This article was written by Q9uarpse99. Please do not add to it without the writer's permission.
Hammering on steel bars, hoping for them to crack, is never a good pastime. It can get rather monotonous, doing the same thing over and over again - and making the same ugly noise. It can also blunt the tool you are using.
Nevertheless, it was what the Makuta named Oquanti was doing. The 'hammer' in this case turned out to be the sharp blade of a dagger. His dagger was his only hope if he was going to get out of the prison. Of course, he would have to swim a long way, but it was worth it.
Oquanti had been imprisoned by the assassin Cairona, who was hoping to get a large sum of money off of him. Well, Oquanti wouldn't have it. He was going to escape this foul sea prison on Cairona's smelly boat, and give the assassin a big shock when she was going to ransom him back. Then the Brotherhood would punish her for wasting their time (and really for capturing him). He was going to tell them what had happened, and she might spend a few centuries in Brotherhood jail. "Assassin begins with ass twice," Oquanti muttered.
He pushed the blade further and grunted. Oquanti was not the best Makuta for physical strength. In his tri-team, (which he was the leader of) Ransog would be better for forcing the bars open. But Ransog was not here. Even the third member of his team, Zeviglire, would be better at wrenching bars open. Oquanti was the weakest physically, but the sharpest mentally in his team. That was why he led it.
"There!" he exclaimed. The penultimate bar fell off, into the sea. "I suppose I could squeeze through...no. I want to give Cairona a real shock. It'll also cost her more money to get these bars replaced." Oquanti moved his dagger over to the last bar.
His thoughts moved to more self-benefiting matters. "If I escape," he mused out loud, "I might get a promotion. I could become a competitor for the official strategist of the Brotherhood. That would give Gorast something to think about!" Oquanti grinned. "And the faster I escape, the higher I will go. Bye bye Cairona. Next stop, Destral!"
Oquanti pushed even harder, spurred on by his thoughts of promotions. "I can rise...to Teridax's adviser...then...a 'little...accident'...will happen and...I'll rule the Brotherhood...of Makuta!" His exertions forced him to speak in breaths; at the end of the sentence the bar broke and Oquanti fell onto the ground, exhausted.
"There we go," Oquanti panted. "I'm free! Destral, I'm coming!" He sat up to get his dagger, but found that it was broken.
"Well, I guess it's a sacrifice," he decided. "I can handle that. I can get a new one."
He didn't notice the piece of paper that fluttered out of his backpack. This was a problem, since he needed that paper as if it were his life. If he lost that paper, he might get a demotion, and Ransog or Zeviglire could be the leader of his team instead. But he didn't notice the paper, so it was blown by the fresh sea wind blowing into the cell. The paper ended up in the corner.
Oquanti put his backpack on, not knowing his loss, fastened up the straps and snaps, then leaped out the window, ready to do a serious job of swimming. "Can I swim to Destral?" he asked himself outside Cairona's boat. "Yes, I can. I'll swim to Destral."
Fortunately, none of Cairona's guards were on that side of the boat, or Oquanti's plans would have failed completely. But that might also be good, if a guard came: Oquanti would get his paper back, if he were to go in the same cell.
But oblivious to the loss, Oquanti started on his journey.
They had been chosen, and so had he. The mission was clear. He knew where they going to go, and who they were. He had planned out the entire mission.
But something was going to go wrong, he was sure of it. Things always went wrong.
Well, Harong thought, I guess we can start.
He had chosen two people for the mission – only two. It was a small number, but it did not need to be that great: the less lives risked, the better. Both people he had chosen were around the coasts of islands: one on Voronui, one on Zakaz. They were both clever, resourced individuals, like Harong himself. Harong himself was a clever Urusik, who had deserved his position in the Order of Mata Nui. Harong was sure that they would do well on the mission – most importantly, stay alive and work.
Harong rang a bell, hanging from his desk. His assistant quickly scurried in. “Yes?”
“I have chosen, and the decision is final,” Harong addressed her. “This mission will be started soon.”
“Who am I to take?”
“You are to journey to the coast of Voronui, and intercept a small boat there, the sole occupant being a Makuta named Enorak,” Harong continued. “Then go to Zakaz, and find a Skakdi who goes by the name of Reidak. I want those two on Daxia in a weekday.”
“Of course,” his assistant replied. “I have heard of Enorak, and can see why you chose him. Oh, and by the way, when you come back, I want a detailed description of what happened.”
Harong laughed, to be joined by his assistant. “Do I ever fail to give that to you? Go. You’ll need time.”
Far away, off the coast of Voronui, a Makuta named Enorak was piloting his small boat away from the island. His life was in ruins, his Plan to take over his island had failed – right now, on Voronui, the Toa were battling an army of ever-loyal Matoran. This was not supposed to happen.
I told Forros to distract them, Enorak spitefully thought. He probably got captured. That big good-for-nothing.
The Toa had probably captured his Lesser. His Lesser was supposed to distract the Toa, while Enorak commanded the Matoran army to get into the Matoran spheres that they would wake up in, without memory. But the Toa had interfered, and charged in. Enorak couldn’t help fleeing.
He was a brown and gold armored Makuta. He was spare compared to other Makuta; this caused him to have a paranoid look. He carried a harpoon, which could channel his power. This was the only tool he had, since one of the Toa had caught him off guard. They had fought, one of the casualties was the loss of Enorak’s Rhotuka.
Enorak cursed. “Visorak!” It was a funny curse word, but one he used nevertheless – it meant ‘poisonous scourge’. Enorak cursed rarely, but when he did, he was a vulgarity-machine. This usually happened in disasters.
Like this one, he thought. Visorak visorak visorak. At least the sky’s pretty.
It was nearing sunset, and the sky had turned pink, but there were spots of blue. Enorak liked things like that: strange, disconcerting color combinations. They cheered him up (he was a Makuta). The sky was cloudless: a shame, since that would have added to the combination.
A voice jolted Enorak out of his thoughts. “Enorak.”
For a second he thought it was Forros. Then Enorak realized that was impossible: Forros couldn’t swim. The Makuta turned around to find it was another Matoran, but not a Shadow Matoran. Too bad. Matoran are more attractive with wings and red eyes.
“Who are you, and why do you know my name.” It wasn’t phrased like a question. Enorak rarely asked questions to Matoran as a matter of principle, unless that Matoran was Forros.
“You’ll find out soon enough,” the Matoran taunted. “Don’t look that way at me, I’m not your chew toy. But you’re coming with me.”
“Why.” Enorak still refrained from asking the question, although this was starting to sound interesting.
“You will find out.” The Matoran leapt forward and shouldered him in the head. Enorak fell to the ground. She then made a point of jumping in Enorak’s eyes. The Makuta was soon out, more out of his free will than the Matoran’s attacks.
Another boat, this time off the coast of Zakaz, was also going along. But the occupant of this one was going along with hope, not despair.
Where Enorak was spare and somewhat weedy, Reidak was brawny. He had survived on that and his wits. He was not as smart as a Makuta, but he got close.
Reidak had acted as a spy on Zakaz; later he had realized that there was more to the world than massacre. He had snuck out of his camp with the camp boat, in search of a better life.
He didn’t know the turn his life was about to take. But how could he? He knew nothing about the Order of Mata Nui.
Where was he going to go? Reidak didn’t know. He had a plan, namely to stop on the first island he came upon and try to make his fortune there. But in reality, he didn’t know what he was going to do.
But, to Reidak’s point of view, even wandering the ocean was better than butchering people for fun.
Reidak turned. He had heard a noise, and indeed there was someone there. A small Matoran, she was disarmed, giving the impression that she had peaceful intentions. Reidak hoped so: he didn’t want to get into a fight so close to Zakaz. It would result in Tahtorak charging at him, and probably being unconscious for the rest of the week.
“Who are you?” Reidak wondered.
“That’s for me to know, and you to guess,” the Matoran replied. “It doesn’t matter. But you’re coming with me.”
“Oh, am I?” Reidak said, mockingly.
“Yes,” the Matoran answered.
She smiled, then pulled a Nynrah blaster from behind her back. She fired it at Reidak; he was instantly paralyzed. A glancing blow took care of his consciousness.
“There we go,” she muttered. “We’re really getting somewhere.”
Harong closed his eyes and grasped his spear. He knew the mission, and was familiar with it, but he was daunted by it. However, he knew it was important for the Order. The problem isn’t carrying out the task, he thought, but how to carry out the task. If the other two are the ones I said they would be, and since I’m the leader… If anything went wrong, Harong was sure he could put down any rebellion. But Harong was always unsure of himself, even if no one else was. Harong opened the door to the chamber, knowing who would be there.
Reidak woke up. The last he remembered, he had been knocked out by a Matoran. This was good, since it was the last thing that happened when he was conscious. Now he was in a strange chamber with a bedraggled Makuta in the other corner. The least he could do was take charge of the situation, since it seemed like the Makuta was going to sit there and do nothing.
“Hey you!” the Skakdi shouted. “What’s your name?”
The Makuta barely responded. He muttered something that Reidak couldn’t hear.
“What was that?”
The Makuta stood up, full of energy now. “My name is Enorak. I don’t know why you brought me here, but I want to. Now.”
Reidak glared. “I didn’t bring you here.”
“Then who did?” Enorak asked. The brown-armored Makuta was steaming with rage.
The ebony Skakdi shrugged. “I don’t know. I was brought the same way. I suppose we’ll find out, though.”
The door opened. “I brought you here,” Harong told the two prisoners.
Reidak’s cutter came up, pointing at Harong. “Why?”
Harong’s spear pushed the cutter down. “You’ll find out soon enough, if you would be so kind as to listen.”
Reidak backed away. Enorak put a hand on the Skakdi’s shoulder, the other hand fingering his harpoon.
“I suppose you have questions,” the blue-armored Order member said. “Ask away.”
“Why are we here?” Enorak asked. “Why us? Are there any more coming?”
“There are no more coming,” Harong informed the two.
“That was clever,” Reidak burst out. “You answered the least important question.”
“Why you?” Harong went on. “Because the two of you are expendable.”
Reidak was about to say something else, probably nasty, when Enorak covered his mouth. “Wait for the last question. You can’t be impatient, or he’ll kill you.”
“His name is Harong,” Harong said. “And why are you here?”
“That was the question,” Enorak nodded.
“I’ll tell you later,” Harong smiled. “If you were to know now, you’d never want to do it – as if you had a choice.”
“So, Harong, if that is your name,” Enorak told him, “How do we get out of here?”
“Harong is my name,” Harong replied, “And you get out of here like this: I can bring you out peacefully, if you agree to come along on our mission, or I can bring two corpses out, with bags over their heads.”
Enorak and Reidak glanced at each other, nervous.
“Don’t worry,” Harong said, slyly. “If you agree to go on a mission with me, you can stay alive. By the way, we have both of your boats, safe here.”
“I’ll come with you,” Reidak agreed.
“I’ll go – as long as I can live to remember it,” Enorak stated.
“Then let’s go. The mission is rather dangerous – at least that’s what I expect it to be. It might be easy, if we can find someone who knows what we want to do and how to do it.”
“You’re being very discreet,” Reidak pouted. “How’re we supposed to carry out the mission if we don’t know what it is?”
“You will,” Harong said. “But later – when you need to know what it is. Right now, you don’t need to know, and if you did know, you wouldn’t agree. Stay here one moment – I need to make preparations.” Harong exited the room.
The problem is, Harong thought, What if my suspicions aren’t correct? We’ll have to go throughout the whole continent.
“What do you think he wants us to do?” Enorak asked Reidak.
“Who do you think he is?”
“I think I know who he is,” Enorak told Reidak.
“Who is he?”
“In the Brotherhood, there were rumors circulating that Mata Nui had a band of beings, devoted to his command. We nicknamed them Mata Nui-servants, and I think he’s one of them.”
“Where do you think we are?”
“We thought the Mata Nui-servants lived on Daxia and had their main base there,” Enorak grinned, “And that’s where I think we are. Don’t tell Harong our speculations, though. If he needs to know them at all, he can find them out later.”
Reidak grinned devilishly, always happy to keep secrets.
Harong walked back into the room, just in time to catch Reidak grinning. “Had enough planning?” Harong asked the two. “Let’s go. I want to start our mission.”
Harong pushed Reidak and Enorak out of the room into a dark tunnel. “Close your eyes and don’t say anything. I want this place to remain a secret.”
The group walked awkwardly, having two of them looking at the ground. However, the place they were in was dark, so they couldn’t see the ground. “Extreme security,” muttered Reidak.
When they got out of the building, Harong said, “You can speak and talk now.”
Enorak looked around. There was no sign of any building. The trio was in the wilderness. The Makuta looked confused, fingering his harpoon. Reidak was showing the same emotions.
“Who are you, Harong?” the Skakdi asked, suspicious.
“I belong to a secret organization which I’m not going to say anything about. That organization is having me carry out this mission with you. Come with me.”
Harong led Enorak and Reidak through the woods. “We have two options,” Harong spoke as he walked. “We can carry out the mission using my suspicions as a guide, or we can wander throughout the world, until we succeed. I know what I want, but you might have other ideas.”
Enorak thought about it, then said, “Considering what’s happening in the world, I think you should get this mission done before the Brotherhood’s plan succeeds. Your suspicions can be a guide.”
“What are your suspicions?” wondered Reidak.
“If we go on the mission the way I want to,” Harong replied, “We would first go to the southern pole, then the northern pole.”
Enorak looked up, annoyed, at the birds chirping. He aimed his harpoon at one, and then decided that it wasn’t worth it. Normally, he wouldn’t have minded, but Enorak was a Makuta who didn’t like things in mass quantities, unless they were Makuta or armies.
“I want to use the big boat,” Harong said. “There’s a lock, but it could have changed. If it has, then we have to use my private one. It’s a four-seater, so there’s enough room.”
Harong led them through the forest. It was hard to see the sky – or feel the sun and the heat. There were small pine needles on the ground, along with sharp twigs that Reidak pricked his foot on once. He cursed, just as Harong announced, “We’re here,”
The Urusik bent down at the lock of the big boat and fiddled with it for a couple of minutes. “What was it…no, that’s not right…did I forget, or did it change?”
Reidak looked at Enorak. “You have any idea of what this mission is?”
“No. I’m doing something I call ‘Zakaz-watching’ – looking for tiny signs. The method originated on Zakaz with the warlord Mastolur, who watched the secretive other side intently, looking for tiny signs. So far, I haven’t spotted anything,” the Makuta nodded.
“Only a Makuta could think of something so sly,” retorted Reidak.
Harong looked up. “The lock’s changed. We’re taking my boat, unless you want to steal a boat.”
“Stealing a boat would be fun,” Reidak grumbled. “But we should try to stay out of trouble.”
Harong led the trio out of the forest into the blistering sun. The Order member seemed indifferent to the sun, but Reidak and Enorak covered their heads protectively. “Where’s the water supply here?” Enorak asked. “You can’t drink the sea.”
Harong pointed past the trees. “You see those mountains?”
“Yes,” Enorak replied.
“Tiny streams flow down those slopes,” Harong informed Enorak.
“They turn into underground lakes.”
“Oh,” Enorak nodded. “You know, Reidak, this temperature is probably 100 degrees at least.”
The Skakdi shuddered. “How can you live?” he asked Harong.
“In our bases, we have air conditioning,” Harong answered.
“Harong,” Enorak brought up, “Do you see those 9-tongued flytraps?” The Makuta pointed into the woods at an anomalous plant.
“Yes, what about them?” Harong asked.
“Am I right to say that it’s the high temperature that allows those things to flourish?”
“Yes. How did you know?”
“I’m an educated Makuta. I’ve been to islands like this before.”
The trio was walking on the beach now. Reidak was looking over his shoulder at the fauna of the island. “What’s that?”
Harong glanced at what Reidak was looking at, Harong jumped up, agitated, when Reidak started walking over to it. Harong yelled at him. “That’s a shallows cat! They’re cousins of the Muaka. No! Don’t approach it! It may seem friendly, but it’ll turn on you and take you into the shallows and eat you!” The Skakdi flinched, and walked back to the group.
“This is my boat,” Harong pointed at a small, 4-seater rowboat. “We can sleep in it, and carry out the mission, but there’s one problem.”
“What’s that?” Enorak asked.
“My order has a test for the group,” Harong explained. “Whenever we have a mission where we recruit people who don’t know about the mission, we always need to steal our own food. It’s a test, to see if the group is good enough for the mission. We’ll sneak onto the first island we find, and take some food from one of the big boats. It’s no big deal.”
The three of them got in, leaving the 2nd space blank; Harong was in front, Reidak was in back. “The farthest island from here is only about half a kio away, although none of those islands knows where we are,” Harong informed the two. “It’ll only take a few hours to get to whichever island we end up going to.”
Enorak nodded while eyeing Harong. “How long do you think the mission will take?”
“It could take a day, it could take a century,” Harong said, carelessly. “We might never get it done. But we have to do it.”
“I can see that,” Reidak muttered.
Harong handed back paddles. “If we’re going to steal food quickly, then we all should row,” he told them. “And you should row quickly. We don’t have a time limit, but I want to get this mission over with – it could be suicidal. Or maybe we do have a time limit. Our mission will get harder if the Brotherhood takes over.”
Harong looked up into the sky. The sun was beginning to set, and the air was getting cooler. There were no clouds in the sky.
The trio started rowing. Enorak took advantage of the empty space in between him and Harong – the boat was a 4-seater, Harong was in the 1st seat, Enorak was in the 3rd seat, and Reidak was in the 4th seat – so Enorak used the 2nd seat in front of him as a footrest. That and the relaxing view of the sunset made Enorak feel tired. He involuntarily laid his head back in Reidak’s lap, making the Skakdi push his head back, waking Enorak up. He removed his feet from the 2nd seat.
The sunset was really fascinating. The colors were surprisingly distinct, far more notable than back on either Enorak’s or Reidak’s homeland. Blue faded into purple, which faded into red, which faded into yellow, which faded into the rest of the former colors but in the opposite order, so that the bottom of the sky was also blue.
“Ever seen something like that?” Reidak asked, to no one in particular.
“This happens every night on our island,” Harong told the Skakdi. “That’s one of the reasons for joining our organization, to see the sunset.”
Enorak straightened up. “You know, Harong,” the Makuta told him, “You can tell us our mission now. We’ve left land.”
“I’ll determine that by myself, thank you,” Harong shot back. “Can either of you swim?”
“I can, but if I do, I’ll corrode,” Reidak answered.
“I can,” Enorak said.
“For how long?”
“Three to four days,” the Makuta replied. “Maybe a week.”
“All right,” Harong concluded. “I think I’ll tell you our mission a day after we steal the food.
“That’s good. I can wait a day,” Reidak was reassured. “I thought it was going to be a week, or more!”
Harong said nothing, just rowed on.
The hours passed in silence. The sunset slowly changed its colors, but the trio continued to be amazed. Black, at the top of the sky, turned into purple, which turned into yellow. Then yellow turned back into purple, which turned back into black, so that black was at the top and the bottom of the sky. Reidak eventually broke the silence by wondering where else you can see things like that.
“Even Skakdi will be fascinated at the sunset,” Enorak laughed. Even Harong began to chuckle, but stopped to say, “I see an island.”
Enorak and Reidak sat up, the good mood broken. “What is it?” Reidak asked.
“Let’s see…nektann patrolling the island…small, broken-down fortresses in the distance…tall beings fighting each other, also in the distance…looks like Zakaz!” Harong announced.
“Zakaz!” Reidak screamed, this time standing up. “We can’t go there!”
“Sit down!” Harong ordered. “That’s an order!”
Reidak sat down. “But we can’t go to Zakaz.”
“Why not?” Enorak asked, confused.
“Look at me! If any of the Skakdi see me, they’ll think I was a traitor to my side, and kill me on sight, or maybe roast me alive, I don’t know! But they’ll kill me, thinking I’m a traitor. I left Zakaz in a time of war. I am a traitor.”
All Harong could do was smile. “Well, Reidak, that’s why I recruited you.”
Reidak let out a series of curses.
“If you’re that concerned about it, then you can guard the boat while we steal the ship,” Harong informed the Skakdi. “Come on, Enorak, let’s go.”
Harong and Enorak climbed out of the boat and swam toward the island. “What’re we going to do about the nektann?”
“That’s right, the nektann…” Harong’s voice trailed off.
“Yes?” Enorak asked.
“Wait until they’ve seen us. I know what to do.”
Enorak swam off in a different direction from Harong. “Where’re you going?” wondered Harong.
“I see a boat,” the Makuta answered. “Come.”
Harong swam in the direction Enorak was pointing. “Here we go,” he said, pleased with Enorak’s find.
“Watch out!” the Makuta yelled. Harong instinctively ducked underwater, along with Enorak. The nektann blast only just missed them.
The robotic guardian swiveled around on its post, looking for the offenders that dared approach Zakaz. It had been programmed to defend Zakaz from anyone. After all, the Brotherhood of Makuta had quarantined Zakaz. When Enorak poked his head up, it shot at him, only to have the Makuta fire his harpoon at it. The nektann exploded into pieces. Enorak dodged the blast.
Harong poked his head up. He saw the nektann reassembling itself, and readied his own blast. The nektann swiveled around, regenerated, and shot a blast at Harong. Harong shot a blast of raw energy at the nektann’s blast. The former blast turned around and was redirected at the nektann, which detonated into a million shards. Enorak watched, attentive, as the nektann didn’t repair itself.
“How did you do that?” the Makuta asked.
“I used my natural raw energy with my plan, and a nektann law: if a nektann shoots another nektann, it will not repair itself,” Harong replied. “I just expanded on that principle. But that nektann will have sent a signal to the Skakdi. Let’s take the food and leave.”
Enorak swam over to the boat, climbed up, and searched it. The boat was pretty big: it was more like a cruise. Finding the food was not hard: the boat had a safe stuck in one of the corners. Enorak cut through the roof of it with his harpoon, and found his suspicions were correct. There was food in it: berries, fish, and Kane-Ra meat – and to make it even better, it was in a basket. Enorak grabbed the basket and tossed it to Harong, who swam over to his boat with Reidak waiting in it. Enorak watched, then dove into the water and followed the team leader.
The two of them hopped in. Harong inspected the food, and nodded his approval. “You two deal with any Skakdi who try to get to us,” Harong commanded. “Turn around.”
“Why are you commanding us?” Reidak asked.
“I’m the leader of this team,” Harong replied, and started rowing.
Enorak and Reidak turned around, to make sure they weren’t being followed. Enorak had used his Makuta ability to see far. “Guess what’s coming. I know,” the Makuta told Reidak.
“Really, really, close.”
“I give up.”
“Angry, mutated, Skakdi,” the Makuta grinned. “Thanks to Makuta Spiriah.”
The Skakdi were riding to the edge of the water on Tahtoraks, stopping, pointing, and shooting blasts of energy and whatnot. Reidak fired blasts of water with his telepathic ability – this seemed to drive away most Skakdi. “We meet once again,” Reidak called to his former friends. “Unfortunately.”
Enorak shot his harpoon at the Tahtoraks galloping to the edge of the water, making them buck and make their rider fall off. “Those creatures don’t deserve mounts like you,” Enorak muttered. “They’re nice things, and you’re not.”
Eventually Harong had rowed the boat far enough away from Zakaz that the Skakdi gave up. Of course, this took more time, since only he was rowing.
It was reaching nightfall now, and the sky’s colors had yet again changed. The top of the sky was purple, which faded to blue, which turned into black at the bottom of the sky.
“Nice sight,” Harong said.
Enorak’s and Reidak’s minds were still on the Skakdi. “I’m glad we made it out of there,” Reidak breathed.
“It was a Makuta who made them like that,” Enorak muttered. “Makuta Spiriah. He thought they’d be a good Brotherhood army. You know the story; you were one of them. You know what happened. There’s proof: your telepathic ability.”
The Makuta paused for a moment to catch his breath. “Some army they’d be.”
The water was calm and relaxing, lacking beasts disrupting its placidity. It reflected the hot sun shining down on the world. The sun itself was brighter than usual. The yellow rays were making all that lived and in that area sweat – all except for Enorak, who didn’t sweat.
The Makuta tried not to lean against the side of the boat, and to just watch the water. It wasn’t his turn to row: Harong had came up with a system where one of them got to take a break, and it was Enorak’s turn to relax. He was enjoying the view of the water, but his mind was elsewhere. It had been a day since the team had stolen the food from Zakaz. During the night, the person who relaxed usually slept. They had had dinner; over dinner Harong had christened their boat Sea Comet. According to Harong, he always named his boat different things on each mission.
Enorak was trying to figure out what their mission was. There had been time to do it, but Enorak hadn’t figured it out yet. Harong had concealed it well.
Enorak was forced out of his thoughts. Harong turned around to face the team. He and Reidak stopped rowing. The latter was complaining.
“But it’s been a day, and you’re not telling us what our mission is! You told us it would be a day!”
Harong sighed. “If you could close your mouth for a minute, I could tell you what your mission is.”
Enorak looked over at the two, intrigued.
“I heard you,” Harong said to Enorak. “You’re doing something you call ‘Zakaz-watching’. Have you seen any tiny signs?”
“Does our mission have something to do with playing kolhii?” Enorak asked.
“No…why?” Harong wondered, confused.
“Because the comet is a kind of kolhii ball. Does it have anything to do with infections? Most comets were infected by the seller Akhmou on the island of Mata Nui,” Enorak continued.
“Our mission might have something to do with infections, but not that I’m aware of,” Harong replied. “No. Our mission is very dangerous, and possibly suicidal. We need to find something that no one else has found before, but tried, and either gave up or was killed.”
“I don’t want to die on this mission!” Reidak informed the group.
“Well, I hope you won’t. We need to find…” Harong trailed off, overwhelmed by the idea of the mission.
“Is it a place, or a thing?” Enorak asked.
“It’s a place…and no one knows where it is. I’m not even sure if it’s in this dimension. It could be on the planet surface, or in the field of darkness, although I hope not. It could also be in the pocket dimension that harbors the Toa Empire, on in any other pocket dimension. I don’t know, but we have to find it.”
“Well, what is it?” Reidak asked impatiently.
Harong placed a firm grip on Reidak and Enorak. “Just to make sure neither of you make a break for it,” Harong told them. “You might be terrified, or you might feel overwhelmed. Don’t run.” Harong paused to catch his breath. “Our mission is…we have to find the island of Artakha.”
Harong stepped back from the group. Reidak closed his eyes and lay down on the ground, feeling suddenly tired. Enorak shook his head in disbelief, then shook it again.
The whole team seemed struck with the worst misfortune that could possibly exist – to some, it was the worst misfortune that possibly existed. The island of Artakha was sought out by many but found by none, in the words of Toa Lhikan.
“Reidak, I never expected you to get into so much trouble,” the Skakdi muttered to himself. “I’m going to die, and it’s not even my choice.”
“Think of it this way,” Harong told Reidak. “If we didn’t pick you for going on this mission, you would be getting brutally destroyed by your former friends. I’ve heard Skakdi do that to traitors.”
Enorak was still not convinced he should go. “What do we get out of participating?” he asked.
“Life,” Harong replied. That was all he needed to say.
Enorak nodded. “Where exactly are we?”
“We’re still in Zakaz’s dome,” Harong answered. “At least, I think. We’re reasonably west. I haven’t seen any signs that show the end of that dome. If we want to go back to that chain of western islands, we can, although from what I hear and know, some of those islands are dangerous.”
Reidak laughed. “All islands are dangerous. It depends on how you look at the condition.”
“Do we have any clues as where to find Artakha?” Enorak wondered.
“We do,” Harong replied. “There was another team – nothing authorized, but it was searching Artakha too. That team was very close to finding it at one of the poles when they were killed.”
“So let’s go there!” Reidak suggested.
“We are. I’ve been deliberately steering us to the southern pole,” Harong informed the group.
Enorak nodded. “Good. That’s where we should go.”
A new thought crossed Reidak’s mind. “What if Artakha isn’t there?”
“Then we’re going north,” Harong laughed. “As north as you can go.”
The hours passed. Enorak joined the rowing crew and Harong left, then Reidak left and Harong joined, then Reidak joined back again and Enorak left, to enjoy the ocean.
“You’re not serious,” Reidak told Harong. “We can’t be finding Artakha. That’s suicidal.”
“I’ve already said, Reidak, that this mission could be suicidal.”
Enorak paid no attention to their conversation, deep in thought. He thought about the mission. It was interesting, and going on the mission might even be fun. But Enorak didn’t want to die.
Artakha, the Makuta thought. Interesting mission, but not for me.
He looked at Reidak and Harong; the two were paying no attention to him. Enorak stood up, about to jump – and was tugged back, slamming onto the floor. It rocked the boat considerably.
The Makuta looked up at Harong. He smiled. “You won’t get away so easily,” Harong sneered. Enorak sat up, kneed Harong in the stomach, and then got zapped with a bolt of energy. The Makuta fell to the ground, seemingly unconscious. His impact made the boat shudder again. Harong grasped the side of it to steady it.
There. He doubted Enorak was going to try anything again. Now, Reidak didn’t move – or did he? Harong turned around, saw Reidak – or rather, didn’t see Reidak. The Skakdi was nowhere to be seen.
Harong dove off the boat, making sure to keep one eye on the boat. He didn’t want it floating off with an unconscious Enorak in it. Harong made sure to swim as silently as possible but still fast. If he swam as his full potential, Reidak would hear him.
“There you are,” Harong spotted Reidak’s ebony armor poking up out of the surface of the water. “You decided to risk swimming? You’ll corrode. Stop right there.” Harong’s spear jabbed Reidak in the chest, underwater. “Raw energy is like electricity,” Harong continued. “And you know what happens with electricity underwater?”
Reidak took off, swimming away. Harong fired a bolt of energy into his chest, causing extreme pain for both of them: Harong was right about electricity and raw energy. Reidak dove down underwater. Harong looked down, to see Reidak wave. He dove down after him.
The Urusik swam as fast as he could. It took a minute of hard swimming, and at one point Harong’s ears popped, but he caught up to Reidak. He’s mad! thought Harong. I know Skakdi. He will corrode.
Harong plowed into Reidak. The Skakdi tried swimming away, but Harong grabbed him by the throat. The look in Harong’s eye made his intentions clear.
Reidak nodded. He looked earnest enough that Harong believed him, and smiled.
Harong pulled Reidak back up to the surface. “You’re mad, you know,” Harong told the Skakdi. “And you won’t only corrode! You’ll be mutated. I’ve seen it happen. You’ll be a sea snake. Anyway, come with me. I take it you’re going to be part of the team now?”
“Then come. I’m the leader. If Enorak wakes up, he’ll try what you did.”
When they got to the boat, Enorak was now the one who was gone. Harong looked over the side of the boat, but Enorak wasn’t in the water either – or if he was, he had gotten far away. “Enorak?” Harong asked.
Then Enorak emerged out of the ground and flung Harong over his shoulder.
The Makuta was laughing. “You didn’t know? I can become sand.”
This was all too much for Harong. He leapt to his feet and whacked Enorak in the side of the head. The Makuta turned back into sand. Harong looked around for sand, but couldn’t find any. “There he is!” Reidak cried. Harong spun around and pointed his spear at the Makuta, who was materializing on the railing and leaping off. Harong fired a bolt of energy at him, but it was too late. Enorak was in the water, swimming away.
Enorak looked back at the boat. He was sure that his decision to run away – or rather, swim away – was the right one. It was an interesting mission, and he was sure Harong’s secret organization had its reasons, especially now, for finding Artakha, but the mission wasn’t for him. To him, his life was more important, since finding Artakha was a suicidal mission. The problem was escaping – Harong would no doubt pursue him, or at least have Reidak pursue him.
The Makuta was right. He could see a bluish-silver form streaking through the water, close behind him. The only bluish-silver form in the area, unless Reidak had turned blue, was Harong. Enorak started swimming faster, to no use. Harong had already caught up with him and grabbed him.
“I have you, Enorak,” Harong spat out seawater into his face. “Come with me.”
Enorak spat back. “I’ll come, as long as there’s no ‘No Makuta’ policy on Artakha,” he said. “I want to survive this trip.”
“I hope you will,” Harong laughed. The Order member tugged Enorak along by his ankles toward the boat.
The waves were getting rough, making it hard for Harong and Enorak to swim. The sky was now overcast. Harong knew from the weather that the team was at the border of the dome that contained Zakaz and its chain of islands; it was a well-known fact that the weather got stormy at the borders of each dome.
Harong dragged himself and Enorak onto the ship. “Reidak!” he snapped. “Come here!”
The Skakdi, a little discontented after Harong foiled his escape attempt, loped over to Harong and pulled him up. “Looks like we’re leaving the Zakaz dome,” the ebony Skakdi commented.
“We haven’t yet,” Harong confirmed, “But we will soon – hey!”
Enorak kicked Harong in the head and made a leap for the water. Harong did a backwards somersault, sprang up, and pulled Enorak back. The Makuta slid across the floor, crashing into the side of the boat. He had almost capsized the boat. Harong ignored the rocking and crawled over to Enorak – he couldn’t walk, since the boat would fall over.
Reidak was watching, but now he snuck behind Harong and flipped him over. He grabbed Enorak and used him as a pole to vault into the water – almost. The Makuta snatched him out of the air and used him as a shield against Harong’s spear, which Harong was using to stab the two.
The sky was getting grayer, and it started raining, creating a slippery battlefield. Every now there would be a bolt of lightning.
Harong had disabled Reidak as a shield: the Skakdi was lying on the floor, near unconsciousness. Enorak and Harong were now ‘sword-fighting’, or as close to sword-fighting as you can get with a harpoon and a spear. Since they were standing up, the boat was rocky. It was only the unconscious body of Reidak that made it stable; the Skakdi was stretched across the boat. It wasn’t much, but it helped.
“Enorak, face it,” Harong said, while manipulating his spear. “You are part of this mission.”
“Maybe I am, but that’s a cliché.”
“I’m allowed to use the language I want.”
“Not if I knock you out,” Enorak smiled, finding an opening with his harpoon. Harong stumbled backward, clutching his chest. Enorak sprang up, aiming for the water, and then got a stab in the head. “You never give up, do you?” Harong asked, annoyed.
“I’d never willingly give up my life,” Enorak replied.
“What if you had no choice?” Harong asked. “Because you don't.”
“If I knock you out I will.” Enorak lunged, but Harong was prepared. He lashed out with his spear. Enorak fell to the ground, injured.
“Wait there,” Harong told Enorak. He went over, woke Reidak, and brought out his pack. He opened it and began rummaging through it.
“What happened to you?” Reidak asked.
“Just a minor stab,” Enorak breathed. “My tissue might have been cut, but otherwise, I’m fine. In another hour or so I’ll be able to get out of here again.”
Harong closed his pack up. “Both of you: come with me. After your escape attempts, I’m not letting you out of my sight. And about what’s in my pack: I’ll tell you later.”
Reidak grumbled something obscene.
Harong put the two in their seats and gave them oars. “Reidak, row. I’ll accompany you.”
“What about me,” Enorak smirked. “You said you wouldn’t let me out of your sight.”
“You, my friend,” Harong smirked back, “Will be stuck to your seat.” He pointed at Enorak’s seat. “Enorak, sit down completely.”
Enorak sat down, uncertain; Harong picked a rope he had taken out of his pack and tied the Makuta up.
“Until you can prove otherwise, or until it’s your turn to row,” Harong told him, “You’re too untrustworthy to let free.”
Reidak started rowing. Harong joined him. Enorak glowered at Harong. “Only if you don’t try to escape again,” Harong informed.
The weather was steadily getting worse. The rain was getting harder, and Harong’s suspicions were confirmed: Within five minutes, the boat saw a sign that said:
YOU ARE LEAVING THE DOME OF CORDAK ISLANDS AND ENTERING THE DOME OF MIRU ARCHIPELAGO
“Good,” Enorak muttered. “Home again.”
“Home?” Reidak asked, confused.
“I was the Makuta of Voronui, which is in the Miru Archipelago,” Enorak replied.
“Not only that,” Harong broke in, “But we’re now in an area that could be classified as ‘South-West,’ and not just ‘West’.”
There was a grim grin among the group. They were happy to be closer to where they thought Artakha to be, but they were melancholy for the same reasons, or at least Enorak and Reidak were. Harong was hiding his emotions.
The water was getting smoother, but it was still a little rough since they were at one end of the Miru Archipelago dome. The rain, however, had stopped, and the lightning was long gone, much to the relief of Reidak, who was afraid that his armor would corrode in the rain. “If I corrode, Harong,” Reidak muttered, “I’m blaming you.”
“The weather here is more fair than in the Cordak Islands, which is the Zakaz-chain of islands,” Enorak thought out loud. “That’s one of the reasons that I wanted to be the Makuta of the Miru Archipelago, or more precisely, Voronui. You know, I wouldn’t mind stopping by there to say hi to my Lesser. He doesn’t know where I am – ”
“Could you be quiet?” Reidak insisted. “It’s like you would actually do that. We had silence, so I could think, and now I can’t.”
“It’s your turn to row, Enorak,” Harong informed the Makuta. He stood up and unstrapped Enorak. “Okay, I’ll row,” Enorak said, then took off. He was going to escape again.
Harong was quick. He practically flew over to where Enorak was sprinting and grabbed the Makuta. “This is the last time,” Harong told them. “I’m serious. I was afraid I would have to show you this.” The Urusik pulled a device out of his pack and showed it to the team.
“Oh no,” Enorak muttered. “Please don't put me through that.”
The device looked like a large cube, except that it had two small openings in one side and a few buttons and levers on another. Each opening looked like it would fit a small part of Harong, Enorak, or Reidak.
“If I put part of you, Enorak,” Harong said, “Into one of those holes, and part of you, Reidak, into the other, and pressed one of those buttons, you two would become a gruesome combination of both. You don’t want that.”
“I definitely don't,” Reidak said under his breath.
“That’s what I’ll do if any of you try to escape from me again,” Harong nodded. “I’m that merciless.”
It had been a day since Harong had presented the combiner to the group, and neither Reidak nor Enorak had tried to escape since. Instead, they seemed eager to get their mission done and completed. But Harong still liked to check on the combiner and make sure nothing had happened to it. You never knew: Enorak or Reidak could have meddled with the combiner and made sure that it wouldn’t work.
The weather in the Miru Archipelago got better rapidly. It wasn’t stormy anymore, now that they weren’t near the border of the dome. The sun was usually out, and it was almost getting too dry. “If you think it’s like this all day, you’re right,” Enorak commented. “But in the night…in the night you have to get a huge quilt just to keep you’re normal body temperature. You didn’t happen to bring one, did you?”
Harong shook his head.
“Oh, and I left something out,” Enorak continued. “In the night, sometimes – only sometimes – there’re ice pellets that rain down. It’s really unpleasant. That’s why everyone sleeps inside.”
“At night, I might be able to make an energy shield,” Harong compromised. “We can’t sleep inside, with this boat. The problem is, it might not be so strong when I’m asleep. But I don’t need that much sleep.”
“Tell us more about this place,” Reidak eagerly suggested,
“Oh, sure! A lot of the islands are floating in the air, which gives it the name Miru Archipelago. I grounded my island a long time ago,” Enorak boasted. “But that’s enough. I need to concentrate on our mission.”
“Right now, our mission is just getting to the southern pole!” Reidak exclaimed.
The Skakdi almost stood up, then realized how dangerous that would be, and sat back down. Then he stretched. “I’m starting to like this experience,” he said.
“You mean you didn’t like it from the start?” Harong asked.
“It was fun at the start, but I didn’t know what the mission was, and that made it less fun. And when you told it to us, it wasn’t fun. But I think it could be interesting.”
The sea was very calm. The waves bobbed around the ship, seeming to have personality. If they did, then the waves would certainly be playful and innocent.
Reidak looked out in the distance. He could swear he could see a floating island, but it was wavering, and too far away for him to be sure. “Is that a floating island?” he asked the group.
Enorak looked over. “Sure is. I don’t know which one it is, though.”
“But around the floating islands, the weather isn’t all that great. When you’re on one, it’s fine, but here…I’d be careful.”
“I’d be careful if I saw a floating island, period,” Reidak grumbled. “I already am.”
“Reidak, you have your cutter, right?” Harong asked.
“Yes…why?” the Skakdi was confused.
“Because when we get to Artakha, you’ll need it,” Harong chuckled. “You should always have a weapon. And you, Enorak?”
“I’m armed,” the Makuta confirmed. “You know, knowing the current circumstances in the world, I’m surprised. Why are we searching for Artakha instead of fighting in Karda Nui?”
“Because,” Harong explained, “If he doesn’t know already, Artakha needs to be told about the current circumstances, and if there’s a worldwide catastrophe, like the Brotherhood taking over –”
At this, Enorak made a nasty face.
“Then the Matoran will need to escape somewhere, and Artakha is hidden enough…”
Enorak nodded. “Will this benefit us in any way?”
“You’ll get to know where Artakha is,” Harong said. “We might kill you, or we might take a chance.”
Enorak was just about to retort with a clever insult when someone yelled, “Stay where you are!”
Harong, Enorak, and Reidak turned around. What they saw frightened them.
There was another ship, very close to their own. It was about three times the size – this was a ship, not a boat -- but there were Skakdi on it, pointing their energy shooters at the trio.
This isn’t the Skakdi whom we stole the food from, is it? Harong thought to himself.
One of the Skakdi, a blue-gold armored female, stepped up. She was very tall for a Skakdi – taller than Reidak – and Skakdi can be very tall. “My name is Cairona,” she announced. “You are now my prisoners.”
Maybe they are. “If you want our boat, you can’t have it,” Harong said defensively.
“I don’t care about your boat. But what do you have in your boat?”
Harong held up the food. Enorak and Reidak held up their packs, including Harong’s.
“Judging from the bag the food’s in, it looks like you stole it from Zakaz…am I right? If you’re thinking we’re the Skakdi retrieving it, you’re wrong,” Cairona answered. “Most Skakdi aren’t really the hungry type, anyway. Trust me. I am one.”
“I can tell,” snarled Reidak.
“Who are you?” Harong questioned.
“I’m an important assassin,” Cairona replied. “I have no interest in your boat, although it can travel with me. I’m interested in you, and how much you would cost.”
“So we’re your prisoners,” Harong wondered.
“What if we don’t want to be your prisoners?” Reidak protested.
Cairona pointed her own weapon, a plasma sword, at the trio. “I’m afraid you have no choice in the matter,” she replied, mockingly pitiful. “You can’t ransom off corpses.”
“You’re going to ransom us?” Reidak was shocked.
“You have to be here for some reason,” Cairona smiled. “If there’s anyone who would be willing to pay to free you, then they will. Come aboard my ship – you don’t have a choice.”
“All right,” grumbled Harong. “But I’m warning you now. Our mission is incredibly important to the universe.”
A day passed. Cairona had had the trio thrown into separate cells. She was talking about ‘questioning’, but was going to get back to her island base before she actually did anything with the three intrepid searchers.
It had turned out Harong had heard of Cairona before, but this was the first time he had met her. One of his partners in the Order had met her, though – Thoriax had told Harong about the time he recruited Cairona into one of the NMMs (New Member Missions – the name for the kind of mission Harong was leading now). She was troublesome enough that Thoriax had ended up abandoning her on a small islet in the northern side of the Miru Archipelago. She had evidently built her base there.
Harong had told a guard to tell her all this, along with a request for a description of her. Thoriax had told him what he thought of her, and now Harong wanted to know what she thought.
When Harong asked for a description of her, Cairona wrote out something for him. It was too long and boring for Harong to read (The Urusik would rather plan about the mission than read mindless boasts), but judging from the first page, she evidently thought of herself like a spiked dagger plant: ‘You get too close, you hurt yourself.’ She had also included a short history of herself, mostly including missions and alliances, including a permanent alliance with another assassin, Vozon. Harong was surprised that she had found large quantities of lava on her island, ‘…so I farmed it, and kept it in my underground base. In case of emergencies’.
In the meantime, Enorak and Reidak had discovered a passageway between their cells. It wasn’t very big, but they could talk to each other through it; they found what each other said to be entertaining. Sometimes they schemed about the mission; in code, of course. They didn’t want Cairona to figure out their mission.
The code was generally like this:
“Hello, Reidak. How are the sheep?”
“The sheep are peacefully grazing. Do you have an idea of when they will leave the pasture?”
“In a few days, or so.”
Which would mean:
“Hello, Reidak. How are you?”
“I’m fine. When do you think we’ll leave the cells?”
“In a few days, or so.”
Harong had often overheard what they were saying because of drafts, but was unable to join in the conversation: he had not found any passageways. He understood them, however, and was glad to have clever teammates.
While Enorak and Reidak were plotting, he had found the blueprints of a weapon in his cell. He had studied them, and figured out how it could be made. He found the weapon very interesting; he called it the ‘tooth-blade’. It had a name of itself, but the name was in a language Harong didn’t know. According to the blueprints, the weapon was meant to be coated in a special kind of dust, called protodust. Harong had never heard of protodust before, and he doubted it existed. But just in case, Harong pocketed it – it looked like a powerful weapon.
Maybe Enorak or Reidak would understand it. Enorak was more probable, since Makuta were generally more learned than Skakdi. However, Harong had picked Reidak out of the Skakdi because he was one of the smartest.
A guard knocking on his cell door interrupted Harong’s thoughts. “Open up!” Harong muttered something rude, then opened the door. “We’re here,” the guard announced. “At Cairona’s fortress.”
Harong walked out of his cell. He was surprised to learn that it was night. “I guess the tooth-blade interested me so much,” Harong murmured, “That I forgot what time it was.”
“Come with me,” the guard told Harong. “Cairona wants to see you.”
“Why?” Harong asked, nervous.
“Why else? She wants information on you. She wants to know who she can sell you to.”
“We’re not objects!” Harong cried.
“As far as Cairona’s concerned, you are.”
Enorak growled at the guard escorting him off the boat. “I may be rubbish, but that doesn’t mean you can stick your energy shooter in my back.”
The guard chuckled without removing his energy shooter from Enorak’s back. “As far as Cairona’s concerned, you’re more than rubbish. You’re like a weapon to be sold.”
Enorak looked over his shoulder at the guard, his demeanor not getting any more cheerful. “Thanks,” he mocked. “That really makes me feel better.”
The guard chose not to respond.
The Makuta could see his other companions now. They were also being escorted like sacks of weapons. “What do you think will happen to us?” Reidak asked.
“We’ll probably be asked a lot of questions,” Harong replied. “Then we’ll get sold back to my organization and have to start our mission all over again.”
The night was getting darker, if at all possible. Harong liked the look of Cairona’s island at night. It was almost exotic. The Madu trees were swaying in the wind; the Gukko birds – unless Harong misheard – were singing. For once, thought Reidak. The team knew appearances could be deceiving, though. They knew that Cairona’s headquarters were under the island, and that her troops would lay hands on anyone who dared step on it.
It turned out that the boat had landed some 10 bios away from the island, so a large catwalk was deployed from the boat to the island. Harong and his guard were the first to walk over it, followed by Reidak. The Skakdi considered pushing his guard over the side, but decided against it.
“You know, you shouldn’t be kidnapping us,” Harong told his guard. “We hold great power, power that isn’t apparent by the looks of us. We have friends in high places, if you know what I mean.”
His guard only grinned. “I’m sure those ‘friends in high places’ will be happy to pay for your freedom.”
They reached the island now. Reidak scooped up some sand and kept it in his hand, in case he had to throw it in anyone’s face. “Nice place,” he commented. “Where’s Cairona?”
“She got off an hour before we brought you,” his guard replied. “She had some things to do.”
The sand felt grainy and hard in Reidak’s hand. It wasn’t wet, the way it should be when it’s been in the ocean. This must be fast-drying sand, the Skakdi thought. He looked at his companions. “Reidak,” Harong told him. “You don’t need any sand.” Reidak dropped it.
The group reached a hole in the beach. “Since when are there holes in the beach?” Reidak asked, confused.
Enorak seemed to understand. “Since Cairona altered the beach to have her lair underneath it,” the Makuta explained.
“You’re right,” his guard told him.
The intrepid trio and their guards climbed down the hole, Enorak first, Harong last. The walls were also very dry, not moist like a normal cave wall.
Enorak dropped down onto the floor. They were in a series of interlinked tunnels, green fungi growing on the walls. Harong landed in a clump of it, and shuddered. Reidak brushed it off. “Which way?” Enorak wondered. They were in front of a fork. However, each tunnel had a sign in front of it.
To the left: PRISON CHAMBERS
To the right: CAIRONA’S CHAMBERS
“We go right,” said Enorak’s guard. “We don’t need to accompany you anymore – all you do is go straight. She wants to see you – otherwise, we wouldn’t know which organization to sell you to.”
Reidak gave the guard a nasty look, which was met by a smile.
Harong led his team away from the guards. He was thinking about escape.
“When the guards are out of sight,” Harong whispered to his team, “We go back up to the beach and –”
The appearance of a large wall in the tunnel behind them blocked their escape path. “That can’t stop us,” Harong said. “I can blast this down. Reidak, push. Enorak, use your cutter.”
The team obeyed Harong, but when the leader sent out his energy blast, it bounced back and hit him.
“Fine,” Harong grumbled. “We go to Cairona.”
The trio made their way down the tunnel, with Harong thinking about their situation and how to get out so they could complete their mission, Reidak complaining about how the fungus he had scraped off Harong was sticking to his fist, and Enorak thinking about the future and about some problems he would have if they actually found Artakha. The ceiling started out high, but it slowly got lower and lower, so they had to crouch. Then they saw the door. Harong opened it, and led his team in.
It was a small room, but there was enough room for them.
Cairona was waiting for them, like a tiger waiting for its prey. “Sit down,” the assassin said.
There were three seats she had placed in the room, next to each other. When they sat down, however, a metal strap came across each chair’s lap, effectively imprisoning them.
“What do you want, Cairona?” Reidak roared, trying to stand up.
“I want answers,” she said with mock sweetness. “And you will give them to me.”
Enorak closed his eyes and prepared himself for the worst. “One day,” the Makuta said angrily, “I was an important Makuta, who was almost in control of his island. The next day,” he looked daggers at Harong, “I am on a suicide mission – not that I’m not enjoying it. The process is fun, but I’m afraid of succeeding.”
“What are you doing here?” Cairona started the questioning.
“Our mission is classified,” Harong replied.
“You’re looking for Artakha,” Cairona said without blinking. “I normally don’t like to use my mind-reading device; it’s rude, but when I have to, I will.”
Harong was puzzled. He had been trained to deflect mental probing, but he hadn’t even felt this. What was Cairona holding? It was in shadow, so he couldn’t see it.
Reidak tried to stand up again, this time to curse at Cairona.
“Your language is foul,” she told him, “Just like your grin.”
“Not to mention yours,” Reidak shot back.
“If your grin smiled any more you would look happy,” Cairona retorted. “Which is bad for a Skakdi.”
“I don’t like people who talk to theirselves,” Reidak muttered.
Cairona heard. “I don’t like people who avoid my questions. Who sent you?”
“A secret organization,” Harong replied. “And please don't read my mind. If you knew I would be severely punished.”
“Too late,” Cairona said.
Harong tensed up. “Really?”
Cairona shook her head. “Don’t worry.” She paused for a moment, then asked the team: “And another question: what are you going to do with Artakha once you’ve found it?”
“Many things,” Harong replied, looking Cairona straight in the eye. “We might use it as a refuge for Matoran…we might take some of the designs for weapons…things like that. Above all…we take it it’s hidden well enough that if a total disaster strikes…then Matoran, Toa, Turaga, and their friends can go there and be safe.”
Cairona nodded. “I hope he won’t go there and be safe,” she pointed at Reidak.
Reidak tried to stand up again, and when he couldn’t, he used his telepathic ability. Small bits of the ceiling were ripped off and were sent to Cairona. One hit her in the head. The assassin cried out in pain, then strode over to Reidak’s chair, and pressed a button on it. The chair, with Reidak in it, went swiveling into the ground.
Harong looked at it, dreadfully. “You’re keeping him?”
“Maybe. I’m letting you two go now – you’ve been cooperative. I’ve come to the conclusion that your mission is too important to delay it any further, but keep this. It’s a mental reading device – the one I used on you.” She handed him a small gizmo.
Harong was very happy to have this – a mental device that went unnoticeable?
Harong and Enorak were released from their chairs. The now-duo left for the door. “By the way,” Cairona called, “I’ll lend you a boat. It’s the one next to mine.”
“Thank you,” Harong thanked.
Cairona laughed. “Now, Reidak,” she grinned. “I want to teach you a lesson.”
Cairona pressed a button next to her seat. Reidak’s chair came up, with the Skakdi in it. “I might sell you,” she told the Skakdi.
Reidak was blunt and to the point. “Let me go!”
“In a little while,” the assassin told him. “I want to teach you something.”
“Sense,” Cairona snickered. “If you’re being held prisoner, it’s not a good idea to annoy your captor – or did the Dark Hunters not teach you that?”
“I wasn’t for the Dark Hunters!”
“Only the Dark Hunters could harbor someone so rude,” she said. “You’re right. You just went rogue from Zakaz. I used my mental device.”
“Dumb Skakdi,” Reidak shared his feelings about his former friends.
“Let me go!” Reidak summoned all of his strength and broke free of his metal strap. The Skakdi, exerting a huge amount of force, pulled the metal strap off the chair and bent it in half.
“Save it for finding Artakha,” Cairona told him, partly impressed.
“If I could leave here,” Reidak said, starting for the door, “I would save it.”
Cairona’s energy shooter whipped out from behind her back. She fired; Reidak was instantly on the floor.
“Hey!” Reidak yelled.
“I don’t want you to leave yet,” Cairona told him. “I’m considering selling you as a slave. You’re nice and strong – just what one needs in a slave – but we need to work on your attitude.”
“I’m not going to be sold as a slave,” Reidak panted. He got up, and then ducked as Cairona shot another blast.
“If my mission is important, then why are you delaying it?” Reidak questioned.
“Three is a nice number, but I’m sure those two can get the mission accomplished,” Cairona replied. “And I might make some money. So I’ll keep you.”
“You won’t,” Reidak hissed. He shot another fragment of the ceiling at her. It hit Cairona in her chest; she yelled in pain. But as soon as she saw Reidak making his way for the door, she leaped into the air and kicked him – almost. Reidak thrust his body out of the way at the last second, and Cairona’s kick hit the door. However, Reidak’s last-second dodge had him whack into the wall.
Cairona howled, cradling her foot in pain. Reidak got up, advancing upon the assassin.
Reidak pointed his chainsaw at Cairona. One moment, she was hurt and frightened. The next, her grin returned and she released a devastating kick with her injured foot that sent Reidak careening into the wall, again.
“You should be careful of that,” Cairona told Reidak. “My foot did hurt at first, but it took a shorter time to recover than I made it seem like it. I’m sure you’ve used that tactic, or someone used it on you before.”
Reidak held his head. When Cairona kicked him, his head was the first thing to have hit the wall, backed with all of his weight. The Skakdi was sure he would have a headache for days. “Let me go,” was all Reidak could say in return.
“No,” Cairona answered.
Reidak made as if he was going to punch Cairona in her stomach, but then stopped abruptly when he saw Cairona defending that area and pounded her on the head.
She went tumbling backwards, moaning. Reidak took this advantage and pounced upon her.
But Reidak didn’t notice that she still had control of her energy shooter; he fell on it and paid by ascending and hitting his leg on the ceiling. However, he took advantage of this and sawed a hole in the ceiling and hung on. Cairona, when she got up, found him to be too high for her reach.
Reidak clambered about, sawing handholds and taunting Cairona. At one point, he was so bold as to let go and release a kick before leaping back up.
“Very well,” Cairona told him. “You may go.”
Reidak fell down awkwardly and ran out the door, eager to catch up to his comrades.
Cairona smiled, knowing she would know where this little team went – on one of her punches, she had plastered a tiny tracking device onto Reidak’s back. She supported this mission, and knew this was a way of keeping in touch.
Half an hour later, the trio was back on their new boat, sailing for the southern pole. Harong had told them about the tooth-blade, and everything else that had happened while they were in the cells. Reidak was happy with himself – he had beaten a professional assassin in combat. Enorak was less happy, but he showed interest in the tooth-blade.
“At least we got the mental device,” Harong cheered them up. “And the tooth-blade designs.”
Enorak thought about the tooth-blade. He had heard about something like that in the Brotherhood. It was supposed to be very powerful, and one of the Makuta, Oquanti, had bothered to make a design for it. “If that’s what I think it is,” he said, “Then you’ve stumbled on something important.” That was all he would say.
As far as Harong, Enorak, and Reidak were concerned, the sky was clear. It had been two days since they had left Cairona’s clutches, and they had not met anything dangerous or had nasty weather. In fact, it seemed like the more south they got, the better their predicament got. The last time Harong had checked his maps, they might get to the southern pole tomorrow. There were barely any clouds in the sky, and the sun was shining bright.
Since there was nothing to see in the sky, none of the team members looked up to see the small insectoid bat following them.
If anyone were to look up and notice it, they would deem it a harmless Rahi, not capable of much thought. But the scientist who designed it had constructed it like that deliberately, wanting others to think that. It was part machine and had a small chip in its head, connected to the database for the warlord it served. This warlord was not very well known, but he had plans for changing that. He had spies all around the world, and he knew about Harong, Enorak, and Reidak’s mission. So one of his warriors was sent to track them. It had been stalking them since Harong had given the team the combiner as a threat to stop them from escaping. And it knew that its master would give it a reward if it did its job well – which it was doing.
“I think we’ll be at the southern pole by tomorrow,” Harong confirmed, checking the map.
Reidak looked up. “You don’t have any idea of what will happen when we do find Artakha, do you?”
“When we get there, we’ll be there. Artakha will know that we’re there, so he’ll naturally want to see us. Maybe we can strike a bargain with him? We need a refuge for people to go if any great catastrophe comes,” Harong replied.
Enorak ignored them. The Makuta was busy studying the weapon plans for the ‘tooth-blade’, as Harong called it. Enorak had even got out a sheet of metal and was carving its shape out.
“He’s been like that ever since we escaped Cairona,” Reidak commented.
Enorak lifted his head. “Come over here,” he told them. “If possible…we should make this.”
Harong strode over to Enorak, Reidak close behind. “What does it do?” the Order member asked.
“If I’m not mistaken, this is a weapon plan for…the Blade of Essence,” Enorak said. “Some Brotherhood members were speaking about making a Blade of Essence, and they made the plan for it…then I think they went on a mission around the Miru Archipelago; they met up with me and showed it to me…I don’t know what happened to them after that. Cairona might have captured them. That would explain where you found it, Harong. But they were attached to it. I don’t think they would have lost it so easily.”
“Sounds powerful,” Reidak thought out loud.
“Heard of the Mask of Life, Reidak?”
“Of course. Why?”
“A Blade of Essence would have that kind of power, although over a different thing. This would control the structure of the universes. So…should we make this, or not?”
Harong had undergone the task of constructing the Blade of Essence, partially because he was the best weapon crafter and partially because it was Enorak and Reidak’s turn to row. It was trickier than Harong thought, since according to the weapon plan, it had to be made slowly because it needed to absorb a lot of air.
“If we make this, we could control the universe!” Reidak was excited. “With a Blade of Essence, we could go to Karda Nui and get the Mask of Life, then to Metru Nui and get the Mask of Time. Then we would have three fundamental forces of the universe.”
“One step at a time,” Enorak told Reidak. “This is a good idea, but I’m not sure if we want to control the universe. We’ll see what happens. We need to find Artakha first – hey, what’s that?”
Enorak saw something in his peripheral vision that puzzled him. It was a dark object, coming closer to Harong…
The Makuta dashed over to Harong. It could be just a Rahi, but it was headed for the Blade plans. On his way there, Enorak leaped into the air and fired his harpoon at the creature. He knocked it out of the sky.
Reidak sprinted over and saw a small batlike thing flying out of the water. It had sharp claws and red eyes. The Skakdi pointed his chainsaw at it, ready to saw it in half or shoot a heat ray at it.
Harong climbed over the railing and fished it out of the water. The thing was struggling, disliking Harong’s grasp.
“Who are you?” Harong asked it.
It didn’t answer – but it flew up into the air again. It shot a laser at the trio: Harong ducked, Enorak teleported to a different place on the boat, and Reidak imprisoned it with a telepathic cage.
The thing started going mad. It fluttered about, emitting a high-pitched noise. Reidak smiled, pointed his saw at it, and sent a piece of rubble at it. The creature looked at it, opened its eyes and let the rubble go into them. Nothing happened.
“Where’s Enorak?” Harong asked, only just realizing that the Makuta was gone.
“Never mind him now,” Reidak told his leader. “We need to get rid of this thing and find out what it wants.”
Harong aimed his spear at the thing and fired. It fluttered under it, and started swooping for the plans.
Enorak appeared out of nowhere above the creature and snatched it out of the air. “Who are you working for?” the Makuta asked.
“I…owe allegiance to…the genius Gsoy,” the creature stuttered. “Let me go!”
Enorak didn’t slacken his grip. “Who does he work for?”
The thing didn’t reply. Instead, it heated up its body temperature so that Enorak dropped it, and then fluttered away.
Reidak looked out at the water. The Skakdi had been checking for anyone following them every hour or so ever since the run-in with the insectoid creature. It was Harong and Enorak’s turn to pedal, and Reidak had nothing to do except anticipate what would happen when they got to Artakha, what would happen when they finished the Blade of Essence, etc.
“Reidak! Come over here!” Harong called. “There’s something I’d like to discuss with my team.”
Reidak strode over to where Harong and Enorak were pedaling. “What is it?” the ebony-armored being asked.
“This mainly applies to Enorak, since you owe no allegiance to any group,” Harong told his team.
Enorak looked up. “What is it?”
“When we disband – if we disband – and our mission has been successful, what will you do, Enorak?” Harong asked.
Enorak thought about it for a while, then smiled. The Makuta looked smug, and cleverly replied, “Depends. If you let us tell other people where Artakha is, then I’ll rat us out immediately to the Brotherhood.”
“That’s the problem,” Harong was prepared for this. “My organization is an enemy of yours, and this mission is for my organization.”
“So what are you going to do about it?” Enorak asked, clearly showing his thoughts: I’m going to tell the Brotherhood where Artakha is, and you can’t stop me.
Reidak sensed a conflict. The Skakdi was off to the side, watching his two teammates argue. They were both powerful, and they were both willing to kill for what they wanted.
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to kill you,” Harong voiced Reidak’s prediction.
Enorak straightened up, thrown off. “No…”
“Yes, Enorak. That’s the end of it. I am going to kill you.”
“I won’t tell them! I’ll disband and become a member of this little trio! Don’t kill me!”
“Would you rather I fused you with Reidak?” Harong asked, now showing his mind: I am in control here, and you can’t do anything about it.
Now Reidak was looking uncomfortable.
“Kill me,” Enorak said.
“We’ll see,” Harong told him. “If you’re smart, you won’t say anything about this mission. I’m sure some Makuta know where Artakha is – they’re just smart enough not to say.”
Enorak nodded, agreeing.
Meanwhile, Reidak had seen something. “By the way – we’re here.”
Harong looked in the direction Reidak was pointing. “Yes,” the Order member said. “We are.”
Harong reflected on the journey. “Let’s see…how’s the trip going, now that we’re here? I always need to reflect; it helps my ego. We have myself, a Makuta too clever for his own good, and a rogue Skakdi. We’ve stumbled on a powerful weapon…the trips’ going well…so far.”
Reidak leaped onto the hot deserty land and tied the boat to a large outcropping. He had to admit, the temperature only got warmer in the last day, and the mission was so exciting, he didn’t notice it. But now that he was here, he was warm.
“Come on,” Harong said. “If Artakha’s here, we need to find it.” The Order member was holding his spear in one hand, but he was holding the Blade in the other. He had successfully created a blade, but the Blade of Essence had to be exposed to cold air and warm air for a long period of time…and what better place to find warm air than in the southern pole? “One thinks the southern pole would be icy tundra,” Harong muttered. “The poles should match.”
The southern pole was basically a large expansion of a searing desert. Harong had trouble keeping his feet on the ground: he was used to a colder climate. But the Urusik decided not to jump; he would rather not look silly.
After twenty minutes or so, Enorak spotted something. “There’s an island about a hundred yards north from here. It looks abandoned. I’m going there – maybe it’s a cover for Artakha.” The Makuta sprinted across the desert and swam to the island. The water’s searing, Enorak realized with wide eyes. It made him swim faster; eventually, when he got close enough, the Makuta launched his harpoon at the island and pulled himself there. When he got there, he found it was like Cairona’s. There were palm trees swaying in the breeze, not unlike the southern pole. Although, thought Enorak, This is basically the southern pole, although not attached to a basic landmass.
Reidak soon followed Enorak, and Harong was not far behind. “If you’re going to hide an island here, where would you put it?” Reidak asked.
Harong noticed the steep cliffs circling the island that were in turn circled by the beach. “Maybe there’s a cave that leads somewhere,” Harong suggested. He ventured around the island. “Follow me.”
The cracks in the cliff walls were thin but numerous. The walls themselves were a dark shade of gray, giving a slightly gothic effect to the search.
“Here!” Harong cried. “A tunnel.”
The ‘tunnel’ was hardly a tunnel at all. It was more like an Archives Mole-house. “There’s not much room, but we’ll fit,” Harong said.
Reidak looked at what the leader had found. “Really?” Reidak was sarcastic. “If Artakha’s in there, then that’s exactly the reaction Artakha wants you to have,” Harong told Reidak. “Any besides, the team that came here that came extremely close to finding Artakha had said something about caves in the cliffs. Let’s go.”
The team squeezed in, Harong leading, Enorak bringing up the rear. “If it’s in here, then I am going to have a long talk with whoever hid it,” Reidak grumbled, trying to squeeze his bulk into a more comfortable position. “And if it’s not…that’ll be really bad for you, Harong.”
Contrary to Harong’s expectations, the cave walls were not moist, as he thought. Touching one made his hand dry, something the team leader didn’t like. “Most caves are moist and damp,” Harong muttered. “With this one, touching it will make you want to lick your hand.”
“I think I know why,” Enorak replied.
“Why?” wondered Reidak.
Enorak didn’t answer.
Reidak looked up at the cave ceiling. Not looking where he was going, his face got tangled up in a Fikou spiderweb. “I never knew that there were Fikou here!”
The tunnel was so uncomfortable that no one had noticed Enorak. The Makuta was the only one who wasn’t feeling the squeeze of the tunnel, having shapeshifted into something else. The tunnel was dark enough that no one could see. But it had blades, whatever it was, since Enorak was loosing rocks from the tunnel walls. When the rocks began falling downward, they knew that they were going deep – perhaps to the center of the earth. But it was more than just that. The rocks were large and heavy, and they were packing the trio in even more. If Enorak loosed enough stones, he could crush the whole team.
“Enorak! Stop!” Reidak cried.
“I’m finding out how far deep into the earth we’re going,” Enorak told Reidak. “You could crush us.”
“I’ll change back…” there was a long silence, then a voice. “I can’t. There’s some chemical in the wall that prevents me from shapeshifting,” came the frightened voice of Enorak. “You’ll just have to dodge the rocks.”
Harong looked around. The tunnel was not nearly done. “We’ve come this far,” Harong said. “We should try to continue. Enorak – don’t do this in the future.”
At first the process was gradual. Only a few rocks were falling upon the team. Then, however, it turned into a small slide. “A prediction,” grumbled Reidak, looking at Enorak. It slowly got harder and faster, until Reidak was trying to chop up boulders. “We’re going to die.”
“You can stop reminding me,” Enorak snapped. “I hear Skakdi spine slugs go well with Xeran armor – maybe with a slight tint of sand?”
“Remember what I said about the Brotherhood of Makuta and ratting out the location of Artakha?” Harong retorted.
Reidak just instinctively touched his spine.
The rocks had turned into an avalanche now. It was all the team could do now not to get hit and crushed. Enorak, of course, was unharmed, since his form was either not big enough or incredibly fast. Anyway, Enorak seemed to be slithering through the boulders. But Harong and Reidak knew that wasn’t true.
Harong fell over. A boulder had whacked into him from behind. The Order member was now tumbling head over heels, out of control.
Enorak slithered up to Reidak. “Harong’s out,” the Makuta said, carelessly. “Who’s next?” There was now a touch of menace in his voice.
“Get away! I need to –” a boulder went whacking into Reidak’s head. The Skakdi was obviously going in the direction of Harong.
“Just me,” Enorak said to himself. “Are they dead? Or just unconscious? Either way, it’s me next.”
The Makuta went along with the boulders, making sure to keep the bodies of Harong and Reidak in sight. Eventually the ‘tunnel’ came to an end and the boulders stopped falling. Enorak decided to curl up on the probably dead bodies of Harong and Reidak and fall asleep. After this, I need a long rest, the Makuta thought. Just a few hours. But they went through a lot more than I did – so they need a longer rest. Enorak looked at Harong’s face. He looked dead. They might not wake up again.
Contrary to Enorak’s expectations, in a few hours Harong was shaking the Makuta and Reidak awake. When Enorak asked him how he survived, Harong just replied, “I’m trained to resist this stuff.”
They could now see Enorak’s new form: a long, black snake covered in blades. “I avoided the boulders with my slithering,” Enorak explained, “And I caused them with my blades.”
“Don’t do that again,” Harong said, his upper half above the rubble.
“Change back,” Reidak insisted. Only Reidak’s head was sticking up.
“Sure,” Enorak agreed. He backed away from the walls (the chemical) and turned back into his usual form. “Back to Makuta,” he sighed.
“Dig us out,” Reidak shouted. Enorak looked at him. “I would – if you would lower your voice. We don't know if this is Artakha yet, but if it is, they’ll hear us.”
He strode over to Harong and planted his harpoon in the ground. “I don’t have to dig you out,” Enorak grinned, cockily. “I have a better way.” He spun the harpoon around and around in the ground, creating a drizzle of rock.
“Enorak! What are you doing?” Harong demanded.
The Makuta made no reply, but grinned. He then turned into sand again, much to the annoyance of Reidak.
“You’re not going to leave us here, are you?” he demanded. Enorak made no answer, but Reidak felt a trickle of sand running past his legs. A few seconds later, the Makuta’s spare form appeared in the middle of the rubble, coming up from below – and cracking Harong and Reidak’s prison.
Harong grinned. “Nice job,” he nodded.
Reidak gave him a thumbs-up sign. However, the Makuta didn’t return their thanks. “What happened to you?” Enorak seemed shocked.
Harong looked down at himself. “Oh…I know. Our form seems…different, right?”
Enorak nodded, animated.
“Then we’ve found Artakha!” Harong exclaimed.
“Yes!” They were feverish with joy; Reidak and Enorak gave each other a high five. “But how do you know?” Reidak seemed puzzled after his celebration.
“There's a chemical in Artakha that adapts you so that you fit to your environment,” Harong explained. “They put it in – you might have heard of this – Adaptive Armor.”
Reidak nodded. “So it’s like we’re wearing armor that does the same thing.”
The team leader confirmed that. “Enorak, you want some?”
The Makuta looked intrigued. “That might be nice.”
“Go into the rock,” Harong told him.
He turned into sand and burrowed into the ground. Harong and Reidak couldn’t see him, but they could hear him. “I’m changing…feels nice…”
He emerged from the ground, different in color and armor. “Well,” Enorak told the group. “If this is Artakha, we should get to the island. What are you planning to do when we get there?”
“I want to be taken in by the Artakha guards,” Harong replied. “If we see Artakha, we’ll tell him our purpose.”
A few hours later, they had dug a tunnel – or rather, Harong had blasted one – and it was leading to nowhere. Now the team was wondering if they were going the right way.
“If we come out back on that island, I’m going to show you my feelings, Harong,” Reidak threatened. “If we’re there, my feelings will resemble a sledgehammer in the hands of a madman.”
Enorak grinned. “The time wasn’t completely wasted, Reidak,” the Makuta countered. “We got this nice ‘armor’. I’ve been experimenting with it – we can change it mentally. Just name a habitat, and the armor will adapt to fit to that habitat. Or, if you want ‘normal’, you can think that, and the adaptation will go away, so you’ll be the way you were before you got the armor. See, look.” He changed back to his usual form; the Makuta was now less bulky and he looked more agile.
Harong took it in. “Good idea, Enorak,” the Order member commented. “I feel like my usual self.” He suddenly got taller and his spine got straighter. Soon Reidak was now in his usual form too. “Fun,” the Skakdi said. “What about you, Harong?”
The team leader didn’t reply. He had stopped in the middle of the path, bent over something.
“Harong?” Reidak walked back to him, Enorak close behind. “What’s the matter?”
“It’s the Blade of Essence,” Harong looked up. “It’s doing something funny.”
The brand was glowing with an odd orange light. The shimmer was all over the blade, immersing the surroundings. Now everything was covered in the sword’s glow. Then Harong nodded. “I see now,” he announced. “It’s showing us something.”
It was, indeed. Past the light the team could see a faintly shining wall, in the middle of the tunnel. It wasn’t visible before, puzzling them. The light slowly began to fade; the Blade of Essence was not emitting light anymore. However, they could still see the wall.
“I know what that wall is,” Harong told his team. “If we go past it, we’ll almost certainly be in Artakha.”
“How can we go past it?” Reidak wanted to know. “It’s blocking the whole passage!”
Harong’s eyes lit up. “You don’t know what it is,” he said to Reidak. “I’ll explain.”
“Do,” the Skakdi urged.
“You know about the different dimensions right? The Standard Universe, the Surface World, and so on?” Harong began.
“Yes,” Reidak said, slowly.
“There are others. I’ve named the ones the Great Beings made, but with objects of power, you can make others – for example, the Zone of Darkness. Artakha himself should have the power to make one, and I’m sure he did: to conceal his island. That’s a barrier, or a portal, that separates that dimension from the Standard Universe.”
Reidak nodded. “But that could be the Blade of Essence. It’s an object of power. We could have made a pocket dimension.”
“Maybe,” Harong considered. “I’m not the expert. What do you think, Enorak?”
The Makuta, who had remained silent for all the while, now sprang into the discussion. “I don’t know,” Enorak replied. “There’s only one way to find out. You first, Harong.” He grabbed the team leader and threw him into the barrier. Harong yelled as he went flying. “Don't leave me!”
Enorak came up with a wicked smile. “Should we?”
“We didn’t come all this way,” Reidak answered, “To leave now.”
“You’re right,” the Makuta said. They walked through the barrier; the team was in a chamber. It was about 10’ by 12’, and like a prison: there were no obvious exits.
Harong was in the middle of the chamber, looking around. “Maybe it isn’t Artakha after all…”
Reidak pointed at the walls. “Watch out!” the Skakdi warned.
Small gaps were appearing in the walls, like lookout posts. They were a few feet apart from each other; after a few moments bows&arrows were being poked through the holes. The team could see small figures, most likely Matoran, aiming them from behind the gaps.
“We’re surrounded,” Harong stated. “What do we do? We need to reason with them.”
Enorak nodded sarcastically. “Yeah, right. It’s like they’ll listen to reasoning. That’ll only waste words as a hundred arrows are shot into you. I’m betting that these are cruel, bloodthirsty Matoran, who are going to kill us and then eat us, like vultures.”
“Who are you to talk?” Reidak shot a glance at Enorak.
The trio was now in a triangle, back to back. Each one was determined to survive, but they knew their chances were small. Enorak closed his eyes, waiting for the end.
One of the Matoran spoke. “Who are you, and what do you want? If you do not tell us, we will be forced to shoot you.”
Harong answered. “I am Harong, and my companions are Enorak and Reidak. I take it that we have come to Artakha?”
“I am not allowed to give out that kind of information. Were you seeking Artakha?” The Matoran withdrew her bow and inserted his face. She was a Fe-Matoran, silvery gray in color.
“Yes,” Harong replied. “If this is it, I would like to see Artakha.”
“I cannot be that direct,” the Fe-Matoran answered. “I will see what I can do. Until then, you will be in prison in this chamber.”
“But – ” Harong protested.
“No buts,” the Fe-Matoran shook her finger. “If you want to see him, you do what I say. It might take a few weeks. But I hope you’ll manage.”
“As if,” Enorak muttered. “We’re going to die.”
The Matoran left her post and disappeared. She was presumably going to tell Artakha that a team of three had found the island and wanted to see him. She didn’t know how Artakha would respond to that: his moods varied. Sometimes he might want to see the visitors and find out how they found his island; he might want to deal with them. Or he could be seething with rage and vent his spleen on her. You never could tell.
The team of three that had found the island was just as worried. According to them, waiting a few weeks was not an option. “In a few weeks the world will probably be dead, anyway,” Reidak muttered. But they were in an enclosed chamber with armed Matoran on all sides. “You don’t think we could fight our way past?” Reidak wondered.
“No.” Harong knew what he was talking about. “The odds are five to one, knowing our combat skill, the average Matoran combat skill, and the numbers.”
Enorak nodded. “But I have an idea.”
“Oh, what is it?” wondered Reidak.
Enorak grinned. “I can’t tell you: they’d hear.” The Makuta lay down on the floor, hands behind his head, relaxing. He rested his feet on the wall. If he had fallen asleep, he wouldn’t have looked any different.
“Enorak! What are you doing?” Harong demanded. “You said you had a plan.”
His eyes were closed, unwinding. He looked like he was getting some much-needed sleep. There were dark circles under each member of the team’s eyes, and Enorak was the worst. On the boat, they slept in watches. Enorak said he didn’t need very much sleep, but Harong and Reidak were beginning to wonder about that. The Makuta had taken the watch most often, and was facing the consequences. Now, however, he was dozing off in the wrong place, at the wrong time. “Enorak!” Harong was screaming now. “Wake up!”
That was when one of the Matoran fell down into the chamber. “Zemya, you know you can be more careful than that,” one of the other Matoran called down.
“I didn’t trip! I was pushed!” the Matoran insisted. “One of them – they made an illusion – and teleported!”
Enorak looked up. “Hi,” the Makuta waved. He sprang to his feet and pointed his harpoon at the Matoran’s head. “Let us go,” he threatened.
Another Matoran, an Onu-Matoran, who had seemed to have taken over when the Fe-Matoran left, said, “Okay. But one of us has to travel with you.”
Enorak shook his head. “I get my way, or Zemya dies.”
Reidak climbed up the wall and pushed the Matoran aside. “Come on,” the Skakdi called.
Harong and Enorak followed him. The latter never removed his harpoon from the Matoran’s head, staring the other Matoran in the eye. “You promise that you won’t chase us when I take my harpoon away from Zemya?”
“If you do, then let Teridax curse you forever!” Enorak shoved the Matoran up into one of the others, then ran as fast as possible. Harong and Reidak followed suit.
A few hours later, their run had slowed down. None of the Matoran had tried to follow them or anything: they had just stared at the team, running off into the distance. Wide-eyed and gawking at them, they stayed put. “They’re not really staring,” Reidak said. “That’s just what Matoran look like.”
Harong had laughed at that. “You know perfectly well what Matoran look like.”
“That,” Reidak replied.
“A normal Matoran wouldn’t have been staring at us,” Harong contradicted. “Normal Matoran would look away and continue with their business.”
“As if they had any business,” said Reidak. “They’re guards. All they do is wait for people to find Artakha, then they deal with them. People rarely find the place, so they don’t have to do much. It’s a lazy lifestyle.”
“You’re probably right,” Harong informed him. “But I’m sure Artakha pays them a lot of money. If Enorak didn’t think of his plan, we would have been stuck there until Artakha decided to see us – if he wanted to see us. If he didn’t, we would just be sent back the way we came.”
Enorak looked over at the rest of the team. “You know…”
“What?” asked Harong.
“This isn’t the best time to continue talking.” The Makuta pointed to the end of the tunnel. “I can see light.”
He was right: a bright light was shining from the end of the tunnel. Undoubtedly it led to the island they were seeking. Evidently Artakha was a sunny place, since the light from outside lit up the tunnel, so much that Reidak had to close his eyes.
Harong smiled. “We’re here.”
“At last,” added Enorak. “How many days has it taken us?”
“A week and two days,” Harong replied.
Reidak opened his eyes again. “What’re we waiting for?” asked the Skakdi. “Let’s go!”
He started running to the outside of the tunnel, full of joy. When he got out, he smiled. “I like this place.”
Harong and Enorak followed, intrigued. “Well, what can I say?”
Artakha – or at least the part they were in – was a grassy plain; off in the distance was a city. The team assumed it was the main one. After all, according to what Harong knew, Artakha only had one city.
“If Artakha’s anywhere, it’ll be in that city,” Harong pointed. “The being, I mean.”
“Are you sure?” asked Enorak. “That’s where the Matoran live. In the Brotherhood, we speculated about Artakha, and we thought that he might have his place outside the city – just to confuse people like us, who came to find him.”
“Well,” Harong replied, “We should go through the city, just in case. Maybe the Matoran can tell us – what’s that?”
The team turned, but there was nothing there. “What’re you talking about?” wondered Reidak. “You just pointed at nothing.”
Harong looked confused. “There was something there! I swear! I saw it! Artakha has weird Rahi!”
Reidak shook his head. “But there was nothing there. If it was clear, it would have made a light reflection.”
Enorak hit his head. “Oh, I know what it is.”
“What is it?” Reidak wanted to know.
“Visorak!” Enorak yelled, angrily. “Visorak visorak! Oh no, they’ve been known to eat Matoran…”
“Um…Enorak?” Reidak said. “It isn’t a Visorak.”
“I know, I have a problem with swearing…oh visorak!”
“You never swore before.”
“No disaster happened before. Visorak! It’s a crystal serpent.”
“Oh no,” Harong clenched his fists. “They’ve been known to eat Matoran. Artakha made them, and they failed. Then he turned them into crystal so people couldn’t see his failed work. However, you can still see them if they want you to.”
“I understand,” Reidak nodded, then let out a string of curses that might crack a crystal serpent’s hide. But not this one, as it reared up out of the ground, roaring.
Enorak sprang away upon instinct, trying to gain distance. Harong stepped back and aimed his energy spear. Reidak was trying to act as a shield to both of them: he was the most robust of the three, and as a Skakdi, was the most used to getting battered to the ground by his own kind – or worse, as the case happened to be.
“Enorak, get nearer! That way I can be surer of protecting you,” Reidak yelled over to the Makuta.
Enorak looked at Reidak as if he had told him to kill himself. “No! Those things can blast through three people at once. If you get in front of someone, you’re risking that person’s life as well!”
Reidak shook his head. “You know how tough my hide is?”
“I know how hard your head is, and I don’t want to die because a crystal serpent sent a blast through you to me. Get out of the way, you asinine waste of space!”
Reidak turned around, nodded, and got out of the way.
Meanwhile, Harong had tried blasting the crystal serpent with his energy spear. What it had done was quite amazing, and Harong couldn’t help feeling respect for the creature, even though he was trying to shatter it to pieces.
When Harong had shot his spear, it had glared at him ferociously. Then, when the bolt came close enough, it twisted its body so that the sunlight passed through it. The bolt was reflected. Harong, not expecting this, was swept off his feet. Now Harong was on his back, and the crystal serpent was advancing on him. Enorak had said ‘They’ve been known to eat Matoran’. But Harong wasn’t a Matoran. However, he was sure that it was going to do something nasty to him.
Suddenly the serpent flared to life – literally. It shone with a bright light and a laser flashed from its skin. Harong rolled out of the way in time. When he looked back, he saw that the ground he had been on had been set on fire.
Harong looked back at Enorak and Reidak. The former had run away as quick and soon as possible, and then convinced the latter. Now Harong saw why. “In the Order, they never told us how the crystal serpents killed their prey,” he muttered. “Did they think we would never deal with a crystal serpent? Or did they think we would quit if we found out?”
Enorak was gesturing at Harong: Come here!
The team leader nodded, then pointed to the serpent. Then Harong started running.
The serpent swiveled its head around to look at Harong. It then slithered over to him. Harong ran faster.
It developed into a chase, Harong always trying to run faster and the crystal serpent catching up. Eventually Enorak and Reidak started running too, since they didn’t want the crystal serpent getting close to them.
“Harong, run the other way!” Reidak called. “You’re going to kill us all!”
Harong threw his spear at the creature, hoping to shatter it. He missed, and the spear went tumbling against the grassy ground. He hit his head, disgusted with himself.
He was even more surprised when the serpent shattered anyway. It gave a startled yelp, then exploded. In the midst of the mess stood the Fe-Matoran who had led the Matoran who had trapped them. “Had a little problem?” she asked, pleased with her work. “Good. Turns out he’s not going to see you, his spokesmen are.”
“And who’s that?”
“They’re three, and here they are,” she said. Three powerful figures stepped out from the mess of the crystal serpent.
From far away, Enorak and Reidak watched what was happening. As the spokesmen came out, Enorak did a double take. “Those were the Makuta on the Artakha raid!”
“First, let me tell you about the crystal serpents,” the Fe-Matoran said. “They’ve been a constant nuisance. When someone gets to shatter one, they’re honored. I did a good job.”
“Well, if I can thank you for something, it would be that,” Harong said, nervously. “If you hadn’t, I would have been dead.”
“I’m not so sure,” she replied. “Maybe your friends could have helped you out. After we gather the pieces, we bury them. They come back to life, of course, due to some chemical Artakha put in the sand. But it takes about 500 years.”
“What is your name?”
“Flutens,” she answered. “We’ve met before – when I tried to take the Blade of Essence from you.”
Harong started. “You’re not a Matoran at all!”
“Half right,” Flutens nodded. “My friends here had the pleasure of making me one of them.”
Harong studied the three ‘friends’. They were the same species, obviously: they each had masks, although not masks that any Toa or Order of Mata Nui member would wear. Their eyes blazed with shadow and fire that Harong had only seen in – “They’re Makuta!”
“Right,” grinned Flutens. “That makes me…”
“You’re a Shadow-Matoran!”
Flutens’ grin got wider and wider.
Harong was horrified. “And…why does Artakha let you live here?”
“First, let me tell you about myself,” Flutens changed the subject, just as Enorak and Reidak arrived. They had heard all of the conversation, and were equally horrified, although Enorak was more curious to why these three Makuta weren’t dead.
“I was a regular Matoran, serving under a powerful warlord,” she began. “I was sent to follow you. On my way, one of my friends here had sent a shadow leech out into the world. It found me, and I was able to communicate with them telepathically. I tried to take the Blade from you, but you foiled my plan. I then got to Artakha, shapeshifted into the leader of a guard group, and then took her place when no one was paying attention. Then, of course, we intercepted your team, and you know the rest.”
Reidak spoke, for the first time in the encounter. “Your name is Flutens?”
“Well, Flutens, you just wasted a lot of time telling us a lot of stuff we didn’t want to hear.”
Flutens shot a bolt of shadow from her blade, or maybe it was a talon, since she seemed to be slowly shapeshifting.
Reidak leapt into the air, missing the bolt. “However much you attack me, I don’t care about your biography – or, from the way you’re acting, you.”
Enorak smiled. Harong gave him a nod, but at the same time, he was telling him to let the meeting go on.
Reidak got the idea, and shut his mouth.
“So,” Flutens continued, “Who are you, and why are you here?”
“That’s something I want to tell Artakha,” Harong replied. “Bring me to him, and you’ll find out.”
“I’m sorry, no,” Flutens countered. “His spokesmen came here so he wouldn’t have to. They will be the ones who decide what we do with you.”
“Never trust a Makuta,” Enorak muttered.
Flutens heard, and fluttered into the air. “What was that?”
“Why would Artakha trust those three?” Enorak pointed at the three ‘spokesmen’ behind Flutens. “I know who you are. That’s Ilonea, and that’s Kreezur, and that’s Gsoy. You came on the Artakha Raid, but you stayed behind while Kojol came in and stole the Avohkii. You were captured and never seen since. In the Brotherhood, we thought you were dead. I knew that what they were saying was wishful thinking.” Enorak paused for a moment, and then said, “You’re not spokesmen at all. You four are a group of spies in Artakha, and you’re going to leave and tell the Brotherhood.”
“Wrong,” the green one said, who seemed to be Ilonea. “We’re spokesmen. And if you don’t tell us what you want, we have the right to imprison you until Artakha wishes to see you in person. Artakha sent us to deal with you, Enorak – we can do whatever we want to with you.”
“Wrong to you,” Enorak argued. “Flutens didn’t have time to get all the way to Artakha, tell him what happened, and come back with you to find us. You three were waiting close to where she was, and you followed us to find us. And you’re going to put us in prison no matter what we say. I know you three. Ilonea the selfish snake, Kreezur the savage brute, and Gsoy the laughing slug. That’s what we call you, back in the Brotherhood. We have a malicious habit of making fun of dead Makuta – or absent ones.”
The red one, Kreezur strode forward. “And Enorak, the sandy wasteland. We’ll imprison you two, but Enorak can join us. How do you like that, Enorak?”
“If you weren’t in this group, Kreezur, I’d like it a lot.”
Kreezur pulled back his fist to make a punch. A second later, Enorak was on the ground, sliding into the grassy floor. “What?” Kreezur was puzzled. “There’s a hole…?”
“No.” Powerful sandy hands reached up at Kreezur’s feet and rooted the Makuta off his feet. “You forgot about sand.”
Kreezur tried to get up, but Enorak kicked him to the ground. “There,” he wiped off his hands. “Fair trade.”
The white one, Gsoy, sprang from his position and seized Enorak’s hands. Ilonea did the same to Harong. Kreezur stood up and captured Reidak.
“There,” Ilonea smiled. “You’re captured. You will stay in your cells until further notice, I hope.” Ilonea paused, then continued. “And it’s perfect that we caught you here. This is where we keep our underground prisons.” The Makuta stamped on the ground; it opened to reveal a large cell. The three Makuta dropped their captives into the hole in the ground. Then Ilonea stamped again. It closed up, but not before Ilonea got the chance to wave, “Bye-bye”.
- To be continued in Sheltering Darkness...