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The Shadow and the Sea


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#1 Offline GSR

GSR
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Posted Dec 27 2012 - 03:32 AM

When Toa Hahli heard who her partner was to be on this mission, her response was simple: “Not in a thousand years, you psychotic old seashell.”  Somewhere, Turaga Nokama winced.
 
If Toa Helryx was fazed by the disrespect, she didn’t show it.  At her side, Axonn regarded Hahli with a look of familiar disdain.  Off to the other end of the sandstone table the group was seated at, the Matoran Mazeka was doing his best not to get involved the conversation, absently twirling a dirk between his fingers.  Helryx sighed.  “Hahli, you volunteered to help us clean up the remaining Rahkshi.  I was under the impression you understood that that meant working on our terms.”
 
“You can take your terms and throw them in the ocean for all I care.  I’m not working with that megalomaniac.”
 
“You can call him whatever you want to.  Believe me, if I didn’t have the testimony of one of the Order’s best spies and the results of every psychic test we have backing him up, I’d have gladly drowned him myself.  But seeing as we do have those results, and seeing as Toa Takanuva is currently occupied with other matters, and seeing as someone with light powers can take care of Rahkshi about a dozen times faster than the rest of us put together, my decision is final.  You will be working with Teridax on this mission, and if you must complain about it, you will do it to his face and not to mine.  Am I understood?”
 
Hahli almost had to admire the ancient Toa’s ability to put forward the idea of working with the single greatest enemy their universe had faced without skipping a beat.  “With all due respect,” she said in a tone that suggested she had a very precise idea of how much respect Helryx was worth, “a Makuta is a Makuta.  Doesn’t matter if he’s from some other universe, doesn’t matter if he’s swapped his armor for something shinier.  I’m not going to spend this mission with a Kraahkan at my back.”
 
Mazeka spoke up in an attempt to defuse the situation.  “I get you’re worried, Hahli, but you have to understand, he really isn’t the same person as-“
 
“Mazeka, for both our sakes, just stop right there, would you? I’ve spoken to Takanuva about his own trans-dimensional trips.  The way he told it, there were a lot of Takuas out there just like him.”
 
“And there were also quite a few Tahus and Galis rather not like ours,” Helryx replied in a voice that had had a very, very long time to learn how not to take any backtalk.  “If you’d like, you can go ask ours how their Toa Empire is coming along, and when they’re going to get back to subjugating the Matoran.  Or you can stop acting petulant for two minutes and recognize that things aren’t always as black and white as you’d like.” 
 
The two Toa of Water stared each other down for several seconds.  When Hahli spoke, the ice in her voice could’ve given a Ko-Matoran a run for his money.  “All right, then.  I’ll get this mission done.  But if that Makuta shows any sign that he’s more interested in helping those Rahkshi than hunting them, I will personally make him into a meal for whatever’s at the bottom of this planet’s seas.  And then I’m coming back and he” – she pointed at Mazeka, who flinched – “is going back with me to do the rest of the cleanup.  Am I understood?”
 
Helryx seemed unimpressed. “Meet with Teridax tomorrow morning at the south-east docks.  You’ll be traveling by boat until you reach the caverns.  I trust you remember enough of being a Ga-Matoran that you can find a vessel yourself.”
 
Hahli glared at her a few moments longer, then turned and strode out of the hut.  The Order members watched her go without a word.
 

 

The Shadow and the Sea

 

     One: The Sea

The walk back to the small home she shared with her fellow Toa Mahri was a long and bitter one.  Her hands clenched and unclenched as she turned the situation over and over in her mind, trying to figure out how she’d wound up working alongside one of the few people in the universe she could say she actually hated.
 
Spherus Magna hadn’t been a perfect paradise after all, it had turned out, and that was even after the plotting murderers and Toa-killing machines and mind-controlling Skakdi fusions had been dealt with.  The Matoran Universe was breaking down, slowly but surely, and as it did every little creepy-crawly that had ever taken up residence inside was seeping out onto the planet and finding new ways to make everyone’s life just that little bit more difficult.  Rahi and Bohrok at least kept to themselves for the most part, but now that daddy Makuta had finally gotten what he had coming to him, the Rahkshi had apparently decided their sole purpose in life was to make everyone else’s as hard as possible.  Not that that was too much different from what their purpose was before, but it still meant that scouting teams Agori and Matoran alike were coming back singed and slashed at.   The Order of Mata Nui, who had transitioned to the role of their new society’s police force rather nicely, was looking for anyone and everyone who could take a few minutes of their precious time to smash some overgrown slugs into dust.  Peace was surprisingly war-like at times, she mused as she passed a not-quite-finished bunch of Le-Matoran apartments.
 
With the exception of Jaller, who’d taken a fang through the leg during their dramatic escape from enslavement, Hahli and the other Mahri had mostly recovered from their adventures with their friend the big shiny Skakdi fusion.  Even still, the Turaga had asked them to ease themselves back into the usual Toa duties of borderline-suicidal bravery and grueling, overlong journeys, so Hahli had decided to help take down a few worms to get herself back in fighting shape.  She’d heard murmurs that a cove to the southeast of New Atero had wound up a nest for a group of particularly ill-tempered Guurahk, so she figured she’d do a little payback for the days back on Mata Nui.
 
But she hadn’t expected she’d be paired with the Makuta to get the job done.  Teridax would always be the Makuta to her – she’d crossed swords with others a few times, but that didn’t matter.  They were just the latest in that never-ending string of villainous psychopaths that Toa always seemed to find themselves up against, but Teridax was the Makuta: the shadow that had haunted her home for a thousand years, the monster that had tried to kill her friend Takua, the piece of scum who’d taken advantage of her brother’s death.  She swallowed the anger bubbling up inside her and tried to force her mind away from the memory of that night she’d looked to the sky and seen that infernal mask staring back at her, mocking his sacrifice.  Hahli had never imagined she would feel joy from the death of another living creature, but when she’d learned Makuta was no more than bits of debris scattered across the desert now, she’d had to resist the urge to hug her fellow Mahri then and there.
 
And now she was being told to work with him.  She’d heard rumors, of course – though the Order had tried to keep it quiet out of fear of provoking the Matoran, word got around in a city like this: One of the Order members had gone to another universe and brought back a different Makuta Teridax; he stands six bio tall and carries a warhammer of solid gold; his armor shines brighter than the sun; a thousand Shadow Toa fell before him like grass before a scythe.  Hahli thought it was a load of Scarabax dung (a concept she’d been happy to be unfamiliar with before coming here) – it was Makuta Teridax.  It didn’t matter how many dimensions you jumped across – if there was a single being who defined evil in her eyes, it was him.  More like than not, this was just another one of his ten-steps-ahead games, some completely insane (to anyone but him) contingency plan in case he ever did get himself killed. 
 
Well, if it was, this was her chance to stop it; she had a few choice ideas where he could stuff that warhammer of his, and if he said the slightest thing about Matoro, she’d even save him the effort of doing it himself.
 
 
 
Jaller was half-asleep on his bed when she came in.  The other cots were empty; Nuparu, Kongu, and Hewkii apparently had matters of their own to deal with.  Her friend looked up as she entered.  “How’d it go?” he asked.
 
Hahli thought about it for a moment, pulled up a chair, and looked Jaller dead in the eyes.  “I’m being partnered with Makuta Teridax,” she said.
 
If nothing else, the look on his face was a bright point in this whole fiasco.  As she watched it go from shock to confusion and finally to anger, she wondered if her own had done the same back in the Order’s makeshift headquarters.  When he opened his mouth, he sounded ready to light the ocean floor on fire again.  “They’re pairing you with that monster? Are they trying to be funny?”
 
“I don’t think anyone in that entire organization has a sense of humor.”
 
“Well, you’re right on that count.”  He was sitting up now, his eyes blazing red and his fists clenched.  “I mean, they say he’s from another universe, but how can they possibly trust him? Did they miss the past hundred thousand years or something?”
 
“I don’t know, but you and I both know Helryx has never been much of one for doing things the nice way.  A Makuta comes along and smashes up enough Shadow Toa for them, they’re probably falling over each other to get him a shiny title and a job to do.” 
 
“This is an insult,” he spat.  “Did they forget we were the ones who saved Mata Nui’s life in the first place? Did they forget Matoro?”
 
“I don’t know,” she said again, suddenly weary.  “But they seem convinced he’s on their side.  That Matoran Mazeka’s swearing up and down he’s nothing like our Makuta.”  And then, because she knew Jaller, she waited for him to say it.
 
He didn’t disappoint.  “If they’re serious about this, then I’m coming with you.  I’m not letting them send you into a pit of Rahkshi with a snake like him as your only backup, no matter how much they swear he’s different.”  He grabbed her hand reassuringly.  “Tomorrow morning we’ll go and tell Helryx where she can stick that staff of hers, and then we’ll show those Rahkshi that the Matoran of Mata Nui have very long memories.” 
 
She smiled, laughed… and then jabbed him in the leg.  He let out a yelp.
 
Gently, she put his hand back down onto the bed.  “I’d like nothing more, Jaller.  But with that leg of yours, you’re not going anywhere, much less down into a hive of Rahkshi.”
 
“Alright, fine, but you can’t do this alone, Hahli!” Worry had entered the Toa of Fire’s voice now.  “I mean… you’re good, I’ve fought alongside you more than enough to know that, but if that Makuta does make a move, I think even Tahu would be hard-pressed to fight his way out alone.  Get Kongu, or Gali, or – someone!”
 
She shook her head.  “Jaller, you know as well as I do that there’s hardly a Toa in this city who isn’t busy – and those that aren’t are nursing wounds like you are.  Should I have Kongu leave the Le-Matoran because I’ve got some Rahkshi to deal with? Or ask Gali to tell the Glatorian to buzz off for a few days so she can help me keep an eye on a Takanuva wannabe?” she chided. 
 
He closed his eyes, either from pain or exasperation – she couldn’t tell.  “Hahli, I- I just don’t want anything to happen to you.”
 
A few months earlier, Hahli would’ve bet the Makuta would take up the large-horn and join the Le-Koro marching band before Jaller would say anything like that.
 
But, she reflected as she took his hand again and waited for him to fall asleep, a few months earlier this room would’ve had six cots, not five.
 
 
 
The sun was barely over the horizon when she arrived at the docks, and a morning haze was hanging over the few boats anchored there.  It was a sorry sight; the Agori of Bara Magna and Bota Magna alike had understandably never paid much heed to shipbuilding, and the drain the construction of New Atero put on the local resources meant that the few Matoran attempts had little merit to them beyond their ability to float without tipping over.  She briefly toyed with the idea of simply swimming to the cove, but nobody knew the dangers of an uncharted ocean better than a former Ga-Matoran who’d spent time in Mahri Nui.  Sighing, she walked over to the one that looked least likely to fall to pieces in rough water and began unfurling its simple sails.  Whoever owned it probably wouldn’t be happy to get here and find it gone, but the phrase “official Order business” did much to soothe over these little conflicts. 
 
With a creak that made her quietly thankful that she could breathe water, the sails flopped down and caught the wind.  To either side of the boat were sets of oars, but the breeze was strong and well-directed, and with any luck there’d be no need for the two of them to waste their strength rowing. 
 
The two of them.  She frowned again.  She could still set off alone; all she had to do was cut the rope tying the boat to the dock and she’d be over the horizon in a matter of minutes.  When she got back, she could just say that the Makuta hadn’t shown up and she’d decided to take care of the Rahkshi herself rather than try and track him down.  It’d almost be true, even.
 
But that was foolish, she knew.  Without someone who could control Light, she had to admit that her odds of taking out a whole nest of Rahkshi were slim to none.  They’ll be even slimmer if he’s on their side, she thought bitterly, but there was no way around it. 
 
Jaller’s worries had gotten to her in the end, and after he’d fallen asleep last night, she’d stolen out again in search of Takanuva.  Instead, she’d found Turaga Vakama and a blunt though not unkind explanation that the Toa of Light would be away from the city for another week or so while he and a team investigated the ruins of a Great Being’s laboratory that had surfaced in the reformation.  Unfortunately, the old Turaga was as perceptive as ever, and hadn’t let her leave until he’d wheedled out the reason she was searching for the Toa of Light; when she’d finished explaining her situation, he’d closed his eyes in thought for a few seconds and told her this:
 
“I cannot claim to know the Teridax they have named your partner, and I would be foolish to say I knew the one who lies dead across the Great Desert now.  But I did once find myself fighting alongside the Makuta of Metru Nui in pursuit of a common goal.”  He must have seen the surprise on her face, for he continued, “It is not something I have often shared, and in any event it is ancient history.  But listen well, Hahli: if your Teridax is anything like ours was, you have made yourself an ally that will pursue his goal at any cost.  If he finds you wanting or in his way, he will cast you aside as a tool that has outlived its use.  But you must not let him.  When he tries, he must look you in the eyes and see that your will is as strong as his.”
 
She had tried to pry more information from him, but the Turaga of Ta-Koro was unyielding in his refusal to explain his story further.  She’d returned home disquieted but more resolved than she had left; if Vakama spoke truly and the only thing that could temper the Makuta was strength of will, she could not allow herself to show any weakness.  And if that meant she would face him alone, so be it.
 
And so on the hazy, chilly docks, she stored the few supplies she had brought in a corner of the boat and began to wait. 
 
 
 
The figure that emerged from the morning fog was covered head to foot in a simple brown cloak and hood, but the rays of the morning sun found their way onto his face, giving a golden blaze to the mask that rested there.  Hahli said nothing as he approached, instead silently taking measure of what little she could see; if nothing else, he at least wasn’t six bio tall. 
 
“Toa Hahli, I presume.”
 
What small humor she’d taken from comparing the figure before her with the stories she’d heard shriveled up and died at the sound of that voice.  It was his voice, loud and clear as she’d ever heard it; perhaps it was the slightest bit gentler, the slightest bit warmer, but every instinct in her body was screaming that the Makuta before her was the same one who’d haunted her nightmares for years.  She fought to keep her revulsion hidden.  Your will must be as strong as his, she thought.  He must look you in the eyes and know that.  Makuta Teridax stopped before her, his Kraahkan still shining in the morning light, the crimson eyes behind it as alive as anything.
 
“Makuta,” she said in what she hoped was a neutral tone.  “Is there a reason you’re keeping yourself hidden like that?”
 
“Toa Helryx was of the opinion that a mysterious cloaked figure would cause significantly less panic if spotted than Makuta Teridax would.  In my time here I have seen little to suggest she is wrong in that assumption.”  She could feel his eyes judging her.  “You understand our goal?”
 
He will pursue his goal at any cost.  She leveled her gaze at his.  “We get there, explore the cove, and smash any shadow-worms we find along the way.  Did you have a different one in mind?”
 
 “Not at all, though I can hardly blame you for asking.”  The slightest smile played upon her companion’s face.  “Your… Turaga seems to have given you some rather harsh advice.”
 
She cursed inwardly, and then bitterly reflected that she might as well have done it aloud.  Makuta were mind-readers, after all.  “Well,” she shot back, “at least you understand my concern.”
 
He bowed his head slightly.  “My apologies for the intrusion, but we Makuta were given the gift of reading others’ thoughts for a reason.  Do recall one of the first beings from your world I met was so choked with shadow that my masters opted to keep him for study rather than simply return him here.  I’d say that is more than motivation enough for me to be on my guard, wouldn’t you? But I have a measure of you now; I will refrain from any further investigation if it disturbs you.”
 
Somehow, the perfect politeness only made her gut churn harder.  “If it’s not too much an issue, yes, I’d like to know I don’t have a Makuta peeking into my head.”  Not that it much mattered, she supposed; she could say what she liked, but it didn’t change the fact there wasn’t a thing she could do if the Makuta decided he wanted to do a little more poking around her mind. 
 
Still, if he was going to be picking apart her opinion on this little partnership, she wanted him to hear it from her voice, not her thoughts.  Turning to step aboard the boat, she began to speak. “I’m not going to mince words, Teridax.  I don’t care if you say you’re from another dimension.  I don’t care how shiny your armor is.  I don’t care that the Order seems to trust you, and I don’t care that they say you can bounce light better than Takanuva.  You’ve spent most of my life making me and my friends’ lives a nightmare, and you’ve killed more people than I could even hope to meet.  If I had my way, I’d tie you to Vezon and have his little mask send the both of you back where you came – but one of the things I learned as a Toa is that life isn’t fair.”  In her mind’s eye, the stars above the Coliseum shaped themselves into a Mask of Shadows.  “So if you are the great big hero of light you say you are, then you’d better prove it, because if I even start to think you’re playing us false, I will personally show you the meaning of ‘dead in the water’.”
 
 “Of course,” said the Makuta as he followed her aboard and sat himself upon one of the seats to the ship’s bow.  “Though I’m afraid you’ve misunderstood me if you think I’m trying to prove myself a hero.  I simply aim to take care of any troubles for the Matoran – permanently, if need be.”  He smiled in a way she hoped he didn’t think was reassuring.  “Perhaps that’s why the Order has taken such a shine to me.”
 
Without a word, she turned and untied the last knot holding the boat to shore, and the wind came to carry the Toa and the Makuta out over the open bay.
 
 
 
An hour passed without event.  Hahli kept herself busy ensuring the ship stayed on course, almost allowing herself to be lost in the rhythm of the waves against their vessel and the gentle chill of the spray that slipped over the sides.  On Mata Nui, there had never been need to go this far from shore, but every Ga-Matoran worth their salt knew the tricks of riding the waves.  She tried to think of the last time she’d been sailing, but the memory of all that had happened since leaving Mata Nui made it difficult.  An image of Jaller clinging desperately to the mast of her simple fisherman’s raft as they sailed along the coast came to her, and in spite of herself she smiled at the memory, wondering how he would have reacted if he’d known before long he’d be spending his days exploring the ocean.
 
She stood to adjust the sail, and the sight of her partner sitting silently to one side of the boat drove the smile from her face.  His cloak was folded neatly to one side, the warhammer resting atop it, and she had to admit he made for an intimidating sight.  His stark-white plates of armor were in places scarred or dirtied from some long-ago battle, and beneath their surface she could make out taut muscle that would have made an Ash Bear think twice about trying anything.  His eyes were closed behind the golden mask, and his arms were crossed across his lap; at first glance one would think him asleep.  Hahli knew better; the precision with which he had postured himself meant that if anything were to arise, he could be up and on the attack in the blink of an eye.  It was not a comforting sight.
 
Warily, she turned away from him and stared out over the horizon.  To their north a craggy stretch of coast lazily followed them, and to the south the bay stretched on to the Great Sea uninterrupted.  In the distance she could spot the shapes of birds flying above the water, but at this distance it was impossible to tell what they were.  His voice sounded out before any further pleasant memories could distract her.  “Are we still on course?”
 
She turned to look at him once again.  The Makuta had unfolded his arms and was now leaning forward in an almost relaxed posture, watching her intently.  She nodded. “Yeah.  We should be there in another half hour or so.”  Somehow, the usual Toa tradition of responding to stupid questions with equally stupid answers had lost its charm. 
 
“Then if all is well, might I suggest we have a talk while we wait?”
 
Hahli stared at him as though… well, as though he were a Makuta suggesting a pleasant chat to pass the time.  “We could,” she said, “but given your little mind-reading stunt, it’d be awfully one-sided, don’t you think?”
 
He sighed.  “I won’t apologize for that, if that’s what you’re asking.  But I will say I looked no deeper than I needed to.” He raised a hand to his mask.  “We Makuta were given the gift of telepathy, true, but this mask makes peering into a quarry’s spirit as simple as breathing.  If you were as full of shadow as that Matoran was, I’d have known it without ever hearing the slightest conscious thought.”  He looked thoughtful for a moment.  “Except perhaps that Turaga’s advice.  You were so focused on it, you may as well have been shouting.”
 
She was unsurprised to find his reassurances were doing little to ease her mind.  “And if I had been ‘full of shadow’?”
 
“Then I would have introduced you to my warhammer and returned you to the Order with a warning.  If you’d put up a struggle, I’d have returned what was left of you.” He smiled.  “Fortunately for both of us, that wasn’t necessary.”
 
She felt a chill run down her back.  It was certainly a more direct plan than she’d have expected from a Makuta, but its blunt efficiency was yet more proof to her that the being before her was simply another side of the Matoran’s lifelong enemy.  He continued, “But that is not what I hoped to talk about.  I simply wanted to take this opportunity to speak at length with a Toa of this world.  And I imagine you are full of questions about where I am from as well.”
 
“Nope, not really.”
 
He laughed, a sound which would have been almost pleasant if Hahli hadn’t spent years associating it with insanity and mass murder.  “I must say, my other self has done all he can to make me an unwanted guest, hasn’t he? I mean you no harm, Hahli, though I know there may be nothing I can ever do to convince you of that.  But my masters are steadfast in their decisions, and I have a feeling it will be a long time before I am allowed to return home.  If I am to spend the rest of my days in this world, I simply wish to learn of it.  That is all.”
 
She met his gaze evenly.  The sight of those fire-red eyes burning out from behind a Kraahkan was still unnerving, but she was surprised to find herself already growing used to it.  “You’re right that you’re not convincing me of anything here.  But if you want to talk, we’re doing it on my terms.”  Stiffly, she sat herself upon the seat across from him.  “I ask you two questions.  You answer them.  You ask me one question.  I answer it.  Repeat until we get there or one of us throws the other out the boat.”
 
He nodded assent, apparently unfazed by the harshness of her tone.  Forcing herself to maintain eye contact, she asked, “Why were you the one to come back to our world?”
 
The Makuta shrugged.  “It was not my choice.  The Great Beings told the Matoran Mazeka he would have someone from our world in place of his Vultraz.  He chose me.”
 
“And you didn’t have any trouble with that?”
 
“Why would I? We Makuta are the loyal servants of the Great Beings, nothing more.  It was their guidance and judgment that let our world escape ruin, and it is their words that Makuta are tasked with spreading and enforcing.  If they ask me to go, I shall go.  And I must admit, I was curious to see what was waiting on the other side of the mirror.”  He closed his eyes in thought.  “My turn, then.  I have told you what a Makuta is in my world.  What is it in yours?”
 
She answered without hesitation.  “A worm that dreams itself a king.  You spend your lives squirming your way through cracks and sulking in the shadows, sending monsters to do your dirty work, never daring to face us head-on.  You backstab each other in hopes of gaining a momentary advantage, you take what little responsibility you have and stomp on it, you would rather let a thousand villages burn than risk yourself to save them.  You are everything a Toa isn’t.”   Before he could respond, she barreled on.  “Me now.  If you’re such great helpers for the Great Beings, what are Toa?”
 
He smiled.  “You would not know them if you saw them.  They stand as tall as your Matoran, yet they move with surprising agility and are known to eliminate foes many times their size.  After they were created, they spent some five or six years repairing our planet from the inside out; once that was complete, they joined us Makuta in guarding and teaching the Matoran.  Who, I must say, you bear no small resemblance to.” 
 
She frowned.  “So if the Toa were busy fixing Spherus Magna, you’re saying the Makuta were the Matoran’s protectors?”
 
“Indeed.  The title of Makuta is not one taken lightly.  My brothers and sisters and I have each spent years training ourselves in body, mind, and spirit alike.  A Makuta has no right to name himself as such until every trace of shadow has been expelled from his spirit and he controls Light as a Toa might Water.  Any that lets their ambition conquer them is an enemy to Matoran and Makuta alike, and is summarily dealt with.”  He leaned back, thinking of a question.  “Why did the Great Beings abandon you?”
 
For a moment she had no response.  “I… wouldn’t know.  I’ve heard that Spherus Magna was lost, so they created Mata Nui to find a new home.  He would watch over us, and in return we would help him fulfill his destiny, but I don’t know how the Great Beings fit into this whole thing.” With a gnawing dread, she realized she already knew the answer to her next question, but she found herself unable not to ask: “You have no Mata Nui?”
 
He bowed his head.  “There was no need.  The Matoran and Toa saved Spherus Magna, and we Makuta delivered the justice and the morals of the Great Beings more than sufficiently.”
 
“Then … who can the Matoran believe in?”
 
The question seemed to give him pause.  “The Great Beings, I suppose.  Us Makuta.  Their Toa.  Themselves.  They know who they are and why they are.  Belief has little to do with it.”  Almost idly, he met her eyes again.  “It’s rather the same situation you find yourself in now, isn’t it?”
 
She scowled.  “Shut it, Makuta.  Alright, the Great Beings might have put us all together to go find some planets for them, but spend five minutes listening to a camp-side story of Mata Nui – Matoran and Agori alike – and you’ll realize that this isn’t just some lab experiment of theirs.  Maybe it was once, but not anymore.  And it never will be.  Mata Nui was more than a planet-fixing machine, and if you never had him, maybe it’s no surprise your world’s so backwards.”  The mention of stories had shaken loose a memory, and she forced the conversation in a different direction. “They say when you got here, you killed a bunch of Shadow Toa.  Is that true?”
 
“It was merely three, but yes.  Mazeka and I were… inconvenienced by a number of corrupted Toa my other self had sent as a welcome gift.  I removed them.”
 
There was another part of the story she’d heard, one she hadn’t wanted to believe.  “Who were they?”
 
“Three sides of the same coin, plucked from across the universes and brought to serve as an army.” He looked thoughtful for a second, as though he were trying to recall something.  “I believe they were each called Takanuva.”
 
A horrible cave opened in the pit of her stomach.  Before the Makuta could ask his own question, she cut him off.  “And you murdered them? Just like that?”
 
“They were attempting to murder us first, you realize.”
 
Suddenly there was fury in her voice.  “Drop the high-and-mighty-oh-so-practical-Makuta stuff, now.  You didn’t stop to try and reason with him? He’s a Toa of Light! You just let him be… used?”
 
His voice was steel in response.  “I have already told you, Toa.  My mask lets me see the shadow within with barely a moment’s effort.  If you saw what I had seen, glimpsed those spirits devoid of the slightest light, you would have realized talk was futile.  What I did was not murder; it was mercy and justice.”  She opened her mouth to respond, but his words were sharp and unyielding.  “You have asked six questions now, and I am owed three.” His eyes were blazing red, and the voice he spoke with seemed to have lost what little separated it from the one she’d known.  “First.  You condemn me for crimes I never committed, and for choices I never made.  You rage against the light of day in place of the shadow it dispelled.  Are you so blind as to think that a universe shifted may not change the spirits of its inhabitants along with it, that they may not choose another path? Second.  You doubt my devotion to the light and my judgment of those Shadow Toa.  You believe this mask tells half-truths at best, and that I am truly so corrupt as to trawl through another being’s mind out of simple paranoia.  I should rather like to dispel those doubts.”  He brought a hand to his mask.  “Which would you like to see first – my shadow, or yours?”
 
Instinctively, Hahli grabbed for her Cordak Blaster, but the Makuta abruptly lowered his hand.  “No, that is far enough.  This conversation has been most illuminating.  Allow me to ask you my last question: do you truly believe you can complete this mission with me at your side?”
 
She forced herself to keep the weapon holstered and inhaled deeply.  The moment stretched out between them for far too long. 

“I don’t know,” she finally said.
 
Teridax nodded.  “Your honesty is appreciated.  Now, I believe that’s our destination coming up over the horizon.  Shall we prepare to make land?”
 
 
 
Review topic is over here.


Edited by GSR, Jan 08 2014 - 01:56 AM.

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#2 Offline GSR

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Posted Jan 15 2013 - 02:01 AM

     Two: The Shadow

 

The mouth of the cave that yawned before them seemed determined to live up to such terminology.  Spires of stone shot from the floor and surface alike to serve as teeth, and a light sheen of water covered every inch of wall.  The surf lazily surged in and out, and to the rear a tunnel curving into darkness looked for all the world like a hungry gullet.  Teridax narrowed his eyes as he stepped from the boat.  “Your explorers were not mistaken.  The stench of shadow hangs over this place.”

 

Behind him, Hahli searched for an outcropping of rock to help secure the ropes she was tying.  “Yeah, they seemed pretty sure of themselves, what with the half-disintegrated arm one of them had.”

 

“We had no need for Rahkshi in my world.  I am certain anyone who would have tried to construct one would have been stopped.”

 

Hahli made no response as she wrapped the rope around a sturdy stalagmite she’d found.  Their talk had only made her weary of the situation she found herself in; the Makuta had let her ask questions until she’d made a fool of herself.

 

There was nothing for it, though.  Pulling the knot tight, she stood and approached the cave entrance where the Makuta was waiting.  Wordlessly, he reached out a hand, and an orb of light appeared inches above it, illuminating the gloomy grotto.   She squinted at the sudden brightness, and for one absurd moment it almost looked like Takanuva was at her side.

 

Then the moment passed, and Teridax was striding towards the rear of the cavern.  She matched her step with his, unwilling to either let herself be led or let him get behind her.  Beneath their feet, the water bubbled out back towards the sunlit bay. 

 

As they reached the tunnel’s entrance, Hahli held up a hand to halt her companion.  “If I know Rahkshi, they’re going to be huddling in the deepest, darkest corners this place has.  If you see anything moving where nothing should be, shoot first and ask questions after, got it? I don’t know what that hammer’s made of, but a few Guurahk staffs are more than enough to turn it into dust.”

 

The Makuta nodded.  “Stay by my side.  If we are separated, you will be blind down there.”

 

“Maybe.  Get me into water and I can make my way pretty well if I keep my mind on the currents.”

 

The look on the Makuta’s face suggested he had his doubts about that, but he nodded once more.  The pair cautiously edged forward into the darkness; Teridax’s sphere illuminated little but sheening stone and patches of moss running along the edges of the water at their feet.  Behind them, the light of day grew smaller and smaller until they rounded a corner and it vanished completely.  Hahli’s kept her eyes moving constantly, scanning for any sign of movement; when her gaze landed on her partner, she saw he was doing much the same.  The sound of rushing water was faint but always present, and at the edges of her hearing a hundred drips and drops pattered along in their own rhythm.  Around them, the air was oppressively humid, and as the pair descended they could feel it growing chilly.

 

After some fifteen minutes, the tunnel abruptly opened up; before them stretched a tremendous underground lake, its black waters sparkling under the glare of the Makuta’s light.  A pebbled beach ran beneath their feet, stretching along to either end of the cavern.  Hahli tentatively toed the water - it was cool, but not cold enough to be dangerous to swim in.  Teridax reached his hand out and sent a blazing column of light across the surface of the lake; it stretched on for what must have been kio, faint ripples echoing across its surface where some small columns of water fell from holes in the walls around it.

 

The light faded, and the pair turned to continue their search.  They had gone no further than a few steps when they heard a splash as something broke the surface of the lake.  As one they turned to face it, Teridax shooting another ray of illumination across the cavern as Hahli drew her Cordak Blaster.  A short ways down the cavern, ripples danced across the lake, fanning away from a spot where something had fallen in.  Hahli gestured upwards, and the Makuta arced the light towards the ceiling; sure enough, a series of holes pockmarked the rock there.  Frowning, the Makuta drew his warhammer and edged towards the lake; Hahli grabbed his arm to slow him.  He regarded her quizzically, and she flashed the edges of a grin in return.  “This is my territory, Makuta.  I’ll take it from here.”

 

“Very well,” he said, then shot a hand out towards the lake and blasted its surface with a ray of light.  She glanced at him in irritation as he shrugged.  “I thought perhaps you wouldn’t mind being able to see while you were down there.”

 

Hahli bit back a response and turned to the lake, tightening the grip on her blaster and extending the talons on her spare hand.  With sudden speed, she dashed towards the shoreline and dived forward, sliding into the water effortlessly.  In seconds her world was fuzzy and enveloping, a familiar feeling of pressure surrounding her as she began to dive down into the lake’s depths.  Teridax’s light penetrated surprisingly far past the surface, and she could see the rocky bottom she was gliding over clear as day.  She slowed as she reached the area they’d seen the splash, listening to the currents whispering around her.  There was a music to them, she’d come to realize; an intricate pattern that moved and adapted like a living thing, responsive to the slightest change.  And if you knew how the music was meant to sound –

 

There.  She let the current spin her so she could look off to the right.  The murky waters in that direction were far enough from the Makuta’s beam to be difficult to see through, but it was no real trouble; she was patient.  A minute or two of waiting gave her what she wanted; it was merely a shadow, but somewhere off in the distance she saw a lithe figure dart past, its narrow head and faint red eyes unmistakable.  Still she remained unmoving, feeling the ebb and flow of the water as the beast swam about.  It knows I’m here, she thought.  It’s moving back and forth, but little by little it’s bringing itself around to me.  She almost had to smile.   Wrong person to play sea shark with, you oversized pile of Makuta bones.

 

To Teridax, it must have looked as though a volcano had erupted on the lake floor; the Guurahk was suddenly shooting skyward on a torrent of water, its arms whirling in panic.  Hahli followed up a moment later, rushing up along the column towards the Rahkshi, which was pinned against the ceiling and squabbling towards one of the holes there.  With a swipe of her talons, she pulled the staff from the beast’s grip and pushed the Guurahk away.  It fell flailing towards the lake below, where there was now inexplicably a Rahkshi-sized hole of not-lake.  Hahli rode the dissipating wave down almost leisurely as the sound of armor shattering against stone ricocheted off the walls.  She dived beneath the surface once more, and saw to her satisfaction that the Kraata was now little more than a smear against the rocks.  Smirking to herself, she began swimming back to her unwanted partner, idly counting the bits of Rahkshi armor as she went: headplate, left arm, right arm, left leg, headplate, right leg…

 

Wait a moment

 

When she emerged from the lake, there was no smirk of victory on her face.  She was carrying the two Guurahk headplates; irritably, she shoved one into the Makuta’s hand.  “I only saw one Guurahk back there.  So why are there extra bits of Rahkshi smashed against the lakebed?”

 

Frowning, Teridax turned over the narrow piece of metal and examined it.  “Perhaps they have taken to infighting?”

 

“It’s possible, but this is a cave full of Guurahk – if they were having it out, there’d be a lot of Rahkshi-flavored dust floating around, not whole pieces of armor.”

 

“What are you suggesting, then?”

 

“Wish I knew.  But the pessimist in me says there’s something a lot nastier than Rahkshi down here.” 

 

“Besides me, you mean.”

 

She shot him a sour look, honestly unsure if the Makuta had been trying to tell a joke or not.  “Look, just be ready for anything, is what I’m saying.  If some Spherus Magnan monster decides it wants to snack on something other than Rahkshi, I don’t want to have to take it down on my own because you were too busy cleaning your hammer or plotting or whatever it is Makuta do in their spare time.”

 

“Cleaning my hammer would be rather a waste of time, considering I plan to use it so very soon.  And while I’m afraid I haven’t been up to any plotting while you were busy, I did find something of interest.”  He raised his hand to his mask; for a second, the world swam.  Hahli instinctively dropped into a combat stance as the shadows around them seemed to ebb and grow.

 

“What is this? What do you think you’re doing?”

 

He did not bother to look at her.  “I am making the shadows brighter, so that you might see as I do.”

 

It took her a moment, but she saw it.  Hanging in the air were threads of blackness, crisscrossing the beach and leading in and out of the water.  Teridax said, “These Rahkshi of yours drag darkness wherever they go.  Adjust how you see the shadows, and their movements are as clear as day.”  He gestured to one end of the beach; she followed his hand and saw a tunnel almost smothered in strings of floating obsidian.  “It would seem they have taken a liking to whatever is down there.  Shall we follow them?”

 

She frowned.  It was hardly an attractive prospect; the threads were tangled enough that it was impossible to pick out just how many Rahkshi there were, but it was clear that there were more than enough that Helryx had been right to send them on this mission.  A single Rahkshi could be taken care of with a few elemental tricks; a hive of them was a different problem.

 

Still, what did it matter? This was the situation she’d expected going in; the only difference was that now she could see exactly how ludicrously dangerous it was.  That brought a smile to her face.  Perhaps that was the trick to being a Toa; it was easy to be suicidally brave as long as you weren’t thinking about it.   With mock courtesy, she gestured for the Makuta to come along, and the two stepped forward into the gloom.

 

Behind them, many eyes watched from the walls.  Not all of them were red.

 

 

 

The tunnels grew more and more oppressive as they descended, the stone of the walls around them growing darker and the water beneath their feet slowly becoming slippery and foul.  Hahli frowned as they passed a pitted chunk of rock jutting out from the ground; the holes in it were unmistakably the results of a disintegration blast.  Teridax was silent, his eyes methodically scanning the path before them for any sign of movement.

 

After perhaps ten minutes of walking, Hahli’s foot clanged against something metal.  Teridax was silent as she reached down and picked up the shattered remains of a staff, but she could see his eyes moving, taking count of the various shattered pieces of Rahkshi armor scattered around the tunnel.  She spoke quietly.  “That mask of yours picking up on anything?”

 

“Nothing I didn’t see back up the path, no.  There are too many traces of shadow for me to say if this thing was killed by one of its kind.”

 

She sighed.  “Wonderful.  Can you do anything else with it to slow them down? You can’t send out some sort of… Shadow energy or something to control them?”

 

“Perhaps with time, but it would not be a simple task.  I have no small control over light and shadow between my powers and my mask, but these creatures are more than that.  They may be born of Shadow, but they have… how best to put it? They have accumulated spirit beyond it.  Oh, darkness still permeates every fiber of their being, but they are more than a cloud of Shadow energy.  It is their essence, but it is not their totality.”

 

“Care to explain that so that those of us who haven’t spent their lives with their brains in the dark can understand?”

 

He chuckled, a sound which Hahli hoped she could go without hearing again.  “Very well.  Consider your fellow Water Toa.  Each of you is bound inexorably to the element of Water – it is the seed from which your spirit has grown.  Every part of you is tied to it in some way.  But each of you has twisted that influence in a different direction.  Perhaps some of you better represent a gentle wave, perhaps some of you are more akin to a waterfall or a hurricane.  It is almost a symbiotic relationship; you control it, yet it defines you, yet you define that very definition.”

 

She bit back a groan and motioned for him to start moving again; she really should have seen the lecture coming, but she could put up with it if he kept pushing forward.  As they walked, he continued.

 

“Now, tell me, when you meet your fellow Toa of Water, can you control them? You can quell a storm or summon a wave, so does it follow that you can make Toa Helryx dance at your command? Of course not.  Our spirits are bound to elements, but they are not one and the same.  This is true of any living being – even these Rahkshi have some part of them that goes beyond the element of Shadow.”

 

“What, these things have personalities? Because I’ve met a lot of Rahkshi, and I’m pretty sure their personality goes as far as ‘kill Toa.’”

 

“Not exactly.  I simply mean that, save perhaps the Element Lords, no living thing is utterly and completely one with its element.  Any living spirit has some piece of its own that transcends whatever elements it is tied to – that is what allows us to change and evolve.  Even we Makuta are created with spirits tilted to the darkness, yet our training allows us to sever our ties with the element of Shadow and recreate ourselves in Light.”

 

“So, what, you’re going to use that mask of yours to reform the Guurahk?”

 

“Hardly.  I said that their spirits are still choked with shadow, did I not? You may have some control over your element, but it still has some control over you.  A being whose spirit is so utterly choked with shadow as this is beyond help.  And though my Kraahkan lets me manipulate the ties of shadow a spirit has, we live and die by our choices.  If the spirit itself has no desire to break free – if it truly desires to remain in the dark – there is nothing I can do.”  He smirked and tapped the side of the warhammer.  “Well, perhaps I should rephrase that – there is nothing I can do with the mask.”

 

A thought entered her mind and exited her mouth almost at the same time.  “Those Takanuvas wanted to be evil, is that what you’re saying?”

 

His retort was sharp.  “What I saw before me was three spirits so filled with shadow that any sane Makuta would view them as beyond help – and I feel it is worth reminding you that all three of them were quite focused on killing me.”

 

“But you could have helped them.”

 

“It is not so simple as you would like.  Again, the spirit must be willing to let go of its shadow, and you must remember – Light and Shadow are two sides of the same coin.  If you can remove some sliver of a spirit’s shadow but have no light to take its place, you are merely wasting your time.  Shadow begets shadow.”

 

“No light to take its place? Look at you!”

 

His voice was angry now.  “Have you listened to nothing I have said? Would you expect to be able to control a Ga-Toa’s connection to Water, or–“ His eyes shot up, and with one massive arm he slammed Hahli against the wall as a beam of gray energy sizzled past where she’d been standing.  Ahead of them, the Guurahk hissed and lowered its staff to attack again, but found that proposition stymied by the unexpected presence of a warhammer in place of its head.  With a squawk and a crunch, the armor clattered to the floor. 

 

Hahli stood up, breathing heavily.  Teridax lifted the hammer from the ground and looked back at her.  “The time for talk is over.  Be ready, Toa Hahli.  The things in this cave are long past any help not waiting at the end of a warhammer.”

 

Some part of her was fuming, but she met his eyes and nodded.  Without a word, they set off into the darkness once more.

 

 

 

The next hour passed slowly; they found Guurahk lying in wait around almost every corner now.  Hahli would churn up the water still sloughing beneath their feet to throw them off guard, and Teridax would set in with either hammer or Light; either way, they left a trail of shattered armor as they descended.

 

As they walked she kept track of the occasional Rahkshi remains they weren’t responsible for.  It was difficult to figure out how they had been destroyed, but one sitting below a gaping hole in the rock wall had matching ones in its backplate and breastplate.  Hahli gritted her teeth; whatever was taking out Rahkshi besides them wasn’t exactly merciful, if this was anything to go by.  At her side, Teridax said nothing, continuing his constant scanning of the tunnel for any sign of danger.  Once he stopped to examine the ground near a Rahkshi’s shattered armor; she followed a moment later, but he was already standing and shaking his head, and she could see nothing but mud where his gaze had been directed. 

 

The air grew chillier as they went on, and Hahli was uncomfortably aware that if it weren’t for her companion she would be stuck blind what seemed like kio beneath the surface.  In the distance they could hear rustling that they could only assume was Rahkshi scurrying through parallel passages. 

 

Abruptly, they saw the tunnel walls open up to another pitch-black chamber stretching out before them.  Teridax dimmed his light, and Hahli could just make out the tell-tale shifting orbs of red light that meant there were Rahkshi waiting ahead.  Without warning, she heard her companion’s voice coming from a direction she couldn’t identify. 

 

This appears to be their nest.  Stay back for the moment - I will enter first and draw their attention.  Once they are focused on me, I will illuminate the chamber.  That is when you will strike from behind.  Understood?

 

She balled a fist as she realized he was using telepathy again.  Literal backstabbing, then? You really are a Makuta.

 

I asked, understood?

 

Oh, understood.  Now get out of my head.

 

He nodded and extinguished the orb of light floating before them.  Hahli ducked against the wall as she heard her companion charge into the room.  She could see Rahkshi eyes darting through the darkness as the beasts began to position themselves around the Makuta.  There was a sudden flash that reformed itself into a block of light, and she realized he was raising his warhammer high, the head charged with energy.

 

From somewhere in the room she heard a chuckle.  It took her half a second to realize it wasn’t Teridax’s.  It took her another half a second to realize that the pair of eyes the hammer was arcing toward was glowing blue, not red.

 

Then the hammer came down against the floor, and she could see everything. 

 

She saw the Rahkshi circling the Makuta recoiling at the sudden brightness.

 

She saw more hanging from ledges on the crumbling walls.

 

She saw the crushed and crumbled remains of Guurahk armor lining the ground.

 

She saw Teridax lunging forward even as he lifted the hammer from the shattered stone beneath it with astounding speed.

 

And more than anything else she saw the jet-black armor of a Toa she’d never seen before in her life and had known for as long as she could remember, his silver Avohkii twisted into a cruel, laughing smile as he danced away from where the hammer had landed just a moment earlier.

 

Then a beam of disintegration energy flew past her, and it was chaos.  She spun to meet the pair of Guurahk to her left, instinctively shooting a blast of water in counterattack.  One of them took it head on and smashed against the wall with a snarl, but the other dodged with the grace of a long-lived predator and charged at her.  Without thinking, she dived to the side and drew her blaster, letting loose with a flurry of rounds as the Rahkshi’s staff impaled the air where she’d been an instant earlier.  As she crashed to the ground she could hear the clash of metal against metal behind her, but her brain had no time to try and guess what was happening in the center of the room; by then the Rahkshi had turned for another attack.  Before it could move she pushed against the ground with her hands and launched herself feet-first at the monster; she slammed into its chest with enough force to send it sprawling and planted her feet on the ground.  The Guurahk looked up at her from where it had landed, hissing, but by then she was already launching herself at it once more, her talons extended.  They cut into the Rahkshi’s armor with a satisfying clink, and its thrashing arms fell to the ground like a dropped doll.

 

There was another hiss behind her, and she spun to see a third Guurahk raising its staff to attack.  Before she could move, a pulse of black energy slammed against the side of its head, and it crumpled to the ground.  She heard a mocking laugh and looked up to see the Toa spinning away to meet Teridax’s hammer with the blade of a staff she wished she didn’t know.  Around them, she saw Guurahk launching themselves at the Makuta, but his blows against the Toa were intentionally wide, the hammer crushing three Rahkshi with its arc even as he yanked it away from his foe’s weapon.  Orbs of light danced around both of them, smashing against the combatants seemingly randomly; it took her a moment to realize the Avohkii was glowing bright.

 

Somehow, that was too much for her.  Roaring at the top of her lungs, she leapt from the Rahkshi’s remains, gathering as much elemental energy as she could muster.  With a clap of sound that shook the cavern walls, a tidal wave existed where none had been a moment before.  The Makuta and the Toa each saw it coming and braced themselves, but the Rahkshi around them were not as quick on the uptake.  She could see them scrambling to swim against the tide even as it carried them to the back of the cavern and the extremely solid stone wall that awaited them.  When the water cleared, the pieces of armor lining the wall looked like some sort of insane decoration.

 

With a gasp she fell to one knee; it was no Nova Blast, but a tidal wave did more than its fair share to drain her.  “Makuta!” she spat between panting breaths.  “What in the name of the Great Beings are you doing? Who is he?”

 

Before the Makuta could answer, the black-and-silver Toa let out another laugh; it was unmistakably tinged with madness.  “Hahli, old friend, don’t play dumb.  You were the Chronicler, remember? Surely you recognize your predecessor.” 

 

Her voice shook.  “No.  That’s… you’re not him.  You’re not.”

 

He laughed again.  “Really? So quick to deny me? I’m hurt.  You seem convinced that he’s Makuta Teridax, after all.  What makes me different?”  He threw his arms wide, a cruel smile waiting on his face.  “Toa Takanuva, at your service.”

 

She shook her head.  “No.  You’re just… you’re one of his illusions or something.  This is a trick.”

 

“Now, now, Hahli.  How many times did I tell you? One day they’d have my name in stories.  I think they will now, won’t they? After all, I’m a first.  Toa Takanuva, the Toa of Shadow.”  The smile vanished.  “Write that down for the Turaga, why don’t you.”

 

In a flash, the blade of his staff was flying at her through the air, and she instinctively threw herself to the side.  In the same instant, she heard a grunt of effort and looked up to see Takanuva gripping the handle of Teridax’s warhammer; the Makuta had charged in the split-second Takanuva had been throwing the weapon, but the Toa had grabbed hold of the warhammer before he could bring it swinging down.  For just a moment it seemed the Makuta would easily overpower the Toa, but in the blink of an eye Takanuva kicked out his legs and let the hammer’s momentum launch his feet into Teridax’s stomach.  Teridax stumbled back as Takanuva used the opening to slam a fist glowing with shadow into the Makuta’s mask.  He tumbled to the ground with a snarl of pain.

 

Takanuva chuckled to himself and strode towards Hahli.  She forced herself to her feet, but he simply walked past her to where his weapon lay on the ground.  “You know, when I had the Guurahk give those Matoran a scare, I thought they’d go running for me.  This world’s me, I mean.”  He picked up the staff and tossed it up and down idly.  “Didn’t think I’d get the Makuta and Hahli.  Though going by the look on your face, Hahli, you weren’t expecting to see me.  Were you, Makuta? I bet you were.  The Makuta’s always two steps ahead, after all, even if he is wearing gold and white for a change.  Thanks for taking care of those other mes, by the way; I think they would’ve gotten really annoying after a while.”  Hahli glanced over at Teridax, who was pulling himself to his feet.  He said nothing; instead, he merely glared at Takanuva, who was still talking.  “I’ve got to admit, I’m disappointed.  It would’ve been fun to see if I was as much of a naïve moron here as I used to be.  I think he would’ve thanked me for the wake-up call in the end, though, don’t you? I always did have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that life wasn’t fair.” 

 

Still turning the staff over in his hands, he started walking over to the nearest wall of the room, where Hahli could see a few Rahkshi eyes glowing in one of the side tunnels.  One of them poked a head out hesitantly, and the Shadow Toa scratched it under the headplate almost affectionately.  “They make such good companions, you know - I can see why you were so fond of them, Makuta.  Just show them enough shadow and they’ll follow you anywhere.  Reminds me a bit of me, before this world’s you kicked the bucket.”  He sighed.  “They do get awfully restless, though.  Hunting’s what they’re made to do, you know? Hiding out in caves wasn’t what they signed up for.  Once in a while one of them does get the smart idea to try and start something.”  Hahli could see the edges of a smile on his mask.  “Oh, don’t worry.  I’m always able to end it quickly.  That’s what’s so nice about this mask; doesn’t matter what I’m like, it still gives me enough power over Light to make quick work of any of my little friends here if they get out of line.  Of course, sometimes I just use the staff.  Variety is the spice of life, after all.” 

 

Hahli felt for her Cordak Blaster, then realized it was still lying near the entrance they’d come in through.  Alright then, keep him talking.  “No way you’re Takanuva.  He’s nothing like you.  Hiding out in some run-down caves with a bunch of Rahkshi? You really think I’d buy that Takua the Chronicler would do that?”

 

He looked back at her, the smile gone.  “You’re right, Takua the Chronicler wouldn’t.  Takua the Chronicler would rather spend his days exploring and playing hero.”  His face twisted into a scowl.  “Maybe you should bring that up with the Makuta that killed him.”  The Guurahk behind him hissed, and he gave it a reassuring pat.  “Oh, I forgot, he’s dead too.  Well, that’s alright.  You can ask him once we’re done here.”  Almost casually, he pointed the staff at the ground between Hahli and Teridax.  “You know, Guurahk love to stalk individual prey.  It’s their specialty.  Try not to die too quickly, all right? This is their first real game since those Matoran, and they’ll be really disappointed if it’s over too soon.”

 

Teridax’s voice roared into her mind.  HAHLI, GET BACK-

 

A wall of shadow burst from the end of Takanuva’s lance, carving the chamber in two.  As it rushed past Teridax, it abruptly cut off the lights still hovering around him, turning her world pitch black in an instant.  Cursing, she took off towards in what she hoped was the direction of the chamber entrance, her eyes darting wildly around for any sight of glowing red – or glowing blue, for that matter. 

 

With an undramatic thud, she slammed into the room’s wall.  For a moment her head shook with the impact, and then she was running alongside it, feeling for any sort of opening that she might be able to use.  Behind her, a familiar chorus of hisses and clicks were trailing at a distance.  Keep calm, Hahli.  This place is filled with underwater rivers and lakes.  If you can get to water, you have the advantage.  Another part of her mind started considering what might happen if she couldn’t get to water, but she shut that down as quickly as she could.  It didn’t take a lot of thinking to figure out, anyways.

 

Her hand fell into empty air, and she turned and shot down the passageway to her side.  Water splashed beneath her feet as she ran, and she felt a slight stirring of hope.  Running water was a good sign.  Before I get ahead of myself, though, I’d better give my friends back there something to chew on for a minute or two.  Without breaking her stride, she focused on the stream running along the ground, and within moments it was flowing back up the tunnel, accumulating into a torrent as it picked up more and more moisture from the walls around it.  She heard a splash and an angry clatter and chuckled to herself at the mental image of the Rahkshi tripping over each other. 

 

Suddenly, she realized there were no walls around her.  Unfortunately, she had little time to consider the implications of this, as moments later there was no ground beneath her either.  She spun crazily through the air, with just enough time to think this fall better end in water, because this is not the way for a Toa to die before she hit the surface of the lake below.  The impact knocked the breath from her lungs, but within seconds she was swimming down and away, her mind finally able to slow down and start planning beyond “don’t die in the next two minutes”.  Behind her, she heard the Guurahk splash into the lake with her, but she paid them little heed; this was her element.  Avoiding them would be easier than Kolhii against Jaller. 

 

Swimming along an eddy in the currents, she could just make out that along one side of the wall of rock lining the lake carried a crisscross of holes.  Silently as she could, she slid into one and waited.  Sure enough, minutes later she saw a few of the Guurahk swim by, searching the open waters of the lake.  When they had disappeared from view, she sighed and let her mind finally start to try and piece together what in the name of Mata Nui was going on. 

 

 

 

There really wasn’t that much to it, she realized.  Rahkshi were a pest, but not a plague; there was no need to rush a mission to exterminate a random nest of them.  The Order must have suspected that there was more going on here than met the eye – something that was more dangerous than a few Guurahk.  It followed that if the Guurahk were working for someone, then that person had to have more than enough control over the element of Shadow.  And with most of the Makuta dead, that made for a very narrow, very dangerous list.  And top of that list…

 

She felt a wave of exhaustion sweep over her.  The rumors were true, then.  Somehow there were corrupted versions of one of her best friends running around wreaking havoc.  Teridax really had killed three of them.  And that made him the perfect choice to eliminate a fourth.  Simple logic.  As for herself, she was nothing but support on this mission – given the environment, she was of the right element to bail the Makuta out if anything went wrong.  That was that, then.  She was support on a mission to kill one of her best friends.  For just a second she had an insane urge to laugh.

 

Instead she swallowed hard and tried to push back against the wave of anger that was rising inside her.  How long had the Makuta known what was waiting for them? Was it the moment he’d stepped into the caves? When he’d used that mask of his to track the Rahkshi? When they’d started finding the smashed and stabbed bits of armor?  She abruptly remembered him staring intently at the mud, and felt a hollow feeling in her gut as she realized that he’d had more than enough time to smear away a Toa-sized footprint before she’d come over.  And then he’d led the charge into the main chamber with a blow that could shatter stone; he didn’t think she could fight Takanuva, so he’d planned to kill him before she even realized he was there.  Direct, yet perfectly tailored to overcome his partner’s limitations.  If they got out of here alive, she was going to show him where to stuff that warhammer of his. 

 

Still, things weren’t adding up.  Why in the name of the Great Beings was this Takanuva hiding out in a cave with a bunch of Rahkshi? If he’d really gone off the deep end and had decided to start playing Makuta, this was hardly an ideal evil hideout.  And it didn’t match anything she knew about Takanuva – nothing surpassed his love for adventure.  He’d rather die before he’d trap himself in a dank corner of nothingness like this place. 

 

Maybe you should bring that up with the Makuta that killed him.  When she’d seen him, she’d refused to believe it was her friend, even a version from another universe.  Could it be that without his light, he really had become nothing more than a monster? Was there nothing left of Takua the Chronicler in the Toa that had tried to kill her here in this nightmarish grotto? 

 

And if she asked herself that, there was no more avoiding the hardest questions of all.  If Takanuva was a monster now, was Teridax right to try and kill him before she could see him? Would she be able to go through with this mission, knowing what she knew?

 

She sighed and shook her head.  She didn’t know.  She couldn’t know, not until she had another chance to talk with the Shadow Toa and figure out just who he really was.  Pieces of Teridax’s lecture on shadows and spirits bounced through her mind, but it was all just words and theories.  The simple cruelty in the voice of the Toa that had stood before her was a thousand times more powerful an image than some Makuta’s ramblings on light and shadow.  

 

In the distance, she could hear the Guurahk hissing to each other as they fruitlessly circled the lake, and she forced herself back to reality.  There was nothing to be gained from sitting and brooding; she could deal with the morality of her mission if she got out of this lake alive.  Quiet as she could, she slid out from the hole she’d taken refuge in and began to glide along the bottom of the lake, ears and eyes peeled for any sign of the Rahkshi around her.  Two were far ahead of her, she sensed, and another was somewhere to her left.  She let the current carry her; with any luck, she’d seem no more than a chunk of passing debris. 

 

She never got a chance to test that theory, as without warning she felt the Rahkshi shift directions as one and dart away down the lake, back towards the shore.  She frowned – she might be dealing with alternate universes more than usual today, but she was pretty sure there was no world in which Rahkshi turning tail and running was a good sign.  Cautiously, she began to kick, searching for any sign of trouble as she coasted along the lakebed. 

 

After a few minutes, she spotted another wall and realized that she had crossed the entire lake.  The soft touch of the current told her the stone face before her was filled with tunnels not unlike the one she’d hidden in before.  It wasn’t an attractive proposition, but for all she knew the Rahkshi were waiting back at the beach; she’d just have to push forward and hope there was nothing unpleasant waiting for her.  Said hope was almost certainly misplaced, she knew, but that was part of being a Toa – hoping for the best, preparing for the worst, and dealing with the even worse. 

 

She’d been swimming through the narrow passage for barely a few seconds when she hit rock once more.  She reached up with one arm and felt it break the surface; twisting herself around, she was able to feel the sides of the narrow, almost well-like shaft above her.  The walls were craggy, but far too slippery to gain any sort of handhold on, which would have been a problem if she’d had any intention of climbing them.  Instead, she rose the water up around her, letting it carry her to the top of the tunnel. 

 

As she ascended, her thoughts were suddenly interrupted.  Hahli.  Are you alive?

 

You couldn’t fault this Makuta for being indirect.  I thought I asked you to knock it off with the mind-invasion stuff.

 

Are all your Toa so flippant? This is hardly the time for petty grudges.

 

She sighed.  Yes, I’m alive.  Where are you?

 

I am not sure, but it must be close to wherever you are if I can contact you.  A Makuta’s telepathy is quite limited -

 

Cut the explanations, would you? Actually, no, scratch that, here’s an explanation I want.  Why didn’t you tell me about Takanuva?

 

For a moment there was silence.

 

I’m waiting.

 

I would hope you already know the answer to that.  I could not be certain you were dedicated enough to eliminate him if need be.

 

Sometimes, she hated being right.  Do you remember when I told you not to try and pull anything over on me? Because I think this all falls nicely into ‘pulling something over on me.’

 

Do you blame me? If I had told you of my suspicions immediately, you would have resisted.  It was more prudent to attempt to deal with the issue before you could become involved.

 

Are all your Makuta this cowardly? Don’t answer that, I already know.

 

I will let that slide for the moment.  There are more pressing matters.  Have you seen the Toa?

 

What? I thought he was on your side of the wall.

 

No, I have seen nothing of him, only Rahkshi.  Perhaps he is watching from afar?

 

Could be, she thought as she reached the top of the passage and stuck her head out.  A point of protosteel was waiting to greet her.  Or he could be right here. 

 

The point gestured for her to come up.  Behind it, a silver Avohkii was smiling.

 

 

 

 

Review topic is this a-way.  My apologies for the delay in posting this chapter; fingers crossed, the third and final one will be up rather faster.


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#3 Offline GSR

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Posted Jan 23 2013 - 12:58 AM

Three: The Story
 
He let her sit for a minute once she’d climbed out.  A pair of Guurahk had their staffs at her back, and were hissing and snapping at each other with what sounded disturbingly like joy.  The Toa of Shadow himself was sitting leisurely atop a rock; he’d placed a single dim orb of light between them, and she could just barely make out his face and his staff resting against his lap, unerringly pointed in her direction.  Teridax’s voice had vanished from her mind with a promise that he would find her soon, but she had no way of knowing if that was a promise he would keep. 
 
Until she did know, all she could do was keep Takanuva occupied.   “Planning to actually do anything now, or are you just going to lounge around and look all brooding? It’s not impressive, if that’s what you’re going for.”
 
He shrugged in response.  “I just find this comfortable, is all.  You know me – nothing better than stretching out after a long day’s work.  Or lack thereof.  I was a lazy little Matoran, wasn’t I?”
 
“Were you? I’ve never met you before in my life.  For all I know you were a Makuta’s right-hand man.”
 
He laughed at that.  “Still struggling to make me someone else? You really are disappointing me here, Hahli.  I would’ve thought you’d have learned by now that part of being a Toa is looking at the ugly truth once in a while.” 
 
She fixed her gaze on him.  “Believe me, I’ve seen my fair share of things I’d rather look away from.”
 
It was hard to make out in the dim light, but it looked like he was pouting.  “Still not taking me seriously? I really don’t know why you seem so much concerned about the Makuta than about me.  I’m hurt.” 
 
“I told you before,” she shot back, “no Takanuva I know would spend his days hiding in the back of a cave like a worm.  You want to know why I’m here and he’s not? He’s busy exploring the world.  That sound familiar?”
 
“You did mention something about that before, didn’t you?” He leaned forward and smiled.  “Do you want me to explain? Is that it? Do you want the whole sad story about why I’m here in these rotten, slimy tunnels instead of out and about having grand adventures?”
 
“It’d be a good starting point.”
 
His grin grew wider, and Hahli was suddenly and uncomfortably reminded of Vezon.  “Oh, why not? One Chronicler to another.  After all, stories are our job, aren’t they? Nice, pretty things, filled with prophecies and heroes and happy endings.”  He laughed, and then with abrupt fury slammed a fist down into the ground.  She didn’t flinch; all she did was continue to hold his gaze.  The blue eyes shining out at her were sharp and cold.  “That’s the way it always is.  The Toa always come and beat the big bad Makuta.  It’s their destiny.
 
“Tell me something, Hahli, does this look like destiny to you? Do you think that when the Great Spirit was giving us tasks to do, he found me and said, ‘Takanuva, it’s your job to have everything stripped away that you ever held dear and then spend your days looking after Rahkshi in some other world’s dankest, darkest corners’? Because if he did, then he can help himself to the results.  I hope he’s long dead by now.”
 
She didn’t look away.  “You haven’t answered my question.”
 
“Oh, I’m getting there, don’t you worry.  Our little story keeps going, you know.  It doesn’t end just because some Makuta from another world comes along and whisks the legendary hero of light away to become his latest plaything - that’s just a different direction for the story to take.  But it’s the funniest thing, Hahli.  Our Toa’s story goes on, but he finds himself without a place in the bigger story, a little piece of shadow that nobody knows what to do with.  For a little while, he’s happy to work with the Makuta, because really, why not? It’s not like he’s got any sort of duty to this world, and mass destruction seems like a fun change of pace.  But then even the Makuta go and die, and he’s left all alone.  And what then?
 
“Well, our little Toa’s left out in the cold.  He’s got no way home, and even if he did, he knows there’s nobody waiting for him as he is now, deserter and monster that he is.  There’s this big new world, but anywhere he goes, he’ll be recognized and hunted down like an animal.  Then one day, he’s stealing along the coast, and he sees a funny little armored slug is stalking him.  A Rahkshi, he realizes! In quite the same boat as he is.  So he teaches it a lesson, and then lets it lead him back to its brothers.  Oh, it’s a cold, nasty place they live in, but it’s a place where he can at least survive.  And for a little while he does, but even then a few Matoran come around, poking places they shouldn’t be.  The Toa’s so reminded of himself that he’s moved! And he has an idea. He has the Guurahk give the Matoran a good scare, and then he sits back and waits.  Because he knows that somewhere out there is another version of his own story – the right version – still going on, and do you know something? It drives him insane.”
 
She forced herself to keep looking at him.  “And then what? Were you going to kill him for having the life you couldn’t? How does that help you?”
 
He shrugged.  “It doesn’t, really.  But didn’t I say it before? Life isn’t fair.  I never realized that until someone came along and gave me a wake-up call.  I’m just passing the favor on.”
 
“Really? Is that what this is all about? Fairness?” She laughed.  “When did you lose your light, Takanuva? Was it before the ‘Great Spirit’ was awoken in your world? Did you get to watch our victory? Did you get to see the Kraahkan form in the stars, or hear the Makuta’s voice booming that we had failed, utterly and completely?” Her voice turned hard.  “Oh, remember Matoro? Did you get to see him die in your world? Did you get to see his sacrifice twisted and used for the blackest ends you could imagine? Don’t talk to me about unfairness, Shadow Toa.”
 
There was no smile or frown on his face now, just a blankness.  “Oh? Are we playing the ‘unfairness’ game now? Is that what this is? You got to see your friend’s sacrifice twisted, oh, what a shame.”  His hand shot out and grabbed her by the throat.  “Do you want to know what it was like to have my light drained?” Slowly, inexorably, he began to squeeze. “Do you feel this? Imagine now that you’re feeling it everywhere and nowhere at once.  At first you think, oh, I can fight it, I’m a Toa, this is just another adventure.  It’s my destiny to get out of here.” He tightened his grip.  “But it doesn’t stop.  You can feel yourself just going.  So you start to cry out for help.  Surely my friends will come and save me, you think.  I have done so much for them, surely they will do the same for me.”  He smirked.  “I don’t see your Teridax anywhere, Hahli.  Or your Takanuva.
 
“So you cry, and shout, and nobody comes.  You are alone, you realize.  So you turn to that last bastion of strength – duty.” He spat the word.  “I have to overcome this, you think.  I am a Toa.  I have so much work left to do.”  He laughed, and this time it was a dead and hollow sound.  “And then you realize that if you have no destiny, and you have no unity, then why should you have duty? And with that it’s over.  The last thing you realize before your mind goes is that every little bit of pride and heroism you built up over all those years of adventures can be cast away in the blink of an eye. And then all you feel is the pain.
 
“When you wake up, you truly have nothing.  Your powers are changed, your body reshaped, and your world forever lost.  You’re not quite a blank slate – you can remember everything you used to be, and if you close your eyes for just a moment you can pretend you still are everything you used to be.  But you know, deep in your heart, that that’s just another lie.  All those stories your Turaga told you of what a Toa is were just that – stories.
 
“That is what I mean when I say I learned life is unfair, Toa Hahli.  Your little Matoro’s death isn’t worth Rahkshi spit compared to what I’ve been through.”
 
She struggled for breath.  “You know… you haven’t changed at all… Takua.”
 
His eyes narrowed.  “What?”
 
Something close to a laugh escaped her.  “You heard me.  You always did think… you were something bigger than the rest of us Matoran.”
 
With a roar of fury, he lifted her from the floor and slammed her against the wall, then let her drop.  He glared down at her as she gasped in pain.  “Is that what you think this is, Hahli? You think I’m just doing this because I think I’m more important than the rest of you? Do you think this is what I wanted? Do you think I’ve forgotten that somewhere out there, you might be dead because I wasn’t there?”
 
She coughed and looked up at him again.  There’s still a chance, she thought.  “Maybe I do, because all I heard from you back there was about how everything was so terrible for you, and that the world was so biased against you.  It sounds to me like you don’t really care about what’s happening back wherever you came from, because you’d rather hide out in a cave and brood on how unfair life is.”
 
In a flash, the blade of his staff was at her throat.  “You’re nothing to me, do you understand that? I’ve never seen you before in my life.  All you care about is hunting me down for the crime of having life chew me up and spit me out.  I could kill you.”
 
She didn’t let her gaze leave his face, even as she heard a rumble growing in the chamber walls.  “Could you kill her?”
 
Hahli never knew if the flicker she saw in his eyes was real or not, because in the next instant the back wall of the room exploded inwards, showering them both in stone.  She braced herself against the impact and then launched herself in the direction the source of the blow, which was three bio tall, holding a golden warhammer, and very, very angry.  “Are you hurt?” the Makuta asked.
 
She shook her head.  The Rahkshi that had been blown back by the impact were getting to their feet, and the jet-black Toa in their midst was raising his head from the rubble.  He looked over his shoulder at them with a look of pure hatred.  “Kill them,” he spat.
 
Hahli grabbed Teridax’s arm.  “Run!
 
The Makuta stood his ground against the advancing Rahkshi.  “Why? This seems as good a place as any to put an end to this.”
 
“Because I need time to think of a plan that isn’t mass murder, you overgrown, psychopathic light-stone! Now shut up and run!
 
For a moment the Makuta hesitated, but when he glanced over the look Hahli was giving him could’ve drilled them a tunnel out of there on its own.  With a roar he swung the hammer in a mighty arc to smash the first wave of advancing Rahkshi and bring more of the ceiling down upon them, and then turned to follow the retreating Toa of Water.  Within moments he had caught up to her, and before she could protest he grabbed her bodily and slung her over one shoulder.  For a second she was struck by the utter absurdity of being carried to safety by Makuta Teridax – away from Takanuva, no less – but then she realized that after everything else that had happened that day, it no longer fazed her.
 
 
 
As they – or rather, he – ran, she heard his voice in her head.  Would you care to explain in a little more detail why we are retreating and allowing them to gain a tactical advantage over us?
 
Not even bothering to pretend politeness with the telepathy thing anymore?
 
Hahli.
 
Fine, fine.  We’re running away because if we weren’t, you would’ve charged in there like Pohatu on a bad day and tried to turn Takanuva’s head into paste.  I’m not going to let you do that.
 
She felt a wave of anger, and realized uncomfortably that it was not her own.  I would have thought it clear by now that it is foolish to think there is any reason to let that corrupted Toa live.  Or are multiple attempts at murder considered a good sign for rehabilitation in this world?
 
And I would’ve thought it clear by now that I’m not about to take any of your judgment calls on faith.  See, us Toa have this idea that sometimes it’s worthwhile to try talking to someone before you smash their heads in.
 
Enough mockery, Toa.  Answer me clearly, or I will leave you and end this myself.  What possible reason do you have for delaying this Takanuva’s elimination?
 
I can still help him, that’s what.
 
He laughed even as he continued his sprint down the tunnels.  Very optimistic of you.  I believe the Makuta of my world have a word for that sort of optimism: idiocy.  Suicidal idiocy may be an even better term.  I am truly starting to regret missing that first hammer blow.
 
“Oh, stuff it, Teridax!” She was shouting before she knew it, fed up with having him poke around her head to talk.  “You’re so sure about how right you are about this that you’re won’t even bother spending half a second looking and listening.  You want me to explain why I think I can still help him? Then let me talk!”
 
“And tell me what? Did you forget, Toa Hahli, that I was close enough for telepathy during your entire conversation back there? Is the part where he explained how he threw away the Three Virtues supposed to convince me, or the part where he talked about murdering his own self out of simple jealousy? I looked into his spirit as we fought, and I will tell you, there is not even the slightest glimmer of light there.  There is nothing that separates him from the three I eliminated when I first arrived in this universe.”
 
“I know,” she said.  “And there’s not much that separates him from the Takanuva I know, either.  You heard our conversation, but did you listen? Did you hear how he talked about the Toa, and how they’re supposed to be heroes? Did you catch the part where he told me that it’s driving him mad to think of his friends dying because he’s not there? What did you hear, Teridax, anger and hatred, or fear and pain? And be honest.  I think it’s going to tell me a lot more about who you really are than any showy light powers ever could.”
 
For a few moments all she could hear were his feet smashing against the ground.  When he spoke, there was a surprising gentleness to his tone.  “Do you remember when I asked you if you wanted to see your shadow, Toa Hahli?”
 
“Is there a point to this question?”
 
“I was bluffing.”
 
“Toa save worlds, Bohrok clean islands, Makuta make bluffs.  Again, what’s your point?”
 
“My point is that Light and Shadow are two sides of the same coin.  I could have shown you your shadow if you wanted.  But it was such a small thing, in truth.  It lurked in the corners of your heart, feeding on your fear and your worries, but it never grew.  How could it? Whenever you brought it out, it was smothered by who you were.  True, you hated me for killing those three Takanuva, but it was a hatred born of love for your fallen friend.  Nor was your suspicion of me born of simple prejudice - my other self had hurt your brothers and sisters, your very world, and that you could not allow.  How could you? They tell me you were the Chronicler.  You’d seen so much of the world, you could not allow anyone to harm it.”
 
She snorted.  “Were you looking in the right place, Makuta? I do not have a gentle heart.”
 
“Liar.” It was said as a simple statement of fact.  “Your shadow was there, but you would not let it grow.  To you, the very idea of darkness is antithetical to everything you hold dear.  And that is why I understand your reluctance to end this.  Takanuva is a good friend, of that I am sure.  But the damage to this one is already done, Toa.  I am sorry, but the darkness has taken him.  Perhaps his spirit resists it in some small way, but it can do no more against his shadow than your shadow can against you.  He is a rotted thing, and there is nothing I can do but stop him before he spreads his rot.”
 
She sighed.  “Put me down.  We’ve run enough.”
 
He slowed his pace.  “What?”
 
“I said, we’ve run enough.  I said I wanted a chance to think, didn’t I?”
 
He regarded her warily as she climbed down from his shoulder.  “Are you saying you agree with me, then? You will help me stop him?”
 
“I’ll stop him, don’t worry about that.  I’m not sure I’ll help you do it, is all.”                                                         
 
He furrowed his brow.  “Do not play games, Toa.  Will you do as I ask or not?”
 
She shrugged.  “One last question.  You keep saying that Shadow and Light are two sides of the same coin and all that.  So, say, if someone were controlling darkness, they’d be controlling light at the same time, right?”
 
“I suppose you could say that.  But what-“
 
Hahli spun so fast that the Makuta barely had time to register it before her foot slammed into the side of his mask.  It separated from his face with a mechanical clunk as he went tumbling to the ground.  A moment later, he heard her pick it up.
 
“Sorry, Teridax, but if you think I’m letting you anywhere near Takanuva, you’re even crazier than you were in this universe.  After all, I’ve seen how messy things get when you two fight.”  He heard the tell-tale metallic sheens of a mask being removed and another being put on.  A moment later, a Faxon tumbled into view.  “Sorry about taking this, but you can borrow mine.  It’s a fair trade, right?”
 
Before he could say anything, a foot slammed into his stomach.  “You probably aren’t going to believe me, but that was nothing personal.  I just need to make sure you don’t try and stop me.  You can either follow me in ten or fifteen minutes once your breath is back and I’ve got enough of a head start, or you can sit here and wait for me to come back.  Your choice.”
 
Another foot slammed into his face, and Makuta Teridax knew darkness.
 
 
 
Her eyes struggled to adjust as she ran back down the passageway they’d come through; it felt as though the Kraahkan had gone into her mind and flipped a switch from “seeing light” to “seeing dark”.  It was pitch black around her, she knew, but somehow when she looked at what should’ve been by any sane measure a patch of nothingness her mind was able to pick out the slightest detail of a crumbling wall, the faintest sheen of water.   Is this what it’s like for Teridax? she wondered.  Or does he have enough control over the mask to let him see the world as the rest of us do?
 
The golden mask itself felt awkward around her face, like it was trying to slip away back towards its rightful owner.  She grabbed hold of it and pressed it back on; the Makuta could have the cursed thing when she was done with it, but right now there was a chance, however slim, that it was going to let her get all three of them out of there alive and not completely insane. 
 
She forced herself to remember his words as she ran.  He’d spoken of spirits and elements, of Light and Shadow being two sides of the same coin, of this mask that could peer into a spirit and play with the darkness within in ways even a Toa of Shadow or Makuta of Light could not.  If she was right, then – and she had no idea if she was – there was a chance, however small, that she could use the mask to peel away some of the shadow that was choking Takanuva’s heart.  And once she had done that…
 
If it truly desires to remain in the dark, there is nothing I can do.
 
She shook her head at the memory of the Makuta’s warning.  That she wouldn’t believe.  She’d cajoled and taunted him in the hopes that maybe someone so ensconced in darkness would respond with something close to his true self, and he hadn’t disappointed her.  There had been agony in his voice, hidden underneath the anger, and fear for the people he had left behind.  He was still Takanuva, her friend - she had to believe that. 
 
When she reached the chamber where Takanuva had trapped her, it was empty, and she saw half a dozen holes in the wall that he could have escaped through.  Gritting her teeth, she tried focusing on the mask; there was an almost imperceptible blip in her sight, and then she saw shadows hanging in the air where none had before.  Some she recognized as the trails of the Rahkshi, but weaving through them and down a tunnel to her left was a banner of obsidian that seemed to absorb the wisps of black around it.  There was no mistaking who it was coming from.  As she started down the passage, she realized she should have seen it back at the first lake they’d found - just one more thing Teridax had hidden from her. 
 
It was only when she was some hundred bio down the passageway that she realized it had grown utterly silent around her.   There was none of the familiar dripping of water that had permeated the rest of the cave, nor was there the quiet rush of a stream beneath her feet, nor even the hiss of a stalking Rahkshi.  For just a moment, her mind turned inward in an effort to break the silence, and a thousand images flashed before her eyes: her, Takua, and Jaller clashing in a game of Kolhii; Takanuva laying a golden Hau to rest; the Toa of Light and the Makuta struggling; Jaller’s stunned face looking back at her the night they became Toa; the moment they’d known Matoro had succeeded; the Kraahkan in the sky; her and Takanuva standing over a wounded Jaller, the three of them laughing in the crowded New Atero hut so they wouldn’t  cry. 
 
And then her foot came down against the rock and she was back in a flooded cavern untold kio beneath the surface, on her way to try and save a friend she’d never met.  How much of that has he seen? When did he lose them? When did they lose him?
 
She had no answer to that, but she remembered his words, the fury in his voice when he’d spoken of stories gone astray.  This was her chance to help him, she knew.  A Chronicler was meant to record stories, she had been told, but she’d learned from a certain red-and-blue Matoran a long time ago that sometimes they could fix them as well.
 
 
 
Hahli found him surrounded by smashed Rahkshi, sitting and looking at the Avohkii in his hands, his back to the tunnel’s mouth.  For a few seconds she stood there, watching him, and then the Toa of Shadow began to speak without turning to face her.
 
“Tell me something, Hahli.  Why haven’t you left this place?”
 
Her voice was soft but unhesitating.  “I still have something I need to do.”
 
“Oh? Why is that? What about you ‘needs’ to deal with the hollowed-out shell of a Toa of Light in some cave kio away from civilization? Am I talking to Hahli, or the Toa of Water?”
 
“Both.”
 
He laughed at that.  “Of course.  I should’ve known that would be your answer.  That’s what happens to all us Toa, in the end.  We say to ourselves, ‘of course I’m destined to be a Toa.  That’s who I am.  What else could matter?’ We might be a little nervous at first, but soon we’re righting wrongs and having grand adventures like it was the most normal thing in the world.”  He turned the mask over in his hands.  “But soon that’s all we can do.  The thrill of exploring the world, the joy of fighting evil – that’s all that we live for.  Take that away from us, and what are we? A bunch of overgrown Matoran who’ve forgotten where we came from.  There’s no place for us.”
 
“You never forgot.  And you still have a place.”
 
He shook his head.  “Didn’t I? Do I? I don’t know your Takanuva, Hahli.  All I know is that he’s still traveling the world and helping his friends as a Toa of Light, while I sit and rot in a cave as a Toa of Shadow in a world I was never part of.   He must be a good friend, for you to be so repulsed by me.”  Abruptly, he stood, putting on his mask as he did.  “I’ll say this once, Hahli, even though I know you’ll refuse.  Leave.  Forget what you found here, this Toa in the dark, and go home.  Find your Jaller and your Takanuva and live the life you’re supposed to, and pray that it’s never taken away from you.”
 
Her only reply was to step closer to him.  He sighed and picked up his staff from where it rested on the floor.  “I don’t want to do this, no more than I want to be here.  But this is the life I’ve been given, and even if it has no place in this world, I don’t intend to give it up.” He spun and slashed at her, but Hahli was already sliding along the ground beneath its arc.  With a shout she launched herself upward and grabbed the staff, struggling to pry it from his grasp.  Blue eyes stared back at her with a resounding emptiness.  “You’ve taken his mask.  Why? Do you think you can overpower me with it? Do you think I’ll dance to your command with it?”  His body began to glow with a black light she felt certain she wouldn’t be able to see if it weren’t for the Kraahkan.  “Answer me.  Why?” His strength seemed to grow tenfold as he spoke, forcing her to the floor with the weapon.  “Why?
 
Her voice was hoarse.  “Because this isn’t how your story ends.” In one smooth motion, she let go of the staff and charged forward into him.  The two of them tumbled backwards into a heap against one of the walls, and before he could move she shot out a hand and grabbed onto his armor where his heartlight was shining through.  She didn’t have time to think – she just focused on the mask and the Toa before her, hoping to whatever Great Spirit there was now that something would happen.
 
For a split second time seemed to stop, and then she could feel a wave of fear and fury crash over her.  Her vision had gone pitch-black, as though she was floating in a field of nothingness – yet there was a single point that seemed even darker than the rest in some impossible way.   It pulsed and shuddered, without the slightest hint of light peeking through its surface.  This is what Teridax saw, she realized.  This is Takanuva’s spirit.  The mask can show it to me as easily as it could a Rahkshi’s trail.
 
She reached out a hand that she couldn’t see towards it.  I have the mask.  I can strip away the darkness, I know I can.  Shadow and Light are two sides of the same coin, he said as much.  But the surface of the orb simply slithered away at her touch, shifting and sliding but never truly changing.  She could feel hopelessness and fear pressing down on her, and she could not tell if it was hers or his.  There is something I can do to help him.  There must be.  Anything!
 
And she looked down.  There was no body she could see, only a shining orb of azure light, its surface rippling like the ocean surface.  That is me.  Water, light… for just a moment, one of the waves fell dark.  …And shadow.  There, but hidden.  Controlled.  Part of me, but never all of me.
 
The answer came crashing down on her.  She reached out the hand that wasn’t there again towards Takanuva.  For just a moment, her sight seemed to dim and brighten at the same time, and she saw a glimpse of him starting to shove her away as he reached for his staff.  No!  No, please.  I can help you.  All I need is a second.
 
She didn’t even need that.  Her hand plunged into the ball of darkness before her, and she threw everything she had into the Kraahkan.  She felt something shifting within her, and then she could see light flowing through an arm that wasn’t there, sliding onto the surface of the orb before her and pushing the shadows away.  And away they went, happily, back across the conduit and into her own waiting spirit.
 
She gasped, or at least thought she did.  It was as though she was caught in a vice, the darkness around her pressing in against everything, a dull, throbbing pain draining throughout her like a poison.  This is what happened to him, she thought deliriously.  This is what they did to him.  Mata Nui, why? Why did you let this happen? Why him? She could still see her own light flowing into his spirit.  Two sides of the same coin Use this, Takua, you have to use this.  Your spirit was never made for shadow.  Fight it, I’m begging you.  You have a home that needs you.  Don’t be weak!
 
And then something tore at her face, and she felt the world yanking away.  For a moment she could see - a golden hand pulling the Mask of Shadows away, a grey-and-silver Toa before her, clutching his body in agony.  Their eyes met, hers yellow, his green, and then the pain overtook her and Toa Hahli knew darkness as well.
 
 
 
When she came to, she could feel the rocking of the boat below her and the gentle touch of water as the ocean lapped over its sides.  She smiled to herself; she was off the coast of Mata Nui, that was right.  Jaller was clinging to the sail for dear life, even though they’d be at the Ta-Koro shore within the hour, and it was hardly as though they were sailing in deep water.  She could almost feel the sunlight on her skin.
 
Then her head bumped against a rock as Teridax turned the corner, and her eyes snapped open.  The Makuta had her over one shoulder again, and he was swaying under the weight as he walked, an orb of light floating alongside him to illuminate the murky tunnel.  He glanced over at her as she shifted, his face unreadable.  “Ah, good.  You’re awake.  Now you can walk.”  Unceremoniously, he dipped his shoulder and she slid off, scrambling to land on her feet.  She stumbled briefly before righting herself.
 
“Makuta! What’s – where’s Takanuva? Did you –“
 
And then she saw him, slung over the Makuta’s other shoulder, eyes closed and body unmoving.  Before she could act, Teridax spoke, his tone gruff.  “He’s not dead.  Check if you like.”
 
She did.  His armor was still warm to the touch, and she could see the slow rise and fall of his chest.  Relief washed over her, and she sighed in sudden exhaustion.   “You didn’t kill him.”
 
“No.”  He began to walk forward again.
 
She stumbled after him, her body clumsy with exhaustion.  “Why not?”
 
“I saw no reason to waste your sacrifice.”
 
My sacrifice.  Suddenly the nightmare she’d lived in that moment before Teridax had arrived and torn the mask from her face came back to her.  Unthinkingly, she put a hand to her heartlight, as though she expected to feel something there, but all there was was the familiar, warm touch of her armor’s protodermis.  “So… I did it, then?”
 
He snorted.  “I doubt you understood what it was you were trying to do, but yes, you did it.  Some small part of him has escaped the shadow, and some part of you has been given to it.”
 
She struggled to keep up.  “I knew what I was doing.  You said it yourself – light and shadow are two sides of the same coin.  I thought if I could use the mask –“
 
“You could pull him out of the darkness in exchange for a bit of your own light.  A not impossible plan.  But still utterly ridiculous.”
 
Anger flared within her.  “What’s the matter, Makuta? Upset I managed to solve this without smashing his head in?”
 
“Upset that you threw yourself into this without stopping to think of the consequences.  Tell me, Toa Hahli, if I had not removed that mask, how long did you plan to continue your little trick? Did you think to yourself, ‘I shall give him just a little bit of light, and then stop’? Or were you just watching, without the slightest hint of control over what you had begun? You would have awakened as much a monster as he was - did you think to have your newly-saved friend kill you? Even with my interruption, it is a miracle the two of you still draw breath; the Mask of Shadows was not made to do these things.  Perhaps you thought the two of you dying in an effort to redeem him would make for an impressively tragic legend?”
 
She looked up at the impassive golden mask.  “No.  I didn’t think any of that.  All I thought was, ‘I can help him’.  I can understand if that’s a little hard for a Makuta to grasp.”
 
He didn’t bother to meet her eyes.  “So you charged in blind and survived through sheer chance.  I am beginning to understand why the Toa of this world seem to have such a colorful history.”
 
“Now you’re starting to learn.”
 
For a while they walked in silence.  The Makuta seemed to know where they were going, and she saw no sign of Rahkshi as they climbed up and out of the labyrinth.
 
Eventually, she spoke again. “Why didn’t you ever try something like this? You make it sound like my only problem was that I couldn’t control the mask.  If I was able to do… whatever it was I did back there… I can’t see you having any trouble.”
 
She saw his mouth tighten.  “No.  I doubt I would.”
 
“Then why?”
 
To her surprise, she saw him look away – out of shame? Disappointment?  “Because I cannot take that risk.”
 
“What risk?”
 
“When I took my mask from you, Hahli, the first thing I did was peer into your spirits.  Where he had light, you now had shadow.  It was an equal exchange, or close enough.  You stepped into the shadow to pull him into the light.”
 
Instantly, everything was clear to her.  “You’re saying that no matter how much control you have over the mask, you would’ve had to do the same.”
 
Teridax nodded.  “And the moment I do that is the moment I let the darkness back into myself.  Do you remember what I told you about spirits and elements, Hahli? That they sway us as much as we sway them?” He sighed.  “We Makuta are first and foremost beings of Shadow.  I stand before you now because I dedicated my life to turning myself away from it.  If I allow myself the slightest slip – the smallest unjust act, the most minute amount of pointless cruelty – I let it back into my heart.  We define ourselves through choice, but there is no escaping our nature.  Some spirits can smother the shadow, but others nurture it and let it grow as large as it pleases.”  His head bowed.  “I could use this mask to save those locked in the grasp of darkness, perhaps.  But the day I do is the day that the Makuta Teridax that killed your friend Matoro has a chance to live again.  I cannot allow that to happen.  A few Takanuva are not worth thousands of others.”
 
Hahli looked at him, the golden mask still its nightmarish shape, the armor still pitted and scarred, the eyes still crimson red, and for the first time she felt something like pity for the being that walked alongside her.  He was more an outcast than Takanuva ever was, the sins of another self hanging over him wherever he went.  And in that moment, she knew – she could never forgive him for what his other self had done, but neither could he.
 
“Here.  Take him off your shoulder.”
 
He looked at her in surprise.  “What?”
 
“Give me his legs.  We can carry him together. He’ll only be half as heavy for you that way.”
 
For a moment he regarded her in surprise, and then lowered the Toa from his shoulders without a word, letting his chest and head lie in his hands as Hahli lifted his legs.  In silence, they walked forward, their lifelong friend and mortal enemy resting in their arms.
 
 
 
Takanuva was still unconscious when she cut the rope of their ship and set sail back to New Atero.  The stars were shining down on them, and in their faint light she could just see that his armor had changed, the jet-black faded to a muted grey.  “Is he going to be all right?” she asked Teridax.
 
He considered it.  “Physically? Forcing light into a spirit so long lost in the darkness is not an easy thing.  I don’t know how long he’ll take to recover.”
 
“And is that light… I don’t know, enough?”
 
“I do not know.  There is much he has been through, and a shadow grows from despair and anger.  But there is some part of him that’s returned to the light.  If he is as true as you say he is, then that may be enough.”  He looked to her.  “It will be a difficult journey.”
 
She nodded.  “I know that.   Which is why he’s going with you.” 
 
The Makuta’s eyes widened in shock.  “What?”
 
"You heard me.”  She turned and looked him in the eyes one last time.  "I was right about you from the very beginning.  You're Makuta Teridax, through and through; there isn't a single piece of you that's any different from the Makuta I know.  The only difference was the world you were given." She looked down at the unconscious figure between them, and reached out a hand.  Hesitantly, she stroked the side of the silver Avohkii.  "And if you're Teridax through and through, then he's Takua through and through.  And if you of all people could drag yourself into the light, then I know he still has a chance.
 
"Here's what's going to happen.  By the time he wakes up, the two of you are going to be far away from New Atero, and I’m guessing he’s not going to be happy to see you.  When you've calmed him down one way or the other, you're going to tell him just who you are, and how it is Makuta Teridax became a being of Light.  And then you two are going to set out together for home.  His home.
 
"It's going to be a long journey, and I think we’re both smart enough to know it’s not always going to be a happy one.  I don’t know how you’re going to figure out some way to jump across dimensions, but you’re going to - and along the way, you're not going to ever leave his side. You're going to drag him into the light kicking and screaming if you have to, and once you find his world, you're taking him back to his Hahli and Jaller and everyone, because that's where he should be.  And even if they turn out to be evil enough to make you look good or if they’re all dead or whatever the universe feels like throwing at you, he'll have at least one friend."  She lifted her hand from his mask.  Her voice was small and weary.  "He deserves at least one friend."
 
He regarded her, his face unreadable as ever.  “You do not think it would be better for him to join you in New Atero?”
 
She shook her head.  “No.  It would be a nightmare for him.  So many would doubt him, and when he met his other self – what would he do? You didn’t hear our last conversation.  He knows this isn’t his place.  Forcing him to live that fact won’t change it.” 
 
He nodded, but seemed unconvinced.  “And why in the world do you entrust me with this task?”
 
 “Because you know this isn’t your place either.  Maybe your Great Beings won’t take you back, but that doesn’t change the fact that everyone on this planet has had enough of Makuta Teridax to last them a lifetime.  So I’m leaving it up to you – because if you can find a world accepting of a Toa who fell to the shadow, maybe you can find a world accepting of a Makuta who rose to the light.”
 
He looked down in silence.  She thought he was done, and then he spoke in the voice she so hated, in the simplest, kindest tone she’d ever heard it.  “Just so.  I thank you, Toa Hahli.  I do not think it is any more my place to spend my days absently hunting Rahkshi than it is his to raise them.”
 
She smirked.  “I knew you wanted to play hero.  You Makuta are nothing but ego.”
 
He laughed.  “Oh, when did I ever deny that? I’m a Makuta who’s spent his life as a chosen messenger of justice and light.  I’d be worried if I didn’t have an ego.”
 
It was so unexpected she found herself chortling.  And then the two of them were laughing, the Makuta and the Toa, the waves carrying them and the sleeping figure between them over the starlit bay, towards journey’s end and journey’s beginning.
 
 
 
Well, that's that.  Hope you enjoyed this little story that wound up being not so little.  As always, the review topic is open and waiting; comments, critique, feedback, candygrams, and all that good stuff are always welcomed.


Edited by GSR, Jan 08 2014 - 01:56 AM.

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