The Toa of Water could feel the “eyes” of the Karzahni upon her as they made their way back to its subterranean dwelling place. She could practically sense its anticipation as they drew nearer with the energized protodermis. Right then, she decided that she would not allow the others to bargain with that evil creature, even if it meant her own death.
The plant-thing’s branches opened as if in welcome as they entered the cave. “I am amazed to see you have all survived,” the Karzahni whispered.
“More than survived,” said Vakama, producing the vial. “We have what you asked for. Now keep your word and cure Nokama.”
The myriad parts of the Karzahni rustled. A vine reached out to snatch the vial away, but Vakama pulled his hand back. “I gave you no word to keep,” said the creature. “And I must test what you have brought me, mustn’t I? Let me have it, or know that you have doomed your friend.”
“As you’re doomed?” asked Nuju. “This journey has not been what it seemed, from the beginning. We fought creatures we thought meant to harm us, but who only sought escape. And you, so sure of your power… you have little time left, isn’t that right, Karzahni?”
The plant’s appendages drew closer to the trunk, as if preparing for an attack. “You are very clever, Nuju. You should have been a Vahki.”
“You said it yourself,” Nuju replied. “Everything here is dying. Makuta designs his creations with a limited lifespan, doesn’t he, so they can never be a threat to him.”
The Karzahni laughed. “No, Toa of Ice. He simply does not want to be confronted by his ‘failures’ on and on, throughout the centuries. But with what is in that vial, I will surpass him. I will do all that he could not, and in the end, I will be the master and he the slave. Now give me that vial!”
Vakama lifted the tube of energized protodermis into the air and tilted it slightly, as if intending to pour it out on the ground. “I will test it for you.”
“You wouldn’t,” snapped the Karzahni.
The Toa of Fire’s smile sent a chill even through the other Toa. “Karzahni, after what I have been through these past weeks… there is very little I wouldn’t do.”
A portion of the ground erupted at the feet of Nokama. A small root forced its way up through the stone. “Eat of that,” the Karzahni said to her, “and you will be healed. What one of Makuta’s creations can do, another can undo.”
Nokama hesitated. Perhaps this thing meant to poison her? But no, then its hold over the Toa Metru would be gone and her friends could safely flee with the vial. She knelt down, plucked the root, and placed it in her mouth. Its taste was bitter, yet she could already feel the strength flooding her limbs again. She looked up at Vakama and nodded.
The Toa of Fire extended the vial.
“Are you crazy?” said Onewa. “You can’t give that kind of power to this thing!”
“Toa keep their word,” Vakama replied. “Otherwise, we are no better than the things we fight.”
The Karzahni’s vine grabbed the vial and brought it close to the trunk. “Yes, it is the stuff of life,” the plant creature said, voice bubbling with dark pleasure. “It will transform me into more than what I am. I will be free to walk, to grow, to conquer in ways my creator could only dream. Just a few drops…”
The Toa stood transfixed as the silver liquid splashed upon a branch of the Karzahni. For a moment, the entire plant seemed to sway as if caught in a gale wind. Then the vial was flung to the ground as the Karzahni screamed.
“It burns! It buuuuuurrrrnnnns!”
Chaos seized hold of the plant-thing, its limbs spasming as the power of the energized protodermis coursed through it. Unlike the stone rat and the mutated insect, the Karzahni did not dissolve, but was instead ravaged by fires within. An acrid smell of dying plant flesh filled the air as one by one the monster’s limbs decayed and dropped to the ground.
“This isn’t what it thought-wished for, is it?” asked Matau.
“It was not the Karzahni’s destiny to transform,” answered Nuju. “That left only one other choice.”
“This… this is horrible. Isn’t there something we can do?” whispered Nokama.
Nuju shook his head. This was not a fate he would have wished even on Makuta, but the Karzahni had made its choice. It valued power even more than life, and so had lost both.
Then it was over. The withered, blackened form of the Karzahni sagged, with only its root structure embedded in the wall keeping it from hitting the ground. “Makuta’s final jest,” it said weakly, “the promise of eternal power masking the reality of doom.”
“Yes,” said Vakama. “Makuta has a fondness for… masks.’’
“I could still muster enough strength, somehow, to defeat you all,” said the Karzahni. “But… I will not. Hear my words, Toa: You have not stopped Makuta, only slowed him. You return to a Metru Nui much changed, and for the worse. Only fear and disaster wait for you there. But I will let you go… for only Toa can hope to bring an end to my creator. And… he must be… ended.”
Then the Karzahni spoke no more. Nuju inspected the creature for a moment before turning to the others. “The power of the protodermis has consumed it,” he said. “Like Ahkmou, like Mavrah, like too many others, all victims of the darkness within them.”
Vakama knew he should say something. Wise and reassuring words were what were needed, but none came to him. Instead, he felt a great weariness. Being a Toa, it seemed, meant facing the darkness and overcoming it, time after time.
But what of the ones of whom Nuju spoke? he wondered. What must it be like to fall before the darkness inside yourself?
The Toa of Fire hoped and prayed that none of them would ever find out.