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The Crusade - Part IV

Kaama awoke to a horrifying sight.

All around the him in the darkened chamber, lining the stone walls, were his comrades: Nuka, Jurok, Marauder, Kiisha, Nyli, Ensilus, and their leader, Jakura. All seven - eight, counting himself - we suspended by their arms from heavy linked chains. Little Jurok was hanging higher than the others, and if Kaama could see his expression, he would’ve guessed it’d contain fear. But instead, all of their heads were downcast. They were unconscious… or dead. Kaama didn’t want to consider the latter.

“Hey, thief - glad you could make it.”

Kaama turned his head to the left, and barely caught glimpse of the gold-and-red form of Jakura - moving. He was moving. Resisting the urge to gasp out loud in relief, he asked his leader shakily, “W-where are we? What happened?”

Jakura looked over at Kaama, and as he saw him fully, the Toa of Jungle took in a sharp breath - the Ta-Toa’s right eye was burnt out. His armor was cracked and blackened in many places, and his legs seemed to dangle a bit lower then they should have. His shackled hands were smashed to bits, and dried blood was everywhere. Kaama felt a strange urge to help the Toa - yet, he could do nothing but stare blankly at him.

Jakura sighed and shook his head. “W-we were set up. We - I - should have known better. I led you all to this - this torture chamber. And it is I, Kaama… it is I who deserved to die.”

Kaama was about to ask what his leader was talking about when the Toa of Fire gestured towards one of the other companions - Nyli. Kaama looked closely, and realized that she appeared different. Her body was pale and lined with many more cracks then Jakura’s. And her heartlight…

The Bo-Toa looked away quickly, tears in his eyes. Across from him, he could hear a muffled sound against the echoing walls - Jakura. He was sobbing.

Kaama clenched his fists, angry not at Jakura, but at the world. It wasn’t supposed to end like this.

Jakura painfully raised his head. He saw Kaama, enraged, yanking at his chains furiously. Soon, the torturer would be here for him, also. He had been praying that the Bo-Toa wouldn’t be found, that he’d escape capture…

If only the Skakdi were still conscious… the Toa of Fire thought hopelessly. They could save us. In conjunction with Marauder’s powers, Nuka could use his control over magnetism to break our chains.

And yet, Jakura knew they wouldn’t be waking anytime soon. Maybe not even ever again.

He had been here, awake, for hours. He knew it was designed like this - so that each and every teammate was being tortured in a way that devastated them. He was being forced to watch his team suffer… and that was punishment enough, even without having his power turned on himself.

The torturer - whoever it was - had been using their own elemental powers against them. He had never seen anything so awful - Nuka’s body had been magnetized to itself, he and Marauder had been engulfed in flames, Ensilus frozen countless times over. It was even worse for Jurok and Nyli - high-pitched noises had been bombarded into the Matoran’s ears until he could no longer hear, and Nyli… she had been electrocuted to the breaking point. It was a wonder her corpse had not yet crumpled to ash. And then there was Kiisha…  even Jakura didn’t know where she’d been taken. Someplace “special”, no doubt, since she had no elemental powers to be used against her.

Jakura lowered his head. Even if he had the power left in him, where would he go? He’d failed his mission, failed his village, and, more importantly, failed the men and women who had trusted him. True, some were here by necessity - but all had respected him, all had believed he’d lead them to riches and freedom beyond their imaginations. And now, he had led them to the end. To death. And Jakura knew, deep down, he himself wouldn’t be blessed with death until he had witnessed the terminations of each and every teammate.

A loud noise suddenly sounded from beyond - a metallic clank. Jakura was familiar with it. It was the lift that had descended, carrying their torturer down into this stone realm of Karzahni. He could hear the light footsteps that one could easily confuse for the steps Kavinika or Kane-Ra, they were so silent. Jakura heard a hiss of steam, a deep grinding noise - and then, a hideous, high-pitched laugh.

He closed his eyes as the light blinded him…

THE END

Jaku smiled. He had finished it.

“JAKU!”

Jaku cried out in surprise, yanking his head from the bedroll he lied upon, the stone tablet and writing tool in hand clattering to the ground from his bunk. The Ta-Matoran quickly sat up and looked around the room in fright until he caught sight of the one who had shouted his name - Dyla.

With a sigh of relief, Jaku pushed himself up fully and glared at the laughing Dyla.

“What the heck, Dyla? I thought I told you not to bother me while I’m writing!”

The other Matoran wiped a tear from his eye and guffawed, “Jaku, I thought told you to quit writing that garbage!”

Jaku angrily folded his arms and retorted, “As if you have any control over me. I can write what I want to write, when I want to write it!”

Dyla’s expression changed to one of seriousness. “‘When you want to write it?’ Jaku, you’re supposed to be in the forge, working with the rest of us - right now. I may not be in charge of you, but the supervisor is - and if you don’t get your aft down there in time, he’ll tell the Turaga, and you’ll be kicked out of a job.”

The smaller Ta-Matoran climbed down the bunk ladder and picked up his writing tools. Setting them neatly on his bed, he sighed heavily and went to get his pack.

“Yeah, I know,” he conceded. “But, come one, Dyla - it’s a useless skill!”

Dyla gave him a funny look.

“Okay, okay,” Jaku said, annoyed. “Maybe it is useful - but, it’s not like we’ll ever be the ones using for useful things! We’ll be just two of the hundreds of workers who line up in front of an assembly line every day to mass-produce buckets. You can’t tell me you want to do that for the rest of your life!”

Dyla shrugged. “I don’t know. I like forging - and you do, too, ya Kolhii-head! That’s why you signed up.”

Jaku picked his pack up and slung it over his shoulder. “Yeah, well, I was thinking more along the lines of swords and shields and stuff. But apparently, you have to be more ‘skilled’ to do that.”

“Uh, yeah - which is why you start low. You have to work your way up from the bottom, Jaku. Show them what you got. Impress them! Maybe it’ll be enough to get you promoted - if you start arriving on time, as well. Master blacksmiths aren’t late.”

Jaku fidgeted. “I don’t know, Dyla… I mean, I can do more than forge. I mean, maybe I should enter a career in… writing.”

Dyla stared at Jaku as if he had just claimed to be the Makuta. “Are you kidding me, Jaku? Nobody is going to hire a writer who spends his time neglecting his current job and writing fanfiction.”

Jaku put his hands up in defense. “Hey, my fanfiction is good! Here read the chapter I was writing before you so rudely interrupted me.”

The other Matoran shook his head exasperatedly. “Okay, fine - I’ll read it on the way to the mine. Now come, on or we’ll both be late!”

On the way, Dyla tried hard not to laugh. It was ridiculous! Handing the tablet back to Jaku, he snorted and asked, “That’s it?”

"Whattya mean, that’s it?” Jakura irritatingly inquired. “It was great!”
Dyla rolled his eyes and shouted, “You killed off the hot Toa-chick!! And then, you spent the rest of the time making everybody feel sorry for ‘Jakura’,” he said the name mockingly, “before ending it in a cliffhanger! What kind of story is that?”

Jaku scowled and said, “First off, cliffhangers are good - they make the reader yearn for me. Secondly, Jakura is a cool name.”

Dyla groaned. “It’s just a lengthened version of your own name! Oh, and by the way, ‘Kaama’, ‘Jurok’, ‘Ensilus - those are all people we know! Except that Kaama is a Matoran in real life - reality, Jaku - Jurok is only a Chronicler wannabe, and Ensilus is a pacifist doctor. I mean, the least you could’ve done was come up with new names. And ’Nuka’… really? Isn‘t that the guy who thinks he’s a Matoran of  Light?”

Jaku sniffed. “Maybe. Anyways, look - I made us all much more exciting! Isn’t that a good thing, Dyla?”
Dyla shook his head again. “Jaku, let’s face it - your fanfic sucks. Now, I’m still your friend - I always will be! But, you need to stop being ridiculous. Give up the writing, get a girlfriend or a pet, and do your job like everyone else, okay?” The Matoran hung his pack on a rack and went to grab his forging tools, leaving Jaku alone.

Jaku looked at his tablet sadly. He couldn’t write what he wanted to write, he couldn’t forge what he wanted to forge - was he allowed to do anything? His life sucked, there was no doubt about that. Depressed, he hung up his own pack and went to grab his hammer. Maybe someday, he could apply for a different job…

TO BE CONTINUED IN A FIRE WITHIN

More information on these short stories can be found here.

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