Dawn was breaking. Nokama felt the pale sunlight warming her armor and awoke. For a few seconds, she wondered what had happened to her city. Where were all the Matoran? Why were the chutes not running?
Then a flood of memory returned. Dume who was not Dume, but Makuta in disguise; a thousand Matoran forced into spheres and rendered comatose; darkness falling over the suns, the ground shaking…
She shook her head to clear the visions away. There were more immediate problems to worry about, she reminded herself. If we cannot reverse what has happened to us, all that has gone before will seem like just a spirited game of akilini.
Nokama rose and walked to the Great Temple gateway. Beyond that impressive arch was the bridge that led to the most venerated structure in all Metru Nui. Amazingly, it still stood, exactly as she remembered it. Only one thing was missing…
The Toa Hordika of Air had agreed to take the final shift on guard. But he was nowhere to be found. Has something happened? she wondered. Could the Visorak have taken him by surprise, capturing him before he could give a cry of warning?
Small bits of rock and wood suddenly rained down upon her. Puzzled, she looked up to see Matau in the eaves of the arch, building what looked suspiciously like a nest. After a few moments, he noticed Nokama down below.
“I thought you were keeping watch,” said Nokama.
She gave him a skeptical look, inviting him to try again.
“And building this,” he continued. “But much more with the guard-watching. It was quite a night, me and the… watching.”
Nokama gestured toward the bizarre structure of wood, mud, and stone Matau had been building. “Surely, this must be the most impressive thing ever built by an insane Toa in all of Metru Nui,” she said flatly. “Seriously – what are you doing?”
Matau jumped down from his perch on the arch to land beside her. “That’s the thing,” he confessed. “I have no idea. I just had this… urge. To nest-make!”
To his surprise, Nokama did not snap at him. Instead, she looked away, saying, “I get them, too. Ever since –” She gestured at herself, then at him, and he knew she was referring to their transformation.
“It’s nearly morning,” she said. “We should find the others and see what the Rahaga have learned.”
She headed for their makeshift camp, Matau following quickly after. “These urges,” he said hopefully. “They wouldn’t involve me, would they…?”
Nokama and Matau woke up the others, and together they started across the bridge toward the Great Temple. “Norik seemed so concerned,” she said. “But no one saw anything all night?”
“Nothing,” Whenua said. “Lots of nothing.”
“Yeah, boring,” Onewa agreed.
“I don’t know,” Nuju said, a little bit wistfully. “I found the sounds of the night fascinating.”
Matau gave the Toa Hordika of Ice a look. “Riiighhht. Anyway, I wonder what’s taking the Rahaga so long. I mean, how hard is it to get directions?”
“When they’re written for a creature that has not been seen since the time before time?” Nuju answered. “Hard.”
“Be patient, Matau,” said Nokama.
“I have no patience for ever-looking like this!” Matau quickened his pace, swiftly outdistancing the others. “We’ve already spent-wasted a whole night! The way I see it, the faster we get to –”
He stopped abruptly, too shocked by what he saw to say any more. Then, weakly, he finished, “the Great Temple.”
Now the other Toa Hordika could see it, too. The Great Temple looked like a Tahtorak had rampaged through it. Smoke wafted from the building and curled into the night sky. And all of them felt a fear worse than any they had ever known before clutch at their hearts. As one, they raced across the bridge.
The interior of the Great Temple looked even worse than its exterior. The structure had been gutted, and as they entered, much of it was still smoldering. A fine layer of ash lay over everything.
“Norik?” Nokama called. They had not seen a trace of any of the Rahaga. None of the Toa cared to voice their collective fear that their new allies might not have survived the fire.
“I can’t see anything,” said Nuju.
“What should we do?” Onewa asked.
Nokama looked at Matau, but the Toa Hordika of Air just shook his head. He had no answers.
“I wish Vakama was here,” she said softly.
Nokama turned, startled. The voice was weak, but it was definitely Norik’s. The Toa Hordika found him buried under a pile of rubble. Whenua immediately began digging him out. Nuju noted as he did so that the pieces of stone covering the Rahaga were fragments of the tablet Gaaki had been translating. Their best, perhaps only, hope of finding Keetongu had been shattered.
Norik looked up at his rescuers, but there was no relief in his eyes, only an incredible sadness. “He was,” the Rahaga repeated.
Vakama stood at the gate to the Coliseum, banging on the massive door. By his side was a large, unwieldy object covered in a veil of Visorak webbing. He had been pounding away for some time now, unmolested by the spider creatures who seemed more puzzled than anything else by his sudden appearance.
The voice of Sidorak suddenly boomed from the Coliseum speakers. “You must be confused, Toa. We do not welcome your kind here – we exterminate it.”
“It’s you who is confused, Sidorak,” Vakama replied boldly. “I am no simple Toa.”
A gleaming telescope extended from the gate and then paused, as if studying Vakama. Sidorak knew, of course, what it would reveal, but even he was amazed at how swiftly and dramatically Vakama had changed.
“Hordika,” breathed the king of the Visorak. “Why have you come here?”
“To join you.”
Sidorak laughed, a sound made more terrible by the echoing of the speakers. Undeterred, Vakama shouted over it. “And to present you with proof of my worth.”
The Toa Hordika of Fire yanked the webbing off his burden. Beneath the veil were the five Rahaga, bound, helpless, and about to be delivered to their mortal enemy.
Sidorak’s laughter stopped. A moment later, the great doorway of the Coliseum swung open. Vakama stepped inside, dragging the Rahaga behind him, and was swallowed by the shadows within.
It always amazed Norik how little time it took to relate events, yet how devastating the tale could be. As he looked around at the Toa Hordika, he could see how deeply shocked they were by his news of Vakama’s attack upon him.
“Vakama would never do such a thing!” Nokama insisted. She turned to the others for support. “Right?”
None of the other Toa responded. It was left to Norik to extend a sympathetic hand to Nokama and say gently, “You are right, Nokama. The Vakama you know would not.”
“He’s changed,” said Norik. “Just as you all will if we do not find Keetongu. I fear Vakama has given himself completely to the beast that lurks within us all.”
Onewa glanced down at his new body and made a lame attempt to lighten the mood. “Beast? I’m pretty sure it’s just me in here.”
No one laughed.
“The ancient. The primal,” Norik continued. “The parts of ourselves that we like to think progress has made us forget. ‘Hordika’ is its name.”
“I don’t think I want to be Hordika,” decided Whenua.
Norik shrugged. “It’s not all bad, Whenua – not if you don’t allow it to be. Being Hordika grants you certain gifts, abilities you would have never thought possible before.”
Nokama found herself remembering Matau’s nesting, and her newfound connection to nature. Were these the “gifts” Norik spoke of? If so, she would gladly return them for the chance to be a Toa Metru once more.
“Assuming you’re right,” she said, “we must find Keetongu and rescue the Matoran before the beast overcomes us, too.”
“Yes,” Norik replied, looking away from her. “But I must warn you… Vakama may already be beyond anything even Keetongu could do.”
“Well, we have to try,” broke in Matau. “We owe the fire-spitter that much. I was kind of hard on him…”
The other Toa nodded. They had all been hard on him, even before they returned to Metru Nui. Rather than consider what he might have been going through, all they had worried about was how his behavior affected them.
“And if you cannot help him?” asked Norik.
Matau’s tone grew dark. “You leave that to me.”
A beat of uncomfortable silence followed. Then Nuju broke the tension, saying, “So. Back to searching.”
“Not exactly,” the Rahaga replied.
“Quick-speak,” urged Matau.
“We were able to translate much of the inscription before Vakama’s attack. It read, ‘Follow falling tears to Ko-Metru, until they reach the sky.’”
The Toa glanced up at the Great Temple. A steady stream of liquid protodermis was rolling off its carved face, like makeshift teardrops.
“It is there we will find Keetongu,” finished Norik.
“Protodermis that runs upward?” asked Matau, skeptical.
“Hey, it’s not much of a plan,” answered Onewa. “But it is a plan.”
Iruini struggled against his bonds. The Rahaga were packed together tightly and had been webbed to the facing of the Coliseum’s observation deck, like trophies on display. The Rahaga looked up to see the Toa Hordika of Fire looking down upon him.
“That name means nothing to me,” Vakama answered.
“It did once,” Iruini said. “It can again.”
“That’s true. It can.”
The voice was Roodaka’s, coming to join her new ally. “If you want to be weak again,” she added.
“Never,” replied Vakama.
Roodaka looked down at her Rahaga captives without a trace of pity in her face. “Save your strength. Bait is most alluring when it squirms.”
The viceroy of the Visorak smiled and placed a hand on Vakama’s shoulder. “You’re everything I hoped you’d be,” she hissed. “Come. It’s time you got a glimpse of your future.”
She turned away and headed for the inner chamber. After a brief glance back at the Rahaga, Vakama followed. Iruini watched him go, wondering if he had just been witness to the final death of all hope for the Matoran.