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“This time I won’t stop until I have your krana-kal, monster!” Tahu shouted as he landed atop a ridge just three lengths from the Pahrak-Kal.

The creature paused and glanced back toward him. Then it turned away, its bronze-shaded krana-kal seeming to mock him.

“Don’t turn your back on me, Pahrak-Kal!” Tahu howled, raising his magma sword and charging after the creature. “I’ve come for a fight, and a fight I will have!”

The creature merely raised its shield, deflecting Tahu’s blows easily. Then it pointed the shield toward the ground. Seconds later, the hardened and cooled magma had melted into a boiling puddle of fresh lava.

Tahu felt himself sinking into the newly created puddle. To his surprise, he could feel the burning sensation of the boiling lava on his feet and legs. He leaped backward, landing on the solid ground behind him. Steam rose from his feet.

Uh-oh, he thought in horror. I didn’t realize that my ability to withstand intense heat had deserted me along with my other elemental powers.

“Are you through with me yet, oh, great Toa?” the Pahrak-Kal taunted.

The creature’s scornful tone only fanned the flames of Tahu’s anger. “Believe me, when I’m through with you, you won’t have to ask.”

This time the Pahrak-Kal took a step toward him as it raised its shield. The wave of heat that rippled out from the shield surrounded Tahu, filling his body with searing fire.

Tahu realized all he had to do was fall back again and the heat would stop. All he had to do was retreat. But he couldn’t – that would mean letting the Pahrak-Kal win. Giving up.

So this monster wants to fight me with my own element? he thought as the fire filled his body, seeming to burn him up from the inside out. Fine, then let it do its worst. Better to burn out than to give up…

“Toa Tahu!” a voice shouted from somewhere nearby. Distracted, the Pahrak-Kal turned, at the same time shifting the aim of its shield. Tahu slumped to the ground, gasping at the sudden disappearance of the pain.

As he collapsed, he glanced up and saw Jala, the head of the Ta-Koro guard. Several other Ta-Matoran stood behind him. The Pahrak-Kal watched the newcomers approach.

“Is this your rescue party, Toa?” it hissed with amusement. “They’re a little on the puny side.”

“Leave us alone, creature!” Jala shouted boldly.

The Pahrak-Kal gazed at the Matoran. “I have no quarrel with any of you, weak ones,” it said. “Your hotheaded Toa is the one who wished to test my powers.”

With that it turned and moved on along the ridge. Tahu pushed himself to a sitting position as Jala kneeled beside him.

“Are you all right, Toa Tahu?” the Matoran asked with concern.

Tahu pushed aside his helping hand. “I’m fine,” he said brusquely, climbing to his feet. “And I’ll be even better once I take care of that thing.”

“Toa!” Jala cried, grabbing his arm. “Please, stop! You’ll get yourself hurt!”

“Better that than living as a coward,” Tahu snapped, shaking off the Matoran’s grip.

“You have no right!” Jala shouted, anger in his voice.

Tahu stopped short, blinking in surprise. Slowly, he turned to face the Matoran. Jala’s eyes behind their mask were defiant.

“What did you say to me?” Tahu asked, holding down his rage with difficulty.

Jala took a deep breath. “I said, you have no right,” he said. “You have no right to sacrifice yourself. You have a duty to us – to Mata Nui. Your destiny doesn’t allow room for personal pride.”

Tahu couldn’t help being impressed by the Matoran’s courage in speaking out so boldly. Of course, it seems like just about everyone is taking things into their own hands lately, he thought with a flash of annoyance. He had been unpleasantly surprised when he’d first heard that Onua had decided to change plans without consulting him. For a moment he had started to insist on doing things his way – just to make sure that everyone knew who was in charge. But Gali and Pohatu had convinced him that the Earth Toa’s decision was right. Was Jala right in his defiance, too?

Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that the Pahrak-Kal had paused again and seemed to be listening. It took a step back toward them.

“Listen to your little friend, Toa,” it hissed with a chuckle. “He’s only trying to save you from being humbled by the strength of the Bohrok-Kal. Again.”

Tahu gritted his teeth. “Mark my words, Pahrak-Kal,” he said slowly, calling upon every ounce of strength he had to control the flames of his temper. “You will not succeed in your mission. For it is the sworn duty of the Toa Nuva to stop you. And stop you we will.”

The Pahrak-Kal laughed, the sound tinny and scornful. “Is that so, feeble hero?” it said. “Once we find and release the queens, you will – aaaagh!”

Its words broke off in a strangled cry. To his surprise, Tahu saw that Jala had just leaped forward and wrenched the krana-kal free!

The Pahrak-Kal’s limbs twitched, it let out several moans, and then fell still.

“Good job, brave Jala!” Tahu cried with delight. “Now that we’ve conquered one of them, the others will –”

“Toa Tahu – look!” Another Matoran broke in, pointing to the far end of the ridge.

A Gahlok Va was scuttling toward them. “What’s it doing?” Tahu wondered aloud.

He didn’t have to wait long for the answer. As the small scout creature came closer, he saw that it was clutching something in its clawed hand.

“Is it – is it bringing the creature another krana-kal?” Jala asked in surprised dismay.

Tahu nodded grimly. “Looks that way.”

“Everybody run!” one of the Matoran cried out.

So much for our alliance with the Bohrok and Bohrok Va, Tahu thought hopelessly as he and the Matoran scattered at top speed. It seems the Bohrok-Kal are exerting some kind of influence over them. It seems we may have made a serious mistake in trusting the swarms inside our villages…

For a moment, he thought of the Kanohi Vahi. Was this the desperate emergency Vakama had spoken of? Was it time to call upon the dreadful powers of the Great Mask of Time?

He shook his head, feeling helpless and angry as he ran. He could barely control his own temper. Why had Vakama asked him to control such an awesome power?

In the jungle near Le-Koro, Gali was primed for battle. “Ready?” she asked.

Kopaka nodded. “Ready.”

“Me, too,” Lewa added. “Let’s do this.”

Gali closed her eyes, gathering and focusing her energy. She concentrated on the other two Toa Nuva, allowing her own mind to flow and merge with theirs…

A moment later, the Toa Nuva Kaita known as Wairuha opened his eyes. Created from the mental and physical uniting of the three Toa, he combined their powers into one form.

“It is time to put an end to this threat,” he rumbled, moving toward the Lehvak-Kal that was searching a boggy area nearby.

The Lehvak-Kal stopped what it was doing. “So this is how it will be, Kaita? Then so be it.”

As Wairuha moved toward it, the creature let out a series of shrill calls. Seconds later, two more Bohrok-Kal appeared – the Kohrak-Kal and the Gahlok-Kal.

Wairuha gathered his powers. To his surprise, the creatures ignored him and turned instead toward one another. There was a blast of energy – and all of a sudden a single, larger creature stood where three had been a second before!

Wairuha gasped. The Bohrok-Kal had merged into their own Kaita being!

The creature attacked, flinging a solid mass of flickering sound toward him. Wairuha ducked, but it was too late.

The orb caught him and trapped him within an airless, magnetized vortex of sound. Every part of his body was pulled toward every other part by the intense magnetic field, while his mouth gasped for air and his mind shrieked against the pummeling scream of sound.

No, Wairuha thought, struggling to retain consciousness. Must – fight – against –

“Oof!” Kopaka grunted as he hit the ground a second later, flung out of the unity by the force of the attack.

Nearby, the Bohrok-Kal Kaita dissolved its own merging, returning to three separate forms. “That was almost – fun,” the Lehvak-Kal said with a metallic laugh.

“Yes,” the Kohrak-Kal responded. “But we must not think of that. We have to find the queens.”

The three creatures turned away from one another and, without further discussion, scuttled off in different directions.

Kopaka watched them go as the strength seeped back into his body. Finally he was able to lift his arms, testing them for injury. “That was not fun,” he said succinctly.

“Not even a little,” Lewa agreed, his voice heavy. “If even the Toa Nuva Kaita can’t stand against these creatures, what hope is there?”

Kopaka had to agree with him. No matter how he looked at it, there seemed to be no solution. The Toa Nuva could not stop the Bohrok-Kal – they couldn’t even slow them down.

Is this the end? he wondered hopelessly. Is it our destiny to fall before this unstoppable enemy – to fail in our duty to protect Mata Nui?

He glanced over at Gali, expecting her to protest against the Air Toa’s pessimistic words.

But Gali merely shook her head, her expression downcast. “I fear that at this point, all we can hope is that the creatures’ search will turn out to be fruitless,” she commented wearily. “That Cahdok and Gahdok really are gone for good as we had hoped.”

Kopaka nodded along with Lewa. But he had his doubts.

In the depths of the earth far below, the waiting dark figure laughed, for he had sensed the Toa’s words.

“Giving up so soon, mighty heroes?” he cried with delight, though he knew the Toa could not hear him. “The endless tales and legends of the Turaga surely did not foresee this, did they? But I am not surprised. The Toa may be hailed as heroes, but they are as flawed as any Matoran. Flawed and weak and frightened before this more powerful enemy. And so their story seems to be reaching its end – at last.”

The figure glanced over at an enormous mask that stared sightlessly from the cavern wall nearby. He nodded thoughtfully as he gazed at it, his red eyes glowing more brightly than ever.

“Fear not, brother,” he said. “As long as I am here, nothing will ever disturb you…”

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