In his brief time as Toa, Vakama had come close to being crushed by Morbuzakh vines, devoured by stone rats, and absorbed into Makuta’s essence. He knew that he risked death every time he challenged a foe. By now, he had envisioned a hundred different ways he might meet his end.
As it turned out, though, the Toa of Fire was about to die from a cause that would never have made his list in a million years: white-hot flame. Falling to his knees before the onslaught of his enemy, one thought kept going through his mind.
The other Toa will never believe this.
His mission had started out simply enough. The Toa Metru had finally made it to the shores of the silver sea that surrounded the city of Metru Nui. In the heart of that city, far beneath the Coliseum, were hundreds of pods containing sleeping Matoran. Unless the Toa could rescue them, these Matoran might slumber for all eternity. It was to save their friends that the Toa had made the journey back to the sea.
Unfortunately, they had forgotten one thing. On their first trip across the ocean, the Toa had sailed a Vahki transport with pods lashed to the bottom to keep it afloat. Pods and transport were now on the beaches of the island refuge the Toa had discovered. With no boat, the only other option was for those Toa who flew to carry those who did not across the ocean, far too great a distance to be practical.
That left only one choice, searching until they found some other way to make the journey. Matau had volunteered to look for old chutes that might traverse the bottom of the sea. Onewa and Whenua were going to try to build a craft, if they could find the right raw materials. Nokama and Nuju were convinced that there was some ancient vessel hidden nearby, left behind by whoever had carved the tunnels to the surface. None of these plans sounded very likely to succeed to Vakama, so he had gone off on his own to explore.
He had discovered a number of vaulted chambers left over from when Makuta had used this area as a base. Most had long since been abandoned by whatever Rahi the dark one had left on guard. Unfortunately, there was nothing to be seen that would be of help to the Toa Metru.
He was about to turn back and join Nokama and Nuju when he spotted another vault door. This one was so well camouflaged by its stony exterior that it looked like just another part of the tunnel wall. Reasoning that anything Makuta wanted to keep hidden would have some value, Vakama melted the lock and opened the massive gateway.
The dim glow of a single lightstone illuminated the chamber. The walls were lined with shelves, all of them cluttered with Vahki and Kralhi parts. Other robotic limbs and clockwork mechanisms were scattered around the floor. It looked like one of the Vahki assemblers’ villages back in Po-Metru where the mechanical order enforcers had been constructed.
Why would Makuta have all this? Vakama wondered. The Vahki were a Matoran creation, intended to protect us. Makuta had nothing to do with their creation, unless…
The Toa of Fire frowned. The Matoran had been very careful to design the Vahki so that they would not cause physical harm. It was possible that Makuta had been attempting to redesign the order enforcers to make them more vicious and dangerous for his own purposes.
Metru Nui will not miss you, Makuta, Vakama thought. I only pray you stay trapped forever.
Something else caught his eye. He shoved aside some of the Vahki parts to uncover a pair of insectoid legs, the same ones used for Vahki transport locomotion. Searching a little more uncovered more transport parts. He allowed himself a moment to consider the irony that Makuta’s experiments might end up helping to save the Matoran, then began gathering the parts in the center of the chamber.
A blast of heat struck him from behind, as intense as a flame geyser from a Ta-Metru fire pit. Vakama turned to see something taking form in front of the doorway. At first, it was simply a red and orange blur surrounded by shimmering waves of heat. Then it coalesced into a figure of flame, blazing between Vakama and the exit.
“Can you speak?” asked the Toa of Fire.
The flame creature did not respond.
“If you serve Makuta, your master will not be returning,” Vakama continued. “You can leave this place. Do you understand?”
The creature blazed even brighter. Even Vakama, whose Toa form was resistant to fire, had to stagger back a step from the sheer magnitude of the heat. As if sensing weakness, the creature began to advance.
Vakama rapidly loaded and launched a Kanoka disk. A tongue of flame reached out from his foe’s body, encircled the disk, and melted it in midair.
The Toa of Fire hurled a ball of fire, already suspecting it would be ineffective. The creature responded with one of its own, and the two collided, canceling each other out. Vakama struck again, this time melting the stone floor under his opponent’s feet. The fire being never moved. Instead, it used its powers to create a thermal updraft that held it aloft.
I could learn some things about my powers from this creature, thought Vakama. The problem would be living long enough to put them to use.
The temperature in the chamber, already high from the battle, began to rise even more. The fire being was acting as a furnace, trying to weaken Vakama with intense heat before finishing him off. To the Toa’s surprise, it was working. He could see the Vahki and transport parts beginning to soften and melt, and worse, feel his own Toa armor melting as well.
I use fire, but it is fire, he thought. A nova blast might stop it… but it would also destroy these tunnels and the other Toa in them.
Vakama racked his brain. There had to be a way to defeat this thing! He found himself wishing Nuju were there, both for his knowledge of tactics and his ice power. Maybe the cold could counteract…
The Toa of Fire stopped short. Cold was the answer, and perhaps he didn’t need Nuju for that. It was something he had never tried before. But there was no time to gauge the risks, not if he wanted to avoid becoming a puddle of protodermis on the floor.
He reached out with his elemental powers, mustering all his concentration and forcing himself to ignore his weakness. In the past, he had saved himself and Onewa by absorbing open flames into his body. This was something far more dangerous: actually absorbing all the heat in the room.
Little by little, the temperature in the chamber began to drop. The fire being seemed confused, pushing itself more and more to fight off the sudden cold. Vakama was relentless, calling on more of his power and drawing every last degree of heat into himself. The Toa’s body glowed like a star. Through a red haze, he could see ice forming on the walls and floors. Now it was the fire creature’s turn to back away, trying to escape the fatal chill.
Vakama pushed himself to his limit, and then beyond. The cold was making his limbs feel like lead. More power than he had ever known threatened to consume him. The fire being stumbled backward and collapsed, frost forming atop its flames. As the Toa of Fire watched, a thick coating of ice covered his foe.
The Toa of Fire knew in that moment he had won, but there was no cause to celebrate. He was almost frozen solid and perilously close to passing out. If he lost consciousness, the power within him would run wild and explode outward, killing himself and who knew how many others.
He forced himself to move, the sheath of ice that covered his body cracking as he did so. He raised his arms, ignoring the fact that it felt like he was trying to lift the city of Metru Nui. Then Vakama unleashed his newfound power, blasting the back wall of the chamber to atoms, along with the miles of tunnel that stretched beyond it.
In the last moment before the darkness closed in, the Toa of Fire realized that he had just faced, and conquered, a dark version of himself.
But I don’t think I could do it again.
When the other Toa found him, he was still lying unconscious among the rubble. The fire being was gone. Nokama used cooling water to revive him as the others gathered the pieces of the transport. It would take some effort to repair the parts and put the vehicle back together, but it seemed their best option.
That left them with only one problem. “It won’t swim-float,” pointed out Matau. “The other transport stayed afloat for maybe a minute before we lashed the pods to the bottom. And we have no Matoran-pods to use this time.”
“No, but we might have something that can replace them,” said Onewa. “Come with me, and bring your aero-slicers.”
An hour later, the two Toa returned, both of them carrying armloads of blackened logs. They didn’t have to explain where they had got them. The Toa had only recently witnessed the death of the Karzahni, a plant creature created by Makuta with an appetite for conquest. Onewa had decided to put the trunk and branches to good use.
If the idea of using the Karzahni to help them make it back home bothered any of the Toa, they didn’t say anything. Vakama welded the parts of the transport together while Onewa, Matau and Whenua turned the logs into a crude raft. When the transport was done, they lashed the raft to the bottom and pushed it into the water. It wasn’t the most seaworthy vessel ever to ride the waves, but it didn’t sink either.
As they boarded the new boat, christened Lhikan II, none of the Toa noticed a small, green shoot growing from one of the logs. It would be an oversight they would come to regret.
Matau sat in the cockpit. He was just about to start the transport’s insectoid legs moving when he noticed Nuju’s disapproving gaze.
“I think I should drive,” said Nuju.
“You?” laughed the Toa of Air. “A Ko-Metru librarian, steer-piloting a machine like this? Why?”
“Because I remember what happened the last time you drove.”
“Yes, we only found a beautiful home-island, Nuju. Nothing very important or special,” Matau replied, sarcastically.
The Toa of Ice shook his head. “How is it that you manage to remember only the good things, never the bad?”
Matau grinned. “Practice, brother. Lots and lots of practice.”
Onewa crouched at the bow of the vessel, his eyes locked on the silhouette of Metru Nui. He expected the city to be dark, and it was, nor was he surprised that only one sun now shone in the heavens. Makuta had drawn upon great and terrible forces when they fought him in Metru Nui. There was no telling what damage might have been done to the city of legends during that conflict.
Still, something about the look of the city was nagging at him. He might not have spent his life in crystal towers like Nuju, or soaring through chutes like Matau, but he knew Metru Nui. He knew its rhythms, its feel, almost as if it were an old and trusted friend. Even stripped of its population, there were things that could not change about Metru Nui.
And yet they have…
“What do you see?” asked Whenua.
“Mist, everywhere, shrouding the city… can’t you spot it yourself?”
“You know my eyes are not strong in the light,” said the Toa of Earth. “Maybe that is why I can’t see what you do.”
“Or maybe you just don’t want to.” Then, more gently, Onewa continued, “You really didn’t want to leave, did you?”
“Of course not. It’s our home. Battered, bruised, but still the only place we have ever known. We could have stayed and rebuilt. We still could.”
Onewa said nothing. The same thoughts had occurred to him many times over the past few days. It had been Vakama’s visions that told them they must move on to a new land, beyond the Great Barrier, a place where Matoran could live in peace. What if the Toa of Fire was wrong?
He pushed the idea out of his mind. True, he had doubted Vakama from the beginning, but each time he had been proven wrong. It was too late to begin regretting the course of action they had all agreed upon. More than that, it was simply too painful to consider the possibility that they were abandoning Metru Nui for nothing.
His eye was drawn to movement in the city. With all the Matoran trapped in slumber, nothing should have been darting across the rooftops. Could Makuta already be free? Are we sailing into a trap?
“Nuju!” he called. “I have need of your vision.”
The Toa of Ice moved to stand beside him. Onewa pointed to the southern tip of the city. Nuju focused the telescopic lens of his mask on that point. He stared straight ahead for a long minute, never speaking, until Onewa could no longer contain his impatience.
“What is it? What do you see?”
“Something is preparing to welcome us home,” Nuju answered quietly. “We should make certain we do not attend the celebration empty-handed.”