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Mask Maker

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Labor

 

Vakama awakened before dawn, as usual, and made the short walk from his hut to the Temple of Fire that had been erected in the central concourse of New Atero. The day's work had not yet begun, and the streets were empty of both Matoran and Agori. For Vakama, it was a time of peace and quiet, a time to meditate before the noise and bustle of council duties filled his attention. He always tried to be the first occupant of the temple, so that he could build up the Sacred Flame himself. Perhaps it was out of a sense of nostalgia. Memories of his days as the elder of the comparatively tiny village of Ta-Koro arose in his mind. They had been dark times, but, somehow, much simpler.

 

He entered the sanctum of the temple and set to work adding fuel to the fire, which had burned to low embers during the night but had not gone out. A good omen, to be sure. He gathered an armful of kindling and arranged it amongst the still-glowing coals, then thrust his firestaff into the center. Light flared up, filling the smooth space of the temple with scattering shadows, and smoke wafted upward to escape through the hole in the roof. He found that he enjoyed the smell of the smoke offered by the native woods of Spherus Magna even more than the protodermic ash of his native home. At last, he settled himself on the edge of the firepit and stared into the flames.

 

Why are you here, Vakama?

 

He already knew the answer to his own question. He had tried to tell himself that he only sought peace and understanding through his meditations, but there was an ulterior motive: The wavering of the Sacred Flame had always been an aid in stimulating his visions of the future. It had been so long since his seer's mind had spoken that he wondered if the gift had abandoned him entirely. Or, perhaps, the will that governed his visions had decided that the creatures of the Great Beings no longer needed such guidance. This did not stop him from trying, of course, but lately it had been weighing on him. Perhaps he should stop...

 

His musings were interrupted as a figure stepped out of the darkness of the temple entrance and into the light. The newcomer moved silently across the floor and sat down opposite him. Another being in search of enlightenment, perhaps? Vakama usually let visitors be. They were welcome, of course, but many times they had their own reasons for coming, and he would not intrude upon them.

 

Even so, the new presence in the chamber seemed to disturb his focus. He found himself trying to discern the being's features through the net of flames. It was small, with eyes that shone white. A heartlight glowed in its chest, so he knew that it was a Matoran...

 

No, the visitor's identity didn't matter. He returned to his task, trying to allow the splitting and branching tongues of flame to overwhelm his senses and bring on the vision-state...

 

A small noise began to intrude on his hearing. Tap, tap, tap. He shook his head, trying to ignore it. It persisted. Tap, tap, tap. At once, he realized that his vision was blurring. Perhaps he was having some success after all! Flashes of red and orange now filled his sight, growing brighter, and then--

 

--then his eyes snapped back into focus, and he realized that there was no fire anymore. Two white eyes blazed into his own across the empty pit. The tapping filled his ears. Tap, tap, tap. The figure was tapping its fingers on the stone. But it wasn't a tapping anymore. It was a crashing thunder, over and over. He tried to break free, but found he could not move.

 

The Matoran remained in dark silhouette as it raised one hand and, almost lazily, snapped its fingers together.

 

The temple was gone. He was somewhere else. Flash. The setting changed again. Then again. A series of different surroundings flickered around, almost too quick to see. Through it all he remained motionless, rooted to the spot, and so did the dark figure before him. There was a field with two tall figures...A cityscape backlit by painful brightness...a vast sea of water spreading from a blasted shore...a valley with a small fire burning in it.

 

Many others followed, but he could not keep track. They seemed to enter his eyes and sink down into his mind, lost to his consciousness.

 

At last, with a shock, the images ceased. He was in an unfamiliar place. A low ceiling hung above. A table stood to the left. The figure had shifted positions as well. It perched, almost jauntily, on a stool to his right. He could make out some of its features now. It was a Matoran, that was certain. Its armor looked brown, but the color was almost worn away. The mask was a Komau.

 

"Do you know me?" it asked.

 

Vakama felt his clenched jaw release. He gasped. Was this still a part of the vision? Visions did not normally ask him questions.

 

"I...I..." he stammered.

 

"Come now, old one. You've been through worse," the figure gave an odd sound, not quite like laughter, but close.

 

"I don't know you," Vakama said at last.

 

"Good! That's good. All the better."

 

"What...what message do you bring me?"

 

It made the noise again. "Oh, the greatest of messages, Vakama. The time has come!"

 

"What time?"

 

"The perfect time. I'm a patient creature, you know. More patient than you. Had to wait a few more millenia for all the kinks to be worked out, but it came together in the end."

 

"I don't understand."

 

"You don't get to understand, Vakama. Understanding isn't your job. Now hush."

 

Vakama's mouth closed involuntarily again. The Matoran gestured to the surrounding hut.

 

"Look familiar? Don't worry, I'll answer for you. You say: 'Yes it looks familiar!' And I say 'As it should, wise Turaga. It's a replica of the first forge you ever had!' Then you say...Oh never mind."

 

The figure tilted its head to one side. Vakama's jaw released.

 

"Before you start things off. I've always wanted to ask you a question."

 

Vakama stared sullenly. A sense of dread was growing in him. The figure continued:

 

"I wanted to ask this: Did you ever wonder why you, of all Matoran, were destined for Toahood?"

 

Vakama had been subjected to this line of questioning before, but he had had centuries to deal with self-doubt. He paused, considering whether or not he would refuse to answer. At last, he decided he had nothing to lose:

 

"I wondered long ago, yes, but in time things became clear."

 

"Clear? How interesting. Tell me."

 

"We were destined to preserve the Matoran from Makuta and await--"

 

"--No, no, no!" the figure interrupted. "I didn't ask about 'we' or 'you all'. I asked about you, Vakama! Why were you, a Ta-Matoran mask-maker, called to abandon your work--work that began in this very chamber--and take up some other duty entirely?"

 

"You ask questions with no answers," Vakama replied. "Who am I to question the will of the Great Spirit?"

 

"The Great Spirit..." the figure seemed to scoff. "I'm afraid Mata Nui had very little say about your destiny, Vakama. Yours came from, shall we say, older stock?"

 

Vakama frowned. "I have no patience for riddles these days,” he said. “Speak plainly if you want me to listen."

 

"You'll listen whether you want to or not, my friend. And riddles have served me so well in the past...But even so, vision-states do have time constraints."

 

The figure's voice became deadly serious:

 

"You became a Toa for one reason, Vakama: your own survival."

 

A moment elapsed. Vakama tried to digest the words.

 

"My survival?" he said at last. "I don't--"

 

"--Yes, survival! You are a useful cog in the great machine, honorable Turaga. Very useful. Highly specialized. The powers that be could not risk your demise, and Toa are so much more...resilient."

 

The figure slid down from its perch and walked toward Vakama.

 

"But I'm afraid you've fallen behind on your directives," it said, gesturing once more to the table. "All this heroism and leadership...what a delay it's been!"

 

Vakama began to see clearly now. The being that stood before him was a Matoran...but not really a Matoran. It wore the image of a Matoran, but there was something more. It approached, and Vakama found once more that he could not move. The paralysis of the vision-state held him firm in its grip. He tried to focus against the rising tide of anxiety. This was not like other visions. It was too direct. Too personal.

 

The figure moved close, leaned in, eye-to-eye with him.

 

"Unit 9999, designation VA-KA-MA," said the Matoran-who-was-not-a-Matoran, its eyes widening beyond the confines of its mask, whiter and emptier each moment.

 

"The time has come," it commanded, "for you to resume your labors."

 

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Deadline

 

The sound had gone on interminably, filling his every thought. On and on it went, like the pounding of great drums or the noise of colossal footsteps, echoing from a great distance. Ever nearer it came...ever more demanding...ever more urgent...

 

"Turaga?"

 

Everything stopped. Vakama became suddenly aware of himself. He was standing upright, head bent forward. A feeling of heat washed over his back, followed by fatigue in his muscles. His right arm was raised, and he was grasping something tightly. It was a hammer, still ringing from the last blow he had dealt to the object on the anvil before him: a thing of metal, red-hot and glowing. His eyes blurred and refocused. How long...?

 

Then he remembered the voice. He turned his head, neck-joints popping. A figure was stooping in at the doorway of the forge. Blue eyes gazed at him, unblinking.

 

"Forgive me, Toa Gali," Vakama said at last. His mouth was very dry. "I was...I was..."

 

"You were far away, I think," Gali said softly. She moved through the doorway and stood to full height.

"Is everything alright?"

 

He lowered his arm, letting his organics relax at last.

 

"I...of course. I'm fine."

 

"I'm glad to hear it, and I'm glad to have found you." The Water-Toa gestured toward the forge. "I see you are crafting."

 

Vakama returned his gaze to the unfinished object on the anvil.

 

"Yes...it is a mask," he said.

 

Gali stepped closer and examined his work.

 

"Is it? It looks more like one of the helmets of the Agori," she said. "Without the mouthpiece, at least."

 

"It...you're right," he stuttered. "That's true..."

 

"And is it?"

 

"I must admit, Gali, I do not know. Not yet, at least."

 

The last words came out more harshly than he intended, and a momentary flicker of...something...rose in him. Was it irritation? Impatience? He had not been in the mood to craft for a long time, and now that he was, his work had been interrupted. Simple impatience. That must be it.

 

Vakama coughed. "May I ask why you have come?"

 

Gali straightened.

 

"We've been searching for you," she said. "A council meeting has been called, and we must go there immediately."

 

"A council? Why've I not heard of this?"

 

"You've been missing since yesterday, Turaga." Gali's voice was tinged with concern. "Not even Krakua could sense you. We didn't think to look in one of the old forges..."

 

Suddenly Vakama realized where he was. It was one of the original forge-houses of the Agori, on the outskirts of New Atero. He had no memory of coming here. It sent a chill down his spine, and he shuddered.

 

"Are you sure you're alright, Turaga? You look exhausted."

 

Again the feeling of impatience arose. But it wasn't just impatience...it was a pressure. A need to...do something.

 

"I assure you I'm fine, Gali. I'm sorry for making myself hard to find." He set the hammer down on the anvil and dusted off his hands. "Now, what is the occasion for the council meeting? More Skakdi raids?"

 

"Not Skakdi, no. There has been a report from the outlying villages of an unknown Toa traveling northward."

 

"Is that any cause for concern? We could certainly use a new Toa."

 

Gali shook her head, and Vakama could see the worry in her eyes. Something was wrong.

 

"The latest report arrived this morning," she said. "Apparently, Toa Kopaka was visiting the villages southwest of the Old Atero Plateau and received the same reports that we did. He sent word that he intended to intercept this Toa..."

 

"And?"

 

"He has not been heard from since."

 

"Is that all the information we have?"

 

"Yes...and now, Turaga, it's time for us to go. Will you come with me?"

 

"Yes, of course. I'm sorry to have kept things waiting. Allow me to gather my tools, and I'll join you at the council-chamber."

 

"I should accompany you back..." Gali moved to help.

 

"No need! No need," Vakama waved her off. "Enough time's been wasted. Hurry back and tell them I'm coming." He busied himself with gathering tools.

 

Gali wavered for moment in the doorway, staring at him, but then she nodded.

 

"Very well, Turaga. Please hurry."

 

And then she was gone. Vakama was alone. He had cleaned the work-table and spread the tools out in order again so that he could store them...all but the hammer, which still sat on the anvil. He reached for it, but then stopped.

 

It was back. The pounding noise. Again it rose in the back his mind. Boom. Thud. Boom. Thud. Footsteps, like the thunder that Mata Nui and Makuta had made when they battled across the face of Spherus Magna. Footsteps drawing ever nearer. Something was coming, and he had to be ready. He had to...he had to continue the work. It was a thousand years late, but it was still his duty.

 

Vakama seized his hammer once more, pumping a foot-pedal to stoke the fire. With his other hand, he retrieved the tongs, gripped the partly-shaped piece of metal tightly and plunged it into the furnace. Heat flared up, and he felt the joy of his labor filling his mind, pushing everything else aside.

 

Once, he had crafted half a mask and thought that it was whole. But now he saw clearly: That had been only the beginning of his great task. It had been in the Before Time...and now everything was drawing to an end.

 

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Last

 

New Atero was no more. The landscape where the once-thriving metropolis had stood was now a ruined waste. Ridges of blasted stone and rubble piled up in rank upon rank, ripple-like, radiating away from the center of the immense crater which had instantly devoured the city six days before and burrowed nearly a kio into the surface of Spherus Magna.

 

The air was sweltering hot, the ground still superheated in some places, collapsing at times into pools of molten slag. The sky was concealed behind a dense cloud of dust which would likely take many years to dissipate. Even so, a few rays of light managed to cut through the gloom as the sun slanted toward the horizon. The atmospheric soot colored the light a deep, deep red.

 

It was into this waste that Gali, the last surviving Toa, now led her unrelenting pursuer. It had taken the thing a few hours to realize she had abandoned her adaptive armor and set it to autonomous attack-mode as a distraction--a last-ditch effort to put some distance between herself and her enemy. Distance was time, and time was all that she needed now.

 

The Toa of Water skidded to a stop at the bottom of a blackened slope, her armored feet crunching in the layer of glass that covered the ground. She crouched for a moment, regulating her breathing, and switched to Akaku. The sounds of battle which had rumbled in the distance for most of the afternoon had faded off, and she suspected that her armor had finally been subdued. Lewa had given her the idea for the trick, just before he--

 

--No, she pushed those thoughts aside. Scanning in all directions, she could see no signs of pursuit. Nothing yet, at least. It would track her down eventually. Nuparu had speculated that it was designed to hone in on sources of elemental energy, so there was no way for a Toa to hide. On the plus side, the thing had no powers of camouflage, and, luckily, she had managed to retrieve her Mask of Vision before it had targeted the suva... She would have ample warning of her enemy's approach. Now she just had to reach her destination.

 

Gali straightened, scanning eastward again. Soon, she would press into the dense layer of smoke and noxious gas that lay along the horizon, aiming to skirt the northern edge of the basin which formed the center of the crater. When she emerged on the far side, she would turn south, putting the bulk of the treacherous wasteland between her and her pursuer. One thing they had learned all too late was that the creature's main strategy was to take the most direct route to its target, regardless of what lay in its path, and although it seemed resilient enough to withstand most environmental conditions it encountered, rough terrain could still slow it down, at least.

 

Once she was safely on the other side of the crater, she would know at least from which direction it would come, and it would be visually blinded to her position until it emerged from the smoke. Once she began her final task, she would not be able to keep constant watch via Akaku, so this was the next best plan.

 

Her final task. An image flashed across her mind...Matoran running, fleeing...The dull-black figure emerging once more from the rubble where Tahu had flung it...Toa Ratra doubled-over in the street nearby, his armor glowing and melting. Her first instinct had been to run over to him, try to stop what was going to happen...but then energy had begun to pour from Ratra's eyes and mouth, devouring the earth and air, and she had known it was too late.

 

The sudden flash of the Plasma-Toa's Nova Blast had almost burned her eyes out, and it was only the brief protection of her Hau that had saved her from annihilation before Tahu's golden armor teleported them beyond the city. There they had watched in stunned silence as New Atero vaporized in a ball of elemental plasma that leveled the southern steppes of the White Quartz Mountains and scorched the roof of the sky...

 

Gali shook away the memories, struggling against a sudden tide of hopelessness. Ratra's death had been only the first disaster to befall them. It had resulted in the death of nearly half of New Atero's population--those who had not yet evacuated--and the loss of two Toa besides Ratra. But perhaps even worse, the creature had escaped seemingly unscathed. In the following days, it had tracked down and defeated--no, devoured--every Toa who had faced it, one by one. And now...

 

Now she was alone. If all the combined might of the Toa was incapable of defeating this enemy, what chance did she have? The thing had shown itself particularly immune to elemental attacks manifesting as forms of energy. It seemed that its principal abilities involved the conversion of the elements back into elemental energy, which it then absorbed directly. Because of this, plasma and lightning were all but useless, along with fire. Pohatu and Onua had found greater success with brute force, burying the creature and attempting to crush it under the weight and pressure of their elements, but even then, it had not been enough to save them. Could her own element really hope to succeed where all others had failed?

 

Nokama's words came back to her:

 

"Do not ask how you shall succeed," the Turaga had said. "Ask only how you may do your utmost. Success is beyond our control now..."

 

Gali sighed as she continued her journey, loping onward into the sweltering desolation as red evening gave way to darkness.

 

Beyond our control? Perhaps...perhaps not.

 

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Embrace

 

Toa draw their power from within, a place called the Well of the Element. A Nova Blast involves stirring up this inner source of energy to its maximum potential and then removing all limitations, expanding the accumulated energy in a single wave...

 

But there was another way, Helryx had explained. If a Toa could charge the energy within to its limits, but maintain exact control over the entirety of the energy expended, they could, in theory, accomplish a different--though no less destructive--result. Helryx had called it an Elemental Singularity.

 

"No Toa has accomplished such a feat," she had said, "and the consequences are unknown. But you are not a normal Toa, are you, Gali? You are something...new..."

 

Gali's eyes snapped open, and she returned to the waking world a changed being. Sitting cross-legged upon an outcropping of rock, she held the tension of power like a taught string within her.

 

The creature called Marendar stood upon the ashen plain before her, dull-black and motionless. It wore no mask, and its face was eyeless and mouthless. There was no villainy in its attitude, no exultant laughter, no taunts. There was only pitiless, dispassionate focus. Marendar stared at her across half a kio of distance, and she met its gaze.

 

When it first emerged from the wall of smoke on the horizon she had been seized with the impulse to attack immediately, to make surprise her main strategy, throwing everything she had into the blow. But something had stopped her...she was not certain what. A change had occurred somewhere in the back of her mind, and she struggled to understand it even as she struggled to maintain her elemental control.

 

"You have found me," she said at last, her voice carrying on the low wind. She did not rise from her seated position. Not yet.

 

Marendar remained where it stood, motionless.

 

"You speak, yes?" she continued. "Speak to me."

 

And then, on a whim, she added:

 

"Tell me...what stories have you learned from your time among us?"

 

Sarcasm did not fit the mood, but there was no one around to witness it. Marendar did not reply. Moments ticked by, and Gali was almost about to speak again when suddenly a sound stopped her, echoing across the distance between her and her pursuer.

 

"I am Kopaka, Toa of Ice," the voice said. "State your intention."

 

The voice came from Marendar. It was strangely modulated, but somehow familiar. It was the voice of Kopaka...the voice of her friend and comrade. He had been the first to fall...

 

Gali felt anger surge. It was taunting her.

 

"Come here and say that again," she said through gritted teeth.

 

The creature shifted its stance, its head tilting slightly to the side.

 

"State your intention."

 

"State your own intention!" Gali threw back. She had to be patient, wait for the right moment. She kept her hands clasped together in the meditation stance.

 

Another pause, the creature's head tilted to the opposite side.

 

"I have no wish to harm you, but I will if you threaten my friends," it said.

 

It was Onua's voice, and with a shock Gali realized that she had heard the line before. Onua had said those exact words before he'd engaged the creature with Lewa and Pohatu. She had been there. It was playing back the voices of the dead to her. Was this some new strategy? Why did it not attack directly, as it had before? She needed to get closer...

 

"You have harmed my friends already. I have every reason to harm you now!" she yelled across the distance, then she leapt to her feet, trying to provoke a response.

 

To her amazement, Marendar fell back a pace, almost stumbling in the loose gravel. It seemed confused, disoriented. A bizarre sight, in light of the ruthless, unrelenting precision it had demonstrated earlier. Gali held her position, still trying to discern if this was some trick. If so, it had never employed such deception before now.

 

In a moment, the creature appeared to regain its composure. It widened its stance and stared at her with its blank face once again.

 

"Toa Gali," it said. "Can you see our destiny now?"

 

Tears welled up in her eyes, and a great rage choked away any answer she might have given. The voice was Takanuva's. They had been his last words.

 

The world narrowed and compressed as Marendar sprang suddenly forward, closing the gap between them in a single, terrible moment, its strange maw extended to devour her whole, limbs outstretched to counter any attacks. It happened quicker than thought, but it was all the time she needed.

 

Before, she had been a Toa, a mere creature of the Great Beings.

 

Now she was an ocean contained in a frail frame of metal and protodermic cells.

 

Now she was a storm thundering for release.

 

She was every raindrop held suspended in the air high above.

 

She was the cold and the dark that filled the fountains of the deep...

 

In an instant, the vast field of elemental energy that she had spent her final hours extending for kio across the landscape, into the atmosphere, and deep into the earth beneath them converted violently into a mass of super-dense protodermic water, and then it collapsed upon a single point with the intensity of a dying star...

 

And Gali, last of the Toa, drew the devourer of her kind into a final embrace.

 

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All Wrong

 

Time. Time is all wrong.

 

Stop trying to remember the future, Vakama. From now on, your place is in the here and now.

 

Time is all wrong, but you must make it right.

 

He had been somewhere else moments ago...or was he still there?

 

Time is all wrong, but we are almost there, Vakama. Almost there!

 

His neck and limbs were sore, and his muscles felt raw where the wind and water had blasted them. He was outside...in a raging storm. Yes. No...he was inside, stooping before a forge in a low hut with a single window. Yes.

 

No...he was exhausted from the journey, carried roughly under the arm of this strange Titan. Yes. No...he was exhausted from the work, the interminable work, slaving away before the forge-fire under the watchful eye of the Not-Matoran. Always watching, all the time. Yes.

 

Time is all wrong.

 

Had the Not-Matoran told him that, or had the titan? Or perhaps it had been Makuta. Yes. No...Makuta is dead. Makuta is dead! He knew the titan who carried him on through the terrible, wailing storm. He did not know the Not-Matoran. He had met the titan before, but it had been long ago, in a different time. Time!

 

Time is all wrong. You are of the same name, the same System, you two. The Not-Matoran had said that, surely? They had all been together once, before things went wrong. He remembered looking out the window of the forge-hut and sighing, in dire need of recharge. The sky had been dark as soot, perhaps threatening rain. He had not been able to finish the Mask...the Mask of...

 

Time is all wrong.

 

He had been outside, under fitful stars. No thunderstorm, no more forge-fire. The titan loomed over him, and there was the Not-Matoran as well. The Not-Matoran had spoken its commands and directives. The titan had approached. Yes. The titan had approached the Not-Matoran, who looked small and frail before the armored hulk whose very presence had withered the grass with age. The titan had knelt before the Not-Matoran and bowed its head to the earth, offering something. The object glowed, and Vakama knew what it was. He knew the titan. They had met before...in a different time. He knew the object. A Mask…the Mask of...

 

Time is all wrong.

 

Eight times, eight failures, eight flawed pieces lay upon the bench, and the Not-Matoran scowled upon him from its perch, commanded him to try again. "Nine is your designation," it said to him, mockingly. "Perhaps this is what is ordained. The timing is all wrong, but we are almost there, Vakama. Almost there! You must not fail again. Not this--"

 

"--Time is all wrong," the Not-Matoran had said to the titan beneath the starlight, "but you must make it right. Surely you must have felt that your task was unfinished. That is why you have come here now. That is why you have come to me. The Great Beings ordained that you would function to bear this burden unto them, and I, the last Great Being, will accept the fulfillment of your Duty."

 

The eyes of the Not-Matoran blazed white once again:

 

"Unit 99," it commanded, "designation VO-PO-RAK, hand over the Mask of..."

 

A sound like a thousand thunderclaps intervened, rippling across the atmosphere and shattering the earth beneath their feet, and Vakama had been cast backward, spinning, into another vision.

 

A dark abyss yawned open, and a deep loneliness filled him. He ran and ran, fleeing forever through the empty darkness, stars wheeling around him...

 

But then one star fixed and sprouted red color and became a flame, a small fire burning in a ring of stones. Six stones, and six figures encircling him. He knew them all. They were his friends! He was not alone.

 

But their faces were empty, empty and devoured. The closest turned to him, and out of the dark blue pit of her face she said:

 

"Time is all wrong. Stop trying to remember the future, Vakama. From now on, your place is in the here and now. Before, your faculties were divided between what was and what will be, but now...Now you must unite yourself."

 

The fire began to die.

 

"Be united, mask maker."

 

"United, but not one..."

 

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Ages

 

Vakama awakened on a beach made of ash and pulverized glass, and found that he could think again. The effects of the time-distortion Rhotuka with which the titan Voporak had attacked him were finally beginning to wear off, and the sunlight that broke through the dense cloud cover seemed to bring with it a sense of clarity. His memories and perceptions, which had been a chaotic jumble before, were slowly reorganizing, each event settling back into its proper place in the sequence.

 

He closed his eyes and felt the warmth on his face. It was good to rest, after all the madness and desperation, the feverish work and the journey through the terrible storm. It was good to be free of the will that had controlled him for so long. He wondered what had happened in the world since he had been taken by the Not-Matoran, and he wondered where his captor was now...

 

A shadow fell across him, and heavily-armored feet crunched in the gravel. Vakama opened his eyes to find Voporak stooping over him, dull red eyes peering out of a twisted face. Vakama understood nothing about this creature beyond its obsession with the Mask of Time. Because of that, he had always thought of Voporak as an enemy, a thief, an agent of some darker plan. But now...now he saw the titan from a different perspective.

 

"You bear the same name," the Not-Matoran had said, gesturing at Vakama, when Voporak had first arrived. "You are of the same System."

 

Vakama did not know what this meant entirely, but looking into Voporak's eyes, he knew that here was another creature of the Great Beings who bore the same gift--or curse--as he. Voporak was one who remembered the future. Vakama wondered if he had received the same vision of darkness and loneliness that had come in the explosion of thunder...but then he pushed those thoughts away.

 

He sat up at last, and the titan moved back. Voporak seemed smaller than he had been, and his armor was badly scarred. Vakama looked around, and the sound of moving water reached his ears. Behind Voporak, where the beach dropped away in a jagged slope, a vast body of water stretched to the horizon. Waves and breakers crashed and rippled upon its surface, scattering the sunlight. The water churned with muddy debris, and the shoreline to the right and left seemed broken and haphazard. Was this the ocean of Aqua Magna? Surely not...Voporak could not have traversed the entire continent in a day and a half. A suspicion had begun to grow in the back of Vakama's mind. This sea was connected to the explosion that had freed them from the Not-Matoran's control. An explosion followed by a great storm...and now a new sea? What could it all mean?

 

Voporak was gesturing. The titan did not speak, apparently. It took Vakama a few moments to understand what his companion was pointing at. He looked down. At his side lay a small satchel. He had taken it from the hut when the Not-Matoran had beckoned him outside. He reached out, hands shaking. Memories of fire and the pounding of hammers flashed in his mind. Eight times, eight failures...but then...

 

He picked up the satchel, plunged a hand inside, and pulled out a mask. But it was not a mask...not a complete mask, at least. It was only the upper half. Time and time again Vakama had forged it, throwing all his skill into the effort, and eight times the mask had shattered or fractured beneath his hammer. Eight times he had tried and failed, but the ninth time it had not broken. Even then, he had believed himself unsuccessful. The Not-Matoran had implied that he had failed. Surely that had been the reason why Voporak was summoned. The Not-Matoran wanted the Mask of Time--a new Mask of Time--and Vakama had failed to provide it.

 

Vakama turned the half-mask in his hands.

 

"All this work, and it is only a powerless helmet, like those of the Agori..." he said.

 

Voporak stared blankly for a moment, and then he reached up and tugged away a portion of the heavy armor that covered his upper torso. There was a cavity behind the armor-plate, Vakama saw, and from within it Voporak withdrew the Vahi, the true Mask of Time. It looked no worse for wear than it had when Vakama had retrieved it from the bottom of the Silver Sea so many millennia ago, when he had first encountered Voporak as an enemy. Now they seemed to be...something else. Kindred spirits, perhaps, both driven by the same strain of destiny, a higher even than the will of the Great Spirit.

 

Voporak held the Vahi lightly in one hand and held out the other. Vakama was confused. What would Voporak want with a powerless facsimile of the Vahi? It was an impressive ornament, to be sure, but nothing more. He hesitated, but then handed over the half-mask.

 

Voporak inclined his head, his expression seeming to convey thanks, and settled back on his haunches. The sun had shifted enough for Vakama to know that it was evening by now. Curtains of light slanted down between the scattered clouds, glittering on the tortured waters of the sea. Voporak held the two items up, side by side, Vahi and not-Vahi, mask and half-mask...

 

And looking at last upon the results of his labors both past and present, it finally dawned upon Vakama. How could he have been so blind? Was it a side-effect of the meddling of the Not-Matoran? All this time he had thought he was a failure, that the result of his work was nothing more than an ornament, but now he recalled his one true failure, the one that had plagued every holder of the Vahi since the beginning:

 

It was an unstable mask, too powerful to be controlled. Not even Makuta could have used it correctly, though he might have tried. This was Vakama's mistake, the creation of an immense power-source without any means of channeling that power. But now...after days of toil and nine attempts, what was it that he had made? The Vahi was of no ordinary design. Indeed, it seemed only half a mask itself...

 

Voporak brought the two pieces together with a click, and suddenly there was something new. A flash of sparks lit up the evening, and a sound that was not a sound hummed in the air around them. Vakama felt the vibration of power that radiated from the new mask that Voporak now held, and it was so painfully familiar that it took his breath away. The last time he had felt that rush of energy it was in the waves of time-distortion that were leaking from a fissure in the Vahi—one that he had managed to seal. This time, however, the power was not wild. Not dangerous. It was precise and focused. It was as it should be.

 

Voporak's eyes flared with a light that could only be joy, and he stood abruptly, raising the new Mask of Time--the Vahi Nuva--above his head. The Kanohi blazed with light and the thunderous vibration of power went up, up, up into the air, in all directions, rippling into the fabric of the universe, as if to say

 

I AM HERE

 

It lasted for only a moment, and then the light diminished and the thrumming subsided. Voporak lowered the mask, awestruck, and met Vakama's gaze again. Neither moved. Somehow, they both understood, as the aura of the new Mask of Time faded away.

 

The Not-Matoran had called itself the last of the Great Beings, who had ordained the old destinies. But in the afterglow of that cry of power, Vakama was full of doubt. For, far far away and yet very near, there came an answer. Across a distance that seemed to span the length of space-time and the breadth of thought, something called back, and in a voice that was like a terrible multitude, it said:

 

WE HAVE SLEPT FOR SO LONG

 

A figure crested the jagged ridge behind Voporak.

 

OUR DREAMS HAVE BEEN DARK ONES

 

The figure stumbled in the growing dusk, its frame twisted, and Vakama knew it by its white, white eyes...

 

BUT NOW WE ARE AWAKENED

 

NOW WE ARE WHOLE

 

The Not-Matoran raged and raised one broken hand, deadly voice hissing through the air...

 

AND THE AGES WILL NOT STAND BEFORE US

 

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Invert

 

Another fragment of vision. Familiar darkness. Stars. Firelight.

 

"How have you come to be here?" Vakama asked the six apparitions which knelt before the fire of his mind’s eye. "How has this fate come to pass?"

 

The blue shape replied:

 

"No fate is at work here, Vakama. We have passed beyond destinies now, all of us. Even you."

 

"Have I fulfilled my destiny, then?"

 

"I do not know, but still we must forge ahead. The paths of the future are infinite, Vakama. Destiny obscured all but one of those paths--like a mask--leading you toward some pre-ordained ending..."

 

"And now?"

 

"Now destiny has fallen away, and you must choose your own steps. Now you must be the mask maker."

 

The apparition bowed down its faceless head, and its weeping was the sound of crashing waves. Waves rolling.

 

Waves rising.

 

Receding.

 

===

 

"Unit 99, designation VO-PO-RAK...Invert."

 

It was too late. Vakama had no time to react, not even time to cry out a warning. Voporak staggered backwards, dropping the still-glowing Vahi Nuva. The mask sparked when it struck the glassy sand and skittered down the slope, toward the water.

 

The titan fell heavily to the ground, eyes roving to and fro. The air around Voporak warped, and Vakama watched helplessly as the titan's entropic power seemed to turn inward, aging Voporak mercilessly. In an instant, the titan's armor went gray and then began to crumble, his eyes dimming. Then he collapsed completely.

 

Vakama staggered forward, feeling sick. He had to help Voporak, but knew that he could not approach without suffering the same fate. He slipped in the loose gravel as he tried to move along the incline.

 

"No use, my friend."

 

The Not-Matoran stood a short distance away to the right, breathing heavily. Vakama stopped, staring. He knew the voice, and the eyes were the same, but the appearance of the Not-Matoran had changed. Before, Vakama had been walking in a cloud of confusion, but now everything was clear. A Po-Matoran stood before him, a Komau, now cracked, still affixed to its face. The Not-Matoran was strangely bent, one leg twisted at an angle, and it appeared to have lost the use of its left arm. That must have happened when the earthquake hit, or perhaps it had always been that way? Vakama could not say.

 

"Why have you done this?" he asked, pointing to Voporak.

 

The Not-Matoran shrugged. "He violated directives."

 

"Whose directives? Yours?"

 

"It doesn't matter. I'm afraid you've violated directives as well. Did you think that you had fulfilled your duties?"

 

Vakama was standing a short way down the slope, with the Not-Matoran slightly above him. The broken crest of the ridge was between them. A sudden thought occurred to Vakama. He winced, putting a hand to his side, and feigned weakness. The Not-Matoran began to move forward, still limping, but for a moment, as Vakama sagged down toward the hillside, he was out of sight.

 

"Well,” the Not-Matoran continued, “duty takes its toll, I’m afraid. Doesn't it, Tura—"

 

The Not-Matoran stopped as he reached the top of the ridge and looked downward toward the water. Voporak still lay motionless to the right, but Vakama was gone. A glow caught his eye down below. The Vahi Nuva lay close to the tideline. Hesitation...

 

A small fireball flashed into existence and struck the Not-Matoran in the shoulder, knocking him off-balance. He cursed, noting the slight visual distortion that preceded the attack’s appearance. He should have anticipated this. The Not-Matoran struck out mentally, seeking his opponent even as he twisted to stay upright. There!

 

"Neutralize" he hissed, and Vakama’s Huna deactivated.

 

"Seize."

 

Vakama felt his muscles and joints obey, locking tight in mid-stride. He fell heavily on his face, jarring his mask, and slid halfway down the slope in a small avalanche of shale. At last he came to rest, helpless, staring up the slope through skewed eyeholes. There was dust in his mouth, but his jaw couldn’t move. The Not-Matoran approached carefully. His breath was still labored, and the armor of his right shoulder was scorched black. Closer he came, until he stood over the fallen Turaga, then he stooped and reached down with his good hand. Vakama tried to close his eyes…

 

Click. Crunch.

 

Vakama felt all the strength go out of him, followed by a wave of vertigo. But then his seized joints released, and he gasped, eyes fluttering shut and then open again. Eyeholes no longer obscured his vision. He tried to sit up, but could only manage to raise his head a little. His mask…his mask was gone. His eyes cleared, and there was the Not-Matoran sitting in the gravel beside him, a Huna at his feet. He appeared to be nursing his burned shoulder, and his legs did not look so twisted anymore. Was he repairing himself?

 

“Yes, I’m repairing myself, Turaga. It’s been a long day, you see, but we’re almost at the end.” The Not-Matoran lightly kicked the Huna away, and smiled as Vakama’s eyes followed it. "Really, my friend, what do you hope to gain by resisting me now? Do you think things can go back to how they were?"

 

Vakama said nothing.

 

"Oh, of course you do. That’s how you were made. Your purpose was to maintain a system, so it makes sense that you would always be trying to get back to how things were. Before all…this.” The Not-Matoran gestured around. "I know you have questions for me, Turaga. Why not ask, while I’m in the mood? It’s just you and me, after all. We’re all that’s left, I suppose."

 

Vakama started. What did that mean?

 

"It means, Turaga, that we sit now upon the ruins of New Atero. I expect most of those you once knew are now soot on the wind, or silt beneath this young sea." The Not-Matoran tilted his head casually toward the body of water.

 

No. It couldn’t be true.

 

"It’s very true, I’m afraid. A slight wrinkle in the plan that I did not anticipate, for all my foresight. You’ve missed a lot."

 

Vakama felt sick. It couldn’t be, he told himself. It was a trick…but memories of darkness and faceless apparitions told him otherwise. He had seen this. He had known. Desperately, he forced down the terror and the grief for now. Then, swallowing, he spoke:

 

"Are you really one of the Great Beings?"

 

The Not-Matoran chuckled, "That was a brave effort, Vakama, internalizing all that torment. I congratulate you on accepting reality as it is. As for your question, it’s not a simple one. You see, the title of ‘Great Being’ is just that—a title. Many have claimed it in the past. Artakha, Karzahni…even Mata Nui, on occasion, although that may be apocryphal."

 

"You know what I’m asking."

 

"Of course I do, but you should also know that I’m not one to give a straightforward answer. It’s not in my nature—"

 

The Not-Matoran stopped abruptly. "But how silly of me," he continued. "Of course you wouldn’t know that. You never even met me until a few days ago. How could I have forgotten? I’m really slipping in my old age."

 

"I don’t understand."

 

"Don’t worry, it’s normal. Hmm...you might as well call me Velika. That's the name I’ve used since before you were ever fabricated, and it says all there is to say."

 

"You still haven’t answered my question," Vakama pressed.

 

"Your question? I thought I had answered it. Ask another one."

 

Vakama frowned, trying to wrangle his thoughts. "How did you...how did you know my destiny?"

 

"Your destiny? It's my business to know, and it’s all there if you know where to look."

 

"Then...you know the future? You are one of the Great Beings."

 

Velika scoffed. "Ah, Vakama, but you see knowing the future was never a great challenge. Many of the Great Beings manifested that power."

 

Velika leaned over suddenly and tapped Vakama’s bare forehead with a smirk. "You've a touch of that power yourself,” he said. “That was the whole point. Does that make you a Great Being?"

 

Vakama was at a loss. The moment stretched.

 

"Nothing?" Velika leaned back again, looking surprised. "You disappoint me. I do love to hear things from your perspective, Turaga." He shifted, testing his legs. The burned patch on the Po-Matoran’s upper arm looked smaller now. The brown armor was regenerating.

 

"But..." Vakama said at last, still frowning. The Po-Matoran stopped expectantly.

 

"I don't understand. The work of Mata Nui...his restoration of this world...Was that not the will of the Great Beings?"

 

Velika's face now broadened into a mischievous smile.

 

"Honorable elder," he said with mock deference, "we have touched the heart of your confusion. Do you really believe the Great Beings valued this planet so much that they would invest all of their mighty resources in its salvation alone? I am afraid they were not so nostalgic as that."

 

Velika gestured around with his good arm, continuing:

 

"It is true of course that Spherus Magna held the key to their desires. Of all the worlds they had ever explored, this was unique. A fitting place to begin a last, greatest experiment. You see, Vakama, this world is no natural formation of the universe. It breaks all the laws, from its size-to-mass ratio to its age compared to a too-young sun. I don't expect you to understand these things, but Spherus Magna is a foreign entity, a design originating from..."

 

Velika paused dramatically, and his eyes flashed.

 

"...somewhere else. A higher plane, another level of existence. The Great Beings became convinced that the stuff of Protodermis--which, you've no doubt been informed by the Agori, was first discovered within Spherus Magna--was put there for a reason. This world is merely a container, as is, perhaps this entire universe...a container waiting to be breached. But how to breach it? We used to be bound by physical limitations like form and distance, but we have transcended those. Now, all that remains..."

 

Velika trailed off, and Vakama felt distinctly that he had lost interest in the monologue. The Po-Matoran shifted abruptly and raised himself to his feet, then began to limp away down the slope. Maskless, Vakama had only enough strength to lift himself up on one arm, watching with dim eyes...

 

A spark of gold-orange glowed on the beach in the afternoon light. The twisted figure of Velika shambled down the slope toward its goal, eyes burning with intent. The glow of the Vahi Nuva seemed to pulse with living rhythm, still sending out its cry of power. The light shone upon Velika as he approached, and he no longer appeared as a mere Matoran. Something began to show through the fragile facade of his body and mask, something brighter, more terrible.

 

At last Velika reached the place where the mask lay and stooped to claim it with his still-functioning arm, fingers trembling, face exultant.

 

There was a rush of noise, and water foamed around his ankles. Velika cursed as the mask tipped up in the current and floated free of the sand, moving away as the water receded. Velika struggled to keep his balance as the tide pulled against his legs. His eyes remained fixed on the mask as it was carried a few bio and then settled down again. The surge of water melted into crashing surf as it met another incoming roller.

 

It was then that Velika saw he was not alone. A figure stood before him, waist-deep in the waves of the angry sea, yet unmoved. Tall, with shining ocean-blue eyes.

 

Blue eyes met white, and all that stood between them was Time.

 

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No

 

A final fragment of vision:

 

“I am alone," Vakama said to those who sat around the fire of his mind’s eye, "Can I not remain here? I am not meant to be alone."

 

"You are not alone, Vakama," voices replied. "It is we who are alone—we who have reached the end of our purpose. You remain, and it is you who will make a way for us—all of us—in time. Goodbye, Vakama."

 

"No! I will not say goodbye."

 

"Goodbye..."

 

===

 

Thrum. The Mask of Time called out. I am here.

 

Thrum. The answer came. We approach. We will claim what is ours.

 

Thrum. It was a low wind playing over the scene, moaning through the knotholes of the Vahi Nuva like a sad flute, beckoning.

 

Thrum. It was a sound of footsteps. Footsteps drawing ever nearer. They were here. They were at the door. Would the door open for them?

 

The two figures stared at each other, neither moving, as the seconds ticked by. The air hummed and strained with suspense. A struggle seemed to be occurring. Two minds touched and probed for intention, but no battle was joined.

 

Thrum. The sound increased in urgency. We approach. We approach. Could they both hear it?

 

Velika’s eyes flashed, and at last he inhaled. How long had he not been breathing? Lungs were such inconvenient things. His jaw released, articulators fell into place, and a verbal command lashed out into the air.

 

“Verify identity, designation MARENDAR, and report.”

 

The command was spoken in a language far older than the tongue of the Matoran, and yet somehow familiar. The dark giant responded, shifting its position. Its eyes dimmed as if processing the input, then brightened. A lifeless, modulated voice proceeded from the titan’s blank face:

 

“Command received,” it said. “Reporting directives fulfilled. Identity confirmed, designation—” the voice dissolved into a wash of static.

 

“Error. Identity unconfirmed. Designation unconfirmed.”

 

“Diagnose,” Velika said. More seconds passed. The titan wavered in the buffeting waves.

 

“Diagnosis…failed. Error unknown,” it said at last, its voice distorting oddly.

 

“Diagnose!” Velika said again, his voice strained with impatience. Then, he quickly followed up the command:

 

“Disregard command, unit. Directives fulfilled. Stand down. Deactivate.”

 

Audio-distortion covered the titan’s reply. Velika sighed as another wave jostled the Mask of Time from where it had settled. He started forward, wincing as his feet slipped in the wet sand, eyes still fixed on the dark-armored giant. He was almost there. The Mask glowed and pulsed before him. It filled his vision now. No more beach. No more titan. He breathed and bent forward, fingers stretching out to grip the mask. At last.

 

Thrum. At last. At last. We approach. We are at the door. Thrum. At long last…

 

“Error…directives…designation…” more words broke through the distortion of the titan’s voice. Velika flinched and cursed with annoyance, not even raising his eyes, so intent was he. His good hand went up, clawlike.

 

"Deactivate!” he hissed, and there was danger in his voice.

 

“No.”

 

Everything stopped. Velika’s eyes snapped upward. Marendar still faced him, but something had changed. It took a moment for Velika to realize. Only a single word had been spoken. One syllable. No. And yet, it had not been spoken in the tongue of the Great Beings, as before. This time, it was said in the common, everyday language of the Matoran.

 

The voice echoed in Velika’s mind. No. One voice, and yet many voices. Countless voices, all speaking as one. No, it had said. No. No. No!

 

Colors blossomed in his vision, almost blinding him before he deactivated his eye-circuits, bracing for whatever was to come. Other, more arcane, senses kicked in, and the fragile façade of his Matoran-form seemed to fall away for a moment as Velika called up reserves he had not yet had to tap—the secret art of traveling quickly by moving very slow. Red, green, blue…lights flashed and surged angrily toward him, but in that moment, it was a small matter to be wherever he was not.

 

A crater smoked upon the sand where Velika had once stood—“So, it means to attack then,” he observed—and energy lingered in the air, elemental energy. He breathed deep of it, letting it aid his regeneration process. Questions rose in his mind. What could have caused this transformation? What event had altered the original programming? Another flaw in the plans of the Great Beings? How typical.

 

Velika reappeared off to the left of the thing which had been Marendar, but which was now…something greater. Power swelled within it, but there was still discord. The initial onslaught had been wild, unfocused. Even so, the Mask still lay unperturbed in the sand, waiting for him to take it. He would take it. This one last barrier stood in his way.

 

Marendar’s head swung around, catching sight of him, and the light blazed up again, but Velika was already moving, had already moved. He stood upon the water close by the titan’s side and touched the jet-black armor. The titan recoiled as an unseen force flung it forward, out of the waves, onto the wet beach. Velika laughed cruelly, drinking in more energy. The titan struggled up, turning to face the Matoran, but Velika was gone. He was behind Marendar now. Another touch, and sparks ran up the titan’s body and arms. The smell of fried metal permeated the air, and the titan collapsed, shuddering, mighty hands clenching and unclenching.

 

The discord was greater now, Velika could feel it. Something was at war within the mind of Marendar, struggling to achieve control, to achieve unity. The titan’s eyes flickered intermittently. It could not rise. Perhaps at one time Velika would have been interested in seeing how this struggled played out—how the riddle resolved itself—but not now. Velika put forth his hand once more to finish the job…

 

Marendar’s eyes snapped back into focus, many colors aligning momentarily into one—a cool, calm, silver light. White lightning lanced out from the titan’s body in all directions, one bolt catching Velika in the chest. The Po-Matoran was flung backward, spinning. He landed on all fours in the sand, bracing to process the pain and regenerate the damage…but with a shock he realized that there was no damage. A substance covered his chest where he had been struck. It shone like ice, but it was not ice. He knew what it was. It was…

 

No.

 

A sound like a roar emitted from the titan that had been Marendar as silver light poured from the crevices of its armor, from its eyes, from its hands, welling up and washing over the beach, over the sand and over the water, over the blazing, thrumming Mask of Time, and over the screaming, wide-eyed Velika. In that light there seemed to be a mixture of colors, all perfectly aligned together until they had become one—an unbreakable radiance. The light flashed up and vanished, and darkness roared over the scene again.

 

Where once there had stood a twisted Po-Matoran, now there was a swathe of protodermic crystal. Translucent. Delicate. Indestructible. Smaller shards littered the beach, and they all seemed to vibrate with the same frequency as the Mask of Time, amplifying its call to a cacophony. Thrum. We approach. Thrum we are here.

 

Within the largest shard, the shape of Velika could still be dimly seen, completely immobilized. The titan stepped forward as the seawater foamed behind it, and it was no longer Marendar, no longer a dark giant, at war with itself. For now, it was a many-colored thing, and its face wore many masks, but then it settled on one form: lithe and blue. It looked upon its creation and seemed unsure.

 

But then two points of white opened within the crystal and brightened into spotlights, scattering angrily through the shards of protodermis and throwing the blue figure’s shadow huge upon the sea.

 

"Fool," a mind-voice roared out, tinged with pain and brimming rage. "You imprison me in crude matter, but I am no mere creature of this universe. I alone am transcendent. I alone shall endure!"

 

The psychic scream thundered louder, and the blazing white eyes within their prison veered away from the blue figure, bathing the distant slope in razor-edged light, narrowing to a single focused point where a weary Turaga raised mask to face once more…

 

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Door

 

Vakama had witnessed the exchange and the battle on the beach, and his mind still rang with the voice of the now-imprisoned Velika. The light blinded him, and he shrank back, trying to draw up enough energy to activate his Huna once again and escape Velika’s notice, though he knew it was hopeless.

 

A rush of thoughts filled his mind. Who was the titan who had come out of the sea? For a moment, he had thought it was a Toa. It wielded the elements, and the flash of silver power was so very familiar, almost like a Toa Seal. Even so, he knew that such power was beyond the strength of a single Toa. A memory stirred in Vakama's mind--a legend that he had thought to be only a Matoran fabrication. Could it be? No…Velika had said that the Toa were all dead, and he had called the creature by a different name…Marendar. Was it true, after all?

 

He had no time to wonder further, for in an instant, as the light resolved upon him, Vakama felt another will take hold of him. It was unlike the times when Velika had controlled him before. That had been like a command which he had obeyed involuntarily, but under his own will. Now, as the mind-voice of Velika battered at his thoughts, there was a definite sense that an external power was struggling to wrest away control of his body, force him out. It was agony, but he could do nothing to escape the assault—not even cry out for help.

 

His eyes dully registered the scene before him, a sharp-edged snapshot. There was the crystal column piercing out of the sand. Beyond it stood the figure of the titan from the sea, standing almost listless, frozen, watching. Would it not help him? Behind the titan and the column, the orange spark of the Mask of Time still shone clear, despite the blaze that threatened to swallow everything else in its deadly radiance. And beneath it all, the voice of the terrible multitude of the Great Beings thrummed on. Vakama could still feel it under the crushing weight of Velika’s mind, but it was no comfort. We are at the door. We are at the door.

 

Vakama felt his will falter at last, like a metal bar that had reached its melting point in the forge and could not help but yield to the hammer. We are at the door. Open the door. It was all over. He let go...

 

Something changed. The burning light was cut off, eclipsed by a larger shape. The pressure ceased in one sickening moment and Vakama felt his entire body spasm, seize, and then he finally drew breath. Another visual snapshot registered in his mind. A shape crouched between him and the white light, shielding him from it and somehow shielding him from the mental assault as well. Was it the being from the ocean? No...Vakama recognized the silhouette—broad and bestial. The light began to fade, and the figure went from silhouette into color, and Vakama knew who it was.

 

The titan Voporak turned weakly toward the Turaga and fixed him with eyes now dimmed by age. He did not speak, but, as before, there was understanding.

 

“Why have you saved me?” Vakama asked, and Voporak answered, in a way.

 

“Because I have failed,” he said.

 

“Failed? How?”

 

“My destiny is unfulfilled.”

 

“My friend,” Vakama replied, “the old destinies are done. Have you not seen it?”

 

“I have seen it, in my mind’s eye, but I cannot accept this vision. No, I am lost, and I have failed, for my destiny is before me, and I cannot decide to follow it. I have not the strength…”

 

“Do not worry—”

 

“—but we are of the same system. We are brothers. You may choose where I cannot. When I am gone, you will remain.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“When I am gone, brother...you...must choose.”

 

The exchange lasted only a fraction of a second, but it was enough for Vakama to understand two things. The first was that he and Voporak were two sides of the same coin. Vakama was meant to create the Mask of Time, and Voporak was the key to unlock the return of the Great Beings, to deliver the mask unto them. This was all true.

 

The second thing Vakama realized was that Velika’s assault had not ceased—only changed its target. Voporak’s eyes rolled back, and a shudder went through his massive frame. His heartlight died, and then winked back on—no longer a deep red, but white. Voporak’s arm shot out and seized Vakama by the neck, and Vakama thought that the titan would end him, but then Voporak’s eyes came back into focus, dim, but still red. Not quite under Velika’s control, it seemed.

 

“When I am gone, brother...”

 

Voporak lifted Vakama bodily and flung him away down the slope, toward the tideline. The Turaga struck the sand and rolled over, winded, trying to orient himself. There was the crystal formation, much nearer than before. He looked back, straining to see what had become of Voporak. Dimly he registered the presence of the titan from the sea—Marendar—a short distance away, still motionless. Moments passed, and Vakama’s heartlight pounded in his ears. Then the glow from within the crystal vanished at last, and the shape of Voporak stirred.

 

The aged titan staggered up, slipping in the loose sand, and turned. Vakama winced as he realized that one of the titan’s arms had half crumbled away…but the eyes in the bestial face were still clear, shining white with a newly-installed mind. Voporak was gone. Only Velika remained. The body of Voporak/Velika straightened up and seemed to shrug slowly, then with a clank and a crunch the outer layer of the titan’s age-crumbled armor fell off. The titan started forward, still menacing despite its decayed appearance. Apparently Velika’s regenerative powers were at work even in his new shell. The air shimmered once more with a deadly entropic field, and Vakama heard Velika in his mind again--a voice still raw with rage.

 

“I am the last of the Great Beings,” the voice threatened. “I alone shall transcend.”

 

Vakama fell back a step, unsure of what to do. The field advanced, and he knew that if Velika caught him, it would be the end. Trapped between his enemy and the dark water, he looked around desperately for some weapon to defend himself, but found nothing.

 

Then Marendar was there, moving between him and Velika. It had grown once more, dark and gigantic, and it was no longer idle. A silver glow surrounded it like a shield, shedding angry sparks as it met the entropic field that now protected Velika, and Vakama felt the aura of elemental power. It was a Toa Seal—pure crystalline protodermis, timeless and eternal. A shield against the ravages of time.

 

A spiraling Rhotuka formed in Velika’s remaining hand, and he attempted to strike the titan with it, but Marendar was too fast. The Rhotuka fired wide and fizzed on the sand as Marendar caught Velika’s hand and twisted, raining blows with the other fist. Vakama sought cover as the beach shook and the sound of battle echoed on the water.

 

Dust choked the air as strange energies flashed from Marendar’s limbs and either died out under entropic suppression or scorched jagged lines in the earth. The sea roared and the clouds cracked with thunder as lightning flashed upwards. At last, the titans locked limbs, grappling at close quarters. Marendar twisted abruptly, hand whipping back, and then it drove forward with incredible speed, piercing Velika’s armor at the shoulder.

 

At that moment, the shield protecting Marendar seemed to falter against the onslaught of the aging-field, and Marendar lost its footing in the sand. Velika roared in pain and rage, tearing away from his foe and landing a solid blow to the torso. Marendar was flung back toward the water, smashing into the column of crystal.

 

Seconds passed as Marendar rose. Something dropped from the dark titan’s massive hand—a piece of machinery—and Vakama sickened at the realization that Marendar must have torn it from Velika’s body. But there was no time to think about that. Velika staggered forward, ready to continue the battle, but Marendar looked hesitant, eyes shifting through different hues, as if fighting once more for unity. Vakama became aware of a high-pitched noise that was slowly increasing. It seemed to be proceeding from the body of Velika, but it also seemed to be of the same quality as the voice of the Great Beings which still echoed: We are at the door. We are at the door.

 

Vakama realized that the twisted module that Marendar had dropped was a kind of power regulator…and now it had been removed. The whining noise rose to a deafening crescendo as Vakama opened his mouth to cry out, whether in warning or grief, but no words came. For a split second, the eyes of the aged titan flickered back to their original red color and fixed Vakama with a look that was at once exultation and profound sadness. And then Voporak…one-time enemy, now Vakama’s brother…the scourge of time, succumbed to his own time-rending power…

 

…and he opened the door.

 

A look of shock crossed Velika’s face as the entropic field buzzed angrily and shrank inward. The titan’s body buckled and warped as something like a hole tore open in the air of the beach. The opening yawned wide for a moment, and then it swallowed the crumbling titan whole. Velika’s scream of rage carried on horribly, and Vakama clutched his head, trying to block the mind-voice out. But then it was gone…silenced in the face of a thousand clamoring voices. A thousand distorted shapes flickered in the gap—not just a gap now, but a gateway. A thousand voices began to command, reaching out.

 

Identify, unit. Identify and verify our command.

 

The mental noise of them assaulted Vakama just as Velika’s had before, compelling him to obey. He felt very small, almost incapable of understanding what was being asked of him. He stood before the Great Beings an insignificant thing. A piece of matter that they had granted life for a time, but nothing more. What worth did he have except in fulfilling their demands?

 

But then ten millennia of experiences seemed to break open in his memory all at once. A lifetime of existence…surely there was value in that, value beyond mindless obedience—not just for him, but for all his kind, whatever was left of them. And in the face of those memories, he came to the final, terrible conclusion, a conclusion that he felt he had known ever since this great ordeal had begun:

 

The Great Beings did not care, as Mata Nui had not cared before he had been cast down to live and breathe among his subjects. For the Great Beings, all of their creations were simply tools—to be used and then discarded. Unity, Duty, and Destiny...these were cheap things to them. Quotas to be fulfilled.

 

Identify, unit. Identify and verify our command. Deliver up the Mask of Time.

 

Somehow, whether it was an influence from Velika or Voporak, or an inner strength that Vakama had never tapped into before, he chose a different path.

 

“I defy you,” Vakama said, wavering on his feet before the gods of his universe.

 

“I will not obey.”

 

Boiling silence poured from the gateway. Confusion. Annoyance. Anger. Vakama looked away, searching the sand at his feet, searching for the one thing that had been the cause of all his turmoil, but it was not there. He turned his back on the doorway that hung in the air, and instead of fear he felt relief. He would not give up the prize to them. He would make something new.

 

Marendar towered over him, its body still half-covered in silver light. In its hands it held a bright orange thing that glowed like fire. Vakama stood stock still.

 

Another flurry of screams and commands poured from the gateway, and the opening distorted horribly, widening like a mouth. Shapes approached, resolved. Tall figures, draped in brightness. Eyes bulged. Arms reached out. Minds clawed their way into reality as the Great Beings finally returned to the universe of their birth.

 

But the titan paid no attention. Calmly, it raised the Mask to its face.

 

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Goodbye

 

The shadows had grown long in the Temple of Fire. The Sacred Flame sputtered as it burned low within the ring of stones, and pungent smoke floated upward toward the domed ceiling. No sound intruded except the crackle of fuel in the firepit, and even that was almost at an end. For a moment, the twisting pattern of flame seized together, burning against the encroaching darkness, and then it finally released. The tongues of fire hissed and retreated downward, and only embers glowed there now.

 

Turaga Vakama breathed in and out, still staring into the remnants of the fire. He was alone. The temple was cool. No light shone through the high windows or the rounded doorway. It was all dark. Night must have fallen upon the world as he meditated in the vision. How long had he sat here, undisturbed? At last he shook himself, felt his limbs creak. A light layer of dust fell from his mask as he stood up, and he coughed, blinking the sand out of his eyes. It must be very late. For a moment, he considered rebuilding the fire and simply staying in the temple for the night. He was tired, and it would be an easy thing…But no, somehow he felt that had stayed long enough. He had better return home.

 

Home. The thought pierced through him sharply as memories raced through his weary mind. Pain. Sadness. Fear. Anguish. Defiance. Wonder. Never before had he experienced a vision of such power and vividness, a vision that absorbed him so completely that he came away…changed. It frightened him, but, after all, he had sought it out, hadn't he? He had desired it above all things, to see the future again.

 

But not now. Not anymore. He had had his fill of visions, of masks and destinies, of betrayal and despair, of Great Beings and death. He strode down the length of the temple, between the stone pillars. It was over now. It was done. Now all he wanted was home

 

He increased his pace as he neared the temple entrance, and a strange lightness rose in his spirit at the thought of leaving the Sacred Flame behind. No more visions. No more fear. Almost running now, he plunged through the doorway, out into the calm night.

 

And there was Nothing.

 

===

 

He fell for a long time, or what felt like a long time. There was nothing to measure by anyways. There was only…Nothing. There was no more temple. No more street. No more light from the Sacred Flame. No more smells or sounds. Nothing to touch. Nothing to feel. After a while, the Nothing began to seem solid to him, but he knew that this was only his mind grasping for something real. Even the sensation of falling was soon lost, and he imagined that he stood now in a dark place, with the eternal emptiness seeping into his bones.

 

His mind wandered and departed and returned, but it didn’t matter. Was this death? Perhaps that didn’t matter either. He simply remained, and the nothing went on forever. He even began to wonder if he truly existed anymore, or if he had ever existed...the void was so complete.

 

But then there was another presence with him, and he knew that he did exist, for he was separate from that presence. Small lights veered into focus above him...or was it below? The lights were like stars, but far clearer than he had ever seen. They stabbed his eyes like knives, but it was like sustenance after enduring long hunger.

 

The figure was beside him. He could see its outline where it blocked out the starfield. It was larger than him...the same size as...as...

 

Eyes blazed out of the figure's face. It was the being that Velika had called by a strange, ancient name. Marendar, he had said...But no, not Marendar. Not anymore.

 

He began to remember everything again, though he didn’t want to. Voporak struck down...Velika destroyed...the terrible approach of the Great Beings...He had hoped that it was all just a vision, not real. All that suffering and loss. How could one endure it all?

 

“Vakama,” the Being spoke his name, and its voice was many voices, “forgive us.”

 

“Forgive you?” Vakama’s voice sounded dry and weak from disuse. “Why?”

 

“Forgive us for leaving you in this place. We became separated on the journey, and only now have we found you again.”

 

“What journey?” he asked. “What has happened? How did I…we…come to be here?”

 

“You are the one who made it possible, this fulfillment of the desires of our Creators…”

 

“Me? How…” he trailed off for a moment, then another thought impressed itself upon him:

 

“Tell me what you are,” he said.

 

The Being did not reply at once. It stared at him out of the darkness. Did it know what it was? A suspicion had grown in Vakama’s mind from the time that he witnessed the being’s full power on the beach. A story from his earliest days as a Matoran, one of the oldest stories, perhaps, that he could recall…

 

“We are…together,” the being said at last.

 

“Are you a Toa?” Vakama asked.

 

“We are,” it replied.

 

“Are you a Kaita?”

 

“No.”

 

Vakama should have known this. A Kaita would not say ‘we’. The spirit of a Kaita was a melding of its members, but it had its own distinct designation.

 

“Then what are you? What is your designation?”

 

“There is no designation. We are not a thing ordained by the Great Beings.”

 

“But you are a Toa.”

 

“This is true…but we are greater.”

 

No doubts remained to Vakama now. He stood in the presence of a Legend incarnate, all the power of the Toa somehow embodied in one form, focused and unified.

 

“I know what you are,” Vakama said. “You are Toa Nui.”

 

It had been an abstract concept whispered with uncertainty and doubt, a product of the Matoran imagination gone wild. The Toa Nui was never destined to exist--not by the Great Beings, at least. But perhaps imagination made its own destinies, after all. It was fitting, then, that the creature that the Great Beings had designed to end Toa-kind had been the catalyst for a new creation.

 

The Toa Nui stared at Vakama for a lingering moment, and he felt the weight of its eyes, as if it were processing this new designation and what it signified. Then it turned its mighty gaze back to the star-filled void, inscrutable.

 

It struck Vakama quite suddenly that there was no floor beneath them, and yet somehow he was grounded, stable. After all the madness, they were far away, standing in the void, and the void could not touch them. He was safe—more than safe. He felt that now he had gone further than any of his kind had before. He doubted that the Great Beings had planned this. It was a fearful thought, to go so far, beyond destiny itself, but perhaps he could bear it, for he was not alone. His eyes returned to the face of his companion, and he perceived that it still wore the Vahi Nuva.

 

Time passed—he couldn’t be sure how long—and he felt that he should speak again.

 

“Surely…” he said, haltingly “Surely there must be a way…a way to go back.”

 

The Toa Nui turned toward him again. It did not speak.

 

“The Mask of Time has brought us here, has it not?”

 

“This is true,” the Toa Nui said.

 

“Then why can’t we go back? With such power, we could change things. Undo things. Undo…all of this.”

 

The Toa Nui blurred, and its mask altered. A gray Suletu stared at him now, and the voice that whispered softly from it was familiar—a Toa named Krakua. Vakama remembered him.

 

“Is that what you desire, Vakama?” Krakua said, “To change what has gone before, bend it to your will?

 

“Maybe…yes,” Vakama said. “If I could, I would make things right.”

 

“Well then…perhaps it is possible,” Krakua replied.

 

The Toa Nui raised a mighty arm, and the Vahi Nuva blazed through the features of the Suletu. An image appeared in the dark space, indistinct at first, but slowly clarifying. A cliff-face towered into view, robed in mist above and below. A tiny speck of color stood out against the vastness of stone, clinging to the jagged rock, and with a shock Vakama recognized the titan Voporak staring out across the waters of a silver sea. His friend was still alive! He wanted to cry out to the titan, but somehow could not. The image seemed to wash over his senses, and he was helpless before it.

 

Far below, he saw another figure break the surface of the sea. It was Toa-sized, and its armor was deep red. In one hand, it held an object that glowed orange. In that moment, Vakama realized what he was seeing. It was himself. Himself as he had been long ago—a Toa, still young in mind, still burdened with destiny and self-doubt…

 

He was seeing the past. It was the time when he and his fellow Toa had been traveling to their new home on the island of Mata Nui. He had departed from them for a time, drawn inexorably to retrieve something that he had lost…the Vahi. Even then it had been calling him, trying to guide him back to his original destiny. He could see the threads of destiny clearly now, tying everything together, binding him to one purpose, one function within the grand design of the Great Beings. It was inescapable.

 

The image changed again. Now he saw himself crouching in a dim place. His face was obscured by something…something that was mask-like, but which pulsed as if alive, clinging over his eyes. It was horrible, he remembered, the krana-like creature which had taken control of him. But then he also remembered what had happened next. The creature had shown him things…more visions. Had that been a part of the Great Beings’ plan, or was it an aberration? He had seen Toa Krakua, spoken with him. Could it be that after all this time, the two moments had finally converged? There was more to be said. So much more. He could change everything, stop his visions from coming true. By the power of the Mask of Time, he could thwart the destiny ordained by the Great Beings, sever the threads that had bound him and all his kind. He would do it. Yes!

 

Vakama moved closer to the image, placing a hand on the Toa Nui’s arm.

 

“Can I communicate with myself?” he asked.

 

“Perhaps,” the Toa Nui said, and its voice had changed. It turned its gaze upon him, and its face was no longer the face of Krakua. It was Gali now, and her eyes were sad.

 

“What will you do, Vakama?” Gali asked quietly.

 

“I will save all of you. Somehow it can be done. The Mask of Time has the power to do it, I’m sure.”

 

“You will make a new future for us, then?”

 

“Yes!”

 

“A better future?”

 

“Better, yes! Anything would be better than this.”

 

“A future that you have ordained.”

 

“Yes. It’s the right thing to do.”

 

“Then you are aptly named, Vaka-ma,” Gali replied. “Master of the Future, Ordainer of Destinies…”

 

The Toa Nui raised mighty hands to its face, and Gali’s mask vanished.

 

“Wait…” Vakama said.

 

With a click, the Toa Nui removed the Vahi Nuva. The image wavered, but remained. The Vakama of the past crouched, frozen, in the grip of the mask-like creature, seemingly waiting for something to happen. Vakama sensed that there was something about this moment—something unique and different—that provided an access-point across time. If there was any change to be made, it would be made here. He only had to take the opportunity.

 

The Toa Nui held up the Mask and offered it to Vakama. Its face was the face of Krakua once more.

 

“Take it,” Krakua whispered, “and do as you have said.”

 

Vakama took the Mask—his own creation—in his hands, and felt the infinite power that surged from it. This was the culmination of all the Great Beings’ efforts. All their plans and designs had led to this one point, and now it had been taken away from them. Now it was his decision to make. The Mask called to him, sang to him. Make the choice. You must choose.

 

He raised the Mask to his face.

 

But then he stopped. He did not put on the Mask. Something seemed to release deep inside him, all grief and anguish. Finally he wept, his tears falling upon the surface of his creation. He wept for all the loss that he had seen, all the disappointment. Now the power to undo it was his to command, and yet something stopped him. It was a simple thing that stopped him, but perhaps the most painful realization he had yet dealt with in his long life.

 

“I cannot do this,” he said at last to the Toa Nui. “I can’t.”

 

“Why, Vakama?”

 

The words seemed to spill out of him:

 

“I am a creature of the Great Beings. That is what I am, though I hate them now for what they’ve done. They shaped me and formed me to their purpose, and no matter what I chose, I was always drawn back to it. Always, without end, until my purpose was fulfilled, and so it was for everyone else. All of us, the creatures of the Great Beings. We are bound by our destinies. We cannot overcome them, and it has all led to this. Death and separation and loss…I can hardly bear it.”

 

Vakama drew breath. The Toa Nui listened on.

 

“But…something has changed now. I am free. I have fulfilled my destiny, and yet it is not the end. I am a paradox. We all are. We are more than what the Great Beings intended. We have grown and learned. And although I want to go back and change everything—I want it more than anything—that is exactly what the Great Beings would wish. To start over, to unmake their mistakes. That was what they wanted, wasn’t it? To go beyond Time…”

 

He trailed off again, squeezing his eyes shut against more tears.

 

The voice of Gali fell upon his ears.

 

“And so, Vakama, I ask again: What will you do?”

 

He opened his eyes.

 

“I am a creature of the Great Beings,” he repeated, “but I am not bound to follow in their footsteps. I will not become the same thing as they are. I will not bind up the threads of destiny to suit my desires. I cannot do this, though it is my greatest desire.”

 

Vakama offered up the Vahi Nuva, saying: “You are something outside the plans of the Great Beings. You are something new. Take the Mask and do what you will.”

 

“Very well.”

 

The Toa Nui took the Mask once more, gripping it on both sides. With a shock, it pulled the mask apart, and the Vahi Nuva was no more. The image of Toa Vakama vanished, and a sudden lurch of movement made Vakama’s stomach churn. The stars began to wheel around them slowly.

 

“Now,” said the Toa Nui, “we shall make a new thing.”

 

The Toa Nui handed Vakama one of the halves of the Mask of Time, and Vakama took it once more with trembling fingers. A pang of sadness went through him, knowing that his creation was undone, even though he knew that it was right in the end.

 

“It is over,” the Toa Nui continued, “We are far beyond the reach of the creators, but you cannot remain here forever.”

 

“Where am I to go?” Vakama said, clutching the remaining fragment of the Mask.

 

“You must go forward,” the Toa Nui said. “You shall make your own path.” Gali’s face wavered before him again “…but do not forget us, Vakama. Hold us in your mind, and know that we endure.”

 

The Toa of Water faded into a sea of faces, a sea of voices speaking to him, almost chanting:

 

“When the need arises, we shall aid you. This is our purpose, our duty--to appear when times are dark and all hope seems lost. In that time, call upon us. Evoke the power of past and future, and look to the stars for an answer. We are timeless, and so we shall remain. United, the elements hold the power to defeat evil…”

 

“…United, but not one. Never again."

 

Vakama stood before a small fire. Around the fire sat many figures. Six sat closest to the fire. Blue, White, Green, Red, Black, Brown. He knew them all. They smiled at him.

 

"Goodbye, my friends."

 

And then there was only the brightness of the Toa Nui's eyes, and a rushing noise all around him. The stars flashed from points into sharp lines as he sped away toward some new destination. A blue point reared up in his vision, expanding to a vast sphere. Was it Spherus Magna?

 

Had he come home at last?

 

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Mask

Maker

 

Waves washed the body of Vakama gently ashore. He was awake. The air was cool, and his body felt light. He was on his back, and at the edge of his vision he could see a swaying treeline. He remained still for a moment, resting in the peaceful sound of the sea and the warmth of sunlight shining on his face.

 

A sound roused him. Something moved under the trees. He raised himself on one arm and looked. The trees formed the edge of a dense green forest. Above their swaying canopies, snow-capped mountains loomed. It was all so familiar, and yet still very different.

 

Two glowing eyes peered out from the shelter of the leafy shadow a short distance away. Vakama looked closer, and realized that it was a green-armored Matoran. The Turaga stood slowly, smiling and gesturing in a friendly way.

 

The eyes winked, and the Matoran sauntered onto the beach. It seemed a very natural scene--a Le-Matoran scout keeping watch over the shore. But as the Matoran approached, Vakama realized that something was very different. The figure was larger than the typical Matoran and differently-armored…and it wore no mask.

 

The creature stopped a few bio away and studied Vakama. It held a short spear in one hand, but did not seem aggressive. Vakama saw that the being was nearly his own height. Certainly not a Matoran, but very much alike.

 

“Hello my friend,” he ventured. “I am a stranger here. What land is this?”

 

The creature squinted. It did not understand. Vakama wished for a Rau, but remembered that his own had been destroyed.

 

Okewi ata?” the creature said, apparently asking a question.

 

Vakama shrugged, shaking his head (hopefully they had that sign in common). He pointed to himself.

 

“Vakama.”

 

Paka…pakama?

 

“Close enough,” the Turaga said. The creature leaned on its spear and peered at him intently, then it pointed at his face.

 

Ma’ata wi?

 

Vakama repeated the gesture, “This?”

 

Ma. Ma’atowe?” It pointed again, more insistently. Vakama thought he understood.

 

“This is my mask,” he said, removing the Huna briefly and turning it in his hands, despite the wave of weakness that it caused. The creature reached out to take the mask, but Vakama shook his head.

 

“No, no. I must keep it,” he said, returning the mask to his face.

 

The exchange was interrupted by another rustling in the trees. Three more Matoran-like creatures emerged from the deepening shade of forest. They all wore similar armor to the first, and none of them wore masks. The creature that had spoken ran to meet them, and they conversed for a few moments in their unknown tongue. Vakama stood awkwardly, not wanting to make a bad impression.

 

The sun was just now falling behind the distant mountain-peaks, and the gloom of the forest crept slowly over the beach. Vakama let the sound of waves fill his ears, since he could discern nothing from the muffled conversation, and he felt a pang of loneliness…weariness. This was a strange place to him, and yet he felt as if he were meant to be here. The figure of the mighty Toa Nui flashed in his memory.

 

“You must go forward,” it had said to him, “…make your own path…but do not forget us.”

 

Do not forget us.

 

“I will not forget,” Vakama whispered to himself, staring out at the endless ocean. The creatures had stopped talking, he realized, and he shook himself from his reverie, looking toward them.

 

But they were not looking at him. They were looking past him, down the beach. A familiar sound thrummed in his mind, like a wordless voice, and he turned.

 

Golden-orange it lay, half-buried in the sand, but now its glow was fading with the sunlight. Only the top half remained, Vakama saw. The lower portion was gone, but even, so it was the Vahi. The Mask of Time had come with him after all. He was not alone.

 

===

 

His new companions led him into the shadow of the forest, down narrow trails carved through the underbrush. They spoke little, except to guide him along. He was clearly an oddity to them, but even so they seemed to treat him with a kind of reverence. Many times in their conversation he heard repeated a phrase that he had thought was his name, but now he was not so sure.

 

Ma…paka ma, they said, and whispered. Vakama held the Vahi close.

 

Soon they arrived at a campsite nestled at the base of a cliff-wall. The Matoran-like creatures busied themselves about the task of preparing for the night. The forest was full of sounds, and Vakama saw that his companions always kept one eye on the trees.

 

It had rained a little, and the firewood was damp when one of the creatures began the process of making a fire. Vakama crouched down beside him, almost without thinking, and placed a hand within the pile of firewood that had been gathered. A small burst of elemental energy soon set it alight. It seemed such a natural thing to do…

 

And yet the creatures gasped and fell back, eyes wide. Clearly they had never seen such a thing. One of them even brandished a spear, and Vakama feared that he would have need of his Huna in a moment. But then the first creature—the one who had met him on the beach—put a hand to his comrade’s shoulder and said something that eased the tension.

 

Wa mu o’eka na! Paka ma!

 

The fire glowed brighter as the wood began to dry out. The creatures stared at Vakama with something like awe, and perhaps a little fear. Vakama did not know what had been said, but the feeling that his presence here was no coincidence was again unmistakable. He sat slowly before the fire and beckoned them to do the same. Smoke wafted up and stung his eyes, but it was a familiar feeling. Somehow, the small wood-fire that burned before him was as good as any Sacred Flame, and longing for the past struck him once more. Tears filled his eyes, and they were not only because of the smoke. The creatures watched silently, expectantly.

 

A great desire to communicate rose up within Vakama, and suddenly he was back in Ta-Koro, in the old days, and it was time for the telling of Legends around the Amaja Circle. He knew that there was a barrier of words between him and his audience now, but that could be overcome, in time.

 

Li’i wi paka,” one of the creatures said, and somehow there was understanding.

 

Tell us of your journey.

 

Li’i ma,” another continued.

 

Tell us of the mask.

 

Vakama plucked the Mask of Time from the ground beside him and peered into its gold-orange surface. Then he leaned back and breathed in the smell of ash and fire. His eyes wandered upward. There in the surface of the cliff, he imagined a familiar shape could be seen. An ancient mask…the elder part of the Mask of Time—his Vahi—as if the stone of the cliff had simply formed in that shape, uncarved by any hand…

 

But then the shadows shifted, and the vision was gone. Vakama set the Mask of Time down again and cleared his throat.

 

"Very well,” he said, speaking perhaps more to himself than to those who were listening, “I shall tell you a Legend.”

 

“In the Time Before Time..." he began, but then stopped. "No, no, I've told it that way too many times…"

 

He scowled and scratched his head, struggling to invent new words. Then he began again, gesturing wide for his still-attentive audience:

 

"Past into Present," Turaga Vakama intoned.

 

"Present into Future," the Mask Maker continued...

 

"That is the way of the Bionicle."

 

The

End

Edited by Tolkien

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