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It wasn’t so much the fall that bothered Pohatu. It was not being able to see where he was heading. The thick layer of mist and fog obscured everything below and made it hard to aim for a soft spot. Not that there are likely to be any, anyway, he reminded himself.

An image appeared in his mind of a place he had never seen. It was another fallen stalactite, smaller than the rest, its tip buried in the swamp. Its wide, flat end was not too far below, hidden in the mist. He suddenly realized he was seeing something Photok had seen some time ago – somehow, the Matoran’s memories were in his head now as well.

Regardless of how he knew, that stalactite was the best chance to break their fall. Pohatu strained against the pull of gravity to change his course even a few feet. It took almost all his strength, but he did it. Then the rocky surface of the stalactite was rushing up to meet him. “Hang on!” he yelled to Photok.

The impact was terrible, driving Pohatu and the Av-Matoran deep into the stalactite. The stone split in half with a loud crack, both ends starting to fall toward the swamp. And Pohatu and Photok were falling again….

Toa Ignika had watched the battle for some time. He was fascinated by the ebb and flow of it, first one side winning, then the other. When he had been just the Mask of Life, he had created warriors to fight for him, but never been in battle himself. The feelings were so overwhelming that he was too caught up in them to take action.

That is, until he spotted Icarax’s attack on Pohatu. That reminded him the Toa Nuva were both outnumbered and outpowered here. If he wanted them as allies and friends, he had better do something.

He steered his craft directly at Icarax and swung his sword, striking the Makuta with all of his might with the flat of the blade. Startled, but unhurt, Icarax turned to see his attacker.

“Oh, it’s you,” the Makuta said. “The one Antroz spoke of. Will you hand over your mask, or do I take it, and your life with it?”

Toa Ignika said nothing, and simply readied his blade for another strike.

“The silent sort, eh?” said Icarax. “Well, if you can’t talk, I am sure you can scream… and what sweet music that will be, if too short a tune.”

Toa Ignika swung his blade. Icarax altered his body’s density, allowing the weapon to pass right through. Then he altered it again to the hardness of protosteel and struck Ignika with an armored fist. The Toa flew off his vehicle, catching the end of it at the last moment before he fell. He clung to the edge even as Icarax drew closer. The Makuta reached down toward his mask.

Something inside the Toa Ignika suddenly flared to life. In all of the millennia the Mask of Life had existed, no one had been allowed to touch it unless destined to do so. Those who laid hands on it were cursed. And now this Makuta had dared to strike it a physical blow and attempted to seize it for himself.

That will not be, thought Toa Ignika.

He hurled the power of Life at Icarax. Immediately, he sensed the Makuta was not like other beings he had encountered. Icarax was armor and energy only, with no organic tissue anywhere in his body. Had it always been this way? Or had the Makuta once been something other than simply pure power housed in black armor?

Toa Ignika decided to find out.

Extending his power, he gave the Makuta a push back down the road of evolution. Swirling energy coalesced into solid matter; muscles and organs grew where they had not been for tens of thousands of years, but found no place to exist. The current generation of Makuta armor was designed to hold energy only, not organic tissue. As the old form struggled to replace the new, the pain was, to say the least, excruciating. The sound that came from Icarax rebounded again and again off the walls of the mammoth cavern. For a moment, all the combatants were frozen in place, the battle halted by that sound.

No one could remember the last time they had heard a Makuta scream.

Far below, Pohatu abruptly found he could fly again. The tremendous pull of gravity had eased, as if Icarax’s power had just been cut off. Smiling, he began to ascend again.

“Look!” said Photok. “Chirox is up ahead, fighting with Kopaka.”

“Then let’s give ol’ frosty a hand,” said the Toa of Stone. “I still owe him one.”

“For what?”

“Well, we were in Ko-Wahi, and there was this avalanche, and he made a shield, and… I’ll tell you later.”

Mutran was a scientist, not a warrior. As he saw lcarax in agony, Antroz falling toward the swamp, and Chirox fighting two Toa Nuva, he knew what the next step had to be.

The problem would be Vamprah. He was fighting an aerial battle with Lewa Nuva, a fight he should have won with ease. But the Toa was so skillful in the air it seemed he was born flying, and he was using his Midak Skyblaster to keep Vamprah at bay. Other Av-Matoran had joined in as well, peppering the Makuta with blasts of light.

We can destroy them, Mutran told himself. We will destroy them. But, as much as I hate to admit it, Antroz is right – the Plan is what matters. While we are battling here, the other three Toa Nuva may be finding the rest of the keystones. And it is too soon for that, much too soon.

Hovering right in the center of the ongoing battle, Mutran did something he had never done before. He gathered within himself every last bit of shadow energy he possessed and unleashed it all in one devastating explosion of darkness. It was enough to send Toa, Matoran, and even the other Makuta reeling. Mutran almost collapsed from the effort, but Vican appeared on his mount to keep him from falling.

“Find Vamprah, Chirox, and Icarax,” Mutran ordered. “Tell them to join our brothers in the swamp. We will kill the other three Toa Nuva before they find the keystones… and these, too, if they dare to follow.”

Vican flew off to do as he was bade. Chirox didn’t hesitate, and Icarax was in no shape to refuse. Vamprah wanted to finish off Lewa Nuva, but even he understood the Plan was more important than any one battle. The three Makuta headed for the swamp, with some shadow Matoran trailing behind, others locked in battle with Av-Matoran.

Mutran was about to follow when he found himself surrounded by the three Toa Nuva and Toa Ignika. Skyblasters were aimed directly at him. Toa Ignika had no such weapon, but the look in his eyes reminded Mutran that what he had done to Icarax, he could easily do again.

“Where did the other Makuta go?” demanded Kopaka.

“Below,” said Mutran. “I hope you said good-bye to your friends before they traveled to the swamp… you won’t be seeing them again.”

“The keystones,” said Kopaka. “I have read enough of the three we captured to know the secret to reviving Mata Nui lies in that swamp. If the Makuta seize it and hold it, it will take an army of Toa to pry it from their claws.”

“And we don’t have an army,” said Pohatu. “We barely have a kolhii team.”

“Then we quick-fly down there now,” said Lewa. “Stop the Makuta, find the secret, wake the Great Spirit, and get home in time for disk-surfing.”

“Just another day in the core of the universe, huh?” replied Pohatu.

“Not quite,” said Kopaka. “If we’re not very careful, this might be the last day for all of us.”

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