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At one time, not so very long ago, the Great Temple had been the grandest, most beautiful building in Metru Nui. Now it was a burned-out ruin, thanks to the Visorak. As he and Makuta approached, Vakama could not take his eyes off of the wrecked structure, as if it were a symbol of all the evil that had befallen his city.

“Ah, my brother’s temple,” said Makuta. “Once so glorious, now dead like the creatures upon which it is built.”

The strange comment shook Vakama out of his thoughts. “Dead… what are you talking about?”

“Many centuries ago, a group of Matoran decided to grasp for greater power,” the Dark One explained. “They exposed themselves to energized protodermis and became reptilian creatures called protocairns. They emerged from the sea just up there and destroyed the shoreline of Ga-Metru, including the Great Temple. Turaga Dume, the fool, had no idea what to do. Fortunately for the city, they died on their own. Their bodies merged together to form a new land mass, including the spit of dirt upon which the current Great Temple sits.”

“Sounds like one of your plans,” Vakama snapped.

Makuta laughed. “Little Toa, you have not yet begun to see even the barest outlines of my plans. I have schemes within schemes that would boggle your feeble mind. You may counter one, but there are a thousand more of which you know nothing. Even my… setbacks… are planned for, and so I shall win in the end.”

The strange pair crossed the bridge that led to the Great Temple. Vakama could not help but remember his encounter with “Toa Vhisola” in Makuta’s illusion. Ever since he had learned that six other Matoran were destined to be Toa Metru, and that his team was the result of Makuta’s tampering with destiny, he had felt like a fraud. No matter how many heroic acts he and the other Toa performed, they would always know Makuta was responsible for their power.

“Why?” Vakama asked.

“Why are you a Toa?” Makuta answered. “No, I did not read your mind, Vakama – it is too quick a read. Your worries are transparent. I looked into the stars and saw the names of six Matoran destined by Mata Nui to be Toa: Nuhrii, Ahkmou, Vhisola, Tehutti, Orkahm, and Ehrye. Not a particularly heroic group, but weak-willed enough that they could have been molded by a strong leader like Toa Lhikan.”

Makuta raised a hand, and shadows blotted out the stars. “And so I chose the six most argumentative, strong-willed, stubborn Matoran I could think of, and I planted their names in Lhikan’s mind. He ignored destiny and chose you and your friends to be Toa Metru. I believed you would fail – as you ultimately will – and even if you do not, I have had the satisfaction of frustrating the will of Mata Nui.”

Their conversation had brought them to the gates of the Great Temple. Makuta gestured for Vakama to go inside. “The Shadowed One must come here to learn whatever can be learned about the mask. You will wait in ambush. I have other matters to attend to.”

Vakama considered arguing. He didn’t trust Makuta out of his sight, especially not in a place still so filled with artifacts of power. But an argument would cost time, and time was something they did not have. He went into the temple.

Makuta waited until he could no longer hear Vakama’s footfalls. Then he turned and said softly, “You can come out now.”

The powerful Rahi called Keetongu emerged from the shadows of the temple. Makuta greeted his arrival with a grim smile of satisfaction.

Vakama had taken up a perch in the rafters of the temple, from which he could see the floor below. He rapidly grew restless. If the Dark Hunters did need information on the Mask of Time, he had no doubt they could go to other sources. Perhaps Makuta just sent me in here to get me out of the way, he thought.

He was about to climb down when he heard sounds of movement from below. He retreated deeper into the shadows and waited. A moment later, a bizarre figure moved swiftly through the chamber below. Vakama could not see it clearly, but the intruder was obviously a being of power.

Vakama sprang from rafter to rafter in pursuit, all the while thinking, I really hate it when Makuta’s right.

Sentrakh heard the telltale sounds of a Toa trying to be silent. He did not bother to look up or give any indication that he knew he was being watched. He had a mission to fulfill in this ruined place. If a Toa, or a group of Toa, wished to watch him, that was no concern of his.

If they chose to try and stop him, they would be captured and brought to the Shadowed One. He would no doubt pry the secrets from their minds. Regrettably, the heroes would have very little mind left when the process was done. That, too, mattered not at all to Sentrakh, beyond the pleasant anticipation of eliminating helpless Toa when the Shadowed One was finished with them.

Of such small moments of amusement was a happy life made.

Vakama had no idea who the creature below him might be, only that he had no business being in the Great Temple. He decided it was time to provide a “Keep Out” sign in words of fire.

The Toa concentrated. A jet of flame erupted from his outstretched hand, forming a fiery ring around Sentrakh. The yellow and black creature glanced at the fires, shrugged, and gestured toward his prison. Suddenly, the flames turned to stone. A kick from Sentrakh fragmented part of the rock ring, and he continued on his way.

One day, there will be an easy foe to fight, Vakama said to himself. Just take its mask off and the battle’s over… right, like that’s going to happen.

Vakama loaded his Kanoka disk launcher and took careful aim. Before he could fire, his target launched a Rhotuka spinner, and the rafter on which the Toa was perched disappeared. Vakama dropped like a stone and hit the floor of the Great Temple.

Sentrakh turned to see what he had caught. He was not impressed. The red Toa was staggering to his feet and taking uncertain aim with a disk launcher. Sentrakh decided it was easier to just keep his new foe distracted rather than engage in all-out battle. Another gesture surrounded Vakama in a sphere of darkness that even his flames would not dispel.

That was Sentrakh’s first mistake. There was a time when impenetrable darkness would have been a barrier to Vakama. But during his time as a Toa Hordika, he had befriended the shadow and learned to use it for his own ends. Blinded to the world around him now, Vakama held his breath and listened.

Dripping water… the cries of Rahi birds… the groaning of the rafters… his mind sifted through all these and rejected them. There – the sound of metal scraping against stone. Vakama whirled and fired his Kanoka disk in the direction of the sound.

Sentrakh never saw the disk coming. One moment, he was functioning normally, the next he was 20 feet high and slamming his head into the rafters. A second later, a second disk hit and he was reduced in size to six inches. His concentration shattered, the darkness shrouding Vakama disappeared. The Toa took two quick strides and scooped up his enemy in his hand.

Now it was Vakama’s turn to have assumed victory too soon. Even reduced in size, Sentrakh’s power had not diminished. Calling on his molecular transmutation abilities, he turned the muscles shielded by Vakama’s armor into solid protodermis. The effect spread slowly throughout the Toa’s body, paralyzing him, and he knew there was worse to come. If Vakama could not find a way to stop the change, his organs would turn to stone as well. Soon, he would be a new piece of very dead statuary to decorate the Great Temple.

Makuta eyed Keetongu. The Rahi’s shield array was rotating rapidly and his bladed tool was raised in preparation for combat. He could obviously sense the evil in Makuta and it was driving him into a rage.

“So. You are the one who destroyed Sidorak,” the master of shadows whispered. “Now you follow me here from Po-Metru, no doubt intending the same fate for me. Unfortunately…”

Coils of solid shadow leaped from Makuta’s hand and wrapped themselves around Keetongu, constricting him.

“I am not Sidorak,” Makuta finished.

Keetongu was an instinctive fighter, not a strategist. Now his instincts told him that these bonds were tied to the will of his attacker. No amount of struggling would shatter them – it was the mental focus of his enemy that had to be targeted. Snarling, Keetongu charged and slammed into Makuta’s armored form, knocking his foe off his feet. Robbed of the concentration needed to maintain them, the bonds vanished.

“You dare?” spat Makuta, rising. He hurled another bolt of darkness, but this time Keetongu was ready. The Rahi absorbed the energy with his shield, channeled it through his armor, and shot it back at Makuta in a Rhotuka spinner.

The spinner struck home. Keetongu advanced to follow up his score, only to find his enemy unhurt.

“You cannot harm me with my own power, beast!” Makuta said. He grabbed Keetongu’s wrist and began to force the rapidly spinning shields toward the Rahi’s throat. “Let us see if the same can be said for you.”

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