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Two Hundred Fifty Years Ago…

Reidak was a happy Dark Hunter.

He had been posted to the south wall of a Dark Hunter fortress for the last day and a half. His orders were simple: Anyone or anything that tried to get over the wall was to be crushed, stomped, flattened, and otherwise discouraged from trying it again. So far, he had gotten to practice his favorite hobby – destruction – on a squad of Rahkshi, one suit of Exo-Toa armor running on automatic, and a dozen Rahi wearing infected Kanohi masks that controlled their actions. The forces of the Brotherhood of Makuta were sure to mount another attack soon, which was fine with him. Reidak hoped this joy would never end.

Relations between the Brotherhood and the Dark Hunters had been souring for some time. It had been Dark Hunters who were on guard when six Toa, the Toa Hagah, succeeded in stealing both the Makoki stones and the Kanohi Mask of Light from the Brotherhood. Although the Dark Hunters on duty had fought hard and well, they were still blamed for allowing the thefts to happen. The Brotherhood had insisted on the execution of the guards involved, but the Shadowed One had refused. The matter ended there… or it seemed to, anyway.

Three centuries later, the Makuta of Metru Nui hired three Dark Hunters – Nidhiki, a dumb brute named Krekka, and a third, codenamed Eliminator – to aid him in a takeover of Metru Nui. The effort failed. In a desperate bid to restore lost energies quickly, Makuta absorbed both Nidhiki and Krekka into his own substance, killing them. Eliminator knew nothing of this, and neither did any other Dark Hunter. All they knew was that Nidhiki and Krekka never returned from their mission.

A short time later, the discovery of the Kanohi Vahi, the Mask of Time, had drawn both the Shadowed One and the Makuta of Metru Nui to that city. They came into conflict over possession of the mask. The revelation that Makuta had slain two Dark Hunters turned the argument into a battle. Although severely wounded, Makuta managed to defeat the leader of the Dark Hunters. The prize eluded them both, however, thanks to the quick thinking of a Toa of Fire named Vakama.

Still, the damage had been done. The Shadowed One vowed revenge and declared war on the Brotherhood of Makuta. To most members of the organization, this seemed like declaring war on the sun or the sea. The power wielded by the Brotherhood was unimaginable. The accepted wisdom was that the Dark Hunters would be crushed within a matter of weeks.

That had not proved to be the case. The Brotherhood had their hands full dealing with the aftereffects of a bioquake that had rocked the universe. Metru Nui was in ruins, a part of the southern continent had split off and disappeared, and those were only the start of the problems. Worse, the efforts of the Brotherhood’s Visorak army to conquer Metru Nui had resulted in the death of its king and the scattering of the spider creatures to points all over the map.

Nor had the Toa been sleeping through all of this. Fully aware of the depths of the Brotherhood’s treachery, the Toa were striking at them at every opportunity. Brotherhood fortresses were under siege in many places. Their operations in some areas had been almost completely shut down. Granted, many Toa had been killed in the struggle – something that bothered Reidak not at all – but they had given the Brotherhood something to worry about.

Against this backdrop, the Dark Hunters’ strategy of hitting and running, sabotage, theft, and kidnapping had met with success. They had gone from annoying the Brotherhood to wounding it over the course of several hundred years. Now the Brotherhood was striking back.

Reidak peered into the darkness. Someone was moving through the woods toward the fortress. It looked to be a lone figure, too small to be an Exo-Toa, too large for a Rahkshi or a Visorak. He wondered who it might be and what kind of sound they would make when he threw them off the top of the wall.

Zaktan approached. “This one’s not for you,” he said. “So no mangling, shredding, or devastating.”

Reidak glanced down. The figure had made it to the base of the wall impossibly fast and was already scaling the sheer stone face of it. A fleeting shaft of moonlight illuminated a sleek black form. The savage Dark Hunter grinned.

“I get it,” he said. “But it would be fun to take her on someday and see which of us would end up the winner.”

“You wouldn’t ‘end up’ as anything, Reidak,” a silken female voice replied. “You would just… end.”

Roodaka climbed over the top of the wall. This was her third visit to this particular fortress in as many months. If the Brotherhood had known she was selling information on them to the Dark Hunters, her life would be over abruptly. Zaktan half suspected she was providing data on the Dark Hunters to the Brotherhood as well, but he couldn’t prove it.

“What’s the information?” he asked.

“Where’s my payment?” Roodaka replied.

Zaktan handed her a tablet. Had any other Dark Hunter seen its contents, Zaktan would have been taken away immediately and imprisoned, or worse. The carving on the stone was a detailed map of the Shadowed One’s fortress, complete with details on guard placement, traps, and any other security measures. With this, an enemy could sneak into the fortress and eliminate the Dark Hunter leader with ease… or so it seemed.

In fact, as Zaktan had learned the hard way, it was not so simple to overthrow the Shadowed One, even with this sort of information. If Roodaka cared to try it, she would most likely be killed, along with any other minions of the Brotherhood who went with her. If she somehow succeeded, Zaktan had no doubt he could eliminate her in turn and take power for himself.

“You need to abandon this place,” Roodaka said. “It will be surrounded within the hour and overrun in two. Any Dark Hunter taken prisoner will soon wish they hadn’t been.”

“Why do they want this place so bad?” asked Reidak. “Besides the chance to take me out of the fight, of course.”

Roodaka looked at Reidak, then turned to Zaktan. “Is he always that way?”

“Most of the time,” answered Zaktan. “But he has his uses. And his question is a legitimate one – this fortress is not the most strategically located or important, so why would the Brotherhood want it so badly?”

Roodaka smiled. “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it, Zaktan… and sometimes, just doomed. This was a Brotherhood fortress at one time, or didn’t you know?”

Zaktan cursed under his breath. No, he had not known that little piece of information, because the Shadowed One had not seen fit to tell him before sending him here.

“And I suppose you haven’t explored the place, either?” Roodaka continued. “Just being good little guards, are you? Foolish, foolish pawns – what you don’t know can kill you.”

With a nod, she climbed back over the wall and disappeared. Zaktan stared after her, brooding. Then he said to Reidak, “Stay here. I have something to do.”

“What about your part of the wall? Who’s going to watch that?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Zaktan answered. “You are. If you get overrun and killed… call me.”

Before Reidak could protest any further, Zaktan headed down the stairs into the fortress. Contrary to Roodaka’s belief, he had explored every inch of the place shortly after arriving. Thok had not only explored, but looted, taking anything that wasn’t nailed down. But obviously they had missed something. Whatever that something was, the Brotherhood was willing to sacrifice lives to get it.

Thok had agreed to join Reidak on guard duty, not out of any great love of the job, but because of what Reidak had threatened to do to him if he said no. Unlike Reidak, Thok found no pleasure in fighting off the various members of the Brotherhood’s army. They rarely had any treasure worth stealing or weapons worth salvaging. Besides, they took too long to die and left a mess behind.

“See anything?” asked Reidak.

“Darkness. Water. My life passing by,” Thok answered.

“What’s that? Out there,” asked the black-armored Piraka.

Thok sighed and took a step closer to the edge of the wall. At first, all he saw was trees and earth and ocean, here and there illuminated by a stray shaft of moonlight. Nothing out of the ordinary. A breeze was blowing through the trees, high waves were pounding the beach, and the ground was moving toward the fortress.

That last one made Thok look a second time. Yes, the ground was moving… no, no, it wasn’t. It was something moving along the ground – a lot of somethings. They were shrouded in mist, but their harsh chittering sounds of anticipation gave their presence away.

“Visorak!”

Dark Hunters flooded to the walls to defend the fortress, but the scene quickly devolved into chaos. Visorak Oohnorak used their power of mimicry to shout out contradictory orders in the voices of Zaktan, Ancient, and even the Shadowed One. Vohtarak made berserker charges at the base of the walls, trying to punch holes in the stone. Boggarak scaled the walls, launching their spinners and turning defenders to dust.

For their part, the Dark Hunters were mounting as strong a defense as they could. Reidak tore stones from the walls and hurled them down at the Suukorak. Thok silenced Oohnorak with his ice weapons, then tossed stones and shattered the frozen Visorak into thousands of pieces. Other Dark Hunters used spears, poles, and whatever else was handy to try and beat back the attackers.

“Much more of this and we have a problem!” Thok shouted.

“Why? Because they’ll take the fortress?” said Reidak.

“No, they’ll cut off our escape route,” said the white-armored Piraka. “Maybe you want to die a glorious death defending this pile of rock, but I don’t. Let the rest of these losers go down as heroes in the annals of the Dark Hunters – I’ll take breathing over that, any time.”

“What about Zaktan?”

Thok smacked a Visorak as it edged over the wall, then grabbed the forelegs of another and hurled it into space. “What about him?” he answered.

Zaktan could hear the sounds of battle from above, but he was not about to let yet another Brotherhood attack distract him from his goal. If there was something of value to be found in this place, he would find it.

He had gone straight to the basement. It was the most likely access point for a hidden chamber, since all of the space on the upper floors was accounted for. Once down there, he performed the most thorough search possible by sending the microscopic protodites that made up his body into every crack and crevice. If they encountered a solid obstacle, he called them back. It was the ones who were able to pass through into some previously unknown room that would matter.

Zaktan could hear the shouts and screams of his Dark Hunter companions. He ignored them. His search was painstaking work and could not be rushed. It took what seemed like an eternity to find a tiny crack in the floor that led to another chamber down below. He allowed his entire body to slip through the miniscule opening and then reform in the secret sub-basement of the fortress.

At first, he was disappointed. There were no weapons or boxes of treasure anywhere about. No Kanohi masks lined the walls. He would have even settled for a second Makoki stone, but there was nothing like that, either. Just a bare room with four stone walls covered in symbols, and not even symbols that made any sense.

Still, he was in no hurry to leave. After all, going back up would just mean plunging into the middle of whatever fight was going on. So he contented himself with studying the walls and trying to get some clue to what the carvings meant.

Some of the carvings were made very forcefully, others hesitantly, and a few were violently crossed out. To Zaktan, they looked like notes of an experiment or calculations of some kind, but overall, they were gibberish. Nothing but random symbols thrown up on the wall, not forming any recognizable words or even patterns from which a code (if that was what it was) could be broken.

He took a step back and studied only the pictograms. He recognized the Great Hau mask traditionally used to symbolize the Great Spirit Mata Nui. Nearby was a carving of the Kraahkan, the mask worn by the Makuta of Metru Nui. Then there was a third symbol, one Zaktan did not recognize – it was a sharply angled crescent, the points facing upward. Intrigued, the Dark Hunter reached out and touched that symbol.

As soon as his fingers touched the crescent-shaped carving, a hum filled the room. Then to Zaktan’s astonishment, the stones that made up the walls began to shift position. Slowly at first, then too rapidly for the eye to follow, they moved in and around each other, rearranging themselves to form – what?

The whole process lasted mere seconds. By the time it was done, Zaktan had retreated to the very center of the chamber for fear the walls might next attack him. In the sudden stillness that followed the remarkable display, he looked around.

It was incredible. By changing their locations on the walls, the stones had turned what was line upon line of nonsense into coherent text. Zaktan began to read, and what he read astounded him.

The chamber was a chronicle written by the Brotherhood of Makuta. It related, in detail, the events leading up to the day the Great Spirit Mata Nui fell into an eternal sleep. Zaktan had always believed that this had been a sudden event, possibly the result of some strange power of the Makuta. He assumed that if the Brotherhood were to be defeated, Mata Nui would suddenly awaken.

These carvings proved him wrong. It had not been the entire Brotherhood who had done this to Mata Nui, but only one of their members – the same one who had battled the Shadowed One, and the most experienced and powerful of all the Brotherhood. And the act that resulted in Mata Nui’s fall had actually taken place hundreds of years before sleep claimed him.

It was all here – the plans for Makuta’s attempt to seize power in Metru Nui, prophecies about the Great Cataclysm, and a dire warning that the universe might end as a result of these events. There was a hastily scrawled warning about the possible coming of a Toa of Light. In one corner, there were newer carvings detailing just how long it would take for the Great Spirit to die of his injuries. At the bottom of these, a lone word was savagely inscribed in the stone: Ignition.

But that was far from all. No, the worst of it was staggering in its implications, blinding in its audacity… and incredible in the sheer depth of evil it revealed. The Brotherhood had predicted that, if the attempt to seize Metru Nui failed and the Matoran escaped, the villagers would eventually link up with Toa. These Toa were to be defeated if possible, but if that proved too difficult, they were to be allowed to believe they had won their ultimate battle… even if that meant the death of a Brotherhood member.

Once the Toa were sufficiently blinded by their seeming success, the true plan would unfold. When it was done, the Great Spirit would be allowed to reawaken… and a reign of darkness would begin that no Matoran ever dreamed of in his most horrifying nightmares.

Zaktan sank to the floor, stunned. What the Brotherhood was planning made the Shadowed One’s schemes look like the idle fantasies of a harmless Rahi. If they were allowed to succeed, there would be no more Toa, no more Dark Hunters, just shadows and death.

His first impulse was to escape the fortress and bring all this information to someone who could act on it, even if only the Shadowed One.

That impulse lasted all of three seconds.

His second impulse made much more sense. Now that he knew all of this, somehow, someday, he would stumble on a way to be of use in this grand scheme. If he had to, he would make himself a part of it. And when that day came, the Brotherhood of Makuta would be in for a surprise.

They think they know evil. They think they know treachery, Zaktan thought. Then a wicked grin crawled onto his face. Wait until they get to know me.

By skill and luck, the Dark Hunters managed to hold off the attack of the Visorak that night. But they all knew it would not be the last such assault. Without reinforcements, the fortress would fall. Thok and Reidak carried through on their decision to desert. Before dawn on the morning after the battle, they slipped away, leaving the south wall unguarded. So effective was their method that none of the other Dark Hunters even knew they were gone until three dozen Rahkshi came over that wall and cut through the ranks of the defenders. Zaktan, too, had decided it was best to be elsewhere. But before he left, he trained his laser vision on the walls of the secret chamber. Regardless of who won the battle, he wanted no one else to see this information. Let Hakann and Vezok and the rest play their little games of cross and double cross for the puniest of stakes – he would be playing for a universe.

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