Roodaka smiled as she watched a small group of Visorak crafting another web. This one connected the Coliseum to another of the Knowledge Towers of Ko-Metru. It seemed appropriate that these creatures comprised her army, for in many ways she too created snares for the unwary.
There was far more to web-spinning than simply the right location and a few strands of silk. It had to be reinforced and supported so that if wind or a storm tore a section loose, the entire structure would not collapse. In much the same way, Roodaka’s plans were constructed so that no one setback could destroy them. Even events that might seem disastrous at first could be turned to her advantage.
Atop the Coliseum, Visorak jostled for position. After days of capturing nothing but Rahi, finally there was to be an “M and D” (mutation and disposal) worth watching. Toa were a rare prize – most were too smart to walk into a Visorak trap, or strong enough to fight their way out of them. Fortunately, for all their victories, these Toa Metru were evidently still new to their roles and prone to making mistakes.
One too many Boggarak tried to secure a good viewing position. When the Oohnorak next to it refused to move, it gave a shove and sent the spider creature tumbling into space.
Toa Whenua watched this happen from his unique vantage point. He would have gladly given up his place for a Visorak, if he’d had the opportunity. But it was unlikely any of the horde would want to be hanging miles above the city in a web cocoon, dangling precariously from a web line, as Whenua and his fellow Toa now were. Whenua watched the Visorak fall through a narrow gap in the webbing until the creature was lost from sight.
“That’s encouraging,” he muttered.
Matau glanced toward where Vakama hung, shrouded by webbing. “Well, fire-spitter, we can’t say you didn’t show us the city,” he said, his voice rising in anger. “Course, we can say that you got us captured, poisoned, and, seeing as I don’t think we’ve been brought up here for the view, imminently smash-dashed!”
Vakama struggled to think of what to say in reply. His head and body hurt all over. He could feel the barbs of the cocoon biting into him and the Visorak venom coursing through his form. He glanced at the other Toa, now all facing destruction because he had made the wrong decisions.
Onewa was about to say something when he noticed the strands of webbing that held his cocoon to the line were beginning to give. When he did speak, it was muffled by the webbing that covered his mouth. “Mmmmpfff!”
“He agrees,” said Matau.
“This is not Vakama’s fault!” snapped Nokama from her cocoon. When four pairs of eyes all shot skeptical looks at her, she added, “Well, not entirely.”
“Don’t bother, Nokama,” said Vakama. “I tried to lead you as best I could. I wish I was better at it, but if I’ve learned one thing from all we’ve been through… it’s that I am what I am. And no matter how much I might want to, I can’t just change.”
A spasm gripped Vakama, sending violent shudders down his body. Suddenly, an arm tore its way free of his cocoon. He looked at it, confused. Surely, that twisted, bizarre limb did not belong to him.
From the balcony of the Coliseum, Sidorak and Roodaka watched as Vakama’s transformation began. Smiling, the viceroy of the horde slipped a hand onto Sidorak’s shoulder, signaling her approval of the nightmare to come.
The effect was spreading to the other Toa. Their bodies warped and mutated, masks changing shape, muscles expanding, their very minds feeling like they were being torn apart and reassembled. It was a pain beyond pain, made worse by the certain knowledge that there was no way to stop whatever was happening to them.
“I’m not liking this!” shouted Matau.
Nuju managed to shift his focus from the rapid changes happening to his body. As the Toa’s bodies mutated, they were tearing through the webs that made up their cocoons, the only things that were keeping them in the air. At this rate, they would not have to worry about their new forms for very long.
“You’re going to like it even less in a moment,” he said.
Nokama glanced at Vakama. He had been the first to change, and so his cocoon was in the worst shape. “Vakama!”
The Toa of Fire locked eyes with his friend even as the last of the webbing shredded and fell away. “I’m sorry I let you all down,” he said. Then he fell, to the sound of wild cheers from the Visorak.
Whenua felt himself losing his grip. The webbing could no longer support his increased weight. He tried to think of something profound to say before he dropped, but could only manage, “Uh… bye.”
Matau watched as Whenua, Onewa, and Nuju plunged toward the ground. It was hard to believe this would be the last moment of his existence. He looked at Nokama, saying, “Nokama, I want you… no, I need you to know that I’ve always -”
But before he could finish his statement, he, too, fell. Nokama closed her eyes, preferring not to see herself follow the lead of her brother Toa. Then she fell, feeling the wind rushing up to greet her, and knowing the pavement was doing the same.
Vakama reflected for a moment that he must have gone insane. Here he was, dropping hundreds of feet to hard, unyielding ground, and he was bracing for impact. As if that will make any difference at all, he thought. Even Toa armor cannot survive a fall from this height… and I am not even sure if Toa armor is what I am wearing now.
He saw a blur of motion out of the corner of his eye. At first, he thought it was one of the other Toa passing him on the way to the pavement. Instead, he felt an impact in his side as something snatched him in midair. The jarring knocked the wind out of him and the world went black.
High above, Nokama saw it happen. “What was –?” she began, before she, too, was grabbed and saved from a crushing death.
One by one, the other Toa followed, each saved by a mysterious rescuer. Matau was the last, and at the first sign of a motion blur, he shouted, “Easy! Don’t snatch-scratch the armor!”
Vakama stirred. The ground was moving underneath him, but he was not walking across it. No, he was being carried by someone… or something. He couldn’t make out quite who it was, or where they were heading.
“Wh – what’s happened to me?” he asked.
His rescuer said nothing, just continued putting distance between them and the Coliseum. Vakama wondered if perhaps he had fallen out of the molten protodermis vat and into the furnace. What if his new “friend” was some pawn of the Visorak, carrying him off to a fate even worse than death?
“Answer me. I am a Toa!” said Vakama.
The strange figure who carried him chuckled softly. “Not exactly,” was the reply.
Matau woke up facedown in a gutter. He had been unceremoniously dumped there by his rescuer, who had disappeared. He lifted his head and looked around, noting that it was the middle of the night and he was somewhere in the ruins of Ga-Metru.
“Hello?” he called. “Nokama? Whenua? Nuju? Onewa?”
No answer came from the darkness. Matau shrugged and, with some reluctance, added, “Vakama?”
When no response came, Toa Matau reached up to clear the grit from his eyes. The first sight that greeted his newly cleared vision was his own reflection in the liquid protodermis pooled by the gutter. But the face that looked back at him was not that of a Toa. It was the face of a monstrous beast.
“No!” Matau shouted. His hands shot to his face, desperately seeking evidence that what he saw was not real. But it was. He could feel the rough contours of his features where once there had been the smooth, hard metallic surface of a Kanohi mask.
“But this isn’t me,” he said softly. Then anger rose in him – anger at the way he looked, anger at Makuta for destroying his city, anger at Vakama for leading them into the trap. He swiped at the puddle, stirring its surface and distorting his reflection.
As if it could get any more distorted, he thought.
Nuju opened his eyes. The being that held him was like none he had ever seen before. Bent and twisted, it looked like a cross between a Turaga, a Rahkshi, and some other Rahi species. Despite its small stature, it seemed to have no difficulty scaling walls or swinging from loose cables. If Nuju’s weight was a burden to the strange creature, it gave no sign.
Their journey came to an end in the ruins of Ga-Metru. The other Toa were already there, all of them transformed into freakish combinations of their own forms and the bodies of beasts. They were confused and horrified by what they had become.
The Toa of Ice turned to ask his savior a question, only to find that all six of the little creatures were gone. Mysteries built atop other mysteries, he thought. And none of them helping to solve the greatest of them all – what have we become?
His mood was not improved by the discovery that his mask powers no longer worked. Whether that was a result of damage to the mask itself as a result of the transformation, or some side effect of the transformation on his own mind, he did not know. Even worse, his ice powers no longer responded to his commands. His Toa tools were gone as well, replaced by strange pieces of equipment whose function he could not comprehend.
He looked at his friends – where they had once been powerful, noble Toa, now they resembled something that would be hidden in a sub-level of the Archives. Matau looked by far the worst. Nokama instinctively moved to comfort him.
“It’s all right,” she whispered.
Matau looked up at her, then at the others. They were no longer Toa, they were not even Matoran or Turaga. They were beasts… monsters… things out of a Matoran scare-story.
“All right?” he snapped. “You call this all right?”
“We’re all alive,” Nokama replied. “We’ll find a way. Together.”
“That’s what friends do,” Whenua added, his tone more gentle than Matau had ever heard it.
Matau rose and turned to Vakama, thrusting his face right up to the Toa of Ta-Metru. “I don’t hear you saying that, smelthead. What’s the matter – too busy cooking up another master plan? Maybe you can get us killed next time, instead of just turned into monster-beasts!”
Vakama stepped back, snarling, “I’m through making plans.”
“Well, that’s the first happy-good thing I’ve heard since I became ugly,” Matau replied.
Nuju frowned. Bickering was going to get them nowhere. Their future as Toa, or whatever they might be now, was going to depend on the decisions made in the next few moments.
“Regardless of how we look, it might be better if we use our energy to find out how and why we’ve become… whatever it is we are.”
“The sooner we do that, the sooner we can rescue the Matoran,” Nokama agreed. “But where do we start?”
Matau turned to them, unconvinced. “How are we to be-saving when we’re the ones that need-saving?”
No one had an answer. Then a voice laden with age and wisdom broke the stillness, its source nearby yet unseen. “If you are wise… if you wish to be yourselves again…”
Six strange figures emerged from the shadows. Each had a face much like that of a Rahkshi and walked hunched over like a Rahi beast. The one in front was dark red, and he surveyed the Toa one by one.
“Then you will listen,” he said.
All six Toa turned at the strange voice, half wise sage, half snarling beast. The strange beings that had saved them from their fall had reappeared, seemingly out of thin air. They regarded the Toa, not with fear or horror, but with sadness and resolve.
Norik spoke again. “You have become something both more and less than what you were,” he said. “You walk a road that is all too familiar… we know how it begins, and we know how it can end. You must act now, Toa, or there is no hope for you or your city.”
A surge of hope ran through the Toa. True, these creatures resembled old foes a little too much for comfort, but if they knew how this change could be reversed…
“Tell us how to undo this, wise ones, and I’ll personally build a field full of statues in your honor,” growled Onewa.
“You would be doing Metru Nui and the Matoran, as well as us, a great service,” said Nokama.
“We know of your plight,” Norik replied. “We have been living in the shadows of this city since before the cataclysm. We are aware of what happened to the Matoran, as well as what terrible plans the Visorak have for them. But we can do little to stop them. It is you who must act.”
Roodaka stood in the gloom of the sundial chamber. The great timing devices had stopped dead during the dual eclipse in Metru Nui – the moment Makuta had waited for had come and gone, the moment when he would seize his destiny. But the Toa had frustrated him, defeated him, and now he lay trapped behind a sealed layer of protodermis.
The ebony viceroy of the Visorak gazed at the stone in the palm of her hand. It was rough and black, like obsidian, carved by her from the outer surface of Makuta’s prison. Even so small an effort had cost her much pain, for only a Toa could pierce the shell that surrounded the master of shadows without paying the price.
“Rest, my Makuta,” she crooned to the stone. “Sleep, and know that as you do, I draw close to waking you.”
She smiled, an expression that would have sent even the bravest Visorak running for refuge. “The Toa have returned, as you said they would. Even now, their broken bodies are being brought to me so I may drain them of their elemental powers. Powers I will use to shatter the wretched seal they bound you with and that keeps us apart!”
Roodaka gently, lovingly placed the Makuta stone into her breastplate. It began to pulse like a heartlight. “And then, there will be no need for these charades,” she whispered. “Together, you and I will –”
She stopped abruptly. Her expression turned as hard as the stone. Coldly, she demanded, “What is it?”
A Visorak stepped out of the thick shadows, looking like it wanted more than anything to run. But if the message it carried was not delivered, Roodaka would track the unfortunate spider creature down and then… It shuddered at the thought and began its report.
Roodaka listened intently. After only a few moments, she interrupted. “The Toa? Why do you speak of them as if they’re still alive?”
The Visorak’s mouth was dry. It glanced about, making note of where all the chamber’s exits were. Then, very quietly, it answered her question.
Roodaka’s reaction was immediate. Whirling, she smashed a pillar into dust. The Visorak backed away before she decided to vent her anger on it. But the viceroy of the hordes had no interest in one mere spider. No, her rage was reserved for a very specific group of individuals, whose name she spat out as if it were poison: “Rahaga!”
After he had spoken the word, Rahaga Norik waited for some reaction. But the looks on the Toa’s faces indicated that none of them had ever heard the name before.
Onewa, at least, was willing to pretend he understood. “The key to Nongu,” he said, matter-of-factly.
Norik shot the Toa of Stone a look, then continued. “Keetongu is a most honorable Rahi, skilled in the way of venoms – not to mention our only hope to stand against the Visorak horde. If you are to be the Toa you once were, it is Keetongu you must seek.”
“But… what are we now?” asked Nokama.
“The Visorak cocoons injected you with Hordika venom. It now courses within you. If it is not neutralized, it will take root, and Hordika you will be forever. Half-Toa, half-beast, prisoners of your own instincts, your own rage… until the day your Rahi nature takes hold completely, and you are no better than gibbering things bringing destruction wherever you roam.”
Nokama shuddered at the thought. This could not be their destiny! It could not have been why Mata Nui blessed them with the power of Toa!
“I am a Rahaga,” the being continued. “Norik is my name. These others are Gaaki, Bomonga, Kualus, Pouks, and Iruini.”
A moment of silence followed. It was finally broken by Matau, who said awkwardly, “So… how’s that working out for you?”
“It has its moments,” Norik replied. “This is not one of them.”
None of the Toa knew quite what to say. It was hard enough to believe all this had happened to them, let alone that such bizarre looking creatures were their only hope. Finally, Nokama spoke up. “Rahaga, can you take us to this Keetongu?”
The Rahaga called Iruini laughed. Norik shot him a stern look, then turned back to Nokama. “What Iruini so inappropriately suggests is that this will be… difficult. We Rahaga came to Metru Nui in search of Keetongu, and there are those of us that, well, doubt his existence entirely.”
“Oh, wonderful,” said Onewa. “Our only hope is a myth.”
“And you?” Nuju asked Norik. “What do you believe?”
“I believe in legends,” said Norik.
“Then so must we,” agreed Nokama.
“Wait,” interjected Matau. “Shouldn’t we group-talk about this? What do you say, Onewa? Whenua? Mask-melter?”
The Toa of Stone and the Toa of Earth said nothing. They had both dared to hope that their transformation might be reversed, only to find out that the whole thing hung on nothing more than simply another legend. Vakama never took his eyes from the ground as he said, “I say we returned to Metru Nui to rescue Matoran, not to hunt down mythical beasts.”
“And you have a way of doing this?” Norik asked sharply. “Perhaps using your new Hordika powers? Powers you have not yet learned to use.”
“I don’t know,” said the Toa of Fire. Something in his voice told Nokama he was dangerously close to an explosion.
“Don’t know, or don’t want to include the rest of us in your plans?” Norik prodded.
“Either,” Vakama replied. Then he rose and stalked away.
“Vakama!” Nokama cried after him.
Norik started after the troubled Toa Hordika. “I will talk to him.”
“What about us?” asked Matau.
Norik gave him a smile, one laced with a hint of menace. “Prepare yourselves. We’ve a legend to prove.”
* * *
It was some time before Vakama returned to the group. An uneasy silence lingered for a long while before he spoke.
“I can’t tell you all what to do,” the Toa of Fire said. “It’s obvious that my orders led us to this disaster. It’s equally obvious that some of you no longer wish my company,” he said, looking at Matau and Onewa.
“Vakama, they didn’t –” Nokama began.
Vakama cut her off. “But I think we can all agree that our problems pale next to those of the Matoran. We have to be sure they are safe before we can worry about how to reverse this transformation.”
Nuju nodded. “As much as I wish it were otherwise, you are right. Placing the Matoran first puts us at risk of being Hordika forever, something I would not wish on anyone. But seeing to ourselves before saving them may doom an entire population to this fate, or worse.”
“We are Toa-heroes, even if we don’t look like it,” said Matau. “We have two problems – rescuing the Matoran from the Coliseum, and then getting them out of this city. If you will think-plan on the first, I may have an idea of how to do the second.”
“Then let’s get started,” Onewa said, bounding on top of a pile of rubble. “We are not getting any younger, and Matau is not getting any better looking.”
Norik watched the Toa talk and plan as they journeyed back to Le-Metru. It was good that they had a mission and goal in mind to keep them from thinking about their fate. He knew better than most what Toa were capable of, but in his heart, he doubted that these heroes could avoid their doom.
He signaled to the other Rahaga to spread out and keep to the shadows. If there were Visorak near, the Rahaga would spot them. The Rahaga had survived this long by avoiding the hordes, running, hiding… but no more.
Metru Nui will be our final showdown with these creatures from the pit, he told himself. And before it is done, either Visorak or Rahaga will be no more.
Roodaka sat on the throne that had once belonged to Makuta. Sidorak had departed to gather his legions in preparation for hunting the Toa Hordika. He would rely, as he always did, on the overwhelming force of numbers to achieve his ends. The Visorak would sweep through the city like a plague, never resting until their prey had been run to earth.
But will that be enough? she wondered. These are Toa… mutated, yes, burdened with the dual nature of the Hordika, but Toa just the same. This is their city. They know its hiding places, and they have the cursed Rahaga to aid them. With luck and skill, they might evade the hordes.
That would never do. She needed the Toa to achieve her ultimate plan, and by Makuta’s dark power, she would have them.
The viceroy of the Visorak rose and walked to the massive sundial that dominated the chamber. Once this device had measured the amount of time remaining before Metru Nui was wracked by cataclysm. Now it counted down the hours the Toa Hordika had left to live.
Roodaka smiled. Let Sidorak lead his legions on a chase through streets and alleyways. She would make plans of her own, plans so subtle and so devious that even the master of shadows would applaud, were he free.
Soon, she thought. Very soon, now. By my hand will the light be banished from this city, and darkness left to rule forevermore.
And deep in the bowels of the Coliseum, the sleeping Matoran trembled in the grip of nightmares that would not end…