Axonn had been running for many days and nights. After being teleported from Metru Nui by the power of Makuta, he had found himself in a vast, barren landscape. At first, there was no sign of any life at all, Matoran or Rahi, or any habitation. That changed when he began to hear the screams. They were cries of agony and they were coming from Brutaka, though his old friend was nowhere to be seen.
The warrior had raced off in the direction of the screams. That had been – how long ago? A week ago? A month? He had crossed the wasteland that never seemed to end, but had been unable to find Brutaka. Strangely, he had felt neither hunger nor thirst on the journey, just an overpowering need to keep searching.
A few things had begun nagging at him, though, like the buzz of a fireflyer in his ear. The landscape never changed. He could swear he had seen the same rock formations time and time again, as if he were running in a circle. And Brutaka – not even he could endure what he seemed to be for weeks at a time. His screams should have died out long ago.
Then the crack appeared in the sky. It was only a small one, but bright light flowed through it from somewhere outside. That, too, made no sense. No sooner had Axonn said that to himself than the crack got bigger. Then more cracks started to appear, in the sky, in the ground, all around him.
This can’t be happening, Axonn thought. This can’t be real. This… isn’t real!
The next instant, Axonn was sitting on a beach. Water lapped against the shore in front of him, and behind, a gentle breeze stirred jungle trees. Flying Rahi circled in the sky overhead, now and then diving down to steal a fish from the sea. There was no sign of the endless waste he had been in before.
Of course not, he thought. I was never there. With his powers increased by being in Mata Nui’s body, Makuta can pierce even an Order member’s mental shields. My days and nights of running, Brutaka’s screams… all an illusion.
Axonn rose. He still had his armor, his mask, and his axe. He wondered if perhaps his mask, which could see through any deception, had been the difference between his escaping Makuta’s trap and being lost in the fantasy forever.
He didn’t know for certain where he was, nor did he care at the moment. All that mattered to him was where Makuta was, and he knew that answer. Somehow, some way, he was going to make it back to Metru Nui – and Makuta was going to pay for what he had done, even if it cost Axonn his life.
Far away from Axonn’s island, Tahu and his ragtag team were facing the potential end of their own lives. The group was confronted by a squad of heavily armed Exo-Toa, prepared to imprison or execute them. Tahu doubted the machines much cared which option they pursued.
He calculated the odds. Lariska, Krahka, Johmak and he could take out four Exo-Toa, maybe even eight if they caught a break. That would still leave four of the machines free to cut them down. In the past, he would have just accepted the situation and vowed to go down fighting. Now he was trying to use his brain as much as his brawn, because the fight against Makuta could not afford to lose warriors to needless sacrifice.
He had settled on a plan – a mock surrender, followed by an escape attempt before they reached Metru Nui – when the ground began to shake. At first, he thought it was another attack by Makuta. Then the tremors became more violent and some of the Exo-Toa lost their footing. They didn’t have to bother getting up again. A chasm opened up directly under the machines and swallowed them up. Tahu ran to the edge of it, and saw nothing but darkness. At least, at first…
“Brother! Can you give me a hand?”
Tahu smiled. Onua Nuva was clinging to the rocky wall of the crevice. The Exo-Toa had not been so lucky, having tumbled down into what looked like a bottomless pit.
The Toa of Fire helped the Toa of Earth back to solid ground. He nodded toward the chasm, saying, “You still do good work.”
“I have been keeping in practice,” said Onua.
“We were just about to head south to find those Order agents you mentioned, the ones looking for weapons,” said Tahu.
Onua shook his head. “Don’t bother. Rahkshi got them, and the supplies.”
“Then we pick another direction,” said Tahu, “and we keep moving.”
Lariska walked over, sheathing her dagger. “So. Any bright ideas? There are more Exo-Toa where those came from.”
“And more Rahkshi,” agreed Tahu.
“Onu-Matoran,” said Onua, smiling.
“What are you talking about?” asked Lariska.
“Onu-Matoran live underground most of their lives,” explained the Toa of Earth. “The first time they come to the surface, the bright light overwhelms them. Most are blinded for a short time, until they get used to the environment. That’s how Teridax is now. He’s not used to all this new power yet, or trying to see in every direction at once. He needs other eyes and ears within the universe – the Rahkshi and the Exo-Toa.”
“What do you have in mind, and does it include explosions?” asked Tahu, hoping it did.
“Oh, it does,” Onua assured him. “A Toa of Earth learns to – excuse the pun – keep his ear to the ground. Makuta may be all-powerful, but he still needs to make Rahkshi the same old way – by making worm-like kraata who then turn into his warriors. And I think I may know just where those kraata are coming into being.”
“We strike there,” said Tahu. “Maybe we can cut off his supply of Rahkshi, temporarily. It’s a start.”
“How far?” asked Lariska.
“We’ll get there,” said Onua. “Makuta picked the one source of energized protodermis the Order of Mata Nui wouldn’t think to try and shut down – the one on their own island of Daxia. He leveled their fortress and seized control of the island. That’s where we have to go.”
“Guarded?” asked the Dark Hunter.
“Like it’s the treasure of the Great Beings,” said Onua. “Bring an extra dagger.”
* * *
Lewa’s mission was simple and straightforward. With the help of information from a surviving Order agent, he was headed for the island of Artakha. Somehow, the powerful ruler of that land had to be convinced to do more than sit back and make armor and weapons. They needed him in the fight.
As he came within sight of the island, he could tell he was already too late. Shattered Rahkshi littered the coastline, but more were advancing on the fortress. Artakha’s Matoran workers were fighting a desperate holding action, but it was a lost cause. The only hope was to somehow pull off a rescue of Artakha himself before Makuta’s forces overcame him.
Lewa was about to launch himself into a power dive when a voice echoed in his head. Do not, it said. It is too late. But there is another who can aid you, if I have fallen. Go to him. Persuade him to join your fight.
“Who are you talking about? And where do I find him?” said Lewa.
There is still time, said the voice of Artakha. I will send you to him. The rest is up to you.
The world spun, and then Lewa was no longer in the air above Artakha. Instead, he was standing in a dark cave, facing a blank wall of stone. He could feel something behind him, the way one could feel a bog leech crawling up the back of the neck. Lewa wanted to turn around and see what was there – and at the same time, he knew he really didn’t want to see.
Turn. This voice was also in Lewa’s mind only, but it had none of the comfort and assurance that could be found in Artakha’s. If it was possible for a voice to have a scent, this one reeked of death and decay.
“Who are you? Where am I?” said Lewa, staying right where he was.
You are at the end of your journey … the end of all journeys, Toa. And my name is Tren Krom.