To Whenua, it didn’t seem like things could get any worse. He, Nuju, and Onewa had awakened in their cell, complete with thick rock walls and a solid metal door. Their Toa tools were now missing. Worse, not only were they trapped, but they were being tortured by each other’s company.
For the sixth time in the last two minutes, Whenua tried the door. It was still locked tight. “This is just great,” he growled. “Before, all I worried about was cataloging. Now I will go down in history as Metru Nui’s most wanted.”
Onewa studied the stone walls. His time as a carver had helped him master the art of finding weak points in rock. But this cell did not seem to have any. Whenua’s complaints only added to his frustration. “You? I’m the one suffering, locked up with a Ko-Matoran big brain and an Onu-Matoran stock clerk.”
Nuju simply stared at the floor. For one used to the unlimited view from atop a Knowledge Tower, being confined like this was… disturbing. “We will never escape,” he said. “Our freedom is gone. Our future is hopeless.”
“Toa, giving up hope?”
The words came from a darkened corner of the cell. All three Toa Metru started in surprise – they had never imagined someone else was in the cell with them. Now they could see a lone figure sitting in a meditative pose, head down. He wore a robe with an oversized hood that hid his mask. But the experience and wisdom evident in his voice told them this must be a Turaga. But who? And why was he here?
“Turaga? Forgive me, but I know you not,” said Nuju.
“Your concern should be with your own identity, not mine,” the Turaga said quietly. “Freedom and escape are different objectives, but both are easily realized.”
“With all respect, wise one,” replied Onewa, “you are stuck in here with us, so –”
“I have freedom even in here,” said the Turaga. “But for escape… Toa mask powers are needed.”
The Toa exchanged glances. Whatever hope they had felt on encountering the mysterious Turaga was fading fast. “I doubt we will ever be in touch with our mask powers,” said Nuju.
“Never doubt what you are capable of,” answered the Turaga. “The Great Spirit lives through all of us.”
Trapped in a cell with two Toa wannabes and a crazy Turaga, thought Onewa. Next time someone gives me a Toa stone, I think I will just use it as a doorstop.
The Vahki transport crawled through the Sculpture Fields of Po-Metru. Its final destination remained a mystery, but at this point the farther the Toa were from the Coliseum, the more comfortable they felt.
In the back of the transport, Vakama had succeeded in merging three of the six Great Disks. Using his firestaff, he had begun to shape the combined disks into the rough shape of a mask. Nokama watched him at work for a long time before saying, “Vakama, your destiny no longer lies in sculpting masks. You are a Toa.”
Vakama shrugged. “I don’t feel like a Toa.”
“You will. Have faith.”
As the Vahki transport went around a sharp curve, the three Toa Metru leaped out. They were well inside Po-Metru now and there was no point risking discovery by the Vahki at the wheel. They tumbled to safety and stayed low until the transport was out of sight. Then Nokama rose and looked around.
“An assemblers’ village,” she said, although it was obvious to all where they were. The village consisted of a broad avenue and a series of buildings. Scattered about were machines, furniture and statues, all of them half-finished. That was normal for such a place, but something else set the Toa on edge.
The village was abandoned. Doors banged open and closed in the wind. Tools lay where they had been dropped. Vakama’s eyes narrowed as he noticed a stack of silver spheres near one of the buildings.
This place feels wrong-bad, thought Matau. “Hello?” he shouted.
No one answered.
Puzzled, he turned to Nokama and said, “Guess they all quick-sped.”
“Builders do not abandon their projects without good reason,” said the Toa of Water.
“Then where is everyone?” asked Vakama.
Krekka burst out of one of the buildings, launching energy bolts at the Toa Metru. “Get ready to find out, Toa!” he bellowed.
Nokama whirled, spinning her hydro blades fast enough to deflect the bolts. Then all three Toa dove for cover behind one of the buildings. But they had hardly hit the ground before Matau was ready to charge back out again.
“A Toa-hero knows no fear!” he said as he raced into the street. Krekka’s next blast missed him, and the Toa of Air crowed, “You’ll have to do better than that!”
Nidhiki accepted the challenge. Stepping out from behind a building, he hurled an energy web at the Toa. Entangled, Matau hit the ground.
“Help! There’s a Toa down!” he yelled, struggling to get free.
Hearing his cry, Vakama and Nokama began to circle around the buildings to come to his aid. Meanwhile, Nidhiki and Krekka had both closed in on the captured Toa.
“Calling all Toa!” Krekka shouted. “Your time is up!”
A rapidly growing rumble drowned out anything else he said. The ground beneath their feet began to shake violently. “Bioquake?” suggested Vakama.
Now a cloud of dust had appeared on the far edge of the village, closing in on the Toa and Dark Hunters. From out of that cloud emerged a herd of fearsome beasts. Large bipeds, their powerful hind legs propelled them forward in huge leaps and bounds. Twin tusks on their lower jaws made the herd look like a spiked wall on the march. Their eyes burned red and deep roars came from their mouths as they stormed through the village.
“Worse!” said Nokama. “Kikanalo!”
The eyes of the Dark Hunters went wide as they saw the herd bearing down upon them. Kikanalo were known for their stampedes, but were tolerated because their tusks often dug up chunks of protodermis left over from carving projects. Right now, though, their efficiency as recyclers was the last thing on anyone’s mind.
“I hate those things!” said Krekka. His massive form moved amazingly fast as he scrambled to the top of a nearby tower. “I’m outta here.”
“No!” yelled Nidhiki. “Stay low!”
But Krekka wasn’t listening, and Nidhiki had no more time to worry about him. He dove into a construction trench as the herd thundered closer.
Matau struggled to his feet just as the Kikanalo entered the village. The force of their footfalls sent him flying through the air, to land with a crash near Vakama and Nokama. They darted out and dragged their dazed comrade into a small building.
Now the Kikanalo had made it as far as Krekka’s tower. Almost casually, a few of the beasts rammed the tower with their tusks, sending it toppling over. Nidhiki looked up in time to see his partner and the structure falling right toward him.
“Next time, listen to me,” he muttered.
Nokama saw Krekka land on top of Nidhiki in the ditch. Using her hydro blades, she cut loose a stack of the strange silver spheres and sent them rolling toward the ditch. Then she ducked back inside as the spheres crashed into the Dark Hunters.
Matau and Vakama watched the Kikanalo trampling and smashing assemblers’ huts to bits. “We should quick-flee,” said the Toa of Air.
“Nonsense,” Nokama replied. “This is the sturdiest structure in the village.”
“Nokama –” Vakama began.
The Toa of Water cut him off. “We’re staying –”
Suddenly, three Kikanalo crashed through the ceiling of the building. Finding themselves closed in, the beasts panicked and began leaping wildly about, slamming into the Toa again and again. In desperation, Matau grabbed Nokama and Vakama and hurled them out the window before following himself.
He had acted just in time. Behind them, the building exploded as the angry Kikanalo kicked it to pieces. Once free, they leaped away to join the herd.
Nokama looked at Matau. “I was wrong. You were right, my brother.”
“It’s amazing what you can learn when you’re not always speak-teaching,” Matau replied.
The approach of more Kikanalo ended the argument as the Toa fled. They were barely staying ahead of the beasts, whose tusks swiped dangerously close to the three heroes. The lead beast was an aged Kikanalo, his hide covered with strange markings and old scars. He gave an impatient snort as he tried to catch up to the Toa Metru.
“What did you say?” Nokama asked Matau.
“I didn’t –”
Matau stopped in midsentence. Nokama’s mask had become illuminated, but the Toa of Water did not seem to notice. “Why is the mask glowing?” he asked.
Then Nokama did the most amazing, shocking thing Matau could ever imagine, under the circumstances: she stopped running. She simply stopped, with a Kikanalo stampede practically on top of her.
“Nokama?” Vakama shouted.
But she was paying no attention to him. She turned to face the onrushing beasts as if they were nothing to fear. Vakama and Matau both winced, sure the herd was about to trample their fellow Toa. The lead Kikanalo gave out an angry snort as it closed in on Nokama.
The Toa of Water responded with a similar sound. The lead Kikanalo, looking stunned, stopped with his tusks mere inches from her mask. The other beasts stopped as well, not in a pileup but like a well-drilled Vahki squad.
The elder Kikanalo’s scars began to glow. He snorted aggressively at the Toa who stood before him. Nokama stared into his eyes as a new world opened up for her.
Turning back to the Toa, she said excitedly, “Brothers – my mask power! The chief wants to know why we are allied with Dark Hunters.”
Vakama could not believe what he was hearing. Could Nokama really understand what these creatures were saying? Or had his visions finally driven sanity from him? No, this seemed real. Certainly his body ached enough from being thrown out a window onto the street.
“Tell him we’re not,” he said to Nokama. “We seek a friend the Hunters have taken.”
Nokama turned her attention back to the Kikanalo chief and gave a series of animalistic grunts and snorts. The elder beast responded in kind, his body language relaxing.
“You are free to pass,” Nokama translated, “since we are both against the Hunters who trespass the beauty of the Herdlands…”
“Beauty? Where?” Matau asked Vakama. “And who knew Kikanalo could think-talk? I just thought they were dumb beasts.”
The elder Kikanalo grunted. Nokama chuckled as she reported, “Kikanalo still think the same of tall green Matoran.”
“Tall Matoran?” said Matau, shocked. “I am Toa!”
“Wait,” broke in Vakama, with barely contained excitement. “Tall Matoran? Ask him if the Dark Hunters trespassed with a ‘tall Matoran.’”
Nokama nodded and translated Vakama’s question into the language of the Kikanalo. The Rahi beast responded with a snort.
“Yes,” Nokama said. “They take many things to the ‘place of unending whispers.’“
“That must be where they have taken Toa Lhikan!” said Vakama.
The elder Kikanalo grunted, as if in agreement. “They will show us the way,” Nokama translated.
The three Toa rode across the plains of Po-Metru on Kikanalo. Behind them, the rest of the herd followed close behind. For the first time, Vakama felt some hope. If they could find Lhikan, rescue him, surely Dume could be stopped. The Toa of Fire had no idea what the Turaga’s plans were, or why he had turned against the city, but he had no doubt Lhikan could make things right.
Matau smiled. This was the sort of adventure he had always dreamed of during the long days riding Ussal crabs through Le-Metru. New places, new excitement, a quest to save a captured hero – this was what being a Toa-hero was all about! Laughing, he stood up on the back of the Kikanalo and started spinning around.
“Only a great Toa-rider could tame a wild Kikanalo-beast!” he proclaimed.
The Rahi’s response was to stop and buck, tossing the Toa of Air onto the ground. Matau landed with a hard thud.
“It seems a ‘great Toa-rider’ has been tamed,” said Nokama. She and Vakama both smiled at the sight of Matau sprawled on the plain.
It would be the last time either one would smile for a long while.