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ZOMBI3S

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Year 13
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  • Birthday 05/25/1992

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  1. PAGE THREEEEEEEE I did it. I finished Part VI. Woof that was hard. One more part to go! Cheers friends
  2. Chapter 19 - Clarity Sithrak collapsed to the deck, clawing at his throat, blood covering his chest and fingers. Eyes wide, he gazed up to Takua, gasping and sputtering as more and more blood flowed, washed quickly away by the rain. His bony fingers clutched and clasped, contorting as they desperately tried to stop it, to save himself from slipping away, but it was no use. He writhed, strength failing, his life slipping away with every beat of his heat. And Takua watched as he reached out one last time. The Kryll’s nails clawed at his boot, perhaps a last attempt to do him harm, or a maybe a final, desperate cry for help. Either way, the hand soon fell limp, and Takua saw the light leave his eyes. It was done. Sithrak was gone. Lightning flashed behind him, thunder booming as he cracked his neck, feeling what could only be closure, or maybe clarity. He looked to Rashi, unapologetic and unmoving. And the Kryll, it seemed, had nothing to say about her captain’s death. Fwoosh! The ship rocked to the side as a great wave smashed into it, spraying them with water, and suddenly they were back in the madness. Rashi sprinted for the wheel, grabbing hold and pulling, righting the ship’s course just as another wave spilled over the deck. Takua moved past her without engaging, agreeing to whatever unspoken arrangement she seemed to have offered. He sprinted down the steps to the main deck, back into the flurry of Matoran and Kryll, into the chaos of battle. Jaka. He had to find Jaka. Takua grabbed the deck’s railing as the ship rocked, riding up the crest of a wave, dodging a rolling barrel that careened past, and — “Loose!” The far-away orders of Matoran, and Takua hit the deck as they crested the wave, a volley of fiery arrows flying over his head, sinking into the deck and a few unlucky Kryll behind him. The ship rocketed forward, sailing down again as Takua scampered along the ship, whirling around a pair of Kryll and Matoran who locked blades. A Ga-Matoran, a Po-Matoran! But he had no time make allies; he had to get back to the hold. He had to find Jaka! “Takua…!” He whirled around at the sound of his name, only to be met with water crashing over the railing. He blinked, wiping his vision clear, seeing the warship fly past, and through the sheets of rain — a Matoran, hanging onto its rigging, calling out to him. “Takua!” the voice was barely audible over the storm. “…Rope!” it yelled. Takua squinted, recognizing the Po-Matoran’s mask “…Sorin!? Is that you!?” “Grab the rope!” he yelled, tossing a length of heavy cord out across the water, but they were moving too fast, and in a second the warship was out of reach. “I’ll find you,” Takua yelled out as the Po-Matoran disappeared into the dark. “I’ll find you!” he repeated, louder, hoping his ally had heard. Thunk! A battle axe sank into the rail behind him and Takua whirled around, face to face with a brute, the Kryll’s claws reaching out, trying to reclaim him as a prisoner. But Takua had no time for this. He dropped as the ship rocked again, batted once more by an enormous wave, and slid across the slippery wood, right through the warrior’s legs. He sprinted away, around the mast and toward the door to the hold. Jaka… Jaka! He prayed he was okay, that he hadn’t lost too much blood, that he could patch him up and get safely out of here before — “Incoming!” Another flaming barrel, this one smashing into the ship just a dozen feet to his left. Splintering the floor, smashing the flagship into another wave, Takua shielded his face as wood and metal flew past, as more water coated the already soaked deck. He righted himself, moving ever forward to the door… there it was! Just a few strides away — and it burst open before he could reach it. …Jaka. Takua breathed a sigh of relief. His mangled hand was bandaged, his thumb and only three fingers sticking out of a great ball of white wrappings. His shield already rested on his back and a small dagger was clutched in his off hand. It was obvious someone had freed him, patched him up, helped him find his things. And yet, there was pain on his face. Pain at the sight of Takua. Maybe it was his wounds. Maybe it was the blood, still not yet washed off his mask, or the wild look in his eyes that made Jaka open his mouth. But for whatever reason, instead of being thrilled at seeing his friend alive and free, Jaka’s initial response was… worry. “Takua…” he said softly, unfazed by the chaos of the storm. “What have you done?” But there was no time to talk. “Rogue wave!” “Wave!” Yelling, screaming, all around them, and the fighting paused as Matoran and Kryll alike looked up, seeing with horror the tsunami that rushed toward them. The Matoran ship was far away now, already riding for it, flying forward as it challenged the hundred-foot-tall wall of water. But their ship was sideways, half-sinking, and time was running out. “Come on!” Takua yelled as he grabbed Jaka’s arm, pulling him back toward Sithrak’s cabin, but Rashi had already pulled at the wheel, and the ship wrenched sideways, throwing them off-balance. It sent them, the Kryll, and anything not bolted down careening to the far railing. Takua latched onto it, holding on for dear life as the rudder pulled them, slowly turning — but they weren’t going to make it. Already at the base of the wave, Takua looked up with horror as the water towered above them, curling over, blotting out the sky before — he took one last look at Jaka. And it fell upon them. Takua was torn from the ship, pummeled by thousands of pounds of merciless water. There was sea. Sky. Sea. Sky. White. And then — black. ~~~ Through the bumpy, rumbly carriage ride, Aya waited. She sat, cloak pulled tight around her, eyes baggy as she stared half-lidded at Mako and the other Ta-Matoran guard. The Ga-Matoran noble sitting beside her nervously twiddled her thumbs. The Ussal crab that pulled their vehicle scuttled over the volcanic soil, and still, Aya waited. She tried not to pick at her bandages. She tried to think of nothing. She tried her best to stay awake. But she was thoroughly exhausted. She was on her way out of the city. Kokani had found her a healer and they’d patched her up, smushed ointment on her burns and let her rest for a few hours. As if that mattered, for with the city in utter chaos she’d gotten little sleep. People ran amok, yelling about the end of days, lamenting the Toa and Turaga, weeping for friends and family lost in the night’s violence. But to their credit, what remained of the Ta-Koro guard had stepped in and saved what little sanity the City of Fire had left. There was peace for the moment. How long that would last, however, remained to be seen. Aya herself didn’t know what to think. Maybe she was still in shock, maybe she was too tired, or maybe she was just stubborn enough to not believe it yet. But the loss of… well, everyone of importance, left her feeling… confused. If anything at all. Raipu. Aya managed an exasperated sigh. It had been Raipu all along, hiding a single canister of gas in a chest beneath his bed. A single dose for a single day, saved for the one Matoran who could give him the access he needed to carry out his plan. She looked to Mako’s Matatu, sunken, pale and just as exhausted as she was — but he looked better than the previous night. He’d spilled the details of Raipu’s plot as he detoxed, shaking as he recalled being a prisoner in his own body. Constantly teetering on the edge of sanity, he’d been unable to fight Raipu’s commands, unable to tell anyone as he’d carried just a few explosives into elder Ta-Koro, adding more every day until there was enough to destroy the old city. He’d wanted to resign. He’d pleaded with Kokani and Illum to relieve him of his duties but they’d both refused. Because they needed everyone now. Everyone who remained. Aya watched him as the scuttling of their Ussal slowed, and the carriage rolled to a stop. Mako blinked, looking almost alive again. Aya suspected they wanted to keep him close — if only for fear of what Mako’s guilt might make him do. The guard opened the door, and both Ta-Matoran exited. Aya motioned for the Ga-Matoran noble to follow, and by the time she exited the carriage and her boots hit the ground, she found a circle of Matoran waiting in the bright light outside. “So here we are.” Aya glanced around, realizing this was Illum’s informal way of starting the meeting. It was a cloudy, windy, mid-afternoon, and they were at the crossroads outside the city, where they’d first met Illum and the other Turaga upon their arrival. It seemed the most private place, with the city in its current state. But instead of Turaga and Toa standing between the silent black obelisks, there were only a few carriages, and their Matoran passengers now standing outside. Illum and Rae. Kokani and Ihko. A high-ranking Po-Matoran clerk, and the low-ranking Ga-Matoran noble that stood beside Aya. A few members of the Sanctum. A handful of advisors from each Koro. Some of the Ta-Koro guard… and Mako. “Here we are,” the Onu-Matoran said solemnly. “All that remains.” This was the highest leadership they had left — and Aya hardly knew any of their names. “We’re here for obvious reasons,” Illum went on. “To decide our next move, before we fracture into chaos.” “People are still unaccounted for,” the clerk from Po-Koro interjected. “The dead aren’t buried yet; we’ve had no time to even mourn. Can’t this wait?” “No…!” came Mako’s voice suddenly, surprising many, Aya included. The Ta-Matoran straightened his gait and lifted his chin, forcing his weakened voice to stay strong. “…We can mourn when we ourselves are dead,” he said sharply, and the stout-hearted Guard Captain he was known to be started to show. “There is no time for council or deliberation. We need a plan. Today. Here and now. Or we will splinter and fall, and the Kryll will have won.” “Unity…” Illum replied. “That is what I propose. Throughout all of history’s darkest hours, the Koro have only ever survived by uniting under one banner.” A murmur rippled through the crossing as people looked to each other, but Illum silenced them with a wave of his hand. Controversial or not, it was obvious he had the most power here. His honeyed words began to flow as he stood, cloak rippling in the wind. “Each of you has a choice to make,” he said, turning around the circle, making eye contact with everyone present. “You can go, or you can stay. It’s that simple.” Aya listened, meandering around the circle’s edge until she stood a few feet away from Kokani. The group murmured again, but she and Ko-Matoran were silent. They made brief eye contact as Illum went on. “You can go, or you can stay,” he nodded, drumming home his point. “You can go back to your respective Koro and deliver the terrible news: that we are lost and leaderless. And from there you will deliberate, you and the others in your caste. You will talk and act and push and prod, perhaps appointing new Turaga quickly, perhaps not,” he shrugged, wrapping his cloak closer as a gust whipped through them. “And I wouldn’t blame you. It’s a sensible thing to do, and I’d be doing the same if my predecessor had not already passed. But just know that while you do that, our enemies will rally.” And he paused again, if only for dramatic effect. “They will grow under Makuta’s shadow, they will dig deep and spread their roots, and when they return you may find all your blades together are not strong enough to cut them down.” Illum looked around, his eyepatch shining in the cloudy light. “Or you can stay here,” he rebutted, gesturing to the dirt before them. “And you can send word to your people that we have come together. You can say that our late Turaga wished for us to follow our ancient virtues — to unite. And overcome our foes together.” He paused, turning briefly to face Kokani and Aya. “That is… if we choose a leader.” “And allow us to guess… that leader should be you?” It was Ihko who had spoken, challenging the Onu-Matoran. His sanctum members stood tall behind him, and his Miru smiled, gladly resisting Illum’s power. “…No.” Aya looked up, just as surprised as Ihko. “No?” “No,” Illum shook his head, pulling his cloak tighter as the breeze rustled again. “No… as much as I would like to. I have support among the Underworld, but it would be in bad taste. Krosis’ attack paints me as a villain — I brought the one who betrayed us, and it was my trial cut short by the loss of the Turaga. I cannot use this for political gain without sacrificing my credibility.” Aya huffed, leaning back against an obelisk. She didn’t know what to make of Illum anymore, but it was a valid point. The Onu-Matoran went on. “If I cannot earn your trust here, in this windy crossing, how would I ever win the hearts of all Mata Nui’s people?” “Then who?” Mako added, remorse peppering his professionalism. “It cannot be me, for I have already failed you all. A Turaga of one Koro is already much to bear. But a Turaga of six? Who among us is strong enough? Look at us — we are not Mata Nui’s leaders. We are the followers, suddenly forced into leadership because everyone else is gone. Who among us is brave enough?” And the murmur spread again. Matoran looked to the ground, avoiding Mako’s question. He was right — if not Illum, no one in this circle had any real experience. No one that remained was willing to take up such a responsibility. Aya sighed, kicking the dirt. It wouldn’t be that Po-Matoran — he was scrawny and awkward and didn’t seem have ever led more than a Mahi. And the Ga-Matoran, she was too quiet, too shy, too unknown for a position such as this. Ihko, maybe, but he didn’t speak up, and he wasn’t nearly charismatic enough to unite Mata Nui. She folded her arms, knowing it in the back of her mind. The circle was quiet. One of the Ussal crabs scuttled in place. Only the black obelisks stood tall as everyone huddled before the wind. Aya hoped someone else would speak, but nothing came. She huffed. “Are we going to dance around this all afternoon or do I have to say it?” The crossing was still, and all eyes turned to her. She should’ve felt out of place — she was a nobody, after all. And speaking up in a council to determine the fate of the island? It went against everything in her character. But most everyone here was a nobody, and at this point, she was simply too tired to care. Aya rolled her eyes. “Kokani, it has to be you.” The Ko-Matoran lifted his head. Another wave of mumblings ran through the obelisks. “I think — !” Illum stood up, stifling the noise as he repeated himself. “I think I speak for many of us when I say there is no one else more qualified.” Kokani spoke. “I am no Turaga, Illum.” “Neither was I, until I became one.” “You led my guardsmen when I could not,” Mako nodded. “You didn’t hesitate when my city needed you. You took up the mantle when no one else did.” Illum followed. “We’ve always had our differences, but we work for a common goal.” He paused, lowering his voice. “And you know, more than anyone else, what has to be done.” “Ko-Koro will follow you,” Ihko nodded. “That should not need to be said.” “You’re almost legend among my people,” the Po-Matoran spoke up. “I grew up hearing how you fought the Toa of Shadow in Po-Koro’s streets. And you were there when Pohatu returned to us. You’ve saved many Po-Matoran lives already.” And before Kokani could reply, Illum began to work his magic, addressing everyone once more. “Look! This is Kokani of Ko-Koro, standing humbly before you. Valued friend of the late Turaga Matau, member of the Sanctum Guard, protector of the Atouri, soldier of Mata Nui. He has saved countless lives in the battles across the land; he fought alongside the Toa in Ga-Koro. He rallied for Ta-Koro, uniting us when we were caught unaware — if not for him, many of us would not have made it through the night.” Illum paused, waiting for a rebuttal, but no one spoke and so he continued. “If any of you object, do so now — but know that your other option is defeat. Know, that if you do not stand with us in the light… you will undoubtedly become lost in darkness.” And the clearing was deathly silent. Only the wind rippled the fields around them. Only the clouds moved above. Only the air spoke, its breath powerless against Illum’s words. “…Let Mata Nui be our witness,” he said finally, and he turned to Kokani, his mask — for once — entirely sincere. “That is… if you’ll have us, Kokani.” A few more seconds of silence, and Aya leaned over, “You’re not a warrior anymore, Kokani. You’re a leader,” she shrugged, nonchalantly whispering in his ear. “I mean… whether you like it or not, at this point.” And Kokani muttered to himself. “Six peoples, one destiny.” Aya nodded. “We’ve no more heroes, and so we must make our own,” Kokani stood, addressing all those before him, assuming his role without reprise. “Send word to your Koro. All who remain, all our soldiers, all who are brave and strong enough to fight — say that I summon them. Say that I challenge them, to live up to their duty, to unite under this shared cause and fulfill our common destiny.” And there was a voice — some lone advisor, calling out from within the crowd. “We stand with you, Turaga.” “Tell them we will walk the path of our ancestors.” Kokani said, raising his volume. “Tell them we will unify upon the ancient stones of the Kini Nui, and from there — we sail. To the fabled lands of the Eastern Continent, to the shining White Tower across the sea.” And another voice, louder than before. “Turaga Kokani!” “We will no longer sit idly by while destiny is decided for us,” he went on, his words carried, amplified by the wind. “No… we will take it for our own. We will take everything we have — all our warriors, all our ships, everyone your Koro can spare to give. And we’ll take this fight to the Kryll. We will take this fight… to Makuta himself!” “Turaga Kokani.” “…Turaga Kokani!” And a chant had started to form, growing louder by the second. “Turaga… Turaga! Turaga Kokani!” “For as of today, we stand together,” the Ko-Matoran nodded, approving of their enthusiasm. “We will stand, proud and tall against Makuta and his minions. Without Turaga, without Toa… we will stand as our own heroes, and we will stand as one. Six peoples… one destiny! United, under Mata Nui.” And the circle erupted with cheers. They showed their support for the newfound leader, but Kokani didn’t bathe in it. He didn’t even seem pleased. His mask was as stoic as ever. His eyes were cold and blue as he turned back to Aya, seemingly immune to the praise he now received. The two took a moment to connect, each of them processing what exactly this meant, and how it would change their lives. But finally, Kokani nodded to her, and finished his speech with a promise — a vow. “We’ll find Takua,” he said, now low and unapologetic. He clenched his jaw, swearing it before her, carving the words into her mind. And Aya bowed her head, making the vow herself. “We’ll find Takua,” Kokani repeated. “And we’ll end this — once and for all.” ~~~ Hand over hand, Krosis pulled the rope in silence, slowly unfurling the sail of his vessel. His eyes stared up to the expanding cloth, and to the twilight sky beyond it, lost in thought as the gentle waves lapped against Mata Nui’s shore. It was a small ship, only large enough for him and a handful of others. Most of his circle had already left for the Eastern Continent, and so he would not arrive on a flagship with fanfare, he would not participate in the great journey his peers often spoke of. No, he would have this simple sailboat, arguably little more than a dingy. A humble vessel, for a humbled king. “All aboard?” His captain called out, and Krosis nodded to him. With the sail at its full height, their anchor was pulled, and the ship began to rock against the waves. Krosis moved to the bow, choosing only the spray of the sea for company. It should have been a victory. It should have been the crowning jewel on his campaign, and one could argue that it was. But it didn’t feel like that. It was muddled. Tainted, withered… poisoned by the price he’d paid. Perhaps Krosis was a fool for sending him. Perhaps he should’ve sent grunts, soldiers he had no personal connection to, but… no. Only he could have led this operation. Only he had the heart, the spirit, the will… to give everything he had, with full knowledge that he very likely wouldn’t come back. Blood and fire… only Noruk could have done it. Krosis watched the waves as the wind filled their sail, drumming his claws against the ship’s railing. He given so much for this cause, and he felt it now, more than ever before — the cost of his actions; the weight of his deeds. Every day, it seemed to grow heavier. Noises pulled him back to reality. A few shouts, the sound of a rope cast overboard, of something being pulled on deck. But he knew what was happening, so he didn’t feel the need to turn around. Rather, he grimaced, annoyed that this thorn in his side had returned once again. He narrowed his eyes, staring out to sea as he heard footsteps approach from behind. “Were you going to leave without me?” The voice sounded irritated, and so Krosis matched it. “I wait for no one.” “You said you’d take me. I was promised.” “You’re a fool, Raipu.” “You owe me.” Krosis turned around, looking down on the Po-Matoran. He crossed his arms, letting out a quiet sigh. “This is what you want then? The White Tower? Your payment was not enough?” “I was given visions,” Raipu held his ground, his mask sweaty, clearly having rushed to meet the ship in time. He paused to catch his breath. “I must see him. I… I was promised.” “You were promised….” Krosis couldn’t help but smile and shake his head. “Like I said: you’re a fool.” But Raipu’s anger was evident, and he put his foot down, bold against the King of the Kryll. “You couldn’t have done it without me. You will take me to him. You owe me!” “I owe you nothing,” Krosis spat, tired of his disrespect. He took a step forward, advancing. “You made your deal with Makuta, not I. You betrayed your people, not I. Now tell me, what did the darkness promise you? Power? Riches? A life you lost long ago?” Raipu stumbled, hesitating as Krosis hit the nail on the head. But he remained resolute, making his demand once again. “…Take me to him.” “Face it — you were used, Raipu. You’ll find nothing at the White Tower.” Krosis looked down on him, studying his frantic mask, reading him like a book. “None can bring back the dead — not you, not I, not Makuta or Mata Nui himself. What’s done is done.” And he turned to face the sea once more. “Take my advice… accept it. And move on.” There was a moment of silence where Krosis looked to the horizon, feeling Raipu’s eyes boring into the back of his head. He watched the clouds, thin and wispy against the sky’s gradient, unconcerned with whatever crossed the Po-Matoran’s mind. Raipu had played his part; he’d delivered results — but he was no longer needed. And Krosis didn’t have the patience to entertain those he didn’t need. “…Take me to him! You have to!” “Go home, Po-Matoran.” And Raipu must have been desperate, for Krosis turned his head at the sound of drawn steel — but his guards were close enough. A short scuffle, a few grunts as blows made their mark, and in a second the Matoran was restrained, his dagger clattering to the deck. With an exasperated breath, the King of the Kryll turned back to face him, shaking his head. “…So be it.” With more annoyance than anger, he moved, waving away his guards as he wrapped his claws around Raipu’s neck, lifting him off the ground. Wide-eyed, the Matoran struggled, fingers grasping at his arm, but Krosis held strong. Dangling him over the edge of ship, he stared at Raipu’s mask, gasping for air, hardly able to form words. “…Wait! …Please!” Krosis clicked his mandibles, silent as he drew a blade from his belt. The protosteel flashed in the setting sun, partially serrated, and inlaid with a sliver of gold — a blade he knew Raipu would recognize. “Krosis… please…!” Raipu choked. “Don’t…!” But the words were lost, and Krosis made it quick. Three times he sank the blade into Raipu’s gut, and the Matoran let out a slight moan. His eyes pained, his struggles subsiding, Krosis held him, suspended above the water, watching as the color drained from his Hau. Raipu’s grasping fingers faltered, and Krosis looked him up and down. “I pity you.” And he released his grip, letting the Po-Matoran fall. In an instant he had disappeared, leaving only a cloud of blood in the water. In an instant, Raipu was gone — lost beneath the waves of the endless sea. Krosis turned around, nodding his guards and crew away, wishing to be alone once more. He sank low, resting his tired, golden armor against the ship’s railing as he pulled out a cloth and began to clean the weapon. He took a minute, fingers moving automatically as he watched the fabric slowly stain red. The weight returned, hanging heavy from his shoulders as he finished his work. And with a deep breath, he sheathed Takua’s dagger once more. Soon, he thought. Soon… it will all be over. ~End of Part VI~
  3. Chapter 18 - Acceptance It happened before she could move. It happened before she could think. A chain of explosions up the column, obliterating elder Ta-Koro in an instant. An eruption of fire and smoke and sulfur and stone, Aya was blown onto her back, sent sliding along the narrow bridge as scorching dust billowed out, fiery debris raining down. Something hit her in the mask and her vision went spotty. Ears ringing, the very air sucked out of her lungs, she slid to a halt, scrambling for traction as a second shockwave sent singeing embers washing over her. With only her sense of touch remaining, she felt the bridge shake, and she knew she had to move. Nearly blind, she reached out for anything, finding a broken boulder to pull herself up. Needles in her chest, she wheezed to her feet, stumbling forward, knowing the narrow structure beneath her would soon give way to gravity. Finding traction, she tore off, Rae’s blurry shape just ahead of her, fumbling as fast as she could through the steaming cloud of smoke. Her legs like lead, she sprinted as the bridge lurched, cracking under its own weight, and Aya yelled, her voice silent in her ringing ears. Pushing off the moment before the stone fell away, she sailed through the air, clamoring for a brief, terrible second before her fingers met something solid. Hands. Helping hands. They held her, just out of danger’s reach. Her senses still fuzzy, she latched onto Kokani’s arm, legs dangling hundreds of feet above the Lake of Fire. The Ko-Matoran’s grip held strong, and with the help of another he pulled her up, onto solid ground and out of harm’s way. Aya coughed, at the edge of ruined bridge, under the lip of the Mangai. Still wheezing, she realized it was Illum who also knelt beside her. “Aya….” Sound returned to her as someone spoke, and she sat up, taken aback that the Onu-Matoran had helped save her life. She blinked, unable to move as she processed the last minute of her life, before seeing Rae beside her, seemingly doing the same. Illum’s Ussal separated the four from the crowd of Matoran outside the Mangai’s shell, but her attention was drawn back the way she’d come. Smoke curled into the night sky, thinning just enough to see, and Aya turned her charred mask to the Lake of Fire, and what remained of the old city. It was gone. A pile of broken buildings and toppled towers, barely visible through the raining ash, sinking ever-so-slowly into the magma. The pillar was gone. The council chamber was gone. Noruk and his warriors were gone. The Mangai had claimed it all. “No… how…?” Aya whispered to herself, staring in disbelief. She watched the molten rock swallow, waiting for a sign, a signal that would mean the Toa were still alive. She stared with bated breath, ready for the rocks to move, the fire to give way, searching for any hint of elemental power. Aya rubbed her eyes, expecting six heroic figures to rise from the ash, proudly carrying the Turaga to safety. But the seconds ticked by, and the city sank lower. The Mangai grew quiet, already forgetting the Kryll’s explosives, already settling back into its gentle, simmering standard. Aya swiveled her head, eyes flicking to anyone who would meet her. “But… the Toa!” she stammered. “Where did… they can’t have….” No one spoke. Even outside, the great crowd of guards, soldiers, and civilians were silent. Only Kokani shifted, placing a gentle hand on Aya’s shoulder. She swallowed, her throat parched and dry, suddenly nauseous. “…The Turaga…” she objected, but the scene was etching itself in her mind, making itself known. She didn’t believe it. She couldn’t believe it. But with every second she watched the boiling lake, the more her eyes told her the truth — Ta-Koro was gone. Aya frowned. She shook her head, refusing reality. “No.” But there it was: the crumbling stone, the smoking ruins, dripping lower and lower into the molten earth. No movement, save for that caused by gravity. No sign of life, save for that of the volcano. The Matoran could do nothing but watch, and realize their new truth. Ta-Koro was gone. The Turaga were gone. The Toa were gone. They were alone. ~~~ Sithrak paused. He stared at Takua’s silhouette, mouth agape, eyes wide. There was only a second of silence before he whispered to himself, an astonished smile spreading across his face. “So, it’s true….” “Come on!” Takua roared, storming forward, ignoring Jaka’s unconscious form as Sithrak stumbled back, readying his dagger. Takua lashed out, feeling nothing from his bleeding fists, swinging at the Kryll’s head, missing as he jumped back, seemingly both terrified and ecstatic. “Yes! That’s the Takua I know!” Sithrak teetered as he dodged Takua’s claws, almost tripping over a fallen barrel. “That’s the one I want to see!” Takua bellowed, charging, half-catching his foe as the Kryll almost slipped away, but not quite. His fingers closed around his forearm, and Takua spun around, whipping him into a pile of crates and sending him crashing to the floor. He lunged again, attacking with wild ferocity, his fingers clawing at Sithrak’s mandible before he evaded again, hopping nimbly back to the stairs. “Just a finger, huh?” he teased, scuttling away. “That’s all it took to see the real you?” “Fight me!” Takua yelled, fed up as he sprang again, but the Kryll rolled to the side, sliding under his arms and popping up, slicing a shallow line up Takua’s shoulder with the knife. Enraged but still numb, Takua responded without pause, whirling around, his knuckles meeting the Kryll’s cheek. Thunk! Sithrak dropped like a rock, his skinny frame no match for Takua’s strength. The knife clattered out of his hands, and he breathed heavy, clawing at the floor to rise and escape. But Takua was on him, grabbing his shoulders. He flipped him over and sank a knee in his chest, pining him down as he unleashed his fists. One! Two! Three…! The blows sank into the Kryll’s face, stunning him, bloodying an eye before he could respond. But then a flash of dark armor had caught Takua’s fist, holding him — just long enough for the Kryll to sink his teeth into Takua’s shoulder. Takua yelled, the jagged mandibles cutting into his flesh, and Sithrak managed to roll over, pinning his arm. Takua struggled, clawing at the back of his head, punching him to no avail before he shifted forward, freeing his arm. Iron fingers latched onto the Kryll’s jaw, his other hand securing a grip the back of his skull, and — Takua pulled. Sithrak’s eyes widened and he tried to disengage, but Takua was too fast. Both of them screaming, Takua ripped the Kryll’s head from his bite, separating the mandible from his skull with a sickening crunch. Sithrak screeched, stumbling off him, falling backward as he clutched a gaping, bloody hole in his jaw. A look of surprised horror on his face, he scrambled to regain his footing, retreating back to the stairs. Takua breathed heavy as he sat up, yanking the severed mandible from the base of his neck. It came out with a spurt of blood, and he scowled, throwing it at Sithrak’s feet. The Kryll faltered. “Come on!” Takua roared, rolling his shoulder, unfazed by the blood flowing from it. “Is that all you have!?” Sithrak clutched his wounded jaw, lungs heaving, body trembling. He watched Takua stand, then let out a maddened hiss, fleeing up the stairs. The door swung shut behind him. Takua paused only to grab the Kryll’s knife, then gave chase. He was halfway up the stairs when something slammed into the ship, a deafening boom sounding from above. The hold rocked side to side as more supplies fell to the floor, and Takua paused, looking up. He knew that this was more than just a wall of water. But a second later he was moving again — whatever went on outside didn’t matter. All that mattered was Sithrak. The door slammed open and he found himself in the crew’s quarters — and pure pandemonium. It was dark, the scattered lanterns swinging wildly, but through the unused hammocks Takua could see Kryll running amok, supplies toppled over, weapons strewn about the floor. The ship veered wildly again, and Takua steadied himself against the wall, now seeing at the far end — a great hole blown through the ship’s hull. Wind and rain and moonlight poured in, the waves outside rising and falling with a force he’d never seen. Saltwater spilled into the ship as every crest lapped its edges, and Takua righted himself, fingers clinging to Sithrak’s dagger. There! Just a few hammocks away was a Kryll he recognized. “Where is he!?” he demanded, storming forward, and Chief looked up, stunned at his appearance. “Where’s Sithrak!?” “What — you!? How did you — ?” “I’m going to make this easy,” Takua glared, brandishing the knife as he grabbed Chief by his collar, barely noticing the crew member at his feet, an arrow sticking out of his stomach. “Tell me where he is, or you’re dead.” Chief didn’t put up a fight. “On deck! Or in his quarters! He went up the stairs in a hurry; I don’t know!” Takua scowled but threw him aside unharmed, turning back to the stairs and making his move. Upward, hearing more sounds of anarchy. Yelling, orders trying to quell confusion, ropes pulled, sails furled… blades clashing. Up, up the stairs he went, energy pouring through him, tension rising in his chest, until he met the double doors at their peak. Throwing his shoulder, he shoved them open and saw the mayhem. Lightning streaked through sheets of rain, and Kryll ran about, some trying to hold their ship together, others firing arrows into the night. Takua stumbled as the squall battered them, the swells rising, and he looked up to see a flaming barrel soar overheard, crashing into the sea with an eruption of water. Swords met steel at the other end of the ship, and through the inky black he could make out warriors — Matoran warriors — and farther off, the hazy outline of another ship. A warship. …They’d found him. For only a second he paused, feeling the salt spray dance upon his mask. For only a second he felt the sheer power of the storm, its electric energy flowing through him, the water and wind engulfing him in this great, chaotic world. For only a second he felt the threads of the elements, the natural yet magical connections that bound him and the earth together. For only a second he felt it, and he knew that this was no ordinary storm. This raw, unbridled power… this was the work of Toa. “Wave!” “Rogue wave!” The ship leaned, swiveling as it turned, a great wall of water barreling towards them on the starboard side. The flagship leaned back, riding the swell, facing it head on as people yelled and fighting paused, everyone grabbing onto something for fear of being thrown overboard. Takua looked to its crest, far taller than their mast, outlined by a bright crack of lightning — and sprinted for the nearest door. Slamming it shut behind him, he fell over, gripping the doorknob as the ship rocketed forward, careening down the backside of the wave. Supplies and furniture crashed into each other, thrown forward as Takua held on, and then, with a sudden jerk and a great splash, the ship slammed into another wave, toppling over more goods, shifting back and forth — but steadily righting itself. They still floated. Regaining his balance, Takua took in his surroundings. Nice furniture, a bed, maps and trinkets strewn about the floor — he was in the ship’s cabin. A dim lantern swung in the far corner, revealing a wooden chest, nestled beneath the bed, and Takua moved for it, now fully aware of whose quarters he’d stumbled into. Pulling it out, flipping it open, he smirked, the dim light shining on his sword, and beneath it, Jaka’s shield. Sithrak’s trophies — now his, once again. Securing it to his belt, readying himself for battle, Takua drew the blade. It twinkled in the lantern light, still sharp, the Onu-Koronan protosteel willing to serve him once again. He felt the leather grip in his palm, its familiar weight like the handshake of an old friend, and it brought to mind the Matoran who’d given it to him, so long ago now. He remembered their last encounter — Illum’s bloodshot eyes, trying to hold him down as the infected gas entered his lungs. I didn’t want any of this, Takua. I only do what I have to. Takua steadied himself as the ship lurched, the cabin door creaking open. His time in the hold had changed him, and his newly discovered, resolute will cemented the thought — he understood Illum now, at least on some level. He squeezed the hilt of the sword. He was not afraid to do what he had to. Instantly he bent over, a prickle on his neck warning him of the blade that sailed inches above his head, and he whipped around, his fist meeting Sithrak’s chest, just short of his windpipe. The Kryll stumbled back, breathing in sharply as Takua followed through, his sword singing, just clipping the Kryll’s side as he tried to dodge. Bloodied, the Kryll put distance between them, hissing. Takua studied him, a deep line of red against his ribs now, his right eye bruised, the hole in his jaw still dripping blood. The Kryll hunched over, gripping a short, curved sword, panting like a feral beast as Takua circled, sizing him up. “Just a mandible, huh?” he taunted, nodding to the Kryll’s devolution. “That’s all it took to see the real you?” “Worm!” Sithrak pounced, his blade swinging wildly, but Takua was fast. He sidestepped, whirling around a fallen table. The Kryll went after him, crashing into the upturned furniture, but Takua danced. Easily avoiding him, hopping to the bed to the chest, back to the floor and then up on a dresser, he grinned. “Come on,” Takua twirled his sword. “Come on!” he yelled, ready for him. Sithrak threw his sword in a rage, catching Takua by surprise as it nicked his arm. He stumbled, losing grip on his own blade, and — wham! He was on the ground, the Kryll on top of him, fighting, clawing, scratching with tooth and nail. He defended his face, the Kryll’s nails cutting into his forearms. He retaliated, kneeing Sithrak in the side, spreading the blood that already oozed out. He grimaced as Sithrak growled, blood and breath and spit splattering his mask, and — Takua managed to grab his wrist. He yanked Sithrak down, slamming his forehead into the Kryll’s. “Aargh!” Dazed, the Kryll stumbled off him, fumbling for his weapon as Takua did the same. Grabbing ahold of it, rising to his feet and squaring up — Takua wiped blood from his forearms, smearing it across his armor. He met the Kryll’s glare as he rolled his shoulders, angry again. Sithrak fled. “…No!” Takua barreled after him, pushing through the swinging door, out into the storm again. Sithrak was quick, but his wounds were taking their toll. Takua caught him in a few seconds, their steel ringing out as the Kryll blocked, Takua’s attacks relentless as they battled through the torrential rain. Hyper focused, Takua had no mind for the madness around them. He assaulted the Kryll, slashing this way and that as the ship rocked, struggling to stay above the waves. He ducked as the Kryll responded, weaving in and out of other warriors, not caring for the arrows that flew overheard, or the warship that careened past. Matoran threw grapples, sailing through the sheets of rain to board and fight, the Kryll responding, rallying, yelling. The raging tempest around them, the lightning that streaked the sky… Takua cared for none of it. There was only Sithrak’s blade. There was only Sithrak’s blood. The steel rang in his ears as he lashed out, battering the Kryll back, locking blades only to shove him off, and Sithrak retreated, falling into the deck’s railing. Exhausted, he stumbled away, his footsteps red as blood dripped off his armor. Takua chased him to the rear of the ship, sword always swinging, narrowly missing as the Kryll managed to evade. Falling ever farther back, Sithrak withdrew up a wide staircase, to the raised deck above his cabin. And again their blades locked, Takua forced him back after a second, overpowering him with a strong, single, push — and the Kryll slipped. He fell into the ship’s wheel, colliding into the Kryll who manned it. The warrior let out a yelp before abandoning his post, and Sithrak — now collapsed and moaning on the deck — was alone with Takua. The wheel spun freely above his head. Rain pelted Takua’s armor as he looked down on his enemy, advancing. “Get up,” he commanded, twirling his sword. “We’re not done yet.” Sithrak wheezed, squirming against the deck, clutching his wounds as blood pooled around him, mixing with the water. He grimaced, wrath in his eyes, grasping his sword once more, suddenly roaring, and — one! Two! Takua parried as the Kryll found the strength to stand, advancing, bringing his blade down a third time, with hate. Takua met it, twirling his grip and spinning around, yanking the blade from Sithrak’s claws and wrenching his wrist. The Kryll’s weapon slid off the deck and into the sea, and Takua was behind him now, holding him still, his sword resting against the Kryll’s throat. And they were still. The two looked out at the inky night, at the Kryll fighting Matoran, at the ravaging storm, the rising waves. Takua’s breath was cold and crisp, sharp within his chest. His heart pounded like the drums of war, loud within his ears. “…Go ahead then,” Sithrak rasped, barely able to keep himself upright. “This is what you wanted… right? Every second you hesitate… gives me more time….” Takua held steady, his momentum paused as thought returned to him. He blinked, realizing for the first time what was happening. Sithrak was right; this is what he’d wanted. This was the only thing he’d wanted. Ever since Ga-Koro. His voice weak, his breathing labored and unsteady, Sithrak waited as the seconds ticked by. And soon, he began to smile. “…But you won’t, will you?” Takua scowled, wrenching his arm tighter, pressing the steel harder against his throat. But in his mind… he did hesitate. “…That’s right. You won’t.” No. Sithrak was wrong. He would. He was going to. And yet… why? Why was he pausing? There was no reason to. Everything inside told him what to do. Just a flick of the wrist, and it would be over. Rid the world of this horrible monster, this horrible beast of a being. But still… here he was. “Yes… you won’t. You can’t,” the Kryll’s smile widened. “Even after everything I’ve put you through, you’re just not that type of person, are you Takua…? You don’t have it in you… you don’t have the power, the will… to decide fate.” His chest rose and fell, half wheezing, half chuckling to himself. “You don’t have the strength, Takua. You’re still too weak.” “Try me,” Takua growled, but with every second Sithrak’s words seeped deeper into his skin. He told himself it was because he wanted to savor this moment. Because he hated Sithrak so much he wanted to draw out this victory. But was that right? Or was he simply not able to do this? After all the pain, the suffering, the taunting and torment, after everything this awful creature had done to him… was he able to end it? To make the choice between vengeance and mercy? Takua blinked, breathing steadily. “I know you won’t…” Sithrak leaned back, resting his head against Takua’s shoulder, trusting the Matoran to carry his weight. “…Because I know you, Takua,” he whispered, the gaping wound in his jaw disgustingly close to Takua’s face. “I know what you are… and I know what you are not…” he hissed, his words now smooth and confident. “I’ve seen it in my dreams… I know it, in my soul….” “You don’t know anything about me!” Takua growled, his blade pressing deeper, breaking skin, drawing a short, shallow, line on the Kryll’s neck. “Oh! There it is!” Sithrak tilted his head back, opening his throat as he pressed his bloody jaw against Takua’s cheek. He closed his eyes, as if he yearned for death. “Give me my fate, Takua. I beg you!” Takua breathed through his nose, gritting his teeth, wanting with every fiber of his being to do it. But… but…! “That’s right, you won’t!” Sithrak rumbled. “Because I know the truth, Takua. I know what the future holds; I know how this will end — and it is not my destiny to die here.” His smile spread as lightning cracked, as the ship swerved, tossed by the waves with no one at the helm. He pressed a weak hand against Takua’s cheek, holding him gently… intimately. Skin crawling, Takua wanted to push him off. He wanted to end it, one way or another, but indecision left him paralyzed. He watched as the warship flew by once more, raining arrows and fire onto the Kryll as they tried to push back the Matoran — but he didn’t really see that. Instead he saw Matau, staring at him. He saw Talim, watching as he held his blade to this being’s throat. What were they thinking? Was this the right thing to do? Who was he to play executioner? Who was he to deal out destiny? “I have seen it all, Takua!” Sithrak preached, now clutching his mask. “I know how this journey will end; I know what will be offered at the White Tower! I know I will usher in a new age, the age born of blood and fire! And I know that I have been chosen.” Doubt crept into his mind, and Takua’s fingers started to tremble. This wasn’t really him, was it? This broken prisoner, fueled by rage? This monster who craved blood and vengeance? He was supposed to fight for good, for light, for peace… wasn’t he? “Chosen! For so much more!” Footsteps, pounding up the stairs, and a second later Rashi appeared, heading for the spinning wheel — but stopped in her tracks as she saw the two of them. Her red eyes met Takua’s. “Hear me, Takua!” Sithrak spouted, oblivious to Rashi’s presence. “As I know you won’t go through. As the stars above, as the earth below, I know what destiny holds for me, and it is not to end here!” The blade trembling at his throat, his nails dug into Takua’s mask, words loud against the rain, defying the storm. “I know how my story ends!” Over and over, his heart pounded in his ears. Takua’s muscles twitched, ready to move, ready to finish it — but he couldn’t! Why? Why couldn’t he move? Why couldn’t he do this!? “Because I am the savior of my people! I will be etched into the stars as the one who changed the world, the one who ascended to the heavens!” Tension in his mind and his body, stretching him, vibrating his core. Just… move! He screamed at himself, trapped by his own uncertainties, lost in the spinning cycle of his mind. Why? Why!? He squeezed his eyes shut, grimacing. “I am the one who will write our final chapter! I am this world’s final chronicler!” Was this really it? This was who he’d become? Takua met Rashi’s unwavering gaze, and suddenly, somehow — he knew. “I will be the herald of Makuta!” Sithrak bellowed into the sky, defying the very world as Takua’s knuckles tightened. “I will be the prophet of salvation! The messenger of the gods! I! Will be — !” And Takua slit his throat.
  4. Wait these rock!! keep this up my dude! also uhhh where can I buy Wairuha's jacket?
  5. sorry if I'm late to this party but oh my GOD. This is glorious and everything I didn't know I wanted in a bionicle art piece. Love it, gold star
  6. Chapter 17 - To the Brink of Madness “Wait… what?” The Ko-Matoran’s eyes were wild. “He’s alive. He’s out there,” he gasped, as if still coming to terms with it himself. “…We need to find him!” Aya blinked, shaking her head, trying to wrap her head around that with so much else going on. Even now she could feel it getting hotter, the air stifling as smoke billowed up through the floorboards. She’d seen the flames on her mad dash back from the cistern, no doubt set off by the Kryll she now knew to be within the city. She’d somehow managed to avoid them, but now there was movement, and shouting, coming from down the hall. “Okay… fine!” she concluded without any more thought. “But we need to go! Now!” And it was Kokani’s turn to pause, only now smelling the smoke, realizing that Illum and Rae were gone. “What happened?” Aya helped him up, moving for the door “Kryll. They’re in the city! It was Raipu…” she shook her head in frustration. “It was always Raipu!” Kokani cursed. “The Turaga? The Toa?” “We need to warn them!” Aya poked her head into the hallway, cursing as she saw Kryll. Two of them, knocking down doors and barging into rooms, their swords already stained red. “Go, Kokani!” she ushered him behind her back. “Get outside!” “Hey! You!” “Kokani, go!” Aya whirled around as a brute caught sight of her, and she primed her bow, firing an arrow down the hall. The Kryll ducked, snarling. Its heavy boots thumped, advancing as Aya retreated, covering Kokani’s flank as he hobbled to the stairs. She let another barb fly, only for it to deflect off its heavy armor. Angry now, the brute charged, readying armored claws as Aya retreated, but with nowhere to go in the narrow hallway she stumbled back, grabbing hold of another arrow, bracing herself. “Come on, you stupid — !” Aya cried out as the Kryll’s mass slammed into her, lifting her off the ground and into the wall. Dizzy, her instinctive response was to latch onto her attacker. The Kryll tried to throw her to the ground, but she wrapped her legs around its torso, holding on as she sank her barb into its shoulder. Three times she struck before finding a seam in its armor, and her barb met flesh. Red sprayed her mask as the Kryll howled. It wavered and Aya fell to the ground, secured her bow, and ran. Back to the stairwell, down to the second floor, and then the first before she stopped, covering her mask as she was met with a wave of heat. The fire blazed here, orange flames climbing the walls, the air thick with smoke. She hunched over, barreling through the lobby and making for the exit, seeing no sign of Kokani as she burst through the doors and into open air. A club met her in the mask. “There she is!” a voice cackled as Aya hit the ground, wheezing, seeing stars. “Congratulations, Aya of Ga-Koro, you made our list!” She lifted her head, making out Kokani a few feet away, also down. A dozen Kryll stood in the courtyard, standing amidst bodies, waiting patiently for any Matoran to run out of the flaming inn. All had been cut down as they fled for safety. The warrior above grabbed her by the shoulders, dragging her to the center of the courtyard. She squirmed, trying to regain her wits. Bronze armor flashed, and she recognized emerald-green eyes as she was dropped next to Kokani. “It’s been a while, you two,” Noruk smirked. Aya faltered, head reeling, but she refused to give up. She struggled to her hands and knees, grabbing her dagger, pushing herself up, and — wham! Noruk’s fist met her jaw and she was down again, scraping against the courtyard. “That’s for my king. For shooting an arrow in his back,” the Kryll growled. He moved, circling like a wolf. Aya rolled over, spitting blood on the ground. Grimacing, she tried to clear her head, but each blow sent her farther off. She heard a scuffle as Kokani tried to rise, but that seemed to end quickly. A heavy boot met the small of her back. “I actually thought you were dead,” Noruk leaned over her. “I thought we had you on the docks of Ga-Koro… what happened there?” Aya groaned, clutching her skull, trying and failing to think of a snarky response. “Oh well,” Noruk shrugged. “I suppose I get the pleasure of ending you now.” The boot left her back and she looked to see Kryll grabbing Kokani by the shoulders. “Let him go…!” she growled, but her only answer was the tip of a blade, hovering at her throat. “Look at me, Kokani!” Noruk snarled, standing tall as he lifted him higher, his claws closing around the Ko-Matoran’s throat. Aya could only watch as he gasped, struggling, his feet barely brushing the ground. “Do you even remember him? He wore silver; his name was Nilum. You shoved a blade in his stomach and left him. You left his body for the beasts. For the Rahi to pick at!” Kokani clutched at Noruk’s grip, wheezing, gasping for air. “Let him go — !” Aya yelled, but her threat was cut off as the steel pressed against her neck. Noruk scowled, throwing Kokani back to the cobblestone. “Get up!” he yelled, tossing his sword next to Kokani, before being handed another blade by his warriors. “Get up, Kokani!” he challenged. “You and I! Let’s finish this!” Kokani only wheezed. He turned over, meeting Noruk with a cold stare, but refused to grab the sword. Aya watched, not daring to move as the Kryll’s anger bubbled. “Get up and fight me!” he shouted again, kicking the sword closer to him, pacing back and forth as his warriors watched, as the inn burned behind them. Noruk’s armor was black, silhouetted against blazing light, the smell of sulfur and smoke permeating the air. He stared down at the scarred Ko-Matoran, eyes burning with fury. Yet still, Kokani didn’t budge. He didn’t speak. “Get! Up!” Noruk shouted. Aya watched as the Kryll’s voice faded into the crackling blaze, praying Kokani didn’t fight. She knew Noruk would kill him, but didn’t dare voice her thoughts with the Kryll above pressing his blade on her skin. But then Kokani moved. Slowly, shakily, he clutched the sword Noruk had thrown him. Cautiously, the battered warrior arose to a fight he couldn’t win, first to one knee, then another. Pushing himself until he stood at his full height, he met Noruk’s glare, Akaku glowing orange in the firelight. And with the clatter of steel on stone, he let the sword fall to the ground. “If you’ve come to kill me — do it already.” Noruk glowered, his corded shoulders raising, then lowering. “Pick up your sword, Kokani,” he demanded. “I’m not going to fight you.” “Pick up your sword!” Noruk screamed, his eyes on fire as rage enveloped him. He threw his own blade to the ground, balling his fists as he paced, cracking his neck. “Fight me, Ko-Matoran!” “It’s over, Noruk.” Kokani said calmly. “You’re the better warrior. You win.” And the Kryll stood there, eyes narrow, mandibles twitching. Kokani’s words caught him off guard, and he paused, his anger faltering. It morphed briefly into confusion, and then, after a moment or two… disappointment. “So, this is you now?” he asked. “This is Kokani, the White Warrior? A weak, scarred Matoran who’s too afraid to fight?” “Scarred, yes…” Kokani answered without emotion. “But not weak. Not afraid.” “Then fight me,” he countered, his voice now wavering, the anger replaced with what could only be seen as desperation. Aya watched Noruk from the ground, now realizing what this meant to him. The Kryll’s scowl released and the fire in his eyes dissipated, leaving him with emptiness. And Kokani spoke again, seeing him clearly as well. “Go ahead and kill me,” he let out, holding his mask high. “But it won’t bring back the dead.” Noruk frowned, snapping to a decision, and with a quick wave of his arm he signaled to his troops. The blade left Aya’s throat and she breathed, sitting up and clutching her neck, astounded by the turn of events. The Kryll shifted about them, making ready to move, suddenly uninterested in her as Noruk addressed Kokani again. “You’re already dead, Kokani. Those scars are all that’s left of you.” “Perhaps,” the Ko-Matoran nodded, shifting his balance. “But scars can heal. With enough time.” “Not all of them.” “No, not all of them… some we must live with,” Kokani trailed off. He looked to his boots, pausing as he furrowed his brow, as if contemplating. Then, with a gaze of what might have been pity, he met Noruk’s eyes once more. “But we have to make that choice to live.” Noruk only laughed. He picked up his sword, securing it to his belt once more as he ignored Kokani’s words. Instead, as he and his troops turned to move, he pointed back at them. “Know that I’ve judged you, Kokani. Know that you’re alive because you no longer deserve a death by my hand.” But Kokani only let out a smirk, his eyes scanning the far end of the courtyard. “Such a shame you didn’t come to that conclusion sooner.” The Kryll’s anger bubbled again. “What — ?” Thunk! An arrow imbedded itself in Noruk’s shoulder, and the courtyard came alive with chaos. ~~~ The deafening boom of thunder cracked through the sky, shaking the ship as Takua looked up from his lockpicking. It was dark. It was night. The ship rocked against rough seas and torrential rains. It was almost time. He could feel it now, the energy of the storm, the power of the elements. It had started slow, as a mild tingle on his spine, but it had grown as the night grew darker, as the waves rose taller. The electricity in the air, the current of the world — it now danced upon his mask, and he felt alive, connected to the air and sea that raged against the meager flagship that enclosed him. Takua took a breath, smelling the dank, moldy wood of the hull, yet also the salt, the sea, the sky. And he lifted his damaged fork a millimeter upwards, feeling a subtle click within the iron mechanism. He smirked. One more to go. But there was no time to celebrate. The cell lock had proven much fickler than his shackles, and he had mere hours before midnight, before Jaka would be waiting for him. And so he doubled down, prying and prodding, lifting and rotating, feeling fork and prong between his deft fingers, focusing on the subtle vibrations within the lock, blocking out those form the ship, the waves, and the restless Kryll above. He closed his eyes, discarding what little light shone in the hull. He seemed to work better in the dark. On and on he labored, knowing that he was close, that he was this close to freedom. He was so near to escaping these bars, and he would be free to move, free to fight once more. He’d done everything he could here; he’d trained his body, regained his strength, learned to focus his energy. He’d discovered when to wait, when to listen, and when to strike. He’d learned much within these bars — some about his enemies, some about his friends, and some about himself. But now it was time to leave. He could feel it now, the last pin hesitating, wanting to obey his command, but it was just barely too stubborn. He breathed, slowing his mind, focusing everything he had on the tips of his fingers. He let go of the outside world, separating himself from it all… there was only the lock and himself. Only his breathing, only the in and out of his lungs…. A deep inhale, a soft exhale. The smell of salt. …Only the quiet, only the calm. Only the gentle embrace of the surrounding darkness. And crackling rumble of the thunder. The raging storm outside. …Only the sea, only the sky. Only the energy of the world, flowing through him. And the pounding footsteps. The racing boots of Kryll, their muffled orders shouted to one another. …Only his mind, only his soul. Only his heart, its soft thump-thp, beating within his chest. KA-BOOM! And the chaos that raged above. His eyes snapped open as something slammed into the side of the ship, sending it rocking back and forth. Crates slid across the floor, barrels thumped against each other, and Takua lost his balance, falling over as the fork slipped out of his hands. Startled, he looked to the ceiling, realizing the sounds of shift change, the sounds of Kryll getting out of their hammocks, grumbling to their stations. “No,” Takua frowned. That couldn’t be it; it was too early to be midnight. Had he lost track of time? “No,” he repeated. Whatever the ship had hit must be the reason they were getting up. But then — three knocks at the door to the hull. Jaka’s signal. “No…” Takua trailed off, stopping for a second before grabbing his fork and shoving it into the lock again. It couldn’t be time already… he wasn’t done yet! Knock knock knock! “Mata Nui!” Takua cursed, suddenly panicking, his hands trembling, unable to make any progress. How could he have lost so many hours? Where did the time go? He wasn’t ready… he just wasn’t ready! Knock knock knock! Again! “Jaka…” he murmured to himself at first, shaking his head, his mind racing, heart pounding. What could he do!? And then, louder, “…Jaka! I’m — I’m not ready!” A creak as the door opened, the sound of thunder breaking outside. Jaka’s silhouette, and another figure behind him. A taller, thinner, much more sinister figure. Sithrak. Takua met his gaze as he stared down the hull, his fork still stuck in the lock. He was caught, red-handed. “Takua…!” the Kryll rasped, yanking Jaka down the stairs. A toothy smile spread across his face. “Such a shame to know you can’t keep your promises.” He glared, jaw clenched, eyes enflamed as Stihrak shoved his friend down the stairs. Jaka stumbled, almost falling, but he caught himself — just in time for Sithrak to lash out, sending him to the floor with a kick to the back of the knee. Takua watched, flinching. “Takua…” Jaka’s mask met his eyes. “I’m sorry… I wasn’t quick enough — ” Wham! His mask hit the floor as Sithrak’s boot met his side, and the Kryll sauntered forward, grabbing him by the top of the mask, ignoring his gasps of pain as he lifted, dragging him down the hull closer to Takua. With a hard thunk he dropped Jaka just outside the cell, and Takua could see his friend was already battered. Blood on his mask, bruises on his body, chips and cuts in his armor… it was clear Sithrak’s brutes had already done their job. Jaka wheezed, wrists bound in thick rope as he struggled to get up, but Sithrak’s heel pushed him down again, resting between his shoulder blades. Takua saw all of this, knowing that the brutes had been careful — Jaka was beaten and weak, but they’d done no lasting damage. They’d been careful to save enough for their captain. “You see,” Sithrak shook his head, clicking his mandibles. “I really thought we had come to an agreement. I…” he shrugged, letting his arms hang loose. “I just really thought we were going to get along!” But Takua had no more banter. The sight of what they’d done to Jaka, it was more than enough to fuel his temper. His eyes reflected the fire inside him, flickering larger as the seconds ticked by. He let out only a few, hot words. “You hurt him and you’re dead.” Sithrak was motionless, caught by surprise. But then he cracked, blowing air out his lungs as he couldn’t contain his laughter. He clutched his stomach, doubling over. “…You!” he cackled. “See? That’s… that’s what I like about you, Takua! You always have some way to keep me guessing!” he blurted, his boot unmoving as he stifled himself, regaining his posture. “You just… wow!” he shook his head. “You really are a special Matoran, aren’t you?” But Takua could only clutch his fork with white knuckles, locking eyes with the captain. “You hurt him… and you’re dead,” he repeated, now rising to his feet, kicking his shackles out of his way. “Oh, just look at you,” Sithrak replied. “Honestly, I’m impressed. Picking a lock with a fork? Gathering supplies, hatching a plan to escape in a rowboat? All from within the confines of these bars? I’m serious, it would’ve been really impressive if you’d been able to pull it off.” “Did you come down here to chat?” Takua growled. “Because I have nothing to say. Do what you came here to do,” he challenged. Fwoosh! The sound of the ship veering hard, of a tremendous wave crashing into the side of the hull. Takua grabbed the bars to steady himself as Sithrak leaned into it, staying upright as he scanned the ceiling. He twitched with displeasure, but turned back to Takua, suddenly very, very angry. “…Fair enough.” “Aah!” Jaka cried out as Sithrak sprang into action, flipping him over as he shoved his bound wrists aside, tightly grabbing the Matoran’s mask. Takua moved as well, springing forward and shoving his fork into the lock, now desperate to move the last pin and save his friend. But the Kryll paid him no mind. With Jaka’s Kakama between his bony fingers, Sithrak leaned closer as the Matoran struggled. “Your kind are such interesting creatures. Don’t you agree? So small yet so numerous, weak alone, yet strong through unity.” He produced a tiny knife from his sash, bringing the blade close to Jaka’s terrified eyes. “Your Kanohi gives you strength, but without it… what are you, I wonder?” “Don’t — !” Takua’s words fell on empty ears and Sithrak rasped on. “The different kinds have different powers, yes? Perhaps… perhaps not. I always found a wonderful irony to it.” He drew the tip of the blade against Jaka’s cheek, caressing it as he taunted Takua. “Like yours — a Pakari… the mask of strength? You can’t break your cage.” Then, to Jaka. “And yours — a Kakama, the mask of speed… you just weren’t quick enough, were you?” Takua gritted his jaw, breathing heavy with stress, making quick work of the pins he already knew how to move. But the last one, it still didn’t budge. He poked and prodded as fast as he could, this way and that, desperate to free himself and fight! But no, no… the last one wouldn’t budge! “The markings have meaning… they symbolize the virtues you hold dear…” Sithrak breathed, barely able to contain his excitement, forcing Jaka down as he struggled again. “Mark a mask, forge it into the semblance of a Hau, and it becomes beloved to Ta-Matoran, a symbol of their duty. Likewise, mark the shape of a Kaukau and it becomes associated with unity, held in high regard by Ga-Matoran everywhere…” he sneered, looking back to Takua with bloodshot eyes. “…But what is the mask of destiny, I wonder? The Akhovii, perhaps? The Mask of Light, worn only by your sacred Seventh Toa?” His hands were trembling, and he couldn’t get it. Why, Takua cursed in his head, why couldn’t he do this? Why were his skills failing him when it mattered most!? “Where is your Toa of Light, Takua? Where is he to save you now?” “Please…!” Jaka’s pleaded, struggling to no avail, trembling beneath the knife. Takua froze, pausing his frantic work to shoot the Kryll a furious glare, warning him. But Sithrak took it as a challenge. “Oh yes, that’s right — he’s gone. Dead, probably. I am your destiny now.” Jaka screamed as the knife cut into his mask, as Sithrak carved a deep line just below his eye. He squirmed, frantically trying to escape, but the Kryll held him still as the knife made its mark. As Sithrak branded his Le-Matoran. “Look what you have done!” the Kryll yelled as he dug the knife deeper into Jaka’s mask. “Look at the pain you have caused! There is no one who can save you now, Matoran — no friends, no family, no Toa, not even a merciful member of my crew… no one!” “I’ll end you!” Takua screamed back, his rage boiling over, but his threats still empty as he couldn’t escape. He slammed on the bars with his fist, shaking them with all his might. “You’re dead!” And Sithrak let up on the knife, satisfied with his mark. Jaka gasped, eyes rolling back underneath his weight, and the Kryll began to smile. His crooked, foul teeth spread wide. “…Is that a promise, Takua? Because I already know you can’t keep your promises.” Takua roared, attacking the lock again, trying to force it into submission — but his anger was his undoing. The fork snapped, the prong wedging itself into the lock and suddenly he had nothing to use. He had no tools to pick it, to break it, to get around somehow. Suddenly he was helpless — powerless, and he could do nothing but watch as Sithrak grew more and more enthralled. “Let’s go back to the beginning, shall we? Back to the beginning of our wonderful journey, when you were refusing to eat? I think I promised you three fingers then, didn’t I? “You dare —!” Slam! The ship lurched to the right as thunder cracked outside, as crates toppled over, supplies spilling across the hull. Sithrak stumbled, regaining his balance and forcing Jaka down as his momentum faltered. The hull door abruptly opened, a Kryll rushing down, pausing only a second to look at what was happening by Takua’s cell. “Captain…!” the Kryll blurted out, surprised to see Sithrak here. It was Chief, come down to grab supplies from his infirmary. “They... uh, they might need you up on deck!” Sithrak’s response came as a vicious boom. “They can wait!” And Chief nodded, not daring to say more. In an instant he was gone, the door swinging behind him, and Sithrak turned back to his prisoners. “Three fingers to start…” he rasped, trying to force himself back into the mood. He nodded, repeating himself. “Three fingers to start, and then we’ll go from there. Which ones do you prefer, Takua?” “Don’t feel like you have to stay if you’re busy,” Takua snapped, still furious, but knowing he needed another approach. “We can wait until you’re done with your duties.” “Don’t think you can talk your way out of this, Matoran.” Sithrak sneered, Jaka’s pale, half-conscious mask still in his claws. “Destiny waits for no one.” “So obsessed with destiny… maybe you’d be a better captain if you focused on duty a little more. Or even unity — you’re pretty terrible at both.” “Takua…” Jaka’s voice whimpered. “Don’t….” “My duty is my destiny!” Sithrak snapped. “And they are all Matoran virtues — Kryll need only what we have earned by strength and will — by blood and fire!” “Maybe, but you still need them.” Takua threw back, taunting. “Krosis knows that, and you don’t. That’s why you’ll never be as great as him. That’s why you’ll never be capable, or strong enough, why Krosis will never let you work without sending another to watch over you. You’ll never be good enough for him.” “Ha! Haha!” Sithrak started to laugh, but it was different now. It seemed forced, as if he were putting on a show, and Takua realized he was starting to unravel. “You think I care? You think I care about rank? About respect? No, Takua, no… I am beyond this world; I am beyond anything it can offer me. I care not for riches, for power. I care not for fame or remembrance, the love of peers. I am beyond everything you can imagine,” he spat, passion in his voice, the stench of his breath reaching Takua’s mask. “I am beyond what you know to be real! I am the seeker of change; I am the chronicler who rewrites history; I am the prophet who brings salvation!” Takua rose to meet him. “You’re a puppet, obsessed with delusions, intent on your one-way ticket to nowhere. And to nothing.” But Sithrak only grinned, happier than ever to receive Takua’s words. “And you are nothing — a mere Matoran with the mask of strength — yet powerless before me!” The door wrenched open again, but this time it was Rashi, storming down the stairs with purpose. “Sithrak!” she yelled, her voice echoing down the hull as the ship lurched again, whether hit by a wall of water or something solid, no one could tell. Everyone stumbled as thunder cracked, but Rashi raised her voice once more. “What are you doing?” she demanded. “You dare interrupt me!?” Sithrak bellowed, furious at the mere sound of her voice, stepping off Jaka and whirling around to meet her. “You dare question your superior!?” But Rashi raised her voice and stood her ground. “They are coming!” she pointed above them. “Our escorts are gone! The storm is ravaging! We see them over every wave now!” “Then tell them to do their job and get us to shore!” “Your crew needs you! They need a leader, Sithrak! Are you not their captain!?” “No…!” Sithrak stood tall and triumphant, pausing as his answer echoed, stopping Rashi short. Slowly, he raised his chin, proudly proclaiming his words. “I am… their savior!” Rashi’s mandibles twitched for only a second before she turned away. Her response was cold. “…So be it.” And she was gone. “What’s the matter, Sithrak?” Takua sneered, grabbing the bars and leaning forward. “Scared of what’s coming? Afraid you won’t ever make it?” “Takua…” Jaka’s low voice again, weak as his mind teetered into focus, begging his friend. “Please don’t — ” “You! Sithrak roared as he whirled around, screaming at Takua but pouncing atop Jaka, his little knife twirling between claws. “Enough of you! Which one to start, hmm? An index finger? A thumb?” “Aah!” Takua’s senses flared as Jaka was shoved around, his bound wrists spread above his head, mask against the floor, Sithrak’ knee on the back of his skull. Takua slammed against the bars, grabbing them, leaning towards the Kryll, his temper raging once more. “You hurt him and — !” Jaka’s left palm down, fingers spread apart as Sithrak twirled the blade. “This one, that one! How to decide, what to choose? So many options!” Clang! Takua’s palm slammed against his bars. “Stop it!” “The thumb is probably the most useful, but if we did that first then the rest would seem anticlimactic, wouldn’t it?” “You’re dead! You hear me!?” Takua yelled, slamming his fist against the lock, anger rampant, flooding his chest with heat. “Come on!” he yelled again, this time at the lock as he beat against it, again and again, desperate to break something as Sithrak’s blade hovered over Jaka. “Hurt him and you’re dead! You hear me, Sithrak!?” “Let’s let fate decide, shall we?” Sithrak closed his eyes, moving the dagger blindly. He took a deep breath, ignoring Takua’s threats. “Let us allow destiny to take its course!” The metal bars rang out as they resisted Takua’s fists. Pain shot through his hands as the metal cracked his armor, bloodied his knuckles, but it didn’t matter — pain was nothing now. He had to save Jaka. He had to! “Don’t! You dare — !” “And, one… two….” Takua roared, using all his strength to break free, using everything he had to pierce his prison, again and again and again lashing out, but no matter what he did he still couldn’t — “…Three!” Thunk! The bloodcurdling cry shook Takua’s core. He couldn’t move. It didn’t seem real. But Jaka writhed on the floor, clutching his hand, blood spurting from what remained of his ring finger, staining the wood around him. It was very real. Sithrak opened his eyes, leaning back, his toothy smile widening as he wiped a bit of red from his face. “…Well! That’s one.” Takua stumbled back from the bars, the putrid smell of flesh and Sithrak’s breath reaching him, and he wanted to wretch. Jaka’s screams fell away as he lost consciousness, his body going limp, yet it was Takua who was paralyzed. A knot in his stomach, bile in his throat, his rage fell away as he stared at his friend. Beaten, broken, tortured… permanently disfigured. And that familiar thought entered his head. This was all his fault. All this pain, all this anguish… it was all his own doing. He’d taunted Sithrak. What had he hoped for, to unsteady him? He knew he couldn’t free himself; he knew he couldn’t protect Jaka, yet he’d taunted Sithrak anyway. And look where all of it had gotten him. The Kryll’s words resounded in his head. Look what you have done. Look what you have caused. He could blame Sithrak all he wanted. He could blame Krosis, Saku, or any of his enemies — they’d spread all this darkness after all. He could blame Nuju, Nokama, or any of the Turaga — they’d sent him on this doomed quest. He could even blame Kokani or Matau —they’d trusted the Atouri to him in the first place. But Takua knew the truth; no one had forced him down this path. Everything that brought him here, every step, every choice, and every turn in the road he’d taken — he’d made the decision all by himself. The truth flooded him as he stared at his best friend. Unconscious, bleeding, and at the mercy of the monster who knelt above… it was all his fault. “Hmm,” Sithrak frowned. “It’s not nearly as exciting without the screams, is it?” But Takua’s head was elsewhere. It wasn’t just Jaka who bled, passed out on the floor. It was Cook, broken in a pile of crates, the one Kryll who had been kind to him. It was Kokani and Aya at the docks of Ga-Koro, arrows in their chests as the Kryll left them to die. It was Nika, trapped behind a door as she breathed poison, unable to escape. It was Saku, begging for a moment of mercy before Takua stole his spirit. It was Raipu in the desert. It was Matau on that platform. It was Talim that same fateful night. All lost, in one way or another. And what had Takua ever done about it? “Not much to say now?” Sithrak’s green eyes glimmered, his blade flashing once more. “All that anger, gone so quickly? Where’s that fighting spirit I’m so used to?” He’d promised he’d stopped running, but what did that matter when he was still so weak? What did fighting matter when he was powerless against his foes? No matter how much he fought, no matter how hard he tried… none of it mattered. He’d come so far, he’d learned so much — and yet here he still was. That same young Matoran on the platform, helpless as his world was destroyed. Unable to do anything but watch. He was still so, so weak. And then came the hate, beating within his chest, pounding within his heart. Thump-thp. “Ah, well,” Sithrak shrugged, twirling the blade once more. “I suppose we can get on with the rest then!” That rising, pulsing hatred, coursing in his veins. He hated Sithrak. He hated the Kryll. He hated these bars, he hated this ship, this sea, this journey, he hated it all. He hated Krosis, the Atouri, the Turaga, his decisions, everything that had brought him here. He hated Makuta. He hated himself. He hated Mata Nui. Thump-thp. He knew nothing but hatred. Thump-thp. He knew nothing but darkness. And his eyes opened, glowing in the dark as he looked to Sithrak, channeling his sweltering fury. Fists and jaw clenched as pain abandoned him, his lungs fumed, erupting with fire. Bloodlust consumed him and his very spirit boiled as he rose to his feet, inhaling the salt air, feeling now, more than ever before, alive. “You’re dead, Sithrak.” “There he is!” Sithrak grinned, about to say something else, but then — Wham! The Kryll flinched as Takua’s fist hit the lock, and the solid iron creaked before the blow. Sithrak squinted, his smile fading as Takua wound up, twisting his hips as his fist slammed into the lock again. His knuckles cracked open, blood dripping to the floor. The Kryll withdrew, stepping off Jaka and giving Takua his full attention, sensing the sudden change in his demeanor. Takua pulled back once more, mindless, yet resolute. He knew only the shadow that coursed through him, and the raw power it offered. Closing his eyes, he clenched his fist and summoned his rage, his strength, his pain, his spirit — infusing it all into his palm. And he could feel the energy pulsing through his fingers, he could feel the coursing, crackling power of the dark. Tighter and tighter as he squeezed, his hand sizzling in flame, until his eyes opened again, wild, bloodshot, and brimming with chaos. He let loose, releasing it all, throwing the shadow bolt at the lock. Its sizzling energy cut through the solid metal, and the cell door screamed as it swung open, twisted, red-hot, and smoking. And Takua stood tall in the doorway, unchained, unshackled — unleashed, as he met the Kryll’s gaze. ~~~ Noruk screamed, stumbling forward, as he whirled around. Arrows flew from the darkness, and the Kryll retaliated, firing their own, yelling, regrouping as Matoran appeared. They rushed in with blades of their own, and Aya scrambled for her wits as their captors were forced to engage. She grabbed her dagger, pushing the last of the spots from her eyes as she found a new figure standing over her. “Get up, Ga-Matoran,” Rae offered her hand, her voice distractingly smooth, even amongst this chaos. “Stay close to me.” Aya took it, and was pulled to her feet. Up again, she ran to Kokani, covering him as he grabbed his cane, deflecting a stray arrow as he struggled to move again. Rae ran forward, engaging a nearby Kryll as the Matoran advanced, relentless in their barrage, pushing the Kryll back. One by one they disappeared, either falling to the ground or into the shadows, as quickly as they’d come. Aya caught a glimpse of Noruk as he retreated, helped by one of his warriors. The Kryll hissed before disappearing into an alleyway. “Go! Go!” The courtyard was almost clear now, and Aya whirled around as she heard a loud, scuttling noise. She squinted, catching a glimpse of Ihko as a handful of Ko-Matoran ran past, but the others were a scattered mix of Ta and Onu-Matoran. A huge shape came racing forward as their saviors surrounded them, soon making itself visible: a giant, jet-black Ussal crab. It careened to a halt beside them, revealing Illum, holding the reins. He paused, looking to Kokani, allowing them a brief moment of calm. “To the brink of Madness and back… you made it, then?” he said, more of a statement than an actual question. Kokani nodded. “I did.” “You’re a braver Matoran than I.” “I know.” Illum smirked. “My guards will follow me, but I’ll need your help if we’re going to rally the Koro’s troops, and save this city in time. I’m a Turaga, not a warrior.” “You seem to need a lot of me recently.” The Onu-Matoran slid off his Ussal. His boots hit the stone and he stepped forward, holding out the reins, offering them to weathered Ko-Matoran. “Mata Nui needs a lot of you.” A deep sigh left Kokani’s lungs as he took the reins. “So be it.” And Aya saw the change wash over him. Just like that, Kokani was alive again. “You two!” he barked from atop the Rahi to a couple of nearby Ko-Matoran. “Go after Ihko and your brothers in the Sanctum! Meet us at the entrance to the Lake of Fire! And you! Go to the outskirts and rally the guard stationed there! We need soldiers in the city tonight, not on the walls!” he snapped his reins and the Ussal started to move. “You in the guardhouse, find Mako and keep him safe! The rest of you, with me! We rally everyone we find. The Kryll are quick and quiet, but we have numbers on our side. They wouldn’t have retreated if they had warriors to spare.” Aya sheathed her dagger, her heart pounding as she looked up to Kokani. His energy pervaded her as their eyes met. “Aya… Rae…” Kokani nodded. “With me. Clear the path ahead.” Her steel sang as she drew her short sword, glancing to her newfound partner. A quick nod from the Onu-Matoran, and together, they moved. Out into the street, to Ta-Koro’s main road, Aya and Rae sprinted ahead, seeing now the damage the Kryll had already done. Market stalls turned over, goods were strewn about the street, fires burning here and there. Matoran yelled, searching for friends, family, loved ones, or barricading themselves in their homes. But the Kryll were few and far between — Kokani was right. They’d struck quietly, then disappeared. The inns where nobles were staying, the guardhouses where generals slept, the taverns where advisors talked. It was quick and calculated, designed to pick apart Matoran leadership, to leave them fractured, scrambling, and vulnerable. It all led to one obvious climax — the Turaga. The Toa. At the center of the city. “To your left!” Aya whipped around as Rae yelled, an arrow flying over her shoulder. Two Kryll stood between the burning market stalls, one readying another arrow, the other charging forward, sword high. Ching! Its steel met Rae’s blade, blocking the blow above her head, and Aya retaliated with a thrust, her blade piercing its stomach. A guttural groan, and Aya shoved the limp body aside, pulling Rae by the arm as another arrow flew past, narrowly missing her flank. With a roar Aya charged at the archer, steel swinging through air before it could nock another barb, but the Kryll jumped back, dodging — and there was Rae again. She tackled it from the side, her dagger in its back, the Kryll writhing. But another stab met its mark, and the archer dropped. “Go! Go!” “With me!” They pushed forward, hearing Kokani and his troops behind them, directing survivors, arming them, rallying them together. Weaving through the burning stalls, the two locked blades with another pair of Kryll, catching them by surprise as they cornered a lone Ta-Matoran guard. Aya pushed one down, whirling around to grab the other, opening it up for Rae to finish it off. And then the other was short work — a slash, a parry, and a kick into Aya’s sword — another two down. Another step closer to the Turaga. Aya barreled forward, her heart pounding, her legs sprinting in sync with her partner. The two moved as a unit, quick and agile, using speed and thrust to take down their foes. Where Aya stumbled, Rae was there to block. Where Rae didn’t have the strength, Aya was there to overcome. Building by building, block by block they pushed toward the Lake of Fire, cutting down a warrior here, a brute there. Another freed guard who could join Kokani’s force, one more saved civilian who they could arm and spread the word to others. “Go to the eastern wall, secure the gate to the Mangai!” “Sir!” Kokani’s orders echoed as an arrow flew past her mask, and Aya retaliated with her own. Firing straight ahead, through fire and darkness she saw her barb meet its mark, and she smirked as another enemy fell. And behind, the gate came into view. Through the smoke and haze, great Mangai rose above, black against a somehow blacker sky. She raced forward. Lungs heaving, muscles pushing, she could feel it now — their momentum. Energy flew through her body as she held a Kryll at bay, allowing a nearby Po-Matoran cut it down. Her mask tingled with strength as Rae saved a Ga-Matoran from a brute’s clutches, the force behind them growing ever stronger. The Sanctum Guard had arrived. Guardsmen from the wall had secured other gates to the Mangai. The great shells atop the walls sounded, alerting, rallying all those who had yet to come. Minute by minute, piece by piece, the scattered forces of the Koro came together, and Aya could feel it in the air. Another body on the ground, and Aya pulled her sword from a brute, nodding to Rae who stood beside her, her mask splattered with sweat and blood. They pushed forward once again, finding themselves face to face with the charcoal guard tower, built into the shell of the Mangai. And beyond it, the Lake of Fire. Neither of them took time to rest. “Come on!” Aya yelled, beckoning as she ran through the gate, unfazed as she entered the sweltering cavern. The magma’s glow lit her mask, and with Rae by her side and Kokani at her back, she sprinted with full confidence. Across the stone bridge, her footsteps echoing, her blade shining. And through the sulfur and smoke elder Ta-Koro arose, looming ominously above. Up ahead — the gate! They were so close now, and Aya ran as fast as her legs would carry her, trying to ignore the creeping doubt in her mind that they were already too late. There! Shadowy figures through the haze, warriors clustered at the entrance to the inner city. “Aya!” She ignored her name, bent on moving as quickly as possible. Her lungs stung in her chest, but she was ready. The figures up ahead… Kryll. Aya gritted her jaw, her grip tight on her sword. “Aya!” it was Rae’s voice. “Aya! Stop!” Fingers closed around her wrist, pulling her back, slowing her down. “What are you doing? Get off!” “Aya, stop! Don’t be a fool!” The two slid to a halt, halfway across the bridge. Behind, the far-off footsteps of Kokani’s forces. Ahead, only a handful of Kryll… Aya could count them on her fingers. She squinted through the smoke, making out Noruk’s bronze armor. The Kryll was pulling his blade out of a body, and Aya’s heart sank as she saw more strewn about the city behind him. The Kryll looked up, his emerald eyes shining like stars through the smog. Aya had to stop herself from charging in. Instead, she gritted her jaw and called out. “It’s over, Noruk! You’ve lost!” The Kryll spared a look to his comrades, so few now, before meeting Aya’s gaze again. He held his head high, his silence somehow more threatening than any rebuttal. “…You’re outnumbered!” Aya continued, hearing now the scuttling of Kokani’s Ussal approaching the bridge behind them. “We’ve rallied our troops! You’ve no way out now!” “You’re too late.” Aya fidgeted, not willing to believe him. He didn’t yell, but his calm, collected voice still managed to echo. Aya chose to call his bluff. “You don’t have the numbers to take down a Toa, let alone six of them.” “You’re right, I don’t.” Noruk replied, his demeanor far too relaxed. “I never did.” Aya looked to Rae, who seemed as skeptical as she was. Kokani was closer now, and Aya glanced over her shoulder to see the Ussal halting a ways behind them. He had dozens of warriors beside him now, and even more clustered outside the volcano. “We’ve secured all the Mangai’s gates! You’re surrounded, Noruk!” Kokani’s voice boomed over the bubbling magma. “Lay down your weapons!” And Noruk did. He tossed his sword to the ground, followed in suit by his warriors. The small squad of Kryll surrendered without a fight, and yet still they stood, proud and tall, at the entrance to the old city. Aya’s heart thumped in her chest, taking a hesitant step forward. “What was your plan?” she demanded. “To break into the most fortified city on the island, undermanned and underpowered? Did you think you could sneak in and out without being noticed?” Noruk shrugged. “I’d hoped!” Her chest warmed with frustration. His nonchalant attitude, the way he took all this in stride… what wasn’t he telling them? “Targeting advisors and nobles? It means nothing while the Turaga live. And if the Toa still live, so do the Turaga!” The Kryll nodded, his voice rumbling, matching the tone of the volcano. “Very true.” Aya put her foot down, fed up. “What have you done!?” “I’ve sent a message.” The Mangai roiled, lava bubbling up from the lake, and Aya’s temper matched it. She snarled, gripping her sword as she stepped forward again, determined to put an end to Noruk, once and for all. But the stone beneath her feet trembled. The volcano around her shook, first subtly, then violently, and Aya stopped, looking back to the Kryll, seeing a smug look on his face. And then louder, stronger — the volcano came alive, the great column of elder Ta-Koro shuddering as the earth awoke, spewing cinder and basalt skyward. “Noruk…” Aya called out, hesitant. “What — ?” Boom! An explosion, halfway down the base of the pillar. A giant metal pipe blown apart by unseen forces, and the Mangai roared, drowning out Aya’s voice as she yelled once more. Only this time, her eyes were desperate. “What have you done!?” “What I came here to do! I’ve started a new age!” Noruk yelled now, turning to his companions, moving to each of them, clasping a hand on their shoulders, pressing his forehead to theirs. An act of respect and thanks; a warrior’s blessing. “We have walked the path of glory! Fought with all our might, until the very end!” Crash! Another blast, this time closer to the Lake of Fire. A support for Ta-Koro’s column, blown to pieces, chunks of obsidian careening into the boiling magma. Aya looked to Kokani, then back at the volcano, covering her mouth as volcanic fumes billowed up. “For our brothers and sisters!” Noruk yelled over the thundering earth, turning back to the Matoran as he spread his arms wide. “For our king! For our people!” Rae’s grip on her wrist again. “Aya, we have to go!” “But the — the Turaga!” “For blood! And fire!” Noruk raised his voice, bathing in the heat of the earth, triumphant and accepting of this fiery end, this ultimate, glorious doom. “For the new age — !” And elder Ta-Koro exploded.
  7. Big chapter. Making big moves. Posting getting better for the time being! Thanks if you're still here reading
  8. Chapter 16 - Through Time and Space “How is he?” “What do you care?” “He’s a good Kryll. I’m not allowed to care?” Chief scoffed, prying open a crate next to Takua’s cell, selecting a few unopened bottles of medicinal salve, piling them into his arms. “Broke half the bones in his body. Bleeding on the inside. I’m doing my best, but he’s beyond my skills. Probably anyone’s skills. I doubt he’ll make it more than a few days.” Takua dipped his head. He’d hoped for otherwise, but it was a lie to say he’d expected different. “I’m sorry.” “Apologize to him, not me.” Takua bit his lip. Chief grabbed the last of his bottles and started back towards his infirmary. He got a dozen feet or so, then paused and turned back to Takua. “It was him, wasn’t it? Who gave you the extra food? Those supplies?” Takua answered with a slight nod. “…Yeah.” Chief sighed heavily, shaking his head. “Always was too kind for his own good.” “Says the one who gave me a blanket.” The Kryll hesitated, readjusting his bottles. He looked to the floor, having trouble at first, but eventually finding what he wanted to say. “…Thanks. For not ratting me out.” Takua leaned back against the wall. “You’re a good Kryll too.” “No… I’m really not.” Chief quickly turned around, ending their conversation. In a second he was back in the infirmary working on Cook, the sounds of bandages and tinctures meeting Takua’s ears, with Takua himself alone. They’d taken all his supplies, but he’d managed to hold onto his last fork, nestled underneath his shackles — no one had bothered to make sure they were still locked. And so with Chief preoccupied, Takua slipped out of his chains and got to work on the cell door. His supplies didn’t matter. Escaping the ship didn’t matter. Even getting caught didn’t really matter. All that mattered was Sithrak now. All that mattered was revenge. He worked and he worked, careful not to attract Chief’s, or anyone else’s attention. The surgeon stayed in his quarters, his work occasionally carrying over to Takua’s cell. More bandages wrapping and unwrapping, splints and casts set and then reset, Cook’s moaning as his sedatives wore off before Chief could prepare more herbs. He made multiple trips up and down the stairs, but never once did he even try to look Takua’s way. He didn’t bother Takua, and Takua didn’t bother him. It seemed they shared an unspoken agreement that not speaking was for the best. The day wore on, and Takua continued his work, resolute. By the time he looked up again, he heard the sounds of the midnight shift change. Outside the hull he could hear rain. There seemed to be energy in the air, the kind of preemptive tingling before lightning strikes — just the latest in a string of bad weather. Not that it mattered to Takua, of course; he had made good progress. He twirled his fork in his hand, leaning back as he heard someone approaching the door to the hull. The shift change was over now, so this had to be something… different. Three prongs, two pins… one day. The door swung open quietly, and two Kryll descended. Their lightstone was covered and dim, but Takua could tell it was Chief and Rashi. They went into the infirmary, and the hull went dark again. …Whispers. He couldn’t hear what they were saying. Whatever it was, they made sure their conversation stayed private, as their voices never once overpowered the rain outside. But still Takua listened, determined to uncover why they were here at this hour, why their lightstone was dimmed, why this midnight meeting seemed so… suspicious. He closed his eyes, sitting still, focusing all his energy on his ears, and the darkness. Taking a few deep breaths, he fixated, silencing his mind, allowing the world to fall away. The dark hull surrounded, the dark water cascaded, and he let the swirling shadows caress his armor as he focused. Deeper, deeper, into the dark as a feeling came over him. A feeling of peace, of calm… of power. In he breathed, and out. In, and out, he meditated… and his senses began to dull. His energy, honed on where he needed it — no more sight, no more smells, no touch and no taste — only the quiet, calm, caressing darkness… and then — the words he wished to hear. “…About an hour ago.” “You were supposed to save him.” “I’m a surgeon, not a great spirit. I can’t save everyone.” “You will prepare the meals then.” Chief paused. “That’s a full-time job. You want me to fix meals? Or people? I can only do one, and I’m a lot better at one than the other.” “Clearly you are not good enough.” “Not — ” Chief stopped himself, his temper bubbling. “Then neither is the quartermaster, or the navigator, because we should have been there by now, and we should have had more supplies!” he whispered passionately. “Neither are you, who is supposed to temper our captain!” Rashi growled. “My duty is done. We were not noticed getting in or out of Ga-Koro — do not question me, surgeon.” “You think — !” Chief stammered. “You think that was your only job? Sithrak was chosen for his loyalty, because he’d stop at nothing to accomplish this! And you were chosen to help control him, because Krosis knows you’re strong, level-headed, and reasonable. And he needs that when Sithrak’s undying loyalty comes at the cost of sanity.” “Dangerous words — ” “I don’t care!” Chief cut her off. “Either control him by taking his side and earning his respect, or take it into your own hands and put a knife in his chest! It was Cook first; who will be next? You? Me? Indecision will get us killed!” “There are many other things that can get you killed, surgeon.” A threat. A serious one. But Chief scoffed, and Takua could imagine him smirking. “You mean like the warships on our tail?” Rashi didn’t speak for a moment. “…You do not know this.” “I’ve picked up on the clues. You and Sithrak can hide it from the rest of the crew, but not me. They’ve found us, haven’t they? They’ve been trailing us for a while, just beyond the horizon? Waiting, for the right time to strike?” “You will speak nothing of this.” “Then make a decision.” A minute of silence, and Takua opened his eyes as Rashi stormed out. His senses coming back to him, he was again aware of the storm outside, the rain, the far-off thunder, slowly rumbling, coming closer. And he was aware of that tingle in the air, the energy that pervaded the atmosphere before electricity crackled. And again, he twirled the fork in his hand. One more day. ~~~ There wasn’t much. Only the two beds, only the lightstone flickering nearby. The rest was clouded and dark. No walls, no city outside the window — only the infinite expanse of black. It was like a mirror to the world he knew, familiar, yet colder, darker. He sat at the edge of his bed, Illum’s shallow dish empty on the floor in front of him. Both the Onu-Matoran and Aya were gone, and Kokani was — oh? Not alone, apparently. The Storyteller sat on the opposite bed. Kokani watched him, meeting the Le-Matoran’s gaze with a detached, yet curious stare. Everything was quiet for a minute, or maybe… an hour? More than that? Time didn’t seem very real here, whatever this place was. It seemed that nothing could change here, like everything just simply… was. Still, at some point, Kokani found his voice. “You’re the Storyteller… from outside Le-Koro.” Slowly, the old Le-Matoran nodded. “The one who tried to warn us? About Makuta’s ambush?” A sad smile on his lime Ruru. His voice was raspy, harsh, yet strong. “I am.” “How did you get here?” “Here?” the Storyteller looked around, seemingly noticing it for the first time, like he hadn’t spared it any thought before. His movements were slow, smooth, and deliberate as he turned back to Kokani. “This is a place for lost spirits. Souls, stolen away by the darkness. This is where I belong.” He studied Kokani, looking him up and down, puzzled by the Ko-Matoran’s existence. “But this is not where you belong.” “I’m not sure that’s true.” A moment of hesitation, and the Storyteller managed a smirk. “…You came seeking truth, didn’t you? You came the way Whenua did? All those years ago?” “Yes.” “I cannot give you truth. I can only give you stories.” Kokani paused, remembering Illum’s words. “Whenua believed there was always truth somewhere, hiding within every story.” The Storyteller leaned forward. “Perhaps once, ages ago, when I would’ve been considered a Chronicler,” he looked down, a hint of lament in his voice. “But time fades all, and history morphs into legend, just as chronicles morph into stories.” His mask fell back to Kokani, emotionless once more. “I cannot give you the truth of a Chronicler. I can only offer the fiction of a Storyteller.” “Then how do I find what I seek?” “You are the darkness now, Kokani of Ko-Koro. And as long as there has been existence, there has been darkness. You need only remember.” “…Remember?” The Storyteller gestured to the black around them. “You are one with Makuta, are you not?” And with those simple words, Kokani realized he was. Gone in an instant, he dissolved, the last bit of him leaving as he was no longer chained by the laws governing a Matoran reality. Free to fly, he watched within himself, soaring across mountains and streams, rising over day and night, churning through time and space. Makuta’s memories flashed before his eyes, new to him, and yet the recollections were his. Makuta’s past, his own past — they were one and the same. He gazed down at Takua, taunting him with Talim’s body, reaching forward, taking hold of the Atouri — at last, reunited with his heart! And there again, before — he projected himself to that platform in Le-Koro, watching the city burn as Takua sank to his knees and accepted defeat, his darkness pulling the boy down, down, before that Ko-Matoran returned, fighting off Saku, dragging Takua back out. He watched Kokani — himself? He wasn’t so sure anymore — carry the Le-Matoran away, pleased that all had gone according to plan. The eye of Kokani’s mind blinked, a semblance of his self briefly returning. According… to plan? A puzzling thought, but no time to contemplate. Farther back he flew, sensing a tingle in the back of his mind, sensing Whenua as he peered into his heart, finding the Atouri after all this time. That foolish Turaga; he would be dead soon. Day and night, day and night, roiling in reverse as time unraveled. It started with petty land disputes. A wealthy Matoran owned this field, but no, it was a Kryll hunting ground before that. Disagreements spawned fights, then skirmishes, raiding parties... none of it really mattered. But it was all as he expected, all as he desired… they just needed a little push. And so he reached out to a young leader, granting visions of glory, of blood and fire, of a new age for his people. The young Kryll came to him across the sea, beholding his essence, tasting true power — and Makuta knew he was his. Donning golden armor and smearing red warpaint, the Kryll named himself king, and another piece had fallen into place. Months unfolded, years peeled back, decades, centuries, all in the blink of an eye. An eternity of waiting, planning… quiet but always listening, invisible but always watching. Weak and chained to his ivory prison, Makuta was patient, pushing, nudging, here and there to spread his darkness, awaiting the inevitable the return of the beings who would — Like a deep inhale, Kokani pulled back, re-orienting himself, reminded briefly of who he was. It was easy to breeze past what he was looking for. It was easy to get lost in the dark. Weak… and chained? Kokani, able to think as a Matoran for an instant, realized what it meant. The White Tower across the sea…. it wasn’t Makuta’s lair. It was… his prison? None of it made sense. He needed to go further, farther. He needed to go all the way back, back to the beginning… back to the start of it all…. …Ages and epochs! Eras and eons! The ever-changing rivers and seas, the rise and fall of species, mountains, lands, and oceans! Continents drifting apart, crashing back together! Hundreds of thousands, millions upon millions of lives, born and lived and died, all in an instant! A pale blue dot, spinning, revolving, careening endlessly through the cosmos… the very heavens, the stars, so different now — the time… the time before time. The world was new. I will show you the way through the water, as I have crossed it many times. The currents caught the girl, and she drowned, unable to reach that shining jewel, just offshore. Why have you done this, my brother? Why did you trick Atouri? Makuta remembered how it had all began. I could not help it. It is my nature. Punishment, banishment! For naught but his duty? You must not touch the jewel, my brother. That is your punishment. Never will you see true beauty, and never will you be happy. Rage! Indescribable, immeasurable hatred, anger, envy… and the spell was cast. His brother fell into a deep slumber, and by placing his heart among the Matoran his power dominated the land. Fields withered away, sunlight grew cold, and ancient values were forgotten. The world was his. …But the Toa. Their divine canisters burst upon his shores, and the Great War had begun. He watched them, testing their merit, and though they found the Masks of Power, though they triumphed over every deadly Rahi, he was not concerned. Even combined, their power was not great enough to break his spells, even if they defeated him in combat, none were pure enough to crack his heart. None… until the Seventh. He’d seen his coming in the stars, long before the Toa or Turaga even realized his existence. His brother’s champion… the only one with the power to destroy his heart. He had to keep it safe, he had to ensure his eternity. So he searched far and wide for a solution, in the end, only finding one. It would weaken him, yes… but it was the only way. Makuta! We have come! Even now he remembered it fondly. The look on their golden masks when he appeared. I am that which you have sworn to protect. Their confusion, their hesitation. They had no idea they were about to grant him invulnerability. You are like the sea? The sea bore us! But that wasn’t true. It was out of Nothing that they came, and it was into Nothing that they would go. You cannot defeat me… for I am Nothing. They fought valiantly against his vortex of darkness, his swirling tendrils of debris and decay, and while it was through Unity that they prevailed, it was that same virtue that secured his victory. The six Toa’s combined power assaulted his swirling core, completely unaware that the Atouri spun within it, completely ignorant of the fact that they were encasing his heart… within an impenetrable Toa Seal. Unwittingly, they had saved him from death. A death at the hands of the Toa of Light. Kokani’s consciousness surfaced briefly, the epiphany just grazing his attention — but then he was pulled back, unable to tread water in the relentless stream of dark memories. The seal cut him off from some of his power, but it was a small price to pay for his survival. And despite his best efforts — yet still, as he expected — the Toa of Light emerged. Boldly, heroically, the golden Toa wasted no time, charging forward to his destiny, effortlessly annihilating his sons, blazing a path through the dark to Mangaia. You can no longer hide in shadow! But powerful as he was, he was still a Toa. Overconfident. Assuming. Unknowing that whatever happened, his heart would still be safe. He would live on. I am shadow… the shadow that guards the gate. And they had danced their little dance. A challenge, a duel, a game… played for the fate of his brother. But in the end, even he could not have predicted the outcome, no… in the end, both sides had merged, the Toa’s light penetrating his darkness, taking control though what could only be described as a cheap trick. His very Kanohi… stolen! It weakened his will, allowing the light to take control, allowing the door to Mata Nui to be opened. Light and shadow… have become one. Makuta sneered at the thought. He’d foolishly assumed the Toa of Light would fight honorably. My duty… is done. Pain! Suffering! Weakness. The seal around his heart was one thing, taking it from him? Casting it away!? He was hollow now. He was dying, but death would never come. He raged, swearing that if he ever found his heart again he would release his wrath upon the world, so much that not even his brother would survive. You would choose the Matoran? At the cost of your own brother? Years and years of endless suffering, lost without his heart. His spirit was too weak — and so he took to stealing the spirits of others. Feeble as he was, he would have his revenge, even if it took an eternity. And as the unrelenting time passed, as he stole more spirits, as he nursed himself back to health, his vengeful gaze fell upon the Toa of Light once more. We cannot fight for eternity. The Matoran should have the right to their own destiny. Unwavering. Unflinching. How dare he ask for peace? After everything that had happened? We can have peace when we are equal. His own Toa. His own champion! And now the Toa of Light was alone. His brother had always been a fool. A powerful fool, but a fool nonetheless. Blinded by his own light, Mata Nui couldn’t see the shadowy corners of the earth, where he was always waiting. Always watching, always pulling the strings and moving the pieces as his influence grew once more, as his plan slowly took form. But Takanuva wasn’t quite as blind as Mata Nui… much to Makuta’s delight. East, across the endless sea, as far away from his brother’s precious island as he could get, and the Toa of Light followed, like a wolf hunting prey. To an unknown land, a colder land, where no one could find him, where no one could help him. And he and his champion cornered that imprudent Toa — scant images, a legendary battle, a great crater in the earth, and…! Darkness. Kokani was forced out, suddenly separated from the dark as a distant cloud churned. Everything he’d seen before were ancient memories, but this… was something else. This was something Makuta held close… a secret. A weakness, perhaps? Determined, he delved back, worming his way around, echoes of the Toa of Light appearing in his memories again, but this was a different time now, a different place. Later, much later as his name was whispered by powerful beings… the Toa! Their return! History repeating itself as canisters once more rocketed to the earth, one obliterating a statue in a muddy square, a figure rising in the rain to meet an army of Kryll…. Go… your fight here is over. No, that was his own past, not Makuta’s. Kokani realized that more of him was separating, and he was starting to lose his connection with the dark. He had to focus, he had to find out more, while he still had time. Back in, back to the Toa, slipping around the secretive void, searching for any mention of the Toa of Light — Ga-Kini, all six Toa gathered… Takua! Combined elemental power, a surge of light, the summoning of the Seventh as the Rahi Nui stood above…! Foolish Toa. Not a summoning — the Seventh Toa couldn’t be summoned. That prophesy was never real, it had always been a fake, a lie he’d written, placed ages ago for the Turaga to find and believe. A trick to get them to undo the seal, granting him access to his darkness within the Atouri once more. He didn’t need the seal anymore, now that the Toa of Light couldn’t — Black. Nothing. That distant cloud again, rumbling of thunder, slowly turning around. “Aah!” Kokani let out, frustrated. “Ko…kani…!” A faint, far-away voice reaching his ears… what? Aya? No, he couldn’t leave yet. Not when he was so close. Down, down in the dark again. He needed a different approach. Instead of looking to the past, he focused on the present. Instead of looking out at the world, he searched deep within himself, and he became aware of his true form. He felt the great, infinite facets of his being; the shadow behind every light, the darkness in every heart. He reached out to those who had been touched, one way or another, recognizing among the endless tendrils a minuscule sliver stolen by Whenua, a splinter taken by Kokani, but then hundreds, thousands more, given willingly to be used by the Kryll, residing in every infected Kanohi. But then there was his true self, the very core of his being — fractured and scattered, torn apart by so many enemies. His heart, sealed away within the Atouri. His mind, chained to the White Tower across the sea. But now, after so many ages, the two were finally reunited. It felt good to be reunited, but then again — “Kokani… need you back…!” His consciousness flickering as someone familiar called his name. His vision blurring in and out, the lightstone on the wall, a Matoran leaning over him. No… he couldn’t go back… not yet! — But then again there was something else… something much, much greater. Makuta’s spirit, his very soul… it was fractured as well. Even with the Atouri in hand… Makuta… he — The cloud was closer now, its rumble increasing, its size expanding as it began to move closer…. Deeper, deeper! Kokani could see this curious fracture, and even with the Atouri in hand, Makuta was not… he was not complete. There was another piece! There was… another Atouri. It was coming! A raging tempest of shadow, growing ever larger and more violent as its attention turned, searching for his location. It knew he was here! “…Please!” What was the missing piece? He had to know! He plunged forward, forcing out whoever called his name, desperately trying to stay one with the void, even as his mind began the vibrate out of sync. But the cloud was coming, fast! And suddenly the very dark he merged with was… looking at him. Staring at him, knowing he was an outsider, that he did not belong. And the thunder reverberated all round him now, his spirit shaking louder, harder. Makuta knew he was here! “What is it!?” he yelled, his mind banging on the locked doors of Makuta’s greatest secret, his greatest weakness. He had to find the key, but how? “Kokani!?” All around him now, drowning like a deep bass note, crushing him with an eternal, pulsating vibration as the weight of the abyss came crashing down! Pummeling him into oblivion! And — ! A dark shape within it all. An old enemy; an older friend. Orange eyes behind the Mask of Shadows, and Kokani stared as he held a black Pakari within his hands. And his eyes were opened. He snapped awake, the fibers of his spirit ripped from the darkness, his mind yanked back as air cascaded into his lungs, stinging him back to life as he heaved, eyes bloodshot, jolting up in an instant — and he was back. Back in the realm of the living, back to Ta-Koro, back to the tiny room at the inn. He was Kokani again… and he was alive. Aya stood above him, terrified, and Kokani grabbed her by the mask, his heart pounding as he spoke what he now knew to be true. He knew whose mask he’d been shown. “It’s him!” he blurted, voice shaking between ragged breaths. “Mata Nui!” Aya clutched her chest, startled, yet relieved he was alive. “Wait… him? Who? What?” “The way we win this. The key to defeating Makuta, once and for all — it’s not the Toa; it’s not the Atouri,” Kokani stammered, wiping sweat from his brow, gasping, his body pulsing with energy, yet thoroughly exhausted. He looked at Aya, catching his breath as he stared, almost in shock. “It’s Takua — it always has been.”
  9. Chapter 15 - Understanding Takua noticed the rumblings of the crew. Some groaned, waking up, others sighing… the sounds of their bodies slumping into hammocks as they retired. It was dark, and many hours had passed since Takua had eaten dinner. …Midnight. He never would’ve noticed if Jaka hadn’t told him, but now that he knew, he could easily pick out the subtle signs of the shift change. He nodded to himself. It was good to know he could recognize it, so he could be ready when the time came. Takua leaned back around the bars, sliding his fork into the lock. Two more days. He’d managed to push up another pin, and he knew from feeling around that there were five in total. But that one pin had cost him three prongs, and he knew he had to be careful. With only one left on this fork, and then the one other he’d gotten from Chief — Takua paused, sparing a thought for his current reality. Forks… suddenly so valuable. He shook his head, smiling to himself as he got back to work. Slam! Startled, Takua looked up to see a Kryll marching down the steps, the door swinging behind him. He froze, not daring to move, praying the Kryll’s lightstone wouldn’t shine to his end of the ship. It was no one he knew; a simple crew member, not a brute or anyone special. Just someone who shouldn’t be down here at this hour. Takua cursed under his breath, retreating from the lock, moving as fast as he could while making no sound at all. He glanced around his cell, realizing that his fork, his blanket, his bottle… all his supplies were strewn about. And the Kryll was coming closer! A grumbling voice echoed down the hull. “…Sons of Makuta… bloody wind… Rashi… should’ve been there by now!” Takua crept around, wrapping his cheese and bread and water into the blanket, bundling it up and shoving it behind his back, positioning himself in the darkest corner. His mind racing, he watched the Kryll move closer, now fiddling with a cluster of barrels, searching for something. “All her fault, that traitor… cursed everything!” Takua grabbed his shackles, moving as slowly as he possible, wincing as they scraped along the wood, the rings clinking against each other. “Supposed to be easy… quick in and out, grab the Matoran, sail across the sea… ruining the great journey… salvation…!” He pulled the shackle to his arm, closing it loosely around his wrist, then reached for the other… slowly… slowly… the rungs hit each other as he pulled, making miniscule noise. The Kryll didn’t notice. He was shoving crates around, pulling a barrel closer to him. Clink! Clinkclinkclink! Takua grimaced, internally screaming as his clumsy fingers let the chain slip. The Kryll looked up, lightstone high, realizing Takua was there. “Hey! You!” Takua grabbed the shackle and placed it around his wrist, moving as to hide the supplies. The Kryll turned, strutting to his cell, and Takua noticed a half-empty tankard, hanging loosely in his right hand. “I’m talking to you, Matoran!” He squinted as the light grew closer, pretending to have just awoken. “…Me?” he mumbled. “Yeah, you!” The Kryll stumbled forward, slurring his words. “What’s so special about you? Why we botherin’ to take you to the White Tower anyway?” “Your guess is as good as mine.” “Yeah? Well guess harder!” the Kryll spat, taking a swig of his drink. “You got magic powers or somethin’? You a Toa in disguise?” “I’m just you’re average Le-Matoran, nothing more,” he replied, trying his best to not cause any trouble. But the Kryll wanted trouble. “I’m sick of you. You and your kind, always running to Toa when things go wrong? Cowards. You don’t deserve to be on this journey. You don’t deserve to witness Makuta.” Takua held his tongue. “I’m… sorry you feel that way.” “Don’t you lie to me, Matoran! You don’t care; you hate me. All your kind hate me! All you privileged, snivelin’ whiners, cryin’ when we take one of your cities? You never let us have cities. You never let us have villages!” he took another drink, struggling to stand straight. “You always been huntin’ us down, burning us ‘cause you don’t like how we do things. Cause we don’t look like you an’ act like you!” The Kryll paused, getting angrier and angrier as he spoke. He fumed, furious that Takua even existed, until he couldn’t take it anymore, and he threw his tankard to the ground, spilling drink all over the cell bars. “You… you worm!” Takua flinched, moving just a little as the tankard rolled to a stop. “…Look,” he levelled. “I don’t want any trouble. I don’t know who hurt you, but I promise I wasn’t involved. Where I come from, no one had ever seen a Kryll until they came to my village. Whatever someone did to you, I’m sorry.” The Kryll cocked his head, focusing his blurry eyes. “What you got behind you?” Takua’s nerves fired, and he sat up straight, meeting the Kryll’s gaze. “…Nothing? I’m your prisoner.” The Kryll lunged forward, grabbing the bars, his words spitting into Takua’s cell. “What you got there, Matoran!? I saw it when you moved; you scared of me? You stealin’ from us? You ain't supposed to have anything, Matoran!” “I don’t — ” The Kryll laughed, turning around, moving back down the hull. “Oh, just you wait! This’ll be good…!” “Wait!” Takua cursed. “Come back! I can offer — ” But the Kryll was gone. Up the stairs, the door swinging behind him. And Takua realized what that meant — Sithrak would soon be paying him a visit. “Mata Nui…” he cursed, smacking himself for being so careless. “No, not now, no, no, no… no!” He had to hide everything. He had to get rid of it. If he could stash it all somewhere, he could blame it all on the Kryll’s drink, right? He sprang into action, looking about, searching for some kind of hiding place, somewhere he could reach through the bars… maybe behind that crate? If only he could get to it…. But there was already noise above him, already he could hear someone barking orders, waking people up, alerting them to what was undoubtedly about to happen. Takua whirled around, trying to stash his supplies where they wouldn’t be immediately visible, but — The door, swinging at the top of the stairs. A gleaming black, abnormally skinny figure, staring down the hold at him. Sithrak. “It’s… been a while, Takua!” “No,” Takua murmured as Sithrak spread his arms, casually, pompously strolling down the stairs toward him. “Mata Nui, please….” There were Kryll behind him; his entourage: a few brutes, none of which he recognized, then Rashi… and, of course — Jaka. Dragged by the arm, struggling the whole way down the stairs. Cook trailed behind the Le-Matoran, seemingly his unofficial caretaker, and after a moment or two, there was Chief, pausing in the doorway of his infirmary, curious, yet hanging back, obviously not trying to get involved. “You know…!” Sithrak called out, making his way down the hold, triumphantly approaching the cell. “This whole time I’ve been so busy, I haven’t had time to come down and visit you. But I hadn’t heard much on your end, so I just assumed that… well, you were being good this whole time!” Takua swallowed, not answering, raising his chin as the Kryll approached. He was close now, grabbing the key ring at his sash, selecting the correct one as he reached the cell door. He unlocked it, the metal bars creaking quietly as they swung open, and Takua met the Kryll’s forest green gaze. It was abundantly clear that there was no barrier between them now. Sithrak squatted, looking at Takua not as an angry captor, but rather a disappointed parent. “Tell me, Takua,” he said calmly, the soft, polluted sound of his voice rumbling. “You promised to be good… did you break your promise to me?” Takua hesitated. His shackles were unlocked, his fork hidden against his wrist, underneath their metal. And he knew that he could do it — it would take just a second to lunge forward and plunge it into Sithrak’s neck. But… his gaze shifted to Jaka, standing terrified next to the largest of the brutes, a great Kryll claw resting firmly on his shoulder. Subtly, his friend shook his head. “I’ve been good,” Takua responded quietly. “That’s not quite what I’ve heard though,” Sithrak responded, shifting his weight, the trinkets around his waist jingling. “Look, Takua…” the captain sighed, rubbing his temples, annoyed that he’d been woken up in the middle of the night to deal with this. “I like to think of myself as a reasonable Kryll, so… just cooperate, please? Just show me what you have behind your back, and no one has to die tonight.” And Takua was stopped in his tracks. As horrible as Sithrak was, as sadistic as he knew he could be… that last sentence seemed like the truest thing he’d ever said. He shared another brief glance with Jaka and made his decision. “I was hungry,” Takua admitted, moving out of the way, revealing his bundle to the Kryll. “You said you wanted me to eat, and I always got hungry in the night when I didn’t get fed. So, I saved up a bit…” he trailed off, praying the Kryll would buy his story. “...I just wanted to be good,” he swallowed, stifling his pride. “I just wanted… to obey.” Sithrak lunged forward, pushing Takua out of the way and grabbing the bundle. He emptied it, the food and water thumping to the floor, rolling about the cell as the cloth unfurled. “First of all…” Sithrak watched the supplies come to a halt. “Where did you get the blanket from, I wonder?” Takua closed his eyes, hiding a gulp as the bread briefly grazed his foot. He didn’t know how to respond to that. “Did you hear me, Takua? I said, ‘where did you get the blanket from, I wonder?’” “I…” Takua stammered, not daring to make eye contact with Chief, whose yellow gaze honed on him from down the hull, now realizing the terrible mistake he’d made. “It was left on a nearby crate, so I grabbed it.” And Sithrak laughed. The Kryll looked over his shoulder, addressing his largest brute. “Every time Takua lies, bring me one of his friend’s fingers.” “What!?” “Aah!” Jaka was thrown to the ground, the brute on top of him, the Matoran’s hand forced against the rough wood floor. A blade was unsheathed. “Stop!” Takua yelled instantly “It wasn’t him! He didn’t do anything!” “It wasn’t?” Sithrak reached out, his bony claws lashing out, gripping Takua’s cheek. “Then who was it? Who helped you?” “It wasn’t anyone!” “Oh! No one?” Sithrak looked back to his brute, shrugging nonchalantly. “I guess that’s two fingers then.” “Sithrak!” It was Rashi’s voice now, and Takua looked to her, standing in the back with Chief. After her comments last time, after she’d delivered that note from Illum, Takua thought maybe… just maybe…. “Oh! Yes, you’re right, Rashi,” Sithrak replied before she could say anything else. “I’ve already done this haven’t I?” And then, his voice grew cold, unable to hide his displeasure anymore. “Let’s not do fingers this time. How do ribs sound to you, Takua?” Crack! Jaka cried out as the brute pummeled an armored fist into his side. “Stop it!” “Sithrak!” Rashi’s voice again, but with a snap of the captain’s fingers another brute had grabbed her, pulling her back to the stairs, away where she couldn’t annoy him anymore. “Tell me, Takua. If not your friend, then who was it? Did one of my crew betray me?” Slam! Jaka cried out again, now coughing, wheezing as his chest armor cracked. He writhed on the ground, at the full mercy of the Kryll above him. “It was me!” Takua unconsciously glanced back to Chief, who was half-hiding behind his door, not daring to intervene. “No one else helped!” “Hmm…” Sithrak picked at one of his nails, bored. “That’s… what, three ribs now?” Thunk! “Ah, Mata Nui!” Jaka screamed, his head throwing back, his Mask against the floor. “Oh, Makuta!” Sithrak mocked, rolling his eyes. “How many ribs to Matoran have? I need to make sure I know when to move on to something else.” The brute wound up again, his steel knuckles ready for another blow, and Takua made eye contact with his friend’s pale Kakama, wheezing, writhing, pinned to the floor. Jaka managed a few gasping, desperate words, only understandable through reading his lips. “Don’t… let him… win….” “Wait!” Sithrak held up his hand, stopping everyone mid-movement. “Well — now that I’ve thought about it, I guess I don’t really need Takua’s word,” he shrugged. “I mean, it is pretty obvious, after all.” Takua’s eye’s widened. Chief froze in the doorway to his quarters paralyzed. “Just… wow, it’s blaringly obvious now,” Sithrak stood up, addressing his brutes and Rashi, who was held at the top of the stairs now. “Who spends so much time down here? Who has access to all our supplies? Who, among all the people in this room right now, would be most likely to help a lowly, sniveling worm, such as our lovely Le-Matoran friend here?” Sithrak scanned the room, pausing for an uncomfortably long amount of time. No one moved, no one spoke. No one dared do anything. “Anyone want to guess?” Sithrak blurted out, his toothy, uneven smile genuinely asking for input. “…No? Okay.” He shrugged, his smile fading as he looked down the hull in the direction of Rashi, Chief, and Jaka. Takua closed his eyes, holding his breath. “I really thought you’d learned your lesson, brother.” A whimper, a terrified moan, and Takua looked to see the brute letting go of Jaka, standing up, and marching to the back of the hold where Cook stood. The small brown Kryll was shaking his head and raising his hands, cowering lower and lower as the brute approached. “No…” Takua let out, knowing exactly what was about to happen, hating himself for it all. “No, it wasn’t him!” But Sithrak ignored him. Growling, the brute seized Cook by the mandible, yanking him toward Sithrak, ignoring the small Kryll’s yelps of pain. With a flick of his arm Cook was thrown to the floor, staggering, falling to his knees before his captain. Takua looked frantically around, from Jaka to Rashi to Chief, wishing he could do something. “You spoke against me once, and I silenced you.” Sithrak crossed his arms, shaking his head. “And you — much like our Matoran friend here — promised me… that you’d be good.” Cook shook his head, clicking his mandibles, his dark grey eyes nervously flicking from Sithrak, to Takua, and back again. “I spared you,” Sithrak spat, disgusted with the Kryll before him. “And you repay me with betrayal? Betrayal, big brother?” And as Takua watched, he realized that Sithrak and Cook had the same lean, narrow build, a body type uncommon for most Kryll. Different as they were in personality, Sithrak and Cook… they were family. “Sithrak, do not do this…!” Rashi called from the top of the stairs. But that only enraged him, and with fire in his eyes he ordered her out of his sight, grabbing Cook by the throat and lifting him off the ground. Cook yelped, gasping for air as Sithrak whirled around to Takua. “Look what you’ve done, Matoran!” he screamed. “You’ve turned my kin against me! And that! Cannot! Go…!” he looked back to Cook, manic and furious, breathing heavily as the slightly smaller Kryll clawed at his grip. “…Unpunished!” “He didn’t do anything!” Takua blurted out. Sithrak roared, throwing Cook to the ground, slamming his armored boot into his chest, kicking him repeatedly in the stomach, over and over again as Cook screamed and moaned, his eyes squeezed shut as he tried to curl into a ball, but Sithrak gave no mercy. Over and over again, Sithrak pushed him across the floor with each blow, and when there was no more room to push further, he yelled again, grabbing Cook by the shoulders to lift him up, only to throw him in the other direction, unleashing yet another enraged onslaught. Takua didn’t know what to do. He looked again to Jaka, and then Chief, but both of them only stared at their feet. What could anyone do? Thunk! Thunk! Thunk! Takua held his breath, trying to blot out the sound of Cook’s wails, the sound of Sithrak’s boot slamming him across the floor, beating him into a pile of crates, breaking his armor, fracturing his bones. A few horrible, excruciating minutes passed, and Cook’s wails became grunts, then gasps, and then… he made no sound at all. Thunk! Thunk Thunk! But Sithrak’s beating continued, all with Cook unmoving, not fighting back, taking the full force of every blow. The captain raged with bloodshot eyes, winding up again and again, taking his rage out on the defenseless cook. The crates underneath him broke, spilling supplies over the floor as his body was beaten, lower and lower. Thunk! Thunk! Thunk! Again, again, and again… Takua watched, unable to do anything for him. And finally — finally — Sithrak paused, breathing heavy as he turned back to Takua, adjusting his sash as he made himself presentable again. “Look at me, Takua.” He couldn’t. “No? Then look at my poor brother… bleeding, shattered, broken… all at your hand.” Sithrak snapped his fingers, and another of his brutes moved, shuffling Jaka away, back to the stairs. But Sithrak remained, staring down at Takua, arms open as he presented Cook’s broken body, still strewn about the broken, splintered crates. “All this… because of you.” Takua didn’t respond. He glanced beyond the captain, meeting Chief’s dark eyes from further down the hull. “I am… truly merciful — your friend remains unharmed tonight,” Sithrak went on. “Well, mostly unharmed I suppose. But if I hear that you’re not being good again… look at me, Takua.” This time, Takua lifted his head. “If I hear you’re not being good…” Sithrak trailed off, slowly nodding as he looked down on Takua’s mask. “...Well, I think you understand.” Takua met Sithrak’s gaze, his anger, his hatred, his rage refueled, the fire inside him blazing once more. He kept his hands still within the unlocked shackles, feeling the yet unnoticed fork against his wrist. He understood. He understood very clearly now. ~~~ Aya took a deep breath, shifting in her chair. Kokani had calmed down — it had been rough for a few minutes there, but he’d eventually slipped away, falling into a sleep, or a trance, or… something. The Ko-Matoran rested on the bed, eyes half-closed, breathing steadily. Outside, the night was quiet, only a few echoes of far-off activity reaching their window. She waited a minute or so, watching Illum like a hawk, before deciding it was time. Half the reason she’d went along with this was because she’d been waiting for this little bit of privacy, and… well. Perhaps it was best not to overthink. “Alone at last….” Illum blinked as she broke the silence, looking up before he replied. “Just another night in the city.” Aya huffed in agreement, folding her arms. “So… you’re not nervous?” “…Nervous?” “Your trial. All the Toa and Turaga are deciding your fate right now. And you don’t seem to care.” “I’ve done nothing wrong.” She scoffed. “Nobody ever does anything wrong. Until there’s a trial, and it’s decided that they did.” Illum sighed, leaning forward. “We’ve been down this road before. What do you want, Aya?” “Answers,” she said, drawing her dagger and fiddling with it. She lowered her voice, letting the city sounds waft through the window, obscuring her words from potential eavesdroppers. “And I’m going to be honest with you — if I don’t think you’re telling the truth, or if you make a lot of noise…” she hesitated, flipping the blade between her fingers. “…Well I’d just really advise against it.” Illum paused, breathing in sharply as he crossed his legs, leaning back. He was polite, but firm. “Are you sure about this, Aya? I’m sure I don’t have tell you that things generally don’t end well for those who threaten a Turaga.” Aya narrowed her eyes. “I might say the same about those who meet their enemies unarmed.” “Enemies? Here I thought you were starting to warm up to me,” Illum smirked, before following up in a darker tone. “And you’re a fool if you think I’m unarmed.” Aya’s skin prickled, but she decided he had to be bluffing, and met his demeanor. The room was quiet, but outside, someone’s shout echoed. Aya got straight to the point. “You’re sabotaging the council.” “Never.” Aya leaned forward, her mask in shadow. “Don’t lie to me. You’re still on the Kryll’s side; you’re feeding them information, and you’re plotting some takeover now that all the Turaga are in one place.” “My story won’t change simply because you’ve drawn your knife.” “Then how did that Kryll get into the city?” she hissed. “How did it get past the guards? Don’t tell me there’s nothing going on here.” “Why do you think we’re doing this, Aya?” Illum motioned to Kokani. “Because something is going on, and despite my best efforts, I can’t figure out what.” “It’s your gas, isn’t it? You’re infecting Mako, making him go crazy. You’re sabotaging Ta-Koro’s security so the Kryll can slip in unnoticed.” “Don’t be ridiculous — ” “Don’t lie to me!” Aya hissed, stabbing her dagger into the armrest of her chair. Scooting forward, she leaned over, putting herself between Illum and the door, ignoring the increasing noise from the city. “You said it yourself; with the right dose you can temporarily infect someone. That’s what you’re doing to him, isn’t it?” But Illum wasn’t intimidated. Instead, he matched her passion, motioning to his bag of canisters. “How do you think this works Aya? You think I’m sitting on a mountain of this? It’s the Kryll’s most precious resource. They guard it with their lives; if we defeat them in battle they blow up their cashes before we can capture them. I’m lucky to get even get a handful of canisters, let alone the kind of quantities needed to refine daily doses. And for weeks on end? That would — ” “Then why are you prying your fingers into his security checks? Why are you sending Raipu to watch over him every morning?” And it was Illum’s turn to scoff. “What are you talking about? Raipu is a clerk. He schedules my meetings and carries messages for me, he doesn’t have the authority to go on security checks. And he certainly doesn’t have access to the gas.” Aya rolled her eyes. “That’s funny, because I’ve definitely seen him — ” Her tongue fell silent and her heart stopped as her mind clicked. The clamor outside grew louder, wafting up, echoing between the buildings as she looked back to Illum. “…You didn’t tell him to go on those security checks?” She saw confusion on Illum’s mask, and she found that horribly unnerving. “No. I pitied him for what happened in Onu-Koro. So I gave him a job, but that doesn’t mean I trust him with overseeing security.” Aya’s head whipped to the window as someone shouted, and she realized the noises, the racket she’d passed off as typical city life — they were shouts and screams. And they were getting closer. “No…” she whispered to herself, eyes suddenly flicking from Kokani to Illum to the window again. She jolted up, sticking her head out the window, hearing now — the clashing of steel, the shrieks of fear and pain. “No… no, no, no!” Illum was up now too, but Aya had no mind for him. In a frenzy she whirled around, readying her weapons, blood pumping as she secured her bow and made for the door. “Aya — !” “Keep him safe!” She yelled over her shoulder as she burst through the door and into the hallway, sparing Rae a brief glance before making the decision to toss her a spare dagger. “Keep them both safe,” she nodded to the startled Matoran, before taking off for the stairs. Down three steps at a time, she careened down the staircase and crashed onto the second floor, flying past the doors, briefly scanning their numbers… there! Room twenty-seven, and — wham! She threw her weight against it, not caring for stealth anymore, expecting to have to break the lock. But the door to Raipu’s room swung open, and she stumbled in, catching herself before gravity could take over. And she froze, blinking in silence. It was empty. Raipu, and all his things — all his mess, all his documents, all his plans and schedules and blueprints… they were gone. “No!” she screamed. Barreling out again, down the hallway and to the first floor, through the inn’s double doors and out into the courtyard, she raced for the guardhouse. Blood pumping, lungs churning, she crossed the space in a second, fearing what she’d find as she barged her way toward Mako’s quarters. Every second increasing her anxiety, she was horrified to find the guardhouse abandoned. No one at attention, no one on patrol, no one to even lock the doors as she pushed them easily open, quickly finding Mako’s quarters — not deserted. The guard-captain himself was there, writhing on the floor. “Mako!” she slid to his side, wanting to help but not knowing what to do. “What happened? What’s going on? Where are all the guards?” His Matatu looked up, withered and sickly, his eyes bloodshot, sunken in, and twitching. Aya scooted back, scared to touch him, realizing this was the same sickness she’d seen in him before. He wheezed and coughed, trying to speak or move, but his body not cooperating as it spasmed. His arm reached for the curtained window, motioning… pointing? “I don’t…” Aya swallowed. “I don’t understand! How do I help you?” He heaved, struggling to his hands and knees, still motioning to the window, and Aya got up and opened the curtains, moonlight spilling into the small office. And suddenly Mako found strength. He grabbed her wrist, pulling her down, clutching her mask in his hands. Aya looked into his eyes and knew that she’d been right, at least partially. The moonlight illuminated the edges of his mask, and she saw just the tiniest hint of rust. He’d been poisoned, infected — temporarily, at least. Mako sputtered, forcing the words out, fighting against his own mind, resisting, with all his might, the infection within his veins. “…Cis… tern….” Aya cursed. How could she have been so stupid? In an instant she’d left, leaving Mako to fight his own battle, and was racing through Ta-Koro’s streets, searching for any guards, but with no luck. The sounds of chaos were loud now, echoing all around, yet she saw nothing. The screams of Matoran, the clashes of steel echoed around the buildings, reaching her ears yet hiding from view. And so she leapt into her secret pathways, for fear of being ambushed. Up balconies and atop roofs, across alleyways and through tunnels, she sprinted for the cistern, ready for anything, yet terrified at what lay ahead. It took her only a few minutes to reach the tunnel entrance. And she stopped, staring into its depths. Breathing heavy, she watched for any movement, but it was quieter here, away from the city center — and she feared that meant she was too late. With a deep inhale, she moved, down the steps, hearing the water as she approached. Breezing past dust and moss, nerves on high alert as she inhaled the cool, humid air. Soon the tunnel opened up, and she saw the central chamber. She saw the guards. Dozens of them, lying on the stone dais, in the water, slumped against the walls. Slaughtered, every single one. Their wounds fresh and open, their blood streaked the churning water, and it wasn’t hard to figure out what had happened. The pipes that emptied into this room, they’d been barred when she’d been here last. They weren’t anymore. Aya sank to her knees, staring at the twisted, smoldering ends of the iron latticework, blown apart by Kryll explosives. And she remembered the plans she’d seen in Raipu’s room, the illustrations, the blueprints, the booklets that diagrammed the Koro’s waterways. Her shoulders sank, hating herself for not realizing it sooner. He’d even said it to her face. I come here every evening. But it wasn’t because he couldn’t sleep. It’d been to get a new canister; a new dose for Mako, to keep him at the edge of Madness. At just the right dose, you can induce a state of fear, of terror. Illum’s words echoed in her head. It breaks one’s sense of free will, leaves them vulnerable to commands. Every evening Mako had been made a slave, and every evening his body had tried to reject the poison, sending him coughing, wheezing, stumbling back to his quarters. And every morning, he’d had no choice but to take Raipu on his security checks. Every morning, the two had entered the council chamber — Mata Nui. The Turaga, the Toa… all locked within, and they had no idea. She turned heel and ran, the thought consuming her mind. What had Raipu done to it?
  10. Hi all! Just popping in to say that I'm trying to keep up with the posting. I just had a kid! This is difficult! Love you bye!
  11. Chapter 14 - Trial by Darkness It was time. Aya watched the procession before her, unable to shake the dread from her shoulders. She could feel every minute pass, every second tick by as the Turaga and Toa marched past, as if some sixth sense of hers was counting down to doom. She’d seen too many strange things to believe everything was going to be alright, but she still had no proof, and she couldn’t stop it now. Like the beings before her, fate marched forward, and Ta-Koro’s clocktower boomed, signaling the beginning — or maybe the end — of seemingly everything. Five times the great tower rang, and Aya stood beside Kokani from the square outside Vakama’s palace, amidst a decent-sized crowd. Everyone looked to the great iron doors where the Turaga and Toa now met. The council was about to begin, and Illum’s trial — what everyone had been talking about for weeks — was finally about to happen. Vakama started talking, addressing the crowd, saying something about what was to come, something about unity in darkness and the threat of Makuta, but Aya didn’t hear any of it. She was too busy trying to reassure herself, looking to the masks of the Toa, telling herself that even if something was afoot, the Toa would succeed. They would protect the Turaga, they would get to the bottom of it, and all would be well in the end. Right? She blinked, and before she knew it Vakama’s speech was over, and they were all filing into the palace. All, except for one. Aya took a deep breath, nerves prickling as she saw Mako lead a small group away from the doors, parting the crowd and moving to exit the square. A mixture of Ta and Onu-Matoran guards — they escorted a lone figure, barely visible between their spears. But even if she couldn’t see, Aya knew who it was. The convoy passed in front of her and she briefly caught a glimpse of his eyepatch. His single, deep green eye latched onto hers for a second before disappearing into the crowd. Illum seemed… smug. And Aya shuddered, suddenly unable to take it. She looked back to the doors, knowing that she had to do something, that this was her last chance, and without thinking she shoved her way forward, moving for the palace, but almost everyone was already inside. Only one figure still stood in the quickly closing doorway. “Toa Gali…” she muttered as she broke free of the crowd, picking up her pace, unable to control herself as she was racing for the doors. “Toa Gali…!” she called out. “…Hey, stop!” “You! Stop right there!” Aya slid to a halt just before the closing doorway, face to face with the spears of two guards. But she’d succeeded. The Toa turned at the sound of her name, and her Kaukau lit up as they made eye contact. “Easy! Stay your blades, friends,” Gali told the guards, waving off their weapons. “This one’s alright; I know her. If you could give us a minute?” The guards exchanged a glance and stepped back, granting them just enough space for a private conversation. “Toa Gali,” Aya addressed her, relieved to finally see her again, yet wishing this moment had happened so much sooner. Her breathing was heavy as she tried to think of what to say, and how to say it fast enough. “Something’s… going on. I know it. Please — ” Aya paused, fumbling with her words as she tried to not look too frantic. She huffed, settling on a brief, poignant phrase. “…Please don’t let anything happen.” But Gali seemed to understand. She knelt to Aya’s level, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. “You do not need to be afraid.” “But I — ” Aya stopped herself from cursing, uncomfortable with admitting it, even to a Toa. “But I am.” “Oh, Aya…” Gali let out a smile, but her eyes were somber. “Whatever happens, know that it is the will of Mata Nui. We will see each other again.” The Toa’s words only seemed to worsen her dread. She just couldn’t shake the sense of impending doom, and with hesitation on her mask, she looked up at the Toa. “How can you be so sure?” “You are strong, Aya of Ga-Koro, and I wish we could’ve had more time,” she nodded with confidence, clasping Aya’s head with both hands, gingerly pressing their foreheads together. “But before I go, know that there is a bond between us. Your struggles — and those of your friends — may be much to bear, but know that whatever happens, I will be with you in heart.” And she stood, letting out another smile as she looked down at Aya, who didn’t know what to make of that. The Toa nodded to the guards and stepped back into the palace as the great iron doors began to close. Aya watched as she was enveloped in shadow, not ready for her to leave. But Gali gave a reassuring nod, and spoke once more before they were separated. “Look for me, in your dreams.” Aya shook her head. “I don’t… understand….” “I will come to you then; remember what I show you.” “But — !” “Remember us, Aya.” And with a thunderous, final clang, the iron doors slammed shut. Aya didn’t know what to do. She stared at the carved metal, feeling alone and isolated. The early evening light shone through Ta-Koro’s smoke, glimmering off her armor, and she could hear the crowd start to shuffle behind her. It would be many hours before the doors opened again, before any final decision was made, and Aya — like everyone else — had other matters to attend to in that time. She took a deep breath, pulling herself together as she felt eyes on the back of her head. “Aya.” “I know, Kokani,” she turned around to meet his Akaku, her jaw tight with apprehension. Behind the Ko-Matoran, the crowd was thinning, but she noticed someone else standing a dozen feet away. Someone in dark armor, someone patiently, quietly, watching them. Aya shifted her focus, seeing that it was Rae. The Onu-Matoran nodded, her Ruru flashing before she spoke. Her voice was smooth, tempting… and dark “Come,” she said, locking eyes with the two of them. “It is time.” ~~~ Time was of the essence now, and Takua spent every moment working on the cell door. He became practically nocturnal, staying up late into the night, prying his fork into the keyhole, using what he’d learned from the shackles to pick his way to freedom. But the door’s iron proved more troublesome, and having to reach around the bars, blind, working with only the resistance he could feel in his fingers… the going was slow. Far too slow, for his liking. He was up the entire night after his meeting with Jaka, determined to be ready when the time came. The news his friend brought, the fact that the Matoran might have found them, that they had almost crossed the sea, it brought a new sense of urgency to his work. He had to pull this off, no matter what it took. Crack! “Mata Nui!” he cursed as his fork shattered, its last prong lodging itself in the keyhole. He’d been able to push one of the pins in place, but no more. Grunting, he looked at his now prong-less fork, disappointed to have lost it, yet pleased it had done so much for him. Well… no matter. He had more. He tossed it over his shoulder, reaching out for his new blanket, uncovering his two remaining lock-picking tools. Grabbing the utensil that Cook had given him, he moved to begin again — but then, movement. Above his head the Kryll moved, their thumps and groans increasing, and Takua realized that it must be dawn already. He shook his head, disappointed. He’d hoped to get more accomplished in the night. Cautious, he sat back against the hull, placing the shackles loosely around his wrists as the crew woke up. It turned out to be a smart move, as a few minutes later, the door to the hold swung open to reveal Cook, who descended the stairs with a large sack slung over his shoulder. Takua sat up, grabbing his forks and blanket, shoving them behind his back as the Kryll made his way down. There was a bit of pep in his walk, seemingly due to the amount of food he had in his bulging sack. Either way, the Kryll was soon outside his bars, slumping the burlap onto the floor beside him. “Good morning,” Takua said cheerfully, nodding. The mottled Kryll spared Takua a glance and a click from his mandibles. He began to rummage through the sack. Takua watched as Cook pulled out half a loaf of bread, a small wedge of cheese, and — his eyes widened at seeing it — a fresh mango. Placing the food gently within Takua’s cell, the Kryll then uncorked a bottle secured to his hip, pouring a small cup of water and handing it to Takua through the bars. “Thank you…” Takua smiled, taking the cup from him, careful not to expose the blanket behind his back. “Fresh fruit today? Did you get re-supplied?” Cook stood back to his full height, clicking his mandibles again, eyes narrowing happily. “Well… good!” Takua assumed that meant yes. “I’m happy for you.” The Kryll cocked his head, as if he didn’t quite know what to make of that. But a moment later, he gave Takua a content nod. There was a pause, and Takua hesitated, hoping he wasn’t about to abuse Cook’s kindness, but he had to take the risk. “Hey,” he blurted out, “while you’re here, I was wondering… would I be able to get a bottle, or maybe a jug? I just get so thirsty during the night, and I know Sithrak wants me to stay healthy, so I just thought…” Takua trailed off, biting his tongue, cringing at his words as Cook stared down at him, unmoving. “I mean, if you can’t I understand… I just thought I’d ask….” Cook blinked, lost in thought for an uncomfortably long moment. But then he shrugged, letting out a slight chirp as he motioned for Takua’s empty cup. Reaching out, Takua gave it to him, and Cook replaced it with the bottle. Takua’s fingers closed around the glass, instantly relieved, pleased to have obtained the very first of his supplies. He smiled at the small, unassuming figure before him. “…You’re a good Kryll.” And in classic fashion, Cook didn’t move for slightly too-many seconds, but then he clicked his mandibles and left. ~~~ Rae pushed the door, holding it open for Kokani and Aya, but the two didn’t enter. Kokani stood in the doorway, staring into their room at the inn. A lone lightstone flickered, its faint glow revealing Illum, sitting comfortably in the corner. His eye flashed, looking up from the small bag he was holding. “Welcome, friends.” Neither of them budged. Kokani scanned the room, making sure everything was in order before speaking. “Your guards?” “In a barracks near the Lake of Fire. Far enough away to not pose a threat.” He glanced to Rae. “And her?” Rae held up her hands, revealing that she was weaponless, and Illum spoke for her. “She’ll watch the door to ensure our privacy,” he said, glancing to Aya, who was armed to the teeth and gripping her dagger with white knuckles. “She’ll be no match for you.” Aya grimaced, leaning over Kokani’s shoulder. “His guards could be in the next room for all we know….” “Let me put this simply,” Illum sighed. “If I wanted you dead — you’d be dead already.” Kokani and Aya made eye contact; Illum did have a way with words. Aya spoke first, her voice low. “You sure about this?” Kokani’s steel gaze settled on the Onu-Matoran. “No.” “We can still leave….” Kokani took a deep breath, gripping his staff as the shadows flickered around them. But then, without words, he stepped inside the room. Rae let them enter, and then bowed as she exited, pulling the door behind her. With a click, it latched shut, and they were alone with the Turaga of Onu-Koro. “Good,” Illum arose, moving suddenly to action. “Quickly now — we have no time to waste. The Turaga’s council may last all night, but they will need me as soon as they are finished. And the time frame for our results is unpredictable.” Kokani watched closely. “And how do I know this won’t end terribly? How do I know I won’t be a slave to Makuta when the night is over?” “You don’t,” Illum looked up from the bed. “And it will be terrible — but you’re not one to fear a challenge, are you?” he smirked. “I don’t like this…” Aya crossed her arms. “I don’t like this, Kokani….” “None of us like it,” Illum replied. “But ask yourself — if not us, if not the Protectors of the Atouri, if not those chosen by the Turaga to ensure the second coming of the Toa of Light… then who? Who else will be willing?” The Ga-Matoran frowned, but Illum didn’t wait for her response. He was a whirlwind of energy now, preparing the space for what was about to happen. He produced a wide, shallow dish, and placed it on the ground in the middle of the room, beckoning for the Ko-Matoran to sit in front of it, at the edge of his bed. Kokani obliged, and Illum turned his attention to Aya’s bed. And as he fiddled with it, Kokani noticed something. It was difficult to see in the dim light, but it was obvious now… its surface wasn’t flat. There was a shape, under the covers…. Illum turned as he grabbed the blankets, pausing for a second to warn his companions. “Brace yourselves.” He said calmly, and he pulled the blankets aside, revealing — a body. The body of a Matoran. Kokani stood up as Aya cursed, and they both looked to Illum, ready for anything. “What is this?” Kokani demanded. “Take a look.” Illum stood aside so the two could see, and Kokani bent over, staring at the bed. It was an older Le-Matoran, with a lime green body and a withered, grey Ruru. Not a natural grey, but rather, as if it had lost all its color, as if it’s life force had been drained. Kokani inspected it, eyes scanning the withered figure for… he wasn’t exactly sure. But he realized something — this Matoran still drew breath; he was still alive. And as he leaned closer, as the silence in the room permeated the air… Kokani could hear him. He was speaking, barely. Inconsistently muttering between shallow, ragged breaths, but yes — he was speaking. As if his mind was on a loop, as if all thoughts except one had left him, this Le-Matoran spoke one word, over and over: …Takua. “Familiar?” Kokani whirled around, his jaw clenched, fiery eyes meeting Illum’s. “Where did you find him?” “Lewa and Gali did,” Illum replied. “A lone survivor from Le-Koro — the only one still breathing who hadn’t disappeared. An unnamed Storyteller; a sleeping body, lost without its spirit — a victim of the late Toa of Shadow, no doubt.” He unapologetically met Kokani's stare. “I know you were close with Matau… I assume you’ve met before?” Kokani’s eyes narrowed. “…A long time ago.” Illum nodded. “I will not lie to you — what you are about to do is dangerous. To enter the void, to become one with the Makuta, to experience the Madness and return… it is not something I have ever accomplished. I can only tell you what I know from Whenua’s notes.” Kokani watched him as he opened his bag, grabbing two cloth-covered cylinders, placing them near the metal dish on the floor. “He wrote of the terrors waiting within the void… but if you are true, if you face them head on and defeat everything thrown at you, you will find the truth.” He glanced back to the Storyteller. “Whenua was not shy about describing his horrors, but he also stressed his belief that dark could not exist without light, and if he looked for it, it was always there. He said there were always… spirits, always tiny points of light, leading him in the right direction — if he could only stay true and follow them.” Illum trailed off, watching the Storyteller’s ragged breath. “I can’t say for certain, but I thought perhaps… he may be of help to you.” Kokani looked back to Aya, who gave him an ambiguous shrug. He sat back down on the bed, and Illum turned to him, kneeling on the other side of his metal dish. “I know we have our differences, but I want you to succeed, Kokani,” Illum said, removing the cloth from his canisters, revealing the silver, shimmering glow of Energized Protodermis. And the dull, grey-green of Makuta’s essence. “…For all our sakes.” Kokani paused, staring at the substances as their light reflected off his mask. He glanced once more to Aya, and the Ga-Matoran met his gaze, still nervous, still untrusting, but now resolute in — or maybe resigned to — their decision. Her words trembled only a little. “For Takua. And Jaka.” Kokani turned back to Illum, his mask rigid. “Do it.” Illum smiled. With a click and a hiss of pressurized air, Illum opened the vials, carefully, gingerly, pouring them into the dish. The substances mixed together, the Energized Protodermis flowing like thick water, the essence of Makuta clouding around it, its infectious color mixing, forming dark streaks in the pure silver liquid. It was as if the two wanted to combine, the gas hovering at the surface of the dish, being pulled in as ripples reached up, as if the two elements were alive. “Just the right dose, just the right concentration,” Illum spoke, emptying the silver canister, and shutting infectious one with a click. “No more… no less.” Kokani stared down at the dish, watching as the streaks of silver and grey-green swirled around each other, twisting, churning, morphing into one viscous, rippling mass of putrid grey. It was nothing if not unsettling. As if this was a substance that simply shouldn’t be. And Illum lifted the dish, offering it to Kokani. His words were simple. “Your Kanohi.” “Kokani…” Aya’s concern reached him, but he continued. He reached out, his fingertips pausing at the surface of the substance, his mask watching Illum’s, the flickering lightstone, the undulations and swells within the dish. And, swallowing, he touched it. It felt like nothing. Smooth and slippery, almost like water, without it being wet. It seemed to break the laws of the earth, refusing to behave the way it was expected to. It was a liquid, obviously, but its edges, its surface seemed fuzzy and vague, like a gas. Cupping a small amount within his palms, he brought it close to his mask, its viscosity not allowing any to slip through his fingers, yet it filtered into the air around him, rising like steam to his Akaku. And all the while, Illum watched patiently, excitedly. “Breathe…” the Onu-Matoran murmured. “Inhale its fumes, place it upon your mask… let it merge with you, and it will do the same.” Kokani did. In and out he breathed as he brought it closer to his mask, seeing the fumes billow around him. Fresh air filled his lungs — or so it seemed. In and out, in and out… he closed his eyes, calming himself, shoulders relaxing as he brought it to his mask. He felt now, more than ever, that he was atop a mountain in Ko-Koro, the crisp, cold, fresh air unmoving around him. His heart beat slow and calm within his chest. Thump-thp. And he placed it on his mask, sensing it, ever-so-slightly — but then it was gone, disappeared into thin air, or maybe absorbed within him. He opened his eyes, finding himself back in the dimly lit room, looking at Illum as Aya peered over his shoulder. Their eyes shone faintly before him, curious, nervous, excited… perhaps all three at once. “How do you feel?” Kokani looked down to his palms, turning them over, watching as he moved his fingers, touching them to his thumbs. He shook his head. “Fine.” Illum’s one eye narrowed. “Remember, no matter what happens, you have to keep going. Stay true… and you will find the truth.” “I don’t think it worked.” “Trust me,” Illum let out a smug huff, standing up and turning to inspect the Storyteller. “It worked.” Kokani frowned. He didn’t know what to expect, but he definitely expected something. His vision was good, his mind felt sharp, and everything seemed normal as Illum packed his cylinders away. He had a small tickle in his throat from inhaling the fumes, but other than that? Nothing. “Well?” Kokani cleared his throat, scratching the tickle as he replied to Aya. “…Nothing.” “What game are you playing, Illum?” Aya growled. “No games… just give it time.” “How much — ” Kokani coughed as his itch persisted. “How much time?” Illum’s mask flashed in the dim light. “Not much at all….” “Hmm,” Kokani scowled, clutching his chest, growing impatient already. “Kokani?” It was… that tickle. Just a tinge, an annoying spot inside his lungs. He coughed once more, clearing his throat for a third time. But still, it remained. “...Kokani?” He looked past Aya to Illum, and the flickering lightstone on the wall. “I’m fine.” “You look pale.” “I’m fine,” he repeated. But it wouldn’t go away. He coughed again, louder and heavier as the tickle persevered, as it latched onto the inside of his lungs. It only seemed to grow, in fact, changing from a point of irritation to an itch that rose in his throat, throughout his chest. From an itch, to an ache. From an ache, to… burning. “Ah…” he hacked, pounding his chest. He just… couldn’t get it out. “Kokani? I’m right here, what do you need?” “I don’t…” Kokani blinked, looking to the Storyteller, unconscious as Illum wiped his mask with a damp cloth. The lightstone flickered above them. Was it… fuzzy? “…I don’t know.” The sliver of Illum’s eye as he turned partially around. “Embrace it, Kokani. Don’t be afraid.” “I’m not afraid,” he grimaced, annoyed with the Onu-Matoran already. And then he was coughing again, realizing now that there was sweat on his mask. Aya knelt in front of him, eyes flicking back and forth. He tried to concentrate on them, but she seemed to go in and out of focus, like the very surface of… whatever he had just ingested. “Illum,” he said calmly. “Yes?” Illum answered without turning, as if he didn’t want to look at him. “What — ” but he coughed again, the burning in his chest now suddenly fire, spreading down to his stomach, up through his neck. He heaved, his body trying to force something out, louder, heavier. He couldn’t… he couldn’t get it out. “Kokani!” “I’m — fine,” he growled, cutting off his fit, blinking repeatedly, trying to focus, but no, everything was shimmering, everything seemed chaotic. He sputtered, coughing into his palms again, then looked down to find his fingers… twitching? Was he doing that? “Illum!” he raised his voice. Like honeyed tea, like smooth silk — Kokani quickly, passionately, hated his voice. “Yes, Kokani…?” He wheezed, grabbing the edge of his seat, steadying himself as the fire spread within him — through his limbs, up into his head — burning flames upon his face, his mask. Multiplying, taking over. Why was this room so small? “What… did you — ” He wheezed again, doubling over, trying to force it out of his system, but still he couldn’t. He couldn’t get it out. “You’ll have to speak up.” “Aah!” he roared. Sweltering, scorching fire in his veins, in his mind, erupting in his eyes! Aya’s hand was on his shoulder, but he retreated, shoving her away — it was so cramped in this room, why was everyone so close? He needed space. “Kokani you have to tell me what you need; I’m right here!” Another coughing fit, wheezing, doubling over — horrible, burning agony — was that blood on his hands? He just — couldn’t stop coughing; he just… couldn’t… get…. “I…” he blinked, catching a glimpse of Aya’s worried mask. “…I have to get out.” The back of Illum’s head. “You won’t be leaving this room.” “You!” he boomed, abruptly furious, standing up, almost falling over without his staff, with his mind so contaminated. “What… did you… do to me!?” “Kokani, stop! You need to sit down!” Hands on him, and Kokani fell back to the bed, scraping his mask on the hard wall behind him, and Illum turned around, his one, green eye glowing as his voice was suddenly deep, suddenly pounding within his head. “I gave you what you deserve.” “I’ll end you!” Kokani roared back, ready to attack, but hands were on him again, forcing him down, and suddenly he couldn’t move. How many hands were there? He couldn’t feel them, he couldn’t see them, but they forced him down all the same. How many people were in this room? The lightstone went in and out like his breath, pulsating, waxing and waning, and all he could see was Illum’s one good eye, glaring down at him. “It’s okay, Kokani; I’m right here!” “Stop — don’t touch me!” “You escaped justice for so long….” He pushed himself against the wall, trying to free himself of all the fingers that pulled him down, but there was nowhere he could go. He wheezed, gasping for air as his charred lungs tried to expel the poison, to expel the festering infection inside. But he couldn’t get away… he couldn’t get out! “…But not any longer.” “Stop. Stop it!” he spat, he demanded. “Did you really think you could escape? After everything you did?” Illum’s mask towered over him, taunting, relishing in his pain. “All those people you killed — did you really think the world would let it slide? Nuju forgave you, set you on the right path, but did you really think the rest of us would?” He pushed against the wall, scooting backwards, trying to distance himself from the mask, from the swirling, creeping shadows all around him, but there was nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. Nowhere would offer him shelter — not after everything he’d done. “You’ll die alone,” Illum taunted. “Afraid, and in pain. And no one will remember you. No one will care.” “Aya…” he reached out for her, trying to ignore the madness that played out all around him. Trying, with all his might, to resist, to ignore the hands, the claws, pulling him down, scraping against his mask. She said she’d be right there…. “Aya!” he called out. “I’m right here; what do you need?” Her voice, echoing, reverberating in his skull… there she was! He wheezed, eyes bloodshot, his body aching, failing, his fingers twitching as he reached out. “Aya….” But she pulled her hand away, looking down with disgust. “You let Takua and Jaka die. You’re the reason Makuta has the Atouri. Why would I help you?” “No…” he shook his head, not believing it. It was a lie, a trick of the shadows; Aya wouldn’t say that. “You’re not real.” “You burned my home to the ground. And for what? Acceptance? Attention?” Aya shook her head, watching as he writhed on the ground before her. “You’re pathetic.” “Stop,” Kokani rasped, his lungs rattling as he choked out the words, as he fought with everything he had. “You’re not… real!” “All that pain and suffering, because of you. Because of a child, throwing a tantrum,” Aya knelt down, staring at his broken mask, sickened by him. “Did you really think I ever cared about you?” “No…” he refused. “No!” She placed a cold, gentle hand on his mask, her eyes flashing yellow. “You’re such a fool, Kokani.” And the shadows laughed at him. The shadows, the shades, the invisible creatures, deities and demons — they laughed at him, pulling him deeper, lower, tearing at his flesh and armor, and the mask above him shouted, its voice violating his very mind. “You are worthless! You are pathetic! The world will spit on your gave and you will never repent for your sins!” “Stop!” he yelled back, still fighting, still losing. “Stop it!” He repeated, but he knew it was too much. He couldn’t escape; he couldn’t get out, there was no hope for him here; only darkness. Only chaos, penetrating his will and shattering his soul as Illum’s mask — no, not Illum’s mask; it was Saku’s mask — screamed at him. “You betrayed me! Your only friend! The only one who ever cared about you; the only one who ever will!” He squeezed his eyes shut but it was still there, increasing, growing, enveloping him, louder and louder, heavier and heavier. Paralyzed and mute, he was powerless against it, he was nothing compared to it. Everything he’d ever known and been was less than a lowly insect to the exquisite, perfect, masterfulness of what entombed him: the beautiful, holy, Almighty Darkness. “The dirt will eat your flesh, and you will be forgotten! You will die in pain! You will die alone!” “Stop it!” “You will become the void, Kokani of Ko-Koro! You will die, and you will become nothing!” And all at once, Kokani knew it to be true. He knew it, he knew this awful truth with all his heart, and he knew he had no choice. He had no will, he had no power. And he knew, at the end of it all, he was, truly… nothing. So he turned to face the Mask of Shadows, all his thoughts, all his emotions leaving him, and he knew himself, as clearly as he ever had before. “…Do it, then. I am not afraid.” And the darkness paused, chaos and anarchy freezing around him, like the deep, full inhale before a great and terrible sigh. “Kill me! I am ready.” Kokani’s demand echoed as he stood tall against the Kraahkan. But that wasn’t what truly lay before him, was it? No, he could see clearly now. It wasn’t the Mask of Shadows; it never had been. It was an off-white Akaku — it was his own mask. So again, Kokani spoke, this dormant truth making itself known as he stared into the dark — as he stared into himself. “Kill me. I’ve been ready for a long time now.” And just like that, it was over. Just like that, Kokani of Ko-Koro became Nothing.
  12. Chapter 13 - Muted Meetings Banging on the cell’s bars, and Takua was startled awake, eyes blinking as a lightstone shined in his face. He squinted, realizing the blurry figure in front of him was Chief. The Kryll’s scarred face growled. “Five minutes.” Takua hesitated, still half asleep, but then he was gone, disappeared into the shadows of the hold, taking the lightstone with him. A few moments of pitch-black silence passed, and then… another, smaller figure approached. “…Takua?” “Jaka!” Takua’s eyes lit up as he recognized his friend’s voice, and he leaned closer to the bars, barely able to make out his Kakama in the darkness. “Mata Nui,” Jaka breathed a sigh of relief, squatting to Takua’s level. “I was worried this was some kind of trap. Are you okay?” “I’m good… real good, Jaka.” He held out his hands, revealing that he had picked the lock on his shackles. “Look!” “Uh… I can’t really see anything.” “…Right,” Takua replied. He leaned in, his mask inches from Jaka’s, now whispering. “Is Chief out there with you? Are we alone?” “Chief?” “The surgeon.” “I… I think he’s in his quarters.” Takua paused, scanning the gloom as best he could, searching for any sign that they were being eavesdropped on. The hold creaked, rocking as the flagship moved through the water, but aside from that, there was only silence. There didn’t seem to be anyone nearby. “I picked my shackles,” Takua whispered in Jaka’s ear, his words barely audible. “I’m working on the cell door, and I think I’m getting close. We’re going to get out of this, Jaka.” “Yeah,” Jaka nodded cautiously. “You have a plan?” “Kind of… the cook seems to like me, and I bet I could stockpile some supplies — I just need a little more time. But once I pick my cell door, we could steal one of those longboats and sail out of here.” “Alright, um…” Jaka paused, stifling a grimace. “…Look, I don’t want to dash your hopes, but that’s a pretty vague plan.” “Right, that’s why I need your help. I don’t see a lot down here; I need you to be my eyes.” “I don’t know, Takua. I’m watched almost all the time. And even if we pull it off… I don’t know how to sail, do you?” “I know I’d rather be adrift on the ocean than accept whatever fate Sithrak has in store for us.” Jaka paused, then cursed to himself. “Good point. But we have to be careful, and quick. I hear we’re nearing the end of our journey… which might be good, because Sithrak’s at the end of his rope.” “What do you mean? What’s going on up there?” “I’ve only heard the crew’s mutterings… but things haven’t gone according to plan. The winds, the currents… it seems like they’re pushing against us all the time, and storms are getting more frequent. Progress is slow; I guess we should have arrived days ago. The crew are starting to think this voyage is cursed.” “Good news for us, I guess.” “Yeah,” Jaka replied. “But it’s driving Sithrak insane, and he’s starting to take it out on everyone. We had four escort ships when we left Three-Finger Island… one disappeared a week ago. Wind carried it over the horizon, I guess. And there’s rumors we’re being followed.” This gave Takua hope. “You think the Turaga are coming for us?” “I don’t know what to think. But I know if we don’t get out of here soon… Sithrak’s going to come for us.” Takua took a deep breath. “We need a plan.” Jaka agreed. “I’ve been watching the crew. There’s a shift change every day at midnight, when most of them are asleep. We’ll have… I don’t know, maybe ten minutes where the guards won’t be at their posts, or aren’t paying that much attention. If we’re going to make a move, that would be the time.” “Okay,” Takua replied, his nerves already tingling at the thought. “I’ll get what I can stockpiled and work on my lock. You keep an eye out and stay low… can you get your hands on a weapon?” A light, coming from the infirmary. Both of them froze as footsteps sounded, and the door swung open. Chief was returning. Jaka swiveled back to Takua, now racing to finish their conversation. “I have two sharpened butter knifes beneath a loose board. They’re not much, but at close range they’ll do the trick. One has your name on it.” Takua grinned. “We’re going to do this, Jaka.” “How long do you need?” “I don’t know…” Takua made a quick calculation in his head, trying to estimate how close he was to picking the door. “…Three days?” Chief’s voice growled from behind them, his boots clomping closer. “Time’s up, little ones….” “Three days…” Jaka frantically repeated. “For better or worse… at midnight. I’ll be at the door to the hold. I’ll knock three times — listen for me.” “I’ll be ready. No matter what.” “No matter what!” “I said… time’s up!” Chief leaned over Jaka, grabbing him by the shoulder and yanking him back from the bars. The Kryll stood above Takua, glaring down, his lightstone casting long shadows on his face. Takua stared back, fearless. With a flick of his wrist Chief threw a bundle of cloth at Takua, who flinched, catching it just before it hit him in the mask. His fingers closed around a blanket, and… he squeezed the bundle, feeling it — a fork, nestled within the folds. He let out a satisfied smirk. “I kept my end,” Chief stared, his voice emotionless, yet slightly threatening. “If it comes down to it… you keep yours,” he demanded. And Takua nodded, briefly making eye contact with Jaka, who stood behind the Kryll, just at the edge of the lightstone’s yellow glow. “You have my word.” ~~~ “What does it mean? Are we under attack?” “Nonsense! We have lookouts around the clock. There’s been no sign of a Kryll army anywhere near Ta-Wahi.” “But the question remains; how did it get inside the city?” Aya stared, motionless as dozens of voices echoed around her, asking questions, promising answers, proposing and debating actions, around and around and around again. She sat in a small, wooden chair in the middle of the council chamber, surrounded by… who were these people? Advisors to the Turaga, experts in their own specific fields, whatever that might be. All professionals, all with their own opinions, all trying to figure out how this had happened. How had a Kryll gotten into the most fortified city on Mata Nui? “Tell us again, where exactly did you first see this Kryll?” “I’ve told you everything a thousand times,” Aya said, desperately trying to hold it together. Kokani stood behind her, silently supportive, but she still felt overpowered as she stared to the head of the room. Mako sat there, listening to everything. “…I need to speak to the Turaga.” “With all due respect, Guard Captain,” came a voice to her left. “I’m not sure we should trust this Ga-Matoran. Why was she out in the middle of the night anyway? It could have been her who let the Kryll in all along.” “What — ?” Aya jumped to the edge of her seat, trying to find the person who’d said it, instantly ready to knock them out. But she didn’t need to express her outrage; plenty of others had enough to go around. “How dare you? Do you know who they are? This is Aya and Kokani, they are the ones who brought the Atouri to Ga-Koro! They made the summoning of the Toa of Light possible!” “And where is the Toa of Light? Where is the Atouri? Guard Captain, I fear these Matoran may have fooled us all, I fear they may have been spies for Makuta all along!” “Mata Nui!” Aya leaned back in her chair as the room erupted in heated opinions, rubbing her temples as she tried to retain her sanity. They’d been at this for hours. Her chase with the Kryll had gotten her what she’d wanted: access to Vakama’s palace — but she hadn’t wanted it like this. Escorted by a dozen guards, she’d been ushered straight through the iron doors, down below street level and into a circular, vault-like room carved out of solid rock: the Turaga’s council chamber. Although the Turaga themselves were frustratingly absent. Mako and the advisors argued upon a raised platform that ran around the perimeter of the room, and she sat in the center with only Kokani at her side, as if they were the ones on trial. There was only one way in or out of the secure chamber — through an imposing, three-foot thick metal door, and Aya didn’t like having her back to it. It was claustrophobic, and it seemed too easy to get trapped in here. “That’s ignorant! After all they’ve done for us, how could they be spies?” “Someone had to have let the Kryll in. There’s no way it could have breached the wall without us knowing!” “Then what do you propose? Are we supposed to interrogate everyone in the city?” They bickered as Aya eyed Mako like a hawk, who sat in his chair, unnervingly silent. She knew he had something to do with this; she knew there was a reason he hadn’t granted her access to the Turaga yet. There was a reason he’d wasted hours of everyone’s time with this shouting match. She narrowed her gaze, inspecting him, waiting for his nervous twitches to appear when someone brought up a good point, something that would support her theories. But no — he was stoic and professional, for now. “All I’m saying is we can’t discredit anything at this point. The safety of the Turaga is of utmost importance, and we can’t let anything slide!” “Captain, these accusations are absurd!” “As is… this meeting.” And suddenly everyone was quiet. The last voice had come from the open doorway, and all heads turned to look at the speaker. Aya followed suit, swiveling in her chair to see the small form of Turaga Vakama, lit only by the wall-mounted torches behind him. He hadn’t shouted, or even spoken very loud, but his voice alone resonated. He looked to Aya and Kokani, and then Mako. “Leave us,” he nodded. And, in a fluster of movement, all the advisors and guards were shuffling out of the chamber, like dogs scolded by their master. Their resounding noise disappeared, and the stone room was suddenly peaceful as Vakama turned to Mako, who now stood hesitantly in the doorway. “Just these two… for now.” “Turaga,” Mako bowed, and then he was gone. Aya watched as the Turaga approached, his slow steps echoing on the floor as he leaned against his staff. His lined, azure eyes met hers. “Turaga…” she stood up, bowing her head. “Thank you. I’ve been wanting to meet with you for a while.” “I know of your concerns Aya,” he said slowly, pausing as he looked from her to Kokani. “And I apologize for not arranging something sooner…” he trailed off for a second. “But, as I’m sure my Guard Captain has told you, things have been quite… hectic, recently.” Aya nodded, finally feeling better that he was here. For a second the room was quiet, but the Turaga soon went on. “Well… come.” Vakama motioned for them to follow. “This place is for debate and deliberation… not at all appropriate for the words we have to exchange.” He paused, leaning against his Firestaff, smiling at Aya. “If you could perhaps… help an old Turaga with his weary legs?” Aya blinked before forcing herself into action. “Of course, Turaga.” Moving quickly, Aya offered her arm and Vakama took it, slowly nodding to Kokani as he escorted the two through the metal door. They moved down the stone hallway, Vakama’s slow steps setting their pace, which was just the right speed for Kokani’s own weary gait. The Ko-Matoran followed closely behind as they moved through palace’s corridors, Vakama’s weathered Huna reflecting the torchlight. His voice was quiet; a pleasant change from the shouting of earlier. “The council begins tomorrow…” he looked to Aya as they made their way up a staircase. “And I understand you have many questions….” “I do,” Aya said plainly, helping the Turaga up the steps. “I have seen things that worry me. About Illum, and about Mako.” “I know… you do not trust him,” Vakama replied. “But Mako has served me for many years. You need not be afraid….” “I am though, Turaga.” Aya replied as Vakama led them into a small, undecorated hallway. “There’s just… something going on. I’ve seen too much to think otherwise now.” “Mhmm,” Vakama nodded, coming to a small, wooden door at the end of the hall. “There is always much going on that the eye cannot see.” Reaching out, he pushed the door open with his staff, and it creaked on rusty hinges. He nodded for Aya and Kokani to enter. “But that does not mean you should be afraid.” Aya walked into the circular room, finding herself in Vakama’s personal study. It was simple and homey, much unlike the rest of the palace, but it fit the Turaga’s personality. There were a few comfy chairs, a desk lit with a cluster of dripping candles, and a stone carving of a Hau mounted on the wall. But the staple of the room was a stone pit in the middle of the floor, one that housed a crackling fire, dimly lighting the room and casting long shadows on the walls. The air smelled of smoke, incense, and old books. Vakama motioned for them to sit by the fire, and they did as he shuffled to a small table, rummaging through a drawer. “Tea?” he asked, quite informally. “If you are, Turaga,” came the hesitant response. “Yes…yes,” Vakama moved back over, dangling a small kettle over the fire with a pole. He sighed, easing himself into the chair opposite Kokani and Aya, gazing into the flames. “Ta-Koro… it has changed much over my years… but I still try to keep the old ways,” he nodded. “I remind myself that new legends constantly awake, that change and growth are inevitable, beautiful, but…” he trailed off, watching his kettle. “Nostalgia is a tough Rahi to tame.” The three of them were wordless, and Aya sat, looking at her feet, not quite sure what to say or how to start. It was Kokani who broke the silence. “What do you need of us, Turaga?” “Hmm?” Vakama looked up, as if being pulled out of a memory. “Ah… no. A better question, perhaps — what do you need… of me?” Aya looked up, her attention switching from Vakama to Kokani and back before speaking, realizing that this was her chance. “Turaga…” she started. “It’s this council — something is going on, I don’t know what exactly, but you have to call it off. Disperse the Turaga, meet somewhere else, I don’t know. You’re in danger here. Mako has been acting strange, like he has two personalities, and he’s tried to stop me from reaching you and the others for far too long.” She scooted forward in her seat. “And Illum; he’s planning something, I know he is. He has — ” “I am aware of Illum’s plans.” “…You are?” Vakama nodded, quiet as he took the kettle off the fire, pouring its contents into three cups, handing one to each of them. “Energized Protodermis contains power unimaginable, but often yields results… unpredictable.” Aya paused. “So, it’s true then? What he said about Whenua… and how he died?” “I know not how my brother passed,” Vakama took a sip from his tea, furrowing his brow. “But in our search for the Atouri, he did come to me with a vial of the substance, and ideas. He asked me to help him.” It was Kokani’s turn to speak. “Did you?” The Turaga sat back in his chair, the shadows long and deep upon his mask. “I once learned much about the darkness, long ago. It was another time, another place… another life.” He turned his attention to the fire, looking suddenly solemn. “A beast had grown inside me, and I succumbed to an intricate web of shadows, if only for a short while. But within that while, I learned that there is… great power… within the dark.” Aya watched him, a tingle moving down her spine. Her tea sat still in her hands. The Turaga continued. “I learned that we must always search for Mata Nui’s will, as is our way. We must always follow the light, always strive to be good. But I also learned that does not mean we should fear the dark. To ignore it, to hide or run from it… it does ourselves a disservice. It is a part of us, whether we like it or not, and only through acknowledgment and acceptance may we truly experience unity. Only by embracing it, as a necessary component to our being, can we understand our duty, and in turn… discover destiny.” Aya blinked, catching Kokani lean back in the corner of her vision as she took the first sip of her tea. It tasted of flowers, of cherry blossoms grown from volcanic soil. Of something beautiful, sprouted from fire and ash. She swallowed. “So, you did? And… it worked?” Vakama paused. “The Atouri was found… that is all I can say,” he replied slowly as he set down his cup, leaning forward to look them both in the eye. “If you are searching for advice or answers… know that I cannot make any decision for you. And as for your suggestions about the council — proceedings have already begun, and we no longer have time to delay.” He leaned forward, his warm demeanor suddenly stoic, as he changed gears. “I have received news… news that you will undoubtedly wish to hear.” Kokani met his gaze. “What news?” “News of Le-Koro. Gali and Lewa have returned….” Aya looked up. “And?” “…They found the city ransacked. The Le-Matoran have disappeared, scattered to the wind — they will not be present at this council.” “What…?” Aya looked from him to Kokani and back, her eyes wide. “How?” “Nothing is certain… but Makuta’s reach extends farther than we thought,” Vakama nodded, his mask solemn. “Krosis can no longer achieve victory through massive armies, so instead he turns to guerrilla warfare, striking hard and fast, preying upon smaller, scattered, villages. We have failed our brothers in the trees once again, and thus we are reminded — this council, the plans we now make… they are about our own survival.” Aya looked to the ground, taking another sip of her tea, if only so she could take a moment to process. Instantly she thought of Takua and Jaka… it was their home, after all. Wherever they were, she hoped… she hoped that… well. She hoped for a great many unlikely things. The Turaga went on, looking now to Aya. “I know you have your fears, but the council must proceed. Our first order of business will be to decide Illum’s fate, and once that is settled our plans for the future — the future of all our people — will be unified, ratified. Answers will be found, and decisions will be made, but… for you two…” He leaned forward, his gaze still kind, but now striking and powerful as he spoke. “I have only one question — what role do you wish to play, Aya and Kokani, protectors of the Atouri?” They both looked up, curious. “You are free to act as you have been — as soldiers and advisors, abiding by our decisions and offering assistance when necessary. But you have done more than your duty already. I, nor any of the council hold power over either of you. You are free to act as you please.” Aya stared. “…What are saying, Turaga?” And Vakama leaned forward. “You may continue down your present road — or you may take fate by the hand, and carve your own path through this eternal, unending, Biological Chronicle.” And he paused, taking a sip of his tea, his weathered Huna gazing contently into the flames. “The choice is yours; it always has been.” Aya swallowed, the Turaga’s words emanating through the air like smoke from the crackling fire. Vakama leaned back in his chair, once more taking a careful sip, exhaling with pleasure as the liquid passed his lips. “As the Sacred Fire burns eternal… so do all things come to pass.” He nodded to the flames, his eyes dim, the energy in his voice gone, but his words still impactful. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t choose which of them we experience.” The fire popped, sending a cluster of sparks into the air, their bright orange cutting into the darkness of the room. The embers glowed brighter for a moment or two, and Aya stared at them, her mind focused on the flames as a realization grew. Slowly but surely, it came forward, penetrating her consciousness, and she swallowed, her mask stern. She knew, deep down, what had to be done.
  13. Always good to see new Bionicle art. Your style is dope!! A good mix of traditional Bionicle with some humanized elements, my personal favorite! And your colors are very nice. Very pastel, much beautiful. wow.
  14. Chapter 12 - Dancing with Danger The Kryll stood outside Takua’s bars, arms crossed, claws drumming against his biceps. Takua met his narrow stare, and the surgeon let out an amused, crooked smile. “…You? Help me?” Takua nodded. “Awfully brash, considering your current position.” Takua lifted his chains, the shackles around his wrists, having re-secured them before calling the Kryll over. “I’ve been in worse,” he shrugged casually. Chief grunted, clearly entertained. “So, tell me, little Matoran, what exactly makes you think I would want — let alone need, your help?” “Because you’re desperate.” And Chief laughed, his scratchy voice echoing down the hold. Then, stifling himself, he squatted down, eye level with Takua. “More desperate than you, little Le-Matoran prisoner?” Takua leaned back against the wall, his Pakari striped with shadow. “You don’t know who I am. And you certainly don’t know what I’m capable of.” He could play this game if he needed to. “I know you can’t get out of those chains, for starters.” “You know you haven’t seen me get out of these chains — not that I can’t.” Chief kept his grin, studying the Takua’s mask. He cocked his head, humoring him, but his intrigue growing at the Le-Matoran’s audacity. “Fair enough,” he replied. “What are you capable of? Enlighten me.” “I’ll let you connect the dots,” Takua nonchalantly clinked his chains. “Krosis hires his best warriors to capture me, keep me alive, drag me across the sea… why waste all the energy? I’ve been watching you; you’re smart. I bet you can figure it out.” “You’re the one who held the Atouri,” Chief shrugged. “You’ll be brought to the White Tower and presented to Makuta as proof of Krosis’ service. And then he’ll descend and wipe your kind from the earth, as was promised in the king’s visions. Every Kryll knows that.” “But why me specifically?” Another shrug. “You’re the Turaga’s herald. It sends a message.” “Not because he thinks I’m a threat?” Takua called back to what Krosis had once told him. “Not because I’ve been touched by Makuta? That only he is strong enough to defeat me?” Chief snorted, stifling a laugh as he rubbed his broken mandible. “The Kryll on this ship defeated you.” “And yet Saku couldn’t.” “Saku?” the surgeon furrowed his brow. “The White Warrior defeated Saku.” “Kokani? Is that what they told you?” Takua questioned. “No, Saku was winning that fight until I stepped in. I was the one who broke his blade. I sent him falling into the abyss…” Takua rested his head against the hull, lifting his chin. “…I stole his spirit.” “…Right,” Chief drummed his claws. “And let me guess — you could smite us all in an instant, if only you cared to?” Takua formed an understanding grin as they matched wits. “Look,” he corrected the conversation. “I’ve heard you talk before; I know you’re not the biggest fan of Sithrak.” “I am loyal to my king, if that’s what you’re getting at.” “Of course you are. But you’re also loyal to your people, and you know as well as I do that those loyalties can sometimes… be at odds with each other.” But Chief glared at him, his demeanor suddenly threatening. “Don’t play games you haven’t read the rules to, Matoran. And don’t act like you know me. If you have something to say, spit it out.” He leaned forward, growling as the boat creaked, rocking steadily around them. “Before I lose my patience.” “Okay, alright… I meant no disrespect,” Takua lightened up, levelling with the Kryll. “Look, you’ve basically lost the war. Krosis knows you can’t compete with the Toa, and so you’re running to Makuta, in hopes that he’ll protect you. But is protection what Makuta is known for?” Chief shifted his weight, not responding. “No,” Takua went on. “Makuta is destruction, and you’ll find only death there. You, Sithrak, everyone on this ship — you’re all running to your graves.” The Kryll’s response was low and rumbling. “Again… awfully bold assumptions for someone in your position.” “You know it’s true. Rashi knows it as well.” Takua replied quickly. “But there’s nothing you can do about that, is there? Because dissent under your king means death. Because you’re ruled by madmen and liars, who’ve twisted your kind into believing they’ll bring unity and salvation. Yet have they ever before?” “Were you there, Matoran?” Chief warned again that he was treading in dangerous waters. “Because we were scattered tribes before them. And now we are united, marching for a common duty. A common destiny.” “Your unity is built on silence; your duty is bought from fear. And your destiny only leads to destruction.” Takua said simply, his words strong as he stared at the Kryll, his gaze cold but not accusing. He was simply truthful. “Destruction… if not from the Toa, or Matoran, or Makuta… then from yourselves.” There was a moment of silence, and the creaks and groans of the ship pervaded into their conversation. Above, someone moved about, their footsteps sounding through the ceiling, but no one bothered with the hold. No one opened the door to disturb them. And Chief clicked his mandibles, tilting his head to look down at Takua. His response was short. “What do you want?” “Not much. A quick meeting with my friend, and my sword,” Takua replied, before looking around at his cell. “A blanket or two would be nice.” “Your sword is locked in the captain’s quarters. It’s Sithrak’s prize now; you’re not getting it back.” “Fine,” Takua frowned. “Then I want a fork.” “A fork?” Takua held his gaze. “I said what I said.” Chief paused, confused, but he shrugged it off. “What are you offering?” “A way out. A good word with Matoran leaders, just in case this doesn’t go quite as Krosis had planned. A path that doesn’t end with you dying at the hands of a vengeful Toa… or an angry king.” “And why should I trust you?” “Would you rather trust Sithrak?” Chief gradually smiled, his shoulders moving up and down as he suppressed a chuckle. “I like you,” he nodded, standing up. “If nothing else, you’re funny.” Takua managed an indulgent, half-bow. “I only aim to please.” The surgeon’s crooked smile widened, and he massaged his broken mandible as he shook his head, glancing down at Takua once more, and then… he turned to leave. “Ah… Makuta.” Takua heard him mumble between the sound of his boots, clomping away as he moved towards the infirmary. He raised his voice, questionably calling after the Kryll. “…Well? What do you say?” A brief flash of yellow as Chief’s eye glanced over his shoulder. “We’ll see.” ~~~ Raipu had been right — the cistern was good place to ease the mind. Aya stood in the circular room, upon a wide, stone dais as water gurgled all around. It poured in from every side, brought to this central chamber through an array of pipes. Each one large enough to fit a Matoran, Aya couldn’t help but stare into their depths, wondering where they led. She chose to ignore the bars at their entrances as she gazed; life already felt stifling enough. Rays of moonlight shone through small holes in the ceiling, lighting the room in a pale blue glow, and Aya closed her eyes as she listened to the churning liquid, echoing from all around. She leaned against one of six, beautifully carved pillars that lined the central platform. Maybe she should try and be more like Raipu; maybe she shouldn’t go about asking questions. Her journey here had been in a haze. She’d stopped at their inn first, but Kokani had gone off somewhere, probably to talk more with Ihko about the Sanctum. She’d waited for him, but every minute spent pacing in that cramped room had driven her more and more insane. Eventually she’d decided on leaving him a note, explaining everything that had happened, everything Illum had told her. She just had to get out of there. And besides — a note was easier than saying it all in person. Aya placed her hands on her mask, fingertips sliding down her face, pulling at her eyelids as she sank down the pillar and sat on the cold stone. In front of her sat the largest of the pipes, wide enough for a Toa to stand inside, and looking though the metal latticework that barred its entry, she thought. Maybe somehow, she could get through it. Maybe she could climb inside the pipe and escape this city. It would take her far away, away from the smog and the crowds, from the councils and trials, from all the honeyed words and horrible schemes. To a cool, wet, dark place, a place she could lie down and disappear forever. “What are we doing here, Aya?” Aya didn’t turn around. She hadn’t heard anyone approach, but the sound of Kokani’s voice didn’t surprise her. Aya pulled her knees to her chin, staring into the dark pipe. “You got my note?” “Yes.” Aya took a deep breath. “What do you think?” “I don’t know.” “You think it’s true? Any of it?” Kokani paused before repeating himself. “I don’t know.” “If it is… if they really are still alive… and we could bring them home….” Kokani didn’t respond. Aya swiveled around, looking at him, trying to gleam something from his stoic mask. But Kokani only stood there, half in shadow as he leaned against his staff, the faint moonlight just touching the edges of his armor. His eyes were dark and emotionless. She turned back to stare at the water. “I don’t want to lose them… but I don’t want to lose you either.” The water gurgled, and Kokani was quiet for a few moments. But when he responded, his voice was low. “You won’t.” And Aya sighed, not knowing how to feel. She listened to the water, hearing, after a bit, the slow, shuffling of Kokani’s footsteps, the tapping of his walking stick as he made his way closer. He appeared in her vision, his Akaku looking down, and he offered his hand. “The council will start soon. We’ll get our answers then. And after that… we’ll find Takua and Jaka.” She managed a slight nod, and, taking his hand, he pulled her up. In a wordless agreement, they both decided it was time to call it a night. And so, arm in arm, they moved to leave the cistern. Aya helped support Kokani’s weight so he could walk a bit easier, and the two made their way back to the stairs, climbing them one by one, slowly but steadily. About halfway up, the entrance to the tunnel came into view — an arched doorway, lit faintly by the light of the moon. And, just by chance, Aya looked up to it. A silhouette stood there. Aya squinted, just slightly taken aback. What? …A Kryll silhouette. “H-hey!” Aya called out, her muscles instinctively tightening, but the shape was already gone. Sparing a second, she looked to Kokani. “Did you…?” she asked, but she already knew he had. He stared at the entrance, eyes narrow, and so Aya let go of him, bolting up the stairs, already having drawn her dagger. “Hey!” she yelled again, bursting out into the open — Slam! Aya hit the ground, the Kryll having pounced on her. Its dark armor came fast as she saw the dagger heading for her throat, but she was ready. Grabbing its claws, she pushed the blade back, struggling as the Kryll tried to overpower her, but they were equally matched. This Kryll wasn’t the warrior or brute she was used to, no, this one was smaller, faster — but not stronger. Grunting, she kneed it in the side, trying to force it off, and it winced, but held its ground. Its mandibles clicking above her mask, Aya gritted her teeth, yelling as she pushed upward, slowly — yes, yes! Pushing it off! Whack! Kokani’s stick met the Kryll, and it fell off Aya, rolling away as it scrambled to its feet. It popped up as Aya did the same, and she got her first good look at it — small, quick, agile, with matte grey armor. Armor made to be invisible in this stone city. It sized them up as well, eyes flicking back and forth as it hesitated, dagger gleaming between its claws. Aya blinked. A scout…? It turned heel and ran. “Hey!” Aya called out again, tearing after it. “Hey, get back here!” she glanced back to Kokani, who gave her a nod; he couldn’t keep up, but he could go get help. And so Aya gave chase. Skidding around a corner, she caught its scowl as it weaved into an alleyway, and Aya barreled after it, flawlessly leaping over barrels and crates as the Kryll knocked them over, trying to stop her advance. In another second — out of the alley and into the next street, and Aya skidded to a halt. Where had it gone? She whirled around… there! Its boots clinking against a ladder, onto the roof! With a grunt she leapt onto the ladder, up three rungs at a time, vaulting herself onto the low rooftops, back to her feet as she caught the Kryll leaping to the next cluster of homes. And then she was too, landing on the next roof, across a small bridge, trying not to lose balance as she carried herself as fast as her legs would allow. Another glint of the Kryll’s armor, another scratchy curse as it glared back, and up, up they went. Running and jumping, rooftop to rooftop, the buildings growing taller as the Kryll fled to the inner city, trying to shake her off. But she wouldn’t give up. Not yet. The Kryll crossed a loose plank that bridged an alley, and then kicked it, the wood rattling to the ground far below. Forced to find another way, Aya thought quickly, scanning her options, psyching herself up as she backed up and sprinted forward, throwing herself off the rooftop. Through the air and across the alleyway, she landed with a thud on the next building’s balcony, one floor below. Grimacing, she threw her body at the balcony’s doors, forcing herself into a startled Ta-Matoran’s living room. “Kryll!” she yelled at the terrified Matoran, breath heavy as she forced out her words. “…On the rooftop…! Which way…!?” Stuttering, the Matoran pointed to a doorway at her left, and Aya vaulted over his sofa, soon finding herself in a stairwell. Sprinting up, she heard the Matoran yelling to someone as she reached a door at the top. “…Kryll! In the city! Get the guard!” Slamming into the door Aya found herself outside again, moonlight meeting her as she scanned her surroundings — yes! A flash of dark armor, just two buildings away. She was still in this! Barreling after it, Aya leapt to the next structure, this one with a slanted roof, and she slowed her pace, careful not to lose her footing on the slick tiles. Her eyes widened as she glanced over the side. She was three stories up now. Her boots clacked on the hardened clay, and the Kryll must have heard her — she caught it looking back, realizing it wasn’t free yet — and it sprinted off again. Aya cursed, leaping off the tile and grabbing a ladder on the next building’s wall. This Kryll knew the city better than she did. It knew all the pathways, the passages, all the ways to get around without being seen by the guard. She pulled herself up, taking off as the Kryll leapt to the next rooftop, and she gritted her jaw, her body tiring. This Kryll had been here. It had been in the city, many times before. “Come… on…!” Aya cursed, her legs growing heavy as she arched over a low railing, sliding down a steep roof, flying through a few feet of empty air before landing on the next flat, and she looked up. Where…? Where had it gone? She stopped in her tracks, hand on her dagger. This was the end of the line. This building, three stories tall and shaped like a narrow triangle, ended their clustered chain of rooftops. It stood at the intersection of two wide streets — there was no way the Kryll could have jumped across. She scanned her surroundings, glancing around: no visible balconies, no doors or hatches that led to any stairwells… only flat, smooth stone. There was nowhere the Kryll could’ve gone. Which meant… it had to still be here. There were a handful of guards in the street now, pointing to each other and moving about, alerted to the commotion by one way or another. Aya made eye contact with one of them, who silently pointed to the other side of the building. Aya gave him a silent nod, shifting her attention. Readying her blade, she approached the edge of the roof, feet silent on the stone. Her spine prickling, her knuckles white around the handle of her dagger… closer… closer…. She peered over, seeing dark claws for only a second, hanging from — It pounced. Aya yelped, stumbling back as the Kryll launched itself up, throwing its weight, pushing her to the side as it sprinted away, hurtling itself off the building. Its arms outstretched into the empty air — no, it wasn’t empty, there was a clothesline! The Kryll’s armored claws latched onto it, and the line held strong. Aya stared in awe as the Kryll sailed away, using it as a zipline, expertly crossing the wide street. The guards didn’t see it coming, scrambling as they tried to get better positioning, and Aya cursed. She knew she had to follow. Winding up, she ran forward, throwing her body off the edge. She flew through the air for a brief, terrifying moment, and…! “Aah!” She was yanked up, her shoulder almost dislocating as she caught the line with the crook of her elbow. Using her forearm armor to slide across, gaining speed as she sailed forward, she smirked as the Kryll looked back, bewildered that she had succeeded. The wind flying past her ears, she watched as it felt a moment of fear, as it realized Aya was right on its tail, as the guards below grew more numerous. They moved to enter the shop on the other side… and its escape routes were cut off, one by one…. The Kryll reached for its belt, claws wrapping around the dagger. And Aya shouted, realizing its plan. “Wait! No…!” But the Kryll cut the line. Panicking, Aya grasped for the rope, her fingers clenching it just milliseconds before it fell out of reach. And she yelled, freefalling for almost a story before it caught, instantly tight as it tore through her palms, ripping them raw as she careened down. But the friction saved her life, slowing her fall just enough to hit the cobblestone and roll out, her body sent flying, scraping halfway across the street before she slid to an abrupt, unceremonious halt. Aya wheezed, unable to move for a minute. Bruised and bleeding, she lay there, trying to function as her jarred mind tried to process the world. People and guards moved about, their voices ringing to one another, saying words she couldn’t seem to understand. A few came over, poking and prodding, making sure she was still alive, but Aya moaned and rolled over, shoving them away as she forced herself to sit up. Her ribs seemed bruised, her chest felt like she’d been stabbed, her was vision was blurry and her palms were raw and bleeding. But… she was alive. Just a few scrapes, she thought, reaching out to some fuzzy Ta-Matoran who helped her up, saying something about a healer, something she couldn’t quite make out. No big deal. The Kryll wasn’t so lucky. She could see it on the other side of the street, now encircled by a handful of guardsmen. Ignoring everyone else, she forced herself to move, limping over, breaking her way through the circle, taking a moment to look down at the mangled, desperate Kryll. It lay on the cobblestone, still gripping its dagger, swinging wildly at anyone who dared come too close. One of its legs was tucked awkwardly under its body, clearly broken; there was no escape for it now. Aya paused, taking a moment to find her voice, gingerly holding her ribs as she forced air into her mouth. “Just… put the blade down,” she breathed, staring at it, admiring its determination. “…It’s over.” The Kryll turned to look at her, and was suddenly still, as if her words had helped it realize something. Fear flashed in its eyes, but also strength. Courage, perhaps. Its voice was shaky, yet focused. “Blood and fire…” it murmured, clicking its mandibles. And it nodded to her, as if she understood. As if it wanted someone to understand. “…For the New Age.” And before anyone could act, the Kryll turned the dagger upon itself, plunging the blade through its heart.
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