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Photok avoided, just barely, a bolt of shadow energy aimed at him. He maneuvered higher and peppered his two attackers with a barrage of light bursts. It didn’t stop them – barely even slowed them down – but it still felt good.

Even a few hours ago, it would have been impossible for the Matoran to meet the Makuta head-on in the sky and try to drive them off. But Tanma had been right – that soundless explosion of light had changed things. Caught out in the open, the powerful trio of Makuta had been blinded by the energy surge. Whether it was permanent or temporary, no one knew, but it gave the Av-Matoran an edge, and they were going to take advantage.

The Makuta had wasted no time in improvising. They had begun using the shadow Matoran of their creation as “eyes.” Each Makuta would carry a Matoran rider into battle. Of course, not every shadow Matoran was quick-wined enough for the job. Those who weren’t were returned to the captured villages, although not always gently.

Photok glanced to his right. Tanma, Solek, and their squad were barraging the Makuta with light, trying to drive them toward Photok’s force. As he watched, the attack turned into a disaster. The Makuta used their gravity powers to send half a dozen Matoran plunging toward the swamp, and it took the combined efforts of the rest of the squad to halt their descent. Bolts of chain lightning then hit the entire group, shocking some unconscious and driving most back to the village. Tanma and Solek darted toward Photok.

“We have to pull back,” said Tanma, “before they cut us off from home.”

“I think they have other plans!” yelled Solek. “Look out!”

The three Makuta had gained altitude, flying up near the ceiling of the chamber. Once they were over the Matoran, they unleashed the Tridax pods they carried. The pods split open on release, raining shadow leeches down. Before the Matoran force could react, two of their number had been hit. The leeches rapidly drained the light out of the unfortunate villagers, turning them into shadow Matoran. Photok hurled light blasts at both, stunning them.

“Let’s go!” he shouted. The remaining Matoran rocketed back toward the village, dodging leeches and blasts of shadow energy as they went. Amazingly, the way home was clear. It looked as if they were going to make it.

That is, until six powerful figures suddenly appeared right in their path.

Pohatu Nuva had been a Toa of Stone his entire life. In that time, he had seen a lot of strange things. There was the voice of the Makuta of Metru Nui coming out of a Matoran body; hordes of mechanical Bohrok attacking his village; hissing Rahkshi on the rampage; monstrous Bahrag and robotic Exo-Toa; and, of course, a Matoran suddenly becoming a Toa of Light. And that had all been in one year!

But a squad of flying – flying? – Matoran headed right for him, pursued by shadowy, bat-winged figures? That was a new one.

A less experienced Toa would have been too shocked to react. One moment, he and the rest of the Toa Nuva were knee-deep in snowdrifts on Artakha. The next, they were here – wherever here was, though it did look vaguely familiar. Yes, a novice Toa would have been wondering how he was managing to hover in midair, how come he wasn’t crashing to the ground, and how he got here in the first place.

But not Pohatu Nuva. He had a clear, simple view of life that served him well. It was a pretty good guess the big nasties with darkness trailing behind them were the bad guys, and the Matoran darting all over the sky were the good guys. He was a Toa, always had been, probably always would be. That meant it was time to kick some bat-winged tail.

I love this job, he said to himself as he soared into battle.

Kopaka Nuva, Toa of Ice, watched Pohatu go charging right into the thick of things. His other partners had shown the good sense to scatter and try and figure out the situation before acting. But not Pohatu, no, he was swooping and diving like a crazed Gukko bird.

Logically, Kopaka should have hung back until he had a better idea of the enemy’s abilities. Plunging into battle with no plan was a sure way to get defeated. Cold, clear analysis dictated that Pohatu had made his choice; it was the wrong one, and no one else should be put at risk because of it.

There was only one problem. Kopaka liked Pohatu. The Toa of Stone was everything Kopaka wasn’t – open, warm, friendly – so the two of them being friends was hard for most to picture. Kopaka, after all, was guarded, icy, far from trusting, and sometimes downright rude. But Pohatu had never asked or expected him to be anything else, which set the Toa of Stone apart from most.

Maybe that was why, grumbling all the way, Kopaka shot through the air toward the scene of battle.

Lewa Nuva was happier than he had ever been. The Toa of Air was in his element, soaring through the skies, and he was doing it without just a Mask of Levitation and wind currents to glide on. His new armor let him rocket through the sky, and that was fine by him.

He had narrowly avoided a collision with the oncoming Matoran. Looking behind, he saw some of them were turning around. Probably want to quick-find out who we are, he thought. Like to ask them the same question, after we clean up the mess here.

Up ahead, Pohatu, Onua, Kopaka, and Tahu were all having problems mastering combat in the air. Only Gali, used to fighting underwater, was easily holding her own in the new environment.

One of the monstrous fliers was closing in on Onua Nuva. Some kind of pod was dropping from the creature. Lewa doubted it was a Naming Day present. He hit it with a blast of air and it shattered, sending dark leeches flying through the sky. Lewa was about to create a mini-cyclone to trap one, knowing Kopaka would want to study it, when something slammed into his back.

“No! Leave it alone!”

Lewa twisted his neck to see who was now sitting on top of him. It was one of the Matoran – a green-armored Le-Matoran from the look of him – now riding Lewa like the Toa was a flying Rahi beast.

“Are you crazy?” said Lewa Nuva. “Get off me! I don’t carry-fly passengers!”

“Stay away from that shadow leech,” Tanma insisted. “And – watch out! The Makuta’s coming back this way!”

“Makuta? Where?” asked Lewa, looking around. All he saw was the bat creature heading toward him, with a black-armored Matoran riding it. “You mean that Matoran?”

Tanma yanked hard on Lewa’s neck, forcing him to veer to the left. Irritated, Lewa reached back and hit his rider with a cyclone wind, blowing the Matoran off his back. “I hate backseat drivers,” the Toa muttered.

Lewa glanced down to make sure the Matoran was safe, only to see that his flight pack was starting to sputter. As he began to fall, Lewa swooped down underneath so that the Matoran landed on the Toa’s back.

Images suddenly flashed through Lewa’s mind of events he had never witnessed. He saw Matoran going down to the swamp below and never returning; panic as the three bat creatures attacked, again and again, turning entire villages into places of shadow; and the soundless explosion of light and power that changed everything in Karda Nui.

The experience shook Lewa so much that he almost crashed into one of the captured villages, veering up only at the last moment. It took him a second to realize someone else was inside his head, and he was viewing their memories. Fortunately, Turaga Onewa back on the island of Mata Nui had taught all the Toa Nuva something about shielding their minds from intrusion.

“Hey!” he snapped. “Get out of my head-thoughts!”

“Why would I want to be in your head?” Tanma shot back. “Who are you anyway? You look like something Solek would dream up.”

“I’m a Toa-hero, here to save you from… whatever you need saving from,” said Lewa. “And what’s a Solek?”

Tahu Nuva, Toa of Fire and leader of the Toa Nuva, wished it was the old days again. As he answered shadow energy bursts with jets of flame, he was remembering a time when he would have plowed right into the middle of a battle without thinking twice.

Experience had taught him it was better to have a plan. Make one, be sure your partners know it, and stick to it – that was the best approach.

Life, unfortunately, wasn’t going to stop while you did that. And sometimes it dropped you right into the midst of an all-out war without so much as a “Guess where you’re going?”

Even with that, some things hadn’t changed. His Kanohi Nuva Mask of Shielding still worked, although it did look different. He was able to throw a force field around himself, Gali, and Onua in time to protect them from a bolt of shadow. And Onua Nuva was still one of the best strategists he had ever met. It was the Toa of Earth who had spotted the enemy’s weakness.

“They can’t see well, or maybe at all,” Onua had said. “I should know, with all the light in here. I can hardly see myself. That’s why they need the Matoran.”

“Then we aim for the Matoran,” said Tahu. “See if we can knock them off their backs.”

“Tahu! We’re supposed to protect Matoran,” Gali said. “What if those riders are being forced to help?”

“Simple rule,” the Toa of Fire replied. “First priority goes to protecting Matoran who aren’t shooting shadow at me.”

Tahu’s strategy seemed to work – at least, the bat-winged beings broke off their attack. If it was more a matter of the enemy wanting to take stock of a new factor in the battle before continuing to fight than concern for their Matoran riders, it still meant a chance for the Toa Nuva to regroup.

“Um, so, nasty Rahi they’ve got around here,” said Lewa.

“You know that isn’t what they are,” answered Kopaka.

“I know,” Lewa said, shrugging. “Just didn’t want to be the first one to speak-say it.”

“Too many questions,” said Kopaka. “Let’s hope the Matoran have some answers.”

“Right. Way too many,” agreed Lewa. He began to count them off on his fingers. “What happened to our armor and masks and weapons? What does the Brotherhood of Makuta want with this place? Who are all these Matoran and why are they here? And where is here?”

Pohatu looked around. Something was nagging at the back of his mind, clawing to be free like a stone rat trapped in its hole. And then suddenly he remembered.

“Wait, wait,” he said. “It’s different now, very different, but… don’t you recognize it? Guys… we’ve come home.”

* * *

Takanuva’s vision of the past…

The crimson-armored being opened his eyes and looked around. He did not recognize where he was, nor did he have any idea who the five figures nearby might be. Each of them was lying on a slab, just like him, and each wore colored armor and a mask. But where he was red, they were other hues: white, blue, green, black, and brown.

Of course, it came as no great surprise that he didn’t know who these others were. After all, he wasn’t sure who he was, either.

He started to rise, then found he could not. Thick metal straps encircled him, keeping him pinned to the slab. Unsure of his identity as he was, he still knew that he didn’t like being bound. He tried to exert his strength against the bonds, but without success. His frustration and anger grew. And then suddenly the metal of the straps was growing soft, turning to molten liquid, running off him and onto the floor.

Did I do that? he wondered, as he sat up.

On the next slab, the white armored figure had frozen his straps and then shattered them with the merest gesture. The others had all found unique ways to escape their bonds as well.

“Well, we’re all free,” said the red armored being. “Now what? Anyone know where we are… or who we are?”

The answer came then, but not from any of them. Rather, it was a voice that seemed to come from every part of the room that spoke in reply. “You are Toa.”

The figure in the brown armor jumped down from his slab and onto his feet. “Toa! Hey, that’s great. I always wanted to be a Toa.” He looked up and addressed his next words to the ceiling. “Just one question: what’s a Toa?”

“A Toa is a hero,” the voice answered. “Every Toa commands an elemental power, which can be focused through your weapons. Each of you also wears a Great Mask, with a power all its own. You will learn about these powers in time, as well as how to control them.”

The white armored figure frowned. “To whom are we meant to be heroes, and why? You say we have great abilities, but what are we meant to do with them? Too many questions, for my taste…”

The unseen speaker laughed softly. “You underestimate yourself, Kopaka – yes, that is your name. Questions will always whet your appetite for answers. But now it is time for you to meet.”

A lightstone illuminated on the ceiling above Kopaka, as the voice said, “Kopaka, Toa of Ice.”

One by one, the lightstones lit above the others as the speaker recited their names.

“Gali, Toa of Water.”

“Pohatu, Toa of Stone.”

“Onua, Toa of Earth.”

“Lewa, Toa of Air.”

The last to be named was the crimson armored figure. “And Tahu, Toa of Fire. He will be your leader.”

That seemed to startle Kopaka, who said sharply, “It seems to me we should be allowed to choose our own leader.”

“I have to agree,” said Gali quietly. “I mean, none of us know anything about this Tahu. What if he’s too impulsive to be a good leader? What if he lacks the ability to work with his team members, or can’t motivate, or –”

Lewa chuckled. “Or what if he’s just a jerk?”

A bolt of flame shot from an irritated Tahu past the Toa of Air, close enough to heat his mask to an uncomfortable temperature. Lewa reached up and yanked the mask off. Immediately, he felt so weak he almost fell over. Pohatu and Onua rushed to support him.

“You must not remove your masks, unless you are replacing one with another,” the voice said. “Without them, your strength is halved.”

Lewa gingerly returned the hot mask to his face. “Thanks – ow! – for telling us.” He turned to glare at Tahu. “And as for you, fireflyer, better be careful a big wind doesn’t blow you out one of these days.”

“Big wind,” Tahu said, nodding. “Yes, that’s you, all right.”

Kopaka decided to ignore the argument. “So we are a team,” he said to their unseen host. “Again, I ask – for what purpose? What are we meant to do?”

A panel slid open in the far wall. Beyond, there was only darkness.

“The gateway to another mystery, perhaps,” said Onua. “I wonder if a Toa’s life is filled with them?”

“Then this will be just the first of many we walk through,” Tahu replied. “Let’s go.”

Beyond the door, there was a long, narrow platform that jutted out into the empty space of a massive, spherical chamber. The cavernous room was totally dark. Only Onua was able to see at all, thanks to excellent night vision the others lacked.

This was not altogether a blessing, because it allowed him to see just how high off the ground they were standing. He peered nervously over the edge of the platform. Being a creature of the earth, heights were not his favorite thing.

There was a sudden burst of light. A symbol illuminated in midair and hung silently before the eyes of the Toa. In the center was an oval shape, flanked to the northeast and southwest by two much smaller ones. On either side of the three ovals were larger curved shapes which ended in two sharp points.

The voice spoke again. “Your universe is guided and protected by the Great Spirit Mata Nui. You, in turn, shall be Mata Nui’s protectors. What you see before you is the symbol of his might and purpose.”

Pohatu was the first to put what all the Toa were thinking into words. “If he’s a ‘Great Spirit,’ why does he need protection?”

“The universe is vast and holds many dangers,” the voice replied. “If Mata Nui should ever be struck down, it will be your role – your destiny – to restore him to power. If that time comes, you will know what to do.”

“And in the meantime?” asked Tahu. “Do we just sit around and wait?”

“You will train. You will learn,” the voice said. “And, in time, you will go to the aid of the Matoran, who labor to carry out the will of Mata Nui.”

“Sure,” said Pohatu. “Hey, the Matoran could probably use our help. You know, what with laboring all day to carry out somebody’s will and everything.”

All five other Toa turned to look at Pohatu. Finally, Gali smiled and said, “All right, Pohatu. Go ahead. Say it.”

Pohatu shrugged, looked up, and asked, “Okay, I give up: what’s a Matoran?”

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