The Makuta regrouped in Antroz’s cavern. Mutran had wanted to go after the Toa immediately – after all, they had just destroyed countless samples of his best work. All that was left of the shadow leeches were the ones Chirox had been examining. It would take days, maybe weeks, to get the equipment needed from Destral and regrow the leeches.

“No,” said Antroz. “Let them think they have won a battle. Let them grow overconfident. It will make their destruction that much sweeter.”

Mutran was in no mood to listen. His labors had been wiped out in an instant by a mere four Toa and some idiotic Matoran – and he knew whose fault it was.

“You!” he screamed, advancing on a frightened Kirop. “You led them to the hive! This is your failure!”

“Mutran!” snapped Antroz. “Inflict your punishments later! We have a war to win.”

“Shadow Matoran,” spat Chirox. “They are just as much a waste of space and air as they were before we transformed them. Why do we need to keep any of them alive?”

“You know why,” Antroz answered. “Matoran of Light have an unusually high potential to become Toa. If that happens, we want them to be our Toa.”

“Our Toa? Our Matoran? Why not simply give up our dreams of conquest and settle into quiet lives as very tall Turaga?” The words came from Makuta Icarax, who was standing in the passageway, his tone heavy with contempt.

Antroz seemed unfazed. “Good. You’ve arrived. I have work for you.”

Icarax laughed. “I am not seeking employment, Antroz. You called, and I came, but only to tell you I am not some Rahi for you to order about. I care not at all for you, or the Brotherhood’s precious plan.”

“Do you care about the Mask of Life?” interrupted Mutran. “I know its shape. I’ve seen the carvings, as we all have. I didn’t realize it before, but that silent Toa – the one who brought down the hive – he was wearing the Kanohi lgnika.”

“That makes no sense,” said Chirox. “Six Toa Nuva came here. Three are with us, the others are being hunted by our brothers down below. And none of them are wearing that mask!”

“Is that enough to pique your interest, Icarax?” asked Antroz, making no effort to hide the sarcasm in his voice. “We are going to lay waste to Karda Nui, seize the remaining Matoran, and kill the Toa Nuva. Make yourself useful – find that mysterious Toa and get that mask.”

Icarax swung his blade, sparks flying from it as it struck the stone wall. “Since you ask so nicely, brother, what can I say? I will return with his mask… shall I bring it with or without the head that wears it?”

Antroz turned his back on the warrior, saying simply, “Amuse yourself.”

The final attack began with lightning and shadow. Five Makuta dived down toward the last surviving village of Karda Nui, spreading darkness as they traveled until it hung like a fog over the dwellings of the Av-Matoran. Even the glow of the lightvines could be seen only dimly. Then the shroud of shadow was split by forked lightning fired by Icarax and Mutran, which struck the roofs of the Matoran dwellings.

At this point, those two Makuta split off from the rest. Antroz, Chirox, and Vamprah, along with their shadow Matoran, kept on straight for the village. Their job was to use powers that would affect a wide area to keep the Toa Nuva and Matoran penned in their shelter. As Antroz summoned a violent storm, Vamprah and Chirox blanketed the village with alternating sonic attacks and destructive cyclones. Within a few minutes, virtually no buildings were left standing. Even the lightvine barriers were shredded by the assault, leaving nothing to bar the way of the Makuta.

Only the underground shelter of the Av-Matoran remained, and that would not last for long. As Mutran used plasma to melt the exposed roof, Icarax tore the hatch off its hinges. In a matter of moments, it seemed, it would all be over.

Icarax walked confidently down the steps into the hatch, ready for anything the Toa Nuva might hurl at him – anything, that is, except what he found.

“There’s no one here!” he roared, turning back to the other Makuta. “It’s empty!” Mutran went to check for himself. He almost shoved Icarax aside, before reminding himself how unhealthy that might be. A moment later, he emerged from the shelter, as puzzled as Icarax was enraged. “He’s right. They’re gone.”

“Gone where? The swamp?” wondered Antroz, circling high above the ruined village. “Or have they abandoned Karda Nui completely?”

It was Gavla who spotted part of the answer. Perched atop Vamprah, she flew over one of the captured villages, seated atop another fallen stalactite. Her keen eyes spotted shadow Matoran bound with lightvines. Alarmed, she told Vamprah of her find, and the two flew down to investigate.

The first shadow Matoran freed told the tale. “The Toa Nuva… they struck so fast… said they were going to wait here for your attack.”

“Are they still here?” asked Gavla.

The dark Matoran shook his head. “No. As soon as they saw you heading for the Light village, they flew off, up there.” He pointed in the direction the Makuta had come.

“The caves?” said Gavla.

Vamprah struck a nearby outcropping of rock, shattering it. Then he held up one of the pieces.

Gavla immediately understood his message. “The third keystone! While we’re here, they and their pathetic Matoran are stealing it.”

Vamprah vaulted into the sky, Gavla barely hanging on. Quickly, he gathered the other Makuta and they bolted back for their cavern base. They were halfway there when massive stone missiles began to drop from the ceiling, one almost impaling Mutran.

“Hey, down there,” Pohatu Nuva called from above, even as he wrenched another huge stalactite loose from the cave roof. “This place has really gone to Karzahni since we were here in the old days. Thought it could use a good cleaning up – starting with you.”

Antroz fired a blast of heat vision at the sound of Pohatu’s voice. Kirop’s warning of what was about to happen came too late. Kopaka Nuva rocketed in front of Pohatu, catching the vision blast on an ice shield and reflecting it back. The beams punched through the armor on Antroz’s shoulder, allowing his precious energy to start leaking out.

Snarling, Chirox and Kirop flew toward Pohatu. They had almost reached him when Lewa Nuva suddenly swooped down from his perch on the ceiling, firing his Skyblaster. The sphere of light struck Kirop, knocking him off Chirox’s back. Startled, Chirox slowed for just a second. But it was long enough for Pohatu to bring the stalactite down on him like a club, sending Chirox spiraling down toward the swamp.

Lewa Nuva’s smile of triumph was short-lived. He spotted two Av-Matoran flying from the cave, eager to join in the fight. He shouted for them to go back, but it was too late. Icarax trapped them inside a powerful cyclone and then directed it toward the cavern wall.

“Do something!” shouted Tanma, flying close to Lewa. “They’ll be killed!”

Lewa concentrated, creating a whirlwind of his own in the path of Icarax’s. The two collided, the Toa’s funnel setting up a counterforce that kept Icarax’s cyclone from advancing. Shrugging, Icarax suddenly made his vanish, sending the two Matoran inside plummeting toward the swamp.

Kopaka and Solek flew after them. The Toa Nuva of Ice caught one with a chain made of ice, while Solek created a small scoop made of light to snag the other. Unfortunately, the rescue left them vulnerable to attack, and Mutran didn’t miss the opportunity. His power scream ripped through their minds, forcing them to flee or fall.

Antroz was back in the fight now, swooping down toward the shaken Kopaka. His armored hand crackled as he built up his shattering power. One touch, and the Toa of Ice’s armor would be fragments.

Pohatu spotted the danger. He hefted the stalactite like a spear and threw it at Antroz. It struck the Makuta with a glancing blow, knocking him off course. By the time he righted himself, Pohatu and Photok were on him. They flew in ever-tightening circles around him at incredible speed, Pohatu striking him on each pass, delivering a thousand blows in a matter of seconds.

Hovering nearby, Icarax smiled. It was good to see Antroz getting pounded. Served him right for not wiping out the Av-Matoran a long time ago. Still, as fun as this was, it was best not to let the Toa Nuva start thinking they could possibly win. Focusing his gravity power, he made Pohatu and Photok too heavy to speed, too heavy to fly, and sent them both falling like stones. Antroz plummeted as well.

I guess I forgot not to include my fellow Makuta as a target, Icarax said to himself, smiling. I suppose after almost 100,000 years, your memory begins to go.

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