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Three Thousand Years Ago…

Hakann crouched on a Ga-Metru rooftop. Lariska was next to him, toying with her blades as she always did. At first, Hakann had dismissed this as a nervous habit. Later, he realized her daggers were probably the only “friends” she truly trusted.

It was another dark, cold, and dangerous night in Metru Nui. Hakann had seen too many of them by now. After the incident with the Kanohi Dragon, the Shadowed One had made a few more attempts – some obvious, some not – to either seize control of the city or else secure a base there. Each time, his efforts had been frustrated by the Toa.

It came as no surprise that the Shadowed One had become obsessed with Metru Nui. When an attempt by Thok to kidnap Turaga Dume failed, the ruler of the Dark Hunters reached the end of his patience. He assembled a legion of his best operatives and ordered them to invade and capture Metru Nui. This struck many, including Hakann, as a very strange and highly risky idea. Dark Hunters lived in the shadows, struck quickly, and disappeared. They didn’t form armies and invade cities.

“There’s a word for a Dark Hunter in daylight,” Hakann had said at the time. “A target.”

Still, the plan had seemed to be working. A couple of hundred Dark Hunters stormed Metru Nui in the dead of night, taking the Vahki and Lhikan’s team of Toa completely by surprise. While the Matoran took cover, they seized control of most of the city. The Toa and Turaga Dume were forced to take refuge inside the Coliseum. Victory seemed only days away.

Then everything went wrong. The Toa of Water managed to slip through the Dark Hunter lines and swim the ocean. At the first island she came to, she dragged herself to the Turaga and begged for help for Metru Nui. The result was that close to one hundred Toa descended on the city and turned what should have been a quick fight into a protracted siege. Toa and Dark Hunters clashed in metru-to-metru, street-to-street fighting that lasted months.

By now, both sides were hurting badly. Work in the city had largely ground to a halt. Damage to the different metru was extensive. Meanwhile, with so many Dark Hunters tied down in Metru Nui, the flow of treasure coming into the vaults of the organization had slowed to a trickle. Both Dume and the Shadowed One knew some bold stroke was needed to end this war before there was nothing left to fight over.

Hakann’s recollections were interrupted by the sight of a lone Toa on the streets below. It was a Toa of Air, judging from the color of his armor, and his mask and weapon matched Vezok’s description of Toa Nidhiki. Hakann smiled. Here was a wonderful opportunity to not only take one more Toa out of the fight, but rob Vezok of a chance for revenge at the same time.

He was about to spring when Lariska stopped him. “One more dead Toa does us no good,” she said. “Let me handle this.”

“And grab more glory for yourself?” Hakann snarled.

Lariska smiled in reply. “Let me put this another way. Stay out of my way while I handle this or we’ll pick up where we left off in the Shadowed One’s arena.”

Without another word, she leapt to another rooftop, then another, and finally to the ground. She was moving in the general direction of the Coliseum, a sure way to attract the attention of a Toa.

Down below, Nidhiki took the bait. There was a brief, inconclusive fight that left Hakann unsatisfied. There had been at least three perfect openings for Lariska to kill the Toa and she had let all of them slip by. He wondered if there might be some way to use that information to his advantage.

The Toa disappeared briefly. Hakann could hear Lariska talking. Then Nidhiki was visible again and he and Lariska were having a discussion. Hakann was too far away to hear what they were saying. He considered and rejected the idea of Lariska planning to defect to the Toa. She’d look lousy in a mask and she knows it, he thought.

When Lariska returned, she had a look on her face like a Muaka who had just eaten a Gukko bird. “He’s willing to deal. We have to get a message to the Shadowed One.”

“What if it’s a trick?”

Lariska shook her head. “I don’t think so. He’s nowhere near as a good a liar as he thinks he is. Someday, that will probably cost him.”

The message dispatched via trained Nui-Rama was short and to the point. Toa Nidhiki would arrange for the capture of Turaga Dume, Toa Lhikan, and the rest of Metru Nui’s defenders in exchange for rule over the city. The Shadowed One’s answer was just as direct: Agree to Nidhiki’s demands, and once the war was won, eliminate him.

Lariska had arranged a meeting with Nidhiki for the next night. As before, Hakann remained in the shadows and watched. He knew better than to trust a Toa, and he wasn’t completely certain of Lariska’s motives, either. Maybe she was planning to cut herself in as future queen of Metru Nui.

Nidhiki was late and looked worried. “What’s the answer? Come on, come on, I’m risking everything just being here!”

“Calm down,” said Lariska. “Were you followed here?”

“I don’t think so,” said Nidhiki. “Lhikan told me to head down to the docks to meet a supply boat. He can’t tear himself away from being leader of the Toa army long enough to actually do any work.”

He’s bitter, thought Hakann. Okay, we can work with that.

“It’s a deal,” Lariska said. “Tomorrow you lead Lhikan and the Coliseum guard into the Canyon of Unending Whispers in Po-Metru. We’ll be scattered in the caves and foothills. Once it’s over, I’m to take care of Turaga Dume personally… and the city will be yours, Nidhiki. What do you plan to do with it?”

Hakann didn’t hear Nidhiki’s answer. His attention was drawn to a brief gleam of red and gold from a nearby rooftop. It was Toa Lhikan! He had followed Nidhiki and heard everything.

The Dark Hunter’s mind raced. If he warned Lariska, the “trap” could be called off in plenty of time to save the Shadowed One’s army. On the other hand, if he didn’t, Lariska would be disgraced and the war would be over. The only flaw would be, he would wind up a prisoner of the Toa. He needed to find a way to save his own metallic hide.

Nidhiki left. Lariska had not yet returned. Hakann climbed up to the roof and began following Toa Lhikan.

It didn’t take long for the Toa to detect his presence. Lhikan whirled and hurled flames from his two fire greatswords. Hakann evaded and hit Lhikan with a mental blast. The Toa staggered, but recovered, slamming his two swords together to make a shield. He then tossed the shield with incredible accuracy, knocking Hakann’s feet out from under him. The shield was on its way back to Lhikan when Hakann nailed it with his heat vision, sending it spiraling off course. The Dark Hunter sprang to his feet, lava launcher pointed right at Toa Lhikan.

“I could kill you now, Toa, but there’s been enough killing,” Hakann said, making an effort to sound sincerely concerned about the loss of life. In truth, the only life he cared anything for was his own. “It’s time to end this war.”

Lhikan said nothing, simply glared at Hakann with contempt. He might as well have thrown a snowball for all his opinion mattered to the Dark Hunter.

“You know what your pal Nidhiki is planning with us. You’re probably setting up a trap of your own,” said Hakann. “You figure you’ll slap all of us into a prison cave somewhere until the stars go out. But… maybe there’s a deal to be made here.”

“I don’t make deals with Dark Hunters,” Lhikan snapped.

“You’ll deal with this one,” Hakann replied, doing his best to control his temper. “Or maybe you’d rather not know what happened to the Makoki stone, all those years ago?”

Lhikan’s body language conveyed, if only for a moment, that he was surprised by Hakann’s statement. Sensing an opening, the Dark Hunter pressed on.

“I stole it,” he lied. “And I gave it to the Shadowed One as a sort of entrance fee into the Dark Hunters. If we are going to lose this war, then we are – but I propose a trade. You get the Makoki stone, and we leave this island under our power.”

Toa Lhikan wrestled with the idea. Free, the Dark Hunters would always be a threat. But the Makoki stone was something his fellow Toa had been willing to die to protect thousands of years before. Even if he didn’t know its true importance, it must have been vital in some way. Could he betray the memory of his deceased comrades by passing up the chance to get it back?

“You’ll come with me,” Lhikan said. “Then you’ll send a message to your leader. Tell him the war is lost. If he hands over the Makoki stone, we’ll let you and the other Dark Hunters leave Metru Nui and return home… on two conditions.”

“Which are?”

“You never come back… ever… and you take Nidhiki with you. I want him out of my sight.”

Hakann smiled. “How do I know you’ll keep your end of the deal?”

“Toa don’t go back on their word,” Lhikan replied.

Hakann chuckled. “I guess Nidhiki must have missed that part of the training.”

Everything went as Toa Lhikan had planned it. When he, Nidhiki, and the rest of the Coliseum guard marched into the Canyon of Unending Whispers, they were immediately ambushed by Dark Hunters. A moment later, the Dark Hunters found themselves surrounded by three hundred Toa who had arrived in the city on the “supply boats” the night before.

Having lived under the harsh discipline of the Shadowed One for so long, the Dark Hunters fully expected the same treatment from the Toa. Failure, they assumed, would mean death.

“Now what?” a defiant Lariska asked Toa Lhikan. “Do you march us all into the sea?”

Hakann held his breath. Would Lhikan keep his part of the bargain?

The Toa of Fire hesitated a moment. Then he said, “A messenger was sent to the Shadowed One before you ever reached the canyon. You will be allowed to walk out of here the same way you walked in.”

Lhikan went on to outline the same conditions he had related to Hakann. Nidhiki was shocked to discover that he, too, was being banished from the city. Lariska looked disappointed – death would have been preferable to the punishment the Shadowed One would dish out for her failure. The entire scene filled Hakann with glee.

By the next morning, the Dark Hunters and Nidhiki had been loaded into ships headed for the Shadowed One’s island. Nidhiki stood by himself at the rail, gazing at the city he was sure he would never see again. None of the Dark Hunters came anywhere near him. Watching the scene, Hakann could not help but remember the Shadowed One’s words from so long ago – “I dislike a traitor. But I despise an incompetent one.”

The Shadowed One would keep his word, as much as he ever did. It would be 2,000 years before another Dark Hunter would set foot on Metru Nui – and one of the three who would make the return trip would be Nidhiki.

The ruler of the Dark Hunters was not, however, content to allow the Makoki stone to remain in Toa hands. Six months after the Dark Hunter surrender on Metru Nui, he dispatched a team to the Toa base where the stone was being held. They successfully stole the tablet. The Shadowed One ordered it split into six pieces so he could earn six times the ransom for it. The Brotherhood of Makuta were the high bidders for the stones, despite the fact that they, too, had no idea of their true significance.

The only other problem left over from the Toa–Dark Hunter war was Nidhiki himself. Despite Lariska’s insistence that neither she nor the ex-Toa were responsible for the defeat, she was punished severely and Nidhiki was shunned. The Shadowed One valued Nidhiki’s knowledge and experience but could not bring himself to fully trust him. He knew also that Nidhiki was scheming to escape the island in hopes of someday resuming his career as a Toa.

The Shadowed One’s solution to this situation was elegantly evil. He allowed Nidhiki to get so close to freedom the ex-Toa could practically taste it. Then, at the last moment, he had a new recruit, Roodaka, use her powers to mutate Nidhiki into an insectoid monster. Now so hideous that Matoran society would never accept him, he was doomed to remain a Dark Hunter for the rest of his days.

And how about the rest of us? Hakann wondered, as he watched Nidhiki react in horror to his new form. Are we all to stay Dark Hunters forever? Or will there be an opportunity someday to say good-bye to this wretched place… and have power the Shadowed One never even dreamed of?

It was an idea well worth thinking about, he decided.

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