“No game is difficult if you understand its rules and its pieces. That’s how you cheat, how you win.”
The game is afoot.
From his nowhere exile, the titan of darkness observes with sinister delight as the seeds he planted mature into twisted trees. Makuta used the final drops of his vestigial influence on Mata Nui towards a vengeful end: with a dim hand, he led shady beings to encounter his most potent depravity, the vile ichor known as Antidermis. Fluid destruction, the abhorrent substance devours that which is good, augments that which is wicked, and corrupts that which can be used for ill. It devastates economically, mercilessly, and effectively.
By the will of shadow, this caustic power has fallen into the most dangerous of hands. Makuta chose the heirs of his Antidermis with a prisoner’s careful cunning: a nefarious Dark Toa, once servant to his tyrannical shadows, has amassed a posse of evildoers to himself; a scheming Matoran, a peer of the shrewdest power-players on the island, now holds a secret weapon; and six anarchic Skakdi, equipped with a mere vial of his malevolent material, have compromised the formidable Abettor and thus gained access to a trove of armaments beyond their most blissful fantasies.
The Chaotic Six were already a force to be reckoned with; now, they’re poised to become the island’s nightmare. In the ominous chamber of the Vault, the gang discovered not only a huge, looming vat of Antidermis – which, they found, could be used to enslave Makuta’s old Rahkshi to their depraved wills – but also a wealth of technological scraps and an array of dangerous masks. To make matters worse, malevolent fate has brought the Piraka into contact with Echelon and his followers, doubling the groups’ dangerousness through the bonds of newly forged allegiance. Their grown strength is magnetic, and others – the amoral, the spiteful, and the power-hungry – are drawn to the congregating vice like moths to a flame. Some of these amassing forces seek calculated retribution for the banishment of their dark god, while some simply seek heady power or dumb thrills; all, though, defer to the primacy of the Antidermis, and to the sole being that dares approach it at its source.
The corner of evil on Mata Nui deepens and gathers potency; the game is afoot, for the denizens of Mata Nui must again unite against a united enemy.
Across countless leagues of water, a blood feud inexorably approaches civil war. In the midst of festivities, Umbraline Yusanora, Rora of the Kentoku Archipelago, was slain before the terrified eyes of a hundred nobles by a weapon that incriminated Dastana Jasik, the First Son of his family. Though the ascendance to the throne of Yusanora’s eldest daughter Yumiwa, and the departure of a second expeditionary submarine to Mata Nui, allayed tensions on the Archipelago for a time, nothing could reverse the Rora’s heinous murder and so assuage the grievance done onto Clan Umbraline.
Made impatient by High Executioner Rayuke’s meticulous deliberations regarding Jasik’s guilt, Umbraline extremists took justice into their own hands, and under cover of night, revenged the death of their matriarch by slaying the Dastana’s Toroshu, Yomiken. As the vigilantes fled, Dastana guards captured three, and the next day executed them before crowds in the street, igniting a riot between Umbraline allies and Dastana sympathizers. Attempts were made upon the lives of Jasik and his sister, as well as upon Yumiwa and even Rayuke. As every fresh drop of blood is drawn, as Sado’s glittering towers are painted red, the hate between the clans thickens.
The Umbraline and the Dastana prepare for full confrontation. Already, the Dastana have won the support of several minor clans, including the feral Vilda and wily Kyoshi, and have sent diplomats to others; already, the Umbraline have raised an army of militant Ageru warriors, and set the zealous Hogo to ruthlessly policing the streets of the Imperial Palace. Clan Fursic, so often associated with societal strife, sits back, as though waiting for the opportune moment to pick a side. But the seductive perfume of rebellion in the air has not just reached the aristocracy’s noses; the lowliest Saihoko and the meanest Ringti have caught the scent, too, and many resent their chains – and the nobles that shackled them – with fresh vigor.
The Kentoku Archipelago is a dry forest, needing only a spark to burst into flames. The game is afoot: who will live, and who will burn?
Circumstances remain unresolved, and questions remain unanswered. The Dasaka’s expedition to Mata Nui could begin an age of mutual prosperity for the two lands as easily as it could set off a terrible conflict between them. The Toa Maru, saviors of Mata Nui, struggle – perhaps vainly – to escape from the ghost of their leader’s desperate, clandestine deed. Lost heroes return from mysterious voyages, and antiheroes embark upon quests to right the wrongs of their past. The Matoran of Mata Nui, hardened by more strife than any people could ever have deserved, remain strong even in the face of massing villainy, and are more important than they yet realize. The simplest power of the Vault remains, though few realize it, untouched.
Although imperiled, the world is not bereft of hope.
But the situation is dire; the game is afoot.
“Faith, it's an attractive concept... but it is a euphemism for slavery. If faith is a willingness to follow one's destiny, then it is the willingness to throw oneself, too pathetic to do otherwise, into bondage.”
The Dasaka are coming.
On the day when Makuta was banished by the Toa Maru, on the very day when the island of Mata Nui was freed at last from the oppression of its dark tyrant, a bejeweled island far across the expanses of the sea discovered, to its great surprise, a new world.
Destiny is a titan with fingers as vast as islands.
Ages ago, a council of wise Datsue philosophers theorized that the Kentoku Archipelago, the eternal motherland of the Dasaka people, could not be alone in the endless ocean. How, the philosophers had asked, could the Dasaka’s islands be the only dry protrusions in an inestimable sea? How could it be that the Great Spirit Zuto Nui had bestowed her great and infinite gifts exclusively on such a small portion of the world? Geographical and spiritual hypotheses, though, had not been the only tenants of the philosophers’ theory; the Datsue council had also reasoned that primeval stories, above all else, pointed to the existence of unknown lands.
In the vague reminiscences of ancient legend, there were several similar tales of strangers who had visited the Archipelago, curious beings that resembled the Dasaka and Dashi of Kentoku, but as an imperfect reflection. In the legends, these beings had possessed powers unlike any the Dasaka had ever seen, been as colorful as the foliage of the Janu birds, and wielded priceless metal weapons. While traditionalists always dismissed the alien characters in these stories as creative inventions, the Datsue had argued that the consistency between the tales could not be coincidental, and that perhaps the strangers of the legends were something more than myth… that they had come from somewhere else.
In their time, the theory of the philosophers’ council had been viewed with great skepticism, dismissed outright by some, used by others as a political cudgel against the sovereignty of the Datsue. As time passed, the revolutionary theory was buried by the continuance of war and tradition, reduced to an obscure joke, left alone as one volume among thousands in the libraries of Dasaka lore.
On the day when Makuta was banished by the Toa Maru, on the very day when armies of Rahkshi had scattered and the sun had shone unfettered for the first time in a long time, the long-dead Datsue philosophers smiled from their graves.
Lucky circumstance brought the Dasaka their first foreigners in an epoch.
They had appeared seemingly out of nowhere. A Saihoko schooner on a routine fishing expedition had seen a pillar of smoke on the far horizon; curiosity had compelled its crew to approach. Upon reaching the source of the smoke, the sailboat had discovered a wooden ship on fire, nearly collapsed into the sea. Hanging on to splinters of its detritus had been six beings, the likes of which the sailors had never seen. They’d had heavy jaws, clawed hands and feet, and showy spines running down their backs, and they had been all the vivacious colors of Janu birds.
The Saihoko craft had promptly saved and escorted these strangers, who had seemed very polite and grateful, back to the Archipelago; within hours, the six colorful beings had stood before the Rora. They had introduced their kind as Skakdi, but either could not or would not say anything about where they had come from, why they had been at sea, or how their ship had caught fire. Though some Dasaka had found the Skakdi’s selective recollections – and the incongruities in their details from telling to telling – suspicious, the general marvel and excitement felt by all had drowned out such concerns… for a time.
It did not take long for the six Skakdi to show that their true colors were not as vibrant and pure as those of the Janu; it did not take long for their tendencies towards crime and violence to become apparent. The chaos that they caused and the damage they inflicted were extraordinary; within weeks, the six Skakdi had been sentenced to death on the Rora’s orders. But the six Skakdi had possessed abilities unprecedented by the Dasaka’s prisons, and had escaped on the eve before their executions in a stolen submersible.
The Rora had ordered this stolen submarine searched for; vain though such a gesture had been, it bore unexpected fruit.
On the day when Makuta was banished by the Toa Maru, on the very day when the Koros of Mata Nui had breathed sighs of relief, one of the chasing submarines happened upon something entirely unexpected: land.
Lucky circumstance may seem contrived by Destiny.
In the absence of Makuta, political enmity grew on Mata Nui, but it also grew on the Kentoku Archipelago. While the Vault was an issue of contention and dangerous possibility amongst the Matoran factions, the discovery of a new world served the same disruptive function among the Dasaka clans. Their debates were fierce. Some Toroshu clamored for exploration, weaving words of temptation and glory; others argued for isolationism, wielding fear, doubt and tradition as their devices. The rifts between clans – formerly as small as they’d been in a very long time – reopened with savage speed.
A final compromise was officiated: the Dasaka would send one submarine to this newfound island, and upon its return – or lack thereof – they would have enough information to decide whether or not to pursue exploration and colonization. The mission’s crew was selected, and the submarine departed with all speed.
After its diplomatic representatives met with Akiri Hahli of Ga-Koro, after they exited the Koro bearing maps of the island and a trove of information about its people and society, the Dasaka’s exploratory submarine returned to the Kentoku Archipelago.
On the day when Makuta was banished by the Toa Maru, on the very day when Toa Stannis had felt such piercing uncertainty about the potential costs of his actions, he may have exchanged one aggressive power for another.
The Dasaka are coming.
On the island of Mata Nui, meanwhile, tensions have – at least, for now – eased.
When the six Akiri held council at the pinnacle of the Kini-Nui temple, many of the grievances that they had held against one another were exposed to have been insubstantial shades all along. Compounding suspicion and paranoia, above all else, had been to blame for the misunderstandings. How, the Akiri had lamented, had they been so foolish as to think one another capable of evil deeds? Why had they not simply met, face-to-face, earlier? The Akiri rediscovered their old friendships at that meeting, and all breathed a sigh of relief at the realization that the war for which they had been preparing themselves and their people would, perhaps, not come.
When at last the summit broke, it was as though the Akiri had brushed a dark fog from their eyes; they returned to their villages proclaiming a new era of peace and goodwill, and professing their trust in the other Akiri, their firm convictions that all would be well again on Mata Nui.
On the surface, the land knows peace. Below the surface, in the bowels of Mangaia, the dark fog sits close to the earth, and turmoil waits patiently for its time.
By now, several beings of stout heart have journeyed into the heart of Makuta’s old lair to speak with the black-gazed Abettor. In a tunnel above the Vault – eerily round, its surface peppered with the sparkling faces of geodes – these journeyers have all been blinded by the same blue light and been asked the same questions. Those that attempt duplicity in the presence of the Abettor are slain; those who try to pass the metal behemoth uninvited meet the same fate. The Abettor douses their lives without hesitation and, even when set upon by a dozen Toa at once, without difficulty.
Those who do not try to force past or lie to the Abettor, however, have been allowed to leave its tunnel unscathed… and bearing morsels of tantalizing knowledge. Some have even been given clues about what the powerful goliath guards. The Abettor has rumbled that while the Vault contains some of Makuta’s shady and mysterious devices, these are nothing compared to its real treasure: “all the simplest power of the world.” All the simplest power of the world… This phrase, above all else, has sparked a refreshed wave of relentless speculation, a fresh pang of shameful longing, among the people of Mata Nui. What could that power be? And how can it be unlocked at last?
The rumors about the Vault come from everywhere and Nowhere, sweet as honeyed fruit and insubstantial as dark fog.
A show of peace may have been made among the Koros, but all is still not well on Mata Nui. Around the island, corners of darkness coalesce and deepen. A necromantic Brotherhood slowly reconstructs its ancient fortress. Peers and mercenaries play dangerous and subtle games against one another. Former disciples of the great darkness are drawn back to one another. Five incompatible Skakdi whoop, giggle, and backstab as they turn the island into their playground.
The sixth Skakdi, conspirator with the dark fog, knows something that the other five don’t.
Makuta is gone, but he is not dead.
“The people of the world are builders. But look into their hearts... and you will find that they also have the power to destroy.”
Makuta is gone.
The Second Great Prophecy, which spoke of new heroes rising to overthrow a powerful darkness, foretold as much. Destiny followed its course and new champions, the Toa Maru, took up the mantle and power of the First Toa – who by now are remembered only as vague legends rather than as the flawed people they truly were – and succeeded where their predecessors had failed.
The Toa Maru banished the looming darkness before it was able to soak up all the light of hope on the island. Makuta is gone; he was defeated at the peak of his might by six heroes who rose from the people he had presumed to rule.
For a time, there was rejoicing. The Toa Maru were celebrated by all for their unrivaled heroism and strength. The force of their presence alone, when properly applied, was more than enough to ensure a peaceful restoration of Matoran leadership where others had ruled. The control formerly vested in the Turaga, who were killed in the sweep of Makuta’s final throes, has now been passed on to some of their most trusted advisers: Jaller, Matoro, Kongu, Nuparu, Hahli, and Hewkii. A union of peace settled over the Koros.
But all is not well on the island of Mata Nui. The Great Spirit sleeps on, suddenly much deeper than before, even though his dark brother has been exorcised from the island.
After defeating Makuta, the Toa Maru extensively searched and removed all items of danger from his lair. At its deepest level, they discovered the huge, impregnable doorway to what they could only guess to be his Vault, in which was assumedly stored all the mysterious objects of power Makuta had hoarded over the course of his dark reign. Though the Maru could not discover how to open the Vault, they knew that it could be entered; the deceased Takua had, after all, stolen the First Toa’s Essence Stones – which had transformed the former Wanderer’s Company into the Toa Maru – from it.
The Maru, for all their efforts, could not open the Vault, but there was a hint, a riddle, carved tauntingly onto its door, making clear that Makuta’s arsenal could indeed be cracked, but by no means anyone on Mata Nui possessed:
Across an endless ocean
Beyond where minds can see
My key lies in the open
Where you will never be
Beneath the brightest thunder
Stand towers of the day
The light may break asunder
If night skies choose obey
The red sign on black eyes
Will lead you to your prize
The Vault’s existence soon became common knowledge across the island, though nobody could remember where he or she had heard about it first. Uncontrolled speculation has abounded as to the nature of the powerful objects inside the Vault; each new rumor wilder than the last. In light of these rumors, the inhabitants of Mata Nui, everyone from the darkest cutthroats to the island’s new leaders, came upon a dangerous and tantalizing realization:
Makuta may be gone, but his iron means, those by which he effortlessly controlled the entire island, are not.
Without the weight of Makuta’s shade above them, there is no longer a dark virtue to provide the island of Mata Nui with moral relativity. The people of the island have found that their actions no longer answer to higher consequences and that, when left to their own devices, they are perhaps less wholesome than they had considered themselves to be. The denizens of Mata Nui grow murkier in principles; the seductive whisper of unclaimed power resonates deeper in them than they would like to admit.
Temptation has led to distrust, and distrust has led to disunity. Formerly cohesive, the Koros drifted apart, gradually at first but with progressive rapidity. Island-wide harmony used to be in everyone’s best interests; now, the opposite seems true.
At best, shaky alliances still remain among some of the villages. Others, though, have brazenly declared themselves self-sufficient from – and even opposed to – their former friends. Village loyalty is the new name of the game; Mata Nui is now essentially divided into the territories of six individual city-states, each with their own idea of what should happen next, their own plans for advancement and survival.
The Matoran who were entrusted with leadership over the Koros in the wake of Makuta’s fall – who have become known as the Akiri, the “heads”, of their respective Koros – find their former bonds with one another strained as their trust in the island’s people and in one another progressively decays. The Akiri surround their Koros with new defenses and surround themselves with bodyguards.
Makuta is gone; without his watchful eyes, the island has steeped into suspicion and factionalism. The sudden freedom and purposelessness granted to the villagers following his demise has splintered them.
All acts are risks, and all risks are calculated.
The few inhabitants of the island who have pledged neutrality in the terse atmosphere are either pressured or downright threatened to take sides. Mercenary groups abound; those without village loyalty – mainly foreigners – sell their militant services to individual villages in exchange for money, quartering, and other valuables. The amassing of such mercenaries by the Koros, as well as the propagation of new militias and war technologies, is a gradual arms race to which none will admit but in which all must participate.
But mercenaries are not the only wild card on the island. Recently, a strange submersible watercraft breached the surface near Ta-Wahi. This ship was loaded with curious beings that resembled the Toa and Matoran of Mata Nui, but as an imperfect reflection. Their otherness was undeniable, and was made clearer still when the larger ones began to move objects without touching them, were able to make people see without their eyes, and could communicate with each other without speaking.
These others, who introduced their kind as the Dasaka, claimed to be from somewhere called the Kentoku Archipelago, which they said was too far away for Mata Nuian vessels to reach. Despite their sharp curiosity about the culture and structure of Mata Nui, the Dasaka are extremely guarded when asked about their homeland.
Makuta is gone, and island-wide war is just over the horizon once again. This time, though, there is no master villain; the threats are on all sides, and enemies are those once called friends. Makuta’s Vault overshadows every moment of intrigue: it is the trump card that, if finally riddled open, could transform the state of play on the island – and transform the opener – forever.
The air hums like an overwrought string, needing only a pluck to twang and break.
The string must break; Makuta is gone.