Takanuva shook his head, trying to make sense of all the images that had flashed so rapidly through his mind. One image in particular had seared itself into his consciousness – the energy storm that had torn through Karda Nui when Mata Nui awoke for the very first time.
He opened his eyes to see Helryx and Krakua standing nearby. Krakua held the krana-kraata hybrid in his hand. “Now you know,” said Helryx. “We were aware the Toa Nuva would lose part of their memory in the time they spent in the Toa canisters, the better to keep our existence a secret. But we could not foresee how complete the loss would be. They are in Karda Nui now, with no idea that if they succeed in their mission, they and the Av-Matoran there will all die.”
“So there’s no hope? I can’t believe that!” said Takanuva.
“Of course there’s hope,” snapped Helryx. “Why do you think we brought you here? You are a Toa of Light, try not to be quite so dim. The key to the Toa Nuva’s survival can be found inside the Codrex, but they must have the knowledge you hold to be able to use it wisely. You must get to Karda Nui and warn them.”
“If your organization is so powerful, why can’t one of your members carry this message?”
Helryx nodded. “We have members of great power, true. But none with your ability, the mastery of light itself. Only you can battle the Makuta on even terms… while we launch an attack of our own on the Makuta base at Destral.”
Takanuva could guess what that meant. If the Order of Mata Nui attacked the Brotherhood, the resulting war might do what Mata Nui’s death had not: wreck the universe. But he sensed there was something more to the situation and his silence showed it.
Helryx looked away and spoke again. “Recent events have led the Makuta to suspect our existence. Already one of our members, Botar, has been killed. If his mental shield was somehow breached, the enemy may be tracking our other agents even now. But one Toa, alone, might be able to make it to Karda Nui.”
There was no choice, of course. If this was all some kind of trick, Takanuva had no doubt he had the power to make this Helryx pay. And if it wasn’t… the lives of the six beings he admired most were in grave danger.
“I’ll go,” said the Toa of Light. “But what about the Toa Mahri? Will someone be here to help them defend the city in my absence?”
“Oh,” said Helryx, smiling, “I don’t think that will be a problem.”
Takanuva turned to see an armored titan enter the room, dragging another along behind him. He was tall and strong, but looked as if he had been through a war. Both his armor and mask were damaged. But that wasn’t what struck Takanuva as most strange. Rather, it was the complex breathing apparatus he wore – could this being not breathe air?
“Meet Brutaka,” Helryx continued, “an Order of Mata Nui member with a somewhat less than sterling record… still, desperate times. The Mahri may need a little convincing to work with him… but I can be very persuasive.”
“And this is Dweller,” Brutaka said, kicking his white-armored captive across the floor. “A Dark Hunter planted here long ago to keep an eye on the city – and to kill you, Toa. He has a way of getting into your head… but I decided to be nice and let him keep his own.”
“Wait a minute, I’ve heard of you from the Mahri,” said Takanuva. “You betrayed your oath and almost killed two teams of Toa. It took your own partner to put you down.” He turned to Helryx. “This is your idea of help for Metru Nui?”
Helryx’s expression turned dark. “Understand something, Takanuva. We are in a war. Maybe we have been since the day the Brotherhood struck down Mata Nui. And in a war, you don’t always get to choose your allies or test them first to make sure they are good and pure enough. I would recruit Dark Hunters and Pit prisoners if I thought it would bring the Makuta down.”
“And what kind of universe would that leave you with?” asked Takanuva.
“One full of beings still free to make their own mistakes,” answered Brutaka.
Takanuva said nothing, simply looked from Brutaka to Helryx, unsure of which one he disliked more in that moment.
Krakua finally spoke up, trying to break the tension. “Brutaka will be your means of transport to Karda Nui, using the dimensional travel power of his mask. It’s faster than going by Toa canister, if a little more dangerous.”
Takanuva looked again at Brutaka’s mask. There were hairline cracks in a number of places. It was amazing it was still functioning at all. But there was no turning back now.
“I’d have to be insane to trust him,” said the Toa of Light.
“Haven’t you figured it out yet?” said Helryx, offering her hand. “You have to be insane to be a Toa at all. It’s the first requirement for the job.”
After a long moment, Takanuva reached out and shook her hand. Maybe she was right, he conceded. Maybe in a time of crisis, the old rules don’t apply – and maybe being a hero was a lot more complicated than he thought.
“Take this,” said Krakua. The object he offered Takanuva was, of all things, a sundial. “You may need it.”
Takanuva took it even as Brutaka triggered the power of his mask. A hole opened in space, its edges ragged and distorted, and its size fluctuating wildly. Taking a deep breath, Takanuva plunged into it, to begin the strangest journey of his life.
“Do you think he’ll make it?” asked Krakua as the hole disappeared with an audible pop.
“He has to,” answered Helryx. “If I am right, the Makuta have much bigger plans than just controlling Karda Nui – and we may need the Toa Nuva, if we hope to stop them. He has to get them out of the core before the energy storm consumes them all.”
“Should we have told him the rest?” Krakua said, obviously a little uncomfortable with what had and had not been shared.
“About what is going to happen to him? And what his true destiny may be?” Helryx gave a bitter laugh. “No, Krakua. If we are wrong, then it would all be for nothing. And if we are right… the truth might well drive him mad.”
Helryx, Brutaka and Krakua left the chamber then, to begin the long walk from the Archives to the surface of Metru Nui. Each knew what was about to happen: an all-out conflict between the forces of the Order of Mata Nui and the Brotherhood of Makuta.
They walked slowly towards the light high above, sure in the knowledge that what they were about to do would change the universe forever… or destroy it.
* * *
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.”