Vakama stood, his eyes on Nuju. “That is enough. I will tell the rest of this story. After all, I was there.”
“Yes, you were,” said Nokama. “But neither you nor Nuju have told us about this before now. Why?”
“I asked Nuju to keep his silence,” answered Vakama. “But now the time has come to tell the tale.”
The six Toa Nuva took up positions around the chamber, their eyes fixed on the entrance to the darkened tunnel. From somewhere in those shadows came the roar of the creature Turaga Vakama swore no Toa could defeat. But the heroes of Mata Nui had no intention of giving up without a struggle.
“I will bait the beast,” Tahu said. “The rest of you close in on it from behind. We may fall, but by the Great Beings, this creature will know it has faced Toa!”
“Tahu, think,” Gali implored. “We have the Masks of Speed and Levitation. We can escape this chamber the same way we did the lair of the Bahrag – flight!”
Kopaka shook his head. “We could, Toa of Water – if not for that,” he said, pointing to the ceiling.
The hole through which they had fallen was gone now, replaced by dozens of sharpened stalactites. Even with the enhanced strength granted by the Kanohi Pakari, the Toa could never get safely past all those spikes.
“All right. Then we stay here,” Gali said firmly. “And we make sure someone regrets it.”
The guttural growl came again, closer this time. Onua, closest to the tunnel entrance, could hear the sound of massive claws scraping against stone. “What is this thing, brothers? Nothing could be as large as it sounds.”
Tahu glanced at Vakama. “Well, Turaga, you said you know of this creature. We are in great danger – isn’t this usually the time you reveal your secrets?”
Vakama stared straight ahead. His eyes never wavered from the tunnel as he whispered the words of an ancient text from memory. “Beware the Rahi Nui… beware the beast of horns and claws, who stalks land, sea, and air. Born to seek the Toa, it will bring down all the works of Matoran in its path. You will know it by its roar, by the shaking of the ground as it strides, by the fierce glow of its eyes. Guard well against it or it shall be the end of all.”
When he had finished speaking, he lowered his firestaff to his side and stared at the ground. None of the Toa could recall ever seeing Vakama look so defeated.
“Well, those were cheerhappy words,” Lewa commented, sarcasm in his voice. “I thought perhaps this beast was something to worry-brood about.”
“We need a plan,” said Kopaka.
“Yes. A plan,” agreed Pohatu, looking hard at the Toa of Fire and Ice. “Not six plans, one for each of us.”
“Very well,” said Tahu. “We delay the creature as long as possible, while Turaga Vakama makes his escape. When we have fallen, Takua sees to it that this struggle occupies an honored place in the chronicles.”
Lewa leaped up to a rocky ledge on the chamber wall. “I do not think I like this plan. Let’s quickplot another.”
But already it was too late for plans. With a roar so loud it almost knocked the Toa off their feet, the Rahi Nui emerged from the tunnel before the shocked eyes of Mata Nui’s defenders.
It was bigger than anything any of them had ever seen, at least three times the size of a Toa. Its shape was right out of a Matoran’s nightmare. The head of the beast was that of a Kane-Ra, the powerful Rahi bull, with long, sharp horns that could pierce solid rock with ease. Its forelegs were those of the Tarakava, the marine Rahi whose powerful arms could deliver a stunning blow to even a Takea shark.
Tahu instinctively cloaked the others in a shield as the creature padded into the chamber. Its body and hind legs were those of Muaka, the great cat whose powerful claws could shred solid protodermis. It also possessed the stinging scorpionlike tail of the Nui-Jaga, and a larger version of the Nui-Rama’s insectoid wings.
“I never imagined my destiny would be to be flattened by a walking zoo,” said Pohatu.
“Mata Nui is full of surprises,” Gali replied. “This is not one of the pleasant ones.”
The Rahi Nui looked from one Toa to another, as if trying to decide who posed the biggest threat. Strangely, its gaze lingered on Vakama, almost as if the beast remembered him somehow. Then Tahu moved between the Rahi and the Turaga of fire.
“Perhaps this creature is nothing but roar and bellow,” he said. “Let us see how he compares to the power of Hau Nuva.”
The Rahi Nui stared at the little being who dared to stand in its path. Then it lowered its head and charged, striking Tahu’s shield and sending the Toa of Fire flying across the chamber. Onua moved swiftly to put himself between Tahu and the stone wall, taking the impact on his own mighty body. Though neither was seriously hurt, both had the wind knocked out of them.
“Question answered,” said Kopaka.
Lewa leaped from his perch, smiling. “I have a smartplan. Rahi still needs to airbreathe… so take away his air and down he falls.”
Before anyone could react, Lewa had summoned the Mask of Speed and begun racing in tighter and tighter circles around the Rahi Nui. The Toa of Air could tell it was working, creating a vacuum around the beast. In another few moments, the Rahi would pass out from lack of air and the threat would be over.
The Rahi had other ideas. Its eyes tracked the green blur circling it for one pass, two, and then it lashed out with its foreleg. Lewa was moving too fast to stop when the long arm of a Tarakava suddenly appeared in his path. Tripping on it, he flew headlong into the chamber wall and slumped to the ground, stunned.
“We have barely begun, and already three of our number have fallen,” said Gali. The Rahi Nui turned at the sound of her voice, its stinger slicing the air as it drew closer to the Toa of Water.
“You are still working as lone Toa,” said Vakama. “The Rahi Nui is too powerful to be beaten that way.”
“Then stop warning us and help,” said Kopaka coldly. “If you know something about this beast, speak!”
Gali flipped through the air, narrowly avoiding the Rahi Nui’s tail. The stinger struck the spot where she had been standing, shaking the chamber.
“It was bred for power, not intelligence,” said Vakama. “That is how we were able to… that it is how it was trapped here.”
Lewa staggered to his feet, followed by Tahu and Onua. Kopaka gestured for them to stay where they were, then turned to Pohatu. “Brother, we could use a bit of your speed… and your aim,” he said, gesturing toward the ceiling.
“Gifts I gladly give!” answered Pohatu. The Toa of Stone shared the power of the Mask of Speed with his friends, endowing each with the ability to move at superspeed. “Let us give this beast’s dull brain something to think about!”
The six Toa now circled the Rahi Nui. As soon as it would focus on one, that Toa would disappear in a burst of speed only to reappear somewhere else. Soon, all six were appearing in one spot for an instant, then vanishing again and popping up in another. The Rahi Nui reacted as if it were under attack by a swarm of gnats, snarling and swiping at empty air.
Pohatu saw his opportunity. He joined his climbing claws into a ball and flung it at the ceiling, shearing through a dozen stalactites. The sharp stones rained down on the Rahi Nui, further enraging the beast.
“I believe we have upset this creature.” Onua chuckled as he allowed the power of the Mask of Strength to fill his comrades. “Perhaps it can use some time off its feet.”
Acting as one, the Toa slammed their fists on the floor. Their added strength created a massive shock wave that traveled to the center of the chamber, knocking the Rahi Nui onto its side. It bellowed and tried to right itself, but a second shock wave brought it down again.
“This is more joyfun than kolhii ball,” said Lewa. “At least until we run out of ideas.”
“Perhaps I can help,” said Vakama. His voice filled the chamber, but there was no sign of him. The Turaga had invoked the power of the Mask of Concealment he wore. “Rahi! You have heard this voice before! It belongs to the one who trapped you so long ago!”
Tahu looked at Gali, both wearing expressions of surprise. Vakama, with his Noble Mask and his firestaff, had beaten this monster before? How was that possible?
The Rahi Nui rose again. It definitely did seem to recognize – and hate – that voice. Worse, it could not see where the voice was coming from. It roared in rage.
“Do you remember the last time we met? Or are you too slow-witted?” taunted Vakama. “You howled and roared and even succeeded in harming some of my friends. But in the end, your rage was your undoing, monster.”
The Rahi Nui was turning this way and that, trying in vain to find Vakama. Forgotten were the six Toa, who stood and watched as the beast grew more and more frenzied.
“Vakama does have a smartplan, doesn’t he?” asked Lewa.
“Besides driving the beast wild? One can only hope,” replied Onua.
“How long have you been down here, creature?” Vakama continued, still cloaked by invisibility. “How many suns have passed above? Did your master abandon you… or is he the reason we are here?”
Suddenly the shadows in the chamber grew darker still, and a cold wind chilled the Toa. A pair of massive, glowing red eyes appeared in the darkness of the tunnel and a harsh, grating voice said, “It has not been abandoned, Vakama. It has been waiting for your return.”
“Makuta…” Gali whispered.
“But this beast wears no infected Kanohi Mask,” said Tahu. “How does Makuta control it?”
“There is no need for a mask, Toa Tahu,” said the voice of Makuta. “It hates Toa and all who stand with them. That is enough.”
“And you skulk in the shadows, as you always have,” Vakama snapped. “Striking through pawns because you are afraid to face the light.”
Makuta laughed, a truly horrible sound. “Light? There is no light on Mata Nui. There never shall be.”
“You have been defeated before!” shouted Vakama. “You shall be again!”
“Defeated? Never,” hissed Makuta. “Only delayed. You cannot stop the darkness from falling, Vakama. No one can.”
“We can, and we shall!” Tahu said, stepping forward, magma swords raised.
“Then do so,” Makuta replied. “Defeat my Rahi, and you may leave this chamber. Fail, and Mata Nui is mine!”
The next instant, the eyes were gone, the chill had left the air, and the shadows were merely shadows once more. Makuta had left the Toa to their fate, sure that his victory would be won.
After a long moment, the Toa heard Vakama say, “Go.”
Tahu, dodging a strike by the Rahi Nui, said, “What was that?”
“The beast can be distracted. Run for the tunnel.”
“Toa do not run!” answered Tahu.
“Well, actually…” Onua muttered.
“They do when their Turaga tells them to do so!” Vakama’s voice struck the Toa like a hammer blow. “Now go!”
The Rahi Nui snarled and started toward Vakama’s voice. Gali grabbed Tahu’s arm. “Only as far as the tunnel mouth, Tahu,” she said. “We will not abandon Vakama.”
“Would you make us cowards?” Tahu demanded.
“We don’t have time to debate!” said Onua. “Come, fire brother, let us see what your Turaga has in mind.”
Vakama waited until the Toa had slipped past the angry Rahi into the tunnel. Then he stood with his back to the chamber wall and willed himself to become visible again. He could hear Gali gasp and Tahu shout a warning, but he ignored them. His entire being was focused on the monstrous Rahi that confronted him.
“Come then, monster,” he said. “Let us see what time has done to your power.”
The Rahi Nui lowered its massive head, its claws pawing the ground. Its eyes locked on to Vakama’s as it prepared to charge. Onua and Pohatu held Tahu’s arms, keeping the Toa of Fire from racing into the chamber. “Trust him,” Onua urged. “Vakama must know what he is doing.”
The Turaga was not so certain. True, he had seen the Rahi Nui defeated once before. But that had been a long, long time past, and Vakama had been very different then. Perhaps it was his power that time had swept away, and not the Rahi’s.
But now the time for questioning was over. The Rahi Nui charged, horns lowered and aimed right at Vakama. The Turaga counted the beast’s huge strides and waited until he could feel the Rahi’s foul breath on him. Then he leaped aside, turning invisible as he did, and listening for the satisfying crunch of Kane-Ra horns piercing stone.
He didn’t have to wait long. The Rahi Nui slammed headfirst into the wall, burying its horns in the rock. Its charge had been so powerful that, once in, the horns couldn’t be withdrawn. Try as it might, the Rahi Nui was stuck fast in the wall.
Cautiously, Vakama stepped away from the struggling creature and became visible once more. The six Toa stepped into the chamber and stood by his side.
“Will it ever get free?” asked Gali.
“In time, yes,” said Vakama. “It will bring down the wall, if it must.”
“I would rather not be here to see that,” said Onua. “We have all our Kanohi Nuva Masks. The time has come to return to the surface.”
“You took a great risk, Turaga,” said Tahu as they walked into the tunnel. “If you had failed…”
“Then someone else would have stepped into my place as Turaga,” answered Vakama. “Just as, someday, someone else may become Toa of Fire when your destiny has been fulfilled, Tahu.”
“You knew what the beast would do.”
“I hoped,” said Vakama. “But I had to get it so angry it would forget how it had been trapped before. Whenua would say it was defeated because it forgot the past… Nuju, that it did not think about the future.”
The Toa reached a dead end. Above them they could see the sky through an opening in the ceiling. “Now can we fly?” asked Gali, smiling.
The Mask of Levitation and the Mask of Speed combined to lift the Toa and Turaga aloft and carry them through the hole back onto the surface of Mata Nui. The Toa’s quest for the masks was at its end, but their true ordeal still lay before them. For now, questions about their future as a team, the secrets of the Turaga, and what destiny held in store for Mata Nui had to be put aside. Somewhere the Bohrok-Kal were waiting, and six Toa, still lacking their elemental powers, had to find a way to defeat them.
Far below, deep in the darkness, Makuta laughed. “Ah, Vakama, Turaga of smoke,” he rumbled. “Your secrets will be the end of the Toa yet.”
When Vakama had finished his tale, Nokama walked up to him and laid a hand on his arm. “Now I understand, old friend, why you called this council.”
“I never thought I would face the Rahi Nui again,” answered Vakama. “Had I told the Toa about that beast long ago, perhaps they would not have been in such danger.”
The other Turaga were silent. Even Onewa had nothing to say.
“We have told our tales,” continued the Turaga of fire. “And we have learned from them. The time has come to share all with the Toa. Are we agreed?”
The other Turaga nodded.
“Very well,” said Vakama as the others rose. “I propose that we speak with them after the kolhii ball tournament. Surely nothing will happen there that will distract us from our purpose…”
“We had best be going to the field, then, Vakama,” said Nokama. “I am sure the Toa will have the wisdom and courage to understand all that we have to say.”
With brief farewells to one another, the Turaga ended the council. They walked in silence to Ta-Koro, passing only Jaller on the way. The Captain of the Guard explained that his kolhii partner, Takua, had wandered off again and he was searching for him.
“Then search on, Jaller,” said Vakama. “I am sure Takua has simply been distracted by some trivial matter. After all, what could be more important than the kolhii ball tournament?”
“Nothing!” Jaller shouted as he dashed away.