Nokama and Gaaki approached a rear entrance of the Great Temple. They had been expecting numerous Visorak patrols to be guarding the place, but to their surprise, there were none. Even more amazing, the temple was largely intact.
The Toa Hordika opened the door and hesitated. Finally, she took a step forward, only to stop again. “What’s the matter with me? Why does this feel wrong?”
“Because you are no longer wholly connected to Mata Nui,” Gaaki said softly. “The Hordika side of you is a corruption. That’s the same reason Visorak prefer to avoid places like this. Mata Nui is a spirit of creation, while they are creatures of destruction.”
“We will need the Great and Noble Masks stored in here when we return to the island,” Nokama replied. “So my Toa half will just have to be stronger.”
Steeling herself, she took a step into the darkness of the temple, then another, and another. None of them got any easier. She made straight for the special chamber in which Kanohi masks were stored following their creation in Ta-Metru. The faster she got what she came for and got out of here, the happier she would be.
Nokama tore the lock off the outer door to the chamber and opened it wide. She stopped dead at the sight that greeted her. A small creature, perhaps a foot and a half in height, stood between her and the inner door. It regarded her quizzically, but did not seem to pose any threat. Still, when she sidestepped, it moved with her to block her advance. By the third time this happened, Nokama had lost patience.
“Stand aside!” the Toa Hordika snapped.
By this time, Gaaki had caught up with Nokama. “Who is that?” the Rahaga asked.
“I don’t know. It seems to be guarding this place. But why against me?”
“It is no Matoran, or Matoran creation,” Gaaki said with certainty. “It is a creature that should not exist.”
Nokama went down to one knee to be on eye level with the guardian. “Listen to me. I am Toa Nokama, the Toa Metru of Water. I need the masks inside that chamber. You have to let me in for the sake of the city.”
The little figure looked at her intently. It was almost comical in appearance, but she was in no mood to laugh. It flicked out its foot as if to kick away a stone in its path. Nokama suddenly found herself flying across the room. She slammed into the far wall, stunned.
“Should not exist,” repeated Gaaki. “But obviously does.”
Inside the mask chamber, Krahka paused in her work to listen to the sounds of battle. She could recognize Nokama’s voice and knew she might have only moments to finish her task. Still, the thought of flinging open the door and crushing the Toa of Water was very appealing…
No, she told herself. Time enough for that later. Roodaka’s plan will weaken the Toa, making them easy victims whenever I so choose. But Roodaka falls first.
She shapeshifted into the form of Vakama and stepped over to where the masks were stored. They were sorted into six slots, silver-gray Great and Noble masks just waiting for someone to don them and use their power. Above each slot was a hieroglyph representing one of the six elements, but that was not what concerned Krahka. No, she was more interested in what wasn’t there.
According to Roodaka, a Ko-Matoran seer had made a special trip to the Great Temple shortly after the first appearance of the Morbuzakh plant in the city. He had carved names above each of the six slots, names of those Matoran destined to be Toa Metru. When this was discovered by Ga-Matoran, they had hastily filled in the carvings, preferring that the will of Mata Nui not be revealed in such a way. It was Krahka’s job to bring those names to light again.
Using pinpoint control of heat and flame, she quickly melted away the protodermis used to fill in the carvings. One by one, the names reappeared. As she read them, Krahka could not stop a smile from playing across her lips.
Oh, yes, she thought. Whatever else Roodaka may be, she is cunning. Too cunning to be allowed to survive.
The sounds of battle grew louder from the other side of the door. Her work completed, it was time for Krahka to make her exit. Willing herself to transform, she shifted into a duplicate of a gaseous creature once encountered far beneath Onu-Metru. Then she slipped beneath the crack at the bottom of the door and drifted into the outer chamber.
Nokama was a little too busy to notice the mist that floated by just below the ceiling. Her efforts to go around and over the guardian had all met with failure. Without so much as touching her, it had been able to flatten her time after time. With each blow, her rage grew. She could feel her Hordika side taking control, but she no longer cared.
Gaaki had hung back and watched the uneven conflict. There had to be an answer to what was happening here, and it had to be found while Nokama was still rational enough to listen to it. The Toa Metru of Water would have given up on charging headfirst long ago, but a Toa Hordika had little concept of strategy… only savagery.
Nokama leapt. The guardian lashed out with a kick. The Toa Hordika dropped in mid-leap and slammed into the floor.
It’s making the moves, but never making contact with her, thought Gaaki. At least… not that we can see.
Gaaki waited until Nokama mounted another attack, then launched her Rhotuka spinner at a point several feet above the guardian’s head. It wouldn’t do any damage if it struck, but it might solve a mystery. The guardian never noticed it coming, being too busy knocking Nokama flat again. Gaaki’s keen eyes followed the spinner as it flew straight and true, then seemed to strike an invisible wall. The spinner fell to the ground, its energy dissipating.
The Rahaga rushed over to where Nokama was trying to rise. “It’s not what it looks like!” Gaaki said hurriedly. “That’s the answer!”
Nokama shoved Gaaki aside with a snarl, but the Rahaga refused to back down. “Nokama, listen to me! Listen! All a Hordika knows is brute force, but brute force won’t work here!”
“Then what will?” Nokama exploded. “Tell me!”
“Do you remember the cave fish? When it’s threatened, it makes itself appear larger. This guardian does the opposite – it makes itself look smaller!”
Nokama struggled to comprehend what she was being told. It was difficult for the words to penetrate the haze of anger in her brain. “Smaller?”
“The guardian you see is mimicking the movement of the guardian you don’t see,” said Gaaki. “It’s projecting a miniature version of itself as a deception while it strikes out at you.”
Nokama nodded. “The real guardian is invisible… water could change that. If I still had my powers…
“You do,” said Gaaki, helping Nokama get to her feet. “Your Rhotuka spinner, Toa. Concentrate and launch it!”
Nokama had tried not to think about the strange spinner and launcher that had become part of her body after her transformation into a Hordika. Now that she tried using it, she found it extremely difficult. It required more willpower than triggering elemental powers ever had before. Then, suddenly, it happened – a whirling sphere of energy flew from the launcher and shot across the room at the guardian.
An instant after it struck, a torrential rainstorm began inside the chamber. The drops formed an outline of the guardian’s true shape, which was easily seven times the size of the miniature version. Nokama smiled, but there was no good humor in the expression. It was the smile of a predator on the hunt.
“Now let’s see how good you are in bad weather,” she said, hurling herself at the guardian.
The miniature guardian launched a vicious kick, a move duplicated by its far bigger true self. But now that Nokama could see her foe, she was able to dodge the blow, dive and roll. Striking the guardian’s legs, she upended it. Like a felled tree, the creature toppled over and slammed into the opposite wall. Nokama sprang and pinned her enemy to the floor.
“I am a Toa,” she growled. “I am! I am!”
“It’s all right, Nokama. It’s over,” said Gaaki. “You’ve won.”
Slowly, reason returned to Nokama’s eyes as she forced her Hordika side down. She looked up at the Rahaga, ashamed. “I… I lost it, didn’t I? I lost myself.”
“But you got yourself back,” said Gaaki. “That is what matters.”
Nokama rose and opened the inner door leading to the mask chamber. She vanished inside. An instant later, Gaaki heard her gasp. The Rahaga rushed in to find out what was the matter.
The Toa Hordika was staring at the wall of compartments holding the Kanohi masks. Carved above each slot was the name of the Matoran destined to wear these masks as Toa. Gaaki squinted to make out the one Nokama’s eyes were locked upon.
It was inscribed beside the symbol of water, and it read: “Vhisola.”
“Wrong name. Wrong, wrong, wrong.”
Kualus was walking through the long central corridor of a Knowledge Tower, glancing at records and muttering to himself. Far ahead of him, Nuju was doing his best to ignore the Rahaga and focus on his mission. But it was growing increasingly difficult to shut out the constant stream of comments.
“Oh!” exclaimed Kualus. “No, no. Who thought of that?”
Nuju stopped in his tracks and turned around, slowly. He glared at Kualus. The Rahaga was looking at a collection of carvings relating to Rahi, all of which were on loan from the Archives. “What is it?”
“Gukko? What kind of a name is Gukko?” replied Kualus, as much to himself as to Nuju.
“That is what that species of bird is called. That is what it has always been called.”
“Well, it’s not what they call themselves, I can tell you that,” said Kualus. “The word ‘Gukko’ might even be an insult in their language. I don’t know, I would have to ask.”
“Some other time,” said Nuju flatly. “We have work to do.”
“Always so focused on the task at hand,” said Kualus, walking quickly to catch up to the Toa Hordika. “How admirable. Why, I’ll bet the air could be filled with flying creatures of all kind and you would never notice.”
“If they made as much noise as you do, I would,” Nuju said under his breath.
The Toa Hordika led his companion into the heart of the Knowledge Tower. Before them was a vast junction of transport chutes, as big as any in the city. Protected by the walls of the tower, these chutes had survived the quake largely intact. Though the exteriors were frosted over, Nuju could make out the movement of the liquid protodermis within.
Nuju walked to a niche in the wall and pulled out a long, curved blade that seemed to pulsate with energy. “All right. This is simple. Le-Matoran do it all the time.” He handed the blade to Kualus. “Get up on top of the chutes and slice one in two places about 1.5 bio apart. As it falls, I will use my Rhotuka spinners to freeze both ends and seal in the liquid protodermis. But first –”
The Toa Hordika launched three wheels of energy, sending them curving beneath the tangle of chutes. The result was an ice ramp that would allow falling chute sections to roll safely near where Nuju and Kualus stood.
The Rahaga looked from Nuju to the blade and back to the Toa again. “Why?”
“Propulsion,” answered Nuju. “The protodermis builds up tremendous force in the chutes. By fitting the sections into an airship, and then creating a small opening in the ice covering the rear of the chute, that force will propel us forward.”
Kualus looked doubtful, but he dutifully bounded to the top of one of the chutes and raised the blade. With a final glance at Nuju, he brought it down, slicing into the magnetic field that lined the transport tube.
Suukorak exploded from inside the chute, knocking Kualus off balance. The Rahaga fell, barely catching the blade into the underside of one of the tubes and hanging on for dear life. The horde launched multiple spinners at Nuju, trapping the Toa Hordika inside an electrical force field. Assailed by bolts of lightning and unable to move, he could only watch as the Visorak spiders turned their attentions to the Rahaga. Nuju closed his eyes and waited for the screams to start.