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The Lone And Level Sands

A Tale of Terra Nui Terra Nui Ballom Shakaz Sharaku

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#1 Online Ballom

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Posted Jun 22 2012 - 07:52 PM

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A Tale of Terra Nui


I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

— Percy Bysshe Shelley


Of Shakaz and the Sharaku


From the beginning of the universe, there was Shakaz. A sister island to Zakaz, in a dome beside that of its sibling. And while Zakaz was once a lush and fertile land, the expanses of Shakaz were always desert, dotted by oases. Yet, to its natives, Shakaz was always a paradise.

It was Shakaz, home of two races similar to the Skakdi — the Torika and the Sharaku. These races were related as the Matoran are to the Toa, for Torika hold the potential to transform into Sharaku. But unlike the Matoran and Toa, the small Torika and the powerful Sharaku lived, fought, and loved together, as equals, for millennia.

But, as Makuta Spiriah and his monstrous experiments reigned on Zakaz, so did a Makuta finally descend to rule Shakaz — a fiend known only as the Dark Lord. The Dark Lord enslaved the inhabitants of Shakaz. He forced the Sharaku to serve as soldiers to the Brotherhood, for the Sharaku already possessed varied powers, including those of the elements. Bleak fortresses dotted the land, and Shakaz had its own Dark Time.

The Dark Lord, in his mad dreams of glory, soon left Shakaz, taking with him seven mighty, elite Sharaku, warped by his darkness. They were accompanied by their personal Torika servants — Hanak, Zanta, Thukor, Rieka, Kavan, and Vukaz. The Dark Lord came to the isle of Terra Nui, and waged war upon it. He sought the great Kanohi Zlinj, Mask of Nature. Yet the strength of Terra Nui’s eight Toa, aided by the rebellious Torika and the Zlinj itself, destroyed the Dark Lord and his servants, and the invaders’ fortress on Terra Nui sank below the waves.

And so, the six Torika came to live on Terra Nui, in the village of Terra-Koro. Soon, the Toa Terra and Terra-Koro’s Turaga Akito departed for the isle of Kemet Nui, to visit its elder, a member of Akito’s old Toa team. On their journey, they were first shipwrecked on Punt Nui, where they fought the foul Atukam Aso and the twisted Toa Ballom. Then, on Kemet Nui, the group faced both Aso and her mate Apep, the Scourge of Kemet Nui. Combined with the Toa Septiu of Kemet Nui, the Toa Terra confronted these Atukam, and the demonic hordes of Betshu, in a mighty battle.

On Terra Nui, as the Torika guarded it in the stead of the Toa Terra, strange beings called the Quntaino were unleashed on the island. Led by the being Argantaros, they sought mysterious ends on Terra Nui. In time, during their conflict with the Quntaino, the unusual energies of a cavern on the frozen Mount Tongaru transformed the six Torika into Sharaku. With their new strength, they were ultimately able to resolve the crisis of the Quntaino.

When the Toa Terra returned to Terra Nui, the six new Sharaku then departed their second home. They bought transport from the infamous Skakdi bounty hunter Chazok, and set a course back to Shakaz, for, although the Dark Lord was dead, the six Sharaku knew their home still suffered from the blight of the Brotherhood’s forces . . .


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Edited by Ballom, Jul 24 2014 - 01:00 AM.

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#2 Online Ballom

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Posted Jun 27 2012 - 12:29 PM

Chapter One


Sharaku Hanak would typically and accurately describe himself as having more patience than the average fire element user, especially when compared to beings of such legendary temper as Toa Tahu. Hanak’s power of self-acceleration also went further in the opposite direction, allowing him greatly extended periods of time to think and analyze situations dispassionately, and keep a cool head. Thus, it was with a certain degree of astonishment that the crimson-armored Sharaku found his anger easily being aroused by another being of his own species, the warlord Rhakjasp.

Admittedly, since Hanak and his five companions had returned to their home island of Shakaz several weeks ago the times had been taxing. While they had first been filled with somewhat naïve hopes on instantly affecting change on their troubled isle, these had rapidly been altered in the face of harsh realities. The strong presence of the Brotherhood of Makuta, while diminished from the level of draconian control instilled during the Dark Lord’s reign, nevertheless still exerted a powerful chilling effect, even though Hanak and his group had not yet directly seen its agents. Shakaz’s varying seven tribes were, as a result, even more disorganized and sundered, clinging to themselves closely and not interacting much with each other. Instead of actively confronting the evil, each tribe drew closer into itself, becoming entrenched in its surroundings, and relying on complicated systems of intrigue to protect the resident warlords.

Thus, before his team’s attempts to help began, Hanak was already a world apart from every group, including his own tribe from which he was estranged when he became Argarak’s personal servant — the Lauxak. His former contacts, both Sharaku and Torika, had vanished into the dry sands of Shakaz, leaving Hanak, Zanta, Rieka, Thukor, Kavan, and Vukaz to spread apart in an effort to seek audience with the Lauxak leader. Several weeks of secret conversations with island inhabitants over drinks, vendor carts, and other varied locations eventually led to Hanak being ushered into a small stone fortress carved into a canyon wall.

In the central chamber, with its slick obsidian walls draped in representations of the legends of Shakaz, Hanak found himself before the Lauxak chieftain himself, Rhakjasp. A different leader than Hanak remembered from his earlier days on Shakaz, Rhakjasp was an aged, dark brown Sharaku in similarly pigmented armor imbued with violet highlights, whose seemingly average height slouched low in an ornate chair of volcanic glass, most likely a relic of the Makuta. The Sharaku warlord did not seem particularly concerned with his appearance during the meeting, as he sprawled across his seat and casually sipped Bula wine from a large chalice.

Much time had passed since Hanak’s audience with Rhakjasp had begun, and yet, frustratingly, the discussion was leading nowhere. Each time he attempted to explain why he needed the action of the Lauxak to spur rebellion into gear, Rhakjasp would inevitably launch into some tangent, or interrupt Hanak by ordering a Torika to bring him another glass of wine. And, as the minutes went by, the attention of the tribal leader appeared to wane more and more as his speech slurred and he slouched lower into his seat.

“And so, my Lord,” Hanak began again, with as much respect as he could muster for the clearly inebriated personage, “as I have said before, you and your tribe must take up arms against the forces of the Brotherhood of Makuta. Their presence on this island will only continue to damage your tribe. You have seen how they act as if this island were theirs, as they desecrate the places once considered most sacred, how they take Torika to force them to become their slaves, how —”

Rhakjasp dismissed this with a wave of a gnarled hand, as he shifted his body to rest his clawed boots up on the heavy wooden table between him and Hanak. This uncoordinated action caused him to spill some of the wine from the vessel in his other hand, which splashed onto the stone floor.

“Harik, my lad,” the Lauxak leader started, fixing Hanak intently with his emerald eyes. Beneath horned brows, the gaze was clear and surprisingly unaffected by the large quantity of drink he had consumed.

“That’s Hanak, my Lord,” Hanak corrected.

The other Sharaku waved his hand again. “Yes, good. Harik, are you familiar with the legend of the creation of our people?”

“As I answered before when you asked me that, Sire, I am indeed. Now if I might direct your attention back to the issue of . . .”

“Tell it to me then,” Rhakjasp commanded imperiously, taking a sip of wine. “A fine year,” he murmured happily under his breath.

Inwardly sighing at the current whim of the chieftain, Hanak gestured at the rich tapestry adjacent to him, which depicted the story he was reciting. “Eons ago, the being Azhklart was a mighty warrior, a colossus whose spines pierced the heavens and whose rainbow scales brilliantly reflected the rays of the sun.” The crimson-armored Sharaku’s voice was perfectly steady as he recited a tale he had heard countless times as a young Torika.

“Azhklart wandered the universe for a home, until he came upon Shakaz. No other sapient beings lived here, yet Azhklart made the island his. The great one dwelled on Shakaz for a great length, only departing to try his strength against other powerful beings. However, none were able to defeat him. In rage, a few of these craftily turned to the weapon of poison, inflicting Azhklart with a fatal toxin. Unwilling to give his enemies their triumph, before the poison could spread, he dissolved his body. From every rainbow-colored scale, it is said, formed one of our people, either Sharaku or Torika, each imbued with a degree of Azhklart’s myriad powers,” Hanak finished, eyeing Rhakjasp’s response. Interestingly, as Hanak concluded the narrative, the elder Sharaku nodded slightly, and a trace of a smile crossed his weathered lips.

“Yes, quite. As you can see, the lesson is that, in times of crisis we Sharaku can . . . adapt,” Rhakjasp said, talking slowly for both emphasis and to keep his words straight. “We vanish into the sand, disperse, and . . . well, nothing can catch us.”

Despite the conversation turning more toward the direction he wanted, Hanak could feel his ire rising again at the Lauxak warlord’s laxity. “The lesson,” Hanak responded angrily, “is that when together, our species forms a force that the universe trembles before. That is why the Brotherhood tries so hard to scatter us, why the Dark Lord kept our tribes carefully apart. We were great. It is time to be great again — but you cannot remain here hiding in your fortress like a fool, drinking yourself blind!”

Hanak took a deep, calming breath, focusing himself for what he knew would soon ensue. “Unfortunately, you seem unwilling to hear my pleas. You leave me only one alternative.” With an exaggerated motion that even the inebriated chieftain could not miss the significance of, he held up a single arm, and released his weapon stored within the plates of armor. A sparking blade of crimson flame slid forth from the ruby vambrace, parallel to Hanak’s forearm. The folded protosteel glittered in its bath of fire.

“Sharaku Lord Rhakjasp of the Lauxak, I, Hanak, challenge you to combat by unsheathing my weapon in your presence,” Hanak intoned, bringing out the hidden blade by his other arm, and raising both into an x-shaped salute.

However, the reserve of confidence which Rhakjasp’s seeming drunkenness had lent Hanak quickly vanished as the Sharaku warlord’s act faded. Contrary to the convincing effect he had given, Rhakjasp was fully sober and alert. He immediately displayed this alarming fact as he used the sharp claws on his boots to nimbly leap onto the top of the table, belying both age and alcohol.

“Excellent choice, Hanak!” Rhakjasp said with a toothy smile, several gold fangs glimmering in the light of his challenger’s blades. “I was beginning to wonder when you would make the intelligent move.” Even as he finished talking, he threw the weighty chalice at Hanak, brought a long dagger out of the folds of his indigo robe with his other hand, and stabbed forward at Hanak’s face.

Hanak immediately threw himself blindly to the right to avoid the blow, swinging a sword at the closest table legs as he did. The burning edge easily sliced through both legs it touched, collapsing the furniture and forcing Rhakjasp to jump down onto the stone floor. As Hanak landed heavily on one side, he blasted a fiery shot to stop the advance of the older Sharaku. Realizing his dangerous position, Hanak quickly self-accelerated to dash to his feet and take some measure of cover by placing the obsidian throne and burning table wreck between him and his opponent.

Rhakjasp appeared not to mind this escape, instead backing up to near the entrance to the audience chamber and pressing a button recessed in the wall. Before Hanak’s astonished eyes, the obsidian throne exploded into a thousand razor shards. His power activated instantly in response to the threat, giving him time to blast the deadly shrapnel with a blast of intense fire. Only milliseconds before the obsidian cut him to pieces, Hanak reduced the remains of the throne to melted amorphous globules. Although the sizzling wave burnt badly, Hanak was thankful his ability had saved him from a far worse fate.

In the brief second Hanak took to recover after his narrow escape, the Lauxak chieftain, still undeterred, threw his dagger toward Hanak’s torso. Unable to fully stop the keen missile fully in its flight, Hanak used the last reserves of his acceleration. Before him, the dagger’s flight reduced to a crawl, and he swung a blade into its path to sever the tapered tip. Thus unbalanced in midair, the throwing knife’s level path deteriorated into a wobbly spin, crashing it to the floor on Hanak’s right. Tired and burnt, the crimson-armored Sharaku rose to his full height, and pointed both a finger and a sword tip at Rhakjasp.

“Very impressive, Sire,” Hanak spoke with a calmness he did not entirely feel, “but I ask that you now yield, for you have no weapon.”

Rhakjasp grinned at Hanak, clearly enjoying the duel that had unfolded. “You of all Sharaku should not assume one has no weapon.”

The warlord lunged at Hanak, a thickly gauntleted forearm outstretched. Hanak parried the blow with a sword, but instead of slicing into the armor the firesword clashed heavily against protosteel as thick as its blade. Rhakjasp quickly followed it with a clout from his other arm, commencing a furious hand-to-hand contest. As the elder Sharaku tried to club his challenger with his weighty armor, Hanak sought to use his blades to turn the tide to his advantage. His ability to accelerate himself weakened through overuse, the crimson-armored Sharaku gave himself to pure reaction, blocking and countering.

Locked in combat, the two figures of ruby and mahogany traversed the ruined throne room, trading blow for blow, Rhakjasp agilely keeping up an offense against Hanak’s superior range. Sparks were rent from the strikes of the deadly dance of fine Shakaz protosteel against the gleaming Terra Nui Ore, combatants fighting with strike, parry, thrust, counter, feint, parry, block . . .

A block an instant too late.

A firesword’s singeing edge brought to bear into Rhakjasp’s gauntlet moving to deflect it. Straps of leather and ore shattered, as the vambrace was rent with a massive gouge, falling from a forearm laid open to biomechanical bone. With a howl, the Lauxak lord leaped backward startlingly fast, faster than Hanak’s eye could track. He cradled the injury with his other arm, and met his defeater’s gaze with new respect.

“I have not been bested in centuries,” Rhakjasp growled, flexing the clawed digits of his wounded limb. “But my skills have dulled. It is right that you take my leadership from me.”

Hanak smiled both in amusement at Rhakjasp and relief at the end of the exhausting confrontation. “Sire, I do not seek to take your place. I only ask that you and our people join me in restoring our island. Will you, Rhakjasp?”

Before the chieftain could nod his assent, the stone floor beside Hanak crumbled and churned, to spew forth his comrade Rieka, who blinked her deep green eyes rapidly to adjust to the contrast of the torch-lit room against subterranean dark. She then shifted her lighter weight into another battle stance, earth tridents bristling. On Hanak’s other side, a glowing circular portal parted the air, depositing Kavan and Thukor, whose weapons were similarly extended.

“No, no, I’m fine.” Hanak waved his arms, amused at the reinforcement his friends had just provided. “Don’t be alarmed, but I had an . . . emergency plan if things had gone downhill.”

The leathered lips of Rhakjasp once more formed a reptilian smile. “But of course. I held one myself, although regrettably my pretty chair did little. You’re a Sharaku after my own heart, Hanak. I will gladly pledge our tribe to your goal.” This proclamation was embellished with a half-bow and a flourish of the cape burned to tatters from their duel.

“Thank you, sir,” Thukor responded, breaking into his perpetual happy grin. “I knew you’d come around. By the way, allow me to attend to that arm.” The white-armored Sharaku stepped up to Rhakjasp, and took the elder’s cut forearm in a strong grasp. Beneath his hands, the forearm sealed shut, flesh and metal regenerating.

Appreciatively nodding at the service, the newly whole Lauxak walked over to his abandoned chalice, freeing it from its pile of ash and earth. “I venture that this may call for more wine,” the connoisseur declared.


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Edited by Ballom, Jul 24 2014 - 01:00 AM.

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#3 Online Ballom

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Posted Jul 02 2012 - 07:12 PM

Chapter Two


As The Inferno floated aimlessly over the open liquid protodermis seas, the Skakdi bounty hunter Chazok sat back in his ship’s cargo hold and calmly looked down the barrel of a gun, contemplating the universe. The weapon in his hand, a dart gun to be precise, was a wonder of engineering — his own design, naturally — a compact matte black device with a long, reed-like barrel and a short clip of additional ammunition protruding in front of the trigger. Chazok turned his gauntleted hand to and fro, playing with the reflections the ambient light cast on the glossy barrel and stock.

Certainly a curious thing, the way a weapon worked. True, it may be a marvel of engineering, a perfect tool of destruction, hidden life able to cast forth gruesome death. And it may perform this job flawlessly, year after year, time after time . . . but it still remained a tool, and just that. If no one were there to pull the trigger, to reload it, it would become nothing more than a shiny bauble, its lethal potential useless while it would gather dust. A million of this weapon would only change the universe if they were held by a million hands, for without an arm to use it the tool is . . . nothing.

And, in essence, was that not unlike Chazok himself? The troubled bounty hunter continued to absent-mindedly manipulate the gun, disassembling portions to rub off miniscule flecks of grime, reassembling with the ease of years of practice and familiarity. So often had he used the dart gun and its pistol brethren that it seemed but an extension of his own body. Perhaps he had fallen victim of the reverse, becoming an extension of the weapon . . .

For after years of fulfilling various bounties, by degrees Chazok has slowly grown weary of the manner in which his trade went by. Various warlords, powerful leaders, and others who wished to have the handy service of removing a troublesome thorn of a being always acted the same way — a certain degree of respect, yes, but mostly indifference to the being performing their difficult task. Upon succeeding (and occasionally not, he admitted with honesty), the bounty hunter too was met with the same distance, treated as a mere tool. When he wasn’t betrayed by the scum employer, of course. That happily did not often ruin his day.

Not that Chazok minded the lack of association initially, of course. For centuries he was caught up in the interest of pursuing his projects for their own sake, creating new weapons, devices, technology . . . much like what he still toyed with in his hand. These objects lined the compartments of The Inferno, a testament to his creativity. But, as time dragged by, as his only companion in the mechanical being he called Iron Knight was killed, as silence set in over his ship, Chazok felt the gnawing of loneliness. Ironically, a twist that he bitterly chuckled about, his fearsome reputation advanced this. When he entered even a remote bar for a drink, the other patrons would slowly leave the establishment, worried about shortly finding a Kemet Nui blaster pointed their way because of previous mistakes.

Reflecting in his chair, the albino Skakdi set down the dart gun and drummed his clawed fingers rhythmically on a plate of protosteel which commonly served as a construction table, as his musing continued. Was he truly seeking companionship, understanding? No . . . he did not really care about the loneliness, having known solitude on Zakaz for just as many centuries. It was something else . . .

Deep in the belly of The Inferno, the bounty hunter acknowledged the truth — he felt mortal.

Not the fear of death or of physical frailty, as his metal bones were as durable as ever, and his armor plating was a nigh-impenetrable defense. The fear was simply of leaving nothing behind — an odd ship and a cargo of exotic weapons, but little else.

Those six Sharaku he had transported from Terra Nui, they had the right idea — doubtless going to attempt an improvement of their wretched homeland. Something which, although foolish, could leave them with a great legacy — if they succeeded. If. Nevertheless, Shakaz itself could use their help, for it had been reduced to a heap as miserable as its sister island of Zakaz. That place was still locked in the throes of what that blithering Reidak had started millennia ago.

As the minutes passed, and the toying with the dart gun ceased, seeds of an idea slowly grew, as The Inferno drifted like its master’s thoughts.


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Edited by Ballom, Jun 10 2014 - 12:23 PM.

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#4 Online Ballom

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Posted Jul 07 2012 - 01:02 PM

Chapter Three


The rustling desert sands of Shakaz were both familiar and unsettling. As Zanta’s emerald legs crunched through the almost liquid grains, his eyes wandered, past the vegetation of his immediate surroundings to the sharp horizon. There, deep in the desert, howling winds swirled into vague forms, twisters drifting across seas of sand, expelling a pervasive powder that hung lazily in the air. Even far out to sea in the dome, the shroud of dust and sand could still be seen cloaking Shakaz. The persistent sounds of the sand were always present, a far cry from the peaceful cries of native wildlife in the wilderness of Terra Nui.

For Zanta, returning to his old home was also an odd relief. Despite the strangeness it may have had, when he stood still and closed his eyes, as he had just done, breathed in the crisp air, laden with the scent of the desert, and felt both sun and sand caress him, he was at peace. He admitted to himself how, despite the tropical beauty of Terra Nui or other domes, Shakaz always managed to pull its children back toward it eventually . . . Except those taken by the Brotherhood, Zanta remembered, a sobering reminder of why he and Vukaz were even in their current location. He opened his eyes, brushed a few stray grains of sand from his armor, and turned away from the desert, back toward the cluster of dwellings within the oasis, a varied assortment of edifices which generated the appearance of being hastily pitched, despite their structural strength. Vukaz stood near the closest, casually leaning back against its protodermis wall. His cobalt armor shone, warm from the heat, and Vukaz’s eyes hinted at the pleasure he too was experiencing from basking in the sun. He shifted slightly and gave an acknowledging nod as Zanta approached and stopped in the shade of a leafy palm.

“So, the Degu finally crawled back into the shade, did he?” Vukaz teased playfully.

“I was growing a bit too warm, yes. Terra Nui is far more temperate,” Zanta admitted, “But I came mostly because I felt the familiar tremors Rieka makes. Are they back?”

“Oh, you’re getting good at telling that. You’ll have to teach me how sometime. Well, Hanak and the rest are inside; c’mon.” Vukaz pushed himself away from the wall and gestured toward the carved door of the abode. “But be respectful, we have a distinguished guest.”

Zanta’s eyes widened with the implication of this sentence, but he merely nodded as Vukaz opened the door, and the two entered into the cool interior of the building. Once their vision adjusted to the dimness, the two could discern Hanak, Thukor, Kavan, and Rieka seated in a semicircle around an oblong obsidian table, deep in conversation with the final Sharaku present. This could only be the chieftain Rhakjasp Hanak had met with, who, free of his pretense of drunkenness, held himself with an air of great self-assurance, the likes of which Zanta had seen only in the mighty Zakarath. As they entered, conversation paused, and Rhakjasp turned toward the door, casting piercing glances at Zanta and Vukaz in turn.

“I am Vukaz, and this is Zanta, my lord,” Vukaz said, as he came up to the table and took a seat, with Zanta following suit after him.

“You are not Lauxak,” Rhakjasp noted.

Prepared for such a topic, Zanta responded for the two. “We do not know, having been taken as slaves by the Dark Lord as such young Torika. However, I would be pleased if I were in fact a member of your honored tribe,” he added diplomatically.

“As would we all. But, to return to our discussion earlier,” Kavan redirected, “have you any knowledge of where the Brotherhood keeps its new headquarters here?”

“Yes and no,” Rhakjasp replied. “You may recall how in older times the Brotherhood brethren had various small fortresses spread across the land. These included small areas such as where I had been residing during our skirmish earlier, as well as the primary fortress, once situated near the edge of the desert sea, toward the coast. It was seemingly permanent, being of the imposing size I’m sure you were all aware of, having a heavy gate at the entrance, and so forth. Regardless, you may have noticed that these minor locations, these smaller domains, were all abandoned after the death of their cursed Makuta leader.”

Even decades after the departure of the Dark Lord from Shakaz, the Lauxak chieftain’s disdain for the Makuta was still such that he automatically twisted his neck and spat into an empty corner of the hut with contempt, as if his scorn could still harm the long-deceased tyrant. The quick mutter of “May his bones bleach forever” could briefly be heard from his lips as Rhakjasp turned back to his audience. His voice grew contemplative as he steepled his fingers, his troubled jade eyes reflecting the dark visions in his mind’s eye.

“When the various minions of the Makuta left their scattered minor strongholds, we held some hope that, leaderless, they might depart our island. We watched secretly as these groups all entered the central stronghold. For days not a single being left — and then one day, we found that the fortress had vanished. Vanished! The sands it had rested upon for hundreds of years were smooth as the rest of the sandy sea.”

“Perhaps it had some mechanism for digging beneath the ground,” Thukor guessed.

“Aye,” Rhakjasp said. “And we thought that perhaps it could only move up and down in the earth . . . until the night when it reappeared, across the sea of sand, emerging from the ground beside a sleeping camp of our nomad brethren. All too quickly, the Sharaku there awoke to discover the attack by the forces of the Brotherhood, who succeeded in taking away numerous Torika, many of which had shown much promise in developing unique abilities. They fought back, yes, but the Brotherhood’s agents were able to craftily sneak away, their mobile fortress again lost in the sands.”

“Thenceforth, we have been afraid for the continuance of our species; for we know that every Torika the Makuta take is forced into hurried development, to become a Sharaku pawn for the wars of the Brotherhood. We cannot survive this continuing, and each tribe has hidden itself into crevasses of our island, or the abandoned minor bases, or oases where the flowing water halts the approach of that cursed fortress.”

Hanak nodded. “So, this fortress would clearly be the goal of any attack, given that it holds practically the entire Brotherhood force here.”

“Aye. But in the nearly bottomless chasms of sand to which it can disappear, this fortress is very difficult to track,” Rhakjasp interjected.

Rieka, who had heretofore been listening quietly, spoke up. “With my abilities of tunneling, I should be able to search the sandy regions in which it may be hiding. I can move very quickly, and when moving the fortress should make unmistakable vibrations beneath the surface.”

Rhakjasp nodded approvingly. “Such a power as you have has not been seen among our tribes in many years. Your tracking would prove most useful.”

“Then perhaps this should be our immediate priority,” Zanta remarked.

“I would expect that if any movement of the mobile fortress is done, it will be under the cover of night,” Thukor mused. “Perhaps you should scout then.”

“There’s little more we can do in the meantime,” Vukaz said, with a trace of regret.

Rhakjasp shook his head wearily. “You forget, Vukaz, that we have been the prey of the Makuta for generations upon generations. Mere days will not matter.”

“We needn’t be,” Hanak said heatedly. “I hadn’t realized how terrible the situation was. Although I realize the importance of care, we mustn’t delay any more than is necessary.”

Zanta noticed the expression on his Hanak’s face. Although he outwardly would appear calm to most beings, Zanta knew from subtle changes that his friend was inwardly repulsed by the cold-hearted machinations of the Brotherhood. “Don’t worry, Hanak,” he said, clapping him on the back.

Hanak look up at Zanta, and his pale green eyes softened. “Thanks, Zanta.”

“By the way, sir,” Vukaz queried of Rhakjasp, “May I ask what made you change your mind about joining us?”

Rhakjasp stared at his aged hands for a moment before answering. “Well, Hanak’s energy showed me once again how we may again become beings of action. Also, well . . . here on Shakaz, we Sharaku will always say ritualistic curses after speaking of this dome’s late Makuta. Perhaps you have seen this, perhaps not. His name is little spoken now anyway. One of these curses was ‘May he die a thousand deaths!’ Thanks in part to you, he has. We owe you all, and fighting our collective enemies is good payment.” An acerbic smirk marked his face, and he spat into the corner once more. Vukaz thanked him for the response, and the five other Sharaku each slowly nodded.

Sensing that the group conversation was largely over, Rhakjasp stood up, and gathered his cape about him, newly replaced after his bout with Hanak. “Now, lad. If this is concluded, perhaps I can advance our schedule by showing you what weapons and equipment we Lauxak have remaining?”

This brought a smile to Hanak’s face, which was almost predatory. His smile, Zanta thought, It has a trace of Argentaros, remembering the fierce toothy grin the victorious Quntaino had once worn. In that case, I’d hate to be the Makuta when he gets to them.


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Edited by Ballom, Jul 24 2014 - 01:01 AM.

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#5 Online Ballom

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Posted Jul 14 2012 - 03:45 PM

Chapter Four


After the most recent millennia of warfare, Zakaz had changed. A simple glance could tell a being this — while before it had been almost barren save for dilapidated fortresses of stone, and ruins of older ones which crumbled across the landscape, it was now showing signs of more advanced ages, with protosteel buildings creeping across the land. These new complexes, squat facilities which were erected as low, sturdy structures to resist attack, represented a trace of progress in their corrugated metal roofs. The piles of ruins, which once occupied all of the rest of the land, had now largely vanished, and the Nektann defense towers no longer stood above the rest of the landscape.

But, if more than a simple glance were given to the island, one would see more — see the myriad sunken turrets which had succeeded the Nektann towers raining fire even deep into the night, see the fields of mines and entrenched guards between the two large sections of the island, see the traces of bodies which were never retrieved from combat, bones of both of Skakdi and their mighty Tahtorak, see the acrid smoke ever wafting from fires never extinguished — and hear the undying scream of an island wracked by endless war.

Chazok had seen much death in his existence, some of it by his own hand. But when he killed, it was a result of the almost surgical precision of his instruments. Exact and short — delivered to beings who tended to deserve it. Admittedly, Chazok was no saint, being hired by numerous clients of ill repute, who more often than not ended up as targets later on. He had even worked for the Makuta before — but never again. Never. Still, if he were to have to answer to a higher power, such as Mata Nui, whom the Matoran think so highly of, he would still have much to account for. Yet even he, agent of death, was still disgusted by the war on his homeland. Mindless war, without any purpose other than greed — the bounty hunter shook off these thoughts with an effort. He needed concentration now.

From his position in the transparent cockpit dome, Chazok broke out of his reflections to engage the manual controls of his vessel, interrupting its previous path of skimming over the night-dark waters. Under its master’s careful touch, The Inferno lifted higher above the sea, soon traveling over the vague wastes between the shadowy fortresses of the two main warring factions, then coming into a slow rest on the shores of the island’s lake, whose glassy and surprisingly pristine waters rippled beneath the pulse of engines. Letting The Inferno idle for a few moments, Chazok entered a simple course that led to the center of the lake, then slid down the ladder out of the cockpit, collecting a cloak from a compartment before exiting. Once outside of the craft, he triggered the programmed course remotely from his helmet’s computer system. The Inferno glided off into the night, and the bounty hunter was once more on the shores of Zakaz for the first time in centuries. He wrapped himself in the dark cloak he had brought, hiding his bright white flight suit beneath its inky cloth, and set out toward his destination.
 

------


The early hours of the morning, when Chazok finally reached the structure, found the old, rundown Zakazian bar The Thirsty Dagger Plant exactly as he remembered, unlike its overall island. This ancient tavern, although relocated into one of the newer protosteel edifices, was still constructed from its original components of organics, faded wood lining its walls, with tables and booths fashioned from the ivory vertebrae and ribs of Tahtorak forming a sharp contrast to the shining corridors of the underground bunker it was a part of. Taking this in at a glance, Chazok soon stopped at the entrance, before the surprisingly lucid glance of a Skakdi guard who only appeared half-drunk, despite the hour.

“I’m here to see the barkeep,” Chazok told the bouncer, with a clipped smile flashed behind the shadows of his raised cowl.

Grunting indifferently, the fine specimen raised his gaze to look searchingly up and down Chazok’s frame. Finding no obvious enough weapons with his evident power of X-ray vision, the Skakdi jerked a scarred thumb toward the bar’s interior. Chazok nodded, entering the establishment. Navigating the closely-packed tables, still partly filled with nightly clientele in various stages of drunken stupors, he found his way over to the wide panel of the counter. The bartender being absent, Chazok rapped a knuckle on the counter and sat back in one of the carved chairs.

A moment later, an old, orange Skakdi lined with tattoos materialized behind the counter, blearily clawing at his half-open eyes. “Y’eh, whadd’l i’ be?” he asked, spitting into a dirty mug in a cursory cleaning attempt.

Chazok drew back his cowl, while also triggering the darkest tinting setting on his eyepieces. Met with the sight of the gaunt, helmeted face and its smoky black eyepieces, the aged bartender instantly stopped his charade.

“My, Master Chazok. What a surprise,” he said, surprised and suddenly awake. “The usual, I suppose.” Chazok inclined his head, while examining his sharp nails casually. Presently, as the immaculate glass before him filled with its proper concoction of vaporous reds and yellows, he ceased examining his digits to sip at the beverage.

“Ah,” Chazok said after his first drink, “my, how I have missed these. One of the few truly good things this wretched hole has to offer — at the moment.” He cradled the glass in his palm, watching the colored patterns of liquor.

“Mind you,” he added pointedly, “I also came for my other usual.”

The bartender nodded knowingly, and leaned in conspiratorially. “What do you need to know this time?”

“Oh, let’s start with pleasantries. How’s business, how are the children, how are the recent brutal massacres . . . you know, that sort of thing.”

This sarcasm provoked a barking chuckle from the other Skakdi, whose only offspring had gone to fight for the other faction millennia ago, near the dawn of the struggle. “Business is good as always. I can always pick the pockets of the fools who collapse here. They don’t care as long as I give ‘em their drinks. Mainly want the cheap stuff . . . to forget, mostly. War’s good for us,” he remarked, sounding only half convinced of his argument. Through the smoky haze of The Thirsty Dagger Plant, an inscrutable expression crossed his worn face, only for a moment. Then, the calm poker face of his job again covered the emotion.

“Hasn’t gone too well recently. We had an attack few months back . . . couple of ours tried to breach their defenses. None came back. Little else’s happened since you were last here on bounty.” He rubbed his chin. “Tell me, Chazok, why did you come back?”

The bounty hunter beckoned for the bartender to lean in further, and whispered for a moment. When he was finished, he sat back in the chair, and sipped at the drink thoughtfully. Across the bar, the other Skakdi stared at Chazok’s tinted lenses for a long moment. Finally, he answered.

“Yes, I’ll tell him that.”

Chazok drained the drink and reached into an inner pocket, removing a small, exquisitely cut azure jewel which he dropped into the empty glass. “Thank you, friend.”

He raised the cowl again, departing from The Thirsty Dagger Plant to finish his remaining missions in the dry Zakazian night.


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Edited by Ballom, Aug 10 2014 - 11:12 AM.

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#6 Online Ballom

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Posted Jul 19 2012 - 06:12 PM

Chapter Five


The tides of sand closed around Rieka as she burrowed beneath the deep dunes of the desert, their cool flow pressing against her body comfortingly. Here, underneath the surface, the unique scent of the region was far stronger than on a surface, a mix of mineral and dried organic materials that, while not the moist smell of Terra Nui loam, nevertheless told her that she too was once again home in the depths of the earth. And, though she lacked the refined abilities of the Toa Terra Pacha’s Kanohi Ijuta, Great Mask of Tectonics, Rieka could still sense much around her as her ebony form tunneled to and fro in the sand.

Although she had begun her subterranean search early in the day following the discussion in Rhakjasp’s hut, there was much area to cover in the kio-deep crevasses in the island that the sands of Shakaz covered, and many hours had already worn on with no results. Her surroundings seemed unusually silent, Shakaz not having any significant desert-dwelling creatures comparable to the Collosorahk she had grown accustomed to hearing churning around her in both Terra Nui’s arid Pehku Desert and its fertile plains. The few Rahi she had noticed on Shakaz were all adapted to life on the surface, leaving Rieka in a wholly uninhabited area.

However, as a result, she was able to abandon the slow pace she usually adopted out of care for nearby Rahi, spinning her earth tridents wildly, propelling herself forward with remarkable speed. Spiraling up and down through the varied depths of sand, wrapped in the joy of travelling freely and the maternal comfort of the earth, she had only been dimly checking for background vibrations other than her own. Given the immensity of her surrounding area, and her keen senses, why not enjoy the luxurious feel of swimming through the sand? Her slight frame rippled in many directions, darting along in extravagant loops and corkscrews, over basins, subterranean gulches, and other formations buried in the infinite sands.

Eventually, having passed most of the open desert and expended much of her energy, Rieka slowed to a halt above a deep crevasse, catching her breath and resting in a patch of unusually dark sand, flecked throughout with grayish and black grains. During this time, she suddenly perceived a small object travelling rapidly in the immediate area — straight toward her, alarmingly. Flashing into motion, Rieka dug to one side, reaching out with an earth trident to quickly catch the foreign thing when it reached her. With a sharp noise, an evil-looking, ridged harpoon snarled itself into her outstretched weapon.

The fortress, she thought, intrigued. I must be near it after all; those black grains must be from its passing. And they would have seen my motions, and attacked me as a threat. Well, I should give them what they want, then.

Rieka then shook her body spasmodically for a few moments, including while digging for a few bio in a wandering trail away from the source of the projectile, before again becoming still. She waited.

Soon enough, the fortress responded. Immense vibrations filled the sand, as Rieka sensed an enormous form wrench itself from the bottom of the crevasse and crawl toward her. The fortress, judging by what she could sense it displacing, was of even greater bulk than Rieka had realized from seeing it on the surface as a young Torika. Too, it was able to move much more rapidly than its size would suggest, nearing her in a few short minutes. Just as it was about to impact with her, Rieka threw herself back into motion, tunneling as fast as she could away from the monstrous digging stronghold, toward the tribal village where she had begun her scouting.

------


She burst from the sands violently, in a spray of sand and granules, her momentum carrying her several steps forward onto the barren plateau she had surfaced beside, before she withdrew her tridents into her armor and collapsed. The exertion of fleeing at such speed had left her drained, and she barely felt the collision with the stone, or heard the clatter of the harpoon as it slipped from her grasp. As she gasped for breath, Rieka’s attention was only on the tremors in the surrounding area. Reassured to learn that the tremors of the mobile fortress’s pursuit had ceased, she let herself into the embrace of an exhausted sleep.

In her light slumber, Rieka failed to hear the crunch of footsteps on rock nearby. A cool hand placed upon her head startled her fully awake, and she glanced up to see Thukor kneeling beside her. As she did, various tingling sensations coursed through her body, muscles, and skin, followed by the relief of aching muscles and extremities that had been scraped raw by her motion. Even her tiredness abated, and when Thukor lifted his hand she rose to her feet, smiling in thanks.

“Thukor, you’re getting better. I didn’t know you could help muscles like that.” Rieka examined her own hands, now healed of their chafing.

Thukor flashed an enormous grin. “Yes! I can. You strain muscles after strenuous motion, which I can heal, as well as stopping the source of aching afterward. Now . . .” He picked up the harpoon, examining it carefully. “I’d guess you found the fortress after all . . . or it found you. Right?”

“Yes. I found it near a large crevasse. That harpoon was launched at me, and then it gave chase. I had little time to react, and I thought I had the best chance of coming back here. It was stupidly foolish, but it almost caught me . . .” Rieka trailed off, vexed.

Thukor put an arm around her shoulder and squeezed it reassuringly. “Hey, at least now we’ve lured them close. They know we’ve found them, and that means they’ll have to try and come after us. We can lure them into a trap here! Good plan bringing them, Rieka; it’ll work perfectly.” He gave her a wide-eyed look of innocence, and she couldn’t help but laugh at his enthusiasm.

“Well, c’mon Thukor, let’s go find Zanta to take us back to Rhakjasp’s oasis.”

“Zanta may be basking in the sun again on the other side of the mesa. He’s really taken a shine to it.”

The two followed the plateau around, passing by the low huts of the many Torika of the settlement, soon finding Zanta sitting cross-legged, playing with a piece of basalt. Seeing them, he tossed the rock aside and stood, nodding understandingly at the harpoon in Rieka’s hand.

“Good job. Well, back, I suppose? You’ll have to help me find the oasis on the horizon, as I can’t quite make it out,” Zanta said.

Thukor squinted off toward the east. “I believe it’s that irregular dot over there.”

“Ah, yes,” Zanta remarked, “That would be it. Ready?” He held up his hands, palms up. His two companions each clasped a hand, and they vanished from the plateau, borne away by the emerald Sharaku’s powers of teleportation.


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Edited by Ballom, Jun 10 2014 - 12:32 PM.

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#7 Online Ballom

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Posted Jul 25 2012 - 01:21 AM

Chapter Six


Afternoon sunlight glittered over the tranquil mirror of Lake Zakaz, empty save for The Inferno floating over its waters, and a few dark boats flitting around the edges, collecting scarce water for the island’s inhabitants. These few water merchants were obliquely aware of Chazok’s vessel farther out on the lake, but generally paid it little attention, only distantly hoping that the bounty hunter did not have any mission to carry out against their warlord’s faction.

However, eventually, a single craft did bear out from the northeastern shore, toward the gunmetal mass of The Inferno, approaching using its small engine. As it did, Chazok, watching unhurriedly from the hemispherical viewport of the cockpit, slowly could make out the figure of its pilot.

This being, cerulean skin festooned with navy armor, a mane of spines down her back, lithe body in its perpetual position of curling like a Doom Viper ready to strike — this was Zerakura, descendant of the renowned leader Nektann, Warlord of Northern Zakaz. And although she claimed all of it if asked, she was only truly master of half, and sought endlessly to acquire the remainder — the simple reason why her transport was now pulling beside The Inferno.

“Greetings,” Chazok said as he opened a hatch, offering a hand to help her step into his ship. “Thank you for your presence, as well as for respecting a paranoid hunter’s request for not carrying weapons other than yourself. I’m sure this meeting will be quite . . . inspiring,” he added, leading Zerakura down several internal passages into the ship’s meeting area, a somber rectangular room with benches curving around its sides.

“Yes, if you deliver on your promises of new arms, I’m sure it will,” she said confidently, seating herself in the nearest corner.

A chime sounded softly over The Inferno’s speaker system, and Chazok put a hand to his temple, consulting some part of his HUD.

“Unfortunately, I need a moment of time to prepare something that has just arisen. I beg your indulgence,” Chazok said. When Zerakura nodded aloofly, he briskly left the room at the other end, a door sealing off the latter section of the conference area behind him.

A few moments passed, during which Zerakura could hear the clanging of another exterior hatch on the other side of the ship, she supposed, followed by muffled footsteps over the flooring and hints of dialogue. Then more footsteps, and eventually Chazok reappeared in the meeting room, entering from the corridor Zerakura took in.

“Thank you for your patience. Now this meeting can begin.”

He sat, thumbs locked in his flight suit’s waist pockets. Zerakura barely realized that Chazok’s voice had issued over the intercom rather than from his mouth when the door on the other side of the room opened again. There, only a few bio away from her, was Bokoch, Warlord of Southern Zakaz, a hulking yellow figure armored in a sweeping aesthetic of red, ridged plates, sitting with arms crossed over his broad chest.

Almost without thought, Zerakura leapt to her feet, a dagger flashing into her hand as she tensed, ready to lunge forward. As she did, she caught a glimpse of Chazok in her peripheral vision, and saw that the bounty hunter had risen equally quickly, and was pointing his handheld flamethrower squarely at her head.

Sit,” he barked, with a note of steel in his voice neither Skakdi warlord had ever heard before. “I can fill your lungs with fire in a heartbeat. Don’t make me say it again.”

Zerakura’s eyes went from Chazok to Bokoch and back. She then acquiesced, her dagger disappearing back into its hiding place as she took her previous seat. As she did, Bokoch spoke up, fury carved into his face.

“Chazok, this was not what we discussed,” he rumbled in a gravelly voice that sounded like breaking stones.

“I promised a new balance of power on this island, and I am about to deliver it,” Chazok replied evenly. “But first a warning to you both: the perimeter is guarded by armed laser multiturrents. If you step outside of this room, you will die. Additional precautions are keyed to my suit; if I die, you will as well. Am I clear?”

As the two warlords grudgingly nodded, the bounty hunter re-holstered his flamethrower.

“Good. Now, to be brief. As of a few minutes ago, the Zakaz Civil War has officially ended. You two are forming a treaty, and I — a noncombatant — am witness.” His keen pink eyes looked between his two audience members. “Questions?”

“What makes you think you can order me?!” burst out Zerakura.

Bokoch grunted. “Yes, why should we listen?”

“Ah,” Chazok said. “First, because if you do not I will drop your bodies in the lake with a bullet in your brains, and then find replacement warlords who will. Second, more importantly, there is another step I have taken. Before our meeting, I took the liberty of lowering some bombs of mine into our dear lake. Not your average explosives, but my own special creations: bombs with the power to crack this feeble island in half. Should I find this meeting uneventful, I press the magic button, and Lake Zakaz drains into the ocean, along with a fair part of your fortresses. Without your only source of fresh water, every Skakdi on the island will die.” An enormous, sinister smile had spread across his face, revealing every one of Chazok’s gleaming canines.

That is why I can order you.”

“You wouldn’t!” cried Zerakura.

The predatory grin vanished, and Chazok shrugged. “Every being who once thought I was lying is dead. I can add a few more.”

“And if we refuse?” growled Bokoch.

“Your choice. If that is what you decide, I can return you to your fortresses. Still, I hear dying of thirst is rather unpleasant — and your warriors will be quite angry to learn you condemned them to die.”

Zerakura clenched her claws wrathfully. “Very well, Chazok, talk, before I decide to kill you yet.”

“I’m trembling,” he said drily. “But realize how absurd your position is. You fools act as children. I have come to save Zakaz — and if that requires pointing a blaster at its heart, so be it. Think of the common soldiers, who have had to die for centuries. Perhaps you two have family, a mate — or perhaps not,” he added, given Zerakura’s uncanny resemblance to her hideous male ancestor. Seeing them still stare at him with a mix of incredulity and rage, Chazok decided to change tactics.

“You see,” he said, adopting a funereal tone, “this poor, lonely bounty hunter has decided after years of killing that he feels the need for . . . a legacy.” He paused in a manner he hoped was suitably dramatic.

Bokoch stared stoically ahead. “So?”

“So, when you two finish the peace treaty, you will also announce the formation of . . . this.” Chazok gestured at the wall screen behind him, on which a vibrant image bloomed. Bokoch and Zerakura examined it, first disinterestedly, but soon with great attention as they realized its contents. It showed Zakaz, but not as it currently was. The minefields were replaced by native flora again; the dark, burning fortresses were repaired. And, most prominent, was an impressive structure rising out of the lake — a graceful protosteel tower, connecting across the island, including to each fortress, by elegant arches.

“Before you is the main complex of the soon-to-be Chazok Engineering, company of Zakaz. One to surpass the greatest foundries on Metru Nui or Xia. I promised you both weapons, and that I will deliver. We will have all that and more,” Chazok said grandly, pleased to see that the expressions of anger of the two Skakdi were replaced wholly by a mixture of greed and awe.

“I see that now I have your attention,” he added triumphantly.


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Edited by Ballom, Jun 10 2014 - 12:33 PM.

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#8 Online Ballom

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Posted Jul 31 2012 - 11:37 PM

Chapter Seven


“Ah, good to be back inside,” sighed Rhakjasp, entering his residence once again. As he opened the door, the interior was lit by a bath of warm colors from the desert sunset. Then the door closed, leaving him in the comforting, dark coolness of the dwelling. The Lauxak felt his way into a carved protodermis chair, and fell into it wearily.

It had been an almost unbearably long, scorching day, yet he had been out in the harsh sun for its entirety. Since Rieka had broken the alarming news the previous day, there had been little time to delay. As the group of seven Sharaku had quickly decided, now that the Brotherhood’s forces had been detected, they would surely launch a major attack on the region Rieka fled to, and soon. And, as such, the warlord had to act.

Mercifully, Rhakjasp’s old friends and contacts had mostly been reachable. Old Lauxak companions from their insurrections against the Dark Lord, scattered members of other tribes who owed him favors, Torika and Sharaku . . . it was a long list in all, and most had been able to aid him. True, some were fearful or disdainful before his warnings, but overall Rhakjasp had pulled together a ragtag team of warriors, to be equipped by other contacts of his. However, these exertions were the result of many walks across the desert, as he communicated directly, for the sake of secrecy — and hence the present exhaustion assailing his body.

The noise of splayed feet shuffling over the hewn floor roused Rhakjasp, he looked over at the gray-skinned Torika watching him fondly.

“Well, now that you’ve rested a while, how did it all go?” she asked.

Rhakjasp shrugged. “Enough of them are willing to fight. In fact, several are crossing the desert toward the plateau now. They are not the problem, Ehrk. The problem is that we are far too weakly armed. Our instruments of war are little more than rusted relics. We have little with which to fight.”

Ehrk nodded. “Well, gathering weapons is easier than getting soldiers. Who knows what will turn up? Have some faith in fate; it always seems to work for the Matoran. Now, if you would go catch something for us?”

“Yes, my dear, that I can do properly.” Rhakjasp rose, and patted the diminutive being on the head on his way past her.

The pool at the center of the oasis, when he reached it, rippled with waves caused by the evening wind. The fishing rod flicked in the air, its line cast out several bio into the pool, where the lure bobbed. In the depth of the water, deceptively deep for a desert oasis, Rhakjasp knew many edible Rahi lurked, including the sought-after prize of iridescent Makuta fish.

Idly, he thought of the strange coincidence. Rieka had cast the lure of the Sharaku and Torika, and that Makuta fish had indeed bitten. Only time would tell if the warriors he and the Terra Nui Sharaku had would be strong enough to land it. They had numbers, but weapons were what were still necessary. And it seemed that they were too weakly armed, too weakly altogether . . .

Legs crossed, fishing rod propped against a thigh, Rhakjasp let doubts run freely through his mind. As he waited at the water’s edge, playing with grains of sand and periodically casting the line again, the canvas of the sky bled into a deep indigo. Lanterns lit along the palms of the oasis. The air was luminous, the myriad particles of sand and dust lit by the lantern light, wafting before Rhakjasp’s eyes.

The rod snapped forward, and Rhakjasp caught it quickly. Reeling in the creature was a simple affair, and required little effort. When he pulled the dripping catch before him, he found it was only a medium sized Waiwa shrimp.

He sighed again.

A sharp motion against a rock killed the Waiwa. As the critter ceased to move, Rhakjasp glanced around again, staying another moment before returning to Ehrk. The little remaining illumination was ebbing, and it was almost completely black at the oasis.

Would the future bode ill like his fishing, as his instincts reluctantly told him? The dark oasis had no answer to that.


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Edited by Ballom, Jul 24 2014 - 01:02 AM.

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#9 Online Ballom

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Posted Aug 10 2012 - 01:48 PM

Chapter Eight


The next day dawned crisp and clear on Shakaz, sand having settled from the air during the stillness of the night. As the bright spot of sun climbed higher, Torika and Sharaku gradually emerged from dwellings, most setting about to start daily labor. They began anew their toil, maintaining what various crops the oases could water, creating goods that could be bartered with various other camps throughout the island, or any of a multitude other tasks that a tribal society would occupy itself with, much as the Matoran of Mata Nui once had, ages before. And, while their brothers and sisters went about habitual tasks, some beings mobilized by Hanak and Rhakjasp prepared for war, a task which was not altogether foreign to Shakaz.

Eventually, the sun’s glare pierced down from high above. It was around this time, shortly before noon, when a small protodermis object nudged its way up the northernmost beach. There, where the propeller at its stern finished tearing itself apart on the jagged teeth of rock, this mottled relic came to rest.

It was only quite a while afterward, when two beings neared its resting place, did the beached object attract any attention. The first, a dark, striped Sharaku, who was several paces ahead of his smaller Torika companion, broke into a jog to reach it. Coming up on it in a spray of gritty sand, he saw it was a canister reminiscent of the famed systems that transported Toa across domes. However, this specimen was small enough to fit in his arms, and underneath its transparent protodermis outer shell a parchment of sorts was visible.

Furrowing his brow, the Sharaku gripped the lid, unsure of how to proceed. His green companion, now coming abreast of him, needed only a short glance to know what the mystery object was.

“Oh, that must be one of those old message pods, like we used to use!” he said, excitedly. “Sure haven’t been getting any of those recently. Look here, what you do is this —” Pressing in several indented spots along the lid, the Torika then pulled on it, twisting as he did. With this, the canister sprung open on both ends to reveal the raised contents.

“Ah, thanks,” responded the Sharaku, picking it up and uncurling the sheet. “Let’s see what it says . . . ‘Civil war of Zakaz has reached conclusion, warlords agree to ceasefire. Zakaz to be seat of new industry in weapons and technology; Shakaz may join if desires to due to being sister island. Spread word among tribes. Chazok.’” He looked up in wide-eyed astonishment.

“Wait, wait, wait!” the Torika said skeptically. “Chazok? As in, evil, bounty hunting Chazok? The one who attacked the Dark Lord’s group on Terra Nui? Are you sure?”

“Come on, no one else has that name. And who would pretend to be Chazok? He’d just come after anyone that stupid.”

His friend tapped the canister as he thought about how to best approach the situation. “Chazok killed Argarak,” he said, thinking of the arrogant Sharaku scientist who had gone to Terra Nui with his Makuta master. “Chazok sure wasn’t on good terms with the Makuta. You think maybe . . .”

After spending most of his life with the Torika, the Sharaku understood immediately, even being able to finish the sentence. “That Kavan fellow would want this? Despite what he said, he seemed desperate for all the help he could get, back in camp yesterday.”

“Well, if he’s gonna go fight the Brotherhood, and Chazok hates their guts, it could be an easy sell,” replied the Torika. “Let’s get that message to him; we should be able to sell it for something good.”

“Yeah, it should be worth a lot to ‘em!”

“And if they end up tearing up some of those Brotherhood members I hear they found in the desert, we win doubly!”

They both quickly left the beach, heading for the pitched camp Kavan had been recruiting from, and chattering about the bizarre situation on the way.
 

------


In the antechambers of another old fortification cut into the cliffs, before a cache of old weaponry looted from Xia, the venerable old Torika from the region continued to drone on, as Hanak attempted to maintain an interested expression.

“. . . And as you can see here, this batch of tools in particular dates back to use during the seventh skirmish of the previous age, in which, as I had previously mentioned to you, our former chieftain the magnificent used these to defeat a small force outside of the eastern oasis. Therefore, these would present a unique weapon to conceivably . . .”

A din soon became audible outside the room, quite loud despite filtering through multiple walls. Hanak, eager for a break from the lecture on ancient skirmishes only tangentially related to the old arms at hand, used this opportunity to escape.

“Excuse me, but I think I’ll step out to see who that is,” he interjected quickly, before rushing away from the still-rambling Torika.

In the central area, he found Zanta, in a heated argument with an olive Torika and a jet-colored Sharaku.

“. . . For the last time, cannot afford to compensate you with such an amount!” Zanta snapped. “Hanak,” he said upon seeing his friend, “these two have a message of some sort from Zakaz. They claim it is of such importance I, or Kavan, or anyone but you cannot see it. Mata Nui knows why.”

The Torika smirked. “We have a message not from Zakaz, but from Chazok. Who, I understand, you have met before. Read,” he said, producing the page, “and I’m sure you will be reasonable about our payment.”

Hanak grabbed it eagerly, quickly scanning it.

“Mata Nui,” he muttered under his breath, as the two messengers exchanged a knowing glance. “Read this, Zanta. You two, for this you’ll get what price you demanded, within reason.”

Zanta was halfway through an objection when he trailed off, reading the vital passages. After finishing, he nodded. “Yes, I must agree. This is more than worth the pile of widgets you want. If we can get though with Chazok . . .”

“. . . He’ll willingly help us if he thinks he can get at the forces of the Makuta who cheated him.” Hanak was already pacing, voicing his newest plans. “We’ll need to tell everyone about this. First, I’ll need Kavan. He can use his portal-opening powers to get to Zakaz the fastest, to make the deal.”

Together, the crimson and emerald Sharaku stepped toward the exit. However, in a flash the black Sharaku was in the doorway, his arms stretching elastically to block the exit.

“We have one more request,” he said.

Hanak chuckled. “As you have nothing left to deal with, it should be small.”

The Torika piped up behind them. “We’re fighting with you now against the crawling fortress we’ve heard of.”

“What? Why now?” asked Zanta, perplexed.

“Being able to fight alongside Chazok will be . . . unique. And we’ve heard he never loses,” replied the elastic Sharaku.

“I’ve seen Chazok lose a fight myself,” acknowledged Hanak, “But done. Glad to have another two bodies on our side.”

As the Sharaku released his obstruction of the door, Hanak continued instructing Zanta. “When you reach Kavan, tell him to use any persuasion he can, up to begging on his knees if he must. We need to get Chazok and his weapons.”


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Edited by Ballom, Jul 24 2014 - 01:02 AM.

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#10 Online Ballom

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Posted Aug 17 2012 - 05:25 PM

Chapter Nine


Shortly thereafter, Kavan set forth from Shakaz. However, unlike the message pod, which propelled itself swiftly through the waters, he was upon a significantly slower, more modest transport — a simple canoe hewn from a type of light wood found on the island, fitted with a makeshift sail. Relying solely on the wind for propulsion to Zakaz, the journey would have taken an entire day at best, and several times as long if the winds were against Kavan, as they were when he departed.

Fortunately, he did not need to rely solely on the wind. Using his inner power of creating portals in space between locations in his sight, much like an Olmak would, Kavan was able to easily expedite his journey. Circular, bright portals opened near the canoe, and as the wind pushed the craft into them, the canoe would materialize out of another portal, far across the waters. Traveling in such a manner, it only took a matter of minutes for the yellow and brown Sharaku to reach the rocky tunnel connecting the dome of Shakaz to that of Zakaz.

There, in the cramped recesses of that channel, the wind died, and it became too dangerous to use portals in all but the widest sections. Kavan pulled himself along using his forearm-mounted stone pincers for leverage, periodically cutting apart debris with his tools. The tunnel was filled with much flotsam, including chunks of loose protodermis, and the warped panels of old sailing vessels and small airships. Currents along the dome must have pushed them there, an early reminder of the danger of the Zakazian waters.

Soon, the canoe emerged into the waters of Zakaz, and after moving toward the island with a few well-placed portals, the wind picked up again, skimming the canoe toward land. The structures of Bokoch’s dominion became visible in the distance, with their spiked Nektann towers. And, as Kavan rested momentarily, these same turrets suddenly came to life, lighting up with faint luminescent pulses, aiming their cannons straight at him.

Charming, thought Kavan, as they opened fire. Crimson energy spheres lanced upward from three of the Nektann turrets, arching toward the canoe. Retracting his tools, Kavan raised his arms toward the incoming blasts. Wide portals opened in their paths, and the energy fire emerged from exit portals in random vectors to Kavan’s left, sizzling as they hit the sea.

Based on Kavan’s easy defense, any reasonable being would realize the general uselessness of continued attack. However, these being suicidally overconfident Skakdi gunners, a mighty barrage of blasts succeeded the first round. Increasing his concentration, Kavan shifted the open portals carefully, moving them further away from his canoe, closer toward the active turrets.

As the canoe moved closer to the coast of Zakaz, however, the hail of blasts intensified, and soon Kavan found himself unable to redirect all of them away. The energy fire became splashing directly around the boat, the intense energies reaching ever closer to Kavan. After a few more seconds, as he felt his body tiring from the exertion, he realized the impossibility of a peaceful escape. Tiring himself excessively from dodging blasts would only leave him open to mistakes such as slicing himself apart on a closing portal, as happened to Toa Tuyet, long ago. Therefore, he had to resort to a counterattack.

Regretfully, Kavan switched the portal opening by the nearest turret to an exit portal for one of the other towers. In an instant, this near turret erupted into flame, incinerated by redirected blasts from its neighbor. This shocked some sense into the remaining gunners, who soon stopped their assault to prevent similar ruin. The portals winked out of existence, and the canoe sailed on unmolested, as Kavan guiltily hoped the Skakdi in the destroyed turret had survived, despite the tower’s obliteration.

These thoughts were also soon cut short, as the sheer shoreline rising ahead called for further action. A final portal dilated, and Kavan stepped off the canoe into it. The exit portal, hastily thrown up in the air over the compound, unceremoniously dropped him onto a slanted protosteel roof, inside the perimeter walls. Tumbling into a roll, he threw out an arm and extended an open stone pincer. His ridged pincer clawed at the roofing, slowing the roll into a slow slide. As the roof ended, Kavan retracted his tool, landing with relative grace inside a tiny courtyard of the facility. So far inside the defensive perimeter, the nearest door was not secured, and he stole inside.

The room, which appeared to be sleeping quarters, contained only a single, young Skakdi, who sat up on his pallet as Kavan entered. Despite his apparent disorientation, the being snarled angrily.

“I come from Shakaz,” Kavan said quickly, raising his arms in a mollifying way. “Where can I find Chazok or your warlord?”

Sizing Kavan up, the Skakdi seemed to realize a potential reward for leading the Sharaku to Bokoch and his new, odd warlord partner. “You’re in luck. They’re both here in the south. Come with me,” he growled, stepping from the pallet to lead Kavan in the proper direction.

------


Soon after, Kavan followed the Skakdi through various complexes to one with the look of a command center. A massive yellow Skakdi who Kavan assumed was Bokoch was leaning over diagrams spread on a table, while the ersatz Chazok, dwarfed by his companion, was in the middle of an involved lecture.

“. . . So the fuel lines will run from true south, the south-east generator complex, and the south-south-west bunker, to connect to the main strut, giving auxiliary power and cooling . . .”

Bokoch interrupted as he saw Kavan and his Skakdi guide enter. “A Sharaku,” he rumbled, pleased. “Dismissed,” he added, waving the Skakdi away.

Chazok looked up from the modified diagrams. Recognizing Kavan, his eyes glimmered. “Ah, yes!” he said brightly. “And so fast to come here! Are we interested in my offer?”

Kavan briefly studied the diagrams, which were covered in three different types of handwriting. Then, he looked at Chazok. “I have an offer of my own.”

Chazok’s pale eyes opened wider. “Really?”

“You want the Sharaku to give their resources to your endeavor here. But we still have a little problem with the Brotherhood at home,” Kavan said.

“But the fortress was never found,” cut in Chazok hastily.

Kavan smiled. “You have good sources. But we have found it.” Satisfaction crept into his voice as Chazok was clearly taken aback.

“If you provide my group with weapons, we can destroy the fortress,” Kavan continued. “And in return, I can promise all of the tribes supporting your Chazok Engineering.”

All of them?” Bokoch asked skeptically.

“We will find a way. With the Brotherhood gone, it will be far easier,” Kavan assured him.

Chazok’s eyes defocused, and it was clear he was calculating using his formidable mental prowess. “I can prep The Inferno now, and be at Shakaz by sunset. I believe I can have enough serviceable weapons for . . . perhaps three dozen. Bokoch?”

“I and Zerakura will come as well,” the giant answered. “I will prepare my war armor.”

“There you have it,” Chazok said decisively, moving to roll up the diagrams.

Kavan, although thrilled with the success of the deal with minimal haggling, was nevertheless somewhat curious. “If you don’t mind, why are you coming yourself?”

Chazok quickly rattled off his response, continuing to gather documents. “One, I don’t trust anyone to fly my ship. Two, I know my technology better than anyone, and I know what will be useful. Three, there may be a Makuta there.” He turned to look Kavan straight in the eye. “And if there is, I will be the one to kill it. I will burn apart its armor, and reduce its essence to dust.”

Even knowing the bounty hunter’s fierce reputation, Kavan bit back an incredulous chuckle. “You, alone, against a Makuta?”

“No,” Chazok replied with a scorching look in his eyes. “I will not fight a Makuta alone; I am not a fool. But if it is there, I will be the one to finish it.”

Before that intense gaze, despite himself, Kavan shuddered.


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Edited by Ballom, Jun 10 2014 - 12:36 PM.

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#11 Online Ballom

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Posted Aug 24 2012 - 06:57 PM

Chapter Ten


A short while later, Kavan and Chazok had both entered the hold of The Inferno, where Chazok commenced flitting between many wall screens across his ship. As they were awaiting the final arrivals of Bokoch and Zerakura, a bored Kavan settled for entertaining himself by watching the Skakdi juggle whatever odd tasks he was in the middle of. The screens in the current room, the same meeting center where the warlords had been convinced of the bounty hunter’s plan, were full of monochromatic, orange images, which displayed cutaway views of what Kavan assumed were ship systems. After another moment of watching Chazok manically manipulating the displayed objects with his clawed digits, Kavan’s curiosity got the best of him.

“So, what’s this you’re going through?”

Chazok only marginally slowed down the commands he was entering as he answered. “I’m adjusting the commands for customizing the most recent Xian weaponry I acquired. With luck, I can cancel modifications in time so that they can be available for use.” He paused, entered an intricate command of rotating several icons in alternating directions, and then stepped back from the screen.

“That should be enough,” he added, spinning on his heels to tend to another panel. “If anything pops up, that means something’s exploding in the cargo section.” Kavan chuckled for a moment, but his mirth faded when Chazok gave him a sidelong glance.

“Yes, I’m serious. Ideally I would be here to keep an eye on things, but I have to attend to startup sequences that cannot be delayed.” He spun away again, heading for the ladder up to the cockpit. Relatively unworried about Chazok’s warnings, Kavan nevertheless obediently watched the panel illuminated with the status of the Xian weapons.

The ones on display certainly didn’t look like anything Kavan had seen before, with a large hand grip curving around an extremely stout muzzle, and a large cylindrical power pack on the back. He was looking closer to read the Skakdi script on display — the Skakdi writing system being derived from the same origins as the Sharaku written language — when the screen lit up like a horde of fireflyers at night. Numerous square, red alerts covered the weapon images, as the screen began chiming. Realizing that it could only be what Chazok had mentioned, Kavan broke into a run toward the cargo bay.

In the cargo hold, which Kavan had passed through when entering the ship, he saw a new state of disarray. Several compartments had burst open from apparent explosive ruptures of their contents, while more alongside those were poised to do the same, with smoke emanating from inside. Acting with little room for care, Kavan tore open their paneling. After a burst of smoke billowed out, he saw the damaged weapons sparking within. Hoping to quell further damage, Kavan tore these from the mechanical tools that were gripping them, and threw the offending arms across the plated floor. When they did not further detonate forcibly, the yellow and brown Sharaku sighed in relief. It wouldn’t do for the precious armory Chazok was bringing to suffer undue damage before arriving on Shakaz.

With the malfunctioning devices removed, the compartment interiors seemed to have changed to a repair function, as flame-retardant foam oozed out of the now-empty casings. Further relieved, Kavan moved to retrieve one of the hurled weapons — rifles, he supposed, although other details were burnt beyond recognition.

This inspection was interrupted as heavy footfalls heralded the arrival of Bokoch. And indeed, Kavan saw the warlord was clad in the war armor of which Bokoch had spoken. Thick, searing armor covered the large Skakdi’s frame, from an impressive Y-shaped chestplate, to curved shoulder pads, to a bristling protosteel shell covering the parasitic Spine Slug attached to his back. Finally, in his left arm, the warlord gripped a flamethrower, connected via tubing to an improbably large fuel canister on his shoulder.

“You have not seen a Skakdi warlord ready for battle, have you, Sharaku?” Bokoch laughed, as Kavan realized his jaw must have dropped slightly in awe.

“A Skakdi warlord does not have to be cower behind such armor to be battle-ready,” jeered a voice behind him, as Zerakura emerged. In contrast to Bokoch, she was clad in minimalistic body armor only over her torso, and held a spiked staff.

Resisting rising to her bait, Bokoch strode over to a construction table and laid his flamethrower down on it, including detaching the fuel tank. “I’ll tell Chazok we are ready,” he said.

“No need,” buzzed the bounty hunter’s voice from a speaker nestled in the ceiling corner. “My electronic eyes saw you enter,” he added lightly.

“Good,” Zerakura said, “I’m glad I won’t be kept waiting.”

Inwardly, Kavan rolled his eyes, as he dropped the charred rifle on the same table. These two warlords certainly had overly inflated self-images. He was about to comment when the vibration of The Inferno’s engines rocked the ship, forcing Kavan to grip the table for balance. These initial vibrations only lasted for a few seconds, soon dissipating into small pulses through the floor.

“On our way, I see,” he noted.

“Yes,” Chazok said, entering the cargo bay from the stern side. “We — what has become of my rifles?” he cried in dismay, uttering an oath.

“You’re the one who knew they would explode,” Kavan said pointedly, “You tell me.”

“I knew it wasn’t smart to try reversing the process,” Chazok muttered, brushing ash from the weapon Kavan had retrieved.

Bokoch, comparatively uninterested in the consternation, voiced more direct concerns. “Must someone control the ship?”

“No. Flies itself. Programmed navigation route,” grunted Chazok, absorbed in examining the warped rifle. “Well, this thing is useless,” he concluded, slamming it down. “Zerakura, Bokoch, I trust you will not kill each other. Kavan, if you would come with me.”

For lack of a better activity, Kavan followed Chazok back to the meeting area. After all, the inventor was better company than the other passengers.

“I’d been meaning to do this when you six bartered transport, but was unable,” Chazok continued, pulling out a small hand scanner from his flight suit and waving it over Kavan’s armor. “I had not seen armor such as this before, and hope to gain some information about it.”

“Toa Chompshi called it Terra Nui Ore,” Kavan replied, “It’s found in traces in the mines, and is used to make very durable building foundations. However, the Turaga had never seen any smelted into armor, or such pure veins of it. My armor must have been created from the energies in the cave which triggered our transformations into Sharaku.”

Chazok finished his scan and set the device down. “Fascinating. I will try to acquire some of this ore, and see what I can make of it. Perhaps I can even improve The Inferno with some.” From the gleam this contemplation gave to Chazok’s eye, Kavan could see that the Skakdi was truly an engineer at heart.

“You sure have placed a lot of effort into this ship.” Kavan said.

“It has been my home,” Chazok admitted. Absently, he traced a hand over a bench. “More than Zakaz ever was. That may change now, of course . . .”

Kavan was surprised by how forthcoming the usually withdrawn bounty hunter was being. “I didn’t expect you to say that.”

“I appear to be unusually honest when I may be about to die. Iron Knight knew this, and often would have to delete such vulnerable comments afterward.”

This took Kavan aback. “But you’re the invincible bounty hunter!”

Chazok gave a bitter smile. “If I were, he would still be here. I have had my share of failures.”

“But still, you don’t believe whatever the Makuta may have will be enough to defeat our entire force of Sharaku, Torika, and Skakdi?” Kavan asked.

“Not in battle, no. But they control the fortress, and can trap us beneath the sands if defeat is nigh,” Chazok said grimly. “The traitorous serpents have done as much before.”

“We’ll just have to take control somehow,” Kavan said. “And several of us have powers of earth and stone.”

“You’re too much of an idealist,” Chazok said softly.

“Idealist Toa have saved the universe many times.” Kavan shot back, irritated. “One of them singlehandedly! A being as sour as you would never conceive to make such a sacrifice.”

“I am aware of Matoro and what he did for the universe; don’t lecture me.” Chazok turned and was about to exit the meeting room when he paused. “Don’t underestimate one’s capacity for sacrifice either,” he added before leaving.

Kavan shook his head. The bounty hunter’s pessimism was his own concern, but he had better not spread it among the Sharaku once they reached Shakaz.

Taking advantage of the moment of peace, the Sharaku of Stone then began to practice manipulation of his element. Extending one of his stone pincers from his forearm, Kavan generated several stones, manipulating them in midair. After a while, as his mood lightened, he started to toy with the elemental control, marshalling the generated solid protodermis into shapes. The stones coalesced into implements such as solid slabs, stone blades, then finally into a crude figure, for which pebbles floated like miniature limbs. Under Kavan’s direction, this golem slowly traversed the protosteel floor, lumbering on its asymmetrical, stony legs. Eventually, as the efforts of such precise petrokinesis grew tiring, Kavan reabsorbed the protodermis figure, and rested.

Meanwhile, The Inferno flew onward, toward the sands of Shakaz.


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Edited by Ballom, Jun 10 2014 - 12:37 PM.

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#12 Online Ballom

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Posted Aug 31 2012 - 09:18 PM

Chapter Eleven


The amassed crowd of Sharaku and Torika fidgeted in place restlessly, annoyed by the harsh midday sunlight that was beating down on them, without being filtered by the usual curtains of oasis greenery. Over thirty strong, and trained warriors all, even the diminutive Torika, the group nevertheless was nowhere near a harmonious fighting unit; they were comprised of representatives of all of the major tribes, with only a few being Lauxak. As a result of nomadic lifestyles and the fragmentation due to the Dark Lord’s reign and its aftermath, these beings knew little of each other’s customs. The majority was only present because of past affiliation with Rhakjasp, and while a few had joined simply for a chance at adventure offered by a new face, even those beings were tiring of waiting endlessly in his oasis, without purpose. Only the striped Sharaku and his Torika friend appeared to have a complete idea of what foe or task they would face, and they remained silent about it — and infuriatingly smug about their knowledge, at that. A number of the older Sharaku had heard warnings about the Brotherhood, but these claims were mostly unsubstantiated.

Hence, when both Hanak and Rhakjasp called for the group to assemble, there had been hopes that all would finally be revealed. As the mahogany and crimson Sharaku emerged together onto the slight rise of the nearest dune, the crowd quieted and waited expectantly, while the two briefly conferred.

“I’ll handle this, lad,” Rhakjasp said quietly to Hanak, before raising his voice dramatically to address the assembled group.

“My friends, great Sharaku and Torika of Shakaz, thank you for your presences here. First, let me apologize for not disclosing the entirety of our plans with you all, but circumstances regarding other preparations . . . made that option unwise until now. But now to the important part. You have been called forth for a great battle to come to Shakaz. As some of you have believed, this indeed will be against the Brotherhood of Makuta. Among your tribes, you may have heard whisperings of how their force can rise out the sands on moonless nights, when Torika vanished from the villages and oases, said to be taken for their foul ends. These are all true.”

While a number of the force had already heard of this, this sent a few from more remote villages into astonished murmuring. Rhakjasp raised a hand for quiet.

“What is also true is that you, warriors of Shakaz, each possess great skill, powers, and astuteness. And, although the sands begin to shift beneath us — detectable by powers of Earth and Stone — as the Makuta ready their assault upon this very oasis, we will be ready to overcome them! We are strong, and our will is even stronger! You may say that we individually have few good weapons, but we ourselves are weapons! And if that is not enough, look to the horizon!”

As the warlord gestured expansively over his shoulder, the crowd could discern an ovoid shape bearing for them — one that soon resolved itself into the sharp metal lines of The Inferno.

“Destiny is indeed upon our side,” Rhakjasp continued, raising his hands above his head, “For what you see is the vessel of the bounty hunter Chazok, who comes to aid us in our struggle, with his formidable weaponry. With Skakdi weapons in the hands of such determined Sharaku and Torika, our might will be unsurpassed! We will break the Brotherhood, and prove to them that our days of cowing meekly to them have ended long ago!”

The cheers and applause of the assembled group resonated loudly as the Sharaku warlord stepped down from the dune, pleased with the speech’s success. By this point, The Inferno had reached the assembly, its length settling over a flatter patch of sand, where it descended, kicking up clouds of sand and dust in the process.

“Destiny indeed,” Rhakjasp added to Hanak, eyeing the ship with his own degree of admiration. “How else can one explain that the same day Kavan succeeds and manages to bring him back is when Rieka senses the fortress moving?”

“Destiny does always seem to serve the Matoran well too,” Hanak added. “I may be beginning to see why.”

“Hanak!” a voice cried, as Kavan strode out from a hatch on the ship. “As you can see, I have made good on my promise. As a bonus, begging actually wasn’t needed.”

“Yes, Kavan,” Hanak said warmly, slapping his friend on the back. “My deepest thanks.”

“It’s nothing, really. Where are the others?”

“Rieka is monitoring subterranean activity,” Rhakjasp said, “with Thukor and Vukaz recording what she’s conveying, and Zanta watching camp. In your absence, our target has begun to move.” Seeing Kavan's reaction, he quickly added, “Very slowly, I might add. She predicts it won’t surface until the middle of the night.”

Kavan’s mouth opened to reply when voices and footsteps revealed that Bokoch, Zerakura, and Chazok had all disembarked from The Inferno. “I should show you to our newest combatants.”

However, only the two Skakdi warlords were still available for introductions, as Chazok had already bustled forward toward the group of Sharaku and Torika, looking at the types of decaying and worn weaponry which they were bearing, his examination tolerated with a mix of amusement and interest.

“Well, it seems that there’s nothing too unorthodox for me to provide,” Chazok concluded. He hustled back toward The Inferno to retrieve articles from storage, as the warlords of Shakaz were introduced to the Lauxak leader and Hanak, along with an explanation of why they weren’t at each others’ throats. Meanwhile, the beings at the oasis had noticed the arrival of The Inferno, as Zanta emerged from dwellings there, followed by Ehrk, while the assembled warriors burst into excited discussion.

And so, a new flurry of activity began, a new stage in the preparation for battle.


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#13 Online Ballom

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Posted Sep 18 2012 - 01:27 AM

Chapter Twelve


A thin sliver of luminescent moon had risen into the night sky, its faint light dimly illuminating the oasis, whose remaining inhabitants now lay sleeping. Around its perimeter, the protosteel bulk of The Inferno had been relocated a more substantial support of denser stone, away from the deeper areas of sand. Spare palm fronds had been propped against its near side, to hide the shine of its hull from the eventual view of the surfacing fortress. And behind the side of The Inferno, the entire fighting force of Torika, Sharaku, and Skakdi lay in repose. While not fully sleeping, they were occupying themselves with minor activities such as meditation, or slow practice with their weapons, almost all newly furnished by Chazok. Laser blasters, harpoon launchers, conventional rifles, dart guns, and even small sonic cannons, along with the standard swords and knives, were being examined and moved about by the many trained hands, including testing of weight and quickness of aim.

Greatly reassured by this sight, Rhakjasp had retired from the group, wandering back over toward the dunes at the crest of the oasis to survey the expanses of sand. While the eyes of a Matoran would have trouble discerning much in the gloom, his Sharaku eyes, adapted for vision even in a blinding sandstorm, still could see much of the landscape. It looked remarkably peaceful outside — a façade masking the terrible evil worming its way to the surface.

Frowning, he went back to the oasis, finding his small dwelling. As the door open, Ehrk stirred from the woven mat she was lying upon, recognizing her mate from his silhouette. Motioning for her not to rise, Rhakjasp sat down on the mat beside her, curling his legs under him.

“I thought it’d be here by now,” she said sleepily, rubbing her eyes.

“No,” Rhakjasp whispered, “Not for an hour or so yet.”

“Then I’m glad you came back.” Ehrk smiled, wrapping an arm around Rhakjasp’s waist.

“There is one thing I wanted to mention. Come dawn, have someone fetch the best barrel of the best Bula wine, so you may drink to our triumph — or to my memory. Perhaps to both. And, should I not return, Hanak will make a fine successor.”

“I pray it won’t come to that,” she murmured.

“Yes, my dear,” Rhakjasp replied softly, as he drew her into an embrace.

------


The other sections and compartments of The Inferno had been extinguished, leaving the lights emanating from the assembly room the solitary ones still lit in the craft. There, bathed in the intense azure light of a welding torch, Chazok was placing the finishing touches on his equipment. Plates of silver, molded armor were strewn across the far side of the table, while in his nimble hands he grasped the current piece — a partially assembled helmet. Unlike his standard one, which allowed interface with The Inferno’s systems, this helmet was modified for a specific use, as the left telescopic eyepiece and curved forehead spike attested to. These sections of Kanohi had been greatly modified, lined with circuitry to allow dual use of their functions, although restricted to a very small scope. All that remained was to weld a few edges, a few corners here and there.

As he continued to weld, shielded by reflective goggles, Chazok’s thoughts wandered to the coming struggle. The Sharaku and Torika cadre, armed with his cache of weapons, would certainly be deadly. He had never seen such a quantity of sharp, ready warriors of those species before. And, as he learned when facing Argarak all those years ago, even without a weapon the Sharaku could be deadly fighters, using the thick claws many of them could extend. Conversely, however, there might be opposing Sharaku aboard the fortress. Hopefully, there would not be too many. Still, even if there were, the weapons he had supplied would prove worthy of defeating those opponents; their new bearers sure would be.

There; finished. The flame flickered off, and he laid its apparatus down to cool. Lines of molten protodermis glowed orange along the newly finished edges of the helmet, as Chazok held it up to a lamp to admire his handiwork, pleased. Then, he lowered it over his head, where diagnostics clicked on. Chazok lifted a hand before his eyes experimentally, observing the thin metal bones revealed by the modified Kanohi. Each and every bone in his hand was amazingly clear, including where minute differences in thickness occurred. Excellent.

------


The group of armed beings waited silently, in a darkness unbroken by any fire or illumination, for those objects would reveal their location. Their silence, one that may have been construed as unnatural by Matoran, was in truth reflective of their unique races of Sharaku and Skakdi, so closely related. It revealed the tacit understanding that once battle plans were discussed, and weapons readied, there was nothing remaining to be said. No need for nervous chatter, or distractions from the task ahead, only silence, each being in the world of their own thoughts.

In the contemplative gloom, leaning against the side of The Inferno, Zanta regarded his air axes. His tools had been sharpened to marvelous edges, while the mechanisms in the vambraces had been oiled such that the axes could extend forth virtually silently. And it was a good thing too, he thought, for he and Kavan were going to have to face more during the battle than most of the others. However, he had mentally rehearsed the plan itself many times, so execution would likely not be a difficulty. No, the entrance would not be a problem in the slightest, compared to the combat in what Thukor had described as many narrow corridors, which would also limit his abilities to teleport to areas in sight, regretfully. Nevertheless, the Sharaku of Air remained confident.

Beside him, only a few bio away, Kavan was having similar thoughts. The entirely of the plan did hinge upon him and Zanta, but it seemed to be manageable. Exercises of his portal-generating powers during the travel to Zakaz had been perfect, and he would be able to replicate them on a larger scale. He had fought directly beside Zanta during the struggle in Terra-Koro, and their synergy in combat had been very strong. There was little cause for concern.

------


Across the resting group, Bokoch sat in a state of relaxation. Not having to worry about vengeful Skakdi opponents waiting to assassinate him was a pleasure he was almost never able to fully enjoy, except on other islands such as this. Granted, with the treaty agreed to on Zakaz, there was less reason to worry there, but the old habit died hard. Of course, there was also one particularly vengeful Skakdi near, but Zerakura likely wouldn’t dare an attack at such a crucial time.

Therefore, the Warlord of Southern Zakaz — only a warlord of Zakaz now, due to the agreed-upon peace — had time to rest, and consider the mounting thrill within him.

It was not often that he himself could engage in hand-to-hand combat, as insulated by the chains of command as Zakaz made him. Patience was a virtue Bokoch possessed, so as warlord he had the sense to keep himself back from the most dangerous skirmishes on his home island, to preserve his leadership. Thus, the current chance to fully let loose, and annihilate everything around him with a stream of fire, would be very gratifying. After all, his flame projector seemed to project an eagerness of its own, which would certainly prove useful. He couldn’t have Zerakura defeat more enemies than him. A smallest fraction of a smile tugged at Bokoch’s impassive face, as he patted the weapon with a massive hand.

------


In spite of himself, Vukaz worried. It was a character trait which had often tormented him during his time as a servant to the vicious Sharaku Viermoc, and one which he had mostly overcome during his time on Terra Nui with his five companions. He had even kept it at bay throughout the darkest days of the struggle against the Quntaino on Terra Nui.

However, as the night wore on, he found more and more concerns intruding on his mind, like shadows stealing in as light waned. What if the numbers in the fortress were too many to defeat? What if they couldn’t properly take control? Various disquieting thoughts such as these came unbidden, as Vukaz unconsciously flicked his water daggers in and out of his armor.

Eventually, Vukaz banished these insidious thoughts, albeit with an effort. Enough! I am no longer a weak little Torika. I’ll be able to stop those who attack me, and protect my brothers and sister. With such a resolution, he rested more easily.

------


Thukor was one of the farthest from the camp, situated in an isolated patch of sand with Rieka as his closest companion, where she could have easy access to undisturbed soil with which to sense the fortress. As he protectively watched Rieka, her black frame half-buried in sand, eyes closed meditatively, he thought about how close they all were. Even the Torika and Sharaku clustered around him in the shadows, which he had barely met, had ties to him by kinship of their species. Observing them and their collective tribes was a great joy for the cheerful Sharaku of Ice; it would be a shame to see any of the assembled beings lose their lives in the coming battle.

Then Thukor thought about the troubling prospect of facing Sharaku that the Brotherhood had taken. These abducted beings, undoubtedly twisted into believing their former friends were enemies, would be extremely difficult to overcome. They would be some of the strongest elemental users, as the Brotherhood of Makuta took the most interest in elemental prowess, a trait which meant they would be powerful opponents. And, if strong willed enough, these Sharaku might be too much to merely subdue. Thukor fervently hoped killing fellow Sharaku would not be necessary, although he grudgingly admitted to himself that it could be. With luck, however, he and his friends would be able to save them all.

------


In contrast to many of the others present, Zerakura had little tolerance for prolonged periods of quiet, still restlessly throwing around one of her daggers, tossing it back and forth. The silent dunes were disturbing to her, a being accustomed to surroundings filled with the din of battle, or at least the sharp sounds of weapon practice. Besides, such idleness as she currently was forced to endure was unbecoming of a descendent of the great Nektann. Her famed ancestor’s conquests came largely from his constant activity; she should be actively following his model.

However, Zerakura had realized with regret, times were changing since the glorious old days on Zakaz. Chazok was right; carnage was giving way to construction as a means of acquiring a vast empire across the universe. And so she recognized that she would have to adapt, although it would be against the fibers of her being. As such, this battle on Shakaz would be one of her last true ones, a final brutal conflict before she took her position as a leader of Chazok Engineering, in a life of drudgery. Then, her main task would be to keep the successive generations of Skakdi from becoming soft in their new roles outside of the proper toughening influence of war.

But, until then, there would be those to fall before her this night, those to be rent by her staff, and torn by her daggers!

------


It seemed very unusual to Hanak to be concentrating on resting so carefully without using his abilities to accelerate himself, as he had been doing with such regularity whenever a moment of peace was needed. The recent months had been too busy to accommodate anything else, and thus he had almost forgotten how it felt to have a proper moment to think. Since the planning for the battle had finished, time in the world around him seemed to be flashing by almost impossibly quickly.

Hanak truly had little idea of what time of night it was now, other than that it was much later than when the crowd had first ceased. In an attempt to calm himself, he had withdrawn deeply into a meditation technique taught to him by Vrael before the then-Toa had departed for Punt Nui. The sage Toa of Crystal was convinced it would be important to learn, and as Hanak felt his energy drawing into the center of his body, he mentally thanked Vrael for his insistence on the matter. He above the others would most need all of the stored energy he could muster, given the draining nature of his powers, which taxed his body more than any of his teammates respective abilities’ affected theirs. Adding to that, the fact that Hanak would be attempting to confront the being in charge of the fortress directly meant his strength was vital. He could push aside agonizing about the collective success of their force; that would be determined without his worrying. Even out of his closest friends, Vukaz, Kavan, and Thukor all had extremely defensive powers, so their health would be properly protected. No, what was needed was to pool more of his energy, to sink deeper into the trance in the remaining time before the storm fully came.

------


Miniscule tremors undulated through the earth, ever so slightly continuing their rise toward the surface. Rieka had been sensing the changes in the vibrations throughout the entire night, and with more passing moments the movement of the fortress seemed to decrease further, until it was at its present, almost imperceptible level of activity, even as the vibrations neared the surface. Had she not been monitoring the seismic activity from the vicinity around the oasis for such a length of time, Rieka was sure that even a being as accustomed to sensing changes in the earth as she would have lost track of the fortress.

It was quite remarkable; she had never known of such a sophisticated device for subterranean movement. The Rahi she had known, especially the titanic Collosorahk of Terra Nui, made immense signals underground, even the smaller specimens. Then again, the engineering of this fortress must be by some of the greater architects of the universe. The Nynrah Ghosts, perhaps, before they all vanished, or some other master, for which this was their greatest triumph. If the latter were the case, it would be a pity to destroy the mobile fortress, but the monstrous evil it represented had to be expunged.

She paused in her thoughts as the slight tremors vanished altogether. Hoping the traces of it were not fully lost, Rieka held her breath, listening warily. A few seconds of silence. Then, louder than the last tremors, a muffled clang reverberating through the sands, originating only a few bio beneath the surface.

The Brotherhood had arrived.


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Edited by Ballom, Jun 10 2014 - 12:38 PM.

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#14 Online Ballom

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Posted Oct 13 2012 - 08:44 PM

Chapter Thirteen


As soon as Rieka opened her eyes again and began stirring, Thukor had leapt to his feet, gesturing for Kavan and Zanta to begin enacting the plan with swift flicks of his hand. The two nodded, and Kavan pointed a hand at a bare expanse of sand, where the circular edges of a large portal opened, its edges dim, signifying the lack of a second connected portal. This achieved, the two crept off in a curving path inland, stealthily bent low to the ground. Thukor was already wandering through the throng of beings, gesticulating rapidly to rouse the rest of their fighting force, many of whom seemed greatly absorbed. Fortunately, the Sharaku with Psionic powers Thukor had met earlier appeared to be helping, as many of the Sharaku and Torika looking the other way suddenly jolted into alertness, startled by a mental touch.

With the group fully roused, they took their positions. A band of seven, with a representative from each tribe, began sneaking around the other side of the oasis, into the bands of dark palms, led by Rhakjasp and the Sharaku of Elasticity. The rest assembled around the boundaries of the inactive portal, checking their weapons for the last time, waiting for Zanta and Kavan to accomplish their task.
 

------


The high dune which Rhakjasp had used as a podium the afternoon before had now become the hiding spot for the two Sharaku who, lying with their heads peeking over its crest, surveyed the deeper desert. At first, nothing could be discerned but the smooth expanses of sands, stretching without a soul in sight. Then, silently, the highest reaches of the fortress ascended. A forest of black spikes edged their way out of the earth, barbed tips skyward, followed by the dark battlement tips of the old fortress, which the two had seen soaring over the landscape when they were Torika. These pitted stones rose further, shedding grains of sand as they did, until the visible fortress rose a full three bio upward. And then, with the soft whirring of oiled motors, a door slowly inched open, revealing a shaft of yellow light falling upon the dunes.

Before the eyes of the awestruck two Sharaku, shadows fell across this shaft of light — twisted, hunched shapes undulating and slithering, gripping bladed tools in fetid claws, their spiked shells surging from the writhing of the warped leeches within — Rahkshi, the hideous foot soldiers of the Brotherhood, foul spawn drawn directly from the darkness of a Makuta. These apparitions surged forward, fanning out from the fortress exit, toward the oasis. It was impossible to count their exact numbers, but clearly Rhakjasp’s contingent would have their hands full when engaging them.

Zanta’s eyes narrowed as the Rahkshi progressed. He took a few steps to the side, sliding toward the lower end of the dune. A few bio more into the exit corridor became visible, where there appeared to be some empty space. He tensed, reaching an arm toward Kavan. His timing would have to be very precise . . .

Below, the vanguard of Rahkshi had almost reached the set of dunes the two were taking cover behind when the foremost creature, unable to contain its battle-lust any longer, let out a chilling screech, followed by a blast of energy launched toward the oasis. The energy sizzled into the fronds of a palm, and its flash illuminated the Sharaku figures crouched there. For a brief moment, both sides were frozen — the grim warriors staring straight at Rahkshi held back by surprise. Then the Rahkshi were galvanized into motion, racing toward the Sharaku, weapons bristling. Instead of charging in return, the four Sharaku with ranged weapons calmly drew their blasters, aimed at the charging adversaries, and fired. Shots from Chazok’s laser blasters crackled in the air, punching into armored shells. However, this did little to stop the Rahkshi, who in huge bounds had already reached the line of Sharaku. The other Sharaku met them with melee weapons drawn, in a clash of swords, staffs, and harpoons.

Once the opposition from the Sharaku had been detected, alarm klaxons had begun to whoop from the interior of the fortress, whose exit doors were already rolling inward. Keeping his gaze squarely upon the closing portal, Zanta grabbed Kavan’s shoulder tightly and teleported.

Instantaneously, the dark dunescape became the dim confines of the corridor, as the two dropped onto the hard floor with a soft thud. Behind them, the thick door boomed shut with finality, followed by the clicking of multiple secondary locking mechanisms. They were now truly trapped inside the fortress, leaving only one way to go — in.

Brushing off the sand teleported with them, Zanta released Kavan, flicked an air axe out from his vambrace, hearing Kavan extend a stone pincer behind him as Zanta examined their new surroundings. The grey corridor was a few bio wide, and bare other than the small lightstones suspended from the ceiling, and the solid protosteel supports for the door. Here, the interior alarms were much louder, seemingly resonating through the walls of the entire complex, blaring forth faint words: Warning! Emergency dive imminent! The two Sharaku glanced at each other and nodded, edging forward cautiously. As they did, the message was repeated in several other languages, including a grating tongue likely to be a Rahkshi dialect, and a humming tone neither had heard. However, they disregarded the warnings, progressing inward. The entry passageway began to curve and angle downward deeply, soon emptying into a wider room lined with several terminals, panels, and paths leading in other directions.

Kavan paused and glanced around. “Reckon we—” he broke off as the next round of dive warnings drowned out his voice. “—should split up?”

“No, not worth the risk,” Zanta replied. “If—”

Shrill beeping cut him off as well, succeeded by massive vibrations rumbling through the passageways, undulating through the floor. The Sharaku threw out their arms wildly in an attempt to keep their balance, and were almost succeeding in doing so when the floor canted steeply downward, sending them careening down a passage that yawned below. Attempts to snag purchase on the angled floor with their weapons were frustrated by its smoothness and durability, and with their velocity unreduced the two smashed headlong into the next wall.

Dazed, Kavan looked around the crazily titled tunnel, ready to strike out at any foes that might present themselves. However none appeared, as the vibrating persisted. From his affinity with stone, Kavan could sense that the entire fortress thrummed beneath the forces of its sudden dive. Beside him, he could see that Zanta had taken the blow with the wall better, and appeared to only be waiting for the shuddering to pass. Gritting his teeth, Kavan attempted to stop his head from swimming, as he endured the forces pressing on him.

Bit by bit, the vibrating gradually subsided, as the floor gradually returned to its natural angle. Then, the passages quieted, for the first time filled neither with the din of diving nor the clanging klaxons. Kavan breathed a quiet sigh of relief. “C’mon, let’s get going,” he whispered, continuing into the passage ahead. The lightstones still lining the ceiling were quite feeble, making the spreading light from a room up ahead became easily. Quickening his pace until almost there, Kavan then slowed at the last corner, retracting his pincers. He took a breath to slow his pulse, and stepped out. Immediately, the Sharaku of Stone was struck by the scale of the room he found himself in.

Its cavernous expanse sprawled before him all directions. The roof itself branched into arches sweeping over the great span of its interior, while the room plunged deep down below the catwalk Kavan had stepped onto, ending several levels below in shadows. But, what was most alarming was the collection of chambers lining every visible wall. Transparent tubes packed with circuitry, they resembled those once used to hold Rahkshi — but these were far closer to what Kavan had seen in Argarak’s labs, pods for the drone army the Dark Lord’s minions had marshaled against the Matoran of Terra Nui. However — thank Mata Nui for small mercies — the storage chamber was currently empty. Kavan heard a gasp behind him, and knew Zanta had recognized them as well.

“Yes,” Kavan whispered. “It’s a good thing they’ll be entering here.” He stepped to the edge of the catwalk, pointing both hands toward the floor below. Another portal materialized upon it, this one rimmed with bright energy. As it fully dilated, its interior warped inward, revealing a distorted image of the camp that the Sharaku were still clustered in. This view vanished as one by one the beings assembled around the connecting portal stepped through, into the drone storehouse.

With Hanak, Chazok, Bokoch, and Zerakura leading them, the Sharaku and Torika quickly assessed their surroundings, falling into a defensive formation. Kavan and Zanta soon reached them on the lower floor, whisked down by a whirlwind Zanta summoned.

“Great job,” Hanak grinned. “I’m not pleased to see the contents of this room, but at least we’re all in. Kavan, how safe is the portal opening?”

“I don’t have to consciously concentrate on keeping it open, so our escape route will be pretty well-covered,” Kavan replied. “As long as I’m conscious, we’re good.”

“That I can settle for!” Hanak said. “Bokoch, Zerakura, cover our flanks here. We need to orient ourselves to find the crucial sections of the fortress.”

“I don’t think that will be needed,” a voice called down. Bemused, the group looked up to see a hulking sand-blue Sharaku staring down on them, with lines of sleek, mechanical drones lining up alongside him. “We will finish you here!”

“Outstanding!” Chazok snarled, flicking a panel on his rifle. “I get to kill more mechanical abominations! This is shaping up to be a very good day!”


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Edited by Ballom, Jul 24 2014 - 01:03 AM.

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#15 Online Ballom

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Posted Jul 31 2014 - 09:33 PM

Chapter Fourteen


The Brotherhood had grown canny indeed since Rhakjasp had first fought against it, many centuries before. While once their Rahkshi were poorly trained and led by Kraata barely past their third stage, the killing machines that had emerged from the fortress were much cleverer and stronger than their predecessors, and although they were no longer in communication with the Makuta that had created them, they were fully capable of taking on Rhakjasp’s Sharaku force.

Things had quickly gone awry with the initial attack against the Rahkshi — as the Sharaku gunners had fired, it quickly became clear that Rahkshi possessing the powers of illusion and chameleon were among the attacking force, for several blasts had struck seemingly empty air, revealing the invisible creatures present. Then, when the initial façade was dropped, the Sharaku saw how their attackers numbered not a score but twice that, against only seven Sharaku.

Then the fighting began, and the Sharaku received another unpleasant surprise — the rare Rahkshi of Silence were among the attackers, using their abilities to snuff out all the clamor of battle, rendering every combatant as if deaf. A tactic which, Rhakjasp realized, meant no Torika from the oasis would hear the attackers coming, and would not know how the battle progressed. If the Sharaku fell, the inhabitants of the village would truly be massacred without a sound.

But it was in this respect that the Brotherhood had miscalculated. Without having battled the Sharaku in years, the Rahkshi were trained merely against the turned soldiers aboard the fortress, not veterans of resistance against the Makuta. These Rahkshi, the final ones created by the Dark Lord, had never encountered Sharaku enraged by millennia of slavery, by the defiling of their oases, by the kidnapping of their brothers. Over five thousand years of anger fueled the Sharaku, only further stoked by the threat to the oasis, transforming each into an even deadlier fighter, fighting with the strength of several.

Across the deafening silence of the battle, in the eerie glow of blaster discharges, bolts of fire, plasma, and electricity, Rhakjasp felt it too — his body felt stronger than it had for decades, on fire with energy. As he grappled with a yellow and black Rahkshi, striking with his gauntleted forearms, feeling their weight crunch satisfyingly against its carapace and staff, he noticed how much his fighting had improved since sparring with Hanak. He lashed out again, catching the Rahkshi with a series of blows — the first few to its chest, catching the creature off-guard, then the last one to its armored head, crushing the Kraata within into pulp.

Even as it toppled backward, Rhakjasp drew one of his throwing knifes, sending it sailing into the thigh of another Rahkshi. When it distractedly glanced in his direction, its opponent decapitated it with a sword swing. Acknowledging the aid with a nod, the other Sharaku pulled Rhakjasp’s knife free, tossing it back to him. The Lauxak chieftain slipped it back into his belt, deftly retrieving the staff of the fallen Insect Control Rahkshi to swing at the spiny back of the next one. This one did not even turn, sending Rhakjasp flying back with a cyclone blast.

Barely fazed, he scrambled back to his feet with great vigor, sprinting at the foe again, as his six companions fought likewise around him, determined in their efforts against Makuta’s soldiers.
 

------


Within the fortress, the imposing Sharaku barely blinked at Chazok’s threat. “You think you have enough strength to defeat our legions? Fool. Drones, kill them!” With that, he leapt from his level of the room, slowing in the last seconds of his fall to touch down softly. Around him, the drone soldiers were significantly less graceful, crashing down with heavy impacts, denting the protodermis tiles. And just as their armored feet landed, the mechanoids raised their spindly limbs into combat stances, pointing long rapiers and other exotic blades at the Sharaku, while micro-rockets popped upward from their shoulders.

“Don’t move!” Vukaz hissed to the others out of the corner of his mouth, as they tensed to leap out of harm’s way.

“Yes, please don’t! It will make things all the more easy!” their foe laughed, as the drones launched an array of rockets. These missiles spiraled outward, detonating in bright bursts which faded to oily smoke. As it drifted apart, the group was revealed unharmed — protected by dappled energy barriers Vukaz generated around them.

The sand blue Sharaku expressed faint surprise, but quickly flicked several hand gestures at the drones, which split into multiple groups, seeking to outflank the invading force.

“Scatter and deal with them separately!” Bokoch yelled, as the Sharaku, Torika, and Skakdi hurled themselves in all directions. Many entered combat rolls, ending up close to the legs of the drones, rising with weapons extended to slice upward towards the drones’ torsos. However, the machines were surprisingly well-reinforced, resisting most melee weapons. Seeing this, many of the group resorted to their individual innate powers, as Bokoch and Zerakura drilled into drones using their heat and laser vision, and many of the Sharaku began charging their elemental powers. The scene quickly erupted into chaos, as the first few destroyed drones strew parts across as tiles, and elemental blasts were hurled through the air.

Zanta, largely fighting defensively by hurling drones into each other with fierce gusts of wind, soon worked his way over to where Chazok was engaging a half dozen drones at once. The bounty hunter was truly impressive, both visually and in battle. Clad in heavy silver armor across his torso and upper limbs, he wore the Kanohi-fused helmet he had welded earlier, as well as his signature jetpack Zanta had seen during the first Battle of Terra Nui. Finally, extending from the pack was a miniature chain gun, swiveling over his shoulder as it searched for targets. In the short time the Sharaku of Air took to clear the path to Chazok, the chain gun spat bolts of hot plasma at three of the drones, and Chazok tore into the others with large slugs from his Kemet Nui Blaster, while nimbly sidestepping their rapier thrusts. After only a matter of seconds, all six drones collapsed from either bolts to the head or energy burns through their torsos.

“Yes?” Chazok half-yelled as Zanta approached.

The ear-splitting thump of a sonic blast across the room prevented Zanta from answering, during which he took the moment to blow a drone into the rapier thrust of another a bio away.

“Our goal was to reach the control center. They’re just trying to pin us down!” he shouted.

“Correct,” Chazok said, taking a quick potshot at a new group of drones arriving, which they dodged with mechanized speed. “Can you get me to the fourth level catwalks?”

In response, Zanta grabbed the jetpack and teleported, dropping them on the platform in the other corner of the room. Chazok appeared dazed for a brief second, but shook it off easily, glancing around the current level before consulting his HUD readout. “There appear to be three passageways, the second of which is seventy percent more likely to lead deeper toward command levels. Go get more of them to spread out among the fortress, while the rest aim for control here.”

Zanta nodded, and the albino Skakdi sprinted away, aided by the thrust from his jetpack. However, the Sharaku waited a second to teleport back to the bottom level, taking in the aerial view of the combat. Drones had now swarmed in from the second and third levels, making a total of perhaps three score now present, although many had already fallen. Meanwhile, the sand blue Sharaku was certainly a fierce fighter, engaging three opponents — Thukor, the orange-colored Sharaku of Psionics, and a lime Torika. Thukor was laying down a hail of ice shards, and the Torika was controlling some sort of glowing lash floating in the air. Despite this onslaught, their opponent was harnessing strong telekinetic powers to batter their attacks aside, and assailing them with mental tosses of floating razor disks. Only the touches of the second Sharaku’s own weak telekinesis kept the deadly weapons away.

Clearly, it was time to lend a hand to turn the tide. Waiting for an opportune moment, Zanta teleported directly behind his target, as a razor disk paused in midair. The aerial weapon remained suspended to a brief second, during which Zanta struck out with his air axes, feeling their blades sink into the Sharaku’s back. The sand blue being groaned in agony, and the disk fell, released from its master’s invisible hand. Before it could reach the floor, the Torika flicked his energy lash over it, nearly bisecting the disk, and Thukor frosted over the other Sharaku’s torso with a film of ice. When Zanta withdrew his axes the being toppled forward, overcome by the sudden massive injury and the immobilizing frost.

Thukor made a move toward him, but the Psionic Sharaku held him back. “Sleep!” she shouted at the Sharaku, her voice like a lash. The downed enemy’s face contorted with struggle, but he remained awake. “Sleep!” she repeated in the same lacerating tone. This time their opponent succumbed, falling into a deep induced slumber.

“What was that?” the Torika wondered.

“In my village, we call it command voice. It’s a form of psychic suggestion. And what are you doing?” she added incredulously, as Thukor approached the prone Sharaku and began healing his wounds.

“Preventing his death,” Thukor responded, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. “We don’t want him dying before we can help him recover from the Brotherhood’s control.” He released the being, having closed the gashes in his back. “Can you deepen the sleep effect?”

“Sure,” she replied, giving a swift kick to the Sharaku’s head, sending him rolling across the tiles. Thukor gaped, but she simply began leaping away with telekinetically-aided cartwheels.

“More important things to deal with,” Zanta reminded Thukor. “There are still a lot of drones.” Almost immediately after he finished speaking, a colossal explosion lit up the entire southern corner of the room. Reflexively, Zanta raised his arms for protection, involuntarily cursing. “What in Mata Nui’s name was that?” The three of them collectively ran over toward the blast zone.

There, they were met with a sizeable crater in the tile flooring of the room. The center of the crater was a scorched waste, with not even mechanical drone parts left. Around it were several burnt figures, including Bokoch and Kavan, along with the barely recognizable remains of two Sharaku and a Torika, and clusters of warped drone refuse. Thukor immediately rushed to Bokoch, whose injuries were the most severe, while Zanta stood to guard against marauding drones, as a few nearby Sharaku joined him. “What happened?” Thukor asked.

“The cursed machines were aiming for my fuel tank,” Bokoch grunted. “I hadn’t realized it yet, but he —” the warlord pointed to the body of the Torika, “did, and dived at me to knock it away. He did, but then it took a stray rocket and detonated.” He shook his head in amazement. “Gave his own to save my fool life, and almost didn’t even manage that.”

“Well, I’ve stabilized you, but I can’t do too much more to tire myself. Be careful,” Thukor said. “Kavan, let’s see to you.” While Kavan’s injuries were not as systematic or life-threatening as Bokoch’s had been, his friend was still barely able to answer, concentrating as he was on the portal. Even with this effort, its edges were blurring and fading randomly. “Stay alert, buddy,” Thukor said, as he mended Kavan’s worse wounds. Fortunately, during the process, he saw some strength return to the Sharaku of Stone, although the portal still flickered slightly. Still, in Kavan’s current condition he was unfit to fight and properly fend off drones; he would have to be protected by some of their other fighters.

“Kavan, put your arm over my shoulder,” Thukor instructed. Kavan complied, and the Sharaku of Ice began making his way toward two Sharaku who had secured a level area in an alcove of the room, with only a few drones around them. Seeing the two relocate, Zanta followed, readying an elemental blast for the drones. Yet before he could launch it, stone spines erupted from the floor, impaling the mechaniods.

“I’m pleased to know you’re still capable of that, but save your energy,” Thukor chided to Kavan, before raising his voice to address the other Sharaku. “You two! Guard this wounded fighter behind the secure perimeter.”

The Sharaku turned, regarding Thukor with indifference and disgust, respectively. “Why should we take orders from you?” spat one of them. “Hanak and Chazok are in charge.”

“Because I’m the medic, Hanak has left this area to seek the control room, and this wounded Sharaku is the one keeping our exit strategy open,” Thukor replied icily. “And if he is injured again, he will lose consciousness, and we will be entombed in here. Am I clear?”

The friendlier-looking of the warriors quickly grasped the gravity of their charge. “Yes, as crystal.”

“Good. Watch him; watch that portal,” Thukor commanded, as ice lances projected from his outstretched hand to pierce through an approaching drone. “I will tend to other wounded. We’ve already lost six.” With Kavan safe for the foreseeable future, he loped away, as the Sharaku pair loosed another volley of darts and blasterfire at the enemies still scattered across the enormous room.

“I just hope the fighters who have spread out from here can find the controls soon,” the dourer of the two commented, “or we may have trouble.”

“I don’t think it’s a ‘may’,” his partner replied.

 

 

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Edited by Ballom, Aug 11 2014 - 10:06 PM.

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