They had not been traveling for very long before most of the Toa Metru lost all track of where they were or how to get back. No one had thought to mark a trail as they proceeded through the tunnels. For his part, Whenua moved through the maze with complete confidence, never hesitating at any of the intersections.
So far, the journey had been without incident. The few small Rahi they had encountered ran from them. At one point, Vakama thought he spotted the gold Rahkshi, but it disappeared into the shadows before he could get a good look.
“Elementary translation,” Nokama said softly.
Nuju turned to her. “What?”
“Elementary translation. That’s what I would have been teaching today… if I had not become a Toa Metru.”
“Do you regret the change?” asked the Toa of Ice.
Nokama shrugged. “No. No, of course not. We are heroes, aren’t we? We can do things no one else can. But… when was the last time you saw a Toa playing a sport? Or jumping into chutes for the fun of it? Or doing any of the things Matoran do every day?”
Silence was Nuju’s answer. His memory of Toa Lhikan was of a larger than life figure, defending the city against any threat and then returning, exhausted, to wait for the next call to action. He never seemed to have time for fun or friendship.
“I am not complaining about all we have gained,” Nokama continued. “Just missing all we may have lost.”
“Perhaps it is up to us to be a different kind of Toa Metru,” said Nuju. “And to make sure that any Toa who follow us learn these lessons as well.”
Whenua held up a hand. “Stop. Look ahead.”
The floor of the tunnel before them had collapsed, evidently long ago. A flimsy bridge made from Le-Metru cable had been constructed over the chasm. It was the right width and strength for a party of Matoran crossing, but looked far too weak to support six Toa Metru.
“Is there another way across?” asked Nokama.
Whenua shook his head.
“Then we go this way, earth-digger,” said Onewa. “One at a time.”
The bridge consisted of a single cable, attached to two others higher up that served as handrails. Whenua stepped carefully onto the cable and began to quickly make his way across. When he was halfway across the span, the darkness below the bridge began to move.
“Mata Nui protect us… what is that?” said Nokama.
Nuju peered over the edge. “Stone rats. Thousands of them.”
“Hundreds of thousands,” said Vakama. “Their warrens must have been disturbed when the tunnel collapsed.”
“Dangerous?” asked Matau.
“You wouldn’t want one for a pet,” Onewa replied. “Their teeth are made for eating through solid rock. Put an Ussal cart or a chute, or even a Knowledge Tower, between them and dinner and they’ll eat that, too.”
Whenua kept moving as if he hadn’t even noticed the creatures below. He reached the other side and beckoned the others to follow. Nokama took a step onto the bridge and paused, seeing the thousands of red eyes down below and hearing the chittering of hungry stone rats.
“How come the Chronicles never talk about things like this?” she said.
“Probably because the Chronicler ran away,” Onewa chuckled. “Only Toa are brave enough for this kind of work.”
“Brave enough, or foolish enough?”
“Brave, if we make it across,” the Toa of Stone answered. “Foolish, if we don’t.”
Nokama closed her eyes and focused all her concentration within. Ga-Metru Matoran were trained in both mental and physical disciplines, for the two went hand in hand. She struggled to remember all that she had learned about maintaining perfect balance. When she finally felt ready, the Toa of Water opened her eyes and started across the bridge.
As she walked, slowly and steadily, nothing existed for her except the cable beneath her feet. There were no rats below, no Toa behind, no sights or sounds that were not directly related to her task. She was not even aware that she had made it to the other side until Whenua grabbed her hand to steady her for the last few steps.
“Well, if she can do it…” said Matau. Then he sprang into the air, flipped over, and grabbed both hand cables. As the other Toa watched in shock, he proceeded to cross the bridge by walking on his hands. “This is the way a Toa-hero does it!”
“That’s the way an Ussal driver who’s gone round one chute too many does it,” muttered Onewa. “Vakama, you’re next.”
If the Toa of Fire was fearful, he didn’t show it. Disk launcher at the ready, he walked as swiftly as he could across the cable. He had almost reached the end when he heard Nokama shout his name.
Vakama whirled to see a ghostly figure rising from out the sea of stone rats. At first its identity wasn’t clear. But as it passed through the bridge to hover in the air, he could see it was a Rahkshi with a black head and spine, and dark green claws and feet. Vakama launched a disk at the floating creature, only to see it pass right through the target.
“Nothing to fear-worry about,” said Matau. “If you can’t touch it, then it can’t touch you, right?”
The Rahkshi screeched in answer. Then before the Toa’s startled eyes, it went from ghostly to solid and plunged down. The creature struck the bridge, tearing one end loose. Vakama grabbed the cable and hung on as he slammed into the rock wall.
Down below, the stone rats scrambled in anticipation of the Rahkshi falling toward them. At the last moment, the creature’s density changed once more and it floated upward again. Frustrated, a few of the stone rats turned to the end of the cable bridge now resting in their midst. Cautiously at first, they began to climb the cable. Seeing their success, more began to follow, crawling toward Vakama.
The Toa of Fire climbed hand over hand toward the ledge. Nokama held out her hydro blade for him to grab on to. “Hurry! They’re coming!”
Vakama looked down. The stone rats were now racing up the cable. In moments, they would be upon him and then up onto the ledge where Nokama, Matau, and Whenua stood. He could tell he would not make it all the way up in time. There was only one thing left to do.
Grabbing a disk, Vakama slammed it into the cable. The weakness power in the Kanoka disk combined with the sharp edge of the disk itself to sever the line. Toa of Fire, bridge, and stone rats fell together toward the chasm far below.
“Vakama!” Nokama screamed.
Onewa and Nuju watched helplessly as their friend plummeted down. “Ice?”
“I tried,” said Nuju. “My elemental powers are exhausted!”
Matau pushed past Nokama. “Not losing a Toa-friend today!” Before she could stop him, he dove off the ledge.
Vakama saw the Toa of Air plunging toward him. Matau was shouting, “Slow yourself! Flip over, Vakama!”
The Toa of Fire had no idea what Matau was planning, but he wasn’t going to argue. Letting go of the cable, Vakama executed a series of midair flips to slow his fall. As he completed the third one, he felt Matau grab his wrists.
“Now we go high-flying!” shouted Matau.
A sudden gust of wind lifted both Toa toward the ceiling. Vakama glanced below to see the cable bridge disappearing beneath the swarm of stone rats.
“Beats ground-walking now, doesn’t it?” laughed Matau.
“Sure. Unless you fly right into a Rahkshi. Watch out!”
Matau turned to see the Rahkshi hovering right in his path. Unable to shift the winds in time to change their course, he and Vakama plunged right through the misty substance of the creature. Then the Rahkshi suddenly solidified and grabbed on to Vakama’s leg. Toa Metru and Rahkshi dropped like a stone.
“Matau! We need a stronger wind!” shouted Vakama.
“Or one less wind-rider!” snapped Matau.
The Toa of Fire tried to shake off the Rahkshi, but the creature wasn’t letting go. He mustered the strongest flame he could, but the Rahkshi simply turned insubstantial and let the fire go right through it before resuming its grip on Vakama.
“It’s not letting go!”
“It will, Toa-brother,” replied Matau. “I don’t think it will like where we’re going!”
The Toa of Air summoned all his strength and channeled it into a powerful wind that flung the three of them on a collision course with the rock wall. Vakama glanced up to see complete determination in Matau’s eyes. He never wavered as he steered them directly toward a final crash.
Great, thought Vakama. Never thought my last moments would be spent with a deranged Toa who thinks he’s a Gukko bird.
The Toa of Fire was tempted to close his eyes as the wall grew closer and closer. But he did not. Toa Lhikan would have met his end with eyes open and head held high, and Vakama would not shame that tradition by showing fear.
An instant before a certain, shattering impact, Matau suddenly swerved upward, taking Vakama with him. The Rahkshi was whipped hard toward the wall and instinctively turned intangible to avoid the crash. Its hands slipped right through Vakama’s ankle and it sailed off, passing through the rock and disappearing into the wall.
Matau winced at the sight. “Hope that Rahkshi doesn’t think to go solid while it’s in there.”
Suddenly, the Toa dropped, rose, and then dropped again. “What’s going on?” asked Vakama.
“My power is fading!” answered Matau. “The winds won’t close-listen anymore!”
The Toa of Air fought to stay aloft. More than once, it looked as if they were going to become much better acquainted with the stone rats than either Toa wanted to. Finally, Matau managed to steer them above the ledge where Nokama and Whenua waited. That was when his power at last gave out completely, sending them both toward the stone floor.
Nokama moved quickly to catch Vakama. But Matau fell hard right in front of Whenua, who did not act in time to prevent it. “Thanks for the quick-save,” the Toa of Air grumbled. “Next time, you can rescue the fire-spitter and I will stay safe on the ledge.”
“What you did was very brave,” Nokama said to Matau. “But you shouldn’t have had to do it.” She turned to Vakama. “We could have handled the stone rats, if it came to that, Vakama. You didn’t have to sacrifice yourself.”
There was no anger in her words, but they stung just the same. Worse, Vakama knew she was right. They were all Toa Metru now. By acting like he had to protect the others, he had only succeeded in placing his and Matau’s lives at risk.
Will I ever be done learning how to be a Toa? he wondered. The lessons keep getting harder. Fail one and you may not get a chance to try another.
“I wish I could say all is well, but we still have a problem,” said Nokama, gesturing across the chasm. “Make that three. Two Toa Metru on the other side, and no bridge. So… whose turn is it to come up with the great idea?”
Watching from the other side, Onewa shook his head. “If we wait for that group to save us, we will end up Rahi bones here. What do you say we take a leap into the future, Nuju?”
Before the Toa of Ice could respond, Onewa had grabbed him by the arm and jumped off the ledge. His powerful legs propelled them well out over the chasm, but nowhere near far enough to reach the other Toa. It looked as if the stone rats were about to receive two unexpected gifts.
Onewa did not look at all worried. As the two Toa reached the apex of their leap, he used his Toa power on the ground far below. An instant later, a pillar of stone shot up midway across the span and directly in the path of the Toa of Stone.
Casting one of his proto pitons ahead of him, Onewa caught the pillar with it and swung to relative safety, Nuju in tow. The Toa of Ice looked at him and said coldly, “Don’t… ever… do… that… again.”
“Relax, scholar,” replied Onewa. “You’ll get used to it.”
With a yell, Onewa launched the two of them into the air again. The other Toa Metru scattered just in time as they landed on the ledge, Onewa tucking and rolling to minimize the impact and Nuju crashing hard into the rock.
The Toa of Stone was the first to reach his feet, in time to see Nuju rise and charge toward him. Vakama moved quickly to keep the two apart. “If my powers were at their peak, hammer-swinger, no one would be hearing from you until the thaw,” growled Nuju.
“Big talk from a stargazer,” snapped Onewa. “Try doing real work sometime.”
“Hold it!” said Vakama. “Both of you. We have done enough fighting among ourselves.”
“This is no way for Toa Metru to behave,” said Nokama. “What would Turaga Dume say if he saw this?”
“Turaga Dume will never get the chance to anger-speak or anything else to us if we don’t get moving,” said Matau. “Save the shout-loud for when we are out of this place.”
“Yes, let us keep going. We are almost at the end,” said Whenua, frowning. Without waiting for an answer from his friends, he turned and started walking farther into the tunnels.
Matau watched him go and shook his head. “If he gets any more dark and grim, I will call him Toa of Mud.”
Nokama said nothing. But her eyes never left Whenua as the team resumed its journey.