Toa Bomonga tightened his headlock on the Tahtorak and tried to wrestle the beast to the ground. Bomonga’s Mask of Growth allowed him to reach almost the size of the creature, but he could not match the Tahtorak in sheer strength. Still, he knew a few things about leverage and pressure points that the Rahi did not.
With a roar, the Tahtorak lost its footing and slammed hard into the ground of Xia. What was left of the island city trembled from the impact. “Now stay down,” Bomonga growled, even as Toa Pouks used his power to create bonds of solid stone for the monster.
After a long battle, the Tahtorak had battered the Kanohi Dragon enough that Toa Norik’s spinners had been able to slow it down, while Toa Kualus’ ice attack finished it off. It now lay unconscious, sprawled across much of the southern district of the city. Toa Iruini had taken the advice of a Vortixx and made sure to move the creature’s leg away from the Mountain, so it wouldn’t end up a big snack for that hungry landmark.
Only Toa Gaaki stood off to the side, her eyes fixed on the ocean but unseeing. The Toa Hagah had seen her like this before. She was focused inward, using the power of her Mask of Clairvoyance to see things they could not. Now she stiffened, cried out, and turned toward the others.
“They’re coming,” she said. “Hundreds of them.”
“Hundreds of who?” asked Iruini. He considered Gaaki a good friend, but her vague predictions did have a way of getting on his nerves at times.
“Seekers of shadows,” Gaaki muttered. “Slayers of the dark … ready for war … Vortixx cannot stand …”
Norik walked up beside her and gently eased Gaaki to a seat on a rock. He knelt in front of her and talked to her in a whisper. Now and then she would nod her head. After a few minutes, he gestured to Kualus.
Although the Toa of Ice was no longer a Rahaga, he had not lost his bond with flying Rahi or his ability to communicate with them. Now he signaled to a smoke hawk up above and spoke rapidly in a language none of the others understood. A moment later, the hawk flew off to the west.
“How is she?” Pouks asked Norik.
“It’s been a long time since she used her power,” answered the Toa Hagah of Fire. “Or, rather, since it used her. It’s never easy.”
“What she said – seekers of shadows – what do you think it means?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” asked Bomonga, shrinking down to his normal height. “Seekers of shadows – Dark Hunters.”
The smoke hawk picked that moment to return, flying in tight circles above the island and cawing loudly. Kualus nodded twice and rushed over to his fellow Toa.
“Bomonga is right, from the sound of it,” he said. “My winged ally sees ships coming, so many they blot out the waves. And the crews are armed, my friends … it’s a battle fleet.”
Iruini had climbed up the top of one of the few spires still standing in the city. “Score one for the birdie,” he yelled down. “We have company. I’m going to check them out!”
“Iruini, wait --” began Norik.
“Wait for what?” the Toa of Air said, smiling. “I spent thousands of years as a Rahaga – now I’m back in action, and I love it!”
An instant later, the Toa of Air used his Mask of Quick Travel to teleport from the spire to the flagship of the oncoming fleet. He found himself standing on the deck, facing two powerful looking figures. A handful of armed warriors immediately moved to surround him.
“Who are you?” asked Iruini. “What’s your business in these waters?”
“My business?” asked one of the figures. “My business is profit, and that profit has been strangled for too long. And who are you?”
“I am Toa Iruini. My friends and I have just completed a mission on Vortixx. That island was half-levelled in the process, and let me guess – you’re here to level the other half.”
“My name is The Shadowed One,” came the reply, “leader of the Dark Hunters. Standing beside me is my loyal lieutenant, Ancient. Standing in front of me is a very foolish Toa if he thinks he can get between me and my goal.”
Iruini ignored the jab. “If you’re looking to loot Xia, there’s precious little left to steal.”
“Loot?” repeated The Shadowed One, in mock surprise. “Steal? How little you think of me. Would I muster a fleet for petty thievery? No, Toa, I have made a bargain this day with a power I never knew existed – and my new allies have asked to me to insure that Xia provides no more weapons to the enemy. They wish me to blockade or occupy the island, but I do not believe in half-measures.”
The Shadowed One smiled, an expression as cold as one of Kualus’ ice blasts. “So I am going to destroy Xia, and every last living thing on it. And if your friends are unfortunate enough to be there when I arrive … well, perhaps I will be merciful, and leave enough of them to bury.”
Iruini raised his cyclone spear. Weapons were suddenly aimed at him from a dozen different directions.
“This is my war,” The Shadowed One said softly, “and welcome to it.”
At times like this, Iruini looked back fondly on his days as a Rahaga. It wasn’t so bad, being short and twisted and spending all your time chasing after Brakas monkeys. At least you didn’t have to stand on rolling decks, staring at the crazed leader of the Dark Hunters as he prepared to slaughter an entire island full of … well, not so innocent Vortixx.
“You know I can’t let you do this,” Toa Iruini said.
Iruini was about to make a smart comeback when the seas started to churn and heave. The next moment, a tidal wave big enough to swamp the entire Dark Hunter fleet rose from the ocean depths. It towered hundreds of feet in the air … and just stayed there, looming over the ships like the shadow of doom.
“Is that enough water to clean out your ears?”
Iruini turned. Standing on the bow of the ship was a Toa of Water he did not recognize, carrying a spiked mace and a shield. She was flanked by a warrior in golden armor and four-armed giant with two long horns coming out of his head. He alone was heavy enough to almost swamp the ship. He carried a multi-bladed axe and a small object covered in a cloth.
The female Toa stepped down to the deck and marched up to The Shadowed One. Although he was taller than she, her bearing made her seem to dominate everyone on board.
“I hired the Dark Hunters for a simple task,” she said, her voice as quiet as a dying breath. “If you can’t do it …” She held the mace aloft. The tidal wave suddenly rushed forward toward the ships, almost colliding with the flagship. It stopped dead again as she lowered her weapon.
“I’ll find someone who can,” she finished.
Iruini looked from the Toa to the obviously concerned Shadowed One, and back again. “Nice,” he said. “What do you do for an encore?”
The Toa nodded and the golden warrior vanished. He reappeared an instant later with the other five Toa Hagah in tow. They arrived to see The Shadowed One in intense whispered conversation with the Toa of Water. It ended when the Toa blasted three nearby Dark Hunters into the sea as casually as someone else might swat a gnat. Then she turned to the assembled Toa Hagah.
“Ah. Good,” she said. “I have a mission for the six of you.”
“Wait a minute!” snapped Norik. “Who are you? What’s going on here?”
“And we don’t take requests from anybody wearing a mask,” said Kualus. Then he turned to Norik and added, “Do we?”
Norik shook his head.
“My name is Helryx,” said the Toa of Water. “I run an organization you never heard of called the Order of Mata Nui. We are at war – and you’ve just been drafted.”
“And if we say no?” asked Toa Bomonga.
Helryx gave a slight smile. Her eyes darted toward the ocean off the starboard side, where the three Dark Hunters were desperately trying to tread water. Then she looked back at the Toa Hagah. “Yes, you don’t take requests, as I understand it – good thing I’m not making one.”
“What is it you want us to do?” asked Toa Pouks. Seeing Iruini’s glare, he said, “Well, it doesn’t hurt to ask.”
Helryx took a few steps closer and lowered her voice so the Dark Hunters could not overhear. “We are mounting an attack on the Brotherhood of Makuta, but their leader eludes us. Our best information is that he was last known to be inside a Maxilos robot near Mahri Nui, but where he may have gone to since then is unknown. We need Makuta Teridax found.”
“Why us?” asked Iruini.
“You’ve fought him before. You’ve beaten him before,” Helryx replied.
“And we all remember how well that turned out,” muttered Iruini.
Helryx ignored him. “If I am right, Teridax has gone somewhere no one else has ever dared to venture. Left free, he could do untold damage.”
“And just how are we supposed to track him down?” asked Bomonga. “Knock on the doors at Destral and ask if he can come out to play?”
Helryx chuckled. “There may not be doors left to knock on soon … but that’s another story. You will have a guide – someone who has generously offered to work with you in exchange for his freedom.”
The four-armed giant took a step forward, and at first they thought Helryx meant him. But instead he took the cloth off the object he carried, which was revealed to be a globe filled with water, and something else … what looked like a green sea snake with hate-filled crimson eyes.
“His name is Zaktan,” said Helryx. “He’s not as friendly as he looks. If he acts up, just haul him out of the tank and let him gasp for air a few times. That’s what I always do. And now I think it’s time you got started.”
The Toa Hagah looked at each other. One by one, each of them nodded … all except Gaaki. She was backing away, shaking her head, hands up to the sides of her mask. “Death,” she whispered. “All around … we are going to place of death … and one of us will not return!”
Toa Iruini dove for cover, barely dodging Toa Hewkii’s chain. Not far away, Norik was locked in a stalemate with Jaller, while Bomonga was having a hard time even finding the stealthy Nuparu. All in all, it was not one of the Toa Hagah’s better days.
They had hoped that their return to Metru Nui – the city they helped save when they were Rahaga – would be a joyous one. Instead, they were here on a mission from a shadowy organization called the Order of Mata Nui. Their goal: track down the missing Makuta Teridax before he could execute the final stages of his Plan.
Unfortunately, that was not as easy as it sounded (and it didn’t sound that easy). They had been saddled with a mutated Piraka, Zaktan, they had to carry around in a water-filled sphere. His information was that Teridax would be heading to an inaccessible spot below the Metru Nui Coliseum. As antidermis, he could slip through cracks too small even for Norik to make his way through with his Mask of Diminishment. The only way to follow him would be to shatter the foundation of the Coliseum, which would bring the structure down.
Needless to say, popping in and saying, “We’re here to wreck your most important building” had not sparked joy in the Toa Mahri. Given Takanuva’s recent unexplained disappearance, they were on edge to start with. This just set them off.
Hewkii swung his chain again. This time Iruini grabbed it in mid-air and yanked the Toa of Stone forward. At the last moment, Iruini sidestepped, letting his opponent slam into a rock wall. “Stone, meet stone,” muttered Iruini. “Now will you listen?”
Toa Kualus had teamed with Bomonga in an effort to pin down Nuparu, whose Mask of Stealth made him almost impossible to spot. A hastily created snowstorm revealed the Toa Mahri of Earth, but finding him and stopping him were two different things. Being sixty feet in height just made Bomonga an easier target and a barrage of earth kept him off-balance.
Kualus frowned. He remembered these Mahri when they were Matoran villagers. He understood their suspicion and hostility, given the circumstances, but if this kept up, someone was going to get hurt. This called for drastic measures. Summoning the power of his Mask of Rahi Control, he touched the mind of a massive Rahi dwelling in the Archives not far below. In response, a huge claw smashed its way through the pavement and grabbed Nuparu.
“Let him go!” shouted Toa Hahli, blasting Kualus with a powerful jet of water. Even as he staggered from the impact, Kualus realized what was about to happen. The creature had been roused by his mask power, but his concentration was now broken. The Rahi was no longer under his control.
It erupted from below ground in a shower of rock and earth. Well over 60 feet high, it scanned the battlefield with its three heads. Muted light from the sunholes reflected off its brown scales as it spread its batlike wings. Its cry of triumph shattered crystal structures as far away as Ko-Metru.
The word “Toa” means “hero” in Matoran. And one of the characteristics of a hero is the ability to put aside personal feelings in a crisis. Thus it was that the Mahri and the Hagah forgot their fight in the face of this monstrosity from below. Still reeling from Hahli’s blow, Kualus could not reassert control. But Jaller and Norik had already discovered the beast feared fire, and their twin blasts drove it back toward the barren plains of Po-Metru.
The creature wasn’t about to go quietly. It hurled Nuparu through the sky at deadly speed. Hewkii whirled and used his Mask of Gravity as he never had before, applying just enough power to slow the Toa of Earth without ripping him apart.
Bomonga, still at his maximum size, landed a rain of blows on the Rahi. He might as well have been a Toa of Water summoning a light spring rain for all the good it did. Now it was Kongu and Iruini’s turn, as they combined their air power with the powers of the Toa of Fire to create a swirling tornado of flame.
The Rahi was directly in the eye of the storm, which was so hot it melted nearby mountains into slag. It roared and attempted to fly out of the trap, but its wings were already blazing. Finally, overcome by the heat, it toppled over. The impact shook the ground for kios around.
Eleven weary Toa stood around the unconscious beast. Already, Onu-Matoran would be on their way to help prepare the creature for its return to the Archives. Po-Metru was a disaster area, the ground scorched and burned. Not far away, Po-Matoran labored to put out fires in their villages, aided by Hahli and Gaaki. Only the fact that this area of the metru was sparsely populated had kept this from being a true cataclysm.
Norik glanced at Jaller. “We either need to stop fighting,” he said, “or find someplace uninhabited to settle things. Otherwise, Matoran are going to get killed – and neither of us wants that.”
“What do you think will happen if you destroy the Coliseum?” said Jaller.
“We’re not trying to hurt anyone,” said Pouks. “We’re trying to save them.”
“Yes, and we’re all idiots,” added Iruini. “We have almost a dozen Toa here … we should be able to figure out how to do what we have to and keep the building intact.”
“Just what is it you have to do?” asked Jaller. “Why are you here?”
“Listen to me,” said Norik. “The Toa Nuva are in the core of the universe right now, fighting for the Great Spirit. But the true mysteries, the true secrets … all the hidden knowledge about this cosmos and its workings aren’t there. They are somewhere beneath your feet, in a place no Toa, Matoran, Turaga has ever been. Right now, we think Makuta has reached that place – and if we’re right, then it may already be too late for us all.”
It took hours of planning, more to convince the Turaga the Toa hadn’t all lost their minds, and another half a day on top of that to complete the work needed. When they were ready, Jaller, Norik, Pouks and Nuparu used their powers to crack the foundation and create a tunnel where none had been before. Outside, Hewkii’s gravity power, Kualus’ ice power, and Bomonga’s vast strength struggled to keep the building intact. Once the tunnel was in place, Hahli and Gaaki used their water power to cool down the walls. Iruini and Kongu watched over Zaktan, with Kongu more than ready to send the Piraka’s glass case hurtling into the air at the first wrong word.
The hardest part came last. Bomonga and Kualus had to let go of the Coliseum to join the others as they prepared to venture into the unknown. That left Hewkii supporting the vast structure alone.
“My team will go with you,” said Jaller to Norik.
“No,” the leader of the Toa Hagah responded. “If we fail … if Teridax escapes … you may be the last hope to stop him. We will go, and Pouks and I will seal the tunnel behind us. Hurry, Hewkii cannot last long.”
Jaller wanted to argue, but Norik was right – the Toa of Stone was on the verge of collapse. He watched as the Toa Hagah disappeared below ground. A moment later, the powers of Stone and Fire resealed the entrance. He signaled to Hewkii, who slowly, slowly, eased back on his mask power to lower the Coliseum back to the ground. Then the Toa of Stone passed out.
“He’ll be all right,” said Hahli, after checking on their fallen friend. “But I still think we should have gone along. They may be facing great danger.”
“I know,” said the Toa of Fire. “I kept thinking as I watched Pouks and Norik closing the tunnel behind them … I have never seen anyone seal their own tomb before.”
The five Toa Mahri stood in a semi-circle, staring at the base of the Coliseum. A few moments before, the Toa Hagah had vanished down a tunnel in the foundation, heading for Mata Nui knew what. Now it seemed there was nothing for the Mahri to do but wait.
“What do you think they’ll find down there?” asked Nuparu.
“Pipes,” said Hewki dismissively. “Dirt. Stone Rats. Maybe an underground stream or two. There’s nothing down there.”
“How can you be so sure?” asked Jaller.
“Onu-Matoran have been all over beneath this city,” Hewkii replied. “If there was something down there, they would have found it by now.”
“Maybe,” said Nuparu, sounding not at all convinced.
“Let’s go,” said Hahli. “We’re not accomplishing anything standing here.”
The Toa Mahri of Water turned to head back to Ga-Metru. That was when she saw the golden crystal floating in the air. She reached out to touch it, and it moved away from her. “What is this?” she asked.
“Something you need.”
The Toa Mahri spun around to see an ebon-armored female standing just behind them. For a second, they thought she was a Vortixx, but a closer look revealed her to belong to a species they had never seen before. She carried a shield, but no weapon that they could see.
“They call it the Heart of the Visorak,” the figure continued. “It is active now and its power grows. Wherever it is, the Visorak will come, traveling from everywhere in the known universe to find it. You Toa must take it to the island of Artidax and plant it there. Draw the Visorak to that place, where they can be imprisoned forever.”
“Right,” said Jaller. “And who guards Metru Nui while we’re gone? You?”
“It will be protected, never fear,” said the woman. She produced a small stone tablet bearing a map to the island and handed it over. “Now you must take the Heart and go, before the Visorak descend on this city in search of it. Go now!”
Before the Toa could question her further, the armored woman’s body shattered into a million crystalline fragments. The fragments scattered on the breeze. In moments, they were gone.
“Well, that was … weird,” said Kongu.
“So what do we do?” asked Nuparu. “If she was telling the truth … this city isn’t ready for another full-scale infestation.” “It’s a big ‘if,’” said Jaller. “So Kongu, Hewkii, you stay here. Hahli, Nuparu and I will go to this Artidax place.”
The three Toa Mahri departed by ship within the hour. Kongu and Hewkii watched them go, then spent some time agreeing on how best to split up their patrols of the city. Once that was done, they started back for the Coliseum.
Neither one noticed a cloud of crystal shards coalescing behind them into the form of their mysterious visitor. And once her shield struck them, knocking them both unconscious, they noticed nothing at all.
The trip to Artidax was long, but uneventful. Nuparu kept a careful watch out for Visorak, but saw none the first few days. As they got closer to the island, he would catch a glimpse of the spiders on the shores of islands that they passed. If their visitor was correct, the entire horde would be in pursuit of them now.
The first thing Jaller noticed when they reached the island was a set of recent tracks. A number of older ones had been partially obscured by the actions of wind and tide, but these looked like they had been just made. Nearby, various bits of wood floated in the water, apparently the wreckage of a ship or boat.
“Well, someone’s been here,” he said.
“And still is.” The voice belonged to a tall, blue biped, monstrous in appearance, wearing a water-filled helmet on his head. He held a crude stone dagger in his hand.
“Takadox!” said Jaller, in surprise. He and his team had fought Takadox, along with the other Barraki, in the Pit. “How did you escape? And where are your friends? Talk, you miserable insect.”
“I ‘escaped,’ as you put it, out of a desire to do my bit for Mata Nui,” Takadox answered, with a cold smile. “As for my fellow former rulers, they are no doubt rotting in cells by now, where they belong. But what brings you to this garden spot of the universe?”
“They do,” said Nuparu, pointing toward the ocean. It had become a sea of Boggarak, skating across the water’s surface, heading for the island. Behind them, floating on pieces of flotsam and jetsam of all types, were thousands more Visorak. All of them were coming right for Artidax.
“They’re after us,” Jaller said to Takadox. “But, don’t worry, we won’t be staying long … of course, they will be.”
“The entire horde?” said Takadox. “You’re carrying the Heart of the Visorak … I’ve heard of it, though never seen it, of course. And you’re leading them here … that explains a great deal.” “Talk straight, Takadox,” said Hahli. “Or we’ll leave you here as company for the spiders.”
“Not at all a bad idea,” said Takadox. Summoning all his willpower, he focused his gaze first on Hahli, then on Jaller. When Nuparu tried to shield his eyes, his two allies grabbed him and forced him to meet Takadox’s stare. In moments, all three were in a hypnotic trance.
“That is more like it,” said the Barraki. “A short time ago, two strange beings appeared on the beach in a flash of light. They did not notice me, and I chose to follow and watch. I saw them mounting something on the slope of the largest volcano on the island … and even I could tell what it was for: they were planning to trigger an eruption. And when it happens, this island and everything on it will be ashes.
“They disappeared as quickly as they came, leaving me with no way to escape the disaster .,. until you arrived. Now I will take your boat and leave this rock – again – while you three stand nice and still, waiting for the end. If you’re lucky … very lucky … that volcano will explode before the Visorak get their pincers on you.”
Chuckling, Takadox climbed on board the Toa’s boat. Raising the anchor and adjusting the sail, he started it moving away from the coastline of Artidax. Behind him, the three Toa Mahri stood like statues, helpless to stop his departure. And as Takadox’s ship vanished over the horizon, and the volcano moved closer and closer to eruption, the first Visorak set their claws on the sands of the island.