For a moment, all of us went silent. All of us, that is, except Oris, who took a step back.
“T-Tanja?” he stuttered. “H-how did you… how are you… I thought you…” I turned to look at him; his face was whiter than Kopaka’s mask.
“Oris?” the Great Being, Tanja, said. “How surprising. I heard you got killed by a Baterra attack, near the end of the war.” Her eyes narrowed. “And it seems that you’re just as surprised to see me here.”
“We… we thought you died,” said Coveh. “Killed during an experiment, years ago.”
“In a sense, that was true,” Tanja said. “Of course, there’s a bit more to it than that, but I think Oris here should tell you about that.”
All eyes were on Oris, who by now had taken several steps away. He looked among us, and then suddenly raised his blaster and fired at Tanja.
In that moment, chaos erupted. Oris’s blast knocked Tanja off her feet, and Oris moved in for the kill. Likus tried to intercept, but Oris batted her blade aside and ducked past her. Tera tried to stop him, but he ducked under Tera’s attack, raising his blade to strike the fallen Great Being.
But as fast as Oris was, I was quicker. A gust of wind sent him flying off his feet. By the time he got back up, Likus, Tera and I stood between him and the Great Being.
“Oris, what are you doing?” Likus asked.
“What I was ordered to do,” Oris said. “Protecting a secret. Tanja knows something she’s not supposed to, and for that, she needs to be killed.”
“Well, you’ll have to go through us to do it,” I said. “Do you think you can beat all three of us?”
Oris grinned. “I don’t need to,” he said. “I have this.” He raised a small mechanical device, pointed it at me, and pressed a button.
Something slammed into the back of my head, knocking me off my feet. I got up quickly, looking for where the attack had come from, and saw a hole had opened in the wall behind me, from which a spear had emerged.
“So that’s where my control box went,” Tanja said.
“This little thing right here, it controls the Stronghold,” Oris said. “All the traps, all the defenses, everything. One press of a button, and I can kill all of you. So I suggest you stay back.”
“What is the meaning of this?!” Repirr growled.
“His master has something hidden in here,” Tanja said. “Something he didn’t want anyone to find. And when I found it, he sicced his little friend on me.”
Oris said something in response. Not that I heard what it was, though. Y’know something I’ve learned? Bad guys love to talk. And when they talk, they tend to be easily distracted. Oris never noticed me switching over to the mask of speed. By the time he noticed me quick-snatching the device from his hand, it was too late.
And then… I made the same mistake. I switched back to the mask of Translation, so I could taunt him. “Oh, sorry, I couldn’t understand you without the Rau. You were saying something about killing all of us with this?”
“What – how?” Oris looked at his empty hand, and then back at me. “What manner of being are you?”
“Good job, creature of the Great Beings. Now hand it over.”
I turned to look at the Skrall, and saw a surprising sight. Repirr had grabbed Tolk, holding him by the shoulder. His other hand held the edge of his saw shield at the Agori’s neck.
“What are you doing?” Likus cried.
“What we came here to do,” Repirr said. “We came to steal the secrets of the Stronghold. If that little box holds the power to control this place, then it must be ours. So hand it over. Any fancy tricks, any mask switching, and I kill him.”
Suddenly, another blade appeared at his neck. “I don’t think so,” Coveh growled.
“What are you doing?!” Repirr demanded.
“Stopping you from doing something wrong,” Coveh replied. “We came here to loot the secrets of a dead woman. Well, that woman is very much alive. And I’m not going to let you kill another innocent. Not this time.”
Things happened so fast, it’s hard to explain.
One moment, Coveh was attempting to push Repirr’s arm and shield away from Tolk. Then Repirr suddenly whirled and slammed his elbow against Coveh’s stomach, causing him to drop his sword. Tolk jerked free of Repirr’s grasp and tried to run toward me. Repirr whirled, grabbing his Thornax launcher and firing at me. Before I could react, Oris was there, blocking the projectile, which exploded as it struck his blade. Then, he fired his blaster at me, knocking the control device from my hand, and it skittered away… right to Tolk’s feet. The Agori reached down and picked it up.
Then, Repirr was there, moving in for the kill. But a Thornax exploded against his face, sending the Skrall flying. The device was picked up… by Coveh.
“That’s enough,” he said. “This place rightfully belongs to Tanja. And I believe this does as well.” He held the control device out to the Great Being.
“Thank you, Skrall,” Tanja said, taking it. “A Skrall of honor, I see.”
“Honor has been long forgotten by so many of the Skrall,” Coveh said, going to check on Repirr. A moment later, he shook his head. “Dead,” he said.
“Yikes,” Tanja said. “Your leader isn’t going to be happy about that.”
“I’ll probably be executed for killing another Skrall,” Coveh said. He stood. “But I’m glad I did it. Or rather, I’m glad I stopped him from killing the villager. If death is the price I must pay for that, then so be it.”
There was a momentary silence, and then I spoke up. “No.”
Coveh looked at me. “Excuse me?”
“Back at the surface, I made a heart-promise: no Agori would be harmed while I’m here,” I said. “You kept that heart-promise, so it now extends to you. If anyone asks, Repirr’s death is on me. And if that Skrall leader wants to punish you for it, he’ll have to go through me first.”
“I say we blame this Skrall guy’s death on Oris,” Likus said. We all turned to look at her. “What?” She said. “If someone’s going to take the fall for this, why not let it be the traitor?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Oris said. “My master will come back for what he has left. And when he does, he will find you. He’ll hunt you all down.”
Tanja gave a wicked grin. “Not if we hunt him down first,” she said. “Right, that reminds me of why I wanted Lewa here in the first place. I need your help, Toa of Air. But first… I think I owe you an explanation.”
Author’s notes: Lesnichiy called it with Repirr’s death, and Coveh being a good guy. It was so hard not to say anything, with how well he predicted it.
These last few chapters have gone through so many rewrites, it’s insane. I might just share some parts of the original when I’m done, but that’s not even counting the several alternate scenes I wrote and then rewrote. I’m glad, though, that I’m content with the final product.