IC: Journey to the Earth Ruins
It had been a long and arduous journey through the underground to reach the Temple, but at last, Arkius, Katrin, Kilo, and Jutori stood within the ruins. Along the way, the team had encountered a substantially greater amount of tunnels, caverns, and other subterranean hollows hiding all sorts of dangers than they had initially expected, complicating their journey somewhat.
The initial legs of the group’s journey had proven relatively uneventful. Despite Jutori being at the wheel, and with frequent directions from the mechanical navigator in the back, steady progress was being made. A minor pause to their journey occurred when the 4-wheeler became stuck in the dunes, but between the four of them and some ingenuity they managed to resume their travels. After that incident their trajectory was altered to proceed on mostly stable terrain. This new trajectory took them southwest, skimming the edge of the desert wastes. This area of Zakaz had been the most impacted by the giant robot head impact. The remnants of mountains littered the region, now nothing more than rolling hills. Halfway through their journey as they began to turn northward again, the group noticed an odd tunnel on the side of one of the nearby hills. A brief investigation revealed a Suva within the tunnel. While the group was curious about what the Suva was doing out in the wasteland, Arkius insisted that the structure was irrelevant and that their present mission took priority. They continued onward, noting its location for later exploration. Finally, the group approached the area where their navigator had calculated as the likely location of their destination. After so long cooped up in the car, those with muscles took the time to finally stretch them, while after so much time with Jutori’s driving the group all worked to suppress the feelings of imminent death they had all experienced. Together they celebrated the unexpected fuel efficiency of the vehicle they had acquired.
Arriving at the target location was only the first part of their journey. The calculations the group were following indicated the ruins they sought were underground, so initially Arkius burrowed a way down, moving them in a direct line toward the location Kilo had calculated. This was quickly aborted, however, as the group was besieged, halfway to their destination, by immense worm creatures burrowing through the ground, following the tremors of the Earthen Toa’s tunneling. Forced to abandon this route, the group returned to the surface, and to more solid ground, where eventually the monsters lost their trail. Without the direct path underground to expedite their journey, it initially looked as if the best way forward was to head back to Tobduk-Koro and from there change their destination to the already discovered Ruins of Fire. However, this was quickly shot down, not only by Arkius but by Kilo also. With one having set the journey in motion and the other carrying the disks needed for it to mean anything, the group carried on. Thus the following days were spent searching for an entrance they could use, a way into the underground by which they could travel to the Temple more discreetly. The wasteland they had arrived in was filled with unnatural debris, from ruined machines of unknown origin to what appeared to be immense bones, only the tips of which managed to breach the surface of the ground. With Arkius’ improved attunement to the earth he managed to discover a nearby tunnel entrance. Expecting a straightforward path to the ruins like the Suva they had encountered, the group’s optimism was instead tempered by the discovery that the tunnel they had found was part of a much longer network of tunnels. As the underground pathway extended into additional forks, the odd company of beings knew they would have to take a more methodical approach to finding their target.
Over the next few weeks, the group began the arduous task of exploring the labyrinth of the underground network. Progress was slow, and they frequently had to backtrack in order to rest and recharge, particularly due to their solar-powered companion. When she wasn’t sleeping, Kat busied herself with continuing to train her skills, always asking the others, Arkius especially, to spar. While unable to get a response from the Kralhi besides a brief “Negative,” Jutori eventually acquiesced to her request to use his gravity powers to enhance her training regiment. In return, the young monk taught her companions what she could of her own teachings and abilities. Arkius sat beside the rudimentary fire pit Kat had created at the center of their base camp watching the training in progress. His gaze wandered to the machine next to him, ever silent and still. The Earth Toa focused on the spear that his mechanical ally carried, the one that had recently been hidden in his and Nale’s home. Whatever thoughts he had were interrupted when he noticed the pair of mechanical eyes staring into his own, singular one. Kilo noted the Toa’s eye, more vibrantly green than it had been for the past days, and for a moment the two allies stared at each other in silence. No words needed to be exchanged. Then it passed, Arkius looked away, and the vibrant green glow returned to its washed out hue.
Days of uneventful tunnel exploration were finally broken by the discovery that they were not alone. Even before it entered their view the Earth Toa and Kralhi could detect it through their honed senses. Not trusting anything on this island to be friendly, everyone hid in their own ways to prepare an ambush. What entered their field of view was an eyeless Skakdi, relatively normal looking aside from the odd regalia around its neck. The mysterious Skakdi continued down the tunnel towards where the group waited, able to navigate perfectly without vision. The head of the newcomer suddenly cocked upwards as its superior hearing captured something out of place in these tunnels: a breathing that wasn’t its own. Before it could investigate, or alert any others, Kilo dropped down from the shadows above, pinning the Skakdi down and knocking the scout out with a precisely calculated amount of force before the trio of Toa emerged from their hiding spots.
“Nice job, Kilo!” Kat said with a grin to the Kralhi.
“Reliance on senses besides sight would indicate this being is adapted to living underground,” the machine observed, stepping off of the body.
“What a strange creature. Akin to a Skakdi but… even more hideous, somehow. Here, allow me.” Arkius said, slinging his axe off his back and approaching the knocked out scout.
Jutori stepped forward. “Wait, you’re not going to do what I think you are…? We can just leave them here.”
Arkius turned to the Toa of Gravity with a furrowed brow, his pale green eye narrowing on him. “Leave them here? Whatever for?”
“We don’t have to execute them,” Jutori replied, gesturing to the unconscious Skakdi. “They’re helpless, already down. We just leave them here and move on. Be more careful next time.”
Arkius kept his eye fixed on Jutori for a moment, seeming to consider his words… or the Toa himself, an indecipherable expression on his features as he mulled it over, before finally he sighed and shrugged. “I dearly hope your softness does not get all of us killed, Jutori. But I will, for the moment, humor you.” He then put his axe on his back and began walking away.
With the Toa of Earth’s singular optic now looking away, Jutori clenched a fist in frustration. A glance to Kilo said his thoughts, before he shook his head and continued on.
Kat watched Arkius walk away with a rare frown crossing her face.
The following days found the group encountering more and more Skakdi as they progressed further into the labyrinth. Each had different markings than the last, and many were covered in cavernous growths like fungus or moss. Some wandered the tunnels at a leisurely pace, keeping watch for any outsiders. Others walked with a clear destination in mind. It was clear that there was some sort of civilization underground, and they did not respond well to outsiders. One such party turned out rather unavoidable, and after an explosive clash, the Mesi Warriors were left laid on the ground, unconscious or immobilised, save for one covered in masks like trophies who cowered in the corner, his eyeless head swaying back and forth, frills quivering, hands raised defensively. Arkius looked upon the cowering wretch and frowned with a disgusted expression. This creature had no doubt slaughtered numerous mask wearers, most likely Matoran, Toa, and Turaga, and taken their masks as trophies, yet here they cowered, as if expecting mercy in return.
The Earthen Toa huffed, raising his axe, before remembering Jutori’s aversion to killing. “You, creature, give me one reason for why I shouldn’t strike you down right here and now.” He quickly raised his hand before Jutori or anyone else could object, silencing them before turning back to the strange Skakdi, who had turned its head to the source of the noise.
He let out a soft growl and a hiss, before bowing his head. “I… I can… give mask… yes, I can give mask.”
Arkius raised an eyebrow. “I could take any mask I want from your corpse.”
The Mesi ground his teeth, seeming panicked. “I… know which mask of value… might damage valuable mask if you strike and kill, yes?”
The Toa of Earth sneered, before shrugging. “Very well, grant me a great mask of power and I shall spare your life.”
The Skakdi perked up and nodded, reluctantly removing a Kanohi from his shoulder before handing it over to the Toa. Arkius nodded and grinned, taking a moment to inspect the mask. It stared up at him, eyeholes scowling and empty, Hau-like in its appearance, enough to easily be mistaken for one. More than that, it was clearly well taken care of. The Skakdi had either kept it in good condition, or had come by the mask very recently. With a self satisfied huff, Arkius flipped it over, and moved to place it upon his face. As the mask slipped over the Toa Nuva Proxima of Earth's face, the Skakdi’s demeanor changed, and he lunged forward, clawing Arkius in the face, sweeping the mask away, and leaving four gashes in the Toa’s cheek. Arkius roared, grabbing the Mesi by the throat, causing him to drop the swiped mask. The Skakdi gasped for air, desperately clawing at Arkius’ arm before the Earthen Toa knocked a few of his teeth loose with a devastating blow to the face, and knocked the eyeless warrior out cold. However, so caught up in his rage was the Nuva of Earth that he seized the arm of the blind warrior, and with elbow and knee, the Mesi’s arm was broken with a sickening crunch that awoke the unconscious Skakdi instantly, who cried out in pain before promptly going lights out again as his head slammed into the ground, thrown down by the angry Toa who subsequently moved in to deal out a further beating.
“Whoa, Arkius, stop, he’s done already!” Kat exclaimed, her attention having been drawn by the scuffle.
Metallic arms wrapped around the body of Arkius, pulling the Earth Toa away from his beaten prey. “Further violence is not recommended; additional beneficial results are unlikely,” his robotic companion advised, continuing to hold him back. “Please stand down.”
Arkius growled, struggling momentarily against Kilo but eventually stopping, grunting unhappily. “You can let go now.” He angrily said, pulling himself out of Kilo’s mechanical grasp and looking down at the unconscious and beaten Skakdi. With a scowl on his face, he knelt down and grabbed the mask he’d been handed before, slipping it onto his face to feel the power of the mask flow through him, a slight grin slipping onto the mask’s features as its colour turned black. The Toa of Earth’s behavior had left Jutori even more distrustful and cautionary around him. If it hadn’t been for Kilo, and not wanting to abandon their newest ally in Kat, the Toa of Gravity would have been compelled to depart the group and leave Arkius to his inevitable fate against the underground Skakdi. Although he said nothing as the Onu-Toa placed his new mask upon his face, the look from Jutori’s Mahiki was enough.
“C’mon, that got pretty noisy, there’ll be more here soon!” Kat said, beckoning the others along.
As they continued onward, Jutori kept distance between himself and Arkius. He wondered when tensions would finally boil over, and stayed prepared for when that moment would come.
Following this incident, the daring explorers did their best to avoid as many populated tunnels as they could, but found that the likely location of their target forced them to enter more frequently traveled territory. When they weren’t evading the frequent Skakdi scouts, the group was faced with occasional swarms of Kofo-Jaga that were drawn from their nests by Kat’s heat.
Unusually, it was Kat that broached the idea of trying the Fire Ruins again. She reasoned that she could be of more help in that area, the group would be better prepared for the trials in this region on their return, and when questioned further, admitted that she’d felt a strange pull toward the area ever since Po-Koro. Kilo strongly opposed the idea, stressing the importance of disposing of the Onu-Metru disc as soon as possible. Unable to add emphasis, the machine resorted to playing back others words in a slightly louder volume. Arkius backed Kilo, providing his own arguments where needed, but for the most part letting the logical mechanical being do the debating for him.
“We’re in too deep now,” the Earthen Toa cited, “it would be folly to turn back when we’re this close.”
“That would seem to settle it, then,” Jutori said. He was already dedicated to reaching the end of this quest, rather than change course. “Kilo has always been good at solving these sorts of things.”
Steeling themselves once more, the long expedition resumed. With the existing progress and the constant target to aim themselves towards, morale among the group began to rise again. Finally after a month of searching their persistence bore fruit. The tunnel they were traveling down soon opened into a much larger cavern. In the center of the cavern surrounded by a lake of what appeared to be water was a ziggurat structure that they were all familiar with. The Ruins of Earth were finally in sight. Everyone in the group who could breathe let out a sigh in relief at their quest being over, only to notice the final obstacle in their path. Standing between them and their target was a camp filled with more Skakdi than they had encountered on all of their previous expeditions. Kat, her spirit burning with excitement, voiced her desire to battle through the camp. Though he did not voice it, the grin on Arkius’ face as he reached for his axe conveyed everything that needed to be said. Jutori was less enthusiastic, noting the numbers before them and remembering Arkius’ previous brutality, but nonetheless took hold of his sledgehammer in preparation of what seemed like inevitable combat. Ultimately, it was the logical wisdom of Kilo that decided the matter, suggesting the use of Jutori’s gravity abilities and Kilo’s own climbing prowess to sneak along the ceiling of the cavern. Progress was slow due to the number of bodies involved and the necessity for stealth, but finally the group were above their destination. After another application of Jutori’s abilities to safely descend to the ruins, the group took the time to wait for the activity in the camp to die down before they snuck into the main entrance, Arkius all the while making certain that none of the strange Skakdi had noticed them with his earth sense stretched out across the encampment.
The trio of Toa and their mechanical companion prepared themselves for anything as they entered the ruins. The last leg of their journey was about to begin...
OOC: @Onaku@pokemonlover360@Tarn@Unreliable Narrator