Kirop woke up in a cell. It took him a moment to remember what had happened to him. Then he recalled spying on the Toa Nuva of Air and Tanma from above, a blast of wind, and a sudden slam into the ground.
Looking around, he recognized the chamber he was in as one of the smaller ones in the Av-Matoran shelter. The shadow Matoran chuckled. It was funny: Here he was, the former leader of Karda Nui, now captured by his own people.
Ignorant fools, he thought. They can’t keep me locked up. Already, I see a way out. And they will pay dearly for their lack of respect!
He sat up. It was then he realized his bag was gone and, with it, the fragment of keystone he carried. He knew he should have told the Makuta about possessing it, but he had figured he might be able to use its existence someday to win influence with them. Now it was in the hands of the Toa Nuva.
Yet another reason to escape, he thought. The Makuta have to be told the Toa possess at least two of the pieces now.
It would take only a few moments to blast open a weak spot in the ceiling with his shadow energy. He raised his arm – then hesitated. He could hear voices coming from a nearby room. What were they saying? He put his audio receptor to the wall to listen.
It was two of the Toa Nuva, that was obvious, though he did not know which ones. They were talking about the Brotherhood of Makuta and the shadow leeches.
“Are you certain-sure this is going to work?” asked one.
“Very sure,” replied the other. “With what we know now, we can destroy all the shadow leeches and the ability of the Brotherhood to make more. They will have corrupted their last Matoran of Light!”
“Then what are we long-waiting for? Let’s do it!”
“Give me a few hours. I need to make sure the Matoran know what they have to do. Then we strike.”
Kirop got to his feet, startled and worried. Had the Toa discovered the location of Mutran’s hive? And what was this about a means to destroy shadow leeches? Mutran had to be warned!
He unleashed a blast of dark energy at the ceiling, blowing a hole large enough for him to pass through. An instant later, he was free and headed for Mutran’s hidden hive.
The three Toa Nuva watched him go. Pohatu smiled. “Well, he fell for it. Now what?”
Kopaka Nuva checked his Midak Skyblaster and then mounted it back on his shoulder. The weapon’s name had come from Pohatu and Lewa. “Midak” was an Onu-Matoran on the island of Mata Nui, a very strange one, who much preferred being out in the light to being in the dark tunnels of his village. Despite having weak eyesight in bright sunshine, he still spent most of his time outside and told anyone who would listen about the thrill of pure light. Most Matoran thought he was nice, if a little off, and most Onu-Matoran had slightly harsher descriptions of him. But Pohatu considered him a friend and thought this would be just the sort of weapon he would have enjoyed using.
As for “Skyblaster,” Lewa had always wanted a weapon called that. So, since none of the other Toa Nuva cared enough to debate, the new weapons became “Midak Skyblasters.”
“Now we give him a minute’s head start, then go after him,” said Kopaka Nuva. “With luck, he will lead us right to the home of the shadow leeches.”
“That was sharp-smart to fool him into thinking we already knew where it was,” said Lewa. “Of course, it would never have worked without my acting talent.”
Pohatu laughed. “That’s true, brother – after all, you’ve been acting like you were a Toa for years.”
Lewa Nuva smiled at the joke. “And a most ever-convincing performance it has been.”
“Five other Toa to choose from, and I am stuck with two that are just this side of being Rahi,” muttered Kopaka. “Let’s go.”
“Not without us.” Tanma was standing in the doorway, flanked by Photok and Solek. “This is our home. It’s our people who have been corrupted. No one else is going to fight for them.”
Kopaka Nuva wanted to argue, but he knew there was no time. “All right, then the six of us will go. You ride with us. The fewer potential targets we give the Makuta, the better. Stay low, keep your mouths shut, and try not to get killed.”
“Listen to him,” added Lewa Nuva. “Trust me, I’ve never done any of those three things… and look where I wound up.”
Kirop flew as fast as he could toward the eastern side of the vast cavern that was Karda Nui. He shot through layers of mist that obscured the cavern entrances, focused on reaching his destination. Occasionally, he would allow himself to think about the vast reward Antroz would surely give him for his information. Perhaps his actions might even lead to the deaths of three Toa Nuva – wouldn’t that be wonderful?
So intent was he on his mission that he never noticed the Toa Nuva pursuing him, with three Av-Matoran riding along with them. They were staying some distance behind, so as not to alert Kirop to their presence. If he so much as looked over his shoulder too soon, the whole plan would fail.
Kirop would have been shocked if he had glanced behind and realized he had been duped. He would have been even more surprised if he had turned in time to see three Toa suddenly become four.
“We’re being followed,” said Lewa Nuva.
“I know,” Kopaka Nuva replied.
“Mask of Vision, remember?” said Kopaka. “It’s not just a cute name… unlike, say, ‘skyblaster.’”
“So who is he? Another of the Makuta?” asked Pohatu, looking back at their pursuer. The figure didn’t look like a Makuta – it looked like a Toa. Then again, being shape-shifters, the Makuta could look like whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted.
“I’ve never seen him before,” said Solek.
“So far, he’s just following,” said Kopaka. “If he makes a hostile move, then we’ll deal with him. Right now, we need to worry about Kirop.”
“He’s pulling away,” said Pohatu. “If we don’t speed up, we’re going to lose him!”
The words were barely out of Pohatu’s mouth when he and Photok suddenly shot forward so fast they were a blur. They were almost on top of Kirop before the Toa Nuva of Stone recovered from his surprise and veered them away. When he and Photok had rejoined the others, Pohatu finally allowed himself to exclaim, “What the rampaging Rahi was that?!”
Photok shook his head, smiling. “No idea. But it was sure fun! I just thought about us going faster, and zing!”
“Nothing like that ever happened to you before?”
“No,” said the Av-Matoran.
“And I didn’t trigger the Mask of Speed,” said Pohatu, puzzled. “Well, whatever it was, next time, warn me.”
But Photok wasn’t paying attention. He was looking up to where a huge, winged, multi-headed Rahi was heading right for them. “Warn you – got it – is now a good time?”
Kopaka and Lewa saw the menace at the same time. But before they could form a battle plan and attack, their mysterious pursuer had shot up into the sky to confront the beast. The Rahi eyed him with barely disguised glee, no doubt seeing a sure meal in its future.
The strange figure raised a hand, as if bidding the creature to halt. That was weird enough, but then the Rahi actually did stop in midair. A slight quiver ran down the length of its body. Its eyes grew wide and its breathing incredibly rapid. An instant later, it dropped like a rock and plummeted toward the swamp.
The Nuva’s mysterious pursuer – the self-styled Toa Ignika – watched the Rahi fall with a mixture of regret and satisfaction. The Mask of Life did not like killing any living thing – it felt wrong. But it – no, now I have a body, now I am “he,” not it, the new being thought – did not have enough experience in this new body to know how to stop the Rahi without ending its existence. So he chose the most merciful option, simply speeding up the creature’s life processes until they reached their natural point of exhaustion.
Of course, the three Toa Nuva did not know that. All they knew was that a being who looked like a Toa stopped a multi-ton Rahi by holding up his hand. And now that same being was hovering in the sky, watching the Toa in silence, as if waiting for an invitation to join them.
Kopaka looked at Pohatu and Lewa. Then, with a grim smile, he gestured for the new Toa to come along.
“And now,” said the Toa Nuva of Ice, “we are seven.”
Unaware of what was going on in the skies behind him, Kirop approached the fog-shrouded leech hive which hung suspended from the roof of the vast cavern. He was perhaps two hundred yards from it when its entrance suddenly opened. Vican flew out, riding on top of what Kirop first thought was another Matoran. Then he got a look at what the creature really was as it flew by, and even the shadow Matoran felt sickened by the sight.
Still, this wasn’t the time to be sentimental. He had a message to deliver. He flew straight toward the once-again-concealed opening. A mild bolt of shadow energy triggered it to slide aside once more.
“Mutran!” Kirop shouted as he landed on the hive floor. “The Toa Nuva are planning an attack on the shadow leeches! You have to prepare!”
Mutran took two steps forward and savagely backhanded the Matoran, sending him sprawling on the stone. “The Toa Nuva? You mean those Toa Nuva? The ones you led here?” he snarled, pointing through the rapidly closing entrance. Kirop turned and could just see four Toa and three Matoran bearing down on the hive.
Kopaka Nuva saw the entrance slam shut. It was a puzzle why he had been unable to spot this hive before using his Kanohi mask – perhaps something in the mist blocked his power. That would be a mystery for later. He looked over at Pohatu. “You want to do the honors?”
“Sure,” said Pohatu. “I’ll knock.”
The Toa of Stone summoned his willpower and materialized a half dozen good-sized boulders, hurling them toward the hatch. They struck hard, battering the gateway. “They aren’t answering,” said Lewa. “Let me ring the greet-bell.”
The Toa of Air sent a burst of air at the entrance so powerful that it seeped through the cracks and formed a cyclone on the other side. The winds caught Kirop, slamming him into the walls, but Mutran stood rooted to the ground.
Kopaka Nuva gave Lewa a few moments and said, “Perhaps no one is home. Let’s see if they left the door open.” He readied an ice blast, but Solek reached out a hand to stop him.
“Let us. Please,” said the Av-Matoran.
After a moment’s consideration, Kopaka nodded. The three Matoran raised their weapons and sent light energy at the weakened hatch. Their bursts hit on target, blowing the gateway in. It flew into the hive, only to be caught by Mutran.
“Toa are always so noisy,” hissed the Makuta. “No wonder I could never get any work done around your kind in the old days.”
The Toa and Matoran charged ahead. They saw no sign of the shadow leech tanks, but they did discover something else quite strange. The hive was far bigger on the inside than it seemed from the outside, with slime-covered tunnels that wound deep into its interior.
“Use the skyblasters,” Kopaka said. “Find the shadow leeches and target them. Solek and I will handle this Makuta.”
Pohatu, Lewa, Tanma, Photok, and the Toa Ignika charged ahead. Surprisingly, Mutran made no effort to stop them. He just watched them fly past on their way deeper into the hive. Then he turned back to the hovering Kopaka Nuva, arms outstretched, and said, “All right, Toa, handle me… if you can.”
Vican did his best to steer the flying Rahi beneath him where it was supposed to go. It wasn’t easy. Having Matoran-level intelligence, the beast was willful, not to mention extremely unhappy with its current appearance.
He had been lucky so far. The Toa Nuva had been so intent on following Kirop they hadn’t noticed his exit. He dove as soon as possible so as to be lost in the mists of the swamp before they changed their minds. Now he was skimming over the waters, headed for the portal out of Karda Nui.
Vican would have much preferred being back in the cave helping Mutran with one of his experiments – or even being one of his experiments – to this task. He had heard enough about Icarax to know this was a suicide mission. When other Makuta consider one of their number to be too violent and destructive… there’s a problem.
The sealed portal was just ahead. He steered the Rahi right for it, despite its protests. At the last possible moment, it opened just wide enough to admit the two of them. Then it slammed shut again.
He was out of Karda Nui and on his way to deliver Antroz’s message. He wasn’t sure who he pitied more: himself, or the Toa Nuva. Neither was likely to survive a meeting with Icarax.
* * *
Takanuva’s vision of the past continues…
Pohatu could honestly say he had never seen anything like this “Karda Nui” place before. Of course, he hadn’t seen much of anything in his short existence, but that didn’t alter the fact that this place was incredible.
Karda Nui was vast, almost a world within the world. Vast stalactites hung from a ceiling that was so high, it was almost impossible to even see them without the aid of the telescopic eyepiece on Kopaka’s mask. A huge, sandy plain stretched out seemingly forever – even with his Mask of Speed to help, it would have taken Pohatu a while to explore the whole place.
Pohatu turned to Lewa and pointed toward the sky. “Did you try making it all the way up yet?”
Lewa shook his head. “I need a little more practice with this Mask of Levitation first. I wouldn’t want to get distracted halfway up, and then get dead, you know? Besides, our fearless leader says there’s work to be done down here first.”
The plain was dotted with settlements inhabited by Matoran of Light. The villagers were toiling in various places in Karda Nui, often vanishing for days only to reappear, worn out from their labors.
A flash of light in the distance drew the Toa’s attention. “Uh oh,” said Pohatu. “Here we go again. Grab hold!”
Lewa took hold of Pohatu’s arm and let the Toa of Stone pull him along at super-speed toward the site of the sudden illumination. Onua and Tahu were already there and not faring very well. The Toa of Earth was on the ground, his chest plate scorched and still smoking, while Tahu’s walls of flame were proving to be no obstacle at all.
These were what the Matoran called “avohkah,” and the reason the Toa were there. At first, the villagers who labored in Karda Nui thought the place was just prone to violent lightning storms. But after more than a dozen Matoran were killed by lightning strikes, the rumor started that the bolts of energy were actually hostile and intelligent beings. The Toa’s first few encounters with the avohkah seemed to verify this. The lightning bolts avoided obvious traps and seemed to go out of their way to do harm.
“Where’s Gali?” asked Pohatu. “She’s the only one who has been able to slow these things down.”
“Off fighting another outbreak west of here with Kopaka,” said Tahu, hurling fireballs to try to divert the lightning strikes. “They’ll get here when they can. Meanwhile, it’s up to us.”
“Ah, this is the life,” said Lewa, nimbly dodging a bolt. “Wake up in the morning, have a little breakfast, and then spend all day trying to avoid being fried.”
“Look at it this way,” said Pohatu, as a lightning bolt shattered his hastily created rock wall. “If you don’t avoid it, you won’t have to worry about what to have for breakfast tomorrow. And – look out!”
A massive avohkah was headed right for where Tahu and Lewa were standing. Both Toa reacted at the same time. Lewa used his wind power to hurl a blanket of sand into the air to try to “blind” the creature, while Tahu launched a wave of super-hot fire. Neither really expected their hasty defense to work. Both braced for the painful outcome.
It turned out to be quite different from what they expected. The combination of sand and flame had resulted in a third substance, a hard, translucent, and extremely thick material that formed a wall between the two Toa and their foe. The bolt struck the wall of glass, but did not pierce it.
Lewa didn’t waste time being stunned. “What are we waiting for, flame-face?”
“We work together,” agreed Tahu, already adding his fire to the sand Lewa was stirring up. “And don’t call me that.”
“Oh, don’t be such an… ash,” Lewa replied, laughing.
When they were done, the lightning bolt was completely enclosed in a thick glass dome. It couldn’t get out, and its fellow avohkah weren’t having any luck freeing it. Puzzled by this, they withdrew, though no one doubted they would be attacking again soon, somewhere else.
Gali and Kopaka appeared soon after, both looking exhausted. “We drove them off,” reported the Toa of Water. “But I have to remember to use water bursts, not a stream. Otherwise, um… ouch.”
Lewa wasn’t paying attention. He had spotted a spherical structure on the horizon, this one not made by the Toa. “Hey, what’s that?”
Kopaka glanced at Tahu so swiftly that none of the others noticed it. Tahu shrugged in response. “It’s called the Codrex. It’s… not important right now.”
“Maybe not to you,” answered the Toa of Air. “Me, I’m kind of bored with busy Matoran, angry sparklers, and sand, sand, sand. I’m going to check it out.”
“No!” said Tahu, more harshly than he had intended. “You’re needed here. We can explore later.”
“If you don’t want to come, don’t come,” Lewa answered, already walking away. “Don’t pull all that ‘big leader’ stuff with me – I never voted for you.”
Kopaka fired a blast of ice from his sword, completely encasing Lewa from shoulders to knees. “Tahu’s team leader, and he said no. So it’s no.”
Later, Tahu approached Kopaka when they were out of earshot of the others. “Thanks,” said the Toa of Fire. “I could have handled it, but I appreciate your support.”
“Don’t thank me,” answered the Toa of Ice. “We should just tell them the truth about the Codrex, about all of it.”
“We need to keep them focused on the avohkah, not on what comes after,” Tahu argued. “There will be time enough for them to worry about that… all too much time, probably.”
Kopaka turned away, obviously unconvinced. “It’s your decision. But think about this – how would you feel if someone you trusted kept secrets from you?”