1

My name is Kongu, he said to himself. I come from the tree village of Le-Koro on the island of Mata Nui. If I lived someplace else before that time-era, I don’t remember it.

His companions stopped walking. He wondered if they were lost. It wasn’t like there were many landmarks. None of them knew this strange island, anyway, which seemed so much less hospitable than Mata Nui. Heavy cloud cover made navigating by the stars impossible.

My name is Kongu, he repeated. Back home, I was captain of the Gukko bird force, and an ever-skilled bird wrangler. When they told us we had to hurry-move to the city of Metru Nui, I helped build boats for the trip. But we didn’t stay there long once we got there.

The group was on the move again. Someone was pointing toward the volcano at the center of the island. That seems as good a place as any to start, he reasoned.

We went to Metru Nui because the Turaga-elders said we had to, in order to have any hope of quick-waking the Great Spirit, he continued. But when we got there, we found out he wasn’t just asleep – he was dying. Our heroes, the Toa Nuva, were sent to this island to seek-find something that would save him. When they didn’t return, my friend Jaller persuaded a bunch of us to go deep-look for them.

His thoughts trailed off. The rest of the story was too far-fetched to believe. Their masks had been stolen on the journey and replaced with others that were who knew how ancient. They had stumbled on canisters that transported them to the shores of Voya Nui. But before they could even get out and look around, something had happened.

What was it? Kongu wasn’t sure. There was a bright light-flash, and then a feeling that I was surrounded by a thousand Nui-Rama bugs, all buzzing at once. I quick-scrambled out of the canister and there were Hahli, Jaller, Matoro, Nuparu, and Hewkii, all looking like Toa. From the looks in their eyes, I figured I must look like one, too.

Somehow, though, he had never imagined being a Toa would feel like this. Sure, he had raw power in his muscles now and really awesome armor. But it almost seemed like he had too much energy and his mask just felt… weird.

“We’re ever-wandering in the dark,” he said in as loud a voice as he could manage while still whispering. “We have no idea where we are, where the Toa-heroes are, or what else might be on this island.”

The others didn’t look back. The only sound was their metal-shod feet scraping against the rocks.

“What’s wrong with this carving?” Although spoken in a whisper, Kongu’s words were like a shout.

“What do you want us to do?” asked Jaller. “Turn back? Sit on the beach until morning and talk everything out?”

“No,” Kongu replied, trying to keep the irritation out of his voice. “I just remember the Turaga’s tales of what happens when Toa go off without a plan.”

“He has a point,” said Hahli.

Jaller stopped and turned around. Kongu expected him to keep arguing for moving on, but surprisingly he did not. “You’re right, both of you. There was no point in listening to Turaga Vakama’s tales if we aren’t going to learn from them. But let’s keep this short. The Toa Nuva may need us.”

Toa Nuparu sat down on a rock. “I’ll start by taking this Kanohi mask off for a second. I miss my old one. This one just doesn’t feel –”

The area was suddenly lit up with a blinding glare. The other Toa shielded their eyes. Nuparu looked around to see what was causing the bright light, but the only thing he learned was that the illumination was everywhere he looked. What was going on?

“Put your mask back on!” snapped Hewkii.

Nuparu did as he was told, figuring the new Toa of Stone must have spotted some danger. As soon as he had returned the Kanohi to his face, the light went out.

“That was strange,” he said, his inventor’s curiosity piqued.

“That was your face,” answered Hewkii.

“Very funny,” said Nuparu. “You’re no vision of beauty yourself, Hewkii.”

Hahli shook her head. “He’s not joking. When you took your mask off, your face gave off a blinding glow. I couldn’t even see your features.”

Hewkii gestured toward a nearby cave. “Let’s talk in there. No point in lighting up the night and letting everyone else here know our location.”

The cave was dank and almost too small for all six of them to fit comfortably. Once inside, Hahli reached up and removed her mask. Her face, too, gave off an eye-searing radiance.

“Something’s wrong,” said Matoro. “I saw Toa Kopaka take his mask off once, and nothing like that happened. What kind of Toa are we?”

“I don’t know,” Hahli answered. It seemed very strange to hear her voice coming from inside the glow but not be able to see her mouth move. “But that’s not the only unusual thing here. Take my mask. Tell me what you think.”

Matoro reached out and took Hahli’s Kanohi from her outstretched hand. He noticed immediately what she was talking about. Unlike any other mask he had ever handled, this one was pliable, less like armor and more like organic tissue. It felt warm to the touch. Suddenly, with a cry, he dropped it on the ground.

“It moved!” he yelled. “I mean… I think it moved… in my hand.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, masks can’t move,” said Hewkii, reaching out to recover the Kanohi. “They’re objects, they’re not –”

His fingers brushed against the mask. The Kanohi recoiled. Hewkii pulled back instantly. He looked up at the others and finished weakly, “Alive?”

“Put it back on, Hahli,” said Jaller.

“I’m not so sure I want to,” answered the Toa of Water. She gave a half-smile. “What if it bites?”

“Do it anyway,” said Jaller. “I feel like I’m having a conversation with a lightstone.”

Hesitantly, Hahli took her mask in hand. It never moved, tried to get away from her, or came across as anything but an inert object. She put it back on, cutting off the glare and allowing the others to lower their hands from their eyes.

“Well,” said Nuparu. “I always wondered what it would be like to become a Toa. Somehow, I never pictured blinding features and moving masks. Think we can get a do-over?”

Jaller abruptly turned to Kongu. “What am I thinking?”

Before the Toa of Air could think of a response, he heard Jaller’s voice in his head. It was saying something about a Rahi beast he had fought a long time back. Kongu “listened” for a few moments and then replied. “You’re remembering a Muaka that threatened Ta-Koro three years ago. You and the Guard needed two days to drive-chase it off – and how did I know that?”

“It’s a Mask of Telepathy, remember?” said Jaller. “When we found it, Toa Takanuva was able to read Hahli’s thoughts. It changed, like the Matoran masks we were wearing, into this more organic form, but it still works. Despite the masks’ strange appearance, I am willing to bet they work the same as the ones we know… who knows, maybe better.”

Nuparu stood up. “Great, but how do we use them? Remember how long it took the Toa Metru to master their mask powers in Turaga Vakama’s tale? We have no training in using Great Masks and they won’t activate just by our saying, ‘I wish my mask worked.’”

No sooner were the words out of Nuparu’s mouth then he shot straight up into the air and collided with the cavern roof. He fell back down, stunned.

“On the other hand, maybe they will,” commented Hewkii.

Zaktan, leader of the Piraka, was not happy.

The operation on Voya Nui had seemed like it would be a simple one. Get on the island, snatch the Mask of Life from its hiding place, and get off – no mess, little risk, and great reward.

It had started to go wrong almost from the beginning. The Piraka had been unable to sustain the fraud that they were Toa here to help the local Matoran. A small group of the villagers rebelled, and time had to be wasted hunting them down. Then six Toa Nuva arrived on the island. They were also seeking the mask and it took a lengthy combat and the help of Brutaka to stop them.

And now there are more here…

None of the Piraka were talking openly about what they had seen, but that didn’t mean they weren’t reviewing the moment in their heads. Those six stars that appeared in the sky were spirit stars, Zaktan was sure of it, and each star was bound to a Toa. Apparently, this worthless little island on the south end of nowhere had suddenly become a gathering point for would-be heroes.

Add to that the fact that the Piraka themselves were turning on one another. Zaktan had already put down two open rebellions by his team. There were bound to be more. Eventually, he might have to kill one of the other five just to make a point.

It would be worth it. Nothing mattered more than getting his hands on the Mask of Life. Let the Matoran burn in the lava, let the others on his team fall to Toa, and let the rest of Voya Nui sink into the sea – as long as he had that mask.

The others didn’t understand. They thought it was just one more Kanohi. Zaktan knew it was more, although he couldn’t put his finger on just how he knew. But each time he closed his eyes to rest, he awoke more certain than ever that the mask was the key to ultimate power.

Legend stated that the Mask of Life was forged by the Great Beings long before the coming of Mata Nui or the creation of the city of Metru Nui. It was no exaggeration to say that the life or death of the universe was tied to that mask. Under normal circumstances, it might be donned once every 5,000 years by a Toa whose destiny called for such a sacrifice. For the wearer of that Kanohi, it was said, would burn with the energies it unleashed.

These, of course, were not normal circumstances. The Great Spirit Mata Nui was comatose and had been so for 1,000 years. Metru Nui had been abandoned by the Matoran, then reclaimed. Entire cities had been destroyed or else torn from their home continents, as Voya Nui had been. Visorak had run wild. Rahi were still on the rampage in some areas. The Brotherhood of Makuta was at war with the Dark Hunters, and both sides eliminated any Toa they ran across. Chaos ruled.

That explains why the Toa are here, and why they want the mask. They think they can restore order with it, the fools, Zaktan thought. Order is dead and buried. The universe belongs to anyone strong enough to seize the stars and crush them in his grasp.

The emerald-armored Piraka was reluctant to admit even to himself that he didn’t really know exactly what the mask could do. He privately doubted that any one Kanohi could slay a universe. The legends were probably just that, legends – comforting little lies passed down by weak-minded Matoran. They were designed to convince the Matoran that all would be well in the end, and that there was nothing truly scary lurking in the darkness.

Zaktan smiled. It is obvious the tale-tellers never met a Piraka.

Hakann woke up. His head felt like a Kikanalo had been dancing on it. He coughed up some rock dust and decided it was time to try getting up.

Shoving aside some rubble, he stood up. He was in the Piraka stronghold, where Zaktan had left him. Foolishly, Hakann had calculated the Piraka leader might be ripe for overthrow, and he acted on his own rather than allying with others. Zaktan had beaten him with embarrassing ease and then, in a show of complete disrespect, had allowed the rebellious Piraka to live.

Hakann took a deep breath and tried to calm himself. Acting from emotion was what had gotten him defeated. He had to be smart. He had to have a plan. Most importantly, he had to get someone else to take the risks next time.

Conveniently, three other Piraka – Avak, Reidak, and Thok – chose that moment to enter the chamber. Hakann purposely slumped against the wall, trying to look more badly injured than he really was. When they asked him what had happened, he would tell them Zaktan attacked for no reason, and convince them they would be next.

That’s what he would have done, anyway. But the three walked right past him with barely a glance, as if a wounded Hakann was something they saw every day – or wished they did.

“I should throw you off cliffs more often,” Reidak said to Thok. “It’s fun.”

The white-armored Piraka simply glared. Avak stepped in between them, snarling, “Shut up and listen! Brutaka beat six Toa Nuva with one swing of his blade. What happens if he comes after us?”

“I point him at Reidak and get out of the way,” Thok replied.

“He got in a lucky shot,” Reidak said. “Took the Toa by surprise. I could have handled him.”

“Like the way you handled Zaktan?” Thok growled. “We had him caged and you freed him, you idiot!”

“Enough!” Hakann shouted. The others turned to look at him, then resumed walking. But the crimson-armored Piraka was not going to be denied. “You’re missing the obvious,” he continued. “I expect that from Reidak, but not you, Thok. Where is that cunning brain you are always bragging about? Has it rotted from the heat of Voya Nui’s lava flows?”

“Shut up, Hakann,” said Thok.

“All right,” Hakann replied. “Then I guess you don’t want to know that Zaktan was conspiring with Brutaka long before you knew he existed. The two of them have a pact, and who else wants to bet it involves five dead Piraka and Zaktan with the Mask of Life?”

The other three stopped in their tracks. Ordinarily, they wouldn’t believe much of anything that came from Hakann’s grinning mouth. But they also knew what Zaktan was capable of, and if he had a being like Brutaka at his side…

“Forget this,” said Avak. “Let’s get off this rock. I’d rather take my chances with the Dark Hunters than get snapped in two by Zaktan and his pet monster.”

“I hate to risk leaving Zaktan in control of the Mask of Life – if it exists,” said Thok. “But unless we can split Brutaka away from him –”

“Are you finished?” Hakann said, sounding bored. “There will be no splitting. There will be no snapping. Instead, you will listen to me and do exactly what I say… assuming, of course, you want to live to see another rainy day on Voya Nui.”

Hakann waited a moment for his words to sink in, and then smiled. “We can handle Zaktan. Brutaka is the real threat. So we get him before he gets us, and here’s how we do it.”

The other three Piraka listened carefully to the words that followed. By the time Hakann was finished, they were smiling, too.

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