Onewa cleared away some of the gray-green moss and inspected the walls of the tunnel. “Nokama, what do you make of this?”
The Toa of Water looked where he was pointing. A carving had been made in the wall, perhaps thousands of years ago judging by the Matoran dialect used and the erosion of the words. She focused the power of her Great Mask of Translation.
“It says Bohrok… and below, krana… and there’s more,” she reported, scraping away more of the moss. Strangely, the plant growth seemed to move aside just before she could tear it free from the wall. “Pictures. Two monstrous creatures, identical in size and shape, putting something into a pool – I cannot make out what – and drawing forth krana from its depths.”
“You said that when we were sailing to the island, you spotted carvings on the walls beneath the water, didn’t you?”
Nokama nodded. “I couldn’t read them. The water had washed them away over time.”
“These tunnels are not natural. Neither was the waterway leading from the Great Barrier to up above,” said Onewa. “Someone dug them out of the stone, and I think I may know why. The Bohrok… what Vakama saw in his vision… these are the access tunnels for them to reach the surface.”
“I thought you didn’t believe in Vakama’s vision,” Nokama replied, smiling.
“Po-Matoran carvers don’t believe in anything they cannot see, touch, and hit with a hammer,” the Toa of Stone answered. “And if they do… they keep it to themselves.”
“What do you think will be waiting for us in Metru Nui?” Whenua asked Vakama. It was a question that had been running through his mind for days. While he knew they had to return for the Matoran, he dreaded seeing what had become of his home.
“I don’t know. With luck, the Matoran are still safe beneath the Coliseum. The power will be out and most of the chutes have probably collapsed. If the molten protodermis lines are ruptured, there is no telling what condition Ta-Metru is in. What about the Archives?”
“After the incident with Mavrah’s Rahi years ago, they were reinforced to withstand shocks. But I am not sure the builders had such a massive quake in mind. If the Archive gates are down… if the stasis tubes within shattered… Whenua looked at Vakama. His voice was grim. “Then there may not be a city to go back to.”
Matau walked quickly and in uncharacteristic silence. Up to now, being a Toa had been fun, even when it seemed that danger was closing in from every side. After all, he was one of a select few beings who knew the thrill of adventuring and the satisfaction of saving an entire city. He had never seriously considered the possibility that he might get killed.
But in just the past few hours, he had twice confronted creatures that would have been more than happy to see him dead. It was a sobering reminder of what could happen to any of the Toa Metru, one that left him feeling as vulnerable as any Matoran.
The Toa of Air glanced at Nuju, who walked beside him. “I am sorry for being so mouth-closed.”
“Actually, I was enjoying the change, but wondering about the reason for it,” Nuju answered.
“I came close to being cold-dead. No more Toa-heroics, no more flying, no more fun… just the dark-sleep. Makes me think.”
“Another change,” murmured Nuju. “You’re right, Matau. Any of us could be killed at any time. It’s the risk of being a Toa. It’s the price we pay for acting on our destiny, rather than allowing it to act on us. But don’t forget one very important fact.”
Nuju clanked his fist against Matau’s, so quickly that Matau thought he might have imagined it.
“You’re still alive,” said the Toa of Ice.
A whirl of lights and color. A sudden lurching feeling, as if the body was split apart from the spirit. Then a moment of crystal clarity, every detail of the surrounding area etched bright and clear as if bathed in sunlight.
Other senses returned quickly: the feel of stone beneath the feet; the sound of footsteps echoing in the distance; the acrid taste of hunger; and the scent… yes, the scent of the hated ones. The aroma of raw elemental power was so strong as to be almost overwhelming. The great beast did not know to where it had teleported, but it was certain now why it had been drawn to this spot.
There were Toa near. Heroes confident in their strength, secure in the rightness of their cause, and blissfully unaware of how little time they had left. The beast roared a challenge to its intended prey, a dire warning if they had the wits to perceive it:
The Rahi Nui was coming.
And it was coming to feed.
Whenua, linked to the earth as he was, first sensed the vibrations in the ground. It felt as if a thunderstorm was raging in the rock below their feet. Matau and Nokama, both attuned to nature in their own way, could hear the scratching and clawing of panicked Rahi scrambling to get out of the way of… something.
Then even the others, who had spent most of their lives focused on their work and not the world around them, could sense something was wrong. It was not a feeling they could put into words, rather the sensation that the universe had shifted somehow. A new element had been introduced, one that did not belong. Long before the sound of the Rahi Nui’s footfalls reached them, all six Toa were ready for battle.
“This time, no long-wait,” muttered Matau. “This time, cyclone first, questions later.”
“And what if whatever is coming is friendly?” Nokama asked. Then she looked around. The others were staring at her as if she had just nominated Makuta to be a seventh Toa. She shrugged. “Well, the Kikanalo were friendly,” she added, under her breath.
“If one of us should be injured –” Nuju began.
“We keep fighting,” Vakama said, cutting him off. “Retreat isn’t an option. The Matoran are depending on us. No one should forget that.”
“I hadn’t,” Nuju replied coldly. “I was going to say, if one of us is injured, I will make an ice barrier to shield them. It might afford a few moments of protection, at least. And it might help if you remember you are not the only Toa in the room, Vakama.”
Vakama’s reply was drowned out by the roar of the Rahi Nui. The Toa formed a ring, ready for anything – except, as it turned out, for the Rahi Nui to suddenly materialize behind them.
They whirled to see a monstrous creature towering over them, one that made the things they had already encountered look like the occupants of a Rahi petting zoo. Its head was that of a Kane-Ra bull, complete with razor-sharp horns. Its forearms were the powerfully muscled limbs of a Tarakava. The body and hind legs belonged to a great Muaka cat, and huge insectoid Nui-Rama wings sprouted from its shoulders. The nightmarish picture was made complete by the massive tail of a Nui-Jaga scorpion. So heavy was the Rahi Nui that the stone floor partially buckled beneath its feet. Every aspect of this horrible amalgamation felt like an offense to nature.
The Rahi Nui looked from one Toa to the next. In its long existence, the creature had rarely come across such a feast in the making. Six of the small ones, each practically aglow with energy, and each doomed to fall, as had so many before them.
When it reached Vakama, it paused. The beast could see defiance in the Toa’s eyes, a most pleasing sight. The brave were always the most reckless, and their energies tasted so sweet.
Vakama was seeing something quite different when he looked at the Rahi Nui. Instead of seeing the face of a Kane-Ra, he saw the features of Nidhiki and Krekka superimposed on the monster. It took the Toa of Fire a moment to realize that this was another of his visions.
This beast is no simple Rahi, he said to himself. It served the Dark Hunters. It hunted and killed at their command. There is no fear of Toa in its heart – to this creature, we are only prey.
True to his word, Matau did not wait for the Rahi Nui to attack. Aiming his aero slicers, he sent twin cyclones at the beast. They struck with sufficient power to tear the Coliseum from its foundation and send it hurtling into the sea. But the Rahi Nui stood in the middle of the storm, unmoved.
The other Toa acted now. Fire, ice, water, stone, and earth rained down upon the Rahi Nui – to no effect. If anything, the creature seemed to be growing stronger. Through it all, the beast made no effort to defend itself or to stop the Toa Metru’s attacks.
“Why is it just standing there?” wondered Nuju.
“Why shouldn’t it?” answered Matau, bitterly. “We are doing nothing to pain-harm it.”
“You’re wrong, brother,” said Nuju, grasping the truth at last. “Our attacks have been very effective… just not in the way we wanted. This isn’t a fight for this monster – it’s feeding time.”
“What?” asked Vakama, as he signaled for the Toa to try and surround the beast.
“It isn’t trying to stop us because we are giving it what it wants,” Nuju continued. “Elemental energy. Our energy. It will soak up our powers until we are bone dry, given the opportunity.”
There was wisdom in Nuju’s words, Vakama knew. If this thing did feed on the powers of Toa, that would explain how it was able to hunt them. To the Rahi’s trained senses, elemental energy had a scent that could be traced.
“Then we use mask powers,” he said. “And let’s hope it doesn’t consider those dessert.”
“I prefer the direct approach,” said Onewa, ripping a jagged stone from the wall. He hurled it with all his might at the Rahi Nui and his aim was on the mark. The rock clipped the creature’s leg, doing visible damage. The Rahi Nui roared in anger.
“There, see?” said the Toa of Stone, smiling. “When Toa powers don’t work, try throwing a rock.”
“You may want to look again,” said Nokama. Onewa turned to see that the damage to the beast’s leg was healing before his eyes. He had never seen the like before, except in Metru Nui when –
The revelation went off in his mind like an imploding force sphere. Matoran work crews can make a damaged building “heal” that way, using Kanoka disks of regeneration, he remembered. And the way it appeared in our midst without any warning, almost as if it had… teleported.
“Uh oh,” said the Toa of Stone.
Vakama turned to him. “Did you just say ‘uh oh’?”
“Yeah. I meant it, too,” Onewa replied, keeping his voice low. “Load a disk. Pretend it’s a powerhouse, and let our new friend know it.”
Vakama nodded. He made a show of loading a disk into his launcher, saying, “The rest of you better shield your eyes and brace yourselves. There may not be much of the cavern left when this hits.”
If the Rahi Nui did not understand the words, it did the tone. It snarled as Vakama took aim and fired. The disk flew on a straight course directly toward the spot between the beast’s eyes, and then… the Rahi Nui was gone.
“That was some disk,” said Matau, in wonder.
“That wasn’t the disk, Matau,” said Onewa, his eyes scanning the stone floor. “It wasn’t a teleport either. Our Rahi didn’t want to stay around to see what was in that disk, so it shrank out of the way.”
“Shrank?” repeated Whenua. “Something that size… it’s not possible… without a Kanoka disk to…” Then the answer came to him as well. “The disks! Mata Nui, it has the powers of the disks!”
“Then it may well be unstoppable,” Vakama said. “Prepare, brothers and sister, for what may be our final battle.”
“And happy-cheer is here again,” added Matau, meaning not a word of it.