Axonn crouched down behind a low stone wall, and watched the fire and ice bolts fly by overhead. Beside him, Brutaka was peering around the crumbling bit of cover, now and then hurling a blast from his sword.
“Knock on the front door,” grumbled Axonn. “Great strategy. I think all that time in Mahri Nui left you with a waterlogged brain.”
“Oh, come on,” said Brutaka, smiling. He picked off an attacker with a bolt of energy, then winged another. “You love this, and you know it. After thousands of years sitting around on Voya Nui waiting for something to happen, you need the exercise.”
A green-fleshed Skakdi climbed over the wall, spiked club in hand. Axonn quickly made him regret it.
“This was supposed to be a nice, simple job. Go to Zakaz, find warlord Nektann, arrange an alliance between the Order and the Skakdi. Not get pinned on a beach by an angry horde.”
“Are we pinned? We’re not pinned,” said Brutaka. “Watch.”
Brutaka popped over the wall and fired an energy bolt at a half-crumbled building. Shearing through its only support, he sent the structure toppling down on a mob of Skakdi. When the dust cleared, all of them were trapped beneath the rubble.
“Now those guys, they’re pinned,” said Brutaka.
Axonn sighed. “Just like the good old days,” he said. “Now I remember why I hated them so much.”
“If you liked that idea, you’ll love this one,” Brutaka replied. Before Axonn could react, Brutaka grabbed him by the back of the neck. He dragged Axonn to his feet and stood beside him, free arm in the air. “We surrender!” Brutaka shouted to the Skakdi army. “Take us, we’re yours.”
A trader on the island of Stelt would, over the course of his life, see pretty much everything at least once. The place was a crossroads for the crooked, the desperate, and those just looking for fast money – or a deal best kept hidden from Toa. This particular trader, though, had recently seen more than he would have wished. A small group of warriors, including the hated Roodaka, had stolen one of his best ships. Worse, they had done it in such a way that no one would even believe it had happened.
Things had at last settled down, though: he had managed to find a replacement ship and recover those members of the old crew who were still alive. It was back to business as usual – at least until a 20 foot-tall dragon tore the roof off his shop.
“Where’s Teridax?” the dragon growled.
“Teridax? Who or what is that? And how would I know?” said the trader, reaching frantically for a weapon, and coming up with nothing better than a cracked Kanoka disk.
“I know Stelt,” said the dragon. “A Nui-Rama doesn’t buzz on the Tren Krom Peninsula without you scum hearing it. So I’ll ask again, where is he? Where is the Makuta of Metru Nui?”
“I don’t know! I swear it!” shouted the trader.
The dragon scooped his victim up in a great claw. “I don’t have time for this. I have places to be, and bodies to break. I want you to send out a message to all your friends, to everyone who sails in and out of this island. Tell them Miserix is back, and when I find him, Teridax is dead!”
Vezon sat in a small skiff with a jet-black sail. Trinuma sat at the bow, keeping an eye out for potential threats. If he considered Vezon one, he didn’t show it. For his part, Vezon was just happy to just be out of his cell. Prison was far too confining – but then, he guessed that was the point of it. Speaking of points, Trinuma had given him a lovely dagger. Vezon had said “thank you” by not trying to plunge it into his companion’s back.
“Where are we going?” asked Vezon. “Why are we going? Are we going at all, or just sailing in a big circle? Or is it a spiral? I went down a spiral once: a big stone tunnel that went down and down and down, and ended in Zyglak. Whoever built it had no decorating sense at all.”
“Would you be quiet?” said Trinuma. “This is a secret mission. Do you understand that?”
“Sure,” answered Vezon. “Secret mission means if you get killed, I won’t tell anyone. And you still haven’t answered any of my one-hundred and ten questions – or my follow-ups.”
Trinuma sighed in resignation. “We’re going to a place called Destral. Once we get there, your job starts. If you succeed, you live to babble another day. If you fail, you die horribly. Okay?”
“Destral… Destral… wait a minute, that’s the Makuta base! Spiriah was a Makuta, at least he was until Miserix killed him. I flew with Miserix, did I tell you that? At least until he did those loops and threw me off his back. Ocean water is really cold, don’t let anyone tell you different. So what am I supposed to do on Destral? Theft? Assassination? Running with sharp objects?”
“You have the most important job of all,” said Trinuma. “You’re going to betray the Order of Mata Nui, and the entire universe, and this is how you’re going to do it.”
* * *
The Kingdom universe…
Turaga Takanuva led Toa Takanuva out of the Coliseum and into the eastern portion of the vast city. Toa Tanma trailed along behind, not saying much. He wasn’t sure whether to be grateful another Toa of Light had arrived to help him, or upset that the Turaga didn’t think he could handle the job on his own.
They arrived at a small, narrow building in an alleyway, not far from the shore. There was no knob or handle on the outside of the front door, nor any carving to indicate who lived there. Turaga Takanuva rapped twice with his staff.
A small panel opened about halfway up the door. No eyes were visible through it, but a Matoran voice said, “What’s the password?”
Turaga Takanuva looked at the two Toa. “They’ve lived among us for ages, and still like to play at secrecy.” Turning back to the door, he said, “This is Turaga Takanuva. Open up.”
“Wrong password. Not even close.”
“Try this one,” said the annoyed Turaga. “I have a troop of Bohrok with nothing to do. If you’d like, I can have them tear down this building and turn it into a park.”
There was a pause. Then the voice said, “Close enough,” and the door swung open.
The three visitors entered a dark hallway, which twisted and turned far more than one would expect, given the size of the building. A door at the end led to a small workshop, cluttered with all sorts of armor, weapons, and other gadgets. A lone Fe-Matoran was tinkering with a nasty looking projectile launcher when they walked in. He looked up at Turaga Takanuva, surprised and annoyed.
“You know the routine,” he said. “Leave your request in the slot outside, and we’ll get to it.”
“Yes, I know that’s how you Nynrah crafters prefer to work,” Turaga Takanuva replied, making an effort to keep his temper. “But this is a crisis. I have a Toa who needs weaponry.”
The Matoran looked Toa Takanuva up and down. “Looks like his color scheme could use some work too. But… I might just have something here that could be of use.”
After a few minutes of rummaging through claw catchers, Rhotuka launchers, and parts of a Visorak battle wagon, the Matoran emerged with a tri-bladed lance. He handed it to Toa Takanuva and said, “Now, aim at that far wall. Just use a little bit of power, not even enough to singe the stone.”
The Toa took the lance, aimed it, and focused on releasing just the tiniest sample of his elemental light. The next instant, a blast of energy blew a hole the size of a Kanoka disk in the wall. “How…?” said Takanuva, looking down at the lance.
“Most Toa tools just channel power,” the Matoran said, smiling. “This one amplifies it. And if that’s not enough –”
The Matoran searched some more, this time emerging with a launcher. “We don’t have a name for this one yet, too new. Draws light from the environment and fires it as a sphere. It hasn’t been tested yet, though.”
“Fine,” said Turaga Takanuva. He turned to the two Toa. “I suggest you start right away. There’s no telling how much time we have.”
Once they were back on the street, Tanma wanted to head right for the nearest light barrier, but Toa Takanuva held him up. “There’s something I want to do first,” said Takanuva. “I want to see Matoro.”
“That coward?” spat Tanma. “If not for him, we would still have our homes, our universe. You can go see him if you like – I want nothing to do with him.”
Takanuva expected that Matoro would be living in the region inhabited by the Ko-Matoran and Frostelus. But he evidently hadn’t been welcome there. Tanma directed his new comrade to an area of what was once Po-Wahi, now home mostly to Skakdi. There, in a small hut made of stone, sat Toa Matoro.
“What do you want?” the Toa of Ice said, not even looking up at his visitor. “Go away.”
“Matoro, I…” Takanuva began. “You’re needed. You have to come with me.”
Toa Matoro laughed. It was a bitter sound. “I was needed 10,000 years ago. My destiny was before me, and I hesitated… and a universe died. So don’t try to tell me I’m needed now. Just leave me alone.”
“I heard what happened,” Takanuva said. “But I also know that, in your heart, you’re a hero. I know how hard you fought on Voya Nui, on Mahri Nui. And I know if you could have saved the universe, you would have… you would have done anything to do that.”
Takanuva, overcome with emotion, had to stop talking. Here was Matoro, who was dead in his universe, having sacrificed himself to save Mata Nui and every other living thing. Here he was, alive, but dead inside, knowing he had failed his people when it mattered most.
Matoro looked up at him. “Who are you? No one in the Kingdom talks about me that way.”
“I’m from… another kingdom,” Takanuva answered. “One where people think of you as a hero.”
“I see,” said Matoro. “Escaped from an asylum, did you?”
“Okay,” said the Toa of Light. “You want to sit here and feel sorry for yourself. You blew your chance to be a hero – well, here’s another one. Here’s a chance to show everyone you aren’t a failure or a coward. Here’s an opportunity to bring some honor to your name… do you have the courage to take it?”
“Why do you care?” asked Matoro. “I don’t even know you.”
“Maybe I know you,” said Takanuva. “Or someone very close to you. Now, come on – we have a kingdom to save.”
Tanma was not at all happy to see Matoro along, but there wasn’t time for a prolonged argument. Fortunately, the most likely problem spot was in the same area as Matoro’s hut. The area around Kini-Nui was too well traveled for Rahkshi to have emerged from there unnoticed, but the old Bohrok tunnels in Po-Wahi were out of the way and largely ignored. If the light barrier in the main tunnel had come down, it would be easy for Makuta to send legions up through those passageways.
“Why not just block the tunnels? Bring them down?” asked Takanuva.
“Pohatu and Hewkii tried that during the evacuation,” said Tanma. “The Rahkshi smashed their way through and killed them both before Tahu, Jaller and Kopaka drove them back. No, light was the only effective means of stopping them – intense light, more than their kraata could stand.”
“And they couldn’t just, I don’t know, dig their way around the barrier? Or use density control and float up through the rock?”
“They could,” Tanma agreed. “But Onua made sure the ground is warded. Any attempt to dig through it or pass through it, and we’d know.”
Matoro had said nothing. Takanuva turned and said, “What do you think?”
“I think… never mind,” said the Toa of Ice.
“What he thinks doesn’t matter,” snarled Tanma.
“It does to me,” Takanuva replied. “Tell us, Matoro.”
“Well… what if the barrier didn’t go down? What if they’ve found some way to shield themselves against the light?”
“Then we have a problem,” said Takanuva.
Cautiously, they started down the tunnel. Even this close to the surface, Takanuva could feel the chill in the air. The only light came from Tanma, who kept up a low level illumination using his Toa power. “We can’t go down too far,” he said. “There’s no heat down there and what air there might still be is foul. Most of the universe is flooded and a lot of the water has mutagen in it. So whatever did survive the end probably isn’t still recognizable…”
Takanuva glanced at Matoro. Every word that Toa Tanma said was like a dagger in his heart.
They had walked perhaps a kio when the tunnel brightened. Tanma pointed ahead to a wall of light in their path. “That’s the barrier. It’s still intact. So the problem isn’t here. Mangaia, maybe? Or some other access point we don’t know about?”
“Perhaps,” said Takanuva. “But what if Matoro’s right? What if the barrier simply isn’t stopping them anymore?”
“I don’t have time for Matoran myth,” said Tanma. “We have to check other possibilities. Are you coming or not?”
Takanuva glanced at the barrier, at Matoro, and then back at Tanma. “All right.”
The two Toa of Light started back up the tunnel. Neither noticed Matoro wasn’t following until they heard the sound of ice blasts coming from behind them. Takanuva turned and ran back down, followed closely by Tanma.
There was Matoro, battling four Rahkshi on his own. Behind them, more were breaching the barrier, each clad in armor made of deep shadow. The armor couldn’t survive the passage through the barrier, dissolving not long after making contact with the light. But it lasted just long enough to get the Rahkshi through to the other side.
Takanuva and Tanma both dropped to one knee and opened fire with their light powers. Takanuva’s power lance took out two Rahkshi, while Tanma drove a third back into the barrier, where its kraata burned to ashes. Matoro froze the fourth in a block of ice up to its head, just long enough to reach in and yank out its kraata. He threw the squirming creature on the ground and stepped on it.
“Excellent,” said a soft, sinister voice, which seemed to come from every shadow. Takanuva knew it well – it belonged to Teridax, leader of the Brotherhood. “I see that at least one of you has an imagination. Matoro, my old friend… it seems like yesterday we were teamed against the Barraki and their hordes.”
“You,” said Matoro, his voice shaking. “Why aren’t you dead? So many others died… why not you?”
“What is there left when the light dies, Toa? Darkness. Only darkness,” Makuta replied. “And I thrive in the dark. Oh, my brothers perished, one by one… Icarax was the first, driven from his body by my attack so I could possess it, his essence left to die in the cold of the void… but my hatred will not let me die. Hatred of Mata Nui; hatred of all who escaped the end of this universe; most of all, Matoro, hatred of you… you turned away from your destiny. Mata Nui was meant to cheat death… instead, I was cheated of my revenge.”
Now the Toa heard a clanking of armor, as if a colossus were coming toward them. The next moment, a 20-foot giant clad in shadow armor erupted from the barrier. As the shroud of shadow fell away, they could see their foe. He was a bizarre amalgam of the Makuta who had attacked Karda Nui and others who were unfamiliar. He was a monstrosity, now truly as ugly on the outside as his spirit was within.
“As my brothers were about to die, I absorbed them into my body,” said Teridax. “I used their mass to grow. I used their knowledge to create armor to pierce this barrier. And now your Kingdom will surrender, or it will suffocate in a sea of shadow.”
Tanma, Matoro, and Takanuva attacked. Bolts of ice and spears of light rained on Teridax’s armor, but the damage was negligible. “I have had 10,000 years to prepare for this battle,” the Makuta hissed. “You cannot win.”
“Excuse us if we try,” said Takanuva, blasting with his power lance directly at the Mask of Shadow. The blow knocked the mask off. Makuta bent to retrieve it, but Tanma was too fast, hitting it with full power and melting it to slag.
“Tanma, get back!” Takanuva shouted. It was too late. Makuta had scooped up the Toa of Light like a toy and triggered the shattering power of a Panrahk. Takanuva had to look away – it was simply too horrible to watch.
“Now do you see?” said Makuta. “You must –”
Makuta stopped dead. Then he smiled at Takanuva. “Oh, I see… oh, how intriguing. You are from… somewhere else… somewhere… where Matoro died, and Mata Nui lived. The Plan proceeds there to its inevitable conclusion. Did you flee, then, Takanuva? Did you have the wisdom to escape before my reign begins?”
“I… died?” said Matoro quietly.
“Yes,” Takanuva replied. “You did. You gave your life so billions could live. In my universe, you are considered the greatest hero ever to bear the title of Toa.”
“And here you are just one more insect to be crushed,” said Makuta, advancing. “Or perhaps… there is some other use for you. The Mask of Life still exists, and you were connected to it… you have knowledge I can use, Toa of Ice.”
A hand made of shadow emerged from Makuta’s chest, heading right for Matoro. Takanuva made a move to get between them, but the Toa of Ice hit him with a barrage of ice shards, driving him back.
“Matoro, what are you doing?” Takanuva cried out. “He’s going to kill you!”
“I should have died 10,000 years ago,” Matoro said. He stood erect, hands at his sides, waiting for the hand to seize him. “I should have saved everyone, but I didn’t. If you think about it, Takanuva, neither of us is meant to be here.”
The shadow hand took Matoro in its grasp and drew him, unprotesting, into the substance of Makuta. Takanuva got to his feet, blasting light from his power lance and shadow from his other hand, screaming, “Murderer!”
Strangely enough, Makuta did not counterattack. In fact, the colossus actually looked a bit unsteady on his feet. He took a step back, reached out an armored hand to support himself, then dropped to his knees. Both hands went to the side of his head, as he shouted, “No! My will must prevail! I am the stronger! I am –”
Then another voice came from Makuta’s mouth. It was Matoro’s! “No, Makuta. You once told the Toa Mata that you could not be destroyed, because you were nothing. You were wrong – it is because you are nothing that I can destroy you. You have no heart, you have no spirit, you have no reason to exist – even your hate is a pale reflection of what once burned in you. You survive out of habit, monster, and habits… and minds… can be broken.”
The scream that came from Makuta then was a long, loud, and strangely hollow. An instant later, the giant collapsed to the ground and lay unmoving. Takanuva edged closer, and confirmed what he already knew: Makuta was dead. Just to be sure, he used his power to send searing light to every corner of the tunnel, but there was no sign of the master of shadows’ antidermis. He had not escaped this final confrontation.
Takanuva pondered for a long time as he walked back up to the surface. Turaga Vakama had once told him that when a Makuta absorbs a body, he must crush the will of his victim immediately. Otherwise, he risks other minds intruding upon his own. Matoro had heard the same tales. He had known if Makuta absorbed him, he could fight back from within.
At one time, such an effort would have been impossible – Makuta’s will would have been too strong. But Matoro had been right. Makuta truly had nothing to live for. He survived and plotted his vengeance, but it was a hollow pursuit. He had lusted for a control of a universe, only to see that universe destroyed… and there was no place for him in the Kingdom.
Takanuva would tell the ruling council what had happened down below, and warn them to beware of any other Rahkshi who might still lurk below, clad in shadow armor. He would stay long enough to see a statue erected of Matoro, the Toa who had been granted that rarest of commodities: a second chance to make things right.
Turaga Takanuva would ask his Toa counterpart to stay, even knowing what the answer would be. In the end, the Brutaka of this universe would use his Kanohi Olmak to send Takanuva back into the space between dimensions, on his journey to Karda Nui. There was much to be done, and still a very long way to go.
* * *
At times like this, Iruini looked back fondly on his days as a Rahaga. It wasn’t so bad, being short and twisted and spending all your time chasing after Brakas monkeys. At least you didn’t have to stand on rolling decks, staring at the crazed leader of the Dark Hunters as he prepared to slaughter an entire island full of… well, not so innocent Vortixx.
“You know I can’t let you do this,” Toa Iruini said.
“I know you can’t stop me,” The Shadowed One replied, smiling. “My new partner suggested I occupy Xia… but I must have misheard. I could have sworn she said ‘destroy.’”
Iruini was about to make a smart comeback when the seas started to churn and heave. The next moment, a tidal wave big enough to swamp the entire Dark Hunter fleet rose from the ocean depths. It towered hundreds of feet in the air… and just stayed there, looming over the ships like the shadow of doom.
“Is that enough water to clean out your ears?”
Iruini turned. Standing on the bow of the ship was a Toa of Water he did not recognize, carrying a spiked mace and a shield. She was flanked by a warrior in golden armor and a four-armed giant with two long horns coming out of his head. He alone was heavy enough to almost swamp the ship. He carried a multi-bladed axe and a small object covered in a cloth.
The female Toa stepped down to the deck and marched up to The Shadowed One. Although he was taller than she, her bearing made her seem to dominate everyone on board.
“I hired the Dark Hunters for a simple task,” she said, her voice as quiet as a dying breath. “If you can’t do it…”
She held the mace aloft. The tidal wave suddenly rushed forward toward the ships, almost colliding with the flagship. It stopped dead again as she lowered her weapon.
“I’ll find someone who can,” she finished.
Iruini looked from the Toa to the obviously concerned Shadowed One, and back again. “Nice,” he said. “What do you do for an encore?”
The Toa nodded and the golden warrior vanished. He reappeared an instant later with the other five Toa Hagah in tow. They arrived to see The Shadowed One in intense whispered conversation with the Toa of Water. It ended when the Toa blasted three nearby Dark Hunters into the sea as casually as someone else might swat a gnat. Then she turned to the assembled Toa Hagah.
“Ah. Good,” she said. “I have a mission for the six of you.”
“Wait a minute!” snapped Norik. “Who are you? What’s going on here?”
“And we don’t take requests from anybody wearing a mask,” said Kualus. Then he turned to Norik and added, “Do we?”
Norik shook his head.
“My name is Helryx,” said the Toa of Water. “I run an organization you never heard of called the Order of Mata Nui. We are at war – and you’ve just been drafted.”
“And if we say no?” asked Toa Bomonga.
Helryx gave a slight smile. Her eyes darted toward the ocean off the starboard side, where the three Dark Hunters were desperately trying to tread water. Then she looked back at the Toa Hagah. “Yes, you don’t take requests, as I understand it – good thing I’m not making one.”
“What is it you want us to do?” asked Toa Pouks. Seeing Iruini’s glare, he said, “Well, it doesn’t hurt to ask.”
Helryx took a few steps closer and lowered her voice so the Dark Hunters could not overhear. “We are mounting an attack on the Brotherhood of Makuta, but their leader eludes us. Our best information is that he was last known to be inside a Maxilos robot near Mahri Nui, but where he may have gone to since then is unknown. We need Makuta Teridax found.”
“Why us?” asked Iruini.
“You’ve fought him before. You’ve beaten him before,” Helryx replied.
“And we all remember how well that turned out,” muttered Iruini.
Helryx ignored him. “If I am right, Teridax has gone somewhere no one else has ever dared to venture. Left free, he could do untold damage.”
“And just how are we supposed to track him down?” asked Bomonga. “Knock on the doors at Destral and ask if he can come out to play?”
Helryx chuckled. “There may not be doors left to knock on soon… but that’s another story. You will have a guide – someone who has generously offered to work with you in exchange for his freedom.”
The four-armed giant took a step forward, and at first they thought Helryx meant him. But instead he took the cloth off the object he carried, which was revealed to be a globe filled with water, and something else… what looked like a green sea snake with hate-filled crimson eyes.
“His name is Zaktan,” said Helryx. “He’s not as friendly as he looks. If he acts up, just haul him out of the tank and let him gasp for air a few times. That’s what I always do. And now I think it’s time you got started.”
The Toa Hagah looked at each other. One by one, each of them nodded… all except Gaaki. She was backing away, shaking her head, hands up to the sides of her mask. “Death,” she whispered. “All around… we are going to a place of death… and one of us will not return!”