Kopaka and Pohatu stood in the forest, staring at the remains of Tren Krom. Once one of the most powerful entities in the Matoran universe, now Tren Krom was just pieces scattered among the foliage, a truly disturbing sight for more reasons than one.
“I wonder who’s next,” said Pohatu.
“What are you talking about?” asked Kopaka.
“You don’t see it? First Karzahni, now Tren Krom… there’s a pattern here. Beings with great power dying, one after another.”
“Two deaths is hardly a pattern,” replied the Toa Nuva of Ice. “Two widely different locations, two different methods of murder… I’ll admit I wondered if Lesovikk might have killed Tren Krom, but I can’t see what motive he would have.”
Pohatu shook his head. “Lesovikk didn’t kill him. At least, I don’t think so. Lesovikk was angry at Karzahni, out for revenge, but he wasn’t insane. Whoever did this… well, let’s just say there were cleaner ways to get rid of Tren Krom.”
Kopaka crouched down to examine the remains. “That’s true. Plus we have to ask, who could have gotten close enough to Tren Krom to do this? His mind was strong enough to sense another intellect even at long range, as I understand it.”
“Maybe someone he trusted?” asked Pohatu.
Kopaka stood and looked around the forest. It felt oppressively still. “I doubt he trusted many, if anyone at all. But consider this: he was supposed to be physically bound to his island in our old universe, unable to move. But when the Order of Mata Nui agents went to retrieve him, he was gone. Next thing we know, he’s here, and dead.”
“The Order… do you think they –?”
Pohatu’s question was cut off by a sound from up above. Someone or something was in the trees. Pohatu couldn’t see it clearly, but could tell that whatever it was, it had huge wings.
“Shall I?” he asked Kopaka.
“Please,” said the Toa of Ice. “Some things I can do for myself.”
Kopaka summoned his elemental energies and hurled a blast of frost at the watcher in the trees. The effect was to ice up its wings and send the stranger tumbling from its perch and onto the ground.
Pohatu watched as the new arrival, dazed, tried to rise. It did indeed have scalloped wings, along with quite long arms and legs. It wore a Kanohi mask and a sword of fire had slipped from its hands when it fell. Not a native of Spherus Magna, then, Pohatu thought. It’s one of ours.
“Who are you?” demanded Kopaka. “Why were you spying on us?”
“Not spying,” gasped the winged stranger. “Hunting.”
“Like you hunted Tren Krom here?” said Pohatu.
The thing shook its head. “I didn’t hunt him… someone else did. But then he left without feasting, so the food became mine.”
“Who left? Who killed him?” asked Kopaka.
“I tried to see,” said the creature. “But he knew I was there. A howling wind knocked me from my watching spot and broke many limbs off the trees. By the time I touched the sky again, he was gone.”
“I scouted around,” said Pohatu. “I saw no tracks coming in or out of this area.”
“If I were one of your kind, you would believe,” said the creature, bitterly. “But I suppose you think truth is as alien to me as my appearance is to you.”
Pohatu glanced at Kopaka, then back at the winged being. “What’s your name?”
“When there was anyone to call me by name, it was Gaardus. But that was long ago, when I lived in a koro. Now I am just what you see.”
“You… were a Matoran?” asked Kopaka, trying and failing to keep the disbelief out of his voice.
Gaardus shook the remaining fragments of ice off his wings and rose to his feet. “You say the name as if there was some honor attached to it. Yes, I was a Matoran. I had a home, a job, a life. Then I was taken by a band of my brothers who had been exiled for crimes too horrible to relate. They were Nynrah Ghosts, hated and feared by even their own.”
“I’ve heard of the Nynrah,” said Kopaka. “Weaponsmiths.”
“So you say,” Gaardus replied. It shuddered as if the memories themselves were bringing pain. “They decided to make a living weapon… I was the result. But I was too smart for them. I escaped… and I hunted… until none of them were left.”
Pohatu was stunned. What kind of Matoran could so mutate another of their own species? How had the other Nynrah allowed this to happen? Were they so obsessed with the secrecy of their culture that they never thought to summon a Toa to stop their exiles from doing something so horrible?
“You got out of the robot, somehow,” said Pohatu. “Maybe with the Rahi, so you wouldn’t be noticed. My guess is you’re good at hiding by now. Then you headed north, as far away from your… the Matoran as possible.”
“I wanted to get away from the rage,” answered Gaardus. “But it followed me even to this peaceful place.”
Kopaka couldn’t help but feel pity for the tragic creature before him. But there were two deaths that had to be explained, and no time to redress old wrongs. Perhaps when this was all over…
“What did you see? Tell us everything,” he said.
“The one you call Tren Krom appeared in the forest, from nowhere,” Gaardus began, speaking slowly and carefully. “He was… confused. He could move, but not very far or very fast. I was going to hunt, but his mind touched mine, and it hurt. Then… there was someone else, and the winds came, and I saw the star, and…”
“Wait!” said Kopaka. “You saw a star? What star?”
“The red star,” Gaardus said, as if the answer was obvious. “I saw it in my mind.”
Kopaka was intrigued. He, too, had seen an image of the red star, projected telepathically by Tren Krom in his dying moments. The red star had hovered above the island of Mata Nui in the days when Kopaka and his allies first arrived. Much later, he and the others learned that the star was in fact some kind of booster rocket system used by the Mata Nui robot to break free of a planet’s gravitational pull. It was not a true star, but an engine. None of which explained why Tren Krom would be thinking of it so urgently at such a dire moment.
“I had not thought of the star in so long,” Gaardus continued. “Not since the death of the Nynrah. The star was why I stayed in the Nynrah’s village for so long after my escape. Now I wonder if what I was waiting for was up there, not down among the land and water.”
Kopaka looked up. The star was in the sky now above Spherus Magna, and had been since the arrival of the Mata Nui robot on the planet. With the robot destroyed, the red star would not be summoned into use again. Yet still it hung among the true stars, waiting, waiting for a call that would never come.
“If only we could get up there…” Kopaka said, more to himself than anyone else.
“The hunting would be poor,” said Gaardus.
“Not for what we’re seeking,” Pohatu said. “Doesn’t matter, though, neither one of us is equipped for space flight.”
Gaardus looked down at the ground for a long time. Then he said, very quietly, “I could bring you. But I do not want to return there. No one ever does.”
“Get us there how?” asked Kopaka.
“I was built to be a hunter,” said Gaardus. “And a hunter returns to the grounds that are rich in prey. Anywhere I have ever been, I can return to… even such a place as that.”
“Then take us there,” Kopaka said.
“Um, Kopaka?” said Pohatu. “Can I have a word?”
The Toa of Ice and Stone walked a few feet away from Gaardus and spoke in low tones. “Do we really want to leave the driving to the winged wonder over there? What if he doesn’t like Toa any better than Matoran?”
“Do you have a better suggestion? Tren Krom used his last seconds of life to tell us about the star… or warn us. There’s something up there connected to his death. We have to find out what it is.”
“Okay,” said Pohatu. “But this isn’t the first time I’ve wondered if you don’t have your Kanohi on too tight.”
The two Toa turned back to Gaardus. “If you can get us there, we need to go,” said Kopaka.
“And quickly, before one of us changes his mind, namely me,” added Pohatu.
If Gaardus thought they had both gone mad, he obviously saw no point in saying. He merely stepped up to them, unwrapped his wings, and then folded them around the two heroes. And in that instant, all three were gone.
Pohatu wasn’t sure what to expect – he had never been inside a “star” before. When Gaardus opened his wings and stepped away, the Toa of Stone looked around. He was inside a curved hallway. The walls seemed to be a combination of metal bands and organic tissue, much the way he imagined the inside of a Toa would look. Steeling himself, he reached out and touched one of the surfaces. Both metal and tissue were still and cold as ice.
At least I’m not inside something that’s alive, he thought. Kind of had enough of that.
“Company,” said Kopaka, under his breath.
Pohatu looked down the hallway. Three small beings clad in purple and black armor were moving toward them. Something about them seemed vaguely familiar, like Pohatu had heard them described before, but he couldn’t remember when. As soon as they saw the two Toa and their winged companion, they seemed to grow very alarmed.
“What are you doing here?” one of the beings asked. “You need to go back. You should be gone by now.”
“No,” said another. “Don’t you remember what happened the last time? They wouldn’t go back and we had to –”
The third interrupted, pointing at Gaardus. “That one has been here before. He was the last. He must know why no one can go now.”
“But look at them!” said the first to speak. “It must be working again, or how could they be here like that?”
The others paused, as if acknowledging their friend had a point. The one who had remembered Gaardus nodded, saying, “Very well. But if it doesn’t work, do we need to end them like the other ones?”
All three little beings produced wicked looking hand weapons. “Naturally,” said the first. “How else are we to make things right?”