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Part I “Help! Somebody help me!” “Please, save my children!” “Get us out of here!” Vhisola tried not to focus too much on any one of the numerous shouts she heard, instead thinking only of the person she was currently dragging to safety. She moved as quickly as she could without bumping into the other Matoran and Agori rushing around her, and once she was far enough away, she gently set the injured down and ran back the way she had come. As she ducked underneath the massive, crumbling building that hung in the air over the last few too injured to run, she spared a single glance at Nokama. The Turaga stood with those who had already been rescued, her Noble Matatu on her face and both hands outstretched. Vhisola could see the strain she was under: her teeth were gritted, her eyes were just barely open, and her entire body shuddered with such force it was a wonder her armor hadn’t rattled apart. Turning back to the task at hand, Vhisola hurriedly pulled another person to safety. “That’s it!” shouted an Agori. “They’re all clear!” Hearing this, Nokama finally released her hold and let the building slam into the ground. The Turaga immediately followed suite. “Turaga Nokama!” Vhisola shouted, bolting to her side. She carefully rolled Nokama onto her back and began to check her vitals. “Turaga, can you hear me? Turaga?!” Nokama gasped for air, wheezing loudly. She tried to speak, but she couldn’t form any words, and her eyes rolled about, unable to focus on anything. “Turaga, please hang on!” Turning, Vhisola surveyed the group to see if she could find a paramedic she could pull aside. “Someone, please help!” “N-No,” Nokama breathed. Vhisola looked back to her instantly. “No…I’m…fine…” “With respect Turaga, you don’t sound fine!” “Just…let them…help…the wounded…” “You’re wounded!” “I’m just…tired…please…I just need…rest…” Before Vhisola could argue further, she felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up to see Macku, who calmly said, “Vhisola.” Vhisola realized she was shaking. “…She…” “There isn’t anything they can do to ease mental strain. Let’s just get her someplace quiet so she can recover, okay?” Realizing she was right, Vhisola nodded and took a deep breath. Slowly and very gently, she and Macku helped Nokama into a sitting position, then onto her feet, and then they carried her up the current of villagers rushing down the street. They returned the Turaga to her hut, and within minutes Turaga Onewa appeared—apparently someone else at the scene had told him of Nokama’s condition, and he wanted to do what he could to help her. The two Matoran waited on the step outside as he tended to Nokama, Vhisola hunched over and Macku resting a hand on her back. It felt like years before the door finally opened. They both looked up to see Turaga Onewa emerging with a serious, rather uncomforting look on his face. Vhisola leapt to her feet immediately, asking, “How is she?” Onewa made an effort to smile. “That Nokama’s really something else. A Noble Matatu isn’t designed to hold something that heavy, let alone for so long, but she found a way.” The Turaga looked Vhisola in the eye. “She will be okay. I’m sure of it. But she overexerted herself something terrible, so I don’t think she’ll be able to do much of anything for a while.” Vhisola’s gaze fell. Bowing, Macku said, “Thank you for everything, Turaga.” “No need to thank me. Make sure she gets her rest—I’ll let the others know, and I’m sure we’ll all be by to keep her company when we can. Until then, I leave her in your capable hands.” As the Turaga departed, the two Matoran entered the hut to see Nokama lying in the bed across the room. She turned her head, and though it was barely audible, she mumbled, “Please, come closer.” They crossed the room, Vhisola doing so in about two steps, and sat down next to the Turaga’s bed. She tried to push herself up, but the Matoran stopped her. “I want to thank you both for helping me,” Nokama said. Her voice was weak, each word spoken very slowly and deliberately. It was a voice neither had ever heard her use. “The people hurt in the earthquake…are they…?” “They all got the medical attention they needed,” Vhisola said. “None of them were seriously wounded,” Macku went on. “A few are going to need a stay in the hospital, but they should be fine again in no time.” “Good,” Nokama said. She closed her eyes, and the Matoran waited patiently until she opened them again. “I don’t think I’ll be able to fulfill my duties for some time. Macku…if you wouldn’t mind, I think you would be the best choice to fill in for me.” Macku took the Turaga’s hand. “I’d be honored. I can’t guarantee I’ll be especially good at it, but I promise to try my best.” “You’ll do fine,” Nokama said, chuckling softly. “Please go to city hall and let them know. Onewa will surely beat you there, so hopefully you won’t have to explain much.” Macku nodded and took her leave. Vhisola remained at Nokama’s side, unsure if she should say something or just let her rest. At first, Nokama just stared at the ceiling, her darkened eyes not looking particularly focused but far clearer than Vhisola had seen them earlier. That helped Vhisola to accept that she really was getting better. What happened next wasn’t something she expected. Nokama put both hands over her mask, and then she started to sob. Vhisola’s eyes widened at the sight. “Oh, Vhisola,” Nokama moaned. “It’s so frustrating. I thought I could handle this…but look at me. I’ve become so weak…I really thought…I was stronger than this…but now, I can’t even…I can’t…” Vhisola grabbed Nokama’s arm, trying and failing to stay calm. “No, Turaga, no! You’re very strong! Turaga Onewa was just saying how impressed he was at what you did—and those people! If it weren’t for you, they could’ve died! You saved them! You’re not…” She also became too upset to speak. Nokama moved one hand, reaching out so that Vhisola would take it. It took her a few minutes to compose herself, but when she did, she turned and looked up at Vhisola, who could only gaze at her helplessly. “I’m sorry,” Nokama said. “Don’t apologize!” Vhisola said, leaning forward. “Please, you have nothing to be sorry about!” “I just can’t help but think…if I were a little stronger, I could have moved that building more easily. I could have tended to everyone myself, and they wouldn’t have had to keep worrying, wondering how long it would be until I gave out. If only I was stronger…” She shook her head. “It seems I overestimated my own limitations. And it’s just such a terrible, terrible feeling. Especially when I think about how I’ll be stuck here, unable to be of any good to anyone for so long…I don’t know how I’ll be able to stand it.” Vhisola gave a small tug on Nokama’s hand, saying, “I’m here for you! If there’s anything at all I can do for you, I’ll do it! Turaga, I…” She trailed off, hanging her head as she searched for the words. Nokama stared at her for a moment, and then smiled; she pulled her hand out of Vhisola’s grasp and reached out, setting it on the side of Vhisola’s mask. “Thank you, Vhisola. It makes me glad to know that even now, I can still count on you.” Vhisola was stunned for a moment, but soon she smiled back. “You can always count on me, Turaga. No matter what.” *** “Vhisola!” She turned to see Macku charging at her. Halting where she was, she waited for her friend to catch up and greeted, “Sorry I haven’t been to visit you this past week. How’ve you been?” Macku shrugged. “A bit busy, but I won’t complain too much. How’s the Turaga?” “She’s…resting easy, at least.” “That’s good to hear! So, out on an errand? Which way are you headed?” Vhisola gestured, and the two of them headed in that direction. “I always knew Turaga Nokama worked hard, but I never realized just how much she was responsible for,” Macku said. Vhisola smiled. “Having second thoughts?” “No, of course not. I was just hoping to get some time off next week, but…” Vhisola’s pace slowed. “Oh, that’s right…Kongu’s memorial.” Macku nodded, kicking a pebble in her path. “I mean, I never really got to know him that well. But I’d like to be there for Hewkii, and Hahli too. It seems like loss just keeps piling up on them: first Matoro, then Jaller and Nuparu during Velika’s War, and now this accident…” “I’m sure the other Turaga want to make time for that as well,” Vhisola said. “You’ll be able to go.” “You’re probably right. Will I see you there?” “Maybe. Turaga Nokama wants to go, so if she’s feeling up to it I’ll definitely be there to help her. It’s kind of hard to say right now.” “Ah. Well, I should get going. Tell the Turaga I hope she feels better soon!” She waved and ran off. Vhisola stopped for a moment to gather her bearings, and then walked a few more blocks and entered a shop. The shelves were lined with Kanohi, many designs she recognized and many more she didn’t, and from a counter across the room, a Ta-Matoran wearing a Ruru in a Noble shape watched over it all. He seemed to snap awake as Vhisola entered. “Oh, if it isn’t Vhisola!” the shopkeeper said. “I wasn’t expecting to see you out and about, having heard of what state Nokama’s in.” “Good morning, Nuhrii,” Vhisola replied, glancing over a shelf without another word. Walking over to her, Nuhrii asked, “How is the Turaga doing?” “She’s healing.” “Wonderful. So, what brings you in today? Anything specific you’re looking for?” Vhisola stared off for a moment, before slowly turning to face Nuhrii. In a low voice, she asked, “Are these the strongest Noble Kanohi you have?” Nuhrii raised an eyebrow. “…I’m sorry?” “I’m looking for extraordinarily powerful Noble Kanohi. Ideally, something akin to a Great Mask that can still be activated by a Turaga. Do you have anything like that?” Taking a minute to absorb this, Nuhrii muttered, “Great power…accessible from a Noble level…ah, for Nokama? Of course.” Vhisola thought she saw him smile for a moment. “Unfortunately, such a thing is impossible. I have tried, but even the highest quality Level 7 Kanoka can’t increase a Noble Kanohi’s power beyond a certain threshold. And of course, anything Level 8 results in a mask that no Turaga can activate. Our creators were very rigid beings through and through.” Vhisola looked away, cursing under her breath. Nuhrii watched her for a moment, putting a hand to his chin, and hummed. “…Actually…” the mask maker said. “If you’re really set on this, there could be a possibility.” Vhisola glanced over her shoulder at him. “Are you just telling me what I want to hear?” “Not at all. Like I said, it’s just a possibility…and verifying it would be a rather dangerous process. What I’m thinking of is definitely not something for the faint of heart.” Vhisola turned and narrowed her eyes at him. She wasn’t sure what the Matoran was getting at, but he sounded like he was making a sale. “However…if I am right, it’s probably the only way to achieve the result you’re looking for.” Deciding it was worth asking, she said, “Alright, fine. Elaborate on this mysterious possibility.” Nuhrii smiled, looking pleased with himself. “Actually, someone else is also interested, so it would be easier to explain to both of you at the same time. I’m meeting up with him tonight—why don’t you join us?” Vhisola ground her teeth. “…Very well.” *** As she made her way past one table after another, Vhisola kept her eyes peeled for any sign of Nuhrii. The restaurant was near the outskirts of New Atero, so there were all kinds of beings hanging around, including a good number who had a suspicious look to them. Vhisola was positive the four-armed warrior in the corner, conspicuously surrounded by bodyguards, was a Dark Hunter who thought he was being subtle. The general shadiness of the establishment did not inspire much confidence in Nuhrii’s information. But if he is right, then this could really help Turaga Nokama, she reminded herself. All I have to do is hear him out. A waving hand caught her eye. Sure enough, Nuhrii sat at a table with another Matoran, a Ko-Matoran with a Noble Mahiki who she also recognized. Making her way over, she sat down, looked them both over, and said, “It’s been a while, Ehrye.” “Yeah, it has,” Ehrye said. “Sorry to hear about Nokama. Does that have to do with why you’re here?” Before Vhisola could answer, Nuhrii said, “Yes, Vhisola came in looking for a Noble Mask with power more like that of a Great. That’s related to the discovery I told you about.” Ehrye nodded. “I see. You’re right, that would be huge! Okay, I’m definitely on-board.” “Hold on, you haven’t even heard the details yet.” “Yes, please explain,” Vhisola said. “Have you really found something that can make that sort of mask or not?” Nuhrii tapped his fingers to stall for time. “…It’s more accurate to say I’ve heard of something like that.” Vhisola sat back and crossed her arms. “Just hold on. Recently, I spoke with some Agori who were travelling up near the Northern Frost. While they were there, they stumbled across a sealed tunnel entrance, and after forcing it open they found that the interior had been coated in metal, with signs on the walls and a few pieces of old tablets all written in Matoran. They went further in, but they tripped off some sort of security system. About half a dozen of them died.” Vhisola looked to Ehrye, who seemed a little less eager now. “After skimming the bits of tablet they found, they were able to work out that it was some kind of laboratory. My guess is that it’s another hidden lab of the Great Beings.” “Based on what?” Vhisola asked. “The level of technology described in the notes, not to mention the presence of Matoran lettering in a facility sealed under Spherus Magna. But, that isn’t really the point.” “Okay. What’s the point?” Nuhrii produced a flat chunk of rock. “They were gracious enough to let me keep one of the tablets they found. It’s only a piece, mind you, and some of it’s too worn to read…but take a look.” He slid the tablet over to Vhisola. With a sigh, she picked it up and looked. -RIMENT 3X4S- PSYCHIC AMPLIFIER HARNES- -IGNED TO INCREASE AN INDIVIUAL’S MENTAL FOCUS, WITH THE GOAL OF ENABLING MATORAN AND OTHER BEINGS TO USE KANOHI POW- Vhisola handed the tablet to Ehrye. “Something that would let Matoran use Kanohi?” She thought about it a bit more, and then it dawned on her. “Something that would enable someone who normally couldn’t use Kanohi at all to use Kanohi…that sort of increase in ability might also allow someone who normally can only use Noble Kanohi to use Great Kanohi…” “Precisely,” Nuhrii said. “Incredible,” Ehrye said, grinning. “This is really incredible!” “That…could actually work,” Vhisola said. “Imagine,” Nuhrii said. “If I could unlock this device’s power and make Kanohi with it, I’d have business from all across the planet! I’d forever be remembered as the world’s greatest mask maker—as someone who was able to break the limitations the Great Beings imposed on us!” “And you’re offering us a chance to be a part of that, right?” Ehrye asked. “Of course!” Nuhrii said, putting the tablet away. “Of course, you’ll both be rewarded if you accept. As for the job itself, if it isn’t obvious: I’m looking for people willing to go retrieve this device for me. You two seemed the most interested, so I wanted to ask you first. However, remember that the lab is very secure, so just going there at all would be risky. If you want to decline, I understand.” “Retrieve it for you?” Vhisola repeated. “You won’t be coming?” Nuhrii smiled and averted his gaze. “Well…I’m not really the adventuring type.” “You’ll be taking credit for inventing this technology, I’d guess?” Ehrye said. “Say that I helped you develop it. That should get me some notoriety.” Nuhrii nodded, saying, “That’s fine with me.” Turning to Vhisola, he went on, “You wanted extraordinarily powerful masks, right? I’d be happy to make one for free for you.” Vhisola scoffed. “Only one?” The Ta-Matoran smirked. “Before we haggle, I need to know if you’re actually willing to accept.” It wasn’t the danger that made Vhisola worry. If this technology would be helpful to Nokama—and it certainly sounded like it would—then she was prepared to tear through anything that tried to get in her way. But to get from New Atero to the Northern Frost, the journey would take two days at least. Even assuming they made great time, fulfilled their objective quickly, and had an uneventful trip back, Vhisola could still expect to be gone for nearly a week. Given the state Nokama was currently in, she was hesitant to leave her side at all, let alone for so long. “It does sound promising,” she said, “but I’d have be away from Nokama…” “Are you the only one watching over her?” Ehrye asked. “Hm? Well, no…” “Then can’t you just get someone else to take over your shifts? She probably wouldn’t even notice.” Vhisola opened her mouth to speak, but then stopped. A hollow, gnawing feeling sprouted within her, and she started to shrink inward. …Right. Just because Turaga Nokama is special to me, that doesn’t mean that I’m special to her. Trying to recover, she quietly cleared her throat. “Make Turaga Nokama all the masks she wants. Do that, and I’ll go to the lab.” Nuhrii recoiled. “All the…? Are you joking?” “A dangerous job to recover something that could change your life—and the entire planet? That’s worth a big price tag.” “…Perhaps,” Nuhrii grumbled, “but I am still trying to run a business.” “You’ll have no shortage of business once you do this,” Ehrye said. “Giving freebies to one customer out of thousands shouldn’t be too bad.” The mask maker was still hesitant. Squirming in his seat, he said, “I will…replace all the Noble Masks she currently has for free. And then give her a 30% discount for life. Surely that should suffice, yes?” Vhisola glanced aside for a few seconds. “Any six masks she wants for free, and then the discount after that.” Nuhrii scowled. Giving him a curious look, Ehrye asked, “What’s the difference?” “What, are you on her side?” Nuhrii said. “Some masks require disks that are very difficult to obtain, and very difficult to work with. The Noble Masks Nokama currently has are ones that are very simple to make and could be replaced in a day.” Ehrye nodded, looking up thoughtfully. “I mean, once word gets around, it should be a lot easier for you to get whatever disks you need, shouldn’t it? You’ll have money to burn, and disk makers will probably be begging you to use their disks. So long as you’re up to the challenge…” Nuhrii rapped his knuckles against the table. “…Alright, any six. But the discount will only be 20%.” Vhisola stared at him, unflinching. “Come now, how many masks do you think she’ll want? 20% is very generous.” Without a word, Vhisola got out of her chair and began to walk away. “Wait!” Nuhrii yelled, shooting to his feet. Vhisola stopped and glanced over her shoulder. “…Fine. Any six, and 30%. Do we have a deal?” Vhisola appeared to give it thorough consideration for a moment, and then turned and sat back down with a single, sagely nod. “Very well, Nuhrii. I accept your conditions.” Nuhrii sighed and shook his head. Ehrye chuckled. “Both of you be at my shop at dawn tomorrow,” Nuhrii said. “Have your bags packed and be ready to depart—I will first send you to meet with a contact of mine, who will guide you to where the lab is located.” For Vhisola, that was a red flag. Even Ehrye seemed to notice, asking, “Wait, contact? I thought you said you asked us first?” “It’s a bit complicated—you’ll understand when you meet him,” Nuhrii explained. “The short version is that, while you two are the brains of this mission, you’re also going to need some muscle to accomplish it. Spherus Magna is still a very dangerous place, so I’ve arranged protection for you. I thought doing that first would help make the offer more appealing.” “Oh,” Ehrye said, all his misgivings seemingly soothed, “well when you put it like that…” “How thoughtful,” Vhisola muttered. Unlike her companion, she still couldn’t shake the feeling that something was odd. However, this was all for Nokama’s sake, so odd or not she would do everything she could to make the trip successful. I’ll ask Nixie to cover for me, and I’ll write a note telling the Turaga that something’s come up. If she asks, I guess. That same pain was back. …It doesn’t matter whether I’m special to her or not. She’s special to me, so I’m going to do this for her. I don’t want her to have to feel weak ever again. (Review)