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Raiders of the Forsaken Archives

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Raiders of the Forsaken Archives

By RisingSoul, a.k.a. Christian Horst

 

Cover.png

 

Back cover synopsis:

When the Toa Tavi of Earth goes missing, his team sets off across the sea on a rescue mission. The sanity of Toa and their Chronicler becomes tenuous, however, when they find themselves in an archives that does not hold Rahi in its stasis tubes, but other Toa.


 


 


Dramatis Personae

 

Hamak: red Toa of Fire.

Sahkmah: blue Toa of Water.

Marik: green Toa of Air.

Ikapak: white Toa of Ice.

Polin: brown Toa of Stone.

Nepteran: black Toa of Earth.

Kali: blue Ga-Matoran Chronicler.


 

Contents:
























Edited by RisingSoul
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Check out my BZPower epic, Raiders of the Forsaken Archives, and my blog, A Scientist's Fiction.

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Chapter 1

 

          A draft of cold air blew, as if exhaled, from the high archway. Hamak, the Toa of Fire, crept toward the entrance to the Great Temple of Tavi Nui, his Flame Rods held ready. Twice as tall as the Matoran people, the Toa was fitted firmly with crimson armor around and through his bio-cybernetic body. Over his face, he wore a mask, his Great Kanohi, both a catalyst for his Power and a symbol of his guardianship over the islands of Tavi Nui. He had been summoned mysteriously by Turaga Vama, and had come with curiosity to the place where the five Kota met. Now, as he crossed the Ta-Kota bridge, a sense of unease flickered to life inside of him.

          Inside the Temple, dark halls branched off to the sides, unlit torches grasped in the hands of statues waiting patiently for the next ceremony. Hamak shivered, following the falling temperature toward the central chamber.

          As he approached the final doorway, he had a sneaking suspicion that he knew the source of the chill. Sure enough, when he peered in to the vaulted chamber, he saw Ikapak, Toa of Ice, and guardian of Ko-Kota, standing amid a sheen of ice that covered the floor and crept up the walls. He looked bored, his shoulders slumped. Hamak felt his disquiet die down to relief.

          Ikapak’s back was to him, and Hamak grinned mischievously behind his mask. Stepping quietly into the room, he focused his Power over Fire through his Tools, and sent a wave of heat through the stone the room was built from. The ice melted, falling from the walls in chunks, shattering on the floor with a satisfying cacophony of crashing and roaring.

          As Ikapak whirled on him, Hamak clipped the rods to his sides and cocked his head. “Careful,” he said, “you don’t want to get frostbite.”

          “You mean you don’t want to get frostbite,” the white Toa said in a low, flat tone. In his hand, a chunk of ice coalesced out of the moisture in the air. “Ta-beings, so weak in pleasant, sub-zero conditions.” He hurled the ball at Hamak, who easily batted it away.

          Smiling wider, the red Toa sent a small ball of fire at his friend. Ikapak froze it with a tap of his Claw Pick, and it shattered against his chest, pushing him back a step. “You just couldn’t let me finish,” he said, his hands moving in floating gestures of annoyance. “I was so close to covering the walls all the way up, and then of course you would come in and ruin it all. Well, you asked for it.” Thrusting his arms forward, he unleashed a flurry of snow and ice on his companion.

          At this point, Marik, the Toa of Air, emerald champion of Le-Kota, glided into the building. Just seeing the fight was too much for him to resist, and he plunged into the thick of it, sending cyclones toward anything that moved. A stone rat got caught up and smashed into the wall. It landed dazed, and wobbled away through one of the exits. One moment the green Toa sent a blast of wind toward Hamak, the next, a mini-cyclone at Ikapak. The fact that he was battling his fellow guardians did not slow him down one bit.

          That was how Sahkmah, Ga-Kota’s indigo Toa of Water, found them. Despite having witnessed scenes like this often, she never could get over the nausea it stirred up in her. A stray wind blast threw her against a wall, and she remained there pressing her arms against her sides, trying to look as innocuous as possible.

“Picking on the Ga-Toa?” Hamak shouted at Marik, sending a wave of fire at him.

          It was blocked by a wall of stone that shot up from the ground. “Oh, taking sides, are we, Polin?” Hamak said, turning to find a fifth Toa in bronze armor.

          “Uh, you were attacking him,” Polin of Po-Kota said, pointing between him and Marik, “so . . . stop doing it!” He stomped his foot on the ground, causing a piece of stone to bounce up into his hand, which he lobbed at the Toa of Fire.

          Rolling his head, Hamak swatted the projectile aside with his sword, only to be thrown to the ground by one of Marik’s wind blasts.

          Then, all of a sudden, all motion ceased, and time itself seemed to slow. All attention focused toward a small orange and black form standing in the doorway. Turaga Vama. The elder slowly locked gazes with each of the Toa in turn. Then he began to speak.

          “Polin, shaper of Stone. Your lack of tact is disgraceful. Marik, king of the Air. Your brashness is disgusting. Ikapak, molder of Ice. Your pessimism is a thorn in the side of Duty. Sahkmah, queen of the Water.” Hamak looked over at the azure Toa, surprised to hear the elder add her name to the list. He thought she had stayed out of the melee. “Stop shaking there like a coward and come stand with your brothers. Where is your sense of Unity?” Sahkmah mechanically obeyed.

          “Hamak, ruler of Fire and flame,” Vama said. “Your eagerness to provoke fury in a brother who is already frustrated is imbecilic. You are irresponsible to your team, your duty unfulfilled. If Destiny has a sense of humor, your name is a joke.”

          The elder then addressed the whole team. “Sometimes I wonder why Mata Nui chose you for this island. Some guardians of the peace you are. Perhaps I should have called on a team of Rahi instead of you.” He huffed, stamping his staff against the ground. “Six Lohrak would be better mannered!”

          “Aw Pit-water, Vammy,” Marik said, “With all that grumpiness, you’ve got no sense of fun. Just wait till Nepteran gets here, and then we’ll be able to pick proper teams. Chute-spit, what’s taking the dirt-head so long?”

          “That brings me to the point of why I called you here,” Vama said gravely. “The Toa of Earth is missing.”

Edited by RisingSoul

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Chapter 2

 

          All of the Toa started to speak at once. Over the din, Vama yelled. “Pipe down, would ya? I haven’t got all day.”

          The outburst subsided. “I had a vision,” The Turaga began, “and in it I saw an island, blazing with light like that of the sun.” As he spoke, he gestured wide and energetically. “The light reflected off the water in a brilliant display of colors, spanning the whole spectrum our eyes can see. The light became tainted, however, as a spot of darkness appeared. Spreading out like a blanket, it engulfed the whole island, and began devouring the seas beyond. It continued to spread, consuming other islands, until, far in the distance, I saw our home, Tavi Nui. I hoped against hope that the great shadow would stop and leave our island alone somehow, but the all-consuming darkness showed no sign of slowing.

          “As it grew nearer, I saw a glowing figure standing on the shore with his fist raised. As soon as the darkness came within striking distance, the figure brought his hand down with all his might upon the stony shore. The force sent a shockwave through the darkness, which screamed and thinned out to a faint shadow.

          “But the figure on the shoreline paid a price; his glow faded, and he knelt from fatigue. The shadow reinforced itself from the endless reservoir of its essence and wrapped itself around the figure, retreating with him to the east. Then, my vision ended.”

          “So you had a dream that Nepteran was kidnapped,” Hamak said.

          Vama waved his fists above his head. “I’m not done!” He cleared his throat, and then continued.

          “It was not until afterward that I realized the figure who had stood so bravely against the darkness was our Toa of Earth. I went looking for him, praying that what I had experienced was merely a nightmare, and that I would find the fellow laughing jovially as he helped his Matoran friends with their digging—or whatever those whippersnappers do these days. After three days of searching, however, and finding not a hint of Nepteran’s whereabouts, I accepted my vision as true, that Nepteran was indeed captured. I sent for you all to meet me here, and here we are. Now I want to know,” he paused to glare at each of the Toa in turn, “where you were when your brother was fighting the shadow?”

          There was an awkward silence. Then, Sahkmah spoke. “Why don’t we focus on what to do, and worry about assigning blame later?”

          “I’ll have your answers, and I’ll have them now,” Vama said.

          Ikapak rolled his head over his slouched shoulders. “I don’t remember,” he said. “Now if that’s all, I’ll be going. I’m not about to gallivant off to who-knows-where just because some fool Turaga fainted in the sun and had a dream.” Hamak caught him by the shoulder as he tried to walk past, and returned him to his place.

          “If our brother is in trouble,” the red Toa said, “we can’t just sit around and do nothing. Do you have any more clues, Turaga?”

          “I’m with our frosty friend on this one,” Marik put in. “Most likely Nepter tripped and hard-knocked himself out somewhere down in that windless Onu-Kota colony. Those tunnels are such a maze you could be lost down there for weeks.” He shuddered.

          Vama raised his hand, silencing any further remarks. He put a finger to the spot on his mask that covered his mouth, then turned and crept toward the door. Positioning himself on one side of it, he thrust his staff around the frame. There was a thud, and something squealed. Quick as lightning, Vama reached around and brought out a struggling Ga-Matoran by the collar. “Kali,” he snapped. “Eavesdropping as usual, are you?”

          “N-no,” the blue villager stammered, “the eaves are right where they’re supposed to be. You can go outside and check if you want, haha . . . ha . . .” The Turaga’s eyes glared intensely, and it was clear he was not amused. “I just came to bring you something.”

          “What did you hear?” the elder demanded.

          “N-nothing,” the Matoran said. “Just something about Nepteran going missing and, uh, somebody fainting in the sun.” The elder’s grip tightened, and the Ga-Matoran squealed. “I don’t remember who, I swear!”

          The Turaga finally set her down. “Hmm.” he nodded thoughtfully, his tone lowering in a disquieting way. “Kali, I have a job for you. You see, we have a group of Toa here who are about to go on a long, perilous journey.” He dug into his pack and pulled out a book of Shisi parchment with an ink pen in the binding. “Every Toa team needs a Chronicler.”

          Kali’s eyes lit up as she took the book from the Turaga’s hands. “Really?” 

          “Wha,” Ikapak started in protest. He raised his hands a little to each side, palms up. “That’s a terrible idea. We can’t just take a Matoran into the unknown. She’d fall into so much danger, and dragging her out would be way too much of a bother.”

          “Keep your personal mutterings to yourself,” Vama said, rapping his staff against the white Toa’s legs. “Kali will go along with you on your mission, and that is that.”

          “Oh, thank you,” Kali exclaimed.

          “By the way, Kali,” Sahkmah said, “you said you had something to show the Turaga?”

          “Oh, yes. Here.” The blue Matoran pulled a tablet out of a sack that had fallen to the ground. The Toa leaned in around her to see what was written on it. “I found this on the Ga-Kota shoreline.”

          “Well, that’s definitely Nepter’s handwriting,” Marik said. “I couldn’t mistake it for anything, ‘xcept maybe a Muaka’s claw mark. What does it say?”

          Sahkmah looked it over. “It says ‘East.’”

          “Yeah, sure,” Ikapak said. “Looks to me like it says, ‘Bisk.’”

          Hamak raised a finger. “It can’t say ‘east.’ There isn’t anything past Ga-Kota. Just an endless expanse of water.”

          “Nonsense,” Vama said. “There are many things to the east. They just aren’t on our maps.” Then he muttered, “And for good reason, too.”

          “I guess that makes sense,” Hamak said, rubbing his mask below his mouth.

          “Yes,” Marik agreed, “you couldn’t find better proof than that. Except maybe scratched on the wall of a Muaka den. Let’s go.”


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Chapter 3

 

          “If we’re trying to get across the sea,” Polin said, as the seven of them descended a flight of stairs, “why are we going into the basement?”

          Vama snorted. “You want to swim? Or maybe you think you can fly.”

          The Toa had assumed they would go to Ga-Kota to look for further clues, but instead of taking them to the ferry, the elder had led them down one of the Temple’s halls to a mural on the wall of a figure presiding over the ocean. It wore a majestic Kanohi Mask with thick, upward-pointing hook-like protrusions following its jaw and cheek plates, and brows jutting slightly past the top corners. Under its left hand was a starburst with outgoing spikes, and under its right, one with ingoing spikes.

          The Turaga had looked the carving over as if searching for something, mumbling incoherently. He had then pressed one of the islands so that it pivoted, creating a handle. Vama pulled it, and a door opened, splitting the space between two versions of Tavi Nui, one upside-down. Before them, illuminated by Vama’s torch, was a staircase of smooth stone leading to the heart of the Temple.

          Kali broke the silence, scribbling in her Chronicler’s book. “Our heroes descended to the dark, dank depths beneath the Great Temple, quivering in the throes of anxiety. Who could know what great terrors lurked below?”

          “Throes of anxiety?” Marik said, uncomfortably loudly for the confined space.

          “Hush,” Kali said, “I’m adding dramatic embellishment. Who would want to read about Toa just going down a plain old flight of stairs?”

          Marik grumbled. “Well, would you embellish with something a little less un-heroic?”

          At the bottom, they found a large room, its shape obscured by the dancing shadows of irrational shapes cluttering the walls. With a closer look, the shapes could be seen to be levers, dials, and gauges. Unusual features for a temple. At the far end of the room and on either side, hallways led away into hungry darkness.

          “What is this place?” Sahkmah said, staring with disquieted fascination at the decor.

          Vama grunted. “Pretend you never knew it was here. I had hoped the day would never come when I had to—No no no, don’t touch that!” the Turaga leaped to the side and swatted Marik’s hand away from a lever he had just pulled. A loud rumble came from behind the walls, and the room began to shake. Quick as a flash, Vama jerked the stick back to where it had been, both fists clenched tightly around it, his eyes flaring. After a moment, the groaning stopped. Vama’s grip slackened, and he let go. “I knew I should have contracted Le-Metru to install code locks on these things.”

          “What was that?” Marik said, a hint of a tremble in his voice.

          “I said forget about it.” Vama waved his hand. “And don’t touch anything else. That goes for the rest of you too.”

          “Who else knows about this place?” Hamak asked.

          “Nobody,” Vama replied, flipping a combination of switches and levers. “Except Turaga Vela, obviously.”

          A panel in the center of the room opened with a hiss. From beneath it, Toa-sized canisters rose up, one after another, six in all.

          “Sacred Kraata,” Marik swore. “Are those what I think they are?” Canisters were a crude method of inter-island travel. Big enough for one Toa each, they would seal up and travel a pre-programmed course across the ocean. For long voyages, the passengers could opt to be put into an unconscious state.

          “There is no way you can make me ride in one of those,” Ikapak said, thrusting forward a finger.

          “This time, I have to agree with the freeze-dried one here,” Marik admitted. “Canisters are for mask-tales and Toa of other-far places, not for Marik.”

          Kali, whose eyes had been growing brighter, suddenly squealed and darted into one of the pods. “Yeah!” she cried, turning to face outward, and raising her fists in the air, “I get to ride the waves Toa style!”

          “Hmph,” Vama said. “Might as well, seeing as we’re one Toa short at the moment.” He looked at the others, and shook his staff at them. “Well, what are you scallywags waiting for?”

          Hamak was the next one to climb into a canister. He looked at Marik, who stood defiant as a brick. “What,” he said to the green Toa, “claustrophobic?”

          “Ha.” Marik indignantly hopped into the next canister and sealed it closed. Hamak grinned behind his mask, imagining the green Toa rattling off a joke from inside its soundproof walls, oblivious to the fact that no one could hear him.

          “I claim the biggest one,” Polin said, moving toward one of the canisters.

          “They’re all the same size,” Sahkmah said.

          “No,” Polin said, “I’m pretty sure this one is bigger.”

          Sahkmah shrugged. “Whatever you say.” She climbed into one of the remaining pods.

          Looking at the rest of his team, Ikapak grumbled. “You guys are mad,” he said. Nonetheless, he stepped into the last canister, shaking his head. “I can’t believe I’m doing this.”

          “One question,” Sahkmah asked the Turaga before closing her pod, “how do you know where to send us?”

          “The stone said ‘east,’ didn’t it?”

          Sahkmah shook her head. “You wouldn’t just send us into the middle of the sea on the off chance we’ll run into an island. The ocean is far too big for that. Unless we’re precisely aimed, we’ll miss and drift along for Mata Nui knows how long. Years, or maybe even centuries.”

          The Turaga looked at her appraisingly. “You think too much Sahkmah,” he said, “and sometimes I don’t know if that’s a good thing or bad. For now, you’ll have to trust me.”

          Sahkmah hesitantly nodded her head, and closed her canister. With everyone ready, Vama punched a sequence into a keypad, then pulled the final lever. The canisters sank into the floor with a mechanical hum. As they disappeared, Vama patted his hands together as if knocking dust off them. “Finally,” he muttered, picking up his staff and walking back toward the exit, “we can have some peace and quiet around here.”

 

(==========)

 

          Mechanical arms set the six canisters, with their Toa and Matoran occupants, horizontally onto a moving track. The track fed them into tubes, which launched them into the sea. They traveled underwater for a short distance, before breaking the surface near the lesser island of Ga-Kota. The Toa’s journey had begun.

Edited by RisingSoul

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Chapter 4

 

          Hamak woke with a jolt, in utter blackness. He tried to sit up, but banged his head on something. Using his Power over Fire, he lit a candle-sized tongue of flame to see with. Metal on every side. His heartblink rose and he gasped. He was in a coffin, buried alive! He was . . .

          No. He forced himself to slow his breathing. He was in a canister, traveling the ocean. Come to think of it, he should feel the swaying of the waves. The pod was solidly still, so he must have arrived at . . . wherever he had been sent. Uncertainty groped at him, and he felt the panic stirring again. Beyond the confines of this Protodermis womb was a smothering shadow, a shifting, curling, vapor of horrors beyond imagination.

          His shaking hand found the spring-locked control panel, which clicked open. He pressed a button, and a hissing sound came from near his head. With alarm, he felt the air pressure build up around him. Why did the door not open? He reached for the control panel again, but an ear-shattering boom slammed into him like a hammer, and the next thing he knew, he was sprawled face-down on a blanket of pale orange sand.

          “Someone’s feeling flash-bangy today,” Marik’s voice sang out.

          Hamak grunted and pushed himself up onto his hands and knees. He was on a beach. To his left, he found the lid of his canister. He must have triggered the emergency escape instead of the door. Standing, he saw that all of the other canisters were accounted for. They had made it together.

          He jumped as a second boom rang out. Hamak turned to see Kali leap to her feet, fling her arms in the air, and yell “wahoo!” How was it that a Matoran could take all this with excitement, while he, the Toa of Fire, was so on edge?

          Steadying himself, Hamak took stock of their surroundings. They were on a beach, at the edge of a small inlet. Farther up the shore, some scruffy vegetation grew in clumps at the foot of a steep, jagged wall of dark brown rock. On top of this, a great black wall towered high over everything. Hamak swallowed, old tales bubbling into his consciousness, told by the Turaga over firelight. Tales of a Place of Shadow, a mysterious island fortress that appeared and disappeared like a spirit in the mist.

          “Guys,” Hamak said, his voice shallow, “are we where I think we are?”

          “Afraid so,” Sahkmah said. Though the sound of her voice was comforting, the confirmation of his fear hit solidly like a spear through the foot. This place, where Turaga Vama had sent them, where Nepteran was lost, or being held prisoner . . .

          Kali’s voice broke the silence. Startled, Hamak turned to see her writing in her Chronicler’s book. “Emerging from their canisters after a long, perilous journey, the Toa found themselves at the great gloomy fortress of Destral, the home base of the Brotherhood of Makuta.”

          “Shush!” Hamak hissed at her. There was a tense silence for an infinite moment, while the six stood, glancing rapidly in every direction. Six breaths were held, six pairs of eyes open. Then Marik dashed for the inlet’s relative cover. His motion caused something like the breaking of a spell, and the others scrambled after him. The back of the inlet held a relative protection from prying eyes, but it was still too open for comfort, and the canisters they had left behind were a dead giveaway.

          “Great,” Ikapak said bitterly. “It had to be Destral. We’re no better than walking corpses.”

          “We need a plan,” Hamak said, not feeling much more encouraged than his frosty companion. The red Toa paced, trying to force his mind through the murk of fight-or-flight mode.

          “It’s just our luck that we don’t know what our masks do,” Ikapak said. “Won’t it be ironic when we’re all lying in a scrap heap, when all along one of us could have turned invisible or something.”

          “That’s not what ‘ironic’ means,” Kali said, shaking her pen at him. The icy Toa’s grimness seemed to have no effect on her.

          Hamak knelt and drew a crescent in the sand. “This is the island.” He poked a spot on the convex edge of the crescent. “We must be here. The fortress covers nearly the entire island, with the exception of the south. The outside of the walls is patrolled by Rahkshi and Visorak. We are probably lucky they have not come across us already. The best chance we have of getting over the wall undetected might be . . .” he lifted his finger uncertainly, then hesitantly pointed to another spot on the diagram, “here. Once we are inside, we should lay low—”

          Hamak was interrupted by a loud screech, which caused them all to leap to their feet, eyes darting frantically in search of its source. It had sounded like it had come from close by, but all they could see was the beach, the sea, and the empty cliff face.

          Another screech pealed from a spot next to the group. Marik stood paralyzed, his Wingblades shaking in his hands. He stared at the exact spot the screech had originated. There was nothing there.

          Like a contagion, the trembling spread through them all. It bespoke a synchronicity, as if an incorporeal sticky fluid had connected them and spread out to a plate, growing thick, then hard, then brittle.

          With the next screech, reality shattered. Throwing dignity to the winds, Hamak fled, dimly aware of his companions closely around him. Had he been thinking rationally, he would have stayed, trying to figure out how best to deal with an invisible enemy. But he wasn’t. He were overrun with fear. With pure, white, terror.

          Another screech pierced the air, ahead of them and a little to the side. It drove them up the rocks. Another forced them inland, toward the fortress. The extra-universal screeches were all around them now. Hamak leaped this way and that, all thoughts of escape or fight drowned by mad instinct.

          Then, inexplicably, the unnatural sounds stopped. Hamak looked up to see a grotesque statue, or perhaps it was more like a carving. It was shaped roughly like a cylinder or cone, growing wider as it went upward, and peaking with a domed top. But the statue’s sole eye drew his attention above all else. It was huge—Kali could have curled up and fit inside it—and it was centered just above the Toa’s eye level, closed.

          Suddenly, it clacked opened. Hamak had just enough time to gasp involuntarily before he sank to his knees, then fell prostrate and blacked out.


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Chapter 5

 

          Hamak felt consciousness returning. As his vision cleared, he found himself staring into the eyes of a strange creature. The creature looked . . . artificial, like some amalgamation of a Bohrok, a Rahkshi, and a Visorak. Four legs protruded from its hips, the front pair of which were very long. Its knees were sharply bent, giving it a spider-like appearance. Its upper body was hunched over, its head hanging past its forward knees. Hamak was startled to see hands at the ends of its arms, contrasting starkly with its otherwise arthropoid shape.

          Hamak was in a sitting position, leaning back against a wall, head pounding, as if he had been drugged. Somewhere to his right, he could hear Marik sputter, “Of all the Pit-spawned creations of Karz—”

          “Shut it,” The creature hissed in a phlegmatic voice, skittering out of Hamak’s sight.

          Through the fading grogginess in his mind, Hamak became aware of Sahkmah next to him, and assumed that the other Toa must be beyond her. Looking around, he found he was in a five-by-ten bio room hewn from rusty tan rock. A thin layer of dust filled the air, tinting everything a reddish hue. He guessed they were inside the fortress, possibly even the palace.

          Some rescue mission this had been. Now they were all captured, with no one left to come after them. They would need to work together and rely on each other.

          The creature spoke again. “Who are you?”

          Hamak stood up for a good view to check on his companions. “I’m Ham,” he said. He pointed to each of the others, going down the line. “And these are Sam, Ike, Mick, and Pokey. And Kal.” So Nepteran was not in the room with them. Hamak sighed. That was no big surprise, but it would have saved them the trouble of searching for him.

          The creature rolled its head. “Funny,” it said. “I’ll have your real names now.”

          “And why should we give our names to a freak like you?” Marik sneered.

          The creature rounded on him. “You shut up and answer my questions, or I’ll answer your questions by shutting you up.”

          “Takeura,” a new voice cut in. It was deep and feminine, with a slither that seemed ready to strike, “get out of here before I see fit to tear your legs off.” Through a door came a being taller than a Toa by half, completely covered in dark magenta and black armor crafted with muscular curves and powerful form. Hamak had never seen a Makuta before, but he vowed to eat his mask if this newcomer was not one of them.

          “Yes, Veloqx,” Takeura said, hunching forward in a bow that made Hamak’s back hurt to watch. The creature skittered out of the room.

          Sahkmah spoke, addressing the newcomer, Veloqx. “There’s been a mistake. We were on a journey, and accidentally ended up here. If you please, we would like to be on our way.”

          Hamak nodded inwardly at her bluff. If they could get themselves sent back to sea, maybe they could secretly return for another try at finding Nepteran.

          “It was no mistake,” Veloqx said, turning. “Follow me.”

          They got up and followed Veloqx from the room into a vast corridor of polished gray stone. Along the walls stood pillars, carved with shapes that might have been writing, though not Matoran script.

          Veloqx paused and held up a hand. “Do not step on the second, fourth, or fifth green tiles.” Then she continued. As they walked around the tiles, the Toa eyed them nervously. Hamak tried not to think about what would happen if they triggered one of Destral’s rumored security measures.

          Through an archway, they entered a large room, presided over by an austere throne. Another Makuta stood over a small Rahi in a cage, with his back to them. He was even taller than Veloqx, and two great pairs of black wings hung over his shoulders and down his back like a cloak. Suddenly, the new Makuta’s fingers grew five times in length and turned into claws, stabbing the animal. He slowly retracted the claws, drawing the squirming lizard from the cage. Before their eyes, the Rahi turned black, and then crumbled to dust in his hand. As the Toa stared in shock, the Makuta turned to face them, hand returning to normal.

          Veloqx bowed to the figure. “Icarax.”

          The Toa backed away as the new Makuta stepped toward them. Studying his hand, he said, “Under normal circumstances, I would do the same to any Toa I came across as I did to the Hikaki. However, the Brotherhood has a use for Toa at the moment.”

          Icarax turned to the side and looked up, as if pretending the lowly Toa he spoke to did not exist. “We face a new enemy,” he said, “more powerful than our rivals, the Dark Hunters. It is a new kind of shadow, one that appears to be an intangible force, which bends all the elements to its whim. It appears to be intelligent, and to have some agenda, though we cannot figure out what it might be.”

          Out of the corner of his eye, Hamak saw Marik trying to get his attention. The green Toa jerked his head in the direction of the exit, which Hamak saw was empty and unguarded. He looked back at the two Makuta. Veloqx was looking at Icarax, who nearly had his back to them, as if studying a spot high up on the wall. If the Makuta were distracted, what chance might the Toa have of escaping if they tried to run?

          Hamak caught the gaze of Ikapak, who nodded. That made three of them. Hamak checked Sahkmah, Polin, and Kali, and found them focused intently on Icarax’s words. Hamak frowned behind his mask. If he could get their attention without alerting the Makuta, and they made a break for it, what would they do next? They could blunder into a Makuta at any turn. And, if the legends were true, Destral Palace was full of deadly traps.

          Hamak met Marik’s eyes and shook his head. So much would have to go right for their attempt to be successful, and the consequences if they failed would almost definitely be painful. It would be best to wait for another opportunity.

          Icarax was still speaking. “The Brotherhood has located an island, where we believe the heart of the shadow resides. We have tried to approach the island, but have been prevented from it. However, we have seen Rahi come and go to the island unhindered, as their instincts dictate. This led us to the conclusion that this shadow force is not concerned with lesser beings, creatures that it decides are no threat to it.”

          “Wait,” Marik said, drawing out the word, “are you calling us Toa-heroes Rahi?”

          Icarax ignored him.

          A thought suddenly struck Hamak. Were the Makuta sending them on a mission? If so, might they release Nepteran to go with them? Hamak began to speak, but stopped before the first syllable could form. A worry rippled at the fringes of his mind. He did not want to think it, did not want to consider it possible. Nevertheless, it wormed its way into his consciousness so that he couldn’t ignore it. Icarax had openly admitted to killing Toa by sucking the life out of them. Could he have done the same to Nepteran? No, that wasn’t worth worrying about. Nepteran was fine, but he was locked up in a dark cell somewhere in the fortress, and he would stay there if Hamak didn’t ask this Makuta to free him.

          He took a deep breath. “Makuta Icarax,” he said, “you may be holding Nepteran, our sixth Toa, um, prisoner. As you know, Toa need a full team of six to work at full ability, so . . .” He trailed off.

          Veloqx answered. “How long ago did this sixth Toa of yours go missing?”

          “Two, maybe three days ago,” Hamak said. “I’m not quite sure.”

          “Then he is not here. Aside from you five, the most recently we appropriated a Toa was three years ago.”

          Icarax turned and walked toward the throne. “Leave, Veloqx.”

          Veloqx herded the Toa out of the room, and they fell into step as she once again led them through the halls.

          Sahkmah spoke up. “Which direction is this shadow island you’re sending us to?”

          “East,” Veloqx said.

          The blue Toa turned to Hamak. “This new island might be where Nepteran is.”

          So their teammate was not with the Makuta, but on another island so clothed in shadow that not even the Makuta could fight against it? What terror, what abomination, what wretched madness was Destiny leading them into?

          The room they entered was full of machinery of all kinds. There were tubes and cylinders, levers and buttons, wires and cables, gauges and screens. The room was so packed that there did not seem to be any space to move about.

          “The Toa bravely followed their captor into the lair of a mad philosopher,” Kali said, her pen scratching over the pages of her book.

          “Really, Kali,” Marik said, “at a time like this?”

          A Makuta in green and black armor looked up from one of the screens, and stood. “Welcome to the crucible of scientific research in the Universe,” he said. “I’m Altroz.”

          He introduced himself, Hamak thought. That simple courtesy makes him the most polite being we’ve encountered on our journey yet.

          Altroz continued, in a cheery voice. “You must be the new test subjects.”

          Oh, never mind.

          “Wait,” Polin said, “test subjects?” He turned to Veloqx. “I thought you said you were sending us on a mission.”

          “That is so,” Veloqx said. “This method of transport has not been . . . used at the scale of individual beings before.”

          “Hold up,” Hamak said, “what are we getting ourselves into? Can’t we just use our canisters to get there?”

          “Your pods are being sent back where they came from as we speak,” Veloqx said. “Where you’re going, canisters cannot take you.”

          Altroz’s eyes glowed brightly. “I have crated a device that implements the island’s lateral phase-shifting technology on the order of one bio!” He bounded out of sight behind some machinery, waving for them to follow.

          The Toa looked at each other, and then hesitantly followed. They found him standing next to a circular yellow pad, large enough for the Toa and Kali to stand on. The Toa eyed it warily.

          “So what does it do?” Hamak asked.

          “I just told you,” Altroz said, sounding confused. “It—”

          “It’s a teleporter,” Veloqx interrupted.

          “No it’s not,” Altroz said, waving his arms up and down. “Teleportation entails instantaneous travel. This shifts your lateral phase.”

          “Which has the same effect as teleporting,” Veloqx said.

          Altroz muttered under his breath. “It’s completely different.” He turned to the Toa and gestured to the pad. “Step onto the circle.”

          Hamak did so hesitantly, along with Kali and the rest of the Toa. It was a tight fit, but they all managed to get on.

          “Away you go,” Altroz said, reaching for the nearest pad of buttons.

          “Wait a minute,” Hamak said quickly, causing the Makuta scientist to look at him, hand hovering over the keys. “You said it’s never been tried before. What will happen if it malfunctions?”

          Altroz shrugged. “Oh, at worst you’ll end up stranded in complete darkness in a plane between realities. But don’t worry; someone or other opens a portal through it every now and then. You won’t be stranded for more than a thousand years or two.”

          Before Hamak could register this information, Altroz tapped a quick sequence into the console, and something happened that was so bizarre to experience that Hamak was sure he would never cease to be confounded by it. The machinery, the Makuta, the walls, the ceiling, and even the platform they were standing on seemed as one object to fold itself to the side, as if it were a mural carved on a door that was being opened in front of the Toa into complete darkness. The sight compressed until there was only a parchment-thin line of light shining into the void, and then it was gone.

          The darkness folded too, giving way to a pale blue glow. The experience was so disorienting that Hamak lost his balance and fell hard onto his side on a stone floor.


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Chapter 6

 

          Sahkmah lay, waiting for her senses to catch up with her surroundings. Taking a breath, she sat up. She was at the dead end of a tunnel hewn out of rough, black-gray stone. Pale blue light came from big, vertical cylinders that lined the walls farther down. Hamak and Marik were lifting themselves off the ground, and Polin was sitting upright. Kali was already standing, as was Ikapak. Tinted cyan in the ghostly light, the icy Toa leaned against the wall with his face resting in his palm.

          “I guess Altroz’s gizmo worked,” Hamak said, rising to his feet. “Is everyone okay?” His crimson mask and armor looked almost black, with a bluish tint, and only a lingering hint of red.

          Sahkmah pulled herself to her feet. “I’m fine.”

          Kali got her Chrinicler’s book out. “The Toa . . .” she began. Then she paused. “Darn it, I can’t see.” She moved toward the part of the tunnel that the light was coming from.

          “Come on,” Hamak said to the rest of the Toa. “We should stick together.” Sahkmah shivered. Something evil lived here, and even the Makuta did not know what it was. If they did not use all caution, the very darkness might devour them, one by one.

          In front of them, Kali stopped moving, her book held stiffly at her side. She was staring at one of the two nearest glowing cylinders, their combined light casting no shadows on her. From this distance, Sahkmah could see that the cylinders were stasis tubes, like the ones she had heard about in the Onu-Metru Archives. She quickened her step to get a better look. What she saw made her gasp and put her hand to her Heart Stone.

          Each pod, all down the hall, contained a living, maskless Toa.

          Who could have the power and the predatory insanity to do such a thing? Sahkmah wondered. The Makuta, perhaps, but that wouldn’t make sense. Someone else, then. Someone unknown.

          Ikapak’s voice broke the silence. “So Icarax sent us here as a gift?”

          “No,” Polin said, “he sent us to defeat whoever captured them.”

          “That’s what he said,” Ikapak retorted, his voice rising in pitch, “but Makuta lie and stab you in the back. Just look.” He moved to stand facing the group, and raised his arms to each side, indicating the rows of stasis tubes. “There are Toa in these pods. I don’t know, maybe what they said about a new enemy is true, but they didn’t send us as saboteurs; they sent us as a peace offering.”

          “No way,” Hamak said, stepping forward. “That can’t possibly be true.”

          Sahkmah felt a sinking feeling in her core. “No,” she said, “it makes sense.”

          “Look,” Polin said, gesturing stiffly with one arm, “if they wanted us captured, then why are we . . . Why didn’t they . . .”

          Hamak finished for him, pointing over his shoulder. “Why are we standing out here, instead of floating in one of those. The Makuta already had us in their grasp. They could have just sent us here while we were unconscious instead of putting on a front and tricking us into going.”

          “Exactly,” Polin said.

          That argument made sense too, and brought Sahkmah back to the present. Regardless of why they had been sent here, she realized, they were free for the moment. She walked up to the control panel beside the nearest tube. “We should see if we can free some of them. Maybe they can tell us about this place.”

          Hamak stepped up behind her, looking over the console. He put a finger to one of the symbols. “This isn’t Matoran. You still think you can figure it out?”

          “I have a Rau, a Mask of Translation,” Sahkmah replied. She triggered her mask, and the symbols changed and rearranged themselves in her sight into familiar Matoran letters. At the top of the panel formed the words, Name: Lison. Element: Air. Found at Kohea. Some of the buttons also had words, but she either did not recognize them or did not know what they were meant to do.

          “So . . .” Marik said, drawing out the word, “you knew what your mask does?”

          Sahkmah suspected she knew where the question was leading. “Yes,” she said.

          “And you didn’t think that maybe your Toa-brothers might want to know?”

          Sahkmah sighed. “It must have slipped my mind.” Truth be told, it was partly because she had not thought the ability significant enough to mention, and partly because she had not wanted to make the others jealous of her being the only Toa on the team who knew her Mask Power.

          “But you can’t just keep something like that a secret,” Kali piped up. She dropped her voice to a morose tone. “And that kind of reveal makes for a boring story too. Oh, I know,” she pulled out her book and started scribbling in it. “I’ll say you discovered it in the heat of the moment, trying to decipher a riddle at the end of a hall while a stampeding herd of Kane-Ra closed in on us.”

          Marik slapped the forehead of his mask. “So now there’s a random pack of bulls?” He shook his head.

          Sahkmah stepped back from the stasis pod controls. “Guys, I don’t think I can figure this out.”

          “That’s all right,” Hamak said. “Why don’t we go explore this place. Maybe we can find the answer elsewhere.”

          At the end of the stasis chamber, a right-angled turn began a long hallway. The Toa’s colors to return to normal in the yellow light of the Lightstones embedded in the walls. Every few steps, a doorway branched off to the right, leading to another corridor full of stasis pods. One room contained Matoran, one contained Turaga, and one contained a strange species with enormous toothy grins. All were without masks. The next chamber held more Toa. However, these Toa were odd colors, such as aqua or silver. Sahkmah read one of the labels. “Name: Ketak. Element: Plantlife. Found at Ahua Nui.”

          “I’ve never heard of a Plantlife Toa before,” Marik remarked. “What do they do, grow flowers on their heads?”

          Ignoring him, Sahkmah moved on to inspect some of the other captured Toa. They all had unusual Powers. Lightning. Gravity. Plasma. Sonics.

          “Let’s keep searching,” Hamak said. “We aren’t likely to find Nepter here.”

          They all turned to leave except Sahkmah, who stared contemplatively at a pod with a teal-armored figure inside. Hamak turned back and grabbed her shoulder. “Sam, let’s keep moving.”

          “I wonder where he came from,” Sahkmah said, as if she had not heard him. “If we could talk to him, what would he have to say? What strange and wonderful things has he encountered? What things that are completely alien to us are part of his everyday life?” She turned to Hamak. “We can’t leave them like this. We have to save them.”

          Hamak blinked. “What?” His arms lifted to his sides and wobbled as he searched for a reply. “Look, Sam,” he said. “Look around you. How can five Toa, an incomplete team, hope to succeed where an army has not?”

          “I don’t know,” Sahkmah sighed.

          What they discovered in the next hall made their biological parts turn cold. Its pods contained floating pieces of armor, and around the armor flowed a green, smoky substance. The labels on the control panels confirmed the Toa’s fears; these pods contained Makuta.

          “What in the name of Mata Nui and all the Great Beings could have done this?” Sahkmah said. Her eyes were drawn in by the hypnotic shifting of green and blue, and she found herself in a place between dreaming and awake. There should be Toa in the stasis pods. Makuta would be absurd. She tried to will them to change back into Toa, but couldn’t. She tried to move, to wake up, to be somewhere else.

          A hand grasped her arm and gently pulled her away. She looked up and met Hamak’s concerned gaze. “Are you all right?” he said.

          Sahkmah pulled away from him. “Yeah, uh,” she took a breath. “No. I need . . .” They were back in the Lightstone-lit hallway. Her Toa brothers stood around her with worried posture. All except Nepteran. “This is real, isn’t it,” she said. Hamak nodded.

          The Toa, the Makuta, these gloomily-lit tunnels with no way out, they were real. She couldn’t put the book down, couldn’t go on a walk, couldn’t take a swim. These tunnels were here and now, present and real, and there was no escape.

          “Sahkmah.” Kali’s voice. Sahkmah looked down at her. “We’re all here with you. Don’t forget that. And we’re on an amazing adventure, living through a great story.” She tapped her Chronicler’s book.

          Sahkmah smiled, letting it reach her eyes so the Matoran could see it through her mask. Nothing can shake her, Sahkmah thought, not even these forsaken archives. Sahkmah found her senses had returned, and she determined to remain strong from then on, no matter what other horrors they might find.


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Chapter 7

 
          They searched the stasis pods until they came to a stone door at the end of the corridor. Hamak tried the handle, but it was locked. 
          “Let me at it,” Polin said.
          Hamak stepped aside to let Polin bring the door down with his Power over Stone. The brown Toa bowed his head and extended his hands toward the wall. The other five stood expectantly. After a moment, Polin’s posture changed to confusion. He moved his hand to one side, then the other, but nothing happened.
          Hamak noticed his demeanor. “What’s wrong?” he said.
          The bronze Toa shook his head and said, “it’s nothing.” Then, realizing his words would be easily misinterpreted, he elaborated. “I mean, the door. I can’t feel it. It’s like nothing. Like it’s not even there.”
          “That’s because it isn’t,” a new voice interjected. Sahkmah jumped as a new figure materialized through the door. He was a Toa, his armor copper and dark green. “It’s an illusion. You see it, your mind thinks it’s there, so it becomes solid to your touch. All you have to do is stop believing in it.”
          Marik walked up to it and rapped it with his knuckles. “It’s still hard-rock.”
          “Did you not hear what I just said?” the newcomer asked, “You have to stop believing it’s there. Only then will it let you through.”
          “Let me try,” Sahkmah said. She reached forward, then changed her mind and drew her hand back in a fist. Hamak cried out for her not to hurt herself, but she took no heed. Without further hesitation, she plunged her hand into the wall.
          It was not what she expected. Sure, she knew her hand would go through, but she had thought it would feel like static electricity, or maybe water. It was odd, seeing stone but feeling nothing but air.
          “Great job,” the newcomer said. “Most people don’t get it right away.”
          “Listen, friend,” Hamak said. “We’re on a mission to find one of our team members who has gone missing. Do you think you could help us find him?”
          “And what is this place?” Sahkmah asked, “and who in the name of Mata Nui built it?”
          The stranger spread his hands and tilted his head back a little, his eyes glimmering. “You’re looking at him.”
          There was a moment of confused silence, and then Marik burst out laughing. “A Toa-hero living in caves, capturing other Toa? Good one.”
          The stranger growled, raising his hand toward the green Toa. “You had better believe it.”
          Marik’s laughter was cut short as an unseen force lifted him off the ground. He flailed, reflexively searching for the strings that held him. Strings that weren’t there.
          So the stranger was a Toa of Air, and not an ally. Sahkmah gethered moisture in preparation for a counterattack, when all of a sudden she fell to one knee, feeling her body weight increase tenfold. She gasped, trying to think. Not Air then. Gravity?
          “Believe me,” the stranger said. Heat suddenly poured over Sahkmah in waves, her weight not letting up. “I am Kupanu.” Sahkmah gasped as the air around her was exsiccated, all of the moisture she had gathered suddenly gone. “The Toketahka.” What was going on? What Power did this strange being command? “Toa . . .” Beneath her, the ground turned to putty. Sahkmah cried out as she was sucked into the swirling stone. “. . . of Everything.”
 
(==========)
 
          The first thing Sahkmah became aware of was the cold, hard stone beneath her. She let out a sigh of relief, thanking Mata Nui she was not in stasis. Sitting up and looking around, she found she was in a room of the same gray-black stone as the archives. The others lay nearby, regaining consciousness.
          “Well, look who’s waking up. Good morning.” Kupanu leaned against the wall next to the only door, arms crossed.
          Marik growled as he rose. “Why you Kraata-infested spawn of a—” That was as far as he got before falling flat on his mask.
          Kupanu shook his head and tsked. “Do not forget, I am the Toketahka. I control everything.”
          Marik lay, taking deep, labored breaths, as if exhausted.
          “Oh, don’t try to get up,” Kupanu said, “it will only make things worse. You see, I’ve created a field around you that will drain your energy if you so much as think of moving. A little trick I learned from a deep-dwelling Rahi friend of mine.”
          Marik managed to gasp out a curse. “Go . . . to the Pit.”
          “Already been there,” Kupanu said, shrugging. “Anyway, it’s not you I want right now.” He turned and looked straight at Sahkmah. “Stand up.”
          Sahkmah’s breath caught, and she clutched her chest. “Me?” She rose to her feet, almost subconsciously.
          “Yes, you. You’re coming with me.”
          Kali’s voice suddenly rang out. Startled, Sahkmah turned to see her scrawling away in her book. “The Toa’s captor beckoned our azure hero to follow him into the unknown. What terrors and unspeakable evils did he have in store for her?”
          “Ah, so you brought a comedian,” Kupanu said.
          Kali waved her finger at him. “Uh, dramatist,” she said, drenching the words in mockery.
          Kupanu laughed. “Write me something. If I like it, maybe I’ll keep you around.” He looked back toward Sahkmah. “Are you coming, or am I gonna have to make you?”
          The air on the side of Sahkmah opposite the door grew uncomfortably warm. Stiffening, she walked toward the Toketahka, her movement mechanical, her eyes focused on a spot on the wall next to him. She would not show the courtesy of eye contact to someone who would use force on her like this.
          “Good choice,” he said, eyes shining. “I wouldn’t want to evaporate you.”
          Why would he want her? Would he interrogate her? Would he torture her? She swallowed her fear, and thought of Kali, the bravest of Matoran, who could see excitement and adventure no matter how grim or dire the situation. Sahkmah decided then that no matter what happened, she would not lose her head. Maybe she could get him talking, and he would let something important slip. Maybe she could even talk him into letting them go. It was a long shot, but the least she could do was try. As she reached the door, she looked back at Kali, and gave her a palms up.

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Chapter 8

 

          “I know you have a lot of questions,” Kupanu said as they walked down the hall, “who I am, how I can have all this power, and why I live in a place like this.”

          “Yes, I suppose so,” Sahkmah said. At the moment, Nepteran was at the front of her mind. Kupanu seemed to like the sound of his own voice, and if she could feed him the right prompts, maybe she would be able to piece together how to rescue her friend.

          “I actually noticed you had only five Toa in your group,” Kupanu said. “I have a plan for you, so I could check and see if I have the sixth one, and maybe let him rejoin you.”

          What? Sahkmah thought, her Heartlight skipping a blink. Can he read my thoughts?

          Kupanu looked at her from the corner of his eye. “Yes, I can.”

          The slow dribble of emotion through Sahkmah’s inner water lock became a torrent as the dam broke open. How could she keep anything from someone who could read her mind like a book? Any stray thought would be known, whether she meant to think it or not. Her team could keep no secrets, make no plans—

          “You’ll just have to accept it,” Kupanu said.

          “Stop it!” Sahkmah cried, panic rising within her.

          “You stop it,” Kupanu said. “What’s your problem?”

          With tremendous effort, Sahkmah stilled her rapid breathing. He was getting angry, and that might be worse than a breakdown. She couldn’t stop her hands from trembling, but otherwise, she was okay.

          “Here we are.” Kupanu opened a door that led into a room with flat, textured walls. It was lit by Lightstone lamps, giving it an almost homelike feel, much different from the dark stone tunnels. This did nothing to alleviate her anxiety. She was still trapped here with a super-powered lunatic.

          “Sit down,” Kupanu invited, gesturing to an extremely wide seat with three cushions on it. Sahkmah supposed it must either be to lie down on, or for several beings to sit on at one time. Or for one very wide being. She sat.

          Kupanu approached a desk and picked up a thin box. Its top was covered in buttons, except for a circular protrusion, which had a configuration of tiny lenses. “What’s your friend’s name?” he asked.

          She told him, and he started pressing keys on the box. Above the lensed part, bright orange images of text appeared floating in the air. It was the same script as was written on the stasis tube consoles, and her mask translated it so she could read what it said. The device seemed to be able to store data, and Kupanu was flipping through menus. Oh Takea Sharks, she thought. Now he knows my mask power. She waited for him to make some comment, but he seemed absorbed in what he was doing. Could he only read her mind if he was concentrating on it?

          “I found him,” Kupanu said, making Sahkmah jump. “Nepteran, Earth, from Tavi Nui. Hall 5B, mask in Cache 6.”

          A feeling of hope swelled within her. It had been so long since she had felt something besides dread and horror, and the dim, dusty ray of light shining through felt like a cleansing rain after a trek through the desert. “All right,” she said, standing. “Let’s go.” Kupanu replaced the box, and led her out the door.

          “Tell me,” he said as they walked, “how do the other Toa treat you?”

          “What do you mean?” Sahkmah said. “I’m their Sister.”

          “Do they treat you like a Sister should be treated? Do they value your wisdom and power?”

          What was he getting at? The others, Hamak, Marik, Polin, they were her Brothers. Of course, they treated her well.

          “Is that so,” Kupanu said, startling her.

          Sahkmah took a deep breath. Mind reading again. She would never get used to it.

          “I don’t see what the big deal is,” Kupanu said.

          “What, really?” She didn’t know how to explain it; it was wrong on so many levels.

          Kupanu waved a hand and scoffed.

          They turned down a hall of stasis pods. Suddenly afraid of what she was about to face, Sahkmah slowed. Her mind pushed back against the moment of truth that was too quickly approaching. Against her every instinct, She forced one step after another. When Kupanu stopped, she twisted her head slowly and effortfully, as if through mud. There, floating illuminated in a life-preserving solution, was the dark, powerful form of her lost Brother. Like all the other unfortunate beings who found themselves in Kupanu’s pods, Nepteran’s mask had been removed, revealing the gray flesh of his face. Metallic plates framed his eyes and angled down to his mouth, that hideous opening into a being’s core.

          The liquid in Nepteran’s pod flowed out, the line between wet and dry passing over his body. As the glass lowered, the black Toa’s eyes lit. His gaze swung around as if he was dazed, and he stumbled forward. Sahkmah put a foot back to brace herself, and caught him.

          “Sahkmah,” he said, “why am I so weak?

          “You just came out of suspended animation,” she said, helping him find his footing, “and you don’t have your mask.”

          Nepteran put a hand to his face, and shivered.

          Kupanu waved at them. “Come on, let’s go.”

          “Oh,” the black Toa said, “it’s you.”

          Kupanu laughed.

          As they walked, Nepteran shared how he and Kupanu had fought in Ga-Kota, confirming Turaga Vama’s interpretation of his vision. Sahkmah told Nepteran about their journey.

          Kupanu stopped at a door. “Here we are,” he said, “Cache 6.” He pushed the door open, and Sahkmah and Nepteran followed him into a room with masks of all shapes and colors covering the walls. Sahkmah recognized a few of the designs, but most were unfamiliar.

          “Now to find your Crast,” Kupanu said.

          Sahkmah looked at Nepteran. “So your mask power is Repulsion.”

          “Oh,” Nepteran said, searching the rows of carved faces, “yeah, neat.”

          “He used it out of nowhere in our battle,” Kupanu said. “It was kind of unfair.”

          “You’re one to talk about unfair,” Nepteran said.

          Sahkmah looked sideways at her companion. “Wait, so you already knew your Mask Power?”

          Nepteran smiled sheepishly, the expression sharply conspicuous on his exposed face. “Yeah, well, I didn’t want to be the—”

          “Only Toa on the team who knew his Mask Power,” Sahkmah finished for him. “That makes two of us. Oh, there it is!” She pointed to the familiar visage of Nepteran’s mask, with its large forehead and temples, and its wide, downward-slanting eye holes that always suggested he was about to burst into joyous laughter.

          Kupanu pulled it off its hook and tossed it to the black Toa. “Here,” he said. “Just remember that I can take it back whenever I want to.”

          Nepteran caught it and looked at it for a moment, relief written all over his face. He put it on, and took a power stance as the energy flowed into him, his back straightening, his shoulders broadening. “Ah, now that feels good.”

          Kupanu marched toward the door. “Okay,” he said, “we’re done here. Time to go back to the others.”

          As Sahkmah fell into step behind him, something in the corner of her vision caused her to stop. It was one of the masks, dark and pitted, shaped with menacing angles. And its eyes were glowing. Before Sahkmah could make sense of what she was seeing, the eyes went out, and it was just a mask once more.

          Kupanu called for her to hurry, and she quickened her step to catch up. Soon, they were back outside the room where the rest of the Toa were held.

          “You go on in,” Kupanu said to Nepteran. “I want to talk to the Ga-Toa.”

          Nepteran nodded, and opened the door. Sahkmah heard exclamations of surprise in the moment before the door closed. She smiled. They had achieved half of what they had set out to do. The other half was escaping.

          “Do you wonder why I keep you and your team awake, instead of in a stasis tube like all of my other trophies?” Kupanu asked.

          “Yes,” Sahkmah replied hesitantly. She was not sure she really wanted to know, but it had struck her as odd.

          Kupanu took a step away and tapped three fingers against the wall. “It’s a funny thing,” he said slowly. He paced by her, and studied his hand.  “I’ve been given all this power, yet I’m still not happy. I still feel like I’m missing something.”

          “I think I know what it is,” Sahkmah said quietly.

          “So do I,” Kupanu said. “Companionship. Although I’m Toketahka, I’m still a Toa. I need Brothers and Sisters.” He met Sahkmah’s eyes. “I keep you awake because I’m hoping that you and your team would be willing to be my companions, to live here with me.”

          Sahkmah felt laughter welling up inside of her, and she was once again thankful for the mask that hid her emotions. To stay here with this maniac who hunted Toa for fun and brought them back as “trophies”? Not in a million years.

          “What about your own team?” she asked. As far as she knew, all Toa were part of a team of six.

          “My own team? Ridiculous.” He snorted derisively. “It’s all up to you. What’s your answer?”

          Apparently, he was not reading her mind at the moment. That gave her some freedom, and she would use it. “I will have to talk it over with my team,” she said.

          Kupanu looked at her for a moment, and said, “fine.” He opened the door for her and leaned against the wall. “I’ll be waiting out here.”


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Chapter 9

 

          “It’s settled, then,” Hamak said. The six Toa had been in conference, debating how to answer Kupanu’s request. It had not taken long. “Let’s give him our answer.”

          “He’ll kill us the moment he hears it,” Ikapak said.

          “Not likely,” Nepteran said. “At worst, we’ll end up in stasis. And I can tell you, that’s not so bad.”

          “Speak for yourself,” Marik said. “You dirt-heads somehow thrive on tight-nasty spaces.”

          Hamak walked to the door. “Here we go.” He pushed it open and beckoned to Kupanu. “We are ready.”

          “All right,” the Toketahka followed Hamak into the room. The Toa arranged themselves in an arc around Kupanu, with Hamak and Sahkmah in the middle.

          Hamak spoke. “We have agreed to remain here with you.” Kupanu started to respond, but Hamak held up a hand and continued. “But we have two conditions.”

          “Name them,” the Toketahka replied, “I can give you anything you ask for.”

          “Relinquish all power except that which was yours as a normal Toa, and destroy the means of regaining it. Release all beings held in these archives.”

          Kupanu stood still for a moment. Then he began to tremble. Finally, he responded, sputtering. “First of all, that’s three conditions. Second, they are ridiculous.”

          “Ridiculous my face,” Marik said.

          “They are our terms,” Hamak said, “and they stand. No further compromises.”

          Kupanu looked at each of the Toa, and began to pace. “Do you all agree on this?” he asked. One by one, they nodded.

          “So, Kupanu,” Sahkmah said, “what will it be, omnipotence or companionship?”

          “Both!” Kupanu said. “I have the power to do anything. It doesn’t make sense,” he kicked a wall and a rock shard broke loose, “that I can have all this,” he pounded the wall with his fists, “and be so close to happiness, to see it,” his voice broke with sobs, “and still not get it.”

          An idea entered Sahkmah’s mind. It was crazy and dangerous, but she knew she had to try it. She took a few steps forward and placed a hand on Kupanu’s shoulder. Kupanu froze stiff. Sahkmah had no idea what he was thinking, but there was no going back now. “It certainly doesn’t seem fair,” she said calmly, “and it’s a big sacrifice we’re asking from you, but if you choose to make it, I know you’ll find happiness at last.”

          For a moment, nothing happened. Then Kupanu started shaking again, and Sahkmah thought that maybe she had gotten through to him. But when he looked up at her, his eyes burned a fiery red. “How could you be so cruel,” he said in a tone that made Ikapak seem warm and friendly by comparison.

          Sahkmah’s eyes flared, and she slowly backed away, her hand still stretched toward him. Suddenly, she was stopped, held by an invisible force. She could not speak nor turn her head, but only watch and listen as Kupanu screamed, louder than any Toa should be able to. He fell to his knees, and hovered into the air. Still screaming, his body seemed to stretch and grow transparent.

          For a moment Sahkmah thought he was dying, but then he stopped screaming and returned to normal. His eyes focused on something behind her. “No,” he said. “Could it be? Could I have only been looking in the wrong place?” He walked past her. In her peripheral vision, she could see that Nepteran and Ikapak were also frozen, but the others were in her blind spot.

          “Leave her alone,” a voice rang out. It was Polin’s. “She’s just the Chronicler.”

          Kali. Kupanu was going after Kali.

          “That’s right,” Hamak said, “it’s us you want. We’re the ones who pose a threat to you; leave Kali out—”

          Sahkmah tried to add her voice to her Brothers’, but she could not make a sound. The other Toa had become silent too. Kupanu must have muted them with his Power.

          “Do you hear what they’re saying?” Kupanu said. “Do you understand the meaning coming from their mouths? They barely see you as an intelligent being. Not even sentient, only as a pen and a sheet of parchment so that their ‘heroic deeds’ might be known once they return home. They crave nothing less than the worship of the lesser beings they protect, and you are nothing more than the thing that makes that possible.”

          Sahkmah tried with all her might to cry out, to shake her head, to do anything at all that might signal the falsehood of Kupanu’s words, but was unable even to move her eyes. Surely Kali could not be persuaded by such a ridiculous assertion.

          “Come with me,” he said in a slightly lighter voice than usual, “just to talk a little.”

          The deafening silence seemed to last for an eternity. Sahkmah wanted to scream. What was happening? Why didn’t Kali speak?

          What she heard next made her Heart Stone sink. Footsteps. Then, Kupanu and Kali entered her peripheral vision. To Sahkmah’s surprise, Kupanu had shape-shifted into a Matoran. That must have been why his voice had changed. Kupanu led Kali out the door with a hand on her shoulder.

          As soon as the Toa could move again, they raced to the door. Finding it unlocked, Hamak threw it open, yelling “Kali!” at the top of his lungs. But the hall was empty.

          “It is no use,” Ikapak said. “They’re gone.”

          “Don’t say that,” Hamak retorted.

          Nepteran grabbed the crimson Toa’s shoulder. “Have faith in her, Brother. Trust that Kali will do the right thing.”

          Hamak took a deep breath. “You’re right. Kali may not be a Toa, but in a way she is one of us.”

          “She may be the bravest of us all,” Sahkmah said. “Have you seen her lose her spirit for even a moment since we left Tavi Nui?”

          “You have a point.” Hamak straightened his posture, appearing every bit the team leader. “Kupanu is overconfident enough to think that he can safely leave us free to roam. Well, the Toa of Everything has made his first mistake. Let’s do some damage.”


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Chapter 10

 

          “What is your name?” the golden being who used to look like a Toa and now looked like a Matoran said as they walked.

          Kali was lost in a place between fear and excitement. Fire raced through her body, up and down the organic parts of her torso and her arms and legs. For years, she had heard tales of grand adventures, exotic places, and powerful beings. Now, she was talking with a creature out of legend, a monster like those in the myths. With eyes bright, she said, “I’m Kali. Can’t you read my mind?”

          “I could, Kali, but that wouldn’t be as much fun. I’ve chosen you as my companion, after all.”

          Her Heartlight blinked erratically. “So where are we going?”

          “Not far,” Kupanu said, his eyes twinkling. “I have something special to show you.”

 

(==========)

 

          “In here,” Sahkmah said, opening the door to Cache 6.

          “That’s a lot of masks,” Polin remarked.

          The mask with the glowing eyes had gnawed at the back of Sahkmah’s mind ever since she had left this room with Kupanu. After he had left with Kali, she had suggested they check out the cache. Since she knew the tunnels a little better than the others, no one had objected.

          “Anything particular you wanted to look for?” Hamak said.

          “Yeah, it was—”

          “Toooaaa. . . .” The word rumbled and rolled like an Onu-Kota coal engine. The six looked around wildly, eyes flaring. “Toa,” the voice repeated, more concretely this time.

          “Th-that one,” Sahkmah said, pointing.

          It was the same sharp-edged mask she had seen before, its eyes glowing once more. Apparently, it could also talk.

          “Let us not waste time,” it said. “Take me with you, and I will help you defeat the one who has done all of this.”

          “Defeat Kupanu?” Ikapak said. “No chance. We need to find our Chronicler and get out of here.”

          The mask rumbled. “And if you do, the Cursed One will follow you, and take you back. Then he will go beyond your island, to the ends of the Protodermis Sea. Nothing will escape his reach. Once a mere Toa, the Cursed One now consumes the Powers of those he collects. I have seen him grow stronger.”

          “Is that how he has that impossible combination of Toa Powers?” Hamak asked.

          “And more besides,” the mask said. “Even Makuta Powers. Even my own.”

          “Wait,” Marik said, “You’re a Makuta-villain?”

          “That’s all we needed to know,” Ikapak said, spinning on his heel and marching toward the door. “Come on guys, we’re done here.”

          “But he said he would help us,” Polin said.

          Ikapak turned back around. “He’s a Makuta. They sent us here, right into Kupanu’s hands. Remember?”

          “Not this again,” Hamak said, putting his hand to his mask’s forehead.

          Sahkmah spoke, gesturing with one palm facing upward. “He covertly signaled to me when I was here with Kupanu,” she said. “He wouldn’t have done that if he was on Kupanu’s side.”

          “Unless it was a back-up move, to lure us here if we got free,” Ikapak retorted. “Which we did.”

          “Enough of this quarreling.” The Makuta’s voice sliced between them like a blade. “I am one of the few of my kind who will admit when he needs the help of less-powerful beings. Right now, I need yours. Tell me, do you know your Mask Powers?”

          “I have a Rau,” Sahkmah said, “and Nepteran has a Crast. That’s all we know.”

          “Translation,” the Makuta mused. “Not much good in a fight, but let us hope we are not forced into one. Repulsion. Can push one object away from oneself at a time. Handy in the right circumstances, but it has always been one of the least useful, as I have seen it.” The glow of his eyes shifted as he looked over the Toa. “Green one. Your mask is a Kakama. Its Power is Speed.”

          “It is?” Marik asked. “How do I—” his sentence was interrupted with a thunk, as he slammed into the far side of the room. “Ungh,” he groaned, and then cursed. “You Piraka.”

          “Language, Marik,” Hamak called at him. “We’re not in Tavi Nui anymore.”

          “That was you triggering your mask, green one,” the Makuta said. “I only gave you the knowledge.”

          “The name’s Marik,” he said, standing, “and I can Piraking say Piraka any time I Piraking want. Speaking of names, do you have one, or are you too high and mighty for such a thing?”

          “I am Zerax.”

          The Toa quickly introduced themselves.

          “Now back to mask Powers,” Zerax said.

          Hamak turned to him eagerly. “What about mine? What does it do?”

          “He doesn’t know,” Polin said.

          “The tan one is correct,” Zerax said, “I apologize, but I am as puzzled by the rest of your masks as you are.”

          “Well that’s great,” Hamak said. “Out of nowhere half the team is now one with their masks, and I, the leader, am stuck on square one.”

          “Quit your whining, red one,” Zerax said. “We’re going to do this the methodical way: by testing you for individual Powers, one at a time.”

 

(==========)

 

          Kali sat cross-legged on a large, three-cushioned chair. What the cushions were for, she couldn’t imagine. So far, Kupanu had made no hostile moves toward her. That was a good sign. It seemed like, as he had claimed, all he wanted to do was talk.

          He sat on another chair nearby, his Matoran feet dangling above the ground. “So what is it like, being a Chronicler?” he asked.

          Kali could see no devious tricks behind the question, so she replied honestly. “It’s awesome. The adventures, the battles, it’s almost like being a Toa.”

          “But not quite,” Kupanu said.

          “No,” Kali said, looking down. “I’d always thought I could be strong like a Toa, but actually being on a Toa mission is nothing like I expected. The stories, as well as they’re told, don’t even come close to reality in any way. I mean, when it’s done, it’s all just a story. In an actual adventure, it’s like you don’t even know if there’s gonna be an ending. You can’t look ahead to make sure you’ll be okay after the scary parts. You kind of have to take that on faith.”

          Kupanu’s eyes flickered for a brief moment, but then returned to normal. “If you write down your travels and take them back to Tavi Nui—” he paused, looking confused. “Nui Tavi?”

          “Tavi Nui,” Kali confirmed.

          Kupanu shook his head. “Why do I feel like I recognize ‘Nui Tavi’ better?”

          “Maybe it sounds like something else you know?” Kali offered.

          Kupanu rubbed the side of his mask and made a dismissive sound. “But anyway, if you take the story of your travels back to your home, your fellow Matoran will praise them as stories, but will not understand what you’ve been through. You will have changed, and you’ll hold your experiences isolated and alone. The only ones who can truly understand are those who have been through trials themselves.”

          “Like the Toa.”

          “Yes,” Kupanu said, “but on Tavi Nui did they ever have time for you?”

          “Not often,” Kali admitted, “but there are the Turaga, and a few others like Nala and Jaku, who were trapped in an abandoned Muaka den for several days.”

          “But they still won’t understand,” Kupanu said. “Their stories are not like yours.”

          “But it doesn’t—”

          “I can understand, though,” Kupanu pressed. “I was once just like you.”

          “What?”

          “A Matoran.” He looked down at himself, still wearing his villager form. “I mean a true Matoran, one with no Power at all.”

          “How is that possible?” Kali said.

          “Hard to believe, huh?” Kupanu said with a chuckle. He stood. “Just a Matoran, with no fancy mind-reading, sound-rippling, or plasma-beaming. Then one day Destiny—or some sadistic force that claimed to be Destiny—picked me up and turned me into a Toa.” Either as a visual aid or subconsciously, he grew back into his Toa form.

          “If you were a Toa,” Kali said, “then why did you throw it all away to become what you are now?”

          “Throw it away? Give me a break! I was a Toa of Plasma. Do you know how useless a Toa of Plasma is when he has a Toa of Magnetism and a Toa of Lightning as teammates? And she . . .” Kupanu faltered and his hand trembled as he trailed off. Kali shied away from him, but he failed to notice. “I didn’t throw away anything. I learned. I studied Power, striving to become stronger. And one day, with a little help, I discovered a great secret: all Powers are merely different masks of a fundamental source. If you understand how true Power works, you can do anything.”

          Kali looked at him skeptically. “So you learned how to control every Power just with Plasma?”

          Kupanu sighed. “Not exactly. But I have learned so much—the power of Toa, the power of Makuta, even the power of Destiny.” Kupanu paused, as if expecting Kali to say something. After a moment, he said, “Would you like to see?”

          “See what?” Kali asked nervously, as the bronze Toa-shaped figure approached her and placed his hands on her shoulders, standing her up.

          “This.”

          At once, a searing jolt seized her whole body and a thousand conflicting sensations raced through her. There was pain beyond anything she had ever known, and a sickly, perverse, euphoric feeling, as if she were ripping out someone else’s soul and feeding on it. The stimuli danced around her, stabbing again and again in a dozen places at at a time, too fast to keep up with.

          As she approached the brink of madness, it stopped, and she fell back onto the cushioned chair. She felt as if she had just destroyed a village of Matoran simply for the pleasure of it, and the gravity of the action had just crashed down upon her. She shook her head to try to clear it. The motion felt strange, even alien. What did he do to me? she thought. Then she noticed her arms. They were longer than they should have been. Even though she was sitting on the bench, her feet rested on the floor. Looking up, she saw Kupanu beaming down at her. “Welcome to existence,” he said, “Kali, Toa of Water.”


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Chapter 11

 

          Marik raced around the room, finding that he could run on the walls if he was fast enough. Nepteran used bursts of Repulsion to juggle stones without touching them. He was surprisingly good at it, and Hamak suspected he had been secretly practicing for years. Sahkmah helped Hamak, Ikapak, and Polin try odd tasks to discover their abilities, but nothing had proved fruitful so far.

          “Can you see anything?” Polin said, covering Ikapak’s eyes with his hand.

          “No. What are you doing? Get your hand out of my face.”

          “So you don’t have x-ray vision,” Polin said, removing his hand. “Not night vision either.”

          Ikapak turned toward the Toa of Water. “Hey Sahkmah,” he said, “why don’t you help Polin test his mask for Water Breathing?”

          Polin cried out, waving his hands in protest.

          At that moment, a chilling scream ripped through the halls. All motion stopped.

          “Kali,” Sahkmah whispered.

          In a burst of motion, Hamak snatched Zerax from his hook and raced for the door. “Come on.”

          Zerax protested. “You can’t—”

          “I’m the one with legs. We’re going.”

          The others quickly followed. Sahkmah took the lead, suggesting she might know where Kupanu had taken Kali. Hamak hoped Sahkmah remembered her way through the twists and turns.

          Sahkmah signaled them to stop at a door. Tools ready, they slowly advanced until, as one, they burst into the room for a surprise attack.

          The room was empty.

          “Where did Rahi-breath take her?” Marik said.

          “Maybe there’s a clue in here somewhere,” Hamak said. He had heard tales of beings who could divine an opponent’s every move from the barest of details: a word here, a hand motion there, a bit of broken glass on the ground. Perhaps he could use something from those stories.

          He closed his eyes and tried to remember his interactions with Kupanu. The self-proclaimed Toketahka had seemed mad with power. The large number of sentient beings trapped in these archives suggested that he loved to assert his superiority over others.

          “That crazed Karzahni spawn,” Hamak muttered, a haze of smoke oozing from his body. “I bet if we could stand up to him in a battle, we could shake his confidence.” Then it came to him. “Don’t fear,” he announced to his team, “I know where Kali is.”

          “Do tell us, O sage of infinite wisdom-smarts,” Marik replied. The others turned their attention to their leader.

          “There is only one possibility that makes sense,” Hamak said, “He is trying to destroy our resolve by archiving Kali. Since we’re on to him, we can steel ourselves, and not let him bring down our spirit.”

          “What spirit?” Ikapak asked. “I thought we were all just seeing how long we could stave off death.”

          Sahkmah gestured to a device she had been interacting with, above which floated strange fluorescent symbols. “If Kupanu put Kali in one of the stasis pods, he would have made an entry in his database. But she isn’t there.”

          “I know I am right,” Hamak said.

          “You are jumping to conclusions,” the mask of Zerax said. “Holding to an unconfirmed picture of what is happening can be a fatal mistake.”

          “You Makuta and your unparalleled devotion to planning,” Hamak retorted. “It is a wonder you ever get anything done with all that time you spend overthinking. There is no substitute for a Toa’s intuition. We have the Three Virtues of Unity, Duty, and Destiny on our side, a creed that your kind abandoned.”

          “I have seen many a Toa fall, never to rise again, but only twice have I witnessed the demise of a Makuta. Half of my species hangs in the balance, and I will not suffer bungle-heads like you to ruin us!”

          “Why you—”

          “Until now, I have left you to your devices, gauging your ability as Toa, and I have found you wanting. This Pit-spawn of a warlord pretender can be defeated, but only with precise strategy and teamwork, both of which you severely lack. Therefore, from now on, you will follow my command.” Hamak tried to protest again, but Zerax continued, silencing him. “Since you seem to misunderstand me,” he said, the room darkening with his anger, “let me rephrase myself. If you continue as you are, you will die. If you wish to live and have a chance to break out of your captivity, you will submit to me.”

          The silence was so complete they could have heard a spark burn. One by one, each of the Toa nodded.

          Ikapak was the last to consent. “Be warned, Makuta,” he said, “we will drop you and leave you behind at the first sign of treachery.”

          “It is settled,” the Makuta said. “Now let us get to work. Blue one, see if you can find me in that database.”

          As Sahkmah searched through the data, Nepteran poked his head out of a door on the far side of the room. “I found something back here. Some kind of giant crystal. It’s really cool-looking.”

          “Show me,” Zerax said.

          Hamak brought him into the other room. The crystal inside was nearly twice as tall as a Toa, and the same wide. It shone with iridescent colors.

          “Interesting,” Zerax murmured. “A Protodermis Cage. I wonder if he made this himself.”

          “A what?” Marik asked.

          “Karzahni’s pet Manas,” Zerax muttered. “How do you call yourself Toa and not know these things? A Protodermis Cage, also known as a Toa Seal, is a substance created by six different Toa combining their power. It has baffled Makuta attempts to replicate it since time immemorial. The only known way to destroy it is for the same six Toa Powers to be used again upon it. Without these powers, you might be able to take off a few chips, but never break through.”

          “So all we need to do to see inside is to get everyone in here and blast it open,” Hamak said.

          “Unfortunately no,” Zerax replied. “Each Toa Seal holds traces of which Powers were used to create it. This one was made from Magnetism, Iron, Sonics, Lightning, Plasma, and Gravity, none of which you have.”

          “Maybe he forgot about the floor,” Nepteran said, placing his hand to the ground. To the others it appeared as if he were simply kneeling, but Hamak knew the black Toa was feeling the grains and fibers of the earth. Standing up, he said, “I see. The crystal is interwoven with the earth beneath it. It would be impossible to see inside it by digging under it.”

          As they returned to the other room, Sahkmah approached them. “I’ve found Zerax’s stasis pod,” she said, displaying a map above the data device, “but there is a problem. It’s far away, and the route is complicated.”

          The map also revealed that the place was much more vast and complex than Hamak had thought. His heartstone sank. “How are we going to remember how to get there?” he said.

          “We could take the map with us,” Nepteran offered.

          “Too risky,” Zerax said. “Our host will notice it’s gone. Instead, we’ll divide up the route, and each of us will memorize one segment.”

          “Or I could just memorize the whole route,” Ikapak said. He found himself at the receiving end of six stares, and was taken aback. “What? I have a near perfect memory. Here, I’ll prove it to you.” He turned his back, and correctly recounted the directions to Zerax’s pod.

          “You didn’t even study this map,” Sahkmah said, amazed. “How were you able to remember it?”

          Marik spoke. “To be honest, I’m more surprised that you offered something helpful instead of doom and gloom.”

          “I can see it,” Ikapak said. “Well, not see it, but I have a picture of it in my mind as clear as if I’m looking at it.”

          Zerax hummed thoughtfully. “I have a suspicion,” he said. “We might be able to bring that device with us after all.” He addressed Ikapak. “Try willing your mental image into existence.”

          Ikapak looked confused for a moment, then shrugged and concentrated. To his surprise, an image of the map appeared in thin air in front of him. He looked around at his fellow Toa.

          “Yes, I see it too,” Hamak said. The others added their confirmation.

          “As I thought,” the Makuta said. “You have a Kanohi Mahiki, a Great Mask of Illusion. It can be used to create images, render things invisible, or even appear to shapeshift. Without knowing it, you have been using your mask to store images of what you have seen, like a second memory. Be warned, however, that without your mask, such memories will leave you.”

          Ikapak flipped and turned the image in front of him, caught up in his newfound ability. The other Toa watched in fascination.

          “White one,” Zerax said, “copy the data device with an illusion that looks the same and feels solid. You need not replicate the data, as that would take too much concentration.”

          Ikapak looked at the desk. The air above it shimmered, and then formed into a likeness of the device.

          “Touch it,” Zerax said.

          Ikapak reached out his hand, which went right through the image.

          “Not good enough.”

          “Of course,” Ikapak said, “what did you expect?”

          Zerax growled. “Your mask’s ability is not specifically to crate images, but qualia, subjective properties with no objective source. Look at the duplicate, and add to it the property of solidity. Imagine what a realistic object would do if it were touched.”

          Ikapak looked at the copy, then reached toward it again. This time, it moved when his fingers nudged it.

          “Good,” Zerax said. “Now you will have to keep that construct in the back of your mind at all times.”

          “Oh great, that will be fantastic.”

          “If there is nothing else interesting to be found in this room, then let us go find my body.”

          Hamak looked at the data device in Sahkmah’s hands. “What about Kali?” The scream that had brought them here played in his mind. It had been the sound of a being in the crushing depths of the Pit. There was no way he could leave her floating in one of those liquid coffins.

          “We must prioritize,” Zerax said. “The most productive and straightforward thing we can do right now is to get my body back. After that, we will more easily be able to do other tasks, including finding your Chronicler.”

          “But—”

          “I am in charge. Do not forget this. We have delayed enough, now let us go.”


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Chapter 12

 

          Kali ran, tears pooling in her eye holes and streaming down her mask. Too fast. Her legs pushed her too fast. And she should be fighting for every breath after all this time at a dead sprint down these twisting, never-ending halls. She must have been tired, but not able to feel it. Nothing was as it should be in this waking dream.

          Worst of all was the guilt, a writhing Kraata swarm eating her from the inside out, feeding and maturing, getting ready to burst out of her stomach. She had failed the Toa. No, she had betrayed the Toa. Betrayed Mata Nui himself. Her body came to a halt and collapsed under its own weight. Her mouth opened, emitting a wail that sounded like that of a dying Muaka cat. Mata Nui, would the agony ever end?

          Moisture from the air was stirred by her cries and condensed into a growing puddle around her. She barely noticed it in her tormented state, until her throat became too raw to scream. Even then, all she could do was sob into the water covering half of her face.

 

(==========)

 

          “After we find my body, we should look for the right Toa types to break the Cursed One’s Toa Seal for us,” Zerax said from Hamak’s hand as they followed the map Sahkmah held.

          Marik let out a snicker. “Find your body.”

          “Marik,” Sahkmah said, “that joke was dark, even for you.”

          “And you do realize that the being you mock will soon be a hundred times more powerful than you,” Zerax said.

          “Oh yeah?” Marik retorted, “Maybe we’ll just keep you as a mask. I can imagine tack-pinning you to Le-Kota square with the inscription: ‘Zerax, Makuta of Face’.”

          The Makuta made a growling sound that reminded Hamak of a distant blast furnace.

          “Hey guys,” Polin broke in from behind them, “Nepteran has an idea you might want to hear.”

          Hamak and Marik slowed to let Polin and Nepteran catch up. The black Toa looked at the brown. “Actually, I do. How did you know that?”

          Polin shrugged. “I just knew what you were thinking.”

          “Sure,” Marik said quizzaciously, “and I know what you’re thinking:” he added a deep inflection to his voice, “Rocks, break, knocks—wait, that rhymed.” He started over. “Rocks, break, crack, rubble—”

          “Hey!” Polin cried. “I think about normal things. Like sentences and stuff.”

          Zerax broke in. “If the black one has an idea, let him share it.”

          “Thanks,” the Toa of Earth said, “but I’d rather you call me by my name, Nepteran. All right, I think that once we know how to shut down the stasis tubes, a few of us should take the device and use the map to explore. Who knows what secrets Kupanu has hidden in the depths of these tunnels.”

          “Not a bad idea,” Zerax said.

          Hamak nodded in agreement. They might unearth some kind of weapon to use against Kupanu, or even the key to the Toketahka’s power. It was a grasp in the dark, he knew, and splitting up meant there was a better chance some of them would get caught, but they did not stand a chance with what little they knew as they were.

          Soon, they stood before a large stasis pod, wherein Protodermis pieces floated amid a green murk.

          “So we’ve found the body,” Marik said. “Doesn’t look like much.”

          “The Makuta are beings of energy,” Zerax said, “without form or substance. Such an existence comes with great advantages, but we pay a price. Without proper armor to contain us, our energy will disperse into the atmosphere. Such a state would be similar to death, and only the strongest of our species would be able to remain a coherent being.”

          An intangible body? So when the Turaga told tales of the Makuta as evil spirits, it was more than just metaphor. Hamak had always thought of spirits as things that could not be seen or felt in the traditional sense, but could be known indirectly by their effects on the wind, the trees, and the fire—effects so subtle that they might be mistaken for happenstance. But seeing one here in front of him, with those pieces of metal that would seal together to give it a strong, potent, corporeal form, turned everything he thought he had known about spirits upside down. That sent a chill through his core.

          Sahkmah dismissed the map from the data device, and began searching through its menus. “It stands to reason that Kupanu would have made a way to remove you safely.”

          “And we all know how reasonable Kupanu is,” Marik said.

          The rest of the Toa stood silently while Sahkmah worked. Across the circle, Polin’s and Ikapak’s eyes met.

          Polin cocked his head. “Why do you think that?”

          Ikapak blinked. “Think what?”

          “That this is a bad idea.”

          “Wha—” Ikapak looked around at the others, who had centered their attention on him and Polin. “Because he’s a Makuta. They’re our enemies. Seriously, I cannot be the only one who is thinking this.”

          “Your prejudice is noted,” Zerax said, “but I am more interested in how the tan one predicted your thoughts.”

          “That’s right,” Sahkmah said, looking up at Polin from her work. “You also predicted that Nepteran had a plan on the way here before he even said anything. That’s some intuition you have.”

          “There have been several times this one has made intuitive guesses that have turned out to be correct,” Zerax said, “and I think there may be more to this story. Do you remember how we discovered the white one’s Mask Power?”

          “I had the entire map of this place stored in a second memory?” Ikapak said.

          “No,” Zerax said, “we noticed you had an ability that was not normal. A gift. That was what led me to deduce your Mask Power.”

          “So what you’re saying,” Sahkmah said, “is that when Polin makes a good guess, he’s using his mask?”

          There was silence for a moment, and then Zerax hissed, “Hamak, tilt your hand that is holding me forward for half a second.”

          Perplexed, Hamak did so.

          Zerax rumbled something that could have been a sigh. “It is awfully hard to nod when you don’t have a neck.”

          “So what kind of mask Power would let him predict what we are going to say?” Hamak asked. “The ability to peer into the near future?”

          “It is possible,” Zerax said, “but not an ability I know of. I have another theory, which can be tested quite easily.” He locked eyes with Polin.

          Polin’s eyes flared. “It’s a trick!” he said. “He’s going to betray us!”

          Hamak dropped the Makuta’s mask as if it had bitten him, and it clattered facedown to the floor. Hamak pointed his Flame Rods at the mask, holding their temperature just below ignition.

          “Calm down!” Zerax ordered. His voice sounded odd, coming from the wrong side of his mouth. “It was a test.”

          “Why should we believe you,” Hamak said, unmoving. “After all, you and your demon kind destroyed Metru Nui.”

          “There are some of us,” Zerax’s mask said, attempting a calming tone, “who believe that the Metru Nui conquest was not the best choice of action. Beware of letting prejudice cause you to do something you will regret. Now put those away long enough for me to explain Polin’s reaction.”

          Hamak’s arms quivered, the heat from his Tools causing the air above them to shimmer. Then, warily, he lowered them to his sides. He did not relax his posture, though. “I’m watching you,” he said.

          “That is good,” Zerax said, “you should be wary of me. Not because I am a Makuta, but because I am a stranger.”

          Hamak gestured stiffly to Polin, addressing Zerax. “All right then, explain yourself.”

          “I suspected that Polin had a Suletu, a Great Mask of Mind-Reading. I then thought a sentence that was sure to elicit a reaction from him. As you all saw, it did, and I am now certain I was correct. If any of you require further proof, test him yourselves.”

          Without moving, Hamak turned his eyes toward Polin. “I’m thinking of a number between one and five,” he said.

          Polin cocked his head. “No you’re not. You’re thinking of seven.”

          “All right, Zerax,” Hamak said cautiously, “I believe you.” He stepped forward and picked up the Makuta’s mask again. Though his tension dispersed a little, a layer of it remained, like a skin of oil floating atop a puddle, waiting to be ignited.

          “If we’re ready,” Sahkmah said, “I’ve found the command to open the pod.”

          Hamak nodded.

          Sahkmah moved to the control panel and pressed a combination of buttons. Inside the pod, the jumbled pieces of armor assembled into the recognizable bipedal shape of most intelligent beings, and the swirling cloud seeped into it until it was sealed in. The fluid drained, leaving Zerax’s body standing, and the glass opened. The Toa stood motionless as Zerax’s hand extended slowly toward Hamak, palm up. The crimson Toa placed the mask in it, and Zerax lifted it to where his face would have been, if he’d had a face. The mask fit snugly, and two yellow dots flickered into existence behind the eyeholes. Zerax slowly rolled his head around on his neck, then rolled his shoulders as well. He turned his palms out and back in, and lifted his arms straight out to his sides. He proceeded to deliberately work every joint in his body, as if making sure each one worked.

          When he finished, he breathed deeply. “Thank you,” he said, “We are now one step closer to having a fighting chance.”


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Chapter 13

 

          Kupanu, self-proclaimed Toketahka, former Toa of Plasma, ran through the halls searching for his new companion. “Kali, where are you?” he called. He did not understand. “Why did you run? I gave you power, made you better than you were before. Aren’t you happy?” He had expected her to go back to the other Toa, but the room he had left them in was empty. That had not worried him. A few loose Toa could not do much harm. He would take care of them later.

          Ahead, he glimpsed a puddle of water spilling from a doorway. It must have been Kali’s doing. Hurrying to it, he saw that it stretched down the next hall. He splashed onward, trailing it to its source. But all he found was an empty layer of water on the floor. Kali had surely been there, but she was gone now.

          “Kali, why are you doing this to me?” he called.

 

(==========)

 

          Sahkmah watched, fixated, as Zerax stepped out of his stasis pod. He was tall, strong, and every bit as imposing as the Makuta she had seen on Destral.

          Zerax took a look over his shoulder at the empty chamber. Surrounded by tubes full of Makuta essence, it would stand out like a Ta-Matoran at a Ga-Kota lecture hall. “We need to do something about that,” the Makuta muttered. He turned to the white Toa. “Ikapak.”

          “No way,” the white Toa said, “I can’t maintain the solid illusion of Kupanu’s data device and a Makuta in stasis at the same time.”

          “You can if we link our minds,” Zerax said. “With my concentration added to yours, you should find your abilities multiplied several times over.”

          Ikapak looked at him askance. “I don’t like the sound of that.”

          “If we want to avoid capture, it will be necessary. Think ahead. Eventually, we will release so many beings that even our combined concentration will not be enough to keep them hidden. Then, we will have to link with another Makuta. And soon another. And—”

          “There’s no way I’m letting twenty Makuta into my head!” Ikapak cried, backing away with his hands held up in a warding gesture.

          “Then our enemy will discover us and crush us,” Zerax said. “There is no other way.”

          “Yes there is,” Ikapak said, “find someone else to do it. There have to be at least fifty other Toa here. Find another with a Mahiki mask to make your illusions with.”

          Nepteran interjected. “If I may suggest a compromise, why do we not distribute the Makuta evenly to the Toa with Masks of Illusion. Then no Toa will have to share a mind with all the Makuta. In addition, if something were to happen to one of the Toa, the entire facade would not come crashing down.”

          “A reasonable proposition,” Zerax said, “though,” he looked at Ikapak, “that could still place three or four Makuta to a Toa.”

          Ikapak’s eyes flickered silently for a moment. Then he looked at the ground and grumbled, “I thought I’d be long dead by now, so how much worse could it get?”

          “All right then,” Zerax said. He turned to look directly at Sahkmah. “Blue one, close this pod to make it easier to form an illusion.”

          Sahkmah jumped, then turned to input the sequence into the console. The pod closed and filled. Zerax and Ikapak locked eyes, and then, as one, turned to look at the tube. An image of armor and green cloud appeared, as if nothing had changed.

          “What now?” Sahkmah asked.

          “On the way here, we talked about splitting up,” Nepteran said. “I would like to go exploring.”

          “Me too,” Marik said. “It’s so boring standing around here.”

          Nepteran nodded. “Ikapak should probably come too. He can memorize the map and leave the data device here with Sahkmah.”

          “No,” Zerax said. “I need Ikapak here with me, so that we can maintain our illusions.”

          “Then . . .” The black Toa’s posture showed uncertainty.

          Sahkmah spoke up. “We’re going to look for Toa next.” She pressed some keys on the data device. “We’ll need to get their masks. Why don’t I find them in here, have Ikapak memorize where they are, and then give the map to you?”

          “Sure,” Nepteran said. “I guess that works.”

          A short time later, Sahkmah brought up the map and handed the device to Nepteran. “Polin can contact you through his mask if we need you,” Sahkmah said. From the corner of her eye, she saw Hamak turn away, fidgeting.

          “See you all later,” Marik said, heading down the hall. “Hope you have fun standing around and talking. Come on, Nepter, let’s go have an adventure.” The two of them disappeared around the corner.

          “I guess we should do our job, then,” Sahkmah said to the three remaining Toa and the Makuta. She stepped toward the end of the corridor. “The next few rows contain Toa.”

          Polin and Ikapak started down one of the halls. Sahkmah looked at Hamak, who stood silently, staring off into space. She grabbed his arm and lightly tugged him into another hall. “Hamak,” she said, “what’s bothering you?”

          Hamak barked a laugh. “You mean besides being trapped in this maze with a crazy-powerful lunatic?”

          “That’s certainly enough to scare anyone,” Sahkmah said, “but it’s more than that. You have been silent since before Zerax walked out of his pod. There’s something you can’t stop thinking about.”

          Hamak looked at her sideways. “What?” he said. But then his gaze slid back to the space in front of him. “You’re right, there is something. First you and Nepter, then Marik, Ike, and now Polin.” He let out a breath. “What I mean is, what kind of a leader am I if I’m the only Toa on the team who doesn’t know what his mask does?” He took a step away from her and kicked a pebble. It skittered past a few stasis tubes before coming to a stop. “And then there’s that stupid Makuta, who just took command away from me.” He turned and walked past Sahkmah, back to the end of the hall. “I’m no leader. I’m just . . .”

          The shadows felt almost alive, twisting and stretching before them in ways that seemed impossible without some dark power behind them. They seemed to eat away at his mind. How long had they been trapped in this place, where those shadows could grasp him, caress him up and down, and slowly, relentlessly, leech the spirit from him?

          Sahkmah put a hand on his shoulder. “A good leader,” she said, “is one people want to follow.”

          “What about someone who succeeds, who gets his jobs done?”

          “That’s fine,” Sahkmah replied, “but that’s more of a consequence than a condition. You see, even if a good leader fails, his followers will give him another chance to succeed later.” She moved in front of him, took his hands, and met his eyes. “Hamak,” she said, “after everything we’ve been through, it doesn’t really matter to me whether you know your Mask Power, or if Zerax orders you around. I will stick with you till the end.”

          Hamak’s posture straightened ever so slightly, and his eyes grew the tiniest bit brighter. “Thanks, Sam,” he said.

 

(==========)

 

          Makuta Zerax let the Toa go on ahead. There was something he needed to attend to in this hall. As he had stepped out of his stasis pod, he had noticed a blue mask disappear behind one of the tubes down the hall. With the others out of the way, Zerax could confront her one-on-one. Relaxing his posture to look as non-threatening as possible, he said, “don’t be frightened, Kali.”

          A startled “eep!” emitted from the place where the Toa hid. Cautiously, she stepped out of her hiding spot. Her figure was smaller than the average Toa, and her limbs were thin and stick-like. “How did you know who I was?”

          “A being is much more than her physical appearance,” Zerax replied. “It was not difficult. Your Toa friends spoke highly of you. Though I did not expect you to be quite so tall.”

          “I . . . He . . .” Kali trembled. “Zerax, what should I do?”

          So she had been near the group long enough to hear his name spoken. “What you should do is for you to find out for yourself,” Zerax said. “What you can do is help me free all the beings here and take down the Cursed One.”

          “I . . .” Kali looked to the side, nearly choking on her own words, “I don’t know if I can, actually.”

          “I imagine you are going through some serious internal conflict,” Zerax said. “If you help us to get out of here, you will have plenty of time to deal with it, and in a much more comforting environment.” That might have been too callous. He shrugged inwardly. It was too late to change his words.

          Kali stared blankly at the patch of wall her eyes had landed upon. “Okay,” she said, “but don’t tell the Toa.”

          “As you wish,” Zerax said.


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Chapter 14

 

          “Why can’t I sense them?” Kupanu muttered as he entered his room. He had mentally probed the entire complex without finding a hint of the Toa. Could they have found the exit? He supposed it was possible, but surely they wouldn’t have left without their Matoran Chronicler. After all, who else could spin a tale of daring deeds out of a cowardly retreat? He should have put them in stasis the moment they had arrived.

          He cast his senses through the complex once more, this time searching for Kali. He scoured each room and hallway, just like he had for the other Toa. He was sure he would have noticed her mental signature the first time, even though he had not been looking for it, but the only way to make sure would be to double-check.

          A sinking feeling grew inside him as his mind approached the final room. Then, it was over. Empty. He stared, confounded, into space. “What in the name of Mana Kino is going on?” he said to himself. Then, an idea struck him. He turned and looked toward his data device, sitting on his desk. “If a mental scan won’t work, why not try an electronic one?” He walked over and pressed the power button. Nothing happened. Thinking he might not have used enough pressure, he pressed it again. When still nothing happened, he picked it up and turned it over to examine it. “Of all the times to break,” he said, “why did it have to be now?”

 

(==========)

 

          Hamak carried two masks as he led Sahkmah, Ikapak, and Polin around the corner to where they had left Zerax. Between them they carried six masks, one belonging to each of the Toa they had decided to free. Near the Makuta, stood a Toa of Water Hamak did not recognize. Had he freed her while they were gone?

          Zerax turned to them. “What have you found?”

          “One of everything,” Hamak replied, holding up the mask he held in his left hand, “and the Toa of Magnetism has a Mask of Illusion.” He gestured to the blue Toa standing on the other side of the Makuta. “Who’s the newcomer?”

          “This is Dehlak, Toa of Water,” Zerax said. “She just arrived, so she is in a bit of a shock. It would be a good idea not to ask her too many questions.” He looked pointedly at Polin and added, “or to read her mind.”

          “Will do,” Polin said. “Or, won’t do. Er, yes.”

          “Why are you smaller than us?” Ikapak said. Dehlak looked down. She was shorter and weaker than the other Toa. Hamak knew that all Toa teams looked different, and he had assumed that her team was just built that way. Now that Ikapak had pointed out, though, Dehlak did look rather sickly.

          “What does it matter?” Sahkmah said. “A Toa is whatever shape she is.”

          “That could be,” Ikapak said, “or there could be a reason.”

          Zerax made a loud rumbling sound, mimicking the clearing of a throat. “As I said before, let’s give her some privacy and not ask questions. Now show me these Toa you have found.”

          “Fine,” Ikapak said, turning toward the end of the hall, “but it’s going to bug me.”

          Several moments later, they stood in front of a pod containing a Toa with black and dark gray armor. The console tag read, “Name: Rehu. Element: Magnetism. Found at Vika Nui.” Ikapak pressed the key combination, and with a click, the liquid around the suspended Toa drained and the glass surrounding him lowered.

          “One down, five to go,” Ikapak said, as Toa Rehu opened his eyes. When his gaze fell on Zerax, he stared, warily.

          “Welcome back, Toa Rehu,” Hamak said, handing him his mask. “I’m sure you have plenty of questions.”

          Rehu took the mask and put it on, his piercing stare never wavering from the Makuta.

          “Don't worry about him,” Hamak said. “He’s on our side.”

          After a tense moment, Rehu relaxed and allowed his eyes to move to Hamak, Ikapak, Dehlak, Sahkmah, and Polin. “Thank you for releasing me,” he said. He glanced from side to side, and took a posture of contempt. “This is Kupanu’s doing, isn’t it?”

          “Yes,” Hamak said. “You know of him?”

          “I do,” Rehu replied gravely, “he was my teammate.”

 

(==========)

 

          “Curse this thing,” Kupanu hissed, staring at the device in his hand. “First my companion goes missing, then I lose track of those Toa, then this stupid recorder breaks and won’t turn on.” He placed the device on the desk and began pacing. “What a stroke of bad luck. It’s almost as if . . .”

          He trailed off, staring at the device, which sat still on the desk. “No. It’s too much of a coincidence.” He balled his hand into a fist, then extended it forward, channeling power through it, and shouted, “Illusion, be gone!”

 

(==========)

 

          “Your teammate?” Hamak said incredulously.

          “Yes,” Rehu said. “He—”

          A scream from Ikapak cut him off. The white Toa staggered and clamped his head tightly between his hands.

          “Kupanu has discovered our deception,” Zerax said. “Quick, gray one, let me into your mind so that I can augment your mask power and add it to Ikapak’s.”

          Rehu stood there with a bewildered look on his face as Ikapak stumbled against his pod and slumped to the ground, the scream undulating from behind his mask.

          “Now, Toa,” Zerax insisted. “Let me use your Mask Power to reinforce our illusions.”

          “What? Let a Makuta inside my head? Are you insane?”

          “Look,” Hamak said, “there’s a crazy powerful megalomaniac who will find us and destroy us right now if you don’t help.”

          “No way,” Rehu said, “tell me what to do, but keep your dark Powers away from me.”

          “No time,” Ikapak cried between screams. “Mata Nui, he’ll find us. Do it Now!”

          “If I wanted to harm you, I would not need to deceive you,” Zerax said.

          “All right, all right.” Rehu gave in and let the Makuta’s control wash over him. Ikapak quieted, sitting exhausted against the wall. The Toa of Magnetism’s eyes brightened. “I see,” he said. “The intricacy of the efficiencies . . . You are not just trying to fool Kupanu, but give him an illusion so sharp that he won’t see even a hint that it’s not reality.”

          “But now he knows it is false,” Zerax said, “so he will keep trying to break it. He is strong. Even now, with two Masks of Illusion, it will only be a matter of time before he manages to puncture through again.”

          “No rest,” Ikapak said from his position on the floor. “Of course. Why should I have imagined otherwise?”

          After the Toa had taken a moment to catch their breaths, Hamak spoke, raising the remaining mask that he held. “Well, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get back to work. We need to get these other five Toa types to break the Toa Seal.”

          “If you’re looking for certain Toa types,” Rehu said, “I might be able recommend a few. My other teammates. We’ll work well together against Kupanu.”

          Hamak nodded. “We’ll have to find their masks, but any advantage we gain is worth a little extra work.” He started toward the nearest cache. “Come on, let’s go.”


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Chapter 15

 

          Dehlak wandered, channeling her numbness down her legs and out the soles of her feet into the ground. A part of her wanted to lose track of where she went and find herself in an endless, featureless maze. That way, she could spend eternity roaming, with no emotion, nothing changing. Ironically, that very thought kept the direction back to the others fresh in her mind.

          She found herself in an aisle of Toa. They floated eerily on either side, like spirits, phantoms from another time and place, effigies of those who had been wronged. The luminescent swirling of the liquid around them made it seem as if those dull eyes would come to life and pronounce judgment on her.

          Pair after pair, she passed, one on the left and one on the right, until the flow was broken by a smaller figure on one side. Dehlak paused and turned, finding herself level with the lightless eyes of an old face. She was a blue Turaga, the final state of a Toa of Water, after she had fulfilled her duty and achieved her destiny. A Turaga, who had given up her Power so that a Matoran could become a part of the next generation of Toa. A Turaga of Water, in a hall of Toa.

          Dehlak suddenly felt very cold.

 

(==========)

 

          “It seems very odd-strange to be going down stairs in dark-nasty tunnels to get to a wide-open space,” Marik said, as he and Nepteran descended what seemed like a never-ending spiral staircase. After they had left the others, Nepteran had held up the data device, and asked Marik where he wanted to go. The map’s orange glow showed aisles, turns, stairs, and caverns. Without hesitation, Marik had pointed to the large, cylindrical room at the bottom of the complex. He desperately needed some space to move about after so much time in these cramped tunnels.

          Nepteran chuckled from further up. “There are some who theorize that the Protodermis sea and all the islands in it are inside one massive cavern, and that there may be other caverns like it underneath the sea or above the sky.”

          “Ha,” Marik barked, “If that’s so, where do the suns and the stars come from? You shouldn’t place too much stock in your Onu-Matoran folklore.”

          “Actually,” Nepteran said, “the cavern theory is quite popular among the Ko-Kota scholars.”

          “That just proves that those icy Matoran’s brains are chill-frozen,” Marik said. “What could they possibly be thinking, ignoring the whole sky?”

          “Hey,” Nepteran said, with another chuckle, “I’m no expert on the theory, I just know the conclusion. I’m sure the Ko-Matoran have a good explanation for the suns, or else they wouldn’t advocate the theory.”

          The stairs ended at a landing with a large door at the end. It had a massive wheel in its center, securing it closed. “All right,” Marik said, grabbing the wheel, “time for some quick-flying!”

          “Whoa, hold on,” Nepteran said, reaching a hand forward. Marik ignored him and gave the wheel a spin. “That door has got to be that big for a reason.”

          Marik pushed the heavy door open, giving them both a clear view of the room’s interior. It was a vault, several hundred times taller than a Toa, and half that wide. The walls, floor, and ceiling were covered in ice crystals. From where the two Toa stood in the doorway, about a third of the way up from the frozen floor, a pathway of stone extended to an enormous vat in the room’s center. From the vat, a plant grew. Its green, vine-like branches surrounded its massive trunk and spilled over the edges of the platform. The room echoed, causing a faint, whisper-like sound.

          “The great Nepteran, afraid of a big plant?” Marik said, springing into the air. For the past few days—or had it been weeks? It was difficult to follow the flow of time down here—he’d had to live without a major part of himself. His Toa Tools connected to each other and expanded to form rigid wings, and he kept himself aloft by making air currents with his Power. It was sheer exhilaration to soar again. He flew a few circuits around the room to get warmed up, then delved into loops and twirls, finally topping off the show with an arc, intending to land on the topmost branches of the plant.

          As he came in for the landing, the eerie whisper in the room turned into a screech, and something struck Marik from behind, sending him careening. Overcoming the shock of it, Marik righted himself and turned around. The plant writhed, vines whipping like tentacles toward him. Marik shrieked and dove beneath them. Then, something happened that made his body grow ice-cold. The screeching whisper coalesced into words: “You will pay. Toa will pay for what they did to usss.”

          A jolt brought Marik back to his senses as he crashed into the wall. From somewhere, Nepteran’s voice called. “You have to get out of there!” Marik sent himself swooping full speed toward the sound, dodging a tangle of swinging vines. As he zeroed in on the exit, Nepteran grabbed the door. The earth Toa heaved as his teammate shot through the doorway, and the vault door closed, with the two of them on one side and the monster plant on the other. Nepteran spun the wheel locked, and Marik leaned over, panting.

          “Marik,” Nepteran said, “a big locked door in a complex full of powerful beings probably means there’s something really bad behind it, and we should proceed cautiously.”

          “Actually,” Marik said, eyes twinkling, “that was kind of fun.”

          “Well don’t get the idea to go do it again.” Nepteran put his hand on his companion’s shoulder and started back toward the stairs.

          “Wait,” Marik said, “let’s use my mask. Grab on to me.” He set his Wingblades in flight position.

          “Aw no,” Nepteran sighed. Nevertheless, he grabbed Marik’s torso. The green Toa leaped into the air, and they flew up the stairs at blinding speed.


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Chapter 16

 

          Hamak watched Ororas, the steel gray Toa of Iron, step out of his pod to join his newly freed teammates. Before him, the Toa Tavi had rescued Chal, Toa of Electricity, and the leader of Kupanu’s former team. She wore purple armor with yellow highlights, and her mask narrowed around her mouth, exposing a portion of her jaw plates. Next came Barak, Toa of Gravity, his his short, stocky build plated in black and yellow.

          “It’s great to be awake again,” Barak boomed, clapping his hands together above his head. The shock wave from his clap seemed to distort the space where his hands met and slow time for a moment.

          “We are in the hive of a Doom Viper wearing the guise of the one who betrayed us,” said Ororas.

          “Yes, and let’s do something about it,” Chal said. She turned to Hamak. “We are in your debt.” Her tone suggested the words stemmed more from formality than gratitude.

          “Just doing our duty,” Hamak said, raising a hand subconsciously behind his head.

          “So what’s your plan?” Chal asked.

          “Right now, we’re trying to rescue the right types of Toa. Kupanu has a Toa Seal. We don’t know what it’s covering, but it’s got to be important.” He told her some of the events that had happened to his team.

          “Not much to go on,” Chal said, “but I’ll grant you it’s a start. I tell you what, you go find us a Su- and De-Toa—our Kakra has been gone for years, and Kupanu is obviously not an option.” She cocked her head and made a shooing motion with her hand. “Leave the rest to me.”

          “Um, okay,” Hamak said. The next thing he knew, he was walking away from her. Wondering what had just happened, he looked over his shoulder and saw Chal’s team huddling together. They nodded to each other, and then relaxed.

          Barak turned and headed toward Hamak. When he reached him, the Toa of Gravity thumped the crimson Toa on the back with the force of a boulder. “Cheer up, Ta-ling,” he thundered, “it’s good to be alive!”

          “Quiet,” Hamak hissed. “Kupanu is running around, and he’ll hear you.” Ikapak waved at him, signaling that another Toa was ready to be revived.

          “That’s why I’m whispering,” Barak said, barely dropping his volume at all.

          Hamak glanced at the pod’s console, identifying the silvery turquoise Toa within as Syx, Toa of Sonics. The pod whirred open, and Ikapak handed the Toa his mask before moving farther through the tunnel. Hamak gestured at the turquoise Toa. “Throw up a sound shield around us, would you?” Then realizing that was no way to greet someone just waking from imprisoned sleep, he stammered, “I mean . . . I’m . . . Hello, I’m Hamak.”

          “Don’t mind him,” Barak said to the silver blue Toa, slapping Hamak on the back so hard that the he stumbled, “he’s under a lot of pressure.” Barak’s eyes sparkled, as if he thought he had just made a joke.

          Syx glanced at the Toa of Gravity, and snapped his fingers. The air seemed to still, as though the three of them were suddenly in a small room.

          Hamak spoke. “Sonic shield?” The words sounded loud inside his own head, yet strangely muted at the same time. The other Toa nodded. Hamak gave Syx a brief rundown of their situation. The Toa of Sonics listened patiently, and every now and then Barak butted in with a boisterous outburst.

          When he finished, Hamak turned to the Toa of Gravity. “The meeting you had with your team. What was that all about?” 

          “Team spirit!” Barak bellowed. “We’re the most rambunctious Toa team in the Universe!”

          “Doesn’t look like it to me,” Hamak said, eying the group, who stood somberly. For all the motion they made, they might have been mistaken for statues. Zerax had joined them.

          Barak laughed heartily. “I’ve got enough for all of us.” He twirled and performed an exaggerated bow, raising his long, thick arms flamboyantly as he did so. “Someone’s gotta bring the house down.” He chuckled.

          “I’m going to go find our last Toa,” Hamak sighed, turning away.

          “I’ll help you,” The Toa of Gravity said, following him. Syx fell into step behind them.

          “I already know where he is,” Hamak snapped. “We found him earlier.” Couldn’t the guy take a hint?

          To his relief, Ikapak came around the corner, followed by Sahkmah, Polin, Dehlak, and another Toa with orange and white armor.

          “Toa of Fire,” the newcomer said, with a toss of his head and a sparkle in his eyes, “I hear we have a bad guy to burn.” He held up two fingers, and a blue arc of plasma danced between them.

          “I am Hamak. Welcome to—”

          “Spare me the introduction; these jokers have already talked me deaf. I’m Sunua, etcetera etcetera. Where’s the action?”

          Beside him, Ikapak shook his head. “We made a mistake,” he muttered.

          “What do you mean?” Hamak said.

          Ikapak pointed a thumb at the orange Toa. “This guy. As soon as we let him out, he melted his stasis pod to slag, making it that much harder to put an illusion in its place.”

          “Totally worth it,” Sunua said with a laugh. “I wanted to take down the whole aisle, but there were other Toa there.”

          Hamak smiled behind his mask. “Well, I know we can count on you when the time is right.”

          Footsteps sounded directly behind him, and Hamak jumped. Turning, he found Zerax and Chal’s team arriving. Why had the sound of their approach come so suddenly? Then he remembered Syx and the sound shield the Toa of Sonics had placed around them. Hamak had completely forgotten about him.

          Zerax spoke. “We need to organize ourselves and make a plan.” He gestured to their surroundings. “But not here, where our enemy could happen upon us at any moment.”

          “Come on,” Chal said, turning and waving Hamak’s group after her. Hamak had not noticed her team disappear, but apparently they had gone and found a safer meeting place while his back was turned. He fell into step behind her with the rest of the Toa.


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Dramatis Personae 2

 

Hamak: red Toa of Fire. Kanohi: unknown.

Sahkmah: blue Toa of Water. Kanohi: Rau, Mask of Translation.

Marik: green Toa of Air. Kanohi: Kakama, Mask of Speed.

Ikapak: white Toa of Ice. Kanohi: Mahiki, Mask of Illusions.

Polin: brown Toa of Stone. Kanohi: Suletu, Mask of Mind-Reading.

Nepteran: black Toa of Earth. Kanohi: Crast, Mask of Repulsion.

 

Chal: violet and yellow Toa of Lightning. Kanohi: Hau, Mask of Shielding.

Rehu: black and dark gray Toa of Magnetism. Kanohi: Mahiki, Mask of Illusions.

Barak: black and yellow Toa of Gravity. Kanohi: Pakari, Mask of Strength.

Ororas: gray Toa of Iron. Kanohi: unspecified.

 

Syx: turquoise and silver Toa of Sonics. Kanohi: unspecified.

Sunua: orange and white Toa of Plasma. Kanohi: unspecified.

Ketak: brown and green Toa of Plantlife. Kanohi: unspecified.

Dehlak: blue Toa of Water. Kanohi: unknown.

 

Zerax: Makuta.

 

Kupanu: green and bronze Toketahka. Formerly Toa of Plasma.


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Chapter 17

 

          Hamak shivered in the damp air. Chal had led the group of twelve to an immense cavern, Lightstones lining the walls up to the edges of a lake. There was plenty of room for all of them to stand, but a sense of gloom fell about them from the way the rippling water faded into darkness. That, and the occasional suckered tentacle lifting into the air.

          “Nepteran and Marik are on their way,” Polin said to him. 

          Hamak looked at him. “Great work.” He had suggested that the brown Toa use his Mind-Reading mask ability to contact the two from afar, and, apparently, it had worked.

          “Syx,” Chal said with a glance at the turquoise Toa. With a nod, the Toa of Sonics erected a sound shield around the group.

          “The first thing we need to do,” Zerax said, after giving a brief summary of the situation to make sure everyone was on the same page, “is to find out what is in that Toa Seal of his.”

          “That shouldn’t be too hard,” Hamak said. “We got to that room before without Kupanu noticing.”

          “He’s on the lookout for us now, though,” Chal said. “You were lucky enough the first time, but there’s a much higher chance we’ll run into him now. And remember, he doesn’t know the rest of us are free yet. We should try to keep it that way.”

          Hamak nodded in agreement. “What he doesn’t know is to our advantage.”

          “That won’t be easy,” Rehu, Toa of Magnetism said. He and Ikapak sat on the ground, images of fatigue. “It’s hard enough for just the three of us to keep up the illusions of all of us in our stasis pods. Hiding a bunch of us on top of that would double the work.”

          “You’ll just have to grit your teeth,” Chal said.

          “We’ll eventually free everyone, so there will be more Toa with Mahiki, and more Makuta to help them focus,” Hamak said, turning to Zerax. “Isn’t that right?”

          “Yes,” the Makuta said, “but for the time being, let’s focus on that Toa Seal. The whole mission could hinge on what is inside it.”

          “What we need,” Chal said, “is a sure way to get to it without the Traitor finding out, and without pushing our illusioners past their limits.”

          “If we didn’t have to keep all of them up at the same burning time, it wouldn’t be so terrible,” Ikapak muttered.

          “That’s not a bad idea,” Hamak said, brightening. “Chal, do you know Kupanu well enough to predict where he is going to be?”

          “He was always more emotional than thoughtful,” the violet and yellow Toa replied, “so he is more predictable than he knows. If we are lucky, we might be able to target him for a few minutes, but there is no guarantee he won’t change up his pattern on us.”

          “What if we set up guards?” Polin asked.

          “That would just make Kupanu more likely to spot someone,” Rehu said.

          “His mask!” Sahkmah said. “Polin has a Suletu. He’ll be able to link with any sentries we set up, and see what they see. We can form a network, with sentries keeping tabs on Kupanu, and Polin telling Ikapak and Rehu where to focus.”

          “Like a Visorak web,” Ororas, the Toa of Iron breathed. “A tap on one thread resonates across the land to the colony’s king and queen at the center.”

          “I’ll need help,” Polin said, looking to Zerax questioningly.

          “I cannot spare my own concentration at the moment,” Zerax replied, “but I could revive one of my brothers to help you.”

          “Great, more Makuta,” Rehu said, making a fist.

          “I know you distrust us, Toa of Iron, and not without reason.” The Powers of Iron and Magnetism were the Makuta’s greatest weaknesses, and the Makuta had a fondness for eliminating their weaknesses. “But we have a common goal at the moment. We know as well as you that if you are not guaranteed your freedom and safety after we are done here, then we will not be able to work together, and will fail.”

          “I still don’t like it,” Rehu muttered.

          “Anyway,” Chal said, “we have a plan. We release another Makuta to help Polin. We place a network of sentries around the places that need illusions, to keep track of Kupanu’s location. These sentries will be telepathically linked to Polin, who will relay the information to Zerax, Ikapak, and Rehu, so they can conserve their strength by focusing their illusions. Once we start releasing more beings, we will expand the network and its complexity.” She paused, looking at Zerax. “This is going to take a Pit of a lot of coordination.”

          “Leave that to my brothers and me,” Zerax said. “Just remember,” he turned to address everyone, “we are not to engage the Cursed One in battle. We cannot win that fight.”

          “It’s settled, then,” Chal said. “Let us get to work.”

          “And leave us out of the fun?” The voice came from the entrance. Hamak turned to see Marik and Nepteran walking toward them, returned from their scouting. A third Toa trailed them, colored brown and green.

          “Welcome back,” Hamak said. “Who is the newcomer?”

          “I am Ketak,” the new Toa said in a liquid voice, “Toa of Plantlife. It is a pleasure to meet you, fire-tender.”

          “Likewise.” Hamak found himself smiling.

          “There is something I need to show the two of you,” Marik said.

          “What is it?” Hamak asked.

          “You’ll see,” Marik replied, with a glint in his eye. “Come, follow me.”

          Hamak looked questioningly at Chal. Would they be alright without the three of them for the moment? Chal nodded and turned, assigning other Toa to positions.

          A thought occurred to Hamak, and he frowned behind his mask. “Wait a minute.” He stopped and turned back to the larger group. “We still have to find our Chronicler, Kali. Kupanu took her from us. She should be a priority.”

          Chal looked at him, her posture straight, and chin forward. “The thinner we spread ourselves, the more of a risk we take. We will find your Matoran when we release the rest of the beings the Traitor has imprisoned.”

          “No, we won’t,” a small voice said. Hamak looked around in confusion, and some of the other Toa did as well. “We don’t have to find Kali,” the voice said, a little more loudly. This time, Hamak pinpointed its source: Dehlak, the small, shriveled Water companion they had picked up a while back. Hamak felt fire building up behind his chest plates. How dare this outsider trivialize the Matoran his team had sworn to protect?

          “We don’t have to find her, because, well, I am her.”

          The cavern fell so still they could have heard a Protodite skitter across the ground. All eyes stared at Dehlak.

          “Or, I was,” Dehlak continued. “Kupanu did something to me, and now I am like this.” She waved her stick-like Toa arms and threw a weak spurt of water into the air, which splashed down on the ground. “I used to be Kali, but now I don’t know who I am anymore.”

          “Mata Nui preserve us,” Hamak heard Sahkmah whisper nearby. He agreed. It was good to know Kali was with them, but if Kupanu could make a Matoran into a Toa, then he was far more powerful than any of them had thought—more powerful than they imagined any being in the Universe could be.

          Kupanu had power over Destiny itself.


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Chapter 18

 

          “All right,” Chal said to her team, with the addition of Syx and Sunua, as they stood in a ring around Kupanu’s Toa Seal in the room behind his personal chamber. The crystal glowed with shifting colors of violet, orange, yellow, silver, and others. “Be ready to act as soon as Zerax gives the command. The moment we break the Seal, the Traitor will come rushing back here.” Kupanu surely would have booby trapped something important enough to be hidden inside a Toa Seal with an alarm, but their quick search had turned up nothing. Doubtless, the mechanism was hidden somewhere inside the crystal, where they would not know of it until it was too late.

          After the meeting, Zerax had released another of the Makuta, who was supposedly less hostile than most toward Toa of Iron and Magnetism. He had taken Zerax’s place with the illusions, and Zerax had assumed command of Polin’s Suletu network. The two Makuta, Polin, and Ikapak had remained in the cavern where they had made their plans, deciding to use it as their headquarters. Rehu used his Mahiki to hide Chal’s team from Kupanu’s sight, both physically and psychically. Hamak, Marik, and Ketak had gone off on their own. The remaining Toa, Sahkmah, Nepteran, and Dehlak—or Kali, or whatever she was called—had taken stations in key places where illusions had to be maintained. Chal assumed more Toa had been released by now to help with this task, as it would be too much for the three of them to handle on their own.

          “Ready.” The six Toa stood braced, their arms outstretched, Tools pointed at the Seal. She felt the cue from Zerax in her mind, which meant Kupanu was as far away as possible. “Now!” she yelled. Six beams of energy flowed from six pairs of hands, amplified and focused by the Tools they held. The seal glowed more brilliantly, its colors shifting faster and faster. Then, it shattered, its pieces flying through the air and melting away.

          Where the Seal had sat was a circular dais, the top of which was level with Chal’s eyes. Strange, sharp-edged symbols covered its side, and the top was ringed with grotesque carvings of faces without masks. On top of the column stood a pedestal, which held a dark crystal the size of three fists stacked on top of each other.

          He’s coming, Zerax’s voice sounded in Chal’s mind. Fast. The Traitor would be using a Mask of Speed, one of the Powers he had gained. She heaved herself up onto the dais.

          “I wonder what all this means,” Ororas said, looking at the strange script.

          “We don’t have time to find out,” Chal said, scooping up the strange crystal and leaping off the stone. “Tear it down.” This sculpture must have had something to do with how the Traitor stole his Powers from his victims.

          “With pleasure.” The air behind her grew searing hot, and she turned to see the stone melting like wax in a torrent of Sunua’s plasma. Chal was struck by how different working with this Toa was from how it had been with Kupanu.

          “Go!” she yelled, sprinting through the door, only to stop dead in the hall outside. In front of her was the Traitor, wreathed in elements of all kinds. But his mask, that mask had belonged to someone she had known. Someone who had stood with her for a thousand years, who had followed her to the Pit and back. Someone who had laughed with her, and celebrated the prosperity of their home, Vika Nui. That mask had belonged to someone she had called a Brother. But a Brother, he was no more.

          Kupanu threw a blast of fire, but it was not directed at her. Instead, he twisted this way and that, flinging Powers around as if fighting invisible enemies. Fire, ice, plasma, and lightning illuminated the tunnel, accompanied by deafening booms and crackles.

          Chal felt a tug at her shoulder. She tore her eyes away from the spectacle, allowing Syx to pull her down a side passage. The others were already moving.

          “What was that?” She said, energy raging through her like a flood, driving her legs faster than she had known they could go.

          “Illusions,” Ororas said. “He fought empty air, like a Lohrak in the throes of Hordika venom.”

          Genius. Score one for the illusion team. It could not be easy to manifest convincing phantom enemies. They must have added more Toa to their number since Chal and her team had left, and perhaps another Makuta or two as well.

          She glanced down at the crystal she carried. What was it? Could it be the source of Kupanu’s power? He had not seemed any weaker in his fury just then, but maybe it would take time for his power to seep away. Either that, she thought with a grimace, or the crystal was a decoy.

          The crystal was deep and dark, but whenever she tried to put a name to its color, it didn’t fit. If she thought of the color green, the crystal looked redder. But it wasn’t red either, more of a blue. Wait, no, was it orange? Its color did not seem to be changing, but no name Chal tried to give it would fit. Not even brown, gray, or black. She pulled the crystal to her chest and focused on where she was going. Looking at the thing was disconcerting.

          “I’m on to you, you Pit-scum,” Kupanu’s voice roared through the hall behind them. “Come out of your hole and face me! Give me back my Shard!”

          A renewed terror seared through Chal, and her legs pumped even faster. Their motion seemed disconnected from her will, as if they were driven by a mind of their own. With Syx masking the sound of their feet, she desperately hoped that the monster with her dead Brother’s mask would rampage in the wrong direction.

          Onward they flew.


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Chapter 19

 

          Hamak trailed Marik and Ketak down a spiral set of stairs carved into the stone, lost in the drudgery of his thoughts. Why could he never come up with any good ideas? At the planning conference, the others had ignored everything he had said, and built up their own plan. A better plan. As leader of his Toa team, why hadn’t he been the one to think of using Polin’s telepathy for a surveillance network?

          Then again, Chal had been the one to voice it, and she was also a Toa team leader. In fact, she was the leader of the team that Kupanu had once been a part of. Perhaps she had more of a right to command the larger group than he. And there was also Zerax, a Makuta, a species known for, among less amiable characteristics, their intelligence. Next to those two, Hamak felt inadequate.

          Now that he thought about it, he realized that he probably was. He had a tendency to lose his cool, and sometimes he would get an idea in his head that he was so sure about, but turned out to be wrong. He recalled the time when he had argued with Zerax about principles, so confident in the moment that they would find Kali in one of Kupanu’s stasis tubes, displayed like a trophy. Instead, the Toketahka had somehow commanded the power of Destiny and turned the Matoran into a Toa. Not even Mata Nui himself would have seen that coming.

          And still after all they had been through, he did not know what his mask did. All of the others, his team and those he had met, had abilities, divine gifts of power that they carried over their faces. Yet his was just a molded piece of metal.

          “And we arrive,” Marik said. Hamak looked up, stepping off the last of the stairs, to see him gesturing dramatically to a large door with an enormous wheel sticking out of it. Reaching up, Marik pulled the spokes of the wheel toward him, hand over hand, until a clunk signified the unlocking of latches. 

          Hamak was not sure whether he was excited for or afraid of what was behind the door, but whatever he felt grew to a spike as the door swung open, revealing the enormous cavern beyond, with its ice-lined walls and the stone bridge leading to the tangled plant in the center. He stepped though to a sound like the echo of a thousand breaths.

          “By the Great Spirit,” Ketak said, his voice like a whisper. “A Morbuzakh King Root.”

          “I suppose it does have a name,” Marik said. “Now watch thi—hey, wait!” He reached toward Ketak, who strode forward across the stone bridge. “That thing is dangerous.”

          Hamak turned toward his companion. “So there’s a giant plant. I don’t see the big deal. Am I missing something?”

          Marik gestured around the cavern. “See all that ice?” Now that his attention was drawn to it, Hamak noticed that the ceiling, the walls, and the floor down below were all frozen over with a thick, crystalline sheet. “Nepter and I think it’s there to contain the thing in this room.”

          “What, that Morbuzakh?” Hamak said, looking toward the tangle of green and brown branches. “So?”

          “So if the ice was to melt,” the green Toa said with a glint in his eye, “it would be able to break free. Don’t you see?”

          “Marik, it’s a plant,” Hamak said. “We don’t have time to wait until it grows through the ceiling.”

          “You still don’t get it,” Marik said, spreading his arms apart slowly. “It’s not just a plant. It moves.”

          Hamak turned back to regard the strange tangle of vines in the center of the room. What he had taken before as swaying and rustling in the breeze could not be so; the air was still. Suddenly, it looked more like the lethargic movement of a Rahi, starved and weak. There did seem to be quite the mass spilling out of the central vat and along the stone bridge. “So if I were to melt the ice,” Hamak said slowly, “The Morbuzakh might be able to reach up and tear the ceiling apart.”

          “Maybe even find food and grow,” Marik said mischievously. “But we wouldn’t want it to start going crazy until the right moment, which is why we brought our friend.” Marik nodded toward Ketak, who by now was more than halfway across the bridge to the giant vine.

          “I see,” Hamak said. “This could give us a real advantage.”

 

(==========)

 

          Walking toward the Morbuzakh vine, Ketak felt at peace. Sure, the chance to meet this strange new being he had heard only tales about brought forth an excitement, but the feeling manifested as if from outside of him. Long ago, he had learned to extricate himself from his emotions, cultivating within his center a garden of serenity. He had spent centuries harmonizing himself with nature, attuning his senses to the breath and heartblink of life. He knew its ups and downs, its stretches of tranquility and its moments of turbulence. As he passed the ends of vine branches that creeped along the stone bridge, he felt a deep pain within them, like the pierces of a thousand knives, thorns, and barbed hooks. The creature’s consciousness cast the universe in ugly grays and browns, no memory left of vibrancy, no possibility for a better existence. The being was not evil—Ketak was not sure anything was truly evil—only colorblind.

          The Morbuzakh whispered, many conflicting voices, in the stupor of insanity. Beneath Ketak’s inner peace, a great empathy welled up, a longing to end this creature’s suffering and show it the wonder of what life could be. Stopping at what he felt was the right distance, he spread his hands to his sides in a gesture of good will, and asked, “May I approach, friend?”

          In response, one of the nearby vine branches whipped up quicker than the blink of an eye and snatched the Toa off his feet, wrapping around him so tightly that, had he tried to struggle, he would barely have been able to move. “Toa,” the plant rasped, “I would crusssh every one of you until your bark ssshatters and your vassscular tisssues break and ssspew their contentsss on the ground.”

          Ketak remained relaxed, his Heart Stone bleeding for the vine. So much hatred. He did not worry about himself; his Mask Power would let him escape if he had to. “Tell me,” he said soothingly, “what we have done to you to hurt you so much.”

          “Toa ssslaughtered our father and ssstole usss when we were only a ssseed,” the plant replied. “They kept usss here in thisss frozen tomb. We mussst grow. We mussst spread. We mussst find the sky.”

          “I’m sorry,” Ketak said. “What we did was wrong. But now I—” He was cut off by the vine tightening around him, forcing the air from his lungs.

          “Toa dessstroy!” the plant shrieked. With a violent whip, it flung him downward, and he tumbled toward the icy cavern floor far below. He landed on his back and slid a short way across the ice before coming to a stop, dazed.

          Distantly, Ketak heard someone call his name. “Don’t worry. Just a quick-moment, and I’ll have you back up here.” It was Marik’s voice. The Toa of Air probably intended to fly down and grab him.

          “Thank you,” he called, “but I’ve got it.” Triggering his Kanohi Mask, he teleported to a standing position next to the other two Toa, who jumped in surprise.

          “Wh-what?” Hamak stammered.

          “I wear a Kualsi,” Ketak said, “a Kanohi Mask of Quick-Travel.”

          “It lets you teleport?” Hamak asked.

          “To anywhere I can see,” Ketak replied.

          “So no going through walls,” Hamak guessed.

          “Unless they are transparent.” Ketak looked back toward the Morbuzakh Root. “I would like to keep trying. I know I can convince it that we want to help it.” The plant writhed violently, and a particularly thick appendage walloped the stone bridge so hard that the reverberating shockwave nearly sent the three Toa to their knees. “Or, maybe after it’s had some time to cool down.”

          “You sure?” Hamak said doubtfully.

          Ketak nodded. “You two go back and help the others. The Morbuzakh could still be a great advantage for us.” It saddened him to speak of a living being as an “advantage,” but he knew the stakes, and sometimes what was right and what needed to be done were two interpretations of the same thing.

          “Will you be all right without us? What if Kupanu finds you here?”

          “I will be in contact with the Suletu network.” Ketak tapped his mask. “This will keep me out of danger. If Kupanu nears, I can easily move myself out of sight.”

          Hamak nodded. “Good luck, then.” As he and Marik turned to go, Hamak peered over the edge of the bridge to where the brown and green Toa had lain. “Fascinating. I would have never have imagined such a mask power.”


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Chapter 20

 

          Barak tramped around the cavern holding the lake where the giant tentacled Rahi nested. He had kept busy greeting the new Toa, Matoran, and other beings when they awoke, and helping them find out how they could best help in the escape effort. He didn’t have the stealth to act as a sentry—not even he would deny that—and he could not participate in the Mahiki illusion or the Suletu mind-network with his Mask of Strength. But one thing he definitely knew he was good at was being friendly and optimistic, exactly what someone waking up in a strange, dark place far from home needed.

          Curiosity poked at him as he saw two of the Makuta talking with Chal, who held up the strange crystal they had found underneath Kupanu’s Toa Seal. He walked closer to hear what they were saying.

          Zerax was speaking. “. . . don’t like this color quality. I have never seen anything like it.”

          “If it is the source of his power,” Chal said, “shouldn’t we destroy it?”

          “No!” The unfamiliar Makuta said hastily. Then, more slowly, he said, “It almost certainly has to be linked to the stone mechanism you found it on in order to work. Imagine what we could learn by studying this crystal.”

          “I agree,” Zerax said. “We should at least find out what it does and how it works. For all we know, destroying it might cause Kupanu to lose control and unleash chaos.”

          Chal looked them in the eyes, pulling the crystal to her chest. “I don’t want this power in the hands of a Toa, and I definitely don’t want it in the hands of the Makuta. The way I see it, the risks of keeping it are worse than the risks of destroying it.”

          Standing innocently at his eavesdropping spot nearby, Barak agreed. He supposed Chal might be doing some kind of bargaining, but that kind of thinking was a waste of energy, especially when there was an easy solution in sight. Tapping both his elemental and mask Powers, he momentarily increased the crystal’s self-gravitation a thousand-trillionfold. There was a spectacular pop, and the crystal exploded into a thousand pieces right in Chal’s arms. The force of it sent her stumbling backward. Barak turned, intending to walk away whistling, but thought better of it when he saw everyone nearby turn to stare at the Lightning Toa. He joined them. Better to follow the crowd than be the only “oblivious” bystander.

          Chal stared, bewildered, at the space between her hands. Looking up, she noticed the two Makuta’s chilling glares. “I didn’t do it.”

          “Did we miss anything?” The call came from the doorway, where Hamak and Marik stepped into the chamber. The beings in the room made way for them as they approached. “Looks like you’ve been making progress,” Hamak said, eying the sizable group.

          “We found a mysterious crystal underneath Kupanu’s Toa Seal,” Chal replied. Then she sheepishly continued, “but it appears to have spontaneously exploded.”

          “Right after we spoke of studying it,” the Makuta whose name Barak did not know said. “Quite the coincidence, wouldn’t you say?”

          “I did not do it,” Chal said firmly, “though I think it is for the best. I would take the credit if I had.” She bent down and picked up one of the larger shards, and handed it to Hamak.

          Hamak studied the shard with a perplexed look. “What . . . color is it?”

          “None of us can tell,” Chal replied. “Nothing seems to fit.”

          “It makes me dizzy to look at it,” Hamak said, handing the shard back to Chal, who nodded in understanding.

          It was a fascinating diversion, but Barak’s attention, like many of the beings in the room, wandered away to other things. He meandered around the room, calling out to Syx as he passed. The teal Toa had maintained a constant sound shield around the chamber since they had first entered. He looked in Barak’s direction briefly, and then back to wherever he had been staring before. That guy talked about as much as a meteorite. Well, the ones that didn’t speak, at least.

          As Barak moseyed, he heard a snippet of conversation. “The exit is up about five stories. It’s hard to tell without a proper staircase in the place.”

          Barak rounded on the speaker, a blue and white Toa, who was talking to another. “So they found the exit?” he said, barging in.

          The one who had been speaking glanced at him. “Yeah. One of the scouts ran into a wall that was too smooth. Turns out it was another one of those illusion doors. There’s a team up there now searching for materials to make boats to take us back to our homes.”

          “Stellar!” Barak did one of his signature above-the-head claps, adding the perfect amount of spacetime distortion to make it look heavy. He hit the combination just right, and was rewarded with a particularly satisfying boom.

          He spotted Dehlak, the thin, pallid Toa of Water, who he had been told had arrived as a Matoran Chronicler. Walking over to her, he thumped her on the back and bellowed, “How are you doing, my fine, little friend?”

          Dehlak gasped and stumbled. Barak didn’t see why. He hadn’t hit her that hard; he had only needed to use a smidge of his Gravity Power to keep her from falling over. It must have been because he had called her “little.” Though she was short for a Toa, she was still taller than he was.

          She looked back at him, eyes shallow and haunted. After a long moment, she whispered, “I don’t know.”

          “Have you tried building a wall?” Barak asked, eyes brightly lit.

          She blinked twice. “A wall?”

          “Made of water!” Barak said. “And you can make another one right next to it, and see how close you can get them without letting them merge together.” The blue Toa stared blankly past him, then turned away, mumbling. Great Spirit, she’s having it rough, Barak thought.

          He took her by the arm. “Come on,” he said, pulling her toward the cavern lake. Though she protested, his grip was strong enough that she had no choice but to follow. They stopped a safe distance from the edge. Or at least, what he assumed was a safe distance. He really had no idea how far the thing in the water could reach.

          Letting go of her, Barak gestured toward the water. “Go on,” he said, “draw some out.”

          Dehlak looked at him, then to the water. Hesitantly, she reached toward the lake, which was calm at the moment. Its inhabitant might have been asleep. Barak noticed that, unlike all other Toa he knew of, Dehlak had no Tools to focus her Power. He suddenly wondered if she had ever used that Power before.

          The lake began to ripple. Then one of the ripples stopped moving and stretched up from the surface in a membrane. It grew wider and taller, until it became a wall. A wall made of water.

          Many beings would dismiss such an activity, thinking it a pointless waste of time. But Barak knew better. He could see signs in her movements that she was concentrating, a stark improvement over how she had been a minute ago, lost in her brooding.

          It still wasn’t enough, though. Barak bent down to pick up a rock, and flicked it toward the sheet of water. When it hit, Dehlak lost her concentration, and the whole thing collapsed back into the lake in a deafening roar that echoed through the chamber and seemed to last forever.

          When the noise finally subsided, the whole room stood tense, waiting to see if the lake monster had been disturbed. A few of the closest beings edged backward, away from the slumbering depths.

          Once it was clear that there was no immediate danger, Dehlak turned to Barak and said, “What was that for?”

          “I just thought of a game,” Barak said. “You hold up a sheet of water about this big,” he swept his arms, pointing vaguely at imaginary edges, “and I’ll throw rocks at it. You have to make holes so that the rocks sail through without getting wet.”

          Dehlak stared at him for a moment, before saying, “you mean before they hit the lake surface.” Barak could hear the hint of smile in those words. Progress.

          Throwing his arms out wide and raising them slightly above his head, Barak bowed. He had been told on occasion that his flamboyance was strange, but he didn’t care. What was life without a little flair?

          “Sounds like fun,” Dehlak said. She called forth a new wave, this one smaller than the first. She made a few practice holes, and then smoothed them out.

          “You ready?” Barak said, looking at her.

          “Ready.” Dehlak’s tone was full of competition. Barak tapped his gravity Power to float an armful of stones into his grasp. With a flick of his wrist, the game began.


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Chapter 21

 

          Kupanu raced through the tunnels of his lair, growls and roars flying from behind his mask. The cursed Toa he had let roam around had freed others—how many, he could only guess. He was caught in a web of powerful illusions, confirmed by the phantasms he had fought. How was it possible that he could not break through their deception? Kupanu was the Toketahka. Nothing could stand against him!

          As he had done so many times before, he threw out a pulse from his emulated Mask of Detection Power. It was supposed to let him see through illusions, but these had proved too powerful each time he had tried to dispel them. He had long since stopped expecting it to work, persisting now only out of stubbornness. He groped blindly with mental hands, restricted as if trapped by a cloth sheet. Setting his jaw, he tried to ignore the claustrophobic sensation and find the hidden truth beyond. There! He could feel something like twine, twisting this way and that through the aether. He focused on those strands, tugging at them, trying to find some kind of pattern. And there it was, a central nub that tied the fabric of deceit together. He gathered all his strength, and pulled.

          He let out a whoop, feeling the tables turn back in his favor as the illusion shattered and he could sense what was going on again. Then he realized just how many beings the Toa had freed. Ten, twenty, thirty . . . far too many. Indeed, in the very hall he stood in, pod after pod had been emptied. But that would stop now. He could sense where they were congregated, and was not in a mood to pull punches. He raced forward, zeroing in on the Giant Pit Squid chamber with his copied Mask of Speed. This was the end for those swarming Hoto bugs.

          When he reached the room, he threw the door open so hard that its hinges shattered and it flew across the room. He made a fist, sending an energy-sapping field through the air. He would fell them all with one swoop.

          What happened was like a stubborn dream. Most of the beings collapsed to the ground in total weakness, but a few refused to fall. These few Toa stood protected by the signature force shield of a Kanohi Hau, and at the center of the shield stood Toa Chal.

          “You!” Kupanu cried, thrusting a finger toward his former captain. “Of all the beings they could have rescued, why did it have to be you?”

          The violet Toa stepped slowly around him, holding the distance between the two of them. Arcs of electricity jumped between her feet and the ground in the moments before and after every step.

          “Nothing to say?” Kupanu said.

          “I have no words for traitors.” Chal spat.

          “Oh, now I’m the traitor?”

          In his peripheral vision, Kupanu noticed that Barak had somehow escaped his attack too, without the help of a Mask of Shielding. Kupanu had never understood that short one. Gravity was supposed to make things heavier; it should have no effect on an energy field. Beyond the black-yellow dwarf stood a Toa of water whom Kupanu recognized, to his surprise, as Kali. Would she fight for him? No, everyone was out to get him. He would have to do this alone.

          Chal’s final step made a crunch, drawing Kupanu’s back to her. The ground sparkled around her feet. Could it be . . . no, certainly not! Kupanu snapped his eyes up, locking with Chal’s as he tried to ignore, to forget, to will away the broken pieces on the floor. Chal twisted her leg, making a grinding noise as she scraped her foot over loose stone. In that moment, Kupanu’s resolve failed him, and he looked. There lay the unmistakable color-shifting bits of his Kino Shard, broken into a thousand pieces.

          At that moment, something snapped inside of him. He balled his hands into fists, plasma sheathing up his arms. “You want a fight?” he growled, feeling white heat build up within him. He lifted off the floor, and flew over the Toa to hover above the cavern lake. Beneath him, the waters began to churn and froth. “A battle . . .” Great tentacles burst forth from the deep, and a bulbous head with black, bottomless, unblinking eyes lethargically rose in their midst, held by the strings of Kupanu’s leeched Rahi-control Power, “. . . you will have!”

          Before him stood Chal, Barak, Sahkmah, Kali, and Hamak. Five in all, one short of a true team. And there he was, the sixth, their enemy. It was as if Destiny had broken. The irony made him burst into maniacal laughter.

          As his laughter died, all was still. Then, in the blink of an eye, the Squid lanced three of its appendages toward the five, who leaped and dodged out of the way. Hamak retaliated, sending a burst of fire at one of the suckered arms, causing a large discolored spot to appear on it. Though the squid felt the pain full and fierce, Kupanu used his tight control to smoothly retract the tentacle and replace it with another. It had plenty, after all. It could lose a few.

          Kupanu did not remain still himself. Reaching behind his head, he tore off his mask. He did not need it to use the many Powers he had gathered. Let his enemies see every twist of his muscles, every deformation of his mouth. Let them witness the wrath in his eyes in their final moments, as the prey of the Rahi did. He took in a deep breath, and then screamed, vomiting a jet of plasma mixed with fire and lightning. It split, writhing back and forth in a spray of destruction.

          To Kupanu’s frustration, all five Toa moved deftly and avoided his attacks. Barak somehow managed to make the bolts bend away from him. Kupanu angrily batted away a fiery counterattack from Hamak. That was not how Gravity was supposed to work. It was supposed to make things heavier, not move them!

          Suddenly, Kupanu’s control over the Giant Squid locked up. Looking down, he saw Chal spraying an intense beam of lightning into the lake. Kupanu yelled and sent a fire blast her way, but Barak’s cursed rule-defying Power sent it off course. Scrunching up his mouth and jamming his teeth with concentration, Kupanu sent a focused beam from his hand, as straight as he could make it. Yet still, Barak seemed able to deflect it with ease.

          Perhaps it was time for a different strategy. Kupanu’s eyes roamed until they fell upon Kali and Sahkmah, standing near the water’s edge with their arms outstretched. Were they doing something to the water? He looked down to see a tendril of charged liquid snaking up toward him. He almost smiled. So they’d had the same idea as he. Turning back to the two blue Toa, he thrust his fist up in front of him, causing a spout to gush up and envelop them.

          Chal stopped her attack as the Ga-Toa cried out, but she was too late. The two floated limply in a water bubble, held aloft by Kupanu’s invisible hand. He released his grasp on it, and they crashed to the ground. There they lay, limp, without stirring. That was two down, and three to go.

          Kupanu tried to regain command of the Giant Squid, but the charged water had taken its toll. The beast was dead. But that did not matter. He was more than capable of taking his opponents down on his own.

          He flew down to the ground, on his way spitting into the air a giant ball of acid, which spread across the ceiling. Turning, he saw Barak hunkering under Chal’s shield. That wouldn’t do. He tapped his Earth and Stone Powers, and caused a rock wedge to erupt from the ground, forcing his two foes stumbling away from each other.

          Kupanu grinned, as Barak raised his hands to gravitationally ward off the falling acid, leaving his sides wide open. Kupanu waited for the perfect moment, then thrust his hand forward, sending a battering ram of air into the short Toa, knocking him away from his protected area just as the acid splashed down. When the caustic liquid slipped between the cracks of Barak’s armor, the short Toa began to scream and thrash. Kupanu, of course, was immune.

          Chal had easily dodged the deluge in her shield. But she was alone now, and as good as dead against him. He triggered his Mask of Speed Power and leaped forward, ramming his shoulder into her and plowing her into the far wall. He pummeled her with lightning-fast fists, a vicious snarl contorting his maskless face. Chal tried to block, to fight back, but she had no chance against his speed.

          Drawing his arm back for one final shot, he triggered his stolen Strength, and delivered a blow to her head so powerful that her mask shattered, revealing a face of flesh and mechanical parts, drooping in a dazed stupor. He grabbed her by the chest and spoke slowly and deliberately, his face almost touching hers. “This is for abandoning me, for inciting the others to turn against me.” He lifted her above his head, then slammed her against the ground, headfirst.

          Kupanu took a slow, deep breath as he looked at Chal’s motionless form. This was his ultimate triumph. To defeat the one who had controlled his life, who had kept him in chains, in the dark about what Power truly meant. After this, truly, he would be free.

          Now where was that Toa of Fire?

          A mask clattered to the ground next to him. His own Miru. As he looked up to see where it had come from, a sensation of falling overcame him, his rage giving way to crushing exhaustion. When his eyes cleared, the place was empty except for Hamak, the Fire Toa who had come sneaking in and started this mess.

          “What . . .” Kupanu looked around the room. Everyone else was gone—Chal, his adversaries, the beings he had knocked out with his entrance, even the Giant Squid.

          The crimson Toa laughed in a slow, mocking rhythm. “You, my friend, have been defeated.”


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Chapter 22

 

          Kupanu thrust his hand forward, intending to obliterate his foe. But instead of the awesome power of a hundred Toa, only a small tongue of plasma left his hand, dissipating immediately. His arm shook in fatigue, and he lowered it, barely able even to stand.

          “Impossible,” he said hoarsely, glancing at where the Kino Shard lay broken. “As long as there are Toa in the pods, it should still work.”

          Again, Hamak laughed. This time, it was sharp and piercing.

          Kupanu looked back at him, thunderstruck. “No. . . . But how? There’s no way you had enough time to release all of them. You didn’t, I felt it!” He tried to cast out his senses to check again, but the ability eluded him.

          “On the contrary,” Hamak said, holding up two fingers. “Have you heard of the law of doubling? If two of us each release one being, there are four of us.” He added two more fingers. “If each of us then goes to release another, that makes eight. If we do it again, sixteen. And so on and so forth.”

          “Liar!” Kupanu screamed. He stepped forward, thrusting out his arm, again making only a pitiful spurt of plasma. “I felt it. Most of my trophies were still there a minute ago.”

          “Oh, our plan was far more ingenious than you imagine. You see, you’ve been losing your power for a long time. Our expertly coordinated team of illusionists made it feel like you still had it, when in reality it was slowly draining away from you.”

          “But I broke your illusion,” Kupanu said, taking another step forward.

          Hamak shook his head. “That was an illusion within an illusion. It was all part of the plan. We wanted you here, out of the way while we finished up. The grand battle you just fought was a fabrication. I was the only one here the whole time, and only because the illusionists needed my eyes to see you.”

          “That’s impossible,” Kupanu said through a snarl as he staggered toward the other Toa. “You lie.”

          “You have one last chance,” Hamak said. “Go up to the surface and turn yourself in. We will bring you to your home, where you will stand trial.”

          “I will stop you,” Kupanu said. Step after labored step, he took toward the crimson Toa. “And when I do, you, and everyone else you’ve let out will be put back where they belong. And then I will return to Tavi Nui and take all your Matoran and Turaga, as they are rightfully mine. And then I will go beyond, and consume the entire Universe.”

          “Oh, I’m afraid you won’t,” Hamak said, raising his hands beside his head. “The plan isn’t finished yet.” With a snap of his fingers, he vanished.

          Kupanu looked frantically around the cavern, but found only cold stone and silent water. “Wha—” His hands balled into fists and his whole body shook as he raised his bare face to the ceiling and cried, “Where are you?”

 

(==========)

 

          Hamak appeared on the stone bridge in the Morbuzakh chamber not far from Ketak, the Toa of Plantlife. Hamak smiled inwardly; so it had worked.

          “Hamak,” Ketak said in surprise, “What . . .”

          “Seeing you teleport the last time I was here,” Hamak said, “that wasn’t a Mask Power I had ever heard about. So I tried it, and it turns out to be what mine does too.”

          Ketak nodded. “Well done, brother.”

          “Yeah, it was awkward being the only Toa on the team not knowing what his mask does.” Hamak gave a thumbs up. “But now I’m back in the game.”

          “But how did you get into this room? Kualsi-wearers can only travel to places they can see.”

          “I’ll show you in a moment,” Hamak replied, as he walked to the end of the bridge and put his hand on the wall, sending waves of heat through the ice covering the chamber. “Right now, we have to move.”

          “What are you doing?” Ketak said, “I haven’t gotten through to the Morbuzakh yet. I need more time.”

          “Time, we don’t have,” Hamak replied, as the ice began to melt. Looking back, he saw the giant vine stretch its branches in their direction, toward the warmth, so he hopped down off the bridge to start melting from a different spot. “And what it really needs is freedom.”

          Ketak followed. “You may be right,” he said after a moment’s deliberation, “but—”

          There was a great cracking and groaning sound. Hamak looked back to see that the Morbuzakh vines had reached the room’s huge metal door, and torn it clear off. Vines squirmed into the passage beyond, crowding the space and causing the stone frame to crack.

          “Don’t worry,” Hamak reassured him, “we can get out the same way I got in.” He looked at the remaining ice, wondering how it had been maintained. Ice did not keep for long, so there must be some kind of generator hidden somewhere. At the rate the vines spread around the chamber, the Toa would soon be in danger. Hamak would have to hope that the vine would find the frost generator and destroy it before it re-sheathed the walls.

          Hamak concentrated. Now, Polin. Through his telepathic link with the Toa of Stone, an image formed in his mind’s eye of a low sun over a calm ocean reflecting an orange sky. Ripples gently lapped the shoreline. To one side ran a beach, with plants and trees in dark shades of pre-dawn green. In the water sat a group of boats, one of them moored to the shore. So vivid was this image, it could be said that Hamak actually saw it. He imagined himself standing on that beach, and triggered his mask power.

          In the blink of an eye, he really was standing there on that shore. He could hear the songs of birds and the whispering of the waves.

          Beside him, Ketak materialized, blinking in surprise. “Wow,” he said, turning to Hamak. “In your first day, you discovered a technique that I have not known in my entire journey as a Toa.”

          Hamak beamed behind his mask.

          A voice called out from behind them. “Hi guys.”

          “Polin,” Hamak said, turning. He walked over and gave the brown Toa a fist bump. “We did it.”

          The three of them stumbled as a tremor shook the beach. “We should get out of here,” Hamak said, striding toward the docked boat, “any minute now, a giant, angry plant is going to burst out of the ground and start destroying everything.” The others followed.

          At the boat, Chal greeted them, body in pristine condition, her mask whole and solidly in place. Behind her stood Sahkmah and the rest of Hamak’s team. “Nice work,” the Toa of Lightning said. “The Traitor?”

          “I told him to head for the surface,” Hamak said, making way for Polin and Ketak to board. The boat pushed off. “I take it he hasn’t arrived?”

          “No.” There was a great roaring sound, and the two of them turned to see a large group of trees collapse into the ground. Tips of Morbuzakh appeared where they had been.

          “I should have forced him out,” Hamak said. “We should have sent someone to drag him up here.”

          The two stood, watching, as the island cracked and broke under the strain of the vines tearing it apart from the inside. Finally, Chal spoke. “It’s no less than he deserves.” She turned and walked to the far rail.

          “Still, it’s not right,” Hamak said, following. “He should have had a trial.”

          Chal stood still for a moment, her hand resting on the railing. Then, she lifted her foot up onto it and launched herself to the next boat, where her own team waited.

          A loud cheer came from behind Hamak, and he turned to see Marik facing the island with arms raised high in the air. “We did it,” the green Toa cried, “we sent that Piraka to the Pit!”

          “We actually pulled off our mission to rescue Nepteran,” Ikapak said, “though I still find it hard to believe.”

          “Not to mention everybody else that we saved too,” Nepteran added.

          “We defeated the Shadow threatening the islands,” Sahkmah put in.

          “And discovered all of our Mask Powers,” Polin chimed.

          Hamak felt his eyes brighten and a smile spread behind his mask. “Yeah,” he said, “we did well.” He walked to the middle of the boat and put his fist forward. “For the team.” The other five joined him in a circle, their fists forming a ring. Hamak looked at their brown and green companion, who watched them from the rail. “Come on, Ketak, join us.”

          Ketak waved his hand. “This is your moment,” he said.

          “All right.” Hamak turned back to the circle and triggered his Power. The others followed suit, and colored arcs danced between their hands. With fervor they thrust their fists toward the open sky, and, as one, cried, “Unity!”


Check out my BZPower epic, Raiders of the Forsaken Archives, and my blog, A Scientist's Fiction.

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Epilogue

 

          Whether the sun was rising or setting, it was difficult to tell. The small, blue Toa stood gazing off to where water and sky met like the edge of a great mirror. She had been an entirely different being earlier that day. Or maybe it had been some other day. No one really knew.

          Beside her stood the stocky, color-contrasting Toa who had reached out to her when she had needed it most. The others, well, she knew they would have too, but they had been busy.

          “Dehlak—er, Kali,” he said, “um, what do you want to be called?”

          Only two options presented themselves. She could either change in mind as well as in body, or go mad. Neither looked like it would be easy.

          “My life won’t be the same,” she said. “I’ll stick with Dehlak for as long as I’m in this form.”

          “Right, Dehlak. You know, the Vika Nui Toa team has a couple of spots open. You could say we’re running a little light—sorry, I couldn’t help myself. If you’re interested, we could use a Toa of Water.”

          The blue Toa’s gaze had been drawn to one of the other boats, where a Turaga of Water sat in a daze. She was the one Dehlak had seen in the aisle of Toa, casting a question in her mind that stretched to the depths and far out of sight: could Destiny return to someone what was rightfully theirs?

          “Dehlak?” Barak’s voice prodded.

          She slid her eyes away from the specter, and back to the horizon. “No,” she said, “but thanks. I need to take some time to find myself.”

          “Sure,” Barak said. Completely out of character, he said nothing more. That almost made Dehlak smile.

          “I’ll come visit sometime,” she said, “and Mata Nui knows where I’ll be then.” She offered her fist to him, and the Gravity Toa knocked it, quite gently for someone so strong.

          “See you at another place and time, then,” Barak said, a twinkle in his eye.

          “Yeah.” Scanning the boats for the one headed for Tavi Nui, Dehlak was tempted to turn back, to say she hadn’t meant it, that she would go with him. But she knew her choice had set her on Destiny’s path. She was going to miss him.

 

(==========)

 

          “Plantlife?” Marik said, looking casually at his new friend from where he leaned against the rail, propping his head with his forearm. “How does it feel to have the most weak-useless Toa Power of all?”

          Ketak folded his arms, his eyes twinkling. “Nature is the most powerful force in the Universe.”

          “Ha!” Marik said. “You could stake a stick in the ground and be King of Gardening.”

          Knowing eyes peered from behind Ketak’s mask. “Wisdom is a fool’s foolishness.”

          “Sure, whatever.”

          The deck tipped as Dehlak landed a long jump. Ketak relaxed his arms and moved toward the railing. “I’d best be going too. It was a pleasure working with you.” He offered Hamak a fist.

          The crimson Toa knocked it solidly. “You too, brother.”

          Ketak bounded away, leaping from boat to boat like an Anaphi Frog hopping across a scatter of lily pads.

 

(==========)

 

          Makuta Zerax sat contemplating the future. His trip would be to a very different home than all the places those Toa were going. Funny things, Toa. They had a tenth of the intellect of a Makuta, yet they felt as deep a passion and sense of purpose in their lives. Perhaps more. A fascinating enigma.

          Something about the Kupanu situation seemed off. Yes, they had defeated the enemy and restored the balance of power, but Zerax had an unshakable feeling that the threat was not over. Perhaps it had to do with the strange crystal Kupanu had used to siphon power from the beings he captured. Involuntarily, Zerax’s thoughts turned to the sliver he had sequestered in his chest plate before leaving. None of them knew how it worked. It had been unmistakably destroyed, but Kupanu had called it a “Shard,” and had insisted to Hamak that even in a thousand pieces, it should still grant him power.

          Perhaps another Shard could be found, and perhaps another Kupanu could rise up. Zerax would have to keep a close eye on Vika Nui to make sure that did not happen.

 

(==========)

 

          Deep beneath the ground, in a sepulcher of boulders and rubble, Kupanu clutched two of the largest Kino Shards to his chest. He knew not how long he had been there when he finally realized he was still alive. Opening his eyes, he dared look up. Stone. Stone above, stone below. Stone to the right, stone to the left, stone in front, and stone behind. Between him and the stone shimmered a Hau shield. He could see this in a golden glow emanating from his mask, which had returned to his face. But how? he wondered. He had a Mask of Levitation, not Shielding.

          He looked down at the two Shards of crystal he held. “Was it you, Mana Kino?” he said. “You’re watching out for me, aren’t you?”

          For a moment, all was still. Then, the Shards turned to puffs of vapor and floated away. Kupanu glanced around, seized by a sense of dread deeper than the unknown levels of the Pit. Then, the light of his mask flickered, and went out.

 

|3 1 0 |\| 1 ( |_ 3


Check out my BZPower epic, Raiders of the Forsaken Archives, and my blog, A Scientist's Fiction.

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