The Toa Metru found themselves dumped on a cold stone floor like so many broken masks. They looked around to see they were in the same chamber where Whenua and now Nuju were held. The creature of smoke had disappeared, to be replaced by the form of Nokama.
“I do not like these bodies,” the Krahka said. “But Rahkshi do not have the ability to speak your language. And I think it only right that you should know your fate.”
“Why must we be enemies?” asked Vakama. “We came down here only to –”
“You came down to invade my home!” snapped the Krahka. “Just like all the other top-dwellers, with your drills, and your scraping tools, and your fires. Now I know that as long as there are dwellers up above, there will be no peace here.”
The Nokama/Krahka’s right arm suddenly shifted into a long, leather-scaled limb with nasty claws. “Have you ever seen the creature this belongs to? No, of course not. This Rahi produces a living crystal to weave its nest, a crystal that regenerates when damaged. In a few moments, I will use that crystal to seal off the exits to this chamber.”
Then, still in Nokama’s gentle voice, the Krahka added, “You six will remain here forever.”
“There’s an entire city up there,” said Onewa. “Thousands of Matoran. Six Toa more or less won’t stop them from coming down to these tunnels.”
“But I want them to come,” the Krahka hissed. “I want them all to come. Oh, at first I thought I could use your forms to keep them away, but now I realize that’s a foolish idea. Better to lure them all down below the surface… and imprison them here… then make the land above my new home.”
The Krahka’s body began to shift into the form of a massive, hideous Rahi. As her head changed from Nokama’s to the creature’s, she said, “You cannot stop me. I have all your powers, all your skills. Accept your defeat, Toa Metru.”
Fully transformed, the Krahka slithered away to begin sealing the first exit. Nokama turned to Onewa and whispered, “She may be right. She possesses our powers at full strength, while our energies are low.”
“I might have an idea, but it needs all six of us to make it work,” said the Toa of Stone. “I can free Nuju, given time, but what about Whenua?”
Matau pointed up to where the Toa of Earth was trapped. “I think he is quick-solving the problem for us. Look.”
High above, Whenua had been working on his bonds tirelessly. The combination of his efforts and the intense heat from the protodermis pool down below had weakened the strands until they began to detach from the ceiling. Soon, they would be unable to support his weight. Of course, the bad news was that freedom would send him plummeting into molten protodermis.
“Any disks left?” Onewa asked Vakama.
“One. Not sure what good it will do against a shapeshifter, though.”
“When Whenua falls, launch it. Matau?”
The Toa of Air had already readied his tools. At his mental signal, they would carry him into the air. He gestured up, across, and down to tell Onewa his plan.
“Can your hydro blades crack rock?” Vakama asked Nokama.
“Just watch them. Get ready.”
Whenua had loosed his restraints enough to brace his feet against the ceiling. Now he gave one final shove and tore his bonds loose. The instant he saw the Toa of Earth begin to fall, Matau rocketed into the air.
Vakama loaded and launched in one smooth motion. The disk struck the Krahka and unleashed its power to reconstitute at random. The Rahi bellowed with rage as her body went through multiple changes at once, arms and legs shifting rapidly from one form to another.
Onewa and Nokama moved so fast it almost looked as if they had been hurled from a launcher as well. They vaulted over the protodermis pool and struck Nuju’s stone prison as one. Onewa’s knowledge of stone served him well, as his proto pitons found just the right weak point to hit. The rock cracked down the middle and fell apart, freeing the Toa of Ice.
Up above, Matau caught Whenua before he had fallen too far. Rather than fight to stay aloft carrying the extra weight, the Toa of Air went into a power dive, heading right for the Krahka. But the Rahi spotted the danger and used Vakama’s powers to throw up a wall of flame in their path.
The Toa of Fire had no time to think, only to act. He flung out his arms and strained to absorb the fire into him. If he failed, Whenua and Matau were doomed.
Nokama, Onewa, and Nuju watched from the other side of the chamber, knowing they were helpless to aid him. Matau and Whenua were only seconds from plunging into the flames.
Where Vakama found the strength of will, he would never know. But suddenly the flames began to whirl like a cyclone and shot across the room into the Toa of Fire. Glowing with power, he unleashed them again at the wall behind the Krahka, blasting it into rubble.
“Try sealing that up,” he shouted.
Rattled by the explosion, the Krahka could not get out of the way of the diving Toa. But she transformed by reflex into a gelatinous creature, and Whenua and Matau shot right through her and landed hard on the floor. The Krahka shifted again, this time into a purple Rahkshi, then let out a scream.
The force of the yell knocked the Toa off their feet. Vakama, drained from his efforts against the wall of flame, flew halfway across the chamber. Matau and Whenua tried to rise, but a second scream slammed them into the wall.
The Krahka’s form changed once more, this time into the shape of Vakama. But she was clearly beginning to tire. “You… have no idea… what you are dealing with,” she said. “There are things down here… things I have seen… that dwarf your power. If I become one, I could down you all with one blow and then crush your city.”
Vakama saw the Rahi wearing his form and heard the words coming out of “his” mouth. His rage overcame his weakness. He rose and began striding across the chamber toward the Krahka. “Then do it!” he shouted. “Show us your power, if you can!”
Nokama started forward. “Vakama –”
Nuju blocked her path. “No, let him speak. While her attention is on him, we can help Matau and Whenua. Then the Toa Metru will stand united.”
“And we know how much you like that,” Onewa said, smiling at Nuju.
“It has its place,” was all the Toa of Ice said.
Vakama had not slowed in his march toward the Rahi. The Krahka took a step backward, saying, “You think you can stand against my power? You are a fool, Toa of Fire!”
“And you are a thief!” snapped Vakama. “Not a conqueror – just a pathetic creature who survives by stealing the might of others, because she has none of her own. Maybe you started out wanting only to protect your home, Krahka, but it has made you into a monster.”
The other Toa had thought Vakama was only trying to distract the Rahi. But as they moved to surround her, they saw he had not even noticed them. His attention and anger were focused on her, and hers on him.
The Krahka shouted something in a language none had ever heard and launched beams of fire and ice at Vakama. Amazingly, he did not even try to dodge. It was as if the emotions inside him were acting as a shield against her powers.
“You may defeat us all,” he said. “You may defeat every Matoran and every Vahki in all of Metru Nui. But you will not do it looking like a Toa. You will not shame what a Toa stands for, or one who has fallen to protect our city. That I swear!”
The Krahka looked around, finally noticing that the other five Toa were closing in. But she showed no fear or hesitation. Instead, she laughed and said, “Not as a Toa? Very well, then –”
Now began the most amazing transformation of all. Before the horrified eyes of the Toa Metru, the Krahka grew and changed into a walking nightmare. No longer was she Vakama, or any single Toa. Now she towered above them as a frightening combination of all six.
A fearsome face smiled down at them. Six arms slowly waved in the air as she grew accustomed to her new form. “Do you like this better, little ones?” she said, her voice the mingled tones of all the Toa Metru.
“There’s an exhibit for the Archives, librarian,” said Onewa.
“I don’t think she will fit,” Whenua replied. “Outside of running away, anyone have any good ideas?”
“Spread out,” said Vakama. “Let’s not make it easy for her.”
“Are we escaping?” asked Whenua.
“No,” answered Nuju as he readied his crystal spikes. “We are ending this.”
“Ah,” said Matau, aero slicers in his hands. “Well, I had no thought-plans for today, anyway.”
The Krahka watched with amusement as the Toa Metru took up positions around her. Every move she made in her new combined form filled the Toa with revulsion. But it was Nokama who first took a step forward.
“Beware, Toa of Water,” rumbled the Krahka. “Even you cannot withstand Vakama’s flames.”
“No, I can’t,” Nokama agreed. “Can you? You have gone too far, Krahka. I think you know it, too. If you have our power, don’t you have our wisdom as well? Does this have to end in battle?”
“Yes! You must fall! The mask-makers must be driven from the Sculpture Fields. The knowledge crystals must not fly through the chutes. And… and the exhibits… they must be purified… and stored… so that the canals can flow…”
The Krahka swayed, as the images and knowledge derived from six minds flooded her own. For a moment, it seemed as if would be too much, and Nokama was certain victory was at hand. But the Krahka’s will was too strong. She steadied herself again.
“You would have lived out your lives here, safe from harm,” the Krahka said, raising all six of her arms. “But now…”
The Toa Metru knew what was coming. Their only hope was to move fast. Together, the heroes of Metru Nui charged.
Raw power surged from within the Krahka. Bolts of ice and fire, storms of earth and stone, whirlpools of water and air rained down on the Toa. They struggled to make headway against their own power, only to be driven back. With their full energies, they might have achieved a stalemate. Weakened as they were, it seemed they could not win.
Vakama, half frozen by Nuju’s power, glanced up at the Krahka. He expected to see a creature aglow with triumph as she drove the Toa down. But instead the Krahka looked as if she were about to collapse.
“Keep struggling!” he shouted to the other Toa. “Don’t give in!”
The Krahka unleashed more and more power. One by one, the Toa Metru fell before the onslaught, only to somehow find the strength to rise again. The Krahka’s fury grew greater every moment, but all her might could not make the Toa surrender.
Far below, the Toa struggled for their very lives. Nuju battled to make headway against raging winds; Nokama leaped and dodged white-hot fireballs; Matau batted stones away with his aero slicers; Vakama pressed on through a howling blizzard; Onewa fought to overcome tidal waves of earth as Whenua did the same with water.
The Toa of Water realized there was no way to overcome the Krahka with sheer might. The only hope for victory lay in striking out at the Rahi’s willpower and weaken her from within.
“I hope you win!” Nokama shouted at the Krahka. “It will be the fate you deserve!”
The Krahka’s attack did not slow, but she regarded the Toa with puzzlement.
Nuju guessed Nokama’s plan and decided it was a good one. “She’s right!” he shouted over the wind. “At least if we are trapped here, we will be together. You will be alone for eternity, Krahka.”
Nokama barely dodged the hottest fireball yet. “I’ve seen how the Rahkshi are around you. They fear you, just like everything else down here. They know you for a deceiver.”
“The Rahi will flee Metru Nui,” Onewa added. “You will be the absolute ruler of… nothing.”
The Krahka did not take this suggestion well. She began combining her powers in one blast, using earth and water to bury Onewa in a sea of mud. Nokama needed all her agility to avoid molten rock. Vakama faced a blizzard of snow, ice, and stone.
“We will build a new city-home down here,” said Matau. “But even in the suns’ light, monster, you will always be in night-dark!”
“You are trying to confuse me!” bellowed the Krahka. “It will not work!”
Whenua could see she was lying. Better still, she was expending huge amounts of power as she grew more agitated. Onewa had told him something of how the Krahka had used his form to fool the Toa, so Whenua decided it was time for payback.
Fighting the crushing might of the water, he bent down and activated his earthshock drills. Their sound could not be heard over the winds in the chamber. He swiftly dug a hole and dove into it, followed by the waters. If he was right, this maneuver would shake the Krahka up even more. If he was wrong, there would only be five Toa left to fight.
The massive Rahi noticed immediately that Whenua was gone. “Where? Where is the Toa of Earth?” she demanded, casting her eyes about frantically.
The stone floor behind the Krahka exploded. Whenua’s head emerged from the hole. “Surprise!” he yelled. “See what a real Toa of Earth can do, not some cheap imitation!”
Whenua vanished underground again. Enraged, the Krahka melted the stone around the hole, all the while continuing to fend off the other five Toa.
Down below, the Toa of Earth fought to hold his breath as his drills carved through the stone. If he was right the Krahka was just above him, and about to get a shock.
The Krahka felt the ground give way beneath her and struggled to keep her balance. She would not fall before these… these interlopers! She would crush them here and now, and then all top-dwellers, and she would rule above! But… who would she rule? Mindless Rahi? And what would she have them do?
No, it didn’t matter. They would obey her commands. And her first command would be to… to…
But what if they all fled at her approach? Then she would stop them. She would imprison them in the city, just like she had done the top-dwellers. She would cage everything that existed – only that way could she be sure of her own survival.
As her inner debate raged, the Toa were able to make progress against her weakening powers. Onewa could sense that the end was near, if only one more event would push her over the edge. He signaled for the Toa to move closer together and form a wedge, forcing the Krahka to focus maximum power on one spot.
Reacting to their maneuver, the Krahka pointed her six arms all in one direction and brought the power bursts near to each other. At the crucial moment, Whenua tore out of the ground behind her, his shout of rage breaking her concentration. The elemental energies she wielded merged together in that one instant into one awesome blast.
The Toa narrowly ducked the power beam. Only Vakama turned to see that where it struck a new substance had formed, one that looked like solid protodermis. How could that be? he wondered. Is that what would result if we combined our powers? Maybe –
“Vakama, watch out!” Nokama shouted.
Then, without warning, the power ceased to flow from the hands of the Krahka. The giant Rahi staggered and fell, slamming into the ground with such force that surely all of Metru Nui must have trembled. She lay still, her body slowly beginning another tranformation, but into what, none could tell.
Vakama approached the prone form. “She still lives. Trying to use all our powers at once overwhelmed her. It is over… for now.”
“Yes, for now,’’ said Nokama. “But what cage could hope to hold a creature that can transform at will?”
“The Onu-Matoran can put her in stasis,” offered Whenua. “She can be kept in the Archives until it is safe, someday, to release her.”
“And if there are more like her down here?” said Onewa.
“That is the Toa of Stone,” said Matau. “Always with the happy-cheer.”
“No!” groaned the Krahka. “No… I will not be… chained!”
The Toa whirled to see their opponent had shifted to the form of a lava eel once more. Only Vakama was close enough to stop her, but he did not move as she plunged into the pool of molten protodermis. The others ran to the edge of the pool, but there was no sign of her.
“Why didn’t you stop her?” demanded Onewa. “You just let her go!”
“She fought to protect her home. But too much power, fueled by too much anger, made her a menace,” Vakama said quietly. “Perhaps I saw a reflection of ourselves in her… of what we could become, if we are not very careful.”
Onewa threw up his hands. “Someday I will figure you out, fire-spitter. But not today, it seems.”
Nokama stared at the molten pool for a long time. Had Vakama done the right thing? The Krahka was no unthinking beast, but she did have a great deal to learn before she could live in peace with others. Still, could any being hope to master such lessons in a cage? The Toa of Water could not say for sure. But one question more haunted her… With its power to change shapes, if the Krahka did survive and someday returned… how would they know?