“Help… me…” the Agori croaked.

“Hang on,” said Mata Nui. He took a few steps backward, broke into a run, and leaped toward Tarduk. Catching hold of the chain, his momentum carried it and the Agori away from the lava. When they were almost at the far wall, Mata Nui slashed through the links with his sword. The chain snapped and he and Tarduk fell to the stone floor.

“I can’t… I can’t believe you did that,” gasped Tarduk. “I thought I was cooked.”

“What is this place?” asked Mata Nui, getting to his feet and helping Tarduk do the same.

“I don’t think you’d believe me if I told you,” the Agori replied. “But you can believe this: we’ve got to get out of here, now!”

“You go,” said Mata Nui. “I came here for answers and I’m going to get them.”

A violent tremor shook the chamber. Gouts of lava shot up from the pool, raining down on the stone floor and burning through the rock.

“The only answer you’ll get here is what happens after death,” said Tarduk, already running for the door. “Come on!”

Mata Nui stood rooted to the floor for a moment. He had gone through so much to reach this place, and now he was supposed to flee from it? But Tarduk was right, something very bad was happening here. The stone all around was melting, but not from the heat. No, the structure was shifting, turning into something else as he watched. If he didn’t move, and quickly, he would be trapped here – so he ran.

Tarduk was already halfway up the stairs. When he reached the top, he dashed out the door and up into the rocks. Mata Nui followed not long after. Both turned to see the entire tower melting like a block of ice in the sun.

“Incredible,” said Tarduk.

Mata Nui said nothing. His attention was riveted on the scene before him. Something was rising out of the ground beneath the tower, and the tower itself was sliding away as if to make room for it. The first thing he saw was the molten lava, followed quickly by what looked like an entire mountain pushing its way up from beneath the earth. It was an awe-inspiring sight – an actual volcano, given birth in a matter of moments.

“Incredible isn’t the word,” muttered Mata Nui. “It’s impossible.”

Tarduk pointed up at the river of lava flowing slowly from the crater. “Looks pretty possible to me. But what could cause it?”

Mata Nui gestured at the maze. “The same that caused all this – the Great Beings. That’s no natural volcano.”

“How do you know?”

Mata Nui smiled. “Let’s just say I know something about volcanoes that aren’t really volcanoes, and leave it at that. Stay here. I’m going in.”

“Into that?” Tarduk said, shocked. “You’ll be killed!”

“I don’t think so,” Mata Nui said, already walking toward the eruption. “I think I was meant to go in there… or someone was.”

Ignoring the heat and the ominous rumbles coming from inside the mountain, Mata Nui began to climb the slope. He hacked at the rock with his sword, trying to make an entrance. To his surprise, the rock crumbled easily, to reveal smooth, polished metal underneath. He struck at the gleaming metal, but his sword bounced off without leaving so much as a scratch.

Even more determined now, Mata Nui continued to chip away at the rock. After several minutes, he had uncovered what appeared to be a hatch. Grasping the handle and pulling with all his strength, he was able to force it open just wide enough for him to slip inside. Warning Tarduk again to stay put, Mata Nui went into the volcano.

Mata Nui knew what the inside of a real volcano looked like. He had seen his share on hundreds of worlds, some of which made Bara Magna seem like a little corner of paradise. They looked nothing like what he was seeing now.

The inside of the “mountain” was a mass of pipes, conduits, and wires, all vibrating from a low hum that filled the entire structure. It was so crowded that it took an effort for him to even move ahead. The pipes were hot, no doubt from pumping the “lava” toward the top of the edifice, where it could be disposed of. Efficient and deceptive, he thought, two hallmarks of the Great Beings’ work.

Forcing his way through a nest of cables, he found himself in a small, open area. The first thing he noticed were plans on the wall for a giant robot, the same plans he had earlier seen in a cavern near the village of Tajun. Mata Nui smiled. He had been right. There were answers to be found here, for there was a connection between here and the construction of his original body.

Next to the plans was a blank screen. Mata Nui reached out and brushed his fingertips against it and it flared to life. A series of images flashed by at mind-numbing speed: schematics, calculations, notes, details of design and construction. It all went so quickly it was impossible to consciously focus on any one thing, yet Mata Nui could feel the knowledge flowing into his mind just the same. It was overwhelming and painful, but he endured. This is what he had come here for – this was his origin story.

He saw it all now. The early experiment that had failed, the one that resulted in robot pieces scattered all over the Bara Magna desert; the discovery of protodermis, an artificial substance that could exist in multiple forms, the key to the creation of his original body and the nanotech that dwelled within it; and more, he saw why he had been created and for what purpose.

A conflict raged, a Core War over a substance Mata Nui recognized as energized protodermis. Even the Great Beings were not sure of its properties, but the silvery liquid transformed or destroyed whatever it touched. It was flowing up from inside the planet and the various tribes all wanted to claim it. But tapping the power of the volatile substance would result, the Great Beings discovered, in the destruction of the world.

When their efforts to end the war failed, they built a giant robot they called Mata Nui. His purpose: to leave the planet before it shattered and travel the universe, gaining the knowledge to prevent such a terrible war from happening again. After 100,000 years, the pieces of Spherus Magna would be stable enough to be brought together once more. And that was why Mata Nui truly existed – his mission was to undo the errors of his creators and to heal the world.

That’s it! That’s what I’m supposed to do, he exulted. My destiny is to recreate Spherus Magna as it was before the Shattering… to make the three pieces of the planet one again.

Now it all became clear to him. He had been on his way back from his exploration of the universe, heading for Bara Magna, when he was attacked from within by the evil Makuta. Rendered unconscious, he crashed into the ocean of Aqua Magna. The impact had temporarily damaged the memory core of the robot, causing him to forget his mission. Even when he was reawakened by a band of heroes called Toa, he had been without purpose. Before he could initiate self-repair and retrieve the knowledge he needed, Makuta had seized control of the robot and exiled Mata Nui’s consciousness into space. By chance or design, he had ended up on Bara Magna, his original destination.

He was armed with the knowledge he needed at last, but staggered by its implications as well. To achieve his mission, he needed his original body, or something close to it. More, the task of reconstructing the planet required the power of not one, but two robots.

There was supposed to be a second one, he realized. The Great Beings were supposed to build another Mata Nui! But they never did… maybe the planet’s end came too fast, or maybe they were killed. And… I can’t do my mission alone. I can’t do what I was created to do.

Mata Nui sank to the floor. For the first time in his existence, he felt truly defeated. The hope he had held onto, even through his exile, was extinguished. Even if he got his old body back, he couldn’t –

“What’s the matter?”

He turned at the sound. It was Tarduk, who had followed him in despite Mata Nui’s orders. Being smaller and more agile, the Agori had had no trouble navigating through the jungle of iron and wires.

Seeing no reason to keep it secret, Mata Nui laid out what he had learned. Tarduk listened intently. When the tale was done, the Agori walked over and pointed up to the plans.

“I don’t know what you can do about your old, um, body,” he said. “But from what you said, you already have a second one. It’s lying in the Bara Magna desert, isn’t it?”

Mata Nui nodded. “Yes, but it’s been dead for well over 100,000 years. It has no power, and even when it was active, it was unstable.”

Tarduk frowned. “Not sure about stability, but as for power… what does this remind you of?”

Mata Nui looked around. Of course. He had been so caught up in learning about his past, and then the overwhelming odds against achieving his mission, that he never realized.

The “volcano” was a power plant.

“The plans,” he said, rising. “That’s what was created here – the power source for my body! And if they planned to build a second robot –”

“Then there might be a second power source,” finished Tarduk. “It’s worth searching for, right?”

* * *

Tren Krom stood on the shore of what had been “his” island for so many thousands of years – his home, his prison, his place of torment. For almost as long as he could remember, he had been trapped here by the power of the Great Beings. By all rights, he should hate them and their creation, Mata Nui, and want revenge.

Strangely, he did not. Yes, he had raged against his imprisonment and vowed vengeance more than once. But as time passed, he grew wiser, recalling the old saying that “no one fights in a burning house.” Pulling down the Great Beings’ creation would not profit him at all. In fact, it would mean his death as well. And, despite having been pushed aside for Mata Nui more than 100,000 years ago, Tren Krom still felt a sense of responsibility for the universe he once looked after.

That was why he had tricked Toa Nuva Lewa into swapping bodies with him, so he could escape the island at last. What he hadn’t counted on was that he would not get Lewa’s power over air in the bargain. Without this, and with no boat or air vehicle, he had no way to leave the shore. Still, that was no worry. He knew who had sent Lewa to him, and so he knew the answer to his problem.

Artakha, hear me.

It was a telepathic message projected over an unimaginable distance. Yet the answer came within seconds.

I am here, Tren Krom. I see you are still… resourceful.

The body will be of use, Tren Krom conceded, but only if I can travel in it to Metru Nui. You can make that happen.

And should I unleash you on the universe, then? wondered Artakha. The Great Beings bound you for a reason, so that Mata Nui could rule with no rivals.

Tren Krom cursed. Stop wringing your hands, you ancient fool. If you did not need me free, why did you send the Toa? You knew what I would do.

Artakha sent no message back. Instead, the world around Tren Krom began to shimmer and fade. When his vision was clear again, he was standing in a subterranean tunnel filled with a collection of broken equipment and dust-covered artifacts. He had never physically been to this place before, but he knew what it was: the Metru Nui Archives.

My thanks, he thought.

Artakha’s reply was stern. See that you carry out your end of the bargain, Tren Krom. And do not even think of keeping a body that is not yours. I will find a way to destroy it before I will let you steal it for all eternity.

Tren Krom ignored him. He was more concerned with finding his way to where he needed to go before Makuta Teridax acted to stop him. The Archives were a labyrinth of tunnels and none of the minds he had read recently knew the layout. He reached out, looking for a sapient being nearby who might know how to navigate the maze.

He found something else entirely. His mind brushed against another, one of incredibly strong will and ambition. Before he could probe deeper, he heard figures approaching. Readying Toa Lewa’s weapon, Tren Krom braced for an attack.

“Lewa! Look, it’s Toa Lewa!”

The happy cry came from a Matoran villager. A quick scan of his mind revealed his name was Kapura, and his companion was Hafu. But it was the blue-armored female that traveled with them that most intrigued Tren Krom.

“Isn’t it great, Hafu? Now we have two Toa with us – Lewa and Tuyet.”

Tuyet? Tren Krom took the time to read her mind, being none too subtle about it. He saw her past efforts to take over the universe, and her plans to try again in future. This one was powerful and dangerous… but she might be useful, as well.

For her part, Tuyet just smiled. She knew this was no Toa of Air who stood before her. She had never met Lewa Nuva, but no Air warrior wearing a Mask of Levitation had the kind of mental powers she sensed. So who was this, really, and why was he disguising himself as a Toa Nuva?

“If you are opposed to Makuta, then your help would be very… ever-liked,” Tren Krom said, hastily adding in some treespeak for the benefit of the Matoran.

“I’m sure,” said Toa Tuyet. “You have a plan, I take it?”

“If I did not, I am sure you would,” Tren Krom replied, looking her right in the eyes. “Perhaps we can… quick-help… each other?”

“What a break,” Kapura said, smiling. “Don’t you think so, Hafu?”

The Po-Matoran looked from Toa Tuyet, who he didn’t trust, to Lewa Nuva, who didn’t seem like himself. “Yeah. Wonderful,” he muttered.

The small group waited until nightfall. Then they slipped out of the Archives, heading for the Coliseum. Along the way, they passed Toa Pouks and Toa Bomonga casually strolling through the city as if nothing was wrong.

“Who are they?” asked Tuyet. “Traitors to the Toa cause?”

“They’re the Toa Hagah,” Kapura explained. “Something happened to them… no one knows what. But they walk right past Rahkshi like the monsters aren’t even there.” He shrugged.

Intrigued, Tren Krom touched the minds of the two Toa Hagah. Ah, he thought, a simple trick. Teridax made these Toa see a false reality where all is peace and serenity. For them, it’s an iron-clad illusion they could never break free of on their own. But for me…

A fraction of Tren Krom’s mental power tore Makuta’s artificial reality to bits. Pouks and Bomonga shook their heads, as if waking from a dream. Even as he restored them to the real world, Tren Krom sent his power cascading to the minds of the other Toa Hagah, freeing them as well.

“Perhaps fortune will smile on Metru Nui, and these Toa will return to their senses soon,” Tren Krom said. “Time will tell.”

“It usually does,” said Tuyet. “What will time tell about us, I wonder?”

Tren Krom looked at her. “Hopefully, nothing either of us would regard with shame.”

“Oh, no, of course not,” she replied, with a chuckle.

“Where are we going?” asked Hafu. “And do I really want to know?”

Tren Krom pointed to the Coliseum. “There. I have a message for Mata Nui. It may mean the difference between life and death for everyone.”

“Mata Nui?” asked Hafu, incredulous. “But Mata Nui isn’t there. Makuta Teridax exiled him from the universe, maybe killed him. How are you going to get a message to him? And what could he do to help us now, anyway?”

Tren Krom looked at the Po-Matoran. A strange smile came to Lewa Nuva’s mouth, the corners of it bent at an odd angle. “The answer to both those questions is the same… you would be surprised, Hafu. Very surprised.”

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