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By the time the Makuta picked up their first telepathic warning of the attack, it was too late. A fireball hurled by Tahu struck Krika in the arm, the pain making him drop his Nynrah blaster. The muddy earth opened to swallow Bitil. A sphere of water appeared around Gorast’s head, catching her just after she exhaled and cutting off her air. Not in a particularly forgiving mood, Gali followed with a blast from her own weapon, catching the Makuta in an energy pincer.

Tahu wasn’t going to give the Makuta time to recover. He led the Toa in another run, all three hurling whatever power they had at the enemy. Only by keeping the Makuta too off-balance to use their formidable powers did the Toa have any chance of victory.

Down below, Krika took stock of the situation and decided on a plan. He tracked Gali through the air and blasted her with shadow energy, almost knocking her out of the sky. The impact made her lose concentration and freed Gorast from the water sphere. Krika shouted at Gorast to go free Bitil from his muddy trap.

Onua broke off to pursue Gorast while Tahu zeroed in on Krika. The Makuta turned intangible, letting the Toa’s fire bolts pass right through him. Incredibly, Krika was actually laughing.

“Tell me, Tahu, have you ever seen a kavinika in battle with a lohrak? It can end in one of two ways – either the lohrak kills the kavinika, or the kavinika sinks its teeth into the lohrak and slays him. What makes it amusing is that the organic tissue of a lohrak is poisonous. The instant the kavinika bites down… it dies.”

“Is there a point to this story?” Tahu snarled, throwing his shield up just in time to blunt a blast of shadow energy.

“It’s very simple,” said Krika, passing unharmed through a ring of fire that had erupted around him. “Even if the kavinika wins, it loses. You might well want to keep that lesson in mind.”

Not far away, Gorast was finding it rough going. Every few steps, the earth erupted, sending a half-ton of mud flying into the air. Up ahead, Bitil had managed to scramble out of the mud pit and get into the air. He had Gali on the run, or so it seemed. At the last moment, she dropped, looped around, and hurled a water blast. Bitil barely managed to evade it, but in so doing, allowed her to gain altitude. Now she was using her weapon to create obstacles made of energy in the air, forcing Bitil to fly an evasive pattern.

Still, the Makuta was not without resources of his own. Triggering his mask power, he summoned two duplicates of himself. They materialized behind Gali, swooping down and each seizing one of her arms. Together, they hurled her with tremendous force toward the swamp.

Onua spotted the flash of blue out of the corner of his eye. He whirled in midair and fired his weapon, creating a flexible platform made of energy above the swamp waters. Gali hit it hard, but it gave beneath her, lessening the damage. Onua followed it up with a hastily created land bridge linking the platform to the Codrex.

Spotting his distraction, Gorast attacked. She rocketed up from the ground and slammed into his midsection. The land bridge instantly collapsed under Gali, but she had recovered enough to stay aloft. Meanwhile, Onua grappled with Gorast, who was trying to bring her light-draining abilities to bear.

“Admit it, Toa,” said Gorast. “You have always wished for a spirit as black as your armor.”

“Actually, I do have a wish you could make come true,” said the Toa Nuva of Earth. He reared back and struck a mighty blow, sending the Makuta spiraling downward. “A world without Makuta!”

Not far away, Tahu and Krika were locked in a duel, flame against shadow. Neither had managed to gain the upper hand. Although Tahu didn’t show it, he was worried. The Toa’s surprise attack hadn’t been able to finish off the Makuta, and now the three of them were in for the fight of their lives.

“I would almost call this a stalemate,” said Krika. “Except, of course, that you are about to surrender and beg for my mercy.”

“You’ve been breathing too much swamp gas,” Tahu replied, countering another bolt of shadow energy with a shield made of fire.

“The Codrex, Tahu,” continued Krika. “Oh, we can’t get in either, but Bitil is a master with energy fields. He tinkered with this one here and there. In a few minutes, it’s going to implode and take the entire sphere and all its contents with it. And there will go your hope of awakening your precious Mata Nui.”

Tahu had a moment of conflicting impulses. Part of him wanted to burn Krika down, while another part wondered if the Toa Nuva should surrender and hope to get a chance to undo whatever Bitil had done.

But this was not the Tahu of even a year before. He had been through too much, learned too much – most especially he had learned not to let his own nature control him. The essence of fire was action, but action without thought was like a fire that burned unchecked – it left nothing but devastation in its wake.

So, in the end, Tahu rejected both his ideas. Instead, he smiled and said, “You’re bluffing, Makuta. You would no more destroy the Codrex than I would pet a Rahkshi.”

“Are you so sure?” asked Krika. “Do you really want to gamble the future of your universe based on nothing but your lack of trust in others? Why would I lie about such a beautiful act of destruction?”

“If you wanted it wrecked, you had plenty of time to do that before we even got down here,” Tahu answered, dodging shadow blasts as he did so. “No, there’s something you want in there, or it would be gone by now. What’s more, I think you want us to get it for you.”

Krika chuckled. “You are just a wealth of bad theories today, Tahu. Explain that one.”

“Simple. The keystone we stole from your camp – you never would have left it unprotected unless you wanted us to have it. In fact, this has all been too easy from the start. It has “Makuta trap” written all over it. And by the way, since you like the cold so much – have some on me.”

Tahu hovered in midair and began rapidly absorbing all the heat from around Krika. Sensing what was about to happen, Krika tried to turn intangible again. But Tahu was faster, and Krika began to ice over halfway between his solid and ghostly state.

“Very… good, Tahu,” Krika said, his voice sounding hollow and far away. “Too easy… perhaps… but it is about to become much more difficult. Look behind you.”

“Do you really think I am going to fall for that old trick?”

“No… I am counting on the fact you won’t,” answered Krika. “Since there really is something behind you…”

Against his better judgment, Tahu looked over his shoulder. Diving down toward him were Antroz, Chirox, and Vamprah, and their three shadow Matoran. All of the sudden, his team was badly outnumbered.

This would have to be the first time a Makuta has told the truth, he said to himself. “Onua! Gali! Hunt cover!” he shouted.

It was useless, of course. Antroz’s first blast of shadow energy shattered the ice forming around Krika. Vamprah flew to join Bitil, and the two closed in on Onua. Chirox hauled Gorast out of the mud, and the two circled Gali, arguing over who would make the kill. Tahu managed to land some fireballs on Antroz, but not to any great effect.

Now the six Makuta formed a V-shaped wedge in the sky and bore down on the Toa Nuva, their attacks forming a solid wall of shadow energy. Tahu, Onua, and Gali were driven back until they were pinned down near the Codrex field. One more step backward and they would hit the protective energy around the sphere and be hurled straight toward the oncoming Makuta.

“Any ideas?” Onua asked Tahu.

“Yes,” said the Toa of Fire. “We take as many of them with us as we can when we go.”

The Makuta hovered in midair now. “It appears your theory that we need you alive is about to be proven wrong,” said Krika. “Good-bye, Tahu.”

Antroz raised his arm, shadow energy swirling around his claw. Just as it was set free in a devastating burst, a sphere of super-hard ice materialized around both shadow bolt and hand. Blocked, the energy fed back into Antroz, jolting him like an angry avohkah.

“I hate good-byes, personally,” said Kopaka Nuva. He had plunged out of the mists above, flanked by Pohatu and Lewa. Not far behind came the Matoran villagers Solek, Tanma, and Photok.

“Us too,” said Pohatu. “In fact, we hate ’em so much we couldn’t let three Makuta take off without us.”

“Ever-cute idea, Antroz,” chuckled Lewa. “Making your quick-retreat from above look like a planned attack on below. Did they teach you that at lying slime-sack school?”

On the ground, Tahu smiled. The Toa Nuva were still outpowered by the Makuta, but now the numbers were even. And he would take his team of Toa against any enemy, any day of the week.

“Well,” he said to Onua and Gali. “Are we going to let those three show up late and have all the fun?”

“I’m for a rematch,” said Onua. “How about you, sister?”

Gali bumped armored fists with her two partners. “Let’s get them.”

The three Toa Nuva lifted off from the ground, soaring into the final battle.

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