Vakama watched the water with worried eyes. Nuju had been down there too long and Nokama was still not back. If something was waiting down below, going in to rescue the Toa of Ice might just lead to another Toa’s disappearance. But the alternative was to stand and do nothing, something Vakama refused to do. He knew all too well the consequences of inaction in the face of danger.
The Toa of Fire had made up his mind to dive, when the vessel suddenly shot forward. His first reaction was relief. Nuju had obviously been successful and would be surfacing at any moment. This feeling faded in a hurry when he realized the boat was moving much too fast.
“Matau! Slow down!” he shouted.
The Toa of Air shook his head frantically. “I can’t! It’s not the transport that is quick-floating, it’s the current!”
A glance behind confirmed Matau’s statement. The liquid protodermis flowing through the channel was now a raging torrent propelling the transport along. Onewa and Whenua hung on as the boat careened off the walls. Vakama fought to keep his balance as he made his way to the cockpit.
“Use your power!” he told Matau. “See if you can slow us down.”
Matau leapt onto the bow of the vessel and used his Toa energies to call forth a windstorm. Gusts howled in the confined space, trying to force the boat back even as the current thrust it forward. Finally, the transport came to a halt, pinned between the two powerful forces.
It was a stalemate that could not last. Vakama barely heard Onewa shouting something over the roar of wind and wave. He turned to see the seals on the ship giving way and the outer shell fragmenting. Much more of this and there would be no transport left.
It never came to that. Matau staggered from the effort of maintaining the storm. The winds died down and the vessel began flying through the tunnel again. Vakama jumped into the cockpit and took the wheel.
“Onewa, grab Matau!” he barked. “Whenua, I need you to –”
The Toa of Earth wasn’t listening. The archivist in him was looking with wonder at the river, whose current carried the boat along as if it were a toy. “It’s incredible,” he muttered. “This world never ceases to amaze me.”
Vakama buzzed Whenua’s mask with a luke-warm firebolt. “That’s what you think,” snapped the Toa of Fire. “It’s going to cease in about three seconds if we don’t think of something!”
Whenua turned. Looming before the transport was a massive whirlpool, more than large enough to swallow the boat and all its passengers. The Lhikan was dead on course for destruction.
Nokama had almost made it back to the transport when the current hit her. Being a native of Ga-Metru, she had dealt with sudden undertow and freak tidal surges before. Before it could carry her too far, she dug her hydro blades into the rock walls to halt her progress. She was safe, but helpless to stop the Lhikan as it flashed past her.
The Toa of Water was not ready to give up. She focused her elemental energies on the river, trying to force the current to reverse, or at least slow enough that the others would be all right. But the current was too powerful and the transport already too far away for her to draw it back.
This is like trying to empty the silver sea with a test tube, she thought. I should be able to master any natural tide… but what if this isn’t natural? What if the same beings who rigged the traps up ahead are responsible for this too?
Her thoughts were interrupted by a flash of white off to her right. It was followed by a wave of bitter cold that sent shivers through her frame. Either one by itself would have meant nothing, but together they made her instincts scream: Nuju!
The current was too strong to swim against. Nokama pulled one of her hydro blades free and dug it back into the wall, then did the same with the other. It meant pulling herself along at a painfully slow pace. At one point, her hand slipped from her Toa tool and the current slammed her into the wall. She fought to stay conscious and hang on to the other blade. Letting go would mean being swept away.
Now a white object was shooting toward her through the water, followed swiftly by another. She couldn’t tell what they were. She reached out as the first came near, grabbing it. It was Nuju’s Mask of Power!
Now the larger object had almost reached her. With both hands full, she threw her body out at a 90 degree angle from the wall and scissored her legs to catch Nuju. His speed through the water threw her off balance and both Toa collided hard with the wall. Nokama winced as her right arm was wrenched. It took everything she had not to lose her grip and doom them both.
Without his mask, Nuju was so much dead weight. Nokama strained until she could fit the Kanohi back on to the Toa of Ice. Nuju’s eyes glowed brighter and he immediately grasped the situation. He grabbed one of the hydro blades and used his power to create a shell of ice around the two Toa.
“This will not last long,” Nuju said. He coughed up some of the river water.
Nokama gestured at the strands of seaweed still wrapped around Nuju’s arms. “What is that?”
“One of the river creatures wanted a cold meal,” he replied. “The current changed its mind. Where are the others?”
Nokama shook her head. “Nuju… they’re gone. I saw the transport go by, but I couldn’t…”
Nuju put an arm around her. “Do not fear, Nokama. We will find them.” If they still exist to be found, he added to himself.
“I have had enough,” said Onewa. “We were branded criminals, captured, imprisoned, saw our friends taken by Makuta and our city damaged beyond repair. Now we are about to lose our lives and the lives of the only six Matoran we could save.”
He turned to Whenua. “It stops now. And you are going to stop it.”
Whenua’s eyes were fixed on the whirlpool. Despite Vakama’s best efforts in the cockpit, the transport was still headed right for it. “What are you talking about?”
“Just listen,” said Onewa. “I have a plan.”
Vakama had given up on hoping to avoid the whirlpool. Now he was trying to calculate the best way to ride with it and minimize the damage to the transport and Matoran spheres. If the craft shattered, maybe they could still salvage most, if not all, the spheres before they were lost.
Then he saw something rising from the water. Before his mind could even register what it was, the transport had struck the object and was flying through the air. The whirlpool passed beneath and then the transport dove, its momentum spent. It plunged bow first into the river, the water swamping the deck. The craft came close to capsizing before righting itself and bobbing back to the surface.
“What in Mata Nui’s name just happened?” said Vakama. He was too surprised even to notice that the current had calmed and the boat was no longer rocketing forward.
“I did,” Whenua answered, smiling broadly.
“We did,” corrected Onewa.
“A little Toa power, and instant earth ramp – up and over we went,” said Whenua.
“My idea, of course,” broke in Onewa. “The hard part was explaining the plan in time to make it work. So –” He gently tapped the Great Mask of Mind Control he wore.
“You used the mask,” said Vakama, hardly able to believe it. “You were directing his actions.”
“His Toa power. My mind,” replied Onewa. “An unbeatable combination. By the way, Whenua, your brain is as cluttered as your Archives. How do you manage to think?”
“I don’t know,” laughed Whenua. “I guess I am just used to having more than one thought at a time, carver. You should try it.”
“Then we’re safe for now,” said Vakama, not sounding as if he believed his own words. “We have to go back for Nokama and Nuju.”
Onewa glanced behind and shook his head. “No, we don’t. Look!”
In the distance, Nokama was heading their way using her hydro blades to pull her along. Above her, Nuju traveled via an ice bridge created with his Toa power. Both looked exhausted, but unharmed. They reached the Lhikan at the same time. Matau looked on, frowning, as Nuju helped Nokama onto the deck.
“It’s good to see you both,” said Vakama. “But how did you avoid the whirlpool?”
Nokama looked at the Toa of Fire as if he had lost his senses. “What whirlpool?”
Vakama rushed to the stern of the vessel. Sure enough, the waters were dead calm. There was no sign the maelstrom had ever been there. But it had been real, and so had the rushing water, the damage to the boat proved that.
He crouched down and stared into the water. The current had slowed and the whirlpool vanished just moments after the Lhikan would have been lost.
Almost as if someone was controlling them. Someone who wasn’t close enough to see what happened, he thought. Once they thought we had vanished into the whirlpool, there was no reason to continue it.
He turned back to the others. “Someone tried very hard to kill us. Now that someone thinks we’re all dead.”
Whenua and Matau looked surprised. Onewa shrugged, no longer able to be shocked by anything that happened to the Toa Metru. Nokama and Nuju nodded in agreement.
“So what do we do about it, firespitter?” asked the Toa of Stone.
“That’s simple,” answered Vakama, rising to his feet. “We’re going to die.”
The Lhikan drifted aimlessly down the river. No Toa sat at the controls to keep it on course, nor was there anyone keeping watch for threats. In fact, there was no sign of life anywhere on the vessel.
To an observer, it would have appeared there had been a great struggle on board. One of Matau’s aero slicers was embedded in the cockpit. Other parts of the craft were scarred by heat and ice blasts. The story was there for anyone to read: Some great force had overwhelmed the Toa Metru and swept them away, no doubt to their doom.
But if that observer’s eyes had been able to see through the solid walls of the transport, quite a different tale would have unfolded before him. Six Toa Metru huddled inside the cramped hold, listening intently to the noises from outside.
“Do you hear anything?” Nokama whispered to Vakama.
The Toa of Fire shook his head, frustrated. He had been certain that if it appeared he and the others had been lost in the whirlpool, their mysterious foe would reveal himself. Of course, that assumed their enemy had some use for the ship and some need to confirm their deaths. If that wasn’t the case, he could just leave the Lhikan to drift.
Onewa was saying something, but the words sounded like they were coming from far away. Vakama’s mind had spun into another of his visions, brief glimpses of the future… or was it the past?
Monstrous Rahi, ancient when Metru Nui was young… driven from their home waters… jaws opened wide… tentacles reaching, reaching…
The craft spun, then lurched violently from side to side, shocking Vakama awake. They were no longer moving forward, he realized. They were going down!
Onewa sprang to his feet and tried the makeshift hatch, but it was stuck fast. They could all feel the change in pressure as the transport sank rapidly. Nokama used her power to summon an undersea wave to lift them back to the surface, but whatever force was pulling them down was too strong.
A crack appeared in the hull beside Nuju. River water began to leak slowly in, rapidly joined by other leaks in other portions of the hold. Already the liquid was up to the Toa’s ankles and rising.
“Vakama, burn a hole in the hull,” said Nokama. “We have to get out of here.”
“If I do that, the Lhikan is lost,” Vakama replied, “and so are the six Matoran spheres. There has to be another option!”
The transport shuddered violently as it struck the bottom of the waterway. The Toa Metru scrambled to hang onto something to keep from being slammed around the hold. The hull of the craft groaned as the increased water pressure threatened to cave it in.
“Don’t look now, Toa of Fire,” said Onewa. “But I think we just ran out of options.”
The octopoid beast that held the Lhikan in its grasp carefully examined its catch. This strange thing did not belong here, so it had to be stopped. But now that the Rahi had the hard object, it was not sure what next to do. This thing did not live or breathe; it was not food; it had not even provided sport by trying to get away.
The Rahi’s dim brain realized that this catch was of no use at all. Still, if allowed to escape, it might be an obstacle in the future. Better to avoid that by destroying it now.
The creature’s tentacles began to squeeze the Lhikan, with enough force to shatter the ship to splinters…