Toa Jaller stood on the beach of Artidax, his body locked rigid by Takadox’s hypnotic trance. Next to him, Hahli and Nuparu stood, similarly paralyzed. None of the three were aware of what was going on around them, which was probably for the best.
Artidax was about to be the scene of a disaster. Its volcano was mere moments away from exploding, raining fire and ash on anything unfortunate enough to be around. Not knowing this, the Toa Mahri had brought the Heart of the Visorak here, a beacon that would summon the entire Visorak horde to this spot. The idea had been to strand them here. What no one knew was that Takadox was hiding on this island, and he hypnotized the three Toa and stole their ship, intending to make his escape.
Worse, the Visorak had arrived, and were even now scuttling across the beach toward the Toa Mahri.
All in all, not the best day the Toa Mahri ever had…
Visorak, it is said, never forget.
The specimens now approaching the Toa Mahri had seen Toa before, 1000 years or so ago in Metru Nui. It had been a different team, of course, but to Visorak, one Toa looks much like another. They could remember, if dimly, the pain the Toa had caused them, and they could remember the hate.
But they recalled one thing more. Toa might appear weak, beaten, or defeated, and then suddenly lash out with devastating effectiveness. It wouldn’t do to rush up to their apparently helpless foes and possibly walk into a trap. So they hung back a bit, cautiously probing to see if the Toa would react. Others began to scout – if these Toa really were frozen, as they seemed to be, something had done it to them. Could that something still be on the island, waiting to do it to the Visorak?
Jaller had a thought. This was very strange, as he wasn’t capable of thinking at the moment. But some tiny part of his consciousness that was still active realized the answer: the thought was not his.
This is no way for a Toa to die.
That little spark of awareness was followed by a slightly larger one of recognition. He had heard that voice before. It belonged to Makuta. Although it had sounded different when it came from the mouth of the robotic Maxilos, the arrogant tone was the same.
The voice continued. Paralyzed on a beach, about to be slain by Visorak or incinerated by lava? Is that the stuff of which legends are made? I think not.
No, don’t bother looking around for me… not that you could, in your condition. I am not on Artidax, but somewhere far away. Still, my powers have increased, so I can see and speak to you just the same. Jaller, Jaller… Vakama had such hopes for you, and look at you now. As a Toa, you make a good statue.
Of course, I should object to what you had planned for my Visorak… you and whoever set the volcano to erupt. But you didn’t know about that, did you? And it would be such a shame to miss “seeing” your expression when you find out the truth…
Jaller felt a sudden jolt of pain, sharp and agonizing. It cut through the fog caused by Takadox’s hypnosis. In that moment, he awakened, his mind reeling. Someone had been talking to him… but who? What had they said? What had just happened?
There wasn’t time to puzzle it out, not with Nuparu and Hahli in trances and Visorak now closing in. With no other choice, Jaller hurled small fireballs at his two partners, just enough to singe them. As he hoped, the pain shocked them awake.
“Hey!” snapped Nuparu. “What’s the idea?”
“Not dying, that’s the idea,” said Jaller. “We need to get off this island.”
Hahli was already at work, summoning a wall of water to smash into the oncoming Visorak. Jaller threw up a wall of flame to block those coming from behind. Both Toa and Visorak alike froze at the sound of a rumble like thunder, coming from the volcano.
“Uh oh,” said Nuparu. “I may not be the lava fan you are, Jaller, but I know enough about volcanoes to know what that sound means. It’s going to blow!”
“Mata Nui,” whispered Hahli. “Do you think that was why we were supposed to bring the Visorak here? So they could be killed?”
Something was nagging at Jaller, a memory of something he had heard, but he couldn’t put his finger on what. But somehow he knew he was speaking the truth when he said, “Yes. I think someone planned this… and I’m not sure they cared if we got caught in the middle.”
“Our ship is gone!” said Nuparu. A half dozen Visorak moved on them. A shot from his Cordak blaster convinced them to back off.
“Then we swim,” said Jaller.
“To where? We’re in the middle of nowhere,” Nuparu pointed out.
“It’s swim, fry, or be a Visorak’s lunch,” said Jaller. “Take your pick.”
“Did I ever tell you how much I love the water?” said Nuparu. Triggering his elemental power, he churned up the ground in front of the Toa, creating a path temporarily free of Visorak leading to the water.
“Go!” yelled Jaller.
The three broke into a run and dove into the ocean. Behind them, the Visorak milled about for a moment, confused. Their prey was getting away, but the Heart of the Visorak was here. They had to stay where the Heart was, didn’t they?
Out in the water, the Toa were battling their way through more of the Visorak horde, all headed inexorably for the island. Jaller looked over his shoulder. For a moment, he was tempted to destroy the Heart. But that would mean having a horde of Visorak on he and his friends in a moment.
It’s what a Toa should do, he thought. Toa don’t kill, after all… or help someone else do it. But maybe this is a new world – one where you can’t trust your friends or your enemies. Maybe all we can do is try to stay alive.
The Toa were still too close when the Artidax volcano exploded. Hahli grabbed her two friends and pulled them underwater just as flaming chunks of rock started landing all around them. On the beach, the assembled Visorak found themselves too close to the disaster to escape. The horde, which had brought pain and death to so many, now reaped the reward for their acts.
“Now what?” said Nuparu, when the Toa had surfaced again. “We’re a long way from home.”
“We’ll get there, one way or the other,” said Jaller. “And then we’re going to have a little talk with a certain black-armored female and get some answers… or we’re going to start a war of our own.”
* * *
Mazeka grabbed Vezon’s arm and yanked him away from where Makuta Tridax and Tobduk were fighting. “Come on, you fool,” the Matoran said. “You want to get killed?”
“Well…” Vezon said, as if he were seriously debating the question. “Anyway, I want to see the end.”
“Trust me, there will be plenty of endings to see,” Mazeka said, with some bitterness in his voice. “Everything ends eventually… and sometimes, you’re not sure why.”
“How profound. How deep,” said Vezon. Then he added, “How boring. Who are you and why are you here?”
“I’m here to kill you,” said Mazeka.
“Oh,” brightened Vezon. “I knew there was something about you I liked.”
Tobduk watched the last of the Makuta’s armor dissolve before the protosteel-eating virus. That left just his free floating antidermis to deal with. Meanwhile, the fortress of Destral continued to shake and crumble before the onslaught outside.
“You Makuta,” Tobduk said, shaking his head. “In the end, you’re just wisps of corruption, aren’t you? No substance at all. Not like these Toa you have imprisoned all over the place in this chamber.”
Tobduk looked around. He didn’t recognize the Toa in the cases, but could tell they were – somehow – all the same being. “Someone’s been tampering with things best left alone,” he said, in a vaguely sinister, sing-song voice. “I’ve heard enough Turaga tales to know what that leads to.”
The antidermis floating in the middle of the room turned a darker shade of black and green. Tobduk had no doubt the Makuta was trying to mentally attack him… or perhaps even telepathically beg for his life? But with his mental shields up, nothing was getting through. That was okay, though. He hated to hear a grown gas cloud cry.
“I can guess what you’re thinking,” Tobduk said. “With all these Toa here, no one would dare destroy Destral. No one would risk the damage to all those other realities. No one would sacrifice all these lives.”
Tobduk smiled and pulled out a nasty looking staff. Its shaft was inscribed with Matoran symbols and its head was carved in the shape of a doom serpent’s head. “Well, let me tell you something. I used to live on an island to the east of here… just a simple place, where a few of us tried to get by day to day. We had a little Rahi trouble now and then, nothing too serious. That is, until the day a Makuta showed up.
“He had a little experiment he wanted to do. He mixed a little of this, a little of that, and before you knew it… he had a great big spider… and then a lot more. But that wasn’t enough… he had to see what they could do. So he unleashed them on our village… it was over in minutes. When they were done, the Makuta renamed the island Visorak in honor of their pets.”
Tobduk shuddered a little, from the memory. “I made it off the island… a few others did, too… and got to Nynrah, and from there, to Stelt. By the time we made it there, the horror of all I had seen had… changed me. When my new friends took me in, they named me ‘Tobduk,’ which I hear means ‘survivor.’ Their idea of a joke, I guess.”
Tobduk’s eyes gleamed with a mixture of rage and madness. “Cause, you see, I didn’t survive. I don’t even know who I used to be. I’m not who I was… and I’m not what the Order wanted to make me. I am no one.”
A beam of white-hot energy lanced from Tobduk’s staff. It struck the antidermis in midair, incinerating it in a matter of moments. Tobduk didn’t turn the weapon off until every last particle was gone.
“Impressive,” said Mazeka from the doorway.
Tobduk shrugged. “It passes the time. Where’s the other one? He’s a loose Rahi… needs to be contained.”
“He’s dead,” Mazeka lied. He had no idea who Vezon was, but had no reason to murder him either. He decided to let him take his chances with the army outside the gates, slim though those chances might be.
“You owe me,” the Matoran continued. “You said if I helped you, you would tell me how to find the core.”
The fortress was rocked by an explosion. The ceiling of the chamber cracked and rubble began to fall. “So I did,” said Tobduk, seemingly unconcerned about the destruction all around him. “Very well, Matoran, I will point you in the right direction.”
“What about all these Toa?” asked Mazeka.
“Wrong place, wrong time,” answered Tobduk. “They don’t belong here and we don’t have time to send them all home. They’re casualties of war. You can stay and try to save them if you like, but I’m done here… so I am going. If you want the secret of the core, you’ll come with me.”
Mazeka considered. The lives of a bunch of Toa he didn’t know vs. stopping whatever evil Vultraz had planned. He knew what a Toa would do – risk everything to save the helpless and let the villain escape, maybe putting more lives at risk in the long run. But maybe that was why there were only 50+ Toa left in the universe – and anyway, Mazeka wasn’t one of them.
“Okay,” said the Matoran. “We go.”
When the Matoran and the Order agent had vanished from the chamber, Vezon stepped out of the shadows. Destral was falling to pieces all around him, but he ignored it. His eyes were on all those crystalline cases and the Toa sleeping inside.
He had mocked Makuta Tridax’s “collection” not so long ago. But as the madbeing traced a finger along one of the cases, he couldn’t help but wonder:
What couldn’t I do with an army of Toa by my side?