My story began many thousands of years ago, in an unseemly protodermis mine beneath Zakaz. The sound of pickaxes, all day, and all night, there is nothing duller. I slaved away, day and night, in that detestable hole full of protodermis, sweating vagrants and disgusting subterranean Rahi. What a waste. Of course I knew my own brilliance, but no one else did. To the overseer who ran the mine, I was just another greedy, overambitious worker nourishing empty hope. The mine overseer … he was as big as a mountain, red armour, good at intimidating the workers, a brutish lava ape. He had a whip like the Kanohi Dragon’s tail and an axe that looked like it could have cleaved one of the workers in two with one stroke, if they had given him a good excuse to do it. In short, he was the epitome of our kind. Which I'm sure is why the Dark Hunters put him in charge of their mine. The Dark Hunters owned the mine; they had since they killed the last overseer and owner – a weak, pathetic creature.
As much as the other workers hated the new overseer, I didn't. I was jealous of him, of the power he had over them; I could have been so much more than what I was. If only I had the chance to prove it. I remember thinking to myself, "Here I am breaking rocks with these worthless beggars; my life could be so much more than this. Someday they'll see, someday I'll show them all what power looks like, and on that day, lava will rain from the sky, the earth will tremble, the sea itself will retreat, the very cliffs will collapse to bow before me, even the wind will whisper my praises. And my name will be praised by every mouth still alive to do so. My magnificence will be undeniable, any who so much as think of dissent will die. I will be greater than Mata Nui himself. And it will happen, the world can count on that."
Little did I know that soon, I would be set on that course, which I'm now so close to completing. It was not long before the day came when I was given an excuse to push for greater station. The overseer was menacing some crippled wretch of an earth Skakdi working near me.
"Pick up the pickaxe, or you'll have more than a pain in the back to worry about!" he was bellowing. The earth Skakdi might have had a back problem, but they say injury only makes earth Skakdi fiercer. So it was to prove. This Skakdi did pick up his pickaxe, and threw it at the overseer. Had the brute not melted it with his eye beams, it would've hit him in the face.
"Get lost, or you'll have more than a pickaxe in the face to worry about!" he bellowed back at the overseer. Of course, this was his last show of defiance; the overseer had his assistant – a twisted, evil one with a crooked back – throw the earth Skakdi into the lava pool in the depths of the mine.
It was then that I had a delightfully cunning idea – the earth Skakdi was a good friend of many of the other miners, and I would use that to my advantage; I would use his death as an excuse to start a revolt. I operationalized my plan by silently killing a few of the overseer's guards, stealing their weapons and hiding their corpses until needed. I made sure to swiftly return to my designated area, and spread the word among the other miners. Once satisfied I'd recruited sufficient followers, I handed out the equipment, and dragged one of the guard's corpses out into the open. Sure enough, the brutish ape and his assistant came blundering and bellowing into our midst, demanding to know who had killed his guards. The trap was sprung immediately; both of them died in the ensuing fight, as well as a few of my men, but that mattered little to me. I was being heralded a hero, and was swiftly declared the new overseer. And so the slave became the slaver, exactly as planned. But I had little time to glory in my cunning and guile, or to settle into my new role. Word reached The Shadowed One, as it was his mine, and the news intrigued him such that he came to Zakaz in person. I'll always remember the day he walked into my new quarters.
"Quite a show," he said, almost before he'd shut the door behind him, "using revenge for the death of a 'friend' as a smokescreen to climb to the top; most revolutionary leaders wish they were so noble." He chuckled, and he cut me off as I began to speak. "Don't deny it, I know your kind; always manipulating. You executed his overthrow well, for a miner untrained in combat or leadership. As I hope you've guessed, I'm not here to punish you; you'd be no use to me dead. I'm here to offer you a place in our ranks. I need followers with command over guile such as yours. You have a will to conquer, to grow in power, to succeed just as all Skakdi do, now I offer you the rare opportunity to realise your desire. Serve me, and you shall have all of these things. Betray me, and you'll be lucky if I don’t let the Rahi have your corpse." Seeing I would be mad to deny such opportunity, of course I accepted, and in their ranks I stayed…for as long as it suited me.
But I'll not jump that far ahead; despite them growing unnecessary, I had my fun with the Dark Hunters. The work was certainly less mundane than eternal digging. It was while being initiated by The Shadowed One that I met five strangers of my kind who are currently the other Piraka, even if such a flimsy alliance cannot last. Firstly Reidak - he's more intelligent than his brutish manner would suggest, even if he chooses not to show it. The Shadowed One was particularly fond of pairing me with him for missions; he always liked sending teams or pairs with completely incompatible personalities on missions. His sense of humour, I suppose. Avak, much more useful than most of the others; he's useless at hand-to-hand combat, but his knowledge of machinery and his power to create prisons for any circumstance makes him a useful ally. Or a challenging foe, which is something I should and will keep in mind. Hakann is full of the bravado and omnipresent fury that characterises the fire Skakdi; his impulsiveness definitely makes him impossible to work with, and his treacherous nature makes him impossible to like. Thok, he's the stereotypical loner, who has certainly been making a much greater effort to mingle with the other five of us as of late, but I suspect a more sinister motive than supporting the team. Finally, Vezok, he was a lot calmer and slightly more intelligent before Vezon was split from him; now, he's practically anger given physical form. Even before the creation of Vezon he was far from the brightest of us, but now, well, most Rahi have a greater intellectual capacity than him. I've definitely taken a personal dislike to Vezok.
One of our additional training sessions entailed stealing from a safe without leaving any evidence, which Vezok and Reidak promptly failed, even if the cowardly Toa training us, Nidhiki, did say they did fine, being the weak sycophant he is. Thok used his power to animate the safe and make it spill its innards before him, before returning it to normal. Avak used his knowledge of machinery to discreetly open and reseal the safe, although it took a while. Hakann, being a skilled thief, stole its key from Nidhiki's satchel, and returned it without any of us noticing until he explained himself. Then it was my turn. Of course, I could have filed some of my protodites through the crack of the safe's door and opened it from the inside, but I felt that it was expected. I decided I wanted to try to open the safe differently. I used the greatest weapon at my disposal, one greater than any of the others' petty tricks; my mind.
So I stared through the crack of the safe's door, and familiarised myself with the mechanism holding the safe shut. Satisfied I could open it, I carefully inserted my thin scissor blades into the gap, and watching carefully, I coaxed the mechanism into movement, rotating the gears inside until the door clicked. And so the safe was open. After claiming its contents, I used my weapon once more to close the door. Toa Nidhiki gave me an approving look, though it meant little coming from such a doormat.
"You've learned something important, Skakdi," he said. "The greatest weapon isn't an all-destroying cannon, or an elemental power, or even a powerful and unique ability – it's the mind, especially if it's in the head of a lateral thinker." I resisted the urge to point out that I already knew that to Nidhiki, being cowardly and sycophantic as he was. And so that training session ended with The Shadowed One and his inner circle even more sure that we would be valuable assets to his lowly band of cutthroats, thieves and mercenaries, as unlikely as it was that we would settle with such unfavourable terms, as it was to prove. But once again, I'm getting ahead of myself.
It was all of us (minus Avak) who rebelled against The Shadowed One and lived. It was Vezok, Reidak and Avak who unleashed the Kanohi Dragon in Metru Nui. It was Thok who was sent to kidnap Turaga Dume. It was Avak and I who were sent to establish a Dark Hunter cell in Metru Nui once the Brotherhood's pet spiders were driven out, which we failed, having not expected to encounter Turaga Dume, the six Rahaga that Roodaka once told me about, and a yellow colossus unknown to us. It was Tracker, Avak, Thok and I who captured Roodaka and brought her before The Shadowed One for interrogation.
I even managed to take quite a few valuable objects without The Shadowed One's notice; take for example the time Reidak, Avak and I were sent to find and retrieve a cache of Griffin Gauntlets near the Southern Continent, shortly after the beginning of the war with the Brotherhood of Makuta. A travelling De-Matoran pointed us in the direction of a small town on an island not far south, before we took his valuables and Reidak buried him alive with his weapon's power to destabilise solid ground into quicksand. After a mercifully brief journey to the island, we arrived at the docks of a coastal village we found to be guarded by a Toa of Plasma.
"You've no business here, Skakdi," he sneered. "Crawl back to Zakaz." He raised his mace in an attempt to threaten us. "Or I will throw you back."
"Tsk, tsk," I said. "Such poor manners for a Toa, but no matter. We are here for a cache of Griffin Gauntlets; we have it on … good authority that they are on this miserable rock. And you’re going to tell us where."
"And if I refuse?" We smiled at his predictable defiance.
"That would be most unwise," I warned him. "Refuse, and we'll destroy everything in our path until we find them, starting with you and your village." I was fast losing my patience, but I did not show it. The Toa did falter for a while.
"No," he finally said. "I won't allow that. Nor will I allow you access to such weapons. If you want me to talk, I invite you to try and make me." And so we fought, three of us versus one of him, it was a brief fight of course. He used his Kadin to fly above and pepper us with seering plasma, only to be shot down by Avak.
"You'll never make me talk," he said, still defiant, even after defeat. I finally lost my patience.
"You two," I snarled at Avak and Reidak, "stay here!" I dragged the defeated and feebly protesting Toa away and suffice to say, it was one of the more gratifyingly horrific deaths I delivered; I returned in a much better mood. And so we did what we had promised the Toa – we destroyed his village until we found what we came for, the Griffin Gauntlets, which were in the hands of a particularly stubborn and aggressive Turaga of Fire.
Of course, just as stubborn as the Toa, the old fool made an attempt at resistance – he shook his staff at us, barraged us with sparks, and accidentally singed one of his carpets. He even threatened to use one of the gauntlets.
"I suggest you listen to me before you do anything rash, you ancient torch-lighter," I growled. "You know as well as I do that using that gauntlet would require you to kill one of us. And no Matoran, Toa or Turaga would dare do such a thing." He pondered that for a while, eventually relinquishing the gauntlets. A quick test of the gauntlets later, and the village needed not only new Toa, but a new Turaga too; Reidak looked gleefully between the gauntlet and the crushed Turaga and shards of crystalline protodermis on the floor.
"Imagine what one of these could do to a Makuta, see if they're so high and mighty when their armour is a crumpled—" Avak cut him off.
"A fine idea, assuming you could get close enough without being killed by a shadow hand, you fool," he scoffed, idly flexing the fingers of his gauntlet. "In fact, why don't you try it, Reidak, see what happens? Perhaps we'll get your share of the pay back on Odina..."
"If you and Reidak are quite done," I cut in. "I'm going to see if the Turaga had any other gauntlets stowed away, or anything else of value." Before either of them could protest, I left, actually intending to hide one of the gauntlets I had stolen. Someday, I will retrieve it.
But by far, the best paying job I ever did for the Dark Hunters was when Vezok, Thok and I were hired by a warlord on Zakaz about ten years ago. It was Ancient who approached us with the news.
"We've received a message from Zakaz; a warlord needs some mercenaries to bolster his forces to repel a siege. The Shadowed One has decided you're going. The boat is waiting for you down on Nidhiki Beach, as always. Amphibax will take you there and bring the boat back." When we did arrive on the east coast of Zakaz, we found ourselves in the middle of the siege. The sky was orange and smoking, and through the smoke we could barely see the fortress of the Skakdi warlord who had contacted us, my former tribe leader. At its gate was an army consisting mainly of earth, stone and fire Skakdi, with a small group of the defending force – consisting mainly of ice, water and air Skakdi – trying in vain to dismantle the battering rams beating upon the gate, and drive back the enemy.
Behind the front lines, the attacking tribe had flame launching cannons, its contents arcing through the sky into the fortress, which was burning rapidly. At the head of the attackers was a heavily armoured crimson warlord unfamiliar to us, on the back of a Tahtorak, a Devastator lance in hand. We watched in awe as in one stroke, he skewered three of the defenders and used the explosive power of his lance to finish them off.
"No place like home, huh?" Vezok said, capturing the scene in a nonchalant sweep of his arm. After a silent moment, he rolled his eyes, and asked: "Have either of you ever been told how humourless you are?" Again, his comment was ignored.
"We're not getting in this way." Thok pointed at the nektann and heavily armed Skakdi lining the battlements. "Perhaps there is anoth—" He was cut short as we were teleported away from the battle, into a long, stone chamber, the cacophony of battle still present in the air, but muffled. This was the warlord's throne room. My former tribe leader was poring over a table cluttered with battle plans and maps of the island. He was a magnificent specimen of our species, a titanic air Skakdi; wearing a horned circlet as a crown, in his hands he held an awesome greatsword, and strapped to his back was a wickedly curved battle dagger that could easily have been a sword to any lesser being. He turned to address us.
"So, the Shadowed One presents me with some of my own kind," the warlord said, evidently unsure if he'd been given a bad deal by the Shadowed One. "It's good that I was informed of your arrival before you got too close to the battle, and had the chance to teleport you here."
"What do you mean by that?" Vezok growled, his eyes beginning to glow. I quickly remedied the situation with my foot and turned back to the amused warlord.
"Don't mind Vezok, he's uncouth by nature and often forgets his manners," I apologised. "Now, what do you need?"
"I need you to break the siege by sabotaging the enemy war machines and disposing of their Tahtorak." he said. "If we overcome the enemy forces, I will have another job ready for you, if you want it."
"And our payment?" Vezok was impatient, as always.
"It will be given to you once you complete your task," the warlord’s voice was not one of a being who was going to change his mind, "and not before. And if you fail, I have no use for your corpses, except perhaps as food for my Tahtorak. Now, be gone." We began with the five battering rams. Thok froze one of the wooden legs of the first ram, and shattered it with his ice peg, effectively destroying the ram and burying a party of enemy Skakdi who had noticed us under the debris. Vezok disabled the second by firing water daggers from his buzzsaw into its treads. Soon, all five were either immobile or destroyed.
Next we fought our way away from the gates to the ten flame cannons, I split the first in half with my laser vision. Thok animated another to destroy the rest, and left it to cause general chaos amongst the enemy forces. Utilising the distraction, we slipped towards the five Tahtorak of the enemy tribe, approaching from behind, we slashed at their ankle pistons with our weapons, toppling the roaring creatures, and taking their riders by surprise. With their war machines useless, their Tahtorak injured and immobile, and one of their own cannons turned against them, the enemy tribe was demoralised and quickly surrounded and forced to either surrender or retreat. To finish, Thok rendered the flame cannon inanimate once more and left it for the warlord to claim. The siege was broken, and the warlord was generous with his payment.
"My control of this area of Zakaz has been affirmed, and each of you has my thanks. Even better, I'm now in a position to launch an attack on the enemy stronghold further inland, which is just what I plan to do. If you are interested, I would have you assist in our siege upon the enemy tribe’s fortress." Of course, tempted by the promise of more pay, we agreed.
We rode on Tahtorak of our own alongside the warlord; we were to serve as his generals for the duration of the siege. We rode through the forested oasis behind the fortress, where repairs were well underway, then back out into the open desert, before finally arriving at the base of a dormant volcano. Nestled in a valley at the base of this volcano was the fortress of the fire warlord, its dark, volcanic stone façade decorated with statues of the warlord’s spine and its battlements bristling with combat nektann.
The first of our force to advance up to the walls were the warlord’s machines, black nektann and repair nektann mainly, as well as laser ballistae. The enemy scouts were quick to notice the movement, and the gates momentarily opened, and a small army of earth, stone and fire Skakdi poured out. The laser ballistae shot fiery, circular holes into the enemy Skakdi, killing them with ease, and even melted parts of the wall. Vezok urged his Tahtorak forward, surging through and destroying a large section of the wall, and causing mass destruction in the town within the walls, roaring with maniacal laughter all the while. Thok and I herded a large portion of the army with our Tahtorak, before either trampling them or picking them off with our Devastators.
The warlord followed Vezok, before signalling Thok and I to follow him. His Tahtorak rammed down the gate, and our Tahtorak advanced down the main street to the keep, trampling and spearing any who stood in our way. After leaving the Tahtorak to the warlord’s lieutenants to prevent us from being overrun while we were inside the keep, we advanced through the stone corridors, dispatching the remnants of the enemy warlord’s army along the way.
Eventually, we arrived in the central room of the keep, where thin veins of lava flowed along the wall, and the fire warlord stood ready for combat in front of his throne. In one hand, he brandished a two-bladed battleaxe. On the other, he wore a black, clawed gauntlet, shadow energy crackling around it.
"What a role reversal," the warlord of air sneered. "Now your lordship ends, your land will be mine, I will become the most powerful warlord on Zakaz," he said as he unlimbered his greatsword, "and you will die."
"Don't count your necrofinches before they hatch," the warlord of fire warned. "I still live, and as long as I live, your dreams are just dreams. I leave you this last chance to retreat back to your hovel on the coast, and retire from the bloody politics of Zakaz, before I erase you from it." Our employer laughed.
"You truly believe you are still in a position to issue ultimatums?" He strode forward, greatsword swung over his shoulder. "Now, we prove the hubris of your words."
And so we fought. The warlord of fire swept away Thok with a torrent of shadow, and Vezok battered the warlord with an imitation blast of shadow. The battle continued, with the four of us at an impasse with the fire warlord. As we fought, a plan formed in my head, and I sent a few small clumps of my protodites to tell Vezok, Thok and the warlord. The air warlord fired a blast of wind from his greatsword, throwing the enemy warlord into the wall, before the enemy warlord could move forward again, Thok used his vision power to disorientate him, and Vezok used his impact vision to smash the wall. As I'd hoped, lava avalanched into the room and consumed the screaming warlord, killing him. Before the lava could flood the room, Vezok and Thok combined their elemental powers to freeze the lava back into rock.
I stood back and admired my handiwork, the dead warlord's face still protruded from the rock, frozen in a permanent scream of pain, as did his shadow gauntlet, which the air warlord grabbed triumphantly and donned. He turned back to us.
"I regret that you are in the Shadowed One's employ rather than mine," the green titan said, and unusually for a Skakdi, the gratitude in his voice seemed sincere. "For it is thanks to the three of you that I've kept control of my own territory, and annexed this poor axe-dragger's territory into the bargain, making me one of the most powerful warlords on the island. And make no mistake, I will pay accordingly." He handed us a bloated sack of Skakdi argent, and a tablet. "These are blueprints for a launcher. Some of my men … acquired them … from the cache of an enemy warlord. They should be of some use to The Shadowed One."
He provided us with steeds to return to the coast – where we would sail back to Odina with Amphibax – and dismissed us. Of course, the blueprints never reached The Shadowed One, and were later used by Avak to make our Zamor launchers. We also kept a significant portion of the money, which we stashed near the air warlord’s fortress, where we recently retrieved it to buy copies of blueprints for various kinds of stationary nektann from Xia, which Avak used to produce the nektann that surround our stronghold.
For the present, our search for the Mask of Life has met with no success yet, but we have discovered a possible lead – Brutaka, a large, golden warrior who has been in this area for millennia, if anyone will know, he will. Fortunately, I have managed to secure his loyalty, but when searching for something as priceless as the Mask of Life, no allegiance is absolute. I will remember that, and the others had better remember, too.
Edited by Toa Makao, Jun 09 2014 - 12:02 PM.