Axonn charged across the landscape of Voya Nui, weapon at the ready. He had just spied two figures materializing in the Green Belt. One looked something like Botar, but obviously wasn’t. The other resembled a Toa, but wasn’t one Axonn knew. The first thing he had learned after being assigned to this place was subdue first, ask questions later.
The Botar look-alike spotted Axonn first, and tried to block him. A sweep of an armored fist sent him sprawling. Axonn was on top of the Toa in the flash of a heartlight, axe blade at the intruder’s throat.
“Who are you?” growled Axonn. “What do you want here? Talk!”
“My name is Krakua,” the Toa answered, trying in vain to push the axe away from his neck. “I was sent to find you. You’re needed.”
“Who sent you?” asked Axonn.
“Toa Helryx. Use your mask, you’ll see I’m speaking the truth.”
Axonn did just that, calling on the powers of his Kanohi Rode, the Mask of Truth. To his surprise, it told him that his captive was indeed being honest. He got up and let Krakua get to his feet. “You’re Order of Mata Nui, then,” Axonn said. “I see recruiting standards have slipped a little.”
Krakua paid no attention to the remark. Instead, he said, “Come with us. Your presence is required on Daxia.”
Before Axonn could object, the Botar-type had come close and activated his teleportation power. The three of them vanished from Voya Nui, only to reappear in the Order of Mata Nui fortress on Daxia. Axonn had been there before, so its appearance was no surprise to him. The sight of his former partner Brutaka was, though – not to mention the huge dragon next to him whose bulk almost filled up the great hall.
“Things must be desperate if they’re calling on an old war Rahi like you,” Brutaka said with a smile. “Oh, by the way, have you met tall, green, and gruesome here? Don’t mind the scales and teeth, but you might want to stay downwind of him.”
“Brutaka!” said Axonn. “What are you – how did you get out of The Pit?”
“They let me out early for good behavior,” Brutaka smiled. “But I’m the least of the shocking faces around here. This is it, my friend. The Order is about to come out of hiding after all these years. Helryx told me so herself.”
“What did she say?”
“Two words,” said Brutaka, his smile disappearing. “Destiny war.”
The Dark Hunter known as Ancient stood on the beach of the island of Odina. Behind him, rebuilding of the fortress destroyed by Pohatu Nuva went on rapidly. His eyes scanned the waters, watching for the return of Lariska from her mission. He was anxious to hear just what she had seen and heard.
A cry made him look up. It came from a bat-winged Rahi wheeling through the sky – one not native to Odina. He recognized the creature as one bred for long distance flying: more than once, the Dark Hunters had used them to send messages back and forth to agents on other islands. But the flying creature up above did not come from another Dark Hunter. As a half dozen more joined it, they began flying in a pattern recognizable to no one on the island but Ancient. It was a message intended for him, and one that was urgent. The time had come. He had to seek out the Shadowed One and try to make him see the only possible future for the Dark Hunters. And if the Shadowed One, his old friend, failed to see reason… Ancient would have to kill him.
Vezon paced in his cell on Daxia. Across the corridor were two great water tanks. In one swam the six Piraka, now mutated into water snakes. In the other was a bizarre-looking being others referred to as Karzahni, who seemed to Vezon to be quite insane. And Vezon knew insane.
When Brutaka’s team had first escaped the island of Artidax with Makuta Miserix, they had flown to a barren island in the middle of nowhere. After a short time, Brutaka had them on the move again, this time to a place called Daxia. Brutaka explained that the location of the island had always been a secret before, but that secrecy didn’t matter anymore.
Neither, apparently, did gratitude, as Vezon and Roodaka were both thrown into cells immediately upon arrival. Vezon, frankly, was disappointed. Sure, he had tried to steal the Mask of Life… and, yes, he had tried to kill the Toa Inika once – well, twice… and okay, he had made an effort to trade their lives to the Zyglak in exchange for his, but it’s not like that had worked. And he had volunteered – well, been forced – well, actually been threatened with bodily harm if he didn’t help, but he did aid in the rescue of Makuta Miserix. And what was his reward? A cold cell, an uncaring guard, and nothing nearby he could use to kill the Piraka. Was that justice?
His musings were interrupted by the crimson-armored Trinuma. The Order member took a long look at Vezon, shrugged and shook his head. Then he unlocked the cell door and threw it open. “It’s your lucky day, misfit,” said Trinuma. “You’re getting out.”
“I am?” said Vezon. “I mean, of course I am. Keeping a being of my brilliance locked away is a terrible waste of resources. No doubt your masters want to consult me on matters of strategy and tactics.”
“No,” said Trinuma. “I think they said something about needing someone who could die horribly without being missed. So naturally, they thought of you.”
Vezon’s addled brain processed what Trinuma said, and somehow decided it was a compliment. “Well, naturally,” he replied. “Lead on, and let me show you all how dying’s done.”
* * *
It took only minutes for Bitil, his doubles, and Onua Nuva to reach Krika’s lair deep in the swamp. There was no sign of any living being, only dead Rahi scattered about in the mud. That didn’t seem to deter Bitil, who landed on the small islet and stood, waiting.
“Krika? Show yourself.”
Onua Nuva wanted to look around to see if anyone was coming… and suddenly realized that he could. Whatever Bitil had hit him with had worn off. But he stayed perfectly still, not wanting to let the Makuta know his body was his own again.
“You never see him until the last moment,” Bitil muttered. “I hate that.”
The other Bitils nodded in agreement, all but one, who looked very confused. Now that Onua took a second look, he realized that particular version of Bitil was not an exact duplicate of the others. In fact, he was quite different in appearance, lacking the leg blades and the hideous face of his companions.
The Toa of Earth had no idea what was going on here. But whatever it was, it had started with the Makuta that had captured him. He waited until that one’s back was turned, then charged forward and caught him in a headlock. He swung Bitil around as the others surged forward.
“I wouldn’t,” said Onua. “Not if you like his head attached to his body.”
Six pairs of arms were outstretched toward Onua. Shadow energy began to gather in the palms of twelve hands as Bitil’s duplicates prepared to attack.
“What happens to you doubles if the original dies?” Onua continued. “Do you really want to find out?”
The Bitil Onua held prisoner began to laugh. Then, with a mere shrug, he broke the Toa’s grip and sent Onua sprawling on the ground in front of the duplicates. “You fool,” said Makuta Bitil. “These aren’t just doubles – they are me. They are all me. Each one plucked from my past to aid me in the present. Instant army, ever loyal, and I can call on as many as I need. See?”
As Onua rose, he saw that six Bitils had become a dozen, then two dozen, then close to 50. Some were standing, some flying, some resembled Bitil exactly and some hardly at all. But they all hated the sight of a Toa.
“Unfortunately, they – we – never seem to remember what we see in our own future,” Bitil continued. “Shame they won’t recall the moment of your death.”
Onua had made it to his knees. “Then I guess we better make it… memorable,” said the Toa of Earth.
Closing his eyes, he called upon his elemental power. Ruled by his will, the substance of the islet exploded, sending tons of mud into the air. Along with it flew Onua, rocketing up and away from Makuta Bitil and his legion.
When he felt he was high enough, he turned to see one mud-spattered enemy flying up after him. Shattered concentration had shut off Bitil’s mask power, sending his duplicates back to the past. Onua readied his Midak Skyblaster – and then discovered to his surprise that his weapon was no longer a skyblaster. It had morphed into something resembling Bitil’s launcher. Here goes nothing, then, thought Onua as he fired.
The rocket hit his foe head on, but the effect was completely unexpected. A sphere of pure energy formed around the Makuta, cutting him off from Onua. The next instant, the sphere dropped like a stone, carrying Bitil all the way back down into the swamp.
Onua banked to the right and flew off. He had to warn the others that the Makuta were here in force… if it wasn’t already too late. But how to find Gali and Tahu?
Half that problem was suddenly solved. A huge fireball rocketed into the air far to the east. That was a call for help if ever Onua saw one. Angling his wings and triggering the rockets on his armor, he headed for battle.
Gali Nuva couldn’t believe her luck. No, she hadn’t spotted the Mask of Life, but she had seen what appeared to be a keystone. The Toa Nuva had discovered some fragments of an ancient tablet in the Matoran villages up above. Inscribed on them were directions for how to awaken the Great Spirit Mata Nui. But the fragments were of no use unless all six of them could be collected and read together.
This particular stone fragment was wrapped up in the vines of a huge swamp plant. She was tempted to jet in and grab it quickly, but memory intruded. She recalled tales the Turaga told of an evil, intelligent plant called Morbuzakh that once tried to crush the city of Metru Nui. There was no telling what the plant life was like down in this strange place. Better to approach with caution.
Makuta Gorast could not believe her luck. Stuck in this miserable swamp, mutated by the waters, and no longer able to shapeshift, she had begun to question her role in the Brotherhood’s plan. Surely she was meant for something better than wading through mud, feeding off the small reserves of light in Rahi? Perhaps Makuta Icarax had been right all along… this grand Plan involved too much waiting and not enough killing.
She swiftly rejected that notion. The Plan was what mattered, nothing else, and certainly not the needs of any individual Makuta.
But now, Fate had sent her a Toa, no doubt brimming with light. She was tempted to glide in silently on her wing blades and attack, leaving this Toa of Water a corrupted husk in the end. But she had heard tales from other Makuta about how Toa were sometimes the most dangerous when they seemed most vulnerable. Better, she decided, to approach with caution.
A mini-tidal wave of swamp water smashed into the plant, shaking its thick trunk. When the wave subsided, the keystone was still firmly lodged in its tendrils. Gali summoned another fist of water, targeting it right at the spot where the stone was trapped. This time, the fragment actually moved slightly, starting to work its way loose of the plant’s grip. Another three attempts, and the stone fell to the soft earth.
Gali went to retrieve it. It wouldn’t be long now.
Gorast watched as the Toa of Water harnessed her elemental power to dislodge a piece of rock from a plant. She vaguely recalled Antroz telling her that if she saw such a stone, she should gather it up and deliver it to him. But her hunger for light had driven that order from her mind until now.
Better and better, she thought. I will drain a Toa and carry out my orders at the same time.
The keystone was finally loose, and the Toa was headed for it. Gorast dove to attack. It wouldn’t be long now.
Gali’s fist closed on the stone even as she remembered something else. It was a hazy recollection of something said to her long, long ago. She had been in a barren, unbearably hot place, she recalled. There had been a battle, and she had lost, though not to an enemy. Someone was standing over her.
“The danger isn’t always what you see,” he was saying. “Often, it’s what you don’t see until it’s too late.”
The thought made her turn. Gorast was bearing down on her. Gali didn’t bother to think, just reacted, sending a pile driver fist of water slamming into the Makuta.
Gorast spun crazily through the air, finally latching onto a tree with her four clawed hands. Hissing angrily, she rocketed toward Gali. The Toa hurled another water blast. Gorast dodged and plowed headfirst into Gali’s midsection. Gali smashed into a tree, tearing it out of the ground and sending it toppling into the swamp.
Gorast landed in the mud and raced toward the fallen Toa. Dazed, Gali still managed to throw a water sphere around Gorast’s head, cutting off the Makuta’s air. Gorast tried to shake it off, but the sphere held fast. Gali glanced at her weapon, finding it had morphed into a virtual duplicate of what Gorast carried. She banished the water sphere even as she fired, sending chains of energy coiling around Gorast like snakes.
“Surrender. Or would you rather go for another swim on dry land, Makuta?” Gali said. “That is what you are, isn’t it? Another Makuta?”
“Gorast,” said her captive. “Makuta of the Tren Krom peninsula, mistress of the acid falls, conqueror of the Visorak horde – and you are Gali Nuva, Toa of Raindrops.”
With a seemingly effortless shrug, Gorast snapped the chains that bound her. “And Makuta do not surrender… for the same reasons Toa do not kill.”
Gorast fired her Nynrah blaster. Gali dove, narrowly avoiding the shot, and fired quick bursts of water even as she slid through the mud. Gorast batted away the projectiles with her four arms and advanced. Thinking quickly, Gali increased the moisture in the mud beneath Gorast’s feet. The Makuta began to sink into the ground, weighed down by her armor. She tried to fly out, but the mud clung to her as if it were alive and hungry.
“You Makuta think we’re weak because we don’t kill our enemies,” Gali said, rising and walking to where Gorast struggled to be free. “But sometimes, killing can be a mercy. Sometimes the worst thing you can do to an enemy is let her live.”
Gorast nodded. “And sometimes the worst is to deprive your enemy of that satisfaction.” With that said, Gorast shut her eyes and plunged beneath the mud pool. Gali started forward, stunned that the Makuta was committing suicide rather than surrendering. There was no sign of Gorast, not even an air bubble breaching the surface.
“Stupid,” muttered Gali. “Didn’t life mean anything to her, even her own?”
There was an explosion of mud behind her. Gorast tore out of the ground like an avenging spirit and drove her stinger into Gali’s back. “My life doesn’t matter,” said the Makuta. “Your life doesn’t matter. Only the Plan matters.”
A huge fireball flew into the sky then, illuminating the horrible sight of a Toa’s light being drained away… if there was anyone around to see.
Tahu Nuva hated the cold. Perhaps that was why there was always bad blood between him and Kopaka, Toa of Ice. Fire brought warmth and light; it was used to forge masks and tools; it was essential to life itself. Ice brought nothing but death.
Now, as he lay in the mud, he felt a cold that reached into his very muscles and threatened to freeze them solid. He had never felt anything quite like it, not even in mock battle with Kopaka. It didn’t feel like physical cold – it was more a chill of the spirit.
Tahu opened his eyes. The first thing he saw was a long, white, vaguely insectoid leg lined with sharp, curved spikes. It shifted slightly in the mud, revealing three more just like it. Whoever they belonged to was bending over Tahu, but the Toa of Fire doubted it would wake him up gently.
Despite the cold, Tahu forced himself to roll away. Once he had put a little distance between him and his visitor, he got the chance to get a good look – and promptly wished he had not. The creature facing him had a long, narrow, white head with bony ridges extending from its brow partway down its spine. Its forelegs were very long, its hind legs shorter, and one arm held a weapon. It looked like some kind of monstrous Rahi and gazed at Tahu with crimson, hate-filled eyes.
“Once, I was like you,” the bizarre being said.
“Like me? You mean you were a Toa?” asked Tahu. He was on his feet now, weapon at the ready.
The creature laughed. It sounded like a skeleton being crushed underfoot. “No. Once I was alive like you: solid and whole, needing no one and nothing. I was Makuta Krika, my name whispered in legends throughout half the known universe. And now…”
“What changed?” asked Tahu. He had noted how softly this being was speaking, an old trick to draw a potential victim in closer. The Toa had no intention of falling for it.
“Everything changed, Tahu… oh, yes, I know who you are,” said Krika. “It changed the day Makuta Teridax unveiled his plan to conquer the Great Spirit and we fell into step behind him – some out of fear, some out of greed, some for… other reasons.”
Krika shrugged, the wickedly sharp ends of his forelegs rising out of the mud for just a moment before sinking back in. “Our great Plan. It has cost the Brotherhood of Makuta much time and treasure. It has cost me far more.”
“Why are you telling me all this?” Tahu asked.
“Do you know why the Brotherhood of Makuta hates Toa so much?”
“I could think of lots of reasons,” Tahu replied.
“It’s because you are what we could only pretend to be, once upon a time: heroes who do good for no reward. You are given freely the honor and acclaim that could never come fast enough for us. And so we call you fools, and worse, and slay you… because we cannot be you.”
“Am I supposed to feel sorry for you?” snapped Tahu. “After all the evil you and your kind have done? I don’t think so. Share your burdens with someone who cares.”
Krika shrugged again. “I simply thought that you would want to know…”
The temperature suddenly dropped sharply. This time, Tahu felt as if the energy was being drained from his body. Too weak to stand, he fell into the mud.
“…Why it is you have to die,” finished the Makuta.
The world was starting to spin around Tahu. He was going to have time for one action, and if it didn’t work, he would be a dead Toa. With enormous effort, he raised one arm and hurled a huge fireball straight and high into the air. He could only hope Gali or Onua would see it in time.
Krika glanced up, his eyes following the flight of the fiery object. He smiled, but it was a sad smile, for he knew Toa all too well. Tahu’s flare would bring more running to their deaths. They were doomed.
And perhaps, thought Krika, that is the one thing I have in common with my foes.