“Anyone who wants to turn back, now is the time,” said Jaller. Stretching before them was a long, narrow strip of land, flanked on either side by a violent sea. In the distance, they could see a natural stone archway, and beyond that, a winding, torturous path between two peaks.
“Right, I want to quick-go back through that tunnel again,” Kongu said, sarcastically. “I haven’t had that much fun since I rode a Gukko that had hiccups.”
“We shouldn’t waste time,” said Hahli. “If we are going, then let’s go.”
The group began walking again. Takanuva hung back to walk beside the Ga-Matoran. “You seem uncertain about all this, Hahli.”
“I am,” she replied. “As the Chronicler, it’s my job to record the adventures of Toa… just as it was your job before me. Now I’m afraid the last chronicle I write will be obituaries for us all.”
Takanuva nodded. “Maybe. I don’t agree with how Jaller did this, but I do see why he acted. If we did nothing, you would be writing a last tribute to the entire universe, Hahli, not just six Matoran and one novice Toa.”
“You’re not a novice,” Hahli said, with a little smile. “You beat Makuta, after all.”
“I got lucky,” said the Toa of Light. “His pride made him want to challenge me one-on-one, his shadow versus my light. If he had used the other powers he commands, well, things might have turned out differently. You know, I glimpsed his mind when we were briefly merged into one being… It’s a labyrinth, all twists and turns and places that have seen no light in centuries.”
“You still defeated him,” said Hahli. “Your light was stronger than his darkness.”
Takanuva shrugged. “Or he let me win. Maybe he thought it was inevitable that we would make our way back to Metru Nui eventually, so he decided to pick the time. Maybe the whole thing was just part of some bigger plot.”
Hahli looked up at the Toa, puzzled. “Bigger?”
“I’m just guessing, but what if… what if he hatched a plan so deadly that it wouldn’t matter if the Matoran returned to Metru Nui or not? What if, in the end, he decided that carrying out that plan mattered more than beating me?”
“If you’re right, I don’t think much of his planning skills,” said Hahli. “After all, he got himself killed, remember?”
“It certainly seemed that way,” Takanuva replied. “Didn’t it?”
Their conversation was cut short by a shout from Hewkii. The Po-Matoran was up ahead, trying to pry something out of the ground. Exerting all his strength, he finally tore it loose, only to go tumbling over backward from the effort. He sprang up, holding his prize in his hands: a dirt-encrusted, slightly battered Kanohi mask. Smiling, he took off his own mask and slipped the new one on, only to remove it almost instantly.
“It’s a Great Mask!” he said. “I could feel the power in it.”
Takanuva took it from him and examined it. “I don’t recognize the design. Turaga Vakama might, though. I wonder what it does.”
Before any could protest, he removed his Mask of Light and put on Hewkii’s find. At first, nothing happened. Then Takanuva suddenly said, “I am not taking too many chances, Hahli.”
“What?” said the Ga-Matoran. “What are you talking about?”
“You said I was taking a risk by putting this mask on. I heard you.”
“I never said anything!” Hahli protested.
“She’s telling the truth,” said Hewkii. “Maybe it has something to do with the mask… Maybe it’s defective?”
“Or maybe it works just fine,” said Jaller. “Hahli, be honest – what were you thinking when he put the mask on?”
The Ga-Matoran shrugged, obviously uncomfortable. “I was thinking… well… that we only have one Toa with us and he shouldn’t be braving any unnecessary dangers.”
“You heard her thoughts,” Jaller said to Takanuva. “It’s a Mask of Telepathy. It must have belonged to some other Toa who passed this way, who knows how long ago.”
“Passed this way, or never went any farther than this?” asked the Toa of Light, quickly replacing the mask with his own. “What are the odds the rest of that Toa is underneath our feet?”
Jaller didn’t answer. There wasn’t any need.
The Matoran camped about three-quarters of the way to the archway. Jaller stood watch while Hahli, Hewkii, Nuparu, and Kongu slept. Takanuva had wandered off by himself. Periodically, Jaller would pause to take a closer look at the Kanohi mask they had found and wonder what sort of Toa had worn it.
Matoro had tried to sleep, but could not. He finally gave up trying and went to join Jaller. “Anything?”
Jaller shook his head. “Just rocks and water. I don’t even see any Rahi. How about you?”
“No, I don’t see anything, either.”
“I was asking about what you didn’t see,” said Jaller. “Back in the tunnel… something obviously rattled you in there.”
“We’re someplace we’re not supposed to be,” Matoro replied, looking away. “That’s all.”
“You could have said the same about Mata Nui,” said Jaller. “We were never meant to live there. We should have been on Metru Nui all those years. Makuta’s crimes threw the universe off balance. We’re making this journey to try and right it.”
“What if that’s not possible?” asked the Ko-Matoran. “What if things have just been wrong for too long? I mean, look at this place! Nothing lives here; I doubt anything ever could. This place is dead, Jaller, and if we stay here, then we might be –”
“Jaller!” The two Matoran turned to see Takanuva running toward them. “A Matoran!” he shouted. “I just saw a Matoran inside the archway!”
The others had awakened due to the commotion. Now they gathered around as the Toa of Light shared his experience. “I was walking along the coastline, wondering about the Toa who had worn that mask. Then I glanced up and there he was – a Matoran I had never seen before. He looked at me from the other side of the archway, with fear in his eyes. I used a fraction of my power, just enough to create a soft glow, but before I could say anything, he ran.”
Jaller frowned. What was a Matoran doing way out here? The same thing they were? Or was there more going on than any of them were aware of?
“Come on. Let’s find him,” he said finally. “No one should be alone in this desolation.”
“How do we know he’s alone?” asked Kongu as they started for the archway.
“How do we know he’s even a Matoran?” Matoro added.
“Well, what else could he be?”
Remembering the hand holding his in the tunnel, Matoro answered, “Oh, you don’t want to know.”
Takanuva led the way back to the archway, Jaller and Hewkii close behind. There was no sign of any Matoran or anything else up ahead. Matoro glanced around as he ran, just to make sure something wasn’t using this sighting as bait for an ambush.
“This way!” yelled the Toa of Light as he approached the stone arch. An instant later, he went flying backward, crashing into the Matoran behind him. Shaken, he got to his feet and ran toward the archway again. As soon as he reached the threshold, he slammed into an invisible barrier and was knocked to the ground.
Now he was angry. Rising, he hurled two narrow beams of light at the unseen obstacle. They ricocheted wildly, almost burning a hole through Kongu.
“Watch it!” snapped the Le-Matoran. “We’re on the same side, remember?”
Nuparu took a few steps toward the archway, then stopped. Cautiously, he reached out and felt… nothing at all. Puzzled, he took another step, and passed right through as if no barrier were there.
Emboldened by the sight, Takanuva went to follow him. But for him, nothing had changed, because he still could not get through. “I don’t understand this,” he said, frustrated. “What lets a Matoran through, but bars a Toa?”
The other five Matoran hesitantly crossed under the archway, leaving Takanuva the only one still on the other side. Jaller tried to go back and join him, but now found the barrier stopped him from returning the way he had come.
“Explain this,” said the Ta-Matoran to Nuparu.
The Onu-Matoran inventor shook his head. “There’s nothing mechanical inside the stone, at least as far as I can tell. There’s no sign of a power source. The barrier is there, but I can’t explain why.”
“Maybe I can.” The words came from Hahli, who was holding a small stone tablet in her hand. “I found this on the ground, not far from here. It’s ancient, almost unbelievably so. Turaga Nuju showed me some of the marker stones kept in the Ko-Metru Knowledge Towers, and based on the carvings and symbols on this… it was made before Metru Nui even existed.”
“Can you read it?” asked Kongu.
“A few months ago, I would have said no,” replied Hahli. “But Nokama has been teaching me. She says I used to know how to do this, I just forgot. Anyway, let me try.”
Hahli studied the tablet for a few minutes. She started to say something, then stopped and gave it some more thought. “It’s a warning,” she reported. “It reads something like… ‘This is a realm of shadow… of famine and plague and blight… This is a world of darkness… and there is no place for light.’”
Nuparu nodded. “Of course. It makes sense now.”
“To you, maybe,” said Hewkii. “All I see is, whoever is in charge of attracting tourists here is doing a lousy job.”
“I thought that tunnel we went through was just a natural phenomenon, something that doused lightstones. Now I’m wondering if maybe all illumination wasn’t actually being devoured. And if that wasn’t enough to send a bearer of light running home, we come here, where light is actively repelled.”
“Okay, but what about us? Why can’t we get back through?” asked Matoro. “We don’t have the power of light; only Takanuva does.”
“I think the answer to that one is frighteningly simple,” said Nuparu. “Someone, or something, doesn’t want us to leave.”
“This is insane,” said the Toa of Light. “You can’t keep going, Jaller. It’s a trap. Stay where you are, and I’ll find some way through that barrier.”
“I don’t think you will, old friend,” said Jaller. “Not if it was built to keep you out. Go back to Metru Nui and tell the Turaga what has happened. Tell them… tell them not to send any help. We’ll keep moving and hopefully find the Toa Nuva somewhere up ahead.”
Takanuva reached out for his lifelong friend, but the barrier got in the way. “I can’t even shake your hand good-bye,” he said sadly. “This could be the last time I ever see you, and I can’t shake your hand.”
“We’ll see each other again,” said Jaller. “After all, who is going to keep you out of trouble if not me?”
“And Toa get into much bigger trouble than Matoran… most of the time, anyway,” the Toa of Light said, trying to smile. “Hey, Jaller, you… I mean, you already died once for me. Don’t die again, okay? It would make for a lousy chronicle, the same thing happening a second time and all.”
Jaller smiled and turned away, trying to hide his own emotions. After a moment, he said to the other Matoran, “Come on, we have to keep going. If something is after us, there’s no point in being a sitting target.”
The small group said their good-byes to Takanuva. Hahli couldn’t even get the words out, just pressed her hand against the barrier to meet Takanuva’s. Then the party began walking away.
“Jaller!” Takanuva shouted. The Ta-Matoran turned around. “Destiny should have chosen you to be the Toa of Light. You would make a great Toa.”
“Thanks, but no, thanks,” Jaller replied. “It’s tough enough just being a Matoran.”