In her time, Gorast had taken some pretty hard blows. Some brute named Krekka once tried to stop her from going where she wanted to and made his case with a solid shot that sent her through a wall. (He paid for that, in full, not too long after.) Then there was the time she had been on the wrong end of a Tahtorak charge.
But nothing before could equal Onua Nuva seizing her, lifting her high into the air, and slamming her down with every bit of force his own power and the Mask of Strength could afford him. Even for the raw might of a Makuta, the world spun.
“Stay down while I check on Gali,” Onua said, his tone that of an earthquake about to erupt. “And if she’s hurt, so help me, I will send you back where you came from in pieces…”
Onua took a few steps back so he could keep an eye on Gorast while looking to his fallen friend. Gali was still breathing and didn’t seem badly hurt, only dazed. Whatever this thing was – another Makuta or some form of Rahi beast – and whatever it had been doing when Onua arrived, it evidently had not gone too far.
Gorast hadn’t moved, just lay in the mud eyeing Onua with… rage? No, the Toa realized, it was something else. Something far more disturbing: hunger.
Onua got Gali to her feet. Gorast scrambled to hers at the same time. “Be careful,” whispered Gali. “She’s dangerous.”
“You are Onua, aren’t you? The wise one?” hissed Gorast. “Brilliant and strong, yet never the leader – always forced to follow the orders of fools like Tahu. The Brotherhood would make you a king. You would have all of Metru Nui to rule, Toa… all you have to do is stand by my side.”
“My armor’s black,” Onua replied. “That doesn’t mean my heart is as well. The answer is no.”
Gorast surged forward. Onua met her with a geyser of mud summoned from the ground. As she fought her way through that, he scooped Gali up in his arms and flew, heading toward where the fireball had been. He had to find Tahu so the three of them could stand together.
Gorast took off after him. She knew full well where he was going and wasn’t worried at all. The light of three Toa would be a feast to long remember.
Tahu’s mind raced even as his body’s energy faded away. He had managed to figure out what was happening to him. Krika drained energy from his victims. If there was no one nearby, he took it from the environment. That explained the temperature drops that accompanied his appearances. Now Tahu just needed to figure out a way to stop him.
Temperature… heat… cold… that’s the key, he thought. Wherever he goes, the air turns cold… if that’s what he’s used to… maybe I should serve up a little baked Makuta.
Flame was beyond his abilities just then, but Tahu could still generate heat. He poured what remained of his energy into the ground, willing the soil and water to grow searingly hot until the mud was boiling. Krika gave out a cry of pain and then turned intangible. He drifted above the seething cauldron that a moment before had been just a mere spot of soft ground in a vast swamp.
Tahu didn’t care that Krika had escaped. All that mattered to him was that the drain on his energy had stopped. Maybe it was the burns, maybe it was changing to his ghostly form, but Krika’s mealtime was over.
The Toa of Fire glanced up and saw more good news. Onua and Gali were on their way. True, they had two vicious-looking creatures on their tails, but the sight of his two teammates was still the best thing he had ever seen.
Tahu absorbed the heat of the ground back into himself long enough for Onua and Gali to land. Krika floated above the three of them while Onua’s pursuers circled like Nui-Rama wasps. Tahu forced himself to rise and used his mask power to throw a shield around the three Toa Nuva.
“I see you brought company,” he said to Onua.
“It couldn’t be helped. Gali has been weakened, and you don’t look too well yourself.”
“My shield will take a few blasts, and then…” Tahu replied. His eyes were suddenly drawn to something in the sky. “Wait, what’s that?”
Onua turned to look and noted that all three Makuta were doing the same. What they had spotted was another Makuta, Chirox, plummeting from the sky. He obviously wasn’t in control of his flight. Onua guessed he had been on the receiving end of a solid blow from one of the three Toa Nuva battling in the skies above.
Gorast, Bitil, and Krika reacted immediately, flying or floating to intercept their brother. It seemed the perfect time to make an escape, although with Tahu and Gali both low on energy, Onua wasn’t sure how far they would get.
“This way,” said a small voice off to the left. “Come this way, now.”
Onua saw that the voice came from an Av-Matoran. The figure was beckoning to the Toa through some swamp foliage. “I can take you to safety,” the Matoran said.
The Toa Nuva of Earth knew it might be a trap, but at this point, he had to take a chance. Tahu nodded his assent, and the three heroes followed the Matoran deeper into the swamp.
They ended up in a small clearing surrounded by lightvines, the plants the Matoran of Karda Nui used as protection against the Makuta. Natural light producers, the vines were painful for the masters of shadow to come near. But what struck the three Toa was what lay on the ground – the bodies of at least a dozen Matoran, all apparently in the midst of some strange transformation.
Onua started to rush toward the fallen villagers, but the Matoran who had guided them there blocked him. “Don’t interfere. It’s their time, just as it will soon be mine.”
“Their time? For what?” said Gali, pushing past Onua and the Matoran. She rushed to the nearest villager. What she saw made her gasp and take a step back.
The Av-Matoran’s body was changing before her eyes. Muscle tissue and lung tissue were dissolving, being replaced by metallic protodermis. The shape of the body was changing too, becoming bigger and broader, even as the normal features of a Matoran rapidly disappeared. But that wasn’t what shocked Gali and the other Toa Nuva. No, it was that they recognized all too well what the Av-Matoran were transforming into.
“Bohrok,” whispered the Toa of Water, shaken to her core. “By the Great Beings, they are turning into Bohrok!”
Krika was the first to notice that the Toa Nuva were gone. Bitil and Gorast wanted to immediately pursue, but Krika waved them off. “Where can they run to? You know as well as I that they cannot leave the swamp without this,” he said, raising his foreleg to reveal a keystone embedded between his spikes. With a casual movement, he tossed the stone to Bitil.
“What if they don’t find the other five?” asked Gorast.
“They will,” answered Krika. “They will because it’s difficult, dangerous, and perhaps impossible to do… and because they are Toa.”
“Be careful, brother,” said Bitil. “You are starting to sound like you admire them.”
“I respect them and their power,” corrected Krika. “You would do well to do the same. We have swept down like a plague and exterminated Toa wherever we found them. Those who have survived have learned to turn any mistake by a foe into a chance for victory.”
“Then be careful,” said Gorast, leaning in close and locking her gaze on Krika. “Be very careful that you make no mistakes, brother – not now, not when a universe is almost in our grasp.”
Krika triggered his mask power. The Kanohi Crast, or Mask of Repulsion, sent Gorast hurtling away from him at high speed. She smashed into a nearby stalactite with a sickening thud and hit the mud, dazed.
“I am always careful,” said Krika. “And that is how I have survived.”
Bohrok. It was a word the Toa Nuva had heard all too often over the last year, and one they had hoped not to have to hear again.
Shortly after their arrival on the besieged island of Mata Nui, the Toa had been faced with a swarm of the insectoid mechanical beings. The Bohrok cut a path of destruction across the island, annihilating forests, mountains, rivers, and anything else that was in their path. It took a desperate effort by Tahu and his team to slow them down and eventually defeat the queens of the swarm. Only recently had the Toa discovered that the Bohrok did serve a benevolent purpose, and the heroes themselves ended up making it possible for them to be unleashed again. Just why the island of Mata Nui needed to be “cleansed” of so many of its natural wonders, the Toa still did not know.
Now, here they stood, watching what had once been a dozen Matoran of Light rise from the earth as new Bohrok. They lacked krana, the small creatures that provided direction for the mechanoids, but in other respects, they looked like every other Bohrok the Toa had ever encountered.
“This is insane,” said Gali, horrified. “It can’t be true… were all the Bohrok we fought once Matoran?”
“Maybe it’s not so farfetched,” answered Onua. “I remember reading a theory in the Metru Nui Archives that the Bohrok had once been bio-mechanical life and evolved into fully mechanical, artificial life. Isn’t that what we just saw happen?”
“It is the way of things,” said their Matoran companion. “As the first Bohrok sprang from the first Av-Matoran, so shall the next generation spring from among us. As Bohrok, we serve the will of Mata Nui just as you do. From being merely beings you must protect and look after, we become truly your brothers.”
“Of course,” muttered Tahu. “When we attacked the queens of the swarm, remember… they asked how we could dare to oppose our ‘brothers.’ We never suspected…”
Before Gali’s still startled eyes, the twelve Bohrok faded away. “Where have they gone?”
“To join the others and be fitted with the krana that will guide them the rest of their lives,” the Matoran replied. “They now have a new role to play… as do you. And yours requires this.”
The Matoran dug into a pouch he carried and produced a keystone. He handed it to Tahu. “You will need all six to enter the Codrex. Once there, you will know what needs to be done.”
The Matoran gestured back the way they had come, toward the strange spherical structure Tahu had discovered. “The place of your beginning… and your probable ending.”
Tahu wanted to ask him more questions, but the Av-Matoran had begun to transform. In a matter of moments, the intelligent being before him had become a mechanized Bohrok. Then it was gone, transported by some unknown means to one of the many nests beneath the island of Mata Nui. And it wasn’t the bizarre sight of this change, or even the revelation of the Matoran-Bohrok connection that left Tahu feeling strangely empty – it was the realization that he had never thought to ask the Matoran his name.
And now, he no longer has one, thought the Toa of Fire grimly. Another sacrifice in the name of the Great Spirit… and why? Does Mata Nui have so grand a purpose in life that it warrants so much loss? Or are we all so small in his eyes that he doesn’t even notice when one of us is gone?
Dark thoughts for a dark place, he decided. Tahu sensed a vague memory, buzzing around in the back of his mind like a fireflyer. Someone was speaking to him, a very long time ago, and saying something that would prove to be all too true: “This universe, like all others, demands a price from its heroes.”
Tahu understood what that meant. But as he looked around at the now empty swamp-land, he wondered again why the price had to be quite so high for quite so many.