Garan led the other five members of the Matoran resistance through the winding corridors of the Piraka stronghold. They could still hear the sounds of battle coming from the virus chamber, though they were unsure who was fighting.
“We should go back,” said Dalu. “This fight is for our freedom. We should be part of it.”
“We are part of it,” said Garan, “a very important part. The Toa Inika tasked us with finding the imprisoned Toa Nuva. If the Inika fall, the Nuva may be the only hope we have.”
“But why look here? They could have the Nuva hidden anywhere on the island!”
Velika chuckled. “When you fear the Muaka, it is best to keep him in sight.”
“He’s right,” said Balta. “The Piraka would want such dangerous foes where they could keep an eye on them. So let’s keep looking. And don’t drop those zamor sphere launchers – I built them in a hurry and they’re pretty fragile.”
The group pressed on, each member well aware that their quest might be futile. The Toa Inika weren’t even sure that the Toa Nuva were still alive – just hopeful.
Then again, thought Garan, in some battles, hope is the only weapon you have.
The Toa Inika stood before a fork in the stairway. The right passage was blocked with stone, and the left wide open.
“Think the Piraka closed off the right passage to throw us off the trail?” asked Jaller.
Hewkii took a close look at the pile of rock. “No, this has been here a long time.”
Matoro frowned. He could have sworn that when he came this way in his spirit form, the left passage had been blocked and the right open. Given what Hewkii said, though, that was impossible… wasn’t it?
“So we go left,” Jaller said.
“Great,” muttered Kongu. “Guess I am the only one who remembers what Turaga Matau always says about going left.”
Before the Toa could take a step into the left portal, Jaller spotted a figure coming up the staircase toward them. “Be ready!” he snapped, and the other Inika braced for combat.
But the being that emerged from the shadows was not a Piraka or some other kind of enemy. He was an almost regal figure in red and gold armor, wearing an all too familiar Kanohi Mask of Shielding. The shield he carried somehow managed to gleam brightly even in the dim light. Although none of the Toa Inika present had any memories of ever meeting him before, they all recognized him from the Turaga’s tales.
“This is impossible,” Jaller whispered. “Toa Lhikan??”
“Wait, wait a minute,” said Matoro. “Turaga Vakama said Lhikan became a Turaga 1,000 years ago, fought Makuta, and…”
“The word you’re hard-looking for is ‘died,’” said Kongu, taking aim with his laser crossbow. “Which means the golden one here is an impostor.”
The figure before them made no move to defend himself. He regarded the Toa Inika calmly and when he spoke, it was with an almost paternal tone to his voice. “Amazing… that the Toa Metru I helped bring into being should lead to a new generation of heroes with such… unusual masks.”
“Who are you?” demanded Hahli. “You cannot be who you appear to be. Toa Lhikan died a hero, and you defile his memory.”
“And his mask!” said Jaller. He had inherited the Noble Mask of Turaga Lhikan, but it was stolen from him during the journey to Voya Nui.
“Am I dead in your memories? Am I dead in your hearts?” asked Lhikan. “Because if the answer to those questions is no, then I am not truly dead.”
“If I quick-fire this crossbow, you will be,” replied Kongu.
Lhikan ignored him. “I’ve come to bring you a warning. Proceed no farther down these stairs. The Mask of Life is not for such as you. Turn back, Toa, while you can.”
Jaller looked into the eyes of the Toa he regarded as one of the greatest heroes in history. All he saw was shadow. “If you truly are Toa Lhikan, would you turn back and give up on so vital a mission, when you know thousands depend on you?”
Lhikan shook his head. “No, I wouldn’t,” he said, taking a step backward into the darkness. “But, then, look what happened to me.”
Jaller rushed forward, but Toa Lhikan was gone. The Toa Inika of Fire turned back to his comrades, troubled and confused. “First Karzahni, now this… far too many specters of the past trying to stop us.”
“Well, we have to worry about the future… they don’t,” said Nuparu. “So let’s keep going.”
The Toa Inika continued down the staircase, convinced that they could now leave the past behind them. Unfortunately, they were about to discover the past was far from through with them.
Axonn had spent a lot of time lately on the wrong end of battles. His first clash with the Piraka had ended, thanks to an ambush by Brutaka. His efforts to stop Brutaka from revealing the location of the Mask of Life had resulted in his being beaten to a pulp by a being he used to consider a friend.
But in this game, Brutaka, it doesn’t matter who wins the first few battles, Axonn thought. Only who wins the last one.
Brutaka charged. Axonn swung his axe, only to have his enemy block it with a twin-bladed sword. Weapons locked together, they strained at each other. Brutaka had the advantages of height and reach, but Axonn was a little stronger and rapidly began to force his enemy back.
“You’re weakening,” said Axonn.
“You’re dreaming,” Brutaka shot back.
“Give up. There’s no reason Botar has to be brought into this.”
Brutaka’s eyes widened. Every Order of Mata Nui member knew the name Botar, and just what mention of him could mean. “You wouldn’t,” he said.
“I’d rather watch you die,” said Brutaka, suddenly stopping his resistance. With nothing pushing back, Axonn’s own force propelled him forward. Brutaka fell backward and used his legs and Axonn’s momentum to send his enemy flying. Axonn hit the floor and skidded close to the crystal vat containing the Piraka’s virus.
Brutaka got to his feet and raised his sword. It was time to finish the job.
Axonn saw the blade coming toward him. He rolled aside at the last possible moment as the tip of Brutaka’s sword buried itself in the floor. Axonn used a leg sweep to upend Brutaka. As soon as his foe hit the ground, Axonn tried to wrest the sword away.
“Stupid,” said Brutaka. “You gave this sword to me, remember? Already forgotten what it can do?”
The weapon flared with energy. An electrical jolt shot through Axonn’s body, forcing his hands to tighten on the sword. Pain ripped through him and he couldn’t let go!
“I could just let you fry,” Brutaka snarled, even as he kicked Axonn’s axe across the room. “When did you become such a fool? I’ve beaten you twice… This will be the last time.”
Brutaka shut down the blade’s energy. Axonn gasped and let go of the weapon.
“When the Piraka return with the Mask of Life, I’m taking it away from them,” Brutaka said. “Then I am getting off this barren rock and showing the universe what real power looks like. And you’re not going to do anything to stop me.”
Brutaka called on the power of his Kanohi mask. A dimensional vortex appeared in the air near Axonn, moving closer and closer to the downed guardian. “Why should I waste my blade on you, when I can transport you far from here?” Brutaka asked, laughing. “Go ahead, Axonn, attack me. Even if you knock me out, that gate will keep after you until it draws you inside. It won’t disappear until someone has passed through it… and that someone is you.”
Axonn saw the gate advancing rapidly, threatening to envelop him. He couldn’t see anything inside it, only deep darkness. He knew Brutaka’s power – the gate might lead to someplace else on Voya Nui or any other island, or even to a different dimension entirely. No matter the destination, he knew he would wind up too far away to stop Brutaka.
Axonn scrambled to his feet and prepared for a final charge at his enemy. All right, Brutaka – but if I have to go, you can bet I’m not going alone.