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“…And that’s the job Tahu Nuva wants you to do,” said Onua. “It won’t be an easy one. We don’t know if it is even possible. But it was Mata Nui’s wish that –”

“We find the Great Beings. We know,” Toa Orde cut in. “I’d read your mind before you even started talking. But I’m still not clear on why.”

Toa Chiara shot a narrow bolt of electricity from her finger. It struck the hunk of metal Orde was sitting on. The jolt made him jump to his feet.

“Less time reading,” said Chiara. “More time listening.”

Orde moved toward Chiara, about to say something unpleasant. She rose up to confront him. Onua sighed, ready to unleash an earth tremor to knock them both back to the sandy ground. He needn’t have bothered. The third Toa present, Zaria, made a gesture and both Toa dropped like rocks.

“Sit down and be quiet,” Zaria said quietly. “I want to hear this.”

Onua smiled. Apparently, including a Toa of Iron in the group had been a good idea, after all. “Thank you. As you know, the Great Beings created Mata Nui so that he would someday repair the damage done to Spherus Magna. He did that, and when he was done, he said we had to make sure the Great Beings knew their mission had been accomplished. Seems like a reasonable request.”

Orde shot a baleful look at Zaria. With a shrug, the Toa of Iron released him from the grip of his metal-controlling power. Orde got back to his feet. “Why isn’t Tahu going, if this is so important?”

Onua didn’t hesitate to answer. When you were dealing with a Toa of Psionics, there wasn’t much point in being dishonest anyway. “Let’s say there are… issues. It’s taking the Agori some time to learn to work together after so many years of competing, especially with the immediate danger apparently over. And many of them aren’t too sure about how they feel about Matoran yet.”

Chiara had been freed from Orde’s power too, but still lay on the ground. She hurled a bolt of lightning into the sky, which then split and took on the semblance of Tahu Nuva. “So he’s, what, negotiating for our side? Wouldn’t Gali be a better choice?”

Onua sighed. “Gali has her own mission. Tahu is working with Ackar and Kiina to resolve these disputes. You three are going to Bota Magna, to start with… from there, it’s impossible to say.”

Zaria spoke, never lifting his eyes from the ground. “Why us? We don’t know each other. We never worked together before.”

Onua nodded. Zaria was right. It had been many long nights talking with Toa and Matoran before he, Tahu and Gali had made their choices:

Orde, for all his attitude, had once used his powers to save a dozen trapped Matoran from a band of Dark Hunters. The Matoran escaped; Orde didn’t. He was finally saved by the rest of his Toa team, but not before enduring days of interrogation. Only his strength of will had kept him sane.

Chiara had a reputation as a loner, unusual in a Toa of Lightning. But she didn’t really need a team. During the Visorak invasion, she had single-handedly snuck into the spiders’ camp and electrified the colony drones. Anytime the Visorak came near to feed off the drones’ energies, they got jolted. Deprived of their food source, they had to disperse to look for more. Chiara took advantage of this to pick them off one by one until she had eliminated more than 50.

Zaria was a different case altogether. He was one of the last of the Toa of Iron, having seen most of his friends killed by Makuta. Somehow, he had survived the purge, even managing to destroy one member of the Brotherhood. It had been necessary, but also a violation of the Toa code against killing. It was believed that the experience left Zaria feeling like an outcast, in more ways than one. There were rumors that he began routinely slaying his enemies, but no one was certain if that was the truth. What was sure was that he was a driven being, one who needed somewhere to focus his energies. He had to have a mission, so Tahu decided to give him one that would test even his powers.

“We know the target,” said Chiara, “but we don’t know the territory.”

“She has a point,” said Orde. “None of us have been more than a couple of kio from the site of Makuta’s fall. We don’t know what might be between us and the Great Beings, if they are even up there.”

“That’s why I’m coming along.”

The three Toa turned to see a white-armored Glatorian walking toward them. He moved with the easy grace of a veteran of battle, the sort of fluid movement they all knew could morph into a deadly strike in an instant.

Before the Glatorian could say anything more, Orde said, “His name is Gelu. He’s going to be our guide, but he’s not too happy about it.”

Gelu took three quick strides and held his ice slicer up to Orde’s throat. “Good one,” said Gelu. “Why don’t you take a guess at what I’m going to do next?”

A lightning bolt sizzled between the two of them. “It’s too hot to fight, boys,” said Chiara. “I say if we’re going, then let’s go. It has to be more fun than watching Toa of Water hauling equipment out of Metru Nui all day.”

Gelu relaxed. Like Chiara, he was used to working on his own. Now he had to be a leader. Onua hadn’t told him why he was picked for the job, maybe because the Toa of Earth didn’t know… or didn’t want Orde to find out.

“Your mounts are ready,” Gelu said. “We have enough supplies for a week, then we forage. You’re going to see a lot of strange things on this trip. I’ll let you know which ones to worry about.”

“Fair enough,” said Chiara, standing and brushing the sand off her armor. “But who’s going to tell us if we need to worry about you?”

In another place…

Angonce, one of the Great Beings, had fought down his fear. It would do no good to panic at this stage. He had to be calm and go through the situation point by point. Maybe then he would find an answer.

When the Great Beings created the Mata Nui robot, their plan was a simple one. Mata Nui would return when the time was right, heal the shattered remains of Spherus Magna, and then power down. Neither it, nor the beings inside who kept it running, would be needed anymore. Some Great Beings wanted to keep a few intact to study; others felt the materials could be better used in other projects. No one advocated letting Toa, Matoran, etc. run free on Spherus Magna. They weren’t independent beings with a right to life and liberty, after all. They were tools to be used to keep the Mata Nui robot functioning… weren’t they?

Things had not gone quite as planned. There had evidently been glitches in the AI of Mata Nui, Makuta, and the Great Beings’ other creations. Instead of a simple repairing of the planet, there had been a robot war and the bizarre sight of nanotech creations nobly sacrificing themselves in battle and, in many cases, dying to save others. That was not the behavior of bio-mechanical servitors. That was an actual, new species fighting and dying for its freedom.

Ordinarily, this would have been a cause for celebration. But at the same time that the Great Beings had failed to predict the future, they had also planned a little too well.

During the Core War, the Great Beings had unleashed a “doomsday weapon” that came to be called “baterra.” Their role was to end the war by force by eliminating any armed combatant they encountered. Once it became inevitable that the Shattering would happen, the Great Beings tried to use their failsafe to shut the baterra down. It failed, and the baterra remained active to this day.

That failure made them think about how much power each Toa would have. If something went wrong upon Mata Nui’s return, and the Toa were unleashed, the Agori would stand no chance against them. Suppose the Toa went bad? Suppose they wanted to conquer this new world? If so, then once again Spherus Magna would be in mortal danger as a result of the Great Beings’ actions. That could not be allowed to happen.

They had little time, but they put it to good use, designing and building a new creation. It existed for one purpose, and one alone: to destroy Toa. The Great Beings believed no single Toa, or team of Toa, could hope to stand against it. It was christened Marendar, an Agori word meaning “salvation,” and placed in a vault.

Angonce knew the abrupt appearance of so many Toa on Spherus Magna might well activate Marendar. He hurried to the vault, but too late – the living weapon had already smashed its way through three feet of metallic protodermis and was gone. It would carry out its programming and kill any and every Toa on the planet.

They think they have found a new world, the Great Being said to himself. How could they know nothing waits here for them… but death?

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