Broken Worlds is a story serial, and the sequel to Dark Realities. The story focuses on the conflict between the inhabitants of Spherus Magna, the remnants of the Dark Empire, and a mysterious, unknown force, set in an alternate universe. The story is written by Chicken Bond, Varkanax39, and Jareroden97.
This chapter was written by Chicken Bond.
Bright sunlight shimmered through the small windows of a large, darkened room. Inside was a large, round table, dust collecting on its battered, old surface as six figures stood around the table, each staring at each other intently. Surrounding them, were a mixture of countless warriors of all shapes, colors, and sizes, all armed to the tooth and looking intently at the six figures gathered around the table.
“We are in a state of immediate crisis,” said the voice belonging to the one known as Freztrak. “The Dark Empire has taken over everything we care for, and soon there will be no hope for any resistance or battle. The Empire’s domination is nearing full circle.”
Another warrior, a battered Ko-Matoran named Ixtil lay back in his creaky, old chair, looking intently at the Skakdi before him. Behind him, his chief lieutenant and second-in-command, Jareroden, stared intently at his leader.
“And what do you recommend we do, warlord? The impeccable odds are against us. I calculate that there is a 94.7% chance that any resistance attempt against the Empire will be crushed instantly.”
“That didn’t stop you from spearheading the efforts to defeat Tetrack and the Gigas Magna Empire,” said Leviathos, almost bitterly. “You knew there were odds back then, and there are odds right now. And now, I solemnly swear the funds and support of the Enforcers of Noctian Reign to the cause of any efforts against these… these... these tyrants and their empire!”
The words sunk deeply into the minds of the gathered warriors, as Leviathos’ words rebounded off the walls of the grand chamber, and echoed off into the spacious corridors.
After a moment, Ixtil spoke up, if a little reluctantly. Jareroden looked on.
“Very well then. I shall band the full fighting power of the Gigas Magna Resistance and the remnants of the Gigas Magna Empire with your own forces to the goal of this alliance: to bring down the threat that is governing our world.”
Cheers rose from the surrounding crowd in approval, and died down when Freztrak raised his lime-green hand into the air to call for silence.
“In response to the joining of Ixtil and Leviathos’ forces, then I, warlord Freztrak of the mighty Skakdi race, commit the full strength of my tribe and people to the cause of this meeting: to destroy the Empire!”
The cheers of the audience roared even louder in response to Freztrak’s speech, and continued to cheer until their cries were overcome by the sound of the Staff of Nui being slammed into the circular, iron table. Instantly, there was silence again.
At the head of the table, a bulky, heavily armored white Zarak rose from his seat, his mere eyes radiating an aura of power and burning determination. When he spoke, not a single soul dared to interrupt him.
“I have been considering my answer carefully, my fellow warriors. The Empire is a powerful threat, and has already ravaged and utterly dominated countless resistances before us. However, I see an opportunity to overthrow the overlords who rule us. An opportunity that bears risks I am more than willing to take. And so, as the acting leader of the remnants of both the Society of Guardians and the Dark Brotherhood, I fledge my resources and power to the fall of the Empire!”
Conqueror then decided to take this moment to reseat himself. Before the crowd of warriors could cheer again in response to his support, another figure rose from the table: this time, a scarred and weathered Toa. He formed a bright sphere of fire in his palm that crackled and burned in violent, yet controlled manner. In an instant, he blasted the fireball into the center of the table, which instantly burnt out the symbol of the Dark Empire that had been carved into it previously.
The Toa snarled in both bitterness and anger.
“The Empire have taken everything that matters to us,” he began.
“I have lost more friends than I could have ever imagined. I have seen entire mega-cities razed to the ground in mere hours, and I have even witnessed the torture and execution of innocents who have not even committed an offense to the Empire’s… ‘Law.’ Well, let them burn. Let them burn a thousand times in the infernos of Karzahni. And now, I swear the full allegiance of the Hand of Mata Nui to the deaths of the three of that dare call themselves our dictators! And we, the bringers of righteous justice, will be the cause of their downfall! And now I say, death to Millennium! Death to the Dark Lord! Death to Eostra! Death to the Empire!”
The crowd roared in approval to Shardak’s great speech.
“Death to the Empire!” they cried back at their five new leaders.
“Death to the Millennium!
“Death to the Dark Lord!”
“Death to Eostra!”
“Death to the Empire!”
Ixtil sighed as he stopped his reminiscing, and stared around the room that was his commanding office. The room sparkled in the same, smooth way Eostra’s fortress had, though it lacked any of the dark and foreboding aura the destroyed stronghold had once wrought. It was a room of very few possessions. Other than the silver-topped, metal desk and chair Ixtil sat on, the chamber possessed a shelf stacked with countless tablets, a stand for which Ixtil’s wartime Plasma Uzi rested on, and a circular symbol carved right above the doorway that lead into Ixtil’s chamber.
Ixtil took a deep breath, as he looked at his few possessions. It had been 6 years since the fall of the Empire, and at least 60 since the resistance had been formed to challenge the Empire’s supremacy. Of course, they were no longer known as the resistance anymore. Nowadays, the went by the name of the Collectives of Light, which the population of Spherus Magna now recognized as the name of the organization that now governed their world since the downfall of the three emperors.
Six years it has been since the day everything changed forever, and six years since the six leaders of the resistance (formerly five prior to Jareroden’s promotion to the ruling council following the Fourth Occupation of Vulcanus) had declared themselves the six equal rulers of the Collectives of Light. Although Ixtil had vouched to go in the direction of a planetary republic, his idea had been ignored, and the resistance had followed the same political direction the Empire had: albeit; minus the totalitarian control over the planet, brutal rule, and public execution.
However, the fall of the Empire was in no way a ‘happily ever after’ ending, oh no, far from it. Although they had defeated the Empire, the Collectives had faced their own stack of troubles that had pushed them to their limits. Indeed, times had deeply changed the world of Spherus Magna.
The fall of the Empire has brought a time of much slow and painful rebuilding, turmoil, and poverty, as entire cities try to use their limited resources to restore their devastated homes. As the crippled world had slowly recovered from its wounds from the war, the six rulers of the Collectives had become divided during Spherus Magna’s most desperate hour.
Jareroden had departed with a small quarter of the Collective’s army into the unclaimed, dangerous, and unknown territories of Spherus Magna in a campaign to hunt down and wipe out the remnants of the Dark Empire, whose surviving members had split off to form numerous splinter factions and kingdoms of their own.
Shardak was now caught up with attending to the homeless and discarded citizens of Spherus Magna in an effort to rehabilitate them, and establish new cities and villages for them. It was a draining task, but it was one that needed to be done.
Freztrak was now trying to discipline and control his own kind, the Skakdi, following the wake of their involvement with the invasion of Atero and their allegiance with the Dark Empire. And finally, Leviathos and Conqueror were now attempting to re-establish the planet's crashed economy following the fall of the Empire. Though brutal and monstrous, the Empire had actually managed to establish a strong, stable, and secure society, though when the Great War had about its collapse, the power vacuum left behind had sent the worldwide economy into utter anarchy.
This now left only Ixtil to remain in active command of the government, leaving it weak, fragile and exposed to anything powerful enough to shake its fist at the Collectives. Ixtil’s trail of thought was abruptly cut off by the sound of a light knocking coming from his door.
Clearing his throat, Ixtil pressed a button on his shining desk, and spoke through a well-tuned speaker.
“You have clearance to enter. Please proceed.”
The door immediately swung open, and out came the crimson and orange form of Toa Moliki, his scarred armor gleaming faintly in the brightness of the room. The veteran Toa strode straight up to Ixtil’s table and spoke in a sharp, yet slightly tired tone. The Toa of Fire had been assigned to be the Ko-Matoran’s personal bodyguard.
“Sir, it’s time to visit Fairon.”
Ixtil shuddered slightly at the mentioning of the name. Since the formation of the Collectives, Toa Fairon had slowly descended into a state of utter and pure madness due to the mysterious knowledge the three ex-emperors of Spherus Magna had claimed was locked up in his head. The knowledge that Ixtil had spent the last several months, or possibly even years, trying to pry out of his head.
Sessions with the maddened Toa were long and wearisome. Psychologists of all kinds had attempted to help Fairon, though all had failed to cure him of his insanity. Somehow, Ixtil had thought he could help his old war comrade, though that didn’t mean he had to enjoy the sessions spent trying to help him. Fairon’s illogical and random babblings seemed to slowly nibble away at his patience.
With a heavy sigh, Ixtil removed himself from his chair, and walked forwards with Moliki by side to confront the mind of Fairon once again. And Ixtil could only pray in his mind that should he ever be able to succeed in learning what the Toa of Light had shoved in the back of his mind, that he could protect this broken world from whatever threat was posed to it.
This chapter was written by Varkanax39.
"Sir, you're needed immediately." the battered Po-Matoran said to his superior. The tall Toa of Psionics whom he was addressing lifted his head to regard the Matoran, as well as the massive Zyglak following him.
The Matoran's body was a hideous sight- during the battle of Bota Magna six years before, the insane Skakdi Vezon had used his kenetic powers to slam him against the wall, twisting his body out of shape. He reminded the Toa of a Rahaga, the former Toa who had mutated in the Matoran Universe by the evil Roodaka.
Jareroden sighed wearily, and the Po-Matoran and Zyglak exchanged a meaningful look (At least, the Po-Matoran gave the Zyglak a meaningful look. It was impossible to read the Zyglak's expression). They all knew why. Six years prior, to this day, Jareroden's closest friend, the Toa of Water Galika, had died fighting in the massive Battle of Bota Magna.
At first, there had been little time to mourn. There was so much to attend to following the battle: gaining the allegience of Aqua Magna, which was still mostly under the control of the Empire, eliminating the Imperial warlords who fought against them in several violent insurrections, and rebuilding the planet's shattered economy.
Now, Jareroden taken a division of the Collective's army into the darkest recesses of the planet to overcome the last of the Empire. The Battle of Bota Magna had brought an effective end to the Veiled One Empire, causing the other unified Empires that made up the great Dark Empire to collapse into anarchy, and the various factions began fighting themselves: the Southern Continent was torn apart by warlords from different empire, and the Valley of the Maze continued to this day to be an endless battleground in the Dark Empire War. However, the Empire itself was ruined. The Collectives began to take steps to improve the planet's economy. Jareroden knew his good friend Shardak was now leading the effort.
Then, everything had changed.
A powerful warlord from the Southern Continent, a fanatical member of the Empire of Shadows known as Xaxis had formed an alliance with another warlord who controlled a sizable faction of the Shadow of Ages known as Kulant. They began striking the newly formed Collectives from all sides, retaking Vulcanus in a massive battle that raged for over a week.
At the same time, a second division of their army had struck the White Quartz Mountains, retaking many of the fortresses in the Black Spike mountains. Then they marched on Iconox and placed it under seige, leaving the Collectives cut off from all outside help.
The army had rejoined outside the Great Jungle, readying to take on the Collective's new fortress on Bota Magna. However, they recieved the message after two skirmishes in the Great Jungle- the Valley of the Maze had been taken by another warlord. The army scattered, ambitious generals longing to seize control of the "New Dark Empire" Xaxis and Kulant had created. It was rumored Kulant himself killed Xaxis in the retreat. After the army scattered and word of Xaxis' death spread to Vulcanus, Iconox, and the White Quartz Mountains, the captured cities revolted, and the small occupation forces left behind were easily overwhelmed.
Although the rebellion had been defeated, the attacks had scared the Collectives, who had been easily defeated and allowed Xaxis and Kulant to win three victories against the Collectives so easily, and had redoubled their military strength. Jareroden had gathered an elite team of warriors and ventured into the unexplored territories still ruled by the Empire, in a campaign to wipe out the remaining Imperial resistance forces.
"What is it?" Jareroden asked. The Po-Matoran grimaced.
"Our advance forces report a detachment of about sixty Corpsians about a mile away."
"Corpsians?" asked Jareroden, immediately on alert. Everyone had believed that the malevolent killers had vanished into the Confusion Dimension along with Eostra after the Battle of Bota Magna. The last army of Veiled Ones had come horribly close to destroying the resistance's armies at Creep Canyon. If even sixty of them had escaped destruction or imprisonment...
"Rally the troops. Immediately." ordered Jareroden. "The war isn't over yet. If the Veiled Ones have returned, then the war could go against us very easily. We-"
Further conversation was interrupted by the clash of weapons, and screams of agony. A tall Toa entered the chamber, his eyes panicked and his armor pitted and scarred. Jareroden recognized him as Eeyavin, a Toa of Rahi Control who had fought alongside Toa Stradax during Xaxis' Campaign.
"The Veiled Ones! They're attacking!" Eeyavin screamed. Jareroden realized that Eeyavin had absolutlely no experience fighting these merciless beings. He'd been in hiding during the Battle of Bota Magna, and after the war turned in favor of the Collectives he'd joined their militia. Xaxis had had no support from Veiled Ones whatsoever, and thus had no idea what to expect.
There was no time for any more communications. Jareroden grabbed his weapon and charged into a full scale battle, reminiscent of the massive clashes in the Great Jungle and Bota Magna. Jareroden could tell with one look that these were not Copies of Corpse, the Veiled One's shock troopers. These were Aspects and Furies, some of the most elite members of the Corpsian's hierarchy. There seemed to be around ten of the attackers, but Jareroden knew from bitter experience that even one of these ghoulish soldiers could easily kill at least five of his team before being subdued.
Already two beings, a Zyglak guard and a Glatorian soldier, were lying dead, the first's throat slit and the second stabbed through the chest.
No. Not this... Thought Jareroden. He could hardly believe that one moment they were discussing a possible Veiled One threat, the next, it was actually happening. His glowing weapon arced through the air, and for a moment Jareroden saw the Veiled One's pale face and eyes, which seemed to burn with a feverish intensity, before he beheaded it. The Veiled One collapsed limply on the ground, and the Toa of Psionics lept over the corpse, slashing wildly at a second Corpsian.
The Veiled One whipped around, and Jareroden winced as the shredsteel dagger tore through his armored shoulder. The cold pain lanced through him, allowing the Veiled One to strike him again. Jareroden slashed upward, striking the Veiled One over and over with his gleaming blade. The Corpsian went down.
Jareroden realized suddenly that the Veiled Ones were pulling back, retreating. Eeyavin and a Toa known as Beta were holding their own against a single Aspect near the entrance to the tents. The remaining six Veiled Ones were pulling away from the battlefield, their scythes bristling like spikes on some massive Rahi. Jareroden slashed a Veiled One to the ground, then charged forward at the enemy, followed by the Zyglak who had followed the Po-Matoran scout.
Suddenly Jareroden was flung to the ground. The Toa was momentarily stunned, then, as he recovered, he realized exactly how unlikely it was he'd make it out alive.
He was surrounded by two more Corpsians. And these were neither Aspects, Furies, or Copies.
They were Limiters of Corpse, the ultimate Veiled One soldiers. Their cold, dead eyes regarded Jareroden impassively, and the long spears they carried gleamed in the twilight. Their armor was adorned with an insignia that Jareroden had never seen before.
If they're not members of the Dark Empire or a warlord, who controls them? Jareroden wondered, confused.
Then he saw it. The reason the Veiled Ones were retreating.
Two beings, a taller Toa and a small Matoran, were standing in the midst of the Limiters, their eyes tired yet defiant. Both were heavily guarded.
Speewaa and Onika. Thought Jareroden grimly. The two beings he'd been tasked with finding and protecting. Two soldiers who had vanished during the war. How had these Veiled Ones found them?
Then he found his answer. A smaller figure, slender and silver armored, was walking toward him, her eyes cold and a sardonic smile painted on her face.
"Nightshade." he gasped. "No. It can't be. You died...you died during the Valley of the Maze battles six years ago."
She smiled coldly. "I have a talent for...disappearing temporarily."
"What do you want?" Jareroden asked, now convinced there was no way out of this. He'd only seen this Veiled One female once before, during the Valley of the Maze battles six months after the Battle of Bota Magna, but he knew from his friend Shardak that she was pure evil, a liar and a murderer. She'd have no qualms about allowing her Limiters to kill him- or do it personally.
"Nothing you can give." said the Veiled One. She was toying with him, trying to make him lose focus. As much as he wanted to attack her and demand why she was holding Speewaa and Onika prisoner, but he couldn't lose focus now, not when the lives of his team could be at stake.
"Then why am I still alive?" Jareroden asked. He knew that she wanted something, or he'd be dead by now.
"I said there was nothing you can give me." replied Nightshade. "But there is something I want you to do. if you don't comply, I'll simply kill you, and force Beta or Eeyavin to go instead."
Jareroden knew she wasn't joking. She'd seemed to have conjured a Midak Skyblaster from nowhere and was pointing it at Eeyavin, who was standing behind them, eyes wide with fear. Two Limiters stood beside him their spears pointed at the Toa.
Jareroden sighed, now knowing that his last hope-to kill or disable Nightshade and escape- was lost.If he even took a step toward her, he'd either be shot in the face or transfixed by a Corpsian's spear.
"Take this message to Shardak." said Nightshade. Her bored, snooty expression did not change. "Tell him that I will exchange these two captives if he gives himself up, as well as the...artifact he stole from me during the First Valley of the Maze battle."
Jareroden felt a sinking feeling deep within him. "You mean the Cintimany Stone?"
Six months after the Battle of Bota Magna, the resistance had been forced to confront two groups of warlords, one of them led by Nightshade. She'd used the Cintimany Stone to devastating effect, shattering Millennium's fortress and crushing his soldiers beneath hundreds of tons of rubble. Soon after, another warlord seized control of the Valley, and Nightshade and her group fled. In the resulting skirmish Shardak had stolen the Cintimany Stone from Nightshade, but was unable to finish her off.
"Yes." said Nightshade. "I will exchange Speewaa for the stone, and Onika for Shardak."
"I was told by the Collectives to return Onika and Speewaa to Bota Magna." said Jareroden. "Stand down, or the Collectives will declare war on your group and wipe them out."
Nightshade laughed. "You have no idea what would happen if you even tried. We is far more powerful then any of the Collectives. We are returning to plague existance once again."
Jareroden felt his blood run cold. Nightshade had quoted the words that Millennium had spoken during the Emperors' trial, before final imprisonment in the Confusion Dimension.
"You serve...the darkness...then?" asked Jareroden.
"I serve no one. Run along now, little Toa. Take the news of Onika and Speewaa's capture to the Collectives. In five days, if Shardak does not respond to this message, or you do not bring me the stone, I will kill them both. Personally."
Her tone of voice left Jareroden no doubt that she was completely capable of carrying out the threat.
Shardak can't come... thought Jareroden. He's too busy with his own tasks in Tajun, as well as trying to locate Blast, the friend who had mysteriously vanished during the hight of the Dark Empire War. And the Stone's power, if Nightshade gets her hands on it--
"If he can't come, then they'll die." said Nightshade, causually examining her silvery armored hand. "I assure you I will enjoy torturing them."
She snapped her fingers, and the Limiters seemed to melt into the shadows. Nightshade gave him a final grin of triumph, then seemed to simply dissapear. But Jareroden was still staring at the place where Onika and Speewaa had been standing a moment ago, and as he turned to Eeyavin and Beta, his eyes haunted.
The Dark Empire has Onika and Speewaa.
The being known as Shardak stood at the top of one of Tajun's highest towers, his hands folded behind his back. Sunlight reflected on his gold and black armor as he looked over the sprawling city. It was an exceptionally cold morning, and Shardak's breath could be clearly seen in the misty air.
Where can I begin with this place?
Several months ago, Shardak had arrived in Tajun to oversee its reconstruction. Buildings had been leveled, hundreds of streets had been refurbished, and filth was being cleaned away. Even at that, they had hardly even begun. Tajun was much bigger than it had been 106 years ago, and had once been the hub of criminal activity for the last 80 years, though progress was still being made.
And they also were forced to deal with the numerous gangs that still controlled a large portion of the city. Blood Vines, Blue Shadows, and an assortment of other devious groups ravaged the filth-ridden streets. And they were no less deadly than they had been before the fall of the Empire. Although the Collectives had had some success in apprehending some of the more dangerous criminals with the aid of a Lepidian bounty hunter named Raduke, several of the big-time mercenaries had yet to be caught.
A weary sigh escaped his lips. He had hardly slept for the past three weeks, the hungry and homeless had been crowded on his doorstep, waiting to be housed. He had attempted to help them, but since there was thousands of the homeless, it had become increasingly difficult to help even a few of them.
And Tajun was only one of the many cities that dotted the planet of Sperus Magna.
Cities such as Iconox, New Tesara, and Vulcanus still needed much repair. Other places such as the Valley of the Maze and numerous outposts within Bota Magna, the former kingdoms of Millennium and Eostra Nihilitian respectively, still needed to be purged of an Imperial presence. Six years it had been since the newly-formed Collectives had said they'd restore and repair the world, and six years later, their efforts were already under massive strain.
Shardak's eyes suddenly opened. He knew that worrying would not get him anywhere. He had to act. He turned his back to the sun, and walked down the long flight of stairs, his feet making barely a sound on the rough stone.
Suddenly, the stairs ended, and Shardak found himself in a ruined courtyard. Stones were crumbling, the streets were lined with cracks, glass windows were broken, and the once magnificent statues of great Agori and Glatorian were nothing more than rubble. Shardak continued his steady pace down the battered road until he reached his destination: a half crumbling institution on the left-hand side of the street. Passing through the doors in an almost graceful manner, Shardak was confronted by waves of several beings. The Toa sighed. In front of him was a small gathering of battle-scarred Toa, limping Matoran and Agori, angry-looking Skakdi, and a variety of many more creatures and warriors. All of which were screaming numerous demands and requests right in the Toa's face.
Moving in rhythm with the crowd's advance, Shardak effortlessly pushed his way through the crowd and ignored their cries. He pushed his way through the shouting crowd with firm, yet gentle pushes, until he made his way behind a oak-colored wooden desk. Seating himself, Shardak waited several seconds before raising his hand into the air for a call for silence.
Almost immediately, the mob of people went quiet. Clearing his throat, Shardak rose to face to the clutter of beings, his mere stare sending chills down their spine. Finally, he opened his mouth, and spoke.
"I... understand your concern for your welfare. And I promise you, I am here to try my hardest to solve —at best— some of those problems. This facility will serve as your refuge for until proper residence can be established for you nearby. If not in Tajun, then in some other city. Please proceed into the next room. My allies have several stands that will give you supplies and other rations for your stay in this institution. I will not accompany you further, as I have important paperwork to do. Please proceed."
In an instant, two double-sided doors opened, and the large, noisy crowd passed through to collect their supplies from the counters manned by several Collective agents. Shardak remained seated behind his desk, and pulled out a blank stone tablet. Retrieving the appropriate writing utensils from his desk's drawer, Shardak began his work. He needed to report the progress with Tajun to Conqueror, and inform him of the costs and funds that were required to proceed. He had only written about one sentence of his report before a crimson and black figure stood in front of his table. Shardak didn't bother to look up at him.
"If you're looking for rations, please proceed into the next-"
The figure shrugged. "I'm not here for rations, Shardak."
Shardak still didn't look up. "Looking for residence, is that it? I'm afraid that independant residence for you refugees has not been established in this section in Tajun."
Shardak could hear the figure before him growling, obviously growing impatient.
"I'm not here for my benefit," he began in a deathly cold voice. "I'm here for yours."
Slowly, Shardak raised his head, and stared deep into the strange, mad eyes that lay beneath the owner's crimson Kanohi Huna.
"Shadowplayer," Shardark whispered under his breath in shock. Shadowplayer only stared back into the Toa's lime-green eyes. The ex-Dark Hunter had been a figure whispered in legend in the alleyways of Tajun, a unstoppable force of vengeance and power. His reputation almost was as great as that of the legendary Blood Summoner that stalked the streets of this cirt, and the two were rumored to be great rivals. To now be in his presence was something worth fearing.
"W-what do you want with me?" asked Shardak cautiously. Though not fearful of the misguided Toa of Fire, he was certaintly weary of him.
"I... wish to pass on some information to you, little Collective." He obviously didn't know Shardak's name.
The Toa leaned in and stared deep into Shadowplayer's blazing scarlet eyes.
"What is it you wish to tell me? What significance does it hold?"
Shadowplayer chuckled bitterly and leaned back a bit. "chair," he said gruffly.
"Chair. Now." Shadowplayer was obviously being very demanding today.
Without even bothering to stand, Shardak snapped his fingers and a wooden chair materialized immediatly by the assassin-for-hire's waist. He look at the Collective leader in surprise and shock. Shardak simply smiled back wearily.
"Matter Conductors," he began with a shrug of his shoulders. "This facility was one of Millennium's private laboratories before Tajun plunged into insanity. We managed to find a couple of devices we named Matter Conductors here, and decided to use them. They have the ability to create certain objects from loose particles floating in the air."
Shadowplayer stayed silent as he took his seat. A dreary moment of silence passed before Shadowplayer spoke again.
"There's word on the streets that a big-time mercenary, nicknamed Lethal, is trying to form a bounty hunter faction. A sort've guild if you will."
"Lethal can do no such thing," replied Shardak bitterly. The infamous Hunters' Brigade leader had gone off the radar after he led the raid on Atero, and not a word of him had been heard since.
"Lethal has neither the influence, military power, nor the funds to form his own mercenary union. Since the fall of the Empire, bounty hunting has been outlawed, and even during the reign of the three emperors, they were sure that all mercenary factions were disbanded or kept in check. Lethal may have been a brilliant and powerful leader once, but now that all existing bounty hunter groups are in tatters, he could not possibly form any kind of organization."
"That's where your wrong," replied Shadowplayer coolly. "He's already reformed at least half of the legendary Bounty Hunters' Guild, restored a majority of the Hunters' Brigade, and absorbed the remnants of the Dark Hunters into his ranks. He's sucking up most of the criminal underworld up into his plans, and only a few groups and hunters, such as myself, remain out of his grasp."
This revelation hit Shardak hard. If what Shadowplayer said was true, then a massive offensive force was now posed against the Collectives. Shardak knew all-out war would be impossible. After all, Spherus Magna was still recovering from the last one, and couldn't afford to fight another one. As these thoughts rushed through Shardak's mind, one question emerged:
"Why are you telling me all this?" he asked solemnly.
Shadowplayer sighed. "Because they are stirring trouble for me. They're cutting into my business. And also because... I think our world needs to heal rather than be infected with the disease that Lethal intends to riddle into its heart."
Such noble words were not expected to be pronounced on the hunter's tongue.
"Well then.... what do you plan to do about all this?" asked Shardak. "What do you want me to with Lethal?"
"I want you to hire me," replied Shadowplayer. "You see, I have received an invitation to join his little club, and I want to destroy it from the inside. I will report their strengths and weaknesses to you, and all their plans for Spherus Magna. If I succeed, I expect to be granted permanent protection from my other rivals, and the right to be a legally-permitted assassin. My partner, on the other hand, demands little. He prefers sticking to his illegal ways, though demands a payment equilvalent to 17,000 Widgets in any currency for his services. He has received a similar invitation to join Lethal's group, dislikes it, and has agreed to assist me on my little mission."
"Partner?" asked Shardak curiously. "What partner? Who is he? Where is he?"
At that moment, the main door of the building was kicked wide open, and in strode a figure Shardak had hoped never to encounter in his lifetime. He was a Zeverek mercenary, though his ruthless reputation proceeded him indefinetly. Skorr chuckled lightly.
"Hello there, little Toa lackey," he began with a smile. "We have a lot of business to deal with here."
"It is the city that heralds the end! The End of time, space, and destiny! It is the darkest of lights, the brightest of shadows. It is the abyss of pure anarchy!" Fairon declaimed as he strode around the room that served as his prison.
His ramblings were no more illogical then usual, though Ixtil had begun to wonder if Fairon was operating under some strange logic, or if he'd just completely lost his mind following the final battle against the emperors. Ixtil had been attempting to explain to him the threat had passed, and they were rebuilding Spherus Magna now after the war. But Fairon ignored him, and when he seemed to notice where he was, began rambling once more about the end of days.
"There will be no apocalypse." Ixtil stated clearly. "I calculate that with our current military capacity, the Empire has exactly ninety-"
Fairon interrupted him, green eyes crazed with insanity. "Burning! Burning! So much burning! The black and darkness, and screaming fire! He is coming! Ending! Ending everything! The Apocolypse! So much death! No hope! Reality burns!" he screamed, his body tense, writhing as though he was bound to something.
"What..... form of cataclysm do you refer to?" asked Ixtil cautiously.
"The burning! The burning of everything! So much fire! He will rise! He watches me in my dreams! He watches us all! He gives off an evil aura of darkness!"
Now Ixtil was uneasy. Fairon was on his feet again, and his eyes seemed even more tortured then ever. Ixtil felt sympathy for Fairon. His friend had been locked away for many years due to Eostra discovering that he knew some Imperial secret. Then, soon after he was freed, the Empire had stolen him again from Ixtil and his friends, this time taking his mind.
"Explain..." he said at last.
"Every night! Every night I have bad dreams! I see a face, though its not a face.... it's something alien!" he gasped, falling to his knees and screaming in pain, clawing at his Kanohi.
"Not the Empire, then?" said Ixtil. Perhaps there was a 17.35 % chance that Fairon's ramblings had a grain of truth. Ixtil remembered Millennium, bound and about to be forever exiled to the Confusion Dimension, staring defiantly at his captors and stating that something darker was playing with the fate of Spherus Magna.
"The Empire?" asked Fairon, sounding for once like himself again. Then he screamed. "No! Out of the bottomless pit of terror the creature rises! His face is horrific, and he speaks in thousands of voices! He whispers in my head, tearing through reality! The cataclysm! The apocalypse! Reality burns!"
The last words were shouted at such volume that Ixtil was sure everyone in the fortress had heard, even through the soundproof cell.
"What-" he began, then his commlink buzzed. Ixtil had issued these to all of the resistance fighters during the rebellion, and saw no reason to stop using them during the resurgence of the Empire and their latest missions. Annoyed, he turned to Fairon. "Hold on. This won't take long."
He stepped outside the cell. "Yes?" he said.
"Ixtil, this is Jareroden." the Collective commander sounded tense. "We've encountered some old friends..."
Jareroden felt tense as he and the remains of his squadron halted at the base of the ridge.
During the height of the Dark Empire's power, it had been known as the Empire's Fist. And it was an apt name. The massive stone formation seemed to reach out of the core of Spherus Magna itself, looming over them all and shaking its fist down upon them.
He'd wondered if Nightshade had picked this spot for a meeting deliberately to taunt him.
After Nightshade and the Limiters had gone, Jareroden had used his commlink to call Shardak. The Toa of Light had been unable to answer, so he'd called Ixtil. The Ko-Matoran had allowed him acess to the Government Vaults, where the Cintimany Stone was kept. Other items of power were held there, such as the Kanohi Ignika, Eostra's Scepter, and the shattered remains of Millennium's axe.
Then Nightshade had called him, demanding he meet her at the Empire's Fist tonight if he wished to save Speewaa. He'd protested, saying he still had five days, but she'd said if he wanted to let Speewaa die he didn't have to show up.
At least I still have time for Shardak. Jareroden thought. Nightshade's no fool. She knows Shardak could never reach the Great Jungle from Tajun in two days.
Even though the fortress on Bota Magna was relatively near the Empire's Fist, Jareroden had been forcing the squadron to walk all day.
Still, while his thoughts wandered, he couldn't seem to focus on anything, other then the fact Nightshade still hadn't shown up. It's psychological warfare. thought Jareroden. She's playing on your nerves, trying to make you wonder if this is all a bluff or if she plans to kill us all.
He took a few moments to examine the remains of his team. Beta, Toa of Earth, weapons at the ready. Zercks, his shadowy armor gleaming in the half-light. Eeyavin, his body tense and ready despite his wounds in the recent battle, Ra, looking distracted and rather worried, Elfor, holding twin daggers, the Gatekeeper, a mysterious figure whose expression was unreadable, as always, and Nalek, a veteran resistance fighter who had led a division during the First Battle in the Wastelands and fought during the Battle of Bota Magna.
"Where are they?" growled the Gatekeeper at last. "If they don't show up soon, I'm going to hunt them down and kill them all."
Jareroden was about to reply, when he saw a massive shape materialize out of the shadows. His expression was contemptuous and arrogant , and his armor gleamed a dark, crimson red.
And Jareroden recognized him. This Makuta had not fought during the war, but the resistance had lost many warriors to him if they ever blundered into him. Many Imperial soldiers that had also gone missing during the war were said to have been slain by this being He'd vanished before the clash in the Black Spike Mountains, however.
"Malok." said Jareroden, as he and Zercks walked up to the being, hoping his voice sounded tense and cold. But it was impossible. Any being that know the reputation of this Makuta would tremble in fear.
"I am glad my reputation precedes me, little Toa." grinned the Makuta, then drew his massive,crimson scimitar and slashed Zercks to the ground. As he lay, wounded, on the ground, Malok closed in on Jareroden.
"You're next." he snarled.
This chapter was written by Jareroden97.
Jareroden propelled himself into the air, right as Malok's blade slammed into the patch of ground where he had stood less than a second before.
He landed feet-first on the ground behind Malok, an dug his blade into the Makuta's thick back armor.
In a thrice, Malok had swung around, and had his crimson red eyes set on Jareroden. His voice dripped with contempt. "Hmm. Toa Jareroden. I did not expect you to come, Seeing as you are always secluded to your cabin crying over your dead girlfriend."
A growl escaped Jareroden's mouth, but he did not say anything. Gotta keep him distracted.
He saw Ra sneaking up behind Malok's hulking frame, and knew he had to keep Malok focused on him.
Malok gripped his large sword. "Make your move, Toa."
A thin smile creased Jareroden's lips. "I don't think so. RA! NOW!!"
Malok's eyes had become merely slits. "What are you playing at, To-AUGH!"
A scream of pain rushed from Malok as Ra dug his Sunlight Staff into Malok's back, and as a blasted him with light. With a roar of defiance, Malok flung Ra to the ground with an audible thud.
Beta charged at Malok, his blade raised. As he neared the gigantic being, he suddenly spun to face Beta, and whipped him away with one sweep of his hand. Undeturred, the Toa of Earth leapt to his feet, as Nalek and Jareroden hammered at Malok keeping him permanently on defense.
Elfor rushd Malok, flinging one of his daggers into the back of Malok's leg. A thin trail of Antidermis began to leak from the wound.
Malok roared in anger. "One person trying to kill me at a time, please!"
The Makuta vanished from in front of Jareroden and Nalek, and reappeared several yards away locked in combat with Eeyavin.
Jarreroden sighed wearely. This is gonna be a long night....
A black and brown colored rodent scuttled over the hard stone of a street in the Tajun slums. It and the many thousands of other of it's kind infesting the cities of Sperus Magna were known as Stone Rats, a disgusting creature migrated from the Matoran Universe, and most of the inhabitants of Tajun had wished that they had not. Seeing as they was notorious for stealing what little food the Tajunians managed to collect.
The creature's life came to an abrupt end when a heavely armored foot stepped on it. Two black and silver clad beings were silently making their way down the winding streets, both with blasters at their sides.
The larger of the two groaned as the rat made a sickening crunch as he stepped on it. "Gah, another of these filthy things. They are everywhere in this Karzahni-hole!"
The other being gave a harsh whispered command. "Shut up, Klimeck. Whe don't want the entire city waking up!"
Kilmeck sighed. "Alright, fine Vizor. Why does Lethal want us poking around in this slum anyway?"
Vizor shrugged. "He thinks something is hiddenin this corpse f a city. Something he thinks will deliver the world into he hands."
"Do you believe it?" Asked Klimeck.
"Not for a second."
Vizor signaled for silence after the shadowy pair had moved farther into the city. "We are not alone."
Klimeck's hand drifted the his pistol. He hissed out of the side of his mouth. "How many are there?"
Vizor listened for a moment before giving his answer. "Three by my count."
His companoin's eyes narrowed. "Glatorian."
"Indeed." Replied Vizor. "There is no need for a battle, follow me."
Kilmeck did as told, following Vizor into a narrow alleyway. From their position, they cound see four blue armored beings walk into the street, one with gold patches on his armor.
He turned to the two beside him. "Penlan, Alnra, do you hear anything?"
Alnra, obviously a female, shook her head. "No sir Botax."
Pelan shook his head as well. Botax turned away from the two. "Come, we need to get back to Shardak, and report that we have found nothing of Lethal or his minions."
As Botax and te two trainees left the area, Klimeck and Vizor stepped out of their hiding place. Vizor spoke to Klimeck in a hushed tone, his face creased with a frown. Let's get back to Lethal. He'll be interested to know that the Collectives are searching for him."
If the two had hoped for lethal to be interested, they would be disappointed. Lethal was not the slightest bit amused by their news, ignoring their news of Botax and company. "Yes yes, but did you find anything else during your patrol?"
Klimeck shook his head dumbly. "Nope. Sorry boss."
In a thrice, Lethal had his custom made Desert-5 in his hands, aiming right at Klimeck's forehead.
He gritted out the words in a dark tone. "That isn't good enough."
A sound that resembled a loud pop filled the room, and Klimeck fell backwards, a hole smoking in his head, shot dead by Lethal.
Lethal pointed his blaster at Vizor, his voice laced with contempt. "Now, I want you to find something, anything, that even looks like a round blue stone, and report back to me, or you will end up like him. Savvy?"
Vizor bobbed his head repetedly, his face rigid with fright. "Yessir! Of course! I will not fail"
Vizor flinched as a bullet fired from Lethal's pistol thudded into the wall next to his head. Lethal's fave was emotionless. "Good. Now get out. And do not return until you have found what I desire. Oh, and take that carcass out of here. Makes a bad image and an even worse smell, you know."
Vizor quickly exited the room dragging Klimeck's dead body out with him.
Lethal sat back in his chair, the ghost of a smile on his lips. Soon I will not have need of these imbiciles, and by then, Spherus Magna will be mine....
Malok's massive broadsword slashed open Zercks' shoulder, and with a massive sweep of the blade, narrowly missed Eeyavin. Jareroden, however, knew better then to relax, for Malok was far from defeated. As he deflected Malok's next three thrusts, he watched as crackling shadow energy flew from Malok's gloved fingertips and struck Ra head-on, knocking him unconsious. Eeyavin charged the Makuta, but Malok merely laughed and telekinetically flung him to the ground.
"I would kill you all." said Malok, laughing as he fought Zercks, Jareroden, and Nalek all at the same time, stunning Zercks quickly with a blast of concussive force while narrowly blocking Jareroden's attack. "But there's a better price for you alive."
As Zercks rose to his feet, and Ra continued spearing at Malok with his staff, annoying the Makuta, Jareroden and Beta charged. As they attacked, Malok swept his claws forward, slamming Beta to the ground. The Toa hit the ground with a sickening crunch, and in the half-light, Jareroden couldn’t tell if the Toa was alive or dead.
Malok whirled around to face Jareroden, sending a barrage of chain lightning at Ra that knocked the being unconscious. With the rest of his allies immobilized or too far away to aid him, Jareroden charged the massive Makuta. However, before he could even wound Malok, the Makuta tore the weapon from his hand, sending the sword clattering to the ground.
The last thing Jareroden saw before he fell to the ground was the Makuta’s bestial smile.
The shadowy, dark fortress rose from the depths of the night, its obsidian stones illuminated by the cold green illumination commonly used in the ancient Veiled One Empire. The imposing edifice was built on a massive clifftop, but apart from the cliff and the fortress, the world was completely empty, a blank void of nothingness that surrounded the fortress on all sides.
Deep within the fortress, within the mass of intricately designed passageways, a tall being armored in white and gray stood before his superior. He lowered his head, and spoke.
"Malok is fighting the Collective strike team. He will be back within the hour." he said.
Nightshade's cold green eyes stared at the Toa, and her features twisted into a feral grin. "Do you know if Shardak is with them, Omicron?"
"I do not know. However, I do not believe there were any yellow or gold Toa with them, except Nalek. They do, however, have the Cintimany Stone."
"Of course he's not with them. Shardak would have not been able to reach the Great Jungle from Tajun within two days. But this is so much better. When Malok returns with the Toa as prisoners, we have Shardak come to us."
"Come to us?" Omicron asked. "Is this something--"
"Yes, I have spoken with the leaders of the Coalition." said Nightshade. "They agree that it is best he follow Jareroden here, where we can finish him off ourselves."
"I, personally think that this is a grave error." said Omicron bluntly. "Shardak was one of the leaders of the resistance, and was one of the beings who brought down the Dark Empire. Bringing him here could be the Coalition's downfall."
"He only defeated the Empire because he hid behind more powerful beings and allowed us to kill them instead." snarled Nightshade, her green eyes flashing dangerously.
The Veiled One lowered her voice. "During the war, everything was clear: resistance versus Empire, with Bounty Hunters on either sides. There was chaos, but now the world is in near anarchy. All it would take is one little blow-- and the Collectives would lose the slim advantage they have gained over these past six years. The capture and execution of Shardak and Jareroden will lead to the destruction of this Collectives. With Shardak gone from Tajun and Jareroden prevented from wiping out the other Imperial remnants, our Coalition can complete our takeover of the Dark Empire's remaining holdings and then...remove all other opposition."
Omnicron was smiling now. "You mean--"
"Even the mysterious darkness?" Nightshade smiled. "Trust me, Omicron. By the end of this year, the dark being will serve us, and the Collectives, without two of their greatest war heroes, will fall and never return to power."
"Stop. I think I see them."
The Vakra soldier's toneless, gutteral voice rang through the silence of the night, disturbing a small flock of birdlike Rahi. Beneath the light of one of Spherus Magna's moons, the Vakra's stark white armor gleamed coldly.
"I have spotted them as well." said a second voice. Unlike the first, this voice was smooth and almosty flawlessly musical. He was armored in white and silver, and an almost impossibly intricate and complex silvery mask hid all of his features save his burning red eyes.
Interestingly, the second being's voice seemed to startle the Rahi far more then the first's, they immediately took flight and fled, vanishing into the darkness. Now all was silent, though in the distance another Rahi was heard howling.
The silver being's eyes gleamed with annoyance. "This world is teeming with many species, not all of them beneficial for the inhabitants. When this world has become another White Kingdom, we will eliminate all of the useless species that dwell here, including those so-called Rahi.
"Now." said the silver and white being to the Vakra. "Where did you spot the strike team the Collectives of Light have sent out?" There was a slight edge of contempt in the being's voice as he spoke the name of the organization.
"They're directly ahead of us, hidden amidst the trees near that massive rock formation." said the Vakra, raising his spear
"The Empire's Fist." whispered the second being. "So the information that Bounty hunter passed us is correct."
"Yes." said the Vakra, as three more of his kind approached them. The silver being beckoned imperiously toward them.
"Have you spotted them, Cold One?" asked the second Vakra. Like the first Vakra, his voice was dead and flat, devoid of any intonation.
"They're here." said the silver being. "Near the rock formation known as the Empire's Fist."
Before any of the beings could continue, the world came alive with the clash of steel on steel. Both the Cold One and the Vakra looked at the hilltop, their faces as inscrutable as ever. The Cold One could make out the tall form of a Makuta, slashing his weapons at the Toa of Iron standing before him. Another being tried to fight him, but was savagely torn from limb to limb. The being's corpse fell to the ground.
"He will not kill them all." said the Cold One, seeing how the Makuta was toying with the Toa of Iron, in the simular way he himself had toyed with the Toa of Earth known only as Blast before he'd killed him and taken his weapon, the legendary Scythe of Creation.
The Cold One raised his silver gloved hand, allowing the moon to gleam off the scythe. Made of pure, solidified auric energy, the weapon radiated raw power. Augmenting the Cold One's nearly impossibly strong levels of power by tenfold, the scythe was yet one of the least of the treasures that this planet known as Spherus Magna held. He'd seen them, within the mind of the Skakdi Zaktan, who now served the Cold One unknowingly as his own Vakra commander...
The silver being's conjecture proved to be correct. The Makuta had immobilized four of the defenders somehow, and three lay, dead or dying, on the ground. Malok saw the Toa of Iron and another being fighting alongside him desperately, but watched as they were both stunned by a blast of concussive force.
"Shall we add the Makuta and Toa to the Inversion?" asked the Vakra. The Makuta was obviously powerful, but the Cold One was many times more so. He and his species had lain waste to mountains, massive mega-cities, and created the Vakra themselves during the Grand Inversion, and now the Cold One possessed the Scythe of Creation.
"No, not yet. We need them alive." said the Cold One. "We have already Inverted most of the anarchists and the remainder of the Xaxis' Empire, and we will soon control the Valley of the Maze, the last true Dark Empire fortress. No, what interests me is what the Veiled Ones have to do with this. They have not been seen for six years, since the year we descended upon Spherus Magna."
The Vakra nodded in acknowlegement. The Cold One smiled behind his mask as more of his Vakra gathered behind him, awaiting his command. Fate, and his own scheming, had left him the sole ruler of the White Kingdom, and he knew he would seen be the ruler of Spherus Magna.
Xaxis' Empire is gone, the Dark Empire has fragmented, and the Collectives are weakening under the stress of rebuilding from the Empire War. We have already Inverted many Glatorian and most of the New Dark Empire loyalists, and soon, the last bastion of Imperials will fall as well.
The Cold One smiled again, this time sending a telepathic order to the three Vakra standing beside him. Follow the Makuta. Learn where he is going, and report back to me. When you have learned everything about him, begin the Inversion of him and his allies.
The three Vakra strode into the night, following the Makuta. He had been joined by a group of several Corpsians now, and the Cold One turned around, rejoining the four other Vakra standing behind them. While the Cold One's army had numbered a little more then fourscore six years ago, it now numbered more then two hundred Inverted Vakra.
With the Empire gone, that leaves only the Collectives and the Veiled Ones' mysterious group standing between me and ultimate power over all realities.
This chapter was written by Chicken Bond.
It was dark. But then again, it was always dark down here. The jagged teeth of the tunnel that were actually rocky stalactites seemed to give off the feeling that travelers were in the depths of an underground fossil of some ancient behemoth, walking through its skeleton and bones in order to go through the twisted maze of complex pathways. But in the turning, bending horrors of this place, only one door led to any place of interest. Above the door, were letters carved in shapeshifting symbols, which would telepathically alter themselves to match the written language known to the person observing the symbols. To anyone who gazed upon the symbols, they translated into the same two words.
The only remnant left of Eostra's Stronghold from six years ago. Once it was an intimidating marvel of architecture, now it was nothing but a ruined pile of rubble and half destroyed buildings, lying hung open, like a decaying, infected wound. A painful reminder of the past. Only the Vault had survived. Being buried so deep beneath the surface, it was immune to the effects of the final battle raging above, though the tunnels leading to the Vault had suffered from the wails and throes of battle and collapsed into themselves, blocking off the Vault and isolating it and all its secrets from the rest of the world. Until, of course, all that wreckage was confronted by the tall, green being with a wide-brimmed hat and a crowbar. He stood there smiling, and he disappeared until all that could be seen was a faint outline. Janneus proceeded to cancel out his density and pass right through the blocked door. Like a phantom. Or a ghost.
When he re-materialized on the other side of the door, Janneus deactivated his power and winced in pain. In the great final battle of Bota Magna, he had challenged the universe's best bounty hunter, Nightwatcher, to a one-on-one duel in combat, assured that taunting the mutant Toa of Shadow would cause him to loose focus and allow Janneus to finish him swiftly. It had not gone to plan, and Janneus had then found himself flying through wall after wall after wall before he finally stopped. Every bone and aspect of armor had been broken, shattered, or cracked, and Janneus had barely been able to limp away with his life before the fortress was obliterated in the terrible shockwave Nightwatcher unleashed. It still hurt to use his powers because of his wounds.
He had gone out and healed himself for the last few years, concocting plans on how to make a groundbreaking re-entry into the mercenary underworld once he was fully recovered. Then he had received a contract from a shadowy unnamed client five months ago. A client who promised to make his servitude worth his while. Janneus had accepted, and had been told to find a way into the buried and half-forgotten Vault to recover something very important. Something key and critical.
Janneus heard the sound of sand whisking around the ground around him.
And he had, of course, not forgotten his quiet and silent partner. Up from the sands rose another Rotaxian, who appeared to be using a combination of his elemental power over Sand and his natural ghosting power. And then, in a seemingly effortless gesture, Markein solidified. Both Rotaxians stared each other down before Janneus broke the silence.
"Encounter any resistance on the lower tunnel systems?" he inquired. He liked to be well-informed of every detail of his assignments.
Markein shrugged. "There were a few... semi-active traps left behind by Eostra. But don't worry about them. They were easy; little more than target practice."
The two bounty hunters then turned to examine the vast warehouse before them, a musty, old smell radiating from everything in the room. It was extremely dusty in here. Without giving each other a second glance for consultancy, evaluation or even discussion, the two bounty hunters descended through the numerous isles of the place, passing by items like Toa Tahu's Golden Armor, Teridax's Staff of Darkness, Helryy'x battle mace, Artakha's warhammer, and much more. They reached the end of the isles and saw something different. An open and exposed Toa canister lay half embedded in the wall, with the remnants of what appeared to be a control bank beside it. Whatever may have been within that canister was long since gone.
The two turned left from the canister, and approached the far left end of the room. Here, there were neither artifacts nor strange, alien structures. But what looked like filing cabinents built into the very wall. Drifting towards the cabinets with eerie grace, Janneus and Markein stopped before the cabinents and browsed their index fingers across the smooth metal surfaces. The cabinents were roughly as wide as a Matoran body. Finally, Markein snapped his fingers and nodded towards a slightly larger cabinent on the second-to-bottom row. On the surface of the drawer were the words "Test Subject 32".
Markein looked up at Janneus, the faintest tint of a hollow fear in his cold eyes.
"Are you sure about this?" he asked wearily. Not fearfully, but simply cautiously.
"Absolutely," replied Janneus, a look of absent-minded disconcern featuring on his face. "This was all part of the job description, was it not?"
With an almost inaudible grunt, Markein readjusted his hat and pulled hard on the draw. Immediately, there was a harsh hiss, and frosty cold steam rose from the cabinet. Unlike the last unwanted visitors who had come to the Vault, the wired alarms did not go off. no sirens were raised. No crimson Lightstones flashed. the alarm system had long since short-circuited and died out.
Janneus joined Markein in forcing the draw open, a pair of feet emerged from the blackness lying on the drawer. Then a pair of legs. Then a lean body. Then a set of muscled arms, then a masked face with some kind of twisted smile etched on its Kanohi. The figure was decorated in armor of the darkest black and the deepest blue. He wore a jet-black Miru, the Great Mask of Levitation, and the whole thing was creepy to look at. Imbedded in his arms, chest and neck were fluid tubes, all pumping in thick green liquids that certainly didn't looked purified liquid Protodermis. The thing was a Toa, but it was like not Toa the pair had ever seen before.
"What is it?" inquired Janneus with fascination.
Markein picked up a stone tablet that had been resting on the end of the drawer, and read its contents allowed.
"It — or he — was an experimental super-Toa soldier for the Empire. A unique Toa of Shadow, formerly a Toa of Air."
"Its not like we haven't seen one of these before," replied Janneus coldly. "Sure, Toa of Shadow are a dime a dozen, but they are nothing too unique, unless you take Nightwatcher into consideration. What's so special about this one?"
"He is described as the "Walking Nightmare", and is said to have formerly belonged to the Hunters' Brigade. He is a master assassin, and an insane, silent killer. But what I do think you want to know is this: This Toa of Shadow, whoever he may be, goes by the name of a misleading clown character. Test Subject 32 is the killer who assassinated Krataka, Shayla, Antidax, and Naraku. Test Subject 32 is the Harlequin..."
And then there was a chilled silence that lasted nearly ten minutes, as the two mercenaries eyed over the sleeping, unconscious killer who had brought about the deaths of so many individuals.
Skakdi warlord Freztrak sighed as he stood before a large crowd of screaming, raging and obviously not very happy Skakdi. Right now, they stood in the city that had been named New Atero so very long ago, and it was here Freztrak was having to performing the hard task of controlling and taming his own kind. He had been assigned to this job in the wake of the Skakdi's massive involvement in the Invasion of Atero six years ago, a battle which he had personally helped lead the resistance against. He stood atop a small hill with the other Skakdi surrounding him on the descending slopes, shaking their fists at him, cursing his name, and saying other undeniably foul things. Such was a Skakdi's way.
It had been a very wise move to host this meeting just beyond the outskirts of New Atero.
Growling loudly over the cries of his people, Freztrak fired twin beams of corrosive vision at the nearest Skakdi thug to him and barked a curse word in his races tongue loudly, and almost instantly, in a slightly scary way, the Skakdi warriors went quiet. They weren't settled, but they weren't squabbling either. Nonetheless, they were definitely on edge. He mentally sighed to himself.
On the outside, the resistance and their leaders saw him as a hard, tough, grizzled, though reclusive leader. No one knew what he thought, though he willingly generated the appearance of a strong, confident, aggressive and capable leader on the outside. A performance so easily exercised it was totally flawless. Even the other resistance leaders hadn't known him that well, despite them all being good friends, even by Freztrak's terms. Beneath his hardneed exterior, Freztrak felt he was riddled with doubts, reluctance, stress, and mental exhaustion from the massive task of coordinating the resistance and the Collectives. He didn't want his kind to become enemies of the Collectives or become a foe of them himself. Perhaps what he really wanted was the chance to go a get away from all this mess with the Collectives and just be alone. After all it was much easier to be a hermit than to be the builder and founder of a new devastated society.
"Attention, you fools!" He roared in his tough, slightly annoyed voice. Another aspect of his outward habits that he had rehearsed to perfection. "Will you stop squabbling like insolent Rahi, and listen to what I have to say for five minutes?"
A wave of mummering swept out through the crowd, and within mere seconds, their mind was made. And they listened.
"The Collectives of Light have been most concerned with the path the Skakdi race has chosen to take in light with its association with the Dark Empire during its reign, and it feels that they might want to exclude you from the equal rights and civil policies that are being devised to this very day. Now, you may not care much about politics, but the resistance wants to keep us checked in society so we are not hated and despised by the rest of it, and therefore our actions can be justified by the Collectives. I am not only your ambassador, but also your representative at the highest level of government, titles and responsibilities I have decided to accept these roles, despite them adding to my incredible work load."
There were more whispers breaking out amongst the crowds now. It sounded like they were being convinced by Freztrak's ethics and speech. Without bothering to heed any more opinions from the audience, Freztrak continued.
"Though we have brought about a lot of trouble in our time here on Spherus Magna, and even more so in our pre-dated history in Mata Nui's former universe. However, our involvement in the efforts to topple the Dark Empire cannot be forgotten. I have made sure of that. We may have lashed out at the world sometimes like those bitter, exiled Zyglak, but we are so much more than exiles. We are Skakdi. We are warriors. maybe not the most honorable, but capable brawlers nonetheless. Our history is entrenched in warfare and combat, and it is time we put some of our more brutal traits aside to make ourselves seem at least a little more appealing to "modern" society."
"What about our urge to fight? You don't expect us to become a peace-loving race do you? Like you said, we were bred for combat!" The Skakdi of Ice's tone bordered on hatred. Freztrak chose to ignore it.
"Indeed we are. That is why we will be absorbed and recruited into the Collective military. Think about it? The Dark Empire still exists out there in some shape or form, and the Collectives needs warriors to fight for its side. We have experience. We'd have endless amounts of fighting and combat on our sides, enough to fill your hearts content. And we need soldiers. Soldiers who aren't limited by the morals of the Toa. An army capable of eradicating major threats in the process. And if we got wiped out to the point of extinction, who knows? Maybe we won't be missed as much as we'd like to think so. But enough with the melancholy. The question is: Will you want to spend the rest of your life in boring exile on the run forever, or spend it on the battlefield slaughtering anything that dares stand in our wretched path?"
There was a cry. A cry so loud that it shook the nearby tree branches, and the volume of which sent all forms of birds reeling in shock. It was the roar of a inspired and invigorated Skakdi crowd.
"IS THAT A YES!?" Freztrak screamed at the crowd defiantly, almost angrily.
"YES!!!" the crowd screamed back shaking their fists and weapons again in the air. They were screaming and raging, and after two more seconds, a small brawl had broke out among the spectators between a Skakdi of Iron and Air. Freztrak smiled almost sinisterly. This was almost too easy for him and the Collectives.
Toa Hydros walked through the early morning mist in the Black Spike Mountains. The sky was clearer than he had ever remembered, and the world more brighter than ever. But this did not comfort the hardened, thick-skinned Toa. A veteran of many a fight, and a couple of wars and conflicts, Hydros was a survivor, and his knack for survival had brought him all the way to this day. He trudged through the mist on the the easy, light soil, his footsteps making soft squeltching noises against the ground. He didn't mind. He didn't mind at all. After all, how many times had he had to do this when risking his life out on the battlefield?
Much to his regret, Hydros had become a famous, worldwide hero, and now he would never see the end of countless refugees, supporters of the Collectives, and warriors wishing to pit their skills against him. Since the last war with the Empire ended, Hydros had been declared a war hero. A recognized force for righteous and justice. That did not in any mean he had to enjoy it. As much as he had longed for peace and freedom during the dictatorship of the Empire, now he just wished to be left with his friends and solitude.
The word sprung back memories of long lost comrades. Whenever that word was mentioned, it was like he was stepping on an explosive mine in a field, which would explode to remind him of his long-lost allies.
Just as Hydros began to pull the Toa of Water up, one of Proto-Beast's claws sliced into Hydros' right shoulder and unleashed a wave of electricity. Hydros screamed as electricity caused the Toa's arm to go limp and numb. That is when he realized something horrible: The pain had just forced Hydros to release his grip on Sayra!
Hydros watched in horror as Sayra, the one being who knew him better than anyone else in the world, fell down into the huge fissure, before finally disappearing into the darkness.
Proto-Beast watched with satisfaction as the Toa of Water plunged into the depths of Metru Nui. That sense of satisfaction didn't last long, however. Suddenly, intense heat coming form the Toa's body forced Proto-Beast to pull back his claw. He backed away a few steps as the heat began to increase even further. Hydros then got to his feet, even as he kept increasing his body temperature. He then turned around to face the Dark Hunter, his eyes filled with anger and hate.
"Do you have any idea what you have just done?" Hydros said in a disturbingly quiet tone. He then fired a fire bolt that sent the Proto-Beast to the ground. The Toa began to stalk toward the Dark Hunter; intense flames swirling in his open hands. "You will pay for your actions, Dark Hunter." The Toa's features then darkened, causing even the veteran Dark Hunter to hesitate. "You will pay dearly!"
Hydros shook in head as he tried to empty the memories out of his head of her loss. She had caused him enough pain already in his dreams. Pain which had only effectively managed to be resolved during the heat of his struggle with his dark side, Shados, during their battle for control of the Toa's body. He had seen a mental representation of Sayra, designed to aid him in his war with his inner darkness, and once everything was done, Sayra and Hydros had said their final farewell and made their peace with each other. Even if it wasn't the words of the real Sayra who had died so long ago, the representation was still real enough to be considered her.
Then the mines in his mind struck again. This time it was the Toa of Psionics Kazepza who flashed before his eyes. The next closet friend after Sayra. A wise, encouraging, and uplifting friend, Kazepza had talked Hydros out of moments of deep doubt and regret in the direst of hours. And then she was lost. Lost to the darkness of the Empire.
Kazepza turned to look in Hydros' eyes, deep sorrow and sadness filling up her eyes and soul. But there was a trace of fear. Never a trace of fear of what would happen to her next. Only regret at the things she knew would never get to say to her dearly beloved and friend. And she knew he felt the same way. Hydros watched as Kazepza sat their kneeling, and the morbid and disgusting form of Zevrahk stood behind her, shadowy energy whisking around the twin tips of his Staff of Desolation like traces of faint air. He was smiling. Verahk's greatest disciple and follower was smiling.
And he was helpless.
His hands, legs, and arms bound in chains that made it impossible to move, thick enough to be considered the closest thing to unbreakable. And powerful enough to drain every last bit of strength and power out of the Toa's mighty form. They remained in a trance-like stare with one another for minutes, as Zevrahk cackled and rambled on about how the Legion of Shadows would soon re-emerge as allies of the Dark Empire. How misguided they had become. How misguided and desperate Verahk had become into believing that helping the evil that once ruled the world would offer him protection and safety. How misguided he truly was.
But that was irrelevant now. All that had transpired was irreversible. The scouting mission out in the wastelands for remnants of the Great Beings' technology. The foolhardy idiocy that had led them into deciding to go in a group of two. The ambush by Zevrahk. The reawakening in a damp, dark outpost. The execution of Kazepza by Zevrahk's hands. The inevitable, soon-to-be execution of Toa Kazepza. It was tragic. It was more. It was universally heartbreaking. Their feelings would never be requited to one another. They never were. Now they never would.
And Hydros knew he could do nothing.
Zevrahk finished his speech, and stared down Hydros sinisterly. And then, Zevrahk drew the staff into the air as he stood behind the female Toa, shadowy energy crackling like electricity. And he brought it down. He brought it down on the Toa of Psionics, Hydros heard one last thing from her.
"I'm sorry, my lo—"
And then the words were gone forever.
Hydros forced himself to slap himself hard in the face to regain his focus on reality, panting heavily. He now realized how much sweat was beading under his mask. Shaking his head he moved on. The events of the past would always plague him, there was no doubt about that, but he knew there was still hope to ensure these hauntings wouldn't overcome him and consume him in depressing sadness. Kazepza was long gone, as was the Legion. And the Society. Remnants of the past now, he supposed. But that was not why he was heading in the Black Spike Mountains.
Oh, no. Of course not.
His purpose here was something much more significant than that. it was for mourning. For a funeral. For remembrance. And for one last time, the flashbacks struck Hydros, and he remembered yet again why he was here.
As an unheard command echoed throughout the wails and screams of the final battle between good and evil, the Dark Lord began to back into the shadows. Backing into the darkness he had so very well made his home. The place he had made the only place where he belonged.
"Oh no you don't!" Hydros screamed. He knew he could not allow this coward to retreat. To escape. So he charged at the cloaked being. He charged against the wails and protests of his anguished muscles and made a ran for the Dark Lord. A strike at the very heart of evil itself. Of darkness
The Dark Lord spun around with speed that seemed out of sync with time itself. And in his eyes gleamed death. The Dark Lord raised his robed arm just in time, and swiped it forwards into Hydros' scarred face. The force of the impact sent Hydros flying several feet away, and onto his back. He hit the ground hard and continued to skid until he simply ran out of momentum and speed to keep moving. And stopped. He forced himself looked up to see the Dark Lord ink a path towards him, his jet-black cape slithering and whistling after him. He stopped before the Toa of many elements, and raised a hand, and shadows coiled not just around him, but around his whole body. His body was now nothing but a flame of pure black flame. His cloak and hood had completely blended in with the black flame. All that could be seen were those horrid, terrifying eyes that even scared Hydros himself. The Lord of all things Dark was charging up a blast of pure darkness in the palm of his hand.
"Goodbye, Toa Hydros." He said in a voice that seemed more like a rasp than the sound of anything living. It sounded like something from the blackness of the Zone of Shadows. It sounded dark. And its owner was a black hole in life. A dead spot in existence, and now he was going to show him why.
"NO!!" screamed a familiar voice across the sound of screams, elemental blasts, collapsing rubble, and explosions. It took a second to recognize the nail-hard voice of Verex. A mutant Skrall from Bara Magna with the deepest sense of honor and righteous among his people. Hydros rolled his head to the left to see the Skrall running. Sprinting across the battlefield with single-minded determination and not a trace of doubt and fear. So very much like Verex.
As Hydros watched the Lord focus and channel his darkness through his very fingertips, he saw Verex leap across the distance between him and the emperor, covering meters and millimeters with ease thanks to his greater strength to leap such distances. As Hydros watched the bolt approach him, he closed his eyes to shield them from the wave of death that would come. It was too late. He saw the blast coming.
Closer and closer and closer...
Then he saw Verex dive between him and the emperor. Then, there was a horrible flash of black that blinded Hydros, and then silence. When Hydros opened his eyes, he saw Verex laying in front of him, limp and still, smoke rising from his felled body. His eyes were closed and his face was riddled in pain. His face was clenched and contracted in the labors of death.
"No...." That was all he could whisper. That was all he could ever whisper. He hadn't even heard Verex scream. He had been that dignified in his sacrifice.
Hydros rose to his feet, slowly and powerfully. Like the power and heart of a thunderstorm. Dark vengeance boiling in his eyes and soul. He held his blade in a grip so tight, that he felt his knuckles wail as they were stretched to their very limits.
And the memory was complete. He was here for Verex. A fallen friend and ally. He deserved a true funeral for what he had done, for his sacrifice. He had died only as he had wanted to; as a true warrior. And now, it was all that Hydros could do to let those had befriended him know of the tragedy and sacrifice. Though the war had ended six years ago on that very night, the death toll had never been seen higher in all of history. Peoples of today were still browsing through the lists to see which friends had lived and which ones had died. Verex's body could never be recovered either. The shockwave that had been sent out through the Empire's palace had obliterated and incinerated every corpse and body in the building into even less than ash. Everything had been totally disintegrated, and thus marking the spot as the grave for hundreds of unnamed soldiers.
But fortune had came their way slightly. Verex's sword had survived. The weapon that had once belonged to the legendary warrior Ankum before passing away into the next life from old age. It was a small mercy, he supposed, that the historic sword had survived even the greatest of battles in established history. And it was only fair that it be returned to the community it had once belonged to. Six years it had been since the end of the war, and six years that had been spent helping build up the great new Society of the Collectives as they tended to the wounds of war. And now, he finally had the chance to return Verex's friends what belonged to them.
Hydros rose over a hilltop and stared at a mountain in a clearing before him. The mountain was so high it seemed to pierce the sky, and at the very front of that mountain, carved right into the face of the giant formation, was the entrance to a cave.
New Endolise, Hydros thought. Its time I pay the local village a respectful visit, and the passing of some gravely sad news.
A lone figure stood in a great hallway, one that seemed natural and almost organic in structure. Its pillars seemed almost coral-like, and looked completely suiting for the bizarre theme of the room. The figure was tall, drenched in a lengthly cloak that reached his feet. His face was cold and empty, devoid of emotion. His eyes blazed with detachment and boredom and a lack of interest, but behind that deception radiated a cunning brilliance and bore an intelligence that had manipulated and shaped lives for centuries. Or had at least done so once long ago. Long ago in some distant time which now one could care to remember. How uncourteous of the common rabble to do so.
Shadowmaster was now part of something bigger. Something greater, even by his standards. He was a point of Multiversal Singularity, and as such, there was only every one true version of him. He was totally original and unique, compared to other beings who were simply copied over and over again in different universes. Like a seal being stamped on a letter. He had traveled through the universes for entertainment and for his own plans, until he had been drawn to this little garden spot of existence. He liked it in this universe. Anyone else would see it as all the dark and twisted sides of life channeled into one universe, but Shadowmaster saw it as a paradise where he could thrive. He loved seeing Matoran enslaved. Entire races wiped out. Innocents subjugated. And dark emperors equal to his own power ruling over them in a massive dictatorship.
Yes that is what he liked. But then something in this universe had drawn him deeper into it, forced him to stay longer than he had hoped. A great power had drawn him further into this world; a power that was easily triple his own, which said something. He had found, and now served it. And now he was something much greater. He was now a disciple.
Shadowmaster turned at the sound of footsteps, and lightweight armor clanking together, and he turned to see a hooded menace in a shimmering cloak drifting towards him. Though he was conceal behind a veil of darkness, Shadowmaster was more than capable of piercing it to see traces of this one's true form. He sighed. He appeared to be using his Assassin's Stalker Armor this time around. The "Blood Summoner" preferably enjoyed causing death in secretive assassination missions. His age-old rival stopped his tracks and stared down Shadowmaster menacingly. Shadowmaster simply shrugged rudely, a disguise of boredom on his face. Serrakaan saw right through it.
"My friend, you seem to have a habit of arriving much sooner than what both I and the others plan. But nonetheless, the sooner we got our plans done, the better it will be for us. Tell me, how goes the progress of our two employees?"
The Rotaxian mercenaries have infiltrated the Vault as expected, and have recovered the Harlequin as planned. They are preparing him for transportation, but are recovering any other pieces of information regarding that abomination of a Toa.
The telepathic words of Serrakaan seemed to quiver with disgust at the mentioning of the Harlequin. As the two dark killers paced through to the opposite end of the hall with effortless elegance, Serrakaan continued.
Shadowmaster, is it wise to use such the abomination in our plans? He could either bring them to the best fruitions or completely ruin them. There is no in-between. The abomination is only required for one purpose in the plan, and one purpose alone. But there are so many more suitable candidates than him. Any one could be used for our plan. So why should we use him?"
"We use him, because the plan dictates so!" snapped Shadowmaster. "We have been playing the long game for so much time now, it now that we should finally take action and begin its initiation."
As they moved out into the corridors, and traveled through them, more questions were raised by the enigmatic Serrakaan continued.
"And what of our secret weapon? What of the other Toa? What of his role as a candidate for the Passage?
"No! That is out of the question! He is not to be used in all of this! We have attempted to convert him into the One, but it has declared that he is unsuitable. too dangerous. Too powerful and strong, so much he can resist the change. He can fight off the effects of the transistion and resist us, and if we use him, and he rebels and realizes just who he is, then you know how much more powerful he will become!"
This time Serrakaan didn't reply.
"But... There is hope for him to become one of us. His choices are firm and his will strong, but does that mean he is not susceptible to convincing arguments and compelling logic, that would make him reconsider? No. Of course not. He can be forced to join us. Manipulating him to carry out the passage would be too noticeable, but making him join us would be far easier. We can manipulate his dreamscape to match our purposes. And he will join. Based on free will or not. Otherwise, he wil be killed and all will go on as planned. Got it?"
As they stopped in front of a doorway at the end of the hall, they watched the door split in half and open to reveal a new room.
Got it, replied Serrakaan angrily. They stepped into a dark room. And in there, Shadowmaster walked over to a small console and tapped on a few keys and buttons. Serakaan drifted over and hovered behind him.
"Life forces are registering to be at maximum. Subject is healthy and in fit conditions. Stasis has not had any serious side-affects to his mind and consciousness. Stasis gas has him rendered in a total comatose, which at any given command, can be forced out of. Subject is reading positive, and therefore, susceptible to the workings of our stratagem."
And then, there was a great pause of silence, as the two great, respective masters of death and chaos stared up to look at the big, shimmering tube built into the very wall of the room. Inside was a black being. A being with pitted and scarred armor. Charred and burned. And they knew his name. And they knew if he woke up before things were planne,d then it would not only rain doom upon them, but for hopes of their master's freedom too.
And whilst they contemplated these dark, treacherous thoughts to themselves, the body of a mutant Toa was still, and the mind of Nightwatcher slept.
This chapter was written by Varkanax39.
Jareroden, still half-stunned from his battle with Malok, opened his eyes to darkness. He wondered, for one moment, where he was, and how he'd come to be here. However, within moments, the memories came crashing down on him once again. Malok had captured them, after revealing that the Dark Empire was far, far more alive then he'd thought before.
But how? the Toa wondered. The Emperors are gone, their generals in hiding. What could have caused this return of the Veiled Ones?
As though answering his question, a door Jareroden had not seen before opened, light spilling into the dark prison. Jareroden saw that he, Zercks, Beta, Eeyavin, and Ra were all chained within a massive prison cell. Of the remainder of his squadron, there was no sign. He wondered, at first, if they'd been executed, but immediately abandoned the idea, as Malok had taken such care in allowing them all to stay alive.
The being standing at the door was unmistakeably Nightshade. The Veiled One grabbed him roughly by the arm and turned him over to three heavily armored beings bearing the insignia of the Shadow of Ages. Now Jareroden was beginning to worry. The fact that these beings were wearing Shadow of Ages colors meant that they'd been recruited after the fall of the Dark Empire, when the remaining two factions of the Empire began to break into seperate groups led by warlords. Just how many Imperials had the Veiled Ones recruited to their side?
His question was soon answered as Nightshade, accompanied by the three Shadow of Ages soldiers, led him down the twisting passageways of the fortress. They were dark and dimly lit, mirroring the corridors of Eostra's fortress almost exactly. The Dark Empire's emblem was present on many of the walls and all of the doors. Jareroden passed large groups of the Dark Lord's mindless, skelatel troopers, unable to understand that their Empire had fallen six years previously, a small group of Shadow of Ages warriors, their eyes determined and carrying weapons, and, of course, Corpsians, armed to the teeth with weapons that equelled and sometimes surpassed those of the Collectives.
"As you can see, our alliance continues." said Nightshade. "We were never destroyed, simply forced into hiding. And soon we will return to challenge your friends once again."
Finally Nightshade stopped before a massive double door made of iron. A single emblem, that of the Veiled Ones, was built into this door, making it seem all the more forbidding and all-seeing then before. Fear, something that had haunted Jareroden for the past six years of war and rebuilding, returned to him once again.
"Where are we?" asked Jareroden. "What is this place?"
Nightshade smiled. "You'll find out soon enough. Come. Lord Xarnath wishes to speak with you."
Jareroden, still tied, allowed himself to be lead through the massive double doors and into a room made of glass and obsidian. A massive throne, guarded by two elite Veiled One soldiers, stood before him, and on that throne was seated a massive, hideous being.
He looked like a cross between a Spinax hound and a massive Xian warrior. His face was bestial, but his eyes carried a glint of horrible, calculating intellegince. His expression was arrogant, and his armor was made of hundreds of overlapping plates of metal, providing him with a nearly impenatrable coating of protosteel. Nightshade lowered her head in deference, but Blast did not to the same. His gaze traveled across each and every being seated or standing in the chamber.
He could see a heavily armed being who he recognized as Omicron, who had briefly served as one of the Dark Lord's generals during the battles before the confrontation on Bota Magna. Two Veiled One generals stood there as well, their faces impassive as they stared at Jareroden. Two beings, a Vortixx who wore the Shadow of Ages emblem on his chestplate and a smaller being he did not recognize.
His gaze turned to the beings standing to the left of the throne, and saw a being he knew very well. Kulant, one of the leaders of the "New Dark Empire" movement which had nearly broken the Collectives' power over a year ago. The Mersion scientist's face was cold as he stared at Jarereroden, recognition in his eyes as they met the Toa's.
"Welcome, Toa Jareroden." said Nightshade, head still lowered. "Welcome to the Empire Reborn. Welcome to the greatest of all of our leaders' accomplishments."
"What is this place?" asked Jareroden. "Where am I?"
"You are within the headquarters of the Coalition to Restore the Empire." the being on the throne said. "The greatest of our revered emperors' accomplishments."
"Show him." said Xarnath to Kulant. "Show him where we are."
Kulant nodded once, then a massive screen, simular to the one the emperors had used to control the Mata Nui Robot during the first year of the war, seemed to appear on the far wall. Jareroden could see several pinpoints of light he believed were stars, and then, to his surprise, a planet, both blue and green, far below them. They were nearly at the very top of Spherus Magna's atmosphere, and Jareroden wondered how the base had enough air to allow them to survive.
"The Emperors were all great builders. Once, many years before the rise of the Dark Empire, they had spacecraft of their own. Eventually, they created this orbital base you now stand within to moniter the situation beyond Spherus Magna."
"What situation?" asked Jareroden. "There are other habitable planets, such as Fairon's homeworld of Gigas Magna, out there, are there not?"
Xarnath smiled, a hideous expression that froze Jareroden's heartlight. "You really know nothing at all on Spherus Magna, do you, Toa? Hopefully your stay here at the headquarters of our Coalition will prove you wrong. As one of Eostra's senior generals during the early days of the war, and later the leader of the remaining Coalition forces, I know secrets that would break your mind if you learned of them. Much like your friend...Fairon, isn't he?"
"Yes, Fairon, Lord Xarnath." said Nightshade. "And that reminds me: they failed to bring Toa Shardak with them. While his death will only further the Coalition's aims as far as any other Collective leader's would, he has been a thorn in the side of our Empire for--"
"Yes, yes." Xarnath waved it aside. "While I am annoyed that your gamble failed, Nightshade, it will still have the intended effect. Do you think that the rest of the Collectives' leaders will simply leave their war hero, Toa Jareroden, here in our hands. No, no. When the time is perfect, when they find our interdimensional gateway, they will come to us. And the rebellion that began six years ago will end at last."
Lethal's tone carried a mixture of anger and disappointment.
Vizor shifted his feet nervously. "Well, sir, we still have not found anything in these forsaken streets and alleyways, just Stone Rats and decay. Moreover, all but three members from my party disappeared last night during our search."
Lethal rolled his eyes. "Do you have any idea how?"
A trace of hollow fear entered Vizor's eyes. "It was the Blood Summoner."
Lethal's eyes searched Vizor, attempting to find some form of deception. He found none.
The revelation that the Blood Summoner was preying on his men was a startling one, one that meant his plans were going to get all the more complicated. And it was already difficult enough with the Collectives running about in Tajun. Not to mention the numerous rival bounty hunters that stalked the underworld of the city, all with their crosshairs trained on Lethal.
When Lethal decided to speak, his voice was a soft growl. "Tell me everything."
Vizor gulped. "Well, me and my scouts were in the eastern district of Tajun, looking for anything out of the ordinary, and in order to cover more ground, we split up, planning to meet in front of the old market in three hours time. After two and a half hours went by, I started hearing some sort of... scrapping noise coming from a side street, so, naturally, I went to investigate."
Lethal sighed. "Yes, yes, then what happened?"
"In the first few minutes I was there, everything was silent. Then the head of one of my men came rolling from an alleyway. Cautiosly, I went to examine the alley. In there, I found the dismembered bodies of seven of the men, and the other three cowering in a corner. Written on the wall, in some sort of red liquid, was The Blood Summoner. Immediately, I came here to report to you. The reason I arrived late, however, was that I was spotted by several of the Colelctives' scouts."
Lethal uttered a foul curse. Now the Collectives were going to be tracking him down. For a moment, he contemplated just killing Vizor and being done with it, but he decided against. After all, Vizor was one of his greatest hunters, and he did have use for him.
Almost for the first time, Lethal noticed the bounty hunters standing behing Vizor. "Cyborg", Reaper, and "Havoc". All of them exceedingly fit and merciless. The traits Lethal looked for in bounty hunters. "And these three were the ones who survived?"
"Who were the slain?"
Lethal was almost surprised. All seven of the bounty hunters were veteran killers, and them being slain in such a way was very unnerving. He was facing something much more powerful than he anticipated. It seemed to him that a change of pace was needed. Collectives on one side, the Blood Summoner on another, and rival bounty hunters on another, where to begin?
A cold smile etched Lethal's features. "I have a new partner for you."
Vizor's eyebrows raised. "And who would this be?"
Lethal's smile broadened as he raised his arm. As if on signal, a being emerged from the shadows of one of the corners of the wall. The being was quite obviously a female, her blue and silver denoting that she was a Toa of Water. However, the armor around her stomach was mangled and dented, as if she had been stabbed with a wickedly sharp and curved blade. Traces of black were also noticeable on her arms and hands. A large and curved blade hung lazily over her waist and hips. Her cold, blue eyes held emotion not present in her face, bitterness, weariness, and most of all, sadness. Vizor could tell this being was a quite unwilling servant of Lethal.
Something we have in common, Vizor thought darkly.
Lethal seemed to take no notice of either of their discomforts. He addressed Vizor. "You will treat her with the same respect of me, or else you will answer to me, if you are not chopped in half by her. That goes for you other three as well. Am I understood?"
All four nodded vigorously, before Vizor spoke up. "With all respect, sir, what in Mata Nui's name is her name?"
Before Lethal could speak, the Toa of Water spoke. "I am Toa Galika."
- The header image was designed by Jman98.