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"For the return of Toa to the sands of Kemet Nui could mean only one thing
- shadow would not be far behind.
"
Atemu, The Annals of Kemet Nui
The Coming of the Neţeru

AoKN part 1
Epic
Series The Annals of Kemet Nui
Author(s) Toa_Ausar


The Coming of the Neţeru is the first installment in The Annals of Kemet Nui Epic Series by BZPower member, and C.I.R.C.L.E. founder, Toa_Ausar.

One

The Matoran of Rahi were a rowdy bunch. Much more rough, disorderly, and quarrelsome than the other tribes that made up the diverse population of Kemet Nui. But Åusår was far from the typical Kur-Matoran. Sure he'd had plenty of pet Rahi in his life. There was the Dikapi he used to ride, that is until it bucked him off, kept right on going all the way across the island, and then straight out to sea. Oh, and he loved his pet Husi right up until his pet Hapaka ate it. Furthermore, there was that incident with the Brakas he'd imported, not to mention that Pokawi that followed him all over for at least a decade or two.

Plus Åusår had his fair share of risk taking too. Like the time he swam in Razorfish-infested waters or when he tripped over that Kuna Bog Snake. And who could forget the night he discovered the cave, that he had decided to setup camp in, was actually a Makika nest.

But what set Åusår apart from the rest of the Kur-Matoran was his desire for quiet. Sure a boisterous get-together could be amusing every now and then, but all-day everyday grew tiresome fast. For Åusår the serene, scholarly meetings held by the Ko-Matoran were sheer bliss. He could spend hours studying Astronomy, History, or Prophecy. And his quest for knowledge seemed insatiable.

Thus virtually no one was surprised when Åusår decided to open his very own Tohunga Trading Post, specializing in buying, selling, and trading goods from all over the Isle of Kemet Nui and places beyond. This allowed him a comfortable income while at the same time affording him the freedom necessary to pursue his true passions.

Yet on this day the shop was closed for business so that Åusår had time to finish up a project he had been working on for quite a while. Consequently it was an extreme amazement to him when a rather large group of mostly Kur-Matoran came rushing up and knocked on the door to his place.

"Hey Åusår, you in there?" shouted a burly, dirty, and particularly smelly Kur-Matoran named Låcri. About the only thing that could have made him more offensive would have been if his pitted Black Kanohi Great Tryna were functional.

Åusår wasn't sure whether it was best to answer, or to simply try and sneak out the back. Finally he said, "Sure, who is it?"

"We're headed out to Denderah Rock, you comin' or not?" came the reply, as several Matoran invited themselves in.

"Well..." began Åusår, but before he could finish he was scooped up into the teeming mob of hoodlums and rushed down the path out of Tai-Koro towards the River Hāpi.

After crossing the water near some shallows it soon became apparent to Åusår that he was not the only reluctant participant in these events. In fact there were a few others, including a cowering Av-Matoran named Renpit, whom he recognized due to her membership in the Sisterhood of Het-hert. On top of that there were two, no wait, three more Matoran of various types, whom Åusår didn't really know all that well, and they were all being herded out onto the flats near Denderah Rock.

Then he noticed that a second mass of Matoran had gathered ahead and were keeping five young Kikanalo tied down a few bio away. Turaga Atemu has been gone too long, thought Åusår. It seems the bullies have taken over and this isn't going to be pretty.

Låcri motioned for one of each of the captive Matoran to be led before one of each of the captive Kikanalo, creating five pairs of scared Kemet Nui inhabitants. In short order, the unwitting riders had been strapped atop their unwilling mounts and the Matoran rabble had outlined a makeshift racetrack.

At the signal from Låcri, the Kikanalo were released and they surged forward, much to the horror of their disinclined jockeys. Two of the other Kikanalo sprang into the lead. Åusår didn't know whether to be grateful for a slower beast, or based upon the reactions of the Matoran throng, to harbor an even greater fear for his life.

He began to loosen his fetters and could tell that the other captive Matoran where attempting to do the same. The lead Kikanalo in this madman's contest had just passed a large outcropping of vertical cliffs and was nearing the conditional finish line. At least this will all be over soon, Åusår thought to himself. It was then that the Rock Raptors attacked.

For days and weeks the Rock Raptors had labored tirelessly in secret, digging an intricate system of tunnels designed to weaken the hillside. And now they had sprung their trap bringing the entire slope down in a rain of dust and stone towards the festivities below. The Matoran ruffian had already begun to flee and the Rock Raptors let them go, much preferring to prey upon the Kikanalo. Even the three Matoran captives whom Åusår hadn't recognized had now freed themselves and joined in the retreat.

Åusår too had worked himself loose but he didn't scurry away. He didn't run because Renpit had been pinned by the avalanche and the Rock Raptors were proceeding to take both her, and the two Kikanalo they had managed to injure in the ambush, back to their lair. Åusår didn't think twice, he adjusted his Kanohi Great Zatth and ran headlong - flailing and screaming - straight at the Rock Raptors' rear guard. He burst forth into the midst of their ranks and promptly blacked out.

Two

Heru had always been a loner, but then again most Matoran of Density were. What made him different from other Uk-Matoran was that he didn't just keep to himself, he actually lived several kio from Tai-Koro, in a grotto far above the Sekhem Plains.

Sure it was dangerous for a Matoran to live on his own. One never knew if the next Rahi encounter might be their last. But the thought didn't really bother Heru. In fact he had learned from his time alone how best to move without being noticed and to live in repose with the island. And besides, he had plenty of time for teaching himself how to use a blade for defense, and being on his own definitely beat dealing with the incessant chatter of other Matoran.

The only creatures he saw for days at a time were the occasional Gukko soaring, high overhead. Except, of course, for a young Lohrak named Shemsu whom he had rescued from a Visorak colony a century or so ago, that still came by to check on its' Uk-Matoran friend every now and then.

And so you can understand the shock that gripped Heru when he heard a sound from deep within the cave behind him. It wasn't the cry of some Rahi, or the tone of a voice, in fact he was fairly certain that the cavern was devoid of life other than him. He had, after all, explored every inch over the past millennia or so, and he'd been sitting at the mouth of the rock hollow all day. No, the sound was that of a low rumbling, like stone grinding upon stone, and Heru was greatly intrigued.

Out of an abundance of caution Heru hurried over to his makeshift armory. There were staves of every shape and size, some sharpened, others tapered and claviform. And there were blades, most small and rusted, and a shield or two as well. Just things he had acquired or fashioned himself over his time in the wild. There was even a halberd and a wicked looking mace, but Heru just selected a little blade with good balance and a rather long spear, in case he needed to keep his distance for some reason.

Then he headed over to an auxiliary firepit that he only used when it was raining, snowing, or otherwise miserable outside. He bent down and took a handful of ashes. Heru rubbed the ashes together in his hands and began to smudge dark streaks across his armor. When he was satisfied that he had sufficiently camouflaged the shiny aspects of his body, he turned to the dark, gaping maw of his earthen dwelling.

Well at least if there is something lurking in here I won't be the one caught by surprise, thought Heru, as he crept deep into the dank recesses of the cave. He paused to listen but couldn't hear anything other than the steady drip-drip-drip of the stalactites growing, as they slowly reached for their stalagmite brethren below.

What am I doing? he wondered after a while. I must be crazy sneaking around my own home like an invader. I should just go back and continue working on my studies. After all, I'm almost certain that I've figured out an adequate theory to explain... Heru's thoughts were interrupted by the sound as it reverberated once more. A deep, guttural stone grinding on stone and it was close, too close.

Heru pressed his body firmly against the cavern wall and slowly drew in the deepest inhalation any Matoran had ever taken. Then he stood there, holding his breath, and listening in the dark. There was nothing but silence for what seemed like an eternity. He wasn't sure if an Uk-Matoran had ever died of self-induced hysteria, yet if the burning in his lungs didn't cease soon, he thought he might be the first.

Never before had Heru wished so mightily that his Kanohi Great Huna were functional. He felt strongly that being invisible would sure be handy right about now. Yet somehow slowly he began to relax, maybe it was all in his mind and he'd been living alone for two long, but just then the sound came a third time. Only this interval was different, it began as that now familiar stone grinding on stone, only to morph into what sounded suspiciously like snoring.

Heru tediously peeked around the corner into the farthest reaches of the cave. There lying on the ground was a beast which he had never seen before. But what was more astonishing was that this was a creature that didn't even exist! For countless ages Matoran had told Shadow Stories, of various monsters in the dark, to scare one another during slumber sessions. And the "Tale of the Vatuka" was one of the most popular.

As the story goes, the Vatuka, a legendary creature made of solid rock once dominated the lands. No one knew whether it was something sinister or just another Rahi, but they were all certain that you didn't want to run into one on your own, and that if you did you most likely wouldn't live to tell the tale.

Yet here Heru stood, next to a Vatuka that must have been hibernating in this cave since the time before time. And still it wasn't the creature that really amazed him. It should have been, and under normal circumstances would have been, but at this moment what really caught Heru's attention was the passageway carved into the cavern floor that had been revealed when the beast had rolled over before beginning yet another epoch of hibernation.

Three

Sutekh was in a foul mood, nothing out of the ordinary for a Matoran of Weather. He should have been in a better disposition, he had after all come up with a fabulous idea for a Kikanalo Derby. But his satisfaction of devising that scheme was short-lived as a consequence of that bumbling buffoon Kur-Matoran Låcri having become somewhat overly excited and subsequently shoving one of his lackeys into an intricate series of displays. The resulting cascade of exhibits had temporarily trapped the Hu-Matoran Sutekh in a closet for an untold number of hours.

To make matters worse, now that Sutekh was free, his dear friend Låcri was no where to be found and he was seriously beginning to doubt that the entire sequence of events had been purely accidental. He began to methodically search every inch of the Koro, all the while the rage inside him growing.

Sutekh . . .

The Hu-Matoran stopped short. I could've sworn that someone just called my name, he thought to himself. But as he looked around the bustling streets of Tai-Koro, there was no other Matoran who took so much as the slightest notice of him.

Ta-she . . .

I bet that worm Låcri wandered down towards the swamps, Sutekh surmised. Not exactly my idea of the best venue for our Kikanalo race, but for some reason I've got a very strong feeling that I should search for that wretched Kur-Matoran and his brainless bunch of followers there. Sutekh set out on foot for the Ta-she Lowlands. Låcri better have everything ready to go for my little derby or there'll be nothing but pain and darkness in his future, he pondered, never realizing an ancient being had so easily swayed his mind.

* * *


Awaken . . .

Deep within the marsh an intelligence stirred.

Gift . . .

Struggling to focus it could sense something drawing closer, wait, not something, rather someone. And this someone harbored immense untapped inner strength. Must prepare for arrival, it reasoned. Must be sure to bring power here.

And though it could no longer remember what it was, how it got here, or even where here was for that matter, it began to feel excitement, an emotion which it had not experienced since the time before time. And as it readied itself only one notion remained - salvation was near.

* * *


Sutekh had been wandering the forsaken wetlands for what seemed like forever. He had seen or heard the occasional Rahi slither or crawl across his path, but had seen no evidence of Låcri, nor any other Matoran, anywhere. And his patience had hit an all time low. He rounded a bend on his current track and found himself in the middle of a clearing of sorts. Meandering over to a nearby boulder he sat down to rest.

After a short period of time Sutekh noticed that one particularly large tree next to the trail leading out of the meadow appeared to have some sort of carving on it. With Låcri temporarily forgotten, he dashed over to brush aside the moss and other growth and see what was there.

What he found did not really surprise him, well maybe a little. It was a warning, both written in Matoran and drawn pictorially. It read: CAUTION DEEP WATER and below that was a crude image of a creature's head, though the intent of what it was supposed to represent was quite clear.

Although he had never seen a Sebåu, Sāmiu, or Nåk with his own photoreceptors before, in fact nobody had claimed to have seen one since the time before time, Sutekh had heard Turaga Atemu describe them plenty of times. Yet, without the body he could not be certain exactly which Beţshu this was intended to depict, because they all sported a wolfish grin full of rows of teeth and wore a smooth domed helmet, not that it mattered much be it one particular rebellious fiend as opposed to another.

Sutekh laughed nervously and turned to go back the way he had come. Rapidly the air grew thick and he was hit by a wave of vertigo. He stumbled backwards into the trees and hit his head hard enough to knock his Kanohi Great Hau askew. He desperately tried to right himself, as a sense of panic set in. Then suddenly a branch overhead snapped off and came crashing to the ground right on top of him, forcing Sutekh to dive into the bog. By then it was too late to have taken notice that the area beyond the warning was littered with pits of quicksand. And no matter how hard he struggled to free himself the quagmire continued to pull him under.

Four

Åuset was getting worried, very worried. And being worried was something fairly new for this Matoran of Psionics. You see she was very good at telling whether or not people were being up-front and honest with her despite the fact that her Kanohi Great Rode was, like all Matoran Masks, inactive. Yet thus far truly no one had seen her friend Åusår all day.

She had wanted to discuss with him a recent foretelling of a new grouping of stars that many believe heralded a new age for the Isle of Kemet Nui. But that wasn't Åuset's most pressing issue at the moment, no her biggest problem was that she had spent so much time looking for Åusår that if she didn't hurry, she would be late for work. And as if that weren't enough to fret over, she now found herself half way across the Koro from the Great Philæ Temple.

Åuset hurried through the busy streets, hoping and praying she'd make it on time. She had planned on getting a pleasing assignment today, maybe maintaining the fountains, or even better, caring for the flowerbeds. But all that was in jeopardy now that she'd spent so much time searching for her friend.

For as long as she could remember Åuset had known that she wasn't like other Matoran. And she was certain that her destiny would one day reveal itself and prove her correct. For one thing she had visions, glimpses of the past, plenty of the present, and images of the future. And although they were often flashes of an amazing future, they were also all to frequently dark and violent reflections of an impending storm. Yet still she thanked the Great Spirit Mata Nui for this remarkable gift none-the-less.

On a second note, Åuset was the only Ce-Matoran member of the Holy Order of the Sisterhood of Het-hert. Each and every one of the other Sisters were Av-Matoran and yet they all mysteriously shared varying degrees of similar prophetic vision powers just like she had.

And third, Åuset had somehow developed a mind link with at least seven of the other Het-hert, which allowed them to communicate and share information with her without the need to speak aloud. She had even managed to teach this skill to some of her Sisters, allowing them to create comparable bonds between themselves and others as well.

But all these advantages didn't come without a price. There were a few other Matoran who also worked in the Temple Complex that had become rather jealous. And on this day, as Åuset rounded the last bend and passed into the courtyard of the Great Philæ Temple, she did not yet know that today her talents would cost her.

"You're late," barked Horgah, the Ga-Matoran who was currently serving as the Temple Overseer. She had recently been developing quite the cruel streak in Turaga Atemu's absence. Funny how a little authority can bring out the best in some beings and the worst in others.

Åuset glanced at the sundial. She still had a few minutes to spare. "No I'm not," she pleaded. "It's only..."

Horgah cut her off, "Well practically everyone else was already here and so we divided up the labor fairly. You're responsible for the tower. Oh, and aren't you afraid of heights? Well isn't that a shame?"

Beneath her mask Åuset set her jaw firm, she'd decided that she wasn't going to give this goon the pleasure of seeing her scared. "Not anymore," she said over her shoulder as she headed towards the supply station.

Why is it always me, she questioned to herself, and why the tower? To be callous I'm sure, after all, that part of the Temple hasn't seen use even once in the twenty thousand years since the Great Time Slip.

It took her the better part of the afternoon to scrub and clean each step, each nook, and each cranny. Åuset was nothing if not thorough. She was careful to keep her mind, and her eyes, on her work so as not to look down. And as if that wasn't laborious enough, she had to stop several times and return to the ground floor to fetch a clean bucket of water in order to continue her work, such was the dust that had accumulated over the vast span of time.

And so it was that Åuset was nearing completion of her task when a pass from her brush revealed an ancient inscription in the loft of the spire. Painstakingly she cleaned away every last bit of dirt and grime to reveal the hidden message beneath, but she did not stop to read it. Oh it was hard not to, but her duty to the Temple came first. When she was done, she returned her supplies to their terminal and secretly whisked her way back into the steeple.

Climbing the stairs was much more difficult this time. She no longer had her work to keep her preoccupied and vertigo had begun to set in. But Åuset's thirst for knowledge won out and as she finally crested the last landing she thanked the Great Spirit for helping her to conquer her fear.

And there they were, words which no being had read in aeons, words which most, if not all, had forgotten even existed, and words which Åuset could not have known would change the course of her destiny, as well as that of the entire Island of Kemet Nui, forever.

Five

Some distance from the hustle and bustle of Tai-Koro sat the Cliffs of Manu overlooking the sea. Long ago the network of sea caves in the cliff side was connected to the Koro by an intricate Onu-Matoran tunnel system called the Re-stau.

As a result of the geographic placement of Manu, much of the time it lay in little better than the dimmest of light. Subsequently it was home to a great number of Onu-Matoran whose subterranean work made their eyes well adjusted to the darkness, as well as a rather large population of Matoran of Power Scream.

Since the time before time the Um-Matoran had been developing their own form of echolocation due largely to their poor sense of sight, excellent sense of hearing, and fabulous sense of voice. And when it came to the art of "seeing" without eyes, Nebt-het was considered the best of the best. In fact, several Matoran swore, if they didn't know better, that her Kanohi Great Arthron was fully functional.

On this day, the diminutive Nebt-het had agreed to accompany a small band of other Matoran to a possible site for a new Protodermis mineshaft below a remote section of the Re-stau. This was nothing unusual on Kemet Nui, in fact it had become common practice for one or more Um-Matoran to join Onu-Matoran mine workers in case of Lightstone failure.

Hers' was an occupation that any Matoran would have been proud to have. The Protodermis from these mines was the very lifeblood of the island and the Matoran culture as a whole. Without it the artists had no medium, the scholars had no record, and the glorious forges would quickly become obsolete and in short order be forced to shutdown.

This particular crew was typical compared to most others Nebt-het had worked on and consisted of herself, an Onu-Matoran mining foreman named Qemau, an Onu-Matoran engineer named Khāur, an Um-Matoran prospector named Aritonu, and a pair of Onu-Matoran surveyors named Pega and Urek. The team carried with them a limited number of tools and other items aboard of a pair of small, unadorned hover transports.

The first few kio were business as usual as the group traveled through parts of the network they had been in practically every day of their lives. They passed a good number of other laborers going to and from various work sites; some on foot, others aboard Ussal Crabs or other Rahi beasts, and still others atop massive drilling equipment. For all intensive purposes it appeared to be just another mundane day on the job.

Several kio later Nebt-het was growing slightly bored and so she decided to spark up some conversation. "So have any of y'all ever been where we're going?" she asked. But instead of a verbal response, all she got was each of the other Matoran one-by-one shaking their heads "no".

"Well, have any of y'all at least ever been this deep in the Re-stau?" she tried again. Yet, once more it was nothing but a handful of head shakes "no" and a simple shrug of the shoulders from both Pega and Khāur as a reply.

Discouraged by the "All-Work-and-No-Play" attitude of the rest of the group, Nebt-het gave up the discussion and made herself content with checking the depths and distances, of various passageways they passed by, through the use of ultrasonic vocal emissions that none of the others, aside from Aritonu, could hear. It was an old game that many Matoran of Power Scream played to keep themselves busy.

Deeper and deeper they traveled until they reached a point where so few had traversed, that there were not even any strategically placed Lightstones embedded in the walls anymore. Uncovering the stones they had brought with them, the team continued on into the unseen depths of the network.

A few times they came to dead ends and had to backtrack to the last intersection and reread their map directions to ensure they were on the right path. At one point Nebt-het thought she'd heard a sharp crack off in the distance, but Aritonu showed no indication of having heard anything unusual, and when she stopped to really listen she perceived nothing further.

At long last the crew reached their destination and the various Matoran immediately set about their individual duties that they each had to do in order to establish the viability of the location's ability to sustain a new Protodermis mine. Because the bulk of her job description centered on cautionary and emergency situations, Nebt-het thought it best she simply stand aside at times like these. She did so mainly to guarantee that she was not a distraction to the others, which in effect helped to reduce the risk of unnecessary damage or injury.

She had just wandered off down the corridor a short distance when the unthinkable happened. The tunnel shifted between Nebt-het and the rest of the mineworkers. The resulting jolt caused the ceiling to collapse in a thunderous cacophony of sound. She retreated further down the shaft as the cave-in cut her off from the other Matoran and left her in utter darkness. As suddenly as the mine bump began, it ended, yet danger persisted in the form of a deafening roar. And despite the fact that she recognized the sound there was no time for Nebt-het to seek shelter before the massive wall of rushing water slammed into her, sweeping her off her feet.

Six

From the first he set foot on Kemet Nui centuries earlier, Ånpu had spent each and every moment of his new life confined to the limits of Tai-Koro. Like most Matoran of Health he filled his days by helping any and all Matoran or Rahi he came across overcome their various injuries and illnesses to the best of his abilities.

Therefore, Ånpu had been reluctant to answer the call for a Wha-Matoran to traverse the vast expanse of the Bekha Desert and assist in the recovery of a recent transport that had last been seen on the far side of the island. Yet, when no other Quick Healers would volunteer, he cautiously agreed to the task.

Ånpu had a diverse set of friends and acquaintances. He had helped Åusår nurse many a Rahi back to health and he had aided Åuset in caring for the downtrodden at the Great Philæ Temple. Ånpu had assisted so many over the millennia that he could scarcely remember it all. He'd even been the only Matoran that Heru trusted enough to ask for help when the latter had smuggled an injured Lohrak into the Koro. Thus he hoped he'd find help at the town center near the Temple Complex.

When he arrived at the Philæ Square, Ånpu was amazed to find a small group of Av-Matoran apparently waiting for him.

"We pretty much knew you was comin'," declared Bast. "Pretty much."

"What my Sister means," offered Nekhebet, "is that the Holy Order of the Sisterhood of Het-hert has been blessed with the advanced knowledge of your arrival. You see the Great Spirit Mata Nui has granted us the glorious gifts of ---" She was cut short by a series of rapid hand motions from another Av-Matoran named Uatchet.

Uatchet was a very well respected member of the Het-hert, who also happened to be mute. She was still very much able to communicate by means of a system of hand gestures that her Sisters understood. Furthermore, although some Matoran said that Bast talked twice as much to make up for the silence, all Matoran recognized that for all Uatchet lacked in vocalization, she more than made up for in prophetic vision.

"What my esteemed Sister said," continued Nekhebet, "is that time is short, but the Het-hert will do our very best to assist you on your most vital mission."

"And she pretty much said I get to come too, pretty much," offered Bast, "right?" Ånpu looked nervously from Uatchet to Bast to Nekhebet and back, anxiously awaiting confirmation.

"No Sister," Nekhebet finally replied. "She said that the Het-hert will provide Ånpu with transportation in the form of supply chariots, that Captain Sekhet herself will lead a dispatched contingent of Av-Matoran Guardmen to escort him as far as the Faråfa Dunes, and that you, Bast, are needed here." Bast responded by folding her arms across her chest and beginning to sulk.

* * *


A short time later three chariots, drawn by Burnak, set out from Tai-Koro across the sands. In one chariot rode Ånpu along with all the supplies he would need to help any survivors and possibly repair the downed transport. In the second chariot rode Sekhet along with a stock of emergency items to replenish a survival station located at the distant oasis. And in the third chariot rode two other senior members of the Av-Matoran Guard, Meti and Shnā.

Aside from the minor inconvenience of crossing the River Hāpi at some shallows, the journey to the Dåhklå Oasis near the Faråfa Dunes was surprisingly quick and uneventful. The most difficult and dangerous part of the desert lay behind him and only a dozen or so kio separated Ånpu from his destination. He watered his Burnak, filled his own canteens, said his good-byes, and left the Av-Matoran to their duties of re-supplying the shelter as he set out aboard his chariot for the transport's last known position.

He had only traversed a few kio from the oasis when it appeared as if the island itself was coming apart at the seams. The ground beneath the chariot heaved and pitched violently sending sand exploding into the air nearly blocking out the sun. All the commotion spooked the Burnak who both suddenly veered sharply left, causing the chariot to topple over, and slamming Ånpu, Kanohi Great Mahiki-first, into the desert floor.

Everything had been fairly quiet for several long minutes when Bast finally decided to peek out of the side compartment of the overturned chariot. The last thing she remembered was watching the others load supplies back at the Great Philæ Temple. It had been quite hot and looked very tiring and so she had decided it best she lie down for a short rest behind a few boxes. And that was where she had apparently fallen asleep, at least until she was ever so rudely awakened by being tossed around, from side to side, like an Akilini disk.

As soon as her eyes adjusted to the bright sunlight, Bast wished she'd stayed asleep or at least never peered out from her current location. The chariot lay in pieces, its' stores strewn across a giant crater now present in the sand. A couple bio away Ånpu lay sprawled out unconscious in the sand, and some distance beyond that, but not far enough for Bast's liking, was the largest Serqet-Jaga any Matoran had ever seen. There it sat feeding upon one of the two Burnak that had, until then served the Holy Order of the Sisterhood of Het-hert as steeds, meanwhile the other Burnak was nowhere to be seen.

Seven

The Rock Raptors had been feasting all day, and why not? After all, it was not every time that an ambush in the flats near Denderah Rock successfully landed a Kikanalo, much less two. However they were so intent on filling their bellies that none of them seemed to even take notice as their other catch, a Matoran of Rahi, began to stir in the back of the lair.

At first Åusår had no idea where he was or how he'd gotten there, but after seeing the creatures that now held him hostage, it all came rushing back. There was the knock, the march, the race, the attack, and the attempted rescue, all flooding his thoughts and making his pulse quicken.

But what still didn't make sense was how he went from trying to save poor Renpit to lying unconscious in a cave. Furthermore, where was Renpit anyway? Yet the answers to those questions surrounding his captivity really didn't matter much at the moment.

He tried to rise but his head spun and the accompanying spike of pain reminded Åusår of the time he'd been kicked in the head by a Fusa. He held onto the wall waiting for the room to stop moving, all the while praying that the Rock Raptors would continue their preoccupation with food. After what seemed like an eternity everything leveled out and thankfully the Rahi failed to detect his movements. With no other viable options, he made up his mind and set about the business of devising his escape.

As a Kur-Matoran, Åusår knew plenty about the habits and habitations of most any Rahi on Kemet Nui. This provided him with the knowledge that the Rock Raptors would have most certainly dug an exit shaft somewhere in this cavern in case of an unforeseen cave-in and to help with ventilation. Furthermore, he knew that the guards of said shaft would have most certainly left their post in the back to join in the feast, believing that the safety in their numbers while dining would be adequate to discourage an attack for the time being.

He had just set off deeper into the underground passageway when something embedded in the tunnel wall caught his eye. Wrenching it free from the dirt and stone, Åusår began to examine his find further. It was a deep jasper Benben stone of the most exquisite craftsmanship and about the same size as a ripened Madu.

Like all Benben it was composed of four equilateral triangles joined at their apex atop a square base. Moreover, he discovered that there were elaborate designs on all five surfaces of the stone. On the first side of the stone was an intricate carving of a Kanohi Great Matatu and the name ATEMU.

* * *


Heru repositioned himself so that he had a clear view of the Vatuka. After initially discovering the hibernating Rahi, he had returned to his camp at the grotto far above the Sekhem Plains and gathered a few items more fitting for the rapidly changing nature of this new adventure. After much consideration he had left behind the cumbersome spear and in its' place he now carried a bag of supplies. Satisfied with his new locality he now settled in for a more extensive surveillance of the entire situation.

At great length the creature's breathing became low and regular, convincing the Uk-Matoran that his presence had not been uncovered. Eventually the audible sounds practically vanish all together and Heru wondered if the next round of hibernation would last as many aeons as the first. Painstakingly he inched his way across the cavern floor, pausing to listen after each step, and relieved each time to hear next to nothing.

Now he was basically right on top of the Vatuka and the close proximity made his heart pound so loudly in his ears that Heru feared the Rahi may hear it as well and consequently awaken at any moment. Placing his left hand across his chest to dampen his perceived nerves, he carefully stepped behind the mammoth legend and braced himself above the shaft with this right arm. With still little to no noise coming from the slumbering hulk, he took a moment to peer into the blackness beneath him.

There was no visible light, nor any new sounds coming from the inky murkiness of the crawl space beyond. Furthermore, there was nothing beyond the obviously constructed opening to suggest a way down.

Suddenly the beast moved, forcing Heru to make a split second decision. He released his grip on the cavern wall and plunged through the small opening into the unknown darkness below. He hit the ground hard, scattering the contents of his pack throughout the small enclosure, and revealing the Lightstone he had brought with him, which had previously been well wrapped inside the satchel.

Despite the shooting pain, Heru forced himself to scramble over, grab the stone, roll onto his back, and prepare for the Vatuka's impending assault. But what he saw instead was that the entrance appeared to be sealed by a wall of solid stone and nothing pursued him.

Heru held the Lightstone up to survey the scene and found the space to be barren except for a makeshift stand centralized in the room and a single exit shaft. Rising to his feet he noticed that upon the mound rested a feldspar-imbued Benben stone. The edge closest to his current position divided two astonishing carvings. The first side to the left bore the mask and name of Atemu, meanwhile the second side of the stone contained an amazing recreation of a familiar Spirit Star constellation and the name SĀH.

Eight

Sutekh had resigned himself to his fate. Despite all his best efforts he had been utterly and completely unsuccessful at extricating himself from the swamp deep within the Ta-she Lowlands.

"So this is how it's going to be, is it?" he said aloud to himself as he folded his arms across his chest and prepared for the wait in advance of the end. At the current rate he was sinking it would be a little while yet. "Imagine me, the greatest being ever to live having ---"

Not exactly.

"Why I'll bet more than half the island loves me," countered Sutekh.

I don't think so.

"Respects me?" he pondered.

Getting warmer.

"Fears me!" he exclaimed.

Now that's something I can believe!

"And to think I'll be done in by a stinking bog," finished Sutekh, never once perceiving he'd just had an argument, with the unseen intelligence that had put him into this predicament in the first place, and all within the confines of his own mind. Just then the Hu-Matoran realized that he'd stopped descending into the muck and mire. What's more, he discovered that it seemed as if there were something solid beneath him now. Although he was just over waist-deep at this point, he repositioned his feet on what felt to be the most stable aspects of the surface below. And that's when he noticed that something warm was firmly pressed against his leg.

After a short deliberation he decided he had no better option than to try to reach down and grab hold of this new variable. He bent over, forcing him to place his Kanohi Great Hau much closer to the quicksand than he ever had wanted to be, and wrapped his fingers around the item. He tried to rise but found the relic was held fast in its current position. Sutekh set his feet and strained with all his might in an attempt to dislodge the curio.

There was a sound like rending metal as his strength won out over the unseen bindings. From the abyss of the Ta-she, Sutekh had reclaimed a small canister covered in a substantial amount of sludge that looked to be quite ancient, maybe even older than Atemu. After wiping away ages worth of gunk he uncovered a small section of writing on the artifact.

It read: WOE BE TO YOU UPON FINDING THIS ABOMINATION! FOR IF YOU ARE READING THIS NOW, IT MEANS THAT NOT ONLY I HAVE FAILED TO DESTROY THIS VILE CREATION, BUT I HAVE ALSO FAILED TO ADEQUATELY STASH IT AWAY FOR ALL ETERNITY. I BEG YOU, THROW IT BACK INTO THE DARK RECESS FROM WHICH YOU FOUND IT, AND TELL NO ONE OF ITS EXISTENCE.

"It must be some kind of immensely valuable treasure and the previous owners just want to keep it for themselves," he said aloud to himself.

Sutekh turned the canister over in an attempt to discern a way to open it and for the first time realized that what had held the item securely in the depths of the fen was in fact the biomechanical remains of a Matoran's arm. He further deduced that it must have been rigidly attached to the rest of its' former owner at the bottom of the sand pit and that, whoever they were in the past, they were now what he stood upon in order to halt his decline.

Without warning, the canister snapped open, shedding the last vestiges of its' past life, as the remnants of the hand sunk back into the murky water. Inside Sutekh saw more writing, which read: TEKHTEKH - THE CURSED WAND OF CHAOS, and below that were a pair of brackets that housed a simple, plain, little, black stick.

"A silly wand! But where's the treasure? I've been tricked," exclaimed Sutekh.

Another blasted Matoran! But where's the mighty being of power come to rescue me? I've been tricked, thought the sentient staff, as it manifested and unleashed a bolt of dark energy aimed right at Sutekh's head. But aeons of isolation and the inability to practice had made Tekhtekh's accuracy quite poor and thus the blast merely grazed the top of Sutekh's mask and struck a nearby snag with such great force that it caused much of the dead tree to shatter into splinters.

Pieces of wood rained down into the wetlands and at long last provided Sutekh with a means of escape. Still clutching the canister, he pulled himself up onto a fallen branch and that's when he noticed that upon the charred stump of the recently destroyed tree sat a mottled yellowish-brown cornelian Benben stone. And yet something even more unusual caused his mind to reel. On the side of the stone that was immediately facing him at the moment, were a skillfully carved Kanohi Great Hau and the name SUTEKH.

Nine

Ånpu awoke with a start. His head was pounding and the glaring sunlight didn't help. He found himself behind a hastily constructed berm consisting largely of his overturned chariot, scattered supplies, and of course, the ever ubiquitous sand. And he wasn't alone. Somehow the Av-Matoran named Bast was with him as well, but she was completely unresponsive and appeared to be either in a total state of shock or in some sort of trance. Dishearteningly both the Burnak were no where to be seen, so even if they did somehow manage to repair the chariot, the Wha-Matoran knew with nothing to pull them they'd still be stuck in the unforgiving wasteland that was the Bekha Desert.

"She's coming just like I told you she would and you doubted me and said I was wrong and tried to ignore me even though you shouldn't have 'cause I'm psychic, pretty much" began Bast very suddenly, yet seemingly normal again and speaking quite rapidly.

"What are you talking about? Are you crazy?" questioned Ånpu.

"Of course not, how rude!" continued Bast. "I told you she would come and help us, but you said you didn't think so, of course you were knocked out at the time and didn't talk much, but you would've argued with me about it if you could've, I'm sure of it, anyway she'll be right here soon."

"What do you mean she'll be here soon? Do you have heatstroke or something?" Ånpu asked, growing more confused by the moment.

"She will be, you'll see I'm telling the truth and have to apologize for being wrong, I know I'm right 'cause I'm psychic, pretty much," retorted Bast.

"Eeee Ee Eeee Ee Eeeeeeee!!!" echoed the Het-hert battle cry across the desolate landscape.

"Eeee Ee Eeee Ee Eeeeeeee!!!" responded Bast in turn. "See, I told you my Sister would come to rescue us," she gloated.

"Rescue us from what?" inquired Ånpu. The reply to his query came in the form of a massive stinger being thrust deep into the compact sand between them. Against his better judgement he glanced up at the crest of the berm and for the first time caught sight of the mammoth Serqet-Jaga.

"Run for your life, we'll all be killed!" screamed Bast over her shoulder as she frantically fled in the opposite direction.

Ånpu didn't give it a second thought. He bolted out across the blazing sands after her. Luckily for them both the ground was extremely arid in these parts and the misplaced attack had left the Rahi momentarily trapped by the tip of its' tail. Over the lightly rolling dunes they stumbled and struggled in an effort to put as much distance between themselves and the mighty, dappled navy and alabaster arachnid as possible. Neither attempted to devise a more extensive plan other than the original one, which was, of course, to get as far away as fast as they could.

After they had run a countless number of bio eventually both Bast and Ånpu virtually collapsed atop a rather large sand dune as their legs finally gave out. There they lay, both sucking in great breaths of air, and both afraid to see just what the Serqet-Jaga was doing. At long last they gathered up the courage and looked across the desert floor to the place where the Rahi remained stuck. The beast, seeing that its' prospective prey was down, seemed even more intent on freeing itself and engaging in pursuit. Quite unexpectedly it grasped its' stinger with both its' massive claws and wrenched itself free from confinement. Satisfied with the outcome, the arachnid turned and began to scuttle towards the two Matoran at an alarming rate. Ånpu knew that although they had put an impressive distance between them and the Rahi, it was only a matter of time before the head start was nullified and the Serqet-Jaga would overtake them.

"Eeee Ee Eeee Ee Eeeeeeee!!!" resonated the Het-hert battle cry across the sands once more, yet this time Ånpu was able to discern where it was coming from. Off in the distance, mounted atop charging Burnak, advanced his former escort of Av-Matoran Guardsmen, and thankfully they were going to reach the fallen Matoran well before the Rahi beast would.

"I pretty much told you my Sister would come to save us, pretty much," crowed Bast.

The three arrived in short order, but had no time to spare. Sekhet gave a quick nod to her Sister and immediately began to prepare a defensive scheme. The desert provided them with virtually no cover and thus all they had to their advantage was the high ground, which wasn't much, especially up against a colossal creature looking for its' next meal. What she really needed were reinforcements. That's when the answer dawned on Sekhet, using the trick that Åuset had taught her, she reached out with her mind, just as Bast had done in order to contact her earlier that day. She entered into a trance and began to make a series of chittering noises, convincing Ånpu for certain that Bast wasn't the only Av-Matoran to have gone completely crazy in the sweltering sun.

Just great, Ånpu thought to himself as the Serqet-Jaga continued to advanced nearer and nearer, I'm going to die out here in the middle of this MataNuiforsaken desert, far away from everything I've known and loved in Tai-Koro, with a group of totally loony Av-Matoran.

Ten

In the uppermost limits of the spire at the Great Philæ Temple the Ce-Matoran named Åuset knelt down to review her findings. The letters were notably well-crafted and the carving as a whole was simply spectacular to behold, in spite of its' aged status. But what it said was even more remarkable. It read:

ONLY AN HONEST BELIEVER
A LOVING AND PIOUS SOUL
HAS WHAT IT TAKES
TO MAKE THE CHOSEN ONE WHOLE
BETRAYAL IS AT HAND NOW
HOWEVER YOU NEED NOT FRET
FOR I HAVE FAITH
IN YOU MY STEADFAST ÅUSET


But how in the world did whoever wrote this know that I'd be the one to read it? she thought to herself. And certainly this can't be the entire directive, can it?

She began to more thoroughly examine the stonework surrounding the inscription and rapidly discovered that the section immediately following the message had a slightly different texture. Åuset placed her hand firmly on the peculiar section of the wall and applied a small amount of force. In response to this newly added pressure the surface began to vibrate and in short order a doorway became visible.

Slipping inside the newly opened space Åuset was abruptly met by a seemingly blank dead end. But that did not deter this Ce-Matoran, primarily because she had a pretty good idea of what to look for now. Scouring the barrier she was unable to elucidate further carvings, but she did uncover two more sections of triggerstone. Placing one hand upon each, she again pushed. This time no door appeared, instead the entire wall began to undulate and descend silently into the floor.

In its' wake remained a spiral staircase to a hitherto hidden room above the tower loft. Within the chamber sat a squat pedestal and upon it rested a Benben stone of beautiful lapis lazuli laced with veins of gold. The first side of the stone displayed the carving of Atemu, the second was that of the Spirit Star constellation Sāh, the third was an image of her own name and Kanohi Great Rode, but it was the fourth side that intrigued her the most. It was the same stellar grouping that she'd hoped to discuss the prediction of with Åusår earlier that day, and it was apparently named NEŢERU.

* * *


At the westernmost tip of the Isle of Kemet Nui the churning sea spat out the Um-Matoran known as Nebt-het onto the rocky beach archipelago near the farthest reaches of the Cliffs of Manu. And while she lay there still unconscious her stomach heaved and she in turn spat out the sea. Bruised and battered from the traumatic series of events she was very lucky to be alive. In fact she'd most certainly have been dead if not for the overdeveloped lung capacity that was, fortunately for her, quite common amongst Matoran of Power Scream.

Eventually Nebt-het came to and sat up. She had no idea where she was but she was extremely grateful to be there none-the-less. Immediately following the cave-in she remembered hearing the incoming sea and taking a deep breath to prepare before inevitably being tossed like a cork in the raging torrent. She silently hoped Qemau, Pega, Aritonu, Urek, and Khāur where alright, but had no way of knowing. Rising to her feet she noticed that the landscape was nearly barren except for a small stone building atop a lone bluff on the tiny bit of land she now found herself upon. Dishearteningly to her it seemed like it was going to take forever to get her tired and buffeted body up the incline.

At least it appears that I may not be alone here, pondered Nebt-het as she climbed. But as she neared the structure she knew she was mistaken. No one had seen this place in centuries or more. The area was littered with items carried by the wind and waves to this, their final resting-place, and absolutely everything was coated in layers of sea salt and fine sand. Just like me, she thought, spat out and abandoned. Then as she stood in the doorway, scanning the empty room, out of habit she emitted a high-pitched sound to better "see" the surroundings.

"That can't be right," Nebt-het said aloud, the shock evident in her voice. "That wall's only a few bio away, certainly not ten?" She stumbled over to further examine the space and realized that part of the rear enclosure was in fact an illusion. Behind the false wall she discovered a workbench upon which sat an alabaster Benben stone, lightly streaked with amethyst. One side of the stone bore a carving of Atemu's Kanohi Great Matatu, another featured the familiar Spirit Star constellation Sāh, the third displayed her very own Kanohi Great Arthron, while the last held a second Spirit Star constellation, this one unfamiliar, but apparently called Neţeru. But her salvation lay in what was etched into the fifth surface of the Benben. The square base of the stone exhibited a scale model of the island in bas-relief with directions to an untitled destination. And the best part was that the trek appeared to begin at the shores beneath Manu, her current locale.

Eleven

Following the discovery of his Benben, Heru had carefully gathered up the spilled supplies into his bag, before turning his full attention to the map on the bottom of the stone. It appeared to show directions, leading from a rather large secret chamber beneath his cavern home, to somewhere within the Tai-Koro city center.

Satisfied that he had done all there was to do within the small room, and certain that there was no way past the sleeping Vatuka back to his grotto, Heru started off down the exit path. The extreme grade of the passageway made travel slow and painful. It took great vigilance to stay upright and keep from sliding uncontrollably down the ever-steepening tunnel.

Eventually his strength gave out, as the shaft became practically vertical, sending him hurtling downward. Heru skidded along, gaining momentum, until he had reached an alarming rate of speed and all efforts to slow his pace failed. All of a sudden the walls of the duct were gone and the Uk-Matoran was free-falling towards a strangely luminescent cavern floor far below. Still sore from the last fall, he could do nothing but brace for the inevitable impact.

But the anticipated collision never came. Instead he found himself caught in some sort of gravitational field which slowed his descent until he hovered just above the lightly glowing stone. And Heru wasn’t the only thing floating in the enclosure. Off to his right and apparently centrally located within the space was some sort of artifact, but exactly what it was he didn’t know. Slowly he drew his legs in and carefully righted himself. Much to his surprise the shimmering rocks began to dim beneath his feet, causing the energy field immediately around him to dissipate, allowing him to stand.

Heru surveyed the domed room, which he decided, must certainly be the very same hidden chamber shown on the map. Aside from the passage far above through which he had arrived, there seemed to be no obvious means of entry or exit. Cautiously he approached the object suspended within the cave. Although it appeared to be some sort of Rahi, it made no movement whatsoever. As he drew nearer he finally realized that the reason behind the stillness was due to the fact that it was not, nor had it ever been, alive. In reality it was some sort of archaic burrowing equipment.

Just then the entire chamber was cast into complete and utter darkness. Furthermore, Heru's bag began to vibrate quite distinctively. He lifted the outer flap of the satchel, in truth, more to fetch the Lightstone inside than to investigate the movement. Suddenly a bolt of bright greenish energy shot forth from the Benben and struck the machine.

Slowly a hum began to permeate the air between the Uk-Matoran and the contraption. As the noise grew louder, it was joined by a hissing sound which, as Heru was quickly able to discern, came from a hatch that was opening on the machine, revealing a cockpit beyond only visible due to a faintly illuminated instrument panel within.

Carefully Heru entered the small craft. The space was cramped and obviously had room for no more than a single pilot. Everywhere the various systems of the vessel were coming online. Multiple readouts flashed across several screens, as the diagnostic scans were completed. And then, as quickly as all the commotion had started, it stopped. Yet the iron beast did not shut itself down by any means, instead it merely sat there idling in the darkness.

Now what? thought Heru. I have no idea how to operate this bucket-of-bolts.

"Please enter your destination," commanded a rather pleasing voice out of a speaker located near the main controls.

"And just how do you expect me to do that?" inquired Heru aloud. "What do you think I am, an Onu-Matoran?"

As if in response to his query the Benben in his sack again began to tremble once more and at the same time a tray folded out from the left-hand control panel. Studying this new feature, he promptly deduced that the notch in the device appeared to be of a similar size and shape as the stone in his pack.

Heru withdrew the relic from its place of concealment and placed it into the indentation. Immediately the entire surface area surrounding the stone undulated and transformed into an array of sensors and other equipment. Each carving on the various sections were scanned and analyzed within the ship's computer.

Specifically the lines on the map were intricately scrutinized and precisely traced by the navigational systems before the apparatus returned to its' previous, tray-like appearance, meanwhile the Benben was slightly ejected from the receptacle.

The Uk-Matoran reached out and scooped up the stone, once more placing it safely within his pouch.

"Well that was interesting," he offered. "You do realize that I'm still not sure how to drive this thing, don't you?"

"Oh, Heru!" responded the pleasing voice again. "You have no idea how long I've been waiting for you."

Then the tines on each of the four boring arms began to rotate at an ever-increasing velocity as the vehicle lurched forward and plowed headlong into the rock wall of the dome at an astonishing rate of speed.

Twelve

While Ånpu sat fearing for his wellbeing, Bast on the other hand, was completely calm. There were many reasons for this, not the least of which being that she absolutely trusted Sekhet, even with her life. Another aspect was that, unlike Ånpu, she knew exactly what Sekhet was doing, she herself had communicated with her various Sisters using the same technique several times per day over the past few aeons. Furthermore, she even knew precisely with whom the Captain of the Av-Matoran Guard now conversed. Bast had after all, in a strange and roundabout way, been the one to first introduce them, albeit wholly accidentally.

Thus it was, as the blistering sun beat down and the Serqet-Jaga drew closer to the five Matoran currently stranded deep within the barren and scorched wilderness of the Bekha Desert, that Bast found her mind drifting. Yet her thoughts did not wander in order to escape the current situation, rather instead they strayed to another place and time, when the chittering sounds, which Sekhet now made, were about to first be discovered.

* * *


Ten Thousand Years Earlier . . .

Bast sat alone on one of the many red, sandy beaches on the Isle of Punt Nui. Located far to the south-southeast, yet still within the same dome as her island home, the terrain was ecologically very different from anything found on the Isle of Kemet Nui.

After much pleading, her friend Sekhet had agreed to let her tag along on the current adventure, but now her Sister was no where to be seen. Earlier that morning, before heading off into the dense jungle that choked the landscape of the island, Sekhet had made Bast promise to stay behind and keep a watchful eye on the Swingin' Safari, their small sea transport, which was their only means of transit back home. Yet, at this point Bast was beginning to suspect that maybe Sekhet was off having fun, and that she was stuck back on the beach, missing out on all the inland festivities. Besides, Bast mused, were we not both sent here to jointly deliver the important message from Kemet Nui's Holy Order of the Sisterhood of Het-hert?

And so, a short while later Bast decided that she could probably both adequately watch the vessel and, at the same time explore the nearby foliage. Therefore, without any further consideration, she implemented this new plan. It took just a few quick strides for her to cross the beach and disappear into the thick undergrowth. The pounding of the surf was swallowed by the symphony of the rainforest as she looked up into the towering canopy, spinning 'round with delight at all the new things to discover. And that was when she tripped and gracefully fell flat on her backside. Rolling over Bast discovered a large, all but perfectly round, orange stone. It was simply enchanting as the light trickled down onto it through the gently swaying leaves. Suddenly the serene moment was disrupted by the sharp snap of wood splintering. Realizing that someone, or worse, something, was coming her way, she quickly scooped up the gorgeous rock and carefully wrapped it within her robes. She then looked for a good place to hide, but before she could decide on one, Sekhet burst out of the tangled vines at a virtual dead sprint.

Much to her Sister's surprise, she did not stop to chat, rather Sekhet yelled, "Run for your life, we'll all be killed!" as she continued her mad dash towards the sea. Something massive was crashing through the trees in hot pursuit and Bast decided she didn't really want to stick around and find out what exactly it was or what was going on at this particular moment, thus she wisely followed Sekhet's rapid retreat.

The two Av-Matoran scampered across the beach at a breakneck pace. They both climbed aboard their skiff and Sekhet immediately manned the controls where she began to propel the ship away from land. As all this was happening Bast looked back and witnessed a gigantic horned Rahi emerge from the jungle onto the sand. The creature hurled chunks of driftwood and other debris at the boat, but the craft was far enough off the Punt Nui coastline that it was out of range of the makeshift missiles. Realizing that its' quarry had escaped its' grasp, the Rahi bellowed out of both rage and frustration.

"Do you mind telling me what exactly is going on here?" asked Bast.

"That?" replied Sekhet. "Oh, that's pretty much nothing really, just a minor misunderstanding to be sure. Besides, I'm certain that you're not especially interested in hearing all the boring details anyway. I can however assure you that I was able to deliver our message to Toa Sāh Kheperå personally. He and the Matoran of Punt Nui are overjoyed to hear of the other Toa Sāh's triumphant victory over Āpep and his hordes of Beţshu back on Kemet Nui. Oh, and Toa Kheperå told me to tell Toa Atemu that, with Makuta Aso's help, all secondary objectives are nearing completion as well."

Unexpectedly a strange cracking noise permeated the air and Bast knew instantly that it was coming from the stone that, until now, she had forgotten she'd wrapped in her cloak. Desperately hoping that she hadn't damaged the rock she slowly unwound her garment but much to her dismay a crack was indeed spreading rapidly across the surface. Sensing a change in the lighting, and utterly without warning, some sort of larva burst forth from the sphere and firmly latched itself onto Sekhet’s lower leg.

"What the heck is this thing?" implored Sekhet, as she frantically attempted to pry the Rahi off of her limb.

"That?" replied Bast. "Oh, that's pretty much nothing really, just a minor misunderstanding to be sure. Besides, I'm certain that you're not especially interested in hearing all the boring details anyway, pretty much."

Thirteen

Åuset descended the staircase within the Tower of Philæ at a steady and measured pace, yet her mind certainly did not reflect the same level of casualness. I still don't know how exactly whomever left these clues knew that I’d be the one to uncover them, she contemplated to herself, and furthermore, I don't yet know what all this is really about.

Earlier, prior to leaving the secret vault above the loft, she had thoroughly examined every facet of her discovery. Upon turning her newly found Benben upside-down, Åuset had encountered a map that directed her to a second location within the Great Temple Complex. As best she could tell, her new target was the western side of the statue honoring the Great Spirit Mata Nui at the center of Philæ Square. At that point she had carefully stowed the relic within the folds of her ceremonial robes and set off down the stairs.

Now, as she neared the ground floor, her thoughts were interrupted by a rather large commotion. There was a small group of diverse Matoran, who had amassed in a circle near the main entrance of the courtyard, and were raising quite a fuss. As Åuset neared the gathering to discern what it was that was going on, she noticed that prone on the ground, in the middle of the group, lay a semiconscious Het-hert member. All thoughts of the Benben and her intended destination vanished as she shouldered her way into the circle and knelt down, attempting to speak with the downed Matoran.

"Are you okay my Sister?" inquired Åuset. "Can you tell me what’s wrong?"

"We already tried that, she doesn't seem to be capable of speech at the moment," said an unidentified Matoran from the surrounding mass.

"She just stumbled into the courtyard and collapsed," offered yet another.

"And never did say what had happened much less where it happened," voiced a third.

Åuset stretched out her hand and placed it upon the shoulder of the fallen villager as she tried to comfort her. She carefully rolled up the bulk of her Sister's Het-hert cloak and used it as a pillow, while at the same time gently rolling her onto her back, so that she could better ascertain the cause of the calamity.

That was when the nearly incapacitated Av-Matoran finally caught sight of her new caregiver Åuset. Instantly the two recognized one another, and Renpit, still unable to vocalize due to her recent ordeal, suddenly flooded the mind of her Ce-Matoran Sister with a myriad of thoughts. Words and images bombarded Åuset's mind, relaying to her the story of the morning's traumatic events. The scenes were so cruel that they were difficult for her to watch, but she compelled herself to do so, in order to help a friend.

As best she could tell, Renpit had been peacefully on her way to the Temple earlier that morning when a mob of troublesome Matoran had seized her and deprived her of her blessed liberty. They had coerced her to march as their prisoner some distance to the northeast of Tai-Koro, across the River Hāpi, all the way out to Denderah Rock. There they had forced her and several other Matoran whom she did not know to participate in some sort of bizarre race. Yet somehow the events drastically changed and she had been captured by a group of Rock Raptors.

What happened next was even harder for Åuset to cope with than what had come before. As the Rahi had begun to retreat to their lair with their quarry, none of the other Matoran whom had put poor Renpit into this situation in the first place came to her aid. They all began to selfishly flee, pushing one another to the ground in an attempt to save their own selves. The surging and shoving rabble fled the scene of their crime and even the other captives did not try to help. They all just ran, all except for one.

This single brave villager attacked the beasts alone and unarmed. The Matoran fought courageously, with no regard for his own safety, until finally successfully managing to free the Av-Matoran from their grasp. Åuset could tell from the colors of his armor to which tribe he belonged. And then, quite unexpectedly and without warning a massive blow from another Rock Raptor felled the noble Matoran of Rahi. And as he lay unconscious on the ground, Åuset fought back tears, repeatedly denying herself the ability to see the truth.

The final mental picture that she was shown was that of the Rahi dragging the apparently lifeless body of this alternate prey, now unchallenged, back towards their den. Then the mind link between them was severed and the two Sisters were once again alone with their personal thoughts. Although it had only taken a matter of seconds, it seemed like the events had lasted a lifetime.

"It can't be my dear friend Åusår, it just can't be," an exhausted Åuset insistently whispered to Renpit. "There must be plenty of other Kur-Matoran that also wear Kanohi Great Zatth, right?"

But knowing the truth herself about who it was, all that Renpit could do to console her beloved Het-hert Sister, was wrap her arms around her.

Together they sat on the cold, hard stone of the main courtyard of the Great Philæ Temple and wept, meanwhile the crowd around them swelled, still unaware of just what was going on.

Fourteen

Sutekh ducked into an alleyway on the northern outskirts of Tai-Koro. He was doing his best to follow the general direction of the map on the base of the Benben stone he'd recently discovered, but at the same time he wanted to avoid running into anybody who might question what exactly he was up to. He had closed the canister, with Tekhtekh still secured inside, and slung it across his back as inconspicuously as he could before entering the village. The wand had apparently already malfunctioned once, nearly blasting his mask off in the process, and the last thing that Sutekh wanted right now was some sort of mishap to draw undue attention to him and his obvious absence from his job at the gallery.

Slowly the Hu-Matoran made his way towards the city center. Surprisingly the closer he got to his destination the fewer villagers he saw milling around, which was certainly fine with him. Most of the Matoran he had come across thus far seemed to be moving in the same direction as he, which certainly aided in his desire to remain unnoticed.

Coming to the end of the alleyway Sutekh paused to survey the surroundings. Finding the coast clear, he had just stepped out into the open near the gatehouse to Philæ Square, when he was blindsided by a Kur-Matoran who was plainly in such a hurry that he wasn't watching where he was going. The violent collision sent Sutekh sprawling to the ground with a curse and a thud. At first he thought it was Låcri, but quickly realized this would-be assailant was smaller and wore a Dark Red Kanohi Great Calix instead.

"What in Karzahni's name is wrong with you?!?" demanded Sutekh under his breath, as he scrambled back to his feet.

"I-I-I'm sorry," stammered Reshef from his downed position, clearly shaken up after having himself received the worst of the impact. "It's my fault, there's been a terrible accident in the Re-stau and I was in a rush to help organize a rescue party of Matoran volunteers and their companion Rahi to help search for several miners who are either missing, trapped, or possibly worse."

Showing absolutely no regard for the news he'd just heard, Sutekh vehemently replied in hushed tones so soft Reshef had to strain to hear, "Well, you'd best be more careful in the future. Otherwise our next run-in may be your last."

And with that, Sutekh left a stunned Reshef to help himself up off the street unassisted while he continued on his quest in search of some location surely within the walls of the Great Philæ Temple. As he neared the entrance, much to his dismay Sutekh noticed that there appeared to be a rather large gathering in the courtyard ahead. Well, at least everyone seems to be more interested in something other than my intentions, he thought to himself as he pushed forward and elbowed his way into the crowd.

* * *


Deep within the bowels of the Isle of Kemet Nui an immense fire burned mightily within an enormous furnace, meanwhile the occasional Beţshu skittered to or fro in the dimly lit cavern. Elsewhere within the catacombs, a lone figure waited in the darkness.

I don't know why she arranged to meet me here, he thought to himself. She has no idea the level of difficulty for the likes of me to traverse here unnoticed. Besides, I'm a soldier, not some courier Gukko, not to mention how creepy this foul, MataNuiforsaken place is. I mean honestly, the minions are vile enough, but to have to stand here in his presence, while he's completely comatose? It's simply quite disturbing and repulsive, although I do have to admit that there is something beautiful, though mildly horrifying, about seeing one as might as he trapped like a mere protodite in amber. He's probab–

"You do know that he can hear your thoughts, don't you, Acolyte?" hissed a hypnotic voice from the shadows.

The seasoned warrior desperately fought the urge to flee that rapidly welled up inside him. His voice unsteady, he still managed to respond, "Your Highness, I had no idea that you had arri–"

"Save your sniveling," she snapped. "The time draws near for you to fulfill your end of our little bargain."

A pair of Vorukan entered the room carrying a pallet between them, draped by a tattered cloth. Judging by their dingy golden armor he surmised that they were Royal Guardsmen. The two set down their load in the center of the chamber, removed the covering, and then they both silently exited the same way they had come.

Anticipating his question in advance, she continued, "This piece of equipment is an upgraded version of the one you've used before. The tablet on the left will provide you with further instructions for its' use, as well as a map to the location of your target, so memorize its' contents and destroy the orders before proceeding. The tablet on the right will afford you the means to pass unharmed through any areas held by the forces of the Brotherhood of Makuta as you travel."

"Understood," was his only reply, as he slung the apparatus over one shoulder, hoisted the tablets beneath the opposite arm, activated his Elemental Power, and left at a blinding speed.

Confident that she and Āpep were finally alone, Aso turned her attention towards her imprisoned consort. Sweetly resting her cheek against the Protodermis Cage, she softly whispered, "Kheperå and the rest of those heroic fools believe that I had barred the way just as they requested all those millennia ago. But fear not, my love, for the path to the true seat of this Dome's power, as well as your salvation, can still be found by those who know where to look."

Fifteen

Nebt-het couldn't believe her luck today. First she had survived a mine bump, where as certainly some of her coworkers probably were not as fortunate. Next, she had withstood a massive wall of water that had washed her out to sea, when most Matoran from the other Tribes would not have had the lung capacity to overcome this setback. Then, she had been washed-up on an apparently deserted islet, likely so remote that she would not have to return to work today. And finally, she had discovered an exquisite alabaster and amethyst Benben stone, which would certainly provide her with proof of her ordeal when shown to the foreman.

This is like those days at work when you feel so tired that it's tough to go on, but then when you deposit the load you're carrying into the Protodermis Cart, you joyfully realize that it's half-full already. And then you know that every shovel-full brings you one step closer to getting a wonderfully new, empty cart that you can start filling all over again. She happily thought to herself. You know, sometimes I really wonder why it is that I get to be the luckiest villager in the whole entire universe?

Nebt-het cheerfully followed the directions, from the carving on the base of the Benben, deeper into the section of the dwelling that had been concealed behind the hologram, below the Cliffs of Manu. As she descended a gloomy and winding staircase that had at times become extremely narrow even for her tiny frame, Nebt-het surprisingly realized that the stone she held tightly clutched to her chest had begun to quiver. The Um-Matoran paused on a landing to contemplate this new development.

Nervously she subconsciously increased her echolocation activities to get a more detailed sense of her surroundings. What she received back from her ultrasonic vocal emissions caused her heartlight to skip a beat and Nebt-het instinctively folded her wings in closer to decrease her profile. Somewhere in the darkness across the landing, tucked back into an almost unnoticeable alcove, rested a multi-legged monstrosity of some sort.

She forced herself to stay calm and think. Her mind raced in an effort to carefully plan her next move, but before she had developed any sort of practical options, a bright streak of lavender energy erupted from the Benben stone. Nebt-het was shocked that she had suddenly found herself momentarily blinded, slightly disoriented, and utterly vulnerable in the middle of the passageway after the day had started out so well.

Just a few bio away she heard something immense stir in the shadows.

* * *


Far to the South, Ånpu didn't exactly see the Protodermis Cart quite the same way that Nebt-het did. To him it clearly looked half-empty and frankly he couldn't imagine that the situation could possibly become any more dire.

Sekhet, Captain of the Av-Matoran Guard, remained in some sort of trance, where she occasionally emitted strange chittering noises, yet was otherwise totally unresponsive. Even the typically talkative Bast now sat silently sullen and sadly disheartened following her brief musings of the past.

Without their leader's strength, the other two Guardsmen had mounted a valiant defense against the menacing Serqet-Jaga, but hopelessly overpowered, Meti had unfortunately fallen victim to the rampaging Rahi's swift stinger. Or was it Shnā that was down? Ånpu couldn't be certain. It probably didn't really matter since the one thing that he was all but certain of was the fact that none of them were likely to survive to tell the tale anyway.

The beastly arachnid circled to the left in an attempt to circumvent the lone remaining aggressive opponent and thus more easily prey upon those that seemed to be vulnerable, ready-to-eat creatures. Meanwhile, Shnā, or possibly Meti, did his best to single-handedly protect the group's flanks, and at the same time, try to develop some sort of viable plan for retreat. That left the grizzled strategist with just two major problems. The first issue was that he was rapidly beginning to tire and therefore it was only a matter of time before the Serqet-Jaga overwhelmed his defensive position. This led him to the second dilemma, which involved the nagging reality that there would probably be no escape for any of them from this wilderness encounter.

Ånpu was doing his best to tend to Meti, maybe Shnā, and the wound. Though a seasoned veteran who had likely suffered damage far worse than this in his past, the Av-Matoran was now semi-conscious and had begun to run a dangerously high fever. Suddenly Bast left the Wha-Matoran's side, and grasping the fallen Guardsman's discarded pike, she cautiously ran to join the fray. Ånpu rose to his feet and strode to where the injured villager's Philæ Short Sword lay gleaming in the sand. He started to bend down and pick it up, but paused, his hand hovering just above the blade's hilt.

What am I doing? he pondered, I'm a Matoran of Health, a tribe sworn to sustaining life and peace.

But he knew what he had to do if he hoped to survive long enough to ever see his friends in Tai-Koro again. Gripping a weapon for the first time in his life, Ånpu marveled at how cold the ProtoSteel felt, despite it having been warmed by the hot dunes and blistering sun. And he wondered if the chill that bit into his soul would ever subside, or if he'd be changed forever? But his thoughts were abruptly interrupted by the emergence of the sound.

Sixteen

Seventeen

Eighteen

Nineteen

Twenty

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