1

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.

“You know?”

“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…

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.

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