Twilight engulfed the land in a chilling embrace. The trees of the forest stood bleak and bare against the night sky. Deep among the trees, a Toa could be seen, running as though her life depended on it. For indeed, it did. Her heartlight flashed faster and faster as she ran. Behind her, the ground and trees trembled from the footsteps of her pursuers, and the air shook with their howls of delight.
Blood wolves - all that was known about them was reduced to legend, because no one ever lived to tell about them. Their lust for the blood of other beings was so great; they would pursue her to the edge of the universe and back. There was no escape.
Suddenly, her foot caught, and she fell forward onto her mask. She struggled back to her feet, but in the few seconds it took to regain her footing, the creatures had surrounded her.
The three wolves circled the Toa, baring their teeth and snarling. Her mind raced. Her Kanohi Arthron was no good; she already knew where her enemies were, and her power over lightning had proved useless against these creatures. All that remained was to fight them until she breathed her last.
"I won't go down without a fight," she thought.
She drew her sword and held it in front of her. She turned this way and that, fending off any that snapped at her. One last time, she turned to face one, and the other two pounced. The force from the blow knocked the sword from her hands as they latched on with their teeth and claws.
Suddenly, something whizzed by her face and struck the wolf on top of her. It yelped and jumped back even as another something shot from the undergrowth and hit another. The wolves turned their attention away from the Toa to see who had dared attack them. And as she struggled to regain her footing, she saw one of the creatures dead, an arrow protruding from its chest.
A moment later, a cloaked figure leapt from the bushes. Wielding a longbow, he lunged at the creatures. Landing a powerful blow to one of the wolves, he sent it sprawling into the undergrowth as he turned his attention to the last one. It dodged his arrows even as its wounded partner emerged from the foliage and snuck up behind the new arrival.
The Toa grabbed for her sword and lunged at the wolf, prepared to deal a fatal blow. But before she could get there, a Brakas monkey leapt from the undergrowth and latched onto the wolf's face. She stood stunned for a moment as the wolf tried to shake of its assailant. A piteous howl snapped her back into reality. She turned and saw her rescuer standing over the other wolf. It, too, had an arrow through its chest.
As the cloaked figure turned to the final creature, he notched an arrow and made a clicking sound. The monkey jumped from the wolf's face, and an instant later, an arrow struck it between the eyes.
The Toa turned to her rescuer and saw him standing over the dead bodies.
"Thank you, thank you so much," she said, her breathing still heavy.
"You're welcome," said the cloaked being, his face still hidden by his hood. He turned to go.
"Wait," she said, "don't you want to tell me who you are?"
"You don't want to know."
"I do, please. I want to know who I'm thanking."
The other being paused. "Very well," he said.
Slowly, he turned, reached up, and removed his hood.
At first, the Toa just stood there, dumbfounded by what she saw. Finally, she stammered, "A a Skakdi?"
The fire crackled as the two beings sat on the ground, staring into the flames. The monkey was curled up next to his master.
The Toa looked across at her new companion.
"Not much of a talker, are you?" she asked. "My name's Lestra."
"Cedrak," he replied, as rolled over on his mat.
"Tell me something, Cedrak. Why did you rescue me? I thought "
Cedrak sat up. "You thought what?" he demanded. "You thought all Skakdi were mindless lunatics fighting each other in a pointless war? Is that it?"
Lestra was taken aback. "No, no, not all. I've just never met one like you before. You're different."
He sighed as pulled his legs in and rested his head on his knees. "Yes, I am different." He stroked the monkey's back as the memories flooded his mind. "I'm not at all like the others."
"When Spiriah came to our island, I wanted nothing to do with him. So I ran away from Zakaz, hoping I could find someplace else to live, but they eventually found me. One of the warlords gave me an ultimatum. Either join his army or die. I didn't see much of a choice, so I accepted. They would have made me like one of them had a group of Toa not broken me out. I stayed with them for a while, but I knew the Skakdi would be back for me. Since I left them, I've been travelling the universe, helping those I can." He sighed, "It's hard, considering what my species has become, but I want nothing to do with them."
"Is that why you don't smile?" asked Lestra.
A weak grin crossed his face. "I suppose," he said. He rolled back over on his mat. "Get some sleep, Lestra. I'll keep watch."
The next morning, Cedrak made his way to a nearby river.
"Why was I like that last night?" he thought. "I've never been so open with anyone before." He sighed, "Then again, she's the first person to not attack me or run away at the first sight of me."
When he reached the river, he knelt at the water's edge and began filling his water skins. Once he had finished, he laid his bow on the bank and waded into the water. As he began bathing his wounds, he heard a crack at the forest's edge. He whirled around and saw Lestra standing on the bank.
"Oh, you're awake," he said, a little embarrassed at being caught off guard.
"Yes," she said, "and you're just making your wounds worse."
"What? What do you mean?"
Lestra turned back towards the camp. "Just putting water on those cuts is only going to infect them. Wait right there."
Willing to oblige her, Cedrak climbed out of the water and sat on the bank. Within a few minutes, Lestra returned with a small pack. As she pulled various items out and began mixing them together, she said, "I was a healer, before I became a Toa. My skill hasn't left me completely though."
Satisfied with her concoction, she pulled a cloth from her pack and dipped it in the mixture she had made. As she applied it to the Skakdi's wounds, he grimaced.
"Ow," he winced. He bit his lip, holding in the grunts that sprang from his lungs.
"That should keep any infection out until it heals," said Lestra as she finished applying her medicine. She dipped her cloth in the river. "Now, let me just wipe off the excess."
As she moved behind him again, Cedrak expected a cool damp cloth on his back. Instead, he felt a cascade of water pour over his head as Lestra rung out the cloth.
She giggled as he turned towards her. "Oh, you think that's real funny, do you?" He reached into the water and splashed her back.
"Oh, you asked for it!" she exclaimed, returning the splash. Within moments, the two were laughing like young Matoran as they continued to soak each other on the riverbank.
Finally, Lestra lunged at him and knocked Cedrak back into the river. As he bobbed to the surface, she smiled down at him and said, "I win!"
That night, after a long day's journey, they set up camp not far from a village Cedrak said he knew of. As Lestra returned from gathering firewood, she heard music coming from the campsite. When she arrived, she saw Cedrak playing a pipe as he sat by the fire pit.
"That was beautiful," said Lestra, as she laid the wood down.
"Thank you; it was Arina's favorite melody."
Lestra stopped and looked up at her companion. "Arina?"
"Yes, before the Spiriah Incident, she and I were best friends."
Lestra eyed him suspiciously.
Cedrak rolled his eyes. "No, it wasn't like that," He sighed, "She was a few millennia younger than me, but she was so sensible. I could always go to her with my problems, and she looked up to me as a mentor. Well, enough about me," he said, putting away his pipe. "You know, you haven't told me why you were out here in these woods to begin with."
As Lestra sparked the wood to burning, she sighed, "I was searching."
"Searching for what?"
"My brothers. Fifty years ago, a few members of my team were selected for a mission, but they never returned. I've spent most of the time since then trying to find them. I never heard many of the details, but when they failed to return, I wished I had. All I can remember about their mission was that they went to an island called Huna Nui. When I arrived on the island, the Matoran said that they had left safely. Since then, I've been searching for something that can tell me where they went. But so far, I haven't had much luck."
Cedrak watched as the flames' reflections danced on her armor. "It seems we have more in common than we thought," he said.
Lestra sat next to him, and the monkey jumped into her lap. As she stroked its head, a cool breeze blew through the forest. "So we do," she replied.
The night was dark, and they both ran for their lives. Behind them, they could hear the sounds of their pursuers. He heard eyebeams sizzling behind him and threw up a force field. The beams of energy bounced off harmlessly, lancing away into the bushes.
"Ha, better luck next time!" cried his companion.
"Arina!" Cedrak whispered. "Don't antagonize them."
"Oh come on, Cedrak. We'll make it out of here. What's the worst that could happen?"
Cedrak sighed as they continued to run. "So young, so na ve," he thought. "I just wish -"
A cry from behind him shook him from his thoughts. Cedrak turned and saw Arina, lying flat on the ground, his foot caught in a Muaka trap.
"Cedrak, help!" he cried. Cedrak ran to help his friend, but try as he might, he could do nothing to release the trap.
The sounds of their pursuers grew louder. "Cedrak!" Arina whispered. "Get out of here. It doesn't do us any good if we both get caught."
"But what about you?" asked Cedrak, his voice starting to waiver. "I can't just leave you here."
"Yes, you can. You can get out of here and find some way to rescue me. I know you will; you've never let me down before."
Cedrak stood, his eyes brimming with tears. He held out his hand. "Until we meet again," he said, his voice quivering.
Arina reached up and grabbed her friend's hand. "Until we meet again."
As Cedrak turned and ran, he heard those following him stop. He hid behind a boulder and looked back at his friend. Half a dozen Skakdi stood over Arina, their maniacal grins gleaming in the moonlight. One reached down and grabbed a hold of Arina's hand. Cedrak turned and ran as his friend's screams filled his mind.
Cedrak awoke screaming, "NOOOO!" He broke down crying. "Arina, I've failed you. Oh Mata Nui, forgive me!"
Lestra ran up and knelt beside him. "Cedrak," she asked, "what's wrong?"
Cedrak covered his face with his hands as his body wretched. "She was the one friend I had in the world, and they took her away, mind and body! I promised I'd save her, but now..." He clutched his chest, as though a pain beyond belief had erupted in his heart. "The pain, why the pain in heart go away?" he cried. Lestra laid a hand on his shoulder, and he grasped it as the tears continued to fall.
"Please," he whispered, "please don't leave me. I can't bear being alone anymore."
Lestra lifted up his head and looked into his eyes. "Cedrak," she said, "you don't have to."
For what seemed an eternity, they stared into each others' eyes. Her eyes, so warm and caring; her touch, so soft and gentle. His face, so torn and sorrowful; but his embrace, so strong and protective. Then, as though driven by a force unknown, they kissed in the glow of the fire.
After a moment, Lestra pulled away enough to say. "Cedrak, is this right? Is this natural?"
He pulled their embrace in closer as one last tear slid down his face. "How can this be wrong," he asked, as he gazed into her eyes, "when it feels so right?"
As dawn broke over the landscape, a pair of beings could be seen. A Skakdi rested against a tree, a Toa wrapped in his arms. Both had a smile on their faces that spoke of an inner peace that had escaped them for a long time. It seemed, however, that the two beings that stood over them did not fully understand that.
"Should we kill him now or wait until he's awake," asked the red one.
"I don't know what he's done with Lestra," said the brown one. "But it can't be good. I say we wake him up first, and if you think you must kill him, well..."
The red one drew his sword and held it against Cedrak's throat.
"Alright, scumbag," he cried, jolting the sleeping pair awake, "release the girl and get on your feet."
"What's going on?" asked Lestra as the brown being grabbed her hand.
"What's it look like?" he asked. "We're saving you."
Lestra looked up at the Toa of Stone before her. "Koth?" she asked. She turned to the Toa of Fire to see him standing with one foot on Cedrak's chest, his sword raised high.
"Stop!" she cried. She broke from Koth's hold and lunged at the other Toa, knocking him off his feet. She reached for Cedrak's hand and helped him up.
"What's wrong with you, Onric?" she asked. "Cedrak's done nothing wrong!"
"He's a Skakdi," said the Toa of Fire, rising to his feet, "that makes him wrong."
"Lestra, he's done something to your mind," said Koth. "You have to break free, and we want to help you."
"I've done nothing to her!" cried Cedrak. "I saved her life!"
"Nice try, Skakdi," said Onric, his Kanohi Matatu glowing, "I'm not fooled that easily."
The force of his willpower lashed out, tossing Lestra back to Koth and throwing Cedrak against a tree. Koth locked Lestra's feet to the ground and her hands behind her back with shackles of stone.
As the Toa of Lightning struggled to get free, he laid a hand on her shoulder and said, "Please, try to understand. This is for your own good."
Onric advanced on the helpless Cedrak as the Skakdi struggled to break free.
The Toa of Fire smiled, "I'm glad to see you fighting back. I never liked enemies that just sat there. It just doesn't give me the same satisfaction."
"Satisfaction of what?" Cedrak gasped, his lungs crushed by the force of Onric's will.
"The satisfaction of watching them die."
With that, the Toa summoned a giant fireball and fired it at his helpless victim. Exerting all the willpower he had, Cedrak summoned a force field that blocked the attack, but the Toa pressed on. Fire poured from his hands as he tried to force his way through.
"Your species has caused more pain and suffering in this world than I even want to think about," he said, his voice thick with disdain. "And now, you're going to pay for all the misery your kind has cost me."
Cedrak barely managed to squeeze out the words, "I'm not my kind."
Onric paid no attention to him as he continued to press his fiery attack. Cedrak turned his eyes toward Lestra. Their eyes met for moment before he breathed her name. "Lestra."
The next moment, the force field dropped as he fell into unconsciousness. His body fell to the ground as Onric let up on his mask power.
"And now to finish the job," he said, raising his sword high.
"No!" cried Lestra, the tears streaming down her face. "Onric, please," she sobbed, "please don't."
"I have to, Lestra. I made a promise to Kleria. I promised her I'd rid the world of these monsters, and now," he plunged his sword into the Skakdi's back, "I am one step closer to keeping that promise."
Onric turned to his brother and motioned for them to get going. Exerting his power over stone, Koth pulled Lestra along by her shackles as they made their way into the woods.
As the three Toa left the scene, Lestra looked back one last time. "Goodbye, Cedrak," she sobbed. "Goodbye."
The Toa had just vanished into the woods, when a patch of air began to shimmer as another being became visible. He stared at the Skakdi lying on the ground before him.
"He's not dead," said the being. "Not yet anyway."
The being held out his hand, and a beam of energy poured from his outstretched palm to the fallen Skakdi. The burns and wounds that covered his body quickly healed as the energy coursed through his frame. The being reached down and turned Cedrak over on his back. After making sure that his breathing was normal, the being turned and walked away. Becoming invisible once again as he said, "I owe him no more than I have given him. Now, I have paid my debt."
As the sunset shone over the clearing, Cedrak began to twitch. It has been said that the dreams that come from escaping death are unpleasant, and it seemed to be so now. His lips began to move, repeating the same motion over and over. Had anyone been around to listen, they would have heard his voice, slowly rising as he dreamed. Finally, he jerked upright as he awoke and shouted the word he had been repeating in his sleep.