War Chronicles: The League Reborn
Written by SigmaMinus and HahliNuva
In a strange and distant timeline, the Matoran universe has been consumed by war. Known as the Barranai Nui, this Great War affects virtually all of the world’s denizens, species, and powers that be; some fight for land or resources, some for conquest, and still others simply for blood. Their stories are told in the War Chronicles… The League Reborn follows the great Barraki Pridak through his imprisonment in the depths of the Pit, as he prepares for the day that will return the League of Six Kingdoms to its former glory.
Four thousand, eight hundred and thirty-six striations in the cell door. Nine hundred and eighty-seven motes of dust suspended in the milky black air, ready to join their brethren on the cold stone floor. Three by three times his body height in area, twice his body height tall.
Pridak, the Ivory King, Lord of Phaidua and Knifeshine of Alabaster, had almost forgotten what hate had felt like. Once, the years had felt like a set of steel ropes pulled taut around him, tearing at his musculature, scarring his beautifully-polished armor, crushing his body mercilessly. This was early on, when he still tried to use his strength against the unrelenting cell door, before he learned that it constituted a force of nature all its own. At least three hundred of its striations had likely been formed during this period, although he was beginning to lose track of his own notes on the subject.
After a matter of centuries, the hate began to fester, to take root. The noble Ihidauri pride in him, the one that had held him strong even against the so-called Great Spirit and his servants – the Makuta, the Toa, the Matoran, all of them – had faded away, like the pigments of an exquisite painting left to the ravages of the unrelenting sun. He could not simply smirk and wait for rescue, as he once might have. The guards here were, in one way or another, protected against any harassment or manipulation he could attempt. There was no city to plunder, no plan to execute, no hope to cling to. When this realization came to him, Pridak felt a flame kindle within himself. And this flame burned hot.
He shouted obscenities, yes. He shouted things that no being should ever utter. He shouted things that would make a Skakdi stop in their tracks, things that would make a Matoran question their faith in Mata Nui, things that he would have once slain beings on the spot for so little as thinking them in their minds. And then, much later, when those ran out, he began to translate them into every language he could think of.
As the centuries passed, Pridak’s thoughts turned to strategy. Many years ago, he had sharpened his keen tactical acumen in a holding cell of a rival Ihidauri faction by simulating battle plans in his mind; he resolved to plot exactly what would happen when he managed to escape. He planned out wars, strategies, tactics, doctrines, campaigns; entire chapters of the history of the universe played out entirely within his mind. He yearned, he yearned for his captors to know how brilliant his schemes were. Pridak allowed himself to plead, exactly once, to a guard, offering his services as a tactician for whoever had captured him. He spent thirty-eight days composing the offer. When the guard did not even acknowledge the words, much less turn and respond to him, the idea of “when” within his mind quietly changed into an “if”.
He changed his approach, taking a new tack to stave off panic. The cell door had a square of transparent protodermis about the size of his hand, through which he could catch glimpses of the comings and goings of the guards. Pridak began to look, to watch, committing every detail of what he saw through the window to memory: the number of guards, their shifts and rotations, the weapons they carried, their species and builds, any methods of remote surveillance. He planned out what he would do if one of them ever opened the door: how he would swing low and knock their legs out from under them, how he would hide in the ceiling corner and drop from above, how he would feign injury and leap up to strike at his unsuspecting opponent.
There was no question of survival. The cell, as he had learned not long after his arrival, would passively generate energy – never much at once, only a trickle – to sustain him, whether he chose to absorb it or not. It was just enough to keep him alive; not that he had ever planned on starving to death, meeting a coward’s end like some Rahi curled up in a cave, but it had dashed several dozen potential methods of escape that had hinged upon the guards having to deliver foodstuffs. Injuries, too, seemed to be healed in a similar way, ruling out earlier plans to lure a guard in with some pretended malady. Death, he concluded, was not the purpose of this accursed prison.
Over the course of another century Pridak plotted the art of defeating each guard in unarmed combat to a science: the vulnerabilities of the Maxilos robots, the hidden weaknesses of the lead jailer – a Barramoi who called himself Hydraxon – and so many more. Volumes upon volumes of books could have been carved from the fruits of his labor, just as his adoring subjects had once done when he ruled Phaidua. He waited longingly for an opportunity to use them.
His fellow prisoners were of relatively little interest compared to the guards, partly by virtue of the fact that they were largely out of his sight. He knew that his fellow Barraki were here, though the thought of their suffering the same miseries that he had only brought him the barest glimmer of comfort; in his prime, he would have commissioned a tapestry of grand scale depicting himself crushing their skulls underfoot.
If he pressed an audio receptor to the cell door, there were times where he could just barely hear his neighbors – their pleading, screaming, threatening, and any other words they found fit to hurl toward their captors. Every so often, some new unfortunate would be brought in, visible to him just briefly as they were delivered to their cell. It did not hearten Pridak to know that, as far as he could tell, none of them had managed to escape, even that hulking mass of an Ekedax who according to the guards had supposedly shattered an island with his bare hands.
Occasionally, Pridak allowed himself to wonder about the outside of the prison, where it might be situated in the universe and just how far it extended. Certainly it must be remote indeed to have escaped his notice – and if he was not mistaken, even the notice of the Brotherhood. The Makuta had been on the cusp of executing him, and despite everything, Pridak had never forgotten the look of shock on his opponent’s face when he and the other Barraki were spirited away at the last moment. It was an expression that he savored, even if what followed had been his waking nightmare for thousands of years to come.
The millennia stretched out before him, and even his careful, calculated control over his mind began to slip. At one point Pridak caught himself almost wishing that he would find some sort of pest living in one of the walls, something alive that he could lure out and hunt, see the fear in its eyes before he tore it apart.
Days would pass where he did nothing but breathe quickly and heavily. Other times, he would simply stare, letting his gaze spill loosely out into the void.
He would shake sometimes, gripped by a surge of emotion or memory.
The wars he plotted in his mind increased in complexity. The might of Phaidua weighed against Metru Nui? A group of Matoran throwing themselves against oncoming Cordak fire? His own lieutenants, who had failed to keep him safe, disemboweling each other over and over in a battle to the death? Pridak found that last scenario entertaining. He resolved to plan it in closer detail.
Tens of thousands of years into his stay, he noticed with alarming passivity that he had not moved in some time. His armor had long since lost any of its proud luster, and his joints protested at the merest thought of movement.
He almost wasn’t ready when the Cataclysm struck.
At the time, it almost seemed as if the universe itself was falling apart around him. The roof of the prison was the first to go, caving in under unimaginable forces, and countless structural supports followed suit soon after. The noise that accompanied it was like something out of a nightmare; it was unlike anything he had ever experienced before, a herald of destruction of unparalleled magnitude. If Pridak hadn’t been thrown across his cell by the force of the initial quake, he almost would have thought it was a particularly vivid hallucination, especially when the miserable, hated cell door crumpled under the weight of rubble from an aftershock. Now he could hear – if not see due to the thick haze of dust and smoke – in full detail the cries of freedom and fear issuing from his fellow inmates as they emerged from their cells. It almost sounded like a battle, the likes of which he had never thought he would hear again, that sweetest of music – and somehow, it was that thought that cut through his shock, forcing him to his feet.
The atrophy of nearly eighty thousand years of imprisonment was no simple thing to shake off, even for a being like Pridak. His physique, once the envy of all who looked upon it, was far-fallen from his days of kingship, and it took a world of effort for him to even manage his first few steps without falling back to the floor (a task made no easier by the repeated aftershocks). He stumbled over to the void where the door once was and, half-sure he was dreaming, steadied himself on its frame and gingerly stepped over the threshold. He encountered no resistance, and for the first time in many thousands of years, Pridak stood outside of his cell.
Unfortunately for the prisoners, what lay beyond the walls of the Pit turned out to be even less welcoming: torn away from its foundations, the structure now rested on the bottom of an ocean of irradiated water. The facility was rapidly flooded, and all within found that the foul water changed and mutated any being who came into contact with it, reshaping their bodies into strange new forms that could survive beneath the waves. Although they could now breathe water, they quickly discovered that air was like poison to their new physiologies. They came to call the deep water they resided in by the same name as the prison that had held them, as they were just as surely trapped beneath the surface as they had been within their cells.
Like many other prisoners of the Pit, Pridak struggled deeply with his mutations. Gone was his noble, stately Ihidauri beauty, his perfectly-sculpted face replaced by the gruesome, tooth-filled visage of a shark. So stark was his transformation that he briefly considered the prospect of living like a Rahi beast – better to never again have to consider his appearance, for what care does a shark have for the shape of its face or body? Eventually, however, he was swayed from this course when another disturbance rocked the ocean – a piece of the island above had broken free, crashing down onto the seafloor and carrying with it fresh prey: Matoran.
For several centuries, Pridak and his fellow Barraki terrorized the makeshift city that the Matoran had built, assembling new armies; not of Oropi, as of old, but now of Rahi. They and other Pit dwellers picked off any Matoran who ventured too far outside the city, but were never quite able to breach its air-walls.
It was only the appearance of the legendary Mask of Life that turned the attention of the Barraki away, bringing them into conflict with the Toa who had been sent to claim it. Pridak in particular coveted it, knowing that the mask contained the power necessary to restore him to his original form, and quite possibly to the forefront of his kingdom. He mustered his forces and took up his old position at the head of the Barraki as he had so many millennia before, directing their latest campaign. In the process, ancient beasts were awoken, the Matoran city was rendered uninhabitable, the Cord of stone that had anchored the island above was destroyed, and the sea saw devastation the likes of which was rivaled only by the Great Cataclysm.
At one point, the Mask of Life even fell – just briefly – into Pridak’s hands. Though he had certainly heard the stories of its legendary power (and the equally-legendary curses it placed upon those unworthy to bear it), nothing could have prepared him for the experience of actually holding it.
The moment his claws so much as brushed the Ignika’s golden surface, a vision exploded into Pridak’s mind: scenes of war unparalleled, armies falling upon each other at the whims of the powers that controlled them, life and death intertwined upon the battlefield. At first, Pridak assumed that these were images of the past, that the mask’s curse for him had been to endlessly relive his own memories in some sort of twisted cycle: imprisoned once again, this time within his own mind.
But as the vision continued, and Pridak peered closer at the details of the battles that raged around him, he began to notice something unusual. A glimpse of strange armor here, an unfamiliar horizon there, the resounding of unknown weapons as they tore apart beings he had never seen before...this could not be a vision of the past, but of a future yet to come. Nor was it a curse, Pridak realized.
It was a blessing. This was a call to arms, to return to his rightful place – not just to rule his kingdom of Menota, no, but now to sit upon the throne of the Universe. The flame that had sustained him so many millennia before had not gone out, and it would not be quenched, not even here in the corrupting waters of the Pit.
There were setbacks, yes: the Ignika was stolen from him, an unseen force teleported the Toa away at the last moment, and the mask itself vanished to parts unknown. A lesser being might have simply given themselves up to the grips of madness then and there: having fallen from the heights of glory, suffered ages of imprisonment, their very appearance stripped from them, and the best hope of redemption snatched away by higher powers...Pridak, however, was no lesser being.
The vision he had received from the Ignika was indelibly etched into his memory, calling him onward to glory won in blood. War-songs sang in his mind once more, and Pridak knew that he would not – could not – rest until he had cut down all who opposed him. They would take to the surface by any means necessary, and unleash a renewed League of Six Kingdoms the likes of which none had seen before.
He would see those who had imprisoned him subjected to all that he had suffered, and more. So very much more.