Toa Helryx, leader of the Order of Mata Nui, picked her way across the remains of a battlefield. She was on the beach of the island of Nynrah, site of a struggle between the Brotherhood of Makuta and the Order. After a long and furious battle, the Order had won – driving the Brotherhood forces from the island or crushing them on the beach. Now she wandered the sands, occasionally picking up a piece of Rahkshi armor, studying it for a moment and then discarding it.
There was a method to her madness. Using her mask of power, Helryx could read the past of an object simply by touching it. Her goal here was simple. Rahkshi were created using a powerful substance called energized protodermis. The Order wanted to know every source of that substance used by the Makuta so they could capture or destroy those sources. Without them, no new Rahkshi could come into being.
So far, all the ones she had identified here were sources the Order already knew about. Still, it was worth the effort. It would be far easier to defeat the Brotherhood by cutting off their source of power, rather than beating them in battle.
She picked up a piece of crimson Rahkshi armor and called on the power of her mask. This time, she saw a place she did not recognize: Makuta Chirox was there, and a silvery pool, but not just any pool – no, this one had a figure emerging from it, a being actually made of energized protodermis. She concentrated hard and the location came to her: an island just north of the one her newest ally came from.
Helryx dropped the piece of armor and turned to Keetongu. The Rahi had reluctantly agreed to break off his efforts to save the victims of Visorak long enough to help in the war. In return, Helryx had promised him the Visorak would never again be a threat to anyone else.
“We have to go,” she said. “There’s another source.”
It was a short journey. Their destination at first seemed uninhabited, but that illusion didn’t last long. Helryx spotted… things skulking among the rocks. They weren’t Matoran or Rahi, but looked like something in between. The overall feeling was that something was very wrong here. The air, the ground, the inhabitants all felt – off somehow, in a way that obviously made Keetongu uneasy. There were no buildings on the island… none left standing, anyway. The most prominent feature was a large cave. Helryx and Keetongu entered cautiously. The passage narrowed considerably once they were a little ways in, forcing them to crawl to make any forward progress. Helryx couldn’t help but think how easy it would be to get trapped in here.
As the passage widened again, Helryx saw more creatures. These obviously were Rahi beasts, but not like anything she’d seen before. They were short, pale bipeds, with large yellow eyes and spindly arms and legs. They backed away and moved to the side as she and her ally passed. But as soon as the two had moved on, they assembled into a group and followed close behind.
Helryx and Keetongu came to a huge chamber. In the center of it was not a pool of energized protodermis, but an actual lake of the stuff. And rising from the center was the figure of a living being: a head, two arms, a torso ending in the lake itself. Its features were barely there, and its substance was the silver color of energized protodermis.
The sight triggered a memory. An agent on Metru Nui had reported that Turaga Vakama had once mentioned an ‘Energized Protodermis Entity’ his team had fought when they were Toa Metru. Could this be the same being?
“I have been expecting you,” said the figure. “I have felt your kind at work in my pools throughout this universe. Destructive, but ultimately futile. Cap one source of my substance and it will emerge somewhere else.”
“Then we will destroy it there, too,” Helryx answered. “What are you?”
“I am creation and destruction,” the Entity answered. “I am the power to transform and to destroy. I am every drop of energized protodermis that exists, and every drop is me. I am as far beyond you, creature of armor and tissue, as you are beyond an insect.”
“And your purpose here?” asked Helryx.
“I did not choose to come here,” the Entity replied. “I lived in the core of a planet, until one day a portion of my substance forced its way to the surface. It did not take long for the inhabitants of that world to discover my power – or to begin warring over it. But some of what makes up my form was taken and placed inside this universe, and so escaped before cataclysm overtook that world.”
“And now?” said Helryx.
“Now I experiment on the creatures and things I find around me,” said the Entity. “I have even let others make use of my power, if I found their intentions intriguing enough.”
“You have helped create beings that have brought terror and death to thousands,” said Helryx. “It has to stop.”
“Is a weapon responsible for the actions of the one who wields it?” asked the Entity.
“Perhaps not,” said Helryx. “But a weapon can be broken, and so never used again.”
A soft sound that might have been laughter escaped from the entity.
“I have met your kind before – so confident in your power to contain me, control me, or destroy me. You are no more than Stone Apes reaching for the stars, believing you could extinguish them if only you could get them in your grasp.”
The lake began to boil and churn. A huge wave of energized protodermis rose up behind the Entity, so wide it spanned the whole chamber, and began to speed across the surface towards Helryx and Keetongu.
“Transformation… or destruction,” said the Entity. “Which will be your fate? Let us find out together.”
* * *
The Toa Hagah had, in their time, gone through some pretty bad days. Finding out the Makuta they had been chosen to protect was a traitor who intended harm to the Matoran; getting turned into Rahaga by the power of evil Roodaka; getting attacked by a Toa Hordika gone bad in Metru Nui – all of those were pretty high up on the “bad day” scale.
But nothing quite compared to being magnetized to the walls of an underground tunnel while molten protodermis surged toward you and searing death was only a handful of seconds away. That was in a class by itself.
“Anyone got any great ideas?” asked Iruini.
No one answered.
“Then how about last words?”
The hissing sound of the protodermis as it drew closer was suddenly drowned out by the sound of smashing stone and tearing metal. Rock and dust rained down from above. The Hagah looked up to see a huge hole had been torn in the tunnel ceiling. Looking down at them through it was what looked like a giant reptilian creature.
“And what have we here?” the being rumbled. “Six Toa and their fish tank in danger?”
“It talks,” said Bomonga.
“I don’t care if it sings, dances, and can juggle Kanohi blindfolded,” said Iruini. “Can it get us out of here?”
The great beast nodded. “I can. I will… at least until I find out who you are. If I am not satisfied with the answer, then I will throw you back.”
There was a moment of terrible vertigo and complete disorientation. The next thing the Hagah knew, they were in another part of the tunnel. The beast was with them, though noticeably smaller in size. Also present was the water tank containing Zaktan.
“Now – by the right of salvage, I ask who you are, who you were before, and why you are here,” said the beast.
As swiftly as possible, Toa Norik explained the history of the Toa Hagah and then their mission in the tunnels. He left out any mention of Toa Helryx or the Order of Mata Nui. The beast listened, nodding occasionally, and when he was finished, it smiled.
“So the Makuta saw the need of protection, one day in the distant past? How… amusing. I am a Makuta as well – my name is Miserix – no doubt you have not heard of me, for which we can thank our mutual enemy, Teridax.”
Bomonga and Kualus were immediately ready to fight, but Norik gestured for them to hold back. Whoever this Miserix was, he had saved them.
“Not that I’m complaining, mind you, but how did you find us… and how did you save us?” asked Iruini.
“Ah, just like a Toa,” said Miserix. “Always assuming the universe revolves around you. I had no idea you were here. I was seeking Teridax. As for how I prevented your premature melting, teleportation – a minor, if useful, talent.”
“What makes you think Teridax is down here?” asked Toa Pouks. The others knew Pouks was just buying time. His mask was analyzing and copying Miserix’s power, but that took a while to do.
“I could say I smelled his stench,” said Miserix. “But the truth is, I found a Makuta who preferred talking to being shredded by my claws. He pointed me in the right direction… and in return, I did not tear him apart. He was quite intact when I absorbed him into my body. And by the way…”
Miserix lashed out, knocking Pouks against a wall. The Toa’s mask flew off.
“I dislike being… imitated,” the Makuta growled.
Gaaki helped Pouks to his feet and retrieved his mask for him. “So what now?” said the Toa of Water.
“Now?” said Miserix. “Now we best Teridax in his lair. Enough time has been wasted on that pretender to power.”
Miserix turned and walked away. If he was worried that the Toa Hagah would not follow, or that they would attack him from behind, he showed no sign of it. In truth, he was concerned about neither. If they didn’t come along, it mattered not a bit to him. If they attacked, he would kill them all.
“He’s a Makuta,” Zaktan said, in a harsh whisper. “Your sworn enemy! Why don’t you kill him?”
“You’re a Piraka,” replied Pouks. “Also our sworn enemy. Why don’t we kill you? Because we need you, serpent – and we may well need him too.”
After what felt like hours of travel, the tunnel at last came to a stop. It ended in a mid-sized chamber, lined with sophisticated machinery. But that wasn’t what captured the attention of the Hagah. No, they were focused on the two corpses in the room.
Kualus was the first to check over the still, armored forms. Bomonga joined him. After a few moments, the Toa of Earth said, “They have been dead many, many thousands of years. They look something like Toa… as you can see, one is in red armor, one in green… and they wear masks, as we do. But there’s something… different. Maybe a lot of things.”
Miserix extended a claw and scraped a piece off the armor of one of the bodies. He examined it carefully. “Fascinating. This armor is not made of protodermis. I would guess nothing about them is, from their organic tissue to their masks. Yet all things are made of protodermis. If they are not, that can only mean –”
“That they’re not from around here,” finished Norik. “But what were they doing here, miles beneath Metru Nui? How did they die? And what is this place?”
Before Miserix could answer, there was a crackle of ozone. The group turned to see a hole forming in space behind them. Within the hole, they could see nothing but darkness at first… then the vague outline of figures coming toward them from the void.
“I believe we are about to have company,” said Miserix. “Perhaps, Hagah, we will get to see just how effective you are at ‘protecting’ a Makuta, after all.”