The passage was little more than a gap between the walls of two adjoining buildings. Filthy and gloomy, it was gloomy and permeated by the foul smell of the twisted, misshapen creatures that over the centuries had found refuge here, it was too narrow to serve any purpose. No one had ever felt the need to pass through it.
Suddenly there was a flash of light. Despite the surrounding darkness, it was so fast that it went virtually unnoticed. But when the shadows returned, the alley was no longer empty.
The newcomer was lean and very tall. A long staff lay in his hand, its tip shaped as the head of a doom viper. He wore a mask upon his face: the Kanohi Sanok, Mask of Accuracy. His gaze was cold and cruel, but, as he examined his surroundings, a gleam of rage and fury filled his eyes.
Seemingly satisfied that there were no enemies lying in wait, the being crept toward the alley’s exit. He stopped just before clearing the passage.
“Jerbraz,” he said in a low voice, “are you there?”
“Always,” came out of nowhere a whispered reply.
Tobduk emerged from the passage and started walking; ahead, the towers of Destral loomed tall before him.
Turaga Vakama dragged himself into the underground chamber. It was all he could do not to collapse onto the stony floor. He was exhausted: they had been fleeing for hours, never daring to stop in one place for more than a few minutes. They would surely be pursued: the villagers that had been turned into beings of shadow by the creatures of the Makuta would undoubtedly come after them, as would the dark versions of Takanuva that several Matoran had reported seeing; and Vakama knew they were only the first of the horrors the Brotherhood could unleash against them.
Other Matoran filtered into the chamber, holding up a few lightstones to dispel the darkness. Then a party of Ga-Matoran emerged, carrying a makeshift litter upon which Nokama lay stretched: the Turaga of Water had been seriously injured when Destral had first opened fire upon the docks.
Whenua walked over to examine their fellow Turaga; he shook his head.
“Vakama, she can’t go much further.”
“We can’t stay here,” grimaced the Turaga of Fire. “We have to keep moving, at least until we’ve left Ga-Metru.”
“I know. But we’re all exhausted. We must rest, at least for a few minutes. Besides, this is the major intersection of Ga-Metru’s
maintenance tunnels. If others have escaped, they might eventually reach this place.”
As will our pursuers, thought Vakama. He didn’t say it out loud, though; Whenua was wise enough to figure it out himself.
Nevertheless, the Turaga of Earth was right. As Vakama surveyed the faces of the Matoran within the chamber, he realized that they were as exhausted as he was, perhaps more. Many were injured, but it was the despair on their faces that struck him, a despair that was starting to turn into resignation.
As if I didn’t feel the same way.
He couldn’t help it: in all his time as a Turaga, never had the situation looked as desperate as it did now, not even when the Great Spirit had died. Only once before had he felt such hopelessness, when, as a Toa Metru, he and his team had been captured by the Visorak Horde and seemingly doomed to certain death. Back then, salvation had arrived in the form of the six Rahaga, but Vakama could not see how such a miracle might repeat itself.
All the threats we faced, all the creatures of the Makuta that the Toa defeated, they were but a sliver of the Brotherhood’s power. Now we’re seeing their true might: how can we possibly stand against it?
So many had already fallen. When Destral had begun its bombardment, Vakama had seen many a Matoran struck down: some had been undoubtedly killed, while others might have lived, but had been left behind in the rush to escape. Still more were missing: the Matoran assembled in the chamber were but a small fraction of Metru Nui’s population. Nuju was among the missing: no one knew where the Turaga of Ice might have disappeared to. As for Dume, he had not yet left the Coliseum when the attack had begun. Was he still there or had he fled, or been captured?
And as for the rest…
He couldn’t bear thinking about it. Matoran that he and the other Turaga had led and protected for centuries had now become creatures of shadow and evil. On Mata Nui, Vakama had seen Matoran infected by Makuta’s darkness, but this was different: the corrupted villagers would not be cured simply by knocking off their mask; for all Vakama knew, their transformation might be permanent.
They might as well be dead. It would probably be a kinder fate.
He blinked. Then, almost subconsciously, he reached into his pack. When plans for the fleets had been laid out, each Turaga had been given the task to carry the Kanohi and other sacred artefacts that, on Mata Nui, would be stored in the Suva shrine of his or her village. Vakama’s pack had been lighter than the others, for most of the masks that had once been stored in the Ta-Koro Suva had been lost when the village of fire had been destroyed by Makuta’s Rahkshi, but it still contained Tahu’s Nuva Symbol, the source of his powers, and one more unique, immensely precious object.
Vakama drew out the Kanohi Vahi, the Mask of Time, his greatest and most terrible creation. A thousand years before, he had crafted this mask out of the six legendary Great Disks and in doing so had accomplished a feat beyond the imagination of any mask maker: he had bound the force of time itself to his creation, so that one could not exist without the other; should the Kanohi Vahi be shattered, the fabric of time, reality itself, would unravel.
He had once before threatened to do it, to keep the Vahi from falling into the hands of Makuta. At the time, he had been fully prepared to carry out that threat: the Vahi would have allowed the master of shadows to ascend to essential omnipotence and subjugate the Matoran forever, a fate that Vakama had deemed worse than the destruction of reality itself.
After Makuta had relinquished his claim on the mask, Vakama had never again considered destroying it; there had been times when the victory of the master of shadows had looked all but certain, but he had put his trust in the prophecies that foretold his final defeat at the hands of six Toa.
But there are no more prophecies now. The Great Spirit is dead, the Makuta stand on the brink of victory and no one has the power to stop them, especially if the Vahi falls into their hands. And I cannot… will not… doom the Matoran to a life of shadow.
He contemplated the orange mask he was holding. Should he do it now? Or should he wait, clinging until the last moment to hope, no matter how faint it was?
Whenua’s voice broke through his thoughts. Vakama blinked and fixed his eyes upon a Ta-Matoran standing at the center of the cavern, one who had not been there a moment before. He was setting down a second villager onto the rocky floor. When the Ta-Matoran rose, Vakama took note of his mask, a powerless red Ruru…
“Kapura! Thank the Great Beings you’re safe.”
“I’ve brought you the leader of the Matoran of Shadow, Turaga Vakama.”
“The leader of the Matoran of Shadow,” repeated Kapura. “His name is Vultraz. He is not from this city. He came with the Makuta. I captured him. I thought you would want to interrogate him.”
Whispers broke out around them as Vakama took in what Kapura was saying. The Brotherhood had brought a Shadow Matoran with them to command the villagers they had corrupted? And Kapura had captured him? How? And why? Vakama considered Kapura a loyal and trustworthy Ta-Matoran and he had always seen a great potential in him, yet he would not have expected him, of all people, to take such an initiative.
On the ground, Vultraz suddenly groaned.
“He’s regaining consciousness,” observed Kapura.
Vakama rose to his feet. He realized he was no longer feeling as tired as before; and there was a new determination in his step.
“Then let’s hear what he has to say.”
Vultraz opened his eyes and quickly examined his surroundings. Vakama faced him without blinking: lifting his firestaff, he pressed the bottom against the Shadow Matoran’s chest.
“Do you know who we are?”
“Turaga…” croaked Vultraz. “Old fools, who can drone on and on about the dead past and think that gives them the right to lecture others on all that nonsense about the Three Virtues and Mata Nui’s will.”
“Do you come from the Brotherhood fortress? Are the Makuta your masters?”
“Of course. I’d choose a Makuta over a Turaga any day. Old tales and lectures are for puny, dumb villagers. Me, I follow those who have true power.”
“Why are the Makuta here? What do they want?”
“And why should I tell you? What will you do to me if I don’t? Say that I’m a bad Matoran and that the Great Spirit will be angry with me? Is that supposed to scare me?”
Vakama’s gaze darkened.
We don’t have time for this.
“Whenua,” he said.
The Turaga of Earth nodded, guessing immediately what Vakama was asking him. Reaching into his pack, he drew out a Noble Kanohi mask and handed it to the Turaga of Fire, who immediately swapped it with his own Kanohi Huna. He fixed his eyes on Vultraz. The Shadow Matoran grimaced, trying to fight back; but his eyes grew glassy and unfocused, as the power of the Komau, Mask of Mind Control, took hold over him.
“What do the Makuta want?” repeated Vakama.
“They want to reach the island above,” answered Vultraz tonelessly. “Makuta Icarax is the Brotherhood’s new leader. He says we will be safe from the end of the universe there.”
“And Metru Nui? Why destroy it?”
“Makuta Icarax has decreed that to be the fate of anyone who opposes the Brotherhood.”
“What about those creatures that you used?”
“The shadow leeches are mutated Kraata. Makuta Mutran invented them. They drain the light out of their victims, leaving only shadow.”
“Can the effect be reversed?”
Vakama trembled as despair filled him. It took every ounce of willpower he had to keep himself together and maintain control over Vultraz’s mind.
“What about those Toa of Shadow?”
“They come from other dimensions. Makuta Tridax kidnapped the Toa Takanuva of each and used shadow leeches on them.”
Vakama frowned and turned towards Whenua.
“There are… legends,” said the Turaga of Earth. “In the Archives, a few ancient records speak about…”
Suddenly the whole chamber shook. The quake broke Vakama’s focus, freeing Vultraz from the power of the Komau. The Shadow Matoran seized his chance. A bolt of shadow stunned Vakama, allowing Vultraz to get up and dash towards one of the chamber exits. He had nearly made it through when Kapura suddenly appeared in front of him. Before Vultraz could blast the Ta-Matoran with shadow or shoulder him aside, two more Matoran leaped at him and pinned him to the ground. A hand reached down towards his mask and pulled it off; Vultraz instantly ceased struggling as weakness and dizziness flooded him.
Vakama rose to his feet just as the Shadow Matoran’s body went limp. The chamber shook again and panicked murmurs and whimpers broke out among the Matoran.
“They’re coming,” said Whenua. “Digging their way down, I’d say.”
“We must scatter. We have no choice. Together, we’re too slow, too vulnerable.”
Whenua nodded and walked over to a group of Onu-Matoran.
“I want each of you to take a Matoran party into a different tunnel. You do not know these caves well, but you are still Onu-Matoran.
Your past and your experience will guide you. Try to get as far away from here as possible and out of Ga-Metru, if you can. I know you can all do this.”
The Onu-Matoran nodded. The parties were starting to form when shouts traveled down the tunnel from which they had emerged a few minutes before.
“They’re down here as well,” said Whenua.
“Go!” ordered Vakama. “Get out of here, now!”
The Matoran rushed towards the tunnels; what should have been an orderly retreat became a panicked scramble.
“What about Turaga Nokama?” cried out a Ga-Matoran whom Vakama recognized as Kotu, Nokama’s left hand.
Vakama was trying to think of an answer when yells and blasts of energy began echoing from every tunnel.
“Great Beings, they’re all around us. There’s no escape. The Matoran…” gasped Whenua.
Vakama had to lean on his firestaff to support himself. Was it over? Had the Makuta finally won? Who was left? None of the Matoran had escaped; those who weren’t dead would soon fall prey to the Brotherhood’s shadow leeches. And there was no cure; once taken by the shadows, they would belong to them forever.
No. I will not let them suffer such a fate.
He reached for the Mask of Time again, as determined as he had been one thousand years before: he would destroy it, smash it to pieces before the enemy could even lay their eyes upon it. His fingers brushed against the mask’s surface… and his mind exploded.
Time slowing… waves of time energy… light and darkness, locked in a furious struggle at the center of an arena… a golden mask and a black one, their shapes identical… and three spectators, watching: a black shadow with piercing red eyes, a Toa from a time yet to come, and a Ta-Matoran, dancing with the waves, slow and yet faster than them all…
“Kapura!” shouted Vakama.
Vakama blinked, trying to clear his head. The cave was shaking again and he could hear the sound of power blasts right above them. The lightstones were going out, as if darkness were seeping into the chamber to blot out the last traces of light. And Kapura was still there: he had waited, loyal until the end.
“Kapura,” repeated Vakama. “You have a skill that no one else possesses. Can you escape our enemies?”
Kapura hesitated, then nodded.
Vakama grabbed the Kanohi Vahi and pushed it into the Ta-Matoran’s hand.
“You must take this. It is the Mask of Time, the most powerful Kanohi in existence. You must keep it safe. The Coliseum… I’ve seen you in the arena. You must go there. It is the last hope… you must get the Mask of Time to the Coliseum. Do you understand?”
He met the Ta-Matoran’s stare… and the cavern roof shattered, showering the Turaga and the remaining Matoran with rock and protodermis spewing out of severed pipes.
“Go!” shouted Vakama. “Now!”
A tall figure was descending through the gap. Vakama turned to meet him, refusing to show fear.
“Turaga Vakama,” said the black Toa. His voice was mocking, but his eyes blazed with anger.
“Takanuva,” whispered Vakama. “What have they done to you?”
“They’ve set me free, you old fool. You always denied me my freedom. You called me irresponsible, remember? Denied me a new name. Even banished me, once.”
“I welcomed you back. I considered you a hero. And you were, as a Matoran and as a Toa. You went beyond all our expectations. You saved us all. Don’t throw all that away.”
“Throw what away? An eternity spent fighting for others, never thinking about my own benefit? I’ve had enough. We all have.”
And Vakama saw that two more Toa were standing behind the first. He could see their mask, the mask that had once gleamed golden and filled Vakama with hope; he could look into their eyes, the eyes where he had once glimpsed uncertainty, fear, confusion, but also enthusiasm, curiosity, courage and valor.
The Toa in front of him raised his hand, the palm crackling with shadow. Vakama looked into his eyes: he glimpsed only hatred. Then the shadow leapt toward him and he saw no more.
Someone was laughing. Takanuva slowly stirred and opened his eyes by a fraction. A stab of pain went through his head. His body refused to move, too battered by the onslaught of shadow and lightning that had rained down upon it.
“I must admit, Toa,” chuckled Tridax as he stood over him, “that even after corrupting all those duplicates of yours from other universes, I thought that you would be something different, something special. After all, you defeated our leader… our former leader… I almost came to believe you might a real match for a Makuta. I was clearly wrong. You are just like those other, pathetic Toa who have fallen to the Brotherhood during all these centuries.”
Takanuva looked to his side. Krakua was unconscious like he remembered. He had put up a good fight, but two Shadow Takanuva had ganged up on him; ultimately, he hadn’t stood a chance.
He had to move, he knew. He couldn’t just lie there and wait for Tridax to kill him or worse. His power was still with him. He had to use it.
“Should I kill you, now, or use a shadow leech on you, like I did with so many of your twins. I think I’ll take the latter. I don’t have any leeches here, but there should be some…”
Takanuva somehow managed to stick out his hand. A laser bolt flew from his palm and struck Tridax’s armor, but it didn’t pierce its protosteel layers. But Tridax clearly felt it.
“You dare…?” he hissed, swinging his spear at him. Takanuva rolled aside and tried to slice it in two with another laser, but Tridax was too fast for him. He struck him with a bolt of shadow, then used heat vision on his chest armor. Takanuva yelled in pain and fired another laser. This time, the beam went straight through the Makuta’s shell; for a moment, Takanuva dared hope. Then Tridax growled and unleashed an underground cyclone, which swept up the Toa of Light and then sent him crashing down onto the floor again. A moment later, the Makuta was on top of him, bringing down his spear. Takanuva screamed as the acid burned his whole chest. He slumped to the ground, barely conscious.
“That’s it!” snapped Tridax. “I’ve changed my mind. I’ll kill you right here, right now.”
Shadow started crackling in his hand. There was nothing Takanuva could do to dodge it.
Then light, glorious light, filled the entire tunnel. Tridax roared in pain, as did the Shadow Takanuva. Or did they? Two did, the two that had attacked Krakua. But the third… the third didn’t, for it was from him that the light was rushing out. Takanuva’s heart leapt. That duplicate’s armor was no longer jet-black, but gold and white, just like his. Had he fought his corruption away?
Tridax blasted the Toa with chain lightning, cutting off his attack. The Makuta raised his spear… and the other Takanuva disappeared.
“What?” roared Tridax, spinning around. Takanuva’s duplicate was nowhere to be seen.
Then the earth started shaking. A moment later, a crevice split the floor under Tridax’s feet. The Makuta’s eyes widened; he jumped back just before the rock beneath him gave out completely. Then a figure rose out of the gap, standing on a pillar of earth. It was a Toa, but not one resembling Takanuva. It was a figure that the Toa of Light had never seen, but whom he knew, because Turaga Vakama had described it to him. A being that couldn’t be here, not in this form. It was Toa Metru Whenua.
What is going on here? he thought as Whenua commanded the ceiling above Tridax to cave in. A moment later Tridax floated out of the rubble unharmed, courtesy of his density control power. Twin laser bolts shot out of his eyes, directed at Whenua, who had no way of dodging. But he didn’t need to. Instead, a moment before the poison struck, he disappeared. In his place was a creature made completely of smoke.
And now Takanuva understood. This wasn’t a duplicate of his, or Whenua. This was a shapeshifter, one who had once called the tunnels of the Archives her home. He didn’t know how she had come to be here again, or whether she was a friend or a foe. He only knew her name: Krahka.
Tridax had been taken aback by the transformation, but he soon recovered. A cyclone sped towards Krahka, only for her to shapeshift into a giant Kahgarak spider, too large to be affected by the vortex of air. She fired a Rhotuka spinner, but Tridax dodged and replied with a shadow bolt, which this time struck home. Krahka screeched in pain and transformed again, becoming a huge, monstrous Rahi Takanuva had never seen. But the Toa of Light could see she was making a mistake, for she had just become an even bigger target. Tridax struck her with his slowness power, virtually immobilizing her; then he blasted her with shadow, again and again.
Takanuva looked to his side. Krakua was regaining consciousness. In a few moments, they would be able to return to the fight, but for now, everything was in Krahka’s hands.
The slowness power had worn off, but Tridax’s attacks had severely weakened his opponent. Krahka staggered and shapeshifted into a small, burrowing creature, but the trick would not work twice; liquid poison rushed out of Tridax’s hand as the Makuta sought to drown her. Krahka had no choice but to enlarge herself again. The moment she did, Tridax was upon her; his hand clenched around her throat, pinning her to the ground. Krahka shapeshifted into a lava eel, but the Makuta didn’t even seem to notice the normally unbearable heat. She changed shape again, then again, but she couldn’t shake his grip off. She regained Takanuva’s form and used light against the Makuta, even managing to blast another hole in his armor, but Tridax still didn’t let go. His free hand summoned one of his powers, preparing to destroy her forever.
“Now!” roared Takanuva.
He and Krakua sprang to their feet. The latter used sound to stun the two Shadow Takanuva, who had until then been content with watching the fight. Takanuva himself went for Tridax, firing multiple lasers. Taken by surprise, the Makuta couldn’t respond, and Takanuva never let down his attack. More and more holes appeared in his armor, allowing his energies to leak outside. The first wisps of greenish gas to leave the protosteel armor were promptly incinerated by Takanuva. Tridax screamed.
Now the Makuta was on the ground, desperately trying to keep his essence from dispersing itself. Takanuva cut off his attack, but Tridax no longer had the strength to react. However, his mouth managed to form two words, directed at the Shadow Takanuva:
Takanuva immediately prepared to withstand an attack from his dark twins, but the two Toa ignored him. Their eyes were fixed on Tridax and the respectful attitude on their faces was gone. Instead, one looked furious, while the other was smiling cruelly.
Tridax’s eyes widened, but it was too late for him to do anything. A couple of shadow bolts finished the job Takanuva had started. Tridax’s gaseous essence floated into the air.
But the two Shadow Takanuva weren’t finished yet. One took a deep breath, as if bracing himself for something. Then, to Takanuva’s amazement, his mask lit up, bathing the green cloud in front of him in light. There was a scream that Takanuva was sure he had only heard in his mind and a moment later the gas was gone.
Shuddering in pain, the Toa of Shadow shut down his mask. His eyes met Takanuva’s.
“Why?” asked the Toa of Light.
“Because we owed him no allegiance,” answered the other Takanuva. “He gave us the Shadow, he allowed us to find true power, freeing us from the rules Turaga and Matoran had placed upon us. But he did it so he could enslave us and we were little more than vermin to him. There was no reason for us not to kill him.”
“We killed him because we could, because we were free to do so,” chimed in the second Toa of Shadow. “He would have denied us that freedom, so we took it back.”
He stretched out a hand towards Takanuva.
“Join us, brother. You want freedom as much as we do. What else were we searching for, in all those years spent wandering on Mata Nui?”
Horrified, Takanuva shook his head frantically. He knew he should be protesting, finding argument to counter those of his dark duplicate, but no words came to him.
Disappointment appeared on the face of the Takanuva who had spoken last; the other shrugged, unsurprised, and waved his hand. The tunnel was suddenly plunged into total darkness. By the time it lifted, the two Toa of Shadow were gone.
He called me brother. I am a Toa of Light, he is a Toa of Shadow, yet he believed me to be like him, he wanted me to join him.
They killed because they could. And they are me. How is this possible? How could I have gone so far? Freedom, he said. Could he be right? Did I wish to be free, back then? Do I wish it now? Deep down, am I so different from them?