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 power.
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.”
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 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 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 the 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.”
Mazeka stood on a ridge. Down below, he could see the remains of a dead village. He recognized it as having once been home to a small group of Ba-Matoran, those whose element was gravity. It looked like it had been overrun some time ago, but there were no sign of any Matoran corpses. Perhaps the villagers escaped into the hills, he thought, or maybe they were just captured.
“Your universe is very … turbulent,” said Makuta Teridax. The white-armored warrior stood beside Mazeka. He came from an alternate universe in which the Makuta had never rebelled, but had instead stayed loyal to the Great Beings and helped save a world. He had come to this universe with Mazeka to try and free it from the control of his evil counterpart.
“That’s one word for it,” replied Mazeka. “It’s hard to remember a time in my life when I wasn’t fighting. I’ve been lucky. I’m still alive. Not sure that can be said about the Matoran who lived down there.”
“If they died, maybe it was a mercy,” said Teridax. “Maybe they are better off not seeing what their universe has come to.”
“Now you sound like our Teridax,” said Mazeka. “I guess you two aren’t as far apart as I’d like to think.”
Teridax shook his head. “A turn to the left instead of the right, a wound received or avoided, rising from slumber an hour too early or too late … these are the little things lifetimes hinge on, Mazeka. Your Teridax took a step on a path that circumstances allowed me to avoid. If circumstances had been different, who knows?”
“Meaning that if you took control of this universe instead of him …?”
“I might be just as wicked,” Teridax answered. “It is always a possibility.”
Around them, the winds rose. In a moment, they had gone from gentle breeze to a screaming maelstrom, so powerful it knocked Mazeka off his feet and sent him tumbling toward the edge of the ridge. Teridax fought to stay focused, ignoring the storm as he used his power to keep Mazeka from falling. But the ground erupted beneath his feet, shattering his concentration. Mazeka fell down the slope, followed swiftly by Teridax.
They landed among the ruins. Mazeka’s impact shattered the long dead corpse of a Visorak into fine black powder. Teridax hit hard, but rolled with the fall and was back on his feet in an instant. Now that he looked around, he could see other bodies of Visorak spiders scattered here and there. The villagers who had lived here had gone down fighting.
Then a voice came from the dead mouths of the Visorak all around. Teridax recognized it as his own voice, but touched with madness and evil. “I see you have brought company, Mazeka … and such company.”
“It’s Makuta,” Mazeka said. “He’s found us.”
“Yes, I never noticed your entry, I must admit,” Makuta said through the dead spiders. “But did you really think a pale and weak version of myself could stop me now?”
“Weak?” said the white-armored Teridax. “Stronger, I say, for I resisted the temptations you could not.”
“Indeed. Then let us see just what you are capable of resisting.”
The air crackled with ozone, and then before Mazeka and Teridax’s eyes, three figures appeared. Each resembled Takanuva, the legendary Toa of Light, but their armor was jet black and shadow energy swirled about their hands.
“I have been a poor host, brother,” said the voice of Makuta. “Allow my new friends to welcome you properly to my universe.”
Helryx avoided Tuyet’s slashing attack and landed a side kick in her mid-section. The corrupt Toa of Water staggered backwards, only narrowly avoiding being accidentally struck by Brutaka. The battle had begun only moments before, but already the chamber in which they fought was a shambles.
The issue over which they fought was deadly serious. Helryx, Makuta Miserix, and Axonn had decided that Teridax’s control of the universe had to be ended, even if that meant destroying the universe itself. Tuyet, Brutaka and a possessed Lewa Nuva believed there was still hope of driving Makuta out without killing millions of Matoran in the process.
Miserix thought he would have the easiest opponent. He could sense that Lewa Nuva was not himself, but was under the control of another. Whoever that was, they had no access to the Toa’s air power. That would make him ripe for defeat.
Unfortunately, Lewa’s body was now home to Tren Krom, an ancient entity with enormous mental powers. Miserix’s first solid blow knocked Lewa to the ground. The fallen “Toa” responded with a mental shock blast that came close to turning Miserix’s brain to ash. Still, Miserix had been through a lot in the past millennia – imprisonment, torture, humiliation – and no mind power was going to be enough to stop him. He gathered Lewa up in his claw and slammed his foe against the wall, once, twice, three times.
Axonn’s heart wasn’t in this fight. He had only recently rediscovered Brutaka and regained their old friendship. He couldn’t believe they were already at each other’s throats again. And he wasn’t certain that Brutaka was wrong – maybe Helryx’s plans were too extreme. Maybe duty lay in protecting the Matoran until the very last moment.
For this moment, though, he had to concentrate on protecting himself. One good hit from Brutaka would take his head off.
Helryx had not wavered in her determination, but she also knew that this battle was sure to draw Makuta Teridax’s attention. Her chance to act could disappear at any moment. She had to do the nova blast now, before anyone could stop her.
Tuyet could guess what was about to happen. She slammed an elbow into Axonn even as Brutaka struck at him. Taking advantage of the moment, she wrested the warrior’s axe from him. With a yell, she vaulted into the air and smashed Miserix with the axe. With a roar of pain, the reptilian Makuta fell backwards, right towards Helryx.
The mad Toa hit the ground and turned to watch the end of her handiwork. But to her surprise, just as Miserix was about to crush Helryx, the ancient female warrior vanished. The Makuta landed in a heap, but was barely slowed by his wound and already seeking out his attacker.
Tuyet never got a chance to defend herself. Helryx was suddenly behind her, catching Tuyet in a headlock. “Time to say goodbye,” said Helryx. “We’ll all go down together, and the universe will be better for it.”
The world began to blur in front of Tuyet’s eyes. At first, she thought that Helryx must be choking the life from her. But then she realized that everyone was looking toward the chamber’s entrance, where space itself seemed to be warping. The next instant, a massive figure stepped out of the distortion and stood before them.
“You… imbeciles,” the figure said, in a voice both old and young at the same time. “You ignorant stone apes… is this how you try to save existence?”
No one in the room had ever seen the newcomer before. But there were some who knew his voice, and all felt a chill of fear at the sound of it. Only Helryx had the presence of mind to give their visitor a name, and even she spoke it in a whisper.
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 Skadi 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 Skadi 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…
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 other 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 like 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.
Next: The Reign Comes to an End
Teridax studied the three shadow Takanuva who blocked his path. They had been sent by the Makuta Teridax of this universe – the one who controlled the giant robot inside of which millions lived – to kill him and his companion, Mazeka. It was a good plan. After all, one Takanuva would be a challenge – three corrupted ones were deadly.
Teridax had multiple powers of his own to choose from. In his time and in his universe, he had been a great warrior. No doubt Makuta expected him to pit his energies against those of the Takanuva in an apocalyptic final battle and, outnumbered, die horribly after a few minutes. Mazeka would most likely not even last that long, though the Matoran would make sure his killers remembered the fight.
Ah, Makuta, thought Teridax. We are the same being in different universes, but I am not you. You’re a plotter … a schemer … not wanting to get your claws dirty, if you can avoid it. You would think of all sorts of ways to fight the Takanuva from a distance … all of which would fail.
Teridax unlimbered his war hammer. You would never think of doing this.
He charged. Before the startled shadow Toa could react, Teridax had swung his hammer, striking one Toa in the face and shattering his mask to pieces. Whirling, he landed another hammer blow to the chest armor of a second Toa, cracking it down the center. Mazeka moved in then, catching the third Takanuva with a scissor kick and sending him to the ground. Teridax made sure he would never be getting up.
The now mask-less Toa staggered forward, firing shadow energy from his hands at random. One blast caught Teridax in the shoulder, badly damaging his armor. The warrior from another dimension did not have the luxury to feel pain just then, or worry about the antidermis escaping through the gap. He landed a side kick in the Toa’s middle, while swinging his hammer again to stop the charge of the other Takanuva. The latter, still in the fight despite badly damaged armor, created a swirling fog of darkness to conceal his movements.
“Let me,” whispered Mazeka.
The Matoran stood completely still, reaching out with all his senses. He knew that at any moment, the shadow Takanuva could strike and kill them both. But he could not dwell on that fear, not if he hoped to survive this battle.
There! The slightest scrape of boot on rock, about three feet behind him and to the left. Mazeka leapt, whirled in mid-air, and lashed out with a kick. His foot connected with the Toa’s mask, knocking it askew but not dislodging it. Even as his momentum carried him forward, Mazeka landed a second blow to the shadow Toa’s neck. Enraged, the Toa hurled tendrils of darkness that began to strangle the Matoran.
“Your friend is doomed,” the evil Takanuva said, smiling. “You’ll just beat him by a few --”
There was a sickening crunch. The shadow Toa’s face went blank. He staggered forward one step and then collapsed, revealing in the process just how much damage a war hammer in the hands of an expert could do. The tendrils dispersed and Mazeka scrambled to his feet.
“Where’s the third one?” asked the Matoran, as the darkness dispersed around them.
“There,” said Teridax, pointing to the north. “And there,” he added, gesturing toward the west. “Oh, and there’s some over there,” he finished, casually glancing to the east. “His mask was shattered. I thought he might like to join it.”
Mazeka chuckled. “You know, Toa wouldn’t approve of this … they don’t kill.”
Teridax shrugged. “Very noble … but considering the state of this universe, maybe they should have bent the rules a little more.”
“Try telling them --” Mazeka began.
Teridax held up a hand to stop him. “Wait. Something’s … something’s wrong. Quick, grab my hand!”
Mazeka did as he was told, even as Teridax began to teleport. The world blurred and vanished around them. When it reappeared, they were standing back on the ridge above the abandoned village. A violent tremor was shaking the ground and Mazeka could barely keep his feet.
“As I hoped,” said Teridax, wearily. “We escaped the worst of it.”
“The worst of what?” demanded Mazeka. “What just happened?”
“Your Makuta … has fallen,” said Teridax. “We need to keep moving, but first … first, we had better find some way to patch my wound. I prefer to walk out of this universe, not float.”
Taipu was used to the darkness. He was, after all, an Onu-Matoran, who had spent most of his life in the Metru Nui Archives or deep in mines. Of course, it was one thing to choose to live in the dark, and another to have all light suddenly extinguished around you.
He took stock of the situation. He was lying face down on the floor of an upper level of the Archives. The air was filled with dust. The lightstones were all shattered. Something extremely heavy was on top of him, making it impossible to get up and quite difficult to breathe. All of this was the result of a massive quake that had just struck Metru Nui, followed shortly after by a not quite as devastating aftershock.
Taipu tried to yell for help, but could only manage a hoarse whisper. This wasn’t a very good way to die, he decided. But it seemed to be one he had gotten stuck with.
Then he heard something. Someone was digging nearby. Maybe they would find him? He tried to yell again, but wound up choking on dust.
There were more sounds. He could hear voices now, familiar ones. Someone was yelling for others to keep digging. The terrible weight on his back was suddenly gone. Taipu felt two strong hands grabbing his wrists and pulling him out from under the rubble.
He looked up to see Tamaru and Macku were his rescuers. Not far away, Kopeke was helping other Onu-Matoran who had been caught in the quake. Macku propped Taipu up against a wall and dusted off his armor. “Are you all right?” she asked.
Taipu nodded. “What happened?”
Macku pointed up. Taipu looked and saw a massive hole, and beyond that, blue sky like he remembered from the island of Mata Nui. It had only been recently that Taipu and the other Matoran had learned their “universe” was the inside of a giant robot. Now someone had evidently punched a big hole in the robot’s head.
“I think Makuta ran into someone tougher than he was,” Macku explained. “Pretty sure the robot’s dead, and my guess is so is he. We’re going to need to get everyone out of here and hope there’s someplace outside we can live. But in the meantime … well, there are a lot more people trapped like you were.”
Taipu got to his feet. “Then I’ll help.”
“You need to rest,” said Macku sternly.
“I didn’t rest at Kini-Nui when those Rahi attacked,” Taipu replied. He looked around at Tamaru and Kopeke hard at work. “I don’t know where Hafu and Kapura are … but it looks to me like the Chronicler’s Company lives again.”
Macku smiled. “All right, then, old friend. Let’s get to work.”
Kopaka threw his weapon onto the sand slumped down a rock. He was tired, all the way down to the core of his being … tired of fighting and running and fighting some more. It seemed like that was all he had done since he and his teammates had arrived on the island of Mata Nui more than a year before. As he looked over the Bara Magna battlefield, and the hulking corpse of Makuta’s massive robot, he wondered if at last it was over.
He had answered Tahu’s call with all of the Toa Nuva, except for Lewa. Side by side with other Toa and the inhabitants of this world, they had battled Rahkshi, Skakdi, and vicious, black-armored warriors as well. Tahu had single-handedly defeated the Rahkshi, and the others had battered the rest of Makuta’s army into submission. The Makuta robot had been struck on the back of the head by an astral body and fallen faster than an avalanche on Mount Ihu. Now, one by one, Matoran and other inhabitants of the robot were emerging from the ruined shell into the sunlight of a new world.
Using his powers to create an ice ramp, Kopaka traveled over the treetops of the new jungle. He wanted some time alone.
Finding a likely spot, miles away from where the other Toa and Glatorian were assembled, he sat down to contemplate his future. The destiny of the Toa Nuva had been achieved, so he always had the option of giving up his Toa power and becoming a Turaga. But he had no real wish to wind up running a village or outpost somewhere.
He could always just retire from adventuring, of course. This was a whole new world for him, with plenty of places to explore and maybe even someplace to settle. It might be nice to do something besides battle for his life all the time. Of course, he had no idea what that “something” might be, but one thing he did know – there was no way he could lay down his weapons until Lewa was found.
The Toa of Air had been missing for days. It was possible he was simply in some other part of the robot and would be emerging. But he might also have been wounded or waylaid. As annoying as Lewa could be sometimes, he was a fellow Toa Nuva and … a friend. Kopaka made a silent vow to find him wherever he might be.
The first step would be to talk to the other Nuva and organize a search. Before he could do that, though, something extremely strange caught his eye. A section of the robot’s surface was simply disappearing. There had been no explosion, no heat, no sign of the metal being cut. One moment it was there, and the next it was gone.
What was even more bizarre was who emerged from the hole. A small army of Skakdi; a strange, golden-skinned creature; and … the Toa Mahri! The heroes did not seem to be hostages or prisoners. In fact, it looked like they were quite happily acting as beasts of burden for the Skakdi.
Lewa will have to wait, I’m afraid, thought Kopaka. I need to get to the bottom of this, for the Mahri’s sake if nothing else.
Fortunately, the new plant life created by Mata Nui provided a lot better cover than a desert ever could have. Kopaka trailed the Skakdi and their mysterious “allies” for miles. When they came to the shores of the ocean, the troop came to a halt. The Skakdi could be seen talking and gesturing to the golden-skinned creature.
The creature nodded once and turned to look at the cliffs beyond the beach. Before Kopaka’s startled eyes, a massive castle took shape atop the highest of the rock formations. The walls were made of stone and the towers bristled with weaponry. All of Metru Nui could probably have fit inside it, with room to spare.
This is extremely not good, thought Kopaka. One Toa Nuva can’t do anything here. Let’s find out what five can do.
Lewa Nuva was in the middle of his own mystery at the moment. Transported to someplace called Bota Magna along with Toa Helryx, Vezon, Toa Tuyet, Miserix, Brutaka, and others, he had found himself in the presence of someone claiming to be an imprisoned Great Being who sought freedom. The members of his party had immediately fallen into debate on whether it was wise to free someone with so much potential power and evidently a tenuous grasp on sanity. Lewa rapidly grew tired of the argument and found his way out of the fortress.
The area in which he now stood was one of the most beautiful he had ever seen, even more stunning than the jungles of Mata Nui. He used his power to soar above the trees, taking in the majestic forest, beautiful rivers, rolling fields, cybernetically enhanced giant reptiles, and –
Lewa circled back for a second look. Yes, that was a lizard, roughly forty feet high by the Toa’s rough estimate. And yes, it did have a laser targeting system in place of one eye, its teeth were polished metal, and its tail was covered in circuitry for its entire length. The Toa of Air watched as the beast pursued a smaller and much faster reptile. The prey looked likely to escape … at least, until something flashed from the giant’s mechanical eye and the ground exploded in front of his quarry. The smaller reptile flew backwards, tumbling end over end, and landed hard on the forest floor. The larger reptile swallowed it whole.
And we thought we had Rahi problems on the island, thought Lewa. They grow them big here.
Swooping down for a closer view, Lewa spotted movement on the forest floor. This time, it wasn’t reptiles, but villagers not too different in size from Matoran. They were marching at a steady pace, seemingly unaware of the proximity of the massive predator. Lewa decided he had better warn them.
Landing some distance away, so as not to startle the natives, he waited for their approach. As soon as they saw him, they spread out as if to surround them. He kept his arms at his sides, not wanting to appear hostile. Now that they were closer, he could see they were quite different from Matoran in some ways. They carried very crude weapons, axes and spears and clubs made from wood and rock. While they did wear armor, it was a strange hybrid of metal and plant life.
One of the villagers, obviously the leader of the patrol, stepped forward and addressed the Toa. But Lewa could not understand anything he said. He tried to use gestures to convey the message that a huge reptile was not far away, but the villagers did not seem to get it, or else just didn’t care. They seemed much more fascinated about him. A few of the braver ones poked and prodded him, as if they had never seen his like before.
Now the leader was making gestures of his own, evidently asking Lewa’s point of origin. The Toa of Air smiled and nodded, trying to show he understood, and pointed in the direction of the fortress. There was an immediate murmuring among the villagers, not at all a happy sound. The next thing Lewa knew, the points of countless spears were at his throat.
Oh, thought the Toa of Air. It’s going to be this kind of day.
Angonce studied his ancient equipment. It told him much about the state of the newly restored Spherus Magna. Mata Nui had gone dormant, at least temporarily; the original Mata Nui robot and its prototype had both been destroyed; the nanotech inhabitants of Mata Nui had somehow survived and were emerging onto Spherus Magna and interacting with the local inhabitants.
The Great Being should have been pleased by all this. After all, it was he and his brothers and sisters who had created Mata Nui and sent the robot on its mission, which culminated in the restoration of the planet. But things had changed a great deal in the last 101,000 years. W hat might once have been cause for celebration now provoked very different emotions.
They will seek the Great Beings now, he thought. They will want to tell us that all is well. Toa and Glatorian, Matoran and Agori, will join together on this ‘joyous’ mission. But all is not well … and if they go in search of those who brought so much glory and so much misery to this world … I fear they will find nothing but death.
TO BE CONTINUED IN THE NEW SERIAL “THE YESTERDAY QUEST,” STARTING SOON!