Gyotaren and Nizarkha continued sparring for quite some time. Neither had gotten anywhere, but Gyotaren was tiring and Nizarkha was not.
"Only two more minutes," Nizarkha said suddenly.
"Until what?" asked Gyotaren, jumping over Nizarkha and throwing a large ball of earth at the back of his head.
"Until Mitsorai and Sajerai get here," Nizarkha replied, shrugging off the blow, turning around, and lobbing a series of fireballs at Gyotaren.
The Toa of Earth dodged, with only one of the fireballs singing his shoulder. "Great, and I was already losing..."
"Onathei and Feyain will be here too," Nizarkha said, almost as if to comfort Gyotaren. "In twelve minutes."
"Something I've been wondering," said Gyotaren, the two continuing to talk as they brawled. "There were supposed to be twelve Rai, but so far I've only seen nine of them. Where are the last three?"
"Two are already in this palace, unaware of what's going on underneath them. And Mezirai is escorting your friends here."
"Under my order, he was to bring them here so I could...tell you all something."
"More about being 'original' and thus not being able to stay on the island, right?"
"No...not exactly. When I'm done with you, you won't be an original anymore."
Yushuuno sat quietly on his meditating stone. The purpose of his meditation was to achieve a state of mental equilibrium with no thoughts to set his mind off balance. But memories of the past kept flooding back...
Three thousand years ago...
The six Kuraneiru, natives of the island later to be called Ayomeii, were far from home. They had not been exiled. They had left, seeking adventure. These six were very young beings, only having "come of age" in the last week.
Normally, these beings would have been assigned names as they came of age, but these six had left before that. They would never be returning home.
The being later to be called Yushuuno was leading this team, and now they had found this new island... They had quickly found their way underground. There they found something very interesting. It was an enormous sphere of red energy, a "core" to the island. Its diameter was at least twenty feet and it radiated sheer power As any naturally curious being could be expected to do, the Kuraneiru walked directly into it.
This turned out to be a terminally stupid thing to do.
As they walked in, their armor began to dissolve from the sheer power of the core. The heat burned their raw muscles, and they all expected to die.
But the master of the core--Kaanyui--wished otherwise. He changed the energy, just a little, and new, twisted armor formed where the old armor had been evaporated. The burnt muscles were healed and made bigger. The powerless bodies were flooded with amazing abilities. Death never came.
Six beings, no longer able to be called "Kuraneiru", stepped out from the core, a bit wiser for the experience and definitely stronger.
The only female of the group was the one who discovered her powers first. With a thought, she had made everyone in the group fall into an inexplicable depression. And so they named her Bishuuno, meaning "princess", a word that could also mean "emotional guardian".
Yushuuno, which meant "professor" or "physics guardian", could bend the laws of physics to his will.
The other beings named themselves with the patterns of the first two. Ryashuuno, who controlled matter itself, had a name meaning "magician", or "matter guardian". Noshuuno ("parasite", "power guard") could drain the energy away from a being until they could no longer move. Dashuuno ("spirit guardian", "soul-eater") could take the spirit of a being away, killing them and allowing him to transform into them flawlessly.
Then there was only one whose powers were yet to be discovered and who was yet to be named.
As the six left, they ran into a tall being who radiated sheer power. The first five attempted to stand their ground while the sixth unnamed one just ran, earning him a name meaning "coward" (as well as, incidentally, "lifeguard"): Kishuuno.
The battle with the tall being didn't go well. Although they stood their ground for a time, he had all the same powers as them, and more.
Bishuuno fell first, then Ryashuuno, Dashuuno, and Yushuuno. Eventually Noshuuno stood alone, and saw that he could not win. So he absorbed the power from the four unconscious Shuuno and then attempted to kill the being with one super-powered punch. It didn't work.
Kishuuno had managed to muster up enough courage to come back at this point, and Noshuuno siphoned all of his and the others' power into Kishuuno. Before he could finish this, however, the being knocked out Noshuuno and it was all left up to the Coward.
He did what a Coward would do. He grabbed his friends using his drastically increased physical strength and ran for shelter. The shelter he found was where the Shuuno had been living for the past 3,000 years, leaving only briefly to hunt for food and water.
It was a monotonous existence, but they were happy. It wouldn't last much longer.
"We're here," Mezirai said to Onathei and Feyain. "The entrance to my home--Nizarkha's lair--is right under that boulder there."
Onathei walked up to the boulder he had spoken of, gathered his strength into his arms, and began pushing it. It didn't move.
"You're never going to get in that way," said Mezirai with a chuckle. He hopped on top of the boulder and moved his foot around as if testing the surface of the rock. "Ah, here we go," he said, and then he simply disappeared into the stone.
Mezirai's voice called from the rock, "Come on!"
Onathei shrugged and climbed up onto the boulder. He moved his foot around as Mezirai had and found that his foot could pass through part of the boulder--it was either a focused field of intangibility there or the entire boulder was an illusion. Onathei fell in as well, and Feyain followed suit, a little hesitantly.
The three found themselves in a poorly lit stairway, leading down a couple miles, presumably to Nizarkha. There were sounds of a battle below. Mezirai began to descend the staircase.
Onathei laughed from above. "You'll never get down that way." Exerting a good deal of his elemental energy, he sent vines snaking down into the earth making up the staircase. "This staircase is mostly clay," he said. He flexed his muscles and in turn, the vines now going through the earth making up the staircase bulged with extra mass fed to them by Onathei's will.
The poorly-made staircase crumbled to bits and Onathei, Feyain, and Mezirai began falling down towards the bottom of the chamber. Just in time, Mezirai flooded the chamber they landed in with a few feet of water to cushion their fall.
"Nice move," said the Rai of Water. "Nizarkha is in the next room."
The sounds of battle were getting louder now. The three walked down a long hallway marked with carvings that none of them were patient enough to read. They heard four voices--two distinctly male voices and two female. Onathei recognized the first male voice as Gyotaren, the second as Nizarkha, and didn't recognize either of the female voices.
When they finally entered the chamber after passing through what seemed to be an eternally long hallway, they found that the first male voice had belonged to Gyotaren, the second Nizarkha, and the two female voices had belonged to two of the Rai. Gyotaren looked relieved to see his friends, but still a bit confused.
"You are seven and a half minutes early," said Nizarkha, and Onathei realized that this was the amount of time his trick on the staircase had saved them. "Mitsorai, Sajerai, please stop attacking Gyotaren and go get Nuterai and Kesshrai. Mezirai, stay here." The Rai did as their master bid.
"Now that I have you all in one place, I need to tell you all something," said Nizarkha. "Please sit down in front of me quietly."
"No way," said Onathei, assuming a battle stance and causing a tree to grow where Nizarkha stood. It would have split the ancient being in half, but Nizarkha had predicted the attack and jumped backwards. As his massive body landed on the ground again, the chamber shook.
"...How?" Onathei asked simply.
"I am psychically connected to all of my Rai," Nizarkha said. "As you already know, Mezirai's mind slows time down when he is attacked. But when I am attacked while connected to his mind, I have the same power."
"So that's why you had the girls get Nuterai and Kesshrai and had Mezirai stay," noted Gyotaren.
Feyain observed the scene blankly, not speaking and hardly moving as she tried to take it all in. Eventually she decided she would never understand and gave up. She sat down on the ground and tuned out, paying the outside world no attention.
Onathei and Gyotaren ignored her and moved together to attack Nizarkha. Neither of them had much elemental energy left. Gyotaren had used nearly all of his in the battle against the girls, leaving him able to only shape existing dirt directly in contact to him. Onathei had used the last of his elemental energy with the maneuver on the stairway, and no longer had any control over plantlife at all.
But there was still hope. As the Toa had said in her book written for Feyain, there are three aspects of a Toa (though they still didn't know what the third was). If they no longer could use the first aspect, they would move to their mask powers. Both of them understood this and they silently formed a plan.
Using his Mask of Illusion, Onathei shapeshifted into Gyotaren. Using a secondary aspect of the mask's power, he divided himself into three bodies. Now there stood four Gyotaren, all of them identical. One was really Gyotaren, one was Onathei, and two were simply illusions controlled by Onathei's mind.
All four turned on their Kakama and began racing around the chamber at lightning speeds.
"What do you plan to do now?" Nizarkha boomed. "Tire yourselves out to make you easier prey?"
"Not exactly!" cried four voices in unison. One of them did a backflip, the jump powered by the Kakama. He bounced off of Nizarkha's head and landed perfectly on the opposite side of the chamber, continuing to run and losing no momentum. Even with Mezirai's ability, Nizarkha hadn't been able to move in time to stop the Gyotaren duplicate from landing on him.
Nizarkha shook off the pain from being jumped upon, and then developed a plan to lure out the real Gyotaren. Once he had found the real one, the others would have no reason to keep up the illusion and thus he would eliminate any risk of being knocked out by a subsequent jump.
He launched a fireball into the group of four Gyotaren dashing in a circle. It struck one, who gave a scream of pain as his armor caught fire. Then it disappeared in a puff of smoke--it had been one of Onathei's illusions. He tried again, with the same result.
Now there were only two Gyotaren left--one was Onathei and one was Gyotaren. The real Gyotaren would erect an earth shield to protect himself from a fireball. Onathei as Gyotaren would not be able to make a shield and would simply dodge.
Nizarkha launched another blue fireball. It struck a Gyotaren which then fell to his knees and turned into Onathei. He hadn't been able to dodge in time, Nizarkha assumed.
Nizarkha had expected the last Gyotaren to show some sign that he cared for his teammate's injury... But he seemed entirely emotionless and kept running. Nizarkha shrugged and threw one last fireball at the last Gyotaren, undoubtedly the real one...
It hit square on and Gyotaren evaporated into smoke. Nizarkha realized too late that the four Gyotaren running had been Onathei and three duplicates. They must have switched Gyotaren with a third duplicate when he had closed his eyes after getting jumped on. So where was the real Gyotaren?
His answer came in the same instant. With the tiny bit of elemental energy Gyotaren had left, he created a miniature Nova Blast and encased Nizarkha in a large dirt wall from behind. Nizarkha had been paying so much attention to the running Gyotaren duplicates that he never noticed the real Gyotaren sneak up behind him. Mezirai's power had been useless, since Gyotaren had been acting too quickly for Mezirai to even notice what was going on.
Filled with frustration at being fooled by two fools, Nizarkha screamed. But Onathei and Gyotaren didn't hear him. The dirt wall insulated all sound.
"Nice job, buddy," said Onathei to his friend with a big smile.
"I'm impressed that you figured out my plan so quickly," Gyotaren said. "I didn't even know you had discovered your mask power yet."
"Yeah, I only did a few hours ago. And the way I figured out your plan, well, I've been friends with you long enough to figure that any plan you came up with would be unnecessarily convoluted, and I figured it would involve our mask powers, so this was the only thing that made sense. Anyway, what now?"
"We shake Feyain out of her trance and run," said Gyotaren. "He'll escape the trap, and he won't fall for anymore of our plans. He's too smart...too strong for us."
"No!" said Onathei. "I don't know about you, Gyotaren, but no one is too strong for me."
"Those are big words," came a new voice, full of hatred. A bright yellow Rai stepped into the chamber from the hallway that Onathei and Feyain had entered through. Electricity crackled around him.
Onathei groaned. "Another? This shouldn't be too hard." Onathei charged for the Rai of Lighting, Nuterai. His mask power wouldn't help and his elemental power was exhausted, but he still had physical strength much greater than this creature.
Before he could draw near enough to inflict damage, a bolt of lightning licked Onathei and blasted him backwards. He gave a cry of pain and tried to rise up, but fell again. Even the tireless fighter Onathei had taken too much damage on this day. He had been grappling with unconsciousness as well as Nuterai, and now he had lost to both.
Gyotaren winced at the sight of Onathei's defeat. His powers were completely useless in this situation. His elemental energy was completely exhausted and he had no idea how long it would take for them to recharge. Worse yet, he knew that the other Rai were coming. The fight was lost.
Gyotaren raised his hands in surrender. Nuterai shook his head, refusing to let Gyotaren off easily. A single bolt of lightning ended the battle.
Feyain was falling. She had fallen miles already and the bottom of this chasm hadn't gotten any closer.
"Why?" she cried out loud. She didn't know what was going on, didn't know what she had done wrong, didn't know what had happened before. All she knew was that right now, something bad was happening. She knew she had to be doing something. Something for Onathei.
That thought gave her hope. Onathei needed her. She focused on it.
She had to get back to where she was before, had to protect Onathei from everything there. She didn't understand why. But she was starting to realize that maybe she didn't need to have a reason. She just needed to have something to protect.
She had stopped falling. She had turned upside down, and now she was rising. The bottom, or maybe the top, was approaching fast.
Feyain snapped back to life. She saw Onathei and the other one who seemed to fight for the same cause as Onathei, maybe Gyotaren? They were unconscious on the ground.
If I can't protect him, I can avenge him, Feyain told herself. With murder in her white eyes, she turned to her opponents. Nuterai, Rai of Lightning. Kesshrai, Rai of Plasma. Sajerai, Rai of Gravity. And Mitsorai, Rai of Sonics. Discomfort shuddered up the line of enemies as they felt the air turn frigid.
Feyain tried to remember how to fight. It was something about water, wasn't it?
She activated her power through an instinct. She expected water to pour out of her hands. Instead, blue energy went forth and froze Nuterai solid.
"Oh, a dual-element?" muttered Kesshrai, whose armor leaked magma. "Interesting." He pulled a sword from his belt and threw it at Feyain. But even as it flew through the air, it turned into plasma. The molten steel flew straight at the Toa of Water and Ice and she confidently froze it. It smashed on the ground into a million frozen shards.
Using her newfound control over ice, Feyain took the shards and threw them at the three still-conscious Rai. The scathing ice needles cut their armor to pieces. Sajerai dropped unconscious from the pain; Kesshrai was hit in several critical places and his energy began to bleed out. Feyain realized, with a bit of sadness but nothing more, that he would not survive.
Mitsorai, who had escaped the attack, had now seen enough. Mitsorai let out a supersonic scream. But Feyain quickly activated her Iden, ejecting her spirit from her body. While her eardrums were damaged, she didn't feel the pain. She returned to her body while Mitsorai was still trying to recover from the sound of her own scream.
Feyain noticed the audio receptors on the outside of Mistorai's head. She realized this was her weak spot. Freezing the air, Feyain made two cymbals of ice and banged them together. Even as they smashed, the sound waves were too much for Mitsorai and she fainted.
All of the opponents that had caused Onathei trouble were now unconscious or otherwise defeated. Feyain's goal had been accomplished.
Then she saw something disturbing.
The large earth cage holding Nizarkha was cracking. The trapped enemy inside was about to break loose. Feyain prepared for another fight.
When Nizarkha broke free of the earth, he saw the four defeated Rai, the two unconscious Toa, and Feyain.
"So it would seem that the modified Toa is the best fighter," he said. "I'm not surprised. But your friends will not be originals much longer."
These words which Feyain didn't understand seemed to hold some kind of meaning. "Originals", "modifieds"? They meant something to her, but she didn't know what. She didn't know anything anymore.
She felt herself start the falling again as Nizarkha grabbed Onathei and Gyotaren, one in each massive arm. She blasted ice at him, but he shrugged it off. He carried her friends down a staircase, down and down and down... Feyain followed.
Her mind was slowly phasing in and out of reality, where she was attacking Nizarkha relentlessly, and unreality, where she was falling...
Then it flashed to falling and didn't go back. It was too late.
Nizarkha heard the humming of the core and felt the warmth of it. As he carried Onathei and Gyotaren towards the core, he reflected on what had happened today. A third of his Rai died for nothing, because of these Toa, these so-called heroes.
These two were originals. The greatest possible insult to a modified. Between them they had killed two, and the other modified among them had killed two more.
If they became modifieds, Nizarkha could block out the insult. A modified killing a modified was nothing. An original killing a modified...no. He would make sure that Onathei and Gyotaren could never be called "originals" again.
He reached the core. The gigantic ball of energy that he hadn't seen in years. It was so alluring. He wanted to walk back in, but he didn't know what would happen this time. He would do what he had come for and nothing more. He plucked off their masks.
Nizarkha tossed Onathei and Gyotaren into the core.
The armor melted away from their bodies. The muscle tissue left was changed irreversibly. New armor formed around the muscle tissue. New masks formed over their bare faces. It was an amazing spectacle.
But Nizarkha had already began the ascent back up the staircase.
Kusurai woke up. Hadn't he been dead? Hadn't Kaanyui killed him, sucked away his spirit?
Someone got into the core. I don't know if they did it intentionally to save me, or if they just got curious. But in any case, I need to get to the core right now and make sure no one else gets away with the power of a god!
Onathei stood up. He remembered being out of elemental energy, in some distant past life. But he felt better than ever now. His armor was twisted, covered in spikes. His new mask was twisted and fused to his face. He had once been covered in green and blue armor. Now it was a bright lime green.
Beside him, Gyotaren had gone through similar changes. Mixed in with his obsidian-colored armor was the crimson red of blood from a fresh cut. He felt hot with energy and emotion. The Gyotaren that had been was gone, replaced with this new being of power.
The two Modified Toa ascended the stairs, each picking up their old mask on the way. They had two different goals in mind. Gyotaren's: to finish what he had started and destroy Nizarkha. Onathei's: simply to protect Feyain with his new power.
As they passed the unconscious form of Feyain on the stairway, Onathei scooped her up in his arms. She woke up and stared at Onathei's new appearance curiously and a bit fearfully. But Onathei smiled at her, and she knew that it was the same Onathei as before. She knew that now she would be okay.
As the three Toa reached the top of the staircase, they were confronted with eight Rai. Hirirai had rejoined the group, as well as all the previously defeated Rai. Nizarkha was nowhere to be found.
Onathei looked at Nuterai. "I can live up to those big words now," he said. "No one is too strong for me now."