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Pahrak Model ZX

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Master of Fragmentation Rampant

Master of Fragmentation Rampant (166/293)

  1. SECTION XXI Zaekura knocked lightly before opening the door. Beyond she found Ehrye, who looked up curiously as she entered, and Ackar, who didn’t spare her so much as a glance. “So…how are you two?” Zaekura asked. “Recovering well?” “Uh, yeah,” Ehrye said. “I’m fine.” After waiting to see if Ackar would say anything, Zaekura continued, “Sorry it’s taken me so long to visit in person: getting the city up and running was a priority, and a few things popped up after that. But, I wanted to speak to you and see where you stand.” “Huh? What do you mean?” “I’m not sure what you have and haven’t heard; for all I know you’ve been kept in the dark and were just fighting because you had no reason to question your orders. I—" “She wants us to join her,” Ackar interrupted. Zaekura stopped short. She glanced at Ackar, who still wouldn’t face her, and said, “…If you’re open to the idea.” “I am not.” “Not even a little? Mind explaining why?” The Glatorian didn’t respond. Ehrye seemed to still be thinking, so Zaekura decided to press the issue. “Have to admit, Ackar: now that I’ve been told more about you, I’m pretty surprised to see you here. Apparently you’re a pretty big deal in Atero—odd time for a move, don’t you think?” “I was sent to deal with you,” Ackar said. “Miserix predicted you would attack Xia. I came to protect the civilians.” Zaekura crossed her arms. “We don’t attack civilians.” Ackar finally turned and glared, eyes burning with a flame that had raged for uncountable years without dimming. “Right. Act high and mighty all you want, but you’re still attacking their homes. Everyone on Spherus Magna is in danger now because of what you’re doing.” His words cut straight through her guard, and a blaze of shame began to spread in Zaekura’s heart. Pushing the thought aside, she stared Ackar down as convincingly as she could. “The way I see it, everyone was already in danger. Sure, what dragged me into all this is the fact that I’m one of the ones in the most danger, but there’s no guarantee it ends there. Let the Great Beings run unchecked, and they can haul off anyone they want, for whatever reason they want, leaving the rest of us to wait and wonder what happened to them. For all anyone knows, their turn could be coming up.” Ackar grunted as he turned away again. “I was a civilian myself, Ackar, and the Great Beings decided they wanted me dead. Maybe you’re fighting to protect people, but if you keep fighting on the side you’re on, then intentionally or not you’re protecting that unchecked power.” Ackar had no reply. Zaekura waited a few moments before letting out a breath and dropping her arms. She turned back to Ehrye to see him surveying the floor, and asked, “So? What’s your angle?” Ehrye jumped a bit. He stammered briefly, but then composed himself and said, “Well, I…I’m not as sure. I mean, at first I was sure you were lying about the Great Beings, and that I had to keep people safe from you. But the thing is…you’re not the way I pictured. You made sure your forces were being careful, you tried to negotiate things before a fight started, you gave us all the option to leave…you showed compassion for the Vorox, even.” Zaekura waited as he thought. “Look, I just want to do my Duty, to be a good Toa. I always thought that meant following the orders of the Great Beings, and even now…it doesn’t feel like what I did was wrong? Like, I know I helped people—it’s hard to think of something that I outright regret. I just…” He shook his head. “I’m not sure what’s the best way to help going forward, I guess.” Zaekura waited to be sure he was done, and then said, “Sounds like we all want the same thing. I get it, though—after how long it took Fangs to come around, I have a better appreciation for how hard this can be. I won’t rush you. Let us know if you need anything, alright?” “Uh, right,” Ehrye said. “…Thanks.” “Don’t mention it.” Ackar still had nothing to add. Zaekura closed the door behind her, took a few steps down the hall, and ran a hand over her face, leaning against the wall and moaning quietly. She inhaled sharply as she forced herself upright. Farther down the hall was another door, and after another quick knock, she entered to find Emsar lying with her hands behind her head as she stared at the ceiling. The Vortixx looked over to her for only a second. “The lady herself. Have you prepared a speech of your own to attempt to convert me?” Zaekura became aware of just how tired she felt. Shifting her stance, she said, “Alright, Emsar, I might not know you too well but I can tell arguing about principles might not be the best approach. Why don’t you tell me what it is you want?” Emsar slowly turned her head. After a small silence, she chuckled, and then rolled into a sitting position to say, “Now that’s refreshing. Points for knowing your audience.” “I’ll spend them wisely.” “Hmhm…think it’ll be that easy? Sometimes it isn’t so clear which choice is the smartest.” “Ah,” Zaekura said, “so you’re trying to make the ‘smart’ choice? Yeah, I can see how that’d be tough right now.” “Precisely. The Great Beings are likely to have my head whether I return to them or not. While I could certainly risk it, risk is just so…unappealing, frankly.” She laid back down. “Tell me about it,” Zaekura grumbled. Emsar laughed. “Oh of course, I must seem woefully insensitive talking to you about risk.” “Like you said, I know my audience.” “Goodness, Lady Zaekura, I’m liking you more and more. Perhaps dying at your side wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.” “And with luck, maybe you won’t even die. Well, you know, not get killed, at least. But anyway, how long are you going to dodge the question?” Emsar looked up. “What is it you want?” Giving a smirk, Emsar let her head fall back. Just as Zaekura’s patience with her silence was wearing thin, the Vortixx quietly replied, “I suppose what I truly want is…to continue working alongside Makuta Antroz.” Zaekura was about to speak, but Emsar let loose a very loud sigh, draping her arm over her eyes. “As you’ve deduced, I’ve never entirely understood the appeal of principles, morals, the like. Yet still, working alongside Antroz has been quite enjoyable. I would very much like that to continue…but. I simply can’t convince myself of that being the smart decision to make.” Zaekura thought a moment, and ultimately gave a shrug. “Well, okay. If you aren’t able to figure out what the smart choice is, why not make the choice you do understand?” She could just barely see Emsar’s eyes, staring blankly up as the words hung in the air. “…We’re going on a diplomacy run, but Antroz should be back soon, if you want to talk to her again. Anything I can do for you before we leave?” The distinct lack of a parting quip from Emsar left the conversation feeling horribly unfinished, but Zaekura didn’t have time to wait. She shut the door and headed downstairs. I know they need time for a decision like this…I just hope they get enough. *** Chirox trudged through one of the many halls of the Valley of the Maze, grumbling wordlessly as he messily patched up a hole in his armor. As he rounded a corner, he nearly collided with someone, practically flinging himself back to avoid the impact and get a better look: it was another Makuta, white and gold armor bearing a simple design much like his own, glaring at him from behind a Mask of Healing. Chirox sneered and brushed the dust from his shoulder. “Rare to see you in this wing, Mutran,” he said. “To what do I owe the displeasure?” “Oh, so clever,” Mutran said. “At ease, Chirox: I was simply disposing of some garbage, and it seems it has drawn me towards its kin.” Chirox’s eyes darted to Mutran’s hand, spotting a badly-charred Kanohi. With a chuckle, he said, “Failed again, hm? I’d never dream of placing fault with a Great Being, so it must be his lab assistant who bears the responsibility.” Mutran waved the mask in Chirox’s direction. “The fundamental process is sound! We’re simply working to refine it, and there’s a delicate balance to mind! Unlike some of us, a true scientist always seeks to better what he has already made, rather than being content with mere—” The mask suddenly burst into flames, and Mutran stopped short. Growling, he narrowed his eyes and willed a vacuum to form around the fire, gradually smothering it. Chirox stroked his chin. “…And what, pray tell, has Lord Angonce been having you tend to?” “We have also been doing the delicate work of refining a foundational process,” Chirox said. “Though, none of our experiments have ended up so, how should I say…fruitless.” Mutran tilted his head. “Oh? And the scars on your armor?” “…Fruit just the same.” A shriek suddenly rang out, echoing from the nearby darkness of the hall. Now taking on a smirk, Mutran said, “I believe you’ve another harvest of fruit to gather.” With a huff, Chirox faced the direction the cry had come from and edged forward in a battle stance; not wanting to be caught off-guard, Mutran did the same. Booming footsteps drew steadily closer, and soon a form could be seen bearing down on them: something that may have once been a Kane-Ra, but its horns had grown jagged and doubled in number, and the armor on its hide had a scaly texture, constantly shifting to be as aerodynamic as possible as the beast ran forward. It opened its mouth, roaring at them, and a Rhotuka spinner shot from its open maw. Chirox started to say something, but the wheel of energy struck him. In a flash, he and the Rahi had switched places, leaving a very underprepared Mutran staring up at the Kane-Ra as it lowered its horns and smashed him into the wall. The Rahi paused to bellow triumphantly. “Well,” Chirox said, “there’s something I can be proud of you for.” The Rahi looked at him for only a moment, and then turned in the opposite direction. Chirox looked past it to see Gorast coming around the corner. “Oh dear…” She barely seemed to notice the Kane-Ra as it lunged at her. Just before they collided, Gorast threw a punch at the monster’s skull, and a surge of energy rippled through its entire body. With a sickening crunching noise, the Rahi’s mighty frame crumpled under the force of its own momentum, ending up a tangled, misshapen heap that Gorast simply kicked aside. As he approached, Chirox said, “You didn’t have to break it, you know.” Even after all this time, her glare was enough to shock him still. “I had to break something. Be glad I didn’t run into you.” Mutran was picking himself up now, saying, “Something troubling you, Gorast? Normally you’d take that thing down the old-fashioned way.” Gorast grumbled a few moments. “Zaekura.” “Ah, yes, that whole thing. Angry you’re not out rending her flesh from her bones?” One of Gorast’s lower arms jabbed Mutran in the side, nearly knocking him over. “Don’t treat me like some brainless Rahi.” Chirox crouched next to the Kane-Ra’s remains, resting his head in one hand. “How do I even begin to clean this up…” Gorast started to walk away. A few steps down the hall, however, she stopped and turned back towards the scientists. “You two at least believe in what we’re doing, right?” Chirox craned his neck. “What?” “I’m asking if you understand the importance of serving the Great Beings.” “Is that what’s gnawing at you?” Mutran asked as he stood back up. “Worried more Makuta may follow in Antroz’s footsteps?” Gorast clicked her claws. “…I never liked Antroz. But she was devoted to the Great Beings, and I respected her for that. Now, all of the sudden she thinks her ‘morals’ are above that duty…if even she can fail like that, then there’s not much hope for the rest of you saps.” “Touching.” Mutran inspected his side briefly, and then reached towards the charred Kanohi, pulling it to his palm with magnetism. “If it shall put your mind at ease, Gorast: there is no cause for concern. I may not be the zealot you are, but frankly, neither duty nor morals hold great appeal for me.” Gorast bristled. “What?” “Calm down,” Chirox said. “Just as you are devoted to the Great Beings, we are devoted to science. It just so happens that the Great Beings are far and away the most advanced scientists on the planet.” “Correct, for once,” Mutran said. “You see, even Chirox is not so stupid as to jeopardize the opportunity this position affords us. Whatever the Great Beings ask of us, we’ll do it. Isn’t that all that matters?” “No!” Gorast said, slashing an arm through the air. “You’re only following them because it’s convenient for you? What kind of reason is that?!” Chirox gestured. “Please, by all means, enlighten us on the correct way of thinking.” Gorast opened her mouth, but realized she didn’t have the words. She tried to figure out how to say what she felt, but the more she struggled, the angrier she grew, until finally she simply snarled in frustration. Beams of heat shot from her eyes, setting the Rahi carcass on fire much to Chirox’s dismay. She turned and left without another word. *** The lush jungle of Bota Magna was a far cry from the vast desert the party knew. While at first the trees had inspired a claustrophobic feeling, they grew more accustomed to the terrain as they went; the path was shaded by the sturdy canopy overhead, letting in just the right amount of sunlight to instill a vibrant sense of life, made only more real by the constant chatter of birds in the distance. Zaekura had a smile before she even realized it. “Enjoying yourself, Lady Zaekura?” Charla said. “You could say that. I am from the Jungle Tribe—maybe there’s something in me that just feels at home here. Come to think of it, this might be the first time I’ve ever actually seen trees.” “Mine as well. And the ground here, it’s so different from the desert sand, yet not like a concrete road either.” “Right! If nothing else, at least we finally get to see some new places out of this whole thing.” “Heheh, I suppose it is a silver lining.” Zaekura breathed deeply. “Ah…still. We should hurry up and find the Le-Koronans. There’s still a lot of work that needs done back in Xia…” “I am certain we will find them soon. For the time being, why not enjoy these new surroundings? Thoughts of work can wait until it is in front of us.” Walking a short distance behind the pair were Antroz and Krika, the latter having been uncharacteristically silent for the entire trek. As they plunged ever-deeper into the jungle, the oddity of the situation began to weigh on Antroz, until finally she felt compelled to address it. “Krika,” she said. “What vexes you?” “A great many things, but such is life,” Krika replied. “Clearly something has changed. You’ve hardly spoken since returning from Mahri-Nui. I do not mean to pry, but I am growing concerned.” Krika looked up at the canopy, seemingly lost in thought. “Antroz…is it wrong to desire forgiveness?” Antroz went still for a moment, then resumed her pace. “An odd question. Why should it be?” “No matter what we do, it is impossible to truly erase the harm one may’ve caused—impossible to ‘make up for it’. Is it wrong to ask those we’ve harmed to pretend otherwise? To pretend that we’ve never harmed them, as if their pain did not matter? Lately, I’ve come to think it may be arrogant, in addition to horrendously selfish. What say you?” The birdsongs had the first reply. Eventually, Antroz said, “I say that to wish to undo the harm one’s caused is contingent upon being aware that one has caused harm, as well as regretting it. If you desire to make amends, then it means you have realized your past mistakes—that is far from arrogance.” “So it is simply enough to realize that one was wrong?” “…Truthfully, Krika, I am still in the midst of discovering all I’ve done wrong, so I cannot give you a proven answer. Perhaps there are some who attempt to force others to forgive them, or feel being forgiven means they need not learn from their mistakes, but those are not the same as simply wanting to right the wrongs you may have committed. What else would you do: relish in your wrongdoing and be content with the harm you’ve caused?” Krika appeared to ponder this, earning a sigh from Antroz. “Krika, I am trying—” A sudden burst of heat from ahead cut her off. Zaekura and Charla had reached a wide gap between the trees, but when they had attempted to advance, a large fireball had appeared in the air before them. Antroz and Krika both dashed forward. Neither reached Zaekura, as each were instead blindsided by a bolt of shadow from the surrounding underbrush, causing them both to collapse in a tangled heap. An attack…but from who? Antroz thought. Zaekura and Charla had now backed away from the fireball, each facing an opposite direction to be ready for more blasts. Zaekura asked, “Charla, how many are there?” “I…I don’t know,” Charla said. “I can’t sense anyone other than the four of us.” Upon hearing this, an eerie recollection shook Antroz. Propping herself up slightly, she said, “They’re hidden, same as Kapura. We have to be cauti—” She ducked, just barely evading another shadow bolt. Turning in the direction it had come from, Zaekura shouted, “Hey! We’re not here to fight! Please, just tell us what you want!” The fire dissipated. Zaekura turned back to see a Toa of Fire standing in its place, one with a strange-looking object hanging from his neck and a blue Kanohi Pakari on his face. “Leave this place!” he demanded. “Makuta are not welcome here!” Antroz could hear the voice, but she couldn’t sense the Toa’s location. Trying again to rise, she said, “We come in peace. Please, we seek only to meet with the Le-Koronans.” The Toa held one palm forward. “You’re speaking with one, and I have nothing more to say.” “Okay, easy!” Zaekura said. “Don’t burn the jungle down!” The Toa’s palm began to light up. At first, Zaekura was expecting more flames to come her way, but she soon realized this light had no heat. A split-second later, blinding light erupted from the Toa’s hand, causing everyone but Antroz to recoil in agony. Antroz, meanwhile, continued to rise—until another shadow bolt struck her, this one coming from the direction she had heard the Toa. “W…what?” she grunted. Krika’s eyes were the first to recover, though it took him a moment to believe what he was seeing. The fireball had returned just behind the Toa, while bright light wreathed one of his hands and the other was cloaked in shadows. “You’ve been warned!” the Toa said. “Keep at it, and I’ll have no choice but to repel you by any means necessary!” “…Well,” Krika muttered, “seems you’re no ordinary Toa. We’re certainly underprepared.” As the Toa opened his mouth to speak, Krika narrowed his eyes. A stasis field sprang into being around their attacker, giving the others the time they needed to recover, but only just: a shadow bolt hit Krika from behind, making him lose focus and freeing the Toa. “Fine,” he said, “have it your way!” “Please, stop!” Zaekura said. “We just want to talk, that’s all! None of this is necessary!” The Toa leaned forward, willing a ring of fireballs to encircle the intruders. He hurled twin blasts of light and shadow, supplemented with attacks of his hidden allies—Antroz and Krika managed to cover Zaekura and Charla, turning invulnerable to weather the attacks, but as beings of light the effects of the shadow blasts still proved a bit much for them. “You alright?” Zaekura asked, trying to keep Antroz on her feet. “Lady Zaekura…I believe we should withdraw,” Antroz said. “There are no allies to be gained here.” Hesitantly, Zaekura looked around. “There’s gotta be some way…but, I don’t want you two getting beat up…” “Well?” asked the Toa of Fire. Zaekura clenched her teeth. Just then, some branches nearby began to rustle, causing her and the Toa to glance aside. Out from the bushes burst a Toa of Air with a teal Rau, wearing the same odd necklace as the Toa of Fire, who ran to a spot between the opposing forces. “Wait, wait Takua!” the Toa of Air said. “Hold on a second!” The Toa of Fire stepped back, his elemental auras vanishing. “T…Tamaru! What are you doing?” The Air Toa gestured to Zaekura, saying, “Listen, they called her Zaekura! She’s the one I’ve been hearing about, the one fighting against the Great Beings! They’re not our enemies!” A Toa of Water popped up next from the nearby bushes, yelling, “If they’re bringing their war to Bota Magna, then yes, they are! Now get out of the way!” With a furious flapping of arms, Tamaru said, “Come on, Dalu! You attacked them! Hardly fair to say they’re the ones who brought a fight!” Dalu grumbled under her breath as she glared at the Makuta. “Takua, do you really want to do this? They’re barely even trying to defend themselves, I can’t believe you feel good about hounding them like this!” The fireballs began to dim. Takua looked down at the ground, saying, “Well, I…” Tamaru smiled cheerily. “Let’s just hear them out. Maybe they’ll actually be able to help us with something or other!” Feeling the tension draining out of the situation, Zaekura took a careful step forward. “Takua, was it? He’s right, we only—” Takua’s eyes shot wide in an instant, the ring of fireballs flaring up to twice their original size. Shaking a fist at Zaekura, he shouted, “She!” “W-What?” “If you’re talking about Tamaru, use ‘she’! Otherwise you won’t be making it out of the jungle!” Zaekura glanced to Tamaru: the Toa of Air’s expression was one of overwhelming unease, and the realization of what she’d just done slammed into her like a tidal wave. Turning fully, she said, “I am so sorry! I didn’t know that…well, I mean, I didn’t think Toa…er, no, just, I’m really sorry.” Tamaru nodded as she composed herself. “Well…apology accepted…anyway, um, Takua. If you don’t want to hear them out, then that’s okay, but I don’t think you should make that decision for everyone.” Takua stared at her for a few seconds, and then rolled his eyes and dismissed the fireballs. “Alright, alright. Dalu, Kiina, come on.” A Water Tribe Glatorian appeared from the bushes, keeping her trident pointed in the Makuta’s direction as she walked to Tamaru’s side; Dalu continued to grumble, but reluctantly headed towards Tamaru as well. The Toa of Air smiled at her three associates, and then turned back to Zaekura and said, “Probably not the greeting you expected?” “No, I understand,” Zaekura said. “We tried to keep to a small group so we wouldn’t appear threatening, but I guess that didn’t work out. Sorry for that.” “So, what is it that brings you to Bota Magna? Looking for some help in your battle?” “Yeah, something like that. Mainly we just wanted to see if we could arrange to gather some of this region’s resources, though we’ll gladly take any help we can get.” Tamaru turned to Takua. “See? Nothing to worry about!” Dalu scoffed. “If the Great Beings see them using Bota Magna for their own gain, they’ll probably burn the whole jungle down! I won’t agree to this!” Placing her hands on her hips, Tamaru said, “Come on, Dalu…” “I’ve heard enough—if you want to put us all in danger, then go ahead. I’m heading home.” The Toa of Water turned, sighed, and quietly added, “Berix is probably worried sick by now…” Dalu stormed off. Zaekura rubbed her neck, saying, “Maybe this would go smoother if we could talk to your leader?” “We don’t have one,” Takua said. “The Le-Koronans stand together, but none stand above another.” “Oh? How’d that come about?” “…You still don’t really know why we’re all out here, do you?” “Um…I guess not.” Takua sighed. “Maybe that’s to be expected. We all have our own individual reasons, but basically, each of us felt out of place in the Great Beings’ society—either just unhappy, outright rejected, or in very real danger. So, we left. Outcasts like us would probably be safer in Valwahi…” He paused, making air quotes as he repeated, “Safer.” He then continued, “But it’s way too inhospitable. Bota Magna is a place we can thrive, and a place where we can be ourselves.” “I heard about why you’re doing this,” Tamaru said to Zaekura. “In a way, you’re one of us!” Zaekura smiled at this. “Ah…thanks. Nice to feel welcome.” Tamaru giggled. Behind her, Takua said, “Still, Dalu has a point: it’d be dangerous for all of us if any of us got involved. Not only that, but the few of us can’t speak for all Le-Koronans.” “Right,” Zaekura said, nodding. “Well, it’s not like I need an answer right away. Why don’t I come back in a week or two? That way you’ll have time to talk to everyone and get a better idea of how they all want to proceed.” “That sounds wonderful!” Tamaru said. “I’ll start spreading the word right away!” “Hold on,” Takua said. “If we’re going to actually discuss the issue, then we need to know a few things, like your motivation and what the Le-Koronans gain from helping you.” “We already know her motivation, Takua! I’ve already told you!” “Okay, that still leaves incentive. What will we get out of a potential arrangement?” Zaekura took her time in considering this. When she was ready, she said, “To be honest, I don’t know if I can offer much in the short-term. We’ll of course do our best to protect you, but with the Great Beings, that’s hard to promise. And, if there’s anything you want brought out to Bota Magna, we’d be more than happy to bring it. But on a more long-term scale: if we’re able to beat the Great Beings, we’re planning to make a lot of changes, hopefully prevent anyone from feeling like an outcast. I think your input on that would be really helpful.” Takua inclined his head. “And I mean, you’re certainly welcome in the cities we control now, we just…don’t control too many cities. Not sure how enticing that is.” “It might be nice to live in the city again,” Tamaru said. “Right, Kiina?” The Water Glatorian simply grunted. Takua said, “If that’s the case…then I think there’s someone you should meet with before you head back. Offer him a more accepting environment in a big city, and he might just join you on the spot.” Tamaru clapped her hands together. “Oh yes! It’d be a shame to send you back empty-handed, and I’m certain you’ll get something useful from Nuparu!” Antroz inclined her head. “Nuparu? This is where he disappeared to?” “Hm? Oh, I guess he did say he used to live in Xia…” “That sounds great!” Zaekura said. “Thank you so much! Where can we find him?” “We’ll lead you there,” Takua said. “It’s easy to get lost in this place if you don’t know where you’re going. Shouldn’t take too long.” Now a party of seven, the group headed off in a new direction, with Antroz bringing up the rear alone. It may not be the case for all of them…but at least some of these Le-Koronans have shadow abilities. Can we truly trust them…? Despite her misgivings, she continued on. ADDENDUM: -So…how’s everyone holding up? Things have gotten pretty crazy since my last update—sorry it took so long, I work an “essential job” so my time to write remains limited. Still managed it before the end of April, though, so I just might be able to keep that monthly update goal rolling! -There were a handful of characters I realized could use a bit more focus while we had the time, plus Mutran had yet to be properly introduced. Also, I’ve decided on a couple of new Great Beings, and the mask Mutran is carrying is the first hint towards one of them. The answer may surprise you! -Related, Gorast has always had a certain importance to this story, but her appearances have amounted to little more than cameos and that’s something I intend to fix. -I’ve been needing to learn to write more diverse characters, and the combination of the concept for the Le-Koronans and the widespread adoption of the trans Tamaru headcanon provided an opportunity I would be remiss in passing up. In case I can’t find a way to adequately exposit this in the upcoming chapters: plenty of Glatorian and Agori are trans, but when it comes to Toa and Matoran, the Great Beings are very adamant about the element-locked genders they assign and don’t tolerate having them questioned. In the city, Tamaru could only be herself around a few Agori friends, so as soon as she found out about the Le-Koronans she rushed off to Bota Magna. Again, I lack experience writing trans characters, so if I make a misstep please do not hesitate to correct me—I want to be sure I’m representing others with due respect. -As per my goal there will be at least one chapter in May; I have a rather short story I want to focus on getting done as soon as possible, but after that (and maybe one other shorter project) I’m thinking I’d like to focus on Right of Law and give it some real momentum. We’ll see how that goes. -Reviews to be submitted here
  2. SECTION XX As Zaekura stepped onto the dock, she did her best to shake loose the anxieties that clung to her. She made her way to Ga-Koro’s cathedral: Kojol was there waiting, but to her surprise, Carna was not. “Welcome back,” the Makuta greeted. “I see Pridak did not have you executed. It went well, then?” “Mostly,” Zaekura said. “Where’s my mom? I thought she was going to wait here.” “Carna went to visit the others from Nynrah, I believe. I am sure she will return sooner or later.” “Oh, alright.” Turning to Krika, Kojol said, “You look almost seasick, Krika. Attempting to better your acting?” Krika looked up slightly. “Simply preoccupied. Pay me no mind.” “I certainly try—are you actually going to make it easy for once?” “Indeed I will,” Krika said, walking over to sit in one of the pews. Not another word came from him. “…Hm, I find myself quite curious,” Kojol murmured. “But then, if I am to remain neutral, your negotiations are none of my concern.” Zaekura paced across the room, thinking, How exactly am I going to pitch this to the others? Really, I’d rather not work with Pridak, but it does seem like the most strategic option right now. And I wonder if I should bring up Mavrah… She glanced at Krika. …Should I say something? It’s too weird seeing him like this. But if Mavrah’s the one who sold me out, I don’t really feel all that bad…and after all, Krika is the reason grandpa… Zaekura sighed. But I’ve got to make use of him…no, wait, that doesn’t sound good. I don’t want to manipulate people. It’s just… “You seem rather agitated,” Kojol said. Zaekura stopped pacing. “Uh…yeah. Guess so.” Holding out a hand, Kojol offered, “I could help you with my Peace powers, if you would like.” “…Yeah. I think I’ll take you up on that.” With a nod, white light surrounded Kojol’s hand. Zaekura could feel the energy move into her, and immediately it helped: her muscles relaxed, her thoughts cleared, and for a moment all was totally calm. She turned to thank Kojol, but paused as she noticed the Makuta staring at her oddly. “What?” “Oh, my apologies. It’s just that…” She paused to select her words. “Your mind…it feels different somehow, compared to the first time we met.” “What? I don’t—” Zaekura stopped and clutched her head as a bolt of pain ripped through it.’’Agh! Nnngh…” “Are you alright?” Kojol asked. “Yeah, this has been happening a lot lately.” Zaekura sighed—while she was no longer entirely calm, she at least felt better than when she had walked in. “It’s probably just the stress getting to me, and there isn’t really anything to be done about that. This situation is going to keep going until we find a way to make it end.” Her ears perked up as the cathedral door opened. Carna entered, took one look at Zaekura, and rushed forward. “Zae! You’re back!” Hugging her mother, Zaekura said, “Yeah, things went okay. Not entirely ideal, but…okay.” Carna pulled back, keeping her hands on Zaekura’s shoulders. “So? Is that Makuta going to work with you?” “Probably—I figure I need to check with everyone else, though. We can talk about it on the way back to Xia.” Carna’s gaze drifted. When she brought it back, she said, “Actually, Zae…” Zaekura waited until she was ready. “For a while now, I’ve been trying to think of a way I could help you. There isn’t really anything I can contribute to the fighting, and it’s not like I have the temperament for diplomacy. But, I thought back to what happened in Civitas Magna, and that gave me an idea—and after talking about it with everyone from back home, I think it’s worth giving a try.” Krika had turned his head now, listening quietly. “When we met with Yarion, we were downplaying the whole thing, but really, art can definitely be dangerous. It can challenge old ideas and present new ones, and that’s exactly what we need right now. So, if a bunch of us from Nynrah fill Civitas Magna with art made from the ideas we’re working towards, I’m sure we’ll have an impact on public opinion and win you some more support! Or, worst case scenario, we have a little extra money you can use to buy supplies or something.” “An art movement, huh?” Zaekura said. “That sounds like it could work…heh, I’d like to think it would, at least. Sounds like fun.” “Right. So I think, for now at least…I should stay here.” “Huh? Why?” “I want to make sure this is done right, so I want to personally get it off the ground. Much as I really want to stay close to you…the only real difference between me worrying there and worrying here is that here I have something more productive to do.” Reaching up to grab her mother’s arms, Zaekura said, “Mom, you don’t have to be productive.” “I know, but…well, the distraction will probably do me good.” “…Yeah. You’re probably right.” “Besides, this’ll let me keep an eye on the others from Nynrah. I’m still not sure which one of them let your secret out.” Krika sighed. “Actually, Miss Carna, that matter’s been settled by Makuta Pridak.” Carna turned. “What? He found out who it was?” “Yes, it was—” “It was a traveler,” Zaekura interrupted. “Someone who had passed through and saw me working. Probably a scout the Great Beings had sent out specifically to look for people like me. They’re locked up in Mahri-Nui, they can’t do any more harm.” Krika remained silent. Carna said, “Oh…good. Well, regardless, I still think it’s best if I organize our art team.” “I understand,” Zaekura said. “Just, before anyone actually goes to Civitas Magna, let us find some guards who can accompany them. It shouldn’t take me long to find someone inconspicuous who can make sure you’re all safe.” “Good thinking. Alright, we won’t leave Ga-Koro until we’ve got our escort.” “Alright.” Zaekura fidgeted. “…Thanks for everything, Mom. Knowing you have my back has really made this a lot more bearable.” “Of course,” Carna said, hugging her daughter once again. “Be safe, okay? Don’t do anything too crazy.” “Well, I’ll do my best.” “I’ll see you soon, Zae.” “Right. See you.” Zaekura nodded to Krika, and then the two of them left Ga-Koro to set out across the desert. Once they were outside the city, Krika asked, “Why didn’t you tell your mother about Mavrah?” Hesitating briefly, Zaekura said, “I figured she’d probably blame you, and then be a lot less likely to stay. She needs something else to focus on.” “Ah. I see.” There was a pause. Eventually, Zaekura said, “I think it’s a good idea—mom’s plan to influence Civitas Magna. Not sure if everyone from Nynrah will join in, but every pair of hands helps. Now to figure out who to send with them…” Krika had nothing to say, so Zaekura thought in silence until something occurred to her. “Hey, Krika…mind if we make a stop on our way back?” After explaining herself, the pair veered northward, their new course leading them to Bitil’s outpost. Zaekura asked around to discover that the person she was looking for was currently examining the nearby lab, and sure enough, as she descended the staircase she spotted Natan standing at the console next to a Guurahk wearing a beret and scarf. The Rahkshi of Sonics looked up at her arrival. “Hey, look who it is!” he said. “Nice to see you again, Lady Zaekura. Well, I hope it’s good news?” “It is, don’t worry,” Zaekura said. The Guurahk stepped forward, saying, “Oh, hello Lady Zaekura! I’ve been wanting to meet you: I’m Ulwin!” Zaekura unconsciously tilted her head slightly as she shook the Rahkshi’s hand. “Ulwin, huh? You can speak…how’d you manage that?” Ulwin chuckled and shrugged. “Well, once I set my mind to it, I was able to focus all my creative energy and find a way to make it work. All Rahkshi have vocal cords—it’s just a matter of figuring out how best to use them.” “Incredible! Then theoretically, you could teach all of the Rahkshi how to speak! Well, if that’s something they’re interested in, I guess.” Glancing over the various elemental chambers, Krika asked, “What exactly were you two doing here?” “I’m bodyguarding him,” Natan said, jabbing a thumb in Ulwin’s direction. “Figure we can’t be too careful.” “I wanted to take a look at the data on this console,” Ulwin said. “I had heard that it was gibberish and thought I might be able to make some sense of it…but, ah, results have been less than encouraging thus far.” “Don’t beat yourself up, mate. Anyway, what brings you here? If you’re done in Mahri-Nui, shouldn’t you be headed back to Xia?” “There’s something I wanted to discuss with you, actually,” Zaekura said. “Me? Really?” “Yeah. See, my Mom’s starting this plan to use art to sway the people of Civitas Magna, and as I was thinking about it, I realized it’d probably work even better if we had a wider variety of art to use.” Natan inclined his head. “…What? You mean me and the band?” “Exactly. What do you say?” Scratching his chin, Natan said, “Sounds…pretty good. Sounds great! I mean, I gotta get the go ahead from the others, and we, uh, still need a name and all…but this could be just what we need! Can you hang around long enough for me to track ‘em down?” Zaekura nodded, and Natan was out of sight in an instant. She turned back to Ulwin then, seeing the Rahkshi of Creation’s eyes aglow; he said, “That sounds wonderful…Lady Zaekura, if it’s not too much to ask: might I also assist in this process?” “Huh?” “Please! Locked up in a place like this, a creative spirit can only stagnate—I need to be surrounded by like minds, artists who can challenge me so I can challenge them in turn! I can’t even use my powers on any of my siblings! But the people of Nynrah, the most famed artistic community on the planet…oh, working with them sounds heavenly!” Zaekura broke into a grin. “…That passion’s refreshing, Ulwin. It certainly isn’t my place to refuse.” “Truly?!” “You’re gonna have to be just a little patient, though. Once I get back to Xia I’m going to assemble some guards to escort artists to the city, and I think it’s best if you and the band wait to meet up with them before heading to Ga-Koro.” “Oh of course, of course! Thank you, Lady Zaekura—you won’t regret this! I promise I will craft works you can be proud of!” Ulwin wandered off to the side, bouncing with glee. Zaekura turned back around, preparing to head back out, but her eyes caught on the console. The same mess of data still raced across the stream, utterly incomprehensible. After staring at it for a time, however, Zaekura furrowed her brow. “…Hm…” she mumbled. “Is that…?” Slowly, she stepped over to the console, eyes fixed on the screen. Krika watched somewhat absently as she scanned the display over and then, with hesitance, struck one key, then a second, then three more; her fingers moved steadily across the board as she continued to stare straight at the screen, her face frozen in place, and it gradually dawned on Krika what was happening, briefly shocking him to attention. Not saying a word, he simply remained where he stood until Zaekura’s movements finally came to a halt. She faced him with a look of confusion. “…I understand it,” was all she said. Krika walked over to examine the screen. It still made no sense to him, but he could tell the data had been rearranged somehow, and a small graph was now displayed in one corner. Zaekura typed briefly, and the readings changed at her command. Krika glanced back to her. “I mean…not all of it. But. Some of it. I…I can actually understand some of what…agh!” She recoiled then, clutching her skull as another headache began. Krika said, “Of course. I’m such a fool, missing something so obvious.” “Miss…what?” Zaekura asked, the pain slowly subsiding. “Well, Lady Zaekura…it seems to me that those headaches of yours are not due to simple stress. Instead, I wager they are a side effect of your synapses restructuring themselves, evolving into something closer to the minds of the Great Beings.” Zaekura stared at him blankly. After taking another look at the screen, she muttered, “You mean that genetic quirk? It’s causing this?” “That quirk was but a spark. Now, it seems the fire is being stoked.” “But, stoked by what?” Krika shook his head. “There is still a great deal we do not understand about this mutation. But whatever catalyst enabled the Great Beings to become what they are today, I believe you have been exposed to it.” “…Kojol did say my mind felt different…I guess she was talking about this.” Zaekura turned and took a few steps away from the console. “I can’t tell if this is good or bad.” “In any event, your brainpower is increasing, and that will certainly have its benefits. We should act on this discovery.” Zaekura thought for a few more moments, then nodded once. “Yeah. Give me a minute to look over this data one more time…I think I’m starting to come up with a plan.” *** Gaaki stood before the door, steeling herself as best she could before knocking on it. “Come in.” The office itself had changed very little. Bur the Toa of Stone slouched at the desk was not Kodan; their new superior had an aura of arrogance swirling around his gold-trimmed Rau, and he spared her only a sideways glance as she approached. “Ah, Gaaki,” he said. “Finished already?” “Yes, Turaga Ahkmou,” said the Ga-Matoran. “Here’s the piece you requested.” She held out a stack of paper. Ahkmou gestured, and so she simply set it on his desk. “…Also.” Ahkmou raised an eyebrow. “I have a proposal I wanted to run by you. I wanted to take a team to Xia and—” “No,” Ahkmou interrupted. “But, Turaga—” “You still don’t get it, do you? How many times do I have to explain to you how things work around here?” Gaaki clenched her fists. “Turaga, our duty is to keep the people up-to-date on current events. Zaekura’s forces have taken a city, and nobody knows exactly what that means! The only way to be sure is to go talk to the Xians still living there. Zaekura’s been willing to talk before, I’m sure we’ll be able to get in and out without any trouble.” “This idea is nothing but trouble, stupid Matoran. It’s the same idea that led to your last boss disappearing.” Gaaki froze. “Our duty is to do as instructed by the Great Beings. You don’t want to disobey them, do you?” “…Of course not. But, Turaga…people trust us. They expect a more complete view from our pages, not the forceful, one-sided articles we’ve been running. Voriki Post, unreliable as they are, is at least printing different ideas—how long until readers leave us for them?” Ahkmou smiled. “Voriki Post is doing what? Did you hear that, Makuta Yarion?” The Ga-Matoran became aware of a presence behind her. Slowly, she looked over her shoulder, seeing the Makuta standing in the doorway, staring straight at her with an expression she couldn’t read. “I did,” Yarion said, their voice low and quiet. “Is something the matter, Matoran?” Gaaki turned fully, now noticing the scuffs and dirt that covered Yarion’s armor—they clawed at one spot of dirt momentarily before again falling still. She tried to say something, but when she opened her mouth, no words came. “Gaaki was just leaving,” Ahkmou said. “Isn’t that right, Gaaki?” Eventually, she nodded, and she went on her way. Leaning back in his chair, Ahkmou said, “Crushing their doubts is proving a real nuisance. Can’t you send some Rahkshi to help keep them in line, maybe boost their conviction?” “Wouldn’t that be a bit too heavy-handed?” Yarion said. “Well, maybe. Anyway, what’ve you got for me?” Yarion produced a disk, saying, “The Great Beings have prepared a new outline for your upcoming releases. Also, they mentioned they were discussing some suggestion you had made.” “Ah, must be the kolhii tournament! Good, good, I hope it gets approved.” “A sports tournament? Why would the Great Beings need to consider something so trivial?” Ahkmou rolled his eyes—it was slight, but he didn’t exactly hide it. “The triviality is the point, Makuta. I was put in charge here to control what information gets to the public, and that’s important, but it can only do so much. Constantly telling the people to side with us in this conflict is still telling them to think about the conflict—and if they get the chance to do too much thinking, they might just start to think for themselves. So, we need to give them something else to think about. Something safer. Such as a nice, friendly sporting event, one that’ll quietly and automatically draw everyone in and make sure they’re too distracted having fun to stop and think. Follow?” Yarion said nothing, simply rubbing one of the scuffs on their armor. “Oh. Speaking of controlling information! I’d recommend doing something about Voriki Post. They may have a reputation for being disreputable, but every voice of dissent reaches someone’s ears, you know?” “I understand.” “Good. If that’s all, then I’ll be seeing you.” Yarion made their way out of the building, stepping into the nearest alley they came across. After waiting a few moments, they turned, and sure enough, Vamprah was there clinging to the wall, head tilted to get a clear view of their every move. The sight may have once shaken Yarion, but now, they weren’t sure it gave them any particular feeling. “A news source called Voriki Post has been helping dissenters be heard,” Yarion said, hand absent-mindedly moving to work on another patch of dirt. “We must silence them.” Vamprah faded from view. Yarion looked down at their arm, where the stubborn patch of dirt refused to be removed. Trying their best to put the matter from their mind, they returned to their office, staring at the clock until it was exactly the appointed time, and made a call to the Maze. “Hello there, Yarion,” Angonce greeted. “Oh, you’re looking a bit worse for wear.” “The result of hard work, my lord,” Yarion said. They reached for a patch of dirt, but stopped half-way. “I have made my rounds and taken the necessary actions to keep loyalty on the people’s minds—there is one small matter I have delegated to Vamprah, but only because it was brought to my attention mere minutes ago and I did not wish to be late.” “Good, good. So, how are the people of Civitas Magna doing?” Yarion rubbed a scuff on their knee. “Excellent, my lord. Everyday operations are continuing without the slightest issue, and several of those who are off-duty have been celebrating the Great Beings in whatever way they can, firmly reestablishing our city’s dedication to your will. One group even went so far as to burn an effigy of Zaekura.” “You don’t say! Ah, I’m so glad everyone’s stopped biting the hand that feeds them…and of course, you’ve cut off all contact with Xia, I presume?” “Absolutely! When I heard the news, I halted all shipments and informed the necessary personnel, and then contacted Makuta Miserix to begin arranging trade with Atero.” Angonce nodded. “Very good, Yarion, you’re really on top of things! Miserix was quick to react too: he put his factories into overdrive without even needing to be told.” Yarion grabbed their wrist to still their hand. “In relation, Lord Angonce, I have begun work on plans to reduce Civitas Magna’s needs. I have no doubt that the Aterans will make us proud, but as their city was not designed for such output, I wish to lessen their burden as much as possible.” “Mmmm, probably a good idea. Don’t worry too much, Yarion: we don’t plan to let Zaekura hold Xia for long.” “Understood.” “Oh, and one more thing. The Xians who fled to Civitas Magna…you’ve detained them, correct?” “I have, my lord,” Yarion said. “Excellent. We’ll be bringing them to the Maze for questioning just as soon as we can get the logistics figured out.” “Shall I have them questioned here, my lord?” “No no, we’ll take care of that. You focus on keeping your citizens in line.” Yarion’s hands shook. “Of course. It shall be done.” “Great! Be seeing you, Yarion.” The call ended. Immediately, Yarion began to scratch at the stubborn patch of dirt. They scratched harder, and harder, but try as they may they could not remove it. Finally, they grunted and used a burst of Heat Vision to melt away the grime, leaving a scorch mark in its place. Yarion winced, and then leaned forward and set their head in their hands. I will obey. A distant explosion jolted them to their feet. Running to the window, Yarion looked to the pillar of smoke just beginning to climb into the sky. Reflexively, they went over the city’s layout in their head, and quickly realized that the affected area was where Voriki Post was located. Yarion began to claw at the scorch mark on their arm. We all…must…obey. ADDENDUM: -“Ulwin” is derived from “Ul”, the name of Guurahk’s kraata…in the main universe, at least. I figured our first named Rahkshi of Creation would look like an “artsy” type. He probably has an internal focal point for his power—otherwise I’d want to give him a gigantic paint brush or something, and I think that’d be just a bit too much. I think opening up the possibility of any Rahkshi being able to speak is going to be helpful in the long run, even if I was hesitant at first; there’s only so much you can do to characterize someone through hissing. -The console in the Great Beings’ lab seemed the best way for the characters to realize that Zaekura’s mutation is progressing, but it may be a while still before I get the chance to properly elaborate on what’s causing the change. What I will say is that it’s something a bit more…general than one might expect. -While my history with goal-setting has been spotty, I’ve decided to aim for at least one chapter of Right of Law each month going forward. Ideally it’ll be a bit more than that, it’d be nice to finish this within 2020, but at the very least I want to maintain some degree of momentum. As for the immediate future: there’s a few more matters that need attended to, but you heard how eager the Great Beings are, so I doubt it’ll be long until we’re back to the battlefield. -Reviews to be submitted here
  3. SECTION XIX Zaekura flipped through her notebook, eventually finding a blank page and hastily scribbling something down. Turning back to Neton, she said, “Alright, I’ll see what I can do. For now I’d say just focus on another block.” The Rahkshi nodded and was off. She then turned to Erad, and Charla applied her powers to allow Zaekura to understand their hissing. “Wow, that’s more than we were expecting,” she said, jotting down the figure. “Good thing with our Stone and Iron Toa being busy with reconstruction.” Erad made an additional note. “Right, good point. Well, when they’re free we’ll have them conjure up what they can, and that should give us enough of a head start that I’ll have time to organize a long-term plan for mining Iron Canyon. If you could, stop by the armory and look for a Rau, then go meet with the workers who’ve stuck around and talk things over with them.” When they left, Zaekura paused to breathe, and Charla chuckled a little. “You’re holding up well.” “You too. At this rate we should have Xia up and running in no time! What’s next?” Charla reached out over the city, but then frowned. “Oh…it would seem she has arrived, Lady Zaekura.” “…Ah,” Zaekura said, her enthusiasm dimming. She tucked away her notebook. “Okay, let’s go meet her.” The two of them made their way through the city, careful to avoid getting in the way of the ongoing reconstruction. The Xians who had elected to stay were hard at work alongside the Rahkshi—on occasion they revealed an unease behind their actions, but still, such feelings were set aside and work progressed harmoniously. Zaekura was relieved to see that was the case. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a start. Soon they had reached the gate, which had been left open for their visitor. Many paces away, the Sand Lord could be seen approaching the city, flanked by half a dozen Vorox guards; Zaekura and Charla met her halfway and bowed before the elemental. “Welcome, Sand Lord,” Zaekura said. “Please forgive our state of disrepair. It’ll still take a while to get things pristine, but we wanted to contact you right away.” The Sand Lord gave a vaguely melancholic hum. “Where are they?” “This way.” She led the Sand Lord into the city, through the streets to the central tower, and down into the dungeon beneath it. Crowding the stony vault were countless free-standing stasis fields, each of which held a mutated Vorox. The Sand Lord silently stepped up to the nearest one. “This seemed the safest place to keep them,” Zaekura said. “We have guards stationed around the clock—nobody’s getting in here without permission.” A cloud of sand drifted out from the Sand Lord, gently rolling through the room before eventually returning back into her body. “This is all of them. You truly did keep your promise…thank you.” Despite the gratitude offered, Zaekura felt only shame. “…I’m sorry this happened to them. I swear to you, Sand Lord: I will find a way to reverse the process and return them to normal. They’ll be able to walk Spherus Magna free, too.” She looked up as the Sand Lord turned to meet her gaze. Quietly, the Sand Lord said, “You shall be held to that.” Zaekura nodded. “How, exactly, do you plan to follow through?” “About that…I’m expecting figuring it out will require blood samples, both from affected and unaffected Vorox. But, I wanted your permission before I took any.” “Very well. Take what you need from the sick, and from my guards. Afterwards, however…I must insist that we take our brethren back with us. Do not think that I doubt you—” “But we’re a military target, and that’s not very safe,” Zaekura finished. “I understand. We’ll be happy to help in any way we can.” The Sand Lord took a step towards Zaekura. “…You’re being quite generous. I have not yet agreed to become your ally, Zaekura.” “Your answer to that won’t change anything. I’m not offering this help to try to get help back, if that’s what you’re thinking.” “Then why?” “I…” Zaekura shrugged. “I just want to help. That’s really it.” The Sand Lord stared at her a moment. Then, she turned and walked towards the door, saying, “I will leave you to take the samples you require.” “Thank you, Sand Lord.” “And then…I believe it wise we conduct a strategy meeting. I wish to know how we plan to proceed in this campaign.” Zaekura smiled. “Of course. I’ll inform you when we’re ready.” *** Antroz knocked on the door before slowly stepping into the room. Emsar sat in a chair next to the window, her ankle connected to the bed by a long chain; she looked up as the Makuta entered, shifting her weight and smiling. “Quite a comfortable cell, I have to admit,” the Vortixx said. “Not worried I’ll find a way out?” “There was no room left in the dungeon,” Antroz said. “But even with a proper cell, I am sure you could escape if you wished to.” “Hm. Maybe.” “Emsar, might you satisfy my curiosity? What is it you plan to do from here?” Leaning back, Emsar said, “What can I do, Makuta? I am a prisoner. Few roads are open to me now.” “What I mean is that you need not remain a prisoner. We would benefit greatly from your help, Emsar. I would much prefer to work alongside you again than to keep you captive.” “My, so quick to trust? Or need I go through a Shadow Trial to earn this freedom?” Antroz shook her head. “No, nothing so extreme. I imagine there will be some conditions to your release, but that is something I shall have to discuss with Zaekura and the other Makuta. You will still need to earn our trust.” “Ah, I see…” Emsar’s gaze wandered out the window. Coming closer, Antroz said, “You said you were afraid that the Great Beings would label you a traitor. But here, you are safe from their reach, and—” She stopped as Emsar began to laugh. The Vortixx leaned forward and said, “Wrong approach. Everyone knows you can’t truly guarantee safety from the Great Beings. What you should be saying, Makuta, is that now that I’ve failed to stop you, then whether I stay in my comfortable cell or join you on the battlefield, the Great Beings are likely to react the same. I have already lost their good graces.” The silence lingered briefly. “…I’ve no desire to threaten you,” Antroz said. “Loyalty acquired through fear is meaningless. If you believe you have a reason to fight this battle, then we will gladly accept your help, but if not, we shall not force you. And we will still do all we can to protect you should you find yourself a target of the Great Being’s ire.” Emsar watched her closely, a thoughtful look on her face. “Those same pesky morals you’ve always gone on about?” “…I suppose you could say they’ve changed a bit as of late.” “Oh? In that case, Makuta: are morals worth adhering to if they’ve already proved inadequate? How are you still able to have such solid conviction in something now revealed to be fluid and changeable?” Antroz took her time in thinking of a response. Ultimately, she said, “Truthfully, Emsar, I’ve begun to feel it is better this way.” Emsar raised an eyebrow. “Better?” “Before, I was so convinced of the completeness of my morals that I refused to see anything that conflicted with them. I was willfully ignorant, and stubbornly self-righteous, and my morals grew stagnant as a result. That is the reason they failed. But now, now that I have started to open my mind, to take in new information and learn different points of view…perhaps in changing, my morals are being refined, being further honed into something stronger than they were before.” “…How intriguing. Then, the most moral thing to do is to let your morals change?” “Not change completely. But we must allow ourselves to grow…and perhaps, sometimes, the only way to truly do so is to realize that certain values you once believed in must now be shed.” Emsar leaned back once more. “Hm. Food for thought, I suppose.” “Emsar—” “I would ask you give me time to consider it. I’m sure you realize such a decision does not come easily?” “…All too well. I shall leave you, then. Rest easy.” No further response followed her out. After locking the door, Antroz headed for the staircase, planning to find a way to contribute to the reconstruction effort; however, a telepathic signal from Charla came to her mind, letting her know that the Sand Lord had requested a strategy meeting be convened. She gave a brief reply, and then went to the first floor of the tower and waited for the others to arrive. I suppose, she thought, we shall have to make a plan that does not include Emsar’s assistance. She was soon joined by Krika, then Bitil, then Zaekura and Charla, before the Sand Lord herself finally arrived. The Element Lord spared Antroz a glance, but said nothing. Zaekura cleared her throat. “Thanks for coming,” she began. “Good news: the Sand Lord has agreed to ally with us! We’ll be working closely with her and the Vorox from this point on, which is going to be a huge help.” “Many thanks, dear Sand Lord,” Krika said. “We look forward to a prosperous partnership.” The Sand Lord rustled. “Let us hope. For the time being, how are we planning to proceed?” Bitil waved his hand, creating a purple light projection of Spherus Magna. “That’s a good question. Right now, we’re mainly concerned with settling into Xia…” On the map, an area connecting Xia to Nynrah turned from purple to teal. Ga-Koro turned gray. “The walls have been fortified, and things should be in working order in a matter of days. At that point, we’ll be able to start manufacturing weapons and armor.” “There’s a good deal of raw material still in stock, and we have Toa of Iron and Stone on-hand to conjure more,” Zaekura said. “However, we don’t want to overtax them, so we’re going to need to acquire some resources the old-fashioned way. Iron Canyon is the most obvious answer.” The canyon flashed yellow. Charla said, “However, there are some concerns. With how long Iron Canyon has been in use, most of the ore still there is deeper in, which makes it more difficult to transport large quantities back to the city. Also, there’s Atero to consider.” The great, sprawling city at the northern exit of the canyon flashed. “Now that Xia is ours, they will likely be the new source of arms for the Great Beings’ forces, meaning they will be making increased use of Iron Canyon as well. Even aside from that, the canyon provides a very convenient route for them to attack Xia. We will need to be extremely vigilant.” Zaekura nodded. “I want to get what we can from Iron Canyon, but we definitely want to look into alternatives. That being said, we can’t exactly go mine in the Northern Frost or Black Spikes, not with Atero standing between here and there.” “I can offer assistance,” the Sand Lord said. “The Vorox know of several untapped deposits scattered throughout the desert. I cannot assure that any run especially deep, but we will mine what we can.” “Excellent! I was worried we might not have many options until we expand our territory a bit more.” “What about Bota Magna?” Bitil suggested, rotating the globe so that the immense jungle was visible. “Xia is fairly close to the border—we could easily set up a route to ship resources along. The Great Beings leave the region alone, save for Karzahni, but that’s far to the northeast.” Zaekura rubbed her chin. “Hm, not a bad idea. Though, aren’t there people living in the jungle? I know I heard stories about them at some point.” “Ah, the Le-Koronans,” Antroz said. “I’ve had some interaction with them: they keep to themselves for the most part, though if we were to begin mining their lands that could very well change.” “Right. So, what do you know about them? How do you think they feel about the Great Beings?” “As I understand it, they’re a self-made tribe composed of Matoran who prefer life in the wilderness to life in the Great Beings’ cities. I doubt they feel particularly loyal to the system.” “Alright. In that case, we can probably negotiate with them. Once Xia’s stable, let’s pay them a visit, see what they have to say.” Zaekura looked back up at the map. “Going off of that train of thought, what about Aqua Magna? We’ve got easy access to it, and we know Kojol won’t bother us. Obviously we’re talking a different type of resources, but still.” “First things first,” Krika said, extending his finger to point at a coastal city far to the north. “While it may be some time before we control it, we need eyes and ears in Stelt. We still have the Odinans to worry about, and if one of their ships comes into port, we want to know immediately.” Zaekura grimaced. “Oh, good point. Bitil, think you could pick a couple of Rahkshi suited for that?” “Of course!” Bitil said. “I’ll confer with them and report back by tomorrow. Consider the situation handled.” “Thanks. Well, other than Odina—and with how far north they are, we can easily avoid them—the only inhabited island is Mahri-Nui…” Antroz faced Krika. With a sigh, the other Makuta said, “Yes, ah, in regards to that…you may recall, Lady Zaekura, that there was something we wished to inform you of prior to marching on Xia?” Zaekura tilted her head. “Huh? Oh, that’s right…it has to do with Mahri-Nui?” “Indeed. You see…hm, where to begin. When I went to Civitas Magna, I posed as a Toa who had been newly transferred from Mahri-Nui and, with the way that situation escalated, it came to be that Makuta Yarion ended up contacting Mahri-Nui to verify that I was who I said I was. The Makuta of Mahri-Nui vouched for me.” “…Huh? Wait, why?” “I dare not speculate. However, that Makuta has since contacted me, saying that he wishes for an audience with you. I believe it in our best interest to quickly open negotiations with him.” “Huh…well, if he’s open to it, then definitely! If we ally with Mahri-Nui, then we basically have control of Aqua Magna.” “Yes, and should things go well in Bota—” “Krika,” Antroz interrupted. Krika fell silent. Zaekura glanced at Antroz, asking, “Is there more…?” “You should know more about the Makuta of Mahri-Nui,” Antroz said. “He is not a being to be trifled with. While he does pursue what is best for his people, he is arrogant in a truly dangerous way…and if he cuts ties with the Great Beings, if he no longer has loyalty to their rule restraining him, there is no telling just what he will do.” “So he’s a wildcard.” “That’s putting it mildly,” Bitil said. “He actually believes that it’s impossible for a Makuta to be wrong about anything. Makuta like Antroz and Kojol might be a bit self-righteous, but Makuta Pridak is so convinced of his own purity that he thinks anything he thinks or wants is inherently right only because he thinks it.” Zaekura shifted. “…Yeah, not liking the sound of that. How does…I mean, Makuta disagree, right? If he thinks they’re both automatically right when they want different things—” “I know, it’s absurd,” Krika said. “None of us have quite wrapped our heads around it, so you’d have to ask him personally. Though, I wouldn’t recommend bringing it up during negotiations.” “Should we negotiate with someone like that?” “That is for you to decide. Personally, I would rather keep him close so that I can watch him, rather than let him do as he pleases under the Great Beings’ banner.” “I’d prefer to avoid dealing with him altogether,” Antroz said, “but it seems that option is not available to us. At the very least, I think we should honor his request to meet. It is difficult to say beyond that.” Bitil and Charla both nodded. The Sand Lord said, “This being sounds untrustworthy…but the odds we face demand we utilize every opportunity we discover. I would advise against letting such a valuable one pass by.” Zaekura slowly nodded. “Well…guess I’ll be planning a trip to Mahri-Nui ASAP. But we don’t need to go over that right now.” “Back on topic, then,” Krika said. “As I was saying, should we secure an alliance with both Pridak and the Le-Koronans, it would provide us with quite the hold. The Great Beings were keen to situate themselves as far away from their subjects as possible…” He gestured towards the Valley of the Maze, and then down to Civitas Magna. “…that is something we can easily turn to our advantage. If we can cut them off, form a border so well-defended that travel between the Maze and Civitas Magna is unreasonably dangerous, then the people will enjoy freedom from their rulers, giving them the comfort necessary for vocal dissent.” “That’s true,” Bitil said, shifting the projection so that the teal coloring joined and consumed both Aqua and Bota Magna. Giving a hum, he then rotated the globe. The other side of the planet was highlighted in red, lacking any sort of real detail. “Although…that would still leave Valwahi…” A tense silence hung over the room. Breaking it, Zaekura said, “Unless we ally with them, too.” Every eye turned to her. “That’s a discussion for another day. Right now, we focus on Xia, Mahri-Nui, and Bota Magna. Sound like a plan?” Her allies were in agreement. The Sand Lord was first to depart, along with Bitil, who offered to help in transporting the stasis-held Vorox; soon after that, Zaekura and Charla went to resume overseeing the reconstruction. Krika tapped his fingers, lost in thought. “Do you truly think she will be safe if she visits Mahri-Nui?” Antroz asked. “I plan to ensure that she does,” Krika said. “You and Bitil are needed here, and ideally I suppose I should be the one to clean up my own mess.” “…I shall leave it to you, then.” “Please, don’t sound so excited about it.” Brushing some dust off his armor, Krika started making his way towards the door. “Our fight begins in earnest now—acknowledging every possible front at once rather than focusing on a single goal at a time. None of us will get to be hands-on with the entire process.” “True.” “So look on the bright side, Antroz: there’s a chance none of us will even need to be in the same room as Pridak at any point! Really, I deserve thanks for taking on the burden so willingly.” Antroz shook her head. “Shouldn’t you be going?” “Very well, very well…” Alone again, Antroz reflected upon the various factors that had been discussed. Assuming Krika could handle Pridak, then the only immediate threat was Atero, and while she knew Miserix was not the type to act impulsively, it would be far better to attack the city sooner rather than later. We need just a bit of time to find our footing. And, with luck, time to convince Emsar to join us. *** The docks of Mahri-Nui bustled endlessly, forming a sea of people even more tumultuous than the ocean surrounding it. Somehow, Krika and Zaekura fought their way through this crowd, making their way to a long stone staircase which they began to climb. The island was built in tiers: the docks were the lowest and widest, and above that was what appeared to be a market district, followed by a residential district, then a ring of laboratories, and finally, a great stone keep ringed in sharpened rocks, mirroring the massive outcroppings that clasped the island itself. Rahkshi could be seen everywhere—Zaekura even noticed several specially-modified aquatic Rahkshi swimming about, paralyzing her with curiosity for a moment—and while they and the other inhabitants kept a very close eye on the visitors, none made any act to stop them. “Think he’ll give us access to the data he’s collected?” Zaekura asked as they passed the labs. “Being out here studying Aqua Magna for millennia, I can’t even imagine how detailed their research must be…” “You can certainly ask,” Krika said. “Hard to say how he’ll respond, but at worst I imagine he’ll simply find it odd.” “Huh, so getting on his good side won’t be as easy as it was with Bitil.” Krika chuckled. “If I may say, Lady Zaekura, you seem far less nervous than I expected. That tranquility will be quite the boon in our negotiations.” “Yeah, you know me, tranquil as they come.” “I believe in you. Keeping a level head is easy, once you get the hang of it. You begin to see there’s simply no point in being rattled by minor inconveniences.” At the top of the stairs stood two towering, four-armed beings sporting rows of spines over their shoulders and down their backs. Before Krika could even make an introduction, the brutes opened the doors of the keep and headed inside, glancing back after a few steps as if expecting the visitors to already be following them. After a brief delay, follow they did. The interior was dimly lit by blue lightstones, with two great, shimmering pools of water on either side of the center path. The room was long, but at its end, back against a wall covered by a dark curtain, was a throne with an unnecessarily tall base, flanked by four Rahkshi and seating a very pleased-looking Makuta. Pridak’s form could easily have been mistaken as muscular by someone unaware of the Makuta’s nature. The shell was carefully crafted, an ultra-precise replica of a body of enviable fitness and power, with an imposing height to boot. It was mainly white, but patches of red wisped over it, most noticeably along his limbs and on the Kanohi Arthron he wore. His fingers ended in short claws, and blade-like fins jutted up and back from his forearms and calves, partially obscured by the heavy, seaweed-colored cloak draped over him. “Makuta Krika, Lady Zaekura,” Pridak greeted, remaining slouched nonchalantly upon his throne as he glanced down at them. “I am ever so pleased to see that you have accepted my invitation. We have a great deal to discuss, and I have been quite eager to get started.” “It is an honor to be here, Makuta Pridak,” Krika said with a bow—Zaekura mimicked the movement. “I am thrilled to be able to thank you in person for your help in obscuring my identity from Yarion.” “Of course, of course.” His cold blue eyes turned directly upon Zaekura. “And the lady of the hour. You’ve caused quite the stir, haven’t you?” “Wasn’t my intention,” Zaekura said. “Er, not initially, that is. But now I’m prepared to fight back against the Great Beings.” Pridak leaned forward, putting his hands together to rest his chin on them. “Indeed. I hear you have already conquered Xia in your name—quite the accomplishment.” “We were fortunate no one got seriously hurt. Here’s hoping we can keep that momentum going.” “Hm…I see. And, your next target will be…?” “Pardon me, Pridak,” Krika said, “but just as a formality: we want to clarify what our relationship will be going forward before getting into such matters.” “Heh. Understandable.” Pridak sat up straight. “I have acquired a copy of your infamous interview, Lady Zaekura, and I must say I was shocked by its contents. Supposing you can convince others you are telling the truth, I imagine you will have great success in rallying the virtuous behind you.” “Uh…thank you,” Zaekura said. “This is a turning point in the history of Spherus Magna: the first time someone has stood up to the Great Beings and actually had a chance. I must ask: should you become the next one to steer the planet’s fate, where will you lead it?” “Well, truth be told those points are a bit vague at the moment. I’ve got a lot of more urgent matters to deal with before we get there. But…” She paused to think for a moment. “I don’t know, just something…not as overbearing, I guess. Give people more control over themselves, not teach them to cling blindly to one supreme rule or whatever. If that makes sense.” Pridak nodded slowly. Krika said, “Determined specifics include no longer capturing those with the potential to become Great Beings and freeing the Vorox. That’s about the point we’re at currently.” “Very interesting. It sounds as though you’ve allied with the Vorox, then?” “I’m afraid I can’t confirm or deny that just yet. Again—” “Yes, I know; let’s end this coyness already,” Pridak interrupted, rising to his feet. “Lady Zaekura…I desire to assist you. Mahri-Nui has soldiers aplenty to offer you, and controls the seas of Aqua Magna with the notable exception of Odina and its route to Stelt. Our power would serve you well, and you will have protected sea access to Civitas Magna—no small benefit, as I am sure you are well aware. What say you?” “Oh,” Zaekura said. “That sounds very generous, Makuta.” “But pray, indulge me,” Krika said. “What is your motivation in this alliance?” “Is my desire not motivation enough?” Pridak asked. “Should there be more, I cannot help but be curious of the complete picture, brother.” Pridak chuckled quietly. “Indeed…I suppose you could say I wish to have more freedom in how I run Aqua Magna. The seas have served me well, but the Great Beings do limit what commands I can issue them. It sounds to me as though Lady Zaekura will provide an environment in which such limitations are no longer a concern. I am willing to fight for the opportunity to control the seas as I truly see fit.” “Ah, I see. Your ‘freedom’ nearly sounds like power.” “Freedom is power, Krika. Our goals align in that sense, wouldn’t you say?” “One could say that, I suppose.” Krika turned to Zaekura, asking, “What do you think?” Zaekura crossed her arms. “We would definitely benefit from this alliance…but…” “You have some misgivings?” Pridak asked. “Er, well…” “Worry not: I understand the necessity of caution. As such, I have prepared a gift of good faith to set your mind at ease.” Zaekura blinked. “A gift?” “That’s right,” Pridak said, taking a few steps forward. “After hearing of your story, I began to wonder: how exactly did the Great Beings learn that someone such as yourself was living in Nynrah? Someone must have told them, so I set out to discover who.” Bristling, Zaekura said, “You…you found who sold me out?” “That’s right. My servants visited Ga-Koro to question the people of Nynrah, the only ones who might have known of your ability.” “Hold a moment,” Krika said. “The people of Nynrah are loyal and compassionate—I will not believe that one of them is the cause of this fiasco.” Pridak grinned. “True, they are a very commendable people. You have raised them well, Krika. We are certain that no one we spoke to in Ga-Koro was responsible for the information leak…but in our search of the surrounding area, we came across another citizen of Nynrah, and they have confessed to their crime.” Krika narrowed his eyes. “The entirety of Nynrah’s population fled to Ga-Koro.” “All but one, that is.” Pridak produced something from his cloak, tossing it onto the floor between him and his guests. It was badly damaged, but the metal object seemed roughly spherical, with exposed wiring that blinked erratically. Krika quickly recognized it. Instantly, a primal horror consumed his features. “…No,” he mumbled. “No, that can’t…” Soon Zaekura recognized it as well. She glanced at Krika briefly, then back to Pridak. “…You’re absolutely sure?” Raising one hand, Pridak said, “Absolutely.” He snapped his fingers, and a servant pulled away the curtain behind his throne. The covering fell away to reveal a large tank of water, currently with only one occupant: a massive, hideous creature not even remotely akin to any other Rahi they had ever seen. Their massive eye gazed out with a look of resignation, and Krika took a single step forward before going completely still. “Mavrah,” he said. “Is this true…?” Pridak nodded to his servants, who activated a panel on the side of the tank. A voice then emerged from the metal plate: “Yes, Makuta. I was the one who told the Great Beings about the Glatorian.” Krika gaped for a long moment. When he finally found his voice again, all he could say was, “Why?” “Self-preservation,” Mavrah said. “Seldoa found me. She was going to kill me. I told her I was not the one in Nynrah who posed a threat to her.” Krika’s gaze began to fall. “…You traded Zaekura’s life for you own…” “Why would I not? Did you think I had a sense of loyalty to Nynrah, or to you? Did you think I came to see you as a friend, simply because you decided to keep me as a pet rather than killing me like the rest of my kind? Did you think you were forgiven, Krika?” The Makuta did not answer. Pridak faced Mavrah, saying, “What an ungrateful creature. Shall I have them disposed of, Lady Zaekura?” Zaekura glared at the Rahi, but her gaze was not without pity. “No. That won’t be necessary.” Pridak nodded. “Krika?” Very quietly, Krika said, “No. They behaved in the only logical way they could. It is not my right to condemn them for it.” “…Interesting point of view.” Pridak snapped his fingers again—his servants shut off the panel, and then set about raising the curtain once again. Once he was back on his throne, Pridak said, “So, Lady Zaekura. I have demonstrated my investment in your cause. Has this affected your opinion of me?” “It has,” Zaekura said flatly. “…I probably shouldn’t say anything official without conferring with my other allies—I don’t want them to feel out of the loop. But as long as they don’t have any objections, Pridak…then I will accept your alliance.” “Wonderful!” Pridak said. “By all means, take the time you need to gain the others’ approval. I await your official decision, Lady Zaekura.” Zaekura and Krika bowed, and then they made their way out and headed back down the long staircase. Somehow, it seemed even longer now. “It seems I owe you yet another apology, Lady Zaekura,” Krika said. “Mavrah most likely learned of your nature from me.” “…What’s done is done,” Zaekura. “At least we know we can trust the rest of the city. More importantly, we’ve got ourselves an ally.” “Ah, yes. Then, do you trust Pridak?” “Not sure I’d say that. You guys were right: he’s going to be trouble. But, beggars can’t be choosers, and if he directs that dangerous energy at Velika’s drones instead of us…” Krika nodded. Without another word, they returned to their boat, and set sail once again for Ga-Koro. ADDENDUM: -January was not as productive as I would have hoped. -Things are really opening up here, giving a more complete picture of the landscape of Spherus Magna in this universe. Aqua Magna is more or less set, and we’ll get our first look at Bota Magna very soon; it might be a bit before we dig into Valwahi, but I’ll at least tell you that its name can be traced back to “Valmai Wahi” and grew simpler over time. With the minor exception of Aqua Magna, these places are areas where the Great Beings exert little to no control, largely due to lack of interest, so many potential allies live there. -Right, so, Pridak. If you know me you might know that I loathe the Barraki. (As characters—the sets were great, except Kalmah.) At first I wouldn’t even consider including them in this story, and from there I moved to the idea of a one-off, mocking reference and nothing more. But as I thought more about it, about what sort of Makuta might rule over Aqua Magna, I found myself using Pridak’s arrogant personality as a basis, and when I looked at the results, I felt it could offer a very interesting new perspective into the conflicting ideas of leadership in the story. Of course to do that, I needed to make him a Makuta. I was hesitant, so I understand if you have some misgivings, but I truly think this will better the story, so please allow me a chance to prove that. -Reviews to be submitted here
  4. SECTION XVIII Folding her wings, Antroz landed atop her tower and immediately drew her sword. She reached out, sensing Emsar within the building, and climbed through the nearest window before descending to the floor where she waited. The Vortixx had a dagger in each hand, standing perfectly still as she watched the Makuta without making any attempt to hide. “Emsar,” Antroz said, “I—” Emsar hurled one of the daggers before she could finish, drawing another to replace it as she charged. Antroz stepped to the side, letting the knife hit the wall behind her; it ricocheted, hitting another wall before angling back towards Antroz. She ducked, and the blade now flew at Emsar, who kicked it towards the ceiling and lunged, swinging carefully to avoid being in the path of the rebounding dagger as it bounced from ceiling to floor and back, slowly closing in on Antroz again. Her Kanoka Blade daggers, Antroz thought as she wove around Emsar’s attacks. She’s truly serious… She activated her Dodge powers, focusing entirely on avoiding contact for the time being. Emsar pressed on nonetheless. “Listen to me, Emsar!” Antroz said. “You are on the wrong side of this fight! I understand you are shocked—it was baffling to me as well! But the Great Beings are not worth defending!” Emsar simply continued attacking. “…You will not even hear my words? Must I force you to heed me?” Antroz snatched the rebounding dagger from the air and swung it forward. Emsar dodged, and the knife ended up stuck in the floor. Antroz next swung her sword in a horizontal arc: it was blocked by one of Emsar’s weapons, and suddenly it shrunk, the once fearsome sword turning into little more than a needle. As this happened, Emsar kicked upward, missing, and another dagger slipped free from a sheath on her ankle. Before Antroz could react, Emsar brought her foot back down, driving the weapon directly into Antroz’s shoulder; she then flipped backward to put more space between them, and… Antroz shook her head. She tried focusing on Emsar, but now she could only vaguely sense where she was, some other psychic energy now pressing against her mind and disorienting her. Ripping the dagger from her shoulder, she tried again only to receive the same result—and to her surprise, a small but intense burst of heat and light sailed past her head, incinerating the tiny bit of antidermis that had escaped from her wound. “A Firework Revolver?” she said as she recoiled. “I thought you didn’t like firearms.” She heard Emsar’s voice, faint yet easy to understand: There’s nothing about this I like. Emsar charged. Not wanting to risk her sword further, Antroz picked up the rebounding dagger in the floor to parry Emsar’s first strike. Yes… A faint glow surrounded the dagger. It was ripped from Antroz’s hand by some unknown force, and that force then threw it against the wall to begin ricocheting once again. Left shoulder! The words came with an urgency that made Antroz react in reflex, guarding her shoulder. Emsar instead dove for her right ankle. Her dagger passed through the Makuta’s leg, but did not tear her armor—instead, it emerged with a small cloud of antidermis clinging to it. Antroz swung her claw, and Emsar met her blow with the handle of her revolver, fending her off long enough to fire and incinerate the recently-freed gas. Anger swelled in Antroz’s mind, and Emsar suddenly leapt back. “…I see,” Antroz said, continuing to dodge the rebounding blade. “A risky move, don’t you think?” She heard Emsar’s laugh all around her. I can’t exactly fight you normally, Makuta. This is the closest thing to stealth I can use. “I wasn’t aware you owned a Suletu dagger. Seems you did manage to surprise me.” Another dagger flew out. Antroz dodged it, but it began to rebound as well. Just as she moved to deal with the two bouncing blades, she became aware of Emsar right before her, making another successful cut. This one did leave a gash in her armor; the rebounding blades nicked Antroz, prolonging her distraction, and the psychic interference began to lessen as she felt some kind of stress upon her newest wound. The armor held where it was thanks to Alize’s earlier treatment, so Antroz swiped her claw—but Emsar realized the attack’s ineffectiveness just in time, and the strike missed. The interference returned as Emsar fired her revolver, but Antroz moved forward nonetheless, holding her sword back to conceal the fact that it was steadily returning to its normal size. When she felt she was close, Antroz made a sweeping slash, the interference fading as Emsar focused entirely upon ducking just under the edge and allowing her to level a Light blast at the Vortixx, knocking her into the wall. “I have no desire to harm you, Emsar,” Antroz said as her foe recovered. “This fight will accomplish nothing!” Appearances are everything. Emsar was back on her feet. Antroz plucked the two rebounding daggers from the air and threw them at her. With a swift movement, Emsar deflected them both, placing them in a telekinetic grip as she pressed against Antroz’s mind to disappear from her perception. What do you mean? Antroz asked, pushing back. You linked our minds, Emsar—at least explain the thoughts you have made known to me. Emsar dropped down from above. Antroz reached up to catch her, but all she grabbed was empty space; Emsar had visualized herself wielding the dagger she held psychically, producing a mental decoy to keep Antroz busy as the two blades dug into her armor. The real Emsar came at Antroz from the side, using one of her daggers to cut away another chunk of antidermis so that she could dispose of it from a safer distance. You put me in a bad spot, Makuta. I’m just doing what I have to. Antroz focused her Light power outward, producing a blinding flash. Emsar shut her eyes just in time, and as she retreated further, she realized Antroz was making some sort of clicking sound. Before she could figure out what was going on, the Makuta asked, Why do you believe that? We gave you an opportunity to surrender peacefully. For what reason must you turn our offer down? An image came to Antroz’s mind: an image of the Great Beings. It was lost in the psychic tides a second later, but it was enough to help Antroz understand. If you don’t do your best to stop me… I will be labeled a traitor. Emsar’s throwing knives came at her again. Again, Antroz caught them. Appearances are everything. I need to look committed, no matter how I might actually feel. And, Makuta… A vase hit the floor, shattering loudly. Antroz winced. You need to be more subtle for echolocation to be effective! Emsar got in under Antroz’s guard, executing a double slash across her chest that caused a huge cloud of antidermis to spill forth, as well as shocking her into dropping the rebounding blades. Antroz reacted in time to knock the daggers from Emsar’s hands, and then landed a punch that sent her tumbling back. She moved forward in an attempt to pin her foe, but Emsar already had another blade drawn; she cut Antroz’s mask this time, causing it to shrink instantly, and rolled away in the confusion. Now with the interior of the “head” of her armor exposed, Antroz kept a hand over it, and was more careful than ever to avoid the fireworks Emsar was shooting her way. The throwing knives began to rebound again. Emsar increased the amount of interference she produced, and Antroz remained perfectly still. Emsar. Were it possible, I would take as long as is necessary to convince you to lay down your arms. More fireworks came at her. The rebounding blades moved in as well, but stopped short. But you would kill me long before we reach that point. The rebounding knives were sent up into the ceiling, and Emsar, who was halfway across the room, suddenly stopped and leapt back. Ah, you magnetized them earlier. Clever. Antroz tapped into her power of Sleep, releasing it throughout the room rather than focusing on any individual point. You know I’ve trained to shield my mind…what are you planning? Antroz revealed nothing. Emsar edged forward tentatively, not making a single sound as she touched two of her daggers together. Bestowing a telekinetic grip upon one, she willed it to float up and aim at the hole in Antroz’s chest, spinning to make it harder to stop before shooting out like a bullet. Just before it hit, Antroz disappeared. Emsar could still feel her mind, and so remained on alert, becoming aware just in time to feel the Makuta’s claws closing around the back of her neck. What?! The Vortixx tried to retaliate, but gravity multiplied around her, and in a fraction of a second she was facedown on the floor, too heavy to move a single muscle. Antroz breathed a sigh of relief. How did you know where I was? The interference…unless… “You’ve become so adept at shielding your mind that you block mental attacks reflexively,” Antroz said. “I had to use that against you.” You attacked with Sleep…I automatically guarded my mind, and in drawing in my mental power to do so, I wasn’t able to jam your senses any longer. Curses, I didn’t even realize… “It’s over, Emsar. You tried your best—appearances were kept. But now, Xia will belong to me once more.” “…I suppose so,” Emsar murmured. “Hardly surprising, really.” Antroz gave a small smile. “You feel somewhat relieved, old friend.” “Do I, now?” Antroz gently placed one finger against the back of Emsar’s head. “I suppose it doesn’t matter. For now, why don’t you rest?” Slowly, Emsar’s mental shields peeled away, and Antroz’s powers cast her into a deep slumber. Antroz stood up and, after mending her armor a bit, carried Emsar over to the stairs and headed down. As she walked, however, she sensed a great deal of distress hanging over the city, and reached out to sense how the battle was progressing. What she felt made her stop dead in her tracks. *** A Rahkshi of Teleportation deposited Zaekura on top of the wall before vanishing again. The Glatorian stared at the oncoming horde of Vorox, still in shock. Bitil approached her, saying, “Most everyone else is dealt with, so we should be able to martial our defenses well enough. However…we’ve no idea what to expect from them now. I know you told the Sand Lord none of them would be killed, but…given their disposition, subduing them may prove exceptionally difficult.” Zaekura swallowed hard. “We will do everything we can. That is all I can promise.” Bitil leapt down to the base of the wall, where a large squad of Rahkshi had already gathered. He gave a shout, and they charged into battle, and Zaekura dug her fingers into the brick as she wracked her brain for an answer. The first attack came from the Vorox. One in the lead had a Rhotuka launcher incorporated into their tail, and launched a wheel of energy at the sand immediately in the Rahkshi’s path. Bitil hovered to avoid the terrain as it shifted suddenly, a wide patch of it turning to quicksand; a handful of Rahkshi were unable to react in time, finding themselves waist-deep upon taking a single step into the muck. Weak blasts were hurled at the Vorox to break their front line, and the two forces finally met. Gantra wrestled with one, his foe thrashing about wildly and sinking their fangs into his arm; he managed to secure their tail, at least, so he fought with all his might to maintain his hold. Bitil flew overhead and used his Sleep power, causing a handful of the Vorox to simply collapse. However, one suddenly leapt up at him, stinger stabbing repeatedly, forcing him to pull back. From just behind the patch of quicksand, a Rahkshi of Darkness stood with their hands forward, moving them as if to section of an area of space. Nodding, they pulled their hands back and clapped twice—immediately, the area ahead of them went completely dark, causing the Vorox within to growl in frustration. More Rahkshi advanced to the edge of the darkness, ready to surprise their foes. However, they noticed too late that the Vorox’s eyes could still be seen burning in the shadows, and they pounced upon the Rahkshi before they had a chance to retreat. “Come on, come on!” Zaekura said, now pounding her fist against the wall. “There’s got to be something!” “What are you getting so worked up about?” She turned to find Ehrye, the Toa of Ice bound and sat against a section of wall guarded by a couple of Rahkshi. “Sure they’re vicious, but your army should easily be able to wipe them out.” Zaekura grunted. “We’re not going to wipe them out! What we need is a way to stop them without causing any real harm!” Ehrye tilted his head. “Huh? Why?” “Because we’re not going to let anyone else die! Now shut up so I can think!” Below, Erad tranquilized as many Vorox as they could. However, they eventually ran out of ammunition, and it was then that a Vorox with three tails leapt upon them. With so many stingers pelting them at once, Erad was unable to hold the assault off entirely. Azin appeared and kicked the Vorox onto their side so he could help his sibling up. “Is that why you’ve rounded us all up?” Ehrye asked. “I did think it was weird you didn’t just level the place when you got in.” Zaekura turned the other way to shake her head, and in doing so caught sight of a partially destroyed catapult. After a short pause, she said, “Maybe…Charla!” Lady Zaekura? “Contact Burfis, see if you can get her to the wall! I’ve got something for her to fix!” Right away! Zaekura ran over to the catapult, quickly examining how the mechanism worked. Once Burfis arrived, the Rahkshi joined her, setting her hands on the catapult and using her powers of Regeneration to begin repairing it. “Great!” Zaekura said. “Charla, I’m going to launch some of these Eccentric Boulders at the Vorox—tell everyone down there what to expect, and that if they get the chance, I want them to split the rocks before they hit to lessen the chance of hurting the Vorox.” I understand. It shall be done! Once the catapult was functional, Burfis and Zaekura rolled a boulder onto it and moved it into position. The first shot was fired, sailing over the sand until a bullet from Erad broke it open; protodermis spilled out onto a group of Vorox below, forming a cage around them, freeing up several Rahkshi to deal with the rest of the pack. “And…?” The Vorox flailed against their bars. Soon, pieces of the cage began to chip away. “Great.” Bitil flew over to the cage then, using his Sleep powers upon the imprisoned Vorox before they could break out. “Well, I guess it’s our best bet right now…” As she went for another boulder, a Rhotuka hit Bitil while his back was turned. He teleported next to his attacker and knocked them out with a powerful punch, but upon landing, the ground beneath his feet instantly turned to quicksand. Caught off-guard for a moment, Bitil was unable to defend against a blow from another Vorox. Quickly, he teleported out and gave his foe a mild shock to incapacitate them, before tossing a plasma bolt up to shatter an incoming boulder. Bitil looked over his shoulder to take stock of the situation. His Rahkshi were holding most of the Vorox at bay, but he could see a great number of them slipping past and continuing towards Xia. “We can’t hold them all,” he said. “Charla, tell the forces inside the city to be prepared: they’re about to make contact!” A portion of the wall transmuted into quicksand. As she pushed the catapult out of harm’s way, Zaekura said, “Darn it! This isn’t going to be enough!” A shrieking sound reached her ears. Soon, a Vorox climbed up over the edge of the wall, setting their feral gaze directly upon Zaekura. Burfis moved forward as she scrambled back—the Vorox lunged, but before they got very far, they stopped in mid-air. Zaekura glanced aside to see a hastily-patched Krika headed their way. “Goodness,” he said, “all this just when we thought we’d won? Can’t anything be easy?” Zaekura let out a long breath. “Krika…do you have any ideas? We can subdue some of them, but it’s slow going, and everyone’s already tired from securing the city.” Krika faced the Vorox he had caught, gently spinning them with his magnetic powers. “Truth be told, Lady Zaekura…we may have no choice but to use lethal force.” Glaring at him, Zaekura leapt to her feet. “No way! Why are you so hung up on that?” “Please listen. I am aware we promised the Sand Lord to spare Xia’s Vorox, but this unforeseen complication changes things. We are not prepared to deal with these animals. Given the circumstances, I am sure the Sand Lord can be made to understand.” Zaekura turned back to the catapult, setting it up to fire again. After loading the boulder, she stopped suddenly, and set her gaze upon the Vorox. “They are like animals, aren’t they?” she said. “Whatever happened to them, it made them more like Rahi than Glatorian. So, maybe…” Krika straightened the Vorox and set them down, saying, “Oh, a last-minute deduction. Always a treat.” “Charla, where is Rusp?” Rusp? Let me see…he’s out fighting the Vorox right now. Do you have orders for him? Zaekura leaned over the wall. Sure enough, down below she could spot a magenta Rahkshi riding atop a Kane-Ra, doing his best to catch the nearest Vorox with the lasso he carried. Grinning, Zaekura said, “Perfect! Tell him to try using his power on the Vorox!” In the distance, Rusp looked up for a moment. Then, tossing the lasso over his shoulder, he held both hands out towards the Vorox he was facing. First, they stopped in their tracks, and then, slowly, they crumpled to the ground. Zaekura spun towards Krika. “Yes, yes, I see now,” Krika said, snapping his fingers. “Let’s test your theory.” The captured Vorox’s struggle almost immediately ceased as Krika’s Rahi Control powers washed over them. Blinking, they groaned as if in agony, and Krika gradually lessened his magnetic hold on them. The Vorox fell to their knees, clutching their head, and continued to moan, and Zaekura cautiously approached them. “Urrgh…wh…what…?” the Vorox grumbled. “What…is this?” “How curious,” Krika mused. “I intended to place them fully under my thrall, but this isn’t quite what I was going for.” The Vorox’s eyes met Zaekura’s—she could see clarity in them. Coming still closer, she said, “I see. Their minds aren’t gone completely! You were able to quell this Rahi influence, and that let their original self resurface!” Looking down at their claws, the Vorox said, “I can think again…is it over? Am I free?” They turned to Krika. With a dissatisfied hum, the Makuta said, “No. I can still feel the Rahi within you fighting my power. Once I release it, it will no doubt consume you again.” The Vorox’s gaze fell. “…Oh.” Zaekura looked back over the wall. The Vorox in front of Rusp was crying into their palms as the Rahkshi knelt beside them. “Please,” the Vorox said, “just kill me.” Snapping back to attention, Zaekura said, “What?!” “You don’t know how awful this is! Having no control, just being ruled by savage instinct…I can’t stand the thought of going back to that! I’d rather die than keeping living like a mindless animal!” Krika sighed. “Truly dreadful. You have my pity, Vorox.” Zaekura just stared at them, her expression blank. “You heard them, Lady Zaekura. This mutation is a fate worse than death. If we free them from it, I am certain the Sand Lord will bear us no ill will.” She clenched her fists. “And, even if she does, her alliance is not a deciding—” “Shut up!” Zaekura shouted, her voice cracking over the words. “Shut up, you idiot! Screw alliances and agreements, that garbage isn’t what’s important!” Krika grew silent. The Vorox watched her in confusion. Tears started to form in Zaekura’s eyes. “It’s not…we can’t just think of them like bargaining chips! These are people! Innocent people who have had their lives ruined by the Great Beings, just like the rest of us! I won’t kill them just for being victims!” “That’s very noble of you,” Krika said. “However, this Vorox specifically asked to be killed.” Zaekura came up to the Vorox, crouching down and setting her hands on their shoulders. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry this happened to you. And I’m sorry we can’t fix it right now…but I’ll find a way. Whatever it takes, I’ll find a way to undo what they did! You and all the others will be back to normal, and free to live your lives however you want!” The Vorox was too stunned to reply. Zaekura wrapped them in an embrace. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know how long it’ll take…I can’t imagine what that time will be like for you. But I’m going to make sure its temporary! Please…maybe it’s not right to ask, but please…” The Vorox leaned into Zaekura’s shoulder. After a long pause, they gave a muffled, “Alright…I…I’ll trust you. Please…help me.” “Wonderful,” Krika said. “For the time being, I suppose we’ll have to place them in stasis. Lady Zaekura?” Zaekura stood and took a step back. “…What’s your name?” “Stidem,” the Vorox said. “I promise I’ll cure you, Stidem. I’ll put everything I have into making it happen. You’re going to be free.” Stidem nodded. Krika stepped forward then, generating a stasis field around them. Zaekura wiped her eyes, took a deep breath, and looked out to Rusp, who had an unconscious Vorox slung over his Kane-Ra steed. “…Charla?” Yes, Lady Zaekura? “Tell Bitil and Antroz. Their Rahi Control powers will help them subdue the Vorox, but they won’t be enough on their own.” Of course. Zaekura returned to the catapult. “We have a plan to handle this, and without killing anyone. It may not happen fast, but this is the final push: once we’ve captured all the Vorox, Xia will be ours. See if that’ll boost morale.” I’m certain it will! Zaekura fired the catapult. From not far away, Ehrye sat with wide eyes, constantly looking between her and the incapacitated Vorox. He opened his mouth to speak, but realized he had nothing to say. So he sat in silence, watching as Zaekura solemnly kept fighting. *** From atop the tower, Zaekura looked out over the now-quiet streets of Xia. Luckily, the city had sustained relatively little damage during the battle, and luckier still, they had successfully managed to avoid there being casualties on either side. The first step on their road to victory had been taken. Still, she found herself having no reaction to that thought whatsoever. It simply was, and Zaekura was too numb to have any other opinion on the matter. Antroz stood next to her, adjusting her mask quietly. Zaekura asked, “So?” “…It’s an odd feeling,” Antroz said. “I can’t deny there’s an element of nostalgia in being back here. I know we must look forward, not back…but there’s still so much uncertainty.” “Yeah. I thought I had at least half an idea of where we were going, but now I think it’s a bit less than that. Huh…” Zaekura turned to Charla. Tired but still trying to be cheery, the Rahkshi said, “I am ready whenever you are, Lady Zaekura.” She nodded. “Guess we’d better do it before I get cold feet…” She took a moment to prepare herself as Charla reached out, brushing against the minds of everyone in Xia. Soon she let Zaekura in—the Glatorian reeled a moment, the feeling of so many other minds connected to hers feeling unspeakably alien, but she quickly recomposed herself. “People of Xia,” she announced. “My name is Zaekura. The battle is over, and my forces are now in control of this city.” Waves of anxiety from the populace battered her. She held firm against them. “I understand that some of you may be concerned, but you have nothing to fear. While you are free to remain here, you are also under no obligation to stay.” The anxiety lessened somewhat. “We aim to overthrow the Great Beings. I am under no illusions as to how terrifying that prospect is, and I won’t force any of you to be a part of it. Should you wish to leave Xia, no one will stop you—if you are concerned about the journey, we can even arrange an escort to ensure you arrive safely. I do not demand allegiance from any of you. Where you stand in this conflict, if anywhere, is something only you have the right to decide.” The thoughts she felt began to churn, not entirely without fear but far closer now to reason. “Take all the time you need to be sure of your decision. I intend to have the city repaired and running as normal as soon as possible, so hopefully we won’t intrude inconvenience you much further.” Zaekura paused. She felt there was something else she needed to say, but she wasn’t quite sure what it was. Then, Antroz stepped forward. Zaekura thought a moment, then nodded. “My people,” Antroz said. “I know your opinion of me is not what it once was, but please, listen to what I have to say.” Some minds pulled back, but only slightly. “These are confusing times we live in. My whole life until now, I have taught you that loyalty to the Great Beings is sacred—that we must follow their commands without fail. However…more important than loyalty and obedience, what matters most is that we each must strive to do what we feel is right. Perhaps I failed to teach you that, thinking it would naturally fall into step with the will of the Great Beings. I am sorry. The truth is that the Great Beings are also fallible, and they are now, and have previously been, engaged in practices I can only deem repulsive. Innocent people have been abruptly hauled away from their lives, never to be seen again, only for the circumstances of their birth. Our leaders are working to suppress the truth, interested only in their own vision and those who align with it. I thought they cared for the well-being of Spherus Magna’s people…but now they have shown they only desire subjects to rule over. People such as these, people who think themselves above morals and demonize any who dissent, are not fit to lead. If they are allowed to keep their power, they will only continue to abuse it. I feel a certain responsibility to do what I can to prevent that from occurring.” A tense quiet answered her. “I have implored the Great Beings numerous times to mend their ways and resolve this matter peacefully. They have consistently responded with anger and violence. I detest that it has come to this…but again, I am compelled to do whatever I can. So I cannot turn my back upon this matter, not until the Great Beings’ power is stripped from them or I am vaporized into naught but ether. I do not seek to make this decision for you, only to explain the reasons why I have made mine. You deserve to know the truth. And now, you do. That is all.” Antroz stepped back. Charla checked with Zaekura once more before shutting off her power. Zaekura opened her mouth to speak, but a sharp pain suddenly cut through her head, forcing her to stop for a moment. “Are you alright, Lady Zaekura?” Charla said. “Yeah,” she said. “I mean…not really, but, you know. I’m sure this isn’t anything to worry about. Already over!” Charla stared at her. “Honest. Anyway, thanks Fangs—I was at a real loss and that was a pretty good closer.” “Of course,” Antroz said. “How shall we proceed, then?” “Let’s see…the Rahkshi are already cleaning up what they can, but it’s going to be dark soon. Might be best if we save the big decisions for tomorrow.” “I agree,” Charla said, “rest would serve you well.” Antroz nodded, electing to stay behind as Zaekura and Charla went inside. Reflexively, she swept the city telepathically, verifying that the perimeter was secure and taking stock of the general atmosphere. It was difficult for her to place exactly what she sensed: something between dread and relief. She turned her head to the west as her own dread swelled. But, setting that aside, she then turned north, and focused again on her goal. Planting her still-sheathed sword, Antroz dropped to one knee and bowed her head. Despite the uncertainty they all faced, Xia slept peacefully through the night. ADDENDUM: -Of all the cool Xian weapons, Kanoka Blades are probably my favorite. It’s a lot of fun to think of how the different Kanohi powers could be weaponized, reworked into abilities that function based on making contact with the blade—especially since the easiest ones to envision are the “immoral” powers I can’t use here, forcing me to think a little deeper. Emsar uses: two with the powers of the Mask of Rebounding (causes projectiles to bounce back to you, making it ideal for throwing knives); a Pehkui dagger, which shrinks what it hits; a Suletu dagger, which allows the user to read the mind of whoever they stab with it; a Matatu dagger, letting her telekinetically control whatever she hits with it; and an Iden dagger, which when used against a Makuta, allows her to “cut” their essence right out of their physical body. Of course, none of those are able to destroy antidermis, so the Firework Revolver was added so that Emsar could actually make progress in the fight. It may not be especially powerful, but I figure it’s enough to dissipate small bits of a substance we usually see getting incinerated. -New Rahkshi: the unnamed Darkness Rahkshi has an internal focal point for their power, and activates it by clapping because I wanted to reference the good old clap-activated light switch (just be glad I ditched the idea to have one using a lamp-shaped staff); Burfis is a Rahkshi of Regeneration, name derived from “refurbish”; and Rusp is a Rahkshi of Rahi Control whose staff is a lasso, Kane-Ra are his favorite Rahi, I was envisioning a bull rider aesthetic so his name is derived from “spurs”. -“Stidem” comes from “sediment”. -It’s weird to think of any part of a Bionicle fanfic as social commentary, but mainly from how screwed up it is that things are so bad that a plot about corrupt, self-absorbed leaders hauling off innocent citizens can even be qualified as social commentary. Anyway my anxiety’s flaring up and this is how I’m coping. -Reviews to be submitted here
  5. 100 damage! KARDAS DRAGON backs up, landing on the ground for a moment. It takes note of MoarBotar's pleading and, reminded of how it hates fetch, blasts a beam of concussive energy! So, I think it's time to admit that I'm not running this as well as I would have hoped. Still, you all seem to be having fun even when I'm MIA, so instead of closing down maybe I should just find a way to shift things to work better no matter how distracted I get. Any suggestions for how you would like to see this done?
  6. KARDAS DRAGON absorbs the energy of the bomb! It continues to grow, sprouting a second pair of wings and deadly spines all along its body! KARDAS DRAGON flies up to the ship, driving its claw into the shield! The barrier holds, but energy fluctuates around KARDAS DRAGON's claws--its frequency rapidly changes, growing ever closer to the same frequency as the shields!
  7. Since Hewkii was here to use the Rhotuka Battle Axe I thought the Sanok would be a good fit, making the numerous Rhotuka he would be using sure to hit. While definitely powerful, the Garai is somewhat limited: the user can't alter their own gravity, just make a target lighter or heavier, so I thought implementing weight increase as Hewkii's Rhotuka power would serve essentially the same purpose without the added need to concentrate to maintain the effect. With that off his mind and the Sanok being a constantly active mask, Hewkii doesn't need to split his focus to utilize Kanohi powers, giving him an extra edge over Neton who had to keep a lot of things in mind and constantly adjust his power output.
  8. So, I bought Pokemon Sword. Due to having some open time in my schedule and the game ultimately being a bit short, I’ve already beaten the main story and the postgame episode. I actually had a lot of fun. The game may be riddled with problems, not the least of which being the cut of National Dex, but what it gets right it gets so right—heck, some of what it gets wrong manages to feel right, which appeals to my shounen battle anime heart. I’m not here to spoil, just want to say I’d recommend giving SwSh a try if you’re on the fence. Also, while I may not have Switch Online or an SD card to transfer screen shots, I fell in love with League Card customization and desperately wanted to share mine in some capacity, so: Pupil of Gym Leader Bea and new Champion of the Galar Region, Liam! (You can’t see it but I’m wearing the Champion shirt, plus my hair looks much cooler in-game I dunno why it looks weird here.) Team: -Spike the Coalossal -Steg the Rillaboom -Murun the Runerigus -Beat the Corviknight -The Smogington Brothers the Galarian Weezing (character limit made it Smogingtons but) -Zacian (in the post-game…) Between this and my recent replays I think I want to revise my old region ranking. Stay tuned for that!
  9. Your scanners spark! Seems the radiation may be affecting them instead. KARDAS DRAGON punches the ground between it and the armies, causing the tectonic plate to shatter and flip them like an egg! KARDAS DRAGON dodges the rockets in slow motion! "A lot," says a convenient bystander. Smirking, KARDAS DRAGON fires a pinpoint blast through the incoming volley of rockets!
  10. KARDAS DRAGON roars, sending out a burst of radiation in all directions!
  11. 100 damage! KARDAS DRAGON lays on its back for a moment to process everything that just happened. In this daze, it is unable to dodge the nuclear warheads as they land, consuming it in radiation and flame. Not long after, a roar is heard! Pulsing with radioactive energy, KARDAS DRAGON steps out of the smoke, growing larger by the second! It glares angrily at Iroh as it continues to transform!
  12. Alright, now that my most recent playthrough of X is done, I wanted to try to compile some of my thoughts about the game. XY gets a lot of flak so I wanted to evaluate just how much of it felt earned. Oddly enough, this is my fourth playthrough of X; adding Y that means I’ve gone through Kalos five times now, which might make me look like a hypocrite when I say I’m disappointed in it. In short, XY is a fine pair of games—as I would argue most if not all Pokemon games really are—but in comparison to other entries in the series it falls flat. It’s been said before that all Pokemon games are essentially the same. If you like the core gameplay loop, you’ll be able to enjoy yourself no matter which one you pick up. XY nail that aspect. I like Pokemon games, so I can have fun playing XY. But when multiple options are placed in front of me, when I want to play Pokemon and have to pick which Pokemon game I want to actually sit down and play, what is it that might lead me to choose XY over any others? This is a question to be asked of every Pokemon game, and I would argue the only time a game can objectively fail in this regard is if the answer is only down to wanting to use a specific Pokemon who appears in a specific place in this specific game. I replayed X because I wanted to use another Aegislash and a Tyrantrum, which I could only really do in XY. This was helped by realizing I could finally train a Toxicroak early on, you can get a Steelix through an in-game trade, and by jumping through a few hoops I could get Leafon along for the ride, plus knowing I’d get Crawdaunt with a little patience. I wouldn’t even be considering it if my sister hadn’t happened to find her copy and given me a good deal. For me at least, that’s really all it came down to: happenstance and Pokemon distribution. Because really, what else does Kalos and only Kalos have to offer? Mega Evolution is in ORAS, so…I’m hard-pressed to think of anything. I don’t mean to sound like I hate Kalos. As I’ve said before, it has a lot of potential: it’s a sprawling, wide-open region structured to mitigate backtracking by looping back in on itself at key points, has a Dex that includes numerous favorites from all past regions and one of the nicest-looking batches of newcomers (while also introducing the interesting concept of Mega Evolution), and the locations you visit all feel very distinct from each other. But playing XY feels like using a Pokemon you know Mega Evolves but can’t find the Mega Stone for: while it might have all that potential, not being able to tap into it just leaves you feeling underwhelmed and somewhat frustrated when you have to move on. No matter what anyone says about Pokemon only needing a barebones story, I feel like the root of this problem lies in the lack of effort put into XY’s narrative and characters. Following Gen V was certainly an unenviable task, but XY took such a huge step backwards here that the experience ultimately feels hollow, like just another typical Pokemon journey with nothing truly special or unique about it. Things just kind of happen, with no real sense of continuity or build-up as you drift from one place to another. There are scant few characters you’re actually given reason to care about: Korrina and maybe Wulfric are the only Gym Leaders who feel like they had the slightest amount of effort put into them. The Elite Four in any game tend to be somewhat unremarkable so I’ll give them a pass, but Champion Diantha also doesn’t feel particularly fleshed out, having only two brief appearances outside the League that frankly don’t amount to much. I’m sure there’s nothing new I can say about Lysandre; Sycamore is fun enough that he’s maintained a following; the player’s friends…well, that’s a whole thing in and of itself. First off: friendly rivals are not bad. XY seems to be where people started to really rage about this, but their amicability is not what makes them fail as rivals. Honestly, I don’t even view Shauna, Trevor, or Tierno as rivals—you only fight them twice each, and they’re not tough because they don’t care about battling. Which is fine! I recall seeing a claim that XY was about how everyone enjoys Pokemon differently, and now that I’ve taken another look, it’s clear to me that the friend group was indeed designed with that in mind. Trevor is the player who wants to fill the Dex, Shauna is the player who just wants to spend time with their Pokemon, Tierno is the player who thinks up unique and oddly specific goals/challenges/themes for their playthrough, and Calem/Serena is the player who only cares about the battles. That’s genuinely interesting! However, the game doesn’t quite explore this idea or these varying approaches, they’re all just sort of dumped in front of you sporadically. Your friends could all use a bit of work, especially Calem/Serena who’s entire personality seems to be “I’m your neighbor and I like Pokemon battles.” They’re present enough that they’re certainly a rival, but they’re the flattest we’ve had since Gen I. I’d say if the other three were given a bit more time to shine, showing why they appreciate Pokemon in the way they do and emphasizing the strengths of those approaches, they’d all have been much better received. For Calem/Serena, I think the most interesting approach would be to take it all the way and have them be a strict and serious competitive battler, doing lots of catching and breeding and EV training without thinking of their Pokemon as anything more than tools; this wouldn’t even necessarily lead to them being antagonistic, in fact the disconnect between them being nice and polite to people but heartless and mechanical towards their Pokemon could be quite fascinating. But, at this point, I think we’ve ventured off into extremely unlikely territory… Ultimately, I think it’s that hollow feeling that lends XY so well to being replayed. You can get through it by caring remarkably little about what’s going on around you, because, well, there isn’t much there to care about in the first place. But there’s just enough to let you know that there could be so much more—and maybe chasing that is another factor of wanting to replay it. While I absolutely adore Sun and Moon, Kalos undoubtedly got the short end of the stick: it needed an updated rerelease perhaps more than any preceding paired versions in series history, yet it was dropped unceremoniously so that SuMo would be released during the same year as the 20th anniversary (despite being much closer to the 21st…). XY feels unpolished, and Game Freak chose to move on rather than try to give Kalos the polish it needed. Unfortunately, that’s still the way I feel.
  13. Thank you! Finding the right balance for these interpretations of the characters can certainly be tricky, but I've had a lot of fun figuring it out! I hope you enjoy the rest of the story!
  14. KARDAS DRAGON focuses intently on the board, oblivious to all else! It begins a last-ditch effort to win the game!
  15. KARDAS DRAGON smiles to itself in pride! It becomes determined to win this match! KARDAS DRAGON is pulled into the black hole and disappears! Moments later, a large portal appears and KARDAS DRAGON stumbles out! It waves one claw menacingly at its attackers, but then sits down and resumes its game. KARDAS DRAGON thinks very carefully about its next move, ultimately choosing an aggressive strategy that goes right for the king! (Sorry that took so long...)
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