Onewa lay on the bottom of the lake. He had already taken a mouthful of water and his sluggish limbs would not allow him to rise. In his mind, he was back in Po-Metru at his carving table putting the finishing touches on a Kanohi mask. It was slow going. Every time he tapped his chisel into the mask, water gushed forth from it.
Still, there was no rush. Unlike with most projects, Onewa felt no sense of urgency to complete the work on this mask. Rather, he was strangely calm. Something deep inside of him was screaming that he needed to stop working and get out of there, but the voice was so faint he ignored it.
After all, what could be so terribly wrong?
Mavrah sat up, shaking off the effects of hitting the hard stone floor. He opened his eyes, looked around, and wondered if he had lost his mind.
The sights and sounds of battle surrounded him. Vorzakh were challenging some of the monstrous Rahi. They had succeeded in using their stun staffs on the creatures in an effort to render them mindless. But erasing the minds of creatures that virtually had none to begin with accomplished little. The Rahi simply kept coming, knocking the startled Vorzakh out of the air and then dragging them underwater.
In the cave, four Toa Metru had formed a square, keeping their backs to each other. Elemental energies flashed as they defended themselves against Kralhi, Rahi, and Vahki. So far, no attack had gotten through to them, but they were so hard-pressed that they could not go on the offensive.
Mavrah’s eyes widened as a Vorzakh veered sharply to the left and smashed into the stone wall. Sparking wildly, it slid into the water and vanished from sight. Nearby, Vakama and Nuju worked together against a Kralhi. While Nuju iced over half the machine, Vakama made the other half glow white-hot. Whatever mechanisms the Kralhi used to compensate for extremes in temperature were rapidly fused or frozen. The machine collapsed in on itself.
It was all too much. The roar of the Rahi, the crackle of Vahki staffs, the howl of Matau’s winds combined to form an overwhelming wall of sound. The Matoran winced as he saw a Vahki slam into a Rahi, stunning it senseless and sending the huge creature plunging into the water. He turned away, only to see the four Toa being driven back by a half dozen Vorzakh.
Four? he wondered. I know Onewa disappeared in the water… but where is Whenua?
The Toa of Earth was wondering the same thing. He had spotted Onewa falling into the water. When his comrade did not immediately resurface, Whenua dove in after him. Now he was struggling to make his way through the turbulent water and relying on his Mask of Night Vision to light the way.
Residents of Onu-Metru and Po-Metru did not normally form close friendships. Onu-Matoran were focused on the past, while Po-Matoran worried only about what work was due to be completed that day and how quickly they could get an akilini game going. But there was a connection between the two metru, whether their populations wanted to admit it or not. Both were bound to the ground, one mining the solid protodermis and the other turning it into the building blocks of the city.
Earth and stone were brothers, and Whenua knew it. So he never thought twice about risking his own life to save Onewa.
The beam from his Kanohi mask played across a strange shape on the bottom. It was Onewa, lying still, his heartlight dim and barely flickering. A school of Takea sharks was circling above the Toa of Stone, trying to determine if their prey was as defenseless as he seemed.
Whenua revved his earthshock drills and shot forward. The sharks scattered before him, confused by the vibrations in the water caused by his Toa tools. He knew he had only a few moments before they zeroed in again. A large ray tried to cut him off, but Whenua brushed it aside with a strength born of desperation.
He grabbed Onewa and pushed himself off the bottom, fighting to make the surface. The sharks turned and followed. Whenua could see the ledge so far above. With the precision of the archivist he used to be, he calculated that he was never going to make it in time.
The Toa of Earth kicked hard. If he was going to fail, he was going to fail giving it his best. In the back of his mind, he waited to feel the jaws of the sharks closing on his legs.
There was a stirring in the water. Whenua glanced to his left to see a huge Tarakava approaching, its powerful forearms already striking out. The creature was obviously heading for the two Toa, but the sharks were not willing to give up their hunt. They turned as one and began snapping at the large Rahi.
Hope flared anew in Whenua. He forced himself to swim the last few strokes and grabbed the ledge. With the last of his strength, he heaved Onewa out of the water and on to solid ground. He was about to follow when a blow from the Tarakava struck him from behind. By sheer will, Whenua held on, dragging himself painfully back into the cave before collapsing.
Onewa coughed, spitting out water. He felt like he had been run over by a Kikanalo herd. Weak as he was, though, he found the energy to crawl to Whenua’s side. The Toa of Earth was hurting, but still alive. Onewa glanced up to see Mavrah watching them.
“This is your friend,” the Toa of Stone said, exhausted. “He might have been killed. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
The Tarakava broke the surface, a shark clinging to one of its arms. Despite its advantages in size and strength, it was obvious the large Rahi would not survive.
“Or are you no better than them?” Onewa said, gesturing toward the lake.
“Don’t,” Mavrah answered. “They are my friends, my companions…”
Two flying fish closed in on a Vorzakh. It moved out of the way at the last instant and the two Rahi began tearing at each other. “I see,” said Onewa, contempt in his voice. “I see how you treat your friends. You put them in danger, you let them be hurt… I think I’d rather have you for an enemy.”
A Vahki spiraled earthward, taking two Rahi with it. Vakama’s flames drove a serpentine creature back under the water.
“Look around you,” Onewa continued. “The Rahi you’re supposed to be protecting are being wounded, even killed. None of this had to happen. You can stop it.”
A Rahi with a head shaped like an axe blade smashed its way up through the cave floor, bowling over the four Toa. A giant crab, dazed by a Vahki stun blast, slipped off its ledge and fell into the water. A school of sharks made short work of it.
“But why bother?” said Onewa. “I mean, it was never about them anyway, right? It was about you. Dume was going to take your pet project away from you. No more secret passages, no more experiments, just back to the drudgery of working in the Archives. So you stole them and you slipped away, figuring – what? That you would find a way to make them tame, gentle little Ruki fish and return to Metru Nui as a hero of science?”
The axe-headed beast tossed Matau aside like he was made of seaweed. The Rahi underwater were locked in combat with each other, churning up the lake and sending huge waves crashing into the cave.
“You don’t understand,” Mavrah said weakly.
“I understand that my friends – beings who have risked their lives to save Matoran like you – are in danger,” Onewa snapped. “I understand that your ‘friends’ have caught the scent of battle and are destroying each other. And I understand that this cave is going to be the last place any of us ever see in this lifetime.”
Above their heads, the remaining Vahki were massing for another charge. The axe-headed marine creature had crushed the last Kralhi into a jumbled mess of machine parts.
Mavrah shook his head. “No, no. This isn’t what I wanted. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.” He ran for the ledge, yelling, “Stop it! Stop!”
Whenua, still shaken, tried to grab him and missed. “Mavrah, don’t!”
But the Matoran was already at the edge of the water, waving his arms in vain. “Stop fighting! Please stop it!” Even if any of the combatants had been in the mood to listen, his words were drowned out by the sounds of battle and the roar of the waves.
Whenua got to his feet and staggered toward the Matoran. He had made it only two steps when the largest wave yet smashed into the ledge where Mavrah stood. One moment, the Onu-Matoran was there; the next, he was swept out into the violent waters.
The Toa of Earth charged forward, only to be grabbed by Onewa. “Whenua, no, it’s too late,” Onewa said. “The Rahi are out of control. You’ll never find him in that. You’ll be lost too.”
“But he’s my friend,” Whenua said, even as he realized that Onewa was right. Nothing could survive in the cauldron the lake had become.
“I know,” Onewa replied. “And so am I.”
Vakama looked up to see Onewa and Whenua running toward him. Nuju and Nokama had just finished driving the Rahi back underwater and sealing the hole in the cave floor with ice.
“Did you find the transport?” asked Onewa.
“Yes, it’s not far.”
“Then we need to go,” said the Toa of Stone, “while we still can.”
“What about the Vahki? Won’t they ever-chase?” asked Matau.
Onewa shook his head. “Stop worrying, Ussal rider, and start running.”
Vakama led the way through the tunnels and back to the transport. While the others got on board, Matau flew ahead to scout. He returned in a matter of moments with a rare piece of good news.
“All open-clear ahead,” he reported. “This tributary bypasses the lake and the Rahi-beasts and feeds back into the river.”
Whenua and Onewa pushed the transport off the rocky shelf and back into the water, then swiftly climbed on board. No one said anything about the missing Matoran sphere. They knew that if they did not get moving, the other five spheres would be lost as well, along with all hope for the sleeping Matoran back in Metru Nui.
Matau took the controls and they moved quickly down the tributary, each alone with their own thoughts. The sounds of battle faded, then grew louder again as they drew near the river. Then the transport shot through rapids and landed in another, wider tunnel. Behind them they could see the Rahi still battling Vahki and each other.
One airborne Vorzakh spotted the transport. Immediately, all thoughts of the fight were forgotten. Something was fleeing. Vahki were designed to chase anything that fled. It signaled to its companions and a half dozen Vahki took off after the Toa, rapidly gaining ground.
Vakama glanced over his shoulder and saw the mechanized guardians of Metru Nui closing in. “I’ll slow them down,” he said to Onewa. “You stop them.”
“Do you know what you’re asking?” answered the Toa of Stone. “We’ll never be able to come this way again.”
“Then we find another route!” Vakama said, loosing a barrage of fireballs on the oncoming Vahki. “We’re going to find a new world, Onewa, and I don’t want Vahki to be a part of it.”
The Toa of Fire’s elemental powers had not stopped the Vahki, but having to dodge his flames had delayed them and broken their formation. Onewa summoned all his energies and focused them on the roof of the tunnel. The rock was his to command, and by his will, a tunnel that had existed for ages began to collapse. The Vahki dodged the first stones, but the destruction continued, until finally the roof caved in all along the passage.
The Vahki disappeared beneath an avalanche of rock.
Matau brought the transport to a stop. All six Toa Metru looked at the wall of stone that now blocked the tunnel. “I feel like that barrier is a sign,” said Nokama quietly. “Almost as if the Great Spirit is telling us we will never return to Metru Nui.”
“We’ll go back,” Vakama assured her. “We must. We still have a destiny to fulfill.”
“Before we can go back, we have to go forward,” said Whenua. “That was what Mavrah couldn’t see. He became so fixed on what he might be losing, he forgot to look ahead to all the future might have held for him.”
Nuju nodded. “Like so many Onu-Matoran… and too many Ko-Matoran… he tried to hide away from the world.”
A Vahki staff floated to the surface of the water. Vakama fished it out and snapped it in two over his knee.
“But the world always finds you,” the Toa of Fire said, discarding the pieces over the side of the Lhikan.