Hewkii was the first to awaken. Kongu was beside him, still unconscious. The Toa of Stone’s mind was full of questions – How? Where? Why?
The “how” was easily answered. Someone had attacked the two Toa Mahri from behind shortly after Jaller and his team left for the island of Artidax. Who that might have been, he had no idea, but he certainly looked forward to meeting them again.
“Where” was easy too – they were in the Coliseum in Metru Nui. He half-expected to wake up locked in a cell, but that wasn’t the case. He didn’t even see a guard out in the corridor. Their weapons were gone, but they still wore their masks.
“Why?” That was what he was about to find out. He gave Kongu a hard rap on the mask. “Wake up, stiff breeze!” he said. “We have work to do.”
“Hmmm? What?” said Kongu, shaking his head. “Where are we, and why are you hard-hitting me?”
Hewkii was already up and on his way out the door. “Let’s find out.”
He had gone only a few steps out into the corridor when a cloud of black, crystalline shards appeared in front of him. It rapidly coalesced into the form of the black-armored female who had first told the Mahri they had to go to Artidax. Hewkii suddenly thought he knew who the “who” had been.
“So,” he said. “It was all some kind of trick.”
“If you wish to think of it that way,” the figure replied. “I am Johmak, an agent of the Order of Mata Nui. For reasons of its own, the Order wanted the Toa Mahri out of Metru Nui for a time. And we wanted the Visorak taken off the board… hence our decision to kill two Gukko with one stone.”
Kongu was standing behind Hewkii now. “But you thought we would all quick-leave, didn’t you?”
Johmak nodded. “And when you didn’t, we had to step in. We couldn’t have you interfering.”
“With what?” asked Hewkii.
Johmak fragmented again and flew down to the end of the corridor. There was a window here that looked out over southern Metru Nui. As she reformed, she said, “With this!”
Hewkii and Kongu looked out at their city, stunned. It no longer looked like the place they had been living in for weeks. Now it resembled nothing so much as a fortress. High walls had been constructed on the coastline, with huge weapons mounted atop them. Weapon emplacements were also visible atop buildings. Streets leading to the Coliseum were barricaded, with Order of Mata Nui agents on guard. Matoran of all kinds were visible frantically building more defenses.
“What is going on here??” Hewkii exploded.
“The Makuta have suffered serious defeats, but they are not yet vanquished,” said Johmak. “We know we will need one final battle to destroy them, but we want to pick the spot. So we leaked word through servants on Stelt that we have turned the Great Furnace into a virus works to replicate the protosteel-eating virus that killed Makuta Kojol.”
“You made Metru Nui a target?” said Kongu, in disbelief.
“It already was a target,” said Johmak. “We just made it a better prepared one.”
“Where are the Turaga?” demanded Hewkii.
“The Turaga proved… uncooperative,” Johmak replied. “They have been… asked… to remain in the Coliseum for the duration.”
“And just what is it you will be asking us to do?” asked Kongu.
“Nothing,” said Johmak. “Nothing at all. Stay out of our way. Your interference may well get Order agents killed… not to mention yourselves.”
With that, Johmak turned back into a cloud of crystal and floated out the open window. Hewkii watched her go, his anger building with every moment.
“Nobody picks a fight using my city, then tells me to stay out of it,” the Toa of Stone growled. “Nobody!”
* * *
Makuta Miserix and the six Toa Hagah turned as one to see figures emerging from the dimensional portal. They were ready for anything, except perhaps for what they saw.
Toa Helryx emerged first, followed by Keetongu. The portal began to shrink behind them, then suddenly widened again to admit two more figures. The Hagah recognized neither one, but it was obvious that Helryx did.
“Axonn! What are you doing here? And… what has happened to Brutaka?”
Axonn explained rapidly how he and Brutaka had tracked down the pool where the Makuta species was created, only to be attacked by it. Brutaka had been changed by it somehow and insisted that they come here immediately – wherever “here” might be. He had used his Mask of Dimensional Gates to make the journey.
“Then… was it that which opened a gate allowing us to escape where we were?” wondered Helryx.
“No,” answered Brutaka, in a voice like thunder. “There is another Olmak… and it has been misused… and worse. It may well threaten us all.”
“It’s going to have to wait in line,” said Toa Iruini. “Listen, we all came down here looking for Makuta Teridax, on your instructions. Then we were told it was full of traps and a ‘place of death.’ Well, so far, I see no Teridax, I’ve run into one pretty good trap, and nobody’s died. When do things start happening?”
A bolt of energy shot out from a bank of machinery nearby. It struck Brutaka, shattering his mask to pieces.
“You had to ask,” Bomonga grumbled to Iruini.
“My apologies for the abrupt greeting,” said the voice of Teridax. It was strangely soft, and seemed to be coming from all around. “But I couldn’t have Brutaka helping you to leave prematurely. Not when we have so much to discuss.”
“Makuta!” said Helryx. “I know what you’re planning. You won’t get away with it.”
“You know?” Teridax repeated, amused. “If you knew, you would be fleeing in panic, Toa. No, you suspect… just as Zaktan does. Or perhaps he does more than that?”
A loud hum filled the room. A moment later, both Zaktan and the water tank in which he dwelled exploded.
“I suppose now we will never know,” said Teridax. “Now what shall we talk about? The economy of Stelt? The latest akilini scores? The efforts to turn Metru Nui into an armed camp? No, I know – let’s discuss the end of your universe as you have known it.”
The island of Destral was in ruins.
The fortress of the Makuta had been pounded largely to rubble. Vezon, the sole living and conscious occupant of the fortress, had already departed using a Mask of Dimensional Gates. Occupiers were already moving through the shattered rooms, looking for survivors or loot.
Inside a subterranean chamber, a lone figure awoke. He knew his name – Takanuva – and he remembered being kidnapped from his universe by a Makuta. After that, everything was a blank until he woke up here, in a cracked canister.
He kicked the lid of the canister to pieces and stepped out into the chamber. All around him were duplicates of him, some dead, some still trapped in suspended animation. That answered one question – he had not been the only one taken.
Something was nagging at him… something else that was not as it should be. What was it? He was certain that his armor had not been all black before… so that was one possibility. But was that the answer? No, no, it wasn’t. He was almost positive that one other thing had been different prior to his awakening.
He was pretty sure – could have sworn, really – that he hadn’t wanted to destroy the world before. But now?
The dark Takanuva just couldn’t wait to get started.
* * *
If Mazeka thought he had been rocked by all the differences between the world of Spherus Magna and the universe he was used to, he was in for an even bigger shock. Toa Macku returned with a guide to the fortress of the Great Beings – a tall, white-armored being she introduced as Makuta Teridax. The newcomer greeted both Vultraz and Mazeka and suggested they get started right away, as it was a treacherous journey in the dark.
“So, your title is Makuta?” asked Mazeka. “What do you do?”
“Whatever is necessary,” Teridax replied. “My role is to aid the Toa in looking after the villagers; to create new life forms, as needed; and to teach the virtues of unity, duty and destiny to those I and my brothers bring into being.”
Vultraz thought he was going to be sick. What had they done to the Makuta here? Where was the delicious evil, the complex plans, the ruthless ambition? Or… if the Makuta’s actions had been fueled by a hatred for/jealousy of Mata Nui, and there was no Mata Nui here, had things turned out differently?
“Must be a tough job,” said Vultraz.
“It is… time-consuming,” said Teridax. “A Makuta must be a being utterly without doubt, or fear, or any trace of shadow, so it takes long years of meditation before one is ready to assume the title. The powers that once ran this world were mad with a hunger for power – the Great Beings created the Makuta as an answer to that.”
No one spoke for the rest of the journey. Mazeka was filled with questions, but he wasn’t sure it would be wise to ask them. If the Makuta found out where he and Vultraz were really from, he might decide to imprison them, or worse. After all, why would the beings of Spherus Magna want those of a universe as war-torn as Mazeka’s to know about them, or their dimension?
It was a long and dangerous trip through thick forest and high mountains. Now and then, a great roar would shake the earth. The two Matoran didn’t ask the source – neither really wanted to know – and Teridax did not offer.
They came at last to a vast fortress made completely of crystal and iron. Two more Makuta guarded the main gate. Mazeka and Vultraz recognized them as Gorast and Icarax, also in white armor. They allowed the party to pass through unchallenged. The only uncertain moment was when Vultraz glanced at Gorast and muttered, “Like the outfit.” Gorast’s response was to lift him in the air telekinetically and then slam him down on the ground. It was her version of a gentle warning.
The trip to the fortress had been a long one. The journey from the main gate to the central chamber took even longer. After the 100th twist and turn, Mazeka became convinced this was all on purpose. The Great Beings evidently did not welcome visitors, and didn’t want those they did have to remember how to find them.
Mazeka expected to be ushered into a vast laboratory. Instead, the room Teridax brought them to looked more like a council chamber. A semi-circular stone dais sat at the far end of the room. The only illumination came from lightstones embedded high in the ceiling, and that was barely enough light to see one’s hand in front of one’s face. He thought he could dimly make out six figures seated at the dais, but then they were gone. Perhaps, like so many things, it had been a trick of shadows and light.
A soft voice, no more than a whisper, broke the stillness. “Who have you brought to us, Makuta, and why?”
“They say they came from another land, and seek to return there,” said Teridax. “They look like Toa, but I believe looks are deceiving. And one of them… one has a spirit filled with shadow.”
Mazeka cursed under his breath. He had been an idiot – Makuta were telepathic. Order of Mata Nui training meant his mind was shielded, but Vultraz had no such protection against mental intrusion. Teridax had read his mind and knew all now.
“Step forward,” said another whisper. Mazeka was struck by how ancient the voice sounded.
He took a step. Vultraz hesitated until Teridax shoved him forward. There was an eternity of silence. Then more whispers came.
“Our work… but not our work. Interesting.”
“And one filled with shadow? How intriguing… was there a flaw in his creation, I wonder?”
“Perhaps we should take him apart and see.”
“No, no… too extreme. But there should be testing, I agree.”
“Now, wait a minute,” said Vultraz. “I’m not volunteering to be a lab Rahi.”
“We simply wish to go home,” said Mazeka. “We have… business to settle there. I ask that you let us leave.”
“It is a lost opportunity,” one of the Great Beings whispered.
“Perhaps not. Perhaps not. An exchange can be made.”
“What is your name, visitor?”
“Mazeka, yes,” came the response. “We have many wondrous creations, Mazeka… some even loyal Teridax does not know about. Your visit is, in truth, fascinating, but not a surprise to us. We are well aware that we have counterparts elsewhere in the vast, uncounted realities that exist. It was only a matter of time before one of their creations pierced the dimensional walls… and considering the chaotic state of their creations, not an event we anticipated with glee.
“And so, we offer an exchange. You will be allowed to return from whence you came. We will keep your companion – I feel certain you have quite enough darkness in your universe, and do not need more. And we would be interested to see just where our other selves went wrong in his creation. In return, you will be allowed to bring one being from our universe back with you, to maintain the balance between the two realities.”
Mazeka wasn’t sure what to say. He hated Vultraz, had for years, but he wanted to beat him fairly and see him brought to justice. Instead, this would mean stranding him in an alien reality and facing who knew what future.
“I’m sorry,” Mazeka said. “I cannot agree to your request.”
“That would pain us greatly,” the Great Being answered, “if it had been a request. It was not.”
Chirox and Vamprah appeared out of the darkness and seized Vultraz. Mazeka moved to stop them, only to find his way blocked by Teridax.
“I have seen the rot in his spirit,” the Makuta said. “And much more… things that shame me. I have peered into a distorted mirror, one I wish I could smash to bits. He will get no more and no less than he deserves.”
“You don’t understand,” said Mazeka, as Vultraz was dragged away. “He’s my responsibility.”
“He is no one’s responsibility but his own,” said Teridax. “If you learn nothing else from your time here, learn that.”
“Make your choice,” said one of the Great Beings. “It is time for you to go.”
Mazeka considered. Did he want to bring someone back with him, and if so, who? Macku? Kapura? A Great Being? Was there anyone who could help in the struggle going on back home?
And then the answer came to him. He turned to Teridax and said, “You.”
Teridax nodded. “Through the mirror, then…”
“And your chance to smash it,” said Mazeka.
“Then make ready,” said the Great Being. “We do not envy you your journey or your destination. But it is a journey that must be made all the same… and a destination perhaps only you can save.”