Vakama walked through the dark cavern, Nokama a step or two behind him. He had never been here before, only heard about the place from Onewa. Despite his assurances to his companion, he really had no idea if he would find what it was he was seeking here. But if this place was not the end of the journey, perhaps it would at least point him in the right direction.

He reached a dead end at the back of the cave. When Onewa had been here, an earthquake had weakened the stone, revealing a chamber beyond. In this strange, different Metru Nui, there had been no quake. Yet there had to be a way inside, and Vakama was determined to find it. He closed his eyes and ran his hands across the stone, searching for the part of the wall that did not feel quite right.

After what felt like hours, he found it. There was a tiny, recessed portion of the rock that even someone as unschooled in caves as Vakama could tell was not natural. Taking a deep breath and steeling himself for whatever might come, he pressed on the stone.

The wall slid aside. Vakama saw something moving impossibly fast. Then it slammed into his face, adhering to his mask. He fell over, but never felt the impact. His mind was somewhere else, lost in a whirling haze of color and sound. Thoughts that were not his own invaded his mind. Memories of things he had never experienced washed over him. He fought to maintain his sanity against this mental assault. Finally, the pressure subsided and a form took shape in his mind’s eye.

It was a Toa, that much was certain, but not one Vakama had ever seen before. His armor looked sleeker and more streamlined than that of a Toa Metru, almost like the carvings of ancient heroes Vakama had seen in the Archives. Yet somehow he sensed this Toa was not some figure from the past.

“I am Toa Krakua,” the figure stated. “I greet you, brother, in the name of all the Toa who have gone before and all of those who have yet to be.”

“What… what’s going on here?” Vakama asked. “I’ve never heard of any Toa Krakua. Am I dreaming?”

The strange Toa shook his head. “No, Vakama, you are seeing as only you can see. Remember? You were gifted, even as a Matoran, with the power to see fragments of the future. I am one of those fragments, a Toa who will never come to be unless you succeed in your task.”

“What task? What am I supposed to do?”

The Toa raised his sword. The tool began to vibrate and hum, and then sonic waves shattered a solid stone wall. “Find the truth, no matter what barrier blocks your way. Deception can strike you down, as surely as any blow from an enemy. You are a Toa without armor in a chamber of swords, Vakama, and only the truth can protect you.”

Krakua paused, and then said, “You do not believe me.”

Vakama was startled. He had doubts, certainly, about what he was seeing, but he felt that nothing in his expression would have betrayed them.

“And nothing did,” said Toa Krakua. “I wear Kanohi Suletu, the Mask of Telepathy. Your thoughts are open to me.”

“What truth am I supposed to find?” Vakama asked. “Why won’t you speak plainly?”

Toa Krakua smiled. “The future can only share so much with the past, Vakama. That is a law even a Toa does not have the power to change.”

“Isn’t there anything you can tell me?”

“Two things will I share with you – I said before that if you fail, I will never exist. You must be prepared to fail, brother. If necessary, you must be willing to destroy the future and all that is now to stop evil from spreading.”

“And the second?”

“Six heroes will one day be called upon to make a perilous journey into the darkest place you can imagine. They will brave the lightning… they will walk through the fire… they will stare into the eyes of evil, and if they waver even once, they will die. And you, Vakama, will bear the most terrible burden of all.”

Vakama could see where this was going. “I will have to lead them.”

Toa Krakua shook his head. “No, nothing as easy as that. You will have to send them on this quest, knowing they may never return… and knowing you can do nothing for them but wait and hope.”

The mysterious figure opened his mouth as if to say more. Then a wave of shadow passed over him and he was gone, carried away by the darkness. Vakama’s eyes snapped open and he realized with a start that he was still in the cavern. The creature was gone from his mask, but not very far.

“I thought you might prefer your Kanohi mask without this accessory.” Turaga Lhikan stood there, holding the squirming thing in his hand. It looked like a cross between the small krana that lived inside Bohrok and the serpent-like kraata that lurked inside the creatures called Rahkshi. Vakama had seen such a thing once before, when it attacked Onewa near one of Makuta’s lairs.

If it is here, then I’ve found the place I sought, he said to himself. Now I just have to get out of here alive.

“Are you all right?” asked Lhikan as Vakama rose to his feet.

“Are you dead?” Vakama replied.

“Of course not!”

“Then I’m not all right.” Vakama looked around. The walls were covered in carvings. He tried to read them but they were in an unfamiliar language. He had a feeling even Nokama would have a hard time translating all this, and he knew better than to ask the Matoran who stood silently beside him. Long tables lined both of the walls, littered with Kanoka disks, fragments of ancient tablets, and other artifacts.

“It was lucky for you I was here,” Turaga Lhikan said. “If I had not gotten that creature off of you –”

“I might have learned more than you want me to know,” Vakama finished for him. “Your mask is excellent – I’m a maskmaker, I should know. But as always with items made by amateurs, you left a flaw.”

Vakama sprang to one of the tables, grabbed a Kanoka disk, and flung it with all his might right at Nokama’s head. Startled, the Matoran never moved. The whirling disk hit her mask – and passed right through.

Now Vakama knew what he had suspected was true: This wasn’t Nokama. The instant he completely stopped believing that she was genuine, her form began to ripple and change. In fact, everything around him was changing and transforming, as the elaborate illusion he had been living abruptly collapsed. His own perspective on the world changed, too, and he now saw himself for what he truly was and always had been: the Toa Metru of Fire.

The image of Nokama was gone now, replaced by the reality of a Visorak Boggarak. It had been cloaked in an illusion of Nokama all this time, and her voice had been created by the power behind the ruse. Vakama felt a shadow fall on him and knew that behind his back “Turaga Lhikan” was changing, too.

No surprise, he reminded himself. And whatever I must face, I will face it as a Toa.

Slowly, Toa Vakama turned to confront his enemy.

Outside the cave, the Shadowed One and Sentrakh waited. It had been a long time since Vakama and his Boggarak companion had gone inside. To anyone else watching, it would have been a bizarre scene to see a Toa and a Visorak walking side by side, with the Toa having a one-sided conversation all the while. But the Shadowed One had seen this sort of thing before and was not easily impressed.

“I would have expected something more original,” he said to Sentrakh. “It is an old strategy – if an attack on the body might fail, then attack the mind. I do not know exactly what Vakama was seeing or who he thought he traveled with, but it was all a sham, staged for his benefit. Now what could a Toa possess that would make someone go to such trouble to trick him?”

Sentrakh whirled at the sound of a heavy footstep on the rocky ground. In the distance, he could see the monstrous form of the Voporak coming toward them. The creature held something in its hand that gleamed even in the dim sunlight of Metru Nui.

It had taken the Voporak a long time to sense its master’s presence in the city. The fulfillment of its life’s purpose – the acquisition of the Mask of Time – had blinded it to any other concern. Now it came to present proof of its triumph to the one being it revered.

The Shadowed One saw his creature approaching and smiled. Even from far away, he could recognize the legendary shape of the Mask of Time. So it had come into being, at last… and the Voporak had done what it was created to do, track down and seize the mask from its owner.

Now it all made sense. Vakama’s presence here… the complicated effort to convince him the world was not as he knew it to be… all one big trap to wrest knowledge about the Mask of Time from the unsuspecting Toa. And all the while, the mask itself was in the hands of the Voporak and about to become the property of the Dark Hunters.

The Shadowed One turned to Sentrakh and gestured toward the cave. “We have what they are seeking,” he said. “We do not need them anymore.”

Sentrakh nodded. A moment later, he unleashed a Rhotuka spinner at the mountain. It struck a boulder high above the cave. The result was a massive rock slide that buried the mouth of the cave.

“One less Toa to prove an annoyance,” the Shadowed One said approvingly. “And as for the other… when we return, we will send a venom flyer to the Brotherhood of Makuta expressing our sympathy for their loss. They will brood and rage, but they will never be able to see our hand in this. And without proof, the Brotherhood will not risk a war.”

The Shadowed One took the Mask of Time from the Voporak and admired its craftsmanship. It was hard to believe that this simple mask had enough power to change a universe – or destroy it. It felt good in his hand, as if it belonged in the possession of someone who would know how to use it.

And I do know, oh yes, the Shadowed One thought. Soon, every living being will tremble at the news – the day of the Dark Hunters has arrived.

The shock of the rock slide shook the cave, knocking Vakama off balance. He scrambled to his feet to find himself confronted by his worst nightmare.

The being who stood before him was an armored colossus who radiated power and evil. Crimson eyes gleamed with menace behind a rusted and pitted Kanohi mask. Great skeletal wings moved gently in a nonexistent breeze. His presence made every shadow in the cave seem deeper, every hope seem more distant, every bit of light seem suffocated by darkness.

“Makuta,” Vakama whispered.

“Yes, little Toa,” the giant rumbled. “Makuta, free to pursue my destiny once more… once I have the Mask of Time. I thought I’d get it from you with guile rather than force, but somehow you penetrated my illusion.” He leaned forward, his eyes boring into Vakama’s. “Tell me how.”

The Toa of Fire took an involuntary step backward. “You were… sloppy,” he said. “It almost worked. But then Nokama said something about how bad I was at hiding Toa stones – something that she and I didn’t do until after we had become Toa. If we had never been Toa, how would she have known about it? That was what started me thinking. So I ‘reminded’ her of a game played near the Great Furnace – an event that never happened – and she recalled it well.”

Vakama’s hand edged toward a Kanoka disk as he kept talking. “If she wasn’t real, then was any of the rest of it? I had been thinking the Mask of Time caused all the changes, but if it hadn’t… then something, or someone, else had. Since that would be a sadistic, cruel, demented thing to do, I naturally thought of you.”

Makuta smiled. “Brave words from a Toa with no place to run,” he said, gesturing toward the buried cave mouth. “But once I have the mask, I can easily free myself. Where is it, Vakama?”

“I don’t have it,” Vakama replied, bracing himself for whatever might come next. “It was stolen from me by a creature called Voporak.”

In the past, Vakama had seen Makuta in triumph, in pain, angry, desperate, and defiant. He had never seen anything like the rage that now distorted the entity’s features. Makuta was too furious even to form words. Before the Toa could move to defend himself, Makuta raised an armored hand and unleashed a shattering surge of dark energy, blasting Vakama into oblivion.

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