Before anyone ever stepped foot on Tumua Island, it already had the potential to become a perfect strategic location for a military base. It sat a roughly equal distance from the Northern Continent, the Southern Continent, and Xia, but was also remote enough that few knew of its existence. When the Toa found it, they were surprised that such a strategic location hadn’t already been settled by Dark Hunters or another significant faction. Towering icebergs surrounded Tumua Island in the sea, preventing most coastal access, and with its geography defined by sharp crags, sheer cliffs, and an imposing mountain in the center, there was little need for additional defenses.
The Toa who discovered and named Tumua Island many generations ago wasted no time building one of the greatest strongholds that the world had ever seen. Toa of Stone and Iron worked together to raise and shape its walls, while Toa of Earth used their power to reform the peak of the mountain into a solid foundation. The construction took half a century to complete, but the investment was worth every effort put into it. In the end, it became the single most important location to Toa from all over for centuries. Young Toa traveled here to learn skills and wisdom from veteran warriors, and several independent teams used it as a hub for their missions across the seas. It also protected items of great importance in an inner sanctum, some of which held enough power to change the course of history if they fell into the wrong hands, or if their existence was ever made public.
Today, however, the Fortress would become just another piece of history. The icebergs surrounding the island were not natural formations. They contained hibernating Frostelus, a particularly destructive breed of Rahi beast. The eight-limbed monstrosities would sleep in their frozen shelters for eons at a time, and upon waking, they would make certain to exterminate any intruders on their territory. Now that they were awake, the Fortress would soon be no more.
Toa Aidau, Master of Ice, hero of Stelt, and leader of the Toa Tumua, learned the hard way about the might of the Frostelus. He had centuries of training and experience against enemies that had their own war doctrines and combat strategies. He knew how to counter dozens of fighting styles from cultures all around the world, as well as the brute strength of Rahi beasts that had gone berserk. The Frostelus, however, were poised with a disturbing blend of mindless, unpredictable violence and surprising cunning. In one skirmish, they would seemingly act like an organized unit, and then a moment later they would break formation and run wild.
Aidau had seen far too many of his brothers and sisters die today. He knew the fortress could not be saved. Instead, he focused his efforts on saving the precious items held within the Heart of the Fortress, an inner sanctum of utmost security. The Makoki Stone, a stone-carved dossier containing sensitive details about the Brotherhood of Makuta, could not be lost. If the Brotherhood found out that the Toa were suspicious of them… Aidau shuddered. His heartlight flashed rapidly as he ran through the maze-like corridors and chambers, making his way deeper and deeper towards the sanctum. The sounds of battle had become faint, and the fact he couldn’t hear the screams of his brothers and sisters anymore brought him a pang of despised relief.
He entered the next chamber, which served as a storage hall, with his Cryo Scythe gripped tightly in his hands. On the far side of the room, a lone Frostelus scrounged through the crates of food and basic supplies, hoping to find a meal. As expected of a Rahi beast, no effort was made to hide its ransack as it scattered packaging and shelves across the room. Aidau wasn't sure why it was so focused on vandalism, since it wasn't eating any of the perfectly good food. The important thing was that it was thoroughly distracted.
Standing at almost two bio in height, Frotelus were not only extremely physically imposing, but also armed with twin natural Rhotuka spinner launchers. Their spinners had a myriad of powers, depending on the individual, each just as destructive as the next. The Rhotuka of one Frostelus might create a basic yet devastating explosion, while another might turn targets inside out. They couldn’t control the elements, they couldn’t use Kanohi masks, and they certainly had no real advanced technology or strategy like the Toa did, but it hardly mattered. What they lacked in tactical finesse they made up in raw, primal, and sinister brutality.
Aidau readied his scythe, charging it with enough elemental energy to take out the Frostelus in a single blow. The beast noticed the Toa’s presence and began to turn, but it was far too late. Aidau had already launched a beam of pure cold directly at its center mass, hoping to freeze it solid. The Frostelus did its best to dodge, but its entire right set of limbs were caught in the blast. As a biomechanical being, its protometallic components didn’t receive much harm, but the protorganic components were completely neutralized. Frostbite set in immediately, the exposed muscles turning purplish-black, and caused the Rahi beast unfathomable pain. It howled out in anguish, and Aidau struck again, directly with his scythe this time. He swept at the Frostelus’ legs with his blade, knocking it off its feet and freezing the monster’s lower half in the same strike. As it fell, it swept at Aidau with its un-frozen arms. It caught Aidau with a powerful blow to his flank. It wasn’t strong enough to knock the Toa out, but the beast’s claw left three long gashes in his armor, tearing through the muscle tissue below. Adrenaline pumped through Aidau’s body, so he barely even felt the pain, but he knew that the injury would need medical attention soon.
The Frostelus was on the ground, writhing in pain, but still conscious enough to begin charging its Rhotuka Spinners. Aidau had no intention of giving the beast a chance to recover, so he gripped his scythe in both hands, raised it over his head, and slammed the broad side of his weapon right into the Frostelus’ chest, sealing the entire beast in a six-inch coating of solid ice. For now, anyway. Unless Aidau continuously maintained it, the ice would soon thaw and become brittle enough for the Frostelus to smash out of; and as Aidau had very recently learned, the only thing worse than an angry Frostelus is an angry Frostelus with a personal vendetta.
Aidau moved on, approaching his destination with a slight limp. That last fight drained him more than he’d ever admit. The hit he had taken to his side shouldn't have hurt as much as it did. Something had to be wrong, he thought. It couldn’t be his age; Aidau still felt like he was in his prime. Even if he was a little older than the average Toa, his experience and skill more than made up for any potential physical decline. Surely, that Frostelus was stronger than average, Aidau told himself. He pushed those thoughts of doubt aside and carried on to the next chamber. His target inside the Heart of the Fortress was only a little further away.
The next few minutes were a blur for Aidau. One moment, he was entering another mundane storage chamber. The next, he was ambushed by a pair of Frostelus that struck relentlessly with such speed and force, that the Toa couldn’t concentrate enough to summon his power to fight back. Before he could even understand what was happening, he had been disarmed, pummeled, thrown through two stone walls, and out of the fortress into the cold daylight. Twin moons shone down on him as he flew through the air and over the sheer cliff that surrounded the fortress. As Aidau fell, his mind slowly began to process what had happened. How did he get taken by surprise so easily? How did two Frostelus get this deep into the Fortress? What had stopped him from simply creating a protective hardlight barrier with his Mask of Projection, or a mere wall of ice? How did the Frostelus rip his weapons out of his hands so effortlessly?
What went wrong? What did I do wrong?
Aidau knew that nothing but certain death awaited him in mere seconds as he plummeted through the cold air. With the last of his strength, he closed his eyes and called on his power to create a round cushion of snow around him, while simultaneously using his Kanohi to create a protective sphere around the snow. Even with his makeshift snow globe, only by the will of Mata Nui would he survive. Without any way of knowing how much longer he had until impact, his mind turned towards his team. Had any of them survived? What about the trainees? Aidau’s thoughts were interrupted as he plowed into the side of the mountain. His hard-light shell shattered immediately, and the snow cushion disintegrated just as fast. He hit the rocks hard, and continued to tumble down the side of the mountain, before finally coming to a stop on some level ground with a heavy thud.
Broken physically and mentally, Aidau stared up at the cloudless, serene sky. A faint, twisted smile formed behind his mask as he recognized the irony of such a tragedy happening during such a perfect night. The sounds of the fortress being demolished were faint, or perhaps Aidau’s sense of hearing was failing. The Toa wondered what could have happened if they had stronger firepower on their side, in addition to better leadership. Aidau knew this was his fault. What if Toa Dume had been here to protect the fortress? Aidau had never seen another Toa of Fire with such masterful control over his element. Surely the Fortress would have stood a better chance if Dume had been here…
Aidau let his eyes close. He remembered when he and Dume had fought side by side against the armies of the League of Six Kingdoms. Aidau had let himself get surrounded by enemies, and his icy blasts weren’t enough to drive that many foes away. Suddenly, a ring of fire appeared around the Toa, expanding outward and fending off the assailants. Aidau turned and saw Toa Dume standing beside him, armed with his warhammer, the massive weapon engulfed by flame.
“There’s nothing greater than watching them run!” Dume shouted, the only way his words would be heard in the heat of the battle. “Don’t hold back so much, brother! We don’t kill, but we can make them hurt, and lucky for us, fire and ice both burn.”
“I owe you one, Dume,” Aidau said. “You’re right, I’m not taking advantage of my full power.”
With that, Aidau turned and spotted a heat-resistant enemy soldier trying to force her way through the blazing wall of fire that had been giving the Toa their brief respite. Aidau summoned his power, conjured a blunt-tipped javelin of ice in the palm of his hand, and hurled it at the attacker as soon as she managed to step through the flames. It caught her in the shoulder and she was knocked back through the fire wall landing on her back.
Aidau and Dume smiled and bumped fists.
“After all,” Aidau said, “What’s the point of being a hero if you’re not going to use everything Mata Nui gave you?”
“That’s the idea,” Dume agreed, before he extinguished the flames and turned to face the rest of the army..
[Chronicler’s Note: Aidau and Dume, along with the other members of their team, went on to win a decisive battle against the Barraki’s army that day.]
Aidau would give almost anything to have those years back, fighting alongside Toa Dume. Saving Matoran, defeating darkness. He remembered reuniting with Dume after parting ways as Toa so many years ago. It was a bitter memory, for Aidau never expected Dume to become a Turaga. Brief pleasantries were exchanged, but an argument soon sparked.
* * *
“You betrayed everything you taught me!” the Toa of Ice exploded. “Look at you! You have reduced yourself to a weakling who can barely light a torch! How are you supposed to fight armies now? How are you supposed to save anyone? How are you supposed to protect the Matoran or your duty to Mata Nui?”
“We’ve both fulfilled our destinies, brother!” Dume shot back. “Our duties become whatever we make them after that. How can you still wish to fight when you can do so much more than that? Through leadership, use your wisdom and knowledge to do so much more than what we could as Toa! As Turaga, we can build legacies that will outlive us! I have plans for Metru Nui that will change the entire future of our universe.”
“So that’s it, then,” Aidau said softly, his tone betraying his rage. “You just desire a different kind of power. You’re so afraid of dying you became a ruler instead of a hero. I cannot believe I ever respected such a coward.”
“You are a short-sighted fool, Aidau! It’s time for us to pass on the torch of heroism to new Toa, ones with fresh minds who see the world in a different way. You need to step back and think about what will happen when we’re gone!”
“New Toa?” Aidau couldn’t believe this. “Do you not remember all the mistakes we made when we were young? Why let history repeat itself? We were the greatest team this universe has ever known, and we were still in our prime when we split up! You were still in your prime! There wasn’t any emergency that forced you to give up your power, there wasn’t anything at all! You gave it up for nothing!”
* * *
Aidau couldn’t remember the rest of his last conversation with Dume, and he preferred it that way. Criticisms turned to insults, and two friends walked away with nothing but resentment for each other.
“You were right, Dume,” he said softly to himself. “ You were always right.”
Aidau’s prime as a hero had long passed. He should have passed on his power centuries ago. He should have realized that he didn’t have to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders forever. Could have, should have, would have. It was too late for Aidau now. Even on his walk of stubbornness, did he still do well? Yes, he realized. Despite his shortcomings, Aidau did his best. The fall of the Toa Fortress wasn’t his fault. Nobody could have expected such an attack.
Suddenly, a shadow swooped over Aidau. He turned his head to see a young Toa flying in on a hoverboard: Lhikan, Toa of Fire. This was one of the Toa created by Dume when he gave up his power, only five years ago. Lhikan had a good heart, but Aidau was always reminded of Dume’s abandonment every time he saw the young new hero. Even now, Aidau still felt a tiny pang of bitterness. It should be Dume coming to save him instead.
“Toa Aidau, you’re hurt!” Lhikan shouted as he landed next to the Toa of Ice.
Such remarkable observational skills, Aidau thought to himself. “I know, Lhikan... Too hurt to save.” he said.
“Don’t say that,” Lhikan argued, pain in his voice. He wasn’t about to let his mentor and leader die like this. “I’ve got you!”
“No, you don’t. You don’t have a Mask of Healing,” Aidau said. “Save the Heart of the Fortress. You have to retrieve the Makoki Stone inside. It’s the most valuable thing inside the Sanctum. It can’t fall out of the Toa’s hands.”
“I don’t care about some carved rock! You’re worth more than anything in that fortress!”
Lhikan carefully tried to lift Aidau onto his hoverboard, unintentionally causing a rush of pain to blaze up Aidau’s side like lightning. He cried out. Lhikan gently set Aidau back down. His mind started racing as he considered how to safely move his leader.
“I’m not worth more than your future, Lhikan! Leave me behind,” Aidau said, his voice breaking. “That is an order from your commander.”
Lhikan stared down at Aidau. “I won't leave you, Toa Aidau.”
Looking up at Toa Lhikan, watching the young hero attempt to save him, Aidau noticed something he had never paid attention to before. Lhikan’s heartlight rapidly flashed a brilliant green hue, standing starkly out against the dark night sky— the same color as Dume’s had so long ago.
“Perhaps,” Aidau thought to himself, “Dume is here…or a part of him anyway. He clearly saw something in this one, something that I was too arrogant to see.”
Although it caused him incredible pain, Aidau reached up and grabbed Lhikan’s shoulder.
“Go, Lhikan! You will carry on my mission. Find the stone, and keep it safe. You are ready.” Aidau laid back down in the snow, breathing heavily. “As ready as I ever was.”
Lhikan stayed with Toa Aidau on the icy slopes of the Toa Fortress until the end, although nothing more was said between them. Rising to his feet, Toa Lhikan set his eyes toward the burning Toa Fortress, and the Makoki Stone that he knew lay inside.
* * *
The young Toa of Fire struggled to keep his mind focused on the mission as he flew towards his destination, yet he somehow found the strength to put Aidau aside as he circled around the section of the Fortress that housed the inner vault, as he searched for a suitable entrance. The main door had been completely blocked by rubble, but he managed to find a new entrance by carefully shoving away the debris, which offered little challenge for the strength of a Toa. As soon as he was inside the vault, however, Lhikan knew something wasn’t right. The Frostelus were determined to destroy the Fortress and eradicate the Toa, but shouldn’t have had any interest whatsoever in the contents of the vault, yet the whole room had clearly been ransacked. In the center of the room stood a bare pedestal. The Makoki Stone was gone.
Lhikan was at a loss, but suddenly a noise caught his attention from a dark corner of the room. A pair of glowing red eyes disappeared into the shadows, through another crevice. Although he couldn't be sure, it seemed like they belonged to a face smiling with sinister smugness. Lhikan created a small flame in the palm of his hand and rushed forward, but it was too late. The shadows cast by his flame played games with his mind as they flickered. Whoever or whatever that was had gotten away, having vanished into the ruins of the Fortress.
Lhikan realized what this meant. He didn't know who, why, or how, but he finally knew what was really happening. The entire Frostelus assault was merely a diversion. The true goal had been the Makoki Stone. But what really was it? Who would go to such lengths to steal it? Before Lhikan could finish his thoughts, what little remained of the Fortress began to finally collapse.
Lhikan took to the skies once again, leaving the Fortress behind, enraged by his failures. He could have saved Aidau. He should have saved Aidau. Lhikan decided then and there as he flew towards the mainland that the lives of his brothers and sisters were always going to be more important than anything else. The vault wasn't the Heart of the Fortress. The true Heart was its people, and they were all gone. Lhikan vowed to never run away again, disappearing into the night sky.
~ ~ ~