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Return to the Underworld: The Protectors' Mission

Master Inika

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As the six Protectors walked through the underground tunnel, the words spoken to them by Ekimu continued to echo in all their minds.


“When I first banished Makuta to the Shadow Realm, I believed he would be trapped in that horrible place for all eternity,” the noble Mask Maker had said. “However, it would be foolish of me to pretend he did not come dangerously close to escaping. Somehow, even imprisoned there, he could still command his vile minions. I still do not know exactly how this is possible, but it seems that, though his physical body is trapped in the Shadow Realm, the evil of his mind is powerful enough to influence evildoers even across realms.”


The landscape was dark and unwelcoming. The six moved at a steady pace on an incline constantly sending them farther from the safety and familiarity of the surface. Leading them was Korgot, the Protector of Earth, who possessed the most advanced knowledge of the complex tunnel system beneath Okoto, though even she had never ventured this far down.


Naturally, the six Protectors were disturbed and distressed when Ekimu had gathered and reported his conclusion to them. For centuries, the Okotans believed Ekimu banished his evil brother Makuta from the island forever in an epic battle long ago. But it seemed Ekimu’s victory in that battle had only weakened Makuta’s power over the island, not fully freed Okoto from it. First, Skull Creatures began to ravage the land. That was only the beginning of their troubles, though. Makuta’s strongest minion, Umarak, was almost successful in freeing Makuta once more.


As Korgot led her comrades down the labyrinth of tunnels, she privately wished the Toa were still with them. It was the heroic Toa, not them, who had defeated Makuta’s terrifying monsters before sacrificing themselves to make sure he remained in the Shadow Realm. But all the Protectors knew that what Ekimu had reported was true. Even imprisoned, Makuta could influence minions yet unknown to work toward freeing him again. And so long as he could, Makuta would.


“He shouldn’t be able to do these things. But I have a theory as to how he is,” Ekimu had continued. “Long ago, Makuta and I defeated a band of marauders called the Skull Raiders. However, I later learned he had a secret alliance with them. I know very little of these Skull Raiders. For that reason, I believe it is them who are acting as some sort of conduit connecting Makuta to our world even from the Shadow Realm. You are the strongest and most powerful of the Okotans. You must defeat the Skull Raiders once and for all and break the link between Makuta and our world. You must finish the work the Toa and I began.”


Korgot stopped walking, and her five companions came to a stop behind her. All that moved was Korgot’s lantern, swinging back and forth.


“Past this point is the ancient territory of the Skull Raiders,” Korgot said with a mix of fear and respect. Though neither she nor any of her fellow Protectors had been alive during the heyday of the Raiders, they knew well from the tales of their parents and grandparents of how fearsome they were.


“Let us not forget, friends, the Skull Raiders were defeated by Ekimu and the Toa,” Vizuna, Protector of Jungle, reminded them all. “We do not even know for sure if any of them survived. Perhaps Makuta has already lost his final link to us, and we are only going to report back to Ekimu the emptiness in the Skull Raider city.”


“We may hope for the best so long as we are prepared for the worst,” Narmoto, Protector of Fire, said as he cautiously readied his Fire Blades.


“Excellent words, brother,” said Nilkuu, Protector of Stone, as he unlimbered and tightly gripped his Elemental Sandstone Blaster.


Narmoto took the lead from Korgot as they moved along. The tunnel no longer inclined downward, and there were signs of habitation in the form of drawings of monstrous Skull Raiders defeating countless victims lining both sides of the walls.


“After their battle with Ekimu and the Toa, a cave-in trapped them, probably killing most of them,” Narmoto told everyone. “We should reach the rock wall soon. Nilkuu, Korgot, you two take the lead and bash through it when we hit it.”


They walked in silence a short distance more. Five of the Protectors took battle stances when Nilkuu fell to the ground, but when no villain materialized, they all calmed down as Nilkuu laughed and picked himself up.


“Clumsy me,” he said. “Good reflexes, though, brothers and sister. We’re more than ready for when we reach that rock wall.”


Nilkuu’s lightheartedness was quashed a second later by Korgot.


“I believe we have,” she said, holding the lantern along the edges of the area where Nilkuu tripped. Stone protruded out on all sides, save for only an Okotan-sized hole, the protrusion on the ground being what caused Nilkuu’s stumble.


Before her friends could reply, a dark laugh echoed throughout the chamber.


“I prepare for the return of Makuta,” a low, rumbling voice said in a whisper that reverberated loudly through the cave. “Perhaps he shall stumble through that same hole as he makes his way back to Okoto.”


A whoosh came from behind the group, and they turned to see a tall, skeletal figure clad in spiked armor. He wore a Skull Mask with two soulless green eyes glowing menacingly behind it, and carried a long polearm ending in a crooked, rusty blade. None of the Protectors had seen this walking skeleton before, but they had heard enough stories of the battle to recognize him from Ekimu and the Toa’s descriptions. It was Axato, the dreaded Tribal Commander of the Skull Raiders.


“You are a fool for revealing yourself so quickly!” Izotor, Protector of Ice, roared as he swung his razor-edged Ice Saw at the shadowy figure. As soon as the blades of the saw connected to his dark form, Axato’s body vanished from existence. The momentum caused Izotor to stumble to the ground, his saw falling beside him and its clang echoing around them. As the clanging echo stopped, they all heard that Axato’s laughter remained. His body reformed on the other side of the group, by Korgot and Nilkuu.


“You are the fool, weak Protector!” Axato snarled. “With the power of Makuta at my disposal, none of you could ever defeat me now!”


“Let’s see about that!” Narmoto cried as Izotor sprung to his feet and the six Protectors charged at Axato at once, ready to give it their all.


Even if their weapons had connected with Axato’s body, he could have easily phased himself elsewhere as he just had. However, Axato made a show of his new powers, effortlessly dodging every blow formed against him, being sure to be in just the right places to trick Nilkuu into striking Vizuna, Narmoto into unleashing an elemental blast against Kivoda, Protector of Water, and Korgot into bashing Izotor with her Star Drill.


“Weaklings!” Axato cried. “At least Ekimu and the Toa challenged me! No matter. Come, if you will, and witness the arrival of Makuta! There is nothing you can do to stop it.”


Axato disappeared again, but the Protectors followed the sound of his hollow laughter as fast as they could. They nearly ran off the cliff at the end of the path, saved only by Nilkuu stretching his arms out and grounding himself fast enough to save them. Down below, they saw Axato hunched over a hexagonal sandpit. They noticed several symbols drawn in the sand, including Makuta’s masks, the Mask of Control and the Mask of Ultimate Power.


“Everyone, fire!” Narmoto ordered. Elemental blasts rained down on Axato and beat the drawings he had made from the sand.


“You delay the inevitable!” Axato, unharmed, cried with joy as he rose into the air and dark energy swirled around him. He laughed harder than he had before, and as he did, his laughter morphed into something different. It had the same evil madness to it, but it grew deeper and even more dominating.


“You utter morons,” he said, though his voice lacked the insane playfulness it carried earlier. Now, it was calm and calculating. Axato’s floating form rotated to reveal his green eyes were now red wisps behind his mask, flickering like flames. “Once I have disposed of you, Axato shall complete the resurrection ritual uninhibited!”


Realization dawned on the Protectors. They were no longer fighting the simple-minded pirate leader. Though the body was still his, the megalomaniacal mind and strange powers were wholly Makuta’s. The fiend gave them no opportunity to act on this new development. His hands crackling with dark power, he raised his arms and fired three blasts from each hand, knocking the Protectors against the wall on the far side of the chamber. He then floated back down to complete the ritual.


“We can’t let him finish! Everyone, again!” Narmoto yelled. The Protectors rushed to the edge of the cliff and began firing barrages of elemental blasts once more. However, as he drew the images back in the sand with one hand, Axato raised his other and generated a forcefield around the sandpit. The shield absorbed all the blasts easily.


“Narmoto, what do we do?” Kivoda asked. The terror in his voice matched that in all their minds.


“I… I don’t know,” the Protector of Fire replied. All he could do was watch as Makuta’s minion grew closer and closer to bringing him back. Was this how the Toa felt when Umarak was moments away from opening the portal to the Shadow Realm?


Then, Narmoto realized the Toa didn’t just watch helplessly. They defeated Umarak and kept Makuta trapped. Now, it was the Protectors’ job to make sure he stayed trapped. But what did the Toa do that they weren’t?


“When times are dark and all hope seems lost…” Narmoto said, beginning the Prophecy of Heroes the Protectors had known since they were children.


“…the Protectors must unite, one from each tribe,” Kivoda continued.


“Evoke the power of past and future…” said Nilkuu.


“…and look to the skies for an answer,” said Izotor.


“When the stars align, six comets will bring timeless heroes to claim the Masks of Power and find the Mask Maker,” said Vizuna.


“United, the elements hold the power to defeat evil,” said Korgot, leaving the final line for her brother.


“United, but not one,” Narmoto concluded as the epiphany reached him. “The Prophecy of Heroes. It’s about the Toa, but it doesn’t need to be. It can be about anyone who needs to be a hero. Right now, it needs to be about us.”


“We’ve been six Protectors, each acting as one,” Izotor observed with a smile as the same thought came to him. “We need to be united,” he agreed.


“Like the Toa against Umarak,” Korgot concluded.


Down below, as he recited ancient incantations in a long-forgotten tongue, Axato had almost completed the ritual. The other Skull Raiders had grown weary of obeying Makuta, but not Axato. He had proven himself loyal, so Makuta protected him when Ekimu and the Toa brought the ceiling down. For his loyalty, Axato alone had survived. For his loyalty, he had been blessed with so many new abilities. Now, for bringing Makuta back to his home realm, he trusted he would receive a reward greater than any of the others so far.


But he would never find out. As one, the Protectors jumped down from the cliff and landed in unison below, each standing by a corner of Axato’s sandpit. The Skull Raider leader held up a hand and generated another forcefield, but as Narmoto shouted “As one!” this forcefield proved ineffective against the combined forces of the Protector’s elemental powers.


Six streams of elemental energy came together from their hands at Axato’s forcefield, draining its life faster than even Makuta’s power could replenish it. Axato knew it, and he also knew he was trapped, cornered on all sides. As quickly as he could, he continued making the hand motions and speaking his mystical incantations. All he had to do was complete the ritual and Makuta would be back, and Makuta would wipe these meddlesome Protectors out.


Before he could do so, the forcefield gave in, and the six elemental streams hit Axato together. For nearly a minute, the echoes of the screams of both Axato and Makuta lingered in the vast chamber. In the center of the six Protectors, though, was only a monument to the great battle, the form of Axato in his sandpit, preserved as he was, coated entirely in an unbreakable layer of crystal. He would remain so for the rest of time, forever a moment away from completing his task.


The Protectors cheered and congratulated one another on their victory. Okoto was safe from Makuta, for now and forever. As their celebration died down, Vizuna looked pensively up at the cliff they had jumped from.


“We have won, yet you are troubled, brother,” Narmoto said.


“I am,” the Protector of Jungle admitted, though he smiled. He pointed to the cliff and asked, “Just how are we going to get back up there?”

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"You are an absolute in these uncertain times. Your past is forgotten, and your
future is an empty book. You must find your own destiny, my brave adventurer.
-- Turaga Nokama


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Dude, this is great! I loved the original content of Revenge of the Skull Spiders and Escape from the Underworld, and here you've brought them both together! Axato's ability to speak Okotan was a little off-putting at first, but realizing that he's semi-possessed by Makuta ties that up nicely; it was also cool how you gave him a second chance to strut his stuff as a villain. Loved your work with the Protectors as well-best of luck to you in the contest.

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