Nokama was growing concerned. Nuju had been gone for a long time, without so much as a word back to the others about what he had found. With the number of unexpected dangers down here, the Toa of Ice might be in just as much trouble as Whenua.
Then again, he may simply be happier on his own, she reminded herself. Ko-Matoran have never liked crowds.
Vakama saw Nokama’s demeanor and guessed what was bothering her. It was disturbing him, as well, but for different reasons. “Nuju?” he asked.
“Yes. We should never have let him go off alone. We should have insisted all of us stay together.”
“Do you think he would have listened if we had?” said Vakama. “Besides, he will be back. I know he will. And we have to be prepared.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Nokama.
“Get Onewa and Matau. We have a great deal to discuss, and not much time.”
As Vakama predicted, it did not take long for Nuju to reappear. “I thought you would have made more progress by now,” he said.
“We were waiting to hear from you,” Vakama replied. “What did you find?”
“Nothing but more and more tunnels. I thought I saw light at one point down a side branch, but then it disappeared. Probably just some glowing Rahi.”
“Probably. Well, we have decided to stop here for a while until help arrives.”
“Help?” asked Nuju. “What help? And where is Matau?”
Nokama shook her head. “We realized while you were gone that this place is simply too big for us to search. We will never find Whenua this way. So Matau volunteered to go back to the surface and bring back six squads of Vahki. They will take the tunnels apart, stone by stone. You know nothing can hide from them.”
“No, of course not,” Nuju said softly. “How long ago did he leave?”
“Not long,” said Onewa. “But he travels fast.”
Nuju turned and started to walk away. Vakama put a hand on his shoulder. “Where are you going?”
“Matau does not inspire a great deal of confidence,” the Toa of Ice replied. “The Vahki may not listen to him. I am going to join him, and together we will –”
“I’m not surprised,” said Nokama. “You are the one who is always talking about the virtues of teamwork, after all. How Toa Metru should always stay together and what folly it is for one to go off alone.”
“Exactly,” Nuju nodded. “I will be back once I have found Matau and we have completed our mission.”
This time, Vakama let Nuju go a few steps. Then Matau suddenly dropped from the ceiling, landing right on top of the stunned Toa of Ice. “No need to quick-hurry! I am here. And so are you, Krahka.”
Matau pinned the Krahka to the floor. She snarled and squirmed, but the Toa of Air’s grip would not be broken. Finally, the creature gave up the struggle and simply stared at her captors, with a mix of anger and respect in her eyes.
“Very clever,” the Krahka said. “Here I just finished telling someone you were too trusting.”
“There’s a difference between trusting and stupid,” replied Vakama. “We suspected you might try to deceive us again, so we set a trap of our own. And for your information, Nuju would rather shovel out Ussal crab stalls than take a long journey with Matau.”
The Toa of Air hauled the Krahka to her feet, saying, “That’s right. You underestimated how much Nuju cannot stand to be around…” His voice trailed off as he realized what he was saying.
“Now you are going to take us to Whenua and Nuju,” Onewa said to their captive. “No tricks. No transformations.”
The Krahka said nothing in response, but the mask she wore smiled. Then her entire body began to shimmer and fade, as the Toa for the first time watched her change forms. In an instant, “Nuju” was gone, replaced by a monstrous lava eel. Matau jumped back with a cry as the skin of the creature turned blazing hot.
Free now, the Krahka slithered rapidly into a tunnel, leaving behind a scorched and smoking trail.
“Mata Nui,” whispered Nokama. “How… how do we stop something that can do that?”
“I don’t know,” said Vakama. “But for the sake of Whenua and Nuju, we had better find a way.”
The four Toa Metru followed the trail of the Krahka/lava eel for a long distance, before it suddenly vanished. Evidently tired of that form, the Krahka had switched to another that left no trace.
“Now how do we find her?” asked Vakama, frustrated.
“Maybe by not seek-finding her,” said Matau. “Make sense?”
Onewa smiled. “Yes. It does. If we were to find an exit to the Archives –”
“She would have to do something to stop us,” Nokama concluded. “You saw how she reacted to the thought of Vahki down here. She can’t afford to let us escape. But how do we find a hatch in this maze?”
“We don’t,” said Onewa. “We make one. And we make lots of noise doing it.”
Finding a spot with a relatively low ceiling, the Toa set to work. Vakama used some of his fading power to soften the stone, and then the other three went to work with their tools. It was slow going and there was no way to know how many feet of rock they would have to go through to reach the Archives. But none of them expected they would be allowed to complete the job anyway.
Vakama was the first to notice something unusual. Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw a shadow move. He turned to get a better look. It wasn’t a shadow, but a long tendril of black smoke snaking into the tunnel. It was followed by another and another, until it looked like some dark, tentacled beast floating in the air.
“She’s here,” he said very quietly to the others. All of them kept working as if they had not noticed anything. It was a risky strategy. If the Krahka had come to defeat them once and for all, allowing her to strike first would be a colossal mistake. But if there was a possibility she would take them back to her lair, where Nuju and Whenua would be waiting, then it was a risk they had to take.
Moving with the speed of an angry swarm of Nui-Rama insects, the tendrils wrapped themselves around the Toa. Each was enveloped in black smoke, able to breathe but not to see, hear, or move Then came a sensation of weightlessness, as the Krahka lifted the Toa into the air and sent them floating through the tunnels.
If she could have, the Krahka would have smiled over the ease of her victory. But monsters made of smoke don’t have mouths to smile with, so her celebration would have to wait until she had changed forms once more. This thought did not bother her. After all, with the Toa Metru her helpless prisoners, she had all the time in the world.
Too bad the Toa cannot say the same, she said to herself.