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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.

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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.

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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.

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Chapter 5 – Welcome To Metru Nui

From the notes of Chronicler Crisda.

I’ll never forget the looks on their faces when we first opened up the transport. They were so relieved to see us. But not in a happy way. In a… broken, weary way. As if seeing any one or thing else would have shattered them completely.

Those looks told me more than a hundred interviews could have.

I understood in that moment why they hadn’t allowed me to go with them to Xia.

* * *

Icthilos

The delegation that emerged from the Vahki Transport were mostly ones that Icthilos recognised, but not the ones he’d expected to see.

There was the Chronicler, Crisda, an exuberant Ko-Matoran who was likely going to become a very annoying presence in the near future. With him was the Ga-Turaga Nadrua, a member of the council of seven Turaga who’d been running the city before the Toa had departed. But conspicuous in their absence were the four Toa who’d been sent back to the city a year ago.

“I have questions,” Icthilos called loudly, moving to stand by Widrek and Pira. “Many questions.”

“Make that two of us,” Pira piped up.

“All of us,” Widrek corrected, gesturing back towards the boats.

“And there will be time to answer them all,” said Nadrua. “But not here. Bring your people aboard the transport. There should be enough carriages to carry you all. This Metru is abandoned; your supplies will be safe here until additional transportation can be arranged.”

“Carry us where?”

“To the Coliseum. Regent Rost wishes to welcome you all home.”

“Oh, we already got our welcome,” Icthilos bit back, concealing his surprise behind snark. Regent Rost? What had happened to the council of Turaga? “From the Vahki.”

“And the Rahkshi,” Pira added.

“The Vahki were tasked with defending the city,” Nadrua said, “As soon as they reported back and we realised it was you, they were stood down. As for the Rahkshi… the night belongs to them, just as the day belongs to us.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Makuta Vhel rules this city now. His sons are citizens as much as the rest of us.”

“What?”

* * *

Trina

The trip to the Coliseum went by mostly in solemn silence, each traveller consumed with confusion and concern. The meagre information that Nadrua had given before the transport embarked had sparked questions without count, each more disconcerting than the last. Turaga Rost was regent of the city? A Makuta ruled Metru Nui? Rahkshi had free reign?

None of this made any sense.

Trina was in one of the lead sections of the transport, sharing a compartment with Icthilos, Widrek, Bihriis, and the remaining members of the Toa Vehi – Savnu, the Vo-Toa Keidal, and Su-Toa Orane. Ilton was still on the last boat, tending to the Sea Gates. In his absence, the seven in the transport represented the oldest and most experienced Toa still alive, though that experience wasn’t helping any of them make any sense of this situation.

“I guess I’ll be the one to lose the quiet game,” Trina spoke up, after a half-hour or so of travel. “What are we going to do about all of this?”

“We need more information before we can do anything,” Widrek said. “We need to learn everything we can, and only then can we act. Together.”

The last word was said with a pointed glare towards Savnu, who deflected the jab with a question.

“What do we know about this Makuta Vhel? I don’t recognise the name, but I didn’t exactly have them all memorised.”

“I’ve heard him mentioned in passing,” Bihriis said, “He was assigned to the land of the Brighteyes shortly after the League Of Six Kingdoms were defeated.”

“Brighteyes?” Trina asked.

“That’s what the elders of my village called them. I’m not sure if they have a common name for themselves. I’ve heard them called mantids, mesmers…”

“Takadox’s people, you mean?” Keidal asked.

“That’s them,” Bihriis nodded. “The original inhabitants of Odina, before their armies were destroyed and the Dark Hunters displaced them to a little island to the south of there. After defeating the League, the Brotherhood Of Makuta assigned one of their members to each of the Barraki’s lands to monitor them and prevent any future uprisings.”

“Their lands, and everywhere else,” Trina muttered. The two Makuta nearest her homeland – Gorast and Aemula – had long indulged in a petty, private game of sending Rahkshi raiding parties into each other’s territories, causing problems that the Toa Gelida or Toa Vehi had often ended up having to deal with.  

“And has this Vhel done anything since then?” Savnu spoke up. “No experimenting on locals or trying to invade continents like the other Makuta?”

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“So Vhel has just been waiting in some isolated corner of the universe, doing nothing?” Rather than answers, Trina was left with even more questions. “And now he’s here, repopulating Metru Nui with his creepy kids?”

“So it would seem.” Widrek nodded grimly.

Trina glanced at Icthilos, who had been sitting quietly throughout the exchange, staring at the floor. The only one being more quiet than him was Orane, but given the way he was slumped in the corner of the transport with his eyes closed, he was likely either asleep, or using his Kanohi Iden to roam around in spirit form somewhere.

“Icky?” Trina gently nudged Icthilos’ shoulder, using the nickname she knew he hated in the hopes it would annoy him into speaking. 

“I’m listening,” he mumbled. “Just processing. Widrek’s right. We can’t do anything about this until we better understand if anything needs to be done about it.”

“If?” Trina scoffed, “There’s Rahkshi roaming the streets-”

“And it sounds like there’s already some kind of arrangement in place to manage that.”

“What about the Makuta running the city?”

“What about him? So far no one’s said he’s done anything wrong.”

“Something is clearly very wrong.”

“You were the one who urged us all to go to Xia,” Widrek rumbled, narrowing his eyes at Icthilos, “No one doubted you, no one denied you. Why are you so reserved now?”

“I urged us to go to Xia because it’s our Duty to protect the Matoran,” Icthilos said. “I’m urging us to be cautious now for the same reason.”

“Because starting a fight with this Makuta and his Rahkshi would risk Matoran lives,” Trina said, realising where he was going, “If we were to force his hand, he has thousands of hostages.”

“It’s more than that,” Icthilos said. “Even one Makuta has more than enough power to destroy the generator, the furnace, or any of Metru Nui’s other key infrastructure. Without power or heat this city will meet the same fate as the rest of the universe. I don’t want to provoke a being who can sentence us all to a slow extinction.”

Trina opened her mouth, then closed it when words failed to emerge. She had no counterargument. This wasn’t a rescue mission in a foreign city. This was an occupation, and the invading forces were already in full control.

Orane suddenly sat bolt upright, eyes snapping open. “We’re here.”

Sure enough, the transport shuddered to a stop and the sides slid open to reveal that it and its companions were now parked on an ascending elevator. The platform soon reached sunlight, revealing the familiar interior of the Metru Nui Coliseum. Trina and the others clambered out and stepped out into the arena. Already, the ramp that had allowed the transports access was receding into the floor, rendering it smooth and solid once more. Most of the arena was sparse and dusty from disuse, and the thousands of seats overlooking it were mostly empty, save for a few hundred hunch-backed beings in armour of all hues sitting in the front rows. Even from this distance, Trina could make out the eerie glows in their beady eyes, and she found herself lowering her gaze out of instinct.

It seemed that Makuta Vhel had brought the population of his island with him to Metru Nui.

“Come forward, old friends!” Boomed the voice of the Po-Turaga perched in the box overseeing the arena. Trina heard the voice echo from beyond the gate the transport had come in through; Turaga Rost was broadcasting the scene through the city’s telescreens. “At long last, welcome home!”

With a metallic creak, the box began to lower, and as it got closer to the ground Trina could better discern the six figures standing in it. At the front was Turaga Rost, of course, though he now wore ornate armour of brown and orange. In his hands he held a steely staff with a top that looked to be made from the faceplate and kraata case of a silver Rahkshi. Just behind him stood one of the Odinan creatures, a muscular being clad in metallic hues of grey and black, with a green glow to his one remaining eye; the other had deep scars cutting across it, clearly a claw mark of some kind.

Behind them stood three Toa, all of whom Trina recognised despite the new equipment or unfamiliar Kanohi each of them now bore. There was the De-Toa Dhozoh, clad in silver and grey, now wearing a Kanohi Tryna. Beside him stood the Bo-Toa Tuxar, clad in blue and green, with what looked to be a Mask Of Laser Vision on his face. And standing just ahead of the two of them was her brother Maliss, a Fe-Toa clad in orange in black, colours he’d adopted long ago to pass himself off as an Onu-Toa. The last time she’d seen him, he’d been badly wounded and on the last boat back to Metru Nui. Now he stood tall and proud at the Turaga’s side, the arm he’d lost in battle with the Vortixx now ending in a mechanical prosthetic with a buzzsaw tool in place of a hand. Much of the rest of his body seemed to have undergone alterations or augmentations as well. Her elation at seeing him again evaporated when his eyes briefly met hers, shifted right past her to Icthilos, and his expression transformed to one of… disgust?

Something was very wrong. Not just with Maliss, but with every one and thing that was happening here. Last time Trina had seen Rost, he’d been bitterly resentful towards the Toa, and incredibly resistant towards their departure. He’d never been one to sheathe his smarm for the sake of politeness or propriety, so a warm welcome like this was the last thing Trina would have ever expected from him. An insensitive “I told you so” in regards to the many Toa who hadn’t returned was far more his style. Not to mention how incredibly unpopular he’d been with the other members of the Turaga council; none of them would have willingly put him in power.

“Welcome, too, our lost brothers and sisters from Xia,” Turaga Rost continued, as the rest of the Toa and Matoran who were able to began to make their way out of the transport. “I’m sure you have a great many questions, but first, refreshments are in order, I think.”

The doors at the base of the Coliseum tower creaked open, and out emerged groups of unarmed Vahki carrying tables, crates of food, and barrels of water. Behind them were more local Matoran and Turaga, bearing stretchers and supplies to treat the wounded still on the transport. Trina recognised among them some of the other missing members of the former Turaga council, which at least meant Makuta Vhel hadn’t killed them all during his takeover the city. Though, given that he’d brought hundreds of beings with hypnosis powers with him, a hostile takeover probably hadn’t even been necessary. 

“Sit, rest, eat, and listen,” Rost said. “Hear the tale of our new protector.”

And then a new voice, unseen and unfathomable, echoed from the speakers arrayed around the arena. It was a voice that sent a chill down the spine, that made the shadows feel colder and closer. A voice of great age and greater veneration, its every syllable seeming to demand total attention. 

There was no need for introduction or explanation.

This could only be the voice of Makuta Vhel.

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Chapter 6 – A Tale As Old As Time

From the notes of Chronicler Crisda.

The Makuta’s tale has been told and retold several times since he arrived in our city. At first, he told it only to the Toa and Turaga in a private gathering, who in turn passed it on to us. After the failed rebellion, he told it once more, broadcasting it across the city. And his Toa Hagah are all to eager to remind us of it any time we step out of line.

Today marked the third time Makuta Vhel told his tale himself, and this time it felt… different. It’s hard to describe in words. There was something provocative and prideful in the way Vhel spoke. It felt like a challenge, directed at the returned Toa. Putting them in their place, daring them to disagree, belittling their beliefs.

The first time this tale was told, there was violence and vitriol, defiance and despair. Some Matoran and Turaga even took their own lives. But this time, I fear the outcome will be far worse.

* * *

Trina

“There is much that you do not understand about this universe and your place in it. To understand how we have reached this end, you must first understand how our story began.”

Trina suppressed an involuntary shiver as the Makuta spoke. She’d spent most of her life living in the mountains, and the last few centuries in the close company of a Ko-Toa, but something in Vhel’s voice gave her chills in a way she’d never experienced before.

“We Makuta first came into being some 100,000 years ago, wrought from antidermis by the Great Spirit you all so revere. He cursed us with pride and power, and set us to work nurturing and protecting life in this universe. Despite what your Turaga teach you, it was we and we alone who created the plants and rahi that provide you your sustenance and fill this world with wonder. It was we who took it upon ourselves to thwart the League Of Six Kingdoms, we who ended the Matoran Civil War in this very city, and we who toiled for centuries to prevent similar uprisings elsewhere in this universe. And yet… who did your kind proffer their praise and prayers to? Not us.”

Murmurs rang through the crowd as the Makuta spoke. On the surface, nothing Vhel said truly stood out as unfamiliar or false. From everything Trina knew of history, the Makuta did have a known history of creating creatures, they had been the ones to bring down the Barraki, and Teridax’s massacre had ended the Civil War, but the way Vhel was completely cutting out almost any involvement from Mata Nui flew in the face of everything the Turaga taught, everything Trina had always held to be true.

“No. You gave your faith to an absent, distant Great Spirit who has never done anything for any of you! The same Great Spirit who put the Barraki in power then let them conquer unchecked for a thousand years. The same Great Spirit who designed us to be jealous, and let that jealousy fester to the point where we rose up against him. If your god was truly all-seeing, all-knowing, how could he not foresee the consequences of his choices? Why did he stop any of it? Why did he not spare you from your suffering? The answer is not that Mata Nui could not see, but that he simply wasn’t looking. Your Great Spirit had a Destiny of his own, one that left him looking ever outwards, not inwards.”

Trina glanced at her companions. Some looked disinterested or confused, while others appeared distraught. Icthilos’ brow was furrowed, as if the words being spoken were some complex riddle to be deciphered. But it was Widrek’s crestfallen expression that left Trina most concerned. Widrek wore a Kanohi Rode, and was capable enough of recognising falsehood even without it; if anyone here could discern the deceptions in the Makuta’s words, it was him. The fact that he looked so utterly defeated could only mean he hadn’t found any.

“But that Destiny is lost to us now,” Vhel continued. “There is no new world awaiting us. Only this one, and it dies each more with each passing day. So we each must fulfil the functions we were made to perform, and in so doing make up for the mistakes of our kindred and forebears. I will be your provider, the Toa will be your protectors, and you Matoran will work, as Duty demands.”

“And if we don’t accept your rule?” Came the amplified voice of a De-Turaga somewhere near the back of the crowd.

“I urge you to speak with the citizens of this city before blindly flinging yourself into defiance for defiance’s sake. Do what Mata Nui could not: contemplate the consequences of your choices before you make them.”

“You say the Great Spirit never did anything for us,” Trina interjected, “What of heat and light? Gravity? The means to bring new beings into being?”

“Valid points. But as I said, there is much you don’t understand about this universe. The truth of it is beyond what your kind are capable of comprehending.”

“Then dumb it down!” Savnu shouted.

“Even a simple explanation is better than none at all,” Trina agreed.

“Your brother said much the same thing,” the Makuta mused. “So I tell you all what I told him. Your Great Spirit was not a god, and this universe is not some magical realm. For lack of a better term, this universe is a machine, and we are all essential components in a grand, symbiotic system. The Great Spirit gave you light and warmth because it was what your kind required to live and work efficiently. He gave many species the means to create more of their kind to ensure there would always be new workers to replace those who died or retired.”

It made a twisted kind of sense, loathe though Trina was to admit it. The Matoran of Voya Nui, Mahri Nui, and Metru Nui had all spoken at times of a world above and an ocean below, of inconceivably vast open spaces without walls or Domes or Sea Gates. It was already difficult to dismiss so many beings from so many places swearing to the same story, and the fact that light still shone through the Sun Holes of the city only added to the veracity of their claims. The idea that this universe was some manner of machine made as much sense as any other for why there were apparently these arbitrary artificial barriers barring access to the world above.

“We need proof!” Savnu’s voice rang out across the arena again. “You’re just words, spouting revised history from somewhere we can’t even see.”

“It’s strange, isn’t it?” Vhel chuckled, “For 100,000 years you didn’t need to see the Great Spirit to believe in him.”

“What I see is a few hundred beings who have the power to make anyone say anything they want,” Savnu countered, “For all we know there is no Makuta, and you’re just one of these Mesmers speaking in a scary voice and spinning a stupid story.”

“Your cynicism is… warranted. If you doubt my words, then consider the history of this very city. When a Civil War broke out among the Matoran the effects were felt throughout all corners of the universe. A Toa had to retrieve the Kanohi Ignika and give their life to revive the Great Spirit. The same events played out after Makuta Teridax caused the Great Cataclysm. This city is deeply connected to the machine you call your universe, and when the work stops, the system crashes.” 

“You’re still just words.”

“Then designate one of your number. They will have the privilege of meeting with me in person, and learning the terrible truth of our reality. I will share with them my memories and knowledge… if their mind survives the experience, I trust their testimony will sate your scepticism.”

Trina found herself stepping forward. There was no rational reason for it, just an impulsive need to know. If this was all true, then she needed to understand, not only for the sake of her own curiosity but for the sake of everyone’s survival. If the universe was a machine, maybe it could be fixed? If the Makuta understood the nature of this universe, perhaps he knew something of what lay beyond it?

But she’d scarcely taken two steps before Icthilos’ firm hand caught her arm.

“Don’t you dare say you have to be the one to do it,” she warned, pulling out of his grasp but not moving any further forward. “You don’t need to be the martyr every time-”

“No. It shouldn’t be me,” he said. “And it can’t be you.”

“Why not? If you say you think I can’t handle it I swear-”

“Because we didn’t make it this far to lose each other,” he snapped, his earnestness taking them both by surprise, “Especially not to the most obvious trap in the universe.”

“I… okay, I’ll give you that one,” she stammered, trying to cover up her surprise with the first flippant remark she could think of. “So who, then?”

“Him,” Icthilos said, pointing to the lone figure, already at the front of the crowd, who was moving out into the open. He stood a head taller than any of the other Toa, more so if one counted the fin jutting from atop his Kanohi Rode. Widrek.

The second he stepped fully away from the rest of the crowd, the shadows around the arena seemed to stretch and shudder, coalescing into a cloying curtain of blank blackness that engulfed the lone Onu-Toa, leaving no sign of him when they dispersed.

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Chapter 7 – New World Order

From the notes of Chronicler Crisda.

Most Matoran have always held the Vahki with a certain degree of dread. The unnerving way they speak, the unnatural way they move, the ruthlessness with which they carry out their orders… and yet, we still understand the Vahki. They’re consistent, predictable.

But our new enforcers are far more frightening, for no one knows what’s truly going on behind those eerie eyes.

* * *

Ilton

The Sea Gates were all closed.

Sealing them up had proven to be the easiest part. It was actually finding them that had been the most difficult. The Great Barrier was pockmarked with cliffs and caves, some of which had collapsed during the earthquake that had wracked the universe after Teridax’s takeover. Several of the gates had been near-completely obscured, and it taken a close inspection of the cliffside to even discern their locations.

Even being able to sense metal hadn’t helped Ilton as much as he’d expected. The Great Barrier was home to numerous smuggler caches and hideaways, not to mention shipwrecks. The tides (back when there still had been tides) had brought the debris and detritus of old wars piling up against the base of the barrier in some places, leaving rusted armour and broken weapons lodged amidst the rocks.

But the work was now done. Metru Nui was now completely cut off from whatever was left of the old universe. Any hostile force that tried to reach the city would find the gates gone, reshaped into solid slabs of metal with twisting roots buried deep in the rock. Ilton had witnessed a great many horrors in Xia, and he’d done his utmost to ensure none of them would ever threaten Metru Nui… assuming any Vortixx, Skakdi, or Dark Hunters had even survived.

The last report he’d gotten, via a Kadin-wearing messenger Toa who’d come and gone earlier that morning, was that the city was home to its fair share of horrors already. Ilton was all too eager to get back to the city – he was one of the best-suited Toa in the universe to take on an alleged Makuta, after all – but the messenger had advised that Icthilos and the others wanted him to stay safely away from the city until they had a better sense of what was going on. So here he waited, with a meagre crew and mounting worry, for his friends to send word.

Hopefully Savnu wasn’t doing something characteristically reckless in his absence.

He wandered about the ship for a while, chatting with various crew members to keep at bay the worries brimming in his brain. But eventually his concern could no longer be ignored, and he found himself approaching a lone Ga-Turaga perched near the front of the boat, hoping he might have some sagely solace to offer. The man’s name was Marik, if Ilton recalled correctly. He’d transformed into a Turaga in the earlier days of the Xia campaign, and had been mostly relegated to a support role since then.

“Could I trouble you for some advice, wise one?” He asked gently.

“Don’t call me that,” the Turaga snapped, glowering at Ilton as if he’d been slapped, not merely spoken to. Like the first Toa who’d died in the Vahki strike, he wore a Mask Of Clairvoyance, though his bore a ragged crack from battlefield damage that had likely rendered it powerless.

Ilton almost blurted out an offer to repair it for him, but many of the Toa had kept Kirils as backup masks to repair their equipment after battles. Plenty of others would have offered to fix the crack long before now, which meant Marik was choosing to leave his mask mangled out of choice.

“I apologise. I meant no offence.”

“I’m the one who has committed the offence,” Marik replied, gesturing to his body, “I transformed with my blade buried in a Skakdi’s heartlight. This form isn’t a… promotion. It’s a punishment from the Great Spirit for breaking my oath as a Toa.”

Ilton had heard the story. Marik had been the first – but far from the last – Toa who’d been forced to bend or break the Toa Code in the heat of battle. Ilton himself had escaped having to make that terrible choice, but he knew others – Savnu, Bihriis, Widrek – who’d crossed lines they once wouldn’t have. Unlike Marik, though, the others hadn’t turned into Turaga while doing so.

“I was told that Skakdi you slew was poised to destroy a Xian transport with Matoran on board. How do you know that saving their lives wasn’t the fulfilment of your Destiny?”

From what he’d heard, that transport’s destination had been the same foundry where Savnu had later deployed her Toa Stones. There was a very real possibility that the Matoran Marik had saved were among those who had gone on to become Toa. To Ilton, at least, that explanation seemed a far more likely interpretation of Destiny than assuming Marik was the only Toa in existence to be turned into a Turaga as some kind of cosmic punishment.

But remorse and self-loathing were hard things to overcome, for Marik simply scoffed at the suggestion. “What would you know of Destiny?”

“I’m one of the last Fe-Toa in existence, and I’ve just learned there’s a Makuta in Metru Nui in need of deposing. That sounds like Destiny’s design to me.”

“Hm, perhaps-” Marik paused, brow furrowed. “Something stirs in the water. We’re not alone.”

Sure enough, Ilton soon felt the same thing with his own abilities. A vast, complex shape with ample mechanical components moving beneath the water, as large if not larger than the boat beneath his feet. The sea began to swell as the unseen thing rose, then broke the surface, battering the boat with a brutal wave that brought it rolling against the rocks of the Great Barrier.

As Ilton pulled himself upright, he saw the surfaced object for what it truly was: an airship. An airship with what looked to be a Hagah plasma cannon mounted on its underbelly. A plasma cannon that was now taking aim at the battered boat…

* * *

Trina

Ten minutes of strained silence had passed since Widrek’s disappearance. Some of the Toa murmured amidst themselves, but few were willing to raise their voices above a whisper. Some of the Matoran were already helping themselves to the food and water that had been brought out, and Turaga were tending to the wounded, talking with the healers in hushed tones.

Trina nudged Icthilos. “If you were so sure this was a trap, why did you let Widrek go?”

“He wanted to go. None of us could’ve stopped him,” Icthilos replied softly. “And everyone here knows and respects him. If something happens to him, we’ll have no trouble rallying everyone against the Makuta.”

Trina wasn’t shocked by the words, nor even disappointed. This was the side of Icthilos that the war had brought forth, the calculating pragmatist who sought the advantage in any situation, no matter how dire. He and Widrek had often thought alike, which meant Widrek’s had also considered the possibility that he was sacrificing himself when he’d chosen to step forward.

“Besides, he didn’t go in alone,” Icthilos said, gesturing back towards the transport.

Trina glanced in the direction he’d indicated. It took her a few moments to identify the detail that was out of place, a Toa lying unconscious on a stretcher with the rest of the wounded. A Su-Toa that she knew full well wasn’t actually injured: Orane.

“You knew he’d do that?” She asked, certain she hadn’t seen Icthilos order Orane to do anything.

“I assumed. Hopefully he can tell us more about whatever’s going on inside the Coliseum.”

As if summoned by the mention of his residence, the one-eyed Mesmer that had been by Turaga Rost’s side earlier suddenly pushed through the crowd to approach the two Toa.

“Icthilos, and Trina,” his mandibles clacked together as he spoke, “I’ve heard much about you.”

“I’m afraid we can’t say the same, mister…?” Icthilos said.

“I am Talok. Administrator Talok. Aide to the Makuta, advisor to the Regent,” his already-hunched form bent further forward into a bow, “I understand you are among the leaders of this group, so I thought it prudent to introduce myself and address any questions you may have.”

Despite his poor posture, Talok seemed taller and burlier than the other Mesmers Trina had glimpsed around the arena. He was still head and shoulders taller than many of the Toa, save perhaps for Widrek and the Toa Vehi. Both his body and the ornate, angular armour he wore bore the scars of innumerable battles; this was an old being, and one who had known war.

“I have… quite a few,” Trina said, “How about you start by giving us a bit of a rundown on the chain of command here. Obviously Makuta Vhel is at the top, Rost is his Regent, but how does the rest of the hierarchy fit together?”

“I am the appointed leader of my people, just as Rost is for yours. There is also an advisory council, where your Turaga have input in our decision-making processes, as do some of the elders among my kind, and the Rahkshi representatives.”

“You have Rahkshi advisors?”

“At their final stage of evolution, some Kraata can speak and reason. They think and want just like the rest of us, and so they must be heard. There are three such Rahkshi in the council.”

It sounded utterly insane, but Trina had heard rumours of powerful talking Rahkshi in the past. If such beings existed, she supposed it was only fair that they be given seats at the table. As fair as anything could be in this mad new pecking order.

Although, the idea that there were Rahkshi involved in the city’s decision-making processes suddenly made the events of the previous evening far more worrying. Could these Rahkshi leaders prosecute the Toa for destroying the wild Rahkshi that had attacked them? Did they have that right?

“So beyond this council, where does everyone else fit in?” She asked hurriedly, not wishing to dwell on the thought.

“Your fellow Toa continue to fulfil their duties as protectors of the Matoran, while mine aid the Vahki as enforcers. The Matoran occupy the lowest tier of society, as workers.”

“And why do your lot get to lord it over the Matoran?” Icthilos asked.

“Because it is our Duty, given to us by the Great Spirit at the dawn of this universe, just as you were given yours. As you should well know, the Prime Species were ordained by Mata Nui himself to uphold law and order in the universe.”

“And they dishonoured that Duty by becoming conquerors,” Icthilos countered. “Your lot aren’t worthy to claim that Duty now.”

“By that logic, the failure of your kind to stop Teridax supplanting the Great Spirit would make you equally unworthy to continue in your role as protectors, would it not?”

Trina audibly winced. She had nothing to offer as a counter or comeback. Teridax had outwitted them all. So many heroes had made so many sacrifices, and all they’d managed to do in the end was doom the universe to darkness.

“I don’t blame you for your… narrow focus,” Talok continued, “Your Duty was only ever to protect your own people. But ours was to uphold order among all peoples, and now those who dwell in this city are all that remain. We have been denied our duty for tens of millennia, and we will not be denied any longer.”

Trina felt Icthilos’ hand take her own, a gesture that was as much for her reassurance as it was his own. She could feel him trembling slightly, though whether it was due to anger or something else, she wasn’t sure. 

“Okay, what of the city?” She asked, “Why is Le-Metru abandoned?”

“Le-Metru was deemed… wasteful. The machinery, the chute systems, it all used too much power, so it was evacuated and shut down.”

“And the Rahkshi live there now?” Trina asked.

“The Rahkshi reside in the Archives, beneath the city. They dwell there during daylight hours, and roam the streets at night.” Apparently anticipating their aghast reactions, Talok quickly continued, “There is an understanding in place. The Matoran adhere to a strict curfew, and the Rahkshi know not to trespass in any structure with doors or windows.”

Trina wanted to scoff at the idea on instinct, but a key detail from the battle on the beach stopped her short.

“They didn’t enter the boats,” Icthilos said, realising the same thing she had. “They attacked us on the beach, at the railings, even knocked down the mast, but none of them went inside.”

It was a comfort to know, but only a small one. The Rahkshi had been merciless in their attack on the Toa; Trina didn’t want to imagine what the creatures would do to any Matoran who broke curfew.

“Precisely,” Talok said. “As to your earlier question, the city has been restructured. With Matoran of more than the six prime elements present, we saw no sense in segregation. Le and Ko Metru are now abandoned, while Onu-Metru is only sparsely populated, and now used primarily for storage. The rest of the Matoran are now concentrated in the remaining Metrus. The furnace of Ta-Metru provides heating and other vital supplies for the city. Po-Metru is used for manufacturing, and Ga-Metru is the source of our food and water.”

“It sounds like there’s not much room left in this new world order for Toa.” Icthilos said.

“After what you’ve endured, is that so bad?” Talok asked, “You’ve done your Duty. You brought your lost Matoran home. You’ve earned your rest.”

“If that were true, we’d all be Turaga by now,” Trina pointed out, “We’re still here, which means our Destinies remain unfulfilled.”

“Well, of course. The people will always need their Protectors,” Talok said, starting to turn away, “I suppose only time will tell what they need protecting from.”

Trina couldn’t shake the feeling that she was already looking right at it.  

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Chapter 8 – Truth

From the notes of Chronicler Crisda.

Few beings have had one-on-one audiences with Makuta Vhel, and each of them has come back changed. Even now, the Turaga don’t understand how or why. There is no sign of Infection on their masks, no evidence of meddling in their minds, and yet they are changed. What truth lurks in the Makuta’s memory that can warp a being so completely?

Rost became joyous and jubilant. Dhozoh became more dour and withdrawn. Maliss became cold and cruel. Tuxar now consider himself to be a god.

Widrek too, returned a different man to who he was when he departed.

* * *

Pira

“How’re you holding up?” Savnu appeared at Pira’s side, making her jump slightly.

“I appreciate the check-in, but I’m not one of your brood,” Pira said, waving her hand and summoning a brief breeze to dispel the dust that had been kicked up by Savnu’s Kakama-assisted arrival, “You don’t need to Mother me.”

Savnu had been blurring about the crowd since Widrek had disappeared, speaking with some of the other Xian Toa. Ever since they’d transformed she’d taken full responsibility for them, overseeing their care and training. Due to her affectionate attitude and role in their creation, many of them had taken to calling her Mother, rather than Sister. Though Pira hadn’t been one of those transformed by Savnu’s Toa Stone gambit, she was the only other Matoran from Xia to have been turned into a Toa, so she’d often been lumped in with Savnu’s four surviving charges. While she didn’t mind having someone looking out for her, she wasn’t so big on the touchy-feely stuff. 

“Noted. But while I’m here…?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“I’m worried about him. Is that what you want to hear?” She blurted out, “Widrek hates my guts, and I’m still worried about him.”

“He’s your Brother Toa. Our strength comes from our ability to set aside our squabbles and stand together when it matters. It’s only natural to feel as you do.”

“Natural? What’s natural about any of this?”

Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed stares being directed her way by others in the crowd. Before she could send some scathing remark towards the gawkers, Savnu suddenly wrapped her in an embrace, and after a brief blur they were both standing behind the transport, out of sight and earshot from the crowd.

“Sorry about that. People are worried enough as is. Let’s not make it any worse,” Savnu said, letting her go. “You were saying?”

“I don’t know what I’m saying. I don’t know what to say to any of this!”

“For what it’s worth, you’re far from the only one feeling this way. We’re at the mercy of a situation we still don’t understand. I feel just as helpless as you do right now.”

“You don’t show it.”

“It wouldn’t help.”

“So… what? You just shut off your feelings and pretend everything doesn’t suck?”

“Nah, that’s Icthilos’ job. The sad truth of our universe is that sometimes bad things have to happen for good things to follow. The forest has to burn for new life to take root in the ashes.”

“I’ve never been one for metaphors. You got anything more tangible?”

“I keep faith in the Three Virtues. The world may have changed, but our Duty hasn’t. The fact that we’re all still here means our Destinies still lie ahead.”

“Maybe you missed the news, but the Great Spirit is dead, and so is his evil replacement. I’m pretty sure Destiny died with them.”

“How do you explain your own transformation, then? Or those of the other Matoran and Toa who changed after the Great Spirit seemingly perished?”

“Dumb luck. Happens a lot to me. I still haven’t decided if it’s good or bad.”

“It sounds like you and I believe in the same thing. Just with different names.”

The only response Pira could bring herself to offer was an ambiguous grunt. She wanted to believe there was some plan or purpose to her transformation, to everything that was happening, but all facts were to the contrary, and blind faith had never come easily to her.

“Perhaps the Great Spirit isn’t as dead as he seems,” Savnu said, “Or maybe, our Destinies are decided by some Greater Being beyond the confines of this universe. Maybe concepts like Luck and Destiny are just words we use to assign meaning to random chance.”

“Or maybe it’s all meaningless. Maybe-”

On the other side of the transport, the crowd stirred and murmured as a sound like a whirlwind swept across the arena. 

“-maybe we should go see what that’s about,” Pira finished.

In a blink, Savnu had brought her back around to join the rest of the crowd. Widrek had reappeared, and now stood in the box platform alongside Turaga Rost and the other three Toa. He still looked like himself, with no sign of Infection on his mask, but when he spoke, there was a fanatical glee in his usually-sombre voice that made him seem an entirely different man.

“My friends… I have spoken with the Makuta, shared in his memories, and he has shown me the error of our ways,” Widrek proclaimed, gesturing grandly as he spoke, “For too long, we have called ourselves the chosen people, placed our faith and praise upon a being who saw us as nothing more than cogs in his machine.”

Pira felt something twist inside her.

The Widrek she’d spoken to this morning was gone.

“I have seen the truth,” Widrek pointed at his mask, “And I tell it to you now. The Great Spirit is not dead, but exiled, trapped within the Mask Of Life and banished into the void beyond our universe. Without him, this machine we live in is breaking down, and only the labours of the Matoran can keep this universe alive until he can be recovered.”

Pira exchanged a glance with Savnu; the taller Toa’s expression indicated that she shared Pira’s scepticism, but there was also a grim kind of acceptance in her eyes. Pira understood why. Widrek – or whoever was putting words in his mouth – had just given all of the believers in the crowd cause to hope, preying on their faith to dissuade them from interfering with the new world order.

His unspoken threat was a powerful one: any disruption to the daily work of the Matoran – such as the attempt to overthrow the Makuta’s rule that many of the Toa had no-doubt already been considering – could ruin any hope for the future.

“So, is this Destiny’s design?” She asked Savnu, her tone bitter.

“I hope not.”

* * *

Icthilos

Any doubt he might have had about something nefarious unfolding behind the scenes had been swiftly dispelled by Widrek’s impassioned speech. He’d been gone less than a half-hour and his entire demeanour was different.

“What are we going to do about this?” Trina asked him, speaking softly. “And don’t you dare say nothing.”

“Nothing, for now,” he replied, not looking away from Widrek. “Round up a few Toa we trust, ones on the less… spiritual side. Get them to chat up as many of the local Matoran and Turaga as they can. We need a clear picture of what’s really going on in this city.”

“What about you?”

“I’m going to talk to the Chronicler. I figure he’ll either be the voice of free speech around here, or the propaganda orator for the new order. Either way, I’m sure I’ll learn something from him.”

“What about Mal?”

Icthilos’ gaze shifted from Widrek to the Fe-Toa standing behind him. The Brother that Icthilos had known was nearly unrecognisable; beyond his new prosthetic arm, his whole build was different, with a stooped posture and gangly proportions, enhanced all over with mechanical components, encased in jagged armour. The only consistent detail was the familiar, Kualsi-esque shape of the Mask Of Shadow Travel he wore.

It had been nearly a year since he’d seen his brother, and time had clearly taken its toll on both of them.

“If we go over there to him, he’s just going to toe the line, whether he’s bought in or not,” Icthilos said, “I think we need to wait for him to come to us, and hope he’s still himself.”

“And if he’s not?”

“We’ll find a way to help him. To help all of them.”

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 9 – Uncertainty

From the notes of Chronicler Crisda.

I thought when the Toa finally returned I’d spend weeks, maybe months, quizzing them for every detail of their expedition. Instead, I was the one who found himself being questioned.

Icthilos was the one who sought me out. He’d always been something of a leader among the Toa, even before they’d left for Xia, and that fact remained unchanged now.

Though we’d come from different islands originally, he and I had both settled in Ko-Metru, and come to know each other in passing (though I suspect I followed his exploits much more closely than he followed mine). I knew him well enough to understand that – more so than perhaps any other Toa – the conflict on Xia had been his war. And now he seemed ready to start another.

He and I spoke for some time. I told him of Makuta Vhel’s unexpected arrival, of how he and his followers had simply appeared inside the Coliseum in full force. It had been a bloodless takeover; the invaders took the Vahki offline as soon as they arrived, and four Toa and a handful of Turaga stood no chance against hundreds of Odinans and Rahkshi.

I told him of the changes the new rulers enacted within days of their arrival, of the abrupt evacuations of Le and Ko Metru, and the forceful amalgamation of the Matoran populations. I told him of how Order Of Mata Nui members in the city had been rounded up, and never seen again. After that had come the Rahkshi curfew, the restriction of recreation, and the increased work quotas. And after that had come the attempted rebellion.

Icthilos seemed unsurprised when I told him of its grim outcome. 

Eventually, Icthilos’ questions turned to his Brother Maliss, though I fear the answers I gave were not the ones he was hoping for.

For the first hour or so of our conversation, Icthilos was clearly sceptical and suspicious, no doubt wondering if I’d been swayed to the Makuta’s side like so many others. But the longer we spoke, the more his apprehension abated, until at last he was willing to allow me to ask some questions of my own. He told me of the battles on Xia, describing it as a gruelling guerrilla war of temporary alliances and betrayals as Toa, Dark Hunters, Skakdi, and Vortixx all vied for control over advantageous terrain and vital resources. He told me of the liberation of the slaves, and the retreat that followed, the Toa and Matoran fleeing the city while the other forces were left to tear each other apart.

And when his tale was done, he showed me a simple stone tablet. It was inscribed with names, some I recognised, some I didn’t, but I didn’t need to know them all to understand what it was… what it meant to him.

He asked me to write down their names, and make sure they were remembered.

I promised him I would.

* * *

Vhalem

It was somewhere past noon when Vhalem regrouped with Trina, Savnu, Keidal, and Icthilos. At Trina’s request, he’d had conversations with several of Metru Nui’s Turaga, approaching them under the guise of seeking advice about his Toa transformation, before slowly steering the conversation towards the status of the city and the nature of its new rulers.

Savnu and Pira, as well as Trina herself, had been having similar conversations with some of the other local Turaga and Matoran who were here offering aid, while Icthilos had been doing the same with the city’s Chronicler. All of the accounts they’d collected concurred on the key details, and it all painted a grim picture of daily life in Metru Nui.

“We have to do something about this, right?” He urged. “This is… inhumane.”

“It’s pragmatic and oppressive, but-” Icthilos sighed, “-I don’t want to be the one playing Piraka’s advocate, but so far the way Vhel is running things isn’t that different to how Metru Nui or even Xia were run before.”

“And I came here because I was told this place would be better than Xia,” Vhalem said softly, “You promised all of us a better life.”

He knew it wasn’t fair to lash out at Icthilos of all people for this, but he also didn’t really care right now. This wasn’t the future any of them had fought for.

“You have light,” Icthilos jabbed a finger towards the sky, “You’re free. This is better.”

“All recreational activities, religious ceremonies, and social gatherings cancelled. Increased work quotas and no days off or downtime, even though the city is using less power with the chutes offline. All these people do is labour, day after day, with barely any breaks. The only difference between this city and Xia is that these Matoran don’t sleep at their workstations.”

“What do you want me to say, Vhalem?” Icthilos snapped. “It’s awful, but even if everything else Vhel said about the universe is lies, we do need heat and power to keep everyone in this city alive, and those things do require the Matoran to work.”

“Nah, it doesn’t add up,” Savnu interjected, “With all of the refugees that came in, there were more Matoran around than workstations that needed filling. The Matoran were doing enough work to keep the city going before we left, and that was with the chutes online, and break days. But Vhel is working them all even harder now.”

“So it begs the question, where is all of the extra power going?” Trina asked. “It certainly wasn’t lighting up Xia or Zakaz or anywhere else in the universe, at least not as far as we could tell when we were still out there.”

“I don’t have the answers,” Icthilos shrugged, “Maybe you should ask Talok, or Orane whenever he gets around to returning his body.”

“What about the people who’ve gone missing?” Keidal spoke up. “There used to be Av-Matoran here who escaped Karda Nui, but no one’s seen any of them in weeks.”

“Apparently the Order Of Mata Nui members who were in the city were also rounded up,” Icthilos added.

“I have another question,” Vhalem said, “You guys told me that you sent four Toa back to Metru Nui, right? But I only saw three up there with that Rost guy.”

“Yayle. A Su-Toa,” Trina said, “I asked around, no one seemed to know anything.”

Vhalem noticed Icthilos’ gaze shift abruptly downwards, as if he found himself suddenly unwilling to meet anyone else’s eyes. Before Vhalem could pry, Savnu spoke up.

“No one seemed willing to say anything is more like it,” she said, “I asked after him as well, and a few Turaga that I haven’t seen around yet. The fact that they won’t say says it all, I reckon.”

“Couldn’t Bihriis get us a clear answer?” Vhalem asked, “Where is she?”

“Attempting to get answers out of Widrek.”

“I don’t think we’re going to get any more answers out here,” Icthilos said, appearing back to his normal self, “Not with the Vahki and Mesmers around, and not this close to the Coliseum; we don’t know the effective range of a Makuta’s mind reading.”

“That’s assuming there even is a Makuta,” Savnu said.

“I’m no expert, but what we heard seemed pretty convincing,” Vhalem spoke up. “That… felt like a Makuta. That aura… that presence… I don’t know how else to put it.”

Makuta Vhel seemed far more intent on secrecy and theatrics than the Makuta of Xia had been. Antroz had always been very direct and straightforward, appearing in public to make proclamations rather than relying on emissaries. It hadn’t been uncommon to see him roaring around the streets on his Destral Cycle some days. By Makuta standards, he’d been quite down-to-earth, albeit not in a friendly sense. But still, on those rare occasions were Vhalem had found himself close enough to the Makuta to see and hear him clearly, he’d felt what he’d felt today when Vhel’s voice had issued from the speakers. A sense of smallness, an awareness of how powerless he was in the presence of this alien demigod.

“You said the same thing during Vhel’s speech earlier,” Trina turned to Savnu, “You really think the Mesmers are somehow faking a Makuta?”

“That’s impossible.” Vhalem said firmly.

“There were a lot of things I once thought impossible, Vhalem,” Savnu said, “But on Xia I saw Kanohi, weapons, and powers I’d never dreamed of before. We know these Mesmers can hypnotise people, we know they can wear Kanohi, we know they had the tech and tactics to conquer the universe once before, and they’ve had tens of thousands of years to develop since then. I reckon enough of ‘em working together could pull off just about anything.”

“And this story about the universe being a machine?” Vhalem asked, “I don’t know this city and its history as well as the rest of you, but I saw the way the story rattled you all. There’s something to it, isn’t there?”

“A fiction forged around cherry-picked facts,” Savnu said firmly, “The idea of a Makuta gives people something to fear, but no one can rule for long through fear alone. So they came up with this ridiculous story to give everyone something to hope for. We need to act now, and bring this farce to an end before anyone else gets swayed to their side.”

“I know consequences are usually an afterthought to you-” Icthilos growled, “-but we can’t dismiss any of this out of hand. If there’s truth to any of it we can’t risk acting rashly.”

“Icthilos, please-” Trina said gently.

“Nah, I want to hear what he has to say,” Savnu snapped, waving dismissively in her direction, “Go ahead, Icthilos. Tell me how I’m the rash one, when it was your reckless need for revenge that landed us all on Xia in the first place!”

“You sounded enthusiastic enough at the time.”

“The difference between us is that I regret it.”

“You truly think I don’t?”

“You don’t show it.”

“Neither do you.”

Vhalem slowly stepped away from the group, a cold knife of guilt twisting within him. He’d pushed them to this, his own anger fuelling the fires of their deeper, darker sorrows and resentments. So much for unity…

He turned his back on the bickering group and started wandering back towards the transports. Icthilos was right; they needed to understand the consequences before they started another conflict. Savnu was right; they needed to take action before more Toa like Widrek switched sides.

There was no right way.

“Looks like Mother and Father are having their first fight,” Pira appeared out of the crowd, falling into step beside him, “And in front of the kids, too.”

“Can you just… not, right now?” Vhalem grumbled. “Where have you been, anyway?”

“After Savnu headed back to give her report, I decided to keep chatting with the Turaga.”

“And?”

“And I think I know what’s wrong with the sick Toa.”

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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