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The Sordid Shafts

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#1 Offline Maganar

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Posted Sep 05 2012 - 08:53 PM

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Prologue + 0 hours Modos was in a state of decay when I first arrived there. It had lost its previous defenders in a series of pirate raids. One had been abducted by the pirates for some reason none of the citizens could fathom, the rest had been killed. After that, well, that’s what I witnessed when I arrived: some archaic elemental called the Light Ravager shows up and blasts half the city into oblivion. They were desperate. As sure as I am the Fire Toa Tignioni, I was going to do something to help them. My team as a whole could never have afforded to stop on our task. It was our goal to destroy the Ravager and prevent this sort of thing from ever happening again. I was worried, though. What if, out of desperation, the townspeople here in Modos turned to the wrong people for help? I couldn’t abandon them. I’d been at my task for long enough. I left the others to finish the quest. I was staying behind. They weren’t going to make it with just one Toa as their entire defending force, however. I trained the townspeople how to defend themselves enough so that any one part of the town would be able to hold off attackers long enough for me to deal with the other fronts first. The villagers were more capable than you might expect. They aren’t all Matoran. We have a fair number of Vortixx that act as overseers and merchants. There aren’t many, but we have a few Steltians, including members from each level of the social ladder. Our elitist Steltians handle trade negotiation; the others remain local and rarely venture beyond Modos. It’s a good thing they can fight: I just wouldn’t be able to be everywhere at once in a major engagement. They learned well. It was pleasant work, teaching them. I enjoyed every day of it. That’s what brought me to today. And today is about to change everything for the devastated town of Modos.

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+ 0 hours The leader of the town, Tol, is at my door. He speaks to me. “Tignioni, we’re going to need you soon. The pirates are back.” He looks at the floor. “The attack force is bigger than ever before. We don’t know why. They took out all our defenders last time. They don’t need the same amount of muscle to rob us blind anymore. You know what I’ve told you. They would charge in and send some of their numbers to preoccupy the defenders while the rest looted everything of value they could snatch. It’s bad. What do they want this time? To wipe us all out? Because they have the firepower to do it with no problem this time. I don’t know what to say.” He looks into my eyes. I see desperation there – hopelessness, too. He seems to think I’m going to give up on them and leave. That isn’t happening. “How far out are they? Did the sentries just find out?” He releases a sigh of relief, but then remembers that the odds are still hopelessly stacked against us. “Yes. According to the signals, we have until sundown before they make it here. It will be a night battle.” “Ok, spread the word. I need to formulate a plan to deal with this.” He looks at me like a dead man walking. I don’t blame him if what he says is true. The sentries are on a series of lookout posts. These tall towers are placed on the highest peaks of the surrounding mountainchains. They have telescopes that are used to survey the sea for impending marauders and mirrors to send light signals to one another. The farthest outposts are a long distance down the shoreline. That’s why the warning was able to make it here as soon as it did. It’s still the early morning. We have a whole day to prepare thanks to the well-organized system in place.

| | / /

“What I’m suggesting is that we take the scaffolding from the repair effort and lay it down horizontally, facing the direction of the attackers. Bolster it by using rubble – we certainly have enough of that lying around! – and you have a barricade.” I’m doing my best to organize an effort to erect a defensible perimeter along major venues in Modos. There will be no way to defend the entire area, so it’s going to be a matter of prioritization: get everyone to the most defensible locations, then hold those with everything we have. Anything hard to defend must be abandoned. We can always rebuild, but we can’t raise dead townspeople. “I will notify the workers,” drones a Matoran of Gravity. Many of the members of his elemental affiliation speak in such a manner, at least the ones around Modos. We have a major mining operation in Modos; it’s what supports our economy. We export ore, stone, and metals – even some precious minerals – all across the known world. The Matoran of Gravity work most of the shafts and perform a lot of the strenuous labor. Matoran of Plasma typically work the heated machines and manage the slag in refineries. They are more experienced in these functions. Suddenly, a major tremor racks the earth. I barely manage to stay on my feet. Luckily, there are few tall structures left on Modos that could be damaged by the tremor. It wasn’t really an earthquake, just an isolated tremor that passed by like a shockwave. Almost immediately, I see a Matoran of Plasma running towards me from the entrance to our mining shafts. “Tignioni, Toa, protector, Tignio-” “Calm yourself,” I say. “What’s going on down there?” “The shafts, Toa! We think they’re all about to collapse. Everyone down there might die! Please, Toa, please; you have to do something. Toa-” “Don’t worry, my friend,” I say attempting to mollify this distraught Matoran. “There is nothing I can do help fight the pirates until they get here. I will attend to the mines in the meantime. Tell those that are able to get out to evacuate the mines. I will come soon to rescue the ones that are trapped.” “Thank you, Toa, thank you!” I stop for a moment to collect my thoughts. I’ll give the evacuation process some time to get underway before I rush into the shafts. Until the majority has gotten themselves out, I’ll only get in the way. This is an unforeseen complication. Now I will have to descend into the mine shafts, get the Matoran miners out, and then return to the surface, all before sundown as the Matoran need me to protect them from the pirates. In Modos, I snidely remark to myself, there is never a simple situation.

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Edited by Maganar, Oct 07 2012 - 08:39 PM.

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#2 Offline Maganar

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Posted Sep 09 2012 - 02:46 PM

+ 2 hours The female Vortixx perched atop a pile of rubble calls out to me.“Toa, we have contacts!” Barely any time has passed since the tremor. What is going on now! “What can you possibly mean? Don’t tell me the pirates sent scouts ahead!” “Uh, no Tignioni,” she reports. “Unidentified beings on foot, coming over the mountain rise from further inland. We have no idea what or who they are. We’re taking no risks. I’ve requested that villagers be prepared to fight.” “Hand me that,” I order, gesturing to the handheld telescope she has. I look through it and see – No way! How could they possibly be here? “Tell them to stand down! These are… they’re friends of a sort. I helped them a long time ago and I have no idea why they are here or what their plans are, but I might be able to get them to help us. This might be just what we need.” Like I said, I have no idea why they are coming. The tall, glimmering warriors that approach are a group I have not seen in over a hundred years – or was it two hundred? I’ve lost track of the time that has elapsed. I met them on my travels to hunt down the Light Ravager. They call themselves the Crystal Sect, and, if I can call in a favor with them, Modos might just stand a chance. The Crystal Sect was involved in one of the strangest incidents along my travels. Following rumors, I found what were reputed to be survivors of a Light Ravager attack. When I got there I found these warriors who seemed to be covered in crystalline protodermis. Indeed, such is the case. Their armor is an amalgam of crystalline and metallic protodermis, primarily the crystalline form. In appearance, the armor is very organic. The Light Ravager had come, but they were immune to its attacks. Apparently, the light-based attacks of the Ravager were harmlessly refracted and reflected by their armor. Obviously, there was little I could do to harness this knowledge as a weapon against the Ravager, but it was interesting news and it gave me hope. It was good to know the Light Ravager was not omnipotent. Unfortunately, there was a schism among the Crystal Sect right as I arrived and I had nothing better to do at the time. I determined what the situation was and ended up settling the dispute… with force rather than finesse. It had gone beyond peaceful options before I’d gotten there. I look up in front of me. They’ve just reached the outskirts and I rush to meet them. There’s maybe a dozen fighters among them. I can already recognize some faces. Their names, at least in my opinion, are all rather unusual. I suppose that’s what isolation does to a society. While they were aware of the rest of the world and new about major happenings, they mostly kept to themselves. “Zo’apt,” I call, seeing a Crystal Sect Shaman I recognize. “What are you doing here?” He stares at me strangely. “Do you remember me?” “Of course we remember you, Ti’ignioni.” Naturally. They always try to make my name like theirs, out of custom. “But the surprise is mutual. We came here because I have seen foreboding visions through the crystal leylines. Something is wrong with the world, Ti’ignioni, and the leylines have guided us to this spot. The earth is not at rest, and there is a reason for that. All our power depends on the health of the earth and the crystal; you know that. We need to fix this… upset of the natural balance.” The tremor. Of course. It must not have been natural. Whatever is happening to the crystal leylines that the Sect communes with, we are at its epicenter. “We just had a tremor here,” I offer. “It must be related. What do you know about this situation?” “Only that it is awful and we must stop it. Nothing more.” Wonderful. We have no idea what is going on, but it is disastrous and we are the only ones who can stop it… and we simultaneously have miners lost in the shafts and pirates inbound… wait, the pirates! “Zo’apt, we need your help, too, and badly. We have until sundown to prepare for an invasion of pirate marauders. We are impossibly outnumbered, but if your forces protect the civilians, we can save the inhabitants of this town. Look around you, Zo’apt, the devastation is absurd. They won’t make it without your help… Please, Zo’apt.” “Ti’ignioni, you have more than earned our allegiance after your help all those years ago. You didn’t hesitate to leap into a conflict that honestly didn’t concern you, just because you saw that we needed help. And here you are doing it again, helping others just because you can. Of course we’re with you.” Well, that’s relieving. I guess it’s good to have a friend once in awhile. I find Tol and explain to him that we have reinforcements the pirates will never expect. The odds are still against us, but things are improving. After that, I search for someone I know. There she is – ah, perfect, she’s talking with another Crystal Sect acquaintance of mine. “Neri’ict?” “Ti! We never expected to see you again. And you know you can call me Neri.” Neri’ict is a Shaper. The Shapers are Crystal Sect warriors that have become so attuned to crystal they have obtained abilities I can only describe as being what a theoretical “Toa of Crystal” might have. They don’t directly commune with the leylines like the few Shamans, but they’re something relatively close. “Fine, Neri. Do you remember that thing you did with the crystal back when we last met? How you used it to communicate? “Yeah, definitely. Oh, I see. I heard you were going into the shafts, alone. You want to be able to communicate with us up here, don’t you?” “Exactly.” A clear crystal with a glazy luster shoots up from the soil and into Neri’s outstretched hand. After a moment of concentration on her part, it emits a flash, and she lobs it in my direction. “There. Now you don’t have to worry about getting lonely down there. ‘Cause I know you totally won’t be able to stand a few hours of separation after over 246 years roaming on your own.” Two-hundred-forty-six years? Has it really been that long since I last saw them? At her joke, the warrior next to her gives a gravelly laugh. His name is Mu’urdnoc. “Good to see you, too, Mu’urd–” “Mu. You think I’ll let you run around calling her ‘Neri’ while you get all official with me? Come on, Ti, it’s Mu.” Mu’urdnoc is a lumbering hulk, one of the Crystal Sect’s Stormers. The Stormers have used their connection with crystal for the sole purpose of enhancing their physical traits. While this does mean they forgo the ability to control crystal as if it were an element the way Shapers can, it means they can grow an excessive coating of rock-hard armor and some even grow natural weapons – crystal protrusions from their bodies that can be used with stunning lethality. Mu’urdnoc stays simple, however. He’s just settled for a nearly-impenetrable coating of crystalline protodermis and unnatural height. He fights with a massive crystalline falchion or his bare fists. On the matter of physical appearance, I should clarify that Neri’ict is an unusual Shaper. At a glance, it appears she has strapped long shards of crystal to her back. This is an erroneous assumption. Looking at her backside, one can see that they are actually fused to her body. In reality, she grew them out of her back after a painstakingly long amount of time spent in the Crystal Springs. The Crystal Springs are springs that naturally produce a chemical solution that encourages the growth of the crystalline armor and allows the warriors to become attuned to the crystals. The spikes are purely aesthetic and bear no combat enhancement. Then again, they do serve a utilitarian purpose. The spikes are skewed slightly at different angles, and for a very specific reason. She actually uses the spikes as a scabbard of sorts for her two crystal scimitars. Even now, I can see the two blades interwoven among the seven crystalline shards. Nevertheless, she did once boast about the spikes’ apparent beauty, so the aesthetic factor clearly does tally into the equation somewhere alongside this more practical purpose. Most of the workers are out of the mine shafts by now, but some are still trapped. I suppose that it’s time to finally make my descent. With a deep breath, I enter the sordid shafts.

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#3 Offline Maganar

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Posted Sep 17 2012 - 08:48 PM

+ 3 hours Flames playfully course up and down my arms, lighting the shafts. Near the surface, the damage from the tremor is minimal. From here, I find an undamaged elevator. I take it down several levels, admiring the courage of the miners. The guardrails are minimal and the lightstones do little to illuminate the shafts. All I can see over the edge as I descend is blackness. I come to a stop at a mining camp several levels below the surface. Scattered around are the lightstones that had been used to light it. I see a couple support struts that have given out. That is a bad sign. I better work quickly and carefully to prevent getting caught in a collapse. I wander into the center of the camp. Suddenly, I hear a growl. It’s a Gorrellian Hound. We don’t know how these dangerous pestilential Rahi keep getting down here, but we know the pirates used them for war beasts. Apparently some have been left behind by their masters. They’re highly adaptable and eat just about anything. They continually adapt to their surroundings, these changes based on the food they consume. It paces back and forth, before crouching in preparation for a leap. I project a column of fire as soon as I see it preparing to jump. It appears startled by the sudden heat and light. I take advantage and run straight at it, Charger Sword raised. It easily bounces clear of my attack. I should know better than to try a frontal assault on such a lithe creature. As I spin around, it pounces straight at me, throwing me to the ground. As it prepares to engulf my head with its mouth, I jam the hilt of my blade into the aperture. It bites down on the solid protodermis of my Toa tool. Dazed, it staggers back. I charge up a fireball on my fist and punch the Rahi in the face. It drops my sword and flees down an auxiliary tunnel, smoke trailing from its seared wound. All the more reason to hurry, I realize. The Hounds are normally driven off by the sound of pounding machinery. Now they might be swarming the tunnels… and the Matoran won’t stand a chance against something that can provide a challenge even for me, a Toa. After descending down a few more elevators, I hear a call for help. “Is that someone? Hello?” A Matoran of Gravity, by his voice. He seems to be on the level below. I am overlooking a seemingly-bottomless shaft, and I can only see blackness beyond the edge. It drops into an abyssal void. “It’s Tignioni. I’ve come to get everyone out.” “We’re right below you. The elevator won’t work.” I examine the pulley system, which is on my level. The cable is caught on a piece of malformed metal, damaged by the tremor. I free it… and then see it go slipping over the edge. The counterweight has been severed and there’s nothing holding it in place! Just in time, I seize the falling cable, only to realize that the elevator is still attached on the other end. The weight slams me forward. I crash headfirst into pulley mechanism and black out.

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#4 Offline Maganar

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Posted Oct 05 2012 - 09:45 PM

+ 5 hours I wake to find a few Matoran hovering over me, as well as one member of the Steltian slave class. “Easy, Toa,” the Steltian says. “You took a bad blow there. I grabbed you as you went falling past us.” “Thanks,” I respond, grimacing. “What’s the situation? A Matoran answers. “The elevator is gone. As far as we know, we are trapped down here. You can look around to see what we have at our disposal.” I oblige him. Scattered around are unattended mining implements, including one pack of explosives. At my feet are my belongings; I can’t remember, but they must have been strapped to my back. So I still have my weapons, the communication crystal, etc. A couple tunnels branch off in other directions, but they are probably arranged laterally. The central shaft and its elevators are the only vertical mode of transportation. A thought occurs to me. “That tunnel,” I explain, gesturing to the one on the far right, “leads underneath an encampment a level above. I remember seeing the structures as I came down. That means that rock is stressed. If we widen that tunnel on the sides, the local area might collapse. Then we can climb the rubble to the level above and get one of those elevators.” The proposition is risky. Any intentional attempt to weaken the already compromised mining tunnel is a gamble at best, but we have no other options. They consent. “How will we keep anyone from being crushed?” “Leave that to me. Just weaken it; I’ll bring it down personally. I have one question, though. Is anyone else trapped down here?” “No. Well, no except for… ah, forget I said anything.” “What do you mean?” “Fine, have it your way. There was a Matoran of Plasma, Cytus. A bunch of Gorrellian Hounds came through here earlier and he tried to fight them off. They dragged him off. There’s no way he survived.” “You owe him your lives… and I’m finding him.” “How do you expect to –” A frenzy of howls and growls cuts him off. “Don’t worry about that right now! Get everyone working on that tunnel and let me know when it appears weak. I’ll keep the Hounds off of you!” They all scurry off down the tunnel. Quickly, I fumble for the crystal Neri gave me. I rub its lustrous form and look into the flattest face of the crystal. “Come on Neri… give me something here.” “Ti!” Her face is visible within the crystal, almost as if she is standing right where I am and her face is being reflected back. “What’s up?” “Put simply: a really hectic situation.” She sighs. “Naturally, Ti. Whenever you become involved, things seem to get complicated.” “I have almost all the trapped miners and we might have a way out. I want you to get Tol and meet them when they get up there.” “Tol’s right by me. He’s listening in on my crystal. We’ll be there, but why do you need us? Aren’t you going to be there yourself?” “I’m not. Something is going on here that we don’t understand, Neri. I think the answer lies deeper in the shafts. Additionally, a lone Matoran of Plasma has been dragged deeper by Gorrellian Hounds. I’ve got to go down. I’m finding out what’s going on here.” Suddenly, Tol interrupts. While I can’t see his face, his voice is still projected through our crystal communication line. “Don’t go rushing down deeper for one Matoran, Tignioni! We need everyone we have for nightfall.” I smile. “That’s why I’m rescuing our Matoran, Tol. He’s one more asset on our side.” “He’s not worth as much as you, Tignioni. You’re more important.” “One life for another? No, there is never a right answer to questions like that. I’ve made up my mind. I’m sorting this all out. I can do it, don’t worry.” “Tignioni!” Neri, who had seemed thoughtful while listening to our interchange, now spoke up again. “Tol, listen to me. Ti’ignioni came to our land and settled a crisis we could not ourselves. I back him on anything he says. If he claims he can do it, he’s going to get it done.” Then she addresses me. “Just be careful down there, Ti. You never –” I hear a growl, too close to me for comfort. “Later, Neri. I have some Hounds to fight.” Without even waiting for a response, I shove the crystal away and ready my sword. I spot four pairs of glistening eyes in the dark. Four deadly Hounds waiting to go in for the kill. As I said, these Rahi are highly adaptable, and these particular ones have become bleached in the subterranean tunnels and their bodies are stockier, allowing them to fit in confined areas. The claws are slightly stunted, so as not to become scratched on the rocky floor, but the teeth are even larger and more fearsome to compensate. I back up towards the ledge of the central shaft. That would seem unwise, considering a hard blow would send me falling to my death, but that is only true in a conventional duel. Rahi do not fight like Toa. I can use that against them. The first Hound pounces at me, but I drop to the ground. The Hound sails clean over me and; with nothing to break its momentum, continues to travel straight over the edge of the central shaft. With a pitiful wail, it tumbles into the abyss below. The next Hound charges forward rather than make the same mistake as its predecessor. I lace my Charger Sword with elemental fire and bring it down on the head of the beast, expecting to defeat it. Such is not the case. The blow is crippling, but not fatal. It snarls and rears onto its hind legs preparing to throw itself on top of me. I try to evade, but an outstretched paw connects with my arm. Claws rake my armor, but I manage to avoid going underneath the bulk of the creature or taking a more serious blow. I ram the creature shoulder-first, flipping it onto its back. I bring my blade down on its exposed underside and tear down the length of its body. It does not survive the combined injuries. Two more of them still remain. I see a cable lying on the ground and trace it with my eyes. Upon determining where the cable leads, I get an idea. However, this deviation from the battle diverted my attention for too long. One of the Hounds has gotten directly in front of me. It raises a paw and I try to avoid the blow, but too late. It strikes me in the torso and I am flung back, skidding along the floor. As I recover, I realize I have lost my grip on my sword. No matter, I think and lift the cable up off of the ground. As the second remaining Hound tries to attack me, I run at it and pass the cable between its jaws. The cable snags among its oversized teeth. As it frantically struggles to get the cable loose, I melt the support structures for the pulley assembly in this level’s link of the elevator system by using fire. The assemblage and the cable ensnared within it go crashing over the precipice and the Hound is swept off of its feet and over into the depths. The last Hound charges me, but the Steltian erupts onto the fighting scene and tackles it to the ground, using his weight to pin the vicious Rahi. I look around to see that the Matoran are all clear of the tunnel and they must be done weakening it. I pick up the explosives pack I had taken note of earlier and throw it deep into the tunnel. No sooner have I done this than the Steltian’s strength gives out and the Hound throws him off. I use my Mahiki to create an illusionary depiction of myself, which I direct to sprint directly in front of the Hound. It falls for the trap and chases the non-existent version of me into the weakened tunnel. Time to finish this. Calling upon my elemental power, I produce a single spark on the explosives package. With a massive explosion, the tunnel collapses and a cascade of stone buries the Hound, crushing it. An opening to the level above is visible. Now, time to get these miners out of here!

| | / /


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#5 Offline Maganar

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Posted Oct 09 2012 - 10:42 PM

+ 6 hours This is it. The point of no return. I know from the scratch marks here that the Gorrellian Hounds definitely took Cytus one or more levels below. Just in front of me is a one-way jump; the floor of the level below is too far down to jump back up. If I drop down through the hole in the floor, there is no guarantee whatsoever that I will ever find a way back up. I think I already know what my decision will be, but I want someone to talk to. A familiar face. Hence, I consult the crystal. “Neri?” “Ti? Are you alright so far?” “Yeah. Did the miners I sent you make it?” “They just got here a few minutes ago. They say that the Matoran you’re going after is the only one still unaccounted for.” “How are things on the surface?” “Good. The townspeople tell me you trained them to defend. You must have done a good job from the skills they’ve been practicing in front of me. All barricades are in place. We figured out a way to alter classical Crystal Sect war methods in order to better suit the terrain. Rather than send us Shapers up front to soften up the enemy before Stormers finish them, we’re reversing the order. There’s too much open space and the Stormers can take more hits. When they’re hurting, we Shapers are going to burst forward and use our crystal powers, which the enemy should have no idea we are capable of. If it works, we can overwhelm them. The villagers will hold the middle ground and we’ll flank the pirate ground forces on either side. Mu’urdnoc is leading the left-flanking party and Fuli’etor the one on the right.” Personally, I don’t know Fuli’etor as well, but I know she’s one of the Stormers that has grown long blades that protrude from her arms as natural weapons. “Excellent. How long do we have? I’m finding out the hard way that it’s actually quite difficult to tell what time of day it is when you’re in a deep subterranean structure.” “Hah! You’re quite the joker now, aren’t you, Ti? It's been a few hours. You still have plenty of time to sort out whatever you’re up to. Speaking of which… what are you up to?” “I’ve tracked the Matoran’s captors to a one-way path. I can’t see a way back up if I go down further. Not that I’m going to let that stop me.” “I trust you, Ti, but be careful. We don’t want to lose you.” Softer, she adds “You mean a lot to us, even if you’re liable to disappear for centuries at a time. Swear by the Crystal Springs that you’ll make it back in one piece?” “Yes… wait, no. How about a maximum of two pieces and somehow still alive? Deal?” She smiles and I can see her shaking her head through the crystal. “I’ll take what I can get with you. Now you go get that Matoran and come back, hear me?” “Sure thing. I’ll find a way.” I let the crystal fade and then look over the drop. From this point on, I’ll be making things up as I go along… not that I haven’t been already, I suppose. I jump.

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#6 Offline Maganar

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Posted Oct 16 2012 - 11:03 PM

+ 8 hours The air itself seems to be choking me, due to the oppressive dust that hangs idly in the stagnant subterranean atmosphere. Light, though, is starting tobecome available. Considering the fact that I’m underground, this seems absurd. The light is coming from crystals all around that seem to glow. Something seems off; there aren't that many lightstone deposits here. What is going on? Nevertheless, I don’t really appreciate it. It does far too well a job at barely illuminating the tunnels to the point at which I can just make out exactly how claustrophobic the confines are. Suddenly, I hear a drill running and Hounds growling. Cytus! He’s still alive, and fighting. I break into a run. I gasp as I look into the next cavern. Huddling in a corner is a wounded Matoran of Plasma with a drill that he’s using in a largely-futile attempt to keep the Hounds at bay. But the Hounds! They are the reason I gasp. They’re…crystalline. Almost like a Crystal Sect warrior appears. No time to think about it, though, I realize. I rush forward and attack the three crystalline canine Rahi. The first one is caught off guard. I bring down a flaming sword with massive force on its head. The crystal starts to shatter, but it still lives. I reverse my grip and drive the blade into the now weakened crystal over its skull. At this point, the trauma becomes to extensive for it to survive. The other two are now circling me. I notice that their bodies are sinuous and flexible, despite the exterior coating of crystals, and that these ones do not have stunted claws. Instead, crystalline razors gleam on the ends of their paws. Both charge me at once. I swipe my blade into the head of one, injuring it, but the other barrels into me and grabs my sword-wielding arm in its jaws. It starts thrashing its head around and I feel like my arm is about to break clean off of my body. I struggle to concentrate. Too late, the Hound realizes I have been melting the rock in a pocket beneath its feet. With all the thrashing, it breaks through the thin crust of rock separating it from the lava. The beast slips in and releases its grip on my arm as it opens its mouth to wail in agony. It vanishes beneath the molten surface. I try to locate the last Gorrellian Hound, but I can’t find it. Then I look up and discover why these particular Hounds can afford to have longer claws. It’s clinging to the ceiling directly above me, piercing the rock with its crystalline claws! It drops, pushing off, but I react quickly. I swing my sword and smack it across the gaping maw that is facing down at me. The force of its drop is redirected horizontally and it skitters across the floor and over a ledge, plunging into the central shaft. That's the last one, I guess. “You came for me?” I turn to face the weak voice. The Matoran of Plasma is in the corner. At a second glance, I realize his injuries could have been more substantial. He should be able to walk unaided. “I don’t leave villagers lost in the dark. You know Toa – we’re too stupid to know when to give up. Especially me.” He smiles weakly. “Just give me a second,” I continue before he has the chance to respond. “I have a friend I need to talk to.” I hold up the crystal and Neri’s face appears again. “Neri! I’ve got the miner, but I have something very important I need to talk about. I just found some Gorrellian Hounds down here that look like… well, they look like you.” “TI! How DARE you!” she shouts, taken aback. “No, not like that!” I rapidly reply, realizing that I have just compared her appearance with that of a Rahi not-too-infrequently reputed for its ugliness. “I mean it had armor that looked similar to Crystal Sect armor. It was largely crystalline.” “Oh…good! Be glad we go back a long ways. Anyone else and I would have cut the connection as soon as they’d said something that insulting." With a hint of sarcasm, she continues "I guess somewhere underneath my stone-hard armor, my crystalline soul has a soft spot for you.” “Ok, ok,” I say, trying to move on. “But might you know how that’s possible?” “Gorrellian Hounds? For something like that to take on those sort of properties, I’d have to say… by ingestion.” “They’re eating the crystals down here?” “They would only do that if it somehow acted like a food source. Ti… you know how the Shamans of my people sometimes say that the crystal… lives?” “I thought that was figurative.” “Me too. But I’m not a Shaman. Ti, this would all make sense now. If the crystals are alive and the Hounds are consuming them – tearing them all up and whatnot –” “ – then that would explain the tremor and the cataclysmic disaster Zo’apt warned about!” I say, making the connection. “Still,” she says, an unsure look on her face, “I feel like that’s only half the answer.” “No doubt about it. There has to be more to this. If the crystal is alive, this is beyond my current comprehension.” I pause for a second. “I have to go deeper.” “Are you sure about this?” “Neri, I can’t find any way back up from here regardless. I might as well keep on going down. Maybe I can even find a way back up by doing that.” “Isn’t that counterintuitive?” “Don’t worry. I made you a promise, right? I’m going to keep it. Like I said, I’ll find a way.” She sighs. “Ok, Ti. I’ll trust you. So far, that seems to be working.” “Thanks. That’s all I need from you.” I hear Cytus’ voice again as I sign off. “So there still isn’t a way back up?” “I already got your friends out, Steltian and all. But, no, there isn’t a way out for us…at least not yet.” “You intend to change that?” “If I don’t, we die. I don’t know about you, but my schedule is a little too full today for me to add that to the agenda.” He grins again. “I like the way you think!”

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#7 Offline Maganar

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Posted Oct 23 2012 - 01:42 AM

+ 9 hours The miners' tunnels have stopped, but Cytus uses his mining expertise to find me a wall that had little stone separating it from a naturally-formed cavern. I melt through to expose a natural tunnel, but it has a remarkable trait. Running along the ceiling is a band of crystal that looked almost like a tree root. It glows in the dark, but different from a lightstone. It is glowing with life. I don’t doubt it anymore; this crystal structure before me is alive. We follow the tunnel until it seems to widen slightly. We walk around a bend and – “Mata Nui above!” I exclaim. “How does this even exist? It’s seems so…” Cytus seemed ready to say something along the lines of “impossible,” but he instead says “beautiful.” Before us is a massive trunk, like that of a tree, four bios in width. It is comprised of pure, radiant crystal. While it is immobile, it is alive and we know it. It twinkles with bioluminescence deep in this cavern. I take a step toward it. “Tignioni! Is that safe?” “I don’t know,” I truthfully answer. Yet, I feel a sensation drawing me towards it. I don’t even look back as I speak to Cytus; my eyes remain riveted to the crystalline structure before me. I am walking towards it. It rises up before me, extending to the domed cavern ceiling and onwards into the rock above. It is of titanic proportions. I don’t know what I expect, but I lay my hands on it. For a second, nothing happens. Then images flay my mind. I see. And I know. I lose control of my mind and – In ancient times there was a planet threatening to roil over and erupt. And it did. And so the Great Beings created the contingency plan known as Mata Nui. A robot that carried within it the potential for a new future. The chance to recreate a planet and set the world right. Mata Nui had legs and arms that rose above mountains and that could propel it through inconceivable distances in space as it travelled the stars in a sojourn from its eventual task. It had a brain known as Metru Nui that thought and calculated and passed judgment – determining what was the right way to run a planet and what was not so that what had come to pass may never do so again. But moreover, Mata Nui had a heart – a central point that produced the power for the entire robot. It was Karda Nui, the universe core. The power core in Karda Nui passively radiated outward its energy to power up the systems of the robot. Through channels in the rock the power of its lightning storms leaked out and systems could run and operate as they were supposed to. Now, a certain type of rock exhibited an incredible ability to conduct this energy as it travelled outwards to power up the systems of Mata Nui. That rock was crystal. Using this knowledge, the first overseer of Mata Nui, an organic named Tren Krom, requested to the Great Beings that another organic be made. An organic made of living crystal that would lie under the Northern Continent, that would grow to permeate every continent, spreading its tendrils to touch every point, transferring the energy of the universe core to all major systems and helping to relieve Tren Krom in one of his two original tasks: holding the universe together. Hence, I was born. Tren Krom, of course, had just unwittingly signed his own decommissioning warrant. The Mata Nui program was always intended to replace his cognitive control over the robot of the same name and now he had just requested the creation of a being that would replace him in holding the universe together. He was now no longer needed in any respect and was therefore fused to a rock and left to rot and decay. As his replacement in the role of holding the universe together, I have fared better. I am living rock. I never had a name, at least not until recently. When a group of beings used my living crystal in harmony with their biomechanical bodies, I took delight in their practices. I decided to name myself, using the manner they used to name themselves. Hence, I became Capila’aris. I love those funny beings. There one of the few parts of creation I love, or at least as much so as I can. Speaking of which… The Great Beings, abusing their ability to create. Trying to make life, and look what they’ve done. The world above me is in disarray. Such fools, supposedly “Great,” thought they could create tame nanobots that would unquestioningly carry out simple tasks and never stop to ponder just why they were doing it by simply inhibiting all the emotions of sentient beings – then again, they were never supposed to be sentient. It was simple, increase the ratio of mechanical parts to biological ones until programming could be used to restrict the mental capabilities of the nanobots. They sleepwalk through life, never even understanding that there was once a time and place where a thing known as “love” existed. Hence, the disastrous world above me. Yes, I know about the emotional engineering of the Great Beings. I am from a time before such practices even existed. They were supposed to be fully emotionless servants! Instead, they constructed miniaturized sapient life forms that struggle and ponder why so much undergo such suffering. It appears the only emotion they did succeed in negating was true love. Of all the mishaps that could have occurred, how did they manage to fail in blocking out every adverse emotion while succeeding with one of the most wonderful ones? It’s not like any of this would have mattered for me, anyway. I was created genderless, a neuter. But it’s led to other problems. I, as I have pointed out, come from the very genesis of the Mata Nui robot. As far as I can tell, all the inhibition did was prevent them from experiencing possibly the most wonderful emotion that sentient life can experience, not that I would even now nor am I supposed care. Even for all their mechanical parts, though, these beings can still experience other emotions. What of the Makuta? If Teridax had known true love, might he have never gone on his rampage for power? I think so, but I am nothing more than Capila’aris, the living veins of a robot that’s supposed to, should it ever exit its watery grave on Aqua Magna, resurrect a dead planet. Teridax isn’t a villain, he is a victim of life without love, if I am correct – but I’ll never know. He could have been a protector … But no, the Great Beings do not consider what madness and lunacy can overtake the mind emotion is tampered with. War rages above, fueled by the hatred these nano-beings can feel; and the wars will continue endlessly as there is no love to temper the hate. Hence, I am in peril. Because of war, I am in peril. In the most hate-fueled, love-abandoned land, Zakaz, explosions unearthed my living crystal. A clever Skakdi warlord discovered it was living, but he lacked the pacifism that, generally at least, is possessed by the Crystal Sect. He wanted to create a biological war machine by hypnotizing a Gravity Toa from Modos that was destined to touch energized protodermis and then infusing him with my living crystal in a bath of the substance said being was destined to touch. A hypnotized overpowered crystal behemoth was his intended goal. It technically might work, but I don’t know. All I know is he took to piracy against a town directly above my heart-root to divert attention from his even more sinister motives. Hence, the raids. Every raid was carefully disguised to look like nothing other than a looting expedition. But it was not. With every single raid, he released the accursed Gorrellian Hounds, which perpetrated the tunnels around my heart-root. They ate my crystal. It gave them life. But beyond that, it infused them with my natural power. They are glowing with pure unadulterated energy. Combined with energized protodermis and a Toa, who knows what might result. All I know is that I am dying because of it. But now he is ready. The Hounds have eaten long enough and the miners whose lives he intentionally spared have dug deep enough. He is ready to harvest the Hounds and collect what he hopes will be a bountiful harvest of crystal power. Hence, today. Today he comes, prepared to wipe out all of Modos. Every last citizen of the war-torn city. Nothing and no one will be spared. Then he will descend into the shafts to collect the Hounds. I tried to collect my energy in a tremor to warn them that they must evacuate. More importantly, I sent those that had been friends to me, the Crystal Sect, to prevent the pirates from finishing their task. My lifeblood is now largely in the Hounds. If they are taken away from the local vicinity, I will die. They must either stay, or be killed to release my energies back into me. And now this Toa comes. Hence, hope. He has let nothing stop him. He has let no trial deter him. He has proceeded to my heart-root and come, willing to do anything necessary for the good of the innocents and the righteous. And so, I now impart him with a small parcel of the knowledge I have just run through. Just the part that pertains to the current situation, nothing about the Mata Nui robot or such. I will also provide him some help in escaping the shafts he is trapped in. I am Capila’aris, an ancient entity that is necessary to power this self-contained universe. And today, my life is in the hands of one small nanobot. Tignioni: the Toa who never knew how to give up. I doubt “give up” even exists in his repertory of skills. No, wait. Not simply “Tignioni, the Toa of Fire.” “Ti’ignioni: the Guardian of the Crystals.” – I black out.

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#8 Offline Maganar

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Posted Oct 24 2012 - 11:42 PM

+ 12 hours “Ti!” I groan. Is that Neri’s voice? Why is she even here… ah, I don’t care. “Ti!” Really, I could use some sleep right now. But I guess I’ll have to get to the bottom of this later… wait, the bottom. Oh Mata Nui above! Suddenly, all my recent memories about the current situation inundate my aching head. For that matter, so do the new memories implanted in my head by the ancient being Capila’aris. “I’m not sure he’s completely awake yet.” Cytus. Right. The Matoran I came to save. “Ti!” Neri repeats. “Come on Ti, please…” “I’m here, I’m here!” I shout as I shuffle over to the crystal, still quite dazed. “Ti, what happened down there? Cytus says you went and touched this freaky crystal thing and hurt yourself and –” “Hold on, Neri. The crystal under here is all part of one sentient being. Its name is Capila’aris and it shared some of its memories with me. Neri, I know exactly what’s happening now! Everything fits together now!” “You realize you aren’t making any sense, right?” “No, it all makes perfect sense! You see –” “Ti, I didn’t ‘see’ anything. Sounds like you did. Maybe you can help me out here.” Suddenly I realize just how confusing this is going to be to explain. “OK, let me take things one step at a time. There’s a tunnel nearby that this ancient crystalline life form has used for thousands of years for gas exchange. That’s my escape route. So, I’m not stuck anymore.” “Ok, that’s one thing sorted out.” “Next, I need to collapse the entire mine system, so I need you to –” “You are what?” “The Hounds have drained the life force from the ancient being. I need to collapse the whole thing in order to kill all the Hounds and return its lifeblood back into its crystal body. If I don’t, it dies. The living crystal you know, Neri, it all dies unless I do this. So yes, I am collapsing the shafts. Like I was about to say, you need to tell Tol to get everyone clear of the shafts’ entrances so that no one is injured.” “What about you?” “I’ll get out, don’t worry. Lastly, the pirates are the cause of this whole thing. This time, they really do intend to wipe out the entire settlement. They – wait, how long do we have? I don’t know how long I was blacked out for.” “Not long anymore…” she trails, then suddenly looks very afraid “…Did you say they were coming with genocide planned? Look, if you make it out of there too late, don’t come help us. Save the crystal being and run away. You don’t deserve to die today–” “Neri!” I just about scream. “What are you saying?” “Ti, the sun just set. We can make out the ships on the horizon, but there are a lot of them. I don’t think we can hold the position for long.” “No!” I shout. “I’m not going to be the sole survivor of anything ever again. This town will not fall!” My brain is running through idea after idea. “Hold on. From the memories this Capila’aris being left in my head, I know what they’re doing. They need energized protodermis to complete their task, and they have become nomadic ever since they started their quest. That means they must be taking it with them. They must have a tanker loaded with the stuff. It will be lightly defended, because they will expect us to try and neutralize the destroyers with the heavy weapons and they have no idea that we are aware of its contents.” “Where are you headed with this, Ti?” “There should also be a Toa of Gravity onboard the command ship. The Skakdi warlord in charge of this operation is keeping a personal eye on the Toa. If we crash the tanker into the command ship… well, tell me Neri: do you believe in destiny?” I’m grinning like a fool and I don’t care. As I look into the crystal, I realize that the inane smile is infectious; Neri has it too. “Honestly, I have no idea how this will turn out. I don’t know what the energized protodermis is going to do; I don’t know what will happen to our Gravity Toa; and I don’t know if it will even work at all. All I know is that by doing this, we might just be able to avoid any casualties whatsoever. It’s all I’ve got.” “Oh, it will work, don’t worry. With you in charge, we’ll manage, Ti.” Now… let’s see. I have a mine system to collapse. Cytus looks at me. “How do you plan on bringing this whole place down without killing both of us?” I consider the question. “I was figuring I’d mix things up just a tad – try setting off lots of explosions.” That answer earns me a skeptical glance. In my defense I say, “Come on, I’m already coming up with a couple of ideas…”

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+ 13 hours I still have that old Kakama from the time I first ran across the Light Ravager. I get it ready and consult Cytus. It appears he has just finished planting all the explosive charges we found. By following the gas exchange tunnel of Capila’aris, we made it up to a higher level where we found the necessary supplies. “Is it all ready?” “I placed the charges in all the places with the critical support structures. It should all come tumbling down when you spark it. And we have all the ladders set into place so that you can climb them from this point out to the last working elevator that reaches the surface.” “And we have the elevator rigged correctly, right?” “The motorized system is disengaged and the oversized counterweight is attached. So yes, it should hurtle us up at unprecedented speed when we releasethe counterweight.” “Alright. Now look at me, Cytus. I’m going to need you to trust me. I’m carrying you under one arm while I do this superfast run. I don’t have a Kanohi Calix, so I can’t call upon impossibly fast reflexes if you fall loose. You just need to hold on and not move around.” “Are you sure?” “Positive. Remember what I told you; my schedule’s quite busy today. I don’t have enough time in the day to add watching you die to my list of things to do.” He smiles again. I just need to keep that attitude coming before the gravity of our situation starts to induce panic. I guess I picked up the method from that Vortixx, Guftivei, but I’d have probably given up or gone crazy by now if it weren’t for having my own lame jokes to listen to. “Ok, here we go,” I announce. I grab him around the torso under one arm, and he does his best to grip onto me. Then, I send fireball cascading towards the explosives. Before it even hits its target, I’m speeding off with the aid of the Kakama. Within seconds, I have made it up several flights of ladders, but rocks are already cascading all around. The entire shaft is collapsing in on itself, just like Cytus said it would. I am just reaching the last ladder when a boulder takes it out and crushes the whole assembly. I dodge collapsing assemblies that were once part of the elevator system and massive rocks, searching for a way to the next level. I notice a pole lying on the ground just as a rock as wide as I am tall goes rolling past it. I must be crazy. I thread the pole under the arm carrying Cytus and tell him to hold onto it with all the strength he has. I get him to hold it near the very top… well, the end, but it will soon be the top. I use the Kakama to sprint straight at the wall with the missing ladder and jam the opposite end into the ground. I successfully pole-vault upwards, but I must use both hands to hold on. Luckily, Cytus has obeyed my instruction and he does not fall off despite the fact I am no longer holding onto him. The absurd amount of force I apply due to my excessive speed allows me to sail upwards beyond the end of the pole, but I continue to grip it. Just barely, I clear the edge and land on the level above. I haul the pole over, with Cytus still hanging on for dear life. I grab him under my arm again and run for the elevator, then disengage the systems holding it in place. The massively oversized counterweight we’ve attached flings it toward the surface with an incalculable velocity. As we reach the top, I immediately leap out, bringing Cytus with me. Good thing, too, I realize as I turn back for a second. The huge counterweight proved too much for the system and the entire thing collapsed as soon as we had set our feet on the ground beyond it. We explode out of the mine, a huge earthen exhalation of dust following right behind us. The mine has collapsed and we are at the surface. Somehow, we have made it. I look out into the darkness of the night outside. I see the flames of the torches on the boats looming just beyond firing range. There are innumerable vessels, all inbound for our coast. “Gee… you really do have a busy schedule,” Cytus whispers.

| | / /

“Neri!” I cry, spying her. “What have we got?” “Pirates inbound and almost here. We’ve got two vessels ready and we’ve repurposed our task forces that we had prepared earlier. Mu is leading the two of us on a boat that will board the enemy command vessel to further distract them from the tanker, which our spotters have located. While we have a showdown with the leader of these pirates, Fuli’etor will take her group to hijack the tanker. We’ll have a crystalline communication link with that party, just like the one we kept while you were in the mines. I have our end of the line and Fuli’etor’s Shaper, Elino’urtam, will have the other end.” “I knew I could trust you to handle things while I was below, Neri. Now let’s go before they start shelling the shoreline.” “Agreed.” She searched around in the failing light to try and get a glimpse of Mu’urdnoc. “Mu! We’re starting this thing up!” Mu calls out to the other warriors. “This operation is a go, my crystalline brothers and sisters! Tonight we fight for the heart of the crystal that Ti found down below the earth. Tonight, we preserve the lifeblood of our power. Tonight, it will be the pirates that know pain, not this city!” The Crystal Sect rallies around, cheering. This is probably a good time to describe what is still actually visible in the falling night. The pirate vessels have torches, so we can see them blazing away out on the ocean. Additionally, the Crystal Sect warriors’ armor is made of that glowing crystal that I now understand to be originated from Capila’aris. This means that Neri, Mu, and all the other members of the Crystal Sect are actually visibly glowing away in the night. I, of course, do not emit light… until I use elemental powers. If I start blasting fire away, I too will become a beacon of light. So, this will be a battle to remember with some of the most striking sights a battle may ever provide. Eyebeams and fire will surge through the night as glowing warriors board ships with torch-wielding foes. It’s about to be madness, and apparently I can pretty much be considered to be the catalyst of the whole thing. Naturally. We board the vessels, which are powered by an ore we mine – Well, mined, since I just blew up the shafts. We speed off over the black water of the ocean, waiting for the chaos of battle to meet us. It obliges our expectations.

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#9 Offline Maganar

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Posted Nov 19 2012 - 06:04 PM

+ 14 hours Skakdi eyebeams whizz over our heads, leaving an electric tang in the air. Every so often, an artillery shell sends up an eruption of seawater, but that isn’t as much of a danger. Those siege weapons were designed to attack buildings and large gatherings of enemy forces, not to land pinpoint shots on fast and small approaching boats. Enemy craft loom ahead. Our ship is a small transport, just large enough for us to fit in, but with a powerful ore-powered motor. It crashes violently over every single wave we speed into, blasting those of us inside with the salty tang of oceanic liquid protodermis. The Skakdis’ wooden war machines in front of us tower over the waves with artillery emplacements and large rigging assemblies to handle the sails the rise up towards the starry firmament above us. Mu takes a hit from the eyebeams, but they reflect off, leaving him unharmed. “Yeah, you can try that all you want!” Mu taunts, bellowing out over the sea as if the enemies might actually hear him. It is about this time that I am noticing that one of the nearer ships between us and the command vessel has set itself on an intercept trajectory with our little motorboat. As it gets close, the enemies can aim more precise shots. An eyebeam blast strikes the back of our boat and mangles the motor. Realizing we’re dead in the water, Mu, with his incredible strength, hurtles a grappling cable up onto the enemy decks. They sever the cable, but not before we’ve had a chance to use our brief attachment to their vessel to pull right up alongside it. I burn a hole through the wooden hull, but above the waterline. I don’t want to sink it; we’re going to have to overtake this vessel and use it ourselves. Mu tosses a second grappling hook up to the glowing, ember-rimmed hole that I seared into existence just moments before. All of the enemies are on the top deck, so we have a chance to shinny up the cable and enter the enemy vessel at a point one level below the main deck. A Skakdi launches itself down a ladder into our level. Skakdi are tough, but we’re fighting in the cramped hold of a boat and Mu is a Stormer, a true specialist in close range combat. He takes the huge crystalline falchion that he uses for his weapon and brings it down on the Skakdi’s head. The Skakdi is thrown to the ground, but doesn’t falter just yet. Being bashed in the head several times with Mu’s rock-hard knuckles changes that fact.Mu clambers up the ladder and we immediately hear eyebeams blasts lacing the air above. I quickly follow him and Neri is close behind. I make it up there to see flabbergasted Skakdi coming to terms with the fact that warriors from the Crystal Sect are truly immune to eyebeam attacks. Mu barrels into the nearest Skakdi and throws him overboard. Neri uses her Shaper powers to send a series of razor-sharp crystal shards scattering across the decks and into hapless enemies. I send fireballs hurtling through the air. Fire, eyebeams, and glowing crystals streak through the night everywhere around us.A Skakdi with a mace runs straight at me. I swipe my sword low, striking his legs. He crashes directly to my right. I use elemental fire to melt his metallic mace, which has fallen onto his back. He leaps overboard, screaming, in an attempt to cool the molten metal affixed to his backside. I turn to see Neri brandishing her dual scimitars with reckless abandon. Or not so recklessly, apparently. The nearest Skakdi falls, covered in lacerations from her attacks and a second Skakdi fails to see a shard of crystal that materializes in midair and then hurtles into his body. Like I’ve said, Shapers have power over crystal similar to a Toa’s over their element. The Skakdi struggles to remove the radiant crystal embedded in his torso, doubling over in pain as he does so. Mu, though, seems to be racking up the greatest total tally of defeated Skakdi. He is swinging his oversized falchion in wide arcs, thrashing Skakdi and sending them all around decks. The one time a Skakdi attempts to sneak up behind Mu, crystalline chains whip around him and trap him. I glance to the side to see Neri smirking at her handiwork. The Skakdi uses its incredible strength to break free, but Mu has already taken notice by now, so he lifts the Skakdi by its neck and tosses it overboard to join what by now must be countless others. Now that we have defeated the Skakdi onboard and have assumed control, I take to the helm and direct the vessel towards the command ship. Meanwhile, Mu takes care of the rigging and Neri checks in for an update with Elino’urtam. “Fuli’etor and her team have taken control of the tanker. The other ships in the vicinity are currently unaware of their infiltration onboard. Fuli’etor is waiting for us to enact the final diversion by attempting to take the command ship.” As the warships near us catch on to the fact that we have defeated all of their allies onboard our vessel, a wave of artillery shells pockmarks the decks, blowing holes in the surface behind me. Eyebeams fire upon the vessel. One eyebeam blast sets our sails ablaze. “This flaming wreck is only going to survive until we board the command vessel. If the tanker and command ship are going down together, how do we get off?” I ask. Neri, who had been thrust onto her back by the shudders that had just racked our vessel, rises to her feet and calls out over then din. “I don’t know yet. There’s no way back the way we came in, so maybe we can find an answer as we are destroying the leader’s warship.” “Isn’t that counterintuitive?” “I asked you the same thing when you insisted on going deeper into the tunnels you were already trapped in, hoping you might find a way out by proceeding to the bottom. So, I’m going to give you the same answer you gave me: ‘I’ll find a way.’” “Guess you’ve picked up on my style, Neri.” Several more fires are erupting around this ship, and the superstructure of it is being torn apart by enemy heavy weaponry. The three of us simply aren’t enough to return any consequential amount of fire. We’re just trying to make it to the command ship, which is now in sight, before this whole thing sinks. The torches illuminate a red symbol painted onto the sails. A serious blow strikes our ship and we list far to the left. The entire ship is tilting toward its side. I struggle to absorb some of the fire in what is now a raging conflagration on our vessel. Neri takes my place steering the ship while I perform this task, trying to mitigate the damage for just long enough. “Prepare for impact!” Mu warns. We’re about to collide bow-to-bow with the command ship. “By the crystals!” Neri swears. “We’re coming in way to fast!” “Neri’s right,” I confirm. “Prepare to jump as soon as we make physical contact.” The front of the lead warship is specifically designed for ramming; I can make out iron support struts designed to shear right through an enemy vessel. Like ours. Which is already in pieces. The front of our ship crumples into a burning mass of shattered wood upon impact, and Mu leaps clean over conglomeration of debris. He engages the enemies immediately, clearing the way so that I and Neri can replicate his jump, but our ship is sinking fast. I vault over flaming wreckage on our deck and scramble onto the other ship which is already a considerable height above ours due to the amount of water we’ve taken on. An explosion rings out. I turn to see the entire stern of our old vessel disintegrating and flaming wood flying everywhere. Neri is still trying to make it up to the command vessel. Since our ship was already listing far to the left, the bow of the lead warship is now riding clean over our old ship on its left deck, crushing that entire side of the ship. Neri leaps to try and reach the warship that Mu and I have already boarded, but only succeeds in gripping the edge of the deck; she’s hanging over the ocean on the side of the ship. She’s struggling to pull herself aboard, but her glowing armor has attracted a Skakdi’s attention and he rushes to prevent her from doing so.He fails to notice as I move to intercept him. I slam the full brunt of my body weight into him, sending both of us clattering along the deck… and toward the edge of the deck ourselves. Both of us lose our grip on our weapons in the process. Before I can get up, the Skakdi is on top of me. I manage to grab his arms before he can start punching me in the face, but he’s a lot stronger. He pushes my arms down, trying to remove my Kanohi to incapacitate me. He backs off some as I increase the temperature of my hands, trying to ignite a fire. His arms begin to smoke and smolder where I am holding them. Suddenly, a hail of glowing crystals slams into his side and I know that Neri has finally clambered aboard. Weakened by the pain of my burns and the Neri’s crystal shards, the Skakdi is now disadvantaged. I roll over and pin him below me. A fire-infused punch to the face takes him out of commission. As I rise, I see Neri toying with a Skakdi. She’s holding both her scimitars at the ready, one far to the left and the other far to the right. The Skakdi’s eyes dart between the two, trying to anticipate which direction the first blow will come from. Neri expertly deceives him by rapidly pulling her arms in and holding the two scimitars side-by-side, then thrusting forward right down the middle rather than on the sides as the Skakdi had expected. Both weapons connected with his torso. Mu has forgone his sword and has lifted a Skakdi against the mast. He slams his fist into its face again and again until the foe loses consciousness. All the Skakdi I can see are down for the count, but suddenly something goes wrong. Neri and Mu both freeze in place, immobile. A Skakdi rises from the deck below, holding a crystal, but it isn't like those of Capila'aris. It glows faintly and seems to be dark purple in coloration. As for the Skakdi, he is clearly the leader. A strip of red cloth is tied around his forehead as a headband. He is carrying a harpoon gun. “I don’t know who you are, or what you intend to do, but this ends now,” he declares. “You’re insane. No one can take on the might of the Crimson Nightguard of Zakaz.” So now I have a name for the opposing army, not that I really care. “Did the fate of the last Toa team not send a clear enough message? Ah, well. I can’t have you interfering, and the only thing I know for certain is that the dead do not interfere.” “I know what you’re doing here,” I threaten. “You’ve already failed; you just didn't know. I collapsed the mines. All the Hounds are dead and the living crystal will not be yours to harness. Not sure how you got it or what exactly it is, but I’m guessing that crystal you’re holding allows you to control other crystals. You intended to use that on the Gravity-Crystal biological war machine you meant to make. I guess you just found it convenient my friends had crystalline armor. You’ll keep them frozen until you’ve thrown them into the sea and watched them drown. Or you would. But you aren’t touching them.” “What… Who are you? How can you know all this!?” He raises his harpoon gun and simultaneously cocks it in an attempt to prove that he somehow still maintains the upper hand, but the truth is painfully obvious: he’s worried. “I know because the living crystal Capila’aris chose me to put an end to this. As for your first question, I am Tignioni, Toa of Fire.” I pause for a second. “No, better than that. I am Ti’ignioni, Guardian of the Crystals. You can let my friends go right now, and leave Modos alone, or I will stop this by whatever means necessary. This doesn’t have to end with anything worse than a couple destroyed ships if you choose wisely.” He turns his back to me, apparently in thought. I know better than this. He’s trying to avoid showing his true intentions with the look in his eyes. He doesn’t want me to read his facial expression and see that he plans to betray me. And he knows a Toa won’t strike a foe whose given them its back. Wouldn’t have mattered, anyway. I can’t get close enough to strike him with my Charger Sword, which I have now recovered, before he will presumably turn on me. With the expertise of untold years of practice, the Skakdi spins around and fires the harpoon gun. A harpoon sails through the air and strikes its target in the gut… and keeps on going.

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#10 Offline Maganar

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Posted Nov 25 2012 - 02:27 PM

+ 14.5 hoursHe’s walking toward the gasping body on the decks. The wound appears to be fatal. He kicks the body to add final insult to injury. It moans and mumbles something unintelligible.He leans in close to hear. “What’s that little Toa? What’s that you’re saying now? Not such a prophet anymore, are you? The crystals won’t help you now.”“I… said… turn…leckfff…” Unintelligible again.“Turn left?”“No… Turn right… there’s someone you… really should meet over there.”He snaps his maniacally grinning visage to the right and –“Seeing double?” I taunt. I bring my Charger Sword, flames blazing, down on his head. My Mahiki stops glowing and the illusionary version of me, the one that the harpoon struck, fades. It wasn’t too hard to dive behind an artillery emplacement and hide there while I projected an illusion to take my place while the Skakdi had his back to me. The crashing waves masked the sound of my armor clattering on the decks and left the Skakdi veteran non-the-wiser to my actions.As he struggles to recover from the heavy, fiery blow, I wrest his harpoon gun free of his grip and throw it over the edge of the deck. He’s still got the crystal, though; it’s strapped to his waist.He reaches for his weapons belt and removes two long sickle-shaped blades. Massive daggers. With a Skakdi’s reflexes, I won’t be able to land a blow while he dances around lithely with these weapons… at least not with the Charger Sword. I throw it down at my feet and run to Neri’s motionless form. I hastily pry her scimitars from her still fingers.The Skakdi comes at me, swinging his huge daggers as if he’s trying to produce a vortex of metal. We leap around the decks, blades flashing. I frantically try to parry the Skakdi’s blows. Mata Nui above, he’s unnatural! How can anyone attack this quickly? Finally, the Skakdi’s zeal backfires. He puts one foot too close to me. I make a calculated trade. I intentionally fail to block one of his blows. This gives me an opening with the scimitar I would have used to parry that attack and I hook it under his poorly-placed leg. I take a bad stab in the chestplate, but he is thrown onto his back by my scimitar attack. Flames race down the blades of the scimitars and I bring them down on his arms. He releases his grip on the sickle-shaped daggers as he wails, smoke rising from lacerations on his forearms. I kick them scattering across the decks. Unfortunately, he takes advantage of the time I spend disarming him to charge up his eyebeams. Unlike the Crystal Sect warriors, I am most definitely not immune. I am blasted across the decks and Neri’s scimitars skitter out of reach just like the daggers the Skakdi had been using. I spring back to my feet to see the Skakdi barreling toward me. I run to meet him and we collide at breakneck velocity. Lacking his hardiness, I take the hit a bit worse. We both stagger backward for a moment, and then I try for an uppercut on that Skakdi’s dementedly grinning face. Exercising his unbelievable reflexes, he grabs my arm mid-swing and pull me in, then head-buts me face-to-mask. I collapse to my knees, but I’m not out of this yet. From my lower position, I grab one of his feet and lift to destabilize him. He falls onto his back before me. I get to my feet and tower over him, flames coursing up from my hands. He puts his hands before his face, expecting a blow. Bad mistake. In doing so, he has exposed my true goal this entire time: the crystal on his belt. I snatch it free and he tries to recover it, but too late. I superheat the crystal in my hand until it becomes brittle. Then I cast it down onto the deck. The crystal shatters into a myriad of fragments that skitter over the deck. Immediately, Mu and Neri mobilize. Mu throttles the Skakdi leader with one hand, lifting him by his neck, and flings him down onto the deck. He tries to stand, only to have Neri encase him in solid crystal. Such an act massively drains her, but this foe clear warrants extra caution after all we’ve just been through. Exhausted from the battle, the Skakdi is unable to break free of its imprisonment. He is now the one frozen in place. Neri scoops her scimitars up off the deck and Mu finds his falchion. “Thanks, Ti,” Mu says. “You’re always there when we’re in a bad spot.” “Thank me later; right now we need to get this job done.” Neri consults Elino’urtam. “The tanker is imminent and our continued diversions have kept them still unnoticed. We should find that Gravity Toa on this ship quickly, before the impact with the tanker. We need to see if he knows a way we can get off so we aren’t vaporized by the energized protodermis he’s supposed to be destined for.” Artillery shells and eyebeams begin racing through the night sky at our ship once again. We’ve taken out all their allies onboard this ship as well and the pirates are determined to get rid of us. We scramble beneath the top deck, with the dual intention of getting clear of enemy fire and finding the Gravity Toa before the tanker collides with our ship.

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The Toa chained to the superstructure of the ship in front of us is a devastated being. He is barely breathing and his eyes are only slivers behind his – of course – a Mask of Clairvoyance. That’s how he knew that he was destined to touch energized protodermis. “So you’re finally here… Ti’ignioni…” he gasps. “I had foreseen… your name… and my end – today.” “It doesn’t have to end like this. We’ll get you out of here,” I proclaim. “No, you can’t. I have seen it. Today… I die.” He wheezes. “But the villagers…” “We’ll save them, don’t worry.” “No, not that… don’t tell them… They don’t need to… know I was still alive… just to die right before their… their coastline. They can only… be saved if I fulfill my destiny. I’ll die either way… but you… you’ve given me a chance to… to save everyone else… including you.” “What do you mean?” “The energized proto…” he coughs violently. “Protodermis. I will… become some… something more than just… a Toa. Then… I go nova. But one gravitic thrust… and all of you… and your… friends on the tanker… are sent to the shoreline. You can get out.” Neri looked at me. “Ti, I don’t know about this. Even transformed, can one Toa going nova destroy an entire fleet? It doesn’t add up.” “There’s going to be energized protodermis all around. It could act to massively magnify the area that will be affected.” I look back at the Gravity Toa. “Are you absolutely sure about this? We’re going to lose you if you do this.” “I’ve… already told you. I’m… not making it… either way. My mask showed me… two potential outcomes: …die as who I am by being turned into a war monster… for these Skakdi… or go out like this. No other permutations… are possible.” Neri’s heard all she needs. Without even consulting me, she’s contacting Elino’urtam and calling in the tanker. I turn to see a hole, a good bio or two in diameter, get torn right through the deck we are in as shrapnel from an artillery shell tears the wood apart. The deck above is already in pieces. To me, everything has become a nightmarish blur. Suddenly, my mind travels back in time to when I first arrived on Modos. I decided to stay on Modos because I couldn’t put up with the loss of life I was witnessing, even if most of the lives lost were those of corrupt enemies. If I let him do this, the Skakdi are dying. My mind goes further back. I remember Imegna murdering the mercenary in order to save all our lives. I remember my rage against her. And I remember how I found myself eventually forgiving her. She had to do that to save us. I have to do this to save Modos… and I need to forgive myself for what I’m doing rather than dwell on it endlessly as a failure. I will have saved those that were otherwise helpless. That will have to be enough. You can’t always save people from themselves and these Skakdi crossed the line a long ways back. But you can stick up for your friends and those that have yet to prove themselves one way or the other, villain or hero. I kneel down by the Gravity Toa, knowing that the tanker is nearly here. I slip off his Kanohi. “I’ll tell them this is all we found of you and that you clearly died a hero. They won’t know about the rest.” The collision will happen before he dies from having his Kanohi removed. “Appreciate…it. Get… to the top deck. I might… be able to get you back to shore.” I gaze out through a gaping hole in the side of our ship and then proceed up to the top deck as instructed by the Toa. Fires are raging all around in the night, but I don’t care. This is finally going to be over. I wish we could have saved the Gravity Toa, but he’s shown me no alternatives. At least everyone else will be safe. I can see the tanker proceeding towards us at top velocity with the Crystal Sect strike team manning the controls. The other Skakdi have caught on to what is happening, but it’s too late to stop the careening tanker. The side of the flagship gives way as the tanker slams into it at breakneck speed. We’re thrown off our feet as flaming splinters of wood are hurled through the air and the wail of rending metal from the tanker resounds even over the thunderous siege weapons. Energized protodermis gushes through the lower decks and froths in the ocean as both ships are torn asunder. I see any hapless surviving Skakdi from the two ships get caught in the swirling silver liquid. As they are dissolved, I realize that their life energies are feeding additional energy into the transformation of our Gravity Toa. He’s going to be able to release far more energy than I had predicted. And then it happens. Before we can even scramble back to our feet after the collision, gravitic energies surround us and fling us shoreward. Before we know what’s happened, we’re flying hundred of bios into the air. From this vantage point, I can see a singularity of concentrated gravitic energy forming in the center of the fleet. Entire ships are lifted out of the water as everything within the fleet is drawn toward the one central point. The closer the ships get to the singularity, in which the Toa must reside, the more mangled they become. With a final outward burst, they are all destroyed and a field of flotsam constitutes what was once a mighty armada. The Toa has expired, but he has taken the entire invasion force with him. I crane my neck to see where I am flying on my trajectory… and I am quickly mortified. The gravitic thrust was rapidly rigged and the Gravity Toa had more power at his disposal than he was capable of controlling. He completely overshot the shoreline. We are about to careen into the sentry tower nearest Modos at the top of the encircling mountain chain. I slam headfirst into the outer wall and, for the third time today, black out.

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#11 Offline Maganar

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Posted Nov 26 2012 - 11:10 PM

+ 24 hours I open my eyes and sunlight greets me. Dawn. It’s morning the next day. The day after… Dear Mata Nui! I remember now: the Toa overshot and I must have barely survived the excessive impact! What about Neri and Mu? Despite the protestations of my beaten body, I force myself onto my feet. I’m in the plaza that was built directly at the bottom of the sentry tower. It’s at the top of the mountain where that tower sits and a winding staircase has been hewn into the rock leading down to Modos far below. Neri! Mu! Where are they? I see Neri’s prone form lying on the other end of the courtyard, two of the seven spikes on her back shattered clean off. Mata Nui, no… I scramble over to her and turn her over. Her crystal-coated heartlight… is still active! She manages to raise her head slightly in order to squint at me. I set her back down momentarily to find Mu. I spot him on the other end of the courtyard and rush there, to discover the same thing. I glance across to see Neri struggling to her feet. “Ow… Agh!” she winces. “Two spikes gone – that’s going to hurt for a long time…” I rush up to the top of the sentry tower. No one’s there. Of course! They never thought to set sentries after the battle… and seeing that massive explosion, they probably think we’re dead! I look through the telescope and set the sights on Modos itself. I see three Crystal Sect warriors on stretchers that have been slapped together out of old scaffolding. Zo’apt is treating them, so they’re definitely alive. That accounts for all members of the strike team. Apparently, they must have overshot the shoreline as well, but they were quickly discovered as they had crashed into the city itself. I put the telescope down and reach for the mirror to signal the town. We’re all pretty badly beaten up and we need help getting down the steep stairs. That’s when I see the Mask of Clairvoyance. It’s cracked into two halves, but it landed in the sentry tower. I can still carry out my promise. I signal with the mirror. By switching back to the telescope, I can almost immediately see the Vortixx that first spotted the approaching Crystal Sect warriors yesterday and the Steltian I met in the mines, both of them rushing toward the bottom of the staircases. It’ll be a while before they make it up here. I descend back into the courtyard. Neri is sitting cross-legged. On the ground before her are her two scimitars. Cradled in her lap are the two spikes that snapped off of her back. I kneel down near her and give a knowing look. I know how much those mean to her. “Well, at least you’ll have something to remember me by when you head back to Crystal Sect territory,” I say, trying to be optimistic. “What do you mean?” “Well, I can’t go with you. Modos will need to be rebuilt, now more than ever –” “–which is why we are staying with you. Mu and I talked about it while you were in the tower. We’re staying with you, whatever the rest of the Crystal Sect wants to do. I have a feeling the members of the strike team might agree as well. Zo’apt and anyone else not involved directly in the fighting will probably return home to rejoin our people and explain what happened. Plus, there’s another upside for us. We’ll be directly above the center of all the leylines, the thing you called Capila’aris. We’ll be closer to the source of our power than ever before, even at our home in the Crystal Springs.” “But you won’t be able to regenerate your spikes back without the Crystal Springs.” “I know! I’m not exactly thrilled about that, but maybe I’ll go back one day when things have settled down. Maybe you can come back when that happens. Or maybe I can keep my spikes like this to remember what craziness it was that caused us to fortuitously cross paths again. It’s good to have a friend, Ti. And you've been a good friend to both of us.” It occurs to me that Mu and Neri have clearly already given this careful consideration during the few short minutes I was in the tower. Clearly, I mean a lot to them and that very fact itself means a lot to me. Neri’s right. It’s good to have a friend. The Vortixx and Steltian make it over the top stairs and the Steltian rushes to help us to our feet. “You just about made our heartlights stop ticking out of sheer fear when we saw that explosion. Come on, we need to get you guys back down. You’re the big heroes today.” As he helps me up, I can see the Vortixx making arm signals to the people below. The signals translate to: T-H-E-Y-M-A-D-E-I-T. I know that at about this moment, the crowds below are erupting into excited cheering. I slowly descend the steps, one at a time. The Steltian is using his massive bulk to aid both me and Neri. The Vortixx is doing the same for Mu. One step at a time. Focus on the present. Stick to your friends. That’s how you get things done.

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Epilogue + <ChronometerOffset = UnknownValue?> years Time has passed since the Fire Toa saved my heart-root and the Crystal Sect warriors returned home. Neri’ict, Mu’urdnoc, Fuli’etor, and Tzu’arq stayed behind on Modos. Elino’urtam was the only member of the two teams to return home. Since then, much has changed. A malevolent being hijacked Mata Nui’s systems, but in a final battle of the titans, the true Mata Nui defeated the unwelcome presence. I’m glad for that. It was truly revolting to have his presence tainting my crystalline veins. That was definitely the most unnerving experience of my very long existence. Alas, in overthrowing that presence, the massive robot to which I was once the power conduit now lies in pieces on the rebuilt world of Spherus Magna. I have spread my roots into its soils and found them welcoming. The Crystal Sect has found a new home in this new world. I have spread my roots into a spring system there and they have an all-new version of their original Crystal Springs. Once again the beings I cherish will thrive and rise in this lush, new landscape. The inhabitants of Modos have done well, and the small town of little strategic significance went largely unnoticed during the Reign of Darkness. The Fire Toa convinced them that the explosion they saw was simply a product of the energized protodermis being violently released, in accordance with the Gravity Toa’s wishes. Numerous legends are circulating as a result of the understandable skepticism his explanation was met with, but the truth has remained hidden. The deceased Toa’s mask is kept as a relic by the people he once protected. They, too, have found refuge on Spherus Magna. The Matoran that Ti’ignioni refused to give up on ended up having a future greater than anyone had expected. Cytus rose to a challenge upon which the fate of our universe had hung. Tomorrow is a brighter day, but I doubt any of this would have come to pass had I died. The world owes so much to a small nanobot named Ti’ignioni, but his name is only known within a few limited circles of individuals. He does not desire glory for his heroics. He’s simply happy to have friends that will stand at this side. On that fateful day, Ti’ignioni defied everyone around him. They all told him that he was trying the impossible. But many things remain “impossible” only until they are accomplished. Ti’ignioni found a way to bring all his friends out of the nightmare they were thrust into, but the only thanks he wants is their continued friendship. I guess I do know how to choose them – whether followers like my Crystal Sect or a chamion like Ti’ignioni. He has been the best guardian I could have ever hoped for. Speaking of which, Ti’ignioni and the warriors that had stayed with him have now rejoined with the rest of the Crystal Sect. He is still a Toa, but he has been spending considerable time near the Crystal Springs. The first flakes of crystalline protodermis are starting to infuse into his armor. If he becomes one of the Crystal Sect, he will be the first to have evolved from a Toa. All the other current members had previously belonged to a race known as the Tixx, or Theropan. When they began to evolve, they had just fled an attempted genocide against their race on their homeland Topeinrid. They are the last survivors to represent that race. The inhabitants of the Mata Nui robot are integrating with the former inhabitants of the planetary fragment Bara Magna surprisingly well. We’ll see how they react to the concept of romantic love that only the Bara Magnans know up to the current day. The nanobots are only being introduced to this concept for the first time in their existence. We’ll see if, now aware of the inhibition, they ever discover a way to override it – and for that matter, if they ever choose to override it! Old habits sometimes die hard. Maybe they will dislike the concept of potentially experiencing an emotion entirely foreign to their minds. Or maybe they will find it just that much more enticing and potentially exhilarating. As I always have, I will leave Time, the eternal judge, to decide. Whatever the case with that, the Crystal Sect and their ally Ti’ignioni – Guardian of the Crystals – are good friends to have, even for a subterranean crystalline sentient subsystem of a formerly space-faring, now destroyed robot. Just as Neri’ict said at the conclusion of the battle upon which my fate was decided: It’s good to have a friend.

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