One of the peculiar things about a Skakdi warlord’s base is the lack of any kind of a dungeon, torture chamber or prisoner of war camp. History has shown that there’s very little point in torturing a Skakdi, as they never talk except in trade – usually for their freedom, which few captors will agree to. And keeping prisoners means listening to them whine for trivial things like food, water, and a good-sized club to use on the stone rats who keep paying midnight visits.
So when Brutaka and Axonn were marched into warlord Nektann’s camp, no one seemed quite sure what to do with them. Killing them immediately came to mind, but then it would be impossible to find out why they were on the island to start with: unlike the famed Necrofinch of the Zakaz mountains, most beings did not continue to sing after they were dead. It was Axonn who insisted they be brought before Nektann himself. Nektann was larger than the average Skakdi, or at least appeared so sitting on his throne made from the fused weapons of his foes. He was accompanied by his pet, which looked like a Muaka cat covered in spiked armor.
Nektann, ever the gracious host, asked them if there was anything to say before he had them painfully disassembled.
“Yes,” said Axonn. “The Brotherhood of Makuta.”
Nektann spat on the ground. The Muaka growled. “What about them?” asked the warlord.
“We offer you a chance to sack their fortresses, loot their weapons and slay their warriors,” Axonn said.
“We’d throw in ‘Make their women weep,’ but have you ever seen a female Makuta?” added Brutaka. “It’s not pretty.”
“Why should I listen to you when it would be so much quicker and easier to throw you into the Tahtorak pens?”
“Because we’ve already been to see the other warlords of Zakaz,” lied Axonn. “What, did you think we would come to this puny hole first? They have all agreed to ally with us. If you refuse, you can sit on your petty throne and watch as they grow rich and powerful.”
Nektann frowned, the only expression uglier than a Skakdi smile. No self-respecting warlord wanted to be left out of a chance at glorious battle, and even more glorious loot. In the end, he nodded.
“Why did you tell him we had talked to the other warlords?” whispered Brutaka. “We still have to go to all their camps and talk them into an alliance.”
“That’s a lot of work.” Axonn agreed. “So I guess you better get started.”
Toa Mahri Jaller stood in the center of Metru Nui, gazing up at the statue of the late Matoro. It had been constructed by Turaga Onewa himself as a tribute to the fallen hero. It was good to know his comrade was remembered and always would be, but it did little to dispel the grief he felt over his death. He had to admit, thoughts of Matoro distracted him. When the other Toa Mahri left to search the city for Takanuva, he chose to remain behind. When they returned, reporting that there had been no sign of the Toa of Light, he hardly paid any attention. It still troubled him that the Toa Mahri had been unable to fulfill their destiny without losing one of their own.
Behind him, he could hear the other Toa in conference. Metru Nui was quiet for now, with the Kardas dragon subdued and most of the other Rahi back in the Archives. Still, the heroes could never relax. Who knew where the next threat would come from?
There was a sudden flash of light. When Jaller could see again, six Toa stood in front of him. He didn’t recognize any of them. Instinctively, he readied his weapons.
“Welcome to Metru Nui,” said Jaller. “And who are you? Why have you come here?”
One of the newcomers, a Toa of Fire, also stepped forward. “My name is Norik, of the Toa Hagah. I ask you and your teammates to stand aside. We have no wish to see anyone hurt while we carry out our task here.”
“The Toa Mahri stand aside for no one,” said Toa Hewkii, stepping forward. “Tell us your business here or be considered our enemies.”
“Our business?” said Norik. “It is as simple as it is terrible. We have come to destroy the Coliseum.”
Vezon landed hard on the stone floor of the Makuta fortress of Destral. He had been captured by Rahkshi less than two minutes after Trinuma had dropped him off on the shore of the island. Vezon had never met a Rahkshi before and found he disliked them. Most beings had a scent, either pleasant or unpleasant – Rahkshi smelled of cold metal and death.
The Makuta who came to greet him wore armor of purple and crimson. Although Vezon was polite enough to introduce himself, the Makuta did not bother to share his name. Vezon was tempted to complain about this, but the spear at his throat – the one dripping acid – convinced him to save it for another time.
“Who are you?” said the Makuta. “What are you? And how came you here?”
“My name is Vezon, your darkness, and I was brought here by an agent of a power that wishes you and your brotherhood harm. They wanted me to come and tell you that they exist, and plan to attack this island – but I’m not going to do that, no no no!”
“You just did,” said the Makuta. Behind Vezon, three Rahkshi moved a little closer, staffs at the ready.
“Well of course I did, but only to tell you that I won’t,” said Vezon, exasperated. How could this being hope to conquer the universe and yet be so slow? “It’s all a trick, you see. They want me to pretend to betray them. They want you to concentrate your forces here against an attack that won’t come. But I decided, why pretend to betray them when actually doing it would be so much more fun?”
The Makuta grabbed Vezon by the throat and slammed him against the wall. “Speak, fool! And let only truth and clarity come from your mouth if you wish to continue having one.”
“Truth and clarity… Truth and clarity… I don’t think I know them,” answered Vezon. “Will you settle for ‘white-lipped and trembling?’ This Order of Mata Nui – it plans to amass an army and a navy, threaten Destral, force you to teleport it away from where it is now and then…” When Vezon did not continue speaking right away, the Makuta tightened his grip.
“Alright, alright! I was only pausing for effect. They have a spy inside this fortress: they’ve sabotaged your means of teleportation. When you try to use it again… well, I wouldn’t start reading any long tablets, let’s put it that way. And now that you know, tell me: what are we going to do about it?”
* * *
Toa Iruini dove for cover, barely dodging Toa Hewkii’s chain. Not far away, Norik was locked in a stalemate with Jaller, while Bomonga was having a hard time even finding the stealthy Nuparu. All in all, it was not one of the Toa Hagah’s better days.
They had hoped that their return to Metru Nui – the city they helped save when they were Rahaga – would be a joyous one. Instead, they were here on a mission from a shadowy organization called the Order of Mata Nui. Their goal: track down the missing Makuta Teridax before he could execute the final stages of his Plan.
Unfortunately, that was not as easy as it sounded (and it didn’t sound that easy). They had been saddled with a mutated Piraka, Zaktan, they had to carry around in a water-filled sphere. His information was that Teridax would be heading to an inaccessible spot below the Metru Nui Coliseum. As antidermis, he could slip through cracks too small even for Norik to make through with his Mask of Shrinking. The only way to follow him would be to shatter the foundation of the Coliseum, which would bring the structure down.
Needless to say, popping in and saying, “We’re here to wreck your most important building” had not sparked joy in the Toa Mahri. Given Takanuva’s recent unexplained disappearance, they were on edge to start with. This just set them off.
Hewkii swung his chain again. This time Iruini grabbed it in midair and yanked the Toa of Stone forward. At the last moment, Iruini sidestepped, letting his opponent slam into a rock wall. “Stone, meet stone,” muttered Iruini. “Now will you listen?”
Toa Kualus had teamed with Bomonga in an effort to pin down Nuparu, whose Mask of Stealth made him almost impossible to spot. A hastily created snowstorm revealed the Toa Mahri of Earth, but finding him and stopping him were two different things. Sixty feet in height just made Bomonga an easier target and a barrage of earth kept him off-balance.
Kualus frowned. He remembered these Mahri when they were Matoran villagers. He understood their suspicion and hostility, given the circumstances, but if this kept up, someone was going to get hurt. This called for drastic measures. Summoning the power of his Mask of Rahi Control, he touched the mind of a massive Rahi dwelling in the Archives not far below. In response, a huge claw smashed its way through the pavement and grabbed Nuparu.
“Let him go!” shouted Toa Hahli, blasting Kualus with a powerful jet of water. Even as he staggered from the impact, Kualus realized what was about to happen. The creature had been roused by his mask power, but his concentration was now broken. The Rahi was no longer under his control.
It erupted from below ground in a shower of rock and earth. Well over 60 feet high, it scanned the battlefield with its three heads. Muted light from the sunholes reflected off its brown scales as it spread its batlike wings. Its cry of triumph shattered crystal structures as far away as Ko-Metru.
The word “Toa” means “hero” in Matoran. And one of the characteristics of a hero is the ability to put aside personal feelings in a crisis. Thus it was that the Mahri and the Hagah forgot their fight in the face of this monstrosity from below. Still reeling from Hahli’s blow, Kualus could not reassert control. But Jaller and Norik had already discovered the beast feared fire, and their twin blasts drove it back toward the barren plains of Po-Metru.
The creature wasn’t about to go quietly. It hurled Nuparu through the sky at deadly speed. Hewkii whirled and used his Mask of Gravity as he never had before, applying just enough power to slow the Toa of Earth without ripping him apart.
Bomonga, still at his maximum size, landed a rain of blows on the Rahi. He might as well have been a Toa of Water summoning a light spring rain for all the good it did. Now it was Kongu and Iruini’s turn, as they combined their air power with the powers of the Toa of Fire to create a swirling tornado of flame.
The Rahi was directly in the eye of the storm, which was so hot it melted nearby mountains into slag. It roared and attempted to fly out of the trap, but its wings were already blazing. Finally, overcome by the heat, it toppled over. The impact shook the ground for kio around.
Eleven weary Toa stood around the unconscious beast. Already, Onu-Matoran would be on their way to help prepare the creature for its return to the Archives. Po-Metru was a disaster area, the ground scorched and burned. Not far away, Po-Matoran labored to put out fires in their villages, aided by Hahli and Gaaki. Only the fact that this area of the metru was sparsely populated had kept this from being a true cataclysm.
Norik glanced at Jaller. “We either need to stop fighting,” he said, “or find someplace uninhabited to settle things. Otherwise, Matoran are going to get killed – and neither of us wants that.”
“What do you think will happen if you destroy the Coliseum?” said Jaller.
“We’re not trying to hurt anyone,” said Pouks. “We’re trying to save them.”
“Yes, and we’re all idiots,” added Iruini. “We have almost a dozen Toa here… we should be able to figure out how to do what we have to and keep the building intact.”
“Just what is it you have to do?” asked Jaller. “Why are you here?”
“Listen to me,” said Norik. “The Toa Nuva are in the core of the universe right now, fighting for the Great Spirit. But the true mysteries, the true secrets… all the hidden knowledge about this cosmos and its workings aren’t there. They are somewhere beneath your feet, in a place no Toa, Matoran, Turaga has ever been. Right now, we think Makuta has reached that place – and if we’re right, then it may already be too late for us all.”
It took hours of planning, more to convince the Turaga the Toa hadn’t all lost their minds, and another half a day on top of that to complete the work needed. When they were ready, Jaller, Norik, Pouks and Nuparu used their powers to crack the foundation and create a tunnel where none had been before. Outside, Hewkii’s gravity power, Kualus’ ice power, and Bomonga’s vast strength struggled to keep the building intact. Once the tunnel was in place, Hahli and Gaaki used their water power to cool down the walls. Iruini and Kongu watched over Zaktan, with Kongu more than ready to send the Piraka’s glass case hurtling into the air at the first wrong word.
The hardest part came last. Bomonga and Kualus had to let go of the Coliseum to join the others as they prepared to venture into the unknown. That left Hewkii supporting the vast structure alone.
“My team will go with you,” said Jaller to Norik.
“No,” the leader of the Toa Hagah responded. “If we fail… if Teridax escapes… you may be the last hope to stop him. We will go, and Pouks and I will seal the tunnel behind us. Hurry, Hewkii cannot last long.”
Jaller wanted to argue, but Norik was right – the Toa of Stone was on the verge of collapse. He watched as the Toa Hagah disappeared below ground. A moment later, the powers of stone and fire resealed the entrance. He signaled to Hewkii, who slowly, slowly, eased back on his mask power to lower the Coliseum back to the ground. Then the Toa of Stone passed out.
“He’ll be all right,” said Hahli, after checking on their fallen friend. “But I still think we should have gone along. They may be facing great danger.”
“I know,” said the Toa of Fire. “I kept thinking as I watched Pouks and Norik closing the tunnel behind them… I have never seen anyone seal their own tomb before.”
* * *
The Toa Empire universe…
“Where are we going?” asked Takua.” How did you take out those Vahki guards so fast? What’s down here? Have you been down here before?”
“Would you be quiet!” Takanuva snapped. He had never realized before just how annoying he was as a Matoran. “There’s no telling who, or what, is down here, and I’d rather not have unexpected company.”
In truth, it was more than Takua’s chattering that was bothering Takanuva. In his universe, the Metru Nui Archives were filled with exhibits of Rahi beasts, carvings, tools and other things that Onu-Matoran and Ko-Matoran scholars might study. But in this strange world that he had stumbled upon, the Archives were more like a museum of conquest. A long dead and mounted Visorak stared from the shadows with glassy eyes. A collection of weaponry was nearby, each item identified with a small inscribed tablet. The staff of the Shadowed One, the Spear of Fusion, zamor sphere launchers, Rhotuka launchers and more. Next to that was the most amazing sight of all: the Kanohi Mask of Shadows, once the property of the leader of the Brotherhood of Makuta, now nailed to the wall like just another trophy. Moving further into the depths of the Archives, the Toa and Matoran came upon a group of stasis tubes. These were used to keep Rahi in suspended animation so they could be studied – at least that’s what they had been used for in Takanuva’s universe. In this dimension, he saw with shock that they served a quite different purpose. One tube stood apart from the others, the glow of a lightstone playing upon its face. Takanuva wiped the dust from the crystal and gasped: inside, trapped in stasis, was Turaga Dume, ruler of Metru Nui.
“I can’t believe this,” Takanuva said. “Even Toa as mad as they are here would never do this.”
“Dume talked too much,” said Takua sadly, “and coming from me, that’s saying something. When Toa Tuyet took over, he stood up and said that true Toa value justice and mercy, and she had neither in her heart. You had to admire him for it, all the way up to the moment that they hauled him off and stuck him in there.”
Takanuva fired a beam of laser-light from his left hand, slicing open the crystal case. Takua grabbed his arm, trying to pull it away.
“Are you crazy?! What if there are alarms? You can’t do that!”
“I just did,” said Takanuva, catching the falling Dume. Consciousness slowly returned to the Turaga, and when he saw Takanuva, he said, “Who are you?”
“I’m… a friend,” Takanuva replied.
“You? A Toa? No Toa is my friend,” said Dume.
“I don’t have time to argue with you,” said Takanuva. “Somewhere down here there is an intelligent Rahi called a Krahka – at least I hope she’s here. We need to find her. Something is very, very wrong in this world, and I’m going to need help if I’m going to make things right.”
“Help is exactly what you need, Toa,” said a voice behind Takanuva.
He whirled to see the one figure he never expected. Takua and Dume both backed away in fear. Standing before them was the leader of the Toa Empire, the wielder of the Nui Stone and the unquestioned ruler of the known universe: Toa Tuyet.