1

Five years ago…

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” whispered Mazeka.

“No,” answered the invisible Jerbraz. “But it’s the only idea I have.”

The two were on the outskirts of a small village on the Tren Krom peninsula. Mazeka had never seen it before, and he had explored much of the peninsula over the years. At first glance, it looked like any other village – a series of huts, a central meeting area, Matoran wandering about. The only thing that marked it as strange was the absolute silence that permeated every inch of the place.

“What’s going on?” Mazeka asked, so quietly he could barely hear himself. Despite that, one of the Matoran stopped and looked around.

“They are De-Matoran,” answered Jerbraz. “Matoran of Sonics. Very sensitive to noise, so they train themselves from early on to not make any more than is necessary. On the plus side, their hearing is so acute that they are probably listening to every word we say… and would be even if we were a kio away.”

Mazeka considered that. “Then why are we whispering?”

“Out of respect. Plus they hate loud sounds – that’s why no Toa are allowed into the place. Where Toa go, battles follow… and battles are noisy.”

Mazeka felt the invisible hand of Jerbaz tap him on the shoulder. “Krakua is over there, to the left of the clearing – he’s the one you’re after. Looks like just another villager to me, but the people in power say he matters. So you go in and bring him out… before someone else does.”

The one Jerbraz had identified was standing off by himself, but not by choice. The other Matoran were avoiding him, and giving him nasty looks besides. Mazeka quickly figured out why: Krakua was humming to himself.

“Someone thinks he may wind up a Toa someday,” Jerbraz continued. “I can see why. Matoran with the calling sometimes are a little… eccentric. Almost like their brain knows something it isn’t telling them.”

At Jerbraz’s urging, Mazeka slipped into the village and beckoned to Krakua. He was careful not to call out to them. No point in drawing unwanted attention to himself. When Krakua joined him at the outskirts, Mazeka said, “You don’t know me, but I’ve been sent here to find you.”

“By whom?” asked Krakua.

“I can’t tell you that,” answered Mazeka.

“Okay. How about why?”

“I can’t tell you that either,” Mazeka replied, already feeling very uncomfortable.

“Is there anything you can tell me?” asked Krakua, frustrated.

Mazeka looked over Krakua’s shoulder. Something was rolling into the center of the De-Matoran village. “Yes!” he yelled, diving for Krakua. “Trust me!”

The two hit the ground, hard. Mazeka clamped his hands over Krakua’s audio receptors just in time. A wall of sound struck the village, excruciatingly loud for a being with normal senses, beyond devastating for the Matoran of Sonics. Matoran hit the ground almost instantly, overcome by the sound. Mazeka almost passed out as well, but he fought to stay conscious and do what he could to protect Krakua.

When the effect finally ended, Mazeka couldn’t hear his own voice. He called out Jerbraz’s name a few times, but couldn’t have heard the answer if it came and felt no taps on his shoulder. Had the Order agent deserted him?

Before he could worry about that, someone entered the clearing. It was a Ta-Matoran, though not one Mazeka recognized. He idly picked up the device used to fell the villagers, smiled, and tossed it away. Then he surveyed the unconscious Matoran as if he were looking for someone in particular. Now and then, he would use his sword to roll one over and get a better look.

Mazeka took his hands away from Krakua’s head. Using hand signals, he told Krakua to follow him. Mazeka started away, but stepped on a branch, snapping it. He was still unable to hear, so he never noticed the noise. But the Ta-Matoran did.

An instant later, Krakua was spinning Mazeka around. As he did, a dagger thrown by the Ta-Matoran buried itself in a nearby tree. Mazeka drew his own blade, ready to fight. But the Ta-Matoran didn’t advance – in fact, he seemed a little startled.

“Go!” Mazeka yelled to Krakua. “Get out of here! I’ll handle this.”

Krakua hesitated. Then his feet left the ground and he was flying into the jungle. Mazeka almost smiled – Jerbraz hadn’t left after all. He was carrying Krakua to safety.

The Ta-Matoran advanced. Mazeka leaned back a little on his heels, ready to meet the attack. The Ta-Matoran made a few tentative attacks, then went to work, hacking and slashing. Mazeka parried the blows, even landing a few of his own. All the while, something was nagging at him. There was something familiar about his enemy – not how he looked, nor how he sounded, since he hadn’t said a word. No, it was his moves in combat. Once in a while, he would do something that struck a familiar chord, then it would be gone.

Unfortunately, the middle of a fight is not the best time to try and jog one’s memory. The Ta-Matoran took advantage of his distraction to disarm him. Mazeka tried to retrieve his blade, but the Ta-Matoran got in between him and his weapon. A swift stroke and Mazeka had lost his mask. He stumbled and fell to the ground.

His enemy stood over him, smiling. He lifted his blade for the killing stroke, twirling it over his head for a moment.

And then Mazeka knew. Someone or something had changed his appearance, but that habit of twirling his blade before a final attack… only one person did that in Mazeka’s memory.

“Vultraz!” he gasped. “You’re… alive?”

“More than I can say for you,” whispered Vultraz, as he swung his razor-sharp sword at Mazeka’s head…

* * *

Axonn and Brutaka stood on a steep rise, overlooking a battlefield. Down below, the assembled might of the Skakdi of Zakaz were locked in combat with a small army of Rahkshi. The setting was an unnamed island in one of the southern chains, set up as a staging area by the Brotherhood of Makuta for an invasion of the mainland continent. The Rahkshi had been brought there in secret, and allowed to practice their skills on the scattered Matoran residents. Needless to say, there were no longer any Matoran on this island. Initially, the Skakdi had suffered horrible losses, but they were capable of something that the Rahkshi could only pretend to: rage. Hungry for victory, and filled with hatred for their enemy, the barbarians regrouped and tore through the Rahkshi ranks. It was overwhelming, thrilling, and sickening all at once.

“Come on,” said Brutaka, tearing himself away from the spectacle. “You know what we’re here for.” Together they walked down the hill and deep into a small canyon. In the center, buried beneath a slab of rock, was a square metal trapdoor with an iron ring. After Axonn split the rock with his ax, Brutaka grasped the ring and pulled open the door. A stench rose from within: the smell of age and neglect, decay and rot. The two Order of Mata Nui members climbed down into the hole.

Axonn sent energy through his axe, illuminating the chamber. It was obvious that no one had walked here since perhaps the beginning of recorded time. The place was bare stone, with the only interesting feature a pool in the center. The waters were greenish-black and swirled angrily, despite there being not even the slightest breeze to stir them.

“So this is it?” asked Brutaka.

Axonn nodded. “Yes, this is the place the Great Spirit created the Makuta. And the only place new Makuta could ever spring from. From that pool came their substance, made into living form by the powers of the Great Spirit, until time turned it all into pure energy.”

“Then if we destroy the pool?” said Brutaka.

“Yes. There can be no more Makuta ever. But do we have a right to end a species?”

Brutaka was looking at the pool, eyes wide. “I’d love to get into a philosophical debate with you, old friend, but I think we have a problem.”

The waters of the pool suddenly exploded up and outward. Foul, scalding liquid struck Axonn and Brutaka, seeping into the openings in their masks and armor. It hissed and writhed, like a thing alive, burning wherever it touched. Temporarily blinded and in pain, the two warriors staggered and then stumbled, plunging into the pool itself.

Toa Helryx sat in the command chamber of her fortress on Daxia. The war against the Brotherhood of Makuta had begun, and it had not begun well. Although the Order, through the Dark Hunters, now held Xia, they had been unable to dislodge Makuta forces from the island of Nynrah. In other places, the Order’s surprise attacks had met unexpectedly fierce resistance from Rahkshi and Exo-Toa. Being a leader meant making difficult decisions, something she had always known. In her time, she had sent agents on missions she knew they might well not come back from. She had ordered the deaths of everyone who knew the location of Artakha, and now she had to make two more vital choices that might lead to victory or disaster.

The first had been easy. She had dispatched a messenger to Metru Nui, carrying the Heart of the Visorak. This artifact could be used to summon the Visorak hordes from anywhere in the universe. It was to be placed in the hands of the Toa Mahri, with instructions to bring it to the volcanic island of Artidax and use it there.

The second was more difficult. Brutaka had informed her of the presence of Hydraxon in the Pit, as well as the events that took place there. A second messenger had been sent to the Pit with orders for the jailer. She could not be sure he would follow them, given their nature, or if she would simply be trading the Brotherhood in the end for a worse evil. But it had to be done. Sometimes she hated being the one in charge.

Hydraxon paced the dark, cavernous chamber that was The Pit. In his hand, he held a tablet that contained orders from Helryx. The instructions carved in the stone were almost impossible to believe.

The chamber door opened. It was Toa Lesovikk, bringing back another escaped prisoner. Although the two had clashed on first meeting, they had since become allies in the effort to recapture the former inmates of this vast prison. Hydraxon hesitated to show the orders to Lesovikk. After all, the existence of the Order of Mata Nui was supposed to be a secret – but if the situation as outlined on the tablet was true, then he guessed it was a secret no longer.

Lesovikk let out a low whistle as he read the tablet. “So what are you going to do?” he asked.

“What I’ve always done,” Hydraxon answered. “Follow orders.”

He climbed down the iron ladder that led to the lowest tier of cells. Here, Pridak, Kalmah, Mantax, and Ehlek were imprisoned. The four Barraki looked at their jailer with undisguised contempt.

“Have you come here to mock us?” snarled Mantax.

Pridak smiled, revealing rows of sharp teeth. “We killed you once, you know. We can do it again.”

Hydraxon ignored the obvious insanity. After all, he was alive and well, so obviously he had never been dead. “I have an… offer for you,” he said, forcing out each word. “There’s a war going on. A war to bring the reign of the Brotherhood of Makuta to an end. Agree to fight against the Makuta, and you will get your freedom.”

“And if we refuse?” said Kalmah. “Why should we risk our lives to fight someone else’s war?”

“If you refuse,” said Hydraxon, “you will find that there are places you can be buried far deeper than this Pit.”

“Another chance,” said Pridak. “Another chance to fight, to lead armies, to conquer. And when the Brotherhood falls, the League of Six Kingdoms will rise again.”

* * *

The Toa Empire universe…

Takanuva, Takua and Turaga Dume walked in single file through the depths of the Archives, followed by the silent Toa Tuyet. The ruler of the Toa Empire had not spoken a word since capturing the three of them – simply gestured with her barbed broad sword for them to get moving. They marched for what seemed like hours, through twists and turns, past long forgotten exhibits, and into regions that probably even the Archive caretakers didn’t know existed.

Takanuva was puzzled. Tuyet could have just brought them back to a cell on the surface – or for that matter, killed them. Why go on a tour of the Archives? Things got even more disturbing and bizzare as they rounded a corner and entered a large chamber. In the back were a half-dozen badly damaged Rahkshi and an Exo-Toa armored suit missing its right arm. Even more surprising was the sight of two figures clad in black armor, who sprang to their feet at the sight of the newcomers, shadow energy crackling in their hands. Takanuva turned around, but Tuyet was no longer there. Standing in her place was another Makuta, this one wearing a scarred and pitted Kanohi Hau. When he spoke, it was in the familiar grating voice of the Makuta of Metru Nui.

“A simple strategy,” he said. “Tuyet has left us with little choice but to use our shapeshifting powers when we venture out. Even then we were captured, just as we have captured you.”

“I don’t understand,” said Takanuva. “Why aren’t you wearing the Mask of Shadows? I saw it hanging in the Archives.”

Makuta gave Takanuva a look that would have chilled the snow atop Mount Ihu.

“The mask is warded. If it is so much as touched, Tuyet and her minions will know at once. She keeps it there, unguarded, as a taunt to me, knowing I long for it and cannot touch it.

The two other Makuta, and those Rahkshi that could still move, closed in.

“But you are not so protected, Toa. Give me one good reason why we should not kill you now, as your kind has killed ours for so many centuries.”

“I’m not…” Takanuva began, then stopped, as he debated how much to tell his captors. These were, after all, Makuta, the most evil beings in the universe from which he came. Here though, they were hunted fugitives in a world gone mad. “I’m not one of Tuyet’s Toa. My name is Takanuva – I am a Toa of Light.”

The three Makuta recoiled. Takanuva could understand why: a Toa of Light was the ultimate weapon against beings of shadow.

“Listen to me,” he continued. “I come from… someplace else, where there is no Tuyet, no Toa Empire. I can’t claim I understand what happened here, but I do know this: I don’t belong here, and I need to get back to my own universe.”

The three Makuta were silent for a moment. Then they began to laugh, a horrible sound that echoed throughout the chamber for long minutes.

“And just how,” said the Makuta of Metru Nui, “do you propose to get back to this universe of yours, my poor, mad Toa?”

“By finding the one who sent me on my journey,” Takanuva replied. “A being named Brutaka.”

One of the Makuta nodded. He was tall, with armor lined with short, curved and very sharp blades. “I have heard legends of a Brutaka. It’s said he is a great hero who guards a valuable treasure. But in Matoran legend, every pile of rocks is a treasure, every Rahi larger than a stone rat is a monster, and anyone who doesn’t scream and run when the thunder cracks is a hero of great courage.”

“Very true, Krika, very true indeed,” said the Makuta of Metru Nui. “Very well then. You, Toa, are either a liar, a fool or a mad man, I know not which. But if you need our help, you’ll have to pay a price.”

“And what is that price?” asked Takanuva.

“A Matoran expedition escorted by a pair of Toa left Metru Nui weeks ago, bound for the island of Artakha,” said Makuta. “They were to retrieve an object of power: the legendary Mask of Time, one of the few weapons that might be effective against Tuyet. By now they have it and are on their way back. I want you to attack their force and steal the mask for us. In return, we will smuggle you out of the city so you can find your Brutaka. But be warned, the Matoran leader is a fanatic who’d rather die than surrender his prize. You will have to grant him his wish.”

“And just who is this leader?” asked Takanuva.

“No one you would know,” said Makuta Krika. “A Ta-Matoran, someone named Jaller.”

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