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Takanuva held tight to the struggling Radiak as he flew. He had no idea how he was going to get the Matoran out of Karda Nui safely, let alone how he would convince all the shadow Matoran to come. But it hadn’t been so very long ago that he was one of them, just a villager doing his job (well, sometimes) and trying to survive in a dangerous world. When the Toa came to the island of Mata Nui, he looked up to them as heroes just as the other villagers did. Now it was time for him to be a hero for these Matoran.

He was so lost in thought that he didn’t spot Vican until Photok called out. Takanuva fired a warning burst of light at the flying figure, followed by one of shadow. Vican stopped and hovered in the air.

“Are you… are you a Toa?” the Matoran asked. He sounded like someone waking up from a dream. “Yes, you must be. Please, you have to listen to me! Something’s happened!”

Takanuva hesitated. This certainly didn’t look like a Matoran of Light, or any other kind, not with the wings and claws. “Who are you? What do you want?”

“My name is Vican,” the flying figure said. “I was… I am… a Le-Matoran. I worked for Makuta Mutran… he was making a Rahi, and it attacked me… and now… I don’t feel like myself. Or rather, I do, but like the old me, not the new me.”

“Slow down,” snapped Takanuva. “You’re not making sense.”

“He never did,” grumbled Radiak.

“I hate to agree with Radiak,” said Solek. “But I wouldn’t trust him. He’s one of them.”

“No! Mutran used a shadow leech on me, before we came here,” Vican explained, talking so fast his words tumbled over each other. “It changed me, how I felt, how I looked at the world. All I cared about was darkness and destruction… the things I helped Mutran do and create… Mata Nui forgive me.”

For a moment, Vican was too choked with emotion to go on. When he had recovered himself, he continued. “After the Rahi attack, suddenly I realized how far into the darkness I fell. I saw myself for what I became and it made me sick. But I’m not that twisted thing anymore – I’m not! You have to believe me.”

Radiak chuckled. “Nice one. I’ll have to remember this trick after I get free from ol’ Twilight here.”

“It’s no trick!” insisted Vican.

“We’ve seen this before,” said Tanma. “Shadow Matoran coming back, playing on our feelings, trying to win our trust so they can trap us. I know what to do with his kind. Let me –”

Takanuva made a sharp gesture to cut Tanma off. He was remembering how a shadow leech attacked him on Metru Nui, leaving him half in light, half in shadow. If what this Vican was saying was true, then there might be a way to undo what the leech did, not only for himself but for the shadow Matoran as well.

“Where is this Rahi now?” Takanuva asked.

“Don’t tell me you believe him?” said Photok.

“Answer the question,” Takanuva persisted.

“It flew off to the east, then headed up to the clouds,” Vican replied. “I was chasing it.”

“All right,” said the Toa. “Now we are chasing it.”

* * *

From the pages of Takanuva’s journal

I had managed to collect Photok, Solek, and Tanma, and together we dragged a struggling Radiak through the sky. I had no idea how I was going to accomplish my task. But I knew I had to try. As a Matoran, I had looked up to the Toa and dreamed of being like them. Now I was, and it was time to live up to being a hero. I was still lost in thought when I heard Photok cry out, and looked up to see a shadow Matoran flying right toward me!

That was when things got really strange. The Shadow Matoran, whose name was Vican, insisted that he was no longer a slave of the Makuta. He said a Rahi’s attack had shattered the hold Shadow had over him. The other Matoran told me not to believe him, but something in Vican’s eyes, his voice, made me wonder. I knew what it was like to be attacked by a shadow leach, as Vican claimed he once had been, if what he was saying was true now, then maybe there was a way to cure the Shadow Matoran of Karda Nui. It was a chance I had to take.

* * *

Icarax couldn’t help but laugh. Only two Makuta dispatched to stop him, and one of them blinded and relying on a Matoran to be his eyes? If he wasn’t so amused, he would have been insulted.

Vamprah was no problem, of course. Icarax hurled a bolt of shadow energy to the Makuta’s left. When Vamprah veered right to dodge, he moved right into the path of a blast of laser vision. It hit its target – not Vamprah, but Gavla. She toppled off the Makuta’s back.

Icarax smiled at Vamprah’s reaction. The bat-like Makuta had been blinded days ago. He was able to see thanks to a telepathic link with Gavla, activated whenever the two were in physical contact. With Gavla now falling to her death, Vamprah was truly blind.

“The great hunter,” Icarax said with a sneer. “Terror of the Matoran. What are you now? Nothing but prey.”

Vamprah hurled a sonic blast in the direction of Icarax’s voice. The energy knocked Icarax back, but did no real damage.

“So the bat has fangs, does it?” Icarax said. “When I run the Brotherhood, we will have to see about pulling them.”

“You will never lead!” The harsh words came from an angry Gorast. She had rescued Gavla and deposited the shadow Matoran on a mud bank. Now she was ready to settle things with Icarax.

“Stop and think,” said Icarax. “My way offers much more opportunity for battle than our current leader’s ever can. Join with me!”

“Never!” screamed Gorast, slashing with her wing blades. Her blow tore open part of Icarax’s chest plate. She flashed a look of evil triumph. Any moment now, she knew, the energy of which all Makuta are made would come seeping out of the gash and the battle would be won.

To her shock, nothing happened. Icarax clutched the wound in his armor and smiled bitterly. “Did I forget to tell you? I ran into Toa Ignika. In an effort to defeat me, he changed me from pure energy back to a true bio-mechanical being, muscle and tissue connected to armor. So I can’t be beaten just by cutting a gap in my shell and letting my essence leak out.”

Icarax’s multi-bladed sword began to rotate faster and faster, as he said, “Too bad, Gorast, that the same can’t be said of you.”

Divide and conquer, Pohatu thought as he piloted the Rockoh through a tight turn.

The Makuta forces had split up. Gorast and Vamprah had gone after Icarax; Krika had vanished; Mutran, too, was nowhere in sight; and as soon as he spotted Takanuva, Antroz had sent Bitil and Chirox after him. That left Antroz alone against Lewa, Pohatu, and Kopaka.

Not that the Makuta seemed to mind. In full control of the Jetrax T6, he had darted around, over and through every obstacle Pohatu or Lewa had thrown in his way, and outpaced Kopaka with ease. Hitting and running, he had already done significant damage to the Rockoh.

Now Lewa was on Antroz’s tail in the Axalara T9. The Toa of Air was buffeting Antroz’s ship with gale-force winds in an effort to crash it into the forest of stone pillars created by Pohatu. Earlier, Antroz had used his magnetic power to send the Axalara into a spin, and only quick action by Lewa had kept it from crashing into the swamp.

Antroz spotted the Rockoh and fired. The Jetrax’s skyblasters hit their target, sending the Rockoh into a spin. Pohatu fought to right the ship, but it was headed for one of the stone pillars he had created. Quickly, he used his elemental power to shatter the rock before the ship collided with it.

Lewa banked to the left, trying to flank Antroz. The Axalara was a more powerful ship, but the Jetrax was faster. He needed to box Antroz in somehow.

Further behind, Kopaka had been working at the same thing. But every ice wall he threw up got blown to pieces by the Jetrax’s weapons or smashed by the vehicle itself. Every rain of hailstones had been shrugged off by Antroz and bounced harmlessly off the Jetrax’s armored hull.

Pohatu was back in the fight now, and he was angry. Timing it just right, he made a hand of stone erupt out of the swamp and grab the Jetrax. Before Antroz could power it free, Pohatu hit the controls and pulled the Rockoh’s wings in for a dive. Firing as he flew, he raked the side of the Jetrax with bolts of energy.

Antroz jolted the craft free of the stone hand and wheeled in midair, firing at the Rockoh. When Pohatu dodged, Antroz used his gravity power to send the Toa’s ship plunging toward the swamp.

Lewa closed in, rocking the Jetrax with fire from the Axalara’s skyblasters and shattering the Makuta’s concentration. Free of the increased pull of gravity, Pohatu managed to right his ship just as it skimmed the surface of the water.

Then it was Kopaka’s turn. He used his power to drop the temperature around the Jetrax hundreds of degrees in an instant, slowing down the vehicle’s engines and cutting its speed. Lewa and Pohatu closed in from both sides, ready to destroy the wounded craft.

Only Kopaka was close enough to see what happened next. Just as the two Toa vessels came in range, Antroz disappeared from the cockpit using his power to teleport. Acting quickly, Kopaka threw up ice barriers in front of the Axalara and the Rockoh, shouting, “Stop!”

Neither craft could turn in time, smashing into and through the ice. But the barriers had delayed them just long enough for Kopaka to climb behind the controls of the Jetrax. “All right,” said the Toa of Ice. “If this is the final battle, let’s make it one to remember.”

Tahu’s heartlight was flashing wildly. His breath was coming in ragged gasps. Pinned against the wall by Toa Ignika, he knew he was about to die from an overdose of the power of Life.

The Toa of Fire had been trying to explain his plan. Using the Mask of Life, the Toa would try to accomplish all at once what it would otherwise take hours to do. The mask’s power, delivered in one great jolt, would awaken Mata Nui abruptly. Tahu couldn’t be sure it would work, because the mask might not be able to feed into the lightstones. But the only way to find out would be for the Ignika to give up its body and its attempts to be a real living being, and go back to being just a mask.

Toa Ignika hadn’t taken this well.

Onua and Gali had rushed up and were trying to pull Ignika away from Tahu. “Let go!” yelled Onua. “You’re killing him!”

Tahu had no choice. Summoning his control of heat and flame, he drove the temperature of his armor up 1,000 degrees in a split second. Crying out in pain, Ignika let go. Tahu staggered, trying to catch his breath.

“That’s… that’s the problem with being alive,” the Toa of Fire said. “You can feel pain. You can die. Just like everyone in this universe is going to die if we don’t awaken Mata Nui and bring balance back to the universe. We need you to do that!”

Ignika flung Onua and Gali off of him with such force they slammed against the walls. He began to advance on Tahu again. Bracing for the attack, flames crackled around Tahu’s hands.

Gali got to her feet and got in between the two. “Ignika, stop and think! Think! Why did you want to become a Toa? Why did you want to become like us? There had to be a reason!”

Toa Ignika stopped in midstride and frowned. Searching his memory, he came up with a name. “Matoro…”

Gali glanced at Onua, who nodded. “That’s right, Ignika, Matoro,” she said. “We know he died a hero. He sacrificed everything so a universe could live. And if he inspired you to be a hero too, then can you do less than he? If Matoro were here in your place, what do you think his answer would be?”

There was a long moment of silence. Each of the Toa waited, their eyes searching Ignika’s features for some sign of what his answer would be. This one single instant would decide the fate of an entire universe and all its people.

“He would say…” Ignika began. “He would say yes.”

Toa Ignika stood straight and looked at Tahu. Gesturing toward the mask he wore, Ignika said, “I will do what must be done. Then I will be like Matoro. I will be a hero.”

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