Chapter 5

“Who are you? What are you?!” Kopaka demanded; he was one of the only ones who hadn't momentarily lost their voice. His Ice Spear crackled with crystalline energy, prepared to attack.

The skeleton warrior gave a whining screech, out of which could be derived a horrible voice, still worse then the hissing; like the sound of slate screeching against rough stone: “I am the foe you can never defeat, Toa. I cannot be defeated, for I cannot die. And I shall never end my hunt until I have taken my prize.”

“Hunt's off, then.” Tahu shot back. “What hole did you crawl out of? I haven't heard a line that bad since I sat through that HF episode!” the other Toa stared at him blankly. “What? Ah, never mind.” He charged his weapons with his Elemental power, and prepared to attack. “You would be best served by leaving now, creature. It will save you a shameful defeat at the hands of—”

You did not hear me the first time, did you? I cannot be defeated. I cannot lose. I will win. For I am the one told of in the frightened, whispered tales of the Matoran. I am... the Skull Slicer!”

“I can't tell-see who has an ever-worse superiority complex.” Lewa said dryly. He pulled out his twin Air Axes. The Toa of Jungle leaped into the air and cut down toward the head of the Skull-being.

The Skeleton that had called itself Skull Slicer allowed the blow to strike him. It hit the armor and rebounded, almost dislocating Lewa's arm. He dropped down to the ground, stumbling slightly as he clutched at his injured shoulder. “Ououououow! That dark-hurt my ouch-arm!”

“Honestly?” Gali said. “Have we learned nothing from our earlier battles? Unity is the key, brothers.”

Tahu swung his Fire swords, sending a stream of flames at the Skeleton hot enough to char bone. Skull Slicer stepped through the flames and swung the claw straight toward the Tahu. The Master of Fire flipped to the side, dodging easily, then realized that now the grabber, now crackeling with dark energy, was heading straight toward the still oblivious Lewas' mask. “Brother!” he called in warning. “Look out!”

Lewa looked up and saw the blackness rocketing toward him. He just had enough time to leap straight upward and avoid it by inches, and the Shadow Claw brushed against his mask, knocking it from his face. Instantly the Toa of Jungle doubled over, and the claw began to glow as it snatched up the mask greedily. The mask of jungle turned to its golden form, then the gold began to drain away. Gali winced as the shadows seemed to corrode the mask, leaving transparent green on the forehead, before the Skull Slicer began to pull the claw back toward him. She turned and whirled her bi-pronged trident, searching for an opening to attack the Skeleton warrior. She smacked the harpoon blade against the edge of the shadowy claw, and the skull-being dropped the half-drained mask, hissing.

Pohatu activated his Boomerangs and formed a totally not Ninjago-related tornado around himself. He threw a Boomerang and snagged Lewas mask, bringing it back to him. As the Skull-being turned on him, the Master of Stone summoned a giant rock and flung it at the Skeleton. Skull Slicer struck the stone and caused it to shatter into fragments, rock tainted inky black by the contact with its hand.

It then turned and swung its grappling claw again, and sending it hurtling toward Kopaka's mask at inhuman speed. No ordinary being could have hoped to avoid the unexpected strike. But the Master of Ice is far from ordinary. He leaped and spun to the side of the clutching claw, then reached out and caught hold of the chain. He froze the long metal linkage with a touch from his left hand, then shattered it with a well-placed blow from the Spear he held in his right. The Skull Slicer didn't hesitate; It had clearly not expected to have lost a weapon so soon in the fight, but that was not going to stop it. It let out a horrible screech of wordless hatred and charged at the Toa of Ice.

Kopaka then made as though to dodge left, and the Skull Slicer adjusted his flight instantly to compensate. Seeing that the Skull-being had fallen for his ploy, Kopaka dashed forward, running a few steps, then leaping several Bio straight upward, easily clearing the Skeleton's head. The Skeleton had no time to slow down, and it ran straight into Gali's charged Water blast. It was hit with the force of a tidal wave, compressed into the space of just a few feet in diameter.

“I could have taken care of him myself.” Kopaka called back at her. Gali nodded, something like a grin touching the corner of her mouth as she leaned on her Trident.

“You're welcome, brother.” The concentrated force of the Water blast had knocked the massive Slicer off of his feet and carried him several bio away, off the edge of he clearing, until he had crashed through several trees, the impact knocking the foliage into splinters.

Onua swung his mighty hammer and brought it down on the ground beside the Skull Slicer, before the Skeleton could recover itself. A chasm opened in the ground below the dark warrior, and it began to fall in.

Suddenly, Skull Slicer rolled to one side and ended in a crouch, impossibly fast for something that large. While still crouching, it lept straight up and swung its three wickedly sharp swords at the Toa of Earth that had just attempted to imprison it. Onua managed to block the blow with his hammer, but a surprise follow-up was all that the Skull Slicer needed. It knocked the gigantic hammer out of Onua's grip, and began to close in, twirling the heavy blades in its boney hands as if they weighed nothing to him.

Onua then did the one thing that no one would expect him to do; especially not the Skull Slicer, already sure of victory. He took a step forward, then another, instantly closing the distance between them to such an extent that the Skull Slicer couldn't swing his oversized swords. A second later, the mighty Toa of Earth swung his massive fist upward in a powerful uppercut, putting the force and power of his whole body behind the blow, added to immensely by the strength of the Pakari he wore. It literally carried the Skeleton being several feet off the ground, before hitting it again with a weighty clatter. Whatever dark force had been keeping the bones connected then ceased to be, and the form fell apart.

“Why did your attacks work when ours wouldn't?” Pohatu asked, walking over and kicking the pile of green, disjointed bone. He tossed the Mask of Jungle that he held to Lewa, who caught it and returned it to his face.

Onua thought for a few moments, then answered. “I think maybe,” he said slowly, “that it might have something to do with the fact that everyone who attacked it first—like Tahu or yourself, Pohatu—used only elemental power. And my Earth attack did nothing to it either. The only reason that Gali's worked was because Kopaka had already unbalanced it.”

“So what you're saying is,” Tahu said, frowning in thought. “that they can't be defeated by Elemental energies or power, but only by physical conflict?” Then he nodded in satisfaction, cracking his knuckles. “I can work with that.”

“It's only a theory,” Onua pointed out. “It might have just been luck.”

While the Toa were busy discussing these things, they failed to notice the shifting in the pile of bones. All except Lewa, who had been shaking his arm trying to restore it to working order. The Toa of Jungle stopped, staring at the bones as they started to move. “Toa-friends,” he said slowly. “We have a worry-problem.”

The other Toa whirled around and looked at the bone pile. It continued rattling for several long seconds. Then, as abruptly as it had begun, it stopped.

Tahu took his Fire Sword and poked through the green bones with its tip. “I don't see any—“ Whatever he had been about to say was cut off as he saw the head of the defeated Skull Slicer. Its eyes were still glowing red.

In front of the astonished Toa of Fire, the head that had looked so much like a skull sprouted four dark, silvery legs. It clattered fiercely and, before Tahu could react, it leapt straight up and straight toward his mask.

Tahu spun away quickly, barely avoiding having his mask replaced with the new Skull Spider. Instead, the pale green Spider landed on his right shoulder, trying to bite into the Toa of Fire, but being temporarily rebuffed by the thick red-and-gold armor plating there.

Tahu decided not to give the Skull Spider another chance. Allowing his Elemental power over heat and flame to surround him and flow through him, his body temperature suddenly blazed up to over a thousand degrees Celsius in the space of seconds. The Skull Spider gave a sight screeching sound, and seconds later was incinerated by the insane heat, reduced to ashes and then to dust by the power of Fire.

Tahu grinned, and not only because he had destroyed the Spider. It felt so good to have the fire rushing through his veins, to let himself completely to the Flame that burned fiercely inside of him; he rarely had the chance to let loose his power like this. The brilliant heat flooding through him refreshed him, made him feel so amazingly alive. He glanced at the other Toa, who had backed away from the intense heat. He realized that the ground around him had charred and blackened, some of the minerals fusing into glass, and the vegetation had burst into flames. Reluctantly, he allowed his temperature, containing the fire inside of him again.

“Apparently, elemental powers still work on the Skull Spiders,” the Master of Fire said triumphantly, gesturing to the pile of dust that might have once been his adversary.

“You did a thorough job.” Kopaka said dryly.

“Do any of you know what that thing was?” Onua asked. Then added quickly, with a significant glance at the Toa of Jungle, who looked about to speak, “I mean, other then 'A Skull Slicer', Lewa.”

Lewa, seeing as this was exactly what he had opened his mouth to say, closed it again. “Just speak-saying,” he muttered under his breath.

“Did anyone else notice,” Pohatu said, “that this thing appeared the same day that this new Toa showed up?”

Before he could continue with this train of thought, or as though his words had summoned it, there was a loud thunk!ing noise, like something—or someone—running head-on into a tree. A few seconds later, the Toa of the Green in question stepped easily out from the treeline where the sound had come from.

“What in the name of Mata Nui was that noise?” Tahu demanded. Ternian cocked her head.

“You said that I shouldn't sneak around. I wanted to make sure that you heard me coming, so you didn't think I was sneaking.”

Tahu glared at her, trying to decide if she was being sarcastic, or having a joke at his expense. Ternian began to match his gaze evenly, but then her eye shifted; her mask was telling her that there was something wrong. There was a slight difference in him; in his bearing, how he held himself. Something that she couldn't identify consciously, but that her instinct as a healer was trained to look for and notice. Her gaze settled on the problem a second later.

Ternian motioned to Tahu's right shoulder. “You've been bitten.” said the Toa of Plant-life quietly.

Tahu looked at it and saw an injury there, a small, jagged bite mark; the Skull Spider had gotten him after all. “I hadn't noticed.” It was impossible to tell whether the Toa of Fire was being sarcastic or not.

“Let me treat it. It might get infected; Skull Spider bites often have traces of venom or disease.”

“We need to continue the mission; we don't have time to worry about infections.” Tahu said with a dismissive, almost scornful, wave of his hand.

Ternian tipped her head. “Exactly. So if you get it treated now, you won't have to worry about it later.” she replied easily. She had clearly had similar arguments in the past.

Tahu scowled as he realized that he had, in trying to dissuade the herbalist, had simply reenforced her point. “My shoulder is fine.” he said shortly, in a tone cold enough to have come from Kopaka.

Ternian raised an eyebrow at Tahu, who stood up over a head taller then herself. “If this is because you currently don't trust me as far as you can throw me, I can work with that. But that shoulder needs treatment; you can hardly save an island with a bad arm. Have someone else point a gun at me while I work, if you like. And if I pull a knife on you or something, feel free to lop my head off.” She spoke without sarcasm or irony; she was literally offering to let him have her held at gunpoint if it made him feel better. She seemed almost amused by his proud refusal of help. She glanced toward the other Toa, searching for someone with a projectile weapon. “Shame no one's got a Disk Launcher,” she said to herself under her breath. Her eyes rested on Pohatu. “You. Stone. Take your ka-boomerang-whatzit and point it at me. If I make a wrong move or do anything to hurt him, throw it.” Without waiting for a response, she turned back to Tahu. “There. I'm covered. Now, I'm going to help your shoulder.”

Tahu considered simply ignoring the healer Toa, but he could already tell that she was the kind that would be hard to dissuade from the point once her mind was made up. Glancing behind the Toa of the Green, he could see Pohatu raising an eyebrow, but also holding up his Boomerang. Tahu knew that the keen eyes of the Toa of Stone would be able to notice her easily if she tried anything, and his excellent throwing arm would act accordingly. “Very well.” Tahu said eventually. He sat down on the ground and gave her a look as if to say, But I don't have to like it.

No, you don't have to, but I'm doing it anyway, Ternian's calm gold eyes replied. She knelt down and, swiftly and softly, checked the wound, brushing the armor aside to look for any traces of infection. When she was satisfied that there were none, she opened some of the pouches on her belt. She proceeded to extract a roll of bandages, a tiny mortar and pestle, a piece of cloth and a flask of translucent fluid, as well as one of water. Ternian washed the wound with one hand while she put her other hand on the ground and summoned a small, leafy plant. She put the cloth away in her belt, plucked the plant and removed the leaves deftly, put them into the bowl, and crushed them in with a small amount of the semi-transparent liquid. She then turned back to Tahu with the poultice.

“This is going to sting a little.” she said, an apologetic note in her voice.

“And you think I can't handle that?” Tahu demanded indignantly. Ternian tipped her head seriously to one side.

“I know you can, but I also know that if you react suddenly to pain without warning, your friend there,” she said, nodding toward Pohatu, who was watching with Boomerang still in hand, “will whack my mask—and most likely my head—off with a kaboomerang. Personally, I rather like having a head, so I thought I might warn you. Besides,” she added, with a hint of a grin in her voice. “I've always believed that it's a bad idea to startle a Toa of Flame.”

“That's 'Toa of Fire!'” he said heatedly.

Ternian shrugged slightly, nodded, and applied the poultice. She was pleased that Tahu did not, in fact, wince, and was more than a little relieved. She swiftly bound the wound, allowing his shoulder armor to shift back into place, and rose to her feet. She considered saying “That wasn't so hard now, was it?” but she didn't need a Kovoku to know that it would not go down well. So she satisfied herself with, “I'm finished. You should be able to take the bandage off by tomorrow; Toa heal fast.”

Tahu got to his feet and tested his shoulder, rotating it slightly as he checked the movement of the joint. He nodded in satisfaction. “Good.” He turned and made a hand gesture to Pohatu, signaling him to put away his Boomerang.

As the Toa of Stone did so, he asked Ternian, “Do you know what that thing is?” With a gesture at the pile of bones. They had been scorched by Tahu's fire, but were still clearly the same unnatural green, and the size and sheer scale was unmistakable. Ternian looked at it for a time, then slowly shook her head.

“I don't remember ever seeing anything like that.” she said. “Did you find the bones like that?”

Quickly, Lewa started filling her in, using so much Treespeak that it was all but impossible for the other Toa Koto to understand it. Ternian, however, nodded when he was finished. “I see. It was a giant warrior? With a Skull Spider for a head?” Lewa seemed pleased that she had understood him.

“True-sure! It was a nasty-bad enemy, too. Almost hard-lost, and would have, if not for other Toa-friends. Have you heard-known of the title-name 'Skull Slicer' before?”

“No, I've never heard of anything like that.” She gingerly touched one of the bones. Char came away on her hand. “And I assume, by the fact that you're asking me, that you haven't either. The Turaga might know, though. Or the Mangai.” She rubbed her fingers together on one hand, and the ash smudge faded.

Tahu nodded. “There might be more of them, and we don't want to be taken by surprise.” again, he added, but in thought only.

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