Mavrah stepped into the vast cavern, feeling a mixture of satisfaction and sadness. Given the choice, he would have preferred to simply scare those intruders away rather than harm them. But he knew enough about Toa to know they never gave up, not even in the face of overwhelming force. Certainly, Toa Lhikan had never flinched before any threat. Strange that he hadn’t been among these strangers?
Still, it was good to know his inventive genius had not deserted him after all these years. The whirlpool had worked perfectly. Of course, he hadn’t waited to see the intruders’ boat wrecked by it. There would have been no joy in that.
For a moment, Mavrah was lost in his memories. He could remember long days spent in the Archives, talking with Nuparu about their newest ideas for inventions. Nuparu was determined to one day perfect a new mode of transport to replace chutes, if only to knock the Le-Matoran down a few pegs.
For his part, Mavrah had simply wanted to better understand the Rahi. It frustrated him that so many of the creatures had to be kept in stasis in the Archives, where little could be learned of them. How could a researcher study the behavior patterns of creatures who were always asleep? Sometimes he had fantasized about smashing open the stasis tubes just to see one of those magnficent Rahi move again.
Mavrah jumped as a great serpentlike creature snaked down from a stalactite and brushed against him. The Rahi was on its way to the water, a trip that would take some time given that the beast was over 40 feet long from head to tail. “Mustn’t scare me like that,” Mavrah said gently. “I might have thought it was another Toa, come to bring us all back.”
The Onu-Matoran turned as two mechanized beasts entered from side passages. They took no notice of him, but instead took positions on either side of the serpent. They would make sure it got to the pool without incident and without being observed by any intruders. Where one group of Toa had come, more might follow.
Mavrah walked across the cave and stood at the edge of the vast pool. Beneath its calm surface lived countless creatures, remnants of an age long before Metru Nui. Powerful, unpredictable, dangerous beyond measure, they were still Mavrah’s only friends in this desolate place. And no one – no one – would take them away from him.
One of those “friends” was busy at the moment trying to crack open the Lhikan. The octopoid Rahi had found the Vahki transport a tougher target than it expected, but it was only a matter of seconds before the hull gave way.
Suddenly, the transport began to glow red. An intense shock of searing heat forced the Rahi to let go, allowing the craft to bob back up to the surface.
Slowly, the glow faded. A few moments later, the hatch opened and the Toa Metru emerged on the deck. Vakama stumbled and almost fell before Nokama caught him. “Take it easy,” she said.
“That was the hardest stunt I have ever had to pull,” said Vakama. “So much heat without flame… but it worked.”
“I wonder what it was that strong-pulled us down?” asked Matau. “And where is it now?”
A massive tentacle erupted out of the water, wrapping itself around Matau and hauling him off the transport. “When will I quick-learn to stop asking stupid questions?” shouted the Toa of Air, just before he disappeared beneath the waves.
As one, the Toa Metru dove in after him. A swipe of a tentacle sent Nuju flying through the water. A second tentacle grabbed Vakama. Nokama turned to rescue the Toa of Fire, but he waved her off.
In a moment, she saw why – or rather, she didn’t see. Triggering the power of the Mask of Concealment, Vakama faded from view. The Rahi was puzzled. It could feel something in its grip, but not see anything. Its grip slackened just enough for Vakama to slip through, reappearing beside Onewa.
Matau was in bad shape. He hadn’t been able to grab a breath of air before being pulled under and was rapidly drowning. Worse, the Rahi had started to swim away with its prey. Onewa glanced at Whenua, who nodded. Then both unleashed their elemental power, forming hands of earth and stone that reached up from the bottom to grab the creature.
Nuju rocketed forward, using both his elemental and mask energies. Bolts of ice and stone hurled telekinetically battered the beast. Stunned, it let go of Matau. Nokama caught him and rushed him to the surface.
Onewa and Whenua released the struggling Rahi and the creature swam away. Vakama gestured urgently for the Toa to head back to the transport.
They were still climbing aboard when the Toa of Fire shouted, “Matau! We need to go now!”
Nokama and Matau looked at him, surprised. But the Toa of Air could tell this was no time to argue. He leapt into the cockpit and started the craft moving forward.
“We are going after the beast,” Nuju said to Vakama. It wasn’t a question.
“Yes, we are,” the Toa of Fire replied. “It’s time we became the hunters.”
From a hiding place nearby, six pairs of audio receptors recorded Vakama’s words. Six pairs of optical sensors studied the Toa Metru, their strengths, their weaknesses, and their current condition. Complex clockwork mechanisms began to analyze, evaluate, and plan the ideal time to strike.
One of the six beings turned away and began the trek back home. In any conflict, defeat was an option. Logic dictated that the information gathered should therefore be relayed to others for future use if necessary. This unit would return to Mavrah to do just that while the others pursued and apprehended the intruders.
Had these beings possessed muscles, they would have felt them tense in anticipation of the conflict to come. If blood coursed through their veins, it would have flowed that much faster at the thought of battle after so many years of inactivity. But instead, they could only stare at the Toa with cold calculation. There would be no anger or hatred in their attack – just pure, precise, efficient destruction.
Nuju stood at the bow of the ship. The telescopic lens built into his Mask of Power was focused on the wake of the octopoid beast. Nokama stood beside him, prepared to continue the pursuit underwater if the creature chose to dive.
Near the cockpit, Vakama and Onewa strategized. Despite their disagreements, the two Toa had developed a grudging respect for each other. If Vakama still had his moments of doubt, and Onewa still thought with his mouth too often, they remained the best tacticians among the Toa. Whenua had been invited to join their council, but had refused, preferring to keep to himself.
All of the Toa turned at Nuju’s cry. The river had opened up into a vast waterway, even wider than the Po-Metru Sculpture Fields. The Rahi they were chasing had vanished into its depths, but no one even noticed. Their eyes were on the dozens of monsters breaching the surface and bellowing their anger at the Lhikan.
Nokama had lived by the silver sea all her life. Between her explorations underwater and her visits to the Archives she had seen every kind of aquatic creature in existence, or so she believed. But never had she seen anything like this in the flesh. Before her startled eyes, serpents almost as long as the Coliseum was high reared up out of the water. Bizarre creatures looking like oversized sea slugs slithered along the rocky coastline. Massive fish leapt high into the air, lightning bolts lancing from their razor-sharp fins.
The sight of so many previously unknown Rahi was beautiful, in a way, but it was a savage beauty. To the right, a reptilian creature rose out of the water with a Tarakava squirming in its huge jaws. On the left, a Rahi much like the one the Lhikan had been chasing struggled helplessly in the grasp of two gigantic crablike creatures.
“This is… amazing,” Nokama said softly.
“This is insane,” replied Nuju.
“You’re both wrong,” said Whenua. “This… this is a disaster.”
“Maybe we should quiet-sneak away, before they decide we are fish food,” offered Matau.
Vakama shook his head. “No. We have nothing to turn back to – only a dark and dead city, filled with sleeping Matoran who are counting on us to find them a haven. If that means crossing these waters, then that is what we will do.”
“I hate to say it, fire-spitter, but you’re making a lot of sense,” said Onewa.
“Why do you hate to say it?”
“Ruins my image,” said the Toa of Stone.
Mavrah watched the mechanized Kralhi’s approach. He knew it wouldn’t have returned alone unless it had news, most likely bad news.
As a Matoran, it was hard for him to see the machine creature without a trace of fear. Long before the Vahki enforcers were put into operation in Metru Nui, the responsibility for law enforcement fell on the shoulders of the Kralhi. They were well-equipped for the task. Their stingerlike tails were capable of projecting a force bubble around a target. Once inside, the target was rapidly drained of energy, all of which was fed back into the Kralhi. This left whoever the Kralhi had captured far too weak to cause any trouble.
That, as it turned out, was the problem. The point had been to get Matoran troublemakers or those who walked off the job back to work as soon as possible. The Kralhi left them so weak and dizzy that they couldn’t work for days. It was finally decided that they had to be shut down and replaced.
Saying that and doing it proved to be two very different things. To this day, no one was sure how much self-awareness the Kralhi might possess, but they certainly resisted being turned off and scrapped. The Matoran were successful with a few of them, but most fought back hard. With the help of the newly built Vahki, the Matoran achieved a victory of sorts by driving the Kralhi out of the city. No one knew, or cared, where they had disappeared to as long as they were gone.
Mavrah had been terrified the day he stumbled upon them, sure they would attack and force him back to the city. But the Kralhi had made no threatening moves. Over time, Mavrah realized that their primary purpose – to serve and protect Matoran – was still in force. As long as he did not make any effort to harm them or turn them off, they were perfectly willing to accept and serve him.
Now the Kralhi paused in front of him. When it spoke, it was with the recorded voice of one of the Toa: “It’s time we became the hunters.” Then the machine waited for a response.
Mavrah hesitated. He had tried to destroy these Toa and had been sure he succeeded. If they still lived, then it must be Mata Nui’s will that they do so. Mavrah wondered if it was a sign. Perhaps if he explained to the Toa why he was here, and why he had to stay, they would understand. Then they could return to Metru Nui and inform Turaga Dume to call off the search.
“Return,” Mavrah ordered the Kralhi. “Capture the six Toa and bring them back here alive.”
The Kralhi simply stared, as if it had not understood anything that was said. Mavrah knew the creature was just being willful and stubborn.
“Alive,” he repeated, firmly. “Unharmed. That is a direct command. Now go.”
The Kralhi turned and departed. Mavrah thought he detected something in the way it moved, but he dismissed the idea. A Kralhi is just a machine, he reminded himself. It can’t feel disappointment, can it?
Unfortunately, not everything shared Mavrah’s newfound desire for the Toa’s safety. The Lhikan had made it about halfway across the lake before attracting the attention of the local wildlife. Now the beasts were shoving each other aside in a race to see who would get to devour the craft and occupants first.
The Toa had acquired one ally, a massive, tentacled whale that was now running interference for them. Onewa’s Mask of Mind Control had worked on Rahi before, and this one had just enough of a mind to give him something to manipulate. Unfortunately, it meant the Toa of Stone could do nothing else to help to defend the vessel, but the others did their best to pick up the slack.
A horned serpent wrapped itself around the hull of the boat. Its head swung up over the side of the deck, hissing at Nuju and baring its vicious fangs. The Toa of Ice muttered, “No, I don’t think so,” and sent twin frigid blasts from his crystal spikes. Frozen solid, the serpent sank to the bottom like a stone.
On the other side of the vessel, entire schools of fish were launching themselves out of the water at the Lhikan. Matau had been using his elemental wind power to blow them away, until an inspiration struck him. Using the power of his Mask of Illusion, he transformed himself into a huge sharklike beast with three sets of jaws. Frightened, the schools dove back underwater, with the exception of one fish who landed on the deck.
Matau glanced down at it. He had never been fond of marine life, and this was a particularly ugly specimen. Has the same happy-smile as Makuta, he thought. Just what the world needs – a Makuta fish.
Vakama was everywhere at once. Sea creatures, no matter how large, hated fire, and he had been able to drive away some of the more monstrous specimens. Those he could not stop were being battered by waves or grabbed by the sea bottom thanks to the powers of Nokama and Whenua. It seemed like the Toa might make it through, although Vakama wondered how they would ever be able to make a second trip this way with all the sleeping Matoran in tow.
A huge wave swamped the vessel, almost washing Vakama into the lake. When it subsided, all of the Toa could feel that something was wrong. The craft was still afloat, but now listing badly to one side.
“One of the spheres,” Nokama said. “They must have taken one of the spheres! I have to go down there and –”
“No!” Nuju grabbed her and kept her from diving. “I let you go once, not this time. You would not last more than a few seconds among these creatures, and you know it. If one of the spheres has been lost, we will recover it…”
“When?” Nokama demanded. “Before or after some sea monster has dined on it?”
“I know how you feel,” said Whenua, as he caused chunks of the sea floor to pelt an oncoming Rahi. “Believe me. But we are almost to the other side of the lake. Once back in the tunnel, the creatures can only come at us one at a time. One Toa can hold them off while the rest of us –”
“That will be too late!” said Nokama, wrenching free of Nuju’s grasp. She raced to the edge of the deck.
Vakama saw her and moved just as quickly himself. He threw up a wall of flame around the transport, cutting off the Rahi from approaching and Nokama from leaving. She turned on him, enraged.
“Vakama, why –?”
“We may have lost a friend,” said the Toa of Fire. “I won’t stand by while we lose another.”
Before Nokama could answer, she was suddenly lifted off her feet and into the air. Vakama looked at Nuju, thinking it was the Mask of Telekinesis at work, but the Toa of Ice was as surprised as anyone. That was when Matau noticed the energy bubble around Nokama. He struggled to see through the flames, finally spotting what he feared to find but knew had to be there.
“Kralhi!” he shouted. “They have Nokama!”
“Whenua, you and Onewa keep the Rahi at bay,” ordered Vakama. “Nuju, Matau and I will save Nokama!”
But Matau was already gone, encased in a Kralhi bubble and being spirited away. Nuju created an ice barrier to try and impede the bubble’s progress, but a boulder hurled by the Kralhi weakened it badly. When Matau’s prison struck it, the wall crumbled into the water.
Now the Kralhi attacked in earnest, keeping the Toa off balance with a barrage of stones and energy bubbles. Onewa was the next to be captured, causing the Rahi he had mastered to dive beneath the water and disappear.
The Toa fought valiantly, but attacked on two fronts and worn down with fatigue, they could not hold their own. Nuju had a perfectly aimed ice blast ready for a Kralhi when one of the Rahi rammed the transport, knocking him off his feet. The next instant, he was inside a Kralhi bubble and could feel his energy being drained away.
Vakama and Whenua held out for a little longer, but eventually they too fell to the Kralhi. Vakama screamed with anger and frustration as he saw the now abandoned transport drifting toward the tunnel, still carrying its precious cargo. Then the hunger of the Kralhi for energy took its toll. Vakama’s mind fell into a pool of darkness as unconsciousness claimed them all.