Toa Norik moved carefully through a narrow passage below the Coliseum of Metru Nui. Behind him, the other Toa Hagah walked single-file, eyes and ears alert for any threat. All of them knew they were in uncharted territory – going somewhere no Toa, Matoran, Turaga, or other intelligent native of this universe had ever gone before.
Well, that was not completely true. If what the Order of Mata Nui suspected was true, Makuta Teridax had traveled this route not long ago. Of course, that information came from an evil Piraka, Zaktan, who was now traveling along with the Toa Hagah. His recent mutation into a sea creature meant Zaktan had to be carried by Kualus in a water-filled globe.
“This reminds me of the Archives,” Toa Iruini whispered. After a pause he added, “I pretty much hated that place too.”
“You have to admit, though, Teridax fits right in here,” said Pouks. “Dark, dank, the kind of place only a stone rat could love.”
“We’re not looking for a new home,” snapped Norik. “Focus on the job.”
“That’s right, fight among yourselves,” hissed Zaktan. “You Toa are all alike – all mewling idiots.”
“Well, not all alike,” Kualus chuckled. “I, for one, am much clumsier than the average Toa. In fact, I feel your globe slipping from my fingers even as we speak. Certainly hope I don’t drop it.”
Zaktan cursed. Kualus responded by dropping the globe for an instant, then catching it again. “Whoops. There I go again,” said the Toa.
Up ahead, Norik had come to a stop. Using a small portion of his flame power, he was illuminating one of the walls of the tunnel. On it was a series of inscriptions, apparently very ancient in origin.
“Is that Matoran? It doesn’t look like it,” said Norik. “I don’t recognize the language.”
“Let me see,” said Bomonga. Being something of a master of the underground, Bomonga had seen more than his share of old inscriptions. “It’s not Matoran, I don’t think… maybe some kind of root language. I can make out a little of it… not much… I think it’s some kind of record.”
“A record of what?” asked Gaaki.
Bomonga stared at the writing for a while before answering, “I can’t tell. All I can make out is a name… not sure if it’s a person or a place… ‘Bara Magna.’”
No one said anything as they searched their memories for that name. After a few moments, all realized they had never heard it before. If it was somewhere in the universe they knew, then it must have been in an unexplored region.
“Does it say anything about how to stuff a Makuta into his armor and then flush it away?” asked Iruini.
“I wish,” muttered Bomonga.
“All right, let’s keep going,” said Norik. “Zaktan, how much farther do you think it is?”
“I don’t know,” snapped the Piraka. “I haven’t been here either. I just know that the inscriptions I read hinted that this was where the Makuta had to come. I’m not sure he even knew for sure what was down here, or that ‘here’ actually existed – I think he was guessing.”
“Nothing worse than a Makuta who’s a good guesser,” mumbled Iruini.
“I expected this trip to be more… dangerous,” said Pouks. “From the way Gaaki was talking when we left… about it being a place of death, and all that… I expected loads of traps and nasty Rahi. So far, this is a stroll through Metru Nui.”
The tunnel was suddenly filled with a low hum, which grew louder by the moment. Too late, Iruini cried out, “Out! Everybody out!” The next instant, he was slammed against the wall, followed by the other Toa Hagah. It was only by sheer luck that Kualus was able to twist his body so that Zaktan’s globe did not get smashed to pieces by the impact.
Now all six Toa Hagah were trapped, pinned to the wall by a powerful magnetic force. Norik immediately called on his power of fire, but the tunnel was fireproof. Each of the others tried their powers in turn, only to find that the wall was somehow impervious to their elemental energies.
“Makuta?” asked Iruini.
“I don’t think so,” Norik answered. “He’s not this subtle. I think this is one of those traps Pouks was so relieved we missed out on.”
“Well, it could be worse,” said Kualus. “I mean, given time, I’m sure we can figure a way to get free.”
“Why do I think time is the last thing we’ll be given?” said Bomonga. “Do you smell that?”
They all did. It was a hot, metallic scent that wafted from the tunnel up ahead. They all knew what it was, but Norik was the first to speak it aloud.
“It’s molten protodermis,” he said quietly. “And it’s headed this way.”
* * *
Daxia was a good place to visit, providing you were a member of the Order of Mata Nui and had been invited. There were places to relax and to train, libraries full of tablets on every imaginable subject, and a central well of energy for when one got hungry. Of course, there was also an armory, an equipment storehouse, and a vehicle center that members could access before going on missions.
If, on the other hand, you weren’t welcome… well, that was another story, as Mazeka was finding out. He had been to Daxia before, during his training, and had even been given his swamp strider vehicle by Toa Helryx, leader of the Order. With some reservation, she had approved his pursuit of Vultraz, providing it didn’t get in the way of other work she needed him to do. But it was also made clear to him that return trips to Daxia had to be cleared first, so the Order could make sure he was not being followed to their secret base.
This day, Mazeka had not done that. He had stormed the coast of Daxia, seeking information. His old enemy, Vultraz, was heading for someplace called the core, carrying something for a Makuta named Icarax. Mazeka was determined to stop him, but first, he had to learn what the core was and where it was. And he knew who would have the answers.
“Helryx!” he shouted, as he ran through the central corridor of the Order base, two guards in pursuit. “I request an audience!”
“Grab him!” one of the guards yelled. “He could be a Brotherhood spy!”
Mazeka stopped suddenly and dropped to the ground. The lead guard tripped over him and went sprawling. Mazeka shot up, grabbing the second guard’s wrist. With a quick movement, he tossed the guard over his shoulder, sending the sentry crashing to the ground.
“Sorry,” Mazeka said. “But I don’t have time for official channels.”
Both guards were getting back to their feet, so Mazeka took off. While he couldn’t become invisible like his old trainer, Jerbraz, he knew how to “disappear” when he had to. The shadows were his friend. He found a hiding place and waited for the guards to rush past before moving out again.
Mazeka knew where Helryx’s chamber was – he also knew all the traps and guard stations along the way. Jerbraz had trained him to pay attention to things like that. You never knew when you might need the knowledge. Now he used it to evade observation as he made his way to the center of the base.
Under normal circumstances, this would probably have been impossible to do. But with the Order now at war with the Brotherhood, the number of members on Daxia had dropped. Most agents were out leading operations against Makuta strongholds, meaning that many fewer guards to dodge.
Forcing his way into Helryx’s chamber would be impossible – too well protected. But he had noted an escape tunnel built into one wall and had made a point of searching for where it came out. Now he went in that hidden exit and followed the tunnel along, all the way back to his goal.
But when he emerged, he saw that Helryx wasn’t there. Instead, it was a senior Order of Mata Nui agent, Tobduk. This was just about the last person Mazeka wanted to see.
Tobduk was tall – easily 10 feet in height – and although he looked very lean, it was deceptive. He was all wiry muscle. He wore a Kanohi Sanok, the Mask of Accuracy, an appropriate one for him – for he was a killer.
This particular Order member got the ugly assignments, and thrived on them. He was most famous within the group for planning the deaths of or personally slaying everyone who knew the location of the island of Artakha – including other Order members and a Makuta. Although one would expect someone like him to be cold and calm, Tobduk was in a perpetual rage – he fed on anger, his and others’; it made him stronger.
Mazeka had battled Tobduk a few times during his training. He had always lost. Despite the Matoran’s best efforts, frustration and anger would grow in him during the fight, making Tobduk even stronger. Then the fight would be over in seconds.
“Come out, Mazeka,” Tobduk said, with the grin of a hungry kavinika wolf. “I know you’re there.”
There was no point in denying it or postponing the inevitable. Mazeka kicked open the entrance to the tunnel and stepped out into the light. “I would have thought you would be out killing something,” he said. “Did Helryx ground you?”
“My time is coming,” Tobduk snapped. “I was made for war.”
“Great,” said Mazeka. He forced himself to stay calm and collected, so he could deny Tobduk any extra strength. “I hope you and your battles will be very happy together. I need information. Where’s Helryx?”
“Out. And you don’t come to us… we call you,” Tobduk growled menacingly.
“Vultraz is heading for the core, bringing something to a Makuta,” Mazeka explained. “I need to follow him, but I don’t know where the core is.”
“I do,” said Tobduk. His eyes somehow managed to gleam and yet remain cold and dead at the same time. “And I could tell you… but not yet.” He picked a dagger up off Helryx’s desk and toyed with it. “Jerbraz says you have come far. But do you have what it takes to kill?”
Here it comes, thought Mazeka. He’s going to challenge me to combat for the information I seek. And I’m better than I once was, but not better enough to beat him.
To Mazeka’s surprise, Tobduk put the dagger into a sheath on his hip and smiled. “No. Cutting you down wouldn’t even be sport anymore, not when there are so many better targets out there. I have a job to do, Mazeka… and I could use a little help. You aid me and I will tell you what you want to know… or you could refuse, and the guards will haul you off to a cell for interrogation while Vultraz roams free.”
Mazeka had no choice. His need for revenge on Vultraz mattered more to him than anything else. If he had to team with someone like Tobduk to achieve his goals, then so be it.
“What do I have to do?” asked Mazeka.
“Nothing too terrible,” said Tobduk, already walking out of the chamber and obviously expecting Mazeka to follow. “We’re just going hunting.”
* * *
The Toa Empire universe…
Takanuva crouched behind a wall, a wounded Lesovikk beside him. All around, elemental power bursts were flying, warriors were screaming, and a disaster beyond his imagination was taking place. It had all started out so well: Lesovikk’s band had made it close to the Coliseum before being spotted. As planned, Takanuva had used his newfound shadow powers to blind the guards. Pohatu followed with a massive fist of stone that cracked the walls of the huge structure. To the east, Makuta Teridax led Krika, Kojol, Turaga Dume and Takua into battle. At first, they made short work of the Matoran and Toa who guarded Tuyet’s fortress. Then it all went wrong: a Toa of Iron appeared on the walls and a hail of spikes spelled the end of Takua. Takanuva watched in sheer horror as his other self collapsed and died. Kojol fell next, his armor crushed by the Toa’s power, and his essence incinerated by a Toa of Plasma. Teridax was forced to pull back.
Things were going no better for Lesovikk’s squad. Primal had run into Tahu at the eastern entrance and killed the Toa of Fire, but the sudden appearance of Gali, and a sphere of water around the Dark Hunter’s head, left him to drown on dry land. Toa Krakua hit Gali with a wave of solid sound, blasting apart her mask and armor. Pohatu cried out, too late: Ahkmou had already dashed ahead and slain the fallen Toa of Water. He didn’t get to enjoy his triumph long. Kopaka flash-froze Ahkmou, and a swipe from Onua’s claws shattered the Matoran into little pieces of crystalline protodermis.
Now it was no longer one battle, but a dozen seperate ones being fought at once, the lines moving back and forth. Pohatu fought his way into the Coliseum, but found himself too evenly matched with Onua to make much progress. Lesovikk fell with an ice dagger in his shoulder, but rallied to blow Kopaka off his post high atop the Coliseum. Takanuva winced as the Toa of Ice hit the ground and lay still.
“Now,” said Lesovikk to Takanuva, “Darkness will lead the way. Get in there and do what you have to.”
“What about you?” asked Takanuva.
“We’ll give them something to remember,” said Lesovikk.
Takanuva took one last look around. Nuju was side-by-side with Guardian, keeping a Toa of Magnetism too off-balance to use his powers. Teridax’s forces had charged again: Krika used his vacuum power to absorb Lewa’s attacks until Teridax could summon a bolt of lightning powerful enough to turn a Toa to ashes.
Darkness was already on the move, slipping through the cracks in the Coliseum walls. Takanuva used his shadow power to enlarge them and followed.
Inside, the Coliseum was strangely silent. One would never know a battle raged outside its walls. A team of Toa rushed by on their way to join the fight. Steeling himself, Takanuva fired laser blasts at the ceiling, bringing the rubble down on top of them. He still found himself hoping he had only stunned them, not killed them.
Together, Toa and Dark Hunter fought their way to their goal: the Hall of Masks. They had made it to the chamber door when Darkness paused – he heard something. The next instant, the door exploded outward as a wall of water erupted from within, sweeping Darkness away. Takanuva managed to grab hold of the doorway, holding on with all his might and holding his breath.
Outside, Teridax’s attack had met with success as Toa fell before him and Krika. Turaga Dume had rallied Lesovikk’s group, although not before Nuju had been pulled into the Archives by plantlife gone wild. Guardian, too, fell, but took half a dozen Toa with him.
Back in the Coliseum, the deluge had finally stopped. There, framed in the chamber doors stood Toa Tuyet, Nui Stone in one hand, Mask of Dimensional Gates in the other.
“I know who you are,” she said. “Or rather, I have guessed. You don’t belong here.”
“Neither do you,” said Takanuva. “You don’t exist in my world. True Toa must have stood up and stopped you before you went too far.”
“In my world, I am much more… competent,” she replied. “How unfortunate for you.”
“Alright then,” said Takanuva. “For Takua, for Lesovikk, and for all the Toa and Matoran whose lives you have ruined, I strike.”