The Dark Hunter ducked under the jet of water, a look of absolute disgust on his face as he retreated behind a hut. Toa Dume looked at his partner, nodding, and together they charged either side of the building. He could not get away, they would not let him this time. Hefting his Kanoka fire hammer, Dume charged left, ready to bash the Dark Hunter from here to Stelt.
What the Toa of Fire met, however, was a jet of water to the face, his partner relentlessly firing on him. The Dark Hunter was not behind the building. He was not anywhere at all.
“Kiv-od-a!” he choked as he found a pocket of air.
Upon realizing whom she was firing at, Toa Kivoda’s stream died, leaving two confused Toa.
“Where did he go?” asked the Toa of Water, looking all around.
“Must have teleported away,” Dume replied, picking himself off of the soaked ground. With a dismayed look on his mask, he looked over the aftermath of their battle. The village had suffered a considerable amount of damage. But at least nobody was killed this time, Dume thought. “Any signs of his partner?”
Kivoda pointed toward the path of rubble leading out of the village, not a dozen huts further from where they had been battling this Dark Hunter. “Looks like he made the retreat as well. Are you injured, brother?”
“As long as the Turaga is still here, I am fine,” Dume said, coughing up some water. “Go check up on the others… I will start repairs to the village.” His Toa sister nodded, addressing some Matoran nearby waving for their help
The Kanohi Kiril required concentration to use for such a large amount of repairs at hand, but Dume looked around with a troubled look on his mask. Was this a win or a loss against the Dark Hunters? He wanted to call it a success, but he was not sure whether chalking it up in that category would be right. Some huts had their roofs totally blown off. Others were disintegrated to dust. Half of the paths of the village were torn up, imprints dotted everywhere where Toa and Dark Hunter alike had been slammed into the ground. The village was a mess— a repairable one, but nevertheless, this fight had been a disaster.
“There is a fine line between protecting and fighting, indeed,” said a voice behind him. Dume looked to see Turaga Narmoto walking up behind him, his Kanohi Suletu grim as he surveyed the scene. The Turaga looked physically fine, but the Toa of Fire could tell he had been unsettled by this attack. “But you fought valiantly, Dume, and for the umpteenth time, thank you for that.”
“No village should have to pay this price for protection,” Dume insisted, gesturing to all of the destruction around him.
“If the Hunters get what they came for, there is no reassembling the village from that,” said the Turaga. “You can put this place back together. You are here, and thank Mata Nui for you and your mask.”
The Turaga gazed up to the peak of the volcano far above. Dume followed his eyes, but squinted at where he thought the Lava Crystal Temple was. The crystals, for some odd reason, or to at least what Narmoto and his predecessors believed, kept the fury of the volcanos in check. IF the crystals were taken, the lava would pour out of the volcano, traveling in all directions until it took what had been taken from it.
However the Dark Hunters believed in principle of profit, not mythology. The composition of the lava crystals was apparently a powerful source for a weapon the Dark Hunters had, and the Shadowed One was bent on obtaining these crystals. This had been at least the fourth team of Hunters that Dume and his team had faced in the last several months.
“If they get a hold of any of the lava gems, then that’ll be it for us,” Narmoto said.
“Asking for permission doesn’t come to me as a standard Dark Hunter procedure. They’ll be back again until they get what they want,” Dume replied. He looked at the Turaga grimly.
“Hopefully the Great Spirit smiles on your team then,” Narmoto said, as he watched the Kanohi Kiril mend the street back together.
Several kio from the village, Ravager’s tail flew through the air, cleaving the top of a boulder clean off. Growling in rage, he attacked the stone again, claws scraping at the fallen slab. He intended to smash the great rock to smithereens, but it appeared to raise up on its own, floating just beyond his reach.
“Destroy our hiding spot and alert the Toa to where we are all at once,” Conjurer said to his partner, controlling the rock with his telekinetic powers. “Your plans are truly brilliant.”
“You know I don’t take boredom well,” Ravager spat. His unbridled rage was gone for a moment, replaced by disdain for his partner. “If I knew this would have been my part of the mission, I would have taken some other assignment.”
“Think of the opportunities though,” marveled Conjurer, as he leaned against one of the surviving boulders to their campsite. “Three other teams of Hunters failed to complete this task. If we are the ones to succeed—if you can hold your patience just a little while— the Shadowed One will let you smash a whole chain of the southern isles.”
“You just want to show your flair, you delusional magician,” Ravager said. “Shadowed One doesn’t care for fancy tricks— he cares that this rock comes back with us.”
“Perhaps it is flair that is needed for this mission, if whatever our predecessors were doing wasn’t getting the job done.”
“Maybe somebody just wasn’t hitting hard enough,” Ravager shrugged, sending his fist into another boulder. “Mata Nui must have had a laugh when he made you— all the grandeur of the Toa and Turaga, but too ugly of a maw to be one of them.”
“You’re lacking reasoning, barbarian,” Conjurer sighed, dropping the telekinetic field around the rock. He ignored the insult. Ravager’s tail twitched, sending the rock into a million pieces in another million directions.
The Shadowed One had a knack for pairing up Hunters whom could seldom stand each other. The pairing of himself and Ravager, two completely opposite beings— himself an intellectual, Ravager a straight up brute with no thought for anything but destruction— really had been another of their leader’s finest decisions. “The time will come to smash everything again, once our other comrade needs to be extracted. For now, try to have a little bit of self control.”
Conjurer practically watched the words go in one ear and out the other of his partner. He didn’t know why he tried, the brute would never understand. Best to just keep him on his leash until Silence gave the signal, and it was time for brute force as a distraction once more.
The brown armored Dark Hunter’s eyes drifted to his staff of disintegration to his side, studying the weapon. Ravager wasn’t the only one who needed patience. The lava crystal they were here to retrieve… he didn’t know what use the Shadowed One had for it, but Conjurer had his own plans for the crystal. A simple bribe for the two Dark Hunters, a lie that they never found the crystal, or the Toa destroyed it, but he had almost figured out how to integrate the crystal into his tool, to make his magic even more formidable.
A trick that the Shadowed One would not anticipate, Conjurer thought. He has revealed all of his powers to us, a first— and vital— mistake.
“That Arthron would serve you better if you used it,” Dume told the Toa of Air at the temple, whom looked at him with a surprised look on his mask.
“It’s annoying,” told Toa Jagiri. “I get alerted to every change in the lava flow at the bottom, and after a while it gets to me. If there’s a Dark Hunter coming, I will see him, don’t you worry.”
“I’d rather have someone use it,” Dume said, frowning. “If it annoys you, then switch with someone else.” The other Toa looked at him, unwilling to trade the Toa of Air their masks.
“Korgot and I can hear you coming half a kio away,” said Nilkuu, Toa of Stone. Dume’s deputy stepped down from the temple to talk with his team leader.
Dume frowned. “It is still better to have three Toa on board than two,” he said. “I understand Jagiri is younger than the rest of us, but four Hunter attacks in this short of a time— the learning curve needs to be shortened for him.”
“He’ll learn, but you need to focus your energy on the Hunters,” Nilkuu said. “It does no use to try and forge a sword if the minerals are not purified.”
“Something Narmoto would say,” Dume scoffed, rolling his eyes at the adage the Toa of Stone threw at him. “Even raw coal can still be used as a bludgeon. It just needs to do the job.”
“You are suggesting a new strategy,” Nilkuu noted. Dume nodded. “Why? What we have done has worked before.”
“Tacticians in the Dark Hunters are few, but eventually they’ll send someone,” said the frustrated Toa of Fire. “The last thing I want is for them to be able to anticipate our moves.”
“Go back down the mountain,” Nilkuu said. “I will talk to the others and we will send someone else down, if you are really concerned about manning the front lines.”
Silence crouched in the shadows above the path, watching Toa Dume walk his way back down the mountain. Once assured the Toa of Fire was long gone down the path, he leapt down from his hiding spot, taking care to keep out of sight of the temple ahead.
Living targets were usually his specialty, but every now and again the Shadowed One would send the kidnapper after artifacts. He would never protest, though he preferred the missions where he had to continually keep the target quiet. That was half of the fun of the mission—the struggle, the protests, the continual use of force with his powers. But having to simply swipe an object, that made no noise whatsoever? That ruined the best part of the job. Still, he did not object to the leader of the Dark Hunters— this was an increasingly high profile mission for them. Silence figured if they succeeded, there would be plenty more missions made available to him where there were living victims abound.
The Temple was elevated, and he was able to easily slip to the rear unnoticed. The Toa at the front gate looked bored, so cooped up with nothing to do. No other Dark Hunters had made it this far, so the guardians here had no reason to be on alert. Many others who would’ve been the first to the temple would go out of their way to pick a fight with Toa, to antagonize, but Silence kept his mind on the job. He knew Ravager would be looking for a fight, and he was not to deny his restless partner a fight.
Creeping up the back of the temple, he made his way in undetected. The sound field projecting from his body muffled him from the Toa’s notice, so focused they were on anyone coming at them head on from the front entrance. Silence pressed himself against walls as he crept through, using the shadows the lava cast to get to his target.
The room the crystal was actually in shimmered with the shadows from the lava that ran through it, providing him cover to slip through the center of the room without the Toa’s gaze catching him. Lava coursed around the perimeter of it, and Silence followed the darkness as it travelled with the flow of the stream. He swiped the crystal as he crossed the room, quickly retreating back to the shadows on the wall.
As he pressed himself towards the rear of the temple, his eyes looked up to the ceiling. Silence did not believe in the Matoran myth— no crystal could actually control the temple of the volcano, could it? but he was curious. He wanted to wait, see if anything would happen, but there was also the pressing matter if the Toa discovered the crystal was missing. His moment of observation over, he made his way out of the temple.
“Something is wrong,” Toa Nilkuu muttered, the brows on his Pakari furrowing. He gave a light shove to Jagiri, who was off daydreaming on the steps. “Did you hear me?”
“What could be wrong?” asked Jagiri. “What do you feel?”
“Tremors,” Nilkuu replied.
Jagiri looked at him, feeling nothing. The Toa of Air doubted the Matoran superstition, but did believe in his brothers troubles. If that makes any sense, thought Jagiri. “Tremors from what?” he asked Nilkuu. “What would cause tremors?”
The Toa of Stone said nothing, merely left Jagiri out on the steps of the temple. He went in to check on the other two guarding the crystal, only to find them coming out to him. Their masks did not look well.
Dume was not far in his trek down the path as he felt the disturbances Nilkuu had sensed. The lava flows coming intermittently down the sides of the mountain, flowing smoothly one minute, began to writhe and boil the next. Reaching out with his elemental power, he felt the lava begin to rage. Dume frowned, unsure what could have caused it. Everything had seemed alright when he checked on his teammates… but something had happened.
A tingling up his back made him realize something was definitely wrong, and the Toa of Fire had a good suspicion he knew what had happened. Instead of turning back up the mountain, he continued on his trek back to the village. Not only the lava flowed differently, but there was something else about the environment around him that was disturbing. It wasn’t what he would hear during the calm before the storm on his home island…but there was a silence about.
“I should have figured you Hunters would try something like this,” Dume said as he reached for his Kanoka hammer. He whirled around, firing weaken disks at the Dark Hunter following him from a distance.
Dume missed, not knowing initially where he was firing, but the Hunter’s disk was straight and true. On impact, a coat of ice leapt from the disk, freezing him from mask to toe. Caught unawares, Dume could not use his powers to thaw himself. He was helpless as he watched Silence walk around him, throwing the lava crystal up in the air as though it were a ball.
A violent curse was the first thing that escaped Dume’s lips as Toa Izotor thawed him out. He thanked the Toa of Ice, but then spun on his heel, leading the charge to the village. “One of you flanking me would have prevented this.”
“Or two Toa would have been frozen. We didn’t even see him,” Nilkuu said over the growing rumble of the volcano. “He was nowhere in sight of the temple.”
“A stealth field, it extends from his body,” Dume informed his brother Toa. “The way he approached me… it was too quiet.”
“I think I can get him to make some noise,” said Jagiri, wielding his twin axes. “There are two in the village now, causing a ruckus.”
“Now you choose to use your mask?” Izotor asked. The Toa of Air ignored the jibe.
As they reached the village, they could see Jagiri was right. Homes the Kanohi Kiril had repaired just a short while ago were reduced to rubble, the one Dark Hunter with the tail destroying everything in his path. The other one with the staff that Dume had been chasing earlier was locked in combat with Kivoda, the Toa of Water trying to remain out of reach of the crackling energy on his staff.
“I’ll cover Kivoda,” Dume barked, already loading a disk into his launcher. “Jagiri, Nilkuu, subdue that beast of a Hunter before he destroys the whole village. My mask is going to crack just thinking about all of the repairs I’ll have to do when we’re done with him. Korgot, find that third hunter. Izotor, see to the villagers’ safety.”
The Toa broke formation, leaping into the battle. Dume wasted no time as his Kanoka sailed toward the Dark Hunter, hammer swinging.
Conjurer felt the weaken disk hit him. His arms fell as his back muscles were no longer strong enough to raise the staff. The Toa of Water took advantage of the weakness, blasting him with a jet of water that carried him far from their dueling grounds. I hate water, he thought as the blast carried him away.
“Sister!” came Dume’s voice as roaring streams of water died off. Kivoda looked over to see her Toa brother, loading another disc.
“There was another Hunter!” She cried, pointing beyond the huts. “These two—“
“Were just a distraction, yes,” he nodded. He grabbed the Toa of Water’s arm. “Let’s find him before he gets any further!” Leaving Conjurer to choke on water for a bit, Kivoda activated her Kualsi, taking Dume with her through a series of jumps to the village’s edge.
He passed right by them as they appeared, Dume’s hammer swing missing the Hunter by inches. He fired another freeze disk, but it was batted aside, its power not able to activate. The Toa hurled his hammer at the retreating Dark Hunter, landing a solid shot in the back. The Hunter went down, tumbling on the rocky ground for a minute before leaping back to his feet. However, Kivoda was right there, pulling the lava crystal out of the Dark Hunter’s claw.
“I believe this stays with us,” Kivoda said, wielding a trident at the Hunter’s throat.
Thinking their stealthy cohort had made it out of the Toa’s reach successfully, Conjurer and Ravager had begun their retreat as well, appearing at the edge of the village dashing away rapidly. Not willing to let the three of them go, Dume ran to meet Conjurer. Soon the three Hunters were surrounded by the Toa, weapons and elements wielded and ready to go.
“You make a move on us,” Korgot growled, a Cordak blaster cocked and ready. “and it’s your last.”
“So what now?” Conjurer asked. Ravager snarled at the Toa, bound by stone and unable to lash out. “You kill us, the Hunters come after you. You let us go, more Hunters will be sent for that rock your Matoran admire so much.”
“Hunters appear here again, and their ashes will eventually make their way back to your base,” Dume said sharply. “I don’t want to see any more Hunters on this continent, let alone this village.”
Conjurer was about to say something, but a Cordak rocket blasting the ground in front of him shut him right up. He looked to the others… Silence said nothing, as per usual. Conjurer expected some sort of sneak attack out of him, but the Toa had stripped him of any Kanoka. Ravager was incapacitated. His disintegration staff would not be quick enough to outmatch the Kualsi wearing Toa holding the crystal. As much as he envisioned the victory of being the one team to successfully complete this mission, the Dark Hunter knew they would have to report another failure to the Shadowed One.
“We’ll bring back your message, but there will be no promises,” snarled Conjurer. “No Toa will ever have authority over the Dark Hunters.”
“For today, a few Toa will,” Dume said right back. He stepped aside, to where the countryside lay before the Dark Hunters. In addition to being loaded with a Kanoka, his hammer crackled energy. “It must be a long road back. Might as well get started.”
Kivoda placed the crystal back before the tremors around the volcano became any worse. The Toa were all surprised that they were wrong, and that the tales of the Turaga were right. Arriving back in the village, they came back to the village almost reluctant to look the grateful Matoran in the eye.
“What other Matoran legends are true, then?” asked Kivoda to the group when she had returned.
“It cannot be the crystal, it simply cannot,” Jagiri said as he left for his hut. “It simply was impossible.”
One by one the others peeled away, until Dume was left standing in the center of the village, looking up at the volcano on his own.
“You weren’t foolish to doubt the myth,” came a voice as he pondered. His mask focused back on what was around him to see Narmoto walking up to him. “You merely stuck to your principles, that you were here to protect us, no matter what. And for the umpteenth time, I thank you for that.”
“I feel like you don’t need a mask of telepathy to know we didn’t believe in the myth,” Dume said.
“Nor do I need one to tell you are troubled by your team,” Narmoto said. “There are different styles of leadership. Yours is fine, and people will learn to listen.”
The Shadowed One listened to the report silently. He wasn’t sure what to think— disappointment at the failure of such established, veteran Hunters, or the humor at their crushed pride. Conjurer looked the most damaged, as if the Shadowed One was making him spill all the secrets to his “magic”. Ravager brooded behind Conjurer, while Silence stood to the other side, an apathetic expression on his face. But the Shadowed One knew that under that mask of apathy was a gaunt fear for what the leader of the Dark Hunters would do to him as punishment.
“Schedule a calling of all of those whom have failed this mission,” were his only words when the report was finished. “There must be a re-education session for those whom have shown their incompetence on this simple mission.” Next to the Shadowed One, the Recorder scribbled the note down on a tablet. When asked what he was to list the individual punishments of the returned Hunters, the Shadowed One thought for a moment. “They will be decided later. Keep your ears open for the re-education, but be warned— failure again is not tolerable.”
He knew he had their minds racing as they left the room. They would sweat it out, be fearful of what was to come.
But their punishments were not what bothered the Shadowed One. These Toa, they’d been bothersome on not just this mission, but several others as well. One name in particular stuck with him…. Dume. The name caught, and the Shadowed One knew it was not in a good way. This Toa sounded like he would be a thorn in the side of the Dark Hunters for an age to come.