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Two dozen Matoran labored in the hot afternoon sun. For days now, they had been digging channels to allow the lava to flow from the volcano into vast reservoirs. It was hard and confusing work. They couldn’t understand why the Toa would want the lava drained from inside the mountain. Some of the wittier Matoran started calling their daily chore “lava farming.”

“How much longer are we going to have to do this?” asked one.

“Until there’s no more lava left?” suggested his companion. “Or they think of some other silly thing for us to do?”

The laughter of the two was cut off by a strange, rumbling sound from deep within the volcano. The workers looked at each other with terrified eyes. If the mountain erupted now, they would never be able to get away in time. They stared up at the crater, waiting for the plumes of smoke and ash that would herald their deaths.

None came, though the sound grew louder. Then something emerged from inside the volcano, but far from what they were expecting. It crawled from inside the mountain, its body wreathed in smoke, ash, and flame. It straddled the mouth of the volcano as it rose to its full height, towering over the Matoran and regarding them with eyes of flame.

The giant easily stood 30 feet tall. Its body was equal parts stone and lava, with the solid stone continually melting and reforming. It was something beyond any Matoran’s experience, a figure not even found in legend. With a single stride, it would snuff out their lives as if blowing out weakly flickering candles.

“I wondered when you were going to show up, monster!”

The Matoran turned to see that the words had come from Hakann. He was charging up the slope with Avak at his side, both of them ready for battle. The creature opened its mouth and exhaled a jet of flame, but Hakann seemed to shrug it off. He hurled spheres of molten magma at the giant, melting its substance faster than it could recreate it. Angered, it raised its fist, threatening to smash the Matoran into the ground.

Avak shot forward, slamming into the villagers and shoving them out of the way just before the devastating blow landed. Tremors shook the mountain, and cracks shattered the integrity of the lava channels. But none of that mattered to the Matoran just then.

“You saved us,” one said to Avak, awe in his voice.

“Don’t get used to it,” the armored figure replied.

Hakann continued to advance up the mountain, hurling lava and mental bolts at the monster. Amazingly, the giant actually seemed to be giving way. Avak joined his partner, using his pickaxe to tear great chunks of rock out of the creature. Howling with pain, it finally withdrew back into the volcano, where even Hakann could not follow.

Silence descended. One by one, the shaken Matoran got back to their feet. They looked around anxiously, half expecting the creature to suddenly burst out of the rock beneath their feet. But only Hakann and Avak remained.

“Remember this day, Matoran,” Hakann shouted. “If it had not been for us – the Toa of Voya Nui – you would be nothing but ash now. We ask for no reward for our services, only your loyalty and your obedience.”

None of the Matoran responded. Avak hurriedly whispered something to Hakann.

“In a short time, Toa Zaktan will reveal a new substance that will ease your burdens and erase your worries,” the red Piraka continued. “This will mark the dawn of a new day on Voya Nui. We hope and expect that you will embrace the great opportunity we are giving you, and will turn a deaf ear to any who might want to turn you against us.”

The Matoran looked at each other, puzzled. Who would challenge Toa? Especially after they had just proved their heroism by defeating such a frightening beast?

“Depend on us! Listen to us! Obey us!” Hakann bellowed. “And all will be right in your little world!”

A lone Matoran began to clap. Then all the rest joined in, until the canyon echoed with resounding cheers.

On a peak overlooking the action, Garan and Balta watched. They were not cheering.

“Nothing like that ever appeared on Voya Nui before our ‘guests’ came,” Garan said, “and I’ve never heard of Toa demanding obedience before. How about you?”

Balta didn’t reply. His thoughts were with Dalu, who was slowly recovering back in the cave. He knew Velika was keeping watch over her, but he would have felt better if he were there himself.

“They’re leaving,” Garan said, pointing to Hakann and Avak. “We should follow.”

The two Matoran made their way as rapidly as they could over the treacherous slopes. Fortunately, their quarry seemed to be in no hurry. Once well away from the volcano, the two “Toa” stopped, unaware that they were being spied on from the rocks above.

“You overdid it,” said Avak.

“They needed a grand event,” Hakann replied. “I gave them one.”

“Next time, tell me when you are going to make the creature slam his fist down. I almost didn’t dodge in time.”

“No one told you to dive underneath it, you imbecile.”

“And if I hadn’t, your ‘grand event’ would have played out for dead witnesses,” Avak snapped. “The point was to keep them alive so they could spread the word about their heroes, remember?”

Hakann sighed. “Someday, I will figure out why our elemental powers only work in combination. Oh, lava spheres are all right in their place, but they are nothing compared to what I can do when with another Piraka. Think what I could do with the power of pure flame at my command.”

The two started walking back toward the stronghold. “I have,” Avak answered. “It keeps me up at night.”

It was all a sham, thought Garan as he watched them depart. They manufactured a monster and then defeated it to convince us they are Toa. But how do we convince the rest of the settlement? And more important – what is this “new substance” they talked about?

Zaktan gazed at the small, round piece of crystal he held in his hand. It looked like an exact replica in miniature of the massive crystal sphere in the chamber. Reidak or Vezok would have dismissed it as a bauble and ground it under their heel, never realizing that it and others like it were the key to domination of Voya Nui.

Slowly, almost reverently, he moved the small glass sphere toward the larger crystal. When the two met, the surfaces of both turned immaterial, allowing the smaller crystal to pass through unharmed. When Zaktan withdrew his hand, the sphere contained a small portion of the larger crystal’s black and green liquid. A moment later, the sphere changed to a solid color and its contents were no longer visible.

Zaktan picked up one of the launchers Avak had designed. In one swift motion, he loaded the sphere into the launcher. Now prepared, he sent a small portion of his substance underneath the chamber door to summon Reidak and their reluctant guest.

The black Piraka entered the room a moment later, dragging a Ta-Matoran behind him. Reidak stopped well away from the crystal sphere, having found that getting too close to it made him feel disoriented and ill. This particular Matoran had been assigned a resource gathering mission by Hakann, which would take him deep into the mountains, ensuring that he would not be missed by his comrades.

“Hold him still,” Zaktan ordered, taking aim with the launcher. He triggered the mechanism, and it hurled the small zamor sphere at the Matoran, striking him dead-on. The sphere turned immaterial once more and passed into the Matoran’s body before releasing its contents.

One moment, the Matoran’s eyes were filled with fear. The next, they glowed with a sickly crimson light as the virus took effect. Zaktan signaled for Reidak to release his hold. The Matoran made no effort to run, just stood there, his breathing ragged and his body stiff.

Zaktan walked to a far corner of the chamber and pulled on a chain. A small portion of the floor slid away to reveal a pool of molten lava. “Come here.”

The Matoran dutifully shuffled to the edge of the pit. His eyes were fixed straight ahead, seemingly oblivious to the burning doom before him.

“Walk into the pit,” Zaktan ordered.

Nodding, the Matoran took a step off the edge. His right foot dangled in midair above the boiling pool. Just as he was about to topple in, Zaktan grabbed his arm and flung him back to the center of the room. The Matoran immediately rose and started for the pool again, halting only when Zaktan shouted, “Stop!”

Reidak walked warily around the blank-eyed Matoran, now standing frozen in place. “What did you do to him?”

“I did nothing,” replied Zaktan. “But the contents of that crystal sphere… that has delivered this island into our hands. No more worries about Matoran stumbling upon our plans, or hesitating to carry out the dangerous work we require. Now they will be perfect, obedient slaves, with no want and no fear. They will labor until they die, Reidak, at my command.”

The black Piraka could not help but catch that Zaktan said “my command” and not “our command.” Worse, he knew it was no slip of the tongue. As long as Zaktan was the only one who could get close enough to the sphere to create ammunition for the launchers, he was in a position of power.

Reidak took two steps toward the huge sphere, and stopped. Pain struck him in waves, as if something in that sphere was trying to override his mind and spirit. It was too strong to fight, but he knew surrendering would be his last free act. He had no choice but to back away. The other Piraka had already told him of similar experiences. None of them understood why Zaktan seemed immune to the bizarre effect.

The green Piraka turned his attention back to the Matoran. “You will return to the settlement,” he ordered. “You will behave normally. You will see to it that all other Matoran are gathered in the center of the village at sunset. Do you understand?”

The Ta-Matoran nodded and turned away. He would return home and carry out his commands. Nothing would stop him.

Zaktan turned to Reidak. “Alert the others. Have them come here before sunset to claim their launchers and gather a supply of zamor spheres. By the rising of the moon, every Matoran on this island will exist for but one purpose – to find the Kanohi Mask of Life for the Piraka.”

Dalu stirred and opened her eyes. She was lying on the hard stone floor of the cave, a blanket of reeds loosely covering her. Her friends looked down at her with concerned eyes.

“See?” Garan said to Balta, quietly. “I told you she would be all right.”

“There is nothing funny about a Muaka at midnight,” Velika said, as if imparting the wisdom of the ages.

Kazi shot him a hard look. “Okay, now that one just made no sense at all.”

“He’s trying to say she scared us,” Garan said. He turned back to Dalu. “And you did. Which one was it?”

“Avak,” she replied, struggling to sit up. “I had to, or he would have found you.”

“You definitely did the right thing,” Garan assured her.

“You did the brave thing,” Balta added.

“Of what use is the roof against the rains,” said Velika, “if there are no walls to stem the flood?”

“That does it,” Kazi snapped, starting for the cave mouth. “If anyone wants me, I’ll be back at the village where they don’t speak in riddles.”

“He has a point,” said Balta.

“On top of his head,” Kazi replied.

“Dalu’s sacrifice means nothing if we don’t stop them from doing… whatever it is they are here to do,” said Balta. “And I, for one, don’t intend to allow what she did to go to waste. How about you?”

Before Kazi could reply, Piruk burst into the cave. “Garan! The others!”

“What is it?”

“One of the Ta-Matoran, Dezalk, he’s gathered them all in the center of the settlement,” Piruk said, barely getting the words out. “He says it has something to do with the Toa!”

Garan pondered all of two seconds before coming to a decision. “All right. Dalu will be safe here while the rest of us go check this out.”

“We’ll all go,” said Dalu, back on her feet. “If there’s going to be a fight, I’m not missing out.”

“If we’re lucky, there will be a fight,” said Garan as he led them out of the cave. “If we’re not, there will be a slaughter.”

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