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  1. One of the ideas I originally had for "The Referee" was a story chronicling the genesis of the popular Mata Nui game. While I ultimately went another direction with the aforementioned story, I felt the idea was too good not to use. So here is the story of Koli. Enjoy! Edit: changed the latter half of the story slightly. Thank you @Master Inika for the feedback. THE CREATION OF KOLI Small black figures were starting to appear on the desert horizon. As they neared the Path of Prophecies, they revealed themselves to be a cavalcade from Onu-Koro. In the front and back rode members of the Ussalry on crabs adorned in purple and black, flanking an older, larger Ussal in the middle. On that Ussal sat the village elder - Turaga Whenua. Turaga Onewa of Po-Koro stood on the village wall and anxiously watched the procession approach. The two Turaga had a matter of great urgency to discuss: a disagreement between members of their respective villages which, if ignored, could end in disaster. The Onu-Koro cavalcade stopped at the village entrance. The guards of Po-Koro exchanged looks with the members of the Ussalry. After a tense moment of silence, the Po-Matoran saluted and allowed the cavalcade to pass, although their gaze stood fixed on the congregation as it entered. Up above, Turaga Onewa sighed with relief and hurried back down. He found the newcomers dismounting their crabs in the nearby shade. The Onu-Matoran, still blinking from the glow of the bright desert sand, were holding their staffs firmly, carefully examining their surroundings and the Po-Matoran, who in turn, eyed the newcomers with barely disguised contempt. Two members of the Ussalry helped Turaga Whenua get down from his Ussal. Whenua stepped out of the shade and looked around, as if he was searching for someone to welcome him and his congregation to the village. Turaga Onewa smiled and stepped forward. “Brother! Welcome to Po-Koro!” Whenua looked and when he saw Onewa approach, he smiled as well and held out his fist. The two Turaga greeted each other like in the time before time. “Thank you for coming on such short notice,” continued Onewa. “I hope your journey was uneventful. I wouldn’t have called you if I didn’t feel it was urgent.” “Thank you, brother, for your kind welcome,” replied Whenua. “While I don’t like to leave my familiar underground caverns, I feel in this case, I had no other choice but to come here.” Onewa nodded grimly. Together, they took a walk. “I like what you’ve done with the place,” joked Whenua, referring to the newly built village. Onewa chuckled. “It isn’t exactly Po-Metru,” he said, “but it’s as close as we will ever get.” “You should come and see what we’ve done with Onu-Koro,” said Whenua. “I believe you’ll like the ambient.” “I’m sure I will,” replied Onewa, “but let us leave that for another time. Come to my hut, we have important matters to attend to.” *** Onewa explained what had happened. A miner from a visiting group of Onu-Matoran had made some less than savoury comments about Po-Koro sculptures. The Po-Matoran, naturally offended by such a statement, returned the favour by questioning the quality of Onu-Koro stone. What followed was a heated exchange of words and Matoran tools. The elder of Po-Koro barely stopped the fight from getting any worse. “Where are the miners now?” asked Whenua. “They are keeping to themselves in their hut,” answered Onewa. “They barely go outside and when they do, I can feel the resentment in the air.” “I’m sorry about their behaviour, brother.” “You need not apologise, my friend. The blame lies in the pride of both our people. What we need to do is find a way to reconcile the differences between them.” “What did you have in mind?” “Remember the game we used to play back on Metru Nui?” “Akilini?” “Yes. Our people both want to prove they are the best at what they do. We need to give them something to channel their competitiveness.” Whenua pondered. “But where are you going to get all those disks?” Onewa smiled. “We don’t need disks. We already have rocks.” *** The Matoran gathered at the back of the village. Barries of stone were placed around a field, creating what Turaga Onewa called a “stadium”. In each corner were two pillars covered at the top by another. Onewa called them “goals”. Around the field, makeshift stands were constructed for the Matoran. The people from both villages were now seated, far from each other, conversing loudly and occasionally throwing an insult to the other camp. On the floor of the stadium lay crudely crafted stone balls. Turaga Whenua and Turaga Onewa entered the field. “I hope this works,” murmured Onewa. “I have a feeling it will,” calmed Whenua. “Now, won’t the ‘referee’ ordain the match?” Onewa bumbed fists with Whenua and stepped towards the middle of the stadium. “Attention, dear Matoran!” he called. The crowds fell silent at once. “As you are no doubt aware, there has been some discord between the people of Po-Koro and Onu-Koro. Turaga Whenua and I do not believe in violence as a means of solving conflict. We have henceforth decided that the people of our villages will settle our differences another way.” He pointed towards the stone balls on the floor. “We propose to you a game to determine who is in the right. Players from both villages will compete in kicking these balls into the opponents’ goals.” The crowds gasped with intrigue and excitement. “We will play until one of the two teams scores 21 goals. The one to do so will win the match. Are we understood?” Cheers from the stands made it clear that the Matoran understood. “Very well. May the game begin!” *** The game lasted the entire afternoon. At first, the Matoran struggled to master this new sport and played rough, necessitating a few interventions by the Turaga. But after some time, they played as if they knew how to play from the very beginning. At first, the Po-Matoran seemed to have the upper hand against the slow and sun-blinded Onu-Matoran. As twilight began to shine on the field, however, the earth-dwellers started to catch up. Every goal was met with excited shouts from the stands. The spirit of competition grew and while it did get loud, no tools were ever thrown. It was now getting dark and the teams were tied at 20 goals. “Maybe we shouldn’t have copied that rule about 21 goals,” whispered Whenua to his Po-Koro equivalent. “Next time we play, we should change it to something else. Maybe a predetermined number of goals. What do you say, brother?” Much to the Onu-Turaga’s annoyance, Onewa wasn’t listening. He was too focused on the game. The crowd was silently anticipating the final, tiebreaking goal. All eyes were on a Kakama wielding Po-Matoran, who had showed incredible skill in this new sport. “That’s Huki,” said Onewa to Whenua with barely contained excitement. “He is the captain of the Po-Koro Guard and my right-hand Matoran.” The fateful moment had begun as Onepu, a member of the Ussalry who had joined the game, sent a ball flying into Huki’s goal. Thinking quickly, the Po-Matoran took a step back and when the ball came close, he struck it with his head, sending it into the goal guarded by a miner named Taipu. The Onu-Matoran goalkeeper had no time to react. The ball flew past him and straight into the goal. Elated Po-Matoran stood up and celebrated Po-Koro’s victory. Onewa found that he too was standing and cheering. “Calm down, brother!” laughed Whenua. “You still have to play referee.” Onewa immediately sat back down, ready to quell any argument that would erupt as a result of the outcome. He scanned the stands and stadium. To his surprise, he found Onu-Matoran congratulating the Po-Matoran equals, shaking hands and patting each other on the back. It seemed that thanks to the game, the spirit of camaraderie trumped the spectre of resentment. Realising this, he shook hands with the Onu-Turaga. “Wonderful game, brother!” said Whenua. “Your players have shown incredible skill.” “Your players were not far behind!” replied Onewa. “But thank you.” They both watched as the crowd lifted Huki and carried him across the stands. “There’s still one thing left to discuss, though,” remarked Whenua, suddenly. Onewa looked at him with confusion. “What’s that?” “How shall we call this new game?” Onewa pondered. It can’t be Akilini, he said to himself. Then he came up with a number of sophisticated names, none of which he felt suited this simple sport. At last, he found it and shared it with Whenua.
  2. One thing that really bothered me about the 2004-05 story arc, is how it doesn't provide any satisfying conclusion to Onewa's character arc. How did the irate Toa of Stone, who it seemed kept looking for fights, become someone called "the referee"? The question bothered me enough to try and fill the gap with a story. The Toa Metru have landed back on the island of Mata Nui. Vakama is off retrieving the Vahi and Onewa is tasked with leading the team while the Ta-Toa is away. As he helps his brothers and sister unload, he finds himself looking inwards and thinking about his relationship with the Toa of fire. Enjoy! THE REFEREE A fleet of six airships hovered over a tropical island, filling the air with a mechanical buzz. Soon thereafter, the noise was replaced by the faint, rhythmic sound of Increase Weight Kanoka striking the insides of each metal behemoth. One by one, the ships began to descend. With a gentle crash, they landed, covering about a kio of land. Then the doors of the leading airship opened with a hiss. Toa Onewa stepped outside and studied his surroundings. Not far from the landing site was a vast sandy coastline. Judging by its size, there was enough room for all the Matoran spheres they were carrying. He turned to his brothers and sister. “Unload them here on the beach,” he ordered. “I want everyone to take one airship each. When you’re done, go and help the others.” The four Toa stood in place. “Come on,” he added, a little impatient. “The sooner we start, the sooner we’ll be finished.” Finally, his fellow Toa moved out silently. Onewa watched them go and in that moment, he felt something he’d never admit to anyone: he missed Vakama. The Toa of Fire had gone to retrieve the Mask of Time, but not before instructing Onewa to take charge of the rescue operation. “Take them to the island,” Vakama said to him, “and make sure they’re safe. If I don’t come back, you know what you must do to wake them. I’m counting on you.” Those words still rang in Onewa’s mind. After all this time, after all their disagreements and displays of ill will, Vakama trusted him enough to leave the fate of the Matoran, and of the team, in his hands. It was enough to make Onewa think. “No wonder we kept you as leader,” the Toa of Stone murmured. “You’re enough of a sage to be a Ko-Matoran.” Now he found himself wishing Vakama was here. It was clear the other Toa felt uneasy about Onewa being in charge and that they followed him reluctantly. The Po-Toa sighed. “How did you do it?” he thought, sadly. His question left unanswered, he started to unload. *** The unloading process was slow but steady. Whenua had already emptied the first airship and was now helping Nuju and Matau unload the second. Onewa watched them work together. “With more hands to help with each following airship, we are sure to be done by nightfall,” he thought, content. “Good job, brothers.” Nokama, however, was nowhere to be seen. Onewa looked across the coast. He found her not far away, sitting near the water’s edge. He headed towards her. “Sister!” Nokama glanced back at the approaching Toa of Stone. “Why aren’t you helping us unload?” “I’m keeping watch,” the Toa of Water replied. “You never know when a Rahi might strike.” “You can keep watch while you work,” snapped Onewa. “And besides, the Matoran are safe and asleep in their spheres. They’ll be all right. Now come, let’s empty these ships before Vakama arrives.” Onewa had already turned to walk back. Then he noticed that Nokama wasn’t following him. The Ga-Toa was still sitting by the water, clutching her knees tightly to her chest. Onewa approached her calmly. “Sister?” “What if something’s happened to him?” said Nokama, her voice heavy with worry. Onewa gulped. He knew exactly who she was talking about. “What if he got attacked? What if he drowned before he found the mask? We don’t know!” She dug her mask into her hands. “Oh, we never should’ve left him go alone.” Onewa didn’t know what to say. His frustration at Nokama had evaporated like spilled Liquid Protodermis in a forge. He sat down beside her and gently put a hand on her shoulder. “You and I both know what Vakama is like. Stubborn. Hot-headed. A little foolish, maybe. But he’s also strong and determined. I don’t know what’s taking him so long, but I’m sure he will return sooner or later.” Nokama smiled weakly. “You know what, Nokama, you’re right,” Onewa added, standing up, “we could use someone on watch. Keep a good look-out.” “I will. Thank you, brother.” Onewa returned a smile as weak and fragile as Nokama’s. He couldn’t shake the thought that something really had happened to Vakama. The memories of all the times the two Toa came to blows hit him like a wave. “Why?” pondered Onewa. “Why did I have to be so hard on him? He was a good leader. Good enough.” He extended his gaze towards the vast horizon. “I’m sorry, brother,” he thought. “Please make it back in one piece.” Finally, he headed back. *** Dawn broke above the island, illuminating the airships parked near the coast. One day had already passed and yet the Toa still weren’t done. They had only emptied three of the six ships. But Onewa didn’t mind. “If Vakama can take his time,” he thought, “then so can we. What’s the rush?” He was standing by the loading dock of the fourth airship. He was about to start rolling the next sphere when a deep voice interrupted him. “Brother!” “Whenua! What’s wrong?” “Nuju and Matau have gotten into a fight. I tried to calm them down, but they won’t let up.” Onewa followed the Toa of Earth as he ran back to the beach. There, they found the other two Toa. Nuju was whistling madly at Matau, who in turn, was shouting: “I don’t know what you’re speak-saying! Can you stop whistling like a Kewa and talk like a Toa?!” Onewa watched them fight. “They’re acting like wild Akilini players,” he thought. “Maybe they could use a referee.” He stepped forwards, inhaling deeply. “HEY!” Matau and Nuju froze. Onewa came closer. “What is going on here?” “I know-nothing!” said Matau, quick to defend himself. “I light-bump him and he starts spitting at me like a mad bird!” Nuju responded with a series of clicks and whistles. Onewa waited for him to stop. “Nuju, can you tell me what Matau did to you?” The Toa of Ice let out another barrage of chirps and scratches. Onewa held back a curse. Nuju’s refusal to talk Matoran was starting to get on his nerves. But he remained calm. He noticed the Toa of Ice was point at his own head. “Is there something wrong with your mask?” asked Onewa. Nuju whistled excitedly. Then he held his scope and pointed at Matau. Onewa put two and two together. “You think Matau broke your scope? Is that it?” Nuju let out a high-pitched whistle. Matau scoffed. “I gave you one small shove, scholar,” he said. “How would that break-” “Quiet!” Matau did as Onewa said. “Nuju, try to use your scope.” The Ko-Toa tried to zoom in. Onewa watched closely as the mechanism seemed to jam. “I see,” he said. “Listen, Nuju, I know nothing about scopes. I don’t know if it’s broken or if it’s just stuck. I’ll ask Vakama to check it for you when he gets back. And as for you, Matau,” he continued, turning to the Toa of Air, “I’d try to be more careful. You could’ve hurt Nuju, you know that? Also, I want you to remember we’re handling Matoran, here. We need to take care”. Onewa exhaled. “Now, how about we go back to work?” *** The rays of the evening sun reflected of the silver spheres scattered across the golden beach. Onewa, Whenua, Matau and Nuju sat with their backs against the cliffside. They were exhausted, but they were also relieved. They had finally managed to unload all the Matoran. “Good-nice sight,” said Matau. “Now, what do we do?” “We wait for Vakama,” answered Onewa. “He will tell us what to do next.” “But he still hasn’t returned,” added Whenua, grimly. “I fear he might not come back at all.” Nuju clicked solemnly. Onewa was barely paying attention. He was thinking about Vakama’s instructions. “Can I do it?” he thought. “Can I really ask myself and my brothers to give up their power? I don’t think I’m strong enough to do that.” Once he finished that thought, another one followed: “I really wish you were here, fire-spitter. You’d know what to say.” Just then, Nokama ran up. “He’s here!” she exclaimed. “Vakama has returned!” The Toa looked at each other as if to ask if they heard that correctly. Then the realisation hit and they ran with Nokama to the other side of the beach. There, they found a red figure walking lethargically towards them. Onewa was the first to greet him. “Brother!” he cried. “It’s so good to see you aga-” He gasped. Vakama looked like he had been through a biostorm. His armour was scraped and melted and it appeared that he was limping slightly. But his gaze was exactly like that of a Toa of Fire – determined and unyielding. Vakama’s eyes met Onewa’s. “It’s good to see you too, brother,” he said to the Toa of Stone and turned to the rest. “It’s good to see all of you.” Then he eyed the beach, covered with metal spheres. He smiled warmly. “Did everything go smoothly?” “Like a Gukko-flight!” answered Matau. The response earned him an angry stare from Nuju. Vakama didn’t notice. “I believe you have laboured long and hard,” he started. “And I have some very important things to tell you.” “What important things?” asked Nokama. Onewa held out a hand to stop her. “Never mind that,” he said and turned back to Vakama. “Did you retrieve the Mask of Time?” Vakama pulled the mask from behind his back. The Vahi had seen better days – it had changed from gleaming gold to rusted orange. A faint trace of a small crack ran along its side. But it was here. The Toa awed at the sight. “You know,” said Onewa, “have I ever told you what a good maskmaker you are, Vakama?” Vakama’s smile widened. “You have now.” Onewa smiled back. “This here is a work of art. Although,” he added, “it could use some more touches. You ought to give it to me so I can add some decorations.” The group erupted with laughter. “There will be plenty time to do that …” replied Vakama, “… in the morning. I believe we all need a rest.” The other Toa murmured in agreement. Resolutions can wait until the next day. It had been a long and arduous journey, but now the Toa were united once more. Their tale was coming to an end. Tomorrow, a new one would begin.
  3. March 11, 3,971 A.D. Planet of Dredwind Giozann Forest The thin man ran through the trees. A jagged tree limb tore through the sleeve of his uniform and left a red mark on his arm. Branches closed in on him on all sides as he flailed his arms wildly in front of him to clear a path. Terrifying growls and barks came from the creature following close behind. A light appeared a little ways ahead. The man hoped it was a way out. Emerging from the forest he found himself in a clearing large enough to fit five men standing arms outstretched from each end. A quick glance over his shoulder and he caught a glimpse of it. A large canine-like beast, covered in silver fur. Its head bore four piercing red eyes and below them a long tongue sneaking its way out between giant fangs. With each leap it took it covered ground it would have taken the man three or four strides to do the same. Crossing the clearing until he was at the end of it and unwilling to reenter the maze of trees he instead gripped a branch and hosted himself up. Not stopping at the first limp he continued to the next. This is as far as had gotten when he looked down to see the predator burst out of the forest. Quickly spotting its quarry the thing pounced across the clearing and with one more leap mounted the tree trunk. “Heel!” The beast halted at its master’s command. Said master entered the clearing clothed in a heavy coat that hovered off the forest floor. The animal returned to his side and then turned to eyeing its prey with its four eyes. Three other men joined The Huntsman, a gangly man carrying a rifle and sporting a fluffy mane, a man will less height, but twice the bulk wielding two knives, and a stockier man garbed in a purple jacket made of the skin of some scary animal and topped with a fur collar. This last hunter strolled to the base of the tree and shouted up at the man perched on its limb, “Come on down Jack! You ain’t got nowhere left to run!” “How do you know my name?” “They gave us a list with all your names.” “Who?” “Who do you think you idiot?” said the hunter with the mane, “The people that hired us to kill you and your friends!” Their leader continued, “Nothing personal kid, but the Utopian government wants you dead for desertion. It’s not like we got anything against your lack of patriotism in fact some of us kind of feel sorry you were unlucky enough to be from one of those countries that still has conscription, but either way me and my associates are getting paid to put you in the ground so the only question is how ‘cause ain’t no one gonna save you now.” The hound reeled and growled softly in the direction the group had just come from. “We have uninvited guests Ulric,” The Huntsman said. Ulric didn’t respond. He left his ikakalaka sword relaxing on his shoulder, while the other hunters readied their weapons. The sun hung high in the sky punishing those below with its heat. Insects chirped loudly and for a time this was the only sound in the clearing until Ulric got his first glance at them. He chuckled, “Looks like we got ourselves a ghost.” The ghost in question, Captain TK, entered the clearing clad in silver and blue armor the bulk of which added to his already imposing stature. He towered over everyone else in the clearing save for one of the other new arrivals a yellow robot called Jasper. Joining them was a shorter man with dark hair that matched his clothes and carrying a longsword. This was Ghost. Their final teammate whose less imposing frame hardly filled out his brown duster was Jess Carter. He immediately leveled his two guns at the hunters. “Cease hostility!” TK and Ulric said in union. This puzzled the captain. “I’ve heard it a million times law bringer,” Ulric said, “Only you guys can’t be Law Bringers because they don’t exist anymore.” “Times have changed,” TK said, “Now lower your weapons—“ “Or what,” Ulric said, “You’ll arrest us for…” Ulric left the question hanging and Jess finished it. “How about attempted kidnapping and/or murder,” the gunslinger said. Jack was shaking on the tree limb overhead. “Are you alright sir?” TK shouted up to him. “No!” The hunters eyed the group angrily, save for the steely Ulric who kept his uncaring demeanor. “Or maybe you’d like to tell us what happened to all those men we found at that campsite back there. You know the ones with knife wounds and teeth marks or is there another Vulpine Terror Hound running around in these woods?” Jess said. The Huntsman glared while his hound growled and bared its teeth. “That’s enough Jess,” TK said. “Jess?” Ulric said, “Not Julius or Megaronides? I thought all you Law Bringers had silly names in that stupid language no speaks anymore.” TK grimaced, “I’m Captain Tacitus Kabulus and—“ “Ah, now that’s more like it.” Ulric said, “I used to be quite familiar with all your silly names, I read them on bounties, on the badges I stripped off dead bodies, and I heard them shouted by agents just before I killed their friends.” TK’s teammates shot sideways glances at their captain. He didn’t reply right away and instead tightened his grip on his kanabo club. “Oh did I strike a nerve? I don’t know if you heard, but there are no more Law Bringers in The Republic so why don’t you just turn around and pretend you didn’t see anything.” Silence hung in the air as the two sides starred each other down. The groups were lined up, close enough that they could each stretch out and touch the person to their right and left and the people on the ends could touch the trees encircling them. The sunlight reflected off Ulric’s sword. Then the pin dropped. A gunshot shattered the silence. It was followed by another. The bullet from the first ricocheted off TK’s Arcadian Iron helmet. The knife wielding hunter produced a blinding laser from his sleeve. Jess cried out and fell to the ground covering his eyes with his arm. The hunter lunged, but his blade was blocked by Ghost’s. An exchange followed and then another. Finally, the hunter retreated into the trees with Ghost right behind him. Jasper advanced, but the terror hound leapt onto the robot. Its claws scratched his armor plating. Jasper gripped the animal to throw it off, but the beast wouldn’t let go. Ulric charged the captain. He blocked the sword swing with his club and then riposte. The two dueled in the middle of the clearing while the ringing of clashing blades coming from the direction where Ghost and his foe wandered off grew fainter by the second. At the same time, the reticent Huntsman edged closer to the trees. “Maw! To me!” he said. Even while evading the law bringer’s blows Ulric spotted the beast leap off the robot and return to its master. “Huntsman you coward!” Ulric shouted. “I didn’t sign up to fight law bringers!” he said as he and his beast fled. “Jasper after them!” TK said while swiping aside a sword swing. The machine with claws marks on its chest plate did as it was ordered. Ulric sidestepped while blocking another strike. He countered, but the agent’s pauldron caught it. The fight moved out of the clearing with the pair still evenly matched. “Hey!” Jack said from his perch. Below him the gunslinger crouched defensively. “What about me?” “You got yourself up there you can get yourself down!” Jess said. Jack didn’t like the idea, but he had no choice. He climbed down one foot at a time, leapt off and landed on the ground with a thud. Rushing to the gunslinger’s side he asked, “How can I help?” “You sure you can?” Jess said. “I can fight.” “Then go right ahead,” Jess said with one eye open and the other closed. “Who should I go after?” “I trust Ghost’s fighting skills so why don’t you go and see if the captain needs help I’ll follow as soon as I can,” Jack looked around, “I need a weapon. Give me one of yours,” Jess pulled his guns away, “Not a chance kid, go get the one off the hunter I shot. He won’t be needing it anymore.” TK struggled against the bounty hunter. They maneuvered through the tight maze of trees swiping each other only for the other to deflect or dodge. The two danced around a tree. The captain swung downward. Ulric slid behind the tree. Popping out on the other side he slashed at the law bringer, but his gauntlet saved his fingers. “You know what I really hate about you law bringers?” Ulric said. “Would you just shut up already!” TK attacked causing Ulric to move in. He caught the agent’s hand. The captain tumbled backwards. The hunter sat atop the law bringer lying in the dirt. Ulric raised his blade. “Now you die!” Birds scattered at the gunshot screeching as they went. Ulric looked at his sword. It was now half its size after having had a bullet pass through it. TK grabbed the hunter’s shoulder and with a roll was now on top. He raised his gauntleted fist and brought it down on Ulric’s face. “About time Jess, it was just a laser,” he said. Smoke left the rifle barrel. Jack held it with wide eyes. TK approached his rescuer. He towered over Jack. “Nice shot kid, what’s your name?” “Jack Rayder” he said meekly. “Captain Tacitus Kabulus,” he said smiling, “But everyone calls me TK.” “Well, everyone calls me Lucky Jack.” “Do they now? Alright, let’s go find my squad.” They found Jess on his way to save them and returned to the clearing together. Ghost arrived at the same time with his prisoner in tow. The agent handcuffed the hunter to a nearby tree limb. The captain plopped the unconscious body of Ulric on the ground. The captain pulled his personal digital assistant out of a pouch. “Jasper, what’s your status?” he said. “I’m on my way back to the clearing captain. Unfortunately, The Huntsman and his hunting animal escaped.” “Alright, just get back here as quick as you can,” TK said. The captain put away his device and addressed the group, “Major Adeodatus will be pleased to hear Ulric Bek’s reign of terror is finally at an end.” “How do you all know that creeps’ name?” Jack said. “He’s a kind of boogeyman among Law Bringers,” TK said. “Plus he was one of those lunatics that did The Trelaxar Massacre,” Jess said. Jack didn’t know who The Law Bringers were or what The Trelaxar Massacre was. “The Law Bringers are an Order of heroes dedicated to justice. Once upon a time it was the greatest peace keeping and security organization in the republic,” TK said. “Then what happened?” Jack said. TK grew sullen and Ghost answered instead, “It is a long and painful story.” “You not from around here or something?” Jess said. “No, I’m from Utopia.” “You’re far from home,” Ghost said. “What are you doing all the way out here?” “My friends and I were Utopian military fighting in Axos. About a month ago after a battle we took prisoners. Our officers ordered us to execute them, but we refused. We deserted and have been on the run ever since.” Jack remembered his friends and turned to ask the captain. “My friends did any of them…” TK shook his head, “I’m sorry Jack.” Silence came over the clearing once more. “Don’t worry, it’ll be ok, we can get you amnesty and then find you some people who will help you find a new home,” TK said. Jack straightened himself, puffed out his chest and said, “I don’t want that, I want to join you guys.” No one expected him to say that and the captain didn’t know how to respond. The man furthered his cause, “I want to fight for a cause I believe in.” “And what exactly do you have to offer besides being quote unquote ‘lucky’?” Jess said. “I can fly, I was—am a pilot.” “Unfortunately, we don’t have anything for you to fly,” Ghost said. “There’s the transport me and my buddies were using, we stashed it in the nearby town. It’s yours.” “Alright, the kid gets my vote,” Jess said, “Especially if it means no more hitching rides on cattle ships.” TK agreed to at least give the ship a look before deciding to let Jack join the team. After a few minutes, Jasper returned and the group trudged through the forest with their prisoners in tow. **** The sun bathed the town in its last rays as it edged its way behind the mountains. The group arrived at a large garage in the middle of town. “Freddie, said it drew too much attention so we had to ditch it,” Jack said as he walked over to the panel on the side of the garage. The automatic door slowly rose and the law bringers got an eyeful of the thing. The ship was a large helicopter with two massive tilted rotors. A chain gun peaked out from under the cockpit and it had a giant decal of a penguin on the side of it. “We call it The Fat Penguin,” Jack said. The squad was impressed with the ship if not necessarily the name. Now all eyes fell on the captain. “I can’t promise you anything without talking to the major, but for now welcome to the team,” TK said and outstretched his hand. The ecstatic Jack gripped it in an instant. **** The ship sat on the side street outside the garage with its ramp down. Jasper loaded a cargo crate into the ship’s storage, turned mechanically, descended the ramp where another crate was waiting for him and then repeated the process. Inside the cockpit Jack checked the instruments, while Jess reclined in the co-pilot seat with a gun in one hand, a cloth in the other, and his feet on the dashboard. Outside, TK and Ghost stood with their backs to the cockpit. They alternated in reciting something and both took a knee for a moment. “Hey Jess, what are the captain and Ghost doing down there?” Jess leaned up to look out the cockpit. “They’re saying The Angelus,” he said and reclined back down. “What’s that?” “It has something to do with religion.” “What religion?” “Christianity,” Jess said a bit annoyed to be explaining something like this, “They don’t have that where you’re from?” “No,” Jack said and then quickly focused on a panel, “We have our own religion out on Utopia.” Jess scrubbed his gun, “That’s how it goes, but listen if you want to know more you should ask Ghost.” “Is he the only one who cares?” Jess shot the pilot a quick glance and then straightened himself, “It’s not that the rest of us don’t care, I care, TK cares, Jasper cares because he’s programmed to, but it’s just the ninja cares more.” Footsteps on the ramp bought the conversation to an end. TK entered the cockpit and gave Jack the go ahead for takeoff. After reaching altitude, Jack hit a button and the stereo in the cockpit came on. Jess took his feet off the dash and leaned forward to read the screen, “Is this what passes for music on Utopia?” he said. The pilot chuckled, “No, this music is illegal where I come from—Freddie would smuggle in what he said was the best music in universe,” the smile disappeared from his face, “This song was his favorite.” Jess glanced at the captain silently reading his PDA in the seat behind Jack, “I guess the grass is always greener,” Jess said before leaving the two alone. TK took the co-pilot seat. “Before we get to the nearest spaceport, I need you to fill out some forms,” he said. “Then I’m a law bringer?” Jack said eagerly. TK smiled, “You’re getting there kid.” The Penguin flew over the small town headed towards the mountains. TK’s Squad was formed. The End.
  4. Suru sat in his hut in Mahri Nui, holding a grey Kanohi in his hands. He had found the mask many years ago on one of his trips across the ocean floor. He assumed it was one of the many treasures from the Great Spirit that floated down to his village every Naming Day. The mask, he couldn't identify the type, had a long shallow crack reaching from the mouth to the left eye socket. Probably a result of the fall. The crack made it useless to him and his fellow Matoran, so there was no reason to keep it. And yet, when Suru first laid his eyes upon it, he immediately asked if he could keep it. He wasn't sure why he wanted to have it; all he knew was that the mask awoke in him a strange feeling of familiarity. When Mahri Nui fell, the Matoran lost all memory of what came before the sinking. Recollections of the past were rare and as such a cause for celebration. Every time one of the villagers remembered even a snippet of the life on the surface, a ceremony was held at the Sanctuary, where the memory was shared with the rest. Suru never shared any memories. Not because he didn't want to, but because, frustratingly, he couldn't remember anything. He would spend hours looking at the grey mask, hoping to experience at least a tiny flash, anything that would tell him, why it looked so familiar to him. At this very moment he was still waiting. "Suru!" He jumped. A Matoran with a green Kualsi was at his door. "Suru, what are you doing? The others are ever-ready to go!" The Po-Matoran stared briefly at Defilak, his Le-Matoran friend. What was he talking about? Then he remembered - the Toa were planning to evacuate Mahri Nui. Defilak himself had ordered everyone to collect all their belongings and meet at the entrance into the Cord. Suru had gone to do just that – collect his Climbing Hooks and chain. And the mask. "Sorry, Defilak," Suru said, finally. "I got distracted. I'm ready to go." *** Defilak and Suru walked side by side, ahead of the procession. Toa Matoro walked next to them, making sure the Mahri Nui Matoran were following. Suru was fidgeting with a pair of pebbles between his fingers. It was something he did when he was nervous. He tapped Defilak on his shoulder. He wanted to talk and he didn't want the Toa of Ice to listen. They fell back. "Do you really trust them?" he asked the Le-Matoran. "Can we really believe their promises?" "Their promise is of hope, Suru," replied Defilak. "This is something we all desperately needed. And yes, I faith-trust them. I believe you can too." If you trust them, Suru thought to himself, then I guess I will too. It was a hard thought for him to accept. But there was one part of him that was enchanted by the hope that was promised. The hope of a better life. The hope of finally finding out. Suru instinctively reached into his sack and retrieved the mask. To his surprise, he felt a small pulse, a miniscule fragment of what might've been a memory. Screams. Were those part of the memory? No, they were coming from behind. Toa Matoro was running towards the procession. Suru put the mask back. In a minute, there was chaos. *** "What is going on?!" shouted Defilak, who huddled on the floor together with Suru. "Old friends came to say hi," remarked Toa Matoro in between hurling ice bolts. The Matoran couldn't see clearly what he was firing at, but they looked like giant eels. Giant, colourful eels with large, smiling heads. Suru was panicking. The migration, the memory, the attack, he couldn't take it. His fingers were scraping the bottom of the Cord and his legs were kicking against it. Rocks were flying across his head. He wanted to run, to get away from the chaos. Then he saw something. A flash which turned into an explosion of light. A Rahi beast standing his ground before him, clutching a small grey Matoran in one of its claws. A live memory. Suru swung his arm to strike the beast. And then everything went black. *** When he awoke, it was on a different kind of stone. Rough, course, unlike the smooth volcanic rock of the Cord. Next to him, Defilak was also waking. The two Matoran looked at each other, both with the same question in their eyes. Then they looked around and saw something amazing. Grass. Trees. Mountains and a clear blue sky. Sunlight. It was the most amazing thing Suru has ever seen. And it didn't seem foreign at all. He felt chambers in his mind unlock and open after centuries of darkness. He knew what came before Mahri Nui, before the sinking. He remembered a cataclysm, a voyage, a shadowy ****** and a former homeland. And he remembered a Matoran with a grey Kanohi. He tore the sack from his shoulder and rummaged through it. To his surprise, the large object was not there. In its place were fragments. He grabbed one of them and held it towards the light. It was a piece of the mask. "Are you alright?" Suru looked up. Defilak was eyeing him with worry. Then he saw the fragment in his hands. "I'm sorry." That was all he said. That was all he could say. Suru was silent. He looked around and saw Matoran embracing each other. Old friends, reunited at last. Suru felt alone. Lost. But he didn't have time to dwell, because a large, bulky figure was stand before the Matoran, demanding their attention. *** The giant's name was Axonn, protector of Voya Nui. He calmly asked everyone to follow him. Said there was going to be a quake and that they should seek shelter in the underground caves. The Nui Caves. Suru remembered their name. Matoran huddled in the faint glow of lightstones. Defilak sat next to him, never leaving his friend's sight. Pieces of the broken grey Kanohi were scattered on the ground. "Suru?" It was a female voice. A hardened female voice that came from the corner. "Suru, is that you?" The lanky figure, to whom the voice belonged to, stood next to the two Matoran. The light revealed her to be a Ga-Matoran with a Great Rau. Recognition shot through Suru's mind. "Dalu!" Laughter filled the cave as Dalu and Suru embraced. He remembered his warrior friend from Voya Nui. He remembered their time together. Both became warriors out of necessity. Every so often they would fight wild Rahi together. He couldn't believe she was still alive. "I can't believe YOU are still alive, you Brakas," laughed Dalu. "None of us can." "You remembered me." "Yes, we all did." Dalu greeted Defilak with a nod. Then she glanced at the Climbing Hooks on the floor. Possibly the same she once sacrificed to the depths on Naming Day. Then she saw the broken mask next to them. "So, he found you after all," said Dalu solemnly, pointing at the fragments. Suru was confused. Who found him? Before he could ask, the caves began to shake. Everyone fell to the ground. Suru grabbed the pieces of the mask and held them in his lap. Another flash of light struck him. He was flying - the Rahi had struck him. Suru hit the ground and charged again with his spear. For a moment he was floating in mid-air and then he hit the ground again. *** Suru stood up at once, ready to face the Rahi. But it wasn't there. He was in the cave with the other Matoran. All around them was dust, illuminated by the shattered lightstones that lay everywhere. And there was something different in the air. "They did it!" The loud, booming voice belonged to Axonn. " Mata Nui lives!" The Matoran were too shaken to comprehend what happened, but knew it was a good thing. One by one they exited the caves. When they surfaced, they noticed the sky was a different shade of blue. And it felt right. Suru wasn't looking at the sky, his gaze was fixed on the mask he held in his hands. Except he wasn't even looking at the mask. He was looking at the face of the shy De-Matoran to whom the Great Mask of Rahi Control belonged. The one he had just saved from a wild Rahi. The Matoran looked at him with quiet but infinite gratitude. "What is your name?" Suru remembered asking. Just then, one final gate in Suru's mind was unlocked. What came out of it was like a massive tidal wave running through his head. He looked down on the familiar grey shape and murmured the Matoran's name: "Vinurr."
  5. Hafu looked incredulously at the tall brown figure at the entrance. At first, he thought his optical sensors were playing a trick on him. He shook his head, but the figure remained. A Toa! A Toa of Stone, no less! Hafu thought he’d never see one in Metru Nui again. His feeling of joyous surprise wouldn’t last long, however. The Toa had spotted him. And he seemed especially angry with Hafu. “Ahkmou!” Hafu was startled. “There you are you foolish little Sand Snipe. Where did you hide the disk?” “I-I-I don’t know what you’re talking about Toa,” stuttered Hafu. To his relief, the Toa no longer glared at him. Instead, his expression was that of confusion. “You… don’t sound like him,” said the Toa. “It’s the mask, isn’t it?” replied Hafu, annoyed that it had happened again. Ahkmou and him wore the same mask. It wasn’t uncommon for Matoran to spot a Rau-wielder, assume it’s Ahkmou and start verbally assaulting what they thought was the slimy carver. Then they’d hear Hafu’s voice and rush to apologise. It seemed now that not even Toa were capable of telling them apart. “Do you know where he is?” asked the Toa. He didn’t even bother to apologise. “I wish I knew that myself!” answered Hafu. “He’s been falling behind on his work. Keeps talking about a secret that is going to make him the most famous carver in Po-Metru!” The Toa looked at Hafu, intrigued. Hafu continued. “Last time I saw him, he was meeting with two big… beings… not Matoran, not even Toa! One was really huge; the other was on four legs. Ahkmou looked really nervous, too. After they left, he headed for the warehouse.” The Toa pondered briefly, a semblance of worry and intrigue flashing across his Great Mask. “Thank you,” he said at last and headed towards the warehouse himself. Hafu looked as he left, still mesmerised by the sight of a Toa in Po-Metru. And still upset at the fact he mistook him for Ahkmou. He thought he heard footstep to his right. He turned and saw a familiar brown Mahiki in front of him. It was Kamen, Hafu’s friend and co-worker. He too seemed to be mesmerised by the sight of a Toa. “Was that…?” “I think it was, Kamen.” “Incredible.” Kamen’s voice was filled with awe. “Indeed.” Hafu’s voice, on the other hand, wasn’t. Kamen took notice. “Something wrong?” Hafu huffed, ready to erupt. “He thought I was Ahkmou! Can you believe it? Not even a Toa can tell the difference between us!” Kamen looked confused for a moment. Then he chuckled. “Don’t laugh, you dust-covered Brakas! There’s nothing funny about being constantly confused for that miserable worm!” Kamen chuckled some more. “Come on, Hafu,” he said, “it’s a little funny”. Hafu was still fuming. “We’ll see if they’ll still confuse us once I throw a Recon disk at him.” “DON’T!” Kamen threw his arm around Hafu’s mouth. Disk Duels were highly illegal, even suggesting to get involved in one was sufficient grounds for arrest. The two Matoran stood silent for a moment, keeping an eye for the Zadakh. After enough time had passed, Kamen released his grip. “You shall do no such thing,” he said sternly. Hafu did not dare reply. “Besides,” he continued in a slightly softer tone, “if it bothers you that much, get a Kanohi change. Vakama could probably make you a new one.” Hafu scoffed. “What, Nuhrii’s former apprentice? I’m not getting a mask from that worthless forge-cleaner!” Kamen shrugged. “Suit yourself,” he said and turned back towards the warehouse. He hoped to get another look at the Toa.
  6. Hafu looked incredulously at a hazy blue figure in the near distance. At first, he thought the heat was making him see things. He shook his head, but the figure remained. In fact, it came closer, revealing itself to be a Ga-Matoran, wearing what appeared to be a dark blue Kaukau. It seemed to Hafu, that she was admiring one his many stone sculptures. “Ho ho, what is this?” he said to the newcomer. “A fan of my work? I am not signing any autographs today, sorry!” The Ga-Matoran looked at Hafu, slightly surprised. “Uh, hello there,” she replied. “Who are you?” “What?” exclaimed Hafu, a little shocked. “Surely you recognized the master carver Hafu when you see him?” The Ga-Matoran squinted. “I’m pretty sure ‘the master carver’ wears a Pakari, not a Ruru.” “I assure, my lady,” responded Hafu, trying to hide the fact of his hurt pride, “that I am in fact the master carver.” The Ga-Matoran shrugged, deciding to humour the Po-Matoran who claimed himself to be Hafu. “Anyway, what brings a water maiden all the way here to our arid village?” “Kohlii,” replied the Ga-Matoran. “I’m here for the Kohlii match. I’m the Ga-Koro forward.” “Oh, so you’re Hahli!” cried Hafu. “A pleasure to finally meet you! Hewkii’s told me about you. You’ll be going against him and me. I’m the Po-Koro defender, you know. I hope you’re prepared; we’re Kohlii champions for a reason!” “Oh, I’m more than prepared,” said Hahli, surprising Hafu with her confidence. “Question is: are you two prepared?” Hafu was taken aback but quickly found his composure. “Definitely,” he remarked. At that moment Hafu remember Hahli’s teammate. “Tell me, Hahli, is Macku with you?” “Oh, she’s right behind me. I decided to come a little early.” A short silence followed. “Anyway,” continued Hahli, “It was nice meeting you, ‘Hafu’. I’m off to check out the stadium. See you at the game!” Hafu didn’t know how to respond, all he could muster was: “Yeah, uh, see you!” Hahli continued her way down the Path of Prophecies. There was another Po-Matoran working on one of the sculptures – one who seemed to wear a brown Mahiki. He turned to greet her. “Hello, Ga-Matoran!” he said, courteously. “What brings you here to our wonderful village of Po-Koro?” Hahli smiled. “I’m here for the Kohlii match,” she answered. “Hahli, Ga-Koro forward. I was just done speaking to your defender, the one who claims to be the great Hafu.” “Yes, the one with an identity crisis,” chuckled the Po-Matoran. He dropped his pick and held out his hand. “Kamen the stonemason, at your service.” Hahli shook it gladly. Her gaze flew over the sculptures that surrounded them. “So, you and the Hafu impersonator over there take care of these sculptures?” “Yes, we are constantly taking care of the sculptures, so that they do not Disintegrate! Time and weather take their toll on our great works, wearing them down into dust. Disintegration is the enemy of Creation!” “Creation,” pondered Hahli. “Is that the principle that you Po-Matoran live by?” “Exactly!” Kamen was pleasantly surprised at the Ga-Matoran’s knowledge. “By combining the Virtues of Unity and Destiny, taught to us by Mata Nui, we have become skilled in Creation! And it is from our Principle that we learn our Kohlii Skill – Strategy!” He looked around to see if anyone was listening and added, quietly: “Take my advice, maiden. Seek out the Mahi Herder just outside of the village, he can teach you about our skill. Hewkii visits him to train - if you visit him too, you might actually stand a chance against our champions.” Hahli smiled. “Now, I shan’t neglect my Duty for too long. Farewell, Hahli, and good luck!” Hahli bid Kamen farewell and continued into Po-Koro. The Po-Matoran turned back to his work. “Can you believe it, Kamen?” He turned. Hafu was standing next to him, looking irritated. “She didn’t recognize me! And she had the gall to question my identity!” “It’s your mask, Hafu,” replied Kamen, amused at his friend’s grievance. “Ever since you had it changed, you’ve been a different Matoran. Even I can’t recognize you when I see you!” Hafu grumbled, unimpressed. “Besides,” added Kamen, “Hahli’s probably only ever heard of you, so she couldn’t recognize you. You mustn’t assume you’re THAT famous, Hafu.” Hafu grumbled further. “I’ll show her,” he muttered as he turned away. “I’ll show that Ga-Matoran.” Kamen laughed as he chipped at the stone. Masonry was hard work but having Hafu by his side made it entertaining. Hafu meanwhile had also returned to his work. He had barely begun when he felt he saw another blue figure in the distance. Upon closer inspection, it seemed the figure wore a Huna. Hafu dropped his tool and rushed to greet his comrade.
  7. I'm not really good at creative writing, but I thought I might do a story for BZP. This short story is part of a universe I hope to expand on in future works. Feedback is appreciated, and enjoy the read. The Mountain of Power 0 AA (80,000 Years before Present) ------- They had come so far. They had fled their world, knowing that its only hope would be for them to return, stronger and ready to fight the League, to free their home from its control. All of their effort might be for nothing, if someone did not do what needed to be done now, on this new world. ------- The Po-Toa gazed across the massive crater before him. Raging in its heart was an unnatural storm of energy. If left unchecked, it would grow exponentially in size to consume the planet. All that the races of the Matoran Universe had only just rebuilt would be destroyed. I might be the only being on Rukanor-Zar that can stop the storm before it becomes too large to ever contain, Zavuae thought to himself. As the only Toa of Stone, Earth, Metal, or Ice on the world of Rukanor-Zar, he knew that only his Nuva-enhanced power was capable of entombing the source of the problem. Months before, the Red Star had crashed on this world, on it escapees from the Matoran Universe. Unbeknownst to the new arrivals, the artificial star's power source was damaged in the landing. This event had unleashed an energy storm that threatened all life on Rukanor-Zar. When the Red Star landed, it had impacted a mountain on the floor of the caldera. Massive pieces of rock still lay scattered nearby, a fact which was crucial to Zavuae's plan. I must go to the crash site. I will reform the peak around myself and the Red Star, forever sealing us in. As a Toa Nuva, my body will be able to absorb the energy. I must do this, or everything on this world will perish. ------- A spire of rock rose up from the floor of the crater, slowly blocking out the unnatural red light that came from within. Around the tower, a mighty storm raged, but it began to subside as more and more stone covered the mountain's heart. A group of onlookers had gathered at the formation's edge, not daring to come any closer, due the powerful cyclone above. Among them was a Vo-Matoran named Chronicler Kaiavo. She dubbed the site Cearran-Kal, or the Mountain of Power. It is not merely a name, but also a warning of what is contained within. If the Red Star's energies ever again escape their tomb, Rukanor-Zar may be doomed.
  8. The K-Mart in my hometown finally closed down. I don’t live there anymore, so that doesn’t mean a whole lot, except for one little thing: the times when someone asks me where I’m from. Before, I’d tell them my town’s name, and when they inevitably said they’d never heard of it, I would reply with something like, “I wouldn’t expect you to, after all, it’s so small we’ve still got a K-Mart”. And then they’d throw me the laugh I was looking for so we could move on to the “nice” I’d give to whatever place they called home that I’d probably never heard of either. Now, I’ve got to say we had a K-Mart, and that we’re just another nondescript town among thousands across the country that are helping ease the chain into an existence only in the collective consciousness. But, on the bright side, I guess, if the person on the other end of the conversation is local enough, my town is now on their map, if only for the Dutch Bros. that cropped up seemingly out of nowhere, like it’s the one good scene worth slogging through a bad episode of some old TV show for. My town is also the “Cowboy Capital of the World”, a title more nebulous than it seems. With that information alone, one might think I live in at least three different American towns at once, across state lines. As a child I found this moniker, proudly emblazoned on welcome signs posted at either end of town (and in no one’s heart, truly), first enticing, seductive, and then ridiculous. Sure, we have the Cowboy Museum someone set up (which I have never set foot in to this day), and the Rodeo Weekend every year (one part parade, one part rodeo). Lonely train tracks run perpendicular to Main Street (F Street, but it might as well be Main). But these are fleeting, like the hordes of bikers I would watch rush by with my brother and mother, pulled over along 120 outside of town. There are no gunslingers, no abandoned mines full of dynamite and gold, no out-of-control stagecoaches. I remember more clearly the bitter, pathetic taste of a breakfast sandwich from the immortal Burger King, maintaining its keep at the edge of town, forever hypnotizing hungry passersby looking for something familiar, than I do the rodeo parade we were set to see that morning. This was eternally disappointing for a little boy who was, by all rights, in place to be the main character in a spaghetti western. I was the Mysterious Stranger, the Man With No Name. Even before moving, when I could honestly call my town mine, I lived ten minutes outside of it; a quiet little neighborhood nestled among the old trees and brush along the river. My brother was the only other swashbuckler around, and we made good on it. We were, in turn, pirates, Union soldiers, astronauts, and yes, cowboys, among other things. We wrestled in the dirt and mud, walked warily along the banks of the Stanislaus, one eye looking out for the forces of some malignant undead army, the other watching for the all too real threat of mountain lions. We stared at each other from opposite ends of the dust-choked field we called a backyard before our legs couldn’t take the stillness any longer and charged us into battle. A trip into town left us always somewhat unintegrated, like the piano stopping when we passed through batwing doors, an old man halting the gentle rocking of his chair to squint at us from his porch. A woman pulls her children close around her, a fierce glare in her eyes as she slams the door. No hostility, no hatred. Just unacceptance. In fact, there was nothing to be accepted into, though I so desperately wanted there to be. So we kept moving, kicking up the dust ‘round our ankles. It’s been years now since moving, albeit just a half hour away from where I still call home. Inside me roars the Mysterious Stranger, gung-ho gunslinger out to make things right like he never got a chance to before. These days he’s buried somewhere under layers pensive and remorseful, but maybe that’s just part of who he’s supposed to be. Clint Eastwood never talked much. Being on the other side of that town now, in more ways than one, I think it may have been more of a piece of the Old West than I gave it credit for. If you wanted anything you couldn’t find at the general store, that evanescent K-Mart, or at one of the little shops dotting the streets, always with the same face at the counter, you really would have to go to a Big City to find it, although there was no Sears catalog to order from. The deep, waspish roar of new, fast cars surrounded us in the quiet hours at dawn and dusk, but never passed through us. We were quiet, away, apart, traffic comparable to the days of universal horseback travel. The Bank was the most powerful entity, far from the reaches of skyscrapers and massive factories dotted with city slickers. In fact, a lot of the buildings along Main are the same as they were in the nineteenth century. Death, too, was constantly hovering along the periphery of existence, like a wayward cow skull in a stereotypical depiction of the American desert. I don’t know how many times my brother and I marched into raccoon bones and the remains of squirrels along the riverbank as we hunted dinosaurs. I heard about family members recently lost in that house, and stalked through trees with baseball bats, looking for branches to smash because the demons I was dealing with myself had no forms I could fight. Above all, in retrospect, it felt like a town waiting for something to happen to it, waiting for the sweet-talking mustache-twirler with the long coattails and black top hat to arrive and talk about buying land while secretly planning a devious exploitation. The quiet, smooth rhythms of life there seemed to beg for disruption on the grounds of their existence alone. And yet, as long as I lived there, nothing happened. And now, gazing again at that place I love, I feel my worst fear has come to pass. Throughout my life, painful and tumultuous as it has been at times, two riders have always been alongside me, their consistent presence providing order to my disarray: home, and change. My only hope was that they would never meet, and they have. Sure, there’s the Aaron’s that was a T-Mobile that was a Rent-A-Center that was a Blockbuster, maybe not in that order, maybe it’s something else right now that I don’t even know about. And it seems like the gas stations change hands on a weekly basis. But other than that, there was a persistent stillness to existence there, like things were untouchable. There were no big scandals, no horrific murder cases. Half the town wasn’t plowed away to put in condos. And as ridiculous as it sounds, the K-Mart closing was a sign for me. It, more than anything, was a symbol of constancy, the idyllic nature of life. There it always was, with the handful of employees I could recognize on sight because my father had made friends with them years before, with that one last pair of Nerf guns that had been gathering dust on the shelf for years (acquiring them would obviously bring the ongoing war between my brother and I to an entirely new level of brutality). Even when I was younger I figured out K-Marts were already a rarity, just by how infrequently I saw them around the state and country. It made town feel like a rarity too, like there was something just waiting to be grabbed by the horns. And though I was never truly part of that community I admired so much, I clung to that, even after leaving. But things are mortal there now, and I’ve had to accept that I’ve fallen away from a lot of things, from my brother, from all the half-forgotten friends I promised not to forget, to the core pieces of myself that have degraded with years of sorrow and loneliness. Sometimes I still imagine a cloudless summer day where Main is clear of cars because everyone is inside because of the intense heat or out having fun somewhere, maybe Knight’s Ferry. I am staring down a man in all black, spurs clicking as we come closer to each other but not too close. The leather holster, real, not like the spongy plastic one that held the cap gun I broke over a decade ago and still have somewhere, slaps against my thigh, heavy with the shiny revolver it carries. I squint despite the wide brim of the cowboy hat I keep in my closet that still barely fits. After a lifetime of reaching and grasping for purpose and for something to overcome, I’ve found it in the dark figure before me. But no one notices the things like that about our town, or worse, no one believes they could even be possible. Somewhere along the line in our little lives we forgot adventure and learned complacency, let things come over us instead of looking out for things to overcome. I love that town, but more than the town itself I love my memory of it and what I always wanted it to be, what it maybe still could be. I am willing to die on this hill, but no one cares enough to come and kill me on it. Maybe I’m no longer just the Man With No Name, with a gun on my hip and the right thing in my heart, caring for the town he never learns fully or opens to completely. Maybe I’m a little more tired, a little more grizzled, grayer around the edges; (in part) the man rocking on the porch, watching, trying to keep things out with my eyes, waiting for the right bad thing to let in.
  9. It has been a while, I know. Certain things just kept me held up for a while. I actually had the first third of this written months ago, but I hadn't been able to finish it. This is another short story set in my same "Literary universe," this time taking a look into the lives of three different characters as kind of a follow-up. This is also a chapter from the same story, but I figured it was probably worth standing as its own thing, as well. So, here you go. Located in a desolate area of Spherus Magna was an island so devoid of life and ominous in appearance, no one who saw it ever dared to get near it. Even so, it was rare for anyone to even find it, let alone know of its existence. To the leader of the Knights of Terankos, this was the perfect place to hide his new organization to serve the mad god himself. With the Blessing of Terankos and his new powers, he was able to construct a sturdy fortress on his own, working endlessly for many days and nights. He ignored the need to sleep and eat, driven solely by his sacred mission by the will of the mad god. It was not long before he began to recruit anyone he felt a kinship with, as his people were not the only ones displaced by the Order of Mata Nui. A great amount of time had passed since Terankos gave his newly anointed Lord Almatas the task of finding those who thrived in the darkness. Lord Almatas looked out the window of his private chamber, reflecting on his success. It won’t be long now before I can see my mission to completion. Lord Terankos will be most pleased and I will be rewarded. This, I am sure of. Having been driven by one purpose for so long and having been exposed to the powers of darkness for an extended period of time, Almatas had changed a lot since he initially pledged himself to Terankos. Being exposed to the shadows for so long as he was would be enough to take a toll on their health and eventually lead to expiration. For Almatas, however, because his will to live and serve Terankos was so strong, he did not fall to illness. Instead, it slowly robbed him of his mind, sending him into insanity. He did not care, however, so long as his god was pleased with him. Even now, I have found a pitiful tactician to serve as my right hand. My victory is ensured, so long as he remains under my thumb. His pathetic younger sister will be leverage to keep him in line. After all, so long as nothing happens to her, he will do whatever I want. That was the condition of our initial agreement when he practically… begged me to spare her. It was so absolutely delicious to watch him grovel and plea. So many years ago, I was in that same place, begging for my family and friends to be spared. Almatas turned away from the window, his hood cloak billowing with his sudden movement. He made his way back to a large throne at the very end of the room. With a sigh, he say down, closed his eyes, and raised his head. Unlike those dogs serving the Great Spirit, I actually showed mercy to him and his weak, useless sister and allowed them to live, so long as they did as I wanted. Then again, she is not so useless. She does manage to heal and care for any operatives who fall ill or get injured during recovery missions. Perhaps she isn’t as bad as I initially thought her out to be. The Knights leader opened his eyes and lowered his head back down. His thoughts were interrupted when a large pair of crimson eyes manifested in the darkest corner of the room, adjacent to where Almatas sat. Without hesitation, Almatas leapt from where he sat and immediately rushed to the corner, kneeling on one knee as he looked into the crimson eyes before him. “What is thy bidding?” he asked. You have served me well, Lord Almatas. Soon, our time will come and we will take the world for our own. I have two tasks for you to complete, and these are to be secret. “Whatever you wish, I will do it, my master,” Almatas responded. The first of my commands is to head to a fortress on the island of Artidax. Without alerting their pathetic security, you are to steal and hold onto a relic known as the Hand of Karzahni. “How will I know where to go?” I shall implant the location into your memories. Once you have this gauntlet, do as you please with it. You may wear it or keep it locked away. Above all else, you must remain in possession of it, no matter the cost. “What of the second task?” You shall be gaining a new operative into your ranks. Her heart is filled with darkness and deception, making her a perfect candidate. However, she serves the Order of Mata Nui. At that moment, Almatas became visible uncomfortable, trying to hold back the myriad of emotions he felt the moment he heard that name. I know how you feel about these fools, but listen to me. Allow her into your ranks. Through her, you will be presented with valuable knowledge about the Order and what actions they take. “Very well, my master, I shall do so. Where must I go to find her?” Once you finish with the task on Artidax, wait on the edge of the southern-most wall of the fortress. There, she will come to you. “She will come to me?” Precisely. Do not worry too much about her. She will remain in the shadows, hidden from the rest of your operatives. She will receive her orders from the Order as usual, so it is with that I implore you to communicate with her every so often to remain current with what they are planning. “Very well, my master. If I may ask, what about--?” Patience, Lord Terankos. You will possess it in due time. Now is not the right time for it, however, which is why I only ask for you to steal the gauntlet. As the time approaches, I shall implant a false memory into the mind of your tactician in regards to learning about the location of Artidax, where he and a group of your best operatives will go and carry out the mission. Once the stone is in your grasp, her usefulness will have been served and you can dispose of her as you wish. “It will be done, my master. I shall leave immediately.” A nasty grin beamed on the face of Almatas the moment he was given permission to do away with this “new operative” he was going to meet. *** Far across to the opposite end of the world was the island of Daxia, which housed numerous inventions, a vast amount of relics and artifacts, and countless operatives serving the Order of Mata Nui. One of them was a young maiden named Tuyet, who initially came to Daxia from a small village located in the Kradus Peninsula. She spent a majority of her life there with her three childhood friends, who were pleased with their humble, seemingly “uneventful” lives, but Tuyet had other desires deep down. She longed for glory and reverence. She wished to have her name chanted and held in high regard, and to be loved and respected everywhere. Such ideas would seem outlandish and even dangerous to some. At least, those were the words of Lhikan, one of her best friends. Upon his advising when she expressed these desire to him, she kept them to herself as to not cause a stir. It was not long before the Order found out about their village, considering Lhikan was in possession of a very rare and valuable mask. He also possessed limited knowledge of elemental sorcery, most notably fire. As the Order was about to whisk him away with no questions asked, Lhikan put in a good word for Tuyet, as well as their other two friends Nidhiki and Naho. From that point on, Tuyet served the Order with a smile, but it was a begrudging smile worn only to avoid causing trouble as Lhikan warned her long ago. It seemed she was locked into a role of monotony and pointlessness. That was until one day she met… him. A Divine Encounter, the maiden in blue told herself, feeling a sense of joy for the first time in so long. He recognized her potential and agreed that her talents were wasted and squandered with the likes of the Order. He then told her about a way she could finally obtain the power she so desired, to the point she could even take her place among the gods. All she had to do was follow his every word, whenever he contacted her in secret when appearing as a vision. Tonight was one of those occasions, and Tuyet presented herself to him, bowing her head and kneeling before the apparition of darkness before her. “How may I serve you, my master?” She raised her head, gazing into a pair of deep crimson eyes with a sinister smile on her face. Lady Tuyet, you have served me well. The time you have been waiting for will soon be approaching. First, you must complete a task. “What must I do, my Lord Terankos?” You are to go to the island of Artidax alone. Make note of the fortress for any places that may have a weak defense, save for above. Have you already convinced the Order of my little… proposition? “Yes, my lord,” replied the treacherous Tuyet. “Hydraxon has already begun work creating the automatons after Helryx accepted the idea. She has even started helping him to increase productivity.” Excellent. You have done well. Now then, once you reach Artidax, go to the southern-most wall of the fortress. There, you will meet someone. “Who, may I ask?” The leader of the Knights of Terankos. “The so-called ‘heretics’ Helryx is so obsessed with?” Correct. You are to feign allegiance to him, asking him to join the Knights as a double agent. However, you must remain with the Order as much as possible to avoid any conflict. This is the first and only time you will ever interact with him in person. “Will he be so willing to accept me into his ranks?” I have already put in a… good word for you. In addition, his mind has been degrading over the years. He will accept you without question. You must make sure he is unaware of our exchanges and our promise, otherwise the plan will be compromised. “Very well. It will be done, my Lord Terankos.” Excellent. Listen to any orders he may relay to you to stay in his good graces, but afterwards, ignore them. You will directly serve my orders alone. Should he attempt to retaliate, I shall make sure you are taken care of. “And… the Nui Stone?” Patience, my dear. All in good time. Once the Knights claim it as their own, you will be able to take it for yourself. This can only be done so long as you play your part. “Thank you, my master. It will be done.” “Tuyet? Are you up there?” came a familiar voice faintly from behind the door. “I must go now,” whispered Tuyet. You may leave. Remember to follow my orders. Remember to follow the plan… As the dark apparition vanished, Tuyet rose to her feet and quickly rushed to the door. “Coming, Lhikan!” *** Deep within the Shadow Realm, an unsettling laugh echoed. “Soon… Soon everything will come to pass according to my design. Pawns are so easy to manipulate. All you have to do is tell them what they want to hear, make some pitiful promise to them, and they are under your power indefinitely.” The laugh echoed once more, causing the ground to rumble and shake. “Soon, my brother, you will be nothing more than a memory, and once more, I shall be free!”
  10. Author's Note This fic was written for the BZPower 2018 Gift Exchange. This story is for Dane, who requested a story set on Mata Nui about the Chronicler's Company. Not every member of the Company makes an appearance and some are more prominent than others, but I hope Dane enjoys the story anyway! Masks It was to be a two-pronged attack. Nuparu and a squad of Boxor-mounted Matoran would challenge the Nuhvok, the Bohrok of Earth, in the plains outside Le-Wahi. Their plan would remove the advantage the Nuhvok maintained by fighting in enclosed spaces, like the dense jungle. Onepu would lead a second squad into the jungle and attempt to drive the Lehvak out of Le-Koro itself. Taipu felt safer being a part of Onepu's three-man squad. He didn't know the third member of their group very well, but Onepu trusted Kaj and that was enough for him. Taipu was on high alert. The heavy footsteps of the three Boxors sounded like pickaxes striking metal but he could still make out the sounds of distant rahi fleeing through the underbrush. Despite not being a member of the Onu-Koro Ussalry, he had been given a Boxor to pilot on Onepu's order - Taipu had not only helped build the prototype Boxor, but he was also one of only a handful of Onu-Matoran familiar with the Le-Wahi jungle. Taipu felt honored to be chosen to be a member of the Ussalry Captain's team - even if they were best friends. They marched between a dozen enormous trees that had fallen, the earth beneath their roots eroding away. The destruction of the beautiful jungle caused Taipu's heartlight to ache. The vivid flowers of Le-Wahi had once filled him with joy. Now they were trampled into the ground, their petals gone and their color faded. Their group climbed over a hilltop, only to witness more devastation. Below them, a dank swamp slowly ate away at a tree. A single leaf fluttered into the swamp. It shriveled, sizzled and in moments, was gone. "This is the doing of Lehvak," said Onepu grimly. "They are surely nearby. Be on the lookout for them." Taipu felt a chill run down his spine. The Lehvak were said to be the most dangerous of the Bohrok types, and he was hardly a proper warrior. Taipu longed to return to the safe, comfortable mines of Onu-Koro. But they weren't safe nor comfortable anymore, they were caved in and flooded. Taipu looked to his leader. Onepu was ahead of him, bravely heading on to protect the Matoran despite the danger. Taipu forced his fears down. He would be brave like Onepu as well. They continued on, leaving the acrid smells of the pool behind as it consumed the foliage. Onepu held out an arm, motioning them to stop. "Quiet!" he hissed, stopping in his tracks. Taipu listened, only hearing the insistent flapping of kahu bird wings. He focused harder, trying to detect whatever had caught Onepu's attention. There! The pitter-patters of metal on earth could just barely be heard, too light and fast to be the result of Bohrok. "Matoran?" asked Kaj. "It must be," whispered Onepu. "If they are being controlled by the Krana, we should strike swiftly and free as many as we can." Soon they might be fighting against their own kind. "What if we hurt them?" Taipu asked. Onepu clenched his fist for a moment. "They will be better off sore and free than controlled by the Krana." Taipu took a deep breath of the thick jungle air, soothing his nerves. Onepu always knew just what to say. "Kaj," commanded Onepu. "If we get into a scuffle, you move to the right and I'll circle to the left. Taipu, you will face them head-on. This way, we can hem them in for a sound victory." Onepu led them further on, seemingly unphased by the potential danger. Within moments they came to a small group of Le-Matoran scuttling through bushes and cutting into enormous trees. These Matoran did not wear the beautifully crafted protodermis masks that Taipu had come to expect. Instead, their faces were covered by Krana, masks made of flesh instead of metal. Taipu had heard that wearing the Krana made a Matoran enslaved to it, in much the same way that Makuta's infected masks allowed him to control Rahi. Taipu swallowed hard as Onepu boldly strode forward in his heavy Boxor. "Fine villagers of Le-Koro!" Onepu shouted. "I know you can still hear me! End this ceaseless destruction now! Remove your Krana and take up arms against the Lehvak who order you to defile your homes!" The Le-Matoran turned to face them, their eyes narrowed and determined. One stepped forward. "Greetings, brothers," he said in a calm, yet commanding tone. "We wish for you to join us. Step down from your machines and help us clean this land of impurities." Behind half-burnt bushes stirred a half-dozen emerald-green Lehvak, moving to investigate the disturbance. When they noticed the trio of Matoran not wearing Krana, they raised their claws in anticipation of a struggle. "The Great Spirit would not want to see his paradise destroyed like this!" shouted Taipu, hoping that he might get through to the Matoran before the Lehvak attacked. "This is madness!" "'Madness' would be trying to prevent the Bohrok from completing our task," said the Krana-Matoran. "Why do you insist on preventing us from completing our duty?" Taipu noticed two Lehvak rolling to his right. Three more moved to block any escape to the left. Taipu checked to see if Onepu had noticed, but the Captain showed no sign that he had. "This wanton destruction cannot possibly be your duty," insisted Onepu. "Remove the Krana from your faces, or we will do it for you." Hissing, two Lehvak suddenly lurched forward, the scissor-like shields on their arms snapping open and closed. Taipu stepped forward to meet the closest one, ready to take the attack head on and anticipating the range of powers the Bohrok had at their disposal. In melee combat, he had the advantage of the Boxor's long reach, but between the Boxor's slow movements and the way it left the pilot undefended from frontal attacks, Taipu felt terribly vulnerable. Taipu's hand trembled at the controls, but he forced himself to wait for the right moment. The foremost Lehvak finally came into range, and Taipu jammed the left lever forward and the Boxor's hooked claw swung out, catching behind the Lehvak's faceplate perfectly. Taipu pulled back on the lever and ripped the faceplate open. The Lehvak stopped moving as its Krana fell helplessly to the ground, the Lehvak dropping a moment later. Taipu turned to find another target just in time to see another Lehvak slipping out of Kaj's reach, too focused on its opponent to be aware of its surroundings. Taipu pressed forward, ready to rip the Bohrok away even as he heard the sound of another Bohrok plate being ripped open nearby. Something fell on top of him, and two hands clawed at Taipu's face. Taipu yelled in shock as he clutched his mask, holding it firmly in place. A pair of angry Matoran eyes behind a Krana squinted back at him. The Matoran's grabbing hands tried to pry his mask free but they were no match for Taipu's strength. With one hand still holding his mask in place, Taipu snatched at the bright crimson Krana, but fumbled and missed. The Matoran moved to pin one of his arms against the cockpit of the Boxor. Taipu pushed against the attempt, grabbed ahold of the Krana-Matoran, and threw him to the ground. The Matoran scrambled back to his feet, backing away. Taipu moved to chase after him and – "Taipu, watch your left!" Onepu's voice shattered his focus. Taipu turned as he heard the slurp of acid being launched. The acid splashed over his mask, sizzling as it touched metal. Taipu coughed from the fumes as he pulled the mask free, feeling his fingers begin to tingle. He threw his mask to the ground. His hands felt like they were on fire, and he wiped them clean of the acid against the Boxor controls. He began to feel tired, his energy escaping without his mask. He glanced to where he had thrown it. The mask was already eroding, the eyeholes widening, giving it a sad, misshapen appearance. He barely had time to notice the Lehvak rushing him and it was all he could do to push his control forward to throw a punch from the Boxor. The Lehvak slipped to his left, reared up and prepared to launch its Krana at him. A Boxor claw appeared out of nowhere, striking the Lehvak to the side. Onepu marched forward, sending out a flurry of strikes aimed to quickly rip the Bohrok's Krana out. Taipu felt someone's arms unstrap him from the machine, but his vision was blurring and it was becoming difficult to keep his eyes on. "I've got you," came Kaj's voice, but Taipu found himself drifting away. "My mask…" he muttered as the world went dark. "My mask… my mask…" Taipu blinked the sleep out of his eyes. His hands moved groggily to check his mask. It was there. Of course it was there, he wouldn't have woken up if it wasn't. He relaxed for a moment, brushing his hand over it. Something about it didn't feel quite right. It felt bigger, it came down further beyond his chin, and in the corners of his eyes he could see it was tinted green and not black. "What happened to my mask?" "It was lost," came Onepu's voice. "Do not worry! I have procured you a replacement." Taipu pulled himself up. The sun was now high overhead, the brightness forcing him to squint. The Lehvak were lying in the mud, helpless and inactive, and there was a faint smoky scent in the air. There were no more masks on Mata Nui, not that Taipu knew of. The Toa had collected their Masks of Power, and every powerless mask left belonged to a Matoran. "Where did this one come from?" Onepu grimaced for a moment, his eyes sliding towards a bubbling lake nearby. "Best you put it out of your mind. Are you ready to continue?" Taipu pushed himself up from the dirt, and kicked his legs out to test them. "I feel good, I think." In truth, he felt awful and he couldn't stop touching the mask that wasn't quite right, but they were deep in Lehvak territory now and he wasn't about to let Onepu down. "I am glad to hear it. Mount your Boxor, we shall move out at once." The thought of the Le-Koronans remaining under the control of the Krana spurred Taipu on. As soon as he was back in control of his machine, they once again set off towards Le-Koro. Nearby, birds he didn't know the name of sang sweet songs. He hoped their homes wouldn't be destroyed like his had been. He reached a hand up to touch the edge of the strange mask, wondering where it had come from. Perhaps Onepu had taken it from a Le-Matoran's hut. Taipu had heard of villages that handed out trophy masks to particularly skilled athletes, and he remembered the ceremonial golden mask that Lewa had been granted when he and Onua had rescued the Le-Koronans from the Nui-Rama swarm. The more he thought about it, the more Taipu was convinced that it must be some sort of ceremonial mask the Le-Koronans used. Perhaps someday he would be able to return this mask to its rightful owner. "What happened to the Matoran we fought?" he asked. "They fled like cowards before we could liberate them from the Krana," answered Onepu. "Once they saw that we were defeating their Bohrok, they knew they stood no chance against our might." Taipu heard a stifled laugh from Kaj, and wondered for a moment what he could find so funny. "Thank you for saving me." He stroked his new mask one more time. "A Pakari?" "The Pakari - the Mask of Strength," answered Onepu. "Now our masks match, and you look just as strong and brave as I do!" If Taipu had to wear a new mask, he was glad it was this one. In Onu-Koro, Masks of Strength were a symbol of bravery, and were worn by both Onua, the Toa of Earth, and Onepu, the High Commander of the Ussalry. As such, the mask carried a lot of prestige. Of course, this mask only bore the shape of the Pakari - it held no real power, and a Matoran wouldn't be able to harness the abilities of a Mask of Power even if they wore one. Taipu still felt a pang of regret for the loss of his Ruru. As they got closer to Le-Koro, the chirping of birds disappeared, and the stench of burning and decay grew stronger. When they finally reached Lake Kanae, spread out below the village of Le-Koro, Taipu saw a dozen Matoran lying maskless in the dirt, moaning uselessly. A squad of Boxors furiously traded blows with a group of Lehvak while Matoran wearing Kanohi grappled with Matoran wearing Krana. "Onward!" shouted Onepu. "We must defeat the last remnants of the Lehvak and free the Le-Koronans!" He rushed forward, showing no sign of fear. Taipu's heartlight swelled at Onepu's bravery. He pushed his Boxor forward, following behind him into the furious melee. The battle was soon over. Taipu climbed out of his Boxor to help the defeated Matoran. Without their masks, the villagers were helpless. Taipu walked past the empty hull of a Bohrok to pick up yet another mask half-buried in the dirt, abandoned like so many others when the Bohrok used their Krana to control the minds of the villagers. No-one looked at the mask that he had borrowed, nor asked for it back. "Sir!" someone shouted, trying to get the attention of a captain. "Sir!" A hand grasped his arm, and it was then that Taipu realized that it was him the Matoran was shouting at. The Onu-Koronan looked at the mask Taipu was carrying. "Sir, there's a Matoran here who could use that mask!" Still clutching Taipu's arm, the Onu-Koronan led him into thick ferns. "I'm not a captain," Taipu said feebly as he pushed the leaves out of his face. "You don't need to call me 'sir'." "Oh. Sorry, I just assumed with the mask. You know what it's like." Taipu hadn't thought about it much, but he knew some Matoran would make assumptions about other Matoran based on the mask that they wore. A Mask of Strength didn't just signify that a Matoran was physically strong - it was common to assume that a wearer of the Pakari would be courageous as well. In Onu-Koro, Matoran with Pakari were often members of the Ussalry. Maybe that was the same for Le-Koronans as well. He wondered what the original owner of the mask was like - perhaps he was a heroic Kewa flier who had been knocked out of the sky. If that was the case, had Taipu really earned the right to wear this mask? He was no hero. Not really. What had he actually done, after all? He hadn't even tried to help fight the Bohrok invading his home. He hadn't been able to save Onu-Koro. No, real warriors joined the Ussalry, and his penchant for exploration didn't translate much to fighting. A real warrior wouldn't have walked face-first into a burst of acid. Did Nuparu have to deal with people assuming he was in the Ussalry too? A moment later, Taipu was shown a fallen villager struggling to stand, and Taipu placed the mask on his face. The Onu-Koronan nodded to him. "Stay here until he gets up," he suggested before running off, perhaps in search of more Matoran who needed help. While Taipu waited for the glow of the villager's eyes to appear, he caught sight of the ugly flash of a red Krana nearby. He walked over to pick it up. It was disgusting. Soft. Like muscle, but muscle without armor. Spongy too, and flexible. Not like leaves or flowers, which might show off their beauty as they swayed in the breeze. It wasn't natural for flesh to be exposed like this. A thought came into his mind, that he should take off his mask and put this one on, and he wondered how such a horrible idea could have come from him. "What are you doing?" Onepu's voice came from behind him. "That's still dangerous! Throw it on the ground, I will deal with it." "I just wanted to look at it." Taipu dropped the Krana anyway. Onepu grabbed his throwing disc and slammed the edge it into the flesh-thing three times. The Krana faded from an angry red to a gross-looking gray as a strange type of liquid began to leak out. "There. If a rahi accidentally got caught in that, it might have caused trouble. Don't you fret, I won't let the Krana hurt anyone else." Taipu supposed it was for the best. "Have you found any more Kanohi masks?" "The Le-Koronans have been finding lost masks in the treetops, so it shouldn't be long before we find a mask for everyone." Onepu watched with smile in his eyes as two Le-Koronans dropped out of a tree carrying three masks, and vaulted over a log to each place one on a maskless Matoran's face. "We've done great work here. We saved the Le-Koronans! Just look at all the villagers we've rescued." "What about the mask I'm wearing? Doesn't it belong to one of them?" Onepu's eyes drooped. "I told you not to worry about that. Wherever he is, it's probably far away from here." "Do you think Nuparu will have found him?" "Perhaps." Onepu's voice was commanding, but he didn't look at Taipu as he spoke. "I expect he's found another mask of his own. You don't need to worry about him anymore, that mask is yours now." They watched as more Le-Koronans slowly converged nearby, one wailing over the destruction of their home by their own hands. "But where will we go now?" asked Taipu. "Onu-Koro is flooded, Le-Koro is destroyed, and the Bohrok will return." "There are other villages," answered Onepu. "Surely they will take us in." "Ta-Koro," said Turaga Whenua. "It is heavily fortified, maintains a militant defense force, and most importantly, is nearby. Vakama will welcome us all into his protection. Onepu, Taipu, please gather the Matoran so that we can soon march to Ta-Wahi." Taipu nodded in agreement. "Of course, Turaga." They stood on the plains of Le-Wahi, where Nuparu had led a squad of Boxors against the Nuhvok. Even now, Nuparu was hard at work directing some helpers to build a new Boxor from the remains of their enemies. Two villages worth of Matoran filled the field. "Whenua, I would like to take Nuparu to Ga-Koro." Takua spoke to the Turaga with a familiarity that most outsiders wouldn't be comfortable with. "We haven't heard from the Ga-Koronans since the Bohrok emerged. They might be able to make use of a Boxor if they're in trouble." Whenua took a moment, as he always did when answering such questions. It was not his way to respond hastily. "I should have known you wouldn't return with us to your home, Chronicler. Take Damek with you as well. One Boxor may not be enough to make a difference, but two might - and Nuparu has already built enough for us to be able to spare a few!" "Thank you, Whenua," answered Takua with a gleam in his eyes. Their group soon headed off again. Onepu led the march with a group of Boxors, but Taipu had given his to one of the victims of the Bohrok attacks who had not entirely recovered from a splash of acid to his foot which made walking difficult. Taipu didn't mind. He relished the opportunity to really appreciate a walk through the Le-Wahi forest. Although the lush greenery and thick air served to remind him that his underground home was gone, it comforted him to know that the curious creatures eating the fruit in the treetops still had a home in the jungle. The Toa would find a way to stop the Bohrok, but in the meantime he knew he would have to work to protect the island. It wasn't just home to the Onu-Matoran, or even the Matoran in general. Hundreds of species of wild rahi nested on this island. At first, Taipu had marched alongside Onepu, but he soon fell back in the hopes that he might find someone who would recognize the mask he now wore. But all Taipu received from the normally chatty Le-Koronans were pained eyes staring back, their voices too weary from the loss of their homes to hold a conversation with a stranger. Eventually, he spotted a pair of familiar eyes. "Tamaru!" He waved, shouting excitedly. "Tamaru! Hello!" Tamaru glanced up and down at Taipu. "Hello, ground-walker," he answered. "Need help with something?" "I just wanted to say 'hello' to you." "Didn't know I was so far-famed," said Tamaru, sounding embarrassed. "Who are you?" Taipu almost growled. "I'm Taipu!" "Oh. Oh! Forgive but I knew not who you were! Fresh mask you have, wondered what earth-dweller wore such a color!" Taipu crossed his arms, feeling his frustration rise. "Just because I'm wearing a new mask?" "Never seen an earth-dweller wearing tree-bright colors," said Tamaru. Taipu clenched a fist, but said nothing. Regardless, the two walked quietly together for some time. Taipu tried to not let his bitterness over not being recognized get the better of him, and before he knew it the jungle smells had put him at ease and his anger was forgotten. Even so, the endless weight of sadness pressed down upon him. Up ahead, Taipu could still see Onepu and the rest of his squad keeping a watchful eye out for any sign of Bohrok. So far they hadn't encountered any. "Good to be long-walking with you again," said Tamaru. "It is good!" answered Taipu, with an enthusiasm he didn't feel. His eyes drooped to the dirt path. After a moment, he mumbled, "Both our villages are gone." "But Matoran long-live," said Tamaru. "Ground-walkers saved Le-Koronans, so Le-Koro lives on. Even in dark-time, Matoran have unity." Tamaru's optimism was infectious, and Taipu nodded in agreement. "You're right. There is still hope for our island, so long as we can work together." "Perhaps in peace-time Onu-Koro will be rebuilt." "I think so. We have always been miners and diggers, and so we will mine and dig again." Taipu took care to climb over a fallen tree branch. "And Le-Koro, too, perhaps, will be rebuilt." Tamaru's eyes lit up for a moment. "Jungle always grows. Many-years it takes, but Le-Koro is not ever-gone." He pointed to what looked like a clearing a touch to the right of their path. "Lake Pala coming up. Many-time been but not recently. Will show, if you allow it." Tamaru darted off the path. Taipu followed, cutting off a Matoran riding an Ussal crab. He barely registered the angry shouts that followed after him as he tried to catch up to the much faster Le-Koronan. Tamaru was already sitting at the waterside when Taipu got there. For a moment, Taipu thought he must be at the ocean. The lake seemed to go on and on forever, with trees only tiny little dots in the distance. Little birds drank from the lakeside and a strange creature with a mask covering its back slowly drifted across the surface of the lake. He thought there was enough water here to flood Onu-Koro a hundred times over. The reflections of leaves and branches caught his attention and when Taipu looked down, he saw a Le-Matoran staring back at him from the water's surface. It took him only a moment to realize that it was his reflection. His mask looked so different from the way he was used to seeing it when he looked into the waters in the Cavern of Light. If he didn't know who he was, then how would anyone else? He closed his eyes and wished that when he opened them that everything would go back to the way they were. His home drained of water, his mask back to normal. When his eyes came back on, the Le-Matoran was still staring back at him. Lush trees gave way to rocks and hillsides, revealing their destination. Ta-Wahi was all jagged edges and flat plains, and rising smoke marked where open flows of lava streaked down from the Mangai Volcano. However, despite the region's history, there was still greenery here. Groves of trees bore berries and fruits, and Taipu could hear the bleats of Mahi goats as they munched on grass. They soon passed through what must once have been a thriving forest, now dead and desolate. Taipu knew about this place. Once this forest had provided an abundance of food to the Ta-Koronans, but the Ta-Koro Guard had set it aflame to stop Makuta's beasts from attacking the village. Would this happen to the rest of Mata Nui as well? If the Toa couldn't stop the Bohrok, what would? Life on Mata Nui would end. "Almost there," Tamaru panted as they marched up the slopes. In the distance, Taipu could make out the stone tops of a great fortress. "Oh, heat-dry Ta-Wahi is leaving me mouth-parched!" Ta-Koronan guards with their bidents and shields shouted out a warning of the approaching Matoran. As they approached, Taipu could see the bubbling lava stream to his right. The glowing oranges reminded him of the magma in Onu-Koro - dangerous, yet beautiful. Perhaps this was a small part of his home that had survived. They passed through a majestic stone building that would put the Po-Koronan carvers to shame, and Taipu laid his eyes on the familiar Lake of Fire that Ta-Koro rose out of. Four guards carried the husk of a defeated Pahrak over to the edge of the lake. In a coordinated movement, the guards hurled the Bohrok off the ledge to be consumed by the lava. There was a shout from a nearby guard tower. A moment later, great stones began to rise from just above the lava. The air was sweltering - already he could see Tamaru panting - but the sight of the lake of fire filled him with a sense of awe. Taipu carefully placed a foot onto the stone bridge. Despite having just risen from the molten moat, it was surprisingly cool to the touch. As the caravan reached the other side of the stone bridge Turaga Vakama, the leader of Ta-Koro, stepped out onto the platform to greet them. Taipu spotted his friend Kapura standing at Vakama's left hand. The refugees piled into the fortress. With so many Matoran in Ta-Koro's courtyard, some were forced to climb up on ramps and steps, while others gathered around Toa Tahu's Suva. Turaga Whenua and Matau approached Vakama, and the three spoke in hushed tones that Taipu couldn't make out. Taipu remained silent, but murmurs began to spread throughout the group of survivors. Suddenly, Vakama thrust the end of his fire staff into the ground, and raised his hand. "The Village of Fire welcomes its friends from the Villages of Earth and Air," he said. "Our dwellings may be limited in number, but as long as the Bohrok threaten your homes you will find safety within these walls." Despite his enthusiasm, it took a long time for Vakama to organize shelter for everyone. Storage sheds had to be repurposed, and Ta-Koronans had to make room in their homes for the newcomers. Grumbling Matoran carried tools and furniture for the refugees as everyone tried to make room in a village in which the population had tripled in a single day. Taipu slipped away from the long, tedious discussions. He walked back over the stone bridge, down the staircase carved into the stone itself and to the very edge of the lava flows. A Ta-Koro Guardsman watched as Taipu reached the edge of the river, but said nothing. Taipu's throat was incredibly dry, and he had to work to hold back a cough. If it was hot inside the fortress, it was scorching down here. He reached down to pick up a pile of ash. His hand felt like it might burn, but he smeared it over his mask anyway, trying to turn it black. He couldn't be sure he had spread it evenly without a river to peer into, and he accidentally breathed in some of the ashes, coughing uncontrollably for a moment. His hands were covered in soot, but he grabbed for more ash despite his hands feeling like they were on fire. "What are you doing?" Taipu nearly fell over. He turned around to see Kapura watching him. "How did you get here?" "I saw you leaving the village, so I followed. Ashes do not make for good paint - not unless they are mixed with water." Taipu felt his face get even hotter. "I wanted to see what it would be like." "You can buy paint in Ta-Koro, if you wish," answered Kapura. "Will you take me there?" asked Taipu. "I will, but we will have to be quick. I am to head to Ko-Koro to bring word of them to Vakama." Kapura squinted as he carefully looked over Taipu. "Who are you?" Taipu almost couldn't believe his ears. He felt a sob catch in his throat as he realized his efforts were for naught. "It's me, Taipu!" "Oh. New mask." Taipu seethed as they walked back up towards Ta-Koro. Not just one, but two of his friends had failed to recognize him. His hands balled up into fists, and his palms throbbed with pain as he realized they were burnt. He drew a deep breath, and coughed from the ashes. "I can't believe you didn't recognize me," complained Taipu. "Neither did Tamaru. No-one knows who I am anymore." "Then you should put your old mask back on. Then we will know who you are." "It's gone," Taipu uttered. "Oh." Kapura finally made it to the top step, and they set back off under the gate. Taipu followed, thinking of all the things he could do. Paint might help him feel a little bit more normal, but he really needed to get a Ruru. Although there were hundreds of Matoran in Ta-Koro, he worried that they would be too busy to trade masks. Who would want to worry about masks that at a time like this? "Taipu," said Kapura. "Would you like to come to Ko-Koro with me?" Ko-Koro meant snow, something he had only ever seen a handful of times. It was lovely there, even if the Ko-Koronans didn't say much. "Oh, yes! I would love to!" His anger was forgotten, but Taipu still thought about it for a moment. "Can we paint my mask first?" "Yes. You will have to be quick. I will pack supplies, and then we will head off." His mask had dried, leaving it black and scaled. With a bamboo disk in his hand, Taipu prepared to set off. Kapura met him at the gate - along with Tamaru. "I'm coming too!" exclaimed Tamaru. "With the three of us together again, it will be like when we ground-walked to Kini-Nui with Takua!" "We do not have very far to go, but we should set off," said Kapura. "Should we bring a Boxor?" asked Taipu. Kapura shook his head. "We will be going by cable car. Vakama has asked Onepu to travel to Ko-Koro with two Boxors, but they will have to take the long way. We will reach Ko-Koro first." "Cable car?" asked Tamaru. "The most direct way to reach Ko-Koro is by the cable car that spans over the Tren Krom Break," explained Kapura. "The Bohrok have not yet reached it." The guard at the cable car stepped aside as soon as he saw Kapura, but Kapura flashed his symbol anyway. One by one, the Matoran fastened themselves to the cable that spanned over the lava flows. Eyes wide, Tamaru shivered when he reached the opposite ledge, but Taipu helped him to his feet and the three adventurers set off again. "Do you think that Ko-Koro is still there?" asked Taipu, as they trekked through the snow. Kapura's eyes drooped for a moment. "If Ko-Koro is unharmed, it will not be for long. Ko-Koro is well protected by Mount Ihu, but it has fewer guards than Onu-Koro or Le-Koro. That is why we are providing support." "But then why are you the only one being sent?" asked Taipu. "Vakama could send an army!" "Ta-Koro lost many members of the guard when we fought against the Makuta's beasts," explained Kapura. "Vakama has already allowed Jaller to travel to Ga-Koro. If more of the guard leave then there will be none left to protect Ta-Koro." The path to Ko-Koro ran through numerous narrow passageways of ice and rock. Cold winds blew through the ridges. Kapura shivered, but sternly marched on at a steady pace. Taipu marveled at the sights. Despite being so exposed to the wind and elements even as they walked by enormous outcroppings, he wasn't about to let the cold spoil his enjoyment. The snow glistened in the sunlight, painting Ko-Wahi with a white sheen. They got closer and closer to Ko-Koro, beginning to pass by entire cliffs that looked as though they were carved out of the ice. Distracted by the beautiful peaks, Taipu forgot to take care with his footing until he felt his feet begin to slip. He overcompensated and fell, knocking his head on the frozen lake beneath him. It only stung a little, but as he pulled himself up, he saw his reflection in the ice. The obsidian-colored mask looked less jarring than the bright green he last saw himself in, but he still cringed at the appearance of the Mask of Strength. He supposed it should fit him. He had often been praised by his fellow miners for his endless strength and stamina, and he had long admired Onepu and the Ussalry. Yet, despite having modeled himself after Onepu's bravery, he didn't really think he had earned the right to wear a mask of a warrior. He was only a miner, after all. It was silly, he knew - Matoran wore masks that didn't match their personalities all the time, and very few ever chose to trade them. Still, each mask had a meaning behind it and Taipu couldn't help but think about how that reflected on himself. Those that wore the Ruru were thought to be like Turaga Whenua, offering wisdom and shining a light forward in the darkness. As Taipu was the Left Hand of Whenua, he had always tried to emulate those traits. He still had a long way to go, but he felt he had made some progress, and what he lacked in sagely advice he made up for in enthusiasm. Regardless, he was proud of wearing the same mask as the Turaga of Onu-Koro. "Don't worry about ice-admiring," said Tamaru, holding a hand out to help him up. "Close to Ko-Koro now, let us hurry over-snow to reach it!" Ko-Koro loomed in the distance. Taipu hurried on, trying to keep up with Tamaru and Kapura's pace until they passed through the crystal-like gates. Chaos awaited them, the once peaceful village bursting with frenzied activity. A trio of warriors rushed up the stairs to the largest building, the Sanctum, where more shouts were echoing from. Two Matoran huddled near a hut carved out of ice, their whimpering loud enough to cut through the clanging from the soldiers' armor. A villager peered from a dwelling, before sneaking around the side, a knapsack bursting with trophies and tablets clutched in his hands. Without breaking his stride, Kapura continued on into the Sanctum. Taipu and Tamaru exchanged glances, and hurried up behind him through the enormous archway. To Taipu's surprise, the Sanctum was full of dozens of guards, each grasping a pickaxe. Lantern flames danced around the chamber, providing enough light to read the writing that covered every inch of the stone walls. To the left, guards ran in pairs into a tunnel had been bored into the wall of the Sanctum itself.
  11. The End of Time, by SkullKid Narmoto ran through the thick jungle toward the Temple of Time. The temple’s bell’s tolls were so loud, that it rattled the molecules of his very being. His age was getting to him. His muscles screamed, his armor cracked, but he kept going. Suddenly, the world went black. When Narmoto came to, he was face-first on the ground. As he looked around, he noticed two things. One, the root that tripped him was unusually large. How he didn’t notice it while running befuddled him. The second thing he noticed was the wind against his naked face. His mask must’ve fallen off when he tripped. After a brief survey of his surroundings, Narmoto found his mask. Taking it in both hands, he prepared to return it to its home, but something stopped him dead in his tracks. Was this his mask? It was familiar, but it seemed off. Gone was the ornate red metal and translucent orange ore that made up his mask, and before him was a light orange mask, rounded, save for a grated fixture around the area his mouth would be. The bells chimed again. Narmoto had no time to be confused. He took one last look around before he threw on this alien looking mask, and moved forward. If those bells were chiming, it could only mean trouble. As the Protector of Fire climbed the stairs, he thought back to the past few weeks. Ever since Ekimu returned with news of the Toa’s departure and completion of their destiny, peace had returned to Okoto. Ekimu had returned to his forge, and had taken Narmoto in as his apprentice. He had tinkered with mask making in the past. The art itself was lost for the most part after Makuta and Ekimu’s big clash, but he managed. He’d never made real masks of power, but he’d made his fair share of ornate, non-powered masks for his village. When Ekimu took him on as an apprentice, the mask maker gave him full access. Any material he desired, he got. Any advice he needed was given. Any formula, any power source, everything was at his fingertips. He was content with this life. He even began to consider his retirement as the protector, and whom he might pass the torch too. Things began to change however, when Ekimu encouraged a new task, one that had been puzzling him for ages. The task: the completion of the Mask of Time. Legend claimed that the Mask of Time that lay in the Temple of Time was only one half of a mask. The lower half was lost a long time ago. “I have searched the oldest prophesies, the most ancient of legends, and none give hint of what might of happened to the lower half.” Ekimu mused. “But if it’s impossible to find the lower half, perhaps we can make it a new one.” Many formulas were tried. Ore from a meteorite, possibly the oldest metal on the planet, was gathered. Bones from ancient beings were dug up and carved out to create a frame. After forging, the mask was quenched in water drawn from the Temple of Time. However, no matter what the shape, the density of the metal, or how long it was forged, it shattered every time. With each failure, Ekimu became more and more agitated. Narmoto had never seen the usually calm and collected legend lose his temper. But the apprentice kept at it, despite the continuous failures. It was when a seemingly desperate Ekimu suggested maybe a combination of elements needed to be added to the formula, that Narmoto questioned the master Mask Maker. “With all due respect, my liege, this is not the way. This would lead to destruction! You can’t repeat Makuta’s mistake for this!” A wildness that had occupied Ekimu’s eyes for weeks now had left them as realization fell over him. He excused himself, saying he needed to meditate. Narmoto too took his leave. It was late, and tensions were high. Once he arrived at his home, he finally was able to rest. Unfortunately, this was short lived, for the very same bells that rung now, cried their shrill toll. Narmoto shook his head. He had to focus on the now, not relive the past. The temple’s bells chimed again. He reached the top of the stairs and stopped. Something felt off. Everything felt cleaner, shinier, and new. It felt wrong. “HALT trespasser!” A voice boomed from the open door that faced him. Two figures, tall, slender, and covered from head to toe with armor emerged, wielding shields that depicted the elements. The one with red and gold armor had a shield adorned with images of fire and sparks. The other had blue and silver armor with a shield depicting the ocean and torrential rain. “This is the Temple of Time, stranger.” The red one exclaimed, its words almost sounding like the average Okotian, but with the slight uncanniness that gave away its artificiality. “It is off limits to all except for high level mask makers, and elemental protectors.” Two things went through Narmoto’s mind at once. The first was simply him trying to comprehend what he was looking at. This was impossible. These were ancient automated warriors that he’d learned about on only the most ancient of tablets. They were created by ancient mask makers to protect sacred lands. But they were as ancient as those tablets, and had long since fell into disrepair, without Makuta and Ekimu around to keep them running. But these two automatons were up and running. The second he figured he could solve immediately. “My name is Narmoto, Protector of Fire like my father before me. You might not recognize me because of my mask.” He pointed to his mysterious orange replacement mask. “Incorrect response. Turn back or be forced back.” The blue automaton hammered his shield with his fist in a show of force. Narmoto had no time to question these two. In a swift motion, he removed the cloak he was wearing, and threw it at the face of the blue one. He took advantage of the beings temporary blindness, and unloaded his elemental blaster at its head. It was quick. The blue being fell to the ground, sparks flying from where its head should be. The temple’s bells chimed. Narmoto was about to book it, leaving the red one behind him, but a simple glance changed everything. The red being was gone, replaced by what looked like an Okotian Villiager. “What did you do!?! He was my brother! HE WAS MY FRIEND!” The villager screamed. Narmoto looked over to where the automaton should have been laying, but what he saw gave him the greatest chill he had ever felt. Most of the body was covered by his cloak, but what stuck out were not the feet of the robot he’d just dispatched. They were much smaller. The red villager tackled Narmoto, too distracted to see it coming. “YOU DID THIS TO US! HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO US!?!” he cried, a deep mourning resonating in his voice. The bells chimed again. “I-I’m not….you…he…you both weren’t like this a moment ago…who are you?” Narmoto stammered. His fear had only just begun, for the villager rapidly began to change. His body broadened, gears and tubes emerged where they weren’t before. His arms and legs shortened, and the hands that gripped Narmoto’s armor began to turn hot as they began to morph into fire laced claws. “I…REMEMBER...WHAT…you…diiiiiiiiiiiiiii…..” An electronic buzz reverberated from the villager’s head, which began to elongate. The now round, buglike being, threw Narmoto to the side. “It…must…be…cleaned….” The creature’s now severely distorted voice said. The robotic bug suddenly jumped at Narmoto. Time inched by as he faced death. There was so much he’d done with his life, but there was so much more he wanted. He’d never completed his mask-maker training. He’d never fallen in love and had a child of his own. He’d never climbed the tallest peak of Mt. Ihu. Mt. Ihu, he thought, that’s not right. Just then, wind blustered by his face as stone stalactites impaled the red beetle-like creature. Narmoto looked for its source. Standing there, triumphant, was Nilkuu, grinning, elemental blaster in hand. “Come, on fire-spitter,” said the Protector of Stone, “You’re gonna let that take you out. I thought fire consumes all?” “Fighting fire with fire was never my strongest suit” Narmoto admitted. Nilkuu hoisted Narmoto to his feet, took off for the main hall. Narmoto looked back, trying to convince himself that he didn’t have killed an innocent life. Nilkuu was the first to speak. “You gonna tell me what that was all about? The new mask, robo-bug back there, the bells?” “It’s a long story, much of which I don’t understand.” Narmoto mused. “But if there are answers to be found, they will be in here.” He pushed open the inner sanctum door, just as a new set of chimes reverberated through the hall. Inside, he could see the stairs that led up to Mask of Time. But unlike the rest of the temple which looked completely refurbished, the inner sanctum appeared to be in further disrepair then they had left it, like millennia had passed with no upkeep. At the top, the other Protectors stood, waiting for the two. “Come on, Kohlii-head!” Nilkuu exclaimed, making his way up the decrepit stairs. “Not a moment to waste!” “Kohlii-head….what?” Narmoto questioned. The term seemed familiar, but he couldn’t place it. He followed his brother in arms up the stairs to meet the other Protectors. Vizuna, Protector of Jungle and Kivoda, Protector of Water were watching the mask from a distance, while Kargot, the Protector of Earth was tending to the Protector of Ice, Izotor, who seemed to be in a daze. “Kargot, what happened?” Narmoto asked, concerned. Kargot looked toward her long-time friend, recognition absent from her eyes. “Who…….Narmoto? What’s with the mask?” Kargot queried. “Not important right now. What’s wrong with Izotor?” “I don’t know.” Kargot looked worried. Narmoto had rarely seen her like this. She was usually the brave one of the lot. “We were the first to get here. When he saw the mask, he tried to grab it, but it….affected him.” Kargot returned her focus to Izotor, who looked around franticly, whistling and clicking like a bird. Narmoto looked to where the Mask was, floating above a basin of water. He noticed the difference immediately. Before when they came to summon the Toa, the mask was golden, and the water in the basin was pure. Now, the mask was rusted over, taking on a more orange appearance, like age had gotten to it. Cracks were forming on the outside, and pieces of it were falling off into the basin. “This is what I was talking about,” said Vizuna, “My tail has been going crazy ever since the bells went off. It has to be the mask.” “I’ve never seen a broken mask do something like this,” Kivoda said, walking over to Izotor. “Do masks usually leak their power when broken?” Everything seemed to click in Narmoto’s mind. These odd fluctuations, the age of the Temple, the resurrection of the Temple guards, all of that must be the Mask’s doing. “It would make sense,” the crimson protector said. “Such powerful masks rarely exist or have been broken…but the Mask of Ultimate Power was shattered by Ekimu, and we all know the results of that.” Dread began to fall over the gathered leaders. The destruction of the Mask of Time could lead to something even more catastrophic than Makuta and Ekimu’s cataclysmic battle. Kargot approached Narmoto. “What should we do? You’re a mask maker now. Do you think we can fix it?” Narmoto reached his hand out, but stopped half way. “I don’t know. I don’t think I should even touch it. Didn’t it mess up Izotor?” “Who?” Kargot asked. “…Izotor…” Narmoto said slowly, “…Izotor, Kargot…our friend.” Narmoto looked around. Izotor was nowhere to be seen. “Izotor…who is Izotor?” Kargot asked again. “There is just the five of us Narmoto.” “No! That’s not right…I…” Narmoto paused. He couldn’t remember what he was fretting about. The name that was just in his mind was gone. Kargot put her hand on his shoulder. “Narmoto! Snap out of it. We need to figure out what to do!” Vizuna spoke up. “My tail is driving me nuts! I can’t…I can’t focus. Maybe if I..” He grabbed for the Mask of Time, but as soon as he touched the rusty mask, he was flung back by an invisible force. The bells chimed again, as Vizuna collapsed on the floor. “Oh no…” Kargot gasped. Kivoda ran over to his fallen brother as Kargot stood by. Narmoto was shaking. Something was wrong. He felt there was something else missing. That couldn’t be right though. There was always just the four of them leading Okoto. Kivoda shook the unconscious Vizuna, trying to wake him. Suddenly, with a swift push, Vizuna launched Kivoda into the air. “NO! This…this isn’t right!” Vizuna cried, as he began to transform. He grew taller, one arm growing longer, and more beast like. His shoulders broadened as his full frame hunched over. “We…we were fighting….spiders.” The bells chimed again as Kargot ran forward to try to calm the now monstrous looking Vizuna. Narmoto ran to help…he couldn’t remember. There was no one to help. He gripped his head as a massive headache rendered him useless. Kargot put up her hands. “Vizuna, it’s going to be alright. Let me help you.” Vizuna jumped back. “No! No! We were fighting…..spiders…..” “Yes, we defeated the Skull Spiders, Vizuna. Come on, we need to get you help.” Kargot said, trying to coax Vizuna from the shadows. “No….the Visorak. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE VISORAK!” Vizuna screamed, launching himself at Kargot. A bright light illuminated the chamber, and both Kargot and Narmoto covered their faces. Vizuna cried out in pain. When the light dimmed, Narmoto looked down to see Ekimu blocking the enraged Vizuna. “GO! Narmoto, take the mask, and leave. Return to my forge. I’ll meet you there.” Ekimu grunted, as Vizuna clawed at his shield. Narmoto had the urge to ask questions, but was stopped by Kargot. “We have to go.” She said, urgency in her eyes. Kargot reached for the mask. “NO!” Narmoto said. “Wait! Don’t touch it.” He took a deep breath, his mind clear for the first time in hours. “I believe this is my destiny.” And with that, he grabbed the decaying Mask of Time. Everything went white. Everything was quiet. Everything stopped. Narmoto blinked. No, it wasn’t all white. He could make out the outline of a vast city, reaching far into the distance. He stood on a balcony, overlooking the vast metropolis. This looks…. “Familiar, right?” a voice said. Narmoto jumped. Sitting on the ledge right next to him was a Toa, but not like he’d ever seen. He was grey, thin and lanky, with a mask that looked sort of like Tahu’s did. The Toa pointed to his mask. “My mask reads minds. Don’t freak out too much. You didn’t the first time we met. Krakua’s my name…or do you remember?” “I’m sorry, I think you have me confused for someone else.” Narmoto said, puzzled. Krakua sighed. “I was afraid of that. This will be tougher than I thought.” He paused. “Sit with me, won’t you?” Narmoto, careful to not fall off, took a seat with the tall grey Toa. “Where are we?” “Well, nowhere really. This is just an echo of what once was. Residue of the destruction of the Vahi” The name Vahi resonated in Narmoto’s mind: it was the ancient name of the Mask of Time. Then the rest of what Krakua said hit him like a brick wall. “Wait, what do you mean?” “Maybe it’d be better to show you, Vakama.” When Krakua spoke that name, the world erupted. A massive war surrounded him. Toa of all shapes, colors, and sizes teamed up with other armored beings amongst an onslaught of vicious warriors. Some had toothy grins, others had elongated obsidian helmets with war paint. There were even more of those beetle-looking robots. Amongst the carnage was a hooded figure, holding on high a rusty orange mask, a truly monstrous being under his foot. The Mask of Time Narmoto thought. “It’s the final moments of the War of Spherus Magna. That hooded figure right there is Velika, the last Great Being. He led an army against the combined forces of the Toa and Glatorian. When a great leader called the Shadowed One tried to use the Vahi to secure the victory, he almost lost control, and Velika struck him down.” Narmoto stared at this, confused, which Krakua noticed. “That’s not as important as what’s about to happen.” Suddenly, out of nowhere, the Mask of Time flew out of Velika’s hands, as an orange figure appeared out of thin air, flying overhead. Narmoto immediately recognized the mask he wore as the one he found in the forest. “And there you are. Always seeming to cheat fate, right Vakama?” Krakua laughed. Vakama landed in the arms of a Toa Narmoto immediately recognized as Onua. The other Toa soon gathered around him, to protect the elderly leader. Vakama and Velika began speaking to each other, but Narmoto could not hear their words. “What are they saying?” Narmoto asked Krakua, who frowned. “The details aren’t important, but this was the end. You threatened to break the Vahi, knowing full well what would happen if Velika didn’t stop. You’ve made this gamble once before. This time, though….” Velika raised an arm as he telekinetically began to disassemble the biomechanical beings around him, with a crazed look in his eyes. As more Toa charged, more fell. None could stand his might. Those who didn’t crumble immediately thought twice about charging and backed away. All that stood in his way now was Gali, Onua, Lewa, Pohatu, Kopaka, Tahu, and a gold-clad Toa he mistook for Ekimu. The gold Toa leaped forward, and just as his attack was about to connect, Velika knocked him aside. Each of the remaining Toa put their hand on Vakama. They all knew what was about to happen. “There was no choice,” Krakua said. “Velika had caused so much carnage already, and would cause so much more unchecked. No reality was better than a reality where he ruled.” There was a solemn moment before the hammer came down. The mask cracked. It hit again. Another crack. With each impact, and new crack formed, and in turn, the reality around Narmoto cracked too. Then, it shattered. Everything was white again. It was just him and Krakua sitting on an invisible ledge. Krakua was silent. Narmoto was numb. “After you broke the Vahi, time began to unwind. Everything happened at once, and never happened. Time ran backwards for some while for others it moved forward. The universe ended that day.” He paused. “But it also began that day too. The universe established a reality loop with constants. There is always a threat of shadow to take over the land. There are always six heroes summoned to fight it. There is always an object, imbued with the power of time that holds together that reality, no matter how brief it might be. And then there is always you, a wise sage, with a will of fire to guide the heroes to their task. You may take on other names and faces, but you at heart are always Vakama. Always the mask maker that accidently created this loop in the first place. Every time, the loop plays out the same. Shadow tries to conquer light, but light always prevails. Then, the object imbued with Time falls apart, and the cycle happens again. But this..” Krakua motioned between them.”…this hasn’t happened. In fact, I’ve been waiting for it to happen for what seems to be eons.” Narmoto looked puzzled. “Why you though. Why are you here and no one else from…the first reality?” Krakua shrugged, “I‘m not sure exactly. It could be my destiny, a previous connection we shared, maybe just the universe being cruel, or maybe I’m just your guardian Great Spirit. I’m not even sure if this is the real me. I might just be an echo too. What I do know, and have waited so long to tell you is this. You have a choice to make. You can either break the mask or continue the cycle, which is not the worst way to go. It’s consistent, and though the events might be a product of the Vahi’s influence, the lives are real. Or, you can repair the Vahi. This will stabilize the current reality. I cannot promise everything will return to the way it was, but life will go on here until the end of the natural universe.” Narmoto considered his choices. On one hand, who knows what the next reality would hold, or if he would ever get to this point again. On the other, he wasn’t sure what was left to save. Who knows what havoc the Mask of Time caused outside of the Temple? In his hand appeared his realities Mask of Time. It was so fragile, like it would shatter at any moment. “It’s your choice, brother.” Krakua said, his voice fading “I’m just the messenger. This decision is up to you.” Reality bled back in like a liquid, and filled the space around him. He was back in Ekimu’s Forge, what remained of the Mask of Time in hand. Narmoto took the mask, and put it on the table. He knew exactly what he was going to do. He wasn’t a destroyer or a fixer. He was a creator. He heated up the forge, took a pair of forging tongs, and began to melt down the Mask of Time. As he did, he could feel the coils of space-time begin to unravel around him. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion, but he persisted. He took the molten metal, and poured into a round cast. As it cooled, he began to hammer and mill out the form burned in his memory. Reality began to fade as white oblivion over took it. After what felt like years, or maybe it was seconds, it was done. And for a brief moment, everything felt normal. Narmoto took the mask, complete for the first time, and put it on. He turned to face the oncoming oblivion. Now Narmoto thought, Let’s see what a real mask maker can make. Then, Narmoto, Vakama, and the countless names he was called before now, activated the Vahi for the last time.
  12. "Arika!" Lewa called. "Come on back!" The young villager looked back at him. Arika was already halfway up a tree and hesitant about coming back down. Lewa stepped up to the base of the tree. "Here, hop down," he beckoned. "I'll catch you and carry you!" The child's face lit up beneath her brown mask and she carefully dropped down to where Lewa stood. He effortlessly caught her and lifted her up to sit on his shoulders. Lewa and the group of other villagers started moving again. "We should be more careful, Lewa," Kopaka said as the Uniter of Jungle resumed his place next to him. "If we were to lose anyone out here..." "I know, brother," Lewa said. "We do need to make sure everyone is safe, but I admit... I wish we could let them have some fun." He could feel Arika idly running her fingers along the ridges of his Mask. "We're out here, aren't we? Not cooped up in the City. There's some fun in that, I think." "Sure, but the tone is all wrong. Ekimu and the Protectors refuse to allow these walks without us accompanying them. We have to constantly worry about sticking together, about staying within sight of the City. I wish that the villagers could feel free to climb the trees they want to, to explore the land as they wish." "And one day, they will," Kopaka reassured him. "But not right now. We can't risk losing any more villagers to Umarak." "I know," Lewa said. Upon her insistence, he knelt and let Akira off his shoulders and she ran to catch up with her parents. "But I don't have to enjoy it." Kopaka kept looking at Akira's family, at other families in the group. "Do you think we could ever have something like that?" he asked. "To settle down, once this is all over. To have... a family?" Lewa looked at the Uniter of Ice curiously. "I'm not sure. Perhaps, if there were more like us." "Who is to say there aren't? Maybe there are many Toa across the sea, on the other side of the planet." "I think we would have heard them. Or the Okotans would have, at least." Kopaka nodded solemnly. "Are we doomed to loneliness then?" "I'm wounded!" Lewa said, hand to his chest. "Having five other Toa around isn't enough for you?" "It's not that, I just..." Lewa laughed and clapped the Uniter of Ice on the shoulder. "I understand. I've felt it too. Being surrounded by villagers doesn't make the feeling go away. They may bear the same color of armor, but it's not the same. They aren't the same. They don't know what it's like to wield this power, to have this duty, to be this tall. That's something only we six can share." "Right..." Kopaka said, nodding. "We'll always be there for each other, Kopaka," Lewa assured. Kopaka smiled. "That's enough, I think." After a few moments of peaceful silence, he continued: "So... what do you want, Lewa? Once this is all done." "After we defeat Makuta and the island is made whole again? Hmm..." He hadn't put much thought into this. There had been so many immediate problems to deal with over the past several months; indeed, since his first arrival on Okoto, that he hadn't found it necessary to plan that far ahead. "Suppose I'd have to find something to keep myself busy. I could... do tours." "Tours?" "Like this one." He gestured to the jungle around them. "Who better to give you a guided tour of the landscape than the Uniter of Jungle himself?" he said with a laugh. "Maybe I could even take a villager or two to the skies with me. I could take my own brand of freedom and share it with whoever would like to enjoy it with me." "And this would make you happy?" "I think it could. If I am enjoying myself and also bringing happiness to others, then yes. And I could always try other things too. Why just stick with one? Maybe I could get into cartography. Few can see the island from the perspective I can." "If Tahu were here, he'd have something to say about that," Kopaka chuckled. "Which is why we left him at the docks," Lewa acknowledged. "He's stuck doing work while you and I get the relaxing task of walking in nature. Well, relatively relaxing I suppose." Lewa looked through the trees and spotted a waterfall in the distance, almost completely blocked by trunks. A deep part of him wanted to spring to it at quickly as he could, to fully gaze upon its beauty and be refreshed by it, but another part of him wondered how many places a beast or Umarak himself could be hiding between where he stood and where the water stopped its fall. How many shadows that a hunter could pop out of... "I'm glad for this walk, Kopaka," Lewa said. "It's reminded me why we fight." He looked the Toa of Ice firmly in the eye. "We fight and protect the villagers, and I am proud and happy to do so. I would never abandon my duty. But I fight so that, in the end, the villagers don't need us. They can walk the woods, enjoy waterfalls, do all the things they want to do, and do them without fear. That's what I truly want for them." ++++++++ Tahu stood next to Gali on a dock, watching the Espian trade ship pull into harbor. Strange beings that wore no armor scurried across the deck of the distant ship. Tahu wasn't sure whether to be fascinated or revolted by the sight. He decided he could find something in the middle. "What was on this one again?" he asked. "Mostly more building materials," Gali said, looking over a manifest that had been sent in advance. "Cut stones and metal fixtures. Also some of their finer foods." "I trust we will be taking only the materials," Tahu said. Gali looked sidelong at him. "You don't think the villagers would enjoy the food?" "I don't think they need the food. We have enough as it is. We should be spending our resources on things we don't already have, things we need. The villagers can have their luxuries when the danger has passed." Gali nodded and discretely hid the page that recorded her agreement to trade several fine pearls she had found underwater for a few packages of sweet litimato bread, an Espian delicacy. "And how goes the building?" she asked. "It goes well," Tahu said. "Onua and Pohatu have the made the process surprisingly easy. Pohatu is able to lift stones that would be impossible for the villagers' makeshift cranes to carry, and Onua is able to test for stability. Even Ketar and Terak pitched in by helping carry materials." Talk of the others' creatures made him wonder where his own had gotten off to. He quickly spotted Ikir sitting on a dock post, looking out to sea. The creature seemed to be eyeing fish that were surfacing in the water, but he seemed hesitant. He still doesn't like the water... He shook his head, laughing internally, and continued: "The City should be fully fortified by the end of the month. From there, we can start branching out to the old settlements again. Maybe even reclaim some of the fallen Regional cities." "And what of them when this is over? Will Okoto still need its walls?" "Don't know. Maybe someday, there will be another attack from outside the island. If that happens, having more defenses won't hurt." Gali hummed and looked out to sea. She spotted a few villagers out on the waves, surfing on boards they themselves had crafted. Oh, to be out there with them... Tahu chuckled. "Surfing on water..." he said. "It pales in comparison to the Fire Region's lava surfing. Have you seen it?" "I have," Gali said with a smirk. "It looks slow and dangerous." "That's the fun of it," Tahu said. "And it's not slow. If you can find a good tunnel, the lava flows as swiftly as any sea wave. And you should see the boards... Some of them even rival my old board. You know, before all the new gear." "Do you even know how to surf?" Gali asked. "What's a fancy board with no skill in its rider?" "Well..." Tahu shrugged. "Not exactly. I bet you don't either, though." He nudged her playfully. "I bet Enirr could teach me. They say she's the best on the island. And if I become skilled at lava surfing, just imagine how good I'd be on water." "I'd like to see you try," Gali said. "I suppose we'll both have to train hard once this dark business has passed. And when the time comes..." "An epic showdown," Tahu said. "You're on!" He bumped fists with Gali, sealing their pact of competitive camaraderie. They sat there for a while, watching as the boat was unloaded, the sun setting slowly behind it. "I traded for some litimato bread," Gali said. She looked at Tahu, waiting for his reaction. Would he truly be angry? After a moment, he looked at her and grinned. "Well, I hope you're willing to share." ++++++++ "Ready for a lunch break, Pohatu?" Onua called. Pohatu did not reply. He was far too busy using his elemental abilities to nudge a stone in the wall to that it fit in perfectly with the stones around it. It had to be perfect, flush with every other piece... "Pohatu!" "Quiet," he murmured. "I've almost got it..." He kept his eyes trained on the stone above, willing it into place. His fingertips glowed with elemental energy as he reached out to the stone block, picturing where it should be, and pushing... There! With the barest whisper of sound, the stone slid into the perfect place. One could hardly even tell that it wasn't part of a larger, single block. Onua clapped slowly. "Well done, Toa of Perfectionism," he chuckled. "Now, if you're quite finished, I'm starving." His concentration broken, Pohatu now noticed how hungry he was as well. "Sorry," he said, not truly sorry at all. "I was so wrapped in the work..." "No time for explanations, only eating!" The Toa of Earth hurried him along to the lunch tent. This one had been specially constructed with longer than usual poles to accommodate the Toa's increased height. Under shelter from the sun, they found a table with bread, fruit, and meat on it. Simple fare, but nourishing nonetheless. Pohatu was rarely so grateful for food. He felt Ketar nudging against him. "Not for you," Pohatu said, holding away his piece of fruit. "We'll find something more suitable for you later." He turned to find Onua finished feeding a slab of meat to Terak, the creature's clawed paws stuffing his face. Well then... He idly tossed the fruit to Ketar, who snatched it out of the air. He seemed to chew slowly, savoring the taste, as if he knew this was a rare treat, an exception made out of mild guilt. Ketar didn't mind, for it was delicious. "Can't wait for this business to be over," Onua mumbled, working on preparing himself some food. "All this working in the sun is a nightmare! I think perhaps there is a reason that we with black armor were meant to be underground..." Pohatu hummed as he got his food. "Do you miss your Region?" Onua gave him a curious look. "Well, of course. As I'm sure you miss yours." "Do we really, though?" Pohatu sat next to the Toa of Earth. "We only lived in them for what, a month? A month and a half? And we were so busy dealing with skull spiders and raiders that we hardly had a chance to get to know the place. Can we truly become attached to them without spending time with them?" Onua chewed and thought. "Perhaps," he mused, "it's not about whether we know them. It's more like... we're a part of them." When Pohatu said nothing, he continued. "I'm not sure if you feel the same, but when I was in the Region of Earth, I felt... at home. That's the only way I can think to describe it. It was the place where I belonged, the place of my element. Like you said, I didn't spend much time there, didn't really get to explore or anything. But I talked to the villagers. I talked to Korgot, our Protector. I fought beside them against the spiders. Those experiences... they mean something, Pohatu. I may not be as familiar with my Region as the natives, and it may not be a traditional care, but I do care. It became my home." Pohatu nodded. "Lucky," he said. "In my Region... I don't know what it was, but it never really felt like home. What was different...?" Onua leaned towards his brother. "Pohatu," he said. "You and I are not the same. You are allowed to have different experiences than I have had." "But I wish that I felt as you did," said the Toa of Stone. "You say you miss the Region of Earth. You have a passion for it, to return and save it from the shadow. But me... If I'm totally honest, I don't feel that way for the Region of Stone. Not beyond the obligatory sense of it. I feel like if I could just have had more time there, maybe it could've been home." Onua patted his shoulder. "That time will come, brother. When all this business with Makuta is finished, we can return to our Regions and settle in. You can explore, play, build, do everything you want to in your Region. It is of your element. Surely you will hear its call eventually." Pohatu picked up and eyed a fruit from his plate. "You know, I recognize this one. An utuyote. Native to the Stone Region, grows underground for some reason..." Onua punched him in the shoulder. "We'll get a love for your Region out of you yet." Pohatu grinned, split the fruit, and gave half of it to Ketar (who practically danced around with joy at his second helping). "You're going to spoil him if you keep tha--" Onua stopped as he was nudged by Terak. The creature looked expectant. Onua sighed. "Now look what you've made me do." The Toa of earth tossed another bit of meat down to Terak. "I'm tempted to give that wall an earthquake and nudge your little stone out of place again." Pohatu laughed and hoped that he was joking. ++++++++ Narmoto closed the door to Ekimu's forge gently as he stepped inside. Had he not been as acclimatized to heat as he was, he might have found the place unbearable. The Mask Maker appeared hard at work, but he could not put this off any longer. "Ekimu," he called. The Mask Maker turned to face him. "Ah, Narmoto!" he said. "Just in time. Come, help me with this. Crank that handle there. Yes, a bit more... stop! Did it get too hot...? No no, it's perfect. Aha!" Using long grabbers, he pulled a glowing hot mask from the forge. "A fine Mask of Strength this shall be. Quite popular in Derakan, I am told." "Ekimu," Narmoto said again, tone hardening. "We need to talk." Ekimu hesitated before setting aside the new Mask. "Of course," he said. "What is the matter?" "You have not told the Toa everything," the Protector of Fire said. "Regarding their destiny." Ekimu sighed. "It is better that they don't know for now. When the time comes, all will be revealed, I assure you." "You would let them continue living a lie? Even now, the Toa discuss what life will be like for them when this is finished. And surely we are close to the end now. When will you tell them that nothing awaits them at journey's end?" "We don't know that," Ekimu snapped. "Perhaps the line about the stars is... metaphorical." "Even so," Narmoto said, "the Toa have done much for us. They deserve the truth. It is the least we can offer them." Ekimu eyes hardened. "You want them to know the truth?" he said. "Go on. Go out and tell them. Tell Tahu that he won't be able to participate in the lava surfing competitions. Tell Pohatu he will never learn to carve. Tell Gali that she will never be able to explore the depths of the sea. Tell them all that the only thing that awaits them after they defeat Makuta is the cold blackness of space." Narmoto said nothing. "As I thought," Ekimu harumphed. "And who knows? If the Toa knew such things, they may lose heart." "I think you underestimate their spirit," Narmoto said. "I think it isn't worth the risk. I will wait to tell them until the outcome is decided regardless of their whether they know what is coming. That way, the prophecy will be fulfilled, Makuta will be defeated, and then Okoto will be safe again." Narmoto harumphed and readjusted his cloak, making to head for the exit. "Wise you may be, Mask Maker, but I think that of honor, you still have much to learn." "Honor will not save us, Narmoto," Ekimu called as the Protector of Fire opened the door. "You would trade the security of their success for such a simple thing as the truth?" Narmoto gave the Mask Maker one last look. "In the blink of an eye." And he slammed the door shut. ------------------------------------------ Whew, I think I made it in time. This was fun to write. I've never done something quite like it, with not much in terms of plot, just a lot of dialogue. I hope it achieved the effect I was going for. And yes, this obviously diverges from the canon in that there is a large gap of time between when the Toa lose the Mask of Control to Umarak and when Umarak starts openly ransacking everything as in the latter half of JtO. I liked the idea of the Toa having some downtime and this seemed like a good place to put it. Anyways, let me know what you thought! I always love to hear from readers. And if you don't feel like commenting, just having read the story is enough for me. Thanks!
  13. Another one! This story is the longest one yet and is definitely the shakiest so far, as I feel I took a lot of liberties here (you'll see what I mean). It was also the hardest to write; I'm still not sure I got the emotion right here. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it! -------------------------------------- Ga-Wahi, ~11 months before Mata Nui's reawakening. Hahli shoved desperately at the crowd of gathered Matoran that stood at the entrance to the mining shaft in Ga-Wahi. She had been waiting for Toa Onua to resurface for nearly two days now, anxious for him to return with news of her lost friend, Kuni. The Ga-Matoran had gone missing three days past on a trip to visit Le-Wahi. She had been last seen near this spot, and it was assumed that she had mistaken this mine for a tunnel leading to her destination. Onua had been told of the issue, and he ventured below the surface of Mata Nui, swearing not to return until he had located and rescued Kuni. Hahli had just gotten word that he was nearing the surface once again. "Move!" Hahli said, miffed that these Matoran from other parts of the island were barring her from witnessing the return of her friend. She finally burst to the front of the crowd, leaving grumbling villagers in her wake. She saw Toa Gali standing not too far off. "Toa Gali! What news?" Gali gave her a surprised look behind her gleaming golden mask, but said, "Nothing beyond the fact that my brother is nearing the exit. He should be here any moment." "And he has Kuni?" Hahli inquired. "I believe so," the Toa of water said with a smile. "The message he sent seemed to indicate that he did find her." Hahli breathed a sigh of relief. Her friend was safe, and she could relax. In mere moments, she would be reunited, and life would go back to normal. She could stop worrying... The crowd began to murmur as a black figure emerged from the earthen tunnel. Toa Onua carried another motionless, blue figure in his powerful arms. Hahli rushed to meet him. "Kuni!" she cried. "Is she all right?" Onua shook his head. "I..." he hesitated. "I am not sure, little one. We must get her to the Turaga immediately. Something is wrong, I think." "What?" Hahli said, her worry growing. "What's wrong?" "She has been groaning the whole way back, ever since I found her unconscious underground. I don't know what ails her exactly, but there is certainly something... dark in her presence." Gali approached the two of them. "I'll take it from here, brother. Rest from your task." She moved to take Kuni from his arms. When he recoiled slightly, she urged, "You must rest, Onua. You have been at this for nearly three days. Please, let me." Onua's shoulders slumped. "I... You are right, sister." He gently exchanged his precious cargo to Gali's arms. "I suppose I feel as though I am failing her somehow by not seeing her all the way to safety." "You promised to return her to the surface, Onua," Gali said. "In that, you have succeeded, and we are all grateful. I will be sure to tell you about her recovery." Onua nodded and moved aside to take his rest. "Hahli?" Gali said, looking to the Ga-Matoran. "Let us return swiftly to Ga-Koro." "Of course," Hahli said. She ran to keep up with the Toa of water, the pair of them moving through the crowd with ease as it parted before them. It took a full sprint for her to keep up with Gali's gentle jog. Within the hour, they had reached Ga-Koro and were approaching Nokama's hut. "Turaga Nokama!" Gali called from outside. "We have someone who requires your attention!" A moment later, the green door of the hut swung open and Nokama stepped out into the sun. "What is it, Toa of water?" she asked, leaning on her trident. "Is something wrong?" "It is Kuni, Turaga," Gali answered, kneeling down and cradling the Matoran's head in her arms. "She is the one who was lost a few days ago. Onua returned to the surface with her not an hour ago, but something is wrong." "How so?" Nokama asked, moving to look at Kuni's near motionless form. "She has not woken since Onua found her, and she moans in her sleep," Gali explained. "We fear something dark has come upon her." Nokama drew close, examining Kuni closely. "I see..." she mused. "Bring her inside. I must take a closer look." The trio stepped inside Nokama's hut and Gali gently let Kuni down on one of the extra beds in the room. The unconscious Ga-Matoran groaned and twisted on the bed. Hahli had never felt so uncomfortable as she did now, seeing her friend so clearly in pain. "If what I suspect is true, Kuni may be in a very grave condition indeed," Nokama said. "But to see for sure, I must remove her mask." "Are you sure?" Hahli asked. "Wouldn't that just make her weaker?" "Yes," Nokama said apologetically, "but it is the only way to prove my suspicions." Hahli nodded, trusting her Turaga. Nokama wrapped her fingers around the edges of Kuni's Kanohi Pakari and gently peeled it up from her head. Underneath lay Kuni's face, a mix of organic material and armor... and it is was stained a deep black. It started at the center and fanned outwards, even dipping into her eyes. Nokama's eyes closed at the sight, and she gave a sad moan. "What... what is this, Turaga?" Gali said. "I fear she is touched by shadow," Nokama sad, replacing Kuni's mask. "Makuta's darkness has corrupted her. We thought we had rid the island of the creatures that are capable of doing this..." "Turaga, doesn't the shadow usually appear in the mask?" Gali asked. "It does," Nokama answered, "but under the right circumstances, it can seep beyond the mask and into the body, making its effects permanent." "But she can be healed, right?" Hahli said. "There's a cure? What can I do for her?" "I'm sorry, Hahli," Nokama said, leaning heavily on her trident. "I can soothe her, perhaps bring back her mind for a while. But eventually, she will be lost. Makuta's shadow will corrupt her, just as it did the Rahi." The Rahi... No. That was impossible... Hahli couldn't imagine that happening to another Matoran. Rahi were simple beasts, easily manipulated. Surely a being as strong as Kuni would not fall so easily. But if Turaga Nokama, the most experienced healer on the island, said nothing could be done... "Take her to her hut," Nokama said. "Make her comfortable. I will visit her after I gather some supplies." As Gali picked up Kuni and exited the hut and Nokama moved to begin preparing her healing items, Hahli would not move. Her fists clenched and her eyes closed. "I can't just give up on her!" she said, louder than he had intended. Nokama's shoulder dipped and she turned to face Hahli. "Not like you. I can try, I can look for a way to save her!" "Hahli..." Nokama said soothingly. "I am very sorry about all this. I want the best for Kuni, but I have so rarely seen this condition. My experience and knowledge are limited, and the only thing I know to do is to make her passage easy." Passage. "Is there anything I can look for, anyone I can talk to, something to do to make it better?" Hahli said, on the verge of tears. Nokama laid a hand on the Matoran's shoulder. "Be there for her. She needs you now, more than ever. Really, you should be proud of her. When a Rahi is overtaken by shadow, its mind is turned almost instantly. Even mighty Toa Lewa found it difficult to resist the corruption. But Kuni... Kuni fights. Had her mind already been lost, she would not be so docile. Yes, she is in pain... but she is not lost. It is her way of fighting the Makuta." Hahli gave something between a small laugh and a sob, and wiped at her eyes. "I see. Well... I suppose I will go help prepare the hut." With a grim heart, she took her leave. -------------------------------------- Hahli rapped on the door to Kuni's hut. "Come in," came Nokama's voice from inside. "How is—" Hahli's words broke off as she looked at her friend and saw her eyes open and alive. She ran to her and embraced her. "You're awake!" "Careful, Hahli," Nokama chided gently, smiling on them. "Kuni is much stronger, but she still needs her rest." "It's good to see you too, Hahli," Kuni said with a weak smile as Hahli backed away. Hahli grinned broadly and wiped at her eyes. It was so strange... To look at Kuni now, one could hardly notice her... illness. It lay buried, hidden beneath her Kanohi. "I was so worried," Hahli said. "I... I wasn't sure you'd wake up. I thought you might be gone..." Kuni gave a wry grin. "Can't get rid of me that easily," she said. Nokama turned to the bedside table and tucked a few of her healing items in her leaf bag. "I will leave you two to talk," she said. "Don't be too long, Hahli." Hahli took a seat on a bamboo chair beside the bed as Nokama left. "What happened to you?" Hahli asked. "Down below?" "I... I can't remember a lot of it," Kuni said. "Or maybe it just feels short. I took a wrong turn and slipped down a steep, smooth surface. There was no light at the bottom... Thankfully, I'd thought to bring a lightstone with me. I lit it, but it seemed feeble somehow. The darkness of the cavern I'd come to was... oppressive. Deep." "Is that where you were when Onua found you?" Hahli asked. Kuni laughed and shook her head. "I'm not so smart as to stay in one place. I explored. There were a few other tunnels that branched off of the place I was in. I wanted to find a way out, to free myself. Of course, that didn't work. I only got more lost. And then... then I saw a creature." Hahli's stomach tightened. "A... a creature?" "Not one I'd ever seen before," Kuni explained. "Small, sluggish. Purple and black, I think." "Doesn't sound familiar." "It was weird... and disgusting. Left a gross trail of slime everywhere it moved. I remember I went to look more closely at it, trying to figure out what it was, what it was like, then... something hit me." Kuni visibly shivered at the memory. "It wasn't like getting punched or something. It didn't really have impact on my body, but I felt it... in my mind." Kuni paused, letting the information set. After a moment, Hahli asked, "What then?" "I don't know," Kuni shrugged. "That's the last thing I remember before waking up to Nokama tending to me a few minutes ago. She explained everything that happened since I got lost." "What a strange tale," Hahli said, her eyes falling to the floor. "You know, it was funny..." Kuni chuckled. "While I was lost, there was one thought I kept coming back too: 'I'm going to miss Hahli's kohlii game.'" "Aw, you don't need to worry about that. You know I'm not very good." Kuni gave her that grin again. "Oh, I know that. But I know you can be. I want to be there for you, see you play. You'll be great one day, I know it. Maybe even a champion." Hahli chuckled. "That'll be the day. And you know what I just thought of? This is just like that time when I was sick a couple hundred years ago, and you took care of me." "Yeah... except now, I'm the one stuck in a bed. I liked the previous arrangement better. Come to think of it... why am I here? I don't feel that bad. Tired, but not exactly... ill." She doesn't know. "Nokama hasn't said anything?" Hahli said, trying to keep her voice from cracking with resurgent sadness. "Nothing," Kuni said with a shake of her head. "Only that I need to rest, stay in bed. Nokama is usually so forward with me, but she hasn't said anything about my condition. Do you know why they're keeping me here?" Hahli was silent, debating with herself. If I tell her, wouldn't she be crushed? The knowledge that she is corrupted with Makuta's shadow... I don't think I could bearing knowing if I was in her position. On the other hand, to let her go on without knowing what will happen to her, for me to keep it from her... it doesn't feel right. "I... I do," Hahli said, struggling with the words. "Well, what is it?" Kuni asked, seemingly oblivious to the conflict in her friend. "The Turaga said that... that you've been infected..." "Infected? With what, a poison?" "I wish it were so simple," Hahli said. "Nokama said... you have been touched by Makuta's darkness." Kuni was silent for a long while. She barely breathed, not looking at Hahli. At length, she spoke again. "So... is it like the Rahi we have fought with all these years?" "Yes," Hahli said, choking back a sob. "So Nokama has said." "Why can't I feel it? Why doesn't my mask look different?" Kuni sat up straighter in bed, looking at her reflection in a mirror on her wall. "It's deeper than that. The corruption sank through your mask, into your body. It... it's permanent now." Kuni's eyes closed and she exhaled heavily. "So I am lost, then." "Don't say that," Hahli said. "Nokama said you were strong, that the only reason you were still with us was that you were fighting the darkness. Maybe you can make it, you can beat this..." Kuni shook her head. "I think... I think I kind of already knew. When I was asleep, I remember having... strange dreams. Dark dreams. Creatures in shadow, voices in the night. Even now, if I think about it, I think I can feel something. Something pushing at the back of my mind..." Her hands came to her head, cradling it. "I... I'm scared, Hahli." Hahli stood and moved to her friend. "I am too. I..." She grabbed one of her friend's hands. "I wish there was something I could do. If there's anything you need, anything you think will make it better, I'll do it, I'll get it for you." Kuni gave a sad laugh. "Thank you. I don't know that there's anything I can do to make it better. Just... promise me you'll take me to your game." Hahli smiled and gave Kuni's hand a squeeze. "Sure," she said with a smile. "We'll get you there." "All right," Kuni said, letting go of Hahli and lying back. "I'm getting tired again... All your drama is wearing me out." "Fine, I'll get out of here," Hahli said. "Rest up, and get better." "I'll do my best," Kuni said. Hahli moved to exit the tent, but Kuni said, "Thank you again, by the way. For telling me. I'm glad that, even if this shadow takes me, I knew about it. I go with the dignity of... facing my enemy, I suppose. Thanks to you, Hahli." Hahli nodded. "Anything for you." -------------------------------------- The days went by, and Kuni's condition worsened. It was not a surprise to Hahli, but it hurt all the same. Kuni continued to be bedridden, and Turaga Nokama kept paying her daily visits with simple healing treatments, meant only to provide comfort. Hahli continued to feel afraid, anxious, angry, and helpless. One of her best friends on Mata Nui was dying, or perhaps worse, having her mind being stolen by the Makuta. And there was not a single thing she could do about it, or even think to try. Hahli was awakened one night by a horrible screaming, a desperate cry from another hut. She rushed from her bed out into the cool Ga-Wahi night, the sea breeze brushing her mask. The screams did not stop, but she saw no signs of an emergency. Her tired mind took a moment to connect things. Kuni! She ran as fast as she could to Kuni's hut, and screams grew louder. Other Matoran were beginning to rise as well, peeking out of their doors and windows to see what was the matter. Some asked her if she knew anything, but Hahli just kept running. Finally, she burst through the door of Kuni's hut to find her friend writhing on her bed, hands on mask, screaming her lungs out. Hahli had never heard such a terrible sound in her life. She started to move to try to help Kuni, but then she spoke. "The voices!" Kuni cried. "Oh, the voices...! He is here, in here in here!" Her hands pounded on her mask. "Makeitstopmakeitstopmakestop!" Hahli ran then; there was nothing she could think to do but find help. "Nokama!" she yelled. "Toa Gali! Please help!" Footsteps behind her signaled an arrival, and she turned to find the Toa of water approaching. "What is it, little one?" she asked. "Who shouts?" "It's Kuni," Hahli said breathlessly. "She's... she's screaming, speaking horrible things, and thrashing in her bed." "Take me to her," Gali said, grim determination on her mask. Hahli ran, leading her back to her friend's hut. The pair entered again and Gali knelt beside Kuni. Kuni did not stop her thrashing in the slightest; she didn't seem to be aware that either of them were there. Gali summoned a large oval of water from thin air, large enough to envelop Kuni's entire body. She gently lowered it onto her, leaving room around her face to breathe. Light gleamed as Gali poured pure elemental energy into Kuni in a desperate attempt to stave off the darkness, to calm her mind. Slowly, Kuni did calm. She still twitched within Gali's bed of water, but the screaming had ceased. "Th-thank you, Toa Gali," Hahli stammered. "I... I didn't know what to do for her." "It is all right," Gali said, looking at her over her shoulder. "I am glad to help, no matter the hour or the situation." Her eyes turned downward. "I only wish I could do more for her." So do I, Hahli thought. And still I wonder, can it get worse than this? -------------------------------------- They decided to keep Kuni strapped to her bed; this way, if she had another fit like last time, she would not thrash about and harm herself. She lay calmly in her bed most of the time, simply sleeping. Nokama still tended to her, and Hahli still visited her every day. Kuni seemed to have less stamina each time, ending their talks sooner with every visit. Hahli's feelings of anxiety deepened until things came to a head on the tenth day after Kuni's return. Hahli had been helping Marka construct a new fishing boat when she heard a commotion from within the village. Matoran were gathering, and Hahli could hear crashes. The rustle of conversation turned to shouts. Kuni? Hahli set the rope coil she had been working with around her shoulder and ran into the village, pushing through the crowd in time to see that Kuni's hut was indeed the center of attention. Turaga Nokama suddenly came crashing through the door, rolling on the ground. Hahli rushed to her side. "Are you all right, Turaga?" she asked, helping the elder to stand. "Do not worry about me," Nokama said, voice strained. "Worry about her." Hahli followed the Turaga's eyes into the hut, where a lone figure just inside the doorway. Hahli stood slowly. "Kuni?" she said. The figure gave a wicked grin that Hahli could barely see. "Kuni is gone," it said. The being that was once Kuni flew out of the hut, running straight for Hahli. She dodged the blow just in time, rolling out of the way and instinctually pulling a disk from her pack as she rose. The crowd of gathered Matoran began to scream and disperse. The village's warning horns sounded. "Kuni, stop!" Hahli shouted. "Get a hold of yourself!" Is her mind lost? Has it finally happened? Kuni stood now at the edge of the floating platform, staring off at the waters of Naho Bay. She looked back at Hahli, and she hardly recognized her friend. Kuni's eyes were full of hatred and... was that fear? Without saying a word, Kuni ran away from Hahli, headed for the fleeing Matoran. Hahli gave chase. Kuni caught up quickly with the runners, seeming to run unnaturally fast. She tackled the first Matoran she came in contact with and wrestled her to the ground. Her victim screamed, begging for her to stop, for someone to help. She continued to struggle and whimpered as Kuni's fingers roughly grasped the edges of her Kanohi. Hahli readied her disk. "Kuni, stop this!" But Kuni did not stop. Kuni continued to pull at the downed villager's mask, but the villager struggled to keep it on. If that came off, she would be completely helpless... This is not my friend, Hahli thought as she drew her arm back to throw her disk. Don't think of her as Kuni. She is the enemy. Right? Hahli flung her arm forward, letting the disk fly with all her strength. As Kuni raised her arm to strike at the villager's head, the disk struck home, knocking Kuni's own mask askew. She reeled from the blow, falling to the ground and cradling her face. Thinking quickly, Hahli grabbed the rope from around her body and ran at the fallen Kuni. She took one end of the rope and started wrapping it around her friend, securing her arms and legs, before finally pulling it tight and knotting it. She stepped back, watching Kuni writhe on the ground, unable to move a limb. She suddenly stopped, looking to Hahli. The anger in her eyes slowly dissolved, only to be replaced with what seemed to be... smugness. Kuni laughed, a deep and unnatural sound. "I told you," she said. "Kuni is gone. Now, there are only shadows." Hahli saw the words come from Kuni, but they were clearly not of her. Makuta... "I don't believe you," Hahli said, breathing heavily. "She fights you. This is just... temporary." "I admit, she did put up quite a struggle," the shadow said. "It does not usually take this long for me to gain control. It was really only sealed moments ago, but my control was not strong enough to direct her fully. She knew my heart, though, and attacked her fellows. Not what I would have had her do, but it was entertaining enough." Hahli gaped in horror, and the Makuta laughed. That laugh would haunt her for hours to come. -------------------------------------- Hahli lay on her bed, staring at the ceiling. It had been a day since the incident with Kuni, who had now been placed in an improvised cage, a cell to keep her contained. Her body remained tied, and she sat in silence, staring at any who passed. It was unnerving, and some said they wanted her out of the village. Is that the answer? Hahli wondered. To simply toss her out? But wasn't that the fate they had been trying to save Kuni from in the first place? A knock came at the door. Hahli jerked in surprise, then sluggishly rose and moved to open it to reveal Marka. "Hey, Hahli," Marka said. "How're you holding up?" Hahli shrugged. "Fine," she answered. Marka cleared her throat. "I was wondering if you would come down to the dock, to help me finish that boat we were working on? Everyone else is busy." Work? Yes, work. That was what Matoran did during the day. But... "I don't think I feel up to it right now," Hahli said. "Thanks for offer, though." Marka seemed to deflate. "Oh, all right. Um, I'll see you later then." Hahli returned to her bed. Several more visitors came as the day went by, each with some offer for her. Nixie invited her to gaze at the sky. "No thank you." "You need to do something, Hahli. Kuni wouldn't just want you to sit around." Kai offered a leisurely boat ride. "Thanks, but I have things to do." "Mmm, all right then. I really am sorry, Hahli." Maku asked if she would help her practice kohlii. "I don't really feel like it right now." "You don't think I feel it too? She wasn't just your friend, Hahli. We all feel it. At least I'm trying to do something with myself." One by one they came and each was turned down. Hahli continued to lay and stare. With the final knock, her pent up emotions burst forth. She stormed to the door, and opened it saying, "What do you—?!" She stopped short upon seeing her visitor. "Jala? Why... what brings you here?" "Turaga Nokama summoned the Guard," the Ta-Matoran answered. "She just wants some of us to keep an eye on your friend for a bit, make sure things are safe here." Hahli nodded. "I see. Well, I hope your stay goes well. Now, I, um... I have things to do." She began to close the door, but Jala caught it. "No you don't," he said, gently reopening the door. "I've heard the others talking. You haven't done anything. You just sit in your room all day. You don't get out, you don't say much." "I'm just tired, Jala," Hahli said. "Now please, just go on." "They're worried about you, Hahli," Jala said. He laid a hand on hers. "I'm worried. I know you're losing someone dear to you, and... I'm sorry. I want to help you." "I don't want to talk about it," Hahli said, anger rising again. Even towards Jala? He was one of her best friends. This wasn't normal... Jala backed away and nodded. "I understand. If you need anything, I'll be around. And... I know it's odd, but I want you to have this." He reached into his pack and pulled out a small retractable knife, the kind he often used himself, and offered it to Hahli. "What is—?" she began, then realized his intentions. "Jala, no. I can't..." "It may not be safe, Hahli. I know it's hard, but please... we don't know what might happen. We've lost one of you to him; don't let us lose two." Hahli's sighed in resignation. Without a word, she took the knife and closed the door. Hahli lay awake on her bed that night, eyes open, but unseeing. The endless swirl of thoughts still churned in her mind, never ceasing, never letting her get any rest. The knocks had stopped coming after Jala's visit. For that, she was glad. No more distractions... Something crashed outside her hut. Hahli's eyes glanced around nervously, landing on the knife Jala had given her. It lay on her bedside table, glinting in the moonlight that came in through her window. No, she thought. It's probably nothing. Just the wind, maybe a Rahi. If it comes in here, I can protect myself. A dull groan followed by a snap came next. Hahli sluggishly moved out of bed and moved to her door. She opened it slowly. What—? Something slammed against the door, knocking Hahli back. She sprawled on the ground, catching herself with her hands. The thick leaf floor bounced with the impact. A figure slipped calmly inside the door and closed it. "It's kind of pathetic, really," the thing said. Kuni? No. Makuta. "You put me in a cage, but you think I'm powerless?" It laughed. "You forget what I can do. One blow from one of my tarakava, and it was simple to get out. So kind of you all to leave the cage so near the water." "What do you want?" Hahli said, rising carefully to her feet. "Not much," Makuta said through Kuni. "Mostly for you Matoran to stop meddling. Why can't you just stay where you are, where you belong? What is there for you below ground..." "That was a mistake!" Hahli said. "Kuni never meant to go there, let alone find you. It was a harmless mistake." Makuta chuckled. "Even so, why should I pass up such a golden opportunity to spread chaos? Perhaps end an existence... or two." It came for Hahli then, hands reaching for her neck. She caught them with her own, struggling to grapple with her attacker. "Kuni, stop!" she cried in desperation. More chuckles. It pulled back, breaking Hahli's grip, then came rushing back in a crouch. It tackled Hahli's midriff, and kept running. Such strength! It ran with Hahli over its shoulder and slammed into the wall. Hahli lay slumped against the wall of her hut, disoriented from the impact. The thing stood over her. "Part of me regrets this, Hahli," it said. "Needless loss of life and all that. But just imagine the kind of statement this will make! Matoran lost to shadow, kills her old friend. Imagine the horror, the fear... Yes, that would keep you all docile, wouldn't it?" A fist came down on Hahli's head. She grunted in pain and threw up her hands to ward off further blows. "Help..." she said weakly. She tried to move away, to reach the door, to escape. "Is that all you have left?" Makuta said, grabbing Hahli by the throat and lifting her up. Hahli could see the eyes in the moonlight now. Green. Kuni's eyes. But they were filled with hate once more, with malice. Such emotions never dared to reach Kuni's eyes. She is gone. "Go on, little Matoran," Makuta said through Kuni's mouth. "Cry for help, see if anyone comes. Or at least try." The grip tightened, and Hahli found herself gasping for air, hands clawing at the one that held her, seeking release. And she did try. Pitiful attempts at forming words were all that she managed. Hoarse squeaks that would have been inaudible outside of the hut. Is this how it ends? she thought. Slain by the hand of my friend, an instrument of fear for the Makuta... Mata Nui, how can this be? Her eyes flitted madly about the room, searching for something, anything to get her out of this. Moonlight was still streaming in through the window. It glimmered on something near. The knife. No... Hahli reached out a hand and grasped the handle. Not like this... She hit the button and extended the blade. Her lungs begged for air. Forgive me. Before Makuta could realize what was happening, Hahli shoved the blade into her attacker's chest. The eyes went wide in pain and shock, and Hahli could not help but see her friend's pain in them. Then a primal yell, louder than anything she had heard before, escaped its mouth, forcing Hahli to cover her ears as she was released. The scream was terrifying, but Hahli thought she could hear another sound, a softer voice within its depths. Makuta staggered back, staring at the knife in its chest. Hahli thought she could see something dark and wispy leaking from the wound. Makuta ripped the knife free. It growled, then screamed again, this time in rage as it lurched toward Hahli. Its energy seemed to give way halfway through the motion, though, and it stumbled toward her, arms falling low. Hahli caught the falling form, still wary. The trail of darkness vanished from Kuni's body. The body lay still for a moment, and Hahli was unsure of what to do, what to feel. She felt Kuni's head stir gently on her shoulder. Her head lifted just enough so that their eyes could meet. Kuni's eyes were empty of the rage that filled them only moments before. This was... her. The Makuta's presence was gone. "Kuni," Hahli said. Had her friend come back, only to die in her arms?! "Kuni, no, I'm so—" "No," Kuni said weakly, eyes drooping. "Do not be sorry. Thank you." Kuni's eyes closed. Hahli held her limp body close as the door burst open and Matoran peeked in, curious to see what the noise had been all about. Hushed murmurs filled the air as they saw Hahli cradling the now-lifeless body of her best friend. -------------------------------------- Hahli sat on the beach, several kio away from Ga-Koro. She stopped weaving her ropes for a moment to look out at the sea, at the waves rolling in. The tide was coming in. She heard footsteps from behind and looked to find Jala approaching. "The others said you wanted to be alone," he said, "but I had to come see you. I had to be sure... sure you were okay." "So what if I am or not?" Hahli said, returning to her weaving. "What would you do for me?" Jala was silent for a moment. "I don't know," he sighed. Hahli stood and faced him. "That's right," she said, tears threatening to rise again. "You can't help me. No one can. She's gone. And I killed her..." Hahli broke down then, falling forward. Jala caught her, and he held her, and it all came out. Stories of before, of the centuries Hahli had spent being friends with Kuni, the things they did together. Then the full tale of how this had all come to be; Kuni going missing, then found again, only to be irreversibly lost. "I'm sorry," Jala said when it was all finished. "I'm so sorry. But you can't stop living. You don't have to forget, you don't ever have to stop missing her. You just have to keep living. She was glad for what you did. She told you herself! What you did for her was... it was the only way for her. Even so... I can't tell you how much I wish it hadn't come to this." Hahli said nothing; she only stood, sobbing. Then she said, "If only I had been stronger. I could have saved her..." "Hahli..." Jala said, taking her chin and bringing her eyes to his. "You did save her. She was beyond healing, but not beyond saving. And you saved her... from a fate worse than death. You freed her, and protected yourself at the same time. You never stopped being a true friend for her, Hahli. You never left her side. Not really. At least remember that." Hahli seemed to relax in Jala's arms. Her sobbing slowed. "Then why does it still hurt so much...?" she whispered. Jala gently pulled away and looked her in the eye. "You know, they're having the remembrance ceremony tonight. The entire village will be there, even Matoran from other villages. We all feel the loss. And even though we've lost someone dear to us, we all know that we don't want to be driven back because of it. You said that Makuta meant for this to drive us back in fear? Well, tonight we'll show him. Show him that what he used to try and make us fearful will instead make us stronger and braver than ever before. We'll never stop fighting, because of people like Kuni. We won't stop fighting, and we won't stop loving each other. We remember and honor her if we keep fighting. If we keep... living." He reached down and took her hand. "Come on. Come back to the village with me. Let's remember her. Together." Hahli nodded and walked with Jala along the beach toward Ga-Koro. They spent the night with the rest of the island, not in mourning, but in celebration of a life well lived. Tales were told of Kuni's life, her adventures on the island, and the things she did for her fellow Matoran. All knew that she had been strong indeed, Hahli most of all. You will always be in my heart, Kuni. Until the very end.
  14. All right everyone, here is another story in my Matoran series, this one (obviously) focusing on Kongu! This one is quite a bit shorter, but I still like it. Let me know what you think -------------------------------------- Le-Koro, ~10 months before Mata Nui's reawakening. "Turaga Matau, Captain Kongu!" Boreas said, dismounting from his Gukko and breathing heavily. "They're here! An ever-large swarm of Nuhvok is headed this way, tearing up the deep-wood as they go!" Matau and Kongu groaned as they stood with Orkahm and Tamaru, Kongu's lieutenants, in the Turaga's hut, planning on what to do in this state of emergency. "How far away?" Kongu asked. "I'd guess they'll arrive in about two hours at the latest," Boreas replied. "They seem to be foot-walking rather slowly..." "Not enough time to loud-call for help," Matau said. "With Toa Lewa long-far from Le-Koro, we are left with few options. Kongu, do you think sending our wind-riders would help?" "No," Kongu replied grimly. "The trees grow ever-thick toward the base; our Gukko wouldn't be able to fast-maneuver well in that area. We are, unforunately, tree-bound." "Perhaps we should simply quick-flee," suggested Orkahm. "If we have no way to hard-defend the village, shouldn't we save ourselves?" "Abandon Le-Koro!?" Kongu said. "I'd just as soon choose to become a slow-thinking Po-Matoran! We are the denizens of ever-lovely Le-Koro; we owe it to her and to the Great Spirit who blessed us with life here to at least try to hard-defend it! After all, what would Toa Lewa do if he were here?" "He would strong-fight," Turaga Matau said, "and so shall we. Kongu, Orkahm, supply your soldiers with the old spears from the armory. Do whatever else you believe will help, and pray that this dark-time shall pass easily..." -------------------------------------- "I've never even held one of these sharp-spears before..." Boreas said, taking the weapon from Kongu with care. Even in the dim light of the Le-Koro armory, it was easy for Kongu to see that Boreas was nervous. "I haven't truly used them in hard-battle, but I've practiced a bit," Kongu said. He spend a few moments showing his fellow Le-Matoran the proper way to hold and handle the spear. Boreas, after getting a feel for the capabilities of the weapons, said, "Oh, what use will these be against ever-hard Bohrok? Even when we have these, they are stronger and have more reach than we will." He dropped the spear and sat down on a small stone seat, mask in his hands. "All true," Kongu replied, "but they don't have the ever-quick mind of a Le-Matoran! We may not be able to overpower them in battle, but we may be able to out-think them. Not to mention that the Nuhvok are not exactly as air-light on their feet as we are." Kongu picked up the fallen spear and held it out to Boreas. "Come. Le-Koro needs you, ever-brave Boreas." Boreas looked up, thoughtful. He nodded, taking the spear from Kongu. "May the wind be ever under your wings," he said, quoting the old Gukko Force adage. With that, Boreas left, heading to join the other Matoran who were preparing to head to the ground where they would face the Nuhvok swarm. Kongu left the armory as well, heading to speak to Turaga Matau once more before the battle began. He was glad that he'dbeen able to give Boreas new hope, but could have never admitted to his friend how right he was. I cannot let dark-despair take us, he thought. If it took hold, we would be defeated before the Bohrok even arrived. Hope will keep us fighting. And if we keep fighting, we may just be able to win. -------------------------------------- "Are you really right-sure we shouldn't just abandon the village?" Orkahm said, standing with the Kongu, Tamaru, and Matauonce more. "I firm-stand by my decision," Kongu said. "It is our duty to defend Le-Koro, so we shall stay." "And if we all die?" Orkahm said, growing visibly upset. "If every bright-happy Matoran life is cut short because you are too ever-proud to surrender? Will you be satisfied?" "Fine!" Kongu retorted. "You want to quick-leave? There's a Gukko bird with your name on it over in the pens. Go ahead, wind-fly away. At least I will not be recorded on the Wall of History as a coward." "Enough!" Turaga Matua said. "I trust Kongu. If he says we can hold against the Bohrok on our own, then I believe we can. Now, the Nuhvok will be upon us soon. Head down-tree, and stand with your brothers! For Le-Ko-!" The elder's words were cut of as a huge boom sounded nearby. He and the Matoran with him looked out of the hut. They watched in horror as one of trees that formed Le-Koro toppled over, sending Rahi birds flying and loose leaves fluttering in the air. "They're here already!" Orkahm said, rushing out. He stood close the edge of the tree's platform, looking down. "Orkahm, be careful!" Kongu shouted. "Don't stand too close to the edge!" "I can't far-see the others," Orkahm said. "Do you think-?" Another loud boom, and the tree they stood on began to shake. The tremors were enough to steal Orkahm's balance and send him over the edge with a chilling scream. There were no vines or Rahi to stop his fall. "We have to get out of here," Tamaru said, heading for the Gukko pens. "We three could still make it out!" "Right..." Kongu said, feeling conflicted. A part of him wanted to head down as quickly as he could to try to help his brothers. But after seeing how quickly and forcefully the Nuhvok had attacked, how much use could he possibly have been? "Hurry, Turaga, before the tree goes way-down!" "I'm going as fleet-fast as I can!" Matau replied, walking their way. "Go saddle the Gukko-bird!" Tamaru complied, saddling the nearest Gukko. The Rahi was clearly nervous, and probably would have been long gone if not for the sturdy rope tied around its neck. "Gukko bird saddled and ready for high-flying!" Tamaru called as he mounted the Rahi. Kongu ran up next to the bird, looking back. "Turaga, we must leave now!" The tree shook violently again and began to tilt even faster. Turaga Matau lost his footing during the tremor and began to slide down the inclined tree surface. He swung quickly, digging into the tree with the sharp teeth of his Kau Kau staff. Kongu barely had to take time to think as he mounted the Gukko, untied it, and quickly flew over to where the Turaga lay. He swung the bird sideways, bringing Tamaru close to the elder. "Grab hold, Turaga!" Kongu cried. He watched in near despair as Matau attempted to reach out and grasp Tamaru's hand. They had just made contact when a final quake rocked the tree, shaking free the hanging Turaga and sending him into the forest. Kongu cried out, and maneuvered his mount to headstraight down, trying to catch up. Wind, floating leaves, and falling branches struck his mask as he descended rapidly. He ignored Tamaru's frightened screams behind him as he watched Matau below. Just when he thought he was getting closeenough to try to save his Turaga, the branches grew too thick, the leaves in the air obscuring vision. The Gukko collided with several branches, its flight disturbed. There was no way down for such a creature, and to follow would mean to face the Bohrok alone. Kongu groaned, but perked up as he heard a voice call from down below. "Kongu!" It was Matau's voice, growing distant yet still somehow clear. "I have faith in you!" And the voice was gone. Faith... The prime Principle of Le-Koro. Kongu felt it weighing down on him now as never before. He said he trusted me to get us through this. Now look at us... He knew that, down below, the Matoran of his village were likely all controlled by krana, their minds taken over by the alien things. They were not dead, of that he was sure. And that meant that they could be saved. And Kongu would have to be the one to do it. He was the one who got them into this mess, and he would try his hardest to remedy his mistakes.
  15. This is a story I wrote quite some time ago. I had it posted on some external sites, then thought: why the heck is it not posted on BZP?! So here it is, my first story ever posted here. I hope you like it! I have a few others like this, all focusing on members of the Toa Inika/Mahri when they were still Matoran. Let me know what you think! -------------------------------------- The island of Mata Nui, ~1,001 years before Mata Nui's reawakening. Where in Mata Nui's name are we? Jala sat alone on a felled tree staring out at the nearby beach and the ocean that lapped at it. A cool wind blew in from the ocean, and the liquid that filled it was blue, which struck him as odd. The only ocean he'd ever seen, the one back at home surrounding Metru Nui, had been a deep silver. This thought led him back to his original query: where was this new place? Why was what appeared to be the entire Matoran population of Metru Nui on this island? Who had brought them here? Perhaps that Turaga who had given him his new mask would know… Jala's old friend, Takua, came running, water dripping from his armor. "What's wrong, Jala?" he said. "Afraid to go swim with the rest of us?" "Are you kidding?" Jala replied. "I'd rather surf on lava!" "Come on. Hahli's there." Jala hesitated. "S-so?" "Just get off your high… log, and have some fun for once. We've been busy building temporary huts all day, and when we finally get a break, you want to spend it sitting down?" "Sure. It helps me, ah, recover energy more quickly." Takua shook his head. "Jala, we aren't on Metru Nui anymore. There are no vahki to give you a slap on the wrist if you're slacking. Trust me, I've checked." Jala's mind wandered. Metru Nui… The name sounded familiar. My old home! he remembered. How could I have forgotten something like that? He shook off the thoughts. "I know that, Takua. It's just that… well, it doesn't feel right to me. I feel like I should be doing something important, not splashing in that weird blue ocean." Takua sighed. "I see you're just as much a stick in the mud as always. Guess I can't make you come over if you don't want to, but if you ever do decide to, you're always welcome. Or maybe you'd rather go sit with the Po-Matoran?" He gestured toward the brown armored villagers, all gathered together farther down the beach and noticeably farther from the water as well. Jala chuckled as he saw one Ga-Matoran—Maku was her name, if he remembered correctly—attempted to pull out Huki, an old acquaintance of Jala's. They'd often shared tools to help each other with their respective duties. Sometimes, Huki needed incredibly delicate shapings in his sculptures, and he'd found that the easiest way to accomplish them was by using a heat-staff, which Jala would provide. In turn, Jala would borrow one of Huki's hammers or chisels to his own detail work on… On what? Jala found that he could not recall what it was he used to work on… back in… "Thanks, Takua," said Jala. "You go have your fun. I think I need to talk with those new Turaga. Do you know who they are?" "No clue," Takua said, starting to walk away. "You know, you're right," he called back. "The color of the water is definitely weird." --- "What is it you wanted to ask me, Jala?" the red Turaga said, turning to face him. This was yet another thing struck Jala as odd: this Turaga, who was a complete stranger to Jala, knew his name. "Turaga, I—" Jala floundered. He knew there was a specific question he'd wanted to ask earlier. Something important, regarding the past… He searched his mind to no avail. "I… was wanting to ask you who exactly you and your companions are." The Turaga chuckled. "It's me, Jala. Vakama." Something extremely distant seemed to stir in Jala's mind, but he ignored it. He cocked his head. "I'm sorry. Should I… know you?" Vakama looked shocked, almost… sorrowful, but only for a moment. "Nevermind that now. I am Vakama, and my fellows are Matau, Nuju, Whenua, Nokama, and Onewa," he said, pointing at each fellow Turaga in turn. "We will do our best to lead you here on this, our new island home, which we've agreed should be named Mata Nui, in honor of the Great Spirit." Jala nodded. "I see. An honor to meet all of you," he said, bowing his head in respect. The Turaga nodded back. Turaga Nuju suddenly broke out in a series of strange-sounding whistles and clicks. He seemed to be trying to communicate a message… "Ah, what did he say?" Jala asked. The other Turaga laughed gently. "We have no idea," Whenua said. "It's something he picked up from an old friend, but he has yet to teach anyone else how to speak it as well." Can this day get any crazier? Jala thought. He cleared his throat. "Well, Turaga, I've been having some concerns lately, primarily about—" "Hey!" Turaga Matau suddenly shouted. "Get away my airships!" He ran as quickly as he could over to where some Onu-Matoran had begun dismantling one of the beached airships that Jala assumed had carried the Matoran here. "Those ones probably have the right idea," Whenua mused. "The airships would certainly be a good source of building supplies, wouldn't you say, Onewa?" "Certainly," the Turaga of stone replied. "We'll find no better immediate well of resources as those. It would be a waste to just leave them sitting there forever." "You were saying, Jala?" Vakama said. "Yes, Turaga," Jala said, praying that he wouldn't be interrupted again. "I have some concerns regarding our security." "Ah, yes. I have had some thoughts on this matter as well. Is there anything specifically that you've noticed?" Jala took a deep breath. "I believe I've seen a Kane-Ra in the area." Vakama's eyes widened. "Oh… That may pose a problem." "May?" Whenua said. "If we're camped in the Kane-Ra's territory, you can bet your mask it will try to… remove us." "Exactly," Jala said. "I was wondering if you'd have any ideas on how to secure the camp, or if, perhaps, we should move…" "Or both," Nokama suggested. "Tearing down what we have built will take some time, but would be best if a Kane-Ra is around. We'll still need some defenses to keep us safe in case it decides to attack while we're in the process of moving." "I agree," Vakama said, nodding. "Jala, recruit some other Matoran and inform them of the situation. Use whatever materials you can gather, including anything you want from the airships—even if Matau yells at you—to prepare a suitable defense." He rested a hand on Jala's shoulder. "Our welfare may depend on your success." Jala blanched, then saluted. "Of course, Turaga," he said, struggling to keep from stuttering. "You can count on me." --- "You do know we're facing a Kane-Ra bull, right, Jala?" Aft asked. Jala finished pulling off a sheet of metal off the outside of an airship. "I do," he replied. "And I have a plan on how to deal with it." "I don't see how something like this will slay such a great beast," Aft said, holding up his own sheet of metal. "It won't, but I don't intend to slay it. We only need to delay it long enough for us to get out of the way." "So… a trap, then?" "Precisely." "Using sheets of metal, long pointy sticks, and…" "Shovels. We found some in one the airship's storage garages, and we'll use them to dig a giant hole." Aft shook his head. "I can't say I see what you're doing, but… you seem like the best one to take care of this. That Turaga chose well, I think." Jala extended a closed fist toward his friend. "Thank you, for being willing to follow me." Aft bumped Jala's fist with his own. "Of course. But if you get us all gored, I may be a little upset with you." --- "The creature-beast approaches!" the Le-Matoran scout, Kongu, shouted. "Right," Jala said. "Everyone ready?" He looked to his gathered squad of Ta-Matoran. Each held a long spear whose tip had been dipped in pitch and set aflame. They appeared nervous, but determined. Jala heard heavy rustling in the trees beyond the beach. "Have courage, brothers!" he shouted. The large red bull burst through the brush, sending a group of Nui-Rama into the air as it went. Jala and his Ta-Matoran backed up, keeping their fire spears thrust out toward the Kane-Ra, slowing its charge. It roared and feigned charges at several, but always stopped shy of the flames. "Close around it and move toward the pit," Jala commanded, struggling to be heard over loud buzzing of the unsettled swarm of Nui-Rama. "Keep backing it up until it falls in!" They began the slow process of keeping the bull contained, giving it just enough space to think itself free, toward the place where the true trap lay. Aft gave a desperate cry as he was lifted from the ground by his shoulders, an orange Nui-Rama gripping him in its claws. The Kane-Ra, sensing a point of weakness, charged the opening, running through despite the fire spears of nearby Matoran. "Help!" Aft shouted from above. Jala looked up just in time to see his friend receive a brutal sting in the back from the Nui-Rama. Jala shuddered at the sight of Aft going limp in the Rahi's claws. No time to freeze, he thought. Lives are at stake. Move! "Nuhrii!" he called to another Ta-Matoran. "Take the squad and try to herd the Kane-Ra again. I'm going after Aft." Nuhrii saluted and ran to catch the bull, commanding the remainder of the guards as he went. Jala searched the air. It was full of Nui-Rama, still buzzing nervously after being disturbed. He soon sighted on the one that held Aft, and it appeared to be trying to get away, its progress impeded by its own fellow Rahi. Jala changed his grip on his spear and threw it up into the swarm, but it was knocked aside by the other Nui-Rama. Cursing, he ran forward, underneath the swarm. It was difficult to keep pace with the Nui-Rama above—the shifting sand underfoot on didn't provide a firm surface for running—as well as keeping track of it. When the creature eventually cleared the swarm, Jala took time to search his surroundings for a means of getting to it. He spotted a round piece of driftwood and a vine that looked rather useful… He grabbed the items without slowing down. This wood felt familiar in his hand. Like… like a disc. You can't have him! he thought as he swung the disc up at the Nui-Rama. It clipped the Rahi's wing, disturbing its already burdened flight. It dropped fast, nearly crashing in to the sand. Jala ran quickly, catching up to it. Gathering what little strength he had left in his legs, he jumped up onto the Rahi, swinging the vine he'd grabbed around the creature's neck. Mata Nui, what am I thinking!? he thought as the Rahi bucked wildly against him. The Nui-Rama let go of Aft, now trying to reach up and remove the Matoran on top of it. It's arms were just short enough that if Jala moved carefully, he could avoid being grabbed. That didn't stop it from trying, which distracted it enough for Jala to exert some control over the direction of its flight. He tugged with the vine, yanking toward where the Kane-Ra had gone. Jala's eyes widened as he saw what had occurred. Several tents and makeshift huts on the fringes of the camp had been destroyed by the bull. He was thankful to see that no Matoran seemed to be hurt. He could see Nuhrii and the others making some progress as the beast took time to fully dismantle a small campsite that Jala himself had set up. It rammed its head into a brown tent, tearing it up from the ground. A gust of wind blew in its face then, plastering the cloth to its snout. The Kane-Ra roared in anger, trying to remove the thing that obstructed its vision. The Ta-Matoran guards charged then, poking the beast with their spears. Jala soon reached the bull himself, still on top of the Nui-Rama. One shot at this… He dropped off the Nui-Rama and landed on the bull's back. He grabbed hold of its horns and headed it toward the hole they had dug earlier. The bull responded to his sharp tugs and ran toward the pit, still blinded. The beast lost its footing over the edge and tumbled down. Jala leapt off, barely grabbing the edge of the hole himself. He looked down to see the Kane-Ra sprawled out at the bottom. The pit wasn't too deep, only about 15 feet. Then a shadow passed over him. "Need a hand, Jala?" a voice said from above. He chuckled. "Wouldn't hurt, Hahli." He grabbed her extended hand, hoping she didn't notice the way his heartlight sped up, and was pulled out. Once he was safely above ground again, Hahli called to her fellow Ga-Matoran. They ran forward and tossed a large net down over the Kane-Ra, giving it a new obstacle to struggle with. "Nice touch," Jala said, nodding. "Once it gets through that and the tent on its head, it should notice itself in the mirrors we set up down there. The idea was that it would be distracted at the thought of another of its kind in the pit with it." "Good thinking," Hahli said. "Is it going to be… stuck down there?" "It'll be able to get out eventually, but we should be gone by then." He took a look over the rest of the camp, noticing that most of the equipment and shelters had been removed. "Thanks again, Hahli." She smiled. "I'm always happy to help out." "I have a feeling we'll need all the help we can get in the coming days…" --- Jala watched as Turaga Nokama finished tying a bandage around Aft's wounded middle. "You'll make a fully recovery in no time," she said. "Just don't get picked up by any more Rahi." The wounded Ta-Matoran nodded and lay back on his makeshift bed. "Thank you, Turaga Nokama," he said quietly. "And you, Jala, for saving me back there." "Just doing my duty," Jala replied. "Duty indeed," said Turaga Vakama as he entered the small tent. "That reminds me of something I wanted to speak to you about, Jala. Step outside with me, so we don't bother you fellow Matoran." He placed a hand on Jala's shoulder as they exited the tent. "Your display of tactical wisdom and heroic action today impressed me," the Turaga continued. "When we have established society here on Mata Nui, someone will be needed to keep order and protect what we have. I had been thinking on how to solve this problem, and thought to myself, why not Jala and his fellow Ta-Matoran? We've seen what you can do. So tell me, Jala. Would you be willing to protect this land, and to take command of your brothers to that end?" Jala stopped walking. What he'd done today had stressed him like nothing he'd ever done before. Of course, he couldn't remember a whole lot of things he had done in the past, yet he knew it to be true. The thought of taking command of others and working to protect everyone in the long-term was… daunting. "I…" he began. "Thank you, but I'm not sure I'm the one for the job, Turaga." "Most difficult tasks are uncomfortable when we first begin them," Vakama said. "Believe me, I've experienced it. But it is those tasks which are often the most important. I have seen something in you today: a gift for leadership, a heart full of courage, and a desire to protect. We need you and your mind, Jala. Over time, you will gain confidence and ability. You can learn and adapt. These are your greatest strengths. I believe in you, and your ability to succeed." "I see," said Jala, falling into deep thought. Was it true? Of course, he had done the things the Turaga mentioned. But a knack for leadership? He certainly didn't feel like much of a leader. Yet… this Turaga said he saw it. Saw potential for more. If I'm to have a place in this new land, where better than to be defending my people? "All right. I'll do it." "Excellent," Vakama said with a smile. "If you ever need me, I'll be there to give you advice. I know you'll do well. I know just what to call you, too. You shall be our Captain of the Guard."
  16. I reeled back as the Kraata jumped on my mask. My eyes closed automatically, shielding themselves. I felt a liquid flowing down my mask, and a slight burning sensation. Soon, my head began to go numb. I grabbed desperately for the Kraata, but my head continued to numb. I felt all my desires to fight fade, and eventually I fell over, passing out on the spot. I don't remember any of the little details I normally would, after I woke up. I can only remember feeling the sudden desire to obey. A voice continued to echo in my mind. Kill. Kill. Kill. KILL. I couldn't fight the voice, and I suddenly felt the urge to walk forward, out of the cave. The normally bright light was dimmed, looking more like a dull green, than a bright white. Stumbling out of the cave, I took a look around. The closest Matoran village was beyond the trees directly outside the cave. All my inner instincts were screaming at me to stop, but the voice continued to control me. I stumbled my way through the forest, but I couldn't remember much beyond this point. The most I could recover was walking into the village, and a few matoran starting to wave at my return, but soon running away. The next memory was looking at a dead body of a Ta-Matoran, who had been apparently stabbed. The last thing I could remember for a while was seeing the village from afar on fire. I woke up again at the cave, once more, this time on my knees. The voice had stopped, but I still felt the innate desire to obey. I looked up, and saw a towering figure above me. He seemed to be made of pure shadow, as he constantly shifted slightly in shape. He laughed, and then removed my mask from my face. To my surprise, it was completely rusted, and looked old. He played with the mask a bit, before crushing it in his hands, and throwing the pieces at the wall next to me. I felt weak, and almost defenseless, without my mask. He chuckled, and then grabbed me by the neck, and slowly squeezed. My eyes began to close, as the air was choked out of me. I then felt my neck being let go, and a falling sensation, followed by the sound of leaves rustling, and black.
  17. Ramble before the story: I haven't posted a story in so long and even this one's kind of old but hey. This is based on a scene in The Crossing, wherein Strakk describes Malum as a very close friend and does not seem to recall that Malum was the guy who nearly killed him, which led to Malum's exile. Better still, Strakk later greets Malum himself with something along the lines of "Hello old friend!" to which Malum replies "We're not friends". This is a story dedicated to this mysterious friendship, and takes place sometime after Malum's banishment and before the events of The Crossing. I'm not sure if this is would go here or in Short Stories. This is my best guess. It's fairly short, too. ~ Strakk's Best Friend ~ It was a sunny day when Strakk woke up, yawning and stretching the tightness from his limbs- sleeping in armour was uncomfortable but necessary on Bara Magna- and he felt more well-rested than he had in weeks. Stiff, too. He rose, yanking a steel shutter down to slam the sunlight filtering through his window out, and stretched again. Strange, he mused, was the fact that he couldn't recall coming home. The last thing he remembered for sure was going to fight his absolutely best friend Malum in the arena. Ah, yes, his closest and most dear friend. They got along so very well, he remembered. Well, he admitted the specific memories were a little fuzzy, but he was sure they were best friends. That fight must have been tiring, if he was too sleepy to recall travelling home. And the fight itself. Ah, well. He would hear of the results later. He took a moment to muse over his pile of treasures- he could have put his pay away neatly, but it was so much more rewarding to have it heaped in the middle of the room, where everyone could see and feel jealous of it. It was also why he kept his door locked, so no thieving Agori could go sniffing around the pile. It kind of defeated the purpose of having the pile out for everyone to see, and admittedly took up more than half of his shelter, but it made him feel much better about his life to think he'd achieved something. Outside, he blinked in the bright light. Defessus, the Agori who usually handled his pay, glanced over at his slightly unsteady approach. "You're here," the Agori grunted, turning back on course towards the inn with a sack overflowing with dry old roots. "Thought you were dead." "Why?" Strakk asked, to no effect. He tried another question. "I just wanted to follow up on my pay after my last battle. Did you pass it along? I seem to have forgotten." Defessus gave him a dubious glance. "Is that really the first thing that came to mind to you? Your pay?" "Hey, I don't need any lip from a sand mite like you. My last battle was quite arduous, and I cannot... properly recall... collecting my pay." "What do you remember?" This had the Agori's interest, a rare feat. Strakk didn't want to admit that he remembered nothing after stepping through the Arena's gates- it sounded so pathetic and childish- but he did desperately need answers. "I don't even remember how the battle ended. It must have been an amazing battle to watch, crossing blades with my dear friend Malum." This actually made Defessus stop in his tracks. He seemed to be piecing together something in his head. Finally, he repeated, "Dear friend?" "Yes. We're close friends. Surely, you know." The strangeness disappeared in a heartbeat, but Strakk couldn't figure out why the Agori appeared to be trying to hide a smile. "Oh, absolutely. Apologies, Strakk. I've not been right this morning. Ah, I will see to it you are paid." As he walked off, Strakk glanced over to a pair of gossiping Agori, one leaning on a pick and the other fiddling with the handle of a shovel. Neither had seen Strakk, apparently, so he used the opportunity to slink over and eavesdrop. "Did you hear about Malum's exile?" the pick-bearing Agori said to his friend. "That was a long time coming, hey?" "Sure was. What a brutal fight, though!" "Thought he'd kill the guy." "But now he's roaming the desert! Isn't that a scary thought?" "I give him a month. The guy's tough, but that's all he's got going." Strakk strode away quickly, very concerned. His friend had been exiled? When had that happened? How long had he been asleep? Defessus acted as if his appearance was a surprise, so perhaps he had been asleep longer than he had thought. He spotted a lean Agori chatting animatedly to a Glatorian trainee nearby, and marched right over. "Metus!" The trainer was just waving the rookie away when Strakk called. He turned with a surprised grin. "Strakk! Hey! Good morning, sleepyhead." "How long was I asleep?" "Just over a week, my friend. We've had to send Gelu out for all your matches. He's travelling to Vulcanus for a match against Ackar as we speak. Woo, that's going to be a mess for us. I mean, Gelu's all right, but Ackar-" "How did Malum get exiled? I don't believe what I heard, about him nearly killing someone in the arena. What happened?" Metus stared at him. When he had determined that Strakk had honestly asked the question, he said, "You really don't know?" "I just woke up, Metus. I heard what I did from some Agori." "Well, uh... wait. You... don't believe Malum tried to kill someone? We are talking about the same Malum, right? Big guy, red armour, tends to use his claws for everything?" "Yes, yes. He's my friend, I know him better than most. I know he would never do such a thing." "Strakk-" Metus began, but was distracted by something behind the Glatorian. Strakk turned to see Defessus and a small group of Agori cease some sort of complicated hand-waving manoeuvre. He turned back to find Metus' demeanour had switched to a sombre, understanding sort. "It was a horrible thing to happen to any Glatorian," Metus nodded, patting Strakk's arm in what was meant to be a comforting fashion. "But you know how it is. Sometimes, people snap. The desert just gets to them. Malum was an unfortunate casualty to desert madness." Strakk glanced to the sand at his feet, digesting this. Metus brightened a little. "He's a tough guy, he'll be fine. Maybe you'll see him again sometime." "Yeah," mumbled Strakk. "Look, thank you, Metus. I've got some thinking to do, but you can find me in my shelter if you need me for any matches." "Sure, buddy. Take the day off, relax." Strakk gave him an appreciative glance before walking away. Metus joined the growing throng of Agori grinning at Strakk's back. "How hard did Malum hit him?" asked one of the younger Agori in wonder. "I didn't think it was possible to hit someone so hard that they lose all bad memories of you," Defessus remarked. "How long do you think it'll hold up?" "I hope it lasts forever," laughed the innkeeper, who had left his establishment at the sound of the commotion. "This is the funniest thing to happen since Gelu tried on that Agori armour." "You did that so well, Metus," said Defessus, clapping the trainer on the back. "One would think you're a natural at lying." Metus laughed good-naturedly, but hastily stuffed the folded parchment containing the Skrall's plans deeper into his pocket. ~ End
  18. The Wanderer A tale from the world of Uprising Approximately Five years before the events of Uprising... Dark clouds loomed over the waterways of Ga-Koro. It looked like they would burst at any given moment, and unleash a torrent of rain onto the streets below. However, they just hung there, their black undersides filled with water, waiting for the right moment. The streets were eerily quiet, with the odd Vahki patrol looking for lawbreakers and fugitives. The streets weren’t safe at any time, even when you suspected there was nothing there. It seemed there was an ambush waiting around every corner, a mugger in every alley, a killer in every shadow. As a recent squad of Vahki crawled past a junction, none of them noticed the figure scurry behind them, avoiding their gaze. As he ran down the deserted streets, he paused to make sure nobody was following. His Navy blue and gold armour appeared dull against the low light, his sword resting in the scabbard by his hip. None of his allies or enemies knew his real name. For some reason, he was simply known as Smoke Monster. Maybe it was due to his profound stealth? Maybe his monstrous fighting skills? Who knows? But one thing was for certain, he had taken vital info his allies needed to know about, and was determined get it back safely, whatever the cost. Glancing down an alleyway, he thought he saw a sliver of movement. His heart raised to his throat for a second, before he came to the conclusion that it must’ve been a rat or something. He couldn’t be too sure, however, so he crept down quickly and quietly, on edge all the while… As he turned a corner, he could feel some kind of presence. Nothing malicious, like a Makuta or similar shadow being, But he could tell someone else was in the alley with him. Smoke stepped gingerly, half-expecting the presence he felt was going to stab him in the back at any given moment. He could see light illuminating the street up ahead, streaming in through the sides of the buildings. If he could just get over there, he could perhaps see who was in the area with him. He slowly crept towards the patch of light, three paces… two paces… CLANG! The sound of a can being kicked over rang from behind, and on instinct, he Smoke drew his sword and spun around, ready to fight. As the sword whistled through the air, it struck a metal object- another sword! Pushing back against his attack, a shadowy figure stood in front of him, details obscured by the darkness. The two beings clashed swords again, Smoke striking hard at the being’s arms, but his opponent kept parrying his slashes. The match ended when the Stranger tried to spin around and get him in the back, but was instead pushed back by the flat edge of Smoke’s sword. In the light, the stranger could be seen in much more detail. His armour was a bright scarlet, with black highlights. His mask was streamlined and swept-back, and his sword had a gunmetal grey blade. He was rather lithe, and his body was built for running rather than physical strength. Maybe that’s why he went down so easily. As Smoke pointed the end of his blade at the Matoran, he glared into his Golden eyes, which had a surprisingly had a mischievous glint in them. “Who are you, and what are your Intentions?” Smoke growled. The Stranger was strangely not intimidated. “Just a Traveller. I was passing through here, and took a wrong turn.” He said, trying to be sincere. This didn’t fool Smoke in the slightest. “You’re lying.” He snapped. “Tell the truth! What are you doing here?” “I…” The Stanger stumbled over his words, meaning what he was saying wasn’t wholly true. “I got lost. These streets are too maze-like, and the marauding robots aren’t useful for directions.” This guy’s sarcasm is driving me insane… Smoke thought. “Stop beating around the bush!” He yelled. “Who the Karz are you?!” “The real question is, who the Karz are you?” The Stranger replied. This Smart Alec didn’t know when to shut up… Smoke poised the tip of his sword right at his throat. “Look, mister.” Smoke spat. “I can cut out your throat at any given moment, but don’t assume that I will not do so. Now if you do not disclose your name and intentions within the next five seconds, I Will kill you, and nobody will have to kno- “HALT, TRESSPASSER!” It seemed whilst Smoke was interrogating the Stranger, a patrol of Vahki had snuck up on them from behind, and ambushed them. They were holding their weapons poised, Kanoka charged in their mandibles, ready to take down both of them. Smoke turned his focus away from the Stranger to focus on the Vahki. As soon as the sword was off his throat, the Stranger started talking again, much to Smoke’s dismay. “You know, if you didn’t yell as much as you do,” he said,” we probably wouldn’t attracted their attention-“ “Shut up!” Smoke snapped. “You’re not helping!” The Vahki turned their gaze to the stranger, whilst still keeping an eye on smoke. “BY ORDER OF THE WHITE COUNCIL, YOU TWO ARE UNDER ARREST.” A deep, mechanical voice rang out from a large Vahki with silver highlights. That one must be the leader. Smoke thought. If only he could disarm him... But he didn’t need to think of a strategy, as the stranger then did something incredibly stupid. Whilst he had his eyes off him, he had grabbed a nearby dumpster and pushed it with all his might in the direction of the Vahki, where it tipped over and scattered trash over the squadron. “That aughta keep them occupied for a second.” The Stranger said, before turning towards the opposite side of the alleyway. “This way!” “Are you trying to get us both killed!?” Smoke yelled, before a flying Kanoka narrowly missed his left foot, and he ran the same way as the stranger. Once they were out of the alleyway, The Stranger bolted towards an open canal, with Smoke and the Vahki patrol hot on his heels. Looking to either side, Smoke could see that two other patrols were approaching. They were surrounded, and cornered. Not that that slowed the Stranger down. Instead, he leapt from the edge of the Canal onto a boat that happened to be travelling across the water near the bank. Realizing he couldn’t slow down, and stopping would mean certain death, Smoke clumsily jumped after him, nearly falling into the canal. As soon as he had got his bearings, He noticed the Stranger had already jumped to a boat parallel to the one he was already on. Either this guy was either incredibly brave to pull off ridiculous stunts like that, or just Insane. After another clumsy boat hop, Smoke had almost reached the other shore. Looking back, he saw that the Vahki weren’t as agile as him, and were either screeching at the two from the other shore, or trying to follow them, only to land in the cold canal-water. As the boat he was on got slightly closer to the edge of the canal, Smoke leapt across, kicking off with all of his might, and rolled on the ground when he landed. That was stressful… He thought. As Smoke joined the Stranger on the other side of the Canal, thunder rumbled in the distance, and a few drops of rain started falling. The Vahki had started to disperse, going either upstream or downstream to look for bridges to cross. “They’re still onto us, it seems.” The stranger said. “You just can’t stop these things...” “How…” Smoke said, slightly out of breath. “How did you manage to evade them by jumping across the canal!?” “Either instinct, or you know, just luck.” The Stranger shrugged. “Now, we’d better get moving before reinforcements come along.” The rain was falling heavier now. The Two found refuge in a cargo unloading bay behind a storage facility. The rain pounded on the ground outside, whilst the Matoran remained dry. Smoke still didn’t fully trust this stranger. He was a little too enigmatic, not to mention reckless, for his tastes. He would very easily get the both of them killed if he wasn’t so darn lucky. “Almost forgot to ask back there,” The Stranger spoke. “Why exactly did you follow my escape back there?” “Well, for a start, the other way was blocked off, despite your futile attempt to stop the Vahki.” Smoke replied. “Well if it weren’t for me, we would both’ve been toast.” He muttered. There was silence for a few seconds, apart from the continuous patter of rain outside. Then, out of the blue, the Stranger said; “Are you also wanted by the White council?” Smoke’s eyes widened. “What do you know about the White council?” “Well, other than the fact that they’re the power-hungry megalomaniacs who took over the city a while back, not much.” The Stranger shrugged. “If you’re having trouble with evading their legions, How about we team up for a while?” “Team up…” Smoke mused. “I don’t usually work with others, but as I’ve never seen someone who’s as recklessly skilled as you are, I’d say that you’d make a vital ally.” The Stranger seemed pleased by that complement. “By the way, you never told me who you were, and why the White council were after you.” Smoke was cautious about giving away vital info to someone he’d never seen before, but reckoned that this guy was honest enough. After all, he was also wanted by the White council. How could he be working for them? “My name is Smoke monster.” He said. “And I have stolen secret tactical details from the White Council, and plan to use it against them. You?” The stranger just smiled playfully, with a mischievous glint in his yellow eyes, much like when he first encountered him. “Call me Daronus.” He mused. Author's Notes For those who don't know, a few months ago, Lucina asked me to Write something for the Distortion Anthology, which was a collection of works set in the Universe of the Uprising trilogy. From what I know, It's more or less fallen into Hiatus, so I figured I'd upload my half-finished entry as a standalone short story. I would probably upload what remains of part 2 of this, but then I'll have to get that finished, which may or may not take forever, and I may or may not end up completely forgetting about it. So for now, the fate of Daronus in this world is completely ambiguous. The Uprising Trilogy was created by Voltex/Lucina. Adaption by Daronus/Darth Daronus Bionicle Gen.1 © the LEGO company, 2001-2010
  19. JRRT

    veteran [art]

    "The stasis chamber cracked suddenly, and for the first time in so long that it no longer mattered, the mind inside truly awakened." some pixel art illustrating this story (click image for original size) JRRT
  20. This is a short story kind of teasing the series of MOCs that I'm working on. I figured it would be a cool way to tie in the MOCs and the storyline. in an alternate timeline. 2016 spoilers are present, so be warned. As Ekimu congratulated the assembled Toa, Vizuna and Kivoda came stumbling in, exhausted from their journey. Seemingly in awe that the Toa had rescued and revived Ekimu, Vizuna and Kivoda were speechless.After overcoming the shock of seeing their famed mask maker alive and well, the two villagers turned to the Toa, remembering why they had even came to the City of the Mask Makers in such haste. Exchanging a short look, the two villagers decided that Vizuna would speak first. “Toa, a great evil has been unleashed across Okoto, and it seems to have originated in our two regions.” Vizuna gestured to both he and Kivoda. “ We villagers tried to stop them, but our efforts proved fruitless, we need your help. We have never seen creatures like this on Okoto. There are six of them from our observations, three in the region of jungle, and three in the region of water. They are monsters, all of them; their only interest is sowing destruction along the island. They must be stopped before they can spread.” With a grim look in his eyes, Ekimu was the first to speak. “Tell me young one, what did these monsters look like?” “In my region, they appear to be monstrous insects, a spindly white one that walk on four legs, a yellow, beetle-like one with long sharp swords, and a small green one that has a stinger on her face.” After taking a deep breath, Kivoda continued, “The creatures that are in the region of jungle are quite different, they are giant winged creatures. There is a giant, spindly black one, a scary red one, and a silent blue one. They have already killed three wandering villagers that were visiting the region; Radiak, of the fire tribe, Kirop of the earth tribe, and Gavla of the water tribe. Turning once again to the Toa, Ekimu spoke to them this time. “Toa, it seems my brother’s influence has not yet dissipated as I had hoped. It appears he has awoken ancient spirits that plagued the island long ago. I had hoped we had put them into a slumber so deep they could never awaken again.” Gripping his hammer ever tighter, he started towards his forge. “ My brother has awoken the spirits of swamp and the spirits of the air. If you are to have a chance of defeating them, you will need some new armor. Vizuna and Kivoda, I could use your help in the forge.” Ekimu put some crystalline armor off to the side, and began work on the Toa’s specialized new armor, getting Vizuna and Kivodas input and help along the way. “The hunter will have to wait.” Ekimu muttered to himself. I'm not generally a storywriter; so sorry if the story is not up to par. Internet cookie to anyone who knows who the Toa will have face next.
  21. Health Boy Health Boy can die a thousand human deaths but live on. He can fall prey to nasty gasses, his chest will turn purple and his head will expand to twice its natural width, and yet he lives, or perhaps simply never dies. Each thing that goes wrong with him is not indicative of his failure, rather his success; the real failure is ours. We pulled him out of the fuselage on Tuesday; yellow arms, green back, burn marks on his wrists and ankles painfully swollen. Ammonia leakage from God knows where, mixed with oxygen shortage and excess CO2. And apparently some very intense overheating and a rough landing. We had checked every screw, every bolt and nook and cranny, before the flight test. Before the installation of the nav cams and after, and yet here was Health Boy, not-quite-living proof that we had failed. Even a suicidal man would be reluctant to ride this shuttle. And yet we had designed it perfectly. Marc managed the life and breathing team. Air conditioning, atmospheric regulators, any gasses present in the fuselage were his main concern, whether or not they should be present. He had designed the perfect air system, one of which we were endlessly proud, and in no hurry to replace; not after the six years and three-billion dollars dedicated to its development. All this work towards perfection, and Marc was perhaps the least concerned, seeming by far to be the most casual about the situation. He didn’t seem at all worried that he would lose his modest eight-million dollar salary. Perhaps he was confident in the countless tests he had performed on the apparatus, extending to the day of the launch. All flawless. We would need a Systems man, we figured; perhaps some unprecedented chain reaction had begun at launch. And yet every Systems man we called on reported all-perfect. Complete harmony. Two options now remained, and preferring the more comfortable alternative, we contacted Health. The representatives for the greatest test-dummy manufacturers known to humanity stood before us, smiles not unlike the one that we drew onto our Health Boy. They offered us new replacements, which we accepted, tested, then waited. Day of the second launch: midday, good weather, all preliminary tests deemed better than perfect. Health Boy 2 smiled nervously beneath a sharpie mask, birds ceased to sing. Liftoff, good. Health Boy 2, good. Exit good, re-entry — Which all but the monitors missed, as Sally had entered the room. Very much unauthorized, the intern had only begun work on the atmospheric regulation apparatus this month, half of which she had spent being worried, the other half being nervous. She held in her quaking hands some papers and a computer, which she spread on the table. Images, diagrams, and on the computer a video recording from a shaking hidden camera, capturing the blue uniform of a life systems team manager. We understood nothing until Marc had vanished. No ammonia had leaked, nor CO2, nor was there any lack of oxygen. The breathing apparatus was more perfect than we had believed; perfect, but altered. We henceforth stopped testing the shuttle; she was fine, though these past few weeks had raised in us doubts. We began testing the air system and our Health Boys. The following week our rival aerospace company HaysWings announced the completion of their shuttle system, and by their side stood Marc; he really was brilliant, though it seems that that was the limit of his good demeanour. But our problems had not yet finished; what of the air system now? The third launch: air systems that do their job (what more could we hope for?), all go for launch. Cameras good, sensors good, and Health Boy? Just two days prior, Health had announced their increased funding for their Health Boy branch. New, improved - and custom built. Ours would be ready for the fourth launch if, by that point, we had the money for it. Until then, Health Boy 3 was our mannequin. The shuttle left the ground, rose to a point, then to nothing, into space. We waited, not sure what to expect. Would Marc’s absence be a blessing? A curse? We now faced the possibility of a real air systems failure, though we had tested everything for months. We waited, hoping that Health Boy, Marc’s betrayal, and the string of unfortunate events that had succeeded HaysWings’ acquisition of the design and launch permit for commercial shuttles would not set us back several billion dollars in funding. No failures, warnings, not even a rough moment until re-entry. The heat shield held, the cabin pressure remained at its best. This, we hoped, would be the day our trials ended. At last we reached the final minutes until landing, as she approached the runway, speed dwindling, chutes open. She flew overhead once, slowing rapidly, then circled around, decreasing in speed each time, now descending towards us, a soft touchdown on the runway. Myself and my team donned our suits and went in for inspection; with the on-board readings all-good, we were just a formality, or so we assumed. I opened the hatch, and there was Health Boy, the representative of health failure. A deep blue patch along his side had begun to warp back, revealing the plastic beneath, and his arms had developed patches of deep magenta. We hauled him back to the lab; there was absolutely no reason, after all of the good data we had collected from the sensors, for Health Boy to be registering any danger, especially not to this extent. No scientific explanation, not after all the sensors were tested thoroughly. The use of Health Boy is mandatory in the testing of anything used for human transport. No alternative existed, at least no alternative that was approved by every board of health and safety that mattered. The morbid consistency of our dummy, across the range of launches and different conditions was itself inconsistent with any other launch test in history, so we applied for an investigation. The media assumed that our complaints were based on an inability to come to terms with our failure. Two months on, our project was cancelled as most of our investors backed out, and HaysWings announced their new partnership with Health, with which they hoped to create the greatest - health wise - space transportation vessels to date. I don’t doubt that they will, given their twofold increase in funding and relative lack of competition. Wrote it in math class a few weeks ago. Hope you liked it. =)
  22. okay this is a story i typed up in downtime from nanowrimo. i wrote a version of this story years ago but never posted it anywhere but this is mostly done from memory of that because i lost the notebook i wrote the original in. feedback is much appreciated. anyway here it is. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The sun shone down on a man walking down the streets of New York, clutching his girlfriend’s hand. He seemed beside himself with happiness, half-skipping and swinging her hand about, though she didn’t return the favor. He turned to her and flashed her a smile. “Isn’t it a beaut