Trail of Ashes
"Toa Onathei! Toa Gyotaren! Toa Feyain!" Xironu's voice rang out through out the village as he ran for the Toa's place of residence.
Breathing heavily, he burst into the hut carrying a large stone tablet. Looking up at Toa Onathei, he handed over the tablet and said between breaths, "A creature that looked like one of the Ayomeii natives delivered this to the village today and told me to deliver it to you."
"Wait, we killed all of the Ayomeii natives," said Gyotaren. "There can't be any here."
Xironu shrugged. "His armor was red, while normally the natives have brown armor, plus he spoke Matoran, so maybe it was just a freak coincidence. But I have a feeling that he was related to the natives, and that he was also related to the weird guy who showed up here yesterday."
"Huh," said Onathei. He began to read the tablet out loud: "Originals. You are not welcome here, and if you stay, you will die. Leave before it is too late for you. The tablet is signed 'Nizarhka and the twelve Rai'."
Feyain gave an urgent "Mmm!" Everyone turned to look at her while she fumbled through a complete sentence. "Me--I know the twelve Rai. They efpairemented on at the 'ame time av I--me."
"Huh?" said Xironu, puzzled.
"She knows the twelve Rai," translated Gyotaren. "They were experimented on at the same time as her."
"Wow, as she gets better at talking, you get better at understanding her," muttered Onathei. "Feyain, what are the twelve Rai? Do you know where they are from?"
"An island," she replied simply. "No name, no people. Like thif one."
"It could've been Ayomeii," said Xironu. "Whoever did the experimenting could have taken them off Ayomeii, experimented on them, and put them here."
"Easy way to find out," said Onathei. "Ayomeii does have a name and people now, and has for nearly a century now. So if this 'efpairementing' took place in the last few years, then they aren't Ayomeii natives. Feyain, do you remember what time you were experimented on?"
"Midnight," she blurted suddenly, in a dark tone.
"No, I mean how long ago?" Onathei said.
Feyain didn't respond and looked away. It was becoming apparent to the others that talking about her past only worked to a certain extent before she refused to talk any longer.
"Anyway, this sounds like it's confirming my theory from yesterday," said Onathei.
"What theory?" asked Xironu.
"My theory that Nizarhka, assuming that the being we fought yesterday was Nizarhka, really meant that we couldn't be here because we're originals. In other words, something about us makes it so we'll die if we spend enough time on this island."
"But we aren't welcome anywhere else in the dome," muttered Xironu. "Maybe it's better off if we all die now before we get killed by other Matoran."
Onathei glared at him. "The day that I allow myself, my friends, and a hundred Matoran to die causelessly is the day that Mata Nui dies."
"Y-yes sir," said Xironu quickly.
"We need to find this delivery boy and, if we have to, beat some answers out of him," Onathei said.
"Finding him won't be very hard," said Xironu.
"Why not?" asked Gyotaren.
"I forgot to mention it earlier, but his body was on fire. Wherever he went, you can just follow the trail of ashes."
Sure enough, two trails of ashes left the Matoran settlement. The red creature's flame aura was apparently very controlled, considering the whole village wasn't on fire, but not controlled enough to keep him from reducing grass to singed shadows of ash.
"Why two trails?" muttered Onathei.
"Common sense," Gyotaren began, "ever heard of it? Obviously he left a different way than he came."
"What's the point of that, though?" said Xironu, who had decided to accompany the Toa to the edge of the village and no further. "He can't possibly think it would make him harder to track."
"He wanted to go somewhere different from where he started from," said Gyotaren simply. "Do you remember which path was the one he came down originally?"
"N-no, sorry sir," said Xironu, looking guilty. "I seem to remember that he came down...that path?" Xironu pointed to the right path. "No, that one!" he corrected, pointing at the other path which veered to the left. "I remember he left down the right path, so he must have come from the left."
"Then we go down the left path," said Gyotaren.
"What?" protested Onathei. "Why? Don't you want to find this guy?"
"Wouldn't it be wiser to see where he came from, to find his base of operations, so to speak?"
Onathei shrugged. "I guess we can take the right path afterwards. Because of that fire aura, we'll be able to track him easily no matter how far he gets."
So the three Toa started down the left path of burnt plantlife, Feyain still moodily silent. Xironu decided to accompany them no further and left for home with a wish of good luck.
"So these are our enemies," muttered the red-armored former native of Ayomeii, staring at the passing Toa from where he was concealed a few hundred feet away in a large much-out-of-place shrub. He chuckled silently to himself. "Are all Toa this stupid?"
A turquoise-armored one beside him added, "They fell for such a simple trick--and they haven't even realized it yet!"
"But what they are lacking in wits, they more than make up for in physical and elemental strength," said the first. "And they have the one thing on their side that I've been told all heroes have--sheer luck."
"We're heroes too," said the second, mildly irritated by the notion that they weren't. "We're fighting to save probably a hundred lives from a painful death, or worse."
"We're the kind of heroes that don't get recognized," said the first in his own defense. "We're the kind of heroes that get mistaken for villains, we're the kind of heroes who luck is always against."
"Two pairs of heroes, fighting for opposite causes," muttered the second. "Only one of us can be right, and only one of us can win. For the sake of every original on this island, I hope that both of those are us."
The left path abruptly stopped. It grew thinner and the burns grew less severe until eventually there was no blackened earth to be found. The path had simply been a long crescent, starting at the village and ending a few miles later in the forest.
"How can it just stop?" said Onathei. "Anywhere this guy walked should be burnt. The path can't just stop! Gyotaren, what is this?"
"How should I know?" snapped the Toa of Earth, deep in thought.
"Maybe he turn fire off," said Feyain thoughtfully.
"Oh, that makes sense," said Gyotaren. "But why would he have had it on at all then?"
"To throw us off," said Onathei simply.
"Somehow I don't think it's that simple." A few seconds later, he added, "Let's just turn back for now; obviously this path no longer has anything to offer us."
"So basically if you hadn't decided to take this path, we would've saved ourselves an hour of walking?" asked Onathei with a smug smile.
"My suggestion to take this path was an intelligent decision based on a false premise...which is worthless."
"Well, you can't change the past," said Onathei cheerfully. "The Turaga of Dyteeli said that to me once."
"I've heard that expression before," said Gyotaren. "It was never much consolation. It's almost like justifying your mistakes by saying you can't fix them."
Onathei shrugged. "Let's go."
Another hour had been wasted before the Toa returned to the village. The Toa were growing tired, especially having had their sleep disrupted by Feyain last night.
They began walking down the second path next, disheartened but determined to find this mysterious being and get some answers about just what had been happening since the new Toa had come.
Eventually, the second path stopped as well.
"Now this doesn't make any sense," said Onathei, "I can understand why he'd turn off his power, but why did he choose right here? We're way out of sight of the village, so it's not like he walked this far with it on to try and trick the Matoran into thinking he couldn't turn it off. He could have turned it off a long time ago."
Gyotaren began to speak but was cut off by Feyain shouting. She pointed urgently to a spot about six hundred feet away. It was hard to see from that distance, but there was a path of blackened grass there. The Toa ran to inspect it. From there, they could see another small burnt patch of grass a good distance away.
"He was turning his power on and off..." Gyotaren muttered. "Why?"
"He wanted to throw us off... I think." Onathei sounded unsure, and with good reason. It didn't make sense at all.
"Go," suggested Feyain.
"She's right," Gyotaren said. "Let's just keep going and maybe it will become clearer."
The Toa kept walking for a good deal of time. The patches of burnt grass came about every five hundred feet. Eventually they got into the forest and the burnt patches completely stopped.
"Now what?" said Feyain. "How we go now?"
"Look," said Onathei, deep in thought. "That can't be natural." His eyes were locked on something in the distance.
"What is it?" demanded Gyotaren. "What do you see?"
"Look at that tree," he said, pointing to a tall but skinny tree. "It's no wider than my arm but taller than most of the other trees in this forest. The tree would never have been able to grow that tall without getting wider."
Keeping his eyes locked on the tree, Onathei walked up to it. He punched the tree with all his strength, and the tree snapped like a twig and fell to the ground with a crash. "It's as feeble as a sprout. And look at the insides--they're dry as a bone, meaning they haven't absorbed any water recently. There is no way for this tree to exist. It was grown by cheating, and probably not more than a few hours ago."
"Cheating?" repeated Feyain.
"Elemental powers," Onathei clarified. "Watch." He concentrated for a second, and then another tree much like the first sprouted right out of the ground.
Overhead, a bird chirped curiously and flew cautiously to the newborn tree. After ensuring that it was not a threat, the bird flew away. Feyain giggled at the sight of it.
"That's it!" cried Gyotaren suddenly.
"Wait, what's it?" said Onathei. "What are you seeing that I'm not?"
"I've put the pieces together," said Gyotaren. "It all makes sense now."
"Not to me!" said Feyain, annoyed.
"It's pretty simple. The first path we took was a fake, and the fire guy we're looking for never walked there."
"If his elemental powers are strong enough to have an aura of fire around his body, then no doubt he could use a flamethrower-type attack to burn a road that appeared to have been the way he came by. That's why the first path was so perfectly crescent-shaped. No normal being could have been able to form such a shape without being able to see it from above."
"But if he didn't come from that way, which way did he come from?" said Onathei, completely lost. "Xironu said he had the fire aura on when he came to the village, but he said he left down the right path. There was no third path for him to have come down."
"That's a simple one," said Gyotaren. "He left and came from the exact same path."
"Oh," said Onathei. "That makes sense. But can you explain why he started turning his powers on and off after a while?"
"Those were made on the way to the village, not from," Gyotaren explained. "Wherever he is now, we passed him a long time ago."
"So again, hours of walking for nothing," muttered Onathei.
Gyotaren ignored him. "It was just sheer luck that Feyain noticed the path continued, and he didn't think we would see that. Obviously, someone was supposed to be following him from where he came from. Someone who could fly, and easily see the burnt patches from above and follow them to the village. That bird is what made me think of that--all these burnt patches could be seen from above clearly and could be used to lead someone coming the opposite way to the village."
"But how do you explain the trees?" said Onathei.
"He has an accomplice, one who can control plantlife like he controls fire. That was obvious enough. And apparently, he has another accomplice who can fly. Since we're following the same path, we just have to keep going until we run into him. He can give us the answers we want."
"Ambuff," said Feyain.
"Huh?" said Gyotaren, still too proud at his solving of the mystery to be bothered with decoding Feyain's odd manner of speech.
"She said 'ambush'," said Onathei. "She wants us to stay here and get ready for this flying guy to come to us."
Gyotaren almost protested, if just because it wasn't his idea, but then decided it was quite a wise suggestion. And all of the Toa needed a rest anyway, as Onathei was quick to point out.
So the Toa set a simple trap and waited.