What thoughts went through the mind of the Rahi called Keetongu as he plunged toward the Coliseum floor far below? Did he wonder if this was some sad trick of fate, that he should emerge after having been hidden for so long, only to die? Did he fear for the safety of the Toa Hordika once he was gone? Did he face his end with courage, or the blind, unthinking panic of a beast?
There was no way for anyone to find out before he struck the tiled floor like a meteor, creating a massive crater. The impact triggered the last reserves of power in the arena, activating the floor and causing individual tiles to rise and fall like ocean waves. When it finally ground to a halt, the Coliseum pavement was a tiered field of random heights and treacherous drops.
“Well, that’s that,” said Sidorak.
“No!” snapped Roodaka. Then, realizing Sidorak was looking at her in surprise, added gently, “I mean… shouldn’t we be certain?”
Sidorak glanced down at the crater and the unmoving Keetongu. Emboldened by the victory, he said, “If doing so would make you feel better, my soon queen.”
He headed inside the spire to make the journey down to the arena floor. Roodaka followed, her soft comment dripping with insincerity and acid. “Yes, if only you’ll protect me.”
Matau staggered toward the narrow ledge that surrounded the atrium. Another step, and he would be nothing but a green smear on the ground so far below. Not that Vakama seemed to care about that, given how he was advancing on his fellow Toa.
“I said I wanted to talk, Vakama, not anger-fight!”
“I don’t take orders from you,” growled Vakama. “I give them!”
For the first time, Matau truly saw how his old friend had changed. Whatever Vakama’s reasons for allying with the Visorak – good ones, or bad – it seemed that he had now plunged so deeply into shadow that he had lost himself.
“What’s happened to you?”
Vakama snarled, a savage grin on his face.
“You know, outside of the obvious,” Matau added.
“Don’t fight it, Matau,” Vakama replied, in a voice brimming with darkness. “It is our destiny.”
Before Matau could answer, Vakama charged again. Knocked off balance, Matau fell over the ledge. But his Hordika reflexes saved him as he caught hold of a bust of Sidorak. Dangling helplessly from it, he could only watch as his attacker advanced, ready to bring their conflict – and Matau’s life – to an end.
Sidorak and Roodaka stood over the fallen Keetongu. The beast lay unmoving, his armor blackened and scorched by the viceroy’s power. He looked like he would no longer be a menace to an Archives mole, let alone to the ruler of the Visorak.
“On your feet, thing,” snarled Sidorak.
In response, Keetongu tried to rise. But the blasts and the impact were too much. He slumped down again.
“Whatever,” muttered the Visorak king. “The final blow is yours, Roodaka.”
“Just like all the others?” Her tone was no longer respectful and submissive – in fact, it sounded positively insolent. Sidorak turned to find another surprise: Roodaka was walking away.
“Where are you going?” he demanded. “Finish him!”
“You’re the great king, Sidorak,” she challenged. “You do it.”
Sidorak looked away from her, back to Keetongu. The Rahi had finally made it to his feet, battered, bruised… and very, very angry.
“But I can’t defeat him myself,” Sidorak pleaded in a harsh whisper.
Roodaka smiled. “I know.”
It was then, even as she disappeared among the pillars of protodermis, that Sidorak finally knew. She had engineered it all. Her blasts had been calculated to wound the Keetongu, but not to kill, leaving Sidorak at the mercy of a maddened Rahi. And why? Because there was another way for Roodaka to take control of the horde, one much faster and easier than a marriage of convenience.
The death of the king.
A shadow fell on Sidorak, but now he realized it was not the shadow of Keetongu. It was the shadow of his own doom. The fate he had visited upon so many others over the centuries was now to be visited upon him. As Keetongu raised his great fist, Sidorak wondered if his viceroy realized that in a way she was acting in the interests of justice – a concept she despised.
“Roodaka,” the king said weakly as the blow fell. As last words go, not very memorable. But in the moment of his death, Sidorak did something he had never done before: He gave credit where credit was due.
Roodaka heard the sound of rending metal, a sign that the battle had ended the way she knew it would. So engrossed was she by the thought, she never noticed hundreds of Visorak eyes narrowing at the sight of her betrayal. “The king is dead,” she said, smiling.
Her gaze drifted to the top of the spire, where Vakama was about to seal his fate by killing a fellow Toa. Once that act was completed, there would be no going back for the Toa Hordika of Fire. He would belong to the shadows.
“Long live the king,” said Roodaka, a peal of dark laughter on her lips.
Matau was being extremely stubborn. He wouldn’t surrender. He wouldn’t fall and die. Vakama was determined that his old ally would do one or the other, and he was no longer certain he cared which. Figuring what the Toa Hordika of Air needed was a little motivation, Vakama stepped on his fingers.
“You’re weak, brother,” he hissed.
Matau winced at the pain, but somehow hung on. “You’re right, Vakama – I am weak. Nokama, Whenua, Onewa, Nuju – we all are.”
“So, at last you see the truth.”
“Yeah, I guess I do,” Matau answered. “I’ve made a lot of fool-mistakes lately, Vakama. That’s what happens when you’re brave-tough enough to make decisions. I understand that now.”
“Forgive me if I don’t believe that, coming from you,” Vakama said, making no effort to hide his bitterness. He raised an armored fist, snarling, “Now let’s finish this.”
“Wait!” yelled Matau.
Vakama came to a sudden stop, the final blow still poised to strike his former friend. “Not for long.”
“I just want you to know that I’m sorry. For ever-doubting you… you see, Vakama, that’s the reason we’re so deep-weak. We don’t have you.”
Was that a flicker of awareness in Vakama’s eyes? Some remnant of his Toa spirit fighting to break through the shroud of Hordika rage? Matau wasn’t sure, but he saw his opening and was going to take it. If Vakama killed him, well, at least he would have had his say.
“Our Toa-strength comes from our unity, Vakama,” he said urgently. “Which means you can’t be ever-strong without us, either – no matter what some screw-brained monster like Roodaka tells you.”
Vakama’s fist began to shake. Matau’s words were forcing him to remember feelings he had buried. He struggled to remember the reasons he had allied himself with Roodaka – they had been good reasons, he was sure – but instead he found only questions. Why had he been so filled with rage, beyond what even the Hordika mutation should have caused? Why had his power to see visions of the future failed him?
“I’m better – stronger – alone,” he said. Even in his ears, the words sounded hollow.
“I don’t trust-believe that. And I don’t think you do, either.” Matau looked up at Vakama again. “Things change – but you’ll always be my friend and Toa-brother. And something more – something it took all of this for me to learn-see.” Matau’s eyes locked on those of Vakama. “You’re our leader, Vakama. You’re my leader.”
The Toa Hordika of Fire began to lower his fist. He wished Matau would shut up and stop confusing him. It would be so easy to silence his chatter. One blow, and no more Matau. Why couldn’t he do it? Why did he even want to do it? What was wrong with his mind?
“And in case you’ve quick-forgotten, we’ve got a job to do,” Matau continued. “A Toa-duty. One we have to work together to get through.”
“The Matoran,” answered Vakama. Did Matau think he had forgotten them? Everything he had done, he had done for…
No. Wait. That isn’t right, Vakama thought. How would killing Matau possibly help the Matoran? I was going to order the Matoran freed… the Toa freed… and here I am, about to swat one like I would a fireflyer.
“I knew you’d remember,” Matau said, smiling. “If you ask me, rescuing the Matoran is maybe the reason we were made Toa-heroes. Our destiny. One that’s better than any other someone else could offer you.”
Mata Nui, why won’t he just shut up? thought Vakama. All that chatter, all those words… they never stop.
“I didn’t ask,” the Toa Hordika of Fire said, his expression darkening.
Matau knew he had maybe pushed too hard, too fast. Holding on above a high-fall will make you impatient, he thought.
“You’re true-right, you didn’t,” he said to Vakama. “I guess I just needed you to hear it. And if there’s any of the Toa-hero Vakama I know left in there, he’ll know what to do with it… and what’s going to happen next.”
But Vakama’s cry was too late. The Toa Hordika of Air had let go of the bust of Sidorak and was falling to his death, as surely as if Vakama had pushed him.
In that instant, Vakama knew he had to make a decision. He could hear Roodaka, promising him power beyond imagining in return for betraying his fellow Toa. He could hear Turaga Lhikan saying, “I am proud to have called you brother, Toa Vakama” – those were the last words that hero had spoken before dying for Metru Nui.
Matau was right, Vakama realized. I do know what to do.