IC: Korruhn, Grime, Kumu Peninsula (after leaving Sidra, before reuniting with Leklo)
Korruhn wasted no time as he said his last words to Sidra. With a brief farewell and best wishes to Taja, he turned and walked away from the pair, the corpse of Grime still slumped on his shoulder. The thought that this could be Dume shook the Toa to his core; it tore at every moral fiber and crumbled all his tenets like stone pillars. The man sold his people out; took advantage of Korruhn and all of the others, that much was clear. But, on the other hand, he had been the one to grant Korruhn this gift, the one who gave him a fighting chance to save his people; he had even laid his life on the line for him, twice.
Regardless, Korruhn knew in his core that he needed more answers, regardless of who Grime--or Dume--was. He was an asset, and this was war.
After a short while of walking, the Void-Touched found himself again staring at the whorling torrent of energy that denoted the portal to Icarax’ kingdom. He felt the energy seeping through the air around him, flowing through his veins. He knew Icarax would help him. He stepped through the portal.
Korruhn emerged in a place altogether different from the one he remembered. He stood in a hallway that stretched endlessly both ahead of him. If he turned around, it also extended endlessly behind him. There was no sign of the portal he had just stepped through. The floor underfoot was black stone, as were the walls. The only light came from a single lightstone embedded in the ceiling directly above him. It was cleverly recessed so as to be barely discernible, and it cast the round puddle of light in which the toa now stood. The shadows beyond the puddle quickly grew deep and dark; visibility extended maybe a few meters and no farther, even for Korruhn's sensitive eyes.
There was only one choice: forward or back?
“Icarax? Icarax?!” Korruhn called out into the endless shaft, to no reply. He looked ahead, and again behind. But again, nothing. He cursed. “Mata Nui be .”
Turning to his back, Korruhn began down the endless nothing, not sure if he would find Icarax, or even anything.
He stepped out of the puddle of light, but he only walked in the darkness for a moment before another light in the ceiling flicked on as he passed underneath, then another as he continued walking. The lights seemed to sense the motion of the being below through some ancient mechanism, and only turned on when someone passed by. In the same way, they extinguished themselves as the walker left them behind. This produced the uncanny illusion of walking in place: the walls and floor looked exactly the same, and because the lights turned off behind him, Korruhn couldn't tell how far he was from where he started. He wasn't sure if it mattered, anyway. Icarax's domain seemed to operate by its own rules.
After an uncertain amount of time, the hallway abruptly ended and he came to a door. The light that flicked on directly above illuminated its sheer, smooth surface. There was evidence of neither lock nor handle, and no way to open it
Then a voice rumbled out of the stone, low and dry and dusty:
"Who walks these halls?"
“I am Korruhn,” he replied, looking about, fruitlessly trying to source the noise. “I come to speak with Icarax.”
There was a long silence. Then the door slid open soundlessly, admitting Korruhn to enter. He passed through into a slightly wider, dimly lit hall. Though he didn't know it, this area was only accessible with explicit permission, permission only granted to a scarce few and even then, each and every one of them knew that breaking the trust invested in them with that privilege would have the most dire of consequences. This was where they did their work, and they made sure it was well protected.
Still, even with the best of security, given the right circumstances and enough misfortune, even this place could be infiltrated. In fact, every now and then Icarax would test the defenses themselves, tasking someone, witting or unwitting, to try make their way as deep into the temple complex as possible. Very few had ever managed to get away with it. As for the times someone had legitimately tried to break in without Icarax’s knowledge, well... most that had tried had been caught in the attempt and brutally punished for their hubris. As for the ones that survived... provisions had been made.
Icarax liked to stop by this hall sometimes just to look upon the intruders and relive the memory of hunting them down. They were displayed like trophies on either side of the room from one wall to the other, save for a few display cases that had yet to be filled. One of their most prized ‘guests’ was a black-clad toa of shadow —though, from what the aspect had learned about them, that had not been their original element. They were an absolutely magnificent specimen whose every feature hinted at malice and who had wielded a crystalline blade crafted so finely, it was hard for even Icarax to tell where its edge cut the air, even when resting in its display case. The other odd thing about them had been the tiny golden cuboid clutched in their hand which had proven impossible to pry free. No matter. It added to the mystique of the display.
Korruhn saw the room but did not know its history. Nevertheless, it was a dark, forboding place. The two halls of the hall were lined with stasis tubes, one of which a rahkshi stood before, hands clasped behind its back. its spines rattled as he entered, and it turned to look at him with cold eyes.
Korruhn took immediate notice of the Rakhshi. Something was… off. It looked as though it was monitoring the stasis tubes, but in the Toa’s limited experience they were warriors through-and-through. And, on that note, what could this place even be? He looked to the Rahkshi.
“Who are you? What is this place?” He said, half-not expecting a reply. “Where is Icarax?”
“It is I,” the rahkshi said. It turned to face him fully, hands still clasped behind its back. “I did not expect you to return so swiftly, Korruhn. Is it done?”
“Regretfully, no. I encountered another of your kind, an Uhuraz. He slowed me down, and he killed Grime,” he replied, holding up the Matoran. “I need him alive, and I’m gonna need whatever else you’ve got to help. There’s a NUVA Dark Hunter outside the door.”
“And the Makoki Stone?”
“Safe. If I can get to Kini-Nui soon, I can acquire the ones we don’t yet have, if I have the capability to incapacitate the Hunter..” Korruhn played it safe, he wasn’t quite sure how to reveal to the Aspect that he had just given it to that very Hunter outside the door. But she would get her punishment soon enough.
“Safe? It will be safe at the Great Temple, where it belongs. That is where I sent you, is it not? As part of our agreement.”
“Yeah, and, as you said yourself, I’m a Chronicler. I need Grime, and I need some upgrades. I know you can do both,” Korruhn replied. “Look, standing here arguing about the agreement we both know isn’t going to get anything done for either of us. So give me what I need, so I can accomplish what you need.”
“I need nothing from you.”
Icarax’s voice was calm, as empty as an old well. “Even now, the Stone has been taken where I wished. Perhaps its bearer has the strength to pierce the veil. Perhaps not. Regardless, you have emptied yourself of all purpose, and it is no longer your burden to bear.”
“That Dark Hunter is going to be the undoing of your world; she seeks the crown and the throne for herself; that much is clear. So even if it isn’t a problem now, it’s gonna be,” Korruhn replied. “Now, are you going to bring this one back or not? If you’re not gonna help, whatever, but I have to do, Aspect.”
The rahkshi stepped closer. Its cold eyes swept over Grime's dead body. They seemed to soften for a moment, then they blinked horizontally and looked back up at Korruhn.
"I will. Lay him down."
He was surprised that Icarax agreed, but he wasn’t going to question it now. Reaching to his shoulder, Korruhn removed the battered, blood-soaked body of Grime and set it down between himself and the Rahkshi form of Icarax.
“Here,” he said. “Shame I didn’t have your abilities, Icarax. Perhaps this whole thing could have been prevented.”
"Perhaps," the Aspect repeated in an emotionless voice. "Empires have risen and fallen on that word."
They turned to their task. Dropping to one knee, they placed a claw upon Grime's chest and raised another to the ceiling, as if grasping at a star that Korruhn could not see. Their deep, ageless voice rang out against the dark stone:
Death’s reign is life's beginning
Heaven’s lights are minds dreaming
Destined paths cross in breathing
Replace one’s rhythm with another’s beating
A long silence followed. Then Grime's coughed weakly and began to breathe. His eyelids fluttered, then opened.
“Such is our lot in life, I suppose. I was brought into this world a Matoran, and at day's end, I am still that Matoran. Still, I often find myself thinking of what life would be like were I an Aspect instead.”
Grime suddenly opened his eyes.
“Grime!” Korruhn exclaimed, running and kneeling next to him. “Grime, it’s me, you’re safe.”
The matoran blinked away the bleariness of death. He looked around, then his eyes focused on Korruhn.
"Where… what…" he managed. He frowned as he tried to remember what had happened, and to make sense of where he was now.
"Stannis," he said at last, wincing as if the name tasted sour in his mouth. "You let him touch me. What did he do? What did you let him do to me?"
“Miserix is gone, you had no tether to her anyway. So, we severed it,” Korruhn stated. “But, you’re my friend, Grime, and I still have much yet to learn from you.”
“What do you know of the name Dume?”
"My… my tether?" Grime asked. Then his eyes widened. "You took her from me?"
Though still weak, he managed to push himself shakily to his feet. Icarax backed away, his rahkshi face as unreadable as ever. Grime didn't seem to notice.
"You say you're my friend," the Matoran said angrily. "But you did the one thing I said not to do. Now you've brought me back just to ask me questions. Is that all I am to you? A way to get what you want?"
“She left both of us,” Korruhn replied. “And you died. Now you’re here, of your own volition. You are a Builder, Grime. Not a slave. Stand up and be proud of yourself and where you came from.”
Korruhn noticed Icarax back away. Most curious.
“I am a Toa,” he continued. “It is my job to protect you, and I have. My question may be frank , but if you know Dume, or are him; I need to know before we do anything else. That name is not well liked on this island.”
"What did he give you?" Grime said, continuing to ignore Korruhn's question. "What did Stannis give you that was worth bending to his will?"
“He listened to me,” Korruhn replied. “I do not trust him either, but I am only one Toa. I need all the power I can get if I am to accomplish anything. Miserix abandoned the both of us at every turn. She let you die, twice.”
Grime began to pace nervously. His face was mostly expressionless, but he couldn't hide the occasional flash of anger or fear that contorted his features. He looked around as if searching for an answer, then looked back at Korruhn.
"You don't know what you've done," he said. "But there might still be time to fix it. If we move fast. I need you to teach me the taboos you know. We need all the power we can get."
“I don’t, apparently,” Korruhn replied, annoyance in his voice. He didn’t expect such anger for saving Grime. Alas. “So how about you learn from Miserix’ mistakes and start telling me what the is going on so I’m not in the dark here?”
"There's no time," Grime said desperately. "If you're really my friend then you need to trust me."
"He's right," Icarax interrupted. "There is no time. The end is nigh, sooner than even I had expected. My sibling approaches. You must leave before they arrive."
"I promise I'll tell you everything," the matoran said, ignoring Icarax. "Just trust me. Please."
Korruhn chewed the words in his mouth as he contemplated. “Fine. We need to leave. And we need discretion. You’re riding in my backpack.”