Chapter 18: Recompense
“Tell me what’s going on!” Turaga Arrakio demanded, releasing the intercom switch. The indicator light on the control panel blinked off - a dead link. And despite the muffled blaring of alarms and pulsing red light above the entrance to the audience chamber, the security monitor feeds remained still. “Kybrek! Respond!” The only answer was yet another emergency light flaring to life on the panel. The electro-lift warning light. Punching the intercom switch again, Arrakio ordered his officer to report again. And again, nothing. The large reinforced double doors that led from the main corridor to the audience chamber was sealed. Who or whatever had tripped the intruder alert wouldn’t be getting through those doors any time soon. At least, not before the reinforcements would arrive in force.
“Lusco! Report!” Arrakio toggled the dial for the tele-con channel for immediate short-range. Lusco and Jaa were posted directly outside the audience chamber, and were he to stand right on the other side and shout, they would probably be able to hear him. But that would hardly be a wise choice, given all the alarms being tripped.
“Sir, the electro-lift has been completely obliterated,” the Optimacy officer’s voice came through in static-laden patches, and he sounded out of breath. “No one is hurt, but the entire lift crashed from mid-level to the basement storage units. Jaa is in contact with the ground patrol.” Arrakio heard indistinct shouting of his officers. “We don’t know what it is. Our sensors are going crazy, but our Matoran can’t find anything.”
“Get in contact with the power mechanics, and check for any tampering in the security HQ chamber,” he ordered. If Kybrek, his captain, was worth his protodermis, he’d already have his best Matoran on it. The good thing about the Coliseum was that it had the highest technology available in the city to keep it operational and secure. The bad thing was that when that tech was compromised, which up until this point, had never been an issue, the guards lacked the technical experience to get even the most basic functions of the building back up and running. And if the long-range tele-cons were out, there wasn’t even a guarantee that the policing forces would be sending response teams.
“Keep me updated on the situation. I’m working on things on my end,” Arrakio released the intercom switch again, glancing over the control panel one last time before sweeping out of the chamber to secure his private chambers. The only lighting, besides the alarm pulsing on the wall and lights warning on the panel, came from the backlighting on the orator’s dais, interrupted by the imposing silhouette of his old valor statue, reminiscent of his days as a Toa. He’d have to see about getting emergency lightsstones for times like this, when the newer, more versatile and more powerful, but less reliable and less efficient electrical lighting was more of a hindrance than a help. But, nowadays, even the Turaga himself would have a hard time getting his hands on a shipment of lightstones.
Arrakio grabbed his Rua Staff from his chamber, sure to lock the door on his way out. It was a prototype from one of the more eccentric Onu-Matoran who called it a Verity Actualization Hypno-Komau Idealization staff, after it's Kanohi-based power of rendering the target extremely suggestible - V.A.H.K.I staff, in short, but Arrakio had taken to calling it his Rua staff. Slamming one end of the staff against the doorframe to activate it. The figurehead on the top of the staff glowed to life, and only he could feel the subtle hum of power as it charged up. Just in case. He moved on to the adjacent Great Sundial chamber, first double checking the balcony doors, then returning to the main audience chamber that made up most of the top level of the Coliseum, and where he passed most of his days with his advisors and councilors and concerned citizens. And he saw he now had an audience.
He mentally primed his Kanohi, and leveled his staff at the intruder stooping over the control panel along the side of the room.
“Step away from the panel,” he ordered in his most authoritative voice. He was having trouble keeping a steady aim, and he realized it was because whatever this intruder was doing, they were slipping in and out of the visible range. “I said-“
“You have no idea what you have there,” the intruder interrupted. She flung an arm toward the orator’s dais, throwing switch after useless switch. Finally, she looked at him, and stopped shimmering through the shadows, with bright green eyes and heartlight flaring to life. She regarded him without fear. In fact, he recognized what burned in her eyes - barely checked rage. “And you have no idea how broken your city is.”
"Enlighten me," he invited in a carefully neutral tone. If his homestead and possibly his life weren't compromised, he would have been indignant - the audacity of this interloper, coming into his city, his headquarters, and his home, and tell him how to do his duty. But then again, isn't that what most of the Matoran who came to his audience chamber did, anyways?
"Do you have any idea what you have?" the intruder's voice rose in pitch, and she whirled, flinging an arm out at the valor statue on the dais. "Where are the stasis controls?" she demanded.
"You're not in any position to be making demands," Arrakio snapped, taking aim with his staff. He'd never had cause to use it before, although he'd come close in some of his council sessions with the more belligerent Ta-Matoran. He fired the staff.
The intruder leapt away, impossibly fast, shimmering back into the shadows, but not completely. A shower of sparks temporarily blinded him, and he stumbled back. Three large, gaping, slag-edged slashes had ruined the control panel.
He could only track her by the flickering silhouette. Backing toward his personal chambers, he caught movement on the dais. "Show yourself!" He fired another blast from the staff, but it met nothing, the bright energy dissipating against the wall. He could also hear his two guards frantically trying to breach the chamber doors to get to him, now.
The stasis cylinder was shifting. No, he realized, being toppled. Focusing his Kanohi Garai, he erased its gravity, ripping it free of its tubing and display wiring. He took a deep breath as stun gas began leaking into the room.
A solid kick knocked him flat and drove the air from his lungs, just managing a cry of pain and shock. The stasis cylinder crashed to the floor, sending shards of the outer crystalline casing spinning across the chamber. The intruder reappeared frighteningly close, crouching above him, face twisted in a snarl. "I'll be taking these." And his mask was ripped from his face, and the staff wrenched out of his grip. Arrakio became suddenly, gut-wrenchingly aware of his age and frailty. "Stay down, Turaga. I'm not here for you." And he was roughly shunted back, thumping against the ruined control panel. "I'm here for your captive."
"My..." he struggled to a sitting position, fighting the wave of dizziness and nausea that flooded over him in absence of his Kanohi. "What?"
"Come on," Erylist whispered, frantically sweeping aside the remains of the stasis cylinder. "Come on!" She cast one more glance at the Turaga, who was struggling to keep himself upright. She'd thrown his mask and staff to the far opposite edge of the chamber, where they'd be safe. Well, safe enough. She'd have to do something about the stun gas leaking into the chamber, thickening the air.
"Stop!" the Turaga cried, but his voice was noticeably weakening, shaking.
She ignored him, just as he'd clearly been ignoring the real problems in his city.
No. Her attention was now on the prone figure lying in the remains of the stasis cylinder.
"Seja," Erylist breathed, her voice also shaking. After all these years.
The Midnighter knelt at her sister's side, quickly checking her vitals while keeping the Turaga in view. Seja's was breathing slow and shallow, but she was breathing. Checking the fit of Seja's Kanohi, she rolled her sister onto her side, trying to work one of her magnificent, metallic wings out from under the debris of her prison.
"Seja, wake up," Erylist begged.
"I don't believe it," the Turaga was murmuring. He half-stumbled, half-fell a partial step in their direction.
"I said 'stay down'," Erylist growled, feinting a lunge toward him. He fell back, and she sunk to a protective crouch between him and her fallen sister. "Tell me where the gasline shut off is."
Arrakio laughed, a few cold syllables. "Not here."
With a frustrated growl, bordering on desperation, Erylist dragged Seja a few bodylengths to half-prop her up against the edge of the dais. She didn't have the first clue how to stopper the leaking stun gas, flowing freely from both ripped halves of the tubing now hanging out of the wall.
"You're out of time," the Turaga chuckled from the control panel. He nodded feebly in the direction of the double doors, whose hinges were now glowing red-hot.
"No!" Erylist snarled, leaping up.
She fired two exploding darts in rapid succession - one, two, and the door to the Great Sundial room was blasted inward and into oblivion. At almost the same time, the Matoran response team battered the double doors to the audience chamber in, and a dozen Matoran rushed into the room, setting up a perimeter, shouting and responding to commands.
"Halt!" a Ta-Matoran commanded her.
A Cobalt knelt by the Turaga's side, and one of his Optimacy operatives carefully fitted his Kanohi back on to his face. "Careful," he wheezed, getting to his feet and leaning heavily on the Matoran for support. The combination of getting his mask back and the stun gas escaping the room seemed to do him wonders. "She's a shadow-crawler. Don't let her out of your sights."
And they collectively leveled their weapons at her. Erylist didn't recognize the weapons, but they looked higher-caliber than concussive Crast blasters. She crouched low, taking as much in as she could at once. She ignored the commands to surrender and drop her weapons, eyes flickering to the high windows ringing the chamber, the arched ceiling struts, and ever so briefly out through the sundial room. As long as their attention was on her, they seemed content to ignore her sister. And she was going to keep it that way. "I know you'll find this hard to believe," she spoke slowly, gathering her concentration, and looking each of them in the eye as she turned slowly. "But I'm not your enemy."
"That's rich!" another Fire Brand snapped. "What about that Le-Matoran accomplice of yours that was seen fleeing the Coliseum right before the alarms went off? Would he say the same?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," she told him in as even of a tone as she could muster.
Before any of them could respond, she leapt up with a shout, pulling up her shadow cloak, swinging up into the vaulted ceiling struts. Pandemonium spread below as she rained shattered glass down on them, taking out multiple windows with her stolen Crast blaster from the Kuma-Kava hunt. Airflow and exit points - her two priorities. A few of their own shots sizzled past her, and she dumped more concentration to maintaining her shadow cloak as she saw one of the energy bolts sizzle through the reinforced ceiling strut effortlessly.
All the Matoran were shouting at once.
"Where is she?"
"Don't! You'll bring down the ceiling on us!"
"We can't just stand here!"
"Look for her shadow!" the Turaga's command rose above their confusion.
She'd already made it past them, into the Great Sundial room. "There! There! The balcony!" The shouts followed her there, but she'd already managed to deeply score the glass door leading to the balcony by the time they'd spotted her. Unable to hold her concentration any more, she gave up her cloak. She stowed her plasma-edged knife, and again drew the blaster, charging straight back at the Matoran and swinging the muzzle of her blaster wide, forcing them to duck. Vaulting over them, she fired her very last dart, and the balcony door shattered, glass flying everywhere.
Erylist stood up slowly from where she'd taken cover, behind the great gnomon, the fin of the Sundial. But she found she was rooted to the spot.
"Was it worth it?" Turaga Arrakio stood in the ruined doorway between the audience chamber and the sundial room and locked eyes with her, his Kanohi Garai alight. His tone was flat and chilling. He pointed his Rua staff at her, his guard Matoran still keeping their weapons trained on her, but standing clear. They all knew what it could do. "Was this all worth it?" he repeated, advancing toward her.
She regarded him in silence, meeting his unrelenting gaze with her own, still unflinching. Behind him, she saw her success beginning stir. The faintest edge of a smile crept onto her face, despite herself. "Duck," she whispered, and she hit the floor.
A scream that had been trapped for thousands of years and a searing, vengeful psionic lances ripped through the air and drove the Matoran and Turaga to their knees. With fierce, avian Suletu glowing, Seja, the vindictive seraph of the southern isles, rose from the remnants of her prison. She flexed her two pinions, testing the air, then crouched and stretched tall once, twice, as though she couldn't quite believe she could move, finally.
Erylist began to rise, slowly. "Seja..." she whispered, reaching out to her sister.
Seja's blood-violet gaze locked onto Erylist's, and the Midnighter cried out, breaking eye contact and clutching her head. Seja's unrelenting Suletu attack battered at her mind-shield.
"Seja! Stop!" Erylist pleaded, squeezing her eyes shut. "It's me!"
The harsh scraping of Seja's talons on the flagstones, and whistling rustle of her razor-edged wings through the air was the only warning Erylist had, as Seja broke into a sprint, straight toward her.
Erylist dove aside just in time, and scrambled to the balcony, staring hopelessly after the dark winged silhouette fleeing into the night sky.