“We were not always like this, you know,” Krika said, with something in his voice that Gali never thought she would hear from a Makuta: regret.

The Toa of Water was still feeling weak and dizzy from Krika’s attack. She did her best to ignore it. One of her strengths had always been the ability to listen and to try to understand both her friends and her enemies. She had a chance to do that now with this Makuta, and she wasn’t going to blow it.

“I know,” she replied. “The swamp water must have mutated –”

Krika shook his head, sadly. “I’m not talking about how we look. I’m talking about what we are. A piece of advice, Toa – if you keep focusing only on the now, there isn’t going to be any later.”

The Makuta turned ghostly and floated up off the ground. “There was a time, back when Makuta Miserix led us, that the Brotherhood stood for something. Oh, you would not remember him – you were asleep at the time – but he embraced our true mission. Under his guidance, we created Rahi beasts that are still of use to the Matoran today. When the Matoran civil war happened on Metru Nui, it was Miserix who decreed we Makuta must get more involved in the world outside our laboratories.” He paused for a moment, then added, “That was the beginning of the end.”

Gali knew the rest of the story all too well. The Brotherhood rebelled against the Great Spirit Mata Nui, casting him into an unending sleep and plunging the universe into a time of darkness. The mission of the Toa Nuva was to undo that criminal act and awaken Mata Nui once more.

“When we saw the universe beyond our towers, we discovered how Mata Nui was honored, respected, and loved by the Matoran,” said Krika. “That was love and devotion we felt we deserved for the thousands of things we had done to better their lives. Jealousy turned to resentment, and resentment to hate. And when Makuta Teridax proposed we strike at Mata Nui and seize power, we turned away from Miserix and followed his lead.”

“And what happened to Miserix?” asked Gali. She could feel her strength returning. If she could keep Krika talking, she would soon be able to make a break for freedom.

“Teridax wanted to kill him,” Krika replied. “Makuta Spiriah and I were given the job, but Spiriah didn’t have the stomach for killing mask to mask. I told him I would handle it… but instead, I brought Miserix to a volcanic island in the south and imprisoned him there.”

“So you disobeyed,” said Gali. “I didn’t think Makuta had the spines to do that.”

Krika shrugged, sending a strange ripple of motion through his intangible form. “Perhaps we do not,” he said quietly. “Should the volcanoes erupt with enough force and for enough time, Miserix will have no hope of survival. I gave him a chance, that’s all.”

Gali said nothing. She was remembering how Tahu and Kopaka had been dispatched by the Order of Mata Nui to stop a series of volcanic eruptions on a southern island, shortly before the team came to Karda Nui. Could it have been the same place that Miserix was imprisoned? Was that why the Order wanted the eruptions blocked?

“As I now give you one,” said Krika. He pushed something toward her through the mud. Gali picked it up and used the slightest bit of her elemental power to wash the soil away. She saw it was a piece of stone, about the size of her hand, with the symbol of the Brotherhood of Makuta engraved on it.

“With that, anyone – even you – can pass unharmed through the forces of the Brotherhood,” Krika continued. “Take it. I will lead you to an exit from this place. Return to Metru Nui, Xia, anywhere that is not here. Just go, Gali, if you value your universe.”

Gali was surprised at the urgency in his voice, but unconvinced by his plea. “If you want me gone, why not just kill me? You have the power.”

Krika smiled. The expression gave Gali chills. “The Makuta have a legend. It says that when one of us dies, all that we have put out into the universe comes back to us. For tens of thousands of years, I have put fear, pain, and death out into the universe, Toa. Perhaps I want to add a strain of mercy to that mix.”

Gali studied the Makuta. Was this a trick? Some attempt to weaken the Toa’s ranks? None of it made sense.

“Why?” she said finally. “Why do you want me gone? Or is it that you simply want one less Toa Nuva in Karda Nui?”

Krika laughed softly. It was a hollow and horrible sound, somehow worse to Gali’s ears than a scream of rage would have been. “You should have been a Makuta, Gali, you are far too clever to be a mere Toa. You Nuva are here to awaken Mata Nui, a mission that requires all six of you. I tell you that if you do this, you and everything you know, everything you love, will be doomed to a future more horrible than you can imagine. Leave here now, and that future cannot come to pass.”

Tahu racked his brain. Vamprah had proven impossible to shake and far more skilled at aerial combat than the Toa. Mere fire bolts weren’t going to stop a Makuta who had a natural resistance to fire. Something much bigger was going to be needed.

Nova blast? No, that might harm my friends as well, thought Tahu. I need something sudden, unexpected…

He glanced around, looking for something that would inspire an idea. He found it in a pile of rotting vegetation atop an islet of mud off to the east. They reminded him of something he had seen once in the swamps of Le-Wahi on the island of Mata Nui. Turaga Matau had said something about some of the plants on the island not being like those in Metru Nui. They didn’t seem to be made of protodermis and didn’t break down the same way when they died. Tahu realized that in the end they resembled these dead plants in Karda Nui.

It makes sense, thought the Toa of Fire. Matau said some of the plants might have come from other islands. The plants here might have come in with the waters that flooded Karda Nui from outside. And he warned me not to use my powers around them when they started to rot, because…

Tahu smiled. Oh no. Wouldn’t dream of it.

He turned then and remained hovering in the air, not far from the decaying plant matter. Vamprah never hesitated, flying straight toward him, hungry for a fight. Tahu waited until Vamprah was just over the islet before tossing a fireball. But he didn’t aim it at the Makuta – he aimed it at the plants.

As soon as the fire came near its target, there was a huge explosion of flame. The shock sent Vamprah reeling and even Tahu rolled through the air before finally regaining control. When he looked back, a shaken Vamprah was clinging to a tree, the only thing keeping him from plunging into the swamp.

Score one for swamp gas, Tahu said to himself. One spark, and boom! I guess Matau was right after all.

“Pohatu! Wake up!” Photok said frantically. He and the unconscious Toa were inside a tiny air pocket beneath tons of rocks. Already, the atmosphere was getting thin.

At first, the Av-Matoran thought he could use his light powers to blast their way free. But his first shot produced nothing but a rain of rubble. It was obvious they would be crushed to death long before that method of escape would work.

The Matoran shook the fallen Toa, but it did no good. Then he hit him with a little light blast, followed by a bigger one. When neither did the trick, he upped the power one more time. This time it worked, with Pohatu awakening so abruptly he almost crushed Photok against the rocks above.

“What? Where?” shouted Pohatu.

“If you would – ow – not flatten me, maybe I could tell you,” grumbled Photok. “We have a problem. But a little speed like we used before and I bet we can fly right out of here –”

“And into the swamp water,” Pohatu cut him off. “Onua warned me about that stuff. Maybe we’d be fast enough that it wouldn’t affect us, but why take the chance? I’ve got a better idea.”

Pohatu closed his eyes and lay perfectly still. Photok was going to ask just what in Mata Nui’s name he was doing, but thought better of it. Maybe the Toa of Stone was concentrating, and it just looked like he was taking a nap. He decided to give it a few more seconds and see if anything happened.

That was when something did. First, Photok saw the rocks above and below fuse together into a solid mass. There was a sensation of motion, and the Matoran felt a little dizzy for a moment. Then he realized what was happening: He, Pohatu, and all the rock that surrounded them were rising. The Toa was using his mastery of stone to levitate them from the swamp at an amazing rate of speed.

“Wish I had my Mask of X-Ray Vision right about now,” Pohatu muttered. “I’d drop us right on Gorast.”

The Toa felt the slightest decrease in resistance to their movement, which told him they were out of the water and back in the air. Making sure Photok was securely on his back, he unleashed his power and split their rocky prison wide open. Before the two halves had even hit the swamp, Toa and Matoran were soaring back into the battle.

Halfway to the Codrex, they were joined in flight by Tahu. “Have you seen Gali?” the Toa of Stone asked.

“No,” answered Tahu, instantly concerned by the tone of his comrade’s voice. “What happened?”

Pohatu explained how he had seen Krika carrying off the Toa of Water. In the past, Tahu would have ordered Pohatu into the fight while he went and searched for Gali. But time and experience had made him less a warrior and more a leader of Toa.

“You’re fastest,” Tahu said. “Go find her and bring her to the Codrex. I’ll help the others and we’ll meet you there. And, Pohatu…”

“Don’t worry,” said the Toa of Stone. “She’s my friend, too, remember?”

Nodding, Tahu jetted toward the Codrex. Pohatu and Photok turned and headed in the opposite direction, both hoping against hope they would find the Toa of Water still alive.

High above the swamp, Ignika, the Toa of Life, stood guard over the fallen Makuta Icarax. Not long ago, Ignika had simply been a Mask of Power. Using its control over all life, it had fashioned a body for itself from the molecules in the swamp in an attempt to be a hero like the Toa.

It had not been easy. Ignika’s first battles were awkward, and at one point he even clashed with the Toa Nuva. But when Icarax challenged him, Ignika defeated the powerful Makuta decisively. Now, in pain and barely conscious, the Makuta looked up at Ignika with hatred in his eyes.

Icarax was a warrior. He had fought and won a thousand battles. Victory meant the death of the opponent, so the fact that Ignika had not yet killed him was, to Icarax, a sign of weakness. “Why do you hesitate?” he sneered. “Does the ‘Toa of Life’ not have the stomach to bring death?”

Ignika, puzzled, did not respond. He was not aware of the Toa code that prohibited killing, nor had he kept Icarax alive out of any sense of mercy or forgiveness. He simply didn’t see Icarax as a threat, so not worth the effort of eliminating.

“Go ahead,” said Icarax. “I’ll only be beating everyone else here to nonexistence by a few hours.”

Again, Ignika didn’t react. The Makuta sat up and stared at his foe. Then Icarax’s eyes widened and he began to laugh. “You don’t know! The great Mask of Life doesn’t even know what it is here for! Oh, this is too fine a joke!”

Icarax rose painfully to his feet. Ignika braced for another attack, but one wasn’t coming. Instead, the Makuta pointed at the Mask of Life. “Look at your mask, Toa. Everyone knows the legend of the golden Mask of Life, but your mask isn’t gold – it’s silver with shades of black. Don’t you know what that means? It means the end of everything.”

Icarax laughed again, a sound heavy with malice and madness. “Makuta Teridax told us all about you. The Great Beings created you not only as a cure for what might ail Mata Nui. You were their way to fix any mistakes they might have made in the creation of this universe. If the universe is too far out of balance, a countdown begins. Your mask turns to silver… and then to black… and when it is as black as a Makuta’s spirit, all life in this universe will cease to exist. All ‘mistakes’ will be erased, and the Great Beings, wherever they are, can start again somewhere else.”

Toa Ignika knew very little about how to look for lies and deception. But even if he had, he would not have found any in Icarax’s words. The Makuta was telling the truth, and somehow Ignika knew that. And that meant the Toa Nuva were racing a doomsday clock and didn’t even know it!

Icarax forgotten, Toa Ignika climbed aboard his skyboard and rocketed down toward the swamp. The Nuva had to be warned before it was too late.

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