A pair of Visorak clung to a web high above the district of Le-Metru. Any other creature would have been unable to see much of anything below, due to the thick vegetation and dense mist. But the keen eyes of the Visorak saw all that went on in the ruined streets of Metru Nui.
The Earth Toa and the Air Toa had joined forces again and were approaching the others. All to the good – the hunt would go faster if they were all together. The Visorak were about to send a signal through the web to summon others of their kind when they spotted more movement in the streets. Vahki. Perhaps a dozen of them were now closing in on the Toa’s location.
This was a problem. Roodaka demanded that these Toa be brought to her, not necessarily alive. However, the Vahki would leave nothing, not even remains, to be presented to the queen. In that case, her wrath would be terrible indeed.
One of the Visorak set the web to vibrating, a message that would be picked up by its kind all over the district. All were instructed to monitor the Toa and the Vahki and, if necessary, take action. How shocked the heroes of Metru Nui would be if they discovered the identities of the ones who had saved their lives.
Later on, of course, after they had met the Hordika, the Toa would probably wish they were dead. And who could say, perhaps if she were feeling generous, Roodaka might oblige them.
“Vahki that talk?” asked Nuju, his voice heavy with disbelief. “And fire destructive blasts? I think the strain is getting to you, Matau.”
“I saw it too,” said Whenua. “They were ready to kill me.”
“But they didn’t,” Vakama cut in. “And we don’t have time to worry about Vahki. We have Matoran to save. If they get in our way, we will deal with them then.”
“If they get in our way?” snapped Matau. “They weren’t throwing a happy-surprise Naming Day for us back there!”
“Relax, Matau,” said Onewa. “Did either one of you notice anything different about the Vahki? How they looked?”
Matau shook his head immediately. Whenua thought for a long moment, and then said, “Yes, there was something. I hardly noticed at the time, but… there were marks on their skull casings. Scorch marks.”
Onewa turned to the Toa of Air. “Where is the central taskforce hive for Le-Metru?”
“Near the Moto-Hub. Why?”
“Let’s go,” said the Toa of Stone. “I think I know what happened here. And if I’m right, Vakama, getting the Matoran out of Metru Nui just became much more difficult.”
Matau tried not to look at the Moto-Hub as the Toa drew closer to it. As a Matoran, he had spent almost all his spare time there, watching the assemblers work or testing new vehicles on the track. Now a portion of the dome had caved in and vines and creepers covered the outside walls. The surrounding grounds were littered with rubble and vehicle parts. For the first time, Matau considered that maybe the Matoran were lucky to have slept through all this.
“Best not to think about it,” said Nokama, as if she had read his mind. “I am hoping we won’t have to go to Ga-Metru at all. I dread seeing what has become of my school and the Great Temple.”
Matau said nothing. He had already decided to limit his flying as much as possible. The less he saw of the new Metru Nui, the better.
“Over here!” Onewa called. Matau and Nokama hurried to join the others at the remains of the Vahki Le-Metru subdivision hive. Whenua tore the metal door off its hinges while the others braced for a possible attack.
Nothing sprang out at them. Whenua used his mask to illuminate the interior. It was a tangled mess of wires leading to and from power cradles. When not on patrol, the Vahki rested in these frames and were recharged with energy from the power plant.
“Shine the light over here,” Onewa said as he began rummaging through the debris. “My first clue was when you said you could understand what the Vahki were saying.”
“That’s right,” answered Whenua. “Everyone knows Vahki don’t speak Matoran.”
“Correction. Everyone outside of Po-Metru thinks they know that,” said Onewa. “Remember, an Onu-Matoran may have designed the Vahki, but Po-Matoran built them.”
The Toa of Stone fished a charred Vahki head and arm out of the rubble. “Blown to pieces. I bet that happened to a lot of them. Otherwise, the city would be overrun already.”
He tossed the robot head to Whenua. “Vahki always spoke Matoran. They just spoke it at such a high pitch and speed that no one could understand them. When you said they were making sense, I knew something had happened that affected their speech centers, and maybe the rest of them too.”
Onewa bent down, grabbed one of the power cradles, and with a mighty heave, tore it loose. He dragged it out of the hive and dropped it at the feet of the Toa. The metal frame was scorched and partially melted.
“There. When Makuta overloaded the power plant, the feedback shot through the hives. Most of the Vahki were destroyed by it. The ones who weren’t absorbed the energy surge and were… changed.”
A half dozen energy bolts sizzled through the air around the Toa Metru. The heroes scattered as the blasts tore holes in the hive. Right on the heels of the attack came the sight of three Nuurakh and three Keerakh closing in on the location.
Vakama raised his disk launcher and Nuju his crystal spikes, ready to defend themselves. Matau slipped between them and forced their weapons down. “No!” he whispered. “I don’t want Le-Metru damage-scarred worse than it already has been. Hide in the Moto-Hub. I have an idea.”
Running and hiding didn’t sit well with any of Matau’s comrades. But one of the most important parts of being a Toa was respecting the rights of another when in his metru. This was Matau’s home, so it had to be his choice. Silently, the other five heroes vanished through a crack in the Moto-Hub wall.
The Toa of Air triggered the power of his Mask of Illusion, transforming himself into a duplicate of a Vahki Rorzakh. He was careful to make sure that the scorch marks Whenua had spotted were in the right place. Once the shapeshifting was done, he stepped boldly out to face the oncoming order enforcers.
The lead Nuurakh looked him up and down. “Hive and subsection,” it said.
Matau thought fast. “Um, there is no time to waste on protocol. The intruders have escaped!”
“Hive and subsection,” the Vahki repeated.
“I can tell you to which hive and subsection I will be going next: yours, to report you for incompetence,” Matau replied. “They were headed for Ta-Metru. If we hurry, we can run them down.”
One of the Keerakh stepped forward. “They were here? You saw them?”
“And you let them escape?”
Too late Matau realized he had walked into a trap. “Well, not really… you see, they were already…”
The Keerakh turned to the Nuurakh, totally ignoring Matau. “A properly functioning Vahki does not allow a lawbreaker to escape. That unit is therefore not functioning properly. I recommend that its processes be completely shut down until repairs can be made.”
The Nuurahkh nodded. All six Vahki raised their staffs, aimed them at the Vahki/Matau, and prepared to execute their new command.
Inside the Moto-Hub, the Toa Metru walked carefully among the debris. Whenua had shut down his mask power so that the bright light would not attract the attention of the Vahki. Onewa stumbled on a piece of pipe and almost fell.
“Rahi bones!” he cursed. “I’m guessing this place was a mess before the quake.”
“When did Po-Matoran start caring about neatness?” asked Nuju.
“When I started tripping over somebody else’s junk,” Onewa replied. “What’s taking Matau so long?”
“He’s probably in command of the squad by now,” Whenua chuckled. “And leading them to…” The Toa of Earth’s voice trailed off.
Nokama turned around to look at him. She could barely see Whenua’s outline in the dim light. He was facing the wall, examining something she could not make out. “What is it?” she asked.
“Look for yourself,” answered Whenua, shining a narrow beam of light onto the metal wall. Hanging from the ceiling was another web, but this one had an added feature that they had not seen before. A partially torn cocoon nestled in the center of the web.
“What do you think that held?” asked Vakama.
“I don’t know. But whatever it was, it got out,” said Whenua. “And I would guess it is in here with us.”
Matau did his best to ignore the stun staffs pointed his way. It had been his decision to send the Toa Metru into the Moto-Hub, while he stayed here to lure the Vahki away. If it hadn’t worked, well, at least he could still buy time for his friends to escape. He wondered if his form would immediately shift from Vahki to Toa if he was unconscious or dead. He hoped so – otherwise, the Vahki might decide to disassemble their “malfunctioning” target right on the spot.
The Vahki prepared to launch their energy bolts. Matau waited, eyes open, refusing to give them the satisfaction of showing any fear.
Something caught his eye in the distance. He couldn’t make it out clearly, but it seemed to be spinning through the air at a high altitude. As he watched, it dropped rapidly, headed for the Vahki.
The object whirled in front of the order enforcers, striking each of their staffs in turn. Wherever it hit, acid burned through the tools, shearing them in half.
What was that? wondered Matau, watching the spinning object soar away. And how can I get my hands on one?
The Vahki whirled and immediately went into a defensive posture. Their optical receptors scanned the area, searching for whoever dared to interfere with their operations. Matau took advantage of their distraction to slip away into the Moto-Hub.
High above, the hard, cold eyes of the Visorak watched events unfold. The Vahki would move off to search for easier prey, while the Toa huddled in the Moto-Hub, foolishly believing themselves to be safe.
One of the creatures unleashed a second whirling sphere of energy, this time burning through an overhanging beam on the face of the Moto-Hub. It crashed to the ground, bringing a ton of masonry with it, blocking the entrance through which the six heroes of Metru Nui had passed. Once that was done, a new signal was sent through the steel-like strands that shrouded the city, a summons not to be disobeyed.
And the end of the Toa came crawling, crawling across a thousand webs, a vast moving shadow that engulfed all in its path. Rahi fled at the sight, streaming out of Le-Metru in a blind panic. Those who could not run burrowed beneath the wreckage of a ruined city and shivered in the darkness, one thought holding their hearts in a grip of fear: The Visorak, the stealers of life, were on the march once more.