1

1,000 years ago…

Kapura walked slowly along the outskirts of the district of Ta-Metru, his eyes scanning the ground. Most of the homes and factories in this part of the metru had been abandoned lately, with the residents moving closer to the heart of the district. It was Kapura’s job to make sure nothing of importance had been left behind.

He paused in front of a massive, blackened building that had once housed a forge. Here, construction tools and other equipment had been cast from molten protodermis before being sent on to Po-Metru for finishing. Now, in the interest of safety, that work had been transferred away from the outskirts by order of the city’s elder, Turaga Dume. Kapura spotted a disk launcher used in the sport of akilini on the ground and bent down to pick it up, only to discover the handle was cracked. He walked on. This was an important task, his fellow workers had told him, and important tasks were best done slowly and carefully.

Had Kapura looked up, he would have seen the skyline of Ta-Metru, “home of the makers.” Cone-shaped factories, scorched by ages of use, stood next to the homes of smiths and crafters. These were the Matoran who molded protodermis, the substance of which everything on Metru Nui was made, into thousands of shapes and forms. A molten river of raw protodermis ran through the center of the district, drawn from below the city and fed into the Great Furnace. From there, it traveled to each factory to be turned into masks, tools, and anything else that might be needed.

Dominating the skyline was the Coliseum, home to Turaga Dume and the tallest building in all of Metru Nui. For as long as anyone could remember, the sight of the Coliseum had brought a feeling of safety and security to Matoran. But now…

Kapura counted slowly as he walked. Six, seven, eight – at least eight of the workers at his factory had vanished lately. Where they disappeared to, and why, no one knew. But there were plenty of rumors.

The Matoran stopped. Something had moved off to the right. It didn’t sound like another Matoran, or even a wild Rahi beast. It was a soft, slithering sound, as if something was dragging itself across the ground. The sound grew louder and seemed to multiply. Kapura felt the urge to run, but his feet would not move.

He forced himself to turn around and look. Four thick, blackened, twisted vines were snaking their way out of cracks in the ground, weaving in the air as if momentarily unsure of what to do. Then they wrapped themselves around the empty factory and began to climb, winding around again and again until they covered the building from top to bottom.

Kapura’s eyes widened as the vines started to squeeze. Solid protodermis crumbled before their strength. The building groaned and cracked, collapsing in on itself in a matter of seconds. As if satisfied, the vines pulled away and began to move toward another structure.

It was then that Kapura found his voice. But he could speak only one word, and that in a horrified whisper:

“Morbuzakh.”

Toa Lhikan, guardian of the city of Metru Nui, stood in the semi-darkness of the Great Temple. He had come here many times in the past to remember what had gone before and reflect on the future. This had always been a place that had soothed his spirit. But not today.

The errand that had brought him to one of the most revered sites in Metru Nui was one that filled him with sadness and doubt. Many a night he had wondered if there might be some other way, but no other answer presented itself. Finally, he admitted that he had no choice. It had to be done, and done now, before it was too late.

Grimly, Lhikan pried open the suva. Then he reached in and took the sixth and last Toa stone off its pedestal.

As he had done five times before, Toa Lhikan placed the stone on a thin sheet of metallic protodermis in his open palm. Then he clenched his fist, wrapping the sheet tightly around the stone.

Behind his yellow Great Mask of Shielding, Lhikan’s eyes narrowed. He knew that he was doing far more than taking valuable objects of power. He was taking a step that would change his life, the lives of six others, and the very future of Metru Nui.

He held his other hand over his closed fist and concentrated. Six streams of energy came from his hand, then merged into a single white lance of power. It flowed over the wrapped Toa stone, then abruptly came to a stop. When Lhikan opened his fist, he saw that the metallic sheet was now sealed around the stone. Imprinted upon it was the symbol of the three virtues of the Matoran: Unity, Duty, and Destiny.

Lhikan heard a soft sound behind him and turned quickly. Approaching from out of the darkness were two figures, one a four-legged insectoid being, the other a hulking brute. Lhikan knew all too well who they were and why they were here. He was already moving as the insectoid began hurling energy blasts.

Fleeing was against Lhikan’s nature, but he had been a Toa long enough to know it did not pay to challenge impossible odds. He ran, dodging as the two Dark Hunters attempted to snare him in energy webs. As they closed in, the Toa of Fire leaped through a window and plunged into space.

The insectoid Dark Hunter rushed to the window to watch his enemy fall. Instead, he saw Lhikan combine his tools to form a glider board. Seconds later, the Toa was lost from view.

Nokama stood near the Great Temple, surrounded by her students. As a teacher, she knew it was important to get her class out of the classroom now and then, and let them see some of Metru Nui’s history for themselves. Using her trident, she pointed out some of the ancient carvings on the walls of the temple.

Behind her, she could hear her students gasp. She turned to see Toa Lhikan. He approached her, handed her a small package, and then was gone. Nokama shook her head, wondering what it could all mean.

In a Po-Metru assemblers’ village, Onewa was hard at work finishing a piece of carving. He had been laboring in the heat all day, but hardly noticed the time or the effort. It was all worth it when the work was done and another fine display of craftsmanship was ready to ship out. He knew that each Po-Matoran crafter in the huts around him felt the same, except perhaps Ahkmou. That one seemed more worried about how many honors he would receive than how much work he finished.

Something landed with a sharp thud on the ground at Onewa’s feet. It was a small package wrapped in what looked like foil. Onewa looked up just in time to see the departing form of Toa Lhikan.

Whenua was content. A new shipment of Bohrok had arrived at the Archives. As soon as he was done cataloguing the creatures, they would be ready to go on exhibit for all Matoran to see.

He worked quickly, sorting through the items in a pile of artifacts. Some were slated for immediate exhibit, others would be sent down to the sublevels, and still more were too damaged to be of any use. These would be sent to Ta-Metru to be melted down.

Whenua was so absorbed by his work that he never heard Toa Lhikan’s approach. The Toa paused only long enough to hand the Matoran a small object, then he was gone. Whenua looked in wonder at the package, whose covering glittered even in the dim light of the Archives.

Matau took a deep breath. This was his favorite part of the job – testing new vehicles before they hit the streets of Le-Metru. He was, naturally, the best qualified to run them around the test track, being the most highly skilled rider in the entire metru… at least, in his opinion.

Today’s test vehicle was a one-Matoran moto-sled invented by an Onu-Matoran named Nuparu. He claimed it would someday replace the Ussal crabs that carried cargo to and fro in Metru Nui. Matau was less worried about that than about how fast it could go.

When the signal was given, Matau worked the controls and the machine began to move. Soon it was racing around the test track. Matau smiled, certain that he could coax a little more speed out of Nuparu’s machine. He reached out, grabbed one of the controls – and it broke off in his hand.

Matau’s eyes went wide. Oh, this is not happy-cheer at all, he thought.

All around him, pieces of the vehicle were flying off as the vehicle spun madly. Finally, only the control seat remained, with Matau hanging on to keep from being tossed the length of the track. Sparks flew as the lone intact section skidded to a halt, while Matau leaped off at the last possible moment.

The Matoran managed not to break anything on his landing. As he rose to his feet, he saw he was not alone. Toa Lhikan was standing beside him, offering him a gift. Then the Toa was gone.

Matau looked at the small, heavy item in his hand. Truly an ever-strange day, he said to himself.

Nuju peered through his telescope. From his vantage point high atop a Ko-Metru tower, he could see the sky, the stars, Toa Lhikan gliding toward him –

Toa Lhikan?

The lone protector of Metru Nui landed softly beside the Matoran. Without a word, he handed Nuju a wrapped Toa stone. Then, secure that the coast was clear, Lhikan leaped from the roof and surfed away on the wind.

Nuju watched him go, wondering what this event might mean for his future.

Vakama carefully moved a Kanoka disk from his worktable into the fires of the forge. He watched intently as the flames softened the disk. When he felt the time was right, he removed it from the heat and began to shape it with his firestaff. He smoothed the rough edges of the disk, added eyeholes, and then paused to look at the Mask of Power he had created.

Far below him, a pool of molten protodermis bubbled and hissed. This was the raw material that was fed into the forge to be shaped into disks, and later into masks, if the grade of disk was high enough. All around was a series of interlocking catwalks, with a great crane suspended above the center of the molten vat.

Vakama held the mask up to the light and searched for flaws in the workmanship. Finding none, he placed it on his face. Given that it was a Great Mask, he knew he would not be able to access its powers, but he could at least get a sense of whether it was active. But when he donned it, it merely glowed dimly before flickering out.

Disgusted, Vakama took it off and threw it on top of a huge pile of similar masks. At the rate he was going, his stack of failures would soon be taller than he was. Shaking his head, he turned to see Toa Lhikan standing before him.

“Making Great Masks, Vakama?” asked the Toa.

Vakama took a step backward and stumbled. “Toa Lhikan! Um, not yet… but with the right disk…”

“The city needs your help,” said Lhikan, reaching behind him to retrieve something. A moment later Vakama saw it was a small package wrapped in a shiny material.

“My help?” the Matoran said, taking another step backward. He bumped into the discard pile, causing the rejected masks to clatter to the floor.

“Matoran are vanishing,” Lhikan continued urgently. “Deceit lurks in the shadows of Metru Nui.”

“Toa – so dramatic.”

Both Lhikan and Vakama turned at the voice. A large, four-legged, insectoid creature stood inside the foundry. “Always playing the hero,” the creature hissed.

“Some of us take our duty seriously, Nidhiki,” growled Lhikan. Then he turned to Vakama, gestured to the package, and whispered, “Keep it safe. Get to the Great Temple.”

Nidhiki raised his claws. “This time your farewell will be forever, brother.”

“You lost the right to call me brother long ago,” said Lhikan.

Nidhiki spat blasts of dark energy. Lhikan narrowly evaded them, but one surge of energy struck the support for the catwalk, shearing through it. Lhikan was considering his next move when there came a crash from above. He looked up to see a mammoth form falling toward him.

“Time’s up, Toa!” bellowed the plummeting figure.

Nidhiki smiled as his bestial partner, Krekka, crashed onto the catwalk beside Lhikan. Immediately, Toa and Dark Hunter began to grapple. Krekka’s size and strength gave him the edge, but in Lhikan he faced the veteran of a thousand conflicts. The Toa waited for the right moment, then sidestepped and used Krekka’s force against him. With one smooth motion, Lhikan tossed Krekka over the side of the catwalk.

The Dark Hunter might not have been the brightest being in Metru Nui, but even he knew what would happen if he landed in the vat of molten protodermis. His hand shot out and grabbed onto the edge of the catwalk, and he began to pull himself back up.

Lhikan glanced toward Vakama. The Matoran had been watching the struggle, so frozen with shock that he had not noticed the damage done by Nidhiki’s earlier blast. But Lhikan could see that the catwalk on which Vakama stood was about to collapse.

“Vakama! Move!” he shouted.

It was already too late. Metal groaned and snapped and the catwalk broke free of its supports, sending Vakama sliding toward molten doom. Ignoring the threat of Nidhiki, Lhikan jumped to the broken platform and grabbed hold of the Matoran.

Nidhiki’s eyes narrowed. “Compassion was always your weakness, brother,” he said.

Lhikan struggled to haul Vakama back up to relative safety. Then he suddenly felt himself seized and lifted into the air. The Toa turned to see that Krekka had taken control of the crane, and it was that which now dangled Lhikan and Vakama over the bubbling vat. “It’s swim time!” snarled Krekka.

The Dark Hunter shifted the controls and began to lower the crane toward the vat. Lhikan summoned all his strength, and hoisted Vakama high so the Matoran could grab onto the clawlike end of the crane. “Don’t let go,” the Toa ordered.

“Wasn’t planning to,” Vakama replied.

That had been the easy part. Now Toa Lhikan started to swing his body back and forth like a pendulum, trying to build up enough force to execute his only possible plan. He didn’t think about what would happen if he failed, or about the molten substance waiting below – his entire focus was on the timing and speed of his swing.

At the crucial moment, Lhikan let go of the crane and went sailing through the air. He landed on top of the machine’s cab, much to the surprise of Krekka. Before the Dark Hunter could react, Lhikan had shouldered him aside and stopped the crane’s descent.

The Toa had no chance to celebrate his triumph. An energy web launched by Nidhiki wrapped around Lhikan, trapping him. As he struggled in vain to escape, his eyes locked on the Matoran.

“Vakama, the Great Spirit depends on you!” he cried. “Save the heart of Metru Nui!”

Krekka released an arc of dark energy that bound the Toa’s hands, but Vakama could no longer see. His mind had been overtaken by a vision of the future…

Time slowing, slowing, almost coming to a stop. A face coming closer, but obscured by waves of elemental energy. Now it became clearer… it was Lhikan… but twisted and distorted… and behind him, a pair of red eyes that radiated pure evil…

The horrifying sight snapped Vakama out of his trance, but left him weak and trembling. He glanced around dazedly, and was just in time to see Lhikan being dragged off by Krekka and Nidhiki. “Time is short!” yelled Lhikan. “Stop the darkness!”

“No!” Vakama shouted. For, in truth, there was nothing else he could do.

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