Just across the northern border of Ta-Metru lay a nearly deserted neighborhood. It had been the site of the first appearances by the Morbuzakh vines. Countless Matoran had disappeared from there, many more had fled for their lives deeper into the metru. Since they entered the area, Vakama had not spoken a word.
“I do not like this place,” said Matau, looking around. “It feels cold-dead.”
“Where are all the Matoran?” asked Nokama.
“If Ta-Metru is anything like Po-Metru, they are living now with friends or co-workers,” answered Onewa. “Some insist on staying near the Vahki hives, believing it to be safer there. If they work near the outskirts, they’re careful not to travel alone. Every few moments, they stop working to listen for the approach of a vine.”
Whenua frowned. “There was nothing in the past history of Metru Nui to hint such a crisis might occur.”
“But something like it was bound to happen,” said Nuju. “We relied too much on others to protect us – Toa, Vahki, even Turaga Dume. When something happened they could not handle, all the Matoran could do was run. I could have predicted this.”
“Then why didn’t you?” asked Vakama, gesturing at the abandoned buildings all around. “Why didn’t anyone?”
“I predict we better find a place to hide,” broke in Onewa. “There’s a Vahki squad up ahead.”
“This way.” Vakama led his fellow Toa Metru and the six Matoran into a narrow alleyway. Using his flame power, he melted the lock on an old door and shepherded them inside the building.
The heat struck the Toa like a fist. Although no Matoran seemed to be present in the forge, fires still leaped high and smoke made it hard to breathe. Tools were scattered about at the work stations and some items had even been left to melt in the flames.
“They left in a hurry,” said Whenua. “Maybe we should do the same.”
The Toa of Ice felt something strike his armor and bounce off. It made a sharp sound when it hit, as if it were a pebble. When it happened a second time, Nuju said, “What is that?”
Nokama’s keen eyes had spotted where the second object landed. She bent down and scooped it up. It was a round object, roughly a quarter of the diameter of a Kanoka disk. Its outer shell was pitted, extremely hard, and the colors of fire. “It looks like some kind of… seed.”
Another fell, and then another. That’s when the full impact of what she had just said became clear to her. She looked up at the ceiling. It was covered in seeds, which were beginning to fall at a rapid pace. “Oh, Mata Nui protect us,” she whispered. “Morbuzakh seeds! It must be!”
Now the Toa Metru were caught in a downpour. When the seeds struck, tiny vines sprang forth from the shell and wrapped around whatever was closest, hanging on with an unnatural strength.
“We have to get out of here!” Vakama shouted. He took two steps before black-brown tendrils wrapped around his legs, bringing him down hard. More seeds struck him, their vines binding him as effectively as chains. He could see the other Toa struggling, their arms pinned to their sides, their tools out of reach, as more seeds rained down.
The clatter of the shells striking the ground was deafening. Already, the stone floor was covered with a layer of rapidly germinating seeds. The little vines writhed like a nest of baby serpents, striking out to entangle the Toa. Nokama was in the worst shape, with vines covering her from neck to toe and reaching for her Mask of Power.
None of the six Matoran had made it back out the door. They were pinned to the walls by tendrils, like insects caught in a blackened web.
Vakama rolled across the floor, trying to find a sharp-edged fragment of protodermis he could use to saw through the vines. Whenua was on his feet, slamming his body against the wall, evidently trying to stun the plants into letting go.
But it was Nuju who first managed to escape. Nokama’s eyes widened as she saw him slice through the vines binding him with an icicle. In mere moments he was free and rushing over to help her. “We have to get the others out of here. Help me!”
While Nuju hurried to untie the other Toa, Nokama used her hydro blades to free the Matoran. Then they all rushed out the door before the vines could grab hold again. Vakama slammed the door shut behind them, stamping on the vines as they tried to slip underneath. “Nuju! Onewa! Bring the building down!”
Onewa called on his elemental energies as Nuju did the same. From one side of the building, a pillar of stone rose into the air. From the other, a pillar of ice took shape. Nodding to each other, both Toa released their control and sent the twin pillars crashing into the roof. Under the weight of rock and ice, the forge collapsed in on itself, burying the plants.
Nokama felt a shudder run through her form. “Do you think that will stop them?”
Vakama shook his head. “Maybe for a little while. You know what this means, don’t you?”
“It’s reproducing,” said Whenua, “and we have no idea how many other seeds might be waiting to sprout. Their roots will link up with the king root and the Morbuzakh will be everywhere.”
“It could overrun our city-home,” Matau said quietly. “Too many vines to stop, too little time.”
Vakama checked to make sure his disk launcher was loaded. Then he turned to the group and said, “Let’s go. We have a weed to pull.”
As they walked, Nokama turned to Nuju. “I appreciate your rescue. But how did you get free?”
“I saw what the seeds were doing to the others,” he said, his eyes looking straight ahead. “So when they began to strike me, I took a deep breath and expanded my chest. Then when I let the breath out, I had just enough slack to move a little. I didn’t need my spikes to make something as simple as an icicle.”
Nuju shrugged. “I’m from Ko-Metru. We think ahead.”
The Great Furnace was not as big or imposing as the Coliseum in the center of Metru Nui. It did not have the feeling of power and mystery that Ga-Metru’s Great Temple possessed. But every Ta-Matoran looked at it with awe and wonder. It was a symbol of what made the metru great – the power that turned solid protodermis to molten liquid, and the skill to shape that raw material into the tools Matoran used every day.
Now Vakama stood outside the entrance, staring up at the reddish-black exterior, wondering just what was lurking in the heart of the flame.
“So this is the plan?” asked Onewa in disbelief. “We knock on the front door and ask if the Morbuzakh can come out to play?”
“I am not saying we should listen to all of Vhisola’s fears,” replied Nokama, making an effort to remain calm. “But if she is right –”
“If she is right, then we are facing more than just a plant,” said Matau. “It can think-plan. And it probably already knows we’re here.”
“Then we won’t keep it waiting,” said Vakama. “Nuhrii, you and the other Matoran will accompany us inside, but stay back. There is no telling what we will encounter in there.”
“One of us should stay out here to run for help, if need be,” offered Ahkmou. “I volunteer.”
“If we fail,” said Onewa, “Metru Nui will be beyond help. Besides, you were so anxious to get the six Great Disks, Ahkmou, I think you should see them in action.”
The six Toa Metru looked at each other. The time for talking had passed. Each knew that the challenges they had faced so far could not compare with what they were about to attempt. No one needed to say that this might be the last adventure for one or more of them. Their goodbyes to each other were exchanged in silence.
Vakama melted the lock on the massive door. With a final look at his friends, he opened the gateway to the Great Furnace.