Mazeka piloted his swamp strider through the outskirts of Karda Nui. It had taken too much time to get the directions to this place from Tobduk, and more time to retrieve his vehicle from Daxia. Mata Nui only knew what kind of trouble Vultraz could have caused in the meantime.

The strider moved quickly across the murky water. Magnetic force from the tips of its legs kept it aloft a few inches above the surface of the swamp. Now and then, a tentacle… or something worse… would emerge from the muck and try to grab the vehicle, and Mazeka would have to deal with it.

The sounds of battle were all around. Toa were locked in combat with bat-winged nightmares Mazeka assumed were Brotherhood of Makuta members. His sources had told him that Icarax had been summoned here, and that Icarax in turn had summoned Vultraz. There could only be one reason for doing that, and it was one that sickened Mazeka.

Five years before, Mazeka and his mentor had been hard at work, researching the origin of all things. Everyone knew about the Great Beings and the Great Spirit Mata Nui, but how much was myth, and how much fact? The two were determined to find out. Although they were nowhere near close to learning all there was to know, they had discovered much, including one dread secret: the origin of the Makuta. Carved on one of their tablets was their best theory of how the Great Spirit had brought the Makuta into being, and where. That tablet was among the many stolen by Vultraz.

At the time, it was a terrible crime. Now it could be a disaster. A Makuta armed with that knowledge could create an army of his brothers, or perhaps a more powerful form for himself. Mazeka wasn’t sure when Icarax learned what Vultraz knew, or why he wanted the information now, but he knew one thing for certain – Icarax could not be allowed to get his claws on it.

That was easier said than done. Karda Nui was an enormous place, so finding Vultraz would not be easy. And he had to do it while avoiding being drawn into the battle between the Toa and the Makuta.

One of these days, I really have to stop picking all the easy jobs, he thought.

Vultraz flew his skyfighter high above the waters of the swamp. He felt like he had visited a wonderland. Down below, Toa were getting pounded by Makuta, shadow Matoran were hunting down their former friends. It was a little slice of paradise.

He remembered what he had been like before becoming a shadow Matoran. In truth, there wasn’t much difference. He was a bit more powerful now, but he had never had much use for justice and morality before, so his new outlook on life was much like his old one.

Icarax’s weak telepathic summons had reached him on Destral. The Makuta was obviously badly injured. Vultraz had to first track down where he had hidden the tablets he had stolen so long ago, to verify his information. It would be a suicidally bad idea to give Icarax bad data.

He banked to the left, following the mental call from Icarax. It was then that his eye caught movement far below and well to the west. At first, he figured it was a Toa or one of the Av-Matoran, most likely fleeing. Then he picked up the distinctive outline of a swamp strider and knew at once who it had to be.

Vultraz smiled. Somehow, this was fitting. The Brotherhood was about to win its greatest – its final – victory… and fate had delivered his old enemy, Mazeka, into his hands. His only regret was that Mazeka would not live to see the triumph of shadow.

Icarax momentarily forgotten, he sent his craft into a power dive, right for Mazeka.

Mazeka spotted Vultraz with mere seconds to spare. The skyfighter was flying low over the water now, on a collision course with the swamp strider. As Vultraz opened up with his skyblasters, Mazeka did the same, even as he charged his vehicle right toward the oncoming flyer.

The two old enemies hurtled toward a final clash, or perhaps mutual destruction… but never reached each other.

A portal opened in space right between them. It was too late to stop, too late to turn… too late to do anything but plunge inside of it. And then they both were gone from Karda Nui…

There was a sickening moment of darkness and disorientation. When the lights came on again, the swamp strider was heading right for a massive tree banded with golden metal. Mazeka yanked hard on the controls and turned the vehicle. Thrown off balance, it toppled over. He jumped clear just in time.

Not far away, Vultraz found himself headed for what looked like a lake. It was only when he got close that he saw the “waters” undulating like some vast organism. Seconds later, shards of razor-sharp crystal flew from the depths of the pseudo-lake, slicing pieces off the skyfighter. Knocked out of control, the vehicle went into a spin. Vultraz leapt off just before it hit the surface of what he now believed to be a creature. The instant the vehicle made contact, it transformed into sheer energy and disappeared.

Vultraz, clinging to a tree branch, said, “Well, that was weird.”

Mazeka turned at the sound of someone approaching through the woods. He was surprised to see a Ga-Matoran emerge, followed by a Toa of Water. “Who are you?” he asked. “And… where am I?”

“Where are –?” the Ga-Matoran said, then laughed. “Oh, I see. Another test. All right, I’ll play along. You are on Spherus Magna, and I am Toa Macku. This oversized mass of muscle is one of my villagers. Always happy to meet another hero of the Melding.”

“Spherus Magna?” said Mazeka, as he and Vultraz trod along behind their hosts. “What in Mata Nui’s name is a Spherus Magna?”

Toa Macku turned to look back at him. “You must have really hit your head when you crashed. And what’s a Mata Nui?”

“What’s a –” Mazeka responded, shocked.

“Hmmmm,” said Vultraz. “I don’t think we’re in Karda Nui anymore. Maybe if I tap my red feet together three times and wish real hard…”

“This is Spherus Magna,” Macku said, gesturing at the woods all around. “It’s the whole world. You should know, you helped save it.”

“I did?” said Mazeka.

“Of course we did,” said Vultraz. “Those were great times, right, Macku? I never get tired of hearing that story.”

Macku smiled. “Me either. But my Matoran friend Helryx here, she gets pretty sick of that story, I think.”

“That’s not true,” said the tall, blue-armored figure. “I just wish I could have been of some help, that’s all.”

“I know, I’m kidding,” Macku replied. “But you know the Great Beings intended for us Toa to take on the tough jobs – that’s why they made us so agile and fast, if a little small. You big Matoran are supposed to do the work the village needs done in order to thrive.”

Mazeka felt like the world had turned upside down. Matoran villagers were Toa here? And Toa were villagers? And Helryx – leader of the Order of Mata Nui – had been helpless in any situation? This was crazy.

“Vultraz is right, though,” he said, thinking fast. “It’s a great story. I bet you tell it well, too, Macku.”

“Not as well as Takua, but I do my best,” Macku said, pride in her voice. “Well, it was a little over 100,000 years ago. Some villagers discovered a silvery liquid leaking out of a fissure and went to see what it was. They touched it and – poof! – no more villagers. Later on, someone else tried to scoop a little up and their tool turned into a trident. Weird.”

Mazeka frowned. That sounded like a description of energized protodermis. He had always thought that was something created by the Great Beings, but now it sounded like it came from the core of this world.

“Anyway, it was obviously pretty powerful stuff. So everyone started fighting over it… never paying attention to the fact that it was spreading all over. But the Great Beings saw what was happening, and they knew if it didn’t stop, the planet would be shattered into pieces.”

The four travelers emerged into a clearing. There was a village here, filled with beings like Helryx. There were no other beings visible the size of Macku.

“Welcome to Ga-Koro,” said Macku. “As I was saying – I guess the Great Beings rejected their first few ideas, whatever they were, but then finally arrived at a way of helping the situation. They created a handful of powerful beings called Toa – that’s us – with elemental powers and mask powers. And we went underground to retrieve the liquid in special containers and try to fix the damage. Wasn’t easy – there were already plenty of cave-ins, so good thing we weren’t as big as Helryx here. Took the better part of five years, but we managed to meld the planet back together.”

“And you’ve never heard of Mata Nui?” asked Mazeka.

Macku shook her head. “No. I can ask Toa Kapura next time I see him, if you like.”

“Oh, yes,” said Vultraz, chuckling. “Please do.”

Mazeka had had just about enough. “Macku, my companion and I, we’re… not from around here. And we need to get back home. It’s a long trip… I have a feeling a really long trip… and we’re not sure how to go about it. Do you know anyone who can help?”

Macku paused in thought. “Well, there’s Gali,” she said finally. “She runs a canoe business. I hear she’s been as far south as the mountains, but not much past that. I don’t think there’s much beyond the peaks worth seeing.”

“I think we’re going to need more than a canoe,” said Mazeka.

“What’s the rush?” said Vultraz. “I think I could get to like it here. ‘Toa Vultraz’… has a nice ring, doesn’t it?”

“If you’re really worried, I suppose there’s only one thing to do,” said Macku. “You’re going to have to go see the Great Beings. They know this world better than anyone, from the Great Sea to the Northern Frost. I am a little busy, but I am sure I can find you a guide, if you like.”

“Yes, thanks,” said Mazeka. After Macku had left, he turned to Vultraz, furious. “We don’t belong here. We are going home, before we do damage to this… whatever this place is.”

“You couldn’t stop me in our own universe, where you had the whole Order of Mata Nui and real Toa behind you,” sneered Vultraz. “Here in the peaceful forest, with half-sized Toa, oversized villagers, and no Great Spirit to be found, you haven’t got a chance.”

Vultraz grinned. “Give me a month, Mazeka, and I’ll be running this place. And you – if you’re still alive – you’ll be Spherus Magna’s most wanted.”

* * *

There was nowhere to run. There was nowhere to hide. A tidal wave of energized protodermis was headed right for Toa Helryx and Keetongu. When it struck them, it would do one of two things – transform them forever into who-knew-what, or destroy them both.

Desperate, Helryx reached out with her elemental power. Despite many thousands of years of honing her control over water to perfection, it did no good. energized protodermis, though in liquid form, was not water – and was immune to her abilities. Doom was coming in a great silver wave.

Keetongu growled. Helryx glanced at him to see that his attention was directed behind them – specifically, he was looking at a hole in space that had just opened. Thoughts raced through Helryx’s mind. Had Brutaka come to save them? Where did this portal lead? But there wasn’t time for answers, only escape. Grabbing Keetongu’s wrist, she pulled him toward the hole. They dove in together with no idea of where they would emerge.

At the same moment, a figure appeared in the portal. He stepped out into the chamber. If anyone had been present to see, they might have recognized him as the mad criminal Vezon, his face hidden behind a Kanohi Olmak, the Mask of Dimensional Gates. And if they peered closely, they might have seen his eyes widen at the sight of a wall of energized protodermis coming right at him.

“Uh-oh,” he said.

Turaga Vakama walked slowly through the corridors of the Coliseum. It had been his workplace since his return to the city of Metru Nui. Now it was his home as well, along with that of all the other Turaga. Much had changed in the city in recent days – not all of it good. Despite his confinement, he had been able to pick up snatches of information here and there. The fortunes of war had evidently turned against the Brotherhood of Makuta. Numerous Makuta-held islands had fallen – including, rumor had it, Destral itself. It was almost too much to hope for – perhaps the Great Spirit would awaken to find his arch-enemies vanquished for good.

He passed his chamber and headed down a flight of stairs to a secure room. Here were kept weapons, memorials to the Toa Mangai, and one very important Kanohi mask. Although Vakama knew that it was one of the safest spots in the city, he still checked on it every day. If the contents of that room were to fall into the wrong hands… he didn’t even want to think about it.

He was halfway down the stairs when he heard the crash. He raced down to find a half-dozen heavily-armed Ta-Matoran, scattered like leaves in a windstorm. The door to the chamber had crumpled with age, and stepping through it was a being Vakama had hoped never to see again.

A little over a thousand years ago, when he was still a Toa, Vakama had battled a being called Voporak. Surrounded by a field that aged anything it touched, Voporak seemed impossible to beat, and it took a Makuta to do it in the end. Voporak worked for the Dark Hunters and sought one thing in Metru Nui. The thing he now held in his great claw: the Kanohi Mask of Time.

Vakama froze. He wanted to attack, to avenge his fallen friends, but he knew that no attack of his would stop this creature. Voporak knew it too. He looked at Vakama with something like contempt. Then he shrugged and turned his back on the Turaga, walking away.

Vakama followed. A few minutes later he watched Voporak walk out of a hole in the side of the Coliseum. A four-armed warrior wielding a multi-bladed axe bellowed at the sight of the thief and charged. Voporak reached out and grabbed his attacker. In a matter of seconds, the warrior aged tens of thousands of years before collapsing on the ground. Voporak kept going – and there was nothing, Vakama knew, that could hope to stop him.

Kalmah moved warily through the main factory complex of Xia, flanked by Mantax and Ehlek. He did not want to be here. It would have been far more satisfying to be leading his new fleet against the Brotherhood of Makuta, but Pridak had contacted him and assured him that their old dream of overthrowing a Great Spirit might live again. Up ahead, sitting on a makeshift throne, was the Shadowed One, leader of the Dark Hunters. He eyed the three Barraki coldly. Perched on the rafters above was Darkness, who watched over the Shadowed One – though not out of any desire to guard him. No, Darkness waited for a sign of weakness in the leader, to kill him so another could take his place.

“Shadowed One, we bring you greetings from Pridak,” said Kalmah. “And congratulate you on your seizure of this island.”

The Shadowed One simply nodded, his gaze never leaving Kalmah’s hideous face.

“It is Pridak’s belief that the Barraki and the Dark Hunters would be well-served by an alliance,” Kalmah continued. “After this chaos is ended, someone will need to pick up the pieces of this universe. We see an opportunity.”

“And what do you have to bargain with, besides your fearsome reputations?” the Shadowed One said, mockery in his voice.

Kalmah simply smiled. “Information. We know that Makuta Teridax struck the Great Spirit Mata Nui down, and we know how. We also know that a prototype of the virus used to do it was hidden on this island – and we believe you have it.”

“I?” said the Shadowed One. “I am a humble administrator of Xia, a mere servant of the people. Nothing more.”

Kalmah laughed. “You are a lying, treacherous sack of Doom Viper breath. But you are also very… thorough. Oh yes, we’ve heard all about you and your organization since our release from captivity. If that virus is on Xia, you have it.”

The Shadowed One’s expression darkened. A lesser being would have quaked with fear at the sight. The Barraki, though, were not lesser beings.

“And if I do?”

“You know where it is, we know how it can be used. And so, a bargain.”

The Shadowed One considered. He could just kill these three as he had Ancient, but if they really did know something about how the vials he had found could be turned against the Great Spirit… well, that was knowledge worth gaining. He could always kill them later, after all.

“On one condition,” he said. “Pridak and I will meet on neutral ground – the land of Karzahni. If I am satisfied with what he has to offer, then – perhaps – Dark Hunter and Barraki will walk side-by-side into a new dawn.”

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