The Shadowed One – master of the Dark Hunters, mortal enemy of the Makuta, thief, assassin and conqueror – was bored. Since he and his people had been dispatched to occupy the island of Xia by the Order of Mata Nui, there had been precious little to do. The island had been pacified in a matter of hours. Except for the occasional two or three Dark Hunters tapped by the Order for a mission, the bulk of their forces had yet to act. The Shadowed One did not like feeling penned in on this island – or ignored. That was why this day found him prowling the factories of Xia seeking amusement. Despite his pressure to get all manufacturing centers working again, many of the buildings were still badly damaged by the battle between the Tahtorak and the Kanohi Dragon. It was while walking through one such building that he came upon a Vortixx frantically clearing away rubble.
“What are you doing here?” asked the Shadowed One.
The Vortixx gasped, surprised. When he saw who was addressing him, he dropped to one knee and bowed his head. The Vortixx, it seemed, had a long history of knowing when and to whom to submit.
“Nothing, Great Lord,” said the Vortixx. “Just… cleaning up so all factories can be working again as you ordered.”
The Shadowed One said nothing. He knew what a lie sounded like – he had told enough of them himself. After several moments, he said, “Then I will help you.”
“No!” the Vortixx cried out. “That’s… that’s not necessary. This is work for a laborer, not a ruler like yourself.”
Power flashed out from the Shadowed One’s staff. A band of crystalline protodermis appeared around the Vortixx’s mouth, gagging him.
“I said: I will help you,” repeated the Shadowed One.
Striding over to the heap of rubble, the Shadowed One began to dig, never taking his eye off the Vortixx. The deeper he got, the more visibly upset the Xia native seemed to be.
What, he wondered, was waiting at the bottom of this hole?
He soon found out. Several feet down, he came upon a protosteel box. Burned into the lid was the symbol of the Brotherhood of Makuta. The box was locked, but the lock was no match for the now very curious Dark Hunter. He opened it carefully – after all, this might be some clever trap. But when he saw what the box contained, his eyes widened.
“Oh, my, my,” said the Shadowed One, as he gazed on something that soon might make him master of the world.
Vezon, it could truly be said, had a unique perspective on life. Perhaps it was the fact that he had only been truly alive for a matter of weeks. Perhaps it was his time spent wearing the Mask of Life. Or perhaps it was just the fact that he was hopelessly insane. But the perspective he had today, he had to admit, was a new one: upside-down.
The Makuta he had encountered in the fortress of Destral – who identified himself with a laugh as Tridax – had not entirely believed Vezon’s story about cross and double-cross. In fact, he decided some follow-up questions were in order, the kind delivered when your guest is hanging from the ceiling by his ankles.
“I have checked our teleportation technology,” Tridax said. “There is no sign of sabotage. You are a liar.”
“Well, no one ever said Makuta were observant,” said Vezon. “How could you be so sure? Suppose I sabotaged it myself using my incredible powers of the mind.”
“You have no powers,” said the Makuta, picking up a wickedly sharp blade. “You have no mind. You are about to have no head.”
“You’re right, you’re right!” babbled Vezon. “There is no army, there is no navy, I simply wanted the pleasure of your company – well, pleasure might be too strong a word. Did I tell you I once wore the Mask of Life? One stray thought back then, and you wouldn’t even have left ashes. I do miss those days. Anyway, take pride in being correct. There is no threat to Destral at all.”
The walls of the fortress suddenly shook violently from an incredible impact.
“Except that one,” Vezon added helpfully.
Rock dust fell from the ceiling, masses of weapons clattered to the floor and even the anchors of Vezon’s chains came loose. A second blast tore a hole in the wall and sent mangled Rahkshi flying into the chamber. This time, the anchors came loose all the way and Vezon fell to the stone floor.
Makuta Tridax was paying no attention. His orders were clear: maintain Destral in its current location unless attacked. In the event of a serious threat from Toa or Dark Hunters, teleport the island off the shores of Metru Nui and seize that city. He stalked off to carry out those commands. Vezon followed behind, unnoticed.
That’s right, thought the deranged ex-prisoner, lead me to your secrets. Ah, this plan is so cunning it might almost be one of mine. And perhaps it will be before I’m done.
Far to the west, Pridak watched a fortress burn, and smiled at the sight. He had been fortunate since his release from the Pit. His captors had provided him with ships and the resources with which to raise an army. From the worst holes in the universe, he had found ex-Dark Hunters, exiled Vortixx, even a Skakdi or two for his crews. Before Kalmah had even devised a battle plan, Pridak had sailed off without him on a voyage of conquest. It felt good – good to sack and burn and destroy again, good to feel the warm glow of the lightstones on his body, even if his water-filled dome had kept him from smelling the wonderful smoke and the stench of battle. He was back, and back to stay.
His men had rounded up the forces of the Makuta who occupied this place, but had found no actual Brotherhood member. Now, as he surveyed his conquest, a few things captured his notice: the structure was not original, it had been rebuilt on the site of an earlier strongpoint. The lower levels were still incomplete, and it was while exploring them that he found a strange room.
Deep below the basement was a room of rubble. The walls had been smashed, leaving only packed earth behind, and the remnants of those walls were littered around the floor. Intrigued, he picked one of the pieces up, only to find there was an inscription on it. The symbols made no sense to him and he was about to throw it away, when he noticed that another piece also had such an inscription – in fact, all the pieces did. There was some sort of message here, or there had been, he realized. Someone had tried to destroy it by shattering the walls, but the message was still here for someone who had the discipline to decipher it. And if someone had thought whatever information it contained worthy of destruction, it must be quite interesting indeed.
With the infinite patience of a born hunter, Pridak began to assemble the stones.
* * *
The Toa Empire universe…
Back when Takanuva was Takua, a Matoran of the village of Ta-Koro, he had once found himself walking through a stretch of jungle being stalked by a monstrous Nui-Jaga scorpion. Whenever he moved, the scorpion moved. If he stopped, it stopped. If he turned to face it, it would kill him, but if he led it back to the village, it might harm others before it was driven off. He was finally saved by a sudden inspiration: he changed direction and led the Nui-Jaga straight toward a Muaka-cat cave. Angered at the intrusion into its territory by the other Rahi beast, the Muaka attacked the Nui-Jaga, and Takua escaped.
Which just goes to show, thought Takanuva, nowadays there’s never a Muaka around when you need one. Here he was, trudging across the barren plains of Karzahni in this weird alternate universe. Behind him were two Toa, Bomonga and Kualus, both of whom served the oppressive dictatorship of the Toa Empire. Between them was Jaller, a Matoran who, in Takanuva’s world, was the Toa of Light’s best friend. In this universe, he was a servant of the Empire, transporting the Mask of Time back to Metru Nui. That wasn’t the worst of it, though: Takanuva needed to find Brutaka and the Mask of Dimensional Gates if he was ever going to make it back to his own universe, and Bomonga had just announced that Brutaka was dead, killed by him. All of which left Takanuva exactly nowhere.
“Ah, Brutaka,” said Bomonga. “He fought well, but when he turned to fight Gaaki and Pouks, I hit him from behind and that finished him.”
“Not very… fair,” muttered Takanuva.
“Fair?” asked Bomonga. “He was an enemy of the Empire. He tried to prevent our lawful exploration of Voya Nui. Who cares how he died, as long as he’s dead.”
“Our friend Takanuva seems to be carrying a conscience,” said Toa Kualus. “That is a heavy burden in a place like this. You would be amazed how many poor, dead beings I see on the side of the path who just couldn’t go one more step with that load on their backs.”
“Spare me the philosophy,” snapped Takanuva. “What about Brutaka’s weapons and his mask? What happened to them?”
“You should know,” said Bomonga, “if you really serve Toa Tuyet as you claim. Any treasure like that gets brought to the Coliseum in Metru Nui for safe-keeping.”
“Right, naturally,” said Takanuva.
This was going to be a problem. How was he going to get into what had to be the most heavily guarded spot in Metru Nui to get that mask?
“You know, you remind me a little of someone,” said Bomonga. “A Toa of Water, one of Lhikan’s old team. What was her name? Toa Naho, that was it. She came along on one of our missions to Odina to clean out that nest of stone rats. Offered to go after the Shadowed One herself, take all the risks. Turned out she was helping that creep escape. He got away, she didn’t. Tuyet turned her over to her friend Roodaka and, well… she wound up an interesting exhibit in the Archives.”
Takanuva knew he should keep quiet, but he couldn’t. “Do you think this is what Tuyet really wanted? Toa betraying other Toa, Matoran living in fear of their heroes. Toa were supposed to be respected, and looked up to!”
“But we are,” said Kualus. “Everyone respects what they fear, and they can’t help but look up to us – we always look down on them.”
Takanuva heard a stirring behind him. He could guess what it was: Bomonga and/or Kualus getting ready to blast him from behind. While there was no choice, he would have to try and take them both out and get the mask from Jaller. It would take a lot of luck, probably more than he could hope for, but…
Then he heard other sounds: a rush of wind, startled cries from the two Toa which receded in the distance, then the sound of a cart crashing. He turned to see a strange Toa standing amidst the wreckage of Jaller’s Ussal cart. He was retrieving the Mask of Time, which lay next to the unconscious Jaller. When he noticed Takanuva, he stopped.
“You’re not one of them,” the Toa of Air said. “That’s why you’re still alive. Don’t make me regret that decision.”
“Who are you?” asked Takanuva. “What do you want here?”
“What do I want?” said the Toa. “I want some peace, but I’m never going to get any while that crazy Toa of Water is running things. So I keep an eye out for things she wants, like this mask here, and I take them from her. That’s why if you ever see her list of enemies of the Empire, you’ll find my name at the top: Toa Lesovikk.”
Under the cover of darkness, Toa Lesovikk and Toa Takanuva darted through the sculpture fields of Po-Metru. They had slipped back to Metru Nui via underwater chute a few hours before. Lesovikk knew a few that were closed for repair but were still functioning, and best of all, unguarded.
“Where are we going?” whispered Takanuva. “The Coliseum is the other way! And Brutaka’s mask is in there – that’s where I need to go.”
“Right,” said Lesovikk. “But if you want to get in and out of there alive, we do it my way. And my way starts at the Throne of Stone.” The Toa of Air pointed straight ahead. Not far away, there was indeed a huge throne made of rock, mounted atop a base of Rahkshi parts. Po-Matoran bearing torches surrounded it, and seated in the great chair was Toa Pohatu himself.
“Umm, excuse me,” said Takanuva. “I ran into Tahu and Kopaka not long ago, and… are you sure this is a good idea?”
“Trust me,” said Lesovikk, smiling.
After a few hours, the Po-Matoran left to go back to their homes. As Pohatu descended from his throne, Lesovikk scraped three times with his armoured boot against a nearby rock. The Toa of Stone stopped, head turned to listen. Then he said, “Lesovikk, you are out of your mind.”
“It helps,” said the Toa of Air, leading Takanuva to where Pohatu stood. “This is my new pal, Takanuva. He’s looking for the five widget tour of the Colisem, particularly the Hall of Masks.”
“Wait a minute,” said Takanuva. “I don’t understand any of this. Tahu, Pohatu and the rest were supposed to stay asleep until they were needed to awaken Mata Nui. But Mata Nui never fell asleep here, so why are they here?”
“He talks a lot, doesn’t he?” Pohatu said to Lesovikk. Lesovikk shrugged.
“Ok, glowfish, let me tell you a story,” Pohatu said. “Toa Tuyet found out where we were from Artakha. She sent some Toa in to find us, but none of them survived the trip. That was when she found a spot in the Coliseum no one had ever seen before: a place from which she could fake the signal that would launch our canisters. Next thing you know, here we are. She laid it all out for us: how the Makuta and the Dark Hunters were plotting to take over, how it was our duty as Toa to stop them dead. It was the only way to make the universe really safe. So we all signed on, but after a while I started to have doubts.
“They turned into fears when I found out that Tuyet had sent a squad headed by Toa Nidhiki to wipe out the Nynrah Ghosts, just because they might someday make something that would be used against her. Four dozen Matoran dead. Still makes me sick. That was when I made contact with Lesovikk, and we’ve been working together ever since. Of course, Tuyet doesn’t know that.”
“You’re a regular stone Wall of History,” said Lesovikk. “But it’s going to be light soon. We need to get the troops together and get ready for a raid.”
Pohatu led the two Toa back to his cavern. Once inside, he used his power to send a mild tremor the length of Metru Nui. Not enough to cause damage, just enough to signal those who would understand and respond. They started filtering in through underground tunnels not long after. Nuju, Ahkmou, three Dark Hunters: Guardian, Darkness and Primal, one Toa: Krakua, and a Po-Matoran that Lesovikk introduced as Kodan.
“It’s handy to have the Toa’s Chronicler on our side,” said Lesovikk. “Helps us stay informed.”
“So what’s the plan?” asked Takanuva. “We sneak in, steal the mask and get out?”
“He thinks small, too,” Pohatu said to Lesovikk. Lesovikk shrugged.
“Listen, junior. I don’t know where you came from or why,” said Pohatu. “But I’m betting Tuyet doesn’t know either, and maybe that gives us an edge. So we’re putting everything on one Akilini play. Ahkmou here has alerted the Makuta in town, Darkness took care of any Dark Hunters nearby who were still on two legs. Everybody’s in.”
“In what?” asked Takanuva.
“Tuyet’s had her own way for too long,” Pohatu answered, grabbing a protosteel axe off the wall. “It’s time to take her down.”