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Dawn of the New Century

The Shika Trilogy Dimension Hoppers Glatorian Chronicle Shikaverse

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#1 Offline TNTOS

TNTOS
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Posted Apr 22 2013 - 09:44 AM

Table of Contents:


Chapter I


Chapter II


Chapter III


Chapter IV


Chapter V


Chapter VI


Chapter VII


Chapter VIII


Chapter IX


Chapter X


Chapter XI


Chapter XII


Chapter XIII


Chapter XIV


Chapter XV


Chapter XVI


Chapter XVII


Chapter XVIII


Chapter XIX


Chapter XX


Chapter XXI


Chapter XXII


Chapter XXIII


Chapter XXIV


Chapter XXV


Chapter XXVI


Chapter XXVII


Chapter XXVIII


Chapter XXIX


 

Chapter I

 
A tall figure in white, billowing robes walked onto the stage. To Kafor, he looked like a savior, walking slowly and deliberately with his hands together, as if in prayer to the Great Beings. The spotlights fixed on him, their light reflecting off his spotless robes, enhanced his savior-like mystique even from Kafor’s current location, a small, obscure bar in the slums of New Atero.
 
When the figure reached the end of the stage, thousands of Skakdi -- all of whom had gathered in the Great Spirit Stadium to listen to him -- cheered and screamed his name. Kafor was quite glad she was watching this event on the telescreen in the quiet, nearly-empty bar called the Tarakava’s Fist, for she doubted she would have been able to tolerate such loudness and merriment if she were actually there in person.
 
The figure raised his hands high, as if reaching for the sun, with a benevolent smile on his face that reminded Kafor of others before him, beings that had inspired hope in the oppressed Skakdi with their warmth and idealism. Such beings had, in the past, attempted to lead the Skakdi to a greater future, but they never got very far due in large part to the might of New Atero, so Kafor rarely paid them much attention.
 
The camera’s focus shifted, now showing a Le-Matoran news reporter standing just outside the crowd. He was speaking loudly, attempting to be heard over the boisterous shouting and chanting of the throng.
 
“I’m Gosfa from Channel Nine News and I’m reporting here live from the Great Spirit Stadium in Zisar, New Zakaz,” said Gosfa, speaking directly to the camera. “The controversial speaker, Masqouth, is about to deliver his first speech to the Skakdi people in Zisar. We’re providing the entire speech commercial free thanks to our sponsors, Ignika Industries, ‘making your life better every day.’”
 
Gosfa tried looking over the Skakdi, but as he was a rather short Matoran, that proved impossible. So he said, “Well, I’m not going to be able to see it, I guess, but that’s what we brought multiple cameras for. I think he’s about to start.”
 
The reporter was right. The Skakdi had ceased their chanting and cheering and were now watching Masqouth, who looked over them all with a kind, almost parental gaze.
 
“People of New Zakaz,” said Masqouth, spreading his arms, “thank you for allowing me to sojourn in your grand city. Though I’ve been here for two days only, yet I’ve been shown such kindness and respect that I don’t know how I will ever be able to repay it. I am honestly surprised, for before I came here I was warned of the viciousness and cruelty of the Skakdi. It appears that I was misled, but whether intentionally or unintentionally, I cannot say.”
 
Of course he couldn’t. Not on a live broadcast. It was common knowledge that the New Atero government did not like Masqouth. His last speech in New Roxtus had ended with Skrall Imperialists causing a massive citywide riot that ended only after the Nuva Guard came in and killed or arrested those that had started it. There were probably Nuva Guards in the stadium right now. The cameras simply did not show them.
 
“Yes,” said Masqouth, lowering his hands, “the Skakdi people have always been on the receiving end of destiny. Back in the beginning, many, many thousands of eons ago, you people were once prosperous and powerful, at peace with your neighbors, who respected your might and never said one false or untrue word about you. You were among the most technologically advanced people in the old universe, even in some cases surpassing Metru Nui and Xia in terms of tech level. That is why that time is known as the Golden Age of Zakaz, for they say that during that era, riches were plenty and no one lacked anything. Even the poorest Skakdi still had many of the luxuries and necessities their brethren had. It was truly a beautiful time.”
 
The crowd cheered at this. Kafor sipped from her drink and continued watching.
 
“But then all that changed one day,” said Masqouth, his hands balled into fists. “A Makuta named Spiriah arrived on the shores of your island. He promised to make the Skakdi into a better and stronger species, one that didn’t have to rely on the whims of their neighbors for necessary exports. He promised that the Brotherhood of Makuta -- that hated, wicked organization that is now the very symbol of evil -- would stand behind a Skakdi Empire, ruled by the elders of Zakaz.”
 
At the mention of Spiriah, all of the Skakdi began booing and hissing. Kafor felt much the same way. In her opinion, Spiriah was even worse than Irnakk, for at least Irnakk was honest about wanting to kill everyone.
 
“Yet you all know what Spiriah’s promises turned out to be,” said Masqouth, gesturing at the crowd. “They turned out to be lies. The Brotherhood didn’t want to help the Skakdi become a force to be reckoned with in the old universe. They wanted an invincible army of soldiers for their own wicked ends, but they didn’t even get that. When Spiriah gave your ancestors this power, they got into arguments about who would rule the Skakdi Empire. These arguments might have remained simple arguments had a Skakdi named Reidak not destroyed an entire city of his enemies, triggering an island-wide civil war that raged until the end of the old universe.”
 
Again, more booing and hissing, this time directed at Reidak. Kafor had never known Reidak personally, although from what she knew of him, his demolishing a city was not at all unexpected.
 
Masqouth raised his hands again and the booing and hissing ceased. Then he continued, saying, “After that, the most significant event in Skakdi history was when six Skakdi, ex-Dark Hunters who branded themselves Piraka, went to the island of Voya Nui in search of the fabled Mask of Life, which they believed would give them the power to help their people rise from the never-ending war that had engulfed Zakaz.
 
“Yet they were opposed, first by the Toa Nuva, whom they defeated, and later by the Toa Inika, whom they failed to defeat. Despite the Pirakas’ noble intentions, Mata Nui sided with the Toa, as he always does, and the Piraka died, thus seemingly banishing all Skakdi to an eternity of warfare and strife.”
 
This time, there were no boos and hisses, but Kafor could easily tell that the Skakdi were riled up. The mere mention of the Toa Inika was enough to enrage them. That the Skakdi were not howling in rage told her just how angry they were.
 
“And afterward, life seemed to get even worse for the Skakdi,” said Masqouth. “Makuta Teridax took over the old universe and forced the Skakdi people to be his slaves. He ordered them to commit evil acts against the other inhabitants of the universe, such as attacking the city of Metru Nui and slaughtering anyone who dared stand against Teridax’s vile will. Not only that, but he forced them to be members of the army he sent to conquer Bara Magna. Truly, that was the Skakdi people’s darkest hour.
 
“But, seemingly out of nowhere, hope came in the form of a golden-skinned being, who history now calls the Dream Maker. The Dream Maker used his fantastic powers to lead the Skakdi people out of the ruins of the old universe and to a new home on the shores of Aqua Magna. He even tamed the Toa Mahri, previously known as the Toa Inika, thus assuring the Skakdi that he could conquer any foe, no matter how powerful or legendary. Because of his benevolence, today the Dream Maker appears in Skakdi legend as the heroic counterpart to the vile Irnakk. Truly, he was a hero of heroes.”
 
At the mention of the Dream Maker, the crowd whooped and went wild. Even Kafor cracked a small smile at the mention of the Dream Maker, a being whom she had never met personally but had heard much about.
 
“Where do I begin describing the Dream Maker’s awe-inspiring powers, might, and wisdom?” said Masqouth, putting one hand on his chest. “Yet this hero, in spite of his strength and wisdom, was slain a few years later by the malicious Great Being known as Velika. Without the Dream Maker to guide them, the Skakdi became disorganized and so were easily subdued by the New Atero Republic that had sprung up in the death of Teridax, a republic that still rules the Skakdi to this very day.”
 
At that, some of the Skakdi started shouting obscenities and curses; others, merely yelling incoherently, although their meaning was well understood. For once, Kafor found herself wishing she was back among her people in order to join them in cursing the Republic.
 
“The hypocrisies of New Atero are many,” said Masqouth, spreading his arms. “Though it calls itself a republic of equality and peace, not every species is allowed to make decisions in the governing of this corrupt sword. Where are the Skakdi ambassadors? Why are the Skrall also denied any representation? If this were truly a democratic state, why are the Skakdi and Skrall alike denied the rights supposedly granted to all living beings by the Great Beings? Who orchestrated this injustice, which has existed since the very beginning of the New Atero’s domination of Spherus Magna?”
 
Behind Masqouth, a giant screen suddenly flickered on. A gigantic image of the Mask of Life stood behind Masqouth. It was the symbol found on the New Atero flag, but Kafor knew Masqouth had a deeper point to make here other than pointing out the obvious.
 
“The Great Spirit Mata Nui,” said Masqouth, gesturing at the image behind him. “It was he who led the Gadarians and Agori to crush the Skrall, a people that had done nothing wrong except wishing to survive. It was he who, after slaying Teridax, gave the Toa and Gadarians and others permission to subdue those who had served Teridax, a euphemism for the Skrall and Skakdi. His apathy or perhaps misanthropy toward the Skakdi can be seen in that he did not bother to undue the injustices the Brotherhood of Makuta had performed on the Skakdi, even though Mata Nui had spent his whole life fighting the Brotherhood’s leader. And then he disappeared without a trace, allowing others to fix the mistakes he’d made instead of doing it himself!”
 
Now the crowd was really riled up. One Skakdi even shouted, “To Karzahni with Mata Nui!” while another shouted, “Down with New Atero! Down with New Atero!” Kafor expected the crowd to break out into a riot at any moment, which would give the Nuva Guards an excuse to move in and start arresting people.
 
“Yes!” said Masqouth, raising his hands high, as if trying to touch the sky. “Do not praise such a tyrant, such a coward, who has never helped the Skakdi. In his eyes, you are nothing . . . and in the eyes of his followers, you are even less than that.
 
“But I say to you, people of Zisar -- no, people of the world -- that though we are slain, we will not stand for this. The poet Zarsk once said that, though the Skakdi may be beaten down by destiny time and again, a force that is beyond destiny awaits us. A new century for the Skakdi, Zarsk said, would dawn, which would overthrow the chains of destiny and lead the Skakdi people to a newer, better, and much brighter future! And, my friends, I dare say that this new century is upon us!”
 
The crowd was in something like a frenzy now, although the cameras were focused squarely on Masqouth. That didn’t stop the crowd from chanting “The new century! The new century! The new century” over and over again, chanting it with such passion that even Kafor, cynical as she was, started to feel a little hopeful.
 
“It is wonderful to see such strength and bravery in the face of adversity,” said Masqouth, putting both hands over his heart. “It warms my heart to see that the Skakdi people still hope for a better future, for them and their descendents. Truly, the new century burns in us all, demanding to become a reality rather than remain a prophecy. To the new century!”
 
“To the new century!” the crowd roared.
 
The crowd cheered and chanted for several more minutes before Masqouth -- who had watched them with the loving gaze of a parent -- clapped his hands, creating a loud noise that drowned out even the crowd’s chanting. When it passed, everything was silent, for the Skakdi were eager to listen to Masqouth’s words.
 
“Now,” said Masqouth, again spreading his hands, “bring to me your sick and your wounded. Allow me to heal them with my gentle touch so they may enter the new century whole and healthy. I am but the humble servant of the weak and the downtrodden. Remember to come one at a time so I may give a word of hope to each sick person who needs it.”
 
Surprisingly, the crowd, despite their uncontrollable excitement, began organizing themselves into lines that went from the stadium entrance to the stage where Masqouth stood. The first Skakdi up was a blue one who walked with a bad limp; in fact, had it not been for her friends, the Skakdi might never have gotten up there at all.
 
Masqouth placed his hands on her shoulders and, one bright flash of light later, the blue Skakdi walked away good as new. The sight of the healed limper made the crowd buzz with excitement, but they kept their spots in the line and slowly began making their way up to the stage.
 
Then the telescreen changed, showing two Agori newscasters discussing Masqouth’s speech. Kafor lost interest in their discussion and looked at the bartender, a Roffican named Barc. His eyes were still focused on the telescreen hanging in the corner, absentmindedly wiping his hands with a dirty rag.
 
“That Masqouth guy sure does know how to get an audience all riled up,” said Barc. “What do you think, Kafor?”
 
Kafor shook her head. “I don’t know. He speaks good words, but there’ve been other guys like him before, promising the Skakdi hope and change. They usually get crushed by New Atero and then everyone goes back to their normal lives before some other moron starts the cycle again.”
 
“I dunno,” said Barc, looking down at her. “He really seems like something special. Came out of nowhere, can heal people, talks about the new century for the Skakdi and all that . . . maybe he’s gonna be different.”
 
“Doesn’t matter to me one way or the other,” said Kafor as she sipped from her drink. “Even if he somehow succeeds in liberating the Skakdi, that’s not going to help me one bit, not unless the Shadowed One magically decides to forgive me, anyway.”
 
“True,” said Barc with a shrug. “Aren’t you happy for your people, though? I mean, he kind of reminds me of the great Roffican philosopher, Tinak. You know, the guy who won better working conditions for Rofficans a couple hundred years back? That’s who Masqouth reminds me of.”
 
Kafor glanced at the telescreen again. The voices of the two Agori newscasters could still be heard off-screen, but the cameras were on Masqouth again, filming him from a couple of different angles as he repeated his hands-on miracles.
 
“He looks familiar to me for some reason,” said Kafor, running one finger around the rim of her cup. “I thought that when I first saw him on the telescreen when he spoke to the Skrall and I still think that right now.”
 
“Maybe he just reminds you of someone you knew,” said Barc. “Have you ever known a miracle-worker wearing white robes before?”
 
Kafor chuckled. “No, I haven’t. Then again . . . I may have seen him in a vision.”
 
“A vision?” said Barc, scratching his chin. “A recent one?”
 
Kafor frowned. “No, not a recent one. It was a long, long time ago, before everyone left the old universe. I think I remember seeing him in it.”
 
“What was he doing in the vision?” said Barc as he slapped the dirty rag onto the counter. “Talking about the new century?”
 
Kafor shook her head. “No. Actually . . . I was fighting him. Me and someone else, but I’m not sure why we were doing it or who my partner in the battle was.”
 
Barc scratched the back of his head and threw a quick glance at the telescreen, which still showed Masqouth. “Fighting him? Uh, your dreams are supposed to be symbolic, right?”
 
“Sometimes they are,” said Kafor, propping her chin in both hands. “Other times, they’re not. Take my vision of the Great Cataclysm, for instance. I had a vision of a giant earthquake shaking the old universe, and that is exactly what happened.”
 
“But why would you fight Masqouth?” said Barc. “He doesn’t seem like a bad guy to me. A little idealistic, maybe naïve, sure, but bad? Can’t see it.”
 
“Frankly, I’m not sure, either,” said Kafor. “My visions are never clear. All I can do is wait until the day it happens, whenever that will be.”
 
“’Time marches on and it’s all we can do to keep up with it,’” Barc quoted. “Right?”
 
Kafor looked at him in disbelief. “I didn’t know you read Zarsk. In fact, I didn’t know you read at all.”
 
“I try to get a little in here and there,” said Barc, shrugging his wide shoulders. “Have had a lot of free time recently, since things have been so quiet around here.”
 
“I see,” said Kafor. “Well, I-“
 
Her words were interrupted by the sound of the door opening and closing. Glancing over her shoulder, Kafor saw a hooded Skrall enter. He walked straight up to the counter and sat on one of the stools, placing one hand on the counter, while the other was on the hilt of his sword.
 
Barc -- who hadn’t had a single customer all day, save for Kafor -- eagerly drew himself up in front of the Skrall and said, “What can I get you?”
 
The Skrall didn’t make eye contact with Barc, keeping his eyes focused on the wooden counter that he sat at. He merely said, “Strong arang juice and a bowl of Thornax stew.”
 
“Arang juice and Thornax stew,” repeated Barc. “Got it.”
 
“Just hurry up,” said the Skrall. “I have places to be. Important places.” 

“Of course, of course,” said Barc. “Be a minute.”
 
Barc went into the kitchen area behind the bar, leaving Kafor alone with the Skrall, who didn’t even seem to notice Kafor’s presence. He had unsheathed a dagger and was lightly running the tip back and forth across the counter. Kafor didn’t tell him to stop; after all, Barc’s counter had seen much worse in its time, including the memorable occasion when a particularly angry Vortixx mercenary stabbed his sword into it in an attempt to skewer Barc’s hand. A little knife wouldn’t hurt it.
 
Returning her attention to the telescreen, Kafor saw that the news was replaying footage from Masqouth’s speech in New Roxtus. The newscasters were comparing Masqouth’s speech in Zisar with his speech in New Roxtus, noting similarities and differences between the two speeches.
 
“He’s a fraud,” said the Skrall behind her. “Don’t even see why people bother with him.”
 
Kafor looked back at the hooded Skrall, who was also watching the telescreen. His hood obscured his expression, but his balled fists told Kafor the whole story.
 
“You aren’t Masqouth’s biggest fan, I take it?” said Kafor.
 
“No,” said the Skrall, shaking his head. “He will just go down the same road as the last revolutionary leaders. I don’t see why my people are getting their hopes up.”
 
“I agree,” said Kafor. “One of these days, he’s going to end up dead and New Atero is going to pretend it was an accident. Rather silly how one being can get everyone so hyped up for nothing, isn’t it?”
 
The Skrall nodded curtly, but said nothing in reply. He just returned his attention to the dagger, which he was still running across the counter.
 
As Kafor was getting bored sitting there in silence, she looked at the Skrall’s sheathed sword and said, “That’s strange. I thought it was illegal for citizens to carry weapons in New Atero.”
 
“I’m not from around here,” said the Skrall, still without looking at her. “Even if I was, screw New Atero. They’re not worth listening to.”
 
“I guess you’re afraid of being jumped by Matoran or something?” said Kafor. “I admit, they can be rather vicious little beasts when they want to, but it’s really the Toa-“
 
“I know who I have to look out for, Skakdi,” said the Skrall. “I’ve been doing this a long time. Don’t treat me like an imbecile, unless you’re willing to back that up with a fight.”
 
“Hey,” said Kafor, annoyed. “I was just jok-“
 
Again, Kafor was interrupted by the door opening and closing. Wondering who it was now, Kafor looked over her shoulder and saw a Toa of Air had entered. Kafor’s eyes widened because she recognized the Toa and had also not been prepared for the Toa’s beauty.
 
It was Toa Litho, the most famous non-Dark Hunter bounty hunter in the world. There was no mistaking that emerald and silver armor, nor the air-blaster gun she carried in her holster. Having seen Litho's picture all over the news recently, Kafor had no trouble recognizing her at all.
 
The Skrall had also looked to see who it was, but had just as quickly looked back at the counter. He ran his knife up and down the counter-top even faster now, although why, Kafor didn’t know. Something about Litho seemed to make the Skrall nervous. Maybe he had a large bounty, although that seemed unlikely, for Kafor could think of only one Skrall with that kind of bounty on his head and he would have to be a complete moron to be anywhere near this bar.
 
The Toa of Air took a seat at the counter in between Kafor and the Skrall. She didn’t look at either of them. Instead, she waited until Barc emerged from the kitchen carrying a bowl of Thornax stew, which smelled horrible to Kafor. She wondered how the Skrall could eat such filth. For that matter, she wondered why it was one of Barc’s specialties.
 
As soon as the Skrall got his meal, he began eating it quickly and noisily, like he had no table manners whatsoever. Kafor was glad she wasn’t sitting next to him otherwise she would have been covered in stew, although Litho didn’t seem to notice the bits and pieces of stew that were occasionally flung onto her armor.
 
Then Barc noticed Litho and said, “My, my. Looks like we’ve got a little celebrity here today. What may I do you for?”
 
“Oh, nothing, really,” said Litho. “I came by to see if there were any criminals in here who needed to be brought to justice. That’s all.”
 
“Well,” said Barc, folding his arms, “you’re out of luck. There ain’t no bounties worth getting around here. My humble little bar isn’t big enough to attract that kind of folk.”
 
Litho smiled and leaned forward on the counter. “Then who is this guy?”
 
She gestured at the Skrall with her head, causing the Skrall -- who had by now eaten half of his stew – to freeze, holding his empty spoon in midair, as though he’d been caught in some kind of crime.
 
“This guy?” said Barc, glancing at the Skrall. “He’s just a Skrall. Why should I know him?”
 
“Just a Skrall, hmm?” said Litho. “I wonder why he’s wearing a hood, then.”
 
Before Kafor could ask where Litho was going with this, the Skrall threw the half-empty bowl of stew into her face. The surprise attack sent Litho falling backwards into Kafor, sending Toa and Skakdi falling to the floor in a tangle of confused limbs. Kafor just managed to see the Skrall jump from his seat and race to the door, while Barc looked on, completely dumbfounded.
 
“Get off of me,” Litho snapped, pushing Kafor off her. “I’ve got to catch that Skrall.”
 
Litho rose to her feet and stared at the door, which the Skrall had by now almost reached. Her mask flared briefly and a thick stone wall appeared in front of the door, causing the Skrall to skid to a halt just a few feet from the now-blocked exit.
 
“How’d you do that?” said Kafor, looking up at Litho in surprise.
 
Litho gestured at her mask without looking at Kafor. “Mask of Stone. It’s amazing, I know.”
 
Kafor rolled her eyes, which Litho didn’t appear to notice. She aimed her air-blaster at the Skrall, who had now turned around to face the bounty hunter. He unsheathed his sword and brought out his buzz-saw shield as he took a battle stance.
 
“Now, now, Night,” said Litho in a mocking voice. “Be a nice boy and let me take you to justice.”
 
“No,” said the Skrall through gritted teeth. “I don’t play nice and I don’t let airhead bounty hunters arrest me.”
 
Kafor blinked. “Night? I’ve heard that name before. But where . . .”
 
“I’ll tell you who he is,” said Litho. “He’s one of the most infamous Dark Hunters around. He’s committed enough crimes to earn a ten thousand widget bounty on his head. So I’m going to take him down and get that bounty.”
 
“You may try,” said Night. “But I doubt you’ll succeed.”
 
Litho laughed. “I’ve never failed to bring in a bounty before. What makes you think that you are going to be the exception?”
 
“Because I’m not like previous bounties, Litho,” said Night as he dashed at her. “Because I don’t grant mercy to my enemies.”
 

Review Topic


Edited by TNTOS, May 19 2014 - 08:49 AM.

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#2 Offline TNTOS

TNTOS
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Posted Apr 26 2013 - 08:36 AM

Chapter II

 

Although Litho and Night employed radically different fighting styles, the two opponents appeared even. While Litho was nimble and able to strike multiple times in quick succession, Night was obviously tougher, for Litho’s flurry of air-spheres didn’t seem to harm the Skrall very much. Kafor was just glad that she wasn’t in the midst of that fight because she, while she was by no means a weakling, she didn’t think her fighting skills would match those of a Dark Hunter or a Toa.

 

A few seconds ago, Barc had tried to intervene to get them to stop (for they had destroyed a couple of tables by that point), but Night had knocked him out with a solid blow to the head. Now Barc’s unconscious form lay on the floor near a pile of what had once been tables and chairs, while Litho and Night continued to trade blows.

 

As Kafor didn’t want to go Barc’s route, she’d hid herself behind the counter, which seemed to be the safest spot in the room right now. Kafor had no intention of sticking around the Tarakava’s Fist much longer, however, for Night was a Dark Hunter, and Dark Hunters were not, to be put it mildly, her friends.

 

The front entrance was completely blocked off thanks to Litho’s Mask of Stone, but if Kafor remembered correctly, there was a back exit in the kitchen. That was where Barc tossed out the garbage, for the back exit opened onto the alleys. If Kafor could get there, she might be able to escape without either Litho or Night knowing.

 

She carefully peered over the countertop. Litho and Night stood several feet apart from each other, panting hard, though neither appear willing to give up. She wondered who would waver first and who would take advantage of that moment to slay the other.

 

“Come on, Night,” said Litho, in between panting. “Go ahead and use your shadow powers. I’ve wanted to see . . . see if the rumors of a Skrall with elemental powers were true.”

 

Night’s face was like a rock; hard and unreadable. “I don’t need to use my powers to kill you.”

 

“Oh, so the rumors are true, then,” said Litho with a chuckle. “Here I thought they were just legends, like many other things. How did you get the ability to control darkness, anyway? Skrall can’t control elemental powers normally, you know.”

 

“Where I got my powers is my secret,” Night snapped. “Now take this!”

 

The Skrall sprinted forward. He hurled his shield at Litho, causing the Toa of Air to duck to avoid losing her head. Night took advantage of this to slash at her, but Litho moved out of the way just in time. She then fired her air-blaster at Night, hitting the Skrall with enough force to send him flying toward Kafor.

 

Kafor gasped and ducked as Night flew overhead. He slammed into the back wall, smashing dozens of beer bottles, and fell to the floor. This action caused the few bottles he didn’t break to fall and crash on his head, covering himself in beer and splashing more than a little bit of it onto Kafor, too.

 

Just before Kafor could get up, Litho jumped onto the countertop and aimed her air-blaster at Night, who lay on the floor, dazed. Neither of them seemed to notice Kafor, but she was in such an awkward position that she didn’t dare move, especially because it looked like the fight was over.

 

“Game over, Night,” said Litho with a smirk. “You just lie there and let me cuff you or I’ll blow your head off with my air-blaster. You can do that with the right amount of air pressure, you know.”

 

Night shook his head, as if trying to clear his thoughts. Then he looked up directly at Litho and then at Kafor. She looked at Night and could not read his expression, which worried her more than she wanted to admit.

 

“No witty comeback, eh?” said Litho. “That’s good. Always hate smart-alecky bounties. They’re so annoying.”

 

Without warning, Night sat up and grabbed Kafor. He immediately placed the blade of his sword at Kafor’s neck as Litho put one finger on the gun trigger.

 

“Hey!” Kafor said. “Let go of me, you dirty Dark Hunter!”

 

Night ignored Kafor’s pleas as he looked at Litho. “Are you going to risk the life of a civilian just to get me? At this close range, you’d kill me and this Skakdi here, assuming I don’t slit her throat first. So back off or her blood will be on your hands.”

 

Litho appeared to be thinking hard, as if trying to come up with a creative way around this. Kafor hoped she wouldn’t, because she was pretty sure Night could slit her throat faster than Litho could stop him. Seeing as Kafor didn’t want to die yet, she hoped the Toa wouldn’t try to be a hero.

 

Finally, Litho scowled and lowered her weapon. “Fine. You win, Night.”

 

Night nodded at her gun without loosening his grip on Kafor. “Now drop the blaster. Or you know what I’ll do to her.”

 

Litho glared at Night. “How dare you tell me what to-“

 

“Just do what he says,” said Kafor, her voice higher than usual. “Please. You’re a Toa. Toa don’t recklessly endanger the lives of innocents, right?”

 

“Okay,” said Litho, dropping her air-blaster. “Fine. I’ll do as you say.”

 

As Litho dropped her gun, she jumped off the countertop, prompting Night to say, “Now go all the way back to the other end of the room, toward the exit.”

 

Litho looked angry, but she did as Night told her to, walking backwards toward the door. Her hands were open at her sides, probably so Night wouldn’t think she was hiding anything.

 

At the same time, Night got to his feet, hauling Kafor up with him as he did so. He smelled like a mixture of Thornax stew and the various alcoholic beverages that had fallen on him. That, in Kafor’s opinion, was more than enough reason to want to stand at the other end of the room apart from him.

 

In a few seconds, Litho had reached the exit. She stood with her back against the rock slab she’d created earlier, looking really annoyed. Kafor couldn’t blame her. Assuming Night succeeded, this would be the first time Litho had failed to get the bounty of a criminal she had attempted to arrest.

 

“All right, Skakdi,” said Night in Kafor’s right audio receptor. “Where’s the back exit? This place has to have one. Tell me where it is and I won’t slit your throat.”

 

“In the kitchen,” Kafor said, almost stuttering it. “Just go through the kitchen. At the back there’s another door. It leads to the streets.”

 

“Good,” said Night.

 

Then he looked at Litho and said, “Stay there. Make even one move and I’ll kill her. Remember what I said about her blood being on your hands.”

 

Litho didn’t say anything. She just glared at Night, as if by glaring at him she could cause his head to ignite. As she was not a Toa of Fire, this didn’t work.

 

Night began inching his way toward the kitchen. He never took his eyes off Litho, nor did he relax his rock solid grip on Kafor. It was his hold on her that made Kafor think twice about making a break, for she was certain that he would kill her if she tried anything.

 

Once they were in the kitchen, Kafor considered telling Night who she was, for that might convince him to spare her. On the other hand, he might just kill her anyway. After all, the Shadowed One had been after her for years; and now one of his operatives had her and he didn’t even know it. There was no telling what Night might do if he did know who she was, which was why she kept her mouth shut.

 

They soon exited the kitchen and emerged onto an empty, dark street that smelt of rotten food and spoiled wine. A nearby trash can was full of old food, which explained the smell. It was so full of bad food that it had started to overflow, meaning Night and Kafor had to watch where they stepped lest they trip and fall.

 

“Okay,” said Kafor, trying not to sound panicked. “We’re free. You can just let me go now and I won’t tell anyone where you went. Honest.”

 

“And just why should I believe you, Skakdi?” said Night, his voice harsh in her audio receptor. “How do I know you won’t walk back in there and tell Litho where I went? I should slit your throat, you little snake, and be done with it.”

 

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Night,” said a feminine voice above them. “Because then the Shadowed One would be angry.”

 

Night looked up and, without accidentally slitting her throat on the Skrall’s blade, Kafor looked up, too. She saw a female Vortixx in black on the roof, kneeling. The Vortixx wore what looked like a cloak, although her head was completely uncovered.

 

“Heavyweight,” said Night, his tone softer now. “Did you steal the jewels?”

 

The Vortixx, who was apparently called Heavyweight, shook her head. “No. I was waiting for you to get your meal from the bar, remember? But you never came out.”

 

“Ran into Litho,” said Night. “Why didn’t you stop her? You were waiting outside, weren’t you?”

 

Heavyweight shrugged. “I didn’t recognize her. Just thought she was another Toa of Air.”

 

“You need to have your eyes looked at,” said Night.

 

Again, Heavyweight shrugged. Then she stood up and took one step off the edge of the roof. Kafor thought the Vortixx must be suicidal, but surprisingly, Heavyweight didn’t crash to the street.

 

Instead, she gently lowered from the roof, landing lightly on the street. She then walked over to Night and Kafor as though she’d just walked down a small staircase instead of jumping off a building.

 

“Meet my partner,” said Night in Kafor’s audio receptor. “Her name is Heavyweight.”

 

“Why?” said Kafor. “Is it because she’s so heavy?”

 

The next moment, something hard slapped across Kafor’s face. Blinking rapidly and trying to remain conscious, it took Kafor a minute to realize Heavyweight had slapped her across the face with a heavy-looking tri-claw attached to the Vortixx’s forearm. Looking up into Heavyweight’s face, Kafor saw that the Dark Hunter did not look pleased.

 

“Your tongue is every bit as disrespectful as the Shadowed One said,” said Heavyweight disdainfully. “But then, that’s what we have to expect from the infamous Kafor, isn’t it?”

 

Kafor heard Shadow intake sharply behind her. “Wait, this is Kafor? The Kafor? Number One?”

 

“Yes,” said Heavyweight, nodding. “I recognized her from her picture on the list. The artist who sketched her didn’t do a very good job of capturing her ugliness, though.”

 

“What can I say?” said Kafor. “True beauty can’t be captured on paper.”

 

“No way,” said Night. “I thought she just was a random bar-goer. I was planning to kill her and then run away.”

 

“That would have been a waste,” said Heavyweight. “Remember what the Shadowed One’s orders about her were. If any Dark Hunter captured her, Kafor is to be immediately taken back to New Odina. That is where she will meet her end, not here in the backstreets of New Atero.”

 

“Let’s be reasonable here,” said Kafor. “You’re both Dark Hunters. Surely there is something you want that the Shadowed One just doesn’t give you? I have a lot of connections in the criminal underworld, so I could get you anything you want.”

 

Heavyweight slapped her in the face again. This time, Kafor felt blood dripping down the side of her face, although it was only a little.

 

“We are not going to betray the Shadowed One’s trust that easily, Kafor,” said Heavyweight. “Besides, even if we did, the Shadowed One would know. And do you know who would be punished? Us. You’d get away scot-free and we’d lose our heads.”

 

“You really think all Dark Hunters are the same, don’t you, Kafor?” Night said. “Not all of us are eager to sell out our leader for something petty like cash or weapons. We know who to fear because we know who holds our lives in his hands. And it is not you.”

 

Before Kafor could ask them if they really meant that, Heavyweight slammed her tri-claw into Kafor’s face one more time. This time, she hit Kafor hard enough to knock her out completely.

 

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Edited by TNTOS, Apr 26 2013 - 08:37 AM.

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#3 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Apr 29 2013 - 04:10 PM

Chapter III

 

The gray hunchback known as Jeran stood in the shadows of a nearby support pillar. It wasn’t the best hiding place, for it wasn’t that dark, but he’d used his sonic abilities to make himself completely soundless, so none of the Skakdi going on and off the trains noticed him. He was also quite good at standing still, in comparison to Masqouth, who seemed chronically incapable of just being. He was just glad Masqouth wasn’t in charge of the mission.

 

The Zisar Central Train Station was full of bustling people. Some were waiting for their trains, chatting among themselves or reading papers that were probably important; some were at the various stands set up around the station, buying food or souvenirs if they were tourists; but the majority were simply getting on and off the trains that always came in on time. The trains were loud and noisy, which alone would have covered up whatever noises Jeran made, but as he always preferred to be safe rather than sorry, he chose to mute himself.

 

Loud voices over the intercom announce which trains were coming, which were leaving, and which were about to leave. That was one thing Jeran, with his sensitive hearing, noticed about this place: It was loud. Extremely loud. He could barely even hear himself think above all the noise.

 

Ordinarily, Jeran wouldn’t be here. All of this noise was enough to drive anyone insane. He much preferred quieter places, such as the apartment he and Masqouth had rented in South Zisar, but Masqouth had insisted that Jeran be waiting here for him at the station. He obeyed, seeing as he was under Masqouth's authority, though he wished he had been ordered to wait in a quieter place.

 

Jeran looked up at the big clock built into the arch overhead, the arch that divided the station area from the concession stands and ticket booths and restaurants. It was almost eighteen o’clock; if Masqouth didn’t get here soon, they’d miss their train.

 

That didn’t surprise Jeran much. Back in New Roxtus, Masqouth had seemed allergic to being on time or keeping appointments. It seemed like Masqouth got easily distracted by the people and attractions of a large city, probably because he hadn’t been exposed to it before, although as Jeran knew little of Masqouth’s past, he didn’t know exactly what Masqouth was or was not used to.

 

Just as Jeran was beginning to wonder if he should go on ahead to the apartment on his own, a Skakdi in black armor ran into the train station, panting hard. The Skakdi looked as though she’d ran a mile, but that didn’t stop her from shouting loudly, “Hey, everyone! Masqouth is coming through! The great Masqouth is here!”

 

Everyone looked toward the arch in anticipation, trembling and chattering with excitement. A few seconds later, Masqouth walked out from underneath it. He wasn’t alone, however, for it appeared that the entire train station was following behind him. There were so many of them that Masqouth was threatening to be crushed, but he effortlessly walked among them as though they weren’t even there.

 

Now Jeran didn’t actually need to go out and meet Masqouth. He only needed to be in the eighteen o’clock train that would take them back to South Zisar. It wasn’t possible for Jeran to meet Masqouth due to the huge crowd that surrounded his ally on every side, anyway.

 

So Jeran inched his way around the crowd toward the eighteen o’clock. No one paid him any attention, for they were all focused on Masqouth, who was placing his hands on certain Skakdi and immediately healing them of whatever disease afflicted them. This meant Jeran would probably get to the train sooner than Masqouth.

 

Soon, Jeran reached the eighteen o’clock train. He flashed his ticket at the conductor, who let him in. Almost as soon as he stepped into the train, the noise of the crowd dimmed, but it didn’t cease. He could still hear the sounds of the crowd going wild, screaming Masqouth’s name and begging him for miracles.

 

Ignoring the noise, Jeran sat in one of the soft, plush luxury seats. The train, to his knowledge, was completely devoid of passengers save for him and, eventually, Masqouth. There would of course be servants to bring them food and refreshments, but besides that the two would have the entire train to themselves. It was a generous gift from the city elders, who seemed to like Masqouth as much as the crowds did.

 

A red Skakdi came up to Jeran and asked him what he wanted. Jeran asked for a bula berry salad and the waiter left to go to the kitchen car. As soon as the waiter was gone, Masqouth entered the car, waving at the people on the platform. He shut the door behind himself, spotted Jeran, and walked over and sat in the chair opposite him.

 

“Oh, Jeran, life’s great,” said Masqouth, propping his head up on one hand. “See those people out there? They love me. They really do.”

 

Jeran glanced out the windows. Dozens of security guards held the people back, probably to prevent them from breaking into the train to see Masqouth. For that, Jeran was grateful, as the noise of the people was starting to get on his nerves.

 

“What I do is so wonderful,” Masqouth continued. “I placed my hands on them and they are healed. They think it’s a miracle, but it’s really not. Just my mask doing what it does best.”

 

Before Jeran could respond, a voice over the speaker system said, “The eighteen o’clock train is now leaving for the South Zisar Train Station. We will be there in half an hour. Please enjoy the ride and call for any refreshments you may want on the train.”

 

As the train went into motion, Masqouth said, “What’s the matter, Jeran? You look unhappy.”

 

Jeran looked out the windows, which afforded them an excellent view of the city of Zisar. “I’m not unhappy. I just didn’t like the fact that you were nearly late because we would have missed our train.”

 

“Oh, well, you see, I got so caught up in things that I couldn’t leave as soon as I wanted,” said Masqouth. “I talked to a lot of important people. In fact, Mr. Gamak gave me two tickets to his newest play, The Tragedy of the Ghost King. See?”

 

Masqouth briefly flashed two theater tickets in front of Jeran before putting them back in his robe’s pocket. “We have got to see it. Heard it’s playing tonight; in fact, Mr. Gamak invited us to watch it in his theater in downtown Zisar. Said we’d get box seats and everything.”

 

Jeran wanted to say something, but then the door at the other end of the car opened and the Skakdi waiter from before entered. This time, he was carrying Jeran’s bula berry salad, which he placed on the table between the two. He asked Masqouth if he wanted anything, but Masqouth declined and the waiter left, but not before giving them instructions on how to contact him via speakerphone if they did want anything else.

 

“Bula berry salad, eh?” said Masqouth, looking wistfully at Jeran’s food. “Sometimes, I wish I could eat. I want to know what absorbing energy feels like.”

 

“You mean you can’t eat?” said Jeran in surprise. “Can’t even absorb energy like most people?”

 

“Not at all,” said Masqouth, shaking his head sadly. “It’s really sad, seeing as I can do everything everyone else can, but I guess that’s just how I am.”

 

“Strange,” said Jeran as he grabbed one of the bula berries and ate it. “How do you get energy if you can't eat?”

 

Masqouth seemed to have lost interest in their conversation, or perhaps was ignoring Jeran, for he now was looking out the window at the city below.

 

“They all look like ants from up here,” said Masqouth. “Well, maybe not ants, but they sure do look tiny, don’t they?”

 

“Masqouth, are you listening to me?”

 

Masqouth nodded, although he still stared out the window. “So many people. I wonder how many of them are sick or hurt. Sometimes, I wish I could heal them all.”

 

Jeran snapped his fingers, increasing the sound of the snap to catch Masqouth’s attention. “Don’t get so caught up in playing the messiah that you actually become one.”

 

Masqouth smiled as he looked back at Jeran. “Oh, I know I’m just acting. It’s just that I get so excited, you know? We’re treated like celebrities here.”

 

“Wait a moment,” Jeran said.

 

He waved his hand, first toward one end of the car, then the other. And then he said, “All right. No one will be able to hear us now. Just made it impossible for anyone outside of this car to hear us.”

 

“You think someone would eavesdrop on us?” said Masqouth. “Why would anyone do that?”

 

“Because you’re one of the most famous beings in Spherus Magna right now,” said Jeran. “I don’t doubt that the waiter is a fan of yours, too, and if he’s trying to eavesdrop, we won’t let him.”

 

“Okay, okay,” said Masqouth, sounding a little indignant. “I get it. So . . . how is the plan going, then?”

 

“It’s going along fine,” said Jeran. “Toa Kanderias has been kidnapped. So has Toa Laomos. Only three Toa left until we have enough.”

 

“Excellent,” said Masqouth with a smile on his face. “We need all six Toa and then we will be able to open the Door. This is going to be so exciting.”

 

“I’m not so sure what is exciting about unleashing a tribe of evil Matoran upon Spherus Magna, to be frank,” said Jeran, scratching the back of his head. “It seems rather . . . disturbing, even if it’s necessary.”

 

“But then I’ll be just like my parents,” said Masqouth, his smile widening. “The Kra-Matoran will go on a rampage, along with the Skrall and Skakdi, killing loads of people. My parents killed a lot of people, you know, so I want to be just like them.”

 

Jeran thought about asking Masqouth who his ‘parents’ were, but decided, upon reflection, that if they were mass murderers, he did not want to know who they were.

 

So Jeran said, “Well, the next Toa on the list is Toa Akuna. Wavica is going after her.”

 

“What about Asroth?” said Masqouth. “What’s she doing?”

 

“You remember,” said Jeran. “She’s keeping watch over the Toa we already have.”

 

“Where is Niralo?” said Masqouth. “Has he gotten the Time Stone yet?”

 

Jeran shook his head. “Well . . . no.”

 

“Why not?” said Masqouth. “Did the Time Stone guardians defeat him or something?”

 

“No,” said Jeran, shaking his head again. “According to the King, the Time Stone is gone. And with it, one of its guardians: Toa Kiriah, the Toa of Psionics and veteran guardian of the Time Stone.”

 

-

 

Toa Kiriah sat at the edge of a small pond in the middle of a jungle. She rolled her aching shoulders to try to relax them, but it didn’t help much. She was older now and her body took longer to recover from pain than it did when she was younger. The jungle’s humidity didn’t help.

 

As she sat there, trying to ignore her aching muscles, Kiriah thought back to how she got here. She didn’t have anything else to do but remember, after all, so remember she did.

 

A short time ago -- how long ago, exactly, Kiriah couldn’t say, because time flowed differently in every universe -- Kiriah had been contacted by a group of powerful and mysterious entities who called themselves the Almighty Ones. They had asked her to bring the Time Stone, which belonged to them, to this universe, where Kiriah would pass it on to one of their servants, a Gadarian named Jetrupi.

 

As this was part of a deal Kiriah had made with the Almighty Ones many years ago, she’d agreed to return the Time Stone to them. So they’d given to her the ability to dimension-hop without a mask, which allowed Kiriah to dimension-hop to this universe, where she was supposed to meet Jetrupi.

 

The only problem was that the Almighty Ones hadn’t told her when Jetrupi would arrive. For that matter, Kiriah had no idea why she had to go this alternate universe when it would have been much simpler just to have Jetrupi come to her dimension, where she could have given him the Time Stone quickly and efficiently.

 

Kiriah’s thoughts were interrupted when she heard someone walking behind her. She was on her feet instantly, unsheathing her sword as she turned around to face whoever it was that she had heard.

 

To her surprise, it was a Gadarian who stood there. He wore jet-black armor, which made it impossible to tell which tribe he belonged to, for as far as Kiriah knew, only Skrall wore black armor and this guy was clearly not a Skrall.

 

Another thing Kiriah noticed about him was his right arm, which appeared to be mechanical. How he’d gotten a mechanical arm, Kiriah didn’t know. She tried to read his mind, but found it blocked by an unusually strong mental shield. She could barely even sense his emotions the shield was that strong, which made Kiriah apprehensive, for experience told her that people who had powerful mental shields were usually hiding something.

 

Kiriah brandished her sword at the Gadarian and said, “Stay back. Who are you?”

 

The Gadarian stopped several feet away from her, his blue eyes scanning her body. “You are Toa Kiriah, I presume?”

 

“How did you know that? Can you read my mind?”

 

“No. It’s just that you fit the description of Toa Kiriah that my masters gave me, my masters who I am sure you are familiar with.” 

“Wait,” said Kiriah, lowering her sword. “Are you Jetrupi?”

“In the flesh,” said the Gadarian. “What? Didn’t the Almighty Ones describe me to you?”

 

“Yes, they did, but . . .” Kiriah’s voice trailed off hesitantly. “Well, you’re here for the Time Stone, right?”

 

“Correct,” said Jetrupi, holding out his hand. “Just give it to me and I will take it directly back to the Almighty Ones.”

 

Kiriah nodded as she pulled the orange Time Stone out of her bag. She then walked over to Jetrupi, holding out the Time Stone for him to take. She hoped he would take it quickly because she was beginning to miss her home dimension.

 

At that moment, a sharp sound of heavy feet beating against the ground caught her audio receptors, but before Kiriah could look to see what it was, something large and thick slammed into her outstretched arm. The blow was enough to send Kiriah sprawling to the ground with a crash. The fall made her dizzy, but she shook her head and spotted Jetrupi also lying on the ground, looking as dazed as she felt.

 

Wondering what the Karzahni had just happened, Kiriah looked around until she spotted a bulky monster in black, spiky armor standing not far from where she and Jetrupi lay.

 

The monster somewhat resembled a Vorox, for it had a long, deadly-looking tail rising out from its back, in addition to being somewhat hunched over. Yet it had green eyes that reflected an intelligence that was far above that of the average Bara Magnan Vorox and it looked more mechanical than organic.

 

Then Kiriah noticed the monster held a shiny orange stone in his hand, which Kiriah puzzled about at first until she noticed that she was no longer holding the Time Stone. She glanced at Jetrupi’s hands and saw that he, too, did not have the Time Stone, which meant logically only meant one thing: The monster had stolen it from her.

 

“Hey!” said Kiriah as she and Jetrupi scrambled back to their feet. “Give the Time Stone back, you brute!”

 

The monster looked over at Kiriah and Jetrupi with amused eyes. “You’re gonna have to catch me first.”

 

With the rushing of the wind, the monster disappeared without a trace.

 

“He teleported?” said Kiriah in surprise.

 

“Not teleport, no,” said Jetrupi, shaking his head as he drew his own sword. “He’s a speedster. He can run extremely fast. That’s how he stole the Time Stone from you in the first place.”

“Wait, you know him?” said Kiriah. “What’s his name? Who is he?”

 

“His name is Niralo,” said Jetrupi, now carefully looking around the area. “He’s one of Masqouth’s Echoes.”

 

“Masqouth?” said Kiriah, raising her sword in a battle position. “What’s he got to do with this?”

 

“Everything, Kiriah,” said Jetrupi, still looking around. “The Almighty Ones didn’t send me merely to retrieve the Time Stone from you. They sent me because they need your help, Kiriah.”

 

“Help? Help for what?” said Kiriah. “Is there some kind of problem?”

 

“There’s been ‘some kind of problem’ for a while now,” said Jetrupi. “As for the kind of help you can give, it is vital that you-“

 

A rushing wind cut off his words and, without warning, Niralo appeared in front of them. He seized Kiriah and Jetrupi by the necks and lifted them off the ground, smiling rather evilly as the two struggled to break free from his tight grip.

 

“The King told me to get rid of you two,” said Niralo, his terrible breath bathing over Kiriah and Jetrupi. “I could rip you two apart with my bare hands if I wanted, but I like to give my prey a chance. So I’m just going to inject some of my poison into your systems, which should be enough to kill you in, oh, I’d say about an hour or so, maybe less if you struggle against it.”

 

Before Kiriah could react, she felt something sharp and burning pierce her throat. The pain was bad enough that she would have screamed if her windpipes weren’t being crushed.

 

Then Niralo slammed Kiriah and Jetrupi’s heads together and dropped them both. The poison and the head-butt were almost enough to knock Kiriah out. She forced herself to stay conscious, however, because she had to somehow use her Mask of Healing to save her and Jetrupi, although she was in such pain that she was unable to concentrate long enough to activate her mask.

 

“Good bye, fools,” said Niralo. “I’ve got places to be and Time Stones to drop off. Let’s hope the realm of Karzahni is just a legend, for your sake at least.”

 

A dimensional portal opened, but Niralo didn’t walk through it immediately. He kicked Jetrupi in the side and then stepped through the portal, which disappeared with a small popping sound. Kiriah reached out weakly, but she was too late.

 

She then glanced at Jetrupi, who appeared to have lost consciousness. Alarmed, Kiriah tried to reach out to him, but her arm didn’t seem to want to move anymore. In fact, her whole body felt numb now, which Kiriah could only assume was a sign that the poison was doing its job.

 

“Help . . .” Kiriah called out, her voice weak. “Anybody . . . help . . . please . . .”

 

Just before the darkness claimed her, Kiriah thought she heard feet stomping through the jungle toward them. Whoever it was, she never got to see them, for she soon drifted into unconsciousness, possibly to never wake again.

 

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Edited by TNTOS, Apr 29 2013 - 04:10 PM.

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#4 Offline TNTOS

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Posted May 03 2013 - 09:11 AM

Chapter IV

 

“So what, exactly, did you see again, ma’am?” said Toa Niham, Toa of the Green, as she wrote down some notes.

 

Turaga Kicho was sitting in a chair on the opposite side of Niham’s desk, her eyes wide and tearful. “I saw nothing, detective. I heard what sounded like fighting next door, so I thought Laomos was being robbed. I went over to see what if I could help, but when I got there, Laomos was gone and there was no sign of a fight at all, save for a broken table and a couple of smashed chairs.”

 

Niham nodded, looking over her notes. “That’s all you know, Turaga?”

 

“Yes,” said Kicho, sniffling. “That’s all I know. I don’t know where Laomos went, who he was fighting, or any of that.”

 

“Were any of the windows or doors forced open or anything?”

 

“No,” said Kicho, shaking her head. “The windows were all locked. So was the door, but Laomos had given me a key to his apartment in case of emergencies, which is how I got in.”

 

“Hmm,” said Niham. “Well, thank you for bringing this case to my attention, ma’am. I’ll be by Laomos’ apartment later today to check out the situation for myself.”

 

“Oh, thank you, detective,” said Kicho, wiping the tears out of her eyes. “I just couldn’t figure it out, which is why I came to you.”

 

“You went to the police first, though, right?” said Niham, putting down her notepad.

 

Kicho nodded. “Yes, but they haven’t sent anyone yet. They told me they’d send someone later, but it’s been a day now and no one from the force has showed up at the apartment yet. So I came here at the suggestion of a friend.”

 

“Well, that’s what I’m here for, ma’am,” said Niham as she stood up. “Let me get the door for you.”

 

After the client left, Niham went back over to her desk and sat down at it. She closed her eyes and tried to think about the crime she’d been given to solve.

 

The apartment had been completely locked. No way in; no way out. Yet Laomos had somehow been kidnapped anyway. How?

 

This reminded her of a similar kidnapping she’d been investigating recently, the kidnapping of a Toa of Plasma named Kanderias. That, too, had happened in a locked apartment. Unlike this case, however, there hadn’t been a sign of any struggle at all, which had caused Niham to put that particular case aside for a while until she had more clues to work with.

 

The circumstances of the two kidnappings were similar enough that Niham wondered if they were related. If not, it was an incredible coincidence that she was investigating two almost interchangeable cases. They had to be related somehow, but as it was she couldn't see how.

 

The sound of the door swinging open caused Niham’s eyes to fly open. She looked up and saw a red Glatorian carrying a star-shaped shield enter her office, causing her to stand up in delight.

 

“Rubella?” said Niham, walking around the desk to the Glatorian. “When’d you get here? I thought you wouldn’t be back in New Atero until tomorrow morning.”

 

Rubella kissed Niham on the lips -- a wonderful sensation Niham had been missing for the past couple of weeks -- and then said, “The flight home actually took off early for once. So, when I got back in town, I came directly here to give my favorite detective in the world a big surprise.”

 

“Great,” said Niham, wrapping her arms around Rubella. “Maybe I should get ready for tonight, then.”

 

Rubella smiled as she put one hand on Niham’s right cheek. “Did you see my match in the arena yesterday? The one where I battled Loven the Strong Arm?”

 

Niham's smile faded, even though she tried to keep it up. “Um . . . I, er, no, I didn’t.”

 

The entire room felt cold now, even though Niham was still in Rubella’s warm embrace. She tried not to look her partner in the eye, which was hard when they were so close together like this. Niham’s thoughts generally moved pretty fast, but now it seemed like her mind had frozen over.

 

Then Rubella said, in a flatter voice, “Oh, well, that’s . . . that’s okay. I know you’re really busy, what with investigating that Kanderias guy’s kidnapping and all. You can watch the reruns. They usually play them again the next day.”

 

Niham smiled guiltily. The real reason she hadn’t watched the match last night was because she’d had gone straight to bed after coming home from work, having forgotten that Rubella’s match was going to be broadcasted that night.

 

“Why don’t we go home?” Rubella suggested. “If we leave now, maybe we can catch the rerun of yesterday’s match on Channel Eight. How’s about it?”

 

“Oh, I’d love to, Ruby, I really would,” said Niham, glancing at her desk. “It’s just . . . I promised a client I would investigate something today, so I can’t go home just yet.”

 

This time, there was no mistaking the pain in Rubella’s eyes. She shoved herself out of Niham’s arms and said, “Well, okay, fine. You do your work and I’ll just go home and watch the rerun myself. Maybe I’ll record it for you, if I remember.”

“Ruby, please don’t be that way,” said Niham, reaching out a hand toward her. “I still love you, you know.”

 

“Yeah, whatever,” said Rubella, turning around. “Anyway, I should be going. The trip home wore me out. Maybe I’ll just take a nap instead of watching the rerun. No need to watch it when I already experienced it, right?”

 

Before Niham could say anything else, Rubella marched out through the open door and slammed it shut behind her. It took Niham a few seconds to realize she still held her hand out, so she slowly lowered it and then went back to her desk. She fell into her seat and leaned forward, her head in her hands and her elbows on the desk.

 

Niham and Ruby had been in a relationship for three years now. She remembered the day they first met, when she had been investigating the murder of a one of Ruby’s arena opponents. At the time, Ruby had been Niham’s prime suspect, but eventually she learned it had been someone else who had murdered the opponent and so Ruby was innocent. She’d caused Ruby so much trouble during the investigation that she offered to take the Glatorian out to dinner, an offer Ruby accepted. Neither of them had expected a simple dinner would turn into a three-year romance that was still running strong today.

 

Yet as Ruby just proved, it wasn’t all rainbows and romance. Both Ruby and Niham worked full-time, Ruby as a professional Glatorian and Niham as a detective. Although Niham’s work generally kept her within New Atero’s city limits, Ruby’s job often took her around the world to fight in Glatorian arenas. Thus, sometimes Ruby was gone for weeks at a time, once even for a whole month, which put a strain on their relationship even when they kept in contact through letters.

 

Frankly, Niham was angrier at herself than anything. She was angry that she had failed to watch Ruby’s match, even though Ruby had even gone so far as to recommend to her the best channel to watch it on. She realized Ruby had every right to be angry with her, although that didn’t help her figure out how to make things better between them again.

 

Glancing at the clock, Niham saw that it was twenty o’clock. That meant she had to get going to the scene of the kidnapping now before it got too late out. This relieved her quite a bit; perhaps by the time she got home later, Ruby would be in a better mood and they could just put this whole conflict behind themselves. At least, she hoped so, anyway.

 

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#5 Offline TNTOS

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Posted May 06 2013 - 06:22 PM

Chapter V

 

Hefting the unconscious Kafor over his shoulder, Night followed Heavyweight down an alleyway. He glanced over his shoulder occasionally, even though he knew that Litho didn’t know where they were. Still, he’d heard much about her inability to give up on a bounty, so he wouldn’t feel safe until they were out of the city entirely.

 

Not that Night was afraid of Litho or anything. Although Litho was a very successful bounty hunter with a success streak several kio long, she was still just a Toa, a single Toa going up against the Dark Hunters. Night planned to tell the Shadowed One about Litho, for he felt that it was time to remove that thorn in the Dark Hunters’ side once and for all.

 

The sounds of bustling people and loud vehicles echoed in the distance, but Night and Heavyweight were careful to avoid going along the main street. This was partly because Night was a well-known criminal and partly because they didn’t want anyone asking why they were hauling an unconscious Skakdi around. It would have taken a long time to explain, especially to a police officer.

 

The back alleys of New Atero were mostly deserted. There were a few bums hanging out in doorways or lying in the streets, but most of them were either asleep or too out of it to pay attention to Heavyweight and Night. One Po-Matoran did beg them for money, but Night kicked him away, for the Skrall had no sympathy for beggars.

 

To the average observer, it might appear that Night and Heavyweight were wandering the city in search of transportation. That was not true. They were actually going back to their own airship, a WS-160, called the Knight’s Wish. Night had landed it just outside the city limits and had hidden it well, for the ship was known to belong to Night and if the police found it, he doubted they would hesitate to confiscate it.

 

Yes, it was generally hazardous to return to New Odina without first completing the mission one had been assigned. But as Kafor was Number One on the Shadowed One’s most wanted list, Night thought that their leader would forgive them in this case. After all, the Shadowed One had been searching for Kafor for ages. In Night’s opinion, bringing in Kafor was more important than stealing some jewels from some jewel-collector.

 

He glanced at the unconscious Kafor as they walked. It was a mystery to him as to why the Shadowed One so desperately wanted Kafor. The best Night could gather was that Kafor knew something important about the Shadowed One, something so important that he couldn’t risk anyone finding out about it.

 

Whatever it was, Night didn’t want to know. If the Shadowed One was willing to kill to keep it a secret, then maybe it ought to remain a secret. He wasn’t a curious person anyway, so he saw no need to wonder about it anyway.

 

Just then, Heavyweight stopped and held out one arm, causing Night to halt. Night looked around, but he saw nothing except garbage, puddles of water, some graffiti on the walls, and a couple of rodents that skittered past them.

 

“What’s the problem?” said Night, looking up at his partner. “Do you see something?”

 

“I hear something,” said Heavyweight. “Think someone is following us.”

 

Before Night could ask who it might be, he heard the sound of rushing wind behind them. Without thinking or looking over his shoulder, Night jumped to the side; just in time, for a wind blast struck the part of the street he’d been standing on previously, denting the ground. Heavyweight had also jumped to the side and was now looking up at the buildings around them.

 

Night followed her gaze and spotted a green Toa standing on the roof of a nearby building, aiming her air-blaster at them.

 

“Litho?” said Heavyweight, pointing at her. “How’d she find us?”

 

“No idea,” Night grunted. “Let’s run. Don’t want her to catch us, especially since we have Kafor.”

 

Just then, Litho fired another blast of air, this one aimed at Night. He jumped out of the way again, although due to Kafor’s weight he wasn’t as swift as he normally was. He tripped accidentally and fell on the pavement, dropping the unconscious Kafor as he did so.

 

Shaking his head, Night got to his feet and looked up just in time to see Litho leap off the building. She flew over their heads and landed on the street in front of them, blocking their route.

 

“Now, now,” said Litho, hefting her air-blaster. “You can’t get away from me. Especially when you’re lugging around a heavy Skakdi like that.”

 

Night drew his sword and shield, but Heavyweight put a hand in front of him.

 

“Let me deal with her,” said Heavyweight out of the corner of her mouth. “You just get Kafor. Don’t worry about me.”

 

“Fine,” said Night as he put his weapons away. “But make it quick.”

 

Heavyweight nodded and then walked up to Litho until she was only a couple dozen yards away from the Toa. At the same time, Night went over and hauled Kafor over his shoulder. He was surprised she still hadn’t woken up, but then again, Heavyweight had hit her pretty hard, so maybe it wasn’t that surprising.

 

Turning around, Night thought about making a break through one of the side alleys, but to his surprise he noticed they were blocked off with huge, thick stone slabs. It was obviously the work of Litho’s Mask of Stone, which meant Night was going to have to wait for Heavyweight to deal with the bounty hunter before he could go anywhere.

 

“Who are you?” said Litho to Heavyweight. “I’ve never seen you before.”

 

Heavyweight folded her arms and said, “I’m Heavyweight, Night’s partner.”

 

“How strange,” said Litho. “I didn’t know Night had a partner. What, did you just join him recently or something?”

 

“No,” said Heavyweight, shaking her head. “We’ve been working together for five years. The media just hasn’t thought a Vortixx with gravity powers as interesting or sensational as a Skrall with shadow powers.”

 

“So you control gravity, eh?” said Litho. “Thanks for telling me. Now all I need to do is-“

 

Heavyweight snapped her fingers and Litho smashed face first into the pavement. She did not rise.

 

Night ran up to her and said, “Did you kill her?”

 

Heavyweight shook her head. “No need. I just knocked her down a notch or two. Maybe this will humble her a bit.”

 

“Should’ve killed her,” said Night, glaring at the unconscious Litho. “Not like it would have changed our standing in the eyes of the law, right?”

 

“I know,” said Heavyweight. “Really, though, not everything is about killing, Night. Sometimes, it’s better to allow an enemy to live, humiliated, than to kill them outright.”

 

Night rolled his eyes. “Whatever. Let’s just keep going. By the time Litho wakes up again, we ought to be long gone.”

 

So the two Dark Hunters continued walking down the street. Before they did so, however, Heavyweight used her powers over gravity to place Litho in a trash can full of things Night couldn’t describe and wouldn’t even if he wanted to. And then they continued walking down the alley, Night wondering what the Shadowed One would reward them with when they brought Kafor to him.

 

-

 

Several times, Kiriah found herself in the world between consciousness and dream. Sometimes, she saw things that could only be from the world of dreams -- a sleeping, skeletal dragon, a land of shadow, a closed coffin within a dungeon -- while other times, she saw things that were much more realistic, such as the mask of a Matoran looking down on her, a wooden ceiling, and occasionally a window streaming sunlight into a room.

 

Being a Toa of Psionics, Kiriah recognized this state of being as ‘mind-sleep.’ It usually occurred when a Toa of Psionics’s body was in critical damage. The mind basically shut itself off until the body healed sufficiently enough that the mind was no longer in danger. Occasionally, the mind would surface briefly to check on the body and the world around it, but most of the time remained dormant and sleeping.

 

Kiriah wasn’t exactly a big fan of mind-sleep. For one, she had absolutely no control over her body during this time. Unless she was in the hands of a friend, Kiriah felt she was in more danger asleep than awake. It was true that the mind-sleep was probably the only thing keeping her alive from Niralo’s venom, but she still felt unsafe.

 

That wasn’t even taking into account Jetrupi, who, not being biomechanical in the same sense as her, had no mind-sleep mechanism. He was probably dead, or close to it, by now, although Kiriah had no idea how much time had passed since Niralo had tried to kill her and Jet. Another problem of mind-sleep: it was impossible to keep track of the time.

 

Just as Kiriah was beginning to wonder if she’d ever wake up again, her eyes flew open and she gasped like a fish out of water. She sat up in bed, although at first didn’t see anything because her eyes were still adjusting to the room’s brightness level. She rubbed her eyes, breathing deeply as she did so, and then looked around again, for her eyes had by now adjusted to the light, which wasn’t as bright as she’d thought it was.

 

Kiriah was in what appeared to be a master bedroom. Her legs were covered by soft, old blankets, which were quite warm. She noticed a window at the left end of the room was open, streaming in light and the chirping of exotic birds. The curtains hanging around it looked old like the blankets, but clean and well-kept, which told her someone must live here.

 

She looked around and noticed a desk and a chair standing right next to the door. They appeared to be made out of some kind of wood, but as Kiriah was not a Toa of the Green, she couldn’t tell what kind of wood they were made out of. All she could see was a bottle of ink and a feather pen sitting on it with what looked like a few sheets of paper.

 

Puzzled, Kiriah wondered for a moment how she got here when she heard something moving next to her. The sudden movement startled Kiriah, almost causing her to fall out of bed, but she regained her composure quickly. She then looked to her right, wondering what else was in bed with her.

 

Lying next to her, with the blankets only covering his waist and legs, was Jetrupi, his eyes closed and his breathing slow and steady.

 

That was weird. How’d she and Jet get in the same bed? Last she remembered, they’d both been lying in the jungle dying from Niralo’s poison. Had that all been some bizarre dream? If so, then Kiriah wondered what the Karzahni she was doing in bed with Jet in the first place. A certain thought crossed her mind, but she rejected it quickly, for she didn’t feel that way about someone that she barely knew.

 

That was when she noticed a bandage wrapped around Jet’s neck, roughly where Niralo had pierced him. So it hadn’t been a dream, after all. That caused Kiriah to wonder if she had a similar bandage around her neck.

 

She felt her neck. There was definitely something soft wrapped around it; ligature, most likely. The only question was, who was the person who had saved her and Jet? Was she the owner of this house? If so, where was she now? Why had she saved Jet and Kiriah? She didn’t know anyone from this dimension and it seemed unlikely that Jet did, either, although she knew very little about Jet to be sure about that.

 

Thinking about getting up, Kiriah tried to move her legs, although that made her feel exhausted all of a sudden. She felt like if she tried to stand she would just end up falling, so Kiriah decided to stay in bed. Whoever had saved them would probably come back up here to check on them anyway, especially if she was a doctor of some kind.

 

A few seconds later, the door to their room creaked open and an Agori entered. Based on his white armor, he seemed to be an Ice Agori. He carried a tray with two bowls of steaming hot soup on it. He apparently didn’t noticed Kiriah, for he had his back to her as he placed the tray on the desk.

 

When he turned around and looked at the bed, however, he froze, like he hadn’t been expecting to see Kiriah up.

 

“Oh,” said the Agori, his voice somewhat small. “I didn’t know you were awake already, Toa-?”

 

“Kiriah. My name is Toa Kiriah.”

 

“Kiriah,” said the Agori, nodding. “Well, Toa Kiriah, it’s good to see that you’re awake. How did you sleep?”

 

“Who are you?” Kiriah said, ignoring his question. “Where are we? How’d we get here? Are you gonna kill us?”

 

“Kill you?” said the Agori with a chuckle. “Of course not. In fact, it was I, with the help of the monks, who saved you. Managed to get the venom out of your systems before it killed you both. See?”

 

The Agori held up two identical glass tubes filled with a black liquid. The mere sight of the venom made Kiriah feel nauseous, like she was looking at the bodily fluids of some animal.

 

“By the way, you may call me Ghata,” said the Agori as he placed the two vials in a pouch in his apron. “I’m the village doctor. You’re lucky that I and the monks were passing by, otherwise you and Jetrupi there would have died for sure.”

 

“Wait, you know who Jet is?”

 

“Of course,” said Ghata, gesturing at the house. “This is his house, after all. He grew up in this village. I knew him well.”

 

Kiriah looked around in astonishment. “I didn’t know Jet owned such a large house. Does he still live here?”

 

“Not anymore, no,” said Ghata, shaking his head. “After an, er, disagreement, he left the village entirely and hasn’t returned since. Until today, that is.”

 

“Oh,” said Kiriah, scratching her head. “I didn’t know any of that.”

 

“How come?” Ghata asked. “Aren’t you Jet’s friend? Surely he told you about at least a part of his past?”

 

Just as Kiriah tried to figure out a believable way to answer Ghata’s question without telling the truth or arousing his suspicion, a moan next to her caused the two to look to her right. Jet was stirring and the next moment his blue eyes flickered open and looked up at Kiriah.

 

“Kiri . . . Kiriah?” said Jet with a yawn. “What . . . where are we?”

 

“We’re in your, uh, house,” said Kiriah.

 

Jet sat up quickly and looked around, his face expressing the same astonishment as Kiriah’s previously had. “No way. How’d we get here? I-“

 

Then he spotted Ghata standing by the desk. The Gadarian’s expression became blank, although Kiriah could tell he wasn’t surprised to see the doctor.

 

“Hello, Jet,” said Ghata, smiling at him. “How many years has it been since you left? Ten, maybe twenty?”

 

“Fifty, actually,” said Jet. “How did you bring us both here?”

 

Ghata hesitated, and then said, “The monks. They brought you two here because they consider life sacred, Jet, and-“

 

“Are they still here?” Jet asked, cutting the doctor off.

 

“Yes, they are,” said Ghata, nodding. “They wish to speak with Kiriah.”

 

“Why me?” said Kiriah.

 

“They have a problem that they think only you can fix,” said Ghata, shrugging. “I have no idea what it is, but it apparently can only be solved with psionic powers.”

 

Jet swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood up. He glared at Ghata and said, “Tell them to leave. They can jump off a cliff for all I care. They have no business being in my house.”

 

“It’s not your house anymore, Jet,” said an aged voice from just outside the door. “You gave up your inheritance when you ran away.”

 

Jet froze, like he recognized the voice. The next instant, a Gadarian in green armor shuffled into the room. He was an elderly-looking Gadarian who appeared to lack the sort of muscles one got from fighting in the arena one’s whole life. Something about him reminded Kiriah of Jet, but what it was, she just couldn’t place it.

 

The old Gadarian leaned on his cane and looked Jet up and down. “Son, you don’t look much different from the day you left Lein’s Sanctuary. Thought you would have lost the black armor by now, at least.”

 

“Son?” said Kiriah, glancing at Jet. “Jet, is he-“

 

“Yes, Kiriah, he is my father,” said Jet, his fists clenched. “My boring, self-centered dad who thinks his son is irresponsible. What a joy to be reunited with you.”

 

Jet’s father chuckled. “As fiery and unforgiving as always, son. Who is your girlfriend, by the way? I never thought you would hook up with a Toa, of all beings. Guess you still like danger.”

 

“She is not my girlfriend,” said Jet, his fists shaking with repressed rage. “She is just an acquaintance. I barely know her.”

 

“Right,” said Jet’s dad, winking at Kiriah. “Allow me to introduce myself, young lady. I am Oscron. And this is my house, which I would have given to Jet had he simply behaved himself and not run off with the monks and after that run away for good.”

 

Kiriah had no idea what to say to him, but she decided that she didn’t need to get involved in what was obviously a family spat.

 

“If you hate the monks so much, why’d you let them into your house?” said Jet, pointing an accusing finger at Oscron. “Tell me that, father.”

 

“Because, for all your irresponsibility, you’re still my son,” said Oscron. “When I saw your condition, I had to let the monks in. They’ve been rather polite, which I see is a virtue they forgot to teach you.”

 

Before Jet could respond to that, Ghata spoke up, saying, “Well, sirs, I think this discussion is getting a little too intense for Jet. He needs to sleep, you know, and so does Kiriah, because that venom left a-“

 

“No,” said Jet. “I am just fine. If this bothers Kiriah, dad and I will take this conversation into another room.”

 

“Er, no, that’s okay,” said Kiriah, not sure what to say. “You don’t have to on my account.”

 

“No, miss, I believe my irresponsible son has a point for once,” said Oscron. “You have nothing to do with this . . . family feud, I suppose you’d call it. Besides, those monks have been waiting to talk to you for hours. You can talk to them while I talk some sense into my son.”

 

“Fine,” said Jet, folding his arms. “Kiriah, you’ll be fine on your own with the monks?”

 

“Yes, of course,” said Kiriah, nodding. “They aren’t bad people, are they?”

 

“No,’ said Jet, without looking at her. “I just wanted to make sure you’d be comfortable talking to half a dozen muscular Skrall, that’s all.”

 

“Wait,” said Kiriah. “The monks are Skrall?”

 

“Of course,” said Oscron, rolling his eyes. “What else would the Monks of the Mountains be? This must be your first time around these parts.”

 

“Then I will go get them,” said Ghata. “You do feel good enough to talk, though, right, Kiriah?"

 

“Yes,” said Kiriah. She put her hand on her stomach and said, “I am awfully hungry, though.”

 

“Well, that’s what this soup is for,” said Ghata, patting the tray upon which sat the two soup bowls. “Jet, would you like-“

 

“Not hungry,” said Jet, glaring at Oscron. “Sorry.”

 

“Ah,” said Ghata, scratching his chin. “Well, if you say so. I’ll just keep your soup here in case you change your mind.”

 

“Then let’s go, son,” said Oscron, gesturing toward the open door. “How does the study sound? There are plenty of things for you to throw at me in there, if you let your anger get the best of you, as you usually do.”

 

“Stop patronizing me,” said Jet through gritted teeth. “Let me tell Kiriah one more thing before we leave.”

 

“Of course,” said Oscron. “Tell her whatever you want. It’s probably trivial, knowing you and your obsession with insignificant details, son, but it is your right to spout trivial nonsense and I am not going to stop you.”

 

Jet sat back on the bed and gestured for Kiriah to lean closer. Curious, Kiriah leaned in a little closer to Jet, who whispered, “Kiriah, I’m going to talk with my dad as quickly as possible. You should do the same when you talk to the monks.”

 

“Why?” said Kiriah, her voice as low as his. “Are we going after Niralo?”

 

“No,” Jet said, shaking his head slightly. “Well, yes. What we’re going to do is leave this dimension and go back to yours. We have to stop Masqouth.”

 

“You still haven’t explained to me what Masqouth has to do with any of this,” Kiriah whispered.

 

“I will when I finish talking to dad,” Jet whispered back. “For now, all you need to know is that Masqouth has terrible plans for your Spherus Magna and we have to stop him.”

 

Before Kiriah could ask him what these ‘terrible plans’ might be, Jet slid off the bed and stood up again. He walked toward his father, although at first he staggered slightly, clearly not entirely recovered from the venom. But he reached the door and walked through it without even glancing at Oscron, who merely winked at Kiriah again and followed Jet out.

 

“Well, Kiriah, I’ll be back in a minute or two with the monks,” said Ghata as he stepped back through the doorway. “Hope you enjoy the soup.”

 

And then Ghata was gone, too, leaving Kiriah alone in the bedroom. She used her telekinesis to make one of the soup bowls come over to her, as well as a spoon that was lying next to it on the tray. As the soup was piping hot, she suspended it over her lap so she wouldn’t get burned, although she held the spoon with one of her hands, as concentrating on multiple objects at once was hard for her.

 

As she ate the soup -- slowly, and in small spoonfuls because of its heat -- Kiriah wondered about a lot of things, such as why Jet had run away from home in the first place and what Masqouth had to do with anything. She wondered why Niralo had stolen the Time Stone and why the Almighty Ones needed her help.

 

As far as she could tell, something really big was going on or had been going on for a while. And the Almighty Ones just now thought it appropriate to tell Kiriah about it.

 

That actually didn’t surprise her much. The Almighty Ones were mysterious and enigmatic. The last time they’d bothered to explain anything to Kiriah was after a former servant of theirs attempted to destroy the entire multiverse, by which time such knowledge was almost completely useless.

 

It was clear that their motives for keeping her in the dark until now were the same as back then: They didn’t trust her. If they did, Kiriah would already know everything she needed to know about the current situation, instead of being as ignorant about it as she presently was.

 

Kiriah’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of many heavy footsteps walking just outside the door. A moment later, Ghata entered, followed closely by six large Skrall. These Skrall looked different from the ones Kiriah knew, however, for they all wore identical white robes, not to mention carried a different, more peaceful air about themselves.

 

The sight of the Skrall made Kiriah instinctively lean back. Where Kiriah came from, the Skrall were not friendly to Toa. In fact, Kiriah had been assaulted by a Skrall once and had only managed to survive that encounter because her fellow Time Stone guardian, Horic, had been with her at the time.

 

“Toa Kiriah,” said Ghata, gesturing at the Skrall. “These are the Monks of the Mountains. Monks, this is Toa Kiriah, the Toa you have been asking to meet.”

 

The lead Skrall stepped forward and bowed his head. Now Kiriah didn’t know the Skrall class system very well, but she thought this Skrall looked like a member of the special forces class. That he was bigger and bulkier than the other five seemed to confirm that, especially as he was the only one who had actually done something yet.

 

“Greetings, Toa Kiriah,” said the lead Skrall. “My name is Stronius and I am the deputy abbot in the monastery in the Skrall Mountains. You are a Toa of Psionics, correct?”

 

“Yes,” said Kiriah, nodding. “Why do you ask?”

 

“Because the order is facing a serious threat only a Toa with your element can combat,” said Stronius, his face deadly serious. “Even our Sisters have been unable to defeat it. Can you help us?”

 

Kiriah again scratched the back of her head. “Well, what is the problem? If you could tell me what it is first, then maybe I could decide if I can help you or not.”

 

Stronius looked directly into Kiriah’s eyes and said, “Toa Kiriah, most of us Skrall . . . can no longer dream.”

 

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Edited by TNTOS, Nov 14 2013 - 04:09 PM.

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#6 Offline TNTOS

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Posted May 10 2013 - 09:53 AM

Chapter VI

 

The ceiling of Masqouth and Jeran's hotel suite was made out of polished marble, much of the floor (save in the bathroom and kitchen) was covered with plush shag carpeting, and it was equipped with a giant, flat-screen telescreen. Large windows afforded them an excellent view of South Zisar, prompting Jeran to pull the curtains over the windows to keep people from spying on them.

 

Masqouth exited the bathroom and said, “They’ve got the fanciest bath tub I have ever seen, Jeran. It can spray either regular water or protodermis, depending on what you like. And what’s more is the variety of soaps they’ve got. They’ve got a collection of all the different colors and scents you could possibly want.”

 

Jeran walked over to the fancy couch and sat on it, rubbing his eyes. “Yes, Masqouth, that is interesting.”

 

“There’s like, two or three bedrooms, too,” said Masqouth as he took a seat in one of the plush armchairs. “That means we can both get our own rooms. I already dibbed the one with the biggest bed.”

 

“Aren’t all the beds the same size, though?” said Jeran, looking at Masqouth quizzically.

 

“I just wish the others were here to check out all these cool things,” said Masqouth. “This is probably the fanciest hotel we’ve ever-“

 

His words were cut off by a dimensional portal opening near the windows. Jeran glanced over and saw Niralo step out of it just as the portal disappeared. The large Echo wore a wolfish grin, which told Jeran that Niralo had just accomplished something and he couldn’t wait to gloat about it. 

“Niralo!” said Masqouth, hopping to his feet. “Do you want to know what kind of soaps the fancy bathroom has? It’s got-“

 

“I got the Time Stone,” said Niralo, ignoring Masqouth’s words. “Not only that, but I killed Jetrupi and Toa Kiriah.”

 

“Oh, you did?” said Masqouth, clasping his hands together. “How marvelously fabulous! We should throw a party. I’m pretty sure there’s a good catering business in the city. I should find out what its number is so I can call it.”

 

“And the Time Stone?” said Jeran. “Did you deliver it to the Kra-Matoran leaders?”

 

“Of course,” said Niralo. “Just as they asked. They’re now completely convinced we’ll keep our end of the bargain.”

 

“That’s good,” said Masqouth with a smile. “Now no one can stop the plan. We will open the Door, people will die, and my parents will finally have to accept me. Isn’t that wonderful?”

 

Before Jeran could reply, another dimensional portal opened. The three Echoes turned and looked as two other beings entered the hotel room via the portal. One was a Tetakian, a member of the former ruling class of Stelt, with wings and greenish-blue armor, while the other was about the size of a Toa and wore gray and yellow armor.

 

“Wavica, Asroth,” said Masqouth, walking over to them. “Welcome back. Tell me, did you get all of the Toa yet?”

 

“Not yet,” said Asroth, the gray and yellow one, shaking her head. “Actually, we came back because there is a problem.”

 

“A problem?” said Jeran, rising from the couch. “What problem?”

 

“It’s a Toa problem,” said Asroth, folding her arms and leaning against a wall. “There’s this Toa of the Green, called Niham, who’s starting to investigate the disappearances of Kanderias and Laomos. If she’s smart, she might be able to link their disappearances to us.”

 

“So what?” said Masqouth. “Why not just kill her?”

 

“Because that might attract unwanted attention to kidnappings that are otherwise unrelated,” said Jeran, putting his hands together. “Right?”

 

“Exactly,” said Asroth, nodding. “Besides, this Niham is a private detective and one with a good reputation for solving crimes. If she finds out we’re behind it, she’ll eventually link us to you, and if that happens . . .”

 

“Then the government will finally have a legitimate reason to arrest Masqouth,” said Niralo with a chuckle. “And then the whole plan will be screwed.”

 

“Don’t worry, Masqouth,” said Wavica, the winged Tetakian, putting one hand on Masqouth’s shoulder. “I will protect you even if the entire city of New Atero comes after you. This I swear.”

 

“Thank you, Wavica,” said Masqouth, patting her on the arm. “But this is a problem. I don’t want to be arrested.”

 

“Then we’re going to need to do something about her,” said Asroth. “Personally, I think we should kidnap her. She’s a Toa of the Green, after all, and we need a Toa of the Green in order to open the Door, right?’

 

Jeran scratched his chin. “Even that seems risky. What if someone notices her disappearance? No, what we should do is this: Kidnap the next two Toa we need for the Door and then kidnap her last. That way, by the time anyone notices her disappearance, it will be too late for anyone to do anything about it.”

 

“I like it,” said Masqouth, nodding excitedly. “It sounds good. We open the Door and no one knows we had anything to do with Niham’s kidnapping.”

 

“Then let’s do it,” said Jeran. “So, Asroth, Wavica, you two go back and try to kidnap the Toa of Lightning and the Toa of Iron. Do not let Niham see you or find out who you are.”

 

“What am I supposed to do?” said Niralo. “I already got the Time Stone. Am I just supposed to hang out here listening to Masqouth babble on about bath soaps all day?”

 

Jeran turned to Niralo and said, “Keep an eye on Niham. If she gets too close to the truth, kill her.”

 

“Kill her,” Niralo repeated with a wicked grin. “Got it.”

 

“And what do I do?” said Masqouth. “Do I get to help kidnap Toa, too?”

 

“No,” said Jeran, shaking his head. “You have to stay in Zisar, remember? In fact, why don’t you go down to the street? There’s a large crowd of Skakdi gathered at the base of the hotel, all clamoring for your attention and miracles.”

 

Masqouth glanced at the closed window. “How come I didn’t know about that until now?”

 

Jeran gestured at his audio receptors. “Because your hearing isn’t as good as mine. So you’d better get to it.”

 

“Hold on,” said Niralo. “You’re acting like you’re the boss around here. What’re you gonna do, take a nap or something?”

 

“Oh, yes, Niralo, but of course,” said Jeran, rolling his eyes. “I’m just going to hop in bed and sleep all day long, like I have nothing better to do.”

 

Niralo growled softly. “Don’t be sarcastic with me. Just answer the question.”

 

“I’m going to talk to the King,” said Jeran. “He needs to be informed of our plans.”

 

“Why?” said Niralo, scratching his chin. “Thought he didn’t like us talking to him unless it’s urgent.”

 

“Someone possibly figuring out our plan is urgent, Niralo,” said Jeran. “One of my duties is to keep him up-to-date on recent developments in the physical realm.”

 

Niralo shrugged. “Whatever. Guess I’d better get going, then. Where does this Niham girl live, anyway?”

 

“New Atero,” said Wavica. “In the east district. One Two Four West Kaukau street. Apartment Number Twenty-four. That’s where she lives.”

 

“Your memory is as impeccable as ever, Wavica,” said Masqouth. “You should really teach me how you do it sometime.”

 

Wavica smiled, but said nothing else as Niralo opened a dimensional gate and stepped through it. At the same time, Asroth also opened a portal and entered it, closely followed by Wavica, who waved good bye at Masqouth as the portal closed with a pop.

 

“Wavica’s nice, isn’t she?” said Masqouth.

 

Jeran looked at Masqouth incredulously. “Nice? She’s a murderer, remember?”

“I know,” said Masqouth. “I just think she’s a nice murderer. What’s so wrong about thinking that?”

 

Jeran sighed. “Never mind. Just go down there and start healing people.”

 

“Sure thing,” said Masqouth as he walked over to the apartment door. “Off I go to prepare people for the coming battle!”

 

When Masqouth left, shutting the door behind him, Jeran sat back on the couch. Communicating with the King of Life was not a hard task, especially since the King had already established mental connections with every Echo. The only thing Jeran knew not to do when contacting the King was to stand while doing it; if he stood, he would fall and probably hurt himself.

 

So Jeran closed his eyes. It felt like his consciousness was leaving his body, although that didn’t panic him, as he knew it was a necessary part of the communication process. The feeling would be over soon, he knew, and then he would be talking face-to-face with the King.

 

The next second, Jeran was no longer sitting on a couch in a luxurious apartment. He was standing in a wide-open field, full of green grass and a variety of beautiful flowers. The animals that played nearby -- a large bat, a wolf-like creature playing with its cubs, and a giant, floating squid -- sparked Jeran’s memories of the past, memories he quickly repressed to avoid the pain.

 

It was then that Jeran realized just how thirsty he was. He looked around until he spotted a large river flowing nearby. He ran down the hill toward it and stopped just at the river’s edge. The water was clear and clean and when he drank it, it tasted far more pure than any water he had ever drunk in his whole life.

 

Then a deep voice behind him rumbled, “Welcome to my kingdom, Jeran. Or, rather, what was my kingdom, so many eons ago.”

 

Jeran whirled around and saw a large being sitting on a wooden throne. The throne appeared to be woven out of thick tree branches and vines, using so many that it was hard to tell where one branch began and another ended. Flowers ran along its frame; so many different kinds that Jeran couldn’t even identify them, although as Jeran was no botanist that was to be expected.

 

As for the being himself, he was large, even bigger than a Roffican, although it was not fat that made up the majority of his bulk but pure muscle. His armor’s colors faded from various shades of brown to various shades of green, which was somewhat mesmerizing to look at. And his face . . . one moment it looked like a wolf, another like a goat, and still yet another moment it resembled a hawk, so it was difficult to say exactly what his face looked like.

 

Of course, Jeran knew who this was, so he moved away from the river and kneeled before the being. “Hail King Atuje, the King of Life.”

 

“You may stand,” said Atuje, whose voice reminded Jeran of roaring lions and waterfalls.

 

Jeran stood, but didn’t look directly at Atuje in order to keep himself from losing focus. “My lord, I have urgent news that you need to know.”

“What is it?” said Atuje as a tiny bird landed on his shoulder. “Do be quick about it.”

 

“Wavica and Asroth believe a Toa is close to linking the kidnappings of Kanderias and Laomos to Masqouth,” said Jeran. “If that happens, my lord, then the government will arrest Masqouth.”

 

“That cannot be allowed to happen,” said Atuje as he stroked the bird on his shoulder with one of his fingers. “Masqouth must not be arrested. He must not.”

 

The urgency in Atuje’s tone surprised Jeran, who said, “Well, my lord, I understand that it would crush the morale of the Skakdi and Skrall if Masqouth was arrested, but that won’t stop us from getting the rest of the Toa and opening the Door. The plan, it seems to me, will proceed regardless of whether Masqouth is free or not.”

 

“You speak words that sound nice, but you lack true insight,” said Atuje. “Masqouth is vital to the plan. Tell me, has Masqouth ever mentioned his . . . parents before?”

 

Jeran nodded. “Yes, sir. He talks about them frequently. Why do you ask?”

 

Atuje gestured at the area and said, “Before I get to that, do you know where we are?”

 

Jeran looked around, frowning. “I can’t say, my lord. I’m not sure I’ve ever been here, although there is something familiar about it.”

 

“This is, or rather, was Wyoko,” said Atuje.

 

This is Wyoko?” said Jeran in shock. “You must be joking.”

 

“I am not joking, Jeran,” said Atuje. “You see Wyoko as it once was. Originally, it was a beautiful land, perhaps the most beautiful land in the entire multiverse. A land of beauty and life, a land fit for someone like me, who loves and adores life in all its varied forms and guises.”

 

The little bird chirped and flew away, while Jeran just scratched his head. “How did it go from this to a land of shadow?”

 

“That is where Masqouth’s parents come in,” said Atuje. “You see, I had a disagreement with his parents years and years ago. The resulting disagreement ended with the death of my body and the transformation of the entire Wyokan continent. It is thanks to Masqouth’s parents that I no longer have a body anymore.”

 

“Oh,” said Jeran. “I didn’t know that.”

 

“Yes, well, not many do,” said Atuje with a shrug. “And so you see why it is important I keep Masqouth alive and free. His parents will do whatever they can to stop me from coming back because they know that I want revenge. However, I also know that they love Masqouth. If they try to intervene directly, they know I will not hesitate to snuff out his life.”

 

“I thought you were the King of Life, sir,” said Jeran. “Why do you threaten to kill Masqouth? Now that I think about it, why even make a plan that involves the inevitable deaths of many people?”

 

“I thought you were a Toa, Jeran,” said Atuje. “The bigger question is, why are you part of a plan that involves unleashing the Kra-Matoran, a people I know you despise with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength?”

 

Jeran stiffened at the mention of the Kra-Matoran. “Because . . . because you promised me they would be punished for their crimes.”

 

“And they will be,” Atuje assured him. “After, of course, I rise again. So I see that we understand each other now.”

 

“Just one more question, my lord,” said Jeran. “Can you tell me who Masqouth’s parents are?”

 

Atuje smiled. “That is information you do not need to know right now, Jeran. All you need to know is that Masqouth needs to be safe, at least until I rise again. Why else do you think I assigned you to be at his side at all times? You are his bodyguard.”

 

“I feel more like his nanny, sir,” said Jeran. “He’s such a child. Sometimes I feel like I can’t take my eyes off him for one second without him getting into trouble.”

 

“True, he is rather immature,” said Atuje. “But notice that he is a great actor. As long as he keeps up his appearance as the messiah of the Skakdi and Skrall, the savior of the oppressed and downtrodden, how he acts in private does not matter.”

 

“Yes, sir,” said Jeran. “I still don't trust him much, though. I think he’s going to be the death of us all someday.”

 

“Perhaps he will be your death, Jeran, but not mine,” said Atuje, shaking his head. “Regardless, there is something else we need to discuss.”

 

“And what is that, my lord?”

 

“Tell me, Jeran,” said Atuje, tapping the arm of his throne with a finger. “Have you heard of a special group of people called the Seers?”

 

Jeran thought about that for a moment before saying, “Yes, that name does ring a bell. They can see the future, right?”

 

“Correct,” said Atuje. “They’re very rare, only a handful of beings in any given generation with such powers, but they’re important. Very, very important.”

 

“I don’t see where you’re going with this, sir.”

 

“There is a Seer on Spherus Magna currently,” said Atuje. “A Skakdi named Kafor. I want her and I want you to capture her for me.”

 

“Me?” said Jeran, pointing at himself. “Why me? Aren’t I supposed to stay at Masqouth’s side at all times?”

 

“I did not mean ‘you’ as in you singular, Jeran,” said Atuje, rolling his eyes. “I meant ‘you’ as in plural, as in all of you Echoes. I don’t care which one of you captures this Seer. Just capture her and bring her to where you keep the Toa.”

 

“Well, that shouldn’t be too hard to do,” said Jeran. “There are several million Skakdi in Zisar and they all love Masqouth. Masqouth can just send out a message saying that he’s looking for a Skakdi named Kafor and I am sure that she will either give herself up or someone else will tell us where to find her.”

 

“It won’t be that easy,” said Atuje, shaking his head. “Kafor does not live in Zisar or in New Zakaz at all, for that matter. She lives in New Atero, the capital of the Atero Republic, if I am not mistaken.”

 

“Oh,” said Jeran, scratching his chin. “Well, sir, we’ll just have to go to New Atero, then.”

 

“She is no longer in New Atero, either,” said Atuje. “She was kidnapped by a couple of Dark Hunters and is currently in transit to the Dark Hunter fortress in New Odina. They are planning to execute her, so I suggest you track her down as quickly as possible before they remove her head.”

 

“But we don’t know where New Odina is located, sir,” said Jeran. “How do you expect us to find it?”

 

“I know where it is, Jeran, thanks to my powers,” said Atuje. “It’s several thousand miles north of Zisar, located in the coldest, harshest mountains in the Northern Frost.”

 

“We’re already split up, my lord,” said Jeran, scratching the back of his head. “Wavica and Asroth are going after the next two Toa we need, Niralo is keeping an eye on Toa Niham, and Masqouth has to remain in Zisar for a couple more weeks at least. And I have to stay by Masqouth’s side so someone doesn’t harm him.”

 

“There is no need for Niralo to keep an eye on Niham,” said Atuje coldly. “I will contact him and send him to New Odina. As for Niham, I myself will keep an eye on her.”

 

“You will, my lord?”

 

“Yes. Because I don’t have a body, obviously, I can’t be there myself. But I will be able to watch her without her knowledge just the same.”

 

“Okay, sir,” said Jeran. “But, if I may ask, why do you want the Seer in the first place? Do you want to know what is going to happen in the future?”

 

Atuje rested his chin on one of his hands. His eyes appeared distant, as though his mind was elsewhere.

 

“There are many things I wish to know, Jeran, and the future is but one of them,” said Atuje with a sigh. “Again, this is information that you do not need to know. Just know that I need her and that if she is not captured I will be very angry.”

 

Atuje’s cryptic words intrigued Jeran greatly, but he knew better than to question the King about this. For whatever reason, Atuje didn’t trust Jeran or any of the other Echoes with this sort of information, so Jeran had to content himself with what Atuje had revealed to him. Perhaps he would learn more later.

 

“So,” said Jeran, folding his arms behind his back. “Is there anything else to discuss, my lord?”

 

“Nothing,” said Atuje. “You may return to consciousness now. Do not contact me again unless it is with important information that I absolutely need to know. Understand?”

 

“Yes, sir,” said Jeran, bowing. “You can trust me on that.”

 

“Good,” said Atuje. “Now wake up.”

 

Jeran’s eyes snapped open and he found himself lying on the couch in his and Masqouth’s apartment. He breathed in and out deeply, for although his encounter with Atuje hadn’t been frightening, his heart was still racing. He looked around and noticed that the apartment was void of living beings, save for himself.

 

Sitting up, Jeran put his head in his hands. His conscience told him that working with Atuje and the Echoes was wrong, that he should run away and never look back, but Jeran ignored it. Atuje had promised him justice and justice was all Jeran wanted. It was the only thing worth wanting, and he would not run away from it.

 

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Edited by TNTOS, May 10 2013 - 09:53 AM.

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#7 Offline TNTOS

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Posted May 14 2013 - 09:50 PM

Chapter VII

 
It took Niham about thirty minutes to reach the apartment of the missing Toa Laomos, which was located in West New Atero. She briefly spoke with the landlord, explaining who she was and what she was here to investigate, so the landlord gave Niham a spare key to the apartment. Before going up, Niham briefly questioned the landlord if he knew anything about the kidnapping, to which he replied that he didn’t know who had done it or how and didn’t know of any clues that could, which disappointed Niham.
 
She also spoke to a few of Laomos’s neighbors, although they were as clueless about Laomos’s kidnapping as Kicho and the landlord were. This made Niham wonder just how this kidnapper managed to break into an apartment and kidnap someone while being noticed by only one person.
 
The first thing Niham noticed before entering the apartment was its number: 24. She wrote that down in her notepad, not because it was an important clue, but because she liked to be as informed as she could be about a crime scene before investigating it.
 
She also checked the door for signs of a break-in. Although the door knob was old and clearly needed to be replaced, Niham didn’t see any of the usual signs of a break-in. That part of Turaga Kicho’s story was true, at any rate.
 
Upon entering the apartment (and closing the door behind her), the first thing Niham noticed were the paintings. There were dozens of paintings, some hanging on the walls, others sitting on easels, a few on the dining room table, and some on the floor or leaning against the walls. The smell of paint was in the air, although thankfully it wasn’t particularly strong.
 
The wood floor was covered with paint, although based on the streaks it looked like Laomos had at least tried to clean it up. A bundle of paint buckets lay upturned on the floor next to a coffee table that had quite clearly been smashed. A few nearby stools also looked trashed, which told Niham that a fight must have happened here, just as Turaga Kicho said.
 
Besides that, however, the apartment appeared completely normal. She saw no signs of a struggle (aside from the smashed coffee table and the stools); indeed, if Niham hadn’t known any better, she would have assumed that the apartment’s inhabitant had simply gone out grocery shopping and just hadn’t returned yet.
 
She checked the windows and found them locked, just like Kicho said. None of the windows were smashed in, either, although a few of them had paint on them, but that was probably due to Laomos’s careless painting than a fight.
 
For a normal detective, this would have been enough. It was clear there weren’t many, if any, clues to determine who had kidnapped Laomos or how the kidnapper had even entered the apartment. Niham would have called it a day had she not had her Mask of Psychometry on.
 
Her method was simple. She would touch the coffee table or the stools and see their past. Much of the information she would see would probably be useless, but if they were broken, then someone probably made physical contact with the furniture at some point. It should at least give her a clue as to who broke it, unless the culprit had destroyed it at a distance.
 
So Niham got on her knees and placed one hand on the broken stool. She activated her mask and in a minute she saw the stool’s history. As she had suspected, most of it was irrelevant, but soon she saw something that seemed relevant to the case: A winged Tetakian bearing down on Laomos, aiming her gauntlets at him.
 
The winged Tetakian unleashed a blast of noise, which Laomos jumped out of the way to avoid. The sound blast struck the stool and broke it.
 
Niham immediately shut off her mask because she figured that appeared to be all that the stool had to hide. She was just about to get up and check the other stools and table (perhaps they had more details) when she heard a voice behind her say, “Hello, Toa Niham.”
 
The detective whirled around, pulling out her disk launcher if it was an enemy, but to her surprise, it was only a Toa of Water. Niham quickly registered the Toa’s armor, which was in the sleek yet simple style of the New Atero Law Enforcement Squad, or the NALES for short. The Three Virtues insignia on the Toa of Water’s right shoulder confirmed that, for the symbol of the Three Virtues was the NALES logo.
 
“Are you from the police?” said Niham.
 
The Toa of Water, who was leaning against one of the walls, nodded. “Yes. I’m Crime Scene Analyst Cina. I was sent here in response to a call from a Turaga Kicho. And you are the private detective Toa Niham, correct?”
 
“Yes,” said Niham, nodding. “How’d you know?”
 
“Oh, I’ve heard about you before,” said Cina, folding her arms. “You’re Rubella’s girlfriend, right?”
 
Niham stiffened at the mention of Ruby. “Yes, yes I am. I take it you’re a fan of Ruby’s?”
 
“Oh, I make sure to watch her matches whenever they’re on,” said Cina. “That last match was awesome. Can’t believe how Rubella just took down Loven like he was nothing. Probably the best match of the season so far, which is saying quite a bit, considering how good this season has been.”
 
Niham gulped and said, “Uh, yeah, it was, er, great. Anyway, I was hired by one of the neighbors to investigate this case because she didn’t think the police would get here fast enough.”
 
“Ugh, I hate those kinds of people,” said Cina, rolling her eyes. “They think it’s the end of the world if the police don’t react immediately. It’s ridiculous, isn’t it?”
 
“I usually tell my clients to call the police first,” said Niham, again nodding. “Really, I only like to take cases that the police either won’t take or that they’ve given up on. I was once a cop myself, you know.”
 
“Oh, you were?” said Cina. “What unit?”
 
“The detective unit,” Niham replied. “I quit several years ago, however, because I’m not much of a team player.”
 
“I see,” said Cina. “Well, how’s about this crime? I saw you using your Mask of Psychometry. Did you see anything?”
 
Niham gestured at the stool and said, “I saw a winged Tetakian attacking Laomos. She was female, wore greenish-blue armor, and had sonic gauntlets equipped. She’s also quite skinny.”
 
Cina tilted her head to the side. “A winged Tetakian? Tetakians don’t have wings.”
 
“Well, I know that,” said Niham, folding her arms. “But that is what I saw. If you’re skeptical, you can see for yourself.”
 
Cina walked over to the stool without looking at Niham, bent over, and touched it. Her own Mask of Psychometry briefly glowed and a minute later, Cina shook her head. She stood up and looked at Niham in amazement.
 
“You were right,” said Cina. “Laomos was fighting a winged Tetakian.”
 
“Do you know who she might be?” Niham asked. “Does she resemble any Tetakian criminals you might know of?”
 
Cina shook her head. “None. The closest she resembles is Cidan, a Tetakian crime lord who committed suicide three years ago to escape arrest. As Cidan is dead and was male -- not to mention wingless -- this Tetakian can’t be him.”
 
Niham wrote that down in her notepad and said, “All right. Well, I’m going to be checking out the rest of the furniture. Then I’m going home for the day.”
 
Nodding, Cina said, “Be my guest, detective. I will just be looking around for any clues.”
 
“I wouldn’t bother if I were you,” said Niham, gesturing at the apartment. “Besides this broken furniture, there’s not a single clue to be found. I already checked.”

“Well, detective, you’re not a crime scene analyst,” said Cina as she went over to the window. “Unlike me, you don’t know what to look for.”

“Hey, I’ve studied crime scene analyzing,” said Niham as she bent down near the table. “Being a detective means I have to know some of your skills in order to figure out who did it. By the way, I already checked and the window is locked.”
 
Cina, who had put her hands on the window to lift it up, immediately let go of it and turned to face Niham, looking half-annoyed, half-amused. “So you checked this entire apartment before I got here?”
“Most of it,” Niham replied, turning her attention back to the broken furniture. “You might want to check the washroom, although considering how clean the rest of the apartment is, I doubt you’ll find much.”
 
“Will do,” said Cina as she walked into the washroom.
 
Niham placed one hand on the coffee table and saw its history. Like the stool, the table had a very boring, ordinary history, but the boring scenes passed quickly until she saw Laomos sitting on the stools, painting something, with both feet touching the coffee table. He dipped his brush into a paint board, taking the color green and applying it gently to the painting before him. Just as he was next about to apply some blue, a bucket of paint crashed behind him.
 
Laomos turned around and the scene from before played again, showing the winged Tetakian firing sonic blasts at the artist. The blasts destroyed the table and the stools, causing the vision to end abruptly.
 
Shaking her head, Niham took her hand off the table and stood up. She turned around and started, for Cina was standing a little too close to Niham for her liking. The Toa of Water smiled, though whether at Niham’s jumpiness or something else, the detective couldn’t tell.
 
“So?” said Cina. “What did you find out?”
 
“Ah, er,” said Niham, scratching the back of her head. “Not much. Just saw the winged Tetakian attack Laomos again.”
 
Cina was still smiling. Getting around her would be difficult, considering how close Cina stood to her. Niham had to admit, though, that Cina did have rather beautiful blue eyes, but she forced herself not to be entranced by them.
 
“So, er, do you want something from me?” said Niham.
 
“I just wanted to tell you that you were right about the washroom. It’s completely clean, so it’s clear that the kidnapper didn’t come in through that way.”
 
“Uh huh,” said Niham. “Well, I don’t think there’s much else for me to check here, so I’m going home.”
 
She tried to walk around Cina, but the analyst sidestepped to block her path.
 
“Um, hello?” said Niham. “What do you want?”
 
“Actually, I wanted to give you something.”
 
“And what might that be?”
 
“This.”
 
Cina took her hand and placed a piece of paper in it. Curious, Niham looked at the paper and saw a phone number on it.
 
“That’s my number,” said Cina. “If you ever want to call me, you know. Always available if you want to . . . talk.”
 
Niham was pretty sure ‘talk’ was a euphemism for something else, but she placed the note in her notepad anyway and said, “Well, I guess if I find anything important to the investigation, I’ll just call you up and tell you about it.”
 
“Yeah, you could,” said Cina, her arms now folded behind her back. “Or if you just want to, you know, talk, I’d be happy to do that, too.”
 
Starting to feel uncomfortable, Niham said, “I need to go back to my apartment now. Ruby’s waiting for me and I don’t want her to get angry at me because I was late.”
 
Disappointment flashed in Cina’s eyes briefly, but the analyst stepped aside and said, “Okay. It was nice meeting you, Niham. I hope we meet again soon.”
 
“Yeah, it was nice meeting you, too,” said Niham.
 
Without hesitation, Niham quickly left the apartment, although she had the strange feeling that Cina was watching her depart. She didn’t look back as she left because she didn’t want to give Cina any ideas. Nor did she want to tempt herself, however ill her feelings toward Ruby might be at the moment.
 

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Edited by TNTOS, Dec 19 2013 - 06:21 PM.

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#8 Offline TNTOS

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Posted May 17 2013 - 10:31 AM

Chapter VIII

 
Kiriah froze as Stronius’s words sunk in. “What . . . what do you mean, you can’t dream?”
 
“It’s exactly as the deputy abbot said, Toa,” said another Skrall roughly. “We cannot dream anymore. Or, rather, a large portion of us cannot dream anymore.”
 
“That tone is enough, Branar,” said Stronius, without looking at his fellow monk. “I understand her confusion, for we do not understand it well ourselves, either.”
 
“Could you start from the beginning?” said Kiriah. “Like, when did it first start?”
 
“It started happening six or seven months ago,” said Stronius. “One of our monks came back from a journey into the Heart of the Mountains, a sacred place, but he was no longer sane. He spoke mostly gibberish and attacked many of his fellow monks, but he did communicate to us that he couldn't dream anymore.”
 
“What happened to him?” said Kiriah.
 
“He died,” said Stronius. “Jumped off a cliff and shattered into pieces. We still haven't found all of the pieces.”
 
Kiriah put a hand to her mouth. “Oh, my.”
 
“We thought that was the end of it,” said Stronius, frowning. “But then one monk after another began to report a lack of dreams. They all started going insane, fighting each other, gibbering like lunatics, ripping their robes, and even desecrating the Mountains with their own blood. Our Sisters have tried everything they know to help, but it has done nothing and many monks have died.”
 
“We call it the dream plague,” said Branar, his tone as unfriendly as before. “We have no idea how it spreads or how to cure it.”
 
The dream plague . . . that reminded Kiriah of something she’d heard a while ago. Thousands of years ago back in her home dimension, well before the Core War, a similar dream plague had broken out in the Iron Tribe. The plague had been enough to decimate the tribe, save for a handful of survivors, who were shunned by the other tribes for fear that they might carry the plague with them. Although there were a lot of theories concerning the origin of the dream plague, to Kiriah’s knowledge no one knew anything certain about it except that it had disappeared with the Iron Tribe.
 
“So you guys think I can cure it, then.”
 
“Yes,” said Stronius, nodding with the other monks. “We have heard that Toa of Psionics have a greater understanding of the mind than our Sisters. We ask that you use your superior understanding to help us. If you discover the cause of this disease, then we will honor you forever, even though you are a Toa.”
 
Kiriah tilted her head to the side. “What do you mean, ‘even though you are a Toa’? Is there something wrong with being a Toa?”
 
“There must be,” said Branar with a snort. “All the Toa we know of live in the Bara Magna wastes, fighting and killing each other for no real reason we can discern other than they enjoy it. I suppose that is what happens when beings built solely for war no longer have a war to fight.”
 
Before she asked them what Branar meant, Kiriah had to remind herself that she couldn’t let them know she wasn’t from this dimension. Paranoid though that may be, it was a policy Kiriah had followed ever since she’d first started dimension-hopping. She didn't know how the inhabitants of any particular dimension might react if they knew she was from another universe entirely. If she asked too many questions about things that she ‘should’ know, it might arouse the suspicions of the natives.
 
So Kiriah said aloud, “Well, not all of us Toa are like that. Some of us are quite peaceful.”
 
“Then you must be a glitch,” said Branar. “The default mode on Toa is ‘kill everything,’ so obviously you are not a normal Toa.”

“Enough, Branar,” said Stronius, this time throwing an annoyed glance over his shoulder at the monk. “Remember the words of Etora, 'Do not let your tongue cause more trouble than it's worth.'”
 
“Yes, deputy abbot,” said Branar, bowing his head. “I will learn to control my tongue better in the future.”
 
Though Stronius appeared unconvinced by Branar's show of piety, he didn't say anything about it.
 
Instead, he turned his attention back to Kiriah and said, “If you do not cure the dream plague, the entire order will die out. And we cannot let that happen. We cannot.”
 
“You think you’re all going to die?” said Kiriah. “Is that what you mean?”
 
“Yes,” said Stronius, his voice slightly desperate. “Please, please help us. The Monks of the Mountains are as old as the Mountains themselves, but if the dream plague is not stopped soon, then our grand old order will die.”
 
“I need time to think about it,” said Kiriah, putting one hand on her head. “I need to talk with Jet about it first. He said he had something important to talk to me about before he went to talk to his dad.”
 
“Understandable,” said Stronius, bowing his head again. “We will go down to the living room, where we will wait until you come to a decision. Let us go.”
 
Stronius and the other five monks filed out of the room. Ghata went with them and tried to close the door behind them, but just then Jet stomped down the hall and forced the door back open before Ghata could close it completely. The Gadarian slammed the door shut behind him when he entered the room before walking over to where Kiriah sat. Jet sat down on the bed, lifted his legs onto it, and lay there, seething.
 
Not exactly sure how to start, Kiriah decided to use the direct approach.
 
“So,” said Kiriah. “The Skrall want me to help them deal with something they call the dream plague.”
 
“Don’t even bother,” Jet said, staring at the ceiling. “We have more important things to do.”

“But Stronius made it sound really urgent,” said Kiriah. “He said their order would die if the dream plague wasn’t stopped.”
 
“Who cares?” said Jet. “The monks are a bunch of out-of-touch, isolationist fools who study the words of some foggy old fool who lived who knows how many years ago. Why help them if they’re just going to go back to their old ways?”
 
“That’s a little harsh, isn’t it?” said Kiriah. “I mean, I don’t know anything about the monks, but-“
 
“Then you have no right to decide whether they need our help or not,” said Jet. “Seeing as I do know them, however, I can safely say that this Spherus Magna will lose nothing if their order dies. In fact, the planet might even be better for it.”
 
Kiriah looked at Jet in shock. “Why are you so bitter and angry? Is it your dad?”
 
“Don't bring up that old fool, Kiriah,” said Jet, still without looking at her. “He’s going senile. Besides, he’s not the reason for my anger because I am not angry.”
 
He seemed pretty angry to Kiriah, but she knew better than to convinced him of that. So she said, “Well, you said you were going to tell me more about Masqouth and why he’s a problem. I’m listening, if you’re ready to tell me.”
 
At first, Jet just folded his arms and didn’t look at her.
 
A few seconds later, however, he looked at her and said, “Have you heard of the Kra-Matoran before, Kiriah?”
 
She nodded and said, “I think so. They . . . they tried to take over the old universe a long, long, long time ago. Then they were defeated and exiled, right?”
 
“You got it,” said Jet, nodding. “They were banished to a place called Wyoko, a dimension that exists parallel to yours. The only exit out of Wyoko is a large Door that the Toa Avha, the ones who defeated the Kra-Matoran the first time, locked. Since then, the Door has only ever been opened once, but was thankfully closed and locked again before the Kra-Matoran could escape.”
 
Kiriah leaned against the headboard. “Does Masqouth have something to do with all of this or are you just giving me a history lesson?”
 
“The point is, Kiriah, that Masqouth is trying to open the Door again,” said Jet. “He and his minions, called the Echoes, are kidnapping the six Toa needed to open the Door, for it is a Toa seal that locks it. If he opens the Door, he will unleash the entire Kra-Matoran tribe onto your Spherus Magna, which would be a very bad thing.”
 
Kiriah looked at Jet in shock. “Why? Does Masqouth want to take over the world or something?”
 
“We’re not sure why Masqouth is doing this,” said Jet with a shrug. “But we do know he is being directed by another being, an entity known as the King of Life. For whatever reason, the King of Life sees unleashing the Kra-Matoran as a crucial step in his plan.”
 
“Which is . . .?”
 
“That, again, I don't know,” said Jet with a sigh. “To be honest with you, Kiriah, I have only told you what the Almighty Ones have chosen to share with me. I suspect they know far more than I do, but for some reason they didn’t tell me.”
 
Kiriah nodded, but the gesture failed to communicate the mixture of understanding and frustration brewing in her mind. She understood the secretive and sometimes even deceptive nature of the Almighty Ones, but it frustrated her that they were withholding apparently important information. Did they distrust even Jet, who was one of their servants? Or did they have a genuinely good reason for keeping that information from him?
 
“So what,” said Kiriah, “do we have to go back to my Spherus Magna to stop Masqouth?”
 
“Yes,” said Jet as he sat up a little straighter. “Absolutely. If we can stop Masqouth, then-“
“Why aren’t the Almighty Ones doing anything about it?” said Kiriah, scratching her arm. “I know they have self-esteem issues and all, but can’t they just intervene for this one time and obliterate Masqouth or whatever?”
 
“I have wondered the same thing,” said Jet, looking down at the bed sheets. “I even asked them why they had to work through us, but they avoided the question. I could tell they were being truthful about the threat Masqouth posed to Spherus Magna, but beyond that, I only knew one other fact about them.”
 
“And that is?”
 
“They are afraid.” Jet crossed his legs and looked back at Kiriah. “The Almighty Ones are afraid. They didn’t tell me so, but I could tell when they were telling me about Masqouth. They are afraid of whatever it is that will happen if they intervene. They think something bad will happen, which is why they entrusted this task to you and me, rather than doing it themselves.”
 
“Are they afraid they’ll kill a lot of people again or something?”
 
“I don’t think it’s that,” said Jet. “Something else scares them. Something . . . something personal. That’s all I have been able to figure out through inference. Beyond that, I can’t say for certain what they are afraid of.”
 
Kiriah knew the Almighty Ones had little confidence in their own abilities due in large part to their past failures, but if Jet was right, this was slightly different from the last time they chosen to work through others to achieve their goals. They apparently thought they were going to lose something dear to them if they acted, but Kiriah didn’t know what it was because she didn't know what was important to the Almighty Ones.
 
“Niralo is one of Masqouth’s Echoes,” said Jet, snapping Kiriah out of her thoughts. “As for why he stole the Time Stone, the only explanation I can come up with is that the Kra-Matoran must have wanted the Time Stone. Possibly they needed Masqouth’s word that he would in fact free them, so the Time Stone represents Masqouth’s promise.”
 
“Hopefully we can get it back sometime, then,” said Kiriah. “Right?”
 
“At some point,” said Jet as he swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood up. “For now, we have to get going. The future of your world depends on us. We cannot delay.”
 
Kiriah glanced at the bedroom's closed door. “But . . . what about the monks?”
 
Jet turned around and said, in a less-than-gentle tone, “What about the monks?”
 
“The dream plague,” said Kiriah. “It just doesn’t seem Toa-like to let the monks die off when I can possibly save them.”
 
“It’s not your problem, Kiriah,” said Jet, folding his arms. “This isn’t your dimension. You have a duty elsewhere. Let each dimension deal with its own problems in its own ways.”
 
Kiriah bit her lip. “I know. I agree that Masqouth’s plan sounds like it needs to be stopped. But these monks saved our lives, Jet, and I feel it is only fair to save theirs in return.”
“You won’t be able to,” said Jet, shaking his head. “The dream plague is no plague.”
 
“What do you mean?”
 
“Tell me, Kiriah, have you heard of a being called Annona?”
 
“No, I haven't.”
 
“Not surprising,” said Jet. “Annona existed on Spherus Magna even before the Great Beings did. And when she did resurface in your dimension years ago, just after the Reformation of your Spherus Magna, she perished quickly. Few even know that she existed.”
 
“What did she do?” Kiriah asked.
 
“She ate dreams,” Jet replied. “When she ate somebody's dreams, they slowly lost their minds until they went insane and died.”
 
“That sounds exactly like what Stronius described to me.”
 
“So it is probable that Annona is behind the plague in this dimension, too,” Jet concluded. “The thing is, when Annona ate someone's dreams, it was impossible to retrieve them. So there's nothing you can do to help the Skrall. They are doomed.”
 
“But I could save those whose dreams haven't been eaten yet,” said Kiriah. “I could defeat Annona and-“
 
“Don’t say such foolish things,” said Jet, shaking his head. “Annona is a powerful entity, incapable of being defeated by normal beings. If you try to defeat her, you will die. Period.”
 
“Well, I don’t need to fight her alone,” said Kiriah. “We can work together to defeat her. Surely you know her weakness?”
 
“Kiriah, it took the might of the Great Beings to drive Annona underground in the first place,” Jet said. “Considering neither of us are anywhere near the Great Beings’ level of power, it seems unlikely we'll be able to defeat Annona even if we worked together.”
 
“Fine,” said Kiriah, folding her arms. “How’s about this: I stay here and try to defeat Annona, while you go back to my dimension and try to stop Masqouth.”
 
“Kiriah-“
 
“That’s my final offer,” said Kiriah, looking into Jet’s eyes defiantly. “I’m sorry, Jet, but I want to help these people. If they helped me, then it’s only fair that I help them as much as I can in return.”
 
Jet’s expression was as unreadable as a block of stone.
 
Then he turned around, his back facing Kiriah, and said, “All right. Fine. If you want to get yourself needlessly killed, be my guest. I, on the other hand, will be doing the smart and logical and right thing: stopping Masqouth.”
 
He raised his hand, causing a dimensional portal to open up a few feet away. Jet then walked through the portal, causing it to close, leaving Kiriah all alone in the room, wondering if she’d made the right choice.
 

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Edited by TNTOS, Dec 19 2013 - 06:22 PM.

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#9 Offline TNTOS

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Posted May 20 2013 - 08:37 AM

Chapter IX

 
When Kafor awoke, the first thing she noticed was her aching, throbbing head. It felt like someone had brought a sledge hammer down on her skull a couple dozen times and then kicked it with steel boots for good measure. She felt dried blood on the side of her head as well, although unlike other people blood didn't make Kafor nauseous even if it was her own.
 
The next thing she noticed was how dark it was. She couldn’t see a thing. It was hard to tell if it was night time or if she was just inside a dark place. She heard the sound of the wind whipping outside and the hum of an engine, which told her she was in some kind of vehicle.
 
She wondered where she was, but hesitated to speak. As Kafor could not see anything, she didn't know what might happen if she moved or spoke. She might get another smack in the face from Heavyweight, assuming she was still in the custody of the two Dark Hunters. On the other hand, though, the Seer’s curiosity outweighed her desire for safety and she moved just enough that, if there was anyone else with her, they would notice.
 
Heavyweight spoke. It sounded like she was sitting right behind Kafor. “The prisoner is awake.”
 
“She is?” said Night, his voice coming from before Kafor. “Knock her out again. I don’t want to listen to her quips.”
 
“Whoa, there,” said Kafor. “I don’t-“
 
Something heavy slammed into the back of Kafor’s head and she was knocked out again.
 
When she woke up sometime later with a throbbing head, Kafor was very careful not to move perceptibly or say anything. She still couldn’t see, but she could hear the hum of the engine and the roaring of the wind outside, meaning she was still in the same vehicle from before. This time, however, Night and Heavyweight were talking. Kafor just listened to their conversation, which she figured was the safest thing she could do at the moment.
 
“Why is such a stupid Skakdi Number One on the Shadowed One’s list?” said Heavyweight. “There doesn’t seem to be anything special about her, except for her irritating sense of humor, of course.”
 
That was rather rude, but Kafor didn’t speak up. She wasn’t going to give Heavyweight another excuse to bash her brains in again.
 
“Don’t know,” said Night, who sounded slightly distracted. “Stop talking. Flying this airship is tough enough with the blizzard blowing through. I need all my wits about me to keep us from crashing.”
 
Ah ha, Kafor thought. They were in an airship, most likely Night’s airship, the Knight’s Wish.
 
The Knight’s Wish was an airship primarily known for belonging to Night. Kafor had only ever seen pictures of the small, sleek black vehicle in the newspapers. She’d never dreamed she’d find herself inside it one day; on the other hand, Kafor had never dreamed she’d be kidnapped by two Dark Hunters, either, so perhaps Kafor needed to stop tempting fate.
 
Then Heavyweight spoke again. “Well, whatever it is Kafor is wanted for, we’re gonna be rewarded greatly. What do you think the Shadowed One is going to give us?”

“Probably nothing,” said Night. “Or maybe a mention in the Hall of Fame. The Shadowed One never rewards anyone even if they obey everything he says.”
 
“You’ve got a point there,” said Heavyweight with a sigh. “Do you think he’ll let us watch Kafor’s execution, at least?”
 
“Probably,” said Night. “Regardless of what he may reward us with, we should not complain about it. He'd probably execute us with her if we did.”
 
Neither of them knew? That was interesting. Then again, Kafor could see why the Shadowed One kept his reason a secret. After all, Kafor knew his real name and if the other Dark Hunters knew that she knew his real name, anyone who captured her would have a certain amount of leverage over the Shadowed One. Considering how traitorous many of the Dark Hunters were, this was probably a wise move on their leader's part.
 
Thinking about the Shadowed One’s real name reminded Kafor of the past. In the old days, before she’d gone on the run, Kafor had been a Dark Hunter herself, stealing things, killing people, and spreading fear wherever she went. It had been an easy life, or as easy a life as a Dark Hunter could get, but Kafor had quickly grown dissatisfied with the repetitive routine.
 
That was when Kafor got the bright idea of taking over the Dark Hunters. Looking back, Kafor realized just how idiotic that plan had been, but at the time she’d been so idealistic that it had never occurred to her just how hard it would be to overthrow the Shadowed One, nor how to deal with his loyalists once she got the throne.
 
To do this, Kafor had worked off her sparse knowledge of the Shadowed One's past and went to his home island. There she found an elderly being who had known the Shadowed One before he and Ancient had founded the Dark Hunters, who told her the Shadowed One's real name. She had intended to use it as blackmail, figuring that the Shadowed One would have to give her leadership of the Dark Hunters if he wanted his name to remain a secret from the general public.
 
Of course, that didn't work out very well. The Shadowed One somehow learned of Kafor's knowledge and sent several agents to kill her and the elder who had told her the name, but Kafor managed to escape with her life (although the elder wasn't as fortunate).
 
That was when Kafor's life on the run started, a life that was about to be taken from her if Night and Heavyweight had their way.
 
As Kafor still couldn’t see, she didn’t know how she was going to escape. She could feel the energy cuffs around her wrists and ankles, which meant her movement was limited, especially because of the seat belt strapped over her chest.
 
If she was going to escape, she needed to be able to see where she was. To see where she was, she would need to use her lasers to destroy the blindfold that covered her eyes. That had to be why she couldn't see, for from what Night and Heavyweight had said, it probably wasn't dark outside.
 
Before Kafor could even charge her lasers, however, Night said, “We’re entering New Odina airspace. Heavyweight, wake her up.”
 
Knowing Heavyweight’s less-than-gentle ways of waking people, Kafor immediately said, “I’m awake, I’m awake. No need to trouble yourselves with that.”
 
“How long have you been awake?” Heavyweight’s sharp voice said.
 
“Just a couple of minutes,” Kafor said innocently. “And by the way, this blindfold won’t work on me forever. I can just incinerate it with my eye beams.”
 
“You can do that,” said Night, his tone indifferent. “Though those reflectors will hurt you more than me.”
 
“Reflectors? What do you mean?”
 
“He means,” said Heavyweight, “that if you fire your lasers, the reflectors will reflect the beams directly back into your eyeballs and fry your brains. It’s simple, yet effective.”
 
Kafor bit her lip. Though her desire to not see the Shadowed One was strong, her desire to live -- and escape -- was even stronger. Although as she was entering the very heart of the Dark Hunter organization itself, she wondered if escape was even possible.
 
All of a sudden, someone spoke over the intercom, saying, “Identify your airship and your reason for landing.”
 
“This is the Knight’s Wish,” said Night. “Registration number seven one three six. Model: WS-160. I am here to deliver a prisoner to the Shadowed One himself.”
 
“All right, seven one three six,” said the voice. “You are cleared for landing in the Airship Yards.”
 
“Roger that,” said Night. “Knight’s Wish out.”
 
A small ‘click’ told Kafor that the intercom had been flipped off. That meant they were going to be landing soon, which made Kafor to realize just how precious life really was. If only she could convince Night and Heavyweight of that, but as they didn't seem like very life-loving folks, she figured she was screwed.
 
“Are we in the Northern Frost?” Kafor asked. “I heard you mention a blizzard earlier. Seems like a rather impractical place to build a fortress.”
 
“No one asked for your opinion,” said Night. “If you keep talking, I’ll have Heavyweight knock you out again.”
 
“Okay, okay,” said Kafor. “I’ll be a good little prisoner who’s being taken to her death.”
 
“What did I say about talking?” Night growled.
 
Heavyweight chuckled. “Don’t stop her. I doubt the Shadowed One would mind if Kafor had a dent or two in her skull as long as she is still alive.”
 
This time, Kafor shut up voluntarily and waited patiently until she felt the airship touch the ground.
 
Then Night said, “All right, we’re here. Heavyweight, take the cuffs off Kafor’s ankles. We’re going to walk her all the way up to the fortress.”
 
“Good,” said Heavyweight. “I didn’t want to carry her all the way up there, not while she was conscious anyway.”
 
“How long is this ‘walk’ going to be?” said Kafor. “A few minutes, maybe?”

“From here to the fortress is about fifteen minutes of walking,” said Night. “That’s if we don’t take breaks or stop anywhere on the way there.”
 
“I can walk for fifteen minutes.”
 
“You forget,” said Night. “We’re in the Northern Frost.”
 
A strong gust of ice cold wind flooded the cockpit, causing Kafor to brace herself against it. She realized Night must have opened the cockpit, thus exposing them to the freezing air. She heard Night jump out of the seat in front of her and wondered how she was going to get out when she felt herself floating. Panicked, Kafor tried to flail around, but couldn’t because her wrists and ankles were still bound by the energy cuffs.
 
Then she felt Heavyweight push her and she glided to the right. And then, without warning, Kafor fell straight down on her face onto the hard pavement. The blow jarred her skull and caused her reflectors to crack. Her left reflector broke completely, but as she was laying face-first on the ground, she still couldn’t see much.
 
Strong hands immediately seized her shoulders and hauled the Seer to her feet. Kafor’s head still spun, but she could see through the broken reflector that they stood among what appeared to be an entire airship fleet, although due to the fierce snow storm it was hard to see just where they were.
 
“Dang it, Heavyweight,” said Night. “Her reflectors are broken. You should have been more careful.”
 
Kafor heard Heavyweight lightly land on the ground behind her and then speak. “Sorry. At least one of them isn’t broken, though. If she tries anything with her eyes, she’ll still blow her own brains out.”
 
“Whatever,” said Night. “Just remove her ankle cuffs. The storm is getting worse. I don’t want to be out here when it peaks.”
 
Kafor felt the energy cuffs around her ankles dissipate. Then Heavyweight said, “Done and gone. Now let’s go to the Shadowed One’s fortress. It’s freaking freezing out here.”
 
“All right,” said Night. “Now get moving, Kafor.”
 
Night steered Kafor into a different direction and then shoved her. Unprepared for that, Kafor stumbled forwards and almost slipped on the icy ground, but recovered and began walking. She heard Night and Heavyweight walking behind her, but didn’t look back at them. Something told her that they wouldn’t hesitate to kill her if she tried to make a break for it.
 
Through the broken reflector, Kafor still couldn’t see very much. The storm was fierce, blowing in so much snow that she could barely see five feet in front of her, if that much. The cold wind blasted her eyes, while her feet already felt like frozen blocks of ice. She wondered how anyone could possibly live out here if they weren't already made of snow.
 
Eventually, they reached the end of the Airship Yards, where they came to a large metal gate coated in ice and snow. A small tower stood nearby, which Night approached. He knocked on a window level with his head and it opened, revealing a Gadarian in winter furs peeking out.
 
“Who is it?” said the Gadarian.
 
“Night,” said Night, pointing at himself. “And my partner, Heavyweight. We’ve returned from New Atero with a special prisoner for the Shadowed One.”
 
“Special prisoner, eh?” said the Gadarian, scratching his chin. “That Skakdi wearing the broken reflectors right there? She looks as ugly as every Skakdi ever. Don't see what's so special about her.”
 
Kafor said nothing to that, not because she didn’t care (she did), but because she wasn’t sure how Night or Heavyweight would respond to yet another clever quip from her. Besides, the Gadarian himself didn’t look like a lighthearted fellow, if the scar running across his chin was any indication.
 
“She is Kafor,” said Night. “You know, Number One?”
 
The Gadarian’s face became pale, as though it were covered with a thick layer of snow. “No way. You . . . you finally caught her?”
 
“This is her,” Night confirmed. “And best of all, she’s alive, although a bit banged up.”
 
“’A bit banged up’ is what you call being bashed in the back of the head several times by this psycho here?” said Kafor, gesturing at Heavyweight behind her. “I wonder what you’d call broken, then.”
 
Without hesitation, Heavyweight slammed her tri-claw into Kafor’s abdomen, sending the Seer to her knees.
 
“This ‘psycho’ doesn’t appreciate being called such,” Heavyweight growled. “Got it?”
 
Breathing hard, Kafor looked up at the Vortixx and said, “You know, even though that was probably the hardest I’ve ever been hit by someone, I’d say it was worth it just to see how angry you are.”
 
Heavyweight raised her tri-claw again, but Night said, “Heavyweight, remember, we’ve got to keep Kafor alive, preferably still conscious. The Shadowed One won’t be happy if we bring her corpse to him.”
 
With a growl, Heavyweight lowered her claw. She snapped her fingers and Kafor floated back to her feet.
 
The pain in her abdomen subsiding, Kafor looked at Heavyweight and said, “Thank you for your kindness. You’re a real saint.”
 
Heavyweight’s tri-claw shook, as if the Vortixx was imagining running that claw straight through Kafor’s skull. She wasn’t the first person Kafor had met who wanted to kill her brutally, although Heavyweight was perhaps the first in any position to be able to do that.
 
“I guess that’s her all right,” said the Gadarian. “I need your identity tablets, though, before I can let you in. Standard security procedure and all that.”
 
Night and Heavyweight handed in two identical tablets, both about the size of Kafor’s fist, to the gatekeeper, who took them and then disappeared into the tower. A few seconds later, the Gadarian reemerged and handed the tablets back to Night and Heavyweight as he said, “Just hang on for a moment while I get the gate for you.”
 
The window shut and for a moment Night, Kafor, and Heavyweight stood in the cold, freezing wind. Kafor’s teeth started chattering, despite her best efforts to control it, and wished the Dark Hunters had made their base in the Bara Magnan desert instead. At least there she didn’t have to worry about becoming a frozen bit of modern art.
 
Finally, the gate started rising, higher and higher, making loud creaking and groaning noises as it did so. It sounded like the gate’s gears hadn’t been oiled in a while, which made Kafor wonder if it would fall on them when they walked underneath it.
 
“All right,” said Night, poking Kafor’s back. “Come on. Let’s go. We don’t have a lot of time to waste.”
 
“Wait, Night,” said Heavyweight, holding up a hand. “Kafor might run off as soon as she gets into the main base.”
 
“Of course I would,” said Kafor. “With my hands tied, my vision obscured, and absolutely no knowledge of the base's layout, I am at a serious advantage over you two here.”
 
Ignoring Kafor, Night said, “What do you propose we do, then, Heavyweight? Knock her out and drag her all the way up to the fortress?”
 
“Dragging doesn’t sound very comfortable,” said Kafor. “Can we not do that?”
 
“Actually, I was thinking something with a little bit more . . . authority was in order,” said Heavyweight. “Something like a leash to remind her who’s in charge.”
 
“A leash?” said Kafor. “I am not some kind of pet Rahi.”
 
“I actually like that idea,” said Night. “Put an energy leash around her neck. Like you said, Kafor, you’re at a serious advantage here, so logically we should put you on a leash.”
 
Before Kafor could protest, Heavyweight put one hand on the Skakdi’s neck and an energy collar appeared around it. A leash extended from the collar, which Night seized and yanked, causing Kafor to stumble forward in response.
 
“Looks like she won’t be able to escape now,” said Heavyweight. “How does it feel, Kafor? Is the collar too tight?”
 
Kafor glanced over her shoulder at Heavyweight and said, “Yes, it is. Would you loosen it enough so I can slip out of it?”
 
“Enough sniping at each other,” said Night. “The storm isn’t getting any better. We’ve got to start walking now.”
 
With that, Night walked through the open gateway. Kafor followed, doing her best to keep as close to him as possible so he wouldn’t have to yank her collar again. Heavyweight also followed and, although Kafor was not looking at her, the Seer could imagine just how smug the Dark Hunter must look right now.
 

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Edited by TNTOS, Dec 19 2013 - 06:24 PM.

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#10 Offline TNTOS

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Posted May 24 2013 - 08:46 AM

Chapter X

 
Relaxing in his seat in the high box, Jeran glanced at Masqouth, who was eagerly watching the drama unfold on the stage below. The owner of the theater -- an elderly Skakdi named Gamak -- sat in the seat next to Masqouth watching the play with them. There was no one else in the VIP box besides Jeran, Gamak, and Masqouth, which was probably intentional, for Jeran was fairly certain Gamak wanted something from Masqouth, although he didn’t know what it was.
 
The theater itself was a large building, one of the largest in Zisar according to Gamak. It could seat four thousand people and had a thousand extra backup seats in case of emergency. Many of the people sitting in the opulent seats, both below and in the other boxes, were people of fame and wealth. Most of them were Skakdi, but Jeran spotted a Vortixx arms-dealer and a Ko-Matoran scholar in the crowd as well.
 
Jeran shifted his attention back to the stage just as the orchestra blared a particularly loud piece of music. Then a Roffican in pale white armor, wearing a flowing cape, walked out onto the stage, followed by about six Agori in similar attire. The Roffican sat on a throne that appeared to be made out of bone, although as it was a prop it was probably made out of something else.
 
As soon as he sat down, the Roffican was crowned by one of his Agori servants. After he adjusted it, the Roffican addressed his subjects and, indirectly, the crowd.
 
“My ghostly servants,” the Roffican began, “I, the Ghost King, have just been given a dire premonition of the future.”
 
The ghost-like Agori gasped in horror and one of them asked, “What did the premonition show you, Your Ghostliness?”
 
The Ghost King sighed heavily, as though being asked to do something he would rather not. “It is far too horrible to speak of. Yet reveal it I must, for to keep a truth hidden is to be as deceptive as a Makuta. Therefore-“
 
A few people in the audience gasped as mist blew out onto the stage. The Agori looked around in shock as the mist flowed around them, while the Ghost King looked as though he had expected it.
 
“Oh, no!” said one of the Agori, visibly trembling. “This mist . . . it can’t be!”
 
“How did he find us?” said another Agori, his hands on his head. “We are doomed!”
 
And then a Toa of Water walked onto the stage. The Toa of Water wore a gray cloak that covered his whole body and a mask that was the same color as the mist. He looked impressive in the getup, although Jeran found the use of the mist to be rather melodramatic.
 
The Ghost King rose from his throne and pointed dramatically at the Toa of Water. “You . . . you have come to kill me, haven’t you?”
 
The Toa of Water nodded. “Yes, Ghost King. The Great Beings assigned me the task of keeping you locked away on your island forever, but it is now clear that I must go a step further and take your life away.”
 
“Then let us do battle, Master of Mist,” said the Ghost King, raising a prop sword. “Only one of us will die . . . and it will not be me.”
 
And then the curtain fell, thus signifying the end of the first part.
 
Below, the theatergoers were getting up and leaving or chatting among themselves about the play. Beside Jeran, Masqouth was clapping quite a bit.
 
“That was amazing,” said Masqouth, glancing at Gamak. “When is part two?”
 
“Tomorrow night, same time,” said Gamak with a broad smile. “By the way, your VIP tickets work every night this play is showing. So you can keep coming back for more if you want.”
 
“Wow,” said Masqouth. “Really? Then we’ll definitely be back tomorrow night, right, Jeran?”
 
Jeran nodded. “Yes. I’m interested in seeing the rest of this play.”
 
“I can assure you, my friends, that it is quite worth it,” said Gamak, patting Masqouth on the arm. “It is one of the best plays of the year, if I do say so myself. Do you know who wrote it, Masqouth?”
 
“Zarsk, of course,” said Masqouth immediately. “He’s my favorite Skakdi poet, you know.”
 
“Oh, but of course,” said Gamak. “That is why you quoted him in your speech earlier today, yes? ‘The dawn of the new century’ . . . it never occurred to me to use that phrase in that way.”
 
“Well, I just saw an opportunity and took it,” said Masqouth. “I have a creative mind, you know.”
 
Gamak smiled again. Then he looked around for a moment, as if afraid there might be eavesdroppers, and then said, in a low voice, “Masqouth, there are . . . rumors in the city that you intend to lead the Skrall and Skakdi against New Atero. Is that true?”
 
Masqouth looked at Gamak. “If it was, would it matter to you?”
 
“It would matter to me a great deal,” said Gamak, gesturing at the theater. “I would lose my entire business if you led a rebellion. New Atero would want my head purely because of my friendly association with you.”
 
“But you don’t care about your life or your business, do you, Mr. Gamak?” said Masqouth. “If it would mean the liberation of your people, you would gladly sacrifice both of them.”
 
Now Gamak looked shocked. “How . . . how did you . . .”
 
“You’re not as good at faking emotions as you think you are, sir,” said Masqouth, patting him on the shoulder. “I’ve seen so many Skakdi and Skrall ready to die for their freedom that I have come to recognize the genuine from the fakes quite easily.”
 
Gamak sat back in his chair, slightly slumped. “Yes, Masqouth, I would . . . I would die for my people if that was the price of freedom. I am sick and tired of my Agori and Matoran guests, who always act like they are above us when the only thing that gives them superiority over us is their military and police force.”
 
“Don’t worry, Gamak,” said Masqouth. “I can tell you that soon -- very soon, in fact -- I will lead the Skakdi and Skrall to defeat New Atero. But before we do that, you need to wait for a third ally in the coming rebellion.”
 
“A third ally?” said Gamak, looking at Masqouth in surprise. “Who might that be? The Vortixx? The Rofficans?”
 
“None of those,” said Masqouth. “It’s-“
 
“Not important for you to know right now,” Jeran finished for Masqouth. “Trust me, Mr. Gamak, there are some things you are better off not knowing right now.”
 
Gamak frowned briefly before his smile returned. “Well, I trust you. You have proven your trustworthiness so far. If you have a reason for not telling me about this third ally, then it must be a good reason.”
 
“Yes, we have a very good reason,” said Jeran. “Now how’s about we change the subject? What was your favorite scene, Masqouth?”
 
This prompted Masqouth, who had looked a little annoyed at being interrupted, to go into a long, excited explanation of his favorite scene and why it was his favorite. Jeran and Gamak listened, with Gamak saying things like “Of course” or “Weren’t you paying attention? He told her to kill him,” while Jeran thought about how close Masqouth had came to revealing the full extent of their plans.
 
Yes, Gamak, like the rest of the Skakdi, seemed to consider Masqouth a true savior and messiah. If Masqouth had told Gamak about the Kra-Matoran army, it was possible that the curator wouldn’t have batted an eye; indeed, he might have even offered to help Masqouth get the remaining three Toa needed to open the Door.
 
But Jeran wanted to play it safe. Telling a Skakdi that another tribe of Matoran would be coming to help them overthrow the other Matoran that ruled them didn’t seem like a wise move to Jeran, especially because the Kra-Matoran were rather evil. Once the Kra-Matoran were free, it would be too late to reject them and the Skakdi would be forced to work with them. They had similar enough goals that Jeran hoped they would work together, although in the end it didn't really matter one way or the other.
 
The idea of the Kra-Matoran rampaging through Spherus Magna, killing and looting and conquering, repelled Jeran, but he went along with the plan anyway. Had not Atuje promised to eliminate the Kra-Matoran once they outlived their usefulness, Jeran would not be here right now, sitting beside Masqouth, listening to his ally gushing about the play.
 
-
 
Niham had two choices: Either walk all the way back home from Laomos’s apartment or take the bus there.
 
On one hand, walking was cheaper and lent her more solitude, something Niham liked and needed. It would give her more time to think about the case and figure out what her next move should be.
 
On the other hand, though, walking alone at night in an unfamiliar neighborhood was just asking for trouble in Niham's opinion. Though New Atero was a relatively safe city by day or night, that did not mean that it was always smart to go walking after dark, especially near a crime scene.
 
So in the end, Niham opted to take the bus. She waited at the bus station and soon a bus came by. Upon entering, Niham paid the toll to the bus driver, a Gadarian in red armor. The sight of the red Gadarian reminded Niham of Ruby, which reminded her of their fight earlier, which in turn caused Niham to try to forget about it.
 
As the bus started moving, Niham chose to sit down next to an elderly Toa of Iron, who appeared to be asleep. As soon as she sat down next to him, however, the Toa of Iron stirred and yawned. He looked around dazedly for a moment, as if unsure where he was.
 
“Is this my stop?” said the Toa of Iron, looking at Niham.
 
Niham shrugged. “I don’t know. Where are you trying to get off at?”
 
“Fe-Metru,” said the Toa of Iron. “More specifically, the weapons district. I have a business call there.”
 
“I don’t think we’re in Fe-Metru yet, sir,” said Niham, glancing out the window. “Actually, we’re in Central Metru.”
 
“Oh,” said the Toa of Iron, slumping back in his seat. “Then I guess I have an excuse to sleep a little longer.”
 
Niham looked at the Toa. Something about his Mask of Flight looked familiar to her, but she just couldn’t place it.
 
“Have we met before?” said Niham, squinting. “You look familiar.”
 
The Toa of Iron looked at her for a moment, his face blank. Then a surprised yet delighted expression passed over his face and he said, “Niham? Is that you?”
 
As soon as he said that, Niham’s memories stirred. She remembered a certain Toa of Iron she’d known when she’d been a Matoran, a Toa of Iron whom she hadn’t seen in years due to her work.
 
“Chimoy!” said Niham. “It’s been a while.”
 
“Yes, it has,” said Chimoy, smiling, holding up his fist. “Glad to see you again after so many years, Niham. How’s it been?”
 
Niham bumped her fist against his and said, “Oh, it’s been fine. Ruby and I just got a new apartment.”
 
“Ruby?” said Chimoy. “Oh, you must mean Rubella the Red Star. Yes, I watch all of her matches on the telescreen. Last night’s match was great, wasn’t it?”
 
Guilt rose up in Niham like a geyser, but she said, “Oh, yeah. That Loven guy didn’t see it coming, you know?”
 
Something about the way Chimoy looked at her told Niham he knew she hadn't watched the game last night. So she decided to change the subject quickly before he pointed that out.
 
“So how’re things in Fe-Metru going?” said Niham, folding her arms behind her head. “What kind of business do you run?”
 
“I don’t run a business,” said Chimoy, shaking his head. “I’m a member of and work for the International Iron Guild, a group which all Toa of Iron belong to. I'm going to Fe-Metru to deliver some top secret weapon designs to our clients.”
 
“Oh?” said Niham. “What kind of weapons?”
 
“I said they're top secret, didn't I?” said Chimoy. He patted the bag on the seat next to him and said, “They’re in here, but only classified personnel are allowed to see them. I will tell you, though, that they’re new weapons the military wants.”
 
“The military seems to be in constant need of new weapons, don't they?”
 
“Of course,” said Chimoy. “They need new artillery. Considering the Confederation of the Lords is always making and testing new arms, I don’t blame ‘em for always wanting better toys.”
 
Then Chimoy said, “Enough about me. What about you? You’re a . . . “
 
“Detective,” said Niham. “I’m a detective.”
 
“Right, right,” said Chimoy, nodding. “Sorry I haven’t been keeping track of your career as well as an old mentor should. There’s no excuse for that.”
 
“Oh, it’s fine, Chimoy,” said Niham, crossing her legs. “I know you’re real busy and all. Besides, we haven’t talked in years, so I’m not surprised you don’t know as much as maybe you should.”
 
“So anyway, tell me about your recent cases,” said Chimoy. “Are you currently investigating anything?”
 
“Two kidnappings,” said Niham, holding up two fingers. “I’m investigating the kidnappings of Toa Kanderias and Toa Laomos. In fact, I’m on my way home right now from the scene of Laomos’s kidnapping.”
 
“Did you find any clues?”
 
“Some,” said Niham, nodding. “Nothing definite yet, but I do have an idea who might have kidnapped Laomos.”
 
“What about Kanderias?”
 
“I have even less clues regarding his kidnapping, but I’m technically still on it.”
 
“Sounds tough,” said Chimoy. “How is Ruby doing?”
 
Niham tensed slightly, but then said in forced cheerful voice, “She’s doing well. She just came back home from last night’s match. She was excited that she won.”
 
“Wonderful,” said Chimoy. “That’s wonderful. So why aren’t you excited for her?”
 
Niham looked at Chimoy in surprise and confusion. “What do you mean?”
 
“I mean I can tell you aren’t excited for her,” said Chimoy. “I find it a bit odd, considering she is your partner, after all. Are you having relationship problems?”
 
Niham looked away at a Tetakian who sat opposite them, his face obscured by the newspaper he was reading.
 
“Oh, please forgive me,” said Chimoy. “I’m sorry if I was prying.”
 
“No,” said Niham, looking back at Chimoy. “Actually, you weren’t. I need someone to talk about my relationship with Ruby. Things really haven’t been that great between us recently.”
 
“Really? How so?”
 
Niham looked Chimoy in the eyes as she said, “I didn’t watch Ruby’s match last night. And I told her so. Not because I wanted to miss it or anything but because . . . well, I just got really busy. You know what I mean?”
 
“I know you probably should have watched the match anyway,” said Chimoy. “I understand why Ruby is upset with you.”
 
“I just don’t know how I’m going to fix this,” said Niham with a sigh. “Ruby and I have always had a tough relationship, what with her being a world-traveling Glatorian and I a local detective. I’m afraid that this time might be the last straw, though.”
 
“I’ve never been in a relationship before,” said Chimoy thoughtfully. “But I know what it is like to be in love. True love doesn’t die out. What I suggest you do when you reach your apartment is apologize for Ruby and offer to do something for her.”
 
“Like what?”
 
“Perhaps re-watch the game with her,” said Chimoy. “That would be my suggestion, for what it’s worth.”
 
Niham shrugged. “I thought about doing that, but if she’s still annoyed with me when I get home, what do I do then?”
 
“Frankly, I don’t know,” said Chimoy, shaking his head. “You know Ruby better than I do. I’m only offering suggestions based on what you’ve told me.”
 
Gee, thanks, Niham thought, but she said aloud, “Well, thank you, anyway. Looks like we’re almost at the next stop, so-“
 
Chimoy grabbed her arm, causing the detective to look at him in surprise.
 
“What’s the problem, Chimoy?” said Niham. “Are you feeling all right?”
 
“Just one last bit of advice,” said Chimoy. “If you haven’t already, tell Ruby you love her. Don’t ever neglect to do that. Ever.”
 
“Oh, um, okay,” said Niham, gently tugging her arm out of Chimoy’s grasp. “I’ll remember to do that.”
 
“Good,” said Chimoy, releasing his grip on her arm. “Because let me tell you, Niham, that there was a person I loved, a person named Nonzra, but I never got to tell him how much I loved him before he . . . before he died.”
 
At that moment, the bus came to a halt and the doors opened. Several of the other passengers appeared to be getting off at this stop, so Niham said to Chimoy, “Well, thank you for the advice. Maybe I'll see you again sometime. Later.”
 
“Bye, Niham,” said Chimoy, waving at her as she left the bus.
 
Once Niham and some of the other passengers got off the bus, the vehicle sped down the street back into traffic. As it did so, a cool breeze chilled Niham, causing her to shiver slightly and wonder if Ruby was up to any cuddling tonight, or, indeed, if Ruby was up to doing anything with her at all.
 

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Edited by TNTOS, Dec 07 2013 - 07:34 PM.

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#11 Offline TNTOS

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Posted May 27 2013 - 08:36 AM

Chapter XI

 

When Jet left, Kiriah called for the monks, although this time only Stronius entered. When Stronius noticed that Jet was gone, Kiriah explained that he had left through the window and was going as far away from Bota Magna as possible, which didn’t seem to surprise Stronius. Kiriah also told him that she would help the Skrall, which pleased Stronius greatly.

 

Kiriah finished her soup -- which had cooled off to a more edible temperature by now -- and followed Stronius downstairs. This was the first time she’d seen the rest of Jet’s house, which had paintings on the walls, fancy banisters, and even a chandelier hanging from the ceiling. To the left of the winding staircase was a statue of a Gadarian Kiriah didn’t recognize, although he did resemble Jet somewhat.

 

Then they reached the first floor, where they found the rest of the monks seated not on the luxurious couches, but on the marble floor in a circle. Kiriah didn’t see Oscron, Jet’s father, anywhere, but she was sort of glad she didn’t. Oscron seemed like a rather cynical, bitter old man, so Kiriah wasn’t complaining that he was apparently not around.

 

Ghata sat among the monks, apparently talking to the Skrall who Kiriah recognized as Branar. When Kiriah and Stronius entered the room, Ghata glanced at them and jumped to his feet immediately.

 

“Stronius!” said Ghata indignantly. “Why’d you take Kiriah out of bed like that? She still needs to rest.”

 

“I’m fine,” said Kiriah, waving him off. “I made it down the stairs without tripping, which is pretty impressive for me even when I’m not recovering from being poisoned. Don’t worry about me.”

 

Ghata bit his lower lip, but slowly sat back on his chair and said, “Okay. I guess you Toa are stronger than you look.”

 

“Toa Kiriah has agreed to come up with us to the Mountains,” said Stronius to the rest of the Skrall. “She will help us cure the dream plague with her unique understanding of the mind.”

 

The rest of the Skrall murmured their assent and thanks. One Skrall even lowered himself to the floor and kissed it, which Kiriah thought was odd, although she didn’t bother comment on it. Though these Skrall appeared more peaceful than the Skrall in her dimension, she still didn’t want to say anything that would possibly enrage them, for despite their peacefulness their muscles appeared every bit as big as those of the Skrall she knew.

 

“The earth has given us a hope and a future,” said Stronius. “Now we must be off quickly. We have no time to waste.”

 

The rest of the monks rose from where they were sitting and as a group they were just about to leave the living room when an old voice called out, “Kiriah, wait.”

 

Glancing over her shoulder, Kiriah saw Oscron standing in the arch of the entrance to the living room. He was leaning on his wooden cane, which Kiriah noticed was old but well-kept, which spoke of its value to its owner. Oscron’s face looked as bitter as ever, but something about the way he spoke made Kiriah stop to listen.

 

“What do you want?” said Kiriah.

 

“I want to talk to you for a moment,” said Oscron. “In private. It will only be for a short time and then you can go with your friends and cure that disease or whatever it is you’re planning to do.”

 

Kiriah hesitated, but Stronius said, “It’s not a problem, Kiriah. We’ll be waiting outside for you. Just go through the front door when you’re done.”

 

Part of Kiriah hesitated to go with Oscron; after all, he had been rather nasty toward Jet, seemingly for no reason. Another part of her, though, was curious about what the old Gadarian wanted to talk with her about. It might be important.

 

In the end, Kiriah's curiosity beat out her dislike of him and she nodded. Oscron then turned and walked out of the room, gesturing for Kiriah to follow, which she did.

 

It wasn’t hard to keep up with Oscron, who due to his old age walked slowly. Kiriah didn’t read his mind, mostly out of politeness, but she could sense his emotions. They were a mixture of anger and bitterness, but also, surprisingly enough, grief. Oscron didn’t appear to know that Toa of Psionics could read people’s emotions like a book, otherwise he probably would have tried harder to hide them than simply putting on an angry face and refusing to look her in the eyes.

 

Oscron led Kiriah into a darkened room. At first, Kiriah couldn’t see anything, but she heard Oscron flip a switch and the next moment light flooded the room. It took Kiriah a moment for her eyes to adjust to the sudden light, but when they did, Kiriah was astonished by what she saw.

 

Trophies of various sizes stood along the walls, all nicely dusted and cleaned. The light reflected off the gold and silver statues, making them look extra shiny. Some of the statues had tiny Glatorian figures on them, while others sported a globe that probably represented Spherus Magna.

 

“Are all of these yours?” said Kiriah, looking at the nearest award, which was gold.

 

She glanced at Oscron, who was looking at same award as Kiriah with nostalgia in his eyes.

 

“Yes,” said Oscron, nodding. “I won all of them in the arena in my younger years, before I retired. That’s how I got this house and my wealth. People paid big to see me and I always delivered. Always.”

 

Unlike before, Oscron spoke with a far gentler tone. Perhaps it was his old memories that were affecting his mood, for Jet had yet to come up in the conversation.

 

Kiriah glanced between the cup and Oscron and back again before saying, “Um, excuse me for being rude, but . . .”

 

“I don’t look like I was in the arena?” Oscron finished for her. “Yes, most people say that. Seem to think I was a businessman, perhaps, or maybe the son of a very rich man who never had to work for anything. But I earned all of this, worked very hard from my poor upbringings, and here I am now, richer than anyone else in Lein’s Sanctuary.”

 

Kiriah tilted her head, still somewhat confused. “So you just got old? That’s why you left the arena?”

 

“It wasn’t that simple,” said Oscron, shaking his head. “I left the arena because I came down with a muscle-deteriorating disease called amalo. I was told the disease is very rare and that if I kept up in the arena, I would eventually fall apart and die.”

 

Kiriah shuddered. She’d heard of the amalo disease before. Although the disease was incapable of infecting Toa and Matoran, the disease could affect Gadarians, especially ones in the arena. Exactly how the disease was spread, she didn't know. All she knew was that she was grateful to be incapable of getting it, for she had seen what happened to other people who got the disease and it was never pretty.

 

“That’s why I left the arena,” said Oscron, looking down sadly. “And that’s why I look like a dead tree. Thankfully, Doctor Ghata has been giving me some medicine to fight the amalo, but I know it’s only a matter of time now. I may be dead in a few weeks or I might live for a couple years longer. Either way, my days are numbered.”

 

Kiriah put a hand on her chest. “I’m sorry to hear that. But . . . why are you telling me this?”

 

“Because you are Jet’s friend,” said Oscron. “Tell that ungrateful spawn that his father regrets having him every day and will continue to feel that way until the day he dies. Next time you see him, tell him that, in exactly those words, and I will be able to die in peace.”

 

Dumbfounded, Kiriah could only say, “Well, I’ll be sure to remember that message, if I see him again.”

 

“Good,” said Oscron. Then he gestured toward the door with his head and said, “What are you waiting for? The monks are outside. Don’t keep them waiting because, between you and me, those guys aren’t always the paragons of patience and peace that they make themselves out to be.”

 

“Um, yes, sir,” said Kiriah, nodding as she went to the door and opened it. “Bye.”

 

Just before Kiriah left, she glanced over her shoulder one last time. Oscron had his back to her, staring at the entire collection of trophies, although Kiriah had a hard time telling if he was looking at them with regret or with pride.

 

-

 

The front yard of the mansion was as spacious and fancy as the rest of the house, with a small pool, chairs, and even a picnic table spread out around it. She quickly spotted the monks, who stood just outside the mansion’s gate, and walked down the even stone path that led from the front door to the gateway.

 

As she did so, Kiriah noticed Ghata was absent from them. Had the doctor left? Perhaps he had other patients to look after. It wasn’t like he had any reason to go with them to the Mountains, after all, although Kiriah felt significantly more nervous alone with the Skrall than she did when Ghata had been with them.

 

Kiriah reminded herself that these Skrall were different from the ones she knew, although Oscron’s comment about how they weren’t quite as peaceful or patient as they appeared was front and center in her mind. She sensed no malice from the monks, whether in their emotions or in their thoughts, yet she still felt like she had to be careful around them, lest she say or do something that sparked their hidden anger.

 

Ignoring her nervousness, Kiriah walked up to Stronius and said, “All right. I’m ready to go.”

 

Stronius nodded and said, “It shouldn’t take us long to get to the Mountains, for Lein's Sanctuary is located at the foot of them.”

 

A few minutes later, the group came upon a small village, but it was a village unlike any Kiriah had seen before. There were houses built into the trees; not small one-room huts, but big houses, some even built on two large trees rather than one, in order to support their weight. Other houses, of slightly smaller -- though no less impressive -- size, were built on the ground, their beautiful designs displaying the wealth of the village’s inhabitants.

 

As the group walked through the village, Kiriah couldn’t help looking around at everything as they went. There were Agori everywhere, but not just Jungle Agori, as one might expect in Bota Magna, but Agori of various tribes and colors. Some were standing in the streets, talking to each other, while some entered and exited houses and businesses. Most were on the streets, going to and fro whatever errands they were running.

 

What surprised Kiriah the most was how cordial the Agori treated the Skrall. Most waved or said hello to the monks, but a few even stopped to talk to Stronius, usually about something like the weather or herb prices.

 

By contrast, most of the Agori acted like Kiriah didn’t exist, not even looking at her. One Agori bumped into Kiriah, but without sparing her even so much as a glance continued on his way like nothing had happened.

 

“You look surprised,” said Stronius, who walked beside Kiriah.

 

Snapping out of her thoughts, Kiriah looked up at the Skrall. “What?”

 

“I said, you look surprised,” said Stronius. “Are you not used to being among, how should I put it, civilized beings?”

 

“Um,” said Kiriah, scratching the back of her head. “I guess I’m just not used to being ignored by villagers like this.”

 

Stronius looked at her curiously. “Toa are universally despised by everyone on Spherus Magna. I thought you would have been used to this by now.”

 

“Oh, er, I mean,” said Kiriah hastily, “I’m a hermit. Yeah, that’s it. That’s why I don’t really know as much as maybe I should. Keep to myself and all that.”

 

“If you’re a hermit, why did you say you were not used to being ignored?” said Stronius.

 

“Never mind me,” said Kiriah, shaking her head. “I talk a lot before thinking. Don’t worry if I say something strange or silly. I probably didn’t think through what I was going to say before I said it.”

 

Stronius nodded, although he didn’t look entirely convinced. “Hmm. Right.”

 

The more Kiriah walked, the more uncomfortable she felt in this village. At first she thought the villagers were merely ignoring her, but then she noticed how several stared daggers at her as they passed. Some villagers even went back inside their houses when Kiriah walked by, leaving in the middle of some chore such as weeding their garden or sweeping their front porch. At least one Agori ‘accidentally’ tripped Kiriah, although thanks to her telepathic powers she knew he’d done it on purpose. But she couldn’t get an apology out of him, for he kept stubbornly asserting his innocence. It didn’t help that none of the monks came to her side until Stronius had to send the Agori away before Kiriah could lose her temper.

 

All in all, Kiriah was glad when they finally left the village. It wasn’t exactly her most favorite place to be right now.

 

The paved path continued through the jungle, but the monks turned to the right and started walking down a rougher pathway. It appeared to have been made by people walking over it for years, because the grass was low and short and the ground rough and uneven, in comparison to the smooth paved road that they’d been walking on previously.

 

Kiriah glanced over her shoulder as the main path disappeared behind the trees. “What is that village called, anyway?”

 

“It is called Lein’s Sanctuary,” said Stronius. “It is so named because it was founded by an Agori named Lein, who was one of the first Agori to explore this far into the Bota Magnan jungle. He set up a trading post here and it soon expanded into a village. This was before the war.”

 

Kiriah nodded. “All of those Agori sure seemed to live in nice houses.”

 

“They do,” said Stronius as they walked. “Because of this area’s natural beauty, many rich Agori came to live here or else had large summer houses built for vacationing. It’s not a large village and it doesn’t have a formal defense force.”

 

“So what, the villagers are at the mercy of the local wildlife?”

 

Stronius shook his head. “Not exactly. You see, we monks sometimes come down to Lein’s Sanctuary to protect it. If there is a threat, they simply send a messenger to the Mountains telling us what it is and we will send the appropriate amount of monks necessary to subdue it. In return, the villagers do not intrude upon our lands and will give us various imported items we cannot normally get in the Mountains.”

 

“So there aren’t any Gadarians there?”

 

“Yes,” said Stronius. “It is my opinion that most Gadarians dislike such serene, quiet lives, so they don’t come to live there. The only Gadarians are Jetrupi’s family, although as you can tell the only member of that clan who still lives in the village is Oscron.”

 

Kiriah looked at the monks and said, “You guys seem awfully peaceful to me, yet you fight to defend Lein’s Sanctuary anyway?”

 

“Peace is a virtue that all Etoran monks strive for,” said Stronius. “However, our desire for peace is tempered with a realistic view of the world. You cannot reason with every threat that comes along, especially animals. It is wise to keep one’s body in shape and to know how to defend oneself and others should the need ever arise.”

 

“We fight only when necessary,” said Branar, who was walking behind them. “In places like Roxtus, a Skrall city to the far east, I have heard that fighting for fun is more common, but we monks are sworn to pacifism except under certain circumstances.”

 

“Another reason we train our bodies is because the earth gave them to us,” said Stronius, gesturing at his bulk. “Just as a carver doesn’t look at a rock and consider it a finished statue, so we too don’t look at our untrained bodies and believe they are at their peak. Thus we train every day, using exercise and combat practices, which make our bodies stronger and help our minds focus.”

 

“I see,” said Kiriah. “I’m not familiar with your philosophy, though, so do you mind if I ask what you mean by ‘the earth’? I’m very curious.”

 

“The earth is everything around us,” said Stronius, spreading his arms wide momentarily. “It is from the earth that all life came and it is to the earth that all life shall go. We see Spherus Magna itself as our friend and ally, worthy of reverence and honor beyond that of any other living being.”

 

“So, would you say it’s like a Great Spirit, then?”

 

Stronius nodded. “Yes. It is the Great Spirit of Spherus Magna that gives and sustains life. Without that spirit -- without the earth, in other words -- life would not exist.”

 

Kiriah nodded and had no further questions to ask. That was partly because Stronius’s answers satisfied her and partly because she could sense that the other monks were getting impatient with her many questions. She would ask more questions later if she thought of anything else she didn’t know or understand.

 

They walked down the rough path for a long time. How much time passed, Kiriah couldn’t tell, for the trees above blocked their view of the sun. It felt like a couple of hours, at least, if Kiriah’s fatigue meant anything, but the monks didn’t seem tired. Maybe they were just in better shape than Kiriah was.

 

Finally, the group emerged from the jungle onto a small clearing at the foot of the Mountains. Now that they were here, Kiriah saw the Mountains for the first time. They were huge, so big that Kiriah had to crane her neck to be able to see their snow-capped peaks. Just standing here looking at the peaks made Kiriah feel a little woozy, so she lowered her gaze to the foot of the Mountains, where she saw an unexpected sight.

 

Three beings stood at the foot of the Mountains. One of them was a Gadarian with gangly limbs, while the other two were Agori. All three of them wore identical gray and dark blue armor, which Kiriah at first thought made them Water Tribe, but then remembered that members of the Water Tribe rarely wore gray.

 

Curious, Kiriah reached out with her mind, brushed against all three of theirs, and then withdrew. From what her cursory reading had shown her, they were members of the Iron Tribe and had been waiting there for several hours.

 

That didn’t make any sense to Kiriah, for the Iron Tribe had been wiped out years ago. Then again, Kiriah reminded herself, this was another universe. Perhaps in this universe the Iron Tribe hadn’t died out, although she didn’t understand why their armor was gray and dark blue instead of orange.

 

As Kiriah and the monks approached, the Iron Tribe members looked up from their conversation. One of the Agori, the male one, stood up and walked directly toward the monks and Kiriah. Kiriah was impressed, for she felt that the six monks presented an intimidating sight that would have discouraged any Agori from approaching them alone.

 

The monks and Kiriah stopped. So did the Agori, who was joined by his two friends who stood on either side of him.

 

“Hello, Sahmad,” said Stronius, bowing his head. “What brings you to the foot of the Mountains today? Were you waiting for us?”

 

The male Agori, who must have been Sahmad, nodded. “That’s right. Chalybs, Telluris, and I heard rumors of a Toa of Psionics in Lein’s Sanctuary. We also heard that you monks were going to get her, so we decided to wait here until you arrived with her.”

 

“Do you need my help or something?” said Kiriah.

 

“Yes,” said Sahmad, folding his arms. “A terrible plague has struck Ferrum, our city. Lots of our people cannot dream anymore and even more have gone insane.”

 

“Were you sent by the city elders?” said Stronius.

 

Sahmad shook his head. “No. This was entirely on our own initiative. The elders don’t like you monks very much, as you know.”

 

Stronius smirked, as though remembering something amusing. “We monks have also been afflicted by this dream plague. Hence why we are leading Toa Kiriah here to the Mountains. She thinks she might be able to help.”

 

Sahmad looked Kiriah over with barely disguised disgust. “Hmm, she doesn’t look like much, but if she really is a Toa of Psionics, then she’ll have to do.”

 

“What do you mean, ‘she doesn’t look like much’?” said Kiriah indignantly. “I’m plenty strong.”

 

“Oh, I know you are,” said Sahmad, raising his hands. “I just thought you looked, ah, more civilized than other Toa. By the way, she's sane, right?” Sahmad added, addressing Stronius.

 

The monk nodded. “Yes. She’s a bit absentminded, but she is far more civil and peaceful than the other Toa. I think the Great Beings might have made her differently.”

 

Kiriah glared at Stronius for the absentminded comment, while Sahmad merely nodded. “Good. We don’t need any more crazy people because we’ve got enough as is.”

 

“I’m not sure Kiriah can help you right now,” said Branar, taking a step forward. “She has promised to go with us back to the monastery. She can’t be in two places at once.”

 

“Hey,” said Kiriah. “I can help both of you guys. First, I’ll go to the monastery and help there, and then I will go to Ferrum and help there. Does that sound fair?”

 

“I guess so,” said Sahmad with a shrug. “But to make sure you keep your promise, we’ll go with you to the monastery. After that, we will escort you to Ferrum. It’s on the other side of the Mountains but shouldn’t take very long to get there if we take a short cut.”

 

“You may join our party, then,” said Stronius. “The more the merrier, after all.”

 

The way Sahmad glared at Stronius made Kiriah think that the monk had mad a jab at the Agori, although Kiriah didn't understand it. It seemed to be some kind of inside joke, so it probably didn’t concern her.

 

“Let me introduce my two friends to you, Kiriah,” said Sahmad. “Meet Chalybs. She is my wife.”

 

Chalybs held out a hand, which Kiriah shook. The female Agori’s grip was surprisingly strong for such a small being. “Pleased to meet you, Toa Kiriah.”

 

“And this is Telluris,” said Sahmad, gesturing at the silent Gadarian. “He volunteered to protect Chalybs and me on our way down here.”

 

Kiriah held out her hand toward Telluris, but the Gadarian didn’t shake it. Instead, he just looked at her suspiciously, which Kiriah realized meant that he didn’t trust her, despite what Stronius had said about her being civil and not crazy. So she awkwardly lowered her hand and said nothing.

 

“Well, then,” said Stronius. “Now that we are all acquainted with each other, we must finish this journey into the Mountains. It would be wise of us to reach the monastery before nightfall, for that is when the beasts come out and play.”

 

So the party of ten began marching into the Mountains, with Kiriah wondering how the Karzahni she was going to heal both the monks and the Iron Tribe members knowing what Jet had told her about the dream eater earlier. Maybe Jet was wrong about the cause of the dream plague in this dimension, although something the pit of her stomach told her otherwise.

 

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Edited by TNTOS, Dec 07 2013 - 07:44 PM.

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#12 Offline TNTOS

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Posted May 31 2013 - 09:19 PM

Chapter XII

 

In Night's opinion, New Odina was less like a base and more like a small city. While it lacked the towering skyscrapers of cities like New Atero or Zisar, it still had hundreds of small buildings arranged in a neat, logical order. Most of these buildings were either warehouses that held the Shadowed One's treasure or barracks where the hundreds of Dark Hunters that lived here slept when not away on missions.

 

Yet they saw few people as they made their way to the New Odina fortress, the largest building in the base. The only beings they saw were the Cleaners, a specialized group of Dark Hunters whose sole job was to keep New Odina from falling into ruin. It must have been a tough job, Night thought, for the Dark Hunters were hardly what he would call a clean group.

 

Due to the blizzard, the journey to the fortress was harder than it ordinarily would be. Not that Night or Heavyweight cared about the cold; they were both used to that. It was only a problem for Kafor, whose teeth chattered uncontrollably in the wind and snow, although Night felt no compulsion to warm her or protect her from the cold in any way.

 

Soon, the trio reached the Shadowed One's fortress, simply known as the Fortress among the Dark Hunters. It was an unusual structure, for it was built into the northernmost mountain of New Odina. Exactly how deeply it had been built into the mountain, Night didn't know, although he did know that the Fortress afforded the Shadowed One dozens of possible escape routes in the case of emergency.

 

The entrance to the Fortress was imposing and massive. It resembled a temple, with huge stone pillars propping up a roof that by the look of it was currently collecting snow. A huge statue of the Shadowed One stood in front of the entrance, so lifelike that Night could have sworn it was looking down on him, Heavyweight, and Kafor as they approached it.

 

As they drew closer, it appeared that there were more guards here than Night had believed, for he saw at least a dozen ringed around the entrance, all equipped with thick armor and big weapons that looked capable of smashing rock. Night knew they were the Fortress Guards, an elite team of about a dozen Dark Hunters whose sole job was protecting the Fortress -- and, by extension, the Shadowed One -- day and night. Because of New Odina's unforgiving weather, it was a job few Dark Hunters wanted and even fewer were qualified for.

 

One of the Guards walked up to Night and the others. It was Prototype, a huge, nearly invincible fusion who lacked in intelligence what he had in raw power and loyalty to the Shadowed One. Even Night, who was far from a coward, felt slightly apprehensive at the approach of this large, ungainly being.

 

“Show identity tablets,” said Prototype.

 

Night and Heavyweight flashed their I.D. tablets, which Prototype scanned. Then he nodded and said, “All right. State business for coming to see Shadowed One.”

 

“We have a prisoner,” said Night, yanking Kafor’s leash. “And we feel that it is very important that the Shadowed One sees her right away.”

 

Prototype glanced at Kafor and said, “Who is she?”

 

“She’s Kafor,” said Night. “Number One on the Shadowed One’s most wanted list.”

 

“Really?” said Prototype. “Is that true?”

 

“It’s quite true, lug nut,” Kafor replied. “It is me, Kafor, the one and the only.”

 

Prototype didn’t quite seem to catch Kafor’s insult, for he simply nodded and said, “All right. You may enter.”

 

Night led the way up the large steps to the Fortress door. He and Heavyweight pushed the heavy door open only a few feet and entered, closing the door behind them once they were inside.

 

The Fortress’s entrance hall was massive. Two statues of the Shadowed One in identical, mirrored poses stood on either side, while a ring of light stones embedded in the ceiling illuminated the room quite well. Weapons and Kanohi masks covered the walls, most of them too high up for the average being to reach, while three hallways branched off in different directions.

 

Night looked around at the three hallways, unsure of which way to go. He didn’t come to the Fortress often, so combining that with his bad sense of direction meant he was honestly confused as to which hallway led to the Shadowed One’s chamber. At least it wasn't like the old fortress, which according to the veterans could change its layout based solely on the Shadowed One's thoughts.

 

“The Shadowed One’s room is down the right hall,” said Heavyweight, pointing at it. “I’ll lead the way this time.”

 

“Oh, are you going to take me on a grand tour of the place?” said Kafor. “Really, we don’t have to go to the Shadowed One immediately, you know. We can take a leisurely tour, you guys show me around. I’m sure there are a lot of interesting things on display, such as the bodies of the Shadowed One's dead enemies, for example.”

 

“This isn’t a museum,” said Night. “There will be no tours.”

 

“Aw,” said Kafor, rolling her eyes. “I am so disappointed right now. How I wish things were not so, but-“

 

Again, Night yanked on the leash, this time harder than before, causing Kafor to gasp as the collar tightened on her neck. “Shut up or I’ll break your teeth with my bare hands.”

 

Kafor nodded, but it was clear based on her expression that she wasn’t sorry for being so sarcastic. Considering Kafor was about to die, Night figured she was trying to give them as much Karzahni as she could before she breathed her last. If so, that gave him another reason for wanting her death to come swiftly and quickly upon her.

 

The journey to the Shadowed One’s throne room was, to say the least, confusing. The place had been designed much like a maze, with dead ends and false paths that led you right back to where you started if you weren’t careful. Thankfully, Heavyweight had a good memory, so they were able to make their way through it without getting lost, although once or twice they were forced to retrace their steps to find their way again.

 

The further in they traveled, the darker it became, although Night didn’t mind that. Darkness was his element. He could see well in the shadows, though he didn’t like how the path got progressively smaller and narrowed the deeper they traveled. While he was by no means claustrophobic, the smaller spaces reminded Night that they were underneath a mountain. Even though Night was confident that the architects had taken the mountain’s weight into account when building this, he still glanced up at the ceiling occasionally, irrational fears making him think that they were about to be crushed by millions of tons of rock at any moment.

 

After what felt like hours of twists and turns -- although it had probably only been ten or fifteen minutes -- the trio found an old stone door at the very end of a hallway. There was a thick, heavy metal knocker built into the door, so Heavyweight grabbed it and slammed it against the door a couple of times. The sound bounced off the walls of the narrow hallway, causing Night and Kafor to cringe at the magnified sound until it passed.

 

Then an old, authoritative voice on the other side said, “Enter,” prompting Heavyweight to open the door and walk into the chamber, Night and Kafor right behind her.

 

The room they entered was big, but not enormous or opulent. At the other end of the room was a large stone throne. The throne itself, however, was not important; rather, it was the being who sat upon it, the being who radiated authority and power, that was.

 

Having only joined the Dark Hunters ten years ago, Night didn’t know how the Shadowed One had looked in his younger days. The only Shadowed One he had ever known was the one before him right now: Aged and bent, with deep red eyes which spoke of a lifetime of theft and murder. The Shadowed One’s armor was in pristine condition, but that did little to hide the obvious signs of aging that the Dark Hunter leader showed.

 

Standing next to the Shadowed One’s throne was a tall, yellow being known as Sentrakh, the Shadowed One’s personal bodyguard. In comparison to the Shadowed One, there was something ageless about Sentrakh, like he had simply come into existence one day and had forgotten to age. Unlike his master, Sentrakh stood straight, while his eyes -- if that’s what one called those black orbs staring out from his skull -- spoke of neither youth nor age, which always made it hard to tell what Sentrakh was thinking, if he was thinking at all.

 

Hearing movement above, Night glanced up briefly and saw a gangly Dark Hunter in gray and black armor hidden among the shadows of the ceiling. It was impossible to mistake Darkness for anyone else, for he was the only Dark Hunter besides Sentrakh who followed the Shadowed One at all times. He was in his usual place among the rafters, his claws clinging to the stone beams, ready to strike down their leader if he showed the slightest hint of compassion or weakness.

 

Night and Heavyweight approached, with Kafor following behind at a slower pace than usual. Once they reached the foot of the Shadowed One’s throne, Night pulled Kafor from behind him and pushed her forward onto the floor. The Skakdi landed on her knees, but didn’t even try to run, for Night still held her leash.

 

“Master Shadowed One,” said Night, bowing his head. “Heavyweight and I have returned from our mission in New Atero with a great gift for you.”

 

The Shadowed One’s eyes lingered on Kafor for a moment before he looked at Night. “Is this your gift, Night?”

 

“Yes,” said Night, nodding. “She is Kafor, Number One on your-“

 

“I know who she is, Night,” said the Shadowed One, holding up one hand for silence. “I never forget the faces of my enemies, not even in my old age. I especially do not forget the faces of my enemies who I wish to kill personally.”

 

“How sweet,” said Kafor. “I didn’t know you wanted to kill me yourself. I must be a very special lady to earn that kind of hate.”

 

“Remove her reflectors,” said the Shadowed One to Heavyweight. “Do not worry about me; if she tries to use her laser vision, I can defend myself.”

 

“Yes, sir,” said Heavyweight as she took the damaged reflectors off Kafor’s eyes. “They’re broken, anyway.”

 

“Now Kafor, how long has it been since we saw each other last?” said the Shadowed One, resting his chin on both hands. “Seventy-thousand years, was it?”

 

“Sixty-thousand, actually,” said Kafor. “I’m surprised you’re still kicking after all these years . . . Rex Damaric.”

 

A stunned silence filled the room. Night looked from Kafor to the Shadowed One and saw an expression he had never before seen on the Shadowed One’s face: Shock. Pure, unadulterated shock, the kind of shock a person only ever experiences once in their life, if even that often.

 

That fact was enough to surprise Night. He glanced at Heavyweight, whose hands were covering her mouth. Then he glanced at Sentrakh, who despite his lack of any recognizable expression still gave off an aura of what might have been surprise. From the ceiling, Darkness moved slightly, as if he had just reconsidered running away.

 

“You . . . didn’t . . . say that,” said the Shadowed One, his voice uneven and filled with hate. “You must have said something else.”

 

“No, you heard right, Rex,” said Kafor, her tone full of vile pleasure. “I said your name; your real name, not the fancy, scary code name you use today. Rex Damaric. That is your name.”

 

“But . . . what . . .” said Night, stuttering. “How do you know that?”

 

“That’s why I’m Number One on the Shadowed One’s list,” said Kafor, throwing Night a smug glance. “I am probably the only other still-living being today who knows Rex’s real name besides, of course, Rex himself. And now you, Heavyweight, Sentrakh, and Darkness know it as well.”

 

Night looked up at the Shadowed One and said, “Sir, is she telling the truth?”

 

Although the Shadowed One’s face was full of hate, somehow Night saw that as a weakness rather than a strength. It was as if Kafor had just stabbed their leader in the heart and he had let her get away with it.

 

“Yes,” said the Shadowed One through gritted teeth. “That is my real name, what she just spoke.”

 

“Oh, why don’t you just say it yourself?” said Kafor. “Rex Damaric, Rex Damaric, Rex Damaric. That’s your name and now everyone in this room knows it. Stop being such a sissy.”

 

Heavyweight slammed her tri-claw into the back of Kafor’s head, sending the Skakdi crashing face first into the floor.

 

“Shut your mouth,” Heavyweight snapped, her voice panicky. “Or I’ll-“

 

“You’ll do nothing to her, Heavyweight,” said the Shadowed One, his eyes glinting. “Step back, you two. I will deal with her myself.”

 

As ordered, Night and Heavyweight stepped back from Kafor, who struggled to her knees. She looked up at the Shadowed One, whose eyes were now glowing.

 

“You little fool,” the Shadowed One growled. “Do you know what happens to those who know my real name?”

 

Kafor’s lips quivered, but she didn’t say anything.

 

The Shadowed One stood up in his throne to his full height. “They die. Night and Heavyweight will also die once I kill you.”

 

“But sir, why?” said Night in shock. “We are your loyal agents. We have faithfully followed every order you’ve given us. Why are you going to kill us, too?”

 

“Because my name must remain a secret,” said the Shadowed One, without looking at Night or Heavyweight. “I cannot trust you two to keep your mouths shut. Even if you did, what would happen if someone learned you knew my name? You would be captured and interrogated by the government and then my name would no longer be a secret anymore.”

 

Kafor glanced over her shoulder at Night and Heavyweight and said, “I knew this would happen. That’s why I spoke the Shadowed One’s name. Now we are all going to die together.”

 

A million different curses ran through Night’s head, but he never got to call Kafor any of them, for the next moment the Shadowed One fired his laser beams directly at the Skakdi.

 

At that same moment, however, a dimensional portal burst open on the right side of the chamber and a black blur came speeding out of it as the portal closed. The blur shot past Kafor and, when it passed, Kafor was nowhere to be seen.

 

The lasers struck the ground where Kafor had been kneeling previously, creating a black, smoking crater at the foot of the steps to the Shadowed One’s throne.

 

“Where did she go?” said the Shadowed One, whipping his head this way and that.

 

“Over here, Shadowed One,” said a deep, bestial voice Night didn’t recognize.

 

All of the Dark Hunters in the room turned and saw a tall, black-armored being standing in front of the exit. He resembled a Vorox with his vicious face and long, scorpion-like tail extending from his back. The spear he carried greatly resembled the kind generally used by Vorox, although due to his size Night doubted this guy was a Vorox.

 

Slung over the newcomer’s shoulder was Kafor, who appeared as shocked as everyone else.

 

“Who are you?” the Shadowed One demanded. “I have never seen you before.”

 

“Call me Niralo,” said the being, flashing a toothy grin. “I came here for Kafor. Got here just in time, too, from the look of it.”

 

“Are you a government agent?” the Shadowed One said. “How did you find New Odina?”

 

“Government agent?” Niralo snorted. “I’m hardly what you’d call a government supporter. No, I’m a lone wolf, so to speak, and I don’t give two widgets what laws you break.”

 

“Put Kafor down,” said the Shadowed One, pointing his staff at Niralo. “She is my prisoner and I will decide what to do with her, not you or anyone else.”

 

“Yeah, sorry about that,” said Niralo, shaking his head. “You see, my boss really doesn’t like sharing. Kafor’s important, so he asked me to kidnap her. We’ll give her back to you when we’re done with her.”

 

“Oh, don’t mind me,” Kafor grumbled. “I’m just an autonomous individual with all of the rights that come with that. Don’t bother to ask me whether I prefer to be kidnapped or killed.”

 

Ignoring Kafor, the Shadowed One said, “I will find out who your boss is later. For now, you must die.”

 

“Gotta catch me first,” said Niralo, grinning wickedly.

 

Before Niralo could escape, however, a thick block of protodermis appeared around his legs. Taken by surprise, the newcomer fell over and dropped Kafor, who quickly rolled away from him before he could get up.

 

“Night, Heavyweight,” said the Shadowed One, jabbing his staff at Niralo. “Kill him.”

 

Night looked at the Shadowed One, unimpressed. “Will you spare us if we obey you?”

 

“Does it matter?” said the Shadowed One. “I am still your leader. If I choose to execute you after this, then that is my decision and you must obey.”

 

“Sorry,” said Night, shaking his head. “I see no reason to serve someone who will just kill me after he no longer needs me. Don’t you agree, Heavyweight?”

 

Heavyweight nodded. “Agreed. If anything, we should fight him, or maybe just run away and never come back.”

 

The Shadowed One’s chest heaved in and out, but when he spoke, his tone was level. “Very well, then. If you will not obey me, then I am afraid I must have you killed.”

 

The Shadowed One snapped his fingers. Sentrakh stepped forward while Darkness dropped silently from the ceiling. The two Dark Hunters stood in front of the Shadowed One’s throne, their weapons drawn.

 

Night unsheathed his sword and raised his shield, while Heavyweight held her tri-claw in a battle position.

 

“So you really are going to resist,” said the Shadowed One. “Then let the slaughter begin.”

 

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#13 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Jun 03 2013 - 09:50 AM

Chapter XIII

 

Standing just outside her apartment door, Niham didn’t want to go inside. She really didn’t want to go inside. True, Chimoy had given her some nice-sounding relationship advice, but not even that reassured her that she and Ruby would make up. She wasn’t sure if Ruby had forgiven her yet. The only way to know for certain was to go inside and ask, but at the moment that seemed like the hardest thing to do in the world.

 

She pushed down her fear. In Niham’s time as a detective, she’d felt fear and apprehension many times. Once, she’d found herself in a shootout with a serial killer called the Mask Collector, who nearly killed her, but even taking on a serial killer seemed preferable to talking to her angry lover.

 

Steeling herself, Niham opened the door and stepped inside. She heard voices in the living room, which puzzled her, for she had thought that only Ruby would be in the apartment tonight. Was the telescreen on, perhaps?

 

Niham walked down the short hallway and entered the living room. Upon entering, she noticed that the telescreen was off and that Ruby was sitting on the couch next to an elderly Toa of Lightning who she recognized right away.

 

“Akuna!” said Niham as she walked around the couch and sat down in one of the armchairs. “When did you get here?”

 

“Oh, hello, Niham,” said Akuna with a smile. “I decided to come by and visit you two, seeing as I was in the neighborhood and all. Ruby and I have been talking about her match last night. Wasn’t it exciting?”

 

Ruby, who hadn’t said a word when Niham had entered, said, “Oh, Akuna, maybe we should talk about something else because Niham hasn’t actually seen my match yet.”

 

“She hasn’t?” said Akuna in surprise. “Oh, well, I’m sorry for asking you about it. That was insensitive of me.”

 

“No need to apologize, Akuna,” said Niham, shaking her head. “I really should have watched it last night. It was pretty dumb of me not to.”

 

When Niham said this, she glanced at Ruby. It was hard to read Ruby’s expression, but it seemed to have softened. Or were Niham’s eyes only playing tricks on her? She decided to keep up this self-deprecation if it was going to make Ruby forgive her.

 

“I mean,” said Niham, putting one hand on her chest, “Ruby is my number one, the greatest, strongest, and most beautiful Glatorian in the entire world. I have no excuse at all for missing her fight against Loven. I’m a terrible girlfriend. Wish I could do better.”

 

Akuna looked slightly confused. “Why are you telling me this?”

 

“Niham, drop the act,” said Ruby, rolling her eyes. “Seriously. Just say ‘I’m sorry for not watching your match last night, Ruby. Will you please forgive me?’”

 

“That’s what I was trying to say,” said Niham, looking at Ruby. “So will you forgive me?”

 

“You need to communicate your ideas better,” Ruby snapped. “Seriously, I didn’t get ‘Will you forgive me?’ out of your little speech right there. I just heard a lot of self-pitying nonsense.”

 

“Okay, girls, calm down a little,” said Akuna, looking from Niham to Ruby and back again. “How we speak some kinder words?”

 

Niham raised one hand and said, without looking at her old friend, “Stay out of this, Akuna. This is between me and Ruby only.”

 

“Yeah,” said Ruby as she stood up. “This has nothing to do with you. So be quiet.”

 

Akuna opened her mouth to say something, but then without warning the lights went out, plunging the room into darkness.

 

Shocked, Niham said, “What happened? Why’d the lights go out?”

 

She stood up from her chair, which turned out to be an unwise move, for something heavy slammed into her mask at the same time, sending Niham falling backwards over her chair with a crash. Someone else nearby also fell and then, a second later, the lights flickered back on.

 

Dazed, Niham shook her head and pushed herself up. She looked around the apartment, noticing that things had changed during the brief blackout.

 

For one, Akuna was missing. She wasn’t sitting on the couch, nor was she on the floor. There were no signs of a struggle, except that one of the couch’s seats had been kicked off and now lay on the floor.

 

The second thing Niham noticed was Ruby, who was lying on her side on the floor next to the couch seat. She wasn’t moving.

 

“Ruby?” said Niham as she crawled over to the Glatorian. “Ruby? Ruby, say something!”

 

She shook Ruby. The next moment, her partner groaned and opened her eyes. That was when Niham noticed Ruby’s helmet, which had a big dent on it where none had been before.

 

“Oh . . .” Ruby said, blinking. “Where . . . what happened?”

 

“I don’t know,” said Niham, glancing over her shoulder. “The power went out, but I think the back-up generator started up. I don’t know where Akuna is.”

 

Ruby sat up, one hand feeling along her head, and she said, “Why does it feel like a Roffican bashed my skull in with a crowbar? Ugh.”

 

“Someone hit me, too,” said Niham. “I think this is a kidnapping. I’ll call the cops. They’ve got to know.”

 

-

 

It wasn’t long before a handful of cops arrived. One was Officer Jijam, a Toa of Stone and a detective who worked for the NALES, while the other was Toa Yurif, a Toa of Psionics and crime scene analyst who searched the apartment for any sign of the kidnapper or Akuna while Jijam spoke with Niham.

 

“So let me get this straight,” said Jijam, standing just outside Niham’s apartment with her. “You, Rubella, and your friend Akuna were arguing, then the lights went off, you and Rubella were unexpectedly attacked by someone, and when the back-up generator kicked in, Akuna is nowhere to be seen and you and Rubella are now both suffering from minor head injuries.”

 

“That’s exactly what happened, officer,” said Niham, nodding fervently.

 

Jijam gave her a quizzical look. “But you’re a detective yourself. Why’d you call in us?”

 

“I was too scared to think straight,” Niham admitted. “I didn’t want to take any chances. I also had to look after Ruby to make sure she wasn’t badly hurt by whoever had attacked her.”

 

At that moment, Yurif exited the apartment and approached them.

 

Jijam looked at her and said, “Did you find any clues?”

 

“Nothing,” said the Toa of Psionics, shaking her head. “The couch looks a little roughed up, but I didn’t find any clues as to the identity of the kidnapper or even where he went. It doesn’t look to me like there was any kidnapping at all, actually, except for the fact that Toa Akuna mysteriously vanished.”

 

“There had to be one,” Niham insisted. “It’s the only explanation that fits the facts.”

 

“Could Akuna have simply run away when the lights went off?” Jijam suggested as he glanced at his notes. “You said she was a Toa of Lightning. Maybe she absorbed all of the electricity in the room, thus shutting off the power, and then attacked you and Rubella, and then ran away.”

 

“That’s ridiculous,” said Niham. “Akuna wouldn’t do any of that. She didn’t have any reason to. I mean, our conversation was getting rather heated, but I know she wouldn’t attack us. Has to be a kidnapping.”

 

“Hmm,” said Jijam, who didn’t sound convinced. “Well, if there aren’t any clues, we’ll just head back to the station. If you find anything else, don’t be afraid to call us up.”

 

Without further ado, Jijam and Yurif left, leaving behind a frustrated Niham. She understood why they couldn’t do much else, but she knew that it had been a kidnapping. After all, Akuna couldn’t hit that hard; she was quite elderly nowadays. If she’d wanted to attack Niham and Ruby, she would have used her electricity powers, which would have been far more potent.

 

The only question was, who kidnapped Akuna and why? Surely Ruby, being a famous Glatorian, would have been a better choice for kidnapping if the kidnapper wanted money. Yet he had chosen Akuna instead, which, no matter how hard Niham thought about it, made no sense regardless of the angle you look at it.

 

Niham went back into her apartment. She checked on Ruby, who had an ice bag on her head and was in no mood to talk about what had happened. So Niham left Ruby in their room to sleep while the detective tidied up the place after the kidnapping.

 

It took Niham only a few minutes to get the chairs back up and the couch cushions back in their proper places. Then Niham did a quick sweep of the living room for any clues Yurif might have missed, but found nothing. Not even her Mask of Psychometry helped; it showed her nothing she hadn’t already seen or known, therefore frustrating her quite a bit.

 

Sighing, Niham went into her study, a small room right next to their bedroom. After closing the door, Niham sat behind her desk and glanced at its surface, which was covered with paper, mostly notes she’d taken during Kanderias’s case. It occurred to her that she hadn’t yet organized notes about Laomos’s case. She’d been so distracted with recent happenings that she had forgotten to do that.

 

Just as Niham placed the new notes on her desk, she froze. Kanderias, Laomos, Akuna . . . all three of those Toa had been kidnapped under identical circumstances. In each case, the Toa had been kidnapped behind locked doors and windows. There had always been signs of a struggle, a brief one, yet with few clues to the kidnapper's identity. And the kidnappings had been at night, too, when the kidnapped Toa was alone in his or her apartment (the exception, of course, being Akuna, although the circumstances of her kidnapping were identical enough to the others that Niham felt safe putting it in the same category).

 

Thoughtfully, Niham wrote down the names of the three Toa and, under their names, as much information about them as she knew. This included their personality, physical traits, interests, beliefs, accomplishments, where they lived, what jobs they held, what friends they had, and what powers they had, among other miscellaneous information she knew about them.

 

By the time she finished listing as much info about the kidnapped victims as she knew, she didn’t see any sort of theme or similarities among the three Toa at all. If anything, what struck her most about these Toa was how radically different their lifestyles were. For example, Akuna was in the upper class of wealthy beings, Kanderias occupied the working class, and Laomos was the poorest of them all as a struggling artist.

 

These three kidnappings -- if they were related -- seemed utterly random to Niham. She saw no logic behind them, nothing that linked them together. It seemed to Niham that she was dealing with the kind of sicko who kidnaps people just for the sake of kidnapping. Yet even that didn't fit; after all, such kidnappers generally worked from the bottom up, while this kidnapper had started with a working class smelter, then a poor artist, and finally a wealthy retired Toa.

 

None of it made sense to her, but then again, maybe that was the point. Maybe these kidnappings weren’t related at all. Maybe she was just paranoid after a long, tiring day of work, which right now made a lot of sense to her worn out mind. She decided to go to bed. Perhaps things would look different in the morning.

 

Niham looked the list over one last time, just in case she missed something. She didn’t expect to find anything new, but when she noticed the Toas’ elements, a faint memory reasserted itself in her mind.

 

“Plasma, gravity, lightning . . .” Niham said in a low voice, her eyes focused on the paper. “Those were the powers of half the Toa Shika. Akuna is one of the last surviving members of the Toa Shika. What was it that they locked away with their powers thousands of years ago?”

 

The answer appeared in her mind instantly. There was a good possibility it might have nothing to do with the case, but Niham had to be sure. It was the only lead she had and she wasn’t going to ignore it just because it seemed far-fetched.

 

Rising from her chair, Niham consulted her address book for the apartment of an old friend, someone who might be able to give her some insight into this problem. She just hoped that she wasn’t too late, because if her theory about the kidnapper’s plan was true, then she had no time to waste.

 

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Edited by TNTOS, Dec 07 2013 - 07:55 PM.

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#14 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Jun 07 2013 - 08:39 AM

Chapter XIV

 

The monks’ community was a lot smaller than Lein’s Sanctuary, though it impressed Kiriah just the same. It was laid out in a bowl-shaped canyon. On one side of the canyon was a series of huts, all of them much larger than the ones Kiriah had seen back in Lein’s Sanctuary. A path connected the huts to what looked like a large, three-story temple, which had to be the monastery. A stream of crystal clear water flowed from the Mountains' peaks through the center of the settlement.

 

“Welcome to Quiet Solitude,” said Stronius, spreading his arms wide. “The birthplace of our prophet, the great Etora, as well as our home, where we are one with the earth.”

 

“What’s that large building over there?” said Kiriah, pointing at the temple-like structure.

 

“That is the monastery,” said Stronius. “That is where the abbot lives. That is also where we are going.”

 

The party of ten went down into the valley, taking a path that was far smoother than the one they’d taken up the Mountain. What most struck Kiriah about Quiet Solitude was the severe lack of any other living beings besides her own party. The beautiful flower gardens on either side of the path accentuated that lack.

 

Stronius, who walked beside Kiriah, said, “You no doubt notice the lack of people in Quiet Solitude.”

 

Kiriah looked at Stronius. “How’d you know what I was thinking?”

 

“I didn’t,” said Stronius. “I just guessed.”

 

“Well, you’re good at guessing,” said Kiriah. “But yeah, I’m wondering why there’s no one around.”

 

“It’s because of the dream plague,” said Stronius with a sigh. “Everyone is in the monastery or, in some cases, dead. We are some of the only monks that have yet to be affected by the plague, which is why we went down to Lein’s Sanctuary in search of help.”

 

“Oh my,” said Kiriah, glancing at the other monks. “You’re really down to such a low number?”

 

“There are about fifty of us that haven’t been afflicted with it yet,” said Stronius. “And there are about two hundred of us overall.”

 

“I didn’t know it was that serious.”

 

“It’s hard to believe, I know,” said Stronius, nodding. “But it’s true. Even the abbot has been afflicted with the plague, although he hasn’t lost his mind completely yet. But with you here, maybe the order will have a chance.”

 

Kiriah nodded as she mulled over that. Before he’d left, Jet had told her that an entity known as Annona was the cause of the plague, as she had been in Kiriah’s dimension. Of course, Jet hadn’t shown her any proof to back up that claim, so Kiriah had chosen not to tell the Skrall about Annona. If the dream plague was a mental disease, she might at least be able to identify its cause. And if it was in fact some kind of dream eater . . . she didn't want to think about what that might mean.

 

They soon reached the entrance of the monastery. Sahmad, Chalybs, and Telluris volunteered to stay outside, which Kiriah assumed was because they didn’t want to get infected by the plague. Sahmad reminded Kiriah that she was going to come with them to Ferrum after she helped the Skrall, which was good because that had nearly slipped the Toa of Psionics’s mind in the past couple of hours or so.

 

Inside the monastery, things were noisy and cold. She heard the sounds of babbling lunatics behind closed doors as she, Stronius, and the other monks walked down the hallway toward the stairs at the other end. Sometimes she even heard things being thrown around or destroyed, which made the place feel more like an asylum than a sacred monastery.

 

“We’re going to the top floor, where the abbot is,” Stronius explained as they climbed the stairs. “He will be your first patient. He’ll probably be easy because he hasn’t gotten to the point where he can no longer tell the difference between friend and foe, unlike some of our unfortunate brethren.”

 

As they walked down the second floor hallway, the other monks began separating from the group until it was just Kiriah and Stronius. She wondered where they were going, but figured they were probably going to help take care of their insane fellow monks. Considering the sounds the crazy monks were making, Kiriah didn't envy that job.

 

On the third floor, they ran into one of the Sisters of the Skrall. The Sisters of this dimension looked much like the Sisters of Kiriah’s dimension, except that they wore the same white robes as their male counterparts, instead of dark brown or faded purple.

 

This Sister was far taller than Stronius or Kiriah and was just coming out of one of the rooms. One of her sleeves had been torn straight off and one of her eyes was black, which made her look like she’d been in a fight.

 

“Sister Yomar,” said Stronius as he and Kiriah approached her. “How are the sick?”

 

“They’re getting worse,” said Sister Yomar, leaning against the wall. “Where do you think this black eye came from? They’re becoming more and more violent every day.”

 

“Fear not, Sister,” said Stronius, gesturing at Kiriah. “Meet Toa Kiriah. She is a Toa of Psionics and has agreed to help us cure the dream plague. Kiriah, this is Sister Yomar, the superior of the Sisters.”

 

“That was lucky,” said Yomar, looking Kiriah over carefully. “How did you find her so quickly?”

 

“She was left for dead in the jungle,” Stronius replied. “And . . . Jetrupi was with her.”

 

Based on Stronius’s pacifying tone, Kiriah assumed Yomar wasn’t going to be happy to hear that. But to her surprise, the superior just sighed.

 

“Let me guess,” she said. “Jet ran off, didn’t he?”

 

“He did,” Stronius said, nodding. “As usual.”

 

“Why’d Jet run away from the order in the past?” Kiriah asked. “He never told me why.“

 

“That is none of your concern at the moment,” said Stronius sharply. “We need to get you to the abbot right away. Yomar, how is Abbot Tuma doing?”

 

Abbot Tuma? The thought struck Kiriah as strange, but considering how the Skrall in this dimension were essentially the antithesis of the Skrall in her dimension, maybe that wasn’t quite as strange as it normally would have been.

 

“He is sleeping at the moment, I believe,” said Yomar. “But if you are going to test Kiriah’s powers on him, then I will take you there. I want to see if she succeeds.”

 

So the party of three went down to the end of the hall, where they found large double doors that were locked. Yomar unlocked them, allowing the trio to enter.

 

The abbot’s room was large and wide open. There were bookshelves lining the walls at the other side, filled with old tomes that Kiriah had never seen before. There were four sofas in the center of the room around what looked like a fire pit, although there was no fire burning and it looked like it had recently been cleaned, for there was no charcoal or ashes in it.

 

Over on the right side of the room was a large bed with black hangings, which reminded Kiriah eerily of a funeral bed. Yet that appeared to be where Abbot Tuma slept, for Yomar and Stronius walked over to it, forcing Kiriah to follow them.

 

Yomar pulled back the curtains, revealing a Skrall even larger than Stronius lying in the bed underneath the blankets. It was, unmistakably, Tuma, although he didn’t look quite as fierce as the Tuma from Kiriah’s dimension did. In fact, this Tuma looked older and grayer. His eyes and cheeks were sunken, like some disease was eating away at his body, which was strange because Kiriah didn’t think the dream plague did that. Perhaps he was afflicted with another disease or maybe he was just getting old.

 

Yomar stepped back, while Stronius stepped forward. He put one hand on Tuma’s shoulder and shook it, saying, “Abbot, please wake up. It’s me, your vice-abbot.”

 

The abbot’s eyes flickered open and he looked up at Stronius, although it was clear he didn’t recognize his second-in-command.

 

“Hello?” said Tuma. “Who are . . . why is the sky purple?”

 

“Tuma, please,” said Stronius, his voice cracked. “Can’t you recognize me? At all?”

 

Tuma blinked once or twice and said, “Yes . . . I think I remember you. You’re . . . you’re Stronius.”

 

Stronius smiled, a smile so big that it threw Kiriah off-guard. “Yes, abbot, that’s correct. I am Stronius.”

 

Then Tuma looked troubled. “But if you’re Stronius . . . gah, this must be a dream.”

 

“It’s not a dream, abbot,” said Stronius, shaking his head. “I’ve only come to tell you good news. We found a Toa of Psionics named Kiriah who has promised to help us cure the dream plague. She is going to . . .”

 

Stronius glanced over his shoulder at Kiriah and mouthed, “What are you going to do?”

 

Kiriah mouthed back, “Delve into his mind.”

 

Stronius nodded and looked back at Tuma. “She is going to delve into your mind and find out how to fix it. You’ll be back to your old self in no time, abbot.”

 

Tuma said nothing to this. He just put one of his fists in his mouth and started drooling on it. It was really hard for Kiriah to reconcile this weak, bedridden monk with the powerful general king she had always heard about in her life; but on the other hand, she’d always been told Stronius was a brute incapable of feeling emotion and yet this Stronius was acting very emotional right now. She decided that alternate universes were just really, really weird.

 

Stronius beckoned for Kiriah to approach, which she did. He then said to her, “So, how do you plan to delve into his mind?”

“I’m going to create a mental bridge between our minds,” said Kiriah, putting her fingers on her forehead. “I’ll be able to explore his mind and thoughts as much as I like, but he won’t be able to explore mine due to my mental shield.”

 

“Does Tuma need to be asleep for you to do it?” Yomar asked.

 

Kiriah shook her head. “No. When I link our minds, he is probably going to fall unconscious on his own. So am I, but I’ll still be standing. Just don’t disturb me until I’m finished.”

 

“How long will it take for you to find out what is wrong?” Stronius asked.

 

“I don’t know,” said Kiriah, shaking her head. “Depends on how badly his mind is damaged. I suggest finding something to occupy your time with.”

 

Stronius nodded, although Kiriah suspected that the Skrall monk would be spending every second of that time worrying incessantly about Tuma. Which wasn’t a problem at all, however unproductive it might be.

 

Kiriah placed one hand on Tuma’s forehead and began constructing a mental bridge between their minds. In less than a second, Kiriah felt their minds linked and, without further ado, delved into Tuma's mind.

 

Like all minds, Tuma’s was filled with innumerable images and thoughts, so many of them that it was hard for Kiriah to decide where to start first. She decided to start looking through his memories until she found the one where Tuma lost his ability to dream. Memories were a pathway to knowledge when it came to this kind of illness, although Kiriah had to be careful, as it was easy for someone to change their memories even unintentionally.

 

Shifting through memories was not an exact art. Memories were rarely ordered chronologically in a person’s mind, even though they were experienced that way. Here, the memories were arranged with the pleasant ones first and the unpleasant ones in the back, which from Kiriah’s experience was the usual filing order of peoples’ memories. She would first have to go through the pleasant memories in order to reach the unpleasant ones, where she was sure she would find the memory that might help her cure Tuma. And so she began looking through his past.

 

In one memory, a younger Tuma finished reading out of a scroll and was immediately handed monk robes that looked older and different than the other monks’ robes. He donned the robes and the various monks gathered to hear him speak applauded him, so Kiriah assumed this must have been the day Tuma was made abbot of the monastery.

 

Passing through Tuma's memories quickly, Kiriah saw nothing of interest until she found one with Stronius and Tuma. Intrigued, she watched as the two monks held hands, standing on a cliff together as they watched the sun set in the distance.

 

She quickly reprimanded herself, however, reminding herself that Tuma's private memories had nothing to do with her and that it was rude to look at them when they clearly had nothing to do with the dream plague.

 

So Kiriah quickly filed through the rest of Tuma's pleasant memories until she came upon his unpleasant memories. She had little trouble accessing them; perhaps Tuma was the kind of guy who didn't repress his painful memories, at least not as well as some people.

 

As these memories weren't going to be as good as the last group, Kiriah decided to go through them at a quicker rate than normal so she wouldn’t have to experience any unpleasantness herself. That plan was forgotten, however, when the first negative memory she came upon showed Jetrupi standing just outside the gate of Quiet Solitude, arguing with Tuma and Stronius.

 

Kiriah paused. She'd always wanted to learn more about Jet and this memory seemed like a good place to start. She reasoned that Tuma wouldn't mind because the memory wasn't as intimate as the one where he and Stronius held hands. It might even have important info regarding the dream plague, or at least she tried to convince herself that it did.

 

“We have given you food, shelter, clothes, and work,” said Tuma, his arms folded across his chest. “Is this how you repay us?”

 

“You don’t understand,” said Jet, shaking his head. “You monks spend all your days cooped up in these Mountains reading the writings of someone who may or may not have existed. Tell me, where is the wisdom in that when we could be spending that same time alleviating the suffering and evil in this world?”

 

“It is not our job to act as Spherus Magna’s police,” said Stronius, his eyes alight with anger. “We cannot alleviate all of the suffering and evil in the world. It is better to focus on our inner lives instead of the outer problems that have plagued the world since the earth was formed.”

 

“Why can’t we do both?” said Jet, kicking a rock. “Listen, I have learned much from my time with you here, but I can’t stay here any longer. I feel that it is my mission as a monk to go out into the world and fighting societal ills wherever they may be. Being cooped up in a mountain all day is not fighting societal ills.”

 

“If that is true, then why did you try to leave in the middle of the night without telling anyone?” said Tuma. “You do not come across as someone who is following his conscience. You come across as a drifter, someone who can’t stay in one place for too long because he bores easily, which I believe is why you left your home and came to us in the first place.”

 

“You don’t know me,” said Jet, his hands balled into fists. “You don’t know me at all. I am going out on my own because this institution has failed, is failing, and will fail in the future unless it changes. You’re just too blind and seeped in the mire of tradition to realize that.”

 

Stronius stepped forward and growled, “Then go. We don’t need your kind of criticism around here. If all you are going to do is complain and whine, then leave. True monks are not whiners or complainers. They stick with the order from the day they join to the day they die.”

 

“Stronius-“ said Tuma, but Jetrupi cut him off.

 

“Fine,” Jet snapped as he readjusted his backpack. “I'm getting sick of your mysticism, anyway. Good bye. Forever.”

 

With that, Jet started walking away. Stronius didn’t look at all bothered to see Jet leaving, while Tuma appeared disturbed. In spite of that, however, Tuma didn’t call back Jet. He just watched the Gadarian go until he disappeared into the darkness just outside the torchlight Stronius held.

 

“His father warned us this would happen someday,” said Stronius. “Warned us that Jet would run out on us. I didn’t believe him at the time, but I guess that’s what we get for breaking tradition by allowing a non-Skrall to join the order.”

 

Tuma at first said nothing. Then he said, “Let’s go back inside, Stronius. It is midnight and we have much work to do in the morning. Tell everyone that Jetrupi has left and is probably never coming back.”

 

“Probably?” said Stronius, looking at Tuma in disbelief. “Forgive me, abbot, but it’s clear to me that Jet never intends to set foot in this community ever again. You might raise false hopes for the others who think Jet is not outside the order.”

 

“As Etora once said, ‘All rocks come from the same quarry,’” Tuma replied. “It means Jetrupi may not be entirely lost. Indeed, perhaps Jetrupi knows something we don’t.”

 

Stronius shook his head. “Abbot, I don’t think anyone as disrespectful of authority as Jetrupi could know anything worth knowing.”

 

Tuma shrugged. “You may have a point.” 

 

Then Stronius opened the gate and the two Skrall passed through. As this is where the memory seemed to end, Kiriah went back to looking through Tuma’s negative memories, although as she did so she considered what she’d just seen.

 

It appeared that Jet had had a philosophical dispute with the monks, which explained why he left the order. Tuma accused Jet of being a drifter rather than a conscientious objector, which Kiriah wondered if it was true or not. It didn’t seem like anyone here held a high opinion of Jet, which explained why the Gadarian seemed so bitter toward everyone in this dimension. She decided not to bring it up to Jet later unless necessary, as she didn't want him to snap at her.

 

The rest of the memories ranged from embarrassing, such as Tuma accidentally walking in on a bathing female Skrall, to frightening, such as when Tuma was attacked by a stone lion. None of them interested Kiriah long enough for her to give them anything but the most cursory glance, as none of them seemed to be relevant to what she was looking for.

 

Eventually, Kiriah came upon another memory. This one showed Tuma lying in bed, trying to sleep, but eventually he sat up and shook his head. He then turned to the person lying next to him, whom Kiriah recognized as Stronius, and whispered, “Stronius, I can’t dream.”

 

As this was obviously the memory of the night Tuma lost his ability to dream, Kiriah decided to branch out.

 

‘Branching out’ was a term that Toa of Psionics used to describe the process of figuring out the cause of a person’s mental problems. It involved starting with a person’s earliest memory of when they got the problem and then working from there. It was a process Kiriah wasn’t very skilled in because of her lack of practice, but she did know how to do it and as a result was confident in herself this time.

 

Kiriah expected the process to take a long time, as it usually did, but to her surprise, she found the problem quickly: A blank part of Tuma’s mind, which was the part of the mind where dreams were made. Yet it was totally void of anything, which puzzled Kiriah greatly. It was as if the dreams had been stolen . . . or eaten.

 

Jet’s theory had been correct. Tuma and the other monks were not suffering from some kind of disease, curable or otherwise, but had had their dreams eaten by someone, probably Annona. And if Annona had indeed eaten the monks' dreams . . . then that meant it would be impossible to save anyone who had lost their dreams this way.

 

As stalling wasn't going to make the news she had to deliver any less tragic, Kiriah decided to return to consciousness and get it over with quickly. She just didn't want to see how angry Stronius was going to get.

 

-

 

When Kiriah blinked again, she found herself standing in Tuma’s room right next to his bed, with her hand on his forehead. She took her hand off Tuma’s forehead and turned around, opening her mouth to tell Stronius and Yomar her conclusion, but her voice died in her throat when she saw that there was one other person in the room now, who Stronius and Yomar were glaring at.

 

“Jetrupi?” said Kiriah, causing the three beings to look at her. “When did you get here?”

 

It was indeed Jet, who looked the same as Kiriah had last seen him, except that his neck appeared completely healed now. He was leaning against the door, his arms folded across his chest, like he had been standing there for quite a while.

 

“Good to see you again, Kiriah,” said Jet, nodding in her direction. “I have just been talking with Stronius and Yomar here, catching up and all that.”

 

“How did you get in here?” said Kiriah. “Did you-“

 

“Oh, I just followed you up into the Mountains,” said Jet with a shrug. “I entered the monastery through the back door a few moments ago.”

 

“I thought you said you were never coming back, Jet,” said Stronius. “What changed your mind?”

 

“Because, though I still think you’re misguided fools, I also believe it is my duty to help you,” said Jet. “I know the true source of the dream plague and I decided to come back and tell you about it. Kiriah already knows, don’t you, Kiriah?”

 

Kiriah nodded. “Yes, I do.”

 

“Well, what is it?” said Stronius, all of his hostility quickly melting away. “Is it the food? The water? The air? The environment?”

 

“Actually, the dream plague is not a real plague in the disease sense,” said Jet, shaking his head. “It’s actually the work of an entity known as Annona, who lives deep in the Heart of the Mountains, well away from civilization. She eats peoples’ dreams, which is what happened to Tuma and the other monks.”

 

Stronius looked at Kiriah. “Is that true?”

 

Kiriah nodded again. “Yes, it’s true. We can’t ‘cure’ the dream plague because there’s no plague to cure.”

 

“Then what do you suggest we do?” said Stronius, looking between Jet and Kiriah. “Let them all die?”

 

Jet looked into Kiriah’s eyes briefly before he said, “No. We’re going to go to Annona’s lair and kill her.”

 

“Will that bring our fellow monks’ dreams back?” said Yomar.

 

“No,” said Jet, again shaking his head. “When Annona eats dreams, they are gone. Forever. That means that eventually, Tuma and the other monks will die.”

 

“No . . . that can't be true,” said Stronius, looking at the floor. “But if it is, then what is the point in defeating Annona if it will not help my fellow monks?”

 

“Because Annona is a threat to everyone on Spherus Magna,” Jet replied. “Rather than selfishly thinking only about yourselves, consider every living, dreaming being on this planet. Annona’s hunger is not easily sated, and if left unopposed, she will probably kill many people, Skrall and non-Skrall alike. It could lead to the end of the world as we know it.”

 

“I think Jetrupi speaks the truth,” said Yomar, putting one hand on Stronius’s shoulder. “A being that can eat dreams is probably not going to stop with just the Skrall. There are others on Spherus Magna who need to be protected from Annona. We have to stop it.”

 

Stronius glanced at Tuma, who still lay unconscious on the bed, before looking back at the others and saying, “Fine. For once, Jet, you have a point. Let us stop Annona before she kills anyone else.”

 

“Finally,” said Jet with a sigh. “I thought you were going to yell at me to leave again.”

 

“The lives of innocents are more important than our petty bickering, Jetrupi,” said Stronius. “Though do not think we are friends again because we're working together for this moment.”

 

“Understood,” said Jet with a smirk. He looked at Kiriah and said, “Are you coming, too?”

 

“Of course,” said Kiriah, nodding. “I didn't come this far just to go back, after all.”

 

“All right,” said Jet as he pushed himself off the door frame. “Now let's get going. We have a world to save.”

 

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#15 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Jun 10 2013 - 08:32 AM

Chapter XV

 

Kafor’s number one priority at the moment was to get out of the Shadowed One’s throne room alive. That was easier said than done, for at least half of the people in this room wanted her dead and her wrists were currently chained together. So she had taken cover behind one of the chamber's support beams to work on freeing herself without interference, occasionally glancing around it to see who was winning and who was dying horribly.

 

From what she had last seen, Night fought Darkness as Heavyweight battled Sentrakh, while the Shadowed One -- or, as Kafor liked to think of him now, Rex Damaric -- himself had left his throne to battle Niralo. That last one seemed a bit unfair to Kafor, for Niralo’s legs were still stuck in the thick protodermis block that Rex had created around them, but as the leader of the Dark Hunters was not known for playing fair, Kafor gave it little thought.

 

The sound of glass shattering caused her to peer around the support beam again. Where Niralo had lain previously there was now a pile of shattered protoglass on the floor, which Rex stood over. Based on his expression, however, it was clear that the aged leader had nothing to do with that, which meant that Niralo had escaped.

 

A sense of ominous dread filled Kafor, causing her to try to free her wrists again. A moment later, she felt a large wind blow through and, looking up, saw Niralo standing before her with a wicked grin on his face.

 

“There you are,” said Niralo, reaching down with one hand. “Let me help you with that.”

 

Without thinking, Kafor fired her laser beams at Niralo’s hand. The beams struck his claw, causing the being to curse foully and pull back. At the same time, Kafor rolled out of the way, got to her feet, and ran along the perimeter of the room. Her aim was Rex’s throne, which she could hide behind, but she felt a rushing wind again and an instant later Niralo stood in front of her with his arms crossed.

 

“Now, now, Seer,” said Niralo, shaking his head. “You can’t escape me. I can outrun airships. So I suggest you just give up and let me take you away. Do you really want to stick around this dump of a fortress where everyone wants to kill you?”

 

“No,” said Kafor, taking a step back. “I’ve always been the kind of girl who likes certainties over uncertainties. I know for a fact that everyone here hates me and wants me dead, but I don’t know for sure if you do. So I’ll figure my own way out of here, thanks.”

 

Niralo opened his mouth to speak, but then his eyes flickered above her head and he lashed out, knocking Kafor off her feet. At the same time, he disappeared and the next moment two red lasers struck the spot where he had been standing previously. He reappeared not far away, his hands balled into fists.

 

Kafor shook her head and looked over her shoulder, where she saw Rex Damaric. His eyes were glowing with rage or perhaps charged energy; she couldn't tell.

 

“You missed, old man,” said Niralo, spitting on the ground. “Not surprising. Your years are finally starting to catch up to you."

 

“Don’t underestimate your elders, youngling,” said Rex. “There is a reason I am still the leader of the Dark Hunters, even fifty-thousand years after the death of the old universe.”

 

Niralo smirked. “Then catch me if you can, old man.”

 

With a gust of wind, Niralo disappeared again. Kafor took advantage of this opportunity to make a break for the throne, but a slab of protodermis appeared in her way, which she tripped over.

 

“Stay still,” Rex said to her, without looking at her. “Or else.”

 

Kafor wasn’t sure why Rex thought that threat would work on her, considering he was going to kill her anyway. Nonetheless she obeyed, mostly to see what was going to happen next.

 

Without warning, Rex whirled around and stabbed the spot in the air behind him. At that exact moment, Niralo appeared where Rex was about to stab. Rex’s spear pierced Niralo’s stomach, causing blood to flow from it like a river. The speedster roared in pain and staggered backwards against one of the support pillars. He sank to the floor, breathing heavily as he put one hand on his wound.

 

“As I said, don’t underestimate your elders,” said Rex, Niralo's blood dripping from his spear's tip. “Unfortunately for you, I never underestimate my opponents.”

 

Niralo just looked at Rex with hate in his eyes and, before anyone could act, a dimensional portal opened behind him. The speedster fell through it backwards, grinning all the while, and then the portal disappeared, leaving behind a puddle of blood where Niralo had sat.

 

Rex didn’t appear upset that Niralo had got away. He just turned around and looked at Kafor, his mouth curled in a smirk.

 

“Now that he is out of the way,” said Rex, raising his spear, “I believe it is finally time for you to die, Kafor.”

 

-

 

Night ducked to avoid Darkness’s claws, but couldn’t avoid being slammed in the chest by Darkness’s lower arms. The Skrall recovered quickly, however, and slashed at Darkness with his sword, but the Dark Hunter dodged with a back-flip, landing well outside of Night’s reach.

 

“Stop moving so fast,” said Night, raising his sword again.

 

Darkness said nothing. He merely stepped onto a crack in the floor and, without warning, disappeared into it.

 

“I hate it when he does that,” Night murmured as he looked around.

 

As Night kept an eye out for Darkness, he noticed Heavyweight battling Sentrakh on the other side of the room. He also spotted Kafor dodging the Shadowed One’s eye beams, but there was nothing Night could do for either of his comrades right now. He had to keep his wits about himself unless he wanted to get speared by all four of Darkness’s claws.

 

The sound metal scraping against rock caused Night to whirl around and raise his shield; just in time, for Darkness slammed all four of his claws into it with the force of a Kikanalo. The blow sent Night skittering backwards across the stone floor, and when he stopped, he looked at his shield, which now had a long crack running its length.

 

Darkness dashed toward Night again, raising his claws. The Dark Hunter slashed at him, but Night jumped back and responded with a shadow bolt, which struck Darkness in the face. The attack sent Darkness stumbling backwards, allowing Night to throw his buzz-saw shield at the stunned Hunter.

 

At the last minute, Darkness slipped through a crack in the floor and Night’s shield went flying over the opening. The shield embedded itself in the wall on the other side of the chamber, just barely missing Heavyweight, who was still fighting Sentrakh.

 

Again, Night looked around, raising his sword to his chest. Darkness could be anywhere and could strike at any time. It was days like today that Night wished his own shadow abilities could allow him to do that, but unfortunately, his control over shadow was about the same as that of a Toa's. If only . . .

 

That was when Night got a brilliant idea, but he didn’t have time to consider further, for he again heard the sound of metal against stone and jumped forward. Just in time, for Darkness fell from the ceiling and crashed where Night had been standing just a few moments ago. Night turned around and faced the Dark Hunter, who stood up as though that last attack hadn't fazed him.

 

“Nice try,” said Night, holding his sword steady. “But I don’t think that’s going to work on me.”

 

“Maybe you’re right,” said Darkness, with a hint of sarcasm. “Perhaps I should vary my-“

 

Darkness didn’t get to finish his sentence, for at that moment Night threw his sword at him. The Dark Hunter immediately turned into literal darkness and would have slipped through the cracks in the floor had Night not acted immediately. He focused on Darkness’s non-physical form, concentrating hard to override the Dark Hunter’s will.

 

Normally, controlling the element of shadow wasn’t a difficult thing for the Skrall. It was almost as easy as eating or breathing, but this was different. Darkness was not normal shadow, but the sapient kind. Night had heard of such beings, called elementals, but he’d never tried to control one before, mostly because he’d never run into any shadow elementals during his missions.

 

Thus, Night had to subdue Darkness’s will before he could control the assassin. This was far more difficult than it sounded, for Darkness had a supremely powerful will, almost stronger than Night’s. It was all Night could do to retain control, but he reckoned he didn’t need to gain complete control over his opponent. He only needed a little control over him.

 

With a supreme effort, Night jerked his hands upwards and Darkness flew up into the ceiling. The Hunter slammed into the ceiling hard enough to make it crack, but that didn’t knock him out like Night thought it would. So he slammed Darkness into the floor and then against the ceiling again.

 

Yet Darkness was still conscious and still struggling, so Night sent the Dark Hunter flying all the way across the room to the door. Darkness slammed into the door with a crash, which finally knocked him out.

 

With that, Night stopped trying to control Darkness, who had returned to his physical form now. Thankfully, the Dark Hunter didn't look like he was going to get up anytime soon.

 

Panting, Night looked around the chamber again. Heavyweight was still in combat with Sentrakh, while Kafor was running from the Shadowed One . . . running from the Shadowed One straight toward Night.

 

Kafor accidentally ran into Night, knocking them both over. The Skakdi immediately rolled off the Skrall and, getting to her feet, tried to run, but the Shadowed One’s laser beams struck the floor in front of her, causing Kafor to stop.

 

Night got to his feet and looked up at the Shadowed One, who was slowly approaching them, looking angrier than Night had ever seen the Dark Hunter leader before.

 

“Well, well, Night,” said the Shadowed One. “I must admit I didn’t expect you or Heavyweight, of all my Dark Hunters, to rebel against me.”

 

Night realized he didn’t have any weapons. Nor did Kafor, whose wrists were still cuffed, which explained why she had chosen to run rather than fight.

 

So Night said, “My allegiance has only extended to this organization insofar as I was treated well and my grandfather was given half of my earnings. You threatening my life made me realize I could find other ways to support my grandfather.”

 

The Shadowed One chuckled. “And just how do you intend to make money when your face is known all over Spherus Magna as a criminal? You really should just let me kill you. It would be far better for you -- and your grandfather -- if you died now.”

 

“Night’s never going to give up to you,” Kafor said defiantly. “Right, Night?”

 

Night looked at her in astonishment. “Since when did you become my best friend?”

 

“Since you became my only ticket out of New Odina alive, of course,” said Kafor, rolling her eyes. “It’s only what anyone else would do in my situation.”

 

Before Night could respond to that, the Shadowed One said, “Whether you choose to lie down and die like a good dog or not, I will slay you. So I suggest you-“

 

At that moment, Heavyweight shouted, “Night, Kafor, watch out!” prompting Night to duck immediately. He pulled down Kafor with him; just in the nick of time, too, for the next moment Sentrakh went flying over their heads toward the Shadowed One.

 

Alarmed, the Shadowed One fired his laser beams at the incoming Sentrakh. The beams struck Sentrakh, causing the bodyguard to silently disintegrate into nothingness.

 

Before Night could process what had just happened, Kafor got on her knees and fired her own eye beams at the Shadowed One. The beams struck the Shadowed One directly in the chest, shattering his heartlight and causing the Dark Hunter leader’s eyes to widen as he put one hand over the gaping hole that had once been his chest.

 

“No . . .” the Shadowed One gasped, his breathing ragged and uneven. “This . . . can’t . . . be . . . how . . . I . . . end . . .”

 

Then the Shadowed One’s eyes went blank and he fell over backwards. He did not get up.

 

Night stood up again, and so did Kafor. The Skrall looked at Kafor and said, “I hate to say this, but good job.”

 

“Thank you,” said Kafor. “He had it coming. I suppose destiny just saw fit to use me as its tool for the task.”

 

Night rolled his eyes, and then turned around to face Heavyweight, who was walking over to them. Heavyweight looked beaten, for her armor was damaged and her right arm had a bad gash running down it. Besides that, though, she didn't appear badly hurt.

 

“I sent Sentrakh flying,” said Heavyweight as she approached. “I knew it would distract the Shadowed One long enough for one of you two to do something about him.”

 

Night high-fived Heavyweight. “Good thinking.”

 

This time, Heavyweight actually smiled, although the expression disappeared from her face quickly enough when she looked at the Shadowed One’s corpse.

 

“Uh oh,” said Heavyweight, putting one hand against her forehead. “You guys realize what we just did, don’t you?”

 

“Killed the Shadowed One, of course,” said Kafor, nodding. “And?”

 

“By the Great Spirit you’re slow!” said Heavyweight, taking a step back. “The Shadowed One was the leader of thousands of Dark Hunters. When they learn he’s dead, they’re going to kill us.”

 

“On the contrary, Heavyweight,” said Kafor, “with the Shadowed One dead, I imagine the Dark Hunters will cease to exist as a unified organization. It’ll probably fall apart and split into dozens of rival factions all competing for the power the Shadowed One left behind. We’re probably going to be okay for now.”

 

“Even if what you say does happen, that doesn’t help us,” said Heavyweight, shaking her head. “The Shadowed One has loyalists. Even if they fail to take over leadership of the organization, they’ll probably still come after us. We’re screwed no matter what happens.”

 

“No one knows we killed him, Heavyweight,” said Night, nodding at the Shadowed One's body. “They’ll have no way of knowing we did it. And by the time they do find out, we’ll be long gone. We’re-“

 

At that moment, the doors to the Shadowed One’s throne room opened slightly and three Dark Hunters entered. They stopped immediately as soon as they spotted Night, Heavyweight, and Kafor standing next to the Shadowed One's corpse. It didn't take long for them to figure out what happened, apparently, because they drew their weapons and aimed them at the three killers without hesitation.

 

“-safe,” Night finished weakly. “I just should have kept my mouth shut.”

 

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#16 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Jun 14 2013 - 08:35 AM

Chapter XVI

 

“Oh, Jeran, look at all of these nice gifts those kind people gave us!” said Masqouth as he and Jeran entered their apartment, their arms full of presents. “A book of poetry by Zarsk, a small statue replica of the famous warlord Nektann, a golden sword capable of phasing through solid objects . . . so many good things that I just don’t know what we’re going to do with them all!”

 

Jeran, who carried the bulk of the gifts, couldn’t speak due to the combined weight of the items. He just rolled his eyes and deposited the objects on the table in the middle of the living room, causing the table to creak underneath the weight of all the presents. At some point Jeran was going to have to organize it all, but they’d had such a long day today that the Echo decided to put off organizing the gifts until later.

 

Masqouth immediately sat on the couch, depositing the few items he had chosen to carry. The added weight of the new objects caused the table to creak again, worrying Jeran that it might break.

 

“Wasn’t it great how many people wanted me to heal them?” said Masqouth, looking at Jeran as the Echo sat down next to him. “It’s a shame most of them are probably going to die, but if that will make me just like my parents, then it is a price I’m happily willing to pay.”

 

Jeran was reminded of his conversation with Atuje earlier, in which Atuje had told Jeran that the identity of Masqouth’s parents was not information he needed to know. Still, Jeran couldn’t help but wonder what kind of parents were apparently mass killers, nor why Masqouth saw that as something worth emulating rather than avoiding.

 

At that moment, a dimensional portal abruptly opened on the other side of the room. Puzzled, Jeran and Masqouth watched as Niralo fell out of the portal and landed on the carpet. It took Jeran a moment to realize that Niralo was bleeding horribly due to a open wound in his stomach, which explained why he was lying on the carpet in an increasingly widening pool of blood.

 

Masqouth seemed to understand the situation far quicker than Jeran, for he stood up and ran over to Niralo without hesitation. His mask changed shape until it resembled the Ignika and then Masqouth bent over Niralo, who was moaning in pain.

 

“Just hold on, Niralo,” said Masqouth as he placed his hands on Niralo’s wound. “The pain will all be over in a second. Just stay still and . . .”

 

A flash of light emitted from Masqouth’s hands and the next moment Niralo ceased moaning. The speedster glanced at his stomach, which was now fully repaired and closed, although his body was still covered with dried blood. The carpet was also stained with his bodily fluids, making Jeran hope that room service wasn't into gossip or questioning.

 

“Thanks,” Niralo said as he sat up, looking at Masqouth. “I thought I was going to die.”

 

“No problem,” said Masqouth, patting Niralo on the shoulder. “So how did you get harmed like that, anyway?”

 

Jeran, getting up from the couch, asked, “And where is that Seer you were supposed to kidnap?”

 

“It was the Shadowed One,” Niralo said with a cough. “Old man stabbed me in the gut. Would have died if I hadn’t escaped via dimension-hopping. I was trying to get the Seer, but decided I valued my life a bit more than capturing some ugly Skakdi.”

 

“Then you ought to go back immediately,” said Masqouth as he stood up. “Remember, Atuje gave you that mission. You can’t just give up, not until the Seer is captured or dead.”

 

Niralo stood up shakily. “Yeah, I was planning on going back, you see, but then I got a message from the King telling me to stay put here for a while.”

 

“What?” said Jeran, walking over to them. “Why would Atuje tell you that?”

 

“Heck if I know,” said Niralo with a shrug. “Figured he was calling a meeting or something.”

 

“Well, that’s silly,” said Masqouth, shaking his head. “Because Wavica and Asroth aren’t here, so-“

 

Just as those words left his mouth, two more dimensional portals opened. From out of them came Wavica and Asroth, both looking partly curious, partly annoyed.

 

“Oh, Wavica, Asroth!” said Masqouth, spreading his arms wide. “Welcome back. Did you get all the Toa we need?”

 

“I got my Toa,” said Wavica. “You know, Jeran, your friend?”

 

Jeran didn’t move from his spot. “You didn’t . . . harm her badly, did you?”

 

“Just knocked her out, that’s all,” said Wavica. “It was her friends who got the worst of it.”

 

“I didn’t get my Toa,” said Asroth, shaking her head. “I was about to, but then Atuje called me and told me to come back here.”

 

“Really?” said Wavica, looking at her fellow Echo. “Atuje also ordered me to return.”

 

“Same here,” said Niralo, pointing at himself. “That, and I was bleeding to death, but I mostly returned because I wanted to.”

 

“Atuje didn't tell me or Jeran about any meeting, though,” said Masqouth as he stroked his chin. “Which is weird because Atuje always keeps us informed, so I'm not sure why he'd keep us in the dark about-”

 

Masqouth's sentence was cut short as something unseen swept through the room all around them. The force of the invisible ‘water,’ for want of a better word, sent them all to their knees, except for Masqouth, who still stood, looking around the room for the source of this 'water.' Jeran knew, of course, that Masqouth would never find the source of it, for what they felt was the presence of the King of Life himself, King Atuje.

 

“It is good to see that you all are here,” said Atuje, his voice coming from seemingly everything. “You all obeyed my commands to gather in this apartment. Excellent.”

 

“What is it that you wish to speak with us about, Atuje?” said Masqouth, who was staring at nothing. “We are all here and we are all listening.”

 

“New developments have arisen that I did not foresee and which could possibly complicate my plan,” Atuje replied. “But first, let’s get the eavesdropper out of the way, shall we? Masqouth, open the door.”

 

A curious expression passed over Masqouth’s face as he walked over to the apartment's door. The other Echoes turned their heads to watch -- the only parts of their bodies that they had any control over at the moment -- as Masqouth unlocked the door and opened it. He stood in the doorway for a minute before saying, “Well, hello. What’s your name? How’s about you come inside?”

 

Puzzled, Jeran wondered who Masqouth was talking to when a Toa walked in. Or, rather, marched in, for his legs moved up and down awkwardly, like a puppet being manipulated by a puppeteer. Based on his gold and white color scheme, it was obvious that the Toa was a Toa of Light, although Jeran didn’t recognize him at all.

 

The Toa of Light walked until he was in the center of the Echoes’ view. Masqouth quickly closed and locked the door and then followed after the Toa of Light, stopping next to the couch. The Echo sat down on one of the couch’s arms, his hands folded across his lap as he looked at the Toa of Light.

 

“Meet Marana,” said Atuje, his voice cold. “He is a spy sent by New Atero to follow Masqouth in order to dig up dirt on him.”

 

“How did we never notice him before?” said Jeran. “And what are you doing to him, my lord?”

 

“Just controlling his nerves,” said Atuje. “As for how you never noticed him, he is a Toa of Light. He bent light around himself to effectively become invisible. He has been trailing you for only a few days now and to my knowledge hasn’t learned of me or our plan; however, he is a threat to our operations just the same and so therefore cannot be allowed to live.”

 

A loud ‘crack’ broke the air as Marana collapsed into a heap, knocking his skull on the corner of the table. He did not get back up.

 

“It is regrettable that I had to do that,” said Atuje. “But without death, life cannot be, so death is sometimes necessary.”

 

“I would have killed him if you’d asked me, Lord Atuje,” said Masqouth, raising a hand. “I could even have broken his neck like you did.”

 

“Thank you for the offer, Masqouth, but it is done,” said Atuje. “Besides, that is not all I have called you for tonight. There is much that we need to discuss, important things that we cannot ignore unless we wish to doom all hopes of success for the plan.”

 

Masqouth got on his knees beside the others. “We are listening, my lord.”

 

“Now,” said Atuje, “the first thing I would like to discuss is Toa Kiriah and Jetrupi.”

 

Niralo grinned. “I killed them already. I injected them with my venom. They’re probably nothing more than lifeless sacks of meat and metal right now.”

 

“Actually, they’re still alive,” said Atuje. “Both of them.”

 

All of the Echoes looked looked at one another in alarm. Niralo in particular looked shocked, his mouth hanging open and his eyes bulging.

 

“What?” said Niralo. “No way. You must be mistaken or something.”

 

“I made no mistake here, Niralo,” said Atuje. “They survived your attack, thanks to some of Jetrupi’s friends, and they’re going to come back here very soon.”

 

“If they come back here, we’re all screwed,” said Niralo. “Atuje, let me go after them and finish the job I started.”

 

“That is precisely what I am ordering you to do now, Niralo,” said Atuje. “Go back to that dimension where you attacked Kiriah and Jetrupi and slay them both. Do not come back without their heads.”

 

“Yes, my lord,” said Niralo, nodding. “Your will be done.”

 

“There is another situation that we need to discuss as well,” said Atuje. “I am sure you all remember Toa Niham, yes? The Toa detective who has been investigating the recent kidnappings we are behind?”

 

“Yeah, I remember her,” said Wavica. “I just saw her, in fact, when I kidnapped Akuna. What about her, my lord?”

 

“She’s on our trail,” said Atuje. “By that I mean she is close to finding out what we are up to. And if she gathers enough evidence, she will present it to the authorities, which will give them an excuse to arrest Masqouth, which, as you all know, would ruin my plan.”

 

“What will we do, Your Highness?” said Asroth. “Do you want us to kill her?”

 

“No,” said Atuje. “Kidnap her, as you have thus far done with the other Toa. She is a Toa of the Green, one of the elements we need to open the Door. Thus, one of you needs to track her down and kidnap her. That way, no one will know of our plan until it is too late to stop it.”

 

“I will go after her, my lord,” said Wavica, raising one hand. “I already have an idea of her fighting abilities. I will capture her.”

 

“Excellent, Wavica,” said Atuje. “Then that is your mission.”

 

“What about the Toa of Iron, my lord?” said Jeran. “We still don’t have him yet.”

 

“Asroth will go after Toa Chimoy,” said Atuje. “That is what you were doing previously, yes, Asroth?”

 

“Yep,” said Asroth, nodding. “I-“

 

“I want to do it.”

 

All of the Echoes looked at Jeran, who had with some effort managed to raise one hand. Jeran could feel Atuje’s presence singling him out, which felt like being dumped in boiling water, although even that simile didn’t quite capture how it felt.

 

“Did you just volunteer to go after the Toa of Iron?” said Atuje, though he didn't sound surprised. “Did we hear you right, Jeran?”

 

“Yes, my lord,” said Jeran. “I want to capture Chimoy. Asroth can take my place as Masqouth’s servant/bodyguard.”

 

“Atuje already told me to do it, moron,” Asroth snapped. “So why don’t you just stay here like a good little-“

 

“Actually, I believe Jeran’s suggestion is interesting,” Atuje interrupted. “Why do you want to do it, Jeran? Would you be willing to explain it to us all?”

 

Jeran licked his lips nervously before saying, “Well, I know Chimoy. I have a better idea of his fighting skills and tactics than anyone else in this room. I believe my chances of capturing him are greater than Asroth’s.”

 

“Well,” said Atuje. “Your point is made. Jeran, you shall go after Chimoy, while Asroth, you go with Wavica after Niham.”

 

“My lord, I don’t need help capturing one Toa,” said Wavica. “It’s going to be a very simple mission.”

 

“It’s not going to be as easy as you think,” said Atuje. “Niham is going to speak with Toa Oggakia, an experienced Toa of Shadow. You might not be able to take on two Toa at once, so I believe you will need a partner.”

 

“Well, at least I get to do something exciting,” said Asroth. “Better than babysitting Masqouth all day, at any rate.”

 

“Oh, does that mean I’m going to be by myself?” said Masqouth, standing up. “Am I? Huh? Am I?”

 

“Physically you will,” said Atuje. “But I will be keeping a watch over you, Masqouth. Thus, if you get in trouble or are threatened, I will do my best to intervene and rescue you.”

 

“Does that mean I don’t have to return to my apartment every night if I don’t want to?” said Masqouth.

 

“No,” said Atuje. “Actually, it means you will stay here in your apartment for now, at least until Niham, Kiriah, and Jetrupi are dealt with.”

 

“Aw,” said Masqouth, his eyes downcast. “And here I thought I’d be able to stay out as long as I wanted.”

 

“You cannot always have what you want, Masqouth,” said Atuje. “And with that, I believe this meeting has come to a close. The end is nigh and we must prepare accordingly.”

 

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#17 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Jun 17 2013 - 08:37 AM

Chapter XVII

 
As late as it was, Niham knew Oggakia would be up. Being a Toa of Shadow, Oggakia -- or, as her friends called her, Oggak -- was a night bird. She had to have the answers Niham was seeking or at least be able to point her in the right direction, anyway.
 
Niham took the midnight bus to Oggak’s apartment, which was located several blocks down from Niham and Ruby’s apartment building. Leaving Ruby behind with that bump on her head made Niham feel uneasy, but Ruby had assured her that she was going to be okay. She’d even given Niham a good luck kiss before the detective left, which definitely made Niham feel more confident.
 
Thankfully, the bus had few stops tonight and soon Niham found herself standing in front of Oggak’s apartment door. She knocked on it rapidly and for a moment nothing happened. Then the door cracked open and an old, feminine voice asked, “Who is it?”
 
“It’s me,” said Niham, pointing at herself. “Toa Niham. Don’t you remember me, Oggak? I was on Shika Nui back in the old universe.”
 
The door closed immediately and Niham heard what sounded like locks being unlocked. The next moment, the door opened fully, revealing a tall, elderly Toa in black and red armor standing in the doorway. Though it had been many years since Niham had last seen the Toa of Shadow, she still recognized Oggak and her Mask of Dreams, even though both had clearly aged.
 
“Niham, how have you been?” said Oggak as she bumped fists with the detective. “Please come in. Jokao is asleep, so try to be quiet.”
 
“Okay,” said Niham as she entered. “I just came by because I had some questions to ask and some news to deliver.”
 
Oggak locked the door behind Niham and then turned to face her. “What kind of news?”
 
“Akuna has been kidnapped.”
 
Oggak’s eyes widened. “What? When did this happen?”
 
“Let’s sit down in your living room,” said Niham. “I’ll fill you in there.”
 
Once they’d seated themselves on Oggak’s couch, Niham told the Toa of Shadow about her investigation and the kidnappings. As Niham expected, Oggak was silent the entire time, although it was clear she was listening intently to Niham’s every word.
 
“And when the lights came back on, Akuna was nowhere to be seen,” Niham finished. “I have no idea where she is, although I do have an inkling of who kidnapped her.”
 
“That’s horrible,” said Oggak, her head in her hands. “Who do you think kidnapped her?”
 
“The same person who kidnapped Laomos and Kanderias,” said Niham. “In other words, a winged Tetakian whose name I don’t know.”
 
“Why did you tell me this?” said Oggak, looking at Niham. “Akuna is my friend, of course, but what do I have to do with the investigation?”
 
“Well, I have a theory as to what the kidnapper might be trying to do,” said Niham cautiously. “I think you might be able to confirm it, which is why I came to speak with you.”
 
“What is it?” said Oggak. “Can you tell me?”
 
“My theory is that the kidnapper is trying to open the Door,” said Niham. “She’s trying to kidnap the six Toa necessary to break the Toa seal and unleash the Kra-Matoran. That’s what I think.”
 
Oggak looked unconvinced. “And what evidence do you base this theory on, Niham?”
 
“Look at the facts,” said Niham. “A Toa of Gravity, a Toa of Plasma, and a Toa of Lightning have all been kidnapped by the same person. That’s half of the elements needed to break the Toa seal locking the Door. Yes, I know it’s not the best theory, but it’s the only one that links the kidnappings together that makes any sense.”
 
“Well, I doubt your theory,” said Oggak. “Even if that’s the kidnapper’s agenda, the old universe is dead. When Teridax crashed onto Bara Magna, the impact caved in the tunnel to the Door. It’s true that Shika Nui’s dome is one of the few that wasn’t stripped down for parts, but your kidnapper would first need to dig through the rubble to get to the Door, which would take both a long time and a lot of people working together to get it done.”
 
“But what if they did that already?” said Niham. “This is, of course, just a theory, but-“
 
“That’s just it, Niham,” said Oggak, shaking her head. “It’s just a theory. My people will never be free again. Most people today don’t even know of the Door’s existence, much less how to open it. There is most likely another explanation you just haven’t thought of yet.”
 
“Maybe you’re right,” said Niham, frowning. “It just seems weird that someone would kidnap half of the Toa needed to open the Door. Maybe it's just a coincidence.”
 
Oggak folded her arms and said, “Well, I suggest you go home for the night, Niham. I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help, but I doubt the Kra-Matoran and the Door have anything to do with these kidnappings.”
 
Niham sighed and reclined in the couch. “You’re right. I knew it was a shaky theory, but I had to test it. I’m at wits’ end here. I don’t know who the kidnapper is, what she wants, or anything about her except that she is a Tetakian with wings. Unless I get another break soon, I don’t think I’ll be able to figure this out.”
 
“Be careful what you wish for, detective,” said a harsh, feminine voice.
 
Niham and Oggak both jumped to their feet and looked toward the hallway. Standing there were two beings; one -- the winged Tetakian -- Niham recognized, the other -- who wore yellow and gray armor and to a certain extent resembled a Toa -- she didn’t. She also noticed that the second being held Toa Jokao, Oggak’s partner and friend, at knife point, twisting one of his arms behind his back.
 
“Jokao,” said Oggak, taking a step forward.
 
“Unless you want to see your boyfriend’s blood run free, don’t take another step forward,” said the second being. “I’m very good with knives, so don’t think I’m bluffing.”
 
Niham pointed at the winged Tetakian and said, “You. You’re the one who kidnapped Kanderias, Laomos, and Akuna. How’d you two get in here?”
 
“That is our little secret,” the Tetakian answered. “What matters currently is that Oggakia is going to let us kill her, while you will be coming with us, Niham, so we may complete our plan.”
 
“What if I don’t want to go along with you?” said Niham.

“Then things will get rather rough around here,” said the second being. “And by ‘rough’ I mean we’ll kill your friends in front of your eyes and beat you until you're a cripple.”
 
“Let Jokao go,” said Oggak. “If it’s me you want . . .”
 
“No, Oggak, don’t,” said Jokao, shaking his head. “They’re killers. They’ll just kill us both if you give yourself up.”
 
“Honestly, we’re not that bad,” said the Tetakian. “Our leader only ordered us to kill Oggakia. Jokao doesn’t have to die, but we will kill him if either of you makes a move.”
 
“What is your plan anyway?” said Niham. “Why do you want me?”
 
“I suppose, because you’re going to be a part of it anyway, we might as well tell you,” said the Tetakian. “Our plan is to open the Door and unleash the Kra-Matoran upon Spherus Magna. Simple as that.”
 
“I knew it,” said Niham, snapping her fingers. She glanced at Oggak and said, “See? I told you so.”
 
To Niham’s surprise, however, Oggak looked like it was her theory that had just been confirmed, not Niham's. “So it really was your plan all along, then. Glad to hear you’ve finally admitted it.”
 
“Excuse me?” said the Tetakian. “Finally admitted it? You didn’t even know of our existence before this.”
 
This time, Oggak smirked. “That’s what you think. I guess it never occurred to you that there might have been someone watching you the entire time, just waiting for the right moment to act.”
 
“Impossible,” said the Tetakian. “You’re bluffing. The only person who has come this close to figuring out our plan is Niham, and she is about to be put in a position where she won’t be able to tell anyone else about it until it's too late. You’re just trying to freak us out.”
 
Oggak shook her head. “No bluffing here, although I am good at it, I’ll admit. I just didn’t know I’d be the one to get the confession straight from your mouths, Wavica, Asroth.”
 
The two beings looked shocked to hear those names.
 
“How . . . how do you know our names?” the Tetakian demanded. “No one on this planet even knows we’re here, except for Masqouth and our other allies. So how-“
 
“I belong to a certain organization that keeps a careful eye on people like Masqouth,” said Oggak. “So careful an eye that no one even knows we’re watching them. Even the government doesn’t know we exist, Wavica.”
 
The Tetakian, who was apparently named Wavica, shook her head. “You’re lying. Completely, utterly lying.”
 
“I’d be lying if I agreed with you,” said Oggak, pointing at herself. “Now I recommend you let Jokao go or you will have the full wrath of the organization upon you.”
 
“What does Masqouth have to do with this?” said Niham, looking from Oggak to Wavica and back again. “I’m confused.”
 
“They work for Masqouth,” said Oggak, gesturing at Wavica and Asroth. “He sent them here to kidnap you and kill me, which is all part of his plan. They’re called Echoes and they’re not friendly.”
 
Ignoring Niham and Oggak’s conversation, Wavica pointed at the two Toa and said, “Even if you are a member of this secret organization you speak of, you’re still in no position to threaten us. If you don’t stand down, we’ll kill Jokao where he stands.”
 
Oggak shrugged. “You can think that, if you wish, but it’s not quite accurate.”
 
Without warning, Jokao slumped in Asroth’s arms. This caught the Echo off-guard, who accidentally dropped her knife in an attempt to redouble her grip on him.
 
That turned out to be a mistake on Asroth’s part, for Oggak acted quickly, hurling a shadow bolt directly at the Echo. The shadow bolt hit Asroth in the face, causing her to drop Jokao and stumbled backwards onto the floor, stunned.
 
Without hesitation, Niham conjured thick vines out of thin air and sent them flying at Wavica. The vines wrapped around her quickly and tightened at a single thought from Niham. The Echo struggled to break free, but succeeded only in falling forward flat on her face, for Niham had made sure that these vines were thicker than normal.
 
Then Oggak snapped her fingers and shadow chains appeared around Asroth, who was still stunned from the Toa of Shadow’s previous attack. Asroth shook her head and struggled against the bonds, but as with Wavica, she was incapable of breaking free.
 
Wavica rolled over onto her back and said, “Dang it! What happened?”
 
“I’ll let Jokao explain,” said Oggak, gesturing at the apparently unconscious Toa of Fire. “He should wake up any second now.”
 
As soon as the words left her mouth, Jokao stirred. His eyes flickered open and he sat up, shaking his head. He then looked at Wavica and Asroth before standing up on his artificial legs, a satisfied smile on his face.
 
“Looks like it worked, Oggak,” said Jokao, patting her on the shoulder. “As usual.”
 
“I don’t get it,” said Niham. “What happened? Did you fake a fainting?”
 
“No,” said Jokao, shaking his head. “I wear the Mask of Spirit. All I did was active the mask and sent my spirit out of my body. Thus, with no spirit to control it, my body fell over, which distracted Asroth and Wavica long enough for you two to jump into action.”
 
“It’s a trick we’ve developed over the years,” said Oggak. “He suggested it first.”
 
“So what are we going to do with Wavica and Asroth now?” said Niham, glancing at the two bound Echoes. “Are we going to hand them over to the police?”
 
Oggak shook her head. “No. The police wouldn’t be able to do a thing about them. We’re going to take them to my organization . . . or I should say our organization, seeing as Jokao is also a member.”
 
“You’re going to have to explain this all to me sometime,” said Niham. “Like maybe now?”
 
“Not now,” said Oggak. “Later, when we’re in a more secure area. You’ll have to come with us, since these two aren’t the only Echoes under Masqouth’s command.”
 
“Okay,” said Niham, nodding. “But . . . where are we going, anyway?”
 
“You'll know when we get there,” said Oggak. “Anyway, right now we’re going to need help transporting these two from the city to the base. I’ll head there myself via shadow travel.”
 
“Shadow travel?” repeated Niham. “What’s that?”
 
“It’s hard to explain,” said Oggak, scratching the back of her head. “In simplest terms, shadow travel is like teleporting, except I am traveling through shadow rather than my body turning into molecules and reforming where I want to go. I can only go to places where there is shadow.”
 
“Okay,” said Niham. “So you’re just going to go there and back?”
 
“Yes,” said Oggak. “You and Jokao need to keep an eye on Wavica and Asroth. Once I’m out of range, the shadow chains around Asroth will dissipate, so I suggest tying her up with some of your vines, like you did with Wavica.”
 
Niham waved one of her hands toward Asroth and several thick vines, identical to the ones wrapped around Wavica, bound the Echo. Asroth growled, but said nothing; after all, it wasn’t like there was anything she could say to convince Niham to let them go.
 
“I better get going, then,” said Oggak. “I’ll be back soon, Jokao.”
 
She and Jokao kissed. Then the Toa of Shadow stepped into a shadowy corner of the living room and the next moment was gone. Her sudden disappearance caused Niham to rub her eyes to make sure they were still working, and when she looked again, Oggak was still gone.
 
“Why do I have a feeling I’m in over my head?” said Niham, leaning against the couch. “Like, way, way in over my head.”
 

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Edited by TNTOS, Dec 12 2013 - 09:44 PM.

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#18 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Jun 21 2013 - 08:43 AM

Chapter XVIII

 
Upon exiting the monastery, Kiriah introduced Sahmad, Chalybs, and Telluris to Jet while also explaining to them the real source of the dream plague. The three Iron Tribe members all volunteered to battle Annona too and nothing Kiriah said could persuade them to return to Ferrum. Sahmad in particular had a strong desire to kill Annona, so she and Jet allowed them to tag along on the journey.
 
So the final group going into the Heart of the Mountains was Kiriah, Jetrupi, Stronius, Sahmad, Chalybs, and Telluris. Yomar initially wanted to go too, but Stronius reminded her that she was the next in the monks’ hierarchy and that the monks and Sisters needed her leadership and guidance. So she stayed, but not before blessing the group by praying for them, a gesture which Kiriah didn’t think was necessary but appreciated anyway. Remembering what Jet had told her about Annona’s power, she thought they needed all the help they could get.
 
They debated bringing along more monks, but Jet insisted that they had more than enough people in their party and that the sane monks needed to stay in the monastery to help take care of their suffering brethren. How six normal beings were supposed to take on a dream-eating entity of unknown power on their own, Kiriah didn't know, although Jet seemed confident that they could do it.
 
Their destination was the Heart of the Mountains, a mostly unexplored region that was impossible to colonize due to its hostility toward civilized life. Supposedly there were golems lurking in the Heart that attacked anyone who intruded upon their territory, although even Stronius didn’t know if that was true or just a rumor. Regardless, they all knew that they needed to penetrate the Heart, for according to Jet that was most likely where Annona was hidden.
 
Stronius led the group, for he had traveled to the Heart a few times in the past and so knew it better than anyone else in the party. Behind him was Telluris, followed closely by Sahmad and Chalybs, while Kiriah and Jet brought up the rear. All of the party members were equipped with the weapons they had brought with them, save for Stronius, who apparently thought that his fists were all the weapons he was going to need against Annona.
 
They took a little used path into the Heart, although soon the path itself disappeared and they found themselves walking over unstable, rocky ground. Because they had to keep their wits about themselves, lest they fall to their deaths, it gave Kiriah an opportunity to talk to Jet privately without the others eavesdropping.
 
“Jet,” said Kiriah as they made their way along the rocky surface. “Why did you come back to this dimension? I thought you didn’t want to help the monks.”
 
At first, Jet said nothing, which Kiriah assumed meant he was ignoring her. Then he said, “The Almighty Ones told me to go back and help you.”
 
“The Almighty Ones?” said Kiriah. “Why? Did they think I needed help?”
 
“They didn’t tell me why,” said Jet, kicking a rock out of their path. “They did seem to think that you needed my help, but I could tell that they weren’t being entirely honest with me.”
 
Kiriah and Jet walked around a boulder in their path. “What do you mean?”
 
“I mean it was clear to me that the Almighty Ones had a different motive for ordering me to return to this place,” said Jet, gesturing at the Mountains. “I inferred that they wanted me out of the way, as though they thought I was going to cause unnecessary trouble.”
 
“Odd,” said Kiriah. “Do they happen to have any other servants I don’t know about?”
 
“As far as I know, I am their only servant,” said Jet, shaking his head. “If there’s anyone else, the Almighty Ones have told me nothing about him or her.”
 
“So they haven’t sent someone else to deal with Masqouth, then,” said Kiriah. “Why tell us about Masqouth if they aren’t doing anything about him? It doesn’t make sense.”
 
“Again, I don’t know,” said Jet with a shrug. “It’s even stranger, for it was the Almighty Ones who had stressed upon the urgency of stopping him. Yet instead of sending you or me to deal with it, they want us both here. Some days, I wish they weren't so opaque.”
 
Kiriah nodded. “Agreed. After this, if we survive, we should go and talk to the Almighty Ones and get them to tell us what the Karzahni is going on.”
 
“I doubt they’d tell us anything,” said Jet. “But as I’ve never been one to follow authority unquestioningly, that sounds right up my alley.”
 
“Yeah,” said Kiriah. “The only thing I’m worried about is Annona. You said even the Great Beings couldn’t defeat her. So how are we going to stop her?”
 
Jet stepped over a rock and said, “Don’t worry, Kiriah. I have a plan. It’ll be risky, but should work.”
 
“How risky is it?” said Kiriah, tilting her head to the side.
 
Jet looked at her and said, “It’s the kind of risky that can get you banished to another dimension if it doesn’t work. In other words, very risky.”
 
“Do you mind telling me about your plan or are you just going to speak cryptically about it?”
 
“I’ll tell you and the others when we find Annona’s cave,” said Jet. “Okay?”
 
Kiriah didn’t like that, but shrugged anyway and said, “Sure. I guess I can wait a little while to find out what might banish you to another dimension.”
 
Jet actually smiled at that, but said nothing further as the party journeyed deeper into the Heart. They walked for what felt like hours and the suns overhead were starting to sink beyond the Mountains’ peaks. Kiriah wasn’t a mountain-dweller, but even she realized how dark it would get once the suns set behind the Mountains. It would become night time fast, meaning Kiriah and the others had to get a move on if they were going to find Annona before it got dark.
 
They saw no wildlife on their journey. Or, at least, no living wildlife, for more than once they came up the dead carcass of some animal, usually a large mountain goat, although at least once they found the corpse of a huge beast that appeared to be made out of rock. Stronius thought it was a dead golem, although as the golem had no wounds they all wondered what could have killed it. Jet suggested it might have been a victim of Annona's dream-eating spree, which the others agreed was the most probable cause of death.
 
Finally, they came upon a small, bowl-shaped clearing. By now, the sun had nearly dipped behind the Mountains, making it look like twilight, even though it felt like late afternoon. In the early twilight, the group saw a cavern mouth at the other end of the clearing; a rather large one, covered at the base with huge, thick boulders.
 
“That’s Annona’s cave,” said Jet, pointing at the cavern mouth. “She’s in there somewhere, probably eating someone’s dreams even as we speak.”
 
“What’s our plan?” said Chalybs, looking up at Jet. “Do we charge the cave and fight Annona inside or-?”
 
“No,” said Jet, shaking his head. “That would be suicide. We’re going to lure her out and fight her in the open.”
 
“Fight her in the open?” said Stronius. “Well, I suppose that makes more sense than fighting her inside a cramped cave at least.”
 
“By the way,” said Jet, almost as an afterthought. “We won’t be able to beat her with our weapons.”
 
“Won’t be able to beat her with our weapons?” said Sahmad in surprise. “Then why the heck did we bring any along in the first place? Are you trying to kill us all?”
 
“On the contrary, none of us will die,” Jet replied. “We can’t defeat Annona in combat, at least with swords, axes, and other melee weapons. But we can get rid of her in another, more effective manner.”
 
“And how is that?” said Sahmad. “We’re listening.”
 
Jet pointed behind them, causing everyone to look. At first, Kiriah saw nothing but rocks and dirt, but the next moment a dimensional portal opened. Its abrupt appearance caused everyone else to start, but then Jet lowered his hand and the portal disappeared as quickly as it appeared.
 
“What . . . what was that?” said Sahmad, his eyes still locked on the spot where the portal had opened.
 
“That was a dimensional portal,” said Jet. “I can create those.”
 
“How?” said Stronius, glancing at Jet. “Where did you get such-“
 
“Where I got that power is not really important at the moment,” said Jet. “My plan is to banish Annona to another dimension using that power. If it works, she will never return to this dimension again and both the monks and the Iron Tribe will survive.”
 
“Amazing,” said Chalybs. “I don’t understand all this talk about dimensions, but if it’s going to rid our world of Annona for good, then I’m all for it.”
 
The others all agreed that the plan was good. So Jet said, “I’ll go down by myself into the clearing and lure her out. You guys stay up here. If anything goes wrong, run down and help me.”
 
“We will,” said Kiriah, nodding. “Good luck, Jet. Don’t get killed.”
 
“Even though you are an apostate, Jet, I pray that the earth will protect you,” said Stronius, bowing his head.
 
“Thanks,” said Jet to Stronius, although his tone was indifferent at best.
 
Then Jet unsheathed his sword and walked down into the clearing. He reached it within seconds and soon was walking toward the cavern mouth without hesitation or fear.
 
Then Jet stopped about halfway between the incline and the cave and bent over. He picked up a large rock, weighed it in his hand, and then hurled it over the tops of the boulders into the cave itself. The sound of the rock landing in the cave echoed from the cavern mouth before fading away.
 
“Annona! Come out and face me!” said Jet, raising his sword. “Or are you too cowardly to fight a mere mortal?”
 
There was no response. Kiriah started wondering if they’d found the wrong cave when, without warning, a long, red tentacle covered with hooks shot out of the cavern mouth toward Jet. It probably would have grabbed him and dragged him in had Jet not slashed at it with his sword, cutting it in half and causing the rest of the tentacle to retreat back into the cavern just as quickly as it had come out.
 
“Sorry, Annona, but we’re playing by my rules, not yours,” said Jet as he kicked the decapitated tentacle away. “Come out and play or I go home and tell everyone that the great Annona is afraid of getting poked by a mere mortal.”
 
Again, there was no response. This time, Kiriah knew it wasn’t because they’d found the wrong cave, but rather because Annona was thinking of how to respond to Jet. The suspense was hard to bear, so to be safe Kiriah and the others didn’t relax their guard.
 
The next moment, Kiriah felt something like a sledge hammer hit her mind. The mental blow was enough to send Kiriah to her knees, but thankfully her natural mental barrier had kept her from being knocked out entirely, which she was sure was the intended effect of the attack.
 
Unfortunately, the others were not so lucky. Stronius, Sahmad, Chalybs, and Telluris lay on the ground next to her, unconscious from that devastating mental attack. Worried, Kiriah went over their minds and sensed damage, but not irreparable damage. It was clear that whoever had attacked them was aiming to cripple rather than kill, although that didn’t reassure Kiriah much, for anyone with that kind of mental power was a threat regardless of intent.
 
She then looked at Jet. He was still standing, but it was clear by the way he stood unnaturally straight that he was just barely hanging in there from that attack. It was probably thanks to his mental barrier that he hadn’t collapsed like Stronius and the Iron Tribe members, although Annona’s attack -- who else could have done that? -- had definitely weakened him.
 
Then a small light appeared in the cave mouth. It grew brighter and larger as it came closer, so bright that Kiriah couldn’t look directly at it without her eyes hurting. Soon the light reached the cave mouth and began pushing the boulders that blocked its path out of the way with its red tentacles.
 
After it had pushed away enough of them, the light moved out of the cave mouth until it stood (or floated, as it didn’t have any legs that Kiriah could see) just outside its home. Jet didn’t look straight into it, but he held his ground just the same.
 
“Well, maybe you’re not such a coward after all, Annona,” said Jet. “You finally decided to come out and play. Well done.”
 
“You are an arrogant little fool, Gadarian,” Annona hissed from inside the ball of light. “You really just want to die, don’t you?” 

“Dying is not on my agenda today,” said Jet. “You will be the one meeting your end, Annona, not me.”
 
Annona laughed. “Can you read destiny and know when someone is to die or when someone is to live? You are bluffing, trying to scare me so I will run away.”
 
“If you want to run away, I will not think any less of you,” said Jet, folding his arms. “Really, everyone gets scared every now and then, so it's perfectly understandable if you-”
 
With a growl, Annona sent at least four of her tentacles flying toward Jet. At the same time, Jet raised his hand and a dimensional portal exploded into existence in front of him. Annona’s tentacles went into the portal and Annona tried to withdraw them, but it was clear that the portal had powerful sucking power, for Annona started getting dragged into it inch by inch.
 
“No!” Annona roared as her free tentacles flailed about. “This can’t be happening! Where are you sending me?”
 
“Someplace where you will never be a threat to anyone, Annona,” Jet replied. “Someplace where you will die.” 

Panicking, Annona’s free tentacles wrapped themselves around everything within her reach: boulders, the ground, nearby rock formations, but none of it held tight. All of it was either sucked into the portal, too, or broke from the sheer force of Annona’s grip.
 
“I still hunger!” said Annona, now only a few feet from the portal. “I need to satisfy my hunger! I need to!”
 
“Keep talking, Annona,” said Jet, sheathing his sword and folding his arms again. “Not everyone gets the opportunity to think over their last words, after all.”
 
Kiriah could not believe what she was seeing. Jet’s plan was actually working. In fact, it was working so perfectly that Kiriah doubted anything could go wrong now.
 
Just as Kiriah was figuring out how she was going to congratulate Jet, a strong gust of wind blew behind her, almost throwing her off her feet. Surprised, Kiriah glanced over her shoulder, but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary until she heard someone scream.
 
Alarmed, Kiriah looked back down into the clearing. By now, Annona had almost completely passed through the portal; however, Jet was in danger. A large, black-armored being with a scorpion tail held Jet over his head, the tip of his tail sticking straight through Jet’s stomach. Kiriah’s heart failed her at the sight.
 
It was Niralo, but that didn’t make any sense. How could Niralo know that they had survived his previous attack on them? That was impossible.
 
“I don’t know for sure how you survived, Jetrupi,” said Niralo, his loud, arrogant voice carrying up from the clearing. “But it’s pretty clear to me that I didn’t do a good job killing you when I had the chance. So this time, I’m going to make sure you don’t survive. Good bye.”
 
Niralo wrenched Jet off his spear-tipped tail, causing the Gadarian to scream in pain yet again. Then Niralo hurled Jet at the portal. Both Jet and Annona passed through the portal completely at the exact same time, causing the portal to disappear with a loud popping noise.
 
“Jetrupi!” Kiriah yelled. “No! Jetrupi!”
 
Then Niralo turned around and looked up at Kiriah, a smirk on his face. Before Kiriah could act, Niralo disappeared and reappeared in front of the Toa like he’d teleported. He then punched Kiriah in the gut, sending her crashing to the ground hard. He pinned her with his right foot and sent his tail straight into her shoulder, its sharp point shredding through her armor and tissue, causing her to cry out in pain.
 
“Now, now,” said Niralo, his voice mocking. “Your tone is irritating the Karzahni out of me.”
 
“How . . . did you know . . . we survived?” Kiriah said, panting.
 
“That’s for me to know and you to never find out,” said Niralo. “Now how does this feel?”
 
His tail jerked to the right, tearing across Kiriah’s shoulder. She had to bite her lower lip to keep from screaming in pain, which she barely succeeded in doing. It didn’t help that she noticed Jet’s blood on Niralo’s face, which added to the horror of the moment.
 
“Had to kill Jetrupi immediately, you know,” said Niralo. “He’s far more annoying than you. So I’m just going to play with you a little until I get tired of your obvious attempts to be brave in the face of pain, okay?”
 
Kiriah spat in his face and said, “Go . . . to . . . Karzahni . . . you monster . . .”
 
Niralo wiped the spit off his face and said, “Now, now, that’s not very polite, Toa. How’s about I teach you some manners?”
 
Before Niralo could carry out his threat, two thick arms wrapped around the Echo’s waist from behind and lifted. Shocked, Niralo did nothing as he was lifted off his feet. His tail was ripped out of Kiriah's shoulder as he was raised, which caused the open wound to bleed and hurt like Karzahni, but at least the stinger wasn't in there anymore.
 
Kiriah looked up and saw Stronius holding a stunned-looking Niralo above his head. The monk’s once-white robes were now covered in dirt, but that didn’t make the monk look any less fearsome than he did now.
 
With a grunt, Stronius threw Niralo down into the clearing. The Echo hit the incline and went rolling all the way down, bumping into or over rocks on his way to the bottom. He was going so fast that he couldn’t control himself until he crashed into a boulder and stopped. He did not get up.
 
Stronius bent over Kiriah and, looking at her shoulder wound, asked, “How badly does it hurt?”
 
“It hurts like Karzahni,” Kiriah replied. “But thanks for saving me.”
 
Stronius nodded. “No problem. Who is that guy, anyway?”
 
“Long story short, he’s the guy who poisoned me and Jet before you guys found us in the jungle,” said Kiriah. “So-“
 
A loud, angry groan cut her off, causing Kiriah and Stronius to look down into the clearing. Niralo was sitting up, holding his head in his hands. His armor was all scratched up and dented now, but it seemed unlikely that that would be enough to discourage him from attacking them once he recovered.
 
“I’ll go deal with him,” said Stronius. “But first . . .”
 
Stronius ripped off a portion of his robes and then tightly wrapped it around Kiriah’s shoulder wound. The wound still burned, but he managed to stop the bleeding, at least.
 
“Just take it easy while I deal with him,” said Stronius as he stood up. “Okay?”
 
Kiriah nodded. “Okay.”
 
Then Stronius ran down the incline, his hands balled into fists, while Kiriah lay there, trying to do her best not to dwell on the fact that, unless she got medical attention soon, she was probably going to die.
 

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Edited by TNTOS, Dec 12 2013 - 09:52 PM.

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#19 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Jun 24 2013 - 08:43 AM

Chapter XIX

 
After Rex's death, Kafor thought that, with Night and Heavyweight at her side, it would be easy to slip out of New Odina and back into hiding again. Surely her two ex-Dark Hunter allies would be able to come up with some plan to get her out of the Dark Hunter base without being seen.
 
Of course, that was before three well-armed Dark Hunters entered the room, who aimed their deadly-looking guns at Kafor and her allies. She wondered if destiny was just trying to make life harder for her.
 
The first Dark Hunter, a burly Gadarian, said, “You three killed the Shadowed One. You’re gonna die.”
 
Before any of the new arrivals could attack, however, Heavyweight snapped her fingers and they smashed into the floor face-first. Kafor realized Heavyweight must have increased their gravity, which appeared to have knocked them out, because they did not even stir.
 
“Quickly, let’s get out of here,” said Night. “If we wait any longer, someone is going to find us.”
 
“Hold on a minute,” said Kafor, holding up her cuffed hands. “Would one of you be so kind as to remove my handcuffs? No reason to keep me prisoner anymore, after all.”
 
“She has a point,” said Heavyweight. “I’ll take them off.”
 
Heavyweight put one hand on the energy cuffs and pulled. They immediately dissipated, causing Kafor to rub her wrists, which was something she hadn’t been able to do for at least a day.
 
“Okay, now let’s go,” said Night, turning toward the door.
 
“But we need weapons first,” Kafor reminded him. “We’ll need something to defend ourselves with, just in case we run into any trouble.”
 
“Again, she has a point,” said Heavyweight. “Besides, Night, you did drop your weapons, so you should probably-“
 
“Okay!” said Night, throwing his hands up. “Then let's get our weapons and go. We are not sticking around here any longer than that, for there is no telling if more Dark Hunters are coming.”
 
It didn’t take Night long to retrieve his sword and shield, while Kafor took the only weapon she thought fit her: Rex’s staff. It was hard prying it from Rex’s cold, dead hands, but eventually she succeeded and rejoined Night and Heavyweight, both looking at her with a mixture of shock and annoyance.
 
“If any Dark Hunters see you carrying that, Kafor, they’re going to want to kill you,” said Night.
 
“The Dark Hunters already want me dead, Night,” said Kafor as she lay the staff on her shoulder. “This is just to protect me in case any of them move beyond the ‘want me dead’ phase and onto the ‘actively trying to kill me’ phase.”
 
“Whatever,” said Night, shaking his head. “We don’t have much time to waste. Let’s move.”
 
The trio dashed out the open door. Heavyweight was in the lead because she had the general layout of the Fortress memorized. It still took them an awful long time to find the exit, however, although that may have been Kafor’s nervousness making everything seem slower than she liked.
 
Eventually, they burst out of the Fortress and into what could best be described as a blizzard. The snow was so thick that Kafor could barely see fifty feet in front of her, but she did manage to spy the guards turning in surprise to face them.
 
Before any of the guards could react, Heavyweight raised her arms and the guards went flying straight up into the air. Then the trio sprinted forward, except this time with Night in the lead. Just as they passed underneath the guards, Heavyweight’s arms fell to her sides and the guards crashed to the ground. Whether they were still conscious or not, Kafor didn’t know, for she was too busy keeping up with Night to stop and look.
 
Bitingly-cold wind ripped at their faces, while their eyes were blinded by the sheer amount of snow blowing through the air. The streets of New Odina were thankfully not frozen, but they were extremely cold just the same, which made running on them a pain.
 
“Where are we going?” Kafor yelled over the howling wind.
 
“To the Airship Yards!” Night replied. “We’re going to take the Knight’s Wish out of New Odina!”
 
Kafor wanted to ask where they were going to fly to, but the intensity of the wind made yelling even more of a chore than it usually was, so she decided to save her question for once they were safely inside the Knight's Wish. She figured Night had an idea, so for now she just had to run.
 
It felt like they ran for hours through the unforgiving snowstorm, yet they didn’t stop or slow down. Fortunately, they didn’t run into any Dark Hunters; they were all probably inside the buildings keeping warm and safe.
 
She wondered how Night could tell where they were going in this storm. There was so much snow flying that Kafor could barely see her own hands, much less the Airship Yards. Perhaps Night had the route memorized, although it seemed more likely to her that he was just making a guess.
 
In a surprisingly short time, the trio arrived at the gate to the Airship Yards. Night knocked hard on the guard tower window, but it didn’t open. Not surprising; considering how terrible the weather was, Kafor figured the Gatekeeper was staying inside somewhere, maybe even had orders not to let any airships leave New Odina during such terrible weather.
 
“He’s not home,” Night yelled at Heavyweight and Kafor, for that was the only way they could hear him even when standing close to him. “What do we do now?”
 
“Let me open the gate,” said Heavyweight. “Step back.”
 
Night and Kafor quickly stepped back as Heavyweight snapped her fingers. With a loud creaking noise that sounded like its gears were breaking, the gate went up slowly and awkwardly until it was well above their heads. Then Night and Kafor dashed underneath it, followed closely by Heavyweight, who, once they had all safely passed under it, allowed the gate to drop behind them with a loud bang that was quickly devoured by the howling winds.
 
The trio ran down the aisle between the airships until Night skidded to a stop, forcing Kafor and Heavyweight to stop as well.
 
“Here it is!” said Night, pointing at a partially snow-covered black airship. “Quickly, jump in!”
 
Night jumped onto the Knight’s Wish’s left wing and kicked open the cockpit. He immediately jumped into the pilot seat, while Kafor and Heavyweight climbed into the second and third seats, respectively. As soon as they were all inside, the cockpit's glass dome lowered quickly, protecting them from the snow and wind.
 
It was icy cold inside the Knight’s Wish, almost worse than outside. But as soon as Night revved up the engine, hot air flowed out of the vents in the front, quickly filling the small space and warming everyone up.
 
“He started that up quick,” Kafor said. “I thought the engine was frozen.”
 
“All Dark Hunter airships are equipped with insulated engines,” said Heavyweight behind her. “It keeps them from freezing even when the engine isn’t on. Which is good for us, because I’m pretty sure it’s not going to take long before every Dark Hunter in this place knows we killed the Shadowed One.”
 
Kafor nodded and looked out the windshield. The snow was still coming hard and fast, which made it difficult if not impossible to see anything. “So, Night, how do you intend to fly through a storm like this?”
 
“I’ve been in worse storms before,” said Night as he flipped switches and looked at monitors. “Besides, all we need to do is get over the walls. The storm will probably be lighter if we can do that.”
 
“Walls?” said Kafor curiously. “This place is protected by walls?”
 
“Yes,” said Heavyweight. “Not weak, stone walls, though. Big, skyscraper-high walls made entirely out of ice, which are at least a mile thick and even higher than that.”
 
Kafor glanced over her shoulder at the Vortixx. “You’re pulling my leg.”
 
“It’s true,” said Night. “New Odina is located in the center of three mountains that are linked together by huge ice walls, like a triangle. We have to fly over them whenever we want to go to or from New Odina.”
 
“Who made the walls?” said Kafor. “Did a team of Toa of Ice suddenly go rogue and join the Dark Hunters or something?”
 
“The walls were there when the Shadowed One founded New Odina,” said Heavyweight. “In fact, the Shadowed One chose this place as the location of New Odina precisely because the walls offer such good protection. No one knows who made the walls or why, though.”
 
“How come this is the first time I’ve ever heard of these walls?” said Kafor. “Doesn’t seem like something you could keep secret for a very long time.”

“This place also happens to be home to some of the worst blizzards in the world,” said Night, gesturing outside. “As you can no doubt tell. Hence, few outside the Dark Hunters have seen these walls and even fewer know they hide New Odina. Now shut up because we’re about to fly and I need to concentrate unless you want to see those walls up close.”
 
The Knight’s Wish began rising. As it did so, Heavyweight said, “You might be able to see the walls if we fly over them close enough.”
 
“How will we know if we are going to fly over them or if we’re going to crash into them?” said Kafor. “You can’t see anything in this storm.”
 
“That’s the point,” said Night without looking at her. “I’m going to fly as high as I possibly can to avoid crashing into the walls. It’ll be hard in this storm, though, because the higher you go the harsher the storm gets and the lower your visibility becomes.”
 
“You know,” said Kafor, looking out at the blizzard. “Maybe we should have stayed in New Odina until the storm blew over. Could have left later when crashing into giant ice walls wouldn't have been such a realistic possibility.”
 
“If we stayed in New Odina for even a few more hours, we’d have been screwed,” said Night. “The loyalists would have probably put guards in the Airship Yards and made it impossible for anyone to come or go and would have eventually captured us. We made the wiser choice in leaving now.”
 
The Knight’s Wish turned to what might have been the south (Kafor's sense of direction was off in this storm) and then shot off in that direction. As it flew, it gradually rose higher and higher into the sky, but just as Night predicted, the higher it got, the harsher the storm became.
 
The winds battered the airship, sending it veering this way or that. More than once Kafor bumped her head against the cockpit due to turbulence, while other times she found herself grabbing her seat for dear life. Night and Heavyweight didn’t appear afraid, although whether that was because they were used to this kind of weather or that was how they showed their nerves, she didn’t know.
 
The snow slammed against the windshield like a sledgehammer, but thankfully the cockpit held. Whatever it was made out of, Kafor was glad that it was strong enough to withstand the snow and wind.
 
Several times during the flight, Kafor found herself praying to Mata Nui and the Great Beings. It was a foolish thing to do, of course, partly because Kafor was not religious and partly because Mata Nui hadn't been seen in fifty-thousand years and no one even knew where the Great Beings were. Still, she prayed to them anyway, even though she fully expected the Knight’s Wish to crash into the giant ice walls Night and Heavyweight had told her about.
 
Just as Kafor was regretting all of the things she’d never done in her life, the airship jolted and she heard something like metal scraping against ice before the sound suddenly stopped. At the same time, the snow became thinner and the winds’ pounding on the airship weakened, though they were still strong.
 
“We did it!” said Heavyweight. “We made it over the walls! We’re alive!”
 
Kafor let out a sigh of relief. “Whew. What was that sound I heard anyway? The metal scraping against the ice?”

“That was probably the bottom of the Knight’s Wish scraping against the very top of the ice walls,” said Night without looking at her. “It was hard to calculate in this storm how high I had to go, but it looks like we just made it.”
 
Kafor’s eyes widened at the thought of how close they’d came to crashing into the walls. “So, does that mean the ship is damaged, then?”
 
“I won’t know until we land somewhere where I can check it out,” said Night. “And I know exactly where to go to do that: New Atero.”
 
“New Atero?” said Kafor in surprise. “Why are we going there? Aren’t you a wanted criminal?”
 
“I’m planning on selling the Knight’s Wish there, for there is a good black market,” said Night. “Then I’ll use the money to go into hiding and support my grandfather until the Dark Hunters stop looking for us.”
 
“I'm going into hiding, too,” said Heavyweight. “We’re going to have to split up. It’ll be harder for the Dark Hunters to find us if we’re scattered over Spherus Magna like sand on a beach.”
 
“Exactly,” said Night, nodding. “You should probably hide as well, Kafor.”
 
“Don’t worry about me,” said Kafor, leaning back in her seat. “Running and hiding are what I do best.”
 
“Good,” said Night. “We should reach New Atero in a few hours, so both of you should take advantage of this time to figure out where you want to hide.”
 
Kafor nodded and then looked out the window at the snow and the mountains. Part of her mind was already thinking of possible hiding places in the most obscure reaches of Spherus Magna, but another part of her was sick of running and hiding. She wanted to do something with her life before she kicked the bucket and running and hiding didn’t count as ‘doing something’ in her opinion.
 
The only problem was, Kafor knew she couldn't do anything important as long as the Dark Hunters wanted her dead. So she was forced to reconsider her old hiding places again, even though now she looked at them with much more disdain than she had previously.
 

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Edited by TNTOS, Dec 12 2013 - 09:58 PM.

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#20 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Jun 28 2013 - 08:45 AM

Chapter XX

 

Oggak returned to the apartment quickly, or so it seemed to Niham, who spent much of the time keeping an eye on Wavica and Asroth, although the two kidnappers had ceased struggling a while ago.
 
The Toa of Shadow didn’t return alone, however. She brought with her, via shadow travel, a tall, muscular being who called himself Tobduk, and a male Vortixx named Canja. The two agents hefted Wavica and Asroth over their shoulders and then disappeared with Oggak again, who took them back via shadow travel.
 
Then Oggak returned a second time and grabbed Niham and Jokao’s wrists -- which she assured Niham was necessary for shadow travel -- and then shadow traveled once again.
 
Shadow travel was unlike anything Niham had experienced before. It felt like she was flying, but she couldn’t see anything. She couldn’t even see Jokao, who was next to her, or Oggak, who was in front of her, the darkness was that thick. She could still feel them both, as well as what felt like the wind, although as far as she could tell, they were not flying in the sky.
 
A second later, Niham landed on her feet. The abrupt stop caused her to fall to her knees, while Oggak and Jokao remained standing. Shaking the dizziness out of her head, Niham looked around at the area they’d emerged in, although it took her eyes a while to adjust to the sudden lights. When they did, Niham could not believe what she saw.
 
They were standing on a plateau at the top of a metal stairway, above what looked like an enormous airship hanger. There were dozens of different airships arrayed in neat lines below. Some were small and sleek, obviously designed for perhaps one or two travelers, while others were large and equipped with huge cannons, like warships. Who they were planning to go to war against, Niham honestly didn’t want to know.
 
She shifted her gaze to the right and saw clouds outside the huge, thick windows. Though it was dark out, she could still see the clouds that were against the windows, which made her wonder how high up they were. She also heard what sounded like huge chopper blades outside, although she didn’t know what that might mean.
 
“Where . . . where are we?” said Niham as she staggered to her feet, looking around in astonishment. “Is this some kind of airship hanger?”
 
“It’s not merely an airship hanger, Niham, although that’s part of it,” said Oggak as she stepped forward and gestured around the whole place. “Welcome to the Soaring Titan, the world’s only flying fortress.”
 
Niham looked at Oggak in disbelief. “A flying fortress? Impossible. You’re pulling my leg.”
 
“She’s telling the truth, Niham,” said Jokao. “We are in the sky, not supported by the earth or mountains or anything fortresses are usually built on, and we are in a fortress. It was hard for me to believe when I first came here, too, but it’s the real deal all right.”
 
“How high in the air are we?” said Niham as she leaned over the railing, looking at the airships below.
 
“Seventeen kio, I believe,” said Oggak. “Its height varies depending on the weather, but seventeen is the usual.”
 
“Seventeen kio?” said Niham, looking at Oggak in horror. “How does something this big not fall to the earth and kill everyone in it?”
 
“It was designed by only the best engineers from both the old universe and Spherus Magna,” said Oggak, putting one hand on the railing. “And it is equipped with a dozen different failsafe features that automatically activate should the main engines ever fail. It’s safe.”
 
“How big is it?” said Niham, looking up at the ceiling, which she figured had to be several stories high at least.
 
“It’s about four-hundred fifty bio high and six-hundred seventy-five bio long,” said Oggak. “Why do you ask?”
 
“How the Karzahni does something this big go unnoticed by the rest of the world?” said Niham. “It's not like it's a small thing, if your measurements are right.”
 
“It has an invisibility shield,” said Jokao. “No one can see it unless you’re standing inside it or right on top of it. In addition, thanks to its advanced radar systems, it's always capable of moving out of the way of incoming air traffic.”
 
“This is incredible,” said Niham, shaking her head. “Beyond incredible, in fact. Who owns this place?”
 
“It is not who, Toa Niham, but what,” said a deep, guttural voice behind her. “And that ‘what’ is the Will of Angonce.”
 
Niham whirled around and saw a giant, white-armored being standing in front of the doorway. He was quite regal in appearance, with gold armor that reflected the lights beautifully. He carried a large warhammer on his back, but that wasn’t what caught Niham's attention. Her eyes were drawn to the titan’s Kanohi mask, which -- terrifyingly enough -- resembled the Mask of Shadows.
 
“Who is this guy?” said Niham, drawing her Kanoka disk launcher out and aiming it at the newcomer. “And why is he wearing the Mask of Shadows?”
 
“Please put your weapon away, Niham,” said the being, before either Jokao or Oggak could say anything. “I am your friend, even though I may wear a mask that is a symbol of evil in your universe.”
 
“In my universe?” said Niham. “Okay, now you’re just talking nonsense. I’m not ‘friends’ with anyone who wears the mask of the most evil being of all time.”
 
“Niham, calm down,” said Oggak, raising her hands. “He’s not evil. It’s just . . . where he comes from, the Mask of Shadows is not quite as infamous as it is here.”
 
Niham looked at Oggak in disbelief. “’Where he comes from’? Every living being on Spherus Magna today knows that the Mask of Shadows was Makuta Teridax’s mask. He has no excuse to be wearing that and also claim to be on the side of good; it’s impossible, a contradiction.”
 
“Perhaps this will clear some things up,” said the giant, pointing at himself. “I am Makuta Teridax, the leader of the Will of Angonce, an organization dedicated to-“
 
Without even thinking, Niham pulled the trigger on her disk launcher, sending a Kanoka flying straight and true toward the being who claimed to be Teridax. The Makuta merely raised his hand and the disk stopped in midair before snapping in two, its halves falling to the ground with a clang.
 
“There’s no way you can be Teridax,” said Niham, rage filling her veins. “Teridax died fifty thousand years ago, when Mata Nui pushed him into the path of the Bota Magna moon. It incinerated his essence entirely. You must be an imposter.”
 
“Not an imposter, no,” said Teridax, shaking his head. “More like a mirror, if you will. A glimpse of what your Teridax could have been had he been strong enough to resist the lure of darkness.”
 
“Oggak, Jokao, what’s the meaning of this?” said Niham, looking between the two Toa. “Why are you working for some guy who thinks he’s Teridax? Have you lost your minds, too?”
 
“Let me explain,” said Teridax, his otherwise calm voice tinged with a hint of annoyance. “Tell me, Toa Niham, are you at all familiar with the concept of alternate universes?”
 
Niham bit her lower lip and said, “I’m no physicist, but I’ve heard of alternate universes, yes. Why does it matter?”
 
“Because I come from one of those alternate universes, Niham,” said Teridax. “Where I come from, the Shattering never happened, the Element Lords were defeated, the Core War ended peacefully, and the Makuta never became evil. I was the leader of those good Makuta and I believed I would always stay in that universe to the very end of my life.”
 
Niham glanced at Jokao and Oggak again. “Is what he says true?”
 
“Yes,” said Oggak, nodding. “All of it is true.”

Skeptical, Niham looked back at Teridax and said, “So if you’re from another universe, why are you here? Why aren’t you in your universe where you belong?”
 
“I was just getting to that,” said Teridax. “Fifty-thousand years ago by this universe’s count, two Matoran, a Ko-Matoran named Mazeka and a Matoran of Shadow named Vultraz, arrived from this universe into my own. The Great Beings of my universe were interested in how your Vultraz became evil, so in exchange for the secrets of his corruption, they allowed Mazeka to take one person from my universe back with him here in order to maintain the balance between dimensions. And Mazeka chose me.”
 
“That’s ridiculous,” said Niham. “It can’t be true.”
 
“But it is,” said Teridax. “I can even bring Mazeka out here to confirm my story, if you wish. He’s a bit older now, but his memory is still good and will agree with every point of my story. Do you wish to speak with him, Niham?”
 
“No,” Niham said, shaking her head. “I guess you’re telling the truth. You don’t have much reason to lie to me, do you?”
 
“None at all,” said Teridax, folding his hands behind his back. “Especially as you are probably going to have to stay here for a while, at least until we can find out exactly what Masqouth is up to.”
 
“So who are you guys?” said Niham, looking at Oggak and Jokao again. “What is this organization you guys are members of? What do you do? When was it formed? How I've never heard of it until now?”
 
“We’ll let Teridax explain,” said Oggak, nodding at the Makuta. “He's a founding member, so he knows its history better than we do.”
 
“Okay, then, Makuta,” said Niham, looking up at Teridax. “Tell me, what is this organization called?”
 
“It’s called the Will of Angonce,” said Teridax. “It is thus named because it is an organization dedicated to following the dictates of the only Great Being still dwelling on Spherus Magna, Angonce.”
 
“You mean not all of the Great Beings left the planet after all?” said Niham. “Where is Angonce?”
 
“That is information you are not allowed to know,” said Teridax. “Only a handful of Will agents know Angonce’s location, of which I am one, but we have all vowed to keep it secret. Angonce does not wish to make his location known to every being on Spherus Magna, for not everyone has a great love of the Great Beings, if you understand what I mean.”
 
“So . . . you’re kind of like the Order of Mata Nui, then,” said Niham, scratching the back of her head. “Right?”
 
“Similar,” said Teridax, nodding. “In fact, many Order agents went on to join the Will when it was formed. Tobduk, whom I’m sure you have already met, was one such former Order agent turned Will agent. There are several others as well.”
 
“But I thought the Order had disbanded years ago,” said Niham. “I mean, it didn’t have a purpose anymore, did it? Because Mata Nui was gone, there wasn’t any reason for the organization to stay together.”
 
“There is always a need for both the light and the shadow, Niham,” said Teridax as he walked up to the railing of the platform. “Like the Order, we operate in the shadows, doing things Toa normally cannot and should not do. We keep an eye on all threats, real and potential, all over Spherus Magna, which is how you came to be involved in all of this, Niham.”
 
Niham blinked. “What do you mean?”
 
Teridax turned to look at her and said, “You know that Wavica and Asroth work for Masqouth, yes?”
 
“That’s what Oggak said,” said Niham doubtfully. “And Wavica did seem to say something along those lines, but . . .”

“It’s true,” said Teridax. “You see, Masqouth is a threat to Spherus Magna. Though he shows a charismatic, sympathetic character to the public, we know that he has nothing but malicious intent for everyone on this planet. If his plan succeeds, many people will die.”
 
“Well, what is his plan, then?” said Niham, folding her arms. “That is, assuming it's not top secret or anything.”
 
“I thought you had it figured out by now, Niham,” said Teridax. “Remember what you came to speak with Oggak about earlier?”
 
Niham thought about it for a moment before saying, “Yes, I remember. I thought Wavica might have been trying to kidnap the six Toa needed to open the Door. And now that I think about it, I also remember Wavica admitting to us that that was their plan.”
 
Then Niham glanced at Oggak and said, “Why’d you lie to me and say they had nothing to do with it when I first told you the idea, Oggak?”
 
“It was to keep you safe,” said Oggak. “I didn’t know that they would come in and attack us during our conversation. I wanted to throw you off-track so you wouldn’t get hurt. I’m sorry I lied to you.”
 
“Yes, that's nice,” said Teridax, somewhat dismissively. “The important part is that we now have, according to Oggak, a direct confession from one of the Echoes about Masqouth’s ultimate plan. Not only that, but we have two of the Echoes working under Masqouth, which I am sure has harmed his operations.”
 
“I’m still confused, though,” said Niham. “What does Masqouth have to do with any of this? I thought he was just a revolutionary or something.”
 
“To be frank, Niham, not even we know exactly where Masqouth came from nor why he is doing this,” Teridax admitted, stroking his chin. “We think he might want to combine the Skrall, Skakdi, and Kra-Matoran together to form a powerful army to conquer Spherus Magna, but it is just a theory at the moment. All we know for sure is that he is the mastermind behind this plot to open the Door.”
 
“How do you know that?” said Niham. “Did Masqouth just send you a letter politely explaining his plan to you or-?”
 
“A voice told me so,” said Teridax. “Actually, it was several voices that told me so.”
 
Niham looked at Jokao and Oggak incredulously. She wanted to ask, Is this guy really all that there in the head? but as she wasn’t sure how Teridax would react to that, she could only hope Oggak and Jokao got her point.
 
“I am not crazy,” said Teridax in an unconvincing voice. “Really.”
 
Scratching the back of her head, Niham said, “I don’t know about your universe, Teridax, but here, in this universe, people who hear unexplainable voices in their heads are generally considered crazy.”
 
“That is true in my universe as well,” said Teridax. “But please hear me out. It will make sense if I explain it.”
 
“Okay,” said Niham skeptically. “I'm listening.”
 
“It was several weeks ago, around the same time Masqouth first appeared, that I heard the voices,” said Teridax. “At first, like you, I was skeptical of these voices, even fearful, wondering if I was losing my sanity. But they assured me that they were the voices of real beings that existed outside myself and so gave me some information I could not overlook: The time and location of a secret meeting between Masqouth and his Echoes, taking place in New Roxtus the following day.
 
“So I sent an agent to that location at the specified time and there we learned that Masqouth was indeed up to no good. It was a short meeting, I believe, and our agent didn’t learn much except about the Toa kidnappings, which was why we didn’t know for sure if the Echoes were planning to open the Door until today. What mattered to me was that the voices were correct about the time and location of the meeting, meaning that I wasn’t crazy after all.”
 
Niham looked at the other Toa. “Is this true?”
 
“Yes,” said Oggak. “Even the voices are probably real; after all, none of our field agents even knew Masqouth had anyone working for him besides the one called Jeran. We have no records of any agents sending in reports about discovering the time and location of the meeting, either.”
 
“I still do not know who the voices belonged to,” said Teridax, shaking his head. “I even asked Angonce, but he told me that he didn’t know anything about the voices, either.”
 
“This day is getting stranger and stranger,” said Niham. “What are you going to do with Wavica and Asroth now that you have them?”
 
“We are currently interrogating them even as we speak,” said Teridax. “Or rather, our interrogators are. They are trying to get Wavica and Asroth to tell us everything they know about Masqouth. I don't know how successful they have been so far.”
 
“What am I going to do?” said Niham. “Are you going to send me back to New Atero?”
 
“No,” said Teridax, again shaking his head. “It's too dangerous to be alone. Masqouth might send another Echo to kidnap you once he realizes Wavica and Asroth have been captured. Thus, you are going to stay up here until we stop Masqouth.”
 
“But I have a detective agency to run,” Niham protested. “And what about Ruby? If Masqouth is as bad as you say he is, what if he tries to kidnap or hurt Ruby to make me come after him?”
 
“I have already sent an agent to secure Rubella,” said Teridax. “Besides, Masqouth does not seem to play that way. It is possible that he might decide to kidnap another Toa of the Green, which is why I’ve sent several of our agents to watch over all known Toa of the Green and to protect them if they are ever under threat of kidnapping.”
 
“Then what’s your next step?” said Niham. “Are you going to go after Masqouth or-?”
 
“We first are going to try to get as much information out of Wavica and Asroth as possible, as our interrogators are already doing,” said Teridax. “We need to think carefully about how we're going to stop him.”
 
“You already know Masqouth is trying to open the Door, though,” said Niham. “One of the Echoes even confessed to it. Why wait?”
 
“Because, Niham, Masqouth is still seen as a hero to most of the Skrall, Skakdi, and even those outside of the two species,” said Teridax as he leaned against the railing. “If we kidnapped or killed him, it would probably result in many people looking for him. And because we prefer to keep our existence a secret, we aren’t going to strike. Rather, once we have sufficient evidence of his plans, we will anonymously give this information to the government, who will take care of Masqouth in their own way without anyone knowing it was us.”
 
“That will still result in problems, though, won’t it?” said Niham. “I mean, surely it will cause some Skrall and Skakdi to rebel against the government?”
 
“That’s a necessary evil we can’t prevent,” said Teridax with a sigh. “The government is used to Skrall and Skakdi rebellions. In all likelihood, they’ll just crush whatever rebellions crop up until they settle down again, as they have done in the past. All in all, I think this will work out just fine for us.”
 
Niham bit her lower lip. The callous way Teridax spoke of the government crushing rebellions made her feel uncomfortable. She often felt this way when she thought about the ways that the New Atero government controlled the Skrall and Skakdi, but she always reminded herself that the Skrall and Skakdi had it coming, considering how awful they’d been to Matoran and Agori in the past. She still tried to avoid thinking about it whenever possible, however, because of the guilt it inspired in her.
 
“Do you have any other questions, Niham?” said Teridax.
 
Niham shook her head. “No, I think I understand the situation pretty well now.”
 
“Then come with me,” said Teridax as he walked toward the door. “I will show you to your room, where you will be staying until Masqouth is no longer a threat.”
 
Niham followed with Jokao and Oggak by her side. Despite what she’d said, Niham’s brain was still taking some time to piece all of this information together in a coherent way. Secret organizations, Great Beings, mysterious voices, Echoes trying to open an ancient door . . . all of it was almost too much for even her inquisitive mind to handle. Perhaps it would all make sense to her later, after she had time to think about it.
 

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Edited by TNTOS, Dec 17 2013 - 02:54 PM.

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#21 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Jul 01 2013 - 10:46 AM

Chapter XXI

 
With her head hurting, her shoulder bleeding, and her legs refusing to move, Kiriah was sure she was going to die. The makeshift bandage Stronius had tied around her shoulder didn’t do much more than stem the flow of blood. As it was, Kiriah was afraid she’d develop an infection, which could be fatal if left untreated.
 
It occurred to Kiriah, as she lay there in pain, that she wore a Mask of Healing. Then she reminded herself that she could not use the Mask of Healing's power on herself, meaning she needed another Kanohi-user to use its power on her. As there did not appear to be any Kanohi-users around besides herself, Kiriah figured her time was almost up.
 
She lifted her head and looked down the incline. Stronius was still trading blows with Niralo. The two hit each other so savagely that Kiriah was surprised they were both still standing. Even with his tail slashing and striking, Niralo appeared evenly matched with the monk, who blocked and dodged his opponent’s blows while striking where he saw an opening in Niralo’s defenses.
 
Perhaps Stronius would defeat Niralo after all, although it didn’t matter one way or the other. As long as Kiriah lacked the medical attention her shoulder needed, she was probably going to die regardless of the fight's winner.
 
Just as Kiriah closed her eyes, she felt something like a powerful gust of wind sweep her in its embrace. At the same time, she could tell that it was not wind at all; rather, it was the collective presence of a group of beings Kiriah had only met once before but who she knew well just the same.
 
The Almighty Ones, Kiriah thought. What are you doing here?
 
We have come to save your life, Kiriah, said the Almighty Ones. We will heal your shoulder and your body. When you regain consciousness, you should be as good as new.
 
Hold on, said Kiriah. That’s great and all, but why did you choose just now to intervene? Can’t you use your powers to kill Niralo or at least help Stronius beat him?
 
That would be an . . . unwise move on our part, said the Almighty Ones. We are not allowed to intervene, at least directly. Even this much is dangerous . . .if he knew that we were saving you there’s no telling what he might do to . . .
 
He? Who’s he? Kiriah said. What are you talking about, you aren’t allowed to intervene? It's not like you guys have a boss, right?
 
We have good reasons for doing what we do, Toa Kiriah, said the Almighty Ones, their tone almost angry. We simply don’t have the time to tell you. Now let us heal you. You and Stronius can defeat Niralo on your own. You don’t need our help.
 
Kiriah knew better than to interrogate the Almighty Ones about subjects they didn't want to talk about, but she still had another question to ask: How is Jet? Is he still alive?
 
We are still searching for him, said the Almighty Ones. We don’t know where he ended up or if he is still alive. But that’s all we can say for now. Good bye, Kiriah. We hope you succeed.
 
Hey, don’t leave yet, Kiriah protested. You still haven’t answered my other-
 
Before we go, we leave you with one last order, said the Almighty Ones, interrupting Kiriah. After you defeat Niralo, return to your dimension immediately. You must find Masqouth and stop him before it is too late. That is all.
 
A second later, Kiriah opened her eyes and gasped, as though she’d been holding her head underwater too long. It took her a second to realize that she no longer felt the pain in her shoulder. Looking to her right, Kiriah ripped the makeshift bandage off her shoulder and saw that the wound was healed and closed. Even the blood had been cleaned off it, although the armor was still broken.
 
In addition to that, the rest of her body felt energized and rested, like she’d just taken a good nap. Kiriah hesitantly sat up, but she didn’t feel any pain from the movement. She realized that the Almighty Ones really had healed her. They did a far better job of healing her than Kiriah ever did when healing other people with her mask, for it didn't even feel like she had been healed.
 
Amazed, Kiriah rolled her shoulders and then stood up. She glanced downhill and saw Stronius and Niralo fighting. She knew she had to help Stronius somehow, but it would be tricky, as the two combatants fought so closely to each other that throwing some large object at Niralo might also hit Stronius. So she decided upon a different approach.
 
Activating her telekinesis, Kiriah focused on Niralo’s tail, specifically on the tip, and then yanked it hard. At the same time, the tip of Niralo’s tail snapped off, which didn’t cause any bleeding, but did make Niralo glanced over his shoulder in shock before Stronius slammed both fists into the Echo’s face.
 
The blow sent Niralo stumbling backwards onto the ground. In an instant, Stronius was on top pf him, but Niralo immediately shoved the Skrall off, sending Stronius tumbling away. The Echo got back to his feet and then looked up the incline at Kiriah, baring his teeth in anger.
 
“You!” said Niralo, pointing up at Kiriah. “How the Karzahni are you still alive?”
 
“I have friends,” said Kiriah. “But I really wouldn’t worry about me if I were you. You have a rather angry monk to deal with, I think.”
 
Niralo turned around too late. Stronius ran at him and grabbed the Echo’s head. In one smooth motion, Stronius twisted Niralo’s head until a loud ‘snap’ shot through the air. Then Stronius shoved Niralo’s prone body backwards, causing it to crash to the ground like a rock. It did not move.
 
Panting, Stronius looked up at Kiriah, but before he could say anything, he fell face-first onto the ground.
 
Alarmed, Kiriah ran down the incline without thinking. Thankfully, she made it to the bottom without tripping and, running around Niralo’s corpse, she bent down next to Stronius and rolled the Skrall onto his back.
 
Up close, Stronius looked absolutely terrible. His robes were completely torn apart in several places; the few bits that still clung to his body were a dirty brown rather than a pure white. One of his eyes was black, while his chest armor was dented in several places. And one of his arms was scratched up pretty badly. He was still alive, though, for Kiriah could hear him breathing.
 
“Stronius, wake up,” said Kiriah, shaking the Skrall. “Come on, wake up. Don’t you die on me.”
 
Stronius’s eyes flickered open and he looked at Kiriah. He coughed a couple of times before saying, “We make a good team.”
 
Kiriah chuckled. “Yeah, I guess so. Now let me heal you with my Mask of Healing. Try to describe to me your injuries, if you know them, and I’ll do my best to heal them.”
 
Stronius was surprisingly thorough with his descriptions of his injured body parts. In spite of his appearance, however, Stronius wasn’t quite as badly wounded as Kiriah had thought. The few major injuries he did sustain, such as a broken ribcage, Kiriah managed to fix at least well enough that it would suffice until he got back to the monastery, where he could get some actual medical attention if necessary.
 
Once he was healed, Stronius stood up and looked down at Niralo’s corpse.
 
“Kiriah, who was that being and why did he want to kill you?” said Stronius as Kiriah rose. “What did you do to harm him?”
 
Kiriah also looked at Niralo and said, “He was the guy who tried to kill me and Jet when you and your fellow monks found us in the jungle. Can’t tell you much more than that, I’m afraid.”
 
Stronius nodded. “I understand. You’re not from this dimension, are you?”
 
“What?” said Kiriah. “What do you mean by that?”
 
“I mean that you did not come from this dimension, Toa Kiriah,” said Stronius, shaking his head. “Nor did this being who tried to kill you, for that matter. Both of you came from somewhere else for reasons I do not know. Is that correct?”
 
Kiriah’s first instinct was to lie and tell him he was wrong, but after all they’d been through together, she realized lying to Stronius would be the wrong thing to do here.
 
So she said, “You’re spot on. I’m not from this dimension. That’s why I seemed ignorant of this world. I really had no idea about anything regarding this dimension except that Jet was from here.”
 
“I thought that might be so,” said Stronius. “And when I saw Jetrupi’s reluctance to talk about where he met you and where he got his ability to open dimensional portals, well, I thought that had to be the case. The fact that you are a good Toa and not a murderous one is almost enough in itself to prove you are not from here.”

“I guess I can’t ask you to keep this a secret, can I?” said Kiriah. “I don’t think the people here need to know that I’m not a native of this dimension, so . . .”
 
“Your secret is safe with me,” Stronius said. “Nor will I question you about why you are here in the first place. By the way, is Annona finally gone? I was not awake to see that.”
 
“Yes,” said Kiriah, nodding. “Jet sent her to another dimension.”
 
Stronius glanced around the area and said, “But where is Jetrupi? Why was he not fighting Niralo with you?”
 
Kiriah glanced at the spot where Jet had been standing. The sight of Jet held above Niralo’s head, with Niralo’s tail sticking through his stomach, was still burned in her mind’s eye.
 
“I don’t know,” Kiriah admitted. “Someday, I'm going to find him. For now, I have to get going.”
 
“You are going home?”
 
“Yes,” said Kiriah. “I have to return to my dimension. I have important work to do there, so this is good bye.”
 
Stronius bowed his head. “Good bye, Toa Kiriah. May the earth grant you success whether you are in this dimension or another.”
 
“Thanks,” said Kiriah. “Oh, by the way, protect Sahmad, Chalybs, and Telluris. They’re still unconscious. When they wake up, tell them Annona is gone and that you guys have to return to the monastery before it gets too dark.”
 
“That we shall, Kiriah, that we shall,” said Stronius. He hesitated, and then said, “Is it true, what Jet said, that even if Annona is gone, my fellow monks will still die? That there is no way to restore their dreams at all?”
 
Kiriah looked down uncomfortably. “Well, I don’t know. I think Jet was telling the truth. That means . . .”
 
“I must prepare for a month of mourning, then,” said Stronius with a sigh. “And Abbot Tuma . . . never mind. My troubles are my own, Kiriah, and there is nothing you can do now to alleviate them. Go home and never look back.”
 
Kiriah wanted desperately to help the monks somehow, but she knew Stronius spoke the truth. There was nothing that even she, a Toa of Psionics, could do to restore a person’s ability to dream once it was gone. All of the dreamless monks would eventually die, a thought which disturbed her greatly.
 
So Kiriah nodded, opened a dimensional portal, and stepped through it, though not before she wondered one last time whether Jet still lived or not. It was a problem the Almighty Ones would solve, she thought, while she had to stop Masqouth. And in order to do that she needed to go to the city of Zisar, the capital of New Zakaz and current residence of that false messiah.
 
-
 
Jeran pulled his hood over his head and moved closer to one of the buildings he hid near. It had started to rain in New Atero a few hours ago, and it rained hard, making it difficult to see much, although Jeran could still see Chimoy's apartment building.
 
In contrast to Asroth and Wavica, Jeran didn’t go directly to wherever Chimoy currently happened to be. He looked up Chimoy's address and staked himself on the street opposite it, in a darkened alleyway between two buildings. He knew Chimoy would have to return sometime, and when he did, Jeran would attack and kidnap the Toa of Iron.
 
The only problem with this method was that Jeran thus far had had to wait in the rain for several hours. He was soaking wet and his cloak clung to his body like a second layer of skin. It made movement awkward, but Jeran ignored it. If necessary, he could discard the robe; after all, the only reason he wore it was to prevent Masqouth from being implicated in this crime, for if someone saw Jeran, they would no doubt tell the police and that could snowball very quickly.
 
Just then, a bus came puttering down the street. Jeran sank deeper into the shadows of the alleyway as the bus halted at a bus stop. The only passenger to get off this bus was a Toa of Iron, Chimoy, who waited until the bus moved on before attempting to cross the street to his apartment.
 
Jeran raised his hands, intending to unleash a concentrated blast of sound that would knock Chimoy out without his prey even being aware of it. This was intentional, for Jeran did not wish to harm his old friend, at least not badly, anyway.
 
It was at that moment that Jeran heard the swooping of wings above. Puzzled, he looked up just in time to see something large flying toward him.
 
Alarmed, Jeran jumped backwards, skidding across the wet pavement as the winged thing crashed down where he’d been standing just a few seconds ago. When the winged being stood, Jeran got a good look at him.
 
His first thought was that it was Wavica, but then he noticed that this winged being was far bulkier than Wavica, not to mention he appeared to be male. The winged being’s armor was black and gold and he carried what looked like four swords around his waist; no surprise, for he also had four arms in addition to his four wings.
 
The winged being’s red eyes glared at Jeran, which made him realized that he had to get the Karzahni out of there if he wanted to live another day.
 
So Jeran unleashed a sonic blast at the street, which sent up a dust cloud that obscured the winged titan’s vision. Then Jeran turned and ran down the dark, wet alleyway as fast as he could without tripping. He intended to lose his pursuer, whoever he was, in the alleyways of the city and then circle back to Chimoy’s apartment and finish the job.
 
The Echo made several twists and turns through the alleys, always reminding himself which way he’d came so he could return to kidnap Chimoy. Every now and then Jeran looked over his shoulder to see if his pursuer was following him, but it appeared he had finally lost the winged titan, for he was nowhere to be seen.
 
Just as Jeran decided to circle back, he slammed into something thick and hard and fell backwards onto the ground, sliding across the wet street as he did so. Shaking his head, Jeran looked up, wondering if he’d perhaps accidentally run into a wall when he saw the winged titan standing in front of him, all four swords drawn.
 
“I wouldn’t recommend running if I were you, Jeran,” said the winged titan as he raised his four swords. “My species loves a good hunt and I am no different. It would be better for you to stay here and fight than run like a coward.”
 
“Who are you and how do you know my name?” said Jeran as he scrambled to his feet. “I’ve never seen you before.”
 
“My name is Angex,” said the winged titan. “As for how I know your name . . . you’re a celebrity, just like your master, Masqouth. Not as big as Masqouth, perhaps, but I have seen you on the news and so recognize your ugly face quite well.”
 
“What do you want, an autograph?” said Jeran, unlimbering his scythe. “Or are you just going to kidnap me like any good insane fan boy?”
 
“I’m hardly what you’d call a fan boy, Jeran,” said Angex, shaking his head. “Actually, I’m really here to kill you where you stand, in the name of order and justice.”
 
“Order and justice?” said Jeran. “That’s what you call murder in this dimension?”
 
“It’s not quite as simple as that, Jeran,” said Angex. “My superiors know about you and your master, Masqouth. I was given the task of protecting Toa Chimoy should an Echo ever decide to kidnap him. Really didn’t expect to see any action, but I’m not complaining now.”
 
Jeran’s eyes widened. “How do you know we’ve been kidnapping Toa?”
 
“How we know that is none of your business,” said Angex. “Just rest assured that we know exactly what you and your friends are up to. We don’t know why you are doing it or what you hope to gain from such a foolish task, but we don’t need to know any of that in order to stop you morons from causing much death and suffering.”
 
“Well, even if you know our plan, there’s nothing you can do to stop it,” said Jeran. “We are only a couple of steps away from completing the plan. Killing me won’t change anything.”
 
Angex shrugged. “It may not, but it has been a while since my blades tasted the blood of an enemy. So die.”
 
Without warning, Angex dashed forward, moving so fast and so smoothly that it looked like he was gliding across the pavement. Jeran just barely managed to jump out of the way of the incoming giant, who slid to a stop at the other end of the alley.
 
“You move fast for a deformed one,” said Angex. “Let’s try that again.”
 
Again, Angex dashed forward, but this time Jeran was ready. He raised his scythe and unleashed a blast of sound at Angex, but to the Echo’s surprise, the sound blast bounced off his enemy’s armor. This caused Jeran to jump once more to the side to avoid being diced into pieces. He hit the street and rolled away from Angex, who again stopped and turned to face Jeran.
 
“Did you like that?” said Angex, gesturing at his armor with one of his swords. “It’s soundproof armor. It deflects intense sound blasts like a mirror. So, unless you have some other tricks up your sleeve, I’m afraid this is going to be the last rainy day you’ll ever see.”
 
Jeran threw off his wet coat, for it was weighing him down, and then held his scythe in a battle position again. “You’re right. Sound isn’t the only trick up my sleeve.”
 
The Echo spun his scythe in a circle in front of him and then stopped. At first, Angex just stared at Jeran before he said, “Where did you go? How did you turn invisible?”
 
Smirking, Jeran began slowly making his way around Angex. It was not invisibility that hid him from the warrior’s eye; rather, it was the power of illusion that King Atuje had granted Jeran that made it look as though he’d disappeared. There was no way Angex could know about that until it was too late.
 
Once Jeran had circled around Angex, he looked for an opening in his enemy’s well-armored back. Noticing a thin chink in the warrior’s armor, Jeran immediately drove his scythe into it as hard as he could.
 
Angex roared in pain and stumbled forward. His sudden movement snapped the scythe head off the scythe itself, leaving Jeran with nothing but a long metal pole in his hands. It didn’t matter, though, because Angex could not reach the blade lodged in his back, no matter how hard he tried.
 
Then Angex fell to his hands and knees, the blood flowing out of the wound on his back to his abdomen and dripping into the street. He looked up at Jeran, his eyes full of anger and hate.
 
“You tricky little snake,” said Angex, breathing heavily. “Illusions, was it?”
 
Jeran nodded. “Yes. A useful ability for easily fooling brutes like you.”
 
Angex breathed hard and said, “Well, looks like you got me. But I’m not down yet.”
 
With a grunt. Angex tried to rise, but immediately fell back to his hands and knees. Jeran tsked several times as he folded his arms.
 
“Yes, Angex, I believe you are going down,” said Jeran. “But allow me to finish you off quickly to spare you some pain.”
 
Jeran raised his hands and unleashed a sound blast at the top of a nearby building. The blast blew off a chunk of the building’s roof, sending tons of debris falling onto Angex, who was too weak to move out of the way. Soon Angex was buried beneath the debris, his blood spreading out from underneath the rock, mixing with the rain water on the street to make an ugly color.
 
With that out of the way, Jeran turned around, ready to make his way back through New Atero’s winding streets to Chimoy’s apartment. But then Jeran stopped cold when he saw someone else standing in the alley, someone he had not expected to see here.
 
It was Toa Chimoy, carrying an umbrella that was no longer necessary, for the rain had stopped a few minutes ago. In the light of the street lamps the Toa of Iron appeared puzzled as he looked at Jeran and the buried Angex.
 
“What are you doing here?” said Jeran, taking a step back, unable to take his eyes off Chimoy. “How did you know we were back here?”
 
“I heard fighting,” said Chimoy. “Because it was so close to my apartment, I came to see if I could help. I’ve already called the police, however, so they should be here any minute now.”
 
“Were you intending to intervene at some point, Chimoy?” said Jeran. “Or were you just going to watch?”
 
Chimoy frowned. “How do you know my name? We’ve never met before.”
 
Jeran bit his lower lip. “Yes, we have, Chimoy, although it was a long, long time ago, in another world, and I look quite different now. We were once the best of friends, closer than brothers, but no longer.”
 
“But I don’t remember ever being best friends with anyone like you,” said Chimoy, shaking his head. “I recognize you from the telescreen, though. You are Masqouth’s servant, aren’t you?”
 
“That’s essentially what I am now, yes,” said Jeran, nodding. “But you honestly don’t recognize me, Chimoy? I know Masqouth made me look different, but I thought you at least would have recognized me.”
 
“I’m sorry, but I don’t know you,” said Chimoy as he folded his umbrella up. “You must have me mistaken for someone else.”
 
Jeran looked into Chimoy’s eyes and said, “You really don’t remember the guy that you loved, do you?”
 
Chimoy’s eyes widened, and this time, he took a step back. “No way. You aren’t . . . you can’t be . . . he’s dead . . . died years and years ago . . .”
 
“But I am him, Chimoy,” said Jeran, spreading his arms wide. “I am Toa Nonzra, the last surviving member of the Toa Shika and your former best friend and crush.”
 

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Edited by TNTOS, Dec 17 2013 - 03:02 PM.

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#22 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Jul 05 2013 - 08:27 AM

Chapter XXII

 
“Impossible,” said Chimoy, visibly shaken. “You can’t be Nonzra. You are not Nonzra. You’re just lying, trying to throw me off. You can’t fool me.”
 
Jeran’s shoulders sagged. “I guess you’re right that, though I am Nonzra, I am also not Nonzra. Both statements are true.”
 
“No, they’re not,” said Chimoy, shaking his head. “You’re not Nonzra. Nonzra died in my arms fifty thousand years ago, after I and the other Toa Shika locked the Door for good. His very last act was an act of heroism. Don’t desecrate his memory by pretending to be him!”
 
“How can I desecrate my own memory, Chimoy?” said Jeran, gesturing at himself. “As intelligent as you are, I can tell that you don’t quite grasp what I mean when I say that I am Nonzra and that I am not Nonzra. Would you allow me to explain?”
 
“Fine,” Chimoy snapped. “But don’t expect me to believe one word of it. I know you’re just trying to freak me out and it’s not working.”
 
“Freaking you out isn’t my intention, Chimoy, but I will continue,” said Jeran. “Now Chimoy, you know about alternate universes, correct?”
 
Chimoy nodded. “I’ve heard about them, although I haven’t studied them myself. Why?”
 
“As you know, a new alternate universe springs into existence whenever a decision is made in another universe,” said Jeran. “These new universes resemble the universe from which they sprang except in one significant detail, which usually changes the course of history in that universe.”
 
“Are you implying that you came from one of those other universes?”
 
“Yes, I am,” said Jeran as he wiped the water off his face. “You know that in this universe, the Toa Shika escaped Wyoko and locked the Door, thus saving the day. The only member of the Toa Shika who didn’t survive their adventure into the tapestry of evil was Nonzra, although he lived long enough to help create the Toa seal that to this day keeps the Kra-Matoran from escaping their banishment and imprisonment.”
 
“I know this already,” said Chimoy. “I was there. I saw it all happen firsthand. And I repeat, you are not Nonzra because Nonzra is dead.”
 
“Allow me to finish,” said Jeran. “An alternate universe arose from this one, from the battle that led to the Toa Shika winning victoriously over the Kra-Matoran. In that alternate universe, all of the Toa Shika are killed and the Kra-Matoran escape Wyoko. Only one of the Toa Shika survives, survives with hatred in his heart and a desire for revenge: Toa Nonzra, Toa of Sonics.”
 
“Wait a minute,” said Chimoy, putting one hand over his mouth. “You aren’t telling me-“
 
“Yes, I am, Chimoy,” said Jeran, nodding. “I am that Nonzra, the only one who survived the slaughter of his friends and teammates. In that universe, you died in my arms in vain, for the Kra-Matoran escaped and went on to ravage the rest of the universe. I vowed to avenge you and the others one day, Chimoy. And that day is nearly here.”
 
“By the Great Beings,” said Chimoy. “How did you get here, then, if what you say is true?”
 
“Masqouth found me,” said Jeran. “He came to my universe a little while ago in search of people to recruit to his cause. He found me and convinced me to join him. He told me I could get revenge if I just followed him and his master, the King of Life. I agreed, even though our plan involves freeing the Kra-Matoran once again.”
 
“What?” said Chimoy in shock. “If you hate the Kra-Matoran so much, why are you going to help free them again?”
 
Jeran stomped his foot and said, “Don’t you understand? The King of Life promised to wipe out the entire Kra-Matoran tribe once they left Wyoko. At this point, I don’t care if they ravage this universe. All I care about is seeing them destroyed, and if I must free them in order to do that, then so be it.”
 
“You’re crazy,” said Chimoy. “I don’t know who the King of Life is or what the details of his plan are, but it’s clear to me that you’re insane.”
 
“Insane? Hardly,” said Jeran. “I’m quite sane. I don’t like helping the Kra-Matoran any more than you would, Chimoy, but if this is the only way to ensure their eventual destruction, then I must do it.”
 
“Revenge isn’t a noble emotion, Jeran,” said Chimoy, holding out one hand. “You need to let go of your anger, let go of your-“
 
“Let go?” Jeran repeated with a hollow laugh. “Did you forget the part where, in my universe, they killed you and the other Toa Shika? Or the part in this universe, where they kill me? I’m sorry, Chimoy, but I don’t care if revenge is a ‘noble’ emotion or not. It is my emotion and I shall decide what to do with it.”
 
“If you unleash the Kra-Matoran onto Spherus Magna, you’re going to cause the deaths of many innocent people,” said Chimoy. “Do you want that on your conscience?”
 
“That’s not my problem,” said Jeran. “Who the Kra-Matoran kill or harm is none of my business. What matters is that I have been promised vengeance. And vengeance is all I need.”
 
Chimoy shook his head sadly. “I can see you’re not going to look at things logically, then. All I can do is try to stop you before your plan goes any further.”
 
“You won’t be able to stop me, Chimoy,” said Jeran. “But I can stop you.”
 
Jeran clapped his hands together, sending a sound blast at Chimoy that struck the Toa of Iron directly in the face. The blow sent Chimoy crashing to the street so hard that it knocked him out instantly, just as Jeran had planned.
 
Panting, Jeran walked over to the unconscious Chimoy and looked down at him. Though Jeran regretted attacking his old friend, it was the only way he could get Chimoy to come with him, the only way he could get his revenge. Yet that hardly assuaged his guilt, which he now tried to ignore.
 
Jeran raised one hand and a dimensional portal opened a few feet away from him. With Chimoy slung over his shoulder, Jeran stepped through the portal, knowing that the plan’s fulfillment was near.
 
-
 
“We’re entering Zisar airspace,” said Night. “Buckle in because we’re about to land.”
 
Kafor, who had been sleeping, awoke abruptly. Shaking her head, she looked out the window at the large city, its lights shining brightly in the dark of the night. It had been years since Kafor had been in Zisar, so she felt a mixture of excitement and apprehension. There were surely Dark Hunters in Zisar, after all, although whether they knew about Rex’s death yet, Kafor didn’t know.
 
A voice spoke over the intercom, saying, “This is Zisar Airfield Control Tower One. State your registration number.”
 
“This is number seven one three five,” Night replied. “Request for a landing in the Airfield.”
 
“Request approved, seven one three five,” said the voice. “Fly to the east end of the field, away from the city. There is space over there for an airship of your size.”
 
“Thank you,” said Night as he clicked the intercom off.
 
Puzzled, Kafor asked, “So what, was the air control officer too dumb to realize he’s letting an internationally wanted criminal land in the Airfield?”
 
“No,” said Night, shaking his head. “I just used the flight identification number of another, friendlier airship, so he assumed I was someone else.”
 
“And what might that friendlier airship be, per chance?” said Kafor.
 
“That is not something you need to know right now,” said Night. “Suffice to say he probably thinks we’re a lot more important than we really are.”
 
Kafor didn’t know what that meant and she wouldn’t get to know, either, for Night brought in the Knight’s Wish for a landing on the eastern end of the Airfield, as directed by the flight control officer. It was extremely dark at this end of the Airfield, the only illumination being the lights along the runway. Night didn’t have any trouble safely landing the ship, though, perhaps because there wasn't the worst blizzard in the world blinding him.
 
The trio quickly departed from the Knight’s Wish. Night gave it one last look before they turned to go into the city, which Kafor took as a last sentimental gesture. After all, it was doubtful Night was going to keep it much longer, for he planned to sell it to someone in Zisar, which meant this might be the last time he’d see it.
 
“So where’s our first stop?” said Kafor as they walked past the rows of parked airships. “Are we going to the theater?”
 
“We’re going to the black market,” said Night without looking at her. “Have to find a buyer for the Knight’s Wish.”
 
“Why’d you even think we’d be going to the theater, anyway?” said Heavyweight, looking at Kafor.
 
Kafor shrugged. “Oh, I was hoping I’d get to see one last play before, you know, we have to go into hiding for the rest of our lives. I heard The Tragedy of the Ghost King has been playing recently and according to the critics it’s supposed to be quite good.”
 
“We’re not going to see any plays,” said Night flatly. “At least, Heavyweight and I aren’t. You can if you want, but we have more important things to do.”
 
“Well, then I guess this is where we part,” said Kafor. “Once we reach Zisar’s city limits, I-“
 
Night immediately threw out both arms, stopping Heavyweight and Kafor. When Kafor looked at Night in indignation, she noticed that he was tense and his eyes were focused on something she couldn’t see.
 
“What’s the matter?” said Kafor. “Did you hear something go bump?”
 
“It’s not that,” said Night, shaking his head. “I thought I saw someone hiding among the airships. No, I know I saw someone hiding among the airships.”
 
Kafor squinted in the darkness. “I don’t see anything but airships, myself.”

“Nor do I,” said Heavyweight. “But Night, you must see something with your night vision, right?”
 
“Right,” said Night, nodding. “Only problem is, the person I saw disappeared. They must be hiding behind an airship or something because I can't-“
 
A powerful gust of wind slammed into the trio, knocking all three of them off their feet. The blow dazed Kafor, whose head seemed to spin for a while before she shook it and regained her bearings.
 
“What was that?” said Kafor as she got back to her feet. “A tornado?”
 
“Not quite, Skakdi,” said an arrogant, feminine voice from somewhere within the shadows. “But close enough.”
 
Kafor looked in the direction the voice had come from and saw a Toa of Air standing on one of the airships. The Toa of Air carried a large air-blaster, which she hefted with ease. With her recognizable Mask of Stone, Kafor knew who the Toa was immediately.
 
“Litho,” said Night, looking up at the bounty hunter. “How did you know we’d be here?”
 
Litho smiled and aimed her air-blaster at them. “Oh, I didn’t. I was just coming back to my airship after another successful hunt when I heard some people talking. Not knowing who they were, I hid and, coincidence beyond coincidence, I found out that they were you three. Destiny must have brought us together again so I can bring all three of you to justice.”
 
“All three of us?” said Kafor. “Hey, I’m just a civilian that these Dark Hunters here kidnapped.”
 
“Kafor!” Night snapped.
 
“It’s true,” said Kafor with a shrug. “I have done absolutely nothing wrong in my entire life. Destiny is a cruel mistress to place me into the hands of these criminals.”

“It didn’t sound like you were kidnapped to me,” said Litho. “In fact, based on the conversation you were having with them, it sounded an awful lot like they were your allies.”
 
“But you saw Night kidnap me earlier,” said Kafor. “So you know I'm their prisoner.”
 
“How do I know you weren't secretly working for him?” said Litho. “Seems awfully convenient that, just as I was about to capture one of the most infamous criminals in the world, he takes a 'hostage' who is quite willing to go along with him.”
 
“Look, you don't understand,” said Kafor, raising her hands. “He was-”

“You can explain it to me after I take you to jail, Skakdi,” said Litho. “I don’t know what kind of crimes you’re wanted for, but I’m sure the prison warden will be more than willing to tell me when I drag you to Zisar City Prison with your two Dark Hunter buddies.”
 
“And here I thought Toa were a reasonable bunch,” Kafor sighed. “Oh, well. You’re not going to capture us anyway.”
 
“Yes, I am!” said Litho, stomping her foot. “Do you know the kind of embarrassment I suffered when everyone learned I failed to catch you? A homeless Matoran found me in a trash can, recognized me, and then told everyone he knew that the great Toa Litho was sleeping in trash cans. In trash cans.”
 
Heavyweight smirked. “Maybe you shouldn’t sleep in trash cans, then.”
 
“You did that, didn’t you?” said Litho, aiming her air-blaster at Heavyweight. “Get ready for the butt-kicking of a lifetime, you moron.”
 
Litho pulled the trigger and unleashed another burst of wind from her blaster. Heavyweight and Night scattered before it hit them. So did Kafor, even though she wasn’t in the way of the air blast. All she wanted to do was make it into Zisar and hide where Litho could never find her. Night and Heavyweight could fend for themselves.
 
As she rolled underneath an airship, guilt gnawed at Kafor’s conscience. After all, it had been due to Night and Heavyweight that she’d managed to escape New Odina. Abandoning them to a mad bounty hunter like that made her feel bad, even if they could take care of Litho themselves.
 
On the other hand, it was because of them that she had gone to New Odina in the first place, which helped assuage her guilt quite a bit.
 
Ignoring the sounds of battle, Kafor crawled toward the other side of the airship. Once she reached it, she crawled out from underneath, stood up, and didn’t look back. It really didn’t matter to her who won, whether Litho or Night and Heavyweight. If the tide turned in Litho’s favor, Kafor wanted to be as far away from the battle as she possibly could.
 
Before she started toward the city, Kafor had a splitting headache that actually sent her to her knees. Her eyes focused in and out, and it was impossible to see anything. She recognized this as something she hadn’t experienced in a while: a vision.
 
For as long as Kafor could remember, she had been having brief visions of the future. They were usually vague and only made sense after the fact, which was partly why Kafor didn’t enjoy them very much.
 
Because of those visions, she’d always been something of an outcast even among her fellow Skakdi. No one ever believed her when she said she could see the future; in fact, the only person who ever took her visions seriously was Barc, which was part of the reason Kafor had always come to his bar. She had nowhere else to go.
 
It had been a long time since Kafor's last vision. Indeed, the last one had been such a long time ago that Kafor had thought maybe her visions had left her. She had even begun speculating that her lack of visions meant maybe a time of peace was coming, for her visions almost always preceded some terrible event, such as the Great Cataclysm or the death of the old universe, for instance. They rarely ever showed anything nice.
 
Of course, she shouldn’t have been so naïve. The part of her brain that gave her visions was active again and now she found herself standing on top of a skyscraper in a city that looked like Zisar. The only difference was that everything was blurry and gray, which Kafor found odd because her visions were usually clear and in color. Whether this meant anything or not, Kafor didn’t know.
 
That was when she noticed something in the alley below. She saw herself being held at knife point by a being that looked remarkably like Masqouth; in fact, upon closer inspection, Kafor realized that that being was Masqouth. The revolutionary was holding a knife against Vision Kafor’s throat, which caused the real Kafor to put one hand on her throat reflexively.
 
She and Masqouth weren’t alone in the alleyway, however. There was Night, Heavyweight, and a Toa of Psionics whose mask rang a bell in Kafor's mind, even though the Toa's identity was still a mystery to her. Their weapons were aimed at Masqouth, but with his knife at Vision Kafor's throat, it seemed unlikely that they would attack.
 
“Now lower your weapons, my friends,” said Masqouth in a low voice. “Or we’ll see what color blood Skakdi bleed.”
 
Night, Heavyweight, and the Toa of Psionics reluctantly lowered their weapons. At the same time, Kafor saw Vision Kafor’s eyes meet Night’s.
 
“Good,” said Masqouth, his grip relaxing on Kafor slightly. “Now if you will-“ 

Without warning, Vision Kafor elbowed Masqouth, forcing him to let her go. Kafor cheered on her vision self, who then punched Masqouth in the face. Masqouth stumbled backwards, shaking his head, as Night hurled a shadow bolt at him, although the revolutionary managed to duck and avoid it. At the same time, another knife fell out of Masqouth’s sleeve into his hand and he dashed at Vision Kafor, aiming the knife’s tip directly at her heart.
 
That was when the vision abruptly ended. Kafor blinked several times and looked around. She was still in the Airfield, surrounded by airships, on her knees with her hands on her head.
 
That vision made no sense to Kafor, even though she recognized its legitimacy. She, Night, and Heavyweight were already in Zisar and so, to her knowledge, was Masqouth. Yet why was Masqouth threatening her life and who was the Toa of Psionics? For that matter, why were they fighting him at all?
 
But Kafor recognized that, despite its unexplained oddities, her vision was going to come true at some point, probably very soon. She considered not going to Zisar; however, that would mean traveling in the dark through the mostly barren county of New Zakaz, which was crawling with sand bats, Skopios, and various other not-so-friendly creatures, not to mention she would have to deal with the occasional bandit as well. It would be smarter to go to Zisar and risk the vision’s fulfillment than to go into the wilderness and die a horrible death there.
 
That meant, of course, that she’d have to go back and help Night and Heavyweight defeat Litho. Which definitely would put her in harm’s way, but as she knew she was going to need the two if she was going to survive the vision’s fulfillment, she really had no choice.
 
Sighing, Kafor crawled underneath the airship again, crawling closer and closer to the sounds of battle, already reluctantly planning how she was going to help her abandoned allies.
 

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Edited by TNTOS, Dec 17 2013 - 03:10 PM.

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#23 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Jul 08 2013 - 08:31 AM

Chapter XXIII

 
Niham sat behind the one-way mirror, her feet propped up on the desk she sat behind as she, Makuta Teridax, and Oggak watched as Riorc, a Will agent, interrogated Wavica and Asroth. The interrogator had been working for hours already, trying to get the Echoes to talk, but so far neither of them had said anything the organization hadn't already known through their own intelligence-gathering.
 
Of course, Niham hadn’t been here for the entire interrogation session. She first had been taken to her temporary room, where she was told to stay until they gave her permission to leave. Niham didn’t really want to stay put, however, and managed to convince Oggak to convince Teridax to let her come out and watch the interrogation. It was probably her detective instincts at work, but Niham felt she had every right to know the location of the three Toa these two Echoes had thus far kidnapped.
 
Riorc slammed both of his large hands on the table before the two Echoes. “I'm going to ask one more time: Where are Kanderias, Laomos, and Akuna? What did you do with them?”
 
Wavica said nothing while Asroth said, “And I am going to say again, go jump off a cliff. We aren’t going to tell you anything you want to know. The location of those Toa is a secret we’re going to take to the grave.”
 
“To the grave, eh?” said Riorc in frustration. “How would you like it if I shoved this spear down your throat?”
 
Riorc gestured at a deadly-looking spear leaning against a nearby wall.
 
“You wouldn’t do that,” said Wavica calmly. “If you did, you’d kill us and so never learn what you want to learn.”
 
Riorc growled. “Maybe I should bring in Knife-Fingers.”
 
Niham glanced at Teridax. “Who is Knife-Fingers?”
 
“I will tell you later,” said Teridax, without looking at her.
 
“We don’t care who you bring in,” said Asroth. “We aren’t going to talk. And we are going to escape.”
 
At that, Riorc smirked. “Escape? You’re in a high-level security fortress constantly upgraded with the best, most up-to-date security systems on the planet. It has the best guards you could find anywhere and the entire thing is floating hundreds of feet in the sky, which means a very long drop if you decide to jump. Don’t kid yourselves. You're just pathetic.”
 
“Your imagination must be extremely poor if you think we’d try to break out of this fortress the predictable way,” Wavica replied. “That would be suicide.”

“And, pray tell, how do you intend to break out?” said Riorc, crossing his thin arms. “Going to use your dimension-hopping powers? I doubt it, myself, as you seem to need your arms free to be able to use your abilities. Or do you think some of your friends will save you?”
 
Asroth smirked. “You’re spot on, moron. We’re just waiting for the cavalry to arrive.”
 
“The cavalry?” said Riorc with a snort. “No one knows you’re up here besides us. You are rather naïve if you think-“
 
Without warning, Riorc’s neck twisted so fast Niham only heard it happen and the next minute the agent’s prone body fell to the floor. At the same time, Asroth and Wavica’s bonds loosened around them and fell off and the two Echoes stood up triumphantly.
 
“What the Karzahni?” said Teridax as he, Niham, and Oggak jumped to their feet. “What just happened? How did they do that?”
 
The next moment, something like water began filling the room. Or, at least, it felt like water was filling the room, for Niham did not see or feel any water, nor did she hear it rushing in. It took her a second to realize that it wasn't water she felt, but the presence of some unfathomably powerful being entering the chamber.
 
The being’s presence sent her to her knees, bumping her face against the desk on the way down. At her side, Teridax and Oggak had also been brought to their knees, though they still struggled hard against the presence that overwhelming them all. The sound of shattering glass attracted Niham’s attention to the one-way mirror, which Wavica and Asroth jumped through, landing in front of Niham and the two Will agents.
 
“What . . . kind of power is this?” Teridax growled, straining out every word. “Let us go.”
 
“Sorry, Makuta, but no can do,” said Asroth, shaking her head. “This isn’t our doing, even though I would love to be doing it to you. It’s our King, who cares very much about our wellbeing, right, Wavica?”
 
“He certainly does,” said Wavica, nodding.
 
It was then that a voice spoke. It was an ancient voice, one which reminded Niham of nature, of the swaying of trees in the wind, of birds chirping, of animals roaming through the wilderness, stepping on fallen twigs and leaves, of waterfalls and rushing streams; of life itself, in other words.
 
“Waste no more time blasting them, Wavica, Asroth,” said the voice. “Grab the Toa of the Green and depart. There is but one last phase in the plan before the Door can be opened, so waste no more time here.”
 
“Yes, sir,” said Asroth. “Can I smack these other two around for a bit before we go, though?”
 
“No,” said the voice. “You cannot waste any more time. The next phase will require all of you Echoes together; otherwise, it cannot work.”
 
“Who are you?” Teridax demanded, looking around. “Where are you speaking from? What is your name?”
 
“Who I am is none of your business, Makuta of Light,” said the voice. “I do find it remarkable, however, that my Echoes aren’t the only non-inhabitants of this universe. I will spare your life and the life of the Toa of Shadow, I think, because there is nothing you can do to stop me now; plus, I am adverse to pointless killing.”
 
“The Will of Angonce will track you down and kill you,” said Teridax between gritted teeth. “This I swear.”
 
“It won’t matter,” said the voice. “Now please rest for a while. I promise your rest will only be temporary.”
 
Without warning, Oggak and Teridax hit the floor face-first. Niham’s first thought was that they were both dead, but when she remembered the voice’s promise of not killing them, she relaxed a little, although not entirely, for she was now at the mercy of Asroth, Wavica, and their King, whoever he was.
 
“Niham, you, too, will have to sleep,” said the voice. “That way, you will not be able to resist my Echoes, who will take you where you need to be.”
 
Panic filled Niham’s being as her mind began to shut off. She tried to fight it, but it was absolutely no use whatsoever. She could feel her consciousness slipping away by the second until she could feel it no longer.
 
-
 
Kiriah found herself standing on top of a building in Zisar, trying to recover from the dimension-hopping trip she’d taken to get here. Below, Skakdi of all colors and spine designs walked the streets, drove vehicles, and went about their business. The huge telescreens mounted on some of the skyscrapers showed clips of Masqouth’s speeches; a bold move, in Kiriah’s opinion, for the clips were edited together in a way that made it sound as though Masqouth were promoting Skakdi nationalism.
 
Kiriah would have to go down into the streets eventually and find Masqouth. This would be hard, partly because Kiriah had never visited Zisar before (and so therefore was unfamiliar with its layout), and partly because Kiriah didn’t know where Masqouth was at the moment. She only knew three things about Zisar; that it was the capital of New Zakaz; that it had the largest Skakdi population in all of Spherus Magna; and that it was a really big city in spite of the violent and unpredictable nature of the Skakdi.
 
Deciding she would ask someone where Masqouth was staying, Kiriah took the fire escape down the side of the building and into a dark alley where a she found a red Skakdi sleeping, probably homeless. She immediately left the alley and emerged onto the busy street, looking this way and that for anyone who looked knowledgeable about famous people living in Zisar.
 
She decided upon a brown Skakdi who was walking by, whose shoulder she tapped. He looked at her and said, rather gruffly, “What?”

“Hello,” said Kiriah in as sweet a voice as she could muster. “Could you tell me where Masqouth is staying? I’m not from around here, you see, and-“
 
“Why should I tell you that?” said the Skakdi indignantly. “I know your kind. You’re a New Atero agent looking to take Masqouth down. Well, I’m not going to help you with that. New Atero is going to fall and a new century will dawn for the Skakdi! Down with New Atero!”
 
The Skakdi stomped off as he chanted, “Down with New Atero!” over and over again, although no one seemed to pay him any attention. Whether it was because the vast majority of the people on the street agreed with him or didn't care about what he was saying, Kiriah didn’t know. All she knew was that she was confused by the way the Skakdi had treated her.
 
Just then, a familiar voice behind her said, “Kiriah, is that you?”
 
Kiriah spun around and her heart skipped a beat when she saw Toa Nasis, Toa of Iron and former leader of the Toa Tanjo, making his way toward her through the crowd. It took only a few seconds for Nasis to reach Kiriah, by which time Kiriah had retreated to the stoop of a nearby building to keep out of street traffic.
 
“Hey, Kiriah, what are you doing in Zisar?” said Nasis as he sat down next to her on the stoop. “It’s been years since we last saw each other. How are things in New Tanjo Nui?”
 
“They’re fine,” said Kiriah, somewhat distractedly. “What are you doing in Zisar? I thought you were living in New Atero.”
 
“I’ve got a job here in Zisar now,” said Nasis. “I’m one of the city’s resident building inspectors. Any time someone builds a new building in this city or decides to renovate an old one, the government sends me in to inspect it during and after construction.”
 
“Why would you want to live in Zisar?” said Kiriah, glancing at the passing Skakdi. “The Skakdi just seem so . . . unfriendly.”
 
Nasis chuckled. “Eh, you get used to it after a while. Unfriendliness is how they relate to each other and to foreigners. But there’s definitely some real bitterness toward Toa, which makes it hard to live here, but hey, the pay is good.”
 
“So I take it Masqouth’s message has been resonating with the people?” said Kiriah.
 
“Yes,” said Nasis, nodding. “Everyone loves him. The only people who don’t are my bosses. Personally, I don’t care about Masqouth. Just seems like all talk and no walk to me; after all, anyone can rile up a crowd.”
 
Kiriah nodded. She was trying to decide whether to tell Nasis what she was doing in Zisar when the Toa of Iron said, “By the way, Kiri, you still haven’t told me what you’re doing all the way out here.”
 
“It’s complicated.”
 
“You can tell me,” said Nasis. “I’m all ears.”
 
“Look, is there anywhere private we can go where people won’t hear us?” said Kiriah, glancing at the passersby. “It’s really secret and I don’t want anyone hearing it who shouldn’t.”
 
“Well, I was just on my way back to my apartment,” said Nasis. “It’s about a block from here. The walls are pretty thick, so we won’t have to worry about eavesdroppers.”
 
“Good,” said Kiriah. “Then let’s go.”
 

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Edited by TNTOS, Dec 17 2013 - 03:15 PM.

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#24 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Jul 12 2013 - 08:48 AM

Chapter XXIV

 
Night hurled a shadow bolt at Litho, which the Toa of Air dodged with ease. She fired an air blast at Heavyweight, forcing the ex-Dark Hunter to move before she could be blown away by the blast’s force.
 
“Why are you two so slow?” said Litho as she aimed her air-blaster at Night again. “Is it past your bedtime already?”
 
Night bit back a retort he felt coming to his lips. As much as he hated to admit it, Litho was right. He and Heavyweight were slower than usual, which he realized was a combination of their fight with the Shadowed One and his loyalists and the hours-long trip from the Northern Frost to Zisar in the Knight’s Wish. They hadn’t had time to rest up yet, while Litho had had more than enough time to recover from their previous fight with her back in New Atero.
 
Still, that didn’t mean Night or Heavyweight was going to give up. They had not just escaped one Nui Rama nest only to wind up in the center of another. With Night’s long list of crimes, he realized he was probably going to be executed if Litho captured him and turned him over to the government. Heavyweight might also get executed, for her list of crimes had to be at least as long as his, considering the two were partners and had worked together on many of the same missions over the years.
 
It was with this thought in mind that Night ran at Litho and slashed at her with his sword, but the nimble bounty hunter just back-flipped out of the way. Heavyweight also rushed forward and swung her tri-claw at Litho. This time, it actually hit the Toa of Air, but Litho recovered quickly and used a blast of wind to send herself flying into the air.
 
Litho landed several feet away from the ex-Dark Hunters, rubbing the side of her face where Heavyweight had hit her.
 
“Good hit,” said Litho. “But I can hit harder.”
 
Litho raised her air-blaster again, but then two laser beams flew out of nowhere and struck her weapon. The impact of the beams knocked the air-blaster out of her hands, sending the now-smoking weapon skittering underneath one of the airships out of Litho’s reach.
 
“Who did that?” said Litho, looking in the direction the lasers had come from. “Show yourself or I'll make you show yourself.”
 
Thanks to his night vision, Night could see Kafor standing in the darkness of the airships. He was surprised to see her here, for he had assumed she had ran away, but he didn’t question it. His met hers and she nodded, which Night took as a sign to attack.
 
The Skrall ran at Litho as fast as he could in his tired state. Litho noticed him coming, but too late, for he slammed his shield into her face and then hit her across the mask with the flat of his blade. The two blows were enough to knock her to the ground hard and, although she tried to get up, she couldn’t.
 
“Dang it!” Litho cried out. “Why can't I get up?”
 
“Because gravity doesn’t like you very much, Litho,” said Heavyweight, who had walked up to Night and the downed Toa. “Struggle all you want, you’re never going to get out.”
 
Litho let out a string of extremely foul curse words, although they didn’t faze Night in the slightest, for he had heard much worse insults during his time as a Dark Hunter. As Litho’s voice annoyed him, he kicked her in the side of the head, instantly knocking the Toa of Air out.
 
Then Night glanced at Kafor, who had now walked out of the shadows of the airships and into the light of the runway. “Why did you come back?”
 
Kafor shrugged. “Because you two are my bestest friends in the whole wide world, of course. I have no others.”
 
“Cut the jokes,” Heavyweight snapped. “We all know that you’re a selfish little cretin. Why would you come back for us if it meant risking your life?”
 
“I am rather selfish for risking my life to save yours, aren’t I?” said Kafor, scratching the back of her head. “I just thought I would survive a little while longer if I had a scary Skrall and an ugly Vortixx hanging around me.”
 
Night didn’t know if Kafor was telling the truth or not; at any rate, she had saved them, so he said, “Then let’s head into the city. I don’t know how long Litho is going to remain unconscious.”

“Why don’t you just kill her?” said Kafor, glancing at the Toa. “She’s just going to come after you again anyway. Even if you go into hiding, she’s going to spend her whole life tracking you two down, I bet.”
 
“That’s because, Kafor, I do not kill an unconscious opponent,” Night said. “Unlike you, I do have some honor left in me.”
 
“Sure, sure,” said Kafor, nodding. “I was just asking if you were going to do it.”
 
Kafor fired two eye beams at Litho. The beams struck through the Toa of Air’s heartlight, shattering it instantly and killing her just as quickly.
 
Night looked at Kafor with a mixture of surprise and apprehension. “So you were planning to kill her all along, then.”
 
“More or less,” Kafor replied. “You can’t get anywhere in life if you’re always looking over your shoulder for the guy trying to kill you.”
 
Night and Heavyweight glanced at each other. He decided that they were going to need to keep a closer eye on Kafor than before. If she was so quick and willing to kill someone she considered a threat, there was no telling what she might do if she thought Night and Heavyweight were dangerous to her life. It gave Night yet another reason to want to split from her as soon as possible.
 
“I have an idea of where we can go until tomorrow,” said Kafor. “I have a friend in Zisar who might be willing to let us stay in his apartment for the night. If I remember correctly, his apartment isn’t too far from here, so why don’t we go together?”
 
“Can we trust this . . . friend?” said Night.
 
“Of course we can,” said Kafor. “I haven't talked to him in a while, but he's a kindhearted fellow who I am sure would not turn away an old friend and her two bestest friends in the whole world.”
 
Again, Night and Heavyweight exchanged a look.
 
“All right,” said Heavyweight, folding her arms. “We haven't rested in over a day anyway. Lead the way, Kafor.”
 
-
 
It took ten minutes for Kiriah and Nasis to reach the latter's apartment. Along the way, the two Toa didn’t talk because Kiriah insisted that the information she was going to tell Nasis was too dangerous to speak of in public. She had no idea what the Zisarian Skakdi might do if they overheard someone criticizing Masqouth, though if that brown Skakdi from earlier was any indication, there was a good chance they could get violent and nasty.
 
Upon entering Nasis's apartment and taking a seat on his couch, Kiriah explained, as briefly as she could, what she had learned about Masqouth. She also gave him a condensed version of her adventures in Jet's dimension.
 
Nasis listened quietly the entire time, although Kiriah could tell he was thinking, for the little chunk of metal he always carried with him was constantly changing its form. It eventually became a miniature statue of Masqouth, though lacking color or detail.
 
When Kiriah finished, Nasis placed the little Masqouth statue on the couch’s end table and looked at it. “So Masqouth is trying to open this Door and unleash an army of evil Matoran onto Spherus Magna?”
 
“Yes,” said Kiriah, nodding fervently. “I know it sounds crazy, but-“
 
“Kiriah, that is crazy,” said Nasis, shaking his head. “I know you're a truthful person, but forgive me if I have a hard time believing your story.”
 
“You’re gonna have to if you want to save Spherus Magna,” said Kiriah. “Just tell me where Masqouth is. I’m going to confront him myself, by myself if necessary.”
 
“Last I heard, he’s checked in at the Zisar Luxury Hotel downtown,” said Nasis. “But he’s always on the move, too, so he is probably somewhere else in the city right now. I don’t know where, though.”

“Then I’ll just have to go there and wait for him to return,” Kiriah decided. “He’s a monster who needs to be stopped.”
 
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to help you, Kiri,” said Nasis. “Getting into the Hotel isn’t easy,because it has high-tech security systems and many security guards, even more so now that Masqouth is staying there.”
 
“I’m sure I’ll figure something out,” said Kiriah. “If the Almighty Ones told me to do it, then I can probably do it.”
 
“The Almighty Ones don’t sound like entirely trustworthy beings to me,” said Nasis, reclining in the couch. “I mean, why haven’t they defeated Masqouth themselves if they’re so powerful? Why do they have to rely on you to stop Masqouth?” He paused, and then added, “No offense, Kiriah. Just saying.”
 
“I don’t know,” said Kiriah, her hands folded across her lap. “All they told me was that they couldn’t directly intervene in this case. It’s something I have to do myself.”

“Frankly, I don’t see any reason to trust supposedly almighty beings who have to rely on mortals to do the work that they could easily do themselves,” said Nasis, rolling his eyes. “Maybe you should rethink-“
 
The doorbell rang at that moment, causing both Toa to look at the door. It rang again just a few seconds later and kept ringing over and over again.
 
“Are you expecting anybody?” Kiriah asked.
 
Nasis shook his head. “No. I don’t know who it could be. Can you use your telepathy to find out who it is?”
 
Kiriah looked at the door. “Not with that door in the way I can’t. The range of my powers is limited by my range of vision, so with that door in the way I can’t read the mind of whoever is ringing the bell.”
 
“Then I’ll go check out who it is,” said Nasis as he stood up. “Hang on. I’ll be back in a minute.”
 
He walked over to the door and peered through the peephole. For a moment, Nasis didn’t do anything except make an annoyed grunt.
 
Then he cracked open the door slightly and said exasperatedly, “What do you want?”

“Nasis, old friend,” said a sneaky, feminine voice that Kiriah didn’t recognize. “Long time no see. I just came by to see how my favorite Toa of Iron is doing.”
 
“Who are your armed friends, then?” said Nasis. “Whenever I visit an old friend, I don’t usually bring along a Skrall and a Vortixx who look like they've just gotten out of the army.”

“They’re just my friends, Nasis,” said the voice through the cracked door. “You see, we were just kicked out of our hotel, so we need somewhere to stay for the night. As you’re my friend, I thought you’d be gracious enough to let us stay in your apartment until morning.”
 
“Friend?” said Nasis. “We’ve never been friends. We’re barely even acquaintances. Your flattery doesn’t work on me.”

“Did I mention I also came for the golden armor you promised me?” said the voice. “You never gave it to me.”
 
Nasis sighed. “Kafor, that was fifty-thousand years ago. I never got around to making the armor because Teridax took over the universe a week later and I and the other Toa Tanjo joined the rebellion. I thought you’d forgotten about that.”
 
“I never forget payments, Nasis,” said the voice called Kafor. “Of course, I’ll forget all about the golden armor if you just give me and my friends a place to stay for the night. I’ll never bring up the golden armor ever again if you do that.”
 
“Sorry, but I don’t see any reason to accommodate you,” said Nasis. “If you really cared about the golden armor, you would have come to me after the death of the old universe. As it is, I didn’t even know you were still alive until tonight, so-“
 
“Just let us in,” said another voice, this one harsher and masculine. “Or we’ll force our way in ourselves.”
 
“Let’s keep it civil here, Skrall,” said Kafor, her voice tinged with nervousness. “We’re not savages, after all, so let’s act like civilized beings here.”
 
“Civilized beings don’t come to ex-business clients in the middle of the night looking for some place to stay for free,” Nasis replied. “Look, there are a lot of cheap inns around here that you can stay in for the night. I have no room in my apartment for you three.”
 
“But we don’t have any money,” Kafor said. “Besides, we’re perfectly willing to sleep on the floor if necessary. Surely you must have soft shag carpeting.”
 
“It’s marble,” said Nasis. “My bedroom has carpeting, but I’m not going to let any of you sleep in there with me.”
 
“Nasis, you’re a Toa,” said Kafor, her voice pleading. “Toa are supposed to look out for the helpless. We’re helpless, you know.”
 
“You don’t look helpless to me,” said Nasis, shaking his head. “The fact that you are all armed makes you look like the kind of people who prey on helpless people, in fact. So maybe I should just close the door right now and send you on your-“
 
Without warning, the door was shoved forward and Nasis stumbled backwards from the blow. Standing in the doorway were three beings; a Vortixx carrying a tri-claw, a Skrall with a battered shield, and an orange and white Skakdi that Kiriah believed was Kafor. The Skrall was holding the door open with one hand; he had clearly forced open the door.
 
“We are coming in and that is final,” said the Skrall. “We will leave first thing in the morning, if that’s what you want us to do, but we're not staying in the streets tonight.”
 
Something about the Skrall’s appearance stirred a memory in Kiriah’s mind. Without thinking, she did a quick mental sweep of the three newcomers and gasped as she learned their identities.
 
Standing up, Kiriah pointed at the Skrall and said, “Nasis, that Skrall is Night, the infamous Dark Hunter. And the Vortixx is Heavyweight, his partner.”
 
“What?” said Nasis, looking at Night and the other two with shock. “What are-“
 
Heavyweight reacted quickly. She snapped her fingers and without warning both Nasis and Kiriah flew to the ceiling. They crashed against it and were unable to move, which gave Night, Heavyweight, and Kafor time to enter the apartment completely and close the door behind them.
 
“Kafor, what the Karzahni are you doing with Dark Hunters?” said Nasis. “I thought they were trying to kill you!”
 
“Yes, well, these two are now proud ex-Dark Hunters,” Kafor said, gesturing at Night and Heavyweight. “By the way, did you not want to let us in because you had your girlfriend over?”
 
“Kiriah is not my girlfriend,” Nasis said. “The reason I didn’t want to let you in, Kafor, was because I didn’t like you or your friends. And what do you mean they’re ex-Dark Hunters, anyway?”
 
“That means exactly what you think it means, Nasis,” said Kafor. “They’re-“

“We aren’t Dark Hunters anymore,” Night interrupted. “We’re on our own now. We pay no allegiance to the Shadowed One or any of his minions.”
 
Kiriah struggled to get to the ground, but even though she could move her limbs, she was still stuck to the ceiling. “What did you do to my body? How come I can’t get down?”
 
"Gravity is no longer anchoring you to the floor, Toa,” said Heavyweight, leaning against one of the walls. “You two aren't coming down until I say so.”
 
“You can’t keep us up here forever,” said Nasis. “You’re going to have to sleep eventually and then-“
 
“We’ll find some rope and tie you two up,” said Night. “Or maybe let you drop and let the impact knock you out. You’re in no position to threaten us, Toa.”
 
Kafor shrugged. “I’m sorry, Nasis, but . . . well, actually, I’m not sorry at all. My only regret right now is that you didn’t get around to making that golden armor for me. I will probably never get it now, since I plan to go back into hiding soon, but it would have been nice to get it just the same.”
 
Kiriah ceased struggling now because she knew it was impossible to fight against the lack of gravity as long as Heavyweight controlled it. So Kiriah tried to think of other ways to get her and Nasis down, although it seemed like every idea she came up with ended with her and Nasis falling flat on their faces and getting knocked out by the impact. That could be an even worse situation than their current one, because as it was they were at least still conscious.
 
Just as Kiriah was about to give up hope, a multitude of voices in her head whispered, Go with them. They are your allies.
 
Before Kiriah could figure out where the voices came from, they were gone instantly. That frustrated her, especially because their message was so cryptic. What did the voices mean by ‘them’? Were they referring to Kafor, Night, and Heavyweight? If so, why would Kiriah ever want to go with them, even if they weren’t Dark Hunters anymore?
 
It was then that a picture popped in Kiriah’s mind; it was very brief, but Kiriah did see it long enough to comprehend its meaning. It was a picture of Masqouth, who stood in front of what looked like a giant door, a wicked grin on his face as he ran his fingers along its smooth, shiny surface.
 
Masqouth was close to opening the Door. That meant Kiriah had to get down now, but the only question was, how? It wasn’t like Heavyweight was going to let her down if she asked nicely.
 
So Kiriah said, in her most authoritative, no-nonsense voice, “Let me down. Now.”

“Why should we?” said Kafor, looking up at the Toa of Psionics. “You didn’t even say please. Of course, even if you had, we wouldn’t let you down. No, you’re good exactly where you are.”
 
“Guess we’ll have to do this the hard way, then,” said Kiriah.
 
Although her body was stuck to the ceiling, Kiriah’s mind was free. So she looked at Heavyweight and unleashed a small mental attack on her; not enough to permanently damage the Vortixx’s mind, but enough to break her concentration.
 
It worked. Heavyweight's hands flew to her her head as Kiriah and Nasis fell. Thankfully, it wasn’t a long fall from the ceiling to the floor, but Kiriah and Nasis both made sure to land on their feet anyway. As soon as they reached the ground, Night hurled two shadow bolts at them, but Nasis created a large, thick metal shield that deflected the shadow bolts, causing them to hit the walls where they left smoking craters.
 
Then Kiriah used her telekinesis to disarm Night and Heavyweight, yanking their weapons out of their hands and throwing them to the far side of the room. She then used her telekinesis to knock Night off his feet, giving Nasis enough time to conjure thick shackles around the Skrall’s arms and legs. The Toa of Iron also conjured thick chains that ensnared Heavyweight, causing her to fall over with a thud.
 
Kafor took a step back toward the door, saying, “Hmm, perhaps we should have seen that coming. I forgot you were a Toa of Psionics.”
 
Nasis ran over to Kafor and slammed her against a wall. Then he threw her to the floor and pinned her there with his foot, but Kafor didn’t move. She just stared up at Kiriah, as though expecting to die.
 
“You’ve got me,” said Kafor. “What are you going to do to us now?”

“We’re going to call the police,” said Nasis. “Kiriah, go to the phone com and tell them-“
 
“No, Nasis,” said Kiriah, shaking her head. “I’m sorry, but I’m not going to call the police on these three.”
 
Nasis looked at her in disbelief. “Are you serious? You haven't forgotten what they did already, have you?"

“Nasis, I’ve got more important things to do right now,” said Kiriah. “I’m going to let these three go and then I’m going with them.”
 
“Going with us?” said Night, who struggled against the chains Nasis had bound him with. “Why would we ever let someone like you travel with us?”
 
“Because . . .” Kiriah took a deep breath. “Because I know a better place you three can stay than in here. There’s an inn where you can stay until tomorrow. If you stay here, you have to worry about Nasis breaking out and calling the police. I’m going to make it much harder for the police to find you, if you'll only come with me.”
 
“Kiriah, what are you saying?” said Nasis. “Don’t you realize you’re volunteering to help two criminals and Kafor?”
 
Kiriah shook her head. “I don’t care. I’ve got places to be, a world to save, and no time to waste.”
 
“We’re not going to let you come with us,” said Night, who was no longer fighting against his bonds. “We have no need of a Toa like you, especially because we have no reason to trust you.”
 
“Actually, I think she should come along with us.”
 
It took Kiriah a moment to realize that it was Kafor who had said that. Both Night and Heavyweight looked at the Skakdi in surprise.
 
“Why?” said Night. “Why let this Toa of Psionics come with us? We don't know if we can trust her.”
 
“Having a Toa of Psionics on our side might be useful,” said Kafor, scratching her chin. “With her powers, she could detect any nearby Dark Hunters and alert us of them well before they even know we're there. She could even teach us how to protect our minds, which would surely be worth whatever trouble she might give us.”
 
“What if she tries to betray us?” said Heavyweight. “Or led us into a trap?”

“We can take her,” said Kafor, rolling her eyes. “She’s not that strong. True, she did surprise us this time, but if we just keep our guard up, we can probably kill her before she even knows she’s dead.”
 
Kiriah really didn’t like this whole discussion of who kills who, but she didn’t dare to interrupt. For whatever reason, Kafor wanted Kiriah to join them, so Kiriah had to keep her mouth shut so she wouldn’t accidentally screw it up by saying something stupid.
 
“Besides, letting her join us is the only way we’re getting out of this situation with our freedom intact,” said Kafor. “Unless you want to spend the rest of your lives behind bars, although seeing as that is the one place the Dark Hunters don't have any agents, maybe we’ll actually be safer there than on the outside.”
 
Night and Heavyweight seemed to be thinking about those words. It took all of Kiriah’s willpower not to read their minds, for she did not want them to think she was invading their privacy, which would surely destroy whatever little trust they may have had in her now. She just had to wait for them to speak like a non-telepathic person would.
 
Finally, Night said, “All right. She can join us. But if she does . . .”
 
His voice trailed off there, to be picked up by Heavyweight, who said, “If she does trick us, then we will blame it on you, Kafor. And if she tries to attack us, we have every right to use lethal force against her.”
 
“Sure,” said Kafor. Then she looked up at Kiriah and said, “What do you think, Kiriah? These are probably the best conditions you can hope to get, so-“

“I accept,” said Kiriah abruptly. “All of those conditions; I accept them.”
 
“Kiriah!” said Nasis. “Don’t go with them. You’re just going to get in a Karzahni of a lot of trouble.”
 
“I’m sorry, Nasis, but this is what I need to do,” said Kiriah. “I’ll try to be gentle.”
 
Without further hesitation, Kiriah reached out with her powers and touched Nasis’s mind. She immediately turned his mind off or, to put it another way, knocked him out. The Toa of Iron immediately fell backwards onto the floor of his apartment, his eyes closed and his body still.
 
Kafor immediately stood up, brushing herself off as she said, “Well, Kiriah, I didn’t think you had it in you to do that. Thought you were a goody two-shoes. Perhaps I was mistaken.”
 
“Enough of the chit-chat,” said Night. “Free me and Heavyweight. We have to get out of here. The neighbors might have heard the fighting. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them called the police just to be safe.”
 
A few minutes later, Night and Heavyweight were free of their bonds. The group briefly discussed what to do with Nasis, but decided to just leave him on the floor, as he was unconscious and not currently a problem. Kafor wanted to kick him in the mask one last time before they left, but Kiriah managed to convince her not to do that.
 
“You said you know a better place we can stay for the night,” said Night to Kiriah. “Where is it?”
 
“I’ll take you there,” said Kiriah. “It’s been a while since I’ve been there, but I remember the general route.”
 
“Lead the way, then,” said Kafor, gesturing at the door. “We will follow right behind you. We’ve got your back.”
 
Kiriah perfectly understood that ‘We’ve got your back’ meant that they were going to take her down if they whiffed even a hint of deception or trickery on her part. Still, Kiriah nodded and led her three new allies out of the apartment, wondering how they would react when they learned what their true destination was: The Zisar Luxury Hotel in downtown Zisar, where Masqouth was.
 

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Edited by TNTOS, Dec 17 2013 - 03:26 PM.

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#25 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Jul 15 2013 - 08:39 AM

Chapter XXV

 
As Kiriah led them through the dark back alleys of Zisar, it became rapidly clear to Kafor that the Toa of Psionics had never been to Zisar before and had been lying about knowing of a safe place for them to spend the night. More than once Kiriah stopped at a fork, pretending to be thinking hard about where the inn was when in fact she was obviously looking for something else.
 
Of course, from the beginning Kafor hadn’t believed a word of Kiriah’s story about the inn. Kiriah was far too innocent to know anything about dirty, old inns in downtown Zisar, a part of the city notorious for its corruption and crime. The only problem was that Kafor didn’t know where Kiriah was trying to take them or what Kiriah’s true motives were, but ultimately it didn’t matter.
 
It didn’t matter because Kafor had recognized Kiriah as the Toa of Psionics from the vision she’d had back in the Airfield. She had argued for Kiriah’s admission into their group because Kafor had a feeling that the Toa was going to save her life some day soon, not because she liked Kiriah or anything.
 
She glanced at Night and Heavyweight. Both ex-Dark Hunters wore impassive faces, which would have made it hard to tell what they were thinking if Kafor didn’t notice how tightly they held their weapons. They obviously weren’t as swayed by Kafor's earlier arguments as she had believed. As long as they didn’t actually attack Kiriah, though, Kafor didn’t mind.
 
Kiriah stopped at another fork. She looked down both paths, but didn’t seem to know which way they should go. From what Kafor could see, both paths looked roughly the same; abandoned alleyways, with garbage and waste strewn across the street that smelled terrible.
 
“What’s the matter, Toa?” said Night. “Have you forgotten where the inn is?”
 
“Like I said, it’s been a while since I’ve been here,” said Kiriah, turning around to face him. “So forgive me if my memory isn’t exactly perfect.”
 
“There is probably nothing wrong with your memory,” said Night, pointing his sword at her chest. “The problem, I think, is that this ‘inn’ you speak of doesn’t exist.”
 
Kiriah’s hands balled into fists, apparently unconsciously. “What do you mean? Of course it exists.”
 
“No, it doesn’t,” said Night, shaking his head. “If it did, we wouldn’t have been walking in circles for ten minutes, as we’ve been doing. No, I think you’re trying to take us somewhere else, trying to trick us for some reason.”
 
“I think the same thing,” said Heavyweight, raising her tri-claw. “It’s obvious to any thinking person that you’re just trying to fool us. We’re not going to walk into whatever trap you have set. We’re not stupid.”
 
At first, Kafor expected Kiriah to deny this, but then Kiriah said, “Well, you got me there. I’m not taking you to a super secret inn where no one will be able to find you. But I’m not leading you into a trap, either.”
 
“Then where are you leading us?” said Night. “Tell me quickly before I run my sword through your chest.”
 
Kiriah scratched the back of her head as she said, “It’s kind of hard to explain, but . . . I’m leading you guys to the Zisar Luxury Hotel. That’s why we’ve been wandering around for ten minutes; I don’t know where it is, so I’ve been trying to find it.”
 
“That’s not a tiny inn hidden in the city’s alleys,” said Heavyweight. “That’s the biggest, most expensive, and most well-known hotel in the entire city. You were trying to trick us.”
 
“But it’s for a good reason!” said Kiriah, holding up her hands. “I’m not going to hurt you or anything. I need your help.”
 
“Need our help?” said Night. “If you lied to us once, we have no reason to listen to you further.”
 
“Please,” said Kiriah. “I didn’t mean any harm. Just listen to my story. You can decide if I’m telling the truth or not after that.”
 
For a moment, Kafor thought Night was going to attack the Toa anyway. He certainly looked like he would, for the tip of his blade was only a few inches from Kiriah’s chest.
 
But then the Skrall nodded reluctantly and lowered his sword as he said, “All right. Make it quick.”
 
So Kiriah quickly recounted a brief yet bizarre story to Kafor, Night, and Heavyweight. She explained to them that Masqouth was apparently evil and trying to stir up rebellion among the Skrall and Skakdi while at the same time attempting to open some ‘Door’ that was in the old universe. It was obvious to Kafor that Kiriah was leaving out a lot of the details, but as Night did not appear particularly patient, it was perhaps not surprising that the Toa was forced to be concise.
 
“Nasis told me Masqouth is in the Zisar Luxury Hotel,” Kiriah finished. “So I decided to go there. I was just about to go there, in fact, when you guys showed up at Nasis’s apartment. As I needed allies, I decided to convince you to come with me without you really knowing it.”
 
“Your story is far-fetched,” said Night. “And why do you think we would ever help you? If you had to deceive us in order to get us to come this far, why do you think we’d willingly help you once we actually got there?”
 
“Because it’s our destiny,” said Kafor. “That’s why.”
 
The others looked at Kafor with a mixture of surprise and confusion.
 
“What?” said Heavyweight. “What do you mean, ‘it’s our destiny’?” 

“I mean what I said,” said Kafor. “It is our destiny to confront Masqouth and fight him. It’s clear to me now.”
 
“How do you know that?” said Night. “No one knows their destiny, if destiny even exists.”
 
“Because . . .” Kafor tried to think of a way to explain her visions. “Because I’m a Seer, Night, and I saw all of us in a vision fighting Masqouth together.”
 
“That’s right,” said Night. “You can ‘see’ the future, you have ‘visions.’ That’s what the Shadowed One always told us Dark Hunters, which I’ve always suspected is one of the reasons he wanted you.”
 
“You sound skeptical.”
 
“Of course I’m skeptical,” said Night. “This entire thing is bogus. A Toa of Psionics tricks us into going to defeat a revolutionary who may or may not be from this universe and then you suddenly assert, without proof, that we must go along with it because it is our destiny. So yes, Kafor, I am skeptical of many things, not just your alleged ability to see the future.”
 
“It doesn’t matter if it’s our destiny or not,” said Kiriah. “Look, I’m sorry for not being upfront with you, but we’ve got to stop him. If Masqouth succeeds, many people on this planet will suffer, not just the Toa and Matoran. Don’t you all have family and friends that you care about?”
 
“Hmm, not really,” said Kafor, shaking her head. “There is Barc, but I’m sure he’ll be just fine. Personally I’d rather we not fight Masqouth, but seeing as that is our destiny-“
 
“There is no destiny!” said Night, kicking a nearby can away. “We are not destined to fight Masqouth. You’re both delusional, crazy, insane, and-“
 
“And accurate, if our appearance here means anything,” said a high-pitched voice above them.
 
The party of four immediately looked up a nearby building for the source of the voice. Kafor spotted three beings standing on the edge of the roof of the closest building. Two she didn’t recognize, but the third, the one standing in the middle, wearing white robes that billowed in the wind . . . her heart almost failed her at the sight of him.
 
Masqouth grinned as he looked down on Kafor and her allies. “Well, it’s nice to see you all, but now, it’s time to die.”
 

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Edited by TNTOS, Dec 19 2013 - 06:00 PM.

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#26 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Jul 19 2013 - 09:18 AM

Chapter XXVI

 
Ten minutes earlier . . .
 
Jeran stood with his arms crossed behind his back, occasionally shifting his weight but otherwise standing perfectly still. His eyes scanned the huge, faintly glowing blue wall of solid protodermis, which was almost too opaque to see through. He could see the faint outline of a huge Door behind it, although even if he couldn’t his mind would have supplied a mental image of that Door, for he had seen it many times in his life, though every day he wished he had never set eyes upon it.
 
He turned away from the Door, trying to block the memories his mind associated with it. It didn’t work. In his mind’s eye he could see the Shodios, the evil Toa of Shadow that ruled the Kra-Matoran, slaughtering his friends in the most brutal ways possible, ways that he did not even want to think about because they were so horrible.
 
The memories caused Jeran to look toward the east wall of the immense cavern he stood in. Chained to the wall were four Toa. Two of those Toa were this universe’s Akuna and Chimoy, who were still alive and well. They were currently unconscious, but the mere fact that they were alive at all almost overwhelmed Jeran emotionally. It was like seeing his friends come back from the dead, even though in this universe neither Akuna nor Chimoy had died before.
 
Of course, they had been kidnapped for the sole purpose of opening the Door, a thought which disturbed Jeran greatly no matter how he tried to justify it.
 
On one hand, Atuje had promised to destroy the entire Kra-Matoran tribe once they had outlived their usefulness. That would certainly be enough to satisfy Jeran's need for revenge; indeed, it might be the only way to satisfy his vengeful desires.
 
On the other hand . . . he was freeing the Kra-Matoran, the one group of people he hated more than any other. He was giving them exactly what they wanted. Once the Door was opened, the Kra-Matoran could restart their conquest of the world, just as they tried to do so many years ago at the beginning of the old universe. They would create pain and death and chaos on their way to rule Spherus Magna, especially if they allied with the Skakdi and Skrall, as they undoubtedly would once Masqouth gave his public support for the Kra-Matoran.
 
The sound of a dimensional portal opening caused Jeran to look toward the west wall. Wavica and Asroth stepped out of the portal, both looking a little out of breath, with Wavica carrying an unconscious Toa of the Green over her shoulder. As Wavica trudged over to the wall where the Toa were chained up, Jeran walked over to Asroth, who had seated herself on a rock.
 
“Where were you two?” said Jeran as he approached his ally. “You were gone for hours. Did you succeed in killing the Toa of Shadow? And who is that Toa of the Green?”
 
“Things didn’t quite go as planned,” said Asroth, shaking her head. “When we got to Oggak’s apartment, we were taken by surprise by the Toa. Turns out Oggak and her boyfriend are members of some secret organization called the Will of Angonce. They took me and Wavica to their base in the sky and tried to interrogate us.”
 
“The Will of Angonce?” said Jeran, tilting his head. “I have never heard of that organization before.”
 
“Like I said, they’re secret,” said Asroth. Then her tone became grim. “They’ve been keeping an eye on us, Jeran. All of us. They know what we’re trying to do. They know Masqouth isn’t the messiah he’s pretending to be. They just needed Wavica and me to confirm their theories.”
 
“Well, it’s not all bad,” said Jeran, stretching his arms. “I mean, you escaped, right? And now it looks like we have all the correct Toa elements necessary to open the Door. It’s too late for them to stop us now.”
 
“Maybe, but I got a feeling those Will guys are going to give us Karzahni sooner or later,” said Asroth. “Anyway, Atuje intervened and saved us. We then kidnapped Niham – that Toa that Wavica was lugging around on her shoulder like a bag of flour -- and we returned directly here.”
 
“The plan is practically finished,” said Jeran. “It's not like they can do anything to stop us now, right?”
 
“I don’t know,” said Asroth. “It just bothers me that they apparently knew all about us before we even knew they existed.”
 
Before Jeran could respond to that, another dimensional portal opened a few feet away from them. Masqouth walked out of it with a book under his arm and a big smile on his face.
 
“Hey, Jeran, look what the mayor of Zisar just gave to me,” said Masqouth as he held up the book. “It’s a rare collection of Zarsk’s early poems. It’s one of the rarest books in the world, according to the mayor, and he said I could have it. Isn’t that amazing?”
 
“What are you doing here, Masqouth?” said Jeran, turning to face the leader. “How did you know Wavica and Asroth had returned?”
 
“Atuje told me,” said Masqouth as he put the book back under his arm. “He told me they’d returned with Niham and that I needed to be at the Door as soon as possible. So here I am.”
 
Then Masqouth looked around and said, “Say, where’s Niralo? I thought for sure he’d be here. Wavica, Asroth, do you know where he is?”
 
Wavica, who had by now finished chaining up Niham, shook her head. “No. We expected to find him here when we got back.”
 
“I bet he’s taking his sweet time,” said Asroth, rolling her eyes. “You know how he likes to play with his prey before he brutally murders it.”
 
“Niralo is no more,” said an ancient voice, one that caused the four Echoes to start. “And that is but one of the issues I need to discuss with you today.”
 
Before the startled eyes of the Echoes, a pillar of earth rose from the ground. It was a thick one, about the size of a Toa, and quickly grew arms on either side of its body. A simple face -- with two eyes, a line for a mouth, and a crude nose -- formed at the top of it, where its head was supposed to be.
 
The resulting creation was a strange-looking doll that made Niralo look handsome.
 
“Atuje, is that you?” said Masqouth in surprise. “You look like a toy.”
 
“This is but a temporary form, Masqouth,” said Atuje, his voice speaking from the doll’s line mouth. “Because we are so close my former domain, I am able to communicate with you in a much more direct way than previously. This is all I can currently do at the moment. That is why it is rather simplistic.”
 
Atuje’s explanation made sense, but Jeran still felt put off by the doll. He elected to ignore its strangeness, at least for now.
 
“Your Highness, you said Niralo is no more,” said Wavica. “What did you mean by that?”
 
“I meant exactly what I said,” said Atuje. “But to put it in more explicit terms: Niralo is dead.”
 
“What? How?” said Masqouth, dropping the book as his hands flew to his mouth. “That’s impossible. Niralo was the toughest of us all. You must be mistaken.”
 
“I’m not mistaken, Masqouth,” said Atuje, shaking his head, causing dirt to fly from it. “He was killed by an inhabitant of the universe where Jetrupi and Toa Kiriah were. He was distracted when it happened, which allowed his enemy to creep up behind him and snap his neck.”
 
“You mean you didn’t save him, my lord?” said Jeran.
 
“I was not there when it happened,” said Atuje, folding his arms. “I was busy keeping an eye on Masqouth. I only chose to check a little while ago, to see how Niralo was progressing, but now he has progressed no further. He is gone.”
 
“What about Jetrupi and Kiriah?” said Jeran. “Did he at least kill them?”
 
“I do not know where Jetrupi is,” said Atuje. “As for Kiriah, she is still alive and is actually back in this dimension; specifically, she is in Zisar.”
 
“What’s she trying to do?” said Asroth, her head propped up in her hands.
 
“She’s looking for Masqouth,” Atuje replied. “She knows what we’re trying to do. She thinks if she can defeat Masqouth, then the plan will fail.”
 
“She’s after me?” said Masqouth, his hands balled into fists. “Let me at her. I’ll teach that fool for killing Niralo. I know she didn’t do it, but I bet she helped somehow.”
 
“Don’t go running off just yet, Masqouth,” said Atuje, raising an earthen hand. “There is another issue: Kafor the Seer, the Skakdi Niralo tried but failed to capture just before his death.”

“What about her, my lord?” said Jeran. “Should we not open the Door right away, seeing as we now have all six of the Toa necessary to do so?”
 
“The Door -- and by extension, the Kra-Matoran -- can wait for now,” said Atuje, gesturing at the Door. “Right now, I need you to capture the Seer. Her ability to see into the future could prove problematic, so she needs to be captured.”
 
“Where is she?” said Wavica. “Tell us and we will go after her right away, Your Majesty.”
 
“She is in Zisar,” said Atuje. “In fact, she is actually with Toa Kiriah right now. She is also traveling with a Skrall called Night and a Vortixx called Heavyweight. They are both dangerous.”
 
Masqouth straightened up. “Well. That’s convenient. We should all go immediately.”
 
“Not all of you,” said Atuje, shaking his head. “Jeran, you must stay here. In the event that Masqouth, Wavica, and Asroth fail, I want you to open the Door. You are our only Toa of Sonics, so we can’t afford to lose you.”
 
Jeran nodded. “As you command, my lord.”
 
“Good,” said Atuje. “Now Masqouth, Wavica, Asroth, I will send you directly to where you need to be. I want you to kill Kiriah and kidnap Kafor. As for the Skrall and Vortixx, do as you wish with them.”
 
A dimensional portal opened nearby. Jeran wished Masqouth and the other two Echoes luck as they stepped through the portal and disappeared, leaving the Toa of Sonics alone in the tunnel with Atuje and the other Toa.
 
Jeran turned to Atuje’s earthen body and said, “Lord Atuje, can you tell me when you plan to . . . destroy the Kra-Matoran . . .”
 
The earthen doll was still. Jeran cautiously tapped it on the head, but it didn't move or make any noise. It appeared that Atuje's soul had abandoned it, but where it had gone, he didn't know.
 
Sighing, Jeran sat down on the rock where Asroth had been sitting before she left. It looked like he was going to have to wait, which didn’t actually bother him much, for he wasn’t in a hurry to release the Kra-Matoran. He just wanted to know when he was going to get his revenge.
 
-
 
Currently . . .
 
Masqouth and the two strangers leaped down from the top of the building. Or, rather, Masqouth flew to the street on the back of the winged Tetakian, while the other one jumped from fire escape to fire escape on her way down until all three reached street level, directly opposite Night and the others. Masqouth dismounted from the winged Tetakian's back and made his way to the front of the group.
 
“What are you doing here?” said Night, holding up his sword. “How did you know we were here?”
 
A grin crossed Masqouth’s face as he held out a hand. “Oh, we just want that Skakdi you have right there. The one that can see the future.”

“Me?” said Kafor. “Sorry, but I’m not up for sale.”
 
Kiriah drew her sword and pointed it at Masqouth as she said, “So it looks like the Almighty Ones were right. You really are up to no good.”
 
Night had no idea who these ‘Almighty Ones’ Kiriah spoke of were, but apparently Masqouth did, for his eyes widened and he said, “Wait, you know my parents?”
 
For a moment, Kiriah almost dropped her sword. “Your parents? What are you talking about?”
 
“It doesn’t matter,” said the winged Tetakian as she raised her gauntleted hands. “Our mission is to kill you, Toa Kiriah, and kidnap Kafor.”
 
“What about us?” said Night, gesturing at himself and Heavyweight. “Or are we too unimportant for you to even notice?”
 
“Our master said we could deal with you two as we saw fit,” said the winged Tetakian. “As I'm afraid politely asking you to leave won't work, we will probably have to kill you two with Kiriah.”
 
“Yeah,” said Masqouth, who seemed to have regained his composure. “You killed Niralo. For that, you must pay.”
 
“Niralo?” Kafor repeated. “I seem to remember someone by that name, but . . .”
 
“It was that brute who broke into the Shadowed One’s Fortress back on New Odina,” said Night as he raised his shield. “I had no idea he was working for Masqouth, but I guess there are a lot of things I don’t know.”
 
“You will soon know nothing, Night,” said the winged Tetakian. “You will nothing except for my name: Wavica.”
 
The second being cracked her whip and said, “Call me Asroth. I'll try to kill you quickly.”
 
Night took a battle stance. “I don't know what is going on here, but I do know this: I am not going to sit here and let you kill me. I am a Skrall and Skrall do not back down from a challenge.”
 
Masqouth shrugged. “You just have to do things the hard way, don’t you? We’ll just have to make this fight quick and to the point, then.”
 

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Edited by TNTOS, Dec 19 2013 - 06:05 PM.

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#27 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Jul 22 2013 - 09:11 AM

Chapter XXVII

 
Kiriah leaped to the side, narrowly avoiding Asroth’s thick, deadly whip. But the Echo seemed to anticipate that, for she twisted her whip and the tail end of it slapped Kiriah in the shoulder, cutting through her armor and organic tissue like a knife.
 
Gritting her teeth, Kiriah glanced at the wound and said, “How did you do that?”
 
Asroth cracked her whip and said, “This whip has shards of glass, metal, and wood strewn throughout it. Very useful for ripping an enemy apart, I've found.” 

The whip went flying at Kiriah again, but this time she swung her sword and cut through it. The half she cut off fell to the ground, while Asroth dropped the other half in surprise. Taking advantage of the opening, Kiriah dashed forward and slashed at the Echo, but Asroth raised her arms just in the nick of time.
 
The clang of Kiriah’s sword against Asroth’s forearms echoed through the alley. Kiriah’s eyes widened at the sight of her sword, which was not piercing Asroth’s arms at all.
 
“Forearm guards,” Asroth said with a grin to Kiriah. “Guess you didn’t see that coming, did you?”
 
With little effort, Asroth pushed back, sending Kiriah stumbling backwards. The Echo then threw a punch at Kiriah, which the Toa just barely managed to block with her sword. This time, Kiriah let out a yelp of surprise when she saw the crack the punch had made in her blade.
 
Asroth smirked. “Did you really think my hands wouldn't be armored, too?”
 
Without warning, Asroth slammed her free fist into Kiriah’s stomach. The blow sent Kiriah staggering backwards, although she didn’t drop her sword. Cracked though it may be, her crescent blade was her only weapon and she wasn’t going to give it up that easily.
 
Still, that blow to her stomach had knocked a lot of her breath out of her. The extra armor on Asroth’s hands must have been thicker than she thought if the horrible pain in her abdomen was a clue.
 
Asroth shook her fist as she walked toward Kiriah, saying, “I hit you a little too hard that time, I think, because I ended up hurting my own fist. Not that it matters. I’m still going to rip you apart.”
 
Kiriah spotted a trash can behind Asroth. Without thinking, she used her telekinesis to yank the trash can forward so it went flying, garbage and all, toward the Echo.
 
Asroth whirled around as the garbage went flying toward her. Before it hit her, Asroth opened her mouth and let out a loud scream that made the can to explode, causing its contents to go all over her and covering the Echo with filth.
 
As Asroth was distracted by the garbage, Kiriah readied her sword and sprinted forward. She slashed at Asroth’s back, finally landing a blow, cutting through the Echo’s armor and causing her to groan in pain. But then Asroth whirled around and -- still blinded by the stinky garbage -- slammed one of her fists into Kiriah’s face.
 
Stars flashed in Kiriah’s eyes as she hit the ground. Even though she’d been punched by Asroth once before, it didn’t occur to Kiriah until right now just how hard the Echo could punch. It felt like Kiriah’s skull had cracked open, although the only thing she felt was a trickle of blood dripping down the side of her face.
 
Shaking her head, Kiriah looked up at Asroth, who still appeared to be distracted by the contents of the trash can.
 
Kiriah stumbled to her feet. Her head was still ringing, but she managed to concentrate long enough to focus her telekinesis on Asroth’s right arm. She imagined it snapping and the next moment, a loud snap pierced the air and Asroth was on the ground, yelling in pain as she gripped her now-limp right arm.
 
“Dang it,” Asroth said through gritted teeth. “I thought Toa were supposed to be merciful.”
 
“We are,” said Kiriah, putting one hand on her head. “I haven’t killed you, have I? But I have beaten you. If you value the use of your left arm, I suggest you give up.”
 
Teeth bared, Asroth said, “Never. Try some of this!”
 
Somehow Asroth had gotten what looked like a black grenade in her left hand. It took Kiriah a moment to realize, too late, that it was a Thornax grenade, a type of grenade powerful enough to blow up a small house.
 
Asroth ripped off the grenade's pin with her mouth and hurled the explosive directly at Kiriah. It was coming too fast; there was no way to dodge or deflect it.
 
When it was within a few inches of Kiriah’s face, the bomb exploded.
 
-
 
A few minutes before the bomb went off . . .
 
When the battle started, Kafor did the first thing she always did, the thing she was best at, whenever she found herself in situations that could end badly for her: She ran.
 
Her first instinct was to head down one of the many alleyways branching off from this one. She had no particular destination in mind, for she didn’t know Zisar nearly as well as New Atero. All she wanted to do was lose Masqouth and his amazons; thus, she cared little about her destination.
 
So Kafor immediately made for the alley closest to her, but almost as soon as she took a step in that direction, Masqouth appeared there with his arms across his chest. His sudden appearance threw Kafor off, causing her to instinctively fire laser beams at him.
 
Masqouth’s Kanohi changed shape into that of the Hau, the symbol of the New Atero Republic, and Kafor’s lasers bounced off the shield generated by the mask.
 
“Now, now,” said Masqouth as his mask changed shape yet again, this time into a shape she was unfamiliar with. “You shouldn’t run away like that. We came here specifically to get you and kill Kiriah. Asroth already has Kiriah covered and Wavica has your other two friends busy, so it looks like it’s just you and me, Kafor. How fun!”
 
“My definition of ‘fun’ is running away from you and hiding in Zisar’s slums,” said Kafor as she took a step back. “So if you want to have fun, why don’t you leave me alone?”
 
“Because the King wants you,” said Masqouth. “We don’t have to fight, you know. If you’d just come over to me, I won’t need to hurt you to capture you.”
 
He held out a hand the entire time he said this. There was something in his voice that melted Kafor’s skepticism. Why should she run away from Masqouth? He was, after all, clearly a kind, gentle soul. He would never do anything to harm her. The real problem was Kafor’s own reluctance to trust him, a reluctance which was quickly defrosting the more she thought about his offer.
 
So Kafor took a step forward, but as soon as she did, a shadow bolt went flying over her shoulder and struck Masqouth in the chest. The bolt struck him hard enough to knock the revolutionary flat off his feet.
 
Kafor shook her head, trying to clear her cloudy mind. “What was that?”
 
“That was Masqouth using the Mask of Charisma,” said a voice behind her. “I’ve seen it before. It’s a deadly mask.”
 
Kafor glanced over her shoulder and saw Night approaching. Puzzled, she looked around the alley until she spotted Wavica and Heavyweight still trading blows.
 
“What are you doing here?” said Kafor. “Doesn’t Heavyweight need your help?”
 
“She can take care of herself,” said Night when he reached her. “I know you’re not much of a fighter, so I came to help you.”
 
“That’s so sweet,” said Kafor, rolling her eyes. Then she glanced at Masqouth’s prone body and said, “Well, maybe it wasn’t so sweet to kill Masqouth like that. Seriously, he’s got a freaking hole in his-“
 
Masqouth stirred. He slowly sat up and then rose to his feet. His robes were now all covered in the grime and filth of the street, but that wasn’t the most notable part about his form. It was the hole in his chest, the one Night had created, which revealed wires and gears but absolutely no blood or organs whatsoever. Not even the slightest bit of organic tissue was visible amid the complicated mess of wires and gears.
 
Masqouth glanced down at the gaping hole and said, “Oh, look what you did now. You made a big hole in my chest. That’s going to take forever to fix.”
 
“You’re . . . you’re not biomechanical?” said Kafor.
 
Masqouth looked back up, still wearing that same goofy smile. “Nope. I’m totally mechanical. There’s absolutely no organic tissue in me whatsoever. If there was, I would be dead right now.”
 
“Even if you’re a robot, we can still trash you,” said Night. “I’ve dealt with many robots in my time as a Dark Hunter and they all suffered the same fate when they got in my way.”
 
“Hmm, well, I’m not a normal robot, if that’s what you’re thinking,” said Masqouth. “After all, most robots aren’t as fun as I am, not even half. So how’s about I show you my true power?”
 
Masqouth’s mask shape-shifted again, this time into the form of the Mask of Speed. He dashed toward them at lightning fast speed, causing Night and Kafor to separate to avoid him. That didn’t stop the Echo leader from snatching Night’s weapons from his hands as he passed by, thus leaving the Skrall weaponless.
 
Masqouth stopped about a dozen feet away from them, carrying both of Night's weapons in his hands.
 
“As I'm not too good with weapons, I don't think these are necessary,” said Masqouth.
 
He threw the shield to the ground and stomped on it, breaking it in half. Then he snapped the sword over his knee and threw both halves away as he said, “I think we're about even now, Night.”
 
“Even?” said Night as he ran toward Masqouth. “Sorry, but just because we both lack weapons doesn't mean we're even.”
 
Night jumped over Kafor’s head -- which she caused her to duck to avoid blocking his path -- and landed in front of Masqouth. As soon as his feet touched the street, shadow energy enveloped Night’s arms, sharpening out to a fine point over his hands.
 
The Skrall slashed at Masqouth, but he blocked it with his right arm. There was a slight sizzle as Night’s dark energy burned through Masqouth’s sleeve, although the heat of the darkness didn’t appear to harm Masqouth at all.
 
Night attempted to run his other shadow arm straight through Masqouth’s exposed abdomen, which failed when Masqouth jumped backwards. The surprise dodge caused Night to stumble forward right into a kick from Masqouth. That stunning blow almost sent Night staggering backwards into Kafor, but she stepped out of the way just in time to avoid him.
 
Shaking his head, Night just barely managed to raise his arms to block two punches from Masqouth. Kafor had to take several steps back to avoid getting tangled in their fist fight, which was starting to get fierce. Both Masqouth and Night appeared to be talented at fisticuffs, for they blocked each other's blows with ease.
 
Kafor thought this could be her chance to escape. Night, Heavyweight, and Kiriah were distracting Masqouth and his cronies. She could probably slip away without anyone noticing and then disappear, never to be found again.
 
Before she could put that plan into action, however, Kafor heard a large explosion behind her. She instinctively hit the ground, thinking some kind of large bomb had just gone off, but when she wasn’t enveloped in flames she glanced over her shoulder in the direction of the explosion.
 
She saw a blackened crater in the street; not a big one by any means, but it was a crater nonetheless. The street around the crater was also blackened and there were no living beings around it save for Asroth, who lay on the ground curled in a ball, as if she’d been riding out the worst of the explosion.
 
Oddly enough, Asroth was giggling like a madman, saying over and over, “I killed her . . . I killed her . . . I killed her . . .”
 
It took Kafor a moment to realize who ‘her’ was, but that wasn’t the worst of it. The next moment, Night went flying over her head and smashed into a nearby building, crashing through the wall from which he did not emerge.
 
Startled, Kafor scrambled to her feet and saw Masqouth standing triumphantly. His mask looked different again, long and insect-like now, although it was impossible to identify the Kanohi.
 
“Curious to know what this is?” said Masqouth, upon seeing Kafor’s surprised expression. “It’s called the Kanohi Crast, the Mask of Repulsion. Night was distracted by the explosion, so I took advantage of the situation and repulsed him with my mask. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was dead; he hit that building quite hard.”
 
Kiriah and Night . . . they were both dead. Kafor almost panicked before she reminded herself that Heavyweight at least was still in the game. So she still had a chance.
 
A scream of pain caused Kafor’s head to whip towards Heavyweight and Wavica’s fight. Her heart failed her as she saw Heavyweight lying on the street with Wavica on top, holding the Vortixx’s neck in such a way that if Heavyweight moved it she would die instantly.
 
“That’s what happens when you allow yourself to be distracted,” Wavica said to Heavyweight. “Really would have thought you were smarter than that.”
 
Wavica twisted Heavyweight’s neck so fast Kafor didn’t even see it. Heavyweight ceased struggling immediately, her body limp underneath Wavica, who stood up and looked over at Masqouth and Kafor with a grin on her face.
 
Run. That was what Kafor's mind was telling her to do. She had to run and get out of here before they caught her. Everyone was dead and Kafor didn't think she could hold her own against Masqouth and his cronies. She had to run. Now.
 
Kafor took a step backwards, but almost as soon as she did, she found it impossible to move back any further. Her legs and feet locked up; no matter how hard she struggled, she couldn’t move even one inch.
 
“What did you do?” Kafor said to Masqouth. “Is this some strange power from your mask?”
 
“No,” said Masqouth, shaking his head. “I mean, sure, I would have done that, but I didn't. Someone else did.”
 
“That would be me,” said a voice that seemed to come from nowhere. “I, King Atuje, the King of Life and leader of the Echoes.”
 
Kafor blinked, which didn’t reflect the fear that was building up inside her. “I’ve never heard of the King of Life before.”
 
“Few have,” said Atuje. “As for who I am, that is not information you need to know. What you do need to know is that you are mine and will be my slave for as long as I see fit.”
 
“How are you controlling me?” said Kafor. “It’s not mind control, so what is it?”
 
“I’m controlling your body, of course,” said Atuje. “I have complete control over your muscular and nervous systems, which essentially makes you my puppet.”
 
“Well, I don’t like it,” said Kafor. “It’s uncomfortable. You really should think about making this whole body control thing nicer on your victims, you know.”
 
“Your wisecracking does not amuse me, Kafor,” said Atuje. “So I ask that you sleep. I will awake you when I have need of you.”
 
Against her will, Kafor felt her consciousness rapidly slipping out of her grasp, like sand through fingers. In a few seconds, everything went black for Kafor and she could hear no more, feel no more, smell no more, and taste no more. Before she drifted into unconsciousness, however, Kafor wondered just how bad things were going to get with no one around to stop Atuje and his Echoes. She also wondered who could possibly save her when everyone who could was dead.
 

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Edited by TNTOS, Dec 19 2013 - 06:07 PM.

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#28 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Jul 26 2013 - 08:34 AM

Chapter XXVIII

 
Jeran looked up as a dimensional portal opened a few feet away from him. He stood up when he saw Masqouth, Wavica, and a battered Asroth step through the portal, with an unconscious orange and white Skakdi slung over Masqouth’s shoulder.
 
“You succeeded?” said Jeran as they approached him. “How did the fight go?”
 
“It went great,” said Masqouth with a smile. “We killed all of them except for Kafor. She’s a little unconscious, but she’s going to be just fine.”
 
Jeran nodded and then noticed the gaping hole in Masqouth’s abdomen, as well as Asroth’s blackened armor. “I see the battle didn’t go entirely well . . .”
 
“All that matters is that we killed them,” said Asroth in her usual no-nonsense voice. “They didn’t stand a chance against us.”
 
“It’s time for us to open it,” said Wavica, gesturing at the Door. “No one can stop us now.”
 
“Agreed,” said Jeran. “Let’s get the Toa. Masqouth, can you use your mask to control them?”
 
“Of course,” said Masqouth, nodding. “But what should we do about Kafor? We can’t just leave her lying around.”
 
Jeran glanced at the Skakdi and said, “Let’s chain her up with the Toa. She’ll stay there until Atuje gives us further orders regarding what to do with her.”
 
The four Echoes walked over to the other side of the chamber where the unconscious Toa were. As the Toa needed to be awake for the plan to work, Jeran created a barely perceptible sound that was nonetheless at the right frequency to wake them. The next moment, all five Toa were shaking their heads, yawning, and looking around in confusion.
 
“Where are we?” said Toa Laomos. “I’ve never seen this place before.”
 
“What’s that huge door over there?” said Toa Kanderias. “Is this some kind of dream?”
 
“It’s not a dream,” said Masqouth as he deposited Kafor onto the ground. “It’s as good as a dream, of course, but it is by no means an actual dream. It’s reality.”
 
Akuna blinked several times when she spotted the Door. Comprehension dawned on her face as she recognized it.
 
“No way,” said Akuna, her voice low. “You aren’t going to . . . you can’t be trying to . . .”
 
“They are, Akuna,” said Chimoy, who was looking at Jeran. “They going to use us to open the Door and free the Kra-Matoran once again.”
 
Jeran didn’t make eye contact with Chimoy as the Toa of Iron spoke.
 
“Yes, that’s our plan,” said Masqouth, nodding in agreement. “And you five are going to help whether you want to or not.”
 
“You can’t make us do anything,” said Niham, shaking her head. “You can’t force Toa to use their elemental powers.”

“Under normal circumstances, yes, you’re right,” said Masqouth as his mask changed shape. “But these are not normal circumstances. They’re fun circumstances.”
 
Masqouth’s mask was now in the shape of the Mask of Mind Control, which told Jeran all he needed to know about Masqouth’s next move.
 
“Now you might want to relax your minds a bit while I do this,” said Masqouth as his mask glowed briefly. “It will be that much easier on you five if you do.”
 
All five of the Toa groaned and struggled against their bonds, but none of them were prepared for an assault on their minds. It was especially painful for Jeran to watch Chimoy fight, but in the end, all five Toa ceased their struggling. Masqouth’s will had conquered theirs and they would now do whatever he ordered.
 
Jeran, Wavica, and Asroth quickly unchained the five Toa, who stood up in perfect unison. All of the Toa wore the same blank expression. The sight unnerved Jeran, but he tried not to look at the other Toa as he walked with them toward the Door. They stopped several bio away from it, standing in a perfect line side by side.
 
“Now on the count of three,” said Masqouth, “you will fire your elemental powers simultaneously at the Door. One . . . two . . . three!”
 
All of the Toa, Jeran included, raised their right arms and fired a beam of their own element. Lightning, plasma, gravity, sonics, plant life, and iron all flew toward the Toa seal on the Door. When they struck at exactly the same time, the Toa seal vanished and the thick sheet of protodermis dissolved immediately. The Door now stood naked, its light shining significantly lesser brighter than it had moments ago.
 
The next instant, the Doors heaved forward once or twice. It sounded like someone was battering the Door on the other side, hitting it again and again with a large siege engine. The Door still held despite the battering it took, but even it couldn’t hold for long without the Toa seal and proto cage that had acted as its double lock.
 
A few seconds later, the Door swung open. On the other side of the doorway, Jeran saw thousands upon thousands of Kra-Matoran armed to the teeth, riding or following war vehicles. The huge army of shadow began marching out of the doorway into the tunnel, but not before Jeran and the other Toa ran out of the way to avoid being crushed by the oncoming army.
 
They stood next to Masqouth, Wavica, and Asroth on the far wall, watching as the Kra-Matoran made their way up the tunnel toward the exit.
 
“It’s finally happening,” said Masqouth, his arms folded behind his back. “I just can’t believe it. The Kra-Matoran are free and people will die and I will be just like my parents. It’s amazing.”
 
Jeran didn’t look at Masqouth, nor did he speak. ‘Amazing’ was the last word he’d use to describe this. To him, this was nothing more than an ominous hint of what life on Spherus Magna would be like in the days to come. He just hoped Atuje would uphold his end of the bargain quickly.
 

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Edited by TNTOS, Dec 19 2013 - 06:08 PM.

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#29 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Jul 29 2013 - 09:25 AM

Chapter XXIX

 
Death was actually quite pleasant for Night. Like all living beings, he’d always feared death, but now that he was actually experiencing it, it wasn’t as bad as he thought it would. That, perhaps, was to be expected, because death was a natural part of life; obviously, then, it would feel natural.
 
One thing Night liked about death was the lack of pain. When he’d been launched into that building and crushed to death by the debris of the building, Night had felt immense pain through his entire body. Yet now that he was dead, he felt nothing at all. It was like he was lying on a soft bed, although even that comparison didn't quite capture the feeling of painlessness he felt.
 
The only problem with death, so far as Night could tell, was that it was boring. He couldn’t do anything; or, rather, there didn’t seem to be anything to do. It was like sleeping in a large, warm bed; comfortable, but eventually you just wanted to get up and do something else for a change.
 
Then a thought occurred to Night: If he was dead, how was he thinking? Dead people couldn’t think, could they?
 
That was when a multitude of voices rang through the chambers of Night’s mind, saying, Wake up, Night. You are not dead. Wake up.
 
Reluctantly, Night opened his eyes and found himself staring into the barrel of a very large, very deadly-looking cannon.
 
Startled, the Skrall rolled out of the cannon’s way and onto his feet. His bones were stiff, but he ignored their stiffness. If he hadn’t, he was sure he would have been blown away by the cannon’s blast.
 
Then Night noticed that the cannon wasn’t active. It was completely quiet, despite its enormous size. He looked up and noticed that the cannon hung from an extremely tall ceiling; in fact, the ceiling was so far up that Night could barely see it.
 
Looking around, Night saw that he was in some kind of warehouse; not just any old warehouse, however, but a gigantic one. Boxes and shelves were stacked high on top of each other, running in every direction for as far as the eye can see. It looked like a city of boxes and shelves, comprised of boxes ranging in size from those that could fit into the palm of Night’s hand to huge crates that could probably hold a dozen people comfortably with room to spare. Some of the boxes were made of stone, others of wood, and still others of metal.
 
Indeed, it appeared that the only open space in the warehouse was the circle that Night currently stood in. He looked down at the floor and noticed strange markings. It looked like a language, but as Night had wasn't a linguist, it was impossible to tell what the markings meant or what language it was.
 
“Good day, Night,” said a masculine voice behind him, causing the Skrall to whirl around. “We were wondering when you’d wake up.”
 
Night saw two beings about three bio away from him. One of them was a tall Gadarian wearing black armor that was unmistakably of Skrall origin. The Gadarian carried a sword at his side and had what was definitely a robotic arm. It was impossible to determine the Gadarian’s tribe due to his Skrall armor.
 
The other being was a Toa of Psionics sitting on one of the crates. Night had no trouble recognizing Toa Kiriah, although her armor was slightly blackened. Despite that, she looked fine for someone who’d been blown to bits.
 
“Kiriah?” said Night in astonishment. “What are you . . . I thought Asroth blew you up.”
 
Kiriah shrugged. “She almost did, but at the last moment the Almighty Ones saved me. They opened a portal and I fell through it and ended up here. That was still too close for my liking, however.”
 
Night remembered Kiriah mentioning the Almighty Ones before, but he didn’t dwell on it. He focused on the black-armored Gadarian instead and said, “And who are you? Why are you wearing Skrall armor if you’re clearly not a Skrall?”
 
The Gadarian glanced at his armor and then back up at Night. “My name is Jetrupi, although you may call me Jet for short. As for how I got this armor, well, that is a long story that I'll have to tell you about later. We have more important issues to discuss right now.”

Night looked around the warehouse again and said, “Where are we? Are we . . . is this the afterlife?”
 
“Not exactly,” said Jet, shaking his head. “Outside these walls, evil souls are tortured for their crimes, but in here, we’re all alive and well.”
 
“What do you mean? Where are we? How’d we get here? Why am I still alive when I was crushed to death?”
 
“You were saved by the Almighty Ones, just like Kiriah and me,” said Jet, gesturing at himself and the Toa. “They then brought you here, where they’ve been working nonstop to heal your broken body, just as they did to me.”
 
Again, Night looked around. “I don’t see these ‘Almighty Ones’ anywhere. Are you trying to trick me or something?”
 
“The Almighty Ones never physically show themselves,” said Jet, shaking his head. “They’re . . . well, they’re a bit shy, I think.”
 
“Shy?” said Night. “Who are the Almighty Ones, anyway? I’ve never even heard of them before. Why’d they save me?”
 
Jet opened his mouth to answer, but then something like a powerful gale swept through the room. Yet it was not wind exactly, but more like the presence of multiple beings at once. The presence was almost enough to drive Night to his knees, but he held his ground. No one was going to force him to bow if he didn't want to.
 
We are the Almighty Ones, said a multitude of voices in Night’s head. We were once mere mortals long, long ago, but when we exposed ourselves to energized protodermis . . . we gained power and tragedy far beyond that of any other being in our universe. That is who we are.
 
This time, Night didn’t look around, for he now knew he wouldn’t be able to see them. “Why’d you save my life?”
 
Because we saw a potential ally in you, Night, said the Almighty Ones. You, Kiriah, and Jetrupi are some of the only beings aware of Atuje’s plan and who his minions are. Therefore we ask that you work with us to stop Atuje and his Echoes before it’s too late.
 
“Too late?” said Night. “What do you mean?”
 
“Are you talking about the Door?” said Kiriah, who apparently also could hear the Almighty Ones.
 
It is too late to stop that, Kiriah, said the Almighty Ones. As we speak, the Kra-Matoran are leaving Wyoko and beginning their conquest of your Spherus Magna. Not only that, but Masqouth has given another speech to the Skrall and Skakdi, urging them to rebel against the Republic and ally with the Kra-Matoran. And thus far, his speech has met with overwhelming approval from both peoples.
 
“What are the Kra-Matoran?” said Night. “And why is it such a bad thing if the Skrall rebel against the Republic? They deserve their freedom after being enslaved for so long.”
 
We do not disagree with that, Night, said the Almighty Ones. The problem is that Masqouth does not genuinely care about your people’s suffering and enslavement. His sole desire is to see millions and millions of people die. By encouraging your people to rebel, he is hoping to add multitudes to the bloodshed that is inevitable in the coming war.
 
“That son of a gun,” Night growled. “When you put it that way, then I’d like to introduce him to my fist.”
 
“I have a question,” said Jetrupi. “Why is Masqouth doing this? Almighty Ones, you’ve been keeping us in the dark long enough. You know a lot more than you’re letting on. So why are Atuje and Masqouth working together to cause so much pain and death? What do they hope to gain from it?”
 
At first, there was no response, although Night could still feel the Almighty Ones’ presence. He didn’t know if they were ignoring the question or maybe thinking about how to answer it. Not that it mattered to Night. All he wanted to do was go after Masqouth. False messiahs didn’t deserve the kind of honor that Masqouth received from Night’s people.
 
Finally, the Almighty Ones said, It is our fault that Atuje is doing this. It is our fault that Masqouth is working for Atuje. And it is our fault that the Kra-Matoran are now rampaging through your world, bringing chaos and suffering wherever they go. And for all of that, we deeply apologize, even though we know our apologies are absolutely worthless considering how deliberately we set up events so that they would inevitably turn in this direction.
 
“How is any of this your fault?” said Kiriah in astonishment. “I don’t think anyone could have seen this coming.”
 
None of you could have, perhaps, but we should have, said the Almighty Ones. To explain it, we will have to start at the beginning, eons and eons ago. That is where this all really started; that is where we failed to put in sufficient safeguards to keep something like this from happening. Let us show you.
 
All of a sudden, Night found himself floating in an empty, inky blackness. He looked around and saw Jetrupi and Kiriah also floating nearby. How he saw them, he didn’t know, for there was no light in this place and his night vision wasn’t active. All he knew was that he was gazing, not into actual darkness, but an abyss, a great abyss that actually frightened him, though he tried to hide it.
 
Long, long ago, we Almighty Ones were once the Great Beings of our own Spherus Magna, in a universe separate from yours, said the Almighty Ones, their voices echoing throughout the void. When the Core War erupted, we attempted to stop it, but nothing we did worked. So we gathered a sample of the substance you know as energized protodermis and exposed ourselves to it. Destiny dictated that we ascend our original forms and become more than mortals but less than gods. Yet we used our newfound power not to save life, but to destroy it, to destroy every living thing in our universe. That was a terrible mistake.
 
Night glanced at Jetrupi and Kiriah, but they looked like they already knew this. Considering that they seemed to have known the Almighty Ones longer than he, Night supposed that wasn’t surprising.
 
Most beings would have given up in despair by that point; in fact, one of us broke from the collective and killed himself because he couldn’t handle our collective grief, said the Almighty Ones. But the rest of us still had hope. We believed that we could recreate life, even though there was none left in our universe. We decided to create new beings, new life that would replace the life we so carelessly eliminated in our own universe.
 
Without warning, the inky blackness disappeared, replaced by a laboratory of immense size. Actually, it looked more like a workshop, for there were tools and hardware scattered on many tables. Yet that wasn’t what caught Night’s eye. What caught his attention was the being lying on a stone slab in the center of the room, a being in black armor that he recognized all too well: Masqouth.
 
Masqouth’s eyes were closed and he didn’t move. Night wondered if the false messiah was dead when Masqouth’s eyes suddenly flung open and he sat up. Masqouth put one hand on his head, but then looked at his hand in astonishment, like he’d never seen it before.
 
Our first attempt at creating new life was Masqouth, said the Almighty Ones. Because we did not yet know how to reproduce organic tissue, we made him entirely robotic. We did, however, figure out how to program real emotions into him, although we do not think his programming was ever quite as complicated as that of an organic being, despite our best attempts to replicate real emotions.
 
Masqouth looked around the workshop with child-like curiosity in his eyes. He spotted something on a table, a simple mallet, and flung his legs over the side of the slab. He slid off the table and stood unsteadily, balancing against the rock slab with one of his hands. He looked apprehensive, as if he wasn’t sure if it was safe to walk, but soon his curiosity overrode whatever fear he had, causing him to take a couple of steps toward the table where the mallet was.
 
On his third step, however, Masqouth wobbled and tripped. He fell onto the floor with a startlingly loud crash.
 
He lay there on the ground for a moment, evidently in shock, but soon Masqouth’s shock gave way to a strange sound that Night recognized as crying. There were no tears running down Masqouth’s face, but the sobbing noises that came from his mouth were unmistakably cries of shock. Night was vividly reminded of his own childhood, when he had accidentally tripped and cried, too, but he quickly suppressed the memory. He didn't want to empathize with Masqouth.
 
Then, without warning, the door on the other end of the room opened. Masqouth was still crying, evidently not aware of the opened door. Nor did he see the five beings that entered, the five beings that immediately noticed the downed Masqouth and walked over -- or rather, floated over, for their feet did not touch the ground -- to him immediately.
 
These newcomers looked odd to Night. They were hunched over like his grandfather and wore long, gray, hooded cloaks that obscured their faces and bodies entirely. Only their hands, which appeared old and withered, could be seen.
 
Soon the five beings reached and surrounded Masqouth. Masqouth looked up at them with curiosity. He still sobbed every now and then, although it was clear that his sadness was melting away in the face of the curiosity he felt toward these new arrivals.
 
“There, there,” said the five beings as one. “Don’t cry, young one. Here, let us help you up.”
 
One of the five beings bent over and held out a hand. Masqouth just looked at the outstretched hand for a moment before grabbing it. Then the being gently lifted Masqouth to his feet. At first, Masqouth appeared alarmed at standing up, but he soon relaxed, although he didn’t let go of that being’s hand.
 
“Did you hurt yourself?” said the beings. “Are you in pain?”
 
Masqouth shook his head and, for the first time, spoke. “Who . . . who are . . . who are you?”
 
“We . . .” the five beings trailed off, as if unsure what to call themselves. “We are your parents.”
 
“Parents?” said Masqouth, tilting his head to the side. “Does that mean you love me?”
 
“Yes, it does,” said the beings.
 
“Then what is my name?” said Masqouth. “Do I have one?”
 
“Your name is Masqouth,” said the beings. “It is an old word that means ‘the echo that lives.’ For you are an echo of life, Masqouth, an echo that will transform into the music of hope.”
 
It was clear that Masqouth didn’t understand what that meant, but he nodded anyway. Then he looked at the table where the mallet was and said, “I want that.”
 
“Why don’t you get it yourself?” the beings suggested gently.
 
Masqouth looked alarmed again. “But . . . but if I walk, I’ll just fall again and hurt myself.”
 
“You won’t,” said the five beings. “Not if we are guiding you, you won’t. Just try.”
 
At first, Masqouth appeared doubtful of their words, but then he nodded again. Soon the beings were guiding Masqouth to the table. He walked slowly and carefully, even while holding one of their hands, the memory of his first fall still at the forefront of his mind.
 
But he eventually made it to the table without a fall and picked up the mallet, causing the five beings to praise him. Masqouth smiled shyly, perhaps not yet used to such praise. He then studied the hammer, swinging it occasionally, while the five beings merely watched him with pride.
 
What you are currently viewing are Masqouth’s first moments of life, said the Almighty Ones. Those five beings who encouraged him to do things for himself are us. And yes, we did think of him as our son, even though he was not biologically-related to us.
 
It amazed Night to see Masqouth acting so innocent. Kiriah and Jet also looked amazed, like they couldn’t believe their eyes.
 
You are wondering where things went wrong, perhaps, said the Almighty Ones. The fact is, during the first few months of Masqouth’s life, things were peaceful and wonderful. We taught him many things, but did not think to build another being like him. As scientists, we wanted to be aware of whatever mistakes we may have made with our experiment -- no, our son -- before we made another. It was perhaps wise we were cautious, for the next thing we are about to show you will change your opinion of Masqouth completely.
 
The scene with the Almighty Ones gathered around Masqouth faded away and was replaced just as quickly by a scene of a village burning. The fire was so realistic that Night feared for a moment that he would be burned, before reminding himself that this was a memory of the fire and not the actual fire.
 
Houses were burning, people were screaming, and the air was filled with smoke, making it difficult to see things. Night did see a Matoran-like creature with wings running back and forth through the flames, evidently trying to find a way out of the circle of fire it was trapped in. It apparently couldn’t fly, for its left wing was broken and hung limply off its back.
 
Without warning, a being in black armor stepped out of the flames. It was Masqouth, whose appearance caused the winged Matoran-like creature to stop dead in its tracks.
 
“I thought I heard someone over here,” said Masqouth with a grin on his face. “Why don’t you come here and let me take away your life?”
 
The Matoran-like creature shrieked and, without the slightest hesitation, leaped into the flames. It screamed loudly as the fire ate away at its skin, melting its armor and burning out its eyeballs. The sight was so horrible that even Night, who in his time as a Dark Hunter had seen many gruesome things, almost looked away, but he forced himself to watch the rest of the scene, no matter how horrible it was.
 
Masqouth merely watched the being burn with a disappointed look on his face. “Oh, well. I guess what matters is, that he’s dead, even though I didn’t get to kill him. There are probably more villagers around here, anyway, so I’d better go find and kill them. Then I’ll be just like my parents!”
 
Masqouth jumped back into the flames with a laugh and the scene vanished, replaced with the same inky black darkness from before.
 
“That . . . was horrible,” said Kiriah, her eyes wide. “Why was he slaughtering innocent villagers? What did they do to him?”
 
They did nothing to him, Kiriah, except live, said the Almighty Ones, their tone bitter. You see, as part of Masqouth’s education, we taught him about our past. How we came to gain our powers, as well as how we destroyed all life in our universe. In our defense, we impressed upon him the evilness of our crimes and warned him that he should never do it. Indeed, we thought he couldn’t do it, for he was the only living being in our universe besides ourselves. As we are far more powerful than Masqouth, we didn’t think he’d ever be tempted to take the life of another living being, especially because he loved us so much.
 
“So what went wrong?” said Jet. “What caused Masqouth to go from a wide-eyed, innocent newborn to the mass murderer you just showed us?”
 
His love for us, of course, said the Almighty Ones. Like all children who idolize their parents, his greatest desire was to be just like us. He couldn’t match us in terms of sheer power and he knew his knowledge and understanding of the universe was never going to be as vast or expansive as ours. So he did the next best thing: Find another universe and try to kill everyone in it, just like we did in ours.
 
“Your ‘son’ is a psycho,” said Night, shaking his head. “And that’s coming from an ex-Dark Hunter. He makes the Shadowed One look like a hero.”
 
Please let us finish, said the Almighty Ones. We’d given Masqouth the ability to dimension-hop, you see, because we eventually wanted to send him to other universes to teach him how to interact with other beings. One day, however, he left without telling us and went to a universe that was once known as Heratone, but which is now called Wyoko.
 
“What is Wyoko, anyway?” said Night. “I have never heard of that place.”
 
To summarize, Wyoko is a land of shadow, the Almighty Ones explained. A type of pocket dimension, connected to and dependent on this one. It's very different from your dimension, though some of its wildlife is similar to the kind you know of.
 
“Could you please continue with the story, rather than spout exposition?” said Jet. “Night, we’ll fill you in on Wyoko later. For now, we need to know the rest of the Almighty Ones' tale.”
 
Something about his question being dismissed by a Gadarian in Skrall armor annoyed Night, but he didn't get a chance to respond, for the next moment the Almighty Ones continued their story:
 
Wyoko was once a beautiful place, with a shining sun, green grass, plenty of food and water for all of its inhabitants, and no life-threatening diseases of any kind. It was not a utopia, but it was a good place to live, as far as we could tell.
 
But you see, Wyoko was not an unprotected land, despite being peaceful. It had a ruler, a being who had christened himself the King of Life. You know him as Atuje, the being who took our son and several other beings and promised them whatever it is they wanted if they would aid him in unleashing the Kra-Matoran
 
“Atuje, eh?” said Jet. “What did he do? Send armies to crush Masqouth?”
 
No, said the Almighty Ones. He did the exact opposite: In order to protect his kingdom from this unknown threat, Atuje personally confronted Masqouth and very nearly succeeded in killing him, for Atuje’s power is as far above Masqouth’s as a Skopio’s strength is above a dust darter's.
 
The inky blackness was replaced with a new scene. This one showed Masqouth lying on the ground of an immense, wide open field. He looked almost dead, for his legs were twisted, his face was dented, parts of his armor had been ripped off or bashed in, and the fingers on his left hand were smashed. The only way Night knew that Masqouth was still alive was because the Echo’s heartlight still shone, although it was slightly cracked.
 
Towering over the fallen Masqouth was a titan of immense proportions. He wore armor colored with a blend of various shades of green and brown, with spikes running down his arms. His legs looked thick and strong, while he carried a large metal club in his right hand. His face resembled a lion's, while his eyes were as blue as the ocean on a clear day.
 
That is Atuje, said the Almighty Ones. Or, rather, that was Atuje, years and years ago when he was still in his prime. As you can no doubt tell, he had just finished giving our son the beating of a lifetime and was about to finish him off.
 
“Again, who are you?” said Atuje, his voice like a tornado. “Where did you come from? Are there more of you? Are you a scout of an army that is coming to invade and conquer my land? Tell me!”
 
How Atuje expected a being in such a poor state to utter even one word mystified Night. Perhaps Atuje was simply unreasonable, like every other authority figure Night had ever known.
 
As Masqouth didn't speak, Atuje merely shrugged his massive shoulders and raised his club. “It doesn't matter. If more of you come, they will meet the same fate as you. Now pray to whatever gods you believe in, invader, for my club shall be the last thing you ever see.”
 
With that, Atuje brought his club down on Masqouth. At the last second, Masqouth abruptly disappeared. Atuje’s club smashed into the ground, creating a small crater that sent cracks into the earth around it.
 
“What?” said Atuje as he pulled his club out of the ground. “Where did he go?”
 
Atuje looked around until he spotted Masqouth lying several feet away from him. This time, however, Masqouth wasn’t alone, for there stood five cloaked, hooded beings standing around Masqouth like bodyguards.
 
“Who are you?” said Atuje, pointing at them. “And why did you save that murderer? Are you not aware of the crimes he has committed, the people he has killed?”
 
“We are the Almighty Ones,” the beings replied. “And he is our son. We will discipline him as we see fit.”
 
“You shall not,” said Atuje, shaking his head. “In this past week alone, I have seen more loss of life than I have in all of my years on the throne of this kingdom. I can only assume that you must have sent him here, though why, I do not know.”
 
“We did not send him here,” said the Almighty Ones. “He came here without us knowing. We do not condone his actions in the slightest.”
 
“Then give him to me and allow me to finish him,” said Atuje, holding out a hand. “Under the laws of my realm, murderers earn the death penalty. Your son murdered hundreds of innocent beings, hundreds of my subjects, and that earns him the death penalty beyond all reasonable doubt.”
 
“But he is not an inhabitant of your realm,” said the Almighty Ones, their tone cold. “Neither are we. Your laws do not apply to us.”
 
“Will you take his life away from him?” Atuje questioned. “It is the only kind of justice that my people will accept. Someone must die in order to fulfill the demands of justice and that someone is your son.”
 
“Killing Masqouth will not bring back your people, King of Life,” said the Almighty Ones. “It will do no one good. Again, let us-“
 
Atuje swung his club and fired a bolt of some kind of sizzling energy at them. It merely bounced off an invisible shield that protected the Almighty Ones, although the bolt hit the shield with such force that it actually created a crack in the barrier.
 
“Then fight me,” said Atuje, raising his club above his head. “If I win, I get your son.”
 
“We are not going to fight you,” said the Almighty Ones. “Nor will we agree to your conditions. How many times must we repeat ourselves until you understand that Masqouth is not governed by your laws?’
 
With a growl, Atuje said, “Then you may die with your son,” and ran at them.
 
He reached the Almighty Ones quickly and brought his club down on them. The club struck the barrier so hard that it caused it to shatter, but the Almighty Ones and Masqouth disappeared immediately, reappearing a couple of bio away from the King of Life, outside of his reach.
 
“If a fight is what you want, Atuje,” said the Almighty Ones, “then a fight is what you will get.”
 
The Almighty Ones floated off the ground and flew toward Atuje, who ran at them yelling. When they collided, the scene dissipated, leaving Night, Kiriah, and Jet floating in empty blackness once again.
 
Upon retrospect, we realize we should never have engaged Atuje in battle, said the Almighty Ones. It would have been wiser to leave Wyoko and return to our universe with Masqouth when we had the chance. We were angry at Atuje, however, angry at how he beat our son to within an inch of his life. Our rational minds were overtaken by emotion again; the same kind of emotion that clouded our thinking when we annihilated all life in our universe.
 
“What happened next?” Jet asked.
 
That is what we are about to show you, said the Almighty Ones.
 
This time, it felt like Night was plunged into the next scene. They were now looking at the top of a castle, where storm clouds and smoke gathered like a swarm of bees. Within this cloud of smoke and lightning were the Almighty Ones and Atuje, standing on opposite ends of the tower.
 
Atuje's armor was torn in several places, his right arm hung limply at his side, and there was a long cut running down the side of his face, still bleeding fresh blood. In addition, Atuje was on his knees, breathing heavily as he looked with hatred upon his enemies.
 
The Almighty Ones looked a little better than Atuje, for only their robes appeared to be ripped in certain spots, revealing gray flesh that was scratched but not bleeding. Despite that, they appeared shaken up; maybe they weren't used to fighting.
 
“We suggest that you give up now, Atuje,” said the Almighty Ones. “If you do, we will spare your life, take Masqouth, and never return. We are offering you mercy.”
 
Atuje spit blood out of his mouth and said, “Mercy? No. Justice must be served. My people demand it.”
 
“Sometimes, justice is not always the right answer,” said the Almighty Ones. “Sometimes, all ‘justice’ does is create more ill will and evil. Perhaps you should think of extending mercy to people, Atuje, rather than revenge.”
 
“He killed hundreds of my people,” said Atuje. “Justice is the only appropriate response. How dare you speak to me of mercy when it was your own son who showed none to my innocent subjects!”
 
“We apologize for that,” said the Almighty Ones. “Again, we suggest that you give up. Your body is weakened. There is no way you can rationally expect to continue fighting us. If you do, we will be forced to kill you, and your people will have no king to guide them in the long recovery effort that your land is about to face.”
 
Atuje breathed heavily and fell face-first onto the tower floor. “As if you . . . you villains cared about my land or my people.”
 
It was hard to tell what the Almighty Ones were thinking until they said, “There is no further point in us fighting you. We have won. Good bye.”
 
The Almighty Ones turned around as a dimensional portal opened not far from them. Atuje still lay on the floor as his heavy breathing subsided and his body moved no more.
 
And as soon as the last breath escaped Atuje's body, his corpse turned completely black like a silhouette. And the next moment, it exploded.
 
It wasn’t a normal explosion, however. There were no flames and shrapnel here. What appeared to be deeper than black darkness shot up from Atuje’s body and into the sky. The darkness started spreading all across the expanse rapidly, like a gigantic storm cloud that had appeared out of nowhere.
 
The Almighty Ones looked and, alarmed, flew toward the portal. The darkness was at their heels and probably would have consumed them had they not gotten an extra dose of speed just in the nick of time, allowing them to leap through the portal. The portal closed at the exact moment they passed through it, thus preventing the darkness from following them through.
 
The darkness from Atuje’s body soon covered the whole scene until Night, Kiriah, and Jet were looking at nothing but blackness again.
 
“What . . . what was that?” said Kiriah, her eyes wide. “What did we just see?”
 
Even we are not sure what Atuje did there, said the Almighty Ones. We suspect that it was a last minute attack that he had been saving in the event he failed to kill us. Atuje was a being of immense power; he was not known as the King of Life for nothing. Though he expended much of his own power in his battle against us, he still had an immense amount of it leftover, which he tried to unleash on us in one final explosion. It obviously did not succeed.
 
“I don’t understand,” said Night. “If Atuje sacrificed himself to kill you all, how he is still alive today? And why is Masqouth working for him if he tried to kill him? None of it makes sense.”
 
Our story is not yet finished, Night, said the Almighty Ones. Allow us to continue uninterrupted. It is crucial that you three know this history, for without it, it is impossible to understand why Atuje is doing what he is doing.
 
“Continue, then,” said Jet. “We will listen.”
 
Thank you, said the Almighty Ones. Now when Atuje’s body exploded, his attack didn’t destroy us. As all of that power simply couldn’t vanish into thin air; it had to go somewhere. Logically, then, it spread all over the land of Heratone. It killed or mutated every living being that lived there, including all of Atuje’s subjects, the Sawori people. It transformed the land into Wyoko, a land of darkness and despair, and it has been that way ever since.
 
Night tried to imagine what a land of darkness would look like. Even with his affinity for shadow, his own mental image disturbed him. He did not want to see what the actual Wyoko looked like.
 
Shortly after that, we repaired Masqouth, said the Almighty Ones. We debated fiercely among ourselves what to do with him, how to discipline him, and where we had gone wrong. Eventually, we agreed to put him into stasis for an indefinite period of time. We couldn’t explain to his childish mind why he was being put away, for he did not -- and still does not -- understand what he did that was wrong.
 
The inky blackness evaporated this time, showing Masqouth lying in a stasis tube in the middle of what looked like a forest. His eyes were closed and his hands were crossed over his chest, like he was sleeping soundly. Night noticed that he was wearing his distinctive white robes now.
 
We could not bring ourselves to destroy or reprogram him, even though both choices would have been logical, said the Almighty Ones. So we placed him in stasis, thinking that we would awaken him at a later date. We then vowed after that never to experiment with making life again. We refocused our efforts on restoring life in our own universe through different methods, such as the Time Stone, as you very well know, Kiriah.
 
“What does the Time Stone have to do with any of this?” said Night, looking at Kiriah.
 
Kiriah shrugged. “That’s another long story that we don’t have time for right now. I’ll explain it to you later.”
 
For a long time, we believed Atuje was dead and that Masqouth was to remain in stasis perhaps forever, the Almighty Ones continued. Thus, we busied ourselves with studying the multiverse until just recently, when Masqouth appeared in your universe along with his four Echoes. At this point, we have to delve into the world of speculation, for the events we are about to describe to you we did not personally witness but have determined based on evidence, research, and logic.
 
“In other words, you made an educated guess,” said Night.
 
That is one way of putting it, said the Almighty Ones. Anyway, as far as we could tell, when Atuje ‘died,’ he did not actually die. He lost his body thanks to his final attack on us, but his spirit survived. Again, we do not know how or why this happened, but Atuje’s spirit sealed itself in Wyoko, deep underneath the earth, where it most likely went into hibernation for thousands of years, hidden from everyone.
 
Night shook his head. He had heard tales of spirits lurking in caverns deep beneath the earth, clawing at the walls of their prisons in an attempt to get free. He had never believed the stories due to their ridiculousness, but if what the Almighty Ones theorized was true, then maybe there was some truth to those tales, at least in other universes.
 
We suspect that at some point Atuje woke up, said the Almighty Ones. He must have then realized his body was gone and that we were still alive. He most likely vowed to get revenge on us, not just for himself, but for the people Masqouth killed as well, for he saw us as responsible for those deaths, too.
 
We think Atuje’s first choice was our former servant, Toa Darranas. He contacted Darranas and asked Darranas to open our warehouse in an attempt to gain whatever weapons or power we might be hiding. We think Atuje believed that he could use our own power against us, although thanks to Kiriah and Isarot, Darranas was killed and Atuje’s plan thwarted.
 
Night glanced at Kiriah. “Let me guess, another story we don't have time to get into right now?”
 
Kiriah nodded sheepishly. “Er, yeah.”
 
Night sighed. “Proceed, Almighty Ones.”
 
After that, we think Atuje went to sleep again, said the Almighty Ones. It was probably a self-induced sleep, for he did not want us finding out it had been him who had employed Darranas. He woke up again some years ago, probably when he thought it was safe, and then looked around for a new herald to act as his hand in his quest for revenge. We think he found Masqouth; how, we cannot say, although it is patently obvious that he did.
 
Atuje then woke up Masqouth and somehow convinced him to work for him. Again, we don’t know for sure, but we think Atuje manipulated Masqouth’s memories so that Masqouth wouldn’t remember that Atuje had almost killed him the last time they had met. He probably convinced Masqouth that he, Masqouth, could be just like us; which is to say, Masqouth would be allowed to kill as many people as he pleased so long as he did what Atuje told him to.
 
“That seems dumb,” said Night. “Why would you hire a guy you tried to kill? Even if Atuje manipulated his memories, it still seems like a risk to me.”
 
Actually, it was probably Atuje’s most brilliant move yet, said the Almighty Ones. This time, instead of working behind the scenes, Atuje sent us a message. He told us that we are not to directly interfere with his plan or else he would kill Masqouth. As we still care deeply for Masqouth -- even after all these years -- his threat worked to keep us in line. After all, we are the only beings who can stop Atuje, but if we try, he will not hesitate to kill our son.
 
“You're willing to sacrifice the lives of thousands of innocent beings just to keep your son safe?” said Night. “For Almighty Ones, you sure are pathetic ones.”
 
Do not criticize us until you have walked a mile in our armor, Night, the Almighty Ones said. What if your grandfather, for instance, was under threat of death if you didn’t comply with your enemy’s demands? Would you recklessly sacrifice the one being you love more than any other just because you think it’s the right thing to do?
 
“The situations aren’t similar,” said Night. “You’re shirking your responsibility. Besides, can’t you repair Masqouth, if necessary? He is a robot, after all.”
 
He is far more than just a robot to us, said the Almighty Ones. Masqouth is our son. Even if we could repair him, he would not be the same. We could not rightfully call him Masqouth. He would be a different person even if we used the same coding to reprogram him.
 
Night opened his mouth to say that their whining and excuse-making was getting on his nerves, but Kiriah quickly said, “Just drop it, Night. The Almighty Ones are like this a lot. Don’t worry about them.”
 
You would be wise to listen to Kiriah, said the Almighty Ones to Night. She speaks wisdom.
 
Night just folded his arms, but didn’t say anything. They spoke cowardly and he didn’t like cowards, but he also didn’t like picking fights he couldn’t win. As the Almighty Ones were probably never going to admit he was right, Night decided to drop the matter.
 
The only ways we have been able to intervene at all has been through Jetrupi and Kiriah, said the Almighty Ones. Even then, we are wary. Atuje was vague about what he meant by intervene, so we we think he could kill Masqouth any day now. That is why, Jetrupi, we sent you back to Kiriah after you left her. We could not risk putting Masqouth in harm’s way if you tried to interrupt his plan on your own.
 
“I see,” said Jetrupi, although his tone was far from understandable. He gestured at his stomach and said, “Well, we know how well that worked out, don't we?”
 
Ignoring Jetrupi, the Almighty Ones said, We have thus far managed to intervene in ways Atuje has not yet linked to us. But when he inevitably learns that you all are still alive, he will know that we have disregarded his warnings. After that, who knows what he will do? It might be too risky to send you three back to your dimension, perhaps even pointless now that the Kra-Matoran are free again.
 
“So?” said Kiriah. “Atuje’s minions have already tried to kill us. And anyway, if he kills Masqouth, then he’ll have nothing to use against you guys, right? He still needs something to blackmail you with. So honestly, I doubt he’ll kill Masqouth until he decides it makes sense to.”
 
Your point is valid, said the Almighty Ones. We suppose, then, that the next step is to send you three back home. You should track down and stop Masqouth and the other Echoes, which in turn will result in Atuje’s fall. Atuje’s resurrection -- which is most likely his final goal -- is not yet at hand, so we think there is still time for you three to stop it.
 
“I wish you’d told us all of this from the very beginning,” said Jetrupi. “But now that I know this, I want to go back and stop Atuje’s plan. After Niralo almost killed me . . . well, I should think my motives are obvious.”
 
“I’m going back, too,” said Kiriah. “Atuje’s plan has plunged my world into chaos and war. I have to stop him. All three of us do.”
 
“Who said anything about the three of us?” said Night, looking at Kiriah. “I have no compelling reason to work for a bunch of mysterious entities that are too cowardly to do the right thing even at the cost of the thing they most love. I want to go back home and sock Masqouth in the face, of course, but why should I help you guys when I can do it all by myself?”
 
He almost killed you earlier, the Almighty Ones pointed out. And, if we are not mistaken, it was Wavica, one of his friends, who killed Heavyweight, your best friend. And let us not forget that they kidnapped Kafor, too, who is another one of your friends, is she not?
 
Night blinked. “Heavyweight . . . is dead?”
 
“Oh, that’s right,” said Kiriah, slapping her forehead. “We forgot to tell you that. I’m sorry, Night, but it’s true. Wavica killed her. I wasn’t there when it happened, but the Almighty Ones told me.”
 
“That . . . that can’t be,” said Night. “She can’t  be dead . . .”
 
If you wish, we could show you her corpse, said the Almighty Ones. We ask only that you take into account what she would want you to do, if she were still alive today.
 
“She would . . .” Night’s voice trailed off briefly before picking up again. “Okay. I’ll work with you guys to take down Masqouth. We have similar goals, so I guess it makes sense for us to team up. At least until Atuje and Masqouth are defeated, anyway.”
 
All right, then, said the Almighty Ones. Because you lack weapons, we will allow you to take whatever weapons from this warehouse that you want. After you are geared up and ready to go, we will send you back home. There you will find Masqouth and the Echoes and stop him.
 
Night didn’t know what the others were thinking, but he felt anticipation rising in his chest. He was going to avenge Heavyweight and himself. He doubted the Almighty Ones would let him kill Masqouth, but if the opportunity presented itself to him, he would take it without hesitation.

 

-
 
Continued in In the End, which can be found here
 

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Edited by TNTOS, Apr 07 2014 - 09:02 AM.

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