The Fairon Chronicles is an upcoming novel to be placed on this blog post and its respective CBW article. It is set in the Gigas Magna storyline, a world in which Teridax is dead and the Brotherhood is weakened, leaving multiple factions to fight for control over the universe. One of these factions is the Order of Darkness, led by the deadly Makuta Velnax, who seems to seek a reformation of the natural order... or perhaps something more...

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Prologue

The void was spinning. The world around him was nothing but purple and black swirls spiraling together and apart sickeningly, their light coming to his eyes from the undefined boundaries of a boundless expanse while his body turned end over end in a way that made his stomach churn.

Flamu had never liked the feel of teleportation; it was as though he were lost in one of the purple nebulae he had heard one could see through the telescope on the island of Mata Nui. The pressure, slightly above what he was used to in normal gravity, wasn't enjoyable either, but the true terror was the lack of reference points. He could be anywhere in this emptiness, not that time or space meant a thing in such infinity—for all he knew, hours had passed, but it could just as easily have been a few seconds. “Disconcerting” was too mild a word for it.

He tried to right himself, to fight the dizzying movement that was flipping him slowly throughout this portion of what scholars in his world called the Confusion Dimension, but there was nothing to push against and he continued on his inexorable path. As his nausea increased, the Toa of fire began to consider how it would seem if he vomited after arriving in Robotopolis, in front of Velnax and all his minions. Certainly, that wouldn't be good for the mission.

The mission. Some semblance of reason returned to him. He must focus on the mission, and therefore he must keep himself from vomiting.

The world around him seemed to be spinning faster, the pressure on him increasing until he felt like his chest was being crushed. His body was thrown about, limbs flailing hopelessly like a ragdoll’s, and the colors started to get thrown together into an uncomfortable black. Then there came an explosion of white across his vision, the release of the crushing weight on his body, and the sudden return of gravity as he returned to the real world.

Flamu blinked as he rested on the smooth surface, his sight blurred—there was no more to see than in the confusion dimension, or at least when it came to tangible objects. His eyes were limited to seeing unfocused grains of sand, with no way of knowing what was around him, but his mind instinctively knew. Only none of it mattered now. All there was was the pleasure to be taken in the air and light and heat that surrounded him again, and he cherished these as he took in a great sighing gulp of oxygen.

He collapsed on the floor, his lungs heaving as he took in the older, more familiar, and far preferable world as his vision focused. There was gray, he saw, a gray mass that lay in front of his head, with two dim specks of blue-green light floating eerily on its surface. And as his ears adjusted to the new environment, there was an otherworldly rhythmic noise to be heard, its volume rising and falling steadily.

This gray is refined Protodermis, he thought, compelling his brain to awaken. Those lights are the reflections of your eyes. That noise is your breathing.

He had adjusted now. He was in control. That was good.

Your name is Flamu. You are a Toa of fire. You work for the Order of Mata Nui. You have been sent to Robotopolis on a diplomatic mission.

Robotopolis!

Flamu snapped to attention immediately, jumping up as a harsh, metallic light from above engulfed him and reduced him to blinking again. He staggered, covering his forehead with one hand to block it out while the final adjustments to normalcy came over him, his senses at last operating normally. Silently thanking the Great Beings, he quickly inspected the area around him.

The area he was in—the Robotopolis control room, he recalled from the briefing—was larger than he had anticipated, a bit bigger than an Akilini field. Almost everything in the circular space was made of refined Protodermis, from the polished floor to the rows of control desks that lay in a ring around the room, where Matoran operators sat and were presumably working. All of this was contained in a perfect dome of spotless, unblemished, glass, creating the illusion that there was nothing there.

Outside, the view was truly breathtaking: a blanket of stars, innumerable white pinpricks in the blackness, dappled the sky above. Downward was the more spectacular sight, however; from the first glance it was obvious that he was on the top of a massive tower, which plunged downward for unfathomable distances until it reached ground (or whatever could pass for ground in an orbital station). From there, the ground stretched out for indeterminable distances, littered with what appeared to be buildings. Alien metal spires taller than hills and mysterious globular shapes propped on stilts popped up at irregular intervals across the land, while the rest were of ordinary design the likes of which one could see in Metru Nui, only there were many more of them. These continued in every direction until they suddenly ended, dropping off into a chasm where the vacuum of space suddenly returned, and the planet could be seen as a mesmerizing blue globe a very uncomfortable distance beneath.

“Toa Flamu,” was the sudden serpentine sneer, the being’s mouth twitching as though the sight of his dizzied arrival amused him. “It's about time.”

Having taken in all the information about the surroundings he needed, Flamu turned his attention back to the centerpiece of the room as it spoke. From his studies of the Daxian archives, he recognized this centerpiece as a Makuta easily enough: fully mechanical, with a lean black body coated from head to toe in thick red armor. His arms and legs were long and thick as tree trunks, each of them ending in a hand comprised of three sharp talons.

The Makuta sat in a large throne comprised of the same substance as the floor, which seemed to emit a slight pulsing glow in the light of the stars above. To his side stood two pairs of guards standing rigidly at attention—male Vortixx, of course; most of the major organizations predominantly had employed these as guards since the fall of the League of Six Kingdoms. A silver-armored Makuta with a long spear in his hand stood by it as well, positioned to the left of the being in the chair.

“Velnax,” said Flamu coolly, standing in a relaxed position, hands clasped behind his back as he faced the throne. “I assume you know the purpose of my arrival.”

A small smile formed, visible through the mouth hole of the Kanohi Psikon that masked Velnax’s face. He reclined in the throne, appearing casual but not taking his demonic gaze off of Flamu for a second. The focused manner in which he peered at him somehow made him feel as if he were being inspected by a curious Rahi. A Rahi on the hunt, he thought, and he chilled slightly at the notion.

“Going right to business, I see,” the Makuta said. “Suppose, for the moment, that I have forgotten, Negotiator, and that I require information. That is what they call you, is it not?”

Interesting, Flamu thought. How could he know? He made a mental note of this, filing it away in the databanks of his mind for future reference. “Yes,” he said, more wary now. “My message is simple: turn over your hostages or we will strike at Robotopolis with all force necessary.”

“Hostages?” said Velnax, peering at Flamu with an air of smug indifference. “What hostages?”

“You know very well what hostages. You are to turn over the Order of Mata Nui operatives Brominax and Shayla immediately.”

“Order of Mata Nui?” The Makuta frowned, the small smile growing sickening as it spread across his face. “I must say, I thought you'd be less open about your true affiliations. Doesn't your organization make a point of remaining secretive?”

“You clearly seem to know enough about us,” Flamu replied. He remained as expressionless as he could, a quality quickly acquired even after only a few missions of peace. “We would be very interested to learn how—after you return our operatives to us.”

“You're very persistent, er…” said Velnax, clasping his armored-glove-covered hands together as he smiled slightly at the Toa. “Ah, yes. Flamu, rookie Toa of Fire, nicknamed ‘the Negotiator.’ Level Two clearance. Six missions, six successful. Currently stationed in Robotopolis. Authorization code,” he continued, and the Toa blinked in astonishment, “2918651242. So, yes, we know many things about your Order. We are fully prepared for you should you unwisely choose to invade our city. Our weapons are superior to yours—” He made a small gesture to indicate the plasma cannons in his guards' hands. “—and while my forces may not all be as well-trained, we are rather more numerous.

“Kutrax,” he added, beckoning to the silver-armored Makuta beside him, “relieve Flamu here of his comlink. No doubt, it is set to record a sound file and transmit it in real time back to Daxia. I want to talk to his superiors personally, if you please.”

Kutrax nodded briskly and stepped forward silently, his spear raised as it began to glow with power. The Order member stepped backwards involuntarily, immediately realizing his mistake and cursing himself for showing weakness, but did not remove his attention from Velnax. “You are not talking to anyone except for me.”

“The decision is not yours to make,” said the sneering Makuta, resting his claws on the armrests of his throne. “I do not answer to you. You are in my city.”

“As you're likely well aware from reading my file, negotiating isn't all I'm good at.”

“Of course. But do you think I'm actually incompetent enough to surround myself with guards who can't adequately defend me?” He motioned for Kutrax to stop his advance, and the glowing of the weapon stopped. The smaller Makuta looked at his master hesitatingly, but Velnax paid him no attention, his deep-set green eyes unmoving as he gazed at Flamu menacingly. “You have never been in a serious battle before. My guards, on the other hand, I personally picked from the best of the Brotherhood of Makuta's troops some time before we defected from them. The odds do not look good for you.”

Flamu had to admit that the being was right, but he was far from prepared to show it. “Is this a threat? Remember that I am a diplomat, and I don’t respond well to threats.”

“Neither do I, Toa,” retorted Velnax. He leaned back in his throne. “Very well, you may keep your transmitter: I suppose I am better off with my voice being relayed to the Order command central anyway. Settle down, now, so we can finish with these proceedings.”

Had he been a lesser being, Flamu would have swallowed nervously; instead, he focused on the speech he’d prepared before departing the island. As he opened his mouth, Kutrax stepped back into his position, glaring at the Toa, but he ignored him. It was hard enough focusing on his duty as it was.

“The two Order of Darkness hostages will be released from confinement immediately and taken to a neutral location—to be agreed upon by both parties—under minimal guard. From there, they will be given back to a group of Order of Mata Nui operatives, who will then return them to Daxia.”

Velnax nodded. “And what do we get in return?”

“It depends.”

“On what?” The mocking look was back.

“On the level of compliance you decide to commit to.”

The Makuta laughed raucously. “Well, at least I didn’t get assigned one of the stupid ones. Tell your leaders that I will agree to your terms on one condition only: I want their aid in hunting down and capturing a being known as the Keeper of the Elder Prophecies. He is a rogue ally of my organization, and I am aware that certain individuals in their service have previously made contact.

“At the moment, this Keeper is in hiding. Having betrayed me, he knows he risks my revenge, and is no doubt utilizing all the measures at his disposal to escape us. His capture would be a matter of mutual interest to both our orders, and I hope your superiors will take this into consideration.”

Flamu carefully raised an eyebrow. It was true that he had never heard of any such “Keeper,” but of course the Order of Mata Nui had many secrets. Of course there were some things he hadn't been allowed to know; he was far from a high-ranking member, after all. Probably the ruling council understood, and so his questions need not go in that direction. “What do you mean by ‘mutual interest’?”

“I don’t need to reveal all my secrets for you,” Velnax hissed. “All I need is for your superiors to get this message, which they are at this very moment through the listening equipment they oh-so-cunningly employed to eavesdrop on me. You don't have to consider an offer you don't understand anything about.”

“As ambassador, I have the right to know anything I need to,” Flamu answered. He was beginning to get the feeling that something was going horribly wrong with this meeting, and it wasn't hard to detect why.

Kutrax began to draw his weapon. The lead Makuta shot a sharp glance at the warrior and he stood back at attention, then turned back to the Toa of fire. “He is in possession of some of the most closely-guarded secrets of the universe's workings,” he began. “At one point, he aided us intermittently, but we had a bit of what you may call a… a falling-out. He believes that he and I pursue different goals, when they are in reality one and the same. Now, if you were to aid in his recapture, the knowledge would be available to both our organizations. That is what you call mutual interest, is it not?”

“What do you intend to do with him?”

“It is none of your business.” Velnax's gaze seemed to intensify, as if he knew what was coming next.

Flamu began to tense as he spoke again. He wasn’t going to like this. “Suppose we should choose not to hand this being over to you?”

“Then we shall find him ourselves,” said Velnax, “with no help from the Order of Mata Nui. And Brominax and Shayla will die.”

Flamu took a deep breath. “If you should choose to execute the hostages, this will be seen as an act of war. The Order of Darkness shall officially be viewed as a hostile faction and full military action will be taken against you.”

“I see. How do you think that that military action will go?” Velnax sneered. He was staring at the Toa of Fire in mockery. “As you know very well, we have access to all of your information. We could sabotage any and every part of whatever strategies you have, throw your troops into chaos. We could even,” and with that he leaned forward and looked straight into the Order member’s eyes, “reveal your existence to the Matoran world. What would you do then?”

“We will do, as we have always done, whatever necessary.” Flamu gazed back, his face tightened into a grimace. He was losing control of this session, and both of them knew it.

Across the room, one of the Matoran at the control panel glanced backwards to face Velnax, the barely disguised fear evident on his face even from a distance. “Sir? We have intercepted an encoded message from Daxia. Would you like for me to decipher—?”

“No need,” said Velnax in a low growl. “Our little Toa here can do it himself. Get back to work.”

“Yes, sir,” said the Matoran quickly, snapping back to his position at the panel. The rebel Makuta gave a low chuckle, then turned his gaze back to Flamu.

“Well?”

The Toa reached down to his hip to take the comm out of its container, deciding that it would be best to take his eyes off of Velnax for a moment. It was a circular metal device that could easily fit in the palm of his hand, with a small two-color screen that displayed data. A new message was visible on it, and Flamu bit his lip slightly as he read.

DO NOT AGREE. HE MUST NOT HAVE THE KEEPER. PREPARE FOR STRIKE TEAM'S ARRIVAL.

So there was to be a strike team teleported in? Perhaps it wasn't necessary yet. There could still be time to salvage the situation.

Slowly and deliberately, Flamu put the comlink away and stood back up to face Velnax. “The decision has been made. We will not agree to your terms.”

“Ah.” Velnax's facial expression didn't change in the slightest. “I was expecting that. What a pity. We could have had such a prosperous future together.”

“So this is war, then?” said Flamu. “Are you going to kill me?”

“Kill you? Certainly not,” said Velnax. “The war hasn't started yet. You’re free to go—unless, of course, you're about to make a move right now.”

Suddenly, Flamu realized that the situation had not only gone out of control, but was starting to get dangerous. He knew what Velnax was going to say seconds before he actually did.

“And unless,” he continued, “there happens to be, say, a strike team on the way. To commit an unprovoked attack in the midst of a negotiating session would be quite a hostile maneuver even for the Order of Mata Nui, and you seem to have made a good number of those in the past. See, if you make the first attack, then the war will officially begin for the Order of Darkness.

“By the way, if you attack first, then you have to face all the combined resources of Robotopolis, and more. We will raze Daxia to the ground and grind the dead’s skulls into the rubble, then march the living into the sea. Then we will spread: to Metru Nui, to Destral, to Odina. No one will stand against our might, for we are determined and we are strong. That is my pledge.

“So it’s good that you don’t have anyone coming over here, correct?” he finished, grinning grotesquely.

“I suppose it is,” said Flamu, forcing a smile despite the fear rising up inside him. He extended an arm to shake hands with the Makuta. Distantly, he thought of Brominax and Shayla and realized his mistake: there was a hostage crisis. As a representative of the Order, he shouldn’t appear happy at this moment; he should be launching a volley of threats regarding what should occur if the prisoners should be executed.

He tricked me, blast it! he thought. He feinted and I fell for it. Now he knows something’s wrong.

Velnax’s smile faded. “And now that your puny assault team is on its way, you are going to become our first prisoner of war, though surely not our last.”

The strike team, he thought desperately. The strike team. Where are they?

In that moment, Velnax grabbed his arm and held on tightly, his grip as strong as a handcuff. Flamu moved to wrench it free, but the move was a distraction: with his other hand, he reached for one of the short knives he had mounted on his back and stabbed down toward Velnax’s arm. However, the Makuta was too quick for him, and before he could even finish with the thrust, the being’s other hand was clasped around his wrist, suspending it in the air. A short twist and the knife snapped from his fingers, landing on the floor with a sharp clatter.

“Guards!” shouted the Order of Darkness leader. Instantly, the five guards—the four Vortixx and Makuta Kutrax—sprang toward him. Within moments, his limbs were being held by the tough grasps of Velnax's servants, and he felt himself being pulled down. He struggled uselessly, body squirming and wriggling, but it was little of an impediment to the Vortixx as they thrust him onto the cold floor. One of them removed his comm, and he pushed ever harder to reach for his only means of communication to the outside world, but still he was held down.

“Shall I use the neurotoxin now, master?” came the voice of Kutrax from somewhere outside Flamu's field of vision. He turned his head, trying to at least gain full awareness of his surroundings, but an armored metal hand clutched his skull and held it in place, leaving him to look straight up at the magnificent dome of stars.

“Yes,” said Velnax. “But make sure to keep it to the right setting. We don't want him dying on us—yet.”

“Very well, my lord,” said Kutrax's voice, almost gleeful now. A pair of footsteps came in the Toa's direction, and while Flamu couldn't make out the Makuta's body yet, he could see the tip of his spear, which he immediately realized was coated in a transparent fluid. Venom, he thought in alarm, and immediately he set about responding.

“Hear that, Toa?” crooned Kutrax as he stepped at last into his vision, gently stroking his weapon's metal shaft. “Time to say good-bye.”

“Not yet,” Flamu growled. Accessing the fire power that burned inside his body, he willed his arms to suddenly heat up, the power of his mind controlling his abilities. In that moment, he felt the armor that protected his forearm begin to sizzle, and the flesh within to begin to melt, releasing a terrible odor. The fire Toa felt very little pain at this, but the Vortixx guards were not so lucky: immediately, they released his arms, crying out at their suddenly burnt hands.

He seized the moment, jumping up and delivering a powerful kick to the chest of the closest one while simultaneously unsheathing his remaining weapon, the twin of the knife Velnax had taken. He was caught by surprise and slammed backward, but it was clear that they had not been personally selected for nothing. Having overcome their pain, the other three methodically raised their plasma cannons and aimed. Flamu braced himself, until he realized that they were still waiting for orders from their leader.

Or perhaps not. Instinctively, he whipped around, his sword raised, blocking Kutrax's silent attack and pushing away the weapon with his own. A fleeting glimpse of his attacker was enough for him to orient himself, and then he used the knowledge to send his weapon in a circle, stabbing it in the direction of the Makuta's chest. As he'd expected, Kutrax was able to block, but that was all he needed: channeling the still-burning fire energy through his hand and into the weapon, a small plume of flame came out. It was far from enough to defeat his opponent—all Makuta had fire resistance power—but was certainly able to do the job of evaporating the toxin on his blade. Now we fight on even terms, he thought grimly.

“Fool!” his enemy cackled, slashing horizontally at Flamu's hips. The Toa reacted, jumping back to avoid the attack and returning to a sparring stance as he landed. “The venom will regenerate! You cannot stop me!” Kutrax stabbed at his throat, only for Flamu to sidestep, blocking downward and then turning his blade up. A small chink of shoulder armor was cut away, and the Makuta's head would have been detached from his body right there and then had the spear not still been in his hand. Kutrax slashed desperately, and once again Flamu blocked neatly.

He's not conditioned to battle, he realized. Otherwise this fight would have been over a long time ago. That made sense: until the Order of Darkness takeover, Kutrax had presided over the city in the service of the Brotherhood, and without any major conflicts to quell, the position had made him go soft. That was good for Flamu, at least; the knowledge gave him new resolve, and he used that resolve to his advantage.

Reverting from his initially cautious tactics, Flamu turned his sword into a spinning whirlwind, slashing at each portion of Kutrax's body. Clearly overwhelmed by the sudden change, the Makuta was helpless, and he succeeded in slicing off a portion of his right kneecap, revealing some of the organic tissue beneath. The shocked look on Kutrax's face had barely registered before the whirlwind became a precision strike, and the Toa stabbed down with his knife, penetrating into his adversary's foot.

As he pulled out, revealing the metallic skeleton beneath, Kutrax suddenly seemed to regain his senses. A roar of rage, and he attacked in earnest, sending wave after wave of crushing blows at him. Flamu switched to a defensive form of combat and blocked these neatly, certain now of his combative superiority. His response only agitated Kutrax further, and he lost all semblance of technique, going into a mad rage and swinging his weapon in all directions. Surprisingly, the unpredictability of the strategy was working: Flamu was unable to gain a grasp on where to attack and found himself grasping to block the wild slashes.

This needed to end, and soon. Deciding that it was time to get rid of his own disadvantage, he somersaulted away swiftly from the Makuta toward the outer corner of the room, leaving Kutrax far behind. Matoran sitting at the controls scampered away, shrieking excitedly, but he paid little attention. It was a moment later, as the fire burst grazed past his skull and he felt its searing heat, that he realized that he was not the being they were fleeing from. He had forgotten about the guards.

Blast. They must have been waiting for me to get away from Kutrax so they could get a clear shot at me. I should have known.

By the time this registered, he had managed to only just evade four more compacted bursts of sealed plasma energy. Still, he was still certain that he had the upper hand. He charged the powers he had been gathering since his escape from Kutrax and released them as a thick strand of fire, cutting a swift path through the air toward the Vortixx. To their credit, their resolve never seemed to falter as they turned their fire to the flame as it approached, but it was futile. It encircled the group, cutting through the barrels of their weapons, but not touching the guards themselves.

Satisfied, Flamu focused back on Kutrax, only to see a brilliant flash of light followed by a deafening crack, and felt the unmistakable crackle of electricity in his metal joints. Noting the burning remains of the control panel to his side only to dive forward a second lightning bolt struck nearby. He spotted its source some feet away: Kutrax was pointing his spear in his direction, his face contorted in an expression of fury.

As the spots were blinked from his eyes, Flamu recognized the increasing brightness of the speartip as a sign that another attack was imminent, and closed his eyes before the next one could struck. As expected, it came, but judging from the fact that he wasn't a pile of cinders yet, it was clear that Kutrax had missed him. Of course—lightning was a very hard power to control, especially with the presence of so much metal in the vicinity, and the Makuta clearly hadn't taken the time to practice.

Empowered by this knowledge, he stood, standing calmly as he allowed his powers to well up within him. Kutrax snarled something, but he ignored him: the decision to use lightning against him had been rash and desperate, especially from a member of a species that was renowned for its great power. He could and would be victorious here, he was certain. He would stop Velnax and end the planned occupation of the Matoran universe. There was no other chjopice: it was all up to him now.

Velnax. Where was Velnax?

Another lightning burst flashed before his closed eyelids, and sensing that his elemental power was charged, he opened them. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Velnax, still sitting on his throne, but he had no time to contemplate the matter. Some bio in front, Kutrax was charging in his direction, weapon raised to impale him, but he never reached his target. Flamu aimed his knife, feeling his innate energy pulsing, and then released it through its channel, sending a billowing burst of fire launching outward.

Kutrax's eyes lit up in shock, and he pointed his blade as though to raise a fire-resistant barrier in the air. It did little to stop the force of the massive fireball, and it impacted the shield, pushing him into the ground. The Makuta lay there, stunned, and Flamu looked from a distance at his prone form. This isn't enough for him, he decided. This isn't enough.

Before he could even think about it, he called among his fire power once again, once more releasing a fireball at Kutrax. It was deflected again, but more feebly, the field of protection seeming to flicker slightly. Then the Makuta gave a final sigh and collapsed in exhaustion, lying motionless on the floor.

Flamu stared in shocked silence at his accomplishment, blood pounding rhythmically in his ears as its nature finally hit him. What have I done? he thought. How could I do this?

Your job, he told himself, and his mood was eased. Then the noise of his gradually slowing heartbeat and the background vibrations coming from the Matoran who had remained at work throughout the fight were interrupted by another sound: that of slow clapping, which echoed eerily throughout the dome. He jerked around sharply and tensed as he saw that the sound was coming from Velnax, who had stood up from his throne and striding past the imprisoned guards as though he didn't notice them.

“Well done, Flamu,” said Velnax. “Well done. You've succeeded. Very good.”

Flamu's heartbeat increased again as the Makuta took a step in his direction, claws flexing in a faint hint of menace. He willed himself to ignore it, instead looking into Velnax's burning predatory eyes and raising his weapon, clinging mentally to the hope that the strike team would still come to rescue him, as they should have already. “I'm in no mood for compliments,” he said clearly. “You will let me go or I will be forced to kill you.”

“Kill me?” snorted Velnax, taking another pace forward. “What fantasy world are you living in? You are in no position to make demands.”

Don't move!” Flamu pointed his knife in Velnax's direction. Desperately, he began charging his own power again, hoping it would be enough against this being. Perhaps he understood now why Kutrax had been pitted against him: Velnax wanted to analyze his forms, his techniques, his combinations. He was the kind of enemy who always came prepared, and was much the better for it. “Don't move,” he added, voice quavering slightly, “or you die.”

Velnax snorted and came forward another step, glaring at Flamu like the Toa supposed he would an insolent subordinate. “I thought murder was a violation of the Toa code.”

“Killing in self-defense is not,” said Flamu boldly, holding his position as Velnax came even nearer.

“Of course. You're Order of Mata Nui. You take entire courses on loopholes. But as I said, you are in no position to make demands. As you can clearly see, you're very, very alone here, and no one is coming to aid you.”

“What have you done to them?” Flamu hissed, an edge to his voice born of desperation. He shivered a little, his sword arm shaking slightly, and he prayed that the movement was not visible to Velnax. “What have you done to our attack team?”

“They've been... redirected,” the Makuta said softly. He flicked his right arm suddenly, and a long serrated blade that had previously been hidden in his armor sprang out, which he caught elegantly in his hand. He waved it around dramatically, and the elegance and grace of the purposely slow movements immediately shattered whatever hopes Flamu might have had regarding Velnax's skill. This was not Kutrax, and should not be treated as such.

“Redirected?” Flamu recalled the lost comlink: he didn't know what the Vortixx had done with it, but he was desperately hoping it was still transmitting so the Order could learn what Velnax was doing. At the very least, should he die in Robotopolis beneath the infinite gaze of the stars, he wanted someone other than an enemy to know it. “What do you mean?”

Velnax chuckled harshly. “Attempting to buy time, I see. I expected better of you.” His foe increased his pace, having now covered nearly half the distance between them. “Let me put it like this: you are here because I wish it to be so. They are not here because they are not.”

“A teleportation blocker?” Flamu had heard of the alien device that allowed the Brotherhood of Makuta to keep visitors off the island. “How—?”

“Yes and no,” said Velnax, only a few bio away now. Toa Flamu felt the burning force welling up inside him, pushing to be released, but he kept it within him, feeling his insides physically grow slightly hotter by the second. “I have better. You see, I am in possession of the tool of the Brotherhood of Makuta's destruction. It is the end of all my enemies, be they Dark Hunters or Order of Mata Nui or Enforcers of Noctian Reign. You’ve lost already.”

Flamu prepared himself for combat, stepping back into a sparring stance. “And what would this tool be?”

“My boy,” said Velnax, grinning broadly now, “why should I ever give that information to you?

The Makuta lunged forward, a movement so sudden that Flamu barely had any time to react as the shadowy figure launched in his direction. In that moment he focused his power, activating his Kanohi mask and desperately swinging out with its energies. There was an explosive flash of light and a terrible shockwave that blasted him several bio backward, sending his body twisting uncontrollably through the air and landing face-first on the ground. Every inch of his body screamed with pain, but he ignored it casually, jumping to his feet and looking toward Velnax to see how well he had done.

Immediately, it was clear that the effect he had hoped for was just a product of wishful thinking. As he watched, the shimmering, incorporeal form of Velnax solidified, perfectly unharmed by the power of the energy blast that he'd released. “A mask of explosions,” said the being with an air of mild inconvenience. “Excellent. I like when my enemies choose not to go out without a fight.”

Flamu spat on the floor, his adrenaline rush fueled by rage. This Makuta was just toying with him—he could have been finished off easily, perhaps even before he noticed what had happened. Instead, he was being made the subject of a sadistic game, and it was an extremely undignified one. If he were to die, he wanted to die in an honorable fashion.

This is a job for someone else, he realized finally, truly aware at last of his own powerlessness. You're way out of your league, Flamu.

“Why don't you just finish me off now?” he roared, his challenge echoing across the silent room. The Matoran, he noticed, had been completely evacuated—all the better: no one to witness his death. He was just one more casualty in the war that was coming, one that would come because of him, because he had failed. “Why don't you just kill me?”

“Kill you?” Velnax said, in that same mocking tone he had already come to hate. “Why should I? You are much, much more valuable to me alive than dead. Dead, you are nothing. Alive, you will be useful.”

“Another hostage?” Flamu growled. He saw his enemy approaching him, but slower this time, to draw out his prey's inevitable defeat. “Another bargaining chip? Is that what you want?”

In his rage, he stepped backward to the metal control panel that Kutrax had struck with lightning earlier, reaching up with his knife and stabbing down into it. It cut through the Protodermis like butter, embedding its point in the charred surface. “IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT?” he roared.

Velnax clicked his tongue contemptibly. “Is that really what you believe? How foolish of you.”

An idea came to Flamu's mind. As he ripped his knife out of the panel, he contemplated its feasibility, mulling over the possibilities in his head until he reached a reasonable conclusion. “You'll never take me alive,” he proclaimed boldly.

“Oh, really?” said Velnax, a slight edge suddenly appearing in his voice. “And why is that?”

Flamu pointed to his mask. “Because if you don't let me and the other hostages go this minute, I blow this place back to Aqua Magna. No ifs, ands, or buts. Either you take me, Brominax, and Shayla back to where we came, you're going to be an emperor of a soon-to-be-dead city.”

“Ridiculous,” said the Makuta. “Look outside. There are thousands of Matoran living in this city. You're a Toa. You can't risk harming innocents.”

“You're wrong,” Flamu answered, backing slowly away along the perimeter of the glass dome. “I will do what I need to, in the name of justice and peace. I'm not going to let you or any tyrant stop me. But you're right about one thing: I am a Toa. You don't back a Toa into a corner, or bad things happen. You don't push us, or threaten us, or break us, because we always, always bite back.”

“You're mad,” Velnax laughed, though Flamu was sure now that the laugh was far from serious. “Toa are heroes. They don't destroy cities of those they've sworn to protect.”

“That's where you've made your mistake, Velnax,” said Flamu. “See, I'm an Order of Mata Nui member as well, and I am willing to sacrifice anything and everything I need to to exact justice on the deserving. You have thirty seconds to teleport me out, or you and all your friends die.”

The Order of Darkness leader did not slow in his approach. “You are mad. You'd never do this.”

A feeling of doubt entered Flamu's thoughts. Would I? Then he remembered what he'd done to Kutrax, and he knew he would.

“Twenty seconds,” he said, bracing himself.

“You're a Toa,” said Velnax again.

Fifteen, he thought. Aloud, he said, “That's the one thing you're right about, Makuta. I'm a Toa. And do you know what it is with Toa?”

“No,” Velnax growled. He stepped forward fasted, and Flamu prepared for a confrontation, readying his mask of explosions. Ten seconds.

“Of course you don't.” Seven. “But I'm a Toa, and the thing with Toa—” A few bio away, Velnax raised his weapon. “—the thing with Toa is that we never, ever—” Three. Flamu readied for the explosion, mentally readying for death. “—give—”

Then he was struck by an immense feeling of shock. He gasped, for a moment oblivious as to the cause of the sudden change, and he simply continued staring forward. Then the pain began, almost more than he had ever experienced before, but already it seemed dull, as if it were only a distant memory.

Realization came upon him, and Toa Flamu looked down to find a long, sharp, metal object sticking out of his torso, like the tip of a spear. A trickle of blood was running down his leg, and as he watched, it formed a small pool by his feet. Sickened, he collapsed.

He could do nothing but look up in vague horror as Makuta Kutrax pulled the blade out of his victim's body and wiped it clean of the blood—his blood, grinning cruelly down at him. Velnax's face joined him a moment later, the being's sword at his side.

“How true,” Velnax sneered. “Toa never give up. That, my friend, is exactly the reason your species is dying out.”

Flamu tried to use his fire powers, to retaliate, to snap back, but found that he was unable to. His responses were slowed; his body already all but paralyzed by the venom that coated Kutrax's weapon. He tried to spit out something, some final words, perhaps, a last condemnation on the Makuta, but the muscles of his mouth were locked together, impossible to move with his failing strength.

Things were growing darker now. Details began to blur out, and his eyes, locked directly in place, continued to stare at the faces of his two foes. The pulse of his heartlight was going slower and slower, and no doubt, his mental activity would soon cease. There was no need to worry now; the end was coming, and there was no need to stop it. It simply was.

The last thing Toa Flamu saw was the vile, grinning face of Makuta Velnax. Then darkness enveloped his mind, and everything was gone.

Chapter 1

The Toa of light peered noiselessly through the branches, his dark green gaze flickering as he looked into the distance, past the rocky circle that lay at the foot of the Daxian mountain, into the midst of the green foothills. Despite himself, he inhaled deeply, taking in the heady scent of the moist air as he had done hundreds of times before, during the countless combat training sessions over the years.

Today, though, was different.

He returned his attention to the before him, examining the landscape: for the most part undisturbed in its natural beauty despite the countless small battles that members-in-training of the Order of Mata Nui had waged for the last hundred thousand years. Apparently, the damage they inflicted on the environment could not be contained for long on Daxia, which served as a tangible reminder to the Matoran universe's natural resilience.

Or maybe it's another one of the Order's security systems, he pondered. I'll have to find out once this is over. But that, as always, depended on what things would look like when the end came around.

Fairon felt his pulse quicken as he thought once more about what would happen if he won today—or lost. Still, it mattered little at this point, and he tried to force himself to focus on his task and examine the landscape for Dorex. The time to worry was long past; it was too late to turn back now. He had made the decision, and there would be battle.

A flicker of movement caught his eye. He started, whipping his head around to look across the sheer vertical wall of rock in the side of the mountain, only to relax just as quickly as he determined its source. It was only a small gecko sunning itself in the dried vernal pools, lying by the colony of spiky plants whose tendrils waved in the light breeze: one of the many beasts that inhabited the harsh domain, seeking to extract just enough from the land to survive another day. Just like everyone else on this island, he thought, more than a little bitter at the concept.

His thoughts were interrupted by a gentle wave of apprehension and slight alarm, though it did not belong to him. This was Rantu's way of communicating when they were unable to speak verbally, a silent transmission of emotions through the aura field. Though effective, Fairon had grown more than a little annoyed at the method; he often found the intrusion of his partner's emotions unwelcome and more than a bit disturbing. This was just one more reason to look forward to success today: if they proved themselves worthy of membership status in the Order, then they would be allowed comms, and such communication would be rendered unnecessary.

Realizing what the message entailed, the trainee shaded his eyes against the rising sun and peered eastward over the prairie. A few seconds later, the image he had been hoping—and dreading—to see came into view: that of a tall figure silhouetted against the rising orb of the sun. He was still too far away to see clearly, but Fairon knew what he was going to see before it actually came into view: a powerful-looking Toa Nuva clad in a thick layer of bright orange armor.

What is he thinking right now? Fairon wondered. Does he feel confident in his impending success? One thing's for sure, he decided, gripping his lance of light tighter, I'm not going to let this be an easy fight.

The shape in the distance grew clearer. Dorex was how he always looked, the concealing tangerine Olmak betraying no emotion and hiding the expression on his face. His pace was a slow walk as he came over the emptying grassland to the stone training circle near the Toa challengers' hiding places. Another emotional signal came from Rantu, this time one of reassurance, and Fairon clenched his teeth. If his own partner thought he needed support, then it could be that the battle was already lost.

How'd I get into this? he wondered.

He recalled the scene he had witnessed an hour before in the gathering-place for the trainees, back at the fortress that was now only a looming shape at the horizon. They had gathered in the small meeting chamber, waiting for Dorex to address them: Deymur, new and inexperienced, shuffling his feet nervously; Harlen, quiet and detached as usual, standing patiently with weapon by her side; Crystallix, brooding silently in the corner and thinking to himself.

Then, as the first beams of the sun came over the horizon, Dorex entered to give them their training exercises for the day, Rantu and Fairon had risen and delivered their challenge. They had planned long weeks for this day—now that he considered it, months and years, ever since they had been recruited—and then, Fairon had been secure in the feeling of impending victory. Perhaps, in retrospect, it was just youthful naivete, but whatever it was, he'd already made the choice, and there was no time to think about that now.

Their slicer had reached the training circle, and as he stepped toward the center, he reached back with his heavily muscled arms and grabbed the two weapons that hung at his back, rolling them over in his hands until they faced the front. From his vantage point above, Fairon recalled the many past fighting sessions that had begun this way: sometimes, Dorex had allowed him victory, sometimes not, but today that was not an option. Today the weapons instructor would not hold back, and neither would they.

“Toa Fairon and Toa Rantu,” said Dorex, standing resolutely while Fairon watched. Undoubtedly, across the circle, Rantu was doing the same. “I accept your challenge today to engage me in a final test of skill, a traditional duel of powers and weapons. Should you be victorious, you will be allowed to to pass on to the rank of Order of Mata Nui member, or else be shamed in battle and made to return to the training whence you came. May you fare well.”

“May we fare well,” Fairon murmured.

For a moment, he looked at the slicer and contemplated the moral ramifications of what they were about to do. Dorex was their longtime companion and mentor, their teacher and guide in more ways than one, and the only way to gain true admittance into the Order was to beat him. And despite this, he had spent the last one hundred years teaching them to fight, showing them how to surpass him.

Your one loyalty is to the Order. Always remember that.

More foreign emotions came, those of genuine alarm this time: Rantu was telling him to strike. Can't he understand, he thought, doesn't he realize why this is so hard? But perhaps this is just another practice battle to him.

Then another thought: Battle? We've never had battle. All that training was practice for battle. This is battle.

Fairon considered for another moment of all the times they had fought Dorex, together and alone, but he managed to break free of the memories. Narrowing his eyes and pointing his weapon with unerring skill, he channeled his elemental abilities through the staff of light, sending an invisible laser burst in his trainer's direction. Orange armor was suddenly burnt, releasing a sickening odor, but by then the slicer had jumped out of the way of the attack.

Dorex's eyes blazed as they looked in Fairon's direction while he jumped down from the tree. For a moment, they were looking directly at each other, and in that moment, all feelings of remorse were gone from his body. Dorex was just a target now...

Far from that. He's a senior Order member, one of the best fighters in the universe. This is not going to be easy.

“Hello, Fairon,” said the weapons master as he crossed his swords. From the point where they came together, a massive sheet of solid rock spread outward and upward, blocking out the sun as it was launched into the air and began to fall toward the Toa of light.

He certainly seems to have been holding back a few tricks until now, thought Fairon mildly. Still, if this is the best he can do, then there shouldn't be much trouble.

He was hardly panicked; Dorex himself had taught him to adapt quickly to almost any situation, and he had learned that skill well. Maintaining his calm, he turned his back and ran at full tilt for the edge of the circle, ignoring the shrieking rush of wind that bore downward on him and the increasingly growing shadow that was expanding on the ground. As the shriek turned into a deathly howl, he leaped out of the way, pressing himself against the downward-sloping grass outside of the circle.

Then there was a horrific roar. Like hailstones in a storm, pieces of shattered stone flew through the air above, showering the area nearby. Some came dangerously close to falling on him, but Fairon was ready: with the cold efficiency of a Toa trained to kill, he aimed his weapon and a series of precise laser blasts fired into the sky, swiftly disposing of any potential threats. This is almost too easy, he thought casually. I might not even need Rantu for this.

Untouched, he jumped up, looking upon the remnants of the battle: the stone circle was shattered, bits and pieces of it lying scattered on what remained of its surface, but there was one curious feature absent. Namely, Dorex.

Be aware, Fairon. You may not have Rantu's power, but there are still ways of seeing without your sight. This is one of the most important things you will learn...

Shutting out the other noises around him—the running water, the flow of the western wind, the gentle swaying of the trees and grass—he detected a small vibration in the air. Very, very close.

Acting quickly, Fairon raised his weapon and spun around. His staff met one of Dorex's swords, blocking an attack that would have dismembered him. The other sword slashed sideways toward his face, but Fairon was able to duck backward and slice across with his staff.

“Excellent,” murmured the the weapons master in what seemed to be an approving tone while he blocked the attack and countered with two of his own, directed toward both sides of Fairon's body. “But that won't be enough against me, and you know it.”

Blast it. The Toa of light grimaced as he simultaneously blocked both maneuvers and sliced at Dorex's legs, only for him to jump upward and move to spear him through the eye. His perspective regarding potential success was suddenly significantly altered; it was immediately clear that his mentor was taking this fight seriously, or at least comparatively so. Where is Rantu when you need him?

Then the shots came. Instinctively, Fairon rolled over backward, away from his opponent, as he watched a beam of crackling blue energy carve a path through the air. It made contact with one of the weapon master's blades, which Dorex immediately dropped. A quick elemental burst from his hands and it was sealed in stone, so that Rantu would be unable to take control of it through the Ghost blaster bolt.

That, however, gave Fairon all the time he needed to charge up for another laser burst. As he released it from his staff, the force pushed him backward slightly, yet it accomplished its goal, vaporizing a good portion of Dorex's chest armor on contact. Still the slicer stood, looking relatively placid. I suppose it gets old after thousands of years of this.

Two more energy blasts came from afar, but Dorex responded in kind by erecting a wall of stone in front of him, blocking him off from Rantu's strikes. He and Fairon were alone on this side of the wall, and their eyes met again.

“You can't beat me with your powers, and you know it,” said the young pupil. He felt his heartlight pulsing rapidly in anticipation, but luckily, Dorex couldn't see it under his armor. This was the moment he had readied for, this was the day for which all of his time in practice duels had been preparing, and both of them knew ir. “There's only one way to do this.”

“No, there isn't,” the weapons master hissed, and slammed his weapon into the ground. Recognizing that this was his chance, Fairon charged.

He heard it before he saw it: a low rumbling, at first barely strong enough for even his heightened senses to notice. As he moved toward the weapons master, who stood as unmoving as a statue, it intensified: with it, the ground beneath began to shake. The world swayed around him, but the Toa of light managed to maintain his balance up to the point where the fault line opened to form a gaping chasm in the ground, carving a deep scar in the center of the valley.

Fairon tried to jump away, but the rock he was standing on was suddenly absent. He felt himself plunging into the darkness, seeing the world above grow rapidly smaller. Wildly, he reached up with his staff, placing it perpendicular to the run of the chasm. There was a sudden jolt as it caught onto the rock on either side of him, almost making him let go. A horrible screeching noise ensued as the staff grated against the walls, his weight still pulling him downward into the blackness; then the weapon caught onto a small ledge, and it stopped.

“You're finished, Fairon,” said the voice of the weapons master. As Fairon looked up, a shadow obscured part of the entrance to the chasm, which he had little doubt was Dorex's upper body looking down at him. “Give up now and you will be spared a considerable amount of pain. You can still try again later.”

“Not a chance!” the Toa of light roared.

“All right, then.” It was there that the slicer's calm tone crossed over from slightly frightening to very infuriating. He raised his remaining sword and pointed it down, and Fairon's heart sank at the understanding that his instructor was going to bury him under a ton of rock.

But that was not what had angered him; there were ways to survive, of course, and both he and Dorex knew it. He would come out of the situation alive. Instead, it was the realization that he had failed, that his endeavor would have to be tried again on another day.

Then he heard Dorex cry out, and he remembered Rantu. Filled with renewed hope, he clawed at the small ledge above him and began to climb.


Despite his well-honed instincts, Dorex only realized what was about to happen a short moment before it did. In his foolishness, he had considered Rantu to be out of the way for the time being—a mistake that he had made more than once before. As the glint of movement to his left caught his eye, the same series of spur-of-the-moment thoughts that always accompanied combat as he attempted to determine what to do next were accompanied by a wry consideration, which could have been followed up with laughter at any other time: Perhaps I'm just getting old.

He whipped around immediately upon spotting the green-armored figure, just before the surprisingly powerful wave of aura energy caught him off-guard. His mental block was useless against emotional attacks, so all he could do was struggle on his own terms with the feeling of relentless, dizzying euphoria that struck, diverting all of his attention and almost making him drop his weapon. The blast of stone power that he had meant to strike out with at that moment was launched up into the sky, sending boulders spraying in all directions from his position like a fountain.

Rantu ignored the projectiles, yelling his battle cry as he charged. Before Dorex could adjust to the situation, he slammed down his staff, coming directly down in a brutal attack designed to end the battle in a single stroke. Still fighting the overwhelming pleasure that threatened to engulf him, he was barely able to roll aside in time to avoid it.

I am getting old, I suppose, he thought. Or maybe everyone else is just getting younger.

He jumped back up, only to receive a debilitating blow to the jaw from the body of the aura Toa's weapon, which was smoothly continued with a sweep to the thigh that Dorex clumsily blocked. Only too late did the Toa of stone realize that it was a distraction, allowing Fairon's fully-charged laser blast to slip under his guard, smashing into his upper chest and pulverizing the upper layer of his armor. He staggered back.

“I thought I'd gotten rid of you,” the weapons master gasped as he rolled away, an awkward maneuver; the effects of the bliss were distracting him to the point which he was unable even to conceal his emotions before his trainees. A second burst met him in midair, knocking him over and forcing him to roll in the direction of the chasm he had made. It penetrated the armor this time, reaching into the flesh beneath. “Where'd you come from?”

“The ground, of course,” said Fairon, his weapon glowing with light energy as he charged it.

In an immense act of will, Dorex forced himself to shatter the hold that the aural attack was having on him, jumping to his feet. He sidestepped as another energy beam from Rantu's blaster narrowly missed him, continuing indefinitely into the faraway distance. However, he was not so lucky with the laser blast; it hit him right in the face, melting part of his Kanohi and narrowly missing one eye.

The weapons master fell again, coughing up a thick spray of blood. There was pain, yes, as well as a sickening feeling that he could only assume was an aftereffect of the euphoria, but that did not matter. What mattered was that Fairon and Rantu were being just as ruthless as he'd trained them to be. Good, he thought as he landed face forward in the grass, breaths wheezing.

A moment later, the sound of footsteps came: not terribly rapid, but not terribly slow, either. Hesitant. Not surprising; Dorex had heard the sound in the many, many, times his trainees had bested him, over all the many years he had served the Order and Enforcers. But instead of reacting and standing back up as he normally would have, he remained as he was, waiting splayed on the ground like a dead Rahi.

“Excellent job,” he croaked. “You tricked me. Not many have succeeded in such an accomplishment. I applaud your efforts.”

“Do you want to give up now?” said Rantu's voice through the fog in his mind as the pair of feet stood still. There was no malice in his tone, but instead a carefully guarded apprehension that the Order's slicer knew all too well. He wanted to know if Dorex was finished.

“No,” said the weapons master, allowing a faint grin to cross his face, unseen by either of his two trainees. Without even having to open his eyes, he envisioned the confused expressions on the young Toa's faces, and then began to sink like a rock in water.

Or rather, like a rock-controlling being in rock.

He felt his mechanical and organic body parts melting away into the substance beneath him as he dipped down into it—or that which was him, now—still aware of their existence and able to control them, but in all other forms a part of the rock itself. Sight was no longer necessary: Dorex's mind—or the rock's essence; the two terms were all but interchangeable—felt its every strength and weakness, its curves and contours, its breaks and cracks and fractures, even the tiny pressures made by the feet of two young Order of Mata Nui trainees, and so compelled the rock to guide him to them.

They have done well so far, Dorex thought. Very well. But let's see how they react to this.


“No,” said Dorex. Immediately, before Fairon's eyes, the weapons master sank into the ground, his body parts seeming to dissolve into the rock itself. Rantu shared his alarm through the aura field, but that was hardly necessary; Fairon was already rushing over to the spot where he had been, charging another laser, but by then the weapons instructor was gone.

Fairon spun around, facing his companion and addressing him personally for the first time since the battle had started. “Do you sense him?”

He was briefly worried that Rantu might make some sort of facetious remark that might cost valuable time, but judging from the grim expression that crossed his usually cheerful face, it was clear that he was being as serious about the matter as he was. As he spoke, Rantu closed his eyes to submerge himself in the aura field, then extended an arm and pointed at a point in the rock. “He's over there.”

“Excellent,” Fairon growled. The fire of battle was with him now, emboldening him almost to the point of recklessness. Compared to the coldness that he had felt earlier, it was almost a relief. Briefly, he allowed himself to wonder whether that was a good thing or bad. “Then let's get him.”

Drawing on the energy from the furious furnace within him, he pointed his weapon at the spot in the ground where Rantu said Dorex was bound to be. Excitement fueled his power, which poured relentlessly out of him, yet not seeming to even slightly diminish his endless reservoir of energy. Before his eyes, a hole began to be bored straight into the ground, smoke rising up from it as he pressed on.

“Do I have him?” said Fairon, his voice sounding unusual even to himself, perhaps animated with what he thought might be hunger.

“No,” said Rantu, eyes still closed. He turned to Fairon and blinked visibly. “He's heading for—!”

Then the ground exploded.

The stone beneath them crumbled as it expanded outward in all directions, tossing the Toa into the sky. From his unique vantage point, several bio above the surface of the Matoran world, Fairon saw the smooth cliffside collapse from the force of the burst, sending a sheet of rock shredding into tiny bits as it met the ground. Then, as he began to fall, twirling uncontrollably through empty space, he lost sight of it—

And then he slammed into the side of the mountain with force enough to rupture the ground beneath him. He landed directly on his back, which instantly sent a thousand needles of pain shooting through it. Luckily, his back plating had absorbed the brunt of the damage, and he stood, his thirst for battle not yet quenched. He scanned the area around him with eager anticipation, searching Dorex.

He finally spotted the orange-clad figure at the mountain's base, standing over the limp body of Toa Rantu. Fairon roared, the fire within exploding to a climax, rushing down the slope with his staff in his hands. He fired three times without even thinking about it. As the first hit, the slicer spun around in response, dodging the other two as they scored gashes in the rock behind him, and slammed his fist into the ground.

Once again, the ground seemed to explode, sending a shower of rock in Fairon's direction. He was ready this time, racing through the obstacle course without a second thought, allowing his instinct to guide him through the maze of what seemed to be plunging meteorites as though it were as simple as a Kolhii match. The exhilarating new feeling was filling him with adrenaline, and more: all the the pain, all the anxiety and fear, was pushed into the back of his mind. The air was fresher and crisper than ever as he charged through it, the rage in his heart being directed toward one goal: defeat Dorex.

As he ran, he realized that he felt good.

While Dorex stood, sword up, waiting for Fairon to arrive, the Toa of light noticed that Rantu was rising to his feet behind him. The weapons master looked over his shoulder, but too late: Rantu had already begun to attack. Good, Fairon thought with satisfaction. That should keep him busy.

Swords flashed in the sunlight as they were raised, then just as quickly brought against each other, were withdrawn, and came together again. He saw Rantu hold his own against the weapons master as he came closer and closer, feet moving at impossible speeds, each step bringing him nearer to his goal. There would be victory today, and it would be his.

Two seconds left, one second, and he was there.

A pair of precise but powerful slashes that came inches from Dorex's face, which was already half burned away to form a smoking, unrecognizable visage. The weapons master's attention went to Fairon, and he turned while delivering a savage kick to Rantu's gut. He spun his single blade in a dizzying circle as he moved in, making Fairon hesitate for the first time. But he willed the hesitation away, and attacked with the savage, single-minded fury of a wild beast.

A diagonal slash from shoulder to thigh. Dorex neatly flicked the weapon to the side and moved to spear the attacker in the throat, but Fairon was to fast for him, somersaulting out of the way. As he did so, he swept up to remove the left arm, but once again the slicer stepped out of the way. Instead, as he landed, Fairon was met by a powerful thrust, which he parried in midair. Only then did he realize that he had played directly into his instructor's hands, and a closed fist impacted against his jaw.

The rush immediately went out of him. He fell on his back, while a quick twist from Dorex sent his staff of light clattering on the ground. The weapons master kicked it away, almost lazily pointing his sword at Fairon's neck.

“You've done very well,” Dorex murmured. “Very, very, well. I'm proud of you.”

Fairon spat in his face.

“You can give up now,” said Dorex, raising his free hand to calmly wipe the flecks of spit from his scarred cheek. “You've passed the test. You and your partner have exceeded and defied expectations. You showed cunning, skill, and bravery, exhibiting remarkable knowledge of the skills I've taught you. That is enough. You can be made a true member of the Order of Mata Nui without actually beating me. You've shown that you already are.”

The image of Dorex came to him then, in their first group lesson, when Fairon had been nervous and not knowing what to expect. He had been ordering them to recite the society's principal values, and the memory brought a grin to Fairon's face, simultaneously charming and triumphant. “No, Dorex.”

You are Order of Mata Nui. You live to fight.

“No?”

You fight for justice and liberty.

“There's one thing you've forgotten. One thing that you've always told me.”

You fight for integrity and honor.

“And what is that?” Dorex's brow was furrowed as he gazed at Fairon cautiously. “Go on.”

But there is one thing you fight to achieve above all else. Do you know what it is, my students?

“We fight to win,” said Fairon.

The pulse from Rantu's Nynrah Ghost blaster made contact with the slicer's back. Dorex fell, immobilized, on his back, in the same position that his apprentices had just been in seconds before. As Fairon scrambled to his feet, Dorex began to laugh.

“Well done, my boys,” said the weapons master. He paused to cough up a bit of blood. “Well done. You have certainly excelled today.”

The light Toa glanced at Rantu. “I thought you paralyzed him.”

“Neck down,” said the Toa of aura, blaster in his hand, as he looked down toward the fallen slicer. “I thought he might have something to say to us.”

“You win,” Dorex said. “You win. You pulled it off, all right. I am impressed now.”

“Do you have anything important to say?” said Rantu.

“N—”

The slicer was immediately silenced, his mouth opened in mid-sentence in a manner that seemed eerily like what Fairon envisioned a screaming ghoul to look like. “Was that really necessary?” he said.

Rantu shrugged. “I dunno. Maybe.”

Fairon shook his head but didn't press him. As he knelt to inspect his weapons master, he felt a cold numbness inside him, a strange lack of emotion: of concern for the slicer, or triumph for the victory, or relief that the final training exercise was over. Instead, he felt hollow and empty, which he realized was the result of what he had done.

He was their mentor, and they left him to lie unconscious on a pile of rocks.

He looked up. “We should take him to the healing center.”

Rantu nodded in agreement. “Alright. What do we do, carry him over there?”

“Better idea.” He reached for the comlink device Dorex kept at his hip, unclipping it and feeling its coldness as it lay in his palm. Rantu peered over his shoulder as Fairon pressed the button he assumed would connect him to the Order base. “This is Fairon here. Authorization code 2197682346. Training session completed. Requesting transfer of Dorex to the infirmary. Over.”

Hey, guys,” replied a piping Matoran voice, which Fairon immediately recognized as belonging to a former trainee from a group with which the Toa had collaborated multiple times. “Nice to hear from you again. Anyway, message acknowledged. We're sending someone to pick y'all up.

“Rando?” Rantu spoke up. “Is that you?”

Who else?” said the Le-Matoran over the comm. “Got assigned to the communications center after graduating. Say, 's Dorex all right?

“He's fine, I think,” Fairon answered. He opened his mouth to speak again, but another pang of guilt came over him him. He forced himself not to look at Dorex as he continued.

You will be strong, Fairon. The lives of many may one day depend on it.

“He's out for the moment, though,” he forced himself to finish. “We need a transport to the healing center.”

Alright.” Rando's voice disappeared for a moment, and for a moment all that could be heard over the comm were the background noises, the indistinguishable low hum of equipment and discussion that Fairon had heard many times over the comlink as Dorex had talked to base. He recalled his last visit to the communications center at the central tower, around six years prior, and wondered how things had changed since he'd last been there.

The voice on the comlink suddenly returned. “It's on its way. It'll take Dorex to the infirmary. I don't think you're supposed to be coming with him, though.

“I thought the initiation ceremonies needed to take place with him present,” said Fairon, frowning. “Is something wrong?”

Don't know,” Rando said. “It says here that the two of you are to report to the situation room in person. Helryx will meet you there personally.

“Why?” Rantu responded. Behind him, Fairon heard the aura Toa shifting his weight, something he always did when he was anxious. Though he tried not to show it, he shared his partner's feelings. So far as he knew, this was not normal. “You don't think we've done—”

No, you're not in trouble. For a mission briefing of some sort, I dunno. Nobody told me.

Fairon's frown increased. A mission? “What about the ceremonies?”

Probably no time for that. I might not be allowed to know what's going on, but I'm not a blind stone rat. All the high-ranking members I've seen have been real busy lately, and the council has been talking in the situation room for hours now. Something big's going down. Wonder what they want with you.

“Hmm. That's strange.” Fairon pondered the situation for a moment, and for a moment thought he had a tenuous grasp on its meaning, but then it slipped away. “Well, thanks.”

I'm meant to get someone to meet you at the gates and escort you to the situation room,” said the Matoran. “I'm doing it myself, though, so see ya there. Tell me all about it when it's over.

“We will,” Fairon assured him.

Have fun,” Rando added, and the transmission cut off.

Having done what he needed to with the device, Fairon began to place it back on Dorex's belt, then paused in thought. Perhaps he should take it. The thought appealed to him, but he couldn't help wonder what he should do. What would Dorex do?

But he isn't here, he realized. He isn't here because you beat him. You and Rantu. You've proven yourself superior.

“Take it,” Rantu encouraged, startling Fairon. Of course: he was reading his emotions through the aura field. Were his thoughts really so transparent? “You deserve it.”

A moment of consideration. Fairon bit his lip contemplatively, the extremely faint rumbling of magne-sled engines reaching him on the wind. It was a conspicuous reminder that there was very little time left until his transport arrived to bring the trainees back to base, which meant he would have to choose very quickly.

No, not trainees.

Toa.

New members of the Order of Mata Nui, ready to submit themselves to their duty, wherever that duty would take them and whatever the cost to accomplish it. They had passed the final test and beaten their slicer in combat. Now Dorex could not command them anymore; now they truly, finally belonged to their Order.

“Fairon?”

“No,” he said decisively, clipping the comm back on Dorex's belt and standing. “Come on. Our ride's going to be here soon. Let's all be back to base before Helryx changes her mind and gets someone else for this mission of hers, whatever it is. Sound like a plan?”

“Sounds like a plan,” Rantu agreed.

“We need to do something first,” Fairon added, assuming Dorex's former authoritative position. “If I remember correctly, you disposed of Dorex's first sword. Do you remember where it is?”

“Let me see,” said Rantu. He closed his eyes, and Fairon watched as he entered the strange meditative state. As he opened them again, the new member of the Order of Mata Nui nodded. “It's over to the east.”

“Good, then. What are we waiting for?”

As the single sun climbed over the horizon, the two beings moved across the stone circle's remnants to search for the slicer's lost weapon, its owner lying limply in the stone circle, the ghost of a smile etched on his unmoving face. The smell of gas came over to the foot of the mountain on the faint wind that stirred it, and the sound of the engines grew ever louder.

Chapter 2

Not for the first time, Toa Shayla, former sergeant of the Toa Dominion, senior lieutenant of the Enforcers of Gigas Magna, unofficial member of the Noctxia Guardians, and ambassador to the Order of Mata Nui opened her eyes to the unwelcome sight of a prison cell.

The cell she was in was dank, and humid, encircled by a perimeter of rusted metal bars made from solid protodermis, though they looked very much the worse for wear. The ceiling and walls were made from a single slab of rock, riddled with a number of cracks, although these were barely visible through the thick layer of moss that clustered above her. On the other side of the bars lay a hall, which extended beyond Shayla's field of vision. It appeared completely empty save a torch mounted on the wall, though if there was one thing she had learned over her long years, it was to never, ever trust initial appearances.

Still, if things really were what they seemed to be, she could break out anytime she wanted to, even considering the conspicuous absence of her Kanohi. Compared to the sophisticated prisons at the old Gigas Nui base and the new one on Noctxia Nui, this barely amounted to a Rahi pen. So uncivilized, she thought.

But if this involved Antidax—and it was undoubtedly certain that it did, after all the things she had seen in the last few days—then it could never be that simple, could it?

Shayla tentatively reached out for the bars with one hand. As she made contact with the metal, a pulse of electricity smashed into her arm. She instinctively reacted by pulling her arm backwards, and as she did so she realized that she was only moving a frozen, immobile appendage, dangling limply from the side of her body.

She swore under her breath. She had encountered devices like these before, designed to release an electric charge to overload the nervous system. With any luck, the effect wouldn't be permanent, though she was certain to be walking around with a useless arm for a while.

If I'm going to be walking anywhere. After a short examination of the walls, she realized that attempting to break them down would be futile. The entire fortress was dug directly into the mountain; the prison around her was only a minute chunk of it. Drilling through it with water bursts would likely take years, while going into the rock to weaken it would likely only bring the prison down on top of her. Still, it was her best chance at the moment, and possibly the only one she had.

Brominax would know the answer, she thought, then sighed in exasperation. Brominax was gone now, tight in the clutches of Makuta Antidax, but whether he was alive or dead she knew not. Of their original team, only Fyxan remained, and that was solely by virtue of remaining behind on Daxia; she had watched Colix die, crushed by a shadow hand as Krakanus took his vengeance for the death of the Vortixx King. That was the only thing that seemed real now, as though all her life before that had been a dream or illusion.

After tens of thousands of years serving her cause, she had assumed that she would have grown used to the feeling by now. She hadn't.

Best to get on with it, then, she decided. Reaching out with her arms and her mind, she felt the humidity in the air, the puddles of water at her feet, and the minute cracks within the rock. Focusing on the latter, Shayla allowed the aura field to draw her in, and she called on her innate elemental powers to make them grow and increase.

“Well, Shayla,” came a familiar baritone drawl that sounded like nails scraping on rock, “what are we doing now?”

She spun around to face the prison bars, instinctively slipping into a fighting stance despite the fact that she had no weapons and no way to attack her foes. Facing her on the other side was her captor, the infamous warlord known as the Green Hunter. Beside him were a pair of guards—Noctians, instead of the usual Vortixx—standing rigidly at attention. Immediately, Shayla realized that these two were very formidable; everything about them, from their armor to their stances, indicated that these were very formidable warriors.

And they know it, too, she realized after a glance at their eyes. That was good. Overconfidence was an easy weakness to exploit, but an effective one.

“What do you want, Acid?” she said carefully, being sure to focus on his facial expression. “And where is Antidax? I want to meet the master, not bargain with his dog.”

“Antidax is not my master,” Acid responded as coolly as if he had expected the question. He's smarter than he looks, after all. He must have. “He is merely my ally for the time being. I will allow the partnership to benefit me as long as it can, but in the end he is merely another pawn. A means to an end, if you will.”

“If you think you that about Antidax, you're a fool,” Shayla growled. “You might think that you're smart, but you're nothing compared to him. You're his pawn, Acid, as all of the rest of us are. Now, let me speak to him, or else I won't talk at all.”

“And if you are able to speak to him, what then?”

“I'll get out. Same goes if I'm not able to talk to him. And if you aren't careful, I'll kill you when I do.”

Acid laughed, an ear-piercing grate that sounded more like a series of screams than a display of humor. “And how do you intend to do that?

Shayla forced a grin. “Why should I tell you?”

“You cannot threaten me,” he laughed. The lime-armored being stepped forward to her prison, though Shayla noted that he was careful to stay out of her reach. “You have no leverage against me or anyone else. You will answer my questions when I ask them, or else we will torture you. I'd hate to ruin your pretty face like that.”

She smiled again, only this time the smile was partially genuine. “I once knew—that is, I still do know—a small band of friends of mine. They have a saying. Do you know what it is?”

“Is there any reason I would want to know?” Acid said. “No, I didn't think so. Now, tell me everything you know about the organization you belong to.”

“What organization?” she said, frowning in a way that would have fooled all but the most skilled Ko-Matoran psychologist.

“You know what organization,” growled the Green Hunter. “The Talon. Where have they gone?”

Shayla had to resist the impulse to scoff at the idea. Then, realizing that it couldn't hurt her chances, she let it out. “Dark Talon?” she hissed. “The Talon? Are you mad?”

“Mad?” Acid whispered. “Far from mad. I know you and your partners were scouting out my island, the location of which only a few know. I also know that your technology level is much higher than what we have here on Cronicia Nui, and indeed the Matoran world as a whole. You're not from here, are you? You're from outer space.”

That was all true, of course, but she had no intention of confirming it. “I see. Is that what Antidax is telling you? That we're from Dark Talon, come to conquer your island? You poor fool. Don't you see he's been misleading you?”

“If you're not Talon, then what are you?”

“It doesn't matter what I am,” she said softly. “The Talon is dead. It died a hundred years ago. The Twilight Guardians killed it.”

“I see,” hissed the mocking voice of Acid. He stepped even closer to her, directly under a small rocky ledge that hung around the outside of the cell. “And who are these Twilight Guardians? A group of magical flying Rahkshi who run around giving gifts on Naming Day?”

“They're the friends I mentioned earlier,” she said. Her gaze flickered momentarily to the guards; they seemed completely unaware of what was about to happen. “They have this saying: 'If you don't have any leverage, you make it.'”

Acid's mouth opened, no doubt for another sarcastic remark, but by then Shayla had already done what she needed to. She used her powers to break off the rock ledge and send it directly onto Acid's head, knocking him over toward the cell. The guards reacted as she had anticipated, drawing their plasma cannons and aiming them, but she was too fast for them. Once again using her powers, she reached through the bars with a concentrated burst of water to effectively extend the reach of her arm, using it as a snaking tendril under full control of her mind. Without hesitation, she grabbed the warlord around the wait, pulling him toward her cage.

Stop!” Shayla roared as she saw the guards lifting their weapons. To enunciate her point, she pulled Acid, who was frozen in shock, into direct contact with the bars. They did their work quickly and quietly, as the warlord spasmed once from the electrical shock and stood still. “Put down your weapons or he dies.”

She watched the guards look at each other as they evaluated the decision. Powerful they were, yes, and perhaps overconfident as well, but they were no fools. This Toa clearly meant business, and so their leader's life was in danger. If the one way to keep their leader alive was to follow her instructions, then it would be wise to do so. They dropped their plasma cannons. Shayla smiled. “Open up this cell.”

She watched as they stood in silence for a second, using the coil of water to push Acid's limp body against the cell. “OPEN THE CELL NOW OR I WILL KILL YOUR LEADER! UNDERSTAND?

“Very well, ma'am,” said the taller of the two guards in an openly contemptuous tone. She stepped outside of Shayla's field of vision, the Toa of water watching her companion carefully and gauging his reactions. A few seconds later, there was a small click—from what she assumed was the cell control panel—and the guard declared, “The electric bars have been deactivated.”

Shayla narrowed her eyes: this was convincing, yes, but it could still be a clever trick on the part of her captors. She could take no chances now unless absolutely necessary, especially considering the information she was now carrying. The Order needed to know what she had seen, of the image the Keeper had showed her of the manufacturing facility.

Antidax was here in the Matoran universe, and he was making an army.

“Prove it,” she hissed, pressing Acid even tighter against her. “Touch the bars yourself.”

“Very well,” said the female. She stepped toward the bars and touched them carefully, meeting Shayla's eyes as she did so. What Shayla saw in them was the soul of a being filled with hatred, not at the Toa herself but at the entire world. Despite herself, she felt a surge of pity, though not a strong enough one that it kept her from carefully monitoring all of her movements.

The guard, however, did not attempt to defy her; she instead touched the bars with her hand and withdrew immediately. “See?” she said. “Now, what else do you want? I—”

“This,” Shayla said, letting go of Acid as she simultaneously launched a concussive water blast from her hand. The blast pulverized the cell bars, shredding them into small bits of metal that sprinkled around the surrounding area. Acid and the Noctian were launched backward at the wall as the water spread, while the other guard moved to pick up his weapon. Once again, he did not count on Shayla's speed, and was promptly thrown across the room by another elemental burst.

She glimpsed the exit next to a weapons rack, a staircase that spiraled up and out of sight—presumably to the main fortress—and sprinted toward it unimpeded despite the two feet or so of water that collected on the floor. A final glance back told her all she needed to know; all three of her enemies were out for the moment, lying stricken on the water line, though she doubted they were dead. Acid, she noticed, seemed to have lost an arm when he had been hit by the explosive burst, and that thought cheered her slightly.

She raced toward the stairs, pausing only briefly at the weapons rack before picking out a pair of plasma Uzi, small handheld energy weapons similar to plasma cannons the likes of which had been used by the Enforcers before the development of particle guns. Taking one in her hand and one at her side in the case that her other arm should recover, she started upward, examining the moss-lined walls for traps until she deemed it secure. It was only then that she realized this was unnecessary; a being such as Acid would never consider the possibility that any of his prisoners could stand a chance of escaping his oh-so-secure prison.

Her weapons raised, Shayla sped upward in silence, her feet making little sound on the worn steps. As she came higher and higher, she felt rather than heard the series of vibrations. She paused, listening intently as the vibrations grew louder, and braced herself mentally and physically for the battle that was inevitably going to take place. The shadow of the approaching party slipped across the corner a second later, and she saw a dozen determined Noctian faces, each of their owners heavily armed, a second before she literally leaped upon them.

The fight ended three seconds later, with all six of the warriors lying dead on the ground before her and a thin wisp of smoke wafting gently upward from each of her Uzi. The Toa of water peered regretfully at the mound of bodies and moved on.

This is what I hate about this job, she reflected. All the senseless violence. Is ending some lives justified by saving others? Where is the boundary between justice and brutality? Where does it end?

She noticed the darkness growing noticeably lighter, realizing that she was nearly at the top of the staircase, and abruptly cut off that line of thought. It would lead her nowhere, as it always had, and there were more important things to think about right now.

A moment later, the staircase ended. Slipping through an arched gateway, she entered a hall that resembled the prison area, though this one was significantly cleaner and larger. Instead of being illuminated by torches, there was an expansive ceiling of glass, through which sunlight poured, forming a tangible contrast on the level stone floor between the light and the dark shadows of the brick supporting columns. There was no one in sight.

I guess the ceiling's my way out then, she decided. Gathering her powers once more, she prepared to launch herself upward through the glass on a pillar of water. I hope the glass isn't any stronger than it looks, or there'll be trouble.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a booming voice with a thick Northern Continent accent: “There she is, men! Fire!” Before the impending shots could reach her, Shayla had leaped behind one of the pillars, cursing herself for letting down her guard. She heard the roars of plasma cannon shots and the loud shocks as one smashed into the brick behind her head, blasting it into little fragments that she only just ducked her head in time to avoid.

The upper half of the supporting pillar, weakened by the shot, began to fall dramatically to the floor. Shayla raced along next to it, hunched over so as to keep it in between her and her enemies. As she did so, she caught a glimpse of them: another half dozen troops wielding plasma cannons, and clearly they weren't new to using them. To anyone who hadn't seen the same kind of thing over and over for the last few thousand years and wasn't capable of such a skill themselves, their shots would have seemed frighteningly accurate; though Shayla was too careful to let any of her body be exposed, each shot blasted away a portion of the brick even as it fell, many of which were frighteningly near to her head and chest.

Still, Shayla didn't feel particularly worried. She'd been up against worse odds before and won. Why should this instance be any different?

As the pillar made contact with the ground, she ducked behind it, crouching as she fired a series of blasts from her guns. Two of the guards were downed immediately, and a third was hit in the shoulder. With a grunt, he stepped out of the battle, but the rest continued firing, streaking the air above her with searing bursts of flame. It's a pity these Noctians don't live on Gigas Magna, she realized. They're good soldiers. I'd hate to see them all die.

That was when she saw one of the warriors point his cannon in a different angle, aiming at a point somewhere above her. She realized too late what he intended to do, and desperately tried to get off a shot. But by then it was too late; the sound of breaking glass filled her ears, and a dozen razor-sharp transparent needles fell toward her. Desperately, Shayla took the only option available to her: she broke cover and ran for safety.

Shayla had a clear view of all three of her remaining attackers now, but perhaps more importantly, they had one of her. As she rolled out of range of the falling glass and behind another pillar, her limp arm flopping about uselessly, a spray of plasma bolts lit the room, reflecting off the shards to create an eerie light.

She reached around the pillar with her good arm and downed two more of them, but as she did so, a sharp pain came to her hand, making her drop her weapon. Swearing under her breath, she reached for the other one by her belt, and it was only then that she realized that her trigger finger and thumb were no longer present, with her middle finger only half remaining.

Shayla swore even louder this time, though it was doubtful her remaining foe could hear over the spray of plasma bolts he was continuing to unleash. This had happened before, of course; there had been more machine than organic matter in her since the beginning, and by now most of her was so ravaged by battle and age that there was very little left. But when she lost half her hand in the middle of a fight and had her other one incapacitated, and the only weapon available for use was a small plasma weapon, it was starting to become what she classified as a “bad day.”

But I'm a Toa. I can get out of this. Besides, there's only one of them.

She closed her eyes as the fundamental power of water gathered within her, and raised her useful hand as she prepared to channel her powers. Her wells of energy were not bottomless, but she had enough left in her to do what she planned. Allowing the aura field to guide her, she raised her arm, feeling the throbbing intensity of the growing force as it entered her hand—

“Stop whatever you're doing right now or I'll shoot you.”

A hard metal barrel pressed against her head. Shayla opened her eyes, careful not to let the power dissipate, and looked into the red eyes of the female Noctian guard. If she had thought that they were hate-filled earlier, now they were seemingly mad with rage. The guard's face was contorted into a mask of hatred, and the spikes on her head had tightened in a Cephlosapian display of anger. Her frighteningly white teeth were bared in a snarl.

“Doesn't seem like I did a good enough job of knocking you out,” Shayla said slowly, stepping away from her, hands raised. A trickle of blood ran conspicuously down her hand, but she knew better than to wipe it away. “I'll try to do better next time.”

She could see three other beings stepping into view from behind the female. One was the Noctian who had been shooting at her seconds before, weapon still in his hands, expression unreadable. The second was the one who had accompanied the female when they had been downstairs in the prison. The third was Acid, limping heavily and leaning on the second one's shoulder.

“I should shoot you right now,” the Noctian whispered, and for a moment it looked like she would do just that. Her hand was clenched around the grip, her finger on the trigger.“You killed my kinsmen. You slaughtered them! What the Karzahni are you?”

The surge of pity came again. As Shayla continued moving backward, ignoring the sharp pain as she stepped on the glassy fragments, she wondered how much of a monster she must seem to her. She had no idea, of course, of what she had to do, the importance of her mission—

So does that justify killing everyone that stands in your way? whispered the voice in her head. To her annoyance, it reminded her of Janneus. She hated Janneus.

“I'm a Toa,” Shayla answered, just as softly.

“No, you're not,” the Noctian growled. “Toa don't kill. I should know; I've fought many of them in my time. You're much too good at killing to be one of them.” That last word she spat out with distaste, as though the very thought of it was something she loathed.

“This is wartime,” said Shayla. “Sometimes, in wartime, we have to do things we wouldn't normally do. For the sake of the universe.”

“For the sake of the universe.” The guard's hand was shaking. “I've had it with your little hypocritical ideals that you support only when it's convenient for you. All you Toa are good for is killing and dying, and with any luck, we'll have a lot more of the latter.”

“Stop, Lizard. Let me handle her.” This was Acid's voice.

Lizard looked at Shayla for a long moment before stepping away, though her gun was still pointed at her face. The Toa of water immediately put her out of her mind, instead focusing her attention on Acid as he half-swayed toward her. The Green Hunter was indeed minus his left arm, with small bits of tissue hanging from the place where his stump ended. His cheek had been torn away from his face, leaving a large hole that showed his skull. His pincers had been almost vaporized by the water blast Shayla had unleashed on him, leaving very little left of Acid's likeness.

“You look wonderful,” said the Toa of water. “Should I improve your visage a bit further?”

“Try,” Acid said, “and Lizard here blows your head off. But I doubt that that's what you want, is it? Otherwise, you'd have killed me already.”

“I should've.” All feelings of pity were gone; there was no room for them when dealing with beings such as this. She could not let such emotions cloud her judgment.

“But you didn't. You have some reason to get back to wherever you came alive, and I doubt that it's just self-preservation.”

“Let me talk to Antidax.”

“I will let you talk to whomever I choose, and no one else.”

“You can't control me,” she hissed. “None of you can control me. I won't stop until I'm dead. I will accomplish my mission.”

“Then let's make it easy for all of us. You tell us what your mission is. We put you out of your misery.” Acid peered up at her with a grotesque sneer. “Else, we lock you up until you sing like a Kahu. Either way, we win.”

“There's another saying from the Twilight Guardians I think you should know about,” said Shayla. She had stopped moving back, and was instead standing rigidly as Acid approached her. “The saying is—”

GRAB HER!” Acid roared.

The Noctians sprinted in her direction. Before they could near her, she released the water burst that she had been charging up for, but it was not aimed at either of them: it was aimed at the ground. A spray of glass fragments were launched in every direction as the pressure from the clear burst pushed her up into the air, leaving her suspended above while the room began to flood.

“THERE'S ALWAYS A THIRD OPTION!” she cried triumphantly above the roar of the water.

It was then that she saw Lizard. Lizard, undaunted by the water that was already going up to her knees, had her plasma cannon trained directly on Shayla's head. Knowing that she had to move fast, the Toa willed the gushing column of water away from its current position, but it was too late. Lizard fired.

Instantly, her thigh felt like it was on fire. Continuing to propel the pillar across the room, she looked down at the area where she had been hit only to find that a good portion of the area was just gone. Blood began to ooze from the newly-formed cavity, and it was then that it hit her: she was hurt badly, and she would need healer attention as soon as possible.

Mata Nui, she decided. I must go to Mata Nui. That's my only chance.

She took herself higher on the pillar to a point that was hopefully out of the range of her assailants' weapons. Below her, she could see the fortress: row after row of glass-ceilinged rooms, so that she could look down into them and see the interior clearly. But what she saw was not something to dwell on: it was much more important to move on to the shore, from which she could go into the sea and move for the island that lay on the Great Spirit's face.

There was little time left. She was growing weaker by the second, able to feel it even as it happened. But the sprawling complex below her was too large for her to traverse across it in time. The ocean lay far away at the horizon, tempting her, its call too strong to ignore. The water would heal her; she must go to it or die.

Die? Like all those others you killed? Dying will just make things easier for you. Then came Janneus' mocking laughter.

Get out of my head, Janneus, she hissed to herself. I am doing this for the Enforcers and Order of Mata Nui, and because this is my duty.

The voice changed, changed into one that was horribly familiar to her, but much harsher and crueler than the other. Now, Shayla, do you really believe in duty? In unity and destiny? How naïve of you...

GET OUT OF MY HEAD! she said to herself. The voice faded, and it was then that she realized she had wasted the last few seconds hanging in the air, while her powers were slowly draining away.

You know what to do, Shayla, said the voice again. This time, she gritted her teeth and ignored it, limiting it to a dank corner of her skull while it throbbed in her brain. She increased the power of the water burst, pushing herself higher and higher. The strain on her body was enormous, one that she would hardly have risked at peak efficiency, much less with a hole in her abdomen. Still, she had no other choice.

Oh, but you do, the voice taunted. There's another way out. There always is.

She pushed herself higher and higher. The complex below shrank to the size of a Kolhii ball held at arm's length, then smaller, until it just seemed to be comprised of an array of pinpricks that represented its different parts. Around it lay the island, with a series of Matoran huts to the east and the waves breaking on the shoreline to the west. Yet she was still not high enough.

Give up now and your suffering will be eased.

Toa Shayla strained to go higher, and at last she could see the first clouds around her, mere wisps of fog against the backdrop of the blue of the sky and the sea. Ignoring the feeling of vertigo that threatened to overtake her, she pushed, feeling herself weaken. Time was running out: if she wanted to land in the sea, she needed to be higher before her strength faltered.

Events passed in a daze. The world grew blacker, and she struggled with all the willpower available to her to keep herself a awake. The air was thinning: her breaths came in gasps, her heartlight flashing at an overwhelming pace, each pulse a roar in the enclosing darkness. Thousands of years of practice had rendered her stamina perhaps one of the best in all the universe; but that might not be enough now. She could not give, she could not.

It will be over quickly.

SHUT UP!

She gave.

Toa Shayla plummeted lifelessly towards the surface of Aqua Magna, Nightwatcher's voice echoing in a monotone within the blank shell that was her mind. She did not awaken.

Chapter 3

Hundreds of kio away, within the boundaries of the realm known to its inhabitants as the Matoran universe, Rantu and Fairon were striding briskly through the central corridor of Daxia, admiring their surroundings while the short, slightly pudgy Le-Matoran led them on their way.

Rando had met them at the entrance to the Daxia fortress, at the base of the great stone wall that surrounded the city. After being assured that Dorex would be taken care of, the two Toa had followed him to the main base, at the very top of which lay the situation room. Of course, Rando couldn't seem to resist showing off his knowledge of the place, and the trip had essentially become a guided tour.

The stone corridor was long and curving, with a barely discernible upward slope, allowing it to reach to the air in a spiral that continued until the very top of the structure. Metal doors lined it on either side, one appearing every few paces, each leading to rooms the purposes of which Fairon and Rantu knew not.

The area was far from crowded, though there were still a variety of beings passing by, representing a wide range of species. However, unlike as in the previous few times Fairon had visited, none of them paid particular attention to the small group: apparently, the novelty of having Toa recruits in the organization had worn off. Illumination for these beings was provided by a series of strange lights that were built into the ceiling, which, according to Rando, were fueled by some sort of gas.

In Fairon's opinion, however, the lighting was far from the most interesting thing about the place. Everywhere he looked, he could see innovative wonders that he had scarcely ever dreamed of back when he lived in his hut on Xa Nui, and even now seemed barely comprehensible. Some of the agents in the corridor carried devices and tools the purposes of which seemed completely unfeasible; objects of all shapes in their hands, on their belts, mounted on their wrists, even hanging around their necks; but what truly attracted his eye were the miniature telescreens. Mounted at regular intervals from the walls, each displayed a table of images, featuring what their guide had explained were live feeds, but of what the live feeds were, Fairon had no idea.

True, nothing he saw came anywhere close to what the Great Beings—those who had designed the Matoran world itself—had accomplished, but it was clear that the technological development since his previous visit had been substantial, judging from the wide variety of things he saw. Perhaps, he thought, we're taking our first steps toward being like the creators of the world themselves.

Fairon briefly wondered what it would be like to have the powers of the Great Beings themselves, but his thoughts were interrupted by the sound of Rando's excited chatter, which had suddenly raised an octave. Blinking, the Toa of light looked as the giddy-faced Le-Matoran as he indicated a door.

"Here, now," said Rando, practically jumping up and down with excitement. (I suppose it's been a while since he's been able to talk to us, Fairon mused. And in what better fashion to greet us than with a long introduction so as to prove that he knows so much more than we do?) "Here's the technological concept area. All very top-secret. We've got some of the best engineers in the universe in there, though nobody at my level knows what it is they're doing . Some say that they never leave the room. Weird, eh?"

Rantu cleared his throat, attracting some brief glances from a pair of Reptisapeans walking down the hallway. "Rando, don't you think you should focus on getting us to our destination?"

Rando whirled around, evidently startled. "Wh—Yes, of course. Here, let's hurry. No time to lose." Immediately, their guide sped off at a brisk jog, muttering something under his breath. The Toa followed at an increased pace, Fairon consciously aware of the stares that were coming in the direction of the two beings dashing through the corridor.

"Think we offended him?" said Rantu.

Fairon shrugged. "I doubt it matters. He'll probably forget about it in a week's time anyway."

The three of them ran, feet treading lightly on the smooth stone floor as they came higher and higher up through the spiral corridor, toward the situation room at the top. Fairon wondered what they would find there, pondered the significance of Helryx's message as he had done several times since their departure from the training circle. Beside him, he saw Rantu's face morph to form a thoughtful expression, and he knew that he was thinking the same.

What could Helryx want from us? he mused. What is so important that requires us to speak to her in person? And if it is a mission, as Rando says, then why pick two novice trainees?

It was then that Rando stopped moving. Fairon abruptly ended his contemplation, instead focusing his attention on what lay before him. The corridor had ended abruptly, stopping at a wall with a pair of large Protodermic doors carved into it. Two tall, heavily muscled, fierce-looking guards—a Skakdi and a Vortixx—peered down at them.

"Toa Fairon? Toa Rantu?" said the Vortixx, eying the newcomers with unguarded curiosity. "You are they?"

Rantu nodded. "Yes. That's us, all right."

"Helryx has been waiting for you."

"May we enter?" said Fairon.

"You may." It was the rasping voice of the Skakdi this time. He pointed at the Matoran beside them with a heavy-looking jagged spear that lightly dangled from his fingers. "What's this one doing here?"

"He brought us," said Rantu. "He's our friend."

"He has no place here. Leave us," said the Skakdi to Rando. He sharply flicked his spear in the direction of the corridor. "Get out. Shoo. You've served your purpose."

Fairon thought that the gesture was a bit unfair, but a brief look from the Vortixx convinced him not to question it. Instead, he faced the guards as his companion scampered away, listening as his footsteps gradually grew fainter and eventually faded into the background. A moment later, the guards nodded to each other, reached out with either hand, and pulled apart the massive doors to reveal the chamber within.

Rantu made an inarticulate noise of astonishment. Fairon barely contained one of his own, but forced himself not to stare dumbly at the room before him and instead stepped forward down the short row of smoothly polished stairs, his eyes darting two and fro as he took the sight in.

The war room was a massive unadorned chamber, its ceiling a dull steel, its floor a shining marble. Precisely at its center lay a rectangular granite table that extended away from the newcomers, with corners cut to precision. At its sides, two rows of six ebon-colored seats lay in place, upon which a number of beings sat facing the thirteenth chair, which was placed neatly at the table's end.

The Order council, Fairon thought, in awe at being present before such a distinguished company. He thought he recognized many of the council members from the many tales Dorex had related over the years: the tall, muscular one was undoubtedly Tobduk; the lean silver female Niha; the cloak conspicuously floating in midair belonging to Jerbraz. Curiously, two seats were empty: Perhaps some of the members are out on missions.

Other than the figure seated at the end of the table, the only Toa in the group was Vinax, his yellow-white armor seemingly glowing with lightning energy. It was a given that Toa were rare in the organization; as Dorex had explained early on, the group which he and Rantu were in was an exception, one of only a few in the Order's history. Toa were known across the Matoran world as being helpful against Makuta, and the death of the Brotherhood of Makuta's leader had resulted in some instability in the faction which only increased as time passed, with several splinter factions having formed in recent years.

What had astonished the two Toa so was that on the three other walls, so massive as to seem out of place anywhere else, lay a single enormous telescreen similar to those which they had seen in the corridor but much, much bigger. Fairon's eye may have been inexperienced in such matters, but he was observant enough to notice that many of the video feeds here had not been present outside. Those were top-secret material, he realized, and now he was right in the heart of it.

As he and Rantu reached the bottom of the steps, the figure at the head of the table stood. The rest of the members immediately followed suit, standing rigidly to face them. The blue figure, who Fairon was sure had to be Helryx, stepped around the table, eerily silhouetted by the flickering panes of motion in the telescreens. As she approached, he could make out her muscled frame through a bit of blue-black armor, and realized that she was moving not just with the stance of a powerful warrior, but that of a skilled killer. He took note of all these things, filing them away in the back of his head for future reference as his leader drew nearer.

For a moment, she flipped her head around to look at the beings seated at the table. "You may leave," she said to them with a voice that was somehow both stone-cold and bright. "You are no longer needed here. You all have work to do, do you not?"

"But milady—" Vinax spoke.

Helryx stopped moving, continuing to gaze at him with a pair of icy cold green eyes. Vinax stammered something and bowed, filing hurriedly out of the room with the nine other council members. She watched them go, not so much as turning her head to acknowledge the Toa's presence until the doors creaked shut behind the last departing member.

"You may be seated," she said at last, gesturing to the table with her left hand. "We have much to discuss."

Silently, Rantu and Fairon moved toward the table, not daring to glance at each other. Together, they stepped toward the chairs closest to their side of the room and sat, both eying Helryx warily as she took up her regular seat and addressed them.

"I suppose you're very curious as to what this is all about," she began. "Why you specifically are needed out of all the other members of the Order of Mata Nui. Am I correct?"

The Toa nodded in agreement.

"Are you familiar with the Makuta known as Velnax?"

Fairon considered for a moment. Dorex had spent a decent portion of his time with them teaching them of the methods (fighting and otherwise) of different species, notably Makuta. During that time, he had told them of several of the various members of the Brotherhood, living and dead, and all that the Order of Mata Nui had learned about them. But he did not ever recall hearing about a Velnax, even while perusing manuscripts in the library in the Daxian square.

"No," said Rantu. "We've never heard of him."

"Good." Helryx rose. "All the information about him is classified. He's been removed from all texts and databanks levels three and below. If anyone asks, you've never heard of him. Your deception skills are on par with Order standards?" She looked at them sternly.

"Yes, er—" Fairon struggled to find the proper term to address his leader by.

"'Milady' will do," Helryx said coldly. She took a small device, similar in size and shape to a comlink, and pointed it at the screen. It zoomed in toward one of the images at the bottom, and Fairon watched with interest as it was expanded to show a detailed illustration of a red-armored being bearing a Kanohi Psikon. The author of the portrait had clearly taken great pains to pronounce the length of the claws that glinted in his hands, in which he held a blade lined with a row of jagged spikes. Perhaps it was Fairon's imagination, but there seemed to be a villainous glint in the Makuta's eye as he held the weapon.

"I wonder who draws these things," whispered Rantu to Fairon, but Helryx cleared her throat and they turned back to face her.

"Velnax's early life is like those of all Makuta," she began. "He was created by Mata Nui in the time before time to create Rahi to populate our universe. Until now, he has remained obscure, as he has rarely been known to leave Destral on missions and seems to have little influence in the Brotherhood.

"When the group splintered following the Great Cataclysm," Helryx continued, "Velnax was forgotten in the midst of the treachery of many of the others. Our spies detected little suspicious behavior surrounding him, and it came as a surprise to us all when we learned that Velnax had betrayed his organization."

She paused, looking at the two new members carefully so as to gauge their responses, and continued. "He has escaped to the city of Robotopolis, which floats in the space outside our world; we have reason to believe its leader, Makuta Kutrax, is aiding him. Obviously, his sudden defection was not without a motive, and we sent a team to discern them, but they were somehow discovered. One he has killed; two others he has imprisoned. Their names are Shayla and Brominax, a Toa of water a mutated Xian.

"We have reason to believe that he is extremely hostile, and is willing to use the prisoners as hostages. Therefore, we sent Toa Flamu to negotiate their release. You are familiar with him, are you not?"

Fairon sat a little straighter. Flamu had trained with him for years. Though they had not been the best of friends, Fairon saw him as an excellent comrade and Toa, and had missed him when he had defeated Dorex and become an official member of the Order some months before. They had not spoken since, but he and Rantu had heard of Flamu's growing reputation as "the negotiator."

What had happened to him now?

"Yes," said the two Toa simultaneously.

"He was one of our partners in Dorex's instruction sessions," added Rantu.

The leader of the Order of Mata Nui paused again before continuing. Once more, the fierce eyes looked upon the two Toa, and once more she appeared satisfied with what she saw. "They killed him," she said.

Fairon swallowed. Next to him, Rantu's jaw dropped. A conflicting wave of emotions crashed upon the Toa of light: sorrow, anger, fear, and—most frightening of all—a bit of indifference. But he supposed that was not much of a surprise; the Order had sought to condition its trainees to block out feelings in times of emotional stress, and this was its result. It was this part of Dorex's training that allowed him to sit rigidly in his place as the bombshell reached him, and while it was possible that his feelings showed up on his face, he would not allow them to influence his judgment.

"How?" said Fairon. "When?"

"A few hours ago. The meetings went badly, so we sent a strike team to apprehend the leaders of the Order before a full-scale war could start. It never reached its destination, but Velnax somehow knew about it and had Kutrax stab Flamu in the back. He's declared war on the Order of Mata Nui."

Again, it took a few moments for the full impact of her words to hit Fairon fully, but when they did, they hit hard.

War. The first full-scale war in the Matoran world since the fall of Dark Talon, in the days long before Fairon's creation, days that were now a part of the ancient legends. To most, such a thing was unthinkable now: the Talon war had ensnared the triad of major factions in the universe in deadly conflict—the Order, the Brotherhood, and the Dark Hunters, though the former operated mostly in secret—and obliterated a good portion of the Noctian Islands, not to mention most other affiliated locations. For such a thing to happen again would be disastrous to say the least.

Then Rantu laughed aloud. Fairon turned to him in shock, while Helryx, he saw, stared at the Toa of aura curiously. Before either of them could ask the questions that were on the tips of their tongues, Rantu spoke. "But then he's doomed! All we need to do is send up a strike team to Robotopolis and wipe them out. Simple as that."

"Or," said Fairon, all thoughts of Flamu vanishing from his mind, "we could just launch a missile at them from the planet surface. There, problem solved. What's the big deal?"

Helryx cleared her throat, the look in her eyes alone enough to bring the two to silence. "I appreciate your eagerness to participate in this issue, but I fear that there are some more variables involved that you are unaware of. Firstly, the existence of hundreds of Matoran aboard Robotopolis. The risk of collateral damage would far outweigh the gain."

Rantu was not one to be quieted. "Then why not just teleport onto there and get them out?"

The Order leader continued as if she had not been interrupted. "The second variable in question is this."

She took the controller again, pointing it at the screen and pressing a series of buttons. The image of Velnax flickered away, immediately being replaced by an illustration of a few drops of a thick black liquid that seemed somehow eerie despite the fact that it was only a visual rendering. Beneath the image were sets of numbers which had no significance to Fairon; it was the strange substance that captivated him, seeming to draw him in toward the screen. He saw Rantu cock his head in curiosity, and was immediately jerked back to the present.

"What is it?" the Toa of light said softly. "This material—what is it?"

"Shadowdermis," said Helryx. "The Brotherhood members Kunaku and Filax—two more whom we believe have joined Velnax's cause—created this substance some time ago as a derivative of energized Protodermis. Supposedly, it possesses near-infinite power, though my researchers believe that it would take an immensely strong will to fully bend its mind to one's control."

"Its mind?" Rantu stared at Helryx as though she were insane. "This stuff has a mind?"

"We have long believed that energized Protodermis is sentient to some degree," she explained. "When transformed into Shadowdermis, we think it retains the same quality. But unlike its source material, it can be controlled by beings with psionic power, though only to a certain point."

"How do you know all this?" Fairon asked. "I've never heard of anything like it before."

"We were able to study a sample before we had it destroyed. It consumed many of our operatives in the process—it bonded to them, you see, and before long they were raving lunatics. We had no choice but to kill them."

Her mouth was open to continue, but at that moment one of the doors slid open, allowing the Skakdi to step inside. "He's here, milady."

"Good," Helryx said, her lips pursed. "Bring him in."

The Skakdi hesitated. "Milady?"

"Yes, soldier?"

"The council. Why did you send them out?"

"Their presence here is not necessary at this time," she said quietly. "Please, bring him in."

The Skakdi stood still for a moment and then nodded, stepping back out into the hall and gesturing for an unseen figure to step inside. Immediately, a gray-skinned being passed into view through the doors, a pair of ice blue eyes visible through the twisted Kanohi on his face. Two golden buzzsaws hung by his arms from hooks in his bright white armor, just thick enough to be effective without impeding movement.

There was something strange about this being that Fairon could not place. No doubt Rantu could figure it out, being a Toa of aura, but this was not the time to dwell upon it. He stood up, moving to the newcomer and extending his hand in greeting. "The name's Fairon, sir," he said politely. "Toa of light. It's good to meet you."

The being did not hesitate to respond, reaching out to clasp the young Toa's arm within his own. "Silver. I take it you're one of the partners our good leader has assigned me?"

Fairon nodded, turning slightly to introduce him to Rantu. To his surprise, he had not made a move to stand, and remained sitting in his chair, glaring at Silver as though he were a monster from outer space. He made a mental note to discuss politeness once the conference was over, and then the aura Toa spoke.

"You're a Makuta."

Without hesitation, Toa Fairon whipped around to face the being and reached for the spot on his back where he carried his staff, only to remember that it had been taken from him once he'd entered the building. Instead, he brought his hands back to their normal positions. Out of the corner of his eye, he glanced at Helryx, who gave him the briefest of nods.

"M-my apologies," he stammered formally. "I thought—"

Perhaps it was that the being's mask was somewhat expressionless, but Silver had hardly seemed deterred by the latest sequence of events. "No apologies necessary," he said, stepping forward with a dismissive wave of his hand toward the table where Rantu sat. "Your response is completely understandable. The Brotherhood of Makuta isn't exactly making a good name for my species. Don't worry, I'm on your side."

Rantu slowly shook hands with him. "Rantu. Toa of aura."

"Aura, eh?" The Makuta nodded. Perhaps it was Fairon's imagination, but he seemed the slightest bit taken aback by this news. "I haven't seen one of your kind since Boreal died." His eyes flickered briefly toward Helryx's angry glare and cleared his throat. "Well, I suppose we'd better get back to business."

"I suppose we should," she said icily.

While Silver took a seat, Fairon turned back to the image of the Shadowdermis. "So how does this interfere with the war? I thought you said it was destroyed."

"We believed it was," began Helryx, "but apparently we were wrong. Silver here was part of the information-gathering team with Shayla and Brominax, and it seems Velnax plans to use it to enslave enough beings to create an army for himself. We believe this is why he is on Robotopolis—so he can turn the Matoran living there into his first minions. From there, he intends to land his troops on our world and conquer it."

"I still don't see what this has to do with teleporting onto there," said Rantu with a frown. "Or, like Fairon said, just shooting at them from the ground."

"We think he's using it to replicate the effects of the teleportation-blocker that the Brotherhood uses," Helryx explained. "Whatever he did, it seems to have done away with the members we sent to Robotopolis. They never contacted us again."

Silver, who had up to this point been sitting quietly to the side of Fairon, cleared his throat. "Also," he added, "taking down Robotopolis from the ground won't be as easy as it seems. It's not just a matter of taking a plasma cannon, aiming upward, and hoping for the best. Even if you do manage to get whatever you're shooting past the atmosphere, there's a billion other variables to account for—Robotopolis is in orbit round the planet, and the planet is in orbit around the sun, for one, which by themselves will make it hard to get a precise hit. Then there's the matter of gravity and inertia, not to mention the fact that whatever you're shooting needs to be powerful enough to do some damage."

"How do you know all this?" asked Rantu in unguarded curiosity.

Silver shrugged. "I was the leader of Icarax's supplies-allocation group for Robotopolis before I defected. I learned a few things about outer space."

Interestingly, Helryx's gaze hadn't left Silver during the duration of his statement. Odd, Fairon noted, but decided that there were more important things to focus on at the moment. "So what's the plan, then?" he asked, looking at Helryx. "You still haven't even told us what exactly our mission is."

Silver was the one to answer. "The mission is to destroy or take control of the Shadowdermis so an assault on Robotopolis will be possible. This is why the two of you were chosen—Rantu's aura power, combined with the effects of my Kanohi—" He tapped the grotesque-looking white mask. "—should be enough to bend the substance to your will. If necessary, Fairon can use his light power to destroy it."

That makes sense, Fairon decided. It was only then that he realized that the news of Flamu's death and the impending war had made him forget about the question he had asked Helryx earlier on, as to why the two of them had been selected for the assignment. She distracted me, he realized. I can't let that happen again. I must be on guard.

"Remember," added Helryx, "our two agents are being imprisoned at the moment. If you get the chance to free them, take it."

"Sounds easy enough, then," said Rantu. "Find some Shadowdermis, do what we need to, get the Matoran out of the way, and invade the city. Boom. Simple, right?"

Silver shook his head. "Not quite. The amount of control a part of Shadowdermis has over the rest is proportional to the size of the part. What we'd need to do is go to the source."

Fairon's heart sank. "And that's on Robotopolis, isn't it?"

Silver nodded. "How'd you know?"

The Toa considered that for a moment, then shrugged. "I guess if I were this Velnax, then that's what I'd have done." Helryx spoke again. "The good thing is that despite the teleportation block, Velnax's Order of Darkness still needs to get their armies into our universe. They seem to have developed some space travel technology—" Silver shifted a bit in his seat. "—the likes of which we have not yet come close to creating. Our spies on the island of Mata Nui report that they're sending down some small spacecraft containing weaponry and some Matoran troops."

"Hold on, let me guess," said Rantu. "It's our job to get onto them and make the return trip to Robotopolis."

"Correct," said Helryx, a note of satisfaction in her voice. "From there, you will remain unseen until you reach the source. Do whatever necessary to keep hidden, for the city is full of enemies. To navigate, we will provide you with a map of Robotopolis taken from the Brotherhood's database—though it certainly is possible that its layout has changed since the Order of Darkness seized it. We do not know the location of the Shadowdermis source; discovering it will be up to you."

"Great, then," said Rantu. "We're going on a spacecraft controlled by our enemies toward a city in the middle of outer space filled with more enemies, looking for an extremely deadly substance that could be anywhere and which the aforementioned enemies are in full control of. And if we fail, then there'll be a planetary war. Nothing to be worried about, right?"

Fairon shot a glance at his partner. This was the Order of Mata Nui leader that they were talking to. Luckily, Helryx didn't seem extremely annoyed by this, so he continued with the question he had planned to ask. "Why can't we have more people? That would make this a lot easier."

Once again, Silver beat Helryx to the punch, shaking his head. "Too much risk of being discovered. No, the best thing to do would be for the three of us to go together. Me with my Kanohi, you two with your powers, for the best chance of destroying the Shadowdermis. Otherwise, you end up taking more chances, and Mata Nui knows what could happen then."

"There's also the third variable in the equation," added the Order leader. "Velnax knows everything about us; it seems that somehow he's gained access to our databanks. We're about to initiate emergency protocols, but the fact remains that he still knows just about everything we do. And knowledge is power."

"So what do we do?" Fairon said. "If they know what we can do—"

"Surprise them," said Helryx. "This is another of the reasons we selected the two of you for the job. The Order of Darkness doesn't know you, or what you're capable of. What you need to do is be capable of what the rest of us are not. You are Toa, after all.

"You may go," she added, gesturing for the three of them to rise from their sears. "The briefing is over. You may travel to the refitting section; you will be provided with everything you need when you get there. Do you need a guide?"

"No, milady," said Rantu. "Rando already showed us where it is."

"Then be ready to leave as soon as you can," said Helryx.

"Yes, milady," said Fairon respectfully. Rantu echoed him, and the two Toa rose from their seats, moving back toward the twin doors. Fairon glanced back, making one final glance toward the giant telescreen and the granite table. He had a feeling that this was a sight he didn't want to be forgetting anytime soon.

"Silver?" said Rantu to the Makuta, who still sat at the table. "Are you coming?"

Silver looked back at them, shaking his head. "I still have some things to discuss with Helryx. I'll meet with you later."

As Rantu nodded in acknowledgment, Fairon knocked on the door, contemplating his situation. At last, after hundreds of years, he had reached the day where his abilities would be put to the test in the real world that lay on the other side of the threshold. There were mysteries out there, dangers and enemies lurking in the shadows, and it was now his duty to fight them in the name of justice. To prove himself against the world's deadliest horrors. He was a hero on a journey to upload his principles, to fight for justice, to protect innocence—and he would succeed.

For a brief instant, he wondered whether there was still a chance to turn aside, and he realized that there was still some fear left in him. Fairon immediately quelled it, burying the feeling and crushing it into an icy ball in his heart. There was no turning back now; he had no choice in the matter. Heroes never did.

"So," muttered Rantu, "this is war, huh?"

"Certainly seems to be," said Fairon. "Come on, it's time to get started."

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