Quake was leaving the town behind. The plan was still to go to collect information about Juhhar, and the sooner that happened, the better. This was why he didn't stop when a stranger approached him, and he muttered in anger when the stranger began walking beside him.
"Quake, isn't it?" The stranger said. "My name is Cerran. I work for Juhhar."
"Oh? How do you know my name, Cerran?" "You made quite the commotion when you passed by Droschan a couple months ago. We've been trailing you ever since." "All I did was get in a four team fight with twenty or thirty other people. Oh, and bring a couple of buildings down." "Yes, and the fact that you were your own team and you came out relatively unscathed caught our attention. We make a habit of looking into people who do that." "Alright. So what's your offer?"
"We need some improved security. Several gangs and criminals have been acting against us lately, as they don't really want more order or peace, and we need to respond in kind." Quake frowned slightly. "And so they had you track me down for months? I don't think I'm good enough to make up those costs." Cerran shook his head slightly. "Believe me, trailing and hiring you is far cheaper then our work of constructing houses, offices, and community centers." "I can understand that," Quake replied. "But if manpower is so much cheaper than materials, why not just pay off the various criminals set against you?" Cerran scoffed. "That wouldn't really make us the good guys, would it now?" "And how does hiring thugs to fight thugs make you the good guys?"
Cerran snappily replied, obviously indignant. "We hire competent security guards to protect against criminal activity. There's a very great difference between the two."
Quake shrugged in response. Looks like I pressed all the wrong buttons. he thought.
The two continued walking for a while, and after glancing at Quake several times, Cerran spoke up. "So, would you accept an offer from us to hire you?" Quake continued striding in silence. This is exactly what I want. . .And yet the possibility that they might be doing something shady on the side is one I don't like. . .Why? Why do I even care?
Quake turned his head to look at the now irritated Cerran. "I'll. . .Think about it. I'd like to see where I'd be working and get a good idea of what I would be doing before I commit." Cerran quickly put on a fake, business smile. "Of course. And if you're going to visit, we might as well all travel together." "All?" "Oh, that's right. I failed to inform you that I wasn't the only one sent out, nor the only one recruited. You're good, but not that good."
Quake gave Cerran a cold stare as he came to realize something. "If I'm not that good, why did you have those five thugs attack me?" "What?" Cerran exclaimed. "Do you think we hired them?"
"Oh, come on," Quake said, rolling his eyes. "It's obvious: They stopped attacking their original targets completely in order to attack me, and they didn't attack all at once. It was a setup, a test." "If so, I was not the one to set it up." Cerran seethed. "Think about it," Cerran said. "If this was a setup, wouldn't it make more sense that the one's who were attacked by armed thugs and yet got out with only superficial injuries were the one's responsible?"
Quake froze. Of course. Renua didn't help me because he wanted to see how the battle turned out. "How would you know about that?" Quake said. "I was going in for a meal," Cerran replied. "And so I had every reason to stick around and find out what had happened. It did give me an additional reason to offer the job, but given what we already know about you, I clearly don't need another reason." Quake didn't have to think about that one for long. It really wouldn't make sense if Cerran was responsible. "Hm. Well, I guess you're right." said Quake. "But why would Renua bother with testing me?" It just doesn't make sense. Why would anyone beside Juhhar care about how skilled I am? "I can't really tell you, nor am I particularly concerned about it," Cerran said. "Though I don't think you should be concerned: It's pretty clear that only a fool would ever mess with someone as capable as you."
Quake muttered "I've met a lot of fools, then," and fell silent.
After a couple of hours of walking, the two met up with Cerran's coworkers and their new recruits. There were three in all, including Cerran, and eight recruits, including Quake.
All of the recruiters were Varen, and appeared to be of the powerless variety. Quake had since heard that Juhhar himself was a Varen, and it was obvious now that he favored his own species. Of the eight recruits, two were Runask, one winged and left handed, which was a very unusual combination for Runask, the other was right handed and winged. The first, in black and green armor, introduced himself as Daril. The electricity that occasionally crackled from his heart-light and down to his hands made it apparent he had the power of lightning. The second Runask, his armor a silvery blue color, was introduced as Vorn, who stated that he had power of sonics.
The third recruit was a female Vortixx name Shyra, who had what appeared to be an energy based shotgun on a back-holster. The fourth was a red armored Crynok named Xalin. He had power over kinetics and force fields, and, like almost all Crynok, wielded a staff.
The remaining three were Varen, one of whom introduced himself asSkaern. He looked to be a capable fighter, having a halberd with a retractable shaft and a rectangular shield among his gear and possession, as well as a Kanohi Calix.
The other two remained silent and did not introduce themselves. Whether they were anti-social, arrogant, or something else was beyond Quake. As long as he didn't have to work with them, he didn't really care.
Hearing a loud snort, Quake turned his head and looked at the 3 Kikinalo they had in tow. They had been rented for the purpose of carrying baggage, and in the case of the recruits, their possession. The two Varen, as well as Vorn, appeared to have brought several of their possession, while the rest kept it down to a couple of bags.
In the case of Quake and Skaern, their possession were carried by themselves, and Quake thought to himself that Skaern would make a good work partner. If they worked in larger groups, such as a group of four, he hoped to get Xalin and Shyra. Xalin was a very calm and collected individual, but still had a small sense of humor. Shyra seemed to see the world from a completely different point of view, but despite how different it seemed, Quake had to wonder if it wasn't his view that was skewed, not hers.
Vorn seemed too quiet. He was capable of speaking, but almost seemed to refuse to do so unless it was necessary. Daril, on the other hand, seemed a little too loud. And, more worryingly, a little eccentric and unusual. The oddest part was that Daril seemed to not notice the corruption and decay all around him, and instead stared around and would smile for seemingly no reason on occasion.
The oddest part yet was when Cerran started talking about what the group might have to do while working for Juhhar. This included boring tasks such as night-time guard duty and exciting tasks such as direct confrontations with Juhhar's enemies. During this, Daril was dead silent and his face was a cold, unblinking mask.
After a while, Quake could no longer contain himself. Grabbing Daril by the arm, he tactfully slowed his pace until they weren't in clear hearing range of the rest. "What's up with you, Daril?"
Daril looked back and smiled slightly. For once, it wasn't one of those odd, aloof smiles that Daril seemed to often do. "I was wondering if you'd ask such a question. Though I'm afraid I'm not sure I really want to give you an answer; in most people's minds it just affirms to them that I am crazy."
Quake shrugged. "Fact is, I already think you're a little crazy. My opinion of you isn't really going to get worse."
Daril looked at the group ahead of them, and then back at Quake, and then slowed his pace a little more. "Alright then, I'll tell you. The reason I act 'odd' is because of my mask: it allows me to see and interact with, well, alternate versions of me."
"As in, you from other dimensions, timelines?" Quake had heard about the idea of alternate realities, but he had to admit that until now thinking about such things looked pointless to him.
"Yes, exactly. The reason for my seemingly odd smiling is from me watching other me's accomplishments, or perhaps just hearing their jokes."
"And the odd, erratic behavior?" "You'd act oddly too if you had multiple different you's talking with you throughout the day." "I suppose so. . ." Quake admitted. "Does the mask have any particular use?"
Daril nodded and grinned. "With it I know that in a universe very closely paralleling our own, you're just now asking that question, and Vorn can easily hear us. I also get to see what would be happening now if I made a, or several, poor decisions earlier down the road. It really is eye-opening to experience that."
Quake chuckled. "Now that I know this, I think I might just be able to tolerate you."
"Well, I'm glad I got somewh-" Daril stopped mid-sentence and looked ahead. The rest of the group was coming to a halt. "We've got trouble, Quake. Old Vortixx on the road. Probably has friends around."
Quake did his best to look nonchalant and curious about what was happening, but while maintaining the facade his eyes were scanning each side of the road intently. There were a few ruined buildings on their right, but they seemed a little too far away for to be viable. With that in mind, he carefully looked over the left side, asking "What's going on?" to keep up the facade. On the left there was a forest, but the treeline and undergrowth thinned out considerably before reaching the road. It didn't seem likely that someone could hide close to the road on that side either.
The group spread out along the road, forming a rough half-circle and allowing everyone to see what was happening. A Vortixx with old, damaged armor stood in the road. "Joining Juhhar's organization is not a wise decision. You should reconsider." Skaern scoffed. "What, are you going to try to stop us?" "I am simply providing a warning that we will not be responsible for whatever happens to you." "And what happens to you will be your own fault." Skaern retorted.
In the back of the group, Daril nudged Quake. "He has at least two partners, both on the left." Daril whispered. "The Vortixx is just a fake, he's. . .Something else." The fake Vortixx stared over the group for a few moments. "Very well. We will meet again." With that, the Vortixx departed towards the forest and disappeared among the trees. Daril breathed a sigh of relief. "You know how I mentioned there was a reality closely paralleling our own?"
"Yeah. What happened differently for them?"
"They're fighting the fake and his two partners, and despite it being an eleven on three. . .We aren't doing well, at all. Four of us are down. Now five." Daril's mouth hung open in astonishment. "One of them has a Rulanar style handgun. These guys must be pretty rich to afford something like that." "Is he a Rulanark?" Quake asked. "Maybe. I don't know what Rulanark look like. And, now they're retreating. Completely by choice, not necessity. Karzahni, they're good."
The group continued forward, this time very cautious of their surroundings. Quake and Daril hung back, discussing the battle that Daril had witnessed via his mask. They couldn't determine two of the species, and at this point assumed them to be mutated or something of the sort. The one with the Rulanar style handgun was determined to most likely be a Rulanark. As for his social standing among the species, they guessed he was a former Rulanark hunter, or possibly a Rulanar soldier. They really preferred the latter, but they couldn't brush aside the fact that it was likely the former.
After ten minutes of conversing, Vorn slowed his pace to join them. "So, how did I do?" Vorn asked, as if he had heard the entire past ten minutes.
"Pretty good," Daril said. It was as if he had been expecting the question for a while. "Your first action was to stun the enemy with a sonic pulse. But you also stunned all your allies. Then you took your mace and clobbered one of them."
"Sounds like I was at least somewhat helpful." Vorn said. He obviously wasn't even slightly sorry for his alternate selfs' action.
"Yes, well, the Rulanark floored you moments afterward. He didn't seem effected by your sonic pulse at all. Honestly, it was Quake that saved our Kanohi. Your alternate self is really good with those earth powers."
Quake's mouth dropped open for a few moments, and then he glowered. "A close parallel of me is an expert with his earth powers, whereas I can barely control them? That's not even slightly fair."
"You can't use your own power?" Vorn said, incredulous. "I'd say it's your own fault for not learning." Quake glared at Vorn. "Watch what you say, or I'll start practicing on you." Vorn stared back, his face emotionless. "please. Daril or I could easily drop you before you had even a chance to act. With your little revelation, you're in the bottom half of this group."
Quake continued to stare at Vorn for a good few seconds. He didn't like creating a tier list out of the group, and he liked being called bottom-tier even less. "We'll see how good everyone is when they really attack."
Daril nodded his agreement. "That we will."
"But shouldn't we plan in the meantime?" Vorn asked. "If we do face them, what's the plan?"
Quake didn't even pause for a second to think. "Answering that question is as easy as racing dermis turtles." Quake said with a smile. "You lead with a sonic attack, directed at them, or at least as many of them as you can get at once. Then Daril lights them up with the most powerful lightning bolts he can muster before they recover. Then I attempt to hit them hard with my earth power, though whatever I do is sure to be twice what was intended and far less controlled then I might like. But it will definitely hurt them."
"Then what?" Vorn asked.
"We charge in and finish them off in close combat, seeing as we'll have the advantage of numbers and not being in terrible pain." Quake replied.
"Just one problem," Daril said. "They two unknowns appeared capable of just absorbing my lightning." Quake sighed. There goes that plan. "What about the Rulanark?"
"Hm. . .I don't think he could." Daril stated, "so at this point, Vorn can hurt the two unknowns, and I can hurt the Rulanark, but we can't line up three blows on them in a row." Daril frowned as he ran through the full train of thought. "And if we don't damage them enough right away I don't think we'll really be able to beat them in close combat. Up close is how they sweeped half of us in the parallel reality."
Quake shook his head in disbelief. "I can't believe that three guys are good enough to take on eight people with our skill. It makes the idea of facing off against gangs and criminal groups seem like Matoran's play."
"Well then, we should do all we can to prepare for it." Daril said, his face dead serious. The seriousness broke apart after about five seconds, as Daril snickered at some unknown thing. "My alternate self just used my line!"
Noticing the glares, Daril closed his mouth, and they continued their journey in relative silence. I will be ready. Quake thought, And they will go down hard.
The next three days were uneventful, to say the least. The group traveled across the island and boarded a ferry, which took them to another island. They then proceeded to hop across two more islands and only had to cross one last island diagonally before they would board a ferry to Droschan. The recruits occasionally sparred with each other, but that didn't break up the monotony, at least in Quake's opinion.
He did consider it at least slightly noteworthy that, through their competitions, they found out he was stronger than any of the rest of them, and had reflexes to beat or match all of them. Even using his mask of fate, Skaern wasn't as strong as Quake. In fact, Quake realized that for the first time he was exerting real effort when he dueled Skaern.
Now, they had settled in at a town for the night. Quake had chosen not to eat, feeling his energy supply wasn't in need of replenishing, and instead opted to get something rich-flavored from a local restaurant.
Upon entering the restaurant, Quake realized that it wasn't likely reputable enough of an establishment to be a restaurant. He didn't particularly mind this fact, though. He could still get the fruit drink that he wished for here. That was what basically any drink other than water was in the Kerris islands. The vast amount fruit growing trees that were native to the island made for a great beverage business, creating anything from sweet and delicious libations for the taste receptors to dangerous concoctions that could severely hamper one's mental health and physical coordination.
Quake always went for the first of the two, as he preferred to maintain complete control of himself and be in perfect health. Though Quake was realizing that his physical abilities were well beyond that of a normal Toa, and he didn't really need to be in perfect health to excel. The Veira fruit drink was perfectly delectable, as expected. Smiling, Quake leaned back in his chair and took a leisurely look around at the other customers. He finished by looking over to his right, and froze in place at what he saw.
Quake very nearly dropped his drink from the sheer surprise of it: Sitting a few tables over was a being that almost perfectly matched Daril's description of one of the attackers. It wasn't the fake Vortixx or the Rulanark, but it was definitely the third. Legs with three different joints, an odd, somewhat circular mask, and ebony armor with red contrast. It was a near-perfect match.
With great effort, Quake broke off his stare and composed himself. Then he rose from his seat, walked over to the stranger, and sat down on the opposite side of the table, which was empty aside from the tri-jointed being.
"Hey, I was curious about something." Quake said, acting as if the being was a total stranger. He leaned in closer over the table and stared him in the eyes. "You wouldn't happen to be friends with an old, old vortixx, would you?"
The stranger's eyes flicked up at Quake. He glanced around quickly, and then leaned in closer. "Alright, I'll bite; how do you know that?" "I have a friend who can. . .see certain things. He saw you. In very clear detail."
"Wouldn't happen to be that strange one. . .The black and green armored one?" Quake shrugged. "He's actually quite nice once you get to know him. I could tell you his name, but I think I'd need yours first." The stranger shook his head. "Not happening, Quake. If I wanted his name, I could just look it up." Quake's eyes widened for a moment. This guy sounded as if he was doing great in the information department. "So, why did you want my name?" "I didn't when I first learned it. My Vortixx friend recognized you, and he couldn't resist filling all the rest of us in. He's like that, occasionally."
Quake was starting to like where this was going a lot less. "Recognized me from where? Was he one of the many people who have been on the wrong side of a fight with me?" The stranger smiled. It was not a humorous smile. "I'll lay it out for you, Quake: You're a botched Makuta experiment who appears to have had his memories permanently removed. We know more about you than you think, and we'd never end up losing a fight to you."
Quake didn't even blink at the comment. "Hm. The botched experiment part does seem to be an accurate assumption." Quake said. "Question though: Just how botched of an experiment am I?"
The stranger shrugged. "Very, I assume. I haven't heard of you doing any feats well beyond a normal Toa's ability, whereas another Makuta, named Ikirro, made a Toa about four times better. I've heard that guy can nearly match the Makuta in a physical battle."
Quake was tempted to show the fool just how strong he really was, but he restrained himself. A fight right now wasn't necessary. "Well, not that this isn't extremely interesting, but I only talked with you so I could arrange a meeting with your boss." Quake didn't really know whether or not the stranger was in charge. But he figured insulting his opponent wasn't a bad idea.
"My boss has far bigger missions to deal with than this little one." The stranger replied. In other words, Quake thought, You're dealing with a group so big that scaring Juhhar's employees is a little job. "Fine," Quake said. "How about I see your mission leader?"
The stranger stared at Quake for a long moment, his face emotionless. After taking a long drought from his drink he set it down and nodded. "Alright. The Vortixx leads the operation. Where do you want meet him?" Quake smiled slightly. "First, I'd prefer to meet him in his real form. If he's not too scared to show his mask, find the shadiest drinking establishment in Portland Metru. I'll be there."
The stranger raised an eyebrow, showing a glimmer of both surprise and admiration. "Very well," he said, standing up. "See you around, Toa." After a few minutes, Quake finished his Veira fruit drink and departed. He had to inform the others, and they had to get moving.
Quake's little story was received with shock, awe, and disbelief in equal amounts.
Cerran and Skaern only barely believed that such a conversation could have occurred, and both were very questioning about why Quake simply hadn't thrashed the stranger. Xalin stepped up for Quake, stating that finding out what they want is best done by talking, not fighting.
Eventually, it was agreed that they would have Quake meet with and talk with the leader. He would find out what he could, and then they'd capture him. After that, Skaern, a self-proclaimed experienced interrogator, would do his work. Shyra immediately stated the folly of it, but she was ignored. How could it go wrong?