• Ishi Polzin, by Kughii
  • Dervish, by Norik
  • Oliphko, by Daniel Finlander
  • Ferron, by Gear Director
  • Dahtar, Hiram McDaniels
  • Tuli, by Toa Tapio
  • Sucogu, by KNI
  • Caerus Valli, by Eyru
  • "Etera," by Eyru
  • Akiri Nuparu, by Gear Director
  • Akiri Kongu, by Palm
  • Onepu, The Fifth Spoilers

Chapter 16: The Spider's Web

IC: Dervish "The desert, huh? I'll need to warm my bones up after that long stay in Ko-Wahi." The two entered the damp tunnels. Arabeth was glad for the slight temperature rise in the humid environment, but it was the concealment that she was most thankful for. The pair had slipped through a literal hole in the gates, and although no one chased them, the mercenary wisely made sure that stragglers didn't see them back in the drifts. "We meeting a friend of yours or something?"

IC: Ishi Polzin "A friend? No, but I wouldn't call them an enemy.. yet." The bronze rose broach pinned to his drawstring bag glinted in the yellow light of lightstone sconces. Cold slush and frozen mud gave way to the musty smell of loam and soft packed earth as Ishi descended deeper into Onu-Wahi. From Ko-Koro the road went north under the mountains, straight and long with several branching tunnels to small communities and ancient, now abandoned, mines. Throughout the journey the po-matoran kept silent save for the occasional snippet of conversation: the ussalry was listening through their monitoring system, and one could never be too careful with their words. Ishi laughed and sped up when the twinkling lights of the cavernous city bloomed in the tunnel's exit, leaving Dervish to catch up at a jog. Onu-Koro was massive, a sprawling complex of earthen dwellings built into the walls, ceiling, and basin of a great cavern. The road taken with Ventra from Po-Koro spiraled its way around the perimeter to the cavern floor, and several branching tunnels could be seen yawning at the dark edges of the village. On the far side was the entrance to the Great Mine, now running at full capacity a year after its sabotage. Its sounds of picks, shovels, and excavators could be heard as an ambient thrum through all hours of village life. A group of ussals passed by, Ishi and Dervish flattening themselves against the tunnel wall to make room, and then they entered the village of earth. "Should we stop at the bazaar? We could get news on local developments." "Not a bad idea. I need to do some reading anyways. The Wise Man's Archive is located near the bazaar, so why not? Whatever we do, let's stick together, if for no other reason than I need an extra pair of hands to make purchases. What's with the face? I'm a man with disabilities. Come on Dervish, take some pity on a rich cripple." They crossed the river running through the bazaar and began to browse.

IC: Dervish "My soft and tender heart yearns to give this poor rich cripple help," Arabeth rolled her eyes. "Can we go to a forge or something? I need to fix my swords."

IC: Ishi Polzin "Figures, though to be fair you certainly had a few close calls I'm sure. Getting involved at the Sanctum, well..." Ishi's words faded as a troop of ussalry made their way past, armor reflecting the artificial light in their colored lanterns. Each time the Informant returned to Onu-Koro the Ussalry invariably had some new trick up their sleeve, be it technology or, in this case, arms and armor of better forge make. The koro of gear-heads were insatiable, always creating something new to sell. "Alright, let's find a smith and get your blades in good shape. I'm sure it'll make you sleep easier, if nothing else." He glanced at the bandage on his arm as a lance of pain jabbed from the wound. The wrapped fabric was a hasty job done with spare twine and curtains from Ambage's foyer. Once frozen blood thawed on his arm Ishi'd realized his dangerous position: the wound was infected, and without prompt medical treatment the matoran of stone would soon have to choose between a world without an arm or the next world. Ishi made it a priority to visit a healer before The Spider, but until he was at the building it would be suicide to let on about his injury's worsening condition. Dervish may have been a companion and shown signs of friendship, but at heart she was a mercenary: any signs of weakness could lead to his corpse in a ditch and the komau in her hands. Ishi meandered through the bazaar; the scents of spiced food sizzling on grill tops, cinnamon roasted almonds, and burning grease filled the air, and tantalized his senses alongside the colorful displays of merchandise laid out on tables under canvas awnings. Private vendors worked both with and against each other, calling prices, hawking in the streets, and as always the grand accompaniment of entertainers. The grand fountain with Turaga Whenua's likeness still stood prominently in the center of the bazaar. Ishi remembered the le-matoran musicians who'd thrown down a tarp and played their jungle ditties. Without thinking, he began to sing softly as he walked; Whistle me a melody my darling Short-quick a tune with a range I can hit-sing Whistle me a melody my darling Of Le-Koro in the green spring Kahu whistle in the canopy (tweet-tweet-tree) Gukko chortle in the eyrie Le-matoran whistle while they’re working You can trust in little-old me Whistle me a melody my darling Short-quick a tune with a range I can hit-sing Whistle me a melody my darling Of Le-Koro in the green spring... His song dwindled as a group of babbling matoran passed carrying well-forged gear. Reaching out a hand, he tapped one on the shoulder long enough to catch their attention. "Excuse me, but who's the best blacksmith in town these days?" They stared at his mutilated hand, trying and failing to be socially acceptable, then said, "Ferron, undoubtedly. There was a ta-toa named Fraxn a while back, but Toa Ferron is the one you want to see for just about anything." "Turaga," chimed in one of the onu-matoran's friends. "He's changed, you old widget-whiner. You'll find him at the outskirts of the koro. Built himself a forge into the cavern wall right thataways." The matoran pointed and Ishi followed the direction with a nod. "Thank you," said Ishi and he was on his way.

IC: Dervish

"A Turaga, huh? This'll be interesting. Not too many elders on this island anymore." The pair crossed the bustling bazaar, the fragrance of street-side hawker food tempting the Dervish's stomach, and the haggling of shopkeepers as they passed the myriad temporary storefronts pitched in the middle of the place.

The two of them finally reached the forge. It was a humble affair, with a wooden plank nailed to the top of the cavern (how that was possible, Arabeth didn't know)that conveniently said, "Ferron's Forge: If I can't fix it, it's not broken"

There was a disclaimer too, that said, "Services do not include fixing broken hearts or limbs"

They entered by way of a curtain entrance. A Turaga was near the forge itself, talking to someone else.

"Ding Dong."

IC: Oliphko I stand there for a moment, stunned and not sure what to say. Is he really proposing to be my trainer? While I am hesitant at first, I admit that I've been looking for someone to teach me to use my powers for a while now. This here is the solution for that problem. "Uh.. really? I.. thank you, Ferron." I have difficulty forming words, because I was not prepared for this at all. Maybe people aren't as selfish as I think they are. "I really need a trainer. I would be, ahem, honoured if you would help.." I stutter, when the door opens and a thin Toa, erm, woman and a man, erm, Po-matoran enter. I freeze completely again, not sure what to say, or if I should even say anything. My confidence crumbles around strangers, which is irritating sometimes.

IC: Ferron "My my, it seems everyone wants my services today" Ferron remarked humorously as he approached the newcomers. "What can I do for you?"

IC: Dervish "Greetings, Turaga. I'd like to have my swords mended," she said, presenting her scimitars to Ferron. The aforementioned blades were worn and edges nicked. One of them were half-encrusted with ice, while the other was slightly bent.

IC: Ferron "Certainly" Ferron agreed presenting the Vo-Toa with a crate to store the weapon in for a moment. "I'll take a look at them when I have the time. How about you?" Ferron asked, turning to the Matoran.

IC: Dervish Give her weapons to a box? Oh well. Arabeth carefully stashed them inside the box and waited. She wanted to watch the Turaga at work, in case he stole them or something.

IC: Dahtar "Excuse me" Dahtar said to Ferron "May I speak with you from a moment?"

IC: Ferron "Please," Ferron pleaded with a raised palm, for once appearing rather flustered and a little annoyed, "one at a time" Turning his attention once again to the Po-Matoran who'd come in along with the Vo-Toa, he awaited Ishi's request.

IC: Dahtar "Oh very sorry..."

IC: Ferron "Since it's clear the other customer needs a bit of a moment, I might as well move on. What can I do for you?"

IC: Dahtar "A friend of mine has a rather large boat that crashed on the shore of Le-Wahi recently. I was wondering if you could help us fix it. If you can't, do you mind telling me if there are other builder-types that I should ask?" Dahtar smiled nervously "Oh and I would be happy to pay you"

IC:Ishi Polzin The inside of Ferron's Forge glowed from the light of smithy fires. Not as bright or numerous as the factories dotting the village, but Ferron epitomized the old way of making things in metal. The Turaga rocked in his stride, uneven legs teetering his shoulders about as he turned from one customer to the next. The Informant noted the other occupants; a skakdi of brown and tan with a strange rifle of stone slung over his shoulder bent to speak with Ferron, and a po-toa in similar tones rocked on her feet with what seemed like anticipation. Why? Whatever the skakdi and Dervish's purposes were, it was obviously holding something up between the toa and turaga. Whatever she wanted, Ishi had more important business. If Ferron's transformation was recent, then... "What am I supposed to need from a forgemaster when I can't pick it up?" Ishi joked, and prodded Dervish's rips with an elbow, after Ferron turned his back. The matoran found himself a seat near the front desk, tapping his toes on the dirt floor. "I'm just here with my friend is all. But, I wouldn't mind a moment of gossip. There's some wild rumors abounding this place. Some onu-matoran back at the bazaar who gave directions said something about a turaga transformation, but that's impossible: there hasn't been a turaga transformation since the Dark War."

IC: Ferron "I'm afraid ship construction and repair is a bit beyond my means, especially without any staff around. My assistant is busy elsewhere, sadly" Ferron responded after a moment of deliberation. Tapping his left fingers on the table beside his suddenly very inviting wicker armchair. "The Toa Akiru could have been an alternative, but their forge is closed and I haven't seen them for months, and I'm afraid I can't think of anyone else who could be of help. Hopefully you'll be able to find the service you need somewhere" Turning around again, Ferron caught the grey-armored Matoran's remark. His attention already drawn, Ferron regarded him casually. His differently colored eyes was a point of familiarity, but the rest of him projected something Ferron couldn't place. "I... believe they were talking about me, my transformation was mere weeks ago" Ferron said, somewhat unsure about how much he wanted to reveal in such a casual manner rather than letting Oliphko hear it in a better context.

IC: Tuli "I'm back", she announced as she entered, then saw the relatively large group of customers. "I'm gone for a day and suddenly we get all this activity? "

IC: Ishi Polzin Any attempt to continue down the subtle road of investigation exploded with the wide-swinging door of a matoran's exuberant arrival. Ishi blinked, taking in the matoran's physique with a critical eye -- her muscled arms, the forge-treated brow of her kanohi used to the sweltering heat of a blaze. By her manner she seemed an assistant to Ferron, or at the very least a close friend or trade partner. "Things only get busier, it seems," Ishi said with a smile toward the turaga. "Actually, Forgemaster Ferron, there's something I might want from you. You any good with armor, specifically repairs? I've got a brigandine sewed into a coat I'd love to have fixed. My employer here," Ishi nodded in Dervish's direction, "surely wouldn't mind supplying the funds for her scholar's adventuring gear. Right?" He looked at Dervish, knowing she was stuck. Swapping roles, assigning jobs -- Ishi created a script on the fly with perfection; Dervish only needed to follow the lead. Alloy gave all the members of The Company a ridiculous forward income in precious gemstones and Arabeth wasn't one for blowing her fortune on gambles, despite her berserk form of swordplay. Surely her purse was still weighing heavy on her belt. At least, Ishi was willing to gamble it still had a small fortune inside.

IC: Dahtar "Eh it's okay. I'll see what I can do. Thanks for your time." Dahtar said while dropping a coin on the counter. He walked off empty handed, very reluctant to return to the other two Vortixx. But his time was up. He scurried through the caves back up to Po-Koro.

IC: Ferron "Oh, thank goodness you're here" Ferron said upon Tuli entering the forge. The Forgemaster was visibly exasperated and a bit worn out by the sudden rush of customers to his forge. "Would you mind, please take this crate to the back with the others" he requested, pointing to the box with Dervish's scimitars. "Armor? Of course," Ferron continued, turning towards the Matoran, "that'll be doable"

IC: Tuli Tuli saw she had arrived just in the nick of time to help Ferron with the unprecedented rush of customers. At that moment she was very happy to have made the decision to leave Ga-Koro early. She did as Ferron told, carrying the crate where he wanted.

IC: Ferron Ferron flashed Tuli a grateful smile as he turned towards the Matoran again. "The coat?, I don't know too much about how those work, but I could give it a look nonetheless"

IC: Ishi Polzin "Sounds good enough for me," Ishi replied, transferring the ruined bundle from under his arm to the wizened smith's hands. He felt the smooth, smoky grey scale exterior rubbing against his arm during the transition from owner to handler, and a small part of the Informant felt as if the act was a subtle betrayal: It was his coat, and they'd gone through more than enough together. The flashy cinnabar coat of his youth held more memories, but the charcoal defense against the world's darkest creatures felt like a part of his skin torn off during the fall from the Abettor's cavern. "So, when can we expect these to be finished?"

IC: Ferron "At this rate? About two days now that I've got my assistant back" Ferron said with an uncharacteristic smirk as he accepted the ruined coat from the Matoran. "I believe you said your Toa friend would handle the transactions?"

IC: Ishi Polzin Ishi nodded, his head rocking forward and back like a small, indecisive bird. "Two days seems like ages, but that'll give me time to visit the Wise Man's Archive. I've been hearing rumors of island events and, well, a scholar does love books. Besides," he paused briefly to look back into the forge. Already he felt the heat, hot and dry like the desert. "You don't mind me spending some time learning about the most recent turaga, do you?"

IC:Oliphko I stand quietly near the corner, and just wait for the customers to leave. Thankfully, they don't seem to pay much attention to me at all, although that Matoran (who might not actually be a Po-Matoran, his colouring is strange) did glance at me shortly after entering. I avoid eye contact with any of them and ponder Ferron's words. He transformed mere weeks ago? That is.. strange. Although it does mean that his skills aren't rusty, so he can pass on his knowledge much easier, hopefully making it easier for me to learn how to use my powers. And I wonder where his Toa stone(s) is/are.. Maybe his stone was the one that transformed me? No, impossible, that cavern hadn't been visited by a living soul for decades at least.. I hope that the scroll holds the answer. And I hope that I made the right choice back in the cave.

IC: Ferron "I suppose it couldn't hurt. Though there's others who would also want to hear that story" Ferron replied, casting a telling glance in Oliphko's direction. "It's about high time you introduced yourself, I can't have my apprentice standing around being shut out of everything." Ferron said with a moment of amusement as he waved her into the light proper.

IC: Arabeth "Dervish" She fished out a large wad of widgets from her pocket. It was a good thing Ambages kept some money in unsecured drawers. "This enough for the expenses?"

IC: Ferron "I think that will do just fine" Ferron said without doubt. It was an awful lot of widgets. "Alright then, I'll see you in two days' time"

IC: Ishi Polzin Dervish pulled the widgets from a familiar purse. The Informant gazed at the luscious fabric, a rich brocade of stylized muaka, and imagined its original owner seething at the loss of such a fine object. Despite knowing the chance was slim after Echelon's capture of Ko-Koro, the thought of Ambages' returning to his mangled apartment pleased Ishi, and the markings of a web he carved in the icy floor would hopefully aid in his carefully concocted conspiracy. He hoped the other two Peers would reveal themselves if The Architect and The Spider came to blows. Someone would slip up, someone would poke their head out of hiding like a cornered rahi having to choose between jumping off a cliff or fighting to the death, and Ishi would know. Ferron's words brought Ishi's gaze from purse to person, and he looked into the warm eyes of the forgemaster. There was a great tiredness, but also hope. The turaga's apprentice stood in the shadow's of the forge, lingering in the area where darkness flickered much like Ishi's insubstantial boon. The light played across her kanohi, cutting a stark contrast with those hidden from view. "An apprentice? You have quite the growing business, Forgemaster, and the locals certainly recommended you highly. As for my coat, it's nothing difficult, just plates put together. You're bound to see the pattern from what little of it isn't smashed to Karz. However, why don't we give you a couple hours head start and come back for your story? I'm rather fond of scolls and books, and making them more so, but a man must have food and rest. I heard there was an inn closer to the village center with a reputation for good accommodations and decent meals. You recommend it?"

IC: Ferron "If you mean 'The Golden Pickaxe', then yes," Ferron replied with a nod, "it's a fine inn." And that was apparently all he had to spare on the topic.

IC: Ishi Polzin Business concluded,Ishi looked at Dervish, awaiting her cue to leave.

IC: Dervish The Toa nodded.

Once outside, she asked, "So now, we wait?"

IC: Ishi Polzin The road outside Ferron's Forge was a winding tributary of the larger highway heading south to Le-Koro, breaking from the dark pavers into small meandering alleyways of packed dirt, wooden crates, and increasingly developed stone homes. The glowing lightstones dangling from the eaves of every roof illuminated the streets, giving a soft light bright enough for the surface dwellers to see, but not too bright to blind the natives. In it, Ishi made out the hazy outline of business logos printed along the sides of ussal carts, some common like Horseman Shipping and Polzin Company (seeing his name reminded Ishi of the unfinished vendetta with his sister), others less known and owned by private merchants yet to sign over their souls to a corporation. "Waiting's never been my strong suit," Ishi admitted to Dervish, "unless it's at the deli counter, or while a ga-matoran's removing her armor... to be fair I'd probably be taking it off, so forget the last one. You, however, get the chance of a lifetime. Why don't you try and find out more about our Turaga friend while I rent a room? Meet you at the Golden Pickaxe tonight." He watched her face briefly, looking for a sign of treachery, then bounced back a few steps before turning away. He strolled down the road, following it back to the highway, and from there down to the Bazaar, while softly singing: How many eyes How many eyes How many eyes do I see in the dark Those eyes in the dark are mine The Golden Pickaxe was a three story development, each floor from a different era. The bottom, round and squat, was beginning to sag to one side from the weight, while the middle looked like a strange ship had landed atop, supported by pillars, and the upper story clung against the side of a massive stalactite. A motley crew of patrons sung miner's songs on the open veranda of the second floor, complete with pan pipes, bells, and drums. A great pickaxe, the inn's namesake, hung over the front door. Ishi wondered if a vortixx had ever impaled themselves on it.

"How can we help you?" Called a bulky onu-matoran as Ishi entered the hubbub of the Inn's drinking area. "Needing a room, or just a drink?" "Both, if you got them. Been needing a stiff one since I got here." Ishi replied.

IC: Sucogu "Two shots of Sal's for the Matoran and myself," called a voice from a few tables over. Ishi's eyes swept over to see a dark crimson in full armor and cloak, armed to the teeth with a variety of swords, knives, and explosives, and a repeating crossbow hanging from his belt. As the drinks were brought to his table, Sucogu beckoned him to take a seat and claim the shot he'd bought for him. The garb Sucogu was clad in made it clear that his intention was to be hired as a mercenary, though not that his true intentions were to investigate the 'Ahkmou's' actions and perhaps bring him to justice.

IC: Ishi Polzin The few lookers turned aside as the odd colored matoran joined the red toa at the bar. After hopping up onto the toa sized bar stool, he gazed at the wizened lines of the matatu buying him a drink. "You're too kind, Sal's are my favorite," he said while sliding his hands for the shot. Then, with a wry laugh, he added; "Well, this poses a problem... any chance you got a straw?"

IC: Sucogu The Toa's instincts kicked into overdrive as he read the Matoran's behavior and movements. Physically, there wasn't a whole lot to read outside of the fact that he literally had no fingers and wouldn't last for very long in combat. Lucky for him, Sucogu worked better alone and as such would not need his assistance in a fight.

"You're too kind, Sal's are my favorite," Ishi thanked, eyeing the red mix of alcohol and pure death.

"It certainly has a special kick to it," Sucogu agreed.

Salamander's Revenge. A drink which had originated in Ta-Koro but which had found its way to the booze-mongering pubs of Onu. Some, after drinking it, said it made endless hours of mining more bearable. Others, after drinking it, were far too plastered to offer such an opinion.

"Well, this poses a problem... any chance you got a straw?" Ishi asked, struggling to partake of the drink without fingers to do so with.

"Fresh out," Sucogu said with a wistful shrug.

He set out to get down to business then, nearly offering a handshake but deciding against it quickly. "I am Sucogu," to further introduce himself, he lifted his palm and conjured a miniature spark storm, "powerful Toa of lighting and excellent swordsman. As you can see, I also make use of a variety of other weapons when the situation calls for it. However, I've been running low on funds as of late and as such have sought out work. Unless you're planning on staying in Onu-Koro for awhile, you'll be traveling soon, and with your decisive lack of fingers you'll need a bit of assistance in doing so. That's where I can help."

He took another sip of his drink. "How much are you willing to pay?"

IC: Ishi Polzin With the question of payment hanging in the air, Ishi placed his palms against the sides of the shot, and raised the glass to his lips. The liquid was red, deep red, almost as much as the mercenary's armor. In a flash, he drained the glass and slammed it back down on the table. It was fire going down his throat, but the warmth was welcome after the cold of Ko-Wahi. "Guess I made do without the straw. You're certainly forward I'll give you that, Sucogu. As you've been so honest and up front, I'll give you the same courtesy." He winked. "I'm on the trail of deceit, like a hapaka you could say sniffing out a sand tarakava, and it smells more rotten the deeper I dig, savvy? Tell me something: you a man of morals, of faith? Ever watched someone's eyes fade by your blade? A warrior and mercenary you may be, but toa have a habit of letting their enemies see the dawn."

IC: Sucogu At this Sucogu shifted back slightly in his seat, withdrawing physically and mentally. Indeed, Sucogu was a good man- at the very least, he had standards -but he had never stayed a killing blade when the situation called for it. The wizened warrior's thoughts drifted to the cold, cold days when he'd traveled with a group of Toa and been forced to slay his young protege; corruption existed, this could not be denied, and it had to burn where it stood. Sucogu would never hold back from doing so.

"I do what I must," he answered gravely, keeping his unfazed eyes locked on Ishi's the whole time. "If my opponent is a danger to others and cannot be otherwise incapacitated, I give you my word that he will fall and never rise again."

IC: Ishi Polzin Ishi nodded, mulling over Sucogu's answer. The toa was a veteran of conflict, the Informant had little doubt, with both the wisdom and skill to testify past successes. A pragmatic warrior fit well with Ishi's plan. He sighed, tapping his palms on the bar. It was a movement of distraction, designed to seem innocuous while the rest of his senses were bent on seeking out potential listeners. There were none. "Sounds like you're committed." Ishi replied. "Put simply, I'm being tailed. It's really like an elaborate game of tag, but with knives in the back instead of tapping someone on the shoulder. You see, Sucogu, I've got a business meeting with a colleague of sorts at their home here, but they've been monitoring me through a spy. She's a toa of electricity like yourself, wears a kanohi of invisibility, and has been traveling with me for some days. Naturally, I didn't catch on at first, but now I'm sure of it: they mean to put me down at the meeting. I need you to trail us silently, and if conflict arises incapacitate the spy. Can you do that? He paused, as if remembering something important. "You asked how much I was willing to pay, and the truth is not much, but I'm not the one doing all the paying. Do the words Polzin and Company ring a bell? I'm a courier for their business enterprise, and I'm sure Lady Vera would be able to suitably reward you for services rendered. At the moment, I have only a few gems and baubles you might convert in the bazaar, but that should be enough for the trip to Ga-Koro and then some."

IC: Sucogu Stealth. Subterfuge. Guerrilla combat. Sucogu was well-versed in these disciplines, and quite capable of completing the job with little obstacle. If anything, this would be mundane compared to several former quests. He'd taken down brutal killers; a little bodyguarding would be exercise.

"You have my blade. Before we officiate this, however, might I inspect the contents of your bag in order to take stock of potential prizes? I need not place my hands on any of it, I simply wish to see with my eyes."

Indeed, he'd heard of the Polzin family, whose heiress was based near his home town of Ga-Koro. But if his little friend truly had access to such riches would he really be traveling on foot? It was simply good business to have a backup reward plan in mind.

...even if he had to procure said reward by force if it was not willingly given once the job was done.

IC: Ishi Polzin "No," Ishi stated bluntly, shrugging the black bag on his shoulder further from Sucogu. "You certainly may not look at my collection of ga-matoran centerfolds and courier mail. However," as he spoke he patted the pouch strung to the straps of a thigh sheath for a small rod-like device, "You're welcome to have what's left of my widgets for the time being. The room's going to be on the business tab, after all. So, we have a deal?"

IC: Sucogu What secrets do you hold, my little friend?

Sucogu remained stoic, but mentally a flare was set off. Ishi was hiding something. Nonetheless, this would not hinder business- it simply meant he had to keep an eye out for backstabbing.

"I'm your man," he said with a nod, "let's get down to business."

IC: Ishi Polzin

"I thought we'd already been doing business," Ishi commented dryly, his eyes narrowing at the telltale signs of suspicion flickering across Sucogu. Was this plan doomed from the start? Time would tell, but the wily informant was willing to bet the game was still in his favor. Ishi let the matter come to a close with a swift tug on his money pouch. The snap closure popped open, leaving him free to toss the small collection of jewels in their bag from his mutilated hands to the Sucogu's lap. They made a dampened sound as they landed. "As promised, enough to start. The meeting's in two days, although I don't know why I have to sit around and wait that long to deliver my message. Sounds like a power trip to me, but I'm just the messenger: not my job to ask questions. I'll pass by Ferron's Forge -- you know the place? -- on the way to the meeting. Watch from the rooftops, and do your best to stay out of sight. Hopefully I'm just being paranoid, but if my companion really is a spy, well... It's good to take precautions." Sliding off the bar stool, Ishi turned and gave his mercenary a final look. "Be seeing you," he said, and went to rent a room.

IC: Dervish Arabeth sighed impatiently. Ishi was off doing his mystery man thing and it reaaaally annoyed her that she wasn't in on it.

You silly girl, you're not smart enough to be a part of his plans. Better to not know and do what you're told.

Arabeth decided to find Ishi.

IC: Ishi Polzin

She found him quick enough. All Dervish needed was to find the inn Ferron mentioned, the Golden Pickaxe, and there Ishi was: sitting at the table in the middle of the room, surrounded by miners done for the day. He was without food or drink, but seemed unaffected by his physical handicaps. "Ah, you're here," he noted as she strode up. "Great, take the keys on the table and let's go check out our rooms. Today's been exhausting, and I could sure use some good rest."

IC: Sucogu

The warrior, having set up camp at a smaller inn down a block, had traded his larger swords and axes for six tranquilizing throwing knives, a dagger coated with the same chemical, a grappling hook & cord, and a compact crossbow slung across his back. Before leaving his room, he covered his armor in black cloth.

Now properly armed for subterfuge, Sucogu climbed to the rooftops and readied himself for the hunt.

IC: Dervish

"Err... Okay?"

Arabeth took the keys and got the room. She didn't feel like talking with strangers just yet.

IC: Ishi Polzin

In the semi darkness of the stairwell to the rooms, Ishi paused. His weight wavered, and then he leaned against the stone wall and let out a long sigh. A palm pressed to his brow, the informant thought how best to remedy his situation. Dervish was an ally, but a mercenary. Hiring Sucogu to remove her was a smart tactic, if risky. Everything hinged on each player not fully knowing the truth, and with powerful warriors and devious spy masters a smooth resolution, one with the blood of Arabeth spilled quietly in an alleyway, was less gamble and more drunken grab for success. "Pickle me in a bula berry, but I do love gambling," Ishi grumbled, and made his way up the stone stairs.

Their room was modest, with a fireplace. Ishi took over a chair near the flickering warmth and gave Dervish a once over. "So," he said, "anything to tell about our forgemaster?"

IC: Dervish

"Hmm. Nothing much, just an old mab who's seen his fair share of life and wants to take a break. Although he's still willing to answer the call to help."

It wasn't much, but Arabeth had little to work on. It was impossible to get Ferron's attention once the horde of refugees had arrived, not counting all the customers.

IC: Ishi Polzin

Ishi turned sideways in the armchair and tossed his legs over the side, crossing his feet in a sort of comical repose. He was disappointed. Ferron seemed a tome of information, the most crucial being his transformation. Toa turning into turaga always left some a certain by-product; a toa stone would be a marvelous acquisition. "I'd expected more, to be straight with you." He wrapped his arms behind his head. "The forgemaster isn't just some old mab from what I saw, more likely a warrior turned tutor given the way that toa of stone was hanging around. Oliphko, right? Oh well, what's done is done I suppose." He paused and shifted positions to stare better into the flames. "Better get some sleep, we'll go see my contact tomorrow morning after getting our gear. I want you ready to fight."

IC: Dervish

Arabeth sighed. With such high expectations, Ishi never seemed to realise that not everyone was the savant he was. Or maybe he did, and relished it.

"Sure, I'll get some sleep."

IC: Ishi Polzin

Break Virtues, bring Darkness. Take secrets, leave Chaos... The hallway stretched out indefinitely, the rows of tablets on their shelves leeching out a green virus, a virus filling the air, the air saying its mantra forever. The mantra never stopped, never started, but it always pulsed, pulsed, pulsed with his heartlight. Break virtues, bring darkness. Take secrets, leave chaos. Ishi stared into the green distance, watching the rows of tablets pass faster than each murky footstep he took. He felt his gut drop, the pain of losing his fingers wrack through his body once again, and again, and once again. And the figure drew closer. He drew closer to himself: chaos incarnate, a vacuum of power and sin, a point where all of his existence disappeared. His fingers, burning with acidic flames, reached outwards to the new body, his new body. They struggled to grasp the outstretched hands of shadow, even as the servos and flesh melted away to leave nothing but bones falling to the ground... Morning came with a hard shock, Ishi slamming back into the chair as his eyes snapped open. Reality bled back slowly, the dream world fighting for control of his physical body. First came the feeling of the air; warm, underground tunnel air with the hint of wood smoke. In his dream the air was frigid, as if the void itself belonged to Winter. Next was the chair, its grainy fabric scratching at his back, the stiffness making his body uncomfortable. In the dream he was weightless, but here gravity was tugging in all the right ways. Ishi let his chin sag, his eyes closing briefly as he made a conscious effort to regain composure, and he listened to the sounds of life coming from the hallway outside, the breathing of his sleeping accomplice, the rise and fall of his own chest as air passed through him with its life. Sleep came late, and poorly, for the Informant since the ordeal with Echelon. Nightmares commonly stalked the early hours of his dreams, leaving him feverish, sweating, shaking, as he did now. Looking about the room, the fire had become ash, grey and lifeless, while he reclined in the chair. Outside, the darkness of the cavern village bobbed with slowly brightening lightstone lanterns, their reflections cutting through the window panes to dance along the floor and ceiling. He stood up, letting the gears in his back pop and crick back into alignment. A sharp pain coursed through his spine and down his left leg, but he walked it off by going to Dervish's bedside. The small toa of electricity was deep in slumber, her breathing languid and pleasant. He watched her peaceful face jealously. How lucky. He did his best not to imagine a crossbow bolt sticking from her shoulder, or her throat slashed and bleeding; Sucogu was likely to take her life by the end of the day, best not to imagine before results were achieved. Would he miss her? Undoubtedly. He half hoped she'd kill the veteran warrior. Their paths crossed at strange times, bringing the po-matoran a strange happiness whenever he saw her face among a crowd of mercenaries. The Company brought them together again, albeit in a nonsensical manner. But the morning wasn't time for idle thought. He had responsibilities, a purpose pumping through his bloodstream: chaos. He lived a new life in his new body. Of course, he still planned revenge for the past. That would never change, but now he had power to go with his plotting. He existed to stir the primeval pot of frustration and rage, lived to feel the exhilaration of death missing its mark on his flesh. Where to start? It wasn't a hard thought.

He left the room quietly, a small note asking Dervish to retrieve the gear from Ferron before meeting at the Bazaar propped against a mug of water on the table by her bedside. The Golden Pickaxe was heating up downstairs with the morning's orders, but Ishi skipped breakfast in exchange for a brisk walk toward the center of Onu-Koro's government: the Akiri's hut.

All the plans were falling into place. Just a few more daring adventures to go... "I'm on business from Akiri Hewkii; I'd like to request an audience with Akiri Nuparu." He liked the look on the guards' faces.

IC: Akiri Nuparu (to an NPC guard)

"Hmm... very well." "Send him in."

IC: Ishi Polzin

After a quick discussion between guards, a runner passing as the middleman, Ishi found himself being ushered through the tight foyer and into the main chamber of Nuparu's study. There wasn't much to discover of the foyer, but the study held plenty to stimulate the mind of the Informant. A large desk for paperwork sat on the one side, but the pair of matoran present were gathered around a well-illuminated work table covered in sprockets and half-abandoned mechanical projects. As a fellow gearhead, he commiserated with the Akiri for not having the time to complete his pet projects. The one with the orange pakari was undoubtedly Akiri Nuparu; description of the hunched leader was common. The other, the one who's fingers seemed to itch for the hilts of his knives even as a playful smile danced over his kanohi, was Kongu.

Ishi hadn't expected another Akiri. Plans were changing. How delicious. "I have news from the North." He said while walking towards the leaders. He stopped to extend a palm in greeting, then added, "or, am I supposed to bow here? Etiquette in Hewkii's court is so different from your villages. So... unofficial."

IC:Nuparu "Nothing so formal, not at this time" Nuparu dismissed. "What news do you have from Akiri Hewkii?"

IC: Dervish

They were coming again. The monsters. The shapeless shadows that chased her down Xa-Koro every night, keening for her blood. There was never anyone around, and the sounds of her pounding feet were the only things that offset the terrible wailing of fear and destitution manifest.

Alone, the lamps were so bright, yet so distant and unhelpful. They only to keep her shadow gone.

She was trapped in a corner that appeared out of nowhere. She turned, and they bore down on her. Her scimitars had melted in her fists, and it scalded her flesh.

With a sigh, Arabeth woke up.

It was the same dream since she arrived. She had moved on, but her sleep never did.

Arabeth got out of bed and looked around. Ishi was gone.

I wish I could say I'm surprised, she muttered to herself.

A note told her to collect the stuff from Ferron and wait in the Bazaar. It wasn't even signed, much less bearing a small thank-you.

Arabeth had always been envious of Ishi. He was what she wanted to be. Effortlessly smart and able to get out of anything, without resorting to her weapons. The perfect brain-for-hire.

Yet,they had shared a friendship of sorts. He was her mentor, and... She wasn't quite sure how he saw her, really. A student? A curiosity? Another inferior?

She packed her belongings and went downstairs for breakfast.

IC: Ishi Polzin There was a long moment of silence, followed by the matoran pulling a palm shrug and blowing a raspberry. With it, the aura of the ambassador popped like a bubble around the quirky Informant. He became himself, fully and irrationally. “News?” Ishi responded. “Why, I’m just here to report the usual: no news. Surely no news is good news. If nothing else, he’s been keeping silent about your repair deal. Oops, slip of the tongue. I forgot our green friend is unaware.” Giggling at Kongu’s reaction, he stole Nuparu’s swivel chair. The room turned several times before Ishi found his gaze again on the village leaders. “How juicy. “The name’s Ahkmou. I could certainly get news from Akiri Hewkii, but what I’ve got is more interesting, I’m sure you’ll think. Nothing like a little news about the followers of Makuta, eh? Or better yet, about what’s behind that Abettor. So, what do you say from one gearhead to another? I mean, you could put me in chains and torture me, but I'd be so bored at the lack of ingenuity, and pain these days seems to have lost its edge –“ he waved a hand -- “comes with the territory. Ten toes is all I got left, unless you were thinking of taking teeth. Echelon stopped with the fingers. You see, my friends, I have a proposition." He rode the chair back toward the desk, then hopped up next to the half-finished inventions. A gear rolled off the desk and clattered about the stone floor. Half sitting, half standing, he crossed his hands in his lap and grinned. It felt good to act naturally. “I want Ambages the Architect dead, and asylum in your villages. And, for once, our goals seem aligned. For that, I’d gladly provide some illumination to your mysteries, and continue my efforts to stay one step ahead of Nightfall: who killed Matoro, for instance, or where Echelon plans to attack next.”

IC: Kongu "Why the Architect?" Kongu asked flatly before Nuparu could respond, "You want us to kill Ambages so you could give us information we could likely obtain through other sources and to grant you immunity within our homes from others on the island. That seems to be quite the proposition. It sounds to me like you are less interested in playing a part in these 'interesting' events and more like you want to ruffle some feathers," Kongu remained in his place next to Nuparu's desk, "So why the Architect?"

IC: Ishi Polzin "Good question," Ishi remarked. He appraised Kongu's quick thinking and tactical questioning before answering, "simply answered, Ambages is a threat to everyone. He's a Peer, and involved in the death of Akiri Matoro by association. He's sunk uncounted coin into a growing political monopoly. And he tricked me once, not to mention Echelon. A rogue millionaire bent on the destruction of a Great Spirit is not to anyone's benefit. Have you paid thought to what'd happen if he actually killed a god? Imagine the breakdown to faith and social order. It'd be anarchy, for a time. Religion and faith holds so much of our society together, keeps so many of your warriors battle ready. Where'd their faith go when the object it was placed in turns out to be a charlatan? "As for other sources, I wonder whom you're speaking of? Not the Hapaka by any chance, I hope. He died a few weeks back, crushed under Echelon's heel after trying to outwit Makuta's messiah. I think his head is on a stick somewhere these days, but that was when the Pact was on the road. The whisperers on this island are a small lot, and sadly most have turned their eyes away from your cause. What spies do stick around in the light tend to have a habit of getting false information. It's nice to be thoroughly dark sometimes: I have a clearer perspective of things where all you see is murk. Informants go with the winning hand, where profit is most likely to be made, and you're not exactly winning if losing an entire wahi is anything to judge by. Let me guess; you came to Nuparu seeking his Ussalry in a counter strike? Resistance is futile, my friend. Ko-Koro is lost, unless you have someone keeping you one step ahead of their plans. I've offered myself as that someone." Ishi paused, refocusing his mismatched gaze to include both leaders. If the conversation would continue in the same vein of direct communication, he had one more question to answer. "I want asylum, my good akiri, because I want to be safe when I visit your villages. A Makuta worshiper in today's climate is not openly accepted, and Ko-Koro is too dark and melodramatic for me. Indeed, I still believe in the Master of Shadows, but only because his strength lives on. Do I follow his wishes and perform his works? No, I've given up on my shadier ways, and hope to turn my talents to a better cause. I'm lonely, to be honest. Lonely, and ready to change. I'm tired of being spurned as an outcast by both camps, tired of not being able to go exploring the island without someone pelting a rock my way, and I'm tired of being tortured all the time. I'd rather have a comfortable hut in exchange for information gathered on a regular basis."

IC: Nuparu Nuparu had been silent until now, cowed by the visitor's apparent knowledge of his... transactions with hitherto unmentioned parties, but he wasn't staying silent now. "Readily admitting that you're a Makuta worshipper, and trying to make us see you as our only option doesn't help your cause, 'Ahkmou'," Nuparu said, "why should we trust you?"

IC: Ishi Polzin “Trust was the last thing I expected you to require, Akiri Nuparu.” Ishi responded. “However, I understand the circumstances. I am, after all, a believer in the Great Spirit Makuta, and his works have left your people cowed in fear for over a century, despite his so called defeat at the hands of the Maru. What swayed me so long ago was power, and Makuta had plenty – far less to share, I learned. Still does. The Maru may have won the battle in Mangaia, but at this rate the war for Mata-Nui is slipping once more into his hand. But, I’m off on a tangent, and you asked a specific question: why should you trust me? “Admitting who I am is part of trust, Akiri, or is that not how heroes do things anymore? A toa should be honest; why should I hold myself to any lesser standard? I said I was lonely and ready to change. You’re looking at a new me. Faith is a fickle thing. Maybe saying was a believer would’ve been more appropriate, but it’s all just semantics. After so long being a pawn for one god, pained and spurned and mutilated, I want nothing more than to become a follower of his brother. I’ve seen the error in my ways, but one can’t simply walk away from the Great Deceiver.” Ishi shook his head sadly, encapsulating the pain and betrayal he’d felt when Vera left her mark, and the fierce trauma of antidermis eating away at his body. “I tried once, living as an outcast, even plotting against Makuta: but that backfired with Ambage’s trickery. It took returning to my old haunts to right those wrongs. Now, I want to work for the right side. And that’s why I’m your only option: I’m not brokering for wealth: I’m here for redemption. I don’t need to ingratiate myself in Echelon’s court: I’m part of it. I don’t need to seek the locations of dark secrets: I know most of them. I don’t need to worry about what the Abettor hides: I’ve been there, and saved Joske’s life to boot. ”Ishi winked at the startled faces of the Akiri at the mention of the fire-spitter. “Oh, yes, he’s back.” “If you require more proof in trusting me, all you need do is ask. Give me an errand, use my knowledge, or consult the fire-spitter you hold in such high esteem, and then make your judgments. I'd prefer nothing too, shall we say, explosive. If you won't give me asylum, at least let me walk freely and seek refuge elsewhere." Ishi rose as he finished speaking and leaned against the wall of Nuparu's Office. The stone was cool against his back, even as he felt the heat of the moment boiling his blood. Everything in his new body revolted against his words, sought to slay both Akiri and flee back to the shadows. Sought to feel their blood splatter across his mask, hear their death cries echo in his ears, taste the sweetness of success in spreading chaos. But instead of fulfilling baser cravings, he conveyed an outward placidity unbecoming of a psychopathic murderer. He was, if nothing else, being entirely honest in a literal sense. It took practice. He had plenty of practice.

IC: Nuparu

Nuparu was looking attentively in Ahkmou’s direction as he laid out his reasons for why the Akiri should include him. It was highly suspect, the invocation of Joske’s name in particular. Nuparu had no reason to believe Joske Nimil was still alive, and no sources to tell him otherwise. It sounded like something Ahkmou was doing to heighten his own stature in the eyes of the Akiri. Secondly, he had implied that even among his supposedly fellow Makuta followers he had been tortured for information, which sounded an awful lot like not even they trusted this Matoran to be completely accountable. Nuparu felt like he was out of options at this point. On the one hand, he probably couldn’t trust this ‘Ahkmou’ to be completely honest. On the other, their plans would (hopefully) benefit from whatever knowledge he could provide. "Alright," Nuparu said hesistantly, "we’ll accept your aid, on a few conditions." "One: if your information turns out faulty or less than you’ve made it out to be, we don’t owe you anything." "Two: Until such time that you have proven your honest intentions, you are to stay under strict supervision, and not leave the City." Nuparu leaned over his desk and stared with hard eyes at Ishi. "Do I make myself clear?"

IC: Kongu Kongu looked at Ahkmou with a similar hardness, "The island is under duress Ahkmou," Kongu began, "Do not force the island to turn against you. Even a beaten down Mauka still has a bite," his eyes softened, "Not a threat: A warning."

IC: Ishi Polzin

"Crystal as a dasaka's armor." "The island's been against me for a long time, Kongu," Ishi said after a moment's hesitation. Shoulders sagging with the weight of admittance, he gave a breathy sigh and continued, "but I'm looking forward to things changing." Even in his youth Ishi felt the loneliness and isolation Mata Nui had to offer. Orphaned in Po-Koro, then made a token child by Alerick Polzin because of his prodigious mind. The youngest of three adopted siblings, he spent his days spurned and alone. From then, things only ever got worse. After a point, the isolation became a haven, something to seek when relationships with friends became too strained. It was a place to bolster himself against the wars of Pathos and Logos. He'd always been too emotional. It showed as he looked back at Kongu's softening expression. "I'll abide by your decisions, Akiri. Nuparu, Kongu, how can I start proving myself? Ask, and I'll say whatever I can. As for being under supervision, am I assigned guard and allowed to wander Onu-Koro, or remaining under house arrest? I'd like to be able to enjoy the bazaar on occasion."

IC: Onepu

The Captain of the Ussalry entered the building in time to hear Ahkmou's final statements. Opening and closing the door quietly, he approached from behind. He shuddered as he took the speaker in. He couldn't place it, but something about him caused the very depths of his being to reject him. "A new ward?" he asked gruffly. His demeanor quickly warped into a business-casual tone as he turned to face Nuparu. "I apologize for my tardiness. Who is this?"

IC: Kongu

Kongu was quiet for a moment before he said, "If you want to prove yourself then you will give us two things," the Akiri of air began softly, "First, information we already know, and second, information which is soon to become known if possible." He turned to Nuparu, "First what do you know about the strike teams powers? How did they obtain them?" he returned his focus to Ahkmou, "Now second - which will soon be known - what are their plans?"

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