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"We will leave this rock tomorrow. For greater and better things. We will fight for the glory, the justice, and the dominance of our new reign. We will make this barren land the heart of the conquering force of the universe! And when our campaign is finally done, all shall bow and submit before the might of the new, Xevthian Empire!"
Alxor to his troops
Evils Unbound
EvilsUnbound
Story
Setting
Date Set
100,000+ years ago
Timeline
Previous
Next

Evils Unbound is a story serial written by Chicken Bond and Toa Hydros. Detailing the first confrontation between the tyrannical Xevthian leader Alxor and the Mersion scientist Mersery, the story takes place during the occupation of Versuva by the Xevthian Empire and much of the Matoran Universe. The story is set during the earliest years of Matoran history, occurring well before the coming of the Makuta or even the rise of the Barraki. The story coexists within the storylines of both Chicken Bond and Toa Hydros.

Story[]

Prologue[]

This chapter was written by Chicken Bond. 100,000+ years ago...

Shadows clung to the walls of a grandiose room. Outside, the orange sun had begun it descent behind the crispy, black clouds, allowing the remaining beams of light still shining to decorate the chamber in a beautiful bath of orange and yellow color.

The light bounced across the surface of grand pillars that stretched neatly throughout the chamber, designed to be perfectly parallel with the pillar on the opposite end of the chamber.

In between the two rows of pillars, at the end of this room, was a large, ornate throne. To scale, the throne was massive, and could easily conceal any being sitting on it behind a thick blanket of shadow. And sitting on that throne, right now, was a muscular, armored titan, whilst a pair of unblinking crimson-red eyes stared at the opposite end of the chamber.

The titan thought to himself. Where am I going to start with everything?

It had not been long since he had been instated as the High-King of the Xevthian race, perhaps over a year or two, but already the fruits of his efforts and labors had began to produce a stronger, better society. He had ”convinced” several of the greatest scientists from other lands to come to his homeland to aid in the work, and already, their culture had dramatically advanced. For years, the Xevthian people had toiled to survive in the hardships of the dangerous environment of the island, and now they had that chance to finally be more than mere scavengers and primitives.

But the High-King knew this would not be enough. Once, long ago, he had a small view of the world. His world had only been the island he lived on, and its furthest reaches the horizon line; but now…

Now he saw a different world. He now saw a world with thousands of lands, each with their own cultures and natives who governed them. And so, in one great decision, High-King Alxor, supreme commander of the Xevthian military and governor of the peoples of this island, had decided to undertake… a policy of dramatic expansion in the Xevthian reaches on the world. His people were now going to establish themselves as a great power in the history tablets soon to come, and Alxor could only hope he’d still be around to oversee the scribe’s opinion of him.

His new stratagem had been approved by his closest advisors and allies, but he knew he needed to stand on firm ground if it was going to succeed. The other citizens of the universe would surely retaliate. But Alxor knew the weaknesses of these races. Since before even his short reign, the other forces of the universe had been untamed and wild, lacking discipline and leadership and unity. He had seen the scum of the criminal underworlds: murderers, mercenaries, thieves, assassins, bounty hunters, would-be conquerors, exiles and more.

On his island, under his regime, one would have to search extremely hard for a single thief. He was a bringer of peace, order and justice… so why not extend his generosity to the rest of the universe? Why not give them the discipline and leadership they wanted – No – needed in this time of chaos?

Abruptly, the doors of Alxor’s throne room burst open, and in walked another of his kind. A commoner under his rule no doubt.

“High-King, your legions have been assembled in the courtyard of the palace. They await your divine presence and leadership.”

Lifting himself from the shadows of his throne, and snatching his war lance from the stand situated next to the chair, Alxor stood to his full height in his heavy armor, and eyed the member of his kind before him.

“Good,” he said in an almost rasping voice. “Let us depart. I will say one final thing to my forces before we leave this land.”

“Yes, your highness,” replied the servant, and together, master and follower walked to the marble balcony of Alxor’s great palace. Pulling back a crimson curtain, Alxor stepped onto the balcony to observe the magnificent sight before him.

Xevthians and Zarak alike, both races native to Alxor’s home, stood in his dusty courtyard; all placed in neat and organized lines. The military of his people was now before him. From the great Xevthians to the humble Zarak who served the island’s higher race as servants, Alxor deemed his new military ready. They were strong, battle-eager, and ready to die for his cause. For the glory of conquest, of battle, of the new reign yet to be imposed on the universe. Yes... they were indeed ready for this great step forward. Alxor eyed down the army of warriors, as the sound of faint volcanic eruptions, common to their homeland, echoed into his palace. Volcanic ash floated within the lights of the evening sun. The wind blew dust around the courtyard, though the air was chill and silent. The great army’s eyes were fixed upon their leader. And finally, he spoke:

“Our time has come! For centuries, we have been bound to this wasteland, ignored by the rest of the universe. Forgot. Discarded. Unacknowledged. But no more! The world out there is in pieces right now, and I see that as an opportunity to establish a new regime. To bring new justice to the disgusting crime-ridden filth of the lands beyond us. We shall fight them in their homes, because we know we are bringing them good. We will fight them in their cities, to prove that we have no boundaries. And will we conqueror their lands, as a sign that our breed of discipline was needed. Now, I ask you, my men….. will you fight for me?”

The crowd let up a mighty roar of a cheer, and war cries were catapulted into the air in joy and pride. Alxor smiled. Not long after, a chant began amongst the warrior crowd.

“We will fight! We will fight! We will fight!” they screamed back at Alxor merrily.

Alxor slammed his war lance’s pommel into the ground as a sign to be quiet, and almost instantly, in a seemingly rehearsed motion, the crowd was silent.

“Your spirit and enthusiasm is uplifting,” Alxor began. “And I will make sure it is not put to waste. We will leave this rock tomorrow. For greater and better things. We will fight for the glory, the justice, and the dominance of our new reign. We will make this barren land the heart of the conquering force of the universe! And when our campaign is finally done, all shall bow and submit before the might of the new, Xevthian Empire!”

The crowd screamed back in joy, their cheers being the only sound one could hear. Alxor sighed happily. This is where he belonged. On the front lines with his troops, not in the dull, backstabbing political arena he had been forced to immerse himself in once his reign had began.

The Xevthian high-king walked towards the edge of his balcony, and raised his lance into the air in pride. The crowd’s jeers grew even louder as they quickly began a new war chant for their new fighting spirits:

“For victory! For conquest! For honor! For the glory of the Xevthian Empire!”

Chapter One[]

This chapter was written by Toa Hydros. Mevock, six months later...

Skorr quickly made his way through the ruins of one of his peoples' outposts, his clawed feet gripping the loose soil firmly and allowing him to move with hardly a sound. He paused to look down at the ground every few moments in hopes of finding a discarded weapon or other items of value. Seeing what appeared to be a sword half-buried in the dusty earth, the Zeverek walked over and pulled it free, only to discover that the blade was broken in half.

Dropping the useless piece of scrap, Skorr moved on. Though "scavenging missions" like this were probably beneath one of his status within the Zeverek military, Skorr had welcomed the chance to get away from his fellow soldiers, though even he was beginning to question his decision to come here alone; much had changed on Mevock recently... and none of it had been for the better.

These new enemies aren't like the foes my brothers and I have fought against for so long, Skorr thought as he paused to look at the corpse of a fellow Zeverek. Judging from the rate of decomposition, the poor fool had been there for several weeks at least. Whoever they are they know what they want, and know how to get it.

Indeed, the Zeverek's newest foes weren't like the opponents they had been facing for several years. Fast, deadly and efficient, the invaders had come from the south like a shadowy plague, and had somehow managed to keep their fleet hidden until it was too late for either the Zeverek or their original foes to mount a suitable defense; those soldiers that had made it to the southern beaches had been overwhelmed almost instantly, felled like trees before a forest fire. The invaders, a flurry of white and crimson armored brutes, quickly spread over the land like a ravenous swarm of Nui-Kopen, occupying any settlements and outposts they came across, and destroying those that offered any significant resistance.

Now, the last few pockets of resistance had been forced to the northern-most reaches of Mevock. Worst of all (at least as far as the Zeverek leaders were concerned), the Zeverek and the race they had been warring against originally had been forced into an uneasy, and most likely temporary truce and alliance, though even their combined might had only managed to slow their enemy's march to complete conquest of the island.

The sound of a snapping twig roused Skorr from his reminiscing. Whirling around and drawing his blade in one smooth motion, the veteran Zeverek cast his keen eyes around his surroundings.

Nothing. Nothing but charred dwellings and the early morning mist.

Probably just some Rahi, Skorr reasoned to himself, though decided to begin the trip home all the same.

Turning to find the path he had used to get to the outpost, Skorr seemingly failed to notice a strong, white-armored form move out from its hiding spot behind a ruined building. The entity cleared a significant distance quickly before diving behind an old battle wagon, once again hidden from sight.

Gilvex took a moment to catch his breath. He had been trailing the Zeverek for the better part of an hour, trying to decide whether he was actually alone, or was setting up an ambush. From what Gilvex could determine, the Zeverek was alone, making him a prime target. Tightening his grip on his blade, Gilvex leaped out from behind the wagon, ready to...

...find absolutely nothing. Gilvex looked this way and that, trying to figure out where his quarry had disappeared to.

"Looking for me?"

At the sound of the gritty voice behind him, Gilvex whirled around in time to receive a backhand to the side of his face. Going with the blow, the Zarak rolled and sprang to his feet in a flash, looking up to see Skorr standing a short distance away, having evidentially managed to outflank him.

"Got to hand it to you, invader," Skorr said, his blade reflecting the morning's dull light. "I almost missed detecting your presence. Were it not for the twig you snapped, I might have been the one taken by surprise."

Ignoring what probably passed as flattery among Skorr's kind, Gilvex decided to get down to business. "Drop your weapon and surrender, Zeverek," he commanded with authority. "As of now, consider yourself a prisoner of the Xevthian Empire."

Skorr snorted in a combination of amusement and contempt. "Sorry, Zarak, but if you want me as a prisoner, you're going to have to work for it."

"Is that a fact?" came a new voice. Skorr turned to the right to see, not just one newcomer, but dozens, all of them reptilian warriors clad in either dark red or bright white armor and wielding various types of weaponry. At the head of the group was a particularly large Zarak male, his crimson eyes glowing with strength and menace. At his side was a smaller, but dangerous-looking female, each of her clawed hands firmly wrapped around a wickedly sharp sword.

"Well then..." the male said as he signaled for his men to surround their latest victim. "I suppose we had better get started."


The city of Keadrah, Versuva, several weeks later...

"Mersery!" yelled Herkain as she pounded on the door of her classmate's dwelling.

No response. Herkain sighed as she knocked on the young scholar's door again. They were both late for an important class at the Great Academy, and they couldn't afford to be late because of Mersery's oversleeping... again.

"Mersery!" she practically bellowed. "Wake up this instant! I'm not going to be the one to explain your absence. Not this time."

Yellow eyes opened to the ceiling of a darkened room, the eyes' owner grumbling slightly as he began to awaken from his much-needed sleep. The eyes blinked lazily as they attempted to focus, only to drift closed once more.

Sleep... Oh-so-beautiful sleep was mere moments away from being his once again...

BANG! BANG! BANG!

"Mersery!"

Mersery's eyes snapped open in a flash as the sound of his friend's voice blasted any chance of him falling back to sleep into a thousand tiny pieces. Leaning up, the young Mersion stayed in a sitting position on his bed for several moments, trying to reclaim his senses.

Another series of thudding sounds assaulted his ears. "Mersery?" came Herkain's voice. "You awake yet?"

"I'm up! Hold your Rahi!" Mersery barked back groggily. Like so many in the world, he simply was not a morning person... or, in his case, an evening person.

Reluctantly leaving the warmth and comfort of his bed, Mersery began the arduous journey to his front door. Before leaving the bedroom, Mersery scooped up his Kanohi Trezket from its spot on his desk and placed it over his face, allowing the mask to fill him with new energy before resuming his march toward the door.

Unfastening the lock, Mersery opened the front door to reveal a very displeased-looking Mersion standing in the glow of the late evening sun. After a moment of staring at one another, Mersery decided to speak first.

"Sooo...," he said casually, still rubbing the sleep out of his eye. "What's up?" Herkain snorted in annoyance. Gifted as the young scholar was, he simply didn't know how to take things seriously.

Perhaps this will wake him up, she said to herself.

"Nothing much," the female Mersion replied. "I just thought we could take a stroll through the park. Maybe get some breakfast, and there was something else I wanted to do. What was it? Oh! That's right. Maybe we could also attend the class we're already late for!"

As Herkain had predicted, that last statement seemed to knock whatever drowsiness Mersery still felt completely out of his system. The Mersion suddenly bolted back into his house, cursing every step of the way.

"Rahi bones!" he swore as he fumbled to secure his cloak around his neck. Though his Mersion physiology didn't really require the extra warmth the cloak provided, it still made him feel relaxed and comfortable.

Scooping up his research tablets as he went, Mersery vacated his home, secured the front door lock, and finally began the trip toward the academy, Herkain barely a step or two behind him.

"How could I forget?" Mersery asked as he walked at a hurried pace, more to himself than Herkain.

Herkain rolled her eyes. "Maybe if you didn't spend every moment of your down time studying, you'd actually get some rest."

"I'll have you know that I was not merely studying," Mersery replied defensively. "I was on the verge of making an important discovery concerning Energized Protodermis."

"And what happened instead?" his companion asked, already confident she knew the answer

Mersery allowed an embarrassed smile to appear on his masked features. "Well...," he started. "I still made a discovery of sorts: Even metal tools can be destined to transform into living creatures. And when they do, they tend to get very hungry very quickly."

They both shared a laugh as they hurried through the bustling streets of Keadrah, passing Matoran and fellow Mersions as they went. Though he had lived in Versuva's grandest city for most of his life, Mersery always felt a slight sense of awe whenever he walked through its streets. Casting his eyes about, the scholar took in the sights -- factories and smith shops that were far more efficient and environmentally-friendly than those of Xia, museums that housed the rarest of Rahi exhibits and artifacts, observatory towers equipped with telescopes easily twice as powerful as those found in Metru Nui's Ko-Metru; Keadrah had everything a curious mind could ever desire, and infinitely more.

Herkain turned to Mersery and smiled at his expression as he gazed that the city he had seen countless times, oblivious to her stare. True, he was a bit irresponsible at times, but if there was one thing about Mersery that could never be questioned, it was his curiosity of the world around him, and his passion for the pursuit of knowledge.

Perhaps that's why we're such good friends, she thought to herself. We have shared the same passion for all our lives.

She had barely formed the words in her mind before her features change to one of slight disappointment. Friends... she repeated to herself. Is that all we're meant to be?

She shook her head slightly, frustrated with herself for bring up those particular thoughts again. Now wasn't the time for such things; both Mersery and herself were only a short time away from graduating from the Great Academy, and once they did, they would be the youngest scholars to do so in the academy's history.

Needless to say, they were both under significant pressure. Too much pressure for me to get in the way with feelings that probably won't last.

"Herkain? Hello? Anyone home?"

The female Mersion was brought out of her thoughts by the sound of Mersery's voice. She turned to see her companion giving her a thoughtful stare.

"Something wrong?" he asked.

Herkain gave him a reassuring smile. "Yeah. I'm fine," she replied. "I guess I'm just... nervous about our upcoming graduation."

Though he didn't look entirely convinced, the male apparently decided not to press her. Instead, he returned her smile and said, "Me too. We've been attending the school for so long... yet it seems like it has all past us by within the blink of an eye."

The two looked up at their destination, which was now just a quarter mile ahead of them. The Great Academy was considered by many Versuvians to be one of the most important structures on the entire island. Grand and powerful in appearance, the academy possessed an air of timeless majesty, and was the single most illustrious school on Versuva; only the keenest and most determined minds were accepted, and even they could spend decades studying within its walls before finally graduating.

Not all students who attended graduated, of course... but those that did would have the chance to ascend through the ranks and become a teacher, a professor, or even (if they were particularly smart and/or lucky) a Grand Scholar.

As Mersery and Herkain walked they simultaneously relieved the past decade they had spent toiling and studying within the structure. A decade that had brought them closer together as friends. Mersery suddenly turned back to Herkain.

"Lets go, Herkain," he said. "If we are to leave this place behind soon, we had best make sure our soon-to-be ex-teachers and classmates remember us."

With that, Mersery picked up his pace as he made his way toward the academy. Smiling behind her Kanohi, Herkain followed.


Archosa

Alxor sat alone in the room that acted as his current command center, a sense of both satisfaction and anticipation flowing through him as he slowly scanned over a large map of the northern regions of his world. After several weeks of almost constant warfare, the leaders of the Saursapien homeland had finally given in and surrendered, adding yet another land to his rapidly growing empire.

This, however... he thought to himself. is merely the beginning.

Indeed, the conquests of Mevock and their northern neighbor, Archosa, were the beginning of what would be the second phase in his crusade. Conquering the southern island chains had been easy enough; most of those lands were uninhabited, and those that weren't simply did not possess the technology or manpower to resist Alxor's forces.

Surely with Archosa's fall, word will soon spread of our activities, the Xevthian ruler mused as he idly examined the finely-crafted blade of his warlance. The lands of the north will soon become suspicious and panicked, trying desperately to gather information on just who is taking hold of their little world, one island at a time.

Alxor smiled at the thought. He wanted them to become suspicious and panicked. Little did his intended targets know that he had agents and spies in positions of power just about everywhere, quietly and subtly preparing the lands they were stationed on for his fleet's eventual arrival.

They will be so focused on fighting an enemy from without... Alxor said to himself. they will be completely helpless to defend themselves from the enemy within.

But where to start? There were so many lands to choose from on Alxor's map. He immediately dismissed the southern and northern landmasses; he needed to wait until his power had become more established before attempting to raid entire continents. Nynrah was a definite candidate. Stelt had potential as well, as did Xia and Nocterra. Alxor momentarily considered the Artakha and Karzahni regions, though ultimately passed those up as well.

I will need a land of resources and technology, he thought. One I can construct a new base of operations upon.

Alxor's clawed index finger slowly slid over the map's smooth surface, his eyes following its path. Suddenly, it stopped and his eyes settled on one of the western-most isles. It was a modest-sized spit of rock that lay just south of Artakha, one he had studied a great deal about in the past. Listed beside the picture was the island's name:

Versuva.

Chapter Two[]

This chapter was written by Chicken Bond. Mersery and Herkain burst through the double-sided doors that marked the entrance to their classroom, if a little hurriedly. During their energizing rush through the Academy’s corridors, Mersery had accidently got them lost for roughly five minutes, meaning they had become much later than they already were. Though sharp and witty, Mersery definitely had a bad sense of direction.

Stopping to catch their breath, the two looked up to notice their classmates, and their tutor, a tall Mersion with glaring green eyes, staring right at them.

“Mersery! Herkain! You two are late again!” barked their instructor. “You are already half an hour late, and the class is already well underway. What was the cause of your delay this time?”

“Mersery overslept, again,” replied Herkain in a slightly nervous tone. “His studies kept him up too late again, and delayed us both. We’re sincerely sorry for the delay, professor.”

“Hmph,” their instructor grunted.

The Mersion teacher known as Kulant was one of the most – if not the most – senior scholar in the Great Academy. He had worked within its walls for longer than all the other staff members put together, and he had even had the high honor of being elected onto the Council of Eight, the ruling body of Versuva’s government. Obviously, because of this, he did not tolerate long delays.

“Under normal circumstances, you would have been disciplined for such a late arrival, though considering that you two are two of my best and brightest students, I suppose I can make an exception for you.”

The two students sighed, and took their seat behind a pair of identical, metal desks.

“Now then,” Kulant began in his cold, detached voice. “As I was saying, the early history of Metru Nui is one of the key moments in the history of the universe. Legend has it, that Metru Nui’s construction was the pinnacle creation of the mysterious creators known as the Great Beings when they were completing this universe. Whether or not the legend is true, is up to mass speculation. Now, what this implies is…”

Herkain eyes flickered over to her right, where Mersery was seated behind his desk, eagerly taking notes. For second, Herkain almost thought Mersery’s eyes were bulging out of his skull from his curiosity and fascination on this subject. It was really rather humorous sometimes, and a matter she sometimes teased him on, though she couldn’t laugh at it too much. Mersery had always been an extremely curious person, and balanced that out with his determination in his studies. Though he sometimes made rushed decisions, his eagerness and willingness to learn always pulled him through one way or another.

“Herkain! Are you listening to me?”

Herkain’s daydreaming was instantly shattered at the sound of Kulant’s testy, irritated voice. Forcing herself to meet his stare, Herkain commanded her voice to speak.

“I’m sorry, sir. My thoughts are starting to drift. Please forgive me.”

Kulant arced an eyebrow. “Very well. But you’re on your last warning. You’re an excellent student, Herkain, but don’t allow yourself to get distracted. Now, I shall continue.”

Herkain reapplied her thoughts and attention, and focused on Kulant’s words.

"Now then, today is the day you present to me your assignments that you have been working on over this term. If memory serves me correctly, you were preparing a presentation on the natural study of a particular Rahi native to Versuva. Seeing as these two were late, Mersery and Herkain will start the presentation."

The two learners stared at each other hesitantly, then recomposed themselves and moved to the head of the classroom. Held in Herkain's right hand, was a small cage, which in turn, contained a small, bird-like Rahi. The two placed their specimen on Kulant's desk, and opened the cage. The bird flew out, circled around the room, then neatly landed on Mersery's arm.

"This is a Versuvian Glider Owl," began Herkain. "A unique Rahi only ever found on Versuva. Unless somehow exported over by travellers coming from Versuva, they are not found in any other locations in the known universe."

There was a short pause.

"Well...," began Kulant impatiently. "What else do you have to say?"

What do I say, Mersery? snapped Herkain telepathically in Mersery's mind. You're supposed to be directing this section!

My part of the presentation is on the flight patterns and hunting methods of the bird. You need to just beef up this section before I can begin.

What do I say?

Improvise. Use your natural charm and charisma.

I do hate you sometimes.

I know. It's what makes our friendship so fun.

Herkain mentally sighed to herself. Forcing on a less-than convincing smile, which made her face seem cold and somewhat emotionless, she continued.

"The bird is usually utilised by the people across Versuva as couriers and messengers to citizens all over the island. Once tamed, they are both peaceful and friendly, and are adopted as pets in general. This one we found, was actually a wounded and found up near the peak of Mount Cardon, where the Glider Owls are famous for making their nests. She appeared to have been attacked by a larger predator, or something similar, though we brought her back to our home, healed her and gained her trust, effectively taming her."

Kulant nodded his head in interest, and scribbled some notes down on a stone tablet, obviously in regard to their presentation.

Right then, Mersery. It's your turn and there's nothing you can do to change it.

Couldn't I sway you with the offer of my best ever made, homemade dish of Madu fruit?

The last time you tried to cook me that, you set it on fire and burnt it to a pile of ashes. It was also overripe, and you caused it to explode when cooking it. There's no way I'm accepting your offer, tempting though it is.

It was worth a try.

"Continuing on from what Herkain was saying, the owls prefer to glide across powerful winds rather than fly through them, and they can do this for days without even tiring. If the situation arises, they can also use their wings to fly rather than glide, though they generally prefer the latter because it is more energy-conservative. They are independent and quiet, and prefer to fly alone rather than group themselves with other owls. Now, the Glider Owls generally prefer to eat fruit and small insects, rather than prey on other Rahi for food. They usually prefer to eat the energy-rich fruits of the Vuata Maca Trees, though sometimes consume Madu. Only in extreme situations I add, when they are ridiculously low on energy."

Ridiculously low? That doesn't sound like a very scientific term, Mersery.

Quiet! I can speak in technobabble if I want to!

If we loose marks because of that, then you'd better start running, because I'll be chasing you down the streets of Keadrah with a rather large axe.

Save me the threats. Versuva hasn't sold weapons in its entire history.

There's a first time for everything...

"The Owls do not, under any circumstances, attack prey larger than themselves, and rarely attack any Rahi smaller than them anyway. Being fruit-eaters, they have no desire to attack or disrupt the lifestyles of other Rahi unless it is absolutely necessary. They are generally peaceful animals, and they rarely choose to interfere with the dealings of other Rahi."

Much like our own kind, I suppose, said Mersery telepathically. Sometimes I wonder why we always just sit around doing nothing, when injustice is being wrought all around us.

We can talk about philosophical theories after we have done our presentation. Don't let your mind drift off just yet, Mersery.

"And finally," Herkain continued. "We learned that while peaceful creatures, they are swift to react to danger with their powerful horn and claws, which are almost sharp enough to dent reinforced metallic Protodermis. Their attacks, however, are entirely for defense, and their claws are designed for speedily snatching up fruits rather than battling other Rahi, meaning they are not exactly creatures that would last long in a conflict."

"I see," replied Kulant with something equal to satisfaction in his voice. "And how you decided to name this little owl that serves as your specimen."

Herkain looked at Mersery. "Well, we weren't originally going to adopt this owl, let alone name her. But during our weeks of study, I became somewhat attached to this girl here, and decided to both keep her and name her. After much talk, we settled on the name Terkla."

"Terkla?" Kulant inquired.

"It's an old Versuvian word," replied Mersery. "I only thought it appropriate to name her after the old word 'messenger'."

The lecture would continue for another nine hours. A reasonably short period of learning in the Academy. Usually, classes like this would last up to twelve hours on average, though this one was cut short due to a staff meeting. By the end of the day — or rather the night — both friends left the Academy with a look of pride on their faces. After the presentations, Kulant had announced the results of the class' work, and surprisingly, Mersery and Herkain had come up on top. Needless to say, they were feeling very satisfied with themselves.

"I'd better get home," began Mersery as the pair walked through their favorite park. "I have plenty more important studies to catch up on. I've already lagged behind on the study of Matoran mythology and—"

"Mersery, after the amount of study you did last night, I insist you take the night off. And believe me, if you do go off to do some more revision, I will not be there in the morning to wake you up."

Mersery smiled at her sheepishly.

"Alright, alright. You win. But where do you have in mind to go for the remainder of today?"

"You can come 'round to my place," began Herkain. "We can do some study there, talk about some other stuff too, and then I'll see you off back to your home."

"Sounds like a plan," began Mersery with a grin.

"Oh, and Mersery?"

"Hm?"

"This time, I'm cooking."

And then, for a second that felt like an hour, the laughter of the two young and happy scholars was only thing heard, as the sound echoed all around the empty streets of Keadrah.


Archosa, several days later...

Toa Morvak ducked a swipe from the sword of his Zarak opponent. He dodged another hit, another deathblow, and rallied forwards and launched himself into the air, using the momentum to deal two dangerous kicks to the face and the stomach. Bringing the flat of his double-bladed sword down on the face of the Zarak before him, Morvak sent him reeling across the ground before using his elemental powers to lift him up lightly, and then fling him away like a toothpick.

The Toa of Air sighed in exhaustion, and fell to his knees as his legs buckled and gave in. The fatigue he was experiencing was tremendous. He had been fighting off a platoon of Zarak shortly after they had stumbled across his campsite in the forests of Archosa. He had positioned himself on the borderline that divided the lush, jungle expanses that dominated most of Archosa from the barren northern peninsula. Needless to say, he had not had a very comfortable stay on the island since his arrival.

Although his friends had objected, Morvak had decided that he would leave his homeland to try and prevent the newly arisen Alxor and his empire from advancing any further from the southern lands as best he could. Of course, that was easier said than done. He was only a rookie Toa, new to the role of a protector, and he'd expected this much hardship.

However, when he had heard of the Archosians’ struggles with these invaders, he couldn’t resist the urge to try and help. He had arrived in the midst of the conflict, and had swiftly signed up with the Saursapien military force. Though some felt a little reluctant to let a person as youthful as him into their forces, they soon found themselves without a choice but to accept his help.

The fighting had continued for another four days. And on the last day of the struggle, the Xevthian Empire had waved its flag high in the skies of Archosa’s tallest mountain, a fearful reminder of the overwhelmingly brutal power of Alxor’s great army.

Not willing to submit before the tyrant’s reign, Morvak had fled into the deep jungles of the island, struggling for days with what little supplies he had left to calculate a new stratagem to fight off the Xevthian warriors. He was alone in this decision. He had no one to help him in his decisions at the moment.

CLANG!

Apart from his faithful, little Matoran friend, of course. Morvak jumped to his feet and spun around to confront a potential new foe, only to see a small Matoran in orange and white armor standing before him, his hands high above his head and his eyes wide. By his feet lay a strange weapon of alien design.

“Don’t hurt me, Toa! It’s only me! I thought you might like this Xevthian weapon I found some time back there!”

Morvak placed his sword back in its sheath and growled as the Matoran laid a large, pointed cutlass before him.

“For the last time, Ronkoz, I don’t want your help! This is a job for a Toa, not a little Matoran! You shouldn’t be out here risking your neck on the battlefield for someone like me! You should have stayed in your village.”

“And do what?” barked the Matoran back angrily. “Bow down before the new rulers of this land? Give into their every whim, and tolerate the slavery? No, I think not. I’d rather die out here in the field, fighting for a worthy cause, rather than die in fear and hopelessness. Face it Morvak; I’m tagging along. Whether you like it or not.”

Morvak sighed wearily. For the last three days, Ronkoz had been following him across Archosa, and had refused to go back. I suppose it was about time he put up with the fact that the Matoran wasn’t going to change his mind.

“Fine,” grumbled Morvak. “Though it will be your fault if you get killed for coming. Not mine.”

“Fair enough,” replied Ronkoz. “Now, what do you plan to do about Archosa’s occupation? There must be some way to fight back.”

“I afraid there isn’t,” replied Morvak sadly. “Archosa has fallen, and Alxor has already moved on. For more death and conquest. Wherever he’s gonna go: I plan to go with him.”

“And where exactly would that be?” asked Ronkoz snappishly. “Where could Alxor go next? There are countless more islands to the north, and he could already be in the direction of any one of them.”

“About four days ago,” began Morvak. “I positioned myself outside a Xevthian campsite. Whilst they were resting, I was able to sneak up close enough into their territory to overhear one of their field commanders discuss their next movements. They plan to establish a base on the isle of Versuva.”

“The Mersion homeland? Why there?” inquired the Matoran crafter curiously.

“Not the foggiest idea,” began Morvak. “But I have a feeling we’re going to be finding out very soon.”

“What do you mean?”

“Pack up your things, Matoran. We’re taking a little detour to a little island in the north.”


The cold air rushed against Alxor’s face as he stood on the deck of his mighty warship. All around him, crewmen attended to the numerous weapons and equipment scattered over the deck, whilst two long rows of muscled Zarak thrust their mighty oars into the water, and propelled the massive vessel forward. Alxor closed his eyes and inhaled the sea air into his lungs as another massive wave of water washed upon the deck. He smiled. He had never had much of an opportunity to absorb the invigorating aura of the sea on his volcanic homeland, and now that he did, he found that he liked its feeling. It helped him relaxed himself in times of stress.

As he rattled his clawed hand on the rail, he turned his head first to his left, then his right, to look at the three other war vessels floating in the sea on either side of his own. Those six battle ships served as the command ships of his huge armada, behind Alxor's own warship. In less than a month, Alxor had managed to rally one of the biggest battle fleets in the history of the universe. With his armada alone, he had ravaged entire islands in the southern chains of the universe, and forced others to surrender out of sheer terror of Alxor’s ships.

Truly, he was going to become one of the most legendary figures in all of history when he was through with his invasions. Mevock and Archosa had now been safely cemented as islands under his command, and now he was headed for the land of Versuva. Alxor’s smile grew wider as he continued his thinking. He knew he had to cherish every moment of glory and battle that was to come.

Abruptly, his thinking was interrupted by the sound of a hoarse voice clearing its owner’s throat.

“High-king Alxor,” said a figure behind him. “Your council is gathered. They await your divine presence.”

Alxor lurched around, and stood to his full intimidating height, staring down at the black and silver armored figure before him.

“Good… Anything else, Zeverek?”

Skorr gritted his teeth as he tried his best to keep the anger out of his tone. Since his capture by that Zarak scouting battalion, Skorr had been assigned to become the custodian and manservant aboard Alxor’s personal vessel. He was a special "gift" from one of Alxor's recently-oppointed generals who now oversaw Mevock's occupation. Needless to say, he wasn’t enjoying his new job very much. Nor was he liking his new employer.

“No, your highness. That is all.”

Without even bothering to reply, Alxor stormed passed Skorr and passed through the front doors of the captain's cabin, leaving the pride-wounded Zeverek to merely stare after him in bitterness and contempt. Alxor continued his advance through the short corridor of his quarters until he passed through a set of finely carved wooden doors to stand before a number of warriors, all situated behind a elegant wooden table. Taking a seat at the head of the table, Alxor slammed his fist against its wooden surface as an indicator the discussions had begun.

“What news of our progress?” barked Alxor, gruffly. “I grow impatient with our delays.”

An older member of his kind at the end of the right-hand side of the table cleared his throat and spoke.

“We have made good progress with our conquests,” began the advisor. “Your spies have already began diverting the attention of other rulers away from your oncoming approach, and await further instructions. In addition, your advance fleet have docked on Zakaz, and are already beginning to infiltrate the natives’ cities. We expect to be in complete control of the island at a minimum of two months.”

“That’s too long,” replied Alxor. “I need my agents seeded into the northernmost regions of this world by the time I secure my position on Versuva, and not even I know how long that will take.”

“The conquest of Versuva will be quite swift, I believe,” said a lean, white-armored Zarak male from the end of the table. “The Mersions may have formidable powers, no doubt, but they rarely use them, and even when they do, they use them for menial tasks. I doubt their powers will be as exercised as they should be to combat a fully-fledged military force. They will not dare to try and get their lily-white hands dirtied in the invasion.”

Alxor stared down his opponent, and narrowed his eyes when he met his gaze. “Don’t patronize me, Zarak. Just because I added you to my council, does not mean you have the right to snap at me. I’m in charge here! And I will not tolerate inscolence.”

The Zarak leaned back in his chair, his cool aura remaining ever-present in even Alxor’s intimidating presence. He had been elected as the representative of the Zarak race in Alxor’s court, and he was one of the most prominent clan leaders of his race. Because of this, he had been appointed to the highest point of Alxor’s ruling government, and spoke on behalf of his race in times like these.

“I’m sorry, your highness,” he replied calmly. “I’m simply voicing my opinion.”

“Well be more considerate of what comes out of your mouth, Zarak!” Alxor barked back. “No race is to be underestimated, even the Mersions. Nobody knows if they might have a secret superweapon stashed up their sleeves.”

There was silence from the rest of Alxor’s court, until the high-king himself broke the silence.

“Now, this is what we are going to do: We are going to take Versuva by storm, enslave its natives, plunder their resources, and establish our dominance. Then, using Versuva as our footing and base of operations in the northern regions, we will launch a full-scale invasion on the remaining lands, and then claim the grand prize that is Metru Nu. The pinnacle of our empire is near. We are almost unstoppable. Now, any objections?”

There was silence until the male Zarak rose from his end of the table and thrust his arm into the air.

“For victory! For conquest! For honor! For the glory of the Xevthian Empire!” . The other members of Alxor’s council rose from their spots and repeated the same chant:

“For victory! For conquest! For honor! For the glory of the Xevthian Empire!”

For his part, Alxor merely smiled back at his slimy, backstabbing political allies.


The recently-appointed Zarak general stood atop a large podium, overseeing a massive crowd of shackled Zeverek. Surrounding them, were hundreds of Xevthian and Zarak soldiers. Since the success of his campaigns to conquer Mevock, he had been personally appointed by Alxor himself one of the Xevthian Empire's high generals. He had taken no pride or glory in the moment of his promotion. To him, it was just another part of his job. And another part of his job included commanding roughly a quarter of the Empire's land-based legions and military. In addition to being the overlord of Mevock, the general had also been placed in charge of overseeing the dictatorship of most of the southern islands. His achievement was remarkable for one of the "servant" class, a status that had been instated upon all Zarak under Alxor's rule.

Now, he stood before most of the population of Mevock, preparing to announce the new rules and regulations to be enforced under Alxor's new regime.

"These are the official terms of the Xevthian Empire's occupation of your land. If you do not comply to the following laws, then you will be executed. You are not to challenge the authority of the Empire's rule under any circumstances. Doing so is punishable by death. You are to submit and obey every command handed out by an official of the Empire, and do so to the very best of your capabilities. Failure to do so is punishable by injury. You are to join in the great work of the Xevthian Empire, in the work of building a better, and united society. refusal to do so will not be tolerated. You are to show that upmost respect and admiration to the great high-king Alxor whenever in his presence or partaking in conversations with him. Disrespecting him in any way, whilst in the presence of a servant of his greatness, is punishable by immediate execution. Disobedience and rebellion are intolerable, and if caught doing either, will bring you immediate execution."

The general paused and cleared his throat. His lieutenant and second-in-command Mysa stood by his side, glaring down at a Zeverek who had six seconds earlier spat on the feet of a Zarak soldier.

"Those are the terms of Mevock's occupation, and the laws have been approved of by both myself, high-king Alxor, and the rest of his ruling council. We hope you will comply to these laws, and make the effort into turning this land of waste and rock into a truly marvellous region. One that will glow with the glory of the Xevthian Empire. New buildings shall be built to replace the remnants of your own to reflect the new start of this new beginning, and I will sincerely hope that you share the same joy and enthusiasm high-king Alxor does. You are now dismissed from my presence, and may begin in the work being done here."

And as the Zarak general turned away and stepped down from the podium with Mysa, the sound of whipping and agonised screaming from exhausted slaves became the only sound they could hear as they departed the perimeter.

Chapter Three[]

This chapter was written by Toa Hydros. Kulant sat alone in his office, pondering as he often did after his duties as a teacher were done for the night. Under normal circumstances, he usually dwelled on matters that concerned either his job, or Versuva as a whole...

These weren't normal circumstances. This time, the elder Mersion was trying in vain to decide a course of action that would have major consequences no matter what.

If what this tablet says is true, Versuva could be in dire trouble. If not, I'll have put my reputation on the line for nothing.

Once again, Kulant looked down at the tablet he had received, via glider owl. It was the latest in a series of letters that had been sent by a colleague of his who was in the middle of an expedition to the lands of the south. And once again, the main topic of the message was the rapidly growing regime known as the "Xevthian Empire", which was under the leadership of a native to the south known as "Alxor".

Kulant grimaced at the names, which had been popping up from various sources recently. A few months ago, Kulant would have dismissed the whole thing; the southern lands were well-known for being home to more than one brutal or savage race, and it wasn't uncommon to hear about some overly-ambitious warlord or military leader "declaring war" against the rest of the world. Such factions were usually ill-suited to leading their people for long, and typically collapsed within a decade or two, more often than not by their own hands.

He began paying attention, however, when he heard of the Xevthians' domination of Mevock, and later Archosa. To conquer the southern island chains was one thing (few, if any, of those islands were actually vital to the universe's ongoing survival), but to attack and claim dominion over not just one, but two of the northern islands... that was simply unheard of!

And already I'm hearing rumors of the Empire's next potential targets, Kulant thought to himself.

Now he had a choice to make: He could arrange a meeting with the Council of Eight and discuss this with them, or he could keep his suspicions to himself and hope for the best. If he went before the Council, he'd probably end up looking like a fool for his lack of evidence, which would certainly damage his reputation. If he kept quiet, he might very well doom his entire homeland to being yet another land under the Xevthian banner.

What was a Mersion to do?


Mysa ducked yet another swipe from her opponent's blade before using her own weapons to force him back. With a growl she continued her assault, slashing and kicking at every opening offered to her, only to have each of her strikes skillfully blocked.

"Come now, sister," her opponent began. "Surely you can do better than that."

Mysa gave only a snort in response; she knew when she was being baited. Instead, the female Zarak backed off and began circling her foe, searching for a weakness in his defenses and growing frustrated when she found none.

"Well?" she finally said. "Why are you standing there like a statue? If you're so eager for battle, why not come and get it?"

Her sparring partner merely gave a small, amused grin. "Why doesn't a swamp eel go off in search of its food?" he asked, watching as Mysa edged closer, no doubt continuing her search for an opening. "It's more practical to allow one's prey to make the mistake of wandering too close. All you have to do then is wait for the right opening. And then..."

With that, Mysa's opponent became a blur of motion, his hands and limbs wielding his broadsword faster than any average warrior could possibly track.

Mysa, however, was anything but an "average warrior".

Somehow, the female Zarak moved equally fast, maneuvering her twin blades with the speed and power of lightning. Soon, she and her opponent arrived a stalemate, their weapons locked together by their respective owners' sheer strength and determination.

"Good advise," Mysa said in a slightly strained voice as she pitted her strength against that of her foe. "You forgot one thing, however..."

"Which is...?"

Mysa's lips curved into a predatory smile. "Sometimes, in the game of predator and prey, the one that is hunting ends up becoming the hunted."

With that, the female's muscular tail lashed out from behind her and coiled around her foe's right ankle like a wild constrictor. Caught by surprise, the sparring partner was suddenly yanked off his feet, forcing him to the floor. Taking advantage, Mysa brought one of her blades down again, only to have them blocked by her foe's weapon. A strike from her other sword sent the blade of her opponent skidding across the chamber, beyond the reach of the male Zarak.

Mysa looked down at her foe in triumph as she raised one of her blades for a final strike...

"Enough."

The order from her downed opponent was all Mysa needed to hear. Obediently, she backed off and sheathed her blades as her sparring partner climbed to his feet. As he did so, Mysa quickly and discreetly looked him over for injury. It was something she had always done; the male was her brother and closest friend, after all.

Though he had a name like all beings, he was rarely addressed by it these days; since securing his high rank within the Xevthian military, most simply addressed him formally as "Sir", or more commonly, "General".

Dusting himself off, the male Zarak turned back to Mysa.

"You've been practicing, sister," the General remarked in a tone that carried both approval and slight surprise. "This is the first time I've ever lost a match to you."

Mysa couldn't help but smirk at his tone and words. "Would you rather I pretend to lose, dear brother?"

The General's expression quickly turned to one of distaste. "I would demote you if you did," he snorted before turning and walking toward a table hosting cloth towels and glasses of water on the other side of the training chamber.

Mysa watched as he took a sip of water. The General had been on edge since being assigned to Mevock two weeks ago, and wasn't showing any sign of loosening up anytime soon.

"What's wrong with you, brother?" Mysa asked as she approached. "You've been sullen for weeks now."

The General raised a brow at the boldness of her statement, though wasn't really surprised... Of all the soldiers and lieutenants under his command, Mysa was the only one who had the freedom to openly question his authority.

"I'm not sullen," he replied coolly. "I'm just... edgy. I should be commanding my soldiers on the front lines, not watching over a land teaming with Zeverek miscreants."

"Please, brother. You're one of the High-King's highest-ranking generals," Mysa said as she picked up her own glass of water. She took as sip before continuing. "You alone command the entire south-eastern island chain as well as Mevok. In a lot of ways, you're Alxor's most trusted agent. That's nothing for a Zarak to sneeze at, considering where we come from."

The General had to agree with that last statement. When Alxor took command, he imposed a segregation policy on the two species native to the homeland; Xevthians were deemed the ruling class on the island, while the General's own people, the Zarak, were "employed" as a servant rank, mostly utilized as laborers or law enforcers, the latter of which he himself was once. Zarak rarely attained any higher existence.

The General found himself subtly grinding his teeth at the thought. Contrary to what some might have thought, the Zarak general didn't serve Alxor and the Empire out of any sense of loyalty, or even out the hope of attaining personal wealth or power. Truth be told, he did what he did to help his own people.

As long as I am in a position of power, I can slowly but surely make things better for them.

"Not to sound insensitive, brother," Mysa said, bringing her companion out of his thoughts. "... but now isn't a time to look troubled. We have company."

The General turned at the sound of another's approach, and gave an irritated sigh when he caught sight of the newcomer, a somewhat lean and sleek example of a male Zarak, whose eyes held more than a trace of menace.

"Gilvex," the General said, making no attempt to hide his annoyance. "To what do we owe this unwanted -- er, unexpected pleasure?"

Gilvex merely snorted. Though he had started out a mere soldier, his ability to stick to the shadows quickly led to his promotion. He was now the official liaison between the High-King and his various generals and lieutenants.

"No pleasure intended, Sir... Believe me," Gilvex said as he dug into his pack. After a few moments, he produced a small tablet, upon which was a message carved in their native Xevthian/Zarak language. "I was sent by the High-King to deliver this."

The General accepted the tablet and quickly scanned over it before passing it to Mysa.

"So, he's really going through with it, huh?" the female Zarak stated after finishing the message. "Alxor's really going to try to conquer the lands to the north."

"Yes," Gilvex replied. "The first land to fall after Archosa will be the Mersion homeland of Versuva... And he wants the General by his side."

Mysa looked to her brother, searching for some reaction, though found the General's face remained emotionless, as usual. After a long moment of silence, however, he finally spoke.

"Tell the High-King I will do as he commands," the General ordered. "I will leave as soon as possible."

With little more than a snort, Gilvex turned and left the room to begin the long journey back north. Behind him, the General began walking toward the exit on the opposite side of the chamber, Mysa just a few steps behind.

"It would seem you got your wish, brother," she said. "So, when do we leave?"

"I will be leaving very soon," the General replied. "You are to remain here and maintain order in my place."

"What?!" she shot back as she followed him through the corridors of the fortress. "You can't be serious!"

"You are the only one the natives fear almost as much as I," the General said. "Only your presence will keep them in line. You are staying here. Understood?"

A long moment passed where the only sound that could be heard was the Zarak's footfalls. Finally Mysa sighed.

"Fine," she relented.

"Good," the General said. "Now, see to it that my warships are prepared. And tell our men that we leave in three days... Tell them a new conquest awaits."

Chapter Four[]

This chapter was written by Chicken Bond. The air was chilled and quiet on the island of Artakha. Night was descending on the mysterious land, and the Matoran craftsmen of the mythological place were starting to finish their daily tasks and labors. The suns had long since descended over the island. However, whilst the majority of Artakha returned to their dwellings for rest, one of their numbers walked through the empty streets, one destination in mind. Even in this place of light, this Matoran knew the land was no longer as secure as he had once been led to believe.

Indeed. He had been hearing many tales of this mighty Xevthian Empire as they continued to advance towards the northern islands, and after the surprise invasions on Mevock and Archosa, rumors had even come to Artakha, the Great Refuge, that the significant world leaders were starting to panic, following the fall of Archosa and Mevock.

Whilst the land of Mevock and its people did not have much worth or significance in the northern lands, the land was valued for on reason; its position. The Zeverek homeland had been the very first island to fall to the Empire, and it served as the foothold that the Empire would need to neatly conquer the other lands. Archosa was perhaps even more critical. Next to Xia, the Saursapiens controlled one of the biggest trading powers in the universe, and were a primary source of gear, parts and tools to their buyers. With the capture of Archosa, the Xevthian Empire would have a massive increase in production of all kinds war machines, ranging from battle vessels to weaponry. One of the many spoils of great conquest. And people were now worrying that Artakha itself would fall under the Empire's banner.

Of course, this was all just rumor. Stories whispered amongst the ranks of the crafters, and gossip off the street. But Xakon wasn't one of those who lived in obliviousness. For a few years now, the ruler of this island after which it was named had been a very close ally of the mysterious Hand of Artakha, a daring alliance of vigilantes and the public defenders of the universe. And in these troubling times, Xakon had been chosen to serve as Artakha's messenger. To communicate the information Artakha had no time to deliver himself. It was both an honor and a test to have such a position. To be forced to hide such information from his friends and crafters, yet also be allowed to privilege of knowing exactly what was going on.

Xakon approached an elegant structure that stood out in the fine streets of the Great Refuge. It was nothing particularly special, but Xakon knew its importance. It served as the Hand's base in this region of the universe. Not its headquarters, but certainly one of its most significant operation centers. Artakha had been generous in letting them make a fortress here. As he approached the front door, through the silent empty streets, Xakon rapped the iron door three times with his fist. The sound echoed outwards, and broke the silent mood.

Xakon almost flinched.

Then, a small panel in the door opened up, and two orange eyes stared out at him, clearly analysing the Le-Matoran standing before him. Xakon felt as exposed as an library of information tablets.

"Who are you? Name yourself!" barked the voice. It was edgy, and sounded impatient, lacking any trace of formality or politeness.

"My name is Xakon. I am the official representative of Artakha, and his personally designated liaison. I am here to discuss the occurrences surrounding the advance of the Xevthian Empire."

There was a deep, gruff grumble and the panel closed as the sound of several locks snapping resounded around the empty area, and the thick iron door then swung open, making a loud screeching noise on its hinges. Beyond the door was a tall, skinny figure; though his dark coloring and the night time blackness that swallowed this section of Artakha obscured any more specific features.

"Come in now," he said sharply, and before he had realized it, Xakon had raced into the darkness beyond the doorway. The iron door was closed shut in an instant, as the hinges wailed, and darkness enveloped all.

"Take my hand," said the voice, a little more relaxed this time.

Xakon felt out until his hand brushed against a larger, armored palm, and immediately Xakon squeezed it. Then, a new sensation struck him. He felt himself moving. Moving so fast his body felt as if by the time he stopped, he would have lost his physical density. And he hadn't even moved a muscle. Abruptly, they stopped, and Xakon doubled over and fell to the floor, completely stunned. He felt like he was going to be sick.

He stayed there for several seconds more before he picked himself up off the hard floor. The room they were in was much brighter than the large corridor they had just been in, but still very dark. A single Lightstone embedded in the ceiling shed brightness upon a circular, marble table; gathered around it being a number of strange and unfamiliar faces.

"Observos," began an intimidating silver and jet-black person with a cold, yet anxious look in his green eyes. "You should know better than to accelerate up and down these corridors. Especially with guests. You tend to have a habit of never knowing how fast your truly going. It would be especially unfortunate if you stopped and your atomic structure stabilized halfway inside a wall or something."

Xakon looked up to the being he had just sped here with, and found he was now able to see him properly in the light. He was a tall and lean being, with clawed hands and a reptilian-like face. Xakon watched as his navy-blue armour faded into an equally dark shade of green. Xakon hadn't realized the alteration in color until the change had finally settled.

Observos looked at him and winked friendlily. He was the last of his kind; a subspecies of the Archosian Lepidians. A subspecies that had long since died out in a massacre initiated by the Xevthian Empire when they invaded his race's land of Isla Sphenos, just off the coast of Archosa. Despite the tragedy of this, he still enjoyed surprising his friends and foes alike with a couple of brilliant tricks he still kept on his person.

"I'm sorry, Hydraxon. I simply dislike the dull, boring pace that comes with walking."

"If we can skip this pointless small-talk, we need to move onto the subject of this gathering. The Hand of Artakha needs to judge opinions on the current crisis with this Alxor person and his military regime. His conquests have divided the universe in half. He controls the south of the known regions, though the north remains effectively in the hands of the established rulers of our world."

It was an intimidating blue being with scratched, battle-worn armor who spoke. She was a Toa, that much was obvious, but there was something different about her. And those eyes. They blazed like a supernova of shining fire. They were serious and fierce, and raged with extreme vigor and determination.

She had a powerful aura that seemed to dominate everyone in the room, an aura that was impossible to ignore. She wasn't particularly old, but she definitely seemed like someone who had spent so much time on the battlefield, that battle had become no more difficult than breathing. And then, Helryx -- Toa of Water and the very first of her kind in existence -- raised her eyebrow to the silence that answered her, making her hardened features send a chill down Xakon's spine.

"The Empire had already dominated mostly the entire southern region of the universe, and it is all the remaining lands can do but to wait and watch for their next move. I hear Metru Nui has sent diplomats and ambassadors to form some form of peace treaty with Alxor, whilst the Vortixx of Xia have proposed a pact in which they would supply them weaponry in exchange for freedom. Regardless of the faction who will try to talk, no one seems to be able to negotiate or bargain with the Empire, and now some lands are reaching the bleak conclusion that the only thing they can do is surrender to their rule before they come to invade."

Xakon gulped. Though he had more insight than most on this matter, he had never realized that things were this bad.

"The rise of the Xevthians and their High-King is the single-most defining moment in recent years. His bold move has left entire islands scrambling to muster up their defenses, whilst the shadowy cloud that is this empire continues to hover over them. And most of all, they know how fear works. The bold cunning of their strategy has undone many islands, and sent their political leaders spiralling. This is merely a stage of what seems to be Alxor's master plan as he pulls his strings and manipulates everything against us."

"But surely we can stop his oncoming wave of destruction?" asked large, muscled titan of silver and red armor. "We've dealt with such foes before, and all have fallen in the past."

"This time, Axonn, I'm not sure. Taking note of the Empire's domination tactics, its clear they're cutting off all our friends. They're move is bold and daring, and the fact that they have cut off Archosa from our contact, means one of our primary trade sources has been removed, and our available options are being paralysed. We are no longer facing a possible outburst from a group of primitive warmongers, my friends. We are facing downright war. War is going to become an inevitable factor in all this, and we need to react a decision fast if we're going to get the high ground. However, Alxor's advance has yet to be halted. The execution of his plan is flawless, and has even left the Hand's leader, our very own leader, completely mind-blown. The universe faces a true threat for the first time in its history! This is unlike anything we have ever seen before! They already have nearly a half of the world undisputedly in their talons."

Then, another figure rose to challenge Helryx. He towered over her, and was adorned in thick armor. An agent plucked from the arenas of Stelt, Guardna was a long-time ally of Helryx, though not above challenging her cases.

"And what would you have us do, Helryx? The Empire's forces are larger and more powerful than ours by a tenfold. We may be formidable, but we cannot afford to wage an open war we know we cannot win! The Xevthian Empire is too great for us to overcome! We need to be smart about this."

"And how long will it take us to conjure up a plan to counter Alxor's own?" snapped Helryx, not bothering to conceal the anger and traces of annoyance on her expression.

"A year? Two years? More? Alxor's had years to plan this out, and how much time do we have? No, we need surprise on our side. Only surprise will unsettle the Empire's attack! They appear from the wastes of some of the most worthless lands, and they think they can claim the universe with one colossal attack? I won't let this be!"

"But we have to take Alxor's plans into consideration. As you said, his meticulous calculations for his invasion are without any trace of flaw. Mevock and Archosa are simply the first of many more targeted attacks against us, the setting stone for a war with us. And they're turning our leaders against us, as they bicker and argue over a course of action that won't somehow result in them taking unnecessary risks. Alxor's genius has turned entire islands against each other and ruined age-old alliances between different races out of total fear. This is one of the most well-orchestrated and carefully coordinated strikes in our time. It must've taken years of planning and preparation to devise such a stratagem. And I don't doubt Alxor took into consideration groups of heroes and champions like us."

"Ah, but if he knows we're a threat to his power, then he knows that we will strike at a time when he won't anticipate it. So he will strike us first, only to find us waiting and expecting his wrath. We will be ready, and the Hand will go through with this struggle to end the Empire. We must go on and do this. It is our duty to the Great Spirit and the Three Virtues themselves. We need allies, and we need weapons, but most of all, we need morale. We need warriors ready to die for our cause. I intend to propose my plans to our group's leader, but first, I need to know you stand with me! Do you stand with me?"

The assembled Hand members cheered in response, but Xakon remained quiet. Once things began settling down, he pitched in for the first time and spoke.

"And what do you want the peoples of Artakha to do? What would you have us do in the face of all this danger? Artakha definitely wants to help, but he doesn't want to risk our survival foolishly."

"We require no physical strength from your master. Artakha provides little in terms of military, but we will need you to give us weaponry. Archosa may have been efficient in trading and producing weapons, but the quality of Artakha's will be so much better than theirs. We need you to supply the Hand alone with weaponry. Artakha would not want to become a visual target by supplying to all the known universe, and prompting him to hunt him down, but we need you to supply for us. What do you say?"

Xakon paused for a moment, and then said three words that cemented the future of the universe. And it was three of the most simple words imaginable in such a revolutionary moment.

"It's a deal."


Herkain stood in the bustling heart of Keadrah's merchant center, stand in front of a tall stand on a street corner in the busied square of all. She was desperately trying to talk over the screaming and shouting of traders, buyers, and others as they talked about trivial things such as price, quality, quantity, materials and other irrelevant factors. Herkain rolled her eyes as she struggled to continue talking with her friend over the noise and yelling of wandering Mersions and Matoran. So, as fluidly as she would drink a glass of water, she leaned against the kiosk and continued talking -- or at least, try to shout it out.

"And then I said I could cook for the evening, to avoid having anything close to a messy or explosive dinner that I had last time!"

Herkain heard a friendly, mildly deep voice laugh hard behind the counter. Her friend was a small being, with a lovely persona.

"Oh, Herkain! You powers to comedy and your ability to make me laugh never lose their charm on me. You get me every time."

Herkain couldn't help but grin at her friend. "Thanks Corzakx. He's a good person, and an even closer friend, but definitely far from skilled at preparing meals."

Corzakx leaned over the counter, still smiling honestly and continued the conversation. "This Mersery fellow, what's he like? I've only ever heard you mention him as a classmate and the reason you're late for lessons sometimes."

"Oh, Mersery's one of my dearest and oldest friends. In fact, I'd say he's my closest. He's funny, eager, and clever. Clever enough to rival my own intelligence, which I value, but please excuse me if I sound vain."

"No, no! Not at all!" replied Corzakx, eyes wide and shaking his hands in front of her. "If he's got the brains to catch your eye, then he's certainly a card."

"He may be that, but he's a bit... eccentric, I suppose. He's a tad odd, but only in the good way. He's an interesting blend of witty quirks, passionate learning, deep knowledge, solid understanding, and a trace of naivety in the blend too."

"How'd you meet such a guy in the first place, anyway?" asked Corzakx, friendly intention in his eyes. "Don't worry, I have time. I don't usually get customers at the peak time of business anyway."

"Well," Herkain began. "It was back at my inception into the Great Academy. Back when I was part of the latest batch of new students introduced into the mainstream of the university. We had this big, long monologue made by my teacher, Kulant during the welcoming ceremony, that I must admit, was rather boring and all. Then, we were dismissed and released into the hall so we could socialize and get to know each other."

"So lucky you got into the Academy," muttered Corzakx. "I can't even become a scholar."

"Anyways, I was wondering around the hall, looking for a crowd to blend in with and join, when I noticed this bewildered chap lingering around on the outskirts of the conversations and groups, looking seriously puzzled and confused. With no one else to talk to, I went over and asked him how he was. He told me he'd missed the whole introduction ceremony due to getting lost in the Academy's halls, and had no idea what was going on. So I updated him on what'd happen, and from there on, he stuck around me in classes whenever he turned up late, and from there bloomed a close relationship."

"Close relationship, aye?" inquired Corzakx, a curious smile on his face. "You never mentioned this, my dear."

Herkain mentally kicked herself for blurting everything out so carelessly.

"Don't worry, I'm not laughing at you. What'd I gain from taunting a friend?"

"I suppose. Well... Mersery and I have been really, really close for the last decade or more. And we consider each other friends. But I'm just not sure if that's all we're meant to be. Just classmates. I'm not sure I can say if we're in anything deeper, but I'm not sure if I can say we're simply friends. I don't know! These thoughts keep me up at night sometimes."

Corzakx put his hand on Herkain's arm, a look of understanding in his deep green eyes. "What's stoppin' you from making your mind up?"

"It's just that, well, sometimes we look at each other, and I feel like I want the moment to go on forever, though the moment inevitably breaks down as it tends to due to an unforseen factor. Other times, he just seems so oblivious that it almost feels irritating that he doesn't register anything. Whether intentionally or not, he tends to hide any such feelings behind a mask of emotional unawareness. And then I just don't know."

"Sound's as if he either doesn't know how he feels for you or he doesn't want any form of closer relationship at all."

"The spark of closer feelings for one other is there, Corzakx, its simply a question if that spark will ever be lit or not that's puzzling. Only time will tell, and only time will show me if I maybe wasted an opportunity for a closer friend, or pursued a pointless, illogical endeavour."

Herkain then blinked in realization. She realized she had been holding the supplies she had come to buy in her hands for the last ten minutes whilst chatting; a new stash of lightstones, a bundle of string, some nails, and a few mechanical gears.

"Thanks for the supplies," Herkain said, a little too hastily, as she felt herself blush slightly. She felt an odd sense of embarrassment within her core, for coming out so cleanly with all this for a merchant she only ever met every now and then. She slid her Versuvian currency across the counter of Corzakx's stall as payment for her gear.

"Thanks for the supplies, Corzakx. Very much appreciated."

"See you soon," replied Crozakx, shouting out to his friend in an effort to be heard, but Herkain had already walked away and disappeared into the thick, moving crowd of Keadrah's busiest bazaar.


Far away, high in the skies of the windswept mountains of Versuva, a lone bird Rahi circled and danced above in the howling screams of the storm, drifting on the air currents, and flowing with the blizzard's patterns. It adjusted and adapted to wind's ever constant changes, but still remaining in position. Seconds ticked by, until the bird dropped down through the snowy, cold skies and let gravity claim it. It fell and fell and fell through the foggy drifts until it broke through the clouds and fell further. And then it outstretched its wings, and with undeniable grace, the bird began to float lightly through the channels of the air.

It drifted and drifted until it land on a long branch, stretching out from a dead Vuata Maca Tree. The bird stared down into a valley below, and its eyes scanned the hilltops and patches of deep, navy blue grass, capped in thick snow.

The bird was dark red in color, and it was perched on the branch like an Ice Bat just before prey was spotted. The male Glider Owl looked down into the valley and saw what it knew its master wanted to see. It saw a town. A small village on the outskirts of one of the bigger cities. No guards, no weaponry, and no visible signs of resistance.

It drifted down further from the branch to get a better angle of the village, and landed atop a small cliff ledge. From his new perspective, the Owl could see that the village was positioned right above a long coastline, the cold waves of the water crashing in towards the shore. The line stretched on and on and on until it stopped at the base of two giant mountains on either side, and the village was directly in-between both mountains.

And it was defenseless. Yes, hissed a strange, whispered voice that sounded like Spine Slugs slithering on steel. That is where the fall shall begin. Through that lagoon is where we shall come. It small, isolated, and detached from the rest of the land.

A sound that resembled a snarling Kraata, which was intended to come out like a chuckle radiated in the Owl's mind. It shifted its legs on the ground uneasily.

My telepathic bond with you is strong, little Rahi. I can see so clearly through your small eyes, and determine so much. Who would've thought that my greatest scout and spy would come in the form of a tamed Glider Owl? You are a very loyal creature indeed. Disciplined and tamed. But enough of this petty talk. You will head to Versuva's greatest city, and watch over the meeting of the last possible chances of remnants. I want to see and hear what they say, and how they can oppose me. So go, little Rahi. Do what you were destined to do.

And so, the great Versuvian Glider Owl, colored crimson red like his master with traces of silver, leapt of the branch and soared off into the air. Its destination was known, and its mission was simple:

Keadrah, the Great Tower, and the Council of Eight. And the moment that could define the turning point in all of history...

Chapter Five[]

This chapter was written by Toa Hydros and Chicken Bond.

Somewhere, deep below the surface of an island never seen by Matoran eyes, a series of small chirps filled the air as a lone lizard Rahi emerged from its burrow. Taking a cautious sniff, the little reptile edged out further, casting its keen eyes around the subterranean cavern it called home. After a day of rest, it was time to feed again, and the lizard was looking forward to an evening of hunting those delicious glow-bugs that infested these tunnels.

With a final squeak, the lizard left its burrow behind, looking around at the banquet before it: Dozens of glow-bugs were crawling along the floor and walls, constantly flashing their glowing wings. The glow was utilized by the insects as a form of communication, though it also made them easily spotted by other species.

The lizard crouched down and began stalking the closest glow-bug, taking care not be detected by the insect's keen hearing. Closer and closer the lizard moved. Finally, once within range, the reptile opened its jaws and launched its long, sticky tongue, snaring the hapless glow-bug before pulling it into the lizard's waiting mouth. The little Rahi's needle-sharp teeth made short work of the morsel.

As the lizard finished gulping down its first meal of the evening, it continued to cast its eyes about the tunnel. For as long as it could remember (which actually wasn't very long), it had lived in these tunnels in relative peace. True, there was the occasional disagreement with others of its kind, mostly over food or territorial boundaries, but rarely more than that. And although this way of life was still mostly the same, a recent arrival within the tunnels had caused a number of disturbing changes. Creatures of any size knew better than to be out of their holes or burrows when he made his way through this place.

A cricket-like chirp roused the lizard out of its "thoughts". He looked around to see a particularly large and juicy-looking glow-bug scurrying just a few lengths away. Better still, it seemed to be busy feasting on the subterranean algae that formed on the cave floors, completely diverting its attention. The lizard prepared itself for a new meal and slowly began to move forward, its eyes focused on its intended meal. So intent was it on claiming a new victim, that the Rahi didn't register the slight drop in the cavern's temperature...

The lizard was now barely a foot away from its quarry, more than close enough to snag with its long tongue. The Rahi's jaws parted slightly as it prepared for another strike... Wait. What the...? The lizard watched in bewilderment as the glow-bug's luminescent wings suddenly went dark.

That was strange; the creatures never stopped glowing, even when faced with predators. And yet, here they were, dark as can be and hugging the cavern floor and walls. What could make them behave so oddly?

That was when it finally noticed the cold. The lizard's body went rigid as it tried to adjust to the change in temperature, and a shiver traveled up its spine. This was the cause of the insects' shift in behavior; cold. But the lizard, even with its limited intelligence, knew that this sudden absence of heat wasn't any natural phenomenon... No, this kind of cold always heralded the approach of the entity the tunnel's Rahi had come to fear above all others, one they had come believe was the physical embodiment of death and cold themselves... for all who crossed this entity's path were wiped from existence, leaving only dust to mark their passing.

Panic coursed through the lizard's body, causing its heart to pound wildly. What should it do? Should it make a break for its burrow? Or should it just stay still and hope that its camouflaged skin would hide it from sight?

The decision was made in the flash of a heartlight. The Rahi turned tail and pumped its little legs for all that they were worth, racing back toward its hole before finally ducking inside. Though in its burrow, the lizard felt far from safe; the creature backed up as far as the walls of its dwelling would allow before curling up into a trembling ball of legs and tail, though kept one eye trained on the entrance.

Outside, the shadows grew darker and the air colder. And although no footfalls could be heard, the lizard knew that the being it feared most of all wasn't far away. With a whimpering squeak, the lizard scrunched its eyes closed tight and hoped, just hoped that death would choose to pass it over...


Out in the tunnel, the subject of the Rahi's distress made his way through the winding corridors, his gleaming, crimson eyes staring straight ahead. He moved with unmistakable confidence, his large, muscular frame giving off an invisible aura of sheer, otherworldly power that sent the lesser creatures of this place scurrying away in terror. Draped across his shoulders was cloak that obscured his form in the darkness, while a massive axe was held in the grasp of a large, clawed hand.

His name was one not known to most in this world and he preferred it remain that way, at least for the time being. He had existed long before the tunnels he now walked through... in fact, he was far older than most of the "universe" he now dwelt in. He saw this world as, not a living thing full of beings capable of pursuing their own destinies, but as property... property its creators had foolishly left unguarded.

Not a mistake I will make, once I have this world under my heel. the dark being said to himself.

How long had it been now? How long had it been since he stood on the sands of his homeland; since he had breathed in the dry air of his desert home; since he had looked upon the towering structure that had been the place of his birth with unbridled contempt? He couldn't be sure. He had been so busy since immigrating to this new world, time seemed to have shifted forward without his noticing... somewhat ironic for someone with his capabilities.

Still, he couldn't dwell on the past at the moment. He had finally reached the twin doors that guarded the chamber at the end of this tunnel. He placed a great clawed hand on the door and allowed a minute portion of his almost unlimited reserves of power to flow into it. Registering the unique energy of the entity, the locking mechanisms within the door deactivated, allowing him to push them open and pass through.

He entered his private chamber (one of many he kept hidden throughout various regions) and glanced around, making sure everything was as he had left it: Yes, his work table was still as organized as it was before; his chair still rested in the center of the room; his observational telescreen, constructed from technology alien to this world, still hung on the far wall.

Propping his axe up against a wall, the being then immediately made his way toward the telescreen. Passing a hand over it, the device's screen came to life in a flash of color that eventually focused into a crystal-clear image: The capitol city of the Xevthian homeland, the heart of the Xevthian Empire.

The entity's eyes narrowed as he watched the typical hustle and bustle that took place in the city. A part of him couldn't help but be a little amazed at the ingenuity the Xevthians and Zarak were capable of once given a shove in the right direction. It had been only a few years since the being had subtly set one of his several plans into motion, and already these once-begotten people had not only formed an almost utopian society, but had expanded their borders to consume over half the universe!

Given the circumstances, the schemer said to himself. ... perhaps I can afford to accelerate my plans."

The entity watched as the citizens of the Xevthian capitol went about their business, completely oblivious to the fact that they were being watched. They were but pawns as far as their watcher was concerned, game pieces he could and would move as he saw fit. And the king of these pawns, Alxor, would be his champion, whether the Xevthian High-King knew it or not. That was what all this scheming came down to: A game. This world was the game board, its occupants the pieces.

And the entity? He was the game master, the one that moved the pieces where and when they needed to be. But the being was not so foolish as to believe he was playing this game alone. As with most thing in life, there was competition for the prize this game offered. Like himself, his opponent had been ancient when the world was new, and was likely moving and manipulating his own pieces across the board. He foolishly believed his own pawns had any hope of even slowing down the Empire.

As laughable as the notion was, the entity knew better than to underestimate his opponent; in the past, even the weakest heroes had overcome staggering odds to achieve victory. No doubt his opponent in this game was manipulating the defenders of the world in hopes of keeping the Empire at bay. The Hand of Artakha, the various island militaries, even those new masked warriors that had been popping up in recent years... what were they called again? Toa! That was it. Yes, all of these forces, as insignificant as they were, could still pose a serious threat.

Then they will simply have to be disposed of. The entity thought.

Passing a hand over the screen again, he deactivated the device. He then slowly made his way to his chair before sitting down and settling in.

He had a lot of thinking to do, after all.


Xia

Aretha was having a good day. She had just received word that the special project her engineering team had been working on was almost finished, and right on schedule, too. As a Vortixx engineer, she knew the value of completing her work on time; fast work meant happy customers... and happy customers meant potential future business opportunities.

Considering who our current client is, "opportunity" might be an understatement. Aretha thought to herself.

As the Vortixx leaned back in her seat behind her desk, she remembered everything she had been told about Xia's agreement with the Xevthian Empire two months ago: Though Xia's government had yet to seal any official pact with the Empire as of yet, the island leaders had made the decision to try to win Alxor's favor with a "gift", a war machine the High-King had been trying to have created. Upon hearing of Alxor's frustration over the subject, the Xian leaders had jumped on the opportunity; they volunteered their most skilled crafters and engineers to construct the High-King's desired weapon... completely free of charge.

Initially, Aretha's team had been outraged... and rightfully so. Constructing such a massive and complex machine without any form of payment in return simply wasn't the Xian way! Upon thinking of the possibilities of an alliance with the Xevthians, however... the sheer amount of weaponry and equipment such a faction would require, and how much they would be willing to pay for it... It was enough to boggle the mind.

So, here she was, roughly two months after the deal had been struck, patting herself on the back for her team's diligence to the project; two months to create a machine as massive as the one Alxor had requested was no easy task, even for her team... but they had done it. Now all that was left was for someone from the Empire to come and claim it.

"Aretha! Aretha!"

The shouting of her name roused the Vortixx from her thoughts. She turned to see one of the Matoran crafters, the Onu-Matoran Distrex, rushing down the hall toward her, his red eyes wide and excited. Though originally from the Tren Krom Peninsula, the Matoran had quickly made himself at home within the cut-throat society that was Xia.

"What is it, Matoran?" Aretha asked coolly, doubting anything the Matoran could tell her would be of much interest. "If it's another workplace accident, don't expect any compensation; if the workers under your watch are too clumsy to avoid being crushed or disintegrated, then they --"

"It isn't anything like that, Aretha," Distrex replied, still catching his breath. "Our... clients have arrived to claim their weapon."

Aretha didn't seem too concerned. "Then show them in, and escort them to the hanger," she said, assuming the Empire had sent one of their representatives.

"But—"

"Am I speaking some unknown language, Matoran?" Aretha snapped. "I said show them in!"

Distrex gave a nervous sigh before turning around and sprinting back down the hall, leaving Aretha to turn back to her desk. She had tabletwork to do before the transaction was complete, and couldn't afford to be distracted with a Matoran's ranting. She had gotten through the first when she heard the sound of multiple footfalls approaching her.

"Um, Aretha?" came Distrex's voice. "They're here."

Aretha gave a snort of annoyance before looking up. "How many times do I have to... to..."

Though there were now several beings within the small office in addition to Distrex, Aretha's eyes were immediately drawn to the two in the center: One was a tall, regal Xevthian that clutched a massive lance in his clawed hand; the other was a bulky, muscular Zarak, whose face held a look of slight distain. Gathered around them were four other Zarak standing at attention, each holding a wickedly bladed spear and spiked shield. The Xevthian took a step forward.

"I believe you have something of mine in that hanger," he said. Though his voice held no hostility, somehow it still sent chills of dread through Aretha's frame. Instantly, the Vortixx realized just who she was looking at.

"Alxor!" she exclaimed. Immediately, she got out of her chair and dropped to one knee in a hasty bow of respect. "I-I beg your forgiveness for my rudeness, High-King! I had no idea you were coming to claim your new weapon personally."

"Yes, yes," the Zarak standing next to Alxor replied tiredly. "Now, if you would be so kind..." he said, gesturing toward the doors leading to the hanger.

"Of course, General," Aretha replied as she stood up and began walking toward the doors. Alxor, his General, and their entourage of bodyguards followed closely, leaving Distrex to stare after them, eyes wide. As the group made their way down the corridor, Aretha babbled continuously about how excited Xia was to host the Xevthian High-King himself, and other things Alxor and his General weren't particularly interested in.

Aretha led her guests through the door and beheld the hanger: It was a massive chamber, filled with various forms of machinery, catwalks spanned the distance between the opposite ends of the building, and a pair of enormous metal doors dominated the back wall. Scurrying to and fro were Vortixx and Matoran workers and engineers, all busy with some task or another. None of these features were what drew the attention of Alxor or his companions, however. It was the massive structure that hung several lengths above the dirty floor, suspended from the high-above ceiling by large, heavyweight chains.

Alxor's lips curled at the sight, even as he distantly registered Aretha babbling on about her team's work.

"We designed it to your exact specifications, Great One," she said hastily. "Notice how we added the layers of armor platting to the-"

Alxor then raised a hand, and instantly the Vortixx stopped talking. "Be still," the Xevthian High-King said coolly. "I am here to examine my war machine myself. You may direct your rambling to my general if you like."

"Oh joy," the General sighed dryly.

With that, the High-King turned and began walking toward his newest weapon. Though his armed guard attempted to follow, Alxor sternly waved them off; he wished to gaze upon this sight in without a group of muscle-bound thugs breathing down his neck. Soon, he was standing just a few yards away from the object of his excitement. He gazed up and drank in the sight of it.

It was an airship, much like the ones commonly seen patrolling the skies of the more technologically advanced regions, such as Metru Nui or Versuva. This vessel, however, was easily three times the size of the largest cargo airship ever flown, making it a truly massive sight to behold. Colored various shades of red and crimson, the ship was further distinguished by the additional armor platting that protected both the hull and the domed top. Mounted on the outer decks were revolving turrets, all of which were heavily armed: Energy cannons, Kanoka launchers, Rhotuka generators and more -- the ship was practically bristling with some of the most advanced weaponry available.

Alxor smiled. Combined with its sheer size, the ship's offensive and defensive capabilities would virtually insure that it would dominate any aerial battle. Plus, its cargo hatch was spacious enough to easily house several soldiers and still have room for a war-tank or two. This ship would be one of the deciding factors of the invasion to come.

"Marvelous," Alxor hissed in pleasure. "Simply marvelous."

"Isn't it?" came a silken voice. Alxor turned to see the shapely form of another Vortixx approaching him, her jet-black and silver armor reflecting the illumination of the lightstones within the hanger. Unlike Aretha, who had barely been able to hold herself together in Alxor's presence, this Xian moved with an unmistakable air of confidence. And though she seemed calm and collected on the outside, for some reason Alxor had no doubt she was fully prepared to tear the throat out of any that would cross her.

"Yes, it is," Alxor replied warily. Out of the corner of his eye, the Xevthian noticed his guards bristle slightly at the Vortixx's unauthorized approach of their king. He made a subtle gesture, signaling for them to remain where they were, but to still be prepared to intercede if necessary. "A true piece of engineering art. I certainly hope it performs as well as it looks... er... I'm sorry, but you are...?"

The Vortixx gave a smile that was somehow friendly and predatory at the same time. "Roodaka," she replied, holding out a clawed hand, which Alxor shook. "I was the one assigned to supervise the construction of Xia's... "gift" to you. And yes, I am confident your airship will live up to your expectations and more, High-King."

Alxor gave a nod. "How soon can we arrange a test flight?"

"If everything goes well with tonight's tune-ups," Roodaka replied. "first thing tomorrow morning. And you have my guarantee that its performance will be nothing short of perfection, great Alxor. After all, the reputation of Xia," she said, casting her cerulean eyes toward a nearby Matoran mechanic, glaring at him as if he were a bug she was tempted to squash. The mechanic gave an audible gulp before wisely shying away from her gaze. "... and several of its finest engineers are depending on it."

Alxor nodded but said nothing in reply, instead simply returning his gaze toward his newest weapon. He was all too aware of Roodaka's lingering presence as one long moment stretched into the next.

Roodaka, however, wasn't interested in the airship; she had her eyes set on the High-King himself. Though one might confuse her gaze with one of attraction toward Alxor himself, truth be told, the person before her was of little interest to Roodaka. What caught her attention was the invisible aura of raw power that surrounded the Xevthian, but not the power of physical strength or abilities so many in this world possessed. No, what invited her interest was the power of command, of authority. Those were what truly gave one status in this world, Roodaka was sure... status she hoped to one day possess.

Finally, Roodaka spoke next. "Forgive my being so bold, but may I ask you a question, High-King?" she said, subtly moving closer to the Xevthian male. Alxor hesitated a moment before giving a nod. "Your homeland is located to the far south, and yet you are here on what essentially will be the front lines of the battles to come. Why?"

"Why not?" Alxor asked back. "Why deny myself the satisfaction of conquest?"

"It just seems strange to me," the Vortixx replied, still edging closer. "After all, without their leader ever present, would it not be easy for some upstart or rival to gain power in your absence?"

Alxor actually smiled at that. "That won't happen," he answered, still looking over his new warship.

"As you said, why not?"

Alxor was silent for a moment as he took a moment to compose the proper response. "A long time ago, my land was one ravaged by war," the High-King explained. "Warlords and factions sparred with each other over the most trivial of matters. My people still remember those days... remember and loathe them. They know that, without me, our volcanic spit of rock goes back to being the war-torn pit it used to be."

Roodaka lifted a brow, unconvinced. "It would seem your people are very... devoted. Still, it couldn't hurt to have someone overseeing your people... someone to maintain order in your absence."

"I already do," Alxor said. "I have advisers and other subordinates to oversee matters of importance."

"True," Roodaka answered. "but it couldn't hurt to have someone oversee the day-to-day happenings of your homeland." She was now mere inches away from Alxor. She laid a gentle hand on his armored shoulder. "Someone, perhaps, who possesses keen experience in such matters..." The next words she spoke were lower, possessing a seductive hiss. "Someone you could... trust. "

It was then Alxor turned to meet Roodaka's gaze. Upon meeting his stare, Roodaka immediately backed away, her form almost instantly filled with an unexplainable sense of pure dread. Alxor almost snarled with contempt, seemingly only just containing a towering rage.

"Someone like you, I presume?" he asked with what sounded like disgust, the gem set into his forehead shining with a faint, unnatural glow.

Roodaka fought down a growing sense of panic. Her instincts were screaming for her to turn around and get as far away from Alxor as possible, yet her body was frozen in place.

"I... I..." she stammered, trying to think of something to say in apology. She couldn't explain how she was feeling; on the outside, Alxor wasn't so different from any other Xevthian... yet at the same time, she could sense his calm, decisive manner only served to hide something darker... something primal.

It was then Alxor's guards stepped between the two, all of them readying their weapons.

"I can sense when someone is trying to manipulate me, Xian. And I can honestly say that I don't enjoy it one bit," Alxor stated. "I suggest, Roodaka, that you keep your ambitions in check..." When he spoke again, his deep, smooth voice became a guttural, almost beast-like growl. "They could be the death of you, one day."

Roodaka stared at him for a moment, seemingly unsure of what to do next. Gathering her resolve, the Vortixx replaced her fear with anger, and gave the High-King a spiteful glare before turning to making her way out of the hanger. So great was her humiliated frustration she lashed out at a male Vortixx that got in her path, sending the laborer sprawling to the floor. Satisfied, Roodaka then stormed out of the hanger, no doubt seeking someone else to take her rage out on

Alxor glared after the female for a few moments before returning his gaze toward the airship. Why had he snapped at Roodaka just then? True, the Vortixx was nothing but a manipulative harpy, but such things had never bothered him before; he had dealt with the like more than once during his political carrier prior to the peak of the Xevthian's success.

He was felling... edgy for some reason, more aggressive. It was as if his instincts were expecting something his conscious mind was not. What could it be? What could it—

The pain exploded within Alxor's mind like a volcanic eruption. The High-King's eyes widened as jolts of numbing agony blossomed within his forehead, before racing through the rest of his form, causing him to double over in weakness.

In that instant, Alxor realized what was taking place, though could do nothing to stop himself from reacting to the pain. He tried to hold it in at first, but finally lost out, allowing a pained moan to escape his lips and drawing the attention of his guards.

"High-King, are you alright," one asked. The others gather around their ruler, all talking and muttering with concern. The commotion quickly drew the attention of the General, who promptly abandoned Aretha and her rambling, quickly rushing to Alxor's side.

"Alxor," he said as he helped his king stand upright again. "You are unwell. Should I alert our medic?"

Immediately, Alxor forced himself back to his full height. "That," he grunted. "... will not be necessary, General."

"But, you look so ill..."

"I appreciate your concern," Alxor replied, trying desperately to hide any sign of the agony that still coursed through him. "but I am alright. I... simply have not slept well the last several nights. All I require is sleep."

"Are you sure?" the General asked, not completely convinced.

"Yes," Alxor growled. He took a moment to compose himself. "I am going to retire to our inn for the rest of the evening. I trust you can finish our work here."

"Of course, High-King."

"Until tomorrow, then," Alxor said. He then began making his way toward the exit, his guards following quickly behind. As they made their way down the corridors, it took every ounce of willpower Alxor possessed to simply walk without screaming in pure pain, every step he took acting like a jagged bolt of discomfort. Still, despite his weakness, Alxor moved with a quick, fluid gate; it wouldn't do to show any extended weakness around his people.

Finally, the group emerged from the building and made their way toward the covered stagecoach that sat waiting for them, the large bull-like Rahi charged with pulling the cart giving an occasional snort or growl of boredom. Climbing inside the wagon, Alxor gave the driver the order to get moving.

As the cart made its way through the bustling streets of Xia, Alxor, despite the pain that racked his body, allowed his thoughts to center on the source of his agony: The jewel-like structure set into his forehead. When he had received it the Xevthian had been told it was a legendary artifact, one that had first been created in the time before time; that it had the power to make warriors out of cowards, and rulers out of peasants... that to act as the jewel's host was to gain power and insight, the likes of which no one else could possibly comprehend.

And these claims had indeed been the case... in a way. But what he had not been told, however, was that the jewel's gifts came at a great price... a price so great that the blessing that was the gem swiftly became a curse, one that could not be denied.

The Change will take hold soon. Alxor thought to himself with ever-growing dread. I must be ready.

Indeed, as soon as the suns went dark tonight, Alxor's curse would take full effect... and when that happened, there would not be a soul on Xia that would be safe from his wrath.

Gathering his resolve, Alxor forced himself to relax as the stagecoach approached the surprisingly clean and orderly building that was the inn. He would retire to his private chamber for the few hours of needed rest he would be able to manage.

After all, once the Change is complete... the Hunt will begin, again.


"Steady, Mersery. Easy now. Just one more drop and..."

The professor flinched and turned away as he shielded his eyes from the massive explosion that erupted before him, yet he could still see the light of the awful reaction right through his tightly shut eyes. This was followed closely by an extremely loud crash, as the sound of something heavy pounding across a wall filled the air.

Cautiously, the professor opened his eyes to see a figure slumped against one of the far walls, where an obvious crater-like mark had been formed in the metallic frame. The professor sighed. His lab assistant's curiosity tended to cause disastrous outcomes in the experimental research they conducted, more often during the practical studies. However, he couldn't deny that his assistant's mistakes had more than once proved where there flaws in his own theories had been.

"I said one drop of Energized Protodermis, Mersery! Not five! Zevrai, help our friend here to his feet."

Out from behind an old wooden desk popped the head of a slightly terrified Matoran, her eyes as wide as saucers and her eyes glimmering with worry. Cautiously, the Matoran made her way past the oddly relaxed professor and over to Mersery, who was groaning miserably as his head remained bowed.

She put a hand on his shoulder, trying to judge if he was conscious or not.

"Mersery? Are you alright?"

Suddenly, Mersery head lurched upwards with his eyes wide, as if he had just stumbled across a waterfall of crystalized Protodermis on a fine, sunny spring day. He blinked twice and shook his head.

"Fascinating," he said, his voice not even seeming a little bit dazed by the impact.

"Five drops of Energized Protodermis instead of two mixed with a light acid seems to have set a chained chemical reaction that caused a semi-destructive implosion that created a minor shockwave. Let's try this again to see what better results we can get!"

The professor raised his hand. "That will be enough for today, you two! I think you've hit your head hard enough for one week, and I don't want my workspace destroyed any further by reckless tampering. Take a break to recover from your hit before coming back tomorrow."

The senior scientist then smiled. "Now, I think we've got enough notes on what not to do when mixing acid and Energized Protodermis. I'm sure I can find out the final results from here, so I'll see you two tomorrow. Oh, and also; please be good spirits and clean up the mess."

The professor grinned softly as he turned to make his way out of the lab. Zevrai rolled her eyes as Mersery rose to his feet slowly. It wasn't exactly easy considering the blow he had just taken.

"That professor is as willing to clean up his own mess as he is to give us a pay rise," joked Zevrai with a sharp smile as she started wiping down the table.

Mersery smirked back. "I'm not exactly complaining. So long as I get enough pay to fund my education at the Great Academy, I'm not whining. Besides, his work gives me the opportunity to take down a few valuable notes and gives me a chance to do some extra revisions for my educational challenges."

"Well, some of us have to scrap off these kinds of jobs for a living rather than having the luxury of laying back and taking down notes."

Zevrai's reply came with a fierce, yet light-hearted look in her eyes. Whilst she could always take a good joke, Zevrai was a fiercely independent individual, with opinions and dreams of her own. Despite her youthfulness, she was very good at her job.

"I'm not implying this is a poor job, evrai, quite the contrary actually. What I'm trying to say is, for me, its good practice. Besides, this is only a part-time job for me."

Zevrai cracked a sharp smile. "Alright, alright! Look, how about you get back home and get back to studying. I'll clean up the mess here."

"You're a diamond, Zevrai," said Mersery as he returned her grin. "See you tomorrow."

The young Mersion student then turned and made his way out of the lab and down into a wide corridor littered with odd contraptions, devices, and other bizarre eclectic and anachronistic objects. Perhaps one day he would actually understand what these scientific gadgets did.

After finally rounding the second corridor of the level, Mersery exited the building and into the busy streets of Keadrah. The day was almost over, or at least from Mersery's perspective. Mersions usually came out just after sundown, therefore making their "day" the Matoran's interpretation "nighttime". It was very confusing for those who weren't naturally nocturnal.

Mersery strode through the streets as he followed the old path that would lead him on his way back to home. He had to concede, however, he got off much easier than he should in his job. In the last month, he had blasted a hole in a reinforced Protodermic shield, disintegrated an experimental medical compound and now left a mark in one of the laboratory's walls. Had Mesery had any other professor, he most likely would have been booted straight out the job, but his employer saw potential in him, being more than willing to turn a black eye on his little accidents.

He had been lucky enough to get this job in the first place; almost fifteen other people had been contesting for the position, and out of all these qualified people, the professor had chosen Mersery. In good humor, the elderly scientist always said that Mersery had won the spot in a raffle.

Herkain, on the other hand, had got her job with a bit more thought and consideration. In order to pay for her fees at the Academy, Herkain worked as the main assistant of a renowned self-defense instructor. Though many of their kind frowned upon learning the ways of combat, the hardened female that was the instructor had once been an explorer who had journeyed beyond Versuva's boundaries to learn more of the world. She returned home with a feeling that Versuva needed more people with the knowledge of how to stand up for themselves.

Whilst there had not been many people competing for the spot as her assistant, Herkain's employment had been delayed by the instructor's debate over whether or not she should hire her. It was said that she would only choose those who could handle a fight, and after three weeks of thought, Herkain was finally given the job. Now, she spent her free time picking up tips from the combat teacher and passing them onto the visitors of the self-defense class.

Mersery rounded another bend in the street and continued onwards, his eyes clouded in thought instead of awareness. As he passed a dark but tidy alleyway, his ears caught the sharp sound of something croaking weakly. Puzzled, Mersery turned back to the alleyway as the croak echoed out again. Making his way slowly into the shady backstreet, Mersery's superior night vision kicked in, but even with this extra assistance, he still could not locate the source of the croaking.

Mersery sighed. Maybe it was just has imagination kicking in again; after all, it was said he had a fairly active one. As he was turning to resume his stroll home, Mersery was forced to abruptly side step out of the way of a small bird-like Rahi lying near his feet whom he had noticed only seconds ago.

Mersery grasped the wall as he wobbled, not wishing to stumble and trip, and after regaining his balance he turned to look at the small Rahi that lay on the floor. Mersery eyed it closely, his eyes deep in fascination. This one didn't belong to any Rahi breeds he recognized and it definitely wasn't one native to Versuva; Mersery had memorized all the native species ages ago.

The bird was a young creature, though it clearly bore both avian and reptilian traits. Mersery could determine its age based on its small size; it was barely larger than his own hand. However, its species remained a mystery. Mersery had studied many different kinds of Rahi in his time, but this one totally eluded him. To try and assist him, the young student decided to analyze its features.

The bird was colored in shades of brown, grey and dark green, with a intricate crest on it's head that sported two pointed horns; one near it's armored eyes and another that curved downwards by the back of its head. It bore a snout-like beak that was strangely elegant, and its whole body frame was delicate. Other than the small tail it sported, the only other noteworthy details was its strangely developed wings, which reminded Mersery of the large wings of the Glider Owls, only these were much thinner and longer.

Overall, the creature bore no resemblance to any Rahi he had ever studied before. The creature croaked woefully again, seemingly try to emphasize the fact that it was in pain. Scooping the bird into his hands, Mersery scanned the bird for injury, and in record time, he had pinpointed the injury.

"Ah-ha!" he cried aloud to himself. "There's the problem."

Mersery gently traced a finger along the bird's right arm until he reached the shoulder blade and felt a deep scar. Upon making contact, the bird squirmed in pain, spitting out a pained, yet non-offensive, hiss. Taking his finger off the wound, Mersery thought through all the possibilities of how to heal such an injury. This wasn't his scientific specialty (that had always been Herkain's) but he still knew a thing or two about treating burns or scars.

His hand plunged into his bag and he fumbled around for any compound that might help. He wasn't sure if he had anything that could be reliable in this situation, as he never brought back many chemicals or brews unless he was assigned to specifically study them, but he had to look. Suddenly his eyes widened as his fingers slipped over the smooth surface of one particular bottle.

Pulling it out, Mersery examined a fourth-degree viral disinfectant chemical, a concoction usually used to test the durability of certain microorganisms in the laboratory. Mersery was only bringing it home to test it on some of the life forms that lived on a small patch of mold that ran across a small corner of a wall in his house and a part of the ceiling. If this poor bird had any forms of viral creatures in its body, this would eliminate them quickly and painlessly, removing any chance of organic tissue getting infected.

Applying a few drops to the bird's scar, Mersery crouched down and opened his palms, allowing the Rahi to hop back onto the floor. The bird looked up at Mersery curiously with a look so unusually intense it made Mersery laugh.

"You're a funny little guy, aren't you?" he said aloud. "Now if only you could tell me what you are."

As if replying to his question with a defiant 'no', the bird gave a shriek and sped off on its way. Mersery's eyes widened as he found himself giving chase to the small Rahi, running as fast as he possibly could just to merely keep up with the bird, which was still at least half-a-meter ahead of him. How could a creature so young run faster than him?

"Wait! Come back!" cried Mersery desperately as he pushed passed the odd straggler in his pursuit of the strange specimen. The bird looked over its shoulder for a brief second to see how far away its pursuer was, and as if it had made a conscious decision, it upped its pace and darted around a corner.

Mersery panted as he passed around it, only to now find himself now standing in a square filled with merchants who were packing up their shops for the night, whilst others were filling in to prepare for the day. All around them were large crates and supply containers filled with food, hardware, housing appliances and more. There were just too many spots for this animal to hide in. Mersery's eyes continued to flicker all around the area. If he could so much as keep the Rahi and examine its physique, then maybe he'd be able to...

"Looking for this, my friend?"

Mersery instantly twirled around to see an elderly Mersion standing before him. Scuttling on his shoulder was the very Rahi he had been chasing just seconds earlier. The Mersion before him was old, with a face that bore a mask of an unknown design. The mask gave of an air of wisdom and charisma, an air that Mersery had never felt around any other person before. He was roughly the same height as Mersery, though the way he leaned forward to support himself on a wooden staff made Mersery seem taller. The elder seemed to radiate insight and knowledge.

"Y-yes. That's exactly what I'm looking for," panted Mersery as he tried to catch his breath. "Is that bird yours?"

The elderly Mersion chuckled. "Yes indeed she is. This little friend here has been a companion of mine for as long as there have been stars in Versuva's skies. She is a very dear companion for me."

"What happened to her?" asked Mersery curiously. "That injury on her arm was pretty bad. I imagine it was preventing her from flying."

"Yes, her shoulder was sliced open when a heavy wind crashed her against a jagged rock. She has been wounded for days. I've asked many passersby to help treat her injury, yet none had accepted or been willing to do so. I thank you greatly for your compassion, young one. The good kindness you expressed for a random creature and a complete stranger like myself is rather unheard of. There should be more souls like you."

"Honestly, it was nothing," said Mersery with a smile. "It was the least I could do for your pet."

"No matter, I'm glad you helped," said the elder. "As a sign of thanks for your humbleness, may I entrust you with my walking staff? Consider it your reward for helping a senile old fool like myself. It's all I can offer in return."

The older Mersion moved forward and placed his staff in Mersery's hand, who took a minute to examine it. There was nothing particularly special about the wooden cane; it had no patterns or ornate decorations on its rough dark brown surface. No unique design. It was just a wooden staff; an extension of some tree that must have fallen off years ago. And yet, for a gift that meant so much to it's giver, Mersery felt he couldn't accept.

"Thank you very much for this gift. But I'm afraid I cannot possibly accept it. It'd be more useful to you than to me, as I'm certain you'll need this to aid you in travelling around this..."

Mersery's eyes came off the staff to look at the old Mersion, but he found he was talking to thin air. The elder was gone, as if he had literally vanished into thin air. It was only Mersery talking to himself in a dull market square, looking at the spot where an elderly man had been mere seconds ago.

In a puzzled manner, Mersery reluctantly began walking out of the square to return to his walk back home, with the wooden staff in his hands. For the remainder of his journey, he thought nothing about his upcoming academic trials or challenges. His mind was only plagued by one question, and one question alone. Who by the spirits' name was that old traveler?

Chapter Six[]

This chapter was written by Chicken Bond. Thunder rumbled deep in the clouded skies of Nocterra. It was not much of a surprise.

Ever since the island had become a notable production power in the world, it had been generally accepted by the rest of the universe that Nocterra was a brutal, unforgiving land. With its perilous peaks and rocky terrain, many had come to wonder how life had ever prospered in this desolate place. But in the cultural renaissance that had surged the universe by storm in recent years, it was no surprise the natives of Nocterra had found ways to adapt to the new social climate in order to thrive.

However, this was not an era that Nocterra had been adapting well to. One would think that when the Xevthian Empire had rose to prominence that the people of this land would be prospering. After all, their primary trade was machinery and (in some cases) weaponry. However, because their longtime trading rivals, the Vortixx, had managed worm their way into the Empire's good graces through their dirty dealings, Nocterra had now found itself in quite a dire predicament. It was now actually under the threat of invasion.

Normally, this would be ruled off as an outright insane idea. The Necronites fought with extreme brutality, force and even savagery, and their physique granted them both the durability and the strength to make them nearly unstoppable super soldiers. But the Xevthian Empire was far from weak; one Xevthian alone could pose a decent challenge, but dozens of them would simply be overwhelming. And after the reports came in on the invasion of Mevock, many of the most powerful groups of this age had been shaken to say the least. Nobody liked a foe who knew how to rattle their cages.

And this was not helped by the fact that the head behind this empire was not some savage warlord leading a warmongering horde. Alxor had proven himself to be an extremely charismatic individual; he knew what he wanted and he knew how to talk others into seeing the benefits of his regime. Already, the Necronite ruler had heard whispers amongst the rulers of other lands who believed surrender was the best option. Many believed there was no hope left, nothing left worth fighting for. Alxor's empire had already scared many into submission and rumor had it that he would soon set his eyes upon the shores of Nocterra.

Faced with a difficult choice, the Necronite leader knew he could choose to fight the invaders and hold out for a year or so, or he could strike first. That is what had led him to his current decision. This is was the course he felt was best for his people. Timing would be critical for his gambit to work, and that was the last thing he had, but that was what had forced him to him to scour for the best.

Zogorak looked through the large glass panels on the ceiling as the skies roared with thunder and lightening yet again, though continued to pace around the chamber unfazed. He did not want his meeting to go wrong, and the fact that his associate hadn't shown wasn't a good sign. Right now, he stood in a large empty courtroom, one that bore the dark architecture styles of the Necronites. The fact that it was cloudy and stormy outside only made the room seem gloomier than it normally did. Nocterrian architecture was not known for inspiring hope in others.

Though he was growing increasingly impatient, Zogorak had enough discipline to reign in his frustration and annoywance. He knew his place and he knew his surroundings, and he was all too aware how he was expected to act in front of his associate. Abruptly, a thick door swung open loudly, prompting Zogorak's arm to go for his lance. Upon recognizing three members of his kind, he slowly (and hesitantly) let his arm drift away from his weapon. Old habits always did die hard.

Of the three Necronites, the one in the centeer stood out the most. He was taller than most of his kind (and bulkier), his teeth and horns were sharper and more pronounce, and his armor was pitted with thousands of battle scars. And rightfully so. The individual who bore the title of leader on Nocterra was not granted a life of leisure. To earn the respect of the rest of his kin, their ruler needed to prove he was stronger, faster and tougher than the rest of them. It was a life of constant hardship and trial, one that tested the individual every day. Being ruler was a terrible job.

The current Necronite warrior king approached Zogorak confidentially with long, sweeping strides. He did not need to be cautious around a mere bounty hunter, especially one as young as Zogorak. When he finally stopped, he stopped just short of stepping on the mercenary’s feet. He glared at him as if he were his next prey.

“I assume you’ve been briefed on the details of this job.”

Zogorak nodded. His ruler was practically a whole head taller than him.

“I’ve done my homework, Your Excellency. Members of your hierarchy sent me everything I needed to know on the job. I am more than aware of the current political climate regarding the Xevthian Empire.”

“Excellent,” his leader said. Despite the apparent satisfaction in his voice, he seemed as if he was scowling at Zogorak’s state of organization. He paused for a second.

“For security reasons, I ensured the details of your job were left out of the descriptions I sent you.”

“I am well aware of that,” Zogorak replied, bowing his head slightly. “May I inquire as to why you need a bounty hunter as new to the game as me to carry out a mission with such a high level of secrecy?”

The Necronite king grunted, almost savagely, but proceeded to answer the question.

“The Xevthians have been encroaching on our territory,” he grumbled angrily. “At first, their movements were small; just tiny raids on worthless vessels. A weapons ship here, a small convoy there. Nothing worthy of any major course of action.”

The Necronite leader then paused, turning away as he continued, fists clenched.

“But then, they started attacking our major trading courses, started gunning down our battleships. Then they thought themselves powerful enough to block of some of our most significant sea routes!”

“And are they?” Zogorak asked, his tone neutral yet cautious.

The Necronite lord whirled around furiously to face the little bounty hunter, slamming his fist into the head of one of his bodyguards and downing him instantly.

“YES! YES THEY ARE!”

A silence filled the room as the tension rose dramatically. The king took a second to recollect himself and continue.

“Nocterra is in serious danger of invasion now. I have consulted with the Intellian Spymasters and they believe Nocterra will be attacked at least by the end of this month. And now that the wretched Vortixx have slithered the Xevthians’ good graces, like the Doom Vipers they are, we are now unable to form an alliance with them. And whilst the odds are against us, I will not allow us to fall like Archosa!”

Zogorak paused for a second before asking the one major question that was still on his mind.

“So what do you need me to do?”

“You?” the warrior king asked with a chuckle. “Your role in all this is very clear.”

He leaned in closely, almost as if he was going to impart a great secret to Zogorak.

“Why, you’re going to assassinate the members of Alxor’s ruling council, of course.”


The sun retreated beneath the clouds of the sickly island of Xia. But it wouldn’t have mattered if it had risen or set for inhabitants of the industrialized island, for the only real difference between night and day was that night was just a little bit darker.

But this was understandable.

Before the Vortixx’s industrial revolution, Xia had been a healthy and resource-rich land, full of opportunity. And it proven a ripe placed for the Vortixx to start their great trading empire by harvesting the island’s resources as much as possible. In those early days, there was abundance of mining, drilling and exploiting.

But as the more resources the Vortixx used up, the more Xia decayed into a wasteland. Then one day, the Vortixx realized that there was no turning back from those unhealthy, black clouds, the sickly ground and the dead plants. And they hadn’t cared a bit.

It had been years since Xia had ever had natural clouds up in the sky; all of them were the result of the horrible chemicals belched out of the Vortixx factories. Xia was now a polluted pit of horror, an urban nightmare. But that didn’t stop its natives from ruining it further.

Roodaka strode down an alleyway, still furious at Alxor’s rejection. She was so certain that the High-King would play right into her hand, like so many others had (including her superiors), but he did not. There was something odd about Alxor. Something different. And because of that, Roodaka knew she seemed even worse than Aretha, who had practically been groveling at Alxor’s feet.

She would not let that happen again.

As she approached the end of the alleyway, she heard heard something kick a small piece of metal, something behind her. She turned slowly to see a strange individual leaning against a wall with his arms crossed, a bladed tale swishing at his feet. His face was skull-like and vaguely reptilian, and he appeared fairly young, but Roodaka knew instantly what manner of creature he was.

“You’re a bit far from your homeland, Zeverek,” Roodaka said with a chuckle. “But, now that you’re here, I could direct you to a few foundries that are in need of cheap manual labor.”

“Funny,” the Zeverek replied in a gravelly tone, who proceeded to perch his head in an odd, bird-like manner. “You’re Roodaka, no?”

“Yes,” Roodaka hissed suspiciously, eyes narrowing. “Why do you ask.”

The Zeverek chuckled and took a few steps towards her. Roodaka clenched a fist behind her back.

“I heard of your little… row with the great High-King. The story of how he resisted the machinations of an overambitious Xian seductress has travelled far and wide, even reaching the ears of his servants.”

“And is that what you are?” Roodaka asked mockingly. “A servant?”

The Zeverek growled. “I am the custodian of his main warship, a gift from that wretched pet general of his.”

Roodaka smiled, clearly entertained.

“But I feel that we could form a partnership of sorts that could be mutually benefitial.”

“Oh?” Roodaka said, amusement clearly in her tone. “Whatever makes you think you could offer me something I want?”

“You want a higher standing with the Xevthians,” the Zeverek began. “I want freedom.”

Now Roodaka was intrigued. “Go on.”

“The way I see it, if Alxor dies, nobody else will be suitable to take his place. His council is full of weak-willed, brainless buffoons. If Alxor goes, they’ll need someone with enough strength of character to lead them.”

“And you think I could somehow make me High-Queen of the Xevthian Empire?” Roodaka asked, fighting back a fit of laughter. “In case you haven’t noticed, I am neither a senior member of Alxor’s court nor a Xevthian or Zarak. Have you got a plan to work your way around those two problems?”

The Zeverek smiled. “Actually, I have. One of the members of Alxor’s ruling council, some Zarak clan leader I think, is in look of an assistant of some kind. He’s currently searching Xia for a suitable candidate.”

“And you propose I nominate myself to be his… lackey?”

“Yes,” the Zeverek answered with a chuckle. “Like I said, the individuals Alxor’s council are very weak-willed, and after hearing rumors of how you manipulated yourself into higher positions of power, I think you could control him very easily.”

Roodaka nodded slowly, envisioning herself in this position of power. “What do you plan to do next?”

The Zeverek burst into a fit of laughter, though when he stopped, his face was surprisingly grim. “We kill High-King Alxor.”

Roodaka eyes widened slightly. “And how do you plan to do that?”

“I don’t know yet, but I have an idea. I’ll tell you once you agree to partake in this little conspiracy I’ve cooked up.”

“And what will happen once Alxor’s dead?”

“Simple,” the Zeverek replied. “You manipulate your ‘employer’ into becoming the next High-King, and seeing how he will be effectively be your puppet, you will effectively control the Xevthian Empire.”

This notion interested idea quite a bit. But there was still two things on her mind.

“Two questions,” she said. “What do you gain by putting me in charge and why do you need me at all to murder Alxor? Why not do this all yourself?”

“To answer your first question,” the Zeverek began. “Afer Alxor’s murdered I will make a break for it, and once you are in charge, you will have no choice but to wade suspicion off me, lest the Xevthians discover certain… details that will make the suspicious of not just me. The same will happen if you try to have me killed as well. You’ll have no choice but to let me go.”

Roodaka nodded. The Zeverek’s blackmail would be surprisingly effective, if the scheme succeeded. “And my second question?” she asked.

“For this to work, I will need someone in a higher position than me to carry out certain aspects of this assassination. Currently, there is nobody of such rank who would work with me or has the spine to do so, but knowing your ambition, you could easily work yourself into position, and from there, help me carry out this task. As I said, mutually beneficial. You can see the benefits of working with me.”

“I do,” Roodaka agreed. “But answer just one more question: Why assassinate Alxor to escape? Why not just start a riot and escape during the madness?”

“The Xevthian and Zarak guards keep a close watch on their slaves and servants,” the Zeverek replied. “They can sniff a rebellion a mile away and regularly beat us servants to the point where we’re too scared to even think of escape. They also operate on very tight shifts; they make sure there’s virtually no chance to escape. It would take something really big to distract them. Besides, killing Alxor would be much more fun. Now, are you in?”

Roodaka considered the offer carefully. The risks were high, but the rewards were so much greater. After a few seconds, Roodaka had made her mind up.

“It’s a deal. Now, before we go, may I ask what your name is?”

“My name is Skorr,” the Zeverek said, who had already begun walking back into the shadows of the alleyway. “And we have not met.”


Kulant stood before the Council of Eight, his hands firmly clasped behind his back. He had just concluded his report to the Council, in which he had insisted that they act in response to the threat of the Xevthian Empire. Here, within the shining bronze room that served as their meeting room, Kulant had outlined his personal recommendations.

His suggestions didn’t bring about massive change at this point, but he had suggested they make a start by making small preparations in case an invasion fleet does come their way. Needless to say, he was putting his neck on the line by standing by such a radical course of action, but he thought it was the best.

The Council, on the other hand, was very divided on the issue.

“You make some valid points, Councilor Kulant” said Councilor Hiarles in his grand voice. “But I’m not entirely sure why High-King Alxor would consider Versuva a worthy island for invasion.”

“One could say the same about Mevock,” replied Kulant, his tone respectful. “Versuva has a very strong position in the northern region of the universe, making it a useful foothold if one wanted to go as far as to invade Metru Nui. We also must acknowledge how technologically advanced we are. Metru Nui surpasses us, we are still decades ahead of many other islands within the universe.”

“But the Xevthians are barbarians,” replied Hiarles. “If they tried using our technology, it would be like giving Energized Protodermis to a War Tortoise. They just wouldn’t understand it.”

Kulant knew he was losing support. “We do not know how capable the Xevthians are. They’ve made it this far into the north and conquered Archosa, something that has never happened before in history. So that should provide us with enough reasoning to allow us to take one or two precautions, should they come our way.”

“Or does it?”

Kulant turned to see the smug face of Councilor Tarleq, a relatively new addition to the Council. Kulant did not like him. He was vain, overconfident and appeared to have no proper qualifications to serve on this council. He had been on the Council for four months now, but even still, Kulant did not trust him, especially considering his background was virtually untraceable before his tenure on the Council. Tarleq resumed his retort.

“Kulant, you are a teacher at the Great Academy. I doubt that makes you worthy to propose such radical changes to our defense policies. Issues such as these are not up your alleyway, so I suggest avoiding them.”

Three other Council members nodded in agreement. Kulant fought back a scowl.

“Firstly, my proposals are not major, and secondly, as a member of this group, I am permitted to make commentary on matters involving Versuva’s securi—”

“Speaking of security,” Tarleq interjected. “Where exactly are you getting your evidence from? What evidence do you have?”

The other Councilors looked expectedly at Kulant. He knew Tarleq was backing him into a corner.

“An associate of mine is currently on an expedition into the southern lands. He reported that most of the islands there are under Xevthian control and that there fleets are headed up north.”

Tarleq raised an eyebrow. “Is that it? You’re basing all your conclusions of one correspondence? Where is proper proof? The proof telling us that the Empire is on the horizon?”

“They have already conquered Mevock and Archosa. They…”

“We know that, Kulant,” Tarleq said impatiently with a wave of his hand. “Stop going in circles. Where’s the proof that they will invade us?”

“If they’ve already taken control of the outliers of the northern region, then he will want to take control of the rest of it.”

“That’s a nice theory.”

“Word has it that Xia has become their primary weapons suppliers in order to avoid invasion. The Vortixx are now on their side.”

“When one wants weapons, everybody goes to Xia! Put it in perspective!”

Kulant went silent, steadying the fury that was bubbling inside him in light of Tarleq’s nerve. The Councilor in question proceeded to sigh.

“This has been a waste of our time. Councilor Kulant clearly hasn’t brought forth enough evidence to conclude that Versuva faces imminent danger. I say we reject his proposal.”

The other Councilors nodded in agreement, until only Hiarles was left to give his verdict. He sighed wearily.

“Regardless of my decision, it is a majority vote,” Hiarles said reluctantly. “But I agree with Councilor Tarleq. Your motion shall not be passed, Kulant.”

Although he want to rage at Tarleq, Hiarles and the others for the ignorance and their arrogance, Kulant knew his place and knew it would unbecoming of him to protest. Instead, he bowed his head politely.

“Very well then,” he said, then turned to exit the room. But just before he left through the main door, he couldn’t help but notice a red and silver Glider Owl staring in through one of the main windows, observing them from its perch as if it were spying on them.

Must be nothing, thought Kulant as he strode out of the room. When was the last time we were spied on by a Glider Owl, anyway?

Chapter Seven[]

This chapter was written by Toa Hydros. Xia

The darkness of the Xian night was a welcome sight. All day the beast had been bound by his weaker half, chained in the back of their mind like a prisoner; barred from running, from climbing... from the Hunt. But the moment the sun relinquished its position in the sky to the moon, the beast had been prisoner no more. He was free again... and he fully intended to make the most of it.

In a blur of motion, the hulking figure dove from its ledge, relishing the feel of the wind in its face as it plunged downward; even in a place as nauseatingly poisoned as Xia, the freedom to move of one's own accord was something to be savored. Suddenly, the creature lashed out with a massive taloned hand and seized a cable, stopping its rapid decent. Using its momentum, the beast swung on the cable as though it were a jungle vine, flying through the labyrinth of Xian buildings, well above the notice of any Vortixx or Matoran below. Upon reaching the limits of the cable's swing, the crimson-armored creature released its grip, again using the momentum to drive it through the air until it finally came to a landing atop a Vortixx foundry.

The creature growled in contentment as the lingering rush of its acrobatics raced through its system. Finally, the being opened its eyes and took in the Xian cityscape.

As the crimson-hued predator looked over the city that would be its hunting ground, it allowed itself a rare moment of self reflection: This would be the last night for nearly a month it would be free to partake in the Hunt, to feed the gnawing hunger burning at the creature's very core... to harvest the energy the jewel set into his forehead demanded. The notion of being imprisoned within the dark recesses of its weaker half's psyche for the next several weeks always caused the beast's rage to burn hotter.

It simply wasn't fair. The civilized one could gaze on the sun and feel the wind on his face as he saw fit... and the creature was granted a paltry seven nights at the end of each month. Seven nights to run and climb and hunt... It was maddening. There had to be a way the creature could free itself of its lesser half's hold. To... to...

The beast's train of thought suddenly derailed as its keen sense of smell picked up a fascinating odor. The creature swiveled its head down to see its source: A Xian female was exiting the foundry on which he was perched. On the surface she wasn't so different from any other Vortixx... but the creature wasn't interested in her outward appearance.

As the jewel on his head glowed a sinister scarlet, the beast focused its vision, forsaking the shapes and colors most beings saw, and gazing upon what was normally invisible: The female was shrouded in swirling aura that alternated between violet and crimson red. The hallmarks of one with a keen mind... and keen minds were always the most delicious. Once again, the jewel flared and the creature came to its decision: This Vortixx would make a fine appetizer for the feast to come.

With an almost casual gate, the beast loped after his target... the first of many this night.


Calxia was tired. Her employer had been adamant that the new brand of Kanoka launchers be thoroughly tested before anyone went home. A lovely project to spring on someone half an hour before their shift was supposed to end. Now here she was, shuffling home a full three hours after her time on the job was officially done, overtime she doubted she would get paid for.

No matter, however. This meaningless job wouldn't last much longer. She had plans... big ones. What few people knew about her was she was gifted in more areas than engineering: She was also skilled in the art of electronics; she had recently designed a new device that would allow people to view live or prerecorded events in the comfort of their own homes. Calxia had dubbed it the "telescreen", and she knew that such an invention would be most... lucrative. She already had offers from several different manufacturing branches from Xia alone. Accepting any one of them would leave her set for life, and this blasted job would finally be behind her.

A low gurgling moan snapped the Vortixx from her thoughts. She stopped in her tracks and looked around. Nothing. Must have been the wind. She resumed her march home... unaware of a shadowed figure watching her from the rooftops above.

Though initially dismissing the strange sound as the wind, Calxia decided to air on the side of caution, speeding up her pace. Xia had become a more dangerous place in the last week: numerous slayings had taken place in the city of the Vortixx, the victims, Vortixx and Matoran alike, had been unrelated to one another with the exception of one detail: all of the victims were completely intact. No broken limbs, no trauma, no denting or gashes in the armor. The poor souls seemed to have simply been... switched off.

Initially, a sickness had been suspected; not an uncommon cause of death on Xia, but examination of the bodies had revealed the victims to be completely healthy (as healthy as Xians go, anyway). That left only two plausible conclusions: either an unidentified Rahi was behind the killings (unlikely, as the victims showed no signs of predation), or a murderer was on the loose.

Neither scenario put Calxia's mind at ease as she made her way home.

Another growl, this one much closer, sounded from the darkness that consumed most of the abandoned alleyway. Calxia spun around and cast her eyes about. Only a few scattered light posts created any break in the shadows. Sight wouldn't help here, so she held her breath and listened, hoping she could pinpoint the growl's origin with her ears instead.

After several tense moments of staring into nothingness, Calxia finally released her breath with a sigh. The long hours at the foundry were getting to her. She turned around to continue home. She took two steps and struck something in her path. She stumbled back and craned her neck up, gazing into the face of something... awful.

And she screamed.


Alxor sat up with start, eyes wide and fearful. He looked around. Yes, he was in his suite in the Xian inn, just as he had been when he went to sleep the night before. What had taken place after his eyes closed, however, he couldn't be sure.

There was a knock at his door as he sat up.

"Enter," Alxor called out. The door opened to reveal a Xian maiden, a tray of assorted plates and glasses in her hand.

"Your breakfast, your highness," she said with a small bow.

"Leave it," the Xevthian commanded. The Vortixx gave a nod before setting the tray on the dresser next to the door.

"Will you require anything else, High-King Alxor?" the female asked.

"Yes," Alxor replied. Having climbed out of bed, he began donning the extra plates of armor that distinguished him as a member of the Xevthian elite. "Have my stagecoach prepared, and let my staff know I will be prepared to leave for the warehouse within the hour."

"As you command, lord Alxor," the Xian replied before departing.

After ensuring he was presentable, Alxor approached the tray the Vortixx had left. He had no interest in the surprisingly fresh and succulent fruits and breads on the tray (quality food was obviously reserved for Xia's favorite customers instead of its citizens). Instead, he was drawn to the news tablet underneath them. Pulling up a chair, Alxor sat down and began scanning the tablets for worthwhile news.

Obviously, his presence in the city was having a positive effect on its already booming economy; with forges, factories and refineries of all kinds eagerly increasing production for the Xevthian Empire's future conquests.

Then Alxor's eyes landed on the article he had hoped he wouldn't discover, even though he knew he would: Another body had been discovered, this one a young Vortixx engineer named Claxia. Alxor gave a sigh. While the investigation still had no leads as to the cause of these deaths, Alxor knew full well what was behind them. For such a promising life to be cut short...

Alxor sat there, fuming for long moments, the news tablet slipping from his grasp and shattering on the floor. He had come to hate the curse that now controlled his life. Sometimes, the Xevthian thought it would've been better for everyone if he had died on that battlefield so long ago. Perhaps then...

The High-King shook his head, his resolve hardening as quickly as it had been breaking. No, the world needed him. Needed order. Needed leadership. True, the lives lost in the process could never be replaced. Sadly, however, great deeds often demanded great sacrifices. This young Vortixx girl's death, though regrettable, was a necessity. And so too would any other sacrifices along the way.

An hour later, Alxor was seated in his armored stagecoach, making his way toward the warehouse that would soon be the launching point of his next conquest. Upon arrival, Alxor and his armed escorts made their way into the building, seeking out the airship Alxor had named "the Warlance," named after his own badge of office. Upon reaching the room containing the Warlance, the Xevthian lord spotted the being he had hoped to see.

"Gilvex," Alxor called out. The Zarak male turned at the sound of his lord's voice. Approaching, Gilvex gave a formal bow.

"Great Alxor," he said in his smooth voice. "How may I be of service?"

"I have an assignment for you," Alxor replied. He hefted his lance, pointing it to the right. The staff's blade glowed a deep crimson as it conjured forth a swirling portal. Though what lay beyond it could not be seen, the sounds of battle rang forth from the portal.

"Sire?" Gilvex asked.

"You are to locate the head of my strike team," Alxor stated. "The Shadow Syndicate. Inform him that our next conquest awaits."

"Versuva," Gilvex said. Then, after a moment he asked, "You have decided on a date for the invasion?"

Alxor nodded. "Three days. We depart tonight."

Gilvex stood there for a moment not sure if it was regret or anticipation in hi king's voice. Finally, he bowed again.

"I will do as commanded, lord," he said. "I will have the Syndicate prepared within the hour. Just have the portal ready."

Then, without another word, Gilvex turned and stepped through the portal.




Keadrah, Versuva

"And if you look over here, you will see a prime example of a Pit War Tortoise," the tour guide stated cheerfully as he directed his group's attention toward an exhibit housing a menacing-looking reptilian. "One of the oldest Rahi breeds known to science, this particular specimen was discovered not far off the Versuvian coast three years ago."

Mersery looked on the Rahi as it looked back with a frozen and vacant stare. "Fascinating," the young scholar murmured as he jotted down yet another string of notes.

"Now," the guide said. "If you'll come this way, I'll treat you lot to something truly special."

The guide turned and began advancing down the museum hall. Mersery and his fellow classmates followed behind eagerly. Kulant, for reasons unknown to any but himself, had not been up to going into any particular lessons this day, so had instead deemed a trip to the local museum was in order. Though Mersery couldn't help suspecting something was troubling his mentor, he wasn't about to turn down a chance to look into Versuva's past.

The group finally came to a stop at a large window. Inside it was a large room occupied by what appeared to be a gigantic crab.

"This," the guide began. "is a Manas, on loan from the Onu-Metru Archives in Metru Nui. Like the War Tortoise, it is an exceptionally ancient breed that dates back to our world's prehistory. Legends say it was the scourge of more than one early Matoran settlement, able to stand is ground against the mightiest of warriors."

Mersery gazed upon the beast behind the crystal protodermis. It was easily twelve feet wide, from crushing pincer to crushing pincer; and clad in orange, white and gray armor. Its almost savagely scarlet eyes stared back at him, sending a chill up the young Mersion's spine.

"Is it... um... dead?" one student asked, almost hopefully. The guide laughed.

"No, no," he replied with a smile. "Its quite alive. Yes, there was a time when our Rahi exhibits had to be humanely put down and mounted to be displayed safely. But now, thanks to advancements made by the archivists in Metru Nui, we can now safely show off these beautiful beasts to the public without risking injury to anyone."

"How?" another student asked. "Why do these Rahi seem... frozen?"

"This window you see here is in fact a wall to a 'stasis chamber'," the guide explained. "A wonderful invention developed in Onu-Metru which locks Rahi into a protective stasis, slowing their metabolisms to little more than a crawl. This simultaneously keeps the creature alive without needing food or water, and allows us to study them close up without risk of injury."

As the guide went on about how the stasis chamber was invented, Mersery nodded his head toward the frozen crustacean.

"Pretty interesting stuff, eh, Herkain?" he said without looking at her. When no response came, he looked over to see no one standing there. It was then he remembered his friend hadn't come along on the trip, instead choosing to remain behind at the Academy.

The memory of her declining the trip elicited a slight frown from Mersery. Herkain would usually jump on the opportunity to visit a place like this, but she had insisted she needed time to herself, to "catch up on some overdue studies," she had said.

Mersery had his doubts about that; where he was typically unorganized and scatterbrained when it came to coordinating academy assignments, Herkain was almost obsessively keen and organized. He very much doubted she would let even a minor assignment go uncompleted.

So why would she pass up a class trip?

At that moment, the guide clapped his hands, gaining everyone's attention.

"Now," he started enthusiastically as he motioned for the group to start moving forward. "we have finished our walk through the Hall of Rahi. If you will follow me this way, we will come the next leg of our tour."

As he and his fellow classmates began moving down the hall, Mersery allowed his mind to wander again, only faintly registering the guide's prattling as he tried to figure out Herkain's strange behavior of late. Most of the time she acted as she normally did: obsessing over schoolwork, chattering about her self-defense classes, cracking jokes at Mersery's tardiness... the usual. But lately, she seemed to be growing increasingly uneasy around him... as though his mere presence was affecting her concentration in some bizarre way.

The latest occurrence before the class trip took place last week, after they left the Great Academy. Herkain had insisted Mersery come to her home so she could make him a decent meal, an offer he accepted. After arriving at her house, they had helped each other in preparing a simple, but wholesome meal. As they ate together they had discussed all manner of things, from work to Versuvian news, unaware that Terkla the Glider Owl had grown increasingly agitated at the pair for not feeding her before they sat down to dinner.

The result was ten pounds of wings and attitude swooping down, landing feet-first in a bowl of berries, the juices of which spraying everywhere... including all over the two startled Mersions. As the bird proceeded to eat her fill of the pulverized fruit, Mersery and Herkain had merely stared. Then, as one, burst into laughter. They spent a full ten minutes trying to wrestle with a massive fit of giggles.

Finally, Mersery had gotten up from the table, still chuckling, and seized a nearby rag and proceeded to wipe the berry residue from his mask and chest. Noticing the also-still-giggling Herkain had been drenched even more thoroughly, he walked up and began toweling off his friend's shoulders.

At this moment, Herkain's laughing had stopped dead. At the male Mersion's touch she had gone ridged almost instantly, even as a blush formed behind her mask. Mersery had noticed this change in his friend's demeanor.

"Are you alright?" he had asked her in concern, taking the rag and his hands from her shoulders. She was silent for a moment, as if trying to compose a proper response.

"Y-yeah," she had stammered. "I'm fine."

She then got up began clearing the dishes in silence, shooing Terkla away from the berry bowl the owl had claimed for itself. Mersery had watched with concern for a few moments before joining her in cleaning up the mess. After they finished, they had said their goodbyes before Mersery went home. The next night, Herkain seemed to have returned to normal, though dodged any question her friend asked about the previous day.

What could have the Queen of Organization so out of sorts? the scholar asked himself.

These fits of awkwardness seemed to happen at random with no clear pattern; one day Herkain is content as can be, and the next she withdraws in on herself. He had discreetly asked Herkain's other friends, but they could not offer any help, as she didn't seem to act strangely around them at all.

As he thought and thought, something finally dawned on him: the only common factor in these bouts was... himself. She was only acting oddly around him.

"Well, what could that mean?" he said to himself, a little too loudly.

"Ahem!"

Mersery looked up to see the guide looking at him with a less-than-pleased demeanor. The young Mersion gave a sheepish grin.

"Sorry," he apologized. The guide glared at him a moment longer before giving a nod.

"Now," he began again. "here we have the Hall of Folklore and Mythology. It's here that we store significant artifacts that have strong connections to the various folktales and mythological epics of, not just Versuva's past, but many different cultures and races."

Deciding to distract himself from his troubles, Mersery cast his eyes around the chamber, taking in the various statues, pottery, weapons and carvings that adorned the walls and showcases. Over there was an eroded statue of a giant, one-eyed simian that clutched a blade in one hand and a shield array in the other. And over there was a Zakazian carving of a hulking, spiky monstrosity with a wicked gin plastered onto its Skakdi-like face. As the guide had said, the room was filled with the folklore of at least a dozen different civilizations.

Said guide led the group toward three showcases on the far side of the chamber. Gesturing toward them, the guide continued.

"You lot are in for a real treat today," he said, flipping a switch on the wall. Instantly, the lightstones in the showcases lit up, revealing their contents. "Like the Manas crab, these three artifacts are on loan from Onu-Metru. Its not often the Onu-Matoran of Metru Nui part with their beloved treasures, so really study them. They are to be returned to the Archives in less than a month."

Study them, Mersery did. He gazed upon the artifacts, protected from the outside world within showcases made of a specially crafted crystalline protodermis that was both crystal clear and highly durable. Each artifact was unique in their style: one was a small handmade doll, meticulously woven from plant fibers and likely dyed with some type of fruit residue; the second was a slightly worn, but stunningly detailed statue; and the last was a two-by-three meter stone carving.

"Each of these artifacts were discovered in different regions, originating from different cultures, though seem to date to roughly the same time in ancient antiquity," the guide continued. "They represent some of the most well-known and influential figures of Matoran mythology."

He gestured toward the showcase containing the doll. It resembled an upright feline to some extent, clad in black and silver armor, and wielding a mace carved from wood in one hand.

"This Matoran doll represents Marinuu, the fabled 'Mistika Cat,'" the guide explained. "According to legend, he protected early settlers from monstrous creatures such as Zyglak, shattering them to dust with his mere growl." The assembled students murmured quietly amongst themselves, clearly enthralled.

The guide shifted the group's attention to the second showcase, the one housing the statue, which depicted a winged, feminine creature. Surprisingly, even sporting high-arched, taloned feet, a slender tail and clawed hands attached to her wings, the creature depicted in the statue was (to Mersery at least) strikingly beautiful; her soft features were partly hidden by a falcon-like mask or helmet, while her pleasingly curvy, yet muscular form was clad in tight-fitting armor. Attached to her arms were great, elegant wings, not unlike those of a bat: a fleshy membrane stretched between three elongated fingers sprouting from the sides of her hands before tapering off at the sides of her torso.

"This statue depicts Gartinus, the Priestess of the Mawciens," he continued. "Fables say she broke away from the treacherous nature of her people, who worshiped the dark entity known as Kraahkan Nui, the 'Great Shadow.' Rising up from the dishonor of her people, Gartinus used her abilities to help the Matoran her sisters so notoriously despised."

Once again, excited murmurs echoed within the chamber. The guide finally looked on the last of the artifacts.

"And this," he started dramatically as he directed the group's attention toward the carving. "is Araluus."

The giant stone slab was covered in carvings of both pictures and words, the meanings of both long since lost to the ages, but dominating the majority of the slab was the likeness of a tall, muscular warrior whose form seemed to be a union of avian and reptilian traits. He was clad in heavy armor, topped by a headdress-like helmet that resembled a cat's head. Sprouting from his back were to massive, eagle-like wings covered in metallic feathers, while a snaking tail hung near the ground, finer feathers hiding its tip. Clutched in his left hand was a spear boasting a wickedly curved blade, while his right clutched a massive club-like sword, its edges guarded by jagged spikes.

As Mersery stared at the relic, he registered the guide's continuing commentary.

"Perhaps the most important hero in Matoran myth, the 'Plumed Warrior,' as he is occasionally known, is said to have been the favored son of Fire and Sky. He was sent down from Paradise to do battle with the menagerie of evil creatures unintentionally unleashed upon our world by the works of the Great Beings."

The guide paused for dramatic effect before continuing. "Araluus was said to have embarked on numerous adventures, righting wrongs along the way. He even oversaw the construction of Ukara, a shining city where, to quote ancient writings, 'protected all those who gave their lives to the Three Virtues, though burned with all the fires of the heavens those who would see them tainted.' Some of the last references to Ukara state Araluus eventually settled down there, to watch over its Matoran populace alongside his partner and lover, Gartinus."

At this last statement, Mersery replied, "Lover?" The guide nodded.

"Yes," he returned, always happy to answer questions. "According to the fables, Gartinus left the company of the Mawciens in order to be with her true love, Araluus, who taught her that the Matoran were not the vile usurpers her fellows believe them to be. One tale states he carved the face of an entire mountain in her likeness as a symbol of his love for her."

"How romantic!" one female student chimed dreamily. The guide gave a laugh.

"Indeed," he replied. "It was often said that if there was anything stronger than the Three Virtues, it was their eternal bond." The guide then clapped his hands again, and began herding the group down another hall. "Now, if everyone has had their fill of mythology, we will continue this way."

As the group made its way toward the next art of the tour, the gears in Mersery's mind went into overdrive as the puzzle pieces of Herkain's odd behavior towards him began falling into place, prompted by the tour guide's description of Araluus and Gartinus' love. Could it possibly be that Herkain, Mersery's best friend... harbored feelings for him?

It all makes sense now, but how could I have not caught this before?! The young scholar screamed at himself, wondering if it was physically possible to give oneself a kick in the rear. Either I'm too involved with my own little world, or I'm simply not as smart as I like to think I am. Neither one would surprise me at the moment.

As the class walked on, Mersery moved with noticeably less enthusiasm than before, no longer registering the guide's babbling. He was unsure of how to deal with this revelation. He adored Herkain; she was the best friend a person could ask for.. but... could he feel the same way about her as she felt about him?

For Mersery, the many questions of the past no longer mattered. Only a single question here in the present tormented his mind:

What do I do?




The Zarak's sense of sight became a blur as he was transported through the swirling mass of energy. An instant later, he stepped out. He looked around.

Where there had once been a dirty warehouse, there was now a flat open plain of tall grass. And scattered about this plain were the smoking carcasses of ruined war vehicles, and the mangled bodies of soldiers of a race Gilvex couldn't identify. Explosions sounded all around as flaming projectiles rained down from the sky, one of which came down a mere hundred yards from Gilvex's position.

He turned in the direction the projectile had come. Not more than a quarter mile away was a stone fortress that had obviously seen better days. Portions of its outer walls had already collapsed, and parts of its roof were ablaze. All about, more soldiers were scurrying, either for cover or for arms.

And standing a mere hundred feet away from Gilvex's position was an assemblage of six beings of varying shapes and sizes. They looked on as the fortress' soldiers climbed into what remained of their armed war vehicles for what was obviously a last desperate assault against their aggressors. One of the six warriors casually unleashed a blast of energy, destroying the fortress' last remaining turret.

Gilvex strode forward and cleared his throat. All but one of the beings turned to look at him. The largest one -- their leader -- continued looking on the smoking and crumbling fortress, his team's handiwork. His handiwork.

"What do you want here, Gilvex?" came a deep resonating voice.

Gilvex made it a point to look as professional as possible. Not an easy feet after witnessing the carnage a mere six warriors were capable of.

"I bring word from High-King Alxor," Gilvex replied. "He has decided on an invasion date for Versuva, and he wishes for his top-ranking generals to be at his side."

"And so, the slaughter begins in earnest," the warrior stated with more than a trace of contempt.

Gilvex rolled his eyes. "Please don't start, soldier. Not now." Gilvex said with a snort of annoyance. "This could be the single most crucial point in our invasion, and I will not tolerate insubordination. You knew what you would be getting into when you joined our cause. Is it a cause you still believe in?"

There was a long pause, during which only the rumble of war machines could be heard. Finally, a reply came as a growling, "Yes."

"Good," Gilvex said. "Now, we must be getting ready. How soon will you be done here and prepared to depart?"

At that moment a war cry sounded from in front of them. Gilvex looked up to see a caravan of battle vehicles barring down on them, a large number of soldiers escorting them on foot. With a yell, the lead soldier brandished his weapon, preparing for a fight to the last.

It never came to that.

The Syndicate leader began to inhale deeply. Knowing what was to come, his allies took several steps behind the warrior, covering their audio receptors tightly. The next instant, the world exploded into sound. A massive roar from the Syndicate member heralded an equally massive shockwave that tore across the plains with sonic speed. It slammed into the soldiers and war machines like a tidal wave, sending their broken forms flying. The shockwave continued on, obliterating everything in its path, eventually reaching the fortress. Even newly build, the structure of steel and stone would have been hard-pressed to weather such an assault intact.

As it was, the crumbling building didn't stand a chance. The sonic blast tore through it as though it were nothing more than a Matoran's sandcastle. The age-old fortress collapsed, raining stone and metal down atop its residents. There would be no survivors.

As the dust began to clear, the hulking warrior finally turned to behold Gilvex, who was still staring at the ruins of the fortress with awe and fear. The black-armored titan bent down so he would be at eye-level with the Zarak. Finally, he answered Gilvex's question.

"Immediately."

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