1

Tahu Nuva stood in the center of the great Coliseum of Metru Nui, listening to the cheers of over a thousand Matoran, among them Tanma and the Matoran of Light. Beside him stood his teammates, and nearby were Takanuva and the surviving members of the Toa Mahri. All of them could not help feeling a surge of pride in this moment – even Kopaka was smiling.

After so much struggle, so many battles won and lost, at last the quest was over. It had been dangerously close, but they had been succesful. The Great Spirit was awake, the core of the universe had been cleansed of the Makuta, and balance had been restored to the universe. While none of them had seen the Mask of Life since their escape, they felt sure its countdown to destruction had stopped.

“Now this is what I’m speak-talking about,” said Lewa. “This is being a Toa-hero!”

“I’m just glad we all survived,” said Gali, glancing over at the Mahri. Somehow, their team seemed so incomplete without the presence of Toa Matoro, who had given his life to save the universe.

“I never doubted it,” said Lewa, smiling. “As soon as we got there and saw those dark-bat losers, I knew it would be as easy as taming a Gukko bird.”

“Oh, really?” said Kopaka. “Funny, you didn’t seem that confident when you were trying to figure out how to steer the Axalara.”

“Yeah, how many stalactites did you crash into? Three? Four?” laughed Pohatu.

“Quiet,” said Gali. “Turaga Dume is about to speak.”

The wise Turaga stood in his box high above and looked out over the assembled crowd of Toa and Matoran. For a moment, he was overcome with emotion and could not speak. Then, at last, he found his voice.

“My friends, we are gathered here today for a great celebration,” he began. “But we must do more than honor the heroes who stand before us. We must use this time to remember all who have given their lives to bring us to this point. Toa Matoro, Toa Lhikan, and hundreds of other Toa whose names we may never know fought and died to keep the Brotherhood of Makuta from victory. Without their efforts, none of us would be standing here today. Without their light, shadow would rule the land.”

There was a long moment of silence, then Dume spoke again. “Over one thousand years ago, the Makuta struck at the Great Spirit, casting him into a deep slumber and robbing us of his protection and guidance. For this crime, they have paid the ultimate penalty. Now, at last, we are free of them, forever.”

The cheers began again then, rocking the very structure of the Coliseum. Dume made no effort to quiet the crowd. He knew this was an outpouring of happiness that was long overdue.

When the noise had finally sudsided, he raised his staff of office and gestured toward the Toa Nuva. “We have emerged from the darkness and into the light. And we have the six heroes who stand before us to thank on this great day –”

His words were cut off by a fleeting shadow that passed over the twin moons and an ice-cold breeze that cut through the Coliseum. Tahu glanced at Gali, confused and troubled. They had all felt something like this before, but never expected to feel it again.

“Look!” said Kopaka, pointing up to the sky. “The stars! Look what’s happening to the stars!”

High above, the stars of Metru Nui were darting across the sky, spinning wildly. It looked as if the universe itself was being undone and remade at the same time. Slowly, the stars began to realign, coming to rest in a pattern both bizarre and horribly familiar. From random stars in the skies, they had arranged themselves into a shape – and it was the shape of the Mask of Shadows.

“This is impossible,” said Tahu. “Why would the stars shift to look like Makuta’s mask? Unless…”

“No,” said Onua. “No, it couldn’t be.”

“What does it mean? What can it mean?” asked Gali.

“I think I can guess,” Kopaka answered. “Radiak said the Makuta wanted Mata Nui to be awakened, but we could not guess why. Now Great Beings protect us if I am right about what has happened…”

The reply came from everywhere at once. A dark, humorless laugh boomed from every stone, every star, from the ground, the sky, the ocean. Matoran huddled together in fear at the sound even as the Toa drew their weapons.

“Makuta!” shouted Tahu. “We thought you were destroyed, but if we were mistaken, we are ready to correct that mistake! Show yourself!”

The reply came in a rumble of thunder. “Show myself, you insignificant flea? Look around, Toa Tahu – I am everywhere. I am everything you see.”

“What new crime have you dared commit?” yelled Turaga Dume.

“No crime, wise one,” answered Makuta, his voice as soft as the breeze that heralds a storm. “Your heroes brought Mata Nui back from death… but before his spirit could return to his body, mine slipped in and took its place. And so when the Toa Nuva awakened Mata Nui, they awakened his body… with my mind.”

“We have fought you before,” said Kopaka, “and we will do so again!”

Makuta chuckled, sending a tremor through the Coliseum. “Will you fight the air you breathe, Toa? The ground you walk on? Understand – I no longer need to battle you in hopes of ruling the universe. I am the universe.

“Of course, you do have one hope,” continued the Master of Shadows. “Mata Nui himself. Too bad for you that I have banished his spirit into the Mask of Life and now…”

The ground shook violently as a surge of energy flowed through all existence. “Now I have banished the mask from this universe. I hope you have enjoyed your fleeting moments of happiness, Toa… they are the last you will know for an eternity to come.”

* * *

Hours ago…

The dark depths below the city of Metru Nui were a “place of death,” Toa Gaaki had warned. She had been right, at least for the Piraka named Zaktan, who had just been killed by Makuta Teridax. That was bad enough – worse was that it was impossible to tell just where Teridax was, as his voice came from everywhere. But of his body, there was no sign.

A formidable amount of power was arrayed against him in this chamber. Toa Helryx, leader of the Order of Mata Nui; Keetongu, powerful Rahi beast; the six Toa Hagah; Makuta Miserix; Axonn and Brutaka, agents of the Order. Of them all, Brutaka was the strangest, glowing green as he was and floating several inches off the floor. Even with his Kanohi mask shattered by Teridax, he seemed frighteningly powerful.

“Show yourself, you traitorous vermin!” bellowed Makuta Miserix. “Let us settle once and for all who rules the Brotherhood!”

There came the sound of soft laughter from every corner of the room. “The Brotherhood? There is no more Brotherhood, Miserix. In a very short time, the Makuta of Karda Nui will be dead. Makuta Tridax has died already, as have Spiriah and others. The Order of Mata Nui has been most helpful in that regard.”

“And you seem unconcerned that your allies are perishing,” said Helryx. “Why?”

“I have no allies,” Teridax replied, “for I have no equals.”

A hum rose in the room, growing louder and louder until it drowned out all thought. All that existed was that head-splitting sound, which drove even Axonn to his knees. Only Brutaka stood. He lashed out with a bolt of power from his sword, shouting, “Enough!” The energy struck the machinery on the far wall and the sound stopped.

Teridax laughed. “A mere… sample… of what is to come.”

“I know all that you have forgotten,” Brutaka said. “I know that you put millions of lives at risk with your foolish grab at power. This is not what you were meant to do. This is not why you were created.”

“He is in the machines,” Miserix muttered. “Of course. So if we destroy the machines…”

The exiled Makuta hurled a bolt of gravitic power at the banks of machinery. Where it struck, metal began to crumple, folding in on itself as its gravity increased 100 times. But it was not Teridax who struck back at him – it was Brutaka! A blow from his sword sent Miserix sprawling.

“No! You do not understand!” shouted Brutaka.

“Then enlighten them,” said Teridax. “Please.”

Brutaka nodded. “We… we stand in as close to the mind of Mata Nui as it is possible to be. If we destroy this place, we destroy that mind, and doom the universe.”

“I don’t understand,” said Toa Norik. “If this is Mata Nui’s mind… where is his body?”

Brutaka gestured broadly, indicating everything around them. “It is our universe, Toa. We live inside the Great Spirit. But now Teridax has taken root in that body and controls it… controls all. As soon as the Toa Nuva awaken the body, Teridax will be unleashed to rain darkness on all who live.”

“How do we stop him?” said Toa Iruini.

“I will show you how!” Miserix roared. He reared back and hurled attack after attack at the machinery, the chamber walls, the ceiling, doing untold damage. Axonn, the Toa and Keetongu tried to stop him, only to be batted aside. “Let us all die,” Miserix continued. “Let the universe burn! I only want Teridax dead!”

“How… one dimensional of you,” Teridax replied.

Before the horrified eyes of the party, Miserix’s body began to change. It wavered, grew blurry, the colors seeming to run into each other. There was an explosive release of energy, blinding in its intensity. When the heroes could see again, a picture of Miserix existed on the wall of the chamber, but he himself was gone. Or was he?

“He makes a very unique decoration, does he not?” said Teridax.

“We’ll fight you,” said Toa Norik. “We’ll find some way.”

“You were the first Toa to do so,” said Teridax. “No doubt you would find a way… maybe even a way to win, if I allowed it.”

A wave of mental energy struck the six Toa Hagah, but did not seem to harm them. In fact, they seemed quite energized by it, even happy. They turned as a team and headed back out of the chamber, laughing and talking with each other as if this were the best day of their lives.

Helryx watched them go, shocked. “What… what did you do to them?”

“Call it… mercy,” said Teridax. “In their minds, the battle is over – and the forces of ‘good’ have won. They remember seeing me defeated at their hands, and in the reality they will perceive from now on, there is no Teridax, no rule by Makuta, no Toa and Matoran in peril. All they will see will be peace and happiness wherever they look.”

“That’s monstrous!” said Axonn. “Toying with their minds – were you afraid to face them in battle?”

Teridax ignored him. “Unfortunately, I cannot do the same to Axonn, or Brutaka, or you, Helryx – your minds are too well shielded. Given time, I could break those shields… but why waste the energy? And as for Keetongu… I am on the verge of becoming a Great Spirit. I have no time for pets.”

“You are tampering with fate,” Brutaka warned. “And you will be punished.”

“But not by you, and not today,” Teridax replied.

Brutaka winked out of existence, followed by Axonn, then Keetongu. Only Helryx remained.

“Do not worry, they are not dead,” said Teridax. “Merely teleported to the southern edge of this universe, to lands so dangerous even Makuta never dared travel to them. You will see them again, I am sure… if they survive.”

“And what of me?” said Helryx. “Will you banish me, too?”

“No,” said Teridax. “You see, Mata Nui’s great failing is that he had no one to share his thoughts with, no one with whom he could communicate. He did not have a ‘friend,’ for want of a better term. I will not make that mistake. You will remain here, Helryx, where all your needs will be met… and you will share in the brilliant darkness that is my mind. My plans, my dreams, my hopes, I will share with you… for at least as long as your sanity remains intact.”

Anyone else would have been filled with dread at Teridax’s words, but not Helryx. She saw an opportunity. She would be alive, her memories would be her own, and she would be in the center of Teridax’s thoughts. Right then, she made a vow – she would not break. She would not crumble before the weight of his darkness. No matter what, she would defy him, and somehow find a way to help others do the same.

“This isn’t over,” she said quietly. “You know that, don’t you, Teridax? No matter what your power, no matter what you can do to us all… this isn’t over.”

“Of course it isn’t,” Teridax answered. “How boring it would be if it was.”

* * *

Now…

Somewhere in the endless void between here and there, the Mask of Life flew. Free of the bounds of the Matoran Universe, it had turned from silver back to gold once more. It carried within it the mind and spirit of Mata Nui, on a journey whose destination no one could know. But if anyone were able to hear the being within the mask, one statement would have been clear, ringing through the void like the tolling of a bell:

I will return.

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