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Impending Confrontation[]

Levuku and Vohk walked alongside Rajal into the Altronia wasteland. They were heading for Chilas Canyon, the home of a huge colony of monstrous Rahi called Chilas, for whom the canyon was named. Vohk was having a hard time forcing himself to walk, not run, but Rajal insisted that all energy possible must be saved. "The Chilas will not let up. They are pretty resilient and strong. It’s not hard to knock one down, but they get up quick, and, remember, this is a colony. There are lots of Chilas here."

Levuku had advised Rajal to go into a profession as a village doomsayer. Rajal had advised Levuku to shut up. At any rate, they had almost arrived, as Levuku could see a gap in the terrain. Rajal stopped walking, prompting the others to do so as well. "Here, I must stop, or I will be dragged into battle as well. Continue toward the canyon, and I will find you if you are about to die or want to leave."

"Why can't you help us?" Levuku asked.

"I must only watch and observe, not help in any way, or it would not be a skill TEST," Rajal said pointedly. "I will find you if you need assistance." With that, he headed off toward the west.

"Any idea how he'll find us if he just randomly skedaddles off?" Vohk asked Levuku, not expecting a definitive answer.

Levuku just said, "They are well-trained here. I'm sure he has learned the art of tracking at some point." Vohk nodded slowly, one of the only things he ever did slowly.

They continued toward the canyon, becoming more wary every step they took. The Chilas could spring any moment now. Strangely, the duo got close enough to peer over the edge of the gorge without opposition. The canyon was not just a gully or ravine; this canyon was huge. It was about a kio across, and was more than half a kio deep. One side rose much higher than the other, most likely because of an earthquake. The sides were riddled with small holes, which looked eroded and worn, obviously from creatures climbing in and out. The duo decided it would not be a good idea to expose their faces as targets for an ambush, so they retreated and stepped into fighting stances, prepared for antything.

Not much happened until Vohk felt warm breath at his neck. He turned and found himself face-to-face with what must be a Chilas. The creature had a big, brutish form, with longer arms than legs, making it look a little like an ape. It also had a large jaw, and scaly hide, making it resemble a reptile. The Chilas roared in Vohk's face, hot, vile breath streaming over the little speedster. Vohk gagged and dashed away to get his bearings. It would also be much easier to observe the full creature from more than two feet away. As he turned back, he could see Levuku was dealing with another creature, simply teleporting to keep it off-balance. Vohk raced headlong for the first creature, only to duck and slide between its legs. Vohk flipped and turned back, heading for the creature again. He executed a flying kick perfectly into the creature's side as it turned to face him. Levuku shouted for assistance. They both got behind the beast, Levuku teleporting and Vohk running. Vohk drew the Chilas’s attention by running around in a circle around it while Levuku reared back and hit it in the back of the head with his staff. The two friends repositioned again, stopping in front of the beast. It lunged forward, preparing to tackle the two, but they both evaded the lunge. They reappeared by the creature's side as it slid on the ground. It jumped to its feet, trying to catch them. Vohk broke off and dashed at the creatures' feet, grabbing on to one leg as he passed. Vohk used the momentum to swing around the armored limb, then let go and grabbed the Chilas’s other leg, repeating the swing, then repeated again and again, and fell into figure-eight pattern. There wasn’t enought force to knock the creature down, but the centrifugal force pulled on each leg from every direction, keeping the reptilian ape immobile. Levuku sidestepped repeatedly to avoid the Chilas’s wildly swinging claws, and when an opening was given, he struck quickly and precisely. Absorbed in doing this, Levuku didn't see the first creature get up and try to creep up on him. Vohk did, and used his centrifugal force as a sling to fling him, feet first, into the first Chilas. Levuku, therefore, without Vohk's swinging keeping the Chilas off balance, was forced to actually put effort into fighting it. He had to dodge furiously until an opening was left. He seized that chance, dashing past the creature and giving it a boot to the lower back. The Chilas pitched face-first into the dirt. Levuku saw Vohk coming to meet him, gesturing toward the Chilas. Levuku nodded. Vohk Ran and leaped, not at the Chilas, but over it. Levuku disappeared with a dull flash and reappeared in front of Vohk. The two twisted in midair so their feet met, so that Vohk could kick off Levuku and dive toward the Chilas. The startled creature took a solid hit to the shoulder. Levuku appeared in Vohk’s path, lying on the ground, just in time to put his feet in Vohk’s path and keep him in the air. Vohk shot straight up, only to meet Levuku again and ricochet, flying diagonally downward toward the Chilas again. He managed to land a blow to the creature’s chest and jump off again impossibly fast, meeting Levuku for yet another kick-off. The two repeated the maneuver, landing hits to the Chilas’s side, knee, back, and head, before meeting in the air one last time. Instead of their feet impacting, the two slapped hands at the apex of Vohk’s vertical flight, Levuku disappearing just as Vohk began to fall. Levuku reappeared under the Chilas and thrust his legs up in a double kick. Vohk landed on the creature at the same time, smashing it in a sandwich blow between two pairs of feet. Levuku and Vohk got out of the way as the creature hit the sand and passed out. Just as the two were going to congratulate each other, two more Chilas popped out of the sand.

"Oh, crud," Vohk said.

A third Chilas popped out of the sand behind Vohk and socked him into a rock twelve feet away.

"Vohk!" Levuku shouted. The Chilas came closer, their three-pronged claws twitching with anticipation.

All right, If I'm not stronger, I'll just have to be smarter, Levuku decided. He tried to come up with a way to down the Chilas through guile. He had it, but it was risky. He first teleported to the back of the Chilas on his left. "Over here!" he shouted. All three Chilas charged, but when they lunged, Levuku teleported to the right, causing the Chilas to collide and fall in a heap. The Chilas on top responded to the teleport, hopping to its feet and charging in for the kill. Levuku teleported to the other side of the Chilas pileup, got the next Chilas to respond in the same way, and teleported behind the last Chilas. He tapped on its back to get it to pull its head out of the sand and charge him. Then he transported right in the middle of his newly formed Chilas triangle and whistled. The setup had been so fast that none of the Chilas recovered from the deceptions. However, they all responded to the shrill noise, all charging toward a central point, Levuku. The only problem was that Levuku left via teleport at the last split second. The three Rahi’s heads made a humorous metallic sound then they crashed together.

Levuku strode away from the unconscious Chilas and toward Vohk. He aroused his friend. Vohk mumbled, "Oh, sorry we lost. I was knocked out cold."

"We won. It just took a little trickery," Levuku told him.

Levuku helped Vohk to his feet and began to move toward the west, hoping Rajal would find them and take them back. Levuku heard footsteps following them, thinking it was Rajal, he turned around and began to greet his quarry.

All he got in response were roars and putrid breath from the first two Chilas. Levuku and Vohk prepared for battle, but they didn’t really need to. The two Chilas were struck from behind and sent sailing over the pair’s heads.

"You go!" shouted a being in strange, green armor. "I'll handle the Chilas while you escape!"

"No way!" Levuku shouted. "I'm helping you. I need to teach these beasts a lesson about manners.”

"You’re not leaving me out, right?” Vohk asked.

“Course not,” Levuku grinned. "Those lizard apes don't stand a chance."

Just as he said this, two more Chilas showed up. The green newcomer fired a spinner into the middle of them, blowing them aside with a mini-twister.

"No! Ferrak works alone!" the bestial visitor shouted.

"If we work together on this, it'll go faster," Vohk said condescendingly.

"Don’t lecture me, kid." Ferrak replied. “You don't want to know what happened to the last person who tried to boss me around."

Vohk began speaking as he noticed a Chilas sneaking up behind Ferrak. “What? Did you sneak up behind him and smack him a good one?” The Chilas backhanded Ferrak into the dirt. “Like that?” Vohk finished.

Levuku smacked Vohk upside the head. "That isn't helping,” he scolded.

Ferrak planted his legs in the ground and thrust both legs up, his extremely powerful muscles sending the primate sailing off. “No, more like that,” he told Vohk with a satisfied smile.

"All right, you two," Levuku called. "We need to discuss." Vohk and Ferrak obligingly got in close to Levuku in a huddle. "We have speed and reflexes, acid and teleporting, and strength and spinners. We need to use them in combination and watch each other's backs. Be creative, and be tough!"

Ferrak flexed his muscles and grinned. "I don't know about your little buddy, but I do that last one on a regular basis."

Vohk scowled.

Three broke up their huddle and found three more Chilas ready for thrashing. "Let's do this!" Levuku shouted as he, Vohk, and Ferrak charged forward.

Zallirix walked aimlessly through the Altronia fortress hallways. He was not sure how long he had been walking, but he was sure that he was very lost. He had been walking a long time, but he was determined to not be afraid. Then he came across a Toa of Plasma with tentacles sprouting from his back and he screamed like a frightened Ga-Matoran. He dashed around a corner and found a room full of beings eating. He had found the mess hall. A figure in green and silver armor approached. He looked imposing, and everyone seemed to want to avoid him. His eyes were a bright crimson and his armor worn and beaten. "Hello, Zallirix," he said.

"Um, hello, big tough warrior. Dude. Person," Zallirix replied.

"I have something for you to do," the figure began. "But first I must introduce myself. I am Makuta Burtok." Zallirix jumped in surprise. Burtok expected this. He hoped that his mission for Zallirix would make up for his surprising Zallirix with his identity. "I do believe you will like this assignment."

"What is it?" Zallirix asked, now intigued, not frightened. Burtok wondered how Zallirix coped with such mood swings.

"Simple. We will break out."

"Aaaaahahahaheeheehee...This will be GRAND!" Zallirix laughed. Suddenly he stopped. "I know your voice," he said. "I remember it because when I was with you as an employer, you screamed. I never forget screams."

Burtok bristled. If Zallirix remembered Burtok's connection to his past, the whole deal would be off. After all, Burtok was partially responsible for Zallirix almost dying on one mission. "Tell you what," Zallirix began, "if you could yell for me, I could find out who you are, and I will do this thing with you."

Burtok rolled his eyes, and let out a shout.

Zallirix's eyes widened. "Big red dude with huge hands!" Zallirix comprehended. "You hired me to fight the green loser who tried to drown me."

"And if you go with me, you'll have a third chance at defeating him." Burtok added. Zallirix looked confused.

"Third try?" he repeated. He sifted through memories, not easy for an unstable mind to do, but he had the answer to the puzzle before long. Burtok had helped with his telepathy, but Zallirix was unaware of that. He was overwhelmed with enthusiasm. More than usual. "YES! I know who you’re talking about, mighty Makuta! I tried to kill the guy twice, but I got closer the second time. Third time's the charm, you know."

As Zallirix went into a laughing fit, Burtok scanned his soon victims from a distance with telepathy. They were still trying to pretend all was well, but he would soon prove them wrong. "Do we have a deal?" He asked his new partner.

"Are you kidding?" Zallirix exclaimed. "Let's do this!" More hysterical laughing ensued.

Levuku and his new team were holding up well, and Vohk and Ferrak had to admit that Levuku was a better leader than either had expected; his plan was working. The Chilas were felled by one of the three fighters or by combo attacks, and so far ten had been knocked down. However, as Rajal warned, they kept getting up again. Vohk was having fun, Levuku was liking the pressure, and Ferrak took it all calmly, his expression not changing much as he swatted Chilas into oblivion. The training exercise had spiraled out od control, but the addition of Ferrak’s strength helped the battle along. Levuku and Vohk soon got into the routine of distracting the Chilas until Ferrak showed up for a thunderous blow that would send the creature flying away, sometimes out of the fight for good. There was one exception to the “sent flying away” rule, but that was when Ferrak stomped one Chilas’s head into the sand. Basically, the battle seemed to be going the trio’s way.

This all changed quickly, though. A rumble began to grow out of the canyon, prompting Vohk to look over the edge. He saw hundreds of Chilas storming out of their alcoves, crawling up the wall toward the trio.

"Oh crud," he said. They were finished. He wasn’t even sure Ferrak’s strength could get them out of this mess. All these creatures, all defending their home, would keep Levuku, Vohk, and Ferrak from retreating. Chilas had a habit of keeping you from leaving their territory once they attacked you. They preferred to kill an opponent rather than simply drive them away.

Then Vohk noticed something odd. The Chilas were moving in unison, at a uniform rate up the face of the cliff, and their eyes were glowing bright red. So they weren’t defending their home. Something was controlling them. Other than that, it still didn’t look good.

Suddenly, Vohk heard Ferrak grunt and fall to the sandy ground.

Levuku shouted, "You!"

Vohk turned around and saw a lanky figure in black and green armor facing off with Levuku. Ferrak had been downed by a hit from the flat of Zallirix's spear. Vohk saw that Zallirix was circling Levuku, so his back was soon turned to Vohk. Now was Vohk's chance. He raced straight for Zallirix.

Zallirix heard the speeding youth coming, though, and dove toward Levuku. This move evaded Vohk’s charge, and when Vohk looked back, Zallirix was giving Levuku the Hug of Death: Zallirix’s arms and left leg wrapped around Levuku with the psycho’s spear to Levuku’s neck.

“Try it!” Zallirix shouted at Vohk from the left of Levuku. “If you charge at me, I’ll ‘accidentally’ slice his little jade neck!”

Vohk decided to think over his actions a little, for once. He considered how Zallirix would react to what Vohk had in mind, and how long it would take Zallirix to process what was happening. In the end, Vohk decided to do it. He blasted toward Zallirix, prompting him to smile in triumph and prepare to slit Levuku’s neck.

Then Vohk veered off course, and Zallirix’s smile went away. He raced in circles around Zallirix, the wind caused by this motion accumulating in to a breeze, then a circular wind, then a tornado, which ripped Levuku from Zallirix's grip and tossed both of them around. Vohk rode with the tornado until he saw an opportunity to catch Levuku. Seeing it, Vohk jumped through the tornado and tackled Levuku, sending the two hurtling out of the cyclone.

Vohk made sure Levuku was alright, then continued running in circles. This time he pushed his speed up to the max, making the tornado whirl with unnatural speed. Zallirix screamed and wailed, and promised Vohk lots of Bula cookies if he were to please stop. Vohk did, in fact, stop, but then ran in reverse to halt the wind abruptly. Zallirix sailed out of the cyclone and flew about a mile away. There was a very quiet thud from his landing.

Rajal watched the cyclone dissipate and congratulated the trio silently from his rocky hiding spot, a small ledge in one of Altronia’s foothills. He wasn't sure why Zallirix had attacked them, but he was sure that the maniac would be found and punished. There was a noise like a stone being bumped that interrupted Rajal’s thoughts. He turned to face the intruder that had to be there.

"Greetings, Rajal," Makuta Burtok said. "I owe you a little humiliation. And I'll kill you for good measure." "If you think you can kill me, Burtok, then you are sadly mistaken." Rajal said, readying his swords. "I've killed much worse than you with one of my blades, not both."

Burtok laughed. "I’d like to see that. I’ve never seen something impossible before." Punctuating the point, Burtok swung his double-edged sword at Rajal, which the trainer dodged with ease. Rajal somersaulted across the rock, landed, and leaped at Burtok, spinning around in midair, his swords slicing the air as he shot forward. Burtok turned immaterial, allowing Rajal to pass through him and Burtok to set up for a follow-up, but Rajal allowed himself to keep going forward, beginning to run away from burtok as soon as he hit the ground. This, as it was intended to, caused Burtok’s follow-up to miss. Rajal U-turned and threw his whole body at Burtok. Burtok did his best to block, but Rajal's momentum kept him going, his back spikes digging into Burtok’s armor. The two landed, rolling over a few times, Rajal’s spikes digging in further with each revolution. Rajal stopped the roll, and jerked his body to rip Burtok off his spines. Burtok hit the ground, and tried to rise, but failed. His energy was beginning to leak out, and, with the power restrainer that Rajal had installed earlier already sapping his strength, it was too much. The Makuta hit the ground. Rajal reaching into his pack and retrieved some cable, with which he proceeded to tie Burtok up. “That power restrainer almost makes it too easy,” he murmured with a smile.

Levuku, Vohk, and Ferrak approached as he finished wrapping Burtok in cable.

“You’re back early,” he said. “I thought you’d have to deal with all those Rahi on your own once Zallirix was beaten.”

Levuku shook his head. “Not really. Once Vohk revived me, the Chilas were standing around, looking confused. They didn’t seem to notice us, and just left.”

"There was a whole army of them," Vohk said, "but, for some reason, they just stopped right before killing us.”

Rajal looked at the Makuta by his feet, bound in wire. “Burtok was controlling them, it seems,” he concluded accurately. “He probably planned to eliminate all witnesses of his escape attempt."

Looking up, he noticed Ferrak standing next to Levuku. Looking puzzled, he asked, "Who is this?" while motioning to Ferrak.

"Ferrak," Levuku answered, “An ally.”

Ferrak nodded. “I’m aware where you come from. I’ve been living here for years, all the while interested in the happenings in that imposing facility you have over there.” He pointed to Altronia Fortress. “I’m also aware on the training programs that go on inside its walls, and, after seeing the results,” he motioned to Levuku and Vohk, “I’d like to have some training as well.”

"I object to his joining," Vohk said.

"Why?" Rajal asked.

"Because he’s mature," Vohk said with a smile.

"Faxhuun likes that," Rajal said. "I'll gladly bring him in."

Rajal lead the way back to the fortress. Ferrak was obviously impressed. He had seen the structure off in the distance, but never seen it up close. Rajal was dragging Burtok behind him as he led the trio through the halls toward Faxhuun’s chambers.

Levuku was a little intimidated. He had met Faxhuun twice before, but the regal-looking Toa of Fire still was a little bit of an imposing figure. He forced these thoughts away as Rajal stopped in front of the massive, gold-decorated gate that stood in their way to Faxhuun’s office.

As if it had a mind of its own, the door suddenly started opening, which startled Ferrak. Rajal lead them inside, and made his way to Faxhuun's office. The room was lit only with torches, making it hot and bright. These were two qualities that Altronia did not have anywhere else. Normally it was chilly and dark, as there were not many trees around to block the view of the cataclysm-darkened sky. It often snowed on Altronia, and sometimes the thunderstorms snowed. Even in the walls of the fortress, it was dim and cool. Perhaps it was simply a Toa of Fire’s way of keeping comfortable here in a land of cold.

Faxhuun's chair swivelled around and interrupted Ferrak's observation of the room. "So, Ferrak, correct? I've been waiting to meet you for a while, now."

"You have?" Ferrak asked, confused. "How did you know I was even on this island?"

Faxhuun chuckled. "I know very much, even about your residence on this island, and I know you have helpful skills. I will give you the knowledge and experience you desire, in exchange for a little hard labor, much of it combat-related."

"Sounds good," Ferrak began, "but I'm still not sure wether I can trust you." He paused, then, sounding suspicious, he said, "You do have Zallirix in your ranks. Why must you hang on to a psychopathic killer?"

Faxhuun winced. He had not expected that much cleverness from this musclehead, which proved to Faxhuun that despite all his years of experience and wisdom, he could still make misjudgements Not only that, the question had pointed out that Faxhuun had apparently misjudged Zallirix’s threat level. He needed to say something to build confidence.

"I was--" Faxhuun began, then stopped. It would be a bad idea to lie to Ferrak, since it was sure to come back to him and ruin Ferrak’s trust in Faxhhun, trust that was gained through a deception, and only to message Faxhuun's ego, no less. In the end, Faxhuun realized that Ferrak had him cornered. Faxhuun was mad, because that had not happened in two thousand years.

"I have no explanation," he said at last. "I was unaware of his threat level until too late. Once it was revealed, there was nothing I could do but count on you three to take care of him for me. That’s what we do here. We trust each other.”

Ferrak smiled. "I figured that. I only asked to test your honesty. Too many grand leaders of awesome organizations are lying weasels. I can see that you’re not, however. Now, allow me to call you sir so that my induction can be final.”

Faxhuun nodded.

“Yes, sir!” Ferrak said, saluting.

Zallirix was in pain, but he was happy. So he had tried to kill three rookies. So he had been blown a half a mile away by a tornado. He escaped Faxhuun's fortress! All was well with his mind and soul as long he was out of that goody-two-shoes pit of ultimate humiliation. Zallirix then felt a feeling he did not remember right away. It was a saddening feeling, like he needed to do something or he would never set things straight. Could this be conscience? No, conscience died years ago. Conscience fail. Conscience will not bother Zallirix again.

Zallirix felt a tug on his arm and heard a voice behind him say, "All right, maniac. Get up." Zallirix refused to get up. The voice repeated itself. Zallirix suddenly got a very random idea. He leaped up and turned to face his captors, shouting "Boogly Boo!"

His captors leapt back, momentarily shocked by the sheer stupidity of Zallirix's maneuver. To add to the randomness, Zallirix slapped one of his visitors across the mask with the flat of his spear. The captor moved to the side slightly, allowing Zallirix to slip by. "Hoohoohoohahahaha!! Catch me if you can, losers!"

Zallirix's visitors each took a blaster out of their packs and fired at Zallirix. The escaping maniac heard the shots going off and went into a rapid series of ground flips, finishing off with a midair backflip-with-half-twist-in-it and a "Ta-Dah!" on the landing. His captors linked their blasters together into a cannon, and fired a net at Zallirix. All the fugitive said was "Mommy."

Voran stormed through the halls of Altronia. Lihee was being so inconsiderate of his friend's feelings! Ever since that femme fatale Toa of Lightning showed up, Voran had been ignored. He was still co-leader with Lihee, and they needed to have a lot of communication. Rewta was inhibiting that.

What Voran would not admit to himself is that he was jealous and wary of Rewta. She had better control of lightning than Voran did, and there may not be any place for Voran on the team. True, Voran was still a skilled leader, but Rewta could learn leadership from Lihee, thus nullifying Voran's purpose. But his friends would not be so cold-hearted as to abandon him because of that, would they?

Another point Voran had to make to himself was that Rewta had not earned her right as leader, while Voran had. Once again, there was future concern, because Rewta was a Toa, after all, and Toa are famed for their good and heroic deeds. In the end, Voran's place was hanging on by his friend's mercy. As a strategic leader, Voran saw the need for action.

Burtok awoke in his dorm room. He had an unpleasant memory of being beaten very badly by Rajal, and passing out from weakness. His antidermis had regenerated, but he was still too weak to fight. He could not beat Rajal, a minor trainer, so what chance he had against Faxhuun himself was slim. His only hope was to try to use others in his dirty work. This would be difficult, because many of the employees here were volunteers, and all seemed content, except Zallirix, and he could not be expected to try at escape again.

Or could he? Zallirix was mentally unstable, and he did obsessively want to kill Levuku, so perhaps there was some potential left in him after all. But first, Burtok wanted to cause some confusion and mayhem, so he scanned the fortress with his mind for potential pawns. He did not take long to single out one, and one he was familiar with.

Voran. If he could increase Voran's already intense anger, to bring out the actions Voran’s dark side wanted to enact, then perhaps Burtok could be two enemies closer to escape, once, of course, he had made Voran kill one of his teammates.

Burtok, for a moment, almost felt remorseful, but really was just disappointed. He had not faced a Toa of Lightning yet, and hoped to at one point, but having Voran kill one would be just as good. In the end, the shadow-powered sadist decided to just go ahead and do it.

Lihee and Rewta were having a nice stroll through the hallways in Altronia. When they rounded a corner and saw Voran standing there, they quickly let go of each other's hands and started to greet him. "Heey, Voran," Lihee said.

"I suppose you are in the process of rendering a friend obsolete," Voran sneered, gesturing to Rewta. The female Toa looked offended and uncomfortable.

Lihee stepped forward. "That was pointless, Voran," Lihee said. "Unless you have just come to ruin our lives."

"Lives?" Voran said. "You honestly believe I think you two want your lives to be separate?"

"Hold on!" Lihee interrupted, his temper rising. "I don't know why you're being such a twerp, but could you please hold it off for other people, perhaps more deserving ones like Vohk?"

Voran laughed. "You are most deserving, I'm sure, because you are trying to replace me!" Lihee was about to say something when Voran cut him off. "Yes, I know your thinly veiled plan, to replace me with someone you can relate to, someone you seem to actually want to relate to."

To Lihee's surprise, the attack that followed that last statement did not come from Lihee's hand, but Rewta's. Despite its devastating power, Voran simply absorbed the lightning bolt that flew from Rewta's fingertips.

"Lihee described you as a valiant leader, not a first-class jerk," Rewta jeered. "He must have been flattering you or something."

Voran then did something he never would have done if Burtok's mental proddings and anger-inducing power had not been working on him. He lashed out and struck Rewta in the mask. The Lightning Toa fell to the floor, but soon got up again, shaking her head.

"Now you asked for it!" she shouted. She triggered her Mask of Reconstitution and her forearm reformed into a blade. As Rewta charged, Voran extended his staff and electrified it. Burtok's mental tugs, anger power, darkness power influenced Voran to say, "You must be destroyed. You are a threat to my authority." Lihee's eyes widened, and he ran off.

"What are you doing!?" Rewta shouted after Lihee. "I can't take him alone!"

Voran grinned, completely in thrall to Burtok’s power. "I guess your best friend, your only friend, has deserted you."

Rewta stared into space for a second, realizing that Voran apparently right. Lihee had abandoned her when she was in danger. Was it because there was too great a risk, fighting the electricity-wielding leader of the Avenging Alliance, or was there a better reason? Rewta hoped that the second choice was the accurate one.

In the process of having these thoughts, Rewta stood distracted for a moment. Voran used this moment to hit Rewta with his electrified staff. Rewta fell to the ground, and her hand returned to normal from loss of concentration. Voran fired a spinner, caught it with his staff's tines, and began charging it up. Rewta elongated her other arm, grabbed Voran's staff, and shoved it up toward its owner's face. The spinner flew off at max velocity and slammed into Voran's mask. The red-armored Runask flew back and landed on his back. He looked up at Rewta, his mask glowing. "," he pleaded the Toa of Lightning.

"Why should I?" Rewta asked. "You just tried to kill me.”

"No time to argue," Voran said. "I am being controlled by Makuta Burtok. He is now trying to make his control complete, never to be severed. Kill me and spoil his plans."

Huh? Burtok wondered. Why does he persist? I must destroy his very mind, I guess.

Voran screamed as Butrok’s power tore at his brain. Anger, Fear, dark thoughts, Confusion, all running through him. It was too much to bear. He had to take a back seat to ease the pain. With Voran’s willpower no longer acting on it, his body was free to be controlled by Makuta Burtok. His eyes blazed red, and Burtok bade Dark Voran lunge at Rewta. This he did, sending himself and Rewta down the hallway about ten feet, next pinning Rewta to the floor.

Dark Voran’s eyes returned to normal, signaling the real Voran was pushing through Burtok’s control, though just in enough to speak. "Kill me! I beg you! I never wished to kill you, I wished to negotiate your authority on our team! Burtok wants us both dead!" His body raised a fist, and charged it up with electricity. "Take my place when I go, Toa Rewta," Voran said. Then old Voran was gone, replaced by the red-eyed horror.

Rewta didn’t hesitate. If she had, she’d be dead. She would have preferred that to killing Voran, but he was right. With Burtok in control of Voran, the Makuta would be too strong. Voran had told Rewta to help him make the sacrifice, and she wasn’t about to disappoint him. She turned her hand into a blade again, and sent it into Voran’s chest Immediately the nimbus of electricity around his fist disappeared, and his body went limp. As he fell, Rewta pushed Voran aside so he fell next to her. "I'm sorry, Voran," she said, standing up. "But you insisted on being a true leader. I wasn’t about to deny you the privilege.”

Lihee had, after a few minutes of running, found whom he was looking for. Burtok staring into space, struggling like in a mental video game. The Makuta stopped just as Lihee arrived, but not because of his arrival. Apparently he had lost mental contact with Voran. This was a perfect chance to launch a fireball at the Makuta, and one that Lihee didn’t miss. Another fireball formed, and this one was launched with damage intended. Burtok stumbled to the floor as the flames sprayed onto him and scorch marks appeared on his armor.

Flame covered the blades of Lihee’s Inferno Tri-Sword as he approached Burtok. "I want my friend back. Give him to me."

"He's gone, little Toa, as you soon will be." Butok fired a blast of shadow, but Lhee absorbed it with his shield. he sent it steaming out of his sword, and immediately surged forward. Burtok laughed as he was hit with the ineffective shadow blast, but stopped as Lihee's sword came down and hacked out a chunk of Burtok's armor. Burtok slumped on the floor as his energy leaked out. "Learn a lesson from Voran, Makuta," Lihee said. "When something didn't work, he never tried it the same way again, hoping for a different result. Stop trying to kill us. It just doesn’t work."

Lihee rushed to Voran's side. Rewta was already there, trying to make him as comfortable as possible. Voran turned to Lihee. "Farewell, friend," he whispered. "And to you, my young acquaintance," he said to Rewta. "I have enjoyed your partnership, Lihee, and tell Suntrah he now has to deal with Levuku and Vohk all by himself." Voran smiled. Lihee and Rewta smiled back. "Keep my legacy, and make new ones for your successors. Teach Butok a lesson he will never forget." Lihee and Rewta smiled and saluted. Voran slightly nodded, then his eyes went dark.

Lihee stood up and looked down at Voran's lifeless form. His eyes were filled with sadness. They had lost a leader, warrior, ally, and friend. Then sadness turned to resolve and indignity. Burtok would need to be punished for his deeds, this one above all. He took Rewta's hand in his. She stood up slowly, and nodded. They would make Burtok pay together.

They continued through the hallways until they found the spot where Burtok was, or had been, anyway. The Makuta had inexplicably disappeared. "Show yourself!" Lihee shouted.

"The Makuta is not hiding, Lihee," a voice said. A blue and yellow figure stepped out of the shadows. "Unless you consider being in the discipline chamber hiding."

"How do you know me?" Lihee asked.

"I know him, and I have near-constant contact with him," Rewta said. "He is Sybeko, and he is my unit's trainer."

"A pleasure to meet such a...handsome Toa of Fire in these imposing halls," Sybeko said. "Handsome and imposing don't normally go together, you see."

"Yes, like Burtok," Lihee said, trying to make a funny. The funny was ruined because Sybeko simply stared blankly into space with his eyes wide open and a smile on his face.

"Yeeesss," the trainer said, thoughtfully. After a moment, he shook his head and looked normal again. "Anyhoo, move along with your business. Nice to meet you, Toa of Fire Lihee the Handsome." After saying this, Sybeko swaggered away and Rewta leaned into Lihee's ear to explain.

"He's a little nutty. He is a mutant, and his mutation seems to have messed with his mind."

"Just like Zallirix," Lihee said. When Rewta smiled and giggled, Lihee got serious again. "Who did that to him? He's none the worse for wear, appearance-wise."

"A Makuta he calls Rularx," Rewta said. "And, according to Sybeko, this Makuta has almost every personality defect in the book."

Lihee rolled his eyes. "Like THAT'S uncommon with Makuta," he said. Rewta giggled again, then nodded agreement. Lihee continued. "Let's meet up with Suntah, and let him catch up on events."

Suntrah was a little shocked by the news of Voran's death. He stared into space for a moment, not unlike how Sybeko had done the same, but with no smile or very open eyes. After a moment, he closed his eyes and breathed deeply. He said and did nothing else for long minutes. There was simply the noise of air flowing in and out of his mouth and the solemn look on his calm face. Then he opened his eyes and looked Lihee right in the eye. "I am making my first executive decision," He said purposefully. "Our team should be split into subunits because of its size."

"Do you propose we split both teams, or just yours while mine is one unit on its own?" Lihee asked.

"Do as you wish with your team," Suntrah said. "I only wish to split my team." After a pause, he turned to face Rewta.

"Which of our teams would you like to join, the Avenging or Universal Alliance?"

Lihee stepped forward. "It is best that she join you," he told Suntrah. "This is simply because I don't believe she will be well-accepted by my team."

"That's nothing," Rewta said. "I can take care of myself."

Lihee shook his head. "Two reasons you would be better off with Suntrah: His team is used to people joining and will accept you better, and you will have other Toa there to work with."

"That second point is most important," Suntrah cut in. "With other Toa you can use elemental powers in tandem, and maybe do a little more."

"What "more"?" Lihee and Rewta asked simultaneously.

Suntrah's mask glowed. "You will find out soon enough."

"What does that mean?" Rewta challenged.

Lihee put his arm on her shoulder. "He is very well qualified to be a leader, and his Noble Mask of Clairvoyance only makes him more qualified. One thing Voran always told me: don't argue with Suntrah when his mask is lit."

Rewta conceded. Then she turned to Suntrah again. "So, you said you had other Toa on your team?"

Suntrah nodded. "Let me introduce you to the team, Toa of Lightning."

Levuku looked at Zallirix, hanging from the ceiling by a rope, which was keeping the net Zallirix was in suspended above the floor of Altronia fortress. He had come alone to see Zallirix up close and examine him. The reason was simple. Something about Zallirix was unsettling to Levuku. He was familiar for some reason, which, given how Zallirix had been acting, was a little scary. The thought that Levuku had met someone that weird in the past was disturbing. Levuku couldn’t recall when he had met someone like that, if indeed he had, so he decided to examine Zallirix more closely. Perhaps Levuku would see some aspect of Zallirix’s appearance that he remembered. There was something in the way that he moved, something in the way he fought, something in the way he chose his actions, theat Levuku recognized. That much was clear. Still, it was hard to match these things to a person Levuku had seen before. As the maniac squirmed and wriggled in the net, Levuku sifted through all his memories, trying to bring them to light and match them to Zallirix. None fit, except one memory that Levuku could not wholly put together. He needed to remember one more element of the circumstances to remember it fully. He searched his mind for that missing element, but it remained elusive.

Zallirix suddenly used his claws to slice through the net. He tackled Levuku with impossible speed and grabbed his mask. "This is very unfashionable. Let me relive you of it," Zallirix teased.

Levuku was not listening. He didn’t see the black-and-lime psychopath sitting there, holding Levuku’s mask in the air with a triumphant, teeth-baring smile on his face. Levuku saw a different face, obscured by a helmet, but heard the same voice and saw the maniac in the same pose. The rest of the memory came to light then. Levuku was pinned down on a wooden catwalk leading out to two rowboats tied to the dock, and Kanahka's corpse was a few yards away. Then reality returned, and Levuku found himself in the fortress again, in the containment room. "You-" Levuku realized, "were Kanahka's murderer.”

Zallirix laughed hysterically. "Oh, so you do remember your old pal Wanton?" Levuku remembered now. During the short time Zallirix was a Dark Hunter, he had adopted the codename of Wanton, which was very appropriate. Wanton had been hired by Burtok to kill as many Avenging Alliance members as he could, and had gone for Kanahka first. Levuku had been with the green-armored Hordika Nurtox when Wanton attacked. They had first been unaware of the maniac’s presence. They were talking, laughing, engaging in a friendly conversation, enjoying a mentor-student relationship. It was great.

Then Kanahka had changed. His smile disappeared, he lurched forward with a grunt and fell face-first on the dock. That was when Levuku saw Zallirix standing there, amphibious-breathing helmet only slightly masking the hysterical smile. Kanahka had been mortally injured, and was now lying there with a bladed spear sticking out of his back. Zallirix was responsible.

Now reality returned once more. The Crynok's eyes blazed. "I thought you were dead before, but now I won’t stop fighting till I’m sure!” he shouted, thrusting both knees up and tossing Zallirix over him. The Crynok picked up his mask and put it on, allowing the Mask of Quick Travel’s power return to him. Levuku brandished his staff, prepared for combat.

A pointed staff flew between Levuku and Zallirix, burying itself in the floor. "That is quite enough," the staff's owner, Faxhuun, said. "You two may have a messy past, but you should at least accept the fact that you work together now. That was my choice.”

"Then go back on your decision!" Levuku shouted. "You shouldn't give him mercy when he does not deserve any!" Levuku shouted with tears in his eyes. "He..." Levuku's voice was breaking, "deserves death. And no one, not even you, noble sir, will stop me from carrying out my duty to the universe!"

Levuku charged forward, but Faxhuun grabbed onto the youth's arm to stop him from attacking Zallirix "It is just your pain, not the pain of the universe."

"He was expelled from the Dark Hunters because he was too unstable, and what's more, he's apparently been mutated to make his mental state permanent! YOU CAN'T TELL ME HOW TO TREAT HIM! YOU KNOW NOTHING OF HIM!"

Faxhuun sighed. He pressed a button on the wall, and a pair of robot arms grabbed Zallirix and pinned him to the wall. He put his arm around Levuku's shoulder and led the youth out of the room. "You still have much to learn, Levuku," he said. "Things I can't teach you. You must learn them, but I can help you along."

Is that supposed to be touching? Zallirix thought as they left. I must have missed the memo.

"What can you tell me?" Levuku asked.

"First, you must let go of your vengeful impulses, even if he did kill your mentor," Faxhuun began. "Second, you must accept the fact that he is your comrade, and he must be treated as a Toa treats another."

"I'm not a Toa, so why should I aspire to the example of one?" Levuku asked, not thinking too much about his words.

Faxhuun looked Levuku right in the eye. "You didn't think before you said that, did you?" Levuku shook his head, embarrassed. Faxhuun was right. He had much to learn.

Weeks later, Suntrah was trying his best. That was, after all, all anyone ever asked of him. He liked that. The thing he was trying his best at right now was defeating Liakatus, which was much easier said than done. The Toa had a habit of forming ice pillars that bound an enemy to the ground, which was easy enough to avoid for someone of Suntrah's physical fitness and coordination pedigree. The problem was that the Toa of Ice never lost his cool, never losing that expressionless, calculating look on his face.

Suntrah was pacing himself, stalling, and trying to analyze a possible solution to this current issue. He analyzed the qualities of ice, thought hard about his powers, and came up with a solution. Ducking past a spray of ice darts, Suntrah fired his eyebeams into a recently formed ice pillar and hoped that they would not ricochet right back out. They didn't, and, in fact, they did exactly what Suntrah hoped that they would. Due to the fact that ice is transparent, but angular, and that lasers are nothing but light, they shot into the ice, but refracted into millions of tiny beams. These little blasts peppered Liakatus, which gave Suntrah the perfect opportunity to rush to a better location. Liakatus tried to halt the Runask's progress by freezing the floor, but Suntrah simply used his wings to glide over the ground without gaining altitude, still keeping low.

Liakatus waited until Suntrah started to slow down to stop, then leaped at his sparring partner. Suntrah didn't duck. He didn't kick Liakatus in the gut as he careened toward Suntrah (although that wouldn't have been a bad idea). He relaxed and allowed Liakatus to plow into his midsection, then used the momentum to flip the pair over several times across the floor and end up with Liakatus pinned to the ground. Liakatus kicked Suntrah in the backside and flipped them over again, aiming to have Suntrah on the floor this time. Instead Suntrah helped the Toa of Ice, which pushed the pair too far over for Liakatus's goals. Suntrah flipped them all the way around, with enough momentum that Suntrah would end up on top again, if that were the Runask’s plan. Instead, he grabbed Liakatus's ankles, and slammed him back first on the floor. When the Toa of ice didn't stir, Suntrah stood up and planned to help his trainer off the sparring floor.

To do this, Suntrah let his guard down, and Kliakatus didn’t miss the opportunity, freezing Suntrah’s feet to the floor.

"Try refracting your eyebeams through that," Liakatus sneered, rising to his feet. "It's like a mirror. Are you going to chance your beams coming right back into your face?"

I won't chance it because I know they won’t. Suntrah said to himself. He leaned his neck back, then fired his eyebeams at low power at the ice around his feet. They ricochet and nailed Liakatus right in the visor. Likatus's visor cracked, obscuring his vision. The experienced Toa of Ice responded by blasting a smokescreen of snow out of his sword to keep Suntrah from finding him while he recovered.

As the Runask broke through his icy shackles, he noted that he probably should have told Liakatus just what his Noble Mask of Clairvoyance did. His mask gave him a bead on Liakatus's general location, and Suntrah's practiced tracking skills honed in on the Toa's exact one. As Suntrah readied his finisher, he realized that it wasn't going to be anywhere near this easy to defeat Liakatus once the Toa was aware of Suntrah's mask power. He decided to savor this moment of triumph as he spun around, extended his leg, and connected with the back of Liakatus's head with knockout force, sending the Toa of Ice pitching face first into his own snowbank. At least he had a soft landing, Suntrah thought.

Suntrah exited the training chamber, air that felt warm in relation to the cold Liakatus had brought washed over him. How long would they have to keep training before being assigned a mission? Months? Years? He had no idea. Because of that, Suntrah had to find entertainment where he could get it, like managing to beat Liakatus. There wasn’t much else to do.

Life in Altronia Fortress seemed much more boring than Suntrah had originally thought. In the first few days since they had arrived, much had happened, but that had faded away in the following weeks as dull routine set in to replace excitement. Suntrah almost wished someone would try to attack the fortress, if only if that would brighten up the Avenging Allaince’s dreary day-by-day routine.

The memories flooded him. Buraka, Voran, dead in the first few days at Altronia Fortress, all because people wanted the newly recruited renegades dead. If someone attacked, it might mean the end of someone else. Finally Suntrah decided that the dull ness was okay, but maybe Altronia Fortress could use a Kohlii field. Something to liven the place up.

Sybeko strode swiftly through the hallways in the Order of Altronia Fortress's stone walls. The lightstones, suspended in lanterns, gave a homey feel the otherwise forbidding structure, though this was a feeling that Sybeko shared with very few of its inhabitants. At times, the fortress seemed to want nothing to do with Sybeko, or anyone else, for that matter. It was as if the walls were alive and cranky, as if sleep-deprived.

Lost in thought, Sybeko almost walked right by the door that he was heading for. It was a gate that led out of the halls and into the courtyard. Sybeko grasped the handle and gave its bronze frame a squeeze. The two tines of the handle met, a click sounded, and the gate began to fall open outwards. The dim sunlight added to the ambient glow of the lightstones inside, thus allowing Sybeko to see clearly what he was sent here for. Who he was sent here for.

A thin, lanky creature in black armor was being brought up to Sybeko. At first he thought that the guards had found another of Zallirix's species, but this creature was far different upon closer inspection. The strange creature had an elongated skull, bulbous green eyes, three-segmented legs, razor-sharp claws, and a dislike of being hauled around by his armpits by two Toa guards. The guards shoved the creature in front of Sybeko and lightly poked him in the back with their weapons, prompting the creature to speak. He did, and in a strangely clear and almost dignified voice.

"My regards," it said swiftly. "My name is Jardel. I have come to apply for employment here."

"Jardel?" Sybeko repeated. "Anyhoo, I'm sure Faxhuun would send his regards if he were here, but, as you can see, he is not,"

"No, he isn't," Jardel said flatly. "And that troubles me. You see, I want ever so much to meet the great General Faxhuun, lord of fire."

"Of course, polite Jardel," Sybeko said, bowing his head slightly. "It is good that we treat each other well, for we will be colleagues for a while."

Jardel smiled. "Of course, it won't seem like long to either of us."

Sybeko returned the expression. "You have no idea."

Sybeko and Jardel son were walking quietly through Altronia's halls. Their destination was Faxhuun's chamber, where Sybeko would relay the news of the new recruit to Faxhuun. Jardel went along with this, but one thing was unusual: Sybeko was asking for permission to admit Jardel into the Order of Altronia, permission he already had. Of course, Jardel didn't know how things worked around here, or why Sybeko was really taking the newbie to see his boss. And he doesn't need to, Sybeko thought.

Sybeko and his guest had reached the door of Faxhuun's chamber. Faxhuun's silent approval signal admitted Sybeko, and the door's deadbolts slid aside, allowing the squeeze of Faxhun's doorknob by Sybeko's hand to admit the pair. Faxhuun was already facing them, with his arms folded and a perplexed look on his face. "Why have you brought him to me, Sybeko?"

Sybeko smiled. "He has volunteered himself. I suggest we keep his personal safety a top priority."

Faxhuun's orange eyes glittered, and his arms relaxed. "I see." Faxhuun turned to Jardel and smiled. "Of course, we make sure all our agents are secure.”

Jardel smiled flatly back. "I am pleased to hear that, sir."

Faxhuun's eyebrows lifted. "Ah! 'Sir' is a good way to start off addressing me. Very respectful. How practical."

Jardel was glad he had earned Faxhuun's respect, and that Faxhuun was aware that he was respected by Jardel. Faxhuun began speaking. "Now that the matter is...secured, we will carry on as usual. Mata Nui be with you, Jardel."

Makuta Burtok was in pain. He was in a lot of pain. All he wanted was for the pain to stop, that way he could end the lives of more annoying Altronians. But, alas, the pain did not stop.

Burtok knew why. Rajal, the guardian of the Southeast Wing weapons store for Altronia Fortress, as well as the creator of the Antidermis Inhibitor, that little device that Burtok had behind his armor, stood with a remote control pushing the red button. The remote had activated the device in Burtok’s armor, sending an energy pulse which disrupted the atoms of Burtok’s antidermis. Rajal was trying to get Burtok to let go of a weapon, the MD Blaster, which Burtok had stole, but Burtok stood, shakingly holding onto his stolen goodie with all the might he currently had.

"You never, learn, do you, Burtok?" Rajal scolded. "Perhaps your learning days were over when you, as a scientist, declared that you knew all you needed to know to live a long, prosperous life. How pathetically foolish." It was true. Burtaok had made that announcement to an entire island population, and Rajal had been present.

Burtok wasn't about to quit fighting now. The problem was that he had next to zero options. He was focused too much on fighting the pain to trigger any of his powers, and he was shaking too much to fight with his sword. Rajal had already defeated Burtok in hand-to-hand combat, so Burtok was sure that swordplay would get him nowhere anyway.

Then Burtok got a surprise. Someone saved his protosteel hide, one that he never expected to.

"Rajal!" Trallix shouted from behind Burtok, "leave the Makuta-torturing to those who were born to do it."

"You're taking a risk, Trallix," Rajal said, his thumb lifting off the button on his remote. "A big one. What if I told Faxhuun that an unauthorized Hokanuka was inside these walls?"

"He would have to deal with it, because, with Zalkatrex absent, I am the Hokanuka Order's supreme commander. Don’t worry. By the time you tell Faxhuun this, I will be long gone," Trallix sneered, grabbing Burtok's wrists and twisting them behind his back.

Burtok sprang into action. With the pain gone, he could concentrate enough to focus his powers.

Trallix wrenched Burtok’s wrist, making Burtok drop the MD Blaster, but Burtok wanted that to happen now. He triggered his magnetism power, sending the stray tool flying at Rajal's head. The tool connected, sending Rajal into the opposite wall. Trallix began to haul Burtok out of the room, but Burtok wasn't finished. He triggered magnetism again; this time the tool hit the back of Trallix's head, sending the Hokanuka face-first into the ground. On the way down, Trallix hit a shelf, knocking it over onto his back. Burtok shoved the still-recovering Hokanuka off him and grabbed the weapon, aimed it at Trallix, and fired.

The result was unexpected. The blater was supposed to disrupt the molecules in Trallix’s body, causing major pain, (hence the MD, standing for Molecular Disruption) Burtok had hit Trallix, but also the capsized shelf, which began to meld with the new form Trallix was taking on. Instead of inducing torturous pain, the energy blast seemed to fuse the shelf to Trallix's exterior, forming new armor for the ancient warrior.

When the Hokanuka stood up, it was quickly and energetically. He looked Burtok right in the eye and said, "You have made the most potentially lethal mistake of your life."

The Hokanuka was a few inches taller than he had been, and had a much bigger claw. Other changes were thicker muscles overall, thicker armor, and bigger wings.

Trallix dashed across the room at impossible speed. Burtok reacted by slowing the Hokanuka down, grabbing his weapon, and leaving as fast as he could. As Burtok raced through the hallways, heading for the exit, he could hear Trallix speed up again once he was out of range of Burtok’s slowing ability. Burtok ran as fast as he could, but, as he saw over his shoulder, Trallix was even faster now. The Hokanuka caught up with Burtok fast enough to tackle him. Burtok tried to break free of the Hokanuka's grip. As he tumbled with Trallix, he grabbed the Hokanuka's ankles and flipped Trallix into the floor. Trallix simply got up and grabbed Burtok's pincer in his talon as if Burtok’s attack had not hurt in the slightest.

"Any last words?" the Hokanuka hissed.


Trallix turned to see Recvak standing there, along with Liakatus. "You will not kill him, but instead, we will punish him." Recvak said. “We will simply make his worst nightmare come true. He will work for us as less than a servant. He will be a slave.”

Burtok cursed over and over. That amused Trallix.

Recvak chuckled. "Now, now, Burtok." he said, waving his finger back and forth, "talking like that might get your cot confiscated." As Liakatus formed ice handcuffs for the Makuta, the aged Toa of Air leaned in close to Burtok's face and whispered sternly, "So I suggest you stop this nonsense about trying to escape, and just lay low like a good little hard labor servant."

Burtok just wanted to blast that smug grin off Recvak's green and white face, but he couldn't move his hands. It was torture. Grunting and squirming, he tried to break free, but it was no use. Liakatus tried to pick the Makuta off the floor, but Burtok squirmed out of his grip. Liakatus wasted no time. Shrugging, he froze Burtok solid, so cold it threatened to freeze even Burtok’s antidermis.

“Squirm out of that,” he said brusquely. Satisfied, the Ice Toa hauled Burtok off the floor and carried him back to his quarters.

Trallix bade Recvak farewell. “Since this Makuta has granted me newfound strength, I will let you dispose of him any way you wish,” he announced. “Go back to your duties, Toa, and warn Faxhuun the Hokanuka’s Second in Command is more powerful than before. If he wants me to get out of the building, he’ll need to do more than send you two old ones.”

“We’ll see about that some other time, Trallix,” Recvak replied. “Good hunting to you and your brethren.”

With that, life in Altronia Fortress returned to normal.

Bultrox was deep in thought. He was not one known for thinking on a regular basis, although he actually did. He seemed to be a "injure first, ask questions later" kind of person, but that was chiefly his combat style. He had the natural ability to heal at an accelerated pace, which was his one Runask power, but he was also lucky enough to be granted by the Great Beings a Mask of Undeath. Bultrox knew surprisingly little about it, but heard rumors that it only allowed one reawakening. Not so with Bultrox. Wether the rumors were to be believed or not, Bultrox's mask had resurrected him eight times, and he had also heard that the mask made its users mindless upon reawakening. Wether that was true or not, Bultrox's mask was still different.

His mask was an Organic Kanohi. No, Bultrox had not done that himself, but his natural power had done that. It was a long story.

He and Rayzok (the real one, before Burtok impersonated him) were having their first scuffle. The Makuta was not winning, but Bultrox wasn’t doing so hot, either. Each of them was looking for a chance to get in a decisive blow that would end the fight. Unfortunately, the Makuta got his chance first. He struck with his plasma power, badly burning Bultrox’s face and half-destroying his mask. Rayzok had left Bultrox for dead, never realizing that Bultrox’s healing power was in the process of fusing the broken mask to Bultrox’s face.

Since the mask was part of Bultrox's body, its power was his, not the mask's, which means that, instead of reanimating the wearer in zombie fashion, the altered version merged with Bultrox’s head aids his regeneration ability, giving Bultrox the ability to completely regenerate, even from a decapitation or a similarly lethal attack. This made Bultrox an invaluable ally, but his reckless nature made for an rash ally as well. The Avenging Alliance welcomed the help, but was often somewhat annoyed that he just charged into battle, only to get thrashed, over and over.

And, to be honest, Bultrox found that having a new body constructed for you every time you should be dying is very disturbing. Still, he liked that ability, or curse, and used it well.

Bultrox was also not known for his tidiness of cleanliness. His dorm was a horror show, and even as he sat in thought he rested on one of his bedposts because his seats were all cluttered up. He was following the train of thought expressed above, but, looking up at a clock on the wall, he realized that it was midday. Bultrox dropped off his perch on the bedpost and made his way to the cafeteria.

Liakatus was impatient. Big woo. Nothing new. All that statement meant was that Liakatus was expecting Bultrox to be at the cafeteria soon, and Liakatus had been waiting there for some time. Bultrox better be there soon or Liakatus would be annoyed. Then irritated. Then grumpy. Then he would be at the "Where is that piece of slime!?" phase.

Right as Liakatus was about to move on to annoyed, Bultrox showed up. Bultrox was not there for sustenance, as his regenerative ability and Runask metabolism meant that he would not need nutrition until tomorrow. No, he was there because he met Liakauts there regularly.

As I said before, Bultrox was not known for his ponderous moments, though he did have a significant number of them. As Liakatus rapidly tapped his left index finger on the table, Bultrox decided to take a look at the scenery. He made it look as if he had to take a longer route through the tables in the cafeteria to get to Liakatus, but he really wanted to glimpse the strange lighting in the room. The thick layer of frost on the skylight window was scattering the sunlight coming through. The hexagonal crystals that made up the ice made for some interesting patterns on the floor. Also, every time a Rahi or cloud went by over the window, the light was distorted further, making it seem to be in constant motion. It was almost as if the cafeteria was underwater. Bultrox was having a tough time taking this all in and making it appear that he actually was rushing to Liakatus's table at the same time. He managed somehow.

Liakatus was not oblivious to the beautiful lighting, but he just didn't care. He had learned years ago that the best way to live in a war zone was to just act now, and think later. Liakatus was the exact opposite in battle. He always thought a maneuver out thoroughly before he used it. Bultrox was reckless and chaotic in battle, but took his time in life. Bultrox never let this make him late, though. The pair were basically reverses of each other. How they got to be such good ... accquaintances ... Bultrox would never figure out.

Liakatus could never figure it out either, especially when Bultrox stalled. Just get here already! The Toa of Ice thought. I've got a surprise for you, but you need to GET HERE first.

Bultrox eventually made his way to Liakatus and greeted with his personal salute. Bultrox pulled out the chair opposite from Liakatus and sat down hard. Liakatus was resting his head between his intertwined fingers, with his elbows resting on the table, a sign he was about to give Bultrox something to do.

"Well, congrats, Bultrox," the Toa said coldly, "You've been given your first assignment."

"I'm listening," Bultrox replied.

Liakatus smiled. "Good. You're to join Burtok, Vaturi, Bartha, and Suntrah on a scouting mission. You are to follow the directions that I give you on a map, and you are to learn all you can when you get to your destination."

"Sorry," Bultrox said, cleaning his ear. "I could have sworn you said Burtok, but I'm sure you didn't mean it."

"Liakatus's brow dipped. "You know better than that. I never list operatives incorrectly," he said darkly.

Bultrox found it wise to be quiet. Even so, he had to scowl. Bultrox had, a few millennia ago, added Burtok to his list of sworn enemies. It was a short list, with Burtok as the only entry, though Zallirix was getting close. Liakatus knew this, but it was obvious the Ice Toa hadn't created this assignment. Bultrox knew who had, and he wasn't about to argue with him.

"Are you sure Faxhuun didn't make a mistake or misjudgement?"

“You're really reaching, Bultrox."

"Fine. When do I depart?"

Liakatus got up. "I will find you."

Levuku was having a good day. First of all, he had not seen Zallirix in five hours. Second, he had been making headway in getting Ferrak and Vohk to get along. This was easier said than done, seeing as Ferrak had a cutting wit that he often used on Vohk, and Vohk was always pulling pranks on Ferrak. Once Ferrak had been innocently walking along and triggered a tripwire Vohk had laid out. the result was a bucket of ice-cold liquid protodermis to the side of Ferrak's head. Levuku had had to use his staff to pry Ferrak's fingers off Vohk's neck.

Despite all this, Levuku had had a few breakthrough moments. Ferrak had made a joke and Vohk had laughed instead of calling Ferrak a nerd, as he always seemed to do. Vohk had offered Ferrak the leftovers from his meal one day. These moments came about mostly because Levuku had been intervening in their arguments and showing them the bright side to both of their viewpoints, both educated consideration and thrill-seeking, and they had developed a growing respect for each other.

Good, Levuku reflected. That's just how it should be. They're sitting at the same table with me not there. Levuku was entering the cafeteria as he said this. Ferrak and Vohk were having a conversation.

Levuku could hear their voices resonating from half the cafeteria away, which wasn't actually unusual, as Altronia Fortress isn't usually noisy, but normally when Vohk would associate with Ferrak, it would be very quiet so others didn't notice.

"Yeah, that was funny," Levuku heard Vohk say.

"Funny or not, that was a very pivotal event in the development of our team chemistry. I anticipate seeing how it will turn out." Ferrak replied.

"You're such a nerd," Vohk muttered.

"What's up, dudes?" Levuku interjected as he approached the table.

Ferrak grinned. "Salutations. I was discussing with my young tablemate the event and consequences of Vaturi's last morph.”

"What did Vohk think was funny?" Levuku asked, confused. Vaturi's unstable physiology was not something to laugh about.

Ferrak chuckled. "Well, Burtok happened to be walking by, and He pointed out how he still had some sort of hold over the direction our lives were taking, because Vaturi's condition was his fault. And Vaturi-"

"Said, 'Oh, really?'" Vohk interrupted, mimicing Vaturi's high, shrill voice as best he could. "'Like to prove that?' And she drew her wing blades, and totally owned Burtok. I mean, she beat the living tar out of him. I was surprised, 'cuz I took longer to beat him than that."

"Well, he's wrong, I'll give Vaturi that," Levuku said, laughing. "He has no power or advantages over us anymore, and I'm glad."

"As am I," Ferrak agreed. "Though I myself have never fought him..." His voice trailed off.

"It's a good idea we keep it that way," Levuku said. "Though I think it's too much to ask that Burtok stops stirring up trouble; you never know with a Makuta"

"Alright, stop depressing me," Vohk said abruptly. "It's enough that Panuko won't forget about Buraka's death."

"For once, I agree with you, Vohk, at least partially," Ferrak said. "It is a grievous occurrence that Buraka is gone, but Panuko is allowing it to rule his thoughts too much. He needs to stop living in the past."

"'Grievous'?" Vohk asked with one eyebrow raised. "Does ANYONE use the word 'grievous' in everyday conversations?"

"Well, it's good to know-"Ferrak began.

"-proper vocabulary, I know," Vohk finished. "But some of us are not uber-geeks like you, Ferrak."

"I will keep all illiterate-slob-related comments to myself." Ferrak retorted.

"What was that!?" Vohk challenged.

"I kept it to myself," Ferrak said smiling.

Vohk's hands shook with fury. "Rrrrgh! I hate it when you do that! Can't you come up with less strong logic?"

"If I did, you'd have the best time with me, and I'd be a fool. Do you really think--"

"All right, stop!" Levuku shouted. "Just stop! I know you guys can do better than this! Stop fighting, 'cuz we're supposed to be a team!"

"Got a better reason?" Vohk asked mockingly. "Sure," Levuku said flatly. "I have a hard enough time with annoyances having to deal with Zallirix hanging around every day."

"I thought he was reduced to 'expendable prisoner' status," Ferrak pointed out. "How can he be still annoying you?"

"He has been defoliated," Levuku said as Vohk threw his hands in the air, reacting the Levuku’s using a big word. "But he runs errands for everyone of higher rank than him, so I pass him in the halls. And he doesn't mind taking out thirty seconds of his time to follow me around with stupid face and be so close to me as to breathe on me. After about thirty seconds, he breaks off and continues working, as if he remembered what he was doing and forgot where I was."

“That’s gotta be annoying,” Ferrak conceded.

Levuku nodded. It was. Still, there was nothing he could do about it but grin and bear it. Sometimes life was like that.

Bultrox was a little miffed. He had been sent on a scouting mission by Liakatus, he and Suntrah, Bartha, Vaturi, and Makuta Burtok. Their mission was ... well, never mind the mission for now. You must know why Bultrox was miffed, of course. Bultrox was miffed for several reasons. The first was that Burtok was along on the mission. Burtok. Why hadn't Bultrox killed him yet? That had been established as his full-time goal for a few centuries, and now Burtok was weakened and in bad shape, perfect for Bultrox to relieve the universe of the Makuta’s presence, so why hadn't he? Oh, right. Faxhuun and his Toa virtues.

Second, this mission was not one Bultrox would have chosen for himself. It was an espionage mission, in which Bultrox and his squad were to investigate a rival fortress on Altronia soil some distance from Altronia Fortress. That in itself wasn't the issue, though. The issue was that, since it was in the early-middle of Altronia winter, there was a blizzard raging across the island. This was the issue because Bultrox hated snow. He hated snow for good reasons and lame reasons. One good reason was that, because of Bultrox's dark emerald and black armor, he really stood out in the snow, making it hard to be stealthy. Another good reason was particular to wet snow, which was falling at the time. Wet snow stuck to Bultrox's armor, and, though that did actually negate the first reason, it made Bultrox uncomfortable and limited his mobility by getting into his joints. The lame reasons were ones he made up, but they all stemmed from his mild cryophobia, his aversion to cold. It wasn't because snow did anything to him, it was just an irrational aversion to all things cold.

Another reason Bultrox was miffed was that the mission was going badly. In fact, presently he was lying face down in a snowdrift, wind at his back and ice crystals falling on and covering his wings. He was there because Liakatus had been conveniently ignorant in the knowledge of what the guards were or where they patrolled when the Ice Toa briefed them. Bultrox had discovered about twenty-two seconds ago that the guards were modified nektann robots from Zakaz, which Bultrox could tell from the insignia, and that they were very easy to get the attention of.

That was the problem. The nektann had instantly spotted Bultrox, forcing Bultrox to run and hide from it until he could find a way to dismantle the robot. Bultrox soon was acquainted once again with his old companion, frustration. What was needed was a way to distract the Nektann until Bultrox could get in close enough to run it through with his sword. Of course, that was unless he was able to trash it from his current vantage point, which would be much more preferable. Frustration tinted Bultrox's lime green eyes orange. He could throw his sword, true, but wouldn't fly straight. He wouldn't be able to block the lasers from the robot without alerting other guards. No options! No options, and the snow falling on his head wasn’t helping. Bultrox’s head was slowly being covered in snow, which made him even more frustrated. He couldn't brush it off without alerting the Nektann to his presence, and he couldn't distract the Nektann, either! So much frustration ... and a headache from his cranium being covered in snow. Snow. Why can't we have something more useful around, like grenades or Madu fruit? Those would take care of the Nektann, thought Bultrox. He looked around for a rock jutting out of the snow for him to throw at the robot guard. Even a hunk of ice would do. Suddenly, Bultrox got an idea. Ice IS the answer, but not solid ice, ice crystals, Bultrox thought. A snowball. Why didn't I think of it before?

Bultrox reached into the snow, but with some reluctance. He scooped up a pile of snow in both hands and began to pack it together. Bultrox was also realizing maybe wet snow, at least, wasn't so bad after all. The Runask packed it together, and shaved off bits of it with his hands, forming a sphere, all while pressed up against the drift. It was tough, but Bultrox kept at it, and soon he had a snowball about the size of a Kohlii ball. Bultrox looked at his creation with satisfaction. He had packed it tight and used the heat of his hands correctly to fuse the outside of the ball into solid ice. It weighed more than Bultrox had expected, but that meant more kinetic energy. I don't know exactly how much; that's for nerd like Suntrah, but I know it would really sting, he said to himself. Bultrox peered over the edge of the drift and eyed the nektann. Just as he suspected, even after a few minutes, the robot was still there. It wasn't leaving until one of them was done in, and Bultrox was going to make sure it was the robot.

Bultrox noticed the robot was swiveling its head on its central joint hub, and noted how long it took the robot to spin its head once. He waited. He aimed. He waited a little more. He took dead aim, then could wait no longer. Bultrox leapt from his hiding spot, and, with a yell, unleashed the power of his left arm. Bultrox was no fool when it came to throwing things, and he gave the snowball backspin to stabilize it, which kept it in the air for the ninety-four feet it traveled till it hit the nektann dead on in the sensory hub.

Bultrox snatched up his sword and made a run for it. Soon the nektann would clear off its sensors and begin firing lasers too fast for Bultrox to deflect or dodge. The Runask leaped at the robot, and turned the maneuver into a flying kick. He slammed into the robot so hard he dented the sensory hub upon impact and crushed it between his foot and the fortress wall. The robot's limbs went limp, which was a good sign. Bultrox pulled the droid off his foot and ripped off the power supply, rendering the robot unable to reconstruct itself. Bultrox discarded the robot with a disdainful gesture, but then turned around. He looked at the robot again. Particularly at that armor on its legs. It was protosteel. Hm, Bultrox thought. I guess I'll hang on to it, but the minute it hinders me, I'm getting rid of it. With that, he stashed it by strapping it to his pack.

Bultrox continued patrolling the perimeter of the fortress. The snow was shallower right up against the wall, and less light from the afternoon sun fell there, anyhow, helping with Bultrox’s stealthiness. Bultrox hoped he would meet up with Suntrah or Bartha soon, even Vaturi would do. Burtok would be unwelcome to see at any time at all. Bultrox was nearing the southeast corner of the building, and hoped one of his teammates was awaiting him on the other side, any of them except Burtok. Still, it'll probably be Burtok. Why should anything start going well on this mission? he thought.

Bultrox was lucky for the first time today. Bartha, Toa of Iron, was waiting for the Runask around the bend. "Oh, good. Bultrox, it's you," the Toa of Iron sighed in relief. "I thought it might be another nektann. Those things don't give me enough time to use my power on them."

Bultrox gave Bartha a perplexed look. "Enough time?"

"Yes," Bartha replied. "I'm unused to using my Iron powers after all this time without them, and I'm a little slow. As soon as the bot feels my power crushing it, it whirls and fires a laser."

"Yeah, those hurt," Bultrox agreed. "Watch out for those."

"Already there," Bartha replied, smiling. He hefted his warhammer to show it off. "I just crush them faster now."

"Have you seen Burtok?" Bultrox asked. Letting his mortal enemy out of sight was unsettling to say the least.

"Not since the split-up," Bartha answered. Bultrox tensed. "He was sent to survey the front wall.”

"I don't like it," the emerald Runask replied. "Suppose he deserts?"

"If it happened, Suntrah would know about it. Relax."

"What if he knows someone in this place?"


"You heard me," Bultrox replied. "If Burtok knows the person running this place, then he may try to get them to let him in and blow us to Karzahni."

Bartha thought about that for a moment.

Bultrox stood there waiting for Bartha to answer. It was a good question, not just because nobody seemed prepared for the answer, but because Bultrox may actually be right. Liakatus wasn't particularly keen to tell the team who ran the fortress, but given the knowledge level in Altronia Fortress, it was doubtful he didn't know.

Waiting for Bartha to finish pondering, Bulrox began examining the Nektann.

"We should find the Makuta and keep watch on him," Bartha said to himself.

"Hmm. A revolving axle driver," Bultrox muttered, referring to the Nektann's inner workings.

"No, that wouldn't work; he'd see us."

"Maybe if I put a control module there..."

"Maybe if Suntrah focused on him with his mask..."

"And a resistance actuator here..."

"No, the Makuta would sense that he's being watched."

"Sharpen the leg tips, put on a handle..."

"It's really hard to make plan B's with Makuta involved," Bartha realized. "Bultrox?" Seeing Bultrox absorbed with his Nektann-fiddling, he asked, "What are you doing?"

"What?" Butrox asked, coming to his senses. "Oh. Right. Just...thinking. Hey, do you think, if I put a handle on it, this Nektann would make a good rotary shield?"

“I don't know. Maybe. Can we get back to work now?" Bartha asked.

"Sure. The answer to the question is that we run for our lives back to Altronia. We tell Faxhuun what went wrong, and ask what we do next."

"Oh," Bartha said. "Sounds good."

"I thought so," Bultrox said, smiling. "Now we have to meet up with Suntrah."

"And after we do that?" Bartha asked.

"Then we find Burtok," Bultrox replied grimly. The two began to walk along the side wall, heading for the front of the fortress, where Suntrah and Burtok were assigned to survey.

Not much happened for some time. Bartha had done in most of the Nektann on his side, most of which were now sporting a large angular dent in the front of their central hubs, evidence that a Kanohi Pakari plus a warhammer equals major destruction. It took a long time to reach the next corner, but the pair were as ready as ever for whatever may be around it. Bultrox let out a yell. Bartha was startled by this, as was someone around the corner, the shouts mingling into one sound. Bultrox gave Bartha a look as Suntrah stepped around the wall. "He startled me," Bultrox explained. "He looked around the corner same time as I did and we spooked each other."

"Oh, is that all?" Bartha asked, relieved.

"No, unfortunately," Suntrah replied. "I was just looking for you. The owner of this fortress is pretty good at defending a building. They have Nektann everywhere and no windows for about twenty feet up. I flew up to look in, but all I saw was a guard on patrol about to turn around and see me. I could sense sentries on the top of the walls as well. This place could be impregnable."

"Where's Burtok?" Bultrox had to ask this question.


One "uh" was enough for Bultrox. "Let's find him. We need to make sure nothing bad happens."

Suntrah turned, as if he had heard something. Starting to dash off into the woods, he said, "Too late. It's happening."

Bartha and Bultrox took off after Suntrah. The ebony Runask launched himself into a tree after a short time, followed by Bultrox. Bartha created a metal chain and hurled it into the same tree, swinging up to join his two allies. Suntrah pushed some of the evergreen branches aside to get a better look. There, in a clearing, stood Burtok. He was clutching the side of his armor and concentrating, which was a bad sign. His power inhibitor was on that side, and the Makuta apparently was trying to shapeshift it out of his armor. As Suntrah watched, the Makuta smiled, but never shifted position. Good news was the Makuta was deep in concentration and would never see an attack coming. Bad news was the attack had to come in the next minute or so. Suntrah turned to Bultrox. "Here's the plan," he began.

"We charge in and cut him to ribbons," Bultrox interrupted. "Any objections? Good. I'm going in." With that, the green-black warrior left his perch and flew toward Burtok's position. At the same time, Bartha saw Burtok's crimson eyes flash open.

"Look out!" Bartha shouted. Bultrox was not oblivious to the this, but kept going anyway. Burtok may be re-powered, but Bultrox might just make the moment of reconciliation with the Makuta's lost power be immediately before the moment of Burtok's life force's departure.

Burtok was also aware of his immediate surroundings. He saw Bultrox rushing toward him, but knew that the Runask would arrive precisely 0.35 seconds after Burtok's task would be completed. Letting out a roar, he let his old power fill him once again. Burtok the seized on this power, forcing his body to transform. He willed himself to assume his favored body. The form he had abandoned half a year ago when he had switched forms with his understudy, Rayzok, to fake his own death would now once again be his. Before Bultrox's startled eyes, the Makuta flashed with dark power, then abruptly grew in size by two feet, sprouted wings from his back, enlarged his hands, and changed color from green and silver to black and red. Then, he swept his giant hand through the air to smash Bultrox to the ground.

Suntrah winced as he saw Bultrox plow headfirst into the snow. Bartha clenched his fist. Burtok burst out in undaunted, triumphant laughter, and blasted into the sky, arcing over the wall of the fortress.

"Oh," Suntrah muttered. "This is bad."

"How bad?" Bartha asked.

"Worse than anything he's done before."

"Even worse that what he did to me and my teammates?"

"Yes," Suntrah answered. "Follow me."

Suntrah dropped from the tree and glided over to where Bultrox lay. Bartha was not far behind. Suntrah grabbed Bultrox by the arm and hauled him to his feet.

"Ow," was all Bultrox could say.

"Forget that," Suntrah replied, urgency in his tone. "Find Vaturi. Forget about stealth; Burtok's blown our cover already. Get Vaturi and meet Bartha and I over by the southern tip of Chilas Canyon."

Bultrox nodded wordlessly and took off. As he flew at top speed around the northeast corner of the fortress, he hoped Vaturi had not hidden herself. Looking over his shoulder to see that Suntrah had Bartha by the underarms and was flying the two of them away, Bultrox began to focus on finding Vaturi. He scanned the snow-covered ground, looking for the trademark blue-black of Vaturi's armor and the telltale jet-black wings she sported. He eventually spotted her about halfway down the wall, peeking into a wooden shed. She seemed to start and glanced around to see if she could spot her allies. She saw Bultrox on the wing and gestured for him to come down. Bultrox landed ten feet from Vaturi. He called to her, "Get over here! We're leaving."

She looked at him with confusion. "Why are you shouting? The guards will hear us."

"Never mind," He replied, exasperated. "I'll explain on the fly."

He took off and flew to the north, closely followed by Vaturi. He explained the whole situation to her. "Apparently, Burtok knows the person running the fortress, or someone else inside. Now he can take all his inside secrets and knowledge of the Order of Altronia's tactics and give them to the enemy."

"Who's the enemy, again?" Vaturi asked. They had never actually been told who the enemy was.

"Liakatus knows," was Bultrox's answer. "It's about time he told us." Looking ahead and seeing Suntrah and Bartha catching their breath on the canyon's edge, Bultrox added. "He owes it to us."

Suntrah saluted to Bultrox and Vaturi overhead. Bultrox briefly met eyes with his team leader, while Vaturi returned the gesture. A simple acknowledgement on both sides that all was well, as far as health was concerned.

But all is not actually well, Suntrah thought. Not so long as the local Makuta are out to have our masks on the end of their weapons. Suntrah normally smiled when saluting to his team. He had chosen not to this time, for it was not the time for smiles. That would be when the Makuta were no more.

"Cekadax!" Burtok bellowed. "Open your blasted door!" Burtok continued to pound on the massive metal barrier with his fists, loud clangs resulting from this action. He paused for the second time to look at the spyglass above the gate. Yes, it was still watching him. Cekadax was watching him, and fully aware he wanted entrance. The issue was that the female Makuta had an attitude problem, and didn't really like Burtok a whole lot more than either of them liked the average Toa.

"I'm not going to call you again! Next time I lose my patience I will melt a hole in the door!" Burtok shouted. "We both know that you would hate that."

"You'd hate it more, trust me. Most people hate having their bodies gravitically crushed into a ball more than having their favorite doors melted."

"So, you finally answer." Burtok growled.

"I saw no reason to before," Cekadax replied over the loudspeaker. "And I barely do now, so make yourself useful or make yourself scarce."

"I have something you want." Burtok replied. "Knowledge."

"I'm listening," Cekadax prodded.

"Best you do, since you have almost no knowledge to begin with. You barely remember your own name," Burtok replied.

"I'm considering not listening," Cekadax snarled.

"Such a ludicrous plan need not be considered. Once I tell you what I know, you will be blown away by the sheer magnitude of your previous incompetence."

"Let's have it, then," Cekadax said, irritated. "I'm tired of useless banter."

"Let me in and I'll discuss what I know and what you'll have to pay for it."

Sybeko walked calmly through Altronia Fortress' halls, whistling to himself. The day had gone quite smoothly, and had so far been relatively uneventful. It appeared to be going to be that way for the rest of the day, which suited Sybeko just dandily.

The mutant Runask walked until he was one step from crashing into a wall, then spun on the ball of his foot and continued walking. He always turned corners that way. His little run-in with Makuta Rularx a few centuries back had altered his mind, just enough so he was a little eccentric.Still, he was far from insane, and was quite a capable warrior.

When it came to fighting with a single blade, there was none in Altronia Fortress' walls that could best Sybeko. If even Faxhuun were to be given a single sword, Sybeko would be able to defeat him in one-on-one combat.

Sybeko's eccentricity only made it easier for him to see through deceptions and understand those who were truly off. It was more a blessing to have a unique point of view than it was a curse. And, as with all blessings, Sybeko embraced it heartily.

He worked furiously, trying to accomplish all he had to. He heard Sybeko's whistling drawing nearer and he dreaded what would happen if Sybeko found him. He flipped open a communicator and began punching in an access code. The device chirped and he began the hard part. He had to send the information he had recorded to his client.

He could hear Sybeko's footsteps over his whistling now. The trainer was too close for comfort. Hurriedly, yet as careful as he could be, he fitted a plug into a slot on the device. He then placed a second machine on his head and concentrated. The information he tried to focus on was read by the device on the machine, sent as electrical impulses through the cord, then into the communicator to be received by his client. The download would take time. Time that he didn't seem to have.

Sybeko made his way to his destination, unaware of the sneak inside the room. Sybeko was heading to a walk-in storage closet where training gear was kept. He had a session with Rewta to get to. Still whistling his improvised tune, he reached out with his spare hand, the one not holding his bluish sword, and grasped the doorknob. With a twist, he rendered it ajar and pushed it open.

He sighed in relief. The download was complete. The work was done. Now, he thought, the fun can start. He braced himself. Sybeko had stopped walking right outside the door. The hider crouched, and, just as Sybeko opened the door, he launched himself toward Sybeko.

Sybeko opened the door just in time. The light from the hall played across the form of his attacker in the split second before he struck. Even in that time, Sybeko could make out his attacker's identity. Jardel, he realized.

Jardel smashed into Sybeko and the two rolled over backward. Sybeko thrust upward with his arm, gaining enough momentum for himself to end up on top of Jardel and putting his blade to Jardel's neck in one move.

"What were you doing hiding in the training closet?" he demanded calmly.

"Exacting the vengeance of the Jardel!" was the reply.

Sybeko looked perplexed. "What crime has the Order of Altronia done to you, and why do you refer to your name as a title?"

"Not my name. My name is lost along with my brethren. I assumed theirs so that Mata Nui would know who was coming for him," Jardel replied, his voice becoming more animalistic as his anger grew.

"How is Mata Nui responsible for the death of your people?" Sybeko asked, not giving Jardel any more slack from his blade.

"When he decided to take his little nap, my home island was destroyed. I alone survived the cataclysmic event as my home disintegrated and I was thrown out to sea. I wandered, trying to find ways to harm Mata Nui or kill him in his sleep. I could not, but I met a people who said they could."

"The Makuta?" Sybeko asked.

Jardel nodded. Due to the way his neck was shaped, he was in no danger of cutting himself on Sybeko's sword with the action. "They informed me that they had reason to quarrel with Mata Nui as well, and offered to help me in my endeavor. With plentiful greetings to them all, I agreed."

Jardel paused to kick Sybeko in the side and throw him off Jardel. "Now Mata Nui will get what has been coming to him for too long now. The Jardel's deaths will not go unnoticed. Mata Nui will feel the pain they all felt when he inadvertently pulverized them!"

Sybeko had already stepped into a guard stance. "Not as long as the Order stands ready to fight alien kooks like you."

Jardel said something in his own language, an odd noise that Sybeko would have sworn had come from an undead. It was a cross between a Gukko's kaw and a Visorak screech, with another, undefinable quality just audible enough to greatly disturb someone.

Sybeko was undeterred. He pointed his sword at Jardel. Jardel bared his ebon claws and prepared for combat.

Sybeko moved first. He lunged at Jardel, thrusting with his blade. Jardel performed a backflip to avoid the strike, from which Sybeko was struck with two kicks. One to the shoulder, one to the chest. The second made Sybeko stumble backward two steps. Jardel followed his attack with a slash from his claws. It missed, however, because Sybeko kept moving backward. When Jardel lunged to attack, Sybeko smacked Jardel aside with the flat of his sword and sidestepped quickly while Jardel recovered. Jardel dove across the floor, obviously heading for Sybeko's legs. The experienced Altronian fighter swept his sword toward Jardel's shoulder, but his target had gone. Jardel had planted his hands on the floor and vaulted over Sybeko's head. Sybeko thrust over his head with his sword, but a midair flip saved Jardel from immediate harm. Jardel then grabbed the open closet door with his feet and put his arms around Sybeko's neck. Before Sybeko could react, Jardel folded his body, smashing Sybeko's head into the door.

Dazed, but not unconscious, Sybeko reached behind his head and found Jardel's head. He swung his arms down, bringing Jardel's forehead down on Sybeko's knee. He then drew back and struck with the pommel of his sword, hitting Jardel's back through a gap in his armor.

Kicking Jardel aside, Sybeko headed into the closet, trying to find out what in Karzahni Jardel had been doing in there. This had been his plan all along during the fight. He had simply been trying to get himself between Jardel and the doorway so Sybeko could reach whatever Jardel had been using to spy on the Order (it was obvious to Sybeko what Jardel had been doing) before its owner. He shut the door behind him and removed the cover from the lightstone, allowing the room to be lit better. Sybeko spotted the communicator. Puzzled, as he had not seen its like before, he walked toward it.

Suddenly there was the noise of the closet door being smashed off its hinges. Sybkoe whirled to see Jardel standing on his hands, sliding across the floor on the door like it was a sled. The alien struck with his claws, aiming to gore Sybeko with them, but the Runask swordsman parried with ease. Jardel than swiped with his other foot, with the same result. Two more times he tried to hit Sybeko and failed.

Sybeko then began a maneuver that he often did in training to finish a fight quickly. He swiped to the left, throwing Jardel’s clawed foot to the side and putting its owner slightly off balance. Sybeko then swiped in the opposite direction, pressing his self-created advantage. As Sybeko’s arm finished its swing, it also set up for a thrust, which the Runask then performed. Sybeko’s Titanite sword sliced by Jardel’s side, stripping off the armor and damaging the local organic tissue. Jardel made another unearthly noise and fell back, unmoving. Sybeko doubted he was dead, but if he was as injured as he seemed to be, Jardel would give Sybeko little more trouble.

Sybeko picked it up. It consisted of two rectangular panels joined by a hinge that allowed it to shut like a clam. Opening them, Sybeko read the screen.

It was a message. It had blueprints of Altronia Fortress, details on the officials, and suggestions on how to beat the high-ranking members. Below the information it read, “Message Sent.”

Sybeko needed answers. To get them, he’d have to wake Jardel up. Sybeko walked over to the felled alien and nudged him with his yellow foot. Sybeko then kicked Jardel lightly, but immediately after that he noticed something. Bending over Jardel’s still body, Sybeko examined the creature’s wound. That is, he would have, if there was any at all. The alien looked like Sybeko’s thrust had never occurred, even though the swordsman knew it had, and had hit its target. The only explanation was that...

He healed, Sybeko realized. He tried to stand up, but Jardel’s feet had closed together on Sybeko’s waist. The ebony alien dug his claws into the ground for support and swung his own body off the ground and over his head, slamming Sybeko into the floor. The startled Runask dropped his sword because of this, which Jardel capitalized on. He jumped to his feet, and stepped on the pommel of Sybeko’s sword, leverage sending it flipping up into the air and into Jardel’s claws. He brandished the sword at its former bearer and smiled. “Let’s try this again,” he taunted.

Sybeko wasn’t too bad in a fistfight, but, he realized as he stood up, against an opponent with a sword, and with no claws like Jardel’s, what chance did he have? Still, the trainer was determined to go down as a member of the Order of Altronia.

Before any blow could be struck, Sybeko could hear the impossibly fast onrushing of metal-shod feet, coming closer by the second. Sybeko smiled.

“It’s over, Jardel. You’re going to lose. Surrender and I’ll treat you nicely on the way to your cell.”

Jardel laughed. There was a quality to the sound not unlike wind rushing through a metal pipe. “You really think you can beat me alone?” he asked, oblivious to the footsteps that Sybeko could hear coming closer still.

Sybeko shook his head. “I never said that,” he replied.

The footsteps stopped, replaced by the sound of metal scraping across polished stone. As both Sybeko and Jardel turned to look, Vohk, orange-white armor gleaming, appeared in the doorway.

Jardel decided to make a run for it. He spotted a grate across the room and dove toward it, trying to reach it in enough time to rip it off the wall and squeeze through it, then crawl through the ventilation system to escape.

He barely hit the ground before Vohk appeared in his path and put a clawed foot in Jardel’s path, halting the alien’s escape. Jardel twisted his waist and swept out a leg, tripping Vohk up. Jardel then lunged for the door, pushing past Sybeko as he did.

Again someone appeared in his path, but not Vohk. It was someone far more powerful, someone Jardel could probably not get past in a thousand years. It was Ferrak.

Despite the odds, Jardel was determined to try to beat the Hordika aside. He ran headlong at Ferrak, lifting the sword back over his head.

Ferrak never flinched. As Jardel swung the stolen weapon, Ferrak caught the ebony arm in mid-swing, one hand on Jardel’s wrist, one on his upper arm. Ferrak than brought his hands together, forcing Jardel’s arm to bend, then twisted the appendage behind its owner’s back, and finally kneed Jardel in the lower spine, forcing him to the ground. The whole maneuver only took about one second.

Vohk was back on his feet. Sybeko walked over to Jardel and snatched his sword out of Jardel’s hand.

“You might have beaten me, if not for my timely friends here,” Sybeko said, gesturing to Ferrak and Vohk. Sybeo then looked at the latter in puzzlement. “One of whom is looking significantly more masculine than before. Is that one of your powers?” he asked Vohk.

Vohk laughed. “Actually, it’s one of Nytrix’s,” he replied. “I guess having an elemental Mask of Technology helps when you want to rebuilt someone. At any rate, it’s increased my combat potential while minimizing my previous weakness of having a diminutive figure.”

Ferrak smiled. “You’re using big words now,” he commented. “I’m proud of you.”

“I was quoting Nytrix,” Vohk answered.


Sybeko giggled and leaned in close to Jardel. “I have something for you to know,” he said. “But first I need to have some questions answered. You say you’re trying to avenge you people, correct?”

Jardel nodded.

“Of course,” Sybeko said. “To do that, you are looking for the one responsible for destroying your homeland. Naturally you turn to Mata Nui, for it was his untimely nap that caused the death of your brothers.”

Jardel nodded again.

“And to get help in your revenge, you sided with the Makuta, for they were opposed to Mata Nui as well. Working together, you could both pick the bones you had to pick with Mata Nui.”

“Yes,” Jardel answered. “What is you point?”

Sybeko stood up straight. “It might interest you to know that the Makuta were responsible for Matsa Nui’s fall.”

Jardel’s eyes were clouded with suspicion. Wether it was of Sybeko or the Makuta, none could tell. “Explain,” he said at last.

Sybeko then went into a brief summary of ow the Makuta of Metru Nui had concocted a virus that threw Mata Nui into a coma, plunging the universe Jardel was in into darkness. At the end of the summary, Sybeko described its implications. “The Makuta see in you only a valuable servant, nothing else. If they succeed in their plot, the lives of everyone in the universe will be ruined. I’m sure you realize that’s bad.”

Jardel still looked doubtful. Sybeko leaned in close again. “You, who pursue honor so valiantly, tell me: do the Makuta strike you as honorable?”

Jardel instantly shook his head. “Not in the slightest. I only sided with them for their cause, not because I like them at all.” He looked at Sybeko. “Now I see my error,” he said, then lowered his gaze. “I am sorry to have threatened you, noble ones.”

Vohk, a little bored with the whole conversation, cut in. “Yeah, that was kinda lame. Try not to do that anymore.”

Jardel ignored him, only looking at Sybeko. “Now I must ask a favor. I will need your assistance in my double revenge on the Makuta, first for ruining my kind, twice for deceiving me, and thus pitting me against my true allies.”

Sybeko nodded. He said to Ferrak, “Let him go.”

Ferrak looked uncertain but did has he was bade.

Vohk looked stunned. “What!? He tried to kill us and you just let him go?”

Sybeko, as did Jardel, ignored Vohk. “Your induction into the Order, ceremonially done previously, is now officially taking effect.” When Jardel looked confused, Sybeko explained. “You see, the plan we had the whole time was to convert you to our side. We have heard much about you, and when a new recruit with a Mask of Clairvoyance warned us of your coming, we just had to set you up to be given the truth.”

"Suntrah knew about this?” Vohk asked no one specifically.

Jardel smiled. “If my brethren were alive, they would cheer you of the boon you granted me. I will serve you faithfully, Tranier Sybeko, and defedn my comrades to the best of my ability.”

With that, Sybeko patted Jardel on the back and led him out of the room. Vohk and Ferrak trailed behind.

“I just don’t get it,” Vohk said finally to Ferrak. “Guy comes in, spies on us, and we just let him go and don’t even punish him or anything.”

Ferrak shrugged. “I suppose that forgiving one of his trespasses and accepting his apology, then giving his a chance to try to give retribution for his wrongs is the bes thing one can do to another. It is an example that we would all be well-served to follow.”

Vohk looked at Ferrak. “Even though you used a lot of big words, I understood everything you said, and I totally agree with you, but without the big words. I don’t agree with that.”

Ferrak laughed. He was joined by Vohk, the sound echoing off the wall of Altronia Fortress, signaling to its inhabitants a long-awaited friendship being formed.