1

“I want the truth,” said Nuju. “What are we doing here?”

He was standing on the outskirts of Ko-Metru, a district devastated by earthquake and overrun with Visorak spiders. The crystal surface of a Knowledge Tower reflected his distorted appearance. Once a powerful Toa, the venom of the Visorak had transformed Nuju and his friends into monstrous Toa Hordika.

Nuju studied his reflection. His mask and tools had been warped beyond all recognition. His body was stronger, but twisted like that of a Rahi. Worse than that were the changes he felt inside. The Toa and beast halves of his mind were at war now. It took all his willpower to fight down the animalistic rage that threatened to consume him.

He turned to see that Rahaga Kualus was not listening to him. The small, bizarre figure’s eyes were trained on the sky. Nuju followed his gaze and saw nothing but the occasional ice bat swooping across the sky.

“Beautiful, aren’t they?” Kualus whispered. “Perfectly aerodynamic. Completely efficient distribution of mass. And their flight speed – did you know that an ice bat can outrace a stampeding Kikanalo herd?”

“No,” Nuju replied coldly. “I did not.”

The Toa Hordika wished he could just walk away and leave this strange little being to his obvious obsession with flying creatures. But circumstances dictated that he could not. There was a mission to perform and he needed Kualus’ help to complete it.

“We are wasting time,” growled Nuju. “We have a city of sleeping Matoran to save. We came here to salvage parts needed to build transport, not to admire birds.”

“Rodents,” said Kualus. “Ice bats are rodents. Surprised a scholar like you wouldn’t know that. What were you looking at all those years in the observatory?”

The Rahaga pointed toward a lone bat flying shakily toward the ground. Its wing had been damaged in a collision with a Knowledge Tower. Unable to control its flight, it was headed straight for a Visorak web.

“Stay here,” Kualus said, already leaping over rubble to follow the ice bat.

“What are you doing?” said Nuju. “It’s just a bi… a rodent!”

“I am doing the same thing Toa do,” replied Kualus. “I am saving one who cannot save himself.”

Keen eyes tracking the bat’s flight path, Kualus unleashed the spinner attached to his back. It flew straight and true through the air until it reached the bat. The spinner immediately adhered to the flesh of the flyer and steered it back toward the waiting Rahaga. Kualus snagged the spinner and removed the wounded creature from it. Then he began to gently tend the Rahi’s wounds.

“Handy little thing, isn’t it?” said Kualus. “They are called Rhotuka spinners.”

“Yes,” said Nuju. “If I ever need a bat catcher, you are the first one I’ll call.”

Kualus hastily improvised a splint for the bat’s wing. Once he was done, he placed the creature inside a niche in a damaged Knowledge Tower. When the ice bat tried to leave the shelter, the Rahaga began talking to the Rahi in clicks and whistles, all the while making sharp gestures with his hands. What was even more amazing was that the ice bat seemed to be listening.

“What is that gibberish?” asked Nuju, his impatience growing by the moment.

“Not gibberish,” Kualus replied, smiling. “Language – the language of the flyers, or at least as close to it as a non-flyer can come. Just as they don’t waste any energy when in the air, they don’t waste words when they speak. Perhaps you might like to learn?”

Nuju shook his head. “No. Now can we move on?”

Kualus sprang to his feet. “Very well, Toa Hordika. Lead, and I shall follow… as long as I like where you are leading.”

Toa Hordika Nokama and Rahaga Gaaki swam silently along the eastern coast of Metru Nui. All along the shoreline, Gaaki could see Visorak Boggarak webbing up the sea creatures they had captured. Some of the unfortunate captives would be mutated by venom, the rest simply condemned to endless sleep.

Nokama had taken no notice. She was at one with the ocean, moving through the water with strong, smooth strokes. It seemed that she could sense every movement in the water, from small currents and eddies to the passage of even the tiniest fish. Sensing the approach of swells, she let her body go limp and rode with them. She had never known such complete peace, certainly not since she had become a Toa Metru. It seemed strange that such a monstrous mutation as becoming a Hordika could bring such a feeling.

“No. It is not all bad,” said Gaaki. “Allowing the animal to guide you can be so tempting, you might never wish to turn back.”

“Would that be so terrible?” asked Nokama. “I can still serve my city. I can still protect the Matoran… even like this.”

“But can you protect your friends? Can you protect yourself?” asked Gaaki. “It takes a being of great willpower not to succumb to the lure of the Hordika. Yes, you may discover new powers and new ways of being, but you may also revert to a primal state and bring destruction to everything you hold dear.”

Nokama wished the Rahaga would just shut up. She was not going to destroy anything – the very thought was absurd. Instead, she was going to use her new abilities to be an even better protector of Metru Nui than before.

Gaaki was just jealous, she decided. Even in this form, Nokama was lithe and strong. Of course, Gaaki envied her that.

I shall let her remain by my side, thought Nokama. But I shall keep an eye on this one. I do not know that I trust her.

High above Le-Metru, a member of the Visorak Roporak species kept a careful watch. Its brown coloration allowed it to fade into the tangled mass of cables and webbing that shrouded the Metru. Beside it, an unfortunate Gukko bird tried in vain to escape a cocoon. The creature would fail, of course, and soon cease to be any threat.

The Roporak had to forego the pleasure of watching its captive’s struggles. The green Toa and his companion, the Rahaga named Iruini, had appeared only moments before. Their behavior was puzzling, to say the least. The Rahaga traveled rapidly over the rubble, but constantly had to stop and urge the Toa on. The Roporak could not understand everything that was being said, of course, since Visorak knowledge of the Matoran language was rudimentary at best. But it could recognize the tone. It was the same tone that the viceroy of the Visorak, Roodaka, got in her voice just before she dropped one of her guards from a high place.

The Roporak had already sent a message through the webs to let others know the Toa was here. Since their escape from the Coliseum, the six Toa Hordika had been on the run. They had so far managed to evade a few halfhearted efforts by the Visorak to catch them, and no doubt thought they were superior to the hordes. Little did they realize the spiders were simply testing their defenses before beginning the hunt in earnest.

Nearby, the Gukko bird had finally exhausted itself and given up. In a short while, it would be locked in sleep, with no more worries, cares, dreams, or desires. Its system would slow to such a point that nutrition would no longer be required. There would no longer be any need to seek food, or fly over the city, or build a nest in the cables. The Roporak wondered what such complete isolation from the world would be like. The idea of having no Roodaka to answer to was strangely appealing.

The Visorak caught itself just in time. True, Roodaka couldn’t read its thoughts – hopefully – but the dark one she served… that one knew all. It was best to concentrate on the hunt, and not risk thinking thoughts that could lead to an early end to existence.

The Toa and the Rahaga had vanished inside of the large buildings. The Visorak had no idea what they were seeking there, but it really did not matter. Vibrations in the web indicated that the horde was closing in.

The first Toa to fall would serve as bait for the rest. The heroes would walk right into the center of a web… and never walk out again.

“This was your idea,” said Iruini. “Now you are having second thoughts.”

“Third and fourth,” replied Matau. “Thank you for spot-noticing.”

The Toa cleared away some rubble that blocked their path. The Rahaga was right. It had been Matau’s suggestion that the Toa use airships to transport the Matoran out safely. But the Visorak had wrecked all the existing vessels in Le-Metru, which meant building more. The Toa had split up to find the necessary materials and anything of importance they might need to bring on the journey. Odds were that if – when, Matau corrected – the Matoran were rescued, there would be precious little time to load the ships and go. They had come to this airship hangar in search of undamaged protodermis membranes that could be used for new vessels.

“What would you rather be doing?” asked Iruini.

“Finding that Rahi you spoke of,” said Matau. “Keetongu – the one who can cure me of… this.”

Iruini snorted. “I suppose you still believe that Mata Nui comes through the chutes on Naming Day bringing gifts to good Matoran, too. Keetongu is a myth, Matau. Some of the other Rahaga believe in him, but I don’t. A Rahi as big as that existing for so long without being found? Please.”

“Oh,” said Matau. “Then there’s no hope? We will remain Hordika forever?”

Iruini ran, leapt, grabbed an overhanging pipe and did some lightning fast gymnastics. Then he let go, somersaulting three times in midair before landing on his feet. “It’s not so bad. You get used to it.”

Matau looked at the Rahaga in surprise. “You mean you –?”

Iruini crouched atop a pile of rubble and smiled. “Do you think I always looked like this? Did you think my name was always Rahaga Iruini? Not so.” The Rahaga jumped to the ground, rolled, and sprang up again in front of Matau. “Toa Iruini, it was, once… long ago. But you never forget, brother. Trust me, you never forget.”

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