Using his fang blades, Matau had easily outdistanced the others in climbing the ice mountain. As he neared the summit, he turned back to see Norik, Nokama, Whenua, Onewa, and Nuju struggling to catch up.
“Hurry up, you guys!” he shouted. “It’s amazing!”
Matau pulled himself up to the summit. He rose and looked around at the empty, frozen expanse. There was nothing there but ice and more ice.
“Not,” he added.
By now, the others had reached the top of the peak as well. The Toa Hordika looked confused – was this what they had made the climb for? Only Norik seemed unconcerned about the apparent lack of any sign of Keetongu.
“Don’t be so quick to judge, Matau,” the Rahaga said. Then he turned and began speaking to the barren ice and frigid air. “We are sorry to disturb your rest, noble one, but the duty of these Toa requires that they ask for your help.”
For a long moment, nothing happened. Matau felt like an idiot. Why had they believed all this talk of lost Rahi with amazing powers? It was all just some Rahaga’s imagination at work. More importantly, how were they going to get back?
“May I be judgmental now?” he asked, disgusted.
As if in answer, the mountain began to shake violently, almost knocking the Toa off their feet.
Norik turned to Matau, smiling. “Yes.”
What happened next was a sight no one present would ever forget. From the depths of the ice rose a creature unlike any they had seen before. His armor looked as if it had been forged from the sun, and his very presence radiated power. His right arm ended in a whirling array of shields, while his left hand held a wickedly sharp pickax. A hatch in his chest partially concealed a Rhotuka spinner launcher. The Rahi looked over the beings assembled before him with a single great eye.
In a voice that had not been heard by any living being for centuries, the creature said, “Toa.”
Norik gazed up at the mighty being who had answered his summons. A part of him wanted this moment to never end, for it was the culmination of so many years of work and hardship.
“Keetongu,” he said, the word carrying all the awe, hope, and joy he was feeling.
A long moment of silence followed. Finally, Matau spoke up, saying, “So, big guy, about that favor-gift…”
“– All of which is why we came here, and why we need your assistance,” Norik finished. “Will you help us get Vakama back?”
The Toa Hordika, Norik, and Keetongu were sitting in the underground cavern that the Rahi called home. It was bitterly cold and damp and the aroma was none too pleasant, but most of the Toa were willing to ignore all that if it meant gaining this powerful new ally.
Keetongu looked at Norik and grunted a simple, “No.”
“Well, thanks just the same,” said Onewa, already rising and eager to get out of the dark space. “We’ll be going, then.”
Whenua clamped a hand on his friend’s shoulder and kept him still. Keetongu was speaking again, but this time in a language none of the Toa could understand. Only Norik, listening attentively, seemed able to comprehend what was being said.
“Keetongu cannot start a battle on your behalf,” Norik translated. “But he can aid those loyal to the three virtues. Those like Toa. In fact, doing so is his sworn duty.”
Matau smiled. “So he’ll change us back into our good-looking, Toa-hero selves?”
Keetongu looked at the Toa Hordika of Air and said, “No.”
“I’m confused,” said Whenua.
Keetongu began speaking again. After a few moments, Norik nodded and said, “Of course, of course.”
“What is it?” asked Nokama.
“Keetongu sees with one eye what we have not with all of ours,” Norik explained. “If you are to save Vakama, you must use your new forms and abilities, not be rid of them.”
Matau threw his hands into the air. “So we’ve come all this way – just to find out we didn’t have to come all this way!”
Keetongu made a series of strange sounds. It took the Toa a moment to realize it was laughter.
“He thinks it’s funny, too,” reported Norik.
“Right. Funny,” Matau said bitterly. “That’s what I was thinking.”
Keetongu spoke to Norik again. The Rahaga said, “Your story and devotion to your friend have touched Keetongu. He says it probably helps that it’s the first story he’s heard since the time before time. But just the same, he finds your quest worthwhile.”
The Rahi grunted. Norik seemed shocked by the sound, so much that he forgot to translate until Matau prodded, “And –?”
“And…,” Norik said quietly, “he would like to offer us his help.”
Nokama smiled, feeling for the first time that there might be hope of success after all. She thrust her fist forward. One by one, Nuju, Onewa, Whenua, and Matau met her fist with theirs. She looked at Norik, her eyes holding an unspoken invitation to join them.
“I would be honored,” said the Rahaga, adding his fist to the circle.
Matau looked up at Keetongu. “You, too, big guy.”
The Rahi extended a hand to complete the circle. Now they were united in a common goal – but no one in the chamber could forget that Vakama was missing. And each, in his or her own way, made a vow to find him and save him from the shadows… no matter what it took.
Vakama tested his blazer claws for the hundredth time. He was sick of waiting. He wanted to be running, fighting, anything to keep his mind off of where he was and what he was doing.
He had no doubt the other Toa were out there with Norik, plotting against him. They would never understand the choice he had made, or that it was the only way to save the Matoran. They are fools, like I used to be, he thought. Caught up in the image of being a Toa, and the notion that a mask and a tool and some armor make you the equal of anyone you fight.
A thin, hot flame erupted from his claw. Well, they don’t. Sometimes the odds are too great… sometimes what’s inside the armor isn’t strong enough to overcome them. If I fought beside them, we would all die and the Matoran would be lost. This… this is the only way.
The Toa Hordika of Fire stared into the mist, trying in vain to spot his former friends.
“Where are they?” asked Roodaka.
She didn’t have to wait long for an answer. Something smashed into the Coliseum gates, knocking them off their hinges. A couple of battered Visorak sentries followed, hurled into the arena by whatever had felled the doors. As the smoke cleared, Vakama saw five Toa Hordika march into the Coliseum, looking for all the world as if they had already conquered it.
“Vakama!” shouted Nokama.
Her voice struck a chord in the Toa Hordika of Fire. It had been easy to dismiss his old allies from his heart when they were absent, but now, seeing them again… remembering their adventures… all he could do was whisper, “Nokama…”
Roodaka saw what was happening. She leaned over the rail of the observation platform and said, “Not the one you know, Nokama.”
“I didn’t hear him say that,” snapped Matau.
Roodaka looked at Vakama. He did not disappoint her. “She’s right,” he said. “You’re not here for the reason you think.”
Whenua pointed up at his former leader. “We came here to save you!”
“The only ones you can save now are yourselves,” Vakama replied. “Bow down and pledge your allegiance to me!”
Off to the side, Sidorak coughed loudly.
“To the Visorak,” Vakama added.
Sidorak coughed again.
Vakama finally got the message. “To the Visorak king!”
Onewa took a step forward. “And if we don’t?”
The Toa Hordika of Fire raised a blazer claw; the implied threat was obvious to all. “I’ll make you.”
Nokama looked at her companions. Each of them nodded in turn. They had not come so far only to turn back now, let alone surrender to an apparently demented fire-spitter. She looked back at Vakama, holding her fin barb aloft, and said, “I don’t think so.”
“Yeah,” said Matau, stepping up to stand beside her. “You and what battle-army?”
Vakama reached out and snapped off one of the sharpened flagpoles that lined the observation deck. He hurled it down toward the Toa Hordika, its point burying itself in the ground in front of his former friends.
More than an answer, it was a signal. The Visorak horde emerged from all around the Toa, their numbers rapidly filling the stadium. Once they were all in position, each spider creature activated its Rhotuka spinner, all of them aimed right at the Toa.
“Oh, right,” Matau said. “That one.”
Nokama willed her own spinner to life. “As we discussed,” she said. “Ready…”
The other four Toa followed her lead, the energy of their spinners crackling in the misty air. “You really think this is going to work?” asked Matau.
Nokama ignored him. “Aim…”
The Toa shifted as one. Their spinners were no longer aimed at the horde, but rather at the uppermost levels of the Coliseum. At Nokama’s signal, they each extended a Toa tool into the whirling field of energy. Merged with the spinners, the tools were held fast. Now wherever they went, the Toa Hordika would be pulled along behind.
Nokama glanced at Matau. “Ask me again in a minute.”
All around them, the Visorak spinners were making an angry hum like a maddened swarm of fireflyers. Onewa had come to know that sound all too well. It meant they were about to be launched.
“Uh, Nokama?” he said.
The Toa Hordika of Water was watching the Visorak carefully, waiting for the right moment. If she moved too soon, they would change their target and nail the Toa as they ascended. She had to wait until the spiders had committed to their launch, no matter how risky that might be.
Roodaka was growing impatient. The Toa Hordika were at their mercy, surrounded with no way to escape. What was Vakama waiting for? If you want an enemy ground into the dust, you have to do it yourself, she decided.
“Fire!” Roodaka shouted.
The Visorak spinners launched, even as their viceroy flipped a switch, causing the observation platform to ascend. Down below, Matau watched with panic as hundreds of spinners flew right toward him.
“What she said!” he shouted.
The five Toa launched their spinners and then held on to their tools for dear life as they were pulled into the air. The Visorak spinners converged on the spot where they had been standing, utterly decimating the ground.
Onewa glanced over his shoulder at the horde and shouted, “Gotcha!” Unfortunately, taking his eyes off where he was going proved to be a bad idea, as he slammed headfirst into the side of the Coliseum.
Nokama, Nuju, and Whenua stuck to the plan. With great effort, they climbed up their tools and mounted the spinners. None of them had ever tried anything like this before – actually riding a wheel of energy – and they all knew it was only the electromagnetic field around the wheels that supported them. The instant the spinners weakened, they would fall to their deaths. For now, though, they were proving quite effective at slicing through Visorak webs.
Nokama’s orders had been for all five Toa to head into the Coliseum’s maze of hallways, but Matau had other plans. Once he saw they were safely inside, he steered his spinner up toward the observation deck and Vakama.
The time has come to settle things between us, fire-spitter, he said to himself. I’m coming back down with you… or I’m not coming back down.
Earth-shaking sounds rattled the Coliseum. At first, it had felt like something was advancing toward the structure, but now it was as if that something was pounding on the building itself – a prospect Sidorak did not find comforting.
“Still, that sound,” he said uneasily. He reached out and flipped the switch, bringing the observation platform to a halt. Leaning over the side, he saw something that froze his black heart.
It was Keetongu, body radiating raw power, climbing up the wall of the Coliseum. With the horde in hot pursuit of the Toa Hordika, there had been no Visorak to warn of his approach.
“What is that?” asked Sidorak, shocked.
Vakama glanced over the side, seemingly unconcerned. “I guess it’s Keetongu.”
“But Keetongu doesn’t exist!”
Vakama met the Visorak king’s gaze and said flatly, “I guess you’re wrong about that.” The Toa Hordika of Fire turned his attention to Roodaka, saying, “I’ll take care of him.”
She reached out a hand to stop him. “No, Vakama. It is not your place.” Roodaka smiled and extended her clawed hand to Sidorak. “It is that of a king.”
A million thoughts flew through Sidorak’s mind at once. Facing Keetongu would, of course, be potentially suicidal. But refusing to do so would mean losing the respect of Roodaka, perhaps even being so shamed that the horde would no longer obey him. In the end, he really had no choice, and he knew it.
And so did Roodaka.
Sidorak drew himself up proudly and took his viceroy’s hand. “If Keetongu wasn’t a myth before, he soon will be.”
Roodaka and Sidorak headed for the platform’s exit and a confrontation with the legendary Rahi beast, leaving Vakama behind.
“Where is my place?” he asked.
Roodaka never looked back as she said, “The future, Vakama. The near future. As I told you before… be ready.”
Then they were gone. Vakama walked back to the railing, muttering, “The future – I wish it would hurry up and get here.”
Vakama turned barely in time to see Matau, being pulled along by his spinner, flying toward him. Before the Toa Hordika of Fire could react, Matau had grabbed him and yanked him off the platform and into the air. They soared high above the Coliseum, Vakama struggling all the while.
“Put me down!” he yelled.
But Matau had no intention of letting go. It was only when Vakama finally managed to wrench Matau’s fang blade loose from the spinner’s field that their ascent stopped abruptly. Without the Rhotuka’s power to keep them aloft, the two Toa Hordika plunged toward the Coliseum’s central spire. Together they smashed through the dome of the atrium that crowned the spire, landing amid its fragile framework.
It was Matau who made it to his feet first. “You wanted down,” he snarled, “you got down.”
Vakama leapt from the debris, eyes blazing, pain and anger bringing the Hordika side of him to the surface.
“Your place is here, Vakama. Now. With us,” said Matau. “We’re here to rescue the Matoran.”
Vakama’s answer was a growl of rage.
“You remember, don’t you?” Matau asked hopefully.
This time, his old friend’s response was an impossibly fast leap that sent him crashing into Matau.
Keetongu had almost reached the top of the central spire of the Coliseum. No Visorak had dared challenge him. Warriors they might be, but fools they were not.
Not everyone ran from the Rahi, however. A bolt of pure shadow struck him in mid-climb, tearing him free of the building and sending him toward the ground. Halfway down, he slammed his sharpened tool into the wall, checking his plunge.
High above, Roodaka stood, wisps of dark energy still swirling around her fingertips. Seeing that her prey had somehow managed to save himself, she muttered, “I’m almost impressed.”
Worried, she was not – she and Sidorak were in a perfect position to pick off the Rahi beast at their leisure. Taking careful aim, Roodaka let loose another blast. This one shattered his tool. Again, Keetongu fell.
It is only right, she thought. A legendary Rahi must meet a legendary death, after all.