This article was written by ToaGonel. Please do not add to it without the writer's permission.
|Setting||The Broken Order Universe|
|Date set||Roughly 17,000 Years Ago|
|Next||Beyond the Known|
Metru Nui was more wondrous than even Arrin had imagined.
To the east, towers made of pure crystal reached up eye-to-eye with Mata Nui himself, asking questions, demanding answers. Off to the west, Ta-Matoran workers did what seemed to Arrin as extracting functioning Kanohi masks directly out of molten protodermis. To the south, right in front of Arrin, a massive Moto-Hub roared with the thrilling sounds of industrial vehicles. Even Arrin had never ridden an industrial vehicle.
As he was staring at the Moto-Hub, telescreens flared to life across the city. The image of a wise-looking Turaga starred out, seemingly looking directly at Arrin.
“The Matoran of Metru Nui are not to be alarmed at the new Alignment ships approaching from the south. Continue work as you always have been. That is all.” The telescreen switched off.
How is Metru Nui not paradise? Arrin thought. I’ve been to Artakha. I’ve seen paradise—granted, it was after Kragator ravaged it… but still! Metru Nui is a hundred times better than Artakha could’ve ever been.
Once, many years ago, Arrin had heard the music of a De-Matoran named Furst. The music had struck him as heavenly at the time, although he’d long since forgotten how it sounded. Yet somehow he heard it as he sailed into Metru Nui’s harbor.
Helryx approached Arrin from behind.
“Are you ready to get Ervik?”
When the Toa of Iron didn’t respond, Helryx repeated more loudly,
“Are you ready to get Ervik?”
Arrin looked at her as if emerging from a daze. Blinking, he stood straighter.
“Yes ma’am, I’m ready.”
Helryx started for the brig, not turning to see if he was following but monitoring his footsteps. Letting him and Kelrik be in close proximity to their brother was the only way they’d cooperate with Helryx until the trial. And their cooperation was very important. If the other Matoran or Toa caught wind of uneasy Toa Uniran, the entire plan would go awry. So until then… Helryx had to humor them.
They arrived to see Kelrik sitting outside Ervik’s cell. The Toa of Iron had hardly left Ervik.
“Kelrik, Ervik, are you ready?” she asked.
Kelrik stood up. “Yes ma’am.”
Ervik stood, but said nothing.
Helryx nodded and unlocked Ervik’s cell. “Good. We’re about to dock. I will watch over the three of you until you reach the Coliseum. Standard procedure.” She cuffed Ervik’s wrists and ankles to those of the other two.
Arrin nodded. “Okay. Hey Kelrik, Ervik, you guys have to see Metru Nui. It’s better even than we dreamed!”
Kelrik’s eyes widened.
The Toa of Iron both tried to dash for the upper deck, comically flopping the poor Toa of Plasma between them.
Helryx sighed, watching them go.
“Poor Toa. Goodness only knows what will become of Ervik.”
As the Toa made their way to the Coliseum, they couldn’t help but stare at the Matoran. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, Arrin knew that it should be the reverse, but he couldn’t help it. Matoran going about their industrial jobs, living in an island paradise, going about work in skyscrapers that nearly rivaled the towers of Bythrain… Life must be so much fun for these Matoran!
Helryx walked up to one of the guard to the entrance of the Coliseum and requested entrance. The guard ran off to talk into a small telescreen. In days gone by, guards were wholly unnecessary in Metru Nui. But after Metru Nui fell to the Kritor forces under Emperor Kragator, guards had been installed. Helryx suspected one of the reasons they were still in place was that Dume distrusted the Alignment, especially in Kragator’s wake.
Not that he could be blamed. Even Helryx had to be wary around her own organization. Following the fall of the Brotherhood of Makuta and the Kritor Empire, her small organization of rogues had ballooned into something two-thirds the size of the Kritor Empire. Dozens of people, hurt by the Kritor/Makuta War wished to join the new international peace-keeping organization. Helryx had been careful deciding who should join and who shouldn’t—but the days of the Alignment being a small, close-knit force was over.
The guard returned from the mini telescreen.
“You may enter.”
Helryx nodded and started into the gate. The Toa of Iron were still gawking at the Matoran, but as soon as Kelrik saw the Toa of Water leaving, they hurried to catch up with her.
Inside the Coliseum was no less of a wonder than the rest of the city. The great center of the city had looked spectacular from the outside, but inside was just as stunning. Thousands upon thousands of seats—more seats than Arrin had seen in his life—encircled a huge arena. Toward the bottom rows sat a hundred or so Turaga, of all elements.
A Turaga of Fire approached the four Toa.
“Helryx, you’ve arrived. Welcome. So this is the Toa you were talking…”
He stopped, mid-sentence. Arrin and Kelrik exchanged quizzical glances.
“Can it be?” the Turaga muttered. “Is it really you three…”
“Turaga Dume, meet Arrin, Er—”
“Ervik and Kelrik, yes. I recognize them, though they might not recognize me.”
Arrin tilted his head.
“How do you—”
The Turaga smiled and looked at Kelrik.
“Your island isn’t very technological, is it Kelrik?”
Kelrik’s eyes widened. Dume chuckled.
“You’re the Toa of Fire!” Kelrik looked at Arrin and Ervik. “He’s the Toa of Fire who visited our island!” He looked at Dume. “But how…?”
“How did I become a Turaga? Simple. When Toa fulfill their destiny, they become Turaga. I’m sure your Turaga alluded to that fact once; you just forgot. My destiny was achieved creating you four. Except…” Dume looked past them. “Where’s the fourth Toa? Where’s Callah?”
“She’s missing. We’ve been looking for her ever since she went missing, when a storm ruined our boat as we left Uniran.”
“Hmmm… The Kritor/Makuta War is over, the Alignment has spread its reach across the universe, relative peace has come to most of the Matoran Universe for the first time since the Time-Before-Time, and still your sister remains missing? Perhaps it’s a matter of not yet wanting to be found.”
Arrin looked oddly at Dume, but Helryx spoke before he could.
“Turaga, if we could get this over with?”
Dume nodded. “Very well. Arrin, Kelrik, you are welcome to sit with me.”
As the Toa walked over to where Dume was sitting, Arrin pointed up at something on the tower of the Coliseum.
“What’s up there?”
Dume looked. “That’s my personal box. I use it when the Matoran of Metru Nui are present. But here I sit among fellow Turaga from throughout the world and I cannot give the impression of looming over them. I will sit with them, not above them today.”
“Turaga from throughout the world?” Kelrik asked. “You mean all Turaga?”
“Yes. Helryx sent agents far and wide, to every known island, and every Turaga answered the call. Everyone knows the importance of uniting the Matoran lands, especially in light of the Age of Nation-States.”
“Ah, yes,” said Arrin. Ever since the Kritor/Makuta War had united the universe in ways never thought imaginable, similar species had been moving to align themselves. There had been rumblings of such species formally uniting under the same over-arching organization; however, as it stood, the Reformed Makuta League was the only standing example of that. Ever since the Makuta had bound the Vortixx, Thromexx, Rekridor, Jeokren, Grenok, Varim, and Makuta species together within the Makuta League, they had been inseparable. Even after the genocide of the Makuta by Kragator, the governments of each race had found they accomplished infinitely more together than they ever had apart. They refused to split up, no matter how much Helryx had begged they do so—and beg she had. As it stood, the new Makuta League proved a dangerous threat to the peace throughout the universe. The Makuta had left their mark.
Now islands and species throughout the universe felt threatened by the RML. Despite swearing to Helryx that they would give full cooperation with the Alignment (even they had no taste for war after the Kritor/Makuta fallout), it was universally recognized that the so-called “Makuta” could bully races throughout the universe if they chose. As such, like races sought to join forces, banding together in Nation-States.
So far only the Matoran had been able to take steps to do so with Helryx’s help. The Turaga High Council was proof of that, presiding over the Matoran Order.
And then there was the matter of the other eminent threat to world peace, the faux-Barraki. Following Kragator’s death, countless individuals, each claiming to be the next great Kragator, attempted to make land grabs on their homelands and the lands around them. Some had been more successful than others, but thankfully none had forged for themselves a serious empire. Yet. Needless to say, Kragator’s mask and sword had become objects of priceless worth. The once-Kritor High Commnder, Tobduk had reportedly already sustained numerous attempts to steal Kragator’s Mask of No Powers which had been left in his possession. As for the emperor’s Spirit Sword, none but high-ranking Alignment officials and the Toa Uniran knew where it was.
Helryx had already begun addressing the Turaga High Council, explaining Ervik’s crime. Kelrik was kneeling in his seat, scanning the crowd of Turaga.
“Arrin, I don’t see Grunpa.”
“Check again. I’m sure he wouldn’t miss this for anything. I mean, look at it! Matoran across the universe banding together for the first time ever. Not Grunpa.”
Kelrik checked again.
“No, Grunpa isn’t here. Dume, is there a chance the Alignment could’ve missed some Turaga?”
“I suppose… although it should be you who are telling me. I’m not an official member of the Alignment after all.”
“We were busy watching over Ervik this entire time. Helryx didn’t tell us she was doing this.”
Dume shrugged. “I suppose there is a slim chance Grunpa might not have been contacted.”
Kelrik got up and sat down. Helryx was still talking.
“...And so, fellow Turaga, it is left to you—the new government of the free worlds. Shall this Toa be condemned to prison for killing Emperor Kragator and breaking the Toa Code although he’d never been taught it? Or shall he be pardoned for putting an end to a power struggle that rocked the universe for tens of millennia? As former Toa and leaders of Toa and Matoran everywhere, the choice is yours.” Helryx walked out of the arena into the stands.
Dume stood. “May I speak?”
When no Turaga voiced an objection, Dume made his way down to the arena.
“I have finally pieced together the entire story and now I know. I didn’t realize the great Toa who killed Kragator was a Toa I chose, but now I know.
“Perhaps it was my fault Ervik here never was taught the Toa Code. Perhaps it was that of his Turaga Grunpa. Perhaps it was the fault of Kragator who undid all of Ervik’s moral code, who knows. I’ll take the blame. I should’ve stayed and watched over the Toa as they grew and developed, but because Metru Nui had been left abandoned in the desperate times before the war, I felt I had to return here as soon as possible. Regardless, I should’ve taken the time to mentor them before leaving the Toa Uniran to their fate.
“However, as Helryx said, not long after leaving their homeland for the first time. Ervik was spirited away to the fortress of Bythrain where he was made Kragator’s slave—”
(Ervik growled something but no one heard him.)
“Kragator took him to Artakha, to Karzahni, to Artidax, to Nynrah, to Destral where he was forced to work for Kragator.” Dume continued. “He saw all the killing, the brutal crushing of enemies of the Kritors, and whatever knowledge he had of the Toa Code—if he even had any in the first place—was undone. So when the Alignment seized Bythrain to end the war, Ervik, carried away in a spirit of justice, took it into his own hands to kill Kragator.
“My fellow Turaga, if you feel Ervik must be punished for crimes he did not realize he was committing, then I’m afraid, as a united Matoran nation, we must. But I am to blame for Ervik’s crime, not he. Ervik’s mistake was not his fault, and I beg you to understand that he only meant to do good, not evil. If he ever dares to make such a mistake again, he will be excommunicated from Mata Nui’s protectors for all time, but until then I beg of you to regard it as the mistake that it is.”
Dume adopted a neutral expression. “So now… as acting chairman of the Turaga High Council, should Ervik be punished for breaking the Toa Code? Will Ervik and the Toa Uniran in the seats please face away from the Turaga. Turaga, please raise your hands if you think him guilty; we shall rule by majority.”
One Turaga of Plasma and two Turaga of Earth raised their hands, but no one else did.
Dume heaved a sigh of relief. “Very well, Ervik is innocent.”
Arrin and Kelrik tore from their seats to embrace Ervik. For his part, the Toa of Plasma’s face remained expressionless.
Dume nodded. “Turaga, I thank you. And I thank the others for being bold enough to voice your opinions here. Now then, we must address the matter of assigning Turaga without lands to rule to Matoran lands without Turaga. Turaga Dlakii, I believe the Matoran of Port Spirit are in need of a—”
Helryx subtly walked over to the Toa who were still in the arena behind Dume.
“Come, Toa, we must leave.”
“But Helryx, Ervik just—”
“The Council must hold its meetings in peace. Technically, Arrin and Kelrik, you both weren’t supposed to be here. The Turaga were just polite enough to let you come.”
The Toa started for the exit.
“So where do we go now?”
“Dume has arranged for some rooms to be cleared in a Knowledge Tower where you can stay. Just cooperate with the scholars’ wishes and stay as silent as possible. At thirty-two o’clock tonight we will cremate Kragator to symbolize the end of the old era—that celebration will last until midnight. You three—and yes, Ervik, you’re an Alignment soldier now—can have a month’s leave starting tomorrow.”
Helryx needed not tell the Toa to remain silent; the room the Toa were staying in was awkwardly silent. Ervik had retreated to a private room, Kelrik was lying on a couch and Arrin was leaning against a wall, trying to figure out what was going on—or rather, what wasn’t going on. Celebration was a necessity after the ruling of Ervik’s trial, was it not?
He walked over to the window and mentally gauged the time.
“Reckon it’s about time, isn’t it?”
Ervik stirred. Arrin hadn’t realized he was asleep.
“Wha—oh, you two go on ahead. I’ll be right behind.”
Arrin looked down toward Le-Metru, easily recognizable for all its green. He could see a some glowing torches, which were hard to see, despite it being night-time, for the glowing red of the Ta-Metru furnaces. The wake was apparently to be held near the border between the two.
“If you don’t go now, you never will and you know it. No, I think we all should go. Helryx expects us. Besides, you’re the main one of us who’s involved with the Alignment.”
Kelrik groaned and sat up groggily.
“Fine. But as soon as the clock hits midnight, I’m back here. I don’t care how long this goes.”
Some Ko-Matoran on the street below caught Arrin’s attention. Glancing down, he could barely see the white of their armor in the night, waving at him angrily.
“Mata Nui, they can hear us all the way down there?”
With the help of some kind Le-Matoran chute operators who pointed them to the right chutes, the three Toa Uniran found their way to the plaza where Kragator’s Wake was being held.
“Ervik, are you going to tote that wherever you go?” Kelrik asked Ervik. The Toa of Plasma was slumped over, carrying the Kritor Emperor’s old sword.
When Ervik said nothing more, Kelrik was going to say something, but Arrin stopped him. He grabbed his arm and pointed.
“Guys, look—there’s Helryx.”
The leader of the Alignment and the architect of the peace following the war was standing on a miniature tower, looming over the massive pile of logs and wood. She looked at the crowd—consisting as much of Alignment soldiers as of the Matoran—and raised a torch.
“Today marks the beginning of a new age—The conflict sparked by the Kritors and the Makuta has been extinguished; a new age has begun!”
A roar of cheering erupted. The loudest shouts came from the Alignment soldiers who’d fought in the war, but even the Metru Matoran who’s only experience of the war had been the quick seizure of Metru Nui believed they had seen the full atrocities of the conflict.
The torch fell from Helryx’s hand into the pyre.
“A new day has begun. One of international peace throughout the Matoran Universe.”
Once again a peal of cheering broke forth, with the flames erupting at the same time. Through the yellowish-orange flames and the black smoke, the Toa could faintly see the form of Kragator. Arrin and Kelrik were tempted to look away from the blazing light. Ervik even bowed his head.
“Helryx must’ve truly hated Kragator. She’s painting this entire war as his fault by not including the body of Makuta Miserix in this pyre.”
Arrin looked in between him and Ervik. Turaga Dume had appeared beside them.
Ervik shrugged. “The Makuta bodies were obliterated in the Battle of Destral. Besides, this is exactly what Kragator would’ve wanted.”
Kelrik was about to ask what that was supposed to mean, but Dume pointed at the base of the fire, opposite the small tower on which Helryx stood. Some titanic figure was standing close to the flames.
“Is he an Alignment soldier?”
Kelrik squinted. “No, I don’t recognize him. But with the influx of new members, I doubt I would anyway.”
“By the way, Turaga,” Arrin said. “I never got a chance to properly thank you for choosing me to become a Toa. You have no idea how much I—”
The Turaga waved his hand for Arrin to stop. “Arrin, you shouldn’t thank me. Had it not been for me, it would’ve been I, not you who fought in the war. In retrospect, I regard that decision as much as an act of cowardice as anything else.”
“But Turaga, had it not been for you, Ervik couldn’t have killed Kragator. Besides, lots of Toa were doing it at the time.”
“But were they acting nobly?” Dume asked. Arrin couldn’t say anything.
“I’m sure there were those with good intentions,” Dume continued. “But simply because raising a new force of Toa to combat the looming conflict is an important thing to do does not make it any less cowardly.”
Arrin thought about Dume’s words. Were Toa truly capable of acting—
Matoran around them gasped and pointed at the fire. Kelrik’s and Arrin’s eyes widened and Ervik’s hand moved for Kragator’s Sword. The figure Dume had pointed out was actually mounting the fire. In the light of the flames, the titan figure was now easily visible. From above, Helryx gasped.
The titan took a running leap along Kragator’s corpse and made a flying leap onto the side of Helryx’s tower. The Toa of Water instinctively reached to her back for her sword, but it wasn’t there. Panicking, she looked around for a weapon.
The titan, Vriin, was crawling up the side of the tower with the speed of a Cable Crawler. When only a quarter-bio left, Vriin leapt the rest of the distance to the grab the floor of Helryx’s tower. With an impressive show of strength, he hoisted his massive form onto the top of the tower.
Helryx stared up at the behemoth figure.
“But how… I locked you away—and only two keys of the Archcommanders could awaken you.”
Vriin’s expression never changed. When he spoke, it was completely monotone, like the voice of a robot.
“Sheriem, Lord of the Cult of Archcomin and the Master of the Secret Empire wishes to bid farewell to Helryx, Architect of International Peace and the Mistress of the Alignment.”
Helryx starred in horror.
“But—But I was planning to retrieve Sheriem from the Pit—I was planning to get his help to fight Kragator!”
“But you haven’t. And now we both have returned.”
And with that, Vriin snapped Helryx’s neck.
Vriin bowed before his master’s throne. He had been spirited away from Metru Nui mere minutes ago by a Savager sent by Sheriem.
“Good, then it is done. The only other Archcommander left, the only being with the power and influence capable of stopping me is dead. The Alignment isn’t like the Kritor Empire was; it will select a new leader and keep rolling. But before it stabilizes, I shall take my stand.”
Sheriem rose from his throne.
“The Archcomin Following, the worshipers of the Archcommanders, have given me a chance to take revenge on the world for letting me exiled to the Pit. They have given me everything; their property, their lives, their bodies—all so that an Archcommander can rule once more over the Matoran Universe. And so I have reformed the Archcomin Following into the Secret Empire. Now all of us shall see our wishes fulfilled. I was not an Archcommander undeservedly.”
Sheriem picked up his sword and gazed at it. The Secret Emperor picked up his sword and stared at it. Each Archcommander had been given a Spirit Blade. Sheriem’s was rounder than Kragator’s and slightly larger, so it functioned more as a shield than a sword, but it still had many of the same functions. Yes, these beautiful blades… they had no parallels. Strapping it on his shoulder, he smiled at Vriin.
“Now, Vriin, we shall make an empire from scratch. The task at hand is far harder than any Kragator had to perform. But we shall do it. And we shall start by gathering a High Command.”
If Kelrik had been asleep from his nap earlier, he was a wake now. Alignment officers were fighting to maintain the peace while the commanders sorted out the pieces.
Zekrim, a high-ranking official in the Alignment—boosted all the more thanks to the thousands of new members—had been the first person to reach Helryx’s side on the tower. Vriin had apparently prematurely thought her dead.
“So,” Helryx croaked, “Archcommand once again threatens the Matoran Universe. Only Sheriem, who was not around for the last, most devastating war would provoke another war for the universe to wage. Zekrim, you have to put an end to this. The last Archcommander must be cut down before the universe can be free. Take my Spirit Sword. Take charge of the Alignment. Crush this Secret Empire with everything it takes—for that is what it shall require of you. Crush it before it gets out of hand, or else it will find a way to leave its mark.”
“Good. Let the three virtues be your guide. But do not be afraid to make the difficult decisions. No matter what it takes, Sheriem must fall. He is… the only creature capable of replicating Kragator’s success… you must see him stopped.”
“The faux-Barraki have been unsuccessful. So will this man.”
“No. Do not be… mistaken. Sheriem… is no faux-Barraki. He… must… be… ended.”
And so Helryx’s head rested against the floor.
Zekrim stared at the dead Toa of Water. He had never been close enough to Helryx so as to weep for her now—he doubted anyone had—but he was still quite disturbed at her passing. He attached her sword and shield to his back. Standing up, he respectfully picked up her corpse, grunted, and threw her corpse as respectfully and ceremonially as possible into the flames. Helryx’s body fell beside that of Kragator.
An officer was waiting at the base of the tower. As Zekrim made his way to the ground, she asked
“What shall we do, sir?”
Zekrim stared at the ground.
“Get the troops ready to mobilize tomorrow. We have to locate this Secret Empire before it gets out of control.”
Arrin, Kelrik, and Dume were making their way to the Coliseum. The Turaga had insisted they didn’t have to escort him, but as Toa, they felt it was their duty to do so. The two of them also enjoyed being close to one of the most important people in the Matoran Universe—much less their own benefactor. Ervik had elected to return to the Knowledge Tower.
“Dume, do you know what a Vriin is?”
“No, I’m afraid I do not.”
“What about Sheriem?”
“I don’t know about him either.”
“What about the Secret Emp—”
“The first time I’ve heard of any of those things was right there, with you, listening to the Vriin and Helryx speak above us. Unfortunately, Turaga are not all-knowing creatures.”
Kelrik signaled the guard who, seeing the Turaga beside them, opened the gate to the Coliseum without question.
“No doubt my fellow Turaga will wish to return home to their lands—I expect those who weren’t at the Wake will hear of it very shortly. News travels fast on Metru Nui.”
Three Turaga met Dume just inside the Coliseum.
“Dume, have you hea—”
“Yes, Arukka, I was there. I have to speak with the Turaga.”
“Helryx has started something that can too easily be undone at this point. Before the Turaga can leave, we have to complete the Constitution of the Turaga High Council. Or have you forgotten the importance of uniting our Toa if there is a new empire rising.”
The other Turaga was rubbing his hands franticly.
“This is bad. This is very bad. The Tren Krom Peninsula Matoran barely survived the last war. We cannot sustain another one.”
Dume put his hand on the Turaga’s shoulder. “It will not come to that.”
Having seen Dume safely to the Coliseum, the Toa made their way back to their Knowledge Tower. As it was, they were well past midnight and while both Toa had been wired after that night’s events, they were beginning to remember how late it was. Kelrik in particular was anxious to get to bed and figure things out in the morning.
Things were about to get weirder.
Arrin walked into their suite first. Ervik was standing near the center of the main area, in front of a couch which had its back to the other two.
“Ervik, did anything else happen before you left the fire?”
Ervik looked up at the new arrivals. “No. But someone else has happened.” Expressionless, he nodded at the couch which, as Arrin realized, had someone—the back of whose mask was blue—sitting in it.
“The others are here?” asked a familiar voice. The couch’s occupant rose and looked at the Toa of Iron.
“Callah!” they shouted at once, starting forward as if to embrace her. But Callah raised her hand.
“Don’t make me regret coming out of hiding,” she said, grinning.
Arrin stopped. “How did you find us? Where have you been?”
Callah took her seat again as Arrin and Kelrik each took seats opposite her. Ervik remained standing.
“‘Where’ I will answer first, but ‘why’ will have to come at a later time. Not long after we were separated, I walked for days across the Southern Continent through countless villages—Matoran and not—looking for you three, debating whether or not I truly wanted to find you… when I found myself in a Matoran village with no Turaga or Toa. It was a few days after the two empires reformed themselves and because the Matoran had no protectors during the war, I elected to stay and protect them.
“However, several weeks after my arrival, the Makuta launched their invasion of the Southern Continent; I protected the Matoran as long as I could, but when the village was impossible to defend, I took the Matoran away to a place where we could hide as the Makuta swept the Continent. We weathered the storm, endured the Kritor takeover of the Continent, and managed to survive the War with only two Matoran casualties. We then returned to our ravaged village and started rebuilding.
“During this time, word swept Matoran lands that the leader of the Alignment was organizing an international alliance of Matoran everywhere. The Matoran of my village, eager to join with others of their species, asked me to represent them in Metru Nui, at the founding of the international Matoran union. So I made my way north as quickly as possible, borrowing ships where possible, crossing land where not, until I arrived at Zakaz.”
“Zakaz? What’s special at Zakaz?”
Callah rolled her eyes, but otherwise ignored Arrin. “A ship’s pilot whose services I’d rented with what widgets I’d collected, but who’d agreed to go no further than Zakaz, recommended I go to Nektann. The warlord had allowed the Alignment to stay on the island in return for their protection against the two empires—despite the disdainful response of a handful of rogue Skakdi. When the Alignment became the major power in the universe, in return for his services, Nektann became a formal ally of Helryx and her international organization and was given control of Zakaz with her support, and my pilot figured he could arrange for a transport for me to Metru Nui, Helryx’s current base of operations.
“However, Nektann’s enemies and Skakdi opponents of the Alignment rallied together under the leadership of the former warlord, Thwornok who was a rival warlord during the civil war but was crushed by the Alignment in favor of Nektann. I arrived two days after Nektann’s fall and when I went searching for him, I ran into Thwornok’s army, swearing allegiance to the island’s new king.”
Kelrik looked at Arrin. “I overheard there was some trouble on Zakaz, but I didn’t realize it was nearly that bad…”
“Intrigued, I secretly followed Thwornok away from his crowd, I overheard him say... something. But the way he said it… I knew I had to tell Toa Helryx, the Turaga Dume, or whoever was the leader of the international Matoran Order or whatever it’s called. So I found a non-Skakdi who was fleeing the island and who agreed to bring me up here who told me everything I just told you about Thwornok’s uprising.
“After I arrived at Metru Nui, I found the Coliseum pretty quickly, but after a Matoran guard turned me away, I started for the giant bonfire. I located Dume’s trail and was nearly about to catch up to the Turaga—and, as it turned out, you three—when Helryx was killed. The chaos erupted and the crowd swept me away from you. When I gained my bearings again, I couldn’t find the Turaga or you both, but I found Ervik and caught up to him. He brought me here.”
Callah leaned back against her sofa’s headrest, showing the conclusion of her tale. Kelrik stood up and walked to the window.
“So what did you hear this… Thwornok saying?”
Callah shook her head chuckling. “No. That information is reserved for whoever’s in charge of the Alignment now.”
“You can tell me. I’m a lieutenant.”
Callah froze. “You aren’t serious.”
Kelrik nodded. “I can’t say anything for the other two—they’re still privates, I suppose—but I can take the information to the top as soon as there is one.”
“How’d you manage that?!”
Kelrik shrugged. “Right place, right time, I suppose.” (Ervik grinned.) “I was technically a member before the war broke, so with both my experience and the influx of new users, I was boosted to the relative top. Not terribly high, just to the lower end of Command. Unfortunately Arrin and Ervik, due to the lateness of their enlistments and the fact they can straight out of enemy organizations, have been prevented from rising in the ranks. But with a new leader, who knows?”
Callah nodded. “Well, I’m still going to talk only to the head.”
“Callah,” Kelrik walked away from the window. “There is no head. It’ll take days before the higher-ups vote on a new leader; in the meantime, we have to reassure the universe the Alignment isn’t out of the game. And that will be done by Command, of which I am a member. So tell me, Callah.”
Callah frowned and nodded. “Fine, Kelrik. But only because you asked so nicely.”
She stood and walked over to Kelrik. Kelrik nearly thought she was going to whisper it in his ear or something, but she made no effort to lower her voice.
“Thwornok has been in contact with Sheriem. The man who sent Vriin to kill Helryx in front of all of us—the name Vriin spoke of—he’s in talks to make Zakaz part of his empire. In fact, he promised Thwornak support to rise up against Nektann.”
Kelrik gasped. “Zakaz is going to join the Secret Empire?”
Kelrik frowned. “So the Skakdi are going to trade alliances to join the Secret Empire.”
Ervik sat down. “And all we know about this Secret Empire so far is that One: it is led by a creature called Sheriem; Two: something called Vriin which belonged formerly to the Archcommanders is a servant; and Three: Zakaz and its inhabitants are likely going to be members.”
Arrin and Kelrik glanced at Ervik in surprise—this was the most he’d said in a while—but Kelrik continued speaking.
“Yes. In fact, Zakaz is the only confirmed location in the Secret Empire.”
Arrin groaned. “Do you remember the good old days when everyone knew of everywhere every empire held control over?”
“The good old days—you mean a year ago at which point we had no concept of the Kritors or Makuta?” Callah snapped. “Give me a break.”
Kelrik frowned at the ground.
“I’ll take this to Zekrim and Jathret as soon as possible. In the meantime… I think we should call it a night. We’ll get nowhere if we try to do something tonight.”
Sheriem paced back and forth in his throne room. An empire from scratch; what was he thinking? Kragator and Miserix had millennia to construct their empires; he only had weeks before the Alignment swept down and found him. His place was not as an emperor!
Scowling, he shook his head. What was he doing? Second-guessing his only chance at revenge?
“Gah!” Sheriem unintentionally shouted. He stopped pacing as he blushed. How embarrassing. He hoped no one had heard that.
Vriin stepped inside the room. In his bland voice, he asked “Would you like me to bring in the Pit prisoners you requested now, my liege?”
Sheriem glanced at Vriin. “Very well. Send them in.”
Vriin stepped outside and within moments, Pridak, Kalmah, Ehlek, Carapar, Takadox, and Mantax stepped inside. By the time they’d assembled before him, Sheriem had recomposed himself.
“The six kings of the League of Six Kingdoms… No one remembers your fate… but I recognize your potential.”
Aside from Pridak who scowled, the Barraki didn’t betray their emotions.
“I am willing to let you conquer once again on but a single condition. A single condition… and I will lead you to international fame, international recognition, the international renown you were prevented from holding when Kragator and Miserix crushed your rising power. Those two wronged us all—sacrificed us in the name of their rising power.”
Pridak stepped forward. “Let’s get something clear,” he said. “The League of Six Kingdoms was not a failure. We ruled—”
“You ruled your own lands plus a handful of northern Southern Islands. You held no empire. But under my direction you can gain back your pride. Together, we will establish a lasting rule over the universe.”
The Barraki stiffened bitterly. Normally they might object, but their humiliation in the Pit kept their mouths shut. Everything Sheriem had said hit home, and everyone knew it. After a moment of awkward silence, Ehlek grunted.
“What is your condition?”
“You can become some of my… Barraki-generals… if you can seize control of your native homelands, of your species. You can even retain general control of them, so long as they remain sub-kingdoms of the Secret Empire. But remember, in the end that’s all you control. In the end, you answer to me. Understood?”
Sheriem regarded each of his new Barraki-generals in turn, each of whom nodded at the floor.
“Very good. You may depart at once.”
The Barraki-generals walked out of the room. Just outside were some Archcomin Followers, waiting to take them back to their homelands where they would be left to their own devices.
Sheriem glanced at Vriin who’d stood in the periphery of the chamber. “Now then, I suppose it’s time for us to go. Send in the Savager.”
Leviathos sat on a hill overlooking the main Noctian town on Noctia. Once he would’ve been only too happy to run down there and embrace his people. But ever since that Makuta came, Makuta Necuas, who’d repaid kindness with savagery and barbarism.
Makuta Necuas had washed up, unconscious on Noctia. The Noctians took him in, cared for him although he was unconscious. When he awoke, however, he destroyed half the city, claiming the lives of a handful of Noctians as he made his escape. Leviathos’ best friend, Behmah, was among those killed. As a species, the Noctians became very cold, very cynical creatures, unwelcoming of outsiders.
Leviathos tried to return to normal life as a fisherman, but found himself restless and antsy, and he was reminded too much of Behmah. When rumors of a Kritor/Makuta War swept the universe, the Noctian left to watch, to study the tactics of commanders of both sides. However, the war ended in just under a year and Leviathos returned home, though not to his people. He kept himself secluded from the rest of the people.
The Noctian felt a slight shift in the wind behind him.
“Gonna come out anytime soon?” he asked his unseen visitor.
Sheriem walked within Leviathos’ view.
“I could’ve killed you had I wanted.” Sheriem said.
“No you wouldn’t. You were standing right behind me, with that sword in your hand. You could have stabbed me. So you want something from me — or maybe even need something from me.”
“You think I’d kill you?” said Sheriem, smiling.
“No, I don’t...”
“Well, today you are right,” Sheriem said, walking right in front of Leviathos. “But you cannot count on that all the time.”
“What do you want with me?”
Sheriem pointed to the town down beneath. “You see those people down there?”
“By week’s end at the very latest, they will be part of the Secret Empire. The question is, who will have conquered them; you or I?”
Leviathos stared at them as Sheriem continued.
“I have studied up on you, Leviathos. The death of Behmah. Your near-killing of Nocturn. Your abandoning of Noctia to study the combat styles of Kritor and Makuta generals. I am impressed by you, Leviathos. I think you would make a great commander in my army, an excellent Barraki-general.”
Leviathos considered. “Hmmm.”
“As we speak, I am gathering other loyal Barraki-generals to my side who are conquering their homelands and joining my Secret Empire. Once I am done choosing my leaders, I will crush the faux-Barraki who incorrectly imagine themselves conquerors. I shall add their lands to mine, and by the time I am done, I shall have conquered the entire Matoran Universe.”
“Perhaps. Sounds like fun.”
Sheriem shook his head. “If you want to join, my friend, you must first do what all others must do if they wish to become Barraki-generals. You would make the eighth member of my High Command. But you must first seize control of Noctia.”
Leviathos looked grimly at the town.
“How will I find you once I’m finished?”
“Journey to Keetongu Island once you’re done. You’ll find instructions from there.”
Sheriem walked behind Leviathos again. Leviathos was twisting around to watch him go when he saw, to his surprise, a Savager. Apparently he’d been there all this time, teleporting Sheriem back and forth.
“And Leviathos,” Sheriem said. “A creature of your potential… And I’d hate to kill you if you’re unsuccessful.”
“You’d kill me?!”
“You know the old saying; a secret shared… is no longer a secret. Either you must join us successfully, or you must die. In the end, your fate rests in your hands.”
And with that, Sheriem and the Savager were gone.
“Lord Sheriem, we found this creature just off the coast.”
Sheriem glanced out the window. It was nearly dawn. He’d assumed his night’s work was done, but apparently there were things yet to take care of.
His soldiers deposited the creature in a kneeling position in front of the emperor.
“What is your name, creature?” he demanded.
“My name is Nicturn. I was a Makuta until the Makuta were executed.”
Sheriem frowned. “You served in the Makuta League?”
“What species are you?”
“I was an Energy Hound until I was mutated by the Makuta.”
“What position did you serve in the Brotherhood?”
Nicturn looked up.
“Before the war, I supervised and looked after the Rahi. During the War, I was in charge of the various Rahi Battalions. I was not a Makuta, so I was not part of Command, but outside of the Makuta, I was completely in charge of them.”
Sheriem smiled and turned his back to Nicturn. So Nicturn was an experienced leader as it was—the emperor had been sure he’d seen the glint of war in his eyes. Furthermore, Sheriem could sense the creature was telling the truth.
He turned back to Nicturn.
“Who do you serve now?”
“I serve no one. I was wandering, trying to find someplace to live when I stumbled on this place.”
“Are you willing to serve the Secret Empire?” Sheriem asked.
Nicturn glanced at Sheriem, the ghost of a smile glinting across his face. He nodded.
“Excellent. I shall set you in charge of the Rahi—sapient Rahi in particular—we come across. You are now a Barraki-general in the Secret Empire.”
When Nicturn left, Sheriem smiled at Vriin.
“This is a world used to war. It has been born and bred by a conflict between empires. The Foot of Karzahni and the Hand of Artakha. The Brotherhood of Makuta and the Kritor Alliance. The Makuta League and the Kritor Empire. And now… the Alignment and the Secret Empire. When empires fall, new ones rise and ready themselves for war, and soldiers and servants come flocking. There is a set point now, and Reality panders to it.”
Vriin nodded, but neither his expressionless face nor his monotone voice replied anything to Sheriem. The emperor continued.
“More shall come, I am sure. As I crush the faux-Barraki, lands will fall into step behind me. I may have a thousand Barraki-generals before my uprising is over. And now that Helryx is dead, no one has the prowess to defeat me. Only Archcommanders can triumph over me.” Sheriem paused and smiled. “Now tell me about Artidax’s wildlife.”
Yara stood in the central fortress of Destral. Ironically, a year ago she would’ve been one of the many who stood in opposition to the Makuta League; yet now she found herself an ambassador to it.
During the Makuta League’s formation in the Kritor/Makuta War, each race had served a purpose. The Varim messengers, spies, and scouts between the races; the Grenok of Zarnor worked as transporters; the Vortixx of Xia manufactured war materials; the Thromexx of Daxia created viruses and other such chemical weapons; and the Rekridor, Jeokren, and gladiators of Stelt served as commanders, foot-soldiers, and grunts respectively in the Makuta army. The Makuta served as the government, the coordinators of the Makuta League, and those who weren’t in the 22 who didn’t serve on the Makuta High Command assumed judiciary and ambassadorial roles.
But the Makuta never lasted the siege of Destral. When Kragator ruthlessly unleashed General Todbuk and the savage Atrak on the island, he permitted no one on the island to escape, including the resident non-Makuta—residents including the Bahrag queens. Destral was essentially leveled and the Makuta weren’t allowed to launch their Makuta/Bahrag alliance—an alliance which would’ve literally crushed the universe.
With the loss of the Makuta, the Varim species—a species including such creatures as Yara and Lariska and another species technically integrated by the Makuta into their league—stepped up to lead. Led by Varim king, Kronan, the Varim took over the Makuta positions, allowing the other races to continue their individual roles with the benefits gleaned from the others. The newly reformed Makuta League could resume its position as the most dangerous organization in the universe. King Kronan and the Council of Species basked in their position as the masters of the wildcards, working with the Alignment or not as they pleased.
And, being a Varim, Yara couldn’t help but feel her allegiance faltering. Like most beings, she felt loyalty to others of her race, and seeing them formally united as the Varim never had been before only led her to question—
Blinking, Yara glanced up.
Kronan scowled. “As a Varim and the occupant of the most precarious role in the Matoran Universe, I would expect you to be more attentive.”
Yara bowed her head slightly. “I’m sorry, King Kronan.” She had been summoned before the former Makuta Convocation chamber before the Council of Species.
Kronan frowned and crossed his arms. As it was, the Makuta League Yara had only selected Yara as the Alignment ambassador for her Varim heritage. Being related species, the seven current races of the Makuta League (not the Makuta species, ironically) preferred only to deal with their own, relishing the idea of the Master Genus. The New Makuta League stood as the only united genus in the universe. At least, until Helryx and the Turaga High Council united the Matoran in the Matoran Order.
“You summoned me to inform you about the rumors of the Secret Empire…” Yara said. “But… to be honest, we don’t know what the Secret Empire is.”
Some members of the Council began scowling and talking to each other.
“Our best rumors,” Yara said, trying to reel the others back in, “state that the Secret Empire is led by a former member of the Archcommanders, or the four former heads of the old Hand of Artakha, a peace-keeping organization from the time before time.”
“Four Archcommanders?” Jeokren ex-warlord, Gargon asked. “Where are the other three?”
“Well,” Yara shifted. “I know Kragator was one of the former Archcommander. I’m told that Helryx was also an, um, one of the four—my sources believe that’s why the Secret Emperor, Sheriem targeted her…”
“And the last?”
“Well, I’m not sure of the validity of this, but I heard the last one was killed by a Makuta after conquering the Southern Continent.”
Voparak’s eyes brightened. “Koram! I remember that!” He looked at the others. “Remember when that guy, Koram, conquered the Southern Continent?”
Kronan nodded. “Yes, I remember. Now Yara, I also happened to notice that the Alignment soldiers posted close to our borders have been removed. Does this have something to do with the recent rise of the Secret Empire?”
Yara nodded. “Yes. An old friend of mine, Zekrim is fighting to unite the Alignment united under one ruler as soon as possible. He’s already managed to convince the High Command to withdraw all Alignment soldiers from unneeded positions throughout the universe. We’re preparing the army to sweep down from Metru Nui in search of their headquarters.”
Kronan scowled. Yara kept a serious expression but inwardly she smiled. They’d never stated it, but everyone knew the League secretly prided themselves on their position as the most dangerous organization in the universe. It was as much an ego thing as anything else.
“How quickly will your army be ready?” asked Johmak.
“And what can we do to help?” asked a Grenok named Koritum; formerly known as “Ancient” in the Dark Hunters.”
“Send us supplies and soldiers. If you want us to deal with this Secret Empire as quickly as possible, send us supplies and soldiers. And search your own empire. The Alignment will respect you and your lands and we will not search you. But you must make sure the Empire isn’t present in your lands.”
The seven members of the council stood. As Yara started to leave, Roodaka, the most prominent Vortixx and their representative smiled.
“One more thing, Varim. How do you know that one of us isn’t already aligned with Emperor Sheriem?”
Glancing over her shoulder, Yara smiled.
“I am sure all traitors will be rooted out by King Kronan himself. Otherwise, wouldn’t it be funny if the your Makuta League survived the great Kritor/Makuta War only to fall apart at the hands of a glorified faux-Barraki?”
Zekrim rubbed his eyes.
“This is no faux-Barraki.”
He and several others commanders were standing in a recently-erected tent in the Coliseum arena, staring down at a map of the Matoran Universe. It was sunrise after the night of Helryx’s death and none of them had slept a wink. No doubt Helryx had been taken out to throw the Alignment into chaos, but they were determined not to let that happen.
Different islands were shaded in different colors, indicating the kingdoms of the faux-Barraki. Since the decline of Kragator, over a hundred of the “fake-warlords” had seized control of their homelands in attempts to “be the next Kragator”. The phase had declined after a while, but rumors of a Secret Empire emerging sent warlords in a scramble to either reaffirm control of their kingdoms or to form an alliance with the warlord. There had even been eleven confirmed new faux-Barraki in recent days and the number was only rising.
“It’s the ignorance that’s killing us.” Jathret said. Jathret had been Zekrim’s rival to succession of Alignment leadership, but the two had agreed to temporarily yield control to Zekrim until the crisis passed. Or rather, Jathret had backed out of succession.
Zekrim glanced at Jathret. “You mean the Secret Empire?”
Jathret nodded. “Nobody knows what it is… or where it is… or even who--besides Vriin and Sheriem--is involved. So nobody knows how to brace for it. Nobody knows how powerful it is--and after the late Makuta League and Kritor Empire, everyone expects the worse. For all we know, it could’ve been some contingency by the Kritors or Makuta.”
The new head of the Alignment nodded, as did several other commanders. Zekrim pointed toward the map. “Show me again the location of the ten most recent faux-Barraki.”
One of the lieutenants pointed at the map. “The Selavian, Pridak, has seized control of the upper Northern Continent--primarily his homeland. The Kromivian, Kalmah, has taken Commpas Island. Skakdi revolutionary, Thwornok has consolidated his control of Zakaz. The Shasalvian, Mantax has taken the northernmost island of the western Southern Island chain. Two Barraki, Carapar and Takadox have essentially split the south Southern Continent between them. Some Aquavian, Ehlek has declared the seas around Zakaz to be his, and although Thwornok has publicly declared Ehlek his enemy, neither have come to blows yet for some reason. Lastly, two no-namers, Nicturn and Leviathos, have declared controls of Keetongu Island and Noctia respectively.”
Zekrim’s scowl deepened. “Yet of the hundred-seventeen faux-Barraki, none look or sound like Sheriem or Vriin? None of their names spelled backwards makes Sheriem or something?”
The commanders looked blankly at Zekrim and he cursed.
“Give the soldiers in Metru Nui one more hour of sleep--after last night, they’ll need it. But begin activating our units to the south. Consider this an infestation. Wait too long and it will get out of control.”
One of the commanders raised his hand. “Don’t you think we’re overreacting, Zekrim?”
The Alignment leader shook his head. “If the rumors are true, this is an Archcommander, on par with Kragator and Helryx. Wouldn’t you rather overreact and remove him from the picture rather than underreact and succumb to his power?”
Zekrim ducked outside the pavilion flap and rubbed his face. Mass leadership was not a trait that came naturally to him. Zekrim had always been satisfied as a field commander, always functioning best with someone to direct him. He could make field decisions, yes, but supreme leadership belonged to someone else.
“Kelrik, get your hands off of me!”
“We’re almost there. Stop squirming.”
Callah tore her arm loose from Kelrik. Kelrik whirled and faced her.
“Why do you have to be such a pain, Callah?”
“I’m more than capable of walking on my own, thank-you very much!” Callah snapped. “Let’s not forget, in your almighty self-righteousness who taught whom how to use their legs after someone fell into the Paralysisorak nest.”
“It’s not a matter of walking and you know it. We have to get to your information to Zekrim and we’re running much too late for my taste.”
“Well, it’s not my fault someone overslept.”
Kelrik scowled and resumed his march for the Coliseum arena. Callah smiled triumphantly and followed right behind him. Arrin and Ervik took up the rear.
“Do you think Zekrim will still let us have our leave?” Arrin grinned at Ervik.
Ervik shrugged. “I’m going to do whatever I want.”
Arrin glanced at him.
“That’s the spirit,” he laughed uncomfortably.
Up ahead, Kelrik marched up to the Le-Matoran guard on duty.
“Passwo--” the Matoran started.
“Open up,” Kelrik growled. The Matoran eyed him, then signaled his partner to open the gate. Kelrik wasted no time in storming in.
Zekrim wasn’t hard to find. The new head of the Alignment had just finished rubbing his face and was starting back into the tent of the commanders.
“Zekrim!” Kelrik shouted.
“Ah, Kelrik. I was told you had reunited the rest of your team. Good job.” Zekrim continued back into the tent.
“Zekrim, Callah has something important to tell you. She thinks she knows the location of some Secret Empire holdings.”
Zekrim had been frowning, but his face lit up at that and without thinking, he jogged the remaining distance between him and the Toa.
“Where? Where is it? Have you found their base? Have you found Sheriem?”
Zekrim raised his hand. “She hasn’t found any of that, but she thinks one of the faux-Barraki is secretly a servant of their leader.”
“What do you mean?”
Eyebrows knit, Zekrim glanced at Callah. “What do you mean?”
Not missing a beat, Callah dove into her story, beginning from the division of the Toa Uniran all the way to her arrival at Metru Nui, with emphasis on her visit at Zakaz. Zekrim listened and nodded along. When she finished, he sighed.
“So the Skakdi revolutionary, Thwornok, is allied with Sheriem? I can’t say it’s much, but at least it’s something. I’ll send a taskforce to invade Zakaz at once.”
Ervik stepped forward. “It’s my belief that Thwornok is one of many faux-Barraki who secretly work for Sheriem.”
The collective jaws of the Toa Uniran fell open as they stared at their brother. Zekrim’s head tilted to the side.
“What makes you think that?”
Ervik’s voice lowered and he growled. “Kragator taught me many things. Among them were different strategies adopted by different types of strategists. He told me that his old peer, Sheriem, particularly enjoys manipulation. Behind-the-scenes operations.”
“I’ve grown so sick of the term ‘Archcommand’.” Zekrim growled. He looked again at Ervik. “I forgot you were Kragator’s servant.” Zekrim cocked his head like he was going to suggest something, but he changed his mind.
“Do you have any orders?” asked Kelrik.
Zekrim sighed. “I think the plan is to send you three somewhere in the Western Chain. And Callah if she wants to join the Alignment, you can go to. Why do you ask?”
“We were wondering if we could examine Uniran.”
Zekrim snorted. “You think Sheriem would develop an empire on an obscure island off the Southern Continent coast?” noting the expressions of the Toa, he quickly added, “I mean, as interesting a place as I’m sure it is, I doubt the Secret Empire would see a need to--” Zekrim grinned. “Ohhhh, I see. Shut up; it’s been a long night. Sure, go ahead. I don’t care.”
“Thanks, Zekrim,” Kelrik grinned and started off.
By the time the other three Toa reached the residential Knowledge Tower, Kelrik was already halfway through packing. When the other Toa didn’t leap right into their work as well, Kelrik sat up and looked at them quizzically.
“Aren’t you guys gonna pack?”
Arrin nodded. Callah walked over to the door to her chamber and started preparing her things. Ervik made no movement.
“You’d think you guys weren’t excited about seeing Uniran again.”
Arrin shrugged and moved toward his room. “I am. It’s just I don’t feel like the same person I was when I left. I don’t know how they’ll receive me.”
Kelrik walked over to Arrin and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Arrin, they’ll love you because you’re still their brother. No war, no matter how terrible, can change that.”
Kelrik returned to his pack. “All of us have changed.” He glanced at Ervik who still hadn’t moved, much less spoken a word. “Some more than others.”
Callah strolled out of her room. “This trip can’t take long. I have to return to the Matoran I was protecting on the Southern Continent. I’d hate to leave them abandoned at a time like this.”
“Do you want me to ask the Turaga High Council to arrange for a Turaga and a Team of Toa to be transplanted there?.”
Callah shrugged. “Maybe.” She glanced at Kelrik who was practically bouncing off the walls with excitement. “Or perhaps I could arrange for them to come to Uniran. The Matoran have already started rebuilding, but I think it would be safer.”
Kelrik nodded. “That would be pretty cool.”
The Toa took the first ship out of Metru Nui and journeyed down to the Tren Krom Peninsula. From there, they took a ship to the southwestern corner of the Southern Continent and linked up with an Alignment camp where they borrowed a small sailboat. From there they put off to Uniran.
“So how long does Zekrim want us to take?” asked Arrin. The Toa was “sunbathing” with his mask tipped slightly forward to shade his eyes.
Kelrik was leaning against the steering wheel up front. “You were there. He didn’t put a limit. But either way, as much as I want to stay, I think we should only stay a week.”
Callah stared down the hatch of the boat. Somewhere down there, Ervik was hiding as he so often did these days. It really bothered her.
“Ervik, get up here!” she shouted.
Out of the darkness, a large piece of wood flew at her and nearly hit her in the face.
“I’ll do what I want, Callah.”
Callah stood up and glanced at Kelrik.
“Remember the good old days when Ervik did whatever I wanted.”
Kelrik glanced over his shoulder. “I’m not exactly sure--”
Before he could finish, Ervik flew up the stairs and knocked Callah backward. Shocked, Callah fell to the boat floor. Ervik leaned over her.
“Stay down, sister of mine, if you know what’s best for you.”
Callah’s hand shot up and Ervik was thrown against the rail. Sheer determination kept him from flying overboard.
“Don’t you dare tell me what to do, Ervik. Let’s not forget who had to endure the War firsthand--not in some castle on Bythrain.”
Ervik snarled, reached for Kragator’s Sword, and leapt forward. Callah also reeled back, grabbing her weapon. She would’ve fired had it not been for a wall of iron that sprang into existence between them.
“Guys, look!” Arrin pointed to the starboard. Waves of recognizable potsdam listed from an island two and a half kio ahead of them.
“Hey, look,” Kelrik pointed. “It’s Jerat’s play-Gadunka.” Wordlessly, the four Toa stared as the toy floated into oblivion.
“Why would they be throwing their stuff off the island?”
Arrin scooped a wood mask out of the water and handed it to Ervik.
“Your wooden Calix.”
Wordlessly, Ervik took the wood Kanohi and stuffed it into his pack.
The boat bumped against some reef, but no one acknowledged it. Arrin and Callah leapt overboard and waded the rest of the way. Ervik and Kelrik exchanged alarmed glances and followed them.
The island’s interior looked no better than the surrounding waters. Trash was strewn everywhere, mixed with what looked like pieces of shattered metal. Ervik pulled a piece of green and black cloth out of the sand.
“I know these colors,” he looked at the others. “This is the Makuta banner.”
Arrin tried to swallow, but a growing lump in his throat prevented him from doing so.
“The Makuta? What would the Makuta want here?”
Ervik waded the piece of cloth into a ball. “During the month of peace, the Makuta seized several islands along the edge of the Continent… in preparation… of their invasion of the Southern… Continent.” The Toa of Plasma looked away and tried to choke back tears.
Kelrik sank into the sand. Arrin slumped against a tree, his lip quivering uncontrollably. A hand of fury gripped him and he screamed and punched the tree. Callah marched inland.
“We have to… look for survivors,” she grunted.
Ervik and Arrin panned out and began searching, careful to hide their faces from the other Toa. Kelrik pulled a piece of metal out of the sand, reeled back, and hurled it with all his strength into the ocean.
By evening, the four Toa met in the island’s suva. Callah was the most composed, although her eyes were clearly puffy. Ervik’s face was hardened and expressionless, as was Arrin who was covered in leaves and other plant remains. Kelrik stepped forward and threw into the center of the suva a large collection of keepsakes he’d picked up, all with their own memories attached.
“This suva will be dedicated to all that once was here, all that was beautiful,” he said. “All the memories we share of this place.”
“You can never go home again,” Arrin muttered.
In silence the four Toa stared at the memories in the center of the shrine.
As Arrin walked through the ravaged jungle of his homeland, it took the sum of his discipline to avoid screaming at the top of his lungs. So much of the once-beautiful fauna had been cut down to make room for the Makuta war machines. Arrin had seen lands razed by the Kritor/Makuta War, but never before had it actually hit home for him.
Arrin leaned down and picked up a broken piece of a broadsword. Scowling, he tossed it into the ocean and stood up. He was standing on the small landmass that constituted the smaller half of the island, a disconnected region Arrin had claimed early on as a Matoran and playfully dubbing it “Arrin’s Kingdom”. Grunpa and the other Matoran had allowed him ‘ownership’ of the land, but from Arrin’s point of view, the kingdom was impenetrable.
Of course, that was before the Kritor/Makuta War.
Arrin slumped down on the grass and covered his eyes with his arms. At the rate the Toa were healing from the revelation, it could be months before the grief cycle was completed. Something had to be done, and Arrin couldn’t help a feeling of responsibility for the team. It was the first time he felt this way, but the more he thought about it, the more he was convinced.
They had to get away from Uniran, he thought. Search for the Secret Empire elsewhere. There was no chance something could be hiding on Uniran anyway; the island was too small.
Something like a shout came from the northeast, but Arrin dismissed it. His teammates had been venting their anger all day and he saw no reason to stop them.
But what could they do? Most regions to the north had been searched by the Alignment or were in the process of being searched. Soon the Alignment would sweep through the south and--
Wait a second! Arrin sat up. Uniran’s larger half is to the northwest. Which means--”
Arrin jumped to his feet, began running to the shore and waved his hands to signal the passing ship. In the dim evening light, Arrin couldn’t make out the colors of the boat, but only the Alignment knew where they were.
At least, let’s certainly hope so, Arrin thought.
The captain of the ship saw Arrin and the boat diverted its course toward Arrin’s realm. The Toa of Iron could see the other three Toa on the shore of the Uniran’s larger section, running out to meet the boat. Arrin grinned and imagined the expressions on his teammates’ faces, now that the boat was coming to him, not them.
The boat docked and Arrin walked down to meet them.
“Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” Rekar grinned at Arrin who grinned. Rekar had warmed considerably to the Toa since their first few encounters.
“What do you need?”
“Is Kelrik nearby?”
“Uh, he’s,” Arrin glanced at the other shore, “otherwise occupied.”
Rekar followed Arrin’s gaze and snorted. “Really. Well, I don’t have much time. Tell Kelrik and the others you’re needed due south, on Artidax.”
Arrin nodded. “Why?”
“All I can say is Artidax is a location of interest.”
Arrin nodded again. Rekar hopped back in his ship and the crew put off. “A location of interest” was Alignment code meaning their target--in this case, the Secret Empire--wasn’t at Artidax at all, but probably somewhere close. To say “the location of interest” meant the exact opposite--that location was the target. Arrin thought the whole ‘code’ thing was silly--just a bunch of nonsense as likely to confuse its users as anyone eavesdropping--but that was just the way the Alignment did it.
Kelrik, Callah, and Ervik had succeeded at last in wading the channel between the halves of the island. Arrin began strolling over to them.
“Rekar said we need to report to Artidax,” he said.
“Did he say why?”
Arrin shook his head. “No, but I expect we’ll meet a task-force there.”
Kelrik nodded and looked at Callah. “Are you coming?”
The Toa of Psionics looked at Kelrik, then looked at the ground, and then looked at the horizon. “I suppose,” she sighed, “the reason I was so anxious to leave was to return to my Matoran. But if Uniran isn’t safe… nowhere is.”
Callah looked at Kelrik again. “I’ll be coming with you, but only until the universe is safe again.”
Kelrik smiled. “Thank you, Callah. Ervik, are you coming?”
The Toa of Plasma nodded. “I’m not required elsewhere for the time being.”
Kelrik grinned and gazed south. “Then the universe will once more feel the wrath of the Toa Uniran.”
If the Fireflyers of Artidax could speak, they would likely tell you that no, Artidax has never been “a point of interest”. Oh sure, at the beginning of the universe there was that conflict between the powerful brothers, but aside from that and the occasional Matoran cartographer, Artidax was largely untouched. Power resided elsewhere in the universe.
All that had changed in the last year and a half. One great king accompanied by his train of attendants and generals landed on Artidax and declared the formation of the Kritor Empire. The leader left, but mere weeks later, waves of Kritor soldiers drifted in on a daily basis, gearing up for an invasion of a land far away. The soldiers remained there for three solid weeks, milling around, troubling the local wildlife--wildlife that tragically included fireflyers. But the patience of the Rahi paid off and at a trumpet’s blast the soldiers departed.
All too soon the natives breathed relief. The Kritors hadn’t returned, but in their wake came something more horrendous, more terrible, something that breathed terror into the hearts of all who beheld them.
Yes, tourists. Abominable and despicable as they were. Flocking in droves to Artidax like some holy place, these nosey, noisy terrorists erected restrooms and restaurants and Kini and a statue to Kragator and other such abhorable things in honor of the Kritor King. The island became advertised as the “Birthplace of an Empire” and other silly names. Stones from Artidax’s beach were taken, engraved, and sold off--stones fireflyers had always resided under. Were it not for the fact fireflyers had nowhere to escape to, they would even be content to abandon Artidax to the invaders.
But what was far worse was the Faux-Barraki. Behaving silly enough like successors to Kragator’s empire, they prostrated themselves before the statue of Kragator, speaking to it as if speaking to the tombstone of a departed father. Their booming, arrogant shouts could be heard for miles, and if there was one thing fireflyers hated, it was noise. Noisy, noisy, noisy, rattling, clattering, ear-shattering noise.
What’s more, Faux-Barraki demanded that all tourists and wildlife be gone when they were present, and the fireflyers could try as they might to drive them away, but they kept coming
Still, perhaps there was some hope for the Rahi. Some soldiers belonging to the Alignment had arrived and driven off the Faux-Barraki and tourists. Although they were far from optimal, they at least behaved far better than those before them.
The Fireflyers would just have to wait and see.
Kelrik stared at the island. No soldiers were visible, but an Alignment warship was hovering near the island. The boat shifted direction toward the warship, but sailors pointed the Toa to the shore. It had been two days since their departure from Uniran--their trip had been extended when Ervik forgot Kragator’s Sword on Uniran and insisted they return for it.
“The island’s changed since I was last here,” he muttered.
“When were you here?” asked Callah.
“Arrin should remember. Arrin, remember that one time a month ago when I had to leave you and Ervik? Well, I was ordered to come down here and drive off some warlord who’d claimed the island as his own.”
Kelrik frowned. “Even then there were plenty of structures there from just after the war. The Wyrak renovator, Jeyatro saw a chance to make a profit, so he made it a tourist attraction. Artidax was completely untamed before the war.”
Arrin scowled. “Until the Kritors invaded. Like so many other islands--”
Kelrik’s eyes lit up. “Wait, I nearly forgot! Ervik, you were here when Kragator first arrived.” he grinned. “Has it changed a lot?”
Ervik, who had been staring at the ocean, glanced at Kelrik and shrugged. He looked back at the ocean and said.
Both Toa of Iron stared at Ervik, waiting for more, but he said nothing.
Arrin exchanged glances with Kelrik and grinned. “Islands are like personalities. They can be all fun and happy, but then war comes and they’re left completely boring.”
Callah snorted and both Toa of Iron burst out laughing. Ervik said nothing, only rolling his eyes. Kelrik held up his hand and between laughs, heaved, “Too soon, brother.”
Arrin jumped to his feet. “Hey, I just realized something. We didn’t exactly see any… er… corpses at Uniran. It might be hoping for too much, but… do you think there’s a chance that--”
“I thought that was the big mound on the western shore,” Kelrik whispered.
“No, I thought that was just where the Makuta dumped all their dirt when they were mining lava from the Cave of Wonders.”
“Are you sure about that, Arrin?”
Callah shook her head. “Don’t bank on it, Arrin. We’re better off assuming the worst.”
Kelrik placed his oar to the side and leaned over the side of the boat, letting water run through his fingers.
“It’s so tragic we’re almost over the deaths of our siblings,” he sighed.
“It’s so tragic how hardened we’ve become.” Arrin said quietly. “I can’t cry anymore.”
Torn between feelings of depression and hopefulness, the inhabitants of the boat slowly rowed the rest of the way to the shore.
Jathret stood before Artidax’s massive statue of Kragator. Supposedly the statue had been built life-sized, it stood a total of fourteen feet tall.
Kragator had been ten feet.
Jathret shook his head and proceeded to the Kini of Kragator. All too well the statue represented what the Faux-Barraki thought of Kragator. Massive. Mighty. Mammothian. Thousands had been invigorated in his name, and no matter how many “fake warlords” the Alignment might suppress, more rose in their wake. Jathret didn’t know if this was deliberate on the part of Kragator or not, but his legacy had most assuredly lived on.
“Where’s Jeyatro?” he demanded.
Two Alignment soldiers ran off, returning two minutes later dragging a Wyrak between them and throwing him onto the ground before Jathret.
Jeyatro jumped to his feet and rubbed his hands compulsively. “Mister Jathret, I must object to the use of the Kini for your personal use. The Kini is a place of worship, a place of introflexion in the company of the Great Spirit. To use it for your war councils--”
“The Great Spirit… Kragator?”
“Indeed. I make it a rule that no Faux-Barraki is to use it for meetings even for money--”
Jathret kicked the businessman who went sprawling.
“Of course, for you good sir, if you really must, there’s always a price--”
Jathret leaned down, grabbing Jeyatro’s neck. “Listen here, worm. I will not be compared to a Faux-Barraki. You will give me and my soldiers the space I need to do what we need. Your profits rely on universal peace--unless you let us work, you will have no more business. Understood?”
Jeyatro scowled and nodded. Jathret kicked him again and the Wyrak scampered off.
“You’ll crush a thriving business, and run off its head.” Kelrik’s voice came from behind him. “I’d think you only fit to crush the Secret Empire.”
Jathret turned to the Toa Uniran. “Very funny, Lieutenant. But you should know I’ve been better at breaking things than rebuilding, and whoever takes charge of the Alignment now will have to finish putting the universe back together. I’d far rather leave that job with Zekrim.” Jathret extended his arm to Callah.
“Hello. I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m General Jathret.”
Callah took the outstretched arm. “I’m Callah. If you ever need help bossing…” she snorted. “Lieutenant Kelrik around, I’m always here.”
Jathret chuckled and looked again at Kelrik. “You four missed the briefing.”
Kelrik grinned sheepishly. “I’m sorry. One of us,“ Kelrik glanced at Ervik, “forgot his sword on Uniran and we had to run back for it.”
Jathret shook his head. “Don’t apologize. Zekrim may have grown heavy-handed with the rules, but I honestly could care less. All there you need to know is the island to the south, the home of the Atelvas, was overrun by guerilla troops supposedly belonging to Sheriem.”
“Why the cloak and dagger, then?” Arrin asked. Jathret looked down and kicked some dirt around.
“We’re supposed to investigate. And get as much information about the Secret Empire as possible. We know so little about them, so I was rushed out from Metru Nui by airship to investigate it. I dunno. It’s dumb. It’s probably just some Faux-Barraki making a show, but still. We finished scoping earlier today, so in nine hours, our first wave of spies move out.”
“What can we do?”
Jathret glanced at the four Toa. “Kelrik, you get your platoon ready. If things go south… (I don’t even care anymore) we’re going to take the island over.”
Arrin pointed toward the beach. “Does the tide turn on Artidax?”
Jathret nodded. “Yes, but it’s much too early. Why?”
“Well, last I remembered, those reeds weren’t there when we were rowing here.”
Jathret looked around. All around the sea, scattered speckles of reeds reached from the waters into the air. Jathret started to run around and up the volcano, but the reeds were everywhere, all around the island.
One of the colonials ran up. “Sir, these reeds have appeared all around--”
“Yes, yes, I saw.” Jathret frowned. Reeds weren’t native to Artidax. Someone had obviously brought them here, but what use would there possibly be for reeds?
Like silent spectres, the reeds retreated into the ocean. Jathret nearly called off the alarm, but in the reeds’ places, rising to the surface were what appeared to be rocks of all shapes and sizes. They continued rising and then Jathret knew.
Those weren’t rocks. They were heads.
“RED ALERT!” he shouted, racing for the lower levels. “Attack the heads!”
But the heads looked undaunted as they raised shell-looking whistles to their mouths. And then they blew.
For the Fireflyers, that was the last straw. They had endured the incessant noise up to that point; it was time to be rid of the invaders.
Tearing from the ground as an avenging spirit, the fireflyers crashed down on those who’d dared settle on Artidax. Alignment soldiers ran screaming for shelter only to be consumed by clouds of the insects. Some beings managed to repel the fireflyers with their powers, but countless others succumbed to the fiery bites, the bites upon bites, the unending stings that felt like you were still being bitten long after the fireflyers were gone. The onslaught lasted only thirty minutes, but it felt like an eternity.
Ervik raised his head, vaguely aware the fireflyers had retreated. He tried slowly to get up so as to not trigger the itches, but failed. Groaning, he stood up.
The heads around the sea were gone. Kragator had been incorrect. Sheriem must’ve changed drastically from his time in the Pit, for he had used guerilla tactics, not the somewhat more noble strategy of his younger years.
But that changed nothing. Sheriem would have to be removed. Ervik would naturally help the Alignment crush the last Archcommander. Any being resorting to guerilla tactics was admitting weakness, admitting he could not win through other means.
Ervik turned and painfully made his way to the others, now rousing themselves. Vengeance, if it were to be had, would be sweet indeed.
Sheriem smiled. History had served him well.
It is the course of nature that all upstart kingdoms tend to use guerilla tactics. Such is nature. Once, the small kingdom balloons to a world power, they become masters of the standard means of battling; army against army, fleet against fleet, et cetera. The Brotherhood of Makuta had begun waging wars that way, though they quickly shifted. Kragator had been too stubborn to ever use guerilla tactics and that had impeded his progress with the Kritors initially. The Alignment too had used such “savage” means of waging war in its early days even through the Kritor/Makuta War. And, like history so often showed, it too shifted. They’d expected an army, not a single, ragtag corps. The Alignment had, in its recent success, forgotten the things that made them strong in the first place.
Naturally, Kragator would view Sheriem’s new tactics as ignoble. But as far as Sheriem was concerned, it had been Kragatorian “nobility” that landed him in the Pit in the first place. No. The honorable Sheriem was gone like a snake’s skin.
Sheriem grinned. Such fools, the Alignment were, refusing to reflect on history, making the same arrogant mistakes as their predecessors. The Alignment was nothing new. Just a new iteration of Makuta or Kritors.
Loytalk sat in a courtyard of an underground fortress on Keetongu Island. The Virakan had once been a commander in the Kritor Empire, but just after receiving orders from Bythrain to investigate a lost Kritor platoon on Zakaz, his squadron caught wind of Kragator’s demise. When the fledgling Alignment ordered the Kritor armies to disperse, he was sent to Odina as part of a post-Dark Hunter rebuilding effort.
He started off well enough, but like so many others, the soldiering life was the only one he knew. So when rumors emerged of a Secret Empire, Loytalk sought it out. His quest led him to Keetongu Island where he discovered a bustling underground fortress belonging to Sheriem.
At first Sheriem was happy. Granted he wasn’t supplied any weapons or armor from the organization, but that was forgivable--this was an upstart empire, not an established one like the Kritor Empire.
But then came disappointment after disappointment. The Secret Empire did not fight properly against the Alignment--it resorted to guerrilla means of defeating its enemy. Furthermore, Sheriem kept the scope of his organization secret; unlike Kragator who freely allowed his enemies to know his might, Sheriem refused to give any indication of the empire’s size. To make matters worse, the emperor hardly showed himself in public, a cowardly trait in Loytalk’s eyes.
To plenty of others, this was acceptable, even smart. But Loytalk had been a firm supporter of Kragator and his elevated nature of waging war. The Secret Empire just wasn’t acceptable. He wasn’t the only one who felt this way, naturally. Hundreds of ex-Kritor soldiers, raised, trained, and educated in honorable means of combat, were restless. Makuta soldiers, soldiers of defeated faux-Barraki, and “savages” recruited from Southern lands considered this acceptable, but for the third of the Secret Armies consisted of Kritors, this was bizarre, alien, and downright improper.
Loytalk stood and walked casually to one tipi of the many in the periphery of the cavern.
Many extremists who felt like Loytalk had formed a secret group known as the Properists. The plan was to leak out information to the Alignment, Makuta League and faux-Barraki to put them on equal ground to the Secret Empire. In doing so, the Properists showed their loyalty to the Secret Empire by not letting further dishonor come to Sheriem’s name.
Loytalk opened the curtain and slipped into the tipi. Four others were already waiting there, candlelight flickering across their features.
“Good, Loytalk’s here.” said a small statured being at the opposite end. “What took you so long?”
“Right as I was about to come, General Pridak walked into the Courtyard. He was sharpening his talons, so I had to wait until he left to not attract attention.”
“You waited twenty minutes?”
“He was sharpening his talons.”
As if on cue, the inhabitants of the tipi gasped “Ohh.” in unison. The short being gestured, as if brushing away the topic.
“You did well to wait.” the small being said. “But we had to start without you. So far, we’ve decided we’re going to leak the identities of the fifteen Barraki-generals, the races and islands that have pledged allegiance to the Secret Empire, and the location of the empire’s capital here. Do you wish to add anything?”
Loytalk shook his head. “I can’t think of anything pressing. If worse comes to worse, we can always leak information later.”
The Properist leader nodded. “Yes. Now, I would our guest like to add anything?”
Loytalk looked around in surprise. What guest? He hadn’t been informed of a guest.
Next to the person on Loytalk’s right, someone shifted and leaned forward. Loytalk’s eyes widened as he realized who the “guest” was.
Kritor High Commander, General Karion.
Loytalk had been a commander, yes, but he’d served under General Hazat. Commanders and regulars tended not to communicate greatly with High Commanders not their own. What’s more, after the fall of Bythrain, the nine High Commanders had gone into hiding. Loytalk hadn’t even been sure of their survival post-Bythrain, but here Karion was.
The High Commander sat well above the others in the room--the effect of some modifications made on all Kritor High Generals. His posture made clear that despite his deposition, he still kept the same pride and dignity as he’d had as a Kritor general. Despite abandoning most of his battle armor, he still kept his grey and crimson Kritor garb and simpler, stylized armor. Loytalk would think the general would stick out like a sore thumb, especially within the Secret Empire, but apparently he’d successfully infiltrated.
Karion frowned, reached down, and fiddled with a woodchip near his lap.
“You… Properists… profess immense loyalty to the Secret Empire, correct?” The Properists nodded. Loytalk braced himself in case Karion was mad, but to his surprise, the Kritor general wasn’t.
Karion continued. “This… Sheriem’s generals are new to power. From what I’ve seen, Pridak, Ehlek, Takadox, and Mantax in particular don’t know when to discipline troops and when not to. If you are intent on releasing information, don’t give too much away, for these fledgling generals will lose their already precarious balance.”
The leader of the Properists cocked his head. “They actually aren’t fledgling. The four you mentioned plus Kalmah and Carapar were actually the leaders of that League of Six Kingdoms the Makuta and Kritors crushed thousands of years ago. Don’t you remember?”
Karion shook his head. “No. They must have been unmemorable. Regardless, they still act like fledglings. Their only saving grace is that the Alignment generals are also new to the game. I’m of half a mind to educate them, but they’re doubtless too proud to learn. Let them trip and stumble as newborns.”
“But surely you respect Sheriem?”
Karion set down his woodchip. “I believe… Sheriem has the potential to be a powerful warlord on par with Kragator himself… Which makes his choices of late all the more confusing. I cannot tell you why he resorts to such improper behavior. Perhaps something early in his life influenced him against proper behavior.” *
“That’s stupid,” Loytalk said.
Karion looked at Loytalk. “Yes, it is. You said your name is Loytalk?”
Loytalk nodded. “Yes sir.”
“Your name sound familiar. Was it Hazat’s division?”
“Yes sir.” Loytalk fought to contain his bewilderment. High Commander Karion knew his name? High Commanders were so far above all other ranks, it seemed like a wonder to Loytalk they knew the names of officers directly beneath them. Granted, he had been a commander, so somewhat higher than certain other levels, but still...
“Regardless, Sheriem may prove a threat in time,” Karion indifferently returned to the prior topic. “If I were in charge of the Alignment, I would fear him.”
“It’s a shame for them they don’t still have Helryx.” Loytalk said, emboldened by Karion’s recognition. But Karion looked at him strangely.
“Helryx? Helryx was terrible. Personal feelings… aside,” the former Kritor general’s face darkened at the thought of Bythrain’s fall. “Judging from her actions, she was a strict guerilla tactician. If the rumors are true of her being an Archcommander alongside Kragator and Sheriem, I’ll be stunned. To her credit, she built up the Alignment into a world power. Not that that’s hard when the Kritors and Makuta left a gaping power void.”
“So do you support our plans? Will you do this for us?” the leader of the Properists asked.
“To leak information? This time, yes. You should never come to expect this of me, but you’re Kritors; you’ll know that. Do yourselves a favor, though. You support your current emperor, yes?” Karion asked.
“Then don’t leak the location of this capital. The names of your officers, the races that serve you--all that’s fine, but don’t tell anyone that the capital is on Keetongu Island. I think that’s fair all around.” Karion stood up and walked over to the tent flap behind Loytalk. Chuckling, he shook his head in
“Fifteen Barraki-generals you say? And generals derived from both Makuta and Kritor sources? A power structure that large and undisciplined is doomed to split, I promise you.”
Barraki-general Thwornok opened his eyes and sat up. Apparently he’d fallen asleep in his chair in the Secret Empire Council Chamber, or SECC (or, as some had taken to calling it, the SECC-And-Ye-Shan’t-Find). He and fellow General Leviathos were the only ones in the room. Leviathos sat opposite him at the round table, and appeared to be drawing something on his shield.
Thwornok rubbed his eyes and yawned. Leviathos didn’t acknowledge him.
Thwornok yawned louder. Still nothing. Thwornok scowled.
Leviathos looked up.
“Do you need something, Thwornok?”
“Why is it that you never shut up when no one talks to you, but you don’t pay attention when someone does?”
“Is that all?”
For the first time, Thwornok cracked a smile at something the Noctian said. Standing up, he sat in front of the Barraki-general on the table. Leviathos frowned and sat back in his seat.
“I have a proposal.” Leviathos said. “You see, we could make an excellent team, you and I.” “We’re already a team.”
“No, no,” Thwornok rubbed his face. “I mean an even better team. You see, as much as I like Sheriem, I can’t stand the other Barraki-generals. With the exception of Nicturn perhaps. And Skorr, Drakzek, and Uravex are fine, I suppose. Regardless. Pridak, Kalmah, Ehlek, Mantax, Carapar, and Takadox still imagine rebuilding their League of Six Kingdoms. Loden, Carodo, Shreptar, and Cralgwyn have formed their little Southern Island club. That leaves you, me, Skorr, and Nicturn. Probably a few others I’m forgetting.”
“You insult me and then you come to me saying you want an alliance?”
“I find you the least intolerable of all Sheriem’s generals. Myself excluded, of course. All I’m saying is if the Barraki-generals split, I want you on my side.”
“You mean you want an alliance to fall back on if you have no one else.”
Thwornok grunted. How did this Noctian have a reply for anything. It was like whatever great spirit ruled had imparted him with five seconds’ notice of what the Skakdi was going to say. He stood up and started for the door.
“I advise you take my proposition seriously, else you and your Noctians learn why the Skakdi are the most feared single species in the universe.”
Thwornok was reaching for the door handle when the door nearly slammed open in his face. Takadox strode in, accompanied by Nicturn.
“Are you certain that’s what you saw?”
Nicturn grabbed Takadox’s shoulder and whirled him around.
“I know what I saw, Takadox. Don’t forget, I’m a Makuta. I fought these guys.”
Takadox brushed Nicturn’s hand off. “You weren’t a Makuta. If you were, I’d be forced to kill you.”
Nicturn grinned wickedly and leaned into Takadox’s face. “You’re welcome to try.”
Thwornok grunted. “What is it?”
The door slammed open again and Carodo, Loden, Uravex, Pridak, Ehlek, and Carapar marched in quick succession, some taking their seats immediately, others choosing to stand.
Thwornok scowled. “What’s happening?”
Nicturn glanced at Thwornok. “One of the former Kritor generals was spotted escaping the island.”
“You sure it was him?”
Nicturn slammed the table.
“I know who I saw!”
By then, Kalmah, Mantax, Skorr, Drakzek, Shreptar, and Cralgwyn had arrived as well.
“Looks like a party,” Kalmah grinned in a gravelly voice.
“Most of us are here,” Pridak mused. “Where’s Handrin?”
“He’s coming. He had some business to take care of.” Loden said.
“And what business would be more important than the discovery of our secret base?” Carodo snarled. “Had I known these operations wouldn’t be as secret as I’d been promised, I’d have stuck with my empire.”
“These operations are still secret.” Loden replied. “One invader, former Kritor General or not, makes no difference. Now thirty-nine invaders on the other hand…”
“I should’ve known this whole secret would be compromised.” Cralgwyn moaned. “Why did I give up my kingdom for this?”
“Oh stop whining,” Carodo snapped. “You aren’t the only one with a stake in this empire. You, me, Loden, and Shreptar. Between the three of us, we own half the territory in this amalgamation of ours. Which suggests an idea. Why don’t we break off and let the rest of these suckers flounder and fail.”
Pridak snorted. “Please. There’s a reason you’re called a faux-Barraki. We were true Barraki when the League reigned--”
“When the League reigned over what?” Carodo snapped. “Last I checked, the most you guys ‘conquered’ was a handful of Southern Islands and the Tren Krom Peninsula. That is, before the Kritors teamed up with the Makuta in showing you how pathetic you guys were.”
Pridak’s face contorted into a wicked snarl, and he lunged for Carodo. Carodo’s eyes barely had a chance to widen before the two collided. Biting, clawing the Barraki-generals rolled around on the floor until a strong hand pulled Carodo away from Pridak.
“Gentlemen, if you please. Unless our friend, Carodo here secretly spent time serving as a Kritor High Commander we don’t know about, our intruder isn’t in this room,” Hardrin said. “Now let us all take our seats.”
Reluctantly, each Barraki-general took their seats. Hardrin assumed a position at the head of the table.
“Now, as our emperor has been chanting to himself in his room for the past four days, Vriin… is just Vriin, and it falls on us to lead this effort. The revolution that is the Secret Empire will not crumble mere weeks after its rise.”
“Of course you’re forced to preserve it,” said Carapar. “You have no species, no home to call your own. This empire has given you creatures to rule over, the leftovers from the Kritor Empire. Without Sheriem, you have no power.”
“Nicturn, tell us about the intruder you saw.” Hardrin ignored him.
Nicturn glanced at Hardrin, as if debating whether or not to respect the authoritative position Hardrin had just assumed. He shrugged.
“He wore a crimson and grey garment with some light armor plates--not the traditional, heavier armor of a Kritor High Commander. But I’m sure it was him. I’d recognize those Kritor generals anywhere. I nearly came face-to-face with Karion at the battle of Jezrat’s Hill.”
Hardrin stood. “If Karion has, in fact, infiltrated our fortress, there are only two possibilities. Either he has stolen something from us or he has given something to us. If the former, he has likely presented is with some explosive, tracking device, or some variety thereof. If the latter, there could be any variety of things he could have stolen--”
“Hardrin is right.”
All eyes turned to the door. Emperor Sheriem leaned forward, arms raised upward into the doorframe. Behind him, Vriin stood, looming as always.
“The intruder could have done any number of things, but I want to know how he found our headquarters. If he can find us, the Alignment can find us and the Makuta League can find us. I will not let my life’s work be once again foiled by the Kritor Empire.”
“But sir, what if he left an explosive?”
Sheriem turned to leave. “If he left an explosive, then it would already be too late for us, wouldn’t it. Nicturn, take your best trackers and use your capacity as an Energy Hound to find Karion. The rest of you, find our leak… and plug it.”
Karion laughed as he looked back at Keetongu Isle, now only a speck in the distance behind his motorboat. The… Properists as they called themselves… were right. This war was woefully unbalanced. Two organizations still trying to get on their feet, yet only one held the right cards. If there was one thing he’d learned from Kragator, if you have a chance to turn your enemies against each other, exploit it. As far as Karion was concerned, neither organization deserved to rule the universe. Karion glanced back again. Surely they’d sent someone after him by now. Hopefully that mutant Energy Hound fellow. He’d liked the looks of him. Karion slowed his boat as it landed at the island to the north of Keetongu. Yes, a motorboat held none the same dignity of a Kritor warship, but at least it moved faster. He climbed out and moved to the heart of the island, looking for a high position from which he could see the sea to the south. He selected the highest tree and perched himself like a bird among its branches. Now he had to wait. His pursuers would be along presently.
Three hours later, three Energy Hounds and the mutant Rahi General. Karion grinned. The Energy Hounds were barking, a clear sign they had caught his energy signature. He’d made no effort to disguise it. There he heard them. One of them was running toward him at approximately 1.7 bio a minute. The rest trailed not far behind him. The general grasped his sword in both hands, the blade pointed directly downward. Very quickly, the smile on Karion’s face disappeared into one of concentration. Three… Two… One… Karion leapt out of the tree, sword in an iron lock, landing directly on the Energy Hound as soon as it passed under the tree. The next canine didn’t have time to alter its course. It nearly crashed into Karion except that he kicked the dog, sending it flying over his head. Karion leapt to his feat, but the third dog jumped at him, biting at his face as he moved his left arm to block it. The dog sank its teeth into his arm, but Karion didn’t scream--he’d been trained not to. Drawing fury from pain, his fingers descended on the dog’s skull, trying to crush it as the dog’s jaw crushed his arm. When this didn’t work, Karion reached for the dog’s body, but his right foot flew under him as the second wolf hit him from behind. The high commander ignored the second hound’s continued attack as he reached again with his right hand for the third dog’s body. Using his gashed left arm as leverage, he twisted the dog’s body in the opposite direction as its head. Immediately the dog fell limp from his left limb. The second dog was rearing back to charge him again. Karion kneeled, and the dog charged. When the Energy Hound’s head was mere inches from colliding with him, his arms snapped out, and seized the dog’s head with his fingers and he poked his thumbs in the dog’s eye-sockets. The momentum of the now-dead dog carried it past him, and he threw it back. He stood, only sustaining a bloodied left arm and a bruised right leg. Surprisingly, the dogs had been well trained: their teeth had found only spots without armor. General Nicturn had been watching him, some distance away, looking horrified at the corpses of his best trackers. When he realized Karion was staring at him, he regained his composure. “From one general to another, here’s a tip,” Karion smiled. “Never grow too attached to your soldiers.” Nicturn scowled. “Haven’t you heard the news? The Kritor Empire is gone. You’re irrelevant.” Karion shook his head. “The Kritor Empire has grown ingrained in the Matoran Universe. The very molecules of Kritor soldiers have been rewritten, such that a single order from me could splinter the Secret Empire. So I may not command a division as I did before... but I am still General Karion.” Nicturn snorted. “You Kritor types. We Makuta could never stand the sight of you. Even your countless heads, mounted on our walls were hardly tolerable.” Before the Energy Hound could react, Karion spinned and kicked Nicturn in the chin. “Arrogant fool. You were never a Makuta. Only their pawn. You have something with the Secret Empire you hardly had in the League; power. You have a new employer; do not claim loyalty to the last one.” Nicturn crab-crawled backward. Karion advanced and kicked him between his legs. “I suppose it wouldn’t be incorrect to call you a dog.” Nicturn leapt to his feet, snarling. “What business do you have with the Secret Empire? We didn’t pick a fight with you or your peers. Why are you trying to exploit it?” Karion smiled and relented. He drew his sword, even as Nicturn drew his. The Barraki-general leapt forward with a heated rage matched by the High Commander’s cool amusement as they spared. “Nicturn, you and your fellows have recruited countless former Kritor soldiers. They have a home now and… a job that will keep their blades sharp until a true successor empire steps forward. And for that…. I am grateful. But your leader refuses to make noble warfare, and if you want your organization to be remembered as an extraordinary accomplishment, it cannot be bogged down in negative connotations. To me and my former peers, we cannot root for you no matter how powerful you might become. I am working to fix this. To beat an enemy on lesser footing is shameful. To beat an enemy on equal or superior footing is commendable. Kragator often kept the Makuta on equal footing to us to make his conquest all the more glorious; now I will do the same for Sheriem.” Nicturn laughed, pressing forward. “You truly are caught up in your delusions of grandeur. Your spectres of a crusade to be won. You and your peers alike. Fighting to remain relevant in a world that has long outgrown you.” Karion snarled as his Nicturn’s weapon was flung out of his opponent’s hands. Before the Rahi could reclaim it, the High Commander stepped on the weapon. “I am the old. You are the new. But just because I am old and you are new does not mean I and others like I are out of the playing field. Quite the contrary. We have played this game far longer than any other. I know the rules. I have manipulated kingdoms before you uttered your first word, dog. You and your kind should fear me and mine, for if I decide I don’t like you, you will find your power crumbling before you can ask me why I did it.” Karion advanced so that he was now between Nicturn and his weapon. “As a matter of fact, the Empire is crumbling as it is. You’re topheavy. Too many Barraki-generals. Sheriem needs you to retain easy power over your lands, but you’re collapsing. In fact, Sheriem has no doubt sent you here to recover my information because if the Alignment knows of your situation, they’ll easily exploit it.” Nicturn shook his head, looking for a reply. Something about this fellow… Most of his words were meaningless to the Barraki-general, but he was right... The Secret Empire was topheavy... “Regardless, the information you seek is long gone. In his final moments, Kragator was unable to modify the existing Kritor communication system, but he was able to modify it so that it wouldn’t fail, even after his death. And while most don’t know how to access the system anymore, ten creatures have yet found use for it. As you rather bluntly put it, the Kritor Empire is dead. Kragator never left an heir, even among his high command. I have nothing against the Secret Empire, but you not provoke me.” A portal opened as Karion stepped inside. “I would hate to give you the news of your irrelevance.”
Nicturn stared blankly where Karion had been. The High Commander had said a lot, but only one thing stuck in the Energy Hound’s mind. The Secret Empire was fragile. Nicturn hadn’t realized it before, but Karion was right. And if he was right about this… what else was he right about? He turned and started for Keetongu Isle, but then stopped. Let Sheriem believe he was still pursuing Karion; he had some business to begin.
On Artidax, the sore Ervik crawled blindly in the night over to where Arrin was sleeping and gently shook the Toa of Iron awake.
“Arrin! Wake up.”
Arrin’s breathing deepened and then lightened quickly.
“What do you need, Ervik.”
“Get the others. We need to go.”
Arrin sat up and looked at the sleeping soldiers around them. This was highly irregular for Ervik, especially the Ervik of late.
“Have we been ordered to move out?”
Ervik shook his head as he shook Callah awake. “No, but I’ve found something.”
Arrin reached for Kelrik, but changed his mind. Something in Ervik’s voice said the Alignment lieutenant wouldn’t approve of what their doing, and Kelrik wouldn’t want to move out against orders. Instead, he thanked Mata Nui that Kelrik was a heavy sleeper and hoisted him onto his shoulders.
Beside him, Callah was looking furiously at Ervik.
“What do you want?” she demanded.
“I’ve found something, but if the Alignment finds out, they’ll screw everything up. The Toa Uniran are best doing this on our own.”
Silently, the three Toa and one sleeping Toa made for the beach, careful to avoid disturbing the Alignment soldiers. Arrin occasionally had to stop and readjust Kelrik on his shoulders when his bruises were triggered. Thankfully the fireflyers hadn’t been spotted since, but orders came from Metru Nui that the detachment on Artidax had to stay there and investigate what had happened. After all, it could lead to unveiling some secret of their opponents. Until then, Artidax was quarantined.
The Toa shoved aside some of the remaining foliage. Ervik pointed into the pitch black.
“Do you see that?”
Arrin and Callah glared at Ervik who rolled his eyes.
“Look harder; you aren’t blind. There’s a warship passing us, heading to the east.”
“So?” Arrin asked hazily. “It’s probably just some Alignment vessel or faux-Barraki.”
“Artidax is quarantined, and after the fireflyer incident, do you really think faux-Barraki would sail too close? No. Let’s get our skiff.”
Kelrik smiled as he slowly listed out of unconsciousness. He’d had a weird dream where Callah had been rocking him back and forth like a baby in a crib. Admittedly the premise did make him a little uncomfortable in retrospect, but it had been rather… pleasant.
Kelrik rolled over. The dream had expired, but for some reason the rocking sensation was still present. And, oddly enough, the ground felt like wood, not dirt. Strange. He must’ve rolled over onto a pile of logs. He curled into a fetal position and put his arms beneath his head as he fell back into sleep.
Arrin watched Kelrik roll over and fought to suppress a giggle. He twisted and glanced the warship as he rowed. Callah sat on the bow of the ship which faced the warship. Behind her, Arrin and Ervik sat facing stern as they rowed with Kelrik lying comfortably between them. The quick, powerful strokes of the two Toa plus the psionic powers of Callah allowed them to cut through the water at a faster speed than the warship.
As they drew close to the larger ship’s hull, they slowed to a crawl, hiding in the ship’s shadow, carried by its wake. An authoritative voice barked commands at the crew.
“Pick up the pace, sea-dogs. The Emperor is demanding that all units return to base, and I am not liable to disappoint him.”
Kelrik started at the noise, but Arrin covered his mouth before he could shout.
There was the creaking of footsteps from one of the lower levels to the deck and the same voice said,
“Kerluk, I needed you twenty minutes ago. The Secret Empire has been attacked. Sheriem wants your presence immediately.”
A deep voice chuckled.
“Unlike you, Jokrah, and your fellow Archcomin cultists I have no delusions about our emperor.”
“Had it not been for Sheriem and the Archcomin Following, you would still be wandering your island home, idly living life as a hermit, doomed to be forgotten in your foolish ways.”
“Perhaps, but had it not been for the Kritors, you couldn’t have gotten Sheriem on your side. Nor would you have convinced so many to worship the legacy of the Archcommanders had it not been for Kragator. It’s the Kritor/Makuta War that reshuffled the universe and me with it.”
There was the sound of someone spitting at the ground. Footfalls were again heard making their way to the lower decks.
“Just get me to Keetongu Isle. Simple enough for the likes of you. I’ll be in my cabin. Next time you ‘need’ me, Jokrah… You know where to find me.”
The footsteps seemed to grow more distant. Jokrah snorted.
“Watch yourself, Kerluk. ‘Where’ may be the Pit if I decide Sheriem won’t like you.”
The Toa rowed away from the ship. Once out of earshot, they leaned forward in the night darkness.
“Keetongu Isle?” Kelrik asked. “But that place is ruled by the Barraki, Nicturn. A Rahi kingdom they said.”
“Who said?” Arrin asked.
“Refugees looking for aide from the Alignment. But they disappeared quickly.” Kelrik looked alarmed.
“Did the Alignment ever investigate it themselves?” Callah rolled her eyes.
Kelrik looked sheepish.
“We have to get this to HQ.” Arrin said. “As quickly as--”
“But what if Keetongu Isle isn’t actually the secret capital? What if it’s just another base?”
“It isn’t.” Ervik said. “I know it isn’t.”
“How would you know?” “That place… has a history with the Archcommanders. It makes sense these… Archcomin Following people would settle there, and perhaps Sheriem too.” “And there’s another thing. What is this… Archcomin Following?” Arrin asked.
“Troublemakers,” Ervik and Kelrik said at the same time. They exchanged glances.
“You first,” Kelrik said. Ervik nodded.
“They’re relatively recent development. They’ve always been small, but as the Kritor/Makuta War neared its conclusion, they became more well known. Most didn’t know of their existence--still don’t in fact--but they worship the Archcommanders. They steal anything belonging to a dead Archcommander so they can worship it. According to what I’ve heard, they stole some of Kragator’s personal possessions from Bythrain--nothing special, all the important stuff was gone--but small items of minor significance. And do you remember the Battle of Zakaz?” Kelrik and Arrin nodded. “Well, after the Maktuta raided your Bohrok tunnel, all stolen Alignment property was taken to a Makuta League outpost near the north of Zakaz. After the war, I heard that place too was raided by the Archcomin Following. One of Hazat’s platoons was sent to investigate it, but they disappeared.” Ervik looked at Kelrik. “Do you have anything else to add?”
Kelrik shrugged. “I’ve heard of Following activity on Alignment radars, but it was mostly lumped in with faux-Barraki shenanigans. Stealing land here, raiding there. They did loot Bythrain and they captured the Pit--”
“They captured the Pit!” Ervik exclaimed. “No wonder the rulers of the League of Six Kingdoms are generals!”
“Yes, and--wait, Ervik,” Kelrik looked at Ervik. “How do you know that? No one knows the names of the generals.”
Ervik smiled and shrugged.
“Unconfirmed rumors, I suppose. Backchat.”
Kelrik glanced suspiciously at Ervik.
“Alright. Well… We need to take this information back to the Alignment. And next time--” Kelrik glared at Arrin. “Don’t abduct me without my knowledge.”
Arrin grinned. “Got it. Next time I knock you out and kidnap you, I’ll be sure to tell you first.”
Kelrik rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean.”
Sheriem shoved through the door to his chamber. He started to reach for his chair, but his hands grasped the post on his bed. Staring confusedly at the colors flashing behind him, he made his way to his vanity, but tripped over his chair and slammed his chin on the sink. Rolling over on the floor, he realized he still felt the falling sensation.
His scouts and spies in the Alignment reported word was getting around. The leaked information was already evaluated and calculated, no doubt. Everything was slipping out of his control. The empire--dissenters in the Kritor ranks. The secrets--escaping his hand like slippery cards. The generals--fighting and arguing and aligning on the basis of genus and racism. What had gone wrong?
Sheriem started to pick himself up, but was overwhelmed by a wave of vertigo and fell back. In the haze, a tall being in polished grey armor with crimson detailing took slow, calculated strides forward. Sheriem was suddenly aware of the mess around him and his own armor, some parts practically falling off him. Like he was tangled in a web of destruction, mess, and informality.
The figure laughed as his features grew more defined. Sheriem scowled; it was a figure he hadn’t seen for thousands of years; a figure who’d been dead to him for far longer.
“Sheriem, Sheriem, Sheriem. Your time in the Pit did far worse damage your mind than even I expected. How the mighty fall.”
“You!” Sheriem snarled. “What are you doing here?” “Poor fool, thinking a true empire can be built overnight. There’s a strike if I ever heard one.”
Sheriem tried to rise, but was seized by migraines.
“Of course, you would’ve known that had you read Pravat’s writings. ‘Know your enemy; stand in his armor for a day.’ Pulled right out of his text. Who knows? You could’ve conquered the universe long before I ever did had you only listened to the wisdom he had to offer. And here you are, failing to grasp your enemies. That’s another strike.”
“Get out of my room, Alligator.” Sheriem growled again, fighting his way upward.
“Ah yes, I remember that. We each had our own animal. You were the Bear. Bearing your secrets. Hiding and hibernating. You played the part rather well, in retrospect. ‘She’ was the Mockingbird whom you killed. ‘He’ was the Hyena, ever laughing at us, even as death devoured him. How quaint. We were rather fond of each other back then.”
Sheriem was standing now, awkwardly posed, head tilted to the side like some puppet with its strings tangled. His face was red with rage as he struggled to contain himself.
“You’re dead, old ‘friend’. What are you? Some phantom? Some vision? Some vision of Naming Day past? Who’s the phantom of Naming Day present, Zekrim? Zefrim? Whatever that guy’s name is…”
“If you really want one…” a Toa of Plasma appeared beside Kragator who indicated. “Naming Day present.” The Toa faded and a new biomechanical being resembling Kragator and standing just as high appeared. It bore Kragator’s famed mask and carried his sword, but it was clearly not Kragator. He looked young, although the same pride glowed fiercely in his eyes.
“Do you like it?” Kragator asked. “Naming Day future, and a representative of your demise. Like my mask, this body was another product of the Artakha/Karzahni alliance I created during the Kritor/Makuta War. This is what my heir looks like. Thank the Great Spirit he’s built well… unlike you it seems. Armor doesn’t fall off this body so easily.”
The phantom looked on Sheriem in disgust. Sheriem started reattaching some of his loose armor as the ten-foot ghost said,
“Pathetic. This is a game of emperors, Sheriem, and you are not one. Heck, even Miserix was better at this game than you are.”
Sheriem snapped and lunged for the figure. As his clutches fell on his victim, his hand fell through his visitor’s form like an elusive cloud.
“Oh really.” Sheriem yelled. “Then tell me, how did I get the power I have? How am I emperor? How is Helryx dead while I’m the only one left of us all?”
“Um… Sheer coincidence?”
“Is that all you have to offer?”
“Would you like me to be honest?”
“Are you capable of such a feat?”
“The Archcomin Following gave you everything you own. Their membership ballooned after I became a symbol. Your generals are either faux-Barraki who were inspired by my legacy or former enemies of mine with something to prove. Your rage against the universe, your drive to conquer is owed to my condemning you to the Pit. Any way you trace it back, you owe everything to me, Sheriem.”
Sheriem swiped again at Kragator who dodged easily.
“You die and now, somehow, every movement of every particle, however insignificant is owed to you.”
“Not to brag but, well, yeah.”
“What a fool. The great martyr, the symbol of glory. You think I’m pathetic; why don’t you look in the mirror?”
“Because my ego is built on truth, not personal beauty. Although, if you read my paper “On the Nature of Power”, that does play a large roll.” Kragator chuckled as Sheriem threw something through his ghost. “Careful, you’re only allowed three strikes and you’ve already spent two.”
“My mask? Well, it is quite the collector’s item now. Imagine how your foolish Archcomin fellows would wet themselves if they could touch it. The Mask of No Powers. What fools they are, though. Four Archcommanders are famous, but only because of one. One led us to victory against our enemies, and one revived the universe’s interest in the subject. If those Archcomins were only bright enough to realize…”
“Love you too.”
“You and your obsession with legacy. Pravat put that idea in your head; it wasn’t your own. You claim everything is a result of your actions, that you are the deviant, the deviating detail in this universe. But you got everything from him! What an idiot you are! Everything is a result of him.”
Kragator’s face darkened.
“I was fascinated by him, yes, but I built on his ideas in ways even he could not. Did he rule the entire universe at one point? No. Some of his ideas may have gotten me where I am today, but he is not the Deviant.”
“Aw, poor Kragator.”
“That was your final strike. I came here to tell you one thing; I’d advise you take it.”
“Take it with a grain of salt. Look who’s dead.”
“Your final strike.” Kragator rose to his full height. “I condemn you, Sheriem. I condemn you and your topheavy empire. I let my High Commanders support you, but now I’ll remove the supports.”
“Do you remember when your threats had substance? Now look at you. Your form doesn’t have substance, to say nothing of your magnificent threats.”
Kragator slammed his fist into a wall. The wall didn’t react, but Sheriem fell back in a pile. The Secret Emperor hadn’t seen the wall there before; yet it was his own wall--the vision was fading. He glanced back at Kragator who was snarling like a mad bull.
“Magnificent brother? You want something truly magnificent? Look at me! I’ve ended empires before they’ve begun. Listen to me! I’ve raised peasants to royalty and condemned the self-righteous to ashes. Your power has been permitted and permeated by me, and me alone. There is no Great Spirit in this universe, but if there is, let him too bow before me! To think you call me “brother”. I have a legacy; he is clad in iron, he bears my mask, he wields my sword, and I control him. When the time comes, I will be reborn through him and through my High Commanders. You’re legacy, like that of some fool, will be blown away like the ashes of a commoner’s cremated corpse, your secrets forever forgotten like a lost breath.”
Kragator stepped forward and Sheriem felt himself crawl backwards.
“I condemn you and your puny attempts at playing ‘emperor’. By this time seven days from now, your kingdom will be shattered and my words will be fulfilled. I was struck down, but now I have become more powerful than you could possibly imagine, for I live on in words and whispers and fears. Look at you--look at this nightmare of yours. I’m not even real yet look at us. But you will not stand. I will see to that. Farewell, Sheriem. Though I am dead, you will find I am the last surviving Archcommader.”
The dream faded, and couldn’t help but feel a sensation of teleportation and a feeling of doom and regret, not unlike the first time Kragator had condemned him to the Pit.
Something had to be done. A change in tactics, perhaps. Sheriem jumped to his feet and pressed a button that signaled Vriin. The being appeared quickly in Sheriem’s doorframe.
“Summon the Barraki-Generals. Tell them the secrets are out. Rally their armies and lands. Throw off the covers and deception. Tell them to rally the troops and ravage as they please.”
Nicturn walked into Keetongu Isle accompanied by Birdie and Guanga, friends of his and a former subordinates of his in the Makuta League. Nicturn had tracked them down to the Tren Krom Peninsula and Mount Valmai Region respectively where he’d drafted them to the Secret Empire. Nicturn’s purpose for his friends was far more than that, of course; if the Secret Empire split, he’d need strong friends to help him lead and maintain control over the Rahi. He did already have Grukko. His thoughts were disturbed by the alarming sight of the empty underground fortress. “Where is everyone?” Birdie grunted. “I… I don’t know…” In the corner of his eye, Nicturn saw Vriin approaching. “What happened, Vriin? Were we attacked? Where’s Sheriem?” “Sheriem is in his room. The Barraki-Generals have returned to their homelands with others of their race. They have been ordered to rally and conquer.” “Conquer? Conquer what?” “Anything they possibly can.” “How long ago was this?” “Six days ago. Grukko was temporarily given control of your division and they’ve been ordered to go to the island you were informed of when you were recruited. You will find them ready to move out when you arrive.” A lump formed in Nicturn’s throat., but he didn’t know why. It was like he was directionless. As much as he hated to admit it, he relied on others for guidance. But that wasn’t the way to think. If he was to lead the Sentient Rahi, he had to think like a leader. He nodded at Birdie and Guanga. “Come. Let’s go.”
Jathret burst into the Alignment headquarter tent, followed closely by the Toa Uniran and several others of his subordinates. Zekrim and the others snapped up from studying the war map. Did they do anything these days besides studying that thing? “Jathret, you were ordered to stay at Artidax until we knew what to do?” “You weren’t responding to any of my messages, Zekrim. The capital of the Secret Empire has been found. It’s on--” “Keetongu Island, we know.” Jathret stared at Zekrim. “How did you know?” “A surge of soldiers and Barraki-Generals were spotted flooding out of the island four days ago. What’s more, we caught a massive break and got a list of all Sheriem generals and land he holds.” “Well, why don’t we go down there and investigate it?” Zekrim gestured angrily at the map. “Because we have a far greater mess on our hands. Sheriem’s generals have returned to their homelands and have started attacking anything within reach. It’s like there’s no strategy anymore, just rabid striking out.” “Sheriem himself is believed to still be hidden in Keetongu Isle, but it might not even be worth taking him out anymore if his generals aren’t answering directly to him.” Jathret whistled through his teeth. “That’s bad.” Zekrim rubbed his face. “All in all, what with the mad Secret Empire attacks, the heightened faux-Barraki activity in response, the slaughter of civilians, and the clashing of armies… Uncivil War like there has never been in the universe. All work has stopped as the civil war rages. My friends… this is the Great Disruption.” Bitter silence fell over those present. Zekrim cursed that Helryx was gone. “We have to endure. Our universe survived Kragator; now we must also survive this savagery.” “Those were two very different things,” Jathret frowned. “We just have to have faith. Faith in the Alignment and in ourselves. And in the Great Spirit.” There was a snort from near the tent flaps. Heads swiveled to Ervik who chuckled. “If there is a Great Spirit, do you really think he would’ve let all this happen? The Kritor Empire, the Maktua League--he should’ve intervened but didn’t. And now all this bloodshed. To what end? What mad being would sit around and let us wipe each other out?” Callah, Kelrik, and Arrin stared at Ervik, mouths gaping. “Ervik,” Callah said, “How could you say such things? Everything Grunpa taught us...” “I’ve learned a great deal since I left Uniran for the first time,” Ervik growled. “I had one teacher in particular…” “So you’re going to reject everything you’ve been raised to believe? Everything the Turaga said?” Arrin demanded. “Had I remained on Uniran, I would’ve missed the universe bowing before Kragator. And I would’ve missed the Great Spirit bow to him as well.” Zekrim frowned at Ervik. “The Great Spirit bows to no one.” “There’s a strike against you. Careful, you can only have three.” Zekrim was about to ask what he was talking about, but at that moment, the ground trembled. “What was that?” The ground trembled again. One of the generals lost her footing. She was about to rise, but a far sharper quake struck the city. “Is this Sheriem’s doing?” Ervik snorted again. “Do you really think Sheriem’s capable of something like this? Just look at him.” A rumble began to grow, slowly at first, then faster, so loud it was deafening. Yet vaguely, Zekrim could hear the echo off a voice on the wind: There is no Great Spirit, but if there is, let him, too, bow before me. The Alignment officers and Toa Uniran ran outside and lifted fearful eyes to the sky. A gigantic cloak passed over them, cutting off the twin suns and the city was consumed in blackness. Greater quakes were striking the earth like sledgehammers and fissures cut through the ground.
Far off, on Keetongu Isle, Sheriem was in his room underground when he felt the pounding quake. Masonry falling around him, he stood calmly and started for the door. And he shut it. And he locked it. And then he sat down. He had long since made his decision. He now knew what Kragator’s words had meant. Besides, it was either die now or let some Alignment agent assassinate him. This was the end. No change in tactics could change that. He knew that now. He had always wanted to be left alone, to do his own thing. But the cloak of Kragator had always loomed over him. First the Kritor Emperor had cast him to the Pit. Now he was condemning his empire from beyond the grave. If Sheriem couldn’t be rid of the curse, he might as well accept it. And as his accepted it, the ceiling caved in, crushing him and his madness forever.
In the Coliseum, Dume looked sadly at the stars, their messages hopeless. Something terrible had happened to Mata Nui. Thankfully, the Coliseum’s strong foundations had prevented it from falling to the tremors. All around, the city was shaking and trembling as though some giant had fallen from the sky and struck the earth. This was Mata Nui’s judgement. Such disunity, such disorder in the Matoran Universe, nobody doing their proper jobs the Great Beings had intended them to do. And this was their judgement. And yet… Dume had no doubt the rabid generals of Sheriem were too caught up in their mad conquests to realize what their actions had done...
- Toa Uniran
- Zefrim (or Zekrim, I can never remember how to spell his name)
- Alignment Lieutenants
- Matoran Order
- The Turaga High Council
- Other Turaga
- Various angry Ko-Matoran
- Matoran at the Wake
- The Turaga High Council
- The Secret Empire
- Reformed Makuta League
- Kragator - corpse/in a vision
- Tobduk - mentioned
- Faux-Barraki - mentioned
- Turaga Grunpa - mentioned
- Uniran Matoran - mentioned
Story Notes and Trivia
- In Chapter One, a reference is made to the rising Age of Nation-States. While the period where like species join together is referred to as the Age of Nation-States, an alternate (and perhaps more appropriate) title would be the Age of Genus-States because related species are joining forces.
- In Chapter One, Helryx’s final words to Zefrim to “do not be afraid to make the difficult decisions” is another reference to the second section of the fourth chapter of Destiny’ War. It’s also meant to refer back to the eleventh chapter of Destiny’s Way where she says something very similar.
- At the end of the first meeting of the Turaga High Council, the assigning of lands to Turaga to rule is based on the original incarnation of the Turaga High Council page which ToaGonel adopted.
- Leviathos’s backstory is based on that of that of Biogecko’s Leviathos in the Slicer’s Gigas Magna Storyline. Many of the quotes, the name of the Makuta who attacked his island, and Leviathos’ constant need to reply to everything said to him is drawn from Leviathos’ Story.
- Additionally, the character Behmah is based on Lizard, another Noctian also created by Biogecko.
- Sheriem’s parting quote in his meeting with Leviathos comes from the Shadowed One in the Prime Reality just after he kills Ancient. The source quote is also a one Gonel used in promotional material for Wake.
- In chapter seven, General Karion expresses confusion over Sheriem’s “improper” battle style, despite likely having proper strategies on par with Kragator’s. As explained in his article, Sheriem’s philosophy of hierarchy and warfare is based in the compromise he set forth between Helryx and Kragator to merge their philosophies on the subjects (as portrayed in the side story, Archcommand). Even though this idea was later rejected by both Helryx and Kragator, Sheriem developed these philosophies during his time in the Pit. The idea of a self-interested organization with a highly centralized hierarchy stems from Kragator’s plan (on which the Kritor Empire is based). The idea of an invisible, secretive organization striking out sporadically stems from Helryx’s plan (on which the Order of Mata Nui in the Prime Reality is based).
- In Chapter Seven, Loden states that “One invader, former Kritor General or not, makes no difference. Now thirty-nine invaders on the other hand…" This is a reference to Invader39.
- In Chapter Nine, Jokrah refers to Kerluk having lived a life as a hermit. This is a deliberate parallel to Sheriem and his prior history.
- In Chapter Nine, Ervik refers to what he’s “heard” about the Archcomin Following. This is of importance that will be revealed later on.
- In Chapter Ten, Kragator refers to Helryx as the “Mockingbird”. This is a reference to the novel To Kill a Mockingbird and the idea that it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird.
- In Chapter Ten, Sheriem says, “Zekrim? Zefrim? Whatever that guy’s name is…” which is a joke referring to Gonel’s inability to remember how to spell the guy’s name.
- In Chapter Ten, the concept of Naming Day past, present and future is a reference to A Christmas Carol, the arrival of the singular Kragator can be seen as more It’s a Wonderful Life-esque, and Kragator’s revelation of his descendant line of heirs can be viewed as Macbethian. That said, the allusions are far more than just allusions, as this scene is a very significant ones. It features alternate, (truer, when the facts are interpreted deeper than face value) explanations as to why things have happened the way they have, it explains the whole point of Sheriem’s story, and it alludes (when it doesn’t blatantly foreshadow) to events to come in the next parts of the series.
- In Chapter Ten, Kragator says “I was struck down, but now I have become more powerful than you could possibly imagine, for I live on in words and whispers and fears.” The first part of this is an obvious reference to Star Wars
- Kragator’s final words to Sheriem are twice fulfilled; first, it is through the Kritor legions in the Secret Empire that Sheriem’s secrets are leaked; second, Sheriem’s desperate actions in his attempt to escape Kragator’s condemnation ultimately unleash the Barraki-generals and give them the final push they need to become independant from Sheriem and the Secret Empire.
- In writing this story, Gonel had to juggle the personalities of a great deal of characters he adopted through the adoption policy. If you’re character was one of those used and you feel s/he was incorrectly represented, please tell me and I will do my best to fix it.
- The title “Wake” refers to 1. The turmoil left behind in Kragator’s demise, (like the wake of a boat or ship) 2. The pyre where Kragator was cremated, Helryx was killed, and Sheriem was revealed, 3. The waking up of the universe to the Secret Threat and, what’s more, to the universe post-Kritor/Makuta conflict, and 4. Sheriem’s vision of Kragator in which 1. he cannot wake and 2. Kragator essentially tells him to face reality and abandon his dreams. Naturally, there are also other references to waking up throughout the story.