Toa and Matoran entered the structure. Just inside the door was a small, bare chamber. Its purpose was to give Matoran a chance to prepare before they proceeded to the inferno inside, or give them a chance to rest after they had spent some time laboring in the furnace. Beyond this chamber was the outer ring, a buffer to keep the intense heat from reaching the outer walls of the building.

Surprisingly, there was no sign of the Morbuzakh here. A moment of panic swept through Vakama. What if they had been wrong? What if the king root was not here?

Then we find it, wherever it hides, he said to himself. There’s no other choice.

He grasped the handle of the door to the outer ring. Vakama could feel the heat through it. In his mind, he was prepared for almost anything on the other side of that door. But in his heart, he wondered if six new, still untried Toa Metru would have the power to prevail.

Disk launcher ready, Vakama threw open the door and rushed inside. Dim lightstones cast an unsettling glow on the long, narrow chamber. The air was filled with a strange, soft sound that seemed to come from everywhere at once.

“What is that?” asked Vakama. “It sounds like hissing.”

“No, not hissing,” replied Nokama. “It’s… whispering.”

The Toa Metru stopped dead and looked around. The stone floor of the chamber was broken in numerous places. Growing from the cracks were small, twisted plants, with buds that stank of rot. Close inspection showed the buds were pulsating.

“It’s them. The sounds are coming from them,” Whenua said. “Are they –”

Onewa stepped carefully, trying to avoid touching any of the plants. “Yes. They’re young Morbuzakh. New vines growing to strangle the city.”

The whispering grew louder. The children of the Morbuzakh sensed that they were not alone. A few of the plants began to stir, as if in a breeze. Then more started moving as agitation spread throughout the outer ring.

“We cannot allow these things to grow-thrive,” said Matau.

“Let’s see how they like a touch of frost.” Nuju lowered his crystal spikes and sprayed a fine mist of ice over the plants. As the Toa watched, the ice spread across the entire crop. The plants began to sag beneath the weight, their whispering growing louder, then fainter. Finally, all was silent.

Nokama took a step forward and water splashed around her feet. “Nuju! The heat in here is melting your ice.”

“Then I’ll make more,” said the Toa of Ice. He poured more and more of his energy through his tools, creating layer after layer of frost on top of the plants. Each time the heat of the Great Furnace would melt the ice and the plants would begin to struggle again. Then Nuju would call on more of his power.

The seesaw battle between Toa Metru and the flames of Ta-Metru went on for several long minutes. The other Toa could see that Nuju was weakening. He staggered and would have fallen if Matau had not caught him.

“My power… almost gone…” gasped Nuju.

This was a mistake, thought Vakama. Our true struggle is waiting beyond this chamber. We should have saved our power for that. But why would the Morbuzakh leave these young vines undefended?

The Toa of Fire got his answer in the next moment. Wave after wave of thorns flew from the walls, knifing through the air at the Toa Metru. “Toa! Defend yourselves!” Vakama shouted, hurling firebursts to incinerate the projectiles.

Whenua yelled as one of the thorns grazed his armor. He activated his earthshock drills and began shredding the thorns as they came close. Across the chamber, Matau was conjuring a wind funnel to blow the thorns away, while Nokama used her hydro blades to parry them. Onewa was having the most trouble, but he stood and let the thorns strike him to buy the Matoran time to seek shelter.

The six Matoran had hit the ground and were scrambling through the melted ice toward the door. Nuhrii glanced up and saw that the hail of thorns was heaviest near the exit. “We’ll never make it!”

“We have to,” said Ahkmou. “I’m not staying here!”

“Be quiet, Ahkmou!” snapped Tehutti. “We might not be here if it weren’t for you. I saw something in the Archives once that might help us. Everyone join hands!”

The other five Matoran did as Tehutti asked. “Now concentrate,” the Onu-Matoran said. “We have to focus on our unity. That means you too, Ahkmou!”

At first, their efforts seemed to have no effect. Then a glow surrounded the six Matoran and their bodies grew hazy and indistinct. There was a sudden, bright burst of light, and when it faded, one Matoran stood where six had been before.

“We are one,” the being said in a voice that sounded like a combination of the six Matoran. “We are the Matoran Nui.”

The eyes of the merged being scanned the chamber. The Toa Metru were fighting for their lives against the thorn barrage, but making no progress. “We understand now,” said the Matoran Nui. “No one Matoran’s ambitions are more important than Metru Nui as a whole. We must aid the Toa.”

The Matoran Nui darted forward, moving so quickly it dodged the thorns. Then with one blow it demolished the door to the inner chamber. The Toa Metru turned at the noise to stare in amazement at the new being in their midst.

“Go!” said the Matoran Nui. “Defeat the Morbuzakh and save the city! It is what you were meant to do!”

Vakama had a million questions, but no time to ask any of them. He turned to the other Toa and shouted, “Follow me!”

The six heroes of Metru Nui charged into the heart of the Great Furnace toward what might be their final conflict. The Matoran Nui watched them go, whispering, “Mata Nui protect you all.”

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