Whenua led the Toa Metru to a desolate spot just inside the border of Onu-Metru. Most of the chutes and much of the aboveground structure of the Archives had been damaged by Morbuzakh vines, and Onu-Matoran were now hard at work doing repairs. All of them stopped their labors at the sight of the Toa and crowded around.
Matau greeted them warmly and immediately launched into a tale of the Toa’s heroic deeds. The other Toa watched, amused, as he turned their clash with the Morbuzakh into an even greater adventure than it had been.
“If he wasn’t a Toa, he could apply to be Chronicler,” Onewa said. “Is he ever quiet?”
“Not that you would notice,” said Nokama. “Whenua, I don’t see an entrance to the Archives here. How will we get where we have to go?”
“There’s no entrance you can see,” Whenua said. He walked down an alleyway and knelt beside an iron ring in the pavement. He grabbed the ring and, with a mighty heave, pulled open a trapdoor. Tiny winged Rahi and swarms of insects flew up, followed by a wave of damp, foul-smelling air.
“Not very pleasant, I will agree, but it is a shortcut,” Whenua said with a shrug. “According to Nuparu, the damage is in the maintenance tunnels. The nickname for them is ‘Fikou web,’ after what the spiders leave down below, because the tunnels crisscross and twist around each other so.”
“What if one of us gets lost?” asked Nokama.
“Don’t,” replied Whenua. “Just… don’t. You wouldn’t like it. The Matoran tell stories about repair crews that have been wandering down there since the early days of the Archives, unable to find their way out. They are supposed to have gone a little crazy. But, of course, those are just stories.”
None of the Toa looked especially comforted by this. Matau had finally finished his tale and came over carrying six lightstones. “Just in case it is night-dark down there.”
“Can I come?” asked Nuparu. “I can lead you right to the leak.”
“You’ve done enough already,” said Whenua. “I want you to go warn the archivists about this. Tell them we are going to do our best to fix the damage, but they should prepare to move exhibits out of the sub-basements in case they flood. Understand?”
Nuparu nodded and ran off. He understood why Whenua did not want him to come along, but it still frustrated him. As he rushed to carry out the Toa’s instructions, he made a vow that someday he would invent something that would help Matoran better defend their homes from danger.
Whenua turned back to his friends, saying, “Hopefully, this won’t take long. But be careful. There are always surprises in the Archives.”
One by one, the Toa followed him down into the shaft. Only Matau seemed to hesitate, prompting Nokama to turn back and say, “What’s the matter?”
“I do not like the below-ground,” answered the Toa of Air “I am a wind-flyer. Toa-hero adventures should only be on the surface, don’t you think?”
“We can only hope,” said Nokama as she vanished into the darkness.
The maintenance tunnels were to the underground what chutes were to the rest of Metru Nui: a quick means of transport from one end of the city to the other. Unlike chutes, which served everyone in Metru Nui, the tunnels were open only to those with authorization, normally Ta-Matoran and Onu-Matoran. Pipes big and small lined the walls of the tunnels, funneling liquid protodermis from place to place and molten protodermis to those locations that required extra heat.
Ordinarily, Matoran traveled through these tunnels by cart. But Matoran carts were too small for Toa Metru. Whenua idly wondered if the Toa should see about getting vehicles made for them in the future. Might save a lot of walking, swinging, and climbing.
The Toa of Earth felt uneasy. He knew the other Toa Metru were expecting him to take the lead on this mission, but his knowledge of the Fikou web was based largely on stories he had heard. He had never had cause to go much farther than the very outer edges of the tunnel network, and even that was with reluctance.
He was still worrying over this when he felt a cold breeze rush past him. It had come from deep in the maze, which made no sense – there should have been no openings to the outside up ahead. The only hatchways led up to the Archives, and certainly no breeze could come from there.
None of the other Toa seemed particularly disturbed by the strange wind or the drop in temperature. Whenua guessed they just didn’t grasp the strangeness of the situation. He suddenly felt as if he could not take another step forward. Something was waiting up ahead, something far worse than any crack in the seawall, and they were walking right into its jaws. He just knew it.
His suspicions were confirmed a few moments later when a thick fog sprang from nowhere to engulf the Toa. Even their lightstones were of little use in penetrating the cloud. Whenua turned to find he could not make out any of his companions.
“Vakama? Nuju? Are you there?” he called out.
“Yes. What is this?” Vakama replied.
“I have never seen fog like this, not even in Ga-Metru,” Nokama’s voice added. “It is unnatural.”
Just how unnatural it was became painfully obvious. A sudden flash of light almost blinded the Toa. An instant later, an impact sent Whenua crashing into his friends. Barely clinging to consciousness, the Toa of Earth said, “What in the name of Mata Nui was that?”
“A lightning bolt,” answered Onewa. “A lightning bolt in an enclosed tunnel underground. Is this normal in Onu-Metru, or are we just lucky?”
As if the freak storm had heard him, a second bolt flew toward the Toa of Stone. Acting on reflex, Onewa dove to the side as the bolt struck the wall where he had been.
“That was no accident,” said Nokama. “Perhaps it’s time we turned back and planned a strategy.”
Nuju’s voice broke through the fog. “If we could see where we are going, I would agree. As it is, I don’t think we should turn our backs on an angry thundercloud.”
“Quiet!” said Vakama. “Listen!”
The Toa Metru went silent. Now the air was filled with an ominous buzzing sound, which drew closer and closer. Not being able to see what caused it made it all the more frightening. “All right, keep calm,” said Vakama. “Remember that we are Toa Metru, and we are together. As long as we stay united, we can overcome anything.”
Privately, Vakama was not feeling quite so confident. He thought he recognized that sound. If he was right, it came from a breed of Ta-Metru winged insects, nicknamed “fireflyers.” Left alone, the small insects were relatively harmless. But when a swarm was angered, they would pursue an enemy halfway across the city.
Behind him, Matau had finally had enough. Bad enough to be wandering underground without all this danger and confusion. He raised his aero slicers and summoned a wind to blow the fog away. Although the best his weakened powers could manage was a stiff breeze, it was still enough to get the job done.
The fog dissipated, to reveal a sight out of every Matoran’s nightmare: two powerful, menacing creatures, reptilianlike heads darting back and forth, staffs held tightly in their claws.
“Rahkshi!” shouted Whenua.
One of the Rahkshi was gold in color and now it screeched at the Toa. This Rahkshi had the ability to manipulate the weather within a limited range. Its partner, bright orange in color, was surrounded by a swarm of fireflyers. Controlled by the Rahkshi, the insects were just waiting for the signal to charge.
“What are they doing here?” asked Nokama.
“A better question is, what are we doing here?” said Onewa. “It took three squads of Vahki Zadakh to stop one Rahkshi that appeared in Po-Metru, and even then all they could do was drive the thing away.”
“Then we will have to do better,” said Nuju, blasting ice out of his crystal spikes. But his powers were not what they had been before the clash with the Morbuzakh, and the Rahkshi shrugged off the cold. The gold one hissed and unleashed a blizzard in the direction of the Toa.
Battered by wind and ice, the heroes fell back. Only Vakama saw the advantage they had gained – the intense cold was felling the fireflyers one by one. Angered, the orange Rahkshi was now advancing on the gold one.
Now the Toa were witness to a scene of complete chaos. The gold Rahkshi had summoned another storm and was hurling lightning bolt after lightning bolt at its insect-controlling cousin. What it did not realize was that a swarm of tiny devourers was pouring forth from every crack in the walls and floors. Devourers would consume any bit of inorganic protodermis they ran across. Rahkshi armor was definitely on their menu – and all of them were hungry.
“This would be really entertaining if we didn’t have to get past them to go on,” said Onewa. “Whenua, you’re the librarian, what do you know about these things?”
The Toa of Earth had by now shaken off the lightning strike and regained his feet. “Rahkshi are very territorial and quick to anger. If we make a move toward them, they’ll forget their own fight and turn on us again.”
“But this isn’t about us, is it?” said Nokama. “They have claimed this portion of tunnel as their own and they are defending it.”
“Then that is the answer,” said Nuju. “We make it not worth the effort to defend. Vakama, Whenua, I will need your help.”
Nuju outlined his plan in as few words as possible. The Rahkshi’s clash was becoming even wilder, threatening to bring the tunnel down around them. When the Toa of Ice nodded his head, Vakama placed his palms on the floor and sent waves of scorching heat through the stone. Meanwhile, Nuju used the remains of his elemental power to create icicles on the roof of the tunnel.
Just as the Rahkshi took notice of the heat underfoot, Whenua went to work with his earthshock drills. Driving them into the ground, he formed a crevasse that ran straight toward the Rahkshi. Both of the creatures had figured out the Toa were somehow responsible for the sudden change in conditions, and they were not happy about it.
Nuju’s plan had worked halfway. The Rahkshi were definitely uncomfortable, but not rattled enough to flee from their chosen home. Vakama loaded a disk in his launcher and hurled it through the air at the gold Rahkshi. When it struck, the enlarging power invested in the disk caused the Rahkshi to shoot up rapidly, smashing its head into the ceiling and bringing icicles raining down.
The insect-controlling Rahkshi did not react as Vakama hoped. Instead of fleeing into the darkness of the tunnels, it charged forward toward the Toa. Nokama and Vakama reacted as one, he launching fire and she water at the oncoming creature. But when their energy streams collided, the result was a wall of steam. By the time the cloud cleared away, the Rahkshi was nowhere to be seen.
“Somehow I don’t think a steam bath frightened it away,” said Nuju. “It will be back.”
“Mata Nui! Why don’t you watch what you’re doing?” Nokama snapped at the Toa of Fire. “I might have stopped it if you hadn’t gotten in the way.”
“I got in the way? That wasn’t how it looked from here.”
Nokama was about to say something else when she changed her mind. Arguing wasn’t going to make anything better. “I’m sorry, Vakama. Neither of us was at fault. But this is exactly why I have been saying we need leadership. We cannot keep blundering through challenges without any strategy.”
“Here’s a strategy,” said Onewa. “Let’s stop talking and start moving, before we get any more surprises.”
The Toa Metru resumed their journey into the tunnels. None of them noticed another pair of eyes watching them, eyes far more observant than any Rahkshi’s could be. They noted the way each Toa moved and fought, filing the information away for later use. Then the owner of those eyes slipped away into the darkness without making a sound.
The hunt had begun.