Slowly, the scarabax emerged from hiding. They could feel the heat coming from the object. The swarm moved closer. They didn’t realize that it was a metal mask. Still, there was something about it which compelled them to draw near…
Without warning, the mask rose into the air. The beetles jumped back in surprise as the sand beneath it swirled like a miniature cyclone. Now the mask hovered more than seven feet in the air, surrounded by a contained sandstorm. After a few moments, the sands began to take on a recognizable shape. Two arms, two legs, and a torso formed from the whirling grains, then turned solid.
The storm ended. There now stood a being wearing a mask. His armor was white and gold, and his body lean and strong. He brought his hands to his mask, gently, as if not certain it was real. Then he looked down at his new body.
The newcomer took a step, and his knees buckled. Catching himself, he took a deep breath before trying again. As he lifted and extended his leg, he heard a clicking sound.
Looking down, the strange being saw a scarabax beetle right where his foot was about to land. He pulled back, saying, “Sorry, little one.”
The beetle moved back, cowering in fear.
“Easy,” said the being. “I will not hurt you.”
Responding to the stranger’s gentle tone, the beetle lowered its pincers and looked up, cocking its head to one side.
“My name is Mata Nui,” said the stranger. “You may have noticed I am not steady on my feet yet.”
Mata Nui knelt down, extending his hand to the scarabax. The beetle sprang into his palm and scampered up his arm, clicking furiously.
“I have the feeling you’re trying to tell me something,” said Mata Nui. The beetle was on his shoulder now, close to his mask.
“Ah, it’s the mask you’re interested in.”
The beetle brushed its pincer against Mata Nui’s mask, making it glow brightly. For a moment, it seemed like the mask and scarabax were one. Then the glow faded, and Mata Nui could see that the insect had been transformed. Where once there had been a small beetle, there was now a full-sized shield with the symbol of a single eye in its center.
“Magnificent…” whispered Mata Nui in wonder.
Then the eye on the shield blinked.
Mata Nui jumped back, startled.
There was no time to ask questions. Mata Nui whirled at the sound of an angry hiss from above. A large, clawed creature was leaping toward him. Mata Nui tried to dodge, but he wasn’t fast enough. The attacker clipped his shoulder, slamming him into the ground.
Mata Nui got a better look at his attacker. It was roughly seven feet in height, tan, with claws like spikes and a stinger tail like a scorpion. For a moment, Mata Nui wondered if this was some Toa gone mad. Then he reminded himself: There are no Toa here! This is not your home.
The creature attacked Mata Nui again. The shield moved to block its blows, making it angrier. Mata Nui rolled aside to avoid a strike. The beast’s claws slashed deep marks in the stone where Mata Nui’s head had been a moment before.
Okay, not good, thought Mata Nui. If I stay on defense, I’ll wind up in pieces.
Mata Nui scrambled to his feet as the beast attacked again. The creature whipped its tail around, preparing to strike with its stinger. Mata Nui took a step back – and stumbled over a boulder, landing on his back in the sand. The creature hit the boulder with its stinger. The force of the impact was so strong that it shattered the rock and broke off the attacker’s stinger tail. Screeching in pain, the beast ran off into the night.
Mata Nui lay on the sand and rested on his shield, trying to catch his breath.
There was a bright flash of light. “What –?” said Mata Nui, in surprise. When the light faded, his shield was gone, returned to the form of the little scarabax beetle.
Mata Nui smiled at the insect. “Before this day, I never needed help from anyone or anything. Thank you.”
He gently lowered his arm toward the ground, to allow the insect to run free. “Well, little one, I spared your life and you saved mine,” he said. “Shall we call it even and go our separate ways?”
The scarabax responded with the rapid clicking of its pincers. Mata Nui chuckled, saying, “Okay, easy, it was just a –”
Mata Nui heard a sound. He turned and saw a small, white-armored figure approaching in a land vehicle. The vehicle looked like it had been patched and repaired a dozen times using pieces from wrecks. Was this another attack? Mata Nui grabbed the broken tail of the beast and stood up. The scarabax scampered up to his shoulder and hid on the back of his neck.
The driver looked at Mata Nui, then at the impact crater left by the mask, and back at Mata Nui again. He raised a crystalline sword and said, “State your business.”
Mata Nui did not relax his guard. “Just a traveler looking for the nearest city,” he replied.
To Mata Nui’s surprise, the driver lowered his weapon and broke into a grin. “Well, then you may as well start digging,” he said. “Here on Bara Magna, you’re bound to find the ruins of one or another.”
When Mata Nui didn’t react, the driver added, “That’s a joke… Right. Well, to answer your question, the nearest village is Vulcanus. I’ve got some business there if you want a ride. That is, unless you’d rather wind up captured by a pack of Bone Hunters, or worse, Skrall.”
Mata Nui didn’t know this being, but he seemed friendly enough. The alternative was walking through this vast desert, with no idea which direction to go.
“What are Bone Hunters and Skrall?” asked Mata Nui.
“No one you ever want to meet.”
Suddenly the driver struck at Mata Nui, who blocked the blow with the stinger tail.
“Relax!” said the driver. “You’ve got a filthy scarabax on your back. I was just trying to knock the disgusting thing off.”
“Thanks, but I like him right where he is,” answered Mata Nui, with a trace of warning in his tone.
The driver shrugged. “To each his own. I’m Metus, by the way. Now hold on!”
Metus gunned the vehicle into motion and it shot across the desert sands. They traveled for a long time through the wastelands. There was little to see – just long stretches of empty sand occasionally broken up by bizarre structures that jutted up from the ground at weird angles.
“What happened here?” Mata Nui asked finally.
“Who knows?” answered Metus. “It’s been like this as long as anyone can remember. But if I had to make a guess, I’d say it was probably –”
“Evil,” said Mata Nui, softly.
Metus glanced at his passenger, then shrugged. “I was going to say ‘earthquake,’ maybe ‘volcanic eruption,’ but ‘evil’ works. Not from around here, are you?”
“I figured,” said Metus. He pointed at the stinger tail Mata Nui carried. “It’s clear you can fight if you can defeat a Vorox, and there aren’t many Agori or even Glatorian who can do that.”
“Me. I’m an Agori,” Metus said, smiling. “Although most aren’t as good looking as I am. That’s another joke. Truth is, we’re just peaceful villagers trying to survive. Not like the Bone Hunters. They’re cutthroats who steal what little we’ve got left.”
The outline of a village appeared up ahead. Mata Nui could hear the faint sound of a crowd cheering.
“Ah, good… sounds like we’re just in time,” said Metus.
Metus’s answer was a broad smile. He drove their vehicle into the outskirts of the village, which, to Mata Nui’s surprise, seemed to be empty. From where, then, was all the cheering coming?
The answer came a moment later. The settlement was crude, built near an obviously active volcano. Light came from torches planted in the ground and red-hot magma oozed from cracks in the surface. In the center of the village was a poorly constructed arena. The citizens were clustered together, watching as two warriors – one in red armor, one in white – fought ferociously.
Metus halted the vehicle and got out. Mata Nui followed. “Back in the day, villages settled disputes the old-fashioned way – by trying to destroy one another,” explained Metus. “Very messy. Lots of clean-up. So we came up with a solution. Representatives from each village fight one-on-one…”
Mata Nui could hardly believe what he was seeing. In his universe, Toa fought for justice, to save lives and protect the innocent. But this was something different. “You Agori use your best warriors for… sport?” he asked, unable to keep the distaste out of his voice.
“Not sport – problem solving. Much more honorable than slaughtering each other. And considerably more profitable.” Seeing Mata Nui’s cold expression, Metus added hastily, “Errr… not that I care about that sort of thing.”
“C’mon, Ackar! Take him down!” yelled someone in the crowd.
“Get him, Strakk!” responded another.
Metus pointed to the fighters. “The red warrior, Ackar, used to be the greatest warrior in all of Bara Magna. The white one is Strakk, from the ice village of Iconox.”
An Agori, also in red armor, rose to greet Metus. “Ah, Metus. Glad you’re here. Look at Ackar. I’m telling you, his days are numbered. I practically had to beg him to fight.”
“Mata Nui, meet Raanu. He’s the leader of this village. Mata Nui’s new in town.”
Raanu nodded at Mata Nui, then returned his attention to the fight. After a few minutes, he turned to Mata Nui and said, “What do you think?”
Mata Nui gestured toward Ackar. “He fights without fear. That is a rare quality.”
“True enough. But he’s lost his taste for battle,” said Raanu. “And once a Glatorian loses heart, it’s not long before he meets defeat after defeat and must be banished. No doubt that is why Metus brought you here tonight.”
“I don’t understand–”
“Ha, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Raanu,” Metus said, cutting off Mata Nui. “There’s plenty of time to find a new First Glatorian to take Ackar’s place.”
In the arena, Ackar was pressing his attack. He dodged a wild swing of Strakk’s ice axe and responded with a blow from his own fire sword. The impact rocked Strakk and sent his shield flying out of his hand.
“This red warrior fights with the courage of a true Toa…” said Mata Nui.
Strakk swung his axe again, but once more Ackar dodged. Seeing an opening, the red-armored warrior slammed his shield into his opponent’s midsection, sending Strakk flying into the arena wall. His weapon dropped from his hand as he crumpled to his knees.
The crowd exploded. “He’s done it! Ackar! Ackar!”
Ackar stood over his now unarmed opponent. “Concede and this goes no further.”
Strakk looked at Ackar with undisguised hatred. Then he slowly lowered his eyes, muttering, “All right. You win.”
Satisfied, Ackar turned away and went to retrieve Strakk’s fallen shield. “You leave with your honor intact, and I with your shield, in victory.”
Behind him, Strakk grabbed his ice axe and hurled it at Ackar’s back. A shout of warning from the crowd came too late. Ackar spun and managed to catch the brunt of the blow on his shield, but the impact knocked him backward. He hit the ground, stunned.
Strakk, grinning, stalked toward Ackar and picked up his axe.
“You call this honor?” Mata Nui said to Raanu, angrily. “He was clearly defeated!”
“We’re just Agori. We’re not going to take on a Glatorian,” Raanu replied. “The leader of his village will decide what needs to be done.”
That’s not good enough, thought Mata Nui. He leapt over the railing into the arena, a bright flash heralding the transformation of the scarabax into a shield once more. The sight startled the crowd. No one had ever seen a shield appear from thin air before.
“Interesting,” Metus said to himself. “No wonder he’s so fond of that bug…”
Strakk hadn’t noticed the new arrival. He was standing over the fallen Ackar, axe in hand, ready to deliver the final blow. “You’re finished, old–”
Mata Nui dove, tackling Strakk. Both hit the ground, but the experienced Strakk made it to his feet first, axe at the ready.
“I’ll cut you down for that, outsider!” the Glatorian growled.
Strakk struck. Mata Nui brought his shield up, but the blow knocked him right off his feet. Strakk pressed his attack, as Mata Nui desperately tried to block his strikes.
Metus shook his head. “Too bad. I’d hoped he’d bring a decent price…”
Mata Nui was on the ground now. Strakk stood ready to finish him off. Ackar had revived enough to see what was happening. “Your fight is with me!” Ackar shouted.
“You’re next, Ackar,” Strakk answered. “He asked for it, and now he’s going to get it.”
Mata Nui brought out the stinger tail, hoping to somehow parry the coming blow. The crude weapon touched his mask, and again, there was a bright flash of light. In the next moment, Mata Nui no longer wielded a broken stinger, but a bright, gleaming sword.
The crowd gasped and Metus’s eyes widened in shock. Strakk staggered back. “How in–?”
Mata Nui seized the moment. He lashed out with a sweeping kick that brought Strakk down and caused him to lose his grip on the ice axe. Mata Nui leapt to his feet, holding the blade of his new weapon at Strakk’s throat.
“Concede,” said Mata Nui coldly.
“Fine…” Strakk growled.
“For all to hear!” snapped Mata Nui.
Strakk glared at Mata Nui for a moment before shouting, “I concede!”
The crowd went wild, their cheers shaking the arena. Ackar walked unsteadily to Mata Nui’s side. Spotting Strakk’s hand inching toward his axe, Ackar stepped on the weapon, saying, “Don’t.” The ice Glatorian rose and limped out of the arena.
“What will happen to him?” asked Mata Nui.
“For attacking after he conceded? Banishment. Iconox can’t afford to send Glatorian without honor into the arena. Strakk will be reduced to living in the wastelands before the week is out.” Ackar offered Mata Nui the ice warrior’s shield.
Mata Nui shook his head. “You won honorably. The prize of victory is yours.”
“In that case…” Ackar tossed the shield aside as if it were garbage. “I’ve got plenty of shields.”
Ackar turned to look at the crowd. Most of the Agori were already filing out of the arena, not even looking in his direction. “How quickly they forget,” he said softly. “I am already an outcast.”
“It’s never too late to win them back,” answered Mata Nui.
Ackar shrugged. “Perhaps… I am in your debt, stranger.”
Mata Nui said nothing. But he wondered if he had just found the most valuable treasure that might exist on this world: an ally.
* * *
From the pages of Mata Nui’s Diary…
Once, I ruled a universe.
You might not believe me, for I look much like any other warrior on this world. You would have been even less likely to believe me a few short days ago, when I first arrived on this strange planet of Bara Magna. But it is the truth… as cold and painful as ever there was in any world.
I could tell you a great deal about the universe that once was mine, about its people, its heroes, and the threats to its peace. But none of that matters very much now. It is enough to say that my rule was stolen from me, because I was not wise enough to keep it safe. The thief was a being of darkness and fear, whose terrible plans for my people I can only imagine. He trapped me inside an object, a Mask of Life, and hurled me from my universe into the blackness of space. He believed I was gone forever, no longer a threat to him in any way. He believed he was safe from me at last.
I intend to prove him wrong.
I would be lying if I said I had any idea how I would do that as my prison soared through space. I felt shock, rage, and yes, fear, more for my people than myself. As the pull of Bara Magna’s gravity latched onto the mask in which my spirit was trapped, I wondered if this was how my 100,000-year existence would end – burned up in the atmosphere of an alien world.
But that was not to be my fate. Rocketing down like a blazing star, the Mask of Life struck the sands of Bara Magna, scorching a deep trench in the floor of the desert. It came to rest, smoke still rising from its surface. And then the power buried deep in the mask exerted itself, and began to create a living body from the sand and the earth.
And when it was done, I, Mata Nui, stood on the surface of a new world.
I did not have very long to grow accustomed to my new body or my new “home.” My first encounter was with a curious beetle, who dared come close enough to touch my mask with its pincers. The power of the mask transformed him in an instant into a shield. No sooner had I recovered from that shock than I was attacked by an armored creature.
The beast was savage, wild, and determined to kill me. I had never fought before, or ever needed to, and I wasn’t used to this new body yet. But, somehow, I drove the creature off. This first fight taught me a great deal. This was not the peaceful universe I had once watched over. It was a dangerous place full of unknown menaces, and if I wasn’t very careful, I would die here.
I thought about the Great Beings, the wise men and women who had created me and my universe so many thousands of years ago. Could they ever have imagined all that had happened since? What would they think if they knew that their creation no longer towered above worlds, no longer had the power to split planets or travel between worlds at will. Now I was simply a being carrying a shield and crude sword, with no real idea how to use either, surrounded by kio of desert and far, far from home.
Someone else might have wept or screamed in frustration or even given up right there and perished. But I didn’t have the right to do any of those things, not while my people were in danger. Like it or not, I would have to explore this harsh world on my own, and hope I could somehow find a way to achieve my destiny.
Shortly after my battle with the Vorox in the desert, I encountered a villager who introduced himself as Metus. He talked very quickly and offered me a ride to the nearest village, Vulcanus. Although I was hesitant, the thought of walking across a hostile desert was not very appealing, so I agreed. The trip was not without incident, as we wound up in combat with a creature he called a sand bat along the way.
My first reaction to Vulcanus was one of utter shock. Right in the center of the village, a crowd was watching two warriors fight in an arena. Was this the sort of barbaric society I had stumbled into, where battle was a sport? Even after Metus explained to me this was how arguments were settled here, in order to avoid wars, I was still troubled by it – where I came from, warriors fought for justice, not to decide who owned a strip of land or a wagon load of metal.
Still, in any society, there is right and there is wrong. I watched as the red-armored warrior, Ackar, defeated the white-armored one, called Strakk. I heard Strakk concede defeat, and then saw him reach for his weapon as soon as Ackar’s back was turned. No one else was willing to do anything… but I could not stand by and see someone attacked from behind. I ran into the arena and tackled Strakk, making his shot go wild.
Of course, now I was the one in trouble. He was a trained fighter, and I had only been in this body for an hour or so. He drove me across the arena and then down into the sand, ready to kill me… when a strange thing happened. The piece of Vorox stinger I carried as a crude weapon touched the mask I wore – and transformed instantly into a sword! The sight startled Strakk so much I was able to knock him off his feet. This time, when he surrendered, I made sure he meant it. I didn’t realize it then, but that short fight would change my entire future here on Bara Magna.