His tale finished, Onewa sat down with a smile. “So you see,” he said, “Kopaka’s refusal to accept help could have led to disaster. After all this time, has he learned nothing about unity?”
Nuju clicked and gestured furiously. Matoro translated, “The Turaga says Pohatu was too stubborn to leave when asked. He should have respected Kopaka’s wishes.”
“Seems to me neither was too everquick,” Matau put in. “But the Kanohi was discovered-found, was it not? And now they are true brothers-friends.”
Vakama nodded. “That is true, Matau. They are both very brave. But do they have the wisdom to understand what has gone before?”
“I will tell my tale,” Turaga Whenua said softly. “And then we shall see.”
Toa Onua Nuva dove to avoid the flailing tentacle of the massive subterranean worm. The dead-white appendage narrowly missed him, smashing into the tunnel wall with such force that the whole place shook.
The Toa of Earth had heard of these creatures before but thought they were only Matoran legend. Those who mined protodermis, the substance of which everything on Mata Nui was built, had occasionally spoken of great tentacled worms that lived in the very deepest tunnels of Onu-Wahi. Some claimed they ate protodermis and were attracted by the piles of ore gathered by the workers. One thing no one argued was that the appearance of such a creature was more than enough to shut down a mine for good.
Now I see why, Onua said to himself. If that thing weren’t blind, it would have caught us long ago.
The Toa looked over to see how his companion was managing. Turaga Whenua was doing his best to hold off the creature with his drill, but without actually doing it any harm. Unfortunately, that meant his efforts were not having much effect.
“I think we are going to have to subdue this beast,” Onua suggested, rolling out of the way of another blow. “Not that I can imagine how.”
“No!” Whenua said. “This creature has existed on Mata Nui longer than either of us. He is a link to the past. He must not be harmed!”
Onua grabbed a tentacle as it went by, trusting to the power of the Great Mask of Strength to hold it steady. The worm simply tossed him aside as if his strength were no more than an annoyance.
“A shame the beast does not feel the same way about us,” said the Toa. “Our past he may be, but we will have no future if we do not defeat him!”
A few days before, stopping the creature would have been no problem for Onua. With his command of the earth, he could have raised a wall of dirt and rock to protect himself and Whenua. But when the Bohrok-Kal stole his Nuva symbol, he had lost his power – perhaps for good.
The Turaga leaped over a swinging tentacle and landed next to Onua. “Think, Toa of Earth, with something besides your Great Mask! Force is not the answer.”
So Onua dodged, and rolled, and thought. He remembered his decision to seek out a Kanohi Kaukau Nuva said to be hidden far below the surface. Over his objections, Whenua insisted on coming along. They had been journeying for more than a day, through tunnels long abandoned by the Matoran, when they encountered the worm.
Whenua dodged another wild swing and shouted, “Think! What do you know about this creature?”
Not enough, thought Onua. It’s big; it’s strong; it’s bleached white, like so many other creatures of the underground; it lives in constant darkness, so it is blind and navigates by…
Despite the danger, Onua managed a smile. It all seemed so simple, once the truth was stumbled upon.
Working quickly, he used his twin quake-breakers to carve two huge stones out of the rock wall. “Guard yourself!” he shouted to Whenua as he brought the two boulders together with a mighty crash.
The explosion of sound echoed through the tunnels, leaving even the Toa of Earth deafened and stunned. The worm let out a roar of anger and withdrew into the darkness below, far from the source of that horrible noise.
Whenua was speaking, but at first Onua could not hear him. After a short time, the ringing that filled his mind quieted and he was able to make out the Turaga’s words. “So,” said Whenua, “you found his weakness.”
“Yes. He makes up for his lack of sight with supersensitive hearing,” said Onua. “So it was a reasonable guess that he would hate loud noise.”
“Guess? Bah!” snapped Whenua. “It was no guess. It was knowledge gained from your experience of the realm of Onu-Wahi. It was the past speaking to you.”
Onua said nothing. Of all the Toa, he was the best at not speaking unless he had something worthwhile to say. Only Kopaka lived in greater silence, by choice.
“Come,” said Whenua, continuing down the tunnel. “We still have far to go, Toa of Earth.”
Later, the Toa and the Turaga sat in a small cavern and shared a meal from their packs. Even Onua, who had spent most of his existence beneath the surface, could not remember having been down this deep. He wondered what waited below, as well as what adventures his brother and sister Toa might be having far above.
“They will be fine,” said Whenua, almost as if he were reading the Toa’s thoughts. “They can be strong, as long as they do not forget the source of their power.”
“You mean the Kanohi?” asked Onua.
“No, I do not mean the masks. I mean true power – the power of six Toa, side by side.”
Onua frowned. It had not been so very long ago that the Toa of Fire and Ice, with support from the Toa of Air, had suggested the Toa Nuva part ways. Gali had protested, but he himself had said nothing. Afterward, she was angry with him for his silence. He had questioned ever since whether he had chosen the right path.
“The decision was made to pursue our own destinies,” he said. But he could not manage to make the words sound believable, even to himself.
“You have but one destiny,” said Whenua. “You owe it to the past… to the Toa who have gone before you… to see that destiny through.”
It took a moment for the Turaga’s words to sink in. The Toa who went before us? What is he talking about?
When he turned to ask, Whenua was already gone.
He caught up with the Turaga around the next corner. The tunnel sloped sharply downward here and the air was warmer. Onua wondered if they were still in Onu-Wahi, or if they could have journeyed as far as the realm of Tahu. It certainly felt like they were in the heart of a volcano.
When he pressed Whenua for an explanation of his words, the Turaga shook his head. “I meant nothing. Besides, we have far greater things to worry about than that right now.”
At first, Onua did not know what he could be talking about. Then he remembered that the Kanohi Ruru mask Whenua wore gave the Turaga far greater night vision than even the Toa possessed. Now that he looked harder, he could see the floor and walls up ahead were… moving.
Despite the oppressive heat, the Toa of Earth suddenly felt very, very cold.
“Kofo-Jaga,” he whispered. “Fire-scorpions.”
Whenua took a step backward. “Alone, no threat. But in a swarm…”
Onua nodded. In a swarm, Kofo-Jaga could bring down a creature many times their size. They thrived on heat and flame, and although they plagued Onu-Wahi, many believed they were native to the lava pits of Ta-Koro. Certainly they would follow the scent of molten magma wherever it might lead.
“We have to turn back,” said Whenua. “They have not noticed us yet.”
“Run?” Onua replied in disbelief. “From an insect?”
“You are very wise, Onua,” said the Turaga of Earth. “Perhaps the wisest of all the six Toa. But experience is the greatest teacher. What does experience tell you?”
Onua respected his Turaga, admired him, and would have given his life to protect him. But he still hated it when Whenua was right.
“Fire-scorpions felled a full-grown Kane-Ra bull, a hundred suns past. It was a day the beast still remembers with pain,” said Whenua. Then he added, “He was too foolish to know to avoid them.”
Onua Nuva did not answer. He simply turned his back on the Kofo-Jaga and walked away.
“I came with you to see what you have learned from the past,” said Whenua as they continued their journey. Onua had not spoken a word since the encounter with the fire-scorpions.
“And what is the lesson I am learning today?” the Toa asked bitterly. “That without my earth power, I must flee from the smallest creatures on Mata Nui?”
Whenua stopped in his tracks. “To be a Toa is to defeat all who oppose you?” The Turaga held up a clenched fist. “Is this what you believe a Toa to be? A mighty arm to strike down your enemies?”
“No. But our power –”
“Is nothing. A Toa’s true strength is here,” Whenua said, pointing to his head. Then he placed a hand over his heartlight, saying, “And here. Your Toa power can move the dirt… Your mind and heart can move mountains.”
Whenua began to walk again, Onua beside him. “And is that what you used when we met the Kofo-Jaga?” the Toa asked.
“My mind told me they have a sting,” Whenua replied. “My heart told me I would not enjoy it.”
They followed the tunnels deeper and deeper into Mata Nui. The farther they went, the hotter it became, until the walls were too searing to touch. Even a Ta-Matoran, who farmed lava all day and surfed it all night, would have turned back by now.
More than once, Whenua had to stop to catch his breath. Onua waited patiently, not wanting to risk getting separated from him. There was no telling what might live this far underground.
“One day, I will walk along a beach in Onu-Wahi,” the Toa said at one point. “And I will spot a Kanohi Mask hanging from a tree. I will pluck it like a fruit and my search will be done.”
Whenua laughed. “Yes. The same day Makuta decides he would like a little sun, and perhaps a friendly game of kolhii.”
“Why are the masks so hard to find? If we are meant to have them –”
“You are meant to earn them, Toa of Earth. That is the answer.”
Onua stopped and held out a quake-breaker to block Whenua’s progress. “Hold, Turaga. Do you hear that?”
Whenua could, indeed, hear something, but wished he did not. It was the harsh, ugly sound of massive claws snapping. He did not need his Noble Mask of Night Vision to know the source.
“The chamber of the mask is just ahead,” he whispered. “But, like fish to a reef, the presence of a Kanohi has drawn the Manas.”
Onua and Whenua edged closer, their backs flat against the hot tunnel wall. The sight that greeted their eyes made both regret having such keen night vision. Two giant Manas crabs clashed in a huge chamber, striking at each other and then scuttling away, only to strike again. Both were easily three times the size of the Toa, and infinitely more powerful. Beyond them, the Kanohi Kaukau Nuva rested on a rocky outcropping.
“Makuta’s guardians,” said Whenua.
“They were,” corrected Onua. “We Toa defeated them and drove them away. But it took the six of us, merged into the mighty Toa Kaita, to do it.”
“When they cannot fight others, they fight among themselves,” said Whenua. “Before you came to Mata Nui, none had ever seen them and returned to tell the tale.”
Onua slumped against the wall, not even noticing the intense heat now. The powers of six Toa combined had barely been enough to defeat these creatures before. How could one Toa, stripped of his elemental energies, hope to win? It was hopeless…
Whenua winced as one of the Manas just narrowly missed the other with a snapping pincer. “Too big to slip by. Too fast to avoid. If only the other Toa were here…”
“Even if the others were near, they could only delay those beasts, not defeat them,” Onua said sadly. “I can see no way to…”
Whenua turned and looked up at the Toa of Earth. Onua was silent, staring intently at the Manas, his quake-breaker resting against the wall. His eyes glowed like twin points of flame in the darkness.
“I have been looking ahead,” Onua said, more to himself than to the Turaga. “I need to look behind.”
“What are you talking about?”
Onua didn’t answer. He had his quake-breakers running at full speed and was boring holes, seemingly at random, in the walls. Blasts of superhot air greeted him each time.
“What are you doing?” Whenua demanded. “Have you lost your mind?”
“No,” Onua answered, not pausing a moment in his work. “I have begun to think like a Toa.”
“Like a Toa who has lost his mind,” grumbled the Turaga. “It isn’t hot enough down here for you?”
Onua plunged his quake-breaker deep into the stone, then drew it out again. The tool glowed red-hot. “It is. It is hot enough for the Manas as well.”
“Hot enough for…?” Whenua glanced at the great crabs. They were still absorbed in their contest against each other. He thanked Mata Nui for the favor.
“When the Toa Kaita faced the Manas, we defeated them with intense cold,” Onua said, grinding more holes in the stone. “Manas hate the cold. They fled down here to be where it’s hot.”
Whenua stared at him but said nothing. Onua obviously had a plan, but the Turaga could not imagine what it might be. Looking behind, he said… Whenua sifted through his memories, but he could find nothing that explained this strange behavior. Still, it was not the first time he had questioned the wisdom of a Toa, and he had been wrong before.
Onua noticed Whenua’s puzzled expression from the corner of his eye and laughed softly. “Come now, Turaga. You, who always say I should not forget the past? Think – what else do we know that loves the heat?”
As he said this, Onua found what he was seeking. His quake-breaker burst open a lava pocket and molten magma began to pour into the tunnel, heading slowly but surely for the Manas’ chamber. Whenua leaped high in the air and wrapped his arms around the Toa’s neck.
“Of course!” he proclaimed happily. “I should have remembered myself. But will it work?”
“If it doesn’t, I do not think we will return to tell about the attempt,” replied Onua. “If the lava doesn’t get us, the Manas most certainly will.”
The Toa calculated there was little time. The lava was seeping closer and closer to the Manas. As soon as they noticed its approach, they were bound to spot the Toa and Turaga and charge. If he had been wrong about what other creatures might be living in this furnace… or if it took them too long to reach here…
“Onua! They are coming!” Whenua shouted, pointing back up the tunnel. Now Onua could hear the skritch-skritch-skritch of a thousand insectoid legs scrambling over stone.
The Kofo-Jaga were on the march.
Drawn by the heat and the scent of lava, they swarmed down the tunnel. Onua and Whenua flattened themselves against the wall to let the insect horde go by. Just as the fire-scorpions reached the chamber, the Manas saw the molten lava closing in upon them. They roared in anger, snapping at the magma tide, backing away toward where the Kanohi waited.
If the lava was too much for the Manas, it was like a warm bath to the Kofo-Jaga. But they had no intention of sharing their good fortune. First by the thousands, then by the millions, they moved toward the Manas, fiery stingers ready to challenge their new enemies.
The Manas were creatures without fear, but not to the point of stupidity. Little by little, they gave ground before the swarm, clearing Onua’s path to the mask. Their claws flashed as they struck at the fire scorpions, but it did no good. There were simply too many of the Kofo-Jaga.
“It must be now!” Onua said. Then he charged into the chamber, ignoring the lava, the fire-scorpions, and the angry Manas. Before the creatures could react, he snatched the Kanohi from its resting place and dove for the tunnel entrance.
Whenua watched, wide-eyed, as the Toa of Earth headed right for him on a collision course. “Mata Nui!” the Turaga shouted, jumping aside just in time to avoid being tackled.
Onua Nuva struck the tunnel floor quake-breakers first, carving his way through the stone and vanishing through it. Five seconds later, Whenua heard a splash from far below.
The Turaga rushed to the ragged edge of the hole and peered down. There was Onua, the Kanohi Kaukau on his face, treading water in a subterranean river. “Turaga! Jump!”
Whenua took another step toward the edge, then dizziness washed over him. Heights were for Le-Matoran, not the Turaga of Onu-Koro. “I cannot!” he shouted back. “It is too far!”
The Toa of Earth smiled. “Turaga Whenua, remember the past,” he said. “Haven’t I always caught you before?”
The river carried them far from the Manas and the Kofo-Jaga to the mouth of a wide tunnel. Once they were back on dry land, Onua shifted from the Great Mask of Water Breathing to the Great Mask of Strength. Together, they began the long trek up to the village.
They had been walking only a short time when Whenua paused, running his hand over the tunnel wall. Onua could see faded Matoran letters carved into the stone just below the ceiling, but too much time had passed to read what they said.
“What does it mean, Turaga?” he asked.
“The past,” Whenua said, with wonder in his voice. “I carved these letters long ago… the same day I carved this tunnel.”
The Turaga said nothing further. But he wore a smile all the way back to Onu-Koro.