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The Ways Entwine
Art-Bara Magna-Flags in Desert
Date Set
Approximately 100,000 years ago

The Ways Entwine is the first book in the Protosteel Saga. It chronicles the events just before the Agori-Kal's entrance into the Matoran Universe.


Part I[]


The date was 100,000 years ago, and the Core War was well under way.

Far to the north, in the place known as the Northern Frost, the Ice Tribe set defenses to protect the resource that had sparked the war, a powerful substance known in the soon-to-be Matoran Universe as "Energized Protodermis". From other regions the other Tribes sent forth raiding parties to fight each other over the powerful liquid. Many great battles and decisive skirmishes were fought, and many brave warriors lost their lives. In horror, the Great Beings attempted to stop the war, but in vain.

The Great Beings had built a gigantic robot intended to survey the universe, and into this body they had placed the Great Spirit, Mata Nui, who entered the robot's controlling systems and took the place of its mind, and many species, including the Matoran, who, by their work within the robot, kept the Great Spirit alive and healthy.

The races native to Spherus Magna paid little, if any, attention to these proceedings. Nearly all were too involved in the war to have much interest in giant, space-surveying robots.

But, as in every world and time, there are the few that are the misfits of their kind.

Chapter I: Survival of the Fittest[]

The black-armored being lay beneath the curtain of leaves that covered him from hostile eyes. He was sprawled close to an overhang that dropped sharply downward into green treetops and mist that hid the many dangers of the jungle, natural and unnatural.

A circling bird cawed loudly, and the figure shifted slightly, exposing the hilt of a razor-sharp blade that lay beside him, ready for instant use. Gradually, night fell, but he remained motionless, for to move was to invite death, and at the moment, he did not feel like dying. Not until blackness had settled on the landscape did he move cautiously to his feet.

He stood with his back to the cliff edge, waiting for a sound, a movement, something that would tell him that danger was near. Nothing happened, and he moved silently to a nearby clearing on the edge of of the desert, where the remains of several Skrall warriors and a charred wagon lay in a heap. He paused a moment, to impale the warrior's razor-edged shields in the ground in the Skrall gesture of victory, and then moved on.

Morning found him in the desert, within sight of a large river that flowed from the north. He paused a moment, to look behind him for pursuers, and trudged forward. He reached the river, and slid down the bank into the water. The water was cool, and the bottom was sandy. He removed his carved black helmet, and drank deeply of the life-giving fluid. Then he rubbed his face wearily, and closed his eyes. He was asleep within moments.

He awoke with a start, springing to his feet in the knee-deep water, and drawing his blade as he did so. He cursed himself silently for a fool. Why, he thought angrily, had he let himself fall asleep? Well, no matter, he was still alive. He scanned the bank for the thing that had awakened him.

A clicking noise sounded from behind him. Instantly, he slid under water, just as a spiked object blasted into the water where he had been, moments before. The object exploded in a cloud of bubbles and tan, spiky, finger-size fragments that shot through the water in all directions, some barely missing his unarmored head. The current spun him around into the center of the river, where the bank fell away beneath him. He surfaced for air, and dived again. Behind him, several more of the explosive objects blew holes in the surface of the water, sending fragments glancing off the helmet in his hand. He kicked hard and fast, forcing himself downwards, to safety. Too late, however.

A spiked spear cut through the water and flipped him unto the bank like a fish. He landed in a heap at the feet of a seven foot warrior with green armor and an evil grin. The warrior spoke.

"Well, look at this, Tarduk! Our fishing has proved successful!"

An ape-like figure standing next to him made a face. "Wonderful joke, Vastus. I'm so impressed. So, who's the big fish?"

"A Rock Agori, obviously," replied Vastus. "Or a Bone Hunter. See the helmet? It looks like Skrall carvings, and it is."

"I know what Skrall hemets look like, Vastus," said Tarduk, rolling his eyes. "And if I may say so, it's not the hardest thing to learn. Probably the easiest, actually. Enough talking, let's get some answers out of him!"

Tarduk scrambled forward, placed his sharp green claws on the Bone Hunter's chest, and proceeded to interrogate him.

"Okay, first question," snapped Tarduk. "What are you doing here, and where is the rest of your force?" "Well," said the Bone Hunter.

"Seein' as how I'm not on your side, I'm thinkin' maybe I'll just not answer that first question and let you puzzle it over in your tiny mind, and as for minds, well, I'm thinkin' yours has got to be the smallest one I've seen in a long while, and further more-"

At this point Tarduk gave him a whack alongside the skull and Vastus continued the interrogation, but with a firmer hand.

"Speak or die."

"Ahem. Well, the reason I'm here is 'cause I was the scout for the Skrall unit you destroyed and that answers the part of the question about the whereabouts of my force. So there, and make somethin' of it."

"Okay, second question. Who are you?"

"Me, I'm Roden. Occupation: Bone Hunter."

Vastus's eyes narrowed. He had heard stories of a certain Bone Hunter who was said to be the key of the Bone Hunters's success in raids, a dashing warrior with daring recklessness. Of course, thought Vastus, stories often contained little truth, if any. Yet if this was the infamous Roden, they had indeed caught a "big fish".

"Get up," growled Vastus. "And don't try any funny stuff. We have a long walk ahead of us."

Chapter II: Fire and Ice[]

Far to the north, under a black velvet sky studded with silver stars, lay an icy mountain ridge, its frigid backbone reaching through the crystal night air towards the distant specks of light. At its base, a campfire winked coyly at the vast stretch of mountain slope.

At the fire, an Agori piled wood on the blazing mound. The fire flared up and cast flickering shadows on the sleeping figures clustered around it.

At the outer edge of the cluster, a solitary sentry prowled amongst the boulders. The Agori moved toward the sentry, carrying something in a bowl. The sentry took it, and said something.

"Don't we have anything better than dried fish to eat? If I see another-"

The sentry did not finish the sentence. Instead, he scowled into the bowl at its contents. Then he gloomily picked up a dried fish and ate it in silence. The Agori nodded in satisfaction and walked back to the fire, where he stood staring into the flames.

Many days had past since the unit had left Vulcanus. They had been sent to stage a decoy raid on the Ice Tribe at the Northern Frost while the main force attacked in a flanking maneuver. Their guide had betrayed them in the desert and the small force had suffered severe losses in a skirmish with Sand Tribe forces. They had struggled out of the desert and headed northwest, only to find their path blocked by the mountain range ahead. They had subsisted on dried fish and melted snow for several weeks as they searched for a pass through the looming mountains. Now, it seemed, they had found one. It was a narrow path that clung like moss to the edge of a cliff that wound up and around a particularly forbidding slope covered with ice and snow. The soldiers had grumbled, but, faced with the prospect of returning home to scorn and disgrace, had agreed to follow the dangerous trail up the ice-covered slopes. Now they were resting and preparing for the grueling climb ahead.

As the Agori pondered this, he thought he heard a foot scrape briefly on a stone. He stiffened and his ears, honed to bat-like keenness by months of battle, filtered the sounds of the fire and sleeping warriors, searching for the sound...

Nothing happened, and the sound was not repeated.

The Agori drifted into the welcome peace of sleep, and he did not wake until the bright rays of Solis Magna flooded the camp.

As the Agori rose and stretched, a tall, lean warrior approached and spoke to him.

"Rise and shine, Priduk! Ready to challenge the mountains?"

"Personally, Ackar, I prefer challenging flesh-and-blood enemies. Think we'll see any action?"

"I don't think we will, if you mean fighting."

After an exchange of more small talk, Priduk began to serve food to the soldiers, and the tall warrior went to scout the trail ahead.

An hour later, the unit had de-camped and was marching, single-file, through the knee-deep snow that blanketed the pass. There was little sound, only the chink of armor and the creak of leather.

Priduk, bringing up the rear with the food wagon, was struck with a sudden feeling of dread. The path suddenly seemed a long way from where he ought to be at this moment. With a start, he remembered the sound he had heard, or thought he had heard, the night before. He glanced nervously behind him. Was it only his over-active imagination, or did something duck quickly behind a ice-covered rock?

Three hours and five miles later, the party stopped to eat their sparse meal. Several of the soldiers, Priduk noticed, seemed ill-at-ease.

The group pressed steadily on, slogging through the thick snow. As they reached higher and higher altitudes, the breathing became harder.

Then they reached the snow field, a mile-wide patch of ice clinging to the mountain slope.

The first soldiers were nearly half-way across when a puff of snow rose from the upper end of the snow field. For a moment, nothing happened. Then a small chunk of the crusted snow broke away, and slid towards the warriors below. As the slab gathered momentum, more lumps broke away in a chain reaction until the whole upper end of the snow field was hurtling downwards toward the horror-struck beings below!

Priduk gasped in fear, then started back, plunging headlong through the drifts. A great roaring sound enveloped him, and flying snow swirled around him, tugging him downwards. He gulped air into his lungs and threw himself forwards, toward the edge of the snow field. His head struck a rock, and he felt himself sinking into blackness. His last impressions were of whiteness all around him, and then he was falling, sinking below the waves of consciousness into darkness...

Chapter III: The Medic[]

Priduk's mind stirred feebly. Something had happened, but what? Who was he, anyway? Then his memories came rushing back. His name, his past, all that made him who he was, clicked into place. With a start, he remembered the avalanche, the doomed party of warriors. I have to help, he thought, there might be survivors!

He struggled to open his eyes, but it was hard, very hard. He gathered his small amount of energy, and, with a great effort, his eyelids slid partly open. The first thing he saw was a pair of ice-blue eyes staring into his. The figure spoke.

"I thought you'd never wake up! You've been unconscious for ages and ages! Here, drink this. It'll warm you up."

The Agori shoved Priduk into a sitting position and poured a bowl of warm liquid down his throat. Priduk, in his weakened state, was powerless to resist. As the strange liquid settled into his stomach, he suddenly began to feel warmer and a strange sense of well-being came upon him. The watching Agori grinned and spoke again.

"Funny, isn't it? It's a good cure for hypothermia."

Priduk struggled to speak. He managed it, finally, and spoke.

"Who are you?"

"I'm the medic from the group that started the avalanche on your unit."

Anger gave Priduk new strength. He spoke sharply.

"That was a dirty trick!"

The grin faded from the Agori's face. "All we meant to do was block the pass. We didn't mean to destroy your whole unit, but it just happened. I'm sorry about it."

The whole unit? It couldn't be. All the warriors that he had marched with, camped with, and fed. Gone. All but him. He fell back onto the cot, where he slipped into a sleep filled with unpleasant dreams. The medic watched understandingly, then slipped out of the tent.

She hurried past rows of small brown tents to a large one at the center of the camp. Nearby, a bonfire crackled loudly. A tall warrior moved from the fire towards her with the flowing gait of a panther, the gait that can explode into deadly action at any given moment. He spoke with a sharp, intent voice.

"How's the prisoner, medic?"

"Alive. He's suffering from exposure and cold, but give him a few days and he'll be fine."

"Good. We need some answers from him."

"Don't be too rough on him, Gelu. He can't take much yet. Besides, I like him. He seems like a decent fellow."

"Don't worry. I've handled prisoners before and I haven't lost one yet."

"Very funny. Just remember what I said, okay?"

Gelu nodded and walked back to the fire. The medic stared after him for a moment, then walked into the large tent.

Inside, piles of boxes reached to the ceiling. She looked at the labels for some time before selecting one. She pulled the box from the stack and removed the lid. Inside, dried plants of different kinds were arranged in small, labeled sacks. She replaced the lid, hefted the box, and carried it out the door.

On the way back to the tent where the prisoner lay, another Agori fell into step beside her.

"Here, I'll carry that for you." he offered.

"Thanks, Metus," she replied gratefully. "What brings you here? I hadn't seen you on this expedition."

"Oh, I was just passing through and thought I'd see what was going on."

The medic said nothing, though she wondered what Metus had been doing that had brought him close enough to this out-of-the-way place to "see what was going on."

At the tent they parted, and the medic went in. Priduk was stirring, and she lit a candle. She then opened the box and removed several sacks of medicinal plants, with which she began making a ointment.

Priduk said something, and she walked over to him.


"Where are we?"

"We're about a mile from where we found you. We're still in the mountains. Why do you ask?"

"I just wondered, that's all."

The medic's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Don't be thinking about escaping, okay? You wouldn't stand a chance. Besides, you can't even walk yet."

Priduk flushed. "How'd you know I was thinking about that?" he demanded.

She laughed, a cheerful sound in the cold gloom of the tent. "I've had experience in learning what people are thinking. Besides, you didn't disguise your intentions very well."

"Oh. Well, is there any soup left?"

"Yes, there is. Hold on, I'll get some."

She brought him the soup. Priduk ate it, and as he did, he pondered the possibility of escape. He knew what the medic said was true, yet he still wondered.

Suddenly, he wanted his sword beside him.

Chapter IV: Law of the Jungle[]

The Bone Hunter named Roden chuckled as he ran.

He was thinking of the look that would appear on Vastus's face when he found his assistant unconscious and his prisoner gone. They had stopped to rest and Vastus had left Tarduk to guard the prisoner. Then Vastus had fallen asleep, and Roden had knocked Tarduk unconscious and faded into the jungle.

He prefered the open desert and the dusty plain, but, he reflected, the jungle was not too bad. It gave one lots of cover, which he would need. Vastus was no tenderfoot tracker. The trail he was on led into a dark, dangerous section of the jungle known as the Shadow's Lair. Why it had the name was obvious. The gnarled, soaring trees blocked the light, and pools of black, stagnant water filled the area. A large snake slithered away into the ominous shadows around the little-traveled, muddy trail.

Roden proceeded quickly, but with the caution that came of years of experience. Far behind him, there were voices. He grinned.

"They're comin' faster then I thought they would. Well, I'll make this interestin' for 'em."

He grabbed at an overhanging vine and swung himself up into the branches, where he settled himself into a crotch of the tree, and waited.

He did not have to wait long. Vastus and Tarduk came walking slowly along the path, Vastus watching the tracks and Tarduk keeping an eye out for possible traps. They came to where he had swung himself into the tree, and halted. Vastus spoke.

"See, Tarduk, here's where he swung himself into the trees. If my guess is correct, he continued along this path, only above it. So, if we keep going along this trail, we should find where he came down."

Above their heads, Roden grinned.

When they were out of earshot, he slid to the ground and backtracked along the path he had just traversed.

By the morning of the next day, Roden was far to the north and, he hoped, far from capture. He rested near the spot where he had been captured and then moved into the desert with the long, easy lope of the experienced traveler.

The hot sun shone fiercely down, and as Roden pulled the hot, dry air into his lungs, he felt a sudden, savage joy. It was good to be back in the desert. It was good to be hunted. It was good to fight. It was good to match one's wits and endurance with another, and win. He was hunted. He knew this, and as he knew, he knew also that he would not want it any other way. He hoped Vastus wouldn't be too disappointed when he couldn't catch him.

Night fell, and he walked on through the coolness, his blade shifting slightly with his movements.

Chapter V: Blue Ice[]

After a day or two of rest, Priduk had recovered enough from his ordeal to walk slowly about the camp with a guard. The guard said little, and Priduk came to the conclusion that not all members of the Ice Tribe were as outgoing as the medic.

Near the large supply tent in the center of camp, a tall, dangerous looking Glatorian joined them. He spoke to the guard.

"I'll take him now. I need to ask him some questions."

The guard agreed, and the tall warrior led Priduk into the supply tent, where he then began to question the prisoner.

"So, tell me your name."


"Indeed? A solid sounding name. My name is Gelu."

"Uh, okay."

"How is the food?"

"Um, it's fine."

"Glad to hear it. Now, to the point: what was your unit doing in the mountains?"

Priduk decided it would not hurt to answer this question truthfully. "We got lost."

"I see. What was your original mission?"

Priduk thought he had better lie about this one. "I don't now. I was just the cook."

Gelu accepted the answer, then continued. "Were there any notable warriors in the party?"

"Um, no."

"Are you sure?"


"Hmm. I thought I had seen Ackar in your party."

Priduk said nothing. Gelu looked at him closely for a moment.

"Do you have any special talents?"

Priduk was taken aback by this unusual question. He thought for a moment.

"Not that I know of. I'm not a very good fighter."

Gelu frowned, as if disappointed.

"Are you absolutely sure?"

"Well, no, how could I be?"

"I suppose so. What do you think of our medic?"

"Uh, she's very nice. Pretty, too."

Gelu grinned.

"I know that was the truth, Priduk! Well, that's all, I think. You can go now."

Priduk limped to the door, his mind working. Why, he wondered, had his talents, or absents of them, been so important? He had been expecting the questions about his unit and mission and had answered them, he thought, wisely. No, he had not been expecting the question about his talents. Of course, the questions about his name, the food, and the medic, had just been meant to put him at ease.

He stepped out of the tent, where the guard waited for him. He was led back to the hospital tent, where the medic was asleep on a cot. The guard left, and he spent a long time looking at her. Yes, he decided, she was pretty, very much so.

The medic stirred, and opened her eyes. She noticed Priduk, and smiled.

"How was your walk?"

"Oh, all right. Somebody called Gelu asked me some questions."

She frowned. "Oh? What did he ask?"

"He asked me about what my unit was doing here. He also asked me if I had any special talents, which was odd."

The medic turned pale, and her eyes widened.

"Is something wrong?" asked Priduk, anxiously.

"N-no, there's nothing wrong. It's just... Well, do you have any?"

"Any what?"

"Special talents."

"I don't think so."

She relaxed visibly. "Oh, good! You don't know how lucky you are!"

"Why does having no talents make me lucky?"

"I can't tell you. I would be punished." She changed the subject quickly. "So, now that you are all better, tell me your name."


"I'm Zora. Did you see Metus when you were out?"

"Who's Metus?"

"Well, he wears a helmet like mine, and he carries a snowflake shield and a silver blade."

"No, I didn't see him."

"Hmm. Well, tell me more about the questions Gelu asked you."

"Well, first he asked me what my name was, so I told him, and then he asked me how the food was, and I said it was good, and then he asked me what my unit was doing in the mountains, and I said we were lost, and he asked me what our original mission was, and I said I was just the cook and didn't know, and then he asked me if I had any special talents, and I said no, I didn't think so, and he asked me what I..."

Here Priduk hesitated, and Zora urged him to continue. "Go on. I'm listening."

Priduk flushed. "That's the problem."

"Pretend I'm not here."

"Well, okay. He asked me what I thought about the medic and I said you were very nice, and pretty, too, and he said I wasn't lying about that, and then he said I could go."

Zora smiled, and her eyes twinkled. "Well, were you lying about it?"


She laughed and began smashing herbs into a fine powder, using a mallet. Priduk watched her for a moment, then spoke again.

"Do you know how to fight?"

"A little."

"Will you teach me? I know I'm a prisoner, and it might be against the rules, but I don't think I'm very important. Gelu might let you."

She thought a moment, then nodded.

"Yes. I will ask him."

Priduk smiled in satisfaction.

Chapter VI: Desert Duel[]

Roden tripped on a small stone and fell, sprawling in the hot desert sand. He pushed himself slowly to his feet and spat dust out of his mouth, wishing he had a waterstone, or at least a puddle. He forced himself onwards.

About midday, he was barely moving. Even a Bone Hunter, adapted to life in the broiling sun, cannot survive long without water or shade. Roden was stumbling forward in a daze, when a deep gorge opened up in front of him and he fell in.

He rolled as he hit, but the canyon floor was not hard and he suffered no injuries in the fall. He blinked wearily and his mind, in a daze born of heat and dehydration, began to work again.

The canyon was about thirty feet deep. It was a box canyon that opened into a bowl-like, dust-filled crater. At the other end, an overhanging rock formed a natural sunshade over a pure desert well.

Roden walked slowly to the well, and took several large gulps of the ice-cold water. Then he stopped, and rested for a while. He knew that drinking too much water when one is dying of thirst can be lethal. After a few minutes, he took another drink, then rested some more.

He was sitting in the shade, resting, when there was a sudden movement, and an Agori appeared in front of him. Roden rose, and drew his blade as he did so.

"Where'd you come from?"

The figure, a tan and black figure with a strange helmet, pointed silently to the side of the canyon.

"You are from the Sand Tribe, right?"

The figure shook his head, then spoke.

"I was, until I refused to torture a prisoner. Then they decided I must be a traitor, and came to eliminate me. I fought them off, then ran. I found this place, and I've lived here for quite awhile."

"Don't you ever get lonely?"

"Nah. I never did care much for company, and I've got the lizards to talk to."

"Hmm. Well, I'm Roden. Maybe you've heard of me. I'm a Bone Hunter, and I was guide for some Skrall, till the Jungle Tribe ambushed us near the smaller jungle down south. We weren't expectin' it, since the Jungle Tribe lives in the Great Jungle, to the north. They tried to get me, too, but I got away."

"My name's Jallar."

Roden started to say more, but the words suddenly stuck in his throat.

Behind Jallar, near the end of the canyon, the sand suddenly shifted, and an enormous red body began to emerge! Jallar followed Roden's startled gaze to the spot. He gasped.

"Skopio! We're done for!"

The Skopio began to advance forward, towards its victims. Roden spoke, slowly.

"Well, I've spent all my life fighting, and it'd be a shame to stop now. Let's take 'im out!"

Several minutes later, Roden was not as confident, not that he had been confident to start with. He and Jallar had the short end of the stick, so to speak, and they were out-weighed nearly two hundred to one. The Skopio was a large one, and Roden noted that it had been heavily modified and fitted with weapons and mechanical parts. Jallar fought magnificently, using many strange battle moves that Roden had never seen before. Of course, Roden was no rookie, and was equal, for the time, to anything the Skopio could put out, yet both were limited to defensive fighting.

Roden knew that a Skopio has one weak spot: its back. The only part of it that can harm something on its back is the tail, if mounted with thornax launchers. Of course, the Skopio does not like to shoot at its back, for fear of missing its target and hitting itself.

The Skopio had the advantage, as it generally does, with its massive size and enormous strength. The fight was roughly equal to several mice fighting a giant tortoise.

Roden dodged a massive, tracked leg, and ran underneath the behemoth. The Skopio turned slowly to face Jallar, then lunged, and slammed its mouth-parts into what had been thick flesh and was now thin air. Jallar leapt, and used the force of the Skopio's opening jaws to send him spinning onto the monster's upper leg, then to its back. Roden mentally noted the move, then dodged a leg that slammed three feet into the dirt, just missing him.

The giant beast, deciding that its prey was made of tougher stuff then usual, abandoned its ideas of Agori pancakes and decided to settle for a diced meal. Roden dodged its jaws, as well, whereupon the Skopio unlimbered its thornax launchers and blazed away. Roden saw the missiles coming, and blocked them with his sword, although they sent him spinning backwards several feet.

At this point, Jallar plunged his blade into the beast's neck, which irritated the animal immensely. The Skopio jerked his head backwards, almost crushing Jallar, who jumped clear at the last moment. The enraged animal then fired several rounds at the tan Agori, who decided that the beast's back was no longer a safe place to be. He took a running jump, and flew up and out of the canyon, where he hit the ground in a long, most ungraceful shower of sand. He picked himself up and looked down into the canyon that he had just left.

The Skopio, finding that its prey had escaped, was burying itself in the sand. Roden was nowhere in sight. Jallar turned away from the edge and saw no one. Where, he thought, was Roden?

A scuffling noise sounded from behind him, and he spun around. Roden pulled himself up over the cliff edge and collapsed.

Jallar ran to him, remembering that Roden was not wearing a water container and that the canyon was at least a day's journey from the nearest river.

When Jallar reached him, Roden was attempting to push himself to his feet. Jallar helped him up, then unbuckled his own canteen and splashed water into his face. Roden blinked, and mumbled something.

"Helmet. Take it off."

Jallar did so, then unbuckled Roden's blade, as well. After several minutes, Roden began to come out of his daze. Jallar spoke to him.

"How did you get up that cliff so fast?" he demanded.

"I dunno. I'm surprised I made it all the way up. Guess it just shows what you can do when you're scared."

"Yeah. So, got any ideas about what we do now? We need water, and now that the Skopio is in the canyon, it's gonna be a lot harder to get."

"Well, I've got an idea, but we'll need some rope, and I'll have to take a rest first. I didn't need that fight."

Roden drank more water, then fell into a deep sleep. Jallar sat near the edge of the canyon, pondering different paths that would allow them to get water without disturbing the Skopio. He could think of nothing.

Then Jallar's eyes drifted to the cliff ledge above the well, and suddenly he thought he knew what Roden's plan was.

Part II[]

Chapter I: The Rookie[]

Priduk was sweating, an unusual thing in the mountains. He was beginning to realize that the training he had received when drafted into the Fire Tribe's army was worthless, when matched against an expert. Zora was indeed an expert.

"Okay, that's some better. Now I'm going to stand in one place, like a Glatorian would, and you see if you can disarm me." she said.

Priduk advanced cautiously, trying to imagine that the slim, blue-and-white Agori facing him was actually a Glatorian out for blood. He parried a stroke, and flipped his wrist in the same motion, using a move he had seen Ackar use many times before. It worked to perfection. Zora's thin blade spun out of her grip, spinning in a lazy arc towards the ground. Unfortunately, she caught it, then flipped his blade into the snow in one easy motion. She grinned, and lowered her blade.

"You're getting better. I'm impressed, Priduk. You still have to work on the wrist-flip, though. You can't let up on the pressure once you put your sword in the right place. You actually push it out of their hand, and you have to keep that momentum going. See, you push through the blade, not just hit it. A hit won't break a warrior. It's the force that does it."

Priduk nodded, and retrieved his sword. They were practicing in a mountain canyon not far away from the camp. Zora had suggested this location to keep Ice Tribe warriors from asking questions, although Gelu had agreed to let Zora teach Priduk some simple battle moves. It was highly irregular, but Priduk was not an important prisoner, and Gelu had decided that the captive needed something to keep him occupied.

At this moment, Gelu was sitting gloomily in his tent, waiting for Metus. The mission was not going well, and the soldiers were becoming restless. Gelu sighed. This was his first time in command of troops, and he wasn't sure he liked the experience.

The door-flap on the tent rustled, and Metus entered and sat down.

"So, did you question the prisoner?" he asked.

"Yes. He says he doesn't have any special talents, but Zora is teaching him how to fight, and we may find that he has something worth encouraging."

"Well, should I stick around? I've got other business to attend to, but I don't want to miss any opportunities."

"Personally, I don't think he'll be worth waiting for, but it's your choice."

"Well, I'll stick around for a few days. I don't mind it, especially when my client trades fifty waterstones for a talented Agori." decided Metus.

Gelu's eyes widened.

"Fifty waterstones?! Tritax must be really expanding his forces!" he exclaimed. "He never trades that much for Agori! What's he give for equipment?"

"Around ten to thirty waterstones, depending on the condition and who made it. Of course, I've got to pay seventy-five percent of that to the Ice Tribe."

"Hmm. Still, that's not bad."

"Nope. Well, I'd better get moving. I've gotta get to work on my Thornatus. I broke a drive shaft coming over the mountains."

Metus left, and Gelu sat staring at the tent wall. After several minutes, he rose and walked out into the cold outdoors. He moved through camp to the medic's tent. He hesitated, then entered.

Inside, a small fire crackled merrily. Priduk and Zora were seated comfortably on crates, and Zora was laughing at something Priduk had said. When Gelu came through the tent-flap, she smiled nervously.

"Hello, Gelu. Is something wrong?"

"No, no. Just thought I'd see how Priduk was doing."

"Oh. Well, I'll go outside."

"Thank you. I won't take too long."

Zora left, and Gelu sat down, facing Priduk.

"I understand, Priduk," said Gelu, "that Zora is giving you fighting lessons?"


"How are you doing?"

"Um, not too bad, I think."

"You understand, of course, that if you feel that you have discovered a special talent that you posses, you will come and tell me right away?"

Priduk hesitated, remembering Zora's words from that morning.

"Well, I guess not."

"Oh?" Gelu's tone suddenly became cold. "And why not?"

"Well, I guess I wouldn't want to disturb you." lied Priduk.

"Indeed? Are you sure that is the reason? It had better be, or else..."

"Or else w-what, sir?"

"Nothing. Just remember what I said, okay?" G elu stood, and strode from the tent. Priduk wiped his brow nervously. He was begining to wonder what all this "special talent" business was about.

Zora had been standing outside the tent door, and she had heard every word that had been spoken. When Gelu walked past her, she shrank into the deepening shadows, where she stood, her mind working along the same lines as Priduk's.

She knew more about it than he did. She knew the Element Lord of Ice had a contract with someone called Tritax. She knew it had something to do with prisoners that the Ice Tribe captured, because if any captives possessed above-average abilities of any type, they were sent to the being called Tritax, to meet an unknown fate. Beyond this, she knew nothing, a problem which, if only for Priduk's sake, she decided to remedy.

She moved softly to Gelu's tent, where she knocked on the wooden door-frame.

"Come in." said Gelu.

Zora entered. Gelu was sitting at his desk and writing by the golden glow of a candle. He looked up, and surprise crossed his face.

"Well, what brings you here?" he asked.

Zora got right to the point.

"Gelu, tell me about the Ice Tribe's contract with Tritax."

Gelu hesitated. The contract was not public information, but he suddenly found himself telling the medic all he knew about it.

"Well," he said slowly. "There's this being called Tritax. I don't know what he is, but he's got a fortress in the desert to the south. He's building an army, for reasons we don't know about, and he made a contract with the Element Lord of Ice saying that if we give him any prisoners with exceptional abilities he will pay us for them."

"What does he mean by "exceptional abilities"?"

"Oh, like skilled warriors and talented builders and educated scientists. Anyone with a useful talent."

"Thanks, Gelu. That's all I wanted to know."

Zora left, hurriedly. Gelu stared after her, wondering at her sudden departure. Girls, he thought, I'll never understand them.

He began to write again, but his heart was not in it, and he found himself staring blankly at the stitching in the tent wall.

With a sigh, he put down his quill. He lay down on his cot, but his mind was restless, and his candle burned out long before he drifted into sleep.

He did not see the hand that slipped a note under the door-flap.

Chapter II: A Rope Breaks[]

Cold sweat dripped into Jallar's eyes. He wiped it away, muttering under his breath. He looked downward, straining his eyes to see in the blackness. About twenty more feet to go, he thought. He carefully slid his hand down along the rough rope of woven vine that they were using as a rope. It was becoming ragged from rubbing on rocks that jutted out from the cliff edge.

Overhead, the clouds parted and a dim shaft of starlight illuminated the scene. Jallar looked behind him, into the canyon. The sand was still and empty, concealing that which lay beneath. Jallar took a deep breath and dropped downwards several feet, steadying himself with his feet. He repeated the process until he was within three feet of the well.

He dipped the canteen into the water, being careful to make no noise. The water burbled as it flowed, and Jallar looked nervously behind him. The sand shifted slightly, then was still. The canteen was full, and Jallar began to climb.

Thirty feet above, Roden had problems. There it was again, he thought, that sound... I've heard it before, but where? It was a strange sound, not unlike the sound of a Rock Steed moving over soft sand. It was the sound of a heavy body moving gracefully. It was the sound of a Leader Class Skrall. Why would a Skrall be here, of all places? He squinted into the darkness, and caught a glimpse of a large figure. Then a cloud drifted, and starlight rolled across the desert, illuminating the Skrall for a brief instant.

A tusked helmet, a glowing pair of red eyes, a massive spiked club, a pair of deadly shoulder-mounted blades. Then Roden noticed the absents of Skrall tribal designs on the helmet. It meant the massive Skrall was a outlaw, banished to the desert for treachery. This was not a being he wanted to meet in the desert, at night.

Roden was silently slipping his blade from his back when the rope tied to a large boulder shuddered, and went slack. From below, there was a splash, and then everything happened at once. Roden was aware of the Skrall rushing past him and leaping over the cliff, and of his own hand groping for flint and steel. He found them, and had the rope ablaze within seconds. The dry vines flared up, and he blinked in the sudden brightness.

A thornax smashed into the cliff below him, and was followed by the clash of steel on steel. He untied the rope, his hands clumsy in their haste, and hurled it over the cliff edge, then followed it.

He landed hard, and he felt his shoulder slid out of place with a snap that made his stomach lurch. A heavy impact nearby sent sand flying over his face. He pushed himself to his feet, his left arm dangling at his side. His right hand gripped the hilt of his blade tightly, and he ran forward, sparks from the burning vine landing on his black armor.

Jallar was spinning in place, sparks flying when his blade met the Skopio's fangs. The Skrall was quickly and methodically blocking and striking with an agility that clashed sharply with his bulk.

Roden moved into battle with the flashing fury typical of his kind. His arm hindered him some, especially when blocking, but long experience had taught him to compensate for injuries.

The Skopio lunged foward, its jaws glinting in the flickering light. Roden dodged easily, then dealt the beast a back-handed blow across its razor-sharp mouthparts. The Skopio paid no attention, and used a tracked leg to flip Jallar into the canyon wall. Roden ran behind the behemoth, and plunged his blade into dusty steel. The Skopio growled, and spun to face him.

Then the fire flickered weakly, and died.

Chapter III: Fate Plays Dirty[]

Gelu rolled out of bed and landed on the frozen ground with a thump. He groggily opened his eyes, and saw a note lying on the ground, a foot from his face. He wearily pushed himself up, trying to clear the mist that swirled around his brain. He picked up the note, and scanned it with his eyes.

Important message, meet me at storage tent during breakfast time.

Gelu sighed. The last thing he wanted to do was skip a meal just to hear Varodox blather about what he believed was important information. Still, Varodox was a common soldier, able to mingle easily with others of his rank, and it was not uncommon for him to turn up information that was well worth the loss of a meal. Gelu would be at the tent at breakfast time.

Varodox was there, and his cold, greedy eyes glittered as he spoke quickly and to the point.

"I was having a hard time sleeping last night, so I went out to get some fresh air. I was walking past the medic's tent, minding my own business, you understand."

I'll bet you were minding your own business, you thief, thought Gelu. He felt his dislike of Varodox deepening.

Varodox blathered on.

"Anyways, I heard voices. Now I says to myself, says I, why on earth would the medic be up so late? So I creeps over to the door, and I hears the medic telling that red-armored prisoner that he needs to escape quickly, before Gelu finds out that he has great fighting skill."

Gelu's eyes narrowed. The spy continued.

"So then the medic tells the fire-spitter that he should escape that very night, using Metus's Thornatus. The prisoner says he can't see in the dark, and he doesn't have any food, anyways. The medic says she'll get him some if he will only try to escape. I didn't hear what the prisoner said, because I went straight to my tent and wrote you a note, which I delivered and then went to bed."

Gelu felt something closely akin to being clubbed over the head. For a long time he just stood there, his mind frozen. He knew what he had to do with this information, and he was not looking forward to it.

Varodox knew as well as Gelu did, and he hoisted an unconvincing look of sadness unto his face.

"You know, Gelu, that this means you will be looking for a new medic? It's a pity. She's a lovely girl, and an extraordinary doctor, but even the best can become turncoats. Now, you owe me, let's see, about one week's leave."

"I owe you nothing, Varodox," said Gelu coldly. "You have just brought me information I did not want in the least, and all you are getting is orders to do the deed yourself. Now go, and send Metus to me."

Varodox left, with a disgruntled expression on his face. Gelu sank wearily unto a crate.

He had not wanted this. He would send Zora to Tritax along with Priduk. He knew what he had to do, but that did not make it easier to do it. Then a thought came to him. Perhaps it would be better if Varodox did not arrest Zora, as he would be sure to make hash of it. Zora would have ample chance to escape, though I don't think she would. Yes, it would be better if I did it.

He left the tent.

Chapter IV: Down the Hatch[]

Roden squinted into the sudden darkness. His shoulder throbbed painfully and there was a grinding of gears as the Skopio shifted, blindly shoving him away from its leg. Like the Agori, the behemoth needed light to see.

There was a sound of heavy breathing and Roden found himself being half lifted, half shoved by a large figure that guessed must be the rogue Skrall. He guessed correctly.

"Move!" panted the Skrall. "We gotta get out of here while it's still dark!"

Roden headed for the mouth of the canyon, but was pulled back.

"No, not that way," growled the Skrall impatiently. "Over here!"

The Skrall pushed Roden over to the base of the cliff, opened a round metal door ingraved with ancient designs that was set in the side of one of the sand-stone walls, and shoved Roden through it into blackness.

Roden felt himself streaking through a dimly lit chute, sliding on his back. He was moving too fast to see much of his surroundings, but he noticed that the walls were lit with strange, glowing stones. He attempted to stop his rapid descent by thrusting his blade into the wall, but his momentum was too great.

He had been moving several minutes when he realized his speed was slaking. The chute was leveling out. Roden slid to a stop in a small underground room, lit with more of the glowing stones embedded in the wall. At the far end of the chamber, a statue of a small figure holding a staff stood next to a closed door. Roden got to his feet and moved cautiously towards it.

A scraping noise sounded from behind him, and he spun around to see Jallar sliding to a halt on the floor. The tan and black Agori appeared to be unconscious. Roden bent over him, found a pulse, and turned back to the door.

It opened suddenly, and emitted a figure slightly different from any species that Roden had ever seen.

It was mostly mechanical, yet moved with a grace that equaled, if not surpassed, that of an Agori.

It was about the size of an Agori, but with grey, and slightly shorter, arms and legs. The torso was a bright blue color, as were the hands, feet, and the being's helmet. Roden looked closer, and realized that it was not really a helmet. More like a mask of some sort, he thought. Then he noticed the being's eyes.

They appeared to be yellow, but were strangely blank, void of emotion. When the figure spoke, it was in a expressionless, precise, female voice.

"Welcome to the headquarters of the Order of Rahara. Do you require assistance?"

Roden hesitated, but this seemed like a time to answer questions, not ask them. He spoke.

"My comrade's hurt. Do you got any medical stuff?"

"Oh. Yes, of course. Just a moment."

The being disappeared through the door. Roden took advantage of the time to study Jallar's condition. He appeared to have been flung at high speed into an unyielding object, which is precisely what had happened. Roden's respect for him increased. Only great physical strength and will-power could have prevented Jallar from losing his grip on life after a solid blow by a large Skopio.

The strange being reappeared, followed by a Glatorian. The Glatorian scooped Jallar into his arms and left. Roden followed him, as did the blue-and-grey figure.

As they walked through a long, stonewalled hallway, Roden voiced a question to the blue-and-grey being, a question that had been bothering him for several minutes.

"Excuse me, ma'am, but just what species are you?"

"I am of the species named Matoran."

"Hmm. Never heard of it. What's your name?"

"I am called Kai."

Chapter V: The Order of Rahara[]

Roden, Kai, and the Glatorian carrying Jallar walked through several winding tunnels until they came to a door engraved with the Water Tribe's symbol. The Glatorian shoved open the door and entered. Roden and Kai followed.

Roden found himself in a large, tidy chamber with white walls and a domed ceiling. Around the walls, more of the glowing stones emitted a soft blue glow. The floor was made of a highly polished blue stone. Many beds were arranged in a single row around the room, and a large stone examining table lay in the middle of the room under a cluster of glowing stones. The room was deserted except for a blue Agori standing near the examining table.

The Glatorian gently lay Jallar on the table, and departed. The healer studied Jallar closely for a moment, then turned to Roden.

"What happened to him?" she asked.

"A Skopio hit him and he flew into a cliff."

"It is a wonder he is not dead! Still, I believe he will survive. But first, have you been harmed?"

"My shoulder's displaced."

"Oh, that is easily fixed. Come and help me, Kai."

She seized his arm and, with Kai's aid, gave it a quick, strong jerk. It snapped into place and Roden sighed with relief.

"That's much better. Now show me the way out of here, and I'll be on my way."

Kai stared at him for a moment, then spoke.

"Oh, you can not leave yet. Our noble leader, Tritax, will want to speak to you. He always speaks to his visitors. It is the mark of a true leader."

"Since when was talking the mark of a leader?" asked Roden sarcastically. "If it is, then I know a whole lot of Bone Hunters that ought to be king of Spherus Magna."

Kai looked deeply insulted. She started to speak, but stopped as a green-armored Agori appeared in the doorway. The new arrival spoke in the same emotionless tone that Kai used.

"Tritax wishes to see any of the new arrivals that are conscious."

"There is only one." replied the healer.

"Very well. Send him to the throne room at once. Kai will act as escort."

The green Agori turned and left. Kai followed him out the door, Roden trailing behind.

They walked through dimly-lit passageways that descended ever deeper into the earth. Roden gripped his blade tightly. He did not like close spaces, he liked the sun and the sky and the wind in his face.

Finally, they came to another large door, this one decorated with an engraving of the same small figure that Roden had seen a statue of in the chute room. Kai knocked, and the sound echoed loudly down the dark passages.

"Enter." said a voice from within.

Roden shoved open the door, his blade lifted.

Inside, a single wall-mounted torch flickered slowly, casting a red glow over a large stone throne and its occupant, the same Leader Class Skrall that had fought the Skopio. The Skrall leaned forward, light from the torch glimmering on his armor. He spoke.

"You may go, Kai."

Kai bowed and left. The Skrall turned to Roden.

"I believe I have seen you before, Bone Hunter. You may wonder about the Skopio. It has been... disposed of, shall we say. Now, enough about troublesome disputes. I am going to tell you a story, little one, and I- Yes, what is it you wish to say?"

Roden had cleared his throat pointedly. Now he spoke.

"I object to bein' called a "little one", especially by a traitor."

"Oh, you do, do you? Well, I am afraid that your word is of no account here. Mine is. I will call you what I please and-"

"I do not want to be called "little one" by a traitor and if you call me it again-"

Roden did not finish the sentence, but thoughtfully ran his finger along the keen edge of his blade. The Skrall noticed the gesture, and his face darkened.

"So you want to be tough, do you?" he growled. "I have remedies for trouble-makers and a believe you could do with a few of them."

He pressed a button on the arm-rest of his throne. Seconds later, two hulking, heavily-armed Glatorian lumbered into the the room.

"Take this Bone Hunter away and put him in the green cell, maximum security."

The warriors nodded, and reached for the Bone Hunter.

Roden sighed. I didn't want to have to do this, he thought. Then he slide into a series of well rehearsed, deadly battle moves.

Chapter VI: The Green Cell[]

Tritax stared blankly at the two bodies on the floor, one with its neck broken, and the other paralyzed. The fight had been very brief. Roden had easily avoided the warrior's weapons and leapt into the air, where he back-flipped, catching one warrior on the jaw with his foot and killing him. Roden had then dropped to the ground and traded blows with the remaining guard for approximately five seconds, after which he paralyzed him with a blow to the head.

Now Roden was standing with his blade lifted slightly, muscles tense, waiting for changes to the situation.

Tritax had a nimble, if somewhat insane, mind, and he quickly recovered his composure. He spoke.

"Well done, Bone Hunter. Next time, I must choose guards with more skill, as well as strength. However, you must still go to the Green Cell, even if I have to force you myself. Now, you can surrender, and go in one piece, or not surrender, and go in two or three pieces. Which do you choose?"

"I have never surrendered in my life, and I'm not goin' to start now."

"Very well, Bone Hunter. Now, on guard..."

Roden circled the massive Skrall warily, sizing up his opponent. Tritax was more then twice his size, and carried a loaded thornax launcher as well as his formidable, spiked club. Roden was armed with only his blade, but he had defeated opponents almost as large as Tritax, and he was confident of a draw, if not victory.

Tritax made the first move, slashing his club at Roden's head. Roden ducked, and rolled between Tritax's legs. Tritax spun, and sent a bone-shattering blow in Roden's direction. Roden blocked it, and used the blow's force to roll himself to his feet. For a brief instant, the two warriors stood glaring at each other, then closed again, trading blows that were as unforgiving as stone.

Slowly and relentlessly, Tritax used his superior strength to back Roden against the wall. Roden knew that his only advantages were agility and speed, and in tight quarters he would have neither. He fought desperately, seeking an escape opening. Finding none, he knew that his only chance was to make one. He saw his chance almost immediately. When Tritax struck, he left his right shoulder unguarded. Roden used this to his advantage. Tritax struck, sending sparks from where his club slammed into the rock wall. In that instant, Roden lashed out with his left fist, slamming it into Tritax's wrist. Tritax grunted in pain, and dropped his club. With the chances of a return stroke temporarily reduced to zero, Roden vaulted over Tritax's shoulder.

But as he leaped, Tritax's shoulder-mounted armor caught him slightly on his arm. It was the slightest of blows, but it knocked him off balance and he landed hard on his back. Instinct shoved him to his feet, but he was a split-second too late. He saw Tritax's aimed thornax launcher, and behind it, a pair of glowing eyes. Then a rock-hard thornax struck him, and he sank instantly into blackness.

* * *

Green light filtered into Roden's eyes. He tried to get to his feet, but his feet and hands were unable to move. He blinked, and looked around him.

He was in a room about twenty feet square and ten feet high. The ceiling was the source of the green light. Strangely enough, the whole ceiling appeared to be made out of green lightstones, which cast a distinctly jungle-like aura through the room. He examined his bonds and found he was bound to a stone slab by vines. When he pressed against them, they gripped him tighter, and flickers of light shot up and down their leaves. He studied them closely. They were of a sort he had never seen before, but he had little time to puzzle over them, for the door creaked open and Tritax entered. Roden noticed, with satisfaction, that his right wrist was heavily bandaged. Tritax noted his gaze, and smiled sourly.

"Well done, Bone Hunter. Luckily, I have an excellent team of healers here at my headquarters. Now, I was going to tell you a story, but certain occurrences, shall we say, persuaded me to use stronger measures first."

Roden muttered an extremely unpleasant word under his breath. Tritax pretended not to hear, and picked up a strange helmet lying in the corner of the room. He walked over to Roden and, after removing the Bone Hunter's helmet, slipped it over his head. Roden waited for something unpleasant to happen, but nothing did. Tritax scowled, and adjusted a knob on the side of the helmet. Instantly, the helmet began to glow with an eerie green light. Roden felt a queer twinging in his mind, but it faded quickly, and he was left wondering what the machine was supposed to be doing. Then Tritax began talking to him as though he knew nothing, and Roden began to understand...

"Greetings, and welcome to the headquarters of the Order of Rahara. Your name is Roden, and mine is Tritax. Now, the first thing you need to know is that I am your master. Any commands I give you will be immediately obeyed, understand?"

Roden nodded, while his brain worked furiously. Obviously this helmet is some sort of brain-washin' device, and it's not workin' on me because I'm a Bone Hunter, not an Agori, he thought. The smartest thing will be to pretend it worked, and find out everything I can. Oh, and I'll need to disable that helmet first chance I get.

Tritax blathered on, while Roden listened intently.

"Now I will tell you a story, and you will do well to listen, for it contains the purpose of the Order of Rahara."

Chapter VII: Tritax's Tale[]

"Long, long ago, before the Great Beings came to this world, there was a being named Rahara. He was one of the last of his species, a powerful breed, masters of energy and weapons. They were the governing race of of Spherus Magna, and they ruled it wisely and well, though they exhibited a streak of brutality which was, no doubt, the reason they were hated and feared by their subjects."

"Then the Great Beings came, bringing war to the land. They established themselves as rulers of Spherus Magna, despite the best efforts of Rahara's dying species to destroy them. All of Rahara's race were killed in the war, Rahara being the only exception. He fled in fear to the shores of the Great Sea, his only company a pack of Wasteland Wolves."

"For many years he lived there, learning the ways of the animals and all of nature, especially those creatures that could be used as a fighting force, for he did not forget that the Great Beings now reigned and he cherished dreams of defeating them and establishing his throne. But it would all come to naught, for when he finally formed a great legion of beasts and marched north, the Great Beings laughed at his demands for surrender and deployed their own armies."

"Ah, you can imagine it, can you not? The clash of steel on claws, the battle cries of warriors matched against the roars of savage beasts. The speed of the wolf against the cunning of the Glatorian, the courage of the Agori against the fangs of the Skopio. The battle was large, and it lasted long, but in the last day of war Rahara lay dying, fatally wounded by a Great Being. It was then that Rahara carved his story in a stone tablet and hid it in the maze of underground tunnels that had served as his headquarters."

Tritax's eyes gleamed insanely. He continued.

"Hundreds of years later, I found this tablet, hidden deep inside the maze. Like Rahara, I dream of destroying the Great Beings and establishing my rule over this planet. When I told them my plan, the Skrall feared, and exiled me. But I shall have my revenge on them as well, for none shall stand before me once my legions are at full strength. I shall war, I shall conquer, and I shall rule Spherus Magna!"

Tritax fell silent. Roden realized, for the first time, just how insane the massive Skrall was. Roden took a deep breath. He could not over-play his hand now, it could mean death. He spoke cautiously.

"It seems to me that Rahara was a bad loser. After all, the Great Beings gave us great inventions and culture, even though they don't actually do the job of settling our disputes and-"

Tritax scowled and adjusted the knob on the helmet. The green glow intensified, and Roden deliberately let his eyes slide out of focus. He spoke, trying to keep his voice as expressionless as possible.

"Then again, you speak truth. Down with the Great Beings!"

Tritax smiled in satisfaction.

"Now, Bone Hunter, do you have any questions?"

"Yes, sir. Kai said she was a Matoran. What's a Matoran?"

"Ah, yes. The Matoran are a species created by the Great Being. They are building a giant robot of some sort, and the Matoran are serving as labor. I have heard rumors that the Matoran are to be placed in the robot when it begins its journey to stars. Now, about Kai. Kai is of the water subspecies of Matoran, which gives her greater swimming ability and lung capacity. I had my special forces capture her for study and, once she was persuaded to join the Order, she became a most useful member. Any other questions?"

"No, sir."

"Good. Now, I believe we have some new arrivals. However, I have some business to attend to. Would you mind guarding them?"

"No, sir."

Tritax smiled and removed the helmet. Once he had released Roden from the vines and given him his blade, he departed.

Minutes later, the door opened and a tall Fire Agori and a female Agori of the Ice Tribe were shoved into the cell.

Part III[]

Chapter I: The Loner[]

Jallar awoke in pain.

It was not the stabbing pain of a slash or cut, or even the dull ache of a severe bruise. This pain was pure, savage, unfettered by mind or medicine. Jallar gritted his teeth, and looked about him.

He was in a large, tidy healing chamber lit with odd, deep-blue stones that glowed with a mysterious light. He was lying in a comfortable bed near the large stone door, which was decorated with the Water Tribe's symbol. As his eyes drifted around the room, he noticed his helmet and blade hanging on a rack beside him, and at sight of them, he felt as if he had found a long-lost friend.

Jallar had never been one to let pain get the better of him, and he shoved back his blankets and stumbled out of bed.

Instantly, a wave of dark nausea swept over him and he fell to his knees, fighting the urge to black out. After a moment, his head cleared, and he crawled towards his helmet and blade, wincing with every movement.

He reached them, finally, and slipped on his helmet, then grasped the cold smoothness of his blade. He examined it closely, but the blade was razor-sharp and it was no different then he last remembered it.

Jallar turned, and stumbled towards the door. It was locked. Jallar smiled grimly. Think a locked door'll hold me, do they? They don't know half my secrets yet, he thought, and it'll be a long time before they do...

Jallar flipped a small switch on the hilt of his sword, and poison began to ooze slowly out of a slit near the tip.

Jallar shoved the blade into the crack between the door and the wall, feeling for the bolt that kept the door from opening. He found it, and the metal was quickly dissolved by the liquid that seeped out of his blade.

Jallar smiled triumphantly, and flipped the switch again. The poison stopped flowing, but the blade was still shiny with the deadly venom. Jallar did not wipe it off, because the sword was made of a special metal and the liquid would only strength it.

Jallar shoved open the door, and stepped out into the hall. He chose the left passage, and stumbled along it, stopping to rest frequently. He met no one, for which he was extremely grateful.

He had not gone far when he heard hurrying footsteps, and the Bone Hunter called Roden came loping around the corner, carrying a bound figure and flanked by a tall, young, red-and-orange Fire Agori and a slim, blue-and-white, female Agori of the Ice Tribe.

"Jallar! What are you doin' out of the healin' chamber?" exclaimed the Bone Hunter.

"Never did like being trapped in bed. Besides, if I can walk, I'm fine. Who are your friends?"

"The tall one's Priduk, and the girl's named Zora. And this one-" he glanced down at the blue-armored figure in his arms, "-is Kai. She's brainwashed, but she was kidnapped from the Great Beings and we're goin' to try to get her back where she belongs. She wants to stay here and work for the Order, but, like I said, she's not in control of her mind."

"What's 'the Order'?"

"I can see I've got some explainin' to do. Well, you'll just have to wait, 'cause we're bein' chased by Tritax's guards."

Zora spoke for the first time since Jallar had seen her.

"I can hear them coming!"

The four set off at a break-neck pace through the tunnels, Jallar lagging behind, his injuries begining to interfere. They came to a door, and Roden slid to a halt. "In this door! There's weapons in there!"

No one asked how he knew, for there was not time. The door was locked, but Priduk kicked it once, twice, three times, and it crumpled glumly to the floor.

Inside, racks and racks of swords, spears, thornax launchers, shields, and dozens of other weapons lined the walls. Roden nodded his head towards them, and Zora and Priduk hurriedly began to arm themselves.

Priduk chose a double-bladed axe and a thornax launcher, which he loaded with an explosive thornax from a crate nearby. He picked up a small back-pack from a pile, put it on, and went to stand in the doorway, weapons at the ready.

Zora selected a blade that appeared to be half of an Ice Slicer, which made it ideal for an Agori's melee weapon. She swished it through the air several times, feeling its balance. She nodded in approval, then outfitted herself with a back-pack like Priduk's and also a canteen, which she placed in her pack along with a small dagger. Then, fully armed for battle, she walked to the door and stood next to Priduk, listening intently for unwelcome sounds.

Roden stood watching them, a slight smile on his battle-scarred face. The two Agori were young, yet both had been tried by battle, and what was there was good. Yes, he thought, they are the kind that become heroes. They are young enough, and they have what it takes... unlike me, a Bone Hunter and a thief. No, I am not a hero, though long ago, I could have been one. But then again, a Bone Hunter's life is not so bad.

His thoughts were shattered by Priduk's tense whisper.

"Here they come!"

"Hit 'em with the thornax, first," ordered Roden. "Then we'll finish 'em off as fast as possible and try not to make much sound, alright?"


The guards came in a group, advancing quickly, but cautiously. There were four of them, two Jungle Tribe Glatorian, a Warrior Class Skrall, and a Rock Agori.

Priduk held his breath and squinted down the length of his thornax launcher. He slowly drew a bead on the chest of the Skrall, and fired.

The explosive fruit hurtled forward, spinning towards the Skrall. The warrior saw it coming and lifted his blade to deflect it, but the hall was dimly-lit and he miscalculated. The missile flashed above his sword and crunched into his chest with a surprisingly quiet crumpling noise.

For a moment, nothing happened. Then there was a grinding explosion and the Skrall disappeared behind a swirling cloud of dust. When it cleared, all that remained was a smear of blood and several pieces of black armor that clattered to the ground with an air of grim finality.

Priduk had hoped that the explosion would slow the remaining guards, but he had not realized how much damage a thornax can do when in close quarters. Only the Rock Agori, who had been the guard farthest away from the explosion, was unaffected. Both Jungle Glatorian were on the ground, and one appeared to be unconscious.

Roden dumped the Matoran on the ground and ran quickly forward, the light of battle glowing in his scarlet eyes. He was met by the Rock Agori. The Bone Hunter easily ducked his opponent's slashing blade and slugged him hard in the jaw, not bothering to use his own sword. The Rock Agori went down in a heap.

Zora and Priduk charged one of the Jungle Glatorian, who had recovered from the explosion. Zora dodged the warrior's wildly swinging blade, and flipped it out of his hand with the same move that Priduk had been struggling with for days. The warrior growled in rage, and swung his second blade towards the Ice Agori. She parried easily, and Priduk slammed his axe squarely into the warrior's dark green chest armor. The Glatorian roared in pain, but his words were cut off as Roden's foot collided firmly with the back of his skull. The Glatorian swayed, but stayed on his feet and swiped viciously at the new arrival. Roden parried, and kicked the warrior hard in the leg. The Glatorian ignored the blow, but Priduk's thornax launcher slamming solidly into his head was impossible to ignore. The Glatorian went down in a heap, and one Bone Hunter and three Agori clanked fists.

"Not bad, Priduk." said Roden. "You'll do fine."

"You really think so? I don't-"

Roden held up his hand, silencing Priduk. "Enough. We four have somethin' to decide now."

The Bone Hunter glanced around at the three silent Agori, then at the Ga-Matoran lying at Jallar's feet.

"Now, I am goin' to cure Kai and, if possible, return her to where she belongs. I'm also goin' to inform the Great Beings of the rebellion that- Yes, Jallar?"

"So the Order is basically a bunch of goons that are jealous of the Great Beings?"

Roden smiled. "You can call it that, even though only the leader is a jealous goon. The rest are brainwashed, but I smashed the brainwashin' helmet, which, of course, stops Tritax from expandin' his forces." Roden paused. "At least 'till he gets it fixed."

"And it's up to us to make sure that never happens!" cried Zora. "I'm with you, Roden."

Priduk stepped forward. "I'll join you," he said firmly. "How about you, Jallar?"

Jallar smiled. "Wouldn't miss it for the world!"

Chapter II: The Rescue Begins[]

Tritax had been in a particularly good mood. His plans were going well, he had recruited a veteran Bone Hunter, the Ice Tribe had just sent him two very promising Agori, his troops had recently captured a shipment of high-tech weapons, and he had just eaten an excellent meal. Life was very good.

Now he was lying on his back with a blade at his throat, and his good mood was very much gone.

Tritax looked up at the blue-and-white Agori holding the blade.

"Now look here-" he began, but Zora cut him off.

"Where's the control room?" she snapped.

"I don't know what you're talking about!"

"Of course you know what I'm talking about. Now tell, before I get impatient!"

"I'll never tell you."

"Really? I didn't think you were so stupid."

Zora grinned wolfishly, and the gleaming blade inched closer to Tritax's thick neck. He began to sweat.

There were many things that Tritax was, and most of them were not complements, but he was not a fool. That blade was very sharp, and the Ice Agori obviously knew how to use it.

"Go to the end of the hallway. There will be a stairway. Go down it and turn right. It is at the end."

Zora's grin widened. "Thank you very much. Now, I think it's time you took a little nap, don't you?"

Tritax blinked in confusion. He opened his mouth to speak, but Zora closed it with an efficient blow of her white-armored fist.

Zora removed her blade from the neck of the unconscious Tritax. She stood for a moment, shaking her head. "Really," she muttered, "that was almost too easy."

A boot scraped on stone.

Zora tensed, and stepped backwards, placing her back against the stone wall. Then she relaxed as Priduk emerged from the shadows at the end of the hallway.

"You found him, I see." said the Fire Agori. "Did he put up a fight?"

"Not really. I jumped 'im from behind, and he didn't really have a chance."

"Good. He told you where the control room was, right?"

"Of course." Zora smiled mischievously. "Did you think he wouldn't?"

A small smile slid across Priduk's solemn features. "No, of course not. Let's go, Roden will be waiting for us."

The two Agori left Triax's motionless body and walked through several winding passageways, until they turned a corner and found Roden, Jallar, and the Matoran called Kai.

Roden looked up at their arrival. "Found 'im?"

Zora nodded.

"Excellent. Lead on, ice warrior!"

* * *

Jallar's black fingers flashed over the control board. Symbols and pictures danced across the glowing screen in front of him, and were replaced by different ones almost immediately.

Behind him, Priduk and Zora watched silently, while Roden stood on guard in the doorway. On the floor, Kai struggled against her bonds, but Roden had tied the knots well, and the ropes held.

After several minutes, Jallar leaned forward and frowned in concentration, then his features lightened and he stabbed at a glowing switch. "There, that should do it." he said.

Almost instantly, Kai's struggles ceased. The yellow light in her eyes increased, and the blankness in them vanished, to be replaced with confusion, and a touch of fear.

"What? Wh-where am I?" she gasped, then realization glowed in her yellow eyes, and she began to sob.

Roden and Jallar watched helplessly. They were warriors, hardened and made rough by many battles and countless bloody conflicts. There was no room for emotion in their world, and ones that showed it were often ridiculed. They did not know what to do, so they did nothing.

Zora stood silent for a moment, then drew her dagger and slashed at the ropes that bound the Ga-Matoran. They fell free, and Zora patted Kai gently on the shoulder.

"There, there," Zora said soothingly. "You're all right now. We're friends and we're going to help you get back where you belong."

She looked up at Roden. "She's in shock. It's to be expected, after having her mind tampered with."

Roden cleared his throat feebly. "Will it last long? We should really get goin', you know."

Zora shrugged cheerfully. "Shouldn't be too long; the mind can calibrate very quickly."

Zora was right. It was only a few minutes until Kai's sobs subsided, and she looked up at the Ice Agori.

"Who are you?"

"I'm a medic. My name is Zora."

Kai's eyes moved around the room, then back to Zora.

"What species are you? You don't really look like Matoran."

Zora smiled. "The black guy in the corner is a Bone Hunter. The rest of us are called Agori."

"Agori? Hmm. Well, I suppose I should ask your names, since I guess I'll be traveling with you for a while."

Priduk smiled. "I'm Priduk."

From the doorway, Roden nodded. "You can call me Roden."

Jallar leaned back in his chair and touched his helmet briefly. "Name's Jallar."

Kai nodded seriously. "Well, my name is Kai. I do thank you for taking the trouble to get me back to my home."

Roden waved his hand. "Aw, it's nothin'. Besides, we ain't done it yet. Now, if you're feelin' alright, we'd better get movin'."

Chapter III: The Order Falls[]

A giant underground warehouse...

Piles of crates line the walls, swaying slightly in a cold draft... A single guard paces the floor...

Suddenly, the guard starts. He shakes his head as if waking from a dream, and stares wonderingly at the warhammer held at his side. His mind is suddenly free of the fog that had clutched it...

* * *

A blue-lit healing chamber...

A healer examines the bolt on the heavy door. The metal has been completely dissolved by some deadly poison...

The healer's glowing eyes suddenly brighten and she blinks in surprise, as her memories and personality return...

She suddenly turns away from the damaged door and walks quickly through the shadowy hallways, her stride filled with purpose.

* * *

All over the headquarters of the Order of Rahara, this scene is repeated. The beings and the locations are different, but the result is the same: every one of Tritax's victims is suddenly free from the control of stolen technology.

Memories return, a fog is lifted, and the Order falls!

But remember this: A crippled snake can still strike, and its strike is still lethal...

* * *

The Matoran called Kai hurried through stone passageways, attempting to keep up with Roden's long, easy stride. Behind her was the quiet, solomn Agori called Priduk, on her left was the cheerful Ice Agori medic named Zora, and on her right side was the mysterious Jallar. It was a simple, yet effective, defensive position: the warriors on all sides, and the vulnerable part of the group in the center.

As Kai trotted along, she wondered at the ease with which the three Agori and their Bone Hunter leader worked together. The Ga-Matoran was very young, perhaps less than a year, and was inexperienced in the ways of a world that was not hers, yet she felt keenly the subtle bond that was slowly forming between the four warriors. It was a bond that was to be tested much in the coming centuries, but it was the kind of bond that grows stronger during trial.

It was the kind of bond that the Matoran call Unity.

Roden turned a corner, and Kai gasped in amazement.

Stretched out before her was a giant chamber of such proportions, such absolute magnitude, that she felt positively tiny in comparison. Rows and rows of enormous crates loomed overhead, and dozens of torches mounted on the walls struggled to overpower the shadows that filled the chamber. At the opposite end of the great room was a massive door, though it was unlike any other door Kai had seen. In front of this beautifully-engraved door were dozens of Agori and Glatorian loading boxes and tools onto some of the many Thornatus, Cendox, and other, less common, vehicles. A tall, gold-and-blue Glatorian was standing near the door and appeared to be directing the chattering workers.

Kai drew back, frightened by the hordes of busy villagers and the tall warriors, but Roden patted her on the shoulder and tried to make his voice soothing, something he very rarely did.

"It's all right," he said. "They're all rescued, like you. I assume they're gettin' ready to leave."

Kai's voice was nervous. "You're sure?"

"Oh, yes. Very sure."

"Oh. Are we going to leave, too?"

"Yep, as soon as I find us a vehicle to use. You an' Jallar wait here. Zora, Priduk, go find us some food an' water." The Bone Hunter disappeared into the bustling crowd, as did Zora and Priduk.

Kai turned to the silent Agori beside her. "They'll be back, won't they?"

"Course they will. You stop worrying. Now, I'm gonna take me a little nap."

Jallar eased his aching body onto the cold floor, and was asleep within seconds.

Kai looked at him for a moment, wishing he had stayed awake. She glanced nervously around her. Although the hustle and bustle of the busy villagers helped to lift her spirits, she was still a Ga-Matoran, and Ga-Matoran are sensitive. Kai was vividly aware of the shadows that crept around the edges of the warehouse, and they seemed to mock her.

Do you really think you are safe? You cannot escape us, they seemed to say, no matter how hard you try, no matter how many friends you have to help you...

But, but good will always defeat evil, thought Kai desperately, I have Zora, and Priduk, and Jallar, and also Roden! They will keep me safe, and get me home, I know it.

The shadows started to whisper again, but Kai turned her back on the unpleasant daydream.

Chapter IV: A Hunter's Honor[]

Several minutes later, Roden returned, along with Zora and Priduk. Priduk's pack was bulging with lumpy objects, and Zora was carrying several large canteens.

Jallar woke at their arrival, and his eyes found Roden.

"Did you get us some vehicles?" he asked.

"Yep. One Thornatus and somethin' called a Cendox. The guy I got it from said the Fire Tribe uses 'em." Roden smiled. "Priduk says he gets to drive the Cendox, and I ain't arguin' with him, 'cause he looks like he'd bite my head off if he don't get to!"

Priduk grinned excitedly. "I've always wanted to try driving a Cendox," he said happily, "But the Fire Tribe doesn't let just anybody into their Cendox unit. I wonder if it's hard... Well, even if it is, I bet I can figure it out!"

Roden helped Jallar to his feet, and the five threaded their way through the bustling crowd. The Ga-Matoran drew many curious glances, and some villagers seemed about to speak, but at sight of the black-armored Bone Hunter, the glances turned cold.

Jallar had philosophically accepted Roden for what he was, and Priduk and Zora had agreed to follow the orders of an experienced warrior in a quest for the right. Zora had wondered at the motives behind a Bone Hunter's sudden decision to right a wrong, but she was not the kind to judge by appearances. Kai, of course, did not know what the Bone Hunters were, and knew even less of their deeds. Not so the villagers that had noticed Roden. They knew about Bone Hunters, all right, or thought they did.

Roden felt the wave of hard glances, and clutched his blade tightly. He something of the nature of mobs, and knew that even a Bone Hunter with friends could not hope to stand against one.

The small group had nearly reached the long line of vehicles parked in front of the giant door when a short, hulking Sand Tribe warrior shoved his way through the crowd.

"Jus' a minute, Bone Hunter," he snarled. "I don' like Bone Hunters, an' I don' like you. Now you jus' stick around a minute, an' get what's comin' to yu."

Roden's voice was very calm. "I am leavin', and I don't want trouble. Please move."

The warrior chuckled, very sure of himself. "Oh, no you ain't, Bone Hunter. Maybe you don' want trouble, but ah do, an' ah'm gonna give you some."

Roden stood very still. He could feel something dark and vicious inside him struggling to get free, and the feeling was not a new one. Roden knew that the only way out was to fight, but he did not want to.

"C'mon, Bone Hunter," jeered the warrior, "Scared, eh? You're righ' ta be scared. Ah'll- UNGH!"

Roden slammed his fist into the warrior's chin, taking him by surprise. The warrior grunted, and absorbed the blow, then threw a hard left that clipped Roden's blade, sending it spinning out of his grasp. Roden let it fall, and looped a right to the warrior's stomach. The warrior grunted in pain, and circled warily, searching for an opening.

Roden's eyes gleamed with a dark, dancing madness as he threw a quick left that missed, and a right that didn't. The warrior growled in frustration, but he had enough strength to take punishment as well as give it. He flipped a feinting left hook, then caught Roden on the side of the head with an amazingly fast right that sent the Bone Hunter to the ground.

Roden slammed onto the cold stone and blacked out briefly. He came to almost immediately, but he was suddenly aware of the weakness in his frame. He had not eaten since before the the second battle with the Skopio, and it was showing.

He staggered to his feet, and met the waiting warrior with a stiff left to the chest. The warrior took the blow, and sent one of his own. Roden ducked, suddenly realizing that he might lose this fight. He had more skill and speed than the warrior, but could not hope to match him in sheer strength.

The warrior sensed that Roden was weakening, and pressed forward, his eyes gleaming with anticipation. Roden tried to match him, but a hard right caught him on his carved black helmet, and he sank into a crouch.

"Gotcha now, Bone Hunter!" panted the warrior in triumph. He very deliberately aimed a kick at Roden's head, but with the speed of a striking snake and his last reserves of energy, Roden caught his leg and flipped the warrior into the ground. The warrior hit hard, and Roden was instantly on him, sending three quick punches into his chin.

The warrior lay very still. Roden stood swaying in the dim light, listening to his own body gasping for breath, and the hostile mutter of the villagers around him. He was conscious of the muttering growing louder, and then the angry villagers surged forwards.

An angry snapping noise rent the air, and the crowd stopped.

Jallar was standing beside Roden, one hand on his blade and the other clutching a loaded thornax launcher.

"One move," said Jallar coolly. "And someone dies."

No one moved.

Chapter V: Heat Waves[]

A lone bird circles high over the desert.

Far below, a dust cloud rises, and is blotted out against the great expanse of the Wastelands.

The bird's eyes catch the movement, and it circles closer, closer.

Now there are two dust clouds. They move north.

So does the bird.

Roden is aware of the bird, as is Jallar, but it is of no importance.

Kai's voice sounds strange in the blazing silence of the desert.

"The desert, it's- it's so wild, and empty! It's beautiful!"

Strange words for a Matoran of water.

Roden nods in agreement. The desert is beautiful... somewhat.

The two vehicles throb north in silence. Jallar sits at the controls of the Thornatus, his eyes half-closed against the harsh rays of Solis Magna. Behind him, Roden is perched comfortably on the rear wheel guard. His eyes are closed, but he is not asleep.

Kai and Zora sit on the side wheel guards. Kai is silent as she surveys the landscape. Zora's eyes are open, but she is lost in a pleasant daydream of- what? Only Zora knows.

Behind the Thornatus is a yellow and grey vehicle called a Cendox. Priduk is at the controls, lovingly sliding his hand over the handlebars. His eyes drift over unknown levers, and his hands want desperately to push them and see what they do.

Just below Priduk, the engine rumbles with the promise of speed and power. In front of him, the thornax launcher gleams in the sun. Behind and below him, the rear track bites smoothly into the sand.

One of Priduk's fondest dreams is being fulfilled.

* * *

Tritax paced back and forth in his throne chamber. His thoughts were dark ones.

My army is gone. My power, my hopes, gone. All to my own carelessness and that cursed Bone Hunter! I should have killed him when I had the chance!

Tritax stopped pacing, and his green eyes burned with acidic fire.

All I have left is revenge. And this time, it is sure to succeed.

Tritax walked to his throne and pressed a button mounted on the armrest.

The signal traveled downwards, downwards.

In a pitch-black chamber, six pairs of eyes lit up.

They were Baterra prototypes, stolen from the Great Beings. They were identical to their successors, only they lacked the ability to shape-shift.

They were dangerous enough without it.

They unfolded themselves, their robotic eyes piercing the darkness. When all six were fully activated and ready for action, they moved through dozens of winding hallways to meet their master.

Orders were given and received.

And now, a third Thornatus purrs north. It is heavily modified for speed and power, and it gains rapidly on its target, but night falls before they get a chance to use their weapons. The Baterra prototypes do not care. Time means nothing to them, and neither does the lack of light.

They close for the kill.

Chapter VI: Evasive Action[]

Roden's voice was quiet.

"...and then we were runnin' down the hallway outside the hospital and we found you, and you know the rest."

Jallar smiled humorlessly. "And I know the rest." He shifted in his seat, and winced as his aching body protested.

Zora had been listening quietly to Roden, saying little, but occasionally adding something for the benefit of Kai. Now the Ice Agori spoke.

"Roden," she said slowly, "why are you doing this? You're a Bone Hunter, but here you are, heading north on a Thornatus with three Agori, a pile of expensive weapons, and you're trying to return a kidnapped Matoran to the Great Beings! I mean, if I were a Bone Hunter I'd just steal the vehicles, weapons, get rid of the Matoran, capture the Agori to sell for slaves, and none of us would have a chance at stopping you!"

Zora stopped, frightened. There was silence for a moment, then Jallar spoke into the darkness.

"None of us would have a chance at stopping Roden?" he said dryly. "Where'd you get that idea?"

Zora flushed a little, but kept on. "I've seen Roden fight," she said. "I'm good, but I'm not anywhere near Roden's class. Priduk's all right, but he'd just freeze up as soon as he knew who he had to fight. Jallar could probably smash him up some, but he's wounded. Kai doesn't know the first thing about combat-"

Roden's voice cut the air.

"Zora, I don't blame you for being suspicious."

"I'm not-"

"Yes, at heart, you are. A few days ago, I would have done just what you were talking about, but after I saw Tritax, I saw a glimpse of myself in him. Greedy. Power-hungry. Evil. And I didn't like it. I think that's when I began to think about what I could be, and I realized, I realized-" Roden's voice wavered, then steadied. "I wanted to do somethin' that a hero would do. An' there was the opportunity, starin' me in the face. I could be a hero, or at least try to be somethin' other than a thief and murderer."

Roden paused a moment, than continued hastily. "Now, don't get me wrong. I'm still a Bone Hunter, and I always will be. It's my species. I'm a Bone Hunter, but I'm a good Bone Hunter."

The two Agori and the Matoran pondered this, and accepted it.

Suddenly, Roden stiffened. His enhanced hearing had caught a sound that did not belong in the desert.

It was the low, steady throb of a Thornatus.

Now why, wondered Roden, would there be another vehicle behind us? No one else went north. Unless...

"Jallar!" snapped Roden. "Evasive action! Now!"

The Thornatus swerved wildly, just as the guns of the vehicle behind opened up, blasting explosive spheres into the dark night.

Jallar shoved the accelerator pedal to the floor. The Thornatus leaped ahead, its engines roaring. Behind them, Priduk opened up the Cendox and its greater acceleration blasted it past the Thornatus.

Priduk glanced over at Jallar. "Jallar! You keep on and let 'em chase you! I'll let 'em get past me an' attack from behind!"

Jallar nodded agreement, and the Thornatus disappeared into the night.

Priduk took a deep breath, and turned off the engine. He waited. A second later, a large Thornatus flashed past, guns blazing.

Priduk started the engine and began the hunt.

* * *

Jallar maneuvered the Thornatus skillfully, anticipating and evading another round of explosive spheres. He had been specially trained by the Sand Tribe in the handling of vehicles, and the Thornatus moved almost as part of his body.

In the vehicle behind him, the Baterra were dealing with a new distraction. Priduk had appeared out of nowhere and scored a direct hit with an explosive thornax, destroying one Baterra and crippling another. The Baterra driving the Thornatus spun his vehicle in a tight, sliding circle, trying to bring his guns to bear on the hurtling Cendox, but Priduk easily evaded the heavier machine, exploding another Baterra in the process.

"Two down, four to go." he muttered under his breath.

The Baterra driver suddenly moved his Thornatus sideways, trying to crush the Cendox using his vehicle's superior weight.

Priduk shoved the accelerator wide open, trying to get ahead of the Thornatus before it hit him.

It was not a well thought out move, but then, every being makes mistakes. Only some are more fatal than others.

Priduk saw the Thornatus looming towards him, and then a horrible sound of ripping metal pierced into his senses. He leaped clear of the wreck, and it was this that saved his life.

The desert reached up to catch him.

Part IV[]

Chapter I: Twisted Steel[]

Priduk spate sand out of his mouth, and pushed himself to his feet. The Baterra's Thornatus had disappeared into the desert, but he could still hear the throb of engines.

He walked slowly over to the twisted Cendox and examined it. The handlebars were bent, and jagged pieces of metal were scattered around it, but the engine and the other vital parts were still intact.

Priduk tipped the yellow Cendox back upright, and bent the handlebars into their proper position. When he had done this, he mounted the Cendox and started the engine.

The Cendox ran, barely, but it was enough.

* * *

Jallar swerved violently, spinning his vehicle in a tight circle. Zora grabbed Kai's hand to keep from being thrown off, and Roden jammed a thornax into the thornax launcher in front of him.

The maneuver brought the two Thornatus side by side. Roden twisted the thornax launcher around and fired at the driver of the Baterra's vehicle, then ducked to avoid a throwing knife that flashed past his head. When he looked back at the enemy Thornatus, he saw that his aim had been true. The Baterra lay limp in the cockpit, his mechanical hand sprawled over the controls.

The driverless Thornatus swerved at high speed and rolled over. The three remaining Baterra leaped out of their craft and began throwing knives at the rapidly moving Thornatus.

Zora ducked a spinning blade, and clanked fists with Kai. Roden punched the air in a most undignified manner, then stopped.

Jallar's foot was on the brake, and the Thornatus was slowing to a halt.

"What are you doing?" cried Zora.

"I'm going back to finish the job," growled Jallar. "They wanted a fight, and they can have one."

He turned off the engine, and clambered to the ground. Roden slid down beside him, and the two started for the Baterra.

Zora watched them in shock. She shook her head slowly.

"They're both fools." she muttered. Then she jumped to the ground and ran to catch up.

The Baterra were waiting, their mechanical eyes gleaming in anticipation, and their minds coolly calculating the strengths and weaknesses of each opponent.

The Baterra moved forward to meet their foes.

Chapter II: Acid and Sparks[]

Roden slammed his blade into steel. Sparks lit the dark night, but the Baterra didn't even slow down. Roden was panting, badly out of breath, but the Baterra were tireless. Roden smashed his left fist into the Baterra's face, and twisted to avoid a blade that missed his chest by the smallest of margins.

Roden suddenly dropped into a crouch and flipped the Baterra over his head. The Baterra rolled itself to its feet, and hurled a throwing knife as it did so. Roden jumped backwards to avoid the unexpected attack, and the blade snicked into the sand at his feet. The Bone Hunter had only a few moments of breathing time, and then the robot was on him again, attacking savagely.

Jallar was trading blows with the crippled Baterra. The Baterra was well aware of the acid on its opponent's blade, and he was using his throwing knives as much as possible.

Jallar spun, deflecting a shining blade, and kicked the robot in the leg, sending it to the ground. Jallar leaped forward and as the Baterra rose to its feet, he sliced off its left arm, acid hissing angrily as it dissolved steel.

The Baterra staggered, and Jallar removed its head.

The Baterra fell to the sand, and Jallar stood looking at the sparks that danced across its body.

A robotic growl of triumph made Jallar turn quickly.

Zora was lying sprawled on the ground, her blade lying a few feet away. The third Baterra stood over her, preparing to deal a killing blow.

Roden dispatched his opponent with a blow to the head, and turned to go to Zora's aid, but he knew it was hopeless. Both he and Jallar were too far away to do anything but watch.

The growl of a Cendox sounded in the stillness.

The moment seemed to stretch on for hours, but it happened almost immediately.

The Baterra looked up to see the Cendox bearing down upon it, and Zora took advantage of the moment to roll out of the vehicle's path. Priduk saw her move, and shoved the accelerator wide open.

In its last moments, the Baterra tried to flee, but the vehicle struck it moving flat out. Sparks shot from under the Cendox's front skids, and the sound of smashing metal echoed into the night.

The Baterra lay still, a twisted, shapeless bulk. The Cendox slowed to a halt, and Priduk dismounted slowly. His face was smudged with dust, and he glanced around wearily.

"That's all, then?" he asked suddenly.

Roden nodded silently. Jallar flipped the switch on his blade and returned it to its scabbard.

Zora climbed to her feet, and picked up her sword. Then she turned to Priduk.

"Thanks." she said quietly. That was all, but it was enough.

Priduk smiled suddenly, and climbed back onto the yellow Cendox.

"Get that crate movin', Jallar," he cried. "We got things to do!"

In the middle of the Wastelands, there is a Thornatus. It will be buried under centuries of sand, but if you look, it is there. It is a relic of a by-gone order, a symbol of evil defeated, shadow destroyed, a symbol of the survival of right.

Or perhaps it is just a rusting Thornatus, buried in the sand of centuries.

Chapter III: Far North[]

Angonce thoughtfully studied the piece of protodermis that lay on the table in front of him. It was a mechanical joint specially crafted and designed for a particular being called a Toa. It was to be Helryxa Toa of water]], agile and quick, and the joint had to be just so.

Angonce picked up the piece and moved it, testing its flexibility. He nodded in approval. It was good, one of his better creations.

A section of the wall in front of him suddenly began to glow. Angonce leaned forward, intently studying the screen. It showed a section of the narrow road leading to the gates of the Great Beings' fortress.

A Thornatus and a battered Cendox pulled up to the gates and stopped. The occupants of the vehicles climbed out and walked up to the great fortress.

Angonce's long finger caressed the screen. It shifted instantly to a close-up view of the five dusty, trail-worn figures.

A Bone Hunter. Rather dangerous looking, noted Angonce. He appears to be the leader of the group, judging by appearances. Carries a sword, but no other visible weapons.

A Sand Tribe Agori. Walks as if recently injured. Rather odd helmet. Carries a sword.

A tall Fire Agori. Rather young, seems nervous. Carries a double-bladed axe and thornax launcher.

A pretty Ice Agori. Carries an ice blade. Walks quickly, and with a confident air.

A Ga-Matoran. Wears a Kanohi Kakama, seems- What?! A Ga-Matoran?

Angonce looked closer. It was a Ga-Matoran, all right.

Now what, he wondered, would a Ga-Matoran be doing here? We've been missing a Ga-Matoran, it is true, but we assumed she had been killed and carried off by an animal. Well. I must go and see what they are doing here.

His tall, lean form moved silently towards the door.

* * *

The light from a single dying candle flickered over Roden's black helmet as he related the events of the past few days to a silent Angonce and another Great Being, name of Heremus.

The Great Beings said little, though they nodded from time to time. They sat well back in the deep shadows, their faces hidden, their dark eyes moving from Roden to the Ga-Matoran beside him.

When the Bone Hunter had finished, Angonce stirred slightly. "And you say there were strange glowing stones in the Skrall's base?"

Roden nodded.

"Describe them." said Angonce.

Roden did, to the best of his ability.

Angonce nodded again. "You describe one of our creations." he said quietly. "They are called lightstones. I assume Tritax's agents stole them as well as Kai."

Heremus leaned forward. "Speaking of which, we must thank you. You and your comrades have suffered much, and Kai is in your debt, but her debt is ours, and I beg you to treat it as such."

The idea of having the Great Beings in his debt was a strange one, and Roden said nothing.

Heremus continued. "I invite you and your friends to spend several days here, to rest and heal. You accept, I hope?"

Roden nodded awkwardly.

"Good." Heremus stood up. "And now, I must really be going. Angonce?"


"Will you please show the Agori to their quarters? I will return Kai to work after she has said her good-byes."

Angonce nodded and got to his feet, as did Roden and Kai. The Great Beings accompanied them to the door.

Outside, Priduk, Jallar, and Zora were waiting. Kai waved to them, shook hands with Roden, and then turned and headed down the hall after Heremus. She turned a corner and vanished out of their sight.

The three Agori and the Bone Hunter looked at each other. All were battered and weary, but there was pride, and a bit of relief, too.

Their journey was at an end, and the mission was finished.

Chapter IV: Reach for the Stars[]

Days passed, but the four remained at the Great Being's fortress. They had not considered what they would do after returning Kai, but they found that they were rather tired of war, which was all they had to return to.

On the sixth day after the completion of the rescue, all three Agori and the Bone Hunter were talking about this.

"Well," said Jallar. "If Roden don't mind, I'll trail with him. I've got no tribe or friends except for you three, and even a lone wolf gets lonesome from time to time."

Roden smiled. "I'll be glad for the company, but I've been thinkin' that I'll leave the Bone Hunters for a while and see the world. The Bone Hunters won't miss me too much, and I'm gettin' a bit tired of fightin'."

"It's the same with me," said Zora eagerly. "But I was thinking, well, you remember that giant robot that Angonce showed us yesterday? Well, you remember he said that something horrible was going to happen to Spherus Magna, and that the robot was going to explore the stars, and then return to Spherus Magna and heal it. I was thinking that it would maybe be nice to go along with it. We could explore the world inside of the robot, and when it came back to Spherus Magna, we could get off."

Priduk's jaw dropped, but his eyes were filled with admiration. "You're joking, right?" he gasped. "You're not seriously suggesting that we- Wow!"

Zora shrugged. "It's just an idea."

"It's a good idea." said Roden. "Crazy, but good. And you know, the Great Beings are in our debt, so they'd have to let us go, if we really want to."

"I want to!" said Priduk.

* * *

The four discussed the idea for a long time, for it meant spending a large portion of their lives away from their home planet, but in the end, they decided to go.

So thus it was, when the Great Spirit Robot hurtled through space away from Spherus Magna, three Agori and a Bone Hunter were in it, huddled around a campfire on a wild Southern Island.

Roden threw a few sticks onto the fire, which flared up, illuminating a yellow Cendox parked near the edge of the circle of light. Priduk had insisted on bringing it, and the Great Beings had allowed him to.

The hoarse roar of some unknown predator broke the silence. It echoed ominously around the surrounding mountains before finally fading away, leaving a deathly stillness behind it.

"Well," said Roden quietly. "Here we are."

To be continued in Law of the Jungle...



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