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Toa Bomonga tightened his headlock on the Tahtorak and tried to wrestle the beast to the ground. Bomonga’s Mask of Growth allowed him to reach almost the size of the creature, but he could not match the Tahtorak in sheer strength. Still, he knew a few things about leverage and pressure points that the Rahi did not.

With a roar, the Tahtorak lost its footing and slammed hard into the ground of Xia. What was left of the island city trembled from the impact. “Now stay down,” Bomonga growled, even as Toa Pouks used his power to create bonds of solid stone for the monster.

After a long battle, the Tahtorak had battered the Kanohi Dragon enough that Toa Norik’s spinners had been able to slow it down, while Toa Kualus’ ice attack finished it off. It now lay unconscious, sprawled across much of the southern district of the city. Toa Iruini had taken the advice of a Vortixx and made sure to move the creature’s leg away from the Mountain, so it wouldn’t end up a big snack for that hungry landmark.

Only Toa Gaaki stood off to the side, her eyes fixed on the ocean but unseeing. The Toa Hagah had seen her like this before. She was focused inward, using the power of her Mask of Clairvoyance to see things they could not. Now she stiffened, cried out, and turned toward the others.

“They’re coming,” she said. “Hundreds of them.”

“Hundreds of who?” asked Iruini. He considered Gaaki a good friend, but her vague predictions did have a way of getting on his nerves at times.

“Seekers of shadows,” Gaaki muttered. “Slayers of the dark… ready for war… Xia cannot stand…”

Norik walked up beside her and gently eased Gaaki to a seat on a rock. He knelt in front of her and talked to her in a whisper. Now and then she would nod her head. After a few minutes, he gestured to Kualus.

Although the Toa of Ice was no longer a Rahaga, he had not lost his bond with flying Rahi or his ability to communicate with them. Now he signaled to a smoke hawk up above and spoke rapidly in a language none of the others understood. A moment later, the hawk flew off to the west.

“How is she?” Pouks asked Norik.

“It’s been a long time since she used her power,” answered the Toa Hagah of Fire. “Or, rather, since it used her. It’s never easy.”

“What she said – seekers of shadows – what do you think it means?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” asked Bomonga, shrinking down to his normal height. “Seekers of shadows – Dark Hunters.”

The smoke hawk picked that moment to return, flying in tight circles above the island and cawing loudly. Kualus nodded twice and rushed over to his fellow Toa.

“Bomonga is right, from the sound of it,” he said. “My winged ally sees ships coming, so many they blot out the waves. And the crews are armed, my friends… it’s a battle fleet.”

Iruini had climbed up the top of one of the few spires still standing in the city. “Score one for the birdie,” he yelled down. “We have company. I’m going to check them out!”

“Iruini, wait –” began Norik.

“Wait for what?” the Toa of Air said, smiling. “I spent thousands of years as a Rahaga – now I’m back in action, and I love it!”

An instant later, the Toa of Air used his Mask of Quick Travel to teleport from the spire to the flagship of the oncoming fleet. He found himself standing on the deck, facing two powerful looking figures. A handful of armed warriors immediately moved to surround him.

“Who are you?” asked Iruini. “What’s your business in these waters?”

“My business?” asked one of the figures. “My business is profit, and that profit has been strangled for too long. And who are you?”

“I am Toa Iruini. My friends and I have just completed a mission on Xia. That island was half-levelled in the process, and let me guess – you’re here to level the other half.”

“My name is The Shadowed One,” came the reply, “leader of the Dark Hunters. Standing beside me is my loyal lieutenant, Ancient. Standing in front of me is a very foolish Toa if he thinks he can get between me and my goal.”

Iruini ignored the jab. “If you’re looking to loot Xia, there’s precious little left to steal.”

“Loot?” repeated The Shadowed One, in mock surprise. “Steal? How little you think of me. Would I muster a fleet for petty thievery? No, Toa, I have made a bargain this day with a power I never knew existed – and my new allies have asked me to ensure that Xia provides no more weapons to the enemy. They wish me to blockade or occupy the island, but I do not believe in half-measures.”

The Shadowed One smiled, an expression as cold as one of Kualus’ ice blasts. “So I am going to destroy Xia, and every last living thing on it. And if your friends are unfortunate enough to be there when I arrive… well, perhaps I will be merciful, and leave enough of them to bury.”

Iruini raised his cyclone spear. Weapons were suddenly aimed at him from a dozen different directions.

“This is my war,” The Shadowed One said softly, “and welcome to it.”

* * *

Five years ago…

Mazeka dove aside even as the acid blade slashed through the air where he had been standing. He could hear the angry hiss of centuries-old rock dissolving where the sword had brushed against it. A step slower and that would have been his armor.

He hit the ground and rolled, ending up back on his feet with dagger at the ready. Vultraz twirled the blade over his head, smiling. “You knew it had to come down to this, didn’t you?” said the crimson-armored Matoran. “Just the two of us, mask to mask.”

“This isn’t one of your epic fables,” Mazeka replied. “You’re a thief and a murderer, Vultraz. You killed an entire village of Matoran who never did a thing to you.”

“Except have something I wanted – an intact lava-gem, a rare find on the Tren Krom peninsula,” Vultraz replied. “They didn’t want to give it up… thought it appeased the volcano or some such thing, kept it from erupting… a few well-timed explosions and one sea of lava later, and they found out how wrong they were.”

Mazeka lunged. Vultraz sidestepped and hit his foe with the flat of his blade, burning an impression of the weapon into his armor. Mazeka stumbled toward the edge of the cliff and caught himself just in time. The entire mountain slope was lined with razor crystals, sharp enough to shred armor and tissue into ribbons.

“How many times do we have to do this?” said Vultraz. “When are you going to realize that you’re not a Toa… just some crazy villager who thinks he has to risk his neck fighting the bad guys? Go home, Mazeka. Go back to your little life, before you force me to end it.”

Mazeka scrambled to his feet, his back to the cliff. Vultraz was right – he was just a Matoran, with no elemental or mask power. Of course, Vultraz was too, but his old enemy had years of experience at lying, cheating and killing. Up until a few years past, Mazeka had just been a scholar trying to solve the mysteries of the universe. That was before Vultraz killed his mentor and stole valuable tablets containing the results of years of research. The two had clashed many times since then, but the tablets had never been found.

“Put down your weapon, old friend, and walk away,” said Vultraz.

“We were never friends!” spat Mazeka.

“Sure, we were,” Vultraz grinned. “All those happy years toiling away in our backward little village, trying not to attract Makuta Gorast’s attention. I was just the more ambitious of the two of us. I got out.”

“And you’ve been running ever since,” said Mazeka. “Time for it to stop, before you run into something even you can’t handle.”

Vultraz charged, swinging his blade… but not at Mazeka. Instead, he sliced away at the piece of rock upon which his enemy stood. It disintegrated before the acid and fell away. Mazeka fell, too, grabbing onto the ledge and hanging suspended over the razor crystals.

“I really don’t want to kill you,” Vultraz said quietly. “You’re a link to my past… a reminder of all the things I avoided becoming. But you keep getting in my way, and I can’t have that.”

Vultraz lifted the blade over his head and brought it down. Mazeka swung to the side, letting go of the ledge with one hand, and used his momentum to carry his legs up. He kicked Vultraz in the side even as that Matoran’s attack was carrying him forward. The combination sent Vultraz over the edge of the cliff. He never screamed all the long way down.

Mazeka looked down and cursed. It was impossible to spot Vultraz’s body so far below, but that was a mercy, in a way. Sliding hundreds of feet down razor crystals would leave precious little to see. He concentrated on trying to climb back up to safety before he joined his enemy in death.

A hand shod in ocean blue armor grabbed his wrist and pulled him up. It belonged to a warrior Mazeka had never seen before. She carried a chain mace and a shield and looked powerful enough to down a Takea shark with one blow. She wasn’t a Toa, he was almost certain, but he had no idea who she might be.

“I’m a… friend,” the newcomer said. “Never mind my name. I saw what happened here. You are very brave, Matoran.”

Mazeka shook his head. “Not brave. Lucky. And not even that… he died before telling me what I needed to know. Now I have to return to my village and submit myself to the justice of my people.”

The warrior shook her head. “Don’t fear. You did them a service and will be rewarded… and who knows who else you may have helped today?”

Mazeka didn’t answer, just walked away with his head down. The warrior watched him go. When he was almost out of sight, the face and form of his rescuer began to shimmer and change. In a moment, the mighty warrior had been replaced by Makuta Gorast. She looked at Mazeka, then glanced over the cliff.

“Yes, little hero,” she said, smiling wickedly. “Who knows, indeed?”

* * *

Now

Takanuva, Toa of Light, fell through inter-dimensional space, trying hard not to scream. A moment before, he had stepped through a dimensional portal created by Brutaka. His mission: travel to Karda Nui and warn the six Toa Nuva there of a disaster about to occur.

Somehow, though, this trip was not going as planned. Takanuva was being buffeted about, catching glimpses now and then of weird other worlds filled with beings both familiar and unfamiliar. He could guess that if he somehow wound up in one of those places, he might never find his way back to his own universe.

Suddenly, there was a jolt worse than any before. He was spinning wildly, out of control. There was an instant of complete darkness, followed by a very bright light, and then Takanuva slammed onto a rocky shore. He lay there, stunned, for a long time. When he finally lifted his head, it was to view a sight he could never have imagined.

The city before him was vast. It made Metru Nui look like a collection of stone-cutter shacks. Multiple design styles had combined to create a megalopolis that stretched for as far as the eye could see. Some of the buildings looked like ones in Metru Nui – he recognized the Coliseum, for example – others were totally strange and some almost primitive.

Takanuva glanced up at the sky. No, it didn’t look like the one over Metru Nui. It looked – oh, no, that couldn’t be, he thought. It was the same shade of blue as the one over the island of Mata Nui.

That’s impossible, he said to himself. Everyone left Mata Nui to move back to Metru Nui months ago. And Mata Nui was never this size, or filled with so many beings and buildings!

He stood up and looked around. Everywhere, he could see Matoran of all kinds hard at work. That certainly wasn’t unusual. Of course, the fact that they were working side by side with Bohrok, Skakdi, and Visorak was downright shocking.

“Hey,” said a voice from behind him. “Who are you? Where did you come from?”

Takanuva turned. A Ga-Matoran, Macku, was there. She gave no sign of recognizing him.

“I’m Toa Takanuva,” he answered. “Can you tell me where I am?”

“You’re not Takanuva,” said Macku, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “Try again… or would you rather we call the Hunters?”

“But I am Takanuva. I know I look different, but –”

“That’s for sure,” laughed Macku. “You’re a lot taller. Or have you never seen Turaga Takanuva, stranger?”

“Turaga –?” sputtered Takanuva. He recovered quickly. “Um, maybe I was a little confused. Tell me, do you know where I could find Jaller?”

“At the Great Furnace, naturally,” said Macku, suspicion in her voice. “What do you want him for?”

“I have, um, a message for him from an old friend,” Takanuva replied.

It took some doing, but he finally convinced Macku to escort him into the city, which she called “the kingdom of the Great Spirit.” The first person she brought him to was a tall, strong warrior carrying a massive axe. He looked Takanuva over for a minute, then nodded. “He’s not a shapeshifter. And he really does think he’s Takanuva.”

“Thanks, Axonn,” said Macku. “So he’s crazy then?”

“Not sure,” said Axonn. He reached out and snatched away Takanuva’s Staff of Light. “Might be better not to let him walk around the city with this. You know how the Turaga feels about citizens carrying weapons.”

They walked through the streets of the city, as shock followed shock for Takanuva. Over there were Matoran buying wares from street stands run by Vortixx; further on, a Skakdi was hawking a show, boasting of the amazing Visorak pyramid that could be seen inside for just five widgets. And on every street corner, there was the presence of law enforcers – not Toa, not even Vahki, but Dark Hunters!

Macku left Takanuva with Toa Jaller. The Toa of Fire looked the same as he always had, but he viewed Takanuva without the wariness the Ga-Matoran had. “Well, you’re obviously not Takanuva,” he said. “But as long as you’re not a Makuta in disguise, you’re welcome in the kingdom. What can I do for you?”

“Just talk to me,” Takanuva said. “Tell me about this place. Are we… is this really the island of Mata Nui?”

Jaller laughed. “Wow. I haven’t heard it called that in close to 10,000 years. Anyway, yes, this was the island of Mata Nui, but it’s a lot more than that now.”

“I see that. What… I mean, how…?”

Jaller pointed to a massive stone wall. “That’s what you want. There’s a Wall of History in every district – Kopeke made sure of that. You’ll find answers there.” Jaller paused, and then added, “You know, it’s funny. I know I never met you, but somehow you seem familiar. Why did you ask to see me, anyway?”

Takanuva thought about telling Jaller the truth. He could share all sorts of things only the real Takanuva would know. But then he decided that, at best, he would scare his old friend… and at worst, he would wind up arrested by the Hunters.

“Right. Well, I met Turaga Takanuva once, and he… um… told me what a great friend you were. He said if I was ever in trouble, to come see you.”

“Well, that’s a pleasant surprise,” said Jaller. “None of the Toa Mahri are very popular around here, even after all this time… even after how things turned out. I don’t think anyone’s even seen Matoro in five or six thousand years.”

The name startled Takanuva. Matoro was dead, killed when he sacrificed his life to save the Great Spirit Mata Nui and the universe. A theory was starting to form in the mind of the Toa of Light, and the Wall of History was where it could be proven or disproven. He thanked Jaller and hurried on.

Yes, it was all there all right. The first thing he noticed was the date – it was 10,000 years after he had left Metru Nui! But that wasn’t half as surprising as the story the carvings told.

The Toa Mahri had journeyed to the underwater city of Mahri Nui in search of the Mask of Life, just as he recalled. But after that, the story had changed. Toa Matoro – referred to in the carvings as the “Disgraced One” – had hesitated a few moments too long in his pursuit of the mask. The core of the universe had been sealed off, making it impossible for him to revive the Great Spirit Mata Nui with the mask. And Mata Nui, ruler and protector of the entire Matoran Universe, had died.

But the tale didn’t end there. The Turaga of Metru Nui had been planning for just such an eventuality. Mobilizing the Toa, the Vortixx, the Skakdi, and many of the universe’s other species, they led a mass migration to the surface over the course of a few days. The Order of Mata Nui revealed its existence and helped as well. Even as more and more beings poured from Metru Nui up to the Mata Nui, those who were already there worked to construct floating platforms to hold them all. Naturally, not everyone made it – it just wasn’t physically possible to evacuate a universe in that short an amount of time – but many did. It was obvious that only by working together could they survive on the surface, and so the concept of the Kingdom was born.

Only two species from the original universe were not represented here. The Zyglak had refused to evacuate, choosing death over accepting assistance from Matoran. The Makuta attempted to migrate, only to find their way barred by Toa Takanuva and the Order. Together, they drove the Makuta back underground, and no sign had been seen of them since. His destiny achieved, Takanuva had sacrificed his power to bring a new generation of Toa into being. These included Toa Kapura, Toa Balta, Toa Dalu, Toa Velika, Toa Defilak, and a new Toa of Light, Tanma. Takanuva had then become a Turaga and was named leader of the Kingdom in recognition of his heroism.

Things got stranger from there. Turaga Takanuva had formed a new ruling council, consisting of Turaga Dume, a prime Skakdi warlord, the Bahrag, Roodaka, the Shadowed One, Helryx, and a Nynrah Matoran. Dark Hunters had become the primary law enforcers, while Toa were put to work using their powers to help the city in other ways. First, they prevented the collapse of the original island in the wake of Mata Nui’s death. Then they created new and more stable land masses to support the city’s expansion. After 10 millennia, the Kingdom was now a mega-city and home to all the survivors of the original universe.

Turaga Takanuva and his Council ruled from the Coliseum. Toa Takanuva not only couldn’t resist paying a visit to his other self, but he needed to find some way out of here. The Wall had shown him he had not simply traveled into his future somehow. This was not his universe at all.

As he walked, he had to admit that part of him wished he didn’t have to leave. Who would have imagined that Matoro’s failure would have resulted in a paradise like this? Everywhere he looked, he saw beings of different species working side by side. Only Toa and Hunters carried weapons, but they looked like they hadn’t been used in ages.

He expected to find the Coliseum heavily guarded, but the opposite was the case. The seat of government was open to all in the Kingdom. Instead of asking to see Turaga Takanuva, though, he sent a message to Helryx. It was short, reminding her of what her original plan had been to warn the Toa Nuva about conditions in Karda Nui and asking if she could get him in to see the Turaga.

That produced results. Takanuva was escorted by Trinuma into the Turaga’s chamber at the top of the Coliseum. Turaga Takanuva was in conference with Toa Tanma and Roodaka. Resting in the center of a large table was a Rahkshi head.

“You say this Rahkshi appeared in the center of the city, near the Piraka fountain?” the Turaga said.

Roodaka nodded. “A bunch of Fe-Matoran were there feeding Avak and Thok, making plans to add iron supports to the western land mass. They spotted a Panrahk and called the Hunters, who took care of it. This is all that was left.”

“It shouldn’t have been able to get through,” said Tanma, grimly.

“Maybe it was an accident,” Turaga Takanuva offered, sounding as if he didn’t believe it himself. “Maybe one slipped through before the light barriers went up and has been hiding here all this time.”

“I wish,” said Toa Tanma.

“The light barriers are going down,” said Toa Takanuva. All three turned to look at him, startled. “I… know a little about light.”

Turaga Takanuva started to say something, then stopped. He turned to Roodaka and Tanma and asked them to leave the chamber. Once they were gone, he said, “How is this possible?”

“You know, then?” said the Toa.

“How could I not?” said the Turaga. “And Helryx has told me what she planned to do, if things had gone differently. You’re from… someplace else, I take it?”

The Toa nodded. “Someplace else, it’s true, but not someplace as peaceful. You have done an amazing job.” He smiled. “I’m proud of me.”

The Turaga shook his head. “It can’t last. Onua and the others have done all they can, but the original island cannot survive much longer. We will have to move on again, perhaps to the stars if Nuju and Nuparu’s project works. But until then, the Makuta – if they still live – must not be allowed into the Kingdom!”

Turaga Takanuva looked at his Toa counterpart from another universe, not his own. “I know this isn’t your world, and I know the message you carry is vital. But Tanma… and the entire Kingdom… could use your aid. When you’re done, we can find a way to send you back. Will you help?”

Toa Takanuva nodded. “Of course. But… I could use my Staff of Light back.”

Turaga Takanuva smiled. “Oh, that weapon went out of style 10,000 years ago. I think we can find you something better than that, old friend.”

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