Little backstory for a MOC I built-- check her out here.
Kopeke felt as though he was finally finding his feet as Spherus Magna’s first Chronicler. At any rate he’d set himself a quest, of sorts: find the first Toa of each element and seek out their wisdom. The only problem was most of them seemed to be busy: Takanuva, Toa of Light, was still helping refugees from the Great Spirit Robot get set up; Orde, Toa of Psionics, had been sent on some kind of important quest by the Toa Nuva; and beyond that the identities of most of the early Toa weren’t exactly common knowledge.
It came as a surprise, then, when Iruini, one of the Toa Hagah, approached him with information.
‘The first Toa of Plantlife was… known,’ he said, crouching in the sand beside Kopeke, ‘to my team. She was one of the last to…’ He gestured with his spear at the vast remains of the Great Spirit Robot, dominating the horizon like a distant mountain range. ‘To leave. And she didn’t go far-- there’s a Vorox pack about three days’ travel from here that apparently took her in.’
Kopeke shivered. ‘Vorox?’
‘Dangerous, I know, but traders from that way say she’s earned their respect, somehow.’
Despite his fear, Kopeke was intrigued. If she had somehow found a way to coexist with Spherus Magna’s most violent inhabitants, then perhaps others could do. As Chronicler, it was his duty to record her story in the hopes others could learn from it.
Small though they were by the standards of Spherus Magna, the three Zesk that met Kopeke at the edge of their pack’s hunting grounds would have easily towered over him-- were they not on all fours. Kopeke eyed their stinger tails as they approached and, seeing he was unarmed, drew in uncomfortably close.
‘I’m–’ Kopeke hesitated. ‘I wish to speak to Byssa.’
‘Outsider?’ One chittered, through a mouth clearly not meant to make such sounds.
‘Outsider,’ Kopeke agreed.
Two of the Zesk shared a glance, and all three began chittering at one another.
‘No trust,’ one said.
Kopeke nodded. ‘I thought as much.’ He pulled a glowing object from his pack. ‘Fruit,’ he said. ‘From the Vuata Maca tree. We’re beginning to grow them again, although they haven’t fully taken to the soil here yet.’
The largest Zesk shouldered past the other two and gestured for Kopeke to drop the fruit. He did, and it speared one on its tail before taking a cautious bite.
‘Good,’ it chittered. ‘Good!’
Before long all three were scrapping over it, snatching it from one another and stealing bite after bite. Soon there was none left.
‘Okay,’ one of them said. ‘Take you outsider. Stay.’ It took a step forward and, before Kopeke could register what was happening, licked his mask.
‘Was that entirely necessary?’
‘Scent friend now. No fight.’
He shrugged. It was turning out to be one of those days.
The Zesk turned around, beckoned for him to follow, and set out for a thin plume of smoke on the horizon.
It took Kopeke a moment to pick Byssa out from the Vorox around her, despite her blue and green armour. She didn’t register to him as a Toa at first, but as some strange rahi. As Kopeke drew near, however, she raised a hand to silence the chittering of her Vorox companions and gave him her full attention.
She didn’t look like a Toa at all, especially up close. Byssa was hulking and hunchbacked, her limbs altogether too long for her body and jointed in strange places. He couldn’t tell where her mask ended and her head began-- nor, for that matter, could he recognise her mask at all. It seemed all stretched and contorted to fit her elongated, snout-like face. She carried no tool, nor was there any in sight on the ground near her.
‘Matoran,’ she said. ‘You have come to seek me out?’
Kopeke nodded. ‘Iruini told me you were here.’
‘There are other Toa of the Green who can better serve your needs, little one. Seek them out instead.’
‘I…’ Kopeke steeled himself. ‘I am Kopeke, the Chronicler of Spherus Magna. I wish to speak to the first Toa of Plantlife.’
'And what a sorry state you have found her in. I am as much Rahi as Toa now.’
Kopeke remained silent.
‘So, Chronicler,’ Byssa continued, ‘you have found me. What do you wish from me?’
‘I collect stories,’ he said. ‘I… I want yours. Perhaps others can coexist with the Vorox, as you do.’
Byssa let out a sigh. 'They cannot-- nor should they try to. My situation is unique, and my brothers and sisters of the Vorox are… kindred spirits, of a sort. They understand what it is to be both more and less than you once were.
‘Tell me, Chronicler: have you heard of the Toa Hordika?’
'Turaga Nuju told me of the time he and the other Turaga of our island were mutated into them by the Visorak-- back when they were still Toa.’
‘And you did not think to ask where the name Hordika originated?’
Kopeke hesitated. ‘No.’
‘They were not the first Hordika. That honour–’ She let out a grunt of derision-- ‘belonged to my team. The condition, the venom… we were the first to be afflicted. Seven of my brothers and sisters fell, their minds gone, their bodies transformed-- and the name of our once-great team was forever linked with the Visorak. Three of them lent their masks to the Toa Hagah, at a time when they were the honour guard of the Makuta-- when the world was still young.’
Kopeke realised what she meant. ‘You’re a Hordika?’
‘Of a sort.’ She smiled: a gesture without warmth, but also without threat. 'I encountered a Keetongu, at a time when the world was young and they were no longer on the brink of extinction. Where others saw only a mindless beast, he saw a Toa living out her worst nightmare, trapped but fully aware of what her body sought to do.
‘It was too late for his antidote to truly cure me, but it helped-- after a fashion.’ She stood up. 'As long as I remain calm, I remain myself. The less in control I am, the less… me I become. I’ve only gone full Rahi once or twice since I was cured: once when I learned of the death of my saviour and all but one of his kind, and again, intentionally, to show my true self to the Vorox.
‘So they could understand me. So they could accept me for what I am, and what I have the potential to become.’
She placed a hand on Kopeke’s shoulder, crouching beside him in the sand. ‘This is why I can live with them. My path is one never to be walked. It cost me everything.’
‘How do you do it? Turaga Nuju told me…’
‘I do not resist the venom. I fight my instincts to do so, and instead allow it to become a part of me. Like a slender branch in a storm, I bend but do not break, allowing the Hordika venom to flow around me, but never to overwhelm me. Never to break me.
‘You know there’s another like me? Another Hordika-- more recent. A former Toa of Earth; now a Dark Hunter. I encountered him once, but there was nothing to be done for him. He refused to accept his new self: he would not bow before the storm, and was instead torn apart by it.’
Kopeke nodded. He tried to look her in the eye, but couldn’t: whenever he met her gaze something at the back of his mind told him to run; to get as far from her as possible. ‘I… I understand.’
‘Share my story,’ she said. ‘Such that my comrades might be remembered as they were in their prime-- not for the horrors they became, in their final days.’
Curiosity got the better of Kopeke. ‘What happened to them? Did you…?’
‘Kill them? No. I still live by the Toa Code, and no matter what they had become, they were still my brothers and sisters in arms. I could no more kill them than I could you-- even in my transformed state.
‘When the world was young there was an organisation, long since disbanded, known as The Hand. Among its members were those bound by no code. My brothers and sisters had become a threat too great to be ignored.’
Byssa stood back up: Kopeke was used to Toa towering over him, but she felt bigger, much bigger, than her slim silhouette belied. ‘The Zesk tell me you brought fruit?’
'Kopeke nodded. ‘Of the Vuata Maca tree.’ He set down his pack and removed three luminous bulbs. ‘I… I’d hoped as a Toa of Plantlife, you could…’
‘Help them grow, in this arid soil?’ Byssa sighed. ‘I am forever sealed off from the Green. But even without my powers, I am still a Toa. I promise you this, Chronicler: I will try.’
The three Zesk that had escorted Kopeke returned. Something in their body language was different, but he didn’t know enough about them to know what was up. They chittered something to Byssa, who responded in kind. After a brief conversation, she turned her attention back to Kopeke, her blue eyes narrowed. ‘Stay behind me, little one. There is danger nearby-- but the kind that should be recorded. As a warning.’
She rose from the fireside and stalked off into the night, following the trio of Zesk that seemed to serve as sentries into the darkness. Not sure what he was in for, Kopeke set out after her: before long they reached a figure roughly the size of a Toa, flanked by a pair of Vorox. Kopeke knew a Glatorian, one of the local gladiators, when he saw one, but the way this one carried themself felt… different, somehow. Wrong. There was nothing of a warrior’s pride: the closest he’d seen was his few (mercifully brief) encounters with Dark Hunters.
‘Offworlder!’ They called. ‘Greetings! Forgive my intrusion into your lands; there are few who understand the Vorox as well as I.’
Byssa sniffed the air. ‘I smell ashes and deceit. Malum, I presume?’
‘My reputation precedes me.’
Malum. Kopeke recalled hearing their name mentioned in passing: a former Glatorian who had been banished to the wastelands. He made sure to keep Byssa’s spiny form between himself and the newcomer as they approached. They were bulky, but much of their heft looked to be their sand-worn red armour.
‘And you’ve brought a Matoran?’
‘Kopeke,’ Kopeke said. ‘Chronicler of Spherus Magna.’
‘I don’t care,’ Malum said plainly. ‘My business is with Byssa; nobody else. But…’ A smile crept across his-- their, Kopeke corrected himself; unlike Matoran, tribal affiliation had no bearing on gender here-- face.
Kopeke still wasn’t used to the way Glatorian and Agori alike went about their lives with their faces largely or partially uncovered, as often as not-- given what happened to his own kind, were they left unmasked for any length of time.
‘I did always love an audience,’ Malum continued. ‘And perhaps there is merit in an unbiased account of what happens here on this night.’
‘Which is?’ Byssa asked, guardedly.
‘Neither one of us is Vorox,’ Malum said. ‘Yet we both lead packs of them. I have no interest in an alliance, and likely nor do you; my reputation, after all, precedes me.’
‘It’s true,’ Byssa nodded.
‘Sooner or later, it will come to blows between us. I suggest we settle this now, one to one.’
‘I appreciate the offer,’ Byssa said. ‘But I have no choice but to refuse. I have no desire to fight you.’
‘Unfortunate,’ Malum said. With a flick of his wrists, a pair of flaming claws blazed to life in his hands. ‘I had intended to give you a choice, but now you leave me with none.’
‘ I will not fight you ,’ Byssa repeated.
‘You know my reputation,’ Malum boasted. ‘I do not make a habit of losing. Do you fear defeat, offworlder? Do you fear losing face in front of your pack?’
‘I fear if we were to fight, there would be nothing left of you by the end,’ Byssa said. ‘You may live a life without honour, Malum, but I have a code. And I intend to uphold it. Fighting you may mean killing you. I am not willing to take that risk. ’
Malum sprang forward, claws outstretched, and swept at Byssa’s face: she stepped back and deftly avoided Malum’s next several strikes.
‘Fight me!’ He repeated. ‘Face me like a warrior, rather than cowering like an Agori!’
‘I will not fight you,’ Byssa repeated, as Malum fired off a spiky seed from a launcher mounted to the shoulder of his armour. It struck her square in the chest and exploded, but the way she reacted it may as well have missed entirely.
‘Malum,’ Byssa snapped, ‘cease this. I may not be able to give you another chance to back down. To end this peacefully.’
Malum dropped to a crouch and swept at Byssa’s legs, although a deft one-two step back meant his foot connected only with sand.
‘I did not come here for peace.’ He sprang back up, slamming his shoulder into Byssa’s chest and knocking her back several feet.
Something about her posture changed. She no longer carried herself quite like a toa, but more like some of the more dangerous rahi Kopeke had seen the Toa Hagah bring to Onu Metru’s archives. Her arms were twitching in a way they weren’t before, and her eyes burned with an inner fire in search of kindling. A pair of curved spines on her back rippled like the spiked crest of a Tahtorak.
‘Please! Malum, I beg you–’
‘Then beg.’ He thrust a claw at her chest, and she was slow to dodge-- almost as though a part of her didn’t want to avoid it.
‘Back off, before it’s too–’
Malum went to strike her again, but a curved blade erupted from her forearm and blocked his claw before it could reach her.
‘No,’ she breathed. ‘Malum, no–’
Another blade tore free of her other arm and she dropped to her knees, letting out a howl of pain and freedom and regret and rage all rolled into one. A sudden step forward and her shoulder struck Malum square in the face: he slashed at her with his flame claw as he stumbled backwards, caught off-guard by her sudden speed and rage.
Byssa fell to her knees as her torso began to twist and crack and reshape itself, her chestplate becoming a carapace, her neck forcing itself well past its normal range of motion as her elbows jerked the wrong direction. Her feet withdrew into her legs, and what Kopeke had taken for shinguards reformed into wickedly sharp insect-like feet as her body folded subtly in on itself, shortening as she reared up on her newly reshaped limbs.
The spines from her back snapped into new positions as a pair of arms, and she let out a bestial bellow. Malum fired off a few shots from his thornax launcher, but to no avail: in her new form, Byssa was either unharmed by them or indifferent-- perhaps even unaware – of any pain they caused. Kopeke caught a glimpse of her blue eyes as she skittered towards Malum, bladed limbs stabbing at the sand where he had been moments ago: there was almost nothing of a Toa left in her gaze.
She struck Malum in the arm with one claw, and hooked another beneath his armour, striking at the body within.
‘Okay, offworlder!’ He snapped. ‘You’ve made your point. Release me.’
Byssa did not respond, and instead dug her claw deeper, drawing Malum towards her short, spiny arms in the process.
Kopeke realised she fully intended to end his life, whether she meant to or not-- and that if she did, she would likely never forgive herself. Almost before he knew what he was doing, he sprinted towards the pair, leaping at Malum and scrambling up his armoured form to look Byssa in the eye.
‘Focus,’ he said. ‘Remember who you are, Byssa. You are a Toa-- not a killer.’
She dragged Malum another few inches closer, and Kopeke almost lost his balance. Something at the back of his mind wondered what in Mata Nui’s name he was doing . Acknowledging that this voice probably had a good point but choosing to ignore it anyway, he grabbed onto Byssa’s bladed arm, jamming his body between her and Malum. ‘You kill him,’ he said, ‘and you risk harming me too.’
He looked her in the eye. It was what Takua would have done. It was what Hahli would have done. True, they were both Toa now, but even before that they were among the bravest Matoran he had met-- and as Chronicler, he knew he had to be every bit their equal.
Byssa blinked once, twice. Her spined hind legs retracted, becoming the feet of a Toa once more, and her body began to reshape itself back into a more familiar form until she was merely holding Malum by his armour with her hand, no longer threatening to slice it open.
‘Please,’ she said, turning her gaze on Malum, ‘do not make me do that a second time in order to make my point. As one pack leader to another, we can coexist . Violence is but one of many paths-- even I fear it may be the only one you understand.’
Malum nodded, dragging himself backwards and away from her grasp. ‘I… I see that now.’
Byssa rose to her feet and offered Malum her hand. ‘Then go. Return to your pack, as I will return to mine: unharmed and wiser than when you left.’
He took her hand and yanked on her arm, dragging her down, bringing up one of his burning claws as he did, aiming for the space between her chestplate and the rest of her body, no doubt looking to land a fat al blow–
And once more a blade flashed out from Byssa’s forearm, severing Malum’s hand at the wrist as she avoided his strike.
The hand arced through the air before landing softly in the desert sand, the flames of the claw it still held flickering away to nothing.
‘If this is the only language you understand,’ she said, ‘then know that I am more fluent than you by far. I choose not to speak it. You would do well to consider the same, Malum.
‘Seek out Gali, Toa Nuva of water, at the united village. She may be able to reattach your hand.’
Malum nodded, head hung in shame, as he picked up the severed appendage. ‘And you ,’ he said, turning to Kopeke. ‘I’ve the misfortune of oweing you a favour. I only hope I have the opportunity to settle our debt in full sooner rather than later.’
Without another word, he stalked off into the night, the three Zesk sentries following at a distance. Byssa turned her attention towards Kopeke.
‘That was both brave and foolish in equal measure,’ she stated.
Kopeke couldn’t help but agree. A smile crossed his face as an image of a blue Kanohi Pakari came unbidden to his mind. ‘What can I say? I learned from the best.’
‘You know, Chronicler, in a way this is… Amusing. You are aware that all beings of my element, Matoran and Toa alike, created after me are male? They feared I would be too even-tempered; not aggressive enough to truly fight back, were I challenged. Even before I became what I am now, this was never the case. I was the leader of the Toa Hordika, and I made sure to lead from the front. My team all knew I valued their lives as highly as my own. Which… makes my being the sole survivor of them all the more difficult, I admit.’ She gazed into the distance for several long moments before continuing, her attention once more on Kopeke. ‘If there is anything to be learned here, Chronicler, I believe you have learned it.’
Kopeke left the Vorox camp as the sun rose, flanked by a pair of Zesk. Byssa had not been at all what he expected, and yet he felt her story was one that deserved to be remembered.
Perhaps the same would be true of the other first Toa. He merely hoped meeting them would prove less… dangerous. He recalled Takanuva mentioning something about encountering the first Toa of Water when he last recorded the Toa of Light’s journeys, and decided to track her down next.
After all, how dangerous could she possibly be?