Chapter I: “Sunset”
Ta-Koro, the fire village. Actually, “village” was something of an understatement. It was more of a fortress, a stronghold of four-foot thick stone walls that rose up out of the ground. A moat of lava surrounded the settlement, the only ways in being through the cave system to the west or via the drawbridge in the opposite direction. It was home to a few hundred Matoran, each residing in small huts scattered throughout the interior. Shops, markets, and other places of commerce also found their way inside. Far to the west, beyond the caves, was Mangai, the dormant volcano that cast a shadow over all in its wake. To the east was the Charred Forest, and past that was the Ta-Wahi beach, home to a certain wandering outcast. The entrance to Ta-Koro was guarded by a gate, which also served to protect the cablecar system that allowed for travel to Ko-Wahi, was adorned with an inscription Turaga Vakama, the village elder, had written when work here was completed:
“Unity, Duty, Destiny”
Nuhrii was a simple person. He lived a simple life. He wasn’t as brash and bold as Jaller or as eccentric and… well, eccentric as Kapura (there really weren’t many other words to describe Kapura). In fact, his only talent of note was sculpting replica Kanohi masks. Not many people knew what they were, but each Turaga owned a small cache of masks, and it was said they bestowed great power to mighty Toa heroes. Vakama had enthusiastically told him embrace this hobby, as it was a remnant of times before Nuhrii could recall.
The truth was that Nuhrii simply couldn’t remember as far back as the Turaga could. His earliest memory was of waking up on the Ta-Wahi beach with other Matoran and the rest of his life started from there. Vakama had never really taken the time to explain what had happened before life on the island of Mata Nui, but all things considered, perhaps it was best to leave all the past’s baggage behind. After all, everyone lived on an island paradise. What more could someone want?
The day was almost over, the sun setting slowly to the west. The sky would go from a light blue to orange to red, and the Ta-Koran decided he could suspend his guard duties long enough to watch this spectacle of nature. Ten years. It’d been a happy ten years since he first woke up on that beach. Some people, like Takua, wanted more from this life than Ta-Koro had to offer, but Nuhrii never could understand what. He was a simple person. He lived a simple life. Everything he could ever imagine wanting was right here – food, water, friends. And in this very moment, Nuhrii closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, a smile of relaxation forming on his face.
Life was bliss.
“Oh, Nuhrii…” Vohon sighed. “You didn’t deserve this. You really didn’t. I mean, yeah, you kinda had your head in the clouds all the time and you made those freaky masks, but I never held it against you.”
He sat in Jaller’s office in one of the towers that overlooked the Charred Forest. Nuhrii was dead, found by the other two guardsmen on duty. Nothing like this had ever really happened before, so the four of them had gathered to figure out what they should do.
“Shut up, Vohon,” Jaller began. “So. What happened? Aft? Agni? You guys were on patrol, too.”
“I dunno,” Agni grimaced. She gave a shrug. “Rahi attack? I’m not a doctor – that’d be Tiribomba, by the way – but I think these are bite marks.” She pointed to the damage to Nuhrii’s right arm, then to his right leg. “Nothing local would do this, though. We get, what, Kofo-Jaga and firefliers and other bugs, right? Nothing with teeth. Definitely nothing local.”
Jaller paced back and forth for a bit before sitting behind his desk. “Get Tiribomba,” he said at last, leaning forward and placing the palms of his hands together in front of his mouth. “I want to know how exactly this happened, what exactly killed him.” He stared at his friend’s body for a few seconds and frowned. “He might’ve been bitten by… well, whatever got him, but these aren’t fatal wounds. He also didn’t bleed out, I don’t think. Agni?”
She gave a nod and ran off to fetch the Ta-Koran medic.
“He said ‘sound the alarm,’” Aft murmured quietly.
“Hm? What was that?” Vohon inquired. “He said what?”
“Before he… well, before he died,” Aft answered, more loudly so that the others could hear, “he told Agni and I to sound the alarm. Then he just… dropped. I didn’t think much of it then ‘cause I was kinda freaking out, but…”
“The alarm. As in the alarm we sound only under the direst of circumstances. That one? The alarm that Vakama said we would only ever use if we were invaded and under attack? Just so we’re clear.” He glanced from Aft to Jaller. “Wow. I didn’t think it was possible for you to frown even more than you were a second ago.”
“Shut up, Vohon,” the Captain muttered. “I’m… I’m thinking. We can’t sound the alarm, even if it was Nuhrii’s dying wish. Just because there’s a potentially dangerous Rahi out in the forest doesn’t mean we get to have a village-wide panic. Okay… We’ll get a few guys to find it, scare it off, kill it, whatever. Then we’ll hold a memorial for Nuhrii and we’ll move on.” He sounded hollow, as if he didn’t buy into his own words. “It’s sad that this happened, but it’s not…”
His gaze met Aft’s eyes, then Vohon’s. “Fine. Fine. I’ll say it. I know you two want me to. Something’s up. If this were a fatal Rahi attack, he wouldn’t have been able to run and find you and Agni. Then when he died – you said he just dropped dead.”
“Ooh, half an hour of being dead and we’ve already got a conspiracy going on. I love a good conspiracy.” It was Tiribomba, accompanied by Agni. “What’re we thinking? Possessed Rahi? Overlord demon general of the night? Shapeshifting bad guys?” The others looked at him as though he’d just grown another head. “C’mon, Nuhrii was a pretty airheaded dude. I don’t think he’d care if we weren’t all super somber and stuff. I certainly don’t.”
“Oh, for Mata Nui's sake, Tiri,” Jaller growled. “Nuhrii’s dead! He’s dead and it doesn’t make sense. What attacked him? What killed him? Why did he die the way he did and not the way he should’ve?”
“Well. Poison,” the medic replied. “There’s poison in his system. That’s what killed him.”
An eerie silence descended on the room. “Poison.” Yes, there were many Rahi that had venom as a natural defense that they could find, and any one of those could’ve been the culprit, but it was all in the words. “Venom,” that was what implied a freak accident, something more suitable for an animal attack. But “poison?” That had a hidden undertone, one that no one could miss. “Poison” implied intent, that this was something deliberately planned.
“Vakama,” Jaller breathed harshly. “Get him. Now. We’ve got to talk.”
“Always a pleasure, Jaller,” the Turaga stated softly. His mind was clearly elsewhere, as it always seemed to be as of late. Aft and Vohon had escorted him to the Captain’s office and watched as he took a seat. “I appreciate that you decided that I was to be in the know.”
“Guys?” Jaller asked. The two Matoran nodded subtly and left the room without question. “So. How’re we going to play this?”
“’Play this?’” Vakama repeated. “Lest you forget, Captain, that I am still this village’s Turaga. It would suit you well not to speak to me with that dismissive tone of yours.”
“Oh… geez, Vakama.” He sighed. “Right now? At this moment? You’re only our Turaga in theory at best. You’ve been doing a terrible job at running this place lately. I’ve had to step up and do your job for you. You spend all your time in your hut in front of that godforsaken fire and you contribute nothing to Ta-Koro anymore. ‘Unity, duty, destiny,’ remember. Who wrote that? That’s right, you did. The last thing of any note you did here was banish Ta- Tak-…?”
“Takua, and that was after he saved you from that Vatuka infestation in the caves. I get that he’s been openly discontent with living here lately, but he helps people. In the other villages. He’s a good guy. I can tell and I don’t even know him that well. And you banished him. Oh, and don’t get me started on the whole ‘don’t communicate with the other villages’ nonsense you started last week.”
“We’re not safe, Jaller. I can sense it. We need to fend for ourselves. We have to focus our resources and people here, not have them wander off and go elsewhere. If Takua wishes to travel, then so be it, but I will have none of it here.” A pause. “Of course, this isn’t about Takua, or even Nuhrii for that matter. You’re trying to undermine me.”
“That last thing Nuhrii did,” Jaller said, ignoring the Turaga’s last statement, “was to tell Aft and Agni to raise the alarm. He died by poison. We think it’s a Rahi attack. It makes some sense, but not enough. You know a thing or two about different Rahi. What transmits a poison through a bite?”
“Nui-Kopen, the great wasps. They’re most infamous for their venomous bites. They’re not local creatures, as I’m sure you know, but a hive may have migrated to the forest. What caused them to move, however, is beyond me.”
“I guess that’s the hundred-widget question. But would a swarm of bugs freak Nuhrii out enough to spend all his energy finding Aft and Agni and telling them to sound the alarm?”
“Perhaps. And perhaps there is still more to learn.”
“Check his body if you want. Check his pack, too. He still had it on him. All we found was one of those masks he makes from time to time. Rusted old thing. I’ve seen his usual work – they’re usually nice polished.”
Vakama had gotten up to take a look at the mask. When he turned back to Jaller, his eyes were filled with worry. “Is this it? Jaller. Is this it?”
“Sound the alarm.”
“Sound. The. Alarm. This isn’t one of Nuhrii’s masks. It’s a message. It’s Nuhrii’s last message.”
“Um, guys? Hate to interrupt. Really do.” Tiribomba poked his head through the door. His expression was impossible to mistake: stark terror. “You miiight want to take a look outside.”
Both Jaller and Vakama rushed to the window. Their jaws hit the floor. Gathered in the Charred Forest were Rahi. Dozens of them. They moved as one towards the village – Muaka tigers and Kane-Ra bulls and Tarakava lizards and more. Hanging onto trees and buzzing angrily were Nui-Kopen. They all had a sickly glow to them, as if possessed by some outside force. They all had strange objects attached to them, and if one were to get a close enough look, they would see that they appeared to be masks. Rusted, worn out Kanohi masks. This wasn’t nature gone mad. This was the difference between “venom” and “poison.” This was planned. Deliberate.
“Retract the drawbridge!” Vakama cried. “Sound the alarm! Ta-Koro is under attack!”
Takua let out a long groan as he picked himself back up. Every bone and muscle in his body ached. Why did they ache? He tried to remember what had happened, but his memories of the last hour or so were fuzzy. Matau! Turaga Matau had given him some sort of instructions for a task, and he’d set out to do it. The details still weren’t there, but he really did hope whatever he was supposed to do ended in success.
So now he was here, back on the Ta-Wahi beach that he called home. Right. He was still in exile over that argument he’d had with Vakama. That was his thing, though. He was Takua, and he’d earned his title of “the Wanderer” years ago. He felt no loyalty to Ta-Koro, and the “serving-the-village” shtick the Turaga had tried to feed the Matoran just didn’t suit him. He wasn’t loyal to Ta-Koro not because he had any negative feelings toward it, but rather because his loyalty was reserved for people. Select people. Of his own choosing. But people, nevertheless.
His pack was buried in the sand near his little shack. Good. He’d been writing down his exploits of the last week. Turns out that life in the other villages was almost as routine as it was in Ta-Koro, but weird things had started to happen lately. They really became noticeable right when he’d set out for Onu-Koro, the earth village, to help find Turaga Whenua and a team of miners.
Note to self, he thought, go back to Le-Koro and talk to Matau so he can clear… everything up.
He smiled to himself. He had to admit, it was quite the adventure. After assisting Onepu and Tehutti with rescuing Whenua and the mining team from a rogue group of Vatuka, creatures made of living stone, he’d been asked to the Turaga’s chambers. Whenua told him that if he was up for it, he’d both continue his adventures and before a task of grave importance. Needless to say, Takua was in. The Onu-Koran Turaga handed him a cylindrical stone and told him to show it to the other five village elders. The message he was to bring was a simple one: “It’s time.”
And so Takua did as he was told, travelling to Ga-Koro, Po-Koro, Ko-Koro, and Le-Koro. He’d made friends and even got Turaga Nuju to crack a smile. It was Le-Koro’s elder, Matau, that explained to him what he was to do with the stones. Something about taking them to the center of the island and… That’s where he drew a blank. He hesitantly made his way back to, by which anyone else would mean “snuck into,” Ta-Koro only to hear that the Vatuka he’d chased away from Onu-Koro had made their way through the cave system and kidnapped Vakama, who was searching for something, apparently.
“Oh, thank you, Takua!” he thought. “Thank you for saving me from those rock monsters while I nagged at you for five minutes. Here! Here’s your home back! Welcome back!” Yes, maybe if our elder were anyone else, I might have actually gotten something other than a mini-lecture.
In actuality, he did. Vakama, surprisingly, had no qualms giving him the last stone. Really, he was quiet for the majority of the trip back to the village, and the last thing that was said between the two of them simply reiterated Matau’s instructions. Now, after all that, Takua was here. It was sunset, and he was tired. He’d check the fishing traps, have a meal, then sleep for the next, oh, three days. Then maybe another adventure. But first? First, he had to deal with the peculiarity that he’d somehow failed to notice before.
It was a grey cylinder. It was about ten feet long and four feet across. The end pointing to the cliffs behind him was rounded. It seemed to have washed up on shore sometime in the last day or so. A few birds had decided to land on it, one of them pecking at what appeared to be a latch with its beak. Takua frowned. He recognized this thing. He felt like he knew what it was and what it was supposed to do, but his memories wouldn’t extend far enough.
The stone relics! Now he realized why the shape was familiar, at least – the cylinder looked like an upscaled version of the stones. Was there a connection, perhaps? Maybe the Turaga had something stored away in this to deal with all the weirdness happening lately. It made sense. Adventurer’s instinct taking hold of him, he walked up to the cylinder and felt its surface. It was smooth and metallic. The rounded edge was connected to the rest of it by six latches, but there didn’t seem to be any way to decouple them from the outside.
Takua smirked. His gaze shifted to the fishing traps. Sleep could wait. This was a mystery. He liked mysteries. “Time to play the waiting game.”
He walked to the traps. A small codfish had been snagged. Nothing substantial, but it would keep him full until something happened. He began to take it out when a wall of sound hit him, causing him to drop his catch back into the water, where it swam away. It was the Ta-Koro alarm. The village was under attack.
Where am I? he wondered. Who am I? Am I trapped? It feels like I’m trapped.
Well, that may not have been entirely true. A quick glance around revealed that he was once held in place by some kind of harness, but was now free to move about. For whatever that was worth – he was still surrounded by metal walls and odd machinery with no exit in sight. Space was limited. He figured air was going to be limited, too, depending on how long he’d been stuck here. He breathed in deeply and tried to resist the urge to panic and throw a fit. A blue screen flashed in front of him, but he couldn’t read what the text was supposed to say.
That may not have been entirely true, either. It had been a few seconds at most since he woke up and his senses were scrambled at best. His bearings would come back to him, he realized. He focused until the text went from gibberish to proper language. Now he could decipher it.
Well, that was telling. He didn’t know he was on some kind of voyage. Wait. There was more underneath that.
“Vocal Identification Required”
“Okay,” he said. He recoiled a bit from hearing himself. It was nothing like how he sounded in his head. “This… this good?”
“Yes,” a toneless voice replied. “Welcome, Tahu. We are sorry to report that the contents of this vessel have been damaged. Repairs were attempted, but insufficient. Manual repairs must be issued later.”
“Okay. How do I get out of here? I don’t do well in enclosed spaces.”
“A briefing is recommended before your departure, as the contents of this vessel have been damaged.”
Tahu looked around and smirked. “Everything looks fine to me. Why do I need a briefing, though? What’s going on?”
“You were selected for the mission. Loading briefing soundbytes…” A pause. “We are sorry to report that the briefing data has been corrupted. You must be briefed by another source.” Another pause. “Scanning of this vessel has revealed that your items are intact despite the damage. Initiate ejection process?”
“Oh. Oh yes. Let’s get me outta here.”
“Very good, Tahu. We of the-” A static hiss. “-wish you the best of luck. Initiating ejection process.”
“Cool. Now, how do I-?”
A rumble filled the air. The top of his encasement exploded off, and the next thing he knew, he was launched into the air. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted three objects flying with him. Actually, he wasn’t flying. He’d hit the peak of his ascent. Now he was falling. He flailed his limbs about before coming to the conclusion that indeed, he could not fly. The ground rushed towards him, and in a moment, he would-
It was sand. He’d landed on sand. This was definitely the highlight of his day, if not his existence. He’d landed on sand. Whoever designed that vessel clearly banked on the fact that he’d wash up on a beach and not on, say, rocks. Or a cliff. He dusted himself off and stood up, stretching his muscles for the first time in what felt like ages. He looked around for his things. He had things, apparently. They were a few feet away from him, but nothing like what he’d expect. One was a mask. Another was a sheath to be attached at the waist. The last was a sword, shaped in such a way to look like a long jet of flame.
The more he thought about it, the more it became obvious that he was in that canister by his own choice. He had belongings, for whatever purposes they served. What wasn’t obvious was why he was in there in the first place, and precisely what he’d need a mask and sword for. He fitted the sheath around his waist and slid the sword in. He thought about putting the mask on for a moment before realizing that he’d probably look odd to anyone else.
“Hey!” a voice called out. Tahu turned his head to see that it was a… oh, what were called? A Ma- a Mat-… A Matoran! From the look of him, he seemed distressed. “Who are you? Do you know what’s going on?”
“Um. Who are you?”
“Hey, man, I asked first. Hear that? That’s the Ta-Koro alarm. It means the village is under attack. Soon as it goes off, guess who explodes out of that thing?” He pointed to the canister. The Matoran took a deep breath in and let it out, trying to calm down. His eyes rested on Tahu’s sheath. “Is- is that a sword?” he stammered. “Are you armed? With a sword? What is going on?”
“Okay. Okay. Look. I’m not here to stab at people. At least, I don’t think so. I’m… I’m Tahu. I guess. I’m here for the mission. I have no idea what’s happening. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve been stuck in that vessel for the past… however long I’ve been there. I don’t know what Ta-Koro is because I don’t even know where I am. I quite literally just woke up a few minutes ago. Does that mean anything to you? The mission, that is. Are you here to brief me?”
“Mission? What mission? I’m just you’re average run-of-the-mill Ta-Koran exile. I’m Takua, since you asked. Okay… so we’re both incredibly late to the party. Not that we knew there was a party in the first place. So… Tahu, was it? I’ve got a mission for you. Ta-Koro was my village, my home before I… moved to the beach here. I have friends there. It’s under attack. We’ve gotta head over there and see what’s going on, okay?”
“You…” Tahu frowned. “You realize you’re about to trust a partially-disoriented stranger with a sword who’s more or less out of every single loop that you can imagine, right?”
“Wait, you’re actually going to help? You’re considering? I was ready to put up a bit of a fight.”
“You’re taking advantage of my caring nature. And I guess I just so happen to have a caring nature. I’ll help, but if you can promise me something. I need answers. On just about everything. After this is over, you’ll take me to someone who can help me out, all right?”
“Yeah, you got it. No problem. Now let’s g-”
The two turned around to see another Matoran running towards them. She was wide-eyed and slightly panicked.
“Takua, Ga-Koro’s been attacked! I don’t know why or how, but the others have disappeared. I… I didn’t know where else to go. I tried to send a message to Hewkii in Po-Koro, but their communications system’s down. We need help. Please, you’ve gotta come back with me.”
“Maku,” Takua replied, “Ta-Koro is under attack right now. I have to help them. I… I don’t know what to say. I can’t abandon the others.”
He looked at Tahu, who stared off into space. He looked like he was having an epiphany, a moment of clarity truer than anything even Vakama could’ve imagined.
“You won’t,” Tahu stated gravelly. “Look, I don’t know what’s going on or why all these places are under attack, but… but I know that I’m not going to let any attack go on if I can help it. Go with your friend, Takua. Just point me in the right direction and I’ll see what I can do for your village. Promise.”
“It’s through the forest. You can’t miss it. Are… are you sure? You said it yourself, you’re disoriented and you just got here. You don’t really owe a bunch of strangers anything, do you?”
“Takua, right now, I’m a blank slate. I don’t know what I’ve done in the past, and I just might owe you something. But there’s one thought from before that I’ve got in my head and it’s this: I’m Tahu, Toa of Fire. I command the heat and flame, and I’ve got tremendous power at my fingertips. I was born to serve the greater good, and right now that means protecting innocents from whoever’s attacking them.”
“Okay. Okay.” Takua gave a small smile of relief. “You any good with that sword?”
“Oh,” Tahu chuckled, placing the mask over his face at last. A surge of energy flowed through his body. “You’ve got no idea.”
“Man down!” Jaller yelled. “Man down!”
He dragged Kapura’s body away from the scene of the battle, looking frantically for Tiribomba as three more guardsmen ran towards their attackers. Everything had gone completely wrong almost immediately. Keahi had responded first to Vakama’s order to retract the drawbridge, but a Nui Kopen had flown across and killed him before he even had the chance to throw the lever. Right after, the mob of Rahi stormed forward, trying to make its way across the bridge, but were chased back by a number of guardsmen before they could breach the gates. Kalama, Brander, and Aohdan fought for as long as they could, but were overwhelmed by the maddened creatures in the end.
Five. That was the number of Ta-Korans who had died during the time spent on this island… and they were all killed tonight. The truth, the sad and bitter truth, was that despite the alarm, despite Nuhrii’s warning, the village was embarrassingly unprepared. All they had to defend themselves were a few trained guardsmen armed with a few paltry weapons, four of whom now dead, and a few hundred noncombatant civilians. Oh, and Vakama. While no one could’ve ever expected dozens of non-local Rahi to suddenly go mad and mount an organized assault, the truth remained the same:
Ta-Koro was not ready for a fight.
It was not ready for a fight, and tonight? Tonight, it would seem, was the night that Ta-Koro would fall.Reviews go here
Edited by Swindle, Apr 30 2013 - 10:46 PM.