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Water's Will


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Synopsis: In a time where titans ruled and fought, vying for influence and power in the dawn of the Matoran Universe, one keen Toa of Water sees the need to enact great change, and the opportunity to do so. She takes it. 

Water’s Will

    Chaos erupted in the large western watch tower of Artakha's citadel-fortress when Axonn dropped the scorched and shattered mask of Av'Kra on the assembly floor. The Toa of Water who stood beside him was sure that the uproar was great enough to compromise the structural soundness of even Artakha's immaculate masonry. 
    “It’s over!” the axe-wielding warrior bellowed, slamming his colossal pole-arm on the floor repeatedly. With each slam of protosteel on stone, more and more silence fell. “Our leader is dead.” 
    More than thirty beings - titans, warriors, champions, and other operatives of the Hand of Artakha were crowded into the largest space their headquarters had. They had never met, all together in one space, before in the history of the universe. But it was a relatively young universe, so there were a lot of ‘first’s. 
    She gazed around, analyzing the room carefully but deftly. She stood in the center of the room with the troop of fighters, the reek of fresh battle filth still roiling off them. Shouts, demands, and wails rained from every direction. They wanted to know what in Karzahni’s twisted name had happened. 
    Indeed, Karzahni had happened.  
    “It was an ambush,” she called, the instant the din began to lull, and stepped forward. The room was now full of distraught but eager listeners. Although she was one of the smallest in the room, and the only Toa, she had proven herself on what felt like countless missions and assignments. She did not take their respect lightly - not after all the blood, sweat, and tears it had taken to earn it. As she spoke, she paced, intense amber glare daring, almost inviting a challenger. “It was an ambush,” she repeated. “They were waiting for us in the Wailing Ravines of Karzahni.” 
    The Toa of Water began relating the grim tale of the last battle of the Hand of Artakha. 

    “How did it come to this?” the black and white armored titan demanded, storming into the courtyard. He addressed no one in particular, as the courtyard was empty besides himself and his two operatives rushing along behind him, careful to keep clear of his huge war halberd that crackled with energy. Above, dark clouds began to gather at the call of his Great Mask of Weather Control. Av’Kra, the leader of the Hand of Artakha, was not one who raged easily. And so, it was that much more terrifying when he did. He had reached the end of his rope. “Who do they have?” he demanded. 
    Axonn and the Toa exchanged a frantic look. Axonn answered, having known Av’Kra the longest of anyone in the Hand. “Hydraxon and Armonger, sir.” 
    “We sent Seja ahead, but have no word from her,” the Toa of Water added.  Hydraxon was the Hand’s most expert combat and weapons-master, and Armonger was a brilliant and intuitive weapon-smith.
    “That’s not like her,” Av’Kra said, shaking his head. Seja, a well-fought and even better spoken winged warrior, was their most reliable and diplomatic messenger. “Will we need to plan to rescue three, then?”  It was all the more infuriating to Av’Kra that the two, very possibly three, agents now missing were three of the more responsible ones, who didn’t create more wreckage than they were assigned to fix in the first place. And now they were bearing the consequences of their fellow operatives’ blunders. 
    It was just supposed to be a simple mission - routing of a hostile Zyglak clan on Zakaz that the two local Toa there couldn’t finish off, and deliver a payment to the Vortixx of Xia. Nothing the weapons-master and the weapon-smith couldn’t easily handle in their sleep. But in the past half a century, things had changed. After three of his operatives had broken and dismantled a long-standing slave ring out of the South Eastern Island chain, a consuming zeal for success, no matter the cost, had blazed through many of the other agents. Their work became more and more messy, and they cared less and less, to their leader’s distaste, and despite many warnings from both Av’Kra, and even the Creator Titan, Artakha himself. The Hand members had unsurprisingly made many enemies in those years. 
    A particularly bellicose agent had antagonized the wrong titan - Karzahni. The Titan of Chaos had made short work, ending that particular Hand member’s existence, but needed no invitation or excuse, after that, to target the rest of the Hand. And he targeted them with a vengeance. In the past year alone, half a dozen of their operatives had disappeared or turned up mockingly mutilated, graffitied by Karzahni, and very dead on the shores of Artakha. The eponymous Creator Titan didn’t like that at all, and had redoubled the warding and cloaking technology around his realm. 
    Av’Kra dispatched his dutiful, quickly-rising Toa agent with short list of names of operatives to gather from or call back to their headquarters. The leader and Axonn, his lieutenant, continued on through the courtyard, heading for the foundries, no doubt seeking audience with Artakha himself. 
    A frown rippled through the Toa’s Mask of Psychometry. Two of the names on the list were currently away on assignment. She turned to head back to the wing of the citadel that served as their base, now in resolute search for a particular messenger with a specialized skillset. Although the Toa found him slightly unsettling to interact with, he was the only one who could deliver the message to the active agents scattered around the world so quickly. Av’Kra trusted him, and that was sufficient, for now. There were a select handful of their other agents with teleportation abilities, but none even close with the same range of travel as this one who stole through the shadow gates so easily. 
    She turned over the stone tablet, reading again the rough outline of action on the back. This was a very clear-cut mission with a task force designed to hit hard and fast. Av’Kra himself would be leading, very clearly fed up with the agents of Karzahni picking off his operatives. And he would never knowingly send his agents on a mission he himself wasn’t willing to do. 
    Axonn, faithful and true, was on the list, which surprised no one. He and their leader hailed from the same island. Word around the citadel was that Axonn even knew Av’Kra’s true name. The Toa suspected his trust Mask of Truth had something to do with that. 
    Malohi, a forest-armored warrior with remarkable healing and poisoning abilities would be joining them. According to the list on the front of the tablet, he was currently dispatched on the island that now bore his name, in his honor, after his century of work liberating its inhabitants and wrangling its hostile flora and fauna. 
    Next was a flamboyant but efficient and powerful operative who everyone knew as the Avohkah Tamer. Although many doubted his lightning abilities and speed came from the electric rahi beasts as he claimed, they didn’t doubt his powers’ potency. The Toa herself had been privy to witness the Tamer work, as they’d been on several missions together, her elemental water and his wild lightning proving a devastating combination. Most recently, three years ago, they’d assisted a newly created Toa of Psionics liberate a peninsula on his home island from an enemy with frightening hypnosis powers. 
    And finally, the Toa was not surprised to read her own name next on the list. She tried not to let the conceit of being chosen settle. It helped that she was listed only above instructions to retrieve an Energy Hound from Hydraxon’s kennel.
    One didn’t have to munch on knowledge tower crystals to figure out what this team was designed for. With the exception of the Energy Hound, they all had abilities that would complement their fearsome leader’s powers of tempest and storm, and training or tools to walk straight and see clearly through the realm of nightmares, for there was no other place they could be headed. 

    At the request of his old friend and comrade, the Creator Titan had teleported Av’Kra and his task force to the Karzahni Jut, the small peninsula that extended into the territory of Metru Nui. This was the safest, most controlled way for anyone looking to enter Karzahni’s land, the terms ’safe’ and ‘controlled’ being completely relative.  
    The leader of the Hand of Artakha strode through the desolate realm as though he owned the place. Three of his most dangerous operatives walked with him - Axonn, who commanded the power of truth as proficiently as he did his axe; the First Toa, a warrior of deep, dangerous waters and willpower; and Malohi, the wise and cunning forest titan, carrying his toxic broadsword that would make a doom viper think twice, and an ancient Kanohi Rau, in case any vipers needed further convincing to back off. 
    Under the masterful command of Av’Kra’s great Mask of Weather Control, a cold front swept the Screaming Steppes of Karzahni ahead of the agents of Artakha, and swirling columns of stormclouds bursting with electricity trailed behind them in the sky. The thunder that rumbled in their wake almost drowned out the protesting caterwauls of the cursed ground beneath their feet. Almost. 
    Although any sane being would have fled from the weather-wielding titan’s warpath, they all found it concerning that there had not been a single being around to flee in the first place. 
    A crackling streak of lightning ran along the ground, cutting straight toward the vengefully advancing warriors, through the plumes of dust thrown into the air by Av’Kra’s chilling cold front. The Avohkah Tamer had returned with the Energy Hound from scouting ahead. He had the ability to share his dizzying speed-travel, at the cost of halving the speed he traveled for each ‘passenger’. But, even at half-speed, he and the Energy Hound would have given any Kakama user a good chase. 
    “Got them,” the Avohkah Tamer slowed to match their pace, having hooked around and come up on their left. He, in his regal-looking purple and gold armor, didn’t even have the decency to look winded - in fact, quite the opposite. “The Wailing Ravine. But there are Manas. Counted a dozen, I’m sure more will show up.” It was a toss up, whether he spoke in full sentences or stood still more often, and neither occurred all that often. The Toa wasn’t convinced he knew how to speak properly, but she also didn’t entirely care. His words got their point across and that’s all she needed to work with him. 
    The poor Energy Hound, though the Tamer had also lent it his own endurance and maneuverability that came with his powers of lightning-speed, had not fared quite so heartily. But it was a young, dedicated working hound, and was eager to track down its own beloved master. It was an honor to be chosen for this mission, the hound knew. So, it held its head high, and cantered alongside the kindly forest titan who spoke gently in the hound’s own tongue. 
    The Toa sensed a great, groggy river in the distance, and far below their feet. Through the dust clouds spewing up before them, which filtered the light from the suns reddish brown, she could make out the dark shape of a jagged mountain range stretching out before them. It was difficult to tell just how far it was, just as it was similarly impossible to keep track of how long they’d been traveling. Even the most disciplined agents of Artakha were not completely immune to the contagious insanity that pulsed through the realm. 
    Ahead of her, although it was impossible to hear over the screaming of the steppes and the accelerating winds and thunder that grew angrier with every clap, the Toa of Water could see the Avohkah Tamer gesturing unrestrainedly, in conversation with their commander. Although almost the height of Av’Kra and Axonn, the Tamer was more like a broad-shoulded Vortixx, both in build and ambitious ego. Even as she was prodding the clouds in the sky above, to get an idea of what resources Av’Kra was giving her to work with, she let out a cry of surprise as the Avohkah Tamer grabbed Axonn’s arm, and what looked like a stasis field of his lightning enveloped them. And then, they were gone. Had she blinked, she’d had missed it all. And if she hadn’t known better, she’d have said they teleported away. She jogged ahead, to catch up to Av’Kra and ask what was now happening. She drew level with him, and had just opened her mouth to shout to him, when she found the Avohkah Tamer back, this time by her side, grinning as he grasped her forearm. 
    “Let’s see how well our little Takea shark hunts in the Ravine,” the Tamer called above the winds, gripping her forearm and ignoring her fierce scowl. If they weren’t on a high-stakes rescue mission in a foreign, hostile land, and Av’Kra weren’t present, she probably would have taken a swing at his powerless purple Kanohi with her spiked mace. 
    “Don’t antagonize her,” was all Av’Kra said, well aware of just how irritating the Tamer’s antics could be. But he also knew it was not difficult to antagonize the driven Toa of Water. 
    Av’Kra disappeared behind the bolts of lightning that enveloped them. They were off. The Toa did not like this high-speed method of travel, and retreated ungratefully into her mask-smashing happy place until the landscape slowed and came into focus. 
    “Lay low. Bringing the rest,” was all the Tamer said, pointing to where Axonn crouched behind a large stone outcropping at the lip of the ravine they now stood on. And he was gone. Across the chasm, the jagged mountain range she had seen from a distance stabbed into the red sky, reaching to dethrone the suns. The wind howled through the dark canyon. Even with her neck craned all the way back, she couldn’t properly glimpse the mountains. 
    The Screaming Steppes had given way to scorched badlands, with dark stone monoliths scattered behind them, like some Po-Matoran sculptor’s bad dream. Many large rocks and boulders, volcanic by the look of them, lay where they had fallen in eruptions of centuries past. 
    The Toa quickly joined her comrade in the shelter of a corner formed by two large boulders, close to the lip of the canyon. “What’s going on?” she asked, keeping her voice low but over-enunciating so he could see, rather than hear, what she was saying. 
    “Manas,” he mouthed back, and pointed to the canyon. “Go see.” 
    Creeping the short distance to the edge of the Wailing Ravine, the Toa shuddered at what she saw. There were spiky ledges all the way down their side of the ravine wall, to the churning, sickly river far, far below. Along the ledges patrolled the monster crabs of Karzahni. Their numbers weren’t overwhelming, but their constant movement and dark coloring made it impossible to count them. 
    She glanced back at Axonn, who was gesturing more toward the ravine, although she didn’t totally understand. She also noted that Malohi now crouched with the axe-wielder, suffering from slight vertigo. The Toa turned back to the ravine, and immediately saw what Axonn had been indicating. Dark, mossy chains hung down the far, ledgeless, vertical opposite wall of the ravine, and from those chains hung cages.  She looked left and right, spotting almost two dozen cages. She spotted one swarmed with crawling cliff-dwelling rahi she didn’t recognize. Avsa Kahu circled in the ravine, beyond that, nasty scavenging hawks, feeding on flesh and fear. A few cages held heaps of old armor, long ago eviscerated. Some lay unmoving forms, but too far away to make out clearly. Scanning, scanning, she searched for any familiar figures. She feared it was in vain. 
    There! She spotted, almost directly across from her, past far too many Manas crabs, a hanging cage that held the familiar winged figure of Seja. There was enough room in the cage for her to stand, but barely. Still, she seemed unaware of the Toa peering down at her, and jerked to and fro, batting at random. Fighting a nightmare, the Toa realized. 
    The Toa turned, crawling back to shelter. The Energy Hound and the Avohkah Tamer both huddled with the other two warriors. The Toa of Water joined them, raising herself to a crouch as well. 
    Clouds they had recently outrun began to gather overhead, signaling the quick approach of their commander. Axonn summoned a stasis field to shelter them from the noise of the ravine and the screeching Rahi. It wasn’t soundproof, but at least they could talk without shouting and announcing their existence. 
    “Did you see them?” Axonn asked the Toa. 
    “I saw Seja,” she replied. 
    “Hydraxon is in the cage two to the left of her. He’s practically in the river,” he said, shaking his great head. At the name of its master, the energy hound gave a hopeful wag of its tail. The Toa patted its head reassuringly and murmured that it would be okay. 
    “I wonder what else is in the river.” The Avohka Tamer shuddered. 
    “Any sign of Armonger?” the Toa asked. 
    They all shook their heads ‘no’. “We need Seja, then,” she said. Seja’s ability of flight and her Kanohi Suletu would be key. They all knew but didn’t feel the need to acknowledge that the blue and silver armored weaponsmith could well have been eliminated, instead of taken captive. 
    “We need to get her to myself, Malohi, or Av’Kra,” Axonn said. “Or vice-versa.” All three had the ability to banish he nightmares and insanity inflicted in this place. 
    All of the sudden, the clouds halted their advance, and spread out in the sky, almost politely letting the suns-light through. But they hung in the sky, waiting for commands.  Av’Kra had arrived. 
    His lieutenant briefed him, as Malohi and the Avohkah Tamer both crept to the edge of the canyon, surveying. 
    “You and the lightning rider need to get to Hydraxon,” Av’Kra addressed his Toa. “Make sure he’s alive, and get him out of that ravine.” 
    She nodded, mind already racing, as they joined the Tamer at the edge of the cliff face. He pointed to their target, very very far down the opposite cliff face. The Avohkah Tamer evidently had better eyes than the Toa, because she couldn’t make out any detail, that far down. But she could see how close the cage dangled above the murky river. If it ever rained in Karzahni, the cage’s unconscious occupant would be in trouble. 
    The Toa stared down into the ravine, reading the river, reaching out to it, and imploring it to tell her its secrets, to trust her. She was even prepared to promise it a nourishing torrential downpour if it worked with her. 
    A few yards away, Malohi and Axonn schemed the best way to get to Seja, trapped in a waking nightmare. 
    “Yourself, sir? What will you do?” the Avohkah Tamer inquired, while also analyzing the cliff faces for a way down and, more importantly, back up. Preferably, a way that was as Manas-free as possible. 
    Av’Kra waited to reply, until the eyes of his four fighters found him and told him silently that they were ready for action. He raised his halberd, sparks dancing into bolts along its blade. Above, the clouds mirrored his weapon, and began a slow, menacing rotation. The temperature dropped, where they all could see their breath. “I’ll keep your exit clear.” And blinding strikes of lighting rained down around them, with earsplitting thunder to accompany. Although it petrified the poor Energy Hound, the lightning strikes also drew shrieks of warning from the multitude of Manas crabs below, echoing up and down the whole ravine. As Av’Kra tucked the trembling Energy Hound safely in a crevice in the corner of two boulders, with a protective stasis field, his agents sprang into action. 
    The last sight the Toa of Water saw before her running straight at ravine was lightning falling all around the mighty Av’Kra, who swung his weapon wildly above his head and ran south to meet the first Manas claw that broke above the lip of the Wailing Ravine. 
    She was vaguely aware of the Avohkah Tamer’s cry of surprise as she sprinted past him, launching herself into the open air of the canyon. Stabilizing her rapid descent with a precise set of flips, she saw in the rushing corners of her vision dark Manas shapes flying past her, and a bright streak of light, also descending just as quickly, if not moreso. 
    A swirling geyser of water rose to meet her and break her dive. It enveloped her and collapsed with a slap back into the river. If monsters of Karzahni did indeed lurk in this river, they were about to meet a Toa of Water with an agenda, and they’d steer clear if they knew what was good for them. Visibility in the water was almost zero, but the Toa had carefully measured her dive and strokes through the water, bursting through the surface precisely where she wanted. The bottom of the wire-cable cage that held the unconscious weaponsmaster was within easy reach, and the Toa pulled herself out of the river, scrambling onto the top of the prison, examining the chain it was attached to. 
    The winds howled deafeningly around her. She jumped out of the way as the Avohkah Tamer landed right where she had been crouching atop the cage. 
    “Great Spirit, will you watch it?” she snapped at him, not sure if she could be heard. 
    “I was yelling to you to move, the whole way down!” he protested. He had slid down the length of chain, which was slimy and gritty, and he regretted it very much. A deft blast of lightning scared way a curious Avsa Hawk that landed, clinging to the cliffside directly above them. 
    “He’s alive,” the Toa said. “We shouldn’t revive him here. Can you carry him out?” 
    They both gazed at the vertical, algae-covered walls of the canyon. “Not sure if I can even get myself out,” he admitted. With a shrug, he added, “Wouldn’t hurt to try.” 
    “Yes, it would,” she told him curtly. “The riverbed is made of blades and bodies and lots of sharp rocks. If you fall, you’ll be one of the collection.” It was her only her adroit control of and control in her element that had allowed her a successful dive. 
    They could only just make out the shapes of Axonn and Malohi downriver, and higher up on the precipice wall. The bulky warriors would have no trouble smashing open Seja’s cage. 
    A crack of thunder sent rocks from above tumbling down the cliff face. The Toa’s quick reflexes in the form of a wide jet of water kept the debris from falling onto them. A stray chunk of rock clipped the edge of the cage on the way down. “These aren’t very sturdy,” the Toa shouted to the Tamer.  She began scaling back up the cliff face, dehydrating the plantlife and surface of the rock as she went, to keep from slipping.  “Give it a good shock.” 
    “What? But what about Hydraxon?” the Avohkah Tamer asked, assessing the structure of the metal beneath him.
    “He’s been through worse, and if I know him at all, he wants to live to see worse yet,” she called. “On my mark!” She needed a few more feet to dive again, and gain enough velocity to shatter the cage. Ideally she’d want to ride a tidal wave past it, and shatter it with a good swing from her mace on the way, but she didn’t have time to swim that far upstream. 
    She gasped as a bolt of lightning sizzled past her, and yelled down to the Tamer to, yet again, watch it. But when she saw what he had been aiming at, she nearly lost her grip on the wall. Two Zyglak. Both descending effortlessly down the wall toward her, and three more bounding down the ledges opposite them.  Time for a different plan. 
    “Get out of here!” she shouted to the Avohkah Tamer. He was busy sending strike after strike of lightning at their reptilian foes. It was more effective, he found, to target the stone wall they clung to, to dislodge them, as they seemed to shake off direct lightning strikes like a Kane-Ra shrugs off a Hoto bug. 
    Making sure she had a solid handhold, the Toa let go of the wall with her other hand, holding her spiked mace aloft, and calling desperately to the water in the clouds above. She prayed to the Great Spirit that Av’Kra would cede control of the part of his storm that she needed. Simultaneously, she urged the river below her to rise, feeding it her own rising sense of urgency. Slowly, too slowly, a funnel of storm cloud answered her, and began dipping itself into the canyon, where she waited. The eddies in the now raging river below began to swirl together, gaining speed. It took all her concentration, with her ally’s lightning bolts flying all around her, and an over-zapped Zyglak falling past her into the river didn’t help. It nearly snagged her on its way down. 
    It wouldn’t be enough. The three Zyglak on the opposite wall had nearly drawn level with her. The one Zyglak directly above them was keeping the Avohkah Tamer busy, screeching what must have been profanities at him in its own language. Mentally, the Toa prepared to stop feeding her waterspout and redirect it at the oncoming enemies. 
    Suddenly, with a roar that echoed over the thunder, a large, six-legged dragon burst from the river, scaling the opposite ledges effortlessly, and knocking a surprised Zyglak off the wall. The Toa even heard the satisfying crunch of another's armor between the dragon’s jaws, as one got too close. 
    “Armonger!” she cried, although the howling winds in the canyon drowned out her cry. The intimidating weapon-smith barreled into a Manas crab that she hadn’t even noticed. For all his fearlessness in battle, one would never guess he was a tinkerer at heart. The dragon quickly pieced together the Toa’s plan, working with the Avohkah Tamer giving the Toa cover and space to work. 
    The Toa poured all her concentration into completing her waterspout. The whirlpool building in the river now began to rise to meet the storming funnel of cloud. It felt like it took an eternity. But Armonger and the Avohkah Tamer did their jobs well, giving her cover from more and more of the reptilian monsters descending toward them. 
    And all at once, it was ready and they moved at the Toa’s command. A powerful shock from the Tamer left the weapons-master’s cage brittle and smoking, and leapt clear to the opposite precipice wall, speeding past rushing foes back up the wall. Armonger turned and launched himself downward off the wall, directly at the cage. As soon as his serpentine bulk crashed into the cage, it ripped free of the wall and broke apart. The Toa dove into the river, now rapids, after them. 
    The three of them rode the tumultuous waterspout up and out of the ravine, feeling like they were being ripped apart the whole way. But it worked. The Toa, with a final burst of power, bent the top of the spout, spitting them onto the ground and into the middle of a war zone. The Toa redirected what was left of the waterspout into a huge jet of water, clearing a safe landing for them. The Avohkah Tamer arrived only moments later, helping the Toa beat back a Manas crab, as Armonger guarded the unmoving Hydraxon from two Zyglak. Malohi had seen them, and was battling his way toward them. There must have been almost two dozen Manas crabs, and at least twice as many Zyglak swarming the battlefield. 
    Above, Seja now wheeled haphazardly in the sky, dodging lightning bolts as best she could, and firing her own explosive bolts from a prototype crossbow of Armonger’s design. Where the multitude of enemies were teeming most heavily, and an extremely localized hailstorm was dropping Kanohi-sized hailstones, could only be where Av’Kra and Axonn were fighting. More and more of them were breaking off, spotting the Toa and her group of fighters. One last Zyglak fell away from Malohi, screeching as its organic tissue bubbling and slopping out of its armor with a foul stench. Whatever poison he had imbued his broadsword with, it was quite potent. The forest titan sheathed his deadly blade, vaulting over Armonger to kneel beside Hydraxon, dumping vials he had stowed Mata Nui knows where, in desperate hopes of reviving the weapons-master on the spot. 
    The Toa cursed her lack of knowledge in general about Zyglak composition, as she searched and reached for any liquid protodermis in their organic tissue - an idea employed on the fly from Malohi’s poison. But there were too many, all moving too fast, closing in on their group. While Armonger guarded Malohi and Hydraxon, the Avohkah Tamer rushed to meet a howling troop of Zyglak, battering them at lightning speed, but with sub-par lethality. The Toa turned to a hissing Manas crab that had ventured too close for anyone’s comfort. Distracting it with dancing tendrils of water, she was able to dance close enough to deliver some solid blows with her spiked mace, seeking any break in its armor. If she couldn't reach liquid protodermis or water within her enemies, she'd have to put some there. She reached with her power to the groundwater. 
    As the Manas’ giant claw clipped her in the pelvis, sending her flying, the water from the ground burst upward into a geyser right below the monster. The Toa staggered to her feet, relishing briefly her victory. As the Manas waved its legs and claws uselessly in the air, having been flipped upside down, she brought down the water from the geyser with as much force as she could muster. And what water made it into the crab’s shell, she ripped outward in an explosion, along with the monster itself. It was a mess, but it bought her more time, as the explosion had taken out two more Zyglak that had made it past the Avohkah Tamer. The Toa knelt, both palms pressed flat to the earth, not wanting to lose the connection to the water in the ground she had made. She pulled more and more. Dizzy with the effort and energy expenditure, she also tugged at the clouds. Av’Kra must have felt her pull, somewhere from the turmoil around him, and released the downpour building in the stormclouds. In a few minutes, if the groundwater arrived, the battlefield would be a swamp. 
    A blur of flashing blades charged straight past the Toa, felling another four Zyglak that she was woefully unprepared to meet. Almost comically, they fell to the ground - one, two, three, four, all dead but seemingly untouched. The next thing she knew, Hydraxon stood above her, looking very pleased with himself and not at all like he had just been trapped, comatose, in an indefinite, cyclical nightmare. His trick-density swords, an experiment of Armonger’s gone slightly wrong, couldn’t touch metallic protodermis. They passed straight through, intangible. But they could cut through organic tissue with no problem, and excelled at doing so, especially in the trained employ of Hydraxon. They were risky blades, completely ineffective if one didn’t know how to use them, and didn’t know one’s enemy. But, of course, the weapons-master was not titled as such for fun. 
    “Are you hurt?” he called to her. It was hard to hear him, even though he was right beside her. The exhausted Toa could only shake her bowed head. “If you don’t move, you will be soon,” he warned, already lunging to a pair of Manas crabs now scuttling straight for them. 
    “Wait,” she gasped. Her head snapped up, a victorious but weary smile spreading across her mask. The Manas crabs slowed, struggling ineffectively in a hungry bog, sinking slowly the more they struggled. The Toa and the warrior stood on a small island, safe. Farther away, Zyglak and other Manas struggled in the mud as well. “Come on!” The Toa stood, momentarily clutching Hydraxon’s arm for support until she stopped seeing spots. Then, she headed off as fast as she could, which at this point wasn’t all that fast, toward Malohi, who was locked in a deadly king-of-the-rock tussle with an unnaturally large and monstrous Zyglak - probably a tribe leader. As the Toa ran, she dehydrated the ground just ahead of her, making a safe land bridge for Hydraxon to follow. 
    But it seemed endless. For each enemy she sank into the bog, or that was felled by a swing of a blade or blast of energy, more and more seemed to be appearing. 
    An earthshattering explosion of lightning that nobody had known Av’Kra was capable of summoning knocked every fighter on the battlefield off their feet. The enemies that had been suffocating himself and Axonn were flung away.  The ones that didn’t land in the Toa’s swamp lay unmoving on the hard-packed earth. The Avohkah Tamer zipped in to join the two of them. They were on the edge of the Toa’s swamp, only a few dozen bio and a few dozen enemies away. 
    But by the time Hydraxon had pulled the Toa of Water out of her own bog, the Avohkah Tamer was by their side. 
    “The boss says we’ve got to go,” he shouted through the winds that had replaced the downpour. 
    “What?” they both demanded. 
    “Can’t stay here forever, right?” The Tamer shrugged his good shoulder, the other one having taken a few too many blows. “Back to the Jut. Artakha can get us out, there.” 
    Hydraxon nodded once, launching an exploding throwing star nonchalantly at a Zyglak who had struggled too close to them with a flick of his wrist. “Get the injured ones out first.” That would be Seja, clinging to the side of a rock spire with a gash in her side, and Malohi who was limping and barely able to stand after his close call with a Zyglak chief. The forest titan was also cradling the critically wounded Energy Hound, who had bravely come to his aid. 
    Suddenly, the wind stopped and the lightning ceased to fall, and the clouds above stopped moving. The temperature plummeted once more.  All three looked to Av’Kra, preparing for whatever strange weather force he was now summoning. But he was gazing around warily, which made them all uneasy. What enemies were left standing had also frozen. 
    An invasive and unnatural darkness bloomed. 
    A voice crackled through their minds, like the breaking of long-dead thorn branches and splintering of bones, sending fear prickling through every nerve and fibre. 
   No, no, servants of my dear brother. You’ll not leave my realm so easily. 
   The Toa’s swamp dried up, as the king of the land severed what connection she’d forged. 
    The Chaos Titan continued, I’ve labored for years, trying to entice my brother who dwells so comfortably in the light to venture out, venture here. But he’s chosen to ignore the invitations I’ve sent him. But perhaps if he knows I have so many of his servants here, alive this time, he will deign to visit. And not just any servants, but the ringleader. The voice chuckled to itself, the horrible sensation that drove some of them their knees, the Toa included. 
    Av’Kra locked eyes with the Avohkah Tamer, and spoke just as effectively as the mind-voice with a swift, subtle gesture. Get them out of here. 
    Before the Toa's eyes, the Tamer disappeared. A moment later, Seja had also disappeared from her perch, even as Av'Kra shouted out challenges to Karzahni. The Toa once again spread both hands on the ground, whispering to the river to feed her strength. Nothing happened, but nothing stopped her from trying. Perhaps Karzahni was not as all-powerful and all-knowing within his realm like Artakha was in his own. Ways this could be used to their advantage flew through her mind. 
    Before she knew it, Malohi and the Energy Hound were also gone, whisked away by the Avohkah Tamer. None of them had ever seen him tire. The Toa wondered if this would be that day, although she didn’t necessarily want it to be. She stood, too depleted to try and reach the river any more. 
    “You couldn’t hold a lightstone to Artakha. What’s to say you’d fare any better against us?” they heard Axonn bluster into the darkness. “If you want to govern in the light and gain renown like him, you can’t hide behind your shadows and your monsters!” He swung his axe in a low arc, crunching an already-dead Manas shell for emphasis. “Face us like the great titan you claim to be, or slink away to your crevice and stay there.” 
    The Toa wasn’t sure if Axonn was just trying to bait Karzahni, or if he was actually angry. No matter, it was effective. The darkness around them flew back to its source, who had appeared standing atop the tallest jagged stone pillar on the field, cutting a ghastly silhouette with flaming chains and twisted antlers. 
    “Don’t think I don’t know who you are, Av’Kra.” Karzahni spoke menacingly, but not loudly. Somehow, they all heard him clearly, though his voice should not have carried that clearly. “You’re the one that I need, not your boisterous Brakas.” 
    Av’Kra put a steadying hand on Axonn’s shoulder, and shook his head. 
    The leader of the Hand of Artakha stepped toward the wielder of chaos, white lightning swirling and leaping around the head of his mighty war halberd. “You’re all talk. If you want to keep us here, you’re going to have to fight for it. Let’s see what you’re made of.” 
    The Toa didn’t notice the Avohkah Tamer arrive at her side. With a cry of protest, the Toa was spirited away from the battlefield. The last sight of her commander, emblazoned in her memory forever - fearlessly rushing toward the king of nightmares, like a force of nature. 

    But it hadn’t been enough. 
    The Toa finished speaking - what had felt like reliving the dreadful eighteen-odd hours had taken no more than a few minutes as she told it. Arriving at the Karzahni Jut, they had contacted Artakha, and they were teleported back to his realm, more or less safe. The Toa wasted no time dispatching the Avohkah Tamer, Seja and their handful of other teleporter agents gather their operatives at their headquarters. It had all taken less than a day, but the quick-travelers were exhausted.
    A cacophony broke out. Screeching, shouting, roaring, bellowing. Demands, accusations, threats, questions. It was almost worse than fighting tribes of Zyglak. An unruly, two-headed fighter from the western island chain unsheathed their twin acid scimtars, hurling unnecessary profanities while advancing toward Axonn. A translucent agent began darkening in opacity and glowing, readying her powerful energy blasts. She didn’t seem to care who she was aiming at, as she whirled around and around. The crowd of warriors began bursting into pandemonium once more. Weapons were drawn, some swings and misses, a lot of yelling. 
    “That is enough.” The Great Creator Titan materialized in the center of the assembly, and they all fell still and silent instantly. The Karzahni fighters stumbled out of his way as respectfully as possible. Artakha spoke calmly, but his deep voice resonated out of the very stones that made up the tower, rolling through them all as easily as a tsunami rolls through the sea. “Too many good warriors have spent their lives for this cause of yours that bears my name. You are finished. You will not bring any more destruction to my realm. Begone.” Before his last syllable had even finished ringing from the walls, the gray and green legend had vanished once more, taking the broken Mask of Weather Control with him. His presence receded from the stones, leaving the tower cold, ringing with a resentful and mournful silence. 
    The Toa watched as they began to disperse slowly. Some broke into small, defeated, whispering groups, while others walked away, dazed and alone. 
    She turned to Seja beside her, a trusted compatriot. “Where will you go?” 
    The winged warrior leaned heavily on the shoulder of a petite, black armored agent - a specialized stealth operative named Erylist. 
    “Back to Xamra,” Seja replied, still clutching her wounded side. “Those cities aren’t going to build themselves.” She motioned with an incline of her head for Armonger to follow herself and Erylist toward the spiraling east staircase out of the tower. Indeed. Sometimes it was easy, too easy, to forget that there was a whole world that still needed to be built. The Toa doubted, sometimes, how that would ever be possible, with how much destruction and chaos had already been allowed to take hold and fester, both in the world and in the hearts of its inhabitants.
    She had seen chaos, been part of it. She had seen new heroes - Toa, like her, establish themselves, surely to become legends - to suffer through battle and betrayal, and be immortalized and upheld as paladins by the chosen Matoran race, and surely by many others in the world. The allure of glory still whispered to her, some days stronger than others. Easily, with this open road now stretching out in front of her, she could become one of them. Not just in appearance and power, but in earnest. But there were some burdens too heavy and too dark for glory to carry. 
    No. The limelight would fall, rightfully so, on the unified, dutiful, and destined Toa with their honorable code. But where that code fell short or prevented elimination of a threat, a force which could strike from the long shadows cast by those heroes was in order. It would take time and it would take tenacity. Toa Helryx stood a bit straighter, with her will of protosteel, ready to do whatever it took to bring that order.

The End

Related reading: The Ternion
Edited by Aderia
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(disclaimer: none of this banner art is original, I just smooshed it together in gimp. Torchic, Matau)
Those pesky firespitters... 
Library | The Sculptors and the Smelters | The Ternion Review Topic 

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