and how the law could wield it as masterfully as we could. If we continued to fight the law, to murder fellow creations of the Great Spirit, then our fate—as corpses in the dirt—was sealed.

 

Like so many times before, we stood in Barraki Pridak's chamber on Xia, waiting to hear our next assignment. We were situated near the door while the warlord stared broodingly out at his productive city, placing a hand to the window.

 

"This city has always been my birthright. The Great Spirit knew all along what an enticing present it would be…" Pridak whirled to face us, marching in our direction. "Regarding your next assignment, I am sorry to say it is rather underwhelming. A number of the Nynrah Ghosts recently informed me that they no longer wish to provide their services to the League. Their Fe-Matoran brothers did not agree with the decision, but took no action against this tiny act of rebellion."

 

"Little ingrates," Elendra muttered angrily.

 

"My thoughts exactly," Pridak said. "If that was not enough, they practically spat in my face with their next move. Because a few untrained Matoran cannot hope to rely exclusively on their fancy weapons, they have hired protection - a Toa team."

 

"Typical," Rovaius replied. "The little ones run their mouths about the virtues, but the ones that grow up are the worst. They won't kill you, but they're too ornery to stay down until you've killed them. There's a misplaced sense of pride in that brand of elemental power."

 

"Their emotions are easy to use against them, that much is true," Pridak mused, ignoring (or unaware) that he could be very much the same at times. "The Great Spirit has an army of devotees across the universe at no cost, and I have to keep the worst of the bunch on a steady payroll to prevent them from defecting to my brethren."

 

Stalgrax snickered. "Murder isn't a charity business, Pridak."

 

Pridak narrowed his eyes on Stalgrax, taking a few short steps toward him. "Direct your wit at someone else, Stalgrax. I am not in the mood to tolerate it again today."

 

Stalgrax bitterly lowered his head. "Forgive me, Your Eminence."

 

Pridak gave him a wicked smirk, tilting Stalgrax's head up with a clawed finger. "Now that is amusing." The Barraki withdrew from Stalgrax then, turning his attention to Rovaius. "So, you and your team will be eliminating the Toa team and sending the Matoran a message."

 

"Are we leaving a vocal or visual message?" Trylac asked.

 

"I am leaving it at your discretion, actually. If you have to hold their little masked heads beneath the waves until they understand, then so be it. I simply want them to hear me out: get back to work," Pridak growled. "Mata Nui created the Matoran to labor, and I will see to it that these particular Matoran are laboring for me."

 

"How do we find these Matoran?" Rovaius wondered.

 

"I understand the Toa they are employing are a 'team for hire.' They had been working in southern Zakaz for some time with the local law enforcement, specifically in the city of Ihleda, but I have been informed that they recently left to return home. I need you to retrieve their records from Ihleda's law enforcement and find out what you will be up against. A Toa defending himself is careful, but multiple Toa defending Matoran leave nothing to chance."

 

Rovaius sighed, "Indeed, they'll be relentless. We'll have to see if they left anything worth exploiting back in Zakaz."

 

"Your time is limited, Rovaius," Pridak warned. "I want the Toa leader returned to me personally, in two days. I will be on the southern coast of the Tren Krom Peninsula at one of Mantax's smaller fortresses. The other Barraki and I will be taking an airship that night up to his recently completed project."

 

"The floating fortress?" I asked. "Mantax finally finished it?"

 

"Yes, he claims it will be a brilliant jewel of onyx and cobalt once it ascends, appropriately calling it Brightest Midnight. For all we know, it may be in the skies of the north Southern Continent already, but that is neither here nor there. Just be sure to bring me the Toa in two days before sunset. I will attempt to remove myself from the fortress now and again, checking the nearby woods for you. No firing any signal shots though. Mantax's guards will be on high alert with all six Barraki present."

 

Rovaius smiled. "Understood, Your Eminence. We'll leave immediately."

 

We filed out of the chamber at once and headed down to the port to board one of Pridak's ships. I couldn't speak for my companions as we left the pier behind, but I felt a bit excited. This was business as usual for us, but we were finally heading back to Zakaz. Visiting any land after being away for a while always felt like a vacation of sorts - an opportunity to see how someone else's world had changed while we'd been busy wrecking havoc. And considering that the only city I had really seen on Zakaz was Tyderian, this would be a brand new experience.

 

The journey there was uneventful and quiet with barely a cloud in the sky. It made for easy sailing through the night, as the ship captain could navigate entirely by the stars. There were so many up there though - some burning brighter than others, connecting ancient constellations of sorts. Our universe had concocted many legends over the years and one said that Mata Nui was responsible for the placement of every different star over every different island. I still believe the legend is true, as Mata Nui is not one for random events in his universe. Everything has a destiny under his undetectable eyes and he is the unspoken defender of all who support him. It thereby stands to reason that his symbol is the Kanohi Hau - a shield that only special, chosen biomechs may activate. No Meldin, Dectraz, Nohtalian, or Trelban can access the power of a Kanohi, but that's insignificant if our triggers are quick enough.

 

I let my musings fade away as I studied the bright city ahead of us, lively despite the late hour. Ihleda was sparkling with activity when we arrived at the pier. Luminance poured from the skyscraper windows, tons of Skakdi were walking about, and the sound of a magnet train could be heard in the distance. I stared up near the top of the skyscrapers, realizing the magnet rails wrapped around the outside of the city here in Ihleda. It only took me a moment longer to figure out that I had been here before. Stalgrax had blasted these rails apart with the Hyper Burst Cannon and caused us to crash nearby. We then fled into Ihleda and confronted Trivolox and the local Skakdi enforcers. Despite all that, five years away allowed the Skakdi to clean up the train wreckage, repair the rails, and probably rebuild the structures we damaged in our escape. A disturbing reality sunk in once I remembered Barraki Ehlek had a fortress somewhere in the dark water far below our craft.

 

"We had quite a time here, didn't we?" Stalgrax said with a glance in my direction.

 

"Something like that," I replied coolly. "The law enforcement probably doesn't remember us though."

 

"No, not a chance," Stalgrax said with a laugh.

 

We left the pier behind and started making our way into the city when I finally nudged Rovaius in the shoulder. "Do you know where we're going?"

 

"I certainly do," Rovaius said confidently. "The building we're looking for was just down the street from where we encountered…" Rovaius paused. "It was where I…" He picked up his pace a bit. "Trivolox."

 

"Yeah…" I said softly, knowing what a sore subject that Nohtalian was. Stalgrax had trusted Trivolox too, but he would always talk with me if I had questions now and again. Rovaius chose to pretty much ignore Trivolox's existence when they weren’t eye to eye, never boasting of what he'd do the next time the pair met or anything. When Trivolox wasn't around, he might as well have been dead. And when he was around, he was the only thing that seemed to matter to Rovaius.

 

Our path took us directly through the scene of the battle between Trivolox and Rovaius, unbelievably different from how it looked five years prior. It looked so clean, washed of the heated emotions of that day. The facility entrance was on a corner just around the street, lit up with dots of activity through different windows. They were probably studying open cases, filing reports, and maybe even waiting to respond to a late night incident.

 

We walked into the Ihleda Law Enforcement Facility, following Rovaius to the front desk. A half-awake, citrine Skakdi was reading something on the desk when we arrived, trying to fend off sleep. He slowly raised his head, groggily staring at us, trying in vain to appear professional.

 

"Good…morning? Yeah, it technically has to be," he said, lightly chuckling. "What seems to be the problem?"

 

"We need to speak with your superior regarding a team of Toa," Rovaius explained, sounding like more of a diplomat than I had ever known. I knew it was a show, set aside for the Skakdi. He would not be so discreet when we reached Nynrah. "They are harboring fugitives and we have reason to believe they were employed here for a time."

 

The Skakdi raised an eyebrow at Rovaius and frowned. "My superior works in the office down the hall, last door on the right. You're lucky he's working late tonight…you might've missed him otherwise."

 

Rovaius smiled. "Thank you," Rovaius said, beckoning us to accompany him down the hall. He strolled to the very end and poked his head through the open door. "Have a second?"

 

"Yes, please come in," the Skakdi enforcer replied eagerly. Rovaius stepped inside, allowing the rest of us to pile in behind him. The office was rather small, given the Skakdi's position. He had a large bookshelf on both ends of the room and three chairs pointing toward his desk. Rovaius opted to stand, marching straight up to the desk. The rest of us took a seat, excluding Trylac who chose to admire the Skakdi's book collection. This Skakdi was electric blue in color, almost glowing around his armor. Like most of his species, his eyes were a bright shade of tangerine, focused intently on Rovaius. "May I ask what this is about?"

 

Rovaius grinned. "Straight to business, of course. We are here on an errand for Barraki Pridak, hoping to put an end to some rebellious Toa. We know they were working in Ihleda, and regrettably, they have left for Nynrah to harbor several Matoran fugitives."

 

The Skakdi stared at his desk for a moment, releasing a bitter sigh. "Yes, we had a team of Toa recently depart for Nynrah. They were excellent at pursuing criminals and bringing them to justice. They were called the Toa Iosiden, but that's all I know."

 

"Conveniently, there happens to be a small province in central Nynrah called Iosiden. I'd be willing to bet that's where they went. Now comes your role in this."

 

The Skakdi shot his head up at Rovaius, nearly recoiling at the sight of his grimace.

 

"We need any and all records you and your department have on the Toa Iosiden. I understand they were allies of yours, but that is a past affiliation. Zakaz is League territory, Ehlek's to be precise. If you withhold anything and we find out, you will be charged with obstruction of justice."

 

I nearly laughed as Rovaius uttered "justice." There was nothing just about why we wanted the records, not by a long shot. Regardless, the Skakdi pulled open a file cabinet on his side of the desk and began searching through documents.

 

"They would have stayed longer," the Skakdi muttered, still looking through files, "but my department agreed that we couldn't afford to renew their contract this year, despite their record. They were informed and, not long after, came to us with the news that they had found new work…on Nynrah. They left on amicable terms, I assure you."

 

"Which makes it all the more troubling that we must seek them out under these conditions," Rovaius replied miserably, playing his role flawlessly.

 

The Skakdi placed several folders on the desk, spreading them out for Rovaius to examine. Six folders, six Toa, each with a different element designated on the cover. "Did they elect a leader?" Rovaius questioned.

 

"Yes, that's…here," the Skakdi said, pointing to the folder on the far left end.

 

"Ah, we have an ice-wielder leading the charge," Rovaius said, snatching the folder up and immediately opening it. "Powerful…tactical…has trouble connecting with his teammates…and much more. This is perfect." Rovaius placed the folders in a single pile and handed them to me.

 

"Is there anything else you need from me?" the Skakdi asked in a worried tone.

 

Rovaius smiled. "This is more than enough, thank you. We appreciate your cooperation."

 

"Don't kill them if you don't have to," the Skakdi blurted out. Rovaius glared for a moment, but the Skakdi suddenly felt bold enough to stand. "They believed in the Great Spirit…they believed in the virtues. If there's any way they can be spared"-

 

"I'll do what I can," Rovaius lied, offering a handshake to the Skakdi. The Skakdi accepted and I watched a false sense of relief play out across his permanent grin.

 

We returned to the pier as soon as possible and Rovaius directed the captain to plot a course for Nynrah. It was time for the rest of us to get some sleep - an event I could hardly wait for. There would be enough time the next day to examine each Toa's file and search for individual weaknesses to take advantage of. I rested below deck in an empty room with a couple cots, falling asleep to the constant sound of the waves. I might've slept all the way to our destination if Trylac hadn't eventually come below deck and shaken me awake. I instinctively grabbed for my rifle in the dark and heard it being picked up.

 

"Settle down," Trylac said. "It's me."

 

"Oh," I sighed in relief. "Why do you have to do that to me!?" I shouted, ignoring the trace of fear in my heartlight as his four ruby eyes glowed in the shadows.

 

"Amusement," Trylac said as though it were very obvious. He nudged my rifle against my shoulder armor and I set it down. "Come up on deck. Quickly."

 

I followed Trylac topside and squinted as the sunlight blazed over my eyes. It had to be midday, and I had clearly been more tired than I thought. Adjusting my vision to the light, I walked up to the ship's railing and stood next to Trylac. Out in the water, several Proto Drakes were splashing up through the waves before diving back in.

 

"They're migrating, it would seem," Trylac muttered.

 

"It would seem," I said indifferently, closely watching the Rahi.

 

He pulled his sniper rifle from his back and focused it out on the water, trailing a Proto Drake here and there. I narrowed my eyes on him (less out of anger than still dealing with the brightness) and asked, "You think you can hit one?"

 

Trylac lowered the rifle and let his two right eyes stare at me. "Without question. I wouldn't fire on one though…out of respect for our captain. Proto Drakes were not uncommon around my first home. A rather competitive acquaintance managed to impale one with a spear, killing it shortly afterwards. The other Proto Drakes, being amphibious, glided to the land and attacked him. Long story short, his left arm and leg are now entirely mechanical. We couldn't do much for his face though."

 

I wondered how much more disturbing a face like Trylac's could possibly become, but I also knew that splendor was probably judged differently by Dectraz.

 

"I think I'm going to check in with the captain," I said awkwardly, making my way up to the captain's station and staring out at the endless water for a while. The captain had other plans. She was a Vortixx, built like any other, with armor of chrome and gray.

 

"Have you checked out the chamber below deck yet?" she asked, keeping her focus ahead of the ship.

 

"No, I didn't know there was anything special down there," I confessed, casually examining some of the readings and gauges in the craft's onboard computer.

 

"Pridak has been working with some of Xia's finest minds to create a chamber that feeds upon the unique energies in Matoran, Toa, and Turaga. I even heard rumors that he wants to utilize the process as a weapon somehow."

 

I laughed. "Why go through so much trouble to stop Matoran and Turaga? They fall to standard weaponry with ease. Even Toa can be bested with a little tactical thought."

 

The Vortixx shrugged. "I have no idea what he's thinking."

 

I didn't linger much longer with the captain, figuring it best to look over the files regarding our Toa targets. I still wasn't sure which Toa I intended to kill, but each had their strengths and weaknesses. Until we knew which Toa we were going after, it would be a waste of time to analyze a different target. In spite of that logic, I spent the next couple hours just thumbing back and forth through the pages, scanning over any information about the Toa Iosiden in boredom. The Skakdi we spoke with in Ihleda wasn't kidding when he said the Toa had been very successful at apprehending lawbreakers. Their records were almost flawless, a fact that left me a little uneasy about having to hunt them down. They'd never kill us, but I had seen Toa inflict some serious injuries on biomechs more than once.

 

Rovaius finally snatched up the folders from me and took in a breath of Nynrah's fresh, unscented air with a grin. "Here we are."

 

Nynrah was a quiet island and Pridak liked it that way, allowing the crafters to work in peace. The manufacturing rate on Xia was more than enough to fit his army with a bevy of deadly weapons and Pridak feigned transparency on the matter. The other Barraki would occasionally come to visit and peek at what Pridak was working on and a Vortixx tour guide would lead them through the factories, leaving no question unanswered. The warlords could learn what Pridak was mass-producing and there was little to stop them from recreating it from memory. Xia, however, was only the face of Pridak's operations.

 

If you wanted to construct prototype weapons, build nasty thing that you wanted kept away from prying eyes, or conduct testing on new technology, wouldn't you want to do so in seclusion? Pridak did, and there were fewer grounds more fertile (north of the Southern Islands) for such intentions than Nynrah. With an estimated population of three hundred or less—if you exclude the scientists working for the League—and an empty landscape of prairies and plains, Pridak's subterranean laboratories were the last thing you'd expect to find there. Anyone with knowledge of Nynrah knew that the island's denizens were almost exclusively crafters, but the general assumption was that Fe-Matoran working in solitude were hardly worth journeying for and locating. There were no soldiers here and certainly no fortresses. It was odd to think that the entire universe probably resembled this degree emptiness in the beginning, when Mata Nui was alone.

 

The wind blew across the beach, whipping sand between our legs. I scanned far to the south, spotting a small mountain range that led to a steep cliff. Pridak's labs were in that direction, but that wasn't our concern at the moment.

 

"The Iosiden Province is southeast of here," Rovaius said, looking over his gunblade. "Sundown will be coming in a few hours."

 

We were in for a long walk. As isolated as Nynrah was, we couldn't risk Toa hearing the sound of Rahi or vehicles approaching their position. So we headed on our way, trekking toward the central region of the island by foot. Rovaius still had the files from Zakaz, rereading them as we went along.

 

"We should choose our targets," Rovaius suggested. "We have a Toa of sonics, fire, air, plant control, and stone. I'm going after the Toa of ice personally."

 

"I can take fire and air," Trylac said flatly.

 

"I'll take plant control," Elendra chimed in.

 

Stalgrax looked at me. "You want sonics or stone?"

 

"Stone, I guess."

 

Stalgrax laughed. "I'll have to watch my audio receptors tonight then."

 

Throughout our afternoon walk, I would read bits and parts of my target's profile. He was a Toa of stone named Etanyok, possessing a Kanohi Rau and something called a Seismic Flail. I could imagine what such a tool was capable of and knew it would be imperative to kill my target before he could access the weapon. Etanyok's psych profile described him as perceptive, versatile, and somewhat argumentative. If I were to kill him, I couldn't risk a lengthy fight. I had to be quick and silent.

 

Into the late afternoon, we located an unknown village near the Iosiden Province's northern border. The terrain dropped into a barren valley, creating a nearly complete ring of rock walls around the village. The only access route (without climbing) was a path carved into the canyon heading further south. The village was as quiet and dusty as the parts of Nynrah we had already seen, but it wasn’t until now that we stumbled upon other biomechs. A few Matoran walked about the village, performing menial tasks here and there.

 

"Can you detect anything, Trylac?" Rovaius wondered, carefully staring down at the village.

 

Trylac sniffed the air a few times, twitching his head as he attempted to locate the proper scent. He crawled to the cliff's edge and leaned out over empty air, still sniffing. Trylac suddenly got to his feet and nodded to Rovaius. "The smell of iron is strong in this village, brought on by the Fe-Matoran and their labors. I believe our Nynrah Ghosts have headed south, however. A scent of iron is trailing that way…alongside something else. Elemental energy."

 

"The Toa clearly had the foresight to evacuate the Nynrah Ghosts from their homes. At least we have a general sense of the direction they left in."

 

We continued around the side of the cliffs, rather than walking right through the village and attracting the attention of any local biomechs. Their tiny huts seemed so primitive, but like Takadox's part of the Southern Continent, this region was not a League priority in terms of industrialization. Our path was taking us south then, bringing us ever closer to the hidden laboratories we had no time (or reason) to visit that evening. It must have been a few more hours of walking before dusk came and Trylac led us to another, smaller village. This place seemed even older and appeared to have been abandoned some time ago. It wasn't situated in a valley, but a good number of boulders were positioned around the outlying areas. They were the perfect cover. We were also fortunate that the sun was going down; a few light sources were faintly visible from within the village.

 

"They're in there," Trylac whispered, gently sniffing the air. "Six Toa…at least a dozen Fe-Matoran."

 

"Okay," Rovaius said happily, content that our long journey hadn't gone to waste. "We'll take some time to recover from all our walking and give our targets some time to get nice and tired. After that, we'll enter the village and eradicate the Toa."

 

For the next several hours, we eyed our separate targets, keeping track of where they headed on their lazy patrols. If they were expecting company, they seemed very confident of a quick victory. It was the foolish mistake of Toa - Toa who were once Matoran that believe heroism and triumph came so easily. They had no idea.

 

It was late into the night when Rovaius muttered, "Time to move." We split up and crept into the village, knowing precisely where each Toa was located. I held my laser rifle close, knowing the risk of allowing a charged hum to ring out through the still and silent plain. It would only take a few seconds for the weapon to be strong enough to put a shot through a Toa's head, especially if the weapon was right next to him. Each of our timings had to be strategic, so as not to leave too much of an interim between the eliminations.

 

I gently pushed open the doorway to the hut where Etanyok was sleeping - making a few slow steps toward him. I intentionally left the door slightly cracked, giving me a sliver of moonlight to work with as I loaded my weapon. A single click locked the shell into place, and a second click allowed me to move the bolt handle. Etanyok didn't shift a bit and I closed in on him, aiming my rifle near the top of his Mask of Translation. Trylac would have the most trouble hunting down a second Toa after his rifle went off and I wanted to time my shot right after his. I waited a moment, listening more vigilantly than I had in a while. The shot finally came, followed almost instantly by what sounded like Elendra's energy pistol. I started charging my own weapon, waiting a few seconds before firing. Etanyok moved a little, squinting his eyes against the unexpected moonlight in his hut. My rifle had enough power and just as Etanyok fully opened his eyes, I pulled the trigger. He fell limp in the bed and I discharged the shell, quietly leaving the hut behind. Trylac's rifle went off a second time and I listened to what sounded like an explosion near the village's center.

 

Stalgrax went flying in my direction, picking himself up and holding his gunblade at his side. "He's a fighter." The Nohtalian ran back toward his opponent, charging waves of darkness into his weapon when he vanished. He was targeting a Toa of sonics, so I figured the explosion was probably a sonic boom. I hurried after Stalgrax, trying to keep my weapon steady in case the Toa was nearby. It didn't take me long to find Stalgrax, standing in the middle of a large ring of debris likely created by the target. The Toa of sonics was impaled through the heartlight on the Nohtalian's gunblade, being held aloft like a trophy of battle. The sharp end of the weapon glistened in the moonlight, having come out the Toa's back. Stalgrax was still discharging plenty of dark power into the gunblade, forcing bits of shadow bolts to crackle out of the corpse's eyes and mouth.

 

Stalgrax whipped his gunblade back and took a step forward, using his momentum to hurl the Toa from his weapon and into one of the huts. "Do you see this, little workers!?" Stalgrax called out to the Nynrah Ghosts. I couldn't find a single one of them, but if Trylac could smell them here, they had to be hiding. "This is the price to be paid for your selfishness!" Stalgrax hollered. "These brave Toa lost their lives because you would not perform your jobs! Barraki Pridak has a message for each of you: get back to work!"

 

Trylac and Elendra approached the scene and Trylac handed Stalgrax a fiery red sword. Undoubtedly the Toa of fire's weapon of choice, Stalgrax took it and channeled his power through it, creating a jet black flame along the blade. He swung it at the huts once, sending a blast of dark flames at the tiny buildings. The fire only burned black for a few moments before becoming a normal orange and red color.

 

The fire began to consume the huts and a Nynrah Ghost stumbled out of one, directly into our path. Stalgrax glared at him and set more of the huts ablaze. "I can't ship you off to Karzahni, but I think a fighting arena on Stelt will suffice. Keep that in mind before your next rebellion!"

 

The terrified Fe-Matoran scurried away and out of sight, likely joining his brothers. We left the village and watched it turn to ashes with a sense of accomplishment. As the fire burned away any trace of the Toa Iosiden, the Nynrah Ghosts fled for their lives, having received Pridak's message loud and clear. All we were waiting on now was Rovaius. I should've expected nothing less than his usual style.

 

Rovaius came slowly marching out of the flames, carrying a Toa of ice over his right shoulder and a crystal white Kanohi in his other hand. The fire danced in the light of his lime green eyes, enhancing the evil expression on his face. The Toa was dazed and defeated, desperately extending his arm when Rovaius tossed the Kanohi Faxon to Trylac. I decided it would be better if the Toa didn't see more of his failure and walked up to him. I flipped my weapon around and slammed the butt of my rifle against the Toa's face, instantly knocking him out.

 

The air was still on our return trip; we were alone with the night. There was no point in hunting down the Nynrah Ghosts now, not to mention the fact that we had a timetable to keep for Pridak. If the Fe-Matoran failed to return to their work, we'd just be deployed again, shooting anything and anyone in our way. It was my secret hope that the Matoran got the message - they were my least favorite species to kill. No matter the element, a dead Matoran always made me think of Torema and the guard I shot through the head in Marilea. That experience left me temporarily catatonic and I've always felt slightly hesitant about killing Matoran ever since. There are far more dangerous biomechs out there to be uncertain against - I should be thankful that Matoran often have a reluctant nature about harming others to begin with.

 

We quickly returned to northwestern Nynrah, arriving at the ship at a late hour. The sun would be coming up in a couple hours and we urgently needed to get going. Stalgrax took our prisoner down to the chamber designed for him, while Rovaius approached the Vortixx taking us on our way.

 

"Will we make it in time?"

 

The captain nodded with a smirk. "If we're lucky, we'll arrive on the Northern Continent in the early afternoon."

 

I slept through the morning, somehow still tired after all the sleep I caught from the day before. With nothing much else to do, I decided to pay a visit to the specially made chamber below the ship's deck. It was only a few doors away from where I fell asleep, so I didn't have to walk far. The heavy gray door required a bit of force to push open, but I managed it with a slight shove. The chamber was incredible, covered in glowing tiles on the ceiling, walls, and floor. There was an eerie silence to the room as it invisibly drained the Toa of his power. The tiles seemed to be constantly shifting their colors, clearly rendering the Toa on the other side of the room virtually powerless. I shut the door and cautiously approached the Toa, watching as he sat hunched over in the corner, staring at the ceiling.

 

"How did you expect this to end?" I asked with no sarcasm in my voice.

 

"I don't know," he whispered, "not like this. We were hired to protect those Matoran, but don't think we weren't concerned about them. We tried our best…really."

 

"Everything comes with a consequence," I replied, crouching down next to him. "Had you realized that sooner, your friends would still be alive."

 

The Toa angrily attempted to stand, clutching the wall for support as he went along. I gave him a light push against the wall and watched him fall in a slump on the floor. He was completely worn out.

 

"My mask is gone, my team is dead, and you sent the Matoran back to their endless labor of weaponry in terror," he said dismally. "I will accept whatever happens now."

 

I wanted to say something to him, anything really, to break the silence. He was right though. His journey in life was nearly complete now - a life ending in failure. Each Toa we killed was a separate friend to someone, a separate meaning and a separate memory. The Toa of ice had probably seen many victories in Zakaz alongside his team, which only added to how pathetic this conclusion felt.

 

The door swung open and Elendra marched across the room, hauling the Toa of ice to his feet and propping him against her shoulder. "You have an appointment with Barraki Pridak, Toa." She glanced at me with a frustrated look. "Help me get this 'hero' upstairs."

 

I placed the Toa's free arm behind my neck and we led him up to the deck, ignoring his pained grumbles and exhausted breathing along the way. When I got my first look at the sky when we arrived, I nearly dropped the Toa right then. My mouth hung open in awe, staring at Barraki Mantax's grand fortress floating high above.

 

"Beautiful, huh?" Stalgrax said with a chuckle.

 

"It was a thing of wonder when it was on the ground, but now… I never imagined how amazing it would look up there."

 

I turned around and examined the forest surrounding the Tren Krom Peninsula's rim, a dense, dark green affair my eyes couldn't pierce. I still remembered our last visit so vividly, the desperate departure, and particularly how Jelveci was absent from our number in the end. It almost looked like an entirely different place without a raging storm overhead, but an uncomfortable silence came over the ship as we advanced. Elendra tugged the Toa away from me, carelessly dragging him by his feet as she loomed closer to the bow's edge.

 

"The Great Spirit will punish you for what you have done," the Toa of ice said, coughing for a moment. "For my brothers and for those Fe-Matoran, he will punish you."

 

Elendra pushed the Toa to the floor in a spinning direction, causing him to fall on his back. She then slammed her kneecap into his torso before pulling out one of her pistols, beating him across the face with it.

 

"What'd you say!?" she yelled, striking his face with the pistol a few more times. He didn't even have strength enough to defend himself, dazedly watching Elendra beat him. "I'm going to be punished!?" Elendra fumed, relentlessly pummeling the Toa of ice with her weapon. "Well let's get to it! Let's see the Great Spirit punish me for this!"

 

She kept going, crashing metal against metal as she mockingly waited for Mata Nui to intervene. Elendra got off a couple more pistol whips before Rovaius grabbed her arm and held it in place. She glared up at him, but he was already staring her down. "We need him alive. Control yourself."

 

Elendra stood up, a dark smile curling over her face as she examined her handiwork. The Toa of ice had been badly beaten, that much was certain. The muscles around his maskless face were bruised and swollen, and his left eye was slightly cracked. I knew Pridak was inevitably going to kill him and—at this point—that would be a mercy. The Toa's mission had been unsuccessful, he failed the Fe-Matoran living in his homeland, and his closest friends were dead. I think Elendra lashed out at him in fear. She knew what we had coming and she knew it would take someone willing to kill for Mata Nui to get the job done. She knew everything is only temporary…even luck.


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Edited by Cederak, Jan 26 2014 - 01:15 PM.

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#7 Offline Cederak

Cederak
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Posted Aug 06 2012 - 08:25 PM

"Playing with fire, you know you're gonna hurt somebody tonight." -Brandon Flowers

 

Episode 07: Brightest Midnight

 

I leapt from our ship into the shallow water, no higher than my ankles. The sea was clear and icy, almost immune to the comfortable heat of the sun above. Elendra took the Toa of ice off the boat and onto the sand, pulling him along without a problem as Stalgrax and Trylac disembarked the craft.

 

"We'll find a ride home," Rovaius said to the captain, joining us on the sand as the Vortixx disappeared back to the controls.

 

"No rest for the wicked?" I asked with a laugh.

 

"You've rested plenty the last couple days," Rovaius replied, giving my shoulder a weak punch. "If Pridak doesn't have a mission for us, we're heading north for some money."

 

North. I knew the north of the Tren Krom Peninsula well by then. Matoran of all elements built their homes near the active volcanic ranges and jagged cliffs. I had watched Elendra drop a rather obnoxious Le-Matoran over an acidic waterfall once. Lucky little biomech; he was corroded to death before hitting the bottom. The north region of the peninsula was also the sight of Jelveci's death, though that was on the plains near Lake Renybr - a body of water that nearly separated Tren Krom from the Northern Continent.

 

We entered the forest, all spotting the fortress that could be seen poking out from within. Rovaius took the Toa of ice from Elendra, carrying him in his arms while Elendra held his Kanohi Faxon. She put the mask to her face, peering through the eyeholes at us. There was no way a Trelban was going to activate a Kanohi, but she might've just not been in the mood to carry it. Once I saw her cocking both her pistols though, her intentions were clear. If Mantax's soldiers were patrolling the forests this close to the water, she wanted both hands free to carry weapons.

 

I could tell we were basically wandering around the forest, hoping to find Pridak before any guards found us. It was easy to remain quiet among the greenery, but I was starting to wonder if Pridak was even outside at the time. For all we knew, he wasn't even on the peninsula yet. A few minutes passed in our careful search before Trylac suddenly halted and jerked his head to the left.

 

"Found him," Trylac muttered, lowering his rifle and rushing forward several bio. He crept through shrubbery and crawled around several trees just as I watched a white biomech come into sight. We followed Trylac's path, making our way straight to Barraki Pridak with the Toa of ice.

 

"Hello," Pridak said softly.

 

Rovaius dropped the Toa to the ground and gave the warlord a short nod. "Do the other Barraki know where you are?"

 

"I told them I had been overworking myself in Xia lately and I need some fresh air now and again. Kalmah and Takadox actually have yet to arrive." Pridak glanced down at the Toa. "I always expect heroes to be…grander."

 

"Yes, well, in any event," Rovaius started, clearing his throat, "will you need anything further from us?"

 

"We can talk about new assignments soon," Pridak replied, pulling the Toa up by his arm. "I will need your gunblade momentarily."

 

Rovaius handed over the weapon without a word, allowing Pridak to give it a cursory look-over. The Barraki then looked at Elendra. "Drop that Kanohi."

 

Elendra hurled the mask at Pridak's foot, watching him smash it beneath his heel. "A Faxon. Ironic considering that his kindred are now dead." Pridak took the Toa away with him into a secluded area of the forest, preferring to wrap things up in private. We waited in silence for his return, listening for any sounds at his location. The gunblade was shot once and we heard the Toa cry out in pain. There were a few more noises and the faint sound of Pridak speaking. The weapon was shot again and the Toa screamed. It was the scream of a dying, defeated hero. The Toa could be heard moaning in agony, but that stopped short after Pridak roared and the sound of crushing metal echoed through the trees.

 

Pridak walked back a few moments later, entirely composed as he handed the gunblade to its owner. "Thank you, Rovaius."

 

"My pleasure, Your Eminence. I trust you've prepared an explanation for the guards?"

 

Pridak grinned. "I want something to occupy me on my way back the fortress, Rovaius. Concocting a nice lie will be an excellent way to pass that time. Now that the matter of my rogue workers has been attended to though, we can begin discussing your next assignment."

 

Rovaius sighed, frustrated over not being able to head north so soon. "Where are we going?"

 

"Mantax's guards are presently preparing an airship to be used this evening. I was summoned here because Mantax wants nothing more than to showcase his newest project. It is a stronghold and a weapon, and you five will be sneaking aboard the airship and entering Brightest Midnight."

 

"I've never attended the grand opening of a fortress," Trylac muttered.

 

"This is no ordinary fortress," Pridak replied sharply. "This is a turning point in architectural innovation. As such, you will need to find the inner core of the facility. Mantax is manipulating gravity in there and if I could only learn what he did, Xia could be in the sky in the next decade. I would have to reinforce the underground levels of the city and leave behind the ports, not to mention that worthless mountain, but it all starts with learning the secret behind Brightest Midnight."

 

There was an understood insanity to what Pridak was saying, and yet, it wasn't beyond the scope of reality. Regardless of how well it would work, we had to explore the fortress. Beside all that, I really wanted to see what it looked like in there.

 

"I should return to Mantax and the others. Just be onboard the airship when we take off," Pridak said, walking back toward the fortress.

 

We decided against examining Pridak's work, confident that he did enough to the Toa. Skulking along the forest, Rovaius stopped us short of the clearing that led to Mantax's fortress. He pointed to an airship being looked over by a couple Matoran and also pointed near the fortress's towers. Armored guards were patrolling the area, while a few kept their eyes through the scopes on their sniper rifles. They were Steltians - the upper class species of Stelt that took the island's name as their own. Their weapons differed from Trylac's in that they produced a trail of thin, red light wherever they aimed. The light enhanced their precision, but I don't think Trylac would choose to risk giving himself away like that.

 

Getting by the guards and into the airship proved to be a much simpler task than we expected. Mantax's guards kept up a patrolling routine that took about half an hour to complete. After watching for an hour or so, we exploited the breaks in their paths and moved like shadows all the way to the airship. Not a single soldier was situated between us and the open door and I was beginning to feel suspicious. Was Mantax bating a trap? Was Pridak aware of it? It was a poor time to let paranoia overtake me—as are most of the times it seems to come along—but I had learned to combat it in the past few years. Shaking off my doubts, I followed Rovaius back to the cargo hold and sunk down beneath one of the tiny windows. A few crates reading "Le-Metru Freight" surrounded me in the relative darkness of the airship and I could hear my fellow piraka settling into place around me.

 

I had grown accustomed to complete silence among the group when it was necessary. No one made a sound for a couple hours, until we heard the airship's engines activating below us. I heard Elendra grumble, "Finally!" from her corner of the room as the craft roared to life.

 

It must not have taken the Barraki long to board, because I could feel the airship ascending after a moment or two. I turned around and peered out the window, staring in admiration as we quickly approached Mantax's new stronghold. Brightest Midnight was absolutely stunning. The structure was built atop a massive, silver disk that formed a thin dome shape beneath the fortress. Somewhere in the depths of that disk was the most powerful gravity drive in existence and we needed to find out how it functioned. As for the fortress itself, it was precisely as Pridak had described it. The "jewel of onyx and cobalt" resembled a highly-advanced city, illuminated by neon lights of green, blue, and white. There were no windows, however, at least that I could see from the airship.

 

The airship landed in one of the Midnight's multiple hangars after a brief flight. The Barraki were likely disembarking as soon as possible to get a glimpse at the inner workings of what their fellow warlord had envisioned.

 

"Follow me," Rovaius ordered, running off toward the front of the airship. I could hear the others moving around and I stumbled forward in an attempt to keep up with everyone. Rovaius led us out the airship's top hatch and we crawled onto the craft's hull - staying as low as possible. Far to our left, Mantax was leading the other Barraki down a large escalator to the floor below us. Beyond the platforms designed to hold airships, we had a perfect view of the lower floor and I watched as the warlords coolly examined the Midnight's interior.

 

"Where are your soldiers, Mantax?" Pridak questioned, giving the black-armored Barraki a disapproving stare. His voice echoed through the hangar, giving it a commanding boom.

 

"Brightest Midnight has minimum security right now, Pridak, but I assure you that it will be fully staffed within a couple weeks. I have been very careful about choosing the right candidates to be stationed on the greatest undertaking of my life. In their stead at the moment, I have temporarily hired a team of rangers to patrol the fortress for the week. They are highly-trained to ensure no unwanted guests will be roaming these halls."

 

"How thoughtful," Pridak responded uninterestedly.

 

"Rangers?" Stalgrax hissed to Rovaius.

 

Rovaius glared at him and began sliding backwards down the ship's hull. He landed silently against the metallic floor and I followed suit. We snuck along the walkway heading near the escalator, but Rovaius pointed down a dark hallway. He crept up to it, but immediately whirled back and motioned for us to halt. He then narrowed his eyes in the direction of the Barraki below us, listening to their conversation.

 

"They said something about Miserix," Rovaius muttered. "It must be a Brotherhood matter."

 

I crouched near the walkway's railing, poking out enough of my head to watch the Barraki chat with one another. I had never actually seen Takadox or Mantax before that, but Mantax was every bit the warlord I pictured him to be. He was clad in thick, obsidian armor with a set of gunmetal pauldrons. His eyes glowed like a pair of rubies, and his sharp claws constantly twitched. He was nervous—untrusting really—and he was surrounded by five of the most dishonest beings in the universe. Even if they were my allies, I'd probably be nervous too.

 

Each Barraki gave off a gallant aura, an energy that matched the royalty they had become. Each Barraki, that is, save Takadox. Slightly hunched over, his sapphire armor produced a faint glow to it while he rested against his large, serrated sword. As he sat there, occasionally licking his fanged teeth, I tried to look into his eyes for a moment. The experience left me feeling immediately dizzy and I had to break contact. No…that's an inaccurate description. I struggled to break contact. His fiery eyes were hypnotic, it seemed, and I didn't risk taking another look.

 

The others were as I remembered from earlier encounters. Kalmah was armored in crimson and jet black, a set of cool blue eyes never hinting at any feeling behind them. He was Pridak's wrath without any of the passion to support it - a cold, pitiless biomech that could handle his temper.

 

"What a joke," Kalmah said dryly. "The Brotherhood can't handle competence for a few days, let alone for the millennia we've been at it! Even their monster factory on Destral seldom manages to give me a beast that lasts very long. They are fools."

 

"Mine seem to stay alive just fine," Pridak replied, raising an eyebrow. "I feel like this is less of a Brotherhood error and more of a Kalmah one."

 

Kalmah opened his mouth to speak, but released a soft laugh instead. "Don't try to ignore your disdain for those Rahi-makers by pinning their faults on me. But of course, our latest initiative will soon put an end to all that, won't it?"

 

"This is not a matter to brag about," Pridak warned, taking a step towards Kalmah. He glanced at Mantax. "If anyone were to find out, everything would be compromised!"

 

"Calm yourself, Pridak. Aside from the rangers who know nothing of the initiative, there is no one else aboard Brightest Midnight right now. And I do not pay rangers to ask questions."

 

"See, Pridak? Everything is fine," Kalmah said, taunting the icy white Barraki with his laughing blue eyes. He spun his broadsword along the floor a few times before Mantax glared at him.

 

"Do I need to remind you that this facility is brand new?" Mantax growled.

 

"I don't care if Artakha himself built it this morning," Kalmah scoffed, picking up the sword and casually attaching it to a magnetic piece on his back, "let's just get this tour going."

 

"Yes, we didn't come all this way to drag our feet," Carapar agreed. He was the bulkiest of the Barraki and his amber and gray armor looked incredibly heavy. His dark red eyes were sunken in, nearly washed out by a light shade of gray.

 

Ehlek laughed, a distorted sound coming from his breathing apparatus. "Please, Carapar. How far would you go anywhere if you couldn't drag your feet?"

 

Carapar glanced at Ehlek and smirked. "Farther than you'd go right now if I rip that water machine off your face."

 

"Enough," Pridak said adamantly, stepping between Ehlek and Carapar. He turned to Mantax and calmly added, "Shall we begin?"

 

The Barraki went about their tour of the facility and we hurried off in the other direction. Finding an access route to the structure's core proved to be a real task as we searched the winding halls and countless chambers of the Midnight. I wanted to know if the fortress actually had windows on the upper levels, but we descended at every chance. There were no directions posted anywhere to give an indication of where we were, only the occasional number that designated the floor level. Every area we searched resembled every area before it, which was a clever design on Mantax's part. If the Midnight were ever invaded, his soldiers would be far more familiar with what seemed like the same halls than the foreign biomechs attempting to conquer the fortress. It was a defensive move that would eat away at the enemy's time, but we were not an invasion fleet and we had all the time in the world.

 

The sun had to have set by the time our journey brought us to the third sublevel, somewhere in the disk. More of the machinery was exposed down in the sublevels, almost as if the construction had been left incomplete. I knew otherwise. The hardest-working gears and components needed air to regulate through them and prevent overheating. This made the sublevels uncomfortably warm in the process. Rovaius followed what he believed would take us closer to the center of the disk and we found more and more of the machinery uncovered in the area. I could tell he was getting excited as his pace quickened and he was finally rewarded after rounding one of the many corners.

 

I followed him patiently, finding the hallway led out to a deck that appeared to wrap around the Midnight's entire length. I had apparently overlooked this from the airship. In the hall's other direction was a massive chamber, glowing with a bright violet like the intensity of Stalgrax's eyes. There in the center of the room, positioned over a colossal machine built like a pedestal was the gravity core processor. It was completely out in the open, orbited by smaller metallic parts that steadily shifted around the core. I could tell they were wirelessly connected to the computer below the pedestal, probably reading the core's energy outputs to ensure it was regulating properly.

 

"Wait here," Rovaius said, heading off toward the core. I drew my weapon and watched the others do the same. We hadn't encountered a single ranger in our search and that only made us feel more guarded now that we had stopped.

 

"It seems a little strange that none of the rangers spotted us, doesn't it?" I asked Elendra.

 

"I want to believe they're so spread out that the likelihood of running into a ranger on such a massive structure is fairly unlikely, but I can't shake the feeling that I'm wrong," Elendra replied, cocking her revolvers.

 

"For the first time in a while, you are wrong," Trylac said softly, pointing to the core.

 

"Small world, isn't it?" a familiar biomech said.

 

I whirled around to face the gravity core chamber and stared in disbelief. Trivolox was slowly walking out from the back of the pedestal as he smiled at Rovaius. It felt unreal. Rovaius took a moment to watch Trivolox enjoy his entrance, finally slamming his gunblade into the floor and lightly clapping a few times.

 

"I'm very impressed," Rovaius said, smirking at the Nohtalian. "Usually I'm the one setting the traps for my enemies, but you have to tell me how you orchestrated this so perfectly. I was suspicious about how simple this was, but I honestly had no idea it was your mind that put this together. Old habits"-

 

"Quiet," Trivolox snapped. "You never get tired of the sound of your own voice, but you always did love the sound of a good plan. I'll shut you up and give you an explanation, so we can both be satisfied for a moment. I heard that Mantax was looking for soldiers to patrol his new fortress during its first days of operation. I assumed the majesty of this place would draw you in for one reason or another, either to steal technology or simply sabotage it. Mantax wanted to impress the other Barraki with a well-trained team onboard the Midnight and I only agreed to work with him because I knew you would come. We both know his very existence disgraces Mata Nui's name now, like the rest of the monstrous warlords who ravaged our universe."

 

Rovaius withdrew his gunblade from the floor and held it at his side. Trivolox glared at him and sighed. "Do you have anything to say about all that? I'm sure you have some snarky comment ready for me. Let's hear it!"

 

"Well, for starters, I do get tired of the sound of my voice after a while. And second of all,  while I'm sure your plan looked nice on tablets, you still have to kill us," Rovaius reminded him.

 

Trivolox grinned. "Oh, my rangers and I are more than ready to deal with you. We've been pursuing you through the fortress since you first left the airship."

 

I could hear several rifles charging in the darkness above us, each coming from a different position. I had no idea where to aim, but I was fairly certain that we were surrounded. Rovaius carefully examined the computer monitor for a moment and turned to Trivolox.

 

"He's keeping this thing up with solar power," Rovaius said, awestruck. "I didn't think we would ever perfect that kind of technology, but Mantax achieved it somehow. It also looks like he studied enough Kanohi Garai energy signatures to create an artificial gravity field. This computer is like a Toa whose mask power can be used by Mantax at any time. Brightest Midnight could be directed all the way through the Southern Islands if he wanted it to."

 

"And your point is…?" Trivolox laughed, motioning his rangers to descend into view. They landed in the hallway between Rovaius and me, half of them pointing their weapons in my direction and the other half aiming at Rovaius. Their forms were covered in armor and beyond the fact that they were bipedal, there was nothing discernible about what species they might be.

 

Rovaius smiled. "I just needed to know how it worked." He surrounded himself in a shadow sphere and fired a stream of darkness at the gravity core, causing it to fracture open immediately. Trivolox bolted into the hallway, plunging his gunblade into the side of the wall.

 

"Hold on to something!" Trivolox yelled to the rangers. It was already too late when he spoke. The gravity field went crazy and created an exploding sound right before it started pulling the rangers toward it. Trivolox held his position on the wall and Rovaius clutched onto the computer terminal. The rest of us retreated into the outer hallway, trying to see what was happening. I watched the rangers fly into the chamber and gazed in amazement as the gravity field smashed them into one another and pulled them apart all around the room. A second explosion followed and everyone went careening toward the deck outside. A number of the rangers went soaring over the ledge and Elendra nearly went with them, clutching the railing with her free hand. The stars were already out and if not for the glowing neon all around the fortress above, it would've been a dark night for us.

 

Trivolox fired his gunblade at the railing, causing Elendra to drop off the disk. Trylac put his sniper rifle on his back and leapt after her, extending his wings to make him more aerodynamic. They would be just fine, but we still had to deal with Trivolox.

 

"Do you have any idea how moronic that was!?" Trivolox screamed at Rovaius.

 

Brightest Midnight lurched slightly downward and there was no telling how long we had before it might crash.

 

Rovaius glanced my way and offered me his gunblade. "Stalgrax and I are going to try and get the airship back down here. You'll need to buy yourself some time until we return."

 

I put my rifle on my back and reluctantly accepted the gunblade. "Stalgrax can't stay to help me fight Trivolox?"

 

"Pridak can't risk defending our presence here and I'll need assistance if I run into the Barraki," Rovaius explained. "I'm sorry."

 

Rovaius and Stalgrax jumped up the side of the disk, using concentrated bursts of shadow to push them higher. I had trained with the gunblade before, but I had never used it for more than instruction. Trivolox lunged at me with his gunblade and I barely matched his swing. He then back flipped away from me and recharged his gunblade with shadow energy, swinging it around a few times as he slowly strafed my position. I kept an eye on him, lining up the gunblade with his chest as he went along.

 

"You have committed atrocities against Mata Nui!" Trivolox said harshly. "How can you live with yourself?"

 

"My actions are the will of Mata Nui," I said, firing a few shots at him.

 

Trivolox easily dove out of their way, discharging a burst of shadow at me. I sidestepped it and he shook his head in frustration. "You are blind to see what Mata Nui desires and you are in no position to say otherwise!"

 

"You've got it wrong," I replied, running at him with the gunblade ready to slash. "I am an agent of the Barraki!"

 

Our weapons clashed together and I fought to hold the Nohtalian back. Using a tactic that worked for Rovaius in the past, I kicked Trivolox in the chest and sent him sprawling to the floor. "The Barraki are entities appointed by the Great Spirit to govern the universe," I declared. "Those who would do me harm are enemies of the League, and thereby, Mata Nui." I had mused on the philosophy in the past, but that was the first time I voiced it.

 

"You choose to ignore me," Trivolox said coldly, getting to his feet as I backed away. "All biomechs have the opportunity to join my cause and you have rejected that path."

 

I couldn't believe his hypocrisy. "What about your brothers on Nohtal?" I spat. "You never gave them a chance to join your cause. They were innocent!"

 

Trivolox smiled at me, emanating his smugness. "Hasn't Rovaius told you? Everyone I seem to kill is innocent. Funny how that works, isn't it?"

 

I froze as the sound of the Midnight being ripped apart from the inside echoed out onto the deck. Parts of the rangers littering the deck and any other debris began to hover along with Trivolox and myself. Brightest Midnight tilted a bit more and we both knew it was just a matter of time before the gravity field lost all stability. When the field dropped us back on our feet, Trivolox put his gunblade away and casually walked back into the hallway, blanketing himself in darkness. "Ending your life is not worth losing mine."

 

I had to agree with him. The fortress was quickly losing power and only minutes separated me from joining the Midnight in its inevitable, watery grave. I returned to the hallway and ran in the opposite direction of Trivolox, hoping to find something to save my life with. I pictured the fortress from the airship and tried to remember anything that could get me to safety. I hadn't thought much about it at first, but there were a number of small domes along the lower portion of the disk. Waiting for Rovaius to return was too great a risk, even if the rings only turned out to be decorative. I had to find out if they were connected to something. From the deck near the gravity chamber, the domes were one floor below. I took the nearest elevator down there and (after a brief eternity of frantic impatience) found an answer within moments.

 

"Escape capsules," I said in relief.

 

It was a short-lived calm because I realized right after that—due to Brightest Midnight's current tilt—I would be escaping right into the sea. I would probably be smashed by the falling structure shortly after. My options were limited to attempting to survive the crash onboard the Midnight or making a getaway. I settled on the latter, motivated to at least buy myself a few extra moments of life. The capsule opened easily enough and I crawled into the tube, only slightly prepared for the dangerous ride ahead. I activated the pod and the entrance below me sealed shut. The capsule then fired out of the fortress and I could hear an engine propelling me at an incredible speed. This capsule was obviously designed to soar through the air and facilitate a safe landing. Instead, it's preprogrammed trajectory was going to launch me straight into the sea. The world was upside-down as I dropped, but in the seconds before I impacted with the waves, Brightest Midnight exhausted the last of its power. Of course, the gravity core may have also imploded. The cause didn't matter because for one reason or another, the world's largest fortress was headed right at me.

 

I was violently rattled around when I hit the sea, but the engine wasn't done yet. It held out for a little bit longer and I continued to descend into the dark water. Brightest Midnight followed shortly after, impacting my capsule and causing me enough trauma that I could feel my vision becoming hazy as I was shaken about. The capsule tumbled down through the water and I felt myself come to an immediate halt. A second later, my face smacked hard against the capsule's wall and I passed out.

 

I didn't sleep that night, but I wouldn't say I was awake either. My mind was free to think, to wonder what I could've done differently to escape the Midnight. Did Trylac save Elendra? How long did Rovaius wait with the airship? Did he even make it back in time? My mind screamed for my body to respond, waiting in the darkness. I began to think after a while that I would remain stuck between a state of activity and unconsciousness forever, left undisturbed beneath a metal tomb, but I was wrong. I managed to open my eyes and could see thin rays of light penetrating the water. Everything was clearer now, but it was also a mess. I was staring up at the wreckage of the Midnight - Mantax's crowning achievement brought down by a disrupted gravity drive.

 

"You really did it this time, Rovaius," I mumbled, glancing out the capsule's glass.

 

My capsule was pinned in the ruins and none of the activation buttons would respond. I wasn't the strongest swimmer, but I knew I could hold my breath for a while, like most biomechs. I leaned forward and heard something drop to the floor. It was pretty dark, but I felt around and scooped up what definitely felt like my laser rifle's bolt handle. I cursed and dropped it in with my laser shells, regretting the fact that I left my weapon on my back. I quickly remembered that there was also an important gunblade sitting off to my side and took it in my hands. I didn't have the room to point it outward, but even at an angle, I could shoot my way out of the capsule. I studied the glints of light that danced along the weapon, pondering how many battles it had seen. My duel with Trivolox was only one of its many clashes, even used to execute a Toa no more than a day before. A Mask of Psychometry would easily find a long history of violence in Rovaius' gunblade, seeing as how all of his stories suggested he owned it before becoming an outlaw on Nohtal. Trivolox defected from the original gang shortly after the League was formed, roughly fourteen millennia ago. The gunblade must've been ancient, yet in excellent condition. Rovaius certainly knew how to care for a weapon.

 

I tilted the gunblade into place and prepared for what would be coming next. I shot the weapon once and it put a nice hole in the glass. The water did the rest of the work, entering with enough force to shatter most of the capsule wall. The capsule rapidly filled up and I was rushed out into the frigid sea. With the gunblade in one hand, I used the other to reach through the water and desperately kicked my way up through the wreckage. My ability to swim wasn't great, though it wasn't nonexistent. Brightest Midnight was now a web of massive metal debris, but it had offered me an advantage that wasn't available after the Ephemeral Wonder crashed. Underwater, I was free to push myself up along the damaged platforms and jump higher. The water was unbelievably cold and my muscles were numb when I surfaced, but I made it. I pulled myself onto a floating chunk of the fortress and took in my surroundings. Like an iceberg, only a small amount of Brightest Midnight remained above the water, which was odd when I took into account how much of the fortress was made of metal. Brushing it off as the work of a gravity field that hadn't fully 'died' yet, I started traversing the floating platforms, climbing around large pieces and steadily making my way higher. It was a sunny and quiet morning, but that would change when Mantax's soldiers arrived to make an investigation of what went wrong. I needed to be on my way by the time that happened. I walked along a long metal plate, casually swinging the gunblade back and forth when I noticed four biomechs not far below my position. It was the gang, searching for me.

 

"Were you planning on going for a swim?" I asked, smirking as I leapt down to their level.

 

"This is surprising," Rovaius said quietly.

 

"Not really," Trylac replied. "I knew that escape pod I trailed down through the sky was Adrinor. Although I am curious as to how you survived having a fortress crash down on you."

 

"I was knocked around a bit, but I'm fine. I guess I'm just lucky," I said, smiling as I handed over the gunblade to Rovaius. I then revealed my laser rifle and sighed. "I can't say the same for my bolt handle though."

 

Rovaius nodded slowly, looking over the rifle. "We can get that fixed up soon. You made the right decision not to wait for my return. Stalgrax and I made it back to the hangar, but the Barraki had already left in the airship. We had to use controlled shadow bolts on the falling fortress to slow our descent last night. Trylac and Elendra landed on the beach and they joined us a few hours ago to begin searching for you."

 

I grinned. "I have to know, how long would you have searched for me?"

 

"A few days," Elendra replied, giving me a mischievous smile. "We know how long to hold out hope…and I know how long is excessive."

 

I laughed briefly, but a disturbing thought interrupted my optimism. "Hey Trylac, did you see any other capsules leave the Midnight?"

 

Trylac narrowed all four eyes on me. "He got away, didn't he?"

 

"As usual," Elendra groaned.

 

"That isn't our priority right now," Rovaius said. "Rather than head north through the Tren Krom Peninsula, I've decided to pay a visit to a friend. We're leaving for Stelt."

 

We all turned and stared at the peninsula, studying the parts of Mantax's smaller fortress that loomed over the forest. Adding insult to injury was our style, and if dropping Brightest Midnight out of the skies wasn't enough, I knew we'd be stealing something else from Mantax before the morning was over.


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Edited by Cederak, Jan 26 2014 - 01:17 PM.

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#8 Offline Cederak

Cederak
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Posted Aug 19 2012 - 04:22 PM

"This ain't no place for no hero, to call home." -The Heavy

 

Episode 08: Nexus of Depravity

 

"We don't need anything fancy," Stalgrax said. "Stelt isn't far from here anyway. In fact, you can just see the edges of it."

 

I turned in the direction he was facing and scanned the horizon, easily finding the shadowy outline of an island in the distance.

 

"I have an idea," Rovaius said, running to the end of the platform and leaping up to where I had been standing when I found the gang. He scanned the wreckage and looked back at us. "I'll need your assistance, Elendra."

 

We climbed up to join him, catching sight of a massive chunk of the fortress that caught Rovaius' eye. It was part of the silver disk, with nearly a dozen of the escape pods still intact.

 

Elendra chuckled. "Why do you always seriously consider your crazier ideas?"

 

"Because they usually work," Rovaius replied, leaping out over the water. He assaulted the crystal sea with a blast of shadow that sent him hurtling toward the pods and Stalgrax followed suit. Elendra and I moved between the platforms while Trylac flew to meet up with the Nohtalians.

 

Dislodging the escape pods only took us a few minutes, but that was the easy part. Each pod was positioned on a small platform below the disk piece, opened for Elendra to examine. She regularly studied technology when she found a chance and we assumed recalibrating a pod would be simple work. There was no telling when Mantax's soldiers might start coming our way, but none of us wanted to rush Elendra. A gunfight with a few warriors would be less risky than hurrying through the adjustments to such a sophisticated machine. It took the Trelban a little under a half hour to finish the first pod and she managed to modify the next four in another half hour. Crawling back out of the tube, she motioned to the pods.

 

"Your lives are now in the hands of my work," Elendra said with a smirk.

 

"Which is much safer than being in the hands of your emotions," Stalgrax said, cracking a sinister grin.

 

Elendra pulled one of her energy revolvers on the Nohtalian and aimed at his chest, glaring into Stalgrax's eyes. "Take it back."

 

Stalgrax folded his arms. "My point exactly."

 

"I don't give you flak for your sarcastic attitude, Stalgrax," Elendra argued, taking a couple steps toward him. "Don't criticize my unsociable one."

 

"To be fair, I haven't said anything about this in at least a thousand years…to your face anyway."

 

"I suppose you've forgotten how that turned out," Elendra hissed, cocking the revolver's hammer back.

 

Stalgrax charged his palms with shadow energies. "Not at all."

 

"And neither have I," Rovaius said, placing a barrier of shadow between Stalgrax and Elendra. "We have better things to do than deal with your bickering. Adrinor, Trylac, and I are leaving for Stelt. You two can stand around and exhaust yourselves until Mantax's soldiers show up, or you can swallow your pride, shut up, and get in your pods."

 

"This isn't over," Stalgrax said, letting the shadows fade as he crawled into one of the escape pods.

 

"And…Elendra," Rovaius added.

 

"What!?" the Trelban asked in an annoyed tone.

 

"Thank you for modifying these capsules."

 

We entered the escape pods and I accommodated myself to the uncomfortable surroundings again. I pressed the activation button and instantly took off from the platform, sailing just below the surface of the water at an amazing speed. Because of how I was seated, the glass had me staring directly into the sky, unable to see where the others were. The pods apparently had much more fuel in their engines than a simple escape from the fortress would require, even taking Stelt's closeness into account. The journey was a few minutes, maybe more, but the ending was far more memorable. I struck the beach of Stelt hard, shattering the pod's glass as I was ejected into the air and hurled into the dirt.

 

We all arrived around the same time, brushing ourselves off as we walked up the beach. One of the Steltians angrily came marching our way, glaring at the escape pods with his sand colored eyes. Like most of his kind, he was a bit taller than myself and possessed a pair of tubes that ran behind his head and connected on each side of his jaw. His tubes fumed smoke and he was furious.

 

"Are you going to clean those up!?" he questioned.

 

"No," Rovaius said coldly. "You can have them…for scrap or whatever."

 

The Steltian seemed surprised by his reply. "Oh…thanks." He glanced at a couple of the burly Ohnbiek guards nearby and motioned them over. "Start taking those pods apart!" The guards raised their heads in partial confusion, staring at one another for a moment. Ohnbiek weren't the brightest biomechs in the universe, but their strength served them well. Stelt was an interesting land in how its hierarchy functioned. The smartest species (though physically weakest), the tall, powerful Steltians ruled the island. The Ohnbiek served below them, often guards or laborers to be used like living tools. The least bright—though easily strongest—were the lowest class - the Pontiir. Practically slaves, the Pontiir battled in coliseum arenas for the entertainment of the clever Steltians.

 

"The pods!" the Steltian shouted, pointing at the metal tubes as if he were attempting to force a jet of flames from his finger. "Take them apart!"

 

As the pair of Ohnbiek started for our temporary transports, I followed Rovaius into the street, taking in the sights of the island. It had been two years since my last visit, but Stelt's largest attraction was still its countless ruins. If you wanted a structure to last on Stelt, you would either provide lodging or goods. Anything else was at risk of being demolished by some of the most envious and violent biomechs I had ever seen. I had a pretty decent idea of why Rovaius wanted to visit Stelt and he further proved my theory when he began heading for the nearest coliseum. I was standing next to him when a random thought popped into my head and I blurted it out.

 

"I don't think you're a terrible biomech," I told him.

 

"Well that's…nice," Rovaius said with a laugh.

 

"You know what I mean," I replied quickly. "Despite the crimes and the killings, you have a moral code."

 

"Every biomech with any self-respect ought to have a sense of morals. The Barraki certainly do...and so do I. Believe it or not, there's some honor among thieves. We've run across gangs like ours and it's easy to tell what they're after. They have their own code and laws, but they know not to turn their weapons on us. Truth is, nearly everyone outside Metru Nui and a few other places is under the employment or watchful eyes of the League of Six Kingdoms. Pridak might send us into zones under the jurisdiction of his fellow warlords and he knows we won't hesitate to blast away any soldiers in our way, but I would never fire on another gang."

 

"Why are other gangs so important to you?" I inquired. Rovaius glanced at me for a moment and then he went back to looking at the coliseum.

 

"Because they are me," Rovaius breathed. His eyes shifted around a few times and I could tell he was thinking to himself. "Not literally of course, but they decided to follow the same path in life, like you did. They could have done anything else and become another standard soldier in the ever-growing armies of the Barraki, but they didn't. They chose to become...piraka. Someday, I believe a biomech will find a way to unite all those wandering souls under a common creed and a single faction. Everyone has a price and any task or commodity beyond the ability or reach of one entity, will be a payoff for another."

 

I smirked. "One faction that will unite outlaws?"

 

"Anything is possible, so long as you keep your mind open," Rovaius said.

 

We arrived at the coliseum, walking around the main entrance to a nearby stairway. An Ohnbiek guard was standing next to the stairs, eyeing us long before we reached him. We had fought alongside him a couple years back, as a favor to the Steltian I knew Rovaius wanted to see by that point.

 

"You," the Ohnbiek uttered, transfixed on Rovaius. "I remember you."

 

"It's been a while since the incident on the eastern side of the island, hasn't it, Krekka?" Rovaius smiled. "My name is Rovaius."

 

"Right," Krekka said, as if still trying to remember the Nohtalian. "Rovaius. What brought you to Stelt again?"

 

"I need to speak with your superior about some very important information," Rovaius explained.

 

"No one sees him without a password," Krekka asserted.

 

"I saved your life, Krekka," Rovaius reminded him. "You said you 'owed me one.' I don't have a password, but I would really appreciate it if I could call on that favor right now."

 

Krekka scratched his chin for a moment, thinking over what Rovaius said. "If I let you by, you make a promise. I don't want to get in trouble for this."

 

"I promise that you will not be punished for letting me by," Rovaius replied confidently.

 

Krekka nodded. "Okay then," he said, looking up the stairway. "Get going."

 

"Thank you, Krekka," Rovaius said in his most charming tone, heading up the stairway. When we were out of sight, Rovaius turned and looked at me. "The Ohnbiek might run this island one day."

 

I chuckled. "Really?"

 

"Oh sure," Rovaius replied. "If every Steltian dies first."

 

We continued through a winding corridor that led up near the top of the coliseum, taking us to a secluded chamber away from the battles. A number of strong looking Steltian guards were positioned throughout the hall, giving us suspicious glances as we walked by. Right before we reached the chamber, a Steltian extended the herding blade on his arm and blocked the way.

 

"Have you learned to aim that thing in the last two years?" Rovaius said with a glare.

 

"I've been promoted since then," the Steltian said haughtily.

 

"That wasn't the question," Rovaius growled in frustration, shoving the Steltian aside and marching into the chamber. We walked in behind him, ignoring the guard as he slowly got back on his feet.

 

Rovaius had come to Stelt to speak with a familiar agent of the League and one we had gotten to know a couple years back. We defeated an enemy clan that was moving into his territory and we were rewarded handsomely for the effort. It wasn't until later that I discovered the Steltian, Rovaius, and Stalgrax had been brothers in combat for a number of centuries. On multiple visits to Stelt, Rovaius had teamed up with the clan to overwhelm their enemies with a tactical battle strategy.

 

"What do you want?" the clan leader spat, glaring down at Rovaius.

 

The Nohtalian met his gaze, staring hard right back. They continued like this for a moment until the Steltian burst out laughing, causing Rovaius to do the same. The clan leader pat him on the shoulder a couple times and motioned the rest of us further into his chamber.

 

"How's life these days, Voporak?" Rovaius wondered, examining an unfinished weapon sitting on a worktable.

 

"Not over yet," Voporak replied, sitting down behind a long, metallic desk. A map of the island was spread out atop it, with little markers placed in separate areas. Voporak, as a clan leader, made it his first priority to know where other factions were stationed on Stelt. "But you didn't come for small talk, did you?"

 

"No, I didn't," Rovaius admitted. "I came to address something I overheard."

 

"You want to talk to me about a rumor?" Voporak said, leaning forward in his seat.

 

"This isn't a petty rumor. I heard Kalmah say something last night, aboard Brightest Midnight."

 

"Brightest Midnight…" Voporak trailed off. "Oh! You mean the sky fortress. That thing crashed last night, Rovaius! I watched it happen from right outside this room."

 

"I know," Rovaius said flatly. "I did it."

 

Voporak's faint smile faded and he looked down at his map. He then started laughing quietly, becoming more amused with what Rovaius said as he let it sink in. "That's hilarious!"

 

"I'm not kidding," Rovaius said, trying to hold back a smirk.

 

"I can tell," Voporak replied. "Mantax went on and on about that structure, talking up its defenses and how a sky fortress was the best possible position to fight a battle from. And you knocked it into the sea with a few helpers! Now that's funny. And you're alive to tell the tale! Now, what is it that Kalmah said anyway?"

 

Rovaius took a few steps toward the desk, glancing out the windows before he spoke. When he did, it was in a hushed tone. "The six warlords were together and Kalmah said something about the Brotherhood's incompetence. Then he said something about an initiative that would put an end to all that. Pridak didn't like him being so open and told Kalmah to shut his mouth. Whatever this was about, it was serious."

 

Voporak frowned, staring back down at the map of Stelt. "Well…"

 

"It isn't easy to find biomechs who spend so much time dealing with a Barraki. I came to you because of your relationship with Mantax. So please, tell me. What is this all about?" Rovaius sounded urgent, almost afraid.

 

"Mantax came to see me about a month ago," Voporak sighed. "We had wrapped up negotiations on a trade agreement late one night. Before he left, he told me to stay on Stelt for a while. He said I was a faithful servant of the League and that, for my own safety, I shouldn't leave Stelt. I haven't had much need to, but for the few errands I would've left the island for, I have sent others in my stead."

 

"And that's all you know?" Rovaius questioned.

 

"I didn't want to pry and it was getting late," Voporak replied. "He hasn't been on Stelt since that night, but it sounded weird for him to give me a direct order like that. Barraki or not, I was considering having him forcibly removed from Stelt right then. I reconsidered out of fear that he really was looking out for my best interest. If that's the case, something is going to happen soon. Something big."

 

Rovaius shook his head. "There's no telling what they're up to, but I think you and I should discuss this personally." He looked back at us. "You may want to go preoccupy yourselves for a while."

 

"I've got just the thing," Voporak spoke up, taking a small card out from his side of the desk. He handed it over to Rovaius and Rovaius flung it to Stalgrax. Voporak glanced at Stalgrax and said, "That is my coliseum pass. Show it to the guard outside this chamber and he'll escort you to the battle downstairs. His name is Sidorak."

 

Stalgrax grinned. "We met a couple years back. His name ought to be crack shot."

 

"Funny," Voporak said in an empty tone. His mind was clearly on something else.

 

"We'll just need a couple hours," Rovaius told us.

 

Stalgrax led the way out of the chamber, flashing the pass to the guard that Rovaius pushed over. "You're Sidorak, right?"

 

"Yes," the guard replied proudly, giving Stalgrax a curious look.

 

"Voporak wants you to escort us to the coliseum. He said this card should be all we need."

 

Sidorak took the card and smiled, a puff of steam escaping the tubes on his head. "I knew I deserved a little time off. Let's go."

 

Sidorak directed us back around the walkway to an elevator, impatiently waiting for it to descend once we were inside. His glossy armor was carmine and charcoal, pitted and scratched from a life of battle on Stelt. The elevator opened and Sidorak quickly walked out, hurrying down the next hall. He rounded the corner and I could see we were standing on the second floor of the coliseum. He flashed the card to another Steltian and said, "We have clearance from Voporak to use his seats for the evening."

 

There were ten seats in the front row of the area, looking much more comfortable than those behind them. Voporak evidently had some influence around the coliseum, likely stemming from his many victories against rival clans. I'm not even sure his enemies knew that he had an office above the coliseum. We sat down and I examined the arena. We were close enough to see the combatants, but far enough away to be safe from their attacks as well. I was situated between Elendra and Trylac, and Elendra was immediately fascinated by the gargantuan fighters below. I wasn't quite as amused, so I decided to listen in on Trylac and Sidorak's conversation while I vacantly stared into the ring.

 

"If you don't mind me asking, how are the four of you employed?" Sidorak wondered.

 

"We have an unwritten contractual agreement with the League," Trylac said vaguely. "Our jobs are often centered on handling employee terminations and asset collection, financial or otherwise."

 

"Asset collection?" Sidorak chuckled. "I don't follow."

 

Trylac smiled, his mandibles twitching a bit as he did. "The League is partnered with countless smaller organizations, many of which are on Stelt. We are tasked with collecting their assets in the event a Barraki requires it, for one reason or another." His skill with lying almost rivaled Rovaius' and it was easy to forget now and again. Trylac was often silent, with little to say. When something came up though, it was always important and mostly insightful.

 

"Right, right," Sidorak nodded, obviously pretending he had an idea of what point Trylac was dancing around. "I'm sure it is a great honor to work with the Barraki directly. You must have great respect for the will of Mata Nui, correct?"

 

"I am a Dectraz - we have little concern for what Mata Nui wants. My brethren saw long ago that many biomechs are foolishly blind, wasting their time until time wastes them. If you are patient, time will destroy all your enemies."

 

"And what if I'm not patient?" Sidorak asked, hinting at a smile.

 

Trylac smirked. "Then you're like me and you'll kill your enemies personally."

 

Sidorak chuckled at this, taken in by Trylac's humor. "Personally…clever."

 

"I apologize for the Nohtalian's behavior earlier. He can get a little impatient at times," Trylac continued.

 

"I saw that," Sidorak replied bitterly. "Perhaps we should enjoy the match though. I'm not paid often to watch a couple Pontiir kill one another."

 

"Of course," Trylac agreed, staring down at the arena.

 

Each Pontiir warrior was a behemoth with gigantic claws on their hands and feet. They towered over most other sentient biomechs, and their armored bodies were heavily reinforced. Shades of dark gray and silver lined their monstrous forms, blurring along their talons as they clashed with one another. The Steltians in the crowd cheered them on, shouting for each Pontiir to rip the other to pieces. There were, no doubt, a number of Steltians betting on particular fighters to win. Between the constant warfare of the Steltians and the forced combat of the Pontiir, it made me wonder which species was truly the more animalistic.

 

"Can we talk about this in a civil manner now?" Stalgrax muttered to Elendra.

 

"I understand that we have our separate natures, Stalgrax. Let's just agree to live and let live. We're going to be working together for a long time, so we should learn to tolerate one another during that interim."

 

"That's fair…and rather enlightened given your usual stance on settling a disagreement," Stalgrax said. "Thanks for showing a little maturity about this."

 

"Don't think I'm entirely happy about it," Elendra replied. "Watching a couple biomechs destroy each other just put me in a better mood. You're welcome, I guess."

 

We observed several more matches between the mighty Pontiir, often ending with one combatant beaten to pieces after the other started gaining the upper hand. It became routine after a while, but the excitement of the Steltians never wavered. They thrived on the action of the arena. After one match, the dead Pontiir was not removed from the arena, but instead, a new competitor entered. He was a burly looking Steltian, clad in battle scarred armor of bronze. The crowd became even more energized, chanting his name. I couldn't understand what was being shouted, but the Steltian swept his hand at the crowd, motioning them to silence.

 

"You all came here for a show. So how about watching me kill this Pontiir?" he said with a laugh.

 

The crowd roared in anticipation, watching as the Steltian unsheathed his sword and pointed it at the Pontiir on the other side of the ring. The Pontiir took a few hulking steps toward him, staring him down with an amused grin. The Steltian ran headlong at his opponent, quickly scooped up in the Pontiir's clawed hand and flung against the wall. The Steltian immediately rose, leaping at the Pontiir and slashing his chest open. He then performed a second jump, running his sword down the back of the biomech's head and through part of his back.

 

"Get off!" The Pontiir bellowed, shaking the Steltian to the floor. He smashed his enemy into the floor, continuously punching the Steltian without mercy. The Pontiir then began to tear his claws through the Steltian, forcing his enemy to yell out in agony. The crowd was unstoppable by then, enthralled as the Steltian was viciously beaten to death. With each of the Steltian's screams, the crowd became more animated. It was pure insanity.

 

Impossibly, the Steltian defiantly rose to his feet and prepared for the next punch. He was severely injured, but somehow, he strafed the attack and in one swing, severed the Pontiir's hand. The Pontiir screamed in a low roar, falling to his knees. The Steltian took the opportunity to plunge his blade deep into the Pontiir's chest, causing the massive creature to lurch forward and fall silent, his head tilting sideways. The Steltian stood proudly in the battlefield, nearly dead as he forced a smile at his fans. Victory came and passed for the Steltian pretty quickly though and the Pontiir's colossal corpse wasted no time in crushing the prideful Steltian into an early grave.

 

As a new wave of cheering began, I recalled the broken rifle on my back and pulled it off, letting the weapon sit in my lap.

 

Trylac glanced down at the rifle and then at me. "Give me the broken piece."

 

I fumbled through my container of laser shells and handed over the busted bolt handle. Trylac displayed it to Sidorak and asked, "Do you know where we can have one of these replaced? My friend's laser rifle was recently damaged." It was the first of only two times Trylac referred to me as a friend.

 

Sidorak scooped the rifle up and took the bolt handle, examining where the piece had snapped off. "I know a Fe-Matoran down the street that can have this replaced rather quickly. In the meantime, the rest of you should return to Voporak's chamber."

 

We all stood up and headed back for the chamber while Sidorak took to the streets with my laser rifle. I had taken good care of Torema's unused weapon and this was (surprisingly) the only harm that had ever come to it. Trylac led us into the chamber where Rovaius and Voporak were busy studying the desk's map of Stelt.

 

"Did you two have enough time to discuss everything?" Stalgrax asked.

 

Rovaius nodded. "We did," he replied, looking over his shoulder at us. "We'll be leaving soon. Voporak has a mission for us and he's paid in advance. He's also agreed to let us sail with his crew on one of the fastest ships in the world."

 

"You'll be heading out to eastern Crezera," Voporak said. "I have an ally that frequently comes to trade his wares in exchange for our weaponry. Xia is a long way to go for the finest rifles and I welcome repeat customers that can offer me raw materials like the ones on Crezera. It is said that Artakha first crafted weapons from protosteel, but the materials were shipped from an island just south of his. That island is Crezera."

 

"Who are we supposed to meet up with?" Elendra wondered.

 

"A Gekalan named Diroux. He will be leading you once you arrive on the island. The journey shouldn't take long though. Mantax presented me with the ship you'll be traveling by a few years ago. It is a token of his gratitude for my extensive and secretive work here on Stelt. He named the ship Incipient Dalliance."

 

"A name that further attests to the conceit of six warlords allowed to rule the world," Trylac said dryly.

 

"It is the will of Mata Nui that they may do so," Voporak muttered. "I hope it is his will that your travels are safe."

 

Rovaius smirked. "Thank you, Voporak," Rovaius said, heading for the door. "Farewell."

 

We left the coliseum and found Sidorak speaking with Krekka, displaying my laser rifle to him. The Ohnbiek looked at the weapon like it was an alien technology, craning his neck up to see us approaching. We descended the stairs and Sidorak offered me the rifle back.

 

"I told you it wouldn't take long," he said as I took the rifle. The black bolt handle had been replaced with a replica part, only the new one had a sleek chrome finish to it. He placed the broken bolt handle in my hand and I put it away - a small trinket to remember my past kills and adventures by.

 

"So, what do I owe you?" I asked, well-aware that practically nothing on Stelt was free.

 

"The Matoran who fixed your laser rifle is an agent of our clan," Sidorak explained. "He performs any repairs we send his way free of charge and in return, we keep him safe. You have to protect your assets, Meldin."

 

It was insensitive, but in the only hierarchy Sidorak had ever known, a Matoran was nothing more than a piece of property. "I understand," I nodded.

 

"Can you tell us how to reach the Incipient Dalliance?" Rovaius questioned.

 

"The ship is docked nearby, actually," Sidorak replied, glancing toward the port. "I'll escort you there."

 

We followed Sidorak down to the port, boarding Voporak's prize for unwavering loyalty to Mantax. It was a long, sleek craft of gunmetal gray and metallic black. Steltians were all over the ship, going about their routine tasks. Sidorak approached who I assumed was the captain and said, "Voporak wishes for you to take these five out to Crezera. They have been assigned to assist the Gekalan there."

 

"As soon as my crew finishes polishing the craft, we can leave," the captain responded gruffly. He was an aged Steltian, with dimming yellow eyes and slate armor. "You may return to your post, soldier," he added to Sidorak, who hurried off at once without another word. The captain looked us over and breathed, "Which of you is in command?"

 

"I am," Rovaius replied, stepping forward.

 

"Until we make land on Crezera, you aren't," the captain snarled. "I am in charge here and you have no more influence than my sailors. So make yourselves useful, because I do not tolerate bystanders aboard the Dalliance. Everyone has a task, precisely why the Great Spirit made each of us. Now be on your way. I have a course to chart."

 

Rovaius sighed and began to walk away. We were about to join him when he turned back to the captain and pointed his gunblade at the Steltian's head. "I was thinking to myself for a second. Why am I taking orders from an unarmed biomech?"

 

"You'd do well not to underestimate me," the captain said sternly. "I believe I can react faster than your hand."

 

"That's funny, because I don't think you can," Rovaius smirked. "And if you're smart, you'll take your mind off being faster than my hand and worry about being faster than my bullet. Now, I'd like you to hand over any money you have on you. Right now."

 

"You're creating a situation you may not be able to get yourself out of," the captain warned Rovaius. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

 

"I was sure right after you disrespected me." Rovaius glared at him. "You're a ship captain, not Barraki Mantax himself. You aren't even a clan leader like Voporak. So don't ask me what I'm sure of. I'm sure that I'd kill for less than your insolence and I'm sure that this trigger is going off if you don't hand over your money."

 

Trylac was standing nearest to the captain and opened his hand as the captain begrudgingly handed over several coins.

 

Rovaius smiled, keeping his weapon steady. "Drop the coins over the side." Trylac threw the money into the sea without hesitation and the captain angrily watched his coins vanish beneath the water. Rovaius laughed at him and finished with, "You have a course to chart, right? Well you'd better get on it. I want to reach Crezera soon and I don't tolerate bystanders."

 

The captain stormed off, mumbling curses and bitter words over Rovaius. I looked at the Nohtalian, watching him put away the gunblade. He took notice of my staring and gave me a look that begged me to speak.

 

"You're very theatrical, you know," I teased. "It doesn't take a stage performance to request money from someone when you're holding a gun."

 

Rovaius smiled. "Money is a cyclical sort of thing that you'll invariably lose and gain. The most expensive request I make of biomechs is for their time. The least I can do is make it well spent, seeing as I cannot reimburse them any other way."

 

"Memories are actually a fine compensation for time," I replied.

 

Rovaius cracked a smile. "It depends on the memories, doesn't it?" The sunlight glistened on his obsidian and ruby armor as he addressed us quietly. "If this ship's speed lives up to Voporak's talk, we'll be on Crezera soon enough. I recommend you all stay alert though, because a Steltian only values one thing above power."

 

We all knew the answer, but only Elendra chose to voice it. "Vengeance."


Review


Edited by Cederak, Jan 26 2014 - 01:19 PM.

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#9 Offline Cederak

Cederak
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Posted Aug 30 2012 - 06:53 PM

"Our wrongs remain unrectified, and our souls won't be exhumed." -Muse

 

Episode 09: The Last Frontier

 

The next couple hours were tense. After briefly dividing up the money Rovaius received for the job from Voporak, there wasn't much else to do. We opted to stay on the deck, standing near a corner below the bridge. Stalgrax leaned back against the railing, staring at each Steltian that dared to make eye contact with him. Trylac and Rovaius stood on his left and right respectively, while Elendra and I sat atop a small crate. We had been waiting for the captain's revenge ever since we left port in Stelt and I casually passed a laser shell back and forth between my fingers in anticipation. I have never possessed Trylac's brand of patience, so it felt like a slow two hours of torture before the captain descended the stairs from the bridge. He refused to meet our gaze, marching intentionally to the other side of the deck.

 

A number of Steltian sailors joined him there and he pulled a laser carbine rifle from his back. Unlike my weapon, the carbine was a smaller variant designed for closer combat. It also didn't require shells to fire, but utilized a rechargeable battery to draw power from. The battery could then draw in enough ambient energy to fire once every minute or so. The downside was that the shots wouldn't be as potent as my own. I knew the weapon so well because I was interested in purchasing one about a year after I first joined the gang. Once I learned about its drawbacks though, I decided it would be best to stick with what I had.

 

We all stood up, waiting for the Steltian captain to say something. The silence was broken from my side instead.

 

"Can we help you?" Elendra hissed, drawing her pistols. The rest of us immediately pulled our own weapons, taking aim at the Steltians.

 

The sailors reacted as quickly as they could, drawing their own swords and blasters on us.

 

Stalgrax chuckled. "Looks like we've got a standoff on our hands."

 

The captain gave us a wicked smirk. "Not for long. It's a shame I'll have to tell Voporak that you never made it to Crezera, that an unexpected storm tossed you from the deck."

 

Rovaius and Stalgrax slowly backed away toward the stairs, inching their way higher.

 

"I'm sure we can settle this in a reasonable manner, right?" Rovaius asked.

 

The captain laughed. "Reasonable left the ship when you opened that big mouth of yours."

 

"Everybody move!" Stalgrax shouted, bolting up the steps. We all rushed in his direction and I lunged for the bridge when I heard, "Fire!" yelled from behind me.

 

A shower of lasers struck the bridge's outer wall, shattering the windows in the process. I had already snapped my laser shell into place when we drew on the Steltians and I clicked my new bolt handle into place. While my weapon charged, I glanced to my side and watched Trylac and Elendra get off a few shots. She emptied her first clip in no time, performing one of her incredibly swift reloads and getting back to work. Trylac was more meticulous, peeking out from different windows and firing at a different angle every time.

 

"I've had enough," Rovaius said, rolling out of the safety of the bridge and leaping from the steps. His body was surrounded by an aura of shadow and when he swung his gunblade, a wave of darkness swept over the deck. The force of the energy struck the sailors hard enough to bowl them over and it left Rovaius with an opening. Just as the captain was about to stand up, Rovaius pulled his gunblade's trigger twice. Both shots entered the Steltian's forehead, but I'm certain the first one was his killer.

 

Rovaius intensified his dark aura, jamming his gunblade into the floor. "I am in charge now, you spineless excuses for sailors, and we are going to Crezera." It was settled so easily. Rovaius returned to the deck with us for another quiet half hour or so until the ship made land on eastern Crezera. The sailors opted to remain below deck for the remainder of the trip.

 

We disembarked the Dalliance with a leap and Trylac refused to turn his back to it, supposing the sailors might take a cheap shot at us. I think we were all expecting it, but just as we reached the divide between beach sand and dusty grass, the Dalliance sped away. The craft bolted through the waves, stranding us on Crezera. I thought about the situation rationally though and considered a couple things. The Gekalan were in contact with Stelt and Stelt was a port. The Gekalan had to possess some form of sea transport.

 

As for Crezera, it was stunning. There were notable disparities in technology across the islands of the League and an island's advancements were measured by a Barraki's value of it. Crezera was Ehlek's territory and he was smart enough to see the worth in some rare minerals. In order to deter the other warlords from siphoning resources from the island though, Ehlek was very secretive about his interest in Crezera. He thought he could fool the rest of the Barraki into thinking it was a worthless rock. In that respect, he wasn't so smart. Pridak knew what existed on Crezera, but the island was too distant for his concern, explaining why we had never visited it before. Crezera was a realm of extensive plains surrounding a foreboding mountain range at its center, all bathed in the light and heat of a desert.

 

We marched across the empty plains, making our way to a small town in the distance. It was a bustling little place, the perfect kind of place to make some money with a few choice words and a loaded weapon. That wasn't our agenda, however. There was more important business to handle.

 

"Hey, train rails," Stalgrax said, pointing to a length of track not far ahead. I visually followed the tracks in each direction and both sides were built as far as my eyes could see and further. The tall mountain range taking up the island's center stood in the way of confirming my theory, but I assumed the tracks wrapped completely around the island.

 

"Which means trains," I replied. "Seems a little primitive though, don't you think?"

 

Elendra smirked. "Says the Meldin we picked up on a ranch out in the middle of nowhere."

 

I opened my mouth to reply, but sighed and smiled instead. Outside the town, I could see several Gekalan working on a Mahi ranch, tending to the creatures as I once did. As they labored under the hot sun, I wondered if they had their own dreams like mine. I wondered if they ever thought about leaving their lives behind for a chance to see what mysteries lay far beyond the borders of Crezera. "Rovaius, do you think"-

 

"Stop right there," Rovaius cut me off. He knew exactly where I was headed. "It's not happening."

 

"Don't you think they feel trapped here?" I asked urgently.

 

"Maybe, but someone else can liberate them," Rovaius said flatly. "We made an agreement after Jelveci, Adrinor. End of discussion."

 

"Fair enough," I conceded. I should've known Rovaius wasn't prepared to revisit the possibility of another, similar loss. In his defense, I don't think the rest of us were either.

 

A biomech riding a swift, crystalline Rahi came our way from out of nowhere, glaring as he approached. His beast galloped majestically, its crystal mane glimmering as it flowed in the wind. The Rahi was an Icodron, crafted by the brilliant (and twisted) minds of the Makuta within Destral. The Icodron's rider brought the creature to a halt right before us and he scowled. "You're not from around here, are you?"

 

"Not by a long shot," Rovaius said. "We're looking for a Gekalan named Diroux."

 

He dismounted the Rahi and looked us over. Like the biomechs on the ranch, he was reptilian in form - a thick-armored biomech of silver and teal. With a tail that ended in a sharp blade, clawed fingers, a snout, and a pair of spikes protruding from behind his head on each side, he was an alien sight. His forest green eyes blinked rapidly a few times before he smiled. "Well, excuse my poor manners. I'd been waiting for Voporak's soldiers to show up. I had been expecting more of you though. The name's Diroux, Elite Ranger at your service." His voice carried a politeness to it, but strong enough to lead others.

 

"I'm Rovaius, nice to meet you," Rovaius replied, shaking hands with the Gekalan. Diroux went down the line and extended his hand to each of us and we shook in turn. That was, until he reached Elendra, whose hand he lifted and gently pressed his forehead to.

 

Elendra was fuming, pulling for one of her revolvers. "Special treatment is not"-

 

"What've you got there?" Diroux said, forcibly pulling the weapon from her grasp in one swift move. He examined the revolver, quickly spinning it a few times. "It has a nice weight to it. You let it go rather easily though."

 

Elendra smirked. "That's why I have two," she said, drawing the second revolver on him.

 

Diroux laughed. "A wise decision," he said, tossing the revolver back to Elendra. She caught it and put both weapons away with her typical celerity. "Why don't the five of you follow me into town? We can discuss the situation in my office." Diroux leapt back onto his Rahi mount and headed for the town, leaving us to follow on foot. This was hardly our first visit to a foreign land, so the mistrusting stares and hushed whispers of the Gekalan in the streets weren't a surprise by any means. We finally approached a decent-sized building in the middle of town where Diroux had tied up his Icodron to a post and stepped inside.

 

"Not bad," Stalgrax said, looking around. We were definitely standing in the main lobby of the town hall.

 

A Gekalan at the front desk grinned at us, flashing her razor-sharp teeth. "Ranger Diroux's office is just around the left corner," she said, pointing to the side.

 

Rovaius gave her a short nod as we passed. "Thank you."

 

Diroux was hanging up a rifle on the wall when we entered his office, turning to us immediately. "Please, please, sit down," he offered. "Make yourselves comfortable."

 

Rovaius laughed, bounding over the desk and landing in Diroux's seat. "If you insist."

 

I sat down on a long couch with Trylac and Stalgrax while Elendra leaned next to the doorway, lifting her leg up and pressing the back of her foot to the wall. Rovaius spun Diroux's chair all the way around a couple times, thoroughly enjoying himself. I don't know how I missed it when I first walked in, but there was a lengthy painting of Diroux and several other Gekalan on the far wall. They were standing out in the empty fields, grinning as they stood over the corpse of a Rahi. A plaque beneath the painting reading "The last Fader Bull" left me a bit confused, however.

 

"What does that plaque up there mean?" I asked the Gekalan.

 

Diroux had finally gotten the rifle into a proper adjustment on the wall and whirled around to examine his painting. He turned to me and smiled. "An old friend of mine painted that scene a couple centuries back. A bunch of us were out on the other side of the island and he shot the last Fader Bull on Crezera that day." Diroux said, chuckling. "The natives didn't like that much."

 

Rovaius abruptly sat up in the chair. "The…natives?"

 

Diroux marched behind the desk, lightly sliding the chair aside before fumbling through his desk for a small tool. Rovaius let the momentum carry him, patiently waiting for Diroux to explain. I think the gunfight on the Dalliance put him in a good mood. The Gekalan walked up to Elendra, using the tool to detach a larger painting from the wall and propping it in front of the desk so we could all see it. It was an old image of biomechs living on what appeared to be the same island, only different. There was grass…green grass, and the mountains were right in the island's center. The biomechs in his painting were nowhere to be seen outside though.

 

"A very long time ago, the Artakha Island Chain was made up of five primary islands - among several smaller ones. My species, the Gekalan, lived in the central island just south of Crezera. One day, well before there was a League, one of the males in my village awoke with interesting news. He had spoken to Mata Nui in a dream."

 

"And you believed him?" Trylac asked, almost laughing.

 

"Yes," Diroux snapped, sounding offended. "He said that the Great Spirit told him it was the destiny of the Gekalan to settle the land to the north. Mata Nui wished for us to prosper there and to be free from the tyranny of our rulers. We hadn't considered that someone was already occupying the land."

 

"The natives," I said.

 

Diroux smiled. "Precisely. My kindred and I tried to make a deal with the native Crezerans to own the island together, but they wouldn't have it. In their tribal foolishness, they believed only Mata Nui could lay claim to the land. It was around that time we discovered a number of minerals around the mountains as well as the raw materials now used in Artakha's protosteel process. Gekalan rushed to Crezera to quickly strike it rich and slowly but surely, we gained the upper hand against the Crezerans. The rangers, myself included, started by placing the Crezerans in designated zones. They kept trying to harm civilians in an effort to reclaim Crezera, so we did the only thing we could."

 

I nearly shuddered. "You…you wiped them out?"

 

"In an ideal world, perhaps," Diroux replied, rolling his eyes. "No, we burned their villages to the ground and forcibly drove them up into the mountains. Unlike much of the universe, Crezera experiences seasons. It was a harsh snowstorm that hit right around the start of the trip. The rangers and soldiers were well-protected, but the Crezerans suffered for their crimes. A number of their species died along the way, succumbing to the bitter cold. After we drove them into isolation on the mountains, some came back down. They would die in battle or retreat, but none ever came close to this town. After a while, the mining and mineral work became manageable. There wasn't a terribly large amount to be made in it anymore, so my kind turned to ranching Mahi. Eventually, we even constructed a railroad that wraps all the way around Crezera, making transport much faster."

 

I was right about the railroad at least. "You were making a point about the first painting though, right?"

 

"Yeah, I was just coming back to that," Diroux told me. "The last Fader Bull, those swift and rare Rahi of so few lands, was killed on a sunny day by a dear friend. The Crezerans were furious when they found out, but that's life, right? It was the will of Mata Nui that we come here to enjoy our own little piece of beauty in the world. It's a place where every sunset is more stunning than the last and the water always splashes a sweet scent across the land. This is paradise…this is our paradise."

 

Elendra snickered. "Well that's a cute story. So tell me, why does paradise need a few guns for hire to come out from Stelt?"

 

"Given that the Crezerans had a long, rich history here, they haven't relented in their attempts to take the island back. It is impossible now, especially since we combined our industrial dreams with Barraki Ehlek's resources. And yet, they continue to make their presence known on the plains, by damaging our property or bringing harm to other Gekalan. This is disheartening, to see them so openly defy Mata Nui. You were requested here to help me drive the native warriors back into the mountains."

 

"Do we get to ride one of those shiny Rahi you have outside?" Stalgrax wondered.

 

"I don't see why not. Like the Crezerans before us, we managed to tame the Icodron and use them as mounts in battle," Diroux explained. "Let's head out to my stable. I'm sure the other rangers have arrived by now."

 

Diroux led us out to a large stable behind town hall and we quietly stepped inside. A few other Gekalan were busy tending to the Icodron in the stalls. A half dozen more Gekalan were leaning against the far wall, each carrying a rifle or shotgun of some sort. Their armor appeared more durable than those of the Gekalan handling the stable Rahi, but it had to be if they were out gunning against other biomechs.

 

"Those individuals over there are some of the finest rangers I have ever had the privilege of working with," Diroux said, grinning. "I brought them here from across the island to help us today. They are experienced gunfighters and have fended off the Crezerans before."

 

"What kind of weapons do the Crezerans possess?" Stalgrax asked.

 

Diroux frowned. "In the early history between Crezerans and Gekalan, we traded our blasters with them for other items. They have since modified the weapons to make them even more powerful."

 

One of the rangers chuckled. "Tell them about the crossbows!"

 

Diroux looked at me and I smirked back. "We've had to dodge bolts before; this won't be a problem."

 

We rode out of town alongside Diroux and his rangers, letting the veterans take point. They were leading us closer to the vast mountain range, an island of imprisonment from which the Crezerans were forced to watch the Gekalan desecrate their former home below. I remembered the painting, the lush grass and flowers. Crezera was now hellish by comparison.

 

My Icodron dashed across the plains, showing no sign of exhaustion. It was a marvelous creature and perhaps one of my favorite achievements of the Brotherhood. I could see riders in the distance, the sunlight glistening off their mounts as they rode toward us. I steadied myself and loaded a shell into my rifle before staring into the scope. I paused before pulling the trigger, studying the approaching biomechs. They were just as the painting depicted - bipedal biomechs with golden-armored forms, two pairs of arms, and blue, insectoid eyes.

 

"Here they come!" Diroux shouted. His voice didn't sound right. Even the clan leaders on Stelt had a respect in their tone for the coming destruction when a battle lay ahead. Diroux sounded overconfident and almost pleased that we'd be killing off the Crezerans. This was a species that had done nothing wrong, but because a single Gekalan believed Mata Nui had spoken to him in a dream, they were being corralled up into the mountains as prisoners of their own land. In another time, I would've shot Diroux through the head without a second thought.

 

In direct contrast to that, I lined up my sights on one of the Crezerans and fired. The laser burst struck him in the chest, causing the biomech to fall from his Icodron and go flipping through the dirt. In the process, I could see the Crezeran also possessed several long, thin tails that ended in stingers.

 

"Great shot!" one of the rangers said, pumping his energy shotgun.

 

The sound of multiple weapons being fired echoed through my audio receptors and I squinted out at the Crezerans before reloading. After a second, I could see a number of tiny, red objects headed in my direction. I forced my Icodron to strafe right, evading the attack. Rather, I evaded most of it. I felt something strike my shoulder, almost like I'd been hit by a pellet. I glanced down and found a small metallic disk attached to my shoulder armor. A bright red light was blinking on the device, steadily getting faster. I ripped the object from my shoulder and hurled it away from myself. The device exploded in midair, creating a blast much larger than I expected an object of that size could create.

 

That's a new one. I thought, reloading my rifle and shouting to Diroux, "How did they get weapons to fire timed explosives?"

 

"They're awfully crafty!" Diroux replied, rushing his Icodron ahead of us.

 

More of the Crezerans were on their way, shooting in our direction with an array of weapons. I wondered if Diroux felt foolish as he rode toward them, foolish for taking their land, foolish for handing over advanced weaponry to their kind. I stopped contemplating that for a moment when I noticed one of the Crezerans had a crossbow trained on my chest. I effortlessly shot him off his Icodron and kept going, nodding a bit as Elendra shot a Crezeran through the side of his head. The rangers seemed more preoccupied with taking shots that would do minimal damage, physical reminders that the Crezerans should not be on the plains. The gang's methodology was to perform shots that would ensure our prey wouldn't need to be reminded.

 

I believe that in prior conflicts, where the rangers desperately sent the warriors back into the mountains with few causalities, the Crezerans thought they could exploit the enemy's hint of goodwill. They hadn't anticipated the Gekalan would hire a team accustomed to being less considerate and shooting for a kill shot at every opportunity. You don't fully appreciate the value of aiming for the absolute weakest point on an enemy until you've had to gun down Zyglak. Much like Toa in that they won't stay down until they're dead, Zyglak want you to die about as much as you want them to. Of course, once you've watched someone like Trylac pin a Zyglak that barely scratched him and force the creature to pull its own eyes out, you lose some of the respect you had for the vicious things. I suppose we can't all be as fortunate as Dectraz to possess a natural immunity to the Zyglak's lethal disease.

 

The remaining five Crezerans dropped their weapons and dismounted their Icodron. They were not fighters to the end and knew defeat when it was staring them in the face. As they bitterly knelt before us, Diroux leapt from his mount and cautiously approached the Crezerans, followed close behind by Elendra. The rest of us remained on our Icodron, waiting for Diroux to address the warriors.

 

"You were sensible enough to realize this was an impossible fight," Elendra said, walking near the Crezerans. "Cowards."

 

I stared at the Crezeran kneeling on the far left and he stared back at me. "Can you not see what we have lost so unjustly to the Gekalan? Why do you fight for them?"

 

"Quiet," Diroux barked before turning to us. "These warriors will be spared for their decision," He looked at Rovaius. "I believe this victory will prevent any further mishaps in the near future."

 

I was about to nod when I glanced at Elendra. In the blink of an eye, I watched her draw her right revolver and open fire. Five shots. A bullet passed through each Crezeran's head and, almost simultaneously, their bodies dropped to the ground. By the time Diroux looked back at her, Elendra had already withdrawn her weapon.

 

Diroux pointed his rifle at her, probably glaring as he did. "They surrendered."

 

"If you reward cowardice, you invite trouble," Elendra said. "I did you a favor, so you better put that rifle away."

 

"You're a monster," Diroux replied, lowering his weapon. "Nothing but a thief and a killer." For a species that had forced the island's natives into a mountain range, there was some irony in his comment.

 

"And how did your kind gain dominance here? By stealing land and killing Crezerans, yes?" Elendra said with a grin, as if she were reading my mind. "I'm not paid to be concerned with your opinion." She looked at the rest of us, slightly tilting her head. We weren't going to defend her, if that's what she thought. I had visited Trelbin with the gang before. Elendra's species was not a naturally violent one, but she was by far one of the most volatile biomechs I'd ever met. She would've made a decent Barraki.

 

"While you may not agree with our methods," Trylac spoke up, "we will need transport off the island today."

 

"I can't really help you there," Diroux said.

 

"You work with Ehlek and you haven't perfected sea travel yet?" Stalgrax questioned.

 

"We never would've left our old home to the south if we didn't perfect sea travel," Diroux reminded him. "We disassembled our ships after a while though…at least once we planned to stay here. Why would you build a way to leave paradise?"

 

"So we're trapped here?" I asked, trying not to seem as anxious as I was.

 

Diroux lowered his head, thinking to himself. He suddenly glanced back up with a smile. "You can ride the aerial tramway." The Gekalan excitedly pointed towards the northern edge of the mountains. "We do a great deal of mining out that way. Once Ehlek wanted in on some of the materials, he decided it would be best to have them shipped to Artakha where fine tools and weapons could be made by the greatest crafter in existence. As such, the Matoran workers from the island managed to construct an aerial tramway that connects from the southern realm of Artakha to the northern mountains on Crezera."

 

"How did we miss that?" Stalgrax said to himself as we all stared out at where Diroux pointed. There was indeed a number of cables that seemed to run all the way out to Artakha and we'd been too preoccupied the whole time to notice.

 

Diroux chuckled. "If you want to head out that way and tell the mining team that Ranger Diroux is allowing you to use the transit, I'm sure they'll let you on. After that, you should be able to take an airship off to wherever you're headed. Artakha is a very understanding biomech."

 

"You've met Artakha?" Rovaius smirked.

 

Diroux nodded. "A few times, yes. It was a long time ago, back when we still lacked a strong amount of control over Crezera. I started my life here as a miner myself, but when Ehlek planned to negotiate Artakha's services, I was one of the chief miners brought along. He's a powerful entity and inventive too. Barraki Ehlek says it has something to do with his Kanohi - the Mask of Creation. Wondrous thing to see, almost like it was meant for another world. Artakha says it's a reflection of our world and our separate cultures. He has an aura to him as well - an unspoken benevolence hidden beneath an exterior of gray and green."

 

"Why are you telling us this?" I asked.

 

"Because Artakha does not leave his fortress for trivial matters and you will probably not meet him. I am telling you this because he is a majestic and fair ruler in a world of vicious and merciless Barraki. Gazing into his eyes almost seems to spark creativity in others, though, that is only a myth." Diroux seemed lost as he spoke for a second. "You should be going now. The tramway does not operate after sundown."

 

"Then we'd better head out. We'll leave the Icodron with the miners," Rovaius said. "Thank you for inviting us to share in your paradise, Diroux."

 

"And thank you for defending it for my kind a bit longer," Diroux replied earnestly. "You're a good biomech, Rovaius, and you have an efficient team."

 

"Well," Rovaius sighed, turning his Icodron toward the north, "you're half right." He lightly kicked the Rahi's side a couple times and the beast took off. I did the same to my Icodron and the mount galloped swiftly across the mountain. We had a tram to catch.


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Edited by Cederak, Jan 26 2014 - 01:20 PM.

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#10 Offline Cederak

Cederak
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Posted Sep 21 2012 - 11:08 PM

"You're a lonely moon in love with an ocean. Is that ocean in love with you?" -Carolina Liar

 

Episode 10: A Royal Tryst with Arrogance

 

We rode the Icodron along the edge of the mountain range, keeping our destination in sight the entire time. As we drew near and the sun slowly fell across the sky, I could begin to make out the features of the mining facility. There was a noticeable contrast in its architecture when compared to the town Diroux was from. Silver and black metal wrapped around the outside of the mine, dotted by tiny cerulean lights. The dark metals had been built in a way that it appeared long, winding veins of technological influence were infecting the simplicity of the Crezeran landscape, extending out from the tramway. I should've expected Artakha or the denizens of his land would've given the tramway's surroundings a personal touch.

 

The mining facility was surrounded by a perimeter fence, likely to ensure none of the native Crezerans would tamper with the tramway. When we arrived at the gates, everyone dismounted their Icodron and Rovaius strode up to the Gekalan guard, giving a short wave as he approached.

 

"Good evening," the guard said cautiously. "What brings foreigners like yourselves out to this facility?"

 

Rovaius chuckled. "We came to Crezera by a ship that, well…won't be coming back for us. Ranger Diroux told us to leave these Icodron in your care and that we could use the tramway to reach Artakha and return to Xia."

 

"Xia…" the guard trailed off. "You came a long way to assist Diroux, don't you think?"

 

"In my line of work, there's no destination too far. That's my motto on this side of the Southern Islands anyway."

 

"Yeah, Mata Nui only knows what's further south of those dark, mysterious lands," the guard replied. "So, how do you know Diroux exactly?"

 

"We met today," Rovaius said, grinning. "My team was hired to assist him in dealing with some troublesome Crezerans. The mission was a success."

 

"Good to hear it," the guard said with a short nod. "I used to be a ranger myself, but I decided to retire when the strenuous activity began to argue with my age. Diroux is a good friend though and one of the finest rangers on this island. Tell me, does he still have that painting in his office from when I shot a Fader Bull from several kio out?"

 

"So that was you," Rovaius replied, a quiet laugh escaping his mouth. "Last Fader Bull on Crezera, huh?"

 

"That's right," the guard told him. "I'd still be out there riding, but life has a way of making you old without your consent." He stared off dreamily for a moment, probably thinking back on his days with Diroux and the rangers. He looked back at Rovaius and added, "You'd better head on through now; the tramway will be shutting down for the night soon."

 

"Thank you," Rovaius replied. "Let's get going."

 

We quietly entered the mining facility, catching a few Gekalan chatting with one another or reclining against large boulders. The work day had concluded, though a couple workers were still using their mining tools to blast through rock. The tools were clearly from Artakha, too elegant to have originated anywhere else. More Gekalan were pouring out of the mine, bathed in the dark blue lights that hung from the stone ceilings. We headed past the workers, coming near the cliffside where the tramway station was located. It was a transparent building, a dome-shape wrapped in rounded silver support beams. The entrance was an enormous pair of doors, presumably to allow large amounts of raw material to be loaded onto the trams with ease. The doors automatically slid to the sides when we were near enough, smoothly opening the way for us. Inside the dome were a couple Gekalan watching a hologram of the aerial tramway line, likely the system engineers on the Crezera end of the link. Beyond them were five docks, two of which contained massive capsules. The capsules could've easily held four of the huge cargo crates Rovaius and I hid in during our escape from Zakaz.

 

"Can we help you with something?" one of the engineers asked.

 

"We were cleared for travel to Artakha," Rovaius explained. "We're heading to Xia after that."

 

The engineer nodded, glancing back at the holographic line again for a second. "Board the capsule on the far left end. It's due to leave for Artakha in a few minutes anyway."

 

"I'll activate the doors for them," the other engineer said, touching a finger to the hologram.

 

The far left capsule pushed the rounded end of itself forward, separating in half around to each side of the capsule. The inside of the capsule was two levels, with the bottom entirely filled with crates, mining tools, and large chunks of raw material. Assuming the upper level was designed for passenger transport (with a ladder being the only means of reaching it), Rovaius climbed to the second floor and took a seat near the end facing Artakha. Several sturdy-looking metal wires were in place to prevent us from falling down to the first level, with the rounded edges of the capsule possessing no floor. I sat across from Rovaius, next to Stalgrax, with Elendra and Trylac opting to stand.

 

"Welcome aboard the Crezera-Artakha aerial tramway," the engineer said over the intercom, closing the capsule. "Please engage the safety wires on the side you entered from." Trylac walked back and pressed a green button on the wall, watching several wires fly out of the wall and connect to the other side.

 

"Safety wires appear to be connected," the engineer continued. "For those of you standing during your travel, there are cables hanging from the ceiling to allow you more balance as the tram moves. Your travel time will be approximately two hours. During this time we ask that you keep your hands and feet inside the designated passenger area and behind the safety cables. Thank you and welcome aboard."

 

The capsule lurched forward, unloaded from the station and propelled beyond the cliffside. The tramway was a notably smooth ride. The builders (most likely Matoran from Artakha and perhaps a few Gekalan) had placed serious concern in ensuring freight and passengers would be secure while traveling between the islands and their efforts paid off. I found myself beginning to doze off when something pushed me from my seat.

 

I turned my head side to side, getting to my feet. "What happened?"

 

"You were falling asleep," Trylac replied, "and I pushed you. I was curious if you'd catch yourself."

 

"It's been a long day," I replied groggily. "I woke up in an escape pod, got my weapon repaired on Stelt, and got shot at by angry sailors and Crezerans. I think I've earned a little shuteye."

 

Trylac nodded. "True as that may be, isn't ranch work a dawn to dusk business? You're always so tired and I can't imagine that was tolerated in your former occupation."

 

"Ranch work didn't leave me tired the way this job does," I replied, laughing quietly. "I guess I still need time to fully adapt, you know what I mean?"

 

"I understand," Trylac said. "Ranching wouldn't prepare me for this line of work."

 

"What was your first job anyway?" I asked.

 

"I was a hunter," Trylac muttered. "I stalked creatures and kept my brethren safe from particularly dangerous ones."

 

"I wish sometimes I had started life as a hunter," Elendra piped up. "Would've been a much better position than doing engineering work on Trelbin."

 

"Your tech knowledge serves you well, Elendra," Trylac replied. "Take pride in that."

 

Elendra clicked the hammer back and forth on her left revolver a few times. "I do. There are just other occupations I wish I'd pursued in my younger days."

 

I looked to Stalgrax and Rovaius. "What did you do for work in your early years?"

 

Stalgrax smirked. "Well, I used to be a guide for travelers to Nohtal and for those Nohtalians unfamiliar with certain regions of the island. I enjoyed talking to biomechs and hearing new stories. I eventually retired when Rovaius approached me about the gang."

 

Rovaius glanced at the floor before replying, slowly raising his head and staring me in the eyes. "I was a scholar. My job was to study the universe and interpret what the Great Spirit was trying to tell us. I could see the importance of the virtues Matoran hold dear and how they each played a role in every biomech's life. Then came a day when I was visited by three entities, interrupting the quiet of my life. They invited me to join them, to join a group that would act on behalf of Mata Nui himself. I declined, finding more value in my job than running off with them. I never saw the entities again, but I became frustrated with my scholar position, considering it may have been a mistake to have passed up the offer. I eventually resigned, knowing the entities had Mata Nui's interests in mind and that studying the universe might be a task better suited to them. After that, I took a variety of odd jobs before starting the gang with Stalgrax and the others."

 

"Do you think the entities are still out there?" I wondered.

 

"Most likely," Rovaius replied. "There's always someone out there acting on Mata Nui's behalf. Toa are a fine example."

 

The remainder of our journey was uneventful. I think the exhaustion of the day that had worn me down hours before was starting to hit the rest of the gang. It was nice to relax for the evening.

 

As the final traces of day were swallowed into the black of the night sky, I watched the island of Artakha begin to undergo an astonishing change. The fine, sharp edges of the architecture began to shift, entire portions of the city-island launching into the air, suspended by what appeared to be air propulsion firing out through exhaust ports located beneath the buildings. The brilliant lights of Artakha bathed the propulsion in every color I could imagine, still amazed as the buildings on the ground shifted around one another, continuing to warp their shapes. Large gear components rose from the ground and extended from the skyscrapers, clicking in time with one another like a perfect machine. Finally, the ascended structures began to meet near the center of the island, blasting a trail of charged air along the ground as they repositioned. Airships large and small moved about the cities without difficulty and I could see one more piece rising to join the structures. It fit perfectly between the others, a trail of propulsion energy launching it above the rest. Situated on the colossal platform was a fortress, just as wondrous as the rest of the city, molded into soft edges and adorned with its own functioning gears. I knew without a doubt it was Artakha's dwelling, a lofty tower from where he could preside over his domain.

 

It was tough to make out at first, but I noticed something about the airships traveling in the night that set them apart from any other I had encountered before. Rather than utilize the power of levitation through Kanoka disks, these ships ran on propulsion and propellers, releasing steam from their exhaust ports. They seemed to exist as a flying counterpart to the terrestrial steam stacks below, illuminated in bronze and gold, blasting foggy emissions harmlessly into the atmosphere. The cities put the Gekalan idea of paradise to shame, every building presented as a work of nobility, each crafted as their own piece of art. The roads and streets were impossibly pristine, the product of Artakha's nascent transformation. The bridges were metallic archways, extending onto the paths they were born to connect, allowing steam-powered personal transports to make their way through the metropolises.

 

"Impressive," Stalgrax said casually, narrowing his eyes on the island. "Could you imagine what the League might achieve with Artakha under their control?"

 

Trylac shook his head. "Artakha is widely regarded as one of the most powerful entities in existence. Looking at what he is capable of doing to the structure of his island, the Barraki would be wise not to exhaust resources trying to conquer it."

 

The capsule completed its course to Artakha shortly after their brief exchange, safely docking in the tramway station. As I stood up, an unexpected blast of static rang through the intercom. I cringed, searching for a sign of what happened.

 

"My apologies," someone told us. "That happens now and again when I engage the speakers. Um, please stand back from the safety cables as I will be separating them in a few seconds."

 

We kept a fair distance from the cables, watching them retract as the capsule opened wide. We leapt down to the station floor and I couldn't help but admire the architecture, amazed by the sheer detail involved.

 

A Ko-Matoran looked up from the engineering desk and raised an eyebrow at us. "You're not Gekalan. Who are you?"

 

"We were hired by local Gekalan law enforcement to handle some problems they couldn't manage alone," Rovaius replied. "After being stranded on Crezera, the Gekalan informed us the only means of transport off the island was their aerial tramway."

 

"I don't think Artakha will be very pleased with you staying on his island," the Matoran said warily. "He is very particular about guests."

 

"We won't be staying any longer than we need to," Rovaius assured him. "We need transport to the island of Xia. Do you know how I would go about doing that?"

 

"Xia?" The Matoran asked, nearly laughing. "That's quite a distance from here. I don't think even our cargo airships travel to Xia. Still, someone might be able to take you in a smaller craft. Let me contact a friend of mine and I can get you on your way."

 

Rovaius nodded. "I think we're going to step outside, catch some fresh air. We'll be waiting when you're finished."

 

We marched out the massive doorway, taking in the sights and sounds of the beautiful night. All across the cities, Matoran of different elements worked together, crafting and building. Down below the propulsion lines where the city sections had joined to meet Artakha's fortress, I could see the lights in the air jets were shimmering across a colossal Kanohi Hau, amplifying the sleekness of the object. The entire island was nothing short of amazing and we had a perfect view from the aerial tramway platform, elevated high above the street level.

 

The Matoran joined us out on the platform, politely tapping Rovaius on the side. The Nohtalian glanced down and smirked. "Any luck?"

 

The Matoran chuckled. "I have a friend on his way to pick you up right now. His transport comfortably seats ten biomechs, even Toa-sized ones like yourselves. It was not by luck that he was available - you were destined to depart Artakha this night."

 

"If you say so," Rovaius replied.

 

The engineer Matoran returned to the station and we spent a few more minutes watching other Matoran go about their night in the cities below. A transport airship finally drove up to the platform and landed near us, opening the side entry doors. A Matoran of the green exited the craft and looked us over for a moment.

 

"You must be the biomechs I was asked to pick up," he said. "C'mon, let's get going."

 

"You heard him," Rovaius said, leading the way onto the transport.

 

We boarded and strapped ourselves into the seats and I watched Rovaius sit down next to the pilot's chair. The Matoran returned to his seat as well, strapping himself in and engaging the steam thrusters. We were hovering over the platform, but we weren't going anywhere.

 

"So we're going to Xia?" he asked.

 

"That's right," Rovaius replied. "Do you know where it is?"

 

"I used to pilot airships all over the universe, Nohtalian," he said. "I know Xia well. By the way, my name is Holmdir."

 

The Matoran offered a hand and Rovaius shook it, replying with, "I'm Rovaius." Holmdir looked back at us, pointing to each of us and waiting for us to reveal our names. Our assignment didn't bring us into conflict with any other Barraki, so giving our names under the circumstances wasn't an issue.

 

"Just out of curiosity, what is this going to cost us?" Elendra questioned. "I can't imagine burning fuel all the way to Xia is cheap."

 

Holmdir laughed. "We may not use levitation Kanoka to achieve flight, but our steam-powered airships do not require fuel. I won't bore you with the particulars behind it, but the most you owe me for is spending my time on a trip to Xia."

 

"Fair enough," Rovaius said with a nod. "As a biomech that doesn't typically act on anything that isn't worth my while, I can respect that."

 

While Rovaius fumbled for money in the relatively dark airship, I stared out the window, still marveling at what a sight Artakha was. I could also see the other end of the island was connected to a barren, uninhabited mass joined by a land bridge. I thought about asking Holmdir why the land was so vacant, but I also thought about getting some sleep. Sleep won.

 

I spent a dreamless night aboard Holmdir's airship, remembering the soft sound of the engine humming in my head. A burst of sunlight and a sudden swerve to the left finally roused me from my slumber. I glanced out the windshield and could see Xia below us, still as grimy as ever.

 

"Where do you want me to land?" Holmdir asked.

 

Rovaius pointed just beyond the dock, outside of the city. "Take the ship down by that street. If you come within about ten bio of the ground, we can jump from there."

 

"Sounds good. I'm opening the rear hatch now," Holmdir replied, veering down at an angle for Xia.

 

"We don't encounter a lot of free rides in our line of work," Rovaius said to the Matoran. "Thanks for helping us out."

 

"What did you say you do again?" Holmdir asked, continuing to steer toward the street Rovaius designated.

 

"I didn't," Rovaius said with a smirk, leaving for the rear hatch.

 

We followed the Nohtalian and right when Holmdir had us over the street, we leapt down out of the air. I landed hard on the road, watching Trylac descend gracefully. Elendra performed a roll once she hit the ground, while Rovaius and Stalgrax seemed to be just fine with a simple jump. I watched the craft pull a sharp turn over the Xian skies and double back for its island of origin, engaging a cloaking shield that must've been active while I slept. Artakha was capable of designing some truly incredible technology.

 

"Nothing like the scent of the Xian air, huh?" Stalgrax said, chuckling.

 

Rovaius gazed out at the Mountain, into the thick fog of polluted atmosphere above the industrious island. "Let's see what Pridak is up to this morning."

 

He led us into the city and up to the steps of Anxious Solitude where we went through the standard procedure of having to inform the guards we were on our way up. After that, it was a quick stroll through the lobby, a trip on the elevator, and an uneasy walk through the hallway to Pridak's chamber that separated us from taking our next mission. The guards activated the doorway as they always did and we stepped inside, finding Pridak busy at his desk. The Barraki was known to leave Xia for many matters he liked to handle personally, but there were plenty of documents involved with running the universe.

 

"Good morning, Your Eminence," I said politely. "Keeping busy, I see."

 

"You dropped a sky fortress out of the air the other night," Pridak said. "I have been dealing with a logistic nightmare since I returned to Xia and I have been very busy."

 

"Not that it's any of my business, but why are you handling Mantax's affairs?" Elendra asked.

 

Pridak turned away from the desk and faced us, looking exhausted. I had always known Pridak to be the face of strength, elegance, and command. It was odd to see him appear so unkempt and drained of life. "It wasn't until well into the tour of the facility that Mantax revealed his first intention for the Midnight. He wished to use it as part of our fleet in a coming invasion."

 

"Invasion?" I repeated. "What's left to invade of any worth?"

 

"I made a name for myself when you were nothing," Pridak replied. "I worked hard every day of my life and then a day came where I was rewarded for that work. The universe was turned over to me…to me and five others. We merely intend to take what is ours."

 

I thought to myself for a moment, wondering what the Barraki didn't already own, occupy, or wipe out. I only had one guess. "You want Destral or Artakha?"

 

"They might as well be ours," Pridak said casually. "No, we want a prize far greater than an island full of Rahi-makers or crafters. Tell me Adrinor, what would you say if I suggested that there existed a conquest of such unparalleled worth, that any mere island could only pale in comparison?"

 

"So you want…a thing?" I asked skeptically.

 

"In a manner of speaking, yes," Pridak replied. "A very big thing. I am intentionally cryptic only because I am careful. Rest assured, you will know of my victory in time." Pridak shot me a grin, a wicked smile not unlike the one during our first meeting - the one only a Takea could love. "And then the light, the air, the sea…every element known to the universe will be mine to wield."

 

There was something disturbed about Pridak's last sentence. He sounded enlightened, but the notion was insane. I couldn't imagine what he meant, all I knew was that from his description, failure would be disastrous. If I had known that would be our last conversation, if I had known what I know now, the state of the universe would be very different today. What a teasing word "hindsight" is, don't you agree?

 

"I suppose you have a mission for us in the meantime?" Rovaius wondered.

 

"Always straight to business with you, Rovaius," Pridak replied with a laugh. "Yes, I have an assignment for you on the Southern Continent. You will be visiting a cave network not far north of some hole-in-the-wall town named Kinatra. I had to look at a map just to make sure I had the name right."

 

"I'm from Kinatra," I blurted out.

 

"Meldin are from Meldio," Pridak replied in his most superior tone.

 

"I thought I told you the story of how the gang picked me up in Kinatra?"

 

Pridak chuckled. "I oversee thousands of soldiers and have more important locations to keep at the front of my mind. Forgive me if I forget one story and one worthless town in the middle of nowhere."

 

"So why are we visiting a cave in some remote location Takadox barely concerns himself with?" Stalgrax asked.

 

"The cave is a former meeting place for the other warlords and myself. Each of the Barraki assisted me in perfecting a weapon that Takadox supposedly finished a week before the tour of the Midnight. The armies of the League have orders to be on the Northern Continent at dawn in two days on my command. We will be meeting outside the city of Valantru, in the northwest of the continent. I want the weapon in my hands that night, understood?"

 

"All the armies of the League amassed in one place?" Trylac asked in shock. "What sort of game are you playing at, Pridak?"

 

"Conquest," Pridak breathed. "It is the same one I have been playing for millennia. Now run along - you have your mission."

 

We departed Xia uninterestedly that morning, arriving in the northwest of the Southern Continent that evening. With plenty of time at our disposal to retrieve Pridak's weapon and present it to him, we were hardly in a hurry. Still, there was an air of suspicion on the watercraft. Pridak was keeping something from us and—while it wasn't the first time—none of us were ever particularly keen on getting half the facts. Reaching land on Mantax's portion of the Southern Continent allowed us greater access to transport resources, rather than traveling by Rahi. Even taking the additional distance into account, a motorized vehicle would make the journey much faster. As the ship's captain began his route south to meet us as near to the cave as possible, we approached a small port town. The streetlamps were dimly lit and the ground was paved with cobblestones, suggesting we had stumbled upon a sleepy little place. I found an inn on the outskirts of the town and we stepped inside, catching the attention of an alarmed Ba-Matoran.

 

"Guests!" he shouted, nearly cowering below the desk.

 

"This is an inn, right?" Rovaius asked. "Why are you so surprised?"

 

"We don't receive many non-Matoran around here, despite being a port. Mantax set up the trade routes in this area long ago, and the only ships we see are usually full of Matoran from other lands. Mind if I ask what brings you to our town?"

 

"We're on business," Rovaius explained. "My friend here spotted your inn and we decided to see if we could spend the night here. We'll be heading south of the Tren Krom River tomorrow, into Takadox's territory. As secretive as I'm sure you know Barraki Mantax can be, I know you realize that's all the information I'm allowed to divulge."

 

"Absolutely, Mantax is famous for his private nature," the Matoran said with a nod, his black and violet armor glowing in the dim light of the inn. "We're completely vacant tonight, so take any rooms you like. I'll just need your payment, please."

 

Stalgrax awkwardly stepped up to the desk, staring down at the Matoran. "I'm sorry to say we actually don't have any money with us. It's fairly cold out there tonight though and it would be very kind of you to let us stay the night for free. I can promise that we will all recommend your inn to anyone we come across in our travels."

 

The Matoran gave Stalgrax an apprehensive look, meeting the Nohtalian's expression of utter misery. "Please. Help us out."

 

The Ba-Matoran sighed. "I cannot, in good conscience, let the Great Spirit watch me throw you out into the cold," he said softly. "Head on up and have a good, warm night."

 

"Mata Nui will reward you for your generosity," Stalgrax said, quietly ascending the inn's stairway. "Thank you much."

 

I followed him up and we all stood before our chosen rooms. Trylac and Elendra gave Stalgrax a telling nod while Rovaius pat him on the back a couple times. I extended a hand to him and Stalgrax accepted, whispering, "A display of force never appeals to me the way playing on someone's emotions does."

 

I awoke the next morning full of energy, following the gang downstairs and off into town. The skies were bright and blue, full of clouds and warmed by the sun above. The climate was so reminiscent of my time on the ranch, it was nice to see some things remained constant in an ever-changing universe.

 

"Okay, first priority of the morning is to find transport to Kinatra," Stalgrax declared, examining the town's shops. "Nothing that growls or grows weak as the day wears on."

 

Trylac pointed near the far end of town. "Seaside Vehicles. I think that's what we want."

 

"Sounds like they specialize in seafaring transport," I said.

 

"Or their shop is merely next to the sea," Stalgrax suggested. "It's worth checking out."

 

Stalgrax turned out to be correct. The inside of the building led out to a small dock where several watercraft were parked. Inside the shop were a number of land vehicles, utilizing wheels built to handle tough terrain. A Le-Matoran hurried our way, grinning hopefully at us.

 

"Morning, travelers!" he said happily. "How can I help you?"

 

I stepped forward, slightly chuckling at the Matoran as I pulled out a laser shell. "I think we can help you more than you can help us." I glanced at the other Matoran workers and shouted, "This laser shell is taking out the first Matoran in here that chooses not to follow our instructions!"

 

The Le-Matoran frowned. "Okay, okay, be sensible for a moment. What do you want from us?"

 

I sighed, clicking the shell into my laser rifle. "I want you to live. The way that happens is by listening to me. I need an all-terrain vehicle, something swift, but a smooth ride too. Recommend me something, and remember, a poor recommendation will bring me back. You don't want me to come back."

 

The Le-Matoran shakily pointed to a vehicle in the corner. It could seat six and, although it lacked a windshield, windows, or a roof, it looked sturdy enough.

 

"I'll take it," I said with a smile before turning to Stalgrax. "Start it up for us and we'll be on our way."

 

The Le-Matoran took a few more steps back, finally breaking into a run. I watched him with a hint of curiosity, loading my rifle in anticipation. He drew a Kanoka launcher from behind a desk and took aim at me. I narrowed my eyes on him and trained my rifle on his position.

 

"Any chance you're going to tell me what that disk does?" I asked.

 

"One way to find out," he replied, launching it at me.

 

I fired and watched the laser blast hit the disk, passing straight through it. The blast hit the Le-Matoran, barely pushing him backwards and leaving a slight mark on his armor. The disk hit me directly and I felt my legs buckle right before I collapsed. Elendra drew a revolver and shot the Le-Matoran dead in an instant, glancing down at me with a laugh.

 

"Weakness disk," she said. "Not a bad choice."

 

Trylac dragged me to the transport, letting Rovaius keep his gunblade aimed at the other Matoran while we made our escape. Once Stalgrax started up our transport and we were all onboard, he turned it around and smashed through the doorway, careening out into the street and leaving town in a hurry.

 

"Well, I've seen negotiations turn worse before!" Rovaius hollered to me over the wind. "It looked like you were having fun until you got hit!"

 

"I don't see biomechs use weakness disks very often," I said faintly. "To say I was surprised is definitely an understatement."

 

We spent the entire trip with Stalgrax at the wheel, giving me plenty of time to recover from the effects of the Kanoka. The fields and hills were at peace as we drove along, splashing through the Tren Krom River into Takadox's territory and continuing on our way. I didn't take time to enjoy a lot of warm, sunny days with the gang, but being so close to the place I called home for centuries, I made a point of kicking back and taking in the scenery. Right around dusk, I knew we had to be coming close to our destination and I started paying more attention to our surroundings. Kinatra was in the distance when I noticed a cave off to the left of us. It blended so well with the green of the hills that I almost didn't catch it. I leaned forward, shouting to Stalgrax, "I think we just passed the cave!"

 

"It's not going anywhere!" Stalgrax yelled back, a smile plastered on his face. "Let's stop over in Kinatra real quick. I didn't get to see this town when we picked you up!"

 

Stalgrax parked our transport outside of Kinatra, leading the way to a small diner. The staff had a knack for making some excellent energy combinations and, though Matoran and many biomech species could absorb the energy through their hands (Meldin included), the experience deprived biomechs of tasting the complete artistry. While some species found absorbing energy through the mouth to be repulsive, the rest of the gang never had much of a problem with the idea.

 

We took a seat by the diner's front window, waiting only a minute or two before a smiling Ce-Matoran came up to us, the setting sun reflecting off the gold of her armor. "Hello, everyone. What can I get you this evening?"

 

"I'm honestly not very hungry," Rovaius told her. "Have them make me a Manas claw, particularly strong."

 

"I'll take the same," Stalgrax chimed in.

 

"I won't be ordering anything," Trylac noted to the Ce-Matoran.

 

"Me either," I told her.

 

"I'll take an Artidax sunset," Elendra said.

 

The waitress finished taking down the orders and smiled at us again. "I'll be right back with your drinks."

 

In a matter of moments, the Ce-Matoran returned with our drinks, giving one to Rovaius, Stalgrax, and Elendra.

 

"Well that was fast," Rovaius said, chuckling. He glanced my way and said, "You didn't tell me this place had such speedy service."

 

The Ce-Matoran looked at me and asked, "Oh, do you live around here?"

 

"I…I used to," I said uneasily. "Is the ranch still nearby?"

 

"Sure is," she replied. "I've only lived here a couple years myself, but yeah, the Torema Mahi Ranch isn't too far of a walk from Kinatra."

 

I froze in my seat. "The…what? What did you just say?"

 

"The Torema Mahi Ranch," she repeated. "I'm not sure how long you've been away from the area, but the ranch owner was shot and killed by outlaws about five years ago. At least, that's the rumor. The ranch was named in his honor."

 

I stared hard at the table, unsure of how to respond. "He was a good biomech."

 

I must've made the Ce-Matoran uncomfortable, because her next words were, "Well…okay. If you all need anything, don't hesitate to come tap my shoulder."

 

Rovaius swished his drink around in its glass, blending the deep purple and orange shades around one another. He took a drink and smiled. "Quick and well done. We really should've come here after you joined, Adrinor."

 

Elendra took a sip of her own bright red drink, nodding in approval. "They're very good."

 

Trylac fixed his gaze on me, very aware of my change in attitude. "They honored your former boss by naming the place after him. That's not a bad deal, really. I'd be tempted to pull a gun on someone to have my name immortalized for it. Of course, I'd probably choose a more urbanized location, but beggars can't be choosers I suppose."

 

"You going to be all right?" Stalgrax asked me.

 

I looked up from the table. "Yeah. I'll be fine. It's just…being here, and bringing up Torema. It's nostalgic for me, like going back to Nohtal for you."

 

"I've departed the shores of Nohtal twice in my life," Rovaius replied. "There's nothing left for me there now."

 

Stalgrax swallowed some of his drink and pointed the glass toward me. "Same here - two departures and one alongside Rovaius. Don't get too attached to the home you once knew, Adrinor. If life ever takes you back there, it'll impair your abilities."

 

"You don't see any irony in talking about impaired abilities while holding a Manas claw at me?" I said with a laugh.

 

Stalgrax put his head back and downed the rest of his drink, slamming the glass onto the table before chuckling at me. "It'll take a lot more than a drink to make me feel like I'm back on Nohtal."

 

The gang finished their drinks and we headed out, letting Stalgrax backtrack to the cave I pointed out earlier. An overgrowth of grass and vines obscured the entrance, making for an excellent hidden meeting spot. Kinatra was so far out of the way and without the presence of Takadox's military in the area, it was a perfect location. Trylac pushed his way through the wild plants and we followed him in, entering the pitch black darkness with nothing but his eyes glowing back at us. They were our only sight as we traversed much of the cave, letting Trylac guide us with his powerful vision. We held hands behind the Dectraz, ensuring no one would be lost or slam into a wall or something. Much of the journey was spent in the dark, but after a while, we starting seeing a Lightstone here or there.

 

"At least we know someone has been through here," Stalgrax muttered.

 

"And they were smart enough not to light up the entire cave," Elendra replied. "I'd bet my last bullet that was Ehlek's idea. He lived in dark waters before the League, I doubt he required much light to walk through here."

 

"Wouldn't surprise me," I said.

 

The occasional Lightstone managed to keep us in what we assumed was the right direction, but it was barely enough illumination. The Barraki practically owned the universe, so to use a cave for a meeting rather than speak at one of their countless fortresses, I could only imagine what they had to discuss in the darkness outside of Kinatra. I thought back to the evening aboard the Midnight, Pridak's warning to Kalmah about keeping quiet, and even Voporak's message from Mantax not to leave Stelt. The Barraki were going to set something terrible in motion, that much was certain.

 

Without warning, I heard Rovaius stumble and slide into the dark, tumbling down through the cavern. Elendra followed and I could hear Trylac engaging his wings. Stalgrax grabbed my arm and we fell down into another room. The chamber contained enough Lightstones to allow us to see one another, as well as a crude ladder that led back up to the entrance. I picked myself up, examining the chamber in wonder. The walls were full of drawings and descriptions, mostly etched or burned away. Worktables had been thrown about, chairs as well, countless destroyed tablets littering the cavern floors. Even some of the Lightstones had been crushed into pieces, the entire room in shambles.

 

"This place is a mess," Rovaius growled, walking up to the wall and brushing his hand against it. "They really didn't want anyone to see what they were working on."

 

"I don't think Pridak had anything to do with this," Trylac replied before pointing to the far corner. "I believe those are the remains of the weapon we were sent to retrieve."

 

We cautiously approached the broken weapon, a cannon that required two hands to operate. Someone had torn it to shreds, pulling out entire pieces and ripping them away. Elendra knelt down before the cannon, grabbing some busted Lightstone bits and throwing them into the weapon. The extensive damage had left it beyond repair, but I knew Elendra wouldn't pass up a chance to analyze weapon tech.

 

"Let's see what Pridak was working on," Elendra muttered, digging through the weapon's inner components. As she tinkered around, I glanced back at the walls, trying to make out some of the untouched words. Whoever had done so much damage to the room had been pretty thorough, leaving a few words like "invade," "Toa," and "islands."

 

"Mata Nui," Elendra whispered. I whirled back to her and she glanced up at us. "This can't be right."

 

"What does it do?" Rovaius asked.

 

Elendra paused, almost lost for words. "It's a modified version of the prototype Toa Rifles we picked up on Nynrah about a century back."

 

"Really!?" Stalgrax said, just as surprised. "I thought Pridak concluded the process would never work because the weapon couldn't remain stable after absorbing energy."

 

"It does explain why it was modified into a cannon," Trylac said quietly.

 

"What's a Toa Rifle?" I wondered.

 

"It was an experiment the Barraki were looking into over a hundred years ago. They believed the energy that allowed Matoran to become Toa was possible to absorb and manipulate," Elendra told me. "They did extensive tests, successfully turning a Toa back into a Matoran and then back into a Toa again. While the process was never able to do anything with Turaga other than outright kill them, the Barraki thought the mass production of Toa Rifles would prevent any problems if the Toa ever decided to rebel against the League."

 

"Unfortunately, the rifle usually exploded while absorbing Toa energy or right after completing a drain. It would kill the user and no one wanted to carry a weapon that killed them once activated. The project was shut down, but the research was apparently saved. Whether he could use it on the battlefield or not, Pridak had a way to manipulate destiny. The original absorption process was done in stasis tubes, but with no way to hold an enemy still in a war, the Barraki had no use for it. This cannon seems to suggest someone finished the work done all those years ago, perhaps even perfecting it."

 

"For all we know, that cannon is in its current condition because someone tried to use it," Stalgrax spoke up. "Pridak would be using these already if they worked, don't you think?"

 

"Whatever the case, someone arrived here before we did," I said, somewhat unnerved by my own words. "And since the Barraki are supposed to be meeting on the Northern Continent tomorrow, I'm going to go ahead and say it wasn't them."

 

"Maybe the visitor or visitors left some evidence behind," Stalgrax suggested.

 

"Have you seen this room?" Elendra replied, raising an eyebrow at him.

 

"Even if Stalgrax is wrong, we don't gain anything by standing around," Rovaius said.

 

I returned to staring at the walls, looking for words I could make out. Stalgrax pushed away the ruins of a few tablets and picked something out of the remains. I watched him brush the dust from it and hold it to one of the Lightstones on the wall.

 

"Agent Takadox," Stalgrax began curiously. He continued reading in silence for a few more seconds before lowering the tablet. "You're going to want to hear this."

 

"Is that so?" Rovaius asked with a chuckle. "Surprise us."

 

Stalgrax went back to looking at the letter and continued. "I apologize that I could not reply directly, but this Rahi is a fine messenger in my place. Having made your intentions clear, I am prepared to take the next step. You informed me that Pridak has scheduled his timetable for assembling the League's armies and I will be sending a fleet to have him and the other Barraki arrested before they begin their warpath to Metru Nui. Do not lose the Tablet of Transit you received with our insignia upon it, as the Makuta being deployed to handle this situation has no knowledge of your contribution. I would prefer to keep this matter as private as possible, a fact I'm sure you can appreciate. By the will of Mata Nui, we will put down these would-be usurpers to the Great Spirit's throne and return peace to the universe. Respectfully, Miserix."

 

And Pridak's comment from the morning prior was suddenly too clear. The Barraki wanted the entire universe without Mata Nui above them on the chain of command. Pridak wished to become the new Great Spirit and occupy his throne. I had never considered that Mata Nui could actually exist in one physical place, given that he was described as being the living seas, skies, and earth all around us.

 

Elendra stifled a laugh. "The Great Spirit is in Metru Nui? Since when?"

 

"Miserix is the head of the Brotherhood," Trylac reminded her. "He wouldn't just say something like this. The Matoran are more blessed by Mata Nui than any other biomechs in the universe and Metru Nui is their greatest achievement. Even if the Great Spirit isn't there, I'm willing to bet that his power is accessible somewhere in that city. The Barraki wouldn't go through all this trouble if there wasn't a prize to be won. They could've taken Metru Nui if they really wanted it about seven thousand years ago, instead of signing a trade deal with those worthless little heroes-to-be. If they're really heading to Metru Nui, there's no doubt in my mind the Barraki will find the Great Spirit's throne there."

 

"We need to warn Pridak then," I said at once.

 

"He wanted his armies assembled on the Northern Continent in the morning. We'll never make it in time," Rovaius replied.

 

"If we can't remove the Brotherhood's element of surprise, we can at least fight for the League. We could be on the verge of a very lengthy war," Trylac added.

 

Stalgrax nodded. "You have a point. The League has the numbers, but the Brotherhood probably has some nasty Rahi locked up on Destral."

 

"What about all this Great Spirit business?" Elendra asked. "I mean, there's no guarantee that Pridak can even replace Mata Nui. It sounds like more of a theory than anything else."

 

"I'm not concerned about that," Rovaius said flatly. "We're going to the Northern Continent and we're going to speak with Pridak. Hold on to that tablet, Stalgrax. I want to see Takadox executed for his deception."

 

"You have fun with that then," Elendra muttered. "I'm out."

 

Rovaius turned and stared in disbelief at her for a moment. "You're really going to fight us on this? Killing and stealing are fine, but you can't defend our"-

 

"Our what!?" Elendra interrupted. "He's not our friend, Rovaius. He's not one of us! Pridak is a Barraki - someone who lets others build his weapons, make his money, and do his fighting. He didn't work for what he has, it was given to him by Mata Nui! Pridak is the second-in-command of the universe right now and you need to ask yourself something."

 

"Go ahead, tell me," Rovaius spat, folding his arms.

 

"Do you really want a universe controlled by the Great Spirit Pridak?"

 

We all stared at Elendra, taking in what she said for a moment. Mata Nui was a benevolent entity, providing us with the warmth of day and allowing us to roam his universe. Pridak's universe would be nightmarish by comparison, because I had a vague idea of how his mind worked. If that were to become the very universe, there would no longer be a need for The League of Six Kingdoms. Pridak would annihilate resistance without hesitation and every land would obey his commands or die in defiance.

 

Despite the bleakness of that future, I had to be clear with her. "You said it yourself that there's no guarantee Pridak can really replace Mata Nui, but it isn't right to turn our backs on him like this. The League will surely defeat the Brotherhood's army. Then what? The other warlords may not know who we are, but if Pridak wanted to, he could have all of their forces actively hunting us. The Great Spirit can see all we do, that's all I ever here. Pridak will find out that we knew about the Brotherhood attack and chose not to warn him. I don't know about you, but Pridak as the Great Spirit sounds a lot better than living in fear!"

 

Elendra cursed under her breath. "We're taking a serious risk either way then. If we save him, he'll become the Great Spirit and we'll be constantly watched by him. If we don't save him, he'll have us running for the rest of our lives. There's also a chance that the Brotherhood will actually manage to overpower the League, but that's a slim chance."

 

"So what're we going to do about this?" I questioned. "The League is summoning their armies and they're walking right into a trap."

 

Elendra flashed us a silver coin, flipping it through the air at me. I caught it and looked it over. There was a Kanohi Calix on one side and the number fifty on the other. I looked back up at Elendra and caught her smirk.

 

"Flip it," Elendra commanded. "If it lands on the Calix, I'll help you save Pridak. If not, consider it my resignation."

<Concluded in next post due to length>


Edited by Cederak, Jan 26 2014 - 01:24 PM.

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#11 Offline Cederak

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Posted Sep 24 2012 - 07:44 PM

I flipped the coin and we watched it travel up into the air, waiting for the outcome. It was a bit ironic that Elendra was leaving her fate up to a coin with a Calix on it, but I didn't pretend to fully understand why she did what she did. The coin fell to the ground and a silvery Kanohi stared back at us. Elendra clicked the hammer back and forth on her left revolver before scooping up the coin.

 

"Come on then," Elendra said with a smile. "Pridak isn't saving himself."


__________________________________________________________

 

 

"And take a little walk, when the worst is to come." -Band of Horses

 

Episode 11: Reflections (Prelude to Disaster)

 

History will show that we didn't reach Valantru in time. We drove to the shore late that night and joined up with the captain again, speeding off for the city in our watercraft. It wasn't long after our departure from the region north of Kinatra when Rovaius approached me, nudging my shoulder.

 

"It's been a long day," he said quietly.

 

I stared out at the sky, admiring the colors, brilliant harbingers of the dawn. "The League's armies should be assembled by now. They have no idea how dangerous this game has become."

 

"They've known for a while," Rovaius replied. "That's the thing about games, Adrinor. You don't win them all and sometimes defeat is a heavy price."

 

"Do you think this is a game they can win?"

 

Rovaius shook his head. "There's too many unknowns to speculate one way or the other. Pridak has been playing against the Brotherhood for millennia, but Takadox…that smarmy little creep. I have to imagine Pridak has no idea he's even playing that game."

 

I sighed. "Pretty tricky to win a game you don't know you're playing."

 

Rovaius gave me a nod. "Very true…regrettably."

 

<<<Rovaius: Wander>>>

 

There was a time when Rovaius had no friends. He had always possessed a certain charm that drew others toward him, a sort of unexplainable magnetism that made him approachable. It was by choice that Rovaius lived without friends or allies. To deal with the unbearable solitude of that decision one day, Rovaius considered taking a trip into town, chatting with other Nohtalians and perhaps making a friend or two. He decided instead to attempt the robbery of a small bank, successfully escaping with a sack of money. From that one decision, Rovaius left Nohtal behind for a year, crafting tools on Xia with a male Vortixx whose engineering prowess went unappreciated in his matriarchal society.

 

"Tell me the story again," Zeldren said, watching as Rovaius carefully put the finishing touches on a grenade launcher that unleashed a barrage of tiny mines with every shot.

 

Rovaius narrowed his eyes on the launcher and placed a black safety mask over his face, adjusting his eyes to the bright yellow tint of the protective eye covering. "I must've told you that story one thousand times by now."

 

The Nohtalian triggered the welding tool in his hand and carefully sealed up the remaining edges of the weapon. He shut down the tool and set it aside, placing the safety mask on the worktable afterwards. Rovaius picked up the launcher and held it as if he were about to use it, getting a feel for the weapon. He looked down the sights and nodded. "Another one ready for purchase and shipment."

 

Zeldren extended a hand and took the launcher from him, placing it on the other side of the room. "Come help me with some of these parts, Rovaius. Tell me your story while you do."

 

"Very well then," Rovaius conceded, approaching Zeldren and beginning to sort through crates of parts with him. "It was a cold afternoon when I entered the town of Prolek, greeting a few Nohtalians as I went on my way. I was armed with a sleek new dagger and an energy pistol of similar size. Both weapons seemed very inconspicuous and no one really paid me much attention."

 

Zeldren handed Rovaius a blaster grip and part of a broken rifle stock. "Go set those on the worktable."

 

Rovaius walked the parts over to his station, setting them down against the metallic table. "So I stepped inside Prolek's tiny excuse for a bank and walked up to the first teller that was free. She looked young, like someone who never let go of the naivety of their early years. It was something about her eyes maybe…hard to say why I thought that. I walked up to her with a smile and she asked what she could do for me."

 

Rovaius returned to the crates and grabbed a few more parts from Zeldren, walking them back to the worktable. "I told her that I needed to withdraw some money. Enough to fill one of the sacks I had seen banks quickly and quietly transfer in and out sometimes. I told her that I didn't have any money in their bank and that I wouldn't be in their database as a member."

 

Zeldren dragged over a large chunk of protosteel, leaning it against the crafting table. "You're going to need that for the next project. Be lucky I had a Toa of iron craft it for me."

 

Rovaius glanced at the piece of metal before returning to the crates to search for more parts. "Anyway, the teller looked like she was about to laugh at me. I clearly lacked the confidence required to be taken seriously. Something snapped inside of me in that moment though. I felt very offended by her attitude, especially when she told me to step aside if I didn't have any serious business that day. One of her coworkers was about to speak with her, but I wanted this teller to know how serious my business really was."

 

Zeldren smirked, spinning a laser cutting gun on his finger.

 

"So I immediately cocked and fired the blaster, killing her coworker instantly. It took me a couple more seconds to spin back and kill both of the guards. They were ready for the attack, so I had to empty the blaster just to put them down. At this point, the teller is frantic, screaming her head off. I drop the blaster and hold the dagger at her, demanding this time that she get a sack of money for me. The whole bank is a chaotic mess, everyone panicking, wondering what I'll do next. I'm just standing there patiently, waiting for my money like someone who ordered a shipment of weapons here on Xia."

 

Zeldren laughed, shaking his head casually. "Continue."

 

"I'm staying on guard, charging my shadow energies at low power in case anyone tries anything against me. I had never thought much about pursuing crimes, but I had always been interested in being a fine shot and training my reflexes to be exceptional. But there I was, having just killed three Nohtalians…the first three kills in my life. I think for some biomechs that would be a horrifying concept, but I was pretty calm. I made the choice, I pulled the trigger…I was comfortable with that. The teller came back with my money and by that point, probably just wanted me to leave more than anything else."

 

Rovaius stopped for a moment, picking up the blaster grip on the table, studying it for a moment. "I plunged the dagger into her throat, without saying a word. I had already made up my mind that she chose to make the situation more difficult to begin with. So I killed her. Now, I could've left right then, but I didn't. No, I waited and watched her die. I watched her helpless eyes plead with me, begging to know why I had killed her after she followed my instructions. When she was gone, I left the building, hurling a decent-sized burst of shadow energies inside when I did."

 

"Your cruelty matches that of my superiors, Rovaius. I've said it before, but you would've made a fine Vortixx," Zeldren said, chuckling.

 

"And maybe that's what brought me here," Rovaius replied. "I fled Prolek that day with my money and the hope that I could refine my skill as a thief. I paid for passage to this island, entirely unprepared for the overwhelming fumes of noxious gas in the air upon arrival. I needed a Xian to teach me to craft weapons before I could even start to consider how to pull off a better heist. You were the first Xian willing to teach me."

 

"And I have been honored to see you learn so much so soon," Zeldren said with a smile. "You have crafted a number of high-quality weapons now and I think the time has come for you to graduate."

 

Rovaius frowned. "Have you grown tired of instructing me?"

 

"Over the course of our year together, I have grown very comfortable with the idea of an apprentice. I am passing on my knowledge to another, a sharp-minded foreigner that can do anything if he truly wants it. If you return home to Nohtal to pursue the life of a criminal, I hope you find fulfillment in it. I have always been a second-rate citizen here on Xia beneath the females, but I hope that is never your fate, Rovaius. Never let anyone make you feel like less than what you deserve."

 

"Why are you telling me this?" Rovaius wondered, a look of worried suspicion on his face.

 

Zeldren sighed deeply. "The other day, I received a visitor to my home. I have been chosen to climb the Mountain. Tomorrow."

 

Rovaius' mouth fell open in shock. "Have they…assigned you a partner?"

 

Zeldren nodded. "Her name is Roodaka. I have never met her and I fear she will be quite selfish in her efforts to be victorious. It is a trait all Xian females seem to possess."

 

Rovaius was silent, unable to respond to what he was hearing.

 

"I am very proud of you, Rovaius. As your final assignment, I ask that you craft a weapon for yourself. What you choose is up to you, but ultimately, craft something that you will hold dear for many years to come."

 

Rovaius and Zeldren had both given in to the likelihood that the Vortixx would not be returning from his journey up the Mountain. A team seldom returned as a team and even less often with a lone male victor.

 

"What would you ask me to do…if you didn't come back?" Rovaius asked.

 

Zeldren stared into Rovaius' eyes and grinned. "I would ask you to go home, make some friends. I would think the life of a criminal is much harder alone. Put together a team and maybe someday you can teach others to craft weapons as I have taught you."

 

"Thank you, Zeldren," Rovaius said, nearly overcome by his sadness.

 

"Be brave, my friend," Zeldren replied. "And please, do not attend my scaling of the Mountain. You have a weapon to build."

 

Zeldren departed the crafting chamber alone that night, leaving Rovaius to build in silence. He stood over the table for hours, carving and cutting and burning until the pieces were just as he needed them to be. He crafted the weapon long after Zeldren's climb had concluded, going without sleep to complete his final assignment. By the time Rovaius had finished his weapon, nearly two whole days had passed. Zeldren did not return and Rovaius knew what that meant.

 

Rovaius knew he had enough money to leave on a ship for Nohtal the next day, ready to find a few friends to make the road of a criminal a little less lonely. He picked up his completed gunblade, casually swinging it back and forth a few times. It was agile, powerful, and deadly. In a word, it was beautiful. Placing the weapon on his back, Rovaius left the crafting chamber for the final time, ready to see Nohtal again. Breathing fresh air would be a welcome change from Xia and Rovaius was starting to miss the comfort of Nohtal. It was time to go home.

 

<<<>>> 

 

"What do you think could happen if this League situation goes badly?" I asked Stalgrax. "This could escalate into a war that spans months."

 

He stared at me, leaning back against the deck railing. "Or years. The Barraki were crazy to dream this all up. They were crazy to abandon their calling in the first place."

 

We had no idea the League and the Brotherhood were already engaged in battle as we spoke, fighting to the last in and around the city of Valantru. We would see for ourselves though, soon enough.

 

<<<Stalgrax: Princes of the Universe>>>

 

The Rahi were the first to notice something was off. All across the universe, different beasts began to act strangely, as if they could detect a storm on the way. In truth, there were signals in the air and it was Rahi that sensed them first. Odd behaviors in Rahi were being reported for several weeks before they suddenly stopped altogether. After that, it was sapient biomechs that began feeling the effects of a universe calling out to them. Beings on every island were receiving disturbances in their sleep for a number of weeks afterwards, visions of Metru Nui and a voice that most believed to be the Great Spirit himself. In the final night of the mysterious dream messages, Mata Nui requested that every biomech ensure Pridak, Kalmah, Carapar, Mantax, Ehlek, and Takadox reported to the Coliseum in a week's time. Suffice to say, much of the universe planned to attend whatever the Great Spirit had in store. While Rovaius opted to remain on Nohtal with the two more inexperienced members of their gang, Trivolox and Stalgrax planned to use their ill-gotten funds to see history in the making.

 

Stalgrax stared dreamily up at the clouds, taking in the beautiful, sunny afternoon. A few dozen other passengers from lands Stalgrax had never seen were on the transport as well, rocking along with the waves as they journeyed north. "Have you ever been away from home before?" Stalgrax asked his companion.

 

Trivolox took a few deep breaths, trying to maintain his composure. "No." He shut his eyes tight, gripping the handle of the gunblade in his lap as hard as he could.

 

"It'll be worth it in the end," Stalgrax said hopefully. "All the stories about Metru Nui suggest it's an amazing place."

 

"I could care less what it looks like," Trivolox muttered, taking another deep breath. "I think…I'm going to pass out."

 

"Why come with me then?" Stalgrax questioned. "Why subject yourself to this kind of torture if you know seafaring makes you dizzy?"

 

"I'd like to witness history happen," Trivolox replied. "Biomechs are going to talk about this day for centuries to come."

 

The transport passed through the Sea Gate, into the dome that housed Metru Nui. A pair of suns shined down on the grand city and the distant Great Barrier, wispy clouds slowly moving about in the atmosphere. Trivolox and Stalgrax paid close attention as the ship passed Le-Metru, a district bustling with activity and airships. Ahead of that was a fiery sector, filled with factories and furnaces. It was the glorious Ta-Metru, renowned as one of the largest Kanohi suppliers throughout the universe.

 

"I heard a rumor once that Ta-Metru was the first location ever built in this city," Trivolox said, watching their transport approach the docks.

 

"Who told you that?" Stalgrax wondered.

 

"A traveler I met when I was much younger, long before I knew Rovaius."

 

"I wonder who told him that," Stalgrax pondered aloud.

 

"Her, actually," Trivolox corrected. "And I have no idea."

 

The two Nohtalians busily made their way through the warm streets of Ta-Metru, keeping an eye on the Coliseum's location to ensure they were headed the right way. The constant bursts of flames being emitted from the forge towers left Stalgrax and Trivolox in awe. Though their sea travel had taken them up around the north edge of Xia, to stand in a city that appeared far cleaner and safer—yet retaining that sense of industry—was stunning. Nohtal was a realm of unpolluted countryside and natural beauty, devoid of the luxuries of city life.

 

A nearby Telescreen lit up, displaying the kind face of Metru Nui's elder, Turaga Zilnyx. Wearing a teal Noble Zatth, his warm smile showed a kind and empathetic elder. Unfortunately for Metru Nui, pacifistic kindness would not be enough to save it from civil war millennia down the road. "Good afternoon citizens of Metru Nui and visitors to our wonderful city. It is with great pride that we host Mata Nui's planned ceremony in our Coliseum later today, ushering in a new era for the whole of the universe."

 

Stalgrax chuckled. "When he puts it like that, I'd hate to be stuck in one of those forges crafting masks while something like this occurs."

 

The pair of Nohtalians finished their journey to the Coliseum, entering the main plaza where hundreds of biomechs were packed together, loudly chatting with one another. It seemed like the entire universe had gathered for the event, all connected by a wonder in what the Great Spirit had planned. For such an enigmatic entity, notifying everyone was more than a little surprising. It was shocking to the point that most biomechs wouldn't miss the opportunity. Would Mata Nui arrive in a physical form? Would the six individuals requested in attendance receive a commendation? Biomechs wanted answers and Mata Nui would deliver (as he often did) in one way or another.

 

Trivolox stared up at Metru Nui's central tower, so pristine, so beautiful. The glossy silver architecture glistened beneath the city-island's twin suns, like a gem at the heart of the city. The Nohtalians approached the Coliseum entrance, paying an Onu-Matoran at the gate and walking inside the grand foyer.

 

"Hello fellow biomechs, and welcome to the city of Metru Nui!" Turaga Zilnyx greeted through the Coliseum intercom.

 

His face was on every Telescreen in the city, smiling from his position just above the central arena. Matoran crowded the arena seats alongside biomechs of many sapient species. Countless more biomechs stood in the arena itself, clapping, cheering, and conversing as the Turaga got their attention. Trivolox and Stalgrax were near the center of the arena, a fair distance from Zilnyx and his announcement box. Behind him stood six entities waiting to hear why they had been summoned to the city.

 

"In light of this very special event, I have given all city workers the next couple hours off, so that we may all witness this momentous ceremony," the Turaga continued. "Now, I request your silence as I explain the reason for this glorious event."

 

The entire Coliseum was quiet then, awaiting an answer. Surely something great would come from Mata Nui disrupting Rahi and the dreams of biomechs everywhere.

 

"The Great Spirit has made his will clear," Zilnyx began. "The scholars in Ko-Metru have been aware for some time that Mata Nui wished to have public agents act on his behalf in our universe. We are blessed that he would offer us such leaders, and it was through the dreams that I was spoken to by Mata Nui. I understand that many Turaga on many islands received a similar dream, a mission to see to it that our guests of honor were not simply brought here, but crowned the new leaders of our many realms. Without further ado, I present the Great Spirit's chosen entities."

 

The Coliseum applauded as the six beings behind Zilnyx were motioned to stand before the Telescreen video camera. The Turaga tapped one of the biomechs, a white-armored one, on his side and said, "Go ahead. They're your audience now."

 

The white-armored biomech was still for a moment, his chilly blue eyes darting back and forth as he searched for the right words. "Hello. My name is Pridak. I…I don't think I ever imagined this destiny for myself. I was…I have always been a loyal servant of Mata Nui's will…for as long as I can remember. If I am now charged with ruling the universe...then I gladly accept the position."

 

The audience clapped and waited for the next chosen biomech to stand before the screen. This one was armored in crimson, traces of black in his form as well. "My name is Kalmah, and I also gladly accept the position I have been tasked with. I will see to it that the universe is in fine hands under my rule."

 

The process continued relatively the same for Mantax and Carapar, giving their name and a few brief words. When the mysterious green individual took to the screen, he was more curious with the ceremony than the others.

 

"Hello, my name is Ehlek," he said through a breathing apparatus over most of his face. "I am not familiar with the realm of the air breathers, and I must say it is an alien place when all you have ever known is the sea. A week ago, my chief concern was hunting my next meal. Still, I have always had the best interest of my many brothers and sisters in mind, I only wish they could be present for this moment. Regardless, I vow the same best interest in defending our universe from any threat to Mata Nui."

 

The audience erupted into applause once again, and a blue entity walked up this time. Clearly the most nervous of the group, he fought to remain still as he addressed the city. "He-hello. My…my name…my name…is Takadox. The others have expressed…expressed a faith in the Great Spirit…and a promise…to uphold his will. And so…and so, I shall do the same. Thank you."

 

"Well he's definitely not one for public speaking," Stalgrax muttered.

 

"Probably his first time," Trivolox replied, entirely unaware that Takadox's nervousness stemmed from standing near the entity he was charged with keeping tabs on for the Brotherhood. "I'm sure he'll become more comfortable with it."

 

Turaga Zilnyx took to the Telescreens again and smiled out at the crowd. "Once again, I would like to thank you all for attending the announcement of the universe's new rulers. It is clear that they are proud servants of Mata Nui and they will not waver in protecting us. And now I will swear them into their new positions."

 

The Turaga held up a brand new, bright yellow Kanohi Hau and displayed it for the Telescreens. "This Great Hau was crafted by a mask maker here in our grand city. It is the symbol of the Great Spirit himself and will serve as the bond to him during this ritual."

 

Zilnyx held the Kanohi out to the future Barraki and smiled at them. "Place a hand to the mask and repeat my words."

 

The biomechs followed the Turaga's instruction and he began. "I shall honor the will of the Great Spirit, Mata Nui, in word and deed."

 

"I shall honor the will of the Great Spirit, Mata Nui, in word and deed."

 

"I shall place my faith in Mata Nui, so that he may show me the path of truth, valor, justice, and wisdom."

 

"I shall place my faith in Mata Nui, so that he may show me the path of truth, valor, justice, and wisdom."

 

"I am bound to the will of the Great Spirit and shall not disregard his commands, for I am a strong and noble servant."

 

"I am bound to the will of the Great Spirit and shall not disregard his commands, for I am a strong and noble servant."

 

"I shall put the grace and glory of Mata Nui before myself, and put no others before him."

 

"I shall put the grace and glory of Mata Nui before myself, and put no others before him."

 

"I am blessed by Mata Nui and shall live my life in accordance with his virtues."

 

"I am blessed by Mata Nui and shall live my life in accordance with his virtues."

 

"Unity."

 

"Unity."

 

"Duty."

 

"Duty."

 

"Destiny."

 

"Destiny."

 

"I accept the Great Spirit's request and shall follow this path until death or removal separate me from it."

 

"I accept the Great Spirit's request and shall follow this path until death or removal separate me from it."

 

Zilnyx slowly pulled the Kanohi Hau closer to his body, facing the Telescreens again. "This concludes the swearing in of our universe's new rulers. In a moment, they will be departing the Coliseum with several Toa escorts to visit the separate districts of our city and interact with the biomechs they now serve. Please join me in another round of applause for these fine rulers!"

 

"Let's return to the port," Trivolox said, "I've seen exactly what I came for. Mata Nui has made his will clear and those six are now the highest-ranking biomechs in the universe. We can only hope they take their vows seriously."

 

"Would it change anything if they didn't?" Stalgrax asked, nearly drowned out by cheering and applause. "What concern is it of ours that those six might betray the universe?"

 

"I only speak in concern for their lives," Trivolox replied, leading the way out of the Coliseum. "If they abandon their duty, Mata Nui will surely strike them down."

 

"And if he doesn't?"

 

Trivolox thought hard about the question, considering the best response as he moved along. "Mata Nui sees all we do, Stalgrax. If he would allow the new leaders to defy his wishes, if he would let them roam the universe without punishment, then I would lose my faith in Mata Nui. I would probably lose my faith in everything."

 

<<<>>> 

 

I had learned to be patient during my time with the gang. How Trylac managed to remain as still as he did during our voyage to Valantru is a true testament to his self-control. I sat near him for a while, never saying a word. He enjoyed silent company the best, something about knowing there was someone to converse with if an important matter arose was comforting to him. Of course, Trylac was seldom the first to speak. It made me question how important he found life—his own or the lives of others—to be.

 

"There's a lot riding on this. Do you have anything to say about it?" I questioned.

 

Trylac smirked. "We're friends, Adrinor. I think you know the answer."

 

<<<Trylac: Empty-Handed>>>

 

Trylac was born on a dark island in the eastern chain of the Southern Islands. Situated near the center of the chain, his home was in perpetual night, constantly overshadowed by a pale blue star that hung in the sky at all times. Since his species was the only sapient life on the island, they named Dectraz after themselves and lived quietly above the dense woods and marshes. The Dectraz made a safe, sturdy home high in the trees, fashioning their work into a network of houses and businesses. They were safe from the beasts that roamed the ground below and the monsters that dwelled within the dark bayous. On an ordinary day, an unexpected visitor came ashore to Dectraz and began searching the shadowy marshlands, capable of fending off the local fauna with his elemental prowess.

 

The Dectraz had heard rumors of such biomechs from earlier visitors, able to unleash bursts of flame, torrents of water, or tornadoes of wind by focusing their mind. They were the chosen entities of Mata Nui's grace, the Toa. Left to fend for themselves in endless night, the Dectraz were jealous of the Toa's standing in the universe and ordered a young hunter to remove the visitor from the island. That hunter was Trylac, and he found the Toa of plasma with little difficulty, quickly introducing himself and explaining why he chose to reveal himself. The Toa had been convinced there were no sentient biomechs living so far south in the universe, but Trylac was clear evidence otherwise.

 

It didn't take much of an argument for the Toa to agree to return to his craft, explaining that he was growing tired of exploring the vastness of the Southern Islands. He missed his home on the Northern Continent, his friends as well. As Trylac asked more and more about what the world in the north was like, what it contained, what it was to live in the light of the Great Spirit, the Dectraz was sold. Trylac reluctantly said farewell to his brethren, expressing his wish of seeing another world beyond the island they knew. Leaving behind his entire life, Trylac journeyed north with the Toa of plasma and was eventually approached about a job offer. The role of a hunter on Dectraz had been given to him through merit and Trylac's new position felt like the first real job he ever had. It even allowed him more exploration of the universe in his first month than Adrinor's first few years with the gang. After a couple hundred years, Trylac could hardly believe it was all coming to such an abrupt end.

 

Axonn and Trylac stood on the beach of the Northern Continent, staring out at neighboring Zakaz as they hurled stones out over the sea. Sunset was on the way, splashing the sky with wisps of deep red.

 

"Why did you join the Hand?" Axonn asked.

 

"The same reason you did," Trylac replied. "I was asked to serve as a judge, jury, and executioner to those that would break the laws of our universe. Someone saw promise in me, just as it was seen in you. I think a lot of us signed on because we were looking for a purpose, something real to hold on to, to feel like we actually make a difference and stand for something."

 

"I think I'd stand for anything now that the Hand has disbanded," Axonn said miserably.

 

Trylac chuckled. "Someone will make you useful again, I'm sure of it."

 

"It's waiting until that time that's going to kill me," Axonn grumbled. "I was never all that good at being idle. You're right though, about wanting to make a difference. It's going to be strange without the company of our fellow operatives."

 

"There's no shame in seeking a purpose, but life goes on. Hydraxon was right to say we were doing this universe more harm than good. Is that the legacy you want to leave behind?"

 

"Hydraxon is wrong!" Axonn growled. "I always had the best interest of our universe in mind…in everything I did for the Hand! For him to say that we're nothing more than pests, well, that didn't sit right with me."

 

"Whether you agree or not, Hydraxon is probably halfway across the universe right now, moving on with his life. We need to do the same."

 

"Let him move on as he chooses," Axonn replied. "I don't need an excuse to uphold the law."

 

"We've been taking the law into our own hands for a while now. We lacked structure, Axonn, but you can't seem to see it."

 

"You're one to talk," Axonn shot back. "I remember your story about capsizing a sailing vessel full of biomechs you knew couldn't swim or fly."

 

"I remember the story too, because I was there!" Trylac yelled. "But unlike you, I wasn't the one making every attempt to argue with the Hand leaders that we haven't outgrown our use! It's over!"

 

"I don't need the Hand," Axonn said bitterly.

 

"Open your eyes," Trylac pleaded. "Look past yourself before you make a huge mistake."

 

"I don't need advice from a bug that crawled out of some slime pit! You were too worthless to give light to and you're still living in your own personal darkness!"

 

Trylac lowered his head angrily. He might've killed someone else for saying that, but Axonn was a close friend. The Dectraz felt nothing but hurt. "Okay then, Axonn. If you want to run off and paint yourself as a hero, I wish you the best. Take your weapon and your mask, because they seem to be the only things you value in this universe."

 

Axonn realized the gravity of the situation too late. As Trylac walked away, Axonn's friendship with him was long gone. "Trylac, wait. I didn't mean"-

 

"I know exactly what you meant," Trylac interrupted, stopping short. "Just know that I really do hope you find some sense of peace out there, wherever you go. If you don't believe that, well…your Kanohi is always a fine second opinion."

 

Axonn stood alone on the beach, watching his former friend storm off. He was as he had been in the beginning, alone in the universe. There was no reason to activate his Kanohi Rode on Trylac - he could hear the truth in his voice all along, unable to believe it. Axonn knew nothing about where he would go next or what he would do with himself, only that he wished to be respected for his power. He had no idea that would take him down the path of a warlord.

 

Axonn released a heavy sigh; the future was calling.

 

<<<>>> 

 

We'd spent a long day at sea when Elendra decided to take a seat next to me, watching the waves splash against the side of the hull. I liked the way the light hit the violet of her armor, glittering dark red off of it.

 

"We won you in a coin toss on this one," I said. "I'm glad you came with us though."

 

"Worried you'd need someone to watch your back in a firefight?" Elendra teased.

 

I shook my head. "Worried I'd lose a friend. We're all so close, well…it was a little surprising you were willing to let that go so easily."

 

"I wasn't very keen on saving Pridak, so I let destiny decide for me," Elendra replied. "I know what I value and what I honor and Pridak is in neither category. Don't think I wouldn't have been a little…hurt…to depart."

 

"Leaving the gang though?" I wondered. "Does your revulsion for Pridak run that deep?"

 

"It does," Elendra said calmly, giving me a smirk. "And it's justified too."

 

<<<Elendra: Uprising>>>

 

"Move, Trelban!"

 

Elendra's homeland had seen finer mornings, occupied by an enemy the inhabitants had no chance of stopping. A crackle of lightning sizzled through black clouds, briefly interrupting the sound of the pouring rain. Trelbin had been experiencing floods for a week, and to make matters worse, they were in the process of combating a League invasion fleet. Elendra was pushed forward by an armored guard, shoved into line with her fellow insurrectionists. She was constantly fighting the energy shackles that bound her hands behind her, pulling to no avail. She had killed over a dozen League soldiers that day alone, murdering several in prior skirmishes. Elendra's first kills had been committed centuries earlier, making her something of an outcast among the generally kind-natured Trelbans. It was only a love of her homeland that caused her to start a rebellion against the invading League, unconcerned what would become of her allies once she drove off the armies. She hadn't planned on being arrested, an action that took half a dozen guards to restrain her while they bound her hands.

 

Elendra moved with her fellow Trelbans, carefully eyeing the guards. Some of the rebels were being loaded onto League airships, leaving Elendra to assume they would be imprisoned elsewhere for their crimes. She had watched many of them kill League soldiers, but those who failed to kill anyone were being lined up in the grass, executed by firing squads without remorse. Elendra felt rage inside of her, white hot fury that told her to pull and pull at her restrains until they gave. She pulled her arms away from one another again, feeling as though she might break her arms in the process, severing the energy bond between her shackles.

 

"Hey!" the nearby guard yelled at her.

 

Before he could react, Elendra rushed him, tackling the guard and attempting to reengage the energy bond when her hands were placed around his head, sending a lethal rush of electricity through him. She grabbed his saber then, watching as electricity wrapped up around the blade from her right shackle. Several guards turned their attention to Elendra, unloading their energy blasters on her. She strafed the attack, quickly discovering the electrical charge was rerouting any energy bullet that came close to her. Using this to her advantage, Elendra charged at her attackers, slashing and stabbing the League soldiers. A saber was a last resort weapon, and one they seldom trained with. It wasn't every day they encountered someone who electrified a sword and caused any bullets to go flying in a random direction. Elendra ran for one of the airships, impaling both of the soldiers outside it with ease. She looked up at the entryway to the airship and felt her rage replaced by a slight sense of panic.

 

"You must be the insurrection leader I heard so much about," a figure in the entryway said coolly, his words immediately followed by a rumble of thunder.

 

"You were expecting someone bigger?" Elendra asked, holding firm to her saber.

 

A flash of lightning confirmed Elendra's fears as the biomech grinned down at her. Armed with nothing but a katana at his hip, his black and white armor was inverted in color when the bolt lit up the sky, but she knew the face of Barraki Pridak as well as anyone in society did.

 

"I was expecting your capture to be more difficult," Pridak replied. "The last thing I expected was a female of any kind."

 

"Do you think a female is unable to lead a resistance?" Elendra spat.

 

Pridak chuckled. "To be fair, I just ended yours. Besides, if the Great Spirit wished for females to lead anything, one of them would rule a sixth of the universe right now and I doubt it would be a Trelban."

 

Elendra ran at Pridak, throwing everything she had into a slash at him. Pridak effortlessly evaded the swing, punching her square in the chest and hurling her backwards. She dropped into the muddy grass, still clutching on to her sword. Slowly getting to her feet, she watched the saber recharge with electrical power, prepared for Pridak's next attack. He leapt from the airship, drawing his katana in midair. Elendra blocked the strike, but she hadn't anticipated how much force Pridak would land with. Entirely unaccustomed to wielding a sword, Elendra slashed at Pridak again, receiving a punch to the jaw.

 

Pridak jumped backward, holding his katana out at his opponent. "I have crushed whole islands that dared to fight me. I have the Brotherhood in my hand and enough armies to end you several times. Do not test me."

 

"Test you?" Elendra said with a laugh. "I'd rather kill you!"

 

Elendra ran at him once more, but Pridak merely smirked. At the last second, he swung his katana hard enough to remove the saber from Elendra's grasp, leaving her defenseless. Without missing a beat, Pridak swung back and slashed through part of Elendra's breastplate, cutting into her muscle tissue. She fell in pain as Pridak returned his weapon to its scabbard.

 

"I apologize for that," Pridak said politely. "Are you ready to surrender now, or must I employ further violence to persuade you?"

 

Elendra struggled to her feet, glaring into Pridak's eyes. As soon as her left foot felt sturdy, she threw a punch at the Barraki. He grabbed her hand and twisted her arm back, kicking at her wound. Pridak then reengaged her energy bonds and rolled Elendra onto her back, sitting on her lower torso with his knees and placing a hand around her throat.

 

"Much better," Pridak said, studying her like a muaka would study its prey. "Now, where were we?" He softly ran a clawed finger down the side of Elendra's face, caressing her cheek in his palm, still holding tight to her neck with his other hand.

 

"Let me go!" Elendra growled, struggling for air. She knew that some Trelbans could control their breathing with practice, an art learned through meditation. Elendra had never meditated and she was far too furious to concentrate on something like saving her life as she fought to escape Pridak's grasp.

 

"Soon," Pridak whispered, running a finger over her heartlight, tapping it a few times as the rain drenched her body. "So brilliantly red…like my own. I see a similarity in you and it is my belief that we can assist one another."

 

"You don't have anything I want," Elendra fumed, still trying to escape.

 

"How about a career? You were creative enough to put this insurrection into action, I think you have the ability to be a military advisor. I could use someone like you on Xia to work with newer recruits, acclimating them with the life of a soldier. I want this for you because I find it beneficial to keep friends close and enemies closer. And because I know loyalty can only be bought in this day and age, please, name your price."

 

"Leave Trelbin," Elendra spat. "Spare my homeland and I will serve you."

 

"I cannot do that," Pridak said, smirking as he replied. "Trelbin is of strategic importance to me and the island would make a fine training facility."

 

Elendra laughed mockingly. "One more achievement to parade in the face of your brothers?"

 

"You could say that," Pridak muttered. "The League of Six Kingdoms publicly acts as a single entity, but my fellow Barraki and I take a certain pleasure in flaunting our victories to one another. More to the point, I will not cease my operations on Trelbin to appease you."

 

"Then take your offers to Karzahni," Elendra replied. "They're no good here."

 

Pridak lightly smacked her cheek a couple times before releasing her neck. "I offer you my kindness after you kill my soldiers and you choose to decline? As you wish, Trelban." He rose, brushing himself off as a few guards approached.

 

"Barraki Pridak!" one of the guards shouted, wiping the rain from his face. "The storm is growing worse and we're leaving to transport the prisoners to Xia at your command."

 

"Any word from the other companies across the island?" Pridak asked.

 

"Affirmative," the guard replied. "The remainder of the battalion has a strong foothold on Trelbin, receiving little to no resistance in taking the island. The insurrection in this sector appears to have been an anomaly we hadn't anticipated."

 

Pridak glared at Elendra for a moment and quickly returned his attention to the guard. "I placed you in charge of this campaign because I was convinced you were prepared for anomalies. The fact that I had to come here from Xia, to see with my own eyes that this rebellion was quelled only proves that I misjudged you." He turned to the other guards, holding his glare steady. "Arrest your former superior officer. He is hereby stripped of his rank and shall be treated as a prisoner until further notice."

 

"Barraki Pridak, please," the guard pleaded. "I hadn't considered she would overwhelm my troops like this. Besides, we got her! She's right there and I could kill her right now for you! I've worked hard for this position, for your army! I'll take anything but imprisonment, please!"

 

With blinding speed, Pridak drew his katana from its scabbard and ran the blade through the guard's heartlight, ramming the hilt against the biomech's chest. The guard was in shock and Pridak let him take a few steps back, the katana still inside his body.

 

"Your fear of prison outweighed your fear of me…a foolish mistake. At least you will evade incarceration now, yes?" Pridak asked, retrieving his blade and watching the guard fall dead into the muddy ground. Pridak returned the katana to its scabbard and stared down at the biomech he'd just murdered. "You are relieved of duty, soldier."

 

Pridak was notorious for behavior like that, so the other guards were hardly phased. One of them pointed to Elendra and asked, "What should we do with her?"

 

Pridak laughed over the howling wind. "Ah yes, I had nearly forgotten! Another biomech who refused my goodwill!" His eyes met hers, gazing at her once more like a predator eyes a kill. Pridak then stomped his foot against her head, rendering her unconscious instantly. "Take her onboard with the other prisoners; I have had enough of Trelbin for today."

 

<<<>>> 

 

In spite of our best efforts to warn Pridak of Takadox's deception, we failed to reach the Northern Continent in time. It was shortly before dusk when our transport was nearing the city and I could see smoke climbing high into the air, the sound of activity all across the Valantru region. There was no mistaking it was the sight of a warzone earlier in the day. As less and less of the sea separated us from the beach, we couldn't begin to imagine what awaited us at shore.


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Edited by Cederak, Jan 26 2014 - 01:28 PM.

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#12 Offline Cederak

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Posted Sep 29 2012 - 06:51 PM

"What is this thing that builds our dreams, yet slips away from us?" -Queen

 

Episode 12: Dethroning in Progress

 

I could see more destruction as our ship closed in on the sandy beach. What had been a large Barraki fortress earlier in the day was in pieces and flames. I knew there were a couple more fortresses nearby, but the city of Valantru blocked my view. That's not to say the city was doing well either, considering much of the metropolis was heavily damaged from the day's fighting. Buildings were demolished, burning, ripped apart, and missing whole chunks. If there weren't warriors standing everywhere, I'm sure I could've seen tons of bodies littering the city streets. The ship came aground and we leapt out, frantically running across the sand.

 

"Are we too late!?" Rovaius shouted to a Toa of water.

 

She grinned at him, giving a brief nod. "We got them."

 

Rovaius looked as though he had been shot through the heartlight. "You…you what?"

 

She grabbed him by the shoulders and laughed. "We got them."

 

"Pull yourself together, Rovaius," Elendra cautioned.

 

"What do you mean?" the Toa asked, becoming suspicious of our presence.

 

"I just," Rovaius stammered, "I wanted to be there when it happened."

 

The Toa nodded understandingly, clearly under the assumption that Rovaius wished to see the Barraki defeated. "They're on the beach just north of the city. A Makuta will be sentencing them. You might make it there in time if you hurry."

 

Rovaius bolted for the other side of the beach without a word, forcing the rest of us to take off after him. For several minutes, we ran through crowds of Toa, menacing Rahi, Rahkshi, and robots, making our way closer to the Barraki. Moving through the hordes of biomechs was no simple task and Rovaius had to catch his breath just before we made it to the beach. The stars were already out and I could tell something was happening below the cliff that led down to the shore.

 

"You all right?" I asked Rovaius.

 

"I'll be fine," Rovaius said, taking a few heavy breaths. "I just need to see this. I have to see this."

 

"Okay," I replied, patting him on the shoulder a couple times. "Then let's head down the cliff and check it out."

 

Rovaius shot me a peculiar look. "Have you ever heard of a Cliff Screecher?"

 

I paused trying to think. "Can't say I have. My knowledge of Rahi is pretty much limited to the Southern Continent and Meldio."

 

Rovaius sighed, staring toward the shore pensively. "They're interesting creatures and wicked to their prey. There's an old myth that a Cliff Screecher cannot die."

 

I raised an eyebrow, somewhat baffled. "How is that possible?"

 

"I'm not really sure. I shot one out of the air once…watched it spiral toward the ground…then it swooped back up at the last second. Truth be told, I've never seen one fall dead. The story goes that the creature's soul is housed somewhere else…probably back home. That's where I feel like my soul is anyway - up on a grassy hill in western Nohtal with the spirits of my brothers. They were the brothers Trivolox took from me…the brothers Trivolox took from himself. Our biomechanical forms are merely shells, Adrinor. And my shell…it's a cenotaph, dedicated to a long-dead Rovaius."

 

"A cenotaph…" I reflected. "You sure that's not a bit melodramatic?"

 

"Melodrama is a part of life," Rovaius countered. "I'm not asking you to sympathize or connect with what I'm saying; listening is satisfying enough."

 

Rovaius finally led us down the cliff, marching through the sand. We walked toward the beach where the Barraki were bound in chains beneath the starlit sky, on display for their conquerors. They were on their knees, surrounded in the distance by Exo-Toa machines - mechanical guardians that served the Brotherhood of Makuta. The Barraki were supposed to protect the world and now they were being held accountable for abandoning that duty. We had assumed they would put up a fight for weeks, years even. They fell in a day. A multitude of Toa were standing on the cliff, waiting to see what would happen to the Barraki. Thanks to the blazing ruins that had been fortresses earlier in the day, it was easy to spot a seventh figure standing over the defeated warlords.

 

"Mata Nui…" Trylac muttered, shaking his head as we marched toward the water.

 

We didn't get much further before a few Exo-Toa whirled around, motioning us to halt. Standing alongside a few Toa, there was no getting around these battle mechs without a fight and Rovaius knew it.

 

"I apologize, but we've been asked to create a perimeter around the criminals," a Toa of gravity explained. The Toa of plant life on his right gave us a stern look, his armor dirtied and scratched from the day's trials.

 

"That's fine," Rovaius nodded. "Is there any way we can merely watch? We assisted in this effort, after all."

 

"I suppose," the Toa of gravity replied uncertainly. He glanced at a Toa of fire on his left. "These biomechs aided our victory over the Barraki. Would you mind letting them see the monsters they fought to overthrow?"

 

"Absolutely," the Toa of fire replied, grinning directly at Rovaius. "The day is ours, brother. I would be honored if you were to stand at my side."

 

"The honor is all mine, noble Toa," Rovaius lied, stepping up to fill the gap as the Toa stood aside. Elendra and I came forward as well, while Stalgrax and Trylac were tall enough to survey the scene from above our heads. The Barraki were faced away from us, but I could see their accuser very clearly. Clad in thick armor of obsidian and silver, I could see his jet black cape gently flowing in the wind. His eyes glowed a dark shade of ruby and he wore the unique—presumably one-of-a-kind—Kanohi Kraahkan, the Mask of Shadows.

 

"Your rebellion is over," the Makuta breathed, giving the Barraki a sinister smile. "Your misguided attempt to overthrow the Great Spirit is now history…as are you."

 

The Makuta took a few steps across the wet sand, walking past Barraki Kalmah and Barraki Carapar before stopping at Pridak. "These others I am not familiar with, but you…you I know. Why?"

 

"How does that Makuta know Pridak?" I whispered to Rovaius. "He always said"-

 

Rovaius punched me in the side and I suppressed the pain. I knew Rovaius was right to shut me up the way he did. If the Toa heard me connecting us to the Barraki in some way, there was a strong chance we would be in chains next.

 

"What will happen to us now?" I heard Takadox ask. I glared at him, furious with his treachery. I desperately wanted the Makuta to smash that snake into oblivion, but I was confident that justice would be served to him shortly. As if the Makuta had somehow heard my thoughts, I watched him smack Takadox across the face with so much intensity, the Barraki was thrown backwards, landing jaw first in the sand.

 

"Your every word condemns you," the Makuta growled, his fury likely matching my own. "There is only one possible fate for such traitors."

 

The Exo-Toa began walking toward the Barraki, taking aim at the warlords with their Electro-Rockets. I could hear the Toa on the cliff shouting in disapproval and objecting to an outright execution, given their creed in life.

 

"Are we no better than these warlords!?" the nearby Toa of gravity shouted.

 

"This is a disgrace to our efforts!" the Toa of fire yelled.

 

Judging from the unwavering expression of malice the Makuta directed at the Barraki, it was clear that the protests of the Toa had fallen on deaf audio receptors. Just as the Makuta was preparing to order the Exo-Toa to carry out the executions, everyone on the beach watched as a very tall figure strode up toward the scene. I had never seen anything like him, wearing armor of gold, silver, azure, and carmine, and a face like something out of a terrible nightmare. Rows of sharp, golden teeth bared down on the Makuta, and the orange pair of eyes above those teeth were locked on the startled Rahi-maker as well.

 

"I am Botar," his ancient voice declared. "The Pit calls, and I have come."

 

"What is that thing?" Elendra whispered to Trylac.

 

"I've never seen one in my life," Trylac murmured back. "It looks downright monstrous."

 

"Quite a sentiment, coming from you," Elendra snickered.

 

"You have no rights here," the Makuta told the intruder, suddenly becoming braver as he stared up into the biomech's golden maw. "Begone."

 

Botar grinned, and I could only imagine how terrified this left the Barraki sitting directly below him. "Where there are wrongs, Makuta…I have rights. Stand aside."

 

Whoever this Botar was, he was either working with an authority greater than the Brotherhood, or merely believed this to be true. His form certainly suggested a great degree of strength and I was expecting a battle to break out at any moment.

 

"I will not!" the Makuta shouted defiantly. "These are my prisoners."

 

Botar's smile never left his face as he responded, "Stand aside or share their fate." His tone had become severe, and I could tell he was losing his patience.

 

A few seconds later though, Botar outstretched his hand at the Barraki and a fiery white ring of energy burst into existence around the warlords. Strands of bright, yellow power connected the ring to Botar's hand, and before the Makuta or Exo-Toa could make a move, the Barraki and Botar vanished. In their wake, only the echoes of the Barraki screaming out could be heard faintly over the constant lapping of the waves. It was an eerie sound, made more disturbing by the fact that these powerful entities had been whisked off to their doom. I had no idea where Botar and the Barraki had gone, but I knew deep down that it was a place designed to make them suffer, a place where they would never glimpse the light of day again.

 

The Makuta's sight lingered on the spot where the Barraki had been chained, clearly lost in thought as to where they had gone. Botar had not come as a savior to the warlords—to rescue them from their arrest—but Mata Nui only knew where they could be now.

 

"They're gone," Rovaius muttered, concealing his unease. "They're gone…"

 

"The era of the warmongers is over," the Toa of gravity said with a smile. "Perhaps there is a calm ahead of our world."

 

"Or perhaps Mata Nui has lined up something worse to serve in their place," Trylac suggested gloomily.

 

"Let's head back up the beach," Stalgrax proposed. "We could use some sleep."

 

"I couldn't sleep at a time like this," Rovaius sighed.

 

The Toa of fire laughed and nodded. "Neither could I! Look at what we've accomplished!"

 

I looked at Rovaius and could see his anger, daring him to punch the Toa across the face. The Toa was obviously right though. They had worked with the Makuta to overthrow the Barraki and successfully saw them defeated in a single day. It truly was the end of an era and I wasn't sure if that was for better or worse yet. Rovaius wouldn't sleep that night, but I was exhausted. Failure tends to tire you out more than victory - it wears at your spirit. We camped in the sand—among the countless heroes of the day—where I drifted into a dreamless sleep. There was nothing to dream about that night and no nightmare more terrifying that the one waiting for me when I awoke.

 

I was actually startled awake around dawn by a slow, malicious laugh ringing out through the air. I tilted my head around and watched the Makuta from the night before, standing proudly as he watched the remains of the Barraki fortresses continue to burn. I could also see Toa using their elements in the distance to completely raze the structures.

 

"Just like that!" the Makuta called out gladly. "I will see these castles smashed to dust before I leave."

 

"Good, you're awake," Rovaius noted. I jerked my head in his direction, realizing he had been staring at me.

 

"Were you waiting for me or something?"

 

"Yes, and now we're leaving," Rovaius replied, offering me a hand up. I took it and he tugged me right to my feet. I glanced around seeing Stalgrax, Trylac, and Elendra chatting with some of the nearby Toa.

 

"What are they doing?" I asked.

 

"Learning," Rovaius smirked. "I'm about to do the same. You're welcome to join me." He marched off, heading toward the Makuta. I walked after him, curious as to what he hoped to discover.

 

"Good morning!" Rovaius greeted him, causing the Makuta to glance over his shoulder. When he was aware it wasn't another Toa, the Makuta turned around to address us. I was sure he had heard enough whining over his attempted murders from the night before.

 

"Indeed it is," the Makuta grinned. "It would seem we are finally rid of those annoying little tyrants."

 

"Are the rumors true?" Rovaius inquired. "Did the Barraki really intend to overthrow Mata Nui himself?"

 

The Makuta shook his head in frustration. "They were delusional, Nohtalian. It cannot be done."

 

"Of course not. How would someone become the very seas and skies around us? Providing you believe that Mata Nui exists all around us."

 

"I do," the Makuta acknowledged. "The Barraki dared to believe they were better suited to ruling the whole of the universe, but their treason against Mata Nui could not be tolerated any longer. To threaten the lives of the Great Spirit's creations is one thing, but to threaten our maker is another entirely. Not to mention what a foolish impossibility it is."

 

"I have often been told that nothing is impossible," Rovaius countered.

 

The Makuta seemed taken aback by this, as though Rovaius had uttered something on his mind. "If you two will excuse me, I need some time alone."

 

"Understandable," Rovaius smiled. "A battle campaign is a bit much for a simple Nohtalian to comprehend and I presume you are weary from lack of sleep. I wish you a fine day, Makuta." Rovaius glanced at me, expecting a comment.

 

I awkwardly stared at the Makuta and gulped. "Congratulations on your victory."

 

The Makuta stared back at me, as if studying something that needed a closer look. Finally, he nodded and turned, walking toward the burning ruins. "Go home, both of you. The universe has been returned to the glorious hands of Mata Nui."

 

Rovaius whirled around silently, heading for Valantru. We weren't getting any more of a conversation out of the Makuta, but Rovaius seemed content anyway. I hadn't noticed it much before, but Valantru was almost exclusively a city of skyscrapers. It was a shame it had been so heavily damaged during the day-long battle with the Barraki. As we made our way down the streets, biomechs were cheering and hugging one another. It was an odd sight considering they hadn't done anything with the dead yet. Soldiers of the Barraki made up most of the deceased, but I noticed a few Toa corpses here and there. Looking overhead, airships were flying through downtown Valantru, expediting the process of returning the many warriors to their separate homes. The sun was up and shining, and I envied the Toa. This was their greatest achievement in years and they had succeeded in preserving Mata Nui's place as the ultimate power of the universe. Even I would have to sleep with one eye open at night if Pridak were the new Mata Nui, but that was a pointless thought now.

 

"Ready to go?" Stalgrax slapped me on the back and turned me around. He was standing with a rather uncomfortable Trylac and Elendra at his sides.

 

"What did you find out?" Rovaius asked him.

 

Stalgrax sighed. "The Barraki never saw the attack coming, just like Takadox wanted. They were unorganized and fell to the well thought-out tactics of the Makuta. I can tell you now, if this battle had been fought on Xia, the outcome would have been far different. Pridak would be hanging a shiny black Kanohi from atop his tower right now."

 

"Just one problem," Trylac hissed. "It was fought here, outside Valantru. Pridak and the others were too confident of their ultimate victory to gather on Xia and Takadox's deceptive ploy took them down."

 

"Well, whatever deal he made with the Brotherhood died when Botar warped them away," Elendra assumed.

 

"A fate he entirely deserves…and worse," I muttered. "We should go now. The fortresses are in pieces and the Barraki are gone. I'm actually a little curious if we can continue on like this."

 

"Absolutely," Rovaius assured me. "The Makuta said that Mata Nui is in charge once again, not that his Rahi-making brothers and sisters will be governing the universe from now on. If anything, we're safer now, given that the League's soldiers are arrested, dead, or surrendered. There will always be havens for their kind in places like Stelt, but they are much less troubling now that they have no warlords to work for. The universe is as free as the days before the Barraki and I think we should take advantage of that while we can."

 

"Fair enough," I smirked. "Let's catch a ride on one of these airships and be on our way. I suppose it doesn't really matter where they're going."

 

Rovaius smiled back. "They're all going places with something of value and that's enough for me."


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(Violet Font = direct quote from Bionicle Legends #6: City of the Lost)


Edited by Cederak, Jan 26 2014 - 01:33 PM.

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#13 Offline Cederak

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Posted Oct 08 2012 - 07:10 PM

"Desperado, why don't you come to your senses?" -The Eagles

 

Episode 13: Inevitable Showdown

 

Leaving Valantru was easy. As teams of Toa and many individual ones from multiple lands said their farewells, walking onboard an airship had been all too simple. There was no need to employ any stealth; the Toa were far too preoccupied with recounting their victory. Each League soldier's defeat was a different story to be told and while they aren't nearly as annoying as Turaga, most Toa love to tell stories. We got comfortable in our seats and I stared out the window, catching a couple bright fireworks detonate over Valantru. It was still hard to believe Pridak's plan had failed…that their reign was over. I could only hope they would learn of Takadox's treachery at some point.

 

"This changes everything, Rovaius," Trylac said quietly. "Perhaps we should reassess things now that the League is over. The Brotherhood of Makuta will surely hunt down any remaining troops of the Barraki."

 

Rovaius shook his head. "This changes nothing. We were private agents yesterday, with no military allies beyond those that could offer us transport. We didn't hide from Toa or the Brotherhood under Pridak and I won't hide from them now.

 

A couple dozen Toa loaded up on the ship, taking their seats around us. I could hear Rovaius and Stalgrax speaking with a couple of them, but I wasn't terribly interested. With as many Toa onboard the airship as there were, I assumed getting in a few more hours of sleep wouldn't hurt. As I told Trylac on the way to Artakha, my body hadn't yet become accustomed to exhausting so much energy in frequent thefts and gunfights. I enjoyed my sleep that day, quietly dreaming of being a rancher. I would never return to that line of work, but after you've killed enough biomechs, wishing for a simple life manages to haunt you now and again. My dream that afternoon was of a peaceful morning, where Boomer the Hapaka managed to find me and started barking happily at me.

 

"Always so lively, aren't you?" I chuckled.

 

Hapaka continued to bark, circling me a couple times. I narrowed my eyes in concern on Boomer for a second though. Something was wrong. He was barking, yes, but I could almost hear real words. No…just one word.

 

"Adrinor!"

 

I awoke in terror to the sound of alarms and immediately realized gravity was pushing me at an angle. I was on the floor, staring up at a frantic Elendra and the hand she was offering me. I tried to accept, but the pounding pain in my head stopped me short.

 

"We need to jump!" It was Trylac's voice, but I couldn't tell where it came from.

 

I forced myself to my feet, gaining as much balance as I could. I picked up my rifle and glanced over my shoulder. A decent chunk of the airship was gone and, more disturbing, the corpses of a few Toa I saw boarding the ship were strewn about the cabin. There were pieces from a couple others littered across the floor as well.

 

"Enjoy your connecting flight!"

 

I turned toward the front of the ship, finding a jet black, male Vortixx crawling on the floor. He had suffered a shot to the head (probably from Elendra) and his eyes were a vacant gray. Her shot must've severed the visual receptor connection, effectively blinding him. Not that he needed his sight anyway - a fact I took into consideration when I noticed the detonator in his left hand. From the instant I spotted him to the moment he hit the trigger, there were maybe a few seconds to comprehend what was happening. Even Elendra didn't react quickly enough. She fired just as the Vortixx pushed the detonator. That was followed by an explosion and then…unconsciousness.

 

When I finally came to, I was face down in the grass. The headache had passed, but I was definitely sore. Brushing myself off, I did a full turn to try and figure out where I was. I couldn't discern the location, but it was beautiful. I was standing in a large grove where round, violet fruits were growing on the trees. The grass was a vivid green and the tress appeared so full of life. I could also see my rifle had landed on a branch. I awkwardly climbed the tree, inching my way toward the weapon. I grabbed it and leapt back to the ground, checking it for damage. I smiled, once again amazed by how much punishment the laser rifle could take. Putting it on my back, I walked up to a low hanging branch and picked one of the fruits off, weakly sniffing it. It didn't have a scent.

 

"I wonder…" I muttered, taking a small bite like I was a Rahi or something. It was rather bitter, but edible all the same. I tossed the fruit to the ground and started walking, hoping to find a nearby civilization or—at the very least—the gang.

 

The skies were clear, but I could see a dark gray storm rising in the distance. A gentle breeze travelled through the grove with me and I continued to ponder where I was. In the time I had spent with the gang, I had never visited such a place. Even Diroux's "paradise" paled in comparison to what I had seen so far. As I neared the edge of the grove, I could see a small town in a valley just below. Fresh water passed through the town and biomechs went about their day. It was so quaint.

 

"Hey, who are you?"

 

I turned back to the grove and found a young-looking biomech staring at me. He was roughly my height, with cobalt and white armor. He was also dragging a gunblade at his side. I drew my laser rifle on him, taking a couple steps back as I prepared to load a shell.

 

"Keep your weapon down," I said, aimed right at his chest.

 

"Answer my question first," he replied, charging a stream of shadow energy into the gunblade.

 

I blinked a few times in shock, lowering my rifle. "I'm…not from around here. This is Nohtal isn't it?"

 

The shadow energy dissipated from the gunblade and the biomech nodded cautiously. "You came in the airship crash, huh?"

 

I chuckled uncomfortably. "Yeah, it's a long story." I considered telling him that the League of Six Kingdoms had been dissolved the night before, but I decided against it. He'd find out eventually. Everyone would find out eventually.

 

"You should come back with me to town," the Nohtalian suggested. "Have something to eat before you head on your way. We're a hospitable species, I assure you."

 

A powerful burst of lightning energy shot up through the sky, a decent walk from my position. The bolt had come from a wooded area, definitely a signal from Stalgrax. I turned back to the Nohtalian and shook my head. "I have to be going."

 

I took off down the hillside, hurrying for the small forest. A beautiful meadow separated me from the trees and I found myself envious that Rovaius and Stalgrax once called Nohtal their home. Through their actions it had become their battleground, their warzone against the law as they fought to live outside of their society's rules. And yet, Nohtal seemed so lush and full of beauty, I doubt I would've traded a life among such scenery for one as an outlaw. Perhaps that was why the two Nohtalians never spoke of home - it was too painful to remember. Rovaius had a lot of mental wounds connected to Nohtal and Trivolox. Part of me wasn't looking forward to our reunion if it would be on such sullen terms.

 

I called out to Stalgrax, catching a glimpse of him between the trees. Taking off headlong through the woods, I navigated the winding path and found Stalgrax standing over a couple slabs of stone placed in the ground. Headstones. I had seen them before, occasionally adorned with flowers. These ones appeared to have been left to crumble, ignored by all but the passing of time.

 

"I tried getting your attention," I said to him, approaching from Stalgrax's left.

 

Stalgrax said nothing in response, staring down at the graves. Burials were apparently customary on Nohtal, since it would be peculiar to lay outlaws to rest otherwise. As he shifted his weight onto his rifle and leaned forward, Stalgrax muttered something indiscernible, something meant for the departed biomechs most likely.

 

"These were your brothers," I said. I felt awkward at stating such an obvious fact. "I'm sorry."

 

"I said I'd come back, you know," Stalgrax said quietly. "I said I'd avenge them. They were my brothers – demons in the dust laid down by their own. It wasn't their time."

 

"I don't think it's up to us to say when our time is coming," I replied. "I think it's already been figured out."

 

Stalgrax forced a chuckle. "Yes. Mata Nui, the silent maker."

 

"You have a beautiful home," I said, trying to change the subject. "I don't think you've ever spoken of this place, to be honest."

 

"We have a complicated history with Nohtal."

 

I whirled around to see Rovaius had snuck up on us, giving the graves a hard stare for a moment. Elendra had been following close behind, glancing my way and giving me a quick scan for visible injuries. Her brief nod translated to "good to see you’re okay." Trylac leapt down from one of the trees, letting his wings allow him to hover for a second.

 

"I couldn't find any other survivors," Trylac said, landing softly. In locating Stalgrax and his fallen friends, I had completely forgotten we all just lived through an airship explosion. In my defense, it wasn't the most interesting event of the week.

 

"What happened on the airship?" I asked, waiting for anyone to respond.

 

Stalgrax laughed. He was always quick to shake off a melancholy mood. "Funny story, now that you mention it. While you were sleeping, a few League loyalists revealed themselves as stowaways on the ship and started killing the Toa onboard. We didn't mind that part too much. We finally realized there was a problem on our hands when they killed the pilots and attempted to blow up the entire craft."

 

"And by attempted, he obviously means succeeded," Elendra muttered.

 

"Of all the islands we had to crash on, it had to be home," Rovaius said. "I hated leaving this place behind last time…all those thousands of years ago. I clearly robbed one too many biomechs, maybe killed one too many as well.

 

"So you know what part of the island we're on?" I asked.

 

"I've journeyed across this island from one end to the other before. Too many times to count, actually. I know exactly where we are," Rovaius said, reassuring me. He turned to Stalgrax. "You think the crafter still lives nearby?"

 

Stalgrax shrugged his shoulders. "Most likely. You think he's still building weapons?"

 

"He was half insane to begin with," Rovaius replied. "Unless one of those weapons blew up in his face, he's still building."

 

Stalgrax grinned. "Then let's pay him a visit."

 

"Where are we going?" Elendra questioned.

 

Stalgrax held up his rifle. "The Nohtalian that designed my weapon used to have a small facility not far from here. He was very skilled in crafting destructive objects and it couldn't hurt to have an extra one on hand."

 

"Does this crafter have a name?" Elendra wondered. "I'd like to know who I'll be killing for a fancy new toy."

 

"I don't think we ever bothered to ask…" Rovaius trailed off, tapping his chin. "I suppose you can ask him when we get there."

 

Our journey to the crafter's facility was brief and I could tell Elendra and Trylac were just as amazed by Nohtal's scenery as I was. For an island not terribly far to the east from Xia, there was no noticeable League presence in the area. While the innate shadow powers of the Nohtalians would have made them ideal soldiers, my run-in with the young biomech in training said enough. Most Nohtalians were hospitable, kind individuals, with no ill will towards others. For such a dark energy coursing through them, it was an ironic nature.

 

The crafter's facility was nothing special. A dark gray block of a building was the most likely place for constructing his weaponry, and a smaller building to the south probably served to hold additional parts. I watched a biomech swiftly dart from the smaller building to the larger one, slamming the door behind him. His hunched posture suggested he was often preoccupied with his work.

 

"There he is," Rovaius said, a grin forming on his face.

 

"He certainly bolted back to his workshop in a hurry," Elendra said, clicking her revolver's hammer back and forth a few times.

 

Stalgrax chuckled. "He believes Mata Nui is inside the sun, watching us. He doesn't like the idea of being watched."

 

"I doubt a bit of reinforced metal is going to stop the Great Spirit from checking in on a crazy Nohtalian if he were interested."

 

"And there's your answer," Rovaius replied. "Crazy Nohtalian."

 

We walked up to the facility and Elendra took an extra step forward, ready to smash through the door. Shooting it open would've been simpler, but she was probably holding back a bit of pent up anger after being blasted out of an airship.

 

"Whenever you're ready, Elendra," Rovaius said, casually waiting with his gunblade held up.

 

Elendra kicked the door down and we cocked our weapons, ready to shoot. What we weren't ready for was company. Not ordinary company either, but Trivolox, a half dozen elite soldiers like the ones on the Midnight, and an armored colossus with far too many specific traits about his form. He was a shapeshifter - a Makuta to be precise. We immediately leapt away from the entrance, catching the sound of multiple blasters being loaded. I scrambled back to the other side of the smaller building and took a deep breath.

 

I sighed. "It's never simple." Listening to my rifle hum, I could tell it was more than ready.

 

I peered out from my cover and fired on the doorway, catching one of the soldiers as he attempted to make his way outside. The laser blast flung him back in, definitely killing him. Rovaius noticed another soldier attempting to rush us, impaling him on his gunblade and kicking him aside. We retreated back a bit more, moving out toward the crafter's homemade proving ground, mostly an expanse of gravel and dirt. One of the soldiers peaked out from behind the wall, only to drop back into cover. Trylac lined up where he thought the biomech's head would be and put a hole in the wall and the soldier in the next second.

 

"Nice shot!" I shouted, reloading my rifle.

 

Stalgrax caught the next two, hitting them with a steady stream of electrical current from his rifle. They dropped and the last soldier came out, hands up in defeat. Elendra was about to put an energy bullet between his eyes, but the Makuta put a stop to that. He grabbed the soldier by the head and slowly disintegrated him apart.

 

"What good is a soldier that lays down his arms?" the Makuta hissed.

 

We pointed our weapons at the Makuta, entirely aware of the danger we were up against. Our numbers had no bearing in the face of this powerful adversary. Even with a few of our best shots, there was nothing saying we'd survive a fight with such a powerful entity. I think we all mentally acknowledged that, but only Rovaius chose to do anything about it.

 

Rovaius turned to us and smiled confidently. "You are my only friends and I know I'm not making an easy request, but I need you to stay out of what's about to happen." He turned back to face the facility and took a few steps forward. "Trivolox! Let's settle this, just you and me! One last showdown!"

 

Trivolox stepped into view and the Nohtalian glanced up at his ally. "I'll handle this alone." The Makuta merely nodded, folding his arms as Trivolox walked forward.

 

We gave the Nohtalians a fair amount of space as they stood across the proving ground from one another, each drawing their gunblades. Charging their weapons with shadow energies, Rovaius and Trivolox slowly began walking in a large circle, keeping the same relative distance from each other.

 

"There's no running away this time," Rovaius growled.

 

Trivolox smirked. "I've been running from you for far too long. I'm ready to end this."

 

The Nohtalians ran at each other, swinging their blades and clashing them together. They continued to swing rapidly like this several more times, unable to land a blow. Trivolox put both hands to his gunblade, shoving Rovaius away. Rovaius leapt backward, summoning an aura of shadow around his open hand. Trivolox opened fire on him, but Rovaius hurled the darkness at his enemy, consuming the bullets and forcing Trivolox to strafe the attack.

 

"Rovaius!" Trivolox yelled angrily, stomping his foot into the earth and sending a shockwave of darkness through the ground.

 

Rovaius dove to the side, watching as a hand of shadow energies leapt from the ground where he had been standing and grasped thin air before exploding. Rovaius got to his feet and focused his power back into his gunblade. This time, he shot a single bullet at Trivolox, infused with intense dark power. A trail of black and violet spiraled through the air, but Trivolox hurled a Kanoka at it, firing on the disk right after. The bullet had traveled beyond where the disk exploded, but was caught in its range of power anyway. The trail vanished, and I assumed the Kanoka carried a teleport ability. Sure enough, I watched the bullet's trail reappear in the sky momentarily before dissipating.

 

Trivolox placed his gunblade on his back, dashing at Rovaius. Rovaius fired five more times, each bullet caught and turned to ash in Trivolox's shadow charged hands. Rovaius swung his gunblade at Trivolox at the last moment, unprepared for his enemy to duck beneath the blade. Trivolox then took Rovaius by the throat and slammed him to the ground with a burst of shadow, knocking the gunblade from Rovaius' grasp.

 

"You cannot hope to win," Trivolox muttered, throwing everything into a mighty swing of his weapon.

 

Rovaius retrieved his gunblade and used both hands to defend against Trivolox's attack, releasing a shockwave of dark energy in the process. Trivolox had a natural resistance to shadow-based attacks, but it was enough to make him take several steps back. Rovaius got to his feet as Trivolox came in for another strike, firing a beam of darkness into the ground where Trivolox stood. The blast sent Trivolox flying, but once Trivolox was airborne, he used the opportunity to hurl a volley of dark energy blasts at Rovaius, assailing him with an attack too wide to evade.

 

Rovaius swung his gunblade over his head at a rapid pace, placing a barrier of darkness around himself as well. The blasts burned into the dirt, but when Trivolox returned to the ground, Rovaius was unscathed. He wasted no time firing several more energy bullets at Trivolox, strafing his position as he went along. Trivolox swung his hand through the air, launching a wave of darkness that disintegrated the bullets and headed for Rovaius. Rovaius swung his own weapon straight through the wave without harm, running for Trivolox. "Hold still!"

 

Trivolox held Rovaius at bay, locking swords with him as their free hands came together and crackled with jet black lightning bolts. I glanced at the Makuta for a moment, seeing how invested he was in the fight. All Makuta possessed the ability to read minds, but everyone knew what Trivolox and Rovaius were thinking. This battle meant everything to them and considering they weren't going to back down, it meant one of them was probably going to die.

 

The Nohtalians disconnected and I watched Trivolox pull back his hand before shoving it forward, causing a thin energy beam to reach across the battlefield. The beam was wrapped in energies of ruby and black shadow, following Rovaius in his evasive maneuvers. I had never seen Rovaius or Stalgrax use the ability before and I considered that it may have been taught to him elsewhere.

 

The beam let up and Rovaius examined the damage, brushing his foot against some of the blackened ground. Rovaius took a few steps back, dropping his gunblade to the dirt. He closed his eyes and remained entirely still, meditating. I knew what he was up to, but I hadn't seen him practice the technique in months.

 

Trivolox chuckled. "Do you surrender? That only makes this easier."

 

Trivolox ran at Rovaius, preparing to rip straight through the Nohtalian with his gunblade. Before that could happen, Rovaius perfectly executed his attack. A burst of black and white lightning bolts emerged from Rovaius' body, bombarding Trivolox with concussive energy. Trivolox tensed up, gripping his gunblade tight and holding his ground. Rovaius picked his weapon back up and charged a shot through his gunblade, shooting his paralyzed adversary in the torso.

 

Trivolox was thrown backwards, landing on his side. Rovaius marched toward him slowly, preparing to finish the battle.

 

"This isn't how it ends," Trivolox muttered, trying to get to his feet.

 

Rovaius charged shadow energies down through his weapon, engulfing the blade in rippling darkness. "This is how it needed to end years ago, when you betrayed your brothers."

 

Trivolox fired several shots at Rovaius without warning, forcing Rovaius to deflect or dodge them immediately. At the same time, Trivolox lunged at Rovaius, cutting into his left arm and kicking him backwards. Trivolox had channeled a great deal of shadow energy into the kick, launching Rovaius across their battlefield. The second Rovaius tried to stand, Trivolox had a burst of darkness headed at him, putting an end to any sneak attacks Rovaius had in mind. Rovaius dropped to the ground, watching his gunblade flip away into the dirt. He desperately crawled toward his weapon, grinding the dirt in his hands as he dragged his body along the ground. Trivolox marched up to him, kicking Rovaius in the face hard enough to roll him onto his back. Rovaius told us not to intervene, but as I watched Trivolox stomp his foot onto my leader's chest and charge his weapon with darkness, it was difficult to remain still.

 

"May Mata Nui have mercy on your spirit, Rovaius," Trivolox said, raising his gunblade into the air. "Farewell."

 

Trivolox swung the sword down toward Rovaius' neck, prepared to take his head right off, and even I didn't expect what came next.

 

"No!" Stalgrax screamed, interrupting Trivolox's finishing blow. Stalgrax fired his rifle straight into Trivolox's chest and dove at the Nohtalian, tackling him to the ground. At the same time, Elendra and Trylac opened fire on the Makuta to prevent any interference on his behalf.

 

Stalgrax punched off Trivolox's right shoulder armor and grabbed his gunblade, shooting the Nohtalian through the neck. It created a sound like crunching metal, but I could see Stalgrax had blasted Trivolox's throat apart, crippling his ability to breathe. As the Nohtalian struggled in vain for air, Stalgrax tore away at his breastplate, ripped out his heartlight and used the gunblade to sever the wires it was connected to. Stalgrax finally smashed the power source against the dirt before carelessly tossing it aside, screaming at Trivolox like a monstrous creature.

 

I suddenly loaded my laser rifle, firing on the Makuta's position while Stalgrax helped Rovaius up. Trylac and Elendra had been doing well at keeping the Makuta at bay with their fire, but we couldn't keep up our assault forever.

 

"We need to get some distance between us and that Makuta!" Rovaius shouted, taking the lead in the opposite direction of the facility. We all sprinted for the distant trees and I shot at the Makuta one more time before placing my full attention on running. Elendra was still firing at him and I glanced back to see the Makuta standing over Trivolox's corpse. He magnetically drew in the Nohtalian's gunblade and pointed in our direction. We were so close to the trees when he lined up the weapon, but one of us was already dead. The Makuta possessed a deadly accuracy ability and he had a clean shot at any one of us.

 

I held my breath as my feet continued to propel me forward, anticipating the next sound. The gunblade fired and instantly, I opened my eyes. An energy bullet went through Stalgrax's head in the next second, causing him to stumble forward and collapse immediately. I barely had time to look, but my short-lived glimpse showed me all I needed to know. The bullet passed right through the center of his head and like Jelveci before him, Stalgrax was gone before he hit the ground.

 

For some reason I thought about my first kill, the Ta-Matoran guard in Marilea. There was a critical difference between the two situations though. This time, I knew the sound of screaming was coming from me.


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Edited by Cederak, Jan 26 2014 - 01:34 PM.

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#14 Offline Cederak

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Posted Oct 15 2012 - 05:52 PM

"The sky will be my shroud, a cenotaph of cloud." -Keane

 

Episode 14: Live by the Sword...

 

Trylac spun back, firing three shots without the use of his scope. The sound of someone in terrible pain roared out at us. Turning back to look at the Makuta, I caught him clutching his eye, sparks flying out from where it had been seconds ago. Trylac's shooting had been nothing short of perfect. Rovaius opened fire on the Makuta as well, causing the Rahi-maker even greater agony as he fell to his knees. Just as Elendra was about to draw on our enemy, Rovaius motioned her to halt and the Makuta collapsed into the dirt.

 

"He went into shock, likely passed out from the intensity of his wounds," Trylac said rather coolly. "He's still alive."

 

"Do we want him alive?" Elendra asked furiously.

 

Rovaius quietly walked back to Stalgrax's corpse, staring down at our fallen friend. We joined him and stood around the murdered Nohtalian, probably all wishing we had been chosen by the Makuta instead. His particular sense of humor grounded me when I was too serious and reminded me there was entertainment to be had in what we did. There were no words to mourn a friend like Stalgrax and I still think Rovaius was smart in what he said next.

 

"It would be a foolish mistake to have the entire Brotherhood hunting us for the murder of one of their own. The Makuta is in no condition to pursue us."

 

They were strong words for a biomech who had just lost someone he considered close enough to be called a brother. Despite whatever fury or anguish Rovaius was feeling, his common sense remained intact. In a world without Trivolox, he had the ability to reject the unbridled passion he warned against and see reason. I doubt I could've done the same in his position.

 

"I should've turned a few seconds sooner," Trylac said. I had never heard regret in his voice before and it remains one of the saddest sounds in my memory. "I'm so sorry, Rovaius."

 

Rovaius opened his mouth and stayed silent. I thought he might lose it right there. "We need to go," Rovaius said, walking away from Stalgrax's corpse. I followed him, only glancing back at Stalgrax one more time in helplessness. There was nothing we could do.

 

"Are you going to be all right?" I asked Rovaius, hiding none of my concern.

 

"I don't know," Rovaius said quietly, staring at the ground, never slowing his pace. "I thought Trivolox's death would feel right…I thought I would feel right. It's over now though…the four Nohtalians I once called brothers are gone."

 

"I'm sorry, Rovaius," I whispered, just staring at my defeated leader.

 

"It's not your fault," Rovaius told me, forcing a smile.

 

He looked into my eyes and his appeared to glass over a bit. The luster in his lime green eyes was oddly hazy, almost dead really. It took me a moment to realize what had happened, mostly because it happened so rarely. Sentient life in our universe is almost always more mechanical than organic, but there are a few species out there that are exceptions to the rule. They seem more in tune with emotion than most biomechs, but their bodies sometimes react to certain emotional stimuli as well. One such example is tears - liquid droplets secreted from the eyes often accompanying intense sadness. Like myself, Rovaius couldn't cry tears, but his hazy eyes were doing their best.

 

"It's not your fault either," I replied firmly.

 

Those were the last words spoken for a while. As a storm system of ominous gray clouds settled over us on our path through southern Nohtal, there was nothing much to talk about. Trivolox's defeat had come at the cost of losing Stalgrax and as brave a face as Rovaius tried to wear, I could only speculate how difficult it was to carry such a burden of regret. We continued on through southern Nohtal for a couple hours while our situation worsened. Rovaius rarely spoke unless he was giving a directive and no one really wanted to talk about Stalgrax at the time.

 

Right when it started to drizzle, I thought I heard something strange in the distance behind us. I looked over my shoulder and immediately felt sick. A substantial number of Toa and Exo-Toa were heading for our position. It didn't matter where they were stationed, the movements of Toa as a group were always very deliberate and I was sure these ones were working with the Makuta we'd encountered earlier in the day.

 

"We have company," I said. "Any ideas?"

 

"Pick up the pace," Rovaius replied harshly. "Maybe we can lose them up ahead."

 

We broke into an easy run, making our way toward the ruins of a very ancient looking fortress. I can't say if Rovaius knew the fortress was there from the start and I didn't bother to ask. Given the familiarity with Nohtal he suggested prior and the structure's apparent age, I would assume he had seen the fortress in its youth at some point.

 

"I'll do a flyover and check the scale of what we're up against," Trylac said, his wings rapidly flapping into action as he took to the skies.

 

I watched him the entire time as he scanned the ground and observed the enemies headed for us. I expected we could handle whatever it was. I didn't expect that, so early into his flight, Trylac would be suddenly shot down and sent plunging out of the air. I felt like I couldn't breathe when I watched it happen, listening to Elendra gasp as Trylac fell like a stone.

 

"I'd know that sound anywhere," Rovaius said, as if in a trance. "Trivolox's gunblade. The Makuta is back."

 

"In the name of Mata Nui and the Brotherhood of Makuta, we order you to halt!" a Toa shouted our way.

 

"Not a chance," Rovaius spat. "Let's move!"

 

The Nohtalian dragged me with him, forcing me to try and ignore what I'd just seen and focus on saving my life. We dashed through the ruins, following the rays of sunlight through the broken ceiling as we went along. Rovaius led us up a large hillside and I was comforted to have a tactical advantage at last, easily able to pick off the enemy from our position. It only took moments for the Toa and Exo-Toa to make their way through the fortress ruins and we knew the Makuta wasn't far behind.

 

"Did you see how he hit Trylac?" Rovaius asked, sounding as though he was addressing someone who wasn't present. "The Makuta's skill is…unprecedented."

 

"He killed him!" I shouted, shaking Rovaius by the shoulders. "He killed Trylac and Stalgrax and unless we do something, he's going to kill us!"

 

Rovaius rapidly blinked his eyes several times, as though he were coming out of a heavy daydream. He stared at me blankly, studying my desperate expression. Finally, he spoke. "Elendra…Adrinor…you should get going," Rovaius said evenly.

 

"Rovaius!" Elendra growled.

 

"I wasn't asking," the Nohtalian replied coldly. "To join me in this battle would be suicide. I would prefer one of us fall rather than all of us. I have four dead friends…brothers, who are gone now. Nohtal was their first home and it is their final resting place, all in the designs of the Great Spirit. We are destined for the paths we take and somehow, I always knew destiny would bring me back here…one way or another."

 

"Rovaius," I whispered in shock.

 

"It's okay," he said, smiling to me. "Continue to live your dream, Adrinor. And Elendra, there's nothing wrong with being open now and again. I'm going to buy you two a little time now. Use it wisely and, take care of yourselves."

 

Elendra and I reluctantly watched Rovaius run back down the hill, taking on the Toa and their mechanical sentries. From what his final words had been, I knew what Rovaius intended to do and I knew the cost. Rovaius didn't stand a chance without the option he hinted to me, fighting a losing battle from the start. Every swing of his gunblade was parried and every shot was deflected. The Exo-Toa and Toa tried to close in on him, but Rovaius frantically fought to keep them at bay. It's hard to say whether exhaustion or emotion wore at him harder, though both had to be taking their toll. One of the Exo-Toa punched him across the face with its retractable arm and a Toa followed with a burst of air. Rovaius was brought to his knees while his enemies circled, attempting to take him into custody. Elendra gripped my arm and I gave her a panicked stare.

 

"Those Toa won't kill us, they have a code!" I protested, struggling to get free. "We have to save Rovaius!"

 

"I doubt they would kill us," Elendra replied, "but we left a furious and partially blind Makuta back there. Do you expect him to show any mercy when he catches up?"

 

I stopped trying to release my arm and thought about what Elendra was saying. Hanging my head in defeat, I sighed. "No…I don't."

 

Elendra shook her head, glancing down at Rovaius when she let my arm go. "This is what he wants, Adrinor. It isn't any easier for me to watch than it is for you, but we both know nothing good will come from running back down this hill to aid Rovaius."

 

I turned my attention back to Rovaius and quietly loaded a laser shell into my rifle. A pair of Toa held each arm and leg in place, starting to carry the Nohtalian away. I wondered for a second if I would be doing him a favor if I fired my next shot through his head, preventing him any further pain. I felt myself fighting to remain still, fighting not to scream. Rovaius tugged for freedom in vain, but then he did something remarkable. Just as the Makuta marched out of the fortress, Rovaius' arms became engulfed in shadow energies - crackling power that consumed his entire body before converging over his heartlight. The Toa dropped him on the ground and backed away, each drawing their weapons in anticipation. I peered through my scope and could see the shadows had disappeared from his body, having somehow turned his heartlight a pitch black color in the process. He yelled out and I watched his heartlight burst open. I withdrew from the scope and stared down at the battlefield just as a sphere of darkness exploded outward from Rovaius.

 

"Rovaius!" I screamed, pushing Elendra aside when she tried to hold me back. I sprinted down the hill and into the carnage, rushing to my leader's side. Tiny sparks of violet jumped around Rovaius' enemies, remnants of his intense dark energy shockwave.

 

Toa and machines had been scattered about, not one of the survivors in the condition to fight me. The Makuta had been hurled backwards through a couple heavy walls, probably rendered unconscious. A Toa of plasma glanced my way and I fired a shot through his head, putting a hole in his Kadin. I dropped the rifle and took a few more steps toward Rovaius, standing over him. His eyes were halfway open, though the lime green that lived within them was gone. Where his heartlight pulsed moments before was a hole pouring out a thin layer of black mist in its place. This was the price Rovaius paid for freedom, the catalyst of an ultimate liberation.

 

"No," I said, a crackle of thunder drowning out my voice. "No, this can't be how it ends. Look what you did." I stared back up the hill at Elendra and cried, "Look what you did!"

 

I picked up the gunblade and held it at my side. It wasn't my weapon of choice, but I couldn't just leave it there. I could hear several biomechs heading for my position and knew our time for an escape was running out. I frowned at Rovaius in frustration and pity. "I'll carry on the dream, Rovaius…for all of us."

 

I hurried for the hill, dashing up the side of it. More Toa and Exo-Toa quickly stumbled upon the terrible scene Rovaius caused and caught Elendra and I fleeing the destruction. It's hard to say what happened next, but I distinctly remember being struck in the back about a dozen times. It didn't hurt at first, but when I realized there were energy bullets in me, a sense of panic set in.

 

"Keep running, Adrinor!" Elendra shouted in desperation.

 

I tried to follow her order, but I fell to the ground in pain, experiencing what felt like dying. Was this the feeling Rovaius felt as the concussive blast overwhelmed him? Elendra kept trying to pull me along, but I couldn't focus long enough to help her.

 

I could hear the faint sound of my heartlight beating, but my body wouldn't respond. The world was flickering between blurry sights and flashes of darkness, and I could feel the rain pouring down on my armor. My mind was slowly shutting down and the pain was starting to fade. For an instant, I thought I glimpsed Trivolox pointing his gunblade at my head. I thought he might finish me off, ignoring how he could possibly remain alive. It hardly seemed to matter at the time. I assumed I was going to perish there, in the rain, with or without some dead Nohtalian's mercy. I couldn't help but think of what Rovaius said the night before. Was my form just a cenotaph to the spirit I left behind in Kinatra? I didn't know. I could hear Boomer the Hapaka barking at Mahi, I could pick up the scent of wild flowers on the ranch, and I could visualize a smiling Torema.

 

"I'm sorry," I whispered weakly to the long-dead Po-Matoran. "I'm so sorry."

 

Torema opened his mouth to reply, but the words were my own. Words I had spoken to the leader of the Toa Iosiden were now coming back to haunt me. "Everything comes with a consequence." He was right. I was right. Everything faded then and the pursuit of my dream appeared to conclude.

 

<<<>>> 

 

My eyes opened slowly, adjusting to the sensation of light pouring in through a nearby window. I was in someone's bed. I immediately sat upright, examining a very quaint looking bedroom. Elendra was propped against the far corner wall, giving me a brief smile. The sunlight brilliantly reflected on her frost and violet armor.

 

"Have you been waiting for me to wake up?" I asked.

 

"It wouldn't be the first time," she replied, walking across the room to me. She placed a hand on my shoulder and quietly added, "I'm glad you're okay, Adrinor."

 

Her smile was genuine, not like the Elendra I knew that hid within herself. I wondered if I was dreaming, creating a curious, unguarded version of the Trelban.

 

"I know we lost them," I began uneasily, "and that's made us vulnerable, because they meant the world to us. I think we need to reassess ourselves. We need to reassess this life."

 

"Come with me," Elendra said. "You should meet the biomech that saved your life."

 

I followed Elendra into the next room, finding an individual leaning back in a chair, very casually at that. Clad in matte black armor mixed with hints of cerulean, he was preoccupied eating one of the fruits I had seen in the grove when I first arrived on Nohtal.

 

"Where am I?" I asked.

 

"Southern Nohtal," the biomech replied, quickly taking another bite. "I imagine you're a little disoriented after everything yesterday, so I can forgive the lack of appreciation for my work."

 

"Oh, yeah…that," I said, glancing down at my armor. Not a scratch on it. I looked back up, into the biomech's soft, teal eyes. "Thanks. How'd you do it?"

 

The biomech snapped his fingers and his hand began to emit a light blue aura. "My kind have innate healing abilities."

 

I searched my memory for anything like what he was referring to. It had been long ago, but I vaguely recalled meeting an entity with such powers on the ranch once. "You're from the eastern chain of the Southern Islands, right?"

 

He nodded. "Yes, I'm a Todrano. My name is Hadliek - League agent at your service."

 

"League agent," I repeated softly. "You work for Pridak?"

 

"Not directly, no. I was with a League recruiting agency based out of Anxious Solitude though. I was assigned to Nohtal to locate and keep tabs on potential League soldiers. Most of these Nohtalians are very peaceful, but every once in a while, I come across one with a temper. That's when I send a report back to Xia and begin pursuing the prospective new hire. We like to be sure that we really know these Nohtalians before putting any jobs on the table. Their range of power is too great to leave something like an unhinged mind to chance. After hearing Elendra's story about what you've been through, however, it looks like I'm out of a job at the moment."

 

"So how is it that Elendra crossed paths with a League recruiter? Do you routinely go for walks in the pouring rain?" I questioned.

 

"Pure chance," Elendra replied, taking a seat next to Hadliek. "He was preoccupied with some target practice when he noticed me half carrying you in the storm."

 

"You were half dragging him too," Hadliek said, taking another bite of his fruit. "Anyway, she realized I wasn't a Nohtalian and I decided to ask what happened to you."

 

"I'm not proud of myself, but I panicked and divulged that we were with the League," Elendra said, releasing a heavy sigh.

 

"And from that moment of weakness, you were brought here. Combined with a little focus on my behalf, I managed to save you."

 

A few days prior, I would've expected Elendra to hold one of her revolvers at someone's face for referencing any of her actions as a "moment of weakness." She was calm. I didn't expect it to last. Three of our closest friends had just died and I think we both needed some time to come to terms with that.

 

"So now we're back to your comment from earlier," Elendra said to me. "With Rovaius, Stalgrax, Trylac, and the League gone, do you still want to keep doing this? Could you carry on with this life after what we've lost?"

 

I stared hard at the floor, pondering what to say. Our lifestyle was a dangerous one and now we were a little more alone in the world. That thought had been haunting me since I watched Stalgrax get killed, but I considered what he would do now if things had been different. It didn't take me long to find my answer as I smiled at Elendra and Hadliek. "I think it would be a terrible dishonor to their memories if we didn't carry on."

 

"Good to hear it," Elendra said eagerly. "Hadliek and I talked it over and we're planning to leave Nohtal in a day or two. A little extra freedom in the world might do us some good."

 

"Yeah, I've never been part of a team like yours, but I'm a decent shot," Hadliek said. "I've also had to take out my fair share of…enemies, I guess you'd call them. Nohtal is surprisingly quite a haven for anti-League entities."

 

I turned to face the door and glanced at Rovaius' gunblade leaning next to it. "I want to do one thing first. And…we'll need a shovel."

 

We cautiously returned to the fortress ruins later that day, scouting the area first for any signs of lingering Toa or Exo-Toa. The site was solemn, empty and quiet. My laser rifle had been left behind, snapped in half and thrown against the outer wall of the fortress. I bent down to study it, well aware it would never fire again. The laser rifle once connected me to my former home on the ranch. With time, it had been at my side during my many adventures with the gang. To see it completely ruined, it felt symbolic of the fact that the life I had known was changing once again. When I left Hadliek's home, I took up the gunblade in memory of my own brothers - Rovaius, Stalgrax, and Trylac. I walked into the crumbling fortress and only took a few steps before coming to an abrupt halt. Rovaius had been lain down on a stone table, his hands placed over his heartlight. I had witnessed something similar before - only Toa were known to honor fallen allies and enemies like that. He was still a sight of wonder as the sun danced upon his ruby and obsidian armor through the holes in the ceiling. I warily approached the Nohtalian's corpse, almost expecting him to wake up and brush off his wounds. That would not be the case.

 

"That's him, huh?" Hadliek asked quietly. He scooped Rovaius up from the table and threw the Nohtalian over his shoulder. "Come on, Adrinor. We still have work to do."

 

The three of us headed north then, planning to recover the remainder of our friends. Despite searching the rest of the day and into the next morning, we never located Trylac's body. It was Elendra's assumption that the enraged Makuta had either blasted him into ashes or the Dectraz was alive out there somewhere, abandoning us for reasons unknown. Once we stumbled upon the pieces of his broken sniper rifle, I didn't have much hope left in her second theory.

 

Our travels eventually brought us back to the proving ground where Trivolox and Stalgrax took their final breath, only to find Stalgrax hadn't been moved an inch from where he dropped. Elendra pulled his corpse—a sturdy body of onyx and topaz left face down in the dust—up over her shoulder and took a long sigh. For all of their previous tension, all those past arguments, it was all utterly pointless now. We didn't exchange any words after that and I wondered what Elendra would've said to Stalgrax if she had one more chance. Then I turned the question back on myself and stared at Rovaius for a while, watching his head shift a bit against Hadliek's shoulder as the Todrano carried him. More than anything, I just wanted to apologize for letting him make the sacrifice.

 

We finally returned to the site where I first located Stalgrax after the airship crash, the site of his original gang's graves. When we arrived, Elendra and I noticed something very interesting.

 

"A third grave," I said flatly.

 

Elendra nodded. "The Toa must've brought Trivolox here, but how would they have known?"

 

"I'm not sure," I replied. "Maybe someone identified him. A Nohtalian perhaps."

 

We took turns digging a pair of graves on the opposite end of Trivolox's, placing Rovaius and Stalgrax inside, and seeing their faces one last time. When we finished burying them and sundown was on the way, the finality of it really hit me. Even alongside Elendra and Hadliek, I felt impossibly alone in that moment.

 

"The infamous Rovaius-Trivolox Gang, together again at last, and eternally," Elendra said. "The League separated them once and ultimately reunited them here on Nohtal."

 

"Yeah," I replied sadly, "it's interesting how that turned out. Some were friends, one was an enemy, and some we never knew at all. They all affected us in some way though."

 

I pulled the gunblade from my back and rested the tip between the graves we'd dug. "I owe you two so much. Thank you for letting my live my dream and…good night."

 

"What happens now?" Hadliek asked Elendra. "Back to business as usual?"

 

"Same business, new faces. That's how this whole thing works," Elendra replied, handing me the shovel.

 

I plunged the object into a fresh patch of grass above the graves and turned back to my companions. Elendra forced a smile to me and Hadliek gave a slightly more awkward version of the same. The three of us walked away from the burial site after that, heading into the sunset as a new team. I was uncertain where life would takes us in this universe without order, but we were prepared to face it together.


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Edited by Cederak, Jan 26 2014 - 01:37 PM.

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#15 Offline Cederak

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Posted Oct 24 2012 - 08:29 AM

"Hold on tight to your dream." -Electric Light Orchestra

 

Episode 15: Cascading Chaos (Epilogue)

 

<<<Pridak: Failure>>>

 

Pridak stared blankly at the far wall of his cell, having sat in a slump for weeks. He ate only enough to survive and sleep never came easily. His waking hours, entire centuries sometimes, were plagued by the memories of his defeat at the hands of a Brotherhood operative, a constant reminder of all that he had lost. He once saw himself as the king of his universe, but that had been a very long time ago. Since that day, Pridak and his fellow Barraki had been joined in the Pit by hundreds of other biomechs, guilty of crimes that paled in comparison to attempting the overthrow of the Great Spirit. The Barraki were respected by their fellow inmates, but the admiration of the universe's scum wasn't satisfying to Pridak at all. He wanted vengeance on Makuta Teridax, he wanted him to die as slowly and painfully as possible. Of the few things Pridak took pleasure in during his time in the Pit, playing out scenarios in his mind of how he'd kill the Makuta was near the top of the list. Pridak was smart enough to know the Makuta had buried the League of Six Kingdoms, but the night Botar arrived on the beach, he suddenly became aware of another player in the universe. There was no mistaking Teridax's shock at the sight of Botar, and the Pit he had delivered the Barraki to was apparently run by an organization to which he belonged. Someone had been watching behind the curtain all along, waiting patiently to ensure the Barraki saw their definition of justice. If he ever escaped, Pridak knew he would have to stay cautious of this phantom faction before ultimately stomping them out.

 

He closed his eyes, too weak to do much else. Pridak knew the jailer didn't like him starving himself and, more than once, one of the Maxilos machines had been used to force the warlord into having a meal. Hydraxon wanted his prisoners kept alive and Pridak could only assume it was his idea of a perfect punishment for biomechs that lived for thousands of years. Compared to spending millennia behind bars, Pridak knew death would be a welcome escape. Takadox had already attempted (on several occasions) to use one of the Maxilos' weapons to swiftly bring his own end, stopped short by Hydraxon. Takadox would sometimes spend a month at a stretch limping around his cell if he chose to move at all, physically reminded that there was no release from the prison. It didn't stop him from vowing to Hydraxon that he would kill him if the chance ever presented itself. The jailer was cruel and possessed no mercy in the face of the crimes he knew the Barraki to be guilty of. Years failed to remove the bitterness the Barraki felt over their defeat in Valantru, and years failed to make Hydraxon any less unforgiving toward them.

 

A low, faint rumble shook Pridak's eyes back open, becoming very alert at once. A patrolling Maxilos halted near his cell, scanning the floor curiously. Pridak stood up, watching many other prisoners in the halls begin to do the same, approaching the bars to their cells. Another rumble came and the lights flickered for a second. Chatter began to erupt from the incarcerated biomechs, everyone uncertain as to what was occurring.

 

"Settle down!" Hydraxon bellowed, his powerful, booming voice echoing through the halls. "The next prisoner I hear talking is getting a visit in their cell!"

 

The Pit went silent and the lights flickered for a few seconds longer. A stronger rumble shook the jail, and the sound of something cracking could be heard. The inmates spoke in hushed whispers, wondering aloud what was going on.

 

"I thought I told you all to shut up!" Hydraxon growled. "A little power failure isn't going to magically open the bars to your cells so I recommend you"-

 

A mighty crash rocked the Pit, working at the dome and tearing into it. Of the prisoners that had been on the business end of a Toa of stone's earthquake, what they were experiencing as the Pit shot up through the universe was exponentially worse. Biomechs went flying around their cells and it felt as though the entire jail would crumble in an instant. The lights went out permanently then, plunging the Pit into darkness. Only the eyes of the prisoners and robots were left glowing in the shadows.

 

Confident that the worst was over, the jailer laughed. "I hope no one is afraid of the dark!"

 

At once, much of the walls and ceiling collapsed, sending in what Pridak knew to be the rushing sound of water. It began to flood the Pit and Pridak could hear screaming coming from the surrounding black of the prison.

 

"Stay out of the water!" someone yelled in a terrified voice. "My arm! It did something to my arm!"

 

As mutation just barely overtook the prisoners before drowning did, the Pit exploded into a chaotic mess, leaving Hydraxon, the Maxilos machines, and their energy hounds to maintain order. Fear had clutched many of the prisoners, but as the water entered his cell, Pridak could only smirk. Whether death or something else was coming to claim him, he was prepared to leave the Pit at last. Mutagenic waves washed over Pridak, allowing him to suddenly breathe as Ehlek did. Pridak felt changed in every part of his body. He wondered how Ehlek was feeling, suddenly unnerved that his strange ally would have the tactical advantage in the sea. That thought quickly passed when he realized that the survival of the Barraki meant the survival of their ideals. Pridak vowed to himself that, one way or another, the League of Six Kingdoms would rise again. None of the Barraki could've imagined their release was unwittingly due to the efforts of the same entity that had bested them so many millennia before.

 

<<<Helryx: Status Report>>>

 

Toa Helryx sat across the table from an Order agent she hadn't spoken with in millennia, still reeling from the stories she'd been told. If she didn't consider the fortress on Daxia to be so secure, she would've stopped the agent from going into detail on certain subjects. As that was far from the case, she listened to his tales and paid attention to every word.

 

"I can tell you've been through a great deal," she said quietly. The dim light of the chamber reflected softly off her deep, sapphire armor. "I can understand how you would've become attached over time."

 

The agent chuckled dryly. "I don't want to confuse my honorable treatment of a corpse with attachment, Helryx. I placed Rovaius' body in the ruined fortress as any of us would've done…as the Great Spirit would've admired."

 

Helryx smiled. "The practice is one Toa abide by, so I respect your decision, Trylac. What about the Trelban and the Meldin? Are you sure they perished as well?"

 

"The rainstorm inhibited my ability to track their scent," Trylac replied, thinking back to that night. He had been shocked awake by a thunderclap and dragged himself through the dark and the mud. His torso was alight with pain, considerably injured by the accuracy-charged energy shot that took him out of the sky. Even sitting in the chamber across from Helryx, Trylac was still rather amazed with himself that he managed to return to Daxia after everything that transpired. "Bear in mind that a Makuta was hunting them. Their survival seems highly unlikely."

 

"You know how this organization feels about loose ends," Helryx said. "I recognize you've been away for over seven thousand years now, and I appreciate the intelligence you've provided, but I need them found."

 

"I know exactly how we feel about loose ends," Trylac replied, smirking a bit. "I have to commend Botar's arrival, mere moments before an execution was performed. Since I've divulged what I know about the Barraki and their now-defunct League, is there any chance I can hear what you knew?"

 

Helryx shot him a grin. "To an extent. We had been aware of the planned gathering on Valantru, it was simply a matter of timing Botar's arrival properly. We anticipated a Brotherhood-led surprise attack would leave the League outmatched and we turned out correct. It's a tragedy that Agent Trivolox was a casualty in all this."

 

"Yes," Trylac replied flatly, "quite unfortunate. He had been warned in the past to abandon his fixation with ending Rovaius, but rather than value his life, he placed himself in the line of danger."

 

"I'm glad I stuck to my decision on never allowing him to take other Order members to join his ranger squadrons, since they so often wound up dead."

 

"Trust me, I had to put several of them down," Trylac replied. "But enough reminiscing. What is my next assignment?"

 

Helryx sighed, leaning forward in her seat. "Well, the universe is still undergoing immense change as the Brotherhood tears down the League's fortresses and other property. We'll be watching them closely, ensuring they return to their Rahi-making tasks once the League has been erased. In the meantime, I want the rest of Rovaius' gang located. When I requested that you get closer to Rovaius to learn more about Pridak's operations, I didn't imagine things would turn out this way. Regardless, if the Meldin and the Trelban survived a Makuta on their trail, they could pose a threat to this organization."

 

"What are you asking me to do then?" Trylac wondered.

 

"They possess substantial information and, under your surveillance, you will protect them on behalf of the Order," Helryx explained. "If Rovaius was the element keeping them together, it may be more challenging to hunt them down, but not impossible. I must ask a question though."

 

"Anything, Helryx," Trylac said coolly.

 

"Could you kill them if you had to?"

 

Trylac nodded slowly. "If I had to. I'm confident they wouldn't stand a chance in combat against me."

 

"Excellent," Helryx said with a smile. "Your next assignment is to locate and monitor the Trelban and the Meldin. No interaction or assistance unless their lives are in danger or they are at risk to expose the truth behind significant League secrets. Like you, they stood in Pridak's presence many times and, no doubt, have pertinent information regarding other League plans for islands all across the universe. We have learned a great deal about the League, but if they reveal too much to anyone, you'll need to step in and prevent that information from falling into the wrong hands. After what the Barraki attempted, I'm sure you can appreciate how dangerous their ideas could be if adopted by like-minded biomechs."

 

"Too true," Trylac said in agreement. "The fewer entities that realize Mata Nui's power is accessible in Metru Nui, the better off our universe is. I'll keep my distance and make certain that they stay quiet, Helryx."

 

"Very well then. Continue to play the role you have for so many years and, as always, you are permitted to kill biomechs if necessary. Your antics have made their way to my audio receptors on occasion, but protecting your cover is imperative. And if you choose to kill the Trelban and Meldin, be discrete. If your conscience gets in the way, this surveillance mission could keep you busy for a while. I imagine you must feel a little attached, right?"

 

Trylac blinked his eyes a few times, shaking his head. "I told you, the gang was a business assignment before and they will be again. I wouldn't mind a bit if I had to kill them tomorrow."

 

Helryx raised an eyebrow, smirking approvingly. "Your duty to this organization remains a top priority, I see. I know I can count on you to do what is necessary."

 

"Of course," Trylac replied, laughing softly. He felt relieved to know Helryx wore a Mask of Psychometry and not a Mask of Truth.

 

<<<Adrinor: Rebirth>>>

 

In the weeks that followed our departure from Nohtal, the universe the Barraki worked to unite managed to quickly fall into disarray. It took them centuries to build their vast kingdoms and less than a month to tear it all down. The League was finished without the warlords, without the consent of the Great Spirit's silent support to justify the worst of their actions. League loyalists were executed all over the world, often times in public procedures. Biomechs were sending a message that to stand by the vanished Barraki meant to stand by death. Countless isles tolerated the armies of the Barraki for thousands of years, but a single Makuta and his legions displaced those armies and made them vulnerable. They were now a threat that local law enforcements could handle and they were handled without remorse.

 

Biomechs started to forget about the League after a while, returning to business as usual. It had been so long since islands were free to govern themselves, but the system returned all the same. Toa went back to defending the innocent and those few entities with a fierce penchant for justice went back to killing for Mata Nui.

 

I later heard a story in Stelt about a land to the far south where a single biomech sent his homeland into upheaval. His conscience was guided by money and he followed the individual offering the most of it. We all have a price, really, and this biomech's self-serving exploits turned an island against itself. More incredible, however, is what he did next and how proud Rovaius would have been to see a dream come to life. The biomech and his ally left their homeland and united numerous criminals under a single creed. Rovaius' dream had come to fruition in the form of an organization operating out of Odina called the Dark Hunters.

 

The world is changing and though this nascent age remains uncertain, I continue to find myself outnumbered at every turn. The Dark Hunters are actively recruiting outlaws and I know self-employed renegades like myself will not exist forever. The Brotherhood remains under the directive of Miserix and, with enough soldiers at his disposal to bring down six warlords, he clearly has the ability to kill a few biomech outlaws if he wanted. I am a dying breed with too many adversaries, but as a very intelligent Dectraz once said: if you are patient, time will destroy all your enemies. Elendra, Hadliek, Kyrhus, and I have evaded the Brotherhood, Toa, and the call of the Hunters as we traveled the world. And on one particular morning, we stopped just south of a quiet little town to make some quick money.

 

The wispy, crimson and cerulean skies were painted to greet a bright tangerine sunrise, and it was a warm welcome as we rode across the plains. Fortunately for us, we had encountered a Matoran who raised rather large Dikapi and we convinced him to let us borrow a few. The Rahi were incredible runners and, if nothing else, very well-behaved. We rode them down into a small valley and tied them up, heading on our way by foot from there.

 

I put my gunblade over my shoulder and glanced at Kyrhus. "I know how you like to run your mouth, but I'll handle this one."

 

Kyrhus gave me a stare that told me he was surrendering. He was a platinum-armored male Gekalan that often wore his emotions right on his face. "Go ahead," he sighed, "I'm a little tired anyway."

 

My three companions followed me to the doorway of a small building, waiting for me to open the door. I turned the handle and gently pushed, catching sight of a Matoran behind the desk on the other side of the room.

 

The Le-Matoran behind the desk smiled at us as we walked inside his office, watching Hadliek carefully shut the door. "Welcome to the Torema Mahi Ranch. How can I help you?"

 

We loaded our weapons and pointed them at the Le-Matoran, eyeing him closely as I stepped up to the desk.

 

"There's a lot of Mahi out in those fields," I said, smiling. "Two horns to every head, if I'm not mistaken. It doesn't take a scholar to see that you're making a decent amount of money off of those Rahi."

 

It's going to be an interesting day.


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Edited by Cederak, Jan 26 2014 - 01:40 PM.

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