Raanu, elder of the city, looked at Mata Nui as if his guest had just transformed into a sand bat. “Ridiculous. Insane. Impossible!” he said, his voice rising. “How could you even ask such a thing??”
Well, you couldn’t expect an enthusiastic yes, Mata Nui said to himself. You’re not just asking a lot of these people… you’re asking everything of them.
Ackar, Kiina and Gresh shifted uncomfortably behind their friend. Mata Nui had explained what he needed and why, but even to them it sounded bizarre, if not mad. But their faith in their friend outweighed their doubts. If Mata Nui said he had to do this, then they would help in any way they could.
Raanu looked at the three Glatorian in disbelief. “You stand with him. Don’t tell me you support this… this… this lunacy?”
“We know how it sounds, believe me,” answered Ackar. “Still, Mata Nui has earned the right to be heard, hasn’t he? Without him, we would all be slaves to the Skrall.”
“I don’t expect you to just take my word, Raanu,” said Mata Nui. “Let me show you what I’m talking about. Please.”
Raanu wanted to snap, “No!” and throw these maniacs out of his chamber. If Mata Nui was telling the truth, he didn’t really want to know it, because the consequences to the Agori could be catastrophic. Yet if there were facts he was refusing to face, where would his honor be then? Ackar was right: they all owed Mata Nui more than they could repay.
“Very well,” the elder said. “We’ll go now. But I make no promises.”
“I don’t ask for any,” Mata Nui assured him.
Less than an hour later, they were standing on the slope of a peak, looking down upon the city. Not long ago, the tribes of Bara Magna had lived in individual villages, built around massive metallic structures that dated from ancient times. After the war with the Skrall, it became obvious that the best way for the Agori to defend themselves from future threats would be to unite their villages into one giant. With enormous effort, they dragged the huge structures across the desert and linked them together.
Mata Nui, Gresh, Berix, Kiina and Ackar were standing at this very spot when the pieces came together. In shock, they saw that the shelters, when assembled, formed not just a city, but a body – a gigantic robot body. Mata Nui couldn’t help but see the resemblance between it and the body that had once been his.
Raanu had heard all the rumors about what the city looked like, most of them coming from Berix. He had been too busy setting up a new government for the Agori and arranging defences against Bone Hunters and Vorox to worry about it. Now that he saw it, he couldn’t deny what it appeared to be.
“Interesting,” Raanu said, as he looked down at his city. “Perhaps it was something the Great Beings built – or tried to – ages ago. But what of it?”
“You’re right. They did create it,” Mata Nui replied. Even having seen it before, the image of the robot body stretched out across the sand still shook him. “But something went wrong. It exploded, raining parts all over the desert. And they stayed scattered until the Agori brought them together again.”
“You haven’t answered my question,” Raanu said. “So it’s a failed experiment. It’s also our home and our only protection against our enemies. What does it have to do with you?”
Mata Nui pointed down at the city. “I guess you could say it’s my… ancestor. I once had a body much like that, before I came here. And if I am going to get it back again, I need to… borrow… that one.”
Raanu glared at Mata Nui, his eyes as hard as shards of volcanic rock. “We’re done here,” he said. Without another word, he began the trek back down the mountain.
That night, Mata Nui sat around a fire with Ackar and Gresh. The mood was somber.
“Are you sure you have to do this?” asked Gresh. “There’s no other way?”
Mata Nui never took his eyes from the flames. “I’ve told you about my universe and my people, how I failed them, how my enemy, Makuta, seized control of it. But there’s one thing I left out.”
“What do you mean?” asked Ackar. He had never heard this tone in Mata Nui’s voice before. It worried him.
“One universe won’t be enough for him,” said Mata Nui. “Makuta is hungry. He’s waited tens of thousands of years for the power he has now, and now that he has it…” His voice trailed off.
“We thought the Skrall couldn’t be beaten,” Ackar reminded him. “You showed us different. Whatever force this Makuta commands – however big his army – he can’t be invulnerable.”
Mata Nui abruptly rose and stalked off from the fire. “You don’t understand! The power at his fingertips… it’s the power I used to wield. I know what it can do. He could crush us all under an armored heel and never notice, or sweep the entire city away with a gesture.”
He turned back to Ackar, a fierce intensity in his eyes. “Makuta could destroy this planet, before any of us could raise a sword against him. Believe me.”
Gresh’s eyes widened. He looked at Mata Nui as if he had never seen him before. “You mean you…?”
Mata Nui nodded. His voice dropped to a whisper. “Yes, Gresh. Before I came to Bara Magna, I could do all that and more.”
“And did you?” asked Ackar.
“No,” replied Mata Nui. “That wasn’t why I was created.”
The only sound then was the crackling of the fire. After a few moments, Ackar walked up to Mata Nui and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Hey. You believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. Anything I can do, just say the word.”
Ackar turned to Gresh. “How about you, kid?”
Gresh looked Mata Nui right in the eyes. “I’ve fought for the people here. All the Glatorian have, and long before you ever got here, Mata Nui. We thought you were one of us, or at least something close.”
“Gresh!” Ackar snapped.
“It’s all right,” said Mata Nui. “Let him have his say.”
“I’ll have my say, all right,” said Gresh. “Now you tell us you were some kind of – I don’t know what – with more power in one finger than every warrior on this world put together. And you say you want the city – that robot body – why? So you can have that power again? We didn’t overthrow the Skrall so some armored giant could rule over us.”
“That’s enough,” said Ackar.
Mata Nui took his sword and offered it, hilt first, to Gresh. When he spoke, there was no anger in his voice, but an almost frightening calm. “I’m not here to rule anyone. I’m trying to save your people and mine. But if you can’t believe that, my friend, then take my weapon and lock me in a cell. I won’t fight you.”
“Take it,” Mata Nui repeated.
Again, Gresh made no move to do so. Mata Nui finally put the sword back in its sheath. “Then help me,” he said to Gresh. “Or else get out of my way.”
Not far away, Raanu sat in his chamber, deep in thought. He had half-expected this day to come ever since the villages had been united. After all, he knew far more about the Great Beings’ creations than anyone else suspected.
Once, Bara Magna had been part of a larger world called Spherus Magna. Then came the Core War, a global conflict that resulted in the shattering of the planet. During the dark days of that war, Raanu had briefly served the Great Beings as they attempted to stop the fighting.
It was during that time that he saw firsthand something the Great Beings were constructing. It was a massive robot with the power to fly into space. At first, he thought that perhaps it was intended to carry all the Agori away to safety. When it turned out that wasn’t the case, he rejected it as just one more idle experiment by rulers who had lost touch with those they ruled. In the struggle for survival after the Shattering, he had forgotten all about it.
Then Mata Nui arrived. He began to hear tales about his exile from another universe, his knowledge of the Great Beings, and plans he had uncovered for a huge robot. Kiina said he seemed to recognize them, and more, to have some connection to them. That was when Raanu began to suspect there was more to this visitor than there at first seemed to be.
Now he knew. The “universe” Mata Nui had been exiled from was the body the Great Beings had built – he didn’t know how or why such a thing could have happened, but then he never understood the Great Beings’ science in the first place. Now Mata Nui wanted a new body to replace his old one, even if that body was the city of the Agori.
Could he say no? After all, without Mata Nui, there would be no city. The Skrall would have enslaved all the Agori, slain all the Glatorian, and held Bara Magna in an iron grip. He couldn’t deny it was Mata Nui’s heroism and inspiration that saved his people.
Yet, how could he say yes? With no city, the Agori would be little better than Vorox or Bone Hunters, forced to survive in the harsh desert with little protection. And all for what? Mata Nui acted like this was a matter of life or death, but never specified whose life and whose death he was concerned about.
Raanu had consulted with the other Agori leaders and some of the other Glatorian. They had all agreed that they would leave the decision up to him, confident he would choose the wisest course.
The Agori rose to leave. He would have to talk to Mata Nui – he owed the warrior that much. And he would have to be prepared for whatever might happen, if he told Mata Nui no.
Raanu found Ackar and Gresh just outside the city, near the ashes of a fire. They said Mata Nui had gone off on his own into the desert. Ackar offered to accompany the Agori leader if he was going to seek Mata Nui out, but Raanu said no. Torch in hand, he followed Mata Nui’s tracks into the dunes.
He found the object of his search sitting on a rock, staring up at the stars. Raanu decided to waste no time. “I know who… and what… you are. At least, I think I do.”
Mata Nui glanced down at the sand, then at Raanu. “Then you should know that I was created for a reason. I have a destiny to fulfill, and to do that, I need –”
“I know what you need,” Raanu said. “The Agori need it, too. Why are you more important than they are?”
“Raanu, when I came here, I didn’t know where I was or why,” Mata Nui answered, his voice low. “Now I have my answers. I know I am asking a lot of you, of all of you, but you have to believe me. I’m here to help. Give me the tools to let me do that.”
“From what you’ve said, your own people believed in you, and it didn’t get them very far,” said Raanu.
Mata Nui started to reply. Then he stiffened, his gaze locked on the stars again. “He’s coming.”
“Who?” asked Raanu, annoyed. “Don’t think you can trick me –”
“It’s no trick, you…,” said Mata Nui. He caught himself before saying something that might insult the respected elder. “Can’t you see? Makuta has found me and he’s coming here. I can sense it – I lived in the body he wears for 100,000 years – I can feel its approach. Raanu, I’m the only one with a prayer of stopping him. You have to grant my request before it’s too late!”
Raanu had never felt the burden of leadership rest quite as heavy on his shoulders as it did right now. It would be easy to dismiss Mata Nui as lying or insane and forget the whole thing. The problem was he knew it would be an injustice. Mata Nui wasn’t crazy, or being deceitful, he realized. The warrior was genuinely afraid for himself and Bara Magna. And if a being who faced down an entire Skrall legion on his own felt fear, there had to be a good reason for it.
He almost could not believe the words that next came out of his mouth. He wasn’t aware of making the decision. But once it was made, he knew that no other decision had been possible.
“Very well,” said Raanu. “I am putting the survival of my people into your hands, Mata Nui. I will give you what you ask. But know this… betray us, and no suit of armor will protect you from my revenge. That artificial body existed as shattered parts once before, and it can do so again.”
Before Mata Nui could say thank you, Raanu turned and walked back toward the city. “We will begin the evacuation at dawn,” the Agori leader said over his shoulder. “Be ready.”
I have been ready for this since the moment I arrived here, thought Mata Nui. But the bigger question is – am I ready for Makuta?
* * *
Toa Helryx had made a decision.
Alone in her prison, with only the thoughts of Makuta Teridax and a portrait of Makuta Miserix for company, she’d had time to think. Teridax had made a point of telling her what he planned to do – harness the power of the Great Spirit’s body and use it to conquer worlds. She had no doubt he could do it, too, unless he was stopped.
The obvious answer lay with the Matoran. There was an obvious connection between their labors and the health of the mechanical being in which they lived. Simply put, if they stopped working, the robot would die, and Makuta Teridax with it. The problem was that Teridax would not tolerate a strike. No doubt he would slaughter some Matoran, in particularly agonizing ways, until the rest gave in. Brave as they were, the Matoran couldn’t be counted on to stand firm in the face of their friends’ suffering.
There was, of course, another problem too. The robot’s death would inevitably mean the death of everyone that lived inside it – Matoran, Toa, Vortixx, Skakdi, everyone. The planet outside had no known land masses, and so no place to flee to. The inhabitants of the Matoran universe would suffocate or freeze in the darkness.
As leader of the Order of Mata Nui, Helryx had often had to make decisions that sent agents to their deaths. It came with the job. But could she make a decision that would send an entire universe to its grave?
Yes, as it turned out. She could.
Teridax had to be stopped before he killed or enslaved billions of innocents in the universe beyond. She wasn’t certain she could bring him down, but she had to try. Her prison was near a sensitive area, whose destruction might be enough to slay the Makuta. A nova blast using her water power might do enough damage. Even if all she could do was cripple him, perhaps others could finish him off.
She closed her eyes and drew upon all her power. If she had any doubt or regrets, she pushed them aside. Helryx would do what she had always done: whatever was necessary.
An impossibly loud pounding broke her concentration. Had Teridax already discovered what she was about to do?
The next moment, a wall caved in. Stepping through the rubble were two Matoran, Toa Nuva Lewa, and a figure Helryx never thought she would see again: Toa Tuyet.
“You!” the Order leader snapped. “What are you doing here?”
“You’re welcome,” Tuyet replied. “I had no idea you were locked up here, Helryx. Poetic justice, considering how your kind imprisoned me for centuries, isn’t it?”
Helryx looked to Lewa. Tuyet, free, was potentially a terrible menace. Perhaps if she and the Toa Nuva of Air acted quickly, they could take the rogue Toa down. But Lewa was paying no attention to Helryx. Instead, he seemed to be fixated on the picture of Miserix. Makuta Teridax had transformed his old enemy into a painting on the wall in a unique and nasty act of murder.
“Lewa? What are you doing?” she asked.
The Toa of Air ignored her. Instead, he muttered, “Interesting. Not dead, but so convinced that he is that he might as well be.”
“Don’t mind him,” said Tuyet. “He’s not this Lewa. I’m not sure who he is, only that he knew how to get us here. And now that we are here, I am sure I can find some way to use our arrival to my advantage.”
Helryx glanced back at Lewa. The Toa of Air had his eyes closed and was reaching out with his right hand. But no cyclone erupted from his outstretched palm. In fact, nothing was happening at all.
And then, suddenly, something did.
The portrait of Miserix warped, as if it was folding in on itself. An instant later, Makuta Miserix himself stood in the chamber, in full reptilian glory. The Makuta looked dazed at first, then his eyes filled with rage.
“Where is Teridax?” he bellowed, so loud the walls shook.
“Well,” said Tuyet. “That was a surprise.”
“Shut up,” Helryx barked, “all of you.” She turned to the two Matoran. “Hafu, Kapura… this is no place for you. Go back to Metru Nui and get word to the resistance. Tell them to be prepared to act, and tell them… to make their peace with the Great Spirit and each other.”
Hafu took a step forward, ready to argue for staying. But Kapura laid a hand on his arm and shook his head. There was no fight coming that they could be a part of… somehow, he knew that this Toa of Water was talking about the end of everything.
Now it was Lewa Nuva’s turn to speak. “A message must be sent. Mata Nui must be prepared.”
“Who are you?” demanded Helryx.
“You knew of me as Tren Krom,” said the Toa. “Like Tuyet, I am recently escaped from my prison. Now I have a task to perform.”
He advanced past Helryx, walked to a wall panel, and tore it off. A small bank of machinery had been hidden behind it. As he started to manipulate the controls, Helryx, Tuyet and Miserix all moved to stop him.
Everyone in the room whirled to see who had spoken. Standing in the opened wall were Brutaka and Axonn. Brutaka was levitating and a greenish aura surrounded him. Axonn’s left arm hung useless at his side. Both looked like they had been through a war.
“Tren Krom must do what he set out to do,” Brutaka said. “The three must be one. This universe must live so that a world can be whole once more.”
“This universe must die, and Teridax with it!” Helryx replied. “Axonn, Brutaka, I order you to subdue these three.”
Brutaka smiled. “We no longer take orders from you, Toa Helryx. We take our orders from destiny.”
“Just so you know,” Axonn added, “Brutaka’s his own ‘we’ these days. Long story.”
Tuyet had stopped paying attention. She was eavesdropping on Tren Krom. Whatever message he was sending was for the most part not an audible one, but now and then he would mutter something she could catch. So far, she had heard the words “Ignika” and “golden armor.” Both were intriguing, to say the least.
“Enough talk,” growled Miserix. “Teridax is inhabiting this metal shell, and that means it gets destroyed, along with anyone who gets in the way.”
“Don’t start something you can’t finish,” warned Tuyet. “I may have use for this universe.”
“Brutaka, maybe Helryx is right,” said Axonn. “Maybe this is the only sure way of stopping Teridax. Maybe it’s what Mata Nui would want us to do.”
Before the startled eyes of Kapura and Hafu, battle lines were drawn. On one side stood Helryx, Miserix and Axonn – on the other, Tuyet, Lewa Nuva, and Brutaka.
“If it must be, it must,” said Brutaka. “To save this universe, then… Axonn, Helryx and Miserix must die.”