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Web Serials Archive

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Author Topic: Web Serials Archive  (Read 716 times)
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« on: September 04, 2008, 01:19:44 pm »

You will find all of the web serials you need here!
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« Reply #1 on: September 04, 2008, 01:21:57 pm »

Follow Takanuva and the Toa Nuva we all know and love into the Swamp of Shadows!

1 July
My name is Takanuva, Toa of Light. For the past - day? month? year? - I have been traveling through other dimensions trying to find my way to Karda Nui. I was sent on my journey by the Order of Mata Nui, who gave me vital information I must share with the Toa Nuva. Unfortunately, the mask whose power hurled me into the space between dimensions was damaged, so the trip has been a rough one. Hopefully, my next stop will be my own universe.

3 July
I see a point of light in the distance. After three wrong destinations, I can only wish that this is Karda Nui. Fighting the currents of interdimensional space, I make for the spot. It is a portal opening to another reality. Desperately, I dive for it. On the other side, I land hard on a small island of mud. All around me is murky water and weird plant life. Have I found Karda Nui, the core of the universe, or simply another strange world not my own?

7 July
I am in a swamp, surrounded by mist. Now and then, I spot a fin or a tentacle break the surface of the muddy water, but I don't see many other Rahi around. Am I where I am supposed to be? Using my new power of flight, I rise into the air. That's when I spot her - a Toa of Water, being menaced by a pale-white, skeletal monstrosity. I don't know if that's Gali or not, but I know a Toa in danger when I see one. Let's see if I can shed a little light on this with my power lance!

10 July
A burst of light made the creature menacing my fellow Toa stop and take notice. I expected it to attack, or scream out its rage, or do something else I wouldn't enjoy at all. Instead, the look on its face was almost one of ... sadness and resignation. Almost as if it knew that I, or someone like me, was coming, but had hoped against hope I wouldn't show up. Then it drifted down through the mud like a spirit and vanished. Wherever I am ... this is a very strange place.

14 July
Using my newfound ability to fly (the result of a Makuta virus I was exposed to in an alternate universe), I traveled to where the Toa was just getting to her feet. As I got closer, I realized that despite the differences in her appearance, it was Gali. And despite how I looked, she recognized me. "What are you doing here?" she asked, even as I said "Are you all right?" I told her it was a long, long story, and there wasn't time to tell it. We had to find the others - they had to know how much danger they were in!

17 July
Gali looked at me as if she were just seeing me for the first time. "What happened to you?" she asked. "Your armor ... your mask ... and is it me, or have you grown bigger?" The darkening of my armor and mask I already knew about. It was a side-effect of the shadow leech attack on Metru Nui. But I had grown in size? Yes, I guess I had, though I had no idea why. What did it mean? Would it stop, or would I keep growing larger? A Turaga might know the answers, but there were none around. Like far too many situations I had been in lately, I would have to learn as I went.

21 July
Gali was ready to head off in search of the other Toa Nuva, but I had something I felt I had to do first. I umlimbered the sundial I carried with me and placed it on the muddy ground. I shone a beam of light on its face and the shadow that resulted pointed to the east. "Okay, so I keep going that way," I said. Gali looked at me, confused. "Is that the sundial Lewa retrieved from the island of Mata Nui? How did it get so small? And what are you using it for?" Those, at least, were questions I could answer.

24 July
"You know of the Order of Mata Nui," I said to Gali. "They told me you did. They shrunk the sundial down and gave it to me. When I shine light upon it, it points toward the spot from which the Great Spirit can be awakened." Gali looked at me as if I had grown two more heads ... which, the way things were going, I would have believed. She was about to ask me if I was quite sure I was okay when we both spotted a gleam of orange off to the east. It was closing on us rapidly, and the dark side of me urged me to prepare to attack. It was getting harder and harder to resist those impulses - and maybe in this case they were right. After all, I didn't know any orange Toa ...

28 July
I was ready for anything as the orange figure approached, flying at impossibly high speed. Gali, though, look undisturbed by the new arrival. She placed a hand on my arm, a signal that all was well. And it turned out the new arrival was Pohatu, though he did not look much like the Toa of Stone I remembered.

He looked me up and down for a moment, before saying, "I can't say I think much of the color change."

"You should talk," I replied. "You're orange."

"Yeah, but I wear it well," said Pohatu, with a grin.

31 July
Pohatu, Gali and I flew to the east, toward where my two friends said the other Toa Nuva could be found. Along the way, they brought me up to date on what had been happening – their arrival in Karda Nui, the discovery of the Makuta here, and the revelation that they had been turning Matoran of Light into shadow Matoran. That last sickened me. I knew now that I must have been a Matoran of Light in the past, though those memories were blocked. I probably worked alongside some of the Matoran the Makuta had corrupted. They might have even been good friends. Right then and there, I swore that no matter what – even if it meant Mata Nui stayed asleep, even at the cost of my own life – I would see to it that the shadow Matoran were cured.

4 August
We had only been flying a few minutes when Gali spotted something down below. A moment later, so did I - half a dozen insectoids, each about seven feet high, flying close to the surface of the swamp. Each had four arms with nasty stingers on the ends. "What are they?" I asked.

"I heard them called Niazesk," answered Pohatu. "Some little pets of the Makuta who got transformed somehow into big pests you see. Better off staying away from them, they're --"

An angry buzz interrupted him. The Niazesk spotted us and were coming in our direction!

7 August
"We don't have time for this," growled Pohatu. He used his power to hurl stone blocks down at the approaching Niazesk. But they were good flyers and evaded his attack. Gali took down one with a water burst, but they were closing fast. I didn't need to be told that sting from one of them would do more than itch. I started to lower my lance to use a light blast against them ... but then I thought, what if it isn't powerful enough? What if one or two get through and Pohatu or Gali gets harmed? I made my decision ... and raised my right arm to call upon the power of shadow.

11 August
I unleashed a blast of pure darkness at the oncoming Niazesk. It struck them like a solid wall. They spun, reeled, and then plunged down into the swamp. I turned to Pohatu and Gali, expecting to get congratulations for winning the fight. Instead, what I saw in their eyes was fear.

"What ... was ... that?" asked Pohatu. And he was actually aiming his weapon at me as he said it!

"There have been some ... changes," I answered.

"So I see," said Pohatu. "I wondered where the Makuta of Metru Nui was still alive, and if so, where he had got to - I guess now I know, don't I?"

14 August
"Are you crazy?" I said, staring at Pohatu. "You think I'm a Makuta?"

"Well, you don't look much like a Toa of Light," The Toa of Stone replied, his weapon still aimed at me. "And we've all been fooled by Makuta before."

Gali looked from Pohatu to me. Even she was showing some doubt now - and who could blame her? I had grown in size and my armor color had changed from white and gold to white and grey. Frankly, if I had been a Makuta trying to impersonate a Toa of Light, I'd be doing a really lousy job.

I wracked my brain trying to come up with some way to prove I was me (try it sometime, it's not easy). I could use my light powers, but Pohatu might just think that was just a Makuta illusion. I could use my mask power to promote trust in him, but I had a feeling the second he felt a shift in mood, he would blast away.

"If you're really Takanuva, then I'm sorry," said Pohatu. "But if you're not, then all our lives aren't worth a widget. So I'm giving you to the count of 10 to tell me why I shouldn't skyblast you out of existence. 1... 2... 3..."

18 August
"6 ... 7 ... 8 ... 9 ..."

"What's a Toa?" I suddenly shouted.

Pohatu paused in his countdown and looked at me, puzzled. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"The first time you woke up on Daxia," I said, the words tumbling out of my mouth in my haste. "You were told you were a Toa, and your response was, 'What's a Toa?' There were no Makuta there, so how could one know about that?"

"There's only one problem," said Pohatu. "You weren't there either."

"But I saw it," I insisted. "I saw your creation, your training, I saw the team fighting avohkah here, and I saw the storm ... that's why I'm here."

An idea struck me. I turned to Gali. "Remember, last year, when I was still Takua the Chronicler? You forged a mental link with me so I could see what you saw when you fought Makuta. Do you think you can do it again?"

"I ... I don't know," said Gali.

"Don't do it," said Pohatu. "Makuta would just love to get inside your head."

"She has to," I said. "It's the only way. She has to look inside my mind, and if she doesn't like what she sees ... you can kill me dead, right here."

21 August
Toa Gali shut her eyes. After a few moments, I felt the unique sensation of her mind reaching into mine. For an instant, I could see myself through her eyes (which was pretty disturbing - even I hadn't realized how much I had changed). Then I felt the link snap as she pulled away. Pohatu reached out and grabbed her to keep her from falling.

"Amazing," she said softly. "A place where Mata Nui died ... another where the Toa rule as dictators ... your journey here was ... eventful, Takanuva"

"Then he is --?" asked Pohatu.

"He is," confirmed Gali. "Darker, perhaps, and not quite the innocent Takua or the eager hero we remember ... but he is our friend."

"What's the situation here?" I asked.

Pohatu pointed towards the east. "The Makuta are putting up a good fight, but we're holding our own. We'll have Mata Nui awake again before you know it!"

"That," I said, taking to the sky, "is what I am afraid of."

25 August
Pohatu had just brought up the fact that even he didn't recall the story I had told of his early adventures when we arrived in the midst of a full-scale battle. The Toa Nuva were fighting a group of Makuta I had never seen before. Pohatu and Gali split off to attack from the flanks, while I rammed right up the middle. If my appearance took the Nuva by surprise, it seemed to do even more than that to the Makuta. My light powers tipped the balance and the masters of shadow retreated to the east.

Tahu wasted no time on welcoming me. He produced six fragments of stone and asked us all to read them. They contained, he said, the secret to awakening the Great Spirit. I really wished I could share in the moment ... so close to achieving their destiny ... but the time had come to tell what I knew.

28 August
I was about to speak up when someone new arrived - yet another Toa, though the others seemed a little wary of him. When he spoke, it sounded like he had just learned to use his voice. He related a stunning story. Apparently, he wasn't just wearing the Mask of Life - he was the Mask of Life. Worse, he was a Mask of Life on a countdown to the annihilation of every living being in the universe ... something about things being out of balance and this the only way to make things right.

I gave the others a moment to absorb the news. Then it was my turn to add a little more cheer to the gathering. "We have another problem," I said. "If we succeed in waking up the Great Spirit, this place is going to be hit with an energy storm that will destroy everything in Karda Nui!"

1 September
I expected shock or anger or even panic at my news. I should have known better. "Then we'll just have to move fast," said Tahu. "We need to get into the Codrex. So we hit the Makuta hard and hope some of us make it inside. This may be our only shot at this."

I didn't have time to ask what a Codrex was before we were in the air and in combat with the Makuta. Lewa and Gali combined their powers to call down a raging thunderstorm while I struck with my light powers. The Makuta started to give way, and that's when I saw it through the mist - a great spherical structure, half-buried in the tip of a fallen stalactite, and looking like it had been here forever and was at the same time totally alien to this place. That, I realized, was a Codrex.

4 September
We forced our way inside the Codrex, using the keystones to get us past a force barrier around it. Once inside, the Toa stopped short. This place, they realized, was where they had been for almost 100,000 years, sleeping in their canisters, waiting for the time they would be needed. I noticed that Tahu looked uncomfortable, but having only been a Toa such a short time, I didn't feel right asking him what was wrong.

Onua started examining some of the machinery in the chamber. He must have hit something, because the floor in the center of the room started to descend. Curious, we peered down into the darkness to see what waited below ...

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« Reply #2 on: September 04, 2008, 01:24:24 pm »

Mazeka and Vultaz fight it out over a semi-hot cup of coffee, while more... powerfull beings watch.

-=Chapter 1=-
Five years ago...

Mazeka dove aside even as the acid blade slashed through the air where he had been standing. He could hear the angry hiss of centuries-old rock dissolving where the sword had brushed against it. A step slower and that would have been his armor.

He hit the ground and rolled, ending up back on his feet with dagger at the ready. Vultraz twirled the blade over his head, smiling. "You knew it had to come down to this, didn't you?" said the crimson-armored Matoran. "Just the two of us, mask to mask."

"This isn't one of your epic fables," Mazeka replied. "You're a thief and a murderer, Vultraz. You killed an entire village of Matoran who never did a thing to you."

"Except have something I wanted – an intact lava-gem, a rare find on the Tren Krom Peninsula," Vultraz replied. "They didn't want to give it up... thought it appeased the volcano or some such thing, kept it from erupting... a few well-timed explosions and one sea of lava later, and they found out how wrong they were."

Mazeka lunged. Vultraz sidestepped and hit his foe with the flat of his blade, burning an impression of the weapon into his armor. Mazeka stumbled toward the edge of the cliff and caught himself just in time. The entire mountain slope was lined with razor crystals, sharp enough to shred armor and tissue into ribbons.

"How many times do we have to do this?" said Vultraz. "When are you going to realize that you're not a Toa... just some crazy villager who thinks he has to risk his neck fighting the bad guys? Go home, Mazeka. Go back to your little life, before you force me to end it."

Mazeka scrambled to his feet, his back to the cliff. Vultraz was right – he was just a Matoran, with no elemental or mask power. Of course, Vultraz was too, but his old enemy had years of experience at lying, cheating and killing. Up until a few years past, Mazeka had just been a scholar trying to solve the mysteries of the universe. That was before Vultraz killed his mentor and stole valuable tablets containing the results of years of research. The two had clashed many times since then, but the tablets had never been found.

"Put down your weapon, old friend, and walk away," said Vultraz.

"We were never friends!" spat Mazeka.

"Sure, we were," Vultraz grinned. "All those happy years toiling away in our backward little village, trying not to attract Makuta Gorast's attention. I was just the more ambitious of the two of us. I got out.'

"And you've been running ever since," said Mazeka. "Time for it to stop, before you run into something even you can't handle."

Vultraz charged, swinging his blade... but not at Mazeka. Instead, he sliced away at the piece of rock upon which his enemy stood. It disintegrated before the acid and fell away. Mazeka fell, too, grabbing onto the ledge and hanging suspended over the razor crystals.

"I really don't want to kill you," Vultraz said quietly. "You're a link to my past... a reminder of all the things I avoided becoming. But you keep getting in my way, and I can't have that."

Vultraz lifted the blade over his head and brought it down. Mazeka swung to the side, letting go of the ledge with one hand, and used his momentum to carry his legs up. He kicked Vultraz in the side even as that Matoran's attack was carrying him forward. The combination sent Vultraz over the edge of the cliff. He never screamed all the long way down.

Mazeka looked down and cursed. It was impossible to spot Vultraz's body so far below, but that was a mercy, in a way. Sliding hundreds of feet down razor crystals would leave precious little to see. He concentrated on trying to climb back up to safety before he joined his enemy in death.

A hand shod in ocean blue armor grabbed his wrist and pulled him up. It belonged to a warrior Mazeka had never seen before. She carried a chain mace and a shield and looked powerful enough to down a Takea shark with one blow. She wasn't a Toa, he was almost certain, but he had no idea who she might be.

"I'm a... friend," the newcomer said. "Never mind my name. I saw what happened here. You are very brave, Matoran."

Mazeka shook his head. "Not brave. Lucky. And not even that... he died before telling me what I needed to know. Now I have to return to my village and submit myself to the justice of my people."

The warrior shook her head. "Don't fear. You did them a service and will be rewarded... and who knows who else you may have helped today?"

Mazeka didn't answer, just walked away with his head down. The warrior watched him go. When he was almost out of sight, the face and form of his rescuer began to shimmer and change. In a moment, the mighty warrior had been replaced by Makuta Gorast. She looked at Mazeka, then glanced over the cliff.

"Yes, little hero," she said, smiling wickedly. "Who knows, indeed?"

-=Chapter 2=-
Five years ago...

Sometimes, a being does something so completely unexpected, so totally surprising, that it shocks even them. On this day, that being was Vultraz – and what he did was wake up.

After falling off a cliff, Vultraz fully expected to be very dead. Instead, he was lying on a slab in a darkened chamber, being tended to by... well, they were Rahi of some kind, and he preferred not to know just what type or why they were prodding him. He wondered if he had somehow survived the fall, only to be dragged off by wild animals as an evening snack.

He tried to move, thinking maybe he could make a quick escape. But his arms and legs were tied down with some kind of vines. These were either really intelligent Rahi, or else there was someone else involved.

That someone else chose that moment to walk in. Vultraz gasped. He had only caught a fleeting glimpse of her a few times, but he knew Makuta Gorast just the same. He tried to pretend he was still unconscious, even though he knew it would not fool her.

"I can read your thoughts," the Makuta hissed. "And your fear, little Matoran. But you have nothing to be afraid of... you are safe here."

If he had dared, Vultraz would have laughed. No one knew what happened to Matoran who wound up in Gorast's clutches, but there were plenty of rumors. Each of them was worse than the last and some were downright revolting. Vultraz had done some pretty bad things in his life, but he was a cuddle-Rahi next to Gorast.

"If that were true, I would have let you fall, instead of having Rahi there to save you," Gorast said. "True, you were damaged... badly... but you survived."

"Why...?" Vultraz stopped. His voice did not sound like his voice. He looked down at his hands – the armor on them was completely different. What had happened here? What had she done?

"You are well known on the peninsula," Gorast replied, once again reading his thoughts. "Too well known for my purposes. But your enemy is busy spreading the word of your death, and the changes I have made will insure no one will recognize you."

"Just... just what is it you want me to do?" Vultraz asked, already knowing he wouldn't like the answer.

"I want you to find a Matoran for me," said Gorast. "A Matoran named Krakua... and when you find him, here is what I want you to do..."


Mazeka returned to his village, bringing word of Vultraz's fatal fall. Some greeted him as a hero, though he did not feel like one. He had failed to regain what Vultraz had stolen, failed to capture him – and while the Ta-Matoran's death brought his evil to an end, it was still not something he could bring himself to celebrate.

He was seated alone in his hut that night when someone rapped on the door. When he opened it, there was no one there. Annoyed, he slammed the door and went back to his sleep mat. It was then that he noticed the chair in the center of the room had moved out of position. He went to move it back to where it was, and found he couldn't – it was as if it were rooted to the ground.

"I wouldn't do that," said a deep, rasping voice. "You're only going to hurt yourself."

Mazeka jumped back a good four feet. There was no one else in the room, but someone was talking to him. He grabbed a weapon and spun around. "Who's here? Show yourself!"

"Ah, if only I could," the voice replied. "Unfortunately, not every experiment has happy results. By the way, the only thing you will get from spinning is dizzy. I am in the chair."

"Who are you?" demanded Mazeka, half-convinced he was just hallucinating the whole thing.

"My name is Jerbraz, once one of the most handsome and dashing members of my little circle of friends... that is, back when I could be seen. Now I have to rely on my charm alone to make an impression... that and this nasty sword that conveniently turned invisible with me. If you see someone's head just suddenly go flying off for no reason, it's not your imagination."

Mazeka backed up against the wall, trying to get as far from the chair as he could. "Is that why you're here? To kill me? But I've done nothing to you."

“No," Jerbraz replied. The chair moved back, as if he had risen and pushed it away. "But you did do something quite permanent to a foul little fellow named Vultraz. And the people I work for appreciate that kind of initiative. We want to hire you."

"Who do you work for?" asked Mazeka, still not fully willing to accept the reality of invisible beings offering jobs.

"If I told you, and you declined the offer, I would have to... well, you know. So I guess you will just have to accept or reject..." Jerbraz gave a low chuckle. "...Sight unseen."

"Then can you tell me what the job is?" said Mazeka.

"Yes," replied Jerbraz. Mazeka could tell his visitor was standing right beside him now. An instant later, he felt an invisible hand resting on his shoulder. "It's stopping people like Vultraz – there are more of them than you might think – and protecting their would-be victims. Specifically, to start with, one potential target – a Matoran named Krakua."

Mazeka thought about Vultraz, all the evil things he had done, all the people he had harmed. If there were others out there like him, stealing and killing and ruining lives, how could he turn down a chance to stop them?

"All right," said the Matoran. "As long as I don't have to turn invisible too... I'm in. Just tell me what I have to do..."
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« Reply #3 on: September 04, 2008, 01:26:06 pm »

The newly returned Toa Hagah go find someone. Big deal.

-=Chapter 1=-
Toa Bomonga tightened his headlock on the Tahtorak and tried to wrestle the beast to the ground. Bomonga's Mask of Growth allowed him to reach almost the size of the creature, but he could not match the Tahtorak in sheer strength. Still, he knew a few things about leverage and pressure points that the Rahi did not.

With a roar, the Tahtorak lost its footing and slammed hard into the ground of Xia. What was left of the island city trembled from the impact. "Now stay down," Bomonga growled, even as Toa Pouks used his power to create bonds of solid stone for the monster.

After a long battle, the Tahtorak had battered the Kanohi Dragon enough that Toa Norik's spinners had been able to slow it down, while Toa Kualus' ice attack finished it off. It now lay unconscious, sprawled across much of the southern district of the city. Toa Iruini had taken the advice of a Vortixx and made sure to move the creature's leg away from The Mountain, so it wouldn't end up a big snack for that hungry landmark.

Only Toa Gaaki stood off to the side, her eyes fixed on the ocean but unseeing. The Toa Hagah had seen her like this before. She was focused inward, using the power of her Mask of Clairvoyance to see things they could not. Now she stiffened, cried out, and turned toward the others.

"They're coming," she said. "Hundreds of them."

"Hundreds of who?" asked Iruini. He considered Gaaki a good friend, but her vague predictions did have a way of getting on his nerves at times.

"Seekers of shadows," Gaaki muttered. "Slayers of the dark ... ready for war ... Vortixx cannot stand ..."

Norik walked up beside her and gently eased Gaaki to a seat on a rock. He knelt in front of her and talked to her in a whisper. Now and then she would nod her head. After a few minutes, he gestured to Kualus.

Although the Toa of Ice was no longer a Rahaga, he had not lost his bond with flying Rahi or his ability to communicate with them. Now he signaled to a smoke hawk up above and spoke rapidly in a language none of the others understood. A moment later, the hawk flew off to the west.

"How is she?" Pouks asked Norik.

"It's been a long time since she used her power," answered the Toa Hagah of Fire. "Or, rather, since it used her. It's never easy."

"What she said – seekers of shadows – what do you think it means?"

"Isn't it obvious?" asked Bomonga, shrinking down to his normal height. "Seekers of shadows – Dark Hunters."

The smoke hawk picked that moment to return, flying in tight circles above the island and cawing loudly. Kualus nodded twice and rushed over to his fellow Toa.

"Bomonga is right, from the sound of it," he said. "My winged ally sees ships coming, so many they blot out the waves. And the crews are armed, my friends ... it's a battle fleet."

Iruini had climbed up the top of one of the few spires still standing in the city. "Score one for the birdie," he yelled down. "We have company. I'm going to check them out!"

"Iruini, wait --" began Norik.

"Wait for what?" the Toa of Air said, smiling. "I spent thousands of years as a Rahaga – now I'm back in action, and I love it!"

An instant later, the Toa of Air used his Mask of Quick Travel to teleport from the spire to the flagship of the oncoming fleet. He found himself standing on the deck, facing two powerful looking figures. A handful of armed warriors immediately moved to surround him.

"Who are you?" asked Iruini. "What's your business in these waters?"

"My business?" asked one of the figures. "My business is profit, and that profit has been strangled for too long. And who are you?"

"I am Toa Iruini. My friends and I have just completed a mission on Vortixx. That island was half-levelled in the process, and let me guess – you're here to level the other half."

"My name is The Shadowed One," came the reply, "leader of the Dark Hunters. Standing beside me is my loyal lieutenant, Ancient. Standing in front of me is a very foolish Toa if he thinks he can get between me and my goal."

Iruini ignored the jab. "If you're looking to loot Xia, there's precious little left to steal."

"Loot?" repeated The Shadowed One, in mock surprise. "Steal? How little you think of me. Would I muster a fleet for petty thievery? No, Toa, I have made a bargain this day with a power I never knew existed – and my new allies have asked to me to insure that Xia provides no more weapons to the enemy. They wish me to blockade or occupy the island, but I do not believe in half-measures."

The Shadowed One smiled, an expression as cold as one of Kualus' ice blasts. "So I am going to destroy Xia, and every last living thing on it. And if your friends are unfortunate enough to be there when I arrive ... well, perhaps I will be merciful, and leave enough of them to bury."

Iruini raised his Cyclone Spear. Weapons were suddenly aimed at him from a dozen different directions.

"This is my war," The Shadowed One said softly, "and welcome to it."

-=Chapter 2=-
At times like this, Iruini looked back fondly on his days as a Rahaga. It wasn't so bad, being short and twisted and spending all your time chasing after Brakas monkeys. At least you didn't have to stand on rolling decks, staring at the crazed leader of the Dark Hunters as he prepared to slaughter an entire island full of ... well, not so innocent Vortixx.

"You know I can't let you do this," Toa Iruini said.

"I know you can't stop me," The Shadowed One replied, smiling. "My new partner suggested I occupy Xia but I must have misheard. I could have sworn she said 'destroy.'"

Iruini was about to make a smart comeback when the seas started to churn and heave. The next moment, a tidal wave big enough to swamp the entire Dark Hunter fleet rose from the ocean depths. It towered hundreds of feet in the air ... and just stayed there, looming over the ships like the shadow of doom.

"Is that enough water to clean out your ears?"

Iruini turned. Standing on the bow of the ship was a Toa of Water he did not recognize, carrying a spiked mace and a shield. She was flanked by a warrior in golden armor and a four-armed giant with two long horns coming out of his head. He alone was heavy enough to almost swamp the ship. He carried a multi-bladed axe and a small object covered in a cloth.

The female Toa stepped down to the deck and marched up to The Shadowed One. Although he was taller than she, her bearing made her seem to dominate everyone on board.

"I hired the Dark Hunters for a simple task," she said, her voice as quiet as a dying breath. "If you can't do it ..." She held the mace aloft. The tidal wave suddenly rushed forward toward the ships, almost colliding with the flagship. It stopped dead again as she lowered her weapon.

"I'll find someone who can," she finished.

Iruini looked from the Toa to the obviously concerned Shadowed One, and back again. "Nice," he said. "What do you do for an encore?"

The Toa nodded and the golden warrior vanished. He reappeared an instant later with the other five Toa Hagah in tow. They arrived to see The Shadowed One in intense whispered conversation with the Toa of Water. It ended when the Toa blasted three nearby Dark Hunters into the sea as casually as someone else might swat a gnat. Then she turned to the assembled Toa Hagah.

"Ah. Good," she said. "I have a mission for the six of you."

"Wait a minute!" snapped Norik. "Who are you? What's going on here?"

"And we don't take requests from anybody wearing a mask," said Kualus. Then he turned to Norik and added, "Do we?"

Norik shook his head.

"My name is Helryx," said the Toa of Water. "I run an organization you never heard of called the Order of Mata Nui. We are at war – and you've just been drafted."

"And if we say no?" asked Toa Bomonga.

Helryx gave a slight smile. Her eyes darted toward the ocean off the starboard side, where the three Dark Hunters were desperately trying to tread water. Then she looked back at the Toa Hagah. "Yes, you don't take requests, as I understand it – good thing I'm not making one."

"What is it you want us to do?" asked Toa Pouks. Seeing Iruini's glare, he said, "Well, it doesn't hurt to ask."

Helryx took a few steps closer and lowered her voice so the Dark Hunters could not overhear. "We are mounting an attack on the Brotherhood of Makuta, but their leader eludes us. Our best information is that he was last known to be inside a Maxilos robot near Mahri Nui, but where he may have gone to since then is unknown. We need Makuta Teridax found."

"Why us?" asked Iruini.

"You've fought him before. You've beaten him before," Helryx replied.

"And we all remember how well that turned out," muttered Iruini.

Helryx ignored him. "If I am right, Teridax has gone somewhere no one else has ever dared to venture. Left free, he could do untold damage."

"And just how are we supposed to track him down?" asked Bomonga. "Knock on the doors at Destral and ask if he can come out to play?"

Helryx chuckled. "There may not be doors left to knock on soon ... but that's another story. You will have a guide – someone who has generously offered to work with you in exchange for his freedom."

The four-armed giant took a step forward, and at first they thought Helryx meant him. But instead he took the cloth off the object he carried, which was revealed to be a globe filled with water, and something else ... what looked like a green sea snake with hate-filled crimson eyes.

"His name is Zaktan," said Helryx. "He's not as friendly as he looks. If he acts up, just haul him out of the tank and let him gasp for air a few times. That's what I always do. And now I think it's time you got started."

The Toa Hagah looked at each other. One by one, each of them nodded ... all except Gaaki. She was backing away, shaking her head, hands up to the sides of her mask. "Death," she whispered. "All around ... we are going to place of death ... and one of us will not return!"

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« Reply #4 on: September 04, 2008, 01:29:06 pm »

People killing each other, two great forces fighting for... Err... What are they fighting for again?

-=Chapter 1=-
Axonn charged across the landscape of Voya Nui, weapon at the ready. He had just spied two figures materializing in The Green Belt. One looked something like Botar, but obviously wasn't. The other resembled a Toa, but wasn't one Axonn knew. The first thing he had learned after being assigned to this place was subdue first, ask questions later.

The Botar look-alike spotted Axonn first, and tried to block him. A sweep of an armored fist sent him sprawling. Axonn was on top of the Toa in the flash of a heartlight, axe blade at the intruder's throat.

"Who are you?" growled Axonn. "What do you want here? Talk!"

"My name is Krakua," the Toa answered, trying in vain to push the axe away from his neck. "I was sent to find you. You're needed."

"Who sent you?" asked Axonn.

"Toa Helryx. Use your mask, you'll see I'm speaking the truth."

Axonn did just that, calling on the powers of his Kanohi Rode, the Mask of Truth. To his surprise, it told him that his captive was indeed being honest. He got up and let Krakua get to his feet. "You're Order of Mata Nui, then," Axonn said. "I see recruiting standards have slipped a little."

Krakua paid no attention to the remark. Instead, he said "Come with us. Your presence is required on Daxia."

Before Axonn could object, the Botar type had come close and activated his teleportation power. The three of them vanished from Voya Nui, only to reappear in the Order of Mata Nui fortress on Daxia. Axonn had been there before, so its appearance was no surprise to him. The sight of his former partner, Brutaka, was, though. Not to mention the huge dragon next to him whose bulk almost filled up the great hall.

"Things must be desperate if they're calling on an old war Rahi like you," Brutaka said with a smile. "Oh, by the way, have you met tall, green, and gruesome here? Don't mind the scales and teeth, but you might want to stay downwind of him."

"Brutaka!" said Axonn. "What are you - how did you get out of The Pit?"

"They let me out early for good behavior," Brutaka smiled. "But I'm the least of the shocking faces around here. This is it, my friend. The Order is about to come out of hiding after all these years. Helryx told me so herself."

"What did she say?"

"Two words," said Brutaka, his smile disappearing. "Destiny war."

The Dark Hunter known as Ancient stood on the beach of the island of Odina. Behind him, rebuilding of the fortress destroyed by Pohatu Nuva went on rapidly. His eyes scanned the waters, watching for the return of Lariska from her mission. He was anxious to hear just what she had seen and heard.

A cry made him look up. It came from a bat-winged Rahi wheeling through the sky, one not native to Odina. He recognized the creature as one bred for long distance flying. More than once the Dark Hunters had used them to send messages back and forth to agents on other islands. But the flying creature up above did not come from another Dark Hunter. As a half dozen more joined it, they began flying in a pattern recognizable to no one on the island but Ancient. It was a message intended for him, and one that was urgent. The time had come. He had to seek out The Shadowed One and try to make him see the only possible future for the Dark Hunters. And if The Shadowed One, his old friend, failed to see reason, Ancient would have to kill him.

Elsewhere, Vezon paced in his cell on Daxia. Across the corridor were two great water tanks. In one swam the six Piraka, now mutated into water snakes. In the other was a bizarre looking being others referred to as Karzahni, who seemed to Vezon to be quite insane. And Vezon knew insane.

When Brutaka's team had first escaped the island of Artidax with Makuta Miserix, they had flown to a barren island in the middle of nowhere. After a short time, Brutaka had them on the move again, this time to a place called Daxia. Brutaka explained that the location of the island had always been a secret before, but that secrecy didn't matter anymore. Neither, apparently, did gratitude, as Vezon and Roodaka were both thrown into cells immediately upon arrival.

Vezon, frankly, was disappointed. Sure, he had tried to steal the Mask of Life, and, yes, he had tried to kill the Toa Inika once, well, twice. And, okay, he had made an effort to trade their lives to the Zyglak in exchanged for his, but it's not like that had worked. And he had volunteered, well, been forced, well, actually been threatened with bodily harm if he didn't help, but he did aid in the rescue of Makuta Miserix. And what was his reward? A cold cell, an uncaring guard, and nothing nearby he could use to kill the Piraka. Was that justice?

His musings were interrupted by the crimson armor of Trinuma. The Order member took a long look at Vezon, shrugged and shook his head. Then he unlocked the cell door and threw it open. "It's your lucky day, misfit," said Trinuma. "You're getting out."

"I am?" said Vezon. "I mean, of course I am. Keeping a being of my brilliance locked away is a terrible waste of resources. No doubt your masters want to consult me on matters of strategy and tactics."

"No," said Trinuma. "I think they said something about needing someone who could die horribly without being missed. So, naturally, they thought of you."

Vezon's addled brain processed what Trinuma said, and somehow decided it was a compliment. "Well, naturally," he replied. "Lead on, and let me show you all how dying's done."

-=Chapter 2=-
Axonn crouched down behind a low stone wall, and watched the Fire and Ice bolts fly by overhead. Beside him, Brutaka was peering around the crumbling bit of cover now and then, hurling a blast from his sword.

"Knock on the front door," grumbled Axonn. "Great strategy. I think all that time in Mahri Nui left you with a waterlogged brain."

"Oh, come on," said Brutaka, smiling. He picked off an attacker with a bolt of energy, then winged another. "You love this, and you know it. After thousands of years sitting around on Voya Nui waiting for something to happen, you need the exercise."

A green-fleshed Skakdi climbed over the wall, spiked club in hand. Axonn quickly made him regret it.

"This was supposed to be a nice, simple job. Go to Zakaz, find warlord Nektann, arrange an alliance between the Order and the Skakdi. Not get pinned on a beach by an angry horde."

"Are we pinned? We're not pinned," said Brutaka. "Watch."

Brutaka popped over the wall and fired an energy bolt at a half-crumbled building. Shearing through its only support, he sent the structure toppling down on a mob of Skakdi. When the dust cleared, all of them were trapped beneath the rubble.

"Now those guys, they're pinned," said Brutaka.

Axonn sighed. "Just like the good old days," he said. "Now I remember why I hated them so much."

"If you liked that idea, you'll love this one," Brutaka replied. Before Axonn could react, Brutaka had grabbed him by the back of the neck. He dragged Axonn to his feet and stood beside him, free arm in the air. "We surrender!" Brutaka shouted to the Skakdi army. "Take us, we're yours."

Elsewhere, a trader on the island of Stelt would, over the course of his life, see pretty much everything at least once. The place was a crossroads for the crooked, the desperate and those just looking for fast money, or a deal best kept hidden from Toa. This particular trader, though, had recently seen more than he would have wished. A small group of warriors, including the hated Roodaka, had stolen one of his best ships. Worse, they had done it in such a way that no one would even believe it had happened. Things had at last settled down though; He had managed to find a replacement ship and recover those members of the old crew who were still alive. It was back to business as usual; at least until a 20 foot-tall dragon tore the roof off his shop.

"Where's Teridax?" the dragon growled.

"Teridax? Who or what is that? And how would I know?" said the trader, reaching frantically for a weapon, and coming up with nothing better than a cracked Kanoka disk.

"I know Stelt," said the dragon, "A Nui-Rama doesn't buzz on the Tren Krom Peninsula without you scum hearing it. So I'll ask again, where is he? Where is the Makuta of Metru Nui?"

"I don't know! I swear it!" shouted the trader.

The dragon scooped his victim up in a great claw. "I don't have time for this. I have places to be, and bodies to break. I want you to send out a message to all your friends, to everyone who sails in and out of this island. Tell them Miserix is back, and when I find him, Teridax is dead!"

Elsewhere once more, Vezon sat in a small skiff with a jet black sail. Trinuma sat at the bow, keeping an eye out for potential threats. If he considered Vezon one, he didn't show it. For his part, Vezon was just happy to just be out of his cell. Prison was far too... confining, but then he guessed that was the point of it. Speaking of points, Trinuma had given him a lovely dagger. Vezon had said "thank you" by not trying to plunge it into his companion's back.

"Where are we going?" asked Vezon, “Why are we going? Are we going at all, or just sailing in a big circle? Or is it a spiral? I went down a spiral once: a big stone tunnel that went down and down and down, and ended in Zyglak. Whoever built it had no decorating sense at all."

"Would you be quiet?" said Trinuma, "This is a secret mission. Do you understand that?"

"Sure," answered Vezon, "Secret mission means if you get killed, I won't tell anyone. And you still haven't answered any of my one-hundred ten questions, or my follow ups."

Trinuma sighed in resignation. "We're going to a place called Destral. Once we get there your job starts. If you succeed, you live to babble another day. If you fail, you die horribly. Okay?"

"Destral ... Destral. Wait a minute that's the Makuta base! Spiriah was a Makuta. At least, he was until Miserix killed him. I flew with Miserix, did I tell you that? At least until he did those loops and threw me off his back. Ocean water is really cold, don't let anyone tell you different. So what am I supposed to do on Destral? Theft? Assassination? Running with sharp objects?"

"You have the most important job of all," said Trinuma, "You're going to betray the Order of Mata Nui, and the entire universe, and this is how you're going to do it."

-=Chapter Three=-
One of the peculiar things about a Skakdi warlord's base is the lack of any kind of dungeon, torture chamber or prisoner of war camp. History has shown that there's very little point in torturing a Skakdi as they never talk except in trade, usually for their freedom, which few captors would agree to. And keeping prisoners means listening to them whine about trivial things like food, water, and a good-sized club to use on the Stone Rats who keep paying them night visits.

So when Brutaka and Axonn were marched into warlord Nektann's camp, no one seemed quite sure what to do with them. Killing them immediately came to mind, but then, it will be impossible why they were on the island to start with. Unlike the famed Necrofinch of the Zakaz mountains, most beings did not continue to sing after they were dead. It was Axonn who insisted they were brought before Nektann himself. Nektann was larger than the average Skakdi, or at least he appeared so sitting on his throne made from the fused weapons of his foes. He was accompanied by his pet which looked like a Muaka cat covered in spiked armor. Nektann, ever the gracious host, asked them if there was anything to say before he had them painfully disassembled.

"Yes," said Axonn,"The Brotherhood of Makuta" Nektann spat on the ground.The Muaka growled. "What about them?" asked the warlord. "We offer you a chance to ransack their fortresses, loot their weapons and slay their warriors." Axonn said.

"We'll throw in 'Make their women weep', but have you ever seen a female Makuta?" added Brutaka," It's not pretty."

"Why should I listen to you when it'll be so much quicker to throw you into the Tahtorak pens?" "Because we've already been to see the other warlords of Zakaz. " sighed Axonn, "What, did you think we would come to this puny hole first? They've all agreed to ally with us. If you refuse, you can sit on your petty throne and watch as they grow rich and powerful."

Nektann frowned, the only expression uglier than a Skakdi smile. No self-respecting warlord wanted to be left out of a chance at a glorious battle and a even more glorious loot. In the end, he nodded.

"Why did you tell him we had talked to the other warlords?" whispered Brutaka, "We still have to go to all their camps and talk them into alliance." "That's a lot of work."Axonn agreed, " So I guess we better get started."

Toa Mahri Jaller stood in the center of Metru Nui, gazing up at the statue of the late Matoro.It had been constructed by Turaga Onewa himself as a tribute to the fallen hero. It was good to know that his comrade was remembered and always would be, but it did well to dispel the grief felt over his death. He had to admit that thoughts of Matoro had distracted him. When the Toa Mahri left to search the city for Takanuva, he chose to remain behind. When they returned, reporting that there was no sign of the Toa of Light, he hardly paid any attention. It still troubled him that the Toa Mahri have been unable to fulfill their destiny without losing one of their own. Behind him, he could hear the other Toa in conference. Metru Nui was quiet for now with the Kardas dragon subdued and most of the other Rahi back in the Archives. Still, the heroes could hardly relax. Who knew where the next threat could come from?

There was a sudden flash of light. When Jaller could see again six Toa stood in front of him. He didn't recognize any of them. Instinctively, he readied his weapons.

"Welcome to Metru Nui",said Jaller, "And who are you? Why have you come here?"

One of the newcomers, a Toa of Fire, also stepped forward, "My name is Norik, of the Toa Hagah. I ask you and your teammates to stand aside. We have no wish to see anyone hurt while we carry out our task here." "The Toa Mahri stands aside for no one", said Hewkii, stepping forward, "Toa of no business here are considered our enemies."

"Our business here," said Norik, "is as simple as it is terrible. We have come, to destroy the Coliseum.

Vezon landed hard on the stone floor of the Makuta Fortress of Destral. He had been captured by Rahkshi less than two minutes after Trinuma had dropped him off the shore of the island. Vezon had never met a Rahkshi before and found that disliked them. Most beings had a scent, either pleasant or unpleasant;Rahkshi smelled of cold metal and death. The Makuta who came and greet him wore armor of purple and crimson. Although Vezon was polite enough to introduce himself, the Makuta did not bother to share his name. Vezon was tempted to complain about it but the spear at his throne, the one dripping acid convinced him to save it for another time.

"Who are you...", said the Makuta," What are you? And how did you come here?"

" My name is Vezon, your darkness, and I was brought here by an agent of a power that wishes you and your brotherhood harm. They wanted me to come here and tell you that they exist and plan to attack this island, but I'm not going to do that, no no no!"

"You just did.", said the Makuta. Behind Vezon, three Rahkshi moved a little closer, staffs at the ready.

"Well, of course I did, but only to tell you that I won't," explained Vezon, exasperated," How could this 'Hope to conquer the universe' thing be so slow? Its all a trick, you see. They want me to pretend to betray them. They want you to concentrate your forces on a attack that won't come. But I decided 'Why pretend to betray them when actually doing it would be so much more fun?'"

The Makuta grabbed Vezon by the throat and slammed him against the wall.

"Speak, fool! And let only truth and clarity come from your mouth if you wish to continue having one." "Truth and clarity...Truth and clarity... I don't think I know that.", answered Vezon," Will you settle for 'white-lipped and trembling?'. This Order of Mata Nui plans to amass an army and navy, threaten Destral, force you to teleport away from where it is now and then..." When Vezon did not continue speaking right away, the Makuta tightened his grip.

"Alright, alright! I was only pausing for a fact. They have a spy inside this fortress who has sabotaged your means of teleportation. When you'll try to use it again... well, I wouldn't start reading any long tablets, let's put it that way. And now that you know, tell me, what are we going to do about it?"

To be continued.
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« Reply #5 on: September 04, 2008, 01:30:20 pm »

I'll do the old ones.
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I'm a girl - I'm a lesbian.

-==Blade's Story Library==-
-==Blade's RPG Library==-
A fresh start for the signature, aside for the libraries.

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The forum is a girl? 0_o
I imagine new people coming to the forum expecting to see discussion about LEGO, only to see RPGs full of deranged characters and insane people talking about cheese and brains.
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« Reply #6 on: September 04, 2008, 01:32:54 pm »

The completed ones are too long...
Could you make the max leinght longer?
Like, some 40000?
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« Reply #7 on: September 04, 2008, 01:34:11 pm »

A crazy Tuyet, a crazy Metru Nui, a crazy.... dimension?

Chapter One

Plunging through the void between dimensions, Takanuva, Toa of Light, could hardly believe what had happened to him in the last day. While patrolling the shores of Metru Nui, he had been attacked by a creature he later learned was a Shadow Leech, and barely survived. When he awoke, he discovered that his light had been partially drained, leaving him with the ability to fire light from his left hand, and Shadow from his right.

His rescuers turned out to be members of the secret organization called the Order of Mata Nui, who tasked him with a vital mission. He was to bring important information to the Toa Nuva in Karda Nui, and if he failed, the six Toa were surely doomed. The fastest way to get him there was using the power of a Mask of Dimensional Gates worn by reformed member Brutaka. But the mask was ever so slightly damaged and the ride had already been a rough one.

A circle of light opened ahead of him. He plunged through it hoping he'd reach Karda Nui in time. Instead he went flat on his mask in the familiar surroundings of the city of Metru Nui. Or was it familiar? The city was intact and beautiful as it had been when he left, but something was odd. There were statues of Toa everywhere: Tahu, Gali and the others, but not in their Nuva forms; as they had been before they transformed. There were other statues too of Toa Takanuva did not recognize. And looming over them all was a massive sculpture of a Kanohi mask: the Mask of Intangibility. "How long have I been gone?", wondered Takanuva, "And who decided to re-decorate?" He spotted a Matoran he knew well, Kapura, scurrying quickly through the street. Takanuva stepped in front of him and said:

"Wait friend. I don't think I've ever seen you run before. What's the hurry?"

Kapura looked up at him, there was shock and fear in the Matoran's eyes, but no recognition. "Forgive me great Toa," he said so fast the words tumbled over themselves, "Was I not running fast enough? I promise I will try to do better."

"Kapura it's me, it's Takanuva, what's come over you?"

"Nothing, nothing!" insisted Kapura, "All is well great Toa, for how could it be anything else with such wise and benevolent leaders?"

"Alright, I've had about enough of this," said Takanuva, "Where's Turaga Vakama? Where are the Toa Mahri?"

"I don't know who you're talking about," insisted Kapura, "Let me pass, please, before..."

The temperature suddenly dropped all around. The next moment Kapura was locked in a foot-thick shell of ice from his neck down. The Matoran cried out from the intense cold. Takanuva looked up only to see Tahu and Kopaka standing nearby, frost still drifting from the sword of the Toa of Ice. "Tahu, Kopaka, thank the Great Beings you're here," said Takanuva. "Something's wrong with Kapura... maybe with the entire city."

"The only thing wrong here, stranger, is you," said Tahu. "Who are you? Why are you here? Where is your identity tablet?"

"I-I'm Takanuva! I live here! You know me, and I don't know what an identity tablet is!"

Kopaka raised his sword and unleashed a hail of ice that shocked Takanuva, knocking the Toa of Light to the ground. Standing over him, Kopaka held the point of his sword to Takanuva's neck. "Well, 'Takanuva', if that is your name, you are now a prisoner of the Toa Empire, against which you've committed an act of war."
Chapter Two

Tahu and Kopaka dragged a protesting Takanuva to the Coliseum. Vahki guardians saluted and stepped aside to let the Toa enter. Wordlessly, they hauled Takanuva through winding corridors, finally tossing him into a cold, dark cell.

"Make yourself comfortable." said Tahu. "Someone will be back for you when Toa Tuyet is ready to question you in a day, or a week."

"If this is some kind of a joke, it isn't funny anymore," said Takanuva, "what is going on around here?"

But Tahu and Kopaka had already walked away.

"What's going on, stranger, is that you came to the wrong place at the wrong time," said a weak voice behind Takanuva.

The Toa turned, surprised to find he was not alone. Hanging on the wall from chains around his wrists and ankles was a Matoran. Using the merest fraction of his Light power, Takanuva illuminated the cell. He stumbled back against the cell door in shock. The imprisoned Matoran was none other than Takua - a fact that seemed impossible since Takanuva had been Takua before becoming a Toa.

"This is insane!" said Takanuva. "You're me - I mean, I'm you, how..."

"I see," said Takua, "you're not one of the smarter ones. You wouldn't happen to know how to pick a lock would you?"

Takanuva shook his head. If this was a dream or an illusion, it was a whopper. But just in case it wasn't, he fired a thin beam of laser-light from his left hand and sliced through Takua's chains. A quick move let him catch the Matoran before he fell to the stone floor.

"That's a neat trick," said Takua, "so what are you in for?"

"I-I don't know," said Takanuva, "I'm not even sure where I am."

"Metru Nui, City of Legends." said Takua. "Of course, these days all the legends end with "and the Toa crushed anyone who got in their way." Or, in my case, spent more time wandering than working. When the Vahki treatment didn't take, they put me here."

"I can't believe this." said Takanuva, "Tahu and Kopaka insane, or worse, Matoran jailed, and me sitting here talking to myself. Listen, where's Gali?"

"In Ga-Metru, of course," the Matoran replied. "She and Karzahni run the re-education center."

"Listen, umm..." Takanuva paused, unable to bring himself to say the name 'Takua'. "What happened here? How did things get so crazy?"

"It was about 3,500 years ago now," said Takua, "Toa Tuyet tapped into the power of something called the Nui Stone, which gave her the power of maybe a hundred Toa. When Toa Lhikan tried to stop her, he got killed by her and his traitorous friend, Toa Nidhiki. And that's it. Tuyet took over Metru Nui and convinced the other Toa it was their destiny to smash anyone who posed a threat to the Great Spirit. That meant anyone from the Makuta, to the Dark Hunters, to Toa who didn't seem enthusiastic enough, and Matoran who didn't work quite hard enough."

Takanuva suddenly reached up and took off his mask of power. Before Takua could protest, he had placed it on top of the Matoran's mask. Nothing happened. Takua tore the Mask of Light off, saying, "What are you trying to do, smother me?"

"Just testing a theory." said Takanuva, rising and putting his mask back on, "Come on, we're getting out of here."

"And go where?" asked Takua.

"We have a date in the Archives," the Toa of Light answered, "or rather, below them. And here's hoping Vakama's stories about what's down there, who's down there, were all true."
Chapter Three

"Where are we going?" asked Takua."How did you take out those Vahki guards so fast? What's down here? Have you been down here before?"

"Would you be quiet!" Takanuva snapped.

He had never realized before just how annoying he was as a Matoran.

"There's no telling who, or what, is down here and I'd rather not have unexpected company."

In truth, it was more than Takua's chattering that was bothering Takanuva. In his universe, the Metru Nui Archives were filled with exhibits of Rahi beasts, carvings, tools and other things that Onu-Matoran and Ko-Matoran scholars might study. But in this strange world that he had stumbled upon, the Archives were more like a museum of conquest. A long dead and mounted Visorak stared from the shadows with glassy eyes. A collection of weaponry was nearby, each item identified with a small inscribed tablet. The staff of The Shadowed One, the Spear of Fusion, Zamor Sphere Launchers, Rhotuka launchers, and more. Next to that was the most amazing sight of all: the Kanohi Mask of Shadows, the property of the leader of the Brotherhood of Makuta, now nailed to the wall like just another trophy. Moving further into the depths of the Archives, the Toa and Matoran came upon a group of stasis tubes. These were used to keep Rahi in suspended animation so they could be studied. At least that's what they had been used for in Takanuva's universe. In this dimension, he saw with shock that they served a quite different purpose. One tube stood apart from the others, the glow of a Lightstone playing on its face. Takanuva wiped the dust from the crystal and gasped: inside, trapped in stasis, was Turaga Dume, ruler of Metru Nui.

"I can't believe this," Takanuva said, "Even Toa as mad as they are here would never do this."

"Dume talked too much," said Takua sadly, "and coming from me, that's saying something. When Toa Tuyet took over, he stood up and said that true Toa value justice and mercy, and she had neither in her heart. You had to admire him for it, all the way up to the moment when they hauled him off and stuck him in there."

Takanuva fired a beam of laser-light from his left hand, slicing open the crystal case. Takua grabbed his arm, trying to pull away.

"Are you crazy?! What if there are alarms? You can't do that!"

"I just did," said Takanuva, catching the falling Dume. Consciousness slowly returned to the Turaga, and when he saw Takanuva, he said, "Who are you?"

"I'm a...friend," Takanuva replied.

"You? A Toa? No Toa is my friend." said Dume.

"I don't have time to argue with you," said Takanuva, "Somewhere down here there is an intelligent Rahi called a Krahka, at least I hope she's here. We need to find her, something is very, very wrong in this world, and I'm going to need help if I'm going to make things right."

"Help is exactly what you need, Toa," said a voice behind Takanuva.

He whirled to see the one figure he never expected. Takua and Dume both backed away in fear. Standing before them, was the leader of the Toa Empire, the wielder of the Nui Stone and the unquestioned ruler of the known universe: Toa Tuyet.
Chapter Four

Takanuva, Takua, and Turaga Dume walked in single file to the depths of the Archives followed by the silent Toa Tuyet. The ruler of the Toa Empire had not spoken a word since capturing the three of them, simply gestured with her Barbed Broadsword for them to get moving. They marched for what seemed like hours through twists and turns past long forgotten exhibits and into regions that probably even the Archive care keepers didn't know existed.

Takanuva was puzzled. Tuyet could have just brought them back to a cell on the surface, or for that matter killed them. Why go on a tour of the Archives? Things got even more disturbing and bizarre as they rounded a corner and entered a large chamber. In the back were a half dozen badly damaged Rahkshi and an Exo-Toa armor suit missing its right arm. Even more surprising was the sight of two figures clad in black armor, who sprang to their feet at the sight of the newcomers, Shadow energy crackling in their hands.

Takanuva turned around, but Tuyet was no longer there. Standing in her place was another Makuta, this one wearing a scarred and pitted Kanohi Hau. When he spoke it was in the familiar, grating voice of the Makuta of Metru Nui.

"A simple strategy," he said, "Tuyet has left us little choice but to use our shape shifting powers when we venture out. Even then we were captured, just as we have captured you."

"I don't understand," said Takanuva, "Why aren't you wearing the Mask of Shadows? I saw it hanging in the Archives."

Makuta gave Takanuva a look that would have chilled the snow atop Mount Ihu.

"The mask is warded. If it is so much as touched, Tuyet and her minions will know at once. She keeps it there on unguarded as a taunt to me, knowing how I long for it and cannot touch it."

The two other Makuta and those Rahkshi that could still move closed in.

"But you are not so protected, Toa. Give me one good reason why we should not kill you now as your kind has killed ours for so many centuries."

"I'm not..." Takanuva began, then stopped as he debated how much to tell his captors. These were, after all, Makuta, the most evil beings in the universe from which he came. Here, though, they were hunted fugitives in a world gone mad. "I’m not one of Tuyet’s Toa. My name is Takanuva. I am a Toa of Light."

The three Makuta recoiled. Takanuva could understand why; a Toa of Light was the ultimate weapon against beings of shadow.

"Listen to me," he continued, "I come from someplace else, where there is no Tuyet, no Toa Empire. I can’t claim I understand what happened here, but I do know this: I don’t belong here, and I need to get back to my own universe."

The three Makuta were silent for a moment. Then they began to laugh, a horrible sound that echoed throughout the chamber for long minutes.

"And just how," said the Makuta of Metru Nui, "Do you propose to get back to this universe of yours, my poor, mad Toa?"

"By finding the one who sent me on my journey," Takanuva replied, "A being named Brutaka."

One of the Makuta nodded. He was tall, with armor lined with short, curved, and very sharp blades. "I have heard of legends of a Brutaka. It's said he is a great hero who guards a valuable treasure. But in Matoran legend, every pile of rocks is a treasure, every Rahi larger than a Stone Rat is a monster, and anyone who doesn't scream and run when the thunder cracks is a hero of great courage."

"Very true, Krika, very true indeed," said the Makuta of Metru Nui, "Very well then, you, Toa, are either a liar, a fool, or a mad man, I know not which, but if you need our help, you have to pay a price."

"And what is that price?" asked Takanuva.

"A Matoran expedition, escorted by a pair of Toa, left Metru Nui weeks ago, bound for the island of Artakha," said Makuta. "They were to retrieve an object of power; the legendary Mask of Time, one of the few weapons that might be effective against Tuyet. By now they have it, and are on their way back. I want you to attack their force and steal the Mask for us. In return we will smuggle you out of the city so you can find your Brutaka. But be warned, the Matoran leader is a fanatic, who would rather die than surrender his prize. You will have to grant him his wish."

"And just who is this leader?" asked Takanuva.

"No one you would know," said Makuta Krika, "A Ta-Matoran, someone named Jaller."
Chapter Five

Toa Takanuva had experienced many strange things since arriving in what he now knew had to be some kind of alternate universe. But nothing quite equaled what he was experiencing right at the moment: the sensation of flying under his own power over a vast stretch of ocean. Even stranger was the fact that he had Makuta to thank for this ability. After telling him roughly where to look for the caravan that would be carrying the Mask of Time, Makuta Krika had commented that he would never be able to intercept them in time by sea, even if he managed to steal a boat and slip away from Metru Nui. Flight was the best choice. Before Takanuva could argue that he didn't have the ability to fly, Krika had blown a fine powder into his face. The Toa of Light couldn't help but breathe it in. With a laugh, Krika explained that he had just been exposed to a Makuta Virus, which would, at least temporarily, give him the power of flight. If it had any other side effects, Krika chose not to say. Takanuva didn't know whether to thank him, or hit him.

Still, his directions had been good. Up ahead on the land, Takanuva spotted an Ussal crab-drawn cart driven by a Matoran, flanked by a Toa of Ice and a Toa of Earth, mounted on Muaka tigers. Takanuva could only guess that both cart and Rahi had been loaded and unloaded from a ship, since part of the journey to Artakha had to be made by sea. Despite the Makuta's warning that he would have to kill the Toa and the Matoran with them, Jaller, Takanuva had another idea. He was a Toa, after all, in a world dominated by them. It was worth trying, anyway. He landed right in front of the cart, prompting Jaller to reign it to an abrupt halt. The two Toa raised their spears and shields and took a step forward.

"Who are you?" said the black-armored warrior, "Speak or face the power of my Seismic Spear."

"What my grim friend is trying to say," said the Toa of Ice, "is that we were not expecting visitors, not even multi-toned ones such as yourself. Surprises make us nervous, and when we are nervous, other beings sometimes get hurt."

"Lower your weapons," said the Toa of Light, "My name is Takanuva, I am here on business of the Empire."

"I am Toa Kualus," said the white-armored Toa, "My surly friend is Toa Bomonga; and what might your business be, Takanuva?"

"I don't trust him," said Jaller.

Takanuva barely recognized him in his red Kanohi Komau.

"Kodan keeps a record of every Toa in the universe, and I've never seen his name before."

Takanuva fired a thin beam of light at Jaller, shooting the reins out of his hands. Pewku, the Ussal crab, reared up, startled.

"When I want your opinion, Matoran, I'll ask for it," Takanuva said, trying to sound like a Toa from this universe.

Kualus' response was a blast of Ice from his Sub-Zero Spear, but Takanuva easily shattered it with another light beam. Bomonga made a move to attack, but the Toa of Light temporarily blinded him with a flare.

"If you're done," said Takanuva, "Tuyet has received word of a plan to steal the Mask of Time. She has decided that two Toa are not enough to guard it. Particularly you two, so she has sent me to join you."

"And just what makes you the right choice?" growled Bomonga.

The Toa of Light thought fast, "Have you ever heard of... Takutanuva?"

Both Toa shook their heads.

"How about Graalok the mighty Ash Bear?"

Again they shook their heads.

"And I suppose you haven't heard of the beasts of Mount Ihu, or the flame serpents of the Tren Krom Break, or even," he dropped his voice for effect, "even the Kolhii creature of Ga-Wahi."

"We haven't heard of any of those things," said Kualus.

Takanuva smiled, raised his lance high, and then plunged it into the sand in front of the two Toa. "There is a reason you haven't heard of them, brothers... and if I could defeat them, I could surely handle a threat to the Vahi."

Bomonga and Kualus glanced at each other, then Kualus shrugged, "Very well, brother, you may travel with us to Metru Nui, but since you're so powerful, why don't you walk in front of us? That way you can meet any challenge head-on. Incidentally, who is this that plans to steal this mask from us?"

"A very powerful and evil being called Brutaka," Takanuva replied.

This time, the two Toa obviously recognized the name. Bomonga even smiled.

"You know of him, then?" asked Takanuva.

"And well I should," said Bomonga. He plunged his spear into the ground next to Takanuva's lance, "After all, I killed him."
Chapter Six

Back when Takanuva was Takua, a Matoran in the village of Ta-Koro, he had once found himself walking through a stretch of jungle, being stalked by a monstrous Nui-Jaga scorpion. Whenever he moved, the scorpion moved; if he stopped, it stopped. If he turned to face it, it would kill him, but if he led it back to the village, it might harm others before it was driven off. He was finally saved by a sudden inspiration: he changed direction and led the Nui-Jaga straight toward a Muaka-cat cave. Angered at the intrusion of its territory by the other Rahi beast, the Muaka attacked the Nui-Jaga, and Takua escaped.

Which just goes to show, thought Takanuva, nowadays there's never a Muaka around when you need one. Here he was, trudging across the barren plains of Karzahni in this weird alternate universe. Behind him were two Toa, Bomonga and Kualus, both of whom served the oppressive dictatorship of the Toa Empire. Between them was Jaller, a Matoran, who in Takanuva's world, was the Toa of Light's best friend. In this universe, he was a servant of the Empire, transporting the Mask of Time back to Metru Nui. That wasn't the worst of it, though: Takanuva needed to find Brutaka and the Mask of Dimensional Gates if he was ever going to make it back to his own universe. And Bomonga had just announced that Brutaka was dead, killed by him, all of which left Takanuva exactly nowhere.

"Ah, Brutaka," said Bomonga, "He fought well, but when he turned to fight Gaaki and Pouks, I hit him from behind and that finished him."

"Not very... fair," muttered Takanuva.

"Fair?" asked Bomonga, "He was an enemy of the Empire, he tried to prevent our lawful exploration of Voya Nui. Who cares how he died, as long as he's dead."

"Our friend, Takanuva, seems to be carrying a conscience," said Toa Kualus. "That is a heavy burden in a place like this. You would be amazed how many poor, dead beings I see on the side of the path who just couldn't go one more step with that load on their backs."

"Spare me the philosophy," snapped Takanuva, "What about Brutaka's weapons and his mask? What happened to them?"

"You should know," said Bomonga, "If you really served Toa Tuyet as you claim, any treasure like that gets brought to the Coliseum on Metru Nui for safe-keeping."

"Right, naturally," said Takanuva.

This was going to be a problem: how was he going to get into what happened to be the most heavily guarded spot in Metru Nui to get that mask?

"You know, you remind me a little of someone," said Bomonga, "A Toa of Water, one of Lhikan's old team. What was her name? Toa Naho, that was it. She came along on one of our missions to Odina to clean out that nest of Stone Rats. Offered to go after The Shadowed One herself, take all the risks. Turned out she was helping that creep escape. He got away, she didn't. Tuyet turned her over to her friend Roodaka and, well, she wound up an interesting exhibit in the Archives."

Takanuva knew he should keep quiet, but he couldn't.

"Do you think this is what Tuyet really wanted? Toa betraying other Toa, Matoran living in fear of their heroes. Toa were supposed to be respected, and looked up to!"

"But we are," said Kualus, "Everyone respects what they fear, and they can't help but look up to us when we always look down on them."

Takanuva heard a stirring behind him. He could guess what it was: Bomonga and/or Kualus getting ready to blast him from behind. While there was no choice, he would have to try and take them both out and get the mask from Jaller. It would take a lot of luck, probably more than he could hope for, but... Then he heard other sounds; a rush of wind, startled cries from the two Toa which receded in the distance and the sound of a cart crashing. He turned to see a strange Toa standing amidst the wreckage of Jaller's Ussal cart. He was retrieving the Mask of Time, which lay next to the unconscious Jaller. When he noticed Takanuva, he stopped.

"You're not one of them," the Toa of Air said, "That's why you're still alive. Don't make me regret that decision."

"Who are you?" asked Takanuva, "What do you want here?"

"What do I want?" said the Toa. "I want some peace, but I'm never going to get any while that crazy Toa of Water is running things. So I keep an eye out for things she wants, like this Mask here, then I take them from her. That's why when you see her list of enemies of the Empire, you'll find my name at the top: Toa Lesovikk."
Chapter Seven

Under the cover of darkness, Toa Lesovikk and Toa Takanuva darted through the sculpture fields of Po-Metru. They had slipped back to Metru Nui via an underwater chute a few hours before. Lesovikk knew a few that were closed for repair but were still functioning, and the best of all, unguarded.

"Where are we going?" whispered Takanuva. "The Coliseum is the other way! If Brutaka's mask is in there, that's where I need to go."

"Right," said Lesovikk. "But if you want to get in and out of there alive we do it my way. And my way starts at the Throne of Stone."

The Toa of Air pointed straight ahead. Not far away was indeed a huge throne made of rock, mounted atop a base of Rahkshi parts. Po-Matoran bearing torches surrounded it, and seated in the great chair was Toa Pohatu himself.

"Umm, excuse me," said Takanuva. "I ran into Tahu and Kopaka not long ago, and...are you sure this is a good idea?"

"Trust me," said Lesovikk, smiling.

After a few hours, the Po-Matoran left to go back to their homes. As Pohatu descended from his throne, Lesovikk scraped three times with his armored boot against a nearby rock. The Toa of Stone stopped, head turned to listen. Then he said, "Lesovikk, you're out of your mind."

"It helps," said the Toa of Air, leading Takanuva to where Pohatu stood. "This is my new pal, Takanuva. He's waiting for the five widget tour of the Coliseum, particularly the Hall of Masks."

"Wait a minute," said Takanuva. "I don't understand any of this. Tahu, Pohatu and the rest were supposed to stay asleep until they were needed to awaken Mata Nui. But Mata Nui never fell asleep here, so why are they here?"

"He talks a lot, doesn't he?" Pohatu said to Lesovikk. Lesovikk shrugged.

"Okay, glowfish, let me tell you a story," Pohatu said, "Toa Tuyet found out where we were from Artakha. She sent some Toa in to find us, but none of them survived the trip. That was when she found a spot in the Coliseum no one had ever seen before. A place from which she could fake the signal that would launch our canisters. Next thing you know, here we are. She laid it all out for us. How the Makuta and the Dark Hunters were plotting to take over, and how it was our duty as Toa to stop them dead. It was the only way to make the universe really safe. So we all signed on, but after a while I started to have doubts. They turned into fears when I found out Tuyet had sent a squad headed by Toa Nidhiki to wipe out the Nynrah Ghosts, just because they might someday make something that could be used against her. Four dozen Matoran dead. 'Still makes me sick. That was when I made contact with Lesovikk, and we've been working together ever since. Of course, Tuyet doesn't know that."

"You're a regular stone Wall of History," said Lesovikk. "But it's going to be light soon. We need to get the troops together and get ready for a raid."

Pohatu led the two Toa back to his cavern. Once inside, he used his power to send a mild tremor the length of Metru Nui. Not enough to cause damage, just enough to signal those who would understand and then respond. They started filtering in through underground tunnels not long after. Nuju, Ahkmou, three Dark Hunters: Guardian, Darkness and Primal, one Toa: Krakua, and a Po-Matoran that Lesovikk introduced as Kodan.

"It's handy to have the Toa's Chronicler on our side," said Lesovikk, "Helps us stay informed."

"So what's the plan?" asked Takanuva, "We sneak in, steal the mask and get out?"

"He thinks small, too," Pohatu said to Lesovikk. Lesovikk shrugged.

"Listen, junior. I don't know where you came from or why," said Pohatu, "But I'm betting Tuyet doesn't know either, and maybe that gives us an edge. So we're putting everything on one Akilini play. Ahkmou here has alerted the Makuta in town, Darkness took care of any Dark Hunters nearby who were still on two legs. Everybody's in."

"In what?" asked Takanuva.

"Tuyet's had her own way for too long," Pohatu answered, grabbing a Protosteel Axe off the wall. "It's time to take her down."
Chapter Eight

Takanuva crouched behind a wall, a wounded Lesovikk beside him. All around, Elemental Power bursts were flying, warriors were screaming and a disaster beyond his imagination was taking place. It had all started out so well: Lesovikk's van had made it close to the Coliseum before being spotted. As planned, Takanuva had used his new found Shadow powers to blind the guards. Pohatu followed with a massive fist of stone that cracked the walls of the huge structure. To the east, Makuta Teridax led Krika, Kojol, Turaga Dume and Takua into battle.

At first, they made short work of the Matoran and Toa who guarded Tuyet's fortress. Then it all went wrong: a Toa of Iron appeared on the walls and a hail of spikes spelt the end of Takua. Takanuva watched in sheer horror as his other self collapsed and died. Kojol fell next, his armor crushed by the Toa's power, and his essence incinerated by a Toa of Plasma. Teridax was forced to pull back.

Things were going no better for Lesovikk's squad. Primal had run into Tahu in the eastern entrance, and killed the Toa of Fire. But the sudden appearance of Gali, and a sphere of Water around the Dark Hunter's head left him to drown on dry land. Toa Krakua hit Gali with a wave of solid sound, blasting apart her mask and armor. Pohatu cried out too late: Ahkmou had already dashed ahead and slain the fallen Toa of Water. He didn't get to enjoy his triumph long. Kopaka flash-froze Ahkmou, and a swipe from Onua's claws shattered the Matoran into little pieces of crystal and Protodermis.

Now it was no longer one battle, but a dozen seperate ones being fought at once, the lines moving back and forth. Pohatu fought his way into the Coliseum, but found himself too evenly matched with Onua to make much progress. Lesovikk fell with an Ice dagger in his shoulder, but rallied to blow Kopaka off his post high atop the Coliseum. Takanuva winced as the Toa of Ice hit the ground and lay still.

"Now," said Lesovikk to Takanuva, "Darkness will lead the way. Get in there and do what you have to."

"What about you?" asked Takanuva.

"We'll give them something to remember," said Lesovikk.

Takanuva took one last look around. Nuju was side-by-side with Guardian, keeping a Toa of Magnetism too off-balance to use his powers. Teridax's forces had charged again. Krika used his Vacuum power to absorb Lewa's attacks until Teridax had summoned a bolt of Lightning, powerful enough to turn a Toa into ashes.

Darkness was already on the move, slipping through the cracks in the Coliseum walls. Takanuva used his Shadow power to enlarge them and followed. Inside, the Coliseum was strangely silent. One would never know a battle raged outside its walls. A team of Toa rushed by on their way to join the fight. Steeling himself, Takanuva fired laser blasts at the ceiling, bringing the rubble down on top of them. He still found himself hoping he had only stunned them, not killed them. Together, Toa and Dark Hunter fought their way to their goal: the Hall of Masks. They had made it to the chamber door when Darkness paused. He heard something. The next instance, the door exploded outward as a wall of water erupted from within, sweeping Darkness away. Takanuva managed to grab hold of the doorway, holding on with all his might and holding his breath. Outside, Teridax's attack had met with success as Toa fell before him and Krika. Turaga Dume had rallied Lesovikk's group, although not before Nuju had been pulled into the Archives by plantlife gone wild. Guardian, too, fell, but took half a dozen Toa with him. Back in the Coliseum, the deluge had finally stopped. There, framed in the chamber doors was Toa Tuyet; Nui Stone in one hand, Mask of Dimensional Gates in the other.

"I know who you are," she said. "Or rather, I had guessed. You don't belong here."

"Neither do you," said Takanuva. "You don't exist in my world. True Toa must have stood up and stopped you before you went too far."

"In my world, I am much more... competent," she replied. "How unfortunate for you."

"Alright then," said Takanuva. "For Takua, for Lesovikk, and for all the Toa and Matoran whose lives you have ruined, I strike."
Chapter Nine

Toa Tuyet stood over the battered, semi-conscious body of Takanuva, Toa of Light. He did not stir. Being blown through half-a-dozen walls by a focused tidal wave would do that to you. Tuyet smiled.

"Pathetic, truly pathetic. If you are an example of what Toa are like in your Universe, it's a wonder you haven't all been hunted to extinction by now."

The ruler of the Toa Empire slipped off her Mask of Intangibility, and replaced it with a Kanohi Olmak: the mask Takanuva had come seeking. This mask alone had the power to open gateways to inter-dimensional space, and it was Takanuva's only hope of escaping this twisted world.

"Your friends outside are dead, or soon will be. I admit I was surprised to find they still had some fight left in them after 3500 years. But, they can't be allowed to rob the Matoran of the peace I have brought them."

Takanuva managed to get to his hands and knees, rubble sliding off his back as he did so. He looked at Tuyet with eyes that held equal parts of contempt and pity.

"Peace?" he said in disbelief, "Is that what you call perverting the Toa into secret police, terrorizing the villagers, killing anyone who opposes your rule?"

"I did what had to be done. I made the world right. And who are you to judge me? You are nothing but an alien from some other dimension."

Takanuva hurled a blast of Shadow at Tuyet, temporarily cloaking her in darkness. By the time she could see again, he was gone. But his voice came from high above her, saying:

"That's true, my world is messier than yours, more dangerous in some ways, but it is a world that's better, because you're not in it, Tuyet."

The Toa of Water unleashed her power, bringing the ceiling down, but Takanuva was not there. Instead, he sprang from the opening at the far end of the hall, hurling blinding light at Tuyet as he made a grab for her mask. She spun, caught him by the arm and threw him hard to the floor.

"I have hundreds of times your power. You are nothing but a Lightstone to be ground to dust beneath my heel."

Takanuva attacked again, hurling bolts of Shadow and Light. To his amazement, Tuyet parried them with ease. Seeing his surprise, she laughed.

"You know, we had no Toa of Light in this Universe. We didn't need one. And in a few moments, we will be back to being without one."

Takanuva charged. The next few seconds were a blaze of battle. Lasers turning water to steam, waves crashing against walls, a race to see what would happen first: Takanuva drowning in the tide, or Tuyet drowning in darkness. When the fight was through, Tuyet stood once more triumphant.

"Enough! I have wasted enough time on you. Your rebellion is finished, and now, so are you."

Tuyet was about to strike when a strange sound penetrated the damaged Coliseum. Takanuva raised his head and glanced at a hole in the wall. He saw hundreds - no, thousands - of Matoran marching toward the building, all of them armed. In the distance he could see Airships and sea-going vessels carrying other Matoran, Dark Hunters, Vortixx and others. All of them were descending on the city, their eyes fixed on the Coliseum.

"Still think the rebellion is over?" Takanuva asked, "Or maybe it's just beginning."

"The fools. With my power, I can sweep them all away in a flood like no one has seen before."

Takanuva looked right into Tuyet's eyes.

"Then who would there be left to protect? Who would you have made your perfect Universe for?"

Tuyet smiled.

"Very clever, Toa. True, a Universe with only drowned Matoran would not be of much use to anyone. But they must be taught respect."

"Why? If they're so ungrateful, why not use your mask to travel somewhere else? Some place that needs you. Start over again, in another Metru Nui, one where they might welcome a ruler like you."

Tuyet glanced down at the street. The mob was coming closer, and though she could easily kill them all, it would leave her as the ruler of an empire of corpses. Perhaps Takanuva was right. At the least, she could leave and return with an army of Toa from another dimension, enough to stamp out every last visage of rebellion in her own world. She turned away and activated her mask. A portal into inter-dimensional space opened before her and she prepared to step in. That was when Takanuva made his move. He somehow managed to hurl himself at Tuyet, snatching the mask from her face. For the second it lost contact with her, its power shut off and the portal began to close. Takanuva, mask in hand, dove through, but Tuyet was not about to let him escape so easily. Even as he cleared the portal, she grabbed on to his leg, trying to follow him. She blasted him with hard bolts of water, catching his hand and tearing the mask from his grasp. It floated away into the space between dimensions.

Takanuva turned back. What he saw horrified him, but his shout of warning came too late. Tuyet was halfway through the portal, trying to drag Takanuva back in. She was so consumed by rage that she never noticed the portal closing until it was much too late. She screamed as reality slammed shut on her body, leaving her upper half in the void and the lower half in the Coliseum on her world. Mercifully, death came instantly.

Takanuva hovered in space for a long moment. He wondered what would happen in Tuyet's universe with her gone. Would the Toa become protectors again? Would the Matoran take control? Or would some group of the Dark Hunters and Makuta become new dictators? Perhaps someday, if he was able, he would return to find out the answer. He turned his head away from the remains of Tuyet, wondering how a Toa could go so wrong, and realizing with a shudder what a fine line it could be between justice and tyranny. Tuyet's life had been wasted, but the lives of no more Toa would be lost if he could prevent it. With grim resolve, he resumed his journey to Karda Nui.
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« Reply #8 on: September 04, 2008, 01:37:40 pm »

Combine Greg and Mutran, you get this. But watch out, it bites.

Entry 1

As I, Makuta Mutran, recline in my hive in Karda Nui, carving this record, I am gratified by the sight of shadow leeches taking form in their bubbling vats. The invasion of the universe core is proceeding well, my newest creations are spreading darkness and corruption, and in general, it is good to be alive.

My assistant, Vican, is busily stuffing a failed experiment back into its crate. Normally, I dispose of any “accidents” as soon as possible... but in this case, this hissing, biting, and incredibly toxic creation would make a fine gift for Chirox.

Ah, Chirox... it was only 100 millennia or so ago that we were the best of friends, working together to create new and better Rahi to aid the Matoran.

It was during the reign of Makuta Miserix, first leader of the Brotherhood. The fortress of Destral had only recently been constructed and all Makuta were based there. Our sole job at the time was Rahi creation. I recall one particular day when Chirox and I were bent over our slab, trying to make something useful out of one of Spiriah’s experiments.

“Too many legs,” muttered Chirox. “And those teeth...”

“Do we break it down and start over?” I asked. “Or simply lock it in a room with Spiriah?”

Miserix chose this moment to enter. He took one look at the squirming thing on the table and snorted in disgust. Then he glanced up at us. “We have a... situation,” he said. “The inhabitants of Xia are demanding higher payments for their goods than most Matoran cities can afford. I want one of you to go with Makuta Icarax and his aide, Pridak, to explain the necessity of cooperation to them.”

After he left, we flipped the Rahi to see who would have to go. Unfortunately, it had two heads and no tail, so it took quite some time to arrive at a decision.

The mission was successful, of course. After days of negotiations, Icarax lost his temper. Later, after the rubble had been cleared away, the Xians were more than willing to be reasonable. We practically had to drag Pridak off the island, so taken was he with the place’s potential.

It was only when we were close to Destral that I realized I had forgotten my pet project, my favorite sentient rock. “I must have left it in the center of the island when we were inspecting the factories,” I said. “Most disturbing... I never travel without it, but it can be... difficult.”

“What’s the problem?” growled Icarax. “It’s a rock.”

“Well, true,” I answered. “That is, unless it starts eating Xians and grows into a Mountain. Still, what are the odds of that ever happening?”

We sailed on then, leaving behind an island full of factories, a hard-working population of Xians... and a very, very hungry rock.

Entry 2

Ah, Pridak … it was not so very long after our excursion to Xia that he left the service of the Brotherhood of Makuta for “greater things.” I gather that Makuta Miserix kept an eye on him, through an easily corruptible character named Takadox. And so the formation of the League of Six Kingdoms came of little surprise to us.

That’s not to say we were happy about it. Oh, my, no. It was one thing to know you were always below the Great Spirit on the ladder of power – quite another to be receiving strongly worded “requests” from six jumped-up warlords who didn’t know their proper place in things.

Well do I remember sitting in a cold, damp chamber in some Barraki tower, listening to Pridak and Kalmah discuss how they intended to carve up the known universe into territories. We Makuta would continue to provide Rahi beasts and anything else they might need that was within our power to give them. Miserix listened to all this with growing impatience until he could take no more.

“Insolent gnats,” he spat. “The Makuta serve only Mata Nui. We do not put our secret knowledge to work for every being with a strong arm and legions of rabble behind him.”

Pridak leaned forward, smiling. “That ‘rabble’ is prepared to march on Destral on my orders. Before your Toa and Rahkshi can even marshal their forces, we will have taken your fortress … and claimed your precious secrets. You would do well to remember that, while you serve Mata Nui, we are his chosen rulers in this universe.”

“Then perhaps the Great Spirit is not as smart as we have been led to believe,” said Icarax.

I glanced at Takadox then. A member of the League and a seller of information to the Brotherhood, he truly belonged with neither side. Perhaps that is why he looked like he wished he could sink into the floor.

Pridak rose, followed by Kalmah and the others. “You have a choice, Makuta – cooperation, or conquest. I trust you will choose wisely.”

“What about the places not on your map?” asked Makuta Chirox. “Artakha … Metru Nui … the unknown lands to the south …”

“We are in … discussions with Metru Nui,” said Kalmah. “As for Artakha, let the old fool putter among his creations. And the southern lands are fit only for stone rats and lohrak.”

“Then this lot should fit right in,” I muttered, earning a glare from Kalmah.

“This meeting is over,” said Pridak coldly. “We will expect fresh war beasts as requested. If you choose to obstruct the designs of the Great Spirit, then your fate will be on your own heads.”

One by one, the League members filed out, Takadox shooting a worried glance at Miserix as he departed. After they were gone, Miserix turned to his most trusted lieutenant and spoke the words that (though we did not know it then) sealed the Barraki’s fate:

“Swords so easily drawn beg to be used … and are rarely so easy to put away again. These Barraki may prove troublesome. Watch them.”

Entry 3

The war was over.

Not that I got to witness the final, grand battle between the forces of the Brotherhood of Makuta and the upstart League of Six Kingdoms. Oh, no – Miserix’s lieutenant claimed the honor of leading the attack and getting all the glory. I and another Makuta, Gorast, were sent on what amounted to clean-up duty in the fortress of Kalmah.

Needless to say, I was not excited about this task. If you have ever been to the northwestern regions of the League’s territory, you know that it stinks like the breath of a Kanohi Dragon and is littered with the carcasses of dead Rahi. Of course, that last is my fault – Kalmah never showed the proper respect due a Makuta, so I never sent him Rahi with a lifespan of more than three days.

Add to that the company of Gorast, as warm and friendly as cuddling up with a spiked lava eel. She said nothing on the trip north, other than to urge me to move faster, which was fine with me. Gorast is a fierce warrior, but once you have finished discussing dismemberment, slaughter, carnage, and decapitation, she has nothing much left to say.

Kalmah’s “fortress” was hardly that. Word of the League’s surrender had spread and that remnant of his army that had been left behind had sacked the place. They had fled before we arrived, so that all we found was a pile of rock and debris. A brief search revealed no signs of any weapons, charts, equipment, or anything else that would be of use.

After a while, Gorast spotted a few stragglers and hunted them down. I tried to clear some of the rubble to make a space to sit down. That was when I spotted the carving. Looking it over, I realized that some of my creations – the Rahi beasts I named “blade burrowers” – had defied the odds and survived. What’s more, Kalmah had discovered something most interesting about them. When enough blade burrowers are present, they start to tunnel every which way. At first glance, the tunnels look random – two long, curved ones running north and south, with smaller ones in between them – with the same pattern of construction, repeated over and over again. But Kalmah had realized they were not random at all, as any fool could see. No – the blade burrowers were constructing a map.

But... a map of what?

That question plagues me to this day. The shape of the tunnels looks like no land mass I know of. I even once tried having an imprisoned Toa wearing a Mask of Translation communicate with the burrowers, but to no avail. It seems the burrowers don’t know why they are building the tunnels in this pattern either, only that they must.

I felt certain then, and still do now, that this means something … perhaps something devastating. But it is a mystery beyond even the Brotherhood’s capacity to solve … and although a Makuta should never admit to feeling fear, I confess the memory of that carving haunts my dreams.

Entry 4

There is nothing quite so... amusing... as Matoran at war with each other. There they are, with their powerless masks and their little weapons, trying to look formidable as they march into battle. One has to laugh.

Of course, Makuta Miserix did not find the situation at all amusing. A mere 500 years after the defeat of the League of Six Kingdoms, the Matoran of Metru Nui had gone to war with each other. It had begun as a simple dispute over boundaries and trade between Ta-Metru and Po-Metru. It escalated when Po-Matoran sank some of the transport barges and Ta-Matoran destroyed a Po-Matoran warehouse with molten protodermis. Onu-Metru sided with the fire Matoran, Le-Metru with the stone. The Ko-Matoran attempted to intervene and were rebuffed, which pushed them into the Po-Matoran camp. Ga-Matoran efforts to remain neutral failed miserably and they eventually sided with fire and earth as well.

Work ground to a halt as arguments evolved into pitched battles. Entire blocks of streets were badly damaged or destroyed. With no Toa stationed there, and the Turaga ineffective, it seemed as if nothing could halt the destruction. This suited me just fine, since I was using the chaos as an opening to slip new Rahi into the city to test their destructive potential.

Miserix ordered his lieutenant to step in and stop the fighting. By this time, that particular Makuta was already contemplating the overthrow of the Great Spirit Mata Nui, so no doubt he saw this as an opportunity to show how well the Makuta could impose order. Unfortunately, his solution was to seal large numbers of the opposing armies in the Archives and unleash the exhibits on them. It was, needless to say, quite a mess to clean up later. And it did nothing to inspire great love for the Brotherhood in the hearts of the Matoran, though they certainly behaved themselves afterwards.

What happened to the war leaders, we do not know. Possibly they were spirited off as the Barraki had been, to parts unknown. But from that time on, Miserix decided that each of us would be assigned a particular region to watch over. His lieutenant was assigned the prize of Metru Nui, while I was given the center section of the Matoran mainland. (Not that I ever paid much attention to what was going on there, being too busy with my experiments. Really, who cared what happened to a few Matoran here or there? There were always more where they came from.)

Of course, much of what I have related here, I did not witness personally. No, after the war was well underway, I was given another job by Miserix. By the time the Archives Massacre took place, I was well to the south, heading for a meeting with a legend... a legend named Tren Krom.

Entry 5

Wherever you may travel in this vast universe of ours, it is likely you will run across someone who will tell you that Tren Krom is no more than a myth... just a legend of antiquity, no more real than Irnakk or any other figment of the imagination. Setting foot upon his island will not bring terrible consequences, they insist, just a pleasant walk on a rocky beach. To those beings, of course, I say, “What would you like for your memorial upon your death? So I can start planning it now.”

For it is a well known fact to those who know it well that Tren Krom is no myth. He is older than the stars themselves, born in a time when there was no Mata Nui, no Makuta, only never-ending darkness that encompassed all. He walked through a universe in the throes of its birth, and even the shadows feared him. To meet Tren Krom was to court madness, or worse... so naturally, the Brotherhood chose me to seek him out.

The reason for the meeting was obvious: the Brotherhood could not allow a being of such power to dwell unchecked in our universe. We had to know his intent and whether he posed a threat to the lands we watched over. Thus I followed a trail of half-remembered stories told by the mad until I reached the shore of an island whose shores had not welcomed a visitor in millennia.

In the interests of writing a complete record, I should include every detail of my time there. In the interests of the sanity anyone reading this, I will not. Even when I look back now, I remember only a scarlet mass, a face that was not a face, tentacles lined with tiny, sharpened hooks, eyes that were little more than holes in a gelatinous skull, and that voice... oh, that voice made Makuta Teridax sound lilting and sweet.

I expected to die. When Tren Krom’s mind touched mine, and I saw the reality of what he was, I almost wanted to perish in that moment... better that than to live with the memory. But he saw something in my thoughts that must have intrigued him... hard to imagine what it might have been, given how alien he was to any form of life. Rather than crush me in his grasp, Tren Krom explored my consciousness, like an Archives mole rooting about for a meal. It was amazing... it was horrifying... it was a view into a mind as far beyond mine as mine is beyond a fireflyer’s... and it was feeling my mind turn into a nest of serpents, hissing and slithering and trailing slime.

Then everything went black.

When I awoke again, I lay on the deserted beach. There was no sign of Tren Krom, or even the cavern in which I had encountered him. I thought perhaps the whole thing had been a nightmare, some trick of my fellow Makuta... and then I knew it could not be. For I understood now... I knew how the universe worked, and as much as my mind could stand, why the universe worked.

And I knew one thing more – that Makuta Teridax’s mad dreams of overthrowing the Great Spirit Mata Nui were not just fantasies. It was possible. It could work. The knowledge I held was the ammunition for the weapon Teridax would one day wield, a weapon that would win us a universe.

Entry 6

Well do I remember the day Makuta Teridax first revealed his Plan. I had only recently returned with the information I learned on the island of Tren Krom, knowledge he listened to without comment. Then he did something no Makuta other than Miserix had ever done – he demanded a Convocation.

Technically, any Makuta could demand that all members assemble on Destral. But normally, only the leader of the Brotherhood would ever do it. Worse, Teridax had not bothered to get Miserix’s permission to do this. The two were on a collision course from the start.

Teridax stated his idea briefly and clearly: we were to strike at the Great Spirit Mata Nui and seize power in the universe. Some of our number, like Gorast and Bitil, were immediately on board. Vamprah and Krika kept silent,for reasons of their own. A handful of others raised objections. Teridax seemed to listen carefully to them, but I could tell he was really memorizing a list of who they were for later.

Miserix, of course, saw this for what it was – a naked bid to take over leadership of the Brotherhood. His response was to rise from the head of the table, hurl a bolt of shadow energy from his gauntlet and blast Teridax halfway through the wall. I started to rise, intending to help him back to his feet. But a look from Miserix froze me where I stood.

“Treason,” said Miserix. “Worse than treason – stupidity. Succeed in your grand design and you risk the death of the universe itself.”

“A risk,” said Teridax, brushing rock dust off his armor, “I am willing to take.”

“And what will you use to attack the Great Spirit?” sneered Miserix. “Your shadow hand? A troop of Rahkshi? You are an insect in the eyes of Mata Nui... and in mine.”

If I could have ducked under the table and maintained my dignity as a Makuta, I would have. Teridax vaulted the length of the room and caught Miserix by the throat. He slammed the leader of the Brotherhood against one wall, then another, before flinging him down to the ground. Before Miserix could react, Teridax had his staff at our leader’s throat.

“You are a relic,” Teridax snarled. “This universe belongs to the strong, and your position of power has made you weak.”

Miserix grabbed the staff, sending a surge of lightning up it that sent Teridax hurtling backwards. “Insolent worm,” Miserix shouted, rising. “You would lead the Brotherhood to destruction and disgrace!”

“I would lead it... to supremacy,” Teridax said. “Supremacy that is ours by right.” He turned to the rest of the assembled Makuta. “I leave it to you... to choose who you will follow.”

Gorast and Bitil moved immediately to his side. Vamprah, Antroz, Chirox and Spiriah followed. I hesitated for a moment, but could not escape the fact that of all present, I knew his Plan could work. So I too joined Teridax. Others did as well, with Krika and Icarax being the last to come stand beside us. Only a small number of Makuta sided with Miserix. Seeing that they were outnumbered, they moved – somewhat reluctantly – to our side. Miserix was left alone.

“I claim leadership of the Brotherhood, through the will of the Convocation,” Teridax said. “The Plan will go forward. As my first act... I sentence you, Miserix, to death. Krika, Spiriah, you will carry out my will.”

Miserix, stunned and enraged, looked at the assembled Makuta with contempt. “You are suicidal fools, tampering with the very order of the universe. And this... this maniac will lead you nowhere but to your deaths!”

The former leader of the Brotherhood stared hard into the crimson eyes of the new one. “This is not over, Teridax. Kill me, scatter my remains from here to Metru Nui, but someday... I will be avenged.”

Teridax had already lost interest. He was huddled with Chirox and myself, discussing how best to strike at the Great Spirit. Krika and Spiriah moved in quickly, knowing Miserix’s penchant for shapeshifting into exceedingly nasty reptilian creatures. They hauled him out of the chamber. I would never see him again.

This is not the end of the tale, of course. Over the next year, Gorast and Icarax tracked down and killed all the Makuta who had stood by Miserix’s side. Teridax would order their masks nailed to the wall in the Convocation Chamber as a warning to others who might consider rebellion.

The only thing that puzzled me was that one mask was missing from that group... the one worn by Miserix. What, I wondered, had Krika done with it?

Entry 7

Bitil was the first one to notice. We were both visiting Destral at the time, laying plans to support Teridax’s planned coup against Mata Nui. As I recall we were discussing how unfortunate it was so much of the plan might hinge on the actions of Makuta Kojol, who oversaw the region of Artakha. Kojol was a secretive sort, never sharing what he knew with anyone, not even the location of Artakha itself. His specialties were flying Rahi and sea Rahi, both of whom protected his region from any intrusion, even by us.

But I must stay on the subject. Bitil was making a point in his usual way, by throwing a weapon at the wall. He went to pick up an axe and found he couldn’t make his armor move. It was like all his muscles had turned to water. My amusement at his panic faded when I realized the same thing was happening to me.

Chirox pulled away some of Kojol’s armor, only to see a greenish-black mist rising from inside the shell. Worried, Chirox caught a sample, then did a crude patch of the armor. After extensive tests, he returned to inform us of his results.

“This,” he began, holding up a tube with the mist inside, “is what is left of our bodies. We have evolved from muscle and tissue to pure energy. No longer do we need to eat, or breathe, nor do we need fear the pains that come with advanced age.

“But there is more,” he continued. “If a Makuta’s energy disperses, his consciousness will disappear and he will die. So it is critical to guard against damage to our armor that might allow our essence to escape.”

How did I feel about this, you might wonder. Intrigued... resentful that Chirox figured out what was happening before I did... and unsure what this meant for the future of we Makuta. Would we be more powerful now that we did not have to worry about organs and muscles being harmed? Would the fear of our armor being pierced and our energy dispersed make us too cautious?

Teridax wasted no time worrying. He ordered the “Nynrah ghosts” brought to Destral so that they could modify our armor to take advantage of our new “bodies.” They added additional layers of protosteel, possible now that we had no physical forms that required space.

An unexpected benefit of our new existence was discovered in quite a painful way (for me, at least). Wandering through the fortress, I encountered a lone Exo-Toa. When I tried to pass it, the robot picked me up and threw me the length of the hallway, all the while laughing a most familiar laugh.

“Chirox?” I asked, getting back to my feet – for that was whose laugh I heard.

“Our new forms,” came the reply. “With them, we can take over robot bodies – perhaps living ones, too, I do not know. Think of it – the ultimate disguise!”

“Ah, yes,” I answered. “Once again, you find a better way to hide.”

He fired a missile from the armor in response, but not fast enough. I stalked over and tore an arm off the robot, then smiled as I saw his energies begin to drift out of the gap. My smile grew broader as I heard him cursing in my mind, while he directed his energies back toward his empty Makuta armor in another chamber.

The idea of destroying the armor before he could reach it did, I admit, cross my mind. Did I refrain out of mercy, or kindness, or some sense of fellowship with my brother Makuta?

No, no, quite the opposite. I simply knew how long Chirox had been struggling to develop a flying serpent with just the right amount of exterior slime to allow it to slither through small crevices, while not so much that it left a trail wherever it went. And as soon as he was back in his body, I was going to take a great deal of joy in introducing him to my Lohrak, wings, slime, and all...

Entry 8

Well do I remember the first time I saw the Kanohi Avohkii, or Mask of Light. Truly no more vile or disgusting thing has ever been created in this universe. There it was in the hands of Teridax, not even having the courtesy to be the color of a lump of clay when not being worn – oh, no, the Avohkii gleamed golden. Locked within it was the one power we Makuta dreaded, and the unspoken promise of something far worse – the existence, someday, of an actual Toa of Light.

Whispered rumors had reached Destral that such a mask had come into existence on Artakha. Natually, Makuta Kojol, being the idiot he was, had not learned this directly. But he was more than ready to lead an armada against the island and seize the thing.

Teridax wanted a subtle operation, a few Rahkshi, that’s all. Kojol, at his peril, chose to ignore this. He assembled a strike force of Visorak, Rahkshi, and even a few Exo-Toa, intending to overwhelm any defenses on the island with one crushing blow.

It didn’t quite work out that way. The first things the Visorak ran into when they hit the beach were two massive serpents that seemed to be made of crystal. The Visorak, supremely confident as always, thought they would make short work of such large Rahi. Instead, the rays of the sun focused through the bodies of the snakes promptly incinerated Kojol’s entire first wave.

Kojol pulled his ships back and tried another approach. Fortunately, Rahkshi are good climbers and were able to get a clawhold on more treacherous terrain. While the Matoran on the island posed little threat, the devices of the island’s ruler – also named Artakha – took a heavy toll on the Rahkshi. They bought enough time for the Exo-Toa to deploy, however, and with their power added to the battle, the island fell.

Kojol could have – should have – taken everything in sight from the fortress. But it took him so long to come ashore, and so long to find the Avohkii (since the interior of the fortress was booby-trapped), and then he claims there was this intense blizzard as he tried to depart. Worse, he was never supposed to have set foot on the island at all – the point was for this to be a secret raid, not one that could be tied to the Brotherhood. (True, Visorak and Rahkshi are associated with us, but without the actual presence of a Makuta there, we could still deny knowledge of what happened.)

Kojol returned to Destral in “triumph,” and despite disobeying orders, Teridax praised him for claiming the mask. The Toa Hagah who served us showed no indication they knew anything about the raid, meaning somehow our plans were still safe from view. The story, it seemed, was over.

Then something strange began to happen. Two squads of Rahkshi dispatched to a remote part of the southern continent were never seen alive again. When I found them, their armor was reduced to scraps and their kraata to dark smears on the ground. It seemed an interesting coincidence that they were the same Rahkshi who were on the Artakha raid.

The Exo-Toa were next. In the middle of the night, they vanished from their guard posts. To this day, we have no idea what became of them. By then, I was beginning to suspect that Artakha, or someone close to him, was taking revenge for our raid. That would mean Kojol would be next. Teridax needed to be informed immediately...

So, naturally, I did nothing.

Why? Because Kojol was a posturing, arrogant, obnoxious buffoon. If someone else wanted to spare me the trouble of killing him one day, so be it.

Oh, it looked like an accident, of course. He was visiting Xia, presenting them with a new armor-eating virus he wanted them to incorporate into a weapon. Either he made the virus better than he knew or else someone substituted a different one – for when it escaped, it turned out to have a taste for protosteel. His armor was devoured in seconds. Well, accidents happen. Of course, that didn’t explain how his energy form wound up in a high-temperature Vortixx furnace where it was completely destroyed.

The virus had died almost immediately upon finishing its work, and we have never seen its like again. The Vortixx claimed innocence, but Teridax ordered part of the island razed anyway, as a reminder to them to be more careful in future.

It was only later that I realized what a fool I had been. Kojol was the only one who knew where the island of Artakha was, and I should have forced the knowledge from him before he died. When the Brotherhood tried to seek out others likely to know where the island might be located, we found that all had mysteriously died. Artakha – if it was him – was being very thorough.

In the end, we did not keep the Mask of Light for long. Teridax’s squad of Toa Hagah actually dared invade the Destral fortress and steal the mask! They paid for it in the end – remind me to write sometime of Roodaka’s nasty sense of humor – but they did escape with the mask.

Once that happened – once we knew there were Toa who had divined our new purpose in life – the Plan had to go forward swiftly. The time had come to bring down the Great Spirit and begin our march to power.

Entry 9

Perhaps readers of this chronicle will have heard the old saying, “When Teridax is away, the Rahi will play.” Our leader spent most of his time off of Destral, particularly after the Toa Hagah’s rebellion. This left the rest of us to our own devices, particularly when we were visiting that island.

For example, shortly after Teridax left for Metru Nui to initiate the next stage of the Plan, I had a visit from Chirox. He was holding a dead specimen of my new Rahi, the Lohrak. He did not look at all happy, which was nothing new.

“Lohrak! Lohrak???” Chirox raged. “I created the Lohrak, millennia ago, and it wasn’t this... this... winged waste of protodermis! How dare you use the same name and try to replace my creation!”

“Your creation is best forgotten,” I replied. “As usual, you design Rahi that are a bludgeon rather than a dagger. I, on the other hand, put some subtlety into my work. It’s as if I signed my name to them.”

“Signed your name?” spat Chirox. “You can’t even spell your name!”

I was about to crush him with the perfect insult in response when the world shook. We were both thrown off our feet as a violent earthquake struck Destral. Masonry cracked, ceilings collapsed, and it was all I could to do to shapeshift a pair of claws to dig into the stone floor and hold on. The shaking lasted perhaps a few seconds, or perhaps forever, depending on your viewpoint.

When it was over, I struggled to my feet. The fortress of Destral was in ruins. Some of our prisoners were dead, some wounded. At least one of my fellow Makuta had seen his armor damaged to the point where his energy was floating freely in the air (fortunately, we were able to get him into an Exo-Toa body until his armor could be repaired). Most beings would have reacted to this event with despair, even panic, and I have no doubt many of those mewling Matoran out in the larger universe were doing just that.

But not Chirox and I, for we knew what the tremors meant. They were a sign that the Plan had worked – Mata Nui had fallen before the Brotherhood’s attack! Now, if all went right, Teridax would seize complete control of the city of Metru Nui and we would be close to the power we all longed for.

Alas, the best laid plans of Makuta and Matoran... the days following the fall of the Great Spirit proved to be a complete fiasco. Consider:

• Our glorious leader was defeated in battle by six novice Toa and a Turaga.

• The Metru Nui Matoran we so prized were spirited out of the universe by those same Toa, leaving the city of legends abandoned.

• Sidorak was killed and our Visorak legions scattered to the winds.

• Teridax’s rash actions led to the deaths of two Dark Hunters and ended up sparking a war with that organization that rages to this day.

• The Mask of Time – a treasure beyond price – wound up in the hands of a Toa, along with a pledge by Teridax not to menace the Matoran for a full year!

It was around this time that Icarax began to grumble in earnest about Teridax’s leadership. He proposed his own plan: seize Metru Nui, Matoran or no Matoran, and from there launch a wave of conquest that would make the Barraki look like a bunch of irritable sand frogs. Crush entire continents beneath our heels, loot the halls of the Nynrah and Artakha (if we could ever find that island again), and dare Toa to try to dislodge us from power.

Icarax actually had the insane courage to try to implement his ideas without approval from the rest of the Brotherhood. He left his assigned realm of Karzahni and journeyed south with a small army of Manas crabs. A number of small settlements on the northern continent had fallen to him before Teridax confronted him.

The battle that followed was epic. Icarax was the better fighter, but Teridax was more cunning. He allowed Icarax to pound him for hours on end, until the rebel’s energies were almost exhausted. Then Teridax exerted the smallest amount of his will and turned the Manas against Icarax. Once he was surrounded, Teridax used every power at his command to defeat... no, demolish... no, perhaps humiliate would be a better word... Icarax.

Surprisingly, after all that, Teridax let him live. “Your talents are still of some use to me, and so I will not kill you... today,” the leader of the Brotherhood said. “But one day – perhaps in a year, or 1000 years, or 100,000 years – I may grow tired of you, Icarax. You may cease to be amusing, with your posturing and your boasting and your lust for battle. And on that day, your armor will be a meal for metal-eating scavengers, and your essence a wisp on the wind.”

Although Icarax made light of it later – claiming Teridax had been “too afraid” to try to kill him – I know he never forgot that battle. He remains to this day a danger to the Plan and a threat to Teridax – expecting him to be anything else would be like expecting a Zivon to place its head in your lap and purr.

Teridax did not linger on Destral to oversee repairs to the fortress. He returned to his lair at Mangaia, readying himself for the prophesied arrival of the Toa Mata, the keys to all our planning, all our hopes, and all our dreams of conquest.

Entry 10

How quickly 1000 years can go by when you are busy outdoing Chirox in Rahi creation. While Teridax busied himself tormenting the Matoran of Mata Nui like a Muaka with a stone rat, I was bringing fabulous creatures into being. True, some of them did not live very long... and yes, one died quite an explosive death... but I had my successes as well. The shadow leech, for example – a mutated kraata that could drain the light out of any living being. Who couldn’t love that?

Naturally, I needed a test subject for it. I traveled to a village in my area of control in search of a Matoran brave/desperate/stupid enough to volunteer (I could have taken one by force, but after 100,000 years, all that screaming and begging grows tiresome to listen to). I was fortunate enough to run across a villager named Vican, eager to find a more adventurous life for himself. What he got for the loss of his light instead was a life of shadow and the honor of being my assistant... a more than fair trade, in my estimation.

It was shortly after I introduced him to the wonder that is Destral that a most fascinating incident took place: a Matoran went flying through my laboratory, to be dashed against the far wall. His armor was crimson, but it was obvious he was one of mine – meaning another beneficiary of the gift of a shadow leech. He was followed by Gorast, in her usual state of rage/psychosis.

The crumpled heap on the floor turned out to be Vultraz, a Matoran who had been in the service of Gorast for some time before becoming one with the shadows. On a far-flung scouting mission, he had discovered a way into the legendary Karda Nui, the core of the universe. That was the good news. The bad news was that he had decided to keep this knowledge to himself, apparently thinking he could benefit from it somehow. That he did, if you consider being beaten by Gorast to be a “benefit.”

Once she had the information in hand, Gorast informed Teridax (who was busy taking a long overdue bath beneath Voya Nui at the time). His reaction was predictable: we were to go to Karda Nui immediately, seize it, and see to it any Av-Matoran there would pose no threat. Eventually, he had no doubt the Toa Nuva would make an appearance there... if they did, his wishes were clear. Icarax, of course, thought his demands bordered on insanity if not treason to the Brotherhood, and he refused to go. Eventually, Antroz gave up trying to persuade him.

“We’ll call him when there is someone for him to break,” our team leader said. “Otherwise, I can do without his company.”

Karda Nui – how to describe its glory, its wonder, its sheer beauty? How to capture the feeling one gets at the first sight of it? It isn’t easy, but let me try.

It’s a big cave. With a swamp in it.

At least, there has been the sport of hunting Matoran, which has kept Vamprah happy. Gorast, Bitil and Krika went down below to ready themselves in case the Toa appear in the swamp first, and I have not seen them since. I am sure they are fine – certainly, they would not be foolish enough to go into water so obviously foul.

As for me, I am back to creating shadow leeches in my new hive. I have my doubts the Toa Nuva will ever arrive – what sane being would challenge seven Makuta? If they do, things will be most … interesting. Teridax tells us we must show restraint – asking Makuta to show restraint around Toa is like asking a Rahkshi to show table manners.

Hmmmm... what’s that? I could have sworn there was a flash of light outside. It must have been pretty powerful for me to see it all the way in here. Well, I suppose if it was anything important, I will find out about it in time...
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« Reply #9 on: September 04, 2008, 01:47:43 pm »

Brutal... Well, at least there's Vezon around. Where there is Vezon, there is trouble. And where there is trouble, there's fun.

-=Chapter 1=-

Vezon opened his eyes, astonished to still be alive. The last thing he remembered, he was surrounded by Zyglak, who seemed immune to his wit and charm. Then there was a flash, the sensation of being grabbed by someone far stronger than he, a weird sensation of travel, and darkness.

He looked around. The room he occupied was a large cell and he wasn’t in it alone. Vezon didn’t recognize any of the other four occupants, all of whom stood well away from the others. By reflex, he started calculating how long it would take to disable them and how quickly he could pick the lock of the cell door.

Vezon’s musings were interrupted by the appearance of a sixth figure outside the cell. He was tall, lean and strong, wore a domed helmet, and carried a wicked double-bladed sword. The newcomer looked over the five prisoners as if they were cargo-hauling Ussal crabs up for auction.

“My name is Brutaka,” the visitor said. “I know you have questions – I’m not here to answer them. Where you are, who I work for, what this place is – you don’t need to know. What you do need to know is that there are two, and only two, ways you can get out of here.”

A Xian female stepped up to the bars and said in a dangerously soft voice, “And they are?”

“You can walk out, Roodaka, under your own power, and carry out a mission for some friends of mine,” Brutaka replied. “Or I can carry you out, plant you in a hole outside, and we’ll see if anything grows.”

Brutaka turned his attention to the others. “All of you have something in common – you have all had dealings with the Brotherhood of Makuta. Roodaka, here, betrayed them to the Dark Hunters, then betrayed the Dark Hunters as well – now both sides want her dead. Takadox and Carapar over there are Barraki, whose armies were crushed 80,000 years ago by the Brotherhood. The Makuta in the corner is Spiriah, who fouled up an experiment on the island of Zakaz so badly that his own people marked him for death.”

Vezon timidly raised a hand. “Excuse me, oh brutal, blade-wielding, lover of gardening. I have never met any Makuta face to mask and wouldn’t know one if he stepped on me and ground me into the dirt. I think maybe you wanted someone else … I’m Vezon with an ‘n,’ you see, not Vezok with a ‘k,’ and --”

The crab-like Carapar loped over, picked up Vezon by the neck, and bounced him off the back wall. “You talk too much,” the Barraki growled.

“Oh, yes,” Brutaka muttered, shaking his head. “This is going to work out just fine.”

-=Chapter 2=-

Roodaka was furious. As she walked along the waterfront, clad in a cloak made of plant fibre, she imagined over and over again all the disgusting things she would someday turn Brutaka into with her Rhotuka spinner. One way or the other, he was going to pay for this.

Brutaka and his team – Roodaka, Vezon, Carapar, Takadox, and Makuta Spiriah – had arrived on the shores of the island of Stelt in a small boat. As soon as Roodaka recognized the skyline, she began to protest. Stelt was the home of the late Sidorak, her former comrade, and his people. Worse, Roodaka had set Sidorak up to be killed, and it was likely everyone on Stelt knew that. She would be about as welcome there as a Kikanalo stampede.

But Brutaka had insisted they would need a bigger boat to get where they were going, and this was the easiest place to get one. The only other team member to voice an objection was Spiriah, who believed Brotherhood of Makuta agents were waiting in every village to grab him.

“And just how are we going to purchase this boat?” Roodaka hissed. “We have no equipment, no arms other than yours, not even those ridiculous Matoran widgets. We have nothing of value to offer in exchange.”

“Of course we do,” Brutaka answered, as he pushed open the doors of a trading house. “We have you.”

No sooner were the words out of his mouth than Carapar had seized her from behind. The team, along with the struggling Roodaka, stepped inside the dimly lit and foul smelling shack. The proprietor was one of Sidorak’s species.

“We’re here to make a purchase,” said Brutaka. “Your fastest ship, outfitted with supplies for a long voyage to the south.”

“To the south?” snorted the trader. “Meaning I will never see my ship, or you, again? Unless you can make me rich --”

Brutaka took the hood off Roodaka, who glared at him with murder in her eyes. “Would the reward you’ll get for capturing the killer of Sidorak be payment enough?”

The trader smiled and invited the party out to view his prize craft. So excited was he by visions of the wealth that would soon be his that he never noticed Takadox had slipped away. The boat turned out to be good-sized, well armed with disk launchers, and large enough to accommodate at least a dozen beings. A crew of large, blue and gray armored bruisers were at work on it now.

“We’ll take it,” said Brutaka. There was a loud splash from the ocean side of the ship, but no one paid much mind to it.

“And I’ll take the murderer,” the trader said. “Sidorak was no prize, but we can’t let Vortixx and Rahi kill our kind and get away with it, now can we?”

There was another splash, then another, and another. Brutaka ignored them. “Of course not. But if you want people to believe you caught this dangerous criminal, you will need to look like you’ve been in a fight. A light tap to your head would do the trick, perhaps. My colleague, Vezon, can handle it – you won’t feel a thing.”

“Ever again,” Vezon chimed in, smiling.

Splash. Splash. Splash.

The trader looked over Vezon, who was nowhere near as physically imposing as the rest of the team. How much damage could he do? “All right,” said the trader. “One blow – a light one! – just to look convincing.”

Vezon’s grin grew wider. Roodaka struggled against Carapar’s grip. Brutaka walked casually away from the scene, surveying the boat. Vezon drew his fist back. Then, in one smooth motion, Brutaka whirled and whacked the trader in the back of the head. The trader crumpled to the ground, unconscious.

“Hey!” said Vezon. “He was mine! I woudn’t have hurt him … much … and I only would have needed three or four hours and the right tools, just to make sure he would be no trouble.”

“That’s the point,” Brutaka replied. “You enjoy your work a little too much. Now everyone on board – that includes you, Roodaka.”

They climbed on the ship to find Takadox standing alone. The Barraki took a little bow, pointed to his hypnotic eyes, and said, “The crew decided to go for a swim, all at once. Imagine that.”

“Why all the trouble?” muttered Carapar. “We could have just stormed in and stolen the ship.”

“And had all of Stelt after us?” asked Brutaka. “Not to mention every Dark Hunter and Brotherhood member around, as soon as they heard Roodaka was here?”

“But what about the trader, you fool?” said Roodaka. “He saw me!”

Brutaka laughed as the ship moved slowly away from shore. “Who’s going to believe anyone stupid enough to stand still and get hit?”

-=Chapter 3=-

Brutaka and his bizarre crew had been at sea for three days when he called them all together. “It’s time to let you know our mission. And before you ask, you were all chosen for this trip for one very good reason: You’re expendable. No one is going to care if any of you live or die, which makes you ideal for this job.”

Carapar grumbled something unspeakably foul. Brutaka chose to ignore it.

“We are going to an island far south of anything on any chart,” Brutaka continued. “But it’s not uninhabited. In fact, it has one very special resident: a Makuta named Miserix.”

Now it was Spiriah’s turn to mutter something, though his words were more in shock than in anger.

“Miserix, for those of you who don’t know, was the leader of the Brotherhood of Makuta before the current holder of that title,” said Brutaka. “He was overthrown and wound up imprisoned on a volcanic island. He’s guarded by Rahi and the Great Beings know what else – things someone figured would be able to kill an escaping Makuta. And it’s our job to break him out.”

At first, none of the team members said anything. Then Takadox spoke up. “And what do we get out of this? Money? Power? Our freedom?”

Brutaka smiled. “You get to live another day.”

“And what do we do with him after we have him?” asked Roodaka. “Hold him for ransom?”

“That’s not your concern,” Brutaka replied. “All of you have a role to play in this mission. When we get close to the island, you will be given weapons and equipment. Try to run, at any time, and friends of mine will hunt you down – friends who make me look like a big, cuddly Ussal crab.”

It was Vezon who spotted them first. A small fleet of ragtag vessels was approaching from the west. They were about the ugliest boats one could imagine, slapped together from remnants and wreckage and barely sea-worthy. But he wasn’t focused on the look of the ships, but rather the identity of their crews.

“Zyglak!” he shouted.

The others rushed to the rail to look. Sure enough, the reptilian beings known as “the Great Beings’ mistakes” were manning the ships. Notoriously violent and destructive, Zyglak hated the Great Spirit Mata Nui and anything associated with him. It was doubtful they were paying a social call.

Brutaka tried to steer the ship away from them, but the wind and waves were not cooperating. After a few minutes, he realized why: Makuta Spiriah was using his power over weather to keep the ship in place.

“Did you really think it would be this easy?” said Spiriah. “I deduced our goal days ago and passed a message to my Zyglak friends through channels on Stelt.”

Vezon looked horrified. He had spent many days a captive of the Zyglak not so long ago. It wasn’t an experience he was anxious to repeat. “Friends? Zyglak don’t have friends... just meals they haven’t eaten yet.”

“They are outcasts,” said Spiriah. “And so am I. Now, Brutaka, I am taking command of this ship. We will be setting a new course, for the island of Zakaz. It was there that I met defeat and disgrace – there that my grand experiment failed, because the inhabitants were too savage to know what to do with my gifts. It is their fault I was cast out of the Brotherhood – and now they are going to pay!”

-=Chapter 4=-

It had been three days since Spiriah’s takeover of the team’s vessel. Since then, they had steered a course for the island of Zakaz, surrounded on every size by boats filled with murderous Zyglak. Spiriah had been acting every inch the captain of the ship, ordering the others about and being particularly hard on Brutaka. Through it all, Brutaka said nothing and made no attempt to strike at Spiriah.

“To think, we were beginning to feel a little afraid of him,” Takadox said, gesturing toward Brutaka.

“Speak for yourself,” Carapar replied.

“Home,” beamed Vezon. “True, I’ve never been to Zakaz... I’m not even really one of the native species... in fact, they’ll probably kill me on sight... or worse, tie me upside down over a spiked dagger plant... but at least I’ll die at home.”

Roodaka had abandoned any hope that Brutaka was going to act and concentrated instead on Spiriah. “The Brotherhood has overextended itself in recent years,” she assured him. “Warring with Dark Hunters and Toa... they are weak. If you struck at them now with your army, you could take over Destral and rule the universe. Of course, you would need someone by your side who knows all the factions and how best to use them...”

Spiriah looked at her as if she were something stuck to his boot. “I would sooner offer my neck to a dull axe blade than trust you, female. Your name has become another word for ‘treachery.’”

“Better that than being another word for ‘failure,’” Roodaka muttered.

The conversation was ended by the appearance of land off the port bow. It was the island of Zakaz, in all its ruined “glory.” A handful of Dark Hunter vessels could be seen in the waters nearby, on patrol. At a word from Spiriah, the Zyglak vessels attacked. Taken by surprise, three of the Dark Hunter ships were sunk immediately. The others beached on the shores of the island, only for the crews to be slain by a mob of Skakdi natives.

Spiriah laughed at the sight. “The Skakdi believe they know what savagery is,” he said. “But they have never met the Zyglak. And the Makuta believe they know all the colors and shapes of revenge... but I will introduce them to a shade darker than even they could imagine.”

The mini-armada surged forward, Zyglak already preparing to storm the beaches. They were still 500 yards from shore when the first Zyglak ship suddenly lurched and began to sink. This was followed by another and still another. Soon, Zyglak vessels on every side were taking on water, gaping holes torn in their hulls below the water line.

Takadox rushed to the rail. He caught a glimpse of beings just under the water, attacking the Zyglak craft. From a distance, they almost looked like his old ally, Ehlek. Whatever they were, they moved like fish underwater and the ships were no match for their claws.

Shocked by the abrupt annihilation of his force, Spiriah was unprepared for Brutaka’s attack. An energy blast knocked him off his feet, a well-placed kick kept him on the ground, and then Brutaka’s blade was pressed against his chest armor.

“Go ahead,” Brutaka said, coldly. “Use one of your powers. Think you can do it before I rip open your armor? And how long do you think your energy will last out here, with no body to occupy? Or maybe I should just throw you overboard right now.”

“How... ?” Spiriah began.

“How did I deal with the Zyglak?” said Brutaka. “Simple. You have friends; so do I. Mine are an species of water dwellers who were specially modified by my employers to kill Makuta. They live off the coast of Zakaz, and right now they are practicing their skills on your Zyglak. You don’t want to look... it’s messy.”

“Wait a minute,” said Takadox. “Not that I am complaining, but how did you manage to get in touch with these ‘friends’ of yours? You never left the ship.”

Brutaka hauled Spiriah to his feet. All around, the ocean was littered with wrecked ships and dead Zyglak. “Spiriah had his friends following us. And I had someone following us since we left Stelt, just in case of emergency... and here she comes now.”

The others turned to see a small skiff approaching from the east. Its lone pilot was a female, lithe and well-armed. As she came alongside and clambered above the ship, Roodaka noticed that her left arm was completely mechanical. For a moment, she almost felt sorry for Spiriah.

“This is the last member of our team,” said Brutaka. “Treat her as you would me... and be sure she will treat you even worse than I do. Her name’s Lariska.”

-=Chapter 5=-

Lariska stood at the bow with Brutaka, watching the ship cleave through the water. Behind them, the other members of the team were keeping a careful eye on Makuta Spiriah – not that they could have done much to stop him if he tried to make a break. But Brutaka had done a little math and explained to Spiriah how many hours he was likely to survive once the Brotherhood of Makuta knew where he was. Then he assured Spiriah that if the ship and its occupants were all destroyed, the Brotherhood would be notified immediately where to start looking.

That was a bluff, of course. But Spiriah had spent a lot of his life fleeing from his former comrades, and running and hiding get to be habits after a while. As Brutaka expected, Spiriah bought it and backed off.

The ship had veered away from Zakaz and was on its way south. There was one more stop to make before they headed for their ultimate target. This was the one Brutaka dreaded – it was time to arm the team.

The island that came into view was little more than a piece of barren rock. It was not the original site for this meeting, but plans had changed. Two Order of Mata Nui members, Botar and the nine-foot tall warrior named Trinuma, had been dispatched with a cache of weapons for a rendezvous on a small, wooded island just off the mainland. But a Makuta named Icarax had spotted their appearance and attacked. The fight was furious, but brief. Botar was slain, crushed by the Makuta’s magnetic power, and Trinuma barely escaped to tell the tale. In desperation, he stored the weapons at the first place he came to before returning to Daxia with the tragic news.

The ship dropped anchor just off the coast. Brutaka warned Takadox and Carapar he would be keeping a careful eye on them on the swim over, just in case they got any funny ideas about diving deep and escaping. Vezon was the first to react when they set foot on the rocky shore.

“There is something... wrong here,” he said, his tone unusually serious. “Something beyond even my powers to cope with.”

“You don’t have any powers, freak,” Carapar roughly reminded him.

“I don’t?” Vezon said, seemingly confused. “Where was I when they were being handed out? Let me see... Makuta’s lair... Voya Nui... tunnels... prison... how could I have missed the meeting, I was always where the action was.”

“Quiet,” said Lariska, dagger drawn. “There is one true statement in your babble. There is something not right in this place.”

Brutaka approached, carrying the weapons. Takadox took a long, thin blade, while Carapar grabbed a broadsword. Roodaka pounced on a Rhotuka launcher. Brutaka handed Spiriah a projectile weapon and warned him with a cold smile not to point it at himself... or anyone else. Vezon got a spear, which he turned over in his hands with no real enthusiasm.

“What’s it do?” he asked.

“Nothing,” Brutaka answered. “But with your powers, you don’t need it, right?”

Vezon brightened. “Right,” he agreed, having forgotten once again that he had no powers. Carapar growled in frustration and stalked away.

“We have what we came for,” Takadox said nervously. “Let’s go.”

“There’s something in that cave up ahead,” said Lariska. “I can hear what sounds like breathing, but it’s a... wet sound, as if the being were inhaling through mud. And there’s something else... it almost sounds like... something slithering.”

Spiriah took a step back. “I know where we are,” he said, his eyes darting from side to side as if expecting an attack. “Mutran told me of this place, though it didn’t look like this ages ago. We have to go. We have to go now!”

But it was already too late. Vast walls of rock suddenly sprang up from the shore line, forming a 200-foot high wall around the island and cutting the team off from their boat. “Blast it down,” Brutaka ordered. But even the power of his blade was not enough to penetrate the stone.

Spiriah had shapeshifted himself some wings and was trying to fly over the top. A sharp spear of stone erupted out of the top of the wall and impaled one of his wings, sending him spiraling toward the ground. Lariska ran, leapt, hit the wall feet first, and propelled herself into mid-air to catch the falling Makuta.

There was no time to marvel at her athletic feat or make other attempts to escape. For now a voice was coming from the cave, but not a voice like anyone present had ever heard before. It sounded like the slimy, repulsive sound that comes when a nest of feeder worms is disturbed. Even Brutaka had to suppress a shudder.

“Visitors,” said the voice. “At last.”

“Who are you?” said Brutaka. “Did you imprison us here? I warn you, you don’t know the power you face.”

A massive tentacle shot out of the cave, wrapping itself around Brutaka and pulling him inside. The next moment, he was in the presence of something so horrible, so alien, that it took all his willpower just to hold on to his sanity.

“Now,” said the entity that held him in its grip. “Now tell Tren Krom of your power.”

-=Chapter 6=-

Brutaka tried to close his eyes. It didn’t help. He couldn’t get the image of Tren Krom out of his mind – a writhing, crimson mass of tentacles emerging from a gelatinous central core, with two dead yellow eyes that somehow followed every movement without ever moving themselves. At least, that was what he had seen at a glance – somehow, Brutaka knew to gaze for long at Tren Krom would be to invite madness.

The entity seemed over time to have merged with the stone floor and walls of its cave, so that lurker and place of concealment were one. The acrid stench of decay hung over everything. In vain, Brutaka tried to break free of the grip of Tren Krom’s tentacle. He could feel the strange being trying to probe his mind, but so far, Brutaka’s mental training had allowed him to resist. If that should fail, he knew, the secrets of the Order of Mata Nui would be exposed to this monster.

“What wonders have come into my universe in the millennia since my exile?” Tren Krom said softly, his voice as revolting as his form. “I must know!”

Hesitantly, the other members of Brutaka’s team had entered the cave, only to wish they hadn’t. It was only Lariska, protosteel dagger in hand, who kept them from fleeing.

“You think me an alien... an ‘other’...” Tren Krom continued. “But I am of the substance of this universe, and I walked here long before you or even Mata Nui himself. Have you not heard the tales?”

“There is a Tren Krom in legend,” said Brutaka. “But... the tales obviously left some parts out.”

Tren Krom laughed. The sound made the team wish death would come for them right now. “Before the Great Spirit Mata Nui was born, the Great Beings created one being who was purely organic. They taught me the ways of the universe they were creating and they placed me in its core. There I was to remain, maintaining the heat, the light, all the forces that made their creation whole...”

Brutaka had managed to work an arm partway loose. With a little luck, he would be able to get his hand on a dagger and cut himself free... all he needed was time. “So what happened? How did you end up here?”

“My time was always to be short,” Tren Krom replied. “I was to shepherd this universe until Mata Nui was prepared to take power. A Matoran of Light came to me and said the hour had come for me to move on... a crafter of canisters he was, whose sanity did not survive our encounter. I surrendered myself to my fate, only to be exiled here by the Great Beings and bound to this rock.” His voice tuned heavy with bitterness. “The universe, it seems, did not need two entities supreme.”

“What... what do you want with us?” whispered Vezon. “And please don’t say someone to hold your mirror for you.”

“I would know what has gone on in the universe in the last 100 millennia,” Tren Krom answered. “My visitors have been few in number. You seven will remain here and I will gain the knowledge I need from your minds... of course, sadly, you may have no minds left when I am done.”

“Why ask us?” said Lariska. “You obviously don’t really care.”

“Would you shut up?” hissed Carapar. “Rule number one: don’t annoy the giant, tentacled monster, or don’t they teach that one in The Shadowed One’s school?”

“Be quiet,” snapped Lariska. “Tren Krom... your universe is in danger. It’s our job to help save it. If you keep us here, you’ll be hurting the one thing you helped bring into being.”

Carapar edged slowly to the side, sword in hand. No one paid any attention – all eyes were on Lariska, who had been grabbed by one of Tren Krom’s many arms. Without the discipline Brutaka possessed, her mind was an open book to the entity. She screamed as a lifetime of memories were sifted through in an instant, screamed as she saw glimpses of the ancient mind of Tren Krom. When he finally released her, she collapsed on the stone floor.

“Mutran,” Tren Krom muttered to himself. “So long ago now, I entered his mind … and he mine … and so he learned how best to strike at Mata Nui. He and his kind have dared reach for power that fate chose to deny them. How... intriguing.”

“It’s more than that,” Brutaka said. “Tell him, Spiriah – tell him what will happen to him if the Makuta succeed in their plans.”

“If the Plan succeeds...” Spiriah began. He glanced around as if one of his former comrades might be somewhere nearby, listening. “A shadow will fall... Makuta will rule the universe, their will enforced by Rahkshi. Anyone with the power to threaten that rule will die... and that means anyone.”

“Impossible,” said Tren Krom. Suddenly, the minds of every team member were filled with nightmarish images projected by the tentacled entity, visions that would sicken even the mad. “No one can approach without my assent. No one can fight me. No one can kill me. I am eternal!”

Brutaka had his dagger in hand now. “Maybe not,” he said. “But I’m betting there was a time you said no one could bind you... and look what happened.”

Tren Krom paused in thought. Brutaka started to make his move, then caught Carapar out of the corner of his eye. The Barraki was raising his sword to strike the entity. It was too late to shout, too late to stop him.

Carapar brought his blade down, confident he had taken his enemy by surprise. Then a third eye suddenly appeared on Tren Krom, one gazing right at Carapar. The Barraki froze in mid-blow. A shaft of energy shot out from the eye, bathing him in its glow. The next instant, Carapar shattered into fragments as if he had been made of crystal. Then there was nothing left of him but a pile of glittering dust on the stone floor.

“I helped to birth a world of order,” Tren Krom whispered. “But from what I have seen in the female’s mind... you have turned it into a universe of madness and fear. It is not worth saving. But it is the universe you and your kind deserve.”

Tren Krom hurled Brutaka at his team. Spiriah used his magnetic powers to catch him before he could slam into the wall. The tentacles withdrew then, wrapping themselves around the core of Tren Krom’s being.

“Go,” the entity said. “Take yourselves from my prison... take your memories and plans with you... for the horrors already in your minds are worse than any I could visit upon you. I condemn you to your fate – life in the universe you and your kind have made.”

No one was going to take the time to argue. Gathering up Brutaka and Lariska, they fled the cave even as the stone walls that surrounded the island receded into the sand. Only Takadox paused to look back at the cavern where Carapar had died, wondering for a moment just what it would take to end the life of a being older than the stars.

-=Chapter 7=-

Brutaka and Lariska stood together, watching Takadox standing silently by the rail of the ship.
“I worry about that one,” said Lariska. “He has not spoken a word since we left Tren Krom’s island, after the death of his friend Carapar.”

“Friend?” snorted Brutaka. “Barraki don’t have friends, just people they use – and Carapar was Takadox’s favorite puppet. Besides, don’t waste your worry on him – save it for us.” He pointed off the bow. “We’ve arrived.”

Looming out of the mist was an island of black sand and jagged rock, volcanic peaks and strange Rahi arcing and wheeling through the sky. Despite the bright light that played off the waters around it, the island seemed to be in perpetual shadow.

“Welcome to Artidax,” said Brutaka.

Vezon approached, chuckling. “Hope we survive our stay.”

Brutaka looked around at his team – a Barraki, half a Skakdi, a Makuta, a former queen of the Visorak, a Dark Hunter, and himself. “Well, if we don’t, who knows? The world might be better off without us.”

Brutaka and Spiriah, being the two most powerful team members, led the way to shore. As they trod on the ebon sands, all seemed quiet. “So you know nothing about the defenses here?” asked Brutaka.

“Only what Krika sometimes talked about. Ideas he had,” said Spiriah. “You realize this whole thing is a terrible idea.”


“Freeing Miserix,” said Spiriah. “He can’t stop the Plan. All we will find here is an early death. Listen, we -- ”

What happened next was startlingly fast. The black sands began to swirl around Spiriah, forming a hand which grabbed the Makuta and started dragging him down. Brutaka grabbed Spiriah’s hand, calling to the others, “Help me!”

Lariska, Vezon and Roodaka rushed to his aid. Takadox hung back, occasionally glancing toward the ship as if contemplating escape. The pull of the sand was too strong and Spiriah’s mask had almost disappeared beneath it. Then Roodaka fired her Rhotuka launcher, the spinner striking the living sand and mutating the grains into a swarm of fireflyers. Unable to maintain its grip in this new form, it freed Spiriah. The Makuta crawled back onto the beach, cursing.

“I’m an idiot,” Brutaka said. “I should have realized – Krika rigged this place to sense the presence of a Makuta and react. He didn’t want Miserix escaping, or any other Brotherhood member finding him and finishing him off.”

“Then I would be insane to go any further,” said Spiriah. “I brought you here – you don’t need me anymore.”

“On the contrary,” said Lariska. “I think you would be very useful. Anyone ever hear of a stalking kinloka?”

Surprisingly, Vezon was the only one who nodded. When everyone turned to look at him, he shrugged. “Vezok. He saw lots of things, and since I came from him, I saw them too. Say, when we are done here, who’s up for killing him? I’ll even clean up after.”

Lariska turned back to Brutaka, ignoring their lunatic companion. “Kinloka are rodents, found in many places, among them Zakaz. When the Skakdi need to cross land that might be booby-trapped, they send the kinloka through first. The creatures set off the traps and the Skakdi can cross safely.”

“And the traps here are sensitive to Makuta,” said Roodaka, smiling. “I see, I see. And come to think of it, Spiriah is somewhat rodent-like.”

Spiriah, back on his feet, looked right at Brutaka. “No. Not even if you threw in the chance to eviscerate that Vortixx --”

“Watch your mouth,” Roodaka spat, aiming her launcher at him, “while you still have only one.”

Brutaka put his arm around Spiriah and led him away. “You’re not looking at the big picture here. When all this is over, the Brotherhood could still be a powerful creature, only without a head. It’s going to need a new leader... and the beings I work for will remember who helped them... and who didn’t. Trust me, they have long memories.”

It only took a few more minutes of whispered conversation before Spiriah turned back to the group and announced that he would be their guide to Artidax. He immediately set off inland, with the rest following. Lariska fell in beside Brutaka, saying, “You know full well he could never be leader of the Brotherhood.”

“Let him think he might get to be the head,” Brutaka replied. “It will distract him from the fact that he might well lose his own here.”

Their path took them right up to the slope of a volcano. A tunnel had been bored through the mountain at some point, the only way to directly traverse the island. Spiriah was striding on ahead when Vezon leapt in front of him, holding up his hands. Then he pointed downward, at a razor-thin vine stretched across the path. It led up to a pile of boulders poised precariously on the slope.

Spiriah stepped carefully over the vine, followed by the others, and went into the tunnel. It was only when they were already inside that Brutaka noticed someone was missing. “Where’s Takadox?”

Lariska turned. “There! Look out!”

Brutaka turned to see Takadox bringing his blade down on the vine. In the moment before an avalanche of rocks cut them off from the Barraki and trapped them in the tunnel, they all could see his evil smile.

-=Chapter 8=-

Brutaka pushed aside a pile of rubble and struggled to his feet. Around him, Spiriah and Roodaka were using shadow energy to blast themselves free. Vezon and Lariska were nowhere to be seen.

He glanced back toward the now blocked tunnel entrance. A few blasts of power would no doubt clear away the pile of rocks and stones, but Takadox would be long gone by now. There would be time to settle with him later.

“I’ve got him!”

Brutaka turned to see Lariska holding a squirming Vezon by the throat. “I caught him sneaking down a side tunnel,” the Dark Hunter said.

“Let us track down that traitor,” snarled Roodaka. “I want his shattered body beneath my heel.”

“We’re here to do a job,” Brutaka replied. “We keep moving. All of us,” he added, looking hard at Vezon.

The tunnel proved to be far more than a mere pathway. It opened upon a vast underground cavern spanned by a narrow bridge made of fibrous protodermis. Down below, the floor was littered with a massive tangle of what looked like dead branches intertwined with each other. Deep channels had been carved into the walls by lava flows over the centuries. Strange flying Rahi hung from the ceiling, their six eyes blinking slowly at the sight of intruders into their realm.

“Remind me not to let Makuta Krika arrange for my next pleasure trip,” muttered Spiriah.

“This whole island is volcanic,” said Brutaka. “Minor eruptions over the years, but nothing major. Tahu and Kopaka are supposed to have taken care of the problem. Otherwise, we would probably be flash fried by now.”

“No Carapar, no Takadox,” said Vezon in a sing-song voice. “Who will go next? Spiriah the Sullen? Brutaka the Boorish? Vezon the Vanquisher? Or Lariska --”

The Dark Hunter whipped out a dagger and flung it into the stone right at Vezon’s feet. The mad half-Skakdi turned to her, smiling, and said, “Or Lariska, the wise, wonderful, and gloriously homicidal.”

Brutaka led the way across the bridge. At the far side, light spilled through a narrow opening. The symbol of the Brotherhood of Makuta was seared into the stone beside that portal. Someone – maybe Krika, maybe Miserix – had marked their path, so long ago.

“What are we going to do with this legendary Makuta when we find him?” asked Roodaka. “What makes you think he will help the likes of you?”

“Miserix hates the Brotherhood for turning on him,” Brutaka replied. “He would ally with three Matoran and an Ussal crab if it would get him revenge on his fellow Makuta.”

“And so what will he be for you?” Roodaka pressed. “A general? A hero? A symbol around which to rally resistance to the Brotherhood?”

Brutaka shook his head. “Nothing quite so grand. He’ll be a weapon, like a Rhotuka launcher or a ghost blaster. And we’re going to aim him right at the Makuta fortress on Destral.”

Roodaka smiled. “And who, might I ask... are ‘we’?”

Brutaka smiled back, the grin of a Kavinika about to feast. “Now, now … what you don’t know won’t cut you in two and dump you off this bridge.”

“I hear something,” said Lariska. “Up ahead... it might be a voice... or the rumble of the volcano.”

“I hear something too,” said Vezon.

“Shut up,” replied Roodaka.

“And I see something as well,” Vezon continued. “But since you aren’t interested...”

“We’re not,” Roodaka snapped.

“Personally, I always find my comments and observations most interesting,” Vezon rambled on. “You haven’t truly lived until you have seen the world through the eyes of madness. Why, half the time I don’t know if what I see is what’s really there, or what I wish was there … or what I pray, I beg, I plead is not.”

“Why did we bring him again?” said Spiriah.

“He breaks up the monotony,” said Lariska.

“I’d like to break something much more satisfying,” hissed Roodaka. “I hear Skakdi make a most appealing sound when you snap them into pieces.”

“But, since you seem to have no interest,” Vezon continued, utterly disregarding his teammates’ comments. “Well, then, I won’t tell you that the floor is moving. You can find out on your own.”

“The floor is...?” Brutaka repeated. He looked down. Far below, the tangled growth of dead branches had indeed begun to shift. The reason why rapidly became clear: they weren’t branches at all, but the twisted limbs of thousands of crimson insects, now disentangling themselves from each other. Apparently, it was time to wake up and they were ready for their morning meal.

Swifter than anyone could have predicted, they began to swarm up the walls of the canyon on every side. In an instant, they had blocked the openings on both ends of the bridge. The surrounding rock was now gone, buried beneath a skittering sea of red and thousands of unblinking, predatory eyes.

“No, no, no,” said Vezon, shaking his head. “Too late to apologize. Much, much too late.”

-=Chapter 9=-

Brutaka scanned the cavern with narrowed eyes. The glowing eyes of the insects all around made it feel as if he were trapped in some lunatic starfield. Behind him, he could hear Vezon humming softly to himself, as if out for an afternoon stroll.

“Do we fight our way out of here?” asked Lariska, hand on the hilt of her dagger.

Brutaka’s answer was to turn to Spiriah. “Okay. You control Rahi. Make them clear a path.”

“On one condition,” said Spiriah. “Once I do, I go free. I turn right around and march out, take the boat – if Takadox hasn’t already – and leave. And I never see or hear from any of you, or anyone associated with you, again.”

“I wasn’t asking you,” replied Brutaka. “I was telling you.”

“I am a Makuta,” said Spiriah. “Disgraced, perhaps; a victim of jealousy and prejudice, most definitely. But I will not be dictated to by some obnoxious, insane --”

Brutaka hit Spiriah a solid blow in the mask, knocking the Makuta over the side of the narrow bridge. Spiriah caught on to the span, just barely, and hung in space.

“I think this is what they call ‘in no position to deal,’” said Brutaka. He triggered his mask power, opening a dimensional portal in space just below Spiriah’s feet. “If I move that opening just a little bit further toward you, you’ll find yourself in a dimension full of beings made of solid light. Know what they eat there? Shadow. You’ll be a food bank for them, Spiriah, but I have to warn you – they’re always hungry. And they don’t close their mouths when they chew.”

Spiriah said nothing. Instead, he reduced his density and floated up and away from Brutaka’s portal. Then he drifted back down to the bridge and turned solid once more. “I’ll do it,” he said. “Then I leave. I advise you not to try and stop me.”

The Makuta concentrated, triggering his power to control Rahi beasts. Nothing happened, other than restless stirring among the insects. After a few moments, Spiriah gave up in frustration. “They’re already under the control of a more powerful will. It must be Miserix.”

Brutaka gestured toward the wall of insect life that blocked the way they had come. “Then I guess you’re not leaving.” He turned to Lariska. “And we’re fighting. You stay back with Vezon. Roodaka, Spiriah and I will lead the way.”

On Brutaka’s signal, he and his two powerful allies unleashed their powers at the insects who blocked the passage way up ahead. As quickly as the crimson creatures fell, more came to replace them. Worse, the ones behind were now skittering across the bridge, closing in on Vezon and Lariska.

“I have an idea,” said Roodaka, summoning a Rhotuka disk into her launcher. She fired at the insects up ahead, the power of her disk mutating them into unrecognizable creatures. An instant later, the other insects fell upon the unfortunate victims of her attack. The mutated insects were dead in seconds, killed for being different than the rest of the species.

Seeing that her ploy had worked, Roodaka repeated the process, this time focusing on the insects blocking the end of the bridge. As the mutations took hold and their former allies turned on them, an opening appeared in the wall of living creatures. With a roar of triumph, she led a charge across the bridge and into the tunnel beyond. The team didn’t stop running until they were well away from the cavern.

“Are they following?” asked Brutaka.

“They don’t seem to be,” Lariska answered. “Maybe they don’t like to leave their nest.”

“”Or maybe they just know we have to go back out that way, so they can eat us then,” Vezon offered, cheerfully.

“Maybe there’s another way out up ahead,” said Brutaka.

“Or maybe we’ll get to like it here,” said Vezon. “A few grass mats, some cave drawings, the heads of my enemies mounted on the wall … it could be quite pleasant.”

“Brutaka!” Roodaka called from up ahead. “I think you had best see this.”

The team rushed through the tunnel to join Roodaka. She was standing at the tunnel’s end, looking out at another vast chamber. More specifically, she was looking at the largest occupant of the chamber, a massive dragon-like beast chained to the stone floor. All around it flew much smaller Rahi, darting and dodging the shadow hand that occasionally shot out from the creature’s chest.

“What … is that?” asked Lariska.

Brutaka shook his head in amazement. “Well, it’s about 40 feet tall, red and silver, with four legs, a tail, and a nasty disposition – and it’s who we’re here to rescue.”

“Miserix,” whispered Spiriah.

“All right, we can take him home,” said Vezon, “but don’t expect me to clean up after him.”

-=Chapter 10=-

Vezon looked from the massive, chained form of the dragon-like beast to his partners, then back at the dragon, then over to Brutaka. He opened his mouth to speak, but Brutaka cut him off.

“Don’t say it,” said Brutaka.

“We’re going to need --” Vezon began.

“A bigger boat. I know,” Brutaka said. “Anybody know what those... things... are flying all around?”

Small, winged creatures were indeed flitting all around the dragon. Now and then, one would let out a scream that shattered rock. “They’re called klakk,” said Makuta Spiriah. “Something Mutran created a long time back – their sonic scream is formidable. They must be meant as guardians.”

Brutaka frowned. Guardians, all right, but against whom? He knew the dragon was in fact Makuta Miserix, ex-leader of the Brotherhood. He had been ordered executed, but Makuta Krika had instead chained him up here on the island of Artidax. It was Brutaka’s job to rescue him so the Order of Mata Nui could use him against his former organization.

At that moment, Miserix suddenly took notice of them. His great eyes narrowed as he spoke and his voice rumbled like a distant avalanche. “Who... are... you?”

Brutaka started to say, “Friends,” then decided he didn’t really want to be considered a friend of that thing. “We’re here to free you,” he said instead. “Can you shapeshift to a smaller form?”

“Why would I wish to do that?” asked Miserix. “Do you know how many of these creatures I had to absorb to reach a size where their screams no longer pain me?”

“See, the size is a problem, your immenseness,” Vezon cut in. “We only have a small boat, hardly more than a raft, really, and if it sinks we have to swim. Personally, I am not big on swimming – some friends of mine went for a swim, I heard, and now they look like sea snakes, just a head and a spine. And I have no spine, so I would be just a head, and --”

Miserix’s eyes glowed red. A burst of laser vision struck Vezon, sending him tumbling backwards. “Gnat,” muttered the Makuta.

Turning to check on Vezon, Brutaka saw that Spiriah had backed way up into the shadows. Miserix noticed too and bellowed, “Tell that one to come forth.”

Spiriah took a reluctant step forward. At the sight of another Makuta, the dragon smiled. “Spiriah. I do remember you. When Teridax rose against me, you were one of the first to be by his side. I have so looked forward to meeting you again.”
Brutaka tightened his grip on his weapon. He did not like Miserix’s tone at all.

“Do you know I have not seen one of my species since Krika left me here?” Miserix continued.

“We all meant to come,” Spiriah said hurriedly. “Teridax wouldn’t let us. We all knew we would benefit by your experience, your power, your very presence.”

“But you did not come,” rumbled Miserix. “So now I shall benefit from yours.”

A hand made of living shadow erupted from the dragon’s chest, grabbed Spiriah, and pulled him into Miserix’s body. There wasn’t even time for a scream.

Vezon, back on his feet, stopped dead when he saw the Makuta consumed. “I thought we were here to rescue him from captivity,” he whispered. “Not from that mid-day empty feeling.”

“You know, we could just leave you here to rot,” Brutaka said to Miserix. “Or wait for the next volcanic eruption to rain lava down on your oversized head. Or... you could have your chance to take revenge on your brothers. What’s it going to be?”

Miserix considered. Then he leaned forward as far as his chains would allow him and said, “Make your attempt, for what good it will do.”

“I have seen those kind of chains before,” said Lariska. “They grow and shrink with him. They feed on his own power and use it to hold him.”

Brutaka hefted his weapon. “Can they be broken?”

“Not without causing him great pain.”

Brutaka gave a grim smile. “I’ll cry tomorrow. Find me a weak link. Roodaka, we are going to need your help.”

The Vortixx had been silent since they had entered Miserix’s presence. Brutaka had no doubt she was planning something. But she dutifully stepped forward and stood beside him, her eyes never leaving the chained Makuta.

“There,” said Lariska, pointing to a segment of the chain that held Miserix’s right arm. “We concentrate our fire there.”

Brutaka and Roodaka took aim, he with his blade, she with her outstretched hand. Energy and shadow bolts struck the weak segment of chain, bathing it in a continuous stream of power. After several minutes, the substance of the chain began to flake off. After a few more, it began to crack. Then the link shattered to pieces. Miserix screamed, loud enough to crack the mountain itself.

The klakk reacted instantly, flying toward the rescue team and unleashing their sonic screams. Vezon and Lariska fought them off, while Brutaka used his blade to parry the streams of sound. Meanwhile, Miserix raised his arm tentatively. Seeing that it was indeed free of its bonds, he reached over with it and tore the other chain from the ground. This time, he did not scream, but only smiled.

The klakk were gaining ground now, driving the team back toward where the insects were still lurking. Miserix watched the battle for a moment in silence. Then he opened his mouth and unleashed a power scream that felled the klakk, along with Vezon and Lariska. Brutaka and Roodaka barely remained conscious. Crawling over, Brutaka checked on his two team members – both were still living.

“Now, then,” said Miserix. “Where is Teridax?”

Brutaka laughed. “And if I tell you, you have no reason to keep us alive. Gratitude is not high on the list of Makuta emotions. I’ll show you. But you are going to need to shrink down to make it out the way we came.”

“Your lack of imagination is disappointing,” said Miserix, in as close to good spirits as a Makuta ever got. He reared back and struck the side of the mountain with all his might, once, twice, again. The rock cracked and began to crumble. Miserix followed up with his fragmentation power, reducing the entire side of the volcano to shards of stone. Beyond it, Brutaka could see the sky and the sea.

“At last!” said Miserix. “After so many millennia – I am free!”

Before Brutaka’s startled eyes, the dragon grew wings. Then Miserix turned his crimson-scaled head to Brutaka and said, “Come. Show me where my enemy hides, so I may grind his armor to dust and feed on his energies.”

“No!” shouted Roodaka. “They want to lead you into a trap! Listen to me, I too am an enemy of the Brotherhood. Brutaka wants to use you, to sacrifice you as a pawn in a war against the Makuta. I want you for an ally!”

Miserix lowered his lead and leaned in so that his massive face was up against Roodaka’s. When he spoke, it was in a whisper. “Little one, I am Makuta Miserix. I am no one’s pawn. I am no one’s ally.” His next words came in a roar that drove Roodaka back into the rock wall. “And I am no one’s fool!!”

Brutaka watched, looking unimpressed. “Are you done?”

Miserix nodded slowly. “Let us go. I have a universe to rediscover.”

Brutaka loaded the stunned Roodaka and the now semi-conscious Lariska and Vezon onto the dragon’s back. Then he climbed on himself. Miserix unfurled his wings and stepped out into the open air. They soared high above the island, pausing only long enough for Miserix to make a muttered vow to come back and destroy the place one day. Brutaka noted that the team’s boat was gone – Takadox had gotten away after all, then.

Let him run. It doesn’t matter, thought Brutaka. A storm is coming to this universe, and when it hits, there will be nowhere for anyone to hide.

Miserix spread his wings and turned toward the north, carrying his passengers into the unknown.

The End
« Last Edit: September 04, 2008, 01:52:31 pm by Unimatrix Zero » Report Spam   Logged

I'm a girl - I'm a lesbian.

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« Reply #10 on: January 04, 2010, 11:33:54 am »

Er, are we going to continue this? There's new serials to archive. *begins to feel bad about reviving a dead, over a year old topic which equals 12x revival*
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« Reply #11 on: January 04, 2010, 02:18:11 pm »

Likely we are. But I don't know who's gonna type out the last couple podcasts. =P
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« Reply #12 on: January 04, 2010, 04:29:34 pm »

Empire of the Skrall

-=Chapter 1=-

Tuma woke with a start. Sleep had been welcome, but the dreams it had brought had done nothing to soothe his spirit. Now he sat up in his darkened chamber, staring out the window at the starlit sky of Bara Magna.

He had never been one for deep thoughts, doubts, or reflection. His class within Skrall society – those intended by nature to be leaders and the fiercest of warriors – did not place great value on looking inward or backward. Life was simple: move ahead, conquer, secure what you have taken, and then move on. It was this which had made the Skrall such feared warriors in the great war, and which helped them to survive as a tribe after the Shattering.

Cut off from their homeland after that global disaster, the Skrall resolved to tame the lands in which they found themselves – the volcanic, unstable, and dangerous territory north of the Black Spike Mountains. Although some parts of it remained too treacherous even for them to explore even after tens of thousands of years, they became the undisputed masters of their empire.

Then everything changed. A new breed of warriors appeared, silent, lethal shapeshifters who struck from thin air and then vanished again. Skrall warriors died by the score, as did the other members of Tuma’s class until only he remained to lead the tribe. Although it went against his nature, Tuma finally assembled the Skrall army and the rock Agori and led them south through the Black Spikes to new territories and safety.

Tuma got up and walked out of his shelter. Even in the middle of the night, the city of Roxtus was busy. Skrall patrols were constantly on the move, while bone hunters rode up to the gates with captive Glatorian and Vorox to sell. Agori prisoners taken in the desert were hard at work building new walls and repairing Skrall weapons and armor. The work never stopped … it couldn’t be allowed to, Tuma knew.

He had learned many things during those last battles, when fighting raged from the Maze Valley to the very heart of the Skrall camps. His people could never hold too much territory, be too well defended, or hesitate even a moment in their march of conquest. Although the desert had little to offer in terms of resources, it did grant its owner one thing every leader wanted – space in which to fight. And one day they would fight again, Tuma was certain … one day, the things that stalked the northern mountains would follow them here.

For now, though, he could focus his attentions to the south. The villages of Bara Magna were scattered, their relations with each ranging from indifferent to tense. It was doubtful they would be able to mount much resistance if the Skrall attacked now, but “doubtful” was not good enough. Tuma was not going to risk a two-front war, with the Glatorian and Agori in front of him and his other enemies behind. When the Skrall were ready to strike, Bara Magna must be ready to fall.

The leader of a Skrall patrol appeared before him. Tuma eyed him for a moment, noting the damage to his sword and shield. The warrior had seen combat this night.

“Report,” snapped Tuma.

“Bone hunter attacks have isolated Tajun,” said the Skrall. “Your representative has met with the hunters to argue against their plans for a raid on Vulcanus.”

Tuma smiled. “And so guarantees the bone hunters will go ahead with it. Very good. And have their plans been drawn up?”

The Skrall nodded and produced a roll of parchment from his pack. He handed it to Tuma, who unrolled it and scanned its contents. After a moment, he looked back at the warrior. “The bone hunters do not know we have this copy?”

“No, leader,” said the Skrall.

“You realize, if I find out you are lying … or even mistaken … your head will decorate the walls of Roxtus?”

“Yes, leader.”

“Who did you battle tonight?” asked Tuma.

“A Glatorian from the fire village and a pack of Vorox, leader,” reported the Skrall. “We had paused our rock steeds north of the Skrall River when we were attacked.”

“You killed them all, of course,” Tuma replied.

The Skrall did not answer.

Tuma’s eyes narrowed. “Why not?”

“They vanished into the sand.”

Tuma leaned in close. “Glatorian do not vanish into desert dunes, warrior. Why do I not see the crimson one’s armor and sword among your gear?”

The Skrall said nothing. He didn’t have to. Tuma knew who he had encountered in the desert – Malum, exiled from the village of Vulcanus, now afflicted with desert madness and living with the Vorox. Malum was the most dangerous kind of warrior – one who did not fear death, for it would seem a comfort compared to the life he lived now. He could be a fierce enemy … which meant he could also be a valuable ally.

“Get fresh rock steeds,” Tuma ordered, “and take a dozen warriors. I want Malum brought here to me, alive. Do not return without him … I am sure you remember the fate of the last patrol that failed me.”

The Skrall nodded. The patrol assigned to find the book of Certavus among the western ruins had come back empty-handed. They had been reassigned to punishment duty, feeding the two-headed Spikit in their pens. Spikit being as they were, the feeders inevitably wound up also being the food.

“It will be done,” said the Skrall warrior.

Tuma nodded once, a sign of dismissal. As the warrior left, Tuma turned and gazed at the northern sky. Despite how well everything was falling into place, he still felt uneasy. For a moment, he imagined he could hear the shouts of long-dead Skrall and the sound of the invaders’ weapons, as if the battles of his past were being fought again.

Not now. Not yet, he said to himself. But one day … after Bara Magna has fallen … the Skrall will take revenge.

-=Chapter 2=-
The Skrall patrol moved out at dawn. Their target, Malum, was living with the bestial Vorox now, and everyone knew Vorox were night hunters. During the day, they would be sleeping beneath the sand and prime targets for an ambush.

Despite this, there was a grim silence among the members of the unit. Of all the tribes on Bara Magna, only the Vorox showed no fear of Skrall. Maybe it was because their savage brains were too dull to know fear. Or maybe it was because, living their lives in the wasteland as they did, the prospect of death simply held no terror for them.

The leader of the patrol kept his eyes trained on the dunes ahead. Vorox were notoriously good at covering signs of their presence, when they felt the need to do so, but a good tracker could still spot where they had been. Their tunnels left a telltale disturbance in the sand, as if a miniature cyclone had touched down. Sighting such a thing didn’t mean there were Vorox right below ground, since they might have gone down one hole and emerged from another. But a fresh cluster of signs, as yet undisturbed by the wind, meant a good chance Vorox were somewhere nearby. And where they were, Malum would not be far away.

He spotted something up ahead. It looked like roughly a dozen tunnels had been made in a patch of sand beneath an outcropping. It was hard to tell how recent they were, as the rock would have protected them some from the wind, but it was the first sign the Skrall had seen. Even more interesting, there was a natural cave in the slope nearby. Shelter for Malum, perhaps, during the heat of the day?

The patrol leader held up a hand to stop the march. He gestured for half the troop to surround the tunnel entrances, and the others to stay back with him. It was time to set the trap.

Half a dozen Skrall rode up to the outcropping. Once they were there, they kept moving, pacing their rock steeds back and forth across the sand. If there were Vorox down there, they would sense the vibrations in the ground. Regardless of whether they thought what they heard was a potential meal or the presence of an enemy – often the same thing – they would come up to investigate.

Naturally, they would not come up the same way they went down. They would spring out of the sand behind the intruders and try to take them by surprise. That was why half the patrol had hung back, keeping their mounts perfectly still. Two could play at the ambush game.

The Skrall waited.

Five minutes.


Twenty. Some of the warriors were starting to wonder if the Vorox were long gone from this place.

They got their answer, but not in the way they had expected. The ground suddenly opened up beneath the reserve Skrall, sending them and their mounts tumbling down into a pit. The Skrall near the outcropping turned and rode toward their comrades, just as two dozen Vorox emerged from their original tunnels. Howling, they hurled crude swords and spear at the backs of the Skrall riders. One spear found its mark in the side of a rock steed, sending mount and rider tumbling down into the sand. The Vorox were on the unfortunate warrior before he could rise, insuring that he never would again.

Malum appeared at the entrance to the cave, watching the carnage with a smile on his face. After the events of the night before, only a fool wouldn’t have expected Skrall retaliation. He’d had the Vorox leave just enough traces to lure the patrol in, without making it so obvious that they would suspect a trap.

The Skrall patrol leader and his warriors had managed to scramble out of the pit, leaving their rock steeds behind. Dropping to one knee, they took aim with their Thornax launchers and fired. The explosive, spiked spheres sailed into the ranks of the Vorox, felling a number of the beasts. The still mounted Skrall turned in the saddle and fired a volley of their own, scattering their attackers.

Regrouping, the Skrall made ready to charge. That was when they heard a chorus of growls coming from behind. At least 50 Vorox had sprung out of the sand some 500 yards behind them. The patrol leader wasted no time, ordering the Skrall on foot to join their comrades on their rock steeds. Then they charged, leaving the small army of Vorox in the dust and headed right for the battered first wave and Malum.

“Aim high!” the patrol leader yelled.

The Skrall rode into the midst of the Vorox, striking at them with their blades. The Skrall mounted behind fired their launchers at the rocks above Malum’s cave. Their shots brought down a rockslide on the ex-Glatorian, pinning him beneath a pile of stone. Behind them, the mob of Vorox was closing in.

The Skrall upon whose rock steed the patrol leader rode slumped over and fell from the mount, a Vorox sword having struck him down. The leader grabbed the reins and urged the steed up into the rocks. Reaching the point where Malum was trapped, he coolly dismounted and aimed his launcher at the Glatorian’s head.

“Back to your holes,” he shouted at the Vorox, “or he dies.”

The beasts might or might not have understood the words – the Skrall weren’t sure. But they knew what they were seeing and they comprehended the tone. The Vorox didn’t retreat, but they didn’t keep attacking, either. They simply stopped and waited.

“We strike now,” said one of the Skrall warriors. “Make them pay for what they have done.”

“They are vermin, no better than scarabax beetles,” said another. “Exterminate them all.”

The patrol leader agreed. He hated Vorox. They were too unpredictable and too dangerous to leave alive. But he had his orders: bring Malum back to the city of Roxtus, alive. There would be time enough later to satisfy the need for vengeance and wipe out the Vorox.

“Enough,” he commanded. Reaching down, he grabbed the unconscious Malum by the throat and hauled him out from under the pile of rubble. “We have what we came for. Malum will face Tuma’s justice … and so will all these beasts, in time.”

Throwing Malum’s body over his rock steed, the patrol leader mounted up. Once they realized what was happening, some of the Vorox moved to attack, only to be cut down by Skrall Thornax. The rest backed away. Was it sadness in their eyes as they saw the Skrall riding away with their leader? Could beasts of the desert feel such an emotion? Or was it dread of the day the Skrall would return, for all of them?

No one … perhaps not even the Vorox themselves … could say.

-=Chapter 3=-

The first thing Malum saw when he opened his eyes was a pair of Vorox. His first thought was that all of it – the attack by the Skrall, his capture – had been a bad dream. He had certainly had plenty of those lately.

But, no – these Vorox were in chains. Being desert dwellers, the Vorox hated any kind of confinement. It was sheer torture for them. Malum had no doubt that a Vorox penned in too long would simply lose the will to live. Rage grew in his heart for whoever had shackled these “beasts,” and he already knew who that was: the Skrall.

He looked up to see two of that hated species standing over him. One was a warrior, like those who had attacked his camp. The other was much taller, clad in green and black armor, and obviously in command.

“I am Tuma,” said the leader. “And you are Malum, disgraced Glatorian and friend to... the animals.”

“You are the trash of the desert,” Malum growled. “And I am the one who will celebrate at your grave.”

The Skrall warrior walked over to where Malum lay and kicked him in the side.

“That’s no way to talk,” said Tuma. “I brought you here to have a conversation.”

Malum got painfully to his feet. His wrists and ankles were surprisingly not shackled. Tuma had a great deal of confidence, it seemed.

“You brought me here for revenge,” said the ex-Glatorian. “My people bloodied yours and you can’t stand that.”

The warrior moved to strike Malum again, but Tuma stopped him. “Stand down. You are... half-right, Malum. Your Vorox have proven to be an annoyance lately. But killing you, though no doubt a great deal of fun, would not change that. Believe me, if I wanted you dead, even your pets would be unable to find all the pieces.”

Malum looked around. He was in the city of Roxtus, filled with rock Agori and Skrall troops. The place was notorious for welcoming Glatorian inside and then never letting them leave. He could see Agori guards all along the walls and Skrall patrols entering and leaving at a constant pace. It was not a spot one dropped by for a visit.

“Then why am I here?”

“You control the Vorox,” said Tuma, gesturing to the pathetic, chained creatures. “They do what you command. That makes you a threat... or a potentially valuable ally. But before we could make any arrangement with you, we would have to see proof that you really can make these beasts do what you say.”

“And if I refuse?” asked Malum, already sure of the answer.

Tuma smiled. On him, it was an ugly expression. “Then we send you back to your friends, of course... so they can have a funeral, or whatever ritual they do to honor the dead.”

“That’s what I thought,” Malum replied.

The Skrall had it all wrong, of course. They assumed he had some mysterious power to control the Vorox, but he did not. He had won dominance of the pack by defeating its previous leader in single combat. As long as he led them to food and water and kept them away from unnecessary danger – in other words, as long as he was an effective pack leader – they would follow him. But they did it as free beings, not as slaves. The Skrall, he knew, did not want allies – they wanted soldiers they could sacrifice without hesitation.

“Take him to the arena,” Tuma ordered. The Skrall warrior grabbed Malum roughly by the arm and dragged him to the Glatorian arena in the center of the large settlement. Chained against the far wall were two more Vorox, both members of Malum’s own pack. A plan began to form in his mind, but it would depend on a great many unknown factors. How hungry and desperate were the Vorox? Too far gone to remember him? Would they understand what he was trying to do?

A half dozen Skrall warriors appeared, ringing the sides of the arena. A seventh took a position in a box behind the Vorox. At Tuma’s signal, he released the chains that held the beasts prisoner.

The two Vorox charged toward Malum. He could tell even from a distance they had been mistreated. They were eager for prey, and might not care who or what it would be. But he stood his ground, making direct eye contact with first one Vorox, then the other. Then he raised his right arm and brought it down slowly, all the while giving a low whistle.

The Vorox slowed, then stopped completely. They sank down to all fours and looked up at Malum, expectantly. To the Skrall watching, it looked like a miracle: two savage beasts tamed in an instant.

“It’s really quite easy, once you gain their respect,” Malum said, never taking his eyes off the Vorox. “Judging from their wounds, I would say they at least respect your capacity to inflict punishment.”

“My warriors could be trained to do this?” asked Tuma. The Vorox had been a problem ever since the Skrall started capturing them. Now and then, they broke loose and did a lot of damage before they could be subdued or killed.

“They have seen me do it,” Malum answered. “I am sure they could it themselves now.”

The six Skrall warriors advanced on the beasts, who remained motionless at their approach. “Let them go,” Tuma said to Malum.

Malum gave a short, sharp whistle. The Vorox sprang to life, wild again. The Skrall grabbed them immediately and dragged them back to the other end of the arena, struggling to hold them still. Tuma ordered the Skrall who had kicked Malum forward. He would be the lucky one to show his newfound mastery of the Vorox.

At Tuma’s signal, the other warriors released their bestial captives. The Vorox charged toward the lone warrior who waited for them. In a perfect imitation of Malum’s action, the Skrall raised and lowered his arm while whistling in just the same tone as he had heard. The effect was stunning, at least to him.

The Vorox didn’t stop. They didn’t even slow down. They struck the Skrall like twin avalanches, and once he was down, headed for Tuma. Malum took advantage of the confusion to snatch up the fallen warrior’s weapon. He sprang out of the arena and shattered the chains holding another pair of Vorox with one swing.

“This way, brothers!” he yelled, charging for the gate.

The Vorox fell back and started after him, the Skrall in pursuit. The Agori at the gate, seeing a crazed Malum and four Vorox headed for them, wisely dove out of the way. A Thornax blast took out one of the Vorox, and another blast wounded a second. But Malum and the surviving two made it through the gate and out into the desert.

Tuma angrily got to his feet, ignoring the wounds inflicted by the Vorox. “After them! Drag them back here!” he shouted.

The Skrall would dutifully fan out into the desert in search of the escapees, but they would not find them. The Vorox network of tunnels extended even here, and Malum and his two pack mates had found refuge underground. When night fell, they would emerge and start the long trek back home.

The desert is a place of extremes, Malum said to himself. Blazing heat, chilling cold, fierce loyalty... and deep hatred. The Skrall won’t forget this day... and to their bitter regret, neither will I.

-=Chapter 4=-

Branar cracked his whip and muttered a Skrall curse under his breath. As a named warrior, he was no stranger to dangerous situations or assignments that require he get his armored hands dirty. But his task today was both disgusting and deadly, and the sooner it was finished, the happier he would be.

Tuma insisted on these “Vorox runs” once every month. The object was to drive some captured Vorox north, over the path the Skrall had used to travel to Roxtus the year before. The thinking was that if the shapeshifters who had driven the Skrall out of their original territory were moving south, the Vorox would encounter them along the way. The Vorox would no doubt die in the battle, but Branar might escape to make it back to Roxtus with the news. And if he didn’t escape, well, Tuma would learn just as much from his failure to return.

All of which explained why Branar and a Skrall warriors were driving a half dozen savage Vorox along a mountain trail. The twin challenges were keeping the beasts moving and waiting to see if one or more of them would die a horrible death at the hands of the Skrall’s old foes. It was hot, it was dusty, and the job was more than likely a waste of time -- combined, it made Branar about as happy as a hungry spikit.

Branar did understand Tuma’s worry, of course. He had been one of the first warriors to encounter the shapeshifters, who the Skrall dubbed “Baterra” (an ancient word meaning “silent death”). He had been leading a small patrol out scavenging for supplies in a wooded area. When the two warriors on the flanks failed to respond to hails, he ordered weapons drawn. The baterra appeared out of the darkness, struck, killed three of his troops, then vanished. Branar ordered a return to the fortress and he and one other warrior managed to fight their way back. For bringing word of this strange new enemy back, he was rewarded by Tuma with a name. For a Skrall warrior, there was no greater honor.

It was not the last time Branar would face the baterra, but none of the battles ended in a victory. Skrall were skilled, ruthless, and efficient warriors, but they could not fight a foe that seemed to appear and disappear at will. Despite their best efforts, the Skrall were never able to accomplish the first condition of victory: choosing the time and place of the battle. The baterra attacked when they chose to, sometimes multiple times in a day. Then they might vanish for weeks at a time, letting even under-manned patrols pass right by. It seemed to be impossible to bait them into a trap.

“Watch them!” Branar barked to the Skrall warrior. “One of the Vorox just wandered off the path.”

It was a constant problem. Vorox were creatures of the open desert. They hated captivity or being forced to travel one way or the other. Any chance to escape was seized upon. It wasn’t unusual to return from one of these missions with fewer Vorox than one had at the start.

The Skrall warrior glanced to his left. The Vorox was just vanishing into the rocks, so still close enough to recapture. A nod from Branar said that the squad leader would keep an eye on the rest of the herd while the escapee was brought back.
Grumbling, the warrior spurred his mount. The three Skrall were riding rock steeds received in trade from a nearby bone hunter troop. Sand stalkers were not the fighters that rock steeds were, and fighters were what might be needed on this trip.

He had just left the path when he heard the Vorox scream. Thornax launcher at the ready, he rode up a steep bank of shale. From that vantage point, he could see the remains of the Vorox scattered among the rocks below. There wasn’t much left of the beast. The Skrall swiftly scanned the area. There was no sign of sand bats or other desert predators. Whatever had killed the Vorox was gone.

Or was it? Remembering just what they were out here to find, the Skrall backed his rock steed down to the path, then wheeled and galloped toward Branar. “Contact,” he said quietly.

Branar gestured to the Vorox, saying, “Let them go.”

The warrior gave a yell and started driving the Vorox off the path. Branar did the same. Dozens of Vorox scrambled up the rocks toward where the suspected baterra was hiding. Branar and the Skrall followed behind, halting at the top of the ridge. They watched the Vorox climb down the slope, scattering in every direction to elude pursuit. But no one was following them, and more importantly, nothing was attacking them. In a matter of moments, free once more, they had all disappeared into the mountains.

Branar’s expression darkened. It was either another false alarm or the baterra were playing games again, more likely the former. He turned his head to look at his remaining warrior. In the micro-second it took him to make that movement, the other Skrall was dead. The warrior fell from his saddle with a vicious gash on his back. Of his attacker, there was no sign.

“Baterra,” Branar said. “Show yourself.”

It was a pointless thing to say and wouldn’t make very good last words, he realized. But there was nothing to attack and little point in running. With luck, the other warrior would make it back to warn the city and …

Branar hesitated. Why was he still alive, he wondered? It had been at least two minutes since the Skrall was killed. Baterra attacked quickly once their presence was known.

Unless …

Branar spurred his rock steed back down the shale. Nothing tried to stop him. Once back on the path, he started toward Roxtus. His senses were alert for any sign of an attack. But none came. And suddenly he knew why.

They want us to know they’re coming, he thought. The baterra are so certain we can’t stop them that they are giving us warning. They killed my warrior, but not me … to show they have the power to grant life or death to the Skrall.

Now the Skrall would face the same choice. Would they fight the baterra, and risk annihilation, or flee again? Only Tuma could make that decision. For the sake of their race, Branar hoped he would make the right one.

-=Chapter 5=-

Tuma sat in his chamber, brooding. The news brought back by Branar had been dire indeed. The baterra were closer than he had imagined they would be, and so his plans for Bara Magna had to be advanced. Already, he had moved up the date for the attack on Atero, and laid out ambitious plans to seize control of the other villages. If all went well, his troops would control all of Bara Magna before the baterra emerged from the Black Spike Mountains. But any organized resistance by the Glatorian and Agori would put his plans in jeopardy.

A rap came on the chamber door. One of his guards entered and said softly, “The one you called is here.”

Tuma nodded. The guard withdrew. A moment later, another figure entered the room, one who was not a Skrall. Tuma had been approached by this being some time ago, with an offer to provide useful information on the villages and their defenses as well as to act as a go-between for the Skrall and the bone hunters. This arrangement had so far proved profitable to both sides.

“You took a big chance sending me a summons,” the traitor said. “What if someone had stumbled on your message? Where would I be then?”

“That is not my concern,” growled Tuma. “Your safety is your responsibility. The welfare of my people is mine.”

The traitor looked around the chamber, then gestured toward the doorway that led to the fortified city. “Seems to me your people are doing just fine.”

Tuma rose to his full, imposing height. “We attack Atero tomorrow. Be prepared.”

“Tomorrow?” the traitor said, startled. “I thought you were going to wait for the end of the tournament.”

“Our plans have changed,” Tuma answered. The look in his eyes said he had no intention of explaining further.

“On their own, or did someone change them?” asked the traitor. “Let me guess … your neighbors to the north are coming to pay a visit.”

Now it was Tuma’s turn to be surprised. He stalked across the room, grabbed the traitor around the throat, and slammed that being into the wall. “What do you know of the baterra? Speak! Have you betrayed the Skrall to them, as you have betrayed your own people to us?”

“Urrrrk,” croaked the traitor, as the Skrall’s hand cut off all air. Tuma abruptly let go. The traitor crumpled to the ground, hand massaging a painful throat.

“I know... a great deal... about a great many things,” the traitor said hoarsely. “But if you want the benefit of that knowledge... we are going to have to come to a new arrangement.”

Tuma’s mouth curled into a sneer. “Your naked greed ill becomes you.”

“I don’t work for free,” spat the traitor. “Not this kind of work, anyway. Now let’s see if we understand each other – you fled south like a pack of frightened rodents because the baterra were decimating your people. Now they’re closing in on you again, so you’re in a big, fat hurry to seize the desert so you can buy some time and space. How am I doing so far?”

Tuma nodded, but said nothing.

“It’s an excellent plan... for old women,” the traitor said, with a harsh chuckle. “Run, until you can’t run anymore, and hope your enemy exhausts himself running after you. Tell me, Tuma – have you ever killed a baterra?”

“Of course,” said the Skrall leader. “How else do you think we learned they are machines, not living things?”

The traitor wandered to the back of the chamber, running a finger along the arm of Tuma’s throne. “I see. So you downed one by accident and saw it fizzle and spark … and then the baterra killed how many of yours? 100? 200?”

“Your point, sand worm,” hissed Tuma.

“My point, my point... oh, yes,” said the traitor, abruptly sitting down in Tuma’s grand chair. “My point is that I know how to kill the baterra, and you don’t. And I think that puts a new slant on things around here, doesn’t it?”

“You will tell me how to kill those... things,” Tuma said, his voice deathly quiet. “Or I will give you to the Spikit, as a snack. But you will not die, oh, no. We will keep you alive, patch you up, and when you are healed – we will give you to the Spikit again. And again. And again.”

“See, there’s only one problem, Tuma,” leaning forward in the chair and smiling broadly. “You don’t scare me. Sure, you can torture me, kill me... but what’s in my head stays there. Then it’s only a matter of time before the baterra come and finish you off.”

Tuma wanted to bellow in rage. He wanted to tear the traitor’s head off and mount it on a pole, for all to see. He wanted to storm the villages of Bara Magna, burn them to the ground, and slay the Agori the way the baterra had slain his people, little more than a year before. Had he been but a Skrall warrior, he would surely have done that. But he was more than that – he was the lone surviving Skrall leader left alive, and he had a responsibility to the empire.

“What is your price?” the Skrall said, slowly. “And be aware... you tread on dangerous ground. Push too far, and you may find I forget what is in the best interests of my people in favor of what would be most... satisfying... to myself.”

The traitor reclined on the throne. “No need to worry, Tuma. We both want what’s best for the Skrall and the rock tribe. Of course we do. And as of today, I no longer work for you. From now on... we’re partners.”

“Partners? In what?” asked Tuma.

“In the conquest of this pile of sand,” the traitor replied. “With my wits married to your warriors, we are going to carve Bara Magna up between us. Now you had better find a chair for yourself... we have a great deal of planning to do, don’t we?”

-=Chapter 6=-

Tuma and Stronius rode north over mountain trails long unused. It had been along this very route one year before that the Skrall had fled from their last fortress. The vicious attacks of the baterra had driven them south through the Black Spikes to the borders of Bara Magna’s great desert. Now two of their number were going back.

“This is madness,” Stronius said. “You realize that.”

No one else in the Skrall legions would have dared speak to Tuma like that. But Stronius was an elite warrior known for saying whatever was on his mind. His services to the Skrall led Tuma to be a bit more tolerant of his outbursts than he would have been otherwise.

“Then turn back,” Tuma said calmly. “I did not order you to accompany me.”

“I wasn’t going to let you ride up here on your own,” Stronius replied. He turned from Tuma to look at the path ahead. “I have a duty to protect the life of my leader. And your life is doubly at risk here.”

“Baterra and... ?”

Stronius shot Tuma an annoyed look. “Baterra pale beside those you would visit, and you know it.”
“We share a common enemy,” Tuma said. “They will be... reasonable.”

“We abandoned them to that enemy,” Stronius snapped. “They will be merciless.”

The two rode for most of two nights and a day. They ran into no baterra, so far as they knew. If the rocks or the trees were their enemies in another shape, well, those enemies chose not to attack. Now and then, they paused at the sight of Skrall armor littering the path where one of their warriors had perished during the long retreat.

Dawn was still a few hours away when they veered sharply eastward. All of the Skrall fortresses in this region had been destroyed by the baterra long ago. Logically, no one here should have survived the last year. But logic had nothing to do with who Tuma was seeking.

Stronius was the first to feel it – an electricity in the air, an oppressive feeling that seemed to slow all movement. His mind felt dull, his body sluggish. He turned to shout a warning to Tuma and it felt like it took an hour to perform that simple action.

Tuma felt less of an effect than Stronius, being a little further away. He spotted a robed figure atop some nearby rocks, wielding a wooden staff. “You!” he shouted. “Tell her I want an audience!”

The robed figure’s head tilted, as if puzzled by the request, then the mysterious being disappeared among the rocks. A few minutes later, Stronius felt his head clear. He glanced at Tuma, who nodded once. Side by side, the two rode on.

The sky darkened. From every side of the pass, more robed figures peered down at the two Skrall. Their faces were hidden, but Tuma could feel their hatred just the same.

Up ahead, a half dozen more figures blocked the way. Beyond them, a seventh sat on a crude throne carved from part of the mountain itself. “Dismount,” she ordered, in a voice that was surprisingly soft. Tuma tensed. He had not realized this one had ascended to leadership. His hope of surviving this journey dwindled considerably.

He and Stronius both got off their rock steeds. The seated figure then said, “The weapons of warriors are not allowed here.”

“No,” Stronius replied immediately. “An elite warrior never surrenders his weapon.”

The robed figure shrugged. “Then he can surrender his life instead.”

Pain exploded in Stronius’ head. It was worse than anything he had ever felt, worse than anything a blade or a Thornax could do. Yet no weapon had ever touched his body. The pain tore a scream from him as he dropped to his knees.

“Stop!” Tuma shouted. “We came here in peace!”

A chorus of whispers came from every side. The sound chilled Tuma as he realized what he was hearing was laughter.

“You came here out of fear,” the seated figure said. “Just as you abandoned us out of fear … just as your kind banished us millennia ago, out of fear. You stink of it, Tuma, despite your mighty legions, despite your conquests. You are a warrior made of straw.”

Tuma took three steps forward, ready to ram his sword into his tormentor. That was as far as he got before the pain hit him too. But he did not leave his feet, not even as the agony increased beyond all imaginable limits. He had made a vow long ago that he intended to keep – he would never kneel before the Sisters of the Skrall.

As quickly as it had appeared, the pain vanished. Tuma saw Stronius slowly standing back up again. He noted the elite warrior’s club still lay on the ground.

The figure on the throne rose and removed her hood. She wore no helmet or armor. Her face was a dark gray in color, wizened and weathered. Tuma knew appearances were deceiving. Though her body might seem feeble in comparison to a Skrall warrior, the energies at her command were more devastating than any sword or axe could ever be.

“You did not fall,” she said to Tuma, matter of factly.

“I prefer to remain standing,” the Skrall leader replied. “That is why I am here.”

“You risked your sanity and your life coming here.” She gestured at the other robed females. “They would see you dead, and worse than dead... I see no reason to deny them.”

Tuma gave the slightest of shrugs, an acknowledgment that the female who faced him could do what she claimed – not an easy admission for him to make, but an honest one. “I thought you were a seeker of knowledge,” he said. “If you kill me, you’ll never learn what I came here to offer you.”

“You have nothing we want,” the female answered dismissively. “And we have nothing left to give you in return.”

She resumed her seat , her gaze never leaving Tuma. She stared straight into his eyes as she addressed her assembled people.

“Kill them,” she said. “Kill them both.”

-=Chapter 7=-

Stronius stood at the edge of a glassy lake. It was a calm, clear day, warm for the mountains, with a soft breeze. Rock Agori were working nearby, building weapons of war. Not far away, a horde of Vorox, each chained to the other, was being marched off to labor in the mines.

Life was good.

Well, almost. As he looked down at his reflection in the water, Stronius noticed a small crack in the chestplate of his armor. When had that happened? Skrall armor was some of the toughest around and he couldn’t recall an opponent landing any blows lately that might have damaged it. This was puzzling.

Even more confusing –and disturbing – was that the crack was growing bigger as he watched. It was already more than two inches long, and spreading into a spider-web of tiny fractures. He staggered back a step. The crack was big enough now that he could see something through it. It looked like another layer of armor, this one silver.

The crack accelerated its pace. Before Stronius’ startled eyes, his chest armor split open, followed by his arm and leg plate. With a loud crack, his helmet shattered. He stared at his reflection in horror -- something was emerging from inside the ruin of his armor -- a baterra!

And Stronius could do nothing but scream.

Not far away, Tuma heard Stronius’ ragged cry. The female Skrall weren’t satisfied to just execute their prisoners. No, they wanted to torture them first, using their mental powers to create illusions. He had no idea what Stronius was seeing now, but it was a good guess that his elite warrior’s sanity would go before his life did.

Tuma’s weapon was on the ground, just out of his reach. The women had left it there to mock him. His mind told his arm to reach for it, but his arm wouldn’t move. His body was paralyzed by the mental force of his captors. Only his mouth still worked. When the time came, they wanted to hear his screams, too.

But a good warrior always had more than one strategy in mind. He’d hoped to use the threat of the baterra to talk the females into allying with him. If that wouldn’t work, he knew something that would … something that the females wouldn’t be able to resist.

He tried to rise. A stabbing pain tore through his mind. It was time, then. He opened his mouth and yelled one word: “Angonce.”

For a moment, the pain increased and he thought he would surely go mad or die. Then it eased, just enough for him to take a breath. The leader of the female Skrall approached. She grabbed Tuma’s jaw roughly and forced his head up to look at her.

“What do you know of Angonce?”

Tuma flicked his eyes toward Stronius. “Stop … whatever … you’re doing to him … and we’ll talk.”

The female Skrall nodded to one of the others. The next instant, Stronius stopped screaming and collapsed in a heap.

“I know where he might be,” said Tuma. “At least, where he once was.”

“Is that all?” the female Skrall spat. “We all know that. The great tower … the burning place … in the Valley of the Maze. That is where they all were.”

“And they all fled,” answered Tuma. “No one knows where. But Angonce always had more of a … curiosity … about the Agori than the others. He would stay close enough to keep an eye on them.”

The leader of the Sisters of the Skrall considered his words. The females of her species had been gifted from birth with psionic powers, strong enough to enable them to withstand the hatred and violence of the males and to resist the baterra. But the legends said that one female Skrall had once encountered the Great Being named Angonce, and Angonce had taught her how to ascend to a whole new level of power. Some said entire civilizations rose and fell on her whims now. She had evolved far past her own species and had no contact with them ever again. Still, every Skrall female hoped to one day find Angonce and learn his secrets.

“Why would you share this with us?” asked the female. “You know what we could do with that kind of power.”

“I could lie to you,” said Tuma, “and say I think greater power would make you virtuous and good. But the truth is, I think the whole story is a pile of rock steed droppings. It’s a load of nonsense you and your sisters tell each other to stay warm on cold nights in the mountains. Even if you find a Great Being, he will laugh in your face – that’s what they do best.”

“And if you’re wrong?” the female said, a wicked smile curving the edges of her mouth upward.

Tuma returned her smile. “Then I won’t live long enough to regret it, will I?”

“And what do you want in exchange?”

“Our freedom,” answered Tuma. “And your pledge to destroy any baterra you encounter on your journey.”

“The baterra pose no threat to us,” she countered. “We carry no weapons that they would recognize as such. Why should we start a war with them?”

“Because the alternative is two dead Skrall you have to bury, and no more idea of where Angonce is than you had before,” said Tuma. “You know, the problem with revenge is it is over so quickly. And when you are done, what is there left to do? Even miserable creatures like the Sisters of the Skrall need something to aspire to, to strive for … isn’t that true?”

Of course, thought the female. In this case, we aspire to the destruction of you and yours. So we will seek out baterra for you … and make sure they know just where you are.

She nodded. “We have a bargain, Tuma. You and Stronius can leave … but once we find our Great Being, we will see you two again. Be sure of that.”

That is what you think, witch, thought Tuma. As soon as we have seized the Bara Magna desert and destroyed any baterra that are left, we will find a way to eliminate you too.

“A bargain it is,” said Tuma. “And when – if – you return from your quest, be sure we will give you a… memorable welcome home.”

-=Chapter 8=-

The Sisters of the Skrall sat in council. It had only been a short time since they had done the unthinkable – allow a Skrall leader and elite warrior to walk out of their camp, alive. But a bargain had been struck: the freedom of the two arrogant males in return for information on the location of a Great Being named Angonce.

“I do not believe their tale,” one of the female Skrall whispered. “Why would Angonce have remained when the other Skrall fled? Why would he be there?”

“As a guard?” the leader of the sisterhood asked. “They say there is great power there … power that could make someone an emperor … or an empress.”

“And we will seek out that power?”

The leader considered. Theirs had not been an easy existence. Banished from the sight of the male Skrall, abandoned to the wilds, struggling to survive while the males pursued their plans of conquest … and now Tuma, their hated enemy, had been forced to buy his freedom from them. His payment had been dear indeed, if it truly led to the secrets of the Great Beings. And if Angonce was still on Bara Magna, could he be far from that which was most treasured by his kind?

“We go,” she said. “Gather the sisters together. We will travel to the Valley of the Maze and pierce its heart. And when we find what is hidden there … we will do the same to our Skrall brothers.”

Tuma and Stronius had traveled in silence since they left the camp. Stronius was furious, that much was obvious. No doubt he would have preferred to die at the hands of the sisterhood than bargain with them. But a leader could not afford to allow personal pride to threaten the welfare of his people. Dying here would not have helped the Skrall legions at all. Sending the sisterhood off on a wild sand bat chase, and possibly having some baterra killed in the process, might prove to be a great boon.

Stronius is a fine warrior, thought Tuma. But he does not understand that sometimes a leader has to make deals with those he finds … repulsive.

Not for the first time, he thought of Metus. The ice Agori had proven somewhat useful up to now, helping to strike deals with the bone hunters and providing information on the defenses of the various villages and the skills of their Glatorian. Lately, he had promised to share the secret of how to defeat the shapeshifting baterra, but he had yet to deliver on that pledge. Privately, Tuma doubted Metus truly knew anything of use on the subject. But he preferred to keep the Agori close by for now, at least until the second phase of the war against the villages had begun. Better to let him keep thinking his best interests lay with an alliance with the Skrall than risk him betraying battle plans to the Glatorian. A traitor, after all, can never be trusted.

Once the war was over and the Agori had been subjugated, of course, things would be different. Metus’ usefulness would be at an end, along with his freedom … and quite possibly his life. He was a viper, and Tuma had no wish to suffer his company any longer than was necessary.

The Skrall leader abruptly stopped. The pass up ahead was narrow and dotted with trees. He and Stronius had traveled through it on the way to meet with the Sisterhood earlier that day and met with no incident. But things had been different then – for one thing, there had been fewer trees.
“You see it?” Tuma said, as softly as he could.

“Of course,” Stronius answered. “An ambush, no doubt … well, we will make them regret this day before we’re through.”

“Will we?” said Tuma. “There are six of those ‘trees,’ each a baterra in disguise, and two of us. I doubt we will make it through the pass alive.”

“So what do we do – call on the sisters for help?” Stronius sneered.

Tuma whirled and struck the elite warrior, sending Stronius sprawling on the ground. Before the warrior could leap up, weapon drawn, Tuma had his own weapon at the fallen fighter’s neck.

“Speak to me like that again,” Tuma snarled, “and you may find you have something caught in your throat.”

Stronius eyes flicked down to the point of the blade now pressing against his neck. He knew exactly what Tuma meant. He forced his anger down and bowed his head in the traditional Skrall sign of submission to a greater authority. Placated, Tuma withdrew his blade.

As Stronius got to his feet, he noticed something odd about the baterra who lay in wait for them. At first, he wasn’t sure just what did not seem right about the scene before him. Then it hit him, and his hand went to his weapon immediately.

“The roots,” he said. “Look at the roots.”

Tuma did as he asked. Baterra disguises were traditionally thorough. If one changed its shape to look like a rock, it could be mistaken for a rock that had been in place for years. If another became a plant or a tree, there was nothing to give away that it had not been growing in that spot for ages. Even the roots of the trees looked to be buried deep in the ground, an incredible illusion.

Only the roots of these new trees in the pass were not growing down into the dirt. Instead, they were resting on the surface, and some were torn and ragged. Either the baterra were getting sloppy or …

“Those trees have been uprooted and placed there,” said Tuma. “They wanted us to see them and mistake them for our enemy. And that means -- ”

Pain exploded in the center of Tuma’s back. He hit the ground, even as two baterra emerged from the rocks behind them -- or rather, the baterra had been the rocks behind them. They had run a double-bluff, focusing the attention of their prey on a fake ambush in front of them, while the true trap was behind them.

They are growing more clever, thought Stronius. Here is hoping we live long enough to share that cheerful bit of news with Roxtus …

Silently, the baterra advanced. Stronius readied himself for battle. He and Tuma would die with honor, at least. There would be no “deals” struck with this enemy.

He raised his war club and, with a guttural yell of rage, Stronius charged.

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« Reply #13 on: January 04, 2010, 04:30:01 pm »

-=Chapter 9=-

Tuma opened his eyes. With a start, he realized he must have blacked out from his wound, leaving Stronius to face two deadly baterra alone.

The worst had happened. Stronius was unconscious on the ground, not far away. His war club and Thornax launcher were nowhere to be seen. Tuma knew that he had little chance of stopping the baterra on his own, but he would have to try. He reached for his sword … but it was gone. So was his launcher.

He was defenseless.

Tuma struggled painfully to his feet. His back throbbed with pain. The baterra’s attack had pierced his armor and damaged some of the organic tissue within. He could still fight, and if he had a weapon, he was sure he could take at least one baterra with him. As it was, all he could do was face his death like a true Skrall.

“Come on, then,” he shouted at the baterra. “Finish this!”

The baterra made no move to advance. They seemed puzzled, if such a word could be applied to machines.

“Sorry, Tuma. You’re going to be disappointed.”

The Skrall leader whirled at the sound. It was Metus, unarmed, leaning against a rock as if he didn’t have a care in the world. As the Skrall watched in surprise, Metus walked up the two baterra and regarded them like they were just annoyances.

“Move along. Nothing to see here,” he said to the two mechanical warriors.

To Tuma’s amazement, the baterra did just that. They turned and walked away! His first thought was a dark one: that Metus was truly in charge of the baterra and responsible for all the Skrall deaths they had caused, not to mention all the other warriors they had slain back in the Core War.

Metus was smart enough to guess where Tuma’s thoughts would be going. He turned to the Skrall with his arms out. “Now, Tuma, if I controlled them …. If I had decimated your legions and your fortresses … why would I leave you alive to maybe put a dagger in my back? Use your brain. Remember what I told you.”

Tuma charged forward, ignoring his pain, and backhanded Metus, knocking the Agori to the ground. “I have grown tired of your insolence. I need no weapon to end your life.”

“I just saved your life, yours and Stronius’,” Metus spat. “A simple ‘thank you’ would have sufficed.”

More than ever, Tuma wanted to shut Metus’ mouth for good. But he couldn’t escape the truth the Agori had spoken. The baterra were in a perfect position to kill him and his elite warrior, but hadn’t. Why?

“You said you had a secret … a way to stop the baterra,” Tuma said. “Is that what I saw here today?”

Metus got to his feet. “Just about. You’re not dead, are you? Yes, I know a secret, and it’s not one any Skrall would ever figure out on his own.”

The Agori smiled. For a change, he was actually telling the truth. Long ago, in the closing days of the Core War, Metus had hitched a ride on a supply caravan heading to an Ice army outpost. Normally, he would have preferred to make his way on his own, but his ice axe had broken and was in for repair. He hadn’t time to dig up a new weapon and didn’t much like the thought of traveling through a war zone unarmed.

The wagons were ambushed by a dozen baterra. The Ice warriors and other Agori put up a fight, but none of them survived the battle. Through it all, though, the baterra just ignored Metus. Even when he grabbed the reins of a wagon and made his escape, they didn’t pursue. The question of why dogged him all the way to the outpost. When he arrived, he told the warriors there that he had been knocked unconscious early in the battle and must have rolled under a wagon where the attackers couldn’t see him. They seemed to accept the explanation.

Metus knew better, of course. There had been something different about him, something that led the baterra to spare his life. Once he realized that, the answer was blindingly obvious.

I wasn’t armed, he thought. These creatures are killing warriors on every side. Their definition of “warrior” is anyone who has a weapon.

Now, here he was, years later, apparently the only being that had made this connection. The Skrall would never figure it out on their own, and even if they did, they would never want to do it – they would cut off their arms before they would lay their weapons down. When he saw Tuma and Stronius both unconscious, he had ditched his ice axe and rushed down, kicking their weapons well away from them. That brought the baterra up short, since their programming did not include attacking unarmed beings.

“You owe me,” said Metus. “I think it’s time we discussed payment.”

“Our deal stands,” Tuma growled. “Do not go too far, Agori.”

“Really? All right, then I can always bring the baterra back here. You can try negotiating with them. Or you can talk to me, like a … civilized warlord.”

Stronius was waking up. Metus decided he better wrap this conversation up fast. Stronius would snap him in half whether it was in the Skrall’s best interest or not.

“Listen, you’re a great and powerful leader,” the Agori said. “You’re going to be the ruler of Bara Magna pretty soon, and with my help, you’re going to wipe out the baterra. But just in case something should go wrong … if you were killed in battle, say … someone should be ready to step into your boots, don’t you think?”

“If a leader falls, an elite warrior takes over,” Tuma replied, already not liking where this was going.

Metus laughed. “Stronius? Please. The guy couldn’t lead a Spikit to dinner. And I won’t work with him, meaning the baterra carve your last legion to bits. No, I was thinking more of … me.”

Now it was Tuma’s turn to howl with laughter. “You?? You are no Skrall, just a miserable traitor to his own kind. Perhaps I should hand you over to the Agori and leave you to their justice, Metus. “

Metus crossed his arms over his chest. When he spoke, his voice had none of its usual bluster. It was cold and flat. “Those are my terms. If you get killed or become unfit to lead, the legion answers to me. Otherwise, just kill me now, Tuma. My death will only come a little earlier than yours and that of the rest of your warriors.”

“They will never accept it,” said Tuma. “They will never take orders from an Agori.”

Metus chuckled. “If you go down, things will be so desperate they would even take orders from a lummox like Stronius. Anyway, you let me worry about that. Do we have a deal?”

“For now,” Tuma said. “But once the baterra are defeated …”

“I’m on my own,” Metus finished for him. “I got it. Well, don’t be concerned – all of this will be over soon, and nothing’s going to happen to you, right? You’re just humoring an Agori.”

“Yes,” Tuma agreed. “Yes, it will all be over. Everything … and everyone … ends in time.”

Metus smiled. He quickly retrieved his ice axe, and then happily “discovered” where the Skrall weapons had fallen. It had been a good day. Perhaps Tuma really would conquer the villages and the baterra in time, but the Skrall leader was in a dangerous profession. There was always the potential for accidents. Of course, it might be wise to include Stronius in the “accident” as well, if at all possible. The thought was a very entertaining one, and it kept him amused all the way back to Roxtus.

As for Tuma, his thoughts were his own. He would have to make a formal announcement to his legion, one they would have a hard time believing. But he would also give a whispered order to Stronius: if anything were to happen to him in battle, even a noble death at the hands of a Glatorian, the elite warrior was to immediately slay Metus.

Yes, everything ends, Tuma said to himself. But some endings are more painful than others, my Agori friend. Pray you never learn just how painful.

Tuma smiled and resolved to put the whole matter out of his mind for now. He had, after all, a world to win.


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« Reply #14 on: March 07, 2010, 06:49:30 am »

It's about time I posted this...


-=Chapter 1=-

Vezon walked between worlds.

At least, that’s how he saw it. Lately, it seemed like every step he took left him somewhere completely different. One moment, he was out in the sunshine, seeing Matoran and Dark Hunters working together in perfect harmony (granted, they were building a giant cannon, but they were still getting along well). The next moment, everything had shifted and he was in a quite different place. Here, a group named the Great Beings had built a 40 million foot tall mechanical being they named Makuta. Unfortunately, his brother, Mata Nui, was plotting a rebellion against him.

How had this all begun? He tried to remember, never the easiest thing for Vezon to do. He had donned a Kanohi Olmak, the Mask of Dimensional Gates, which he had found on Destral. A portal opened up in front of him then. Eager to escape the island, he stepped through it – only to find himself facing an oncoming tidal wave. It washed over him, but he did not drown. Instead, he fell through another portal, winding up in the middle of a swamp. And then another, and then another …

It took him quite some time to figure out what had happened to him – that his body, his essence, had fused to that of the Olmak. He was now, for all intents and purposes, a walking dimensional gateway.

There was still a lot to learn, of course. Was the effect permanent? Could he ever learn to control the power, so he could pick and choose where he went to? If he was holding something or someone, would they travel with him?

Wouldn’t that be interesting? he thought. First thing I’d do is find Makuta Teridax and give him a great … big … hug.

Tahu used his elemental powers to light a small campfire. It was foolish, he knew. There were Exo-Toa in the area and they would zero in on the heat. Then again, being a Toa of Fire, they probably couldn’t miss him anyway.

He glanced around the camp at his “team.” It was not a sight to inspire confidence. In the days since Teridax took over the universe, the Toa Nuva had scattered (they were too easy of a target if they stayed together). Hooking up with other fugitives as they went, they made for places of relative safety in order to regroup and plan.

This explained why Tahu was sitting in the blasted ruins of Karzahni with a Ko-Matoran, Kopeke; Johmak, a female Order of Mata Nui member with the ability to shatter and reassemble her body; Krahka, female shapeshifting Rahi; and two Dark Hunters, Guardian and Lariska.

Not exactly Gali, Lewa and Kopaka, thought Tahu. But they will have to do.

“We’ll stay here a few more hours, then move out,” he said. “Onua said there were a few Order of Mata Nui agents somewhere south of here, looking for a cache of weapons and supplies. We’ll hook up with them.”

“And then what?” grumbled Guardian. “Throw rocks at the sky? Challenge the wind with Cordak blasters? All we’re doing is delaying the inevitable – and we all know it.”

“And the alternative?” asked Johmak. “Bow and scrape before Makuta, begging him for one more moment of life in which to serve him? Let me die, then, as long as I do it as a free being.”

“Tahu … what are we going to do?” Kopeke asked, in hardly more than a whisper. “Guardian is right. We’re trying to fight the universe itself.”

“No, we’re not,” said Tahu. “We’re fighting a madbeing who controls the power of a universe. And it’s not like learning a new machine at a Ta-Metru forge – it takes time and practice to master so complex a system. And we’re not going to give him that time … we’re going to do a Pohatu on him.”

“A Pohatu?” asked Kopeke.

Tahu smiled. “That’s right. ‘When in doubt, smash everything and hope you’re somewhere else when it all goes boom.’”

Guardian got up and walked away from the fire. He had nothing against Tahu, but there had to be a better way. Maybe instead of running from place to place, they should be trying to find a way out of this universe. Could be this place was lost, and it was time to accept it and move on. It wasn’t an easy choice, but those weren’t the kind he was used to making anyway.

Beneath his feet, the ground opened. Bonds made of solid stone wrapped around him, yanking him down into the hole even as he screamed. Then the barren earth slammed shut again, and he was gone.

The team was on its feet. “It’s Makuta,” said Tahu. “He knows where we are. He’s toying with us!”

“Tell us something we don’t know,” snapped Lariska. “Like what do we do about it?”

Before Tahu could answer, a dozen Exo-Toa appeared on the rise. Their missiles were loaded and aimed at the fugitives. The lead machine spoke in the voice of Makuta Teridax.

“Citizens of the Makutaverse, you are in an unauthorized area. You will accompany these Exo-Toa to Metru Nui, where you will be … retrained for new work that will benefit all my people. You will live out your lives there, in peace and prosperity, wanting for nothing … or you die, now.”

“You know what?” said Lariska. “This may turn out to be the shortest revolution on record.”

-=Chapter 2=-

Axonn had been running for many days and nights. After being teleported from Metru Nui by the power of Makuta, he had found himself in a vast, barren landscape. At first, there was no sign of any life at all, Matoran or Rahi, or any habitation. That changed when he began to hear the screams. They were cries of agony and they were coming from Brutaka, though his old friend was nowhere to be seen.

The warrior had raced off in the direction of the screams. That had been – how long ago? A week ago? A month? He had crossed the wasteland that never seemed to end, but had been unable to find Brutaka. Strangely, he had felt neither hunger nor thirst on the journey, just an overpowering need to keep searching.

A few things had begun nagging at him, though, like the buzz of a fireflyer in his ear. The landscape never changed. He could swear he had seen the same rock formations time and time again, as if he were running in a circle. And Brutaka – not even he could endure what he seemed to be for weeks at a time. His screams should have died out long ago.

Then the crack appeared in the sky. It was only a small one, but bright light flowed through it from somewhere outside. That, too, made no sense. No sooner had Axonn said that to himself then the crack got bigger. Then more cracks started to appear, in the sky, in the ground, all around him.

This can’t be happening, Axonn thought. This can’t be real. This... isn’t real!

The next instant, Axonn was sitting on a beach. Water lapped against the shore in front of him, and behind, a gentle breeze stirred jungle trees. Flying Rahi circled in the sky overhead, now and then diving down to steal a fish from the sea. There was no sign of the endless waste had been in before.

Of course not, he thought. I was never there. With his powers increased by being in Mata Nui’s body, Makuta can pierce even an Order member’s mental shields. My days and nights of running, Brutaka’s screams … all an illusion.

Axonn rose. He still had his armor, his mask, and his axe. He wondered if perhaps his mask, which could see through any deception, had been the difference between his escaping Makuta’s trap and being lost in the fantasy forever.

He didn’t know for certain where he was, nor did he care at the moment. All that mattered to him was where Makuta was, and he knew that answer. Somehow, some way, he was going to make it back to Metru Nui – and Makuta was going to pay for what he had done, even if it cost Axonn his life.

Far away from Axonn’s island, Tahu and his ragtag team were facing the potential end of their own lives. The group was confronted by a squad of heavily armed Exo-Toa, prepared to imprison or execute them. Tahu doubted the machines much cared which option they pursued.

He calculated the odds. Lariska, Krahka, Johmak and he could take out four Exo-Toa, maybe even eight if they caught a break. That would still leave four of the machines free to cut them down. In the past, he would have just accepted the situation and vowed to go down fighting. Now he was trying to use his brain as much as his brawn, because the fight against Makuta could not afford to lose warriors to needless sacrifice.

He had settled on a plan – a mock surrender, followed by an escape attempt before they reached Metru Nui -- when the ground began to shake. At first, he thought it was another attack by Makuta. Then the tremors became more violent and some of the Exo-Toa lost their footing. They didn’t have to bother getting up again. A chasm opened up directly under the machines and swallowed them up. Tahu ran to the edge of it, and saw nothing but darkness. At least, at first...

“Brother! Can you give me a hand?”

Tahu smiled. Onua Nuva was clinging to the rocky wall of the crevice. The Exo-Toa had not been so lucky, having tumbled down into what looked like a bottomless pit.

The Toa of Fire helped the Toa of Earth back to solid ground. He nodded toward the chasm, saying, “You still do good work.”

“I have been keeping in practice,” said Onua.

“We were just about to head south to find those Order agents you mentioned, the ones looking for weapons,” said Tahu.

Onua shook his head. “Don’t bother. Rahkshi got them, and the supplies.”

“Then we pick another direction,” said Tahu, “and we keep moving.”

Lariska walked over, sheathing her dagger. “So. Any bright ideas? There are more Exo-Toa where those came from.”

“And more Rahkshi,” agreed Tahu.

“Onu-Matoran,” said Onua, smiling.

“What are you talking about?” asked Lariska.

“Onu-Matoran live underground most of their lives,” explained the Toa of Earth. “The first time they come to the surface, the bright light overwhelms them. Most are blinded for a short time, until they get used to the environment That’s how Teridax is now. He’s not used to all this new power yet, or trying to see in every direction at once. He needs other eyes and ears within the universe – the Rahkshi and the Exo-Toa.”

“What do you have in mind, and does it include explosions?” asked Tahu, hoping it did.

“Oh, it does,” Onua assured him. “A Toa of Earth learns to … excuse the pun … keep his ear to the ground. Makuta may be all-powerful, but he still needs to make Rahkshi the same old way – by making worm-like kraata who then turn into his warriors. And I think I may know just where those kraata are coming into being.”

“We strike there,” said Tahu. “Maybe we can cut off his supply of Rahkshi, temporarily. It’s a start.”

“How far?” asked Lariska.

“We’ll get there,” said Onua. “Makuta picked the one source of energized protodermis the Order of Mata Nui wouldn’t think to try and shut down – the one on their own island of Daxia. He leveled their fortress and seized control of the island. That’s where we have to go.”

“Guarded?” asked the Dark Hunter.

“Like it’s the treasure of the Great Beings,” said Onua. “Bring an extra dagger.”

Lewa’s mission was simple and straightforward. With the help of information from a surviving Order agent, he was headed for the island of Artakha. Somehow, the powerful ruler of that land had to be convinced to do more than sit back and make armor and weapons. They needed him in the fight.

As he came within sight of the island, he could tell he was already too late. Shattered Rahkshi littered the coastline, but more were advancing on the fortress. Artakha’s Matoran workers were fighting a desperate holding action, but it was a lost cause. The only hope was to somehow pull off a rescue of Artakha himself before Makuta’s forces overcame him.

Lewa was about to launch himself into a power dive when a voice echoed in his head. Do not, it said. It is too late. But there is another who can aid you, if I have fallen. Go to him. Persuade him to join your fight.

“Who are you talking about? And where do I find him?” said Lewa.

There is still time, said the voice of Artakha. I will send you to him. The rest is up to you.

The world spun, and then Lewa was no longer in the air above Artakha. Instead, he was standing in a dark cave, facing a blank wall of stone. He could feel something behind him, the way one could feel a bog leech crawling up the back of the neck. Lewa wanted to turn around and see what was there – and at the same time, he knew he really didn’t want to see.

Turn. This voice was also in Lewa’s mind only, but it had none of the comfort and assurance that could be found in Artakha’s. If it was possible for a voice to have a scent, this one reeked of death and decay.

“Who are you? Where am I?” said Lewa, staying right where he was.

You are at the end of your journey … the end of all journeys, Toa. And my name is Tren Krom.

-=Chapter 3=-

Kapura moved swiftly (for him) through the shadows of Metru Nui. His destination was the outskirts of Ga-Metru, specifically a portion of the Archives underneath that spot. The sign carved into the wall outside his shelter had told him where to go, and even who was to meet him there, but not the most important answer: why.

Cautiously, he peered around the corner of a building. The way seemed clear. Rahkshi stood guard over most entrances to the Archives, but not this one. It led to a section of the vast museum that had been deemed unsafe decades ago and abandoned. Even when Matoran and Toa retreated below in the days right after Makuta’s take-over of the universe, they had avoided this region.

He slipped across the street and, with great effort, raised the hatch. It let out a shrill creak he was sure every Rahkshi in the city could hear. Kapura froze. Was that the whistling sound of Rahkshi flying through the air toward him? No, it was just steam escaping in Ta-Metru. He waited a moment more, and when no hostile force appeared, he ducked into the tunnel and closed the hatch behind him.

It was dark and dank inside. The faint stench of Muaka lingered in the air. Kapura found himself remembering another recent visit to the Archives, when he had gotten lost in the maze of passageways. That time, he had almost wound up a meal for an escaped exhibit and it was only the timely arrival of Toa Takanuva that saved him. He wished that his friend had picked a different place for their meeting... but then remembered that only this sort of a spot would do.

“You’re late.”

Macku stepped out from a recess in the wall. Her blue armor was stained with mud and she moved with a slight limp, a souvenir of an escape from some Exo-Toa a few days before.

“Sorry,” said Kapura. “I had to make sure I wasn’t followed.”

“We’ll wait a few more minutes for Hafu,” Macku said. She sounded tired... no, beyond tired, Kapura thought. More like she was barely holding herself together.

“Is he working today?”

Macku nodded.

Kapura frowned. All of the Po-Matoran carvers had been put to work carving statues of Makuta for placement all around the city. The order hadn’t come from their new “Great Spirit,” but rather from the new “Turaga” of Metru Nui – Ahkmou. No, he wasn’t a true Turaga – he had never been a Toa, after all, which was the prerequisite – but his past association with Makuta had put him in a position of power in the city.

“We should have killed that lousy traitor long ago,” Macku muttered.

Every Matoran remembered Ahkmou’s crimes on the island of Mata Nui, involving the sale of kodan balls tainted with Makuta’s darkness. Many had heard the tales of his sins on Metru Nui as well, in the weeks before the Great Cataclysm. Although he had largely kept to himself for the past year, no one really trusted him. But Turaga Vakama insisted he not be exiled. “Better to keep a doom viper beside your bed than to let it wander free. At least then, you will know from which direction its strike will come.”

The hatch opened again with a screech. A shaft of dirty light pierced the gloom of the Archives. Macku and Kapura instinctively hid until the light was gone. Then they heard the reassuring sound of Hafu’s voice, saying, “Anyone remember why we wanted to come back to this city?”

Macku laughed, though there really was nothing to laugh at. But it felt good to be around these two Matoran again. So many of the others up above had given up. Rahkshi and Exo-Toa were everywhere, and the only Toa visible were the Toa Hagah, who seemed oblivious to everything going on around them. When questioned, they insisted that Makuta Teridax had been defeated and all was well on Metru Nui. Worse, one could tell they really believed this delusion.

“What’s the situation?” asked Hafu. “You know that symbol is only supposed to be used in an emergency.”

“This is an emergency,” Macku assured him. She had taken a great risk drawing the “help” symbol – a crude sketch of a Rahkshi – near the homes of her friends. Ahkmou had forbidden the creation of any unauthorized art.

The Ga-Matoran turned and headed deeper into the Archives. Hafu and Kapura followed. She led them all the way down into the sub-levels, moving as if she knew the place as well as Ga-Metru. Kapura was completely lost and he suspected Hafu was, too.

“In here,” Macku said quietly. She beckoned them to follow her into a large chamber that had once housed a particularly nasty specimen of Rahi primate. There was someone else in there now – a Toa of Water, wounded, stretched out on the stone floor. But it wasn’t Gali or Gaaki or any other Toa Kapura recognized.

“Who is she? Where did she come from?” asked Hafu. Suspicion colored his voice. He had seen too many Makuta tricks to believe anything at first glance anymore.

“She says her name is Tuyet,” said Macku. “And that she’s here to help.”

Hafu had heard the name once... something to do with Toa Lhikan, if he recalled correctly, but he didn’t know the tale. “She doesn’t look like she can help herself, let alone us.”

“You might... be... surprised,” the female Toa said, lifting her head to look at Hafu. “So might a lot of people. Tell me, where is Toa Lhikan?”

“Dead,” said Kapura. “Killed by Makuta.”

Hafu shot him a look. It wasn’t smart to share information with strangers like that.

“And Toa Nidhiki?”

Kapura glanced at Hafu and shrugged. Then he turned back to Tuyet. “Dead, too. Makuta... ate him, I guess.”

“Look, we’re happy to see you and all,” said Hafu. “But one Toa more or less isn’t going to make a difference here. Not unless you have a super-weapon hidden away that can cleanse Metru Nui of Makuta’s forces.”

Tuyet sat up. She reached into her pouch and pulled out a piece of crystal about the size of her fist. “As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what I do have.”

“And do you think Makuta will give you the chance to use it?” asked Macku. Half hopeful, half skeptical.

“Makuta is the Great Spirit, correct?” asked Tuyet. “And the Great Spirit knows all about everyone who lives in his universe... where they are, what they’re doing... all he has to do is think about them?”

Kapura nodded.

Tuyet smiled. “Then I am the perfect ally, little ones. I am dead... and have been for some 2000 years.”

-=Chapter 4=-

Makuta Teridax, in the huge robotic body that once belonged to Mata Nui, surveyed the world he stood upon. There was nothing but water for as far as the eye could see – and when one is 40 million feet tall, reflected Makuta, one can see quite far.

It was, he decided, quite a dull world. Oh, it was true that beneath the surface of the vast ocean, escaped prisoners of the Pit still struggled to survive. But they were so unimportant as to be beneath the notice of so great and powerful a being as himself. While it was true he could not affect their fates in the same way that he could one of the living things that dwelled inside his body – the Toa, Matoran, etc. – his new body had enough power to vaporize this ocean, if need be. Perhaps he would do it before he left this world, just for amusement.

And make no mistake – he would be leaving this planet of endless sea. There were other worlds out there, teeming with life, waiting to be conquered. Why should he be satisfied with ruling a "universe" inside this body, when he could master a true universe of planets and suns and stars? This robot body had the power to lay waste to cities, to shatter mountains, and yet Mata Nui had never used any of it. Well, Makuta would not be so foolish.

Naturally, there would be preparations to be made. He would need to extinguish any last bits of rebellion within the universe of the Matoran first. It would be stupid to risk some critical breakdown in his systems in the middle of a war, just because some tribe of Matoran decided to value the concept of freedom over the hard, cold facts of death. When this was done, Makuta would beckon to the red star above and begin his journey.

The thought sparked another, an even more wonderful idea. He had expelled the Mask of Life from inside him, with the mind of Mata Nui trapped in the mask. The powerful Kanohi had gone flying into space, perhaps to burn up, or shatter against an asteroid... or, somehow, to find refuge on some other world. Though far away, it was still a part of this body, and Makuta knew he could find it again. He could track it down, no matter where, and extinguish any flickers of hope that Mata Nui might be feeling. The mask and all its powers were a dust mote in Makuta’s eyes now, and he would prove it by crushing it to powder with his armored heel.

It was a pleasant fantasy, but there were realities that had to dealt with first. He had sensed the presence of another Makuta among the Matoran, which should have been impossible. All the other Makuta had been slain, either by him or by Order of Mata Nui agents. Well, that was not strictly true, he supposed... Miserix was still alive, though that former leader of the Makuta did not know it. As far as Teridax’s old enemy knew, he had been changed into a two-dimensional drawing on a wall, and that was how everyone else saw him too. In the old days, it would have taken a considerable amount of energy to maintain such a successful illusion, especially for another Makuta. But with his powers amplified by his new form, it was practically effortless.

But the Makuta he sensed was not Miserix. No, it was one who was totally unfamiliar... and yet disturbingly familiar at the same time. And since he could not be an existing one, nor one who was just created, there was only one answer.

He has come from another dimension. My enemies have recruited a Makuta to use against me. How... enterprising of them. I must give their new recruit a proper welcome.

Mazeka and his newfound Makuta ally found themselves in an uninhabited portion of the southern continent. The valley they stood in was actually quite lush and beautiful, but Mazeka remembered well the tales of this place. The tall grasses that swayed in the light breeze were guardians of this place. They could sense movement and responded by wrapping themselves around the offending foreign object and strangling it. The remains would then be pulled underground and the valley would go back to looking beautiful and unspoiled.

“Stay still,” he advised the white-armored Makuta beside him. This was an alternate universe version of Makuta Teridax, from a world where the Makuta had never gone bad. In return for agreeing to leave his old enemy Vultraz there, he had been given the opportunity to bring one inhabitant of that dimension back with him. He had chosen that world’s Teridax, hoping the double would be able to predict the actions of the original.

“We have such things in our world too,” said the alternate Teridax. “We know how to deal with them.”

As Mazeka watched, darkness began to creep over the valley. Wherever it passed, the grasses withered and died. “Wait a minute,” said Mazeka, suddenly suspicious. “You told me that Makuta in your world had banished all trace of shadow from inside them. How can you control the darkness then?”

The alternate Teridax gave a whisper of a smile. “I cannot. But I can absorb the light... and what is darkness, but the absence of light? And now, I believe we have someplace else we need to be.”

Walking down the now darkened path, the two allies made their way out of the valley as their quest truly began...

Toa Tuyet could hardly believe her good fortune. Thousands of beings she might have encountered in this universe, and she had found two who did not remember her or her deeds. That would make things so much easier.

Her momentary weakness, the result of a difficult journey to get here, had passed. Now she walked through the Archives behind the two Matoran, Kapura and Macku, listening to them talk. It had not taken her long to grasp the situation here. Her old fears had been proven right. The Makuta had rebelled against Mata Nui and now controlled this universe. If Lhikan and Nidhiki had listened to me, none of this would have happened... because there would have been no Makuta left alive, she thought.

How well she recalled how it had all come about. She had been a Toa in Metru Nui, millennia ago. Using a powerful artifact called a Nui Stone, she had tried to make herself mighty enough to destroy those she perceived as threats to peace – the Dark Hunters and the Makuta. She knew other Toa, like Lhikan, would object to her plans, so she had to keep it all a secret.

Unfortunately, it could not stay hidden for long. Dark Hunters arrived in Metru Nui, seeking the Nui Stone they believed she had. To neutralize them, she framed them for murders of Matoran that she herself had committed. Toa Lhikan and Toa Nidhiki captured the Dark Hunters, but later tumbled to the fact that she was the murderer and had the Stone. In the ensuing battle, the stone was shattered and she was captured.

The Toa locked her up in the Coliseum until they could decide what to do with her. One night, a golden figure appeared in her cell, identifying himself as Botar of the Order of Mata Nui. He told her what she had already figured out for herself: pieces of the Nui Stone were embedded in her body now, making her a living battery of Toa power. No conventional prison would be able to hold her for long, not as long as there were Toa anywhere around from whom she could drain power. But the Order wanted more than a more efficient way to lock her up – they wanted the secret of the Nui Stone so they could make more.

This was an effort so secret that only the highest ranks in the Order knew about it. So a complicated plot ensued. Botar teleported Tuyet to another dimension, one where no Toa existed for her Nui Stone to drain. To keep this concealed from lower-ranking Order members, a second Tuyet – from yet another dimension – was taken to the Pit in her place. This double was even altered so that she had crystals embedded in her, although not from a Nui Stone. She would remain in the Pit, while the original Tuyet would be locked up and interrogated about the nature of the Stone.

For 1500 years, the Order tried to pry the secret of the Stone out of her, with no success. All the while, she plotted her escape. Working on one of her guards, she managed to convince him of the justice of her cause (after all, the Order disliked Dark Hunters and Makuta as much as she did). Finally, the guard was sufficiently on her side to help her fake her own death in an explosion. Believing her body was vaporized, the Order didn’t bother to search for her. Meanwhile, she used technology from that dimension to escape.

With no map, it took her two thousand years to make it back to her own universe... two thousand years filled with visiting worlds teeming with Toa from whom she could draw strength. Finally, she found a way back home, ending up in the Metru Nui Archives.

As for what had happened to her double in the Pit, she had no idea. She supposed the Order would know, and one day, if she was bored, she would squeeze the information out of them. But for now, she had bigger tasks ahead of her.

Tuyet had no doubt she could organize and lead a successful rebellion against Teridax and bring him down. But she had no intention of allowing Mata Nui to regain control. Thousands of years to think about it had convinced her that Mata Nui was weak, or he would have wiped out the Makuta himself long ago. No, what this universe needed was a ruler who was strong, decisive, unafraid to do what had to be done.

Someone like me, she said to herself. Yes, someone very much like me.

-=Chapter 5=-

The all-too familiar blurring of reality and wave of nausea struck Vezon. He really did have to find a way to control this new power, if for no other reason than it was starting to make him feel really sick. He wasn’t sure how beings like Brutaka managed to move between dimensions all the time without losing their sanity... then again, like Vezon, maybe Brutaka didn’t have that much sanity to lose?

Anyway, here he was. He was here. Which, of course, begged the question – where was “here,” this time? The Kanohi Olmak that had become fused to his substance opened dimensional gates the way Matoran open gift boxes on Naming Day, and it was impossible to predict where one might end up.

He looked down. There was sand under his feet. In fact, there was sand in every direction. At first, he thought he was on a beach, but there was no water nearby. He could see trees and buildings in the distance, though, so he started walking in that direction.

The desert, as it turned out, was not very big. It gave way to a lush jungle, filled with a number of beings doing one of those things Vezon did his best to avoid: hard work. Some were obviously Le-Matoran... the others, Vezon did not recognize, though they had the look of villagers. He hated villagers. They were so... industrious.

One of the villagers loped over to him, using his arms as forelegs. He looked up at Vezon and said, smiling, “Are you a friend of Mata Nui?”

Vezon performed a complicated and challenging feat – he didn’t laugh. “Why, yes, little... whatever you are. I am.”

“Are you a Toa, then?”

“Nothing but,” Vezon said, giving his best “noble and heroic” smile.

“Come on, then,” the villager said, dashing off. “You’re late.”

Intrigued, Vezon followed along behind. This place had a Mata Nui and Toa, so it had to be something like home. But who were these other little runts? And just where was he?

“Um, excuse me, villager,” Vezon began.

“Tarduk!” the villager shouted back at him. Vezon ducked, like he was told, but saw no sign of any tar flying through the air. It took him a moment that it wasn’t “Tar, duck!” he had heard.

“Right. Whatever. Where am I?” said Vezon.

Tarduk paused and looked over his shoulder. “Oh, you must be from up north. This is Tesara. Now, hurry up, please – Gresh and Toa Kongu need more help.”

Gresh? Vezon said to himself. What’s a Gresh? But Kongu... him, I know.

They pushed their way through some undergrowth, and Vezon stopped short. There were Toa – a lot of them – and some other warriors he didn’t recognize. They were repairing a huge, metallic shelter. Jaller was using his fire power to weld shut a seam, while a female in blue armor urged him to hurry up. She wasn’t a Toa of Water, at least Vezon didn’t think so – Toa of Water usually weren’t that pushy.

Vezon knew he shouldn’t go into the clearing – after all, he wasn’t extremely popular with Toa. Then again, if they saw him and attacked, it might make things interesting. It had been all of two days since someone had tried to kill him, and he was getting antsy.

Head held high, he marched up to where the Toa were working. A few nodded in his direction. One smiled. One Toa of Stone even waved! Vezon decided that he really hated this place.

“So who are you, exactly?” asked Tarduk.

“My name is... ah... Toa Vezon,” he said, loud enough for all the Toa to hear. “I’m the Toa of... of... Anarchy.”

Tarduk frowned. “Okay. I see. We were really hoping for Ice... gets pretty hot doing this work.”

Vezon looked around. No one had reacted at all to his name... not even Jaller. Was it possible --? No, it was too horrible to think about. Such a tragedy, such a loss, was beyond comprehension. But he had to face the fact:

This universe didn’t have a Vezon. It had never had one. Otherwise, surely someone would be shooting at him by now.

“We don’t get a lot of, um, news up north,” he said to Tarduk. “What exactly goes on here?”

“You don’t know?” said Tarduk. “Well, I suppose I should send you over to see Takua, but I think he is up in Roxtus today. It’s pretty simple really – the Great Beings, through Mata Nui, made things right around here. Then Mata Nui went up north, and a few months later, the Toa and Matoran and all the rest showed up.”

“And what happened to Mata Nui?”

Tarduk shrugged. “Tahu Nuva said something about the Valley of the Maze and power going back where it belonged. I didn’t catch too much of it. I’ve never been one for history, you know?”

Vezon turned at the sound of marching feet. A tall figure, unmistakably a Makuta, was leading a column of black-armored warriors in a drill.

“They’re early,” said Tarduk. “Ever since Tuma got deposed and the Makuta took over the Skrall, they’ve been nothing if not efficient. I’m glad they’re on our side!”

A few more questions spelled things out for Vezon, or at least came close to it. In this universe, the Makuta had never rebelled against Mata Nui. The Great Spirit had been allowed to proceed with his mission – whatever that was – without incident. After it was finished, he let at least some of the Toa and Matoran leave and live with the natives. That included the Makuta, who had smashed the ambitions of some local warlord but held onto the army.

Vezon was wondering what they even needed an army for in such a happy, peaceful, idyllic, mind-numbingly boring place as this when his question was answered, in very dramatic fashion. Coming over the dunes in the distance was an army, marching right for Tesara. Some of them he recognized – other Skakdi, like the Piraka, Roodaka and her Vortixx, and Makuta Miserix in dragon form. The black-armored riders on the two-legged reptiles were new to Vezon, but he doubted they had come to deliver fruit baskets.

“It’s an attack!” yelled Tarduk. “Quick, Toa Vezon – go help the Makuta. Use your power. I’ll get the others.”

Use my power. Right, thought Vezon. My power is to get the heck out of here. I just have to figure out how to turn it on.

The invaders smashed through the ranks of the Skrall warriors and headed for the village. The Skakdi in the lead hurled torches, setting the jungle ablaze.

Now would be a really good time for a dimensional gate to... anywhere! Vezon said to himself. Come on. Come on! I don’t want to die in a universe where I never lived... who will remember me, then?

But the power of the Olmak was strangely absent. And all Vezon could do was stand and watch as an onrushing horde surged toward him...

-=Chapter 6=-

Vezon had had better days. His newfound ability to travel to other dimensions had landed him on an alternate world called Spherus Magna, where Makuta, Toa, and some other race called Agori were happily living together. Well, mostly – a pretty good sized army of Skadi, Vortixx, and Spherus Magna natives was headed for the right village in which Vezon stood.

It seemed a good time to leave. But Vezon had not yet achieved any mastery over the powers of the Kanohi Olmak that had been merged with him. It didn’t work just because he wanted it to, and right now, he was starting to wish he had never seen the miserable thing to start with.

For the sixth time in the last minute, he willed the Olmak’s power to take him away from this reality before the onrushing horde trampled him underfoot. This time, he felt the now familiar sensation of dizziness that preceded a dimension jump, and saw the world waver around him. But then something happened that had never happened before: everyone around him froze in place. When he tried to reach out and touch a Toa, his hand passed right through. Worst of all, he wasn’t “traveling” – he seemed to be stuck in a realm of statues.

“This is better than being killed,” he said to himself. “Not much better, but better.”

His addled mind ran through all the possible scenarios. This wasn’t much help, as he knew next to nothing about Masks of Power or how to repair them. If something had gone wrong with the Olmak, he might well be stuck forever.

Would that be so bad? The voice was in his head – this wasn’t an unusual experience for Vezon, although normally the voices he heard were his own.

“If it doesn’t get any more entertaining than this, yes,” Vezon replied. “Who am I speaking to?”

My given name wouldn’t mean anything to you. The people of Spherus Magna would call me a “Great Being.”

“And what makes you so great?”

I do not speak to the beings of this world. They never see me, or hear me, and so it is left to their imaginations to conjure what I am like, how I think, and what I believe. The imagination has an infinite capacity to fill in the blanks with what it wants to be there.

“That’s nice,” said Vezon, impatiently. “Can you help me get out of this situation?”

Why would I? I got you into it. My people created the first Masks of Power. We certainly know how to shut one off. You don’t belong here … in fact, I strongly suspect you don’t belong anywhere. And so, now you are nowhere.

“Is this what Great Beings do all day? Stick their phantom noses into things that don’t concern them and get in the way of a perfectly good lunatic rampage through realities?” asked Vezon.

I am, perhaps, not a typical Great Being, the voice replied. Eons ago, I made the error of touching the Mask of Life. As a result, everything around me – furniture, equipment, rays of light – came to life. For their own safety, my fellow rulers imprisoned me. Now all I need fear are my living chains … living blocks of stone … and the screams of light as the darkness extinguishes it.

Vezon didn’t know anything about what pains a living light might feel, but he did know a light at the end of the tunnel when he saw one. “So you’re in prison, and so am I. Would you set me free … if I could set you free?”

The voice in Vezon’s head was silent for a long time.

Lewa stood stock still. Artakha had teleported him into a cavern, but he was not alone there. No, evidently he was sharing it with some being named Tren Krom … and something told Lewa he really didn’t want to get a look at his host.

Turn, Tren Krom said again. His telepathic “voice” reminded Lewa of a nest of slithering borer worms.

“I am ever-fine right here, thanks,” said Lewa. “Artakha said --”

I can guess why you have come, Toa, Tren Krom replied. I too heard the voice of Makuta Teridax coming from every corner of the universe. But what would you have me do? I have knowledge that could be used as a weapon against him, but knowledge without the experience to use it is less than useless. And I am bound to this island by the Great Beings, unable to venture forth.

“And if the Great Beings did it, I doubt I have the power to quick-free you,” said Lewa. “So this journey was another waste of time.”

Perhaps … and perhaps, said Tren Krom. There may be a way. But it would involve great risk … and success, for you, might be worse than failure.

“Everyone I care about is at risk,” Lewa answered. “Everything that matters to me has been poisoned by Makuta’s corruption. I’ll do whatever it takes to stop him.”

You may live to regret your choice, said Tren Krom. But the choice has been made just the same.

Lewa felt a tentacle wrap around his neck. His arms went up to tear it away, then stopped halfway there. The next instant, the world began to spin and he felt as if his insides were being yanked out a piece at a time. There was light and pain and impenetrable darkness. And when the shadows cleared away, Lewa was staring at … himself.

He looked down, for only a micro-second, long enough to see a huge tentacled mass grafted to stone. Instinctively, he knew that was Tren Krom’s body – and his mind was inside it.

“Freedom.” The word came from Lewa’s mouth, in Lewa’s voice, but it was spoken by Tren Krom. “After so long, I have a body again … a strong, powerful body that can take me from this wretched place … thanks to you.”

Lewa tried to speak and couldn’t. At first, he panicked. Then he recalled that Tren Krom had spoken to him telepathically. He concentrated and his words echoed in “Lewa’s” brain.

What have you done? I didn’t quick-agree to this!

“You said ‘whatever it takes,’” Tren Krom replied. “This is what it took. But do not fear – I will honor our bargain. I will use what I know to stop Teridax. All I ask in return is freedom. Is a life spent in exile here so high a price to pay for the safety of all you know and love?”

Before Lewa could form an answer, Tren Krom – in the body of the Toa Nuva of Air – had left the cave. Lewa tried to pursue, but the great bulk of this body was a part of the island itself. He could not move.

And if I don’t find a way to get my body back, he said to himself, I’m going to be ever-trapped here for good.

-=Chapter 7=-

Tren Krom stood on the shore of what had been “his” island for so many thousands of years – his home, his prison, his place of torment. For almost as long as he could remember, he had been trapped here by the power of the Great Beings. By all rights, he should hate them and their creation, Mata Nui, and want revenge.

Strangely, he did not. Yes, he had raged against his imprisonment and vowed vengeance more than once. But as time passed, he grew wiser, recalling the old saying that “no one fights in a burning house.” Pulling down the Great Beings’ creation would not profit him at all. In fact, it would mean his death as well. And, despite having been pushed aside for Mata Nui more than 100,000 years ago, Tren Krom still felt a sense of responsibility for the universe he once looked after.

That was why he had tricked Toa Nuva Lewa into swapping bodies with him, so he could escape the island at last. What he hadn’t counted on was that he would not get Lewa’s power over air in the bargain. Without this, and with no boat or air vehicle, he had no way to leave the shore. Still, that was no worry. He knew who had sent Lewa to him, and so he knew the answer to his power.

Artakha, hear me.

It was a telepathic message projected over an unimaginable distance. Yet the answer came within seconds.

I am here, Tren Krom. I see you are still … resourceful.

The body will be of use, Tren Krom conceded, but only if I can travel in it to Metru Nui. You can make that happen.

And should I unleash you on the universe, then? wondered Artakha. The Great Beings bound you for a reason, so that Mata Nui could rule with no rivals.

Tren Krom cursed. Stop wringing your hands, you ancient fool. If you did not need me free, why did you send the Toa? You knew what I would do.

Artakha sent no message back. Instead, the world around Tren Krom began to shimmer and fade. When his vision was clear again, he was standing in a subterranean tunnel filled with a collection of broken equipment and dust-covered artifacts. He had never physically been to this place before, but he knew what it was: the Metru Nui Archives.

My thanks, he thought.

Artakha’s reply was stern. See that you carry out your end of the bargain, Tren Krom. And do not even think of keeping a body that is not yours. I will find a way to destroy it before I will let you steal it for all eternity.

Tren Krom ignored him. He was more concerned with finding his way to where he needed to go before Makuta Teridax acted to stop him. The Archives were a labyrinth of tunnels and none of the minds he had read recently knew the layout. He reached out, looking for a sapient being nearby who might know how to navigate the maze.

He found something else entirely. His mind brushed against another, one of incredibly strong will and ambition. Before he could probe deeper, he heard figures approaching. Readying Toa Lewa’s weapon, Tren Krom braced for an attack.

“Lewa! Look, it’s Toa Lewa!”

The happy cry came from a Matoran villager. A quick scan of his mind revealed his name was Kapura, and his companion was Hafu. But it was the blue-armored female that traveled with them that most intrigued Tren Krom.

“Isn’t it great, Hafu? Now we have two Toa with us – Lewa and Tuyet.”

Tuyet? Tren Krom took the time to read her mind, being none too subtle about it. He saw her past efforts to take over the universe, and her plans to try again in future. This one was powerful and dangerous … but she might be useful, as well.

For her part, Tuyet just smiled. She knew this was no Toa of Air who stood before her. She had never met Lewa Nuva, but no Air warrior wearing a Mask of Levitation had the kind of mental powers she sensed. So who was this, really, and why was he disguising himself as a Toa Nuva?

“If you are opposed to Makuta, then your help would be very … ever-liked,” Tren Krom said, hastily adding in some treespeak for the benefit of the Matoran.

“I’m sure,” said Toa Tuyet. “You have a plan, I take it?”

“If I did not, I am sure you would,” Tren Krom replied, looking her right in the eyes. “Perhaps we can … quick-help … each other?”

“What a break,” Kapura said, smiling. “Don’t you think so, Hafu?”

The Po-Matoran looked from Toa Tuyet, who he didn’t trust, to Lewa Nuva, who didn’t seem like himself. “Yeah. Wonderful,” he muttered.

The small group waited until nightfall. Then they slipped out of the Archives, heading for the Coliseum. Along the way, they passed Toa Pouks and Toa Bomonga casually strolling through the city as if nothing was wrong.

“Who are they?” asked Tuyet. “Traitors to the Toa cause?”

“They’re the Toa Hagah,” Kapura explained. “Something happened to them … no one knows what. But they walk right past Rahkshi like the monsters aren’t even there.” He shrugged.

Intrigued, Tren Krom touched the minds of the two Toa Hagah. Ah, he thought, a simple trick. Teridax made these Toa see a false reality where all is peace and serenity. For them, it’s an iron-clad illusion they could never break free of on their own. But for me …

A fraction of Tren Krom’s mental power tore Makuta’s artificial reality to bits. Pouks and Bomonga shook their heads, as if waking from a dream. Even as he restored them to the real world, Tren Krom sent his power cascading to the minds of the other Toa Hagah, freeing them as well.

“Perhaps fortune will smile on Metru Nui, and these Toa will return to their senses soon,” Tren Krom said. “Time will tell.”

“It usually does,” said Tuyet. “What will time tell about us, I wonder?”

Tren Krom looked at her. “Hopefully, nothing either of us would regard with shame.”

“Oh, no, of course not,” she replied, with a chuckle.

“Where are we going?” asked Hafu. “And do I really want to know?”

Tren Krom pointed to the Coliseum. “There. I have a message for Mata Nui. It may mean the difference between life and death for everyone.”

“Mata Nui?” asked Hafu, incredulous. “But Mata Nui isn’t there. Makuta Teridax exiled him from the universe, maybe killed him. How are you going to get a message to him? And what could he do to help us now, anyway?”

Tren Krom looked at the Po-Matoran. A strange smile came to Lewa Nuva’s mouth, the corners of it bent at an odd angle. “The answer to both those questions is the same … you would be surprised, Hafu. Very surprised.”

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« Reply #15 on: March 07, 2010, 06:51:04 am »

-=Chapter 8=-

Toa Helryx had made a decision.

Alone in her prison, with only the thoughts of Makuta Teridax and a portrait of Makuta Miserix for company, she’d had time to think. Teridax had made a point of telling her what he planned to do – harness the power of the Great Spirit’s body and use it to conquer worlds. She had no doubt he could do it, too, unless he was stopped.

But how?

The obvious answer lay with the Matoran. There was an obvious connection between their labors and the health of the mechanical in which they lived. Simply put, if they stopped working, the robot would die, and Makuta Teridax with it. The problem was that Teridax would not tolerate a strike. No doubt he would slaughter some Matoran, in particularly agonizing ways, until the rest gave in. Brave as they were, the Matoran couldn’t be counted on to stand firm in the face of their friends’ suffering.

There was, of course, another problem too. The robot’s death would inevitably mean the death of everyone that lived inside it – Matoran, Toa, Vortixx, Skakdi, everyone. The planet outside had no known land masses, and so no place to flee to. The inhabitants of the Matoran universe would suffocate or freeze in the darkness.

As leader of the Order of Mata Nui, Helryx had often had to make decisions that sent agents to their deaths. It came with the job. But could she make a decision that would send an entire universe to its grave?

Yes, as it turned out. She could.

Teridax had to be stopped before he killed or enslaved billions of innocents in the universe beyond. She wasn’t certain she could bring him down, but she had to try. Her prison was near a sensitive area, whose destruction might be enough to slay the Makuta. A nova blast using her water power might do enough damage. Even if all she could do was cripple him, perhaps others could finish him off.

She closed her eyes and drew upon all her power. If she had any doubt or regrets, she pushed them aside. Helryx would do what she had always done: whatever was necessary.

An impossibly loud pounding broke her concentration. Had Teridax already discovered what she was about to do?

The next moment, a wall caved in. Stepping through the rubble were two Matoran, Toa Nuva Lewa, and a figure Helryx never thought she would see again: Toa Tuyet.

“You!” the Order leader snapped. “What are you doing here?”

“You’re welcome,” Tuyet replied. “I had no idea you were locked up here, Helryx. Poetic justice, considering how your kind imprisoned me for centuries, isn’t it?”

Helryx looked to Lewa. Tuyet, free, was potentially a terrible menace. Perhaps if she and the Toa Nuva of Air acted quickly, they could take the rogue Toa down. But Lewa was paying no attention to Helryx. Instead, he seemed to be fixated on the picture of Miserix. Makuta Teridax had transformed his old enemy into a painting on the wall in a unique and nasty act of murder.

“Lewa? What are you doing?” she asked.

The Toa of Air ignored her. Instead, he muttered, “Interesting. Not dead, but so convinced that he is that he might as well be.”

“Don’t mind him,” said Tuyet. “He’s not this Lewa. I’m not sure who he is, only that he knew how to get us here. And now that we are here, I am sure I can find some way to use our arrival to my advantage.”

Helryx glanced back at Lewa. The Toa of Air had his eyes closed and was reaching out with his right hand. But no cyclone erupted from his outstretched palm. In fact, nothing was happening at all.

And then, suddenly, something did.

The portrait of Miserix warped, as if it was folding in on itself. An instant later, Makuta Miserix himself stood in the chamber, in full reptilian glory. The Makuta looked dazed at first, then his eyes filled with rage.

“Where is Teridax?” he bellowed, so loud the walls shook.

“Well,” said Tuyet. “That was a surprise.”

“Shut up,” Helryx barked, “all of you.” She turned to the two Matoran. “Hafu, Kapura … this is no place for you. Go back to Metru Nui and get word to the resistance. Tell them to be prepared to act, and tell them … to make their peace with the Great Spirit and each other.”

Hafu took a step forward, ready to argue for staying. But Kapura laid a hand on his arm and shook his head. There was no fight coming that they could be a part of … somehow, he knew that this Toa of Water was talking about the end of everything.

Now it was Lewa Nuva’s turn to speak. “A message must be sent. Mata Nui must be prepared.”

“Who are you?” demanded Helryx.

“You knew of me as Tren Krom,” said the Toa. “Like Tuyet, I am recently escaped from my prison. Now I have a task to perform.”

He advanced past Helryx, walked to wall panel, and tore it off. A small bank of machinery had been hidden behind it. As he started to manipulate the controls, Helryx, Tuyet and Miserix all moved to stop him.


Everyone in the room whirled to see who had spoken. Standing in the opened wall were Brutaka and Axonn. Brutaka was levitating and a greenish aura surrounded him. Axonn’s left arm hung useless at his side. Both looked like they had been through a war.

“Tren Krom must do what he set out to do,” Brutaka said. “The three must be one. This universe must live so that a world can be whole once more.”

“This universe must die, and Teridax with it!” Helryx replied. “Axonn, Brutaka, I order you to subdue these three.”

Brutaka smiled. “We no longer take orders from you, Toa Helryx. We take our orders from destiny.”

“Just so you know,” Axonn added, “Brutaka’s his own ‘we’ these days. Long story.”

Tuyet had stopped paying attention. She was eavesdropping on Tren Krom. Whatever message he was sending was for the most part not an audible one, but now and then he would mutter something she could catch. So far, she had heard the words “Ignika” and “golden armor.” Both were intriguing, to say the least.

“Enough talk,” growled Miserix. “Teridax is inhabiting this metal shell, and that means it gets destroyed, along with anyone who gets in the way.”

“Don’t start something you can’t finish,” warned Tuyet. “I may have use for this universe.”

“Brutaka, maybe Helryx is right,” said Axonn. “Maybe this is the only sure way of stopping Teridax. Maybe it’s what Mata Nui would want us to do.”

Before the startled eyes of the Kapura and Hafu, battle lines were drawn. On one side stood Helryx, Miserix and Axonn – on the other, Tuyet, Lewa Nuva, and Brutaka.

“If it must be, it must,” said Brutaka. “To save this universe, then … Axonn, Helryx and Miserix must die.”

-=Chapter 9=-

Mazeka stood on a ridge. Down below, he could see the remains of a dead village. He recognized it as having once been home to a small group of Ba-Matoran, those whose element was gravity. It looked like it had been overrun some time ago, but there were no sign of any Matoran corpses. Perhaps the villagers escaped into the hills, he thought, or maybe they were just captured.

“Your universe is very … turbulent,” said Makuta Teridax. The white-armored warrior stood beside Mazeka. He came from an alternate universe in which the Makuta had never rebelled, but had instead stayed loyal to the Great Beings and helped save a world. He had come to this universe with Mazeka to try and free it from the control of his evil counterpart.

“That’s one word for it,” replied Mazeka. “It’s hard to remember a time in my life when I wasn’t fighting. I’ve been lucky. I’m still alive. Not sure that can be said about the Matoran who lived down there.”
“If they died, maybe it was a mercy,” said Teridax. “Maybe they are better off not seeing what their universe has come to.”

“Now you sound like our Teridax,” said Mazeka. “I guess you two aren’t as far apart as I’d like to think.”
Teridax shook his head. “A turn to the left instead of the right, a wound received or avoided, rising from slumber an hour too early or too late … these are the little things lifetimes hinge on, Mazeka. Your Teridax took a step on a path that circumstances allowed me to avoid. If circumstances had been different, who knows?”

“Meaning that if you took control of this universe instead of him …?”

“I might be just as wicked,” Teridax answered. “It is always a possibility.”

Around them, the winds rose. In a moment, they had gone from gentle breeze to a screaming maelstrom, so powerful it knocked Mazeka off his feet and sent him tumbling toward the edge of the ridge. Teridax fought to stay focused, ignoring the storm as he used his power to keep Mazeka from falling. But the ground erupted beneath his feet, shattering his concentration. Mazeka fell down the slope, followed swiftly by Teridax.

They landed among the ruins. Mazeka’s impact shattered the long dead corpse of a Visorak into fine black powder. Teridax hit hard, but rolled with the fall and was back on his feet in an instant. Now that he looked around, he could see other bodies of Visorak spiders scattered here and there. The villagers who had lived here had gone down fighting.

Then a voice came from the dead mouths of the Visorak all around. Teridax recognized it as his own voice, but touched with madness and evil. “I see you have brought company, Mazeka … and such company.”

“It’s Makuta,” Mazeka said. “He’s found us.”

“Yes, I never noticed your entry, I must admit,” Makuta said through the dead spiders. “But did you really think a pale and weak version of myself could stop me now?”

“Weak?” said the white-armored Teridax. “Stronger, I say, for I resisted the temptations you could not.”

“Indeed. Then let us see just what you are capable of resisting.”

The air crackled with ozone, and then before Mazeka and Teridax’s eyes, three figures appeared. Each resembled Takanuva, the legendary Toa of Light, but their armor was jet black and shadow energy swirled about their hands.

“I have been a poor host, brother,” said the voice of Makuta. “Allow my new friends to welcome you properly to my universe.”

Helryx avoided Tuyet’s slashing attack and landed a side kick in her mid-section. The corrupt Toa of Water staggered backwards, only narrowly avoiding being accidentally struck by Brutaka. The battle had begun only moments before, but already the chamber in which they fought was a shambles.

The issue over which they fought was deadly serious. Helryx, Makuta Miserix, and Axonn had decided that Teridax’s control of the universe had to be ended, even if that meant destroying the universe itself. Tuyet, Brutaka and a possessed Lewa Nuva believed there was still hope of driving Makuta out without killing millions of Matoran in the process.

Miserix thought he would have the easiest opponent. He could sense that Lewa Nuva was not himself, but was under the control of another. Whoever that was, they had no access to the Toa’s air power. That would make him ripe for defeat.

Unfortunately, Lewa’s body was now home to Tren Krom, an ancient entity with enormous mental powers. Miserix’s first solid blow knocked Lewa to the ground. The fallen “Toa” responded with a mental shock blast that came close to turning Miserix’s brain to ash. Still, Miserix had been through a lot in the past millennia – imprisonment, torture, humiliation – and no mind power was going to be enough to stop him. He gathered Lewa up in his claw and slammed his foe against the wall, once, twice, three times.

Axonn’s heart wasn’t in this fight. He had only recently rediscovered Brutaka and regained their old friendship. He couldn’t believe they were already at each other’s throats again. And he wasn’t certain that Brutaka was wrong – maybe Helryx’s plans were too extreme. Maybe duty lay in protecting the Matoran until the very last moment.

For this moment, though, he had to concentrate on protecting himself. One good hit from Brutaka would take his head off.

Helryx had not wavered in her determination, but she also knew that this battle was sure to draw Makuta Teridax’s attention. Her chance to act could disappear at any moment. She had to do the nova blast now, before anyone could stop her.

Tuyet could guess what was about to happen. She slammed an elbow into Axonn even as Brutaka struck at him. Taking advantage of the moment, she wrested the warrior’s axe from him. With a yell, she vaulted into the air and smashed Miserix with the axe. With a roar of pain, the reptilian Makuta fell backwards, right towards Helryx.

The mad Toa hit the ground and turned to watch the end of her handiwork. But to her surprise, just as Miserix was about to crush Helryx, the ancient female warrior vanished. The Makuta landed in a heap, but was barely slowed by his wound and already seeking out his attacker.

Tuyet never got a chance to defend herself. Helryx was suddenly behind her, catching Tuyet in a headlock. “Time to say goodbye,” said Helryx. “We’ll all go down together, and the universe will be better for it.”

The world began to blur in front of Tuyet’s eyes. At first, she thought that Helryx must be choking the life from her. But then she realized that everyone was looking toward the chamber’s entrance, where space itself seemed to be warping. The next instant, a massive figure stepped out of the distortion and stood before them.

“You… imbeciles,” the figure said, in a voice both old and young at the same time. “You ignorant stone apes… is this how you try to save existence?”

No one in the room had ever seen the newcomer before. But there were some who knew his voice, and all felt a chill of fear at the sound of it. Only Helryx had the presence of mind to give their visitor a name, and even she spoke it in a whisper.


-=Chapter 10=-

At the sight of Artakha, the chamber went silent.

He stood at least 10 feet tall. His armor was gray-green and covered in runes carved at the beginning of time. His mask was the most ornate anyone had ever seen – more than just a Kanohi, it was a true work of art. The metallic protodermis from which it was forged was arranged in intricate patterns and designs, each reflecting one of the many cultures that flourished in the universe. The eye slits were angular and pointed, giving him an air of both wisdom and a vague sense of menace.

Artakha stood in the shattered doorway, facing some of the most powerful beings in existence. His stance made it clear he was their equal, if not their superior.

His cold eyes fell first on Lewa Nuva. “Your task is done,” he said. “Return whence you came.”

Lewa Nuva stared at Artakha for a moment, then turned without a word and started to exit, only to be blocked by the newcomer.

“Without the body,” said Artakha.

Lewa Nuva shrugged. “Payment for services rendered?”

“The mind of Lewa Nuva is trapped within your old body, Tren Krom, as you well know,” Artakha replied. “He deserves better than to suffer a fate meant for you.”

The mouth of Lewa Nuva smiled, though it was the mind of Tren Krom that made it so. “The words come easily to you, Artakha. You chose to live as an exile. I did not.”

“None of us choose our destiny,” Artakha replied. “And none of us can defy it. Go, Tren Krom. Have faith Mata Nui will reward you when all is said and done.”

Lewa Nuva nodded. “Faith, yes … a drop of water in place of an ocean.”

Artakha reached out and placed the palm of his right hand on Lewa Nuva’s forehead. “It’s more than time.”

The Toa’s body spasmed, then dropped to the floor. After a moment, Lewa’s eyes opened and he looked around, dazed. “Where …? I was … in a cave … in an ever-ugly body … and …”

Artakha ignored him. Helryx had advanced up to him, staring up at his masked face and making no effort to contain her fury. “This is no affair of yours, Artakha. Actions must be taken to contain the threat of Makuta, here and now.”

“Creation is my essence,” Artakha replied. “And you would destroy all that exists. I can’t allow that.”

“You can’t stop it either --”

“But I can.”

The voice reverberated throughout the chamber. It belonged to Makuta Teridax.

“Oh, who invited him?” muttered Lewa.

“Invited me?” asked Teridax. “As I recall, you are all guests in my home. And you have been most rude and destructive ones. I am afraid I am going to have to ask you to leave.”

“And if we refuse?” bellowed Axonn. “What will you do then, you formless freak?”

Teridax gave a low, mocking laugh. Then he said softly, “Why, then … I will have to insist.”

One instant, Axonn, Brutaka, Helryx, Artakha, Miserix, Tuyet and two Matoran were inside a half-ruined chamber deep beneath Metru Nui. The next, they were floating in the airless, icy void of outer space, watching as the robot Makuta commanded soared away from them toward a distant world.

“I told you this was a bad idea,” said Toa Kongu.

“Quiet,” hissed Toa Hahli.

“Is the Order sure of its information?” asked Nuparu.

“As sure as they can be, with things as they are,” replied Hewkii.

“Then we better get to work,” said Jaller.

The five surviving Toa Mahri were crouched on the western shore of the island of Zakaz, home to the murderous Skakdi race. Ordinarily, it wasn’t the sort of place any sane person wanted to visit, wracked as it was by a millennia-old civil war. Back when they were Toa Inika, Jaller and his team had battled six Skakdi, the Piraka, and barely escaped with their lives.

Their mission here was as simple as it was perilous. The Order had learned that Nektann, a powerful Skakdi warlord, had allied with Makuta Teridax and led his army on a journey south. Now it was vital to find out if any of the other warlords were going to follow his lead.

On top of that, there was a mystery to be solved. Following the widespread destruction on Daxia, the sea snakes that were once the evil Piraka had vanished. It had been believed they were just buried in the rubble, but rumors were flying they had been rescued and spirited away to Zakaz. For what purpose, no one could say.

To accomplish either of these, they had to get past the Skadi guards on the shore. That was Kongu’s job. Using his control of air, he robbed the guards of anything to breathe until they passed out. Once they were down, the Toa Mahri advanced.

Their next obstacle was a small encampment of warriors, surrounded by a wall of thick stone. “Want me to bring the wall down?” asked Toa Hewkii.

“Just like we planned,” nodded Jaller.

Hewkii concentrated and extended his power over stone to the wall. The next moment, the rocks began to explode. The alarmed Skakdi, thinking they were under attack by another tribe, rushed to their defenses … but couldn’t spot the enemy.
After a few minutes of “bombardment,” they scaled the rubble and fled into the night.

Jaller turned to the Toa of Water. “Hahli?”

“It’s this way,” she answered, taking the lead. The Toa moved swiftly across the uneven terrain until they reached the mouth of the cave. By now, they could all hear the rushing of water. Hahli led them inside, where they saw an underground river.

“Perfect,” said Nuparu.

“The Order says that will take us right into one of the larger ruins,” said Hahli. “All we have to do is swim.”

“That again?” asked Hewkii, in mock protest.

The Mask of Life had transformed the Toa Inika into water-breathing Toa Mahri not long ago. Then it had changed them again, making them true amphibians. One by one, they dove into the river and began to swim through the cold, dark water.

After an hour or so, during which time Nuparu discovered that there were some very nasty fish under Zakaz, they emerged in another cavern. Just beyond the mouth of the cave was a large area of ruins, in which about 500 Skakdi were gathered. One, obviously a warlord, was addressing the gathering.

“The Brotherhood of Makuta is no more,” he bellowed. “The Dark Hunters are a battered ruin. The Toa are scattered and hiding like stone rats. Who is there left for anyone to fear?”

“The Skakdi!” yelled the crowd in response.

“I don’t like the sound of this,” said Hewkii.

“I think you’re about to like it less,” said Nuparu. He was crouched down, with one hand on the soil. “Something is moving underground, maybe 20 bio from where we are. Something big.”

“For too long, we have been penned up on this island, by the will of the Brotherhood,” the warlord continued. “And now one of their number controls our universe, and believes he controls us, as well. But we will show him he is wrong!”

“Okay, well, it doesn’t sound like he and Teridax will be playing kolhii together anytime soon,” said Jaller.

“And I think he’s just getting warmed up,” said Hahli.

“Let our salvation now rise,” shouted the warlord.

“Here it comes,” said Nuparu.

Now they could all feel the rumbling underground, and soon, they saw what was causing it. A huge tank was rising up in the center of the ruins. One glance and the Mahri knew all too well what was inside of it.

“That’s energized protodermis,” whispered Jaller. “How did they --?”

“Questions later,” said Kongu. “Look at who just joined the party.”

The Skadi were hauling prisoners toward the tank. One was a Zyglak, the savage race of outcasts known for being virtually invulnerable to the elemental powers of Toa; next came a Vortixx, the crafty race that had spawned the evil Roodaka; and after that, one of the brutish race that served as laborers on Stelt.

“This makes no sense,” said Hahli. “Even if they throw them into the liquid, the three of them might just be destroyed by it … probably will be. So what’s the point?”

“None,” said Nuparu. “Unless … unless, somehow they know those three are destined to transform.”

“But the only one who could know that would be --”

“Teridax,” finished Jaller. “They probably don’t even know he put this idea into their heads. It’s another one of his sick games.”

“Just got sicker,” said Hewkii. “Or are those not the Piraka I see?”

The Toa of Stone was correct. Five Skakdi were carrying five sea snakes, each of the serpents gasping to breathe. At the warlord’s signal, the three prisoners and the five snakes were thrown into the energized protodermis tank. So engrossed were the Skakdi that they failed to notice a strange, greenish cloud that emerged from the nearby lake, hovered in the air a moment, and then plunged into the energized protodermis tank.

The liquid began to froth and bubble. The Toa Mahri could see a shape forming in the silver fluid, something monstrous and horrible.

“Tell you what,” said Kongu, “call me when it’s over. I don’t think I want to look.”

“I don’t think the Order’s going to like this,” said Nuparu.

“I don’t think anyone is,” said Jaller.

And then, before their eyes, a new and terrible form of life began to climb from the tank...
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