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.