How long is a fraction of an instant?
Long enough for Lewa Nuva to see the others in the chamber – Artakha, Helryx, Miserix, Tuyet, Axonn, Brutaka, Hafu and Kapura – starting to shimmer and fade… and long enough to realize he was not teleporting as they were. Teridax was leaving the Toa of Air behind, no doubt for some sinister reason.
Lewa wasn’t having it. Before that fraction of an instant was through, he had grabbed onto Brutaka. It was a risk – a big one – to try to latch onto a teleport in progress. But Lewa was determined that wherever the others went, he would go.
In the next split second, he found himself floating in the void of space alongside the others. Of them all, only Miserix wasn’t succumbing to suffocation, since antidermis didn’t need to breathe. But the cold of outer space would claim him eventually. Makuta Teridax had thrown some of the most powerful beings in his universe out like the trash, and it looked like they wouldn’t survive the experience.
Lewa summoned his elemental power, an effort in this environment, and created a thin bubble of air linked around the heads of all the castaways except Miserix. “Join hands!” yelled the Toa of Air, seeing the group members already beginning to drift away from each other.
Helryx turned to see the Mata Nui robot sailing away from them toward a planet in the distance. The world of the endless ocean was far beneath them. “Artakha, can you teleport us back inside?” she asked.
Artakha closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again, shaking his head. “Teridax is blocking our return. I can try to get us to his evident destination, but I cannot guarantee any of us will survive the journey.”
“More likely we will all find ourselves materialized inside trees and rocks,” muttered Tuyet. “We’ll be just as dead.”
“This is no way for a warrior to die,” growled Axonn.
“Teridax must be stopped,” said Brutaka. “We must do whatever we can, regardless of the danger.”
Artakha nodded. But before he could use his great power, a hole appeared in space before him. An armored hand reached out and grabbed his arm, pulling him, and the others along with him, into the portal.
The nine found themselves sprawled on a damp stone floor. Kapura was the first to realize that the stone was moving, not to mention breathing. He cried out and got to his feet, backing against a wall. The bricks in the wall reached out to embrace him, holding him fast.
An armored figure, his face set in a hideous grin, stepped into the light cast by the one window in the room. “Kind of rattles you until you get used to it, doesn’t it?”
Miserix’s eyes narrowed. “I know you. You were among my rescuers from Artidax. You were the one who never shut up. Where have you brought us?”
Helryx stood as best as she could on the moving floor, weapon at the ready. “Vezon,” she said. “Explain yourself.”
“Not even a thank you?” said the mad Skakdi. “See if I save you from the darkness of outer space again, even if I only did it because he told me to.”
“‘He’?” said Axonn. “Who?”
“Oh, didn’t I introduce you? How rude of me,” said Vezon. “Over there, in the shadows.”
The occupants of the chamber turned as one to look in the direction Vezon was pointing. They could barely make out a figure seated on the floor, chains affixed to arms and legs. The chains were writhing like serpents.
“Be careful,” Vezon added, in a loud whisper. “He’s quite insane, you know.”
“Matoran,” said a voice from inside the darkness, “amazing… and the rest of you… how proud I am. If I could, I would embrace you all.”
Helryx took two steps forward, saying, “Is this another of your tricks, Vezon? Who is this?”
Vezon put out a hand to stop her. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
“You’re not me,” Helryx snapped, pushing him aside.
She had advanced as far as the edge of the shadow when her armor suddenly began to strangle her. The Toa of Water fell back, gasping for air.
“Would have been better if I were you,” said Vezon. “Less painful.”
Axonn slammed Vezon against a wall, pressing his arm against the lunatic’s throat. “Answers, Vezon. Now.”
“If you want answers,” choked Vezon, “you need to ask him. He’s the Great Being, after all, not me.”
A dry chuckle came from the darkness. “A Great Being, yes… that is what they called me… and my brothers and sisters. Angonce once said that name was the worst thing that ever happened to us, because we started to believe it was accurate. Perhaps he was right… perhaps that is why I am imprisoned here. But now you are here to free me.”
Lewa Nuva glanced out the window of the cell. He was stunned to see a forest that stretched as far as the eye could see, far larger than the jungle he had called home on the island of Mata Nui. “Where is here?” he asked.
“That’s right. You wouldn’t know,” said the Great Being. “Welcome, my friends, to Bota Magna.”
Pridak picked himself up off the ground, seething with rage.
His deal with the Shadowed One had been struck. He, Kalmah and Mantax had rebuilt their legions, while Ehlek had returned to the sea to gather his own troops. Of Carapar, there had been no sign for some time. They were poised to strike as soon as the Shadowed One unleashed the viruses on Makuta Teridax. The universe would be theirs to rule once more.
Then… nothing. The appointed time had come and gone, with only a violent earth tremor to mark it. At first, Pridak thought that quake was a sign that the Shadowed One had succeeded. But it rapidly became obvious that nothing had changed. Teridax was still in control.
Now Pridak had a choice. March on Metru Nui, and risk destruction at the hands of the Makuta, or stay put and risk rebellion by his legions. He had been a fool to rely on anyone else, he decided. The Shadowed One was, to use an old saying of his people, “either dead or fled.”
Pridak looked around. His legion was armed and ready. He was a warrior, a conqueror. There was no other choice.
“We march!” he yelled, to the cheers of his troops.
In a chamber on the island of Xia, the stone floor was littered with the shattered remains of precious vials. Of their contents – and of the Shadowed One – there was no trace. No one would look very hard for him. They were too busy trying to determine why every Vortixx in a kio radius had met a horrible death… and just what on their island could possibly have pulverized living beings into fragments, without leaving any sign of its presence.
The Toa Mahri watched in shock as the new lifeform emerged from the tank of energized protodermis. A mixture of a Zyglak, a Vortixx, a Steltian laborer, and the five surviving Piraka, it had been created by the barbaric Skakdi in an elaborate ritual. And now it was free.
It was terrible.
It was beautiful.
Towering 12 feet high, with gleaming golden skin, powerful muscles, and piercing green eyes, it regarded the assembled Skakdi with the benevolent gaze of a creator. Only the vaguely reptilian cast of its face took away from its stunning appearance.
“We live,” it said. “And we hunger.”
“I don’t like the sound of that,” said Jaller.
“I haven’t liked the sound of anything in at least a year,” replied Kongu.
“Do you think… they’re going to be a meal?” asked Hahli.
“I wish it was that simple,” said Hewkii. “But somehow, I think it’s going to be worse.”
“You will feed me,” said the new creation. “And in return, you will be granted a wondrous gift.”
The Skakdi moved a little closer. They were not a cautious people as a rule, and the concept of someone wanting to give them something – as opposed to them just taking it – was a new and appealing one. As they drew near, their creation closed its eyes, an expression of rapture on its face.
“Is it… feeding?” asked Nuparu. “On what?”
“I don’t know, but let’s make sure we’re not the next course,” said Jaller. “The Skakdi are distracted, and so is that… whatever it is. Get ready.”
“Yes,” said the golden-skinned being. “So much to savor. And so much to give in return.”
“This is it,” said Jaller. “Whatever it’s going to do, it’s going to do now. So let’s… let’s…”
Jaller paused, confused. There was something the Toa Mahri needed to do, urgently. What was it? He knew it was important.
Suddenly, it became crystal clear. Why hadn’t he seen it before? It was so obvious, after all. “The Skakdi are the superior race,” he said to his teammates. “Stronger, smarter… we shouldn’t be opposing them. We should be following them.”
“Do you… do you think they would allow us to serve them?” asked Hahli.
“Even if they don’t… even if they kill us,” said Hewkii, “what better way to die?”
Throwing down their weapons, the five Toa Mahri rose and walked forward, ready and eager to obey the commands of their new masters.
* * *
Mata Nui watched as the Glatorian and Agori moved off to safety. Kiina had been right about one thing – they did look like insects from up here. But if she ever believed he would think of them that way, she was very wrong. Every one of those moving dots so far below was an intelligent being with hopes and dreams. If Mata Nui had anything to do with it, those hopes would be realized and those dreams would come true.
He swept his sensors across the face of Bara Magna. Vorox, Bone Hunters, and Skrall were still active in the desert. Though he doubted they would listen, he had to try to warn them.
“Attention,” he said, his voice carrying all over the world. “After 100,000 years, it’s time for the damage to Bara Magna to be undone. Your original world, Spherus Magna, can live again. But the dangers are unknown – seek shelter now, for your own safety.”
He waited a few moments to see what effect his warning might have had. Frightened by the voice that came at them from every direction, most Vorox had retreated underground. The Bone Hunters and Skrall had stirred, but that was about it. That was about all that could be expected. Those two groups were sure to think the whole thing was some trick, even with the sight of Mata Nui looming over them to back up his words.
There was no point in delaying any further. Mata Nui raised his eyes to space. Bara Magna and its two moons, Aqua Magna and Bota Magna, had once all been part of one planet, Spherus Magna. Recreating that world meant bringing all three planets together again and fusing them together.
Mata Nui raised both arms and unleashed streams of concentrated energy from his hands. The energy was artificial gravity of enormous power. But on its own, did it have the strength to move two moons?
His sensor web showed that the beams had sliced through space to impact their two targets. But it also showed something else: an object approaching Bara Magna at high speed. In a matter of moments, the object had blotted out the sun, plunging the planet into darkness.
What better way to announce his arrival? thought Mata Nui grimly. Shadows were always his herald.
A roar of wind swept across the surface of the world, stirring up lethal sandstorms. A bolt of power slammed into the western desert, blasting a huge crater. A mighty impact struck Bara Magna, triggering planet-wide earth tremors.
Mata Nui looked across the world at a figure that dwarfed even him. The blazing red eyes of the newcomer bored into Mata Nui, chilling him to his core.
“Hello, brother,” said the visitor. “I thought it was time for a family reunion.”
With those words, there could no longer be even the slightest doubt.
Makuta had arrived.