Toa Matau stared hard at Toa Vakama. The two were almost mask to mask, Matau’s eyes boring into his friend’s as if Vakama were some previously unknown breed of Rahi beast. After a few moments, Matau broke off and started walking around the Toa of Fire, all the while muttering to himself.
“What are you doing?” Vakama demanded finally.
“I always knew you would go crazy one day,” Matau replied. “Not Hordika-crazy, just mad-crazy all on your own. I want to remember the sight.”
At one time, Vakama would have reacted with anger to Matau’s joke. But he had recently learned all too well what happened when one allowed the darker emotions to dominate. Instead, he said quietly, “I’m not crazy. All I said was, I am going back to Metru Nui. The rest of you take the Matoran to the island above, and I will join you soon.”
At the controls of the airship in which they flew, Onewa sat shaking his head. They had just finished a terrible struggle to overcome the Visorak horde and escape the city. In the holds of their small armada of ships were a thousand silver spheres, each one containing a Matoran trapped in an endless sleep. It had been a miracle they had made it out of Metru Nui at all, let alone that they managed to save the whole population. And now Vakama wanted to go back!
“After all this time, I know better than to argue with you,” Onewa said over his shoulder. “But do you mind telling us why? Did you leave a lightstone on or something? Forget your favorite Kanoka disk? What?”
Vakama gazed out of the cockpit at the dark city below and the silver sea that surrounded it. “Something a little more important than that, Onewa. With all that has happened to us, I’m not surprised it slipped your mind… though I would not have thought it easy to forget the Mask of Time.”
Those three final words were enough to bring the conversation to an abrupt halt. All of the Toa present remembered how Vakama crafted the Kanohi Vahi, the Mask of Time, with the power to slow down or speed up time around a target. Keeping the powerful mask out of the hands of the evil Makuta had nearly cost Vakama his life, and had led to the death of Turaga Lhikan. During the course of the battle, the Vahi had fallen into the sea.
“It’s still down there,” said Vakama “If it should fall into the hands of Makuta, all that we have done here, and all our hopes for a new life, will be erased. I have to find it.”
“We’ll all go,” Nokama said. “If it’s that important –”
Vakama shook his head. “You have to get the Matoran to safety. If I am wrong, and Makuta has forgotten the mask, he will go after them. If I am right, then at least I can delay him long enough for you to escape… perhaps even to destroy the mask. I’m not ordering my fellow Toa to accept this, Nokama, I am asking my brothers and sister to understand.”
Vakama executed a perfect dive, hitting the water clean. A few moments later, he broke the surface, gasping for air. From below, he could see the airships moving slowly away.
Good, he thought. I knew I could trust Onewa. He will make sure the ships get well clear of Metru Nui and the Matoran make it to safety. With luck, I won’t be far behind.
He turned and began to swim toward the Great Barrier. It was beneath the waters near that imposing wall of rock that he knew he would find the Vahi.
If Makuta has not found it already, he added grimly. And if he has, it is too late for us all.
From their vantage point aboard the airship, Nokama, Matau, and Nuju watched their friend begin his journey. “Mata Nui, keep him safe,” whispered the Toa of Water.
“He will, sister,” replied Matau. “Mata Nui loves ever-brave fools; that is why he made so many of us.”
Nuju glanced at the Toa of Air and made a complicated series of clicks and whistles, punctuated by sweeping hand gestures.
“What was that?” asked Matau, puzzled. “I didn’t quite catch it.”
“He’s been talking like that ever since we left Metru Nui,” said Nokama. “It’s the language of flying Rahi, or something close to it. The Toa of Ice has evidently decided that if we want a conversation with him, we will have to work for it.”
“But will it be worth working for?” asked the Toa of Air.
Nuju made an abrupt slashing motion in the air and followed it with two shrill whistles.
“I think I’ve just been insulted,” said Matau. “I would dare him to speak-say that again, but I wouldn’t understand it the second time either.”
Nokama laughed. After a moment, Matau joined in, and even Nuju cracked a smile. After so much danger and tension, the Toa Metru had finally become a team. Now they needed only Vakama to return to make them complete.
Be careful, Toa of Fire, Nokama thought. I may not have visions of the future like you do, but even I can sense something terrible is waiting down there. Do not let it find you.
Vakama took a deep breath and plunged beneath the waves for a third time. He had already realized he must widen his search area; the undersea currents could easily have carried the Vahi far from where it was dropped.
A Takea shark took notice of the new underwater presence and turned to get a closer look. Vakama saw the predator at about the same time. A moment’s thought sent a wave of heat through the water, enough to frighten the shark away without doing any real harm to it.
The Toa of Fire scanned the sea floor, searching for the distinctive yellow gold of the Mask of Time. The rocky bottom was littered with the carcasses of dead Rahi, fragments of Matoran boats, and assorted other jetsam that had collected over the years. At one point, he thought he saw something gleam from amid the debris, but it turned out to be an old Kanoka disk launcher.
His lungs were beginning to strain. He wondered if perhaps this was a futile search after all. The Vahi might have been swept away to any point in the ocean, carried off by a Rahi, or simply been buried beneath the mud and silt and invisible to the naked eye. Odds were good it was lost forever.
Probably better that way, thought Vakama. No being – not even a Toa – should command such power. Time is a fundamental force of the universe and the Vahi tampers with it. Even Mata Nui himself would not dare to do that.
Resolved to give up the search, Vakama turned to head for the surface. As he did so, his eye caught a disturbance in the water. He changed direction to make a closer examination.
What the Toa of Fire saw was staggering. In a small area, the natural order of things had apparently gone insane. Plant life was growing at a fantastic rate, then dying before his eyes. Rahi that swam too close would stop dead, every life process seemingly suspended, for long moments before finally moving on. The effect seemed to come in waves, rippling a short distance through the water before dissipating.
Being careful to avoid the affected area, Vakama swam closer. Now he could clearly see the source of the bizarre changes. The Kanohi Vahi was wedged beneath a rock, a minute crack running along its side. It had changed color from gold to a dull orange, the result of exposure to the sea. Time distortions were emanating from it like waves of heat from a pool of molten protodermis.
The ache in Vakama’s lungs reminded him he needed to surface. He shot upward, while the maskmaker in him debated what he had seen.
This makes no sense, he told himself. If the mask is damaged, it shouldn’t work at all. Even the tiniest crack wrecks a mask. Instead, it’s pouring out power like I have never seen before, and if it sustains any more damage…
Vakama caught a quick breath of air on the surface and then plunged back down again. A plan was already forming in his mind. As things stood, there was no way he could retrieve the mask. He would have to risk trying to repair it underwater.
He came as close as he safely could and began to count. He would only have a few seconds between time waves to act. His control would have to be pinpoint, or else he risked making things infinitely worse.
Concentrating harder than ever before, he sent an impossibly thin beam of fire at the mask. It struck at the base of the small crack, welding the two sides together. It was the work of an instant for the entire job to be done, but Vakama felt like a year had passed.
And with this mask, it very well might have, he reminded himself as he wrenched the Vahi free.
Pumping his legs furiously, Vakama made for the surface. He had a long journey ahead of him to reach the island above. With the only known water route blocked off, he would have to travel overland through one of the tunnels. With luck, the Rahi who had infested them had moved on to the surface.
He was calculating the quickest and safest way to travel when he felt the disturbance in the water. He glanced down to see a waterspout forming below him. It was rocketing up toward him at amazing speed. Knowing he could never outdistance it in the water, Vakama seized the only option he had.
With only a fraction of a second’s hesitation, he slammed the Vahi over his mask. If he could muster the willpower, he could slow down time around the waterspout and buy a few moments to escape. He turned in the water to face the oncoming surge. It had picked up speed. Vakama struggled to settle his thoughts and focus on the mask, but it was already too late. The waterspout smashed into him like a pile driver, catapulting him out of the water and toward the Great Barrier.
Desperately, Vakama twisted his body to absorb the impact. He crashed into the solid rock wall and began to slide back down toward the water. Too stunned to use his elemental or mask powers, he could only reach out and grab on to a ledge. Vision blurred, strength rapidly waning, he tried in vain to pull himself up.
Then there was someone else there. It was a huge figure, power radiating off of it, but not someone Vakama recognized. His first thought was that Makuta had found him, but the aura of this being was different somehow. He fought to make his eyes focus, but the collision with the Great Barrier had been too devastating.
“Help me…” he said.
The figure stood over him, seemingly unsure of what to do. Then it reached down and ripped the Vahi off of Vakama’s mask. Once it had the powerful Mask of Time in its possession, it lost interest in the Toa of Fire and began to climb the Great Barrier.
“Wait!” Vakama shouted weakly. But the figure never even looked back.
The Toa of Fire had no more time to worry about this. The world was rapidly going black. His hand lost its grip on the ledge, and Vakama fell down into the unforgiving sea. He hit the water, plunged deep beneath the surface, and did not rise again.