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Seven Thousand Years Ago…

Hakann dug his fingers into the side of the cliff and cursed. Crumbling rock and gusts of icy wind threatened to dislodge him from his precarious perch. A Toa on patrol up above might, at any moment, look over the side and spot him. And then, of course, there was that 3000-bio drop to the river below…

Still, Hakann had included all of that in his plan. His real problem was the dead weight hanging onto his ankle. Worse, the dead weight was loud and had a name: Vezok.

“I knew this was a bad idea!” Hakann’s companion shouted, trying to be heard over the wind.

“A little louder!” Hakann snapped. “I think there might be a Toa somewhere who didn’t hear you!”

“You said this would be a quick smash-and-snatch,” Vezok continued, lowering his voice not at all. “In and out. You didn’t say anything about climbing sheer cliffs in the middle of a battle and breaking into a Toa fortress!”

“I forgot,” Hakann muttered. “If you’re unhappy, Vezok, you can always let go. I’ll make sure to let your friends – if you have any – know where to look for your pieces.”

It was a good plan, Hakann knew, but unfortunately one that needed two thieves to pull off. The Toa who had built a base on this barren, windswept rock had neglected to inspect the icebergs that surrounded it. If they had done so, they would have discovered those chunks of ice were in fact camouflage for a tribe of Frostelus. Miserable, ill-smelling and ill-tempered creatures, Frostelus were happy to invade your territory but hated when you invaded theirs. They had massed an army and promptly besieged the Toa.

The Matoran trader who passed this information to Hakann also said that the Toa planned to smuggle their “treasure” off the island within a few nights. Since the only exit not blocked by Frostelus was down the cliffside, Hakann reasoned the treasure had to be something light and easily carried. He decided to save the Toa a trip by stealing it before they could sneak it off.

True, stealing from Toa was only slightly less hazardous than playing blindfolded tag with a catapult scorpion. But with a partner to draw their attention, Hakann was certain he could break in and out before either the Toa or the Frostelus could interfere.

His first mistake had been trusting the Matoran to meet them at the base of the cliff with climbing gear. His second had been hiring Vezok.

“If we get caught, don’t worry about getting put in a cage,” Vezok growled. “You won’t live long enough for that.”

Hakann ignored the threat. He was timing the Toa patrolling the ledge. His information was that this blue-green armored Toa controlled plant life. Hakann smiled, imagining he already smelled the sweet scent of burning shrubbery.

Gritting his sharp teeth, he started to climb again. Vezok followed close behind, grumbling all the way. When they were within arm’s length of the edge, Hakann motioned for his partner to stop. Timing was critical now.

The Toa passed right above them. The next instant, Hakann vaulted up onto solid ground and blasted the Toa from behind with his heat vision. Vezok joined in, laughing as he battered the guard with bursts of impact vision. Overcome, the Toa hit the ground.

“Let’s throw him over the side,” said Vezok, grinning.

“Right. And the second any Toa looks out and sees the sentry missing, alarms go off all over. Honestly, Vezok, I have heard of someone having water in their ears, but never between them.”

Hakann hauled the unconscious Toa to his feet and propped him up against a rock. “There. Now he looks like he’s just taking a rest. Come on, let’s go.”

As they ran toward the fortress, Vezok pondered what he had gotten himself into. Hakann obviously regarded him only as muscle, not realizing that Vezok had a reputation as a master thief and a cunning strategist. His gruff voice and overly brutal behavior were all a cover for a cunning intelligence. His sharp mind told him only one of them was going to make it off this island alive, and Hakann might be surprised to learn which it would be.

Two Toa guarded the rear entrance to the fortress. One carried a mace, and one a flail. Both looked like they could use a bandit or two to break in half, just to relieve the monotony of guard duty.

“Distract them,” said Hakann.

“You distract them,” Vezok replied. “You’re the one in the red armor. They’ll see you coming a kio away anyway.”

Hakann struggled to control his temper. “Look, how hard does this have to be? Stumble forward, pretend you’re hurt, and when they desert their post, I will break in.”

“I have a better idea,” said Vezok. “Why bother pretending?”

With that, he slammed into Hakann’s back, sending the thief flying headlong into the dirt near where the Toa stood. Both reacted immediately, charging toward the intruder with weapons ready. Hakann’s only response was a groan of pain.

Vezok took advantage of the opening to rush the door. It was stone and padlocked, but that didn’t present a problem. One quick wrench and the lock was snapped. Vezok slipped in and closed the door quietly behind him. Thanks to Hakann’s briefing him on the plan, he knew exactly where to look for the treasure.

That had been Hakann’s third mistake.

He swiftly made his way through the corridors and up the staircase leading to the tower. More than once, he had to hide in a shadowed doorway to avoid Toa. But having once invaded a cave network filled with thousand-eyed Rahi undetected, this was Matoran’s play for him.

A ball of molten lava shot past a tower window. Vezok smiled. Hakann was resisting, just as he had hoped, and drawing more Toa from the base. As long as their attention was focused on their captive, getting away again would be simple.

When he finally broke into the tower room, he was surprised to find it practically bare. The only furniture was a table, upon which rested a stone tablet. Carved into the table were the words Makoki stone.

Vezok frowned. This certainly did not look like a treasure. Then again, if he recalled correctly, Makoki was the Matoran word for “key.”

Is this a key, then? he wondered. A key to what? Some other vault of treasure? Some secret place? Or was Hakann’s information all wrong, and this whole thing is just some joke?

Angered, Vezok started to knock the stone from the table. Then his keen eyes noticed something strange about it. Although its rough surface looked relatively clean, if one looked close enough, it was possible to see very faint, almost microscopically small scratches upon it. They seemed so random that even if someone spotted them, they would appear to be simply the result of normal wear.

But Vezok was not just anyone. He had a thief’s eye for items of true value. He knelt down and peered closely at the stone.

No, those were not random scratches, not at all, he realized. They were a form of writing! It resembled modern Matoran, but was just different enough as to be almost indecipherable. But he could make out enough of it to get a general idea of what was written on the Makoki stone. It was shocking even to him.

This is a record of the Brotherhood of Makuta, he said to himself, keeping even his thoughts to a whisper. One of the most powerful and benevolent organizations in the universe. Entries on all their members, the locations of their fortresses, everything, all scratched on this stone.

Vezok knew he should either take it and get going, or else flee empty-handed. But his mind was still trying to process what he had discovered. Why would Toa – self-proclaimed heroes and guardians of justice – be gathering information on another power for good? For what purpose?

The truth slithered into his mind like a hungry serpent. The Toa don’t trust the Brotherhood, he realized. At least, these Toa don’t. They are gathering information against the possibility that someday the Brotherhood will betray them.

This wasn’t a treasure. This was an explosive. If the Brotherhood learned of its existence, the Toa would be suspect, or worse, disbanded. And if the Toa found out the stone was gone, they would hunt down the thief to the ends of the universe. Only a fool would risk disaster by stealing such a thing.

A fool, Vezok thought, grabbing the stone, or someone with dreams of being more than just a simple thief someday.

Making his way out of the tower, Vezok smiled as he reflected on the name Makoki. This stone was a “key” indeed – in fact, he wouldn’t be surprised if it did serve as a conventional key to open some lock somewhere. What better way to distract others from its true nature as a key to knowledge, possibly even a key to victory?

He slipped back out the way he had entered. At first, Hakann was nowhere to be seen. Then he spotted a small group of Toa trying to restrain a struggling figure.

Good luck, Hakann, Vezok thought. By the time you give in and start talking, I will be far away from here.

As rapidly as he was able, Vezok began scaling the cliff. His boat was lashed to the rocks far below. Once he was safely away, there would be time to decide how best to put this Makoki stone to use.

“Going somewhere?”

The voice came from behind him. Vezok looked over his shoulder, convinced some Toa must have spotted him. But the being he saw was no Toa. He was a powerful figure in blue and gold armor who hovered in midair, arms folded, seeming as casual as if he chatted with other beings on cliffsides every day.

Vezok knew he was at a disadvantage here. If he let go of the cliff to try and fight, he would plunge to his death. Still, he decided it was worth trying to bluff his way through. “I like to rock climb,” he sneered. “It’s good for my health.”

“I know something that isn’t,” the figure responded. “Stealing from Toa.”

“You’re an expert on that, are you?” said Vezok.

The figure smiled. “I was robbing Toa back when you were still stealing from Matoran fruit stands. Whatever you found up there, hand it over.”

“I didn’t find anything,” Vezok lied. “Toa don’t have anything worth stealing.”

“Let me ask that again,” the figure responded, firing a Rhotuka spinner from the launcher on his arm. When it struck, Vezok suddenly found it impossible to control his muscles. It seemed as if all his coordination had simply vanished. He lost his grip on the cliff and started to fall, only to be caught in midair by the armored figure.

“If I have to ask a third time, I’ll get frustrated. When I get frustrated, I drop things.”

“All right!” Vezok snapped. “A stone – I found a stone. It’s maybe a key to a vault or something, I don’t know. I figured I would hold on to it until I discovered what lock it fit.”

The figure smiled. “That’s better. So you successfully broke into a Toa tower and stole from them, while setting up your partner to be caught? Impressive. I know of someone who might want to meet you… if you are interested in a little dishonest work, that is.”

Hanging over a violent sea, kept in the air only by his captor’s grip, Vezok would have agreed to cleaning Kikanalo stables by hand. Besides, if he stuck close to this newcomer, maybe he would have the opportunity to steal the stone back.

“Sure,” Vezok answered. “But I don’t usually go traveling with strangers. What’s your name?”

“You can just call me Ancient,” the figure said, gently lowering them both toward the waiting boat. “And as for who I am taking you to meet… he hasn’t had a proper name in centuries. We know him as the Shadowed One.”

All but one of the Toa in the tower that day met his end at the claws of the Frostelus. The lone survivor, a relatively new and inexperienced master of fire named Lhikan, was ordered by his team leader to flee with the Makoki stone. But when Lhikan went to get the stone, it was gone.

He would search for some years afterward for the tablet, despite the fact that he did not know the true significance of it. Nor did he ever learn just who it was that dared to steal from a Toa tower.

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