Posted Sep 12 2012 - 09:13 AM
When Akuna awoke, she wished she’d remained asleep. The dark, stinky jungle was horrible in comparison to the wide open, lush green fields of her dream. And, of course, Nastan and most of the other Toa Shika were all still dead, which definitely put a damper on things.
Yet Akuna had to return to reality. She had a job to do, a job she couldn’t do if she was in dreamland. At least a part of Akuna, however, yearned for the past, but she tried to ignore it as best as she could. What happened in the past happened in the past and she couldn’t go back in time and redo it, no matter how much she wanted to.
Akuna sat up and rubbed her eyes, then looked around. She saw Kiriah and Ahova standing in front of her and Oggak, with their backs to them, which Akuna thought was odd until she spotted, through the gap between their bodies, a horse that looked to be made out of shadow. It just stood there, not making a sound.
“What . . . what is that thing doing?” Akuna asked Kiriah and Ahova.
The two Toa glanced over their shoulders at her and seemed surprised.
“Akuna, you’re awake,” said Kiriah. “That’s good.”
“Yeah,” said Ahova, nodding. “Just try not to make any sudden moves or the shadow pony will kill you.”
Oggak -- who had been kneeling next to Akuna -- shook her head and looked around in confusion until she spotted the horse.
“Uh oh,” said Oggak as she stood up. “Is that thing here to avenge its friends?”
“I don’t know,” said Kiriah with a shrug. “It just appeared out of nowhere and started walking toward us, but then just stopped for some reason. It hasn’t done anything since.”
“I think it’s waiting for the right opportunity to strike,” Ahova said, her gauntlets aimed at the horse. “It’s obviously too afraid of us to attack us. We must look pretty intimidating.”
“That’s can’t be true,” said Oggak, shaking her head. “For one, the horse doesn’t look intimidated. And why didn’t it attack earlier, when I was using my mask? I was practically defenseless. As I’m the only one who can harm these beasts, I’d think it would have attacked then.”
“I still think it’s waiting for the right moment to strike,” Ahova muttered under her breath.
“So it hasn’t done anything at all?” said Akuna as she stood up. “It hasn’t even whinnied?”
“Nothing,” Kiriah said. “It looks almost docile, but we haven’t tried to walk over to it or anything. Like Ahova said, it could just be waiting for the right moment to attack.”
Oggak watched the horse carefully for a moment, but it again made no move. Akuna thought it looked like it was waiting, but what it was waiting for, she didn’t know.
Then Oggak said, “Let me go over to it.”
Kiriah looked at Oggak as though she was insane. “Are you crazy? That thing’s friends just tried to kill us earlier. What if it attacks you when you least expect it?”
“I can take care of myself if it is a trap,” said Oggak. She pointed at her black and red armor and said, “Toa of Shadow, remember? I’m the best equipped to deal with it if it proves unfriendly.”
“I say you should go,” said Akuna, patting Oggak on the shoulder. “We can’t learn anything if we’re afraid to take a few risks, after all.”
“Trying to befriend a horse made of shadow seems like too big of a risk to me,” Ahova said. “But whatever. It’s your call.”
Oggak nodded and then started walking toward the horse. She did it slowly, but not fearfully. The others watched as Oggak drew closer and closer to the horse, but it didn’t even as much as move. It was definitely looking at Oggak, though, but what that meant, Akuna didn’t know.
Finally, Oggak reached the horse. It still stared down at her like it was waiting for her to do something. For a while, Oggak just looked up at the horse and the horse looked down at her. It was almost like they were having a staring contest.
Then Oggak reached up and started stroking the back of the horse’s neck. The horse didn’t say anything, but it did close its eyes, as though relaxed by Oggak’s touch.
Oggak looked over her shoulder and said to the others, “It’s okay. This horse isn’t bad. He’s a good horse.”
Akuna, Kiriah, and Ahova looked at each other dubiously, but then Kiriah took a step forward. Then another, and another, until Kiriah was walking toward the horse. Kiriah looked afraid, but she didn’t seem to be letting her fear get the best of her.
I shouldn’t be afraid, either, Akuna thought. If the horse isn’t attacking Oggak, then it won’t attack me.
Soon, all four of the Toa were standing around the horse, although Akuna, Kiriah, and Ahova stood a little farther from it than Oggak did. The horse opened its eyes briefly when they approached, probably to make sure they weren’t enemies, but then immediately closed them and went back to enjoying Oggak stroking it.
“So . . .” said Ahova. “Are we . . . keeping it?”
Akuna shrugged. “I don’t know. It doesn’t seem violent or crazy, but on the other hand . . .”
“The only thing I don’t understand,” said Oggak as she stroked the horse’s mane, “is why Ata is no longer under the Ghost King’s control.”
“Ata?” Kiriah repeated incredulously. “Is that what you’re calling it?”
Oggak shrugged sheepishly. “It needs a name if we’re going to talk about it. So I thought Ata would be a good name for it.”
“Okay,” said Kiriah, although she didn’t sound convinced. “How do you know, er, ‘Ata’ worked for the Ghost King?”
“The ancient legends say so,” Oggak replied. “I just remembered it now. Some World’s End legends state that the Ghost King had three Dark Horses under his command, which were supposed to be more terrible and powerful than any of his Ghosts. They were said to have been created by the Ghost King to deal with threats that his Ghosts couldn’t.”
“Are there any other minions of evil that happen to work for the Ghost King that you haven’t mentioned yet?” said Akuna. “Like, say, demons that want to eat us from the inside out?”
Oggak frowned, still stroking Ata’s mane. “I think so. Some legends say the Ghost King has complete control over the sea monsters around his island, but that’s not relevant to us because we’re on land. Others say that he can bend the will of any flying beast, but considering how thick the tree tops here are, I don’t think we’ll have to worry about flying monsters.”
“Good,” said Kiriah with a shudder. “This jungle is already bad enough without extra dangers.”
“I know,” said Ahova, nodding. “I mean, look at all of this mud on my armor. Not to mention the Ghosts and annoying insects and the heat and the humidity. I just don’t understand how anyone can live on this island.”
Akuna stroked her chin and looked at Ata. “Hmm, I guess we can keep it. If it really is tame and the Dark Horses are supposed to be that powerful, it might be useful to have it on our side, in case the Ghosts decide to attack us again.”
Oggak didn’t smile, but Akuna could tell that the Toa of Shadow was pleased.
“Can we ride her?” said Kiriah, looking at Ata. “She doesn’t have a saddle, but can we ride her anyway?”
“I doubt it,” said Oggak. “Well, maybe I can, but that may have to do with my affinity toward shadow. Try touching her.”
Akuna, Kiriah, and Ahova hesitantly reached out to touch it, but their hands just passed through the Horse’s body. Akuna withdrew her hand immediately because Ata’s body was extremely cold. It felt like ice-cold water, perhaps even colder than that. She had no idea how Oggak was able to tolerate such coldness, although being a Toa of Shadow probably helped.
“Well, then,” said Akuna, turning away from Ata. “Now that we’ve got our little pony, we might as well continue on to Mount Apocalypse.”
The party of five continued walking through the dark jungle. Akuna was in the lead, for her Mask of Night Vision illuminated the path well. The path here was less cluttered with shrubbery and the ground was beaten flat, which probably meant that it was a path regularly used by the Ghosts.
Or by some really nasty Rahi, Akuna thought, but she pushed that thought out of her mind. There’s no need to invent fake problems. We’ve already got enough real problems as is.
Her dream from earlier still shook her. She remembered Oggak was about to say something about the Ghost King and his involvement with it, but then trailed off for some reason. Akuna wanted to talk to Oggak, but Oggak was walking behind her beside Ata, for Oggak was the only one who could keep Twilight in check. Akuna decided she’d talk with Oggak later.
They walked in silence for several minutes. The jungle, as usual, was eerily quiet, but Akuna was so used to that by now that she didn’t even notice. She just kept her audio receptors open for any unusual sounds -- a rustling in the trees, a scurrying in the bushes -- that would signal the presence of enemies.
It was then that Oggak said, “Hey, what’s that?”
Akuna looked over her shoulder and saw Oggak pointing into the darkness. The light of Akuna’s Kanohi reflected off something large and metallic, but whatever it was, it was covered underneath a blanket of thick shrubbery.
“What is that?” said Ahova, looking at the large thing. “It looks completely out of place here. Then again, so do we, so maybe it’s not that surprising. We should definitely investigate it, though.”
“I agree,” Oggak said. “We should go find out what it is.”
“Why?” said Akuna, glancing irritably at her friend. “That’s not on the way to the mountain. In fact, that’s almost the opposite direction.”
“Because I have been very curious about this island’s history since we first came here,” Oggak said. “Who knows, it might be something important. And if it’s not, we haven’t really lost much time, have we? It’s not like we’re on a deadline, you know.”
“Okay,” said Akuna. “But we’re only going to check it out for a few minutes. Then we’re getting back on the path.”
Oggak nodded and started walking through the foliage toward the object, Ata trotting beside her. Kiriah and Ahova came next, followed by Akuna, who brought up the rear. Akuna glanced over her shoulder as they walked, but she neither saw nor heard any sign of the Ghosts. Any minute now, she was sure, the Ghosts would be back to kill her and the others, but so far the Ghosts either had not found them or were cowards.
So Akuna kept her guard up until they reached the large metallic object. Akuna could tell that the object was an airship, even though it was buried halfway in the mud. She had never been to Metru Nui before, but she had seen Dark Hunters on Shika Nui using airships to transport agents and cargo. This one looked a little different from those ones, however, although Akuna didn’t know if that was because of its age or simply because of the mud and foliage that obscured it.
“What is it?” said Ahova, knocking on the airship’s surface with her fist. “Sounds hollow.”
“It’s an airship,” Oggak said. “By the look of it, an older model. I wonder how it got here. None of the legends I know speak of the Ghost King or his Ghosts using an airship.”
“It’s half-sunken in the mud, though,” said Akuna, tilting her head to the side. “I mean, it looks like an airship, but it’s hard to tell for sure.”
“Let’s find out,” said Oggak, turning to Ahova. “Ahova, can you lift this thing out of the mud with your magnetism?”
Ahova raised her gauntlets and smiled. “Of course. Y’all will just need to stand back, however, because I might accidentally knock some trees over, depending on how closely the roots are tied to the airship.”
Akuna, Oggak, Kiriah, and Ata retreated a safe distance away, near a cluster of trees that provided them some shelter in case of an emergency.
Then Ahova closed her eyes and started raising her hands. As she did so, the airship rose as well. It got stuck a couple of times and a few trees were knocked over, but eventually Ahova pulled the entire thing out of the thick mud. She used her magnetic powers to rest it on more stable ground a few feet away, then took a step back and sat on a protruding tree root.
“Whew,” said Ahova, putting one hand on her forehead. “That was a lot harder than I expected it.”
Now that the airship was out of the mud, Akuna could tell that it was rusted, and was missing some bits and pieces. It didn’t look flight-worthy anymore. Moss and mud covered it almost completely. The only hint of its original color was the orange poking out from beneath the layer of moss and mud, unless that was just the rust.
Oggak went over to it and started walking around it, occasionally scraping off bits of moss or mud with her sword. The Toa of Shadow’s actions were puzzling until she said, “Hey, guys, I’ve found something.”
Everyone else, Ata included, walked over to where Oggak stood, staring at a spot where she had scraped off some mud.
Akuna glanced at Ata, which was now standing next to Oggak like a loyal Ussal crab, and then shook her head and said to Oggak, “So, what have you found, Oggak?”
“This,” said Oggak, pointing at something on the airship’s hull.
Akuna leaned forward to get a better look. Three words were written on the airship’s hull, but they were so faded that it was difficult to read. Some of the letters were missing, too, so it came out reading something like this: _ _ _ _ _
“What does that mean?” said Akuna, looking at Oggak.
“The ship’s name is written on the hull,” Oggak explained. “It was standard practice when Makuta Miserix was leader of the Brotherhood of Makuta. It made it easier to identify airships that way.”
“So are you saying this is a Brotherhood of Makuta airship?” said Akuna, glancing back at the broken vehicle.
“Correct,” said Oggak, nodding. “Or, rather, was a Brotherhood airship. It obviously crashed here years ago, but who it belonged to . . . well, I have a theory about that.”
“What’s your theory?” Ahova asked. “Is the airship from another dimension?”
Oggak stared at Ahova for a moment and then shook her head. “No. What gave you that idea?”
Ahova shrugged. “I dunno. If no one from this universe has ever been here before us, where else could this airship have come from?”
“I’ll just talk about my theory,” said Oggak. “I think that this ship’s name was once The Flying Ghost. It’s the only Brotherhood airship whose name fits the remaining letters we have here.”
“Who owned The Flying Ghost?” said Akuna.
“A Makuta known as Trijorn, the former Makuta of Niji,” Oggak said, putting one hand on the airship. “Each Makuta owned their own private airship or sea ship for their own uses. Makuta Trijorn’s was The Flying Ghost. He named it that, I think, because his specialty was studying spirits; how they worked, what they were like, where they went after death, and so on.”
“So what happened to Trijorn?” said Kiriah. “Was he one of Teridax’s loyalists?”
“Not quite,” said Oggak, shaking her head. “Not many people know this, but after Teridax took leadership of the Brotherhood from Miserix, he sent Makuta Icarax and Makuta Gorast to eliminate members he felt were not loyal enough to the Plan. Trijorn happened to be one of them, but according to Order archives, Trijorn’s airship exploded south of the island of Artidax, completely incinerating Trijorn, thus saving his brothers the trouble of killing him.”
“If it exploded, then what’s this?” said Akuna, knocking her fist against the airship’s hull.
“That’s just the point,” said Oggak, frowning. “Both the Brotherhood of Makuta and the Order of Mata Nui confirmed Trijorn’s death. The Dark Hunters gave conclusive proof that they weren’t hiding him from the Brotherhood, too. I even remember the day Jerbraz returned to Daxia with the news. Said he’d seen the airship’s pieces himself and had seen no sign of Trijorn’s body or armor or anything.”
“Maybe someone else named their ship The Flying Ghost,” said Ahova, scratching the back of her neck. “I mean, I’m sure there are lots of people who like ghosts that fly. Who says this is the same one?”
“Even if that is true, it still does not explain how this airship got here,” said Oggak. “The Master of Mist is supposed to keep all beings from coming or going to World’s End. How could this airship have gotten here unless the Master allowed it to come here?”
Kiriah looked a bit uncomfortable, as though she were on the verge of confessing something she didn’t want to confess. “Um, guys?”
“Yes, Kiriah?” said Akuna, looking at her. “What’s the problem? Did you hear any Ghosts?”
“No,” said Kiriah, shaking her head. “It’s just . . . Ahova knows this, but I’ve been on World’s End before.”
“Say what?” said Akuna in surprise.
Kiriah explained, briefly and quickly, how she had gone on a dimension-hopping journey not long ago and how she had visited World’s End in one of those alternate universes. Ahova confirmed everything Kiriah said, so Akuna and Oggak had to believe her, however crazy her story was.
“The thing is, I didn’t see or meet the Master of Mist while there,” said Kiriah. “I know I should have mentioned this earlier, but we’ve been through so much recently that I forgot about it until just now.”
“How odd,” said Oggak. “Of course, that was an alternate universe, but from what you’ve said, that universe’s World’s End legends are more or less the same as ours. If so, then why-“
Ata stomped her hooves, causing all four Toa to jump. Kiriah even fell down in the mud, but immediately got back to her feet as all of the Toa looked around. Ata had obviously seen something, but whatever it was they could not spot at first.
That was when Akuna noticed a being in pale white armor standing next to a tree not far away. It was a Ghost, one who had a long scar running down her right cheek. The Ghost slowly walked up to them, her palms held out, but all four of the Toa were already aiming their weapons at the approaching Ghost.
“I didn’t know you managed to take control of one of the Dark Horses,” said the Ghost, glancing at Ata briefly. “Only the Ghost King has ever been able to control them.”
“Who are you?” Akuna demanded, still pointing her staff at the Ghost. “And don’t come any closer or we’ll make you wish you hadn’t.”
The Ghost stopped, still holding her hands up. “I'm not your enemy, Toa. My name is Tira. I'm one of the Ghost King’s Lieutenants.”
“A Lieutenant?” said Ahova. “Then that definitely makes you an enemy, ‘cause that kind of makes you a high-ranking Ghost, maybe even a leader for all we know.”
“Please, hear me out,” said Tira, clasping her hands together like she was begging. “I am no longer loyal to the Ghost King. In fact, most of us Ghosts no longer want him as our leader. He is cruel, paranoid, arrogant, and indifferent to our suffering. He is a tyrant whose harsh ways have gone unpunished for too long.”
“How can we trust you?” said Akuna. “Kiriah, can you read her mind?”
Kiriah shook her head. “No. That same mental presence covering the whole island makes it impossible to know what she’s thinking. I can only sense the most surface thoughts, but sometimes not even that.”
“So there’s no way we can know for sure that we can trust you,” said Akuna.
Tira lowered her hands and grabbed the axe attached to her belt. Akuna expected the Ghost Lieutenant to attack, but then Tira tossed her axe toward them. The axe landed at their feet and Tira immediately fell to her knees, both hands on the soft muddy ground.
“See? I’m not tricking you,” said Tira. “I gave you my weapon and I am on my knees. If I were planning something, you can bet that I wouldn’t be doing any of this.”
Akuna put one foot on Tira’s axe, but still didn’t lower her staff. “I guess that makes some sense, but . . .”
“The whole reason I searched you out was to tell you that we Ghosts are planning a rebellion,” said Tira. “And we need your help to pull it off.”
“Our help?” said Akuna, throwing skeptic glances at her friends. “Just why should we help you?”
“Help us because, well, you’re already here to kill the Ghost King,” said Tira. “So we thought-“
“We’re not trying to kill him,” said Oggak quietly. “Where did you get that idea?”
“Well, because the Ghost King said his enemy sent you four to kill him,” said Tira, looking slightly taken aback. “It was the only logical explanation any of us could think of, so we thought-“
“We’re heroes, not assassins,” said Akuna flatly. “While we were sent here by the Master of Mist, he sent us to get some specific information from the Ghost King, information that could save the whole universe if he tells it to us.”
“And what is that information?” said Tira.
“The secret to defeating Makuta Teridax, of course,” said Ahova. “The Master of Mist said that the Ghost King knows the secret to defeating Teridax. So we came here to talk to him about it, but then you Ghosts attacked us and we had to fight back and we’ve been on the run ever since. It’s a weird tale if you think about it.”
“The Master of Mist,” said Tira thoughtfully. “You know, I’ve never seen him, even though the Ghost King says he exists. He’s never come to World’s End or even interacted with us. The Ghost King always gave us orders not to go near the mist surrounding the island, probably to keep us from getting harmed by the Master.”
Oggak stroked her chin. “That’s interesting.”
Tira shook her head. “Well, I suppose that changes things, then. But can’t you at least help us? You don’t need to kill the Ghost King yourself, if you don’t want to. You can help us defeat him. Then we’ll take care of him in our own way.”
“We just want to talk with him,” said Akuna. “We want to convince him to give us the secret to defeating Teridax.”
“You clearly don’t know the Ghost King, then,” said Tira with a snort. “He’s incredibly paranoid. Right now, he’s got the rest of the Ghosts gathered at the Field of Skulls, waiting for you all in ambush. He himself is there, too, and he wants you four dead.”
“We can probably still reason with him,” said Akuna. “Can’t we?”
Tira shrugged. “In all of my years of service to the Ghost King, I have never seen anyone reason with that tyrant. I doubt he even knows what reason is.”
“That might complicate things a bit,” said Oggak dryly. “By the way, Tira, has the Ghost King ever told you the secret to defeating Teridax?”
Again, Tira shook her head. “No. This is actually the first time I’ve heard of it. I never knew that the Ghost King knew that.”
Oggak nodded, as though Tira had just confirmed some private theory of hers. Akuna didn’t bother guess at what it was, though, because she had more important things to worry about right now.
“You’re absolutely sure he can’t be reasoned with?” said Akuna to Tira. “The Ghost King is completely insane and paranoid?”
“Essentially, yes,” Tira said, nodding. “But maybe, if you help us, you’ll be able to force him to give you the information.”
“What do you guys think?” said Akuna, turning back to face the other three. “Should we work with the Ghosts to defeat the Ghost King or not?”
“Just so you know,” Tira hastily interjected, “regardless of whether you agree to work with us or not, we’re going ahead with the rebellion. Your involvement would help but isn’t necessary.”
“We don’t seem to have much of a choice,” said Oggak. “If this rebellion succeeds, the Ghosts will probably kill the Ghost King before we can get the information from him. If we work with them, we can at least make sure that the Ghost King lives long enough to give us the information we need.”
“I agree with Oggak,” Kiriah said, nodding at Tira. “This seems like a pretty good opportunity to finish this mission and help some oppressed people at the same time. It seems like a good situation for us.”
“I’m with Oggak and Kiri,” said Ahova with a smile. “It’ll be a heck of a lot easier than doing it on our way, anyway.”
Akuna looked back at Tira. The Toa of Lightning still didn’t trust the Ghost. The rebellion seemed too abrupt, too convenient for the Toa. It could just as easily be a trap set up by the Ghost King to ensnare Akuna and the others.
Yet Akuna, for the life of her, could not think of one logical reason to distrust Tira. She had no proof or evidence that Tira was lying, and frankly, with the approval of the others, it seemed paranoid to think that Tira was trying to deceive them. And considering the Ghosts’ track record, Akuna figured they could take care of themselves if this turned out to be a trap.
So Akuna turned back around and said to Tira, “All right. We agree to your alliance. Let’s start planning.”
Edited by TNTOS, Dec 18 2013 - 05:27 PM.