I now present the third segment of the Heroes and Halflings series. My thanks go to many people and influences, in particular the other founding members of the Toa Seneca, who have consistently reviewed and encouraged me to continue on.
Wings – Prologue
Even through the dangers and the heartlight-overloading fear-energy that ran through her soul, Toa Stiaye Amari couldn't help but feel satisfaction at where they had come now.
For nearly two years, she and her small group of friends had hunted the last half-dozen or so Makuta that had survived the Destiny War and escaped the eyes of Toa. With her friends – Aeolus, Amphitrite, and Japoro – they had whittled down those numbers down to two, the ones she had sought for such a long time, ever since the destruction of Deimos on Enyo.
Tageria and Hecate. From records they had found in the destroyed fortress, they had learned they had created a halfling in the Amari Islands, created from the Melding of venerable Turaga Nuju's Shadow self and the antidermis of their brother, Makuta Deimos, nearly making an old force of the now-defunct Brotherhood rise again on another crusade of terror. Had Deimos not been destroyed, and Nuju rescued, they would've succeeded.
Stiaye shook the foul memories out of her immediate attention and focused on the climb. The mountain path she was on now was more vertical than horizontal.
After a long pursuit, Japoro had finally tracked down the two female Makuta: Holed up in a series of mountain caves, near the Northern Continent city of Aleris. Aleris had recently been reporting cases of Kanohi infection and sightings of Rahkshi – in this time, where they were mere memory to most that had lived during the time of the Brotherhood, they coupled with Japoro's findings to confirm they were there.
Japoro himself wasn't with the Lightning Toa. He, Aeolus, and Amphitrite were heading up to the summit the easier way – which was also the way that had more guards. This route, while too narrow and dangerous for all of them to travel it together, had fewer guards.
Stiaye scaled another rocky face, taking care to not glance down.
There was a reason she hadn't taken Amphitrite – who normally accompanied her – with her, despite the fact they could both be on the path without fear. For all of her bravado and swagger, she knew the Mahiki-bearing Water Toa was no rock climber. Stiaye, however, heralded from the village of Xi-Koro, where the native people would plow through the day's chores to run back to their hut, pull on her Rock Scramble gear, and try and break the record time to summit either Mount Moonpeak or one of the other surrounding peaks.
Finally, she grasped the top of the face that came before her final destination. She peered over the edge. Several robot guards stood before the entrance, but she saw nothing else.
She smiled slightly. This was almost too easy.
Closing her eyes most of the way, she focused on the electric charges that powered the machines, and drew all of that power into herself hungrily. One after the other, they all shut down, lacking the strength to remain active and continue their watch.
Stiaye scrambled to the top and took a few hasty steps towards the entrance to the caves. There she paused, gathering her new energy into an orb on her hand.
One, two, three.
On three, she whirled around on the heels of her boots, casting raw bolts of her element out of the globe and into a wide pattern behind her. With screeches of pain, the four Rahkshi of camouflage that had been trying to sneak up on her reared, bolts pouring into their armored heads, frying the kraata within.
"Same as the time back near Xia, with that halfling," muttered the Toa of Lightning as she absorbed what remained of the orb and turned away, even as the charred, smoking, armored suits collapsed. Without a backward glance, she slipped inside.
It was dark, very dark, but she knew in her heart it wasn't as dark as the Razor's Edge caves on Rohaya, even though she herself had never ventured inside those fabled tunnels. Even as her spears were unstrapped from her back and slipped into her hands, a veil of electricity flowed over her body, crackling as it formed a second armor of her own metal and provided her with light.
About 150 paces down the tunnel, it opened further into a T-shaped intersection with another tunnel that traveled higher up the mountain. Movement coming from further down the tunnel's left side made her retreat, in case it was a patrol of other Makuta-spawn.
Three figures holding lightstones came into view, and Stiaye breathed a soft sigh of relief. "Nice to see you guys," she said, stepping into view.
Amphitrite, Japoro, and Aeolus regarded her with natural suspicion, but the correct answers of a few personal questions swept away their fears of duplicates. Not that Stiaye needed them – ever since she had slain her first halfling, she had come to sense the unique brain-impulses of her friends, which no Makuta could copy.
Aside from a few new gashes on their armor and the fact Amph had an ice splint on her left forearm, none of them were hurt. Satisfied, the four Toa kept moving down the corridor, which steadily climbed up in a spiral as they ascended the mountain, via the tunnels and chambers that broke them up into segments.
It happened right when Stiaye had stepped into one such chamber ahead of her friends. There was a loud Slam! of rock on rock behind her, and the Lightning Toa spun around to see a slab of stone cut her off from her friends. Similar sounds all around told Stiaye that all the possible exits had been similarly blocked.
Muffled yells came from the other side as the minds of her friends caught up with what had happened. She felt the electric pulses that powered the muscles and minds of all non-Makuta increase as they tried to breach it, and while Stiaye attempted to use her Matatu to move it, the stone refused to budge.
"It won't move. So long as I will it not to move, you are alone."
It wasn't the female voice she was expecting, but the electricity she could sense told her it was neither an illusion nor a Makuta. She turned . . . and immediately began doubting her own certainty. There couldn't possibly be a lower-class Steltian before her, armed to the teeth and speaking flawless Matoran . . . right?
The Steltian smiled, but the sight sent chills down her spine: the Lightning Toa had never seen such an expression used by a member of that species without it ending up as merely ridiculous. "Finally, you are alone; your weapon is free for the taking." The smile suddenly became evil and ambitious; it was the look of someone that was anticipating a heavy reward. "My master will be pleased to hear of your defeat, Toa of the Amaris."
"What are you to them?" Stiaye asked, stalling for time as she gripped her weapons tightly in her hands. One of them had been passed down to her by the ghostly Fire Toa Ajax, whose Spear was responsible for saving her home, giving her the distinctive lightning-bolt imprint on her mask, and setting her on this quest. The remaining Makuta of the universe both coveted and feared the Spear's power. "Simply the tool they use to get what they want? They'll betray you in the end, you know," she added.
An impatient rattle escaped the thug's throat. "I have served her well over millennia; she trusts me above the rest of her servants. I have been crushing beings stronger than you before you first breathed, Toa of Lightning. And you shall pay for your insolence and meddling in the affairs of those above you – starting now!"
He punctuated his sentence by smashing his meaty fist into the ground, and the stone beneath her feet erupted in response, making her stumble forward as she lost her balance.
The Steltian took advantage of her moment of weakness. Rocketing forward with speed that she hadn't expected, he slammed his metal gauntlet towards Stiaye's face; only her instinctive dive out of the way saved her Kanohi from being shattered – along with her face. A large crack appeared in the stone barrier behind her former position, but it vanished abruptly, like there was a regeneration disk embedded inside.
Loud, raised voices emanated from the other side; Stiaye's friends had felt the impact. The Lightning Toa herself was forced to tune them out. Help was close, but if she didn't focus on what was going on, they would find her in pieces.
A bolt of electricity erupted from her spears, but her giant opponent simply caught them on his arm shields. Hissing between his teeth, he made a violent gesture with his right hand, and the stone beneath her feet rose, wrapping her lower body tightly in an embrace of rock. With an air of triumph about him, the servant of the Makuta moved forward, ready to finish this fight.
No. She wasn't going down like this!
With a growl, she sent out a pulse of static electricity, making it race through his muscles and crippling him just long enough for Stiaye to rip the cocoon apart with her Matatu and send the sharp shards towards his ugly face.
They never reached him. They suddenly froze in midair, a force tearing the fragments from her control and sending them back towards her. Even as the Lightning Toa spun and twisted, trying to evade, she realized that force had come from her enemy. A Steltian that can command the rock beneath my feet, can speak perfect Matoran, and is ridiculously fast. What's next?
Distracted by her thoughts, a blunt-edged piece of stone shrapnel managed to slam into her diaphragm with enough force to knock the wind out of her. Even as Stiaye doubled over in pain, trying to regain her breath, the Steltian shot forward, the blade that was sheathed on his forearm flying out with him, reaching to disarm her.
Stiaye saw the danger, and raised her right hand to catch the blade on the Spear of Ajax's shaft. So far as she knew, the protosteel that it had been forged out of was indestructible, so it ought to protect her. (Though then again, she hadn't really tested to see what could destroy it very thoroughly, in case it did get destroyed, so who knew?)
A loud smash of metal on metal rang in her ears as the weapons collided, and her hand drooped a little from the sheer force that was pressing against her weapon. Unfortunately, the Steltian still had momentum, so his blade slid down the metal shaft, sparks flying –
A flash of pain, both burning hot and freezing cold, originating from her wrist made her cry out, and she lost her grip on both of her weapons. Dizziness and the feeling that she was missing something made her collapse, and the impact of her head on the stone furthered the haze in her brain.
She swore she could hear a voice – her enemy's – chasing her into the darkness (death or unconsciousness? She wasn't sure), but what words he said, if any, were indecipherable before she faded.