1

“Where is it? I know I saw it here last time.” Whenua was rummaging through an Archive storage room, tossing priceless artifacts this way and that as he searched. Bomonga watched in silence. He had no idea what the Toa Hordika was looking for, nor did he care enough to ask.

With a cry of triumph, Whenua pulled a fragment of an ancient tablet from the pile. He blew the dust off it and proudly displayed it to the Rahaga. “This is where I first saw the name Visorak,” he said. “It was brought to Metru Nui by traders long ago. It might contain information we can use.”

Bomonga nodded. Reminding Whenua of the importance of knowledge had been wise. It had kept the archivist connected to the Toa Metru and the Matoran he used to be, vital if he was to resist the lure of his Hordika nature.

“No one knows where the Visorak came from or why,” Whenua read. “Those few who have mastered their language claim that Visorak means ‘stealers of life’ and others say it means ‘poisonous scourge.’ Either way, no truer words have been spoken. Fear them, for they are a plague upon the land, leaving nothing but pain and fear behind them.”

Whenua shook his head and peered closely at the tablet. “This next part is too worn to read… but the next… evidently, some Visorak Roporak tried to rebel against the horde rulers, Roodaka and Sidorak, and Roodaka…”

The Toa Hordika abruptly stopped reading. After a few moments, Bomonga said, “She killed them?”

“No,” replied Whenua. “That would have been merciful by comparison.”

Bomonga decided it was best not to let Whenua dwell on whatever he had read. “Let’s get what we came for,” said the Rahaga. “Time is short.”

“What? Oh. Sure,” answered Whenua, stowing the tablet in his pack.

It was an easy matter finding an armful of increase weight Kanoka disks in the Archives. These would be fitted into the airships along with levitation disks to make it possible for the vessels to take off and land. Once Whenua had them safely tucked away, he and Bomonga made their way toward an exit. Surprisingly, they were traveling farther down rather than up toward the surface.

“Might be faster to go through the lower levels than try the streets,” the Toa Hordika explained. “Just keep your eyes open.”

“Always,” answered Bomonga.

Whenua took the shortest route possible. Part of this was because, even with so many of the former inhabitants now free to roam the city, this was still a dangerous place. The other part was that the Archives made his Hordika half feel trapped, as if the walls were closing in. He needed to be outside where he could see the sky.

Toa and Rahaga suddenly stopped short. Sounds of battle were coming from up ahead. Whenua peered cautiously around the corner and saw a gray Rahkshi confronting a huge Visorak spider. The Rahkshi was faster and more agile, but the Visorak was easily able to block its blows.

“Kahgarak,” whispered Bomonga. “That’s bad.”

“How bad?”

“Watch.”

The Rahkshi made another effort to slip past its opponent, only to be batted away by one of the Kahgarak’s powerful legs. At this point, the spider evidently became bored with the whole conflict. It launched its Rhotuka spinner at its foe. When the spinner struck, a field of shadow suddenly appeared around the startled Rahkshi. An instant later, the Rahkshi was gone, swallowed completely by the darkness.

Bomonga answered Whenua’s unspoken question. “It’s still there. Trapped in the dark. You can’t see it – it can’t see you. Or hear you. Or touch you. Or escape. Ever.”

“Right,” said Whenua. “Let’s try another direction.”

The two turned around and moved quietly back the way they came. They had gone only a few steps when a shape loomed out of the darkness before them. It was another Kahgarak, its eyes fixed on them, its spinner about to launch.

You were a Toa?” said Matau, dumbfounded. “But you’re… you’re…”

“Short? Ugly? A little too Rahkshi-like for comfort?” said Iruini. “You can say it. I’ve said the same to myself for ages, and worse.”

“But how…?”

“Norik is the storyteller of the group, not me. I don’t know, those fire types always seem to want to tell tales. Must be all that hot air around them all the time.” Iruini did a backflip from a standing start and landed atop a pipe.

“Who did this to you? How long ago?” asked Matau.

Iruini smiled. He could tell what Matau was really thinking. The Toa Hordika was worried he was going to wind up looking like a Rahaga. If he’s not careful, he may wind up as something worse, but no point in telling him that, thought Iruini. He’s barely hanging on as it is.

“It’s like this. We six fought a battle and won, or thought we did. We didn’t realize that our enemy had friends who would want revenge. Kualus, Bomonga, Pouks, and Gaaki were ambushed and mutated. Norik and I weren’t with them for… different reasons. He and I saved the others from dying, but not before we were mutated ourselves. And here we are, one big happy family of freaks.”

“You didn’t completely answer my question,” said Matau.

Iruini swung from the pipe, did a somersault in midair, and landed on top of a piece of machinery. “That’s right, you wanted to know who would be cruel and sadistic enough to do this to another living being… what kind of monster could take delight in the suffering of another. Well, she has seen you, Toa, even if you have not seen her yet. She’s the one who made you Hordika.”

The Rahaga stopped and stood still, his eyes fixed on the ground as memories flooded back to him. He remembered the freedom and power of being a Toa and the satisfaction that came with protecting others. He recalled how good it felt to know that nothing could stand in his way as he fought for right. Then the horrible memory intruded, as it always did, of the night something ended his days as a hero.

“Roodaka did this,” he said quietly, never looking at Matau. “She did it, and she laughed. The others may be here to save Rahi from the Visorak or search for some creature from an old Matoran tale. Me? I’m here to make sure Roodaka never laughs again.”

Matau was not sure what to say. He had been so occupied dealing with what he had become and worrying about how to reverse it that he had not stopped to ponder vengeance. But he supposed that if you were condemned to a lifetime of living like the Rahaga, there might be little else to think about.

The Toa Hordika was about to end the awkward moment by suggesting they get on with their search, when Iruini held up a hand. Then the Rahaga dashed off toward the door. By the time Matau reached there, Iruini had shut it tight and was piling rubble in front of it.

“They’re coming,” he said. “Help me block this door.”

Matau didn’t need to ask who he was referring to. He could already hear the Visorak scratching on the outside of the door. It sounded like dozens.

“Are there other ways in?” asked Iruini.

“Windows, but they are tight-locked,” said Matau, struggling to think. The nearness of the Visorak was making his Hordika side want to flee. “The… the hangar doors on the roof… if they were damaged by the quake, they could be open.”

Without waiting for the Rahaga, Matau ran up the stairs that led to the roof. Along the way, he glanced out the windows to see Visorak crawling up the side of the building. The undersides of their bodies glowed grotesquely in the light of his torch as they passed over the panes. If they reached the roof first, he would never be able to shut the hangar doors in time to keep them out.

The sound of crystal smashing came from up ahead. One of the Visorak had thrust its leg through a window and was groping for the lock. Matau picked up a piece of pipe and struck at the spider, forcing its limb back outside. He could hear the scraping of spider legs through the walls. Death by big bug is not the way for a Toa-hero to go, he thought. Even one who looks like I do.

He looked up. Starlight was spilling through the hangar doors. They were wedged open by debris. A moment later, the stars were obscured by the bodies of Visorak as they gathered on the roof.

This will make a very dark-bad Chronicle, Matau said to himself. If anyone is left alive to write it, that is…

Pouks looked up at Onewa. The Toa Hordika was shaking, not from the weight of the stone he carried, but from the war going on within him.

“There is always another way,” Pouks said, pointing to the rock wall on the other side of the canyon. “All you have to do is look for it.”

Onewa glanced in the direction the Rahaga was pointing. There was a cave mouth high up on the side of the wall. It was not a natural cave, rather the mouth had been carved out, with the edges in a distinctively jagged shape. Onewa smiled and hurled the boulder across the canyon and directly into that cave.

A response was not long in coming. Three rock raptors emerged from the cavern, looking about for who had dared to attack them. These bizarre looking Rahi made their home in Po-Metru and hunted creatures far larger than they. Their arms, each tipped with a blade for carving, waved in the air as they scanned the area. Their eyes rapidly fixed on the herd of Kane-Ra far below.

The Rahi immediately went to work. They swarmed over the rock wall, chipping away at the stone. In a matter of seconds, the entire face of the slope was loosened. The stone slid down and crashed beside the herd, panicking them. As they scattered, the rock raptors dropped from above and went after the slowest of the beasts. Soon the entire canyon was deserted.

“See?” said Pouks. “Sometimes you charge like a Kikanalo, and sometimes you sneak like a stone rat. They both work.”

“We better get down there before the raptors come back,” Onewa replied. “They don’t normally bother Toa or Matoran, but I don’t look much like either… and neither do you.”

The Toa Hordika and Rahaga scrambled down the slope. Their destination was a cave in which Po-Metru Kanoka disks were stored. Onewa had no doubt there would be some levitation disks in there, which were vital to constructing airships. Once they had those, they could return to Le-Metru and meet the others.

Onewa led the way. The disks were right where he remembered they would be. He had begun gathering them when he heard the sounds of crumbling rock from further in the tunnel. “Stay here,” he said to Pouks as he went to investigate.

“Hold on –”

“Stay here, I said!” Onewa snapped. “If there’s something back there… well, one of us has to get these disks back to the others.”

The Toa Hordika moved cautiously down the tunnel. At one point, a stone snake slithered toward him, a good six feet long and powerful enough to crush rock in its coils. Ordinarily, this would have been a problem. But the snake seemed as disturbed by the Hordika as Onewa was by it and made a quick exit.

The source of the noise was easy to spot. An entire section of tunnel wall had collapsed, revealing a cavern beyond. It wasn’t until Onewa stepped through the hole that he realized it was a chamber carved out of the rock. His Rahi side sensed danger. It took more willpower than he thought he possessed to keep from fleeing.

Even with the enhanced senses of a Hordika, it was hard to see. He reached out for the wall. His hand passed over a series of carvings, made relatively recently by the feel of them. Onewa ran both hands over them, trying to make out what they represented.

A chill ran through him. The carvings were a formula of sorts, the kind of thing Ko-Matoran in Knowledge Towers might study. He wished Nuju were here to interpret this. He wished almost anyone else was here in place of himself.

Twin suns… a time of shadow… the Great Spirit trapped in slumber… the universe gone dark. Onewa jerked his hand away from the carvings as if he had been burned. Suddenly, he knew what this place was, and who it had belonged to.

This was one of Makuta’s lairs, he thought. This was where he calculated when the suns would go dark and planned his crime against the Matoran. No wonder my Hordika side is raging inside me. It senses the evil that was done here.

Onewa turned to leave and stumbled. He bent down to discover a tablet lying on the floor. It was too dark to tell what was written on it, so he picked it up and carried it out with him. Perhaps it will contain some valuable information, he hoped. A key to reversing this transformation or finding this Keetongu the Rahaga spoke of. Something, anything, to change our destiny!

At the mouth of the cave, Pouks watched the stone snake slither by, winding its way rapidly into the mountains. Serpents were not his specialty – that was Norik’s domain – but something about that creature just didn’t feel right.

He glanced behind, but Onewa was nowhere in sight. If he was correct, there was no time to waste trying to find the Toa Hordika. He would have to do this job himself.

Pouks readied a spinner and set off after the stone snake. If I catch it, maybe I can find out what it is that’s disturbing me, he reasoned. And if it catches me…

He decided it was best to not even think about that.

“Pouks, I found –”

Onewa stopped short. The Rahaga was gone. He looked around, but there was no sign of a struggle or any trail. Half Rahi he might be, but a skilled tracker Onewa was not.

He looked at the tablet and began to read. After a few moments, the experience began to remind him of the time he had fallen into a troller nest. The sand and slime had clung to him and little by little he began to sink into the morass. He thought he would never escape… and he knew that, even if he did get away, he would never feel clean again.

His eyes fixed on one sentence. He read it over again, then a third and a fourth time. He kept hoping the words would change, but they didn’t. Suddenly, everything made sense to Onewa, and at the same time nothing did at all. He only knew one thing: he had to get this to the other Toa.

They have to know the truth, he said to himself, even though it will destroy us all.

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