Baleful eyes started up at an imposing edifice of rock and mortar. Here, in the wooded region of Spherus Magna, the Great Beings had plied their trade many years ago. Now one remained inside that fortress, quite mad, but still brilliant and dangerous nonetheless.
For the watcher’s purposes, he hardly mattered. No, what was important about that building was who else was inside it now. Axonn, Brutaka and Toa Helryx, veteran warriors; Makuta Miserix, with all the power that title implied; Artakha, wearer of the Mask of Creation; Toa Tuyet, who was mightier than any of the others knew; and Vezon, gifted with the ability to move through dimensions the way others move through air. So many beings of power, all in one spot… it was quite delicious.
So far, he had killed Tren Krom and Karzahni… one a madman, the other a gelatinous mass of hot air. Neither proved to be much of a challenge. The Toa were keeping the whole thing quiet, as they often did. Although the two heroes investigating the murders, Kopaka and Pohatu, had recently vanished, he was not overly concerned. They would turn up eventually. The plan required it.
In the same way, the sight of Toa Lewa being dragged off by nature-loving Agori was at best a minor obstacle. If need be, he would effect a rescue in some indirect way before the Toa of Air could get into any real jeopardy. The Toa Mata were too important to have their lives sacrificed needlessly. Oh, they would die, eventually, but it would be at a time of his choosing.
No one would ever suspect him, of course. No one ever had. As time passed and things had become clear to him, he had known this time would come. The most powerful would need to be eliminated individually – no point in risking the grand plan because he had missed one, after all – and the rest could be dealt with at leisure. He had expected it to be a time-consuming, if amusing, exercise, a sort of living strategy game in which only he knew the rules.
Now, though, fate seemed to have altered the circumstances. So many of his targets, all in the same place, offered the opportunity to accelerate his timetable – much too good of an opportunity to miss. A little of this, a little of that, and the fortress would be so much rubble… and the universe far better off.
With a smile, the bio-mechanical murderer set to work. It was going to be a good day, if a noisy one.
Kopaka, Pohatu and Gaardus found themselves facing what seemed like energy weapons in the hands of the three small armored beings. The two Toa still had no idea if they were truly inside the red star, or just who their bizarre foes were. But they had begun to suspect Gaardus knew a great deal more than he was telling.
“Shorty over there said you had been here before,” Pohatu said to their winged companion. “What’s the story?”
“You knew that,” Gaardus replied. “I told you.”
“You did not say anything about these… whatever they are,” said Kopaka. “What else did you leave out?”
“I told you I did not want to come back here,” Gaardus said simply. “Now you know why.”
“We are the Kestora,” said one of the purple and black beings. “We are the ones who keep this place operating. But it has not been operating, not for a very long time. And it is his fault,” he added, pointing at Gaardus.
“I did nothing!” Gaardus hissed, unfurling his great wings. “I did not choose to come here. I did not choose to leave.”
“No one ever does,” replied the Kestora.
“Can you put the weapons down, so we can talk like civilized beings?” asked Pohatu.
The three Kestora raised their weapons higher in answer and began to squeeze the triggers. In an instant, Pohatu had seemingly vanished. When he reappeared, the Kestora had been disarmed and he held all their weapons.
“I said – oh, never mind, you know what I said,” Pohatu chuckled. “Now what’s all this about coming and going? What is this, some kind of a transport hub?”
“In a sense,” said one of the Kestora.
“Yes, you might say that,” said the second.
“Or you might not,” the third interjected. “Anyway, the three of you need to be going. You got what you came here for, time to leave.”
“Got what we –?” Kopaka repeated. “By Mata Nui, someday I will meet a foe who gives a straight answer to a straight question, and I will be so shocked I will –”
“Crack a smile?” finished Pohatu. He turned to the three small beings. “Now, listen. Where is it we are supposed to be going?”
“Back to Mata Nui, of course,” said one of the Kestora, as if he we speaking to a child. “Back where you belong.”
“Mata Nui is so much junk in the Bara Magna desert by now,” said Pohatu. “You guys must not get out much.”
“If that’s true, then we can’t send them back,” said the first Kestora. “There is nowhere to send them back to.”
“Well, they can’t stay here,” said the second firmly. “We have too many as it is.”
“We could keep them,” suggested the third. “Maybe a dissection would tell us why they can’t go back. Of course, we tried that before, and all we wound up with was a mess… a lot of messes, actually… but maybe this time –”
Kopaka grimaced, raised his Toa weapon, and unleashed a blast of ice. It froze all three Kestora solid.
“What did you do that for?” asked Pohatu. “We might have learned something, and you killed them!”
“Not dead,” said Kopaka, already turning and walking away. “Just frozen. They’ll thaw out… eventually. I’m tired of villains spouting gibberish. Let’s look around.”
Pohatu turned to Gaardus to ask if he had ever seen anything like that, but the winged being had disappeared. The Toa of Stone headed off to tell Kopaka the news. They needed Gaardus if they were ever going to make it back to Spherus Magna.
The frozen eyes of the Kestora watched him as he went.
Back on Spherus Magna, a complicated and delicate job was done. At the proper signal, the Great Beings’ fortress and its occupants would be so much ash.
Their would-be murderer looked at his work and pronounced it good. He sat down on the ground and picked up a stone. Humming to himself, he began to carve it into a memorial marker for those about to die.
Kopaka was not happy to hear about Gaardus’ disappearance, but he wasn’t surprised either. The odds were the teleporter was gone for good, at least if he had any sense.
“We better hope the Kestora were wrong and there is way off of here,” said the Toa of Ice. “Otherwise…”
“Otherwise, we are going to get very tired of each other’s company,” agreed Pohatu. “Want me to scout ahead?”
“No, I –” Kopaka began, even as Pohatu winked out of existence and then back again.
“Too late,” said Pohatu. “Already did it. Not much to see. Lots of labs. Some old machinery, looks like it’s been jury-rigged a few hundred times. And I thought I saw someone moving, but I can’t be sure.”
“Maybe. About the same height.”
“Let’s find them.”
The two Toa had gone about a hundred yards when the lights suddenly went out. Now they could hear movement from all around them. There were whispers, too, but they couldn’t make out the words. Kopaka triggered his Akaku Nuva, piercing the walls around him with x-ray vision. In one direction, there was nothing to see but outer space. In the other, he saw things – a lot of things – he could have lived without seeing. When he spoke, his voice was raw.
“We need to move,” said Kopaka. “Now.”
“What’s the matter?”
“You don’t want to know. Grab my hand. We’re finding a way out of this.”
The sounds were coming closer now. Some sounded like rodents skittering, others like bodies being dragged across a metal floor. At one point, they saw a lighted corridor up ahead, but as they approached, the lights went off there too. Worse, the noises were starting to come from up ahead as well as behind.
“I think we are surrounded,” said Kopaka.
“We’re never surrounded,” Pohatu answered. “We just prefer to be right in the center of the action.”
A sliver of light opened up off to the right. It revealed a small figure, beckoning to the two Toa. “Here, this way.”
Kopaka used the Akaku and saw that there were no other figures in the room beyond. If it was a trap, it probably wasn’t a very good one. The two Toa headed for the door and slipped inside. The figure closed it behind them.
“It’s not safe out there,” their rescuer said. “But then you probably figured that out. A lot of very unhappy people up here, you know.”
The Toa saw to their surprise that their “host” was not a Kestora, but a Matoran. An Onu-Matoran, to be exact, but not one that either recognized.
“Who are you?” asked Pohatu. “What are you doing here?”
“As far as the second question goes, I presume the same thing you are,” said the Matoran. “As for who I am – my name is Mavrah.”