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Chapter 14: A Chance Encounter

The mercenaries dispersed to their locations, Ilofarn's dark back disappearing into the haze of softly falling snowflakes, Ferrum closing the strange door to The Company's lair. Ishi unfolded his borrowed umbrella, the red rice paper popping up like a mushroom top over his head. He watched Dervish saunter off, backpack full of provided survival supplies slung over a shoulder. The informant scratched the back of his mask, experiencing a moment of concern for the woman he'd helped get a career in killing. Something stopped him from turning towards Ko-Koro immediately. Guilt, perhaps, for the future. Ishi trotted after her.

"Wait up." Ishi paused to catch his breath. "You know, His plan isn't going to work..."

The Vo-Toa did not answer just yet. She stared off into the distance, the soft snow falling around her.

Arabeth sighed, breath misting up.

"I know. It's a long shot, but..."

Arabeth turned to Ishi. She always found it annoying that Ishi was tall enough to be almost her height.

"I'm a mercenary. I beat people up, others pay me. This really isn't all that different."

But she knew it was. This all felt... Wrong. Almost as if it were destined for failure.


"It's more than a long shot: it's suicide. You know full well what'll happen if you attempt to control that much electricity at once, at the very least unconsciousness. Out here? Alone and in the cold? You'll be rahi bones." There was a pause in the conversation, silent but for the crunch of snow as Ishi shifted weight on his feet and with a hint of his shoulder and chin gestured for Dervish to follow as he continued walking. He reached into his pocket and struck a cigarette swiped from the desk of Dr. Riaril. When the informant spoke again it was with a solemn expression.

"I know what you're thinking, Dervish: a job is a job. Why shouldn't one paying so well ask as much? I like how much you apply yourself to a job, but remember Xa-Koro when life was really, and I mean really, rough? If we pull this off all of Mata-Nui's gonna' be like that ###### hole. Somehow you've kept your conscience and life throughout all that mess, but how many can boast the same? Don't go throwing your future away on a fool's errand. This plan is screwed, you're screwed, and everyone involved is screwed unless something is done to shift the outcome... do you trust me?"

"I've never heard you get upset over a job before," Arabeth grinned a little. It disappeared just as quickly.

"But if you're going to say something like that... Do you have something in mind?"

"You've never worked a job with me before. You've either been asking for information or I was providing the hit," Ishi retorted dryly after a puff from the cigarette. "And yes, I got a few ideas. When do I not? But you didn't answer my question. Do you trust me?"

The informant looked at Dervish out of the corner of his eye. If things turned sour he wasn't sure the whirling blade banshee could be taken down without arousing the suspicion of the departed mercenaries like Ilofarn. Sounds louder than a whisper tended to be carried on the wind in Ko-Wahi.

Trust. Such a loaded word.

"Enough that I'm listening to what you have in mind," Arabeth finally said.

He paused and gave her a soft look. "I guess that's all I can really ask for. We'll need to work together, but for now follow Alloy's directions. Give me a week and a half, and if I don't come for you start making your way to Ko-Koro. I know it's in lock-down, but let's meet up at the Nuju-Marion Academy, pretty easy to spot and outside the gates. When we reconnect my hope is to have a plan in the making that's not going to involve us being martyrs, and maybe even get us something more out of this mess."

"Hey, give me a break," Ishi said with a playful smile despite the serious topic. He punched Dervish lightly in the shoulder. "Hapaka when he gets the scent doesn't stop until he's found where it comes from. I've got a strong scent on this one. Just act normal, follow Alloy's orders until I contact you or we meet at the library, and everything'll roll out fine. I promise, Arabeth."

With her true name whispered and dying in the air the informant turned away and left for Ko-Koro, a tune on his lips, the cigarette forgotten in the snow.

Arabeth snorted as she turned back. Way to go for being the drama king. Waste of a cigarette, too.


~

IC: Joske

After several minutes I slowed to a jog, at the end of my memory of the local layout the map provided. Besides, I was close enough now that I could- "Whoa!" I gasped in surprise as I almost lost my footing, a sudden slope in the tunnel downwards caused me to nearly lose my footing. I could feel in the darkness a better flow of air - I could only assume I had made it to the entrance of the lowest part of Kini-Nui: the Vault room. I waited a few moments for my voice to echo away, holding my breath as I did so, waiting to see if there was any response. If there were Rahkshi down here, some other animal, or something worse, I would hear a response... ... but nothing happened. Shakily I exhaled, partially relieved. At least there was nothing in this part of the chamber. Drawing out my sword I clasped it with both hands, concentrating hard. After a moment there was a flicker of light, and after another moment the sword began to glow softly, illuminating the space around me. Now that I could actually see, it was surprisingly sparse; amazingly, there was nothing in here save the main attraction. Raising the crystal flamberge with one hand I reverently approached the Vault door - a huge, impregnable doorway with no hinges, seams, or even a keyhole - situated here in the middle of the deepest levels of Mangaia. Pulling the glowing sword closer, which strangely wasn't as bright as I thought it should have been, I traced my fingers over the inscription, reading the infamous riddle with my own eyes for the first time. Across an endless ocean Beyond where minds can see My key lies in the open Where you will never be Beneath the brightest thunder Stand towers of the day The light may break asunder If night skies choose obey The red sign on black eyes Will lead you to your prize "Whoever wrote that is a Master Riddler." I muttered softly, shaking my head. As much as I wanted to study and marvel at this piece of stunning architecture I had other priorities, such as- "Hellooo, what's this?" As I had turned around something in the center of the room caught my eye, something that despite its apparent size I had not noticed earlier in the darkness. I was a rising pillar of stone and earth, surrounding it a steeply spiraling staircase twisting upwards like a screw from the floor. Raising my weapon and squinting I looked at the ceiling; the stair ended at a... no, in a... huh? A hole? It took a few seconds for all this information to compute, but I suddenly had a revelation. A secret entrance to the Vault? One that went up and over through the ceiling... I traced and invisible line across the ceiling to above the Vault door... then stopped. Wait; hidden opening secret entrance... and a staircase that leads to it!? I am not the first one to make it inside. This... this is not good. Gripping my weapon with a deathgrip I slowly began the ascent, the light of the weapon guiding my steps, wondering what I would find on the other side...

IC: Ishi Polzin

Joske's flickering light illuminated the figure of a matoran idly resting on the curved stairwell, his legs crossed and spread across the length of a step. He was deep in the pages of a small, black leather-bound notebook; a little lightstone held by a string around his head illuminated the pages with a soft yellow glow. As the approaching footsteps echoed through Mangaia Ishi looked up from Ahkmou's diary and took note of the approaching toa. The days traveling with Echelon, meeting the Piraka, and listening to the ravings of his dark companions had brought a wariness to the informant's gaze, and with a quick perception he deduced what he could. A toa of fire wearing a kakama climbing the stairs meant either an ill intending criminal or a naive adventurer come to visit the Abettor, a creature now bent to the will of Zaktan. Beyond the kakama were the blue eyes and strong physique of an athlete, and then the colors of the armor. The most striking and helpful detail was the sword, a pale flamberge of crystal glowing with its own luminescence. A toa of fire had carried such a weapon into Po-Koro once, and stayed in the Massif for longer. Ishi closed his mismatched eyes to think for a moment, rooting through the information in his mind palace stored from whispers, letters, and spies. "You must be... Nimil." Ishi said opening them again even as he closed his journal with a thud. It was then apparent his fingers were missing, hands nothing more than flippers, and yet the hilt of a knife peeked out from below his right armpit. The Hapaka gave gave a low nod as if to approve of his own statement, the white tip of his kanohi kaukau bobbing comedically in the near dark. "Nimil as in Joske... Joske Nimil. Yes?"

IC: Joske

"You must be... Nimil." said the being, his eyes opening as he closed his journal with a solid thud. I suddenly noticed in the dim light that his fingers were missing, his hands no more than flippers, but in the movement I caught the flash of the hilt of a knife that peeked out from below his right armpit. I watched as he gave a low nod as if to approve of his own brilliant statement, the white tip of his Kanohi Kaukau bobbing comedically in the near dark. "Nimil as in Joske... Joske Nimil. Yes?" I felt my entire body just droop as I stood planted on the stairs. Why? I can't seem to go anywhere without bumping into someone who not only seemed to know me, but no matter where I went, even when trying to be alone, POOF, there was someone else! Because you're a former sports superstar and supposed hero of the Battle for Kini-Nui, you dolt! Shaddup. Mildly exasperated I raised my flamberge, the glowing sword giving me more light to see this individual who called me out by name. Yes, he was a Matoran, from Po-Wahi if the colors I was seeing were right. He was of about average height and lithe, kinda hard to see in this light, though I noticed it seemed as though his muscled were enhanced... he looked more athletic and strong for even his own sub-species. At first I thought it was some kind of steroids, but after another moment I deduced it was not the case; it was unlike anything I had ever seen, and if there was one thing I knew, it was athletic body shape and how to get it. Musing over this I continued to look him over, and to my complete surprise he had asymmetrically colored eyes - the left glacial blue, the right an interesting burnt orange. To further my surprise his colors were off now that my eyes were adjusting properly again, his skin black and gray with undertones of tan, slowly fading to a snowy white at the top of his Kaukau. Finally my gaze was drawn to his hands, all his fingers looking like they were burned off, leaving his hands like flippers. I... I had never seen anyone like him. It was like he was almost... unnatural? "Yessssss... ?" I finally answered, tilting my head sideways and speaking in more of a question to him than a direct answer. It never ceased to amaze me who I met and where I met them, though right now this was possibly the most inopportune time, this Matoran sitting lazily on a stone staircase that CLEARLY did not belong... gah! Nothing here made sense. Everything didn't make sense. I was really beginning to think everyone was right and that I WAS actually insane. Why did Stannis shove me through his mask again? Ah yes, probably Karma. We never really saw eye to eye anyway. One day Stannis, the joke will be on you. And on that day I will laugh like it was the last laugh the universe will ever hear. Snapping back to reality I focused my attention on the little one, wondering if he was going to tell me why he was reading a book in the dark in the most dangerous and lonely and isolated spot on the island. Ok, so maybe I am NOT the most insane person on the island. Just second-most.

IC: Ishi Polzin

In the mixing light sources they summed each other up. Joske with his elegant blue flamberge and Ishi with his little yellow lightstone. Joske seemed weather-worn, as if after completing some monumental task he was suddenly informed of another even more pressing trial. It was the same stress Ishi saw in Ambages eyes or when he looked in a mirror, and yet even reading it proved difficult in the present case due to the light pouring from Joske's eyes, as if the warrior's very soul was shining through. Ishi found it hard to look at them and shifted his gaze to the rest of the toa. Something in him felt violated by their brightness.

Joske Nimil was an athlete in his prime. His armor complimented the fact, favoring small interlocking components instead of bulkier plates, and the red of his sub-species was decorated in gold and silver trim. Even the kakama was gold. Ishi couldn't help but wonder if Joske could remotely hide in a crowd. Then again, he wasn't exactly one to talk. "In that case it's a pleasure to meet you, Joske. You don't mind first name basis do you? I'd shake your hand but," Ishi paused to stare at his hands before giving a sheepish smile, "That's not really an option, is it?" There was a momentary lull as the gravity of the situation sank in for Ishi. Here he was sitting on the stairs between Joske Nimil and the Abettor, let alone the rest of the nasties lingering in Mangaia. Most left earlier for Echelon's grand plan to take Ko-Koro, the mass of warriors moving through the Dark Walk as loudly as they dared without arousing the suspicion of feral rahkshi. Ishi stayed behind for his own reasons, but planned to catch up in time for the real festivities. He had a few plans of his own, after all. If Joske was here, then... things had suddenly become quite deadly. Of course, the reason for why wasn't yet set in stone. "You here for Mr. We Do Not Eat upstairs?" Ishi asked, jabbing a palm in the direction of where the Abettor waited. "Word of warning: don't call them out on family issues or their dietary plan. I got thrown out the hole. They're a really sensitive sextet come to find out." He stopped for a second, realizing he'd forgotten something important. "Oh, and in case you're wondering who'd be insane enough to read a book in Mangaia, feel free to call me Ahkmou."

IC: Joske

Ah yes. Comedian, local guide, AND mind-reader. Wonderful! The sarcasm in my thoughts was almost audible, and only the seriousness of the situation before me kept me from devolving into snark. Doing everything I could not to roll my eyes, I took a moment to digest what the little Matoran just told me. "Ahkmou? Well, it's a pleasure to meet you... I guess?" I ventured slowly, keeping my glowing sword between us. "I was not expecting anyone this close to the Vault, let alone lounging around on a set of mysterious stairs reading a strange book... in pitch darkness." I smiled a humorless grin. "Now if you refer to 'Mr. We Do Not Eat upstairs' as the fabled guardian to the Vault, then yes, that is who I seek and where I am going. As for the other tidbits... thanks?" I cocked my head sideways, unsure how to approach or handle this new character. He seemed harmless enough and in fact helpful, if not in an odd way of explaining things. Still, if I could manage a way past the guardian I didn't exactly want witnesses. I smiled again, this time with a little more jocularity. "Soooo you think you can scoot over a bit? These stairs aren't exactly the widest or safest I've seen, and it will be hazardous for both of us of I tried to step over you as you are."

"If you plan on visiting the Abettor as you are I recommend a better plan: don't." Ishi's voice was surprisingly calm. "Things have changed for the darker since last rumors exited into the light of day. If you value your god more than your life, go back to civilization, pick up a kohlii stick, and try to get a division for toa started. With luck you might be a champion again and could finally settle down for good, not some short respite in The Massif but a real proper retirement after being a paragon of the virtues in the ring. Otherwise you're only asking to get ground into meal, literally. I know a guy who'd be happy to do it." He shook his head slowly. Whatever Joske was planning, coming alone into Mangaia at the moment was suicide. A part of Ishi liked the thought of him being defeated in his Master's home, and if he'd been assured in his success he might have moved to strike with his own blade. The more neutral part wanted Joske to live long enough to see Ko-Koro in ruins. Angering the hero would only feed fuel to the fire of chaos. Besides, a Joske alive meant more knowledge to learn than a corpse ripped to pieces by Hakann. Ishi'd heard a few things. Ishi stood up and deftly slipped the loop of the drawstring bag across his shoulder. Instead of moving to one side, however, he positioned himself in the middle, left hand held out from his side at chest height with the palm facing Joske, as if to say stop. Instead, what more than likely caught the toa's attention was the scar in the shape of an 'X' on the palm. "Sorry firespitter but I can't let you pass. We stand, Joske, in the middle of a great conflict between light and darkness. Of course you've taken your side of the argument and I've injected mine, but that doesn't mean we can't be civil about this. Turaga Onewa treated me fair enough despite my allegiances. I don't see why I can't return the favor, if only once..." He trailed off for a moment, knowing full well if Joske wanted to he'd easily push past and knock Ishi to the floor. It wasn't too far away, but the impact would still hurt and the thought of falling twice in one week wasn't pleasant. "Besides, I'm curious about you... there're all the rumors about the legendary Joske Nimil. That he defeated Echelon with a hammer of light -- who I can assure you is alive and well so obviously you did a poor job of it -- and paved the way for the Maru to defeat Makuta. That he traveled in the company of criminals, murderers, and cops. That he stormed a holding of evil and then... disappeared. Where have you been, I wonder, while the world has slipped into our hands?"

Curiouser and curiouser... "Thank you for the warning, I DO greatly appreciate it, but I'll take my chances." I said quietly, noting the Matoran's movements and how he moved to block me. "Besides, I'm retired now, and I plan on keeping it that way. You're not the only one who seems to know... things." I said that last word slowly. This Matroan was unlike any I had ever come across before, if not only for his apparent surplus of information. I had during my time away come to the realization that knowledge was power, that it could level the playing field in an instant, if not give the feeble-bodied a huge advantage. I could easily overpower him, we both knew it, but he had me hooked on this conversation. He was asking a lot of questions that I didn't care to answer, but it was clear he knew a lot of recent happenings, something I had a distinct lack of. Especially when he mentioned Echelon. And the growth of evil. Had things once again gone back to karzahni since my departure? Well, at least we understood each other and the cards were on the table. I would be as honest as I could with him in the spirit of civility as he mentioned, but as an agent of them I would have to be careful what I revealed. Oh the games we play. What fun! "Ok, I'll bite. To your first comment yes, I did give him a good thrashing with a hammer made out of solid light - a temporary gift and power from Mata-Nui so to speak. Alive? Well, the point was to never kill him but to take him out of commission for a while. To that end I succeeded quite well if it's taken him this long to recover and regroup, though after what you have described to me I am beginning to have second thoughts about my earlier choice. Paved the way to Makuta's defeat? Yes, I'll take credit for that too, but as you said it was the Maru who did the heavy lifting and laid the final blow. In the company of criminals, murderers, and cops you say? Guilty on all charges, except you forgot to add 'doctors, thugs, and assorted rif-raf' to that list." I grinned momentarily. Admitting all these things was actually refreshing. My tone wasn't prideful or haughty, but I guess I was say satisfied in well-earned accomplishments, if not also that they were some pretty fond memories. As quickly as the grin came it left however as I started to answer the remaining queries. "My disappearance is somewhat of a misconception... everyone seems to think that I vanished right after the battle. Technically that's true, but what really happened was that I was at the Massif for some time tending to my wounds, both visible and not-so-much. It was here, in his home city, that Stannis sought me out, and once my wounds were healed enough he... sent me away." Again I spoke the end of that sentence slowly; I was at the limit of how much I was willing to speak. "Where I went and what I did is my own business, as much as you and everyone else wants to know. There were reasons, not all perfect, but it was for a purpose. And you misunderstand - the world hasn't slipped into your hands; that implies that you lost it in the first place. That hasn't happened; not yet. All that has transpired is but a brief and well-deserved respite from villainy like the ones you follow. But it's coming. No one knows it yet, but its coming." I focused my gaze on Ahkmou, letting my piercing blue eyes aid in the talking. "Remember this, little one; you can win every battle, and yet still lose the war. One day you will understand your own statement regarding this great conflict, but until then you and your allies are fighting over trinkets rather than what is really important. You're fighting to win the battles; I'm fighting to win the war." I leveled my sword at him, but I refrained from any additional hostile act. "Now, would you mind telling me a bit about Echelon and his recent activities? Or do I get to attempt to move past you without injuring either of us?

"Your sword is not impressive, and here I thought we might actually have something of a conversation without the looming threat of a far too sudden and violent end hanging over either of our heads." He sighed, letting his hand drop to his side as his shoulders slumped in momentary disappointment. It was moment before he spoke, but his words when they came were filled with what seemed a mixed drink of apathy. despair, and scientific curiosity. "Why is it everyone seems to like brandishing death? Oh don't get me wrong, getting jailed, poisoned, stabbed, thrown down a shoot into a meat grinder or dungeon, I never really figured out which it was; or speared, starving, scarring, and general threats of bodily harm imposed on my mortality can be excellent incentive to talk. Why, it feels like ages ago there was this one mark bearer... Labelle, yes, Sadism yes..." he muttered the toa's name as if trying to recall something particularly boring and he rubbed a palm across his lips in thought, "well, she got it into her head that I was being a little obstinate and just up and started water boarding me in Naho Bay while my shoulder was sprouting sparks." He laughed. "Pain is a nasty business, and I fear it really I do just about as much as joy or Ko-Koro winning a kohlii championship; but after so much all I can say Joske is that your crystal toothpick doesn't scare me. Sorry." In accentuation Ishi reached forward, but before his palm was cut by the blade's razor tip he stopped and a tendril of darkness gathered, minute at first but steadily stronger until it took the shape of a thumb. Getting as much took plenty of concentration, but with practice over the days since he'd gained the ability it was steadily becoming easier. It poked against the blade but did not bleed. If Joske wanted any secrets, the strange boon of the antidermis in the Informant's body would have been enough to keep his curiosity wet long enough not to strike. Hopefully. "In answer to your inquiry about Echelon, I'll happily tell you a few things if you let me hold your sword while we talk." He saw the hesitation in Joske's light-filled eyes, which made sense now with knowledge of Joske's temporary powers. "Now I promise not to swing it, but seeing you without something sharp in your hand that might give you, well, stupid ideas would make me a little happier. The sword leveled at my chest doesn't scare me. Where your hot-headed fire-spitter brain might go does. I've always found an unarmed man is a far more civil man. At the very least sheath it and have a seat. I'd offer tea and something to eat, but obviously that'd be stupid in Mangaia, horrible place for a tea party. Ignoring the fact I don't have any tea." He muttered the last statement.

"In any case I'm sure you'll find me a far more amiable host than the Abettor. That thing just has to keep rotating its face so it can say hello repetitively until you're bored to death."

Sorry to disappoint but I'm... not an eloquent speaker. I'm no philosopher. I know what I know, but that doesn't mean I can explain it. Every time I open my mouth I seem to promptly put my foot in it. Talking to me has always had the feeling of slowing me down, taking away from the time I need to do something. I've never been good at speaking, let alone debate something that I know or feel is right, unshakeable and unchangeable. You want a conversation without the looming threat of a far too sudden and violent end hanging over either of our heads; exposition of mortality and and the ends they produce can be excellent incentives to talk. I... just can't do that. Sure, I might start strong, but I just don't have the head for this sort of thing. I always end up making myself look foolish or at least a hot and bull-headed individual, that is if i don't insert foot first. I have a long track record of making people angry, losing friends, and otherwise alienating those around me when I DO speak, so why in karzahni would I want to engage in this sort of debate? I'm sorry Ahkmou, but I can't give you what you want. I am a doer, not a thinker. My strength has always laid in my ability to act, my willingness to move when others may hesitate. I have little fear of jumping first and looking later, shooting first and asking question later. I have a very simple viewpoint of the world, and I'm fine with that. Good, Evil, right, wrong, up, down, whatever. I know what I know, and what little doesn't fall under my worldview I simply take of faith. I don't need to debate, I don't need to discuss - you're not conflicted looking for answers, and I'm not looking to convert. There are others more qualified than me for that. Call me simple-minded, call me a naive fool, but that's just how I operate, and I'm willing to take both the strengths and weaknesses of that viewpoint. I just... just can't talk. I see the damage it does when I open my mouth. I'm... becoming to scared to do so, lest I make the situation any worse than it already is. I just... can't. ... But maybe I can listen. My eyes narrowed for a brief moment as this thought streaked through my mind, up until now my mask an unreadable black slate as I did my mental monologue. The longer I entertained this thought, more I saw the wisdom in that. As a young Matoran I had always been on the move, never slowing down for anyone or anything, driving the elders insane. Naturally I went into sports and athletics, playing to my strengths in order to minimize my weakness. Even becoming a Toa made my Kakama before powered, sealing my speedy fate and further pushing my weaknesses to the extreme. I never bothered to slow down... for anything. Or anyone. Except possibly Cael. Why? I pondered this for a moment. Yes, why? Why did the world slow down when I was around her? Obviously she was one of the few people I really cared about and outwardly showed affection to, but there had to be more than tha-of course. I listened around her. To her. The more I thought about it, the more the larger issue came into focus. I was always moving so fast, doing things at a break-neck speed that I often missed crucial details. I would seem callous and prudish to the outside observer when all I was doing was really being me. I wasn't paying attention. I wasn't paying attention to the world around me. I wasn't listening. Now it all made sense. I was already out of touch with reality at times before I was sent away, and now I've been gone for what, a year? Maybe more? Pulled out of the real world, living in Legend, a place where I can see the big picture and everything is cut-and-dry, where the world is simple and everything makes perfect sense. That's... not how the real world works. The real world is not so cut-and-dry simple. It's a lot more complicated. A lot more shades of grey. And if I didn't take the time to slow down and re-connect to reality, I would be doomed to failure. They... they were right. I WAS insane. I have been so out of touch I forgot what it was like to live here. Be here. I need to stop. I need to slow down. I don't need to be flying all over the map all the time. Case in point - right now. I looked up into the hole in the ceiling. The stairwell was proof that someone had gotten to the Vault on the other side first. There was nothing I could do about that, which left only two possibilities - either those before me broken in, learned it's secrets, and were now poised to lay the final blow in this conflict. Or they hadn't, and it was still there waiting for the right individual. Either option it didn't matter how fast I moved, or how quickly I got there; I was already too late, or it would be there waiting for me. I didn't need to run. Just like Cael. Waiting for me. I didn't need to run I need to listen. I withdrew my sword, and with a fluid motion I set it point-down on the stair above me. With a sigh I leaned my elbows on the metal T-frame of the hilt, using it to support my frame. To my mild surprise it started to sink slowly, eventually coming to a halt after several inches. That either attested to the sharpness of the blade or the to the shoddy construction of the stairs. Or both. Honestly little one I WOULD be afraid of my sword. I still am a little, and I wield it! I laced my fingers together, settling down on the hilt and getting comfortable. I had not spoken a word since he had asked me to be a good guest, and I for one was finally willing to oblige. He could read into my silence what he will, but right now I could feel he had information that was important, knowledge I would need probably in the near future. I will be quiet and listen. Tell me, Matoran, what is the state of evil on this island?

Ishi was looking at a wall. Not of stone, but the toa's face may have well been carved by Hafu. It was impassible, unreadable. Ishi knew from experience such a blank look more often meant there was something going on beneath the surface; like icebergs off the Ko-Wahi coast he was only seeing the tip of a far greater entity. Then Joske's eyes narrowed, and the Informant was eerily aware of the stone beneath his feet, the rough make of the spiral staircase core, full of hand and footholds should he need jump or retreat. The instincts of battle were creeping up on him, despite his better intentions. Like Joske's had just been, he felt his face becoming an emotionless mask as the possibilities were calculated, weighed, and prepared for employment. A straight thrust of the flamberge would bring Ishi's back to the wall with a sidestep, he thought, and from there he could tackle the toa off the stairwell, maybe jabbing a barb of shadow through one of the brilliant blue eyes on the way down. A slash toward the stair's core, on the other hand, required bull rushing forward and incapacitating the sword-arm at the elbow or wrist and once more tumbling down the stairs. In either case it was an unwanted tumble with the possibility of landing on something sharp and the certainty of bruises or broken bones. Without Agrona around for healing, an injury was the last thing Ishi could want in the dark confines of Mangaia. And then Joske lowered his blade. "Finally," Ishi grumbled and leaned against the staircase core while crossing his arms as Joske sat on the steps and listened. "Where to begin... There's so much to say and so little I care to share, but I guess this once we can take a trip down memory lane, trade a few tidbits." Ishi closed his eyes, thinking briefly, and was glad to see Joske hadn't used his mask to rush past in the momentary lack of visibility. "You sound like you've been out of touch with the world for a while." He said. "It'd be more helpful if you could tell me the last event you feel is current, and I'd be very interested in knowing the details of what you could possibly have been doing for so long as to lose touch with the island's boiling political hotpot. As I said, trade a few tidbits. I have no intention of giving everything out without some reciprocation. If we're going to play the rest of this game with all the cards on the table it requires both our hands being exposed. Anyways, Joske, you wanted to know more about Echelon and his power. I assume that's because all you ever seem to do is fight, fight, fight like every other brakas with an identity problem or religion crisis trying to fulfill some old mistranslated prophecy, often both... up until now that is." Ishi rolled his head from side to side, letting some of the tension from his earlier combative planning smooth out. It was no good to keep his body in a constant state of fight or flight. Joske was listening intently, and showed no signs of turning aggressive. "Echelon's a powerful man, and he's got some powerful allies now too who don't just trust him but serve his ends and defer to his judgement; like Echelon's Makuta's messiah or something. Maybe he is." He smiled at the thought. If Echelon was a messiah then that made Ishi what, a converted heathen? Somehow the idea of being a heathen intellectual was an intriguing contradiction. Too bad he'd made his choice and could feel the cravings of violence and chaos in his very bloodstream. Break the Virtues, bring the Darkness. Take secrets, leave chaos Those words were a mantra in his heart-light now, and there was nothing short of death that could stop them. It was hard enough to be next to Joske, the man who'd once wielded light, without imagining him torn to pieces with dark shadowy fingers, a fine mist of red arcing into the air; his gears and sprockets bouncing down the stairwell with a flair of macabre comedy while the Hapaka took back the sword of the shadows and brought Joske Nimil's head cleaved in two to Echelon. Ishi shook his head and the visions vanished along with their red haze for now. Same Joske, same Mangaia, and Heuani's flamberge remained rooted in the rock. "If he'd stuck to the straight and narrow you seem to think so good and great maybe then you'd have been brothers in arms, or cousins... actually, probably more like really close friends. He's a little... eccentric... after all and good to keep at arm's length or so. But, as nature made him he's bad to the core, even more now since he's gained new strengths from the Master of Shadows. I guess great spirits reward their most pious, though I shouldn't talk since I'm alive and well in good part because of Makuta's so called rewards. It's hard to say something bad about a great spirit that gives life when life is what they normally take away. One of those weird quirks of the dichotomy between The Brothers, I figure. Mata Nui works in subtler ways. Half the time I wonder if both aren't just the same great spirit with a personality disorder, and if I was going to think like a Peer maybe the notion of their existence is false to begin with." Ishi shrugged. The little yellow light-stone strapped to the front of his kaukau bobbed as he readjusted his slouch. "Now, I've revealed something about the matter you wanted to know. It's time you share with me some of the things I desire. I'm sure there's something to this riddle sitting on the door down there that it blatantly obvious, but I haven't been able to get more than a line at best. Here you are, coming into Mangaia on your own. As a hero, you've always surrounded yourself with teammates, although not always the most credible or honest beings, going by your words. Why would you be coming here alone unless, A, you had a very good idea of what you were getting into; B, you seemed to feel it was dangerous enough that, being a hero, you wouldn't want your friends in danger; and C, you felt capable of meeting the Abettor and doing something on your lonesome. From this I can quickly figure you know more about things that hide in the dark than most, perhaps even Echelon. The necromancer hasn't got a clue what the riddle means. Of course, there are the Piraka..."

Ishi trailed off, having leaned forward and squatted down to eye level while talking, arms resting over his knees and folded together. His face was a mere hand's span away from Joske's and his mouth was twisted into a mischievous grin. Here he was holding power over a mighty toa with sheer knowledge, but at the same time Joske did the same to him. He saw the brilliant light filled eyes and knew that somewhere, in another world where their light was dim, he would have been able to see his own mismatched past and family trauma literally reflected back in the toa's pupils. They were that close, and he felt his blood boil. Break the Virtues, bring the Darkness. Take secrets, leave chaos.


shut up.

IC: Joske I opened my mouth to speak. This Matoran had he engaged in an informational chess match, something I was finding mildly thrilling. Teases about Echelon, strange powers, these "Piraka"... then I heard it. Or more correctly, them. It wasn't loud. Very faint, barely audible. But in the silence here of this cathedral chamber I could hear the sounds of slight clamoring, the noise of extreme distant voices coming form the tunnels. Impossible to tell which one, let alone how many, but it was there. Might be around the corner, might be ten minutes from now, but logic dictated the sounds I was hearing were those of those I ditched earlier, my pursuers. My time was up. Just when things were getting interesting too. I sudden stood erect and took a step downwards, which clearly startled the Matoran, not surprising considering how close we were. He immediately assumed a defensive stance, to which I only chuckled. "Sorry, but it seems I have tarried too long. Your assumption about me traveling alone? Mostly true. I had to dicth a couple people to get here alone, and it seems like they have almost caught up." As I spoke I pulled my disk launcher off my back, hooking some rope to a notch in the disk that was loaded. "Do not worry, we'll finish this conversation, if only for the fact that you want to know what the riddle means... and willing to pay in information about Echelon and these so called Piraka. Meantime there is a guardian I need meet." With that I pulled the trigger, a loud ka-chunk echoing off the walls at it fired, followed shortly by a solid thwack as the disk was imbedded into the rock above. I flicked another trigger and I was quickly hoisted up into the air, moving the rest of the way up the stairs to where the hole resided, launcher in one hand, sword in the other. It only took a moment to swing up and pull my disk out of the rock, and as I did so I chanced a look down... to see that Matoran. Staring at me. I couldn't quite read him, but something inside me said we'd meet again. Gathering my things I raised up my sword, the glow a little brighter here. Somewhere down this tunnel was this machine I kept hearing of, a robot guardian. Time to test my wits... and possibly dodging capabilities.

IC: Abettor The moment Joske moved, the dark maw of the circular passage he'd pulled himself up into sprang into blinding luminance, as had happened for every one of those that had presumed to visit the Abettor. Light - cast principally by the dozens of random letters all over the behemoth's body, refracted through the exposed guts of quartz geodes in the walls and reflected off the stony walls so that it seemed to come from everywhere - ruthlessly assaulted Joske's dark-accustomed vision, forcing the Toa to cover his eyes and turn into the wall of the tunnel. Joske, having never seen an Abettor before in his life, could not have been aware that the virulent green hue of the light that seared through his eyelids was a very bad sign. A click like a gun's hammer down a deep well, a scrape like a sword drawn across cobblestones, and another resounding click; the sequence of noises that accompanied the Abettor's rotation of masks was slower than usual. The metallic sounds, in their duration, seemed almost taunting, even self-satisfied; to the light-blind and unacquainted Joske, of course, the unfamiliar sequence, which belonged to a machine he couldn't yet see, sounded like the armament of a strange and powerful weapon. In some ways, he wasn't wrong. "Identify... yourself," slowly clacked an ocean-deep, canned voice, with a slight slur.

IC: Joske Mildly terrifying... "I am... Toa Joske." I said simply, feeling that I should answer promptly, shading my eyes as I did so and doing everything I could to help them adjust quickly. Finally they did, and when I got my first good look at the machi- Mata-Nui. So THAT'S what the Abettor looks like! I had never seen anything so fascinating and awe-inspiring. Something in the back of my head told me I shouldn't look aggressive, and now that there was plenty of light I lowered my now lightless sword. I could tell it was designed with this purpose in mind, and I had a feeling I would need to tread carefully lest I irritate it. Because according to my previous conversation, that could happen.

IC: Abettor The details of the Abettor came to Joske in bits and pieces as his eyes adjusted. First came fuzzy definition to the green symbols that covered its form; then the outline of the shape, a barrel-chested machine with no head; then, after a while, clarity enough to see the hollow-eyed Kanohi Sanok, its forehead bearing an :e: in a deep-set notch in the cylindrical portion of the behemoth's torso. Joske didn't like the look of the Abettor's fingers, which were as thick around as his wrists, and something about the crystal on its other forearm made him extremely nervous. The guardian sat on its haunches as it examined - or seemed to examine; how could it be seeing Joske with those empty eye sockets? - the latest being that had come to pass it.

"You lie already, one who calls himself Joske," the echoing voice retorted finally, a challenge undeniable in its mechanical rasp. "Toa wield the forces of nature... and you do not. Therefore you are not a Toa. We do not accept lies." With speed that belied its size, the Abettor raised its crystal fist towards Joske, and held it there like a primed weapon.

IC: Joske "TOA AS IN HERO!" I screamed. It had all happened so fast, both of us moving... and as I shouted there was but a momentary lull in the action as his fist was aimed at my chest, my sword held defensively as I stood panting. It took everything to fight off the panic that was quickly overwhelming me. Great Spirit that was fast. How did it... it can't... not ten seconds since I opened my mouth and- Focus Joske. You have one shot here. "Toa... as in hero." I repeated again, this time much more slowly as I forced my breathing. "Yes, you are right, I have no elemental power. Toa traditionally do have the forces of nature at their fingertips. But words have more than one meaning. I use the term... as a title." It took everything I had not to speak in a rush, face flush. "Toa means "hero" in the Matoran tongue; heroic warriors of great strength and power. The Toa's duty is to protect the Matoran and maintain peace in the universe. They tend to have the powers of the elements, but this is not always the case. I am a Toa in the sense that it is my duty to protect the Matorn, and while I may not have a force of nature, I DO have other powers, and I have seen other like myself who call themselves Toa but to not have elemental abilities. Being like your creators." I stared down this monstrosity, summoning what courage I could. "There is always more to something than it seems. If you can really sense knowledge and truth as it seems you can, then weigh my words."

IC: Abettor The Abettor kept its crystalline arm raised as it seemed to mull in silence over Joske's words. Joske hardly dared to breathe as it did so. At last, the giant robot spoke again. "Hero and Toa are not interchangeable titles," it said. "Not all Toa are heroes, and not all heroes are Toa... For one who speaks so much, you are not very careful with your words." To Joske's immense relief, the Abettor's crystal fist lowered, and with another click-scrape-scrape-click (the extra scrape when the wheel of masks turned one way, and then switched directions, almost as if the Abettor had changed its mind) the Kanohi in its chest swapped out for a Rode. "Why are you here," the guardian asked, making the inquiry a statement.

IC: Joske Ever get that feeling that you have just dodged death? Like the old Dorian Shaddix has pinned you down, tied you up, pointed that "revolver" or whatever it was at your temple and squeezed the trigger, only to have at the last possible moment decided... "nah!"? I was really, REALLY getting tired of that feeling. What was now that, two, three? ... By all that is holy, that's four. Four times. Honestly one of these days I'm going to get in over my head and my luck is just going to run out. At least it's not today. I lowered my sword ever so slightly, feeling the tension in the air drop the the pressure after a storm. It was by no means gone, but I found that I could breathe again, at least for the moment. Wait, were my arms shaking? Looking down, I could see the slight tremor in them. Taking in a deep, scattered breath I forced them still, willing my nerves to calm down. Alright, relax, you bought yourself some breathing room. That's a Rode, or a least a mask that fits the description. Which means he's officially in lie-detector mode. As he pointed out you REALLY need to be more careful with your words Joske, though if my understanding of that mask is correct he will be able to understand better what I mean when I speak. I think. I stared down the eyeless holes of that hollow mask, taking one more breath before I spoke. It was like looking at a soulless statue, except that it could very easily decide your fate. From here on out I would need to be honest AND choose my words carefully. Licking my lips I managed a steady reply without a shake in my voice. "I have come... to learn how to open the Vault."

IC: Abettor Joske had told the truth, in a fashion, so he'd had little to fear; nevertheless, not seeing that eerie crystal raised in his direction again came as a relief. The behemoth guardian shifted a little, though, with the hiss of pistons, and took another ponderous pause before it spoke again. "We do not know how to open the Vault's true door," the Abettor replied, something close to smugness in its metal tones. "You have come to the wrong place for information, Not-Toa Joske."

IC: Joske Oh, ha ha, look, it has a sense of humor. Of course YOU wouldn't, it would be stupid for the guardian of any place to know how the object inside they protected worked. I guess there was such a thing as choosing one's words TOO carefully... that, or it can't take subtle hints. Wait... Not-Toa Joske? The way it spoke was not lost to me, that slight undertone of almost-smugness. For being a soulless machine it seemed to have an attitude. What was next? Belittlement on my personal grooming? Speaking of, there were a lot of scratches I needed to buff out- Bring it on back buddy, you're still nowhere safe. I refocused on the Abettor, my mind a whirl as I thought of my next move. As clearly as it could cut through the meaning of one's words, it did lack the ability to understand subtlety. I couldn't be super-clever in my wording, even with that Rode active. I would simply have to be blunt with what I wanted. Without screwing up. Again. No pressure. I sighed. "Then I am seeking entrance into the Vault," I finally said, narrowing my eyes, "and requesting that the guardian of it grant me passage into it."

IC: Abettor & Zaktan The Abettor took its longest pause so far, facing Joske directly. Joske almost felt compelled to take a step backwards; he had become acutely aware that nothing but a few feet of air separated him from this titanic guardian. The Abettor's hollow eye sockets, magnetic to Joske as he faced their sightless scrutiny, seeming skeletal in the bouncing light that came from the senseless characters scrawled all over its body. The letter light throbbed and flickered, turned a brilliant blue for a moment, and then warped back to sickly green. "You are not without your secrets, Not-Toa Joske," the behemoth stated, its words blades slithering upon each other. "You may enter." Hardly daring to believe his luck, and a little bemused - why had the Abettor let him enter? could it have been so easy? - Joske walked forward, almost flinching at the suddenness with which the Abettor turned aside to allow him passage. Joske tried his best to be quiet, even as he illuminated the crystal flamberge; Ishi had told him that the Vault had already been breached through the Abettor's entrance, so Joske could very easily encounter foes inside. Unfortunately, the acoustics of the tunnel robbed him of the element of surprise; Joske's footfalls on the smooth stone, no matter how soft he landed them, inevitably echoed down the length of the tunnel. At the end of the Abettor's passage Joske discovered another hole in the floor, very much like the one he'd entered through, but for the fact that this one opened on a quartz staircase. Cautiously, Joske peeked his head through the aperture and examined the chamber beneath him. He saw a deep hexagonal chamber, also wrought in quartz. Across from the staircase (which hugged one wall), the inside of the Vault's main door towered over its own little patch of floor, both floor and door distinct from the rest of the room by an absence of lithographs. The other notable features of the room had not been constructed with it: a small mountain of technological items and parts, somewhat diminished by the Piraka's recent bargains but still immense; a little stack of masks in one naked corner of the room; and the ugly vat of Antidermis that clung with tar-like ropes high up on the wall, its spigots at the end of pipes like tentacles. Eight Rahkshi stood sentinel around the chamber, their eyes glowing the same wicked green that seeped out the Abettor's sigils, their staffs held diagonally across their chests in postures of readiness. Two other beings were also inside: a female Vortixx with spiked armor, and a green Skakdi whose form was oddly fuzzy at its edges, like an image on a flickering screen. Despite the fact that the Skakdi was shorter than the Vortixx - shorter than average even for one of his species - the Vortixx's body language and attentive eyes, juxtaposed against the casual demeanor and disregarding gaze of the Skakdi, clearly defined her as deferential to him. The Skakdi handed her a freshly stoppered vial of Antidermis, and his voice was like a swarm of bees speaking in tandem. "You've gotten what you asked for," Zaktan buzzed. "Now, Lash, it is your turn to uphold your end of our arrangement." "What if I don't want to attack Onu-Koro with the rest of your cronies?" the Vortixx purred, her voice simultaneously dulcet and ridged.

"I know how to find you," Zaktan replied simply, one finger playing over the empty vials stored below the vat. For an instant, Lash's shivering was more pronounced than Zaktan's. "This concludes our business. Get out; it seems that someone else has come to meet with me." Lash nodded, and took long steps across the room. As she ascended the staircase, Joske descended, and the two exchanged a once-over look before Lash continued on her way out. Joske stopped in the middle of the staircase, and watched as Zaktan turned around to face him. The Piraka's leader's face melted subtly, and righted itself again, as his leering red eyes took in the Toa before them. "Welcome, Toa," Zaktan hissed. "Who let you in?"

IC: Lash Lash suppressed a shiver as she pocketed the Antidermis vial and left Zaktan's presence. She'd thought Hakann was terrifying, but Zaktan was an entirely different level of disturbing. He didn't seem entirely... together, if that made any sense. As she left the chamber, she passed by someone else, an unfamiliar Toa. No doubt the "someone else" Zaktan had mentioned. She wasn't going to stick around to see what happened next. Quickening her stride and raising her bloody-red light-stone for guidance in the near pitch-black of the tunnels, Lash began her ascent.

IC: Ishi Polzin Joske knew more than just a little about the riddle of the vault. It was apparent in the self-assured final words he cast down while zipping away into the darkness above. To have the truth almost in his grasp and then watch it escape made Ishi grind his teeth with frustration. The informant stood on the stairs, bag over his shoulder, and thought. The sounds from the tunnel on the far side of Mangaia were growing louder. Already he could begin to pick out the cadence of discrete voices, and one felt hauntingly familiar. He'd heard its earthy rumble once before, in the Citadel of Ko-Koro when dropping off Riaril's autopsy reports to Korzaa. A Maru approached. The Hapaka was now in a tight vice: to descend the stairs and risk meeting Sulov and whoever else the titantic toa was traveling with, or to chase after Joske, face the Abettor, and try to learn a bit more about the mysteries of the island. Ishi made his choice and rushed up the stairs two at a time. His bag jostled against his side as he pulled out one of his volo-lutu, and he tripped once, falling onto his elbows and scraping the palm of his hand on the rough stone, nearly losing the device over the edge of the stairs. It tumbled in his awkward flipper hands, and then at the last second his shadowy fingers formed and grasped the hilt. "I don't have time for this," he said and pushed on, keeping the fingers as best he could. They lost their detail, becoming little chunks of bent shadow, like clamps. He found it easier to make simple shapes rather than more intricate things like fingers. His eyes focused upwards, and his auditory receptors picked up the shouted words of Joske from the cavern facing the behemoth inside. He heard many things, and each secret uttered from the ta-toa's lips to the Abettor only assured Ishi in his decision. If he lived to see the moon rise over a battle-scarred Ko-Koro Ishi would have plenty to tell Echelon. By the time Ishi half stumbled half sprinted up into the floor of the cave Joske was disappearing from sight on the far side of the room. Surprisingly, the light didn't blind him quite so much as the last time, although it was still difficult to see for a short while. Perhaps it was because the transition was more gradual climbing stairs than ascending via volo-lutu. "My name is Ishi Polzin, Hapaka, Ahkmou, take your pick." Ishi announced while catching his breath. He stood on the top of the stairwell, ready to throw himself down if need be. Another fall was better than death, although he hated the idea of being wounded and then running into those below, but this time he was prepared. He would fire the volo-lutu, he thought, and keep himself alive if only barely. "And I request you let me pass into the Vault."

IC: Joske And as if the day couldn't get more bizarre... I stood on the middle of the steps, staring at this Piraka whose face... shifted... trying to analyze everything that had been thrown at me over the last thirty seconds. The interior of the Vault, filled with glorious, wondrous, and strange things. Masks, technology, eerie and darkness-oozing liquids, but NOT the one thing I was most concerned with. So far that had not yet been discovered. One Piraka who seemed to be running the show, even Vortixx showing deference, and eight Sons of Makuta standing guard like dogs on a leash, probably at the command of this individual who had just called me out. And that fact that he didn't drop me on sight meant that he must be also dealing with Dark Toa. My mind whirled at the implications... Echelon? Only made sense after what that Matoran was talking about... but most likely others as well. I had a small chance to buy some time while I figured out a way OUT of this mess I was quickly finding myself waist-deep in. "His Royal Crankiness upstairs." I said with a sour tone, jerking a thumb in the Abettor's direction, keeping a neutral to disgruntled tone. "Practically vaporized me on sight. If he's one of yours, may I suggest slightly less smuggy combativeness and a little more business professionalism? Don't know how you got such a machine, but it's pretty impressive. Excellent bouncer and welcoming committee." That last part I tossed in a dash of sarcasm for emphasis. I crossed my arms and slowly walked down the stairs, choosing to play it cool. As I did so I glanced about, taking in every inch of the room, forcing myself not to look at the Piraka. If I showed just how disgusted or afraid I was of him and his... pets, like any good-doer rightfully would, I was sure the jig was going to be up not a moment later. But I couldn't be fearless either. This guy was obviously in charge, and had power that was either greater to or at the minimum rivaled that of Echelon. I needed to show the right amount of... humility. As I hit the floor I contemplated those Rahkshi... that so screwed up almost any plan. Nine verses one in a straight-out shooting match, and those were odds that I was certain I would not win with. It was at this point I was glad my sword was sheathed, only the hilt showing. Clearly he did not recognize me on sight, but I didn't want to push it and have my signature Crystal Flamberge flailing about. This was possibly the most dangerous situation I had ever found myself in. The game is afoot Joske. Don't kill yourself. "So this is the so-called 'Inner Santcum' of the Vault. Interesting. Was all that stuff there, or did you decide to bring in your hoard when you moved in?" I nodded at the pile of technology and masks, my head quickly scoping out anything and everything I could identify. Even at a glace over there was enough here for a small army, and if properly equipped and trained with these objects... I was really beginning to have a bad feeling. That knot in my stomach grew a bit bigger. "So, I take it you're on of the Piraka that I have heard rumored to work with Echelon?" I ventured, finally staring directly into those leering red eyes, pulling up information during the conversation I had with that Matoran. It was a slight stretch and a gamble, but I had to start somewhere. I also made sure to leave a little bit of... deference in that last sentence, just enough to convey that I knew he was in charge. Whoever this was, I hoped his answer gave me something to work with lest this be a very short conversation. Emphasis on the very short.

IC: Leah and Reordin IC (Leah): The two Toa Maru had continued walking in relative silence for the longest part of the trek from Ga-Wahi to the depths below Kini-Nui, where Makuta's Mangaia lair had recently seen an unprecendented influx of visitors, both welcome and unwelcome ones. And finally, after months, it was time for the Island's guardians to return too. Leah worried about they had perhaps grown too complacent; if they had waited too long perhaps. Guarding the Island seemed well and good, but often it felt like for every fire the put out, metaphorically speaking, two others were lit. And in accordance with that mental image, the vault and Mangaia had been smoldering for too long below the surface, which was starting to crack, letting the flames flare up. The fire rises. Which was why the two Maru were determined to see what they could find out. Maybe they could still do something down here to prevent the Piraka and their new allies, the reorganized remnants of Makuta's followers to gain too much of a foothold. If they got their hands on some artifact or multiple that would increase their power, who was to say that they couldn't overrun the island soon? Would it matter then if Makuta was gone, banished into non-existence by the powers of the Hiripaki? And even if they had not gained anything that made them overall more powerful, their enemies now possessed new knowledge, which could be used against them. In Leah's mind, these dark thoughts circled like Takea in Naho bay, one dark scenario chasing another. The only thing that made things brighter for her at the moment, aside from the lightstone at the tip of her staff, was her Le-Koronan spirit. She was no longer as quirky as in her Matoran days, but her roots still went deep into the Le-Wahi soil and she was thankful for it. Typical Toa-Heroes. she told herself. While the Matoran go free-swimming or high-flying or fun-walking we deep-delve into Makuta's old living room. That's SO us. Soon, the tunnel they were in began to widen and finally it opened up into the vast, empty cavern that was the forecourt to Mangaia. But it was no longer pitch black at least, despite the Suva of the temple of the surface remaining closed once more, not allowing the shaft of light they had first descended into the cavern in to reach the bottom. Instead, when clearing out all the dangerous items, the Maru had placed a few dim light-stones in the area. It wasn't enough light to dispel the darkly foreboding mood of the place, but it was enough to safely navigate the room, which no longer housed the monstrous Manas, though the generator-towers that had powered them remained, now little more than inactive hulks. At the far end, the two Toa could see that the next doorway, which had originally been covered by a solid stone gate with the Mangaia symbol carved into it, remained open, just as they had left it. Beyond lay the chamber where they had faced the shadows of the Toa Mata and beyond that was Makuta's inner sanctum. Upon entering it, the two paused and took a few seconds to look around. Leah recognized some of the traces left by their battle with the dark deity, scorch-markings made by Oreius, torn up floor plates, which were Sulov's and Stannis' doing. What remained untouched though was the main-door of the vault at the end of the room. Well, almost untouched... "Look." Leah said quietly, indicating the floor in front of the vault. "Footsteps. Quite a few of them." she followed the tracks in the dust with her eyes. They were leading to the staircase that in turn vanished into the opening in the ceiling. They could either go and investigate upstairs, or stay here and see wait for what would happen next. Somewhere in the back of Leah's mind a voice started to hum a song out of nowhere. Should I stay or should I go now?/ If I go there will be trouble - and if stay it will be double./ So come on and let me know... "What do you think, Reordin?"

IC: Abettor "We deny your request," the Abettor told Ishi.

IC: Zaktan ... The Toa, though he seemed not to know it, discredited himself more and more with each word he spoke. Zaktan could tell that the newcomer was nervous; his attempts to be debonair might've been more effective without the heavy-handedness of fear. Fear was something he was accustomed to from his pawns, so the Toa's fear in itself was unremarkable, as was the Toa's consequential would-be machismo posturing. It seemed to the Piraka that this Toa didn't know how to stop talking; even after the first two of his verbal forays had been met with silence - the sort of silence that those who knew Zaktan knew wasn't a good sign; the sort of silence that the Toa, had he been who he was so sloppily pretending to be, would have known was his cue to close his mouth - he couldn't stop himself from blurting out a third time. The silence scared him, and he didn't know better than to let it. The Toa's talkativeness could have meant that the he hadn't been involved with the Piraka and Legacy for very long, or simply that he was stupid... but for the impeaching content of his ejaculations. Zaktan's routine wariness spiked to real suspicion almost as soon as the Toa started to speak. First, the Toa claimed that the Abettor had let him in of its own volition; as nobody could pass the behemoth save the Piraka and their specifically presented guests, this meant either that the Toa was hiding a Piraka sponsor, a precursor for insurrection, or - a possibility Zaktan knew better than to eliminate - this Toa was of the legitimately "worthy" sort, probably a bland hero type. Either way, this Toa was lying to Zaktan about something, and one lie was more than enough to set off the Piraka's internal alarms.

Second, the Toa either played dumb or was dumb about the Vault's treasures; and third, he either played dumb or was dumb about Zaktan's identity. His ignorance, feigned or real, created two likely scenarios: one, this Toa had been let into the Vault by Hakann or Reidak (and he probably wouldn't say which, so that if whatever he'd come down into the Vault to try failed, his sponsor could not be implicated; and besides, Zaktan wouldn't have been surprised if Hakann had employed this Toa, all the while calling himself Reidak) on business of rebellion or deceit; or, two, this Toa actually didn't know anything, reinforcing the righteous (albeit naive and tragically uninformed) hero possibility. Whatever the case, this Toa was not who he pretended to be. Zaktan treated all liars as enemies. The Toa met Zaktan's eyes, and Zaktan didn't shy away from the stare. The Toa looked away first, further fracturing his casual facade; either he'd seen Zaktan's dangerous disbelief, or else he'd simply been unnerved by a distinct lack of blinking on Zaktan's part. The shimmering, fizzling Skakdi took a few steps away from the Antidermis vat - a dark patron saint that hovered over him like an unholy octopus - and towards the Toa. Zaktan carried no weapon as he approached; his golden scissor leaned against one of the walls, and the Rahkshi made no moves. As Zaktan approached on his flat feet, he appraised the Toa and took stock of his foe's tools. Kanohi Kakama; sword; fire elemental abilities. Against eight Rahkshi and Zaktan, such a foe was no threat. But before he slew the Toa, Zaktan decided to withdraw certain information. He stopped just a few feet from the intruder. "Tell me who you are," Zaktan commanded, the multifarious tones of his voice alien and deceptively calm.

IC: Ishi Polzin Ishi let the grinding words echo and disappear from the cavern before speaking. Instead of the kakama or arthron it wore the last time, a kanohi rode gleamed in the oily green light within its drum-like torso. Could the Abettor use these masks, or were they simply representations of its multiple personas? Ishi let the thought slide, taking the defensive pass: yes, the masks could be active. "We deny your request." The Abettor told Ishi, succinct as usual. It didn't come as much of a surprise to be turned away, but Ishi wasn't in the mood to be rejected. Mind running in full gear, he began calculating. The behemoth standing in his way looked peaceful and its crystal arm was far from raised to attack, but from personal experience he knew it could switch into a combative posture and sweep him up from the floor in almost the blink of an eye. Was Ishi fast enough to outrun it? Common sense said yes, but with kanohi common sense began nonsense. The glowing sigils where the light pulsed out and filled the crystalline cave was no longer the blue Ishi remembered from the first meeting. The light was green, sickening and oddly comforting. The Informant felt at home with the presence of antidermis. Another thought. Joske's voice had echoed when he shouted. He took a step back to test the theory, and sure enough the sole of his foot colliding with the crystal floor made a soft pattern fading down the length of the cavern. A gamble popped into his head, one entirely based on the concept of being heard, but it seemed worth the effort given his situation. He sucked in a great gulp of air, and then...

"Zaktan!" Ishi bellowed. The name careened off the walls, rocketed from ceiling to roof. His practice as a flutist and heightened lung capacity payed off in the volume of his voice. He kept an eye on the Abettor and continued. "Zaktan I know you're in here! Call off your pet! This is Ahkmou for karz sake, with a message from Echelon!"

IC: Hakann The bellowing is cacophonously tenor, its ingratiatingly panicked tone resonating endlessly within the inclosed vacuums of these catacombs. The shadows quiver, a shuddering oscillation betwixt pen- and true umbra, movements simultaneously subtle and vivid.

They comprehend my silent interest; liquid, they disperse into the tunnel's farthest expanses. I follow silently, eyes void and vision acutely thermographic. We reach the central chamber through a lightless route, entering in into a darkened corner. They furtively move into regular sentry positions, as I analyse my surroundings for the source of the clamour. Two Toa-sized beings, the vividness of their heat juxtaposed upon the vagueness of the surrounding earth, moderately distant. A manqué attempt at stealth? Certainly not the bellowing individual. I gesture, and the shadows grow deathly still, their eyes scanning for the target of my warning. Having no interest in waiting for their movement, I carefully continue to the stairs, provoking no movement. Confident in the ability of the Rahkshi to subdue any foes, I ascend, movements slow and silent. Upon reaching the Abettor's domain and observing a frustrated Matoran, no initial action is taken; I remain silent and beyond the range of his sight, waiting a few moments to see if he notices my presence. “From the majestic Echelon himself? Such authoritative connotations...” A single stride caries me suddenly from the dark, posture a tastefully understated combination of primal and dignified. “You must be an individual of superlative grandeur, to receive such a task.”

IC: Joske And he wasn't buying it. As if to accentuate the point, the shimmering, fizzling Skakdi took a few steps away from the vat - that terrible, awful-looking squid-like contraption - and moved straight towards me. He carried no weapon as he approached; out of the corner of my eye I could see what looked like a pair of super-sized golden scissors leaned against one of the walls; if that was his weapon it was both comical and ominous at the same time. The Rahkshi strangely made no moves; I was but slightly relieved, as hollow of a blessing as it was. As he approached me on those flat feet, I watched as he did a once over and took stock of my gear; no doubt sizing me up when he decided he was bored of my presence, those red, piercing eyes darting this way and that. Eventually he stopped just a few feet from me, his shifting body almost nauseating to watch. "Tell me who you are," came the commanded, the multifarious tones of that voice alien and deceptively calm. Dear Mata-Nui...

This wasn't good. I had about five seconds come come up with something, anything, to keep this conversation going; and when I mean "conversation" I mean his interest, as in not deciding I'm Rahkshi snack considering how little he has spoken. But I couldn't just say my real name lest he know it. Granted, I had a trump card, my Kakama, but at this point it was a one-time use, and that only a way out of here. If I stayed and attempted to fight there was little chance of success; there were too many too powerful enemies present. But I just couldn't run either, I had something to do in here. I just... I grasped at straws. "I... c-can't tell you." I stammered, playing up the fear he no doubt sensed and was in fact no act, involuntarily taking a step back. "I was sent here to do a job, that's it. No questions, no explanations. I have something that belongs down here, something that has come into my possession, and I'm the only one with the knowledge and know-how to install it right, let alone at all. I-I'm here on orders, please don-" "ZAKTAN!" A name and a voice shot through the room, interrupting the proceedings. The name I did not recognize, but the voice I did. It was that Matoran! "Zaktan I know you're in here! Call off your pet! This is Ahkmou for karz sake, with a message from Echelon!" I could not believe my luck. At my most desperate moment, a lifeline was flung from the heavens. As much as the accustics in this place was used against me on my way in, my footsteps announcing my presence, this time it was a boon, allowing that little voice of his to be heard clearly all the way down here. Ahkmou, that snotty Echelon informant, had apparently followed me after all, and as he had described to me earlier, was unable to get past the Abettor. Granted, there were terrible dangers associated with this, like the fact that he knew who I really was along with some other pertinent information that would get me killed on the spot, but when I talked to him earlier... he was a true spy. He dealt with information. And he was greedy with it, considering how little he gave me when we chatted. I was willing to bet everything that if given half the opportunity he would help me convince this Skakdi for the chance at picking my brain. It was such a long shot I didn't care to calculate it out. But it was the only shot I had right now, if only for the fact he knew more about these people than I did. I took the desperate gamble. "What do you know, the little informant followed me here. Give a spy a bone, and he'll trail you like a lost puppy for more." I spoke through gritted teeth, absolutely faking the smile with no effort to hide it. "He can collaborate my story if he's allowed in. I swear I'm telling the truth if you just ask him... Zaktan." In the back of my head I could hear rolling dice.

IC: Leah Maru Suddenly, a voice called out. The two Toa froez in their movements, listening closely. "Zaktan!" it bellowed. "Zaktan I know you're in here! Call off your pet! This is Ahkmou for karz sake, with a message from Echelon!" And just like that, the situation had become clear. The Piraka had cracked the vault and left one of their number behind. And they did have working connections with Echelon and his ilk. "Thanks for the info..." Leah whispered under her breath, but Reordin suddenly held up a hand to shush her. He pointed down the path behind them. Footsteps could be heard. Clawed footsteps by the sound of them. Quickly, the two Maru disappeared from sight, using the shadows as cover. Not long after, a familiar figure appeared: Hakann. The sadistic Piraka moved with a purpose, but very carefully as to not draw unwanted attention, unaware that he already had it. It must have been the call that had gotten his attention and that was all he focused on right now as he moved past them to give the caller an unwanted surprise. Normally, Leah would have been in a hurry to help whoever had the bad fortune of being at the top of the stairs, but the caller implied he worked for Echelon. And he knew Zaktan's name. No need to spring into action just yet, then. Leah looked back at Reordin. The unspoken question in her eyes was obvious: Next move?

IC: Sulov Maru IC: I feel the commotion in the ground. People are rushing everywhere ahead of us. The yell confirms it, there's a situation with Joske, Zaktan, an Echelon man and some unknowns--Kimi shows Thok in Onu-Wahi- I hold up a hand and mash the brakes. We're stopping. I'm saving Nimil. I'm hunting Thok. I'm finding out about communications between Zaktan and Echelon. Let's organize those. Keeping people alive is first priority. Nimil's that, but he doesn't sound like he's presently threatened. My people could be threatened if I run into Zaktan's "pet." Recalculating, we need to approach with caution and find out what's at the bottom of this mess. I start creeping down the tunnel to the Vault door.

IC: Aeolus/Arden The steam-toa unquestionably followed Sulov, the duo finally doing the most terrifying thing ever. Being silent.

IC: Ishi Polzin, Mangaia (Abettor's Lair) He felt the shadow looming over him before he saw the caster. The skakdi's accent was distinctively foreign, unlike the speech patterns of castaways who'd gotten used to a new life on Mata Nui, but certainly impressed the image of a learned man. Where he'd come from was anyone's guess, but Ishi knew if more than one Piraka was present his job was a million times harder. Although a quarrelsome group, when faced with a common enemy they bound together to terrible results. His eyes began to wander from the Abettor, head turning until both were in his peripheral view. The red skakdi of fire, the educated sadist, was smiling. Hardly a good sign. "Oh, hello Hakann" Ishi said while sliding out of the direct line of fire between the puffed-up thesaurus with a blood fetish and the smug machine with a personality disorder. His voice was not as loud as his bellow, but still the words echoed and played along the walls. "Indeed, your consummate deduction was without empirical fallacy. Perhaps the following interpretive analysis performed by your adjunct cranium will conclude the matter unequivocally urgent, leading to you making this machine back down and let me through." Ishi wondered later on if yelling the final bit was really worth it.

IC: Hakann “Adjunct cranium? A disappointing description, Matoran. The encephalon, which I believe was the intended target of your speech, holds no relation to its surrounding osseous tissue; and such a fascinating selection of adjectives...” No sound of conflict below; assuming the intruders are incapable of silent destroying three Rahkshi actively searching for them, nothing has happened. “But I digress,” I move to the Abettor, my motions deliberate and tranquil, which shifts aside wordlessly. “You wish to relay a message? By all means, enter.” I shall escort him to Zaktan and collect reinforcements, assuming no further complications arise. I truthfully do hope he is not attempting deception; the remains of Zaktan's victims are far too fluid and disordered for my liking.

IC:Leah From her hidden spot, the Toa of water was breathing quietly. One reason were the three Rahkshi in the room with them now, the other reason being her trying to listen closely to the voices coming from above. Since the surrounding sounds were minimal, even the normal tone of conversation the Piraka and whoever had been shouting before had adopted now carried quite well downstairs. It revealed more information: The vault was not guarded by the Piraka directly, but who or whatever was in place to perform that duty apparently answered to them. It also revealed that whoever the red Piraka - now identified as Hakann - was permitting to enter to speak with the one called Zaktan had little respect for Echelon's messenger. It could be an indicator that the alliance was uneasy in some regards. She glanced over to where Reordin was and began to think of a strategy to deal with the Rahkshi.

IC: Ishi Polzin To watch the Abettor simply stand aside with the wave of Hakann's arm was close to a miracle. However, the pint-sized matoran didn't have time for jealousy. The Vault, and sucking the informational marrow out of Joske Nimil, awaited. "Someone around here gets it. Echelon's not going to be happy learning about the delay." Ishi replied as he lowered his volo-lutu and crossed the floor. It was a momentous achievement even if already done by a handful of searchers looking to make a pact with Zaktan. How many passed seeking something other than power, though? Ishi had bought power with his fingers and soul; the only thing he wanted now was knowledge. On the far side was another hole in the floor, and this descended down through another crystal tunnel, echoing his breathing, winding around itself, until he stepped out into the half light of a large antechamber. He stopped in his tracks at the doorway, doing his best not to let the appearance of almost a dozen rahkshi paralyze his mind with fear, or the swirling green concoction of an entity that controlled them. Zaktan was fearsome. His body buzzed like the static of a Po-Koro radio relay, and his red eyes flickered somewhere between disgust and disdain for the red and gold toa standing before him. Ishi went to put his hands in the folds of his coat, but then remembered he wasn't wearing it. The fireproof garment was still a damaged bundle on the back of his dikapi's saddle in a nearby tunnel. Awkward. Piles of items littered the floor, making the room seem a maze from the top of the steps where Ishi stood. Gold and masks glittered among techno-marvels that made the gear-head child in Ishi cry for a playdate; if only a date with dodging death wasn't calling his attention. At the foot of the stairs was Joske, looking very much relieved by the additional seconds of life he'd been given, and squirming like a worm on the hook. Ishi liked the idea of Nimil owing him. He blinked, pointed at Joske, and laughed.

"By Karz Zaktan, do you know who this is?" Ishi said, pulling on the plan formed while walking down the stairs with Hakann behind him, and now the fun of playing the game made his dark cheer genuine. He let the question linger for a moment, fade a little in the room. Zaktan seemed unsure how to answer, the swarm of his composition flickering faster. "That's Dorian Shaddix you're talking to! Oh, right, you're new here... Where to begin? Dorian is an mark bearer and got expelled from Ga-Koro with the rest of the group for damaging public property... After that the trail gets a little fuzzy, but he joined up with a group of paid killers and assassinated one of the six leaders of this island before Makuta was cast down. In all he's a lovely criminal and hit man. Can I keep him? I'd love to drag his sorry ass back to Echelon."

IC: Joske Nimil What the karzahni does that half-pint think he's- Oh. OH!

I just might survive this... my gamble paid off. Kind of. Calling me Dorian was probably a stroke of small genius, the similarities in our appearances and styles somewhat-common knowledge, though our bodily colors couldn't be farther apart. However, I was going to guess THEY didn't know that is he was going to invoke that name... and when I mean they I mean ANOTHER Skakdi coming down the stairs after the informant. Not to mention if I got out of this mess I was sure the he was going to insist that I "owed him"... I wasn't sure if I was better off before these turn of events or after. The only thing I could do now was play along. "I can't wait to see you try and spill the rest of the beans through your broken neck." I snarled, for the moment suspending my fear in favor of being ###### as a mother ash bear finding out her cubs were being messed with.... I allowed some more of that debonair come flowing back, trying to find my inner Dorian. I only spent waaaaaaay too much time with the guy. "Oh, well. No use crying over spilt ex-girlfriend tears. As thrilled I am to see your pretty face to lend me some cred, I'll be sure to let your boss know how easily you squeal." I returned my gaze back to Zaktan, no doubt trying to piece together what had just transpired. Thinking like Dor I smiled, the side of my lips twitching, looking like I was trying to hide a smirk instead. "Well, that was unfortunate. A Matoran shows up and just like that, easy-peasy lemon-squeazy my cover's blown. Yeah, look, I may be a hit man, but I can assure you I didn't come to make a mark on this place, cross my heart and hope for celibacy. Especially after seeing these odds." I thumbed at the Rahkshi again, allowing a bit of that fear to return while using my other hand to motion over my heartlight. "As I said, I'm here to deliver something special, no questions, no comments. Just ask this big-mouthed loser. Careful, though. When you look into the abyss, the abyss might just blab out your entire biography." I glared at the Matoran once more, flaring my eyebrows and rolling my eyes at the same time, something I'd seen him do about a billion times. "You can even watch over my shoulder if you feel like getting that close but seriously, I was not expecting this... or you." I gave the shifting Skakdi another once-over, making sure to keep a proper distance away. "Just let me do my dig and I'll get out. This place is giving me the hibbie-jibbies anyways." If Dor EVER finds out about this...

IC: Hakann As the diminutive informer begins to verbalise with apparently inveterate excess, I murmur a command to the remainder of my Rahkshi. The vehemence of their eyes betraying an incisive mentality, they compose themselves into a defensive position around my person, locomotion exact. I stare at Zaktan momentarily, smile momentarily subsiding, and then move my gaze to the area of my entrance. The Toa and Matoran seem to be minor possible threats, well within Zaktan's capabilities. Reinforcements acquiried, I stride to the staircase's edge, pausing to listen intently on any signs of movement below.

IC: Zaktan Zaktan had hardly moved even through the commotion of the last few moments. As the newcomer Toa had refused to give his identity, as Zaktan had heard shouts from the Abettor's tunnel overhead, as Hakann had escorted the source of the shouts - a little Matoran, one of Echelon's - into the Vault, and as that same Matoran had revealed the Toa's - Dorian's - identity, the Piraka had continued to appraise the newcomer, watching keenly for subtle betrayals of body language, tone, and wording. Dorian still lied about something, and Zaktan could feel it, but not identify it. As was his wont, Zaktan processed the information that the situation, as well as his personal observations, had given him. The Toa's name and profession, at least, were reasonable givens; they had been corroborated by an outside source, and the details that the Matoran had rattled off had rung bells for Zaktan. Though the name "Dorian" meant nothing alone to him, the deeds associated with it - the assassinations of the Turaga, the island's leaders before the Piraka's time - were familiar in Zaktan's understanding of the past of Mata Nuian history. This Toa was, then, Dorian, and an assassin.

Considering the amorality associated with slaying one of the beloved leaders of the Matoran people, Zaktan could safely eliminate the possibility he'd been entertaining earlier that this Dorian was a hero type. He certainly looked the part of hero - tall, handsome, nearly nauseatingly wholesome - but given Zaktan's experience with mercenaries and sell-swords, looks were oftentimes deceiving, and Zaktan rarely paid them heed. A Toa who had done what Dorian had done wouldn't likely be the sort that the Abettor would let into the Vault. That left the other of Zaktan's theories: Dorian was indeed a shady Toa, and he had been let into the Vault by either Hakann or Reidak on an assigned, as of yet unknown, mission. Zaktan thought Hakann the most likely option given his current, even suspicious, proximity to the scene and his tendencies to scheme. Perhaps the yelling Matoran had been a plant, an excuse for Hakann to descend into the Vault at the same time as Dorian; but if he'd wanted to situate Dorian and himself in the Vault at the same time, why would he have seen the need to complicate the arrangement with the Matoran crier, rather than escorting the Toa inside himself? Perhaps Hakann might not have wished this Toa to appear an ally of his, for any number of reasons; if that was the case, if Dorian had come on Hakann's orders and the Matoran was an accomplice, that could destabilize even the given of the Toa's identity, returning Zaktan to square one. He needed more information, and considering the likelihood of Hakann's involvement - a likelihood derived of uncertain conjecture, maybe; but, given the convoluted schemes Hakann had birthed in the past, uncertain conjecture was close enough to legitimate suspicion for Zaktan's tastes - Zaktan decided to remove him from the situation, first. "Hakann," he hissed. "Without your full complement of Rahkshi... I'm awed by your courage. Here, at home, you're brave enough to bring along three bodyguards instead of six." "Three of my Rahkshi are outside," Hakann drawled. "I noticed somebody in the vicinity of our front door."

"Go and offer them our... hospitality," Zaktan sneered.

"Your wish is my command, oh insubstantial one," Hakann answered sardonically; Zaktan noted no telltale resentment or resistance in the words, but Hakann was a good liar. The red Piraka gestured to his three Rahkshi, leading them back up the Vault's inner stairs and through the hole in the ceiling, leaving Zaktan and his eight Sons of Makuta with the Toa and Matoran. The Matoran fell under Zaktan's scrutiny, first.

"You said," the Piraka leered, placing emphasis on the word as if to chide the Matoran for having shouted so close to his Vault, "that you have a message from Echelon. Give it to me."

IC: Sulov Maru

Lantz is out. “But I digress." Leah and Reordin are ahead. "You wish to relay a message?" The voice coming up is Hakann. "By all means, enter.” I could turn back and save Lantz or go on for Joske and one Piraka. Let's consider. There's no defined danger behind us. The other way is Hakann, "Zaktan," "Ahkmou," the Abettor, Joske, and Leah and Reordin. We can team up and find out what's happening. Let's. I move on and pull up my map of the chamber. Leah and Reordin are by a tunnel in, unmoving, probably hiding; if Hakann's anywhere, it's away from them in the ceiling. I need to meet up with them where he can't see me and find out what's up. I stop at the entrance and show an empty hand to the others, halting the stalk toward our target. Time is important, but we also need information. I shake the ground near Leah and Reordin a little bit, churning the dirt like a broken wave originating in my position. The quake is just for them, just a little thing they can tell is trying to get their attention. Then I wait in the shadows behind my entrance to their side. They can tell I'm here. Anyone around the staircase can't.

IC: Ishi Polzin Zaktan wasn't the only one thinking on his feet. Ishi saw several routes opening and closing in tandem, possibilities accessed or denied with a shift in posture by those around. With Zaktan the possibilities opened and closed like a door in a gale; it was almost impossible to tell anything from his erratic body movement. The Hapaka wasn't one for definite plans. In the current situation he favored the quick creation of a multitude of schemes involving varying hues of brilliance and insanity, as if instead of spending time priming the canvas and mixing colors he simply dumped the paint buckets into a larger vessel, stirred it with a stick name Joske, splashed the concoction against a raw canvas of rahkshi and piraka, and waited for the paint to dry. If Ishi was a painter his works would be in the section for post-modern art. Instead, he was informant who dealt in secrets. Ishi's last work was buried in a glass jar halfway between Po-Koro and Forsi, much to Nuparu's chagrin. Joske fell immediately into the role of lady's man man's man man about town with a scarf often known as Dorian Shaddix. Ishi had never met the gunslinger and ex-mark-bearer, but from stories he'd heard at bars and in government documents he couldn't help but feel the ta-toa was tapping into the right vein. Was method acting a part of Joske's earlier days? Then Ishi remembered Joske was a prick as a kohlii star. All the journalists in the Mata-Nui Daily office despised his apparent lack of anything that didn't involve a reflective surface. One snarky reporter had even hypothesized the only real reason Joske Nimil was so good at kohlii was because he was always chasing after his reflection in the ball and it had nothing to do with any sort of love for the sport itself. Chase the shiny ball, win shiny trophy, soon he'd have a rack of golden mirrors. Lieutenant Lipa had mentioned something about Dorian being a fierce fighter as well. Hopefully, if it came to it, Joske was worth something with Heuani's flamberge and not swinging it Ishi's way. He'd have to make sure of that. The rahkshi were textbook, their colors quickly distinguishing rank and power just as the book he'd read before meeting the Abettor the first time referenced. He'd been in the Wise Man's Archive with Krios only a few weeks ago pulling scrolls and books off their shelves with a candid interest in self-preservation during his journey to Mangaia. How fast the world rushed by, and here he was again, this time even further than before. Diligence paid off, apparently. Speaking of diligence. Ishi caught the subtlety of Zaktan's move. Sending away a sentient ally to join the Abettor in his lair instead of a few of his rahkshi proved the thought of distrust among the piraka. Ishi watched the red skakdi stomp up the stairs until he turned and disappeared from sight with his three rahkshi slaves. Then Zaktan wanted Echelon's message: perfect timing. Ishi started talking. His voice echoed a little, but not so much as back in the Abettor's lair. "Yeah, Echelon said he wanted a shipment of tech and antidermis brought to Ko-Koro ahead of schedule. I left before they started the assault, but he felt confident in using the extra stuff to win the hearts of the populace. I think the exact words were 'incinerate the non-believers' but I took it with a grain of salt. " Ishi took a cautious step down the first stair and pulled a face as his foot squelched on something roach-like. Giving it a kick into nearest pile of techno-treasures he continued down the stairs. "As for you, Mr. Blue Eyes Red Dragon, I've got some questions I'd like answering once your little task is done."

IC: Zaktan Zaktan saw no concrete reason to disbelieve the Matoran's words had come from Echelon. However, he found the heedless overconfidence inherent in a preemptive request for Antidermis and technology, a request that had to have been made before the battle for Ko-Koro had even begun, to be uncharacteristic of the Dark Toa; Echelon was smug and pretentious, but he wasn't stupid; therefore Zaktan regarded the message with suspicion. He would not have been at all surprised to discover that the Matoran had lied about the message's contents, or about even having had a message to deliver. Again, Zaktan got the frustrating, tantalizing whiff of something just out of reach, a falsehood he yearned to reveal. But Zaktan hadn't expected the Matoran's message to do much to help him uncover the untruth that he so craved. The much more lucrative mine of inconsistency thus far had been the Toa, so Zaktan's next inquiry - one he'd been derailed from asking minutes ago by the appearance of Hakann and the Matoran - would be designed to provide him with deeper insight. Again the Skakdi's red eyes bored into the Toa's, and again the Toa could not hold his gaze for more than a few seconds. The Toa looked away, but Zaktan did not. He needed conclusive proof one way or another of the Toa's identity; this was the only way to proceed. As all brilliant thoughts usually came to Zaktan, this one arrived in an instant, fully and elegantly formed. "Bring me a sphere and launcher," Zaktan called to nobody in particular, the eerie hum of his voice echoing through the hexagonal well. The Rahkshi closest to the vat broke its statuesque stillness, setting aside its staff as it picked up a black-green Zamor Sphere in one hand and then Zaktan's well-used Zamor Launcher in the other. The hunched creature handed the tool and its ammunition deferentially to Zaktan, who took the launcher and loaded it with the sphere. The Rahkshi returned to its post and its weapon; Zaktan held the Zamor launcher at his side with a practiced, casual grip. Both Toa and Matoran swallowed; not only had they been reminded of the total obsequiousness of the deadly Rahkshi in the room to Zaktan's will, but they now also faced an armed Piraka with unclear motives. Purely to augment their nervousness, Zaktan let a his serpentine face curl into a sinister leer, and took an ample pause before he addressed the Toa again. "I believe that you, Dorian, said you had come to make a delivery. Tell me, what have you come to deliver?"

IC: Joske Nimil C'mooooon Lady Luck, I'm A-LMOST THERE... Except now he's ARMED. And therefore even more exceedingly DANGEROUS. "E-easy there Guy Smiley, I've been nothing but a mostly-cooperative guest, which is far more than my usual fees dictate. I mean, that leery grin is not at all attractive, but those pearly whites!... all I gotta say is this: you guys must have an amazing dental plan." With that statement I turned to the Matoran. "Yeah, sure, like I'm going to talk you you again, You Royal Blabiness, motormouthing everything about me at the first available opportunity. Typical informant; can't keep his mouth shut on the inconsequential details yet forgets to tell about the really important stuff, like a full benefits package for joining up. And here I am a part-timer. Sheesh! Next thing I know if I talk to you again you'll reveal to Echelon my preferred female color, my favorite food, and what stuffed animal I sleep with at night." I waited a beat before leaning in on the little Matoran, voice barely above a whisper. "Breathe a word about Pookie, and you're a dead man." I didn't even have to look at him to sense it. If looks could kill, Zaktan's laser eyes would have fried me by now. If he had those. He might though... Wait, had that Zamor launcher twitched closer? Such is the high cost of playing Dor. "Heh heh... riiiiight." I did that smile again, the sides of my lips twitching, jazz-handing to show that I was unarmed and slowly reaching into my satchel, pulling out two gems, both perfectly round, one a deep red and other a golden-brown hue. "Behold, a woman's best friend... beside yours truly of course. These little bad boys are the Crystals that were once housed in those hard-to-reach temples, representing the Matoran's Virtues, Principles, yadda yadda yadda. The guy who got them out of their cages did all the heavy lifting for me, and then was stupid...ly generous with them. With a little ingenuity, some bourbon and a smile, I wormed my way into his heart of hearts and his silly little man purse. Hook, meet Line, meet Sinker. I also found an inscription with them - don't laugh informant, I may be a barbarian but I CAN read - and they detailed another use for them, down here. Apparently they activate a device that has island-wide applications, so as the gentleman and opportunist that I am I was more than happy to lend my services to do that, since I promptly destroyed the instruction manual after memorizing it, ensuring that I would survive the encounter. I got all six in here, so no worries." The look on Zaktan's face was not a happy one, as usual. I flared my eyebrows and rolled my eyes at the same time. "Hey, not my fault the inscription was a million years old and falling apart. The last few sentences were a bit hazy, or maybe that was because of the bourbon, not so sure anymore... but in any case I don't know exactly what will happen once it activates, so if it's going to backfire on anyone it'll hit me first and save you the trouble and the tremendous effort of pulling that hair trigger."

IC: Hakann Silence, the distant reverberations of others. Assume highest possible combatant amount: Six, perhaps? Presume combat capabilities to be maximal. “Prepare,” two move ahead at the beginning of the whisper, striding to the staircase's edge, and then descend as the last syllable is uttered, hovering lightly to the cavern's floor, their comrades below likewise searching for signs of potential offensives. Extremely subtle disturbance in the earthen section of ceiling and walls; arrival postponed. I draw my Lava and Zamor Launcher, activate thermographic vision, and begin descent, the remaining Rahkshi directly behind. If a fall occurs, it understands the needed course of action.

IC: Ishi Polzin "I didn't know you had a preferred female color," Ishi said, more of a wheeze really as he tried to not burst out laughing. "And a million year old manual telling you to put the stones below? I'm not sure what genre to put that in: self-help or exercise?" He waved an arm in the air like a drowning man as he doubled over and cackled, slapping a palm to his knee for support. The echoes were ugly renditions of something far more unique, but the paint he'd so quickly splashed on the canvas was beginning to dry into a composition far more incoherent than he could've dreamed. It was fantastic. The more detail he packed into the painting, the more colors he could stir together with that Joske stick between his hands, the more likely the desired outcome would barf itself into creation simply to escape the cesspool of alternate possibilities. Zaktan had a single zamor in a launcher. On its own Ishi wouldn't have worried, but with the rahkshi so fully subservient the situation posed a threat. Regarding the possibility of death: Ishi really didn't care. He was having far too much fun, and like every time before he'd expected the game to leave him broken, battered, and ripped from his body to join the one he could no longer talk to. The one he'd planned on giving a silver ring. The one who'd given him a Ta-Koro widget, not knowing someday it'd become a treasured possession hidden in the archives of Catarix Vint'Rasque to grow cold like her heart. Someday, he was going to lose this game. Someday, He was going to win and wake up in Nakumiir's arms. "Tell you what, Zaktan: let me fish out some documentation. Here," Ishi sat down and reached into his drawstring bag to rummage for the necessary item with a long tendril of shadow, pulling a faded and rather battered piece of paper with a sigil and quick scrawl of letters regarding gate admittance but no date out into the light, "is a stamped copy of release from Ko-Koro by Ambages the Architect. Since Matoro got knocked off he's been running the show in the village as Hand of the Akiri. Well he was appointed by Matoro six or seven months ago, but that's neither here nor there. The place is in lockdown again, they heard the marching troops through the radio system throughout the mountains. Ambages told me about Echelon's message since they've been in cahoots together for a few months -- you know, the classic evil vizier drill -- and then chucked me out the side gate by the hospital to run fast before the fighting got rolling, so I guess you could say I'm the second messenger and maybe the words got a little warped in the transmission, but here's some paperwork, if nothing else." Ishi smiled, something less sinister than Zaktan's buzzing sneer but conveying a similar message. He meant business. "So, do I take a message to Echelon telling him to stuff it, or is there a pile of garbage tech I can drag back to Ko-Koro to satisfy his dark whimsy? Maybe a wrench that goes boom when thrown?"

IC: Leah Maru A slight shudder, right underneath their feet. It was subtle. So subtle that Leah doubted anybody else could feel the disturbance. The Rahkshi standing watch certainly didn't. She could only think of one person who had the necessary fine control over the element of earth to do this. The two Maru's eyes turned towards the entrance of the chamber. Sulov was here. That was a plus. But between him and them stood three Rahkshi. If those were alerted, they would make noise, call down the Piraka from above and they would have their hands full. She glanced at the ground, then to the staircase, just as the red Skakdi spoke again. “Prepare,” his voice echoed softly around the chamber, followed by two more Rahkshi making their way down the stairs, followed by the red Skakdi himself and then another of the Makuta's sons. Hakann had brought along quite the entourage - which begged the question of how the Piraka had assumed direct control of both the vault's guardian the other voice had shouted about, as well as the feral sons of Makuta down in these tunnels. The implications were...problematic. But right now, that was the least of their concerns. They needed to give Sulov the intel so he had an accurate overview of the situation. Somehow, probably through paranoia or more likely a Skakdi vision power, their opponent was suspecting company. Then she had an idea: All three of the Maru had been in the guards, they all knew non-verbal ways to quickly pass info from one to the other without drawing attention. And right now, Sulov was attuned to the earth on which they stood. Without lifting her heel, she slightly raised her knee, then brought it down again. The movement was perfectly silent and yet, it sent the tiniest shudder through the earth. Nobody - even somebody standing right next to her would have noticed it - except Sulov. She repeated the movement, speeding up now and again, while leaving pauses between the tiny shudders. It was a morse-code message: Chamber. Six Rahkshi. One Piraka: Hakann. We engage. You flank. It took just enough time for the message to be transmitted that Hakann could reach the bottom of the stairs. No more time to lose. She exchanged a look with Reordin and they understood each other. It was time to revive the tactic they had used against Makuta's Manas before. With a quiet, deep breath, Leah summoned her elemental control. The next instant, an expanding blue sphere of liquid appeared and immediately exploded in the center of the room, dousing the Rahkshi in water. That got their attention, seven pairs of glowing eyes turning towards her. Then Reordin stepped out of the shadows, one of his ice axes drawn, while otherwise just being armed with a raised hand and a cocky grin. He snapped his fingers, and the water clinging to the Rahkshi began to sizzle and smoke as it was turned to acid, the son's of Makuta hissing and shrieking as their armor began to dissolve. "Oh I'm sorry, did I break your concentration?"

IC: Vezok A languid smile spread from one corner of my mouth to the other as my gaze burned into my quarry, all else shrouded by the almost complete darkness that permeated the caverns here. “Me,” I echoed, breathing the word with an air of sharp finality that forestalled any reply to the statement. It had proven easy enough to separate the Toa from the rest of his group, even more so because I didn't have to make it look like an accident, the Mangaia's reputation of having untold dangers around every corner worked wonders there. That, and the fact that the rest of his companions were obviously trying to get somewhere quickly, I could certainly guess where, and this fellow here didn't seem too fond of them. I wasn't one to lurking in the shadows, but this had been warranted. “Me.” I repeated the word again, taking a step back from the Toa. “But that isn't the interesting part, no. You know who I am, so it seems. Yes, you're quite aware.” “The question is then, of course, who are you? Yes, that is a fascinating subject. Who are you, Toa?” I wasn't entirely clueless here, but people often gave more information than what was asked, and who doesn't enjoy talking about themselves? Besides, if my suspicions proved false, there are other things that I could use a Toa for.

IC: Lantz, speaking with Vezok "I am Lantz..." The Gravity Toa looked the Skakdi up and down, comparing it to the image in his head that grown from low-whispered rumours. A group of Skakdi responsible for terrorist attacks across the island, calling themselves 'Piraka.' They were fearsome foes, each more powerful than a half dozen Toa and powers to boggle the mind. Lantz thought they would be taller. This was only one of them, of course, but Lantz doubted the others would be significantly bigger. If they were, he was sure he would have heard a number of jokes about a runt. Lantz smiled invisibly at the thought that such incredible power could be contained in a dwarf sized creature. "...Touched by Darkness and former Herald of Shadow. " He wondered what brought the Skakdi here, to Mangaia. It was possible they were seeking shelter from the island's pompous 'authorities,' but Lantz knew to be overly simple. No, the Piraka -and he mean't many of them, for where one agent of chaos was to be found others were too - had come seeking the treasures of the Vault, like oh so many other visitors to Mangaia's tunnels since Makuta's fall. There were many questions to be asked from the Skakdi like who they were, where had they come from, who they served. But there was only one question that mattered to Lantz. "Now I am a Seeker of Power and Bringer of Chaos." Lantz eyed the Skakdi with evil malice. "From what I understand, you are proficient in both. Tell me, have you opened the Vault?"

IC: Sulov Maru Alright. The lighting here's good for my eyes, the terrain my element. I can map this plan mentally. We are armed, we know more than we did last time, we're ready for it. Execution time. I slip my right hand into my pack for the gun. I raise my left and angle it forward. Universal symbol for "go in." I turn the corner, both hands on pistol, and look to the center. Hakann's first target. If he had been on the ground, this'd have started--he's at the stairs. I spot him and aim at midsection.

Squeeze trigger twice. IC: Hakann The descent begins silent, exquisitely tense, but soon devolves into offensives. An uncertain ellipsoid of water suddenly appears moderately below me, its matter amplified with impressive speed; I rapidly grab the staff of the Rahkshi behind; it thankfully understands the practiced movement. Instantly, it is rising with all speed possible, pausing only to deposit me higher on the stairs, out of present danger. The other Rahkshi have likewise risen, though I am not certain if they have done so with the same speed. Liquid generation is an odd choice; I must calculate the possible reasons- Ah. How delightful. Damage analysis reveals others received little impairment, no visible ally destruction (although their armour does look unusually burnished where moisture resided). Three of the Rahkshi, who have seemed, with minor exceptions, to have recovered with excellent speed, use their flight to cover the distance between their foes (who should now find themselves the victims of a wonderfully incapcitating fear aura of the greatest strength); if they remember orders, they will not immediately enter into melee combat, but analyze opponents with testing offensives, still airborne and alert. Their disorienting shrieks; finer rejoicing is unknown to creation. Other two Rahkshi move slight behind their comrades, in a wider arc; analyzing wounds and assessing opponents. Singular remaining Rahkshi remains with me, its posture viciously elert, due to a commanding gesture. I must minimise danger. Begin locomotion; do not cease. Static targets will most likely be devastated. Probable opponent identity: Toa Maru (such a perfect transmutation). Suggested course of action: notify Zaktan, commence counteroffens- Such brilliant, vivid euphoria. Bliss. My vision sharpens, my muscles constrict, my spine becomes torsional. The seraphic aroma of blood. Breathe; time is liquid (no, gaseous). Abstract becomes graphically pictorial. Immediate inspection; singular projectile (two shots fired; other resiled off stairs) pierced and exited outermost tissue of thigh. Movement reduced, not removed. Blood loss most likely moderate; auxiliary sections of the popliteal vein and coresponding artery are the worrisome targets. Estimated intention, factoring in movement: abdomen, thoracic (genu?). Glory; sacramental and delectable. “Kill.” A singular command, as I move around the stairs, blocking myself from further fire. It is highly unlikely Zaktan could ignored the noise. It is also highly likely he would prefer my death. Probability of desertation? Uncertain. Assume yes. Full offensive. No restrictions. The other airborne Rahkshi rush the gun-wielder (possible companions? I certainly hope not). An impenetrable soundless prison is his to enjoy. The other rushes into combat, still airborne, staff a fatal blur. Blocking will be met with the full force of a Fragmentation Rahkshi's rage. Just the both of us now, my bodyguard. Now, who shall we choose?

IC: Arvun Arv knew it would be a fight or die situation. As soon as he saw the figures to the front of him, he knew he hadn't any chance to flee. The Rahkshi would surely kill him if he did. So he would join this Maru, pray to whatever deity was out there, and fight to live. Live he would. His mind was however screaming at him, screaming in opposition, screaming in fear. As the sons of the dark lord came charging in, he held himself next the Maru by sheer will. He suddenly became aware of the leather in the hilt of his Kaskara, the weight of its blade, the racing beat of his heart, the air going to his lungs and the sweat going down his brow. He could see the shadows coming towards him, and raised his arm in defiance of them. His wife would have cried at him not to, if she would have been here to see. But that was the past, and this was now. The tide had turned, and he had swam with it. He knew the Protosteel of his blade was sharp, as he honed it out of compulsion. The Makutaspawn were fast, they were strong, and they could skewer Arv as easily as a knife through butter. But he had fought alongside them once, and he felt a fleeting amount of confidence he could go against them. He needed to attack them in their weak spots, to work with his companions. One went after Sulov, the others came alarmingly towards them. He would go for the legs, he felt, take out the legs, and they were vulnerable. But first, he'd have to help Sulov. So Arv went forward, sword and one hand, Kukri in the other. He'd help the Maru as much as he could.

IC: Zaktan Zaktan had grown impatient of the Matoran's interruptions, especially as he sought to focus on the Toa and unraveling his lie. The Skakdi could be extremely patient when he chose to be; but there was no need for patience now. The Matoran's well of information had run dry enough that Zaktan felt no qualms about discarding him; if it weren't for the Matoran's capacity to deliver Zaktan's reply to Echelon, the Piraka wouldn't have exercised restraint. "Seize," Zaktan ordered, pointing at the Matoran. Without hesitation, the nearest Rahkshi stabbed the point of its staff at the Matoran's throat - luckily for the Matoran, it was shaped like a two-pronged pitchfork, with sufficient space between the blades for his neck - and, like a jouster, charged at the wall. The pitchfork staff, held unwaveringly by the Rahkshi, pinned the Matoran by his throat to the wall, his feet dangling in nothing. The Matoran started to choke; the Toa looked on, and though he did his best to maintain a straight face, Zaktan meticulously noted a fleeting expression of shock and disgust on the Toa's face. As soon as the Toa realized that Zaktan had taken a measure of him, and looked back to the Piraka, his face composed again, Zaktan turned from him and strolled, hands behind his back, towards the strangling messenger. He didn't mince words. "Tell Echelon that I will not send him so much as a vial until I have received confirmation of his victory," Zaktan said coolly. At his gesture, the Rahkshi pressed its staff harder against the Matoran's neck, the prongs starting to crack the quartz on either side. "Tell him as well that I would never entrust my valuable resources to as weak a courier as you. Release." The Rahkshi retracted its weapon, allowing the Matoran to slide down the wall. The Matoran gulped and rattled as he ushered air back into his lungs; blessedly, the effort left him speechless for a few seconds, time Zaktan meant not to waste. "Leave," he buzzed, face flaring for a flash into greater entropy. The Rahkshi that'd just suspended the Matoran twirled its staff to reinforce its master's order. Confident that the Matoran would escort himself out, Zaktan at last returned to engaging the Toa before him, who'd had plenty of time to lay his mask of breezy arrogance back on. But before he could ask the Toa for more information about his outlandish claim, a distinct commotion from outside ricocheted through the Abettor's tunnel, into the Vault proper, and to Zaktan's ears. He considered the din. Hakann usually preferred to be much quieter as he disemboweled; it was possible that the visitors were more numerous than he'd anticipated. The shrieks of several of his Rahkshi, pained rather than intimidatory, didn't bode well for the red Piraka either. Zaktan entertained the possibility of letting Hakann deal with the enemies alone - perhaps, in the process, Zaktan would rid himself of a thorn that'd too long stabbed his foot - but a fight this close to the Vault stung Zaktan's proprietary pride. He wanted the enemies dead, and had more than enough Rahkshi to provide support while maintaining control of his own situation. "Darkness, Adaptation, Teleportation, and Poison" he snarled. Zaktan had long ago trained his Rahkshi to answer to their power types. Those four Rahkshi stood at attention. "Join Hakann's forces outside. Act at your own discretion to kill the intruders on our doorstep." The four Rahkshi started on their way out. "And," Zaktan added, the dangerous leer returned to his face, "Take the messenger with you on your way out." The Rahkshi of Adaptation - the one that had pinned him before - now roughly grabbed the Matoran by his upper arm and dragged him along up the stairs with the squadron. Zaktan still held the Zamor Launcher, and he reminded the Toa of this fact by twisting his wrist. "Tell me about this device," the Piraka delved, unveiled skepticism bitterly coloring his words. "This device, to which you claim to hold the only keys, and about which you claim to have the sole knowledge... What does it do, and why should I believe that it exists?" ... As the Rahkshi exited the hole in the Abettor's tunnel, and took their first few steps onto the corkscrew staircase leading into the Vault's atrium, the Rahkshi of Darkness spread a cloud of shadow before them, disguising their entrance from view to those below. The Rahkshi of Adaptation let go of Ishi, and kicked him down, almost launching the stumbling Matoran entirely off the narrow stairs. Its staff - only its pronged tip visible to Ishi through the oppressive cloud of darkness around him - and a barely audible, threatening hiss made the Rahkshi's message very clear to Ishi: you go first.

IC: Joske Nimil This... guy... just... doesn't... QUIT! I was so close I could taste it. Whatever was going on outside was sucking up his minions, which left half of his current forces inside. Not that I had any happy thoughts of engaging in combat that is... just meant that worst-case scenario was now manageable. Barely. Still, as agitated as he was I was now in the home stretch. In this chess game it was down to the last few moves, and considering I started without a full set of pieces, the current situation was nothing short of a miracle. Whoever was outside I would have to thank them later... if we all survived this encounter, that is. I cocked my head sideways as if to comprehend his words. "You're killing me, pearly-whites. Look, you're making me sound like a broken record with only one song on the track. As I've said, I don't know exactly what it is or how it works, only how to turn it on and that it affects the whole island. I mean, think about it - it only makes sense that a megalomaniac deity such as his Royal Master of Shadowness the Makuta would have such an island-spanning contraption, buried so deep in the dark of his own palace that only a Ph.D. of colonoscopy with five-hundred years experience could even hope of finding it. Trust me, if I knew I'd be acting more coy than the fear you seem to be stringing me along with like a master violinist, not to mention charging an astronomically larger amount for my services." I leveled my own stare, like someone who was himself getting tired of the games. "As to your second demand, Mr. Paranoia, as to why you should believe this outrageous and completely ludicrous story... may I present to you Exhibit A: Your Rahkshi of Molecular Dismember-I mean Disruption. He's standing on it." This was the part I had been waiting for the entire time. The moment I had stepped inside this place I had been looking for the apparatus, not knowing exactly what I was looking fro but also knowing that I would know the moment I saw it. Even the way Zaktan kept forcing my gaze away was an advantage I used, every time scoping out a new section of the quartz hexagon. On the last pass I finally spotted what I was looking for - a semi-circular spot on the floor, half-buried by the pile of technology and the foot of the light-blue Rahkshi pressing atop of it. The section that I could see was actually composed of two circles, one slightly larger than the other, with a large central disk. It was this series of rings I was looking for... but even with my observations there was a snag. This entire room was covered with letters, in a seemingly random assortment, so from this distance even though I could make out the crystal-shapes rings, I could not make out which letter accompanied what ring. As complicated as this was it was barely visible, the edges as thin as a sheet of paper and matching seamlessly with the floor... not to mention the pile of stuff on top of it and the mass of glowing alphabets. But now that I had pointed it out I could see Zaktan's eyes narrow as he started to analyze this new piece of information. So I took the opportunity and made a leap of faith. With a flick of the wrist I pulled out the Crystal of Faith and gently chucked it in that direction. The sound of stone on stone caused everything else in the room to flinch slightly, as if a grenade was about to go off. I could feel the eyes of the Sons of Makuta staring me down, but they made no moves as Zaktan was too focused on the gem that was now rolling across the floor, it the only sound made in the vast chamber. Like a golf ball on the green it lazily approached the apparatus, slowing, slowing, slowing yet moving... arcing, as if attracted to the circles. It came to a crawl, made on last roll in the other direction- I held my breath as it landed inside a circle, the letter :f: right above it glowing brighter than the rest. It was a perfect fit. The crystal dropped into a hole in the floor that was clearly NOT there just a moment before, a mysterious blue light source illuminating the pocket it now rested in. I could almost hear a hum, but it could just be my own blood rushing through my body. Taking a bold chance I turned to face the visible semicircle, waving my had casually. "Any more questions from the Inquisition, or shall I proceed with the ceremonies? I would really like to cut this ###### and bull-###### and just do my job. I already gave you permission to look over my shoulder and take a peek if you're that eager."

IC: Zaktan

Zaktan raised the Zamor Launcher so that its sphere was aimed point-blank at the Toa's head. The Toa froze, midway through retrieving a second crystal. "Whoa, there, buster, what's the deal!?" the Toa spluttered. "Didn't you just see that? Don't you see the... light-hole-thing? Can't you tell that I was telling the truth?" "About some things, perhaps," Zaktan replied tersely. "Slowly set down your bag and your sword." With a weapon trained on his head, and four Rahkshi around besides, the Toa had no choice but to do as he was told, unbuckling both sword and scabbard from his person before slipping his bag off his shoulder. He bent carefully to lay them on the ground. "Straighten and face me," Zaktan commanded; the Toa did so, and the Zamor Launcher was aimed at the bridge of his nose. Mildly cross-eyed, the Toa took stock of it. "Okay," he said, doing his best to keep up his debonair act. "Okay there, boss, you got me cornered. What do you want?" "An answer to a question," Zaktan replied. "Are you Dorian?" "Yeah!" the Toa said, rolling his eyes the same way for the umpteenth time. "What, d'you need to see me seduce a few ladies and commit a few crimes to believe me?" "I believe that you're lying," Zaktan informed him. He watched the subtlest shiver ricochet up and down the Toa's spine. "Do you know what's in this sphere?"

The Toa crossed his eyes again to stare down the swirling black-green fluid in the projectile. "Err, no... doesn't look pleasant, though." This remark made the corners of Zaktan's wide mouth twitch (moreso than usual). The memory of green fire, eating him from the inside out. "It isn't pleasant. This sphere is filled with Antidermis, a powerful corrosive substance."

"So it's, what, gonna melt my face?"

"Along with the rest of you, potentially," Zaktan informed him levelly. "The Antidermis is not only powerful; it's also intelligent, economical. It destroys in the most efficient way possible." "What does that even mean?" "If you'd let me continue," Zaktan hissed with the sort of venom that disallowed more snide interjections. The Toa got the message and shut up. Thereafter, only Zaktan's buzzing voice bounced off the walls of the Vault. "What that means is that the Antidermis chooses to react differently every time it encounters a being. If a being will be useless to the Antidermis' mission of obliteration - if the being is foolishly predisposed to fighting entropy and doing good in the world - then the Antidermis simply eliminates them from it... 'Melts their face,' as you so guessed." With these words, Zaktan consciously allowed his own ever-shifting face to droop, run, dribble before the Toa's mesmerized eyes. It was a grotesque display that he reversed a second later. Face again fighting with its normal fervor to stay intact, the Piraka went on. "But if the Antidermis senses that the life it has come into contact with will be useful towards achieving its ultimate end - if the being in question stands to be corrupted towards doing ill, or already does it - then the Antidermis holds the power to take control of that life, and even augment its strength. The Antidermis grants the wicked of heart tremendous, dangerous, and bizarre abilities, abilities with which they become more effective destroyers of the world around them. "You see, this sphere full of Antidermis will act as a sort of test: depending on how it reacts to you, Toa I will know who you truly are. If you are Dorian, as you still claim to be, you've little to fear... at worst, the Antidermis will bind your soul forever to the execution of the sorts of deeds you already sell yourself to do, and at best, it will arm you with new power. But if you've been lying, then the Antidermis will melt your face, and then the rest of your body. It clings to you when it does; it feels like acid, fire, accelerated decay as it eats you. Though the Antidermis is fast, it's not nearly fast enough for you not to scream. "If the Antidermis proves you to be who you say you are, I lose nothing; I may even gain a new ally. If it proves you right, then we will continue to arm this mysterious device of yours, and thereafter reap its benefits. If it proves you to be a liar, I still lose nothing; I will have eliminated another would-be hero from this island, and I will have stopped you from activating a device that probably does something to hinder my forces and me. Whatever happens, I win; it's only you that stands to perish... and you already know whether or not that will happen." Zaktan fired the sphere.

IC: Joske Nimil Makutaspawn- The world staggered into slow-mo as I activated my mask the moment I saw him pull the trigger, the Zamor sphere slowly moving down the barrel towards my mask. Clearly this was checkmate move, a well-calculated and designed finishing blow to this battle of wills. The only question was, was this actually checkmate... or merely check? I quickly went through my options. One, take it. Like a man. Which was the dumbest idea. Ever. It would kill me in a VERY unpleasant way. Now there WAS always that possibility I could fight it off... but at what cost? Say I somehow managed to shrug off the Antidermis' effects... I would be so weakened by the effort I probably couldn't even move, let alone get away from Zaktan. Which again lead to my immediate, painful, and otherwise untimely death. Which meant two, dodge it. The Zamor sphere had left the barrel, which left me not much time to react. As I began to bend at the knees and twist my shoulder, my mind raced as to how I was going to explain THIS to him. Clearly he had all the angles covered, this being the perfect litmus test. Any attempt on my part to dodge or otherwise resist it would be an immediate sign of hero-goodness, while taking it would just prove that point in death. I was having a hard time seeing a way out of this one. It would seem as though my luck ran out. It wasn't as if you could castle out of check... Wait... could I? The Zamor sphere was so close to my shoulder I could feel phantom sensations of it touching as I rolled under it, pushing my mask to as far as I dared. What had Cael just told me earlier today? About redealing the cards until I had a hand I liked? Dorian has a knack for talking his way out of things... what would an old-school womanizing hit-man assassin think of this? What would Dorian do? The answer... was surprisingly simple. The sphere hit the wall behind me, a sickening splat accompanying the impact. I was bent over backwards and sideways as far as physically possible, rotating my way back up with a groan. The sadistic leer on Zaktan's face was unmistakable, no doubt thinking- "You idiot." And just like that his leering froze. My posture, my clenched fists, my gritted teeth... I was one P.O.'d Toa with a score to settle. "You egotistical nitwit! What the karzahni do you think you're doing!? I'M A MERCENARY!" He clearly didn't get it, and I as Dor was more than happy to explain it to him. "I don't serve Makuta. I don't serve evil. I don't serve good. I don't serve Chaos, or Order, or whatever cause you want to pin on me. I don't serve an Ideal, and I definitely don't serve anyone. There's only one thing, one god that I faithfully follow: money. I don't purposefully act evil, nor do I purposefully act good; I do what I want when I want it. I didn't come here to get lectured on how vile you can make me; that's not how I roll. One day I'm on your side, killing some chumps and doing your dirty deeds, the next I'm working along side some heroes protecting some church and helping some old ladies down the street. Don't care what side I'm on, as long as I get paid. Helps me sleep better at night if you MUST know, doing a good deed every once in a while... as long as there is something in it for me." I stared down this monstrosity with all the Dorian anger I could muster. "I don't need to be extra-evil. I don't do charity work. And I don't NEED more power or abilities; I have all that I need. When I hold that sniper rifle, scoping out someone at five hundred yards, knowing that YOU have the sole power of deciding if they live or die, having the power of god in your hand at that very moment... that's power. That's ultimate power, more than your gloating pomposity seems to understand. I don't need some dark voodoo juice pumping through my veins, I have enough of a drug cocktail in them already; adding anything else would probably kill me on the spot. I don't DO lackey. I don't DO minion. I am my own man and I will make my own god-###### decisions, not you. I make money. I live hard. Party hard. Then when I run out I go do it again. I'm a simple man with simple pleasures and simple tastes. Women, booze, drugs, fun, and money. And what you have there will take all that away from me in an instant. I don't want it, and so help me if you think you have ANY right to shove it down my throat. I wouldn't help Heuani, Makuta's second-in-command, when he wanted it, and that got me a near-death experience with a scar in my abdomen. I may be a cold-hearted, soulless merc, but even I have standards. Fear, poison, mind tricks, they don't work on me... only money. So if you want me to be an ally, then you're going to have to do it like every other ###### person on this island - you're going to have to pay me. That's where my loyalties lie." I pointed a finger accusingly at him. "You didn't pay me, so I'm not subject to your little whims. Now either pay up for the trouble you've caused me, not to mention physical and emotional trauma, or let me leave in a huff. ######."

IC: Zaktan Dodging the projectile, and thus dodging the test, had been an avenue Zaktan wasn't surprised to see the Kakama-wearing Toa take. But because of this evasion, however much the Toa protested his identity as a mercenary - in fact, the more the Toa protested - Zaktan's suspicions about him only increased. Zaktan didn't interrupt the Toa's profanity-filled tirade as it spilled out; having spent enough time in his company, the Skakdi knew that if he remained quiet and let the Toa speak as he would, the liar would end up convicting himself. A few careless words, and a downward dart of Zaktan's eyes, at last gave Zaktan the proof he'd sought for so long. There was no abdominal scar; this Toa was not who he claimed to be. Whether the Toa was an actual mercenary masquerading as Dorian to evade future consequences - a mercenary with an unknown patron, probably one of the other Piraka - or a hero masquerading as a mercenary was unimportant; the lie was real, and Zaktan had to consider its ramifications. Something the Toa hadn't lied about had been the presence of a mysterious device in the Vault. That crystal he'd let fall to the floor had rolled into place of its own accord, and summoned a blue light that reminded Zaktan of the uncorrupted Abettor's luminance; such things did not happen except under the influence of powerful forces. Whatever secret lay beneath Zaktan's feet, the secret unlocked by those six crystals, was probably tied to the same incorporeal power that had incinerated the first enslaved Rahkshi when he and the rest of the Piraka had first entered the Vault. With that reasonable connection having been made, Zaktan could safely conjecture that the device, whatever it was, posed a threat to him. The Toa had lied about his identity; so he'd been sent, either by a competitor or by mere dumb duty, to sabotage and possibly kill Zaktan. How had the Toa (or his employer) known about the device in the floor? And, more importantly, what else did the Toa know that Zaktan did not? The Piraka was quite aware that he didn't yet comprehend the Vault's true purpose, so the realized possibility that someone else knew more about it than him and intended to use that knowledge against him was a threat he knew better than to take lightly. The first reflex Zaktan had was to instantly eliminate the danger to his sovereignty; he entertained the option of killing the Toa - it'd be so easy - but soon dismissed the notion. Silencing this liar, satisfying as it would be now, would be shortsighted. Killing the Toa meant killing Zaktan's chances of discovering more, both about the Vault itself and about the Toa's sources of information. If Zaktan wanted to truly quell the threat, he would have to burn its roots. This Toa was his only lead to these roots; he had to live, and he had to think he'd gotten away with his lies. He'd have to think that he'd won. "Trouble," Zaktan bubbled luxuriously, finally halting the tirade of words. "Physical and emotional trauma... these are vocational hazards of yours, Dorian. Surely you're not so naive that you expect recompense for them?"

"...It was worth a try," the Toa shrugged with faux sheepishness. He'd reverted again to forcefully breezy charm. "I can respect an enterprising mercenary," Zaktan said after an oppressive pause. "I know how to work with an enterprising mercenary. You say you were sent here on orders to deliver... those?" The Skakdi gestured at the glowing crystal in the floor, and then the Toa's bag which held the others like it. "Yep," the Toa answered. "Who sent you?" Zaktan buzzed. "Mmm..." the Toa considered exaggeratedly. "I don't remember." Zaktan clasped his hands behind his back. "Why don't you look around the room for a moment," he hinted, harsh voice tempered with a sickly abundance of honey. "Perhaps something you see will... freshen your memory." The Toa winked back at him, and proceeded to look around the Vault. His eyes flitted too quickly past the vat of Antidermis, moving on to roaming the mountain of technologies opposite it and then to the diminutive pile of Kanohi in one corner. The Toa made his way over to the masks and picked them up one by one, examining them in turn. He eventually narrowed the half-dozen or so down to two, and after a moment's consideration, opted for a ridged, angular Kanohi the likes of which was not seen commonly on the island of Mata Nui. He moved to try it on, but at a hiss from Zaktan, a Rahkshi slapped the Toa on the wrist, making him wince. "What was that for?" the Toa protested. "First, I need the name of your employer," Zaktan chided icily. "Tell me who sent you here with those crystals." "Whoa, let's be clear," the Toa said. "I tell you who hired me. In return I get to leave with this mask. Yeah?" "If those are the terms you wish," Zaktan replied. "Done." "...Ambages," the Toa finally revealed. "Ambages sent me here to put these crystals in the floor. Happy?" "No," Zaktan said. "But I am satisfied. You may go." "Before I do," the Toa told Zaktan as he put the mask in his bag and moved to pull out another crystal. "Let me just finish what I was sent here to do--" "Seize," Zaktan ordered. The same Rahkshi that had slapped the Toa's wrist now raised its hand at him, freezing him in place inside a vortex of red and purple energies. The Rahkshi of Stasis Field maintained its concentration on its captive while Zaktan addressed him, deadly quiet. "When my Rahkshi lets you go, you will not place the rest of the crystals. You will remove the one you've already inserted. You will take the crystals, the mask you have bought, and your life - which I have been generous enough to let you keep - and you will depart. Release." The Rahkshi relented, and the Toa regained his mobility. He hastily bent to extract the crystal he'd already let fall; when he removed it, the notch into which it'd sunk returned to its normal level, looking like every other letter etched into the floor. The Toa pocketed the crystal again in his satchel, buckled his sword back on, and made his way back up the stairs. Once he was out of sight and earshot, Zaktan issued a quiet order. "Chameleon," he whispered, drawing the attention of a yellow Rahkshi, which saluted with its staff as it heard its mission. "Follow the Toa. Do not let yourself be discovered. Gather information about his allies, and return to me when you have." The Rahkshi hissed with savage anticipation, and before Zaktan's eyes, it melted into the colors of the Vault, then flew silently after its quarry. With a nasal exhale, Zaktan relaxed his entire body, melting into a whirling green cloud. He fell into his natural state effortlessly. The cloud meandered closer to the Antidermis vat; it pulsed and shifted along with the dancing of the dark fluid within.

IC: Hakann Direct pressure treament yields positive results, if not astounding ones. Remove bandoleer, turn into a crude bandage; careful not to create an amputation tourniquet. Bleeding? Reduced, continuing in the same pattern. Pulse checks for major sections of femoral artery: positive. Femoral vein is not visibly affected. Rectified worries; lateral superficial branches of the femoral artery. Wipe blood away as well as possible. “Gun-wielder. Remove weapon; do not destroy it unless necessary. Killing strike.” The words are the lighest whispers; only a Toa of Sonics would be capable of perception. The wound is contained; I equip my Lava Launcher and Macuahuitl; the weapons quiver with procellous anticipation. I begin charging a lava sphere. The Rahkshi grew still as the Skakdi commanded it, eyes vague and glassy. As the instructions were completed, the crimson of its eyes grew vivid and ferocious, the visage of the apex predator. Below, where Sulov and his companions were fighting, it implanted a command into its comrade, the vehement Panrahk, to strike at his massive opponent's Kanohi countenance. Suggestion quickly completed, the eager Rahkshi tore into the mind of the gun-wielder with the ravenous glee of a Muaka. The command was brutally clear; raise your arms to the ceiling, the primordial signal of powerlessness. To accentuate the command, it released a mental blast, painful, but far from its maximum capabilities. More, debilitating and excruciating, would come instantly, if the command was not followed.


The Fragmentation Rahkshi distractedly deflected a blow from Arvun, who had come between it and the Maru. The deflection thankfully did not contain its full concentration, for otherwise the Lesterin would have found his sword shattered, but it did contain enough subsidiary power to reflect the weapon jarringly back. Unconcerned about the state of the other combatants, the Rahkshi, still airborne and frighteningly fast, circled Sulov, searching for an opening during the blindingly rapid movements. The command came with lightning speed, implanting itself into the Rahkshi's head. With a shriek unheard by its target, the monstrous son of Makuta twirled his staff, focusing maximum energy into the angular blades. Its circling taking it away from Arvun and his protection, the Rahkshi dived into its target, beginning their combat with a viciously rapid slash at his head, a movement that, due to the circular nature of its weapon, would quickly be accompanied by a similar attack to the chest. The Silence Rahkshi, its lower armour slightly thinned by the minute layer of acid that had managed to reach it, was more cautious than its brethen. It took no immediate action, besides extending the field of soundlessness to the Maru's companions. Realizing that its comrade would require the majority of the titanic Onu-Toa's attention, it decided to oppose the other two intruders. After a moment's opponent analysis, it too charged, not airborne but still disquietingly speedy, at Arvun, elegantly transfering the momentum of its movement into an attempt at a skewering thrust.


The three Rahkshi, who flew rapidly over the Maru in dizzying patterns, understood the power of their opponents; it was apparent in their very stances, their expressions. These were the islands' premiere heroes; caution would be exercised. Its aura of Fear covering the two Toa, sustained with the maximum power it could generate, the Turahk stayed out of melee reach, constantly moving in case of more attempts at elemental destruction. The previous attack managed to disfigure the tips of its feet, corroding the outer metal and warping the inner, and it had no doubt that subsequent attacks would be even more destructive. It would wait for an opening, and do its best avoid attacks. The other two Rahkshi, their powers unrevealed, had sustained no detrimental effects from the attempted acid attack, and engaged in melee combat, swooping simultaneously at the two opponents, carefully designing their flight so that they would not collide. In the far distance, something could be heard moving rapidly. It generated a scratching, earthen sound; dirt and stone was being moved.

IC: Leah Maru Involuntarily she suddenly froze, unable to move despite being fully able to. The world around her slowed down for here, the red Rahkshi approaching her in flight, its aura glowing crimson in her mask's display, slowing down to a crawl. Her staff was half raised in a defensive position, her eyes wide, her body tense, but there was no motion. Outside signals from the Rahkshi were overriding reason, erecting a barrier, not physically but mentally, that locked her body in place, sheer terror gripping tight. Her breath was rapid and flat, as if taking sudden dive into freezing waters; the icy current pulling her down, down, down...

She would drown in her dread and then the Rahkshi would cut her down. There was no escaping from the bottom of this dark well...

...

She didn't expect to find company down here.

...

Are you afraid?


I must be.


How come?


I'm imagining you being here, talking to me.


And that means you are scared for your life?


...no...

Why am I here then?


As a guide.


To what?

...


When faced with overwhelming danger, there was something inside that took over your thinking, suppressed it, leaving you with two choices based in violent and primitive instinct: Fight or flight - surrender or run. Something clicked then, a missing part was slid back into place. Leah chose neither option, instead picking the path that all of the three Toa had been taught to walk in the face of danger, long before they were Toa. They had not been mere Matoran back then - they had been guards. Before the Toa had been their first and last line of defense, when the threat of Makuta had loomed over them constantly they had taken up arms. They had been trained to stand their ground in the face of the shadow and the monsters it vomited forth. Herself, Sulov, Reordin and many others and had taken up that which fear itself was most afraid of.

...

Courage

...

They had conquered their worst fears many moons ago and more than once. Alone and as a team they had faced them and emerged stronger for it. They had walked open-eyed into the darkness and burned it away with the righteous flame in their hearts. A single of its offspring would not stop them now.

The world sped back up, gears were turning, machinery moving again, and Leah's staff came up in time to parry the killing thrust aimed for her torso. The son of Makuta shrieked once more, altering course to get back out of melee range. It had failed to seize the opportunity and tried to rally for another attack. As it passed her, Leah noticed the Rahkshi's armor was still sizzling slightly from the initial attack, drops of the liquid still clinging to the shell and eating away at it. It was tougher than the exodermis of the Manas, but slowly and surely, it disintegrated, starting to appear corroded, except without any signs of rust - and the others of the initial group she and the Toa Maru of ice had hit were not fairing better.

Before the Rahkshi of fear could get completely out of her reach, she whirled, thrusting her staff with the force produced by the motion and the power of her arms, hitting the monster in the side below the shoulder-joint. It hissed as the metal got dented and was thrown off course. The Toa took a split second to get a quick look around before pressing the attack. Her eyes turned to where Hakann had been near the stairs - except the stairs were not there anymore, or if they were, they had faded from sight, cloaked in shadow. That could only mean one thing: More company.

Whatever happened to 'each set sold seperately'?

IC: Joske Nimil

He let me live. I felt like a fish after being caught on a hook and then released. The moment I made the last statement in my rant I realized I'd finally slipped, unable to take back the words that were tumbling out of my mouth. The scar. I had to mention the scar. I had no such scar, my lightweight not covering much of my abdominal section to my disdain and imbecilic forgetfulness. It was a terrifying moment as I saw his eyes dart down the instant I mentioned it... with no reaction. Five minutes later I was walking up the stairs, a new mask in my hand as payment, a free man. This... this simply did not make sense. Clearly he caught me lying, and I was sure I had slipped other places and just didn't notice it, me and my big mouth. Clearly he had me dead to rights, if he so chose. Yet here I am, walking away. This individual was not to be trifled with, suspicious to the point of paranoia, with the ability to handedly control a situation, asking all the right questions. Not to mention an army of Rahkshi. Why let me live? Why let a liar live... a liar... ... unless the liar had managed to successfully lie about some things. Yes. That was the only thing that made sense A new strain of thoughts entered my mind, a deduction that slowly twisted itself into full form. If he thought I was a complete bag of trash, my every word absolutely worthless, he would have dropped me on the spot. I would be a waste of his time and really not worth the effort. On the other hand, if he thought I was the one who actually knew how the device worked, there would be no reason for me to leave. He would keep me there, or at least under his watchful gaze, until I told all, probably via torture or using that Antidermis for even more nefarious means. The only reason he would be letting me go was thought he actually thought I was the middleman - the guy who was simply doing a job on behalf of another. Much like Ahkmou he must want more information, to learn the Vault's secrets... and that I would somehow lead that to him via my departure. Somehow, somewhere in that charade I convinced him that I didn't know what that did. A lie that saved my life. I guess if I did anything right today... As I crested the stairs I stared at the mask between my hands, my reward for my "efforts". It was a tough choice there in the end, but the overall usefulness of this one in the end outweighed the immediate benefits the other offered. Besides, there was something about this mask... like it called to me in some way. Or at least a feeling. I couldn't explain it, but it was as if it was a match for my personality, my persona. As I crossed the border between Vault proper and the secret entrance passage I decided to try it on for size, quickly swapping out my Kakama for the new one. Yeah, but something STILL doesn't add up, I thought to myself glumly, feeling the new features on my face. If he thought I didn't know, but whoever sent me did, then he's letting me go in hopes of me crawling back to reveal what happened - like a little fish leading to the big one. But he's not Makuta; he can't see anywhere and everywhere he wants. And as powerful as those Rahkshi are, my Kakama would leave them in a trail of dust; they'd never catch me, let alone catch up. And it's not as if he's following me either... arrg, I just don't get it! What's he playing at letting me loose? I gave a frustrated sigh as I approached the Abettor from behind, deciding to turn around and look behind me to prove my point. See? Nobody there. I'll walk out of here with no apparent strings attached. What does he think he's doing! If there is anything he had demonstrated to me, it's his intelligence. As if in response to my demand, my mask glowed. I blinked. Whaaa... For the briefest of moments I saw something. It was a mass coming from the end of the hallway, out of the doorway where the downward stairs started. It wasn't anything defined, nothing particularly solid, no definite shape. It didn't walk, it just simply... floated near the ceiling, cruising at a slow pace. It was as though something shifted, an object morphing or altering its projection as it went from the bright light and complicated patterns of the Vault room to the rugged, uneven, darker stone hallway, as if it was matching itself to what was behind it and attempting to do it as seamlessly as possible. Like a complicated ripple on a glassy surface before becoming glassy again. No sooner had it past the threshold into the dark hallway did it vanish from view, as if nothing happened or it never existed. It couldn't of been more than two, three seconds, but it was enough. I saw something there, but what? My eyes never moved to follow, my face still, contemplating this event. What was that? What could possibly be around here that could or would attempt to hide itself from observers? Particularly something that came from the Vault - but the only thing in there was Zaktan and his four Rahkshi... My mind in response to these queries dredged up some information long buried, stuff stored away for use at a later date. Reports of the Makuta's creatures when he ruled the island. The Maru's accounts of his lair when they entered. The cataloging of the Rahkshi bodies that attacked the Koro's while the Maru stormed his castle. The hunts taken by Toa and others to find and eliminate these beasts that happened before Stannis sent me away, even things I picked up in Legend... the gears of my head cranked furiously as I rapidly came to a conclusion: that bright yellow one. Rahkshi of Chameleon. He sent it to follow me. In an instant everything made sense. His sudden change in demeanor after the discovery of my identity falsehood; his candor when dealing with me afterwards; letting me leave with a new toy apparently on good graces... that was a farce. He wanted to know who I supposedly worked for, who I was possibly associated with... learn my secrets. Of course. That was his plan. The string attached. But even as one riddle was solved, another presented itself: how did I manage to see it? Had I not turned around at that very moment, I would have missed the transition. Even looking I still could have completely missed it had I not been staring directly at the door and at the angle I was at, the light perfectly reflecting out of the room to provide interference with changing patterns. The chance of that happening was simply... I mean, the probability of that happening was quite... ... probability of... ... Duh. The Kanohi Angitu, the Mask of Probability. I lazily turned around towards the Abettor, sweeping my eyes briefly across the space. Nothing. As irritated as I was, it made sense. The mask had granted me a starting gift, a chance to figure out what was going on. Yet even though I knew it was here, I couldn't see it, despite throwing my will against this mask to make it visible again, give me another chance to spot it and possibly take it out now before it became a bigger problem later. The hallway was too dark, and unless I could somehow flood the room with light I would never see it, it's chameleon powers perfectly blending itself with the surroundings. In fact I would probably never see it down here, considering how minimal the lighting was, and once I got to the surface I had no doubt it was going to keep a good distance away, again making it nearly impossible to spot. Besides, how long had I been wearing this mask? Thirty seconds? There was no way I understood all the little nuances of the Angitu. Sure, I knew it allows its user to alter the probability of a situation, used to increase the chance of a certain event happening, or lessen the likelihood of something else occurring, but that didn't mean I understood how that worked or why it worked. It had taken me months of training with Agni to harness the full power of my Kakama, and another year and a half to be a master of it to the point of being able to dodge a shot at point-blank range. Two years. Verses a minute. It... would take time. Maybe once I figured out how it ticked I might be able to pull what I wanted to happen right now, but currently that was not about to happen. The mask gave me a tip I was being followed, but I would be unable to do anything about it for the moment. Which sucked. I fumed a little bit as I stalked towards the machine guardian.

It only took a moment to pass the Abettor unopposed, though I had to stop once I reached where the hole downwards... because there was no hole. Just a pool of blackness. Wonderful. Juuuust peachy... Apparently that Rahkshi of Darkness was up here, using it's power at the top of the stairs. Why, I didn't know - I couldn't see. But I could still hear, but between the din of combat and the terrible acoustics of echoes bouncing off the walls it was hard to tell who was down there and what was going on. What made it even more strange was the distinct lack of talking; I figured there would be at least shouting between people, but so far I hadn't heard any distinct voices besides the other Skakdi and the hisses of the Rahkshi directly in front of me. In other words I had no relevant tactical information on the battle below, giving me no insight on how to help or hinder either side. The lack of verbal commands was what disturbed me the most. Either these guys were getting stomped, or this was a team that knew how to work together... this was going to be really good or really bad. No way for me to know until I dove in. I hesitated one more second before I charged into the darkness; my tail. Whatever I did I needed to remain as inconspicuous as possible. I couldn't reveal my true identity, nor did I dare lead Zaktan's spy to anyone personally close to me - not until I could either permanently shake it or destroy it. Which limited my options both right now and where I could go, let alone do. Curse you Zaktan... The only current option would to keep playing Dor... Dorian. A thought streaked across my head like a bolt of lightning. An idea. Drawing my disk launcher I took a quick breath and charged in. Instantly the world went black as I entered the area of darkness, but I was prepared for that. I could feel myself pass between two Rahkshi, my shoulder plates barely scraping their waists as I ran low, one arm outstretched before me. One, two, three steps and I was at the edge of the staircase, in that instant the chamber bursting into my field of vision as I passed through the field of darkness. And came face-to-face with Ahkmou. What saved both of us was my outstretched hand. Instinctively I reacted, simultaneously grabbing and tackling him with an audible "Oof!" as we both flew off the staircase and into open space. As I spun I finally got a good look at the battle below, unable to believe my eyes. It was Sulov, Reo, and Leah engaged with battle with the Skakdi called Hakann and his swarm of flying minions, along with the Lesterin Arvun I had met not an hour ago. Sheer numbers dictated my friends were on the losing side, though as my eyes darted about it was currently too close to tell... except for that Rahkshi of Fear currently laying into Reo and Leah. As much as I wanted to directly help I remembered my tail, so I still needed to act in character as much as I could to hide my real identity. And hope the Maru were smart enough to pick up on the act. Cue the Calvary to the feisty Ga-Toa. Twisting to face the ceiling I fired my launcher, the disk with the rope still loaded inside. With a solid thwack it embedded itself into the ceiling, as the line pulled taught making sue I had a solid grip on both the Matoran AND the weapon. "Meet me in Ta-Koro." I whispered into Ahkmou's ear. Like a swashbuckler out of some old fairytale I came swinging down from the ceiling, a Matoran in one hand and a battle yell in my throat. With a shove I tossed Ahkmou away, his landing more gentle than it looked as he rolled away safely from the battle and out of harm's way. The moment my feet hit ground I cut the cord and started to slide across the floor in debonair fashion, reloading my launcher and twisting to face up and at the Rahkshi of Feat that was trying to lock down the couple. With a sassy smirk I fired, even if the disk not hitting the closeness of the proximity of the shot would break the concentration of the vile creature. With practiced ease I slid up and between Leah and Reo, coming to my full height right behind the Toa of Water. With a pose I started to reload, clicking my teeth and winking at her, making sure to play up the fact that I had just "saved" her from this wretched beast. "Watcha name, princess? I'm Dorian Shaddix, best merc this side of the Endless Sea. Got any plans after this scrape, or can I heroically take you back to my place? It's just as wonderful as I look." I wonder how she was going to react once it processed that I was hitting on her...

IC: Ishi Polzin Mangaia was filled with the commotion of heated battle. The echoes crashed against the walls and rushed up side tunnels like waves on a rocky beach spraying their foam into the air: the sound was palpable. Ishi lingered where Joske had dropped him, the back of his shoulder aching from the sudden tumble on an old wound. He placed a palm on the shoulder half expecting to feel the tell-tale circuitry and burnt tissue of when he received the scar, but instead he found nothing. The pain was entirely fictitious.

"Rahkshi," Ishi murmured as he slunk further back. Somehow their immense powers had leeched into his mind without seeing him as a target. Never having observed any of the fierce beasts up close in action, the informant realized it may be far better if the trend continued. He kept to the walls of Mangaia, doggedly avoiding conflict as best he could. Rubble from the falling stairs crashed and rolled past, and the darkness was broken with the lights and distortions of elemental combat. He made a break for the mouth of the Dark Walk leading to Ko-Wahi, miraculously getting to the entrance unscathed. He didn't stop there.

The dikapi Ishi'd used for the past week and a half was waiting uncomfortably a few yards down the tunnel. The rahi would have fled at the sound of fighting if not for the strong knot tying its bridle to the wall. Ishi pulled out the hitch and tacked off the wall-face to land in the saddle. Behind him the sounds of fighting grew more urgent.

"Go Urugi," Ishi commanded as loud as he dared, which was little more than a vicious hiss. He snapped the reins and the bird spend off into the dark. As he led Urugi through the tunnels toward their destination the Informant continued to mull over Joske's final words. Was there a trap in Ta-Koro, or answers? Ishi would find out... But in his own way.

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