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For as far back as any Matoran villager could recall, the towering peak of Mount Valmai had looked down over Voya Nui. Despite the danger it represented – it was, after all, an extremely active volcano – the mountain was regarded as a guardian that would always be there.

In its time, Valmai had seen much. If the rock could have spoken, it would have told a tale of a thriving civilization, part of a mighty continent. Then the story would take a darker turn, as a portion of that continent was ripped away by a cataclysm and sent rocketing upward. The Turaga who lived there was killed in the ascent, along with many Matoran. When the new island finally came to rest in a strange sea, those villagers who had survived realized they had to fend for themselves or perish.

The battle for life had been fought every day. There were victories… and defeats, such as when a portion of land containing a large settlement mysteriously broke off and sank beneath the sea. To this day, the residents of Voya Nui still threw bundles of food and other objects into the water there as a means of commemorating those who had been lost.

The Matoran of Voya Nui had persevered for 1000 years through storm, famine, drought, and even eruptions of Valmai. If there were others on the island, the Matoran did not know of them. They believed they were destined to be forever alone.

Valmai, of course, knew better.

Axonn sat down heavily on a slab of rock, sick at heart over what he had just witnessed. The wisdom of thousands of years lived inside him, power beyond almost any living being coursed through his muscles, and yet he could do nothing to save those who fought for right.

The six heroes called Toa Nuva and six brave Matoran had dared to challenge the evil Piraka who had seized control of the island. For a moment, it looked as if they might even win – the Piraka were in disarray and had been completely taken by surprise by the appearance of the Toa Nuva. But then, with one blow from the powerful Brutaka, all hope was lost.

Brutaka. How did it come to this?

He recalled when the two of them had first been dispatched to Voya Nui, long before the disaster that wrenched it free of its continent. They had been commanded by the secretive Order of Mata Nui to watch over the Matoran and, most importantly, the island itself. For the heart of the island concealed the most powerful Kanohi in existence – the Mask of Life.

Axonn and Brutaka had done their job well. When danger threatened the region, they dealt with it, all the while keeping their presence hidden from the Matoran. The first rule of the Order of Mata Nui was that its existence must never be revealed. Even the Toa, fellow guardians of light, were unaware of the Order’s activities, or even that there was such an organization.

Some time after the cataclysm, Brutaka began to change. The Great Spirit Mata Nui had abandoned them, he insisted. He was dead, or perhaps had simply turned his back on the Matoran to pay attention to some other universe. Axonn argued that Mata Nui had simply been cast into a deep sleep but would someday awaken, and all would be made right again. Brutaka would not listen. He continued to carry out his duties, but his heart was no longer in his work.

Axonn knew his friend was on the edge. He simply did not realize how close Brutaka was to slipping into the darkness…

Brutaka dumped the last of the unconscious Matoran onto the pile outside the Piraka stronghold. He had already taken care of the Toa Nuva – though still alive, barely, they were someplace where no one would ever find them. As for the Matoran, one was being interrogated and one had slipped away in the confusion following the battle. All the rest were destined for enslavement and hard labor on the slopes of Mount Valmai.

Axonn, Brutaka knew, would be horrified by what he had done. That was because his ex-partner was a fool, still sitting around waiting for the return of a Great Spirit who was long gone. The Piraka, and others like them, were the future – beings who took advantage of the chaotic state of the universe and seized power wherever they found it.

And the Kanohi mask they are searching for is the greatest power of all, he thought. Too bad I am going to take it away from them. And for Axonn’s sake, I hope he doesn’t get in my way.

He gave the Matoran one last look. They were still out. By the time they woke up, their fates would be sealed. Brutaka walked away.

Hissss…

The harsh sound made him turn back. A six-headed doom viper was slithering toward the fallen Matoran. The creature was known for its toxic breath, which was capable of killing any plant or animal exposed to it. One good exhale from it and all four Matoran would be history.

They will probably be better off, thought Brutaka. All they have to look forward to is slaving for the Piraka, after all…

The doom viper inched closer. One of its heads watched Brutaka, ready to strike if he made a move. But he did not.

Closer. One of the Matoran began to stir. It was much too late for that.

The doom viper reared its heads back, ready to breathe its poison into the air. A short distance away, Brutaka’s eyes narrowed.

A small vortex suddenly appeared in the air near the serpent. Before the doom viper could react, the vortex had grown larger. Powerful currents and eddies swirled around a heart of darkness. The poisonous Rahi tried to flee, but the vortex pursued, growing bigger with each moment. With an angry hiss, the doom viper was sucked inside and disappeared. A moment later, the vortex blinked out of existence.

Brutaka smiled. He had not had that much fun since he had used his Kanohi Mask of Dimensional Gates on a Tahtorak, dropping it into the center of Metru Nui just for fun. Of course, that had been long before Voya Nui and his crisis of belief… even then, the straight and narrow path had seemed a little too confining. Now that he was free of that life, he could use his mask to drop a doom viper into searing lava without thinking twice.

Still, the desire for amusement didn’t explain why he had bothered to waste his energies saving Matoran who were doomed anyway. He hoped it didn’t mean there was still some vestige of the old Brutaka in him. With a showdown with the Piraka looming, he could not afford any weakness.

He walked away, troubled. It was much easier to slay a powerful enemy, it seemed, than one’s past.

Balta opened his eyes just the slightest bit and watched Brutaka depart. He had regained consciousness as the doom viper was closing in on him and his fellow Matoran. Had Brutaka not acted, he had no idea what he would have done. But there wasn’t time to ponder the strange event.

The others were still unconscious. Dalu was missing, and so was Garan. Balta vaguely recalled hearing one of the Piraka say something about a “Chamber of Truth” to which the Matoran leader would be taken. It seemed unlikely he would ever be allowed to leave.

Balta started shaking the others awake, all the while trying hard not to think about what Garan might be going through at that moment.

Garan blinked at the sudden bright light coming through a slot in the stone wall. He had been sitting alone in a bare chamber for two hours, maybe more, waiting for something to happen. Now that the wait was over, he fought to keep his fear down.

“Simple questions, Matoran.” The voice coming through the slot belonged to Vezok, one of the most vicious of the Piraka. “Give honest answers, and you live.”

“Yes. I know how much you Piraka admire honesty,” Garan replied sarcastically.

“How many Matoran escaped us? How many are in your little resistance group?” asked Vezok.

“I haven’t had time to count,” said Garan. “We’ve been too busy planning your downfall.”

The floor beneath Garan suddenly tilted. He almost lost his balance. A crack appeared between the left edge of the stone floor and the wall. A dim glow could be seen through the opening. It was accompanied by a searing blast of heat.

“You only get so many wrong answers, Matoran,” said Vezok. “Then your time here is over and we bring in one of your friends. Someone will tell us what we want to know.”

“You don’t know Matoran very well,” Garan said defiantly.

“Sure, I do,” snorted Vezok. “Whining little creeps always running to a Toa or a Turaga whenever anything goes wrong – that’s what Matoran are.”

“Did you see a Toa or Turaga here when you came to Voya Nui? We’ve faced everything this island could throw at us, alone, and we’re still standing. And we’ll still be standing when you and Zaktan and the rest are food for Takea sharks.”

The floor tilted again, this time more violently. Garan fell. The crack had widened significantly and he could see molten lava through it. A few more such shifts in the floor and he would be dumped into the molten pool, never to be seen again.

“How much do you know about the Mask of Life?” growled Vezok.

Garan glanced at the lava. It wouldn’t be a good way to end, but better than betraying his home and his friends. The Toa Nuva had told him enough about the mask so that he knew the Piraka must never have it.

“Nothing,” Garan lied. “Why don’t you tell me about it?”

Another sudden shift. Garan lost his footing again and actually slid a short distance toward the opening.

“Last chance,” said Vezok. “A little while ago, I saw a lightning bolt shoot up into the sky and explode into six stars. Think carefully about your answer, Matoran – what was that? Another one of your tricks?”

Garan wasn’t sure what to say. He had no idea what Vezok was talking about. He had a vague memory of a legend about stars suddenly appearing in the night sky, but that was connected to the coming of –

Toa? The word exploded in Garan’s mind. The Toa Nuva were defeated… but if those were spirit stars appearing in the sky, then it means six new Toa are on Voya Nui. No wonder Vezok sounds nervous. He wants to hear that we rigged the effect somehow… anything but that there are more Toa on his trail.

Garan stood up again, knowing it might be for the last time. Then he smiled, a grin almost as broad as that of the Piraka but with none of the malice. “No, Vezok,” he announced. “It was no trick of ours. I don’t know who or where they are, but there are six new Toa on this island. And they are coming for you.”

The floor jerked abruptly. Garan toppled over and began the long slide to his doom.

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