Jaller and his friends were exiting the huge chamber when they heard a weak voice calling, “Wait!”
A lone Matoran staggered from a darkened alcove. First glance revealed that one of his legs was badly twisted, making it impossible for him to move quickly. His mask was badly dented and covered with rust and soot.
Nuparu rushed over to help the Matoran, gently guiding him to where the others stood. The injured being looked them over and said, “You are newcomers?”
“That’s right,” said Jaller. “I am guessing you have been here a while. What’s your name?”
The Matoran shook his head sadly. “You know, it has been so long since anyone used it, I cannot remember. Maybe Karzahni stole it when he stole my mask. I have hidden in here for… too many centuries… and been forgotten even by my friends. That is why Karzahni never found me here, you see; no one remembers I am alive.”
“We’re leaving here,” said Matoro. “Come with us. No one should have to spend their existence in this ruin.”
“Leaving?” the Matoran laughed. “Leaving how? Can you turn invisible and slip past the Manas crabs that guard every road? Can you close your mind against the nightmares Karzahni brings? Or maybe you can soar like birds over the mountain, or fly beneath the waves in a silver canister?”
“No, we can’t do that,” Jaller replied. “Wait a minute – canister? Have you seen such a thing? Did they carry Toa Nuva inside? Where are they?”
The Matoran frowned. “Toa Nuva? Never heard of them. Canisters… canisters… where did that come from? Oh, yes, the canisters… we built them, so long ago, my friends and I. Just before they sent us here. Long and bright, they were, and strong enough to survive even a plunge into the ocean depths. We made them well.”
Nuparu couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “You made them? Who? Where?”
“In the world that feeds the world, of course,” said the Matoran, as if shocked anyone would not know this. “The wellspring of flame that blazes bright, yet burns none but its bearer. And he, oh, he it burns until there is nothing left, not even ashes.”
“Never mind the where,” said Jaller, half convinced this Matoran’s mind had snapped. “When did you make them, and for whom?”
The Matoran giggled. “Long before there was a you, or a you, or a you. And we made them for the destined ones, of course – we made them for Tahu and Gali, Lewa and Pohatu, Onua and cold Kopaka. In a place far, far from this blasted land, they entered the canisters, and there remain to this day.”
Nuparu leaned back against the wall, stunned. The Toa were not still in those canisters. They had traveled in them to the island of Mata Nui and floated in the ocean for a thousand years before being drawn to shore. Then they emerged and set out to save the island from the power of dark Makuta. And this long-missing, half-crazed Matoran had been one of those who crafted those marvels, built to carry the saviors of Mata Nui.
“We made so many, and scattered them here, there, and in places no one would ever find them,” the Matoran continued. “You never know where a Toa might need to go, you know. I still wander down to see them now and then, just to try and remember my life before this place.”
Jaller did his best to contain his excitement. “Take us to see them. Please? We’ve, um, never seen anything like that… the craftsmanship… it must be amazing.”
Hewkii, getting the idea, added, “Everything they make now falls apart in a few months. Now, crafters in your era, they knew what they were doing. Why, I bet those canisters can still travel.”
The Matoran nodded. “Oh yes. Yes, yes, yes. But you mustn’t ride in them – you are not a Toa, are you? Only a Toa so mighty can ride, anyone else, woe betide. Do you like that? I made that up, what was it, 20,000 years ago. Or perhaps 20,005…”
Repeating his little piece of verse, the Matoran turned and limped away, beckoning for the others to follow.
Karzahni had half dragged Hahli back to the site of the furnace. His mood, at one point almost charming, had turned foul. The Matoran he had so long held captive scattered at his approach. When he found Jaller and the others were gone, he grew so enraged, Hahli feared for her life.
“They have run,” he said. The anger in his eyes was not present in his voice, which somehow made the situation all the more disturbing. “But there is nowhere to go. No one here will offer them refuge or aid… well, no one but the Manas. They welcome all with open claws. It’s when they snap them shut again that all the problems start.”
“Maybe… maybe they are just taking a rest somewhere,” Hahli offered.
“And maybe they simply don’t care about you,” he replied sharply. “Look, they have attempted to escape without you. Chroniclers must not be highly valued where you come from.”
Karzahni scanned the surrounding area, first with his eyes, then with his mind. When he was done, he chuckled. “Oh, so that’s where they are… and with company, too. A fitting final resting place for your friends, among all the other useless relics.”
Without another word, he marched up the slope, pulling Hahli along behind him. She mouthed a silent wish that if the others were trying to escape, they succeeded before this monster found them.
“Down here,” said the Matoran, leading the group down a darkened staircase. “Mind you don’t hit your heads.”
Hewkii glanced up. The ceiling was a good six feet above them. They couldn’t have hit their heads if they jumped. I hope you know what you’re doing, Jaller, he thought.
“We made six,” said the Matoran. “Always six.”
“How come?” asked Matoro.
The Matoran turned, a look of worry on his face. “So there would not be seven, naturally. If there were seven canisters and seven Toa, then that meant the darkness had come. You don’t need light if you have no darkness, true?”
Jaller wondered when the day’s surprises were going to stop. An entire group of Matoran building transport canisters for Toa, and convinced that as long as they never built a seventh one, there would be no Toa of Light – it was staggering. Was this how the universe was ordered? Were destinies shaped by the hopes and fears of Matoran toiling away in some unknown chamber?
Then there was no more time for questions. The Matoran opened a vault door to reveal six Toa canisters, all resting in a row and looking almost new. Jaller half expected to see Toa emerge from them at any moment.
“Astounding,” whispered Nuparu. “I saw these on Mata Nui, of course, but to see them completely intact… I could spend days studying these.”
“You have about two minutes to figure out how they work,” Jaller replied, “because we are getting Hahli back and getting out of here in them.”
“No!” said the Matoran, shocked. “Only Toa can travel in these! That is who they were made for. Anyone else will die!”
“I’ll take that chance,” said Hewkii. “It’s better than the living death of staying here.”
“Let’s go,” said Jaller. “Nuparu, I expect you to have those things ready to run when we get back. We’ll be back with Hahli.”
Jaller, Matoro, Hewkii, and Kongu started up the stairs, only to stop abruptly. Karzahni was coming down the staircase, a struggling Hahli in tow.
“I believe I can save you a trip, Matoran,” he said. “Two trips, actually. I return your lying friend to you, so you need not seek her out. And now that I know these canisters are here, I will destroy them. You are here to stay.”
Karzahni flung Hahli toward the others. Jaller caught her in his arms and helped her to her feet. “Lying?” he said. “I have known Hahli for centuries. She does not lie.”
“Then you are a liar as well, or a fool,” replied Karzahni. “A great, sleeping spirit? An evil, armored shape-shifter? Six heroes who bathe in silver liquid and emerge with new power and new masks?” He laughed bitterly. “Am I some cowardly Rahi, to be frightened by Matoran fables? There is no Mata Nui, no Makuta, no Toa. There is Karzahni, and Artakha, and a universe that exists to serve our whims.”
Jaller’s mind raced. Physically, seven Matoran, one possibly insane, were no match for this foe. No threat of retribution from Mata Nui would work, either, since Karzahni did not believe anyone wielded greater power than he. But they could not just surrender. He would destroy the canisters and with them the best chance to escape. It was more than just their lives at stake, for he remained convinced the Toa Nuva were in deadly danger somewhere.
It was Matoro who stepped forward to stare up at Karzahni. “I was afraid on the way here,” he said quietly. “Almost too afraid to go on. If it had been possible, I would have turned and fled back to Metru Nui and let the universe collapse around me.”
The Ko-Matoran swallowed hard and forced himself to keep talking. “When we met you, I thought this was it, this was the reason behind my fear. You would torture or destroy us and we couldn’t stop you. You could make us see terrors that were more frightening than anything imaginable, because they could so easily be real.”
“Make your point, Matoran,” Karzahni answered, “before I show you a vision of pain unending.”
Matoro planted his feet and stared up into Karzahni’s ebony eyes. “Then do it.”
The other Matoran turned to look at Matoro. Why was he challenging this being to invade their minds again? Why was he inviting certain defeat? Jaller started to pull Matoro back, but the Ko-Matoran pushed his arm away. His attention was riveted on Karzahni.
“Do it,” Matoro repeated. “Pluck the worst possible future out of our heads and make us live every moment of it. Prove your power is something other than those ‘Matoran fables’ you make fun of. Or are you just one of those legends come to life, a lot of smoke and shadow and no substance?”
Karzahni screamed with anger. The next second, a wave of power struck the assembled Matoran. The world spun away from underneath them, and suddenly they were back in Metru Nui. The air was filled with cries of fear and grief. The light of the lone sun had been extinguished for good. The waters of the protodermis sea were rising to engulf the city, and not all of Takanuva’s power could buy the Matoran even one more moment of life.
The sky shook. The stars flickered and died. The ground beneath the Coliseum cracked open and swallowed that massive building whole, and the Turaga with it. Matoran ran every which way seeking some escape, but finding none. There was nowhere in the universe to hide, because the universe itself was ceasing to be.
Mata Nui was dead.
Some would perish right away. Others would survive for a while, despite the lack of food and warmth. Citizens would huddle in Ta-Metru, trying hard to keep the fires in the forges going, until finally the ocean claimed that district as well.
A small number would man the boats and try to find a haven to the south, but everyone knew they would fail. Those who did not go mad from grief would be lost in the violent storms that gripped the sea lanes.
Back in Metru Nui, Takanuva would write the last Chronicle. It would be a memorial to the Toa Nuva, the Turaga, and the Matoran. He would inscribe it with a futile hope that it would survive the cataclysm, even though in his heart he knew it would not. At last, he sat down in the center of Po-Metru, closed his eyes, and –
The vision stopped abruptly. The Matoran were shaken, heartsick, almost traumatized… all except Matoro. The Ko-Matoran’s eyes were on Karzahni, who looked almost as staggered and shocked as his victims.
“Mata Nui,” he muttered. “A whole universe… ended… my realm lost… if Mata Nui dies. Such power… more than I ever imagined… such power…”
Matoro calculated they had only a few moments before Karzahni came to grips with the fact that there was a Great Spirit Mata Nui whose power dwarfed his own. Once he realized Mata Nui existed, but was comatose, there was no telling what might happen. The Ko-Matoran grabbed Jaller and Hahli and started running for the cylinders. The others followed.
Nuparu was frantically opening the long silver tubes and fiddling with the controls inside. “I don’t know if I can make this work!” he cried. “Or where they will take us if I do.”
“I’ll settle for away from here,” said Jaller. He turned to look at the Matoran who had led them here. “Come with us. We can help you escape.”
The Matoran backed away. “No. The only escape you will find that way is death. Besides, what do I have to go home to? A land that cast me out, doomed me to spend my life here? No doubt they think me dead… only fitting, for they are dead to me.”
The Matoran smiled. “Do what you have to do. The vision, as horrible as it was, showed me there is still hope… Mata Nui is not dead yet. What we saw does not have to happen. If you can stop it, you must dare anything to do so… just as I have to dare leaving my hiding place to help the Matoran here.”
“Jaller, come on!” yelled Hewkii.
The Ta-Matoran turned back to find the others in the cylinders. As he climbed into his and sealed it shut, he could see Karzahni suddenly realizing what was happening. He began to whirl his chain, preparing to tear open the cylinders and retrieve their contents.
Jaller hit the largest switch on the controls. He felt the cylinder surge forward, even as he could just barely hear the other craft moving as well. Although he had no way of knowing it, the cylinder was already boring through rock as smoothly as if it were passing through still water. In a matter of seconds, the realm of Karzahni had been left behind. It was a place Jaller would never forget, though with all his might, he would try to erase it from his mind.
Karzahni would never forget, either. The vision he had shared with the Matoran had shown him there was a vast universe beyond his borders, with a power vacuum at its head. For now, this Mata Nui was no threat to anyone. If he could seize total power before the Great Spirit awakened… he could give Matoran new reasons to fear.
* * *
Voya Nui was as silent as the graveyard it had become. Matoran, leeched of all will and hope by the zamor spheres, labored ceaselessly on the slopes of the volcano. Of the only six not yet exposed to the effects of the spheres, five were sealed away, awaiting Reidak’s not so gentle means of questioning.
The six Toa Nuva had been given over to the custody of Brutaka, at his insistence. He knew well the threat Toa represented, and he did not trust the Piraka to handle the situation. He would wring whatever knowledge the Toa possessed – not only about the Mask of Life, but other things the Piraka need not know about – and then kill them in his own way.
For their part, the Piraka had given up on even the pretense of being a team. Zaktan, Reidak, and Vezok held on to a loose alliance, while Avak, Thok, and Hakann trailed along behind trying to think of a way to avoid being exterminated. Avak considered trying to throw another field around Zaktan, but he felt sure at least some of the Piraka leader’s substance was now watching him all the time.
And so there was no one present to see six silver cylinders wash up on the ice ring, much like six others had weeks before. Only the lightning in the sky was there to greet the craft as they ground to a halt. The sky was practically ablaze with electricity, as if heralding a greater storm to come.
A bolt beyond any seen before lanced from the red star up above. Midway through its flight, it split into six forks of lightning, each crackling with energy. Like arrows shot by an expert marksman, the bolts struck the cylinders where they lay on the shore. Sparks danced along the metallic surface, the blinking lights on the sides of the craft exploding. The air was filled with smoke and steam.
Slowly, the lid of one of the cylinders began to turn. Inside had been the Matoran named Jaller, captain of the Ta-Metru Guard, hero of the Bohrok war. He had been on more adventures than almost any other Matoran, braved dangers, dared all for the sake of his friends. But everything he was and everything he had done was nothing, compared to what was about to begin.
He crawled from the cylinder and rose to his full height. The strobe effect of the lightning made it hard to see if the others were safe. He wished that he could see more clearly where they had landed.
Thought became deed. Fire blazed forth from his palm, illuminating the area around him. He could see Matoro, Hahli, Kongu, Hewkii, and Nuparu standing on the icy beach, but not as he had known them before. They were tall, strong, clad in mighty armor, and wielding weapons that crackled with electricity. Their masks had transformed from those worn by powerless Matoran to Great Masks that rightfully belonged to their new identities.
There were no cries of shock or surprise, no exclamations of joy. None of them saw this transformation as anything other than what it was: the first step toward a dark and dangerous destiny that awaited them all.
In silence, the six new Toa extended their weapons until they touched, lightning leaping from one to the other. It surged toward the spot where all six joined, then a bolt blazed up into the sky and exploded. The blast hurled six stars into the night, powerful beacons of light that fell into orbit around the red star.
Far away from the scene of rebirth, the six Piraka looked up at the new stars that now blazed in the sky. And though none would admit it, in that moment, a chill went up their spines.