With every step, Kopaka cursed the heat, smoke, and choking ash of Ta-Wahi. Why did a Mask of Strength have to be hidden in such a place? He had no idea, and he hoped that the Matoran who had given him the tip had not led him astray.
Pausing as another wave of heat overwhelmed him, Kopaka raised his ice blade to his neck, letting its welcome coldness revive him. How could anyone spend any time on this infernal volcano, let alone live there?
An image of Tahu floated through his mind, and he grimaced. If the Toa of Fire could see him now, he would probably laugh his mask off.
Of course, I’d like to see Tahu trying to get along in Ko-Wahi, Kopaka thought. He’d probably melt a hole in a glacier and spend so much energy yelling at the ice that he couldn’t climb out.
The thought amused him, giving him the strength to get moving again.
After a few more minutes of climbing, he crested a peak and found himself overlooking an amazing landscape. He knew it had to be what he was looking for: the Lava Lagoon. Several of the slopes of the mountain met here, forming a deep, broad basin filled with lava. At least two hundred lengths across, the simmering lagoon glowed yellow and red and orange. A waterfall of lava poured into the far end, sending up constant sprays of steam and smoke.
Kopaka looked around, wondering where in this bubbling wasteland a mask might be hidden.
Then he noticed a small, craggy island jutting out of the center of the lagoon. Was the heat making him see things, or was that the gray shape of a Kanohi mask sitting on the island?
He groaned. Why couldn’t the mask have been guarded by another Rahi instead – or two, or twelve? He would rather face all the Rahi on Mata Nui at once than have to deal with this.
Makuta showed quite a sense of humor when he hid these masks, he thought grimly. But I’ll have the last laugh – no matter what it takes.
Pointing his ice blade at the lagoon, Kopaka focused his energy.
A small patch of lava froze – for about half a second. Then the ice cracked, steam escaped, and a moment later the frozen section had melted back into its original fiery form.
Kopaka frowned and tried again. But his efforts had little effect.
Time for a new plan, he thought. If I can’t go straight across, maybe I can go over.
Changing his focus, he concentrated on the steam in the air over the lagoon. He aimed his ice blade toward it.
The particles of moisture in the air froze solid, forming together into an icy bridge reaching over the first section of the lagoon.
Kopaka felt his energy draining away as he pointed his blade again and again. But when he was finished, he smiled with triumph. His ice bridge stretched all the way across the lagoon to the island!
Now all I have to do is go get that mask, he though, stepping onto the near end of the bridge. He hurried forward a few steps, then paused. What was that sound?
Drip… SZZZZZ!… drip… SZZZZZ!… drip… SZZZZZ!
Glancing down, he saw with alarm that the bridge was already melting away.
“No!” he cried, pointing his blade toward it to refreeze it.
But it was no use. As fast as he could refreeze one section, another melted. Within seconds the middle part of the bridge collapsed into the lagoon. Kopaka barely had time to leap back to shore as his section of the bridge collapsed, too.
There had to be an answer. Turning the challenge over in his mind, Kopaka searched through his options.
Finally he had to admit the only likely solution: the other Toa. If Tahu were here, he would have no trouble retrieving that mask, Kopaka thought reluctantly.
He shook his head, annoyed with himself. Why waste thought on a solution that wouldn’t work? He had found two masks already without help from the other Toa. He could find a way to get this one without them as well.
As he wandered toward the end of the little beach, Kopaka noticed a plume of steam coming from a crack in the rocky wall behind him. Unlike the sooty, smoky steam hovering over the lagoon itself, this steam looked pale and clean.
Curious, Kopaka climbed up the rocky wall for a look. He soon discovered a hot-water spring bubbling up from the depths of the mountain.
“Interesting…” he muttered.
He glanced out toward the island where the mask lay, measuring the distance with his eyes. Then he stared again into the steaming spring. An idea was forming in his head.
He analyzed the information again and again. The depth and size of the spring. The distance to the island. The probable heat of the lava.
Still, he couldn’t quite convince himself that it would work. The probability was fairly high, but nothing was certain…
Kopaka clenched his fists as he imagined Tahu’s mocking laughter, Lewa’s perplexed glance. Neither of them would have the patience to waste so much time worrying over probabilities. Perhaps just this once he should live by their example.
Besides, it’s this or nothing, Kopaka reminded himself. Of that, he was one hundred percent certain.
Not giving himself time to doubt his decision, Kopaka pointed his blade.
The spring froze solid.
Kopaka smiled. As he had suspected, the water in the spring had been much cooler than the lava.
Now came the hard part – getting the miniature iceberg out of its hollow and down the slope to the lagoon. Little by little, Kopaka froze and then chipped away the outer wall of the hollow, until all he had to do was push the large chunk of ice straight out and over the edge.
There was no time to waste – the lava was already eating away at the edges of the ice floe. Without hesitating, Kopaka leaped down onto the ice.
Using his blade as a paddle, he rowed toward the island with all his might. The ice continued to melt, but Kopaka kept his gaze focused on his goal.
By the time he reached the rocky little ledge, his ice “boat” had melted away to about half its original size.
More than half, Kopaka told himself as he leaped onto the island and scooped up the mask. It’s still more than half there. That will be enough – especially with the added strength of my new Kanohi to help me row. He jammed the Mask of Strength over his face, feeling its power seep through him.
Still, he hesitated as he stepped back onto the floe. It would take him almost as long to row back to shore as it had taken to get here. Would the ice last that long?
Just go! he chided himself. There’s no other choice.
Jabbing his blade into the lava, Kopaka put all the strength of his new mask into his effort as he pushed away from the island.
I’ll make it, he told himself firmly, squashing the thought. Whatever it takes, I’ll do it. If the floe melts away too soon, maybe I can freeze enough of the lava, to hop across the rest of the way a step at a time. Or –
As he jabbed his blade into the lava again, he misjudged and hit the edge of the floe instead. The force of the blow sent several large chunks of ice flying – one straight toward him! The Ice Toa didn’t have time to dodge it. The ice chunk connected solidly with the side of his head, knocking him to his knees.
He clung woozily to the ice, fighting to retain consciousness. But darkness seeped out from the corners of his mind… and then, suddenly, an intense vision overwhelmed him, sweeping away the floe, the lagoon, the heat, and everything else.
First he found himself looking with a bird’s-eye view over all of Mata Nui. The image suddenly rushed closer, almost as if he were falling straight toward the slopes of Mount Ihu in the center of the island. The image shifted slightly to one side, swooping down one of the mountain’s slopes until it reached a large clearing. There, Kopaka saw a great temple built out of stone.
Then a strange, echoing voice spoke out of the darkness. “Welcome, Toa of Ice,” it said, fading in and out as Kopaka struggled to free himself from the vision. “Do not be… your mind can journey to… behold the future of… you and the others shall… all the Great Masks of Power… together and defeat… three shall become… path of wisdom… myself, Akamai… of the warrior… only by uniting… farewell…”
With that, Kopaka’s mind snapped back to reality. He found himself on his hands and knees on the floe, still clutching at the rapidly shrinking chunk of ice.
That little accident was bad luck on top of bad judgment, he thought bleakly as he finally faced the truth – the ice floe wasn’t going to make it back to shore. That meant he had two choices: Try the frozen-footstep method, or wait as long as he could and then attempt an enormous leap to solid ground.
He decided that the second plan had a more likely chance of success. But the distance to shore seemed impossibly far…
Kopaka reminded himself that he now wore the Great Mask of Strength. Perhaps it would give his legs the extra power they would need to propel him such a tremendous distance. Perhaps…
Gathering his strength, Kopaka got into position and then waited. One long moment, then another, then another, coolly patient as he gauged the footing beneath him. All he needed was enough to push off from –
“Now!” he shouted, leaping forward with all his might. The energy of the Pakari flowed through him, giving him extra strength.
But it wouldn’t be enough.
That Great Mask of Levitation would come in awfully handy right now,” he thought bleakly as he felt himself start to fall toward the bubbling lava.
“Kopaka!” a voice shouted from the direction of the shore.
Kopaka glanced forward, but saw only a flash of green as he suddenly felt himself caught up in a blast of wind.
“Aaaaaah!” he cried as he flew helplessly through the air.
He smashed into the ground face first.
“Sorryoops, brother,” Lewa’s voice said from somewhere nearby. “I didn’t have thought-time to plan a softer landing.”
“Ugh,” Kopaka groaned. Every limb in his body ached. But he was still in one piece – and unmelted! “It’s all right, brother Lewa,” he added, realizing that it was Lewa’s wind gust that had saved him. “I owe you one. I shall not forget this.”
“Anytime, brother,” Lewa said. “And at least I see you got a mask out of it.”
Kopaka nodded, touching the new Kanohi on his face. He wondered if he should tell the other Toa about his vision. What had it meant? Who had sent it? Was it a foreshadowing of something important – or merely a trick sent by Makuta?
Whatever it was, it nearly got me boiled, he reminded himself. Isn’t that the best evidence of all that it must have come from Makuta?
Disturbed by the thought, he remained silent about his vision as Lewa chattered on about finding his own Great Mask of Strength in Onu-Wahi.
“Had to fight a nastyugly Rahi to get it, too,” he said cheerfully. “But I suppose it was worth it – gave that quickbreeze I sent you some extra oomph.”
Kopaka nodded. “These Rahi – they seem to stop at nothing to guard these masks.”
“Oh, this fellow quickstopped as soon as I knocked off its own mask,” Lewa said. “It panicfled into the depths of the tunnels everquick.”
“Really? Hmm.” Kopaka filed that away in his mind. It could be useful to him later.
That reminded him – he still had masks to find. “My thanks to you again, brother Lewa,” he said with a formal little bow. “Now I must take my leave and continue with my search.”
“Oh! I almost mindlost why I came looking for you in the first place,” Lewa cried. “I just luckymet Onua and Pohatu downmountain. Onua has called a meeting.”
Kopaka frowned. “But I haven’t found all my masks yet.”
“None of us has.” Lewa shrugged. “We’re all learnfinding that this searchquest is trickier than we though. That’s why Onua wants to get together. I’m not one for groupworking, but I think he may be right. We need to compare notes, do some teamplanning.”
Kopaka opened his mouth to protest again, but shut it before speaking a word. How much time might he have saved just now if he’d had Lewa along in the first place – or Tahu, or Onua?
He sighed. As much as he hated the idea of joining in on some big, happy, crowded Toa-fest, the facts were staring him in the face. The mission would be more successful if the Toa attacked it as a team.
“All right,” Kopaka said at last. “Let’s go.”