1

Shortly before Mata Nui’s revival…

Antroz perched on a high ledge and looked down over Karda Nui. His searching gaze took in the Matoran villages, built atop fallen stalactites, and the great swamp far below. Cutting through the center of it all was a massive waterfall which flowed from the sky and fed the marsh.

Not so very long ago, this place would have been thought beautiful by Matoran standards of beauty. But today it was a place of chaos and fear, betrayal and grief – and Antroz looked upon this, and saw that it was good.

He spotted his ally, Chirox, in the distance, circling above the Matoran settlements. After a few moments, the bat-winged being came to a gentle landing beside Antroz.

“These Matoran are stubborn,” Chirox grumbled. “All but one of their villages captured… their friends turned to our side… their position hopeless… and yet still, they resist!”

Antroz smiled and shook his head. “Of course they do. The Great Beings made the Matoran to be more than just laborers – they gave their creations spirit and passion, even if misguided. That is something you would not know about.”

Chirox tensed at the jibe. In his time, he had created Rahi beasts of all types. The doom viper and the lohrak, among others, had resulted from his efforts. But his Rahi always seemed to come out twisted in mind and spirit. Unlike the creations of others, like the Muaka cat or the Kane-Ra bull, Chirox’s contributed nothing to the ecosystem but death and destruction. It was a touchy subject with him, and Antroz knew it.

“I was working on something new before the call came to travel here,” Chirox said, very softly. “You might want to see it sometime. I’m sure it would like to see you.”

Antroz laughed. “You take everything too seriously, my friend. Take this village – you can be annoyed at its resistance, or you can take pleasure in the fact that its Matoran are still free and available for torment.”

Chirox snorted. “This is a first – someone expecting a being born of the shadows to look on the bright side.”

Antroz spotted Vamprah diving toward the intact village. “What is our silent ally up to?”

“Hunting,” replied Chirox, “as only he can.”

Radiak darted from building to building, hoping to stay under cover. The skies were clear of enemies, but that meant nothing. He knew from past experience how quickly the foe could strike.

Venturing out alone was beyond dangerous, but it had to be done. The lightvine that surrounded the village was torn and broken in one spot. It had to be restored before the shadow Matoran took advantage of the gap. This light-producing plant was toxic to those who had only shadow inside them, so it made an effective defense against those Matoran who had been lost to the enemy.

He was perhaps forty feet away from the damaged spot now, but it was over open ground. Radiak scanned the sky again, saw nothing, and also saw no shadow Matoran anywhere near. If he was going to move, it would have to be now. The Matoran of Light took off running. Now he was thirty feet away… twenty feet… fifteen feet… ten… almost there…

Radiak never heard Vamprah’s approach. The dark flier hurled a bolt of energy from his claw, striking the Matoran in the back. Radiak lurched to a stop, held transfixed as the light was drained out of him from a distance.

At first, the Matoran tried to fight the change he felt coming over him. After all, he was a hero, respected and admired by his friends for his courage. He had always tried to live by the three virtues of unity, duty, and destiny. He had devoted his life to working and fighting for the will of the Great Spirit Mata Nui. Even though he and the other Matoran knew with an awful certainty that Mata Nui had just died, there had never been any thought of surrender.

But the new voices he heard in his head were so insistent, so persuasive. Why spend the rest of your lifetime in the service of a Great Spirit who is no more? And the virtues, the voices whispered – what had they ever done for him? He was brave, strong… he needed no help from other Matoran; they were just burdens to him. Duty? Destiny? A duty to what – endless, back-breaking labor? To achieve a destiny of exhaustion and more mind-numbing toil?

No, he realized, that wasn’t for such as him. Lost in the seductive call of the darkness, Radiak knew that the forces of shadow held the true power in the universe, and he belonged on their side. It was time to start looking out for his own interests, after all.

High above, Vamprah finished his feeding. The foolish Matoran who had dared to emerge from hiding belonged to the Brotherhood now. His armor remained crimson but his spirit was now black. Vamprah flew off, his hunger sated for now in a most pleasant way. After all, what could be more satisfying than dining on another being’s hopes and dreams?

Vamprah saw his two comrades flying to meet him. He took the most direct route toward them, passing directly through the central waterfall that bisected the realm. So intent was he on his journey that he never noticed a white-armored Toa plunging down through the water just above him. Had he chanced to glance up, he would have noticed that the Toa – Matoro, by name – was holding the powerful Mask of Life as he fell.

One shift in Vamprah’s gaze and all of history might have been changed. But everything – Toa, Makuta, and even Masks of Power – has a destiny to fulfill, and its course is not so easily altered.

Antroz flew close, his mouth curved in a vicious smile. “Chirox is upset with you,” he said to Vamprah.

“What am I going to have left for my work if you keep consuming all their light?” Chirox snapped. “I was promised material for my studies.”

Vamprah said nothing. He never spoke, of course, but no one was certain if he couldn’t or simply wouldn’t. Wordlessly, he turned back toward the village, the other two flanking him. The hunt had begun again.

The Matoran named Photok paced the stone floor of the shelter, now and then pausing to shoot a hard look at Tanma. What is he waiting for? Radiak should be back by now. We need go find him!

If Tanma noticed his friend’s expression, he gave no sign of it. He already knew the situation, but he couldn’t afford to worry about the fate of any one Matoran. The entire population of the last free village left was crammed into this underground chamber. Even through the thick walls, it was possible to hear the frustrated hissing of the shadow leeches as they looked for ways in. He knew that meant the enemy was in the air overhead. If Radiak was out in the midst of that, he was already lost.

After a week of fighting, Tanma knew better than to try and stage a rescue. Rushing out while the leeches were still outside was an invitation for more Matoran to be turned to the side of shadow. Fortunately, the creatures did not live long. Once they expired, it was usually safe to go up above and try to harry the retreating foes.

Tanma hated hiding as much as Photok, Solek, or any of the others did. But the alternative was a quick defeat and all of Karda Nui in the hands of the enemy. This way, perhaps they could hold out long enough for help to arrive.

He caught himself, struck by the absurdity of his last thought. Help? Help from who? Who even knows we’re here?

Not for the first time, Tanma missed Kirop. In the absence of a Turaga, he had been the leader of the Karda Nui Matoran. Both wise and a warrior, he had kept everyone’s morale up in the first years after the Fall. If not for him, civilization might have ceased to exist here in this massive cavern.

Tanma could have used Kirop’s counsel now. But that was impossible. The Karda Nui leader had led an attack on the foe six days before and fallen prey to a shadow leech. Now all his knowledge of the Matoran defenses belonged to the enemy.

Still, he had given one “gift” to his people before that last battle. He had told them who they were facing.

“Ancient legends say we must always keep our true nature hidden,” Kirop had said. “This is the reason why. This is the enemy it was foretold we might one day face – the warriors of shadow, the dwellers in darkness – the Brotherhood of Makuta!”

Solek interrupted Tanma’s memories, muttering something too low to be heard. “What was that?” asked Tanma.

“I said Toa wouldn’t act this way,” Solek replied. “Tahu, Kopaka, they would be out there fighting. Not sitting here, hiding and waiting.”

Tanma shook his head. Kirop had filled Solek’s head with a lot of legends about Toa who had supposedly once dwelled in Karda Nui. The six figures had become Solek’s heroes, and they were all he ever talked about. Ordinarily, this preoccupation was no big deal, but right now, it was enough to push Tanma over the edge.

“Tahu! Kopaka! Right, if they’re so great, why aren’t they here?” he raged. “Where were they when all my friends got turned into those… things? Why aren’t they protecting us?”

Solek didn’t answer. Instead, he was looking up at the ceiling, as if straining to hear something. “Hey,” he said. “I think it stopped outside.”

Tanma had to agree. The hissing sounds were gone, as were the noises of the Tridax pods that carried the shadow leeches striking the roof of the shelter. Tanma gestured for the others to sit tight while he went to peer out of the hatch. Cautiously, he undid the seals and pushed the hatch up a quarter of an inch.

The first thing he saw was shadow leeches disintegrating, a revolting sight he had never grown used to. Glancing up, he saw the three winged Makuta soaring away. Then his attention was drawn to the massive waterfall that fell from the sky through the heart of the land. Was that someone plunging down through the falls?

Yes, it was. He couldn’t make out who it was from this distance, but it was definitely a figure. The newcomer was wearing a mask that glowed more brightly every second. Suddenly, for reasons he couldn’t name, Tanma knew something either very good – or very bad – was about to happen. He slammed the hatch shut.

“Get down!” he shouted. “All of you, now!”

The Matoran looked at him, confused. But after all they had been through the last week, they weren’t about to argue. They hit the hard floor and waited. The only sound was their harsh breathing.

Then came the light, brilliant, blinding – it seeped through solid stone, through walls and roof and hatch, illuminating the entire chamber. It was as if a trillion lightstones had been turned on all at once… on second thought, that would have seemed like a dim glow compared to the radiance that filled the chamber and all of Karda Nui.

It lasted an instant, and it lasted forever. Each and every Matoran felt a surge of hope as bright as the light had been, as if some measure of balance had suddenly been restored to the universe.

Tanma suddenly realized he had closed his eyes. The light had been so bright that it had made no difference. Opening them, he checked to make sure everyone was all right. Satisfied that they were, he went to the hatch, opened it, and peeked out.

The three Makuta were still in the air, but something had changed. They no longer flew straight and true, but wheeled crazily through the sky. There was a faint glow attached to everything, as if an inferno had raged a moment before and then been extinguished, leaving burning embers behind.

“What is it? What do you see out there?” asked Photok.

Tanma took a long time to answer. When he did, it was to say, “I really don’t know. Maybe it’s the start of something… or maybe the end of everything.

* * *

Makuta Teridax, leader of the Brotherhood, originator of the Plan, was at the moment far from Karda Nui. He was in a part of the universe even he had never visited before, though it lived in more than a few legends. Vast and complex, even he had never seen anything quite like it.

Getting here had not been easy. He existed only as a free-floating cloud of energy, having abandoned his last body in the depths of the Pit. As it turned out, that was the only thing that had saved him. The defenses of this place – and there were many – were intended to deal with intruders with a physical form. The weaponry, while formidable, could not destroy a being that was pure power unleashed.

He knew that soon the rest of the Brotherhood would be in combat with the Toa Nuva in Karda Nui. The odds favored the Makuta in that fight, but odds were meaningless when it came to Toa. Despite the raw power, ruthlessness, and brutality of their enemies – perhaps even because of it – he had no doubt the Toa would find some way to achieve their destiny.

In fact, thought Makuta Teridax with a smile, you could even say I’m counting on it.

He had never been a believer in unity or duty, those virtues the Matoran clung to like drowning stone rats cling to driftwood. But the third one they cherished, destiny? Ah, yes, he believed in destiny.

And it is time for mine to be achieved, he thought, hovering before the carving of a Kanohi Hau, symbol of the Great Spirit Mata Nui. Isn’t that right, dear brother? Yes, there are schemes within schemes, falsehoods layered upon deceptions, and imaginings so dark only I can see into their shadows… and it is time at last to share them with the universe.

Without wasting another moment, the leader of the Brotherhood of Makuta set about his final task.

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