Onewa, Whenua, Nuju, and their Turaga friend peered cautiously out of the opening in their cell wall. Their cell was inside a huge underground cavern, resting on an island of its own in the middle of a sea of sand. Stranger still, the cavern was empty – no patrols, no slobbering Rahi ready to hunt down escapees, no one.
“Why aren’t there Vahki guards?” asked Onewa. The silence unnerved him. Somehow, the Toa of Stone felt they were in worse danger now than when they had been locked up.
The Turaga did not make him feel any better. “Perhaps none are needed,” the wise one said, a hint of warning in his voice.
Still, an escape is not an escape if one never leaves the cell. The four allies slipped through the gap and began trudging across the sand dunes. It was tough going for the Toa Metru, for their added weight caused their feet to sink deep in the sand.
They had been journeying only a short time when they saw the sand up ahead begin to move. What began as a subtle shifting of sand grains rapidly evolved into a huge dune coming right for them, accompanied by a monstrous groan.
“Now I know why!” said Nuju, as he and the others fled. But there was no way to run far enough or fast enough to outrace what was chasing them.
Behind the Toa, a massive form broke through the sand. The huge, horned, wormlike beast was known as a troller, and it was one of the most feared creatures in Po-Metru. It lived far beneath the sands, emerging only now and then to feed. No Po-Matoran had ever stayed in the vicinity of a troller long enough to find out just what it ate. But its gaping mouth was large enough to swallow an entire block in a metru.
Onewa felt the hot, fetid breath of the troller on his back. He turned to see its jaws about to close on him. Unbidden, his Mask of Power glowed once more.
High above the Coliseum, Nivawk circled once, twice, three times before swooping down. The Rahi hawk alighted on his perch in the sundial chamber.
“What news, Nivawk?” asked Turaga Dume.
The great bird screeched and squawked, speaking in a language Dume had mastered ages ago. He reported that Vakama, Matau, and Nokama had defeated the Vahki guards and were even now making their way into the prison cave.
Turaga Dume moved to the darkest corner of the room. A pair of red eyes stared at him from the shadows. “This mask has been useful,” said Dume. “Now for its final task.”
Dume took a step forward into the darkness. Nothing blocked his way, for there was no one else in the chamber. Only a shadowed mirror from which Dume’s true face reflected back at him. Dume reached up and peeled off his Kanohi Mask of Power, to reveal another underneath – a twisted, blackened Mask of Shadows.
The guise of Metru Nui’s Turaga had been cast aside, simply another mask to be removed. In his place stood an entity of darkness and destruction, and now the ultimate power in the city of legends.
“No one must alter our destiny,” rumbled the dark figure.
The face of Turaga Dume appeared on kinetic displays all over the city. Matoran paused in their work to pay attention to what their elder had to say.
“Matoran of Metru Nui,” the Turaga began. “You are required to gather at the Coliseum.”
The troller slowly made its way to the rocky “coast” of the sea of sand. It swerved neither left nor right, even when small Rahi ran across its path. With a mighty heave, the beast beached itself and then opened its mouth as if in a yawn.
Three Toa and a Turaga emerged from the maw of the monster, gasping for air. Whenua turned to Onewa, saying, “Good job, brother. But next time, mind control something with better breath.”
A tunnel led from the sand pit to a destination none of them could guess. But if they wanted to escape before any Vahki patrols came to investigate, they had no other choice. They would have to take their chances in the darkness.
At least we don’t have to go in there without our tools, thought Onewa. All of their equipment was stacked neatly by the tunnel entrance, including a compact item that the Turaga took for himself. Onewa found that it felt good to have his proto pitons in his hands once more. He vowed that no one would ever take these symbols of his Toa power away again.
Nuju turned from the tunnel entrance. “All that lies ahead is shadow.”
“It has to be better than what’s behind us,” said Whenua.
The Toa of Earth took a step into the dark tunnel. Then he stopped in surprise – the tunnel was suddenly bright as day! How was this possible? He didn’t see any lightstones anywhere, and he was certain none of the other Toa had one.
He turned back to check. The other Toa winced as if from glare. That was when Whenua realized they were brightly lit too. It was his mask! His mask was glowing and lighting the way in front of him!
“Your mask power,” said Onewa.
“Come on,” replied Whenua, smiling. “Our future just got a whole lot brighter.”
Together, the three Toa and the Turaga entered the tunnel. The darkness vanished before them, something they hoped was an omen for the days to come.
They had been walking for some time through a strange tunnel lined with doors on either side. A faint sound came from around a sharp corner, something like metal scraping against stone. Whenua turned to his companions and signaled for them to stay put while he investigated.
The Toa of Earth rounded the corner and ran right into a Vahki coming the other way. The glow from Whenua’s mask blinded the guard, giving the Toa an opening, and the two grappled. Whenua expected to be able to overcome a Vahki with his Toa power, but this one seemed unusually strong.
Then the Vahki did something totally unprecedented and unexpected – it talked. “Hey! Turn out the bright-light!”
Stunned, Whenua released his hold. Vahki couldn’t talk… and that voice was familiar. “Matau?!”
The Vahki enforcer smiled – another thing no Vahki had ever done – and morphed into the form of the Toa of Air. “Toa Matau to you, my brother,” he said.
Reunited, the Toa exchanged greetings and brief accounts of their adventures that brought them to the tunnels. Only Vakama stood off to the side, reluctant to join in the celebration.
“Shapeshifting?” Whenua asked Matau.
“Yeah,” said the Toa of Air. “And you should hear Nokama translating Kikanalo.”
“So we’ve all discovered our mask powers.” No one noticed Vakama hang his head at Whenua’s statement.
Nuju turned to Nokama. “How did you know we would be here?”
“We didn’t. We came for Toa Lhikan.”
Onewa shook his head. “Toa Lhikan is not here.”
The Turaga took a step forward, saying, “Not exactly.”
All eyes turned to his small form as he removed his cloak. For the first time, the others saw that he wore the same mask as Lhikan. In that moment, they knew – despite his reduced stature and power, this was –
“Toa Lhikan?!” Vakama said, shocked.
The Turaga smiled. “No, you are Toa. I am Turaga Lhikan.”
“Why didn’t you tell us who you were?” asked Whenua.
“Your task was to discover who you are,” replied Turaga Lhikan. “Only with such knowledge would your powers reveal themselves.”
“Fast-stop!” said Matau. “Where did –?”
“My power go?” Lhikan finished for him. “It lives on, in all of you.”
Vakama turned away, but Lhikan spoke directly to the Toa of Fire. “Tell me, the heart of Metru Nui, you have it safe?”
“Well… we’re rescuing you now,” Vakama answered, sounding a little confused by the question.
Lhikan sighed. “You are misguided, Toa Vakama. I am not Metru Nui’s heart. The Matoran are. We must save them before it’s too late.”
Nokama turned to the Toa of Fire. “Vakama?”
“I have failed you again,” Vakama said to Lhikan. Seeing the concern in Nokama’s face, he snapped, “I told you I am a cross-wired freak, chasing his dreams, wasting everyone’s time! I’m not a Toa! I’m not even a good mask-maker.”
Further discussion was cut off by the sound of marching feet in the tunnels. It didn’t take the wisdom of a Turaga to figure out what they belonged to.
“Vahki!” said Matau. “Run now, talk later!”
The group took off down a side corridor, Vakama bringing up the rear. They passed a number of huge doors, of the sort normally seen in the Archives. No one could imagine what purpose they would serve in Po-Metru.
Nokama paused to wait for Vakama to catch up. Lhikan shook his head and gestured for her to continue with the others.
“We cannot help Vakama,” he said. “He needs to see the dignity in his own reflection. Only then will his destiny reveal itself.”
Behind them, Vakama stopped short. His eyes had spotted something the other Toa had missed, something disturbingly familiar. It was a silver sphere, just like the ones he had seen in the Vahki transport.
Vakama wiped away the dust and opened the sphere. The hatch rose with a hydraulic hiss, to reveal…
“Turaga Dume?” Vakama said, shaken to the core of his being. But there was no escaping it – there was the Turaga, minus his mask, sleeping inside the vessel. In his heart, Vakama knew this was no ordinary sleep and Dume would not be roused with a shake.
Lhikan looked over his shoulder at Vakama. “The true Turaga Dume. As I feared, an impostor is posing as a mask we all trust.”
The world spun around Vakama. He knew the Turaga had been behaving oddly, but he never suspected… Another vision assailed his senses. Hundreds of silver spheres… sinister red eyes… whispered words that spoke of evils yet to come.
The other Toa had turned back at the news. “If this is Turaga Dume…” said Onewa.
“You don’t want to know who is in control of Metru Nui,” Vakama replied.
The sounds of Vahki on the march came from another corridor. The Toa Metru were about to be trapped between two order enforcement squads. Whenua looked around desperately, finally spotting their only avenue of escape.
“In here!” he yelled, pulling open one of the massive doors. The Toa and Turaga Lhikan rushed inside a split second before the Vahki reached the spot. Whenua slammed the door behind them. Frustrated, the Vahki pounded on it. The door rapidly began to give way before their might.
The Toa examined their surroundings. They were in a Po-Metru storage facility littered with tools, half-finished carvings, and one potential ticket to freedom. Matau was the first to spot it.
“A Vahki transport!” he shouted.
Although based on the same design as the one in which he, Nokama, and Vakama had hitched a ride before, this transport was even larger. Its insectoid legs looked as if they had not moved in an age, and certainly the thick coating of dust made it seem long unused. But Matau knew these vehicles well. Like the Vahki they carried, they never wore out.
He took a step toward the transport, but stopped dead at a hissing sound. It came from the darkest corner of the room. The Toa Metru were not alone, and they had the worst possible company.
“Lohrak!” shouted Turaga Lhikan, as the hideous, winged serpents flew from the shadows. Their huge, powerful mouths were filled with row upon row of needlelike teeth, which gleamed in the light.
Lohrak were known, and feared, throughout Metru Nui. First discovered by Onu-Metru miners years ago, the creatures had spread all over the city. They were as territorial and aggressive as they were slimy and disgusting. Dwellers in darkness, they had proved to be a particular problem for archivists and maintenance workers. But every metru had Matoran who could share a frightening story of a Lohrak encounter.
Workers who wandered off the job to go exploring were warned that Lohrak might lurk anywhere. For a time, the creatures were even pronounced a protected species by Turaga Dume, in hopes of stopping digging projects that might unearth more of the monsters.
At the moment, though, it was the Toa who needed protection. The first Lohrak lunged at Whenua, who dove out of the way. Others had wrapped themselves around Turaga Lhikan and Toa Nokama’s hydro blades. Nuju struggled with his crystal spikes to pry two more of the beasts off his legs.
It was chaos. The Lohrak swooped and dove as the Toa desperately tried to dodge and regroup. Meanwhile, the Vahki continued trying to break down the door. Vakama, Matau, and Nuju finally managed to join together to form a united defense, but then all three were blinded by the radiance of Whenua’s mask.
“Onewa, mind-control these things!” shouted the Toa of Earth.
Onewa concentrated, his mask beginning to glow. But the power of the Kanohi did not slow down the Lohrak’s attack. “There are too many!” he said.
“Then do something else,” said Whenua. “Some Toa we turned out to be.”
“Someone must take charge,” said Lhikan.
The words cut through the doubts that Vakama carried with him. Lhikan was right. If one of them did not take command, their struggle was going to end here in this dusty storage room. There would be no one to warn the Matoran, to stop Dume, or to bring Nidhiki and Krekka to justice.
I have been all wrong, he said to himself. A Toa is not someone who has no fear – but someone who masters their fear. Toa can doubt, and worry, and question, just like a Matoran. But in the end, a Toa must act.
“You found your mask powers!” he shouted to the other Toa. “Now remember your elemental powers!”
It was a desperate gamble and he knew it. The Toa had used up most of their elemental powers in the quest to find the Great Disks. None of them knew for sure how long it would take the powers to recharge. What if they had not come back yet?
Only one way to know-learn, thought Matau. Shouting “Wind,” he raised his aero slicers, unleashing a blast of wind just strong enough to blow the Lohrak off himself, Nokama, Lhikan, Vakama, and Whenua.
Nokama followed his lead. Using her hydro blades, she hurled a blast of water at Nuju and Onewa, scattering the Lohrak that besieged them. “Water!” she cried triumphantly.
“We need to trap them,” said Vakama.
Whenua and Onewa went to work. Using his earthshock drills, Whenua channeled his elemental power into the wall. His seismic forces cracked the stone, creating a gap almost big enough to hold the Lohrak. Onewa used his proto pitons to enlarge the opening and smooth the stone.
Vakama’s elemental powers had not yet returned in force, but his mask-making tool was able to create enough heat and flame to drive the creatures into the gap. Once they were inside, Nuju sealed it shut with a layer of transparent ice. Behind the ice, the trapped Lohrak snapped their jaws angrily.
“We have our unity,” said Vakama. “Now let’s do our duty.”
Behind him, the door began to crack under the relentless pounding of the Vahki. They would be through in a matter of seconds, and all hope of escape would be lost. More likely, the Toa Metru would wind up docile servants of order, happily laboring under the watchful eye of the Turaga Dume impostor.
The Toa climbed into the Vahki transport. As Matau had expected, getting it started was not difficult. But there was one other problem…
“Our only exit is blocked,” said Whenua. He was right – the Toa had angry Vahki behind them, and a solid wall in front.
“Then we’ll make our own,” Vakama replied, new confidence in his voice. “Come on, destiny awaits.”
“What about Turaga Dume?” asked Onewa.
“He’ll be safe until we return,” said Vakama. “Now go!”
The Vahki transport shot forward. Whenua stood on the hood, his earthshock drills revved up. The vehicle accelerated rapidly and the Toa watched as the solid stone wall came closer and closer. Whenua leaned forward a little, bracing for the moment his drills would strike stone.
Impact! The Toa of Earth’s tools bore through the rock with ease, digging an exit tunnel for the transport. Just as they exited the chamber, the door gave way and the Vahki poured in. They looked around, annoyed. Where had their quarry gone? Their orders were very specific: apprehend and pacify. But these Toa were proving hard to catch.
At the controls, Matau eased the vehicle upward as Whenua continued to dig. Soon they were riding up a gentle ramp, headed for the surface and freedom.
Matau turned to Nokama, smiling. “I see us taking a romantic ride-drive.”
“And you believe Vakama has odd visions?” Nokama shot back.