Difference between revisions of "BIONICLEsector01:Sandbox"

From BIONICLEsector01
m (testing)
(Kraata names)
(17 intermediate revisions by 8 users not shown)
Line 1: Line 1:
 
__NEWSECTIONLINK__
 
__NEWSECTIONLINK__
-
+
 
 
<div style="text-align: center; color: black; border: none; padding: 0px">
 
<div style="text-align: center; color: black; border: none; padding: 0px">
 
[[Image:Wiki-Nui.png|center]]
 
[[Image:Wiki-Nui.png|center]]
Line 95: Line 95:
  
 
= Deputy Toa =
 
= Deputy Toa =
 +
A '''Deputy Toa''' is the second-in-command of a Toa team. They serve as confidants for their team's leader, or succeed them in the case of death or other circumstances.
  
A '''Deputy Toa''' is the second-in-command of a Toa team. They serve as confidantes to their team leaders and fulfill the role themselves when their leaders are unavailable.
+
== Known Deputy Toa ==
 
 
== Known Toa ==
 
 
[[File:Comic Kopaka Nuva Phantoka.PNG|thumb|right|150px|Kopaka, the deputy leader of the Toa Nuva]]
 
[[File:Comic Kopaka Nuva Phantoka.PNG|thumb|right|150px|Kopaka, the deputy leader of the Toa Nuva]]
 
[[File:Toa Hordika.PNG|thumb|left|200px|Nokama led the Toa Hordika during Vakama's defection]]
 
[[File:Toa Hordika.PNG|thumb|left|200px|Nokama led the Toa Hordika during Vakama's defection]]
* [[Bomonga]] - [[Toa Hagah]] of {{G|1|Earth}} and deputy of his team under Toa [[Norik]]
+
* [[Bomonga]] - [[Toa Hagah]] of {{G|1|Earth}}. Deputy of his team under Toa [[Norik]].
* [[Nokama]] - [[Toa Metru]] and temporarily [[Toa Hordika]] of {{G|1|Water}}, maintained her group's cohesion during leader [[Vakama]]'s defection
+
* [[Nokama]] - [[Toa Metru]] and temporarily [[Toa Hordika]] of {{G|1|Water}}. Maintained her group's cohesion during [[Vakama]]'s defection.
* [[Kopaka]] - [[Toa Mata]] and later [[Toa Nuva]] of {{G|1|Ice}}, despite originally struggling with unity. When the team split up into Phantoka and Mistika divisions, Kopaka took command of the Phantoka while leader [[Tahu]] placed himself with the Mistika.
+
* [[Kopaka]] - [[Toa Mata]] and later [[Toa Nuva]] of {{G|1|Ice}}. Leader of the Toa Phantoka, a subdivision of the Toa Nuva.
* [[Hewkii]] - [[Toa Inika]] and later [[Toa Mahri]] of {{G|1|Stone}}, appointed as replacement leader when [[Jaller]] believed his death was imminent.
+
* [[Hewkii]] - [[Toa Inika]] and later [[Toa Mahri]] of {{G|1|Stone}}. Personally designated successor of [[Jaller]] during the Quest for the Mask of Life.
  
 
== Trivia ==
 
== Trivia ==
Line 112: Line 111:
 
{{ClassicNav}}
 
{{ClassicNav}}
  
= Proto-Squad =
+
=The Crossing=
 +
'''Chapter 1'''
  
The '''Proto-Squad''' was an exclusive BIONICLE product-testing program run by the LEGO Group in the United States from 2002 to 2005.
+
Strakk slammed his Ice Axe on the table so hard that the stone plate splintered with a sharp crack. The sound made Metus wince.
  
== Details ==
+
“No!” said Strakk. “No. Definitely not.”
  
The Proto-Squad consisted of a limited number (originally 2,500) of US BIONICLE fans aged 8 to 14; the original members were selected through a contest run by LEGO that was advertised in the LEGO Magazine. Members periodically received packages in the mail containing sneak peaks of the BIONICLE storyline, BIONICLE sets, exclusive promotional items, and other BIONICLE merchandise, all free of charge. Additionally, members received access to exclusive web content and downloads. In return, Proto-Squad members were occasionally asked to submit feedback about BIONICLE products and were encouraged to spread the word about BIONICLE to their friends. Included in every mailing was a signed letter from BIONICLE author [[Greg Farshtey]], who served as the program's spokesperson.<ref name="ps-feb-2003" /> Mailings arrived in yellow packages. In 2005, members were also given access to an exclusive e-mail newsletter.
+
Metus frowned. The Agori villager had been acting as trainer of warriors and promoter of matches for many years. He was used to dealing with stubborn warriors, but most of them weren’t as quick-tempered as Strakk. He should have expected it, though. Especially for a Glatorian like Strakk, everything was about profit. It was a running joke in the village of Iconox that Strakk wouldn’t even open his eyes in the morning unless it would benefit him somehow. For a moment, Metus considered giving up. Then he thought twice: Strakk’s agreement was very important to him.
  
== Membership ==
+
“You owe me a favor,” Metus told him. “Where would you be without me? And how often do I ask a favor of you?”
  
The Proto-Squad was first advertised in the March-April{{CN}} 2002 issue of LEGO Mania Magazine as a collaboration with then-BIONICLE endorser and professional skateboarder Andy MacDonald. Entry into the program was decided through a contest which asked applicants to mail in their personal information on an entry form, a parent or guardian's signature, and a drawing or photograph of a scene based on a paragraph of text provided in the contest details.<ref>[http://web.archive.org/web/20020603123337/http://www.lego.com/eng/bionicle/proto/proto.asp Official Web Entry Form]</ref> Only 2,500 winning Proto-Squad members were to be selected from among these applications.<ref>BZPower News. [http://www.bzpower.com/archive.php?archive=&amonth=9&ayear=2002&submit.x=24&submit.y=2 "Proto Squad Deadline Passed."] September 2, 2002.</ref> The entry form and contest rules were included in the LEGO Mania Magazine and later posted on the official BIONICLE website. Applicants were required to be US residents who would be between the ages of 9 and 12 as of July 7, 2002.<ref>BZPower News. [http://www.bzpower.com/archive.php?archive=&amonth=5&ayear=2002&submit.x=5&submit.y=6 "Join the Proto Squad."] May 24, 2002.</ref> The entry deadline was August 30, 2002.<ref>BZPower News. [http://www.bzpower.com/archive.php?archive=&amonth=8&ayear=2002&submit.x=26&submit.y=10 "Proto-Squad deadline nears."] August 23, 2002.</ref>
+
“Hm, there was that match against Kiina last month,” Strakk replied. “And at your request I helped with the training of that bully, who then completely forgot it was just a practice match and sent me into a healer’s barracks for weeks. Oh, and then there was…”
  
Although the program lasted for several years, there was no means available to the public for new members to join the Proto-Squad after this initial contest. This led to some frustration in the community; in October 2003, BZPower even published an opinion piece arguing that LEGO should select new Proto-Squad members.<ref>BZPower News. [http://bzpower.com/story.php?ID=1471 "It's Time To Toss Out The Proto Squad."] October 18, 2003.</ref> In January 2004, LEGO did ask existing Proto-Squad members to invite one of their friends to apply to join the Proto-Squad. These new members were required to be US residents between the ages of 8 and 14 and to write a 50-word essay in answer to a question. The deadline for these entries was March 15, 2004.<ref name="bzp-jan-8-04">BZPower News. [http://bzpower.com/story.php?ID=1633 "Two Surprises for the Proto-Squad."] January 8, 2004.</ref>
+
“All right, all right,” snapped Metus. “You don’t need to tell me the story of your life. This is a quick and easy job, won’t take longer than a week, and it’ll be well paid. Do you want it or not?
  
== List of Packages and Updates ==
+
Metus was lying, of course. He had to lie often when negotiating with his fighters. The job he had offered Strakk would be neither quick nor easy. The village of Iconox had to send a shipment of the valuable metal Exsidian to the village of Vulcanus, payment for a match a fighter named Gelu had lost. Under normal circumstances the carriage would take the shortest route, southeast through the Dunes of Treason and then directly to the Fire village. Not the safest route in the world, but one that was used very often. In recent weeks, though, a group of barbaric nomads called the Bone Hunters had changed the dunes into a lethal trap. For reasons they hadn’t revealed, they were about to sever trading connections between villages, particularly those with the Water Tribe village, Tajun. The result was that every caravan that moved through the desert was in danger. Worse, the Bone Hunters weren’t content with simply robbing the goods – they also killed the coachmen. But Iconox didn’t have a choice; the carriage had to be sent on its way. If they refused to pay after a lost battle, their fighters would no longer be welcome in the arenas of Bara Magna. So now it was about finding a route on which they could transport their goods safely all the way to Vulcanus.
  
The following is a list of Proto-Squad packages and the items they contained. Note that this may not be an exhaustive list.
+
“Well, let’s see,” said Strakk. “You want to send a fully loaded carriage eastward through the Black Spike Mountains, over the Dark Falls and then through Creep Canyon. Every single one of these places is more dangerous than a Sand Bat with sunburn. And you want me to guard this cargo on its way. Did I get that straight?”
  
=== December 2002 ===
+
“Yes,” Metus nodded.
  
Shipped in a yellow package, the first Proto-Squad package included a Toa Nuva-themed 2003 calendar, a voucher for a free pair of BIONICLE Nike shoes, and a letter from Greg Farshtey.<ref>BZPower News. [http://www.bzpower.com/story.php?ID=686 "Proto Squad Packages Shipped."] December 11, 2002.</ref>
+
“No,” said Strakk. “I’m a Glatorian. I fight for my village if it needs something from another and I’m paid well for it. I’m no guard or guide or errand boy. I fight against other Glatorian in an arena. I don’t fight against Bone Hunters. They have a nasty habit of killing everyone who fights them.
  
=== February 2003 ===
+
Metus had to admit that Strakk was right. No one dealt with Bone Hunters if it could be avoided. Their mounts, called Rock Steeds, possessed rows of sharp teeth and scary, scorpion-like stinger tails. Their sense of smell was so fine they could sense a foe from miles away. And regarding the Hunters themselves, they hadn’t survived millennia in the Wastelands by being friendly. They were ruthless, violent and greedy. If they possessed any virtues, then it was their endurance – they rarely gave up a chase – and their thoroughness – after an attack there was nothing left standing. The Agori left Strakk’s shelter. The Glatorian followed him and kept talking.
  
Included a Bohrok-Kal set and a letter from Greg Farshtey.<ref>BZPower News. [http://www.bzpower.com/story.php?ID=787 "Proto Squad Packages Being Shipped."] February 8, 2003.</ref><ref name="ps-feb-2003">BZPower News. [http://www.bzpower.com/story.php?ID=792 "Ever Wonder about the ''Proto Squad''?"] February 10, 2003.</ref>
+
“And don’t forget the Skrall – you remember them, don’t you – huge, black-armored, turning people to mincemeat just for fun? Who do you think lives up in the Black Spike Mountains?
  
=== March 2003 ===
+
“Calm down,” said Metus. “Listen. We’ve hired the best.”
  
Included a $50 LEGO Shop@Home gift certificate to cover the cost of BIONICLE Nike shoes. Also included a letter from Greg Farshtey with a link and password to the exclusive Proto-Squad content on Lego.com.<ref>BZPower News. [http://www.bzpower.com/archive.php?archive=&amonth=3&ayear=2003&submit.x=19&submit.y=14 "Proto-Squad members receive update."] March 3, 2003.</ref> The web content became available as of March 20.<ref>BZPower News. [http://www.bzpower.com/archive.php?archive=&amonth=3&ayear=2003&submit.x=19&submit.y=14 "Proto Squad members, rejoice!"] March 20, 2003.</ref>
+
Metus pointed toward the fully loaded carriage. On the coachman’s seat sat an Iconox Agori – Kirbold – and a green-armored Agori from the village of Tesara. On the Sand Stalker next to the carriage sat a Glatorian Strakk identified as Gresh.
  
=== May 2003 ===
+
“Since when does Tesara send their Glatorian and Agori to help Iconox?” Strakk asked.
  
This package included an impressive array of rare collectibles: an orange Kanohi Vahi piece, a hard plastic dark grey Krana-Kal (later known by collectors as a "Grey Plastic Krana-Kal" or "GPKK"), and a silver plastic Krana-Kal (later known by collectors as a "Vacuum Metal Krana-Kal" or "VMKK"). The package also included a Bohrok-Kal mini CD-ROM, a large Rahkshi poster, sketches from the upcoming BIONICLE Comic 13, and a BIONICLE survey to be returned to LEGO. Members who completed the survey would receive a special Rahkshi T-shirt in the August Proto-Squad package as a thank-you.<ref>BZPower News. [http://www.bzpower.com/archive.php?archive=&amonth=4&ayear=2003&submit.x=22&submit.y=11 "The Next Proto Package."] April 24, 2003.</ref><ref>BZPower News. [http://www.bzpower.com/archive.php?archive=&amonth=5&ayear=2003&submit.x=23&submit.y=6 May 17, 2003].</ref><ref>BZPower News. [http://www.bzpower.com/story.php?ID=1042 "A cool package indeed for Proto Squad members."] June 6, 2003.</ref> This "employees only" T-shirt was not publicly available for purchase and was like those worn by LEGO employees driving the Unleashed tour vans.<ref name="bzp-jul-2-03">BZPower News. [http://bzpower.com/archive.php?archive=&amonth=7&ayear=2003&submit.x=15&submit.y=4 "A Message from LEGO to Squad Members."] July 2, 2003.</ref>
+
“Since the Bone Hunters’ attacks are starting to get them, too,” answered Metus. “They want to find out themselves whether this new route works. If that’s the case, they can use it too. The Agori’s name is Tarduk. He’s said to know the wilderness.
  
Although the inclusion of the Vahi had been rumored beforehand, the inclusion of the VMKKs and GPKKs in the packages came as a surprise. The Proto-Squad package originally described the VMKKs as "misprints," but it was later explained that they were originally intended to fulfill the role of the white metal Krana-Kal (WMKK) and sterling silver Krana-Kal (SSKK) that were packaged in random Bohrok-Kal sets. The production of the VMKKs was stopped early due to time constraints, and the WMKKs and SSKKs were commissioned to replace them in the sets. The VMKKs were later distributed on the Unleashed tour vans as well.<ref>BZPower Forums. [http://bzpower.com/story.php?ID=1222 "Where Did Those Vacuum Metal Krana Come From?"] July 25, 2003.</ref> At one point, all eight variations of VMKK were available for purchase on a site called ShopMataNui.com.<ref>BZPower News. [http://bzpower.com/archive.php?archive=&amonth=9&ayear=2003&submit.x=27&submit.y=9 "Major New Additions to ShopMataNui.com."] September 20, 2003.</ref> BZPower also distributed VMKKs through a giveaway in September 2003.<ref>BZPower News. [http://bzpower.com/story.php?ID=1399 "BZPower's 7th Giveaway."] September 23, 2003.</ref>
+
Metus turned around and stared at Strakk.
  
Both the VMKKs and GPKKs were produced in all eight krana shapes, and Proto-Squad members received one of each collectible in a random shape. These collectibles are now valued at hundreds of US dollars each.<ref>BZPower Forums. [http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/14647-official-rare-promotional-collectibles-topic/ "Official Rare & Promotional Collectibles Topic."] Posted September 15, 2014. Last edited June 29,
+
“Iconox wants one of their Glatorian to join this tour – you’ll surely understand why. If you agree, I am sure I could manage to get you some matches in Vulcanus… to show everyone what heroism you will show here.
2017.</ref>
 
  
=== June 2003 ===
+
Strakk laughed out loud. “I know everything about heroes. They’re the ones who get buried in holes in the ground. And when they’re lucky, someone will place a marker in the earth above their heads. But I’m not unreasonable… not much. So I shall go… for double the reward.”
  
The exclusive web content was updated as of June 19.<ref>BZPower News. [http://www.bzpower.com/archive.php?archive=&amonth=6&ayear=2003&submit.x=27&submit.y=3 "Proto Squad web site updated."] June 19, 2003.</ref>
+
Metus swallowed hard. That would mean Iconox would have to get a lot of weapons, armor and supplies for Strakk. But he obviously didn’t have any other choice. If Iconox were to neglect their payment duty to Vulcanus, the whole system of solving conflicts between villages by Glatorian matches would be at risk. In the end, that would mean he would lose his job.
  
=== August 2003 ===
+
“Deal,” the trainer said. “I will explain it somehow to the village elder. Get ready for departure.”
  
Described by its card as a "Pre-Mask of Light Package," this mailing included a special Making of BIONICLE: Mask of Light CD, which included two trailers for the movie; a BIONICLE: Mask of Light poster; a Rahkshi CD; and one Turahk kraata. <ref>BZPower News. [http://bzpower.com/story.php?ID=1247 "New Proto Squad Packages on their way."] August 4, 2003.</ref>
+
“I’m already ready,” Strakk said, smiling. “See to it that my prize is prepared quickly. I’ll soon be back to get it.
  
For those members who completed the survey included in the May package, this mailing also included the exclusive Rahkshi T-shirt.<ref name="bzp-jul-2-03" /><ref>BZPower News. [http://bzpower.com/archive.php?archive=&amonth=8&ayear=2003&submit.x=15&submit.y=10 August 6, 2003.]</ref>
+
''Only if you’re lucky'', Metus thought. ''And where you’re going, you may need more than luck.''
  
=== January 2004 ===
+
Sometime after sunrise, the carriage departed with its guards. Gresh would’ve liked to depart immediately at dawn, but Strakk had insisted on taking as much Thornax Launcher ammunition and extra weaponry as possible. Gresh was of the opinion that they should move out with as little baggage as possible, so they could cross the desert more quickly.
  
Included a postcard from Greg Farshtey and a Toa Whenua set. The postcard requested each Proto-Squad member to invite one of his or her friends to apply to join the Proto-Squad, which was an extremely rare opportunity for new members to join the program. This mailing came as a surprise to members, who had not received a mailing in some time and were wondering whether the program was still active.<ref name="bzp-jan-8-04" />
+
“Oh, I know many traders that traveled with light baggage,” Strakk had replied. “That way they found death much faster. Listen, little one, Bone Hunters care only about one thing: can you kill them faster than they can kill you? If the answer is yes, then maybe – ''maybe'' – you’ll have a chance of getting away with your life.
  
=== April 2004 ===
+
“So you think we should engage them?” Gresh asked.
  
New Proto-Squad members were notified of their acceptance with a signed postcard from Greg Farshtey.<ref>BZPower News. [http://bzpower.com/story.php?ID=1802 "New Proto Squad Members Notified."] April 18, 2004.</ref>
+
“No, no,” Strakk replied. “I think we shouldn’t even make this trip. But if it has to be done, we’ll do it the clever way. We strike first, and we don’t run headlong at them. Instead, we’ll outmaneuver them and use strategy.
  
=== May 2004 ===
+
Strakk didn’t know Gresh very well. They had met once out in the Wastelands and rode together for some time to Vulcanus. Back then they had had a small skirmish with Bone Hunters, but got away without too much trouble. Since then Strakk watched his back carefully. Bone Hunters had a long memory, especially when it came to their enemies. He’d also learned from that trip that he didn’t like Gresh very much. The Tesaran fighter was young and strong, but a little too honor-bound for his liking. The only Glatorian Strakk had ever really gotten along with was Malum, one of the fighters from Vulcanus. Even after he was exiled from his village for trying to kill Strakk in the arena, Strakk still respected him. As far as Strakk was concerned, Malum’s exile was only more proof of how little the villagers of Vulcanus knew about the life of a Glatorian.
  
This package included a copy of [[BIONICLE Adventures 3: The Darkness Below]] and a note from Greg Farshtey.<ref>BZPower News. [http://bzpower.com/archive.php?archive=&amonth=5&ayear=2004&submit.x=18&submit.y=8 "Proto-Squad Receiving Books."] May 10, 2004.</ref>
+
Strakk moved his steed closer to the carriage. The two-headed Spikit that was pulling the it kept all four eyes fixed on the bumpy path ahead. The Glatorian hoped the carriage was loaded with enough food. Even though a Spikit was a tough and enduring beast of burden, it would consume everything in its vicinity when it got hungry – including the carriage it was pulling, and everyone who was unfortunate enough to be sitting inside it.
  
=== December 2004-January 2005 ===
+
“So, Tarduk,” he said to the Tesaran Agori holding the reins, “I heard you’ve done your share of exploring.”
  
This mailing included a pack of Rhotuka spinners, the script of [[Comic 22: Monsters in the Dark]], and a letter featuring a phone number for members to call in order to register their e-mail address for an upcoming online Proto-Squad newsletter.<ref>BZPowers News. [http://bzpower.com/story.php?ID=2171 "New Proto Squad Package Appearing On Doorsteps."] December 29, 2004.</ref><ref>BZPower News. [http://bzpower.com/story.php?ID=2185 "The Proto-Squad package has arrived!"] January 9, 2005.</ref>
+
“Sure,the villager replied. “I collect artifacts – old armor, weapons, scrolls, small fragments of history. I spend a lot of time looking around ruins and searching for things.
  
=== Early 2005 ===
+
“That sounds… different,” Strakk said. ''And really, really boring'', the Glatorian thought to himself.
  
The first Proto-Squad e-mail newsletter featured a sneak preview of the [[BIONICLE: Encyclopedia]].<ref>BZPower News. [http://bzpower.com/archive.php?archive=&amonth=1&ayear=2005&submit.x=20&submit.y=4 "Sneak Preview for Proto-Squad Members."] January 30, 2005.</ref>
+
“I’ve always wanted to see the Black Spike Mountains,” Tarduk continued. “I bet there’s a lot of treasure to be found there!”
  
== References ==
+
“Wait a second, you’re the guide,” said Strakk. “But you’ve never been to where we’re going?”
{{Reflist}}
 
  
=The Crossing=
+
“Nope,” Tarduk responded, smiling.
'''Chapter 1'''
 
  
Strakk slammed his Ice Axe on the table so hard that the stone plate splintered with a sharp crack. The sound made Metus wince.
+
“Then why…” Strakk began.
  
“No!” said Strakk. “No. Definitely not.”
+
“He was the only one who was willing to go there,Kirbold said, “So he got the job.”
  
Metus frowned. The Agori villager had been acting as trainer of warriors and promoter of matches for many years. He was used to dealing with stubborn warriors, but most of them weren’t as quick-tempered as Strakk. He should have expected it, though. Especially for a Glatorian like Strakk, everything was about profit. It was a running joke in the village of Iconox that Strakk wouldn’t even open his eyes in the morning unless it would benefit him somehow. For a moment, Metus considered giving up. Then he thought twice: Strakk’s agreement was very important to him.
+
“Don’t talk so much,” Gresh said quietly. “Our voices carry far. We don’t have to let every Bone Hunter in the whole area know that we’re coming.
  
“You owe me a favor,” Metus told him. “Where would you be without me? And how often do I ask a favor of you?
+
“You’re an optimist, my friend,” said Strakk. “If they’re out in the Wastelands – and they are – then they’ve known we’re on the way since the moment we left Iconox. At best, we can hope that they don’t know what we’re carrying.”
  
“Hm, there was that match against Kiina last month,Strakk replied. “And at your request I helped with the training of that bully, who then completely forgot it was just a practice match and sent me into a healer’s barracks for weeks. Oh, and then there was…”
+
“And if they do know?Gresh asked.
  
“All right, all right,” snapped Metus. “You don’t need to tell me the story of your life. This is a quick and easy job, won’t take longer than a week, and it’ll be well paid. Do you want it or not?”
+
Strakk pointed towards the Thornax Launcher Gresh was carrying.
  
Metus was lying, of course. He had to lie often when negotiating with his fighters. The job he had offered Strakk would be neither quick nor easy. The village of Iconox had to send a shipment of the valuable metal Exsidian to the village of Vulcanus, payment for a match a fighter named Gelu had lost. Under normal circumstances the carriage would take the shortest route, southeast through the Dunes of Treason and then directly to the Fire village. Not the safest route in the world, but one that was used very often. In recent weeks, though, a group of barbaric nomads called the Bone Hunters had changed the dunes into a lethal trap. For reasons they hadn’t revealed, they were about to sever trading connections between villages, particularly those with the Water Tribe village, Tajun. The result was that every caravan that moved through the desert was in danger. Worse, the Bone Hunters weren’t content with simply robbing the goods – they also killed the coachmen. But Iconox didn’t have a choice; the carriage had to be sent on its way. If they refused to pay after a lost battle, their fighters would no longer be welcome in the arenas of Bara Magna. So now it was about finding a route on which they could transport their goods safely all the way to Vulcanus.
+
“Then I hope you know how to use that, little one.
  
“Well, let’s see,” said Strakk. “You want to send a fully loaded carriage eastward through the Black Spike Mountains, over the Dark Falls and then through Creep Canyon. Every single one of these places is more dangerous than a Sand Bat with sunburn. And you want me to guard this cargo on its way. Did I get that straight?
+
To the untrained eye, Bara Magna might look like any desert. Certainly, there was sand in almost every direction as far as the eye could see, shaped into dunes by the wind or spread like a soft blanket over the sleeping earth. When the wind whips over the vast stretches of the Wastelands, the sand whirls around at such high speeds that even Glatorian armor can’t provide enough protection. And then there’s the heat, of course. Bara Magna’s sun burns hot, and around noon it reaches such high temperatures that only Bone Hunters and the desperate Agori traders hunted by them can be found in the sands. During the worst part of the day the sand is so hot that one touch can cause burns. Everyone who gets lost without water in the desert plateau will be dead within a day. Then, at evening, the sun disappears as suddenly as a torch is extinguished. The temperature sinks rapidly and the Agori must crowd together around their campfires. The desert becomes – if this is even possible – twice as dangerous in darkness. Nocturnal predators come out of their caves or from under their rocks, where they hide during the heat of the day. The Bone Hunters are getting bolder, sometimes getting close enough to a village to take out a sentry that has strayed too far from the torches. There is an old Agori saying: “At least you see death coming in daylight.” At night unfortunately, you are not so lucky. For those, however, who know Bara Magna well, the desert is much more than just a vast wasteland of barren, sandy plains.
  
“Yes,” Metus nodded.
+
Many do remember that, in earlier times, more waterways flowed than just the Skrall River, across green fields. They remember how the village of Tesara wasn’t just an oasis, but part of a giant jungle that stretched over the entire continent. They still hear the cries of sea birds from the ocean that existed far to the south. All that changed about 100,000 years ago, when a terrible disaster changed the planet forever. After that there was no more time for memories of what once was: one was completely occupied with just surviving each new day. Still – while the carriage moved through the sand, Strakk thought of how things had once been. He wasn’t originally from Iconox, but from a land far to the north. He had been on a scouting patrol when the disaster that is now referred to simply as “The Shattering” had occurred, and he had suddenly been cut off from his homeland. He stayed in Iconox while the world around him changed: jungles transformed into desert, the ice melted in the horrible heat. He wasn’t sure if anyone would be able to survive the disaster. But there were survivors, including himself – and since then, his entire life was just about surviving.
  
“No,” said Strakk. “I’m a Glatorian. I fight for my village if it needs something from another and I’m paid well for it. I’m no guard or guide or errand boy. I fight against other Glatorian in an arena. I don’t fight against Bone Hunters. They have a nasty habit of killing everyone who fights them.”
+
Strakk glanced over his shoulder. Iconox was no longer visible. He reined his Sand Stalker to a halt. “Good, now we’re far enough away,” he said. “Now we can stop.”  
  
Metus had to admit that Strakk was right. No one dealt with Bone Hunters if it could be avoided. Their mounts, called Rock Steeds, possessed rows of sharp teeth and scary, scorpion-like stinger tails. Their sense of smell was so fine they could sense a foe from miles away. And regarding the Hunters themselves, they hadn’t survived millennia in the Wastelands by being friendly. They were ruthless, violent and greedy. If they possessed any virtues, then it was their endurance – they rarely gave up a chase – and their thoroughness – after an attack there was nothing left standing. The Agori left Strakk’s shelter. The Glatorian followed him and kept talking.
+
Gresh slowed his mount down a little and looked at Strakk, puzzled. “What are you talking about?”
  
“And don’t forget the Skrall – you remember them, don’t you – huge, black-armored, turning people to mincemeat just for fun? Who do you think lives up in the Black Spike Mountains?”
+
“What do you think?” Strakk said. “You didn’t seriously believe we were going to drag this whole load all the way across the Black Spike Mountains, did you? Did you honestly believe my talk of stirring sand and fighting down Bone Hunters from earlier? If so, then you really have spent too much time in the sun.
  
“Calm down,” said Metus. “Listen. We’ve hired the best.”
+
“But that’s our job,” Gresh replied.
  
Metus pointed toward the fully loaded carriage. On the coachman’s seat sat an Iconox Agori – Kirbold – and a green-armored Agori from the village of Tesara. On the Sand Stalker next to the carriage sat a Glatorian Strakk identified as Gresh.
+
Strakk snorted. “Good. Then I’ll explain to you how this works. The Agori will get out of the carriage. We take all the Exsidian metal, hide it, and shatter the carriage. Then we’ll tell the people in Iconox we were attacked by Bone Hunters who stole our cargo.
  
“Since when does Tesara send their Glatorian and Agori to help Iconox?Strakk asked.
+
The two Agori shared a look. Tarduk shrugged as if he wanted to say, “I don’t understand it either.
  
“Since the Bone Hunters’ attacks are starting to get them, too,answered Metus. “They want to find out themselves whether this new route works. If that’s the case, they can use it too. The Agori’s name is Tarduk. He’s said to know the wilderness.”
+
“And then?Gresh asked.
  
Metus turned around and stared at Strakk.
+
“In a few weeks we’ll return and dig the load out,” Strakk gloated. “We’ll divide it among ourselves and then go our separate ways again. And no one gets hurt.”
  
“Iconox wants one of their Glatorian to join this tour – you’ll surely understand why. If you agree, I am sure I could manage to get you some matches in Vulcanus… to show everyone what heroism you will show here.
+
“Except the people of Iconox when Vulcanus thinks they don’t want to pay their debts,” Gresh said. He pointed casually with his Thornax Launcher at Strakk.
  
Strakk laughed out loud. “I know everything about heroes. They’re the ones who get buried in holes in the ground. And when they’re lucky, someone will place a marker in the earth above their heads. But I’m not unreasonable… not much. So I shall go… for double the reward.”
+
“Now we’re going to do the following. You ride a little ahead of us. And should you try to leave us behind, then rest assured that you won’t get far.”
  
Metus swallowed hard. That would mean Iconox would have to get a lot of weapons, armor and supplies for Strakk. But he obviously didn’t have any other choice. If Iconox were to neglect their payment duty to Vulcanus, the whole system of solving conflicts between villages by Glatorian matches would be at risk. In the end, that would mean he would lose his job.
+
“Are you completely out of your mind?!” bellowed Strakk. “There is a fortune to be made here!”
  
“Deal,” the trainer said. “I will explain it somehow to the village elder. Get ready for departure.”
+
Gresh gestured with his launcher. “Go, now! We’ve got a job to do, that’s how it is. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
  
“I’m already ready,” Strakk said, smiling. “See to it that my prize is prepared quickly. I’ll soon be back to get it.”
+
Strakk glared at Gresh, but spurred on his Sand Stalker. Riding past the carriage, he muttered: “Dozens of Glatorian on this world, and they had to give me the only one who cares about doing the right thing.”
  
''Only if you’re lucky'', Metus thought. ''And where you’re going, you may need more than luck.''
+
Gresh ignored him and turned to Tarduk. “Do you have any idea what’s waiting ahead of us? I hate surprises.
  
Sometime after sunrise, the carriage departed with its guards. Gresh would’ve liked to depart immediately at dawn, but Strakk had insisted on taking as much Thornax Launcher ammunition and extra weaponry as possible. Gresh was of the opinion that they should move out with as little baggage as possible, so they could cross the desert more quickly.
+
“Anything might be ahead of us,” Tarduk replied. “In earlier times, this had been a quiet corner of the desert, until the Vorox infested the Dunes of Treason. They drove out a lot of Sand Bats and dune snakes, and even giant cave scorpions, into the north. The desert between here and the Black Spike Mountains is full of them.
  
“Oh, I know many traders that traveled with light baggage,” Strakk had replied. “That way they found death much faster. Listen, little one, Bone Hunters care only about one thing: can you kill them faster than they can kill you? If the answer is yes, then maybe – ''maybe'' – you’ll have a chance of getting away with your life.
+
“But that’s not the worst part,” Kirbold said. “Have you ever been to the Sea of Liquid Sand?
  
“So you think we should engage them?” Gresh asked.
+
Gresh nodded. The “sea” was located south of the village of Vulcanus. It looked like any other desert track, but in reality most of it was a soft mud that swallowed all living things that tried to cross it. It was possible to get through, if one was clever or lucky enough. But most who tried it now rested at the bottom of the Sea.
  
“No, no,” Strakk replied. “I think we shouldn’t even make this trip. But if it has to be done, we’ll do it the clever way. We strike first, and we don’t run headlong at them. Instead, we’ll outmaneuver them and use strategy.”
+
“Scattered spots of liquid sand also exist here,” Kirbold said. “There aren’t many, but there are spots in the sand that are just as treacherous as the Sea… maybe even worse. You don’t see them until you are right in the middle of them and then…”
  
Strakk didn’t know Gresh very well. They had met once out in the Wastelands and rode together for some time to Vulcanus. Back then they had had a small skirmish with Bone Hunters, but got away without too much trouble. Since then Strakk watched his back carefully. Bone Hunters had a long memory, especially when it came to their enemies. He’d also learned from that trip that he didn’t like Gresh very much. The Tesaran fighter was young and strong, but a little too honor-bound for his liking. The only Glatorian Strakk had ever really gotten along with was Malum, one of the fighters from Vulcanus. Even after he was exiled from his village for trying to kill Strakk in the arena, Strakk still respected him. As far as Strakk was concerned, Malum’s exile was only more proof of how little the villagers of Vulcanus knew about the life of a Glatorian.
+
“Did you hear that, Strakk?” Gresh asked.
  
Strakk moved his steed closer to the carriage. The two-headed Spikit that was pulling the it kept all four eyes fixed on the bumpy path ahead. The Glatorian hoped the carriage was loaded with enough food. Even though a Spikit was a tough and enduring beast of burden, it would consume everything in its vicinity when it got hungry – including the carriage it was pulling, and everyone who was unfortunate enough to be sitting inside it.
+
“Why wouldn’t I listen to such wonderful news?” the Ice Glatorian shot back. “I’m really glad you asked me to ride ahead.
  
“So, Tarduk,” he said to the Tesaran Agori holding the reins, “I heard you’ve done your share of exploring.”
+
“Keep your eyes open,” Gresh said. “We’ll make it.”
  
“Sure,” the villager replied. “I collect artifacts – old armor, weapons, scrolls, small fragments of history. I spend a lot of time looking around ruins and searching for things.”
+
“Sure you’ll make it,” Strakk said. “Just wait until I sink into the sand and when you do… stop. Simple.”
  
“That sounds… different,” Strakk said. ''And really, really boring'', the Glatorian thought to himself.
+
They rode in silence for some time. Before them the Black Spike Mountains towered in all their majesty. Even when Bara Magna had been a lush green place, this mountain range supplied was the subject of numerous legends and rumors. Some of them were just the usual Agori talk – travelers who were journeying through the mountains and never returned. More convincing stories, however, were those about villagers who returned, but who weren’t right in the head ever again. Gresh gave Kirbold a quick glance.
  
“I’ve always wanted to see the Black Spike Mountains,” Tarduk continued. “I bet there’s a lot of treasure to be found there!
+
“Why exactly were you chosen for this job?
  
“Wait a second, you’re the guide,” said Strakk. “But you’ve never been to where we’re going?
+
“I mined this metal,” came the answer. “It’s perfectly suited for patching equipment. Doesn’t rust and is very wear-resistant.”
  
“Nope,Tarduk responded, smiling.
+
“That doesn’t really answer my question.
  
“Then why…” Strakk began.
+
“I dug it out. I dragged it up. Others will use it, but I found it. I feel that it’s my responsibility. Should the cargo be in danger, I want to be there.”
  
“He was the only one who was willing to go there,” Kirbold said, “So he got the job.
+
Gresh nodded. He had already heard crazier things. More than one Glatorian would never let anyone else tinker with his weapon or launcher for a very similar reason. The sun would soon be high in the sky.
  
“Don’t talk so much,” Gresh said quietly. “Our voices carry far. We don’t have to let every Bone Hunter in the whole area know that we’re coming.
+
Gresh pointed towards a ledge. “Let’s set up our camp beneath that until the worst of the heat is over.” Kirbold and Tarduk steered the carriage under the ledge, then carefully fed the Spikit before they themselves ate something. Strakk sat down in the sand and closed his eyes, while Gresh kept a careful eye on the desert.
  
“You’re an optimist, my friend,said Strakk. “If they’re out in the Wastelands – and they are – then they’ve known we’re on the way since the moment we left Iconox. At best, we can hope that they don’t know what we’re carrying.”
+
“What do you think is up there?Kirbold asked Tarduk.
  
“And if they do know?” Gresh asked.
+
“Who knows?” the Tesaran Agori responded, smiling. “There may have lived an entire civilization in these mountains that we’ve never heard of. They may have left behind equipment, tools, maybe even records of their history. For someone like me, that is a treasure chest just waiting to be opened.”
  
Strakk pointed towards the Thornax Launcher Gresh was carrying.
+
“No, I mean… do you think there are monsters up there?”
  
“Then I hope you know how to use that, little one.”
+
“I do… if you regard Skrall as monsters.”
  
To the untrained eye, Bara Magna might look like any desert. Certainly, there was sand in almost every direction as far as the eye could see, shaped into dunes by the wind or spread like a soft blanket over the sleeping earth. When the wind whips over the vast stretches of the Wastelands, the sand whirls around at such high speeds that even Glatorian armor can’t provide enough protection. And then there’s the heat, of course. Bara Magna’s sun burns hot, and around noon it reaches such high temperatures that only Bone Hunters and the desperate Agori traders hunted by them can be found in the sands. During the worst part of the day the sand is so hot that one touch can cause burns. Everyone who gets lost without water in the desert plateau will be dead within a day. Then, at evening, the sun disappears as suddenly as a torch is extinguished. The temperature sinks rapidly and the Agori must crowd together around their campfires. The desert becomes – if this is even possible – twice as dangerous in darkness. Nocturnal predators come out of their caves or from under their rocks, where they hide during the heat of the day. The Bone Hunters are getting bolder, sometimes getting close enough to a village to take out a sentry that has strayed too far from the torches. There is an old Agori saying: “At least you see death coming in daylight.” At night unfortunately, you are not so lucky. For those, however, who know Bara Magna well, the desert is much more than just a vast wasteland of barren, sandy plains.
+
Kirbold lowered his gaze towards the sand.
  
Many do remember that, in earlier times, more waterways flowed than just the Skrall River, across green fields. They remember how the village of Tesara wasn’t just an oasis, but part of a giant jungle that stretched over the entire continent. They still hear the cries of sea birds from the ocean that existed far to the south. All that changed about 100,000 years ago, when a terrible disaster changed the planet forever. After that there was no more time for memories of what once was: one was completely occupied with just surviving each new day. Still – while the carriage moved through the sand, Strakk thought of how things had once been. He wasn’t originally from Iconox, but from a land far to the north. He had been on a scouting patrol when the disaster that is now referred to simply as “The Shattering” had occurred, and he had suddenly been cut off from his homeland. He stayed in Iconox while the world around him changed: jungles transformed into desert, the ice melted in the horrible heat. He wasn’t sure if anyone would be able to survive the disaster. But there were survivors, including himself – and since then, his entire life was just about surviving.
+
“No, I don’t think they’re monsters. But if they ever were to attack us… well, then I don’t know where we could hide.
  
Strakk glanced over his shoulder. Iconox was no longer visible. He reined his Sand Stalker to a halt. “Good, now we’re far enough away,” he said. “Now we can stop.
+
Late in the afternoon, they resumed their journey. Strakk watched a Sand Bat explod out of a dune to throw itself onto a Sand Fox and then drag it underground. The Spikit saw the same and grunted in anger and fear.
  
Gresh slowed his mount down a little and looked at Strakk, puzzled. “What are you talking about?
+
“I hate those things,” Strakk said. “You never know where they are until they’re right in front of you.
  
“What do you think?Strakk said. “You didn’t seriously believe we were going to drag this whole load all the way across the Black Spike Mountains, did you? Did you honestly believe my talk of stirring sand and fighting down Bone Hunters from earlier? If so, then you really have spent too much time in the sun.”
+
“Giant scorpions are even worse,Tarduk said. Despite the heat he shivered. “I’ve seen them several times while searching for artifacts in caves.”
  
“But that’s our job,” Gresh replied.
+
“There’s an easy way of avoiding such encounters,” Strakk said.
  
Strakk snorted. “Good. Then I’ll explain to you how this works. The Agori will get out of the carriage. We take all the Exsidian metal, hide it, and shatter the carriage. Then we’ll tell the people in Iconox we were attacked by Bone Hunters who stole our cargo.
+
“How?
  
The two Agori shared a look. Tarduk shrugged as if he wanted to say, “I don’t understand it either.
+
“Stop wandering around in caves,” the Glatorian replied.
  
“And then?” Gresh asked.
+
“I can’t stand dune snakes,” Kirbold remarked. “You want to know why?”
  
“In a few weeks we’ll return and dig the load out,” Strakk gloated. “We’ll divide it among ourselves and then go our separate ways again. And no one gets hurt.”
+
“Why?” Strakk said.
  
“Except the people of Iconox when Vulcanus thinks they don’t want to pay their debts,Gresh said. He pointed casually with his Thornax Launcher at Strakk.
+
“Because they are everywhere around us.
  
“Now we’re going to do the following. You ride a little ahead of us. And should you try to leave us behind, then rest assured that you won’t get far.”
+
Gresh’s Sand Stalker suddenly reeled in panic, followed by Strakk’s. The Spikit tore at the reins and made efforts to break free. However, Kirbold managed to hold the beast under control. Everywhere around them the dunes moved, the poisonous snakes slithering just beneath the surface of the sand. It looked like a sea of waves rolling under the dunes, but it was neither a peaceful nor comforting sight. The bite of one of these serpents could lead to death within seconds, not to mention the snakes were absolutely fearless. They wouldn’t hesitate for a second to attack something larger than themselves. “We must have ridden right into a nest!” Strakk said. “What do we do now?
  
“Are you completely out of your mind?!” bellowed Strakk. “There is a fortune to be made here!”
+
Gresh tried desperately to get his Sand Stalker under control again.
  
Gresh gestured with his launcher. “Go, now! We’ve got a job to do, that’s how it is. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
+
“When your mount topples, jump off or you’ll be trapped beneath it.”
  
Strakk glared at Gresh, but spurred on his Sand Stalker. Riding past the carriage, he muttered: “Dozens of Glatorian on this world, and they had to give me the only one who cares about doing the right thing.”
+
“Thanks, I certainly would never have thought of that,” Strakk growled. “If you had just listened to me…”
  
Gresh ignored him and turned to Tarduk. “Do you have any idea what’s waiting ahead of us? I hate surprises.
+
“Look!” Tarduk yelled. “A path!
  
“Anything might be ahead of us,” Tarduk replied. “In earlier times, this had been a quiet corner of the desert, until the Vorox infested the Dunes of Treason. They drove out a lot of Sand Bats and dune snakes, and even giant cave scorpions, into the north. The desert between here and the Black Spike Mountains is full of them.
+
He was right. Somewhere to the right there was a strip of sand that wasn’t moving. It was clear to all of them that this was the best and only way out of danger.
  
“But that’s not the worst part,” Kirbold said. “Have you ever been to the Sea of Liquid Sand?”
+
“Let’s go!” shouted Gresh, who had already turned his Sand Stalker into the direction of the passage.
  
Gresh nodded. The “sea” was located south of the village of Vulcanus. It looked like any other desert track, but in reality most of it was a soft mud that swallowed all living things that tried to cross it. It was possible to get through, if one was clever or lucky enough. But most who tried it now rested at the bottom of the Sea.
+
Strakk was already ahead of him, letting his mount jump over half a dozen snakes that had darted out of the sand. Behind the two Glatorian, Kirbold urged the Spikit forward. Strakk was now a good distance ahead of the group and didn’t look back. Suddenly his Sand Stalker toppled over. The next moment, he was up to his waist in liquid sand.
  
“Scattered spots of liquid sand also exist here,Kirbold said. “There aren’t many, but there are spots in the sand that are just as treacherous as the Sea… maybe even worse. You don’t see them until you are right in the middle of them and then…”
+
“Help!he cried.
  
“Did you hear that, Strakk?Gresh asked.
+
“We can’t help him,” Kirbold claimed. “If we get too close we’ll sink, too.”
  
“Why wouldn’t I listen to such wonderful news?the Ice Glatorian shot back. “I’m really glad you asked me to ride ahead.”
+
“He’s a Glatorian. I can’t leave him behind,Gresh said. “We can ride around the liquid sand and pull him out.”
  
“Keep your eyes open,” Gresh said. “We’ll make it.”
+
“Not without riding through the snakes,” retorted Tarduk.
  
“Sure you’ll make it,” Strakk said. “Just wait until I sink into the sand and when you do… stop. Simple.”
+
“It seems we don’t have a choice,” Kirbold said. “It’s either him or us.”
  
They rode in silence for some time. Before them the Black Spike Mountains towered in all their majesty. Even when Bara Magna had been a lush green place, this mountain range supplied was the subject of numerous legends and rumors. Some of them were just the usual Agori talk – travelers who were journeying through the mountains and never returned. More convincing stories, however, were those about villagers who returned, but who weren’t right in the head ever again. Gresh gave Kirbold a quick glance.
+
'''Chapter 2'''
  
“Why exactly were you chosen for this job?”
+
Gresh had no time to think. In several seconds, the sand had almost devoured Strakk, and the snakes had gradually formed circles around the caravan. The only escape was through the soft sand, but the trailer was heavy as stone. Suddenly he had an idea. It was about as crazy as suicide, but there was a small chance of success. Everything depended on how high Gresh could jump and how fast his Stalker was, as well as his knowledge of the dunes. If even one element of the plan failed, none of them would escape alive.
  
“I mined this metal,came the answer. “It’s perfectly suited for patching equipment. Doesn’t rust and is very wear-resistant.”
+
“Tarduk! I need the rope that’s attached to the Exsidian! Now!shouted Gresh.
  
“That doesn’t really answer my question.
+
The Agori quickly cut the rope and tossed it toward Gresh.
  
“I dug it out. I dragged it up. Others will use it, but I found it. I feel that it’s my responsibility. Should the cargo be in danger, I want to be there.
+
“Whatever happens now, nobody separate!” ordered Gresh. “Keep each other in sight and don’t talk, okay?
  
Gresh nodded. He had already heard crazier things. More than one Glatorian would never let anyone else tinker with his weapon or launcher for a very similar reason. The sun would soon be high in the sky.
+
Kirbold and Tarduk obeyed. Neither of them spoke a word. On the other side, they were approaching the dune snakes. Gresh took the rope, tied it to his Sand Stalker and galloped off. He had to execute each step with precision. Upon reaching the bank of soft sand, he forced his steed to jump. In that same instant, he hurled the rope over the treacherous sands in Strakk’s direction. Strakk caught the rope, and he was yanked free from the trap by Gresh’s Stalker.
  
Gresh pointed towards a ledge. “Let’s set up our camp beneath that until the worst of the heat is over.Kirbold and Tarduk steered the carriage under the ledge, then carefully fed the Spikit before they themselves ate something. Strakk sat down in the sand and closed his eyes, while Gresh kept a careful eye on the desert.
+
“You saved me!Strakk cried, delighted and surprised. “I can’t believe it!
  
“What do you think is up there?Kirbold asked Tarduk.
+
“I had to,said Gresh. “Now get back to the caravan.”
  
“Who knows?” the Tesaran Agori responded, smiling. “There may have lived an entire civilization in these mountains that we’ve never heard of. They may have left behind equipment, tools, maybe even records of their history. For someone like me, that is a treasure chest just waiting to be opened.”
+
“Are you crazy?!Strakk cried. “You want to go back into the jaws of the dune snakes? I care about Exsidian, but I won’t risk my life for it.”
  
“No, I mean… do you think there are monsters up there?”
+
“Not even if it means you won’t get paid?” replied Gresh.
  
“I do… if you regard Skrall as monsters.
+
“No way!" Strakk shook his head.
  
Kirbold lowered his gaze towards the sand.
+
“I haven’t got time to argue,” said Gresh. “You can have half my payment if you help me.”
  
“No, I don’t think they’re monsters. But if they ever were to attack us… well, then I don’t know where we could hide.”
+
Strakk's eyes shone with eagerness. “What are you waiting for? Let's go!
  
Late in the afternoon, they resumed their journey. Strakk watched a Sand Bat explod out of a dune to throw itself onto a Sand Fox and then drag it underground. The Spikit saw the same and grunted in anger and fear.
+
Strakk jumped from the smooth sand and grabbed onto the harness of his Sand Stalker, hoping that their mounts wouldn’t be caught by the serpents’ fangs. But instead of going back to the caravan, Gresh and Strakk both started spinning around. The Agori looked at the Glatorian in silence, both wondering if Gresh had lost his mind.
  
“I hate those things,” Strakk said. “You never know where they are until they’re right in front of you.”
+
“Is there a reason for why we’re doing this?” Strakk asked.
  
“Giant scorpions are even worse,” Tarduk said. Despite the heat he shivered. “I’ve seen them several times while searching for artifacts in caves.”
+
“Yes,” said Gresh. “Dune Snakes are blind on the surface, right? So they don’t use sight when hunting.”
  
“There’s an easy way of avoiding such encounters,” Strakk said.
+
“They use hearing,” Strakk guessed. “So we're making noise.”
  
“How?”
+
“Exactly,” Gresh smiled. “It works, see?”
  
“Stop wandering around in caves,the Glatorian replied.
+
Strakk looked back. The snakes no longer surrounded the caravan, but now they were heading towards the Glatorian.
  
“I can’t stand dune snakes,Kirbold remarked. “You want to know why?”
+
“Yiiiii!Strakk shouted.
  
“Why?Strakk said.
+
“Over here!Shouted Gresh.
  
“Because they are everywhere around us.
+
The Tesaran Glatorian rode over the soft sand, with Strakk right behind him. Gresh's mount jumped back over the deadly sand, with Strakk’s managing to do the same. The hungry Dune Snakes were unable to avoid the sand trap, which absorbed them without giving them a single moment to escape.
  
Gresh’s Sand Stalker suddenly reeled in panic, followed by Strakk’s. The Spikit tore at the reins and made efforts to break free. However, Kirbold managed to hold the beast under control. Everywhere around them the dunes moved, the poisonous snakes slithering just beneath the surface of the sand. It looked like a sea of waves rolling under the dunes, but it was neither a peaceful nor comforting sight. The bite of one of these serpents could lead to death within seconds, not to mention the snakes were absolutely fearless. They wouldn’t hesitate for a second to attack something larger than themselves. “We must have ridden right into a nest!” Strakk said. “What do we do now?
+
“Good thinking” admitted Strakk. “Using one trap against another. Although it cost you half your pay...”
  
Gresh tried desperately to get his Sand Stalker under control again.
+
Several hours later, the travelers arrived at the foot of the Black Spike Mountains. They found a path between the rocks so narrow that only one rider could fit through at a time. Gresh had Strakk go first, while he himself covered the rear. Strakk showed little enthusiasm for this proposal, but Gresh explained that if someone had been following since Iconox, they would not plan a frontal ambush, but an attack from behind.
  
“When your mount topples, jump off or you’ll be trapped beneath it.”
+
“You never know,” said Strakk. “I’ve seen traps in places where no one would’ve ever expected. But you’re too young to remember that.”
  
“Thanks, I certainly would never have thought of that,Strakk growled. “If you had just listened to me…”
+
“When was that exactly?
  
“Look!” Tarduk yelled. “A path!
+
“During the war. At a time when Bara Magna was part of a larger world... long before The Shattering...”
  
He was right. Somewhere to the right there was a strip of sand that wasn’t moving. It was clear to all of them that this was the best and only way out of danger.
+
Gresh had heard little of the war that changed the world 100,000 years ago. Other Glatorian were reluctant to talk about it. Apparently they just wanted to forget all memories of that event.
  
“Let’s go!shouted Gresh, who had already turned his Sand Stalker into the direction of the passage.
+
“Enlighten me,said Gresh. “What has that got to do with this?”
  
Strakk was already ahead of him, letting his mount jump over half a dozen snakes that had darted out of the sand. Behind the two Glatorian, Kirbold urged the Spikit forward. Strakk was now a good distance ahead of the group and didn’t look back. Suddenly his Sand Stalker toppled over. The next moment, he was up to his waist in liquid sand.
+
“The Black Spike Mountains were one of the few places where there were no battles,Strakk said.
  
“Help!he cried.
+
“No one wanted to fight here?said Gresh.
  
“We can’t help him,” Kirbold claimed. “If we get too close we’ll sink, too.”
+
“No one dared to approach this place,” said Strakk. “Check out these rocks. I bet there are many deposits of precious metals and who knows what else. Do you think anyone would want to extract it? Not even the Skrall were foolish enough to come here.”
  
“He’s a Glatorian. I can’t leave him behind,Gresh said. “We can ride around the liquid sand and pull him out.
+
At the mention of the Skrall, Gresh strengthened his grip on the reins of his mount. It was no secret that the Rock Tribe was not from the desert regions of Bara Magna. Their home was among a land of volcanoes in the far north. They had lived there for many centuries, protected by their warriors, the Skrall. Not long ago, the Skrall and Rock Tribe appeared in the south, inhabiting the Black Spike Mountains and the surrounding land. When they founded Roxtus, it quickly became the largest village on Bara Magna. It was rumored that they had moved to the area running to escape something far more dangerous than even they themselves were, but with no evidence, the real reason remained a mystery. It soon became evident that the newcomers were not dependent on forging friendships with other tribes. Although they sent warriors to battle in the arena, any sane Glatorian knew not to try and face them. Anyone who had to deal with them would face the leader of their tribe, Tuma, who would rather the Skrall simply take what they wanted. However, the Skrall almost always followed the rules during arena matches. The fighting system in the arena was not a problem for them- the Skrall were lovers of battle, and no Glatorian had yet managed to defeat them. Gresh knew this better than most: not long ago, he lost a duel against a Skrall warrior in the Vulcanus arena. This Skrall was willing to break the rules while fighting in the arena, and had another Glatorian not intervened, the encounter would have been the last thing Gresh had done in his life. The memory brought him shame. Tesara had had its chance at victory, and he had failed them… Gresh pushed the memory aside. It was not the time to be thinking of the past. He and his companions had just entered the territory of the Rock Tribe. The only bad thing that could happen now was if they were attacked by Skrall.
  
“Not without riding through the snakes,” retorted Tarduk.
+
“Look!” Kirbold said suddenly, pointing to the top of a hill.
  
“It seems we don’t have a choice,” Kirbold said. “It’s either him or us.
+
Gresh looked up. The Glatorian saw three Skrall on the edge of the summit. However, as soon as he got a better look, he realized they were simply helmets and pieces of armor hanging on stilts above the sand.
  
'''Chapter 2'''
+
“They're only puppets,” Gresh said. “Probably to help deter uninvited guests.”
  
Gresh had no time to think. In several seconds, the sand had almost devoured Strakk, and the snakes had gradually formed circles around the caravan. The only escape was through the soft sand, but the trailer was heavy as stone. Suddenly he had an idea. It was about as crazy as suicide, but there was a small chance of success. Everything depended on how high Gresh could jump and how fast his Stalker was, as well as his knowledge of the dunes. If even one element of the plan failed, none of them would escape alive.
+
“Look at them more closely,Strakk said.
  
“Tarduk! I need the rope that’s attached to the Exsidian! Now!shouted Gresh.
+
“I did look at them. So what?
  
The Agori quickly cut the rope and tossed it toward Gresh.
+
“They’re not pieces of Skrall armor. One is red, another is blue, and the third is green. Where do you think they came from? They’re the spoils of dead Glatorian.
  
“Whatever happens now, nobody separate!ordered Gresh. “Keep each other in sight and don’t talk, okay?”
+
“I don’t think so,” said Gresh.
  
Kirbold and Tarduk obeyed. Neither of them spoke a word. On the other side, they were approaching the dune snakes. Gresh took the rope, tied it to his Sand Stalker and galloped off. He had to execute each step with precision. Upon reaching the bank of soft sand, he forced his steed to jump. In that same instant, he hurled the rope over the treacherous sands in Strakk’s direction. Strakk caught the rope, and he was yanked free from the trap by Gresh’s Stalker.
+
“Go ahead, don’t believe me, rookie,” laughed Strakk. “They came to find the end of their lives.
  
“You saved me!Strakk cried, delighted and surprised. “I can’t believe it!
+
“You should remain silent,a voice whispered.
  
“I had to,” said Gresh. “Now get back to the caravan.
+
The Glatorian turned quickly, raising their Thornax Launchers toward where the ominous words had come from. Tarduk grabbed the reins of the Spikit, preparing to flee if necessary. Kirbold crouched down in case there were any enemy projectiles.  
  
“Are you crazy?!” Strakk cried. “You want to go back into the jaws of the dune snakes? I care about Exsidian, but I won’t risk my life for it.
+
Looking up at the rocky hillside, the party saw a red-armored Glatorian. Strakk and Gresh recognized him immediately as Malum. At one time his name was spoken with great respect, but Malum's wild temperament had caused problems. During a match in the arena, he had tried to kill a Glatorian who had conceded. For that crime, he was banished from the village of Vulcanus. Since then, the desert had become his home.
  
“Not even if it means you won’t get paid?replied Gresh.
+
“Well, well, look who it is,” Strakk said. “And I thought you were eating Sand Bats.
  
“No way!" Strakk shook his head.
+
“Do something!” whispered Kirbold. “He’s after the Exsidian!”
  
“I haven’t got time to argue,” said Gresh. “You can have half my payment if you help me.”
+
“Don't worry,” said Strakk. “Who would look for Exsidian in an area so remote? And besides, if Malum wanted it, he would have taken it before we entered the mountains. Right, old friend?
  
Strakk's eyes shone with eagerness. “What are you waiting for? Let's go!
+
Malum looked at Strakk with a cold stare. “I've never been your friend.
  
Strakk jumped from the smooth sand and grabbed onto the harness of his Sand Stalker, hoping that their mounts wouldn’t be caught by the serpents’ fangs. But instead of going back to the caravan, Gresh and Strakk both started spinning around. The Agori looked at the Glatorian in silence, both wondering if Gresh had lost his mind.
+
“What do you want?” asked Gresh.
  
“Is there a reason for why we’re doing this?Strakk asked.
+
“I warn you,Malum answered. “The Skrall have become more ambitious. Many of them are in the mountains, chasing something, or someone. Maybe you. And you should listen to their talk of Tajun.”
  
“Yes,said Gresh. “Dune Snakes are blind on the surface, right? So they don’t use sight when hunting.
+
“Why would you care?spat Strakk. “Will you regret it if we’re killed by the Skrall before you can take your revenge on us?”
  
“They use hearing,” Strakk guessed. “So we're making noise.
+
The dark smile on the Malum's face didn’t say anything good.
  
“Exactly,” Gresh smiled. “It works, see?
+
“To be honest... yes.”
  
Strakk looked back. The snakes no longer surrounded the caravan, but now they were heading towards the Glatorian.
+
Raanu, leader of the village of Vulcanus, had grave concerns. Without Malum, his village had just one experienced Glatorian available. There were several potential candidates to take Malum’s place, but they were young, and inexperienced. Regardless, the recent Glatorian duel with Iconox had ended in victory for Vulcanus. Iconox had to pay in Exsidian, but the precious metal had not yet arrived, and Raanu had just discovered why. “Through the Spike Mountains? Are they crazy?”
  
“Yiiiii!Strakk shouted.
+
Metus, Glatorian trainer of Iconox, spread his hands. “You know that with the Bone Hunters...
  
“Over here!Shouted Gresh.
+
“I know about the Bone Hunters,Raanu interrupted. “I've heard that excuse before. But my people have justly earned the victory in the arena. If Iconox cannot deliver its payment...”
  
The Tesaran Glatorian rode over the soft sand, with Strakk right behind him. Gresh's mount jumped back over the deadly sand, with Strakk’s managing to do the same. The hungry Dune Snakes were unable to avoid the sand trap, which absorbed them without giving them a single moment to escape.
+
“Vulcanus will not be willing to pay up if Iconox wins the next fight,” Metus concluded.
  
“Good thinking” admitted Strakk. “Using one trap against another. Although it cost you half your pay...”
+
“And if that happens, Metus... our system will collapse before our eyes. By stopping the practice of settling disputes with Glatorian warriors, we can expect only one thing: war.”
  
Several hours later, the travelers arrived at the foot of the Black Spike Mountains. They found a path between the rocks so narrow that only one rider could fit through at a time. Gresh had Strakk go first, while he himself covered the rear. Strakk showed little enthusiasm for this proposal, but Gresh explained that if someone had been following since Iconox, they would not plan a frontal ambush, but an attack from behind.
+
Metus gave the Vulcanus leader’s words some thought. Undoubtedly Raanu was right. Centuries ago it was made clear the Agori could not afford an armed conflict between tribes. Nobody wanted to remember the nightmare of destruction left by the last war. Thus, all disputes between tribes were settled with Glatorian. However, this system was based on mutual trust. The result of a duel in the arena was not subject to discussion and was absolutely accepted by all. If a village broke the rules or didn’t pay as agreed, the others would do the same.
  
“You never know,” said Strakk. “I’ve seen traps in places where no one would’ve ever expected. But you’re too young to remember that.”
+
“I hope that those Glatorian I hired for Iconox don’t disappoint me,” he said softly. “If the Bone Hunters or even the Skrall intercept that shipment ... we're in trouble.”
  
“When was that exactly?”
+
Malum vanished as quickly as he had come, disappearing into the rocks with the ease of someone who had been born among the mountains. Gresh didn’t even want to know where Malum had gone, but he did not take the former Glatorian’s warning lightly.
  
“During the war. At a time when Bara Magna was part of a larger world... long before The Shattering...”
+
“Skrall...” Tarduk said. “I once tried to unearth some artifacts near Roxtus ... bad idea, I know. I barely escaped. Had I been caught, I would have been a corpse.”
  
Gresh had heard little of the war that changed the world 100,000 years ago. Other Glatorian were reluctant to talk about it. Apparently they just wanted to forget all memories of that event.
+
The road through the Black Spike Mountains to the east was still visible, but only barely so, due to little use over the years. The fresh mountain air brought some relief to the trip, especially for Strakk, who occasionally had to turn back down the mountain to help push the caravan uphill. The silence was broken only by the sound of the hooves of the Stalkers, the whistling of the wind passing between the peaks and the tranquil sound of wagon wheels. A sharp cry like that of a Mountain Striker made both Glatorian jump. A second cry made Strakk turn his gaze to the sky. Mountain Strikers were birds of prey whose wingspan could be as wide as five feet. Their claws could tear through armor as easily as an Agori could tear through dry parchment. They hunted mostly small animals, but if driven to great hunger, they wouldn’t hesitate to attack opponents much larger than themselves. Strakk and Gresh prepared to fire their weapons, hoping not to meet anything more dangerous than a Mountain Striker.
  
“Enlighten me,” said Gresh. “What has that got to do with this?”
+
“I didn’t see anything. Do you think it was really just a Striker?” Strakk asked, his voice barely audible.
  
“The Black Spike Mountains were one of the few places where there were no battles,” Strakk said.
+
“It sounded more like a signal,” said Gresh.
  
“No one wanted to fight here?” said Gresh.
+
“Skrall?”
  
“No one dared to approach this place,” said Strakk. “Check out these rocks. I bet there are many deposits of precious metals and who knows what else. Do you think anyone would want to extract it? Not even the Skrall were foolish enough to come here.”
+
“Exactly. Bone Hunters do not haunt these fields.”
  
At the mention of the Skrall, Gresh strengthened his grip on the reins of his mount. It was no secret that the Rock Tribe was not from the desert regions of Bara Magna. Their home was among a land of volcanoes in the far north. They had lived there for many centuries, protected by their warriors, the Skrall. Not long ago, the Skrall and Rock Tribe appeared in the south, inhabiting the Black Spike Mountains and the surrounding land. When they founded Roxtus, it quickly became the largest village on Bara Magna. It was rumored that they had moved to the area running to escape something far more dangerous than even they themselves were, but with no evidence, the real reason remained a mystery. It soon became evident that the newcomers were not dependent on forging friendships with other tribes. Although they sent warriors to battle in the arena, any sane Glatorian knew not to try and face them. Anyone who had to deal with them would face the leader of their tribe, Tuma, who would rather the Skrall simply take what they wanted. However, the Skrall almost always followed the rules during arena matches. The fighting system in the arena was not a problem for them- the Skrall were lovers of battle, and no Glatorian had yet managed to defeat them. Gresh knew this better than most: not long ago, he lost a duel against a Skrall warrior in the Vulcanus arena. This Skrall was willing to break the rules while fighting in the arena, and had another Glatorian not intervened, the encounter would have been the last thing Gresh had done in his life. The memory brought him shame. Tesara had had its chance at victory, and he had failed them… Gresh pushed the memory aside. It was not the time to be thinking of the past. He and his companions had just entered the territory of the Rock Tribe. The only bad thing that could happen now was if they were attacked by Skrall.
+
Strakk shook his head.
  
“Look!” Kirbold said suddenly, pointing to the top of a hill.
+
“And if they made that signal, then the Bone Hunters are smarter than I thought.
  
Gresh looked up. The Glatorian saw three Skrall on the edge of the summit. However, as soon as he got a better look, he realized they were simply helmets and pieces of armor hanging on stilts above the sand.
+
“What do we do?” Tarduk asked. “Try to escape? Or should we be ready to fight?”
  
“They're only puppets,” Gresh said. “Probably to help deter uninvited guests.”
+
“We heard his signal. That means they're close. Too late to escape,” Strakk said. “Well rookie, you always wanted to be a hero. Now's your chance to die as one.”
  
“Look at them more closely,Strakk said.
+
Gresh was deep in thought. He had to find a way to save them. They could pretend they hadn’t heard anything suspicious, and move on, trying to escape from the Skrall ambush. He could guess which option Strakk would choose: running as soon as possible and leaving the mountains behind. Wasn’t there any way to get the goods delivered to their destination? Too late. He had already wasted too much time trying to decide. As he looked up, warriors in black armor emerged from hiding. The Skrall had surrounded them.
  
“I did look at them. So what?”
+
“This is the land of the Skrall,” said one of them.
  
“They’re not pieces of Skrall armor. One is red, another is blue, and the third is green. Where do you think they came from? They’re the spoils of dead Glatorian.”
+
“Travel through these mountains is forbidden,” added a second.
  
“I don’t think so,” said Gresh.
+
“Unless you want to see Tuma,” added a third. “What's in the caravan? Show us!”
  
“Go ahead, don’t believe me, rookie,” laughed Strakk. “They came to find the end of their lives.”
+
“If we do, they’ll take the Exsidian,” Kirbold whispered nervously.
  
“You should remain silent,” a voice whispered.
+
“And if we don’t, they will kill us.Tarduk replied, then turned slowly and uncovered the cargo.  
  
The Glatorian turned quickly, raising their Thornax Launchers toward where the ominous words had come from. Tarduk grabbed the reins of the Spikit, preparing to flee if necessary. Kirbold crouched down in case there were any enemy projectiles.  
+
Rarely did the Skrall show any joy; even a smile was uncommon. However, the party witnessed an incredibly rare sight: the Skrall were so pleased, they practically laughed. They were looking at a valuable treasure, and interposed between the precious metal and themselves were only two Glatorian and two Agori.
  
Looking up at the rocky hillside, the party saw a red-armored Glatorian. Strakk and Gresh recognized him immediately as Malum. At one time his name was spoken with great respect, but Malum's wild temperament had caused problems. During a match in the arena, he had tried to kill a Glatorian who had conceded. For that crime, he was banished from the village of Vulcanus. Since then, the desert had become his home.
+
“Take the contents of the caravan out. Now!” ordered the group leader.
  
“Well, well, look who it is,” Strakk said. “And I thought you were eating Sand Bats.
+
Strakk sighed with relief. Apparently, fate had been kind to them: the Exsidian was lost, but at least he got to keep his head. They had been lucky that the "supply" sounded better than killing them.
  
“Do something!whispered Kirbold. “He’s after the Exsidian!
+
“We have business with Iconox,Gresh said confidently. “The burden is not ours. We can’t leave without the consent of the owner.The Skrall's faces became serious.
  
“Don't worry,” said Strakk. “Who would look for Exsidian in an area so remote? And besides, if Malum wanted it, he would have taken it before we entered the mountains. Right, old friend?”
+
“Try it,” threatened a Skrall.
  
Malum looked at Strakk with a cold stare. “I've never been your friend.
+
“I will,” said Gresh.
  
“What do you want?” asked Gresh.
+
''Why are you doing this?'' Strakk thought. ''They’ll kill us all!''
  
“I warn you,” Malum answered. “The Skrall have become more ambitious. Many of them are in the mountains, chasing something, or someone. Maybe you. And you should listen to their talk of Tajun.
+
“Iconox is in debt to Roxtus,” Gresh lied. “We have orders to deliver payment directly to Tuma as a humble apology for the delay. He wants to see it himself. Do you want to be the one to tell Tuma that you had not heard of the apology and sent us back into the desert?
  
“Why would you care?” spat Strakk. “Will you regret it if we’re killed by the Skrall before you can take your revenge on us?”
+
His words served to panic the Skrall. Tuma, their leader, was the only being who really frightened them. Sending back the payment would bring his anger upon them. He would break the bones of any Skrall who disappointed him. Nobody wanted to stand before him and explain why he hadn’t received what he had expected.
  
The dark smile on the Malum's face didn’t say anything good.
+
“You will come with us,” said a Skrall. “But unarmed.”
  
“To be honest... yes.
+
The two Skrall approached the Glatorian and took their Thornax Launchers, along with Gresh's shield and Strakk's axe. Then they searched the carriage. They found an extra launcher, which they confiscated, and ordered the Glatorian to stay away from the caravan. Under the watchful eye of the Skrall, the team began to question their chances of survival.
  
Raanu, leader of the village of Vulcanus, had grave concerns. Without Malum, his village had just one experienced Glatorian available. There were several potential candidates to take Malum’s place, but they were young, and inexperienced. Regardless, the recent Glatorian duel with Iconox had ended in victory for Vulcanus. Iconox had to pay in Exsidian, but the precious metal had not yet arrived, and Raanu had just discovered why. “Through the Spike Mountains? Are they crazy?
+
“Great idea,” Strakk murmured. “Next you'll want to give our hands over in addition to the Exsidian.”
  
Metus, Glatorian trainer of Iconox, spread his hands. “You know that with the Bone Hunters...”
+
“No,” said Gresh. “It isn’t my intention to stay with them.”
  
“I know about the Bone Hunters,” Raanu interrupted. “I've heard that excuse before. But my people have justly earned the victory in the arena. If Iconox cannot deliver its payment...
+
“What?
  
“Vulcanus will not be willing to pay up if Iconox wins the next fight,” Metus concluded.
+
“Right,” replied Gresh, hitting Strakk over the head with an Exsidian ingot.
  
“And if that happens, Metus... our system will collapse before our eyes. By stopping the practice of settling disputes with Glatorian warriors, we can expect only one thing: war.
+
Surprisingly, the wounded Strakk gave no answer, but simply attacked Gresh in return. After a while both were fiercely fighting in the caravan.
  
Metus gave the Vulcanus leader’s words some thought. Undoubtedly Raanu was right. Centuries ago it was made clear the Agori could not afford an armed conflict between tribes. Nobody wanted to remember the nightmare of destruction left by the last war. Thus, all disputes between tribes were settled with Glatorian. However, this system was based on mutual trust. The result of a duel in the arena was not subject to discussion and was absolutely accepted by all. If a village broke the rules or didn’t pay as agreed, the others would do the same.
+
“Stop!” a Skrall said, approaching the trailer to separate them.
  
“I hope that those Glatorian I hired for Iconox don’t disappoint me,” he said softly. “If the Bone Hunters or even the Skrall intercept that shipment ... we're in trouble.”
+
“This is just what I expected,” said Gresh. Once the Skrall was within his reach, Gresh delivered a powerful blow with the Exsidian. He then grabbed a Thornax Launcher from the Skrall, and before anyone could react, he fired, hitting the rock wall on the right. He reloaded and fired again, this time at the rock wall on the left. Both shots caused an avalanche, dropping tons of rock upon the caravan and their escort. The Skrall fled before the avalanche. Gresh jumped onto his Stalker and shouted, “Ride, Kirbold!
  
Malum vanished as quickly as he had come, disappearing into the rocks with the ease of someone who had been born among the mountains. Gresh didn’t even want to know where Malum had gone, but he did not take the former Glatorian’s warning lightly.
+
The Agori took the reins, and sent the Spikit running at full speed, something anyone in that situation would have done. The rocks fell toward the trailer’s sides, making the road even narrower.
  
“Skrall...” Tarduk said. “I once tried to unearth some artifacts near Roxtus ... bad idea, I know. I barely escaped. Had I been caught, I would have been a corpse.”
+
“We need to go faster!” Tarduk cried.
  
The road through the Black Spike Mountains to the east was still visible, but only barely so, due to little use over the years. The fresh mountain air brought some relief to the trip, especially for Strakk, who occasionally had to turn back down the mountain to help push the caravan uphill. The silence was broken only by the sound of the hooves of the Stalkers, the whistling of the wind passing between the peaks and the tranquil sound of wagon wheels. A sharp cry like that of a Mountain Striker made both Glatorian jump. A second cry made Strakk turn his gaze to the sky. Mountain Strikers were birds of prey whose wingspan could be as wide as five feet. Their claws could tear through armor as easily as an Agori could tear through dry parchment. They hunted mostly small animals, but if driven to great hunger, they wouldn’t hesitate to attack opponents much larger than themselves. Strakk and Gresh prepared to fire their weapons, hoping not to meet anything more dangerous than a Mountain Striker.
+
“We can't!” Strakk replied, “We’re driving a carriage with a few tons of Exsidian. How can we go faster?”
  
“I didn’t see anything. Do you think it was really just a Striker?Strakk asked, his voice barely audible.
+
“Come on!” yelled Gresh. “We’re making good ground!
  
“It sounded more like a signal,” said Gresh.
+
“It’s better to stop talking!” Strakk growled, massaging the spot on his head where Gresh had struck him. “The next time you plan something like that, would you mind telling me about it?
  
“Skrall?”
+
Strakk snatched the Thornax Launcher from Gresh and turned around. He pointed at the rocks that were rolling toward them and fired. The rocks shattered, creating another shower of stones. At that same moment, the entire hillside exploded, sending a gigantic piece of rock rolling down the hill toward the trailer.
  
“Exactly. Bone Hunters do not haunt these fields.”
+
“It’s heading towards the caravan!” Tarduk cried.
  
Strakk shook his head.
+
The Spikit stopped and stood near the convoy, almost blocking it, but managing to provide cover for Strakk and Kirbold. Gresh left his Stalker, grabbed its saddle, and placed it over the trailer as Tarduk jumped in. A wave of rocks hit the trailer, but were pushed off to the sides by the saddle.  
  
“And if they made that signal, then the Bone Hunters are smarter than I thought.
+
A moment later, it was over. Where the Agori and Glatorian had previously been standing, there was now a pile of rubble. The air was stifling due to the dust. All was silent. The Skrall, who’d managed to escape alive, approached the pile. They attempted to push some of the larger stones out of the way, but were unsuccessful.
  
“What do we do?” Tarduk asked. “Try to escape? Or should we be ready to fight?”
+
“What will we tell Tuma?” asked one of the warriors.
  
“We heard his signal. That means they're close. Too late to escape,” Strakk said. “Well rookie, you always wanted to be a hero. Now's your chance to die as one.”
+
“Nothing,” said the leader. “There was no transport. No one saw it. If anyone ever finds out what happened to them, we’ll say that it was an accident ... one of the many that can happen in a dangerous place like this.”
  
Gresh was deep in thought. He had to find a way to save them. They could pretend they hadn’t heard anything suspicious, and move on, trying to escape from the Skrall ambush. He could guess which option Strakk would choose: running as soon as possible and leaving the mountains behind. Wasn’t there any way to get the goods delivered to their destination? Too late. He had already wasted too much time trying to decide. As he looked up, warriors in black armor emerged from hiding. The Skrall had surrounded them.
+
The Skrall looked down at the axe and shield in in their hands - the Glatorian’s weapons. After some thought, they were thrown into the rubble.
  
“This is the land of the Skrall,said one of them.
+
“These are of no use to anyone anymore.
  
“Travel through these mountains is forbidden,” added a second.
+
'''Chapter 3'''
  
“Unless you want to see Tuma,” added a third. “What's in the caravan? Show us!”
+
Strakk couldn’t see; he could barely breathe. He wanted to see his surroundings to be a hundred percent sure... but knew that it wouldn’t be good. ''This is what I get,'' he thought. ''This is the last time I do something for others. I have a very soft heart, that’s my problem. Enough! It's over! I will become a champion of the arena, and never take an escort job again in my life, no matter what.''
  
“If we do, they’ll take the Exsidian,” Kirbold whispered nervously.
+
Strakk clenched his fist and struck something hard. Something grabbed his wrist and pulled him out of the rocks. He was relieved when he touched the ground. The dust kicked up by the fall caused him to cough violently. When he looked around, he saw a faint light around the dust, forming a familiar silhouette.
  
“And if we don’t, they will kill us.” Tarduk replied, then turned slowly and uncovered the cargo.
+
“I’m alive!” Strakk sputtered after a while. “What happened?
  
Rarely did the Skrall show any joy; even a smile was uncommon. However, the party witnessed an incredibly rare sight: the Skrall were so pleased, they practically laughed. They were looking at a valuable treasure, and interposed between the precious metal and themselves were only two Glatorian and two Agori.
+
“You really need to ask?” Replied Gresh, his voice laced with fury. “Your fire triggered an avalanche. We all fell down the slope.
  
“Take the contents of the caravan out. Now!ordered the group leader.
+
“But I'm alive, right?” Strakk murmured, rising. “If not, I would have gone where good souls go. I’m definitely not there.”
  
Strakk sighed with relief. Apparently, fate had been kind to them: the Exsidian was lost, but at least he got to keep his head. They had been lucky that the "supply" sounded better than killing them.
+
“The avalanche pushed us against the wall of the ravine. Then I saw a small opening in the canyon wall,” Tarduk said. “We went inside, but then the entrance was blocked by rocks.
  
“We have business with Iconox,Gresh said confidently. “The burden is not ours. We can’t leave without the consent of the owner.The Skrall's faces became serious.
+
“What of the caravan? And the Exsidian?Strakk said, alarmed. “If Exsidian is lost, I will not receive my payment and the whole expedition will have been a waste of time!
  
“Try it,” threatened a Skrall.
+
“The Spikit is a bit battered, but the carriage is fine,” Kirbold said. “I'm glad you asked.
  
“I will,” said Gresh.
+
As Tarduk spoke, Gresh returned to the opening. It was blocked. Pushing with all his strength, he tried to move the rock, but to no avail.
  
''Why are you doing this?'' Strakk thought. ''They’ll kill us all!''
+
“Even if we do manage to move the rocks from the inside, the other side would be blocked by debris and boulders. I’d prefer not to go out that way.” Tarduk lit a torch, illuminating the dark corridor.
  
“Iconox is in debt to Roxtus,” Gresh lied. “We have orders to deliver payment directly to Tuma as a humble apology for the delay. He wants to see it himself. Do you want to be the one to tell Tuma that you had not heard of the apology and sent us back into the desert?”
+
“Is there another option?”
  
His words served to panic the Skrall. Tuma, their leader, was the only being who really frightened them. Sending back the payment would bring his anger upon them. He would break the bones of any Skrall who disappointed him. Nobody wanted to stand before him and explain why he hadn’t received what he had expected.
+
Strakk stepped forward, carefully examining the surface of the walls. The rock was perfectly smooth and polished. He was looking for a second exit. If there was one, it was not located somewhere in the ceiling, so climbing was not an option. He walked around, looking for scratches, cracks or anything that indicated the existence of a door, but due to low amount of light provided by the torch Tarduk had, he couldn’t find anything.
  
“You will come with us,said a Skrall. “But unarmed.”
+
“Where do we go from here?Strakk asked.
  
The two Skrall approached the Glatorian and took their Thornax Launchers, along with Gresh's shield and Strakk's axe. Then they searched the carriage. They found an extra launcher, which they confiscated, and ordered the Glatorian to stay away from the caravan. Under the watchful eye of the Skrall, the team began to question their chances of survival.
+
“This is not a natural tunnel,Gresh said. “Someone created it. But why? And where does it lead?”
  
“Great idea,” Strakk murmured. “Next you'll want to give our hands over in addition to the Exsidian.”
+
“Well,” Tarduk shrugged. “It seems our only choice is to follow the path ... Unless you’d prefer to stay here and die.”
  
“No,” said Gresh. “It isn’t my intention to stay with them.
+
Everyone sighed with relief when they discovered that the corridor was wide enough for the caravan to pass through. According to Kirbold's calculations, the corridor should be running roughly from east to west, almost the same direction of Vulcanus. Of course, if he was wrong, and the tunnel did not lead in that direction, it would undoubtedly cross the Dark Falls and end in the eastern territories. Nobody liked that possibility. Anyone who traveled there, even the Skrall, never returned.  
  
“What?”
+
Tarduk’s torch was the only source of light in the hallway. They hadn’t yet encountered anything that indicated where they were, or where they were going. Tarduk also wondered why there were no signs of life. No doubt the Sand Bats would have dug holes to gain entry. If there was another way out, it would be closed. For a moment Tarduk wished that Bara Magna's Glatorian could control the elements to which they belonged. If that were the case, the Jungle Tribe could control plant life, and the Ice Tribe would control ice. Strakk could freeze the boulders blocking the exit and break it in half with one blow of his axe. That idea was a nice one, but he knew it was impossible. Nearly a hundred thousand years ago the Glatorian had fought a major war on the planet. Tarduk preferred not to think about what would’ve happened if they’d had the ability to control their elements then.
  
“Right,” replied Gresh, hitting Strakk over the head with an Exsidian ingot.
+
“Hey, look,” Gresh said. “What’s that?”
  
Surprisingly, the wounded Strakk gave no answer, but simply attacked Gresh in return. After a while both were fiercely fighting in the caravan.
+
Several strange symbols on the wall glowed brightly in the torchlight. A series of circles with lines drawn through them at various angles, forming strange inscriptions. Tarduk’s mouth curved into a smile.
  
“Stop!” a Skrall said, approaching the trailer to separate them.
+
“I saw something like that once!” he said, rushing to the wall to see the markings more closely. “I found these writings in some ruins!” “Excellent,” Strakk said. “I hope this symbol is: "Exit."”
  
“This is just what I expected,” said Gresh. Once the Skrall was within his reach, Gresh delivered a powerful blow with the Exsidian. He then grabbed a Thornax Launcher from the Skrall, and before anyone could react, he fired, hitting the rock wall on the right. He reloaded and fired again, this time at the rock wall on the left. Both shots caused an avalanche, dropping tons of rock upon the caravan and their escort. The Skrall fled before the avalanche. Gresh jumped onto his Stalker and shouted, “Ride, Kirbold!
+
“I don’t know what’s written here. I can’t read them,” Tarduk said. “But based off where I found them, I think...”
  
The Agori took the reins, and sent the Spikit running at full speed, something anyone in that situation would have done. The rocks fell toward the trailer’s sides, making the road even narrower.
+
“Spit it out!” Strakk grunted.
  
“We need to go faster!” Tarduk cried.
+
“... I think it has something to do with the Great Beings...” Tarduk ended in silence.
  
“We can't!Strakk replied, “We’re driving a carriage with a few tons of Exsidian. How can we go faster?”
+
“That’s... good news,Gresh said, uncertainly.
  
“Come on!yelled Gresh. “We’re making good ground!
+
“That's wonderful,a stunned Strakk rubbed his head. “Just great. Things couldn’t get any better. Unless you see lava in here...”
  
“It’s better to stop talking!Strakk growled, massaging the spot on his head where Gresh had struck him. “The next time you plan something like that, would you mind telling me about it?
+
“You know what? I think I left a flaming torch at the entrance,Kirbold murmured. “I’d like to go back.
  
Strakk snatched the Thornax Launcher from Gresh and turned around. He pointed at the rocks that were rolling toward them and fired. The rocks shattered, creating another shower of stones. At that same moment, the entire hillside exploded, sending a gigantic piece of rock rolling down the hill toward the trailer.
+
Tarduk perfectly understood what his teammates felt. Even if no one had seen the Great Beings, all knew of them. Many people would forgive them for making Bara Magna a technologically advanced world. However, the vast majority blamed them for the catastrophe that had struck the world. Why they disappeared, Tarduk did not know - in time it became a legend. However, there was no doubting one thing: the Great Beings had committed a horrible act. The consequences of their negligence had resulted in a tragic disaster. Since then no one talked about the Great Beings. In the past, Tarduk had made several attempts to find them, but the leader of his tribe forbade him to look, considering his attempts to be a "waste of time." ''But he’s not here now'', thought Tarduk. ''Perhaps now, I’ll finally manage to learn something about them.''
  
“It’s heading towards the caravan!Tarduk cried.
+
“Why would the Great Beings have dug a tunnel in the mountains?asked Gresh.
  
The Spikit stopped and stood near the convoy, almost blocking it, but managing to provide cover for Strakk and Kirbold. Gresh left his Stalker, grabbed its saddle, and placed it over the trailer as Tarduk jumped in. A wave of rocks hit the trailer, but were pushed off to the sides by the saddle.  
+
“To reach the other side of the mountain?” Strakk guessed with a hopeful tone in his voice.
  
A moment later, it was over. Where the Agori and Glatorian had previously been standing, there was now a pile of rubble. The air was stifling due to the dust. All was silent. The Skrall, who’d managed to escape alive, approached the pile. They attempted to push some of the larger stones out of the way, but were unsuccessful.
+
“Perhaps the Great Beings built this place ... and left a guard?” Tarduk suggested. “It may be in here now.
  
“What will we tell Tuma?” asked one of the warriors.
+
“After a hundred thousand years? Please!Strakk scoffed.
  
“Nothing,” said the leader. “There was no transport. No one saw it. If anyone ever finds out what happened to them, we’ll say that it was an accident ... one of the many that can happen in a dangerous place like this.
+
Suddenly a sound echoed through the hall - a hollow sound, like something on the ceiling had been loose and dropped down from above. Everyone jumped.
  
The Skrall looked down at the axe and shield in in their hands - the Glatorian’s weapons. After some thought, they were thrown into the rubble.
+
“Someone’s here,” Kirbold whispered.
  
“These are of no use to anyone anymore.”
+
“Something’s wrong,” said Gresh, his voice a whisper. “Stay here, I’ll investigate.”
  
'''Chapter 3'''
+
Before Strakk could protest, Gresh advanced. A few hundred feet down the path, the floor of the hall seemed a bit different. The smooth surface was replaced by thousands of ancient stones. On the walls were more symbols. As he continued he heard strange noises ahead - sounds of scraping and a quiet hiss of air. Gresh’s nerves were pushed to the limit.
  
Strakk couldn’t see; he could barely breathe. He wanted to see his surroundings to be a hundred percent sure... but knew that it wouldn’t be good. ''This is what I get,'' he thought. ''This is the last time I do something for others. I have a very soft heart, that’s my problem. Enough! It's over! I will become a champion of the arena, and never take an escort job again in my life, no matter what.''
+
“Gresh!” Tarduk cried. “The ground is moving!
  
Strakk clenched his fist and struck something hard. Something grabbed his wrist and pulled him out of the rocks. He was relieved when he touched the ground. The dust kicked up by the fall caused him to cough violently. When he looked around, he saw a faint light around the dust, forming a familiar silhouette.
+
Gresh looked down. Tarduk was right. The "stones" in the path were actually Scarabax Beetles. The swarm covered the floor of the corridor from wall to wall. When the beetles were small they weren’t much of a threat - they could easily be trampled. But adult Scarabax shells were hard as rock. Gresh quickly stepped back, causing a violent commotion amongst the insects. If he didn’t move quickly, he would not be heard from again. Suddenly he heard a roar in the tunnel, and a Sand Bat burst out of the darkness, heading right for him. Anyone who had been through the desert knew the Sand Bats were something to fear. They were large predators with a snakelike body and the wings of a bat. They preyed on creatures by leaping from the sand and quickly dragging their victims into the depths. Now Gresh had two problems to worry about; the beetles and the Sand Bat. Gresh stumbled and fell back towards the bug infestation. Kirbold and Tarduk hurried to help Gresh. Strakk hesitated for a moment, but immediately ran after them. He knew that if he didn’t succeed in saving his companion, he too would end up as just another meal. The Sand Bat lunged at Gresh. The Glatorian’s memories flashed before his eyes; he remembered his people, the faces of his friends, Kiina and Vastus. He instinctively closed his eyes as the Sand Bat rushed toward him, baring its teeth. For a moment nothing happened, then a furious whisper suddenly echoed through the cave. The noise drowned all other sounds, all except one… the desperate cry of the Sand Bat.
  
“I’m alive!” Strakk sputtered after a while. “What happened?”
+
Fero reined his steed to a stop to take a closer look at the area. He knew there was a mystery to be solved here. Fero belonged to the desert raiders known as Bone Hunters. He was one of the best, but recently a target had managed to evade him. The attack on the village of Vulcanus had ended in failure - a handful of Glatorian had been sent to stop him, and had succeeded. He wasn’t sure how this had happened, but he was humiliated in front of his tribe. Pride wouldn’t allow him to live with such shame. Shortly after the failed raid he’d left his camp, although he had no intent to hunt or plunder the Agori caravans. No, Fero would track juicier prey – the Glatorian who had beaten him days earlier. He had vowed to pursue them, and would only be satisfied when the desert sand had consumed them all. Fero had followed Strakk's trail since leaving Iconox. He wanted to wait until nightfall to attack the Glatorian, leaving his knife embedded in Strakk’s flesh as a warning to others. However, during his watch he’d found that Strakk was with Gresh, a Glatorian of Tesara, and they were both escorting a load of Exsidian. Fate had given him the opportunity to defeat two enemies, and gain a substantial reward, in one stroke. He just needed a plan. Many experienced Bone Hunters wouldn’t have run the risk of facing two strong Glatorian, but Fero was patient. The two Glatorian had gone on a long journey, and Fero would wait for the right moment to attack them by surprise. The Black Spike Mountains had made them an easy target, but the Skrall had interfered with his plans. Furious, he had watched the group of warriors escort their prisoners and their valuable cargo towards the village of Roxtus. Then there was an escape attempt that ended with an avalanche. The Skrall left behind the debris - the purported resting place of the two Glatorian, two Agori and several tons of Exsidian. Fero understood why the Skrall didn't believe anyone could’ve survived the catastrophe. However, something told him that appearances could be deceiving. Perhaps the instinct of a Bone Hunter, honed for years in the harsh desert, led him to conclude that Gresh and Strakk were still alive. Of course, he hadn’t gone to confirm this by digging through tons of stones; this type of work was not something Fero enjoyed. In addition, the Skrall could return at any time. This brought Fero to another possibility: the only way to avoid death in an avalanche was to be in a cave. Caves often had a second exit. Perhaps the road that the Glatorian were taking would bring them to it. If so, Fero intended to find it and wait for them. He turned his steed and headed off the road. If Strakk and Gresh emerged from the cave, Fero would make sure his defeat in Vulcanus was avenged.
  
“You really need to ask?” Replied Gresh, his voice laced with fury. “Your fire triggered an avalanche. We all fell down the slope.
+
Gresh opened his eyes. The Scarabax swarm had emerged from the ground like a miniature tornado and flung themselves toward the Sand Bat. For a moment, the beast disappeared under a thick black cloud of insects. When the cloud disappeared, Gresh noted that the spot where the Sand Bat had been was now empty. Soon the beetles scattered in all directions, and Gresh, still in shock, stood up.
  
“But I'm alive, right?” Strakk murmured, rising. “If not, I would have gone where good souls go. I’m definitely not there.”
+
“What just happened?” Gresh asked hurriedly, while checking to see if any of the beetles remained attached to his armor.
  
“The avalanche pushed us against the wall of the ravine. Then I saw a small opening in the canyon wall,” Tarduk said. “We went inside, but then the entrance was blocked by rocks.”
+
“You ran straight into a Scarabax swarm. That was stupid,” Strakk explained. “Then you fell into a Scarabax swarm. That was also stupid. The Sand Bat was smarter than you.” Gresh gritted his teeth, trying hard not to fire back a harsh response.
  
“What of the caravan? And the Exsidian?” Strakk said, alarmed. “If Exsidian is lost, I will not receive my payment and the whole expedition will have been a waste of time!
+
Kirbold intervened, preventing Strakk from making things worse. “The Scarabax react to sudden movements. When the Sand Bat flapped its wings it caught their attention, so they forgot you and went after it instead.
  
“The Spikit is a bit battered, but the carriage is fine,” Kirbold said. “I'm glad you asked.
+
“Then why did they flee?
  
As Tarduk spoke, Gresh returned to the opening. It was blocked. Pushing with all his strength, he tried to move the rock, but to no avail.
+
“Who knows. Maybe they went to take a nap after lunch? At least they’re gone,” Tarduk shrugged.
  
“Even if we do manage to move the rocks from the inside, the other side would be blocked by debris and boulders. I’d prefer not to go out that way.” Tarduk lit a torch, illuminating the dark corridor.
+
“That’s not even the most interesting part.” Strakk sighed.
  
“Is there another option?”
+
“No? What is then? Enlighten me,a curious Kirbold responded.
  
Strakk stepped forward, carefully examining the surface of the walls. The rock was perfectly smooth and polished. He was looking for a second exit. If there was one, it was not located somewhere in the ceiling, so climbing was not an option. He walked around, looking for scratches, cracks or anything that indicated the existence of a door, but due to low amount of light provided by the torch Tarduk had, he couldn’t find anything.
+
“Sand Bats don’t live in the caves,” Strakk voice was riddled with impatience. “They live in the desert, buried in the sand where they hunt things on the surface. In places like this, there’s no food for them. Get it?”
  
“Where do we go from here?Strakk asked.
+
“They came here from outside, like us,Gresh guessed. “Except that Sand Bat flew from the other side, and that means...”
  
“This is not a natural tunnel,Gresh said. “Someone created it. But why? And where does it lead?
+
“... That means there must be an exit!Kirbold concluded. “We just have to find it!
  
“Well,” Tarduk shrugged. “It seems our only choice is to follow the path ... Unless you’d prefer to stay here and die.”
+
“Well, wise man,” Strakk said. “Can we hurry before those bugs appear again?
  
Everyone sighed with relief when they discovered that the corridor was wide enough for the caravan to pass through. According to Kirbold's calculations, the corridor should be running roughly from east to west, almost the same direction of Vulcanus. Of course, if he was wrong, and the tunnel did not lead in that direction, it would undoubtedly cross the Dark Falls and end in the eastern territories. Nobody liked that possibility. Anyone who traveled there, even the Skrall, never returned.  
+
The team continued down the corridor. The passage twisted, rose and fell, but Tarduk was more interested in the inscriptions on the walls. He still no idea what they might mean. He couldn’t even tell if they were letters or numbers, and the group was moving too quickly for him to take a good look.  
  
Tarduk’s torch was the only source of light in the hallway. They hadn’t yet encountered anything that indicated where they were, or where they were going. Tarduk also wondered why there were no signs of life. No doubt the Sand Bats would have dug holes to gain entry. If there was another way out, it would be closed. For a moment Tarduk wished that Bara Magna's Glatorian could control the elements to which they belonged. If that were the case, the Jungle Tribe could control plant life, and the Ice Tribe would control ice. Strakk could freeze the boulders blocking the exit and break it in half with one blow of his axe. That idea was a nice one, but he knew it was impossible. Nearly a hundred thousand years ago the Glatorian had fought a major war on the planet. Tarduk preferred not to think about what would’ve happened if they’d had the ability to control their elements then.
+
“I think I see something,” Kirbold said. “There, up ahead.
  
“Hey, look,Gresh said. “What’s that?”
+
Tarduk stared into the darkness. Kirbold was right - ahead of them shone a dim light. Without thinking, Gresh moved in that direction. Kirbold had the Spikit run faster to keep pace with him.
  
Several strange symbols on the wall glowed brightly in the torchlight. A series of circles with lines drawn through them at various angles, forming strange inscriptions. Tarduk’s mouth curved into a smile.
+
“What is it?” Strakk cried. “A door? Is it the exit?”
  
“I saw something like that once!” he said, rushing to the wall to see the markings more closely. “I found these writings in some ruins!” “Excellent,” Strakk said. “I hope this symbol is: "Exit."”
+
Gresh continued down the path. Through a narrow slit in the middle of the wall was a faint stream of sunlight. Placing both hands on the wall, Gresh tried to find a button or a lever to open it.
  
“I don’t know what’s written here. I can’t read them,” Tarduk said. “But based off where I found them, I think...
+
“I think so,” he replied. “If only we can find ... Aha!"
  
“Spit it out!” Strakk grunted.
+
The Glatorian pushed a square stone embedded in the wall. After a moment they heard the echo of an old mechanism working. However, it did not open any door. Something completely unexpected happened.
  
“... I think it has something to do with the Great Beings...” Tarduk ended in silence.
+
“This doesn’t look good.” Strakk said.
  
“That’s... good news,” Gresh said, uncertainly.
+
Tarduk jumped from the caravan and saw how right Strakk was: the corridor walls were starting to approach each other. At the rate the walls were moving, the group had only a few minutes to live before they were crushed. Gresh and Strakk desperately groped the wall in search of something that could stop the mechanism, but found nothing. Kirbold rushed to help, ignoring the growls of the Spikit, which, by nature, was terrified of enclosed spaces. Tarduk kept searching for another button on the wall. However, he was also staring at the engravings. He was sure they hid a suggestion to help them out of this problem. Each one had a circular shape. Many of them had lines in within the circle, while others contained smaller circles. He thought some were words, but could not identify any. They were in a language he didn’t know. ''Wait, wait,'' he thought. ''This symbol, here... this is possible?''
  
“That's wonderful,” a stunned Strakk rubbed his head. “Just great. Things couldn’t get any better. Unless you see lava in here...
+
One symbol was far from the others - a simple circle, with no extra lines or other patterns in the middle. His first thought was that it looked like a zero or the letter "O".
  
“You know what? I think I left a flaming torch at the entrance,” Kirbold murmured. “I’d like to go back.”
+
''It couldn’t be that simple'', he thought, then hesitated. ''Could "O" be "Open"?''
  
Tarduk perfectly understood what his teammates felt. Even if no one had seen the Great Beings, all knew of them. Many people would forgive them for making Bara Magna a technologically advanced world. However, the vast majority blamed them for the catastrophe that had struck the world. Why they disappeared, Tarduk did not know - in time it became a legend. However, there was no doubting one thing: the Great Beings had committed a horrible act. The consequences of their negligence had resulted in a tragic disaster. Since then no one talked about the Great Beings. In the past, Tarduk had made several attempts to find them, but the leader of his tribe forbade him to look, considering his attempts to be a "waste of time." ''But he’s not here now'', thought Tarduk. ''Perhaps now, I’ll finally manage to learn something about them.''
+
Tarduk jumped and punched the symbol. Suddenly, the stone before them began to shake. The rock that was blocking the road slowly moved aside, filling the tunnel with light. The walls continued approaching each other, but finally an escape route had opened.
  
“Why would the Great Beings have dug a tunnel in the mountains?asked Gresh.
+
“Run!Tarduk screamed.
  
“To reach the other side of the mountain?” Strakk guessed with a hopeful tone in his voice.
+
Kirbold took the reins and urged the Spikit toward the exit. Behind the carriage ran Tarduk, followed closely by Gresh and Strakk. Only moments after they escaped the tunnel, they heard the sound of the corridor walls closing behind them.
  
“Perhaps the Great Beings built this place ... and left a guard?” Tarduk suggested. “It may be in here now.”
+
“Phew!” Strakk let out a breath of relief.
  
“After a hundred thousand years? Please!Strakk scoffed.
+
“Look around,said Gresh.
  
Suddenly a sound echoed through the hall - a hollow sound, like something on the ceiling had been loose and dropped down from above. Everyone jumped.
+
They were at the foot of the mountains. They could see where the mountains gave rise to the desert, and the dark waters of the Skrall River fell with a steady echo. They had made it through the Black Spike Mountains.
  
“Someone’s here,” Kirbold whispered.
+
“It's a shame that we can’t go back the way we came,” Kirbold said. “Well, unless we all lose a lot of weight.”
  
“Something’s wrong,” said Gresh, his voice a whisper. “Stay here, I’ll investigate.
+
Gresh turned, having heard the impact of metal on rock. Seconds later something fell from the rocks above them and landed with a crash at his feet. Before them lay the body of a Bone Hunter. Gresh approached him carefully.
  
Before Strakk could protest, Gresh advanced. A few hundred feet down the path, the floor of the hall seemed a bit different. The smooth surface was replaced by thousands of ancient stones. On the walls were more symbols. As he continued he heard strange noises ahead - sounds of scraping and a quiet hiss of air. Gresh’s nerves were pushed to the limit.
+
“It’s Fero,Gresh said in amazement.
  
“Gresh!Tarduk cried. “The ground is moving!”
+
“Is he dead?Strakk asked.
  
Gresh looked down. Tarduk was right. The "stones" in the path were actually Scarabax Beetles. The swarm covered the floor of the corridor from wall to wall. When the beetles were small they weren’t much of a threat - they could easily be trampled. But adult Scarabax shells were hard as rock. Gresh quickly stepped back, causing a violent commotion amongst the insects. If he didn’t move quickly, he would not be heard from again. Suddenly he heard a roar in the tunnel, and a Sand Bat burst out of the darkness, heading right for him. Anyone who had been through the desert knew the Sand Bats were something to fear. They were large predators with a snakelike body and the wings of a bat. They preyed on creatures by leaping from the sand and quickly dragging their victims into the depths. Now Gresh had two problems to worry about; the beetles and the Sand Bat. Gresh stumbled and fell back towards the bug infestation. Kirbold and Tarduk hurried to help Gresh. Strakk hesitated for a moment, but immediately ran after them. He knew that if he didn’t succeed in saving his companion, he too would end up as just another meal. The Sand Bat lunged at Gresh. The Glatorian’s memories flashed before his eyes; he remembered his people, the faces of his friends, Kiina and Vastus. He instinctively closed his eyes as the Sand Bat rushed toward him, baring its teeth. For a moment nothing happened, then a furious whisper suddenly echoed through the cave. The noise drowned all other sounds, all except one… the desperate cry of the Sand Bat.
+
“He’s still alive, but badly wounded. It looks like he’s been in a rough fight.
  
Fero reined his steed to a stop to take a closer look at the area. He knew there was a mystery to be solved here. Fero belonged to the desert raiders known as Bone Hunters. He was one of the best, but recently a target had managed to evade him. The attack on the village of Vulcanus had ended in failure - a handful of Glatorian had been sent to stop him, and had succeeded. He wasn’t sure how this had happened, but he was humiliated in front of his tribe. Pride wouldn’t allow him to live with such shame. Shortly after the failed raid he’d left his camp, although he had no intent to hunt or plunder the Agori caravans. No, Fero would track juicier prey – the Glatorian who had beaten him days earlier. He had vowed to pursue them, and would only be satisfied when the desert sand had consumed them all. Fero had followed Strakk's trail since leaving Iconox. He wanted to wait until nightfall to attack the Glatorian, leaving his knife embedded in Strakk’s flesh as a warning to others. However, during his watch he’d found that Strakk was with Gresh, a Glatorian of Tesara, and they were both escorting a load of Exsidian. Fate had given him the opportunity to defeat two enemies, and gain a substantial reward, in one stroke. He just needed a plan. Many experienced Bone Hunters wouldn’t have run the risk of facing two strong Glatorian, but Fero was patient. The two Glatorian had gone on a long journey, and Fero would wait for the right moment to attack them by surprise. The Black Spike Mountains had made them an easy target, but the Skrall had interfered with his plans. Furious, he had watched the group of warriors escort their prisoners and their valuable cargo towards the village of Roxtus. Then there was an escape attempt that ended with an avalanche. The Skrall left behind the debris - the purported resting place of the two Glatorian, two Agori and several tons of Exsidian. Fero understood why the Skrall didn't believe anyone could’ve survived the catastrophe. However, something told him that appearances could be deceiving. Perhaps the instinct of a Bone Hunter, honed for years in the harsh desert, led him to conclude that Gresh and Strakk were still alive. Of course, he hadn’t gone to confirm this by digging through tons of stones; this type of work was not something Fero enjoyed. In addition, the Skrall could return at any time. This brought Fero to another possibility: the only way to avoid death in an avalanche was to be in a cave. Caves often had a second exit. Perhaps the road that the Glatorian were taking would bring them to it. If so, Fero intended to find it and wait for them. He turned his steed and headed off the road. If Strakk and Gresh emerged from the cave, Fero would make sure his defeat in Vulcanus was avenged.
+
“But look at him, he’s a Bone Hunter. Who could have done this to him?” Tarduk asked, surprised.
  
Gresh opened his eyes. The Scarabax swarm had emerged from the ground like a miniature tornado and flung themselves toward the Sand Bat. For a moment, the beast disappeared under a thick black cloud of insects. When the cloud disappeared, Gresh noted that the spot where the Sand Bat had been was now empty. Soon the beetles scattered in all directions, and Gresh, still in shock, stood up.
+
Soon the reply came, though not in the form of an audible voice. In seconds, the team was surrounded by a group of Vorox. Amid the quiet circle appeared a warrior clad in red armor.
  
“What just happened?Gresh asked hurriedly, while checking to see if any of the beetles remained attached to his armor.
+
“We did this to him,said Malum. “The only question is whether or not we should do the same to you.
  
“You ran straight into a Scarabax swarm. That was stupid,” Strakk explained. “Then you fell into a Scarabax swarm. That was also stupid. The Sand Bat was smarter than you.” Gresh gritted his teeth, trying hard not to fire back a harsh response.
+
'''Chapter Four'''
  
Kirbold intervened, preventing Strakk from making things worse. “The Scarabax react to sudden movements. When the Sand Bat flapped its wings it caught their attention, so they forgot you and went after it instead.
+
One of the first things Strakk learned as Glatorian was "read the situation." Was his opponent confident or fearful? Was he admired by your audience or did they not care? Could the layout of the arena be used to gain an edge? These questions all had to be answered before the village leader announced the start of the fight. This technique was useful for keeping silent and organizing his thoughts. It allowed to forget the fear and focus on the challenge he faced. His current situation was a good time to hide his fear. But considering all the facts, options and risk factors... Strakk was ready to panic. Being surrounded by Vorox as he was, Strakk believed he could be forgiven for feeling this way.
  
“Then why did they flee?”
+
“And what shall I do with you now?” Malum said. “I have many Vorox to feed.
  
“Who knows. Maybe they went to take a nap after lunch? At least they’re gone,” Tarduk shrugged.
+
“Listen, Malum,” said Gresh. “We have nothing for you. We just want to go to Vulcanus. Take what you want from us, and let us continue on our way.
  
“That’s not even the most interesting part.” Strakk sighed.
+
“What are you talking about?” Strakk whispered. “He will take the Exsidian.”
  
“No? What is then? Enlighten me,a curious Kirbold responded.
+
Malum laughed. “Our senses are very sharp. I’d listen to Strakk. Your lives depend on it.
  
“Sand Bats don’t live in the caves,” Strakk voice was riddled with impatience. “They live in the desert, buried in the sand where they hunt things on the surface. In places like this, there’s no food for them. Get it?
+
“Listen to this...” Gresh said suddenly, pointing with his launcher. “I’m a pretty good shot. If any of your Vorox fire at us... I'll do the same to you, Malum. They may beat us, but you will die first.”
  
“They came here from outside, like us,” Gresh guessed. “Except that Sand Bat flew from the other side, and that means...
+
The tone of Gresh's voice caused anxiety among the Vorox. Several of them began to growl menacingly, flexing their tails, ready to attack.
  
... That means there must be an exit!Kirbold concluded. “We just have to find it!
+
“Quiet. Aggression is not the answer,Malum replied indignantly. “I came here to kill a small group of old… acquaintances.
  
“Well, wise man,” Strakk said. “Can we hurry before those bugs appear again?”
+
“What did I say?” Strakk muttered under his breath.
  
The team continued down the corridor. The passage twisted, rose and fell, but Tarduk was more interested in the inscriptions on the walls. He still no idea what they might mean. He couldn’t even tell if they were letters or numbers, and the group was moving too quickly for him to take a good look.  
+
“I do not want your Exsidian. What would we use it for? The Vorox aren't toolmakers. What they cannot eat, drink or use in a fight is not useful to them. Or me.
  
“I think I see something,Kirbold said. “There, up ahead.”
+
“What do you want?Gresh said.
  
Tarduk stared into the darkness. Kirbold was right - ahead of them shone a dim light. Without thinking, Gresh moved in that direction. Kirbold had the Spikit run faster to keep pace with him.
+
“The Skrall have something that belongs to me,” Malum said calmly. “I want it back.
  
“What is it?” Strakk cried. “A door? Is it the exit?
+
Strakk laughed. “Is that all? They have the strongest army in Bara Magna. You want to knock on their door and ask for a refund? By all means, go get yourself killed. While I do the same to your Vorox.
  
Gresh continued down the path. Through a narrow slit in the middle of the wall was a faint stream of sunlight. Placing both hands on the wall, Gresh tried to find a button or a lever to open it.
+
“Shut up, Strakk!” cut in Gresh. “What do you mean, Malum? Why are you here? The Vorox live in the Dunes of Treason. The Skrall have not entered that territory.
  
“I think so,” he replied. “If only we can find ... Aha!"
+
Malum climbed onto a rock. Two Vorox left the circle and grabbed Tarduk and Kirbold. Strakk and Gresh tried to intervene, but more Vorox blocked them from rescuing their companions.
  
The Glatorian pushed a square stone embedded in the wall. After a moment they heard the echo of an old mechanism working. However, it did not open any door. Something completely unexpected happened.
+
“Pathetic heroes. I will ensure that your friends will not leave without saying goodbye... I would not want something to happen, right? In regards to your question, Gresh... the Bone Hunters recently attacked one of our camps. We managed to beat them, but they stole a sword, and sold it to the Skrall. We came to retrieve it, but since you're here, you can do this favor for us.
  
“This doesn’t look good.” Strakk said.
+
“You're crazy!” Strakk cried.
  
Tarduk jumped from the caravan and saw how right Strakk was: the corridor walls were starting to approach each other. At the rate the walls were moving, the group had only a few minutes to live before they were crushed. Gresh and Strakk desperately groped the wall in search of something that could stop the mechanism, but found nothing. Kirbold rushed to help, ignoring the growls of the Spikit, which, by nature, was terrified of enclosed spaces. Tarduk kept searching for another button on the wall. However, he was also staring at the engravings. He was sure they hid a suggestion to help them out of this problem. Each one had a circular shape. Many of them had lines in within the circle, while others contained smaller circles. He thought some were words, but could not identify any. They were in a language he didn’t know. ''Wait, wait,'' he thought. ''This symbol, here... this is possible?''
+
Malum's eyes flashed with anger.
  
One symbol was far from the others - a simple circle, with no extra lines or other patterns in the middle. His first thought was that it looked like a zero or the letter "O".
+
“Crazy? No! I'm surrounded by friends who want to rip you into pieces! I control the fate of your two small friends and your Exsidian! So I advise you start planning how to retrieve my sword… before my Vorox lose their patience.
  
''It couldn’t be that simple'', he thought, then hesitated. ''Could "O" be "Open"?''
+
Gresh and Strakk watched the Skrall city from behind an outcropping of rock. It was night, but Roxtus was always in motion, like a hive. The soldiers were keeping watch, or returning to the city for the night. The Agori were working and repairing weapons. From inside the walls they could hear the sounds of the warriors in training.
  
Tarduk jumped and punched the symbol. Suddenly, the stone before them began to shake. The rock that was blocking the road slowly moved aside, filling the tunnel with light. The walls continued approaching each other, but finally an escape route had opened.
+
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Strakk said.
  
“Run!Tarduk screamed.
+
“I know,said Gresh. “You’ve said that three times.”
  
Kirbold took the reins and urged the Spikit toward the exit. Behind the carriage ran Tarduk, followed closely by Gresh and Strakk. Only moments after they escaped the tunnel, they heard the sound of the corridor walls closing behind them.
+
“There are at least a hundred Skrall in there,Strakk continued. “Not to mention that Agori with glowing swords, whom I’ve never seen before. The walls are two feet thick, probably strong enough to stop an army. And anyway, I see no invitation for two Glatorian.
  
“Phew!Strakk let out a breath of relief.
+
“Well,replied Gresh, “that means they do not expect us.
  
“Look around,” said Gresh.
+
“And how do we get in, genius?
  
They were at the foot of the mountains. They could see where the mountains gave rise to the desert, and the dark waters of the Skrall River fell with a steady echo. They had made it through the Black Spike Mountains.
+
Gresh looked toward the desert, and saw a caravan approaching the city. Each wagon was pulled by a two-headed Spikit, with a torch strapped to the front acting as a flashlight.
  
“It's a shame that we can’t go back the way we came,” Kirbold said. “Well, unless we all lose a lot of weight.”
+
“They're probably transporting food and water,” said Gresh. “We only have to get into a carriage and ride through the door.”
  
Gresh turned, having heard the impact of metal on rock. Seconds later something fell from the rocks above them and landed with a crash at his feet. Before them lay the body of a Bone Hunter. Gresh approached him carefully.
+
“Did I say that I had a bad feeling about this?” Strakk asked.
  
“It’s Fero,Gresh said in amazement.
+
The two Glatorian ran to the carriages. They were beyond the reach of the torchlight emanating from the city, so they were invisible to the guards. They saw a small Skrall group returning from their rounds, but at the last moment managed to hide behind a dune. When the caravan slowly crept by, Strakk, followed by Gresh, crawled under the wagons. When the vehicle stopped for a moment, Strakk used a rope hanging from the rear to hang from the bottom of it: nobody could see him unless they deliberately looked under the carriage. Gresh, however, had a more difficult task: hiding under the trailer, near one of the Spikit. Moving quickly toward it, he prayed that Spikit wasn't hungry, fearing that it wouldn’t take him as a potential meal. Once he was under the trailer, he mimicked Strakk's feat, gripping the underside of it.  
  
“Is he dead?” Strakk asked.
+
Upon reaching Roxtus, the city’s gates seemed to take forever to open. Gresh's muscles were burning from the effort of holding his body above the sand. When he heard the voice of the guard - an Agori named Atakus - allowing entry of the caravan, he was relieved. The first part of the mission was successful. When the carriages stopped, the Glatorian left the caravan and hid in the shadows, hiding from the Skrall guards approaching. They waited until the carriages had finished unloading and departed, then entered the city.
  
“He’s still alive, but badly wounded. It looks like he’s been in a rough fight.”
+
“Do you have any idea where to look?” Strakk asked.
  
“But look at him, he’s a Bone Hunter. Who could have done this to him?Tarduk asked, surprised.
+
“I think so,” Gresh said. He gestured toward a towering edifice. “The largest building in town. Malum's sword must be considered a spoil of war. Such things would be kept in a safe place.”
  
Soon the reply came, though not in the form of an audible voice. In seconds, the team was surrounded by a group of Vorox. Amid the quiet circle appeared a warrior clad in red armor.
+
“Only one guard in front... and unless you’ve got a way to get rid of him…” Strakk grabbed a piece of rusty chain that was lying in the sand, then held it out to Gresh. “Wrap this around your hands.
  
“We did this to him,” said Malum. “The only question is whether or not we should do the same to you.
+
They went to the building with their hands chained. They walked slowly, hunched over with their heads between their arms.
  
'''Chapter Four'''
+
“What are you doing here?” said the guard. “You must remain in your cells. There is no fight today.”
  
One of the first things Strakk learned as Glatorian was "read the situation." Was his opponent confident or fearful? Was he admired by your audience or did they not care? Could the layout of the arena be used to gain an edge? These questions all had to be answered before the village leader announced the start of the fight. This technique was useful for keeping silent and organizing his thoughts. It allowed to forget the fear and focus on the challenge he faced. His current situation was a good time to hide his fear. But considering all the facts, options and risk factors... Strakk was ready to panic. Being surrounded by Vorox as he was, Strakk believed he could be forgiven for feeling this way.
+
“Oh yeah,Strakk said. “I forgot.
  
“And what shall I do with you now?” Malum said. “I have many Vorox to feed.
+
The Glatorian rushed the surprised Agori. Strakk silenced the Agori with one punch, knocking him out cold.
  
“Listen, Malum,” said Gresh. “We have nothing for you. We just want to go to Vulcanus. Take what you want from us, and let us continue on our way.
+
“Good job,” conceded Gresh, dropping the chain. “Where did you learn that trick?
  
“What are you talking about?” Strakk whispered. “He will take the Exsidian.”
+
“I learned to lie, and deceive, by practicing,” Strakk grinned. “Two things Glatorian practice regularly, don't you think?
  
Malum laughed. “Our senses are very sharp. I’d listen to Strakk. Your lives depend on it.”
+
“Just start looking around,” said Gresh. “When dawn breaks...”
  
“Listen to this...” Gresh said suddenly, pointing with his launcher. “I’m a pretty good shot. If any of your Vorox fire at us... I'll do the same to you, Malum. They may beat us, but you will die first.”
+
...we won’t be able to get out of town unseen. I know.”
  
The tone of Gresh's voice caused anxiety among the Vorox. Several of them began to growl menacingly, flexing their tails, ready to attack.
+
The Glatorian efficiently separated to search the room. In no other village was there a place like this. The Rock Tribe didn't use the room for sleeping or eating, or to store inventory: no, apparently all of their treasure was kept here. Gresh noted a map of Bara Magna placed on a large table. Was this simply used as a source of information, or for mapping out war strategies?
  
“Quiet. Aggression is not the answer,Malum replied indignantly. “I came here to kill a small group of old… acquaintances.
+
It was Strakk who found where the most valuable treasure was. There were a lot of different things. Some of them - helmets, armor and other that objects stolen long ago - were easy to recognize, but others he had never had seen before in his life. Malum's sword was under a pile of objects unknown to him, surrounded by six stones engraved with symbols, which were of no importance. Strakk wanted to take everything he could, but, after a moment's thought, he quickly abandoned the idea. He had nothing against robbing the Skrall, but carrying all that baggage would seriously hamper his escape.  
  
“What did I say?” Strakk muttered under his breath.
+
Strakk took a closer look at the item they’d come here for. The sword was unique, its elaborate ornamentation shaped like a flame. The blade was made of Exsidian, and the handle had been carved from volcanic rock. No wonder Malum wanted to retrieve such a beautiful weapon. He must have been attached to it, as even his name was written on the handle. But something was wrong. Strakk looked closer at the engraving. The inscription on the sword said... "Ackar".
  
“I do not want your Exsidian. What would we use it for? The Vorox aren't toolmakers. What they cannot eat, drink or use in a fight is not useful to them. Or me.”
+
''Whoa, Malum is a thief'', thought Strakk. ''He dared to steal the sword of his fellow Glatorian, Ackar, and when the Bone Hunters took it, he asked us to steal it back for him! Did he stab Ackar in the back just out of spite?''
  
“What do you want?” Gresh said.
+
“You found it?” asked Gresh, entering the room. He was carrying his shield in one hand, and a large sword Strakk didn’t recognize in the other. “I thought this might be useful for getting out of here.”
  
“The Skrall have something that belongs to me,Malum said calmly. “I want it back.”
+
“Of course I found it... but look.Strakk showed Gresh the inscription on the sword. “Now what do we do with it?"
  
Strakk laughed. “Is that all? They have the strongest army in Bara Magna. You want to knock on their door and ask for a refund? By all means, go get yourself killed. While I do the same to your Vorox.
+
“We will return it to Ackar,” Gresh replied without hesitation.
  
“Shut up, Strakk!” cut in Gresh. “What do you mean, Malum? Why are you here? The Vorox live in the Dunes of Treason. The Skrall have not entered that territory.”
+
“Maybe he’ll give us some kind of reward,Strakk proposed. “But on the other hand, if we give it to Malum, perhaps the Agori live long enough to see Vulcanus again.”
  
Malum climbed onto a rock. Two Vorox left the circle and grabbed Tarduk and Kirbold. Strakk and Gresh tried to intervene, but more Vorox blocked them from rescuing their companions.
+
“First, we need to get out of Roxtus,” Gresh said.
  
“Pathetic heroes. I will ensure that your friends will not leave without saying goodbye... I would not want something to happen, right? In regards to your question, Gresh... the Bone Hunters recently attacked one of our camps. We managed to beat them, but they stole a sword, and sold it to the Skrall. We came to retrieve it, but since you're here, you can do this favor for us.”
+
“I saw something that could help,” said Strakk. “Give me the sword.”
  
“You're crazy!” Strakk cried.
+
The two Glatorian left the building quietly. Gresh followed Strakk to fenced area that smelled awful – something common for a Spikit Pen.
  
Malum's eyes flashed with anger.
+
“The Skrall have a weakness for these two-headed monsters,” Strakk whispered. “Probably because Spikit are the only things uglier than them. Let's see how they like them running loose.
  
“Crazy? No! I'm surrounded by friends who want to rip you into pieces! I control the fate of your two small friends and your Exsidian! So I advise you start planning how to retrieve my sword… before my Vorox lose their patience.
+
Strakk brandished his axe, breaking the gates with a single blow. Seeing the opening, the animals hesitated for a moment, then broke into a run through the city. Normally, stopping a herd of Spikit would not be a problem for the Skrall: block off some streets, kill a few of them, and the rest could quickly and easily be gotten under control. Unfortunately, the Agori caretakers had forgotten to feed them. The hungry Spikit were devouring everything, and everyone, within reach of their claws. A dozen wild, furious, and hungry Spikit ran throughout the village, and chaos soon engulfed the city. The Agori ran in panic as the Skrall used Thornax Launchers to try to subdue the creatures. Gresh saw one of them trip and fall right in front of the pack. He did not rise again. Taking advantage of the confusion, Gresh and Strakk climbed a wall near the city gates. The closed entryway kept the Spikit and the Skrall from following them. On the other side, Atakus was still on guard, with orders to take them down. Strakk jumped on him from above, knocking him out cold. The two Glatorian propped the unconscious guard against a wall, then ran into the desert as fast as they could. They paused for breath only when they were at a safe distance from the Skrall city.
  
Gresh and Strakk watched the Skrall city from behind an outcropping of rock. It was night, but Roxtus was always in motion, like a hive. The soldiers were keeping watch, or returning to the city for the night. The Agori were working and repairing weapons. From inside the walls they could hear the sounds of the warriors in training.
+
“Do you think this was too easy?” Gresh mused.
  
“I have a bad feeling about this,Strakk said.
+
“Don't worry. We have the sword, and let some Spikit enjoy a meal. And besides, why should we worry about the Skrall? Do you think they’ll want this sword back that badly?”  
  
“I know,” said Gresh. “You’ve said that three times.”
+
Gresh shrugged. Maybe he was worrying too much, but he had a bad feeling. “Give me the sword.”
  
“There are at least a hundred Skrall in there,” Strakk continued. “Not to mention that Agori with glowing swords, whom I’ve never seen before. The walls are two feet thick, probably strong enough to stop an army. And anyway, I see no invitation for two Glatorian.
+
There wasn’t enough moonlight to see very far, but it was all he needed to inspect the sword. It didn’t appear to be anything special, but at the base of the handle Gresh felt a small, atypical depression. When he pressed it, a small compartment opened, containing a small metal object.
  
“Well,replied Gresh, “that means they do not expect us.”
+
“What is it?Strakk asked. “Exsidian? Ice crystals? Tell me!
  
“And how do we get in, genius?”
+
Gresh looked at it a good while before he recognized it. Suddenly, he threw it into the sand and crushed it with his heel.
  
Gresh looked toward the desert, and saw a caravan approaching the city. Each wagon was pulled by a two-headed Spikit, with a torch strapped to the front acting as a flashlight.
+
“What are you doing?” Strakk protested. “That thing could have been valuable!”
  
“They're probably transporting food and water,” said Gresh. “We only have to get into a carriage and ride through the door.”
+
“Our lives are worth more,” said Gresh. “We need to get out of here.”
  
“Did I say that I had a bad feeling about this?” Strakk asked.
+
They ran. Gresh occasionally looked anxiously behind him to see if someone was chasing them. But he didn’t see any Skrall following them out of the city.
  
The two Glatorian ran to the carriages. They were beyond the reach of the torchlight emanating from the city, so they were invisible to the guards. They saw a small Skrall group returning from their rounds, but at the last moment managed to hide behind a dune. When the caravan slowly crept by, Strakk, followed by Gresh, crawled under the wagons. When the vehicle stopped for a moment, Strakk used a rope hanging from the rear to hang from the bottom of it: nobody could see him unless they deliberately looked under the carriage. Gresh, however, had a more difficult task: hiding under the trailer, near one of the Spikit. Moving quickly toward it, he prayed that Spikit wasn't hungry, fearing that it wouldn’t take him as a potential meal. Once he was under the trailer, he mimicked Strakk's feat, gripping the underside of it.  
+
“I saw something like this before,” said Gresh they ran. “Once in the desert, I saw an Agori running from something. He had a metal collar. He mumbled something about being enslaved by the Skrall... it sounded like nonsense. I took the necklace and saw that in the middle was a strange object. It sent a signal...
  
Upon reaching Roxtus, the city’s gates seemed to take forever to open. Gresh's muscles were burning from the effort of holding his body above the sand. When he heard the voice of the guard - an Agori named Atakus - allowing entry of the caravan, he was relieved. The first part of the mission was successful. When the carriages stopped, the Glatorian left the caravan and hid in the shadows, hiding from the Skrall guards approaching. They waited until the carriages had finished unloading and departed, then entered the city.
+
“A tracking device,” Strakk concluded. “But why would one be in the sword?”
  
“Do you have any idea where to look?” Strakk asked.
+
Gresh climbed some rocks. He saw the Skrall approach the place where he had destroyed the transmitter. Even without the tracker to follow, they continued to give chase, attempting to follow the steps in the sand. However, daylight would be needed to clearly see the footprints left by Strakk and Gresh. They were safe for now.
  
“I think so,” Gresh said. He gestured toward a towering edifice. “The largest building in town. Malum's sword must be considered a spoil of war. Such things would be kept in a safe place.”
+
“The Bone Hunters sold the sword to the Skrall. I don't think the Skrall knew where it came from,” pondered Gresh. “Perhaps they thought that the Bone Hunters stole it from Ackar, and that he would come to get it. Maybe it was a trap for Ackar.”
  
“Only one guard in front... and unless you’ve got a way to get rid of him…” Strakk grabbed a piece of rusty chain that was lying in the sand, then held it out to Gresh. “Wrap this around your hands.”  
+
“But why would they be interested in him? Ackar was a champion of the Arena, but lately we hardly hear about him. I have no idea why anyone would be interested in him.”
  
They went to the building with their hands chained. They walked slowly, hunched over with their heads between their arms.
+
“Maybe it was for Skrall hunting practice...” said Gresh.
  
“What are you doing here?” said the guard. “You must remain in your cells. There is no fight today.
+
After some time, they finally managed to reach the Vorox camp. They saw no one following them. Recalling the great sense of smell that the Vorox had, they found a cave with the wind in their favor. They climbed a small hill near the camp and hid in the cavern. At the camp, they could see Malum standing next to the caravan and the two Agori.
  
“Oh yeah,” Strakk said. “I forgot.”
+
“We still need to rescue the Agori,” reminded Gresh. “You take care of Malum while I distract the Vorox.”
  
The Glatorian rushed the surprised Agori. Strakk silenced the Agori with one punch, knocking him out cold.
+
Gresh approached some stones glittering in the depths of the cave. Their brightness wasn’t a reflection: the stones were a mineral that emitted light. Gresh crushed a few of the stones, and covered his armor with the dust. After a moment, he began to glow.
  
“Good job,” conceded Gresh, dropping the chain. “Where did you learn that trick?”
+
“Give me a minute, then you go for the caravan,” Gresh said and then walked away.
  
“I learned to lie, and deceive, by practicing,” Strakk grinned. “Two things Glatorian practice regularly, don't you think?”
+
Strakk took a position near the cave entrance, and waited for the right moment. Suddenly he heard a scream so horrible that even he jumped in fear. Gresh, glowing bright as the stars, jumped from behind a rock and ran straight into the camp. The Vorox, superstitious by nature, mistook him for a vengeful ghost who had decided to stay in the desert and began to flee. Gresh came closer to get them to disperse.
  
“Just start looking around,” said Gresh. “When dawn breaks...”
+
Malum was not fooled. “Do not panic,” he growled. “He isn't a spirit... but he soon will be.”
  
...we won’t be able to get out of town unseen. I know.
+
Strakk felt that this was the right time – the caravan wasn’t being guarded. He took a deep breath and entered the camp. He jumped on the wagon, took the reins and urged the Spikit into a gallop. The wagon jolted forward so violently that Kirbold and Tarduk almost fell out. Before the Vorox could notice that the caravan was gone, they were already far away.
  
The Glatorian efficiently separated to search the room. In no other village was there a place like this. The Rock Tribe didn't use the room for sleeping or eating, or to store inventory: no, apparently all of their treasure was kept here. Gresh noted a map of Bara Magna placed on a large table. Was this simply used as a source of information, or for mapping out war strategies?
+
“Where is Gresh?” Tarduk cried. “He was back there!”
  
It was Strakk who found where the most valuable treasure was. There were a lot of different things. Some of them - helmets, armor and other that objects stolen long ago - were easy to recognize, but others he had never had seen before in his life. Malum's sword was under a pile of objects unknown to him, surrounded by six stones engraved with symbols, which were of no importance. Strakk wanted to take everything he could, but, after a moment's thought, he quickly abandoned the idea. He had nothing against robbing the Skrall, but carrying all that baggage would seriously hamper his escape.  
+
“That's his problem,Strakk said.
  
Strakk took a closer look at the item they’d come here for. The sword was unique, its elaborate ornamentation shaped like a flame. The blade was made of Exsidian, and the handle had been carved from volcanic rock. No wonder Malum wanted to retrieve such a beautiful weapon. He must have been attached to it, as even his name was written on the handle. But something was wrong. Strakk looked closer at the engraving. The inscription on the sword said... "Ackar".
+
Tarduk grabbed an Exsidian doubloon, ready to strike Strakk.
  
''Whoa, Malum is a thief'', thought Strakk. ''He dared to steal the sword of his fellow Glatorian, Ackar, and when the Bone Hunters took it, he asked us to steal it back for him! Did he stab Ackar in the back just out of spite?''
+
“Now it’s your problem too. Go back.”
  
“You found it?asked Gresh, entering the room. He was carrying his shield in one hand, and a large sword Strakk didn’t recognize in the other. “I thought this might be useful for getting out of here.”
+
“No need,Kirbold announced. “Look!
  
“Of course I found it... but look.” Strakk showed Gresh the inscription on the sword. “Now what do we do with it?"
+
A shining being was running toward them with a group of Vorox at his heels. Gresh leaped forward desperately. Strakk reined in, slowing the Spikit enough that the jungle Glatorian was able to jump onto the wagon.
  
“We will return it to Ackar,” Gresh replied without hesitation.
+
“Get moving! Hurry!” Gresh shouted.
  
“Maybe he’ll give us some kind of reward,Strakk proposed. “But on the other hand, if we give it to Malum, perhaps the Agori live long enough to see Vulcanus again.
+
However, the Spikit could not pull the group’s combined weight fast enough, and the furious Vorox were gaining rapidly. Strakk frantically sought a way to lose their pursuers. Then he saw small hope of escape: a large hill up ahead. If they could reach the other side it, they would be out of sight of the Vorox for a moment. They could leave the carriage, and hide somewhere until dawn. Strakk gripped the reins and had the Spikit run faster until they disappeared behind the hill. Then Strakk realized his mistake. It was not a hill: it was the deadly Dark Falls, leading the Spikit, cargo and passengers to their doom.
  
“First, we need to get out of Roxtus,” Gresh said.
+
'''Chapter Five'''
  
“I saw something that could help,” said Strakk. “Give me the sword.
+
''It’s true,'' thought Gresh. ''In when you’re about to die, everything seems to slow down.'' After all, he was, along with two Agori, one Glatorian and a wagon carrying invaluable cargo, plunging into a chasm, probably to their death… and yet, everything seemed to happen in slow motion. The water was drawing closer inch by inch, and he was conscious of every breath he took – in, out, in, out. His mind raced madly, even though he seemed to have all time in the world before impact. Below them was the headwater of the Skrall River, where the water flowing down the Black Spike Mountains came together to feed the oasis of Tesara. The river ran farther south, but thanks to the great heat, it evaporated before reaching the region of Atero.  
  
The two Glatorian left the building quietly. Gresh followed Strakk to fenced area that smelled awful – something common for a Spikit Pen.
+
Gresh braced his body. Even if he hadn’t spent all his life living near water, it would have been clear to him that all his bones would break during the impact, so he had to submerge cleanly. He dove headfirst to split the water’s surface, but he had forgotten that, even here, the Skrall River wasn’t very deep. His head hit a rock at the bottom of the river and everything went black.  
  
“The Skrall have a weakness for these two-headed monsters,” Strakk whispered. “Probably because Spikit are the only things uglier than them. Let's see how they like them running loose.
+
Then, the darkness was pushed away by lively colors. Gresh stood amidst the Sea of Liquid Sand, and, despite the quicksand that surrounded him, managed to remain on his feet. Not far away, the village of Vulcanus was burning. The Agori and Glatorian burned, too, but walked around as if nothing was happening. He turned to his right to see Malum leading a horde of Vorox to Vulcanus. Bbut instead of attacking, they passed through the village and charged into a group of Bone Hunters. Nearby sat a troop of Skrall watching the action. Once both sides were tired from fighting, the Skrall overwhelmed both, the Vorox and the Bone Hunters. Then something even stranger happened: a shooting star crossed the sky and lit up the desert night for miles around. It crashed down and burned a crater into the sand. Smoke and flame poured from the crash site, and finally a figure slowly rose… one Gresh had never seen before. At first he thought it was a Glatorian, but the creature kept growing and growing, and soon towered miles over Bara Magna. The figure grew and grew… or was it Gresh who was shrinking? He looked down at himself and noticed that his legs were half sunken into the quicksand. He was sinking! He called for help, but the Vulcanus Agori were too occupied with the fire and the battle with the Skrall. The giant figure stood high over the chaos, and called Gresh’s name.
  
Strakk brandished his axe, breaking the gates with a single blow. Seeing the opening, the animals hesitated for a moment, then broke into a run through the city. Normally, stopping a herd of Spikit would not be a problem for the Skrall: block off some streets, kill a few of them, and the rest could quickly and easily be gotten under control. Unfortunately, the Agori caretakers had forgotten to feed them. The hungry Spikit were devouring everything, and everyone, within reach of their claws. A dozen wild, furious, and hungry Spikit ran throughout the village, and chaos soon engulfed the city. The Agori ran in panic as the Skrall used Thornax Launchers to try to subdue the creatures. Gresh saw one of them trip and fall right in front of the pack. He did not rise again. Taking advantage of the confusion, Gresh and Strakk climbed a wall near the city gates. The closed entryway kept the Spikit and the Skrall from following them. On the other side, Atakus was still on guard, with orders to take them down. Strakk jumped on him from above, knocking him out cold. The two Glatorian propped the unconscious guard against a wall, then ran into the desert as fast as they could. They paused for breath only when they were at a safe distance from the Skrall city.
+
“Gresh… Gresh… Gresh!”
  
“Do you think this was too easy?” Gresh mused.
+
The Glatorian’s eyes snapped open. The burning village, the quicksand, the Skrall and the giant were gone. He was lying in the sand and looked up at two Glatorian, Ackar and Kiina. Strakk, Tarduk and Kirbold sat nearby in the shadow of a cliff.
  
“Don't worry. We have the sword, and let some Spikit enjoy a meal. And besides, why should we worry about the Skrall? Do you think they’ll want this sword back that badly?”  
+
“You gave us quite a scare,” Kiina said, laughing.
  
Gresh shrugged. Maybe he was worrying too much, but he had a bad feeling. “Give me the sword.”
+
“Don’t try to get up,” Ackar advised. “You hit your head really hard.”
  
There wasn’t enough moonlight to see very far, but it was all he needed to inspect the sword. It didn’t appear to be anything special, but at the base of the handle Gresh felt a small, atypical depression. When he pressed it, a small compartment opened, containing a small metal object.
+
“What… how did you get here? Gresh asked, trying to get up despite Ackar’s warning. Immediately everything began to spin and he had to lie down again.
  
“What is it?” Strakk asked. “Exsidian? Ice crystals? Tell me!
+
“When the Exsidian ore didn’t arrive in Vulcanus, Raanu grew nervous,” Ackar replied. “If it isn’t delivered, Iconox can’t pay their debt to Vulcanus for the lost match.”
  
Gresh looked at it a good while before he recognized it. Suddenly, he threw it into the sand and crushed it with his heel.
+
“Ackar convinced Raanu to wait a little instead of acting too hastily,” Kiina said. “He said we would either find you and help deliver the Exsidian, or try to prove that Iconox sent the cargo on its way. We had just arrived when Strakk fished you out of the river.
  
“What are you doing?” Strakk protested. “That thing could have been valuable!”
+
Gresh gave his companion a surprised look. He and Strakk were anything but good friends, and he knew that Strakk never did anything without wanting something in return.
  
“Our lives are worth more,” said Gresh. “We need to get out of here.
+
Their gazes met. “Tarduk promised me a part of his next artifacts trove if I found you and got you out of the water,” Strakk explained. “So it was only reasonable to…” Kiina stared angrily at Strakk, looking like she wanted to teach him a lesson in manners with her trident.
  
They ran. Gresh occasionally looked anxiously behind him to see if someone was chasing them. But he didn’t see any Skrall following them out of the city.
+
Ackar had walked over to the shores of river and stared into the water. “At least we found you. But according to Kirbold, the Exsidian is lying at the bottom of the river. Raanu won’t be happy about this.
  
“I saw something like this before,” said Gresh they ran. “Once in the desert, I saw an Agori running from something. He had a metal collar. He mumbled something about being enslaved by the Skrall... it sounded like nonsense. I took the necklace and saw that in the middle was a strange object. It sent a signal...”
+
“Worse,” Kirbold said. “If we don’t have a safe route anymore to send cargo from Iconox to Vulcanus and back, then it’s of no use for either village to challenge each other in the arena. When a village has got something the other one wants, there’ll be confrontations.”
  
“A tracking device,” Strakk concluded. “But why would one be in the sword?
+
“If we manage to get the Exsidian to Vulcanus we may be able to avoid that,” Ackar said. “But your Spikit ran away, the wagon is shattered and the whole area is teaming with Vorox and Skrall… this situation is serious.
  
Gresh climbed some rocks. He saw the Skrall approach the place where he had destroyed the transmitter. Even without the tracker to follow, they continued to give chase, attempting to follow the steps in the sand. However, daylight would be needed to clearly see the footprints left by Strakk and Gresh. They were safe for now.
+
Gresh forced himself to get up. Everything was spinning for a moment, quickly at first, then slowing down just enough so that he wasn’t sick. He staggered over to Ackar. The Exsidian had probably buried itself deep into the riverbed. It would be possible to recover it with the proper equipment, but without the wagon, they could only transport a few ingots anyway. Even if they loaded a few ingots onto Ackar and Kiina’s Sand Stalkers, the expedition would be far from a success.
  
“The Bone Hunters sold the sword to the Skrall. I don't think the Skrall knew where it came from,pondered Gresh. “Perhaps they thought that the Bone Hunters stole it from Ackar, and that he would come to get it. Maybe it was a trap for Ackar.”
+
“Maybe we should get a wagon from Vulcanus?Tarduk suggested.
  
“But why would they be interested in him? Ackar was a champion of the Arena, but lately we hardly hear about him. I have no idea why anyone would be interested in him.
+
“We could probably save you the effort,” Kiina said. “Ackar – there  don’t you think there may be someone around who would be very eager to get some Exsidian?” She nodded her head towards the north.
  
“Maybe it was for Skrall hunting practice...” said Gresh.
+
Ackar smiled.
  
After some time, they finally managed to reach the Vorox camp. They saw no one following them. Recalling the great sense of smell that the Vorox had, they found a cave with the wind in their favor. They climbed a small hill near the camp and hid in the cavern. At the camp, they could see Malum standing next to the caravan and the two Agori.
+
“This is an absurd idea,” Strakk grumbled while trudging through the sand. “Not only absurd – suicidal, too. So of course they chose me for it.
  
“We still need to rescue the Agori,” reminded Gresh. “You take care of Malum while I distract the Vorox.
+
He kept himself from looking back. Strakk knew exactly where Ackar and Kiina were watching him from up between the rocks. It was allegedly to cover his back, but he knew the true reason: they wanted to make sure he didn’t make a run for it. Strakk marched from the Dark Falls to the southeast, in the direction of the open desert. Gresh had proposed heading north, toward Roxtus, but Kiina had been against it.
  
Gresh approached some stones glittering in the depths of the cave. Their brightness wasn’t a reflection: the stones were a mineral that emitted light. Gresh crushed a few of the stones, and covered his armor with the dust. After a moment, he began to glow.
+
“Going that way he’ll never make it past Malum and his Vorox,” she said. “Plus, the Skrall aren’t stupid enough to think a Glatorian would voluntarily come to them if there was another solution. No, the encounter has to look accidental.
  
“Give me a minute, then you go for the caravan,” Gresh said and then walked away.
+
Thus Strakk was wandering through the desert, beneath the burning sun, without any equipment. If he was “fortunate,” a Skrall patrol would cross his way. If not, he’d fall victim to the Bone Hunters or some hungry desert creature. Not for the first time he asked himself whether the Match with Ackar he had been promised was worth all this. He stopped to drink something. During the accident he had lost his water canteen, but he had insisted on taking Kiina’s before he moved out. Kiina was afraid that the Skrall wouldn’t believe his story if he was carrying water, but Strakk refused to leave without it. He took a large gulp. When he lowered the canteen, he saw something in the distance: riders, coming straight toward him. He couldn’t make out who they were through the heat waves rising from the sand, but he counted about half a dozen armed figures on Sand Stalkers. Strakk felt a surge of relief. Bone Hunters rode Rock Steeds, so the riders were probably not raiders. He at least didn’t want to fall into the hands of the wrong criminals. He forced himself to stop walking. Even though his mind was screaming “Run!Strakk was in no way a coward – after all, you couldn’t be a successful Glatorian if you gave in to fear. But he thought practically: should something happen to him, his compensation would have to be generous… that is, if it would still be of use to him…
  
Strakk took a position near the cave entrance, and waited for the right moment. Suddenly he heard a scream so horrible that even he jumped in fear. Gresh, glowing bright as the stars, jumped from behind a rock and ran straight into the camp. The Vorox, superstitious by nature, mistook him for a vengeful ghost who had decided to stay in the desert and began to flee. Gresh came closer to get them to disperse.
+
The riders had now come close enough that he could make them out. It was a well-equipped Skrall patrol, eager for a round of “punch the Glatorian.” Strakk felt how his knees grew soft, but he kept himself together. He had to look exhausted and afraid if his plan was to succeed – ''that shouldn’t be hard'', he thought.
  
Malum was not fooled. “Do not panic,” he growled. “He isn't a spirit... but he soon will be.
+
The leader of the squad was an elite warrior Strakk hat met before, named Stronius. He had watched many Skrall matches in the arena, with unmoving features and never speaking a word. Rumors say he came to supervise the Skrall warriors. Should one of them, by some miracle, lose – or simply not win fast enough – he had permission to punish them.
  
Strakk felt that this was the right time – the caravan wasn’t being guarded. He took a deep breath and entered the camp. He jumped on the wagon, took the reins and urged the Spikit into a gallop. The wagon jolted forward so violently that Kirbold and Tarduk almost fell out. Before the Vorox could notice that the caravan was gone, they were already far away.
+
''Apparently the Skrall need even more motivation to really beat up someone'', Strakk thought sarcastically.
  
“Where is Gresh?” Tarduk cried. “He was back there!
+
Stronius rode directly towards Strakk, looking down on the Glatorian with a self-pleased smile. “A long way from home… Glatorian.”
  
“That's his problem,” Strakk said.
+
“I am –” Strakk began.
  
Tarduk grabbed an Exsidian doubloon, ready to strike Strakk.
+
Stronius cut him off. “Maybe you need a meal and a bed. I’m sure we’ll find something for you in Roxtus.”
  
“Now it’s your problem too. Go back.”
+
Strakk had to gulp. He has heard a lot of rumors about Glatorian that went to Roxtus – or were taken there against their will – and were never seen again. It was said they were used as “guinea pigs.” And that was just the beginning: the other stories of why they were brought to Roxtus, and what happened to them there, were far worse. “I was on a journey with a few others,” Strakk explained. “Our wagon plunged down the Dark Falls. I… I am the only survivor.”
  
“No need,Kirbold announced. “Look!
+
“A wagon?Stronius asked. “What was the cargo?
  
A shining being was running toward them with a group of Vorox at his heels. Gresh leaped forward desperately. Strakk reined in, slowing the Spikit enough that the jungle Glatorian was able to jump onto the wagon.
+
Strakk hesitated shortly before answering, just long enough to seem believable. “Exsidian. We were bringing it to Vulcanus. But it is now at the bottom of the river.
  
“Get moving! Hurry!Gresh shouted.
+
Stronius smiled. His eyes were gleaming with greed. “You are aware, Glatorian, that we could finish you off now and take the Exsidian for ourselves?
  
However, the Spikit could not pull the group’s combined weight fast enough, and the furious Vorox were gaining rapidly. Strakk frantically sought a way to lose their pursuers. Then he saw small hope of escape: a large hill up ahead. If they could reach the other side it, they would be out of sight of the Vorox for a moment. They could leave the carriage, and hide somewhere until dawn. Strakk gripped the reins and had the Spikit run faster until they disappeared behind the hill. Then Strakk realized his mistake. It was not a hill: it was the deadly Dark Falls, leading the Spikit, cargo and passengers to their doom.
+
''At least he’s honest'', Strakk thought.
  
'''Chapter Five'''
+
“But we don’t do such things,” Stronius continued. “As honest citizens of Bara Magna, we will do something else instead. I’ll send one of my men to Roxtus to get a wagon, and you will lead us to the spot where the Exsidian sank. And then we will… get it out for you, and send you and your cargo on your way again.”
  
''It’s true,'' thought Gresh. ''In when you’re about to die, everything seems to slow down.'' After all, he was, along with two Agori, one Glatorian and a wagon carrying invaluable cargo, plunging into a chasm, probably to their death… and yet, everything seemed to happen in slow motion. The water was drawing closer inch by inch, and he was conscious of every breath he took – in, out, in, out. His mind raced madly, even though he seemed to have all time in the world before impact. Below them was the headwater of the Skrall River, where the water flowing down the Black Spike Mountains came together to feed the oasis of Tesara. The river ran farther south, but thanks to the great heat, it evaporated before reaching the region of Atero.  
+
''This can’t mean anything good'', Strakk said to himself. ''The Skrall aren’t exactly known for being a charity organization.''
  
Gresh braced his body. Even if he hadn’t spent all his life living near water, it would have been clear to him that all his bones would break during the impact, so he had to submerge cleanly. He dove headfirst to split the water’s surface, but he had forgotten that, even here, the Skrall River wasn’t very deep. His head hit a rock at the bottom of the river and everything went black.  
+
The Glatorian looked down at the sand, then up at Stronius. If he agreed to this proposal too fast, it wouldn’t seem authentic – the Skrall knew that no Glatorian would seriously believe they would let him go, with or without cargo. Strakk pretended to struggle, then finally resign and accept. “Agreed.
  
Then, the darkness was pushed away by lively colors. Gresh stood amidst the Sea of Liquid Sand, and, despite the quicksand that surrounded him, managed to remain on his feet. Not far away, the village of Vulcanus was burning. The Agori and Glatorian burned, too, but walked around as if nothing was happening. He turned to his right to see Malum leading a horde of Vorox to Vulcanus. Bbut instead of attacking, they passed through the village and charged into a group of Bone Hunters. Nearby sat a troop of Skrall watching the action. Once both sides were tired from fighting, the Skrall overwhelmed both, the Vorox and the Bone Hunters. Then something even stranger happened: a shooting star crossed the sky and lit up the desert night for miles around. It crashed down and burned a crater into the sand. Smoke and flame poured from the crash site, and finally a figure slowly rose… one Gresh had never seen before. At first he thought it was a Glatorian, but the creature kept growing and growing, and soon towered miles over Bara Magna. The figure grew and grew… or was it Gresh who was shrinking? He looked down at himself and noticed that his legs were half sunken into the quicksand. He was sinking! He called for help, but the Vulcanus Agori were too occupied with the fire and the battle with the Skrall. The giant figure stood high over the chaos, and called Gresh’s name.
+
“You made a wise decision,” Stronius said, clearly meaning: Had you said no, you’d already be dead.
  
“Gresh… Gresh… Gresh!”
+
It took a few hours until the Skrall returned with the wagon. Stronius didn’t let Strakk out of his sight. Once or twice the Ice Glatorian was tempted to betray the plot, hoping that the Skrall would let him go home. But his intelligence won out – telling the truth would ensure he would never have the opportunity to lie again. When the Skrall finally returned, he brought the message that Tuma, leader of the Skrall, had doubts about Stronius’ plan. However, he agreed under the condition that the job would be done as fast as possible, and that any “excessive material” would be disposed of immediately. Strakk had been called many names, but “excessive material” was new to him.
  
The Glatorian’s eyes snapped open. The burning village, the quicksand, the Skrall and the giant were gone. He was lying in the sand and looked up at two Glatorian, Ackar and Kiina. Strakk, Tarduk and Kirbold sat nearby in the shadow of a cliff.
+
They made their way to the Skrall River in silence. Strakk hoped the other Glatorian had stayed true to their word and were waiting for him. Should they have thought twice and left for Vulcanus, he’d be in serious trouble. When they reached a rise, Strakk saw the spot. Neither Gresh, Kiina, Ackar nor anyone else was to be seen. First he started to panic on the inside – ''they had betrayed him!'' Then he noticed that no tracks could be seen in the sand at the shores, and calmed down a little. They wouldn’t have had any reason to cover all their tracks if they were only on their way to the fire village. The plan was still going, and he had to keep playing his role.
  
“You gave us quite a scare,” Kiina said, laughing.
+
“I don’t see any trace of your comrades,” Stronius said. He didn’t sound distrustful, but simply bored. After a year in Bara Magna he no longer found the tricks of the Glatorian amusing.
  
“Don’t try to get up,” Ackar advised. “You hit your head really hard.”
+
“The river carried them away,” Strakk replied, a little too fast. “I am the only one who survived.”
  
“What… how did you get here? Gresh asked, trying to get up despite Ackar’s warning. Immediately everything began to spin and he had to lie down again.
+
“I see,” Stronius said. “So if I send one of my men downstream, he’ll find them where the water disappears into the sand.
  
“When the Exsidian ore didn’t arrive in Vulcanus, Raanu grew nervous,” Ackar replied. “If it isn’t delivered, Iconox can’t pay their debt to Vulcanus for the lost match.”
+
“Sure,” Strakk responded. What else was he supposed to say…?
  
“Ackar convinced Raanu to wait a little instead of acting too hastily,” Kiina said. “He said we would either find you and help deliver the Exsidian, or try to prove that Iconox sent the cargo on its way. We had just arrived when Strakk fished you out of the river.”
+
Stronius gestured to three of his men. “Go and see whether you find something in the riverbed – and be thorough. The life of a Glatorian depends on it.”
  
Gresh gave his companion a surprised look. He and Strakk were anything but good friends, and he knew that Strakk never did anything without wanting something in return.
+
The three Skrall descended and stepped into the water. Only a few moments passed before their armored heads reappeared at the surface. One of them swam to the shore and climbed onto the sand. In one hand he was holding an Exsidian ingot.
  
Their gazes met. “Tarduk promised me a part of his next artifacts trove if I found you and got you out of the water,” Strakk explained. “So it was only reasonable to…” Kiina stared angrily at Strakk, looking like she wanted to teach him a lesson in manners with her trident.
+
“Down there are the remains of a wagon,” the Skrall reported. “And more ingots like this one.
  
Ackar had walked over to the shores of river and stared into the water. “At least we found you. But according to Kirbold, the Exsidian is lying at the bottom of the river. Raanu won’t be happy about this.”
+
“Very good,” Stronius said. “All of you go down and bring up the rest. Meanwhile, I will keep an eye on our ‘friend.’”
  
“Worse,” Kirbold said. “If we don’t have a safe route anymore to send cargo from Iconox to Vulcanus and back, then it’s of no use for either village to challenge each other in the arena. When a village has got something the other one wants, there’ll be confrontations.”
+
The Skrall warriors went to work. As with every labor they tackled, they were fast and thorough. Again and again they would emerge with new ingots that were loaded onto the wagon. The higher the stack got, the broader grew Stronius’ smile. No doubt he was already thinking of how Tuma would welcome him when he returned with such a treasure. When the wagon was fully loaded, Stronius and his men got back on their Sand Stalkers. The elite Skrall grinned at Strakk and aimed his Thornax launcher at him. “Many thanks, Strakk. Your services to the village of Roxtus will be remembered forever… on your gravestone.”
  
“If we manage to get the Exsidian to Vulcanus we may be able to avoid that,” Ackar said. “But your Spikit ran away, the wagon is shattered and the whole area is teaming with Vorox and Skrall… this situation is serious.
+
Strakk closed his eyes. The shrill whistle of a fired Thornax could be heard, followed by a sharp cry. But it didn’t come from Strakk. The Glatorian opened his eyes and saw Stronius lying in the sand.
  
Gresh forced himself to get up. Everything was spinning for a moment, quickly at first, then slowing down just enough so that he wasn’t sick. He staggered over to Ackar. The Exsidian had probably buried itself deep into the riverbed. It would be possible to recover it with the proper equipment, but without the wagon, they could only transport a few ingots anyway. Even if they loaded a few ingots onto Ackar and Kiina’s Sand Stalkers, the expedition would be far from a success.
+
“Drop your weapons – now!” Ackar bellowed down from the nearby rocks. “Get away from the wagon!”
  
“Maybe we should get a wagon from Vulcanus?” Tarduk suggested.
+
The Skrall warriors opened fire with explosive Thornax ammunition. Strakk used the distraction to run to the river, planning to cross it and make a break for the desert beyond. He had already made it to the opposite side when Kiina appeared from behind a sand dune.
  
“We could probably save you the effort,Kiina said. “Ackar – there  don’t you think there may be someone around who would be very eager to get some Exsidian?” She nodded her head towards the north.
+
“Where are you going?she snapped at him while continuing to fire Thornax at the Skrall.
  
Ackar smiled.
+
“Out of the line of fire,” Strakk answered. “I’m unarmed, in case you missed that.”
  
“This is an absurd idea,” Strakk grumbled while trudging through the sand. “Not only absurd suicidal, too. So of course they chose me for it.”
+
“Being unarmed will be the least of your problems if you abandon us,” Kiina shot back. “Worry more about me making you a head shorter. Here!” She gave Strakk her trident. “Start being useful. And remember point the sharp end at the bad guys.”
  
He kept himself from looking back. Strakk knew exactly where Ackar and Kiina were watching him from up between the rocks. It was allegedly to cover his back, but he knew the true reason: they wanted to make sure he didn’t make a run for it. Strakk marched from the Dark Falls to the southeast, in the direction of the open desert. Gresh had proposed heading north, toward Roxtus, but Kiina had been against it.
+
Even though the enemies outnumbered them, Ackar had managed to keep the Skrall away from the wagon. Stronius had sent a warrior to sneak around and take out the Glatorian. He had already managed it around and halfway up the rocks when he crossed paths with Gresh, who hurled a well-aimed stone at him. The Skrall fell tumbling back into the sand.
  
“Going that way he’ll never make it past Malum and his Vorox,she said. “Plus, the Skrall aren’t stupid enough to think a Glatorian would voluntarily come to them if there was another solution. No, the encounter has to look accidental.”
+
“Are you ready?Ackar yelled.
  
Thus Strakk was wandering through the desert, beneath the burning sun, without any equipment. If he was “fortunate,” a Skrall patrol would cross his way. If not, he’d fall victim to the Bone Hunters or some hungry desert creature. Not for the first time he asked himself whether the Match with Ackar he had been promised was worth all this. He stopped to drink something. During the accident he had lost his water canteen, but he had insisted on taking Kiina’s before he moved out. Kiina was afraid that the Skrall wouldn’t believe his story if he was carrying water, but Strakk refused to leave without it. He took a large gulp. When he lowered the canteen, he saw something in the distance: riders, coming straight toward him. He couldn’t make out who they were through the heat waves rising from the sand, but he counted about half a dozen armed figures on Sand Stalkers. Strakk felt a surge of relief. Bone Hunters rode Rock Steeds, so the riders were probably not raiders. He at least didn’t want to fall into the hands of the wrong criminals. He forced himself to stop walking. Even though his mind was screaming “Run!” Strakk was in no way a coward – after all, you couldn’t be a successful Glatorian if you gave in to fear. But he thought practically: should something happen to him, his compensation would have to be generous… that is, if it would still be of use to him…
+
Kiina nodded and took aim. “Go!” she cried.
  
The riders had now come close enough that he could make them out. It was a well-equipped Skrall patrol, eager for a round of “punch the Glatorian.Strakk felt how his knees grew soft, but he kept himself together. He had to look exhausted and afraid if his plan was to succeed – ''that shouldn’t be hard'', he thought.
+
The two Glatorian fired their Thornax launchers in parallel, hitting the sand directly in front of the Skrall. The explosive projectiles collided nosily, whirling sand through the air and into the eyes of the Skrall. Temporarily blinded, they could do nothing as Gresh, Strakk and the two Agori raced to the wagon and climbed aboard. Ackar rode over and brought Kiina her Sand Stalker, which she rapidly mounted.
  
The leader of the squad was an elite warrior Strakk hat met before, named Stronius. He had watched many Skrall matches in the arena, with unmoving features and never speaking a word. Rumors say he came to supervise the Skrall warriors. Should one of them, by some miracle, lose – or simply not win fast enough – he had permission to punish them.
+
“Go!” Kiina yelled as she drove the Skrall’s Sand Stalkers apart. Gresh spurred the Spikit onward, and the wagon was rapidly racing away. Ackar turned around and fired at the Skrall who were reemerging from the sand cloud.
  
''Apparently the Skrall need even more motivation to really beat up someone'', Strakk thought sarcastically.
+
“I can’t believe it worked!” Strakk said.
  
Stronius rode directly towards Strakk, looking down on the Glatorian with a self-pleased smile. “A long way from home… Glatorian.”
+
“It’s not over yet,” Gresh reminded him. “We still have to reach Vulcanus.”
  
“I am –” Strakk began.
+
“And I’m afraid they still have a score to settle with us,” Kiina said, pointing back.
  
Stronius cut him off. “Maybe you need a meal and a bed. I’m sure we’ll find something for you in Roxtus.
+
Gresh looked over his shoulder. The Skrall had recaptured their Sand Stalkers and were in hot pursuit of the wagon. Spikit were strong and enduring, but not as fast as Sand Stalkers. It was only a matter of time till the Skrall caught up.
  
Strakk had to gulp. He has heard a lot of rumors about Glatorian that went to Roxtus – or were taken there against their will – and were never seen again. It was said they were used as “guinea pigs.” And that was just the beginning: the other stories of why they were brought to Roxtus, and what happened to them there, were far worse. “I was on a journey with a few others,” Strakk explained. “Our wagon plunged down the Dark Falls. I… I am the only survivor.
+
“Any good ideas?” Strakk asked assembled the group.
  
“A wagon?Stronius asked. “What was the cargo?
+
“Kiina and I could search for cover and stop them,Ackar said, “While you keep riding to the village.”
  
Strakk hesitated shortly before answering, just long enough to seem believable. “Exsidian. We were bringing it to Vulcanus. But it is now at the bottom of the river.”
+
“No way,” Gresh said. “This is our task. I won’t let anything happen to you because you helped us.”
  
Stronius smiled. His eyes were gleaming with greed. “You are aware, Glatorian, that we could finish you off now and take the Exsidian for ourselves?
+
“I don’t really think we need your permission, youngster,” Kiina replied. “Look for a good spot, Ackar, where we can catch them in our crossfire.
  
''At least he’s honest'', Strakk thought.
+
“Wait a second,Strakk interrupted. “There is someone up ahead – red-armored. Maybe Vulcanus sent some rookie warriors as support?”
  
“But we don’t do such things,” Stronius continued. “As honest citizens of Bara Magna, we will do something else instead. I’ll send one of my men to Roxtus to get a wagon, and you will lead us to the spot where the Exsidian sank. And then we will… get it out for you, and send you and your cargo on your way again.”
+
“Whoever it may be, I hoped they’re well-equipped!Ackar said. “We’re about to have a rough confrontation.”
  
''This can’t mean anything good'', Strakk said to himself. ''The Skrall aren’t exactly known for being a charity organization.''
+
They quickly approached the distant figures. As they came into clearer view, Gresh felt his stomach become as tight as a knot. “Oh, I don’t think you have to worry about that. They’re well-equipped, that much is for certain.
  
The Glatorian looked down at the sand, then up at Stronius. If he agreed to this proposal too fast, it wouldn’t seem authentic – the Skrall knew that no Glatorian would seriously believe they would let him go, with or without cargo. Strakk pretended to struggle, then finally resign and accept. “Agreed.”
+
Strakk stared ahead. “I don’t believe it. We can’t possibly have that much bad luck.”
  
“You made a wise decision,Stronius said, clearly meaning: Had you said no, you’d already be dead.
+
“Who are they?Ackar asked, his gaze was still fixed on the Skrall closing in behind them.
  
It took a few hours until the Skrall returned with the wagon. Stronius didn’t let Strakk out of his sight. Once or twice the Ice Glatorian was tempted to betray the plot, hoping that the Skrall would let him go home. But his intelligence won out – telling the truth would ensure he would never have the opportunity to lie again. When the Skrall finally returned, he brought the message that Tuma, leader of the Skrall, had doubts about Stronius’ plan. However, he agreed under the condition that the job would be done as fast as possible, and that any “excessive material” would be disposed of immediately. Strakk had been called many names, but “excessive material” was new to him.  
+
Gresh wanted to answer, but the words stuck in his throat. After everything they went through, he couldn’t believe their mission was about to come to an end… “They aren’t coming from Vulcanus,he finally said. “The red armor… it’s Malum. He and his Vorox are expecting us.
  
They made their way to the Skrall River in silence. Strakk hoped the other Glatorian had stayed true to their word and were waiting for him. Should they have thought twice and left for Vulcanus, he’d be in serious trouble. When they reached a rise, Strakk saw the spot. Neither Gresh, Kiina, Ackar nor anyone else was to be seen. First he started to panic on the inside – ''they had betrayed him!'' Then he noticed that no tracks could be seen in the sand at the shores, and calmed down a little. They wouldn’t have had any reason to cover all their tracks if they were only on their way to the fire village. The plan was still going, and he had to keep playing his role.
+
“And the Skrall are right behind us,Kiina remarked.
  
“I don’t see any trace of your comrades,” Stronius said. He didn’t sound distrustful, but simply bored. After a year in Bara Magna he no longer found the tricks of the Glatorian amusing.
+
“Around us there is nothing but endless desert,” Ackar said to himself. “No hiding places to be seen. We can neither escape nor defeat them, least of all do both.
  
“The river carried them away,” Strakk replied, a little too fast. “I am the only one who survived.”
+
“I’d say we have a good chance of being trashed,” Strakk said. “And we’re about to find out…"
  
“I see,” Stronius said. “So if I send one of my men downstream, he’ll find them where the water disappears into the sand.”
+
'''Chapter Six'''
  
“Sure,” Strakk responded. What else was he supposed to say…?
+
Gresh looked back to see the Skrall were nearing them. He looked forward again to see Malum and his Vorox also approaching. Four Glatorian and two Agori with a cart full of Exsidian between two opposing groups didn’t have much chance of survival.
  
Stronius gestured to three of his men. “Go and see whether you find something in the riverbed – and be thorough. The life of a Glatorian depends on it.
+
“This is not good,” he murmured.
  
The three Skrall descended and stepped into the water. Only a few moments passed before their armored heads reappeared at the surface. One of them swam to the shore and climbed onto the sand. In one hand he was holding an Exsidian ingot.
+
“Let's abandon the caravan,” Strakk said suddenly. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but ... I don’t care about the Exsidian.
  
“Down there are the remains of a wagon,the Skrall reported. “And more ingots like this one.”
+
“I don’t know, think about it,” Ackar said, shaking his head. “You angered Malum, promising to get his treasure from Roxtus to keep him from stealing the Exsidian... and just now, we deceived the Skrall to help us get the Exsidian from the river. It seems to me that the metal’s been useful in finding you worthy foes, Strakk.”
  
“Very good,” Stronius said. “All of you go down and bring up the rest. Meanwhile, I will keep an eye on our ‘friend.’”
+
“Yeah, that’s real funny,” Kiina replied, “but the Vorox are ahead of us and the Skrall are behind us. Maybe we should fight?”
  
The Skrall warriors went to work. As with every labor they tackled, they were fast and thorough. Again and again they would emerge with new ingots that were loaded onto the wagon. The higher the stack got, the broader grew Stronius’ smile. No doubt he was already thinking of how Tuma would welcome him when he returned with such a treasure. When the wagon was fully loaded, Stronius and his men got back on their Sand Stalkers. The elite Skrall grinned at Strakk and aimed his Thornax launcher at him. “Many thanks, Strakk. Your services to the village of Roxtus will be remembered forever… on your gravestone.
+
“I have a better idea,” Ackar said. “Gresh, Strakk, who do the Vorox hate more than anyone?
  
Strakk closed his eyes. The shrill whistle of a fired Thornax could be heard, followed by a sharp cry. But it didn’t come from Strakk. The Glatorian opened his eyes and saw Stronius lying in the sand.
+
“The Skrall,” said Gresh.
  
“Drop your weapons – now!Ackar bellowed down from the nearby rocks. “Get away from the wagon!”
+
“And who do the Skrall consider vermin to be eradicated?Kiina continued.
  
The Skrall warriors opened fire with explosive Thornax ammunition. Strakk used the distraction to run to the river, planning to cross it and make a break for the desert beyond. He had already made it to the opposite side when Kiina appeared from behind a sand dune.
+
“The Vorox,” Strakk smiled, guessing the intentions of Ackar. “Oh, no. This will end badly... I like it!”
  
“Where are you going?” she snapped at him while continuing to fire Thornax at the Skrall.
+
Ackar ordered his Stalker to gallop faster, heading directly for the group of Vorox. Once they were close, he pulled the Spikit to a halt in front of them. He then quickly pivoted the cart around to face the Skrall.
  
“Out of the line of fire,” Strakk answered. “I’m unarmed, in case you missed that.”
+
“Our Vorox friends arrived just in time!” Ackar shouted with all the force in his lungs. “Attack the Skrall!
  
“Being unarmed will be the least of your problems if you abandon us,” Kiina shot back. “Worry more about me making you a head shorter. Here!” She gave Strakk her trident. “Start being useful. And remember – point the sharp end at the bad guys.”
+
Hearing this, the elite Skrall screamed in anger. Stronius despised the Vorox with all his soul. The fact that these creatures allied with the Glatorian only make him angrier. ''These wretched creatures of the sand act so boldly against us?'' Stronius thought. ''They will pay the price!''
  
Even though the enemies outnumbered them, Ackar had managed to keep the Skrall away from the wagon. Stronius had sent a warrior to sneak around and take out the Glatorian. He had already managed it around and halfway up the rocks when he crossed paths with Gresh, who hurled a well-aimed stone at him. The Skrall fell tumbling back into the sand.
+
Malum also heard Ackar’s words, and immediately understood what his old friend planned. He knew he wouldn’t be able to escape from this trap up without a fight. Ackar had used the eternal hatred between the Skrall and the Vorox to his advantage: now, the Skrall would have to deal with the entire group of Vorox.
  
“Are you ready?Ackar yelled.
+
“Shoot them!Stronius cried. “Destroy them! The Glatorian and the Vorox alike.”
  
Kiina nodded and took aim. “Go!” she cried.
+
His warriors fired at the Vorox with their launchers. The Thornax made direct impact with the Vorox, seriously wounding three of them. The rest forgot Ackar quickly. They had been attacked by the Skrall – their instinct told them they should hit back. Infuriated, the Vorox rushed the warriors of the Skrall. As the Vorox pack attacked their most hated enemy, Ackar’s group decided it was an appropriate time to flee from the battlefield. The Glatorian, Agori and the cart left quickly. The sounds of exploding Thornax and the moans of the wounded soon died out.
  
The two Glatorian fired their Thornax launchers in parallel, hitting the sand directly in front of the Skrall. The explosive projectiles collided nosily, whirling sand through the air and into the eyes of the Skrall. Temporarily blinded, they could do nothing as Gresh, Strakk and the two Agori raced to the wagon and climbed aboard. Ackar rode over and brought Kiina her Sand Stalker, which she rapidly mounted.
+
“You thought we would lose,” Kiina said, delighted. “So you got them to fight amongst themselves.
  
“Go!Kiina yelled as she drove the Skrall’s Sand Stalkers apart. Gresh spurred the Spikit onward, and the wagon was rapidly racing away. Ackar turned around and fired at the Skrall who were reemerging from the sand cloud.
+
“No, I wanted this to end differently,Ackar admitted. “We may not have good relations with the Vorox, but they did not deserve to die at the hands of the Skrall. But today our lives were at stake.
  
“I can’t believe it worked!Strakk said.
+
“After all, the life of a Glatorian is more important, right?
  
“It’s not over yet,” Gresh reminded him. “We still have to reach Vulcanus.
+
Ackar reined their Stalker and turned around. Behind them was Malum, mounted on a Stalker, and armed with the sword and shield of a Skrall. He was alone. Ackar immediately drew his sword.
  
“And I’m afraid they still have a score to settle with us,” Kiina said, pointing back.
+
“I see that now you ally yourself with thieves,” Malum said.
  
Gresh looked over his shoulder. The Skrall had recaptured their Sand Stalkers and were in hot pursuit of the wagon. Spikit were strong and enduring, but not as fast as Sand Stalkers. It was only a matter of time till the Skrall caught up.
+
“We aren’t looking to fight you,” Gresh cut in. “You found us, remember? You asked us to steal the sword in Roxtus. And we did – and found out that you snatched it from Ackar.
  
“Any good ideas?” Strakk asked assembled the group.
+
Ackar interrupted Gresh. “How goes the battle?”
  
“Kiina and I could search for cover and stop them,” Ackar said, “While you keep riding to the village.”
+
“Both sides suffered heavy casualties,” Malum said. “But the struggle continues. My Vorox know when to quit. I know the Skrall don’t know how to pursue us. We are numerous. We will recover.”
  
“No way,” Gresh said. “This is our task. I won’t let anything happen to you because you helped us.”
+
“I did what I had to do,” Ackar said. “I am sorry that your warriors have died. But they would have killed us at your signal.”
  
“I don’t really think we need your permission, youngster,” Kiina replied. “Look for a good spot, Ackar, where we can catch them in our crossfire.”
+
“I have no grudge against you, Ackar. Escaping from ambushes is your specialty... that is a talent both you and the Vorox have. But these two, Gresh and Strakk, entered our territory without an invitation. One day we will settle affairs.”
  
“Wait a second,” Strakk interrupted. “There is someone up ahead – red-armored. Maybe Vulcanus sent some rookie warriors as support?”
+
Gresh jumped from the caravan, sword in hand, ready to fight. “We can solve this here and now. Is that what you want, Malum?”
  
“Whoever it may be, I hoped they’re well-equipped!” Ackar said. “We’re about to have a rough confrontation.”
+
“We will in time.” Malum smiled coldly and shook his head. “The desert is unpredictable, Gresh. Sometimes beautiful and pleasant, other times a cruel killer. One day brings water to quench your thirst. The next day feeds you when you're starving. But on the third day... my sword snatches your life.”
  
They quickly approached the distant figures. As they came into clearer view, Gresh felt his stomach become as tight as a knot. “Oh, I don’t think you have to worry about that. They’re well-equipped, that much is for certain.
+
The former Glatorian pulled the reins of his Stalker and turned around. Then he disappeared into the distance.
  
Strakk stared ahead. “I don’t believe it. We can’t possibly have that much bad luck.”
+
“That’s it?” said Strakk, surprised. “He just let us go?
  
“Who are they?” Ackar asked, his gaze was still fixed on the Skrall closing in behind them.
+
“Did you want to fight him?” Kiina shrugged. “If I remember correctly, he doesn’t much like you.
  
Gresh wanted to answer, but the words stuck in his throat. After everything they went through, he couldn’t believe their mission was about to come to an end… “They aren’t coming from Vulcanus,” he finally said. “The red armor… it’s Malum. He and his Vorox are expecting us.
+
The Ice Glatorian knew Kiina was right. Malum once tried to take Strakk’s life during a match, which was what caused his expulsion from Vulcanus.
  
“And the Skrall are right behind us,Kiina remarked.
+
“Even if all four of us faced him, we might not win. I know him,” Ackar sighed. “The important thing is that we take the Exsidian to its destination. When the Skrall finish up with the Vorox they’ll probably come after us again.
  
“Around us there is nothing but endless desert,” Ackar said to himself. “No hiding places to be seen. We can neither escape nor defeat them, least of all do both.
+
The team traveled south. They remained vigilant, but were beginning to believe they might actually reach Vulcanus. Kirbold had decided that, upon returning to Iconox, he would request Ackar and Kiina receive the same pay as Gresh and Strakk. Without their help, this mission would have ended at the Skrall River.
  
“I’d say we have a good chance of being trashed,” Strakk said. “And we’re about to find out…"
+
“Even if we make it back, we still have problems ahead of us,” Tarduk said. “I'm not sure we can really say this route was any safer than the one through the Dunes of Treason. What do you think?”
  
'''Chapter Six'''
+
“You're kidding, right?” Kirbold laughed. “We tangled with Bone Hunters, the Skrall, Malum and his Vorox, not to mention desert bats, snakes, and a deadly waterfall... I’d take the Dunes of Treason in a heartbeat.”
  
Gresh looked back to see the Skrall were nearing them. He looked forward again to see Malum and his Vorox also approaching. Four Glatorian and two Agori with a cart full of Exsidian between two opposing groups didn’t have much chance of survival.
+
Kiina approached Ackar. “What are you thinking?”
  
“This is not good,” he murmured.
+
“I see no signs that we are being pursued. If we can keep this pace, we should be alright. Worst-case scenario, we may run into Bone Hunters.
  
“Let's abandon the caravan,Strakk said suddenly. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but ... I don’t care about the Exsidian.”
+
“You mean like them?interrupted Gresh, pointing forward.
  
“I don’t know, think about it,” Ackar said, shaking his head. “You angered Malum, promising to get his treasure from Roxtus to keep him from stealing the Exsidian... and just now, we deceived the Skrall to help us get the Exsidian from the river. It seems to me that the metal’s been useful in finding you worthy foes, Strakk.
+
What they saw gave them chills. A short distance ahead of them, the sand had been torn into a huge crater, surrounded by the bodies of several Bone Hunters. It looke as if a tornado had passed through. There appeared to be some survivors, but their condition indicated they would be joining their companions before long. Ackar searched for traces of Thornax or remains of the Vorox’s spears, but found nothing. To do this much damage without Thornax or an army of Vorox, it must have been something monstrous.
  
“Yeah, that’s real funny,” Kiina replied, “but the Vorox are ahead of us and the Skrall are behind us. Maybe we should fight?”
+
“How long ago do you think this happened?he asked Kiina, who had already dismounted to examine one of the hunters.
  
“I have a better idea,Ackar said. “Gresh, Strakk, who do the Vorox hate more than anyone?”
+
“Maybe an hour ago.Kiina approached the hunter. “What happened?”
  
“The Skrall,” said Gresh.
+
The Bone Hunter barely raised his head, and his lips moved noiselessly at first. When he finally managed to speak, Kiina leaned in close. He uttered a single word before dying. Kiina turned gravely to her teammates. “Skopio.
  
“And who do the Skrall consider vermin to be eradicated?Kiina continued.
+
Strakk had all the information he needed. “Let's get out of here.
  
“The Vorox,” Strakk smiled, guessing the intentions of Ackar. “Oh, no. This will end badly... I like it!”
+
“If this was an hour ago, maybe the Skopio is long gone now,” Tarduk asked, hopefully.
  
Ackar ordered his Stalker to gallop faster, heading directly for the group of Vorox. Once they were close, he pulled the Spikit to a halt in front of them. He then quickly pivoted the cart around to face the Skrall.
+
“Or it might just be hidden in the sand beneath you, waiting to attack,” Strakk snorted.
  
“Our Vorox friends arrived just in time!” Ackar shouted with all the force in his lungs. “Attack the Skrall!”
+
Ackar thought hard. Skopio were the largest and most dangerous creatures in Bara Magna. The giant scorpion-like beasts weren’t very fast, but thanks to their size they could move several bio in a single step. Not much was known about Skopio behavior, so it was difficult to predict whether the creature was in the same place that it had appeared, or had gone to seek new territory. If the Skopio that had caused this disaster had left, they should be safe.
  
Hearing this, the elite Skrall screamed in anger. Stronius despised the Vorox with all his soul. The fact that these creatures allied with the Glatorian only make him angrier. ''These wretched creatures of the sand act so boldly against us?'' Stronius thought. ''They will pay the price!''
+
“We'll keep going south,” Ackar finally said, “and hope the Skopio isn’t following us. Hopefully we can still make it to the village.
  
Malum also heard Ackar’s words, and immediately understood what his old friend planned. He knew he wouldn’t be able to escape from this trap up without a fight. Ackar had used the eternal hatred between the Skrall and the Vorox to his advantage: now, the Skrall would have to deal with the entire group of Vorox.
+
They resumed moving in the direction of Vulcanus. After a few minutes, the ground beneath their feet began to tremble.
  
“Shoot them!” Stronius cried. “Destroy them! The Glatorian and the Vorox alike.”
+
“Oh, no...” Strakk moaned.
  
His warriors fired at the Vorox with their launchers. The Thornax made direct impact with the Vorox, seriously wounding three of them. The rest forgot Ackar quickly. They had been attacked by the Skrall – their instinct told them they should hit back. Infuriated, the Vorox rushed the warriors of the Skrall. As the Vorox pack attacked their most hated enemy, Ackar’s group decided it was an appropriate time to flee from the battlefield. The Glatorian, Agori and the cart left quickly. The sounds of exploding Thornax and the moans of the wounded soon died out.
+
The first tremor was small. The second was more intense – Ackar's Stalker went haywire, almost throwing him off. Then there was an earthquake. Gresh fell face-first into the sand just before it opened with an enormous sound. A crater opened up and began to pull in sand, and would soon would do the same to Gresh. Just before he was pulled under, Kiina grabbed his hand and pulled him into the wagon.
  
“You thought we would lose,” Kiina said, delighted. “So you got them to fight amongst themselves.
+
Then the desert exploded. A cloud of dust rose into the air and the Skopio appeared, ready for a fight. Then it became clear just how bad things were. As the cloud of sand cleared, Ackar saw a figure in golden armor riding the beast. That could only mean one thing: the beast before them was actually a machine. They stood in the way of the Skopio XV-1, and its pilot...
  
“No, I wanted this to end differently,” Ackar admitted. “We may not have good relations with the Vorox, but they did not deserve to die at the hands of the Skrall. But today our lives were at stake.”
+
“Telluris!” Ackar cried.
  
“After all, the life of a Glatorian is more important, right?”
+
Strakk shot Kirbold an angry look.
  
Ackar reined their Stalker and turned around. Behind them was Malum, mounted on a Stalker, and armed with the sword and shield of a Skrall. He was alone. Ackar immediately drew his sword.
+
“When we get back to Iconox, I’m asking for a raise!”
  
“I see that now you ally yourself with thieves,” Malum said.
+
“''If'' we get back to Iconox,” Kirbold corrected him.
  
“We aren’t looking to fight you,” Gresh cut in. “You found us, remember? You asked us to steal the sword in Roxtus. And we did – and found out that you snatched it from Ackar.
+
The Skopio XV-1 was built to resemble a real Skopio, but it was faster and even more dangerous. The crazed Telluris had continually improved it over the years, using parts from other vehicles. Ever since the plague that ravaged his tribe 103,000 years ago, Telluris was obsessed with oppressing and torturing others. The XV-1 was designed with that in mind. The team moved as fast as they could. If they could make it to Vulcanus, there were many Glatorian in training there that could help fight this giant machine. But Telluris had no intention of giving them that chance. Pressing a button on his control console, he changed the configuration of the XV-I. The four legs of the vehicle folded flat, laying their treads flat against the sand. The vehicle may not have looked as impressive now, but it could reach a much higher speed. With an evil smile on his face, Telluris hunted his new victims.
  
Ackar interrupted Gresh. “How goes the battle?
+
“Split up!” Shouted Gresh. “He can’t chase all of us.
  
“Both sides suffered heavy casualties,” Malum said. “But the struggle continues. My Vorox know when to quit. I know the Skrall don’t know how to pursue us. We are numerous. We will recover.
+
It was a good idea. Gresh and the Agori took the caravan, while the others split off to the sides. Regardless of whom Telluris decided to hunt, the others could go around and attack from behind.  
  
“I did what I had to do,” Ackar said. “I am sorry that your warriors have died. But they would have killed us at your signal.
+
Watching the Glatorian flee like a startled scarabax swarm gave Telluris great pleasure. Which would he destroy first? A carriage full of Exsidian did not interest him. If he had wanted the Exsidian, he would have taken from Iconox and nobody could have stopped him. But the red-armored Glatorian apparently had a brain – he was shouting orders, planning a strategy. It would be useful to silence him. Telluris pointed his gun, mounted on the tail of his artificial Skopio, at Ackar and fired. Ackar heard the Thornax whistle through the air. His stalker shook the reins, forcing him to turn quickly to the right. The projectile just missed him, but the force of its explosion sent him and the Stalker falling into the sand.
  
“I have no grudge against you, Ackar. Escaping from ambushes is your specialty... that is a talent both you and the Vorox have. But these two, Gresh and Strakk, entered our territory without an invitation. One day we will settle affairs.”
+
“Ackar!” Kiina cried when she saw her wounded friend. “Gresh, help him! I’ll take care of Telluris.”
  
Gresh jumped from the caravan, sword in hand, ready to fight. “We can solve this here and now. Is that what you want, Malum?”
+
Once she was sure that the Tesaran Glatorian had reached the wounded Ackar, she began to attack. Dodging a rain of Thornax, she rode directly toward the Skopio. Telluris accelerated, trying to run her over with his vehicle, but Kiina deftly evaded it. The Glatorian jumped from her Stalker and landed on the hull of the Skopio.
  
“We will in time.” Malum smiled coldly and shook his head. “The desert is unpredictable, Gresh. Sometimes beautiful and pleasant, other times a cruel killer. One day brings water to quench your thirst. The next day feeds you when you're starving. But on the third day... my sword snatches your life.”
+
“What is she doing?” Ackar stared in amazement.
  
The former Glatorian pulled the reins of his Stalker and turned around. Then he disappeared into the distance.
+
“We can help her by diverting Telluris’ attention. What do you think?” Gresh said.
  
“That’s it?” said Strakk, surprised. “He just let us go?”
+
Both Glatorian galloped towards to the Skopio. Ackar shot at it, although he knew that Thornax wouldn’t damage the machine’s thick exterior. He just needed Telluris to focus on them rather than Kiina.
  
“Did you want to fight him?Kiina shrugged. “If I remember correctly, he doesn’t much like you.
+
“Look out!Ackar cried as Telluris fired at them. Ackar’s Stalker barely managed to dodge all of the XV-I’s Thornax rounds.
  
The Ice Glatorian knew Kiina was right. Malum once tried to take Strakk’s life during a match, which was what caused his expulsion from Vulcanus.
+
“I have an idea,” said Gresh. “Head to the caravan.
  
“Even if all four of us faced him, we might not win. I know him,” Ackar sighed. “The important thing is that we take the Exsidian to its destination. When the Skrall finish up with the Vorox they’ll probably come after us again.
+
The Glatorian rushed to the caravan. Without stopping, Gresh leaned over in his saddle and grabbed two Exsidian bars. Once he was near the Skopio, the Glatorian jumped to the ground, ran forward and shoved the two bars between the treads of the vehicle. On the other side, Ackar did the same. Exsidian was prized for its exceptional hardness and durability: it did not corrode or deform like other metals. In other words, the Skopio's inner workings couldn’t compete with it. The sounds of metal screeching and parts collapsing inside Skopio's treads indicated a clear winner between the Exsidian and the XV-I. Meanwhile, Kiina climbed carefully onto the Skopio's cab. At one point she slipped and toppled over the edge, only to grab the machine’s stinger at the last moment. After climbing back up, she jumped directly to the XV-1's cockpit, landing just behind Telluris. He immediately tried to escape, but was caught by the ankle and soon found himself dangling upside down.
  
The team traveled south. They remained vigilant, but were beginning to believe they might actually reach Vulcanus. Kirbold had decided that, upon returning to Iconox, he would request Ackar and Kiina receive the same pay as Gresh and Strakk. Without their help, this mission would have ended at the Skrall River.
+
“You know, I’m pretty tired after all that climbing.” Kiina said, hanging Telluris’ head over the edge of the Skopio. “I’m not sure how much longer I can hold on for. And if you insist on continuing to fight us… well, my launcher is aimed at the console of your toy.
  
“Even if we make it back, we still have problems ahead of us,” Tarduk said. “I'm not sure we can really say this route was any safer than the one through the Dunes of Treason. What do you think?”
+
“You know what will happen if you shoot?” Telluris laughed. “There will be a big boom and we’ll all die. You, me, and your friends down below. You understand that?”
  
“You're kidding, right?” Kirbold laughed. “We tangled with Bone Hunters, the Skrall, Malum and his Vorox, not to mention desert bats, snakes, and a deadly waterfall... I’d take the Dunes of Treason in a heartbeat.”
+
Kiina raised him up and gave him a cold stare. “Do you think I care?
  
Kiina approached Ackar. “What are you thinking?”
+
Telluris showed no fear. Either he was immensely brave, or entirely crazy. He replied calmly, as if talking about the weather. “What will you do?”
  
“I see no signs that we are being pursued. If we can keep this pace, we should be alright. Worst-case scenario, we may run into Bone Hunters.”
+
“I'll let you choose” Kiina said. “I kill you and keep your vehicle, or my teammates destroy it and leave you wandering alone in this wasteland. Or...”
  
“You mean like them?” interrupted Gresh, pointing forward.
+
“Or what?”
  
What they saw gave them chills. A short distance ahead of them, the sand had been torn into a huge crater, surrounded by the bodies of several Bone Hunters. It looke as if a tornado had passed through. There appeared to be some survivors, but their condition indicated they would be joining their companions before long. Ackar searched for traces of Thornax or remains of the Vorox’s spears, but found nothing. To do this much damage without Thornax or an army of Vorox, it must have been something monstrous.
+
“Not far from here is a group of Skrall warriors,” continued Kiina. “You turn back, trash them, and return to where you came came from, I’ll consider things settled.
  
“How long ago do you think this happened?” he asked Kiina, who had already dismounted to examine one of the hunters.
+
Telluris hesitated. He had not yet had to deal with the visitors from the far north. He knew that the Skrall were tough opponents.
  
“Maybe an hour ago.” Kiina approached the hunter. “What happened?”
+
“Well, what do you choose? Are you afraid of some Skrall?”
  
The Bone Hunter barely raised his head, and his lips moved noiselessly at first. When he finally managed to speak, Kiina leaned in close. He uttered a single word before dying. Kiina turned gravely to her teammates. “Skopio.”
+
“Not at all,” Telluris said. “I'll deal with them. But if I find you in my territory again, you will not escape so easily.”
  
Strakk had all the information he needed. “Let's get out of here.
+
Kiina smiled and held Telluris out over the edge of the vehicle.
  
“If this was an hour ago, maybe the Skopio is long gone now,Tarduk asked, hopefully.
+
“What are you doing? You said that you would let me go!Telluris protested.
  
“Or it might just be hidden in the sand beneath you, waiting to attack,Strakk snorted.
+
“I never said that,” Kiina replied. “You had a choice between leaving your vehicle or using it for my benefit. Me releasing you was not part of the deal.
  
Ackar thought hard. Skopio were the largest and most dangerous creatures in Bara Magna. The giant scorpion-like beasts weren’t very fast, but thanks to their size they could move several bio in a single step. Not much was known about Skopio behavior, so it was difficult to predict whether the creature was in the same place that it had appeared, or had gone to seek new territory. If the Skopio that had caused this disaster had left, they should be safe.
+
With that, she let go of his leg. Telluris’ screams could be heard for a while, until his body hit the sand. Ackar immediately approached where he’d landed.
  
“We'll keep going south,” Ackar finally said, “and hope the Skopio isn’t following us. Hopefully we can still make it to the village.”
+
“He's alive,” Ackar said with some relief.
  
They resumed moving in the direction of Vulcanus. After a few minutes, the ground beneath their feet began to tremble.
+
“Of course he's alive. He excelled in the arena,” Kiina said, jumping down from the Skopio. “At least he won’t trouble us for a while.
  
“Oh, no...” Strakk moaned.
+
“I don't understand,” said Gresh. “I heard what he said. He agreed to leave and fight the Skrall.”
  
The first tremor was small. The second was more intense – Ackar's Stalker went haywire, almost throwing him off. Then there was an earthquake. Gresh fell face-first into the sand just before it opened with an enormous sound. A crater opened up and began to pull in sand, and would soon would do the same to Gresh. Just before he was pulled under, Kiina grabbed his hand and pulled him into the wagon.
+
“Oh, rookie,” Kiina shook his head. “When will you learn? He said: ‘I'll deal with them,’ but thought ‘as soon as I take care of them, Glatorian, I’ll come after you.’ If you want to negotiate with a Glatorian, need to learn the language of a scam.
  
Then the desert exploded. A cloud of dust rose into the air and the Skopio appeared, ready for a fight. Then it became clear just how bad things were. As the cloud of sand cleared, Ackar saw a figure in golden armor riding the beast. That could only mean one thing: the beast before them was actually a machine. They stood in the way of the Skopio XV-1, and its pilot...
+
A few hours later, the characteristic shape of the large building at the center of Vulcanus appeared on the horizon. Soon after, the team approached the edge of the village, where they received cheers from the guards. Although Strakk never liked the fire village, he was more excited to see it than he’d ever been in his life. Raanu, Vulcanus' leader, was the happiest Agori in town that day. Ackar knew that his reaction was mostly due to the Exsidian that had finally reached its destination. But it was also something else: Iconox had paid its debt to Vulcanus, recognizing the Glatorian's victory for the Fire Tribe. There would be no war with the Ice Tribe. The Glatorian system had worked perfectly and nothing had changed.
  
“Telluris!” Ackar cried.
+
Metus went over to congratulate Strakk, Gresh, Kirbold, and Tarduk. After a moment of celebration, Metus pulled Strakk from the group, and speaking softly, said “It’s all set up. Immediately after the Great Tournament, you'll fight with Ackar. Raanu insisted that the fight take place here, so –”
  
Strakk shot Kirbold an angry look.
+
“He saved my life... saved all our lives,” Strakk interrupted. “But I’d like the satisfaction of a victory and a good payout. Deal.
  
“When we get back to Iconox, I’m asking for a raise!”
+
At the edge of the village, Kiina and Gresh watched the sun set over the desert.
  
“''If'' we get back to Iconox,” Kirbold corrected him.
+
“We’ve seen that the northern route is too dangerous,” Kiina said. “So, mission partly failed. Was it worth going through all this?”
  
The Skopio XV-1 was built to resemble a real Skopio, but it was faster and even more dangerous. The crazed Telluris had continually improved it over the years, using parts from other vehicles. Ever since the plague that ravaged his tribe 103,000 years ago, Telluris was obsessed with oppressing and torturing others. The XV-1 was designed with that in mind. The team moved as fast as they could. If they could make it to Vulcanus, there were many Glatorian in training there that could help fight this giant machine. But Telluris had no intention of giving them that chance. Pressing a button on his control console, he changed the configuration of the XV-I. The four legs of the vehicle folded flat, laying their treads flat against the sand. The vehicle may not have looked as impressive now, but it could reach a much higher speed. With an evil smile on his face, Telluris hunted his new victims.
+
“Yes, I think so,” the Tesaran replied. “It's true that I had to flee from the Skrall, fight the Vorox, and endure Strakk... but I also had friends. You and Ackar.
  
“Split up!” Shouted Gresh. “He can’t chase all of us.”
+
“You have much to learn, but you're really talented. If you find yourself in Tajun, we should practice together.”
  
It was a good idea. Gresh and the Agori took the caravan, while the others split off to the sides. Regardless of whom Telluris decided to hunt, the others could go around and attack from behind.  
+
“And you’ll teach me the move you used to get onto the Skopio?” Gresh smiled.
  
Watching the Glatorian flee like a startled scarabax swarm gave Telluris great pleasure. Which would he destroy first? A carriage full of Exsidian did not interest him. If he had wanted the Exsidian, he would have taken from Iconox and nobody could have stopped him. But the red-armored Glatorian apparently had a brain – he was shouting orders, planning a strategy. It would be useful to silence him. Telluris pointed his gun, mounted on the tail of his artificial Skopio, at Ackar and fired. Ackar heard the Thornax whistle through the air. His stalker shook the reins, forcing him to turn quickly to the right. The projectile just missed him, but the force of its explosion sent him and the Stalker falling into the sand.
+
“I’ll teach you a lot of things,” Kiina laughed as they returned to the village. “We’ll start with how to survive the first round of battles during the Great Tournament.
  
“Ackar!” Kiina cried when she saw her wounded friend. “Gresh, help him! I’ll take care of Telluris.”
+
“Sounds good. If there’s anything I’ve learned from this adventure –” Gresh caught an Exsidian block thrown by an Agori. “– it’s that surviving the fight is what matters.”
 +
[[User:TuragaNuva|TuragaNuva]] ([[User talk:TuragaNuva|talk]]) 12:27, 5 September 2017 (UTC)
  
Once she was sure that the Tesaran Glatorian had reached the wounded Ackar, she began to attack. Dodging a rain of Thornax, she rode directly toward the Skopio. Telluris accelerated, trying to run her over with his vehicle, but Kiina deftly evaded it. The Glatorian jumped from her Stalker and landed on the hull of the Skopio.
+
=Sets / Other Kanohi (Name Pending)=
  
“What is she doing?” Ackar stared in amazement.
+
After 2003, the focus on collectible [[Kanohi]] in [[BIONICLE]] [[sets]] was greatly reduced.  However, many sets released between 2004 and 2010 still introduced new Kanohi masks.
  
“We can help her by diverting Telluris’ attention. What do you think?” Gresh said.
+
{| class="prettytable" style="width:55%; font-size:0.906em;"
 
+
|align="center" style="width:10%;"|Mask
Both Glatorian galloped towards to the Skopio. Ackar shot at it, although he knew that Thornax wouldn’t damage the machine’s thick exterior. He just needed Telluris to focus on them rather than Kiina.
+
|align="center" style="width:5%;"|Style
 
+
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|Image
“Look out!” Ackar cried as Telluris fired at them. Ackar’s Stalker barely managed to dodge all of the XV-I’s Thornax rounds.
+
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|Sets
 
+
|-
“I have an idea,” said Gresh. “Head to the caravan.
+
|align="center" colspan="2" style="width:15%;"|[[Arthron]]
 
+
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Great_Arthron_Set.jpg|0x50px]]
The Glatorian rushed to the caravan. Without stopping, Gresh leaned over in his saddle and grabbed two Exsidian bars. Once he was near the Skopio, the Glatorian jumped to the ground, ran forward and shoved the two bars between the treads of the vehicle. On the other side, Ackar did the same. Exsidian was prized for its exceptional hardness and durability: it did not corrode or deform like other metals. In other words, the Skopio's inner workings couldn’t compete with it. The sounds of metal screeching and parts collapsing inside Skopio's treads indicated a clear winner between the Exsidian and the XV-I. Meanwhile, Kiina climbed carefully onto the Skopio's cab. At one point she slipped and toppled over the edge, only to grab the machine’s stinger at the last moment. After climbing back up, she jumped directly to the XV-1's cockpit, landing just behind Telluris. He immediately tried to escape, but was caught by the ankle and soon found himself dangling upside down.
+
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8911|8911 Toa Jaller Mahri]]
 
+
|-
“You know, I’m pretty tired after all that climbing.” Kiina said, hanging Telluris’ head over the edge of the Skopio. “I’m not sure how much longer I can hold on for. And if you insist on continuing to fight us… well, my launcher is aimed at the console of your toy.”
+
|align="center" rowspan="2" style="width:15%;"|[[Avsa]]
 
+
|align="center" style="width:15%;"|Great
“You know what will happen if you shoot?” Telluris laughed. “There will be a big boom and we’ll all die. You, me, and your friends down below. You understand that?”
+
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Gavla's_kanohi.PNG|0x50px]]
 
+
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8948|8948 Gavla]]
Kiina raised him up and gave him a cold stare. “Do you think I care?”
+
|-
 
+
|align="center" style="width:15%;"|Mutated
Telluris showed no fear. Either he was immensely brave, or entirely crazy. He replied calmly, as if talking about the weather. “What will you do?”
+
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Great_Avsa_Set.jpg|0x50px]]
 
+
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8692|8692 Vamprah]]
“I'll let you choose” Kiina said. “I kill you and keep your vehicle, or my teammates destroy it and leave you wandering alone in this wasteland. Or...
+
|-
 
+
|align="center" colspan="2" rowspan="2" style="width:15%;"|[[Crast]]
“Or what?”
+
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Great_Crast_Set.jpg|0x50px]]
 
+
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8694|8694 Krika]]
“Not far from here is a group of Skrall warriors,” continued Kiina. “You turn back, trash them, and return to where you came came from, I’ll consider things settled.
+
|-
 
+
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Silver_Great_Crast_Set.jpg|0x50px]]
Telluris hesitated. He had not yet had to deal with the visitors from the far north. He knew that the Skrall were tough opponents.
+
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8995|8995 Thornatus V9]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" colspan="2" rowspan="2" style="width:15%;"|[[Faxon]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Set_Kanohi_Faxon.png|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8914|8914 Toa Hahli]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Lime_Great_Faxon_Set.jpg|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8939|8939 Lesovikk]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" colspan="2" style="width:15%;"|[[Felnas]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Great_Felnas_Set.jpg|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8695|8695 Gorast]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" rowspan="3" style="width:15%;"|[[Hau]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:15%;"|Lhikan
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Set_Lhikan's_Kanohi_Hau.png|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8811|8811 Toa Lhikan & Kikanalo]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" rowspan="2" style="width:15%;"|Stars
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Great_Hau_Tahu_Stars.png|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:7116|7116 Tahu]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Set_Golden_Armor_Kanohi_Hau.png|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:7116|7116 Tahu]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" style="width:15%;"|[[Hau Nuva]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:15%;"|Adapted, Phantoka
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Mask_of_Charisma_Small.png|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8689|8689 Toa Tahu]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" rowspan="3" style="width:15%;"|[[Huna]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:15%;"|Great
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Set_Great_Kanohi_Huna.png|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8601|8601 Toa Vakama]], [[Set:8725|8725 Balta]],<br>[[Set:8940|8940 Karzahni]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" rowspan="2" style="width:15%;"|Mutated
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Huna_Hordika.png|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8736|8736 Toa Hordika Vakama]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Green_Huna_Hordika_Set.jpg|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8940|8940 Karzahni]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" rowspan="4" style="width:15%;"|[[Ignika]]
 +
|align="center" rowspan="2" style="width:15%;"|Vezon
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Set_Ignika_in_Vezon_Fusion_Form.png|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8764|8764 Vezon & Fenrakk]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Set_Pearl_Dark_Gray_Ignika_in_Vezon_Fusion_Form.png|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8924|8924 Maxilos & Spinax]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" rowspan="2" style="width:15%;"|Legendary
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Silver_Ignika.PNG|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8697|8697 Toa Ignika]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Set_Gold_Ignika.jpg|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8998|8998 Toa Mata Nui]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" rowspan="3" style="width:15%;"|[[Jutlin]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:15%;"|Noble
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Radiak's_kanohi.PNG|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8947|8947 Radiak]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" style="width:15%;"|Great
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Great_Jutlin_Set.jpg|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8691|8691 Antroz]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" style="width:15%;"|Shapeshifted, Jetrax T6
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Jutlin_II.PNG|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8942|8942 Jetrax T6]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" rowspan="3" style="width:15%;"|[[Kiril]] / [[Pehkui]]
 +
|align="center" rowspan="2" style="width:15%;"|Kiril
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Dume's_Noble_Kiril_Set.jpg|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8621|8621 Turaga Dume & Nivawk]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Matoran_Kiril.PNG|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8930|8930 Dekar]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" style="width:15%;"|Kiril-Shaped Pehkui
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Set_Kanohi_Pehkui.png|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8763|8763 Toa Norik]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" colspan="2" rowspan="2" style="width:15%;"|[[Kualsi]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Kualsi_big.png|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8762|8762 Toa Iruini]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Kualsi_Defilak.png|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8929|8929 Defilak]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" rowspan="2" style="width:15%;"|[[Matatu]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:15%;"|Great
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Kanohi_Matatu.png|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8606|8606 Toa Nuju]], [[Set:8722|8722 Kazi]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" style="width:15%;"|Mutated
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Set_Matatu_Hordika.png|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8741|8741 Toa Hordika Nuju]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" style="width:15%;"|[[Miru]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:15%;"|Noble
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Tanma's_Kanohi.png|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8944|8944 Tanma]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" rowspan="2" style="width:15%;"|[[Miru Nuva]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:15%;"|Adapted, Mistika
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Aerial_Kanohi_Miru_Nuva_Small.PNG|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8686|8686 Toa Lewa]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" style="width:15%;"|Adapted, Axalara T9
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Axalara_T9-Adapted_Kanohi_Miru_Nuva.PNG|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8943|8943 Axalara T9]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" colspan="2" style="width:15%;"|[[Olmak]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Olmak.png|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8734|8734 Brutaka]], [[Set:8894|8894 Piraka Stronghold]],<br>[[Set:8624|8624 Race for the Mask of Life]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" colspan="2" style="width:15%;"|[[Rode]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Rode.png|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8733|8733 Axonn]], [[Set:8892|8892 Piraka Outpost]],<br>[[Set:8893|8893 Lava Chamber Gate]],<br>[[Set:8894|8894 Piraka Stronghold]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" rowspan="3" style="width:15%;"|[[Ruru]]
 +
|align="center" rowspan="2" style="width:15%;"|Great
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Set_Great_Kanohi_Ruru.png|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8603|8603 Toa Whenua]], [[Set:8625|8625 Umbra]],<br>[[Set:8724|8724 Garan]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Ruru_Idris.png|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8940|8940 Karzahni]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" style="width:15%;"|Mutated
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Set_Ruru_Hordika.png|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8738|8738 Toa Hordika Whenua]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" colspan="2" style="width:15%;"|[[Sanok]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Organic_Sanok_Set.jpg|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8730|8730 Toa Hewkii]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" rowspan="4" style="width:15%;"|[[Shelek]]
 +
|align="center" rowspan="2" style="width:15%;"|Noble
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Kirop's_kanohi.PNG|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8949|8949 Kirop]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Noble_Shelek_Vican.png|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8952|8952 Mutran & Vican]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" rowspan="2" style="width:15%;"|Great
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Great_Shelek_Set.jpg|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8693|8693 Chirox]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Great_Shelek_Mutran.png|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8952|8952 Mutran & Vican]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" colspan="2" style="width:15%;"|[[Volitak]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Mazeka_Volitak.png|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8913|8913 Toa Nuparu]], [[Set:8954|8954 Mazeka]]
 +
|-
 +
|align="center" colspan="2" style="width:15%;"|[[Mask of Scavenging]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Image:Mask_of_Scavenging_Set.jpg|0x50px]]
 +
|align="center" style="width:20%;"|[[Set:8698|8698 Vultraz]]
 +
|-
 +
|}
  
“Well, what do you choose? Are you afraid of some Skrall?”
+
= A Thousand Years Untold 2 Fixed =
  
“Not at all,” Telluris said. “I'll deal with them. But if I find you in my territory again, you will not escape so easily.”
+
I tried to make the stories from this contest (for more info see [[Media#Decanonized.2FNoncanon|here]]) easily readable by correcting the formatting errors, might be useful if Greg ever decides to canonize them. For accuracy's sake, instead of correcting typos I added a ''[sic]'' after them.
  
Kiina smiled and held Telluris out over the edge of the vehicle.
+
== Merciless Shadows, by Legolover-361 {{C|[http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/2873-merciless-shadows-winner-of-atyu2-mahri-nui-category/ Original]}}==
  
“What are you doing? You said that you would let me go!” Telluris protested.
+
'''Merciless Shadows'''
  
“I never said that,” Kiina replied. “You had a choice between leaving your vehicle or using it for my benefit. Me releasing you was not part of the deal.”
+
''Mahri Nui/Pit: Outcast Treasure''
  
With that, she let go of his leg. Telluris’ screams could be heard for a while, until his body hit the sand. Ackar immediately approached where he’d landed.
+
It all began with the stone.
  
“He's alive,” Ackar said with some relief.
+
Pridak had been looking through the wreckage of the Pit, wondering if anything useful might still be hidden beneath the debris, when he came across the stone. It was easy to spot, its soft, golden-yellow glow giving its position away. Intrigued, Pridak came closer -- but a Zyglak was there first, hissing and swinging its spear.
  
“Of course he's alive. He excelled in the arena,” Kiina said, jumping down from the Skopio. “At least he won’t trouble us for a while.
+
Pridak had no desire to risk being killed by the poison that coated the Zyglak's body and weapon. Even though he yearned to fight, he did nothing as the Great Beings' mistake grabbed the stone and swam into the darkness of the murky waters beyond.
 +
 
 +
Takadox swam in from the right, looking after the retreating figure of the Zyglak. "What was that about?" he asked; then he noticed Pridak's expression.
 +
 
 +
"I know that look," he said. "But if you even ''think'' that I will come along willingly--"
 +
 
 +
"Do not worry," Pridak interrupted, his tone becoming suddenly threatening as he spun in the water to point a blade at Takadox's throat. "I was not expecting you to.”
 +
 
 +
It was with a hint of satisfaction that he noted the glint of fear in Takadox's eyes. Fear of his leader. He let the sight soak in; then, with obvious reluctance, he pulled the blade away.
 +
"Anything ''else'' to add?" Pridak snapped.
 +
 
 +
Takadox remained silent, though on the inside he was simmering with anger. Either Pridak missed the sudden fire that burned in Takadox's eyes or he ignored it. "Then we must leave. ''Now.''
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>* * *</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
So focused was the Zyglak on escaping with its treasure that it did not notice its pursuers... and so focused were the pursuers on their quarry that they did not notice two pairs of eyes watch as they swam past.
 +
 
 +
The owners of those eyes had only meant to take a short expedition out beyond the immediate area around the underwater city of Mahri Nui; but the sight that now met their eyes compelled them to go just a little further, just to satisfy their curiosity.
 +
 
 +
The azure-armored one, a Ga-Matoran named Kyrehx, turned to her companion, a yellow-armored Po-Matoran known as Dekar.
 +
 
 +
"The Zyglak was holding a stone," she said, "a stone that glowed.”
 +
 
 +
Dekar nodded in reply. "Then we follow," he said.
 +
 
 +
In agreement, both swam into the pitch-black waters beyond, wondering what secrets that glowing stone might hold.
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>* * *</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
"Down ''there''?”
 +
 
 +
There was a hint of disbelief in Takadox's tone -- and even Pridak was beginning to wonder if the chase had to stop here. He stood at the edge of a hole, looking down into the heavy darkness below. It was so dark, there was no telling how many Zyglak were waiting below -- and even a Barraki was as good as dead against a whole army of them.
 +
 
 +
But the stone was down there, and Pridak knew it was important in some way. His instinct told him there was something special about that stone, about the way it glowed, even though he had only a vague idea to go on.
 +
 
 +
He turned to Takadox. "Yes," he said, "down there. Just..." He paused. "Be careful," he finished.
  
“I don't understand,” said Gresh. “I heard what he said. He agreed to leave and fight the Skrall.
+
Takadox stayed silent. Pridak turned back to the darkness below, trying to force his quiet, nagging fears away... and he jumped down, ready for anything.
  
“Oh, rookie,” Kiina shook his head. “When will you learn? He said: ‘I'll deal with them,’ but thought ‘as soon as I take care of them, Glatorian, I’ll come after you.’ If you want to negotiate with a Glatorian, need to learn the language of a scam.
+
Anything but what he was about to see.
  
A few hours later, the characteristic shape of the large building at the center of Vulcanus appeared on the horizon. Soon after, the team approached the edge of the village, where they received cheers from the guards. Although Strakk never liked the fire village, he was more excited to see it than he’d ever been in his life. Raanu, Vulcanus' leader, was the happiest Agori in town that day. Ackar knew that his reaction was mostly due to the Exsidian that had finally reached its destination. But it was also something else: Iconox had paid its debt to Vulcanus, recognizing the Glatorian's victory for the Fire Tribe. There would be no war with the Ice Tribe. The Glatorian system had worked perfectly and nothing had changed.
+
What he could make out through the gloom was horrifying: Bones, weapons, broken pieces of armor... and eyes, numerous pairs of blood-red eyes that every now and again would seem to focus on him, only to turn away again. It made even him shudder. The Zyglak were terrible, fierce creatures that existed only to kill... and here he was, risking his life on what might only be a foolish whim.
  
Metus went over to congratulate Strakk, Gresh, Kirbold, and Tarduk. After a moment of celebration, Metus pulled Strakk from the group, and speaking softly, said “It’s all set up. Immediately after the Great Tournament, you'll fight with Ackar. Raanu insisted that the fight take place here, so –”
+
He pushed away those thoughts. No, he assured himself, it was ''not'' a foolish whim. In fact... it could be the Barraki's salvation.
  
“He saved my life... saved all our lives,” Strakk interrupted. “But I’d like the satisfaction of a victory and a good payout. Deal.
+
He took a cautious step forward, and another. Behind him, a gentle, almost inaudible ''whoosh'' signaled Takadox's arrival. Another step forward--
  
At the edge of the village, Kiina and Gresh watched the sun set over the desert.
+
The spear came out of nowhere, coming within a hair's breadth of impaling Pridak. It struck the rock wall behind and floated to the side. Pridak looked round the area, noting uneasily as he did so that those pairs of red eyes were turned to him now -- him and Takadox.
  
“We’ve seen that the northern route is too dangerous,” Kiina said. “So, mission partly failed. Was it worth going through all this?”
+
And just when he thought that it could not get any worse, it did. He experienced firsthand the incredible power of the Iden Stone.
  
“Yes, I think so,” the Tesaran replied. “It's true that I had to flee from the Skrall, fight the Vorox, and endure Strakk... but I also had friends. You and Ackar.”
+
<nowiki>* * *</nowiki>
  
“You have much to learn, but you're really talented. If you find yourself in Tajun, we should practice together.
+
Kyrehx had decided that, just to be safe, she and Dekar would stay behind a rock and wait for someone to come out of the hole in the ground. As it turned out, it was a good thing they had done that, for what came out of the darkness obliterated all expectations.
  
“And you’ll teach me the move you used to get onto the Skopio?” Gresh smiled.
+
First came the two mutated beings they had pursued earlier, swimming for their lives. Kyrehx was beginning to wonder just what was going on when the thing the beings were fleeing from emerged from the hole.It was a Zyglak, but a Zyglak so mutated as to be almost beyond recognition. It was larger now, its muscles bigger, its jaws stronger; its teeth and claws looked sharper than ever before. But the worst part was its weapon, a protosteel trident with the center prong jutting out further than the other two.
  
“I’ll teach you a lot of things,” Kiina laughed as they returned to the village. “We’ll start with how to survive the first round of battles during the Great Tournament.
+
Kyrehx glanced at the other hand -- and gasped. That hand clasped the glowing stone she and Dekar were after. In that moment all was clear as to what the stone could do. If it fell into the wrong hands... and granted the bearer of those hands incredible power...
  
“Sounds good. If there’s anything I’ve learned from this adventure –” Gresh caught an Exsidian block thrown by an Agori. “– it’s that surviving the fight is what matters.”
+
She glanced at Dekar. He met her gaze and nodded. They were in agreement: The stone was too dangerous to be kept intact.
[[User:TuragaNuva|TuragaNuva]] ([[User talk:TuragaNuva|talk]]) 12:27, 5 September 2017 (UTC)
+
 
 +
<nowiki>* * *</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
Pridak dodged, just barely, a slash at his head from the trident. He leapt back, avoiding another blow, and swam behind a rock. Takadox joined him a moment later, panting and gasping.
 +
 
 +
"That stone," he panted. "It must have -- no, I ''know'' it caused the transformation. Do you know what it is?”
 +
 
 +
Pridak nodded, his chest still heaving. "It is the Iden Stone. When in contact with a being, it increases that being's power tenfold. If we fail to make that Zyglak drop the stone…"
 +
 
 +
He let the sentence hang in the air, unfinished. They both knew what they had to do.
 +
 
 +
"Can you hypnotize that... that thing?" asked Pridak.
 +
 
 +
Takadox shrugged. "I don't know. But I’ll--"
 +
 
 +
He was cut off by a loud sound somewhere between a whir and a hum. It steadily increased in pitch, until suddenly the rock behind Pridak's back had exploded and he was flying and wheeling through the water with the rest of the debris.
 +
 
 +
He spun uncontrollably, hitting the rocky ground head-first and tumbling over to land on his side. He struggled to his feet to see the Zyglak charging up another energy blast. This one happened to be aimed at him.
 +
 
 +
"''Now'', Takadox!" he cried, and leapt forward, darting through the water toward the Zyglak. With a hiss it fired, the energy blast suddenly leaping from its outstretched palms and zipping so close by Pridak he could feel the incredible heat.
 +
 
 +
The Zyglak let out a hiss and swung its trident. Pridak ducked under the blow and swam up and around its head, and down toward its left wrist.
 +
 
 +
He drew his sword and raised it up in the air... but before he could swing, a blast struck the stone, sending it flying off through the water. As the Zyglak cried out and began to shrink back to normal size, Pridak stopped and spun, eyes scanning the water for the incredible source of power he so desperately sought...
 +
 
 +
Only several meters away rested the stone.
 +
 
 +
The Matoran were already running toward the object of power. Realizing little time was left, Pridak took off, swimming as fast as he could. He was almost there... he reached out his hand…
 +
Out of nowhere came the blast, striking the stone and sending it flying away, scarred and cracked. Pridak let out a cry of rage and frustration and pushed off from the ground, arms outstretched, hands groping for the prize.
 +
 
 +
The Matoran would not give up easily. The blue one flung a sword that sliced through the water between Barraki and stone, slowing Pridak down for one crucial second. In that second, the yellow one struck, firing his blaster.
 +
 
 +
Time seemed to slow as the blast struck the stone dead-center. For a fleeting moment the Iden Stone, now cracked and mangled beyond repair, seemed frozen in time... then a brilliant flash of light, a burst of energy that spread out in all directions, and the stone was gone, leaving only miniscule fragments of semi-translucent debris to mark its passing. Soon even those had vanished from view... and with them went the hope Pridak had held for another chance at conquest.
 +
 
 +
Pridak yelled in rage and leaped toward the Matoran -- but Takadox reached them first, sliding in between Barraki and prey. As his eyes began to glow a brilliant, somehow hypnotizing red, Pridak backed away in understanding.
 +
 
 +
The glow intensified for a moment, then subsided, leaving the Matoran in an eerie trance-like state. Satisfied, Takadox turned to Pridak.
 +
 
 +
"Their memories are so easy to push away," he said, his tone as content as his facial expression. "But if we want to stay hidden from them" -- he jerked his head toward the Matoran -- "we must leave, before the sight of us re-surfaces their recollections of us.”
 +
 
 +
Pridak hesitated for a moment, gazing out to infinity as he pondered what might have been. What might have been, however, was but a wistful dream. He could not ignore reality's call forever, and he knew reality could be persuasive.
 +
 
 +
With a mental shrug he pushed aside his fantasy. "Yes," he agreed, "let us leave.”
 +
 
 +
Yet even as he swam away, out of sight of the Matoran that now tried in vain to remember what had just happened, he made plans in his head, truly sinister plans of conquest, of power, of a return to glory.
 +
 
 +
''Someday, immense power will be mine. The shadows are merciless... and so am I.''
 +
 
 +
== Survival, by Grant-Sud {{C|[http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/2926-survival/ Original]}} ==
 +
 
 +
'''Survival'''
 +
 
 +
By: Grant-Sud
 +
 
 +
The three Av-Matoran settled down behind the blackish green foliage, their jet packs still warm from the long flight. Beyond them was the terrifying sight of the Nui-Kopen nest.
 +
 
 +
Immediately the orange colored Av-Matoran rushed off behind them, following through with the plan.
 +
 
 +
“I don’t like being here,” one Matoran commented, glancing around the swamp, almost as if trying to see right through the trees.
 +
 
 +
“I know. None of us do,” Radiak replied. He paused, staring at the abandoned nest. This area was dangerous, known to inhabit mutative plants and Rahi all transformed from the liquid that poured through the middle of their world.
 +
 
 +
“I believe our job is done here.” Radiak continued. “All we needed was a closer look. Have you seen any?”
 +
 
 +
“None. It’s amazing. Just like we assumed, not one left behind to guard the old nest.”
 +
 
 +
Radiak nodded. It did seem as though the nest was empty. By now, they should have at least seen one of the insect Rahi.
 +
 
 +
“Photok?” The red colored Av-Matoran called faintly.
 +
 
 +
Only a few seconds passed before their friend returned.
 +
 
 +
“Glad you called, we need to get going. Swamp Stalkers all around this area. I’m sure that a few are following me.” Photok spoke quickly, his voice tinted with excitement he couldn’t hide. The Matoran took hold of his weapons, should worse come to worse.
 +
 
 +
''If it had been his way, he would have fought them all here and now just for the fun of it.'' Radiak thought with a smile. He couldn’t remember the great Toa fully, but he was sure that a leader like Tahu would never have acted so rashly.
 +
 
 +
As the leader of his own group, Radiak would do his best to follow that example.
 +
 
 +
“Let’s get out of here. We’ve waited long enough and I haven’t seen any Nui-Kopen even patrolling the nest. I am surprised though. There are plenty of lightvines left in this area.”
 +
 
 +
“Should we really fly from here?” His other companion asked, gesturing at the thick trees above, “Let’s head back to the opening a few meters behind us.”
 +
 
 +
Radiak shook his head. “Swamp Stalkers are smart. They’ll sit and wait to ambush you. We landed there, but I don’t like going back now. It may already be a trap.”
 +
 
 +
The three ignited their jet packs where they stood, confident now that the skies would be clear of Rahi on the way home.
 +
 
 +
“It’s obvious,” the Radiak continued, but with a new worry and a frown, “The Nui-Kopen have relocated elsewhere.”
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>***</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
Across the landscape beyond his eyes was an expanded ocean of mist that completely covered the vast world. Hidden inside the mist lived creatures that sought to feed, waiting for the moment their prey let its guard down in this haze.
 +
 
 +
To the right of him, a giant waterfall poured itself into the shroud, being devoured by it. For about half a millennia since the Fall, water had begun to breach and drown the world below, creating a swamp that contained too many secrets. After all that time the known world had barely begun to fill.
 +
 
 +
It was too massive.
 +
 
 +
This deemed their world both terrifying and beautiful.
 +
 
 +
Standing on the edge of his village’s stalactite, Kirop watched these universal happenings and wonders with a worried sigh.
 +
 
 +
A villager had died yesterday.
 +
 
 +
It was an uncommon thing. Most Av-Matoran knew how to protect themselves in Karda Nui. You learn quickly if you wanted to live in this vast, bright cave.
 +
 
 +
But that was the second death in a month, a very rare occurrence. Stranger still was the fact that both deaths were caused by the same reason.
 +
 
 +
The cause was rogue Nui-Kopen searching for food. These very quick and aggravating creatures could, at times, be hostile. But if you left them alone, every Matoran knew, they usually showed you the same respect.
 +
 
 +
''Obviously, these are not normal Nui-Kopen,'' he reminded himself.
 +
 
 +
There were already too many other hostile Rahi in Karda Nui, Swamp Stalkers for example. If the Nui-Kopen were going to be a problem ... it would make things much more difficult for the Matoran here.
 +
 
 +
Kirop was the leader of the Av-Matoran settlements, thus he felt as if a solution to this problem should have already been found and solved. At first, everyone had deemed this a-one-in-a-thousand shot. A poor villager had been near a dangerous straying Nui-Kopen at the wrong place and wrong time, just outside the lightvine field. The Rahi had charged him from behind.
 +
 
 +
The only explanation for the lack of protection against the Nui-Kopen, was the absence of ScareRahi, normally present. ScareRahi were statues made of wood, rock and sometimes flora, of monstrous creatures. They were extremely effective in keeping most Rahi out of the Stalactite Villages.
 +
 
 +
But what were the odds of that same event, an Av-Matoran being killed in that way, right outside the being’s own ''hut''?
 +
 
 +
The ScareRahi stationed around the home had been purposely destroyed; something had taken its time, like ruining that statue had been personal.
 +
 
 +
It could either have been a Rahi, or maybe -to Kirop’s fears- a Matoran.
 +
 
 +
This worried him even more.
 +
 
 +
“Kirop? Are you busy?”
 +
 
 +
The Av-Matoran turned towards his green-tinted brother. Tanma stood upright with his eyes fixed on his leader’s.
 +
 
 +
“Just thinking,” Kirop replied.
 +
 
 +
“About the Rahi?”
 +
 
 +
“Right.”
 +
 
 +
Tanma nodded.
 +
 
 +
“It’s interesting, most Nui-Kopen don’t attack us, and even if they do … well, the attack isn’t usually fatal.” His last few words were spoken softly, respecting the dead.
 +
Kirop returned to gazing out into space.
 +
 
 +
“What I wonder,” Tanma continued, understanding and unbothered by Kirop’s behavior, “Is not only why those Rahi became so disturbed, but also why they were so far from their usual territory?”
 +
 
 +
Kirop eyes [sic] shifted back into focus at those words. He had sent a group of Matoran down into the swamp to check up on the Nui-Kopen hive. If the Rahi had moved from their home, then maybe they had positioned a new hive in the stalactites.
 +
 
 +
That would explain their multiple and recent sightings, but what about their behavior?
 +
 
 +
“Tanma, I want be sure this doesn’t happen again. Is Gavla in her hut?”
 +
 
 +
“I’m pretty sure. She should have just finished with her duties.” He paused and frowned. Tanma personally didn’t understand why Kirop would go visit the icy Matoran.
 +
 
 +
“I want to ask her about the ScareRahi. If the Nui-Kopen felt threatened enough to strike it, we need to figure out why. She created them. She’ll know.” Kirop said convincingly as he walked past his friend.
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>***</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
Kirop walked quietly into Gavla’s hut. The dark blue Matoran of Light was crafting stone spikes, used to secure the bridges connecting across the wide gaps of the stalactite. If those bridges ever broke while a Matoran was crossing it … there was a reason the villagers took extra care of them.
 +
 
 +
“Never learned to knock?”
 +
 
 +
Kirop ignored the Matoran’s remark. Galva was known for having a sharp tone of voice.
 +
 
 +
“What do you think went wrong?”
 +
 
 +
She didn’t glance up from her work, but she did reply.
 +
 
 +
“I have an idea.”
 +
 
 +
Her companion waited patiently. He’d let her explain it to him whenever she was ready. Pushing for it would only make her pause longer.
 +
 
 +
“Nui-Kopen feel threatened by the ScareRahi. That’s why it attacked that one.”
 +
 
 +
Kirop sighed. So she ''was'' just deliberately wasting his time. “No plan either? Fine. Thanks for nothing.” Kirop said in disgust. Even when he just wanted a simple answer from her, she refused to cooperate.
 +
 
 +
Even as he began to walk out the door, she continued.
 +
 
 +
“Kirop,” she paused for a moment, until he was willing to turn and look at her, “I think the Nui-Kopen felt threatened by the ScareRahi. It attacked that one because it happened to look like a Swamp Stalker, a Nui-Kopen predator.
 +
 
 +
“I think it got scared.”
 +
 
 +
Kirop thought about that for the moment. True, Swamp Stalkers were natural enemies of the Nui-Kopen and that may have solved why the ScareRahi’s was destroyed ... but what didn’t make complete sense was its actions. Why attack the Matoran as well?
 +
 
 +
“So what do you suggest?” Kirop finally asked.
 +
 
 +
“No idea. But I thought it was worth noting. If I think of anything else, I’ll let you know.” Gavla resumed her work in silence.
 +
 
 +
He nodded before exiting her hut. He didn’t know why Gavla’s exterior was so cold. She was a great worker, but most just naturally avoided her. And while she did deserve the ridicule, it wasn’t completely her fault.
 +
 
 +
She was just different for a Matoran of Light.
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>***</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
Tanma stood outside as Kirop approached from inside the quarters. Behind him, stood the three venturing Matoran sent out below. They held interesting news.
 +
 
 +
“You’re back! Good. How did it go?” Kirop asked in a hurry, ready for this problem to be solved.
 +
 
 +
“It’s just as we thought, Kirop,” Radiak answered downheartedly, “They’ve moved. I don’t know why, but we can assume it was because of the increase of Swamp Stalkers. Most of their food wasn’t taken with them. Lightvines everywhere.”
 +
 
 +
“I see.” Kirop stood, reflecting on these new circumstances. They needed to know where the Nui-Kopen had moved to. If these creatures wanted to inhabit closer to the village, or any of the other villages, then no one was safe until they were gone.
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>***</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
Tanma kept his head down in respect as the deceased Matoran was taken inside the hut. They were in a different village now. The death count in this particular village was now two, and the Matoran living here were terrified of the new threat.
 +
 
 +
Solek stood with a grim expression on his face. He had just been through a huge ordeal. Tanma understood Solek’s fright, but that wasn’t going to stop Kirop from asking him to revisit the scene.
 +
 
 +
The Av-Matoran, his armor white in tribute to his favorite hero, explained the events. He and his friend had been working in the lightvine fields. Watering them and caring for them so they’d grow stronger.
 +
 
 +
Then it happened. A ''swarm'' of Nui-Kopen charged the field. At least a dozen of them tore into the ScareRahi and continued against the two Matoran. There was no time to defend themselves, nor for one to help the other. Solek rushed into the cabin and slammed the door. His companion had been taken hold of.
 +
 
 +
Solek’s heart raced as multiple Nui-Kopen struck the house, attempting to penetrate its barrier. Finally as the attacks slowly died away, Solek stole a quick glance outside the shuttered window.
 +
 
 +
The Av-Matoran had confirmed Kirop’s assumption. The Nui-Kopen had destroyed the ScareRahi; every one of them. Relentlessly striking them in hatred were Solek’s words. Afterward, they flew towards the lightvines, engulfing all of the crop’s light energy before departing.
 +
 
 +
His unlucky friend had been found right outside the door.
 +
 
 +
Tanma grimaced at the story he overheard. Things were becoming worse. He could see the fear on the Matoran’s faces. They questioned their own survival. It had taken half a millennium for the Av-Matoran to build a society and live safely. Nothing could hinder them, it seemed.
 +
 
 +
They were unwelcome here.
 +
 
 +
They had to be stopped.
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>***</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
For the next few days, Kirop had sent out scouts of Matoran to locate the new nest. They searched all along the villages, flying high and low. After three laboring days, they had finally found it, situated in the same village that was producing most of the lightvines and had already suffered two attacks from the Rahi.
 +
 
 +
Many weren’t surprised.
 +
 
 +
In the mean time, another Matoran had encountered a hostile Nui-Kopen. That Matoran had made it out alive, scaring it off with a small blast of light and finding shelter. The reaction from the people was anger. They wanted to strike back, restoring the feeling of security.
 +
 
 +
When the nest’s position was determined, Kirop began gathering volunteers. A group of ten Av-Matoran would fly directly toward the new and still fragile nest. As of now, its foundation was shaky at best. It was constructed with a few stems of wood and other sticky materials that attached to the stalactite. This would make a clean break easily possible. As it grew, more stems would be added before eventually the whole nest would grow solid in the rock.
 +
 
 +
With all the Nui-Kopen still looking for supplies in the swamp or above in the sky, Kirop figured about five of them remained to protect the nest at all times. If they struck fast, the mission should go smoothly.
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>***</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
Gavla hammered another spike into the ground and untied the rope connecting to the old rusty one, belonging to the massive bridge. Pulling the rejected spike and placing it in her pack, she inspected the sturdiness of the bridge, walking along the entire structure twice.It had taken quite a long time for the Matoran to find a material that was strong enough to carry beings as they walked across the sky. And an even longer amount of time to find a material which wouldn’t be eaten by the Rahi inhabitance of Karda Nui.
 +
 
 +
''It seems, that the longer we live here, the thinner the population of Rahi become, Gavla reflected, certain species no longer live here. Either because they’ve died out, or have found ways to escape this place.''
 +
 
 +
That was something the Matoran still hadn’t been able to do.
 +
 
 +
Glancing to the right of her, she took notice of Photok the guard with weapons in hand, watching across the open sky. It was a new position Kirop had suggested after the second Matoran attack. At first, Gavla personally thought it was ridiculous. One extra Matoran standing and watching for Rahi wasn’t going to help anyone and more importantly it was wasting work potential.
 +
 
 +
But, she admitted that they did spot Nui-Kopen regularly and she would rather know beforehand if they were going to charge.
 +
 
 +
Tanma approached the workers a few minutes later. He was recruiting for the departure today.
 +
 
 +
Gavla tried tilting her head slightly to hear what the Matoran was specifically asking the new guard, but the effort was unnecessary. Tanma spoke with her next.
 +
 
 +
“You’ve been drafted,” Tanma said with both sarcasm and a smile. “You don’t have to come with us, but Kirop does think you’ll help greatly.”
 +
 
 +
Gavla looked at him, studying his face. She didn’t reply and just shook her head. She had no reason to go.
 +
 
 +
She knew what he was thinking. Why her? Why the Matoran who rarely spoke and probably didn’t want to go in the first place? She was a good fighter. That was probably the only reason.
 +
 
 +
Personally, she wasn’t sure what to think of these Rahi. They were considered threat at the moment, but why they’d suddenly go hostile was beyond her. It was interesting though: Matoran being drafted in an army was the last thing anyone would have suspected.
 +
 
 +
''And her e [sic] we used to believe in all good and decency. Whatever that means.''
 +
 
 +
Gavla wanted all this to end. She didn’t enjoy Matoran being killed anymore then a Makuta being forced to become someone’s servant.
 +
 
 +
Why in the world did those Nui-Kopen decide to travel here anyway? Why cause all these problems?
 +
 
 +
Gavla looked around the village and towards the other stalactites in the distance.
 +
 
 +
''We ended up moving just like the Nui-Kopen did. And like them, we truly don’t belong here.''
 +
 
 +
Of course, the Av-Matoran had a better excuse. They didn’t plan any of the catastrophic events that took place five hundred years ago. Their population fell into the giant cave without any warning. They had left behind everything. Everything they had worked so hard to produce and care for ... gone in a moment.
 +
 
 +
And the Nui-Kopen? They had no excuse.
 +
 
 +
''Why leave everything behind anyway? Gavla asked herself, hardly caring. But then, she did begin to wonder; why would they leave behind their nest? Why would they leave their shelter, food, water and territory? Why would they even consider it?''
 +
 
 +
Then, her mind began to look through the eyes of a Nui-Kopen. What was it like for them?
 +
 
 +
“Photok!” She asked sharply to the orange Matoran.
 +
 
 +
“Yes? What do you need Gavla?” He snapped into position looking ready to serve, he even began to check the sky again, thinking perhaps she had caught something he hadn’t.
 +
 
 +
Hoping to just a get a straight answer. “Were there any lightvines near the Nui-Kopen nest?”
 +
 
 +
It took Photok only a few moments to remember.
 +
 
 +
“Well … we weren’t looking for lightvines, but I can say I did see a lot.” He paused for second [sic], “Yes. There were many. Why do you ask?”
 +
 
 +
Gavla remained silent, and stared out into the mist.
 +
 
 +
''We are wrong.''
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>***</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
Even as she ran towards village that held a surplus of lightvines, Gavla knew she was already too late. The group of Matoran set to launch were gone.
 +
 
 +
Remembering this was the village that contained the Nui-Kopen nest, the one that had taken the most beatings from the Rahi, only strengthened Gavla’s theory.
 +
 
 +
“Am I too late?” Gavla asked urgently to a near Matoran. He nodded.
 +
 
 +
“Yes. Sorry Gavla. You may be able to catch them on the way up though before they attack the nest.”
 +
 
 +
“The way up?”
 +
 
 +
“Kirop explained that they were going to venture down below the Nui-Kopen nest and come back up to attack it from the south. The entrance to the nest is on top, so they’ll be hidden longer.”
 +
 
 +
Gavla did the math. She might be able to stop them if she left now.
 +
 
 +
Activating the jetpack she wore, Gavla flew off the edge before her companion could ask what was wrong.
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>***</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
Kirop flew north along the rock with his small force. The mist was thick, but he was sure his direction was clear. Only a few more moments, and the nest should be in sight.
 +
 
 +
That moment came quickly.
 +
 
 +
“Charge up your weapons, strike fast.” Kirop called to the group. Hopefully only a few direct hits at the connected points would bring the whole nest down. It was still small.
 +
 
 +
He could see something ahead though. It was a sparkle, a small light that twinkled towards the nest like a falling star.
 +
 
 +
''Light energy from a Matoran. Why would he...''
 +
 
 +
Kirop found the answer. The blast of light was launched directly into the nest’s opening. Immediately the Nui-Kopen swarmed out, looking for their attacker. They were half blinded by the exposed energy.
 +
 
 +
Everyone in the squad knew it was impossible to follow through now. The danger was just too high.
 +
 
 +
With an anger that blazed, Kirop called a retreat. Their flight outmatched any Nui-Kopen’s.
 +
 
 +
And Kirop glanced down in anger as the lone Matoran in dark blue armor, flew away.
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>***</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
Kirop barged into Galva’s hut.
 +
 
 +
She was working once more.
 +
 
 +
“Why?” Kirop asked shortly. His voice failed to contain that small trace of fury that poured through his mind. He would make sure she listened to him this time.
 +
 
 +
For once, Gavla turned to look directly at him. He took it as a challenge.
 +
 
 +
“First,” Gavla explained calmly, holding up a hand, “Let me say that I had no choice. I wasn’t going to be able to warn you in time, so I had to stop your plan.”
 +
 
 +
“Stop. My. Plan. Why?!” His voice rose now, “Are you stupid enough to believe we won’t banish you for this? You placed lives at stake!”
 +
 
 +
Gavla’s ''[sic]'' gave him a look of rage.
 +
 
 +
“No. I protected lives. You were wrong, Kirop. Everyone was.”
 +
 
 +
“What are you talking about?”
 +
 
 +
Gavla looked on, studying the Av-Matoran. She was surprised just how much he hadn’t thought this through. Of course, none of them had.
 +
 
 +
“ScareRahi. That’s how all this started. We’ve been so intent on discovering how the ScareRahi failed to work, that we lost interest in the why they were even struck. Why did the Nui-Kopen attack them? Not just the Matoran - that was normal - but specifically them.”
 +
 
 +
Kirop waited as the Gavla continued. If she had any kind of statement, he’d let her speak it.
 +
 
 +
“Then I started to think about it. Why did those Nui-Kopen leave their nest, Kirop?”
 +
 
 +
The black armored Matoran shrugged.
 +
 
 +
“It was something we never discovered. Maybe it was food, or more likely predators. Swamp Stalkers I’d assume.” He replied easily.
 +
 
 +
She nodded.
 +
 
 +
“It is Swamp Stalkers. Photok told me that they had plenty of lightvines. So food wasn’t a problem. But still - that didn’t make sense. Plenty of Rahi fight against one another and never make drastic changes to their way of life. So I realized it’s a combination of both.”
 +
 
 +
“What do you mean?”
 +
 
 +
“Those Swamp Stalkers are tricky beings. They wait for hours, watching as their prey gets closer…” She rose and clamped her hands together, “before striking. That’s why the Nui-Kopen moved. They had no way to reach their food, Kirop. Swamp Stalkers would know that Nui-Kopen needed the lightvine’s energy.
 +
 
 +
“The attacks all happened around lightvine farms, remember?”
 +
 
 +
Kirop finally sat down, dazed. The pieces were falling into place. The Nui-Kopen slowly lose members of their nest, one by one. They are cut off from all food and have no way to attack their invisible defensive opponents. Their only option, is to move elsewhere.
 +
 
 +
“So when they attacked the ScareRahi that looked like Swamp Stalkers, it was a move of desperation.” Kirop theorized.
 +
 
 +
Gavla nodded. “That’s what I assume.”
 +
 
 +
“They weren’t expanding their territory…” Kirop started slowly.
 +
 
 +
“They’ve been running from it.” Gavla finished, “Just like we did.”
 +
 
 +
Kirop nodded in understanding. These Rahi were confused, angered and unsecure in their home, driven to attack others so they could live. But not out of contempt.
 +
It was fear.
 +
 
 +
An emotion any living being can feel.
 +
 
 +
The Av-Matoran leader immediately began making plans for these creatures. Maybe with the shift in Rahi migration, it would stop other Rahi from approaching the villages more often.
 +
 
 +
''We may have to move from that village. Maybe leave that stalactite alone for them with the lightvines.''
 +
 
 +
Kirop knew he could be rationalizing out of pity for the Rahi. Moving a whole village for just one group of Nui-Kopen seemed a bit extreme.
 +
 
 +
But what would have happened if they’d killed those Nui-Kopen? They were the only settlement the Av-Matoran knew of. Without them, who would support the Swamp Stalkers? Would that species die out as well?
 +
 
 +
What could they do to bring things back into the natural flow?
 +
 
 +
“I’ve been thinking.” Gavla spoke quietly, interrupting his thoughts, “I was thinking about all those times Matoran asked for help. All those stories of Matoran who were attacked by stronger forces and evil beings, those Matoran only did their job for Mata Nui. It was always their duty.
 +
 
 +
“And now, we come across beings that are in danger, and through a misunderstanding, we attack them, hardly caring. It makes me wonder how many times that’s happened before.”
 +
 
 +
Kirop winced at the thought and tried to defend the argument against the one who thought so darkly.
 +
 
 +
“It was a mistake. It won’t happen again Gavla.” He stood and looked directly at her, “We’ll find a solution for this problem.”
 +
 
 +
It was a promise.
 +
 
 +
She nodded, but didn’t answer.
 +
 
 +
Things aren’t always in shades of black and white, especially in a world of mist. Beings fought for control all across the universe. Beings of good and evil; sometimes neither could be trusted.
 +
 
 +
''Even Matoran of Light,'' She reflected sadly.
 +
 
 +
But that’s what it took to live sometimes. Fighting your way out. Catch or be caught. Beings coming to a point of desperation, their only thoughts are turned to survival.
 +
 
 +
And they will survive, even if it means losing all you stand for. All you care about.
 +
 
 +
With a shaky sigh, she hoped that never happened to her Matoran villagers. It would lead them to a dark place. One, perhaps, that was inescapable.
 +
 
 +
___
 +
 
 +
END
 +
 
 +
== Delaying the Inevitable, by The Smoke Monster {{C|[http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/2874-delaying-the-inevitable/ Original]}} ==
 +
 
 +
Delaying The Inevitable
 +
 
 +
By The Smoke Monster
 +
 
 +
Trinuma walked quickly through the halls of the Order of Mata Nui's fortress, not stopping for anything as he made his way to Toa Helryx's chambers. He had been going over the events that transpired during his last mission when Johmak informed him that Helryx, the leader of the organization, had requested his presence. She had remained silent about what the Toa of Water wanted with him, but from the tone in Johmak's voice, Trinuma could tell that it was urgent.
 +
 
 +
He, along with another agent with four arms, had just returned from the Southern Continent. There, the two agents had saved a Matoran village from being destroyed in a battle between three Dark Hunters and a dozen Visorak. The mission was almost blown when one of the agents was almost spotted by one of the Hunters. Thankfully, no other incidents occurred, but Trinuma couldn't help but think about this event, for it had put a thought into his head. One he had never had before.
 +
 
 +
Trinuma entered into Helryx's chambers and spotted the Order's leader looking over a newly craved tablet. To his surprise, Tobduk, a senior member of the Order, was also present. His typical look of rage could clearly be seen through his Kanohi Sanok.
 +
 
 +
''[sic]'' Why have I been summoned?" Trinuma asked Helryx. She took her gaze off of the tablet and looked at Trinuma. In her eyes, Trinuma could see anger and worry, fused together like two Kanoka disks about to be turned into a Kanohi Mask. She then walked up to him and showed him the tablet.
 +
 
 +
"A Maxilos robot found this tablet lying on the shoreline of the island." She explained. "It is from a group of beings that discovered Daxia. I know not whether it was an accident or on purpose, but I do know that they saw some of our members and other things they shouldn't have seen. They wrote down everything they witnessed on Daxia onto two tablets.”
 +
 
 +
Trinuma knew better than to ask who the group of beings were working with, whether it was the Hunters, Brotherhood, or just a group of travelers. If Helryx didn't tell him, then he didn't need to know.
 +
 
 +
Helryx walked away from Trinuma and placed the tablet she was holding onto her desk. "Thankfully," she went on. "all of the intruders were killed by Shallows Cats.”
 +
 
 +
Trinuma wasn't surprised by that. Shallows Cats, native to Daxia's shorelines, looked like beautiful, peaceful Rahi. But if one got too close, they would seize the victim and drown him in the ocean. Not even Order Members were safe from these felines.
 +
 
 +
Trinuma then noticed that something was missing. "Where is the other tablet?" he asked.
 +
 
 +
"The Maxilos robot that found the first tablet was sent to retrieve the other." Tobduk answered. "It hasn't returned.”
 +
 
 +
"That tablet cannot go into the wrong hands." Helryx said. "Even though I'm confident that Daxia's secrecy is secure, I still want that tablet, just to be safe.”
 +
 
 +
Trinuma could now guess why he had been called by Helryx. "So you want me to go search the island for the other tablet?”
 +
 
 +
"Not ''you,''" Tobduk corrected. “''We.''” ''[sic]''
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>**********</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
Trinuma and Tobduk left the fortress through it's ''[sic]'' southern exit point. The sky above was dotted with dark clouds, signaling that a storm was approaching. Neither of them noticed that it was coming. One didn't care about it, and the other was too distracted in thought to notice it.
 +
 
 +
Tobduk, seeing that Trinuma was lost in thought, slapped his partner in the shoulder.
 +
 
 +
"Hey!" Trinuma growled. "What was that for?”
 +
 
 +
"To get your attention, daydreamer." Tobduk replied. "Now listen, we can cover more ground if we split up. You check the east side of the island, while I check the west. Anything that might even resemble a threat, we kill.”
 +
 
 +
Trinuma smiled. "What, you expect me to be a merciful Ussal Crab?”
 +
 
 +
"Of course not." Tobduk said as he turned from Trinuma and began his march to Daxia's west side. "Merciful Order agents don't live long,…and ''[sic]'' you're still alive.”
 +
 
 +
Trinuma watched the other agent walk away, then he decided to began his search. He activated his kinetic weaponry, rose off the ground, turned to the East.
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>**********</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
Two hours had passed since Trinuma had begun his search. The dark clouds overhead didn't hinder his vision, but he couldn't find any signs indicating that the Maxilos robot had been on the east side of Daxia. Deciding to take a short brake, he floated to the ground and shut off his weapon. He saw a cliff nearby and walked to it. There, he gazed out at the forest and deserts of Daxia. He allowed himself to remember the thoughts he had back in the fortress. The thoughts about the war, and the Order's secrecy.
 +
 
 +
Roughly five hundred years ago, the Dark Hunters declared war on the Brotherhood of Makuta. Since then, both sides had been striking at each other at almost every place in the Universe. Battles had fought in islands as north as Xia, as south as Stelt, and everywhere in between. Toa, Matoran, and other species had been caught in the conflict. Many of them, especially Toa, had even been killed in these battles.
 +
 
 +
Unbeknownst to the two warring organizations, the Order of Mata Nui had been involved in the war. Order agents had participated in many of the bigger battles between the Hunters and Brotherhood. Many important lives had been saved thanks to the Order's efforts.
 +
 
 +
This was not bothering Trinuma, however. What bothered him was that, while participating in the war, the Order had remained in the background of the battles. The beings that created the Order vowed to tell no one of the organization's existence, unless it was necessary. They made this vow so that the Order could focus solely on serving the Great Spirit Mata Nui.
 +
 
 +
But Trinuma couldn't help but wonder if, perhaps, the Order could do more for Mata Nui if the organization existence's ''[sic]'' was known to the world. Sure, keeping the Order a secret from others had allowed it to perform actions that others would frown upon. Trinuma, however, couldn't help but feel that, if the Order was recognized, they could focus more on the war currently wrecking the universe.
 +
 
 +
"''Tobduk and I wouldn't have to hunt for some tablet to keep Order's secrecy safe if everyone knew about us.''" Trinuma thought. "''Then we could be more useful to those that need us.''”
 +
 
 +
Trinuma's musings were interrupted by the sight of something he recognized at the bottom of the cliff. Surprised by what he saw, he jumped off the cliff, activating his kinetic weaponry in midair to slow his fall. He landed gently next to the object in question. Yes, it was what he thought it to be.
 +
 
 +
"A Twin-Bladed Black Fire Sword." Trinuma said quietly to himself. This kind of sword was carried by Maxilos machines. This particular sword was broken in two, with one of it's blades missing. The nine foot tall being could tell that something had attacked the robot. Something monstrous.
 +
 
 +
Trinuma searched the area for the Maxilos' body. There was no sign of it. What he did find was drag marks on the ground next to the sword. They led away from the weapon and into the forest.
 +
 
 +
"''Whoever, or whatever, attacked the Maxilos dragged it away.''" Trinuma thought. Activating his weaponry once more, he rose off the ground and followed the drag marks. He pulled out his shield as he flew. He knew that he was going to have fight the creature that took the Maxilos, and only one of them would likely survive.
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>**********</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
Trinuma followed the trail for at least a mile. Just when he was about to give up, he found the Maxilos' Cordak Blaster. It had what appeared to be bite marks and scratches slashed into it. The scarred weapon made the agent more hesitant, but at least he knew he was on the right trail.
 +
 
 +
Soon after, Trinuma arrived at the end of the trail. The area he was now in was a rocky field with a few small hills made of rock dotting it. There was no forest, or any vegetation, that could be seen in the area. What Trinuma did see was the Maxilos robot lying in the entrance to a nearby cave in one of the rock hills. Even thought he was about hundred feet away from the machine, he could see dents, cracks, and gaping holes in it's armor. Trinuma also saw the second tablet, there in the grip of the wrecked Maxilos' right hand!
 +
 
 +
Trinuma began to fly towards the robot. He hadn't made it ten feet when he heard a cry come form his left. A cry that sounded like a mix between a hiss and a growl. A cry that would even make a Makuta tremble. A cry he knew all too well.
 +
 
 +
Trinuma barely turned his head, already knowing the Rahi's identity, when the Shallows Cat slammed into him in midair. The agent crashed in the rocky ground like a meteor and slid on the rocky surface. The blow was so strong on impact that he lost his grip on both his weapons. He slid about twenty five feet away from them before he stopped.
 +
 
 +
As soon as he could, Trinuma jumped to his feet. He was slightly dazed by the surprise attack, but otherwise okay. The Shallows Cat growled at him again as it slowly circled the agent. The tan-colored Rahi was seven feet tall. It was armed with three claws on each of it paws. It also had a jaw full of razor sharp teeth.
 +
 
 +
There was one thing different about this Shallows Cat than the others of it's kind. This particular specimen was covered in mud and dirt. It was not beautiful or sleek like other Shallows Cats, but instead it was hideous to look upon. Trinuma hadn't the slightest clue as to why this Rahi, normally found on Daxia's shorelines, was doing this far inland.
 +
 
 +
The Rahi stopped walking as it placed itself between Trinuma and the Maxilos. Trinuma could guess that this feline had brought down the robot. He activated his Kanohi Mask of Charisma. He attempted to convince the Rahi that it should let him approach the Maxilos behind it. He expected it to comply with him. Instead, the feline charged straight towards him. The agent barely dove out of the Shallows Cat's path as the feline tried to attack him.
 +
 
 +
The monstrous Rahi pursued after it's new prey. Trinuma responded by firing his twin Ghost Blasters at his attacker. The Rahi simply slashed through the projectiles and continued it's attack.
 +
 
 +
Trinuma didn't understand it. Why would a Shallows Cat be so far away from the shoreline? Why would it allow itself to become so dirty? And why did it think that the Maxilos was it's dinner? As he dodged the Rahi again and fired more shots from his Ghost Blasters, forcing the cat to back away temporarily, the answer came to him. It sent a chill down his back.
 +
 
 +
"''Deranged.''" he thought, horrified by the revelation.
 +
 
 +
"''It's deranged!''" Trinuma took a few steps away from the Rahi. Only a long conversation with Botar was worse than facing an insane Shallows Cat.
 +
 
 +
Behind his mask, Trinuma's eyes glanced to the left. He could see his weapons nearby. With them, he had a chance. Without them, he would share the fate of the Maxilos robot. Deciding that it would be better to die with his weapons in his hands, he bolted to them. The Shallows Cat bolted as well. Both of them ran as fast as their legs could take them. One ran for his life, the other for it's meal.
 +
 
 +
Trinuma made it to his weapons just as the feline reached him. It's jaws were wide open. Trinuma grabbed his shield and lodged it into the Rahi's mouth, robbing it of the ability to close it. The agent then grabbed his kinetic weapon and fired it at his attacker, knocking it onto it's side.The Shallows Cat wasn't out for the count yet. It spat Trinuma's shield out of its jaw and advanced on the agent, moving faster than ever before. Trinuma tried to fly away from the Rahi, but he wasn't fast enough. The feline jumped after him and grabbed him by his lower left leg. Trinuma, unable to fly with the added weight, was pulled down by the Rahi and slammed back firstinto the hard, rocky ground.
 +
 
 +
Trinuma was too stunned to get back up. The Shallows Cat jumped on top of him and raised it’s ''[sic]'' paw over his neck. Before the Rahi could finish him off, a beam of energy stuck the feline. The beam forced the Shallows Cat off of Trinuma as it incinerated the Rahi. Ten seconds later, the Rahi was nothing more than atoms.
 +
 
 +
Trinuma weakly turned his head and saw Tobduk standing nearby, his staff aimed at the spot where the Shallows Cat had been a moment ago. The senior agent then turned and walked towards the ruined Maxilos machine. He put his staff away as he reached his target. Almost casually, he pried the tablet out of the Maxilos' dead grip. He turned to Trinuma as the stunned agent was slowly rising to his feet.
 +
 
 +
"This is no time to be lying down, Trinuma." Tobduk said, almost mockingly.
 +
 
 +
"What do you think I'm doing? Taking a nap?" Trinuma asked, frustration in his voice.
 +
 
 +
Tobduk shrugged. "Now that we have the tablet, we had better get back before Helryx thinks we're dead. Follow me.”
 +
 
 +
Tablet in hand, the two agents began to walk back to their secret fortress.
 +
 
 +
"And you're welcome for saving your life." Tobduk mumbled to Trinuma along the way.
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>**********</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
Helryx said nothing as Trinuma and Tobduk explained to her everything that had happen to them on their quest. She said nothing until they were finished.
 +
 
 +
"Good job." she said to them after they were done talking. "I will find out who the group of beings were, and what they were up to. But for now, Daxia's secrecy has been kept safe thanks to you two.”
 +
 
 +
"For how long?”
 +
 
 +
Helryx turned to Trinuma. He stared at her, his face unreadable to her.
 +
 
 +
"How long?" he quietly repeated. "How long will we keep ourselves a secret, and allow the Dark Hunters and Brotherhood of Makuta to destroy our universe? How long will we stand by and allow Toa and Matoran to die? How long will we put the Order's secrecy above the lives of innocent people?”
 +
 
 +
"As long as Mata Nui requires us too ''[sic]''.“ Helryx said, angry at Trinuma for questioning what the Order's creators vowed at the beginning of the universe.
 +
 
 +
"I understand why we keep ourselves a secret. I do." Trinuma went on. "But have you ever wondered if we could do more for Mata Nui by revealing ourselves to this war-torn world? Perhaps, if everyone knew of us, we could focus more on the will of the Great Spirit, and not wasting time hiding ourselves from everyone.”
 +
 
 +
Trinuma took a step forward. "Have you ever wondered about that, Helryx?”
 +
 
 +
The Toa of Water said nothing. Trinuma expected her to yell at him about how important the Order's secrecy was to do Mata Nui's will. Instead, she walked calmly to her desk and sat in her chair.
 +
 
 +
"Ask me again when the war between the Hunters and Brotherhood is over." She simply said. She then told Trinuma and Tobduk to leave her chambers. Trinuma left, his questions still planted in his mind. He wondered if he would ever get the answer to them.
 +
 
 +
It would be five hundred years after these events before the Order of Mata Nui revealed itself to the universe. It would be a time where Toa were few, the universe would be on the brink of destruction, and, most importantly, when Mata Nui needed them the most.
 +
 
 +
== Deep Shadows, by The First Speaker {{C|[http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/3085-deep-shadows-winner-of-atyu-2-karzahni-category/ Original]}} ==
 +
 
 +
DEEP SHADOWS
 +
 
 +
A cold breeze blew onto the cliffs of Odina. A Dark Hunter, Devastator, was overlooking the sea from them. Just a few minutes ago a fleet of Dark Hunter ships had sailed away to battle the Brotherhood of Makuta forces. Since the leader of the Makuta, Teridax, had dared to kill two Dark Hunters, they were in war. The Brotherhood was strong, but Devastator was confident that they would win. He then walked to the fortress’ main entrance. Just as he walked in, a green figure materialized at his side. It was Zaktan, a Skakdi who had rebelled against the Shadowed One some time ago. Though Devastator considered himself a being of extreme power, the presence of Zaktan, who had survived the Shadowed One’s wrath, always disturbed him.
 +
 
 +
“The Shadowed One wants to see you.”
 +
 
 +
Then Zaktan’s protodites formed a green cloud, and flew somewhere else in the island. He continued his walk, and came through many corridors. Zaktan had told the truth, as the Shadowed One had made the passages shift so Devastator just had to walk forward to find the throne room. However, the center of the fortress was still far from his position. He walked past many storage rooms, and saw Savage going mad in his containment cell. Finally, he arrived at his destination. Devastator bowed, and then stood up from the ground. As usual, the Recorder was prepared to write down on a tablet everything that the Shadowed One said, and Darkness stood behind the leader watching over him.
 +
 
 +
“Devastator, do you come from Karzahni, right?” ''[sic]''
 +
 
 +
“Yes, my lord.”
 +
 
 +
“I’ve heard rumors that a Matoran who had a scroll with our battle plans for the war against the Makuta has wandered into your homeland.”
 +
 
 +
“I’ll kill that Matoran gladly, if that is what you wish.”
 +
 
 +
“No, Devastator, it won’t be necessary. The Matoran is already dead, but we have heard that another Matoran of Karzahni, who I like to call ‘Builder’, has found those plans. Your mission is to go to Karzahni, find the plans, and destroy them.”
 +
 
 +
“I understood, sir.”
 +
 
 +
“Alright then, you are going there alone; you have the weapons you will need in the boat that you will use.”
 +
 
 +
“I am going alone?” ''[sic]''
 +
 
 +
“Yes. We don’t want Karzahni to turn his attention to the world outside his island. You are going alone, because if Karzahni discovers you, he will think that you have just been hiding all this years. Do you have any objections?”
 +
 
 +
“No sir.”
 +
 
 +
And with that, he went out of the throne room.
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>***</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
A Matoran of Lightning watched as a storm raged in the sea in front of the coast of Karzahni. She had seen an abandoned boat in the beach were she was. Though it had been a long time since she arrived to Karzahni, she had been one of the last Matoran to arrive there, and she hadn’t lost completely her personality. Many Matoran, specially the ones that had been there way more time than her, were just workers covered in dust, with nothing that could identify them from the others except for that each had a different Kanohi and armor color. She didn’t want to end up like them. The boat was her chance of escaping, and she would not hesitate in using it. She climbed on the boat, and saw that it was made of high quality protodermis. Whoever had abandoned it had a high status. The boat was also full of weapons and other strange artifacts. And the strangest of all, there was some sand on the floor of the boat. She though that it had arrived there brought by the winds of the storm, and then she walked away to the rudder. However, when she turned, she saw the sand in the floor of the boat shifting, and forming a tall, armored figure. And that figure smashed its fist on her Kanohi, and she fell to the shallow waters, as her vision blacked out…
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>***</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
Devastator got out of his ship. He didn’t have any qualms when the situation demanded killing Matoran. He had also been a slave in Karzahni, and he didn’t have any compassion with them. The landscape hadn’t changed a bit since he was recruited into the Dark Hunters and he abandoned that island. The skies rained fire. Grey clouds filled the sky, and lightning bolts fell all day, though the thunder made no sound. He had to find Builder, an insane Matoran that was working somewhere in the island. After some time walking, he came by a group of poorly build huts. He smashed the door of one, and found Builder inside. He had been lucky.
 +
 
 +
“What do y-you want?”
 +
 
 +
“Where is the scroll?”
 +
 
 +
“W-what scroll?”
 +
 
 +
“You won’t fool me. Show me that scroll or I’ll tear your only good leg apart!”
 +
 
 +
“O-ok. I remember now. It’s hi-hidden in a canyon no-north west of here.”
 +
 
 +
“You are coming with me.”
 +
 
 +
The pair walked for a long while, until they arrived at the canyon. While a heavy fog covered the zone, the heat was suffocating. The trip through the canyon was long and silent. After half an hour, they reached what seemed the wall that ended the canyon.
 +
 
 +
“Are you sure that there is a scroll here?”
 +
 
 +
When Devastator turned, there was nobody in sight. The Matoran had tricked him. He began to run in the direction in which he had come, but he was stopped by a claw. The fog cleared, and Devastator then saw his situation. He was cornered in the dead end of the canyon by a group of Manas.
 +
 
 +
Devastator used his mental powers to throw one of the Manas away. The other ones noticed this, and in a moment he found himself attacked by the whole group of Manas at the same time. Devastator turned to sand, and escaped the lethal sting of their claws. Using his telekinetic powers once more, he began to throw rocks from the canyon’s walls. He expected to have finished them all, but out of the rocks every one of them rose. However, the Manas didn’t advance any further. They slowly retreated to the walls of the canyon, and then he heard the sound of a massive body advancing through the canyon. The grunt of the beast echoed, and finally it went out of the fog. Devastator was impressed by the sight. There, in front of him, stood the dreaded Mana-Ko. He had only heard about it in legends, and legends told that it was one of the most fearful creations of the Makuta. The Mana-Ko had strong, muscular arms, a solid body and powerful claws. Devastator mentally threw two Manas at the Mana-Ko, but a disintegration blast from the beast ended with them. Nothing could deter the Mana-Ko’s advance. It shoot its disintegration power again, and the rock wall of the canyon fell onto the Dark Hunter. Devastator, pinned at the ground by the rocks, could do nothing as the Mana-Ko adavanced ''[sic]'' on him, and he lost consciousness.
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>***</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
Devastator slowly awoke, and saw that he was no more in the canyon. The Manas and the Mana-Ko were gone. He violently shook in his chains in a desperate attempt to free himself. He still didn’t remember how he was captured. It didn’t matter, as now he was chained to a wall and in front of him was his enemy, former ruler and the tormenter in his nightmares. There, clad in a purple and green armor, was Karzahni, the insane tyrant of the island. He hadn’t changed since the last time he had seen him. His mask still looked like four Kanohi patched together, he still had his chain weapons, but worst of all, Karzahni still was as insane as always, if not more. He was chained to a wall of the Hall of Satues, [sic] one of Karzahni’s favorite places in his realm. It was a hallway leading to his fortress, and at the sides of the road there were petrified Matoran, their faces still with the same horror expression as the day that they had been turned to stone.
 +
 
 +
“Don’t try to escape, my dear...”
 +
 
 +
“Don’t even dare to say my name. I left that identity long ago, forgotten in the fog of the past. Now I am Devastator, one of the most powerful beings in the universe, and your death sentence.”
 +
 
 +
“Well. Then, Devastator, do you know why are you here?”
 +
 
 +
“You want to take revenge on me because I’ve been hiding out all this years.”
 +
 
 +
“I guess that your mental powers are more developed then your ability to lie. I, my realm and my Matoran slaves have been sealed of ''[sic]'' the outside world for thousands of years, but I’m not stupid. I’ve been all my life here, but I know that there is a world, an entire world, outside the barriers that limit my land. I haven’t known anything about that universe since the turaga stopped sending me their Matoran. And you haven’t been hiding out, Devastator. You have contacted with the outsider beings, you have lived in the outside world. A world I swear to conquer.”
 +
 
 +
“And where do I enter in your plans?”
 +
 
 +
“Haven’t you yet understood? If I attack this universe now, I’ll be quickly defeated by an invisible opponent.”
 +
 
 +
“I don’t think an opponent like that exists.”
 +
 
 +
“It does, and it’s called ignorance. I have no knowledge of anything outside Karzahni except for what some slaves had told me and for my experience with my brother, Artakha. To invade the universe I need to know what their forces are, their leaders, their weakness… and the best way to strike them.”
 +
 
 +
Devastator tried to pull himself out of the chains, but to no result. Those chains were as strong as Makuta armor. He should delay Karzahni until he had weakened the chains enough.
 +
“You could have interrogated any of your Matoran slaves.”
 +
 
 +
“It wouldn’t be of much use. The Matoran fear me, and their mind has been twisted after being imprisoned so many years in this land. That’s why I needed someone who had recently been in the outside world, someone who had been involved in an organization. That’s why I brought you here.”
 +
 
 +
“You didn’t. I came here because someone else ordered me to do so.”
 +
 
 +
“I did. And it wasn’t easy. First, I had to convince one of my Matoran to carry out a dangerous mission. He had to go to the outside world, and spread word that a Matoran in my realm had a scroll with the battle plans of your organization. Of course, that scroll has never existed. I knew that after doing his job the Matoran wouldn’t return here, so I promised him freedom, and before he left I poisoned him. He should be dead by now. After that, it was sure that your leader, who has eyes and ears spread everywhere in the universe, would soon notice this rumor. And, assuming that you hadn’t got killed before, I was sure that the leader would choose you to come here and destroy the scroll. After all, who could do better a mission regarding Karzahni than someone who was originated from it? Before you arrived, I also had to prepare my Matoran. I told them that you were returning, and that your return would mean that they would have to work as twice as hard as they use to. They quickly agreed to collaborate to eliminate you, and they were ordered to bring you to the dead end of a canyon, where the Manas could capture you. I see that one of them did a good job into this. After that I only had to bring you here, and extract all the information of you that I could get.”
 +
 
 +
Before Karzahni could say anything else, Devastator pulled the strength of his muscles to the extreme, and fell on the ground. His hands were still tied by the chains, and he was dragging a portion of the wall with him.
 +
 
 +
“That is how you pretend to fight me? Bringing down walls?”
 +
 
 +
Devastator didn’t think about his actions twice. With much effort, he rose from the ground, and smashed the portion of the wall at Karzahni’s Kanohi. The tyrant of the realm hadn’t expected the attack, and flew towards a statue, breaking it to pieces. Devastator used his telekinetic powers to destroy his chains. A dust cloud had risen, and Devastator stood silent in his position. He started to walk away, but suddenly a chain flew through the air, and gripped Devastator’s neck. He desperately tried to break the chain with his hands, but then it began to burn. He had to pull his hands apart from the chain, but the chain was still burning and he couldn’t get it off of his neck. Finally, the chain dropped, and Devastator fell to the floor, screaming in agony.
 +
 
 +
“You’ve dared to confront me. You’ve dared to break my law. You’ve dared to attack me. You are going to have a slow and painful death.”
 +
 
 +
The dust cloud finally cleared, and Devastator could see Karzahni with a maniacal grin staring at him. He turned his body into sand, and concealed himself with the dust of the ground. Karzahni quickly trampled the ground in front of him, but then he felt a fist smashing in his back. Karzahni turned, and saw Devastator, whose rage seemed to spark from his red eyes.
 +
 
 +
Karzahni raised his chain again, but Devastator flung the titan with his telekinetic powers to a nearby wall. He then ran to Karzahni, and punched the tyrant in the face. The wall that Devastator had smashed was from a factory, and the Matoran, upon seeing the battle, ran away. Devastator continued punching Karzahni, but then he reached his flaming chains and slashed them at Devastator’s back. Devastator grunted, and using the distraction, Karzahni threw him away. He fell onto the roof of a storage room, and Devastator’s weight combined with the force of the impact brought it down. Devastator got to his feet, and when he tried to smash the door, he had to pull his hand off in a moment, as the metal was burning. Karzahni was using his chain once more. However, he transmuted himself again into sand, and got out of the storage room through the hole at the roof. He rematerialized himself again once he was at the floor, and threw himself to Karzahni. The insane ruler repelled the attack by punching Devastator in the face, and the Dark Hunter fell on the floor.
 +
 
 +
“Here we are again. No matter what you do, no matter what you try. You are doomed, Devastator.”
 +
 
 +
“You’ve won this time, Karzahni, and you’ve failed at the same time. You have defeated me, but you haven’t accomplished your goal. I won’t tell you anything.”
 +
 
 +
Karzahni threw his flaming chains at Devastator, only for him to transmute to sand again and fly away. He tried to grab the dust cloud with the chain, but Devastator escaped.
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>***</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
Now in his boat, Devastator sailed away. He had been defeated, but he had accomplished his mission. Though he was already far from the nightmare island, he still had his mind there. One day, he would return, and take revenge on Karzahni. But that were future plans. For now, he had to fight against the Brotherhood of Makuta. The war between them and the Dark Hunters was still raging, and at the moment it was more important than the ancient ruler of a forgotten island.
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>***</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
A twisted Matoran was working on something important. It was told that on every island of the universe, six toa canisters had to be built to remember the legend of the Toa Mata. He had already built three, and was in the process of building the fourth. He wondered if someday he would have the chance to be free. Maybe someday a group of Matoran would wander into his land, and could offer him a chance of freedom. And most important of all, if that day arrived, would he be prepared to leave? But he had no hope of that happening. After all, why would a group of Matoran wander into Karzahni, the land of the dead?
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>***</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
Karzahni sat in his throne. He had been planning Devastator’s arrival for a long time, and his plan had failed. The Dark Hunter had escaped before he could have extracted any information from him. So he should have to wait, until someone fool enough dared to step foot on his realm… and when that day arrived, he would make sure to acquire all knowledge that he could, and then he would start universal conquest. And he would take revenge of the turaga that had decided to stop sending Matoran to his realm, to Artakha and his realm of light and to Devastator. But at the moment, he would have to wait, and continue his despotic rule over his island. Dark times lay ahead, but his time would arrive, and everybody would remember his name again, and they would whisper it with fear.
 +
 
 +
== Crystal Knowledge, by LewaLew {{C|[http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/2869-crystal-knowledge-atyu-2-winner-xiadestral/ Original]}} ==
 +
 
 +
Roodaka glared into the eyes of the frightened Vortixx in front of her. This was an interrogation in her investigation of some rumors that had appeared on Xia. Just a few years ago, she had been found by the Dark Hunter known as Tracker—the first being to have discovered she was alive since her Queen’s Gambit in the aftermath of the Battle of the Metru Nui Coliseum, when she supposedly sacrificed herself to free the Makuta of Metru Nui. Since then, she had been performing missions in the Dark Hunter/Brotherhood of Makuta War as a double agent. Both sides believed they held her allegiance, but both were deceived.
 +
 
 +
In more recent days, she had been assigned to a specific mission on her home island. A Dark Hunter had been found prowling in the shadows of Xia’s factories. After a very brief stage of questioning, the Makuta of Xia, Antroz, discovered that this Dark Hunter was searching for a supposed set of blueprints and historical records that detailed the complex and mysterious technology that gave the island of Destral the ability to teleport throughout the universe, and information on the long-defunct League of Six Kingdoms.
 +
 
 +
“We had heard,” the Dark Hunter had told Antroz, “that the ancient ruler of this area, Pridak, had discovered the Brotherhood’s teleportation system, and had wanted the Vortixx to recreate it using a set of plans he had hidden here. I was sent to find the historical records, and found a memory crystal created by Ko-Matoran seers almost 90,000 years ago, which we found held a complete prophecy—not a historical record—of the League’s achievements and plans, including Pridak's discovery of Destral's technology. I was then told to pass it on to a certain Vortixx—”
 +
The Dark Hunter’s tale abruptly ended as the Dark Hunter codenamed Guardian eradicated the breach in Dark Hunter security. Antroz and his Rahkshi would have been able to capture Guardian, but unfortunately, he was accompanied by Eliminator, whose power code 283 Kanoka allowed the two of them to escape along with the body of their loose-lipped former coworker before any blow could be struck. Yet despite the informant’s death, the damage had been done, and the Brotherhood went into action.
 +
 
 +
Makuta Antroz then sent a telepathic message to the Makuta of Metru Nui, who was stationed in a remote Brotherhood outpost called Mangaia. The Brotherhood leader then ordered Antroz to assign Roodaka to the task, along with several Rahkshi of Heat Vision. Roodaka also requested a gold Rahkshi of Weather Control to control Xia’s smog to shroud her group, and a light purple Rahkshi of Telepathy to find the Vortixx that the now-deceased Dark Hunter had mentioned before his death at the claws of Guardian.
 +
 
 +
Her plan had succeeded so far, since the Rahkshi of Telepathy had found a Vortixx making an inconspicuous deal with a Matoran trader. Unfortunately for the Vortixx, the Rahkshi decided to mentally listen in on the Vortixx’s thoughts, and learned that she was the Vortixx that the Dark Hunter referred to. Within a few seconds, the Matoran trader was killed by heat vision on suspicion, while the Vortixx was captured and brought to Roodaka.
 +
 
 +
And those were the events that brought them to the present moment—Roodaka pacing back and forth, questioning one of her cowering sisters.
 +
“So, my friend,” Roodaka said calmly, “would you please begin with the mission you accepted from the Dark Hunter?”
 +
 
 +
“I—I didn’t know he was a Dark Hunter.” The Vortixx replied, stuttering. “I thought he was just a customer. He asked me if he could purchase a crate of Impact Crystal Launchers. I was about to press him for a higher price, but he then offered to pay extra if I would give the shipment to a certain Matoran trader who would arrive later, and if I would place a crystal he had in one of the launchers. It looked identical to all the other crystals, and I wasn’t sure why he wanted it in one of the launchers, but I was getting a good profit, so I didn’t care.”
 +
 
 +
“Congratulations on an excellent deal.” Roodaka said mockingly before adding, “Or at least it would have been if it hadn’t been with a Dark Hunter on a Brotherhood controlled island.” Roodaka smiled. “You are a smart businesswoman. You know how to heighten your wealth and power—how to gain favor on the island of Xia. Unfortunately,” Roodaka said, pointing at the Vortixx before her, “so do I.”
 +
 
 +
Roodaka’s Rahkshi simultaneously fired their beams of heat vision, and the Vortixx suffered the same fate the Matoran at the docks did. Roodaka then turned to the light purple-armored Rahkshi in her group. “You,” she said strongly, “lead us to the docks where you found this Vortixx. We need to confiscate those Impact Crystal Launchers. That knowledge crystal she referred to is the memory crystal. It seems Frost Beetles aren’t the only living things that get the two confused.”
 +
 
 +
The Rahkshi nodded his head, and the entire group of them aligned themselves into a V-formation, while Roodaka mounted a Vortixx-sized, Xian-made version of the Moto-Sled, basedupon the original Matoran-sized design developed by Nuparu. Within seconds, they were off, flying towards the docks of Xia.
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>***</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
Thirty minutes or so later they landed on the roof of a building above the docks to see a pair of Dark Hunters tearing apart various crates, but according to the Rahkshi of Telepathy, they had not yet touched the crate with the Impact Crystal Launchers. Upon a closer look, she recognized them as the same Dark Hunters who had killed their former comrade, Eliminator and Guardian. Apparently, since that Dark Hunter was both incompetent and a breach in Dark Hunter security, both Guardian and Eliminator were on this mission, and all they had left to do was find the memory crystal and leave for Odina. Unfortunately for them, Roodaka wasn’t going to let them off easily. She gestured towards the gold Rahkshi and had it manipulate the smog of the island to blind the Dark Hunters. She then quietly walked back to her Moto-Sled and took out a Vortixx Rhotuka Battle Axe. She then walked to the edge of the building, and she, along with her Rahkshi, attacked.
 +
 
 +
As she charged towards the cloud of smog, however, a huge claw swung out and knocked her to the ground as the two Dark Hunters tore out of the smog. Eliminator stared towards Roodaka and gave a chuckle. “You really don’t have to try so hard to convince your superiors that you’re actually fighting us, double agent.” Eliminator laughed once more before a combination of the energy from a Freeze Kanoka, a teleportation Kanoka, and a Weaken Kanoka lanced out from his fingertips in lightning form, quickly disposing of an advancing yellow Rahkshi.
 +
 
 +
“I would do so gladly,” Roodaka said as she picked up her axe again, firing the Rhotuka at Eliminator, “were I on your side.”
 +
 
 +
Eliminator nimbly rolled out of the way of the mutation Rhotuka, while charging up a blast of Reconstitute at Random Kanoka and firing it at Roodaka. He then quipped, “That won’t help your standing with the Shadowed One, you know—fighting his hunters and all.”
 +
 
 +
Roodaka showed her own agility and treachery as she yanked one of her Rahkshi out of the fray and placed it in between herself and Eliminator’s blast. She then threw the rapidly transforming creature into the water nearby. “I think it will.” was her short reply. “Trust me, you’ll see.”
 +
 
 +
“Trusting you, Roodaka,” said Guardian, “is almost as dangerous as opposing the Shadowed One, so I suggest you let us grab the memory crystal and leave, crushing your Rahkshi and leaving you miraculously unscathed.” He finished his statement with a swing of his staff towards the Vortixx, which was promptly parried by her battle axe.
 +
 
 +
“I’m afraid I have different plans, Guardian—ones that will involve your failure and my success in satisfying both sides of the war.” Roodaka said as she heated the edges of her battle axe and swung it towards Guardian, shearing the shaft in half.
 +
 
 +
Eliminator came to his ally’s aid at that moment, using his long leg to knock the smaller Roodaka to the ground. Eliminator and Guardian then powered up their Kanoka energy and Rhotuka staff, respectively, in an effort to pacify Roodaka’s resistance, after which, they would finish off the Rahkshi, which had already dwindled in number to five yellow Rahkshi. The light purple Rahkshi’s Kraata had been buried along with its armor underneath a pile of stone and dirt, thanks to one of Guardian’s Rhotuka, and the gold Rahkshi of weather control had vanished, probably struck by the power of Eliminator's Teleportation Kanoka. Despite the ten or so heat vision beams, the Dark Hunters continued to focus on Roodaka……
 +
 
 +
Until they were knocked off their feet by a monster wind. The gold Rahkshi reappeared, its armor in shreds, but still functional, with powerful storm winds careening from its Staff of Weather Control. It hopped down from the building, and helped Roodaka to her feet, but was suddenly dragged under the water. Shortly afterwards, Eliminator and Guardian began pulling themselves out, while Guardian crushed the writhing Lemon and Dark Gray metallic Kraata, which had been creating a heavy rain over the section of the docks Guardian and Eliminator were trying to climb up on, making a completely ungraspable, soaked surface.
 +
 
 +
Roodaka commanded three of the remaining Rahkshi to hold off Guardian and Eliminator, while the other two Rahkshi and Roodaka dashed over to the box where the scorched light purple Rahkshi armor laid. Roodaka swiftly hefted up her Vortixx Rhotuka Battle Axe and tore the lid off, and began tearing crystals out of Impact Crystal Launchers, willing them to unleash their information in case one of them was the memory crystal.
 +
 
 +
Suddenly, she heard a set of loud crunches, followed by some loud screeches cut short. She glanced back to see the Dark Hunters climbing out of the water and tearing apart what was left of the yellow Rahkshi armor. Thinking quickly, she reloaded one of the launchers and fired it several times at Eliminator, who was approaching the fastest. Within seconds, a miniature Knowledge Tower enveloped him, leaving only Guardian.
 +
 
 +
Roodaka tossed away the empty Launcher and picked up her Battle Axe again. “Go,” she said, gesturing to the two remaining Rahkshi, “take that to the nearest Brotherhood airship using this.” Roodaka tossed one of the Rahkshi a Tablet of Transit, and they were soon off, flying to one of Xia’s airship ports with the crate. Meanwhile, however, Roodaka would have to deal with Guardian.
 +
 
 +
“You shouldn’t have interfered, Roodaka!” Guardian yelled, swinging his staff towards her head. She parried, but he simply drew his staff back and continued to advance, while also beginning to attack with his claws. Yet through the entire onslaught, Roodaka’s Axe managed to prevent any of his blows from landing. Then, as Guardian was drawing back for another strike, Roodaka jumped to the side, towards and over the water, hooking her axe around one of the dock’s posts. She used her momentum to swing behind Guardian and struck a hard blow to his back with her battle axe.
 +
 
 +
As Guardian pulled himself back up, Roodaka ran to the side of the building that her moto-sled was on top of. In spite of using her axe to help her scale the building, Guardian was able to catch up quickly, using his deadly claws to climb. While a few bio from the top, Roodaka found herself under attack once more by Guardian, who was now firing his Rhotuka at her. Quickly, she intercepted the attacks with her axe, using its heating function to melt through the stone and earth created by Guardian’s Rhotuka spinners.
 +
 
 +
Realizing that his attack would not work, Guardian jumped up and grabbed the shaft of her Rhotuka Battle Axe, at which point he would have grasped the wall with his claws and started attacking again……
 +
 
 +
If Roodaka had not chosen to let go of the axe at that point.
 +
 
 +
Guardian tumbled down the side of the building with Roodaka’s Vortixx Rhotuka Battle Axe, being crushed underneath its weight and going unconscious, although to all watching he would have looked dead. Meanwhile, Roodaka mounted her Moto-Sled and took off towards the airship port. The battle was over, and Makuta Antroz, who was watching from one of the other buildings up above, was satisfied. He then telepathically reported to Teridax.
 +
 
 +
Our suspicions seem to be incorrect, Teridax. Roodaka got the memory crystal to one of our airships and felled two Dark Hunters on the docks. The only thing we can be dissatisfied for was that she did not kill either of the Dark Hunters. Nonetheless, her mission is accomplished.
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>***</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
“Why did you do that?” Guardian said harshly, half-prepared to grab Roodaka and slam her through the docks, had she not bound his hands behind his back with a Xian-made pair of protosteel shackles, to prevent Guardian from acting on his emotions—mainly his angry emotions.
 +
 
 +
“That’s what I’d like to know too.” said Eliminator, who was picking shards of Knowledge Crystal out of his armor. “And I still don’t see how that’s going to improve your standing with the Shadowed One.”
 +
 
 +
“Don’t you think,” Roodaka said, remounting her Moto-Sled, “that the Shadowed One would be a little disappointed if the misinformation did not reach Destral?”
 +
“Pardon me?” Guardian asked. “Misinformation?”
 +
 
 +
“Of course. There was never any information on the League of Six Kingdoms or the technology Destral uses to teleport. It was simply the Shadowed One’s ruse to get the Brotherhood to set up their defenses so that the Dark Hunters could gain an advantage in the war.” Roodaka unlocked the shackles from Guardian’s hands.
 +
 
 +
“And why didn’t he tell us?” Guardian asked, rubbing his wrists. “It would have really helped.”
 +
 
 +
“It would have also bungled up the mission. We had to make it look realistic, you know.” Roodaka said. “The Brotherhood has been holding suspicions of my loyalty, and so I thought it would be best if we killed two birds with one stone.”
 +
 
 +
“Well,” replied Eliminator. “All I’m worried about is that we were fighting our heartlights out and yet neither of us achieved our goal. That puts us in the category of Dark Hunters that I usually hunt down.”
 +
 
 +
“Not me,” Guardian said, readying his claws. “From what you’ve said, it sounds as if we were supposed to know. And that you were supposed to tell us.”
 +
 
 +
“I just did, didn’t I?” Roodaka asked, smiling. “Don’t worry. When I tell the Shadowed One of this mission’s success and your marvelous performance, your failure in defeating a few Rahkshi and a Vortixx never have [sic] to be revealed—and the fact that I did not tell you until now will also be unnecessary to mention in that case, yes?”
 +
 
 +
The two Dark Hunters simply scowled.
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>***</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
''Something is afoot with Roodaka, Antroz. Either her or the Shadowed One.''
 +
 
 +
''I know, Teridax. It is very unlike her not to kill anyone she deems weaker than herself—as she demonstrated by allowing the Dark Hunters to live. Stranger still is the fact that the Shadowed One does not seem to have killed them either. Guardian recently killed two Dark Hunters that were captured in a sea battle near Zakaz and Stelt recently.''
 +
 
 +
''Roodaka, she has reported?''
 +
 
 +
''Yes. She said there was something she wanted to say about the information the Dark Hunter’s memory crystal. The one with their strategies stored inside.''
 +
 
 +
''Interesting. Bring her in. Ask her about it.''
 +
 
 +
''Alright, Teridax. I’ll contact you once I’m through.''
 +
 
 +
''Good. I have an invasion on Ta-Koro to engineer in the meantime.''
 +
 
 +
Antroz walked out of the Destral interrogation room. He preferred one of those rooms when he communicated with anyone telepathically. It was one of the few quiet places on Destral, and there were no quiet places on Xia.
 +
 
 +
He turned towards a Rahkshi that guarded the door. “Send for Roodaka.” Antroz ordered. “She needs to be questioned regarding one of her missions.”
 +
 
 +
The Rahkshi nodded and went off, soon to return with Roodaka. “Come in, Roodaka.” Antroz said. “We must talk.”
 +
 
 +
They each took a seat inside the interrogation room. “Now,” Antroz said, “you said you had information about that crystal. What is it?”
 +
 
 +
“Really, Makuta? I thought you would have guessed by now or at least that Teridax would have.”
 +
 
 +
“Pardon me, Roodaka? Could you explain?”
 +
 
 +
“It’s simple, Makuta. The information in the crystal is false.” Roodaka leaned back in her chair, her hands joined behind her head.
 +
 
 +
“How do you know this?” Antroz asked firmly.
 +
 
 +
“I’m a double agent, aren’t I?” was her simple reply.
 +
 
 +
Antroz sat down. “I see. Return to Xia. You should have another mission soon.” He still looked like his confidence in the Brotherhood's most successful double agent would depend on whether or not her story about the crystal's information proved to be true or not, but Roodaka knew that the coming battles of the war would wipe away all Antroz's doubts.
 +
 
 +
Roodaka nodded and left the room, while Antroz reported to Teridax. As she walked down the hallways of the Destral fortress, she smiled once more. Once again, she was in good favor of both sides in this war, through her manipulation and deception.
 +
 
 +
''And I’ll just keep on doing it for as long as I need to. After all, I’m a Vortixx.''
 +
 
 +
== Retribution, by Kraahlix {{C|[http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/2878-retribution/ Original]}} ==
 +
 
 +
''The jagged coastline of Zakaz''
 +
 
 +
Nektann stood tall, arms crossed, watching wave after wave crash against the shore.
 +
 
 +
He could hear the faint sounds of battle far behind him - the sound of steel clashing on steel, homes being destroyed, and the cries of Skakdi, his own race, dying.
 +
 
 +
Typical.
 +
 
 +
The Skakdi were a tampered-with race. Experiments that were run on Nektann and his kind had caused the inhabitants of Zakaz to gain many powers, which led to great dissention ''[sic]'' among themselves.
 +
 
 +
Friends are not made among Skakdi - only acquaintances that do not betray each other as soon as others. Not a day went by without some sort of skirmish on the island - the inhabitants fighting each other, often to the death, over any disagreement. It was a wonder the Skakdi were not extinct.
 +
 
 +
Krika, an agent of the Brotherhood of Makuta, was stationed on Zakaz. The island had been quarantined - no one was to come to it, and no one was to leave it. The Makuta enforced that law, among others.
 +
 
 +
The Brotherhood was responsible for making the Skakdi how they were, and now they just penned them up. Needless to say, the Makuta were hated as far as Nektann was concerned.
 +
 
 +
Nektann was not interested in following the commands of those he hated. He was a warlord. He would have his way.
 +
 
 +
So what if he wanted to take a boat-full of machinery to Stelt and make some quick profits?
 +
 
 +
No one would miss a dozen automated defense robots - Zakaz was crawling with the nektann, sentry-bots named after the warlord himself.
 +
 
 +
The blue-armored Skakdi turned his gaze inland. Thick dust-clouds rose into the air, kicked up, no doubt, by a handful of brutes locked in combat, fighting for their lives.
 +
 
 +
''Hmm... Krika will have his hands full today.''
 +
 
 +
Nektann nodded to himself and dragged a crudely-crafted boat to the water. He began to load it with the nektann robots that he intended to sell on the island of Stelt.
 +
 
 +
Skakdi's grins were generally large and hideously evil, and Nektann's only widened at the thought of the money that was about to make its way into his possession.
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>***</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
''A trader's hut on Stelt''
 +
 
 +
Nektann had bartered on Stelt a time or two before. The traders were notoriously meticulous about their business, and today Nektann was not in the mood for standing around much longer while the trader inspected each robot individually.
 +
 
 +
"I'm not asking for very much," the Skakdi grumbled impatiently.
 +
 
 +
"Of course you're not. If you were, I would just deny your offer and report you to Krika for leaving your blasted island," responded the Steltian trader.
 +
 
 +
It was a fair point - but an annoying one. Nektann ran his armored finger along the side of his Crescent Scythe, which emitted a shrill sound that caught the trader's attention and, perhaps, reminded him of his manners.
 +
 
 +
The trader shifted. "You said the nektann can be programmed to attack intruders on sight, but not to harm those who are authorized?”
 +
 
 +
''We've been over this, moron.'' "I could demonstrate for you.”
 +
 
 +
A pause.
 +
 
 +
"Funny." The trader reached for his coins. "Alright, I'll buy. But I won't need any more, so don't bother coming back." He held out the payment.
 +
Nektann readily accepted the money, glad to be through with the trader and his attitude.
 +
 
 +
"'Pleasure." He had not, however, attempted to barter the price with Nektann, a quality the Skakdi preferred.
 +
 
 +
And that was that - the deal was complete. ''Back to Zakaz.''
 +
 
 +
From inside the lowly lit hut, the trader eyed Nektann as the Skakdi exited the shop and boarded his ship immediately. He may have even heard Nektann humming to himself as he went.
 +
 
 +
Now there was a sight.
 +
 
 +
But Nektann would not have been quite so cheerful if he knew what Krika knew.
 +
 
 +
The "Steltian trader" was not a trader. He was not even from Stelt.
 +
 
 +
He was a Makuta.
 +
 
 +
Krika shapeshifted, retaining his usual form. Where the seemingly-average inhabitant of Stelt stood a moment before, Krika now was - eyes still fixed on Nektann.
 +
 
 +
Krika had read his mind. Nektann would go back to Zakaz and buy better weapons with his newly acquired money.
 +
 
 +
But Krika would not give him that chance. Nektann had just become an outlaw, and punishing outlaws was one of the Makuta's favorite ways to pass the time.
 +
 
 +
Krika gathered up the nektann robots he had purchased. He would make it to Zakaz long before Nektann would.
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>***</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
''The sea''
 +
 
 +
Nektann could not remember being this happy in quite some time. He had needed a change of scenery, and the coins in his pouch shifting with the rocking of the boat sounded like music to his ears. He was on his way back to Zakaz, and he would return richer than before.
 +
 
 +
Nektann's thoughts turned to the new weapons he would soon purchase, and he envisioned the Skakdi whose existences he would end with them.
 +
 
 +
''Life is good.'' Nektann rowed. It was easier without the weight of the machines in the boat.
 +
 
 +
He thought back to killing the boat's former owner earlier that day. That was the joy of being a warlord of Zakaz - people gave you what you wanted. One way or another.
 +
 
 +
One day, even Krika will die by my hand.
 +
 
 +
The Skakdi quickened his pace, with the Makuta in mind. It was not long before he jumped the remaining three yards to shore, money-sack in hand. Nektann hefted up a boulder, then tossed it at the nearby boat. It shattered into driftwood. There. Nektann smiled triumphantly. 'Tracks successfully covered.
 +
 
 +
It was dark. Nektann began to make his way toward a city, planning to slip in quietly.
 +
 
 +
He spotted a black-armored Skakdi brawling with a blue-armored Skakdi in the distance, a Spine Slug attached to the latter. For a moment vision-powers shot back and forth, then one of the Skakdi fell to the ground, lifeless. The victor limped in the general direction of the nearest city, but died of his own wounds long before reaching it.
 +
 
 +
Nektann chuckled. ''Home, sweet home.''
 +
 
 +
Nektann heard a mobile machine approaching him from the side. Turning, he saw that it was a combat nektann robot. They were both still for a moment.
 +
 
 +
"Don't you have a post to watch?" Growled the Skakdi. Nektann turned away from the defense-bot and began walking away.
 +
 
 +
The combat nektann's answer was in the form of a charged energy bolt. It hit the Skakdi warlord in the back of the head, driving him to the ground.
 +
 
 +
Pain exploded and rage boiled up in Nektann. ''What is this?!'' He rolled onto his back and put his hands to his head. Everything was blurry.
 +
 
 +
Another blast sounded in the near distance. Nektann dove to one side, barely avoiding a second attack. He grunted in anger. ''Why is it attacking me?'' Rising to his knees, the Skakdi tried to examine his surroundings. More nektann had arrived. Or was that just his vision acting up?
 +
 
 +
Several more shots were fired.
 +
 
 +
''No. There are more.''
 +
 
 +
Nektann summoned his concentration and threw up a reflective barrier. He heard a few robots drop, destroyed by their own reflected attacks, but was ambushed from behind.
 +
 
 +
The warlord struggled to remain upright. He bumped into one of the defense-bots, grabbed it and hurled it at another, buying himself a moment.
 +
 
 +
"Cease fire!" Bellowed Nektann, knowing that it wouldn't work.
 +
 
 +
The oncoming nektann did not falter. He was surrounded.The situation struck the Skakdi then - someone had turned the nektann against him.
 +
 
 +
Another round of energy blasts. Nektann leaped into the air, and landed on a master nektann, crushing it. Sparks flew. He tried to position himself outside of the ring of robots.
 +
 
 +
Reflecting energy blasts whenever he could, Nektann desperately tried to fend off his attackers. Whenever he was hit, it would take the Skakdi far too long to regain his concentration and throw up the barrier again.
 +
 
 +
He managed to destroy perhaps a dozen nektann robots, but despaired as he saw more joining their formation.
 +
 
 +
Nektann was shot square in the chest, and skid backward on the barren plain. Anger coursed through the Skakdi. "I will rip whoever's behind this apart!”
 +
 
 +
If there were any other inhabitants of Zakaz nearby, Nektann would have bribed them for their assistance. He cursed the black and blue Skakdi, whose corpses rested nearby, for having killed each other.
 +
 
 +
Nektann's body throbbed in multiple areas where he had been hit. He estimated that around twenty-five nektann were advancing on him at this point. It was late, dark, and fatigue was wearing on him.
 +
 
 +
''This is not good.''
 +
 
 +
It was time to decide what to do. Nektann made a split-second choice to flee. It wasn't like he had very many options.
 +
 
 +
Die now. Die later.
 +
 
 +
Nektann ran. He was faster than the robots but he constantly had to dodge energy-blasts, slowing his pace dramatically.
 +
 
 +
Knowing that the robots would pursue him until they were destroyed, Nektann ripped out of the ground any tree or rock that he passed and tossed it at the nearest combat nektann. And then ran some more.
 +
 
 +
When bending down to do this for the fourth time, he was blasted in the side and knocked over.
 +
 
 +
Nektann screamed into the night in frustration.
 +
 
 +
''I can't do this!''
 +
 
 +
Haunted by the very robots named after himself. It was like a nightmare.
 +
 
 +
The chase went long into the night. Nektann hated his very life before long. He had downed a number of the nektann, but discovered that back-up units would soon replace them or they would be fixed by repair nektann.
 +
 
 +
The Skakdi warlord had reached a dead-end. He was backed up against a mountain that he did not have the energy to climb.
 +
 
 +
So much for options.
 +
 
 +
He had given up asking himself how this could happen to him - who had programmed the nektann to attack him... He did not care anymore. He wanted rest. Or death. Whichever came first.
 +
 
 +
"I will die fighting. Not running," Nektann resolved to himself.
 +
 
 +
He charged the horde of robots. The front-line crumpled when their energy-blasts were reflected at them. Nektann reached a combat-bot in two long strides, and shredded it to pieces with his claws. Another he grabbed by the leg and smashed against the ground.
 +
 
 +
Nektann was shot. He did not stop.
 +
 
 +
The Skakdi kicked at a black nektann with all his might. It flew backward, taking out a few robots in its path.
 +
 
 +
Nektann continued to fight for his life. The formations thinned as he destroyed robot after robot. Just when he began to grasp a sliver of hope, he looked up.
 +
 
 +
Lines upon lines of nektann were dropping down into the battle from the nearby cliff. The Skakdi was stunned at the sight.
 +
 
 +
''No.''
 +
 
 +
His attackers wasted no time in taking advantage of the warlord's distraction, firing at him from all directions.
 +
 
 +
Nektann's body was ravaged with energy blasts. He was thrown against a rock by the sheer combined force of the attack, and fell limp to the ground.
 +
 
 +
Nektann did not attempt to get up.
 +
 
 +
He was pummeled on the ground for a few moments, an eternity to any being experiencing such pain. Then;
 +
 
 +
“Enough."
 +
 
 +
The voice did not come from Nektann.
 +
 
 +
Immediately, all movement ceased. There was complete and utter silence.
 +
 
 +
Nektann laid still on the ground, fighting unconsciousness. The voice came from above him.
 +
 
 +
Something washed over the Skakdi. Was it relief... or dread?
 +
 
 +
It spoke again. "Leave us.”
 +
 
 +
Once more, the gathered nektann obeyed. Soon, they were alone.
 +
 
 +
The Skakdi fought to raise his head. Then he saw him.
 +
 
 +
''Makuta Krika.''
 +
 
 +
Nektann's face contorted with hate at the sight of his enemy. A growl escaped his wicked grin. They held each other's gaze.
 +
 
 +
"Get up... ''warlord.''" Krika taunted Nektann with the word.
 +
 
 +
Immediately, anything Nektann had felt before, the pain, the fatigue, was gone. It was replaced with pure, unstoppered ''fury.''
 +
 
 +
Nektann rose to his feet, gripped his Crescent Scythe - and unleashed that fury.
 +
 
 +
The night was filled with the sound of duel. Krika stood tall, stark white against the black sky, and wielding a lean blade. His mastery of the weapon was clear to Nektann. Whenever the Skakdi would execute a combination, Krika's blade was there to block.
 +
 
 +
Nektann did not let it unnerve him. He knew the Makuta was toying with him. But if Krika got too cocky, just once, he would find something embedded in his chest.
 +
 
 +
Another block. Nektann's Crescent Scythe was jarred in his hand. Krika's blade flew out from underneath of Nektann's, then smacked the Skakdi's head with the flat side.
 +
 
 +
Nektann stumbled backward.
 +
 
 +
"What, Nektann? Did you forget how to fight?”
 +
 
 +
Nektann did not answer. He had seen what Krika could do to other Skakdi. He had lost track of the powers that Krika had demonstrated on his kind, "keeping them in line." It was only a matter of time until Krika tired of exchanging blows, then the Makuta wouldn't hold back any longer.
 +
 
 +
Krika took a lazy stab at Nektann. Nektann side-stepped, but just in time. He was slowing down.
 +
 
 +
"You oppress my people," said Nektann.
 +
 
 +
"Your people?" Krika slashed with his blade, then went back to blocking every attack Nektann attempted. "You are not concerned about your people. You broke the law today for your own selfish purposes and placed them in danger." Krika sneered. "Did you honestly think that you could get away with it?”
 +
 
 +
The battle wore on.
 +
 
 +
Nektann swung his Crescent Scythe overhead in an attack on Krika, but the Makuta reached out blindingly fast and caught Nektann's wrist. The power in his grip amazed Nektann.
 +
 
 +
''Is it over?''
 +
 
 +
No. Krika lashed out with his foot and kicked the Skakdi into the air. Nektann landed hard, and struggled to get up.
 +
 
 +
"Why are you doing this to me?" Hatred dripped from Nektann's every word.
 +
 
 +
Krika laughed. "Punishing you? I would think it would be obvious.”
 +
 
 +
Silence. Nektann met his eyes and felt as though Krika were staring into his spirit.
 +
 
 +
"You are wondering how I knew that you left Zakaz.”
 +
 
 +
It was true. Nektann had just been thinking that.
 +
 
 +
''Add mind-reading to his list of fancy powers.''
 +
 
 +
"Nektann, you simply cannot escape me.”
 +
 
 +
Krika's form rippled before the Skakdi. In a moment, Nektann was face-to-face with what looked like the trader from Stelt that he had sold to. Krika spoke from "the trader's" mouth.
 +
 
 +
"''You said the nektann can be programmed to attack intruders on sight, but not to harm those who are authorized?''" Krika winked at him.
 +
 
 +
Nektann felt like so much mindless scum. ''I was played like a fool...Wait. Doesn't it strain Makuta to shapeshift? Or is that just a rumor?''
 +
 
 +
Krika had finished mocking Nektann and began to transition back into his usual form. Nektann did not hesitate any more. If it was true that shapeshifting was difficult for Krika, Nektann was not going to miss that opening in his defense. He lunged for the Makuta.
 +
 
 +
Nektann reached him and grabbed Krika's head with both hands. He pulled them together until they were at eye-level - an inch apart, and let loose with his Flash Vision power. Intense white-light surged from Nektann's eyes and seared into Krika’s.
 +
 
 +
The Makuta howled. For a moment, Nektann felt victorious.
 +
 
 +
Then Krika's transformation was complete. "Away from me." Nektann was thrown back by the Makuta's Kanohi Crast, Mask of Repulsion.
 +
 
 +
Krika took a trembling step forward. Nektann was emboldened as he saw that his attack had been effective. He charged the Makuta again, raised his Scythe, and released a war-cry, but was repulsed once more.
 +
 
 +
Krika shook his head. "You're a fool, Nektann.”
 +
 
 +
The Skakdi warlord was on his knees.
 +
 
 +
"You think ''you'' have power?" Krika continued. "You're trash.”
 +
 
 +
Then it began.
 +
 
 +
Rain. Then thunder. Within seconds, lightning crashed around the Skakdi and the Makuta, tearing the landscape apart.
 +
 
 +
Nektann looked to Krika. It was the Makuta's doing.
 +
 
 +
He wondered what would happen next, but found out all too soon. Heat Vision struck Nektann's armor, scorching it. Before the Skakdi could bellow in pain, he was assaulted by unbelievable Sonic force. Krika summoned numerous cyclones to surround Nektann, if only to further set him on edge.
 +
 
 +
Nektann could feel the shadows gathering around him. Krika was growing closer.
 +
 
 +
A powerful gust of wind knocked Nektann off his feet. He was held down by nearby plants, unable to escape their grip.
 +
 
 +
The Makuta's chaos raged around him.
 +
 
 +
Nektann had never been so convinced that his very life was out to get him.
 +
 
 +
Krika slowly approached the Skakdi, punishing him with excruciating pain. Nektann couldn't tell the difference between the Makuta's powers anymore. They were all pain. They were all madness.
 +
 
 +
"Do you see, little Skakdi? You will never, ever think to cross me again.”
 +
 
 +
In the fraction of a second, Nektann noticed what was sure to be a devastating assault of chain-lightning gathering at Krika's fingertips.
 +
 
 +
"NO!" Nektann acted then. Calling on the last reserves of his strength, he triggered a reflective barrier. When the chain lightning hit it, Nektann was forced back.
 +
 
 +
Krika, however, was electrocuted with the attack's full force.
 +
 
 +
At once, all of the Makuta's powers were negated. Nektann stumbled onto his feet.
 +
 
 +
''I have to get away, now!'' Nektann's legs weren't moving. He was still stunned.
 +
 
 +
The Skakdi panicked. ''Where is Krika?''
 +
 
 +
Suddenly, Nektann felt the cold edge of Krika's sword pressed up against his throat.
 +
 
 +
Everything was still.
 +
 
 +
He heard the Makuta's steady breathing behind him. It was over.
 +
 
 +
"Krika." Nektann broke the silence. "You've... won." They were possibly the two most difficult words Nektann had ever had to speak.
 +
 
 +
There was no denying it. The Makuta had defeated him.
 +
 
 +
Krika's next words surprised Nektann.
 +
 
 +
"You have skill, Skakdi.”
 +
 
 +
There was a blur, and Nektann flinched. But Krika had lowered his sword.
 +
 
 +
Nektann turned to look at him.
 +
 
 +
"Do not waste it.”
 +
 
 +
Then Krika vanished. Where he had stood was left only a small bag.
 +
 
 +
The money.
 +
 
 +
Nektann's body ached as he bent down to pick it up.
 +
 
 +
On his way back to the city, Nektann could not help but feel something he never thought he would feel for a Makuta.
 +
 
 +
A bit of respect... or something close to it.
 +
 
 +
= Lesovikk's Hiatus Fixed =
 +
Same as ATYU 2.
 +
 
 +
== The Chronicle by Click {{C|[http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/8520-lesovikks-hiatus-a-chronicle/ Original]}} ==
 +
 
 +
'''The Chronicle'''
 +
 
 +
By: Click
 +
 
 +
The last cries and crashes of blades had gone from what was a battlefield only minutes before. Now, only a chilling silence was left for the one survivor looking up to see what was left. The silence is broken by one long, heart wrenching cry full of absolute misery, despair, and a little denial. Then, that too is choked off, and silence returns as the survivor plunges into the mud amidst his brothers and sisters, and appears to be just as dead.
 +
 
 +
Lesovikk never saw the Zyglak coming, but by the time they had come upon his team, he still could have helped, but torn between saving his team and getting rid of the monsters, he hesitated a second too long, and neither was satisfied.
 +
 
 +
The Toa of Air picked himself up off the ground clumsily, and brushed mud clumps away from his Faxon. Not that it did him much good in the fight; he almost wanted to take it off and fling it over the horizon, maybe to his home island, as a testament to his friends what had become of his team, maybe to the mysterious place where their spirits would now go, as a final goodbye.
 +
 
 +
Unfortunately, that was the last thing he should do. There were still lingering Zyglak, remnants of those that took his team, and left him as the only guardian of their memories. Only he could carry their legacy back to his homeland.
 +
 
 +
He began the old Toa ritual of removing their tools, fixing armor as much as possible with his limited abilities, and resting their bodies eternally on a large, flat stone in the middle of the battlefield, littered with armor fragments and scorch marks from various elemental powers. He would keep their weapons to show his village, to keep their memory alive. He nearly began crying again as he picked up Nikila’s trident, the tool of his second-in-command. She had always been so full of life, confident that nothing could vanquish a Toa, and yet here she lay, victim of the Zyglak, proof that she was wrong. He did the same to each Toa: Iron, Fire, Sonics, Stone, Gravity, and Water, unable to believe he would never see them again. He picked up the last tool: a curving, beautiful Fanged Water Sword belonging to Lihara that she had been so good with in the battle. Before emotions could overcome him again, however, Lesovikk bolted off down the battlefield, tears streaming down his face.
 +
 
 +
Malinek was woken by a sound of shuffling in the gravel outside of his cave. This cliff-side road on Stelt was rarely used, which meant little business for thieves like him and his companion. The Steltan woke the snoring bruiser beside him, a titan named Gernas.
 +
 
 +
"We're in business," was all Gernas needed to hear. With a rumble that shook stones from the ceiling, the huge being rose, flexing his claws. "Shh!" cried his partner. "Not so loud! They'll hear you!" Gernas clamped his hand over his face, nodding wildly. ''Why do I even need you?,'' thought Malinek as he rolled his eyes. The two thieves finally got outside of the cavern, lumbering over to their usual lookout point, a huge boulder near the mouth of the cave.
 +
 
 +
Malinek could tell Gernas was just as surprised as he was when a lime green Toa of Air stumbled around the corner, looking down at the cliff off to his right. The biggest surprise was that he was carrying not one, but eight Toa Tools of varying designs and makes. Usually, the near-powerless two would never dare to attack a Toa, but this was obviously too good of an opportunity to pass up. With just a nod to confirm their agreement, the thieves hurdled over the boulder, surprising the Toa enough to make him drop his tools everywhere. When he realized what the two wanted, the Le-Toa grasped the nearest weapon, a Fanged Water Sword. It was painfully obvious that wasn't his usual tool, so his defense would be weak. The two closed in for the kill.
 +
 
 +
Suddenly, there was an enormous cracking sound. Gernas had stepped on a staff-like tool, and the Toa was notably dismayed. Malinek simultaneously scowled at the bruiser's stupidity and laughed at the realization that the staff was the Toa's native tool. He would have to fight with an unfamiliar one for the impending fight. Still, he had to snap "You imbecile! These tools are our profits!" As if Gernas finally realized what he had done, he suddenly apologized profusely before Malinek cut him off with a gesture. "And it's a very nice profit too." Malinek grinned at the stunned Toa.
 +
 
 +
The battle that followed was as brutal as it was brief. The Toa was clearly losing against the stronger two, using a shorter and sharper tool than he was used to. He had resorted to using mostly blasts of air, which the thieves simply shook off and continued to fight through. Malinek could see a dozen "unorthodox" ways the Toa could have won the fight, even with all of his disadvantages, but only half-heartedly defended them, knowing the Toa would never stoop so low. Besides, his quick strikes were keeping the Toa on the defensive, struggling to parry with the unfamiliar tool, usually failing and getting a gash along his armor as a result.
 +
 
 +
Malinek suddenly found himself on the ground after a gust of air and a foot in his path. His blade had been knocked behind him, and in his surprise, Gernas had also been thrown off balance. He was shocked that the Toa had used that maneuver, while also admittedly a bit proud that there was some hope for these "honorable warriors." If he hadn't been battling to the death for the Toa's possessions, he would have considered adding a new partner to his band.
 +
 
 +
Then, he noticed the murderous glare in the Toa's eyes, and his blood ran cold. He could only watch numbly as that sharp blade was lifted above his head, and could only think of how many people would be glad to know he's gone.
 +
 
 +
Another thought managed to push its way through his fear and bring a smirk to his face. "Go ahead Toa, if you can. You and I both know you won't do it, with your precious Toa Code."
 +
 
 +
The lime Toa pondered this for a moment, and then the scowl returned to his face. "I'm no Toa, not anymore," he said, his steely voice wavering to more of a resigned tone by the end. His reply was as terrifying as it was unexpected. The Steltan also became resigned after a moment of shock, and turned his head from the mad Toa.
 +
 
 +
"Fine then, ''warrior,'' just get it over with. I can't imagine anyone who would miss me, besides Gernas here. Then again, he'd probably be too stupid to realize I'm gone."
 +
 
 +
There was a clang of metal and sparks rained down on Malinek, and through the burning, he realized he was still alive, staring up at the panting Toa with a blade an inch from his neck. "Go," he growled.
 +
 
 +
A grin spread across Malinek's face. "Big mistake, Toa. I knew you didn't have it in you." Gernas took that moment to charge, releasing all his rage from his partner's comment into the Toa. By the time the Toa realized what was happening, he was tumbling down the cliff. All the tools but the Water Blade were theirs for the taking.
 +
 
 +
"Come on Gernas," said Malinek. "We're in business."
 +
 
 +
Lesovikk had fallen a long way, and had some time to think. He had spared the thieves' lives, and in return, he was about to lose his. He swore to himself that he would never make that mistake again, just as he saw the ground approaching rapidly beneath him. There was only enough time to summon a quick air cushion, but at the rate he was falling, it didn't help much. He still hit hard into a softer area of sand at the bottom of the cliff face, and as all went dark, his last thought was: "If I can't be good enough to keep my team alive, I'm not good enough to preserve their memories."
 +
 
 +
He awoke much later to a low growl coming from behind his feet. He attempted to raise his head, but only caught a flash of tan in a large black opening before he fell back, panting hard from the pain. A much louder roar sounded, and Lesovikk realized he was in trouble. He knew that sound, and knew to fear it as much as any being did. It was a Rock Lion that was now coming out into the sunlight, its armor and silvery mane glistening, teeth and claws flashing as it circled around the downed Toa. As it did, he got a good look at it. He caught glimpses of huge scars running down its flanks, much of the organics in its legs torn to shreds. One paw barely touched the ground as the Rahi limped around. He could see pain in its glowing eyes, and even more worrying, madness. He didn't know if it had tumbled down the cliff side as he had, or if its injuries were the battle scars of a particularly vicious fight with a creature he didn't want to meet. To Lesovikk, either way, it seemed the lion was on its last legs, and almost wanted to just end the constant pain. And he would be happy to oblige it, if it meant getting out of here alive.
 +
 
 +
Lesovikk began to slowly raise himself up, gasping as his sore muscles stretched and compressed. The Rock Lion growled again, so he stopped for a while, and then resumed when he judged it safe. Eventually, after repeating this tactic several times, he found himself on his feet, limping slightly as he walked backwards to where he thought his sword was. He walked slowly, stumbling the whole way, always keeping eye contact with the approaching Rahi. Finally, his foot stumbled up against something hard and metallic, buried up to the hilt in the soft sand. He quickly turned, unleashing a concentrated blast of air to blow away the sand from the sword, grabbing the hilt, and spinning around, all in a fraction of a second, but still found the Lion in midair, halfway to him, claws reaching for his throat. Lesovikk only had a chance to turn out of the way, the Rahi skidding over his feet just as he dodged, the sword catching on its armor, making it growl in pain as it began rotating through the air.
 +
 
 +
The lion landed facing Lesovikk, unleashing a huge roar as its mane ignited. The searing heat could be felt all the way from where Lesovikk was standing, and his armor began going soft. It was still growling fiercely, loud enough to be heard over the crackling fire of its mane.
 +
 
 +
''Okay,'' the Toa thought, ''if that's how you want to play it, let's go.''
 +
 
 +
The next few days were a blur of parrying, slicing, and running as he battled that lion. Lesovikk had gained some skill with the new blade as he fought the thieves, and he really needed it now. If the claws and teeth of the Rock Lion weren't enough, the blazing mane and sheer ferocity of the attack kept Lesovikk at bay, attempting to land just a single shot somewhere. What armor was still left from the attack was melting together, stiffening as he parried and dodged. Some of Lihara's power must have remained in her blade, because Lesovikk never saw it melting, no matter how close the Rahi got to him. In fact, it felt cool to the touch, and the lion would shy away from it whenever he could get a chance to use it.
 +
 
 +
Even so, Lesovikk began to get tired. It had been three long days without food or drink, and he was constantly fighting for his life. The adrenaline rush had long faded out, and he was now stumbling again, the pain from his drop and the fight finally catching up to him to take its toll. The lion also seemed a little more sluggish - otherwise he would have certainly lost by now - but its vigor was much greater than his own, even now. Lesovikk knew he was going to lose; it was only a matter of time.
 +
 
 +
Finally, that time came. The Rock Lion feinted to the left, and then pounced on his right. Lesovikk's lethargic movements weren't enough to stop the lightning-quick maneuver, and he caught the brunt of the lion head-on. He found himself in much the same position that thief had been in three days ago: on the ground, sharp teeth poised at his neck, and no hope. He didn't even have a massive Steltan to cover for him. He went into the same resigned position the thief had, and dropped his blade by his side, the one reminder left of his team, and prepared to join them, wherever they were.
 +
 
 +
"I give up. Take my life, if you would, Rahi. It would be a mercy at this point. I have been through so much, just to fall at your claws. Just get it over with." He closed his eyes, dropping his head to the ground, hearing a dull thud nearby as he did.
 +
 
 +
He waited for a few seconds, not sure what had happened, then chanced a quick look up. The Rock Lion had collapsed from its injuries and fatigue, so Lesovikk got up, picked up his sword, and walked off towards the double sunset, knowing if he stopped to rest as well, the lion would be on top of him by day's end. The Rahi had won, and he had learned a valuable lesson to remember forever.
 +
 
 +
"First of all," he muttered to himself, staggering through the sand. "Don't underestimate a wounded foe. Second, I am my Team's chronicler; I will carry their memories on." He glanced down at his Fanged Water Blade, previous tool of one of his teammates, although he had gotten much better at it in the last three days. He twirled the blade, smiling as it reflected the fading sunlight around. "It doesn't take some rusty old swords, or dusty old tablets, just a good storyteller, and some memories.
 +
 
 +
 
 +
<nowkik>------------------------------------------------</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
== Jovan's Test by Legolover-361 {{C|[http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/326-jovans-test/ Original]}} ==
 +
 
 +
'''Jovan’s Test'''
 +
 
 +
80,115 years ago...
 +
 
 +
The ocean, as always, was in motion; waves rose from its glassy gray-blue surface, letting a fine spray of moisture soak the air around Lesovikk and his Sea Sled. With a small effort he summoned a little breeze to blow the mist away. Then he turned his mind back to driving.
 +
 
 +
The Sea Sled was a good nine, ten feet long, its silver metallic build sleek and aerodynamic. It could skip across the waves like no other vehicle Lesovikk had ever ridden, turning as quickly as though it were responding to his thoughts. Thank Mata Nui he had it.
 +
 
 +
Still, Lesovikk was growing tired of circumnavigating the dangerous waters; and what was worse, a stiff wind was blowing in from the east. A storm was fast approaching -- and it would be near-suicide to stay out in the open, as the former Toa of Air knew full well. He was already sailing northeast at top speed, so it would be foolhardy to turn a full three hundred sixty degrees back to the southwest. Nevertheless, he glanced to the west first. ''Just in case,'' he told himself.
 +
 
 +
Sure enough, there ''was'' land off to the west, barely anything more than a dark green smudge on the horizon at this point but far better than nothing.
 +
 
 +
He glanced back to the east. Already a group of clouds, dark and ominous, was gathering far off in that direction. Was it his imagination, or had that been a flash of lightning?
 +
 
 +
Without another thought he spun his Sea Sled to the west, relying on the east wind and his own powers over air to speed him up.
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>* * *</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
He had barely made it onto land when the storm hit.
 +
 
 +
The winds were terrifying, easily blowing upwards of fifty miles per hour, causing Lesovikk to stumble as he sought shelter. Leaves were torn off tree branches, swirling madly in the air amidst the ceaseless roar of rushing air and pelting rain. The next several minutes were a blur -- water reduced visibility to near zero, and the waves crashing against the shore launched even more moisture toward the clouded heavens.
 +
 
 +
Only with an almighty effort was Lesovikk able to half-drag, half-push his Sea Sled behind the scant shelter of a cluster of rocks inland. There the wind lessened slightly; the rain was blocked away by the gray masses behind Lesovikk’s back. But he only allowed himself a small rest: He still had to find shelter for himself. No way could he wait out the storm in the open -- if the wind shifted, these rocks would no longer provide protection, however small.
 +
 
 +
Steeling himself, he launched back into the tumultuous weather.
 +
 
 +
Seconds blurred into minutes as the green-armored warrior ran blindly through the storm—''BOOM''.
 +
 
 +
Lightning, far too close for comfort. Lesovikk ducked, throwing his right arm over his head as he stumbled forwards. His left arm reached out before him, trying to find something, anything, that could save Lesovikk from nature’s mercilessness.
 +
 
 +
Was that -- was that a village up ahead?
 +
 
 +
Through the roar of the storm, a single thought surfaced:
 +
 
 +
''I'' must ''reach those buildings.''
 +
 
 +
Step by agonizing step he pushed through the rain; the moisture struck his Kanohi Faxon, dripping down into his eyes, half-blinding him. He was picking up speed now, his walk turning into more of a jog.
 +
 
 +
''BOOM.''
 +
 
 +
The flash imprinted itself onto Lesovikk’s retinas for a split-second, long enough for Lesovikk to take another half-step toward the village. Another roiling BOOM resounded through the sky: more thunder, but farther away this time.
 +
 
 +
''Almost there...''
 +
 
 +
''BOOM.''
 +
 
 +
Instinctively Lesovikk threw up his hands -- though what protection his arms would serve against a lightning bolt, he couldn’t guess.
 +
 
 +
''Just a few more steps...''
 +
 
 +
With mud splashing against his churning legs, he threw himself at the first building he felt, wrenched open the door, and fell in face-first.
 +
 
 +
The rain followed after him, but the wind no longer buffeted Lesovikk’s body. He breathed a sigh of relief and turned to close the door.
 +
Then he saw his shadow playing across the door and realized there was a lit fire behind him.
 +
 
 +
Turning, he slammed the door shut and fell into a battle stance, all in one smooth movement. There was indeed a fire there, burning lively in a stone fireplace and casting a warm glow over the bare room. But why would a fire be there without someone to light it in the first place?
 +
 
 +
‘Someone’ stepped forward from the shadows to the back-right of the fireplace. Lesovikk caught his breath. It was a Toa.
 +
 
 +
For a moment they both merely stood there, gazes locked for what seemed like an eternity. The stranger’s armor was jet-black, highlighted by brilliant orange-red gleams from the fire behind him. His mask was sleek yet armored-looking, with a row of spikes reaching from the stranger’s forehead, over his scalp, to the back of his head. His armor was worn-down yet still tough-looking.
 +
 
 +
''Dangerous'' was the first word to cross Lesovikk’s mind at the sight of the stranger’s armored hands curled into fists.
 +
 
 +
“So,” he said, not willing to talk but just as hesitant to keep the awkward silence. “I, um, was riding across the ocean and landed here to avoid the storm.” He gestured outside to where thunder suddenly tore through the air.
 +
 
 +
The stranger remained impassive.
 +
 
 +
More silence, save for the pitter-patter of the rainfall outside.
 +
 
 +
“So,” the Toa finally said, his gruff voice matching his appearance spot-on, “you a Toa?”
 +
 
 +
Lesovikk hesitated a moment before answering, “No.”
 +
 
 +
“Really? You certainly ''look'' like a Toa.”
 +
 
 +
“It’s... a long story.”
 +
 
 +
The hard look on Lesovikk’s face must have convinced the other not to continue on that topic. “Well,” he said, smoothly changing the topic, “you won’t be able to leave while this storm is raging. Feel up to waiting it out in here?”
 +
 
 +
Lesovikk ran a hand across one of the walls. It was stone, held together by some unknown adhesive and covered by large leaves. It certainly ''felt'' sturdy enough, at any rate.
 +
 
 +
“Sure,” said Lesovikk with a nod. “Thank you, um...?”
 +
 
 +
“Jovan,” said the stranger. “Toa of Magnetism. And you?”
 +
 
 +
“Lesovikk.”
 +
 
 +
“Well, ‘Lesovikk’,” Jovan said as he walked toward a back corner, “let me show you where you can sleep...”
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>* * *</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
Moss and leaves didn’t make the most comfortable mattress in the world, but at least Lesovikk had a cloth to lay overtop. Even so he still couldn’t sleep, what with the raging storm outside and his Sea Sled somewhere in the midst of that chaos. So he merely laid there, eyes half-closed, listening.
 +
 
 +
Jovan stayed by the fire for most of the night, poking the wood with his weapon every now and again to keep the flames roaring. As Lesovikk watched the Toa of Magnetism do so for the umpteenth time, a wave of fatigue swept over him, he closed his eyes, and...
 +
 
 +
Light hit his face: warm, sweet, natural sunlight -- not the harsh blues and yellows of lightning. He opened his eyes and leapt to his feet with reflexes born of over twenty thousand years of wandering. Then he remembered there was no danger; not ''yet,'' at any rate.
 +
 
 +
He barely even remembered falling asleep last night, but obviously he had slept well: Outside, the sky had already turned a pale blue. Nary a cloud floated along that dome; in fact, Lesovikk found it hard to believe a storm had raged for all of the previous night.
 +
 
 +
The door banged open, interrupting Lesovikk’s thoughts, and Jovan stepped in with an armful of branches. He nodded to Lesovikk as he set the wood down by the fireplace. “Slept well, I presume?”
 +
 
 +
Lesovikk nodded.
 +
 
 +
“You going to leave yet?”
 +
 
 +
The former Toa of Air considered before saying, “Yes. Why?”
 +
 
 +
“Because,” said Jovan, “I’d like to spar you.”
 +
 
 +
It took a moment for the words to register in Lesovikk’s brain.
 +
 
 +
“‘Spar’? Why?”
 +
 
 +
“I need the practice. I haven’t fought another Toa” -- here he noticed Lesovikk’s gaze had gone stony -- “eh, ''warrior'' in a long time. You fit the description. So what do you say?”
 +
 
 +
With a shrug, Lesovikk said, “I guess it won’t take long, so sure. Just promise not to kill me, ‘kay?”
 +
 
 +
Jovan walked back to the door; as he opened it, he remarked over his shoulder, “In my experience, most people don’t get killed by someone else. They kill ''themselves'' through mistakes of their own. Not that we’ll be fighting to the death, of course,” he added with a chuckle.
 +
As Lesovikk followed, he couldn’t help but mull over those words.
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>* * *</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
“Sword,” ordered Jovan, bringing his own before him to point directly at Lesovikk.
 +
 
 +
Lesovikk complied, drawing his air sword and admiring its gleaming edge, shining like a second sun. He brought his hand back down to waist-level, letting his sword point drop to ever so slightly graze the ground at his right.
 +
 
 +
Now that he wasn’t worrying about getting inside before a storm killed him, he got a good glimpse at his surroundings. The grass was somewhat sparse, but not badly so; at the very least, it covered up the dirt-turned-mud enough for Lesovikk to keep from getting too dirty. The rest of the village, a good half-mile off to the southwest, seemed empty; and as Lesovikk knew from close-up views, it certainly played the part. During the walk here -- a precaution, Jovan had explained, in case either Toa lost control of his powers -- Lesovikk had tried to ask Jovan about it, but had gotten only an “I don’t know, and I doubt Mata Nui does, either,” in return.
 +
 
 +
Around them, a few beach trees swayed in the breeze. Not too far to the east sat the ocean, a glimmering blue mass that caught the sunlight like a thousand sapphires. The location was beautiful, a truly incredible view to take in; as he and Jovan began to circle, Lesovikk made a mental note to come back here someday if only to see the scenery.
 +
 
 +
Jovan’s posture was excellent; as he circled, not once did he cross his legs, nor did he ever take his eyes off his opponent. The Toa of Magnetism’s gaze was laced with intense concentration. His body was tensed, every muscle strung up in anticipation of action.
 +
 
 +
On the other hand, there was Lesovikk. Admittedly, he ''was'' a warrior of the air element, so he had an excuse for his unorthodox style. He glanced around himself every few seconds in an instinctive attempt to keep an eye on both Jovan and his surroundings. In the absence of fighting, he bounced up and down on the balls of his toes to keep his muscles warm.
 +
 
 +
He had no idea what Jovan’s Kanohi was, but both warriors had agreed not to use their mask powers in the spar -- though Lesovikk felt himself itching to use his Kanohi Faxon, the Mask of Kindred, to copy Jovan’s talents.
 +
 
 +
Jovan made the first move, leaping forward and stabbing with his sword -- but leaping back before coming into range of Lesovikk’s own blade. He did it twice, then thrice, each time keeping his gaze steady on Lesovikk. The fourth time he came forward, his intentions of actually attacking etched into his expression, Lesovikk was ready. He raised his sword, took a quick step forward to meet his opponent, and--
 +
 
 +
Quicker than lightning Jovan leapt to his right, leaving Lesovikk’s sword to slice through empty air. The warrior of air was quick, though; he danced to his own right and around to keep the Toa of Magnetism in sight.
 +
 
 +
For some odd reason, Jovan was grinning widely, as though this were all some sort of joke. Lesovikk had half a mind to whack him with the flat of his blade, if only to wipe that expression off his face.
 +
 
 +
Jovan came forward again, but before Lesovikk could reach him he leapt back out of range again.
 +
 
 +
''Just attack already, Kolhii-head!''
 +
 
 +
The Toa of Magnetism complied. This time he didn’t bother with leaping aside; he and Lesovikk met head-on. Their swords clashed with a ''CLANG'' that echoed through the empty air.
 +
 
 +
Jovan brought his sword around; Lesovikk parried and tried to land his own blow, which was quickly knocked aside. He tried again: no luck.
 +
Annoyance crept through his limbs. As Jovan leapt back, Lesovikk leaped into the air after him, spinning, bringing his sword down--
 +
 
 +
''CLANG!''
 +
 
 +
He fell out of the air, hitting the ground with a powerful gasp. His breath had been knocked out of him when the flat of Jovan’s blade had hit his side, and whatever air left in Lesovikk’s lungs left upon his impact with mud.
 +
 
 +
But Lesovikk could recover quickly. If there was one thing his seemingly-endless wanderings had taught him, it was that lying down could be the death of you.
 +
 
 +
He rolled onto his back, reaching his arms out and calling upon the wind to come to his aid. Slowly at first, a breeze began to pick up, carrying the warm salty scent of the ocean in its wake.
 +
 
 +
The problem? That breeze built up ''too'' slowly. Far, ''far'' too slowly. For only a split second after he had summoned the wind, his arms were pulled down to his sides against his will; his legs stuck together as though they were glued; and his Kanohi, already secure over his face, squeezed his head just a little bit more.
 +
 
 +
Through closed teeth (he could barely open his mouth now), he managed to growl, “Not fair.”
 +
 
 +
As soon as the words left his mouth the powerful magnetic forces that had held his limbs together vanished. Lesovikk stood up slowly, cautious of another elemental attack from Jovan, but none came. The Toa of Magnetism had turned away, staring out at the sea; Lesovikk, being smarter than he looked, knew better than to charge him now. Getting a face full of sand wasn’t high on the former Toa’s to-do list.
 +
 
 +
So, instead, he stood by the Toa, searching Jovan’s face for any sort of emotion.
 +
 
 +
“Lesovikk,” said Jovan suddenly.
 +
 
 +
Why had Lesovikk’s throat gone dry at the other’s tone?
 +
 
 +
“Yeah, what? You won fair and square.” Grudgingly, Lesovikk added, “Good job.”
 +
 
 +
The ghost of a smile drifted across Jovan’s face. “The same can’t be said for you... ''Toa.''”
 +
 
 +
“I told you,” Lesovikk growled. “I’m ''not'' a Toa. Not... not anymore.”
 +
 
 +
“Exactly. This way I get to annoy you more.”
 +
 
 +
Lesovikk sighed. “Whatever you’re going to say, can you just say it?”
 +
 
 +
“Whatever.” He turned, his brilliant green eyes locking with Lesovikk’s orange ones, and said, “You’re staying here for a while.”
 +
 
 +
A full second passed before he understood the words. Wow, he was slow today.
 +
 
 +
“You can’t hold me here against my will!”
 +
 
 +
“I just did,” Jovan remarked.
 +
 
 +
Lesovikk couldn’t argue with that.
 +
 
 +
“Face it, Lesovikk,” continued Jovan. “You ''need'' more training. I beat you in, what, fifty seconds?”
 +
 
 +
“I’m pretty sure,” Lesovikk protested quietly, “it was ''sixty.''”
 +
 
 +
“Either way, that isn’t a ‘good job’ for a Toa. Stay here and practice, Lesovikk. To be honest” -- he glanced Lesovikk up and down as though looking over a mangled weapon -- “I’m surprised you haven’t been mortally wounded during your travels yet.”
 +
 
 +
“Eh, I’ve gotten banged up before.”
 +
 
 +
“So you ''want'' to keep getting ‘banged up’?”
 +
 
 +
“Well...” He hesitated; but then he realized Jovan was right. Lesovikk needed the training. “No, I don’t. And before you say it, ''yes,'' I’ll stay here and train.” He didn’t add that any training he got now would help him, later on, enter the island of Karzahni and rescue his Matoran friends; but Jovan didn’t need to know ''that.'' Not yet. Not until Lesovikk had felt him out first.
 +
 
 +
“In that case...” Jovan nodded to Lesovikk, his earlier brief, almost crude demeanor fading away slightly. “We’d best begin training now.”
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>* * *</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
That night, Lesovikk dropped an armful of wood by the fireplace and then collapsed onto his sleeping area with a groan. He ached all over; in fact, he could have sworn his aches had aches, and all those aches hurt like Karzahni.
 +
 
 +
Jovan sat down with much more grace -- but then again, ''he'' hadn’t done a whole lot, had he? No, Lesovikk had been the one doing the pushups and sit-ups, collecting food, and even cutting down a tree with nothing but his sword and his strength. Ugh. Even ''remembering'' those strenuous activities made Lesovikk hurt all the more.
 +
 
 +
He must have looked ridiculous just lying there, because Jovan let out a little chuckle and asked, “You up for another spar, champ?”
 +
“Shut ''up.''” Lesovikk rolled over and clamped his hands over his audio receptors. If Jovan made one more sarcastic remark, he’d end up sailing out the door in a freak hurricane.
 +
 
 +
<nowiki>* * *</nowiki>
 +
 
 +
The next day wasn’t much better, nor the day after or even the day after ''that.'' The schedule -- which Jovan obviously took delight in reinforcing -- went something like this:
 +
 
 +
Lesovikk was awakened early in the morning, ''very'' early, in fact, for every time he could see that the sun still hadn’t done much more than peek above the horizon. With alarming regularity, he found himself thinking every morning, ''Another long day...''
 +
 
 +
First Jovan had him do pushups: eighty, to be precise. After that, the former Toa’s arms ached so much he could barely manage to hold the bundle of firewood he was supposed to be carrying in their dwelling. Next the Toa of Magnetism had Lesovikk do sit-ups, a full agonizing seventy, even worse (was it possible?) than the pushups; they left Lesovikk’s abdomen aching enough that he would clamp a hand to it every now and again throughout the rest of the day.
 +
 
 +
But that wasn’t all. No, he’d spend the rest of the morning jogging from one rock on the shore to a second and back again until he’d run a full two kilometers. At noon, he’d get a brief rest, a quick drink of water -- and then he’d be back to work, climbing trees to retrieve the fruit on their tops.
 +
 
 +
Sometimes he’d find words coming out of his mouth that didn’t even seem to be his: “Can’t we” -- he gasped for air -- “take a break?”
 +
To which Jovan always responded, “Do you want to get into Karzahni or not?”
 +
 
 +
For Lesovikk did indeed wish to get into the land of Karzahni, as he had told the Toa of Magnetism on his second night here, too tired to care about keeping his past secret. He ''had'' to save his Matoran friends, Sarda and Idris, not to mention all of those other Matoran that had been wrongly sent to be ‘fixed’ -- that is, if what Karzahni the being even ''did'' was considered ‘fixing’.
 +
 
 +
All the more reason, Lesovikk decided, to get this training over with as quickly as possible.
 +
 
 +
Through his daily fatigue, despite his frustration, every now and again he would see a glimmer of hope. Soon he could do a full eighty pushups without resting, though his muscles would always burn afterwards. He could run his two kilometers within fifteen minutes, no sweat. Through climbing trees and tossing the fruits down to Jovan, he became adept at picking out finger holds and grasping trunks with his legs as well as his arms.
 +
 
 +
In a way, he hated to admit it, but there was no denying the fact that Jovan’s training was helping. Helping massively, in fact, for not only did Lesovikk’s endurance rise, his ''confidence'' rose with it. He was stronger, faster, and he sure felt it.
 +
 
 +
One thing he did notice throughout his exercises was that Jovan stayed fit, as well. Sometimes, during his runs, Lesovikk would catch glimpses of him doing chin-ups on some low-hanging tree branch. On the fourth day of Lesovikk’s stay, Jovan challenged the former Toa of Air to a race, the same two kilometers Lesovikk had been working on for the past three days -- but the Toa of Magnetism was the one who won, making runni