It was a testament to the respect the Agori had for Raanu that, at his request, they packed up what few things they owned and abandoned their new city. Yes, there were questions and some complaints, but they trusted the elder of Vulcanus. If he said they had to leave, there had to be a reason for it.
Now Mata Nui stood inside the head of this long unused robot body. In his hands, he held a small, metal box containing a tiny spark of energy. Retrieving this from inside the volcano had almost cost him his life. Anyone looking at it would have wondered how something so small could possibly bring so massive a robot to life.
Mata Nui could not have answered them. But he knew from what he had learned in the tower that using anything but the most miniscule amount of this blindingly bright energy would just result in a second explosion. The pieces of the robot might be blown across Bara Magna again, or simply disintegrate. There would never be time to retrieve them and try again before Makuta arrived.
“You sure about this?” The question came from Kiina. She had just finished a last check of the city to make sure all the Agori and Glatorian were gone from inside it.
“No,” Mata Nui answered. “But it’s what I have to do.”
“You could be killed,” she said. “You might kill a lot of other people too, if this thing blows up. Have you thought about that?”
“Of course,” said Mata Nui. “If I don’t try, though, I will be dead, and so will who knows how many others. Anyone Makuta doesn’t see a need for, he will destroy. That’s just fact.”
Kiina nodded. She looked up at the ceiling high above, still having a hard time comprehending that this was the interior of a robot’s skull case. The Great Beings had done some pretty crazy things in their time, but giant robots was a new one to her.
Mata Nui nudged Click off his shoulder and onto his hand. He extended it to Kiina. “Take him. I don’t want him hurt.”
Kiina accepted the insect with a little reluctance – she was not a fan of bugs. But she knew how important this beetle had been to her friend, so she did what was asked.
“It’s never going to be the same, is it?” she said quietly.
“You, for one thing,” Kiina answered. “You fought with us, laughed with us, wept for our dead, and helped us rebuild after the Skrall invasion. You’ve been one of us, and now you’re going to be… this.”
“But still the same person,” Mata Nui assured her. “Still your friend.”
“A friend who’s millions of feet high?” she said, with a harsh laugh. “I’ll look smaller than an insect to you from up there. We all will. And you’ll have about as much in common with us as we do with scarabax beetles.”
Mata Nui put a hand on her shoulder. “I won’t forget you, Kiina… or my promise. I will get you to a new world. Once, I made the mistake of ignoring others because they weren’t part of my mission, taking for granted they would always be there to do what I needed them to do. If I had paid more attention… well, a lot of bad things wouldn’t have happened.”
He smiled. “But amid all the bad, some good came out of my mistakes. I met you.”
Kiina rushed forward and hugged Mata Nui. “Don’t make me cry,” she said softly. “I’m a Glatorian. We don’t do that.”
After a few moments, Mata Nui gently pulled away. “You had better go. This is going to be dangerous.”
“I could stay and help,” she said. “You might need me.”
Mata Nui shook his head. “Go, join Ackar and Gresh. Tell them… tell them thank you. I’ve seen many worlds, but you all showed me one I had never discovered – the world of friendship and faith and trust.”
Kiina’s voice wouldn’t come. She nodded quickly and walked away, headed for the nearest exit to the desert. Once outside, she climbed on to her mount and rode for the far desert, where the rest of her people waited. And as she rode, sands that had never known rain were kissed by her tears.
It was time.
Mata Nui fitted the box into a slot designed for it within the skull casing. There was a massive burst of light as the energy coursed through the robot body, fusing the pieces together and powering up systems. A low hum filled the air.
He waited, holding his breath. This body was unstable, Mata Nui already knew that. The innovations the Great Beings had used to build his original body had not yet been developed when this early effort was created. If the spark of energy proved to be too much, Mata Nui knew he would never survive the explosion.
None came. Unfortunately, there was no guarantee there wouldn’t be one later – the Great Beings’ records had been vague on just how long this prototype had been in operation before it catastrophically failed. Still, he had no choice about what to do next.
Slowly, he reached up and put his hands on the Mask of Life he wore. The power of the mask had created the body he now had from the sands of Bara Magna. As soon as he removed it, his body crumbled away, going back to the scattered atoms it had been originally. As his hands vanished, the mask fell to the ground.
So far, Mata Nui’s theory had been right. Although his body was gone, his mind survived inside the Mask of Life. Now he had to do something he had never tried before: project that mind into another shell.
It was hard, almost unbelievably so. It went against every instinct to hurl his consciousness into a void. There was no way to be sure he could inhabit the robot, or that he could find his way back into the mask if he failed. His mind and spirit might just float forever, bodiless and helpless to prevent what was soon to come.
No, he thought. That won’t happen. I owe too much to too many to allow it.
Mata Nui concentrated on the robot, picturing every bit of it, imagining himself in control of the huge construct. Throwing every bit of his formidable mind into the struggle, he willed himself out of the mask.
There was a terrible feeling of confusion. The world began to spin. He felt like he was flying, but with no control over his speed or direction. At one point, he passed through the robot’s skull and saw Bara Magna from the air. Then his unfettered mind plunged down through one of the great eyes and ricocheted throughout the body.
I’m not used to this, he admitted. The Makuta are masters at leaping from body to body, but it’s not something I was ever meant to do. But I’d better learn fast.
Mata Nui forced himself to turn back toward the head of the robot. It was like trying to turn a huge ship into the wind. He could feel the environment resisting him, but he would not give in and lose control. Without a body to inhabit, he knew he would soon go mad.
There was what felt like a violent lurch. Suddenly, he was looking up at the sky. Had he overshot his target? Was he outside of the robot again? Would he even be able to find his way back? Maybe, he wondered, I should try to get back into the mask. Maybe there is some other way to stop Makuta than with this ancient machine.
Mata Nui tried to make his mind move, but this time, nothing happened. Then it dawned on him that the world was no longer spinning crazily. His gaze was fixed on the sky. He was seeing through the robot’s eyes!
I did it, he said to himself, hardly believing it. I did it! This body is mine now. I have another chance to do what I was created to do – and this time, I won’t fail. I swear it.
Far across the desert, Ackar, Kiina and Gresh stood with the rest of the Agori and Glatorian. They had seen the bright flash of energy that had come from the robot. Kiina wanted to go back, convinced Mata Nui was in trouble, but Gresh restrained her.
“We can’t help him now,” he told her. “This is something he has to do on his own.”
“What in the name of–?” whispered Ackar. “Look! It’s moving!”
It was true. The robot was slowly rising, sand raining down as it did so. As the Glatorian watched, it got to its knees, then rose to its full height. They looked up in awe as the mechanical being towered above their world.
No, thought Kiina, not ‘it’ – not a robot. That’s… Mata Nui.
“He made it,” said Ackar. “I can’t believe it.”
“Now what?” asked Gresh. “Can we still talk to him? Will he hear us, from way up there?”
“Maybe we can get his attention,” answered Ackar. Raising his sword and calling on the new powers Mata Nui had given him, he hurled a fireball high into the air.
The robot’s head turned slightly toward the flaming signal. Then Mata Nui looked down toward where his companions waited. He activated the speech centers of his new body, taking care to make sure his voice would not be too loud. At full volume, the robot’s voice could shatter skulls all over the planet.
“Well done, Ackar,” he said. Even spoken “softly,” his words were like sonic booms down below. “Tahu could not have done better.”
Kiina glanced at Gresh. “Who’s Tahu?”
Gresh shrugged. “Maybe some Glatorian we don’t know.”
“Mata Nui, can you hear me?” Ackar shouted up at the robot.
“No need to shout,” answered Mata Nui. “My sensors can pick up a beetle’s breathing, if I want them to. Are you all right?”
“Yes,” Kiina replied. “But how about you?”
“I had almost forgotten…” Mata Nui began. “This body is… different from my old one in many ways. But hopefully it has the power to do what must be done.”
Even as he said it, Mata Nui knew there was really little hope at all. To carry out his mission, he needed a second robot, equally as powerful. And the only other one he knew to be in existence was under the control of a maniac.
I have to try, he said to himself. Otherwise, what was all this for? I can’t have come all this way, gone through so much, just to fail.
“Get to shelter,” he said to the assembled crowd below. “I don’t know if what I am going to attempt will work, or what will happen if it does. I need to know you’re safe before I begin.”
“Shelter?” said Gelu, an ex-Glatorian from the ice village. “What shelter? Isn’t he wearing our shelter?”
“There are caves nearby,” said Ackar. “We’ll get everyone into them.”
* * *
From the pages of Mata Nui’s diary…
The robot body was intact. I could only guess that it was a prototype for my own lost form, perhaps something that failed its initial test here in the desert of Bara Magna. I could will my mind into it, but that would not help any, for the body had no power source. Without energy, it was just a metal shell.
It was then that events took an unexpected turn. Berix produced a coin he had found in the cavern of the Great Beings which had a maze pattern on it. Then we found that the pattern on the Skrall shields matched that of the coin. Finally, Vastus told me of one of his tribe’s Agori, Tarduk, who was telling wild tales about a “Valley of the Maze” to the north.
I wanted to seek out this Tarduk and question him. But it turned out that he had left Tesara on an expedition of his own to find the maze and solve its secrets. Accompanied by Kiina and Gresh, I followed. Had I not, well, I doubt Tarduk would have lived to return and tell us what he had found.
The maze was a last riddle left behind by the Great Beings. Designed to keep intruders out, it concealed a source of great power. Once unleashed, that power fused the parts of the huge robot body together and powered it. Then I had only to send my spirit from the Mask of Life into the body to once more have the strength to challenge my foe.
Long ago, wise but fallible Great Beings constructed a giant robot. But the power source was unstable, and an explosion scattered parts of the metal giant across the face of the planet.
Learning from their mistakes, the Great Beings desperately constructed a new, larger robot. This machine was infused with an intelligence and mission to learn about the universe, and thus I awoke as the intellect of a giant robot. Smaller beings were placed inside me to maintain the inner workings. My earliest memories are of being activated on Spherus Magna.
Safety measures in the form of six Toa warriors were put into place, just in case of unforeseen disaster. Little did anyone realize how vital these six beings would be in saving countless lives.
My construction was completed just in time. As I left my home planet, energized protodermis leaked from the world’s core and triggered a massive explosion that flung two huge chunks into orbit. These became the jungle moon of Bota Magna and the ocean world of Aqua Magna. The desert world that remained was renamed Bara Magna by the survivors.
I spent most of my existence exploring other worlds, watching cultures evolve, measuring and analyzing the dance of stars and planets. After a time, I took the beings inside my metal body for granted, ignoring them and their constant squabbles to focus on the outside universe. This neglect would cost me – and my small workers – endless misery and pain.
Inside my body, workers maintained machinery and repaired the damage and fatigue caused over tens of thousands of years. Most, like the Toa and Matoran, were content with their roles. But the Makuta dreamed of glory and power. My inattention gave them numerous opportunities to scheme and plot.
Finally, my journey drew to its close. As I traveled back to the planet of my construction to fulfill my final destiny, one ambitious Makuta attacked. Teridax crashed my systems and sent my robotic body plummeting into the ocean moon of Aqua Magna. There, I slept for a thousand years.
Automatic systems camouflaged my face, one of the only parts of my body above the waterline. A fake volcano was created, along with lush jungles, icy mountains, deep lakes, deserts and caverns. Toa brought Matoran workers to this island paradise and then transformed into Turaga leaders to guide the Matoran. Memories of being inside a robotic universe were erased from all but the Turaga.
Makuta Teridax had yet more plans. Not content with putting me to sleep, he schemed to eliminate his fellow Makuta and take over my massive robotic body. The sacrifice of brave Toa Matoro brought my body to life, but Teridax stole my robot form before my consciousness awoke. I was flung out of my own body, imprisoned in the Mask of Life.
The final battle approaches even now. I have no doubt my enemy knows what has happened and will seek me out. I may destroy him, or he may destroy me, but I fear that our fight will inevitably rain destruction down on those below. I have warned Ackar and the others to get themselves and the Agori to a place of safety. They have helped me, saved me, and shown me a world I did not know existed – but this was not their fight. It was mine… and it was one I should have fought many centuries before.
* * *
At the sight of Artakha, the chamber went silent.
He stood at least 10 feet tall. His armor was gray-green and covered in runes carved at the beginning of time. His mask was the most ornate anyone had ever seen – more than just a Kanohi, it was a true work of art. The metallic protodermis from which it was forged was arranged in intricate patterns and designs, each reflecting one of the many cultures that flourished in the universe. The eye slits were angular and pointed, giving him an air of both wisdom and a vague sense of menace.
Artakha stood in the shattered doorway, facing some of the most powerful beings in existence. His stance made it clear he was their equal, if not their superior.
His cold eyes fell first on Lewa Nuva. “Your task is done,” he said. “Return whence you came.”
Lewa Nuva stared at Artakha for a moment, then turned without a word and started to exit, only to be blocked by the newcomer.
“Without the body,” said Artakha.
Lewa Nuva shrugged. “Payment for services rendered?”
“The mind of Lewa Nuva is trapped within your old body, Tren Krom, as you well know,” Artakha replied. “He deserves better than to suffer a fate meant for you.”
The mouth of Lewa Nuva smiled, though it was the mind of Tren Krom that made it so. “The words come easily to you, Artakha. You chose to live as an exile. I did not.”
“None of us choose our destiny,” Artakha replied. “And none of us can defy it. Go, Tren Krom. Have faith Mata Nui will reward you when all is said and done.”
Lewa Nuva nodded. “Faith, yes… a drop of water in place of an ocean.”
Artakha reached out and placed the palm of his right hand on Lewa Nuva’s forehead. “It’s more than time.”
The Toa’s body spasmed, then dropped to the floor. After a moment, Lewa’s eyes opened and he looked around, dazed. “Where…? I was… in a cave… in an ever-ugly body… and…”
Artakha ignored him. Helryx had advanced up to him, staring up at his masked face and making no effort to contain her fury. “This is no affair of yours, Artakha. Actions must be taken to contain the threat of Makuta, here and now.”
“Creation is my essence,” Artakha replied. “And you would destroy all that exists. I can’t allow that.”
“You can’t stop it either –”
“But I can.”
The voice reverberated throughout the chamber. It belonged to Makuta Teridax.
“Oh, who invited him?” muttered Lewa.
“Invited me?” asked Teridax. “As I recall, you are all guests in my home. And you have been most rude and destructive ones. I am afraid I am going to have to ask you to leave.”
“And if we refuse?” bellowed Axonn. “What will you do then, you formless freak?”
Teridax gave a low, mocking laugh. Then he said softly, “Why, then… I will have to insist.”
One instant, Axonn, Brutaka, Helryx, Artakha, Miserix, Tuyet and two Matoran were inside a half-ruined chamber deep beneath Metru Nui. The next, they were floating in the airless, icy void of outer space, watching as the robot Makuta commanded soared away from them toward a distant world.
* * *
“I told you this was a bad idea,” said Toa Kongu.
“Quiet,” hissed Toa Hahli.
“Is the Order sure of its information?” asked Nuparu.
“As sure as they can be, with things as they are,” replied Hewkii.
“Then we better get to work,” said Jaller.
The five surviving Toa Mahri were crouched on the western shore of the island of Zakaz, home to the murderous Skakdi race. Ordinarily, it wasn’t the sort of place any sane person wanted to visit, wracked as it was by a millennia-old civil war. Back when they were Toa Inika, Jaller and his team had battled six Skakdi, the Piraka, and barely escaped with their lives.
Their mission here was as simple as it was perilous. The Order had learned that Nektann, a powerful Skakdi warlord, had allied with Makuta Teridax and led his army on a journey south. Now it was vital to find out if any of the other warlords were going to follow his lead.
On top of that, there was a mystery to be solved. Following the widespread destruction on Daxia, the sea snakes that were once the evil Piraka had vanished. It had been believed they were just buried in the rubble, but rumors were flying they had been rescued and spirited away to Zakaz. For what purpose, no one could say.
To accomplish either of these, they had to get past the Skakdi guards on the shore. That was Kongu’s job. Using his control of air, he robbed the guards of anything to breathe until they passed out. Once they were down, the Toa Mahri advanced.
Their next obstacle was a small encampment of warriors, surrounded by a wall of thick stone. “Want me to bring the wall down?” asked Toa Hewkii.
“Just like we planned,” nodded Jaller.
Hewkii concentrated and extended his power over stone to the wall. The next moment, the rocks began to explode. The alarmed Skakdi, thinking they were under attack by another tribe, rushed to their defenses… but couldn’t spot the enemy.
After a few minutes of “bombardment,” they scaled the rubble and fled into the night.
Jaller turned to the Toa of Water. “Hahli?”
“It’s this way,” she answered, taking the lead. The Toa moved swiftly across the uneven terrain until they reached the mouth of the cave. By now, they could all hear the rushing of water. Hahli led them inside, where they saw an underground river.
“Perfect,” said Nuparu.
“The Order says that will take us right into one of the larger ruins,” said Hahli. “All we have to do is swim.”
“That again?” asked Hewkii, in mock protest.
The Mask of Life had transformed the Toa Inika into water-breathing Toa Mahri not long ago. Then it had changed them again, making them true amphibians. One by one, they dove into the river and began to swim through the cold, dark water.
After an hour or so, during which time Nuparu discovered that there were some very nasty fish under Zakaz, they emerged in another cavern. Just beyond the mouth of the cave was a large area of ruins, in which about 500 Skakdi were gathered. One, obviously a warlord, was addressing the gathering.
“The Brotherhood of Makuta is no more,” he bellowed. “The Dark Hunters are a battered ruin. The Toa are scattered and hiding like stone rats. Who is there left for anyone to fear?”
“The Skakdi!” yelled the crowd in response.
“I don’t like the sound of this,” said Hewkii.
“I think you’re about to like it less,” said Nuparu. He was crouched down, with one hand on the soil. “Something is moving underground, maybe 20 bio from where we are. Something big.”
“For too long, we have been penned up on this island, by the will of the Brotherhood,” the warlord continued. “And now one of their number controls our universe, and believes he controls us, as well. But we will show him he is wrong!”
“Okay, well, it doesn’t sound like he and Teridax will be playing kolhii together anytime soon,” said Jaller.
“And I think he’s just getting warmed up,” said Hahli.
“Let our salvation now rise,” shouted the warlord.
“Here it comes,” said Nuparu.
Now they could all feel the rumbling underground, and soon, they saw what was causing it. A huge tank was rising up in the center of the ruins. One glance and the Mahri knew all too well what was inside of it.
“That’s energized protodermis,” whispered Jaller. “How did they –?”
“Questions later,” said Kongu. “Look at who just joined the party.”
The Skakdi were hauling prisoners toward the tank. One was a Zyglak, the savage race of outcasts known for being virtually invulnerable to the elemental powers of Toa; next came a Vortixx, the crafty race that had spawned the evil Roodaka; and after that, one of the brutish race that served as laborers on Stelt.
“This makes no sense,” said Hahli. “Even if they throw them into the liquid, the three of them might just be destroyed by it… probably will be. So what’s the point?”
“None,” said Nuparu. “Unless… unless, somehow they know those three are destined to transform.”
“But the only one who could know that would be –”
“Teridax,” finished Jaller. “They probably don’t even know he put this idea into their heads. It’s another one of his sick games.”
“Just got sicker,” said Hewkii. “Or are those not the Piraka I see?”
The Toa of Stone was correct. Five Skakdi were carrying five sea snakes, each of the serpents gasping to breathe. At the warlord’s signal, the three prisoners and the five snakes were thrown into the energized protodermis tank. So engrossed were the Skakdi that they failed to notice a strange, greenish cloud that emerged from the nearby lake, hovered in the air a moment, and then plunged into the energized protodermis tank.
The liquid began to froth and bubble. The Toa Mahri could see a shape forming in the silver fluid, something monstrous and horrible.
“Tell you what,” said Kongu, “call me when it’s over. I don’t think I want to look.”
“I don’t think the Order’s going to like this,” said Nuparu.
“I don’t think anyone is,” said Jaller.
And then, before their eyes, a new and terrible form of life began to climb from the tank…