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Solek approached the Toa Nuva of Ice nervously. All his life, he had collected legends about Kopaka and his team, now Toa Nuva. He probably knew more about their early adventures than even they did. But to meet one in person, well, that was pretty overwhelming.

“Um, Kopaka? Do you have a moment? I have something for you,” he said.

Kopaka turned. Keeping in mind what these Matoran had been through, he forced himself to look less intimidating. “Yes, we can talk.”

The words burst forth from Solek despite his efforts to rein them in. “I’ve studied all the legends about you. I even know about the time you fought three dozen Zyglak all on your own and defeated every one! You have always been the Toa I most admire… that’s why I altered my color to white. But I’m afraid I’ll never be as skilled as you, or even become a Toa.”

“Slow down,” Kopaka said, smiling. “I don’t remember the battle you spoke of, but then, there is much about the past I don’t remember. You remind me of another Matoran I knew, Takua – he dreamed of being a Toa, too, and his dream came true.”

“Takua?” said Solek, eyes wide. “You know Takua? Where is he? What happened to him? We were best friends, then one morning, he was just gone, along with some of the others. We searched, but couldn’t find any of them. I can’t believe Takua’s alive!”

“Oh, he’s alive, though no longer the Takua you knew,” replied Kopaka, thinking about Takanuva, the former Takua, now the Toa of Light. “I will tell you tales of him later. But for now, you said you had something for me?”

“Oh, yes,” said Solek, fishing in his bag. He emerged with a fragment of a stone tablet. “This is part of a keystone. The legends say you would need this if you ever had to awaken Mata Nui. Unfortunately, it got broken and scattered over the ages. Kirop has one piece, and our attackers seized another from one of the villages. I don’t know where the other three might be.”

Kopaka took the stone. The inscription on it was written in a very old Matoran dialect, but one he found himself surprisingly familiar with. There wasn’t much there, but what there was told a clear story – this keystone detailed how the Great Spirit Mata Nui could be awakened.

“Thank you, Solek,” said Kopaka quietly. “You may not be a Toa, but you may have done just as much to save the universe as any of us.”

Lewa Nuva stood at the edge of the lightvine barrier, gazing up at the sky. It had been a day and a half since he and the others had joined the defense of the Av-Matoran village. In that time, they had fought off a score of attacks by dark Matoran, shadow leeches, and some particularly nasty Makuta. Half a dozen Matoran of Light had been lost in the battles, and Pohatu Nuva’s shoulder had required emergency repair. But the village still stood.

The Toa of Air had volunteered to keep watch. Now and then, a shadow Matoran could be seen flitting across the ceiling of the cavernous chamber, but no Makuta were visible this hour.

“They’re just keeping an eye on us,” said Tanma, joining Lewa. “They stay well out of range. Just like to remind us they’re there.”

Lewa’s eyes narrowed as he tracked a dark Matoran’s flight. Then he raised his air saber and hurled a blast of hurricane-force wind at his target. It struck the flying villager and sent him spiraling out of control. Toa and Tanma watched as the corrupted Matoran struggled in vain to regain altitude before finally landing hard in a distant village.

“Out of range for you,” Lewa said. “Not for me.”

“Great,” said Tanma, sounding unimpressed. “There are only a hundred or so more where he came from. I don’t think this is a problem that can be solved with a little target practice.”

Watching through the open hatch, Kopaka had to agree with Tanma. Hiding behind lightvines and walls, trying to hang on for one more battle, was a quick route to disaster. At best, the presence of the Toa Nuva would buy the village and its people another few days or so. Maybe he and Lewa and Pohatu could even down a careless Makuta and a few dozen of their shadow Matoran. But in the end, the odds were too great.

I can’t even spot where the shadow leeches are coming from, he thought. Something in the substance of the mists blocks my mask’s X-ray vision. There’s no getting around it – darkness is going to win here.

It was a sobering realization and one that Kopaka hated admitting to himself. His dislike of it was even more intense because he knew it was something Tahu would never even consider. The Toa of Fire simply didn’t believe in the possibility of defeat. In Kopaka’s eyes, that made him a fool – but it also, he had to admit, somehow made Tahu a great leader of Toa.

Maybe, just this once, I need to be more like him, thought Kopaka. Facts – cold and hard as ice – say one thing. But maybe they don’t say everything.

His decision made, he climbed out of the hatch and used his power to form an ice bridge. He slid rapidly toward one of the captured villages, the site of the shadow Matoran’s abrupt landing a few moments before. Kopaka Nuva knew he had to work fast, before the other corrupted villagers were drawn to the spot.

“You don’t know it yet,” the Toa of Ice said, gathering the fallen villager into his arms. “But you’re about to help your old friends.”

Chirox stood in Mutran’s cavern, his unseeing eyes fixed on that hard-at-work member of the Brotherhood of Makuta. Antroz had ordered the creation of a new flying Rahi capable of traveling a great distance at high speed and dealing with any obstacles that might get in its way. Specifically, he had asked Mutran to do the job, but Chirox had no intention of letting that lunatic create such a thing on his own. Thus far, there had been precious little creation anyway, mainly Mutran muttering about the primitive equipment he had to work with in this hidden site.

“Bigger,” said Chirox. “More teeth.”

Mutran turned from the vat where organic tissue was fusing to mechanical parts. He glared at Chirox. “Bigger means slower,” he said, his voice growing louder as he spoke. “Adding another virus to give it sharper teeth risks the integrity of the mix. And you can’t even see it, so how do you know what it needs?”

“I know you,” Chirox replied, in an acidic tone. “Your first tries are always too small and get stuck gumming their prey.”

“Stop breathing…” Mutran snapped. A long beat passed before he added, “On my creation.”

Chirox grunted. “What about intelligence? Will this thing be smart enough to evade the Toa Nuva and make it out of Karda Nui?”

Mutran didn’t answer. His smarter creations had a habit of rebelling, so he had tended to keep his Rahi beasts short on brains.

The silence answered Chirox’s questions. Irritated, he called for a shadow Matoran to attend him. When the villager approached, Chirox seized him and hurled him into the vat. Fluid churned and frothed as Matoran mingled and fused with still-developing Rahi.

Mutran watched with growing rage as the new creature took shape. When the process was done, he reached in and removed the beast, now a revolting amalgamation of Rahi and Matoran.

“Worthless. Disgusting,” grumbled Mutran, eyeing the struggling thing in his claw. “If it doesn’t die of shock, it will wind up mixing the worst elements of both species. Antroz will say –”

“He will say it’s perfect,” said Antroz. He approached the two Makuta and their creation. “I need something that can make it out of Karda Nui and through Toa-held territory to reach our base at Destral. If it’s as bad as you say, the sheer horror of its appearance will delay the Toa from striking for the crucial moments it needs to escape.”

The Brotherhood of Makuta field leader turned to Mutran. “Tell Vican he leaves on this new mount immediately. He is to take the western passage out of the swamp and fly to Destral as quickly as possible. When he gets there, he is to deliver my summons to Icarax.”

At the sound of the name, Chirox did his best to hide his shock. Mutran didn’t even bother trying.

“Icarax?” said Mutran. “For a handful of Toa and half a village of Matoran? Isn’t that like calling in a Tahtorak to squash an acidfly?”

“A handful of Toa?” Antroz repeated, chuckling softly. “A handful of Toa stole the Mask of Light from Destral itself once. Another prevented the conquest of Metru Nui, kept the Mask of Time from us, and even dared to imprison a Makuta! Still another – this very group – defeated Rahi, Rahkshi, and Bohrok swarms, and invaded Makuta Teridax’s very lair. One thing I have learned is that you underestimate Toa – any Toa – at your peril.”

Antroz reached out and stroked the “new-born” Rahi. It cooed in a most repulsive way. “No, we must crush them completely. And since I prefer not to make that my life’s work, I turn to Icarax. Let him dirty his claws on the Toa Nuva – after all, who are we to deny a fellow Makuta his heart’s desire?”

In the depths of the swamp, something stirred.

It was barely a flicker of energy, flaring for a moment and then subsiding. So minute was the disturbance that even the strange creatures who resided in the murky waters took no notice. But if any of them had possessed senses acute enough, they might have detected the merest trace of – what? Consciousness? Confusion? Fear?

No, not fear. More like curiosity.

Reaching out with a tendril of power, it examined its surroundings. Water. Mud. Plant life. Sea creatures much like the ones it had encountered in its last environment… and one thing more, something quite disturbing. It sensed the presence of intelligent life in the swamp – three powerful and evil beings not very far away.

The object known as the Kanohi Ignika, or Mask of Life, sensed danger. The mask had no doubt those three would attempt to obtain it. Should it create guardians from the sea life around it, to serve as protection?

Memories were sifted. The last few guardians created – an evolved venom eel and the warrior known as Hydraxon – had been, in the end, unsatisfactory. Another course of action would be necessary.

Another recollection intruded on its analysis. It was the memory of being held by a Toa named Matoro, a noble being who sacrificed himself to save the universe. This Matoro had shown no fear in the face of certain doom. In fact, he had gone to his death bravely, with his last wish being the salvation of his friends. He had been a true hero.

Friends… hero… they were alien concepts to the mask. It was, after all, an object – coveted by many, feared by almost all. Even its creators had been afraid to touch it, and with good reason. Matoro had been the first one to hold the Ignika with no trace of fear or regret… and the first to care so strongly about others that his feelings even touched the up-to-then emotionless mask.

What would it have been like to be Matoro, or any other of his kind? the mask wondered. To have lived – to face death – to fight for others, as opposed to just being fought over, as this one has been for so long? What would it feel like to be trusted, honored, respected, rather than simply needed and feared? For that matter, what would it feel like just to feel?

Particles of protodermis began to swirl on the swamp floor. The Mask of Life drew the bits of organic and inorganic matter to itself, binding and shaping them. Its will gave them form and function, crafting torso and limbs, hands and feet. The body that grew, the one that now wore the mask on its “face,” sat up unsteadily – and immediately knew something was very wrong.

The mouth was full of something – water of the swamp, the mask supposed – and the body could not breathe this substance. This was an error in creation, for, after all, Matoro could breathe water. The body, the mask decided, should have been modeled more closely on his and not on those of other Toa it had met in its existence. Still, since it did not intend to remain underwater, it was best not to modify. Rather, a way was needed to escape the swamp.

Calling upon its power once more, it forced matter into the shape of a vehicle, something like those the Matoran of Mahri Nui had possessed. This one, of course, would be better than theirs, for the Ignika had brought it into being. (Modesty was not a quality the mask had discovered quite yet.)

Hesitantly, still getting used to the sensation of independent movement, this new being – “Toa Ignika,” it decided it would call itself – climbed on board its vehicle. Craft and passenger rocketed from the waters of the swamp into the open air, senses alive to everything around. It could sense the evil beings down below, feel their frustration – and sense still more up above, these filled with rage and hatred. But it also felt the presence of others – a familiar presence, though it had never been in contact with these six before. Still, it knew what they must be.

Toa

Aiming its craft toward the sky, Toa Ignika rushed up to greet its new… friends? Perhaps, it hoped… perhaps indeed.

* * *

Takanuva’s vision of the past continues…

Toa Lewa, master of air, rider on the wind, emerald-armored hero in the making, had just discovered something very important. He really, truly, deeply hated the water.

Hydraxon’s exercise for the day had to do with searching for masks. Someday, he explained, the Toa might find themselves in a situation where Kanohi masks were not easy to come by, and they might have to seek them out. To prove his point, he took all of the Toa’s masks and hid them in various places. Each Toa was given a map carved into a stone tablet that detailed where his or her mask could be found.

As the mysterious voice had warned them, without a mask their powers were halved. Lewa found himself wishing it had also warned them about insane trainers, unfriendly teammates, and how water was so very… wet.

He took a deep breath and plunged into the ocean again. His Mask of Levitation was supposed to be down here somewhere, but it was so dark he couldn’t see. What I could really use is a Mask of Light right about now, he said to himself. Right, like that’s ever going to happen.

Lewa swam further down, disturbing a school of rainbow-colored fish. They looked to him like most fish – placid, slow-moving, with dumb expressions on their faces. At least, that was how they looked until they closed in around him, darting and diving, and biting him with needle-like teeth.

At first, Lewa just found this annoying. Then, the fish started finding chinks in his armor, and their attacks began to hurt. Angry, Lewa tried to summon an underwater cyclone to blow them away. But without his mask, he couldn’t generate a force of sufficient power to scatter them.

His lungs were starting to ache for fresh air, and the school of fish wasn’t letting up. Lewa kicked his legs and shot to the surface. He climbed back onto the beach and sat down in the sand, staring at the water as if it was his worst enemy.

“Giving up?” asked Hydraxon. Lewa turned to see the trainer sitting on a rock, twirling a dagger.

“No,” answered the Toa of Air. “Just… frustrated.”

“Then you and Gali should get along just fine,” Hydraxon said, gesturing over his shoulder.

Lewa rose and looked past the trainer into the woods. There was Gali, standing at the bottom of the tallest tree he had ever seen. Her Mask of Water Breathing was wedged among some branches way at the top. Scars in the tree showed where she had tried to use her hooks to climb it, but the trunk was covered in an oily substance that made it almost impossible to scale.

“Looks like she has a problem,” said Lewa. “Bet I’ll get to my mask before she does.”

Hydraxon sprang from his perch and executed a perfect, sweeping kick, knocking Lewa to the ground. “It’s not a race!” he said sharply. “You ‘heroes’ are incredible. Kopaka has spent all day staring into an active volcano, trying to figure out how he can freeze his way to his mask. Tahu has been melting and re-melting the same iceberg all day, trying to free his. And the other two are no better.”

Lewa got back to his feet and glared at Hydraxon. “You gave us these stupid tasks. Each of us is just trying to get ours done. It’s not so easy to do when you’re on your –”

The Toa of Air abruptly stopped, as he realized what he was saying. Hydraxon smiled and began a slow, sarcastic round of applause. “A light dawns,” said the trainer. “I didn’t realize it would take light years. Think about the missions I gave the six of you – and tell me when I said you couldn’t work together?”

Lewa looked down at the sand, feeling a mixture of anger (mostly at himself) and a little embarrassment. It was true, Hydraxon had never insisted they pursue their masks alone. They had just split up as soon as he handed out the maps. Lewa had never even considered working with anyone else, and he doubted any of the others had either.

Hydraxon tossed his dagger from hand to hand. “It’s a great weapon – sharp, perfectly balanced, accurate. But it takes more than talent and practice to use it correctly… it takes the brains to throw it at the right target. You Toa have plenty of power, but I’m not seeing much in the way of common sense. Without it, all that power isn’t worth a pile of protodites.”

Lewa looked again at Gali, who had summoned a small rainstorm to try to wash the mask out of the high branches. “Looks like I am going to get wet again,” he muttered, already moving to help her.

Gali was surprised when she saw the Toa of Air approaching. She was surprised even more so when he used his weakened elemental powers to add some wind to her rain. The tree began to sway back and forth, until finally the Mask of Water Breathing came loose and fell right into her hands.

“Um… thanks,” she said. “But wasn’t that against the rules of the game?”

“No,” said Lewa. “Turns out trying to go it alone is playing the wrong game completely.” He looked away, still feeling a little uncomfortable about what he was going to ask. “Well, uh, so… can you give me a hand now?”

Even with all their differences, Tahu and Kopaka had discovered one thing they agreed upon: They couldn’t stand each other. Despite that, the night after the mask-searching exercise found them hiking through the mountains together.

“There’s an easier way to go about this,” Tahu said. “Find Hydraxon and make him take us where we need to go. If the door is barred against us, I bet he would make a great key.”

“Are all fire types like you? Or are you just uniquely an idiot?” growled Kopaka. “We don’t know the extent of Hydraxon’s powers. We don’t know he wouldn’t be able to warn our ‘hosts’ somehow. We don’t even know that we could defeat him.”

Tahu’s sword went from red-hot to white-hot in an instant, then cooled down again. “Speak for yourself, frosty.”

“Excellent. Fine,” Kopaka snapped. “What was I thinking? Of course the answer to every problem is violence and destruction. Who needs conversation when you can have carnage?”

Their argument was cut off by the sight of an imposing fortress in the distance. The place bristled with weaponry and was ringed by armed guards. An army of Toa might have been able to conquer it, but two would just be a moment’s distraction for its defenders.

“Think they’ll let us in if we ask nicely?” asked Tahu.

“I don’t know. Think you can fight your way through all of them?”

Tahu shook his head, laughing. “You’re not the only one who can come up with a strategy, Toa of Snow. Now get your hands up.”

Kopaka looked at his companion, puzzled. Tahu had already raised his hands, his sword giving off just enough of a glow that both Toa would be visible to the guards. Suddenly, it made sense. As he lifted his hands in the air and resumed marching toward the fortress, even Kopaka had a hard time suppressing a smile.

The fortress guards did exactly what Tahu had hoped they would do. They brought the Toa they had “captured” inside and right to their leader. If Tahu expected the ruler of this land to be some massive, heavily-armored warrior who could snap a Toa in two with no effort, he was to be disappointed. The figure that awaited them was a Toa, although one whose armor looked quite different from theirs. Even more surprising, that armor was blue – like Gali, she was a Toa of Water. She looked up from what she was tinkering with, a small vehicle with multiple legs.

“Like it?” she asked. “I am thinking of calling it a ‘swamp strider.’ Who knows, there might be some use for it someday.”

Tahu’s surprise was doubled now that it was clear the mysterious voice that had awakened them belonged to her. Kopaka seemed to take the revelation in stride, though, saying, “Who are you?”

“My name is Helryx,” the female Toa replied. “I was the first of our kind. It might interest you to know that I saw you created, Kopaka, all of you.”

“We want some answers,” Tahu interrupted. “We feel we’re entitled to them.”

Helryx smiled. “Then answers you shall have, Toa of Fire. All that you want… and perhaps more than you can stand.”

The Toa of Water put down her tools and approached Tahu and Kopaka. She looked from one to the other and then nodded, as if giving her approval. “Brave. Daring. Strong. You and your team are ready to become true heroes. But… this universe, like all others, demands a price from its heroes. Sometimes, they have to suffer; sometimes, they have to die. That is the price for living a life that matters… for having the power to change, to protect, to act.”

Helryx gestured for the Toa to follow her. “Come, my brothers. It’s time for you to learn what price will be asked of you.”

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