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?”
Sometimes, a being does something so completely unexpected, so totally surprising, that it shocks even them. On this day, that being was Vultraz – and what he did was wake up.
After falling off a cliff, Vultraz fully expected to be very dead. Instead, he was lying on a slab in a darkened chamber, being tended to by… well, they were Rahi of some kind, and he preferred not to know just what type or why they were prodding him. He wondered if he had somehow survived the fall, only to be dragged off by wild animals as an evening snack.
He tried to move, thinking maybe he could make a quick escape. But his arms and legs were tied down with some kind of vines. These were either really intelligent Rahi, or else there was someone else involved.
That someone else chose that moment to walk in. Vultraz gasped. He had only caught a fleeting glimpse of her a few times, but he knew Makuta Gorast just the same. He tried to pretend he was still unconscious, even though he knew it would not fool her.
“I can read your thoughts,” the Makuta hissed. “And your fear, little Matoran. But you have nothing to be afraid of… you are safe here.”
If he had dared, Vultraz would have laughed. No one knew what happened to Matoran who wound up in Gorast’s clutches, but there were plenty of rumors. Each of them was worse than the last and some were downright revolting. Vultraz had done some pretty bad things in his life, but he was a cuddle-Rahi next to Gorast.
“If that were true, I would have let you fall, instead of having Rahi there to save you,” Gorast said. “True, you were damaged… badly… but you survived.”
“Why…?” Vultraz stopped. His voice did not sound like his voice. He looked down at his hands – the armor on them was completely different. What had happened here? What had she done?
“You are well known on the peninsula,” Gorast replied, once again reading his thoughts. “Too well known for my purposes. But your enemy is busy spreading the word of your death, and the changes I have made will ensure no one will recognize you.”
“Just… just what is it you want me to do?” Vultraz asked, already knowing he wouldn’t like the answer.
“I want you to find a Matoran for me,” said Gorast. “A Matoran named Krakua… and when you find him, here is what I want you to do…”
Mazeka returned to his village, bringing word of Vultraz’s fatal fall. Some greeted him as a hero, though he did not feel like one. He had failed to regain what Vultraz had stolen, failed to capture him – and while the Ta-Matoran’s death brought his evil to an end, it was still not something he could bring himself to celebrate.
He was seated alone in his hut that night when someone rapped on the door. When he opened it, there was no one there. Annoyed, he slammed the door and went back to his sleep mat. It was then that he noticed the chair in the center of the room had moved out of position. He went to move it back to where it was, and found he couldn’t – it was as if it were rooted to the ground.
“I wouldn’t do that,” said a deep, rasping voice. “You’re only going to hurt yourself.”
Mazeka jumped back a good four feet. There was no one else in the room, but someone was talking to him. He grabbed a weapon and spun around. “Who’s here? Show yourself!”
“Ah, if only I could,” the voice replied. “Unfortunately, not every experiment has happy results. By the way, the only thing you will get from spinning is dizzy. I am in the chair.”
“Who are you?” demanded Mazeka, half-convinced he was just hallucinating the whole thing.
“My name is Jerbraz, once one of the most handsome and dashing members of my little circle of friends… that is, back when I could be seen. Now I have to rely on my charm alone to make an impression… that and this nasty sword that conveniently turned invisible with me. If you see someone’s head just suddenly go flying off for no reason, it’s not your imagination.”
Mazeka backed up against the wall, trying to get as far from the chair as he could. “Is that why you’re here? To kill me? But I’ve done nothing to you.”
“No,” Jerbraz replied. The chair moved back, as if he had risen and pushed it away. “But you did do something quite permanent to a foul little fellow named Vultraz. And the people I work for appreciate that kind of initiative. We want to hire you.”
“Who do you work for?” asked Mazeka, still not fully willing to accept the reality of invisible beings offering jobs.
“If I told you, and you declined the offer, I would have to… well, you know. So I guess you will just have to accept or reject…” Jerbraz gave a low chuckle. “…Sight unseen.”
“Then can you tell me what the job is?” said Mazeka.
“Yes,” replied Jerbraz. Mazeka could tell his visitor was standing right beside him now. An instant later, he felt an invisible hand resting on his shoulder. “It’s stopping people like Vultraz – there are more of them than you might think – and protecting their would-be victims. Specifically, to start with, one potential target – a Matoran named Krakua.”
Mazeka thought about Vultraz, all the evil things he had done, all the people he had harmed. If there were others out there like him, stealing and killing and ruining lives, how could he turn down a chance to stop them?
“All right,” said the Matoran. “As long as I don’t have to turn invisible too… I’m in. Just tell me what I have to do…”
* * *
Plunging through the void between dimensions, Takanuva, Toa of Light, could hardly believe what had happened to him in the last day.
While patrolling the shores of Metru Nui, he had been attacked by a creature he later learned was a shadow leech, and barely survived. When he awoke, he discovered that his light had been partially drained, leaving him with the ability to fire light from his left hand and shadow from his right.
His rescuers turned out to be members of a secret organization called the Order of Mata Nui, who tasked him with a vital mission: he was to bring important information to the Toa Nuva in Karda Nui, and if he failed, the six Toa were surely doomed.
The fastest way to get him there was using the power of a Mask of Dimensional Gates, worn by reformed member Brutaka. But the mask was ever so slightly damaged, and the ride had already been a rough one.
A circle of light opened ahead of him. He plunged through it, hoping he had reached Karda Nui in time. Instead he landed flat on his mask in the familiar surroundings of the city of Metru Nui. Or was it familiar? The city was intact and beautiful as it had been when he’d left, but something was odd. There were statues of Toa everywhere: Tahu, Gali, and the others, but not in their Nuva forms – as they had been before they transformed.
There were other statues too, of Toa Takanuva did not recognize, and looming over them all was a massive sculpture of a Kanohi mask – the Mask of Intangibility. How long have I been gone? wondered Takanuva. And who decided to redecorate?
He spotted a Matoran he knew well, Kapura, scurrying quickly through the street. Takanuva stepped in front of him and said, “Wait, friend! I don’t think I’ve ever seen you run before. What’s the hurry?”
Kapura looked up at him. There were shock and fear in the Matoran’s eyes, but no recognition. “Forgive me, great Toa!” he said so fast the words tumbled over themselves. “Was I not running fast enough? I promise I will try to do better!”
“Kapura, it’s me! It’s Takanuva! What’s come over you?”
“Nothing, nothing!” insisted Kapura. “All is well, great Toa! For how could it be anything else with such wise and benevolent leaders?”
“Alright, I’ve had about enough of this,” said Takanuva. “Where’s Turaga Vakama? Where are the Toa Mahri?”
“I don’t know who you’re talking about,” insisted Kapura. “Let me pass, please, before –”
The temperature suddenly dropped all around. The next moment, Kapura was locked in a foot-thick shell of ice from his neck down. The Matoran cried out from the intense cold.
Takanuva looked up, only to see Tahu and Kopaka standing nearby, frost still drifting from the sword of the Toa of Ice. “Tahu! Kopaka! Thank the Great Beings you’re here!” said Takanuva. “Something’s wrong with Kapura, maybe with the entire city!”
“The only thing wrong here, stranger, is you,” said Tahu. “Who are you? Why are you here? Where is your identity tablet?”
“I-I’m Takanuva! I live here! You know me – and I don’t know what an identity tablet is!”
Kopaka raised his sword and unleashed a hail of ice at the shocked Takanuva, knocking the Toa of Light to the ground. Standing over him, Kopaka held the point of his sword to Takanuva’s neck. “Well, Takanuva – if that is your name – you are now a prisoner of the Toa Empire, against which you have committed an act of war.”
Tahu and Kopaka dragged a protesting Takanuva to the Coliseum. Vahki guardians saluted and stepped aside to let the Toa enter. Wordlessly, they hauled Takanuva through winding corridors, finally tossing him into a cold, dark cell.
“Make yourself comfortable,” said Tahu. “Someone will be back for you when Toa Tuyet is ready to question you in a day, or a week.”
“If this is some kind of a joke, it isn’t funny anymore,” said Takanuva. “What is going on around here?”
But Tahu and Kopaka had already walked away.
“What’s going on, stranger, is that you came to the wrong place at the wrong time,” said a weak voice behind Takanuva.
The Toa turned, surprised to find he was not alone. Hanging on the wall from chains around his wrists and ankles was a Matoran. Using the merest fraction of his light power, Takanuva illuminated the cell. He stumbled back against the cell door in shock. The imprisoned Matoran was none other than Takua – a fact that seemed impossible since Takanuva had been Takua before becoming a Toa.
“This is insane!” said Takanuva. “You’re me – I mean, I’m you – how…”
“I see,” said Takua. “You’re not one of the smarter ones. You wouldn’t happen to know how to pick a lock, would you?”
Takanuva shook his head. If this was a dream or an illusion, it was a whopper. But just in case it wasn’t, he fired a thin beam of laser-light from his left hand and sliced through Takua’s chains. A quick move let him catch the Matoran before he fell to the stone floor.
“That’s a neat trick,” said Takua. “So what are you in for?”
“I-I don’t know,” said Takanuva. “I’m not even sure where I am.”
“Metru Nui, City of Legends,” said Takua. “Of course, these days all the legends end with ‘And the Toa crushed anyone who got in their way.’ Or, in my case, spent more time wandering than working. When the Vahki treatment didn’t take, they put me here.”
“I can’t believe this,” said Takanuva, “Tahu and Kopaka insane or worse, Matoran jailed, and me sitting here talking to myself. Listen, where’s Gali?”
“In Ga-Metru, of course,” the Matoran replied. “She and Karzahni run the re-education center.”
“Listen, umm…” Takanuva paused, unable to bring himself to say the name ‘Takua’. “What happened here? How did things get so crazy?”
“It was about 3,500 years ago now,” said Takua. “Toa Tuyet tapped into the power of something called the Nui Stone, which gave her the power of maybe a hundred Toa. When Toa Lhikan tried to stop her, he got killed by her and his traitorous friend, Toa Nidhiki. And that’s it. Tuyet took over Metru Nui and convinced the other Toa it was their destiny to smash anyone who posed a threat to the Great Spirit. That meant everyone from the Makuta, to the Dark Hunters, to Toa who didn’t seem enthusiastic enough, and Matoran who didn’t work quite hard enough.”
Takanuva suddenly reached up and took off his mask of power. Before Takua could protest, he had placed it on top of the Matoran’s mask. Nothing happened. Takua tore the Mask of Light off, saying, “What are you trying to do, smother me?”
“Just testing a theory,” said Takanuva, rising and putting his mask back on. “Come on, we’re getting out of here.”
“And go where?” asked Takua.
“We have a date in the Archives,” the Toa of Light answered. “Or rather, below them. And here’s hoping Vakama’s stories about what’s down there – who’s down there – were all true.”