The Many Deaths of the Toa Ofobo, Part 2: Crack Claw Bay
Written by WKschull
The war council went…as well as could be expected. They think me a hero. They think me a brave warrior, and a cunning tactician. They think that tomorrow, on the fields of another battle, I will snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, like I have so many times before (note 1).
They are, perhaps, even right - though I fear that they are instead very wrong. If they knew the truth of the story I am about to set down, they would fear so as well.
My name is Misaiz, and I am the butcher of the Toa Ofobo. I am their Chronicler, their mentor, and the curse upon their brotherhood.
The gap of time between my last record and this one can be covered by my official Chronicles of the Ofobo. As promised, this record tells the true story of our disastrous excursion to Crack Claw Bay.
Crack Claw Bay is (note 2) a small, nondescript bay on an islet off the coast of Mohra. It was then the domain of Urprar, my former chieftain, and the reason I had sought the help of Paniki.
Urprar was grasped by a sickness, a greed and lust for Honor Marks that defied all reason and all sense. Worse, he hungered for greater power and greater strength. With the mighty Lord Carapar ascendant, fully solidifying his own power beyond our shores in compact with his brethren, the seat of the High King having long served him, Urprar had grown sullen, angry, and bitter. In his frustration, he had turned to ever greater depredations, ever greater sins against The Code (note 3).
After their other adventures, the Ofobo had begun to settle into their roles: Khiar, the brash Toa of Stone, was the shield of the team, a buttress against the dangers without; Jukiro, the solemn Toa of Air, cared for our mounts, and was never far from the side of his Ash Bear companion, Rakoro, tamed on our first adventure; Dalak, the bold Toa of Fire and the ever-eager fencer who liked Breeze-Speak (note 4) so much he started using it; Manak, a quiet and starry-eyed Toa of Ice who saw in me a mentor, a kindred scholar, and fellow wanderer; Gurta, the leader, loud and friendly for a De-Toa, and the natural leader of the group; and poor, playful Vezonoi, the budding Toa of Lightning who was just starting to learn just how great of an asset her powers were. I thought that they were ready to address the rot at the heart of my homeland.
And I was so very wrong.
We arrived on an overcast day, sailing from the mists on the Good Fortune, a boat that was taken by Paxorak pirates of another clan not two days after it delivered us to Crack Claw Bay. I hadn’t yet begun to consider us cursed, but it would not be long.
How many deaths did it take? Would I have ever seen the signs, were it not for Crack Claw? Had I delayed our arrival, and let the Ofobo grow stronger, grow more experienced…but no amount of experience can dull protosteel, or undo foul magics. We were cursed. Perhaps I am cursed, instead though with life, rather than death. A curse to survive that which claims all those around me. Even Paniki…but, no. Time is short, and I must not waste it on my ramblings. Death comes for us all, for me soon enough, and for the Ofobo, sooner still.
The day was an overcast one, but we were greeted by an impressive delegation of Raiders. Had the suns been shining, their Honor Marks would have shone, their blades glittered, their fine armored shells reflected our own faces, they were so polished - or so it should have been. Instead, these Raiders were dirty, their armor unpolished, their Honor Marks clattering against each other like a chorus of bones heralding a Zyglak horde.
“Misaiz!” The first to speak was, of course, Urtau, the foremost advisor of my former chieftain, and a sickness in his ear (note 5). I have never been the violent sort, but in that moment, I wished to take my Frost Glaive and bury it in the chest of Urtau. For the one who had usurped my place, poisoned our once-noble chieftain, and seen me banished in all but name to greet me with such friendliness…but to my eternal regret, I stayed my hand, and instead bowed in greeting.
Urtau had come at Urprar’s bidding to greet the Ofobo, that new team of Toa who had been making a name for themselves as heroes, and, in more unkind mouths, my pets, the pets of an Exile. Notably, neither of those statements were yet true.
After greetings were exchanged, the Ofobo acquitting themselves well in the formal rituals of a Hi-Vo-Ya-Ofo (note 6) after my extensive training, Urtau led us up the beach, towards the longhouse of my Clan, our Great Hall.
It had been years since I had seen this place, and it shocked me to see how changed it was. It had grown, yes, and there were signs of success and progress. Wealth had obviously come from Urprar’s tactics and greed.
But so too had sloppiness, clumsiness. Gone were the clean lines of the longhouse. The karves were in poor condition, their varnish stripped in places, their wood splintered. The rugged beauty of the Bay had given way to smokey cook-fires and scattered detritus (note 7).
Worse were the peoples. There were more Paxorak, yes, but there were others, too. I saw Skakdi forgeries clustered around their cookfires, their tools of creation and destruction in equal measure piled around them. I saw Kumopak butchers, their large hacksaw blades slung across their backs. I even saw a few Zyglak, those horrific monsters, crouched in one far corner, staring hatefully at the rest of the camp, but making no move to attack (note 8).
Urprar had broken The Code, and begun allowing others into the raiding parties. Had somehow escaped the ire of our Lord Carapar in doing so. Had even invited cursed Zyglak, of all beings, for I could not imagine he had fallen far enough to allow outsiders to join the raiders without a formal invitation.
Urtau had witnessed my surprise, for I was not wearing my Ceveli, and chuckled at my confusion. He explained, his words mocking behind their civil facade, that much had changed since I had left. With many of the “weaker members” of the Clan absent, a jab that my poor Ofobo were too naive to understand was aimed at myself, Urprar’s Clan had risen in prominence, finding strength in throwing off the “shackles of The Code” (note 9).
I was unable to believe what I was hearing, but my disbelief only grew when Urtau revealed that Urprar had decided that Lord Carapar’s supposed “weakness” needed to be expunged at any cost. To that end, he had struck a deal with rogue Ursare.
“With their speed beneath the waves, and their claws to shred his hulls, Lord Carapar will fall beneath the rising tide of Lord Urprar!” This last sentence had been delivered in a barely-constrained shout, and was met by cheers from around the camp. By now, even the Ofobo had begun to grow concerned, and Gurta intervened in the conversation, managing to radiate polite concern from his Axopakar (note 10).
“Sorry to interrupt, you two!” His chuckle echoed across the beach, capturing everyone’s attention, a trick he was always overly fond of. “I know that a homecoming must be exciting, but Seneschal Urtau, it sounds to me as if Lord Urprar is planning on declaring war against Lord Carapar. Isn’t that kind of open warfare between Clans frowned upon by the Makuta, and outlawed under The Code?”
Urtau had only laughed, first at Gurta’s use of Seneschal, and then louder at his concerns over the war.
“So, what would you suggest instead, Toa? Should we raid each other’s camps until the issue is forced to a duel, while our strength runs into the sands? So that Carapar can use the strength he stole from a witch to break a truer ruler in half? (note 11) (note 12) Shall we take this matter to the tables while Carapar’s Vanaki leash-holders continue to prey upon our noble sailors from the skies? No, Toa, that will not be the way of things. We will force Lord Carapar to meet us in battle or be destroyed. Or,” and Urtau had laughed louder, “We will force him to meet us in battle and be destroyed!”
The surrounding Paxorak and assorted other raiders had laughed again as the Ofobo had drawn closer together, Rakoro rumbling her displeasure at the cacophony of noises. I had just stared at Urtau, shocked and dismayed at the Clan’s rapid, calamitous fall.
“And these Ursare? Have they gathered yet?”
“No, no. But it is fortunate for you, Wanderer, that you return when you do. You will see history, for our party had been assembled to greet the Ursare Preeminent before we heard of your intended arrival. We are simply escorting you and the Ofobo to the Hall before returning to the shore to welcome our other guests for the evening!”
Sinister laughter, not quite a cackle, echoed from the surrounding raiders as Urtau magnanimously and mockingly bowed us in the direction of the Hall. Turning to follow his gesture, I beheld the Hall with greater appraisal and renewed interest. Against my better judgment, I donned my Ceveli, and, yes, I could see it now. The lines of the camp were drawn so that they would seemingly by accident present their full strength, while allowing for unhindered sightlines towards the Hall. But the path one would have to take, the approach, was anything but unhindered, and would wind through the camp, forcing guests to take a full measure of Urprar’s strength, or raiders to fight the full force of the Clan. A cunning enough trick of planning that, with the general sloppiness of the camp, was unlikely to be grasped on first approach.
And, there…yes. The lens in my Ceveli spun, focusing on the standards hanging from the Hall. Chak, that of Welcome, Foloth, that of Trade, and Tarnth, that of War, an ominous collection of standards had I ever seen one. Urprar was, indeed, preparing for war (note 13).
As my attention returned to the moment, I heard Khiar say “...won’t intrude. Another time, when you’re not expecting such important guests.” I cursed myself for my distraction, and listened more carefully. Gurta, it seemed, had suggested returning at a later date, an argument Khiar was fiercely pushing.
I knew their tactic - Khiar would carefully, “artlessly” push for our departure, arising Urtau’s suspicions. Urtau would, in turn, demand that we stay. This would, of course, have worked better had we not already been invited to stay and, in fact, were unlikely to be allowed to leave to warn Carapar. All it served to do now was arouse Urtau’s suspicions.
With a lash of his hand that set his Honor Marks jangling, Urtau silenced the Ofobo. “Misaiz, control your pets. Urprar will see you all. He wants,” and another cruel chuckle, “a Chronicler to record what happens this day. Finally, it seems, you’ll see some use.”
There was a pause that stretched into discomfort as the Ofobo waited to follow first my lead and, when I failed to act, Gurta’s. Finally, our towering De-Toa nodded acquiescence, and we meekly followed Urtau to the Hall.
The Hall was as much changed inside as it was from the outside. Where its clean exterior was marred by ramshackle extensions, lazy carpenters hacking holes in the wood, battle standards draped haphazardly, its interior was marred by tar smoke, obscured behind piles of treasure - not Honor Marks, but simple plunder - and scarred by weapons and combats that should not have happened. Smoke from torches and rushes choked the air, the thick blue of it distorting our vision (note 14). I was grateful for my Ceveli, grateful that it hid the dismay on my face, and grateful for the lens that could pick out details through the smog.
Before us, raiders clustered around him like fetid toadstools, sat my former Chief.
Chief Urprar was not as I remembered him. Short for a Paxorak, and broad like a Kane-Ra, that much was the same. The look of hunger and disdain on his face, too, was not new. There, however, the stagnation ended. His shell, once shiny and clean, cracked with the noble scars of battle, was now a dull matte, broken by shining lines. Gold, silver, and other precious metals had been poured, molten, into the cracks, making him a patchwork of metals and shell. His shell was unpolished, and dull from the constant smoke. It was the shell of a coward, a sneaking backstabber, not of one who fought honest fights. The shell of one who wished to pass unseen, to strike from the shadows at his prey (note 15).
Thinking back to the others in my Clan, I felt a fool for not noticing sooner that their shells were the same. Dull, emotionless shell, Honor Marks affixed to cloth sashes rather than hung from hooks (note 16) buried in shell, ready to be cast aside for the sake of silence.
On Mohra, we have a name for those who so disdain their fellows, who sully their names, and lower the noble call of raider. My Clan were Yonask; Hollow Shells. They were ruined (note 17).
“Misaiz!” Urprar’s voice boomed with false jollity, and he strode forward to clasp my forearm as if we were still brothers. As if he had not driven me to exile, declared me ureli-saiz, “forgotten wanderer,” once I was gone.
“My Chief.” I bowed in return, and we moved further into the Hall. Instead of joining us on the floor as he should have, Urprar returned to his throne as we were forced to kneel before him. Even now, his flagrant disregard for The Code, his rejection of Hi-Vo-Ya-Ofo, shocks, sickens, and dismays me. But, enough. I have said he had strayed from The Code. I have emphasized his sins. I have called him Yonask. Nothing more need be said.
“We hear, wise Chief Urprar, that you want our Chronicler?” Gurta knelt at the front of the Ofobo, as was fitting. His shields hummed slightly, beyond the notice of most, though I knew it as a sign of his tension. “I don’t want to say no before you’ve told us why, but, I uh, I don’t think any of us want to give him up.”
Gurta paused to smile in my direction, as the others nodded, before continuing. “He’s a real fountain of knowledge, that, sometimes, is even helpful!” He chuckled, and the others did too, at his understatement and joke, before he sobered. “But, honestly, he’s our Chronicler, and also a mentor, and a friend. I speak for my team when I say that we won’t give him to you without a good reason.”
Urprar leaned forward, a lascivious leer on his face. His body language, posture, voice, all betrayed ease and languor. But his hands grasped the skulls mounted on his throne hard enough to crack them (note 18). “Misaiz is of my Clan. He is not yours to offer or refuse. He is bound by old laws to serve how and when and where I will it. And if you still refuse, you six could not stop my raiders from taking him back.”
Tension hung in the air, thick as the smoke, until Urprar waved indulgently. His posture eased, and he chuckled once, obvious in its falseness, before continuing. “But we don’t need to posture! Ha, no, no, for I have need of you all! After all, all great heroes need Toa bodyguards, and all conquering chieftains need a Skald.”
“Urtau told you about my plans?” My once-chief did not wait for confirmation. “That soft-shell never shuts up when I tell him to. But, you know! Soon, Preeminent Feval (note 19) (note 20) will arrive with her guild, and we will finalize our pact.
“And once that’s done, 'Lord’' Carapar will fall!” There were more cheers as Urprar fell to brooding, his face sullen as he grasped a cabolo fruit. Rather than draining it, he squished it, pulpy flesh and juices running down his fingers. “‘Lord.’ Ha. That pathetic man doesn’t even lead raiders any more. It’s politics with him, and nothing but! ‘The League’ this, ‘Lord Pridak’ that - Mohra needs a strong ruler, a High King with the strength to take what we want from the other Kingdoms!”
“And that’s you?”
Urprar rounded on Vezonoi, lurching from his chair, eyelights flickering and hands spasming with rage. He took two ragged steps forward, mouth working, before he found a measure of calm, and spoke again.
“Yes. It seems, Misaiz, that you’ve failed to teach your Toa the rules of hospitality here. I will forgive them this once, but -”
“Oh, no, he taught us.” Gurta half-turned to try and stop Vezonoi, and his shields hummed louder as he tried to steal her voice, but her Stadehi thrummed in time with them, and her voice grew more strident, clearer, resonant, as Gurta’s had on the beach earlier. “He taught us that the host is supposed to kneel with guests at an equal level. That we’re supposed to be offered gifts of Honor Marks, which we refuse by rote. That we share a meal before discussing politics or war. And he taught us that the rules of hospitality don’t apply to Yonask." (note 21)
Violence tinged the air with its presence, its electric tang as sharp and clear as the static charge from Vezonoi’s conductive staff. Before the raiders could react, before Urprar could shake the grip of rage long enough to parse a response, the doors to the Hall were flung open again, admitting new guests.
The scents of water, oiled metal, and fish filled my nose, and the slapping of wet feet on stone, the gentle hissing of breathing masks, my ears. I knew without turning that Preeminent Feval’s guild had arrived.
They entered in a crowd, as Ursare will. The guild’s strongest at the edges, guarding those weaker than themselves. A cascade of strength until the center, at which the guild’s leader was always found.
The Ofobo rose, turning, and I with them, only to bow to the newcomers. We knew the rules of hospitality, followed them even if Urprar did not. As always, on land, the Ursare looked uncomfortable. Their guild was awkward, used to swimming in a loose cloud, not marching in a ring. But while they were awkward as a group, as individuals they were nothing but dangerous grace.
Coiled muscles wound taut beneath spined fins. Bulbous lenses set in inscrutable yet individually, uniquely forged masks of fearsome mien. Long arms held at an angle so as to not ruin the floor with Protosteel claws. The grace of predators, and the confidence of killers.
They split, revealing Preeminent Feval. She was tall, with a minimalist mask - a signal, I knew, of confidence in strength. The thinner the mask, the less protection it offered, the more bold the wearer. A sign, to her guild as much as to us, that she was untouchable even on land.
“Warlord Urprar. Why have you brought Toa to our gathering?” Her voice was scabbarded steel, hissing through her mask’s filter.
“Preeminent! Welcome, welcome! Please, join us. These are the Toa Ofobo, and my former advisor, Misaiz. He serves as their Chronicler now. I had hoped to have them ready to serve as bodyguards and skald by the time you arrived, a show of dedication to our alliance, but their arrival was delayed and I had only begun explaining the situation.” I was surprised. Urprar was more skilled at lying than he had been when I left.
Preeminent Feval surveyed the scene, the clear tension between us, the weapons half-drawn, and paused before deciding to take Urprar’s still obvious lies at face value. She nodded, and strode forward, stopping so that we were between her and Urprar. My once chief frowned and gestured us to the side, and at Gurta’s nod, we moved.
“Now that we have all gathered, perhaps we can offer you -” Urtau’s simpering was cut off by a lazy backhand from Urprar that sent the advisor sprawling.
“Interrupt me again, Advisor, and I’ll trade your shell for trinkets.”(note 22) Urprar didn’t take his eyes off Feval, and for a long moment, the only sound was that of mechanical breathing. Finally, he gestured for Urtau to speak.
“Yes, yes, my apologies. I was saying, should we bring out the table? Most honored Preeminent, we have had mats woven specially for you, and a meal prepared of Ursare delicacies, and we would be -”
“No. I was told you shirk your Code. I will have my business first. And I should not be surprised that you cannot rebel against Carapar, since you are all so used to kneeling.” Feval - for, yes, I am eschewing her honorific. She did little to deserve it, and lost it soon after this tale. And, later, I came to know her well enough to eschew formality - Feval sneered behind her mask, disdain radiating. I feared that there would be violence, but Urprar just laughed.
“You are bold! I like that. Business first, then, and then once we are done, once Lord Carapar is dead, we shall feast!”
I apologize for the interruption in the flow of this narrative, but there is little point in reproducing their negotiations verbatim. My time and space are both limited, and beyond characterizing Feval, now done, and gesturing at the tension in the room, this faithful reproduction serves little purpose, and does not contribute to my larger goals (note 23).
Let us be done with this sorry chapter, then. Suffice it to say that the negotiations were intense. Urprar’s anger and pride were both roused by Feval’s cruelty and disdain, while Feval’s zealous belief in the righteousness of her planned rebellion was dashed against Urprar’s greed.
For the Ofobo and myself, however, the negotiations were not the dry affair that I present, but a growing horror. Here were two powerful leaders, each in command of an army, plotting to topple not one Barraki, but two. For that was Feval’s price - that once Lord Carapar was overthrown and replaced, that she would have the support of Hakori in usurping Lord Ehlek. The Great Spirit alone knows. No. Now, we all know what chaos such usurpation and infighting brings.
Worse still was Urprar. I knew him, knew what he had become, and I could see that he had no intention of honoring the bargain he was striking. Feval, she was righteous, doing what she believed was just. She had legitimate grievances against Lord Ehlek and his Drowned Council. But Urprar would throw Hakori into chaos for his own greed; would then let Ninaikar collapse into chaos with promises of aid to both sides, all while carving off what of Lord Ehlek’s territory he thought he could get away with. If he even managed to retain control of Hakori.
This, I would not allow. And so, quite suddenly, I found myself striding forward, Paniki’s glaive in hand.
“Warlord Urprar, as Chief of your Clan, you are beholden to The Code and your Raiders. As Clan of your Chiefdom, I invoke orax. You would bring us ruin and rot - by the meals we have shared, by the Honor Marks we reaved together, and by the shells we both wear, I challenge you, one Paxorak to another.” (note 24)
My voice did not break or waver. Emotion had been stripped from me, save cold, burning fury. I felt my glaive in my hands, protosteel cold as the Silent Peak, and I knew my actions right. If I could save so many, I would. I would abandon my role as Chronicler, and take Urprar’s place as Chieftain, as a leader. As it should have been so long ago, before I turned from my Destiny to pursue scholarship.
But it was too late for me to correct that mistake, though I knew it not.
The room had frozen, and all eyes were on me. I knew the Ofobo’s would be amongst them, and ached for the betrayal I was offering them. Ached for what they would see me do.
Then Urprar began to laugh, demeaning my demand, further ruining his honor, and gestured for his raiders to take me. They drew, and were stopped by a wall of Ursare.
“Warlord.” Feval’s voice had lost its scabbard; her tone was pure protosteel. “You have been challenged. When you replace Carapar, you will be challenged again. Defeat this dissenter. Prove your strength. Prove you can aid my guild.”
Urprar laughed again, and gestured for his weapons. “Of course! The Chronicler does not scare me. I’ve fought him before and won every time. He’s a scholar.”
Urpar’s chuckling continued as his shield and shellcracker were handed to him. His was a cruel weapon - not forbidden, but discouraged by The Code. A sturdy haft, light enough to be wielded in one hand, but long enough to be grasped in both for added power. A squared head atop it, one end covered in pyramidal spikes to crack shells with every strike, the other end tapered to a hooked, sharp point to pry under and tear free pieces of shell. It was a weapon meant only for killing Paxorak, and in a painful and humiliating way (note 25).
He was right that I was a scholar, and one easily bested by him many times. But he had not fought me in many years. Not since before I left for Lord Pridak’s court. Not since before I trained with my beloved Paniki, trained under fierce Rakuru. Not since before I had spent months with the Toa Ofobo, mastering Paniki’s Frost Glaive, and fighting strange and varied foes. And never before had I fought him to win. I was no warrior, am not and never have been, but I trusted I was equal to the task before me (note 26).
The raiders and Ofobo were still being held back by Feval’s Ursare, though as we finally settled into the open square, mats cleared away, the bystanders fell still. Our battle was about to start, and there would be no interference.
He led. A brutal swing, two-handed, to my left side. He meant to finish it before we had begun, and left himself open to do so. But his strike was too heavy to block, too dangerous to take, and I could not capitalize on the opening, instead falling back two quick steps and beginning a battle chant.
Did you know that we Paxorak share battle chants with few other peoples? I have heard that Zakaz’s Skakdi have similar songs, though theirs are for construction, not war. We Paxorak may be alone in the joy of battlesong (note 27).
I began a chant of tragedy, and fallen though they were, my old clan joined. Codebreakers or yonask, friends or foes, Paxorak do not hear a Skald without joining the song.
It was a chant of tragedy, of mourning, and they no doubt thought I sang my own funeral dirge. Perhaps, as I have come to believe, I was, though it has not taken me yet. Perhaps, more accurately, I was singing the funeral dirge for the Ofobo, for the doom I would bring them was sealed in that moment. But at the time, I sang for Urprar and my clan. I sang for what they had become, for all they had lost, and for all that they would yet lose if I failed. I sang for Hakori and Ninaikar, which would know death untold if I failed. And I sang for the peace I had known and the life I had wished to lead.
Urprar had given me time to begin my song, for even he would not interrupt it until it was in motion. He smirked at me, believing I was stalling for the last moments of my life. His smirk vanished when I lowered into warstance, as I synchronized my motions to the cadence of the song. And we began to fight in earnest.
He, too, fell into warstance and danced to the cadence. You might think that this would make the fight predictable, if every strike and step was timed to the song. But if you think this, you are wrong. To fight against the cadence would be difficult, would put you off-balance, and leave an opening. And to fight with the cadence is to be a dirge made flesh and steel. The warstance is an art that all Paxorak seek to know, but that few master. You might expect me to humbly state that I am a master, but, no. Urprar and I were but initiates then, and I remain an initiate now. Lord Carapar, our most famed warrior, could perhaps be called a journeyman, perhaps even a student of some renown. But there have been but two masters of the warstance, their names lost to time, but their duel, their dance, remembered forever in the minds of the Shelled.