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Gresh’s plan was simple. While Ackar, Kiina and the rest distracted Makuta as best they could, he would try to slip by the robot unnoticed and find a way inside it. It was true that the Glatorian were too small to pose any real threat to the invader, but Gresh hoped that by focusing their Thornax launchers on joints and other potentially weak spots, they might at least annoy the enemy. Once inside, Gresh would secure the entry point and the other Glatorian would join him, smashing whatever they found inside.

With this in mind, the Glatorian charged. Halfway to Makuta, Kiina broke off with one squad and Ackar with the other, while Gresh veered to the west. As soon as they were in range, the Glatorian began firing their Thornax at the ankle joint on Makuta’s left leg.

“Concentrate your fire!” shouted Ackar. “Target one spot and punch a hole in it!”

Kiina was already doing that, but she didn’t see much effect. Whatever the robot was made out of, it was tough. One explosive Thornax could blow a big hole in most things, but dozens had barely made a scratch in this metal. And if this Makuta had even noticed their attack, he wasn’t showing it.

Well, okay, thought Kiina. If he hasn’t noticed us, maybe he won’t notice Gresh either.

That did, indeed, seem to be the case. Gresh had made it all the way to the foot of the massive robot without being stepped on, blasted, or pulverized. Better still, he had found what appeared to be a hatch in the side of the appendage. Now the only challenge would be getting inside… and surviving whatever might be in there.

Makuta may not have acted to stop Gresh and the others, but he did know they were there. His sensors had recorded their approach and his damage control systems were monitoring the effects of the Thornax explosions.

None of this came as a surprise. Makuta knew that Mata Nui would somehow manage to find followers. No doubt they would be as foolhardy as the Toa and Matoran had been and throw themselves into danger on his behalf. Like Mata Nui, these heroic sorts were predictable. By now, it really took no effort for Makuta to think two steps ahead of them.

As soon as he laid plans for an attack on Bara Magna, he mentally ordered his forces inside the robot to move out. By now, large numbers of Rahkshi and Skakdi warriors were assembled, ready to be unleashed on the desert. He had just been awaiting the proper time.

That time was now.

Gresh had found a stress point in the hatch, apparently damaged by some past impact. A few well-placed Thornax might make an opening.

He was just taking aim for his first shot when a hissing sound came from the hatch. The next instant, it began to slowly open. Instinctively, he took cover behind a nearby rock. What he saw next was staggering.

A horde of armored figures charged out of the hatch. In the lead were vaguely reptilian looking creatures of all different colors, although yellow seemed to be the most common hue. Each carried a staff. Right behind them came some of the strangest beings he ever saw, warriors with huge jaws and weird, serpent-like external spines lined with spikes. These were armed with swords, axes and other hand weapons.

With hisses and howls, the invaders charged across the sands. They slammed into Ackar and Kiina’s band, battering their way past startled Glatorian. The finest fighters on Bara Magna fell before the savagery of Rahkshi and Skakdi.

“Pull back!” Ackar yelled. “Regroup!”

Kiina leveled her vapour trident at one of the yellow Rahkshi and launched a powerful jet of water at it. Twin beams of heat vision flashed from the eyes of the foe, turning the water into steam. For a moment, Kiina could not see her enemy through the cloud. Then the Rahkshi came barreling out of the fog and smashed into her, knocking her off her feet.

Dazed, Kiina raised her trident to defend herself. The Rahkshi’s heat beams turned the weapon too hot to handle and she dropped it with a cry. The creature drew back with its staff to deliver a killing blow.

Suddenly, there was a horrible crunch and the Rahkshi’s head went flying. Ackar grabbed Kiina’s hand and hauled her to her feet. “It got in the way of my sword,” he said, smiling. “It won’t do that again.”

The Rahkshi’s armored helmet hit the sand and tumbled to a stop. A moment later, a revolting slug crawled out from inside it.

“What is that?!?” cried Kiina.

Ackar aimed his sword and hurled a blast of fire, incinerating the slug. “Whatever it is… was… it’s not anymore.”

Kiina scooped up her trident just in time to parry the attack of a Skakdi. “Those metal things, they’re just worms in armor?”

Ackar nodded as he slammed a Rahkshi to the ground.

Kiina gave a wolfish smile. “Good. Then I don’t have to worry about a mess when I smash them to bits.”

Gresh was torn for an instant. Did he go help his friends, or take advantage of the opening to get inside the Makuta robot? Then he realized there was really no choice at all. Kiina and Ackar would put saving the world first. He had an opportunity to do that, and he wasn’t going to waste it.

He started for the open hatch, then stopped short. More figures were coming out of it. Gresh braced for a fight.

The first two beings to step into the sunlight were a red-armored warrior and another in white and gold. Gresh greeted them with a cyclone that slammed them against the metal. Before he could follow up, a blast of light blinded him. He staggered, trying to clear his vision before the attack he knew was coming.

“Who is he?” one voice said. “He doesn’t look like one of Makuta’s creations.”

“Maybe Makuta had agents here already,” another voice replied. “Take him out. We don’t have time to waste.”

“Wait!” shouted Gresh. “I’m no friend of Makuta’s! I thought you were!”

The glare was starting to fade now and Gresh could make out the shapes of dozens of warriors streaming from the hatch. One came up and grabbed his arm.

“So those are your pals out there, fighting the Rahkshi?” asked Tahu.

“Yes,” Gresh answered. “But what are Rahkshi?”

“We call them the ‘sons of Makuta,’ where I come from,” said Tahu. “They’re killers… and your friends are in more trouble than they know.”

He turned back to the warriors, large and small, who stood behind him. “Let’s go. These people need our help.” Tahu looked over his shoulder at Gresh. “You coming?”

“I’m going inside,” the Glatorian replied. “I have to stop this Makuta.”

The white and gold warrior, Takanuva, laughed. There wasn’t any humor in the sound. “What do you think we’ve been trying to do for months? You can’t do any good in there – you’ll just get yourself killed. So stay here, or fight with us.”

“Then I’m with you,” answered Gresh, already racing toward the battle. “Let’s do this.”

“Eager sort, isn’t he?” asked Takanuva, following behind.

“Yeah,” chuckled Tahu. “Reminds me of you.”

Takanuva laughed. “I guess I was like that, wasn’t I?” he said, looking back at Tahu. Then he stopped in his tracks.

Tahu wasn’t moving. He was standing in the middle of the sand, staring straight ahead, as if in a trance. Takanuva ran back to him and started to shake the Toa of Fire.

“Hey, Tahu!” said Takanuva. “What’s the matter? Come on, speak to me!”

But Tahu couldn’t hear him.

From high upon a rise, Stronius watched the battle below. Once, he had been one of the most elite of Skrall warriors. His tribe had seized control of the city of Roxtus and threatened all the villages of Bara Magna. Under the leadership of Tuma, and with the help of an Agori traitor, the desert was about to be theirs.

Then fate played a joke on the Skrall. A warrior named Mata Nui appeared on the planet. He rallied the villages against the Skrall and actually defeated Tuma in single combat. In the battle that followed, the Skrall broke and fled the city. Now most were scattered all over the mountains and desert. Stronius had managed to gather together only a few warriors to strike for revenge. But they would be enough.

In the distance, he could see the two giant robots fighting. He did not know who they were, nor did he care. He wanted Mata Nui, but that miserable desert rat was nowhere to be seen. His friends, though – Ackar, Kiina, and the others – they were in the middle of the fight of their lives. It was a conflict that could go either way, and just the sort of situation Stronius could use.

Let Mata Nui hide wherever he will, thought Stronius. I will send my Skrall to aid the invaders and wipe out the Glatorian. And then he can live with the knowledge that his friends died for him.

“Go!” he yelled to his warriors. “Attack! Our vengeance begins today!”

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