Cast Of Characters:

  • Ishi Polzin: played by Kughii
  • Rorg: played by Eyru
  • Echelon: played by Ghosthands
  • Karnakie: played by Otter
  • Eisen: played by Krayzikk
  • Kohra: played by Vezok's Friend
  • Agrona: played by Snoip Lion
  • Greisk: played by Norik

Chapter 12: Antidermis

IC: Rorg

Ko-Wahi is cold. This environment is not conducive to the proper functioning of my primary weapon; I must take additional care to maintain it and preserve its use for when I shall have need of it. My employment under Echelon will surely demand it, and I am nothing if not a professional. I promised my services, and shall provide as stipulated, else my reputation would pay.

That would be, in a word, unacceptable.

IC (Echelon) To the blindfolded Ishi, the journey to Echelon's base of operations likely felt like an eternity of walking. At times, he was lifted and carried (none too gently) by the larger members of the group, but with no indication as to why. Perhaps it was simply to insure against the possibility that the Matoran had exceptional muscle memory. He would still have some clues as to the general environs, though: the stale air of the tunnels grew steadily colder, and the ground wetter underfoot. The chill slipperiness of ice was unmistakable as they continued. At one point, he could discern the crunch of snow underfoot and the howl of wind above, though both were answered by a brittle echo and the breeze on his skin, though icy, was too weak for the Drifts. Perhaps they were following the floor of some chasm or crevasse, with walls of ice on either side? When they eventually stopped, the sounds of wind above had long since been smothered, replaced with an eery stillness. Meltwater dripped and trickled. Rarely (but still too often for comfort) a deep, booming crack of shifting ice resounded around them. Standing in wait, Ishi heard an unfamiliar voice conversing briefly with Echelon, though he could not make out the words. Metal scraped against metal, and they moved forward down what felt like a corridor. The scraping noise came once again, and then Ishi felt Kohra's clawed hands untying his blindfold. Once his eyes became re-accustomed to the light, he found himself in a hexagonal chamber, a good few bio in diameter. The walls were made of smooth burnished-looking silver metal; slab-like metal doors, with no visible handle or keyhole, were set into each one. Lightstones in metal brackets illuminated the room. Echelon and his associates stood around him (with Greisk on the floor nearby) along with an eighth being he did not recognise: a male Vortixx in a white cloak, whose sharp features were visible beneath the hood. This newcomer was eyeing the six dark beings warily. "You're making an unhealthy habit of seeking me out on other people's instruction, Zadron," the Necromancer said. Zadron's grimace made it clear there was no love lost. "I take no pleasure from it," he retorted. "You're a sought-after man, whether you like it or not. At least this time they paid me to talk to you rather than kill you." "Fortunately for you," Echelon replied, with an icy smile.

IC I, on the other hand, am paid to kill, not to talk. Should this Zadron make an unintelligent move, he will find that it was money well spent.

IC: (Past, Kini-Nui) As Echelon gave the command to remove the Kraata - tossing in a rather poor joke about finding me Matoran to play with as well - I nearly sighed. I'd almost decided to name the Kraata, but, alas, it was never meant to be my pet. Even I had known that, however, as I'd moreso been planning to use it as a weapon, and weapons could always be replaced. So, instead, I shrugged, and stopped petting the Kraata. "As you wish," I said, with as conversational a tone as I might ever use, and just as the Kraata began to hiss in annoyance I crushed it in one clawed hand, cutting its hissing and squealing brutally short. I didn't even glance at the pulp that was left in my hand - nor at the small gobbets of flesh and liquid that had accidentally landed upon the mask of our little Akhmou impersonator. Perhaps I had squeezed too hard. Indifferently, I tossed what was left of the Kraata to where my Kane-Ra lay watching, letting it eat the morsel and lick the blood from my fingers - wet, bloody hands were useless if one needed to maintain their grip on something, after all, and saliva wouldn't stain anything like blood would. --- (Present, Ko-Wahi, Echelon's Lair) Soon enough we arrived at Echelon's lair, with one Vortixx present to speak with our necromancer. I wasn't aware if I had ever seen the man before or not - perhaps I had and didn't remember, perhaps I hadn't - but he certainly seemed to have a prior relationship with Echelon. And apparently he had been sent to kill Echelon in the past. It was almost surprising that he hadn't been killed for his failure, but on this island, among these peoples, things were done differently than at my home. For example, assassins were hired somewhat often here. Not so at my home. But home mattered little now, while the present mattered much, with our options for the future soon to be revealed to us. And so now I would wait, quietly, so that I could learn better what the future would hold for me.

IC: Ishi Polzin The long trek from the Vault of Mangaia and the Abettor’s Cave to the sinister scientist’s metal icebox in Ko-Wahi took a considerable amount of time. Ishi’s captors, for lack of a better word, traveled on foot through the Drifts, their feet beating a rhythmic crunch. The Hapaka wiled away the hours recalling information, running over details, and fleshing out hypotheses. His mind focused on a single overarching question with tendrils of connections branching out into the far reaches of his diverse fields of knowledge: who was Ahkmou? From the outset Ishi knew he’d picked a lie with insufficient information on the surface. His only first hand experience came from a brief encounter long ago during a trip to Po-Koro with Alarick Polzin, while Ahkmou was still a member of the Cultured Gentry and not an outcast expelled from the city walls, and from the words Ahkmou wrote in his coded journal. He couldn’t remember Ahkmou’s accent, which Echelon had made a key point of using to destroy the paper-thin facade Ishi'd pulled in Mangaia to buy minutes and seconds of life. But now he'd had hours. “Echelon,” Ishi said as his eyes finally grew accustomed to the light reflecting across the barest of metal walls. “You brought me this far for a test and I’m sure your companions are more than ready to see me exposed as a traitor. Why don’t we get whatever you have planned over with so my identity is no longer questioned. I have things to share, things you all need to hear."

IC (Kohra): "It neither matters who you are, little one, nor do you have capability to prove any of your claims." the Vortixx cut in, her voice as cold as the walls of the cave, though without malice. "What you can prove, however, is your usefulness. I would focus on doing that, if I were you. Say what you have to say or else be quiet."

IC (Echelon) Echelon turned away from Zadron at Ishi's interruption, and stared at the Po-Matoran with his usual inscrutable intensity. "Speak your piece," he said. "If this information is as valuable as you suggest, it would be wise to share now lest the test render it...unobtainable."

IC: Greisk - [Echelon's Lair] Greisk lay on the floor, hands bound, but otherwise free to move.

The Toa of Magnetism listened intently to Echelon and the Matoran's conversation.

Ugh... Greisk, what happened?

To make a long story short, I was beaten by Echelon, whose voice you can hear, and one of his associates knocked me out.

That Echelon?

Greisk merely nodded in his mind, and stayed still.

IC: Ishi Polzin "I'll say what I know, and may Makuta prove my truth in your test." Ishi stared at Echelon briefly, and then began. He couldn't hide the truth any longer. If Ishi was to be Ahkmou in the eyes of the dark toa he would truly have to become the makuta-worshipping Po-matoran businessman. The informant and his coat had to be set aside forever to insure survival. It was a dangerous moment, but all of Ishi's life had been plagued by impending death in some form or another and each time assuming a new guise had given him another breath, another month, a new friend and ally. "Before the Akiri Summit, Onu-Koro bombed Ta-Koro's monorail in a financial ploy after using a sentinel mole to steal back radio technology for the remote detonation hardware. Ta-Koro's been investigating the bombing without success for months. I got this news from an informant who encountered the mole and contacted my Kafu, goes by the alias Hapaka and seems to have gotten on the good side of several Akiri although I wager he'll be dead soon enough. However, if this secret were to be known openly what sort of mistrust could it cause among those blindly faithful to their sleeping god? In this buried plot lies the path to breaking their unity. We could create chaos, and from there sew the seeds of Makuta's power again."

IC I have never met a Matoran I could trust. Nor a Toa, for that matter. Nor a Turaga, a Skakdi, a Vortixx, a Lesterin, or any other sentient species with the ability to lie. This man has presented potentially valuable information, but remains a liability, regardless of his story's truth. And in divulging, he has removed his only safeguard.

IC: Kohra smirked slightly. "A whole plot for one monorail?"

IC: "Setting aside the series of events you describe, of which we have no proof," Eisen began, from his position against the wall. The Toa of Iron was as calm as ever, though his arms were crossed and his eyes fixed on the Matoran before them. The expression upon his face was inscrutable, leaving no clues as to his thoughts. "It proves nothing about you. You claim to be Ahkmou, and yet can produce no concrete evidence to that 'fact'. You present claims, of which we have no proof of validity." "It is my judgement, based upon your behavior since your unfortunate encounter with us, that you are not in fact Ahkmou. Not even close."

IC: Agrona Agrona sneered with an eye roll and turned away from the group, now moving over to Toros. If what the captive Matoran said was true, then the foundations of the island and the peace it held could be made weaker. The first idea that came to Agrona's mind was sending this information out in the form of rumors. It was the people that needed to be upset. Not the village leaders. But this could be made true even if the Matoran was lying. They could sew any string of rumors together like that.

She crouched next to Toros and spoke to him with a warm and sweet voice, "I'm sorry about the bounds my friend. I didn't want you to attempt escape before we properly became introduced. Sit up please," she smiled, and reached forward, cutting the ropes, "You will speak only when you are spoken to, or what you have to say is valuable enough it garners our or my attention," the Lesterin looked to his face again and lifted up her hand. In a fist that faced Toros, she bobbed it up and down, "This means 'yes', and this," she stopped bobbing and opened up her pointer finger, middle finger, and thumb before closing them together. As if grabbing a sum of rice out of the air, "Means 'no'," Agrona put her hand down and looked at the Toa expectantly, "Now you show me."

IC: Ishi Polzin He was at an impasse, stranded without a means of providing proof for his words in a mass of unimpressed killers. Eisen and Rorg, two beings who seemed to believe only in what their eyes told them, were set on eliminating him. Kohra no doubt felt the same. Agrona even walked off, so bored she needed another form of attention in the plaything she'd created in Mangaia. There was a fleeting thought, at first nondescript but growing like a tumor on his confidence with violent speed: I'm going to die here. The thought sat awkwardly with Ishi. He'd always been in situations with the threat of death, but never before had it been so great, so pervasive. It was as if he'd tied himself to the rails of the Iron Mahi, waiting for the train to arrive. For the first time in a long time fear gripped his heart. If Ambages and Caerus were the Takea sharks in deep water these villains were far darker and deadlier, aberrations lying on the ocean floor. Strangely, Ishi felt a compelling connection to them. They all held power, wielded power, and coveted power. Once Ishi'd thought he had all three, but now he knew better. He only coveted power, coveted the chaos and indecision of others caused by his spinning of yarns and secrets. Here, without enough truth to turn to plausible fiction, he no longer held or wielded power. Caerus avoided direct confrontations for good reason. Away from the front lines an informant could work slowly and carefully, and with patience build an empire of secrets. It was a shame Ishi had no patience. I'm going to die here. Something about the thought beating in sync with his heartlight brought a calm along with the tension. Death was a drink Ishi always thought he'd be willing to choke down to prove himself, but now it felt far too poisonous. Popping his neck Ishi let his mind still. I'm not going to die afraid. "You want the truth with evidence? Alright..." Ishi addressed the group as a whole. His feet slid a bit wider in stance. If he was going to die at least it would be with truth on his lips. It felt like the right thing to do after speaking lies for so long. "I'm not Ahkmou. At least, not the Ahkmou you seem to care about. I didn't start the Cultured Gentry, didn't corrupt Po-Koro with Makuta's influence, and didn't meet Echelon in Xa-Koro. My name is Hapaka, I'm the informant I spoke of. The words I told you were a lie to buy myself time, figure my way out of this situation, but now I see any falsehood is pointless. I'll only earn a bullet from Rorg." He nodded in the sniper's direction. "NEX killed Ahkmou, or at least an assassin parading themselves as NEX did. His murder occurred a few days after Ambages visited his ex-chairman and I have reason to believe the Architect may have had a heavy hand in that. I learned this from Ahkmou's journal, given to me by Akiri Hewkii after I'd won his trust burying the monorail secret away. Kohra, you seemed surprised it had such a large plot for such a small outcome. There's more to the story, but making it brief Nuparu and Hewkii struck a deal: Nuparu'd build the Iron-Mahi and perform some additional tasks if Ta-Koro's monorail became inoperable and needed repairs by trained workers from Onu-koro. The story I previously told is a fabrication I've sold to a few rare individuals to slowly turn the island's leaders against the technological powerhouse of Onu-Koro. As for Ahkmou's journal, it wasn't hard to crack the code once I'd figured out a clue. Echelon, I used it to piece together Ahkmou's meeting with you in Xa-Koro. Agrona, when I said it was Ahkmou's journal and my journal I didn't need to lie because both were true. In a way, as I'm the only one who can read his writings and dig into his secrets, I've become the matoran as well in more than name. There's the Kufa to think about, a subject I've given little time to in my travels but would need to address or disband in the future." How much more was he willing to say? When they kill me, at least the game will continue. "I'm Hapaka and Ahkmou. I learn things from my life in the shadows, and spread discord by my dealings in the light. I've never really worshipped a deity, but I'm not an atheist like Ambages with his master plans or some Mata-Nui worshipping brakas with a mission to wake my god. I like Mata-Nui asleep, if he even exists. His sleep keeps chaos churning, and I like chaos. So, Echelon, there's your truth with evidence. If after that you think a test by your god is worthwhile, I say let's get it over with. I wouldn't mind being chosen to keep living by the god of the shadows, He knows I've certainly been living in them for a long time."

IC This still solves nothing. I am not impatient, however: I will listen to this Matoran's stories for as long as Echelon requires. Truth or lie; it does not make a difference to me. Both the honest man and the liar are destined to die.

IC (Echelon) I smile. The extraction of information brings with it a thrill, like the vampire with his feast of blood: I have taken another's knowledge - his power - and made it mine. His facade is dropped, the paper-thin guise torn, and the cowering charlatan revealed. They all break in the end. The Hapaka's breaking is all the more satisfying for how little effort had been necessary to bring it about - fear alone has been sufficient. Torture can be very time-consuming. "This information is most interesting," I say, "and it will be most useful. But the test still remains." IC (Zadron) Zadron listened to the information dealer's words with interest - particularly over the mention of NEX. It had been a long time since he'd last had contact with the organisation.

IC: Greisk Cyrena was silent as Greisk broke the news.

"So your mouth is... Sealed?"

"You're acting more calmly than I expected. I, well, I panicked when I found out."

"Well, as a mask, I don't really think my chances of communication with others, namely you, would be impeded by a sealed mouth, so I'm not getting any fear from this.

"Besides, I don't think me freaking out would help you in any way."

The Fa-Toa couldn't argue wih that logic, and was grateful for Cyrena's little bit of thoughtfulness.

Greisk turned his attention back to Agrona. He repeated the motions exactly.

"You know, you could have done another hand motion, one considerably more crude and insulting."

"No thank you. Angering a manic body-disfigurator is not high on my list of things I wish to do."

IC: Ishi Polzin "Then what's your test?" Ishi asked.

IC (Echelon) Echelon gestured to one of the doors. A hollow metallic sound resonated from within it, and it slid open. "After you."

IC I do not know what to predict. Patterns run farther than most eyes can see, and Echelon's sight is often sharper than mine, especially under his own roof. I will stay on guard.

IC: Ishi Polzin "After you." Echelon's words echoed in the metallic room, bounding down the hallway revealed behind the door. Ishi clenched his fists twice, letting his fingers wiggle out the anticipation of death. Rationality screamed 'it's a trap' in his mind, but by this point traps had become meaningless: he was in a metal cage already. Ishi's first few steps echoed as the necromancer's words had, until the constant reverberating sound of motion filled the room like waves overlapping on the surf. At the doorway Ishi peered into the darkness. The lightstones of the current room illuminated little of the hallway. A murky blackness seemed to swirl and dance out of the light's reach, laughing at Ishi for his eventual demise that, like a mahi, he walked blindly toward. I am no mahi, Ishi thought to himself. I'm a hapaka, and when I get the scent I follow it 'til the end. The po-matoran stepped into the awaiting darkness. lightstones flickered awake at his presence, revealing the straight and narrow to a large metal door without handle or keyhole. As he walked forward his heartlight pounded in his chest. Behind, Ishi heard the sound of the others closing in. At the door he stopped, unable to go further.

IC: Agrona

"Good," Agrona nodded curtly, "Your form is gaudy, but you'll grow into it," she sat down across from Toros, hands on her knife of bone.

She paused, just taking a moment to read into Toros' eyes. She felt no pity. She felt no regret for taking Toros from his previous life and into hers. There was danger ahead for herself and her companions, and now this Toa she promptly plucked from the rest of the world would have to experience that same danger. But the growing pains of power called, and nobody was exempt from it. It would exchange hands soon. Blood would spill.

Her brow furrowed as she contemplated a question, "Are you afraid?" Agrona asked, "Answer honestly."

IC: Greisk/Cyrena

"Say no. Wait, then she'll do something horryfying to scare us. But saying yes would-"

"-Hush now." Greisk thought.

The Toa of Magnetism extended the three fingers, then gestured to his surroundings.

He hesitated for another second. He finally decided to close his fingers into a fist and gestured to Echelon and Agrona.

IC: Agrona

Agrona nodded, "I understand," she shifted to a more comfortable position, "You are afraid of Echelon and I." Agrona and Toros looked up at Echelon to see him gesture to the Hapaka's test.

"After you."

She turned back to Toros, slender face as warm as a summers day, "You have some cause for fear, Toros." Agrona paused for a moment, "But so long as you obey my command, not I nor the other members of our party will harm you. Do you understand?"

Greisk bobbed his fist.

Any ideas on escape?

Collaborate with them. They're more powerful than us. We can't afford to antagonise them.

IC: Agrona

"Good. Then we are agreed."

Agrona moved to sit cross legged, glancing at Rorg who shared a look of complete and utter indifference. She turned back to Toros and made a flat palm and put up her finger. The finger quickly passed the palm and became two fingers, 'Agrona.'

"My name is Agrona."

She signed again, 'Agrona'

Agrona put two fists together bound at the wrists and gave them a shake, 'Toros'

"Your name is Toros."

And once more Agrona signed, 'Toros'

IC (Echelon) As before, the two slabs of the metal door parted, sliding left and right into the walls. The room beyond was unmistakably a laboratory. Entering, Ishi saw vats of liquid, racks of vials, and many worktables bearing strange devices of metal and glass. A spindly, spider-like apparatus, covered in lenses; an alembic above a heatstone, bubbling with what looked like tar but was the colour of blood; a glass tank attached to several white tubes, about half a metre in diameter, its contents obscured by a frosting of ice on the inside of the glass (but the hazy outline of the object within was about the size and shape of a Toa's head). A metal chair sat in the middle of the nearest space of open floor. It was blocky and solid-looking, with the back extending all the way up past where its occupant's head would rest. Echelon walked in behind him, detaching his staff from his back and leaning it against the wall. He indicated the chair with one hand. "Sit down."

IC: Greisk/Cyrena

Is she subtly telling us that you're a bound prisoner and she's a... Duplicating finger?

Your ingenuity astounds me.

Greisk nodded to Agrona and repeated the motions perfectly.

IC: Ishi Polzin As the doors opened Ishi beheld the magnificence of the necromancer's aberrant laboratory. Revulsion and wonder intermingled as he gazed at the instruments of fiendish study. The beakers and boilers, the alembic and bunsen burners, all of the items begged for inspection from the informant. Instead, he sat down, eyes facing the doorway until Echelon swooped down and stole Ishi's gaze. "Alright," Ishi said with determination. "What's next?"

IC: Agrona "Very good."

Agrona stood up, "We'll do more later. We'll have to start basic and work up to more complex words and phrases."

IC (Echelon) Echelon replied with a wave of his hand, accompanied by a brief flare of shadows around it as shackles sprang out of the arms and base of the chair, clamping down all four of Ishi's limbs. He walked to one of the nearby worktops, on which a cylindrical object sat covered by a black cloth, which he removed, revealing a jar in which something greenish-black swirled. The Dark Toa's supply of Antidermis was running low - the jar was about seven-eighths empty. Echelon knew that by using it to test the Matoran, he might well be wasting the precious substance—but that was a risk he was willing to take. Picking up a syringe, he extracted all but the last drops of Antidermis from the jar. He held it briefly up to his face, staring at the distilled evil as he gave the needle a flick of his finger. He returned to the Matoran's side, and pulled up the left sleeve of the Matoran's coat to bare the forearm beneath. "The test will be excruciatingly painful," he stated calmly. "And that is assuming you pass. Should you fail, the excruciating pain will be shortly followed by death. "Do you like your odds, Hapaka?"

IC Ishi Polzin Ishi stared at the syringe hovering above his exposed forearm. The ambient light caught on the metal needle, refracting in tiny lines, oblivious to the darkness contained within the crystal vessel. He was anxious. A strange heat flowed from the green liquid as it came close to his skin, and Ishi was at first afraid; but the longer the needle remained poised to inject the more the po-matoran felt a certain affinity with the green substance. Somewhere in the back of his mind Ishi even longed for it to invade his system, to experience the effects for ill or evil. Ishi had an awkward faith in the antidermis and what it offered: a future, dark and dangerous. He liked the idea. "I've always been one for bets of all or nothing." Ishi replied.

IC Ishi Polzin Ishi stared at the syringe hovering above his exposed forearm. The ambient light caught on the metal needle, refracting in tiny lines, oblivious to the darkness contained within the crystal vessel. He was anxious. A strange heat flowed from the green liquid as it came close to his skin, and Ishi was at first afraid; but the longer the needle remained poised to inject the more the po-matoran felt a certain affinity with the green substance. Somewhere in the back of his mind Ishi even longed for it to invade his system, to experience the effects for ill or evil. Ishi had an awkward faith in the antidermis and what it offered: a future, dark and dangerous. He liked the idea. "I've always been one for bets of all or nothing." Ishi replied.

IC (Echelon) Echelon wasted no further time on words. With a swift jab, the syringe's needle punctured into the Matoran's arm. Slowly, the Dark Toa's thumb pressed down on the plunger and the Antidermis began to seep into Ishi's bloodstream.

IC: Ishi Polzin As the needle pierced endodermis Ishi clenched his forearm and jaw, biting his tongue on accident. The taste of his own blood was metallic and sweet and it slid like oil down his throat. The antidermis entered his bloodstream like fire on a dry mountainside, burning its way up his arm and toward his heart-light with a vengeance. “More... give me more.” Ishi growled with a heavy slur. Almost immediately his vision doubled, tripled, and grew out of control. Echelon and the others became translucent specters, an indistinct wraith along with the rest of his laboratory. From the corners of the room a darkness approached, and Ishi felt himself vomiting and shaking under his restraints. The darkness brought indiscriminate and absolute pain. Ishi froze and burned, exploded and imploded. He felt endodermis peeling from his fingers; and when he found the control to look, saw the tips were raw and fleshless, crumbling like hot coals surrounded by green fire. His screams echoed throughout Echelon’s glacial fortress, full of anguish and torment. Only echoes lived in the darkness enclosing Ishi. It echoed back his terror of the unknown, his worthlessness, his unbridled fear of being unimportant. It was chaos, and it was Kharzani. The torture could have lasted for a second or a year; the pain overrode any sense of time or place, or even self. Finally, above his own screams and tears came the sound of another voice. It ate up his screams greedily and grew more in volume, consuming his voiced pain and fear until Ishi could hear the mantra out of the surrounding dark. More… More… More... More.. The words grew faster quickly replaced the beating of his heart-light. It became a feverish chant. Ishi coughed and spluttered and ceased to breath, foam forming at the mouth. His body twisted under its metal restraints, but his soul broke free and went to the darkness. His fingers kept burning and peeling away, knuckle by knuckle. The pain increased until colors burst from black and with a rush Ishi’s vision returned. — Ishi Polzin was not in Echelon’s laboratory. He stood walled in on two sides by bookshelves so tall he couldn’t see the sky. A green mist floated in the air, and he felt his endodermis prickle on end at the eeriness of it all. Realizing he could move, Ishi cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted; Hello? His voice echoed into the unknown without answer. Time passed and Ishi began to explore. He first went to the shelves and found the tablets immovable. Next, he stared into the gloomy hallway in either direction and then began walking. Each step was slow, as if moving through thick mud, but the shelves flew past in a blur. Suddenly the shelves gave way to a large room with four pillars shaped like matoran rising to the second level. Two of the matoran he already knew: Caerus and Ambages. The other two were, as before, unfinished. A dark figure sat on the grand staircase at the room’s far side. From their size Ishi deduced it was a matoran, the first he'd ever seen in this particular room besides himself. As Ishi came closer the being lifted its head and everything became clear. Two pairs of mismatched eyes stared at each other. This is my mind palace, Ishi said. And this is the room of the Peers. Why am I seeing this? Why am I seeing you? The other Ishi laughed on the stairwell, stopped flipping a coin, returned it to a pocket within the folds of an exquisite coat, and stood. You see what I want to see, matoran. These are faces of those who oppose me… Yours is not among them. You’re Makuta. Ishi stated, stepping forward toward his counterpart. The sound of his footsteps echoed loudly through the room. The Ishi on the stairs looked down on him with a smirk. He was black and gray of color, and without physical flaw. His fingers danced with a foggy incoherence, at once finite forms and shadowy outlines. He spoke as he walked down the stairs. 'I am; and I am the darkness inside you and in every other who walks this land. Some many think they are without darkness, what folly. Shadow is everywhere, and I am Shadow. I have explored all there is about your body and mind already, weighed your spirit through trials, searched your measly past for anything of value while you jittered and spluttered in pain— there’s more than meets the eye to you, little-one. Your knowledge of finding secrets is… Impressive.'  The voice was luxuriant, enthralling. Both stepped closer until they were only an arms length apart. I would give you what you seek, for it serves my purposes well. You will give me what I desire. 'And what is that?' Ishi said, staring at the perfect face of his counterpart. Truth buried away in places I cannot reach. I recognize your potential. I will give you what you see, and you will give me more, always more.  The dark beauty stepped forward and into Ishi, passing through as if made of smoke. There was a melding of beings, a shudder, and then the acceptance of a new future. Ishi, now a single entity once more, looked at the room in his mind palace for a last time and then the vision faded. Break Virtues, bring darkness. Take secrets, leave chaos. — He was back in the laboratory and a ragged gasp filled his lungs with air. Somehow Ishi realized he was looking at the ceiling and redirected his gaze forward. A difficult expression was on Echelon’s face. Ishi looked down at himself and saw the metal restraints had broken during the test. His body was dark and dim, as if the light in the room reflected less off his body than other surfaces, and he saw the stubs of his fingers twitching as he tried to touch his thigh. They were burned to the palm, all ten. His fingers, the finest thieves tools ever made, had been destroyed. And for what? I’m alive; he thought. Alive and changed. But how? Break the Virtues, bring the darkness. Take secrets, leave chaos.

IC: Pae As he entered Ko-Koro, Pae plotted out his stay in the village of ice.

The team would certainly spend some time consulting criminals in the city to see if the underworldly knew anything about the kill. The quiet toa hoped his partners had begun thinking past that. He'd have to ask the others about their own previous contracts so they could begin constructing a list of potential offenders. Pae mulled. The man had lived a life without a desire of payments. Drifting from one world to another with only wit and skill. He had no contracts. Only contacts.

He considered asking Echelon. Pae mused. He had abandoned Echelon and his people. He considered whether or not ths Dark Toa would harbour harsh feelings towards Pae for it.

He filed it away. It would have to be done eventually he was sure. He knew of a variety of Echelon's hideouts ala Fist of Makuta.

Next to contacts and consultants, they'd need to uncover the details of the death. Pae felt strongly about getting their hands on official documents. It shouldn't be too hard. With a simple plan they should be able to access a filekeep easily enough: If his partners were truly competent.

Pae stopped.

Maybe he would have time to check Echelon's Ko-Wahi cave. With his mask it wouldn't take long to get there, and he could be back in time before Jin and Nika arrived. But, if the fourth was in proximity, they might miss one another.

He silently waited for his mind to decide what to do.

Pae turned around, and walked out of the village.

  • *

He took a road unmarked. It was slow going with the snow, but by the time he reached Echelon's lair it had only been about an hour.

Pae approached the entrance.

IC: Greisk It was about two minutes later when the screams hit him.

Greisk sat up as the sheer agony of Ishi's screams struck his ears. The others did not so much as look up.

The screams echoed for a long while. When they subsided, he heard footsteps scraping outside the main entrance.

Greisk debated alerting them. On one hand, if he didn't, and assuming it were enemies, he would be lumped together with this group and killed. If he did, he would live, and any enemies would not have the element of surprise.

But this was Echelon's lair. If anyone came here it was either a madman or an ally. Neither would pose a threat.

Greisk used his power to raise his sticks, disarmed from him and near Agrona, and clacked them together. He pointed to the closed entrance door.

IC Rorg? Unexpected

IC As Pae's footfalls in the snow brought him to the spot where, according to his memory, the entrance to Echelon's complex must be, his sharp senses immediately noticed the discrepancy between what he remembered and what he saw. Where once had been a monolithic metal doorway set into a slope of snow-clad ice, Pae now stood at the edge of a precipice. Looking down, he saw only the titanic sprawl of the glacier several dozen feet below. The wind howled around the edge where he stood, but the ice there was still jagged, like a rock-face, and not smoothed by the elements like the strange scooping shapes that rose from the glacier's snowy blanket. It had been broken recently. Below it, exposed rock of the valley-side could be seen. If Pae knew a little about glacial movement, then it might occur to him that a shift of the great ice flow, releasing pent-up energy, could have caused this sheltered section of ice to collapse and fall. It might also occur to him that that most glaciers had a network of meltwater-carved tunnels in their bowels.

IC: Pae The Toa of iron discerned calmly. This was the place, there was no doubt about it. He felt confused for a moment while considering if he had perhaps made a mistake or something had changed. Pae approached the edge and knelt down. He examined the ice, still rugged and clean. While comparing it to the entrance, Pae found the other ice was much smoother and worn from the weather. He knew that this edge was newer than the rest.

Either it had fallen away or Echelon moved it. Or - less likely - Pae simply was in the wrong place.

But just to be sure, Pae looked over the edge again. Maybe he could find some information to confirm whether or not he was in the right place. Pae tightened the clip around his cloak and stepped out over the edge. The cloth he wore whipped in the wind, but before he hit the curve of the rocky valley, he used his hands to create a sort of slide of iron. His feet kissed the vertical plane before sliding along it as it bowed out.

Coming to a stop safely above the roaring glacier waters Pae leaned over the edge, hoping to find the large door somewhere in the basin of freezing water. Without any luck, he crouched, scanning up and down the glacial hill, hoping to spot some detail. IC: Agrona Agrona gave Toros a glance, "Did you hear something?"

IC: Greisk Greisk frowned. He thought he did.

He signalled yes, then shrugged.

IC Behind Pae, the glacier's white skin of snow stretched up and down its valley. It was strange to think that this huge mass of frozen water, seeming so still and solid, was oh-so-slowly moving with more power than the strength of a thousand Toa. A deep, echoing creak sounded from the depths as if to emphasise this. He now stood near the very lip of the glacier's lowest end. Before him, the ice sloped sharply down, growing bluer and more reflective from the melting of its outer surface in the just-warmer-than-freezing air. Past the ice's end, the valley floor was covered in a coarse grey sand and dotted with chunks of moraine: rock torn from the valley by the unstoppable, unrelenting, impossibly-slow force of the glacier. A white, roaring river of meltwater tumbled down its centre, its noise underlayed with the deep rumble of smaller boulders crashing along in the powerful flow. The torrent sped away westwards to where it would eventually surge into the sea on Ko-Wahi's coast. Looking back up the glacier's slope, the cap of snow was broken only by slivers of darkness: crevasses, cracks that ran down deep into the ice. Any one of them might lead down to the network of natural ice-tunnels beneath the glacier...or it might be a dead-end, and climbing down one would be difficult and dangerous. Pae looked down past the lip again. The crevice from which the meltwater river poured was clearly a direct route to the meltwater tunnels, but that meant clambering along ledges of slippery ice beside the flow, risking a potentially-deadly fall into the raging water. And of course, reaching the tunnels was one thing. Navigating the natural labyrinth they formed would be another. IC (Echelon) The silence after Ishi's screams stopped was broken by a slow, measured clapping. 'Welcome to the fold, 'Ahkmou',' said Echelon. If truth be told, as the Matoran's fingers began to dissolve into black ash, the Dark Toa had thought the Hapaka was doomed to the same fate as his original test subjects. But the Antidermis, it seemed, had changed its mind—or had taken his digits for some other purpose. It did not seem conducive to his contribution to chaos to lose the use of his hands; perhaps he would be granted a power to compensate? If so, it would soon manifest itself. No need to inform the Matoran of this, of course. If he was as intelligent as he sold himself to be then he would work it out on his own. 'You pass Makuta's test, and by extension ours,' he continued. 'You have my...acceptance.'

IC (Kohra): From a corner of the room where she would not hinder Echelon moving around his laboratory, Kohr impassively watched the Matoran take the 'test'. The sight stirred something in her memories, of crawling around in dark spaces, finding a cavern with a pedestal, images of a leathery glove. She glanced from the remains of the Matoran's digits to her own, deformed left hand. The weapon that was so much a part of her and yet wasn't. We're soldiers in a war - and that means making sacrifices.

IC: Ishi Polzin

His hands. He stared at them long and hard, straining to remember the exact contours of each crumbled digit and his forehead scrunched from the effort. The ashen remains were a small pile on the arms of the metal chair. In the light of the laboratory he could see puffs floating on a soft ventilated breeze. Something seemed off about where his fingers once were, as if the shadows were thicker at the stubs of his knuckles. Soon, as he shifted position and the shadows cast across the back of his hand in a new pattern, ishi realized why: the shadows were slowly drawn in like ripples in reverse, welling up into an untapped potential. For a moment he remembered the rippling hands from his counterpart during the Trial, but his thoughts were broken by the necromancer's clapping.

"You have my... acceptance," finished Echelon. Ishi stared up at the nefarious scientist with a hidden sense of pride. He had won something from the claws of Death once again, and in doing so begun to carry some measure of power in the darker places of the world simply by association with Echelon's dark name. He was rising up the ranks. Soon, all too soon, he'd have all the necessary connections and then...

"Thank you, but I need to get back in touch with the state of things, correspond with some of my contacts, further the agenda so to speak. " Ishi paused, looking back down at his hands and the pooling shadows. The thought of writing brought to light his handicap. If he couldn't hold a pen or stylus what was the point? The image of those dark, semi-physical hands returned and with them a sudden itch on the inside of his palms, as if nerves were attaching and muscles twitching. Spurred by curiosity he thought again of his lost fingers and how they would look curling inward. At first nothing happened, but the informant was dogged if nothing else. Suddenly, the pooling shadows shifted, spread outwards, and solidified in a crude imitation of his mental action. They lingered for a second, then vanished.

Ishi looked back at Echelon. "Seems I won't need to dictate my messages. How long will it take to reach Ko-Koro?"

IC (Echelon and Zadron) 'Only a handful of hours, if you know the way,' Echelon replied. 'The Wastes are not known for being easy to navigate, or for being forgiving of those who fail.' Out of the corner of his eye, the Dark Toa noticed Zadron, still loitering in the doorway. 'Well then, Zadron,' he addressed the assassin, 'I believe you were about to tell me about this "Braen".' 'He's got a mansion, in the mountains to the south,' Zadron replied, with a sort of surly wariness. 'He wanted me to contact you. Said he wants to work with someone with your skills, and that your plans and his might coincide.' 'Did he, now? Well. I think we have our next destination.' Echelon looked around at his comrades-in-evil for approval.

IC: Rorg I make no outward expression of my thoughts. Echelon knows I will approve of any course of action he suggests, solely by virtue of his leadership. Why waste word on predictable information?

IC: Ishi Polzin

"I'll be making my way to the koro afterward then, if there's no objection. The sooner we leave the better -- hitting a blizzard's the last thing I want, and the southern drifts are notorious for flash storms. I'm no ko-matoran, freezing my gears stiff would be a nasty way to go." Ishi commented while uncrossing his arms. He scratched an elbow with a palm, as if rubbing away a phantom chill. Echelon's laboratory was warm from the boilers and beakers, but the thought of turning into an ice cube brought a nervous cold. The thought reminded him of the broken and shredded coat he'd been pulled out of during the trek from Mangaia. "Where's my gear, Echelon? Please tell me Rorg didn't toss anything. Agrona, I saw you holding my journal in Mangaia... what's wrong?"

Ishi paused, cocking his head and staring at the queer sight of Toros and the witchdoctor communicating with simple hand gestures and other rudimentary methods, but Toros seemed to be understood well enough.

IC: Agrona Agrona took the journal from her pack, looking to Echelon for confirmation.

IC (Echelon)

The Dark Toa nodded in succinct approval.

IC: Ishi Polzin

"Excellent," said Ishi as he reached for the journal in Agrona's hand. The informant felt a sense of security as he clasped it between his wrists, and then looked back at the necromancer. "And the rest of it?"

IC (Echelon) Echelon gestured to Karnakie, who threw Ishi a burlap sack containing the rest of his personal effects.

CHAPTER III INITIATED! Henceforth, all events described here are effective immediately. For more information on Chapter III and how it affects your characters, please read the first portion of this post. (Nuju Metru starting Chapter 3 of the 2013 Arc)

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