Voporak surveyed the canyon. Its rocky floor was littered now with thousands of fragments of Rahkshi armor and the withered husks of countless kraata. Makuta’s creatures had kept coming for hours, until finally their numbers were depleted.
He felt no sadness at the sight, only irritation. These things had no chance against him, after all, and it was a waste of time making him prove it.
Or was it?
Voporak glanced at the cave mouth. It was still buried in rubble. With suspicion nagging at the back of his mind, he bounded up the rocky slope. The first thing he saw was the melted slab of rock through which Makuta and Vakama had escaped.
So it had all been a trick, he realized. Rather than face him in battle, Makuta and the Toa had dishonored themselves by fleeing, and dishonored him in the eyes of the Shadowed One. For that, they would get the rare privilege of watching as their lives sped by in seconds and death rushed to claim them.
Voporak looked down at the rocks. Tiny scratches and scrapes in the stone revealed where his enemies had walked. He would track them until they fell. Then he would make sure they did not rise again.
All Ta-Matoran maskmakers were, at heart, mathematicians. Getting a mask exactly right was a matter of figuring the precise volume of liquid protodermis needed, the proper angles of the carving, and a hundred other calculations. It was that solid background in math that enabled Vakama to know with certainty that he had only 9.6 seconds to live.
The Kanoka disk power had worn off. Sentrakh was back to full size and had not wavered since beginning his attack. Vakama guessed that total focus was required to maintain the flow of energy that was turning him to stone. What was needed was something to break Sentrakh’s concentration – or just break Sentrakh.
The transmutation effect had not yet reached Vakama’s eyes. He cast them about looking desperately for an answer. Almost ready to give up hope, he spotted something two chambers away, or thought he did. From where he was, it looked like a black vial, the same kind that the Toa Metru had once used to collect energized protodermis. Ga-Matoran had experimented with that substance in the past, trying to artificially recreate it. If there was energized protodermis in that tube… and if it was flammable… and if he could do something about it before his time was up…
There was no time to worry about the odds. As it was, Vakama needed to buy an extra two seconds for his plan to have a chance to work. Fortunately, Sentrakh’s power was affecting only Vakama’s body, not his mind. He mentally triggered his Kanohi Huna and turned invisible. As he did so, he fought the stiffness in his wrist and moved his hand ever so slightly, sending a thin beam of fire from his index finger at the vial.
Startled by the disappearance of his target, Sentrakh let up just slightly on his attack. His first thought was that the Toa had been teleported somehow. He never noticed the narrow jet of flame until it was too late.
Fire struck the vial, superheating its surface. The temperature of its contents rose by several thousand degrees. Pressure built up in the sealed vial with no way to escape, as precious seconds ticked away.
If this doesn’t work, I’m my own stone memorial, Vakama thought. But if I get really lucky, I only have to worry about being blown through a wall by an explosion. It’s certainly good to be a Toa again!
Makuta threw all his strength against Keetongu. The Rahi fought back with his own enormous might, with the rapidly whirling shield array between them. It was a deadlock, and with these two entities involved, it might last for eternity.
Then the master of shadows did the unexpected. As Keetongu bore down upon him, Makuta suddenly stopped fighting. With no more resistance, the Rahi could not keep from being propelled forward by his own strength. Makuta rolled backward, hurling Keetongu over him and slamming the Rahi onto the ground.
Before Keetongu could react, Makuta struck again. Heat vision shot from his eyes and struck Keetongu’s armored chest, welding shut the compartment that hid his Rhotuka launcher. Robbed of his ability to use that tool, Keetongu had no way to release any energy he absorbed.
“I see fear in your eyes, beast,” said Makuta. “Perhaps now you see that Sidorak’s power was a mere fraction of my glorious darkness. How do you think the Rahaga will feel when they discover the body of their mighty Rahi ally? Will they mourn you, or just decide it is one less animal to clean up after?”
Keetongu lashed out with his pickax and landed a solid blow. Makuta grunted and unleashed chain lightning against the tool, sending electricity coursing through Keetongu’s frame. Makuta’s metallic wings carried him up off the ground and he hovered above his fallen foe.
“Now, how best to finish you off? Carry you out to sea and dash you against the rocks? Stake you out and leave you for hungry Rahi? So many things to choose from, but then the future ruler of the universe must get used to making difficult decisions. I believe I will select –”
An explosion ripped through the Great Temple. The shockwave struck Makuta in midair, sending him tumbling end over end out to sea. Keetongu, too, was blown away, barely catching on to a rocky cliffside with his pick. Neither was in any condition to see Vakama and Sentrakh come flying out of the building.
The Toa of Fire lay on the ground, waiting for the pinwheels of light to stop flashing in front of his eyes and the gongs to stop going off inside his mind. His Toa armor had come through the explosion largely unscathed, but the muscle beneath it was aching. Sentrakh lay nearby, unmoving. Vakama doubted his enemy was dead – he wasn’t sure the thing even could die – but it seemed no threat now.
He painfully rose to his feet. In the distance, he could see Makuta winging his way back to the Great Temple. He was stunned to spot Keetongu climbing over the edge of the cliff, looking like he had been stepped on by Tahtorak. Before Vakama could call out to him, the great Rahi collapsed, unconscious.
Vakama started running toward his fallen ally. He had gone only a few steps when a block of solid, crystalline protodermis formed around his feet and ankles and he toppled forward onto the hard ground.
“No need to hurry, Toa,” a voice said behind him. “Your race is over.”
At first, Vakama thought this was the betrayal by Makuta he had been expecting. But Makuta was still far out to sea, though closing fast on the Great Temple. The Toa rolled over onto his back and saw two figures looming over him. One was Voporak, the other a monstrous being carrying a spear and one thing more: the Mask of Time!
“I am the Shadowed One,” the being said in a harsh whisper. “Doubtless you have not heard of me, but you knew two of my agents: Nidhiki and Krekka. You and your kind killed two Dark Hunters, Toa, and now you must pay in kind.”
Twin beams shot from the Shadowed One’s eyes. Halfway to Vakama, they mysteriously disappeared in midair, only to reappear several yards away. They struck part of the Great Temple and that section vanished from existence.
A winged shadow fell over Vakama. Makuta had arrived.
“Why do you interfere, great Makuta?” the Shadowed One demanded, saying “great” as if the term was an insult.
Makuta alighted on the ground. “Because it amuses me to do so. A simple trick, to teleport your eyebeams from the air and redirect them as I chose.”
“Beware,” said the Shadowed One. “The Dark Hunters have a right to revenge. You will not save this Toa.”
Makuta’s eyes glittered with malice. “The Toa? What care I for a Toa? If you want his life, you may have it – give me the Mask of Time and he is yours.”
Wonderful, thought Vakama. Two of the most evil beings in existence and I’m stuck between them. Here’s hoping they don’t decide to split the difference, and me along with it.
The Shadowed One shook his head. “Ah, so you value this little bauble, do you? I would be unworthy of my high office if I deprived the Dark Hunters of such a powerful tool. I am afraid, great Makuta, that I must keep the mask, and the Toa.”
“Unacceptable,” Makuta replied. There was no implied threat in his voice. There was no need. He was Makuta – his very existence was a threat to all who lived.
The Shadowed One gestured toward Voporak. “We are two to your one.”
Makuta unleashed blasts of shadow energy, not at his foes, but at the ground beneath their feet. A great pit yawned before them and only swift reflexes kept Voporak and the Shadowed One from falling into what might have been their grave.
“A hollow advantage, Dark Hunter, when that ‘one’ is Makuta,” said the master of shadows. “I will have my mask.”
Vakama felt like he had walked into a realm of madness. Makuta was power personified, and this Shadowed One was provoking him. Voporak’s abilities tampered with a fundamental force of the universe, and Makuta did not seem to care. A full-scale conflict would destroy Metru Nui, unless he did something about it. He willed the imprisoned parts of his body to superheat, hoping to melt or shatter his bonds, all the while watching the conflict brew around him.
“The Mask of Time, and this Toa’s life, are my compensation for the loss of two Dark Hunters,” said the Shadowed One. “They were sent here at your request and did not return. That cannot go unpunished.”
Vakama felt himself rising into the air. Makuta had negated gravity underneath him and he now hovered between the two villains.
“If it must be, it must be,” Makuta sighed. “Very well. Kill the Toa, if it will satisfy your need for revenge, and then we two will discuss the fate of the mask like civilized beings.”
Vakama had heard enough. He was a Toa, not some trinket to be bartered over at a market. Anger fueled his fire, and the solid protodermis that bound him shattered, sending fragments of crystal flying everywhere. Startled, Makuta lost control of gravity and Vakama fell, twisting in midair to land on his feet.
The Toa of Fire took a step back, raising both hands, palms out, and pointing them at Makuta and the Shadowed One. White-hot flame swirled in his palms, just waiting to be launched at his foes.
“This stops now,” he said. “My city has suffered enough at the hands of such as you.”
“Foolish Toa,” replied the Shadowed One. “Any of the three of us could cut you down where you stand in an instant.”
“That will be an instant longer than I need to turn you to ash, Dark Hunter,” said the Toa. “So who wants to be first?”
The Toa looked from Makuta to the Shadowed One and back again. As he expected, both were waiting for the other to make the first move and pay the price for it.
“You say you want to avenge Nidhiki and Krekka,” Vakama continued. “Then take a hard look at Makuta. Recognize anything?”
The Shadowed One looked at the winged, armored figure who stood before him. He had seen Makuta in different guises before, but now that he examined him closely, he could see parts of the master of shadows were disturbingly familiar. It seemed as if Makuta had become an amalgamation of himself, Nidhiki, Krekka, and some other creature, a situation that was only possible if –
“You killed them!” the Shadowed One hissed. “You summoned Dark Hunters to your side and then sacrificed them to your own insane ambitions. Even a member of the Brotherhood of Makuta cannot treat the Dark Hunters this way! Now it is to be war between us!”
Makuta shrugged. “And to the victor goes the mask. Shall we?”
“We shall,” the Shadowed One replied. At his signal, Voporak advanced. Makuta readied himself for that being’s attack, taking his eyes off the Dark Hunter leader for a crucial second. The Shadowed One used that moment to strike, his eyebeams disintegrating Makuta’s wings. The master of shadows bellowed in pain.
Forgotten in the conflict was Vakama, who took advantage of the respite to check on Keetongu. The Rahi was badly weakened but still alive. Vakama had no doubt that whoever won the fight would target him and Keetongu next, unless he gave them something better to do.
Voporak had moved in on Makuta. Even the master of shadows was at a disadvantage against a foe that could use time as a tool. Rather than strike out at him, Makuta was using his mind-reading power to anticipate and dodge Voporak’s blows. All the while, Makuta strategized, looking for a weak point in his enemies’ defenses.
“First you will fall, then the rest of your Brotherhood,” vowed the Shadowed One. “With the Mask of Time in my hands, no one – not you, not the Toa – will be able to stop the Dark Hunters.”
Then I will have to get it out of your hands, thought Vakama. He attached his Kanoka disk launcher to his back and triggered its flight pack function. But instead of heading toward the fight, he rocketed high into the air over the ocean.
Voporak landed a glancing blow. Pain wracked Makuta where his foe had touched him, as that small portion of his form aged rapidly. The shock took his breath away… and suddenly he had the answer.
When Voporak charged again, Makuta summoned his ability to create a vacuum. Accelerated time would affect almost any kind of power, but this was not an attack vulnerable to the passage of years. No amount of time would create air where there was none, and even Voporak needed to breathe.
The Shadowed One saw his minion stumble, trying in vain to fight off the lack of air. The leader of the Dark Hunters aimed his spear at Makuta and unleashed a blast of solid protodermis. The crystalline substance bound Makuta’s arms to his sides.
“This held you before. It will do so again,” said the Shadowed One. He held the Mask of Time high to taunt the master of shadows. “Perhaps I will even allow you to live, to witness my conquest of time itself.”
This was the moment Vakama had been waiting for. He went into a screaming power dive, aiming straight for the Mask of Time in the Shadowed One’s hand. Moving so fast that he was only a blur, he swooped down and snatched the mask from the Dark Hunter leader and rocketed off with it.
Enraged, the Shadowed One hurled his eyebeams at the fleeing figure. By chance, they struck Vakama’s flight pack, badly damaging it. The Toa Metru spun out of control.
“Go after him!” the Shadowed One barked at Voporak. But the time-bending being was no longer listening. Makuta’s vacuum had starved his brain of air and he had collapsed.
“Then I will do it myself,” said the Shadowed One. He turned away from Makuta, saying over his shoulder, “And when I have that Toa’s mask on the end of my spear, I will return to deal with you.”
The Shadowed One took three steps before the sound of Makuta’s voice stopped him.
He glanced behind to see his enemy still bound.
“If you believe you can ‘deal with’ me,” the master of shadows said, “then you know nothing of Makuta!”
With that, the armored figured flexed his muscles and shattered his protodermis bonds. Then he advanced on the Shadowed One, his crimson eyes raging. The Shadowed One hurled more solid protodermis, only to have Makuta bat it aside. In desperation, he launched his eyebeams and dissolved a portion of Makuta’s breastplate. But still the master of shadows kept coming, never hesitating for a moment, his eyes locked on the Shadowed One’s.
“You have challenged me,” Makuta said coldly. “Wounded me. Imprisoned me. Dared to place your petty ambitions above my wishes. You sought to make time your ally, Shadowed One – now let it be your death!”
Makuta lifted the Shadowed One high into the air and hurled him at the prone form of Voporak. As soon as he struck his minion, Voporak’s defensive time field took effect. The Shadowed One could feel countless years slipping by him, his body weakening, his final moments now a yawning chasm before him.
Satisfied, the master of shadows turned and stalked away toward Ta-Metru. Vakama had been heading in that direction and he still had the Mask of Time. The moment had come to deal with that annoying Toa, once and for all.
Behind him, a now-ancient Shadowed One succeeded in pushing himself away from Voporak. He had aged perhaps three thousand years in a matter of seconds. He could not be sure how much time he had left in this life. But as he watched Makuta depart, he vowed that every moment of it would be devoted to making the master of shadows pay for this moment… and pay… and pay.