“But Mavrah wasn’t dead,” Nokama said slowly, still trying to comprehend what she had just heard. “He stole the Rahi somehow before the Vahki could move them.”
“Then wound up here, where he stumbled on the Kralhi,” Onewa continued. “It’s a community of outcasts.”
Nuju turned to Whenua, saying, “You knew all along. When we first encountered the beasts, you knew what they had to be.”
“I wasn’t sure,” said the Toa of Earth. “And… Mavrah saved my life. And he wouldn’t be here if it weren’t because of me – my mistake.”
“What’s done is done,” said Nokama. “But I think we should make a pact: In the future, no more secrets.”
Onewa chuckled. “Well, we know who the most optimistic Toa is,” he said. “But it’s the absent one who concerns me. Where in Mata Nui’s name is Vakama?”
The Toa of Fire was asking himself the same question. He had taken so many twists and turns he was not at all sure he could find his way back to the other Toa. But he had found a perfect spot to trap the two Kralhi on his trail.
Now he was perched on a rocky ledge that afforded him a decent view of the tunnel. He would have to wait for both of them to approach before he could act, and then strike the rearmost machine first. The problem was by then they would be able to sense him too. Vakama held his breath and did his best to remain motionless.
The sound of the Kralhi’s footfalls grew louder and louder. A moment later, both of them came into view, walking in single file in the narrow tunnel. Vakama forced himself to wait for just the right instant.
The lead Kralhi lifted its head, looking in his direction. Had it spotted him? There was no more time to delay. Vakama launched the freeze disk at the Kralhi in the rear at the same as he hurled a blast of elemental fire at the lead machine.
Ice and fire hit at the same time. The intense heat fused the components of the lead Kralhi, destroying its control centers. The Kanoka disk froze the other solid before it could react. The damaged Kralhi, its sensors blinded, stumbled backwards and smashed into its partner, shattering the second enforcer into a million icy fragments. Then it collapsed on the floor in a heap, sparks flying from its joints.
Vakama dove from his hiding place and ran down the tunnel. Even at top speed, he barely made it clear before the Kralhi exploded.
That should show Mavrah what I – what a Toa – can do, he corrected himself. If he has any sense, he’ll surrender right now. Next time, I might not be quite so gentle.
Vakama ran on. Now free of pursuit, he no longer bothered to remain invisible. A few small cave Rahi eyed him as he passed by, but none of them posed any threat. He did not even notice them. His mind was fixed on one thought: find the transport.
Mata Nui must have been smiling upon him, for as he rounded a bend, he spotted the battered hulk of the Lhikan. It was beached in a small cove, resting lopsidedly on some rocks. The reason for that was frighteningly clear. Nokama had been right, one of the spheres was missing.
Where is it? Vakama wondered grief-stricken. Which Matoran has been lost, and how will we ever find him?
A lone silver sphere rested at the bottom of the lake. Monstrous Rahi swam around and above it, yet none dared to approach too closely. It was a dead thing, true, but it did not seem like food. One hungry fish had already shattered its teeth trying to take a chunk out of the object.
Inside the sphere, the Po-Matoran named Ahkmou lay in unending sleep. His dreams were filled with Morbuzakh vines, four-legged monsters backed by hulking brutes, Vahki squads, and Great Disks. He had no idea where he was or why. His last memory was of sitting in the Coliseum and feeling a great weakness overcome him. Strangely enough, for a Matoran who had tried to betray the Toa Metru and the city, his final conscious thoughts had been: Where are the Toa? Why are they not here to save me?
Safe in his sphere, Ahkmou slept on, awaiting a being of power that would awaken him someday…
“Wake up!” Onewa shouted.
The sound shocked Whenua out of his own thoughts and back to the situation at hand. The explosion had distracted the Kralhi for an instant, long enough for the Toa Metru to make a move. Now Onewa was struggling with a Kralhi’s tail, trying to keep it aimed away from his friends.
“I could use some help here!” said the Toa of Stone.
Whenua shook off his worries and grabbed hold of the mechanical monstrosity. The Kralhi was straining to turn itself so it could hook the Toa with its tools. Onewa waited until he was sure Whenua had a good grip, then let go.
“Hold him steady,” he said, “and be ready to jump!”
The Toa of Stone focused his elemental energies at the stone floor beneath the Kralhi’s feet. At his command, the rock split apart, opening a crevice into which the Kralhi fell. Whenua barely let go in time, stumbling back from the edge of the gap.
“Now what?” asked the Toa of Earth. “He will just climb out again.”
“No. I don’t think so,” Onewa replied.
The sides of the crevice suddenly slammed shut. Then they slowly opened again, to reveal a sparking, partially mangled machine. Then the front and back walls of the crevice did the same, compacting the Kralhi into a perfectly square block of cables and machinery.
“There,” said the Toa of Stone. “As a mechanized guard, he makes a good brick.”
On the other side of the cave, Nuju was leaping and dodging to stay out of the way of Kralhi energy bubbles. He considered making a break for the tunnel, but thought better of it. The Kralhi would probably just let him go and turn its attention to Nokama and Matau. No, he would have to stand and fight.
Even as his body twisted and turned to avoid the energy-sapping spheres, Nuju’s mind raced. The bubbles were incredibly powerful, generated from energy within the Kralhi. That opened some intriguing possibilities, provided he could keep the Kralhi focused on what was happening now and not what was about to happen.
“They laugh at you in Ko-Metru, you know,” he said. “They call you ‘Nuparu’s folly’.”
The Kralhi moved in closer, launching energy bubbles at a rapid pace.
“We needed law enforcers,” Nuju continued, ducking and dodging. “Instead, we got dusty, clanking energy vampires. They should have just sent all of you to the Moto-Hub and turned you into Ussal carts.”
There was no way to know if the Kralhi understood the words, but it certainly caught the tone. In the old days, Matoran who spoke this way to a Kralhi would have been sapped of strength almost to the point of nonexistence. Order had to be maintained; insolence had to be punished.
“Or perhaps some furniture,” the Toa of Ice taunted. “We could have broken you down for tables and chairs. Think of the market there would have been for genuine Kralhi footstools and ornament shelves.”
The Kralhi’s tail adjusted and locked on to Nuju. The end of it began to crackle as another energy bubble formed. Nuju turned and tried to run as if he were afraid, but, in fact, he was headed for a solid wall. Timing his moves to the split second, the Toa of Ice ran three-quarters of the way up the wall and turned the move into a backward flip. In midair, he launched ice blasts from both his crystal spikes.
His power met the Kralhi energies at their peak. A double-thick coating of solid ice encased the end of the machine’s tail just as the energy bubble was about to launch. Now cut off from release, the massive energies of the Kralhi had nowhere to go but back upon itself.
Nuju hit the floor hard as the Kralhi began to shudder. The Toa used his powers to form a sphere of hard ice around himself. He finished it barely in time, as the feedback sparked a violent explosion that sent Kralhi parts flying everywhere. Nuju’s sphere was blown backward and shattered against the stone wall.
The Toa of Ice lay stunned for a moment amidst shards of his protective sphere and white-hot Kralhi fragments. Then he slowly dragged himself to his feet and looked at the smoking ruin that a moment before had been a powerful robotic guardian.
“That’s the problem with machines,” he muttered. “They never think about the future.”
Matau and Nokama had gotten the easy job. A simple wall of wind was enough to keep Mavrah’s Rahi pet at bay, while Nokama firmly but gently pinned Mavrah against the wall. She had no wish to harm the Matoran, just talk some sense into him.
“We are not your enemies,” she said, urgency in her voice. “Call off the Kralhi and talk with us. I know what happened, Mavrah, and why you left Metru Nui. But you don’t have to stay here. You can come with us.”
The Matoran struggled to break free. “Go with you where?” he said. “If you are telling the truth and Metru Nui is lost, there is nowhere to go. There is nothing beyond the river but death.”
Nokama started to speak, then paused. For all she knew, Mavrah was right. They had only Vakama’s vision to tell them that the way to safety was through the Great Barrier. What if he had been wrong? What if there was no haven for the Matoran?
Mavrah glanced over Nokama’s right shoulder. She turned in time to see a Kralhi’s forearm swinging at her. Too late to dodge, she rode with the blow as it flung her across the cave. Mavrah rushed to the water’s edge.
“My friends! Hear me!” he shouted to the creatures in the lake. “The time has come to fight for your freedom!”
Nokama shook her head, not quite believing what she was seeing. The waters were churning as a horde of giant sea Rahi turned and began heading toward the cave. The other Toa saw it too, and were no less stunned.
“Those Rahi aren’t listening to him, are they?” asked Onewa.
“Of course not,” Nuju replied. “No one can command Rahi.”
“Brothers! A little quick-help!”
They turned to see Matau trapped between two Kralhi. The Toa of Air had summoned a windstorm, but the Kralhi were too heavy to be moved.
“Which one do you want, right or left?” asked Onewa.
“It makes no difference,” said Nuju. “You choose.”
One of the Kralhi stopped, as if listening to something. The next instant, a jet of flame erupted from its back, traveling rapidly down the length of its body. Before anyone could be quite sure what was happening, the two smoking halves of the machine collapsed.
Vakama returned to visibility then, lying on his back on the stone floor by Matau’s feet. Using the Mask of Concealment to hide his movements, he had slid underneath the Kralhi and put his power of fire to good use.
Matau glanced down and grinned. “Then it’s official, Toa-brother,” he said. “You do more lying down than Onewa does all day.”
A second Kralhi emerged from the shadows to join the lone surviving machine. But the Toa had no spare moments to worry about them. Mavrah’s army of sea creatures had reached the shore, far faster than anyone had expected. The tentacles of a jellyfish-like creature erupted from the water, wrapped around Nokama’s legs, and began pulling her into the lake.
Nuju reacted instantly, racing to use his ice powers against the creature. Before he could raise his crystal spikes, he was slammed by the powerful tail of a Rahi and flung across the cave.
Then it was Onewa’s turn, reaching out with his Mask of Mind Control to seize control of the creature. Surprisingly, the Rahi fought back. It was left to Whenua to fend off attacks aimed at the Toa of Stone while Onewa remained locked in a mental struggle with the beast. Eventually, the Toa’s will won out, as the Rahi released Nokama and dove beneath the water.
Onewa helped her to her feet. “Are you all right?”
Nokama nodded. “Yes, thanks to you. Another moment and I would have had to use my blades, and I don’t like hurting living creatures.”
“Well, you don’t want to know what that thing thinks about,” the Toa of Stone said, with a shudder. “You would never go fishing again.”
Nokama looked around at the chaos breaking loose around her. Vakama and Matau were fighting off both the Kralhi and a half dozen flying Rahi rays. Nuju was still waiting for the world to stop spinning. Whenua had his hands full with an undersea insectoid that was larger than him and twice as strong. And all the while, there was Mavrah urging the creatures on.
“Help Whenua, and get Nuju back on his feet. We need him,” Onewa said. “I am going to end this once and for all.”
Despite himself, Mavrah was filled with joy. His friends had come when he called, just like he knew they would. Oh, they hadn’t beaten these Toa yet, but they would. Then everything would be right again.
Mavrah turned. The one called Onewa was approaching, and he looked angry. The Matoran looked around, but there was nowhere to run. Instead, he stood his ground, refusing to show fear to some rock basher from Po-Metru.
“This ends now,” said the Toa. “Call off your oversized aquarium before I show you what stone power can really do.”
The Matoran laughed. “And if you trap me or knock me unconscious, what happens to your friends? Who will keep my Rahi from running wild? No, Onewa, accept it: you cannot harm me.”
Onewa whirled at a familiar sound, one he had hoped never to hear again. “Maybe I can’t, Mavrah,” he said. “But they can.”
The Matoran looked up. Fifteen Vahki Vorzakh had appeared above the lake, Staffs of Erasure at the ready, pausing while they decided whether to attack the Rahi or the Toa first. It was the sort of choice a Vahki loved.
A sea creature rammed the base of the rocky ledge on which Onewa and Mavrah stood. The Matoran fell backward into the cave, while Onewa pitched forward and hit the water. It was only after he was under the waves that he remembered that stone does not float… it sinks.