It had been much too easy.
Lewa Nuva, Pohatu Nuva, their Matoran companions, and their mysterious new ally had made it through at least a mile of tunnels with no opposition. That was the good news. The bad news was they had seen no sign of shadow leeches or anything that could be used to make shadow leeches.
“Maybe we missed something,” suggested Pohatu.
“I know they’re here,” said Tanma. “They have to be. Where else would Kirop have fled to?”
“I don’t understand,” said Photok. “How can this place be bigger on the inside than on the outside?”
Pohatu shrugged. “Saw a legend once in a Ko-Metru Knowledge Tower. It said the Brotherhood uses some kind of dimensional gate power to move their home island around. Maybe they’re using something like that here – maybe we aren’t even still in the hive, but in some kind of pocket dimension.”
“Well, wherever we are, we’re running out of tunnel-path,” said Lewa. “Dead end ahead.”
“Let’s ask our silent friend,” Pohatu said. “Maybe he knows something.”
Lewa looked back to where the strange Toa had been following, and gasped. He was gone – and in his place was something out of a nightmare. It was long and serpent-like, with a toothed, funnel-like mouth easily twenty feet in diameter. Its pale white flesh glistened from a thin sheen of slime, and it wriggled and squirmed toward the flying Toa. Its bulk took up the entire tunnel, making it impossible to fly over or around.
“Small Rahi beasts,” muttered Lewa. “Whatever happened to the small Rahi beasts?”
“Maybe it doesn’t mean any harm,” said Pohatu. “I know, what are the odds, but let’s just take it –”
Tanma fired a light burst from his blades, striking the creature dead-on. It hissed in pain and rage.
“– easy,” Pohatu finished. “Kopaka always told me don’t work with Rahi or Matoran, but did I listen? No.”
“Oh, come on,” said Lewa, firing his Midak Skyblaster at the oncoming creature. “When’s the last time we met a giant, slimy, jaw-mouth full of teeth, peaceful Rahi?”
Pohatu shrugged, already creating and hurling boulders that did little but bounce off the creature’s thick hide. “Well, there was… and then there was that time… hmmm…”
“It’s coming closer!” yelled Photok, furiously blasting light at the beast. “Isn’t there some special Toa technique you have for dealing with these kinds of things?”
Lewa shook his head as he summoned a cyclone. “Being a Toa-hero doesn’t come with a handbook. Besides,” he added with a grin, “Pohatu can’t read.”
“You just saw our technique,” said Pohatu. “We laugh in the face of danger.”
The creature lashed out, beams of pure force emanating from its eyes. They struck Pohatu, sending him and Photok crashing into the back wall.
“But sometimes,” grumbled the Toa of Stone, “danger doesn’t get the joke.”
Toa lgnika started out surprised… then he became puzzled… and now? Now he was enraged.
He had been following along behind the two Toa Nuva and their Matoran companions. Not yet comfortable with spoken language, he had not joined in any of their conversations. But he still felt as if he were welcome at their side in the coming battle.
Then they suddenly turned around and reacted as if they had never seen him before. One of the Matoran fired a light blast, and then the Toa followed up with stone and cyclone. It was all very confusing. What had he done? Why were they attacking him?
Finally, it got to be too much and he had struck back. That only seemed to make things worse. The Toa Nuva and Matoran were all attacking now, although many of their blasts sailed over his head or to the sides. Either they were very poor shots, he decided, or else they thought he was much bigger than he truly was. Regardless, they had shown themselves to be enemies, not allies. He had joined them out of a desire for friendship and been repaid with violence.
Toa Ignika thought back to the flying Rahi outside of the cave. He hadn’t wanted to kill it, nor had he felt at all good when it was done. But he hadn’t seen any other choice… just like now.
If the Toa Nuva were going to continue to assault him without cause, then they were not worthy of the gift of life. He would simply have to take that gift back. It would sadden him to end their existences, of course. But periods of sadness were a part of being a living thing, or so he believed. Best to get used to the feeling now.
The Toa Ignika said a silent good-bye to the Toa and Matoran. It was, it seemed, more than time for them to die.
Kopaka Nuva knew exactly what he had to do. First, a blast of ice to distract his foe, followed by an all-out attack with the skyblaster. Done right, he would be able to keep the Makuta off balance long enough for Lewa and Pohatu to do their job.
He glanced at Solek, unconscious on the hive floor, thanks to a blow from Mutran. The Toa Nuva knew he would have to strike hard and fast if he was going to save himself and the Matoran.
But now something made him hesitate. The thought of creating ice sent an actual chill through him. Ice was so cold… hard… if he lost control of his power, he might fill the chamber with it. He would be buried in ice, unable to move or breathe, dying slowly in a frigid tomb.
No, that’s insane, he told himself. I’m a Toa! I have used my power hundreds of times and never lost control. I am one with the ice. I control it… don’t I?
Certainty turned to doubt, and doubt began to turn to fear. What if this was the fight where Kopaka’s precarious hold over the power of ice slipped, even a little? What if, once he started, he couldn’t turn his power off? He might doom all of Karda Nui to a frozen eternity.
None of this was logical. None of it made sense. But Kopaka Nuva found his mind filled with such thoughts, and so he hesitated, just an instant too long. Mutran was on him in two quick strides, armored hand around Kopaka’s throat, lifting the Toa into the air.
“I don’t just experiment with the physical form, you see,” Mutran whispered. “I like to play with the mind as well. You Toa always have such interesting minds – filled with grief over all the horrors you have seen, fear of disappointing others, anger at your enemies. You are all flood tides of emotion, Toa Nuva, and I am about to break the dam.”
With his free hand, Mutran tore the Midak Skyblaster from Kopaka’s grasp and hurled it away. Then the Makuta increased the power of his mental assault. To Kopaka’s credit, though his eyes widened and his breath came in ragged gasps, the Toa never screamed.
“A little rip here, a little tear there,” Mutran said, in an almost sing-song voice. “Before you know it, your mind will be torn to pieces. Of course, Antroz would probably want you intact for questioning. So we had better be finished before he finds out you’re here, hmmm? Yes, we had better get right to work.”
Photok was the first to sense something was terribly wrong. A feeling of weakness washed over him unlike anything he had ever felt. Instinctively, he knew what it was – the life was being drained from him.
He saw Tanma slip from Lewa’s back and fall to the floor. A few moments later, the two Toa were noticeably weakening. No, not weakening, he realized. Dying.
He looked up at the creature the four of them had been fighting. It was just standing there, unmoving, making no attempt to take advantage of its enemies’ distress. That made no sense. If it was out to destroy them, why not do it? And how could it have the power to steal their lives without even touching them?
Suddenly, for an instant, the creature was gone, replaced by the mysterious third Toa. Pohatu saw that, too, and knew instantly what was going on.
“An illusion,” he cried out. “The monster’s an illusion! We’ve been attacking our fellow Toa!”
Lewa, too weak to stand now, reached out toward his attacker. “Stop! We didn’t mean to hurt-harm you! You’re killing us!”
Pohatu wasn’t about to wait for this strange new Toa to see reason. He took his best guess at where his foe was standing, then used his power over stone to make the ground erupt at Toa Ignika’s feet. The distraction proved to be just enough to disrupt the new Toa’s attack.
The image of the creature abruptly vanished. In its place was a slightly stunned Toa Ignika. Pohatu summoned all of his strength and charged, slamming into his attacker and pinning him to the wall.
“Who are you?” shouted the Toa Nuva of Stone. “Why are you here? And don’t try that little life-draining trick of yours again, or you’re going to live between a rock and a hard place, get me?”
Toa Ignika’s eyes blazed. So this, the new being decided, is what rage feels like. What was the proper response to this emotion? Past experience told him living things commit acts of violence when angry. Then, since he was now living, that was what he would do.
Before any blow could be struck, Pohatu released him and stepped back, looking confused. “Wait a second,” muttered the Toa of Stone. “Your mask… I didn’t get a good look at it before. I know that mask – I’ve seen carvings of it on Voya Nui. You’re… you’re wearing the Mask of Life! Who in Mata Nui’s name are you?”
Solek struggled painfully back to consciousness, and immediately wished he hadn’t bothered. The sight that greeted him was horrible. Kopaka Nuva was huddled on the ground, unmoving, eyes open but just staring into space. Makuta Mutran stood over him, smiling wickedly.
“I didn’t think it would be so easy,” Mutran was saying. “I have always known Toa to proclaim their strength and resolve. But you melted like an icicle in a pool of lava, Kopaka. It will be a mercy to finish you off.”
Mutran raised his hand, preparing to fire a bolt of shadow energy. Seeing this, Solek raced across the room and dived toward Kopaka. But his dive fell short – he wouldn’t be able to block the bolt with his body. All he was able to do was to grab Kopaka’s arm and cry out, “Stop!”
The shadow energy flew from Mutran’s claw, but it never reached Kopaka Nuva. A shield made of light erupted from Solek’s hand, intercepting and reflecting the shadow bolt. Both the Av-Matoran and the Makuta were taken by surprise, so much so that neither noticed the gleam of intelligence return to Kopaka’s eyes.
The Toa Nuva sprang up, firing ice from both hands at the startled Mutran. Rock-hard hailstones the size of boulders pummeled the Makuta, while razor-sharp icicles pinned his armor to the wall.
“You’re all right?” Solek asked, in disbelief.
“A little trick Lewa, of all beings, taught me,” said Kopaka, never taking his eyes from Mutran or letting up on his devastating attack. “When attacked by an ash bear, it pays to play dead.”
Mutran grimaced, trying to summon a chain lightning attack against both Toa and Matoran. Kopaka, noticing the expression, intensified his assault until the sight of Mutran was lost amidst the ice and snow.
“I knew, given time, Mutran would win,” Kopaka continued. “So I let him think he already had, to buy time. But how did you create that shield?”
“I don’t know. It never happened before,” answered Solek. “Is he beaten?”
Kopaka shook his head. “Not even close. Delayed, at best. Where are the others? We need to finish what we came to do and get out of here!”
“I’m afraid it’s too late for that.” The words came from the hive mouth, where Antroz, Chirox, and Vamprah stood with two of their shadow Matoran. “Judging from the temperature, I am guessing Toa Nuva of Ice,” Antroz continued. “That would make you Kopaka, would it not?”
“Yes,” the Toa answered. “A few degrees colder, and your fellow Makuta will be permanently frozen… so I suggest you not make a move.”
Chirox smiled. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you, Toa, how it was that Makuta evolved into pure energy encased in armor? We found we didn’t need our bodies. We can strike down our enemies without flexing a finger or taking a step.”
Vamprah suddenly plunged the entire cavern into darkness with just a push from his mind. Chirox’s shattering power opened a crevasse in the cave floor, knocking Kopaka and Solek off their feet. Antroz finished the attack, using his power of magnetism to slam metal-armored Toa and Matoran against the hive walls until both were unconscious.
Radiak scampered over the bodies to the block of ice that imprisoned Mutran. “The Makuta is trapped. Shall I try to free him?”
“Oh, leave him that way,” said Chirox. “If he can’t free himself, he is worthless to our cause.”
“More importantly, Toa are like spiked fire worms,” said Antroz. “Where you find one, you find more. And like the worms, it is best to grind them beneath your heel. Call it a lesson to any other foolish creatures who might try to get in your way.”
* * *
Takanuva’s vision of the past continues…
Gali hurled a water burst at an oncoming avohkah. The creature struck the water dead-on and exploded with a bright flash of energy. Exhausted, the Toa of Water looked around, but there were no more of the sapient lightning bolts to be seen. The battle was finally over.
It had taken months, but the last of the avohkah had been defeated. Whether they might return one day was unknown, but for now, the Toa’s work in Karda Nui was done. And so, apparently, was that of the Matoran of Light, who were now occupied with packing up their possessions and preparing to leave this realm.
All, that is, except one Matoran, who stood gazing up at Gali with wide and wondering eyes. “Can I help you?” asked Gali, smiling gently.
“What you did… all of you… that was amazing!” said the Matoran. “How can I learn to do that? How can I become a Toa?”
Gali shook her head. “I wish I could tell you… but I don’t know myself. I’d like to think that the universe knows when it needs a hero and finds a way to bring one into being.”
The Matoran pondered her words for a while. Then he brightened, “Then I will just have to make sure I am around the next time a hero is needed! That shouldn’t be too hard.”
The Matoran walked away, a new energy in his step. “Remember me, Toa Gali,” he said over his shoulder. “You’ll be hearing my name someday, whenever people talk about heroes – Takua!”
Gali laughed. She turned at the sound of others approaching and saw Tahu and the rest of the team. The Toa of Fire looked grim, even for him. “What’s the matter?” she asked.
“Nothing,” said Tahu, unconvincingly. “But we need to talk… and I need to show you all something.”
The Toa of Fire led them across the plain to the structure he had called the Codrex. A circular stone floated in empty air about five feet from the entrance. Lewa looked at it, curious, then reached up and plucked it from its invisible perch.
“Put that back!” snapped Kopaka.
“Why?” asked Lewa. “I just want to get a look at it.”
The Toa of Ice started to respond, then visibly relaxed. “You know, you’re right. But you’ll have an easier time examining it inside the Codrex. Why don’t you head on in?”
Lewa gave a nod and started forward. He had only gone about two paces when he collided with an energy field and was sent flying. When he finally crashed to earth, Kopaka was standing there. The Toa of Ice snatched the stone from him and said, “That’s why.” Then he marched back to the Codrex and put the stone back into the field.
The six Toa, including a chastened Lewa, approached the sphere. Tahu raised a hand and the entrance slid aside. Even Tahu and Kopaka, who knew what to expect, were surprised by what they found.
The interior was huge, dominated by machinery that none of the Toa could even begin to understand. One whole section was sealed off, and even then, the place was bigger than any the heroes had ever seen. Onua and Gali looked at complex devices with wonder, while Pohatu ran a hand along the stone wall that blocked access to the other section of the sphere.
“I could probably bring this down,” he said.
“It’s not our concern,” Tahu replied. “This is.”
The Toa of Fire tossed a fireburst toward the back wall. When it flared, the light given off illuminated six canisters standing side by side, each about nine feet high. “What are those?” asked Onua.
“They’re called Toa canisters, for want of a better name,” said Kopaka. “They are a means of transport. Quite remarkable, from what I have been told.”
“Well… great,” said Lewa. “It’s got to be better than that dimension-hop we took to get here. So where are we going?”
There was a long moment of uncomfortable silence, with Tahu and Kopaka both waiting for the other to speak. Then the Toa of Fire said, “Nowhere.”
The hatch of the Codrex slammed shut. Onua rushed to it and battered it with his enhanced strength, but it wouldn’t budge. “Tahu, use your fire power – melt this thing!”
The Toa of Fire put his hand on Onua’s shoulder and gently pulled him away from the hatch. “We’re not leaving, brother… at least, not for a long time to come.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Gali. “We’re prisoners here?”
“Not prisoners,” said Kopaka, “more like… emergency reserves. Remember what we were told? If Mata Nui should ever be struck down, it would be up to us to restore him to power. That is our goal and our destiny.”
“Terrific,” said Pohatu. “Can’t we keep busy until that happens, preferably someplace other than here?”
“Try to understand,” said Tahu. “Someday, the fate of the entire universe may depend on what we do. And until that day comes, it’s vital that we stay together and stay whole. If we were to be killed, there would be no one to do what had to be done.”
“These canisters – they will keep us safely in slumber until we are needed,” said Kopaka. “When the time is right, they will be launched and will take us where we need to go. We will emerge, armed with tools and masks to carry out our mission.”
Pohatu touched one of the canisters. Its top began to rotate, finally opening with a hiss. The Toa of Stone grabbed the lip of the canister, hauled himself up, and peered inside. “Right. Not so much as a carving to read in there. I don’t think so.”
A tremor suddenly shook the Codrex. Kopaka looked at Tahu, alarmed. “So soon? Do you think the Matoran made it out?”
“I hope so,” Tahu replied. “If not…”
Onua read the expression in the two Toa’s eyes. “Wait a moment,” he said. “There’s more to this than what you’ve told us. The avohkah were just the start, weren’t they? There’s worse coming.”
Tahu turned away and walked to the hatch. He passed his hand over a portion of the wall and a small segment of the hatch opened. The other Toa crowded around to see what looked like a massive storm of raw energy descending on Karda Nui. Already, the Matoran structures on the plain had been incinerated. The glare was so blinding Onua had to look away, but the others could not tear their eyes away from the sight. It was overwhelming in both its majesty and sheer horror.
A vast, swirling cloud of power hovered just above the ground, extending upward for as far as the eye could see. Spears of lightning flew from it in all directions. The heat emanating from the heart of the storm fused the sand of the plain to glass in all directions.
“It’s… incredible,” breathed Gali.
“It’s devastating,” corrected Lewa. “And we’re right in its path!”
“When it reaches full power, no living thing will be able to survive out there,” said Kopaka.
Tahu shut the gap in the hatch. “The Codrex can protect the equipment inside… but only the canisters will protect us. So it’s your choice: get into them and wait for the day we are called, or take your chances with the storm.”
The Toa of Fire looked around the room. He was far from happy about the decision he was asking them to make. But he believed what Helryx had told him and Kopaka that day on Daxia. Without Mata Nui, there would be no universe, and millions, maybe billions of lives would be lost. Against that, he had to balance the freedom of six Toa. There really was no choice.
Pohatu was the first to make a move toward the canisters. “Well, I could use a nap,” he grumbled as he climbed in. The lid sealed itself once he was safely inside.
One by one, Onua, Kopaka, and Gali followed suit. None looked happy, but at least they seemed to have resigned themselves to their fate. Onua paused before Tahu and said, “I can’t say I agree with everything that has been done… but I can guess the burden you and Kopaka have been carrying. Were I in your armor, perhaps I would have done the same.”
Lewa, on the other hand, was in no mood to be forgiving. “You knew this storm was coming all along,” he said angrily. “And you knew we wouldn’t have time to follow the Matoran out of Karda Nui. You and I are going to have a long talk, when we wake up again, Tahu – count on it.”
But there would never be any long argument between Lewa and Tahu. The special mechanism that put the six Toa to sleep in their canisters would damage their memories as well. When, 100,000 years later, they found themselves on the shore of Mata Nui, they would remember only a long and fitful sleep disturbed by dreams and nightmares. Gone would be all recollection of training on Daxia, meeting Helryx or Hydraxon, their adventures in Karda Nui, or the fate that forced them to give up millennia of their lives.
Most importantly, it had eliminated one important fact from their minds: the knowledge that, when Mata Nui awoke once more, the storm would return. And when it did, every living thing in Karda Nui would be turned to ash.