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Assault and Retaliation[]

Runik, Toa Tronux of Fire, and his teammates, Yurdil Toa of Psionics, Bartha Toa of Iron, and Jahvoka Toa of Sonics, were having a reunion with an old friend. Runik only wished it could be going better.

Things had been relatively simple beforehand. The Toa Tronux, along with their allies, the members of the Avenging and Universal Alliances, had been inducted into the Order of Altronia, to which the leader of the Universal Alliance, A Toa of Fire named Lihee, had once belonged. Shockingly to the Tronux, the four Toa had once belonged to the Order as well, but none remembered this occurrence. To two of the four, Yurdil and Jahvoka, it was a whole lot of deja vu as they found that certain members of the Order were familiar, but were unable to place the memories correctly. To Runik and Bartha, it was a whole new experience. This was due to the genetic and mental operations Makuta Burtok had performed on them years ago, the former had been reversed, but not the latter.

The Toa had been welcomed warmly (or as warm as anyone is on Altronia) back into the Order and given jobs to do. Runik was to function as a temporary combat trainer and help out some of the other new recruits, like Ferrak, Jardel, and Rupiku. Bartha had already been given a surveillance mission by Liakatus, which had been ruined by Burtok, who had been on the team with him. Jahvoka was being taught to better use his powers in conjunction with those of another Toa, since that was one hole in his combat experience. Yurdil was given special attention because of her control of Psionics, since she was the only of that type of Toa in the whole of the Order of Altronia. She was trained by Rajal to use a pair of forearm-mounted blades on her arms in combat, to replace her former lack of any weapon. Also, Nytrix and Liakatus took time learning more about the elemental control of Psionics from her, gleaning information that would later, hopefully, aid in strategy.

Today, the four had been taking a stroll. It had been a solid month since their reinduction, and the team was treating itself to a holiday. Of course, that was not without permission from Rajal, the trainer designated as overseer of the entire Avenging Alliance. He had given them permission to wander the halls of Altronia Fortress, and had encouraged them to explore, but stay out of Faxhuun's office.

Obligingly and gratefully, the four members of the Toa Tronux had set out, walking happily through the lightstone-illuminated halls of the fortress, taking in the sights and observing the many unique individuals and types of being they passed in the halls. It was one in particular of these individuals that caught their attention. Yurdil had been scanning the surface thoughts of the beings they walked past, those that she was able to do that to, and thought she recognized a certain mental voice. Looking at the person whose thoughts she was hearing, she observed that he was a Toa of the Green, carrying a hooked staff and a silver chain. He also was incredibly familiar, despite his unfamiliar mask.

"Xovar!" Yurdi had shouted. Xovar was the fifth member of the Tronux team, the only one to escape Burtok years back. He was also known for being very self-sufficient and almost arrogant sometimes, often wanting to accomplish a task int the way he thought best. This had brought the plant-controlling Toa into many conflicts with Runik, the leader of the team before they had merged with the Avenging Alliance.

The fact that this Toa had turned around at the call of the name Xovar meant that this was indeed he. Yurdil propelled herself telekinetically through the air and landed in front of her former teammate.

"Xovar, how nice to see you!" she cried. "It's been so long!"

Xovar smiled. "It has. Good to see you, Yurdil."

By now the others had joined their female teammate. Runik gave a nod to Xovar. "Good to see you are still alive, Xovar," he said. "Even after all these years working for the Order."

Xovar put his hands on his hips. "Was there ever any doubt?" he asked proudly.

"Yes, there was," Jahvoka answered. "Fifteen years on dangerous mission after dangerous mission, with no teammates to back you up; there was a lot of doubt."

"And now that doubt is gone," Bartha said, beaming at his friend. The two knocked fists, a gesture that Xovar repeated over and over with his other fellow Toa.

Runik was the last to recieve the greeting. He thought nothing of it, simply being glad to see his old comrade again. "How have you been holding up, Xovar?" he asked.

"Well, well," the blue-green Toa replied. "Had lots of solo missions, but, you know, that's cool with me. Once I was paired with Reganon. Mixing thorns and a cyclone is really, really dangerous, you know. For your enemies, that is." Bartha winced. "Yeah, that's true. Wouldn't want to be in the middle of that."

Yurdil smiled. "You're not the one getting the mental image from Xovar's memories. I'll do you a favor and not project it into your head."

"Thanks," Bartha replied.

Xovar chuckled. "It wasn't pretty, but we got the job done. Tore the Rahkshi to bits and opened the way for Faxhuun and the others to move in. Long stroy short, we won that battle."

"That is pretty short," Yurdil commented.

"Not a whole lot else that's as interesting as that story, sadly," Xovar finished.

"Well, good to see that you've been staying alive and busy all this time," Runik said. "Come with us and we'll introduce you to some friends."

Xovar backed off. "It's okay. Really. I've got stuff to do."

Yurdil's eyes narrowed. "Xovar, what's wrong?"

“What do you mean?" Xovar asked.

"You know as well as I do," Yurdil answered calmly. "Are you reluctant to rejoin the team because you think Runik's going to still be mad about something you did? I can't remember much, but I do recall you guys having a big fight right before our capture."

Xovar grimaced. "No, it's not that. I know Runik would have forgiven me by now, but..."

"What?" Jahvoka asked.

"Well, this is going to sound bad, but I'm not really sure I need to be on the team anymore."

"Oh?" Yurdil asked, surprised.

"Right. See, all those years alone have given me the experience I need to get along on my own just fine. It's not that I don't like you people, because I do, It's just that this alliance seems unnecessary."

"I would have to agree partially, but don't you realize what a team is capable of?" Yurdil asked. "When you teamed with Reganon, your combined powers were able to finish the mission that much more easily."

Xovar frowned. Yurdil made a point to know each of her friends and allies inside out, so that she could deduce their problems handily and help her comrades through them. It was helpful, but Xovar had never truly appreciated her help.

"It's good that you can survive on your own, but you could do that much better with a team watching your back," Yurdil continued. "As a team we are capable of so much more than any lone Toa. Plus, I think destiny put us together for a reason. It appears that we are meant to be together."

Xovar looked away, frustrated. Yurdil was always right when it came to things like this, and she always managed to blow any excuse that Xovar made to bits. The plant-controlling Toa had always felt better on his won, even when simple logic and past experience dictated that the use of a team dynamic was preferable. It made Xovar mad sometimes, but he wasn't one to let his emotions dominate. Xovar had always been able to force down his rage or frustration and allow his mind to take preeminence, and all those years on his own had not diminished that ability. Inhaling deeply, then exhaling slowly, he realized that Yurdil was right. It made sense to team back up with his friends and ti appeared to be the dictation of destiny. Besides, Xovar had tasted being on his own already, and gotten experience from it. It was time to expand his horizons.

He looked back into Yurdil's eyes. "Of course," he said. "Forgive me. I was just being stubborn again."

Runik came up to Xovar and patted him on the shoulder. "Apology accepted. You know, I don't even remember that you and I had the fight Yurdil speaks of. I guess Burtok wiped that area of my memory completely clean. Let's take another cue from destiny. Let's start clean. No hard feelings, Xovar."

Xovar smiled. "None here either," he replied. A pause. "Can I be team deputy again?" he asked.

Runik laughed. "Of course! Why not? Now, c'mon, old friend. Let's introduce you to some people we've met in the past year."

Lohrua was in nerd heaven. Rajal had said something about a Molecular Disruption Blaster during one of their in-fight conversations, and Lohrua had asked Rajal to show it to him. The mutant Toa of Stone had led Lohrua through the hall to the weapons development room's storage closet. As with many closets in Altronia Fortress, it was more like a whole other room, and, much to Lohrua's delight, had been filled with high-tech weapons and tools of every sort. The Runask inventor had been so filled with glee he burst out laughing. Rajal had laughed too, but not at the display of weapons. He was simply amused at how long Lohrua had laughed for. As they both ceased their little giggle-fit, Rajal reached up onto a shelf and picked up a complicated-looking blaster weapon surrounded in a black, protective case. Lohrua noted that the blaster had a complex handle design, looking to be able to assume multiple configurations.

Rajal handed it to Lohrua to examine. The Runask turned it over and over in his hands, noting with satisfaction the many complex and creative mechanisms used in its construction. It wasn't long before Lohrua asked Rajal to try it out, and the trainer had helpfully shown Lohrua a place in the main room of the weapons depot where testing weapons was encouraged. Much to Lohrua's glee, the weapons did something nerdy and highly awesome, disrupting the molecules in the target and causing it to glow softly, then melt out of shape. The target continued to run like a fluid for a few moments before re-hardening, encasing its stand in its deformed mass.

Lohrua asked Rajal if there were any other awesome weapons like that. There were. There was a staff that split things into smaller clones of the original object when it cut through them, a Cordak blaster that released a quick-hardening foam, a sword that could morph into multiple shapes, and a Zamor sphere launcher that created a repulsion field around a target, keeping it from landing or even touching any solid objects.

That was when Nytrix came in. "Oh, there you are, Rajal. I've been looking for you," he said.

"Hello, Nytrix. I was just showing Lohrua here some of your work," the trainer replied.

"Well, is he impressed?" Nytrix asked, smiling.

"Very," Lohrua answered. "These are all sweet. Do you have a weapon for pretty much every offensive tactic out there?"

"Most," Nytrix replied. "I mean, coming up with new weapons and tools is my job. Having a Mask of Technology helps me make my ideas reality.”

"Okay, here. I have an idea for you to work on," Nytrx said, holding up his index finger. "A Zamor launcher with the Disassembly power.”

"Done that already," Nytrix replied. "Did you have one, too? You can have ours is yours got broken."

"Yeah," Lohrua sighed. "Rahkshi destroyed it." He held up his staff. "I got even later, though."

"Well, go take our copy. They're not hard to make," Nytrix replied.

Lohrua nodded and did so. It felt good to have weapons in both hands again. He quickly stored his tool on his back, on a strap next to his staff.

"Well, back to business," Nytrix said. "Can you excuse us, Lohrua? Rajal and I have things to discuss."

Lohrua nodded and left the weapons depot. He quickly started making his way back to his dorm. Wonder what they're talking about, he thought.

What they were talking about was very important stuff. Stuff involving lots of military forces and several days' preparation for something. Something secret. Something deadly. Something that would never come to be.

Recent events had, in a way, been destiny's way of warning the members of the Order that something was coming. A spying mission had gone wrong, cover blown by Makuta Burtok, who had disappeared over the edge of Makuta Cekadax's fortress' walls and presumably been admitted into the structure. A spy, Jardel, had been found in the Order's midst, but he had been swayed over to the Order's side by revealing that the Makuta had lied to him to acquire his services. With a spy missing, Burtok back in their midst, the Makuta had to attack Altronia Fortress sometime, and with high potency, because Burtok had learned much inside Altronia Fortress's walls. The Altronians were now planning a preemptive strike. One that would never come to be.

But that will be elaborated on later. Of utmost importance is the chronicling of an event concerning Slaryka, the finest Hokanuka assassin. The Hokanuka in question was on a mission, one involving Altronia Fortress. He had to give the weekly report. Every week a Hokanuka messenger traveled to Altronia Fortress and gave a brief summary of everything the Hokanuka did that would affect the Order's operations in any way, if indeed there was anything like that to report. Often, the Order and the Hokanuka cult just kept out of each other's way, which was fine. That was the case now, and it was Slaryka's turn to give another boring, uneventful report to the Altronians.

The crimson and ebony Hokanuka operative approached the walls of the fortress. Already he saw someone standing there, the Stone Toa Razii, with the giant Varoak behind him. Slaryka gave a nod to Razii as he approached, the gesture returned by the Toa.

"Another report of nothing happening?" Razii asked.

Slaryka nodded. In fact, the Altronians had dictated in the most recent agreement between the two factions that the Hokanuka were to report every notable event to the Order. Zalkatrex had realized early on, however, that the Order would never know if the Hokanuka just relayed events that they were fine with disclosing, not every event, like they were supposed to. Hokanuka with more moral countenances, like Slaryka, found it a little unsettling to openly lie to the members of the Order, their supposed allies. Still, the Hokanuka had to prioritize, and, to them, secrecy went before honesty.

"We're just like you," Slaryka told Razii. "Waiting for Cekadax to make a move."

Razii nodded, looking to the southeast, in the direction of the local Makuta's fortress. Cekadax was the Makuta of Altronia, and once the Brotherhood's Plan took effect, Cekadax had transformed her citadel to a fortress, and had launched attacks against the island's inhabitants. When Faxhuun created the Order to defend against the Makuta, he went for a log time without knowing of Cekadax's presence on the island. When she had ordered her forces to attack Faxhuun's base for the first time, he had completely unprepared. Still, the Order had proved victorious against Cekadax's troops, and the two factions had been simply holding their ground for years. From the talk among the Order's higher-ranking officers, it looked as if the Order was going to strike back after all this time.

"I guess we can't ask for much more than boredom with Mata Nui asleep. There's always disorder, so there won't be peace, but boredom does happen," Razii said to Slaryka.

"You guys have a gymnasium?" Slaryka asked.

Razii looked at him. "You should know. One time Zalkatrex had you snatch one of our training sticks to examine. You had to go through the gym to get it."

"How do you know of this?" Slaryka asked.

“Everyone does," the Toa replied. "Sorpanar saw on your way out and the fight wrecked an entire hallway. Yet somehow you got away."

Slaryka laughed. "Oh, yes. I remember now. I got away just by making my current opponent's mask fall apart, then, while the dust was still falling by his eyes, making a break for it."

"You didn't remember?" Razii asked. "I'd think that if you had a big fight like that, you'd remember it for all time."

Slaryka shrugged. "I guess when you're trying to forget about what you do for a living, trying to wipe all the pain and death from your mind, you eventually succeed."

"What does that mean?" Razii asked. He'd never seen a remorseful Hokanuka. "Forget what you do for a living? Why would you want to forget?"

Slaryka just said, "If I told you, I'd have to try and remember it. I don't want to."

There was an awkward pause that lasted two seconds, about.

"Anyway," Slaryka began again, "I was only suggesting that if you had a gym, you could entertain yourselves there."

"Oh, not me," Razii lamented. "I'm not often a combat trainer. Sometimes, but not often. When I'm not on a mission, it's mostly sentry duty. The gym is used for just getting in shape, too, but my missions keep me trim. So, you know... I mean, even the Hokanuka tend to not do something if it's not necessary."

Slaryka smiled mirthlessly. "If only that were entirely true."

Razii wasn't sure how to respond to that, so another awkward silence descended upon the pair.

Slaryka spoke again. "Is it really necessary to kill so many people?" He wondered aloud. "Is it really necessary to sow so much pain and suffering into the universe to fight those who do just that? These are questions I ask myself all the time, and have no answers for." He paused, his gave slowly shifting from the snow-covered earth to the clouds from which the snow fell. "Still, my destiny was set in stone the day I agreed to go on my first assassination mission. That was the point of no return."

Again Razii said nothing. He was scanning the horizon, trying not to pay too much attention to the Hokanuka. It wasn't that he didn't feel sympathy for Slaryka, for he did, but just that he wasn't about to let that distract him long enough to be ambushed.

Slaryka was gazing into the sky. When Razii looked back at him, the Hokanuka was gazing into the clouds, watching the snow float down from the heavens.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" he asked. "Little bits of crystal falling from the clouds to adorn the ground with millions of tiny white jewels."

"Yes," Razii agreed. "It is pretty. As is the snow when it piles up on the ground."

Slaryka sighed. "Too bad the beauty is about to be overthrown by the coming destruction."

Razii raised his guard. "What do you mean?"

"Prepare, Toa of Stone," Slaryka replied. "Prepare for the battle you live for, prepare for the inescapable destiny that you and I have made for ourselves."

"So," Razii said, drawing his weapon. "I wondered why you had stayed around so long. The Hokanuka have finally betrayed us, have they?"

Slaryka laughed bitterly. "No, Razii, not yet. My sharp Hokanuka eyes spotted some troops in the distance. You best go get you brothers and sisters prepared."

Razii wasn't sure if he believed Slaryka or not. The Hokanuka tensed quickly. "What are you waiting for?" He snapped. "You're acting like you want the darkness to win." With that, Slaryka vaulted into the air and flew off.

Razii watched Slaryka go for a split second. Then he hurried inside. Slaryka was right. The darkness couldn't win, not even the darkness inside himself that made him want to fight Slaryka.

"Varoak!" he called.

The giant's head turned at the sound of his partner's voice. "What, Razii?" he asked attentively.

"Botherhood troops to the southeast. Get everyone prepared!" The Toa answered.

With a look of anticipant surprise, Varoak went off to do his duty. Razii followed until the first junction in the hallway, then broke off, heading for Faxhuun's chambers.

Faxhuun himself was currently being thanked by Jardel for devising a plot to make the alien see the error of his ways. Faxhuun kept trying to end the conversation, but Jardel kept on and on about how the joining of cunning and valor was extremely rare and how Faxhuun was awesome for being an example of those qualities combined. Faxhuun found this distracting, though completely accurate.

When Razii burst in, relating the news of an approaching army, Faxhuun wasted no time. He reached for the public address system's microphone. When the Fire Toa made his announcement, calling all to attention, Jardel got a chill. The ancient warrior had a way of making his voice reach down into the very core of one's being, convicting them to do exactly as he said and dare them to disagree. When it was over, Jardel bore a grin that combined respect, satisfaction, and eagerness.

Faxhuun noted this enthusiasm with a nod. He then turned to Razii and ordered Jardel be run by the weapons store in the east wing. The Stone Toa obeyed, supplying the new recruit with daggers aplenty, and a cable for tying up enemy leaders. The duo then raced through the various hallways on their way out of the structure. Jardel saw various beings, some strange, some not, all preparing to retaliate against the assault they knew was coming.

His musings halted as Razii gestured for Jardel to stop. Razii pointed to the black and silver Runask behind Jardel.

"His name is Suntrah," Razii told Jardel. "He is the leader of the unit you will belong to."

Jardel was about to shake Suntrah's hand when a familiar orange-white youth appeared behind him.

"Crud," Vohk muttered. He called after the now-leaving Razii. "Why do we always get the new guys?"

Razii was gone.

"Huh!?" Vohk called after him.

"Give it a rest, Vohk," Suntrah chastised the youth. Then he turned to Jardel. "Welcome to the Avenging Alliance," he said, shaking Jardel's three-fingered hand. "I'm Suntrah."

"Charmed," Jardel replied. "Call me Jardel."

"I will," Suntrah agreed. "And you'll have just enough time to meet the rest of the team before we all go fight in the snow."

"Isn't that sad?" a being in green, black, and silver armor commented as he picked up his wicked, shimmering sword. "That part about fighting in the snow, I mean," he finished.

"Meet Bultrox," Suntrah smiled. "You two may get to be good friends."

"Does Bultrox have friends?" asked a bat-like female in dark blue armor.

"That's Vaturi," Suntrah stated. "The team cynic."

Vaturi smiled. "More like team realist. The world isn't as pretty or innocent as people paint it, an I'm just the girl who points that out from time to time."

"With sarcasm," Suntrah commented.

As Vaturi went back to helping the others get packed, Jardel's eyes darted to a brownish mutant Toa some distance away. Suntrah followed his gaze.

"That's Rajal," Suntrah announced. "He's the designated trainer of our team, appointed by Faxhuun."

As if on cue, Rajal crossed the crowded hall to meet the two of them. He looked Jardel up and down.

"Good to finally meet you," he said.

Jardel nodded. "Likewise."

Rajal continued speaking. "Your induction into this team will be temporary, just so you know. We plan to put you in espionage after this is over. I hope you don't mind."

Jardel shook his head. "I will fulfill any job description to ensure the Makuta's demise."

Rajal grinned. "Nice. I like you, alien. Good luck out on the field.”

"Your wishes of goodwill are much appreciated, Rajal," Jardel said.

"I thought they would be," Rajal replied, turning away. In a short time, he had joined the others in preparation, Suntrah and Jardel following suit. It wouldn't be long now until battle, but, as it turned out, none would ever fully prepare for the oncoming storm.

Zallirix wasn't having a good time. He wished he could take out his frustration on someone, but all around him, he saw only tough people. And Levuku. True, Levuku had bested him twice before, but that was only after a lengthy battle, and the second time it was only barely. But everyone else? Zallirix was almost certain most of them could whup him any day of the week.

He had been strolling along, pusuing his normal hobby of needing a hobby, when someone grabbed his arm and told him to help get ready for war. That person turned out to be Suntrah. Suntrah had pointed to a pile of supplies and told Zallirix to help gather it up and put it in a duffel bag. Zallirix had smiled wickedly then, actually considering finding out how tough Suntrah really was, but when Zallirix glanced at Ferrak five feet away, the Hordika Nurtox was looking right at him and cracking his knuckles. Not a good sign. Ferrak was physically stronger than five Zallirixes, so, doing something sensible for a change, the psychopathic cornball pitched in and helped fill up duffel bags.

This, as one might expect, filled everyone with relief. Now they had a way to get Zallirix to do things for them: threaten him with more pain than he could inflict on them. Why didn't we think of this before? Suntrah thought.

The leader of the Avenging Alliance had a lot on his mind besides achieving Zallirix's obedience. There were new team members, namely Jardel (temporarily, though), Rewta, Xovar, Ferrak, and Vohk. Vohk had fought with them before, but, still Suntrah wondered how well he would cooperate with the others in this group. And then there were the members of Lihee's team, Thravak, Choro and Rupiku. The members of the Universal Alliance, along with Lihee, were nice as an allied team, and even better as friends. A couple people who were also going to aid the Avenging Alliance were trainers Rajal and Sybeko, Rajal designated Order trainer of the Avenging Alliance and Sybeko watching over Rewta. Some very experienced help was also welcome. Suntrah still wasn't sure exactly how well these people would work together. As co-leader of the unit, along with Lihee and Rajal, he'd have to try to maintain unity, but it certainly wouldn't be easy.

It would be far harder if Makuta Burtok had told Makuta Cekakdax as much as she wanted him to. The fact is that he hadn't, the second fact was that Cekakdax already hated Burtok, and the third was that the conjecture of the first two facts did not improve the two Makuta's relationship.

"Tell me more, Burtok!" Cekadax snarled. "I hate all this waiting. My troops could advance if you'd just tell me something I can use!"

"All in due time, sister," Burtok replied. "First you need to get a distraction going before my advice can come into play."

"I'll be the one to decide battle strategy," Cekadax said gruffly. "You give me the information, and I'll decide how to use it."

"You won't if you want me to help you," Burtok retorted. "If I wanted the credit to go to you I'd let you at it alone. But since that isn't an option, you'll go along with me."

Cekadax grinned. "What makes you think I need your information?"

Burtok smiled back. "The one who knows what kind of defenses Altronia Fortress truly has."

It was a bluff. Burtok knew that Cekadax's forces did not need Burtok's information to win the day. Cekadax's battle tactics could be enough if she was on the top of her game. But Burtok wanted something to show for all his time fighting rengades and for the death of his understudy, Rayzok. All he had to do was instill a little doubt into Cekadax's mind, and She'd go along with whatever Burtok said, in theory.

Cekadax met Burtok's gaze, then, mulling his words over in her head, finally accepted that, even if Burtok was bluffing, Cekadax didn't know wether he was or not. It was just one more thing she didn't know, and that Burtok did. She wished she could just read Burtok's mind and let it be over, but he was making an effort to prevent mental intrusion at this point. It appeared that he was one step ahead of her. Perhaps that was a testament to his competence, and he could give her good strategy after all. With a sigh, she agreed to Burtok's counsel.

"Good," Burtok said. "Now just establish a distraction and I'll help you from there."

"All right," Cekakdax agreed. But no longer than I need you to, she mentally added.

There was a creak as the chamber door opened. Makuta Ikirro strode in, flanked by Zracknar,Cekadax's lieutenant, and Recapar, his Shadow-Fire Toa minion. The room's atmosphere changed as the Toa entered. Shadows became thicker, the temperature rose a little. This was good. A Toa whose elemental powers are simmering is a Toa who is anticipating a battle. That was how the three Makuta wanted it.

Ikirro spoke once he saw his brother and sister react to Recapar's entrance. "As you can tell, my lieutenant tenses in anticipation of a good fight. I don't want to disappoint him."

"You won't have to," Cekadax smiled. "Just get him on out there and follow my troops. The fight Recapar awaits will come soon after."

Recapar's fists clenched. Dark flames swirled around them, giving off heat. It was not the calming, warming heat of a campfire, but the forbidding heat one feels when ill or enraged. The Makuta, as opposed to what most beings would do, welcomed this sensation. It fueled the darkness in their hearts. If one could measure the amount of evil and shadow in the room, their gauge would probably break as its maximum tolerance was exceeded.

"I can't wait," the Shadow Toa of Fire proclaimed. "Finally I can do what I devoted myself to. What I was forever destined to do."

Ikirro smiled. Yes, it was so. Unlike some of their brothers elsewhere, Ikirro, Cekadax, Burtok, and their other close associates and minions were not told to hold back in combat. These Toa, Runask, Yelnir, Crynok, Skakdi, and others were nonessential to the Plan's design, and since they opposed it, they must be eliminated. A shady Toa of Fire, Recapar, had years ago devoted himself to the Makuta's cause. Ikirro had then given his new lieutenant far more power than the Toa ever had possessed before and used the defector's knowledge of Toa tactics to train him to kill his former brothers and sisters. The result was an ultra-powered Toa-killing zealot with great control over flame and darkness.

"I am glad you are prepared to use the power I gave you for the reason I give it to you," Ikirro beamed at his minion, sounding not unlike a proud father.

"The Toa think they have the power to restore order," Recapar seethed. "Only the Makuta way makes sense. They will realize that, perhaps, after they feel the sensation of chilling shadow and molten heat acting on them at once. Many of my practice dummies became much more agreeable after they got a taste of that feeling."

A pause.

"True, it was the last thing they ever agreed to, but still, it may work on the Toa, too," Recapar finished.

"And if it doesn't?" Zracknar asked somewhat condescendingly.

"I can't believe a competent guy like you can't figure it out," Recapar retorted.

"Pretend I can't," Zracknar replied. "What are you going to do if they don't agree with you?"

"What must be done to all obstacles," Recapar answered. "They will be removed. A quick burst of dark fire here, a blinding shadow veil, then a cutting fire jet, and right there is your removed obstacle."

Another brief pause.

Then Recapar lunged forward, his clawed hands finding Zracknar's throat, his powerful arms hauling the Varen off the ground. The Dark Toa leaned in close. "Don't you go trying to take advantage of me now that you know my strategy," he threatened.

"What do you mean, you fanatic!?" Zracknar shouted, shocked.

Recapar's grip tightened. "Don't act like you wouldn't want one less Brotherhood lieutenant to contend with. Don't act like you wouldn't just LOVE to arrange for my demise while I was distracted fighting someone else. I'm on to you."

Zracknar kicked Recapar in the midsection, loosening the Dark Toa's grip. The eight-foot high Varen then used his long, muscular arms to force Recapar's hands off his throat. After taking a breath, Zracknar said, "Don't tempt me."

"That's enough, little minions," Burtok chided. "Save your skills for the main event. Don't waste yourselves on petty bickering."

Zracknar walked a little closer to Burtok, close enough to show that Zaracknar was just as tall as the eight-foot-high Makuta. "Please don't call me little," he said quietly. "I'm sure you don't call Thranatuka or Jaykorax that."

Burtok laughed. "Oh, you remember them, do you? Well, then it's a shame you didn't get to see them before their date with eternal shadow."

"Who killed them?" Zracknar asked casually.

“None other than myself,” Burtok replied proudly. “They are now serving a vital purpose as additions to my energy.”

Zracknar shrugged. “Guess that’s as useful as they ever were,” he said coldly. He always hated Thranatuka. One time, Zracknar had noticed that Thranatuka’s mask was ugly. Zracknar had removed it, “trying to improve the Runask’s looks.” Thranatuka, in a complete show of disrespect, had attacked Zracknar for doing this, and the battle had lead to destruction of the mask. Regardless, it had done no good. The Runask had been even uglier under his mask than with it on. Zracknar gave up trying to be “nice” to Thranatuka and had instead just hated him. To hear that he was gone was at least somewhat good news. As for Jaykorax, well, he was just boring.

“They gave their lives for the cause, as will I and Recapar. We await your commands,” Zracknar announced.

“Wait no longer, Cekadax grinned. “Depart immediately, gather any necessary tools, and rendezvous with my troops to take over as commanders.”

With nods and bows, the two lieutenants hurried out of the chamber to do their mistress’s bidding. Cekadax then turned to Ikirro.

"Do as you please," she said.

"As if I needed your permission," Ikirro replied coldly. "Yes, sister, I will keep doing things the way I always do."

"Which is?" Cekadax asked.

"None of your business," Ikirro answered. "Zracknar acknowledged the wisdom in what Recapar accused him for, though he was falsely accused. I wonder where Zracknar got that lack of scruples from?"

There was yet another pause. Ikirro watched Cekadax to see if his point, and the insult contained in it, would sink in.

Cekadax's facial expression changed slightly. "I wonder where Recapar got his paranoia from?" she returned.

"Probably the same place, from their commanders," Burtok answered, smiling.

Cekadax turned to glare at Burtok while Ikirro rolled his eyes and exited the room. All this sibling togetherness was starting to aggravate him.

The Vindicators prepared for battle, all thirteen true members and three temporary ones. Also, their partner team, the Universal Alliance, now once again whole, as well as the Order of Altronia as a body, were preparing for the storm that was coming.

Who are the Vindicators? Who are these thirteen members? What happened to the Avenging Alliance? These are all good questions. They will be given good answers in the next several paragraphs.

It began when the Avenging Alliance was preparing for battle in the halls of Altronia Fortress. The team was gathering together to discuss and review tactics. A quick look by Suntrah noted several new members, specifically, Ferrak, Vohk, Xovar, and Rewta, who had not been present the last time the team did battle together. It struck him that, because not only had new members joined, but also since the veteran team members had matured since last time, they were a different, better team than before. A change of name was in order.

Suntrah put this issue forth in the beginning of the discussion, promoting a change of team name. The motion was seconded by Panuko and Runik. Levuku was at first hesitant. His late mentor, Kanahka, had come up with the original name, and Levuku didn't want to tarnish that part of Kanhka's legacy. Vohk uncharacteristically maturely pointed out that if Kanahka were present, he would agree with Suntrah's reasons for changing the name. Levuku conceded after a brief consideration.

With the whole team on board with the new project, Suntrah asked for possible new names. Yurdil wisely concluded that a name that basically said the same as the last one would be the best choice. "Like a synonym?" Ferrak asked.

"Exactly," Yurdil agreed.

"A what now?" Vohk asked.

Ferrak explained that "synonym" was just a fancy word for a word that meant the same thing as another. Vohk asked why Ferrak didn't just say so. Ferrak said that saying "synonym" was quicker. Vohk shurgged.

Suntrah got the conversation back on track by asking for a synonym for "avenge." Ferrak almost immediately blurted out "vindicate." Suntrah liked it. So did pretty much everyone else. So they were now the Vindicators.

And, as the leader of the Vindicators, Suntrah had his worries. He was leading a team somewhat familiar, yet fundamentally new. New members made for new strategies, and new members also meant the veterans may leave the rookies behind.

Suntrah took a deep breath, then let it out of his mouth slowly. He had no time to worry about these things. They were valid concerns, sure, but things would work out. First of all, many of the new recruits were only new to the team, not new to being champions of justice. Second of all, Suntrah had more faith in his teammates than that. He had Runik as his deputy, who was a leader of his own team, the Toa Tronux (who were a sub-team of the Vindicators). He also had Levuku as a leadership figure for Ferrak and Vohk, and now Rajal and Sybeko to help with leadership as well.

Suntrah had never had this much support before. It was nice. It was also temporary. Still, so was the battle. It'll be over soon, I'm sure, he thought. We'll all reunite and have a joyous celebration. Maybe Nytrix could cook up some fireworks, even. The trouble was, even as he thought these things, he saw no indication they were going to come true.

Faxhuun as undaunted as he rounded up his forces and armed himself. He had been leader of the Order of Altronia for a few dozen millennia now, and that kind of experience hardens one to the point where not much fazes him at all. Faxhuun gathered up his spike-tipped staff, his fireball launcher, his other paraphernalia. Faxhuun was going to be prepared, and more importantly, he was going to win this one.

Over the years he had experienced quite a few skirmishes with Cekadax, the Makuta of Altronia, and none had been truly successful. Either they had stalemated and ended prematurely in a short-lived truce, or Faxhuun's attacks had utterly failed and many had died. The simple fact was that Cekadax commanded a massive army of mercenaries, each a formidable opponent. Faxhuun had several hundred formidable people under his wing, but Cekadax always managed to somehow use hers better than Faxhuun used his. Soon it became personal, because after communicating indirectly (and directly on one occasion) with Cekadax, the Toa and Makuta had come to detest the other quite intensely. For Faxhuun the main bellows fueling his fire of anger was the embarrassing irony of it. He had laid waste to many other Makuta, but for some reason this one was keeping him from truly securing his island base. For Cekadax, it was frustration. She was unable to wipe out her mortal enemy and his persistent attacks were infuriating in their annoyance. But this time, each was sure they had this battle's ending sealed. Faxhuun realized that the members of the Universal alliance and the Vindicators were particularly good fighters, and would be a good asset to his troops, particularly one member of the Toa Tronux. Cekadax was certain that with the help of Ikirro, Recapar, and Burtok she would eradicate Faxhun's troops, then Faxhuun himself. Both were ready to fight, but neither would truly be prepared for what was next. This battle would truly be the climax of both nemeses' careers.

It was just a matter of time.