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Army of One

Chapter Text

Ahkmou felt the Great Spirit die for the second time. His chest tightened as though a rock had gotten caught in it, as a sense of despair threatened to overwhelm him. The suns went dark, the stars blinked out, and even lightstones in buildings faded away. Only the glow from telescreens on distant buildings cut through the blackness, their illuminated message promoting Matoran compliance with the Vahki. From his vantage point atop the tower of the Coliseum, he had been able to watch as an army of Toa entered his city and laid waste to his forces. Ahkmou clenched his fist, thinking quickly to determine how he could make the best of this situation.

The balcony he stood on suddenly buckled and shook, and Ahkmou was lifted off his feet and thrown to the stone floor. Distant glass shattered and the remaining light went out, and he could barely see past his own mask. He grunted, pushing himself back up, dreading to think what might happen if one of the Toa stumbled across him in the darkness. Although he was a Toa himself, Ahkmou was no fighter, and he didn’t doubt that any of his enemies would be all too eager to make him pay for his allegiance with Makuta.

While the Great Spirit was certainly defeated, Ahkmou couldn't be sure that Makuta had been vanquished for good. After all, he seemed to have a contingency plan for everything - but with the Toa Nuva involved, Gavla frozen, and the Vahki stopped by Matoran and Toa alike, it seemed unlikely Makuta would be in a position to protect his followers in the near future. Ahkmou would have to work quickly to have a chance to hold onto his comfortable position as a ruler, and that meant gathering all the forces he could.

He fumbled in the darkness, feeling his way to the entrance to his throne room. He was relieved that he had decided to light it with glowfish as the Ga-Koronans had done. Although some of the glass cases trapping them had shattered, most were still intact. He pried one of them from the wall and conjured a rod of stone to hold it. The makeshift torch reminded him of Vakama’s firestaff, and the thought of the similarities to the dead Turaga’s badge of authority gave him a thrill.

His new torch allowed him to see ahead as he crept down the long staircases of the Coliseum. Distant battle cries echoed through the corridors as he approached the exit, and he was struck by the smell of salt and iron mixing together from the silver seas below. As he walked under the enormous archway, he was met by the sight of a twisted pillar of ice that kept Gavla trapped inside.

The Toa Nuva had been too much for her - unsurprisingly, really. She was far too reckless for her own good. Still, Ahkmou needed followers, and Gavla was the most loyal he’d found. He willed a boulder to grow beneath her prison until the foundations cracked and the sculpture toppled over, smashing against the metal platform that held up the Coliseum.

Ice crunched against Gavla’s form and she cried out in a mixture of pain and fury. She shivered, weakened by the cold, but Ahkmou pulled her up to her feet. She looked shaky, but she would recover.

“Looks like the Toa got the better of you,” Ahkmou announced, not bothering with pleasantries.

Gavla’s hand shook. “No thanks to you. I almost took out three Toa Nuva single-handedly. If you decided to lend a hand we’d be welcoming them into the ranks of the Shadow Toa.”

Another ruler might have punished his subordinate for talking back, but Ahkmou didn’t particularly care for such measures. “We’re heading south. The Brotherhood of Makuta is gone, but I know how to find their fortress.”

“Why? To freeze to death? We need to escape the Universe, not worry about empty fortresses!”

Ahkmou smiled. “That’s where you are wrong, my dear. Destral has plenty of resources left…”

The gaping maw of the temple in front of her somehow filled her with a sense of foreboding. At the same time, Takua couldn’t push away her desire to discover the secrets within. She thought she knew of every temple in the Fire Region, but this was not the Temple of the Fire Creature, and the Shrine of Fire was located on the far side of a volcano.

Which meant that it must be so ancient to be forgotten. She wondered if even Narmoto, the Protector of the Fire Region, knew of this place.

The call of discovery was too great for her to resist, and she boldly stepped inside. The walls of the room she found herself in were in an even worse state of disrepair, and the inscriptions on them were too worn and crumbled to possibly begin to decipher their meaning. The warm glow of a river of lava divided the temple in two. On the other side, a stone pillar held a golden mask, its edges smooth and angular, not dissimilar from her own. Tall walls surrounded the distant islet in a semi-circle, and she couldn’t see any indication of a hall or archway leading deeper into the temple.

A flat metal panel sat by the lava flow. Takua didn’t know what it was for, but it was covered in ornate details and neatly polished. Wondering if this was evidence that she was not the only one who had discovered this temple, she brushed a hand over the flames engraved on its side. It was strangely cool to the touch, even though an impression in the dust indicated it had been sitting beside the molten rock for some time. Ever ready for an experiment, Takua dipped the board into the lava for a moment. When she pulled it out, it wasn't damaged at all, and not at all too hot to touch.

She looked over to the far side of the lava river. Some of the inscriptions on the walls looked like they were in better condition, but she couldn’t see any way to get there. Perhaps if she asked Narmoto, he would recognize her description of the shrine or the mask.

The sound of scuttling feet startled her, and she was almost too afraid to turn to face what she already knew was approaching. A sickly green creature, no larger than her face, hissed as it approached. A skull spider.

She regretted not telling Narmoto where she was going.

The creature hurled itself at her face. Even though there were five body-lengths between the spider and herself, the spider crossed the distance in moments. She whipped up the metal board to shield herself. The creature fell to the ground and quickly crawled back to its feet. Takua thought about fleeing, but she knew she wouldn't be able to outrun a skull spider for long. Instead, she turned and sprinted to the lava. There was only one way she knew to escape. Throwing the board onto the molten river, she felt a second of doubt before she grabbed a broad stone and jumped on top.

The board bobbed for a second but supported her weight. She paddled furiously across the river with her newfound stone, wondering if this was what the device was intended to be used for. Behind her, the guttural cries of the skull spider urged her on and she knelt down further as if to put just a tiny bit more distance between her and it. The other side was almost in reach and Takua redoubled her efforts, clutching her stone as tightly as she could until she was finally able to touch firm ground. She pulled herself to shore and glanced back.

The beast paced back and forth, waiting for her inevitable return. Skull spiders were notoriously determined, and she suspected she would grow weary from hunger before it did.

The stone pillar stood before her, bearing its golden mask just above her head. If it were a mask of power, it might just hold the key for her escape. She reached out to touch it, not entirely certain that what she was doing wasn't blasphemy against some ancient Toa. But no, that didn’t make sense. There was no such thing as a Toa, and the inspiring legends of elemental warriors she had heard a hundred times over were nothing more than tales to allay the fears of young villagers.

She reached out to grab the mask. As her finger brushed its side, she saw the shadow move. It snaked its way over to her, slowly becoming darker until it wasn't a shadow anymore, but a physical tendril that seemed to absorb all light around it. Instinctively she scrambled away, but it wrapped around her leg. Takua tried desperately to grab the mask, her only possible salvation from this entity. But the shadow tore her away and coiled around her face. Its freezing touch engulfed her, and her scream rattled the walls. Something ripped off her mask and her vision began to go black.

The last thing she heard was a manic chuckle.

She awoke with a gasp, jolted forward, and hit her head. Through deep, panicked breaths, she tried to make sense of her surroundings. Walls enclosed her on every side, forming a tiny metal closet just large enough to contain her, almost like a coffin - but with a glass pane in front of her face. Cold fury and terror took over as she banged her fist against the glass. The door responded by hissing and pulling away from her, swinging out to one side. Hurriedly, she stepped out into an enormous room lined with dozens of similar chambers to her own, and beings in dark armor stepped out of most of them. To her right, two more of the creatures - one sapphire, one bronze - eyed her carefully.

She felt taller than she remembered being. Her arms were longer and felt powerful, and her armor had taken on an oily hue. No matter who she looked at, she felt a pressing desire to give them a demonstrative education in various methods of bodily harm.

Though unfamiliar to her, those urges felt good, and she longed to give into them.

"Hello," the bronze being said with a hint of greedy cheer. "And welcome to my Shadow Army."