Tahu hadn’t had a destination in mind when he had stomped off from the group of Toa. He was too angry to think straight.
No matter how often he had repeated his plan to split into pairs, the other Toa had refused to agree with it. Kopaka and Lewa had insisted on taking off on their own. Even Gali had seemed too distracted to argue the point – she was the only one among them who hadn’t visited her village, and she was eager to find it now. And so the Toa had all gone their separate ways.
Tahu’s anger drove him aimlessly over the foothills around the base of Mount Ihu, then onto the fiery slopes of the volcano.
Kopaka found one of his masks up there in the snow of his own homeland, Tahu thought as he headed up the fiery mountain. Why shouldn’t I start my search here in my own home region?
Thinking about Kopaka made him clench his fist tighter on the handle of his fire sword.
It’s like he just sits back and listens to us talk, thinking he’s better than us, Tahu thought with a snort. Like it’s not worth his time to get involved.
“It’s not worth my time to worry about the likes of him,” he said aloud. “Especially now…” He swung his sword to punctuate the point, accidentally sending a finger of flame shooting out and melting a nearby pile of stones into lava.
“With all due respect, great Toa, you might want to watch where you point that thing,” a voice said from nearby.
Tahu whirled around. Standing before him was the broad-shouldered, sturdy-looking figure of a Ta-Matoran.
“I know you,” the Toa said. “It’s Jala, right?”
The Matoran nodded and bowed. “I am the Captain of the Guard of your village of Ta-Koro.”
“Hello again,” Tahu said. “And while we’re giving out advice, you might not want to sneak up on a Toa. It could be hazardous to your health.”
“Sorry, Toa,” Jala said with a grin. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“Apology accepted. But what was your intention in tracking me here?”
Jala’s expression turned serious. “I came to see how your search for the masks was going. Don’t take this the wrong way, but… do you have any kind of plan for finding them?”
Tahu frowned, feeling his fiery temper rising. How dare this lowly Matoran question his tactics?
“Of course I have a plan,” he snapped. “I’m searching… I’m searching for the masks… Okay. Perhaps I don’t have an exact plan as such. But I’m working on it.”
Jala bowed again. “Of course, Toa,” he said. “In any case, I thought it might be helpful for you to know that legend has it that a Kanohi Akaku – a Great Mask of X-Ray Vision – lies within the deepest cavern of Onu-Wahi.”
“Onu-Wahi,” Tahu repeated. “Those caves and tunnels that Onua spoke of?”
“Yes,” Jala replied. “The network of underground passageways lies beneath much of Mata Nui. There is an entrance just over that way, beyond that lavastone wall. It leads to –”
“Thanks,” Tahu interrupted, turning away.
“Toa Tahu!” Jala called after him. “Wait!”
Tahu paused, glancing over his shoulder.
“Yes? What is it?” he demanded impatiently.
Jala touched one fist to his mask in a salute. “I just wanted to wish you luck,” he said. “Take care in the dark underground. We just got you – we don’t want to lose you again.”
Tahu smiled. “Worry not,” he said. “You’ll not get rid of me so easily.”
With that, he leaped over the wall and hurried toward the cave opening that lay beyond.
It wasn’t long before Tahu realized why the Matoran had been so worried. Everything about the dark, twisting tunnels of Onu-Wahi felt wrong. Even with the glow cast by his fire sword, the darkness seemed to huddle around him, suffocating in its closeness.
Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to move on. Some dark part of his mind protested – No! We don’t belong here, we shouldn’t be here, we’ll be crushed…
But Tahu shook his head fiercely, willing such thoughts away.
The air grew cold and still. The flame on his sword sputtered and flickered, but the force of his will kept it burning.
Almost there, he told himself. I can feel it. These tunnels can’t possibly go much deeper.
And yet they did. Deeper, and deeper, and deeper, until Tahu started to wonder if he hadn’t just imagined that there was a surface world at all. Deeper – until he started seeing strange shapes moving in the shadows just beyond his glowing red light. And still deeper.
Finally he stepped out of the end of a tunnel into an enormous cavern. A raw, howling wind whipped through it. Only steps ahead, the floor dropped away into nothingness. Tahu couldn’t see the bottom.
Great. Just great, he thought bitterly. What am I supposed to do now?
He wasn’t sure what made him look up then, but as he did, he caught the glint of something across the chasm. Squinting against the darkness beyond his sword glow, he made out the vague shape of a ledge on the opposite wall of the cavern. On that ledge was a small gray shape – a mask? He wasn’t sure.
In any case, the yawning depths of the chasm lay between him and the object. How was he supposed to get over there?
Tahu took a few careful steps along the near wall of the cavern. As he neared the edge, he finally spotted the answer to his problem – a bridge. A narrow stone span, stretching out from the wall and disappearing into the darkness.
The damp wind chilled him as he stood for a moment, uncertain. Then he shook his head. He hadn’t come this far to turn back now.
He stepped out onto the bridge. It was even narrower than it had looked, and it took all of Tahu’s concentration to maintain his balance.
After a few minutes he seemed no closer to the far ledge than when he’d started. This is ridiculous, he thought impatiently. It’s going to take forever to get across at this rate.
He swung his foot out, taking a larger step this time. When it touched the rock, it skidded slightly to one side just as another violent wind gust swept past – and Tahu suddenly felt himself slipping sideways into the chasm!
He grabbed at the bridge, wrapping his left arm around it and holding tight. His legs swung loose over the abyss. He threw his right hand up and over the bridge as well, nearly losing his grip on his sword as he did so. With a grunt, he flung his legs up, clinging upside down to the underside of the bridge.
He focused on pulling himself up and to one side, inching his way around to the top of the bridge. Finally he heaved a breath of relief as he pulled himself right side up once again. After resting for a moment, he pushed himself into a crouch, and then back into a standing position.
Okay, slow and steady it is, then, Tahu told himself. One foot in front of the other.
He took a step, wavering slightly and resisting the urge to look down.
One step, two steps – almost there…
Suddenly the air was filled with a loud, violent hiss that seemed to come from everywhere at once. Startled, Tahu slipped, one foot sliding out over the nothingness. Just in time, he flung himself sideways, arms outstretched, regaining his shaky balance on the narrow beam.
Dozens of bright red creatures had appeared out of nowhere, swarming across the narrow bridge from both directions. Each was the size of a clenched fist and looked like a cross between a scorpion and a giant wingless firefly. Their deadly-looking pincers clamped open and shut rhythmically as they buzzed toward Tahu, their legs moving too fast to see.
“Hey!” Tahu cried in annoyance, kicking at several of the creatures that were already swarming up over his feet. “Get away!”
The glowing scorpions paid no attention. More and more of them swarmed around him, until they completely covered his legs.
“Ow!” he cried as one of them sank its pincers into his ankle. He smacked at it, but already two more of the creatures were clamping onto his knee and thigh.
“Enough of you,” he muttered, pointing the sword just above the thickest cluster of the creatures on the bridge nearby. Focusing his energy, he blasted a spurt of flame, hoping to scare them away.
But the creatures merely glowed brighter, seeming to suck in the heat of the fire.
“What?” Tahu exclaimed. “So you like fire, eh, you stupid little pests? I’ll show you fire!” He pointed his sword again, sending flame roaring out of the end of it. But once again, it only seemed to make the creatures stronger. The bridge, however, was glowing ominously as the stone started to melt beneath the intense heat.
“Uh-oh,” Tahu said with a gulp as lava dripped off into the abyss.
The creatures were swarming thicker now, dozens of them clamping onto every part of his body.
Must… get… away… Tahu thought desperately as he tried to shake them off.
How could he fight the scorpions? His best weapon – fire – seemed to be completely useless against them. And he was trapped on this bridge, forced to fight gravity and wind as well as the swarms of creatures.
Suddenly Gali’s voice floated into his head: Our best weapon is our minds. That was what she had said back in the clearing. At the time, Tahu had paid little attention to her words. Now, though, they suddenly burned within his mind. And with them, suddenly, came an idea.
“Okay, pests,” he said aloud. “Last chance to back off before it’s too late. No takers? Oh, well, don’t say I didn’t warn you…”
With that, he dropped his sword onto the bridge, then bent and grasped the stone with both hands. Flinging his feet off the edge, he let himself hang loose once again over the abyss.
He closed his eyes, picturing Lewa. The Toa of Air seemed unable to stand still for more than a few seconds and had spent much of the time back at the clearing doing backflips and handstands. At one point, Tahu remembered, Lewa had even jumped up and grabbed onto an overhanging branch and swung himself around it by both hands, flipping around and around.
Keeping that image in mind, Tahu swung his legs as vigorously as he could. It took a few tries, but finally he flung himself over the bridge and back around the other side. Gripping tightly with both hands, he pumped with his body, taking advantage of the momentum. He flipped around the narrow bridge again and again, building up speed.
Tahu spun faster and faster, and before long, the scorpion creatures started losing their grip. One by one at first, then dozen by dozen, they flew away into the darkness.
It’s working! he thought gleefully. It’s working! They can’t hold on!
Still he kept spinning, around and around, until he felt the last fiery wounds of the creatures’ pinches fade away and could no longer hear their buzzing. Only then did he slow down enough to flip himself back upright onto the bridge.
There, he though, breathing hard from the effort. Even Lewa would be impressed by that.
He glanced up and down the bridge. There was no sign of the swarm in either direction. Then he felt a pinch and looked down to see that one scorpion creature had managed to hang on.
“I think I can handle one of you,” Tahu said, yanking the creature loose. “Time to go join your – wait a second. What’s that?”
He paused in the act of tossing the glowing creature into the chasm. What was on its head? Looking closer, he saw that it was wearing a tiny mask over its face. The mask was pitted and pockmarked. But it was a mask nonetheless.
“Strange,” he muttered, poking curiously at the mask with his finger.
The small creature buzzed angrily, struggling against Tahu’s grip. When his finger came close enough, it flung its pincers out and grabbed it, clamping down viciously.
“Ow!” Tahu yanked his hand away, once again winding up to throw the little beast down and be done with it. But again, something made him hesitate. Why would a creature such as this wear a mask?
He shifted his grip on the scorpion creature until he managed to trap its pincers within his hand. Then he used the other hand to carefully peel the little mask free.
As soon as he did so, the creature went limp in his hand. For a second he thought he’d accidentally killed it. But then its legs waved weakly, and it chittered woozily up at him.
He set the creature down on the bridge at his feet, being careful not to put his fingers within reach of its pincers. But he needn’t have bothered with such caution. Showing no interest in him whatsoever, the little scorpion scurried quickly away down the bridge, disappearing a moment later into the darkness.
Tahu blinked, wondering what that might mean. Had the creature run away because he’d removed its mask? Or because it had suddenly realized it was now all alone in its attack?
He opened his hand, staring at the tiny mask. A gust of wind swooped past, nearly sending him off balance once again. It also swept the small mask off Tahu’s palm and away into the chasm.
Tahu grabbed for it – but it was too late. The mask was gone. Blowing out a sigh of frustration, he did his best to shrug off the loss. The important thing was that he’d defeated the scorpion creatures. Now he could continue with his quest.
He picked up his sword. After all that had happened, the walk across the bridge no longer seemed quite so daunting, and it wasn’t long before he was stepping onto the ledge.
The mask was lying there waiting, its empty eyeholes staring up at him blankly. He picked it up and settled it on over his own mask.
Energy exploded within him. He staggered forward, remembering the drop-off just in time to stop himself from stepping right over the edge.
So much power! He looked around, seeing his surroundings with new eyes aided by the mask’s powers of X-ray vision. Even in the near darkness he could see the veins of minerals buried within the stone walls around him, the trickles of water cutting through the solid rock, beneath his feet.
Tahu blinked, trying to get used to his new way of seeing. “Okay,” he whispered to himself in awe. “Now we’re getting somewhere…”