Nokama heard the noise first. It was faint, but unmistakable – something nearby was in pain.
“We need to go right up ahead,” she said.
“The path to the Coliseum is straight, then left,” corrected Whenua. “We aren’t far.”
“I heard something. I think there has been trouble.”
“That would be a sudden-shock,” grumbled Matau. “No trouble on this ground-walk so far, right?”
Nokama turned to the others. “Go on ahead, if you wish. I will catch up. I have to check on this.”
“It is too dangerous to be alone down here just now,” Nuju replied. “So we will all go.”
Vakama started to protest. Nuju silenced him with a glare. “It is possible what you heard, Nokama, may be a Visorak trap,” the Toa of Ice continued. “In which case, it makes sense for all of us to investigate.”
Nokama led the way, with Whenua close behind. “What’s down here?” she asked the archivist. “I mean, what was down here before…?”
“Isolation ward. Rahi that were constantly attacking archivists and each other were sent down here. If it seemed their behavior wouldn’t change, they were moved down to the deeper sublevels where security was better.”
“So anything on this level is dangerous?”
Whenua chuckled. “No more dangerous than laying down in front of a Kikanalo stampede. There’s a reason that only the real akilini-heads on the staff were assigned here – no point in risking good workers being hurt.”
The cry came again, this time loud enough for all of the Toa to hear. Whenua put a hand on Nokama’s shoulder and slipped past her. “Better let me go first,” he said. “You have to know how to approach a wounded Rahi and gain its trust. Otherwise –”
A huge paw slashed out of the darkness, hurling Whenua backwards against the wall. He slammed into the stone and toppled forward, barely getting his hands out in time to catch himself.
“Otherwise you get knocked on your mask,” said Onewa.
Nokama took a step into the darkness. A harsh growl greeted her from within. “Sister, don’t!” said Matau.
The Toa of Water ignored him. She kept her eyes forward, trying to pierce the shadows. She could just barely make out a large shape huddled on the stone floor. “Shhhh, it’s all right,” she said softly. “No one is here to hurt you. Let me help.”
“Be ready,” Onewa whispered to Nuju. “If that thing attacks –”
“Give Nokama her chance. I don’t claim to understand her instincts in these situations, but she seems to have a connection to the natural world that we lack.”
“And she can keep it,” said the Toa of Stone.
Nokama took another careful step. The Rahi lashed out weakly, its paw never even reaching her. “It’s all right. You’re not alone anymore.” Without turning her head away from the Rahi, she said, “Whenua, shine your light here.”
The Toa of Earth did as she asked. The beam from his Mask of Night Vision revealed a young ash bear roughly the size of a Toa. Even an untrained eye could see that she was badly hurt.
“Trampled,” Whenua said sadly. “She must have been caught in a rush to get out of here after the quake. I don’t think she will last very long, Nokama.”
The Toa of Water knelt beside the Rahi. The ash bear was too exhausted and in too much pain to fight. Nokama summoned a cooling mist to comfort the beast. “Is there anything we can do?” she asked Whenua. “We can’t just leave her here to die.”
“We may not have a choice,” said Onewa. “Don’t forget there are Visorak down here, and maybe Vahki, and who knows what else. We can’t take the time to play healer for a Rahi.”
“The Matoran need us,” added Vakama. “We have to go.”
“The Matoran have been asleep for weeks, unaware of what is going on around them,” Nokama shot back. “This creature is alone and afraid… and I will not see any being die with fear in its heart.”
Nuju looked over the Rahi. The ash bear’s injuries were too severe to move her. Of them all, only Whenua really knew anything about taking care of Rahi, and he was ready to give up. That was all the evidence Nuju needed that the animal had no future.
“Let’s go, sister,” said Onewa. “It’s just a Rahi.”
“Yes. Yes, it is,” said Nokama. “And to Makuta, our friends were all ‘just Matoran.’ Beings that were not as smart or powerful as he, so not worth caring about. We are supposed to be better than that. Go on, if you want to, I am staying with her.”
“Toa-power,” said Matau. All eyes turned to him. He looked startled at first, as if not realizing he had spoken aloud. “Toa-power… maybe that can help somehow. Look what the energies did for us. Maybe if we work together –”
“It’s never been done,” answered Whenua.
“Ever been tried?” asked Matau.
“Then that’s why it’s never been done,” said the Toa of Air. “If we stop loud-shouting and at least try it… and it doesn’t work… I am sure Nokama will be willing to ground-walk with us again. Right?”
Nokama shrugged. “All right. If it will get the rest of you to help, I promise – if it fails, we make her as comfortable as we can and then we go.”
The other Toa nodded in response.
“Good-fine! We are agreed,” said Matau. “So… what do we do?”
Nokama knelt by the head of the ash bear, her hands cupped above its face. Matau knelt by the Rahi’s feet. Two Toa were on each side, Toa tools extended and crossing each other.
“We have to all act as one,” said Nokama. “Concentrate. We have grown so used to using our powers to fight; maybe we have ignored their ability to heal.”
One by one, the Toa summoned their unique elemental energies. The outflow of power had to be tightly controlled – it would not do to burn, freeze, or encase the Rahi in stone. As Nokama formed a sphere of water in midair, the other five Toa Metru focused miniscule amounts of their raw energy into it. When it was fully charged, Nokama released the sphere and let the liquid wash over the ash bear.
The Toa watched, questions racing through their minds. Would this treatment cure the Rahi, or kill her? What effect would surrendering even a small amount of their Toa power have on them? None of them knew whether Toa energy reconstituted itself over time, or whether any amount expended was gone for good.
The ash bear twitched and tried to raise her head. It took her a few tries, but once she had fully revived, she let out a roar and rolled onto her feet. The Toa Metru instinctively took a step back, but the Rahi made no move to attack. She simply regarded each of them in turn, meeting their eyes but not making a sound. Then she gently pushed past Whenua and Nokama and lumbered into the darkness.
“That… was amazing,” said Nokama.
“Now she has to find a place of safety,” said Whenua. “I am not so sure there are any on Metru Nui these days.”
“She will be fine,’’ assured Matau. “One day, she will be quick-bounding out of the trees on the island up above, scaring the masks off of Matoran. Wait and see.”
“There won’t be any Matoran there if we don’t get moving,” said Vakama. “Whenua, lead the way. Take us to the Le-Metru hatch closest to the Coliseum.”
“I still say this is a mistake,” said Onewa. “We could be walking right into an ambush.”
“My visions would have warned me,” the Toa of Fire said calmly. “And they haven’t. You’ll see, Onewa, before you know it we will be safely back on the island with our friends. We are Toa, after all – a few spiders aren’t going to stop us.”
An aged pair of eyes watched the Toa depart. The heroes never saw the being who watched them, for he did not wish to be seen. There would be time enough for a meeting later.
He darted through the darkness as if it were bright sunlight, surefooted and swift. Pouks would see to the ash bear’s safety, while Iruini led the Suukorak on a futile chase deep into the Archives. He knew the winding, twisted halls better than any being alive. The Visorak would have no hope of catching him.
Norik’s task was to keep watch on the Toa Metru. They were walking into danger, and worse, doing it with their eyes wide open. He could not fathom the depths of their recklessness. Did they not have eyes? Could they not see what had taken hold of their city?
Norik’s mind flashed back to times past. How many lands had he seen fall to the Visorak? How many thousands of living beings had been brought low by their insatiable hunger for conquest? And all the while, the faces of Sidorak and Roodaka loomed over all, laughing as lives were ruined and great works ground into dust.
He picked up the pace. The Toa Metru were moving very quickly, as if in a hurry to meet their doom. And if Norik did not catch them in time, their lives and all hope for this city would be lost forever.
Whenua opened the hatch, slowly and carefully. He looked from side to side, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. Just your usual quake-ravaged, blacked out city of legends, he said to himself.
“It’s as safe as it’s going to be,” he whispered. “Come on.”
The Toa Metru climbed out of the Archives and onto the street. The Coliseum loomed over them. None of the heroes could look on that imposing edifice and not remember the horrible sight of Matoran being loaded into stasis spheres while Makuta stole the power of an entire city. The earthquake had followed hard upon that moment, but far more than the city was shattered. Something in the Toa Metru had crumbled as well.
“What is our plan?” asked Nuju.
“Get to the Coliseum, down any Vahki guards there, and get the spheres,” answered Vakama. “Then we get them out of the city before the Visorak find us.”
“We could lash together Vahki transports and sail back the way we came. Then we can carry the spheres overland through the Karzahni’s lair and back to the island.”
“Where do I begin to list the reasons that won’t work?” said Nuju.
“Forget it,” Vakama replied. “We will worry about getting them to the island once they are safely in our hands. Follow me.”
As they moved out behind the Toa of Fire, Matau was struck by the utter silence. He had never heard Le-Metru so quiet. It wasn’t just the absence of Matoran voices, though that was eerie in itself. There was no birdsong. Ordinarily, nests of Rahi flyers could be found in the tangle of cables, but now they were all gone. He wanted to think they had simply fled after the earthquake to a more hospitable home, but the Toa of Air knew better. The Visorak had been here, and nothing had been left behind.
Up ahead, Vakama was marching confidently as if he owned the metru. He had not bothered to send a scout ahead or even have Matau keep watch from the air. Onewa and Nuju were so tired of protesting that they were now just going along with whatever the Toa of Fire said.
Next to him, Nokama was lost in her own thoughts. She felt she knew Vakama as well or better than any of the Toa, but his actions now mystified her. He had been so dedicated to living up to Lhikan’s memory, yet he was ignoring every lesson the Toa had taught. Where Lhikan was cautious, Vakama had become reckless; where Lhikan valued the wisdom of others, Vakama was ignoring the other Toa to pursue his own course.
Now it felt as if events were rushing to a conclusion, as water rushed over the protodermis falls. Every part of her being screamed they should stop, turn back, run away. Something was closing in on them, something ancient and evil beyond measure. It would seize them, twist them, and taint them with its touch. But when she opened her mouth to speak, the words would not come. Vakama would not turn back on the strength of her bad feeling. He would lead them into a fire pit if it meant fulfilling his promise to Lhikan.
“Almost there,” said the Toa of Fire. “When we get there, Whenua, you and Onewa can begin digging passages into the storage chamber. The more openings we have, the faster we can get the job done. The rest of us will try to awaken some of the Matoran so they can help us move the spheres.”
“I will high-fly and keep watch while you work,” said Matau. “That way, no crawlers can sneak up on us.”
“We need every pair of hands below,” Vakama replied. “The faster we move, the less chance of any problems.”
“I will high-fly and keep watch,” Matau repeated. “I don’t want to back-walk into a Visorak, thank you, and neither should you.”
Vakama shrugged. There was no point in arguing. When they got there, Matau would see they had nothing to worry about and agree to work like the others.
The Keelerak watched the Toa Metru pass below. As Roodaka had predicted, they were on their way to the tall structure that now served as the spawning grounds. Given the opportunity, they would damage the cocoons and delay the fall of Metru Nui.
The spider creatures began to scuttle across their webs. It was their job to make sure the Toa Metru did not get the opportunity to oppose the will of the horde.
They moved as silently as a shadow stealing across the wall. Each member of this squad was a veteran, instincts and skills honed in a thousand marches. Each had savored the fruits of victory countless times, gloating over the sight of foes trapped forever in the center of their webs. It would be no different with these Toa. If anything, the Keelerak found themselves wishing for a greater challenge.
“Why?” Nuju said to himself, loud enough for Onewa to hear.
“Why what, librarian?”
“Why did the Visorak allow us to escape through the Archives? If Whenua is right, and they chose to withdraw, they could have summoned others to strike at us. Yet they let us depart and make our way to our goal.”
“Like I said… not too bright,” said Onewa.
“I wish I had your confidence, brother,” said Nuju. “But I cannot help but feel that there are more webs than the ones above us and around us. I think we are walking on one even now, and just when we think we have escaped, it will snap shut around us.”
“Amazing,” said Onewa. “I have finally found it.”
“Someone who makes Whenua sound cheerful.”
“Quiet!” whispered Vakama. “Watch for Vahki. Maybe we will be lucky and there won’t be any around. But you see? All the way to the Coliseum, and not a Visorak in sight.”
A swirling, rotating wheel of energy flew from the shadows to strike the Toa of Fire squarely in the back. Instantly, Vakama stopped dead in his tracks, paralyzed by the spinner’s force. Before the other Toa could react, they too were struck and all movement frozen – forward movement anyway. Off-balance when he was struck, Whenua toppled over and struck his friends, causing them all to fall hard to the ground.
“Is everyone okay?” asked Vakama.
“Paralyzed,” replied Nuju. “But otherwise unharmed.”
“We’re right behind you, Vakama,” said Matau, making no effort to hide his sarcasm. “Literally.”
“Bickering won’t get us out of this, Matau,” admonished Nokama.
“No, but think-talking before charging straight into a trap might have.”
“If you have something to say, say it,” snapped Vakama.
“Forget it,” grumbled Matau. “I’ve got bigger problems.”
Any further argument was cut off by the sound of multiple figures approaching. Noises came out of the darkness, scratching, scuttling noises that sent chills through the Toa. It sounded like a legion on the march, coming to surround the helpless heroes.
“What’s that?” whispered Onewa.
“We’ll soon find out,” Nuju replied.
The Toa could do nothing but wait and watch for the intruders.
Ill-defined shapes in the mist moved closer and closer, finally emerging from the fog. Keelerak, the green-hued breed of Visorak spider, crawled into the clearing, their mandibles gnashing and slimy webbing oozing from their mouths. Mounted on their backs were what looked like launchers. Everything about them was revolting, as if they sent out some psychic poison that churned up every dark emotion in those who saw them. Soon, the Toa were surrounded.
Unable to move his head to see them clearly, Matau said, “Let me guess – Visorak?”
“Yes,” answered Whenua. “In their tongue, ‘the poisonous scourge.’”
“Do they even have tongues?” asked Onewa. “All I see are teeth!”
Seeing that the Toa were no longer any threat, the Keelerak began to close in. As the Toa watched, an energy spinner formed inside the launcher of one of the green Visorak and then was fired high into the air. A swarm of bat creatures scattered at its approach. But the spinner was not meant as an attack. It was rather a signal that the battle had been won.
Nokama wanted to scream as the Visorak’s very presence filled her with an emotion beyond horror. Instead, she glanced down at the Toa of Fire. “Vakama, what do we do?”
But Vakama had no answer. All he could think of was that he had led his team into a situation they could not think or fight their way out of. His failure meant that not only they, but all the Matoran trapped beneath the Coliseum, were doomed.
“I… I don’t know,” he said quietly. “I don’t know.”
Then the Visorak began to spin their webs…
A lone Visorak crawled swiftly toward the Coliseum. It struggled not to surrender to a run, for that might be seen by other members of the horde as a sign of weakness. Instead, it did its best to look purposeful but not panicked.
It scuttled through the gateway and into a massive hallway lined with silver spheres. The Visorak had discovered these in the vaults below shortly after taking possession of this structure. The spider creatures were at first unsure of what they were, but Sidorak, king of the hordes, had instructed they be treated with care.
Sidorak. The name reminded the creature of just why it was in such a rush. If Sidorak learned the news from some other source, he would be sure to take it out on his unfortunate courier for being late. Or worse, he might turn the offending Visorak over to Roodaka for her amusement.
The Visorak reached the throne room. Sidorak sat in the chair once used by Makuta, master of shadows and mentor to the horde king. He looked at the approaching creature with a combination of boredom and cruelty in his eyes. “It’s nothing important, I hope,” he said. “Seeing as you’re late.”
The Visorak courier bowed and began to gnash its mandibles together, conveying in its native language that there was news to share.
Sidorak leaned forward. “This had better be good.”
The spider creature took a breath and made a single, sharp sound. It was enough to get the horde king’s undivided attention.
“Toa?” Sidorak said. “So they have returned for the Matoran – Matoran that now belong to me. I assume your telling me this without twitching uncontrollably means the Toa have already been captured?”
The Visorak nodded in the direction of the great window that dominated one wall of the room. Sidorak rose to look out over the city he now commanded. His eyes immediately focused on a new element that had been added to the scene: six cocoons, each containing a Toa Metru, hanging suspended from web lines far above the streets of Metru Nui.
“Thank you,” said Sidorak. “Kill them.”
The Visorak nodded again and turned, happy both to follow the order and to have an excuse to leave the throne room. Sidorak was known for his sudden changes of mood and might reward a Visorak one moment and crush it the next. The creature had almost made it to the exit when a new voice brought it up short.
“Is it to be so simple, Sidorak?”
The Visorak courier did not dare turn around. It knew to whom that voice belonged. Every member of the horde knew, and feared, Roodaka, and with good reason. But in Sidorak’s eyes, she was a figure to be trusted and coveted.
“My queen,” he said, reverence in his voice.
“No, not your queen,” replied Roodaka. “Not yet.”
“Of course. Formalities,” said Sidorak. “You have something to say?”
“Only that leaders are judged by the quality of their enemies. History teaches us this.”
It took Sidorak only a moment to realize to whom she was referring. “The Toa?”
“A fantastic adversary, my king,” Roodaka said, gesturing to where the six hung helplessly, watched by Visorak on every rooftop. “Worthy of your rule – and therefore worthy of a demise that will be remembered for all time.”
Sidorak considered. Now that he sat on the ebony throne, he found that it suited him well. True, it did not really belong to him – it was Makuta’s rightful place, after all – but the master of shadows was not here, and Sidorak was. Perhaps, with the right additions to his legend, a Visorak king could hope to become much more. After all, where was it written that the shadows could only serve Makuta?
He smiled. Where he ruled through might and intimidation, Roodaka embodied the more subtle qualities that fueled conquest. She understood fear, dread, and the power of symbols to evoke both. Her advice was always welcomed by him, not the least because he hoped she would one day be far more than just an aide in his campaigns.
Most of all, Sidorak trusted Roodaka. That was his first mistake.
“I suppose I could allow the situation to become more… legendary.”
With her subtle prodding, Sidorak agreed to leave the Toa in the cocoons long enough for them to experience the unique properties of Visorak venom. They would perish just the same, but she would have gained valuable knowledge of the effects of the poison on Toa.
“I have always admired your judgment,” Roodaka hissed approvingly. “Only be sure your method allows for some proof. For posterity’s sake…”
Roodaka’s answer came in a voice as cold as the ice that capped Ko-Metru Knowledge Towers. “Bring me their bodies.”