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The Volara Cycle


BuckJohnson

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Author’s Note - Updated August 18, 2023

It’s been a long road, but we’ve finally made it. When I originally started working on the opening scene of this story during the early pandemic days, I had no way of knowing that it would’ve ever become what it is now. Clocking in at over 75,000 words and 141 pages in Google Drive, it feels weird to say that The Volara Cycle is my first novel length work, especially since it happened essentially on accident. After I posted the first few chapters on BZPower, I felt like I had a responsibility to see the work through to its conclusion, wherever that may be. As I added more and more to it I realized that I didn’t yet have a clear idea of what that conclusion would be. Thus, the long hiatus between Chapter 18 and the closing chapters. This hiatus also included a good amount of revision to the chapters that had already been posted, so those readers that have been here since the start are advised to start the story from the beginning. 

A note on gender in the story: both genders are present in all elements in this story. It just seems to be the most natural way to do it from my point of view. Additionally, I'm sorry for the myriad formatting errors that are bound to be present. It seems the BZP text editor does not like copy and pasting from Google Drive. Finally, there are two maps of Volara-Nui available in the review thread. Thank you to all those who read the story in its incomplete state and provided feedback in the review thread. A lot of it has been incorporated in the final version of the story. A final note to readers new and old; I hope this story brings you joy and lets you reminisce on the good times that BIONICLE brought you.

 

 Chapter 1

He felt the sting of hot sand on his face when he awoke. The sound of the waves filled his ears, and the song of flying sea Rahi carried across the water. His whole body ached, as if he had just fallen a great distance. Slowly, he pushed himself up, spitting out the abrasive grains of sediment as he went. He rolled over onto his back, looking out over the ocean. The blue waves of liquid protodermis stretched out as far as the eye could see. He shielded his eyes to see more clearly, spying a formation of jagged rocks stabbing out from the water a hundred or so bios away from the shore. There seemed to be wreckage about it; ships that had found their end on the treacherous stones. 

Could it have been one of the ships that had brought him here? There didn’t seem to be any other explanation. But why? He suddenly thought. Why did I come here? Where is here? Who am I? The last question was most concerning of all. He racked his mind for a name, searching for anything to fill in the gap. Nothing came to him. He stood up, weakly, and looked down on himself, hoping his own image would dislodge the stubborn memory. He saw a tall, strong body with brown armor, streaked with tan. He leaned over a tide pool to see his reflection. The gray face was unknown to him. Frustrated, he smacked the water and walked off.

He spied a strange object buried in the sand; he almost wrote it off as a rock or shell, but the angled shape and metallic glint caught his attention. On further inspection, he realized it was a Kanohi mask. A Great Kualsi by the looks of it. He sensed waves of energy thrumming just beneath the mask’s metal enamel, pulsing like a heartbeat. He slowly put the mask up to his face and felt the magnetic pull yank it the rest of the way. It came slowly, then all at once. The energy contained within the mask filled his body like water soaks fabric. With power came strength, and renewed confidence. The Toa peered through the mask's eye slits with clear vision. Whatever his past, whatever brought him to the island, he knew one thing was true: He was a Toa of Stone, gifted with the ability to manipulate the rocks and boulders and the very ground.

Despite this, the dark abyss of his past gnawed at him. There had to be a reason why he was here, whatever this place was. He took another look at the shipwrecks languishing off the shore, wondering if he had been a part of a Toa Team. Were they still alive somewhere, waiting for him to catch up, or had some terrible fate befallen them? The confidence restored by the mask seemed to darken as he pondered this. For the most fleeting of moments, he saw them. Silhouettes, blurred like memories of memories. The more he thought of it, the more it seemed like remembering the last vestiges of a dream. He saw them; their shapes, potentially a few colors, heard whispers that could’ve been voices. Like a dream, the more he focused on remembering, the more obfuscated they became. Finally, he saw nothing. The shipwreck was still there, the waves still rolling in and out. Somberly, he let the memory go, carried out to sea on the tides. With a heavy heart, the Toa reached into himself, calling upon his powers for the first time since his awakening. He grasped the nearby stones; rocks and boulders of various size and shape responding to his beckoning and moving. He brought them together at the place where the waves lapped at the beach, fusing them together into a cairn that stood as tall as he was and twice as wide. An eternal monument to comrades lost but not forgotten. When it was finished, he broke his concentration and sighed deeply. It had been second nature for him to build the marker, as easy as walking or taking a breath. He lingered for a time beside the monument, pondering what to do next. We’re here for a reason, friends. He thought to himself, eyes on the shipwreck. We have a duty to complete. I’ll see that it’s done. If you’re out there, I’ll find you. If not, I’ll make sure you’re remembered. With that, he stood up, gave the wreck one last look, and then turned away.

The beach he had washed up on was mostly featureless. On the west, the sand turned to dense forest after a few dozen bios. To the north and south, the beach continued on into the horizon. Into the forest I go, it seems. As he turned to begin trudging through the forest, he saw a dark shape wedged into the sand. A fragment of a ship, clearly belonging to one of the wrecks claimed by the rocks. On it, was a nameplate emblazoned with the Matoran text Akarius. A Matoran name that meant traveler or wayfarer. A strong name for a not so strong ship. The more he thought about it, the more he liked the way it sounded. Fine, he decided, For the time being, I’m Akarius. I’m sure the owner of the ship won’t mind me borrowing the name. With that, Akarius set off into the dense forest. In search of what, he wasn’t exactly sure. It wouldn’t be the first time that day he wasn’t sure of something. 

 

For as long as Kulu could remember, the ancient temple known as the Kini-Volara was said to be haunted by all sorts of malevolent entities. From ghosts to wild Rahi, the Matoran of Volara-Nui had spun all sorts of tales about the island and the antediluvian artifice that sat upon it. All the Turaga would reveal about it is that the temple had been there for as long as they had. Only a few Matoran said that it was the home of the malicious raiders that had plagued the island for centuries. Invariably, this last bit of speculation was lost in the noise of more outlandish theories. Kulu had wondered if it was because the more fantastical explanations were somehow more comforting to the Matoran of the island. As Kulu walked through the vaulted entranceway of the decrepit structure, he knew that there was far more therein for the Volarans to fear than ghosts or Rahi.

A shroud of perfect darkness surrounded the Matoran as he made his way through the ruins of the ancient temple. Despite it still being daylight on the island of Kini-Volara, one would need a lightstone to be able to penetrate the unnatural darkness that hung over the structure. Even Kulu, who had once been an Onu-Matoran, could barely make out anything in the pall of blackness. He reached into his pack and pulled out the lightstone he had stashed there. The luminance the stone provided helped a little, but most of the light was swallowed up by the darkness. Fortunately for Kulu, he had memorized much of the temple’s layout by now. He had spent the last century coming and going from the headquarters of his Master. In the darkness surrounding him, he heard various hisses and rumblings that would strike fear into the heart of a normal Matoran. The piercing chitters of the Visorak, the distinct hissing of Kraata, or the armored footsteps of Kra-Matoran. The Matoran of Shadow and their bestial counterparts were the rank and file soldiers of Kulu’s Master. Kulu himself was one of these Kra-Matoran, although left untouched by mutation so he could blend in with the Matoran of Volara-Nui. The martial power that was gathered in the vast temple complex was more than enough to conquer the island, possibly even two or three times over. Kulu’s Master had no want for manpower. However, such a show of force would not bode well for the Master, at least not now. The Master was patient, and would not make his move before everything was perfectly in place. For now, they were content with periodic raids, destabilizing espionage, and a campaign of fear. 

Kulu finally reached the spiral staircase at the far eastern end of the temple. The staircase led to the temple’s sublevels, where Kulu’s Master schemed in the darkness. As Kulu descended, his lightstone suddenly flickered out. The darkness here was more than unnatural. Undaunted, Kulu continued his descent. He had long ago committed each of the steps to memory. When answering the Master’s summons, no hesitation could be accepted.

 When his foot finally touched the landing at the bottom of the staircase, a horrific shiver racked Kulu’s metal body. His organics cringed as the air suddenly grew thin and stale. He felt as if something had just appeared behind him, and his mind was seized by the image of a predator stalking its prey. The lightstone sputtered back to life twice, each time going out as quickly as it had come on. The light was enough to illuminate a set of armored suits, cold and lifeless as the grave. Each was crowned by a grisly Kanohi mask. At the far side of the room, a pool of silvery liquid sat placidly, reflecting the pulses of light like a mirror. Despite this, Master himself was unseen, but made his presence known in Kulu’s psyche. Even after years of experience sharing his mind with his Master, it never failed to perturb him. There was a tense moment of silence, and for a moment the unease in Kulu’s gut blackened into fear. He suddenly had to resist the urge to run, his eyes playing tricks on him in the pitch black darkness. The feeling only lasted for a moment before the Master spoke. 

Kulu, faithful servant.” The voice was like an icy spike through his mind. Despite this, Kulu did his best to respond without trepidation. 

“I bring news, master.” Until recently, Kulu had been acting as an outrider, moving from village to village looking for any information to keep the Master apprised of. It was mostly thankless work; as a rule, the day-to-day lives of the Volarans were uneventful. Yet, even at this he excelled, and now Kulu was one of the Master’s most trusted eyes, after more than a century of lying, cheating, and fighting tooth and nail. For a mere Matoran, outcast from their village and hated, ascension in the Master’s eyes was the last way to guarantee survival. No matter what one said about Kulu, no one could say he wasn’t a survivor. Now, it was close to paying off.

Belay the report, Kulu. There are more pressing matters to attend to.” The Master rarely betrayed emotion in his speech. Yet today, there was the slightest hint of something off about him, almost... uncertain. Kulu shuddered, banishing the thought as soon as it entered his mind. There was no telling when the Master was listening. He straightened himself, listening intently. The outriders in Le-Wahi have given troubling reports of a Toa on Volara-Nui.” The news shocked Kulu, but he stood firm. A Toa here? Troubling indeed. However, nothing they couldn’t deal with. 

“You said they were in Le-Wahi? If I leave now, I can reach the jungle by nightfall,” Kulu said confidently, “It would be an honor to kill this nuisance for you, Master.” Even as the words left his mouth, Kulu regretted them. What could he do against a Toa? There was a rattling staccato that could’ve been laughter. Temper your arrogance, Kulu. You would be hard-pressed against a Toa in any straight fight.” Kulu nodded sheepishly, wondering what had possessed him to say something so ridiculous. Still, I’m in need of your talents. Track the Toa, go where the other Kra-Matoran can’t. Lead the true killers to them, and ensure their job is done. Do this, and you will have earned a measure of my trust.” Kulu perked up, seeing now that this was his chance. The Master must have sensed his eagerness. Go now, my servant. If this Toa was spotted in Le-Wahi, then it is only logical that they’d be heading for Le-Koro. Draw him out. Preferably, take him alive. Still, a corpse is just as good.”

“Yes, Master. The Toa will be found. If he’s in the village, I’ll flush him out.” With that, Kulu felt the presence of his Master dissipate. The lightstone in his hand suddenly came back to life. The shadow Matoran was alone in the chamber, with only the suits of baroque armor that lined the walls suggesting that his master had ever been there. Kulu turned and hurriedly ascended the staircase. The Master had always been as inscrutable as the darkness that surrounds him, and Kulu never had any reason to believe that his master harbored any ill will against him. Despite this, the end of every encounter with him always gave Kulu the feeling that he had just narrowly escaped certain doom. He shook the feeling off and regained his composure. By the time he reached the top of the stairs, his exterior was as resolute as it was when he descended.

 

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Chapter 2

The stillness of the Le-Wahi rain forest was suddenly broken by the sound of a heavy figure trudging through the swamp. The noise spooked a small group of gukko birds, which took wing from the tree they had been roosting on. Seemingly unbeknownst to the birds, the tree’s higher boughs supported a small wooden structure camouflaged by leaves and vines. Within the makeshift blind, the shape of a Bo-Matoran lounged, napping. The sudden flapping of wings was enough to rouse her, however. Soon, the Matoran also heard the distant noise of the approaching figure.

 Voti snapped up, adjusting her teal Kaukau which had been turned askew on her face by her snoozing. Her senses were attuned to the changes in the jungle noises, and she couldn’t easily name what could be making the sounds that had awakened her. It wasn’t far away. Voti could easily get the jump on it; none of the Vine Striders were as sneaky as her. She readied her disc and jumped from the tree she had been resting in to another one nearby. She scaled it quickly to see if she could discern the source of the trudging. As she climbed, another noise joined the first; speaking! Voti could clearly hear a voice cursing and grunting, obviously having a tough time of making it through the forest. When she finally made it to the top of the tree she spied the one who was causing all of the commotion. A tall, brown figure with an angular, tan mask was cutting a trail through the trees and swamp, swatting at flies as he went. He resembled a Matoran, but was far too tall. Only Toa grew that large. There hasn’t been a Toa here in thousands of years, Voti thought. Turaga Serus was one of the last Toa Volara-Nui had had, but that had been long before Voti came to the island. She was about to jump down to greet the newcomer, when something made her pause. What if it wasn’t a Toa? Every Volaran knew the stories; shadowy bandits and their beasts of war, preying on careless Matoran. Voti had never seen one of the raiders before. What if one was in front of her now?  

As she deliberated, the creature looked up and realized he was being watched. Their eyes locked, and for a tense moment nothing happened. Suddenly his mask started to glow, and Voti’s hand darted for her disc.  She quickly aimed and launched it straight at the figure’s mask. Instead of the satisfying crack of a disc striking protodermis, however, Voti only heard the sound of it bouncing off the tree behind the figure, who was now nowhere to be seen. Voti blinked; how had she missed, and where did he go? Her answer came from the creaking of an overladen branch behind her.

“Now that’s no way to welcome someone to your jungle,” said the voice that she heard cursing before, except this time it was right behind her. Voti spun and came face to face with the Toa, his mask still glowing. Shocked, she unconsciously stepped backwards and fell from the tree branch to the earth with a crash. The impact knocked her mask away, dazing her even more than she already was. Before she could pick it up, the Toa had grabbed it and handed it to her. Wait, how’d he get back down here so quickly? She fitted the mask back to her face and felt her strength return. “Are you okay?” The Toa asked. 

“Y-yeah,” she answered, shakily getting to her feet, “I’m sorry I attacked you.”

“It’s no worry, although I’m lucky I had this thing,” the Toa gestured to his mask, “You almost took my head off!” 

“What kind of mask is that?” Voti asked, before she realized she didn’t even know the Toa’s name. “And who are you?”

“Well, first, this is a Kualsi, mask of Quick Travel. Helps me... well, get places quickly,” he rubbed a hand up and down his mask, a somber look settling in his eyes, “and my name is Akarius. Toa of Stone.” 

“I guess you can tell we don’t get many Toa around here. Akarius, huh? I’m Voti, from the village not far from here. I could lead you there if you’d like. The others will be happy to see you, and it sure looked like you needed some help navigating Le-Wahi. If you’d like, I can show you the way to Le-Koro.” 

“In that case, you sure are a sight for sore eyes,” The Toa said, “Shall we get going?”

“I’ll need to grab my disc first,” replied Voti. Akarius simply smiled and stomped the ground, causing a rock to erupt from the earth a few bios away. The rock catapulted Voti’s disc through the air and straight into the Toa’s waiting hands. Akarius handed the disc to the dazzled Bo-Matoran before gesturing for her to lead the way. “After you.” 

 

 

The thick jungle finally gave way to a relatively clear lane of flattened grass and wooden duckboards. Akarius ducked beneath one last tree branch and took a look around. They had been walking for several minutes, with the Toa of Stone struggling to keep up with the nimble Matoran. The pathway they now stood by stretched in both directions, with the leftward way continuing through the jungle as far as could be seen, and the right terminating in a sizable, walled village. Even from here, Akarius could see the village was built around a great tree, with some buildings visible in the tree’s branches. 

“This is it,” Voti said, walking onto the duckboards headed towards the town, “the Jungle Road. Up ahead are Bo-Haro and Le-Koro.”

“Which is which?” Akarius asked. 

“The fortress is Bo-Haro, and up above is Le-Koro.” Voti pointed to the canopy of the great tree and the surrounding ones, where ziplines and trams connected the various limbs and treetops into a seemingly cohesive city. A flight of Kahu riders lifted off from one of the higher branches, soaring high over the heads of the approaching Toa and Matoran. 

“Say, you don’t know if any other Toa are coming, do you? Don’t Toa usually work in teams?” Voti’s question shot a pang of sorrow through Akarius. He wished he could say yes, but he didn’t even know the names of his comrades, much less if they were alive. “No.” His answer left no room for further questions, and Voti seemed to realize she had hit a nerve. 

“Oh, well I can tell the other Vine Striders to keep a lookout for any other Toa if you’d like. The Vine Striders are kind of the defense force here, we patrol the jungle for any threats. If there’s any Toa in Le-Wahi, they’d be the first to know,” said Voti. 

“Thank you, Voti, but I don’t think that will be necessary,” replied Akarius grimly, “Do you think I could talk to the leader of the village?” 

“Sure! That’s Turaga Serus. He’s a Turaga of the Green, but he lives up in Le-Koro. I guess he likes the view from up there. I’ll take you!” 

 

Akarius could feel the eyes of every Matoran in Bo-Haro on him as he and Voti waited for the elevator that would take them from the fort to Le-Koro. He chanced a look over his shoulder and saw the various green armored Bo-Matoran who had stopped working their various tasks to gawk at him. He gave an awkward wave at the idle Matoran before turning back to Voti. 

“You weren’t kidding when you said you didn’t get many Toa around here,” He whispered sheepishly. His companion chuckled before pointing up at the elevator which had finally arrived. The two stepped inside the cramped interior of the wooden craft and started the long ascent upwards. Akarius gripped one of the handrails in the car tightly as he looked out over the jungle below them. His mouth was agape, something Voti noticed. 

“Don’t like heights?” 

“I’ve just... never been up this high before. We Po-Matoran usually stay close to the ground.” The higher and higher the elevator climbed, the more shocked Akarius became. He found himself wondering how much weight the elevator could hold. Eventually, the elevator grinded to a stop. Voti opened the door and stepped out onto the platform, which had been carved into one of the one of the great tree’s branches. Akarius lingered in the car, as if his feet were glued to the floor. His eyes betrayed a sense of abject panic about leaving the swinging car. 

“Are you coming or not?” Voti asked, placing her hands on her hips. “I thought you Toa heroes weren’t afraid of anything.” 

“I wouldn’t say afraid, just averse to death,” Akarius explained. He took a deep breath, and slowly stepped out onto the platform. “This definitely isn’t ideal terrain for a Toa of Stone; not many rocks to throw around up here.” The pair continued on into Le-Koro proper, where Akarius received the same attention from the Le-Matoran that he did from the Bo-Matoran. As they passed the Gukko aviary, even the birds seemed shocked to see him. Murmurs and gasps began to follow him, as did a small crowd of onlookers. Voti led him to a large opening that had been hollowed out in the great tree. Posted outside were two Vine Striders, who returned Voti’s salute only after staring at Akarius for an uncomfortably long moment. Inside was a wooden hut, a garden growing around a small pond, and a sizable window cut into the wood. Below the window was a wooden platform upon which was mounted a telescope. Sitting on a chair in the garden was Serus, a teal armored Turaga of Plant Life with a green Matatu. The elder looked up at his visitors, with only the slightest surprise at the sight of the Toa. 

“Hail, Toa,” came the wizened voice, “What brings you to Volara-Nui?” 

 

Night had fallen on the swamps outside of the Le-Wahi jungle. The sounds of the forest were the only ones that Kulu heard as he waited for word from the scouts he had sent after the Toa. He kept a hand on the crooked dagger he always carried, driving it repeatedly into the tree stump he was sitting on. The appearance of the Toa had been an unfortunate, but not unexpected happening. The Master had always calculated that at least one Toa team would arrive on Volara-Nui before his plan could be completed. His projections had been right, but he had grossly overestimated the number of Toa that would appear. With so much preparation behind them, what chance could the meddler stand? Yet, the thought of failure troubled Kulu. If the Toa escaped, then the fault would surely lie with him. If the Master’s sheer presence was so fearsome, Kulu shuddered to think what his wrath would be like. 

The sound of a gukko taking flight gave the Kra-Matoran a start, and roused him from his thoughts. He wondered if the scouts had gotten lost in the endless jungle, or maybe devoured by some Rahi. It would definitely not be the strangest thing to happen that day. At least not stranger than a Toa appearing out of nowhere in the middle of the jungle. Another sound came from behind him, the sound of trees being cut and pushed aside. Kulu turned and readied his dagger. Two dark shapes emerged from the overgrowth. A pair of Kra-Matoran outriders, Krak and Hak. The two approached Kulu, their hulking forms larger than any normal Matoran. Both had been heavily mutated by their master’s viruses, barely resembling their previous selves. Kulu returned his dagger to its scabbard. He assumed they had been the ones to spot the interloper, and that they had sent word up the chain to the Master. They regarded him coldly. These addled mutants only respected brute strength, something Kulu lacked. The Master’s fiat protected him, but without it Kulu was sure he wouldn’t last long. Just another reason not to fail.

“And?” He questioned, “What did you find?” 

“The Toa is alive. He’s taken refuge in Le-Koro for the time being,” grunted Hak in response. 

“We would’ve followed but didn’t want to be discovered,” Krak added. 

“No, you two would’ve been found out almost immediately. The Toa is still in Le-Koro then?” asked Kulu. The shadow Matoran nodded in affirmation. “In that case he’s safe for now. Once he leaves the safety of the village, we’ll ensure that it is his final mistake.” Kulu stood up and removed his pack, starting to rummage through it. As he did he realized the outriders were still standing there, idly watching him.

“Don’t you fools have something better to do than standing and gawking?” He hissed, prompting the two brutes to leave. Kulu shook his head in exasperation. He continued searching through the overfilled pack, before finding his quarry; one of the several spare masks he carried. Handy tools when he needed to look like someone else. His all black armor came in handy with this regard, as with different colored masks, he could appear as an Onu-Matoran, Po-Matoran, Ta-Matoran, or even a Ko-Matoran in certain light. He pulled free the mask he was looking for, a crimson Ruru, and swapped it for the black Miru he had already been wearing. He slung the pack back over his shoulders and headed off in the direction of Le-Koro.

 

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Chapter 3

The sounds of celebration filled the warm air of the jungle. The Matoran of the village cheered and sang as they gave their heroic guest a true Le-Koro welcome. The square in the center of Bo-Haro had been sectioned off for the event, with the Matoran loudly playing instruments and imbibing their favored distilled drink, mok-mok. Made from the sap of the great tree that the village was built around, mok-mok was a staple beverage of the Le- and Bo-Matoran. Akarius sipped a bit of the drink from his cup. It was overly sweet, with notes as vivacious as the Matoran who had brewed it. Despite the party being thrown for him, Akarius found it hard to enjoy himself. His conversation with Turaga Serus had only proved to make him more unsure of himself. The Turaga had informed him of dark times plaguing the island, how they had entreated the Great Spirit to send them Toa to defend them. A mysterious plague that had shut off travel to Onu-Koro, the complete destruction of Po-Koro at the hands of strange creatures, and the reports of shadowy stalkers that hunt the Matoran in the night were only a few of the problems Volara-Nui had faced in recent years. All of it was Akarius’ responsibility now, and his to burden alone. He tipped his cup towards him and looked at the reddish liquid within. He idly sloshed it around the cup a bit before placing it back down and pushing it away from him. He tried to listen to the music and enjoy himself, but the thought of defending the island by himself was too heavy to forget. He felt someone approaching him from behind, and turned to see Turaga Serus making his way towards him. The aged Turaga took the empty seat beside the Toa, noticing Akarius’ mostly full drink.

“Not a fan of mok-mok?” The elder asked playfully.

“No, it’s good. I’m just not terribly thirsty,” Akarius replied, trying not to betray his stress. This was a new feeling to him. The mysteries of his past, the uncertainties of the future, the weight of an entire island on his shoulders, all jockeying for position in the forefront of his mind. Weighing it all down even further was the lack of any news of his comrades. Serus, for all his knowledge, had no recollection of any other Toa on the island. Akarius’s attempts to conceal all of this, however, were wasted on the wise Turaga. Serus simply smiled and finished the Toa’s drink.

“You can be honest with me, Toa. I’ve just given you life-changing news. You’re allowed to feel overwhelmed. When I was a Toa I probably felt overwhelmed more often than not,” Serus reassured. 

“Did you ever miss your life as a Matoran? The simplicity of it?” 

“All the time. Despite all that, I’d never take it back. Given the chance, I’d become a Toa again.” Serus’ voice was filled with conviction. 

“I’m not totally convinced yet. I guess it would help if I remembered how I became a Toa in the first place,” Akarius said grimly. 

“I know how,” Serus answered firmly, drawing the Toa’s confused gaze, “It’s because it was your destiny. It was your destiny that this new duty should be thrust upon you. The details don’t matter. What matters is that it is the duty of the Toa to defend the Matoran, or die trying. When you were built, the Great Spirit gave you something that set you apart from the other Matoran. Maybe it was your strength, maybe you were steadfast in your convictions, or maybe you’re just lucky. Whatever it is, you are fulfilling your destiny by being here. Is destiny not the most important of our virtues?” Serus’ speech was rousing, but it didn’t do much to help the aching feeling of unworthiness that Akarius felt. “I suppose you’re right,” came the Toa’s reply, but the Turaga could tell the hero wasn’t convinced. “Come with me, Toa,” the Turaga said, walking off. Akarius got up to follow him, somewhat surprised by the elder’s departure. They left the party in the square and headed towards the entrance of the village. The celebrations continued, even without the guest of honor. The market district was empty, with not a soul except a lone Ta-Matoran wearing a red Ruru that seemed to be making his way towards the celebration. The Toa and Turaga pair exited the village, with Serus leading Akarius onto the Jungle Road. The two didn’t exchange so much as a word as they walked, although Akarius was growing increasingly curious as to where the Turaga was leading him. Eventually, Serus indicated a path that branched off from the main road. The path led into the jungle, and was only partially cleared. Akarius grumbled as he walked, having had quite enough trekking through the jungle that day already. Eventually, Serus came to a stop, standing at the base of a large tree that stabbed high into the sky. 

“If you are to defend our island from the threats that assail us, then it would behoove you to have a team. A single Toa is formidable, more than capable of outlasting all but the greatest threats. Yet, even the most powerful Toa is nothing compared to a team of them. When my comrades and I arrived on Volara-Nui, we created the means to bring about a new generation of Toa in case we failed in our duties,” explained Serus.

“So you had the means to make more Toa this whole time? Why not use them earlier?” asked Akarius indignantly. Even in the darkness, he could see the Turaga grimace. 

“I’m sure you know how large of a responsibility it is to be a Toa. My team and I agreed only to fall back on this option at the last possible moment, so we wouldn’t have to force such a daunting prospect on our Matoran. Surely you understand?” Serus answered. Akarius nodded, again looking up at the tree. 

“So, these means, where are they?” The Toa inquired. 

“I created this tree when I was a Toa to safeguard it. I don’t suppose you’re any good at tree climbing, are you?” the Turaga asked, eliciting a head shake from the Toa, “I thought not. I will retrieve the stone, if you would wait here.” With that, Serus began ascending the tree. He was quite nimble for a Turaga, and quickly made his way up. It was still quite a long climb, however, so Akarius tried to get comfortable. That is, until he heard the rustling of trees and the sound of footsteps all around him. He could suddenly make out a group of dark shapes in a circle surrounding him, growing closer and closer. He stood up, preparing for a fight. 

“Serus, do you hear me?” He shouted, not taking his gaze off the figures. 

“Yes!” Came the reply from halfway up the trunk.

“Stay up there for now, it’s not safe!” Finally, the first of the figures came close enough to be seen. A black armored Matoran, wearing a red Ruru and a pair of baleful eyes. The other figures resembled Matoran, but were far larger and looked more like ferocious Rahi than villagers. Each was armed with a grisly weapon of some sort.

“I don’t suppose you all are out on a nature walk, are you?” Akarius remarked, eyeing the lead Matoran. He suddenly became aware of the fact that he himself wasn’t armed. 

“You were a fool coming here, Toa,” snarled the red masked one, “Come with us, or you and the Turaga will both die.” The circle of intruders became tighter and tighter by the second. There was no talking his way out of this one. “Fine,” he said, evaluating what few options he had, “You can have me. That is, if you can take me.” With that, the monstrous Matoran charged the Toa. Akarius took a deep breath and swung with his right hand. From the outstretched hand came a fist sized stone that sailed into the mask of the nearest figure, knocking it clean off and incapacitating the wearer. Behind him, Akarius heard the shuffling of clawed feet. He stomped his left leg and caused a small fissure to erupt from the earth, trapping the foot of the would be attacker and buying him a few precious seconds.

To his right came a third attacker, swinging a spiked mace at the Toa’s head. Akarius caught the haft of the mace, expecting to be able to easily disarm the Matoran. The dark Matoran was far stronger than he expected, and the mace continued its journey to Akarius’ face. Thinking quickly, the Toa manifested a large boulder that wrapped around the head of the mace, increasing its weight tenfold, before using his mask to escape its path. The Matoran struggled with the newfound weight of his weapon for a moment, attempting to pick it up from the ground. These efforts were quickly stopped by a punch to the Matoran’s face from Akarius, cracking the mask in two and sending its wearer to the ground.

Two more attackers rounded on him from either side, viciously swinging their blades. A stomp from Akarius’ foot caused a large stone to erupt from the ground under one, sending him flying into the tree branches above. The second continued her advance, aiming a strike from her sword at the Toa’s chest. Akarius caught the blade in his hand, which he protected from its bite with a thick covering of hard stone. Without hesitating, he used the stony grip to break the pointed tip off the end of the sword. Undaunted, the Matoran attacker struck again, meaning to slice at Akarius’ legs. The Toa’s mask glowed and the Matoran’s swipe hit only air. Akarius, now behind the Matoran, swept her legs from under her, ripping off her mask before she hit the ground. Behind him, the Matoran whose foot had been trapped in the ground had freed himself and again charged the Toa. Akarius’ mask glowed again, this time he appeared directly in front of the Matoran. Before the attacker could react, Akarius had aimed a punch to their midsection. The Kra-Matoran’s entire body was suddenly encased in stone, with only his head sticking out. The Matoran statue tottered for a moment before falling over, hitting the ground with a dull thud. Akarius didn’t see any other enemies, with five dark Matoran in various states of incapacitation around him. He didn’t realize, however, that their red-masked leader was nowhere to be seen. 

Kulu had been watching of course, cursing his Kra-Matoran comrades as each fell. When the last one was defeated, he decided it was time to retreat. Before melting away into the wilds, Kulu pulled a disc from his pack. Made of metal and sharpened to a razor edge,  the disc could go clean through the hero’s armor. Kulu took aim and hurled the disc at the Toa's back. The murderous projectile sailed through the air, perfectly aimed. For the first time that night, Kulu smiled. Just before the disc sliced through the Toa’s armor, however, it stopped suddenly, as if some sort of invisible hand had reached out and grabbed it. From the towering tree jumped Turaga Serus, his noble Matatu glowing. The Toa realized something was amiss and looked behind him, seeing the disc as it fell harmlessly to the ground. Akarius’ eyes followed the disc’s path to its point of origin. Toa and Kra-Matoran locked eyes for a tense moment before Kulu turned and ran. 

Seeing the battle was over, Akarius fell back onto a nearby stump, panting heavily. That was the most intense exercise of his powers he had yet experienced, as well as his first real fight since awakening. The heavy use of his mask power had started to give him a headache, and the hand he had used to catch the blade was sore from the impact. Turaga Serus navigated around the unconscious forms of the Kra-Matoran, cradling a glowing object in his hands. 

“By the Great Spirit...” muttered the Turaga, “You truly are worthy of the name Toa. Five attackers and not one of them killed, but all incapacitated. And even more, doing it without a weapon. I can’t think of anyone better to give this to.” Serus reached out with the object he had retrieved from the tree, what appeared to be a smooth stone that radiated a warm green glow. 

“What... What is it?” panted Akarius. 

“A Toa Stone, a pure manifestation of Toa energy. Used to transform Matoran into Toa,” answered the Turaga, reverence heavy in his voice. Akarius reached out to take it, but Serus pulled it away. “Before you accept it, take heed: if you wish to truly be a Toa, you must have conviction. If you don’t think you have what it takes, then say it. I’ll have the Vine Striders escort you to Ga-Koro. You’ll find a ship there to take you somewhere more peaceful. If you do have what it takes, then claim it. Use it to forge a new team of defenders that will rid Volara-Nui of the evils that plague it.” Akarius looked at the Turaga, then the stone. He weighed the choice on his mind, thinking of his comrades, how he came to the island, who he was. No matter who his old team was, what they meant to him, they were gone. That much was true. If he intended to defend the Matoran of Volara-Nui, then it would take a team of Toa to do it. Finally, he stood up.

“I came to this island for a reason. Even if I can’t remember what it was, it was important enough for me to become a Toa for. I owe it to myself and my team to do my duty here,” Akarius said, accepting the stone from Serus, “Besides, I think this place is starting to grow on me.” 

“Seek out the Turaga of the other villages. They will know the places where the other stones are interred. As you go, make connections with the Matoran. Find those who you believe to have what it takes to be Toa. Choose carefully, Akarius. It is not a light choice to make.” Akarius nodded, before sitting back down on the stump. “Before I start, you think I could get some rest?”

 

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Chapter 4

The sun began to peek out from behind the distant Ko-Wahi mountains as Kulu skulked back towards Kini-Volara.  He was trudging through the marshy wetlands of Ga-Wahi towards the boat he had stashed there, his only way back to the temple island. It wasn’t only the thick swamp that was slowing him down; he was unsure how he would explain to his Master that his plan had failed, and that now the Toa problem was not only unsolved but worse than before. A small waterfowl Rahi wandered too close to the frustrated Matoran, and was greeted by an angry kick. There was a running sound from behind him, and Kulu quickly took cover behind a nearby rock. Fortunately, it was only a Burnak, and Kulu cursed his fearfulness. He had been looking over his shoulder the whole night for the Vine Striders, assuming they were right on his trail. The possibility of them giving pursuit grew less and less as he got farther from Le-Koro, but Kulu was nothing if not cautious. He continued trudging, switching back to his black Miru as he went. 

Before he could retake the path, Kulu felt a familiar, creeping feeling in his gut. His body was taken with chills, and it seemed like the very light of the sun was extinguished. Master, thought Kulu, trying to control the fear that welled up in him. His master had never reached out to him like this, something that didn’t ease his nerves. 

Kulu” came the familiar voice, joining his own internal monologue.

“Master, I apologize, I have failed. You must understand, the other Kra-Matoran, they-”

There is no need to make excuses for them, my servant. Their failure is their own, and will bear its own punishment. The Toa is stronger than we anticipated, and therefore requires a strong response. Do not return to me yet, continue to shadow the Toa. Report his movements to me. I am sending another servant to you, one that will succeed where the Kra-Matoran could not.”

“Yes, Master. How will I contact you in the field?” asked Kulu, his spirits soaring. He would not be made an example of this day. 

The servant I am sending bears a device that will facilitate communication. Use it. If the Toa moves, I want to be informed.”

“I understand. There is something you should know, Master...”

The interloper has a Toa Stone? Yes, your thoughts have already told me. It is an unnerving concept, but it matters not. He won’t be alive long enough to use it.” Kulu felt the presence of his master recede, and he fell to the ground. As light returned to the world, he sorely hoped whatever method of communication the other servant was bringing would be less mentally taxing. Kulu’s rest wouldn’t be long; on the road behind him, he heard a Matoran’s cry; “There he is!” Kulu looked up, and saw a pair of Vine Striders running towards him. Without hesitating, he broke into a sprint away from them. 

“Stop!” One of them yelled. Kulu heard the distinct sound of a disc flying towards him. It went wide to the right, but still too close for comfort. His boat wasn’t far from here. If he could just make it... There was a crack as a disc hit home, and Kulu felt a jolt of pain in his leg. He fell face first to the ground, getting a mouthful of swamp water as he did. The Vine Striders were rounding on him, and he knew it was do or die time. He pulled his dagger and swung at the closest foe. His blows were frenzied and uncoordinated, and the warriors had no difficulty dodging them. One of them grabbed the dagger and wrenched it out of the Kra-Matoran’s untrained hand. Another aimed a punch at his face, knocking his mask away. Kulu’s vision became blurry, and he quickly lost the strength to fight. If it wasn’t over before, his time in the Master’s good graces was well and truly done now. Pathetic, he thought, Can’t even die right. Before the Vine Striders could restrain him, however, he heard the distinct sound of heavy, mechanical footsteps. The Toa! He thought, renewing his struggle. The Vine Striders obviously weren’t focused on him, however. 

“What... is that?” one of them mumbled in awe tinged with fear. The footsteps came closer, and the sound of an animalistic hiss pierced the air. Even Kulu was racked with fear from the sound, only because he knew what could make it. He reached out, his hand finding his mask. He affixed it to his face, and gasped when he finally saw his savior. Standing as tall as a Toa, the creature had armor that was a striking blue, resembling a serpentine Rahi. In its hands it carried a staff capped on either end with a grisly looking fork. Energy crackled along the edge of the weapon, the only sound on the marsh as the Rahkshi stared down the two Matoran before it. Again, the Rahkshi let out a battlecry, its head splitting open and exposing the slug-like Kraata within. The Matoran quivered, but remained steadfast. One launched a disc, but the projectile simply bounced off the creature’s curved armor. Before it could hit the ground, it was reduced to naught but dust. Finally, the Guurahk tired of the game, and leveled its spear at one of the Vine Striders. There was a flash of light, and the Matoran that was a second ago alive was reduced to ash that blew away in the wind. Witnessing the death of his friend, the second Vine Strider gave into his fear and turned to run away, screaming in abject terror. No matter how fast the Matoran was, however, he couldn’t hope to match the Guurahk’s speed. The Rahkshi was on him in seconds, skewering the Vine Strider with its staff. He too turned to dust on the end of the grisly weapon. With the two Bo-Matoran dispatched, the Guurahk turned its gaze on Kulu. Kulu felt an icy shiver run down his spine, but knew this was one of his Master’s servants.

“So, you’re the one the Master sent,” Kulu said. The Rahkshi gave no response, and Kulu wasn’t sure if it could if it wanted to. “He said you had something for me?” The Guurahk reached into a small opening in its armor, and pulled out what looked to be a scrap of metal, handing it to Kulu. On closer inspection he saw it was a piece of glass, but was black as night. It was polished to a mirror shine, and gave off a dark aura. Kulu saw himself in the glass, but his image was wreathed in a ghastly, green sheen. Master, Kulu thought. He looked up at the Rahkshi, its dead eyes betraying no emotion. 

“Come, Guurahk,” Kulu said, “We have a Toa to kill.”

 

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Chapter 5

For the first time since he had arrived on Volara-Nui, Akarius felt right at home. The seemingly endless swamps and jungles of Le-Wahi had finally given way to a grassy scrubland, which in turn became sandy desert. Akarius was comfortable in the dry heat and windy dunes, much more so than the humid jungles he had washed up outside of. As he strolled through the sands, his mind wandered back to the dark Matoran that had attacked him a few nights ago. Specifically, the red-masked one that had escaped after the skirmish in the woods. Two Vine Striders had been dispatched to apprehend him, but Akarius had left before they could return. He wondered what could have turned the Matoran into those monsters, and what goal they wanted to achieve through such violence. He had a sinking feeling that he would encounter that Matoran with the heartless eyes again. 

As he crested a dune, he saw a welcome sight; an oasis, surrounded by a small gathering of palms. In the distance, he saw the silhouette of buildings and a wall. Po-Koro. Its ruins, to be specific. According to Serus, Po-Koro had been destroyed almost a decade ago by a band of raiders. The Po-Matoran had never been able to rebuild, and had mostly emigrated to Ta-Koro. Their Turaga, Likar, had gone into a sort of exile after the debacle, living in the ruins of his destroyed village as a hermit. 

Akarius decided to take a rest by the oasis before continuing onto Po-Koro. The oasis was still, serene. The Toa picked up a rock, manipulated it in his hand like clay until it was thin and smooth, and launched it across the water. He underestimated his strength, however, and the rock went sailing past the far edge of the oasis and out of sight. Akarius couldn’t help but chuckle, and picked up another stone, repeating the process from before. This time he threw with considerably less force, causing the rock to land perfectly in the middle of the water and skip several times to the other side. Satisfied, Akarius went down on his knees and brought a handful of the liquid protodermis to his mouth. The cool liquid was soothing to the body and mind, reminding him of the feeling of being done with a long day’s work. After a few more sips, he stood back up and continued his journey. 

 

Kulu observed the Toa through his spy glass, watching him make the final approach to Po-Koro. The Guurahk sat prone beside him, motionless. Were it not for the muffled hissing of the Kraata inside, Kulu wouldn’t have known it was alive. The Rahkshi had seemed confused when he told it to stay low; the hulking beast would’ve been easy to spot even from a kio away. It eventually understood when Kulu demonstrated what he meant. This must be the first time anyone’s asked a Rahkshi to be stealthy. When the Toa finally entered the ruins and went out of sight, Kulu gave the signal. The Guurahk stood up and began running, quickly closing the distance between it and the village. Kulu got comfortable, eager to watch the Rahkshi do its work. It was not the first time his Master had visited destruction on Po-Koro; about ten years ago he had unleashed a small force of Kra-Matoran and Visorak on the village and nearly leveled it. After that, however, the bandits had been defeated by a combined Matoran force, and his master had seemingly been admonished, as no overt action had been taken against Volara-Nui since. Kulu didn’t know who his Master’s master was, but if they were terrible enough for Kulu’s Master to bend the knee to, he didn’t want to meet them. The sounds of combat brought the Kra-Matoran back to the present, and a smile crept onto his face. If only he could see it for himself.

 

Akarius rolled out of the way of the blue flash of light, which impacted the building behind him and reduced it to ash. The blue monster before him roared its battlecry, as if demanding the Toa to stand still. Its head split open, and what looked like a very angry slug stuck out from the opening. It hissed like a possessed bog snake before retreating back into its shell and again charging the Toa. Akarius flung a boulder larger than his head at it, but a blast from the creature’s staff turned it into so much sand. The Rahkshi came within inches of impaling the Toa, burying its staff in the side of a house. Akarius punched at the monster’s head, his hand covered in stone. The impact dented its armor, but the blue beast wasn’t slowed down at all. It returned with a punch of its own to Akarius’ midsection, sending him recoiling back while it freed its staff and sent another blast his way. The Toa was only saved by a wall of stone he created at the last moment. The slug exposed itself once more to taunt him. 

“You’re quite a piece of work,” Akarius returned, assuming a fighting stance, “Ugly and ill-tempered.” He panted, analyzing the environment while the Rahkshi calculated its next move. For all the beast’s tenacity, it wasn’t the best strategist; its chosen battlefield was the ruins of a village constructed entirely from rock. The duellists circled each other, Akarius putting his back to the skeleton of a house and standing his ground. When the Rahkshi lashed out again, he struck the building behind him with a closed fist. Cracks spiderwebbed across the building’s surface, creating dozens of small stones that shot forth, spraying the Rahkshi with fist-sized fragments of solid rock. When the dust cleared, there were several punctures in its armor and the Toa was nowhere to be seen. The Guurahk scanned the area, before Akarius piped up from behind it. 

“We can work on that temper of yours,” he shouted, prompting his foe to seek the sound’s source. It snapped its head up at the Toa, who was on the roof of a nearby house. Before it could react a stone impacted its faceplate with blistering speed. One of the flaps encasing the Kraata inside was knocked away, partially revealing the fleshy creature. The force of the blow knocked the Rahkshi to the ground.

“But not even the Great Spirit can make you any less ugly,” Akarius declared triumphantly. Even still, the Rahkshi moved, grabbing its staff and sending a flash of light into the building he was standing on. In an instant, the house beneath Akarius’ feet vanished and he fell feet first into the dust cloud it left behind. The Toa got his bearings quickly, just quick enough to dodge a blow from the creature’s forked staff. Counterattacking, Akarius encased his arm in stone and batted it against the Rahkshi’s left arm. He felt it crack and partially flatten under the blow and the foe was sent reeling back. Akarius smiled, getting to his feet. It seemed like victory was at hand. The Guurahk had other plans; with its good hand, it buried the head of its staff in the ground and in one motion tore off the useless arm, throwing it away like refuse. 

“Oh,” was all Akarius could say before he was bowled over by the creature and sent back to the ground. All he could do was shield his face with stone-covered arms as the monster pummeled him with rapid, savage blows. His makeshift shields wouldn’t last long; after they failed the Rahkshi would be beating his face in. He looked around, desperately searching for a way out. 

Then he saw it; both of them were sitting in the shadow of a tall tower. Whether it was a lookout tower or some sort of silo he wasn’t sure. All he knew is that it was his last chance. With his left hand he lashed out, grabbing the Guurahk’s wrist before it could strike him. With his right hand he struck the ground with all his might. His left hand struggled under the Rahkshi’s strength, but all he could do was wait and hope he had used enough force. His efforts were rewarded with a subtle cracking sound, and the sight of the tower starting to tip in their direction. By the time the Rahkshi realized what was happening, it was too late. It tried to shield itself, but its only hand was held in Akarius’ iron grip. Akarius threw his own free hand up at the last second as the tower struck the ground with a great crash. 

After several seconds of trepidation, the Toa opened his eyes. Just as he planned it, he was surrounded by ruins of the tower. Not one stone had fallen on him. The Guurahk, on the other hand, was completely buried. Its remaining hand and one leg stuck out of the rubble, both twitching. Needing more proof, Akarius willed the rocks around the Rahkshi to move as he inspected the mess he had made. The armored shell of the Guurahk was totally flattened, and its Kraata had been reduced to a sickly colored puddle. Akarius sighed in exhaustion. He spied the Rahkshi’s weapon, sticking out of the sand like a flagpole. He grabbed it and broke it over his knee before throwing the two halves behind him. 

Akarius turned back towards the village square, hoping to find the Turaga before nightfall. When he turned, however, he saw that the Turaga had found him. Wearing  brown armor, a brown noble Pakari, and a roughspun cloak, Likar looked the part of an elder hermit. 

“There you are,” said Akarius, “I don’t suppose you know where I could find any Toa Stones, do you?” The Turaga chuckled before motioning the victorious Toa to follow him. 

 

Kulu gawped in disbelief as he watched the Toa and Turaga exit the village through his spyglass. This wasn’t supposed to happen. If the Toa had beaten a Rahkshi singlehandedly and unarmed, then he was far stronger than Kulu had reckoned. Even in the legends, it took multiple Toa to face down as potent a threat as a Rahkshi. If this one is able to form a team... With a shaking hand, he retrieved the dark glass that his Master had given him.

“Master...”

I know,” There was a color to the Master’s voice that Kulu had never heard. Possibly amusement, even curiosity, Intriguing.”

 

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Chapter 6 

“You threw the Toa Stone down a well?” Akarius' voice was incredulous, but the Turaga seemed unfazed by the Toa’s disbelief.

“I wouldn’t say I threw it,” Likar clarified, indicating the ancient well that the stone was concealed in, several dozen bios from the village walls, “I did have some help from a Water Toa friend to make sure it was properly protected.” Akarius didn’t like the sound of that. They reached the edge of the decrepit watering hole and leaned over the brick structure surrounding it. The pit below was dark as night. 

“Ah yes,” recalled Likar, “You might need this.” The Turaga retrieved a lightstone from his pack and tossed it into the Toa’s waiting hands. 

“How deep is this water again?” Akarius asked apprehensively. The Turaga stroked his chin, trying to remember. 

“Well, when I went down there it was about waist high on me, but you look like a tall fellow so it shouldn’t be more than knee high on you I reckon.” Likar reassured. Akarius still wasn’t so sure, but decided there was only one way to find out. His Kualsi glowed and in an instant he was down in the inky black of the cistern, lukewarm water up to his mid thigh. His lightstone casted a small aura of light, barely enough to see a couple of bios. 

“Did you make it?” called Likar. Akarius shouted back an affirmation before trudging off in one direction. To be honest he had no real idea what he was looking for. The stone Serus had given him had been slightly glowing. He could only hope Likar’s stone was glowing as well. As he searched he nearly ran headfirst into the wall of the cistern, a brick lining around the cavern. Akarius decided to search the perimeter of the well first before working his way in. He held his right hand to the brick wall and began moving alongside it. 

“I also stashed an old Kakama down there once, maybe you can find it,” came Likar’s muffled voice. Just as he spoke, Akarius’ foot impacted a metallic object. On closer inspection he found it was a broken Mask of Speed, snapped in half somewhere near the vertical midline. The Toa sighed in exasperation and threw the useless Mask behind him. He could swear he could hear the old Turaga chuckling outside. Shaking his head, he continued onward. For what seemed like ages, he traced the path of the wall around the edge of the cistern. The depth of the water and the low light both contributed to his slow speed, and he was beginning to wonder if it would be worth it. Suddenly, his hand brushed against a brick that was definitely unlike the others; the unmistakable feeling of Toa power was contained in it, and it glowed orange under the lightstone’s aura. Akarius smiled, and quickly went to pull it out from the wall. Before he did, however, he felt something odd. He could feel strange vibrations in the stone, something that only this part of the wall exhibited; Running water. There was some sort of underground stream coursing right behind the Toa Stone. If he removed the stone, the stream would flow out from the hole and start flooding the cistern with him in it. So that’s what he needed a Toa of Water for. It was no matter, Akarius knew just how to fix it. With one hand he gripped the Toa Stone, and with the other he manifested a brick of similar size and shape. In one quick motion, Akarius ripped the Toa Stone from the wall and replaced it with his brick, disarming the trap. The Toa smiled triumphantly. He held the stone in his hands and looked it over. Maybe he was getting better at this Toa thing after all.

“I found it!” He called to the Turaga above. 

“Good work!” came the response, “So you disarmed the pressure plate?” Akarius’ triumph quickly turned to confusion. 

“Wait, what pressure plate?” His answer came when he idly stepped backward, his foot depressing a piece of the floor. Suddenly, one of the bricks shot out and was replaced by a jet of water shooting into the cistern. Then another, then two more, then four. Akarius, panicked, began making bricks as fast as he could, plugging each hole as they appeared. It was futile, however, as soon the whole wall would give out and he’d be swept away. The once thigh high water was now past his waist, and rising. It was then that Akarius remembered he couldn’t swim. He turned on his heels and began making a run for the beam of light at the center of the cistern. The water was at his chest now. There were only a few seconds before the whole wall disintegrated and filled the well. The liquid was brushing his chin now, but he had made it; he was looking up at the top of the well, if he could just activate his mask... with a crash the wall behind him finally failed and a wall of water rushed his way. In a second he’d be thrown against the far side of the cistern and drowned. The Toa closed his eyes and imagined himself on dry ground above. A second passed, and Akarius wasn’t yet dead. He finally opened his eyes, and was nearly blinded by the Po-Wahi sun. He felt hot sand beneath his feet, and heard the sound of water dripping off him. He looked in his hands and saw he was clenching the Toa Stone for dear life. For the first time since he opened his eyes, he took a breath. He dropped to the ground and held his head in his hands, breathing rapidly. He had nearly died twice that day, and given the choice between the Rahkshi and the water, he’d choose the Rahkshi every time. 

“That was some good Toa work there,” Likar said, picking the Toa Stone up and dusting it off. 

“Thanks, but how’d you...” Akarius’ question was answered by Likar’s mask, which had been switched for an Akaku. The Turaga opened his pack and showed the Toa the contents, almost all of which were masks. “When you become a Turaga, they don’t let you keep the Suva.” Akarius laughed, the fear in his gut finally starting to recede. “That was evil,” he said acidly, “Throwing a Toa of Stone into a pit of water. Did you come up with that?”   

“I had some help, didn’t think we’d ever actually use it. Figured I’d have some fun,” Likar replied. Akarius shook his head, wondering what exactly the elder’s definition of ‘fun’ was. He got to his feet and headed back to the ruins. 

“I sincerely hope you have a spare, Toa-sized bed back in that village.”

 

Darkness had fallen on the marshlands of the Gakar Delta south of Ga-Koro. The various branches of the river all cascaded toward the ocean, with small groups of Rahi flocking here and there in the bogs around the stream. The night was still, with only the sound of the flowing water penetrating the silence. This stillness was suddenly shattered by the sound of a spatial rift being torn into existence above the swamp. Three figures emerged from this portal, stepping out into the seemingly endless wetlands. Two were Toa, and the third was a hulking, bestial looking figure. The portal closed behind them, and the Toa both seemed disoriented for a few seconds before getting their bearings. One of the warriors was clad completely in gray armor, with a long silver sword strapped to his back. The other was blue with white streaks here and there. Her Calix was similarly colored, and a large bow was strung across her back. 

“I hate teleporting,” the blue Toa complained, “Wouldn’t a ship get us here just as easily?” 

“Nowhere near as quickly. Normally I would use more mundane means, but the Order tells me this is a time-sensitive matter,” replied her gray counterpart. 

“So this is a mission from the Order then?” she asked. 

“Yes, but you’re still not a member. There are no Toa in the Order.”

“You’re such a tease, Krakua. Aren’t you a member?” 

“Not a full one. If the Order needs to deal with the Toa, they come to me. Consider yourself more of a contractor for us on this one,” Krakua clarified, “According to our intelligence, there’s been some strange happenings on this island. Nothing terribly out of the ordinary, but strange enough for the Order to intervene. Apparently, this island is of great strategic importance to them. Basically, keep an eye out. Think you can handle it Kwynn?”

“Of course I can, but it seems strange,” answered the Toa of Lightning, “If it’s just ‘keeping an eye out’, why send a Toa? Surely the Order has a more low-profile agent they could send.” Krakua shrugged. 

“They asked me to send a Toa, so I sent the best I knew. It sounded like there was a lot they weren’t telling me, but that’s business as usual with the Order,” he replied, “ I hear there’s another Toa on the island, it sounds like he’s putting together a team. I’d suggest joining up with him.” 

“Anymore information on him?” inquired Kwynn. Krakua furrowed his brow. 

“Strangely none. I try to keep track of any active Toa, in case the Order could use them. This one seems to have popped up out of nowhere. No name, nothing. If he exists, then there aren’t any recent records on him.” Krakua came to a stop and turned towards Kwynn, “We’re trusting you on this. This is goodbye for now. I’ve got some business to attend to in the big city. If you find out anything, you know how to reach me.” The two Toa shared a nod before going their separate ways. Krakua headed back towards the large figure - who had been waiting silently behind them - and gave him the signal. In an instant, the two of them were swallowed by a second portal. Kwynn began heading north, where she could see the lights of a small village in the distance.

 

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  • 3 weeks later...

Chapter 7

The desert sands eventually gave way to the forested foothills of the Lokava Mountains, the volcanic range that made up almost all of the southern reaches of Volara-Nui. As Po-Wahi became Ta-Wahi, Kulu felt his uneasiness grow. His Master had not contacted him in almost three days. He had continued in his mission of following the Toa, but had not received any further orders since the Rahkshi had been destroyed. He wondered what his Master had in mind, especially as their quarry neared Ta-Koro. He’ll be in for a rude awakening when he reaches the village, but what then? In the distance, Kulu could see the Toa’s silhouette slowly making his way down the wooded path. He followed from a safe distance, staying within the trees when possible. It would not be long before they reached Ta-Koro. 

Kulu” The Kra-Matoran stopped dead in his tracks. The voice of his master was unmistakable. Without hesitation, he fished in his bag for the dark glass that they used to communicate. He found it, and turned it to face him. He saw his reflection surrounded in the sickly green essence that indicated his master wished to speak to him.

“Yes, Master?” Kulu asked. Even here, untold kios away from the Master’s physical form, it felt as if he were right here, right over Kulu’s shoulder. He couldn’t fight off the chill that ran down his spine.  

Are you still shadowing the Toa?” 

“Yes. We’re currently nearing Ta-Koro,” Kulu replied. The mist in the glass shifted, and for a moment he swore he could make out his master’s shape. This lasted less than a second before his master spoke again and broke the illusion; Good. Our allies in the village will be there to greet the interloper. Until then, I have a new mission for you.” 

“What shall I do, master?”

“Take the mountain passage that leads around to the eastern edge of Ta-Koro. Meet with our ally and retrieve the Toa Stones there by any means necessary.” It was a heavy order, but Kulu was not one to back down from a challenge. 

“The mountain passage will add a day or two to my trip, but your will shall be carried out, Master.” The image of the Master’s essence slowly disappeared, leaving only Kulu’s reflection in the small glass. 

 

The satisfying sound of leaves crunching underfoot provided a rhythmic cadence to Akarius’ march through the woods. According to the map he had been given in Le-Koro, the village of Ta-Koro should be somewhere at the terminus of this road, on the far southern tip of the island. To the east, the towering mountains that buffeted the fiery stronghold dominated Akarius’ view. His map called them the Lokava Mountains, and their volcanic peaks provided heat for the Ta-Koronans’ forges and molten rock for their lava farmers. Also living among the Ta-Matoran were the diaspora of Po-Matoran who had fled the destruction of their home, and a small group of Su-Matoran who lived at the base of one of the great volcanoes, where the heat from the lava was as its greatest. Most of this information had come from Turaga Likar, who had lived in Ta-Koro for a short time after Po-Koro was razed. Likar also told him that he’d be able to find two Toa Stones here, as there were two Turaga in Ta-Koro. Akarius wondered with slight trepidation what kind of trials would await him if he sought the stones, the memory of the flooding well still fresh in his mind. If my assumptions are correct, it’ll include more lava than any Toa of Stone should have to deal with. He shook his head, and made plans to visit a more temperate Koro once the stones were his. 

Finally, as the shadow of the mountains grew larger and larger, the vegetation became less and less common. Eventually, the tree cover disappeared completely, leaving only a barren, rocky plain at the base of the volcano. The lights of the great Ta-Haro stronghold became apparent as day turned to night. Behind it, the town of Ta-Koro glowed as the lightstones competed with the fires of the forges and the lava farms. It was quite beautiful, and the Toa couldn’t wait to see it up close. As he got closer, the complexity of the fortress wall surrounding the village became apparent, and Akarius wondered if an army of any size or strength could take it. Manning the walls were dozens of Matoran of various types and colors. Red and yellow Ta-Matoran, orange and white Su-Matoran, and even a few brown Po-Matoran. The Ta-Koro Guard. The Toa wondered if news of his arrival had made it this far south, if the Ta-Koronans had been expecting him or if he’d be a surprise. There was only one way to find out. He approached a segment of the wall that contained a gate. It was guarded by a small squad of Su-Matoran, who seemed to regard him suspiciously. 

“Identify yourself!” One of them cried as he came nearer. All of them brandished weapons of some sort, and a few discs were held at the ready. Akarius decided to speak cautiously.

“Akarius, Toa of Stone,” He began carefully, holding his hands up, “I’m the new defender of this island. I wish to speak to your Turaga.” There was a pause as the guardsmen conferred among themselves. Finally, their leader spoke up. 

“No entry, brigand, under orders from Turaga Nemick.” Akarius was taken aback, mostly that he wouldn’t be allowed in, but also that they thought he was a criminal. He was about to offer a rebuttal when a group of Ta-Matoran appeared on the wall and waved off the Su-Matoran. 

“Let the Toa through, can’t you see this one isn’t a brigand?” said the lead Ta-Matoran, who wore a red pauldron on his shoulder, “This is the one who saved Turaga Serus. He means us no harm.” There was a tense moment as the two groups of Matoran squared off. For a second, Akarius thought he might have to use his mask to flash up there and stop a fight. Finally, the Su-Matoran sergeant gave the signal and the gate began to raise. The guardsmen lowered their weapons and again went about their jobs. Akarius made his way through the gate, entering the village proper. Not the best start. The buildings were all made of volcanic rock, and nearly all of them had chimneys that belched smoke into the air. The heat was oppressive, and the Toa quickly became parched. He spotted a well in one of the squares and quickly went to it. As he drew some water, he realized he’d been noticed. The diverse Matoran of Ta-Koro all took a moment from their tasks to gaze at the tall, brown-armored warrior. Akarius had started to grow used to the awed stares of the Matoran, but this felt different. The Matoran here seemed apprehensive, anxious. Instead of the hopefulness he had felt in Le-Koro, here he noticed the nervous feeling one had when they knew something bad was about to happen. Akarius quickly retrieved the pail of water from the well and took a large drink from it. He continued drinking from it until he heard someone approach him. A Ta-Matoran wearing a black Akaku also began drawing water from the well, seemingly unaware of the Toa. As the bucket descended into the darkness, the Matoran spoke up. 

“Before you go to the Turaga, come to the abandoned forge on the west side of the smelting district,” The Ta-Matoran whispered. The stranger’s command took Akarius by surprise, and he quickly turned to face him.  

“Wha-” by the time he had spoken, the Matoran had already stalked off, bucket in hand. The Toa blinked, still unsure of what had just happened. That combined with the agitated guards at the gate and uncomfortable gaze of the Matoran made him feel quite unwelcome in the fiery village of Ta-Koro. 

 

Kwynn shifted uncomfortably in the back of the carriage she had hitched a ride on. The bamboo craft creaked under the combined weight of her and the cargo the Ga-Matoran pilot had loaded onto it. The chipper merchant was confident that the carriage could handle the weight, but now she wasn’t so sure. The Mahi pulling the cart seemed particularly contemptuous about the added burden. The trip from Ga-Koro had been relatively quiet, with the carriage’s driver asking questions about the Toa life from time to time. When she arrived in Ga-Koro a few days before, it hadn’t taken long before she had heard about the Toa of Stone who had washed up on the beach in Le-Wahi, and saved the Turaga of the Green from a group of bandits. Further questioning revealed he was heading southward, probably to Ta-Koro. More looking yielded a flax merchant who was more than happy to take on a heroic passenger as he made his route to Ta-Koro, and now here she was; stuffed in the back of a small carriage being pulled by a pair of unruly Mahi. So far, the island seemed rather tame. Nothing like the wilds of the Northern Continent where she had been trained. She wondered what it was Krakua had her looking out for. 

The countryside of Volara-Nui had been quite a sight to behold. In the Gakar borderlands that buffeted Ga-, Le-, Po-, and Onu-Wahis, there were a vast multitude of farms and communities scattered throughout the rolling hills and idyllic grasslands. Kwynn was almost sad to see the green landscape give way to the sparser territory of Po-Wahi. As the carriage bounced along through the scrubland, they came across another traveler. A lone Bo-Matoran, traveling the road to Ta-Koro with only a bag of supplies and a disc on her back. She looked back when she heard the sound of the carriage coming, her Kaukau lighting up as she did. 

“Another Toa, amazing!” she exclaimed, quickly running back to join the carriage. Kwynn sat up to greet her, wondering if this Matoran had encountered the same Toa she was looking for. “I’m Voti, how about you?” 

“Kwynn,” replied the Toa of Lightning , “You said another Toa, who was the first?” 

“Oh, that’s Akarius. He came through my village about a week or two ago. He would’ve been Rahi bones in the jungle if it weren’t for me!” Voti said with a laugh, “I’m actually on my way to find him. Turaga Serus said it would probably be best if Akarius had a companion on his travels, so he sent me to catch up with him.” Kwynn smiled. It was hard not to feel the Bo-Matoran’s cheer. 

“That makes two of us looking for him. I’m new to the island too and figured I’d join up with him,” Kwynn explained. 

“We could be travel companions if you’d like! I can show both of you two around Volara-Nui,” suggested Voti. “Sounds like a plan,” said Kwynn, pulling the Matoran into the carriage beside her. “Now, tell me more about this Akarius.”

 

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Chapter 8

The air became difficult to breathe as the Toa of Stone made his way through the smelting district of Ta-Koro. Forges of all shapes and sizes were pumping out armor, weapons, tools, and masks as the Ta-Matoran toiled in the unending heat. Every now and again, one would look up in awe at the sight of a Toa striding down the street in front of their shop. As Akarius made his way through the western side of the village, he wondered what the Matoran with the black Akaku needed to tell him, and why it had to be in private. Was he walking into a trap? Possibly. He had to know. It seemed imperative that they tell him before he met with the Turaga. The street that made up the smelting district was lined with forges as far as he could see, but none of them seemed to be abandoned. Did the Matoran deceive him? He was about to call it when he spotted the black Akaku peeking out at him from the doorway of one of the forges. It was rundown and dilapidated, its chimney half ruined. The Ta-Matoran headed back into the forge when he realized Akarius saw him and the Toa quickly followed him. He made himself ready for a fight, just in case. The interior of the forge was even more decrepit than the outside. The hearth was cold and dark, and racks of various sizes were scattered across the floor. He saw the one who had summoned him, along with two more Ta-Matoran and a Su-Matoran. Akarius recognized one of them as the Guard who had vouched for him at the gate.  There was a short silence. 

“Toa,” the guardsman finally said. Akarius nodded back his greeting. “I’m Inix. I don’t think we’ve properly met yet. That’s Killi, Tera, and Utri.” Killi, the Matoran with the Akaku who had invited the Toa, spoke up after he was introduced. 

“We need your help, Toa. There’s something wrong with the Turaga.” The other Matoran nodded, although it didn’t clear anything up for Akarius. 

“What do you mean something’s wrong?” he asked them, “Is he sick?” Inix shook his head. “We’re not exactly sure. Turaga Nemick has become more and more withdrawn over the past several years. He used to be the leader of the village, but the duty is falling more and more to Turaga Nava, the leader of the Su-Matoran. This might sound crazy, but we think Nava might be trying to usurp Nemick,” explained Inix. The Matoran could tell that the Toa wasn’t convinced. “Is there any proof? I’ll do anything I can to help but I can’t bust down the Turaga’s door and start throwing rocks at her without being absolutely sure first.”

“It’s true!” cried the Su-Matoran Tera, “She has a group of loyal Guardsmen who only listen to her. Anyone who asks questions or challenges her disappears. We’re taking a huge risk even telling you about this!” The Matoran seemed quite passionate about their claims, and it would definitely explain the oppressive atmosphere that Akarius had felt since he’d entered the village. He wondered if whatever had sent the Kra-Matoran and the Rahkshi after him was also behind Ta-Koro’s troubles. Yet, Akarius still hadn’t seen anything that would completely place him against Turaga Nava. 

“You said the leader of the village is named Nemick? Can I see him?” He asked after a moment of contemplation. The Matoran shared an unsure look. 

“I suppose you could try, but I doubt it would be helpful,” Inix said, “He’s stopped appearing in public,  and none of us have been able to get through to him since. Not even Utri, who used to be his right hand.” Utri, the black armored Ta-Matoran in a yellow Mahiki, had been silent throughout the conversation. “Listen, Toa, there are a lot of us putting a lot on the line to try to get to the bottom of this,” Inix continued, “I don’t know who or what caused Nava to turn on us, but she has, and now we have to deal with it. You can help us or not, but we don’t have any qualms about moving on without you. You can try to talk some sense into Nemick, but sooner or later Nava will try to take you down. When that happens, you’re still more than welcome to join us. Assuming any of us are still alive.” With that, Inix left the forge through a back entrance, followed by his entourage. 

 

The path to the Turaga’s house wasn’t long, but it felt like several kios to Akarius. The Matoran were definitely full of conviction, more so than any he had seen. They certainly seemed to think they were right, but the concept of a Turaga treating their Matoran charges so cruelly seemed impossible. Nava had once been a Toa like him. He didn’t want to think about the possibility of himself one day oppressing the very ones he had sworn to protect. Whatever the case, he needed to find out for certain. 

The closer he got to Nemick’s home, the thicker the Guard presence became. The Ta-Matoran ones looked up at him with the same wonder that the regular Matoran did, but the Su-Matoran Guard regarded him with suspicion at best. Finally, he reached the house; a large, dome-like structure constructed out of obsidian. It was surrounded by a lava-flow and connected to the rest of Ta-Koro by bridges. A pair of Su-Matoran guardsmen stood watch by the nearest bridge, and moved to block the Toa from crossing as he approached. 

“I need to speak with Turaga Nemick,” declared Akarius.

“The Turaga is not seeing any visitors today,” one of the Guardsmen replied gruffly. 

“Ah, when should I come back then? Is there a way to make an appointment?” Akarius retorted. His sarcasm didn’t help his chances of crossing the bridge. “The elder has no time for the constant stresses that Toa bring. He needs his rest,” the guard remarked firmly, “Leave now, or we’ll have to use more forceful methods.” The Toa threw his hands up in response; “No worries, noble guardsman. I’ll be on my way.” He turned and left, turning a corner and breaking the line of sight between him and the guards. As soon as he knew they could no longer see him, he activated his mask and flashed into the house through one of the windows near the roof. The window led to a staircase, which wrapped around the house’s wall and led into a closed off room above. Down below was a sort of parlor, where guests could be received and listened to. It was empty and quiet, except for a fire which burned in a hearth on the eastern wall. The interior of the house was sparsely decorated, with a few weapons on display alongside a couple of paintings and tablets hanging from the walls. Down below on the first floor, Akarius could see a shrine to the Great Spirit adorning a shelf. He headed up the stairs and tried the door,  which he found was unlocked. Inside the next room he saw a bedroom of sorts lit by another fireplace. The bed was empty, but occupying a chair in the center of the room was a hunched over figure. The decrepit shape sat as if dazed, staring intently into the flame as if it were the only thing in the world. The Toa instantly realized the Matoran were telling the truth about at least one thing.

“Turaga Nemick?” The figure didn’t respond to his own name, not even indicating that he had heard the Toa beckon him. Akarius slowly approached the seated elder, finally coming to a stop right beside him. “Turaga Nemick,” he repeated. This time, Nemick broke from his trance and looked up at his visitor. His eyes narrowed, before widening in disbelief. 

“L-Likar, is that you? A Toa again? How?'' The confusion in Nemick’s voice was evident, and Akarius felt a pang of sadness for the fearful creature. 

“Not Likar, he’s still a Turaga like you,” Akarius explained slowly, “I’m Akarius, another Toa of Stone. Can you tell me what’s wrong with you? Is there any way I can help you?” The information seemed like too much for the old elder to take in. “What are you saying, Likar? Is this another one of your tricks?” Nemick was becoming agitated, “G-get Nava, she’ll tell me if it’s a trick or not. There’s no time, Vort... Vor...” He looked like he was about to get up from his chair and confront the Toa. Before he could, however, something seemed to come over him. Nemick sat back and continued staring into the fire, occasionally mumbling something to himself. Akarius, shocked, looked at the doorway. It was filled by a shape similar to that of Nemick’s, albeit much less degraded. Nava’s armor was a bright orange, her noble Komau pure white. The Mask of Mind Control on her face was glowing. Akarius prepared himself to fight off a mental attack, but it never came; her focus seemed to be on someone else.

“What gives you the right to come here, brigand?” came the acidic voice of the Turaga of Plasma. She was flanked by a pair of guardsmen, and Akarius could hear more ascending the stairs behind them. “You trespass in our village, break into our home, and frighten my weakened brother? You dare call yourself Toa?” 

“Hold on,” Akarius quickly replied, looking around for a way out of the situation, “I think we’re starting off on the wrong foot here. Let’s start over; I’m Akarius. I’ve arrived on this island to defend the Matoran. I need to build up a team to help me, and heard you two know where I could find some Toa Stones. I’m only here to help.” He could tell his words did nothing to soothe Nava’s anger. 

“A liar and a thief! Guards, I think this firebrand has done enough damage to the peace of Ta-Koro for one day. Take him!” The guardsmen quickly rounded on him, and Akarius started to prepare for battle. Before he could begin the fight, however, he realized it would be no fight at all. These were simple Matoran, the ones he was charged to protect. Any attempt to fight his way out would leave many of them badly wounded. At least the Kra-Matoran had been corrupted by some dark force. These poor souls were simply misguided. With fighting out of the question, Akarius weighed his other options. His eyes fell on the lone window in Nemick’s room, which looked out on the eastern side of the village. It was his only shot, so he took it. His mask glowed, and he was suddenly on the other side of the lava flow, running off into the shadows. 

Nava watched as the trespasser escaped, her eyes narrowing in anger. 

“Find him, now!” she barked to her Su-Matoran retainers. They nodded in affirmation and filed out of the room. Her gaze fell upon her brother, who had not stopped staring into the crackling fire. Toa Stones. The interloper was looking for them. Her own was secure, stashed in a place the Toa wouldn’t be able to reach. She couldn’t say the same for Nemick’s, however, despite her attempts to find it. Ultimately, it didn’t matter. The Toa wouldn’t dare hurt a Matoran, and her guard would eventually corner and capture the interloper. She placed a hand on her brother’s shoulder, and stole a glance into the fire he had become obsessed with.

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Chapter 9

The work day was coming to a close as Inix made his way home for the night. The din of the forges was starting to die down, and the guard sergeant was soon joined by many other Matoran heading home from their various jobs. Inix’s hut was located near the wall on the western side of town. As he walked, he thought about the Toa. Inix knew he was only doing what he thought was right, and expecting him to immediately take up arms against Nava was foolish. Yet, he wished the Toa would’ve seen things their way. The next few days would be much easier with his help. 

Inix entered his darkened home and walked over to the hearth. He stoked a small flame in it and began roasting the lava strider leg he had bought from a street vendor on his way home. As he did, he became aware that he wasn’t alone in his house. Someone was in the sitting area behind him. He took a deep breath and grabbed the flame poker. He spun around and aimed it at the intruder. He gasped as he did; Toa Akarius sat in the room across from him, unperturbed by the weapon pointed at him.  Inix lowered the poker as he felt his spirits rise.

“I suppose you’re here for an ‘I told you so’?” asked the Ta-Matoran. The Toa rolled his eyes and nodded. 

“I did manage to see both Nemick and Nava, and I think I know what’s to blame for Nemick’s strange behavior,” Akarius began, “Nava is using her mask to mind control him. She’s definitely making some bid for power.” Inix took a seat across from his guest, trying to make sense of what he was telling him. 

“Of course, the Kanohi Komau,” Inix said to himself, “I didn’t think it was capable of this kind of mental degradation. So that’s how we stop her? Remove her mask?” The Toa nodded. 

“I assume you have a plan, I want in.” Akarius said. Inix assented, and he continued, “Before we get started, I don’t suppose you know where any Toa Stones are?” The question caused a small smile to appear on the guardsman’s face. 

 

Night had fallen as the pair traversed the slopes of the southern Lokava Mountains outside Ta-Koro. Akarius and Inix, after deciding to make their move against Nava, met with Killi and the other conspirators to decide the plan. Apparently, Utri and Inix had stolen Nemick’s Toa Stone when the Turaga had started acting strangely. They had hidden it in a cave in the mountains of Ta-Wahi until Nemick started to become more like his usual self. Thus, Akarius and Inix headed out to retrieve it while Killi, Tera, and Utri put in motion the rest of the plan. After both groups were successful, they would meet back in Ta-Koro to execute the coup against Nava. 

Akarius was having a much easier time of ascending the mountain than Inix; anytime he needed to make a hand or foothold, he could instantly carve one out of the rock. He had originally figured that Inix could use the handholds he made for himself, but quickly realized the notches in the rock were too far between for a Matoran to use comfortably. 

“How much farther is it?” asked the Toa. The answer came between Inix’s labored breaths.

“Not too much more,” he said painfully, “The next landing should have a path that leads to the cave.” Akarius looked up and saw there were still several dozen bios between the two of them and their destination. It would still take almost an hour to scale it at the rate they were going. Fortunately, the Toa had an idea. 

“You might wanna hold on tight for a second,” he called to Inix below, who braced himself for whatever he had planned. Akarius touched his hand to the rocky surface of the mountainside, judging its strength, before striking the cliff with his open palm. The mountain shook, and several parts of it fell away to the ground below them. Suddenly, where before there was nothing but smooth rock, there was now a perfectly carved ladder that extended all the way from the ground to the next landing. Inix stared agape at the Toa and his creation for a moment before grabbing onto the ladder and beginning the climb anew. What would’ve taken them most of the night now only took a couple of minutes. When Inix reached the top of the ladder, he found the Toa already there, sitting on the edge of the landing and taking in the view. Ta-Koro was below them, its lights providing a warm glow. 

“Beautiful,” said Akarius. Unlike in Le-Koro, these heights didn’t frighten him. Being surrounded by his element and given such an extraordinary view made him feel almost exhilarated, like he finally understood what it meant to be a Toa. Inix shared the view with him for a moment. Unlike his partner, he felt a certain sorrow over the township below him. It was his duty to protect it, yet he had allowed it to fall under some dark shroud. If it was in his power, he would see it freed before daybreak. 

The two rested for a moment before starting on the path that led to the cave. It wasn’t long but still arduous enough to take several minutes. It was less of a path and more of a series of boulders that were just stable enough to walk on. The pair shared conversation as they went.

“So tell me about the two Turaga before everything went wrong,” Akarius said. 

“Well, Nemick was the leader of the Toa Volara, back when they were still Toa. Nava was his second in command, and if the stories are true they were closer than any of the other team members,” Inix started, “Even when he was a Turaga, Nemick had a lot of energy. It’s like he never stopped being a Toa. He was still just as lively and heroic.” 

“That must be why it was so noticeable when Nava started poisoning his mind.”

“Pretty much,” said Inix, “She was always the more subdued one. When they were Toa, Nava always came up with the plans and Nemick put them into action. After they became Turaga, Nava was still just as subdued. It’s only been during Nemick’s ailment that she’s become so outspoken. Who knows how long she’s been planning this.” Even behind his battle-scarred Pakari, Akarius could see Inix had trouble talking about Nava’s betrayal.

 Finally, the two reached the mouth of the cave. Before anything else, they were greeted by the half-eaten skeleton of a mahi, and the sound of skittering within the cave. Inix seemed dumbfounded. Akarius took a peek in the cave before shooting a look at his companion.

“Are we sure this is the right cave?” 

“Positive. Whatever’s inside must have moved in after we stashed the stone,” Inix explained. Akarius took another look before signaling the Matoran to stay where he was. He pulled out the lightstone Likar gave him and cautiously entered the cave. 

It was a tight squeeze, especially for a Toa, but Akarius eventually made it through to a point where the cave opened up. He stuck his head into the room and cursed when he finally saw the source of the noises; a Nui-Jaga. The creature had its back turned to Akarius, attending to something. Closer inspection caused his heart to drop even more; the Nui-Jaga was standing over a clutch of eggs. The Toa slipped out of the room and made his way out of the cave. 

“A mother Nui-Jaga,” he said simply upon exiting. Inix was clearly confused,  so Akarius elaborated, “A Nui-Jaga had made its nest between us and the stone. The cave is too cramped for me to get around. There’s no way I can get it.” The Toa sat on a rock outside the mouth of the cave, obviously exasperated. As Akarius held his head in his hands, Inix came up with a solution. He stood up and said, “You might not be able to get it, but maybe I can. How much noise do you think you can make?” Akarius didn’t understand the question at first, but the meaning quickly dawned on him. 

“I know what you mean to do, and let me be the first to say that I hate it,” he began, “but it seems like we don’t have much of a choice.” He stood up and manifested two large rocks in his hand. Inix climbed to the top of the cave’s mouth and signaled Akarius. The Toa started banging the rocks together and shouting loudly, daring the great scorpion to come out and face him. Eventually, the Rahi accepted his challenge and lumbered out of the cave. It chittered at him, before angrily charging the Toa. Akarius managed to dodge the attack, jumping out of the way and landing on a nearby boulder. With Jaga out of its nest, Inix swiftly dropped down and entered the cave. The sounds of Akarius battling the scorpion outside echoed through the cave as he went. Inix soon came upon the open room, along with the nest Akarius had told him about. On the room’s far side was where he had hidden the stone. He quietly crossed over the eggs and made it to the hole in the wall where he had stuffed it. He stuck his arm in and felt around for it, eventually grasping the sack the stone was contained in. He pulled it out and made his escape from the cave. Outside, he saw Akarius dodge one final strike from the Jaga’s stinger before he triggered a small landslide from the mountain above that buried the fearsome Rahi. The Toa turned to face the Matoran, who offered him the red, glowing Toa Stone. 

 

The night was still and quiet in Ta-Koro’s Akina district. The only thing disturbing the silence were the occasional footsteps of a guardsman. A few lightstones hung from posts by the street, but for the most part the only light came from the windows of houses. For Killi, Tera, and Utri, this dark stillness was exactly what they needed. The trio of conspirators had met with Inix and the Toa a few hours earlier, where the final plan to unseat Nava was hatched. While Inix and Akarius scaled the mountains in search of the Toa Stone, the other three Matoran would begin rousing the other Ta- and Po-Matoran to rise up against Nava and her Su-Matoran Guard. Killi and Tera waited outside the house of Gadda, the foreman of Ta-Koro’s smelting guild. Utri had gone inside to inform him of the plan. As they waited, the two Matoran kept an eye out for any guardsmen. Finally, the door behind them opened and Utri exited, Gadda quickly closing the door behind him. 

“That’s the last one,” Utri said simply, “Time to go.” 

“What’s the quickest way to the Suva?” Killi said, following Utri. Always a Matoran-of-few words, Utri simply pointed in the direction of a street before leading the trio towards it. The Suva on the northern edge of the Koro was the place where they were to meet with Inix and Akarius once their side of the plan was done. However, things started to unravel quickly; they had not gone ten bios before Tera spotted a squad of Su-Matoran heading towards them. 

“Guard!” She called to her companions. The gaggle of conspirators broke into a run as they made their way to the Suva. Utri led them into an alleyway, which opened up into another, larger street. The guardsmen were hot on their heels, and as they ran Killi pointed out a second cadre of guards that were attempting to cut them off. Tera hurled a disc at them but it glanced off one of their shields. They now had guards to their rear and their front, with the gap between them closing fast.

“Left!” cried Utri, beckoning the other two to follow him down yet another alley that terminated in a stone wall. Utri helped Killi and Tera over the wall before scaling it himself, just before the guards closed in on them. The spot that they had landed in was in the smelting district, a maze of forges and smithys that would help hide them as they made their way to the Suva. 

“Good thing you know this place like the back of your hand,” Killi said, giving Utri a light punch to the arm. 

“We’re not out of it yet, the guard will be on high alert now,” he replied gravely, “Let’s move.” With that, the trio wordlessly moved on.

The hike to the Suva was relatively uneventful, with the conspirators dodging a couple of patrols and once ducking into the house of a sympathetic Po-Matoran. They finally were in sight of the shrine complex, a small temple built in the shadow of one of the great volcanoes. No guardsmen in sight. Utri tentatively ordered them onward. The trio loped out of the shadows that had been concealing them, into the light of the lampposts. They were just about to enter the Suva when a horn sounded, and a platoon of Su-Matoran guards exited the building and blocked their entry. A few more smaller groups appeared behind them, sealing off all means of escape. The conspirators were pinned. 

“Any ideas now, Utri?” Tera asked apprehensively, her hand on her forge hammer. Utri drew his own weapon, a guardsman dagger.

“Only this,” he said. The Matoran stood, back to back, waiting for the guard to envelope them. A lieutenant stepped out from behind the group that had garrisoned the suva. She held her spear proudly as she addressed the three outlaws. 

“Drop your weapons, you don’t have to die tonight,” she demanded. Killi scoffed at the order.

“Tell that to your tyrant Turaga,” He challenged, “I think I’d rather die on my feet than begging for mercy.” He drew his disc and aimed it at the lieutenant. She seemed unimpressed as she raised her spear, preparing to give the fatal order. Before the words could leave her mouth, however, there was a crackling noise in the air. Suddenly, a glowing projectile soared through the air and impacted the lieutenant. She fell to the ground like a stone, convulsing as arcs of electricity danced across her body. 

The gathered Matoran looked for the source of the arrow as two more streamed through the air and struck the ground, causing spherical eruptions of lightning that engulfed and incapacitated almost a dozen guardsmen. The arrows continued to fly, their blunted heads bouncing harmlessly off the guards’ armor while still delivering the stored electric charge to whatever they hit. Finally, Tera caught sight of their savior.

“Look!” she exclaimed, drawing Utri and Killi’s attention to the roof of a nearby building. There, a tall figure stood, holding in their hands a bow that glowed with barely contained energy. “Another Toa?” Killi asked incredulously. Their excitement was short- lived, as a group of guardsmen were rounding on them. Three Su-Matoran with spears raised charged them, but the conspirators were ready for them. Killi and Tera knocked two of their spears away with their forge hammers, while Utri lunged past the third one’s weapon and reached for the attacker’s mask. The Su-Matoran pushed him off, however, and pinned him on the ground. Just before the guardsman could land the final blow with his dagger a disk impacted his mask and broke it in half. The guardsman instantly crumpled, dropping the weapon. Utri gazed up at his rescuer, seeing a green armored Bo-Matoran. He looked around, and saw that all of the other guardsmen had either been knocked out or had retreated. As the Bo-Matoran retrieved her disk, Utri spoke up.

“Who are you?” She replaced her disk in its sling on her back before responding.

“I’m Voti. My friend and I got turned away at the gate by some pretty unwelcoming guardsmen. We figured something was up so we found another way in. Looks like we were right.” 

“So you’re not with Toa Akarius?” asked Tera. Voti’s eyes widened at the name.

“No, is he here?” She said excitedly. 

“He should be back any second now,” Utri explained, “We can take you to him.”

“No need,'' came a voice from behind them. Out of the shadows walked the tall form of Akarius, accompanied by Inix. In his hands was the red Toa Stone of Turaga Nemick. The Toa looked around at the scene, seemingly impressed. 

“Not bad,” he said, “You guys manage all of this yourself?” 

“They had some help,” joked Voti, pointing up at the figure on the roof. She hadn’t moved from their spot, but still watched from afar. When Voti indicated her, she jumped from her perch and landed a few bios away from them. The archer wore the distinctive blue and white armor of a Toa of Lightning, and her Kanohi Calix stopped glowing as she stood up. She silently appraised Akarius before speaking up.

“You must be the Toa of Stone I’ve been hearing about. I’m Kwynn,” she said, “Looks like you all could use some help around here.” 

“Akarius, and yes. As you can see, the Turaga of this village hasn’t exactly been using the guard for their intended purpose. We have a plan to stop her, if you’d be interested in lending a hand.” The Toa of Lightning smiled. “I’m in.”

 

Nava watched in quiet rage as the riotous Matoran slowly made their way closer to the Turaga’s Villa. The usually docile Ta-Matoran and their Po-Matoran brethren had risen up against her loyal guardsmen and were now marching towards the village center, intent on deposing her. She stood at the window in her study, which overlooked the western side of the village where the uprising was centered, and where most of the combat between the rioters and her guard was taking place. The situation was beginning to look dire, as more and more guardsmen were incapacitated by the rioters. The tide of enraged Matoran would soon be at her doorstep. A door opened behind her, and a Su-Matoran guardsman entered. 

“Turaga, our forces have managed to hold the docks. Your boat is ready,” he reported.

“Good. I will be leaving soon,” she declared, “Take your forces and make sure the docks stay in our control long enough for me to get there.” The guard saluted and quickly stomped out. It was time to go. She grabbed her staff and turned towards the door. 

As she approached the stairwell, she took one final look at her brother in his room, still staring intently into the fire as always. It didn’t have to be like this. Privately, Nava had always believed they never should’ve given up their lives as Toa to guide the Matoran. In the millennia since they had first arrived on the island, it had always been clear that the Toa Volara were better soldiers than leaders. After all, wasn’t it a war that brought them here? She had expressed these thoughts to Nemick all those years ago, but he wouldn’t hear it. He sought redemption for their violent past, and he thought it could be found in guiding the Matoran of Volara-Nui to more peaceful times. In her heart, she knew it was a fruitless endeavor. When the Master had first approached her some time ago, she knew his protection would be better for the Matoran than any of Nemick’s misguided hope. Thus, a deal had been brokered. The Master sought information that Nemick was protecting. If she could pry it from his mind, Ta-Koro would be hers - protected from the depredations planned for the rest of the island. However, she had not counted on Nemick being this stubborn. Despite all of the degradation he withstood, it wasn’t enough to loosen the thoughts her new Master hungered for. She grimaced as she continued down to the first floor. Her hold on him would soon dissipate, and she couldn’t imagine that Nemick would be sympathetic to her reasoning behind mind controlling him. It mattered not, however. By the time that happened, she would be gone, under the protection of the Master. Even in failure, she still had one last contingency plan.

 On the first floor, she opened a trap door hidden under a chair. She descended the ladder into the villa’s basement, which had been sealed off long ago due to a lava flow opening inside of it. Although the lava flow hadn’t been her doing, it did work in her advantage. Being a former Toa of Plasma, she was immune to extreme heat in all its forms, including molten rock. Once inside the basement, she approached the lava flow, looking for the specific spot she had left it. Upon finding it, Nava plunged her hand into the flow and commenced searching. As her hand fished around under the pyroclastic surface, she took in the scene one final time. The pleasantly scalding heat of molten rock on her hand, the toxic gasses that would overpower any other Matoran, the warm orange glow. She wondered if it would be the last time she’d ever see it. One day, the Matoran will be safe, she thought, finally finding her quarry, it will be a peace won through strength of arms, not idle chatter. She pulled the oblong object out from the lava and held it up, inspecting it for any damage. The Toa Stone’s surface glowed brilliantly, still as hot as the molten rock it was plucked from. She had hidden it there when she entered the Master’s service, just in case something like this should ever happen. Such a powerful object would be the perfect bargaining chip, and would hopefully inspire the Master to forgive her for the loss of Ta-Koro. With the bright orange stone in hand, she ascended the ladder and started towards the villa’s exit. Before she could leave, however, a familiar voice called for her. 

“What do you have there, Nava?” Her heart dropped when she heard the cold words, and she slowly turned to face the intruder. A dark bodied Matoran with a black Miru looked down upon her from the stairs. Kulu’s blood red eyes betrayed no feeling whatsoever. He descended the stairs and approached her. “A Toa Stone? A token to win back the Master’s favor?” 

“It doesn’t matter what it is, wretch,” she hissed, “I answer only to the Master, not the likes of you.”

“Who do you think sent me?” Kulu said tauntingly. Nava’s face darkened. He held out his hand, “Give it here. Now.” Defeated, Nava relinquished the stone to the Kra-Matoran. Arrogant whelp, she thought, fighting to hold back a grin, take it, if you can handle it. As soon as Kulu’s hand touched the stone, he recoiled in pain, dropping the superheated artifact as he did. Nava took her chance, diving for the stone. Kulu, however, rapidly caught on and did the same. Matoran and Turaga fell to the ground, both wrestling for the stone. Gradually, Kulu gained the upper hand. As the blade of his dagger flashed, Nava’s mask glowed once more. It would just take a single word to end it. Before she could utter it, however, the dagger had already fallen. Winded, but victorious, Kulu sat up. As Nava’s blood soaked into the floor, he pulled the prize from her dead hands. He inspected it, turning the glowing stone over in his hand. It was still nearly too hot to touch. Without a word, he pulled the weapon out, shaking her blood off the blade as he stood up nonchalantly. Kulu placed the stone in his pack and walked out the door, the sun beginning to rise over the horizon.

 

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  • 3 weeks later...

Chapter 10

The heat of Ta-Koro felt a little less oppressive today as Akarius stood in the parlor of the Turaga’s Villa. The modestly decorated room was somberly lit by a few lightstones, and even though Nava’s coup had failed, the Toa of Stone couldn’t help but wish it had had a happier ending. Despite her crimes and any intentions she had, Turaga Nava didn’t have to die. What worried him more was the identity of her killer. None of the conspirators had taken responsibility for it, so the blame came to lay mostly on Nava’s closest lieutenants in the Su-Matoran guard. None of them had been captured, as they had escaped in Nava’s private boat shortly after her death. Inix wasn’t so sure, however, and voiced concerns that an unknown third party might have intervened. Akarius was inclined to agree, remembering the red-eyed Matoran who had threatened him and Turaga Serus. He was certain that whoever was behind Nava’s death was also behind the attempts on his own life. He stole a look at the spot where Nava had fallen, a dried bloodstain still visible. 

Whatever the case, Nava was no longer in charge. It was up to the Matoran to decide what to do with the leadership of the village until Turaga Nemick was back to his old self. Inix was upstairs with him right now, trying to assess the damage Nava had done to him. Akarius figured it was highly likely that the Ta-Koronans would choose him as their interim leader, and he agreed that he was the natural choice. Nava would never have been defeated without his initiative, and Akarius would’ve walked right into her trap had Inix not warned him. However, the Toa couldn’t help but feel that destiny had a greater calling for the heroic guardsman. Turaga Serus had told him to make connections with the Matoran, to seek out the ones who had the mettle to be Toa. Inix had gone above and beyond in that respect, placing the needs of his brethren over his own. Akarius had already retrieved three Toa Stones (although Nava’s was nowhere to be found), but hadn’t yet given any thought to whom he would bestow them to. Inix, however, felt like a good place to start. As he thought about who else would be a good fit, he remembered the first Matoran he had encountered on Volara-Nui - Voti. The cheery Bo-Matoran was nimble on her feet, and had proven herself a steadfast companion by coming to the aide of the Ta-Koronans without any hesitation. His prospective team had grown to three, when his mind shifted to the Toa of Lightning whose appearance had saved Utri and his companions. Kwynn had proved herself invaluable in the fighting against the Su-Matoran, but Akarius wondered if she was here to stay. There was an air of mystery about her that made him uncomfortable, but her skills as a fighter were undeniable. Akarius resolved to ask all of them to join his team by the end of the day. 

The door upstairs opened, and he heard Inix make his way downstairs. The Matoran looked dejected as he descended, far from the air of celebration that was pervasive outside. The guardsman gave the Toa a nod as he reached the first floor.

“How is he?” asked Akarius. Inix shrugged before responding.

“Still just as confused as before. It might be some time before he’s up to full strength.” Akarius could feel his disappointment. 

“What matters is he’s safe now, you’ve assured that,” he said soothingly. Inix nodded halfheartedly. “I hear they’re electing a leader to fill in for Nemick until he’s well again, and I hear you’re the top contender.” Inix shook his head.

“I can’t accept. I’m a fighter, not a leader,” he explained, “although I don’t think I can stay in Ta-Koro.” Akarius was taken aback by the Matoran’s defeated attitude. 

“Why not?” He asked incredulously. “Ta-Koro needs you, the Guard needs you.” 

“Don’t you see? I’m a failure,” Inix replied, grief in his voice, “I swore to protect the people of Ta-Koro from any threats, but I couldn’t even protect them from their own Turaga.” Inix walked past the Toa and towards the door. Akarius realized this was the perfect opportunity. “What if I told you I could give you a second chance?” Inix stopped dead in his tracks. Even with his back turned Akarius knew he had his interest. “I have three Toa Stones. I need to find Matoran to give them to. Out of all the people I’ve met in Volara-Nui, I can’t think of anyone who deserves one more than you.” Inix thought for a second before turning to face the Toa. 

“You don’t want me on your team. Killi, Utri, or Tera would be better picks.” 

“I thought about them, but I still want you. You have the spirit of a true warrior,” Akarius explained, “Give it time, think about it. If you decide you want to help defend all of Volara-Nui, come to the Suva at sundown.” Inix nodded soberly before turning back to the exit and walking out. 

Akarius was confident Inix would see things his way, but it would be a considerable setback if he decided not to. With his bargain to Inix posed, Akarius now only had to ask Kwynn and Voti. They were both still in Ta-Koro, so it would not be hard to find them. Before he left the Turaga’s Villa, however, he decided to go up to Nemick. Even in his diminished state, there might be some wisdom he could offer.

Upstairs, the Toa found Nemick laying in his bed, the fire his gaze had previously been glued to was still alight, albeit only a few embers now. The Turaga was turned away from the doorway when Akarius entered, looking out his window that overlooked the eastern side of Ta-Koro. Even from a few bios away, Akarius could hear him mumbling to himself. 

“Turaga Nemick?” He said quietly. The aged form turned to face him, and Akarius saw something that gave him hope; a fire in the elder’s eyes that was not there the last time he had seen him. There was still some of him left in there, even if Nava had tried to suppress it. 

“T-Toa,” came the Turaga’s weak response, “Who are you?” It was an improvement, at least. 

“I’m Akarius, a Toa of Stone. I’m here to help you.” 

“Ak-Akarius? Can you help me?” The Turaga’s plea was genuine, and the Toa rushed to his side. 

“Yes, Turaga, what do you need?” 

“M-My sister, Nava, where is she? I haven’t seen her in so long, is she ok? Can you help me find her?” Akarius felt a pang of sorrow in his chest, and he frantically searched for what to say next. 

“Someone will help you find her soon, Turaga, for now you need your rest,” he said softly, hoping it would be enough to satisfy him. 

“You’re right, Toa,” he said calmly, “Nava will turn up sometime, she always does.” With that the Turaga rolled over and closed his eyes. Akarius turned to leave when he heard the elder begin mumbling to himself again. This time, he caught a little bit of what was said; “Seal it, seal it away... the Impera... must seal it away...I can still hear it...” Akarius turned, his interest piqued. He hoped the Turaga could clarify what he had said, but Nemick was already sound asleep before he could ask. Akarius puzzled over the meaning of what he said for a moment before turning and leaving. 

 

Kwynn sat on the edge of a dock overlooking the southern coast, contemplating. It was the only part of town that wasn’t overflowing with joyous Matoran celebrating their newfound freedom. She had come to this almost silent corner of Ta-Koro in order to make her report to Krakua. Before they had arrived on the island, he had established a psychic link between them using his Kanohi. Activating it required deep concentration, and she wouldn’t find it anywhere else in the village. She looked out on the serene waves, spying a few fishing boats floating in the harbor. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, focusing on the connection between them. So far, she had found little success tapping into the mental link. Krakua had given a quick rundown on how to access it, but the way he explained it was of little help. I guess it’s pretty easy when you wear the mask of telepathy. She had come close a few times (at least she thought that she had) but hadn’t managed to reach Krakua yet. This time, she set her mind to doing it. She tried to ignore the distant sound of music, instead concentrating on Krakua visualizing him in her head. It took all of her mental discipline to drown out the clamor, centering her focus on the rhythmic lapping of the tides. Suddenly, she could see him clearly, as if she was standing right next to him. She no longer heard the sound of festivities or the waves striking the dock. She couldn’t tell where he was except that he was in a dark room. After a moment, his mask started glowing, and he looked over at her. 

“Ah, Kwynn, I see you figured out the psychic link,” he said nonchalantly. 

“No thanks to your instructions,” she replied, “Where are you?” 

“I can’t really divulge that right now, let’s just say it’s Order business. Do you have anything to report?” 

“I’ve found the Toa you told me about, a Toa of Stone named Akarius. I helped him and a few Matoran overthrow a corrupt Turaga, but someone killed her in the process,” Kwynn said. Krakua seemed perturbed by this. 

“That’s disconcerting, have you found the culprit yet?” 

“No, whoever did it vanished. Apparently she was using a Komau to mind control one of the other Turaga so she could take power. Any Matoran who questioned her disappeared. Seems to me like she got what was coming to her,” declared Kwynn. 

“Try to find whoever did it anyway. It seems to me like she wasn’t working alone, could be part of a greater scheme. Did you catch the Turaga’s name?” asked Krakua. 

“Turaga Nava,” Kwynn answered, “Used to be part of the Toa Volara.” 

“That makes her quite an old-timer, the Toa Volara were active during the League of Six Kingdoms days,” Krakua said thoughtfully, “I’ll look through some Order records to see what I can find on them. If I find anything you could use, I’ll let you know.” Suddenly, a harsh metal grinding sound filled the air, followed by the sound of shouting and heavy footsteps. Krakua quickly got to his feet and drew his sword. 

“Listen, I’ve gotta go for now, but I’ll be in contact,” he assured her, getting into a fighting stance, “If anything else of note happens, let me know.” Suddenly, the image of Krakua began to fade, and the sounds of Ta-Koro returned. Kwynn opened her eyes and found herself back on the docks, the sun shining over the pristine waters. After taking a second to collect herself, the Toa of Lightning stood up and began to head back to the town proper. 

The Ta-Koro square was alight with mirth and music, with all of the mask makers and lava farmers forsaking their jobs for a day to celebrate the fall of Nava’s regime. Even Kwynn found it hard not to share in their joy, and her foot soon started tapping along to the music. She was sitting in the shade of an awning in front of a popular pub situated by the square. From here, she could see dozens of Matoran playing, dancing, and merry-making. She saw Killi and Tera playing in one of the several bands that had sprung up on the streets, and Voti dancing with a group of Po-Matoran. Not one for this kind of merriment, Kwynn reached for her bow and the restringing kit she kept in her pack. As she performed the maintenance on her bow, she spotted Toa Akarius enter the square from the direction of the Turaga’s Villa. The Matoran began showering him with praise and gifts, with some even trying to pull him into their dancing circles. The Toa managed to wade through the sea of adoring Matoran, making his way to Voti, who stopped dancing long enough to greet her friend. Kwynn watched as he led her to a spot several bios away from the festivities and began talking to her. Whatever he said to her seemed to make her even happier, as she jumped up and wrapped her arms around him in a hug. Kwynn chuckled as the flustered Toa pulled the ecstatic Bo-Matoran off of him before allowing her to rejoin the celebration. With Voti gone, Akarius looked around for a moment before his eyes fell on Kwynn. He began making his way over to her spot under the awning. The Toa of Stone sat down beside her, silent for a moment as she continued restringing her bow. 

“Not one for partying?” He finally asked. Kwyn didn’t look up as she answered.

“We didn’t really do this kind of thing where I’m from,” she said. 

“Oh yeah? Where are you from?” He inquired, causing Kwynn’s expression to sour. 

“Northern continent,” she said simply, “Tren Krom Peninsula.” Akarius nodded knowingly. The peninsula was notorious for its brutal nature. The fact that any Matoran were able to live there at all was a miracle. Suddenly her guarded personality started to make sense to him. He decided to stop beating around the subject.

“I’m forming a Toa Team,” he declared, “I’ve already asked Inix and Voti if they want to join too. They say every Kahu rider needs a second, and if I’m gonna lead this team, I need someone who has my back. You seem like a pretty capable Toa, and I could really use someone with your kind of experience. What do you say?” Kwynn finally looked up from her bow, locking eyes with Akarius as she considered. After a short silence, she said, “You’ve got a deal.” Akarius smiled widely, remarking, “I guess that makes us the first members of the new Toa Volara. Welcome aboard, sister.”  

 

The splendor of celebrations had finally died down as the sun began to set over Ta-Koro. The streets were mostly empty, with only a few Matoran ambling about the various avenues. Among these stragglers was Inix, wandering absentmindedly as night crept ever closer. He had been weighing the Toa’s offer ever since he left the villa, still unsure of which way he was going to go. He knew his guilt wouldn’t allow him to stay in Ta-Koro, and joining Akarius might give him a chance to do some actual good. However, he couldn’t see himself measuring up to veritable heroes like Akarius and Kwynn, who had already proven they had what it takes to be Toa. 

Inix soon tired of walking, and took a seat on a nearby bench. He was running out of time to make his decision. Sundown was upon him, and the clock was ticking. He heard footsteps to his right, and was surprised to see Utri walking towards him. Inix gave him a faint smile, which Utri answered with a subtle nod before joining him on the bench.

“What brings you here?” Inix asked his fellow guardsman. He shrugged. 

“I was doing my rounds,” Utri replied, and Inix laughed. “Only you would choose to work on a day like today.” The two friends shared a chuckle, the prelude to an uncomfortable silence. 

“I think I’ll be leaving soon, Utri,” Inix finally said mournfully, “This village just doesn’t feel right anymore. Every minute I’m here feels wrong, like I’m in a dream and can’t wake up.” Utri nodded understandingly, seemingly unfazed by his comrade’s confession. “Where will you go?” the quiet Matoran asked. 

“That I haven’t decided yet,” said Inix sheepishly, “I could strike out on my own, with nothing but my mask and my guilt as company, or I could accept Akarius’ offer and become a Toa.” 

“It seems like an easy choice,” Utri declared. Inix chuckled. 

“It does. I just don’t think I’m cut out for it, Utri,” Inix said, “I already failed Ta-Koro, I don’t want to fail all of Volara-Nui as well.” Utri shook his head and adjusted his mask, something Inix knew always meant a lecture was coming. 

“Inix, you’re the best guardsman I know,” Utri said flatly, “but your fear of failure keeps you from achieving your full potential. We would’ve never come close to taking down Nava if it wasn’t for you. Remember when Nemick sent us after that Muaka that was attacking caravans? We were all terrified of the thing, but you weren’t afraid because you had a plan to take it down. When things are uncertain, it’s easy for you to get into your own head and start worrying. But when things start looking dire you do what you have to do. Akarius needs someone like you. Volara-Nui needs someone like you. I know I’d sleep more soundly knowing Toa Inix was out there.” Utri gave Inix a warm smile and put a hand on his shoulder. The flame suddenly seemed to return to Inix’s eyes. 

“You’re right,” he said, reinvigorated. He stood up and faced his compatriot. “Utri, you’re the best friend a guardsman could ask for. I’ll probably be leaving soon, and I don’t know when I’ll be back. Hold down the fort for me?” Utri simply nodded before  giving Inix a silent salute. Inix returned the gesture before tightly embracing his friend. With that, Inix headed towards the suva, the sun dangling over the horizon. 

 

Akarius sat on a small pedestal in the interior of the Ta-Koro suva. Across the room, Kwynn silently sharpened one of the two daggers she kept strapped to her side. The daggers had been gifted to her by one of the many weapon makers in Ta-Koro as thanks for her assistance in overthrowing Nava. Akarius himself had been given a heavy warhammer and shortsword by the same weapon maker, who had likened them to a “Po-Matoran carver’s hammer and chisel”. He felt the weight of the hammer now as it was slung across his back. The sword hung from his belt in its scabbard. They would be the first weapons he had used since he arrived on the island. Any tools he had used before must have gone down with the ship he arrived on. Toa could apparently channel their elemental abilities through their tools. He had seen Kwynn do as much the previous night with her electrified arrows. He had been able to manage without one for this long, but was glad he’d have weapons to fall back on if his powers ever failed him. 

The sun was beginning to set in earnest now, and he wondered if the two Matoran would be coming. He would understand if they decided not to. So far his time as a Toa had consisted of near death experience after near death experience. As empowering as the Toa life felt, it was just as harrowing as it was exciting. His eyes fell again on Kwynn, who seemed completely unfazed by the Matoran’s lateness. The Toa of Lightning was hard to read, and Akarius was still unsure if she had any motives beyond what seemed obvious. He sighed and decided whatever secrets she held could be divulged after the island was safe. One mystery at a time

The silence was broken by the sound of footsteps entering the echoing halls of the suva. The two Toa looked up, and then at each other. Soon, the forms of two Matoran entered the suva’s main chamber. Inix and Voti had arrived. Akarius smiled widely and looked at Kwynn, who gave him an approving nod. He reached into his pack and retrieved the Toa Stones of Serus and Nemick. The two Toa walked to meet the Matoran, who stopped several bios away from the Suva. Akarius spoke up first.

“I see you reconsidered my offer,” he told Inix, who nodded proudly. The guardsman seemed to be in a much more agreeable mood than earlier. His eyes then fell on Voti, who was now wearing a teal Kakama. 

“I like the new mask, Voti. The mask of speed agrees with you,” joked the Toa of Stone. 

“Thanks! My Kaukau was damaged in the fighting last night, but Killi was nice enough to forge me a new one,” she said excitedly. It was obvious she had no qualms about the dangers of Toa life. Akarius hoped that it came from bravery and not ignorance of the hazards involved. 

“Shall we begin?” asked Kwynn resolutely. Akarius nodded and held out the stones. Before the Matoran could take them, he held them back.

“Be warned,” he began, “Becoming a Toa isn’t something to be taken lightly. If you decide to take these stones, then your lives aren’t yours anymore. They belong to the people of Volara-Nui. It’ll be up to you to risk your lives, even die for the Matoran under your protection.” The weight of the words seemed to register with the two prospects. 

“If you don’t feel like you’re up for the task, then no one will think any less of you. You can leave the suva with your head held high,” Kwynn added. If either of the Matoran had any concerns about becoming Toa, neither voiced them. After a moment of contemplation, Akarius held out the stones. Voti and Inix took them without hesitation, and approached the suva. As they got closer, two slots opened on the side of the hemispherical shrine. One slot gave off a faint green light, the other a red one. Voti approached the former, with Inix placing his stone into the latter. The ground shook slightly, and the suva began to rise out of the ground. A bright light emanated from its center, and two beams of energy emerged from the glowing slots. They engulfed the Matoran, shrouding them in a blinding aura. The spectacle was over as quickly as it started. The suva had returned to its original position, and where once stood two Matoran, there was now Inix, Toa of Fire, and Voti, Toa of the Green. Inix’s guard spear had grown into a long, forked polearm that crackled with fiery energy. His battleworn Pakari was good as new, gleaming bright red. His guard pauldron was now part of his armor. Voti’s throwing disc was now a bladed shield, and flowery sprouts poked out from various places on her armor. The newly minted Toa panted, the transformation having tired them out considerably. Akarius and Kwynn approached them and helped them up. 

“Are you okay, brother?” Akarius asked Inix. The former guardsman rubbed an armored hand down his untarnished mask and took a few clumsy steps with his newly lengthened legs. 

“This might take some getting used to,” said Inix, hefting his Toa Tool, “but I feel better than ever.” 

“When can we go on our first mission?” Voti asked eagerly. 

“After you two get some rest,” Kwynn responded with a chuckle, “I know how the transformation feels. You need to get your strength back.” Kwynn’s words went unheard, as before they were out of her mouth, the earth began to shake once again. This time, however, was not from the sudden outpouring of energy from the suva. This was violent, uncontained, and enough to send all four Toa to the floor. It was the greatest earthquake any of them had ever felt, and it didn’t seem to be stopping soon. The very foundations of the suva seemed to be shaking, with the building starting to buckle under its own weight. Akarius felt the stone under, around, and above him starting to give way, and he shakily got to his feet. 

“Brace yourselves!” he cried as the roof suddenly collapsed. His hands shot out and reached out with his mind to the tumbling stones. They stopped suddenly, only a few bios from the ground (and the Toa huddling for safety on it). Akarius placed the building’s roof safely on the ground around them, before helping the other Toa to their feet. 

“What’s happening?” Kwynn asked, fear in her voice for the first time since Akarius had known her. Fear was evident in his eyes, and would’ve been in his voice if he had anything to say. He had no earthly idea what was happening or why. 

 

Kulu didn’t think the earth would ever stop shaking. He had dropped to his knees when the quaking started, hoping it wouldn’t last long. After almost half an hour, it finally came to a stop. He paused for a second to catch his breath before pushing himself onto his feet. He was lucky he made it out of the mountains before the earthquake; shaking like that would have certainly caused dozens of landslides throughout the passes that would block his progress at best or bury him at worst. The area around him, the plains to the north of the Lokava Mountains, seemed mostly undisturbed. He was sure, however, the populated areas of Volara-Nui would’ve been devastated. He would be surprised if all of Onu-Koro wasn’t buried. His mind fell to the Master, in his headquarters at the Kini-Volara. The ancient building was already in disrepair, so an earthquake of this magnitude might have collapsed the whole structure. He was sure his Master was alive, but losing the Kini might have devastating effects on his plans. He retrieved the dark glass from his pack, which was thankfully intact. His reflection was wreathed in the familiar green essence.

“Master?” he said nervously, “Master, are you there?” There were a few tense moments of silence before the master replied.

Ah, Kulu, you survived, I worried you were still in the mountains,” came the dark voice of his Master, I require your presence. Momentous things have happened. You will need to be briefed.” Kulu was taken aback by his Master’s demeanor. He almost seemed excited. Maybe the damage wasn’t that bad? 

“I’m already on my way back, Master, but the journey will still take me several days.” 

Nonsense. I will see you presently.” Kulu was suddenly surrounded by a sickly green aura. It pervaded his armor and began to seemingly tear him apart. Kulu didn’t have time to scream before it was over, but the experience did leave him on his knees panting. He looked up and realized he was in the unnatural darkness of the Kini-Volara. Somehow, his Master had reached out and retrieved him, even over so great a distance. Everyday, his Master gave Kulu new reasons to fear him. It wasn’t until Kulu finally got his breath that he realized he wasn’t alone. The chamber he was in was the Master’s personal quarters, the pitch black abaddon where the subjugation of Volara-Nui was plotted. Behind him, the footsteps of someone in heavy armor echoed. He turned and faintly saw the outline of one of Master’s armored suits hulking over him. 

“Kulu,” said his Master, his voice not in his head for the first time, “Do you have the stone?” Unable to control his fear, Kulu meekly nodded. His shaking hand retrieved the orange stone and presented it to his Master. “Keep it for now,” he said nonchalantly, “Do you know what has happened?” 

“No, Master,” Kulu said, finally finding his voice. 

“I thought not. I don’t think you could understand even if I told you the full extent of it. The Great Spirit has been cast into a deep slumber, rendered comatose by my own master,” explained the shrouded figure, “what’s more, my master has been defeated by a team of Toa on Metru-Nui. Kulu, there is no greater time for us to strike. This is the moment I have been waiting for.” 

“What shall we do, Master?” Kulu said. He didn’t fully understand all that his master was telling him. However, hearing that it was time to enact the Master’s many plans was exciting enough. “Come with me,” he said simply, already moving towards the staircase leading out of the room. Kulu quickly followed behind him at a distance, still filled with primordial fear of his Master’s physical form. As they walked through the temple, Kulu could see that extensive damage had been done to the building. Teams of Visorak and Rahkshi attempted to save Kra-Matoran that had been buried by the fallen rubble, and towering Exo-Toa moved larger pieces of wreckage into piles. As they moved deeper into the temple, Kulu saw the mangled bodies of several Kra-Matoran and Visorak laid out. If the Master took notice of any of this, then he didn’t seem to show it. Instead he spoke as he led Kulu through the ruins. “Time and again, you’ve proven yourself a loyal and faithful servant,” the Master said, before indicating a group of Kra-Matoran recovering from the quake, “The others of your kind could not render the same service to me as you have. The viruses gave them a measure of brawn, but they took an equal amount of brains. This rabble needs a leader, someone to turn them from a mob of bandits to a proper army.”  Finally, the master and servant duo reached the center of the temple, where the suva was. Here, a piece of the roof had fallen in, allowing a single beam of moonlight to pour in and slightly illuminated the room. For the first time, Kulu gazed upon the form of his Master, the great Makuta of Volara-Nui Vortidax. The jet black, angular armor gleamed in the moonlight. It looked unnatural to Kulu; there seemed to be no space for organic portions in places where there should’ve been. The shadow Matoran was faced with the prospect of his Master being something beyond explanation. Vortidax raised a hand, indicating the suva. 

“Go ahead, Kulu,” he said, almost soothingly, “place the stone into the suva. Seize your full potential.” Kulu was shocked by the orders. Him, a Toa? He would certainly be able to serve his Master even more effectively with the powers of a Shadow Toa, but he would lose his ability to blend in among the Matoran. He would no longer be a spy, but a frontline soldier for his Master. Kulu had never been a fighter. His Master’s demeanor quickly shifted from benevolent to impatient. “Well?” Kulu snapped out of his haze and approached the suva. It seemed there was no choice in the matter.  A slot opened on it, giving off a faint orange light. He shakily placed his stone in the opening and took a step back. Suddenly, the ground started shaking again, and Kulu was afraid there would be another earthquake. However, he soon realized it was from the suva rising out of the ground and unleashing a barrage of energy on him. When the beam hit him, he was forced to the ground. He felt his limbs lengthening, his body growing. The shadow within him welled up and consumed whatever light was left inside. Although the transformation only lasted a few seconds, it felt like ages to Kulu. When it was finally over, he hardly recognized himself. He felt powerful, strong, capable. Truly a form befitting the Master’s greatest servant. 

“Rise, Toa Kulu,” Vortidax said slowly, “You have a busy day ahead of you, for I have a new mission to give you: make war on the Volarans.”

 

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Chapter 11

The shadow of the Lokavas loomed over Ta-Koro as Turaga Nemick somberly exited his villa. The past few days had seen his faculties finally begin to return to him. Despite the haze being lifted, those few days had been especially dreadful. First, to learn that not only had Nava betrayed and cast him into his stupor, but also that she had been murdered by a skulking assassin. The death of what was once his closest friend and dutiful sister, however, was dwarfed by the near leveling of his village by the most devastating earthquake in recorded memory. Over two dozen Matoran dead, many times that number injured, and more homeless than not. The Toa had done all they could to save the Matoran. As Nemick took his first outdoor walk since waking up, the Toa were still endeavoring to rescue Matoran buried in rubble.

He crossed the bridge over the lava stream that flowed around the villa and walked past the two guards stationed at the crossing. The two Ta-Matoran quickly snapped to attention when they saw the Turaga shuffle by, obviously surprised by him being up and about so quickly. Nemick scanned his surroundings, taking in the destruction that the earthquake had wrought. No building had been spared from damage, and some entire streets had been leveled. From here, he could see the Akilini field in the southwestern portion of the village had been turned into an encampment for the displaced. The sea of tents covered the entirety of the field’s surface area. Nemick mournfully shook his head. 

“Guardsmen,” he said to the Matoran at his side, “Do you know where the Toa are?” 

“I believe they are in the smelting district, Turaga,” one of them replied. Nemick nodded his thanks and headed off in the direction of the forges. As he walked through the smoking wrecks of the buildings, he thought about the way this place looked when he first arrived on Volara-Nui, before there was a Ta-Koro. It had been several dozen millenia by then, when he and his brothers and sisters had come to the island. The island was sparsely populated in those days. Back then, the Toa Volara were closer to soldiers than protectors, in a world before the Toa Code. Nemick’s walk brought him to the wall of chronicles. Here, various chroniclers that had served the island through the years had collected and recorded the history of Volara-Nui. Nemick was glad to see it had survived the quake. He looked up at the earliest carvings on the monolith. A mix of pictograms and the circular glyphs of the Matoran language depicted Nemick and his Toa arriving on the island and peacefully expelling the forces of Barraki Takadox, who had made their headquarters on the island in the days of the League of Six Kingdoms. It was beautifully carved, a testament to the skill of the chronicler that had recorded it. It was also a lie, one that still haunted the former Toa after almost eighty thousand years.

The sound of shifting stones snapped Nemick out of his reminiscing, and he continued marching towards the smelting district. 

 

It had taken some time, but Kwynn had finally found a calm, mostly quiet area of the Akilini field where she could once again try to contact Krakua. She had tried several times over the past few days, to no avail. It seemed like no matter what she did, she couldn’t connect to Krakua’s end of the psychic link. She was starting to fear the worst. Her attempts to contact him had come between bouts of helping the Matoran who continued to trickle into the Akilini field-turned-refugee camp, as well as administering aid to those who had been injured in the earthquake. Kwynn sat down in the darkness of one of the field’s side rooms, taking a deep breath and closing her eyes. She focused on the psychic link that the Toa of Sonics had established, trying to visualize it. A few moments passed, and Kwynn started to think that it would pan out like her previous attempts. Finally, however, she started to make out Krakua’s Suletu, and soon the rest of his body. He was on a ship, looking out over the waves. He realized he was being watched, and turned to face Kwynn. His usually stoic disposition seemed to be compromised, and an aura of stress radiated off of the Toa. He simply nodded at his telepathic visitor and continued looking out over the waves. 

“Krakua,” Kwynn began, “What has happened?” She had already decided that there was no way the earthquake could’ve been localized to Volara-Nui, and that this must have something to do with the world at large. 

“I’m sure there’s someone out there who knows all of the details, but I’m not one of them,” he replied sardonically, “All I can tell you for sure is that the Great Spirit is... incapacitated.” Kwynn furrowed her brow. She knew that the happenings of the past several days must have had far-reaching consequences, but this was the last thing she expected to hear. “What?” She finally said. Krakua simply shrugged.

“I don’t know what it means, why it happened, or how to fix it. All I know is that Metru-Nui seems to have been completely destroyed and abandoned in the course of a single night, and that the rest of the world isn’t faring much better.” The enormity of his statement washed over Kwynn. 

“So what do we do?” Kwynn asked finally. 

“Your duty,” Krakua declared firmly, “Defend the Matoran. That’s all we can do right now. There’s not much information I can divulge at the moment, but what I can say is things are going to get much worse before they get better.” Kwynn’s thoughts drifted to the refugee camp and wondered how they could possibly get worse. She was about to cut the link when Krakua continued speaking. 

“Before you go, I looked through the Order’s archives to see if I could find anything about the original Toa Volara,” he said. 

“What’d you find?” asked Kwynn, her interest piqued. 

“Not much concrete information, unfortunately. Most of their exploits are redacted for some reason. I do know they were one of the first Toa Teams. It was a time when it wasn’t clear what being a Toa actually meant. The Toa Code wasn’t as established as it is now. When the Six Kingdoms War began, they were part of the Makuta army that defeated the League’s forces on Volara-Nui. There’s not much else I can say, but it seems like they were swords for hire before this time, with a checkered past to match the reputation. This business with the League seems particularly nasty.” The information was interesting, but not that surprising to Kwynn. With Nava’s exploits out in the open, it wasn’t too much to believe that the other Toa Volara could be just as morally questionable. She wondered what kind of skeletons the other Turaga of Volara-Nui had in their closets. 

“Thanks, Krakua, I’ll keep in touch.” The Toa of Sonics nodded at her before continuing his watch over the waves. His image slowly faded as Kwynn found herself back in the Akilini field’s equipment room.

 

Out of the infertile, rocky ground of Ta-Koro sprouted a forest of vines and branches. These green tendrils snaked around the felled columns and shattered masonry of a ruined dwelling, grasping and lifting them up into the air so Toa Voti could search the rubble for any trapped Matoran. Although she didn’t find any survivors, she did discover a crushed orange Hau in the wreckage. She stepped out of the dwelling’s remains, banishing the vines. She hoped the mask was simply a spare, that the owner had managed to escape the doomed house before it fell. The Toa had been working through the smelting district, which had almost been completely flattened. They had been searching through the rubble for several days now, with no end in sight.

Voti took a moment to catch her breath. She had always dreamed of being a Toa. Protecting the Matoran from all manner of threats, using her powers to fight the enemies of peace and assist those in need. To say that the first few days of her tenure as a Toa were demoralizing would be an understatement. Pulling the mangled bodies of her fellow Matoran from the ruins of their village, hearing the pained cries of those stuck under mountains of rubble, the sight of hundreds of displaced refugees standing on the wreckage of their lives. Voti found herself longing for the simplicity of her life as a Matoran, patrolling the jungles with the other Vine Striders. If she knew that this is what the Toa life entailed, she might have given Akarius’ offer more thought.

The Toa of Stone was several houses down, using his elemental abilities to move large piles of stone with ease. Inix was on her left, his Pakari glowing as he hefted the facade of a crumbled house. Even with their powers, scouring all of Ta-Koro for survivors would take weeks. She couldn’t imagine what the damage in the other Koros was like. 

She was about to move on to the next building when she saw a shuffling form approaching them. Voti had not yet seen Turaga Nemick. She had only seen Nava when her body was brought out of the villa for cremation. However, it was unmistakable that the figure walking down the ruined street towards them was a Turaga, and his red-orange armor indicated it was none other than Nemick. She called out to her comrades, who looked up at the new arrival. They put down the pieces of rubble they were working through and moved to meet the Turaga halfway. The elder stopped as they came closer, leaning on his staff as he took in what used to be the smelting district. 

“Turaga,” said Akarius reverently. Nemick seemed distracted by the scene, taking a moment to reply. 

“Toa,” he said simply, “How goes the work?” The heroes shared a grim look with one another before their leader answered. 

“Slowly. Even with our powers it takes hours to clear a single block. Finding bodies or trapped Matoran further complicates things,” reported Akarius. The jocular Toa of Stone seemed weighed down by the burden of his responsibility. 

“And if the damage is this bad across the rest of the island...” Inix trailed off. None of them wanted to contemplate it. Nemick closed his eyes, stress evident in every movement. He was about to respond when the sound of hurried footsteps behind them caught their attention. A Po-Matoran guardsman rushed up to the group, giving the Turaga a rapid bow before delivering his report. “Turaga, a messenger has arrived from Ko-Koro. He brings news of an attack on his village, and has requested an audience with you and the Toa.” Nemick looked up at the Toa, his expression somehow darker than before. Akarius gave him a slow nod. The Turaga turned his gaze back to the guardsman, saying, “We shall hear the messenger, no matter how dire his report.” As the group started back towards the villa, Akarius turned to Voti. “Head to the field and get Kwynn, tell her what’s happening. It seems like we may be leaving Ta-Koro soon.”

 

Kulu stood in his tent, perusing the hastily drawn map of Volara-Nui. Outside, the hustle and bustle of a raider camp could be perceived. Marching Kra-Matoran, the cries of imprisoned Ko-Matoran, and the warmth of fires attempting to fight the cold bite of Ko-Wahi. Kulu’s first action as his Master’s main lieutenant (and his first fight as a Toa) had gone just as planned; a lightning raid on Ko-Koro that left the snowy village in flames and the Turaga dead by Kulu’s hand. A small handful of Ko-Matoran had been captured by his raiders as well. More slaves for the Master’s mines. Kulu had a suspicion, however, that Ko-Koro would be an anomaly. The icy town had never formed its own defense force, relying on the rugged, mountainous terrain to shield it from invaders. Only a small cadre of hunters had the skill to defend their home, but even they were no match for Kulu’s raiders. Every other Koro, on the other hand, had their own defense forces. The Toa of Shadow’s probing attacks into Le-Wahi had been met with defeat at the hands of the Vine Striders, and no vessels had been able to penetrate the Ga-Koro fleet’s defense of their home. Ta-Koro would be even more difficult to crack, even if the diversionary attack on Ko-Koro managed to draw the Toa away from it. Thick walls and a populace larger than any other village, Kulu would need to draw on his strongest assets to reduce it. Exo-Toa and Rahkshi to knock down the walls, supplemented by a force of ship-borne Kra-Matoran and swimming Boggarak attacking from the sea. He could also use Vohtarak and Roporak to flank the village by coming down from the volcanic mountains that surrounded it. Even with all of the different parts of the plan going right for him, Kulu knew that Ta-Koro would never fall easily. At the end of the day, however, Kulu’s soldiers were quite expendable. He would spend as many lives as he needed to in order to subdue the island for his Master.

 

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Chapter 12

The twisted shapes of the other Kra-Matoran were barely visible through the blinding winds of the snowstorm. Krak held his hand up to his mask, trying to block the snowflakes that bracketed him from all sides. Ko-Wahi was proving to be just as wild and inhospitable as he had always heard. Their initial raid on the village had gone as smoothly as it could have. As much as Krak despised taking orders from the wretch Kulu, he had to admit the Toa was a fearsome leader. The outrider was still of the opinion that any of the other Kra-Matoran would’ve been a better pick than Kulu. The Master’s viruses had already given them the strength of Toa, why not go the rest of the way with Toa powers as well? The outline of Hak in front of him wavered for a moment and for a moment Krak thought he might have lost sight of him. His companion quickly reappeared, and the two continued their trudge through the mountainous terrain. 

The small squad of outriders were transporting supplies to the main raiding camp that sat in the shadow of the Ko-Koro Knowledge Tower. After subduing Ko-Koro, Kulu and the bulk of the force had left, leaving only a small force of outriders in Ko-Wahi to keep watch on the Ko-Matoran. They had let one of the Ko-Matoran out to warn the others, hoping to draw the Toa out of Ta-Koro. Whether or not this was successful Krak didn’t know. What he did know was that the weather had gone from bad to worse, and that the entire Kra-Matoran garrison would be frozen soon if new orders didn’t arrive. He grumbled at the thought of having to guard a defeated town. He would’ve much rather put all of them to the sword and moved on. What purpose did leaving Ko-Koro be serve the Master? 

Krak’s discontent was interrupted by a shrill cry and the sound of a large object hitting the snow. A few bios ahead of him, Krak saw the form of Hak lying on the ground, shaking in pain. He approached his comrade, seeing the problem. His leg had been caught in a Muaka trap. Hak continued to let out a string of moans and curses, grasping wildly for his lower leg. The snow below him had already started to turn red. Krak was not moved.

“Get a hold of yourself, fool,” he growled, grabbing the jaws of the trap and attempting to pry them open. The two other Kra-Matoran stood watch behind them, keeping an eye on the Mahi carrying their supplies. 

“Will you two hurry up?” asked Yevas exasperatedly. “If we’re not back to camp by dark who knows what wi-” The outrider was cut off. Krak froze, trying to hear over the sound of the wind and Hak’s groans. He turned, and saw only a single Matoran shape beside the Mahi. 

“Gar, what happened to Yevas?” He called angrily. No answer. The shape of Gar came closer to him, drawing his weapon. “Answer me Gar!” He was about to go for his own weapon when the sound of an animalistic growl to his left stopped him dead. Krak slowly realized he wasn’t talking to Gar. The shape in front of him belonged to a Ko-Matoran, a scoped Huna on his face. One of the hunters who had futilely tried to defend the village. Krak thought all of them were dead or dying. The hunter’s cold blue eyes were as unreadable as the snow around them. In his hand was a long javelin, and the hunter was flanked by a cat-like Rahi, like a Muaka but smaller. For a moment, no one moved. Even Hak had gone still. Krak’s hand was on his dagger, but could he draw it before the Rahi beast was on top of him? What about the hunter’s javelin? The Kra-Matoran knew he was beaten. If he lunged for one foe then the other would do him in. At the same time, surrender wasn’t an option. Krak found himself debating if his Master’s wrath was worse than the cat’s teeth. 

“You have one opportunity to leave here,” the hunter finally said, “the Mahi stays with me. Go back to your camp and tell your friends that they’re being hunted.” The hunter’s stern eyes and his pet’s murderous visage told Krak all he needed to know. The Kra-Matoran stood up, helping Hak to his feet. The two started back to their camp, without the supplies they had left for. The hunter and his companion melted back into the snowstorm, taking the Mahi with them. 

 

The newly minted Turaga chafed in his chair. Oren, who only a week ago was simply foreman of the ice carver’s guild, was now the leader every Ko-Matoran looked to in their time of need. He had been hastily elected as Turaga after the death of the previous elder, Velal, during the raid. Velal had given credit to his past as a Toa, using his mask of shielding to hold his own against the shadowy warrior that led the raiding party. However, it was ultimately futile; Velal was killed, and Ko-Koro was left leaderless. It was rare to see a Matoran fill the role of Turaga, something only seen in dire times. Oren couldn’t think of more dire times than these. The number of true Turaga on Volara-Nui seemed to be quickly shrinking. 

Oren sat in the Great Seer’s Hall, where the Ko-Koronan elder held court and looked to the skies for signs of the future. The strong walls of the keep had mostly been untouched by the raiders, but the same couldn’t be said for the area outside. Repairs were under way, but progress was slow-going with so many dead or imprisoned Ko-Matoran. It was made slower since a few dozen of the villagers were being trained to serve as guards for Ko-Koro. The lack of defenders had turned out poorly for the village, and the decimation of the Hunters further complicated things. Only one Hunter remained in fighting condition. 

The doorway of the seer’s hall was darkened by a new arrival. Hoku, the last of the Ko-Koro Hunters entered, followed by his eternal companion Kopa. Hoku gave a small bow before beginning. 

“I had a successful hunt. Managed to liberate some supplies from our friends by the knowledge tower,” he said, “Any new developments here?” Hoku was Ko-Koro’s most seasoned warrior. A master at fighting in the wilds of Ko-Wahi, Hoku was traditionally Velal’s right hand. The old hunter regarded the Turaga respectfully, but Oren felt a strange coldness in his speech, like he could never amount to what his predecessor achieved. Oren wondered if Hoku believed he would’ve done a better job as elder. 

“The training is going according to schedule. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to compete with the Ta-Koro guard or the Vine Striders but it’s a start at least,” Oren said, “Repairs are progressing slowly. We have enough builders and supplies, but it seems like the Ko-Koronans are... unmotivated. I’ve never seen them in such a malaise.” Hoku sighed. 

“It’s because they’re afraid. It’d be one thing if they were rebuilding the village after the raiders were defeated, but the Kra-Matoran are still here, barely a disk’s throw from the village. They could come back anytime now and lay waste to us again if they wanted. Why rebuild if your work could easily be completely erased at any time?” Hoku wasn’t normally one for emotion, but Oren could feel he was passionate about this subject. He paused for a moment before responding. “What do you propose then?” 

“We alleviate their fears. Take the fight to the raiders, make them sorry they ever came into our mountains. Make them as afraid as we are.” The hunter's words were resolute, but his thinking was wishful. He was the only Ko-Matoran capable of fighting the raiders. The Ko-Koro guard was still a force of trainees, many of whom had picked up a spear for the first time only a few days ago. “Hoku, you know why I can’t order that.” 

“Then send me. I can fight them, I have fought them,” he declared strongly. 

“You have, but you haven’t fought all of them. That’s what you’re asking for if you go there alone. Can you fight the entire raiding party at once yourself? The answer is no Hoku. I’ve sent for help from the other villages. Once that help arrives, I’ll authorize the counterattack, but no sooner.” There was silence as Hoku tried to contain his emotions. Finally, he gave a curt bow and stormed out, trailed by Kopa. 

 

The weather was clear when Inix poked his head out of his tent. The snowstorm the previous night had ensured that the Toa Volara could make no further progress toward Ko-Koro that day. They had set up a hasty encampment and settled in to wait out the blizzard. Inix’s abilities came in handy, as there’d be no other way to keep a fire going in those conditions. Now, the Toa could continue their journey. A shiver ran down Inix’s body as he was reminded once again how far from home he was. The team had left Ta-Koro after the Ko-Matoran messenger warned them of danger in the north. Further couriers from Le- and Ga-Koro proved the urgency of the situation. Volara-Nui was under siege from unknown attackers. Nemick assured the Toa that his village would be safe while they struck out to defend the rest of the island. They traveled to Ga-Koro by boat, before taking to the roads to make the rest of the trip by foot.  Ko-Koro was nestled within the Atava Mountains, a snow-capped range that ran along the northern side of the island. A far cry from the volcanic wastes of Ta-Koro. Inix had never felt so out of place. He had taken to keeping a small flame controlled in his hands, both to practice his abilities and to keep himself warm. 

Soon, the calm of the morning was disrupted by the sound of the Toa trudging through the heavy snow towards their goal. Voti, the only one among them to have been to Ko-Koro, claimed they were very close.

“Me and a few other Vine Striders escorted Turaga Serus when he went to visit Turaga Velal a few years ago,” she had told them when they got off the boat in Ga-Koro. Inix hoped that her memory served her well, because he wasn’t sure how much more trudging through the snowy wilderness he could take. 

Finally, the shape of Ko-Koro’s ice-carved gates came into view. Wedged between two peaks was the village of artisans and thinkers.The doors of the great gate were shut tight. Inix looked at his fellow Toa and saw he wasn’t the only one to notice it. 

“Not expecting any visitors?” Akarius wondered out loud. 

“Only one way to find out,” Kwynn said without breaking her stride. The team approached the blocked gate, on edge for an ambush. The silence was broken by the sound of a gruff voice calling down at them from the ramparts of the gate. 

“Stop!” cried the Ko-Matoran guard, “No entry to Ko-Koro until the general security has been restored, by order of the Turaga.” The guard only seemed slightly surprised by the arrival of four Toa on his doorstep. Inix shared a look with his teammates. 

“Must be on high alert after the raid,” Kwynn reasoned. 

“I figured they’d be happy to see us,” Inix admitted. Akarius cupped his hands around his mouth to shout his response. “We’re the Toa Volara. We’re here to help you defend against the attackers.” The guard scoffed.

“You’re about a week late for that. Why don’t you ask your Toa friend who led the raiding party what exactly happened here.” Inix was taken aback by this, as were his teammates. 

“Did he say there was another Toa here?” Inix asked. 

“Apparently fighting on the wrong side,” said Akarius, “Listen, we need to talk to Turaga Velal. If you just let us in we can figure all of this out.” 

“Turaga Velal is dead. Killed in the raid. Turaga Oren is in charge now, and he ordered that no one except Ko-Matoran are allowed to come and go from Ko-Koro.” Akarius could barely contain his shock. Two of Volara-Nui’s Turaga were dead in less than a month. How many more would die before this was over? 

“So what’s the plan now?” Voti asked. 

“I’m not sure. I’m starting to get used to being barred entry to the Koros, though,” sighed Akarius. Inix decided to try his own hand at diplomacy. 

“We received your messenger asking for help,” the Toa of Fire reasoned, “Whatever problems the village is facing, we can help you with. Just open the gates, and let us speak to Turaga Oren. He sent for us, didn’t he?” The guard seemed to consider this for a moment. Finally, he waved down to someone behind the gate. The great doors swung open, revealing the ravaged village beyond. 

 

As night began to fall on the stricken village, Akarius sat by one of the warming braziers in the seer’s hall. The Toa had been lodged in the upper quarters of the hall, so his window looked down on Ko-Koro. It was quiet, eerily so. Gone were the days where the Matoran welcomed him to their village with celebration. Now, the only looks Akarius got from the villagers seemed to wordlessly ask “why weren’t you here?” The past week had seen the feeling of failing the Matoran become almost the norm for the Toa of Stone. He and the rest of Volara-Nui sincerely needed a victory. 

The Toa’s initial encounter with Turaga Oren had gone smoothly. The beleaguered elder was happy to see the heroes, even if they were too late to help defend the Koro. The Toa had quickly gotten to work assisting the Matoran, with Kwynn and Inix helping train the guardsmen while the others joined the repair efforts. Even with their assistance, the fatalistic atmosphere still hung heavy over the village. Akarius longed for a way to truly help the village. 

His contemplation was interrupted by a knock on the door. The Toa rose to answer it, finding Oren at the door. 

“Sorry for the intrusion, Toa, but I needed to ask something of you,” He said quietly. 

“Of course, Turaga. What do you need?” 

“It’s something the rest of the Toa should hear. Could you gather them and meet me in the great hall?” Akarius nodded his response and set about rousing the other Toa, who were in various stages of restfulness. The team convened in the hall, where the Turaga was waiting for them, alongside the hunter Hoku. Hoku’s pet, the Koaka Kopa lay curled up by one of the lit hearths as the meeting commenced. 

“Thank you for coming Toa,” Oren began. Hoku leaned against the wall behind Oren’s throne, sizing up the heroic newcomers. “Your assistance around the village has already been extremely helpful, and I can feel the morale of the Ko-Koronans rising. However, I have a task for you that would be much more... conducive to the long-term safety of the village.” There was a short pause before Hoku spoke up.

“The bush that Oren is beating around is that the raiders that attacked us are still here. They’re encamped by the knowledge tower a few kios away and could attack us again anytime. Ko-Koro won’t be safe until they’re gone.” Oren seemed to regret Hoku’s forwardness, but couldn’t disagree with any of it. “Can you help us, Toa?” entreated the Turaga desperately. 

“Absolutely,” Akarius said, “but we need more information. What are the raiders comprised of?” 

“I’ve scouted their encampment,” Hoku responded, “They have some war machines and Visorak but it's mainly Kra-Matoran warriors.” 

“What about the Toa that was leading them?” Kwynn asked pointedly. Hoku and Oren shared a look. 

“We haven’t seen him since the day of the raid,” Oren said, almost shuddering as he recalled, “He wasn’t a normal Toa, not like you. He sprang from the shadows themselves, and they followed his command. And his eyes... I’ve never seen someone with such a cruel aspect.” Akarius’s thoughts turned to the Kra-Matoran that had led the brigands against him and Serus, the piercing red eyes that had peered from the trees. It wasn’t hard to put it together; Nava’s Toa Stone missing, a new Toa appearing on the side of the Kra-Matoran, a skulking killer hiding in shadows. Justice is coming for you, piraka. I can only hope I’m the one to deliver it.

“Most of the raiders left after the battle,” Hoku continued, “It seems the force left at the knowledge tower is more of an occupying garrison than anything.”    

“In that case it shouldn’t be anything we can’t handle,” Voti declared, “Shall we go?” 

“Hold on, I’m going with you,” Hoku said, moving from the wall to join the Toa, “There’s something hidden in the knowledge tower I need to make sure is secure.” 

“‘Something hidden in the knowledge tower’? Why wasn’t I told?” Turaga Oren protested. 

“Because it doesn’t belong to you,” Hoku said acidly, “It belongs to Turaga Velal. I can’t let his Toa Stone fall into their hands.” 

 

Krak snapped himself awake at the sound of a twig snap. He had been posted on the ramparts around the makeshift wall around the Kra-Matoran encampment. He had dozed off sometime ago, however. Luckily the captain hadn’t found him sleeping first; he would’ve been Rahi bones for sure. Instead, a sound from the snowy forest around him had roused him. He grabbed his spear and scanned the woods for any sign of the sound’s source. It was probably a Rahi, but his close encounter with the Ko-Matoran hunter the other day had put him on edge. When he told Captain Ilava about the hunter’s attack, the leader of the raiding party immediately started putting together a punitive expedition to remind the Ko-Matoran who was in charge. They were set to head out later that day. 

It was still dark, and most of the camp hadn’t woken up yet. Most were still sound asleep in the shadow of the knowledge tower. The tower had been sealed up before the raiders had moved their camp there, however. They had not yet been able to open it. 

Another twig snap brought his attention back to where it should’ve been. Something was out there. Krak clutched his spear tightly. He couldn’t spot the source of the noise, yet it had sounded so close. A third snap had him ready to sound the alarm. 

“Who goes there? Show yourself now coward!” He called into the trees. No response. The Kra-Matoran, who had been turned into the supreme warrior by the master’s viruses, found himself shaking in fear. A fourth snap, this one sounding louder than an explosion.

“Where are you?” He cried inconsolably.

“Here,” came a voice from beside him. Caught off guard, Krak swiveled, trying to bring his weapon to bear. The hunter grabbed it, snapping the spear’s head from its shaft. In a flash, Hoku produced a dagger of his own and shoved it between the plates of Krak’s torso armor. The Kra-Matoran gasped in pain, unable to resist as the hunter pushed him off of the ramparts and into the snow below, where Kopa’s open jaws waited eagerly. 

 

Akarius watched in shock as Hoku killed the guard. The ease with which he did it disturbed the Toa. Even the nastiest of Nava’s guardsmen were averse to killing their fellow Matoran. The circumstances were different here. This was war, and for Hoku, it was also vengeance. Even from his hiding spot several dozen bios away, Akarius could sense the hatred Hoku felt for the Kra-Matoran. The Toa had a code that forbade that from killing, but Hoku had no such limitations. When he was sure the coast was clear, the hunter gave the signal for the Toa to join him. The four Toa emerged from the woods and scaled the wall enclosing the encampment, moving past the twitching Kra-Matoran. Hoku was taking stock of the enemy’s emplacements. 

“Looks like they have some heavy artillery,” he said, pointing out a large automaton on the far side of the camp. It was roughly twice the size of a Toa, with one arm ending in a cannon and the other in a grisly claw. “Hopefully we can take it out before they realize we’re he-” Hoku was cut off by the sound of a weak,high pitched note from a horn. The interlopers looked over the ramparts and saw the torn body of  Krak with a bugle against his mouth. The outrider had used his last breath to raise the alarm. The other guards took notice and sounded their own alarm. In an instant, the camp was abuzz with the cries of Kra-Matoran preparing for battle. 

“Activate the Exo-Toa!” one exclaimed. 

“I knew this couldn’t be easy,” Inix said, readying his spear. 

“If it were easy, they wouldn’t need Toa,” Kwynn retorted, nocking an arrow. 

“Toa,” Akarius began, “Let’s get to work.” The heroes jumped down into the fray, meeting the blows of the Kra-Matoran with their own. Hoku hesitated, seeing the Exo-Toa approach them. He knew they could take on the raiders, but the war machine might prove deadly for them. However, the path to the knowledge tower gate was wide open. He could make a break for it and secure Velal’s Toa Stone. He looked from the Exo-Toa to the gate rapidly, unable to decide what to do. 

 

Inix parried the attacks of three incoming Kra-Matoran before counterattacking himself. He activated his Pakari and smacked one of them with the flat of his spear, sending their mask flying. As the other two rounded on him, Inix prepared his next attack by absorbing all the heat in a wide radius around them. Inix released this heat at the remaining attackers, superheating their weapons and searing their hands. There was a crackle as one of Kwynn’s arrows flew past him, narrowly missing the Toa of Fire as it went. Inix followed the arrow’s path, realizing it had struck a Kra-Matoran that had snuck up behind him. He nodded thanks to Kwynn before continuing on. There was a short break in the fighting as Inix heard the rumble of heavy footsteps. He saw the Exo-Toa approaching them, aiming its cannon arm at the unsuspecting Toa of Lightning. Inix made a break for her, pushing her out of the projectile’s path. The crackling missile had left a smoldering crater where she had been standing.

“We’re even now,” Inix said, “We need to take that thing down.” 

“Got any ideas?” Kwynn asked. Inix looked around, seeing Akarius. He called for his leader, hoping to get his attention. The Toa of Stone had just finished shattering a Kra-Matoran’s shield with his hammer when he heard his name being called. Without breaking his rhythm he ended his duel with a mask-cracking punch before using his mask to join his fellow Toa. 

“What do we do about the Exo-Toa?” Kwynn asked him. The trio looked to see Voti attempting to tangle its legs with vines to no avail. She narrowly dodged an attack from the claw arm before getting caught up in combat with a squad of Kra-Matoran. Unfortunately for her, the automaton didn’t stop its attack just because its allies were in the way. It raised its cannon arm all the same, taking aim at the Toa at the center of the dark Matoran. Her fellow Toa were helpless to stop it. Just before it fired, a gray shape that had weaved its way through the Kra-Matoran ranks latched onto the Exo-Toa’s legs. Hoku climbed the construct’s body, eventually reaching its head. Despite its fearsome appearance, the armored attacker couldn’t move its arms in a way that allowed it to strike back at the nimble hunter. With his javelin, Hoku stabbed up and down on the robot’s head, poking out its eyes and knocking out anything that looked important. The Toa seized on this golden opportunity, coming together to finish off the titan. Kwynn’s lightning disabled the cannon arm while Voti’s vines tied down the claw arm. Inix used his mask to deliver a thunderous strike that knocked out the Exo-Toa’s knee, causing its legs to buckle and allowing Akarius to deliver a final blow with his hammer. The Exo-Toa hit the ground hard, never to get up again. With their greatest asset destroyed and nearly all of their number disabled, the remaining Kra-Matoran laid down their arms. Victorious, Hoku entered the knowledge tower, his sights set on Velal’s Toa Stone. 

 

The night brought with it a renewed sense of relief for the Ko-Koronans. It was as if a crushing weight had been removed from their shoulders, allowing them to think clearly for the first time in over a week. A number of Ko-Matoran prisoners had been freed after the battle, and their return to the village helped warm even the Atava Mountains’ biting cold. Yet, even this couldn’t fully heal Ko-Koro’s wounds. Too many were dead or still missing, and until the meager defense force was trained, nothing stood between them and the Kra-Matoran. Even a vow from the Toa to free every prisoner did little to alleviate fears. Despite this, the immediate danger to the Koro was averted, and Velal’s Toa Stone had been retrieved. Hoku still held it as the Toa debriefed with Oren in the Great Hall. 

“It sounded like quite the battle,”Oren said, seeming considerably less stressed than usual, “Toa, you must know that there’s nothing Ko-Koro can do to repay this debt.” 

“You’ll never have to,” Akarius assured, “We were just doing our duty.”

“There is the matter of the Toa Stone,” Kwynn said, “What is to be done with it?” The question was valid. The Toa hoped that they would be able to use the stone to bolster their numbers, but couldn’t rightly expect to snatch it out of the hands of the already benighted Ko-Matoran. Oren looked at Hoku, still holding the stone. There was a short pause before Oren finally spoke up. “While I can’t speak as authoritatively on the matter since the stone doesn’t belong to me, I feel confident that Turaga Velal would’ve wanted us to use the stone for the defense of the island. If you can find a Ko-Koronan that is up to-” 

“I’ll do it.” Hoku had been silent to this point, but now spoke as definitively as ever. The stone gave off a white glow in his hands as he stood up. “Velal entrusted me with the stone, so let me use it the way he intended. I can’t stay here idle while the other Koros suffer like we did. Let me join your team, let me help you make sure no one else has to live in fear.” There was silence as those gathered took in Hoku’s speech. Oren seemed shocked by the outburst, but was moved by it nonetheless. He knew there was no better fighter among the Ko-Matoran. Akarius looked at his fellow Toa, seeking their assent before making his decision. Kwynn gave a slight nod, a motion mirrored by Inix and again by Voti. Seeing that the room was unanimous, Akarius approached the hunter, wearing a look that he hoped impressed the grave importance of this decision on Hoku. 

“This isn’t a decision to be made lightly.  However, it seems you’ve made up your mind,” he said. His expression darkened, “There is one thing you have to know. If you plan on going through with this, then you have to adhere to the Toa Code, same as the rest of us. We don’t kill.” The last words hung in the air heavily, as all waited for Hoku’s response. The Toa had seen firsthand his penchant for violence at the knowledge tower. Hoku thought for a moment, before replying. “Agreed.”

 

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Chapter 13

Kulu heard the news of the Ko-Wahi outpost’s fall indifferently. Their purpose had always been to draw the attention of the Toa to a far-flung spot of the island, giving the Shadow Toa’s army free reign to operate where they were not. That the outpost was crewed by the ones he believed to be the weakest elements of his army made him care even less. Kulu was about to cast off from the docks that the Kra-Matoran engineers had hastily erected in Vao Bay north of Ga-Koro when the outrider from the Ko-Wahi base had reached him with the message. The snow-covered messenger had interrupted Kulu’s sparring practice with one of the Rahkshi that had been accompanying him. 

The outrider, who had apparently barely escaped capture by the Toa, awaited his commander’s answer expectantly. Kulu replied dismissively, “Understood, soldier. Report to the quartermaster for reassignment.” As the exhausted Matoran slunk off to the quartermaster’s tent, Kulu continued training with the Kurahk, parrying the creature’s blows and responding with his own. After a short series of trades, the Rahkshi’s staff slipped past the Toa’s block and gave him a new nick in his side. Kulu cursed as his hand shot to the wound, feeling the warm blood beginning to pool there. Whether it was the pain from the cut or the Kurahk’s natural aura of anger, Kulu felt fury rise in him. He responded with a flurry of blows, putting the Rahkshi on the defensive. Finally, he brought his jagged sword down hard on the creature’s staff. The edge bit through the metal shaft of the staff, splitting it in half and causing a sharp snap to emanate from the cut as energy escaped from the two halves. The Rahkshi fell back, seemingly recognizing its defeat. Kulu had spent the past several days training with the serpentine automaton, and the two had already left a considerable amount of wounds on each other. 

Before the sparring could continue, Kulu felt a familiar feeling in the back of his  mind. His Master was beckoning him. His hand instinctively reached for the ebon glass, pulling it from the specialized pouch that he sewn onto his pack. Vortidax’s image was obscured by the sickly screen of gas he had become accustomed to. 

“How may I serve, Master?” Kulu asked. 

You’re preparing to cast off from Ga-Wahi?” The response came more as a statement of fact than a question. Kulu always had to remember that his thoughts were open to the Master. 

“Yes, Master. I’m taking a brigade to capture De-Koro. The De-Matoran are weak, and the port there will serve as an effective staging point for future attacks on the mainland.” Kulu outlined his strategy proudly, hoping to impress the Master. Whether or not Vortidax took note of his servant’s stratagem was unclear. His mind seemed to be elsewhere. 

“When you embark, report to me on Kini-Volara. I have an urgent assignment for you, and it would be best explained in person.” With that, the Master’s presence was gone. Kulu furrowed his brow. In the spectrum of emotions he associated with his Master, concern was not one of them. The Makuta had always been calm and calculating, always a step ahead. The Toa of Shadows wondered what was the cause of the Master’s trouble. He would soon find out. As irritating as it was to delay the De-Koro campaign for a stop on Kini-Volara, Kulu could not refuse the Master. As he placed the glass back into its place, the call rang out from the docks, signaling that it was time to embark. Kulu sheathed his sword and started towards the ship. 

 

The sublevel of Kini-Volara was as dark as it had ever been. A Matoran wouldn’t have been able to see their hand in front of their mask if they had tried. It was a primal sort of darkness, one tinged with fear, anxiety of what might lie beyond what was visible. It was the kind of darkness in which predators lurked. The predator that lurked in the gloom of the Kini sublevels had no trouble seeing through the blackness. As Makuta Vortidax marched through the halls of the profaned Matoran temple he had made his headquarters, he pondered his next move. The subsequent days would determine how his ultimate plans would end. At no point since his arrival on Volara-Nui all those millenia ago had he been so close to victory and destruction simultaneously. 

His wanderings brought him close to the pool of energized protodermis that his lair was built around. The pool had seen much use in the past several weeks, having been used to birth a veritable army of Rahkshi to bolster his already sizable forces. In the liquid, the shadowy titan saw his distorted reflection. Vortidax’s chosen form was an imposing suit of armor he had crafted himself. It was one he donned in times of war. Staring back at him from the liquid was the Kanohi Phobos, the mask of fear. Another artifact of his own creation, forged by infusing a Kanohi with the essence of a Turahk Kraata. Vortidax had long thought Makuta were immune to fear, another worthless Matoran emotion that they had long since abandoned with the rest of their worldly ties. If that was the case, he found himself unable to explain the feeling that currently pervaded him.

His pondering was interrupted by the sound of metallic footfalls on the hard stone floor of the Kini. It seemed Kulu was responding to his summons. Soon the form of the Shadow Toa joined Vortidax’s in the reflective pool. 

“You summoned me, Master?” his servant said supplicatingly. His Kanohi Volitak was tarnished by combat. A quick foray into his mind told Vortidax all he needed to know about the preceding days.

“The campaign is proceeding well, Kulu,” the Makuta began, “I am pleased with you and your soldiers’ efficacy.” The Toa perked up at this praise. Vortidax knew exactly what Kulu responded to. “However, there has been a recent... complication. Ever since the defeat of Brother Teridax at Metru-Nui, my order has been in chaos. I have just returned from a conclave of the Makuta, where in no uncertain terms I have been excommunicated from the Brotherhood.” If Kulu was bewildered, he did not show it. Vortidax could not imagine he knew what he was talking about. “I’ll spare you the details of it. Interminable politics and power plays woven within power plays. My order is quite the duplicitous one. The brute Icarax holds the power now. It seems the scars from a feud we had long ago run deep, for he has muscled me out of my position and is sending his lackey, Makuta Victus with an army to destroy me.” Vortidax turned to face his servant. “To destroy us.” Whether or not Kulu fully understood the meaning of what his dark master had told him, it was clear that he realized the stakes of what was about to happen, at least in relation to his own wellbeing. 

“What do you require of me, Master?” The voice of the spy had become the voice of the soldier. Even now Kulu’s hand rested by his sheathed sword, as if his Master’s enemy was in the room now. Vortidax knew he had made the right choice when he recruited the outcast Onu-Matoran more than a century ago. 

“Gather your forces. Be prepared to meet the enemy wherever they appear. If we are able to defeat the enemy, then our ultimate victory is all but guaranteed. I am tantalizingly close to achieving my goal. My “destiny”, as you Matoran might put it,” Vortidax said reassuringly.

“It will be done. There is one thing, Master,” began Kulu, “You said there would be another Makuta with them. My forces can defeat anything the enemy throws at us, but if Victus is nearly as powerful as you, then we may not be able to beat him and his army.” Kulu’s concern was genuine, and it was a valid question. 

“Leave it to me. If you can defeat his army, I will handle Icarax’s fool.” Kulu nodded, seemingly satisfied. He turned to leave.

“Before you go, Kulu,” Vortidax said, reaching for an object he had placed by the pool. He held it out to his servant, who accepted it curiously. His eyes widened in realization when he held it. When he pulled the sword from its sheath, it was obvious the Toa was speechless. Pure protosteel. A blade befitting a warleader. “Only once before have I had a servant that I could trust as well as you. Ensure my trust is not misplaced” Kulu placed the ornate weapon back in its sheath, giving his master a thankful nod before taking his leave. 

 

The island of Kini-Volara was a rather sizable piece of land jutting out from the waters to the west of Volara-Nui. At its center stood the temple where Vortidax had taken residence. Radiating around it was a small forested area surrounded by rolling grassland. Standing on a promontory in the scrubland between the two regions was Kulu, using a spyglass to survey the plains. From his perch, he could see the gathered forces of Makuta Victus preparing for battle. In the several days since his master had ordered him to muster his forces and make ready for a clash with his former allies, Kulu had been busy organizing the defenses of the island and drawing up a battle plan. With him, several kios away from the temple complex, were about two thirds of Vortidax’s army. The air was perforated by bugles, drums, marching, and the screeches of Rahkshi. A clanking Exo-Toa trundled by Kulu, its flat head nearly at eye level with him, even from his high ground. The shadow Toa had already picked the place he would give battle. A raised area of ground surrounded on three sides by a stream. He had the Kra-Matoran sergeants marching the army hard, determined to reach the point before his enemy. The rest of his Master’s army was left behind in the temple, completing the fortifications there in case the battle did not go as planned. 

Kulu took stock of the army as they passed by below them. About a dozen phalanxes of Kra-Matoran, almost 250 soldiers in total. 60 Rahkshi of varying breeds, 25 Exo-Toa, and a small horde of 150 Visorak. There was a notable exception, one that bothered Kulu; Makuta Vortidax himself. Kulu’s master had chosen not to take part of the opening blows, promising to join the battle when “the time was right.” All Kulu could do was hope that he arrived in time to stop Makuta Victus from destroying his army singlehandedly. At the tail end of his army was a Kra-Matoran standard bearer, hoisting the banner of their army. It was a blood red field with a black Kanohi Phobos emblazoned on it. Kulu took it as a sign to dismount from his perch, continuing on to the designated place. Before moving on, he took a look back at the temple, still visible above the treetops. He suddenly felt the weight of the sword, hanging from his waist in its scabbard. Ensure my trust is not misplaced. He heard the Master’s voice in his head clearly, as if he had been holding the dark glass. Kulu placed a hand on the sword’s hilt, weighing the ominous words. Finally, he turned away and marched ahead at the rear of the advancing column. If it is misplaced, then neither of us will be left to regret it, Master.  

 

Victus looked vindictively at the temple parapets in the distance. He knew that Vortidax was squirreled away somewhere in the darkest reaches of the Kini, awaiting his eventual fate. Victus would pull the coward from his hiding spot himself, after crushing the pitiful force gathering on the hill parallel from his own army. Even from his spot about a kio away from Vortidax’s army, Victus could see the Shadow Toa marshaling them. That the Makuta of Volara-Nui did not even grace his army with an appearance was all Victus needed to know about his foe. After Vortidax had fled from the conclave with his tail between his legs, Victus shouldn’t have been surprised. As the Rahkshi of his army gathered into their formations, followed closely by Visorak and a host of mutated warbeasts, Victus thought hatefully of the other Makuta at the conclave. It was them who had relegated to the most remote of the Southern Islands. While cowards like Vortidax were rewarded with important stations like Volara-Nui, he was stuck with the dregs. It ended here. Per Icarax’s orders, if he killed Vortidax he would be given the island as a reward. He would do what it had taken Vortidax millennia to do; conquer the island and enslave its populace. All he needed to do was scatter the army that was now gathered across the stream, but not before choking the life out of the miserable Shadow Toa at its head. With a murderous chuckle, Victus ordered the first elements of his army forward, a vanguard to prepare the way for the main army led by him. By the end of the day, Victus would prove himself the most powerful of the Makuta.

 

A blast of energy roiled against Kulu’s body, sending him to the ground hard. The Panrahk was on him before he could get up, forcing him to roll to avoid the tip of the three-pointed staff. Ignoring the pain, he sprung up and struck out with his sword, lopping the Rahkshi’s head off. The monstrous creature froze, its Kraata bisected. As it clattered to the ground, Kulu took stock of the battle swirling around him. The phalanxes were performing as expected, swarming around the larger enemies and overwhelming them with numbers. The battle had begun to take its toll however, and the ranks of the phalangists were growing thinner and thinner. There were bright flashes of light as Rahkshi battled Rahkshi, and the air was filled with Rohtuka from Visorak and bolts from Exo-Toa cannons. The battle was going as expected, and Kulu was slowly becoming more confident in victory. A Lerahk roared its challenge, charging him with its forked, poisoned staff. Kulu reached out, taking hold of the shadows around the Rahkshi. They responded to his call, rising up and taking hold of the Rahkshi like a fist. With a thought, Kulu crushed the beast in the shadowy grip. The Kraata tried to escape its doomed vehicle, but the Toa crushed it underfoot.

A thought occurred to him as he scanned the battlefield. Where was Victus? Kulu was sure that he’d be able to see the Makuta from here if he was on the field. Yet, no matter where Kulu looked, he could see nothing that indicated the enemy general’s presence. Fear began to grip him. What if he was leading a flanking force, about to hammer Kulu’s force from the rear? Maybe Victus was too cowardly to meet him in battle. Whatever the case, Kulu needed to be ready. He flagged down a nearby sergeant, telling her to order her soldiers to fall back and regroup. Word soon spread around the army, and they began to coalesce around a new rally point at the base of the hill. Victus’s army also began to regroup, causing a lull in the fighting as the two sides took stock of their situation. As the ranks of Kulu’s forces started to normalize and before he could give new orders, he felt a sensation that was simultaneously foreign and familiar begin welling up in his gut. Kulu froze. It felt like there was a figure right behind him, towering above him and casting him in an inescapable shadow. 

Kulu.” The voice was not his master’s. The battle had been taking place in the early afternoon, but now it seemed like night was falling rapidly. The enemy army suddenly split down the middle, moving as if they were making room for something. Sure enough, a rift opened in the new clearing amidst the ranks of the enemy. The portal was black as night, hanging ominously above the ground. A figure stepped out of it, its armor gleaming. It hefted a serrated battle axe in one hand and a shield crafted in the shape of a screaming Hau in the other. Its eyes were a bloody crimson, and seemed to pierce straight through Kulu. Makuta Victus eyed Kulu and his army hungrily, leering at them like a Muaka at a wounded Mahi. The Visorak around Kulu cowered, and he heard curses and appeals to the Great Spirit uttered by the Kra-Matoran. Kulu made a valiant effort to hide his fear, but his free hand shook like a leaf. It grasped for the ebon glass, pulling it out and holding it up to his mouth. 

“Master,” he said, “He’s here.” There was no answer. Master’s silhouette wasn’t visible in the glass. Before any further supplications could be made, Victus raised his axe, pointing it directly at Kulu. Wordlessly, the shadowy army began a relentless march toward their foe, bolstered by the arrival of their own master. Kulu ordered his phalanxes to adopt a defensive position, posting the Exo-Toa behind the formations and the Rahkshi between the tightly packed squadrons. Just as the Kra-Matoran under Kulu’s command braced themselves, the inexorable tide of Protodermis and steel impacted them, spearheaded by Victus himself. Soon, Kulu’s battlelines were on the verge of dispersal, buffeted by Victus and his footsoldiers. Kulu himself was nearly overwhelmed, split between rallying his soldiers and cutting down the enemies in front of them. If they turned and ran now, it would be a slaughter all the way back to the Kini. Yet fear was spreading through the ranks and file like a plague, and more and more foot soldiers started to turn and run for the safety of the temple’s walls. It was all that Kulu could do to not throw down the gifted sword and join them. A few weeks ago, before the Toa Stone had strengthened his body and hardened his resolve, he would’ve. 

The sounds of heavy footfalls snapped him out of his battle focus. Suddenly, he found himself face to face with the murderous general, his jet black armor stained with blood. Between him and Kulu was a phalanx of Kra-Matoran spears. Despite this, Victus seemed intent on wading through them like a puddle on his way to Kulu. As Victus rounded on him, a falangist found the courage to attack, landing a blow on the Makuta. The spearhead simply glanced off the Protosteel armor, however. In response, Victus simply waved his hand at the Kra-Matoran. A moment later, the phalangist was naught but dust. Another hand wave sent a tide of pure fear through the ranks of the phalanx that seemed to reverberate and multiply itself each time it was felt. Those phalangists that didn’t drop their spears and run stood frozen in terror, only to be crushed under the Makuta’s feet as he continued his advance straight toward the Toa of Shadow.

“Why do you continue to fight, Kulu?” Victus asked mockingly, “Lay down your sword and kneel. I make sure all of my followers are rewarded.” Kulu took a step back as Victus continued his approach. All around him, Kra-Matoran were being butchered. One of his Exo-Toa finally succumbed, falling to the ground with an unceremonious thunk. The Visorak had long since retreated, returning to the safety of the temple. Kulu wondered if it was too late to join them. He gripped his sword tightly, when a realization struck him. His blade was forged from protosteel. It was the only weapon in his army that could penetrate Victus’ armor. If his attack could land, he might have a chance of wounding the aggressor. He could end the battle in one sword swing. Courage suddenly welled in him. Victus must have tired of toying with him, for he lashed out with his axe. Despite the Makuta’s unearthly speed, Kulu managed to side step the blow. He charged within the axe’s reach and swung his sword, aiming for the torso of his foe. Victus’ attempted to block with his shield, but Kulu was too quick. His sword struck home, cleaving through the armor and coming to rest half-buried in Victus’ chest. Kulu absorbed the impact from the shield that was meant for his sword, knocking him several bios away. He looked up victoriously, expecting to see the Makuta doubled over in pain. His heart sank when he instead saw Victus pull the sword from the wound as if it were a splinter. Instead of a spurt of blood following the blade, all that left the gash was a stream of sickly green gas. Although seeming not at all the worse for wear, rage was written on Victus’ mask. 

“You insolent swi-” the Makuta’s furor was suddenly tempered before he could prepare his next attack.  Kulu looked for what had stolen Victus’ attention. He felt it before he saw it, however, as the earth began to shake with rhythmic steps. The familiar aura of fear gripped him as he saw the shape of his master materialize amidst the chaos of battle. 

“You have done well, Kulu,” Vortidax said proudly, brandishing a heavy, spiked mace, “I will handle it from here.” The battle seemed to stop as the two Makuta began to circle each other. 

“So you show yourself, coward. I was convinced I would have to knock down your decrepit temple to find you,” Victus said, his furious rictus having morphed into a murderous leer.

“I merely wished to see if the long millennia had taught you any form of tactics. As I suspected, you are still nothing more than a beast. Icarax’s mad dog, unworthy of the name Makuta.” If Vortidax relished the combat he did not show it. Such things were beneath him

“Me, unworthy? Ha!” Victus’s laugh was the sound of a predator baying for blood, “Rich talk from you. Your latest pet managed to score a hit on me. Far better than your last set of heroes fared. If only you could’ve been there when I killed them.” 

“Recent events seemed to have shown that you fools couldn’t even do that right,” Vortidax said coolly. His refusal to engage seemed only to enrage Victus further.

“Icarax said he’d give me control of Volara-Nui if I brought him your worthless carcass,” spat Victus, banging his axe against his shield as the gas continued to spill from his armor. Vortidax was unimpressed. 

“Victus, if you truly believe that then you are even more stupid than I previously thought. The other Makuta should thank me for what I’m about to do. I’m ridding them of their weakest link,” he countered. Finally, the two titans lunged at each other, attacking first with their weapons and then with their powers. The combatants were a blur, as energy crackled and protosteel impacted protosteel. Kulu got to his feet, and saw that both sides were now watching the battle with rapt attention. It was basically impossible to tell who was winning, who was landing blows and who was blocking the next bolt of energy. Kulu’s eyes refused to track any one opponent. Even so, as the fight wore on, it seemed one of the Makuta was slowing. A few strikes snuck through, ringing off the protosteel armor like a bell. 

Finally, with a flash of light, Vortidax’s last blast of lightning struck home. The electric arcs exploded out of a dozen points in Victus’ armor, opening a multitude of new holes for the green essence to escape from. This seemed to be the coup de grace, as Victus’ knees buckled and he fell to the ground, unmoving. A cloud of the gaseous substance hung heavily over the body it had been inhabiting, and it seemed to move and reform itself before Kulu’s eyes. It looked to be trying to reenter its source, but could not remain in the perforated armor for long. Vortidax grew tired of this game quickly. There was another flash as plasma erupted from his outstretched hand, incinerating the cloud of gas. Kulu swore he heard a desperate scream as the essence was burned away. Vortidax knelt, picking up Kulu’s sword. The Master held the blade out to his  servant, who accepted it reverently. As he did, Kulu noticed a hole in the Master’s armor. Just like Victus, sickly gas was spraying from the breach. 

“Master,” Kulu said, “You’re wounded.” Vortidax saw the wound, touching the hole with his hand. When he removed his hand from the spot the breach had been sealed. 

“Thank you, Kulu,” the Makuta said, looking around at the battlefield. With their leader dead, most of Victus’ soldiers were surrendering, while others beat a retreat back to their ships. The battle was over. Still, there was something bothering Kulu. The Master had said earlier that there had been only one servant that he could trust before him. Did it have something to do with the other Toa that Victus had mentioned? Maybe the adrenaline of the battle was affecting his judgment, but Kulu felt compelled to ask. “Master, what did Victus mean when he talked about the last set of heroes?” Kulu cursed his courage, but the Master did not respond in anger. Instead, a far off look settled in his eyes, almost like mourning. Finally, he responded, “Worry not, Kulu. Your position is not in danger. Just know you are not the only one to have rendered me good service over the course of the many millennia. If you truly seek answers, then I will answer them after all is finished, when final victory is achieved. Until then, savor your victory, and know that it all would’ve been impossible without you.” Kulu nodded and placed his sword back in his sheath, basking in the moment. The cheers of the victorious army, their spears and shields clattering, carried over the expanse and off the trees to their rear. It followed the retreating forces all the way to their ships, washing over them like a tide. Kulu soaked in it and let out a deep sigh. This truly was his victory.

 

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Chapter 14

A small school of Ruki fish swam playfully through the shallows as Akarius lounged by one of the many branches of the Gakar Delta. A few bios to his right, Kopa was crouched low to the ground, stalking a fishing bird that was bathing in the water. Not far was the cat’s master, the newly minted Toa Hoku. The Toa of Ice wasn’t paying attention to his companion’s antics, focusing on freezing and unfreezing water vapor in the air. The hunter seemed to be making a game of it, manifesting tiny crystals of ice at a point in the air and trying to melt them before they reached the ground. Ever since they had left Ko-Koro several days prior, he had been honing his powers, whether through sparring sessions with the other Toa or small, repeatable gestures like this. Akarius could tell he had a perfectionist streak in him. The scopes on his Huna emerged and retreated seemingly at random, never taking their focus off of the cartwheeling snowflakes. Hoku’s concentration was suddenly shattered when one of his creations was shot out of the air by a lightning bolt from Kwynn. The Toa of Ice, surprised by the intrusion, fell backwards off of the rock he was sitting on, splashing loudly into the water (scaring off Kopa’s prospective prey). Akarius nearly fell into the water himself laughing, while Kwynn looked on with a smirk. Hoku managed to sit up, clearly annoyed. The water that dripped off of him flash froze into a beard of icicles that dangled from his mask, triggering another wave of laughter from the two other Toa. Kwynn walked over, offering her hand to Hoku and helping him to his feet.

“Hilarious,” the hunter said dryly. Akarius offered him a cloak to dry off with, but Hoku shook his head. “No need,” he said. In a moment, the water that was still dripping from him was frozen and absorbed as elemental energy.  As a now bone-dry Hoku searched for where his javelin ended up, Akarius pulled out the map of Volara-Nui. The village of Ga-Koro was located near the middle of the delta, on the marshy northwestern coast of the island. The village itself was mostly built on the shore, but there were a few communities spread out over the various islands just off the coast. The Toa sans Hoku had been there briefly when they were on the way to Ko-Koro. They had a short meeting with Turaga Yara, who had ensured them that Ga-Koro would be able to hold out while they lent help to the isolated mountainous village. Now that the Ko-Matoran were safe, and with rumors of a large military fleet gathering off the coast of Kini-Volara, Akarius decided to pay the Ga-Matoran a visit in case they were in need of help. Turaga Serus had also sent reports of Rahi attacks in Le-Wahi, so Voti and Inix were sent to the jungle to assist on that front. 

Stationed at the watery Koro was a quite substantial fleet of vessels crewed by a well-trained militia of Ga-Matoran sailors. Made up mostly of modified fishing boats, the rapid craft were experienced with chasing down pirates and smugglers. They had been instrumental in slowing the advance of the enemy on Volara-Nui. Akarius hoped to take a task force to shore up defenses on the small islands around mainland Volara-Nui. More remote places like De-Koro were basically defenseless. He wanted to make sure something like the Ko-Koro raid didn’t happen again. Akarius rolled the map up and placed it back in his pack, signaling to the others that it was time to move on. They would arrive at the village soon. 

 

As the sun’s rays peeked through the canopy of Le-Wahi’s jungle, the alarms of birds and chattering of Rahi heralded the arrival of Voti and Inix. The duo were making good time as they marched through the dense forest, traveling along the road of duckboards that led all the way up to Le-Koro. They kept a cheerful demeanor as they went, with Inix pointing out various Rahi sounds and Voti identifying them. 

“What about that one?” He asked, designating a warbling birdsong as the object in question. 

“Hmm, probably a Pokawi,” Voti responded with little hesitation, “You’ll have to try harder than that to stump me.” Inix chuckled as he listened hard, trying to pick out sounds that they hadn’t already done. As if responding to his beckoning, a far-off Rahi started up a repetitive, shrill call. 

“And that one?” Inix asked, sure he had her this time. Of course, Voti had him beat. 

“Easy, that’s a Kewa bird. You think I’ve lived in Le-Koro my whole life and haven’t heard a Kewa before?” Inix honestly had no idea what a Kewa was, but decided it would be best not to ask. The two continued their game as they walked, with Voti becoming more and more animated as they talked. It was clear she was happy to be back in her home after nearly two months of traveling the island. Inix was glad for her, but not nearly as glad as he was to be out of the frigid environment of Ko-Wahi. Although Le-Wahi proved to be not much better, with its stifling humidity and biting insects. Inix was used to heat, but the stuffiness of the jungle was a far cry from the dry smolder of Ta-Koro. 

As they continued, the two Toa passed a sign that told them Le-Koro was only a kio away. It would be visible by now if not for the dense tree cover. It wouldn’t be much longer until they were back in civilization. Not far from the sign, Voti led the way across a rickety bridge over the mighty Gakar River. The Toa of the Green passed without much trepidation, but she turned to see her fiery comrade stuck at the other side of the span. His gaze was fixed on the river, its flow strong enough to carry a Toa away with frightful speed. Inix wasn’t at all enthused about crossing the bridge, built centuries ago for the weight of Matoran. Voti put her hands on her hips as she waited for courage to return to the battle-scarred former guardsman. 

“Are you coming?” she said. 

“Of course, of course, as soon as someone builds a bridge that doesn’t look like it'll give out at any moment,” Inix retorted. Voti sighed, kneeling down and placing her hands on the ground. In an instant, vines and fibrous branches began to sprout out of the ground on either side of the river, reinforcing the old bridge and fixing it in place. “Is that up to your standards, mighty Toa?” Voti asked snidely. Inix sneered back at her as he crossed the newly repaired span. 

Once on the other side, the two stopped for a quick breather. Voti rummaged in her pack, pulling the metal canteen from the cluttered bag. As she did, her hand tingled as it brushed against the Toa Stone of Likar. Akarius had given it to her when their paths had diverged, in case she encountered a Matoran in her mission that had the qualities fit for a Toa. Voti was confident she could find the next Toa Volara among the Le-Koronans, and was already going through a list of possible candidates in her head. She offered the canteen to Inix, who readily took a drink. Their game continued as they sat by the bridge. 

As Inix was about to pick out another Rahi sound, they heard a rustling noise just beyond the treeline to their left. It was followed by a shrill hiss. The two Toa readied their weapons. “I don’t suppose you can identify that one, can you?” Inix asked. Voti did indeed know what it was, but hoped that she was wrong. Out of the trees trudged a quite massive shape. The Tarakava was taller than either of the Toa when drawn up to its full height. Its treads rumbled as it edged closer to the warriors. The great lizard’s armor was a dappled green, tarnished only by the corroded mask affixed to its snout. Its eyes were mad with bloodlust. Without hesitating, the Tarakava lashed out, its cudgel-like arms moving like lightning. The Toa barely managed to dodge, the blows leaving deep gashes in the ground where they had been standing. 

“Hey Voti,” Inix asked as the Rahi wound up for another attack, “What is this thing?” Voti realized that the Ta-Koronan had probably never seen a Tarakava. 

“Big lizard. Not very nice,” said Voti, deflecting an attack with her shield, “I’ve never seen one as tenacious as this.” Inix sent a gout of flame at the beast, more for show than anything. He hoped the fire would scare it off, but only succeeded in getting the Tarakava’s attention. Its treads revved, and it raced forward, nearly plowing through the Toa of Fire as it did. It circled around and began its attack anew, throwing out a flurry of blows that the heroes barely weathered. As it tore by the Toa, an idea struck Voti. 

“Inix, get its attention, I’ve got a plan,” she said as the Tarakava made ready for one more attack run. “This better be good,” he grumbled, positioning himself at the center of the road. He shot a few jets of flame, trying to coax an attack from the lizard. His attempts worked, and the Tarakava treads roared to life, sending it hurtling towards the diversion. Inix’s courage held, and he stood stalwart as the beast bore down on him, but Voti knew he would have to dive out of the way soon. Finally, just as the Tarakava was in striking range, Voti sprung her trap. A thick vine suddenly shot from one treeline to the other, putting an unbreakable barrier right in front of the charging Rahi. The Tarakava couldn’t stop in time, and it drove right into the vine. The crash sent it flying head over treads, hitting the ground hard on its back. The impact knocked the pitted mask off the creature’s face, and after a short moment, the Tarakava slunk dazedly into the water. Inix was still standing in the middle of the road, breathing heavily. 

“Maybe let me in on the plan next time,” he said finally. Voti banished the vine and walked over to the mask that the Rahi left. It was a simple Kakama in shape, but was corrupted, tainted. Just holding it gave her an uneasy feeling. When the creature was wearing the mask, it was far more aggressive than usual. After it was removed, the Tarakava fled. Voti surmised the mask had something to do with it. She slid it into her pack, resolving to ask Turaga Serus about it when they reached Le-Koro. No sooner had she done that did the sound of beating wings fill the air. Inix raised his spear, prepared for another fight, but Voti pushed it down. 

“Not enemies,” she said happily as the Kahu Riders of Le-Koro came into vision. The airborne division of the Vine Striders were mainly made up of Le-Matoran that tamed and rode the great hawks, and these patrollers must have spotted the battle. The pair of riders touched down near the Toa, kicking up a significant amount of dust as they did. The Kahu pilots jumped down from their mounts, revealing themselves to be none other than Ivith and Julus, two of Voti’s comrades from the Vine Striders. Voti charged the pair, grabbing them both in a tight embrace. The warriors returned the hug, but were soon constricted by the Toa’s strong grip. They eventually managed to break free, giving Voti a fairly uncomposed salute.

“It feels like it's been so long since I’ve seen you two!” Voti gushed, “I bet you didn’t expect this to happen when I left Le-Koro.” She gestured to her new form as she spoke. 

“It feels good to have a hometown hero,” Ivith joked, “The ground forces have been lost without you. Seems like you were the best patroller they had.” 

“I’m sure they get on fine, how have you two been?” 

“As good as you can get in a warzone. We spotted you two taking on that Tarakava. Your way looked a lot more efficient than our method of throwing lots of discs at them,” Julus remarked, straightening his Hau and sizing up Inix as he spoke. Voti stepped back, placing an arm around her companion. 

“Ivith, Julus, this is Inix. He’s from Ta-Koro, he used to be with the Guard.” 

“Pleasure to meet you, Inix. We don’t get many fire-spitters around these parts. I suppose you have your own problems in the south,” Ivith said, climbing back onto his Kahu, “If you want, why don’t you climb on? We’ll fly you the rest of the way to Le-Koro.” Voti eagerly mounted Ivith’s bird, while Julus beckoned Inix to join him on his. The Toa of Fire was cautious about the endeavor, having never flown before, but ultimately decided to join the Vine Striders. It would be dark soon, and he decided the jungle at night would not be a pleasant place to be. Moments later, the pair of Kahu lifted off, flying towards the great tree in the distance.

 

The coolness of liquid protodermis felt soothing on Kulu’s hands as he washed the blood from them. The Shadow Toa was crouched beside a small stream that ran through the plains on the north side of Kini-Volara. He cupped a bit of water in his hands to wipe the spatter from his Mask of Stealth. Behind him was what was left of the Kra-Matoran from Victus’s army he had been interrogating. It had taken a while, but the dark footsoldier’s secrets had all been spilled. Night was beginning to fall on the island, and the camp half a kio away was abuzz with activity. They would be moving out tomorrow. Kulu dried his hands and reached for the ebon shard in his pack. After the battle, his Master had returned to the temple, leaving Kulu to administer the victorious army. The elements of Victus’ army that survived were given the option to join Vortidax (although it wasn’t much of a choice considering the alternative). Most of the captured soldiers had made the right choice, although the few that didn’t were bound to end up like the twitching mess that Kulu now stepped over. He held the glass up to his face and began to speak.

“Master, I have news.” After a moment, the Master’s essence appeared in the reflection. “We won’t have to worry about Icarax sending more forces, at least not for now” Kulu continued, “Apparently he is currently preoccupied with an invasion of the Northern Continent. We should have at least a year of freedom before he can turn his attention to us.” 

Excellent, my servant. A year is far more than I need. Tell me, what is the current strength of your army?” 

“Not as strong as before, but doing much better now that we’ve incorporated Makuta Victus’ forces. What is it you require?”

If we are to seize victory in our campaign, we must show our dominance. Raids on minor villages are no longer sufficient. We must tear out the heart of Volara-Nui. How soon can your forces reach Ta-Koro?” The question took Kulu off guard. Attacking the fiery fortress had always been in the plans, but would be a significant escalation of the war. “If we left tomorrow, we could be there in less than a week. I’ll send a diversionary force to occupy De-Koro, it should keep the Toa off our scent for a few more days. We have the strength to capture the city, and if we assimilate some of the guardsmen we may come out with a net positive of manpower.” 

Make it so, my servant. You have proven yourself capable, Kulu. Continue to ensure my faith in you is not misplaced.” With that, the master’s presence was gone. Kulu felt a chill run down his spine at the Makuta’s parting words. Master is an expert at making even praise sound menacing.

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Chapter 15

The Elan Shoals were quite serene as morning began to break over the horizon. A small forest of reeds demarcated where land ended and sea began. Tide pools, teeming with scores of tiny shellfish, pockmarked the sandy beach. The sound of rhythmic waves made Kwynn think of her home, Tren Krom, though these shoals were that of an island paradise. Her home? More reminiscent of a hostile wasteland. She spent her early life evading bloodthirsty Rahi and searching for ever diminishing food sources. Becoming a Toa was her ticket off the island, so when the opportunity presented itself, she seized it. Coming to Volara-Nui had been quite a paradigm shift for her. She found herself attached to it, seeing it as much more of a home than the Northern Continent had ever been. Although Kwynn’s reason for coming here was to spy for Krakua, she found herself more and more placing that objective as secondary to protecting her newfound home. For the first time in her life, Kwynn felt like she had a purpose. 

She finally found a suitable spot, sitting down among the reeds as the tide receded and advanced around her. A small shore turtle kept her company as she sought contact with Krakua. This time, she quickly felt her surroundings melt away and reform into what looked like a ruined cityscape. An acrid fog hung over the smashed buildings, and a jungle of webs was strung between the husks. Krakua was standing in what looked like the remains of a square, appraising a street sign that read Le-Metru Residential District. The Toa of Sonics turned and saw that he had a visitor. He nodded a greeting before walking to the apparition before him. 

“What is this place?” Kwynn asked, looking around at the wreckage of the city.

“It’s what’s left of Metru-Nui,” Krakua answered, “Before you ask, no I can’t tell you why I’m here.” Kwynn wondered if he was ever not on Order business. “We’re in Ga-Koro again. We helped liberate Ko-Koro, but it doesn’t feel like we’re truly making a difference. Stomping out raiding parties here and there helps, but the enemy’s main force evades us. It seems like they’re always one step ahead. We’re not even entirely sure who we’re fighting.” Kwynn’s statement was half report and half appeal for information. She could only hope that Krakua was obliging. He nodded, but seemed apprehensive. There was a sound in the distance, and Krakua’s attention shot to the source. He scanned the area, eyes darting in every direction. A nervous hand rested on his sword hilt. Something had him on edge. Finally, when he was sure the coast was clear, he spoke. 

“There is something I can tell you, but right now it’s only speculation. Even then, there are some in the Order that wish it would remain secret,” Krakua said. He drew closer to her and lowered his voice, as if those Order members were listening right now. “What do you know of the Makuta?” Kwynn paused, thinking of what little she had heard. “Only what I’ve heard back on the peninsula, in the legends about Gorast,” she responded. In Tren Krom, the name Gorast was one spoken in equal parts reverence and fear.  Some myths had her as a monster slayer, appearing from nowhere to kill massive Rahi in single combat (and, sometimes, turning her rage on any witnesses to the encounter). Others said that she was a shapeshifter, taking different forms to strike bargains with the hapless Matoran. Many said she wasn’t real, but even they watched their backs at night, and were wary of any kindly stranger they met on the road. 

“Well, all those legends from back home were true, along with even more that didn’t make it into the stories,” said Krakua, “Apparently every island of note has a Makuta watching over it, in theory to protect the Matoran when the Toa are absent. They’ve always been insular, rarely interacting with those not of their kind. For the longest time, most in the Order refused to trust them. It seems they were right to be cautious.” Krakua looked deadly serious, and his words carried a grave weight to them. “The incident that started all this mess, the cataclysm, was touched off by a battle between a team of Toa and the Makuta of Metru-Nui. The Makuta was defeated, for now at least, but there’s been a flurry of reports of violence all over the place since then. A horde of Visorak in the city, an invasion of the Northern Continent, and now an all-out war on Volara-Nui. If there’s one being that I’d say is behind all of the island’s troubles, it’s the local Makuta.” Kwynn tried to wrap her mind around all of what Krakua was saying. What could be so important about Volara-Nui to warrant this much violence? If there were Makuta everywhere, what chance did they stand against them? How could she keep this information secret from the others? It was all too much. For a moment, she almost lost her focus on the psychic link. Krakua’s image shuddered and nearly faded before she regained her concentration. Finally, she spoke.

“Do you know anything about the local Makuta then?” Krakua nodded, and she wondered if he was reading her thoughts. She suddenly felt... vulnerable.

“Only what was in the records. During the League War millennia ago, the Makuta led an army to conquer the island from Takadox, the old Toa Volara among them. They were victorious, although it was a bloody affair. Half of Takadox’s Matoran forces were killed, and the other half seemingly disappeared without a trace. Afterwards the island was resettled by new Matoran, and the Toa Volara stayed as protectors. The rest is history as they say. The only other entry about the Makuta is that he had assembled another Toa Team to act as his bodyguards, but even they disappear from history completely. No names, or anything.” It wasn’t much, but it still managed to raise more questions than answers. Did the Turaga know about the Makuta? What about this second Toa Team? 

“I still don’t understand why this is all happening,” Kwynn said. 

“You’re not the only one,” replied Krakua, “All that seems certain is that this is just one front of a war that spans the world. The Order is all on edge. They don’t want the Makuta to gain too much ground, but they also don’t want to play their hand too early. It’s a staring contest, and now it’s just about waiting for the other side to blink first. As for Volara-Nui, we’ll try to help as much as we can, but we can’t do anything that could jeopardize the Order’s secrecy.” Kwynn sighed deeply, fearing that they’d be on their own if the Order decided that it was strategically necessary. Still, it wouldn’t be Krakua’s fault. It was getting late, and her report had already gone on for far too long. The other Toa would be missing her. “Thank you, Krakua,” she said, trying not to betray the creeping hopelessness she felt. “Be careful, Kwynn,” he interjected, concern leaking into his voice, “If you come across this Makuta, don’t try to fight them. They’re extremely powerful, and won’t hesitate to kill all of you. Even a full Toa Team might not be enough.” His face was stern, but there was worry in his eyes. Kwynn nodded in affirmation, trying to center herself so she could face her team. 

“If that’s all, then I should be going. We’re supposed to be meeting with Turaga Yara,” Kwynn said. Krakua nodded before turning back to what he was doing. Kwynn slowly removed her focus from the psychic link. “Be safe, Kwynn.” 

 

Hoku knelt beside Kopa, as they stood alongside Akarius in Turaga Yara’s hut. The panther Rahi had a wriggling fish clamped tightly in its jaws, proudly displaying the kill to its master. Hoku scratched behind the cat’s ears as it swallowed the Ruki whole, before snapping back to the conversation at hand. The Toa were discussing with Yara and Commodore Feria, the leader of the Ga-Matoran naval militia. Akarius was pitching his plan of stationing a strike force at the De-Koro port to act as both a defensive measure and as a scouting party to find the origin of the enemy’s attacks. 

As they spoke, Kwynn entered. Her lateness had not gone unnoticed, but Akarius did not seem too perturbed by it. He simply gave her a nod as she entered and continued speaking. Hoku was inclined to be more suspicious of her. Even in the short time with the Toa Volara, he’d noticed her short dalliances away from the party. She said she was meditating, which was believable. It was said that Toa could gain powerful abilities from meditating, like foresight and other portents. However, if Kwynn had mastered any of these abilities in her frequent stints of meditation, she did not make any appreciable use or mention of it. The others seemed to see Kwynn as an enigma; a strong warrior, capable friend, but wrapped in an unforgiving aura of unknowing. While they were willing to forgive it, Hoku was unable to shake it. He felt Kopa move surreptitiously through his legs, and found himself reminded why he spent more time with Rahi than other Matoran. 

“Simply put, we can’t embark on any serious counter-offensive until we find where the enemy makes his headquarters. I know that the naval militia is hard-pressed for manpower at the moment, but if all of us are sitting and waiting for the enemy to attack first we won’t be long for this world.” Akarius’ final appeal seemed to land with the Turaga and the Commodore. Feria, who seemed quite gung-ho about taking the fight to the enemy, placed a hand on her cutlass as she spoke up.

“Toa, I agree with you. While it's the Turaga’s final say on whether we move out or not, I can tell you that my sailors are eager to be on the offensive for a change.” Despite Feria’s keenness for combat, it was clear there was some bitterness behind her words as well. After all, it seemed that the Ga-Matoran navy was the only thing protecting Volara-Nui from a full-scale invasion, and that mantle doesn’t come without heavy losses. Where Feria spoke with eagerness, Turaga Yara spoke with caution, the voice of one who had seen enough war for a lifetime; “Your plan isn’t without risks, Toa. However, I must agree with you. The Matoran of Volara-Nui won’t see the sunrise of peacetime without risks, unfortunately.” She adjusted her blue Kanohi Rode, something Hoku surmised was a nervous gesture. “I will approve your plan. Commodore, take Lieutenant Leida’s task force with the Toa to De-Koro. You’ll need to seek the approval of the local elected elder, but if you explain the plan to them as well as you did to us, I’m sure you’ll have no trouble.” Akarius nodded his thanks to the Turaga, and that was that. 

Commodore Feria accompanied the Toa as they left the hut, stepping out into the main square of Ga-Koro. The seaside village was propped up on stilts for the most part, with buildings situated several bios above the waterline. Millennia of seasonal floods teaches people to be cautious. The streets were lined with Ga-Matoran selling their wares, offering boat rides, or hauling the catch of the day in bulging nets. It was nearly noon as the Commodore led the trio of Toa down to the Ukira Marina, where the majority of the fleet was docked. Feria was stout, carrying herself with the confidence of one who had seen many battles. There was a certain loping quality to her gait, the sea legs of an experienced sailor. Her bright blue Huna was pockmarked with scratches and dents, itself a visual record of her veterancy. They passed another Matoran on the way, who snapped off a salute to Feria as she strode by. 

“As you were, Lieutenant,” Feria said as she returned the gesture. Lieutenant Leida fell in with the group, his expression neutral as Feria explained the situation to him. As they drew closer to the docks, Hoku could see the outlines of the nimble ships that made up the bulk of the force. Built from wood and protodermis and powered by motors imported from Metru-Nui, each ship carried an impressive arsenal of heavy disk launchers and rock throwers. At the center was the largest ship, what looked to be a converted yacht. No less than six disk launchers peeked out over the ship’s deck, but even these were dwarfed by the revolving cannon mounted on a turret at the stern of the ship. Emblazoned in gold text on the side was the word Artakha. 

“Quite the arsenal on that big one,” remarked Hoku, indicating the flagship. Feria positively beamed at the comment. 

“That’s the Artakha. The disk launchers are all from Metru-Nui. The big cannon we bought from a Vortixx trader some time ago. It took nearly our whole budget that year to pay for it, but it was worth it. They call it a Cordak blaster. Let me tell you, it lives up to the name.” The Toa’s journey so far had already taken Hoku farther away from his home than he’d ever been, yet it didn’t really sink in until he laid eyes on the Ga-Koro Navy. It was quite a step up from hunting Rahi with sticks in the frozen wilderness. 

“Leida,” said Feria, “Muster the sailors. We embark at dusk.” 

 

Voti followed the meandering flight of a tiny Rama with her eyes as she sat on the outskirts of Le-Koro, watching it fly seemingly aimlessly with curiosity. She held out her hand, conjuring a brightly colored wildflower from her palm. The Rama landed on its petals, extending a proboscis that sipped from the flower’s nectar. Voti smiled softly as the insectoid Rahi flew away, in search of more flowers to sample. The Toa of the Green looked back at the village behind her. It seemed that even the upbeat Le-Koronans could not escape the somber shroud of war, as no music could be heard emanating from the bamboo structures. The reception for the two Toa had exemplified this feeling. When Akarius had arrived in Le-Koro, a raucous celebration had been thrown. For Voti and Inix, the beleaguered village could only manage a few hours of song and mirth. There was little time for festivities when the enemy was at the doorstep. 

When they had arrived on the backs of Ivith and Julus’ Kahu, Turaga Serus had filled the Toa in on the current situation. At the outbreak of hostilities, a sizable force of Kra-Matoran had entered Le-Wahi with the intent of besieging the village. The Vine Striders met them at Yeraa Lake, winning a pyrrhic victory against the shadowy foe. Afterwards, the remaining Kra-Matoran had bled away into the forest, leading the Le-Koronans to think they were gone for good. However, it wasn’t long before the Rahi attacks had begun, driven mad by some force. The Kra-Matoran were still out there, and still bent on achieving their initial objective.  Now that the Toa had arrived, the Vine Striders could make their counterattack. A wing of Gukko-borne scouts were afield at that moment looking for signs of the enemy encampment. Now it was just a game of waiting.

Voti pushed herself up and started back toward the village. The square was abuzz as she approached, but the attention was not directed at her. Inix was at the center of a small mob of Matoran who were asking him all sorts of things, like what Ta-Koro was like or how far he could shoot fire. One teal-colored Bo-Matoran called out to him, asking how strong his Pakari made him. Voti couldn’t help but laugh as the normally regimented Toa of Fire was besieged by the eager Le-Koronans. 

“Even in times so dour, the Matoran of our fair village can find the joy in things,” said a voice from behind her. She turned to see the noble figure of Turaga Serus standing to her right. 

“It’s what I’ve missed most about this place,” Voti responded, her eyes spotting a small worm inching its way across the tree under their feet, “Even in the toughest times, Le-Koro knows how to have a good time.” Voti crouched down, placing her hand in the worm’s path so that it crawled over and onto it. She turned her over and over as the caterpillar’s tiny legs moved rhythmically across it. After a moment she placed it back on the ground, where it continued its journey. Serus wasn’t paying attention. He was looking off into the distance, at the horizon that lay far beyond the trees of Le-Wahi. 

“Not long after we first settled Volara-Nui, when the twin villages of Le-Koro and Bo-Haro were new, a great storm ravaged our portion of the island, coming from the waters northeast of here. The lower levels of the jungle were flooded, turning it into a swamp, and many branches of the great tree were thrown off, destroying large sections of the village,” began Turaga Serus. It was a story that Voti had heard before. All of the other villages had come to Le-Koro’s aid, rebuilding the shattered village. Serus didn’t often speak of the early days of the island’s history. “At the time, I thought it was the worst thing that could happen to Le-Koro. How dearly I wish that was still the case.” There was something odd about Serus’s tone, a hint of some wayward feeling. Was it simple sadness? It almost seemed like guilt to Voti. 

Before she could inquire about it, Voti remembered something she had meant to ask the Turaga. She fished in her pack, before her hands brushed against the pitted surface of the corrupted Kakama she had collected from the Tarakava. She pulled it out, its aura instantly causing her to become tense. Serus seemed discomfited, but not unfamiliar with the object. “When Inix and I were making our way through Le-Wahi, a crazed Tarakava attacked us. It was wearing this mask, and when we knocked it off, it went back to normal. I was wondering if you knew anything about it?” Voti asked. The Turaga’s eyes appraised the thing, the slightest hint of fear scrawled across his face. 

“I have seen these, in my days as a Toa. It’s been infected by some darkness, allowing our enemy to control those who wear it. Things like these are dangerous, I’d advise you to destroy any you come across. If the Kra-Matoran are using these, then that would certainly explain the increase in Rahi attacks,” Serus said. Voti held the mask in front of her, staring into its empty eyeholes. Somewhere, deep in her mind, a voice scratched at her psyche, goading her to don the tainted mask. The Toa shook her head, banishing the thoughts and manifesting roots within the mask that grew rapidly, splitting it into pieces. As the shards of the mask fell to the jungle floor far below, a primordial fear welled up inside her as she recalled the voice, wondering how many would heed the Kanohi’s call. 

The feeling only lasted a second before a cheer came up from the crowd of Matoran in the square, drawing their attention. Livik, the taphouse owner, had brought out a barrel of mok-mok, and the Matoran entreated Inix to share in the drink. The Toa warily took a wooden cup and was the first to fill it under the barrel’s tap. He brought the cup to his lips, and a surprised look struck his face at the drink’s sweet taste. A wave of laughter overtook the Matoran as Inix downed the rest of it and cups were distributed among the crowd. Voti chuckled at the display as Inix finally managed to extricate himself from the mob. He joined his teammate and the Turaga 

“So this is the Le-Koro hospitality I hear so much about,” Inix said, taking a seat on the ground by his companion. It was clear he had never seen anything like this in his fiery home. The rugged Matoran south of the Lokavas were rarely this outwardly joyful. “This is a pale shadow of Le-Koro at its most hospitable, Toa,” Serus replied, placing a hand on Inix’s shoulder, “Return when this mess is over, and we will ensure you are given a proper celebration.” Suddenly, the thrumming sound of beating wings filled the air, and the shadow of a flight of gukko appeared off the western side of the great tree. The flight drew closer and closer, heading for the westside landing pad. The Toa and Turaga hurried to meet them, alongside a few of the Vine Striders who had stayed behind. As they reached the landing pad, the half dozen or so gukkos touched down, and their riders dismounted, led by Julus and Ivith. 

“We found them. A sizable camp a few dozen kios out on one of the Gakar tributaries. We would’ve gotten closer but there was a Nui-Rama swarm watching the skies,” reported Ivith, who had led the scouting party. The pair of Toa and Turaga shared a look. The time for merriment had reached its end. “Captain,” Serus addressed Ivith, “When can your combat squads be ready?” Ivith’s response came without hesitation. 

“Before nightfall, Turaga.” Serus nodded, responding solemnly “Gather the Vine Striders. Ensure they are prepared for war.” 

 

The glow of the forge was the only source of light as Vortidax carefully removed the blade he had been crafting from the fiery hearth. A mechanical bellows rhythmically pumped air into the furnace, causing a sharp hiss and crackle every few seconds. The Makuta had no need for tongs, as he felt no pain in the cold armorsuit. Instead he gently pulled the red-hot sword from the flames with his clawed hands and brought it to the anvil, where a hammer was waiting for him. The undertemple was soon filled with the sound of clanging as he hammered out the shape of a double-sided sword. Long and slender, the sword was made of a particularly pure vein of protodermis quarried from Onu-Koro. The material was durable and pliable, ideal for forging.

The idea of a Makuta with a hobby was not an uncommon one. For most of Voritdax’s compatriots, these hobbies were of a less wholesome variety. A more common one was opening a creature up to see how it functioned (while it was still alive and conscious of course). All Makuta were scientists first after all, and quite inquisitive ones at that. For Vortidax, however, the ring of steel and the heat of the forge was enough. It allowed him to think more clearly, and offered a tangible reward at its end. Vortidax was known among the Brotherhood for his masterwork forging, something that shouldn’t be surprising considering he had been practicing for dozens of millennia. 

The reason the Makuta of Volara-Nui was at his forge today was because he was waiting for Kulu’s next report. The shadow Toa was at the head of the army marching on Ta-Koro, but progress had been slow. It was still expected to take several days to reach the village. Time was on Vortidax’s side, of course. The last external obstacle to his victory had been removed. Now he only needed to sweep away the resistance on the island. I’m coming for you, Nemick. You won’t be able to keep it from me for much longer. The hammer blows ceased as the sword’s shape was finally complete. Satisfied, Vortidax placed the glowing blade back into the furnace for finishing. Now was the time for waiting. It wouldn’t do to rush the process.

 

Some time had passed, and Vortidax was now standing atop one of the spires of the temple complex. Dusk was beginning to fall, and he had decided to spend the rest of his day reading tomes from his extensive library. The reading for the night was from a dissertation by Makuta Mutran on the proliferation of Rahi species throughout the universe. His sword was nearing completion, so a break for the great Makuta was in order. 

As he read, his concentration was broken by a distant sound. He looked up from the stone tablet and saw an odd shape on the horizon, something that looked to be a great bat, flapping towards the temple. As it drew closer, Vortidax saw it was a mutated Kra-Matoran, one with large wings sprouting from its back. It quickly closed the distance and landed in front of Vortidax, prostrating itself respectfully. A messenger from the other Makuta, he surmised. 

“Rise. What is your message?” He asked suspiciously. He doubted any of the other Makuta would dare correspond with him while Icarax was in power. It must be some sort of ploy. 

“Your excellency, I bear a message from the illustrious Makuta Teridax, who has been freed from his internment on Metru-Nui.” If Vortidax had a stomach, it would have dropped at those words. Teridax was not only alive, but free? 

“What of Icarax?” He asked. Surely this was a trick to make him vulnerable. 

“The wastrel Icarax has been rebuked by Brother Teridax, and his invasion of the Northern Continent halted. Teridax has called for all Makuta to return to Destral in a week’s time for a convocation, whereupon new orders will be issued,” the messenger explained, “He has extended special considerations to you, great Vortidax, and welcomes you back to the order if you offer submission to him at the convocation.” It was a trap, Vortidax was sure of it. A trap constructed by Icarax would be preferable to Teridax’s return, however. Either one meant there was no way he would be returning to Destral. 

Ever since Teridax’s revelation of his plan to kill the Great Spirit and seize control of the Matoran Universe, Vortidax had dedicated his life to stopping him. It had taken millennia of lies and putting on appearances to gain Teridax’s trust, but a trip to Destral now would be far too great of a risk. Vortidax was too close to his goal to give all of it up now. He would return to the Brotherhood in time, but not without the Kanohi Impera in his possession. The Impera was the quarry he had been seeking for millennia, and it was the Impera that would give him final victory over Teridax. Yes, he would grace the convocation with his presence, and when he did, the other Makuta would bow to him, Teridax included. Teridax’s return brought with it a ticking clock, however. A duel with the Brotherhood’s leader would be suicidal without the power of the Impera. Vortidax’s quest must finish before the start of the convocation in a week’s time. The execution of the final plan must be sped up. 

“Your grace, if I could, is there a place for me to rest here? I have been flying for-” The messenger was interrupted by a bolt of lightning from Vortidax’s hand, reducing him to ashes. There would be no submission, no surrender to Teridax. It would not be Teridax seizing control of the universe, but Vortidax. The Kanohi Impera would ensure that.

 

http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/29951-the-volara-cycle-review-topic/

 

Edited by BuckJohnson
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Chapter 16

The sounds of the jungle at night were something Captain Hirik had never truly gotten used to. The former De-Matoran could acutely hear almost everything happening around him after all, his hearing not dampened by the Master’s mutations. Even after over a month of fighting deep in the Le-Wahi forest as commander of the Kra-Matoran strike force, the various growls and gurgles that emanated from the impenetrable trees still put him off. Yet, he wasn’t afraid of devouring predators or strange beasts. On the contrary, he welcomed the Rahi of the jungle; more soldiers for his army. 

Although the encampment itself was mostly still as darkness fell, there was stirring on the side of the camp closest to the river. Even in the lowlight, Hirik could make out the rippling purple armor of the Masrahk, Rahkshi of Rahi Control. When the strike force had clashed with the Vine Striders at Yeraa Lake, all but one of their Rahkshi had been knocked out. However, this had proven to be a boon to the Kra-Matoran. The Kraata from the incapacitated Rahkshi had been recovered, as had the masks of the fallen Matoran. This, alongside the efforts of the quartermaster to turn any spare piece of protodermis into a Kanohi, gave the captain a nigh unlimited supply of masks to infect with the Master’s influence. This, combined with the Masrahk’s ability to lure Rahi to the camp, meant that the Kra-Matoran could fight the Le-Koronans without ever leaving the safety of the encampment. They could stall here until reinforcements arrived, and begin their campaign anew. The Vine Striders were too weak to mount a counter-offensive, so even if the camp was discovered it wouldn’t matter. 

Hirik approached the Rahkshi, unperturbed by its monstrous appearance. If it perceived him at all it didn’t show it. It stood by the hastily erected Rahi pens still as a statue, waiting until a new arrival answered its call. In the enclosures was a veritable menagerie of beasts, all under the control of the Master. At least a dozen Tarakava, a trio of juvenile Muaka, and a single very angry Kane-Ra. Probably the most advantageous find was a Nui-Rama queen, who had brought her entire hive along with her. As drones constructed a new nest near the camp, a swarm of Rama defended the strike force from aerial attack. Sitting by the door to the enclosures was a pile of shoddily forged Kanohi, through which a handful of Kraata slithered, infecting any mask they touched. Captain Hirik smiled under his Rau. The plan was coming together. Reinforcements may not even be necessary; once the hive was complete, the Nui Rama could be used to launch attacks directly on Le-Koro, grinding down the Vine Striders even further and eventually leaving it open for attack. If they could pull it off, Hirik would be regarded as the greatest of the Master’s servants. He may even eclipse Kulu’s rising star.  

As Hirik pondered the honors he would receive, a horn blew from the center of the camp. It had come from the watchtower erected on the hill the camp had been built around, where a guard was posted night and day. If they were sounding the alarm, it could only mean trouble. Hirik dashed towards the lookout to see what was the matter, but his sensitive ears told him what it was before he reached it. Beating wings, much slower than the thrum of Rama wings. It could only be Kahu birds; the Vine Striders were here. Hirik turned his head skyward and saw them approaching, diving down on them from the east. The Nui-Rama had already begun to engage them As the camp began to rouse, Hirik raised the alarm himself, preparing for battle. 

 

Ivith had yelled something, but the sound was lost in the din of battle around Inix as their Kahu bird dipped and dodged attacks from the swarming Nui-Rama. In less than a day the Toa of Fire had gone from having never left the ground to flying in the midst of a furious dogfight. He barely ducked beneath the swinging claw of Rama that had come too close for comfort, holding on for dear life as the bird rolled to avoid another strike. Inix had always known that being a Toa would mean risking his life, but this is hardly what he signed up for. His head began throbbing, and Inix realized that he had been using his Pakari to maintain an iron grip on the bird’s saddle. Ivith cocked his head back and spoke again. 

“I said, join in the fight any time you want, fire spitter.” Inix was about to offer a rebuttal, but decided the Kahu pilot was better off not being distracted anymore than necessary. Instead, he responded by launching bolts of flame at the giant wasps streaking past him. One connected, sending the burned Rahi hurtling to the ground. The other Vine Striders let fly with disks from their saddle-mounted launchers, while in the distance, Inix saw Voti’s signature vines reaching out and smacking the Rama out of the air. Far below, Inix saw the Kra-Matoran encampment, illuminated by dots of light. The battle in the sky seemed to be going well, as the cloud of Nui-Rama became thinner and thinner. Inix was about to ask Ivith to take them groundside so they could begin to take on the Kra-Matoran base itself when a dark shape flew past them. Much larger than a Rama, the attacker revealed itself to be a Nui-Kopen, wearing one of the same tainted masks that Voti had found. Its insectoid body twisted and rolled in the air, drawing closer and closer to the pair. Before Inix could shoot it down, it slammed its considerable weight into their Kahu, sending both insect and bird falling to the surface. 

 

Even in the night sky, Voti could see Inix and Ivith’s Kahu hurtling to the ground. Without hesitating she grabbed Julus’ shoulder and pointed him towards the stricken bird. The Vine Strider wordlessly winged his own Kahu towards the falling pair, the hawk tucking its wings in an arrow shape to maximize speed. Even so, Inix and Ivith were falling too fast to catch up to; within seconds they would crash through the canopy of trees and into certain death. Voti racked her mind, trying to think of a solution. She was about to throw a vine at the two as a last ditch attempt to save them when two bursts of flame erupted from below the Kahu. Its motion arrested slightly, just enough to breach the canopy at a safe speed. Just before they disappeared into the sea of trees, Voti saw Inix standing on the Kahu’s back, the twin jets of fire continuing to pour from his hands. Seeing they were safe, Julus pulled out of the steep dive, barely avoiding a similar fate as he nosed back towards the ongoing battle.

         “What should we do?” He shouted, not taking his eyes off the spectacle in front of them.

         “Inix can handle himself, we need to make sure the other Vine Striders are safe,” Voti replied, loosing a flurry of perforating thorns at an incoming Rama. The battle in the sky would soon be won. After that, they could turn groundside and help Inix reduce the encampment. A concentrated ground assault wouldn’t be safe until the enemy’s air power was broken. Keep Inix safe, Ivith, thought Voti as she prepared another attack. She wouldn’t be able to face the other Toa if something were to happen to him.

        

A wave of heat and the sound of roaring flame broke Ivith out of his stupor. He was still strapped into to his Kahu saddle and could feel the grounded hawk’s labored breaths under him. Several bios to the right was the Toa of Fire, fighting for his life against no less than six Tarakava. Even more worrying was what Inix was not currently engaged with; a Muaka, stalking around the tangle of lizard and Toa, waiting for a chance to strike. None of the Rahi had noticed his presence yet; all were fixated on the fiery warrior. Ivith knew he had to help, but how? A single Tarakava was more than a match for a Matoran. Six of them plus a Muaka would be a suicidal effort. He wheeled around, looking for some sort of weapon packed along the Kahu’s saddle bags when his head nearly bumped into a metal object directly behind him. He straightened his Miru and looked up at the object; it was the saddle-mounted disc launcher that his Kahu had been equipped with. Most of the time, his second would have been operating it throughout the battle, but the Toa had ignored the disks in favor of his powers; the launcher was still fully loaded. The launcher was rapid fire and magazine fed. He could take a significant amount of heat off of the Toa with it. Acting quickly, Ivith unstrapped himself from the front seat of the saddle and hopped over the disk launcher. He swiveled it on its mount and lined up one of the Tarakava in his sights.

         “Toa, watch out!” he cried. Inix looked back before dropping to ground. The Tarakava buffeting him were about to pounce when the air was suddenly filled with disks. Two of the lizards were incapacitated instantly, while the others were forced to move back to escape the hail of projectiles. This gave Inix a golden opportunity to strike back, as he sprung from his covered position and shot two tongues of flame from both hands. The fire blasted the tainted masks off two more Tarakava, while the other two tried to retaliate against the Toa. These final two fell under a continued burst from Ivith’s disk launcher. With the six Tarakava dispatched, Inix took a moment to breath. Ivith raised his hands and yelped a cheer, a sentiment echoed by the Toa’s warm smile. The celebration was cut short, however, by the sound of heavy footfalls. Out of the woods lumbered the Muaka, who had ceased stalking the battlefield and was now on the warpath. Inix girded himself for combat once more, hefting his spear in a defensive position. However, the great tiger had no interest in the Toa. Instead, it began bounding towards the downed Kahu, intent on ripping the Vine Strider from his mount. Ivith squeezed the disk launcher’s trigger, only to hear a dull click. The Muaka was growing closer and closer, and Ivith fumbled with a new magazine, desperately trying to reload the launcher. Soon, the distance became only a few bios, and the Muaka leaped at Ivith as Inix launched a fireball at the tiger. All Ivith saw was the Muaka’s jaws illuminated by orange flame as they began to close around him.

          Metal clanged on metal and the roars of wild Rahi filled the camp as Voti made her way through the tents and structures of the Kra-Matoran outpost. With the battle above won, the Vine Striders began the second phase of the plan, offloading foot soldiers from their Kahu to capture the encampment. Julus led the hawk riders in providing cover for them, and had already proved instrumental in dealing with the crazed Rahi the Kra-Matoran used. Two Muaka and a handful of Tarakava had already been freed from the influence of the corrupted masks, although more soon replaced the casualties. The few Kra-Matoran that remained of the strike force were little match to the Vine Striders, and victory seemed to be inevitable. Voti, however, cared little for the strategic gains of capturing the camp. She was only worried about finding her friend.

         “Inix!” She called, trying to raise her voice over the sound of fighting around her. “Inix! Ivith!” She knew that the duo had fallen close to the river, to the east of the camp. She just hoped she could get to them before the Kra-Matoran did, or worse, the Rahi. Her search brought her to the edge of the outpost, where a large array of cages and pens had been rapidly constructed. To her left was a pile of objects that could have been Kanohi masks. They exuded a similar aura to the mask she had taken from the Tarakava earlier that day. Unease filled her, only growing when she saw slug-like creatures slithering through the eye and mouth holes of the masks, tainting them as they went. The Toa managed to tear her attention away from the pile, forging on through the pens. She noticed all of the cages were empty, their doors hanging open. These Rahi would’ve been attacking the Vine Strider patrols, or maybe even Le-Koro. They all had to be freed from the masks if true victory over the Kra-Matoran was to be achieved. Soon, she came to the eastern end of the monster pens, and saw that not all of the cages were empty. Occupying the last cage was a hulking Kane-Ra, rage evident in its crimson eyes. Standing in front of the cage was a single Kra-Matoran and a purple armored Rahkshi. The Rahkshi’s staff was leveled at the Toa, and the Kra-Matoran had his hand on the latch to the cage door, ready to release the bull if provoked.

         “That’s far enough, Toa,” said Captain Hirik, his rage barely disguised, “One move and I’ll open this cage and let the Kane-Ra deal with you, assuming the Rahkshi hasn’t gotten you first.” Voti stopped, more to buy time than because of the threat posed by the Matoran. “Drop the shield,” barked the Kra-Matoran. She did as he said, her metal shield clanging loudly as it hit the ground. Her eyes darted around, looking for ways to avert the situation. She could deal with the bull Rahi, but it would be just another obstacle between her and finding Inix. “The mask too. Take it off and throw it away.” Voti silently cursed. This one knew what he was doing. She slowly raised her hands to her Kakama and removed it. She felt her power immediately decrease. It was said that a Toa’s abilities were cut in half without their mask. It looked like they were about to find out.  The Kra-Matoran captain was as stone faced as ever.

         “Now here’s what’s going to happen. I take your mask and your weapons. You and your Vine Strider friends get to go home with your lives, and my soldiers will be allowed to leave Le-Wahi safely. We’re taking your Toa friend with us. Insurance, if you will.” Voti’s stomach dropped. Did they have Inix? What about Ivith? “Do we have a deal?” The Toa of the Green’s mind raced, split between trying to keep her composure and formulating a plan. She had an idea, but would only have one shot to pull it off. Any mistake and the Kane-Ra would be let loose to rampage through the camp. She took a breath and focused the small bit of power she had left, discreetly sprouting a plant beneath her mask a few bios away. She just needed to buy a few seconds more.

         “Well?” asked Hirik, his hand still closed tightly around the latch.

         “I want proof that Inix is alive before I agree to this,” she said resolutely, trying not to betray her focus on the mask. Whether or not Inix was captured was irrelevant now. She just needed to stall him for a moment more. The captain seemed to be trying to think of an answer. The request must have taken him off guard.

         “You’ll just have to take me at my word. You wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to your friend, wouldn’t you?” Voti tried to stay as calm as possible, although the captain’s smugness made it difficult. She just needed a few more seconds.

         “Last chance, Toa,” growled Hirik, beginning to unlatch the cage. Inside, the Kane-Ra readied to charge. The Rahkshi remained motionless, its staff still aimed at Voti’s chest. The small sprout under the mask was ready. It was now or never. “No, it’s your last chance.” It was done. With a stomp, a tree shot from the ground instantaneously, sending her mask flying. Voti dashed towards it, trying to line herself up with the mask of speed’s trajectory. Her burst of motion had caught the Kra-Matoran off guard, but the Rahkshi managed to send a flash of energy crackling where she had been a moment before. Luckily, her calculations had been correct. The mask impacted her face, magnetically attaching. As her power returned, she activated the Kakama and started running towards the cage. The world slowed to a standstill around her as she did, and Voti realized she was going to pull it off. Hirik had not yet opened the cage, and even the Rahkshi couldn’t match the Kakama’s speed. She ran to the cage, aiming a punch at the captain’s hand while ripping his Rau off with one swift motion. She sent a blow to the Rahkshi’s midsection, causing a small forest of vines and branches to explode from its armor. When Voti deactivated her mask, Hirik fell to the ground with a cry of pain, cradling his broken hand. The slug-like Kraata managed to worm its way out of the tiny jungle that had sprung up inside its armor, but didn’t make it far before Voti crushed it under foot. From there it was easy to unmask the Kane-Ra, causing its rage to subside. Voti opened the cage, allowing the confused creature to run off into the woods.

         With the situation defused, Voti returned to her original objective. Here, on the edge of the camp, she should be close to the place where Inix and Ivith had landed.

         “Inix? Ivith?” She called into the forest.

“Voti?” a voice cried back. Her heart leapt. “Where are you?” she said, running into the forest, “I’m coming for you!” She ran after the voice, eventually starting to see the telltale signs of battle; scorched trees and flattened brush. Suddenly, she came out into a clearing, where Ivith’s bird had landed. The hole their Kahu had punched through the canopy allowed a single beam of moonlight to illuminate the scene. The Kahu was dead, and was surrounded by the incapacitated bodies of several Tarakava. Lying to the right of the Kahu was the still-smoking body of a Muaka. At the center of it all was Inix, cradling something in his arms. As Voti came closer, she saw what the object he was holding was, and she felt the ground fall out from beneath her. In Inix’s arm was the motionless form of Ivith. His heartlight was dim, and his eyes were shut. In the distance, a cry of victory came up from the camp. Voti didn’t hear it, however. It all seemed kios away as she ran to aid her friends.

 

http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/29951-the-volara-cycle-review-topic/

Edited by BuckJohnson
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Chapter 17

It was easy to tell why the De-Matoran had chosen to live on the island of Nauruna, a few dozen miles off of the coast of Volara-Nui. A foggy spit of land where the only sound was the lapping of the ocean and the seabirds that called it home. A perfect abode for the hyper sensitive ears of the Matoran of Sonics. From her perch on the top deck of the Artakha, Kwynn could see the gray armored port workers of the De-Koro harbor repairing boats and hauling in nets filled with their favorite shellfish. As far as she could hear, none of them spoke a single word. She suspected if they were speaking, it would be in a barely audible whisper. There were a few who made rapid hand movements to one another, an unspoken tongue that only the De-Matoran could understand. 

Roughly a kio from the docks was De-Koro proper, where Akarius had gone ahead with Commodore Feria while she and Hoku stayed with the fleet in the natural harbor on the eastern side of the isle. Once the Toa of Stone had informed the De-Matoran elder of their plan, they would fan out with the Ga-Koronans to search for the Kra-Matoran headquarters. Kwynn hoped that this plan would work. It was clear that war was beginning to take its toll on the island. Even now, one of the port’s many fishing docks was being converted into a base for a heavy disk launcher. Similar shore batteries dotted the coastline. The lustrous shine glinting off of the weapons indicated they were new installations. The thought caused a twinge of sadness in Kwynn’s chest. When she had arrived on Volara-Nui, the harshness of the Northern Continent was the only thing she had ever known. To see a place as idyllic as this island be marred by war was a tragedy. If they could find the heart of the enemy, strike where they were vulnerable, they could cut off the raiding parties plaguing the island. A success here could return peace to Volara-Nui. It was a comforting concept, but Kwynn knew it was wishful thinking. A sinking feeling in her gut told her that, unless a decisive battle was fought soon, war could rage on unfettered for a long time to come. 

The sound of heavy footfalls brought Kwynn’s mind back to the present. She looked up to see Hoku emerging from the lower decks. The hunter had turned in to sleep before they departed for De-Koro. The white armored warrior was alert as ever, as was his feline companion Kopa. 

“I trust your nap was energizing brother,” Kwynn said. Hoku took a seat on a barrel, retrieving his javelin from its scabbard on his back. From his pack he produced a whetstone to sharpen its blade, dragging the stone rhythmically across the edge. 

“It was sufficient,” he said simply, not taking his eyes off of his task. Kopa stretched lazily on the deck, sitting close by his master’s side. The two cut an imposing figure together, to the point that Kwynn wondered if this was some sort of intimidation trick. “Akarius and the Commodore have gone into town. They should be back soon,” Kwynn informed him. The Toa of Ice lived up to the name, regarding the news with only a simple nod. Kwynn rolled her eyes before turning back towards the port, leaning over the railing as she watched the goings-on below her. “I’m surprised to see you’re not in the middle of another meditation session, sister,” said Hoku, his quiet voice dripping with accusation. Kwynn struggled to keep her surprise hidden. Did he know about her arrangement with the Order? How could he? It was obvious he suspected something, and he would be correct in deducing that the “meditation sessions” were not as innocuous as they had originally seemed. Even so, it could be dangerous for both of them if she divulged her secrets. Not only would it sink any chance she had of joining the Order, but it would also put her team in the crosshairs of an organization that very much wanted to remain secret. She had to keep the façade going for now.

“Someone has to keep a watch on the harbor. There’ll be plenty of time for meditation when we’re not in danger,” she replied sharply. If this had any effect on him, he didn’t show it. He simply continued honing the blade in his hands. “Of course. I do often wonder what it is you meditate upon when you’re all alone. None of the others seem to know, either.” Kwynn was taken aback by the threatening aura in his voice. Had he been talking to the others? “And what does that have to do with anything, Hoku?” she asked, severity perforating her words. For the first time, he looked up and their gazes met. “Under normal circumstances, it would be completely meaningless. In times such as these, however, it pays to be cautious,” he said, holding up the blade of the javelin to inspect it, “what strikes me as odd is that one as logical and rational as you would turn to spirituality. I’ve known both rational Matoran and spiritual Matoran, and there’s almost never an overlap between the two. How curious is it that, in the middle of a war against shadowy forces, one I call an ally would be the first I meet to bridge the gap.” Kwynn scoffed at this. 

“If you’re insinuating that I’m betraying the team, brother, then what they say about Ko-Matoran must be true; always with your head in the clouds, never paying attention to what is around you.” For a moment, something that seemed to be anger flashed in Hoku’s eyes. “I’m a hunter. It’s my job to pay attention, to know my prey inside and out,” He retorted, nearly shouting. Kwynn took a step toward him before speaking in almost a whisper: “If you’re such a good hunter, then you should realize when a quarry is far too much for you to handle.” With that, she spun on her heels, leaving the stunned Toa of Ice behind as she made her way to the docks. 

She barely made it halfway across the deck, however, before a foghorn blast from one of the other Ga-Matoran ships shattered the silence hanging over the harbor. Both Toa stepped to the starboard side of the ship, their previous quarrel nearly forgotten. It was hard to tell where the sound had come from, or what it was warning against. The fog past the bounds of the harbor was nearly impenetrable. The eyepieces on Hoku’s Huna whirred, telescoping as he focused on something in the distance. “What do you see?” asked the Toa of Lightning, her hand resting on one of the daggers strapped to her thighs. Hoku cursed under his breath before answering. “Kra-Matoran ships. A few larger ships with escorts. Looks like our break is over.” True enough, the silhouettes of at least a dozen attack boats soon broke through the fog, the larger craft acting as motherships to a host of faster raiders. Kwynn looked to the Artakha’s bridge, where Lieutenant Leida too was alert, sighting the incoming attackers through his spyglass. “Lieutenant!” she cried, running towards the second-in-command, “They’re coming to raid the village like they did in Ko-Koro, we have to protect the De-Matoran!” Leida stowed his spyglass before turning to face the Toa. 

“Aye,” he said, “They’ve got us on equal numbers, but it’ll hardly be a fair fight with the Cordak on our side. These raiding parties like to use torpedoes against us. The Artakha can shrug them off easily, but our smaller boats will be sent to the bottom if they get hit. If you Toa help us take out their torpedo boats our firepower can take out their heavier ships.”  

“We’re on it,” Hoku said. As Leida took the flagship’s helm and began barking orders to the crew, Kwynn grabbed Hoku’s arm, locking eyes with the Toa of Ice. “Whatever quarrel we have can wait until after the raiders have been defeated. We’d be failures if the Matoran suffered because of our disunity,” she declared resolutely. Her comrade hesitated only a second before grunting, “Fine.” “Good, now help me, I have an idea.” 

The Artakha’s engines groaned to life as it pulled away from the harbor. The other Ga-Koronan ships followed suit, arranging into a wedge formation. Across the bay, the Kra-Matoran also gathered, with a cloud of rapid strike craft providing a screen around the motherships. As the distance between the two strike forces lessened, the disk launchers opened up. A volley of heavy metal disks fired from the Ga-Koronans was soon followed by return fire from the enemy. The air was full of the sound of metal on metal as the shots bounced off of hulls and decks. The boats were less than half a kio away now, and the Cordak turret began to slowly turn, putting its sights on a nearby enemy ship. When it fired, the whole ship shook, and the sound emanating from it made Kwynn think the engine’s had exploded. Where there had been a Kra-Matoran attack boat before, there were only splinters and timbers now. More ammunition for the turret was hoisted to its perch via a crane as Kwynn and Hoku made their way to the bow. The dozen or so remaining ships seemed unbothered by the sudden obliteration of their sister ship, and were still bearing down hard on the Ga-Koronans. 

“What is your plan?” Hoku asked as they stood on the Artakha’s prow. Kwynn pointed to the encroaching enemy vessels. “I need to get over there. Can you make ice platforms out of the water for me to jump across?” Hoku looked between her and the enemy, calculating the distance in his head. For the first time, something that looked like uncertainty appeared on his face. “I-I think so,” he said finally, the cool confidence he displayed everywhere else markedly absent. “Listen, I know your abilities aren’t as developed as ours, but I just need some way to get over there, any way. I know you can do it,” she said encouragingly. Hoku nodded, saying “Are footholds enough? They won’t be very big but I think that's all I can do.” Kwynn thought it over for a moment before nodding back. She pointed to her Kanohi Calix before remarking, “a tiny foothold will be more than enough. The Kra-Matoran will try to board the ship, it's up to you to protect the Ga-Matoran.” Without another word, the Toa of Lightning climbed onto the railing enclosing the bow and prepared to jump. Her mask began to glow as Hoku concentrated. Within a few moments, icy pillars began to rise up out of the ocean, forming a frozen path to the nearest Kra-Matoran ship. The footholds were no bigger than a Kanoka disk, and with several bios between them. It had to be enough. “Go, now!” Hoku yelled. Kwynn leapt from the deck, gracefully landing on the first foothold. She jumped from platform to platform, her mask affording her the dexterity needed to make each landing look easy. As she neared the strike craft, however, the Artakha’s main gun fired again, the rolling thunder of its report shaking the flagship and causing Hoku’s concentration to wane ever so slightly. It was enough to cause Kwynn’s next jump to falter, her footing nearly lost as the icy platform began to disintegrate. Hoku struggled to regain control, afraid he might have to watch his comrade drown. The other platforms sank, and Hoku cursed himself for being such a novice Toa. Just before the waters claimed her, Kwynn was able to make a shaky jump from the melting ice onto the deck of the nearest torpedo boat. Hoku sighed in relief before regaining his composure. She better find another way back over here, because that is not happening again.

Lightning arced between Kwynn’s daggers as she struck at the nearest Kra-Matoran. The jolt of electricity sent the shadowy sailor flying overboard. Another one of the Matoran swung at the Toa, but only struck empty air as she gracefully dodged the attack. The raider was sent to deck by a bolt of lightning that erupted from the tip of Kwynn’s blade, paralyzed as electricity coursed through his body. Kwynn drew her bow and aimed an arrow at the boat’s engine, letting fly an arrow saturated with elemental lightning. There was a flash as the engine exploded, spreading fiery fuel across the waves and leaving the boat dead in the water. Satisfied, Kwynn leapt to the next boat aided by her mask, landing perfectly on the speeding ship’s railing. An arc of energy sent the boat’s three crewmen into the water, allowing Kwynn to take stock of the situation. Between her efforts and the Ga-Matoran firepower, there were about six enemy light ships still in the fight. However, the motherships were still launching more, faster than the fleet could sink them. The latest wave of strike craft looked to be carrying boarding parties. Leida had said that he would handle the heavier craft, but Kwynn saw an opportunity to give him some much-needed help. She took the helm of the boat she had just cleared, pulling her hard to port. Soon the boat was completely turned around, with the trio of enemy cruisers less than a hundred bios away. Kwynn put the closest one in her sights and armed the torpedoes, sending a pair of them hurtling toward the Kra-Matoran vessel. There was no time to react; a pair of explosions rocked the mothership, leaving two sizable holes in the cruiser’s deck. In moments, the stricken ship began to list heavily. As Kwynn piloted away from the sinking hulk she saw the Ga-Matoran ships rapidly advancing, moving to encircle the raiders. The battle was going well, with the fleet still at full strength. She got the sense that the Kra-Matoran were not expecting them at De-Koro. A decisive victory here could be just what they needed. She looked back at the Artakha; a squadron of boarding vessels were rounding on it. The crew would have its hands full soon. Good luck, Hoku.

The sounds of battle drew closer and closer as Akarius sprinted through the abandoned harbor. Commodore Feria lagged behind him a bit, her shorter legs making it harder for her to keep up with the Toa even when running at full tilt. As soon as word had reached them of the Kra-Matoran attack, they had broken off their meeting with the elder of De-Koro and made for the port. There had been no information on the size of the strike force, only that raiders had been spotted and that the Ga-Matoran were engaging them. If we catch them off guard, maybe we can force a retreat. We can have them lead us right to their headquarters. It was a lofty goal, but first victory needed to be assured. The pair finally reached the end of the docks, where the flash of cannons illuminated the battle through the smoke and fog. Even through the haze, Akarius could see the Artakha, wreathed in smoke as its main gun fired volley after volley at the raiders. The flagship was swarmed by smaller boats from which Kra-Matoran marines climbed aboard Artakha’s deck.

“They’re attacking the flagship,” Akarius said to the Matoran commander, her cutlass already drawn, “We need to get out there and help!”

“I can make ready one of the fishing boats, but it will take some time to reach the Artakha,” Feria said mournfully. “Who said anything about sailing there?” Akarius replied with a grin. He grabbed a hold of Feria as his mask began to glow. In an instant, they were aboard the flagship, with the sudden transition taking the commodore off guard. She stumbled to the deck before quickly regaining her sea legs. The scene around them was pure chaos; the Ga-Matoran sailors fought valiantly against the mutated boarders, but their unnatural strength was gradually proving too much for them. The fight would have been over long ago had it not been for the Toa of Ice; already, there were at least a dozen Kra-Matoran in various stages of freezing on the deck, all of them arranged in a neat circle around Hoku himself. The hunter was locked in combat with no less than six Kra-Matoran, while Kopa stalked around the edges of the fighting attacking any who showed signs of weakness. Akarius dashed to the aid of his brother, drawing his hammer as he closed the distance. A single blow from the weapon sent one boarder flying off the deck into the waters below. When Hoku saw that help had arrived, he doubled his efforts, disarming the closest combatant and demasking another two. Before they could react, the last two Kra-Matoran were encased in stone. Hoku took advantage of the lull in the fighting, leaning against the railing to catch his breath. Akarius took stock of the situation, realizing that the Toa of Lightning was absent.

“Where’s Kwynn?” he asked, searching for her. “She’s taken the fight to the enemy,” explained Hoku, motioning towards the sinking wreck of the cruiser. Akarius nodded in understanding, obviously impressed by her handiwork. At the ship’s stern, the Cordak turret creaked as it turned its sights on one of the two remaining cruisers. Once again, the ship shuddered from its blast as it loosed another six rockets at the target. The shots must have hit something important, as the cruiser exploded in a massive fireball, splitting it in two and sending the halves to the depths in seconds. So amazing and terrible was the display that, for a moment, fighting on the deck stopped as both sides took in the devastation. Before its sister ship was even fully submerged, the last cruiser turned hard, making for the open waters. The smaller strike craft followed, fleeing the battle. Seeing all was lost, the Kra-Matoran aboard the Artakha made for their own boats, trying to save themselves from capture. As the enemy fled, Akarius made his way to the helm, where Feria had taken over for the injured Lieutenant Leida.

“Commodore, we have to follow the enemy. If we were going to find their headquarters anytime, it would be today,” the Toa said, hoping she would agree.

“Aye, you’re right. Full steam ahead! Tail the cruiser, let her take us to where she roosts!” Barked the commodore to the remaining crewmen. The ship was abuzz as it pulled ahead of the rest of the fleet, falling in behind the fleeing Kra-Matoran. As they left the harbor, one of the smaller strike craft approached the Artakha’s port. At its helm was Kwynn, who pulled up beside the larger ship and climbed aboard. Her arrival was heralded by a cheer from the Matoran aboard, who had seen her singlehandedly disable the first cruiser. Before anything else was said, she asked, “Are we giving chase?” Akarius nodded. “We’ll see where they lead us. With any luck, we can put an end to this.” The Toa of Stone walked away, heading to the bridge to consult with the Commodore. As he left, Kwynn felt Hoku’s gaze on her. The two shared a look, although Kwynn couldn’t tell if it was combative or apologetic. Before anything was said, Hoku simply nodded her way before turning to tend to Kopa. Kwynn shook her head, annoyed by the Toa of Ice’s antics but relieved that he seemed to be assured of her loyalty for now. Yet, she felt like he might have had a point. Akarius and the others deserve to know the truth. But are we ready for the consequences? She pondered the matter as De-Koro harbor grew further and further away.

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Edited by BuckJohnson
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