1

Garan sat on a rock and wondered how everything had managed to go so wrong. For a thousand years, he and other Matoran had eked out an existence on the island of Voya Nui. It wasn’t easy, not with frequent volcanic eruptions, a dwindling water supply, no Turaga to lead them, and no Toa to protect them. Still, they somehow managed to thrive on this rocky island.

Then, mere weeks ago, it seemed as if their lives were about to change for the better. Six canisters washed up on the icy shore of the island. The powerful figures who emerged from them stated that they were Toa, come to guide the Matoran to a more secure future. Although, in some respects, they did not look like Toa – none of them wore Kanohi masks, for example – most Matoran were so thrilled by the newcomers’ arrival that acceptance was easy.

From the start, the behavior of these new “Toa” was strange. They did little to improve the daily lives of the Matoran. They committed acts of what could best be called casual cruelty. When they did finally put the Matoran to work on major tasks, they were bizarre ones. Some Matoran were detailed to build a vast stronghold, one which they would never be allowed to enter. Others were set to work digging holes in the side of the volcano and carving vast trenches to collect the lava that spilled out.

It wasn’t until later that Garan and a small group of his friends discovered the truth. These Toa were in fact raiders called Piraka, who had come to the island in search of some treasure they believed was hidden in the volcano. Worse, they were storing some sort of virus in their stronghold, one powerful enough to completely enslave a Matoran.

Before Garan’s group could act on what they had learned, the Piraka struck. When they were done, virtually the entire Matoran population of Voya Nui had been made into slaves. In a desperate maneuver, Garan’s best friend, Balta, got close enough to steal one of the virus spheres and bring it back to the others. Then he had vanished into the mountains, trying to lead away the Piraka who pursued him.

For the hundredth time in the past hour, Garan climbed up on an overhanging rock and scanned the mountainside for Balta. Lightning flashes illuminated the area for a kio around, but of his friend, there was no sign.

If they caught him, he’s as good as dead, he told himself. Or worse, he’s become one of their mindless workers, laboring amidst the lava. No – I’ll die myself before I’ll let that be his fate.

“Still no sign?”

Garan turned to see Dalu approaching. She had already asked three times to be allowed to search for Balta. Garan said no, fearing that if the Piraka were nearby, she would be lost as well.

“No.”

“Then I’m going,” she said firmly. “He’s out there and I’ll find him.”

“And if he’s dead?”

“Then I’ll avenge him,” said Dalu.

Piruk scrambled up the slope, out of breath. He had to take a few gulps of air before he could get his message out. “I saw them – the Piraka! Hakann was in the lead, and he was carrying someone up to the volcano crater. I think he is going to throw someone into the lava!”

Garan glanced at Dalu. They were both thinking the same thing: Balta must have been captured and the Piraka were executing him. “Get the others!” Garan shouted at Piruk. “We leave now!”

The Piraka known as Reidak grunted under his burden. While the others had to carry only one Toa apiece, he was stuck with two, the Toa of Fire and the Toa of Water. It wasn’t the first time he had been used as a pack hauler for the group, but that didn’t make him any happier about it.

“Where’s Zaktan?” he growled, looking around for the Piraka leader. “How come he doesn’t have to carry one of these guys up the mountain?”

“That’s simple,” said Hakann. “Because he has us to do it.”

“He took the masks and weapons we collected from these Toa back to the stronghold,” said Avak, “leaving us to throw out the trash.”

Hakann chuckled. These six Toa had appeared on Voya Nui and wound up on the losing end of a battle with the Piraka. Some of the victors had wanted to take the Toa prisoner and find out why they had come to this Mata Nui-forsaken hunk of rock. Did they know about the powerful Kanohi mask said to be hidden here? Were they out to get it for themselves, or had something else brought them to this volcanic isle?

Zaktan made it clear he didn’t care. Even minus their masks and weapons, Toa were too much potential trouble. He ordered that they be tossed into the volcano and left to burn. Then he took the loot and departed.

Hakann glanced over his shoulder at the semiconscious Toa of Ice he carried. He had briefly considered approaching one of these Toa about an alliance of convenience against Zaktan. Then he decided that Toa, as a group, were too simplemindedly noble to ever consider such a thing. Zaktan was right about one thing – it did make more sense to kill the lot of them.

“How much farther?” snapped Vezok. “This Toa of Earth isn’t getting any lighter.”

“Then you shouldn’t have hit him so hard,” replied Hakann. “Just think – a little while ago, he was an all-powerful hero who could make… well, dirt do his bidding. Now he’s just a heavily armored load for Vezok to carry and dump.”

“Keep talking,” replied Vezok. “You’ll be following him into the lava.”

“I don’t think so,” Hakann shot back. “I doubt I would look good charred black.”

Avak suddenly stopped and dumped Pohatu Nuva on the ground. “I’m taking a rest. Whether he goes into the fire now or two minutes from now, he’s just as dead.”

“Why delay?” said Hakann, continuing up the slope. “I haven’t gotten to kill a Toa in weeks. I say we throw them all in at once and see which one hits first.”

Tahu Nuva’s eyes flickered open. The first thing he noticed was that the ground was moving beneath him, but he was not walking. Then he realized both that his body felt strangely weak, and the reason for that – his Kanohi mask was gone. He glanced around for it, trying to conceal the fact that he was awake, but saw no sign.

It all came back to him. The Piraka… the sword fight… defeat. With their masks, the Toa Nuva had been unable to defeat these new enemies. What chance did they have without them?

He took a chance and lifted his head just enough to see where they were going. Up ahead, plumes of white smoke were rising from the crater of the volcano. It didn’t take a genius to figure out their ultimate destination. The only way out he saw was to unleash whatever he could of his elemental power against Reidak, and hope it was enough to down the Piraka. Then he could rally the other Toa and they could make their escape.

Even as he conceived the plan, he realized it was doomed. But he wasn’t going to go to his death being carried like a wounded Rahi. Better to go down fighting.

Tahu readied himself for the attack. That was when he noticed his hands were shaking. It took a moment for him to realize it wasn’t just his hands, but his whole body, and Reidak, and in fact the entire mountainside.

“What’s going on?” Reidak yelled.

“If there were a brain inside that thick armored skull of yours, you would know,” Hakann answered, throwing Kopaka Nuva aside. “The volcano is erupting!”

As if on command, the mountaintop exploded, raining rock and magma and ash down upon them. The Piraka dropped their captives and scattered, trying to outrace the lava flow. Tahu instinctively tried to throw up a shield to protect himself and the others, before remembering he had no Mask of Shielding anymore.

“Pohatu!” he shouted. “We need you!”

The Toa Nuva of Stone was still trying to clear his head. The first thing he saw when his vision cleared was a wave of lava heading for a still-stunned Gali Nuva. There wasn’t time to worry about where his Mask of Speed had gone, only to act. Summoning what elemental power he could, he raised a wall of stone to block the molten flow.

Seizing the chance, Lewa dashed over, grabbed Gali, and dragged her away even as the stone wall began to melt. “We need a bigger barricade!” he yelled.

“I can’t!” said Pohatu, helping Onua to his feet. “Without the mask, my power is too weak.”

“Then make… small ones,” the Toa of Earth muttered. “Lots of them.”

The six Toa Nuva staggered, stumbled, and ran across the mountainside as the lava flowed inexorably toward them. All along the way, Pohatu used his waning power to throw up stone barriers to check the magma’s progress. They didn’t work for long, and when they melted, the lava surged forward. Kopaka got caught in one such surge and badly burned his right leg. Had Tahu not been close by to help him, he would have fallen and been incinerated by the molten mass.

The Toa Nuva kept going long after they were clear of the volcano, heading northeast. Finally, Tahu climbed on a boulder that afforded him a good view of the ground they had covered. Seeing no sign of the Piraka, he signaled the others to rest.

“If we’re fortunate, they’ll think we’re dead,” the Toa Nuva of Fire said. “If not, they will be hunting us soon.”

“Good,” Kopaka answered. He was using his ice power to soothe the damage done to his muscle tissue, but nothing could hide the scorch marks on his armor. “I owe them for some pain. I intend to pay them back in kind.”

“Who are they?” asked Gali.

“I don’t know,” answered Tahu. “But until we know otherwise, we have to assume they are here for the same thing we are: the Kanohi Mask of Life. And if they get it first, we can forget about saving the life of the Great Spirit. Mata Nui will die and the universe will go with him. We need our masks, we need our weapons… then we will settle our score with the Piraka.”

From his perch atop a rocky ledge, Lewa broke in. “Visitors, coming from the north. Five Matoran.”

“We can use them,” said Gali. “They know this island, and we don’t. They might even know where our masks would have been hidden. It looks like we will need any help we can get to achieve this mission.”

“Achieve it, sister?” commented Kopaka. “I would say we need help just to survive it.”

Dalu spotted the Toa Nuva first. “Strangers,” she said. “There, in those rocks ahead. Not Matoran… not Piraka. Toa, maybe?”

A rumble of thunder rolled through the sky, followed by bright flashes of lightning. The storm had been building in intensity for days. Clouds blotted out the sun and the stars, all save one. For some unexplained reason, a lone red star managed to shine even through the thickest, blackest of storm clouds. Even more bizarre, the Onu-Matoran could have sworn the lightning was actually coming from the star itself.

“What do you think, Velika?” Garan asked, turning to the Po-Matoran.

“It is said that there was once a Rahi who looked up at the stars and believed them to be food belonging to a larger creature,” Velika answered softly. “Each night, he would climb the tallest mountain and jump as high as he could, hoping to snatch a star for himself. Finally, he decided it could not be done, and more, that they were not food at all.”

“Is there a point, and can you get to it?” grumbled Kazi. The Ko-Matoran had long ago lost patience with Velika’s anecdotes.

“All proceeded as it must,” continued the Po-Matoran. “Until the night the Rahi saw the great red star. That, he decided, must be a wonderful, delicious piece of fruit dangling from some far-off tree. So he climbed the mountain again, and this time he got a running start and jumped with all his might.”

Kazi frowned. It was bad enough when Velika got started on one of these stories. It was worse when Kazi got drawn into them and had to find out the end. “So what happened?”

Velika started, as if suddenly remembering that the story had to have an ending. “Oh, what happened? What happened, let’s see… oh, yes, he went off the cliff and broke every bone in his body.”

Kazi immediately began using the old Ko-Matoran trick of counting to himself to prevent an explosion of temper. With Velika, he sometimes reached numbers in the high seven digits.

“Even I am not sure what that one means,” admitted Piruk.

“The Rahi fooled himself once, and found only frustration,” explained Garan. “But when he fooled himself twice… that was far worse.”

“He’s saying they’re not Toa,” said Dalu.

Garan shook his head. “He’s saying we can’t take the chance of being wrong again. If they are Toa, we will apologize later, when they recover. For now, ready your weapons – we attack.”

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