Matau heard the crash behind him and assumed the Vahki were venting their anger at his disappearance. He moved rapidly through the corridors of the Moto-Hub, searching for the other Toa. As badly damaged as it was, the building was an old friend to the Toa of Air and he could easily navigate it even in darkness.
The voices of the other Toa drifted down from up above. They had evidently traveled in the direction of the test track. Matau found a ladder and began to climb.
The sound of his armored feet striking the rungs roused a creature who slumbered in the darkness. Red eyes snapped open, focusing immediately on the stranger in its new lair. Its long body uncoiled even as leathern wings unfolded to their full span. It launched itself into the air and began to silently follow Matau.
Despite the severe damage done to the city, the Le-Metru test track had remained relatively intact. Its original construction had included layers and layers of reinforced solid protodermis, proof against even some of the spectacular crashes Matau had been part of. Vakama doubted that even the Vahki’s newfound powers could have pierced the walls.
Whenua had brought the remains of the cocoon with him and was examining it carefully. It was unlike any substance he had seen before, thin and delicate yet incredibly strong. It took effort to even tear one of the strands. He triggered one of his earthshock drills at low speed and reached inside to see how easily he could make a hole in the webbing.
The Toa of Earth suddenly grunted in pain and dropped the damaged cocoon on the ground. Whenua looked down at his hand, mystified.
“What’s the matter?” asked Nuju.
“Something in that mass of webbing stung me,” Whenua answered, holding out his hand. “Look.”
Nuju extended his telescopic lens. Yes, there was a small wound visible. The Toa of Ice retrieved the cocoon and inspected the interior.
“Barbs,” he said. “The inside of the cocoon was lined with them.” Nuju reached inside and very gently snapped one of the sharp strands of webbing off. A drop of copper colored fluid was pooled inside the barb.
The Toa of Earth frowned. “What is that? Some new kind of energized protodermis?”
Nuju peered intently at the liquid. “No. The color and consistency are all wrong. I think this is something organic… some kind of venom, perhaps.”
Venom. The word echoed in Whenua’s mind. A memory was struggling to come to light. It had first been awakened by Onewa’s use of the word “Visorak” while his mind was enthralled by a strange creature in the tunnels between Metru Nui and the island above. Then when the Toa arrived in the city to find it shrouded by webs, the feeling grew stronger. Somehow, in some way, Whenua knew what all this meant, but the knowledge was just beyond his reach.
“What do you think made this cocoon?” the archivist asked.
“I don’t know,” said Nuju, already walking toward the others. “I don’t know far too many things, like what this venom does, how many cocoons there may be, and what they are being used for. But I think our future might depend on finding out.”
Matau was almost at the top of the ladder. The entrance to the test track was not far away. He was anxious to tell the Toa all about the spinning object he had seen that could cut through Vahki tools. Something like that might be a real help when it came time to rescue the Matoran from the Coliseum.
He stopped in mid-climb. Something was at the top of the ladder. It was a dark shape, with two arms and two legs but no defined features. Grasping the sides of the ladder, it was crawling down headfirst toward Matau.
Quick-climbing, but not very big, thought the Toa. Maybe I can scare it off instead of having a hard-fight.
“Clear the way,” Matau said loudly. “I am a Toa-hero on a mission. Very powerful, very angry!”
The dark figure paused. Then it slowly and deliberately raised a fist and slammed the wall. An explosion of sound erupted in the chamber, tearing Matau loose from the ladder and sending him plunging to the floor far below.
The other Toa Metru raced down the corridor. Nuju’s theory on the cocoon had been forgotten as soon as the sonic shock struck the building. They rounded a corner to find a dark, nebulous figure waiting for them.
Nuju called on the power of his Mask of Telekinesis and hurled a piece of masonry over the creature’s head as a warning. To his surprise, the entity hurled itself into the air and allowed the stone to strike it. The impact triggered another sonic explosion, this one hurling the Toa Metru backward and slamming them against the walls.
“That’s what I like about Metru Nui,” Onewa muttered. “Always something new.”
The Toa of Stone summoned a ring of rock to surround their adversary. It took only split seconds to bind the being in stone. Onewa expected it to rage or scream, but the figure’s response was a simple shrug. When its substance struck the rock, the newly made prison shattered into fragments that buried themselves in the floor, walls and ceiling. The Toa barely ducked the stones in time.
“Nice try,” said Whenua.
“Not nice enough,” replied the Toa of Stone. “It’s still standing, isn’t it? Still…”
Onewa went silent. Whenua knew that usually meant his friend was hatching a plan, usually one that involved insane risk and almost no chance of success. Those were Onewa’s favorite kind of plans.
“Stay here,” the Toa of Stone said finally. “I will be back soon. Keep this thing busy, but whatever you do, don’t strike it.”
“And what are you going to be doing while we are inviting our friend to play akilini?” asked Vakama.
“I have an idea,” Onewa answered, already running and leaping over the creature. “But it needs Matau to work.”
“Oh, I see,” said Whenua, watching him go. “I was worried there for a moment, but you have an idea that needs Matau to work. That changes everything.”
“You’re not worried now?” asked Nokama.
“No. Now I’m terrified.”
Onewa ran at top speed down the corridor. When he reached the ladder that led below, he dropped to his knees to peer down into the darkness. He suddenly wished he had thought to ask Whenua to swap masks.
“Matau!” he yelled.
“Onewa?” the Toa of Air said weakly. “Where are the others?”
“Fighting up above, and we need you,” the Toa of Stone answered. “Are you hurt?”
“Hang-clinging to what’s left of the ladder,” came the reply. “Sore, but alive.”
“Can you fly?”
“Straight down, maybe.”
Onewa dug the end of his proto piton into the floor and lowered himself down the hole. He had a general idea of where Matau was now. Extending his piton as far as he could, he stretched the other down toward his fellow Toa. “Grab on!”
An instant later, he felt a tug on the piton. Bracing himself, he told Matau to let go of the ladder. The next moment, Onewa was suddenly supporting the weight of a Toa as Matau swung free in the darkness. Slowly, painfully, Onewa hauled himself and Matau back to the floor above.
“Come on, brother,” he said. “We will talk on the way.”
By the time they made it back to the other Toa, Matau understood the plan. It had come to Onewa when he recalled Vakama’s confrontation with the fire creature, but this idea was even more dangerous than that encounter had been. One mistake and any or all of the Toa would be dead.
The Toa Metru had not fared well in their absence. The creature had apparently grown tired of waiting for an attack and had begun hurling portions of its substance at its enemies. When they struck, it was like standing in the middle of a thunder cloud during a storm. The barrage of sound kept the Toa off-balance and on the defensive.
Onewa and Matau took up positions behind the creature. “Nuju, I need airtight walls on both ends of the corridor. Now!”
If any of the Toa felt like arguing, they chose to wait until the fight was over. Mustering their elemental powers, Onewa and Nuju crafted stone and ice walls behind both their group and their enemy. When they were done, the Toa Metru were sealed into a small portion of the hallway with the nebulous figure.
“Matau?” said Onewa.
“I know, I know. Don’t hurry-rush me.”
The Toa of Air closed his eyes and concentrated. Vakama had been able to draw heat and fire into himself, so that meant Matau should be able to do the same with air. But he could already tell it was going to be harder than he had imagined, especially with his head still ringing from the explosion.
By now, both Nuju and Vakama had figured out what Onewa had in mind. “Hold your breath,” Vakama said to the other Toa. “And whatever you do, don’t open your mouths.”
Whenua had a response in mind, but a sharp look from Nokama convinced him to keep it to himself. He took a deep breath and kept a wary eye on the dark figure, who was becoming agitated. If it unleashed another sonic boom in this confined a space, they would be scraping the Toa off the walls.
Matau summoned more and more of his power. He had long ago passed his limit, but his task was not yet done. If even a single molecule of air remained in the room, Onewa’s plan would fail.
When his instincts told him the space was at last airless, he opened his eyes and nodded to Onewa. The Toa of Stone gestured to Nuju, who hurled a stream of solid ice at the dark being. The Toa braced themselves for another explosion of sound.
Ice struck the gleaming surface of the strange being. But this time, there was no sonic attack in response. Instead, the foe shattered like dark crystal and melted away, leaving no trace behind.
Matau didn’t wait for Onewa’s signal. He unleashed a hurricane wind so powerful that it blew down one of the stone and ice walls. Then he collapsed to his knees, exhausted.
“What just happened?” asked Nokama.
“Sound,” said Onewa. “The creature was made of sound. Strike it and you set off a sonic explosion.”
“So Matau created a vacuum,” Nuju continued. “If there is no air, there is no sound. We could strike him without being struck in return.”
“Amazing,” said the Toa of Water. “Is there any end to the new dangers we will find here?”
“A better question is, did this thing come from the cocoon we found?” asked Whenua.
“I don’t think so. But I would prefer not to meet the original contents in a confined space,” Nuju replied. “Let’s get out of this place.”
“Hard-ground entrance is blocked,” said Matau. “We will have to use the test track emergency hatch. It’s a short high-climb.”
The Toa Metru headed for the test track. None of them looked back, preferring for the moment not to know if something was gaining on them.
The Le-Metru test track was designed to determine the performance capability of new vehicles. Designers from different metru would bring their plans to Le-Matoran builders, who would decide what was worth testing and what was not. Then a crude prototype would be built and run on the test track by volunteer drivers like Matau. If the vehicle survived the high speeds, steep ascents, and rapid descents, it might be considered for mass production in the Moto-Hub.
Now, the test track was dark and deserted. As the Toa climbed the ladder that led up through the archway to the emergency hatch, no one spoke. They were all aware of the good memories that Matau had of this place. He had spent most of his spare time here, and had even been on the track when Toa Lhikan gave him his Toa stone.
The Toa of Air wrenched open the emergency hatch, intended for quick escapes by drivers should their vehicles burst into flame. It was wide enough for two Toa to climb through at a time and he and Nuju were first to exit. They stood on top of the archway, looking up at the sky. Through the perpetual mist, thousands of glittering points of light could be seen.
“Look, brother,” Matau said, smiling. “Even in this dark-time, the stars keep shining. I don’t think I have ever seen so many, even from Po-Metru. Isn’t it beautiful?”
“Get back inside!” Nuju snapped, practically shoving Matau back through the hatch.
“Those aren’t thousands of stars looking down upon us, brother,” said the Toa of Ice, leaping in after him. “Those are eyes!”