Outside of the Great Furnace, the Matoran Nui split apart to become six Matoran again. They blinked and stumbled, drained from their experience. “That was incredible. The power!” said Ehrye.
“Let’s do it again,” said Vhisola. “Think of all we could do for our city.”
Ahkmou shook his head and backed away. “No. No. No way. If you five want to risk your lives, go ahead, but count me out. I’m looking out for what’s most important: me.”
“Then go,” said Tehutti. “If unity, duty, and destiny mean nothing to you, run back to Po-Metru, Ahkmou.”
The Po-Matoran laughed. “We’ll see each other again. Don’t worry. And then we will see just whose destiny will win out.”
With that, Ahkmou turned and fled into the shadows.
The Toa Metru stood in the midst of a nightmare.
The massive inner chamber of the Great Furnace had been transformed into a sanctuary for the king root of the Morbuzakh. Dominating the room was a huge, thick, winding stalk that extended from the ground all the way to the rooftop. The winding stripe that ran down its length marked it as the source of the Morbuzakh plague.
Branches extended all along the root, entwining themselves with the masonry of the walls and floors. The king root had truly become a part of the Great Furnace. The Toa Metru could imagine each of those branches extending beyond the furnace, with multiple vines sprouting from them to threaten Metru Nui.
Waves and waves of intense heat washed over the Toa. Already Nuju and Whenua were beginning to weaken. Vakama turned to the Toa of Water, saying, “Nokama, you must use your power to try to keep us cool. Can you do it?”
“I don’t know,” replied Nokama. “I will do my best.”
The Toa of Water concentrated, calling on her energies to condense the moisture in the air into a cooling mist. It was an enormous drain, with the heat taking its toll on her as well. She could not help but wonder how long her strength would hold out, and what would happen if she fell.
Vakama felt overwhelmed. The king root was far bigger and more frightening than he had ever dreamed. How could six disks, even Great Disks, bring such a monstrosity down? But what choice did they have?
“Ready the disks,” he said. “We will strike together and –”
“Noooo!” The voice cracked like lightning in the minds of the Toa. “You will not desssstroy the Morbuzakh!”
“What? Who was that?” said Onewa, looking around.
“It wasssss I!” the voice boomed again.
“Mata Nui,” whispered Nokama. “It’s the Morbuzakh – it speaks!”
“Yessss, I sssspeak. I ssspeak. I think. I feel. And Metru Nui sssshall be mine!”
Vakama could see no eyes or mouth anywhere on the root. It was not truly speaking, the Toa were simply hearing its thoughts. Worse, they could sense its feelings – an overwhelming hunger to possess the city and drive away anything that was not Morbuzakh. There was more there as well, traces of another intelligence, but they were too vague for the Toa to comprehend.
“My armssss extend to every part of thissss city,” the Morbuzakh continued. “I am in the furnacesss, the canalsss, the chutesss. The Matoran live and work only because I choossse to let them. But if they anger me –”
A vine suddenly shot out of the wall, wrapped around a pipe, and crushed it to dust. “Firsst, I will drive the Matoran away from the outskirtsss of the city, so they cannot essscape. Then I will claim this place as my own. Those who ssssurvive can ssserve the Morbuzakh, or perisssh.”
The full horror of what they were hearing struck the Toa then. This was no mere overgrown menace, like the wild Rahi beasts that sometimes appeared in the city. The Morbuzakh was intelligent, cunning, and evil beyond anything they had ever imagined. None of them doubted that, if allowed to spread unchecked, this thing would do what it promised. Metru Nui would fall and the Matoran would become slaves of the Morbuzakh, or worse.
So shocked were the Toa Metru that none of them noticed a vine creeping up behind Whenua. It struck amazingly fast, ripping the Great Disk from the Toa’s grasp and snaking up toward the ceiling. Whenua shouted and grabbed the vine, which lifted him high into the air.
Nuju ran, leaped, and caught Whenua’s legs. He, too, was yanked off his feet and up toward the ceiling. The Morbuzakh vine whipped around violently in an effort to shake the Toa off. “Hang on!” shouted Nuju.
“Thanks! That was my plan!” said Whenua. “Did you come up here just to tell me that?”
Down below, vines had wrapped themselves around Vakama and Onewa, but Matau had proven too fast for them. The Toa of Air darted across the floor, heading straight for the king root. “Morbuzakh, meet a Toa-hero!”
Before Matau’s startled eyes, a new vine grew out of the root. Before he could change direction, the vine swatted him out of the air and sent him crashing into the wall.
Nokama, still straining to maintain her power, watched as Vakama’s fire and Onewa’s stone failed to make the vines break their grip. Above, Nuju had called upon his ice power but it was too weak to free him and Whenua.
This is all wrong, she thought. We are all fighting individual battles, instead of working as a team. There has to be a way to stop this thing!
Ignoring the possible consequences, Nokama suddenly dropped her efforts to keep the Toa cool amid the awful heat. She fired a stream of water up toward the vine that held Whenua’s Great Disk, shouting, “Nuju! Freeze this!”
The Toa of Ice did as she asked, forming the curving stream of water into an ice hook. Reaching out and grabbing it, he used the ice to pull the end of the vine close. “Whenua! Now!”
Whenua thrust his earthshock drill forward and sliced through the vine. The portion holding the Great Disk fell away and plunged toward the ground as the vine writhed.
Nokama glanced at Matau, who had finally regained his feet. Her eyes met his and she knew he was ready. He raised his aero slicers and hurled a blast of air at the falling vine, blowing it toward Nokama. The Toa of Water caught it on the fly, tore the vine loose, and held the Great Disk up proudly.
“Your first defeat, monster!” she shouted at the king root. “But hardly your last!”
“You can delay me, but not defeat me!” The Morbuzakh’s voice sounded like a swarm of metallic hornets. “I am a part of Metru Nui now. I am thisss city, and it isss me!”
“Then we will tear you out by the roots, Morbuzakh!” Vakama shouted. “One way or another, your reign ends today!”
The vine holding Vakama swung him close to the body of the king root. Vakama took the opportunity to toss fireballs at the Morbuzakh, but the plant simply absorbed them. “Yesssss,” said the Morbuzakh. “More! Fire feedssss me!”
Whenua looked down at Matau, who nodded. Then the Toa of Earth let go of the vine, sending Nuju and himself plummeting toward the ground. When they were midway through their fall, Matau sent two mighty gusts of wind toward them. The wind caught the two Toa and flung them across the chamber right at the vines holding Vakama and Onewa.
Toa of Ice and Toa of Earth slammed into the vines. The impact freed the two trapped Toa, who dropped to the ground. They had no chance to rest, however – Morbuzakh vines were now coming from every side, trying to grab the Toa or their Great Disks.
Now began a desperate struggle, for the Toa Metru were not facing just one powerful, if immobile, enemy. They were fighting the thousand “arms” of the Morbuzakh, each as strong as the last, which struck and then slithered away. Toa tools flashed. Fire, ice, water, stone, earth, and cyclones filled the air. But for every vine the Toa struck down, three more rose to take its place.
Eventually, the Toa began to tire. Without extensive practice in controlling and rationing their elemental energies, their powers began to run low. Little by little, the vines drove them away from the king root, growing bolder as they sensed the Toa slowing down.
“You cannot sssstop me,” hissed the Morbuzakh. “You have not the ssstrength. That isss all right. Too weak to be heroesss, perhapsss, but you will ssstill make excellent ssslavesss.”
“He’s right,” said Vakama. “We can’t win this way.”
Onewa drove off another vine and looked at the Toa of Fire in disbelief. “This was your idea, and now you’re quitting? What kind of a Toa are you?”
“Stop fighting,” Vakama said flatly. “It’s our only chance.”
“You have gone around the chute,” said Matau. “We stop hard-fighting and the vines will overwhelm us and drag us to the –” The Toa of Air suddenly stopped and a broad smile appeared on his face. “For a fire-spitter, Vakama, sometimes you can be almost as quick-smart as a Le-Matoran.”
Vakama checked to make sure that all the Toa had their Great Disks in their hands. Then he shouted, “Now!” As one, they dropped their Toa tools and stopped struggling against the vines.
At first, the Morbuzakh did not seem to know how to react. When the king root spoke in their minds, there was confusion in its tone. “You would not sssurrender. Thisss is sssome trick. My vinesss could crusssh you where you ssstand!”
“Then do it,” said Nokama. “Don’t just talk about it.”
“Maybe when we are done here, we could transplant this thing to Ga-Metru,” Whenua suggested. “You know, add it to the garden near the canals. Ga-Matoran could climb it and build root-houses.”
“As long as it stops speaking,” said Nuju. “There is nothing I dislike more than a talkative shrub.”
“Do what you like, Morbuzakh,” snapped Onewa. “I would rather be fed to the Great Furnace than live in a city run by an obnoxious, foul-smelling, overgrown pile of vegetable matter good for nothing but clogging canals.”
The Morbuzakh’s bellow was so loud the Toa thought sure their heads would split open. Six vines shot around and wrapped around the heroes’ waists, hauling them through the air toward the king root. The pressure of the vines was tremendous, threatening to squeeze the air out of the Toa’s lungs.
“Before you ssserve, you will sssuffer!”
Vakama held up his Great Disk as the other Toa did the same. “No, Morbuzakh. You have had your season. The time for the harvest has come!”
Pure power flashed from the six Great Disks, blindingly bright bands of energy that twisted around each other. Lightning flashed wherever two bands touched, striking at the vines that reached for the Toa. Then the energies blended together, forming a sphere in midair that moved slowly and inexorably toward the Morbuzakh.
Desperately, the Morbuzakh tried to escape its own end. It writhed, the sheer power of its vines pulling down the walls of the Great Furnace. Masonry rained down from the ceiling as the plant’s upper branches tried to batter their way to freedom. Great blocks of protodermis crumbled and fell into the flames, consumed in an instant, and still the Morbuzakh struggled. It had truly become one with this fortress of fire, and now both were about to fall.
Taking advantage of the distraction, the Toa fought their way free of the vines that imprisoned them. Vakama looked up and saw that power no longer flowed from his Great Disk, nor from any of the others. But the sphere still existed, growing larger and larger every moment.
“Toa, we have to go! Now!” he shouted. “The Morbuzakh will bring the Great Furnace down upon us!”
Then came a sound the Toa Metru would remember for the rest of their lives: the sound of the king root screaming.
That put an end to any arguments there might have been. Instead, the Toa raced for the exit to the outer chamber, pausing only to pick up their tools. They did not stop running until they were far from the Great Furnace and the thing that had dwelled inside.
Only Vakama dared to look back. Through the crumbling walls, he could see that the energy sphere now encompassed the king root. Its walls had sliced through the multitude of vines, the high branches, and the deep roots that anchored the Morbuzakh in the ground. All around, the plant growth that had menaced Metru Nui was writhing and crumbling to dust.
The king root hung suspended in the air now, trapped within the energy sphere. Cut off from the ground below and from its branches and vines, the root could no longer draw energy from the fires of Ta-Metru or feed it to the rest of the plant. It was alive, but isolated, a creature once connected with all of Metru Nui and now utterly alone. Eventually, its howls of rage began to fade away in the minds of the Toa, replaced by the sound of their own thoughts.
The Great Furnace was now nothing but rubble and flames. The sphere glowed amid the wreckage as the struggles of the king root ceased. Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, the energy was gone. The king root struck the ground with a resounding crash and then crumbled to nothing before the Toa of Fire’s astounded eyes.
All around the city, Matoran looked on in wonder as the Morbuzakh vines turned to dust. Soon, there would be no sign of the plant left, except for the damage it had done. But the defeat of the Morbuzakh would not bring back all the Matoran who had vanished since the vines had first appeared in Metru Nui.
Back at the ruins of the Great Furnace, Nokama looked at Vakama. “Is it really over?”
“Yes,” said the Toa of Fire. “With the king root gone, the rest of the Morbuzakh should soon follow. We have passed our first test as Toa Metru.”
“Then why are we standing here?” asked Matau. “Let’s bring these ever-powerful disks to the Coliseum and tell the world we are Toa-heroes!”
The six Toa Metru looked at each other and smiled. Matau’s idea sounded like a good one. After all, despite their differences, they had found the Great Disks, defeated the Morbuzakh, and saved their city. As they walked away from the site of their first great victory, they knew they were no longer the Matoran they had been… or even the new Toa they had become…
They were heroes of Metru Nui.