Nuju had not expected to awaken. If he ever did see the light again, he assumed it would be from inside a cell, or at least with the Toa in chains. But the reality proved to be very different.
The first thing he saw when his eyes opened was the ceiling of a vast cavern. It was warm here, as if molten protodermis flowed underground to provide heat in the way it did in Metru Nui homes. He glanced around, trying not to move his head and give away that he was awake. He could see the other Toa, some stirring, some still unconscious. They were all lying on a comfortable bed of dried seaweed.
He might have thought the whole thing was a bad dream if not for the presence of three Kralhi, obviously standing guard. Realizing they could not be fooled, he sat up. His mechanical parts were undamaged, but his biological components ached badly. It would take time to recover from the Kralhi’s energy drain.
The other Toa were now fully awake. Vakama started to get to his feet, but as soon as he did so, one of the Kralhi took a step forward. When the Toa of Fire sat back down, the guardian returned to its original spot.
“I guess we won’t be going for any walks,” said Onewa. “Kralhi. I never expected to see those junk heaps again.”
“I say as soon as we are back to full strength, we make a run for the water and try to find the transport,” said Nokama. “I didn’t like those things when they patrolled Metru Nui. I like them even less here.”
Vakama looked around. Amphibious Rahi of enormous size crawled and slithered around the cave, but they all stayed well away from the Kralhi. It made no sense. Why would these creatures fear and obey mechanical beings, and why would the Kralhi wish to control Rahi in the first place? What were they even doing here?
Whenua spotted a small figure coming toward them from the other end of the cave. Walking by his side was a medium-sized Rahi that looked like a cross between a lizard and a Kavinika, wolflike creatures from Po-Metru. The Toa of Earth paid little attention to the beast, though – his eyes were focused on the too familiar Matoran approaching.
“You mustn’t let my friends worry you,” Mavrah said as he got closer. “They are just here to make sure you remain… reasonable.”
“We’re always reasonable,” Onewa shot back. “In fact, I can think of a bunch of reasons to turn you into a rock garden.”
Nokama gestured for Onewa to keep silent, and said, “Who are you? Why have you brought us here? You have to let us go. Our mission is vital!”
Mavrah chuckled. “Who am I? As if you don’t know? I am aware of your mission, Toa – if that is what you really are. It is why I brought you here.”
Onewa reached out with his Mask of Mind Control powers and seized hold of Mavrah’s thoughts. The Matoran stiffened, then said exactly what Onewa wished him to: “Then again, you are correct. I will set you free. The Kralhi will escort you out.”
The Rahi at Mavrah’s side began to screech so loudly Onewa thought his mask would split. The Kralhi responded by launching weakness disks at each of the Toa. The power of the disk was enough to break Onewa’s concentration and free Mavrah’s mind.
The Matoran shook his head as if waking up from a bad dream. “You… you mustn’t do that again. My pet here is a most unusual Rahi, you see. He can sense the use of Kanohi mask powers, in the same way a Kinloka rat can sense food from a distance. And, as you have now discovered, my Kralhi are very well trained.”
The Matoran smiled. “Now, let us not waste time. My Rahi recovered your transport, yes, and those shiny spheres too… most remarkable creations. I am prepared to return them to you if you turn around, go back the way you came, and deliver a message to Turaga Dume for me.”
“That might be… difficult,” Vakama replied. “But what’s the message?”
“Tell him to leave me alone!” Mavrah yelled, startling the Toa. There was an uncomfortable silence while the Matoran composed himself. Then he added, quietly, “I am fine. The Rahi are fine. We want nothing from Metru Nui, and Metru Nui should ask nothing of us.”
The Toa glanced at each other, none of them eager to be the one to tell the Matoran about the fate of Metru Nui. Finally, Whenua stood up. The Kralhi advanced automatically, but the Toa of Earth ignored them.
“Mavrah, in Mata Nui’s name… stop this,” he said. The other Toa looked at him, shocked. Whenua knew this crazy Matoran?
Whenua took a step toward Mavrah, then another. The Matoran waved the Kralhi off. “You are fighting a battle long over, against enemies that no longer exist,” the Toa of Earth continued. “Metru Nui is no threat to you, my old friend, because Metru Nui is no more.”
Mavrah said nothing as Whenua told his tale. He related the story of the Morbuzakh’s attacks on the city; the transformation of six Matoran into Toa Metru; the betrayal of the false Dume; and the deathlike sleep of all the Matoran. When he was finished, he waited for the Matoran’s reaction.
It wasn’t long in coming, nor was it what Whenua had expected: Mavrah burst out laughing. “Lies,” he said. “But amusing ones. Lhikan dropping off Toa stones like they were Naming Day gifts? Whenua, of all Matoran, a Toa? And Turaga Dume… oh, forgive me, Makuta… as sinister mastermind? Yes, very funny indeed.”
Mavrah’s expression suddenly darkened. “The Whenua I knew was many things, but he was not a liar. That means you are not Whenua. I cannot trust you, any of you.”
The Kralhi advanced until they were crowding the Toa against the cavern wall. Mavrah came with them, his eyes fixed on Whenua. “I know there is no cell that could hold true Toa. But I am guessing that your ship means something to you or you would not have fought so hard to save it. Make a move to escape, or to harm me, and I will see it destroyed, along with those strange spheres. I want no trouble from the six of you –”
Mavrah stopped abruptly. The Rahi by his side had begun to screech again. He examined the five Toa before him, and… five? He was sure there had been six of them. Yes, there had been six, which meant –
“One of them has escaped!” he shouted. He gestured toward two Kralhi emerging from the shadows on the far side of the cave. “Find him! Bring him back!”
The mechanical beasts turned and exited through a side tunnel. Nokama watched them go, nursing a hope that Vakama would manage to escape and find the transport. His Mask of Concealment had allowed him to fade from view while Mavrah was talking. The Matoran had been so upset he never noticed the shadow Vakama still cast even while invisible.
Mata Nui, if you can hear me, help Vakama, she thought. The fate of all Matoran rests with him now.
The Kralhi began their hunt, moving slowly and methodically through the only tunnel the stranger would logically have taken. His invisibility was at best an annoyance to them. Their more sophisticated sensors would surely be able to track him.
Still, it was more than their absolute confidence in victory that added an intangible sense of excitement to this pursuit. It was something very simple, yet with potentially horrific consequences for the Toa of Fire: Mavrah had not said this one needed to be brought back alive.
Vakama moved as quickly as he could. The problem with invisibility, he had discovered, was that he could not see himself either. It was no easy trick to run when he couldn’t see his feet.
He could hear the heavy footsteps of the Kralhi behind him. He had no idea if they would be able to see him or not, but was willing to gamble on the power of his Kanohi mask.
Vakama had only one Kanoka disk left, a freeze disk of fairly substantial power. A plan started to form in his mind. One disk would be more than enough, if he used it correctly…
He raced on, fitting the Kanoka in his launcher. Once he found the right spot for an ambush, the Kralhi were in for a big surprise.
Matau eyed the Kralhi guarding them. The three of them were standing like statues, but he knew that they were primed to react to any movement. He silently calculated just what combination of flips and rolls it would take to get close to them. All he asked was the chance to put his aero slicers to work.
“How long do we wait?” he whispered.
“We give Vakama ten minutes,” Onewa replied. “Then we move. Nuju, Whenua and I will distract the Kralhi. You and Nokama will grab Mavrah.”
“I never liked Onu-Matoran,” muttered the Toa of Ice. “I like them even less now.”
“Don’t blame him. You don’t understand,” said Whenua.
“There’s a lot we don’t understand,” Onewa shot back. “But I have a feeling you do. Maybe it’s time you shared?”
Whenua hesitated for a long moment. Then he nodded and began to speak.