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.