Vakama knocked the door down with one kick and stalked inside, Norik right behind him.
“You can’t do this,” the Rahaga insisted. “You’re dishonoring his memory!”
“His memory? What about my life?” Vakama snarled. “I gave up everything – my home, my job, my friends – because I was chosen to be a Toa. If it was all a lie, I have a right to know!”
“But to break into Toa Lhikan’s chambers…”
“He won’t care. He’s dead,” replied Vakama. “Or didn’t you know that? He died because he picked the wrong Matoran to be a Toa Metru.”
A large cabinet stood in a corner of the simple room the late Toa Lhikan had called home. It was locked. Vakama raised a fist and smashed the cabinet into shards. A single tablet fell to the ground.
“You don’t know that!” insisted Norik. “Maybe this is all some misunderstanding. Are you going to abandon your friends, forget about saving the Matoran, all because of this? What if you’re wrong?”
“I’m not,” Vakama answered, tossing the tablet to Norik. The Rahaga barely caught it. “Read it. It’s all there.”
Norik scanned the stone. It had been written by Lhikan not long before his capture by the Dark Hunters. It read:
I am more convinced than ever that something is wrong with Turaga Dume. But if I am right, what can I do? I am one Toa against a Turaga and an army of Vahki… not to mention Nidhiki, who I am sure I spotted in the city the other day. I must have help!
But who? Who is worthy of becoming a Toa Metru? Logic would dictate it would be the six Matoran who discovered the location of the Great Disks. Surely that is a sign from Mata Nui! But when I awoke this morning, I realized it was perhaps too obvious an omen, meant to divert me from the ones truly destined to be Toa. Vakama… Onewa… Whenua… Nuju… Nokama… Matau… those are the ones my heart tells me are to be the Toa Metru. They are the ones I must rely on to save the city.
Norik put down the tablet and looked at Vakama. “This proves nothing, other than that he had a change of mind.”
“It proves he knew,” replied the Toa Hordika. “He knew who the correct Matoran were, and something… or someone… changed his mind and made him choose us. I am going to find out –”
Norik ran out of the room before Vakama could finish. The Toa followed him. Outside, the Rahaga pointed at the webs overhead. Hundreds of Visorak spiders were traveling across the thin strands, all going in the same direction.
“They are on the move,” said Norik. “And heading for Le-Metru. You know what that means?”
Vakama nodded. “It means Matau should have stuck to Ussal riding.”
“I could use some help here!”
Nuju opened his eyes. Through the nimbus of electricity, he could see Kualus hanging by one arm from the bottom of the chute while he frantically beat back Visorak with his staff. But there were too many and the Rahaga was obviously tiring. It was only a matter of time before he fell, or worse.
The Toa Hordika reached out, only to be jolted by the electrical field that surrounded him. As long as it was in place, there was no way he could aid Kualus. When the Suukorak were done with the Rahaga, they would come for him.
No! I have the power of a beast now, he reminded himself. I have the mind of a Toa to let me channel that power. I can – I will – make it through this barrier!
Nuju lunged forward, hurling himself through the field. It felt like a thousand white-hot needles being jammed into his body. He screamed as the voltage slammed into him again and again. The Hordika side of him panicked and wanted to retreat, but it was his intelligence that dominated. Inch by agonizing inch, he forced himself through the field. When he finally emerged on the other side, he was drained and exhausted. But the Visorak would give him no time to rest.
The spider creatures had spotted him. A half dozen electrified spinners flew at him, but Nuju somehow managed to dodge them all. He responded with a flurry of spinners of his own, all of them carrying his elemental ice power. Wherever they struck, Visorak froze over.
He was fighting a losing battle, and he knew it. For every Visorak he stopped and every one driven back by Kualus, a hundred more took their place. It was going to take a miracle to survive this, and all he was getting was Kualus whistling and clicking and then whistling some more.
“What are you doing?” Nuju snapped, using his tools to fend off a Visorak. “This isn’t the time to show off how you talk to Rahi!”
“Can you think of a better time?” Kualus asked, smiling. The expression looked bizarre on a face that so closely resembled a monstrous Rahkshi. “I am just inviting some friends.”
Tiny shrieks echoed then through the halls of the Knowledge Tower. Even recognizing what they had to mean, Nuju could not believe it. He shot a glance down the corridor and there they came, hundreds, thousands of ice bats. They poured into the chamber from every opening, hurling themselves at the Visorak, striking and then flying away. So thick were their numbers that the Toa Hordika could not even see his enemies anymore. He turned and almost bumped into Kualus who was now standing beside him.
“They will keep the Visorak busy and then retreat,” said the Rahaga. “Something we should do as well.”
“We need the chutes,” said Nuju, still stunned by the chaos all around him. He had seen small groups of ice bats before, but never this many at once. The sight of them battling Visorak was so insane he wondered if perhaps he was really dead after all and this was all in his mind.
No, he decided. I can’t believe fate would be so cruel as to condemn me to an eternity with Kualus by my side.
“We can get chutes elsewhere,” said Kualus. “As much as I would love to stay and watch my pretty ones frustrate the Visorak, we have a date on top of this tower.”
The Rahaga ran off, leaving Nuju no choice but to follow. He wanted to ask why they were running upstairs instead of down. If they were trapped on the roof by the Visorak, it would mean either capture or a very long and fatal fall to the street below.
Kualus burst through the roof door and immediately began babbling in his strange language. A few moments later, Nuju spotted two large Gukko birds soaring toward the Knowledge Tower.
“No, no,” said the Toa Hordika, shaking his head. “I refuse to believe any of this.”
The two birds landed on the rooftop. Kualus immediately climbed on top of one. Realizing the Visorak might well be on their way up, Nuju decided to escape now and argue later. He wrapped his arms around the Gukko’s neck and just barely made it on top before the great bird took off.
“You haven’t lived until you have flown one of these,” said Kualus, happily.
Nuju glanced down at Ko-Metru, far below. “You haven’t died, either.”
The Rahaga laughed. “You see, Nuju, there is something to be said for speaking to Rahi, and not just at them. If the Onu-Matoran had learned that, they might have had less trouble in the Archives.”
“I’ll be sure to tell Whenua if I ever see him again,” said Nuju.
“Now the next question is, which way should we go? Other than away from here?”
The Toa Hordika looked to the southeast. Hundreds of Visorak were crossing the webs, moving inexorably toward Le-Metru. “That way,” he said, pointing toward Matau’s home metru. “And let’s hope we are in time.”
Whenua ducked as the Kahgarak’s spinner flew past and struck a display case. A moment later, the case and its contents were swallowed by the darkness.
The second giant spider was approaching from behind, trapping Toa Hordika and Rahaga between the two. Bomonga looked from one to the other, calculating whether he could get two spinners off before they attacked.
One of the Kahgarak launched again. Whenua shoved Bomonga out of the way as the wheel of energy flew at him. It narrowly missed the Toa, flying on to strike the second Kahgarak. It, too, was claimed by the darkness.
“I found our exit,” said Whenua. “Let’s use it.”
Bomonga shook his head. “More that way. Launch a Rhotuka and catch it between your tools.”
The command seemed strange to Whenua, but he did what he was told. As the spinner flew from his launcher, he caught the energy between his two Hordika tools. Instantly, he felt something like an electric shock go through his body. “W-what’s happening?”
“Charging the spinner,” said the Rahaga. “Makes it more powerful. Now let it go.”
With an effort, Whenua disengaged his tools from the spinner. The energy flew downward and struck the floor. Its earth power unleashed, the spinner ripped open a massive chasm, sending Toa, Rahaga, and Kahgarak tumbling down.
“You were supposed to aim it!” shouted Bomonga.
Whenua grabbed onto the Rahaga’s hand. “Hold on! There’s water below and I think –”
The Toa Hordika didn’t finish his sentence, at least not in the world he knew. The Kahgarak managed to get off a spinner even as it fell, striking Whenua. The darkness effect encompassed both Toa and Rahaga, plunging them into shadow.
“– we can hit it, and…” said Whenua. “Um… where are we?”
He looked around. They were no longer falling. In fact, it felt as if they stood on solid ground. But all around was darkness. Only Bomonga was visible, and even he only dimly.
“Inside the dark,” said the Rahaga. “Maybe forever.”
“Oh, no,” answered Whenua, the panic of a trapped animal creeping into his voice. “I won’t be confined. I can’t be. I need to be free to run, to climb, I need to –”
“Help your friends,” reminded Bomonga. “Save the Matoran.”
“Yes, of course. That too,” said Whenua. “We have to find a way out!”
Something brushed against the Toa Hordika. He jumped. He couldn’t see anything, but he could feel the presence of another creature and sense its movements in the ground. It was large, multi-legged, and walking away from them.
“The other Kahgarak!” he whispered. “It’s here!”
Now Bomonga could sense it too. “Follow,” he said. “Don’t let go of me or you will never find your way out.”
Toa and Rahaga moved cautiously through the pitch darkness, following the sounds of the Kahgarak up ahead. It reminded Whenua of trying to labor while wearing a blindfold, an exercise Turaga Lhikan had said would help him master his Toa powers. He had not been good at it, but there was much more than self-knowledge at stake now.
“Where are we going?”
“Where it’s going.”
“What if it’s going nowhere?”
“Then we will have a new experience,” said Bomonga.
“Oh good,” muttered Whenua. “Mata Nui knows I haven’t had any of those lately.”
“Your slithering needs work,” said Pouks, out of breath. He had trailed the stone snake halfway up the canyon wall. It had never turned back to look at him, but he was not so foolish as to believe he had trailed the creature undetected. More likely, it simply didn’t think he was worth noticing.
Once he spoke up, the serpent twisted its body and hissed at him. Pouks simply shrugged. “Now where I come from, the snakes know how to slither. Used to drive Norik crazy trying to catch them. You could learn something from them.”
The stone snake shot forward and wrapped its coils around the Rahaga. Pouks made no effort to resist or escape. Instead, he looked almost bored. “You could learn something from me, too. Of course, you won’t, not if you crush me to death. But go ahead, if you want to. Maybe Roodaka will even pat you on the head if you’re good.”
The stone snake’s face suddenly twisted into an expression of rage. It kept on twisting, along with its body, until the serpent was gone, replaced by a perfect replica of Roodaka. Pouks looked the image of the Visorak viceroy up and down, saying, “Your power is amazing, even if I don’t think much of your taste in subjects.”
Krahka regarded Pouks through the eyes of Roodaka. “Why were you following me?”
“You’re a Rahi,” the Rahaga replied. “I hunt Rahi.”
“And now you are hunted in return.”
“We all are,” said Pouks. “Anything that stands in Roodaka’s way will end up in a cocoon, you and I included. Unless… you made a deal with her? Is that why you were sneaking around that cavern?”
“I am the last of my kind,” Krahka replied. “I do what I must to survive.”
Pouks snorted. “You are the last of your kind here, Rahi. But here is not the end of the universe.”
Krahka grabbed Pouks and lifted him into the air. “Speak! Tell me where the rest of my kind can be found, or I will show you pain beyond even what Roodaka could inflict!”
“No need for that,” Pouks said. “No need. I knew where others like you once lived. It was a green and peaceful place, until the Visorak came. Oh, your brothers held out the longest, but they too fell in time. The last I saw, they were trapped in a webbed tomb just like the Rahi of Metru Nui have been.”
Krahka tossed him aside. Pouks struck hard against a rock and lay still. “Roodaka promised me freedom in return for my service,” the Rahi said. “I am not ready to challenge her again. I must follow her orders until I am ready. But…”
“That’s right. Do what she says, Krahka.”
The Rahi whirled to see Onewa standing on a ledge. The Toa Hordika smiled. The expression was a gruesome one on his bestial face. “Be a pawn. Be a tool. Be another soldier in Roodaka’s army who always follows orders, no matter what. The last time we met, I thought you were a creature of pride and intelligence. But I guess you’re just another dumb beast.”
Krahka’s mind flashed back to her first encounter with Onewa and his fellow Toa. They had invaded her home beneath the Archives, or so she had believed. Her efforts to oppose them met with failure, but she had vowed to return and challenge them another day. Now the Toa had fallen to someone else, but she felt no joy. Instead, she realized that a being powerful enough to mutate a Toa Metru could do infinitely worse to her and every other Rahi in the city.
The shapeshifter transformed into a squat, slime-caked creature with wicked blades for hands, something that made even a Hordika look good. “I have no love for Toa,” she hissed. “Less for those pathetic Matoran you insist on protecting. This city should belong to me and my Rahi brothers! But… I cannot rule a ruin, and that is all Roodaka and her kind will leave behind.”
Krahka’s new form stretched itself to twice its height, a truly gruesome sight. Onewa never blinked or turned away. “So, you have a plan?” said Krahka.
The Toa Hordika glanced up. Visorak of all types were creeping across the webs, heading for Le-Metru. “No. But I think they do.”
Krahka watched the spiders marching toward another conquest. From what she had heard during her time posing as one of them, she could guess where they were going. The Toa had little time left.
“Come,” she said. “We have much to talk about, you and I, and a… friend to pick up along the way.”
Onewa revived Pouks and together Toa, Rahaga, and Rahi moved off into the rocky passes of Po-Metru. Their attention was fixed on the small army of spiders ahead of them, so none noticed the Visorak Roporak appear as if by magic where they had been standing. Its color shifted from the sandy shade of the rocks back to its normal dark brown. There were times, it reflected, that being able to match perfectly any background and stand completely still for hours was a most useful talent indeed.
Effortlessly, it scaled a nearby web, but it did not follow the other Visorak. Instead, it veered southeast, heading for the Coliseum and Roodaka, with a most interesting tale to tell.