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Embers - A Bionicle Saga


Nato G

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Prologue – Dying Of The Light

From the notes of Chronicler Crisda.

Deep down, everyone’s afraid of the dark. It’s a powerful, primal thing, an instinct born long before any of us were created. In the dark, anything could be waiting. A ravenous rahi, a roving Rahkshi, Karzahni or Irnakk or Tren Krom or any one of the other nightmares of legend. 

But now we know there’s nothing waiting for us in the dark.

Nothing at all.

And somehow, that makes it even more frightening.

Two years have passed since everything changed. Two years since the Turaga of Metru Nui sent the universe’s greatest Toa heroes to Karda Nui to reawaken the Great Spirit, a mission from which they never returned. Two years since the day that the stars formed the shape of the Kanohi Kraahkan and Makuta Teridax proclaimed his dominion over creation. Two years since war and strife wracked our universe. Two years since the terrible earthquake, and the even more terrifying stillness that followed it. Two years since the lightstones started to die.

It started small, at first. Old stones fizzling out, as they sometimes did. But then newer stones started to die as well. Even the fresh ones dug out of the mines seemed dimmer. And then, within only a few weeks, there were no functioning lightstones left to be found. We could still hook them up to the city’s generators and charge them that way, but whatever had once empowered them naturally no longer worked.

Soon, the same thing started to happen to our heatstones.

And it wasn’t just Metru Nui. Boats began to arrive, ferrying Matoran, Turaga, and Toa from shores far afield, where the dark and cold had rendered entire lands unliveable. I myself was among them. Only the heat of the Great Furnace and the lifegiving light of Twin Suns still shining high overhead had kept Metru Nui from meeting the same fate. The city welcomed the refugees with open arms, of course. More Matoran meant more workers to help keep the city functioning enough for us all to continue surviving. More Turaga meant more wisdom to aid in navigating our new situation. More Toa meant more protectors.

However, we soon learned of one land that our fellow Matoran had been unable to leave. Though those who sailed past or docked to resupply said its streets remained busy and its foundries still spewed smoke, Xia hadn’t sent a single ship our way. A team of Toa were sent to meet with the Toa of Xia and arrange the relocation of their Matoran, but of the six who departed, only three returned. The tidings they brought were grim: the Vortixx of Xia had slain their city’s Toa team and taken the Matoran as slaves, forcing them to work the power plants to keep their city alive. And when they’d learned of new Toa in their midst, the Vortixx had promptly tried to kill them as well.

Debate raged for days, but the decision was never in doubt.

The last fifty Toa in existence departed for Xia, intent on liberating the trapped Matoran.

Weeks passed, and a lone boat limped back to Metru Nui, bearing four injured Toa and a few dozen rescued Matoran. Their report on the situation in Xia was a dire one. Embroiled in a battle to liberate the Matoran, the Toa had found themselves caught in an unexpected crossfire. From the South had come the Dark Hunters, intent on taking the city’s technology and power for themselves. And from the East had come the Skakdi hordes, seemingly motivated by nothing more than a defiant desire to end their lives fighting in the universe’s last great war, instead of dying quietly in the dark.

We waited for our Toa to return. We prayed to our absent Great Spirit. Some even offered prayers to Makuta Teridax. Neither god answered us. A few brave Matoran even boarded a boat and set sail for Xia. They didn’t return either.

And still, the rest of us waited.

And waited.

More than a year passed before the Toa finally came home, but the world they found was not the one they had left behind. And the world they made was not one any of us expected.

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Chapter 1 – Homecoming

From the notes of Chronicler Crisda.

Turaga Rost once told me that he regrets allowing the Toa to leave for Xia.

Sure, none of us could have known what would arrive in their absence, but he still argued that leaving the city protected only by the few Vahki we could afford to keep powered up was a mistake. The Matoran of Xia, he said, would have been an acceptable sacrifice to ensure the safety of the remaining Matoran.

I remember at the time dismissing his words as the grim grumblings of an old man who’d lost his hope. The other Turaga had dismissed him in much the same way when he’d raised his concerns to them.

But today, the Toa returned. And after learning how much they sacrificed… I too can’t help but wonder if the meagre number of Matoran they saved was worth the price we all paid.

* * *

Icthilos

Shrouded in mist and murk, a fleet of battered, blackened boats limped through the languid waters of the Sea Gate tunnel, on approach to the Great Barrier. The lightstones that had once illuminated the passage were long dead, with only a few ailing lanterns hanging on each boat offering enough illumination to keep them from running into the walls, or each other.

A year earlier, that fleet had left with fifty Toa and high hopes. It returned now with less than thirty Toa, a dozen Turaga, more than a hundred rescued Matoran, and hopes of a different kind. Hopes for a brighter future in a safe city, free from further fighting.

Hopes that would soon be dashed.

Leaning by the bow of the lead boat, silver-white armour glimmering in the dim light of his lightstone lamp, was a tired Toa of Ice. Icthilos was his name, though his actions before and during the war in Xia had earned him a fair few other nicknames and titles, from enemies and allies alike. Some were friendly, even affectionate. Others… decidedly not.

Save for the few crew members quietly going about their duties and the lookout on the mast above, Icthilos was the only passenger on deck. Most of the others were down below, enjoying the first truly safe rest they’d had in months.

Like many Ko-Matoran, Icthilos had lived a relatively solitary life as a Matoran, and that trait had never entirely gone away even after he’d transformed into a Toa and become leader of his own team. And now for the first time since leaving for Xia a year ago, he could step away and sit in silence, letting his thoughts drift to tomorrow. Once, he’d looked to the stars for guidance on what the future might bring, but there were no stars left now. They’d gone dark, like everything else.

Now, all he had was uncertainty, and hope. Metru Nui wasn’t his homeland. He and his team – the Toa Gelida – had come from windswept mountains and sheer cliffs of the Northern Continent’s southern coastline, being among the many who’d migrated to Metru Nui after the darkness had come. He hadn’t stayed long enough for the island to truly feel like home. It was a strange city, full of silvery steel and sprawling structures, metal and machinery overtaking nature. It was far too similar to Xia for his liking. But the outer reaches of Ko-Metru, where industrialisation had yet to mar the landscape, that wasn’t too different to the mountain village he’d left behind. Perhaps-

“Gateway ahead!” Came a shout from above, followed by the frantic ringing of a bell, the sound greatly amplified by the abilities of the De-Toa on lookout. The bells and shouts were soon taken up by the other boats in the fleet, who all slowed their approach to avoid colliding with the first vessel as it came to a halt before the Sea Gate. Splashes echoed through the darkened tunnel as anchors were cast, mooring the fleet in place.

“Watch the rocks!” Another Toa called, their Kanohi Ruru cutting through the dark like a spotlight, “The water level’s a lot lower than when we last came through here.”

The last ship they’d sent from Xia, almost a year past, had been ordered to ensure all of the Sea Gates and underwater chutes leading to Metru Nui were closed and sealed, preventing any hostile forces from entering the dome or reaching the city. Fortunately, the fleet still had the means to unseal the gates from the outside, possessing a pair of Fa-Toa and Masks Of X-Ray Vision to help guide them in their work.  Already those Toa were working their way up from belowdecks, along with a number of Ga-Toa to assist with navigating through the gate, so Icthilos took up his lantern and moved away from the railing to give them room to work.

Like the others in the expedition, Icthilos had gotten used to operating in near-total darkness. While some areas in Xia had still had generator-powered lightstone lamps or good-old fashioned flaming torches, light swiftly proved itself to be a hindrance rather than help in battle, marking one out as an easy target for the enemy. So the Toa had learned to coordinate by sound and sensation rather than sight, moving in certain ways or speaking in hushed whispers to announce their presence and position to one another. And though the war was behind them, and many, like Icthilos, now felt comfortable carrying lights, those practices still held sway. The Toa murmured as they moved, speaking softly more out of habit than necessity.

A few acknowledged Icthilos as he passed them by, but most were focused on their tasks, too driven by the thought of finally seeing Metru Nui again to care about much else. One, however, passing close enough for his Kiril-clad face to be illuminated by the lamp, stopped to smile at him.

“There you are!” Ilton grinned. “I figured you’d be up here somewhere.”

Ilton was a Fe-Toa, one of only two that Icthilos knew to still exist. While many Toa in the war had changed their armour colours to better conceal themselves, or confuse the enemy, Ilton wore his heritage proudly, clad in metallic grey and burnished yellow-orange. He’d been a Mask Maker prior to becoming a Toa, and his expertise in identifying and creating Kanohi had been instrumental in the campaign on Xia. Like Icthilos, he was the leader of his Toa team – the Toa Vehi – who hailed from the Tren Krom Peninsula, the southern-most edge of the Northern Continent.  

Unlike Icthilos, he still had most of his team. Indeed, Ilton’s team held the distinction of being the only one to emerge from the Xia conflict with more than half of its members still alive. It was a grim statistic, and not one Ilton had ever felt the need to boast about. 

Not that Ilton was an especially boastful person to begin with. Their two teams had essentially been neighbours, crossing paths many times over the years on missions, sometimes loaning team members to each other for missions that needed a particular element. There’d been plenty of interaction during their downtime as well, with tours of each other’s territories, and the occasional friendly sporting competitions. Most memorably, they’d once combined the full forces of both their teams to help repel an attempted Frostelus invasion a few centuries ago. In short, Icthilos knew Ilton well, and trusted him implicitly.

“Were you looking for me?” He asked.

“Trina was.”

“Where is she now?”

“Headed to the bridge to look for you.”

“Thank you,” Icthilos started to move away, then stopped, “You don’t have to be out here. After everything you’ve already done, no one’s going to think any less of you for sitting this one out.”

“Oh, I’m not coming up to help open the doors. Now that we’re stopped, I’m moving to the last boat to help close them once we’re all through. I’m the only one who can make sure the Sea Gates can never be opened again.”

“Understood,” Icthilos nodded numbly, unable to find further words before Ilton had disappeared into the dark again.

Closing up the Sea Gates for good was an idea that had been discussed on-and-off during the voyage back. Icthilos himself had voted in favour of the plan, but he hadn’t realised it was going to be put into effect right now, without consulting the people of Metru Nui first. Icthilos, like many, still harboured some hope that there were other friendly survivors out there in the dying universe who might still find their way to Metru Nui someday. Permanently sealing the gates like this would close the door on that hope forever.

Despite his disappointment at the decision, Icthilos understood the necessity of it. If the Dark Hunters and Skakdi ever got tired of fighting each other, or if any other hostile force managed to make it to Metru Nui… well, these Toa weren’t ready for another war.

As he made his way up the stairs towards the bridge, he almost bumped into Trina on her way down. A lanky Vo-Toa clad in blue and black, her face adorned with the helm-like shape of a Mask Of Threat Detection, Trina was Icthilos’ oldest and closest friend, and the only member of his original team still part of the expedition. Their only other surviving member had been one of the wounded Toa sent back to Xia a year ago.

“Well, I guess I owe Ilton a few widgets,” Trina grumbled, in way of greeting.

“Were you two taking bets on where I was?”

“No… well, maybe,” she grinned, leaning back against the railing, “I thought you’d be down below somewhere, napping. He said – and I quote – that you’d be somewhere above decks, brooding.”

“I don’t brood.”

“Oh, of course not. You just stand still, stewing in stoic silence.”

“Well, when you put it like that…”

“Brooding is quicker.”

“-anyway, Ilton said you were looking for me. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, I just wanted to check up on you,” she replied, “You’ve been even more reserved than usual since we left Xia.”

“I’ve had a lot on my mind,” he mumbled, “On Xia there was never really time to think more than a few hours ahead, most of time. But now…”

“…there’s so much time it feels overwhelming?”

He nodded, “You feel the same way?”

She returned the nod. “Once we close the Sea Gates for good, the most we’ll ever have to worry about is the odd rahi. Will the Matoran even need protectors anymore?”

“Would it be so bad if they didn’t?” Icthilos replied, “A part of me hopes they never need us again.”

“What of our Duty? Our Destinies?” There was a tone in her voice that Icthilos recognised well; she was asking more out of curiosity than umbrage or disappointment.

“We’ve done our Duty,” he said, shrugging, “And with the gods of this universe dead and gone, I’m not sure if Destiny even exists anymore. If it does, I’m sure mine will find me eventually.”

“So what will you do, once we’re back in Metru Nui?” 

“I was thinking of settling in Ko-Metru, somewhere on the outskirts, away from everyone. But close enough to the light from the Sun Holes that I won’t have to pester you to charge up this lamp every few hours anymore.”

“I really don’t mind.”

There was something in her voice that gave him pause, an earnest, almost pleading, sincerity that made the simple sentence come across as something far more profound. But before he could fully process or ponder its meaning, a great grinding of metal rumbled through the tunnel as the Sea Gate began to open. The ships shuddered and shifted backwards as liquid protodermis rushed into the tunnel in a tepid torrent; the water level inside the dome seemed to be much higher than it was in the tunnel. With it came an unpleasant scent that stung Icthilos’ nostrils and made him gag; the acrid reek of seawater that had long gone stagnant. The tides had died with everything else.

Disappointingly, there was no great ray of daylight coming through to greet the expedition, just murky twilight seeping through the dim, distant specks that were the Sun Holes high above. It seemed that it was night-time in whatever world lay beyond their own. Lower, through the mists that hung over the sea of protodermis, the lights of Metru Nui twinkled. There were fewer of them than Icthilos remembered, but they shone all the same. The city still stood, safe and awaiting their arrival.

“There it is, Brother,” Trina’s arm draping over his shoulder stirred Icthilos from the sight, “Let’s bring these people home.”

The two Toa made their way down the stairs and back towards the front of the boat, where the Fa-Toa duo who’d opened the way were now standing by to watch the approach. The fleet’s crews were bustling about, pulling up the anchors and bringing engines, sails, or oars to bear to move the fleet forward once more. Ga-Toa manipulated the waves, reversing the flow of the water to allow the ships to move through into the dome. The last ship – the smallest of the fleet – didn’t follow the others, instead moving just beyond the Sea Gate so that Ilton could seal it up when it was closed.

In the lead ship, Trina and Icthilos stopped near the front of the deck, gazing out at the city.

“I’ll be honest,” Icthilos said softly, “There were times I really thought we weren’t going to make it to this moment.”

“Oh, thank the Great Spirit,” Trina exhaled, “I was worried it was just me.”

As the boat rolled forward and the city steadily drew closer, Icthilos felt a strange sense of dread whirling within him. The thought of the pomp and parades of the hero’s welcome that no doubt awaited them turned his stomach. This didn’t feel like a triumphant return. In many ways, it felt like a defeat. A defeat that many of these Toa personally blamed him for.

He didn’t resent them for feeling that way.

Most days, he blamed himself as well.

As the shoreline grew close enough for the keen-eyed to make out the shapes of Le-Metru’s chutes and spires, a babble of noise broke out behind the gathered group as a panicked Le-Toa blundered up from below, clutching at his temples as if he were in the throes of a terrible headache. Such a sight might have been strange were it not for the fact that this Toa wore a Mask Of Clairvoyance.

“What’s wrong?” Trina asked, only for the Le-Toa to brush right past her.

He shouldered through the group to stop at the very front of the ship, where Icthilos himself had been ruminating earlier, and stare out across the water for several seconds.

“This is it!” The Toa blurted out, whirling to face the crowd. “Here, now! We have to turn back. We have to leave! The city isn’t safe!”

“What did you see?” One of the Fa-Toa asked, taking the Le-Toa by the shoulders and shaking him as if he were a faulty appliance. 

The seer looked crestfallen. “Death.”

“What death? Whose?”

“Yours…” the seer’s eyes widened, surprise and despair filling his face as he seemed to only now recall the most important part of his vision, “…mine.”

With a warbling whine, a silvery disk streaked out of the sea mist and struck the two Toa, randomly reconstituting them into a mangled mess of meat and metal that sloughed apart almost instantly, splattering across the deck and its occupants.

Icthilos could only stare, shock and sorrow paralysing him more effectively than any stasis field could have managed. Not again. Not here.

The murderers made themselves known a moment later, as ranks of airborne Vahki came flying out of the night, unleashing volleys of Kanoka and stun blasts upon the boats.

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Chapter 2 – Beachhead

From the notes of Chronicler Crisda.

Someone once told me that the difference between misfortune and malice is intent. If a branch falls and strikes a wanderer on the head, it’s misfortune. But if the branch was cut by one who sought to bring the wanderer harm, then it’s an act of malice.

It was we Matoran who voted for a squad Vahki to be kept stationed in Le-Metru, programmed to intercept and attack any fleet that came through the Sea Gates. Turaga Rost was convinced that the Toa were dead. He told us that anyone coming through would be a hostile force, and we believed him. We always believe our Turaga.

Was what happened to the returning Toa mere misfortune?

Or was our faith used against us, to exact an act of malice?

* * *

Vhalem

Vhalem had never seen Vahki before, but from the stories he’d been told of the city of Metru Nui, that was the only thing these automated attackers could be. Why they were attacking was a question for a later time.

Flashes of flame, lashes of lightning, and whirls of water struck out at the Vahki flitting by. Blasts and barriers of all elements rose and roiled around the fleet as the Toa – veterans of a war against far more powerful opponents – swiftly recovered from the shock of the surprise attack.

Stationed in the kahu’s nest of one of the middle ships when the attack had broken out, Vhalem was in the ideal position to bring his abilities to bear, summoning a swirling swell of gravity high over the fleet, pulling the airborne automatons and their Kanoka off course. Below, the last surviving Fa-Toa caught on and added her powers to the mix, enhancing the pull of gravity with the force of magnetism. Vahki who flew too high soon began to crash and crush together in the middle of the gravity well, swiftly twisting into unidentifiable shapes as Kanoka collided with their sparking remains, repeatedly Freezing and Weakening and Reconstituting the mess of metal.

Sparing a glance towards the decks below, Vhalem noted that some of the fleet’s passengers were now fighting among themselves, or stumbling around dazedly, as the Vahki used their staffs to incapacitate or mind control whoever they managed to hit. Ce-Toa and Komau-wearers were rushing around the decks, springing across from ship to ship, trying to cure or overcome the effects of the Vahki weapons as swiftly as they were inflicted.

One Vahki seemed to identify Vhalem as the summoner of the gravity swell, circling wide and loosing stun blasts in his direction, only for them to splash harmlessly against the Hau shield of a Po-Toa, Behjen, who’d clambered up the mast to aid him. A well-thrown spear of stone sent the Vahki careening into the sea a second later, shedding shards of shredded metal from its splintered skull.

Offering a grateful nod to his unexpected saviour, Vhalem focused once more on his element, willing the pull of gravity to widen and increase, dragging in more and more Vahki until those that remained finally broke ranks and retreated back towards the city.

Sighing in relief as cheers rose up from the fleet below, Vhalem released his power, letting the Fa-Toa below handle the task of flinging what remained of the Vahki into the sea.

“Thanks,” he said, slumping against the mast and raising his fist towards the Po-Toa.

Bhejen raised his right arm – a fully mechanical prosthetic – and returned the fist-bump with a smile. “You’re one of us now, Brother. We look after our own.”

Not so long ago, Vhalem had been looking up at the Toa, not meeting them as equals. He’d been one of the Xian Matoran these heroes had come to rescue, though in the end he’d wound up having to rescue himself.

His transformation into a Toa had been brought about by the desperate efforts by one rogue, reckless Ta-Toa, an act that had earned her plenty of condemnation from her kin, and ample gratitude from the Xian Matoran. Her name was Savnu, and three months ago she’d launched a covert mission against the wishes of the Toa leading the efforts on Xia. She’d convinced some of her companions to create Toa Stones, and then smuggled those stones into a coal shipment that was being brought to the foundry where many of the Matoran slaves were being kept.

It was a mission that had turned the tide of the war, giving the dwindling Toa the fresh forces and local knowledge needed to liberate the remaining slaves, and eventually mount an effective retreat. But the shift had come at a cost, with many of the new, untrained Toa falling in their initial escape, or the battles that followed. Vhalem was one of only four who had survived.

Savnu herself was perched by the railing as Vhalem made his way back down onto the deck. Smoke wafted from the blackened wood of the railing beside her, scorched by proximity to the searing flames she’d summoned against the Vahki. The limited in-fighting had died down now that the Ce-Toa had finished calming those effected by mind control staves. Many, like Savnu herself, were slouched or sitting, physically and psychologically drained by the battle, brief as it had been. No one had expected a fight here.

“Vhalem! There you are,” she smiled wistfully as he approached, “That was you doing the swirly stuff up in the sky?”

In the relatively brief time Vhalem had spent among other Toa, he’d quickly come to realise that Savnu wasn’t like the rest. She kept things casual and conversational, addressing other Toa by their names rather than by titles or honorifics. Where some of the other Toa were still protective and, at times, even belittling of the recently-transformed Matoran, Savnu spoke to them as equals. It was a small thing, but it went a long way towards making Vhalem and the others feel like they belonged.

Like the other members of the Toa Vehi, Savnu’s build was taller than that of most Toa, with a lean, limber frame. Armour of grey and red covered her body, while her face bore both a wry smile and a stylised Kakama. Tattered purple robes hung from her frame, ripped and stained from battle; from what Vhalem had heard, most of the villages Savnu had protected on the Southern Continent hadn’t had Turaga of their own, so it was Savnu herself who had stepped into the role of religious leader.

“I had a bit of help, but yes. Are you alright?”

“I should be the one asking you that,” she chuckled. “I’m feeling fine. But just do me a favour real quick and tell me to do something.”

“Uh... stand up?”

She didn’t move.

“Not a Staff Of Suggestion, then,” she said, shrugging. “One of those Vahki tagged me with something, but my brain doesn’t seem scrambled. At least, not any more than usual.” She hauled herself to her feet, and started to move past him.

“Where are you going?” He asked, as she started heading for the entrance to the lower decks.

“Away from any important planning that might be about to happen. I’m not feeling anything weird, so I reckon the blast that hit me was from a Staff Of Presence. If those Vahki come back for another swing at us, we don’t want them knowing anything useful.”

“Fair enough. Stay safe.”

“I should be the one telling you that.”

* * *

Trina

“What’s the count?” Trina gently asked one of the healers, a Ga-Toa named Lhiyla.

The fleet had drawn close, with some of the Ko-Toa summoning an iceberg to bind the vessels together and make it easier for those in charge of each vessel to cross over and talk. Spare Kanohi of Healing and Shielding were being brought up from belowdecks to assist with recovery, and defend against the next wave, if one came.

The rear ship, which had been far enough away from the fleet to avoid the battle, had re-joined them long enough to offload its Matoran and supplies before venturing out to allow Ilton to continue sealing the Sea Gates; if it was attacked while out on its own, there would be no lives at stake save for those few who’d volunteered to remain on board.

“A dozen or so injured, four seriously,” Lhiyla replied. She was a little shorter than the average Toa, with iridescent blue armour over a grey body, her face bearing a Kanohi Hau. “One lost an eye, two have stab wounds inflicted by other Toa, and another’s been reconstituted pretty badly. It was a lower-level disk, so as long as we keep him stable in his current state he should revert back to how he was once the effect wears off.”

“Did we lose anyone else, aside from…” Trina glanced towards the greasy stain on the foredeck that was all that remained of the other two Toa who’d been reconstituted. There was no hope of putting them back together.

“One other. They found him floating, facedown. We don’t know if a Vahki ordered him to drown himself or if he just took a hit to the head and fell in. We’re doing a headcount now to make sure we’re not missing anybody else.”

“The Matoran?”

“Most were still safely belowdecks when the fighting started. As far as I know, none of them were hurt.”

“That’s something, at least. Thank you.”

She vaulted over the railing and onto the iceberg, donning a spare Suletu as she approached the circle of Toa standing in the middle of the ice.

Telepathy masks had been key to operating on Xia, a tactic the Vortixx had used against them frequently in the early days before the Toa had managed to secure a Kanohi forge and start making their own. With the risk that some of the Toa here had been unknowingly struck by Presence blasts, the Suletus had been brought to bear again, to plan the next move without the Vahki learning of it.

“…can’t just call this a mistake.” Icthilos’ voice was the first thing Trina picked up as she donned the mask, his rage and remorse roiling over the mental plane like a tidal wave. “Those Toa risked everything for these people. We all did. They didn’t deserve to die like that.”

Though Icthilos carried himself as a typical Ko-Toa, closed-off and uncaring, there was no hiding one’s emotions in a telepathic conversation. Trina knew better than most that her brother had the righteous rage and tortured temper to rival even the most choleric of Ta-Toa. And no one here was going to begrudge him his grief; the surface thoughts and feelings Trina could sense told her everyone felt much the same way.

“What was or was not deserved isn’t up for debate, brother,” came the voice of Widrek, a goliath of an Onu-Toa whose burly build could nearly match that of a Steltian bruiser. Even his mental voice came out in a guttural growl. “What is, is our next move. Do we risk approaching the shore, where the Vahki have the home advantage?”

“The greater risk is remaining on the open water,” Trina felt now was the moment to enter the conversation. “If the Vahki return and decided to focus fire on the boats rather than us, the Matoran’s lives could be in danger.”

“She’s right,” thought the Ce-Toa Bihriis. She was only one of the group not wearing a Suletu, having no need for one. Slung across her back was a Skakdi-made Buzzsaw tool, a souvenir from the battles on Xia. “A few leaks we can fix, but if they hit a ship with one of those reconstitution disks there’ll be nothing we can do.”

“Then we push on, secure a beachhead,” resignation rang through in Icthilos’ mental voice. “You all know the drill. Physical element wielders with Haus up front to provide cover once we hit the sand. Everyone else in position to provide cover fire.”

“This city was supposed to be a safe haven,” a new voice arose on the mental plane, as the young Ba-Toa Vhalem approached the group, “Now you’re planning to go to war with it?”

“Hopefully this is all just a misunderstanding, and there won’t be any need for further violence,” Trina quickly cut in. “The Vahki are probably reporting back as we speak, and will be stood down once the Turaga know it’s us, and not some invading force.”

“That sounds too little, too late for the two brothers we lost,” Vhalem’s mental voice was ablaze with bitterness.

“Three,” Trina corrected, grimacing. “They pulled another out of the water.”

In a motion that would have been meaningless to anyone else, Trina glimpsed one of Icthilos’ hands drift towards a leather pouch hanging from the side of his belt. Inside it, she knew, was a stone tablet upon which Icthilos had painstakingly inscribed the name of every Toa who had fallen on Xia. He’d told her once that he intended to someday turn the tablet into a Toa Stone, so that some good could be done in the names of the fallen. But for now, he had three new names to add to the list.

“How’s Pahlil holding up?” He asked, referring to the last remaining Fa-Toa.

“Even more withdrawn than normal,” it was Bihriis who answered, “But about as well as can be expected from someone who’s just become the last of her kind.”

“Let’s get this done, then.” Icthilos said. “Watch your siblings. Let no one else be lost tonight.” 

* * *

Icthilos

No one was upset to find the beach devoid of Vahki when the boats finally reached the shoreline. What was upsetting was how devoid of everything else Le-Metru seemed to be.

As his companions set about raising barricades of stone and earth to defend the spot where the boats had put ashore, Icthilos took a few hesitant steps up the beach, peering into the shadows of the city. Le-Metru had been his least favourite part of the city, alive and alight at all hours, machinery and chutes constantly active. Now it was a silent, empty shell of its former self. Not even any rahi seemed to be roaming around.

There were definitely lights on somewhere in the city, they’d seen that from a distance, but the entirety of Le-Metru appeared to be shut down. It looked like it had been that way for quite some time, given the dust and foliage that had accumulated over some of the structures. And it was cold, too, the kind of stale, psychological cold that one might associate with a tomb or graveyard. Cold enough that even Icthilos felt a slight chill.

“I’ve got movement!” Came the shout of one of the lookouts still on the ships, a Turaga wearing a scoped Akaku. “In the alley, by the chute station on your left!”

Icthilos whirled towards the indicated direction, his flail rattling as he let it unfurl at his side. Before he’d even finished turning, the alleyway’s opening was already being illuminated by two of the Toa on the frontlines who owned Kanohi Rurus.

The shape that emerged from the crevice between the two structures was an artificial entity of grey and green, carrying a staff in its hands… but it was no Vahki.

“Get the Matoran below!” Icthilos roared, “We’ve got incoming!”

The Rahkshi’s mouthparts unfolded as it raised its stave and let out a horrific screech, a screech that was answered tenfold from further in the city.

Embers - A Bionicle Saga - Chapters/Review

Class Is Out - A Farewell To Corpus Rahkshi - Chapters/Review

BZPRPG Characters - Minnorak, Kain, T'harrak, Savis, Vazaria, Lash

BZPRPG Mercenary Group - The Outsiders - Description - History - Base

Ghosts Of Bara Magna - Ash Tribe - Precipere - Kehla, Somok, Skrall, Gayle, Avinus, Zha'ar

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Chapter 3 – Shadows By The Sea

From the notes of Chronicler Crisda.

No one goes out at night. Not anymore. Not those who value their lives, at least. That’s been the rule since the Shadow and his sons stepped into our city.

I know people who’ve tried to break that rule.

I know how many pieces they were found in.

It was a rule the Toa were forced to learn, hours before most of the rest of us even learned of their return.

* * *

Trina

To some extent or another, all of the Toa gathered on the beach were aware of what a Rahkshi was. But most of them had never had the misfortune to face one, let alone an army.

Though army wasn’t quite the right word for his force, Trina reflected, as she raised her bladed tonfas and sent blazing bolts of lightning launching across the beach, breaking the charge of a few incoming Rahkshi. Though they held weapons and fielded formidable abilities, they still acted as little more than beasts, each one running or flying towards the Toa without heed for coordination or cooperation. And though the Toa had landed on the beach expecting to face Vahki, the defences they’d prepared were equally capable of fending off these newfound foes.

The Toa on the front lines were focused wholly on blocking, their Hau shields deflecting most of the incoming fire. Those without Haus were shoring up the barriers, reinforcing and repairing them as swiftly as they were damaged. A few Toa – Icthilos, Bihriis, and Savnu included – roamed just outside the defences, striking at any damaged Rahkshi that managed to make it through the barrage of elemental blasts that Trina and the other Toa up on the boats were raining down. Up in the rigging of the ships waited Pahlil, Vhalem, and other Ba-Toa, who were using their powers to ground any airborne Rahkshi that flew within range.

For the first few minutes, the battle went well. The Rahkshi – inexperienced and reckless, seeming to possess only low-level abilities – rarely drew close enough to do any meaningful damage. The barriers held up against the onslaught of their strange powers, and the beach was soon strewn with sparking shards of slain shadowspawn and sticky stains of oily ichor. Where each Rahkshi fell, gaseous wisps of antidermis wafted up from its kraata and armour, flittering away into the dark as if blown away by some unseen breeze. Some two dozen of the creatures were already dead or dying on the beach, and yet still more emerged from the shadows of Le-Metru, and screeches continued to ring out in the distance.

Where did they all come from? Trina knew there had been some Rahkshi kept in the archives, and there had been rumours of wild ones lurking in the dark corners of the city, but there were far too many of them here for that. No one had seen or heard anything of the other Makuta since Teridax’s short-lived takeover. And there’d been no sign of breaches at any of the nearby Sea Gates according to the last report they’d gotten from Ilton’s ship.

There was no time to dwell on the troubling question. From her vantage point, Trina could see the cracks beginning to appear. She’d seen it before, in countless battles on Xia, and knew all too well what to look for. Any one slip-up or moment of weakness usually wasn’t decisive on its own, but the longer a battle dragged on, the more those mistakes added up… and these Rahkshi showed no sign of stopping.

Fatigue soon proved a greater foe than any Rahkshi. The Hau shields began to falter, allowing more Rahkshi fire to chip away at the barricades. And as elemental reserves began to dwindle, it took longer for the barricades to be repaired, and the Toa up on the boats had to become more selective with their attacks. In one spot, a stray fragmentation blast snuck through and injured two Toa. In another area a red-and-silver Rahkshi managed to make it all the way down the beach and over the barricades, effortlessly evading every attack sent its way and wounding several Toa before finally being entangled and incapacitated by a Bo-Toa’s vines. It was the first breach, but it wasn’t the last.

A small group of blue-and-tan Rahkshi soon arrived on the scene, and these ones acted very differently to the rest. While most of the new arrivals continued charging blindly into battle, this group hung back and began scattering illusory Rahkshi of all hues across the beach, forcing the ranged Toa to spread out their attacks to try to stop any real Rahkshi from slipping through. But slip through they did, and it wasn’t long before another breached the barricades, and another, and soon the entire defence broke down into a desperate melee.

“They’re through! Get down there!” Trina was leaping overboard before she’d even finished giving the order, stumbling in the sodden sand for a moment before making it onto the dry beach and flinging herself into the fray.

The rest of her group were soon at her side, two or more Toa to each Rahkshi to try to overwhelm the creatures and keep them from using their powers. At the railings where the Toa had been firing from, Turaga and Matoran were now taking up positions, firing Kanoka, Rhotuka, Zamors, crossbows, and anything else they’d taken from Xia at the Rahkshi that were still making their way down the beach.

Where moments ago Trina had been able to oversee the entire battlefield, now her picture became far more limited. She found herself side by side with Bihriis, singling out a black-and-gold Rahkshi whose body bore a ragged crust of rock in addition to its regular armour. It saw them coming and raised its staff, magnetically slinging shards of stone from one of the broken barricades towards the two women. What Bihriis’ telekinesis didn’t deflect was melted to slag by Trina’s lightning, and then they were upon the creature, slashing at it before it could let loose another wave of projectiles. Their blades skittered futility off its stony shell, even Bihriis’ powerful Skakdi saw struggling to chew through the rock.

The Rahkshi replied in kind, slashing at Trina with its stave. She blocked the blade with her own weapons, but the sheer force behind the blow still sent her stumbling. Bihriis swung low at the Rahkshi’s leg, where the stone armour was thinner, not doing much damage but still distracting the creature from pressing its advantage against Trina. It sent its staff slicing back the other way, only for the strike to suddenly stop, as Bihriis seized the weapon with telekinesis and held it in place.

As the creature screeched in irritation and began a brutal tug-of-war to retrieve its staff, Trina sprang into action, bringing both of her blades down on the Rahkshi’s exposed wrists – where it lacked the protection of its stone shell – and sending its severed hands flopping to the sand. Without its staff to enhance its abilities, the Rahkshi’s additional armour layers flaked and fell away, leaving the two Toa free to strike at its kraata case and end its nightmarish existence.

It was a victory, but only a small one.

The Rahkshi just kept on coming.

* * *

Vhalem

Vhalem had lost track of how many Rahkshi he’d already sent crashing into the sand, their weight increased tenfold. They were resilient creatures, and he’d glimpsed more than one of them getting back up once the effects of his power had worn off, but that wasn’t his problem; his focus was on keeping the skies clear.

But behind that focus, dread and doubt lurked. He’d been told this city was safe, the last haven of light and life, the final hope for the Matoran people. After everything he and the other Xian Matoran had endured, he’d wanted more than anything to believe that somewhere was safe. But they’d been inside the dome for barely an hour and come under attack twice. The attack from the Vahki had been awful, but he’d been willing to accept that as a tragic accident. But these Rahkshi… this was something else. He could see his fellow Xian Matoran-turned-Toa friends fighting desperately below, Ithnen struggling to manipulate earth on a beach mostly covered in sand, Erdo trying to wrangle Rahkshi with vines, Tivni searing them with plasma, but for every Rahkshi they managed to fell, four more joined the fray. 

The ones joining the battle now seemed older and stronger, their armour marred with scars and their powers far more formidable. They were strategising, too, calling out to each other with guttural hisses and shrieks. More than that, though, the stronger ones were protecting the others, summoning illusions or shadows to obscure their positions, or using their own abilities to counteract those of the Toa.

As Vhalem loosed his powers against a brownish Rahkshi flying towards the ship, he felt a strange resistance to his attack. As he tried to increase the Rahkshi’s weight, an equal force of gravity from one of the Rahkshi elsewhere on the field fought to decrease it. The airborne Rahkshi wavered, losing control for a moment, then righted itself and loosed a fragmentation blast directly into the mast as it flew past, splintering it asunder.

The mast and the Toa perched upon it came tumbling down in a mess of flailing sails and ragged rigging, crashing over the deck and spilling over the side. A cloying cloud of displaced sand and shattered wood filled the air as Vhalem and his companions were scattered across the beach or the boat. Screams and cries echoed over the sand, almost lost in the cacophony of battle.

Splinters slicing at his forearms, Vhalem picked himself up off the beach, spitting out a mouthful of sand to groan as the movement strained the new bruises already forming across his chest and back. He heard a whine behind him and turned towards it, spotting the brown Rahkshi flying back for another pass. He used his powers to manipulate a flapping shred of sail, sending it floating up directly into the Rahkshi’s path, entangling and blinding the Rahkshi before it could unleash another blast from its staff. Flailing wildly, it tumbled out of flight mode and crashed down somewhere over the beach.

He didn’t see where it landed. What he saw instead was another Rahkshi – yellow, with a fiery light glowing in its eyes – shuffling towards him. One of its legs looked to have already been mangled by a Su-Toa somewhere on the battlefield, but if the creature could feel pain, it wasn’t showing.

Blistering beams of heat emanated from its eyes, leaving black marks on Vhalem’s armour and singeing his organics as he scrambled for cover, managing to dive behind the fallen mast. Unfortunately, the weakened wood offered little protection, swiftly beginning to smoulder and burn, so Vhalem turned his defence into an offence, using gravity to make the burning chunk of the mast “fall” towards the Rahkshi, bowling the creature over in a spray of sparks and splinters.

Any other being might have been at least momentarily stunned by the impact, but the Rahkshi was already rising once more… and then it fell for good as a reddish blur flashed past, taking its head clean off before vanishing into the fray once more. Though his rescuer was moving almost too fast to perceive, Vhalem had spent enough time fighting alongside Savnu to recognise her fighting style.

And then, as if the death of that one Rahkshi somehow mattered to its kin, the creatures began to retreat, each of them issuing a strange, plaintive cry as they scuttled off into the shadows of the empty Metru. The true reason for their retreat made itself evident to Vhalem as he cast his gaze upwards; the first rays of daylight were beginning to filter through the Sun Holes high above.

The night was over.

Embers - A Bionicle Saga - Chapters/Review

Class Is Out - A Farewell To Corpus Rahkshi - Chapters/Review

BZPRPG Characters - Minnorak, Kain, T'harrak, Savis, Vazaria, Lash

BZPRPG Mercenary Group - The Outsiders - Description - History - Base

Ghosts Of Bara Magna - Ash Tribe - Precipere - Kehla, Somok, Skrall, Gayle, Avinus, Zha'ar

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Chapter 4 – Good Mourning

From the notes of Chronicler Crisda.

Twenty-seven of our lost Toa entered the dome last night. Six of them didn’t live to see the dawn.

Everyone is looking for someone to blame… we should start by looking at our mirrors.

* * *

Icthilos

The dawn had brought with it six more names for his record, six more than he ever thought he’d need to add.

But if not for the break of daylight, the Rahkshi would have likely claimed far more than just the three lives they’d taken. Though it looked like they might take a few more before the day was done.

“How bad is it?” He asked Trina, as she made her way back to him. She’d been checking up with the makeshift trauma centre the healers had set up on the beach, to tend to the Toa injured in the battle. She’d picked up her fair share of bruises and abrasions during the battle, as had Icthilos himself, but those more seriously injured took priority.

“Better than some of our days on Xia, but still not great. It’s hard to find anyone who hasn’t been hurt to some extent,” her hand reached up to rub at her shoulder, where the armour was crumpled and partially melted from a Rahkshi’s blast. “Our real issue is healers. We’ve got plenty of Masks Of Healing, but not many people with the medical know-how to use them properly.”

It was a problem that had plagued the Toa during their time on Xia. The Mask Of Healing required the wearer to have an understanding of the illness or injury they were trying to heal in order to work properly. And while most of the Toa could figure out how to deal with basic cuts and bruises, there were few among them who knew how to properly treat broken bones or internal injuries. And fewer still were left now.

“Worse still, we’ve got a few Toa suffering from some kind of… infection? Sickness? I don’t even know what to call it.”

“Rahkshi poison?”

“Not exactly. They’re suffering from chills, fatigue, nausea, and weird headaches that go away once they’re out of direct sunlight. They’re experiencing pain when they use their powers. I’ve never seen anything like it, and they all seem to be getting worse.”

“Can the healers do anything for them?”

“They’re trying, but it’s the same problem as healing other injuries. Without knowing what it is they’re trying to treat, there’s only so much they can do.”

“Alright,” Icthilos sighed, glancing back towards the stark cityscape before them. “Ask around to see who’ll be willing to head into the city with me. We need to find out what’s happened to Metru Nui.”

“You don’t need to put this on yourself,” Icthilos felt Trina’s hand on his shoulder, turning him back towards her. “Someone else can go. You’ve done more than enough.”

The words were familiar. This wasn’t the first time she’d implored him not to volunteer for a mission, and this likely wasn’t going to be the last time he’d disappoint her.

“I got us all into this mess,” he said. “I have to make it right.”

* * *

Pira

While most of the Toa were off tending to the wounded, guarding the boats, or restoring the barricades on the beachhead, a lone Le-Toa scavenged the battlefield.

As a Matoran, Pira had always been something of a scrounger, living on the streets, scraping and stealing to survive. Pretty much everything she had to her name had originally belonged to someone else, from the Kanohi she wore to the spear she wielded, from the pieces of plating she’d used to patch up her original armour, to the Toa Stone that had transformed her in the first place.

Pira had originally come from a village on the Southern Continent, and stowed away on a trade ship to gain passage to Xia, thinking a more civilised city would offer opportunities for a more comfortable life. If she’d known the universe was going to go to Karzahni and she’d wind up in a warzone a week after arriving in Xia, she probably wouldn’t have bothered. And if she’d known that going to Xia would have resulted in her becoming a Toa, she definitely wouldn’t have bothered. Dying in the dark back home would’ve been easier than everything she’d dealt with since leaving.

It wasn’t the insults that bothered her the most. It was the stares and sneers, the silent judgement, the unseen eyes boring into her back every time she turned away. Even in the middle of a war, when they’d needed every Toa they could find, when they’d welcomed the other Xian Matoran who’d been unwillingly transformed, they’d still looked at her with loathing and disdain.

She ignored them, for the most part. The mere fact that she had this power meant she’d always been destined to have it, right? What did it matter how she’d gotten her hands on the Toa Stone? It wasn’t like she’d intentionally stolen this power; by the time she’d realised the shiny rock was much more than a shiny rock, it was already too late.

Vitrified sand crunched underfoot as she crossed an area that had been scored by lightning and fire, leaving blackened fragments of Rahkshi scattered all around. She spotted an intact Rahkshi staff amidst the debris strewn and bent down to pick it up, turning it over in her hand. For weapons wielded by monsters, they were well-crafted tools, each type of Rahkshi having a unique and intricate design to its staff.

She wasn’t sure what specific kind of Rahkshi had once wielded this weapon, and it probably didn’t matter much, given that the staffs didn’t seem to hold any power of their own except as an amplifier for the Rahkshi. Still, a weapon was a weapon, and no one was going to complain about her looting these remains.

She pulled her battered spear from her back and held it against the Rahkshi staff as she activated her Kanohi. Hers was the Mask Of Combination, a close cousin to the Mask Of Fusion that allowed her to combine inorganic objects together however she wished. It had already come in handy plenty of times on Xia, allowing her to patch up her armour with pieces salvaged from fallen foes, and improve her weapon, which had started off as nothing more than a length of metal pipe.

Metal rearranged and redistributed in her hand, her battered spear transforming into a sturdy bident as it integrated the new material. The blade took on a grimy appearance, as she willed the impurities and dirt that had been on or in both weapons when they’d been merged to redistribute on the outside where she could easily remove them. She deactivated her mask and channelled her power through the weapon, sending a fine cloud of dust and rust flitting away from its surface.

“I thought you would’ve learned by now not to pick up strange things off the ground,” came the voice of the burly Onu-Toa Widrek.

“It usually works out for me,” she shrugged, giving the new staff an experimental swing. The weapon whistled softly as it moved through the air, “I’m lucky like that.”

She turned towards him, not particularly looking forward to the coming conversation. Out of all the Toa, he’d been one of the most hostile towards her, though he was also the one whose hatred was perhaps the most justified. The fallen Toa whose Stone Pira had taken had been Widrek’s Brother. He had no teammates left now, and Pira’s presence was a daily reminder of that grim fact.

“Luck has little to do with it,” Widrek growled, “Icthilos is putting a team together to investigate the city. I suggest you volunteer. Maybe you can put your stolen power to some good use.”

She didn’t bite. There was no sense in debating him. She’d tried to point out in the past that since she was apparently Destined to become a Toa, it didn’t matter whose Stone she ended up using or how she ended up finding it. If she hadn’t taken it from that corpse that day, she would’ve found another somewhere else, somehow. But with the Great Spirit seemingly dead, the idea of Destiny didn’t mean as much as it once did to many Toa. And as far as Widrek was concerned, Pira was nothing more than a worthless thief who’d stolen his Brother’s final gift from some other, more deserving soul.

“Sure, I’d be happy to help.”

Widrek seemed almost disappointed by her reply, especially since the Kanohi Rode he wore no doubt informed him that her words were genuine.

The grumpy Ko-Toa who everyone seemed to vaguely accept as leader was one of few members of the group who hadn’t treated Pira poorly at some point or another. He wasn’t exactly warm or welcoming, but he also wasn’t judgemental. He hadn’t spoken a single ill word towards her, or even to Savnu, who was also unpopular among many of the Toa. Out of all the group, Icthilos seemed to have the firmest grasp on the sacrifices and necessities of war, accepting them despite how much they upset him, and not condemning others for the compromises they’d made.

“Good,” Widrek grumbled. “He’s over by the boats.”

“I’ll be over in a minute,” Pira said, spotting another intact Rahkshi staff a few bio away and moving to pick it up. “If we’re about to head into more trouble, I’d rather…”

She trailed off as a strange metallic rattling noise reached her ears, originating from somewhere amidst the abandoned buildings of Le-Metru.

“Rather what?”

“Do you hear that?”

He paused for a moment, then frowned, and turned back towards the boats, “We’ve got incoming!”

Pira hastily pressed spear and staff together, merging them to manifest a second blade at the other end of her weapon. She brandished the tool before her, ready to send whatever was coming right back the way it had come if it proved to be yet another threat.

And threatening was certainly an apt descriptor for the multilimbed metal monstrosity that came lurching out onto the beach. It appeared to be a transport of some sort, a steely centipede composed of multiple carriages, each one supported by six insect-like legs. Its hull was laden with armour plating, and Pira could see Kanoka launchers jutting out of narrow firing slits on its sides.

But mercifully, when the transport came to a stop and its side panels slid open, it wasn’t Vahki or more Rahkshi that stepped out, but Matoran and Turaga.

Embers - A Bionicle Saga - Chapters/Review

Class Is Out - A Farewell To Corpus Rahkshi - Chapters/Review

BZPRPG Characters - Minnorak, Kain, T'harrak, Savis, Vazaria, Lash

BZPRPG Mercenary Group - The Outsiders - Description - History - Base

Ghosts Of Bara Magna - Ash Tribe - Precipere - Kehla, Somok, Skrall, Gayle, Avinus, Zha'ar

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