Whenua had lived in dim light, sometimes almost complete darkness, for much of his life. Like any Onu-Matoran, over time his eyes had adjusted to the point where he could see in the semidark. Although much of Onu-Metru was on the surface, Onu-Matoran actually preferred to be in the underground levels of the Archives, because the brightness of the twin suns hurt their sensitive eyes.
Still, nothing had prepared him for the task at hand – trying to make his way around a small cell with a blindfold on. He kept bumping into walls and other Toa, and his temper was coming to a boil faster than protodermis in a Ta-Metru furnace.
The mysterious Turaga was not helping matters any. “Do not rely on your memory,” he said. “Look beyond your history and see what is.”
Look beyond history? Whenua had been an archivist – he lived for history! Telling an Onu-Matoran to forget about the past was like telling a Ko-Matoran to put away the telescope and lighten up.
“I’m not a Rahi bat!” snapped Whenua. “I can’t see in the dark.”
The Turaga quietly slid a stool into the path of the Toa of Earth. Whenua promptly tripped over it and hit the ground.
Onewa had been watching the whole exercise from his seat on the stone floor. Now he burst out laughing. “Soon you’ll be ready for a game of pin the tail on the ash bear, record-keeper.”
On the other side of the room, Nuju had spent the last hours transferring stones from one large pile to another. It was exhausting work, made all the more so by the fact that he could not see the point of it. How was hauling rocks going to make him a better Toa?
“I could toil at this task forever and still learn nothing for the future,” the Toa of Ice complained.
The Turaga shook his head. “You could learn that building the most noble tower begins with the placement of a single stone.”
Onewa chuckled. “Build a tower? A thinker would never lay hands on stone. They’re too busy with their heads in the stars.”
The Turaga turned to Onewa, smiling. “A Toa’s duty is to all Matoran, regardless of metru. So you shall help both your brothers.”
Onewa’s smile faded, replaced with a dark scowl. The Turaga extended his hands to the Toa of Stone. In one, he held a rock; in the other a blindfold.
Dawn was breaking over Po-Metru. As the twin suns shed their light on the canyons, Matau, Nokama, and Vakama lay flat on a ridge, surveying the territory. For Toa used to the crowds and tall buildings of their metru, this place was unsettling. Barren, largely uninhabited, its most striking feature was the way echoes emanated from the canyon. It made it seem as if a thousand voices were speaking at once, in tones too low to hear.
The Kikanalo elder grunted. Nokama translated, “The place of unending whispers.”
Down below, twenty Vahki Zadakh from Po-Metru guarded an entrance to Onu-Metru. Powerful and aggressive, they would not shrink from a fight with a thousand Toa, let alone three. Worse, one bolt from their tools and a victim became so suggestible that he or she would accept orders from anyone. Anyone who got stunned by a Zadakh could be made to turn on friends in an instant.
“Too many to rush,” said Nokama.
“I have a plan. Perhaps we could…” Vakama began.
Onewa was having an even harder time moving blindfolded than Whenua. Po-Metru carvers relied on their vision and were used to laboring in the bright light of the suns. Darkness was a new world for him, and not one he particularly liked.
He turned in the wrong direction and slammed right into Whenua. The Toa of Earth ripped off his blindfold and turned on this Turaga.
“That was a complete waste of time!” Whenua shouted.
“Without self discovery, you will never find your destiny,” the Turaga replied calmly. “It is every Toa’s duty to the Great Spirit.”
“This whole thing was a load of ‘duty,’ if you ask me,” muttered Whenua.
Onewa stripped off his blindfold. Strangely, he did not seem angry or upset about having to participate in the exercise. “Sit down, Whenua,” he said.
The Toa of Earth whirled to face him. “Taking orders from a Turaga was one thing, but from an overgrown hammer-swinger?”
For a moment, the two Toa’s eyes were locked on each other. Then Onewa’s mask began to glow. Whenua’s eyes were glowing now as well, mirroring the look of the Mask of Power. Whenua tried to take a step forward and found that his feet would not move. A second later, he sat down, hard, on the floor, like a puppet whose strings had been cut.
“That’s it,” he seethed. “You’re history, builder, even if I don’t know how you did that!”
Whenua struggled to rise, arms reaching out to grab hold of Onewa. Nuju frowned at the spectacle of Toa fighting among themselves and snapped, “Stop! Now!”
Now the Toa of Ice’s mask was glowing as well. Suddenly, great stones tore loose from one wall of the prison cell. The rocks flew rapidly across the room to form a wall between Onewa and Whenua. Moreover, they had left a sizable gap in the wall, perfect as an escape route.
All three Toa stood there, stunned by the turn of events. Then Nuju and Onewa both spoke at once, saying, “Your mask is glowing – your mask power!”
The Turaga simply gestured to the newly made hole in the wall. “I believe the time has come to leave,” he said.
Vahki were rarely, if ever, surprised by anything. After years of tracking down and subduing Rahi of all sorts, the order enforcement squads were experienced at handling almost any situation. Add to that foiling the ingenious attempts by some Matoran to try and take unscheduled vacations from work – one Ta-Matoran, Takua, practically rated an entire Nuurakh squad to himself – and Vahki could safely be said to have seen it all.
But even their visual receptors widened at the sight of Nokama emerging from the hills riding a Kikanalo. Vahki were trained to track, apprehend, and pacify. They were not accustomed to their targets coming to them.
Still, they wasted no time in responding to the Toa Metru’s apparent insanity. One squad of Zadakh, stun staffs at the ready, broke off and pursued her. Even as they departed, a second squad spotted Matau on his beast and immediately gave chase. Despite the Zadakh’s speed, the Kikanalo’s knowledge of the terrain and greater agility allowed him to outdistance the pursuers.
Then came yet another shock for the Vahki. Instead of continuing to run, Matau and his mount suddenly pivoted, reversed course, and charged. “Aha! Toa never quick-flee!” shouted the Toa of Air.
The Vahki responded with blasts from their stun staffs but the fast-moving Kikanalo leaped over and around the energy bolts. Nor did he show any signs of stopping as he plowed into the Vahki squad, his powerful legs slamming into the enforcers and sending them flying.
Matau smiled broadly as he saw the Vahki falling before his charge. He stood up on the back of the Kikanalo, saying, “Hey, Kikanalo, who’s your mas–”
The Rahi looked up at him and gave a warning snort. Matau decided “master” probably wasn’t the best term to use with a beast that could scatter Vahki like proto dust in a wind-storm. “I meant who’s your partner?” he said, quickly sitting back down.
Vakama had left his Kikanalo behind and approached the area on foot. He had hoped Nokama and Matau would have distracted all the Vahki from the entrance, but instead he rounded a corner to find three enforcers waiting for him. Their stun staffs blazed away. Vakama loaded and launched disk after disk, blocking each bolt as it came near. Still, he knew he would run out of Kanoka disks long before the Vahki ran out of power.
Rescue came from above. The elder Kikanalo leaped and landed in between the Toa of Fire and the Vahki. Glaring at the enforcers, he let out a long, low cry. Other Kikanalo emerged from the rocks and joined in the strange sound. It grew louder and louder as more of the Rahi added their voices to the chorus. For a moment, Vakama was convinced he must be going mad – the cry actually seemed to be reaching down into the ground and disturbing the rock.
No, it wasn’t madness, he realized. It was really happening. The cry had created a wave in the rocky surface of Po-Metru, which swept quickly toward the Vahki. It struck like a thunderclap, hurtling the enforcers out of sight.
High on a ridge, Nokama was facing her own problems. She and her Kikanalo had backed up all the way to the edge of a cliff. The Vahki squad was pressing hard. The Toa of Water’s hydro blades flashed in the sunlight as she deflected their stun blasts. If the enforcers were frustrated by this, they gave no sign, instead continuing to march forward.
Nokama didn’t need to look back. She knew that one more step by the Kikanalo would send them both plunging to their doom. She hoped the Great Spirit had seen to it that Vakama and Matau had been more successful.
The Toa of Water braced herself. The Vahki charged.
A split second later, a squad of Vahki were hanging on for their lives from the edge of the cliff. They had moved forward at full speed to capture a Toa, but when they got there, the Kikanalo jumped high into the air and out of their reach. Unable to stop themselves, the Vahki ran right off the cliff. The Kikanalo returned to earth with a thud.
The Vahki won’t fall for that trick twice. They never do. And they won’t give up, either, Nokama thought as she rode down from the ridge. I hope the Kikanalo realize the kind of enemies they have made this day.
Krekka and Nidhiki had arrived in time to see Matau’s strategy bring down a Vahki squad. Krekka was still furious at the Kikanalo over the incident in the assemblers’ village and wanted to bring the Rahi down. Nidhiki had to explain to him, more than once, that their job was to capture Toa, not dumb beasts.
The insectlike Dark Hunter pointed down to where Matau stood alone on the rocky plain. “Circle right,” he ordered. Krekka nodded and moved off as Nidhiki headed to the left.
With some difficulty, Krekka made his way down into the box canyon. He didn’t understand why it was necessary to sneak up on the little green Toa – better to just charge in and tackle him. Yeah, he said to himself. That’s the thing to do. I’ll drag him back to Nidhiki by his mask.
Matau had wandered behind some rocks. Krekka smiled and charged, already imagining how the Toa would beg for mercy. But when he reached the boulders, it wasn’t Matau who was waiting there, but Krekka’s partner.
“Nidhiki?” Krekka asked, mystified. “Where’d the Toa go?”
“You must’ve let him slip past,” snapped the other Dark Hunter. “Circle the other way back.”
Krekka turned and left. He couldn’t for the life of him figure out how Matau could have gone behind those rocks and then disappeared. He would have been even more puzzled if he had looked over his shoulder and seen a second Nidhiki approaching in the distance.
When that Nidhiki reached the rocks, it was to see what appeared to be Krekka standing around doing nothing. “Where is the Toa?” Nidhiki demanded.
“You let him get by you?”
“Maybe he got by you,” rumbled Krekka.
Nidhiki turned away, muttering something about Dark Hunters who weren’t bright enough to come in out of a rockslide. Once he was gone, the “Krekka” he had been speaking to morphed into Matau, his mask glowing with Toa power.
“Shapeshifting!” said the Toa of Air. “Some mask powers are worth waiting for!”
Matau mounted his Kikanalo and rode out of the canyon.
Krekka and Nidhiki spotted each other across the canyon. Both began shouting at once.
“Where’s the Toa?”
“How should I know?”
“You told me to go the other way!”
“I told you to go that way!”
The canyon turned their voices into more of the “unending whispers” for which it was famous, the echoes of their argument carrying a long way.
The sounds reached the audio receptors of the last remaining Zadakh, but they were too busy to pay any attention. Snarling Kikanalo surrounded the squad, moving inexorably forward and kicking up a huge cloud of dust in the process. For a long moment, nothing was visible through the dust and the air was filled with Kikanalo snorts. When the cloud finally cleared away, the Vahki lay heaped in a pile.
Nokama and Vakama rode past them. Vakama was still tinkering with the Mask of Power he had created from the Great Disks. They were joined a moment later by Matau.
The elder Kikanalo grunted at Nokama. The Toa of Water dismounted and turned to her fellow Toa. “The chief said not bad… for flat-walkers. They will cover our herd tracks.” Then she expressed her thanks to the elder in the language of the Kikanalo.
“Toa Lhikan will be forever in your debt,” Vakama said to the elder beast.
Matau had dismounted as well and moved to say good-bye to his Kikanalo. The Rahi acted first, giving the Toa a big, sloppy lick on his mask. “Arrgh!” Matau yelled, backing away.
With the Vahki defeated or driven off, it was now safe to enter the cave. Vakama put his project away and joined the other two as they entered the darkness of the cave. Behind them, the Kikanalo herd used their powerful legs to start a rockslide that sealed the cavern shut. Satisfied that they had blocked any pursuit of the Toa, the herd moved off.
None of the beasts chanced to look up in the sky. If they had, they would have seen the form of a lone Rahi hawk circling above the canyon. After a few more moments, Nivawk wheeled and soared toward the center of the city, carrying precious information for Turaga Dume.