46

The Vahki transport exploded out of the ground. Matau had been worried about the possibility of injuring Matoran when the vehicle hit the surface. Now he saw he need not have worried, because there were no Matoran in sight.

Anywhere.

For the first time, the Toa of Air wondered if they were going to be too late. They would go down in legend as the heroes who took too long to come to the rescue. Then again, if they weren’t on time, there might not be anyone left to write the legends. He leaned on the throttle and rocketed the transport to the heart of the city.

 

Up front, Whenua collapsed, exhausted. He had never felt such complete and utter fatigue in his whole life, but it was a good feeling. It meant he had done his job and come through when the Toa needed him most. Maybe he could do this job, after all.

Onewa leaned forward. “Hey, glow-head.”

Whenua turned to look at him, bracing for another one of Onewa’s insults. But instead the Toa of Stone held out a hand and said, “Well done, my brother.”

Both Toa smiled and clanked their fists together.

 

Further back, Vakama was absorbed in mask-making once again. He couldn’t explain why, but he had a strong feeling this mask he was making was going to be vital to saving the city.

If it can be saved, he thought. Whoever is posing as Dume has Nidhiki, Krekka, and the Vahki on his side. Plus the Matoran believe him to be the city’s elder and will follow his orders. I only hope they are not the last orders they ever follow.

 

Matoran streamed into the Coliseum from all over the city, under the watchful optical sensors of the Vahki. Most looked confused, some looked worried, but a few were simply happy for a break from work. All of them had come in response to Turaga Dume’s call. They had no idea what had prompted the city-wide alert, but they were sure it was nothing that Dume could not handle. After all, he was the Turaga, wasn’t he?

 

The false Turaga Dume watched the unsuspecting Matoran file in. They were so innocent. They would never be able to handle the changes that were coming. Better that they should be sheltered from it all, until such time as he decided they could resume their lives again.

He turned to look at the massive sundial. The shadows of the twin suns had begun to partially overlap. Smiling, he glanced at a Kanohi Mask of Power that hung on the wall, the symbol of the Great Spirit Mata Nui.

“Ah, twilight,” he whispered. “The dawn of shadows.”

 

The Vahki transport sped through the streets of Metru Nui. None of the Toa Metru said a word as they traveled. They were all taking in the spectacle of a completely empty city. The streets, workplaces, and chutes were all deserted, almost as if no one had ever lived there. It was awe-inspiring and more than a little frightening.

On screens all over the city, the image of Turaga Dume hung like a shadow. He repeated the same words, over and over: “Matoran of Metru Nui are required to gather at the Great Coliseum for an important announcement.”

Vakama turned to Turaga Lhikan. “Turaga, you said I must ‘stop the darkness.’ But sunsfall isn’t for–”

“Just because the suns hang above us now does not mean that they will always burn bright,” Lhikan replied.

Nuju and Whenua looked skywards to see the two suns arc toward each other. “Of course,” said the Toa of Earth. “The legend of eternal shadow.”

“When the light of the Great Spirit will be lost,” said Nuju.

Nokama understood now, and it was worse than she could ever have imagined. “We don’t have much time!” she cried, not realizing that time had already run out.

 

Matoran sat expectantly in their seats, engaging in nervous conversation with each other. Then the huge Coliseum screen flared to life and the mask of Turaga Dume looked down upon them.

“Matoran, rejoice, for today will be a momentous climax to your history,” he said, in a benevolent tone.

The Matoran looked at each other, puzzled. Their confusion grew as Vahki transports pulled into the arena, carrying scores of shiny silver capsules.

 

Matau steered the transport sharply around a corner and poured on the speed. The Coliseum was just up ahead, its entrance guarded by Vahki enforcers. “Grip-tight!” shouted the Toa of Air.

The Vahki realized too late that the vehicle was not going to stop. Startled, they dove aside as the transport smashed through the Coliseum gates. Debris flew everywhere. Matau fought to maintain control as the vehicle skidded across the arena floor.

Come on, he said to himself. You are a Toa-hero! You are a Le-Metru star! You can stop one quick-fast Vahki cart!

He yanked back on the controls and the rear of the vehicle whipped to the right before finally sliding to a stop. But if Matau expected applause from the audience of Matoran, he was sadly mistaken. There were no Matoran in the Coliseum… none that were conscious, anyway. Shocked, the Toa Metru saw the Vahki closing the last of the capsules, which now contained the population of Metru Nui.

The Toa of Air shook his head. This could not be right. There were nowhere near enough capsules here to hold all of the Matoran. Where were the rest of them?

A voice came from the giant screen, but it was not the voice of Turaga Dume. It was a dark sound that sent chills through the Toa. It was the sound of shadow and fear, decay and rot, a corruption beyond anything the Toa could imagine. It was the growls of wild Rahi in the night, the hiss of angry Rahkshi, and the thunder that shook the ground, all entwined together in one terrible noise.

“Too late, Toa,” the false Turaga said. “The shadow has arrived.”

The Toa Metru looked up at the screen. “Turaga Dume” slowly reached up and removed his mask, revealing a pair of blazing red eyes and a face all too well-known to the heroes. Even in the shape of a Turaga, there was no denying the raw power that radiated from the figure. Once he had been a being trusted and respected by all, but now… now he was a stranger from the shadows.

Turaga Lhikan was the first to find his voice. “Makuta,” he said, stunned. “You were sworn to protect the Matoran!”

“I shall,” said Makuta. “And when they awake, I will be their Great Spirit.”

Vakama could not believe what he was hearing. He knew there was a plot against the Matoran, he knew that “Dume” was an impostor, but he had never dreamed of something so monstrous. How could Makuta – how could anyone – be so twisted and evil that he would try to take the place of the Great Spirit, Mata Nui?

“Deceit and self-interest will never be virtues the Matoran honor,” the Toa of Fire spat.

A rumble began to grow, slowly at first, then faster, so loud it was deafening. Yet Makuta’s voice could be clearly heard through the din, heavy with triumph. “How very bold. Now embrace the nightfall. Even the Great Spirit will soon sleep.”

The Toa and Turaga lifted fearful eyes to the sky. A darkness passed over them, cutting off the light. Shadow reached down like a great hand to seize Metru Nui, engulfing the city in an all-consuming blackness. Midday had become midnight.

Forked lightning bolts stabbed down from the Coliseum’s energy pylons. The ground shook violently as a spiderweb of cracks appeared in the walls. A great fissure appeared in the floor of the arena, racing toward the heroes.

The legend of eternal shadow had come true. The end of all was near.

Only the Vahki, heartless machines that they were, seemed unfazed by the disaster unfolding around them. Optical receptors aglow in the darkness, they marched toward the Toa’s vehicle. Makuta obviously intended that there would be no loose ends left behind.

But worrying about their own safety was the last thing on the minds of the Toa. “We must find the Matoran!” yelled Vakama. “Whenua!”

Whenua nodded and concentrated as never before. His Mask of Power glowed as brightly as a sun, its light piercing the ground. Suddenly he was able to see through solid matter, his vision extending down into a storage hold far beneath the Coliseum. Vahki enforcers were busy stacking silver cylinders on huge metal racks that stretched from floor to ceiling.

“Below the Coliseum!” said Whenua.

The Toa of Air slammed on the controls, throwing the transport into high gear. Vahki went flying as the Toa headed for an underground access tunnel. One Vahki managed to recover in time to leap and dig its tools into the rear of the transport, slowly starting to climb toward where the Toa sat.

Nokama turned and spotted the unwelcome guest. With a quick swipe of her hydro blades, she sliced off that section of the transport, sending the Vahki tumbling away.

 

Makuta triggered the controls that caused Dume’s box to ascend. The energy pylons bent to his will, sending their lightning discharges into his body. He hungrily absorbed the raw energy into himself until it became too much for the frail form of a Turaga to bear.

The moment he had waited for – the moment of transformation – had arrived.

 

The transport roared through the tunnel. Three Vahki leaped from above as it passed, landing on the roof of the vehicle. They immediately began pounding with their tools to gain access.

Inside the cockpit, Matau flipped a lever. The transport’s legs extended, lifting the vehicle up high. A second later, a “low bridge” stripped the Vahki off the top and sent them tumbling to the ground.

The transport slid to a stop in the middle of the storage facility. The Toa disembarked to view a horrifying sight. All around them were the silver spheres, stacked as high as the eye could see. Each one contained a Matoran who not so long ago had been laughing, working, playing.

Nokama peered inside one of the spheres. The Matoran within slept an unnatural sleep, eyes dark, heartlight faintly pulsating. He was still alive, at least, but trapped in a slumber which, for all the Toa knew, was endless.

“Can we save them all?” she asked.

“Time is too short,” replied Vakama. “But if we save a few, we save hope for all.”

The Toa hurriedly loaded six spheres into the transport, all the while watching for Vahki. They could not know what was happening up above, but in their hearts they knew Makuta would not let them escape without a fight.

“Let’s get them to safety,” said Vakama.

 

High above the Coliseum, Makuta now reigned supreme. His frail Turaga form had been replaced by a swirling vortex of dark energy. The energy pylons continued to pour bolts of lightning into his new shape, feeding him the power he craved. Makuta’s red eyes gleamed in the center of the shadow.

Nivawk circled the vortex, careful not to come too close. His caution was wasted, as a black tendril of pure energy reached out and dragged him into the swirling mass of darkness.

 

Hidden by the shadows, the Vahki transport accelerated away from the Coliseum. Matau struggled to keep the vehicle on the road as earth tremors rocked the city. Towers crumbled and chutes buckled and fell as they raced toward Ga-Metru.

Suddenly Krekka and Nidhiki were flanking the vehicle in their flight modes. Before any of the Toa could react, they had morphed back into their normal shapes and leaped into the vehicle. Krekka grabbed Matau, fighting him for control of the transport.

“Time for a new driver!” shouted the Dark Hunter.

Nidhiki ignored the Toa and made straight for Lhikan, his eyes filled with hate. “Toa or Turaga, Lhikan, your fate shall be the same.”

Nidhiki launched an energy web at the Turaga, only to watch, astounded, as it slowed and then stopped in midair. Nearby, Nuju’s mask glowed as he used his telekinetic power to halt the net.

Now it was Onewa’s turn. He focused his power of mind control on Krekka, taking over the body of the Dark Hunter. Under Onewa’s direction, Krekka whirled and grabbed hold of Nidhiki.

“Get off!” shouted Nidhiki.

“My thoughts exactly,” Onewa muttered. With a mental shove, Krekka jumped off the speeding vehicle, taking his partner with him.

Lhikan smiled and clanked his fist with Onewa.

 

Nidhiki and Krekka shook their heads, trying to recover from the impact of hitting the road. Krekka had no idea how they had wound up there. The last thing he remembered, he was fighting the green Toa and winning.

Neither one noticed the coils of dark energy approaching. Then the shadow was around them both, dragging them back into the Coliseum to an unknown fate.

 

 

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