She found Vakama, Matau, and Onewa fairly easily. All three were unconscious but unharmed, tucked away in alcoves until the Rahkshi decided just what to do with them. Nuju was more of a problem. The Toa of Ice was surrounded by some kind of energy field that could not be pierced. His heartlight flashed and his eyes were open, but he seemed unaware of what was going on.
“You know, I think I like him better this way,” Onewa commented.
“Yes, but do you want to lift-carry him everywhere?” asked Matau. “I don’t.”
Vakama tried again to reach inside the field. This time, the resulting jolt was so violent he dropped his disk launcher. Onewa bent to pick it up.
“Here, fire-spitter. I know you would be lost without it,” the Toa of Stone said.
Matau smiled, but the expression quickly faded, replaced by a look of excitement. He rushed to where the other two Toa Metru were standing. “The launcher! That is the puzzle-answer!”
Onewa looked at Matau as if the Toa of Air had lost his mind, especially when he started sifting through Vakama’s disks searching for just the right one. Suddenly, he held one high and said, “Aha! Found it!”
Matau had grabbed a teleportation disk. The Toa of Fire was beginning to get an idea of what his friend had in mind, and decided Onewa was probably right: he was crazy.
“See? Nuju is inside the field, but not part of it. So if you quick-launch a teleportation disk at the field…”
“And if you’re wrong, we send Nuju to Mata Nui only knows where,” Onewa said. “It’s too dangerous.”
Vakama took the disk from Matau. “But we’re going to do it,” he said, loading it into the launcher “We have no choice. The only alternatives are leave him here, or hope to track down whatever did this to him and get them to undo it.”
“Easy for you to say, mask-maker,” grumbled Onewa. “You’re not the one stuck inside that thing.”
“If Matau’s plan fails, Nuju is no worse off than he is now,” Nokama interjected. “He is just no worse off someplace else.”
Vakama raised the launcher. “Stand aside, Onewa.”
“Listen, you can’t tell me –”
Nokama laid a hand on Onewa’s arm and gently guided him off to the side. “Please. Every moment we delay here could mean greater danger for Whenua.”
Vakama took a deep breath. Hitting the target would be easy, but there was no telling what effect the disk would have. If Nuju vanished along with the field, they might never see him again. But he always says we don’t worry enough about consequences anyway. Now we will see if he’s right, Vakama said to himself.
The disk flew from the launcher and struck the energy field. There was a bright flash, blinding for the Toa who had spent so much time in near darkness. Then Matau hurried forward to catch a collapsing Nuju.
“It worked!” the Toa of Air shouted. “Meet the wisest of all Toa-heroes!”
“Is Nuju all right?” asked Nokama. “Is he hurt?”
The Toa of Ice looked around at the other Toa Metru. Then he said, “Why are we standing around here? We need to find the Krahka so we can get out of this foul pit. Why any Matoran would want to spend time underground is beyond me.”
“He’s healthy-fine!” announced Matau.
Nokama led the way deeper into the tunnels. She was operating purely on instinct. There was no logical reason to believe Whenua was not somewhere back in the tunnel maze, unconscious or worse. But something told her the Krahka would not have left him there for the Toa to find.
If I’m right, by the time the Krahka encountered Whenua, she knew the true power of the Toa, Nokama told herself. And she knew the Rahkshi might not be able to defeat us. I think Whenua is her protection against us.
None of which made it any easier to guess which path the Krahka took. Faced with multiple choices, Nokama went with whichever tunnel was the narrowest and most treacherous. It only made sense, given that nothing else on this journey had been easy.
Eventually, one of the Toa had to ask the question. It was Onewa who finally spoke up. “Nokama, do you have any idea where we’re going?”
“No. I don’t know these tunnels, so I am guessing. I’m not Whenua.”
“That’s all right,” Matau said. “After all, it turned out Whenua wasn’t Whenua either.”
“Does anyone else feel warm?” Nuju asked.
Vakama reached up and touched one of the pipes that ran overhead. It was boiling hot. “We may be under Ta-Metru. That is molten protodermis in those pipes. So be careful – not even our Toa armor would protect us from the heat.”
“Is there anything else we need to worry about?” asked Onewa.
Vakama gestured at a half dozen long, black shapes uncoiling from the pipes. “Oh, just those.”
Nokama jumped back so fast she slammed into Matau behind her. “What… are those?”
One of the serpentlike creatures hit the ground. The stone sizzled and steamed underneath it. “We call them lava eels,” said Vakama. “Sometimes Matoran find small ones near the forges and bring them home. Then they get too big and destructive, so they get abandoned. Some lurk around the furnaces, some hide in the reclamation yards… and some wind up here.”
“How destructive is destructive?” asked Nuju.
Vakama bent down and tossed a handful of pebbles at one of the eels. No sooner had the small stones struck than they were reduced to ash.
“I would guess their owners don’t pet them very much,” said the Toa of Ice.
The lava eels drew closer and began to spread out. They left scorch marks everywhere they slithered. More eels appeared behind the Toa, apparently just as curious about their visitors. In a matter of moments, the heroes were surrounded.
“Is this bad?” asked Nokama. “If so, how bad?”
Vakama shook his head. “We are fine as long as we move slowly. Lava eels are not by nature hostile creatures. As long as nothing agitates them, we’ll be able to –”
The rest of the Toa of Fire’s sentence was cut off by a roar that shook the tunnel. It was impossible to tell just where it came from, but its effects were obvious. The eels began to hiss and squirm, their bodies heating up rapidly. Almost too late, Onewa saw what was about to happen.
All five Toa Metru leaped and grabbed on to the pipes as the tunnel floor dropped away beneath them. Some weren’t so sure they had gained anything with the move, since the searing heat of the pipes made it nearly impossible to hang on.
“They melted right through the stone!” Onewa said, looking down into the dark pit that yawned below his feet. “Whatever made that roar scared them.”
The roar came again, so loud it rattled the pipes and sent the eels slithering for cover. Now the Toa could see it came from a huge, dark shape that was pacing at the bottom of the pit. “I think we just seek-found ‘whatever’ – any idea what that is?” asked Matau.
“I didn’t think anything lived beneath the maintenance tunnels,” Nokama said.
The shadowy beast gave out another roar. “Maybe we just found the reason why that’s so,” Onewa replied. “Unless we want to get a closer look at our friend, we better move.”
One by one, the Toa began to swing back and forth on the pipes. Every move was agonizing as they clung to the boiling pipes. When they had built up enough momentum in their swings, they let go and sailed over the pit and onto the stone floor beyond. Their landings were neither soft nor gentle, but what mattered was being far from protodermis pipes and massive, angry Rahi.
“Is everyone all right?” asked Vakama.
“Battered. Burned. Bruised,” reported Matau, smiling. “So what’s our next Toa-hero deed?”
“Sometimes I think you like this job a little too much,” grumbled Onewa.
Matau laughed. “We quick-save Matoran. We defeat evil. We get to explore ever-strange places like this. A little discomfort is not so very bad compared to that.”
Nokama smiled and shook her head. There were times it seemed that Matau might not be the brightest lightstone in the tunnel, and then he would come out and say just the right thing. He was correct, of course. For all the trouble and the danger, they were all having adventures they would never forget.
Someday, we will look back on these times with wonder, she thought. We will share our tales, and all of Metru Nui will be amazed at what once went on here. I wonder how they will look at us? Will they even remember the Toa Metru?
Vakama’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “Nokama, we have to keep moving. Whenua is depending on us.”
Yes, thought Nokama as she rose. Time to write another tale of the Toa.
Nuju volunteered to scout ahead. Nokama and Matau felt it better if all the Toa Metru stayed together, but he needed time to himself. There had been few spare moments to contemplate all the recent changes. The realization that he would no longer be a Ko-Metru seer, but instead the guardian of the entire metru, was… disturbing. Somehow, he had thought that once the Morbuzakh was defeated, he and the others would become Matoran again.
Now, of course, he could see that was not so. Toa were Toa as long as they needed to be to fulfill their destiny. He wondered if he would ever get the chance for quiet study again, or if his life would now be nothing but twisted plants, giant Rahi, and rescuing Whenua.
He slowed his pace as he neared a bend in the tunnel. Light was spilling out from somewhere up ahead, in a place where no light should be. He edged closer to the corner and stole a look ahead.
The chamber beyond was large and dominated by a huge pit in the center filled with bubbling, molten protodermis. No one seemed to be in the cave, other than the occasional Rahkshi that would wander through and then leave in a hurry. Nuju guessed there must be a rear exit, probably another tunnel.
He waited until the cave was completely empty before sneaking closer. From the cave mouth, it did not look any different. Lightstones were mounted around the chamber, but there did not seem to be any other signs of habitation. Maybe something lived here, and left, he thought.
“Nuju! Up here!”
Startled, the Toa of Ice looked up. There was Whenua, pasted to the ceiling above the pit by some sort of webbing. He was bound so tightly that only his head could move. “Is it really you?” he asked.
“Of course it’s –” Nuju began sharply. Then he remembered what it was the Toa Metru were challenging. When he spoke again, his tone was more gentle. “Yes, Whenua, it’s really me. The others are not far behind. Are you all right?”
“I have been hanging here trying to remember if a Toa ever met his end by being baked while stuck to a ceiling,” Whenua replied. “I can’t think of one. As an archivist, I am excited about discovering a first. As a Toa Metru, I am not looking forward to being remembered in the Chronicles for this.”
“You won’t be. We’ll find some way to get you down from there. But what happened to you?”
“The Krahka, posing as Onewa, took me by surprise,” said Whenua. “When I woke up, she had turned into something else – something awful – and I was bound like this. Where did you say the others were?”
“We are here,” Nokama said, surveying the scene from the cave mouth. “We have little time. Nuju, guard the other exit.”
The Toa of Ice turned to do as Nokama had asked. Too late, Whenua shouted a warning. Too late, Nuju turned to see that “Nokama” was now “Onewa” and stone was erupting from the cave floor to envelop him. In an instant Nuju was trapped in a cocoon of rock.
“You Toa are so trusting,” the Krahka hissed. “One day, it will be the death of you.”