Toa Matoro barely ducked in time. A blast of shadow energy tore through the rock above his head. The near miss wasn’t half as disturbing as who hurled the blast.
“Okay, this can really stop!” he shouted. “Any time now would be fine!”
The Toa Inika had rounded a bend in the staircase only to find themselves face-to-face with a host of nightmares. Blocking their way were a Rahkshi, a Bohrok, a Bohrok-Kal, a Nui-Rama, a Muaka, and at the head of this assemblage of evil, Makuta himself. All were beings they had faced before as Matoran, but their presence here as a team made no sense. There was little time to puzzle it out, though, as a hail of shadow bolts, fire blasts, fear power, and more drove the Toa Inika back.
“Lhikan wasn’t joking,” said Kongu. “And here I always thought reunions were supposed to be happy-fun.”
Toa Hahli narrowly dodged the slashing claws of the Muaka, a great catlike animal. She responded to the attack with one of her own, a powerful blast of water that slammed into the Rahi beast and hurled him against the rock wall. The Muaka struck hard and slid to the ground, unmoving.
Hahli’s eyes widened. The creature looked dead, but she had seen Muaka get hit by much worse and spring right back into action. The awful thought that she did not know her own strength as a Toa ran through her head.
“Hey, Hahli!” yelled Hewkii. “This is no time to daydream!”
“You take the Bohrok,” Kongu said to Hewkii. “I want the big guy for myself.”
Farther up the stairs, Jaller was wrestling with a Rahkshi Turahk. The red-armored creature with its power to induce fear was a challenge, but still an enemy that a prepared Toa could handle with some effort. Yet Jaller felt his muscles turning to water as he fought the monster. Memories of another fight with a Turahk kept intruding.
He had been a Matoran then, side by side with the Toa Nuva and his best friend, Takua, on the island of Mata Nui. Makuta had sent his Rahkshi to try to stop the Toa of Light from ever coming into being. A Turahk had been about to strike down Takua when Jaller grabbed on to the Rahkshi’s staff. Pure fear power poured into Jaller until it overwhelmed his ability to handle it. He died then, only to be returned to life later in a way he still could not explain.
But that doesn’t change the fact that I died – I died! he thought, as he strained against the Rahkshi. Is that a possibility I can face again?
The metallic mouth of the Rahkshi opened to reveal the slimy kraata slug inside. The repulsive sight brought more memories. The village of Ta-Koro destroyed… Ko-Koro badly damaged… Matoran fleeing for their lives… all because of these monsters.
“Never again!” Jaller shouted, wrenching himself free of the Rahkshi’s grasp. He aimed his energized flame sword, intending to create a wall of flame between him and his opponent. The fires appeared, as he had wished, but something immediately went wrong. The lightning refused to stay intertwined with the flames, instead lancing out in all directions. One bolt struck the Rahkshi, instantly destroying the kraata inside.
The Rahkshi armor collapsed to the ground. Jaller stared down at his handiwork, feeling just as empty as the scorched metal exo-skeleton at his feet.
By the time Kongu had gotten into position, Hewkii had trashed his Bohrok foe, Nuparu was locked in combat with a Bohrok-Kal, and Matoro was trying to ice the wings of the Nui-Rama. Strangely enough, neither the Kal nor Makuta had said anything during the battle.
Usually we can’t get these losers to shut up, Kongu thought.
“Not sure how you got this monster-crew together, Makuta,” the Toa Inika of Air said. “But it won’t do you any good. We’re going quick-down those stairs, around you or over you – your choice.”
Makuta did not reply, his silence infuriating Kongu. The Toa took aim with his energy crossbow and fired two bolts. Makuta made no effort to get out of the way. Instead, he simply waved his hand and the two bursts of energy froze in midair. Then the bolts dropped, hit the floor, and shattered like glass.
Undeterred, Kongu called upon his power over air, creating a mini-cyclone centered on Makuta. The winds were so powerful that nothing could breathe within, or stay rooted to the ground. Yet somehow Makuta remained unaffected. In fact, the power of the master of shadows cut right through the cyclone to blast Kongu with solid darkness.
The Toa of Air picked himself painfully up off the stairs. Something was not right here. The Mask of Telepathy he wore should have been picking up a morass of evil thoughts from Makuta, but nothing was coming through, from him or from any of the other foes. Even stranger, Makuta had taken everything he had to throw at him without as much as a scratch.
Well, not everything, Kongu reminded himself. I still have this zamor sphere launcher. But zamors loaded with energized protodermis wouldn’t just stop him… they’d kill him.
He toyed with the thought for an instant. Makuta had been tormenting the Matoran for centuries. He had driven them from Metru Nui to Mata Nui, and even then did everything he could to keep them living in fear and despair.
He might ever-deserve to die, thought Kongu. But if I kill him in ice-cold blood, I’m no better than he is… and not worthy of being a Toa-hero.
Suddenly, the choice was no longer Kongu’s to make. His launcher fired on its own, sending the sphere straight at Makuta. It struck the master of shadows dead on. Makuta screamed as the bizarre substance began dissolving his armor.
“No!” yelled Kongu, rushing to the side of his fallen enemy. “How is this possible? I didn’t fire!” It was too late for questions. Makuta was dead, slain by the Toa Inika of Air. And Kongu knew that nothing could ever be the same again.
The battle was over.
The Toa Inika’s six opponents were stretched out on the stone steps. All of them were dead, and none of the Toa was quite sure how it had happened. They had not set out to kill any of their enemies, nor been forced into it by circumstance. It had just… happened.
“We lost control,” said Hahli, sadly. “All this power… maybe it is too much for us to handle.”
“It was just bad luck,” said Hewkii. “That’s all it was.”
“Bad luck for us. Worse luck for them,” said Kongu, bending over to inspect the damaged Bohrok and its dead krana. “None of which explains what a Bohrok and a Bohrok-Kal were even doing here, when we know they shouldn’t be. I – hey!”
The outer surface of the Bohrok began to shimmer and fade. As it did so, another form came into view. The sight stole the breath from Kongu’s lungs.
“It’s Pohatu Nuva!” he cried. “This Bohrok… it just turned into Pohatu Nuva!”
The other Toa Inika rushed over. The same thing was happening to all of their fallen foes. Makuta had transformed into Tahu Nuva, the Rahkshi into Kopaka Nuva, the Muaka to Onua Nuva, the Nui-Rama into Lewa Nuva, and the Bohrok-Kal into Gali Nuva. All six were there, and all six were dead at the hands of the Toa Inika.
“Illusions,” whispered Toa Jaller. “We fought illusions of our greatest enemies, never knowing… and when we struck, we killed our friends.”
Toa Hewkii threw his zamor launcher and laser axe on the ground and walked away. “We were tricked into murdering them! Someone knew we were just stupid enough to believe whatever we saw, and they used us!”
“That’s not even the worst of it,” said Matoro. “How can we trust our senses, or ourselves, after this? If we can’t tell friend from enemy, if we can’t control our powers, we’re not heroes… we’re menaces.”
“So what do you want us to do?” Kongu said, anger in his voice. “Give up? Hope some other Toa-heroes come along in time to save the Great Spirit?”
Nuparu sat down on the stairs and stared at the ground. “But, Kongu, how could we be sure we were saving him? What if… what if we got tricked again and we killed Mata Nui? Are you prepared to risk causing the death of the universe?”
An uncomfortable silence descended on the six Toa. All of them, at one point or another, had worried that the power they now wielded might be too much to bear. It was impossible to go from being Matoran one moment to Toa the next, without having such fears. But none had ever dreamed the misuse of their energies would lead to such a disaster.
“I don’t see what choice we have,” said Hahli. “If we can’t rely on our judgment, and we are afraid of our power, we can’t be effective. We can’t accomplish our mission. Jaller, we will have to turn back.”
The Toa Inika of Fire didn’t answer. His eyes were locked on the unmoving form of Tahu Nuva. When he spoke, his voice was ragged with grief. “Tahu told me something once, not long after he first arrived on our island. He said having real courage doesn’t mean being unafraid of death – it means you keep on striving for what’s right despite your fear.”
He looked up at his partners. “Don’t you see? The Toa risked death every single day against Makuta, the Rahkshi, the Bohrok. They knew something like this might happen and they kept on fighting anyway. They weren’t perfect – they made mistakes, they fought with each other but they kept going, and they would expect the same of us.”
“Even after this?” asked Hahli quietly.
“Especially after this,” Jaller replied. “Because it means we are on our own, with no hope of aid.” When no one spoke, he added, “I am going on, in honor of Tahu Nuva’s memory and Lhikan’s memory and all the other Toa who came before us. Who else will join me?”
One by one, each of the Toa Inika stepped forward. With a last look at their fallen heroes, they turned to resume their journey. They had gone only a few steps when Toa Hewkii paused to look back. What he saw – or rather, didn’t see – stunned him.
“They’re gone! The Toa Nuva have disappeared!”
The Inika rushed to the spot where the dead Toa had been lying. There was no trace of them.
“We only had our backs turned for a second,” said Hahli. “What could have happened?”
“Well, they didn’t get up and walk away,” said Matoro, adding quickly, “I hope.”
“You are blind-missing a better question: what if they were never here at all?” Kongu replied. He tapped the side of his mask. “Kanohi Suletu, remember? Telepathy. All thoughts, all the time. But I picked up nothing but ever-silence from those six.”
“And no thoughts means no minds,” said Hewkii.
“And no minds means they were just illusions,” concluded Kongu. Then he added, smiling, “Or else they were all Po-Matoran.”
Matoro grinned. Hahli tried in vain to stifle a giggle. Seconds later, the ancient staircase was ringing with a living, vibrant sound it had not experienced in its entire history: laughter.