An Oe-Matoran sat on a cot in his jail cell, staring at his grey-armored feet. A thin layer of soot covered the cell and everything in it, including the Matoran for he had not moved from that spot since the day before.

His face was as bleak as the walls around him. His eyes were lifeless, like those of one who had given up completely.

The door to his cell creaked open, revealing a dark green Vortixx. The staff she held marked her as a jailer.

She sighed and said, "It's time."

The Matoran of Magnetism slowly rose to his feet and walked to the door. The Vortixx cuffed their wrists together, but she knew they were simple formalities. He had stopped trying to escape long ago.

As the jailer led her prisoner down the dark, dingy corridor, her thoughts turned to the Matoran beside her. Normally, she did not feel for the prisoners she helped guard. Many of them deserved worse than the punishment leveled out to them, but this one was another matter. Three years after being found guilty of a petty theft, he was being led to the execution chamber where he would be used as a test target for some new weapon. During those three years, he had tried to escape, but every time, he was captured and thrown back into the same cell. At last, as the lifeless expression on his mask told, he had given up and surrendered to his inevitable fate.

"He doesn't deserve this," she thought. "No one does."

At last, they came to the execution chamber. The prototype weapon was positioned against the far wall, waiting to serve its purpose. The jailer detached the Matoran from her wrist, and a hint of sadness washed over her features as he walked the short distance to the indicated target point.

The Matoran's face still lacked any emotion as he stood before the prototype launcher. He had resigned himself to this fate a long time ago; any emotion was pointless. His listless eyes stared at the machine, as final preparations were made.

The Vortixx technicians/executioners set the acid launcher on a stand and retreated behind a protective barrier. With a weapon as deadly as this, there was always the potential that something could go wrong. Using a remote device, the technicians triggered the launcher, and a burst of acid leapt from its nozzle.

As the corrosive substance splashed over the Matoran, the jailer turned away. A sickening feeling grew in her stomach as she heard the acid eating away at his armor and muscle tissue. It grew worse when she heard his body collapse to the floor. After a few seconds, she heard a splash; she turned and saw the Matoran, with holes eaten into his body, had been drenched with a counter chemical, preventing the acid from eating through the floor.

As the technicians took down their equipment, the jailer grabbed a bucket of water and poured it over the Matoran. She then picked up his limp body and walked out into the hallway. As she walked back the way she had come, she looked at the figure she held. A faint noise rose from his body, and she watched as his wounds began to heal. His organic tissue began to grow back, and his armor spread over the places it had melted. His heartlight, which had gone out, began to beat, and his breathing started up again, as the wounds in his lungs healed.

By the time she reached his cell, his wounds were almost completely gone. As she laid him on his cot and left a fresh tray of food, she sighed.

"Pereti," she thought, "I would never wish this fate on anyone, not in a thousand lifetimes."

After lying on his cot for what seemed an eternity, Pereti finally awoke. As he sat up, he noticed his shoulder was disjointed. Pulling it with his other hand, he snapped it back into place. His head was tilted at an odd angle. Straining with his neck muscles, he tilted it back and forth, bones and armor popping into place. Finally, he grabbed his foot, which was pointing sideways, and wrenched it into its proper position.

Turning towards his door, he saw the tray of food, a small pile of dried Madu fruit between his rations of bread and water. A slight smile flickered across his Ruru.

"Treste," he thought. It was through her acts of kindness his three years in the Xian prison had been endurable. "Three years," he thought as he sat on the floor and began to eat his food, "three years of dying every day, only to come back to life. I don't care what they say, immortality sucks."

His memories jogged back in time, recounting the events that had led to his current situation: being kidnapped by Rahkshi, experiments almost too painful to imagine being performed on him, watching other Matoran die around him in the name of Makuta "research," being brainwashed into becoming a loyal Brotherhood pawn, and finally snapping out of it when his Makuta guardian tried to kill him. After being unsuccessfully killed by his guardian, Pereti had vanished into the night. He had run for days; the healing and regeneration powers the Makuta had granted him kept him from collapsing in exhaustion as he fled for his life.

After a few years of running, he had found his way to Xia. After fruitlessly trying to find a job on the industrial island, he had been caught in the act of stealing what he had thought were scrap parts. Unbeknownst to him, they were part of an important order for the Brotherhood.

At his trial, a representative from the Brotherhood had arrived. It was his former master. Pereti had no doubt that his master had bribed the officials into sentencing him to death by "experimentation." His master knew it was impossible to kill him, and so, since he had yet to die after three years of experiments, he was still held prisoner on Xia, powerless to escape by any means at all.

A squeaking interrupted his thoughts. He turned and saw a stone rat, poking its head out of a hole in the wall. As he watched, the Rahi crawled out onto the floor and stared up at him. After a moment, Pereti slowly grabbed a piece of Madu and cautiously held it out to the rat. The Rahi sniffed it curiously, then grasped it with its miniature claws. It stood on its haunches as it nibbled at the fruit.

A smile cracked at the corners of Pereti's mouth. "You're awfully friendly," he said. "Most of the rats that come in here run off the moment I move."

The rat finished eating the fruit and looked back at him with a gaze that was almost pleading.

Pereti chuckled. "Alright," he said, picking up another piece of fruit, "but this time, you've got to come for it."

The Matoran held the fruit just in front of his knees, waving it temptingly. The stone rat crept closer, eyeing him warily. At last, he reached the Matoran's hand and, after sniffing it, took the piece of fruit. By the time the food had finally vanished from the tray, almost a quarter of the fruit had gone to the stone rat, along with some of the bread and water.

As he watched his new friend finish off the last bit of Madu, he smiled. For the first time in three years, he had something to be happy about. Moving slowly, he slid his hands under the rat and picked him up. The Rahi did not seem at all frightened as the Matoran brought him up to his level.

"You need a name," he said. "I think I'll call you…Stony. You're a stone rat after all."

The rat squeaked and scratched its ear. Pereti chuckled. "I'll take that as a yes."

As the afternoon wore on, Treste walked down the hallway, dreading having to once more take Pereti to his death. She opened the Matoran's cell door to find him playing with a stone rat. The Oe-Matoran looked up.

"Oh hello Treste," he said, setting the rat down, "that time is it?"

"I'm afraid so, Pereti," said the jailer, as she produced a pair of cuffs from her belt.

The Matoran set the Rahi down and approached the guard. The rat looked at Pereti curiously, as he left the cell.

"Don't worry, Stony, I'll be back shortly," said the Matoran.

As the door creaked shut, Treste turned to her Matoran friend and asked, "Stony?"

Pereti nodded, "He wandered into my cell last night and took a liking to me."

The Vortixx nodded as they walked down the hall. "I don't know how you do this," she said. "Every day, you're…"

Pereti grew a bit more solemn as he answered the unfinished question. "I guess I'm just calloused to the pain. Like when new armor rubs at your tissue, after a while, you just get used to it."

Treste nodded as she opened the door. The technicians were making final preparations to a large device, a cylindrical chamber attached to one side.

Pereti sighed, "This again? Death by electrocution it is."

A few minutes later, the experiment was over, and Treste was carrying the now badly scorched Matoran back to his chamber. She unlocked the door and saw the stone rat curled up in a corner. She smiled and set Pereti on his cot, leaving a tray of food as she exited the cell.

The rat stirred and looked up at the Matoran. A shrill squeak escaped its throat as it leapt up onto the cot. It ran up to the unconscious Matoran, but backed away as a waft of burnt flesh blew into its nostrils. A slight noise, like a far-away creek, reached the rat's ears, and it watched as the wounds closed and the armor reformed. Moments later, Pereti sat up and looked down at his little friend.

"Were you worried about me?" asked the Matoran. The Rahi scampered onto his outstretched hand and sniffed at his arm, where a burn wound had been not moments before.

Pereti nodded as he said, "Yeah, they do something like that to me every day. It's been three years since this started, yeah, three years. But, it's good to know I've got friends, even in a place like this."

The rat stood on his hind legs and looked up at the Matoran's face. A smile crossed the Rahi's face. "Indeed, it is," it said.

Pereti jumped back in fright, dropping the stone rat. "You…talk?" he said at last.

"I do a bit more than that," said the stone rat. He jumped off the bed and scampered to the center of the cell. He stood on his hind legs, spread his forepaws, and his form began to change. He slowly grew larger, and his body morphed until standing in the center of the cell was Ta-Matoran wearing a Great Huna.

"You – You're a Nui-Matoran!" stammered Pereti.

"I am," said the Ta-Matoran. "My name's Ihar."

"How did you find me here?"

"Three weeks ago, I was flying across the ocean when a storm blew me to Xia. While nursing a wound I got from crashing, I overheard a pair of Vortixx talking about a Matoran that couldn't be killed. Intrigued, I turned into a stone rat and followed them. After listening to them for a while, I realized that another Nui-Matoran was on Xia, so I began to search. I eventually found out which prison you were in, but it took me a while to find you."

"Why did you look for me?"

"I want to get you out of here. No one should have to go through what you have."

As the night wore on, the two Matoran talked, swapping stories about their adventurers and planning a means of escape. Finally, Ihar changed back into a stone rat and curled up on a corner of Pereti's cot. A yawn escaped the Oe-Matoran's mouth as he laid his head on his pillow. For the first time in years, a look of contentment spread across his face. As he drifted off to sleep, he found he was actually looking forward to tomorrow.

The next morning, Treste arrived to take Pereti to yet another execution. She swung the door open and saw Pereti once again playing with the stone rat.

"Let's go, Pereti," she sighed.

As the Matoran got up and she cuffed him to her wrist, he looked up at her and said, "Treste, you look a bit tired, maybe you should take the afternoon off."

"Huh?" the Vortixx shrugged, "No, I feel fine."

"No, Treste," said Pereti, slowly, "I really don't think it be a good idea for you to be here this afternoon."

The Vortixx stared at the Matoran, a questioning look on her face. Pereti merely nodded.

"I'll see if I can find someone to take my shift," she said.

The door to the execution chamber opened up, and the two beings entered.

Pereti saw the large rifle set on the stand. "Oh goody," he said, sarcastically.

A few minutes later, Treste deposited Pereti's limp body in his cell and left his tray of food on the floor. Crawling out of a corner, Ihar changed from a stone rat back into a Matoran and watched his friend heal.

"So," said the Ta-Matoran as handed Pereti half the bread, "now we wait."

The Oe-Matoran simply nodded.

As mid-afternoon glowed over Xia, another Vortixx jailer marched down the prison corridors. When she reached the prison cell, she pulled out her keys and unlocked the door.

"Come on, Matoran," she barked, her gruff voice echoing down the hall.

"Oh, no thanks," said Pereti, "I'm not up to it today."

"I won't ask you again," said the jailer. "Now get over here."

As Pereti got up and walked towards her, a stone rat crawled onto his shoulder.

"What's that?" asked the jailer.

Pereti smiled, "Say hello to my little friend."

Ihar leapt at the jailer. In midair, he changed into a Brakas and latched onto her face. She yelped as she tried to pull the shape shifter off. Pereti took off down the hall, heading in the opposite direction of the execution chamber.

Instants later, the jailer managed to rip Ihar from her face and through him down the hall. He turned into a fader bull and disappeared.

The jailer took off after the retreating Matoran and cried, "Someone sound the alarm. We've got a break out!"

Pereti dashed down the hall, Ihar appearing beside him. The Ta-Matoran changed into a Husi, and Pereti leapt onto his back. Behind them, they could see the jailer had been joined by two more Vortixx. Two of them fired Rhotuka spinners. Pereti leapt from Ihar's back and took the wheels' energy. Both were paralysis spinners, so the Oe-Matoran fell to the floor, unable to move. Ihar changed into a Suukorak and caught Pereti up with a string of webbing. He then launched three spinners of its own, each encasing their pursuers in an electric force field.

By now, Pereti's healing powers had kicked in, and he sat up as he rode Ihar down the hall. A group of half a dozen Vortixx guards were running at them. Pereti leapt from Ihar's back as the Ta-Matoran changed into a catapult scorpion. Ihar took out four of them with flying lava balls, while Pereti slid into one, tripping her and slammed the remaining one's head into the wall. During his time under the Makuta, he had learned some fighting techniques. Though a bit rusty, he had not forgotten what he had been taught.

Up ahead, they could see the exit, the midafternoon sun shining through. As the pair of Matoran ran towards the light, hope built in Pereti's heart. It had been three years since he had been outside the walls of this prison. They burst through the door into the outer courtyard. Ihar changed into a smoke hawk and took off into the sky, grasping Pereti with his talons. Projectiles of all kinds flew up at them, but Pereti was able to shift himself in between Ihar and the various projectiles.

After dodging through Xia's jagged skyline, they made it out into the open ocean. When they were too far away to be hit, Ihar looked down at the Matoran in his talons.

"So," he asked, "where to now?"

Pereti shrugged, "As long as it's away from there, who cares?"

Ihar nodded. He tossed the Oe-Matoran into the air and transformed into a phase dragon.

As Ihar caught him, Pereti asked, "Wait, if you could turn into a phase dragon, why didn't you do that to begin with?"

As they shot southward, a twinkle glistened in Ihar's eye. "Because it was more fun that way."

* * *

Bionicle (c) LEGO

Story and related characters (c) me

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