Matoran from other parts of the city rarely traveled to Ko-Metru. It wasn’t so much that Ko-Matoran were unfriendly, although they often were. It had more to do with the overwhelming silence that blanketed the district, day and night. Takua had once said that he always started speaking in whispers as soon as he crossed into Ko-Metru, although he was never sure why.
The last time Vakama had been here, the metru was deserted of everything but Rahi. The Knowledge Towers still stood but were badly damaged by the earthquake that had rocked the city. At least, that was the last time Vakama remembered being here – and there was certainly no evidence now that any of it had ever happened. Ko-Matoran filled the streets, the Knowledge Towers stood tall and proud, and even the chutes were running on time. Under ordinary circumstances, seeing the metru intact again would have been a dream come true. Today, it felt more like a nightmare.
Vakama was so lost in thought that he almost walked right into a huge ice sculpture. He looked up to see it was the figure of a Toa wearing a Great Mask of Illusion. Carved at the base was the name Toa Ehrye.
Of course, thought Vakama. He would have been Toa of Ice if Lhikan hadn’t chosen Nuju. More proof that either the universe has gone insane, or I have. I vote for the universe.
On a quiet side street, he found the Knowledge Tower in which Nuju had worked as a Matoran. The scholars inside the front doors firmly insisted that he could not ascend to the upper levels for any reason. It was only when he mentioned bringing a piece of equipment that would make Nuju’s telescope ten times more powerful that they agreed to let him pass. They were so excited by the prospect of a better view of the stars that they never even asked to examine the part, a good thing since it did not exist.
Nuju, a Matoran once again as well, was hard at work scanning the skies for astronomical evidence of Mata Nui’s will. He didn’t even turn around at the sound of Vakama’s entrance.
“Whatever it is, leave it,” said Nuju. “If you can’t leave it, then take it back out with you. If it’s too heavy to carry back out, then how did you get it in here in the first place?”
“Nuju, I need to speak with you.”
The Ko-Matoran peered over his shoulder at his visitor. The eyepiece of his mask extended and retracted as he took a closer look. “You’re Vakama, aren’t you? The one who built the telescopic lens into my mask?”
“That’s right,” Vakama replied. “I need your help. It’s about the Mask of Time.”
That was enough to get Nuju’s attention. “You finished it? Where is it?”
“I… don’t have it with me. I need to know if there are any legends about the powers it is supposed to have.”
Nuju flung his arms up into the air. “Legends! There are legends about everything, Vakama. Sometimes I think all Matoran do all day is make up legends. Be specific.”
“Nuju, I – something is very wrong in this city,” Vakama began.
“I know. We’re under attack by savage foliage,” Nuju said acidly. “Is that all?”
“No, I mean things are not the way they are supposed to be. You… you should be a Toa!”
Nuju stared at Vakama for a moment in stunned silence. Then he burst out laughing. The noise sounded doubly loud because Ko-Metru was always so quiet.
“Me, a Toa? Not for all the purified protodermis in Ga-Metru,” Nuju said, turning his back on Vakama. “All right, you had your little joke. You can leave now.”
Vakama took three quick steps, grabbed Nuju, and spun him around. “I’m not joking! None of this should be here! The Knowledge Towers have been shattered, the power plant destroyed, the Archives broken open, and their Rahi on the loose in the city. I’ve seen it, and so have you! Don’t you remember?”
Nuju nodded slowly. “Sure, Vakama. Whatever you say. And you think the Mask of Time had something to do with this? Well, I could be of more help to you if I could examine the mask. Is it somewhere you can get it?”
“No, I –” Vakama paused in mid-sentence. For less than a split second, the chamber had changed. The walls suddenly had great cracks in them. Ice bats were nesting in the ceiling. Nuju was not there. In fact, Vakama was standing alone… and he was a Toa.
As quickly as it had changed, the room flashed back again, becoming the neat, orderly workplace of a Ko-Matoran seer. Nuju was waving a hand in front of Vakama’s mask.
“Hello?” asked the Ko-Matoran. “Are you in there? I don’t think the Mask of Time is the problem, friend. I think maybe your own mask is on too tight. But go and get me the mask you made and I will see what I can find out.”
Vakama was about to explain that he didn’t have the mask, someone had stolen it. But he thought better of it before the first word was spoken. Something was telling him that maybe it was better if no one else knew about that – at least, not until Vakama had a better idea of what was going on in Metru Nui.
As it turned out, he wouldn’t have had the chance to say anything to Nuju anyway. The Knowledge Tower observatory window was shattered by a squad of Vahki Keerakh. They stormed into the chamber and advanced on Nuju, stun staffs at the ready.
“No!” cried the Ko-Matoran. “I was working! He interrupted me! Look, I was right in the middle of –”
The Vahki staffs flashed. The power of confusion they contained took effect instantly, as Nuju lost all sense of where he was or when.
And he’s not the only one, thought Vakama grimly as he ran from the room.
Vakama took a chute to Ga-Metru. Just like every other spot in the city, it looked perfectly normal. Scholars and educators traveled back and forth from school to school, most of them so buried in their notes, they could have walked into a giant Muaka without noticing.
He spotted Nokama talking with a blue Toa. As he approached, he recognized the hero as Vhisola, an old friend of Nokama’s and evidently now the Toa of Water. She was giving the Matoran a pretty stern lecture.
“You should know better!” said Toa Vhisola. “All research and experiments have to be approved by a Toa. That’s the law. If I reported you to the Vahki –”
“I know, Toa Vhisola,” Nokama answered quietly. “Thank you for not informing the Vahki Bordakh, Toa Vhisola. I won’t do it again.”
“See that you don’t.” Vhisola caught sight of Vakama approaching and snapped, “What do you want, Ta-Matoran?”
“Just, um, passing through,” Vakama answered, looking up into the Great Komau, the Mask of Mind Control, that Vhisola wore. “I had a delivery to make at a school near here.”
Vhisola nodded, though she did not look convinced. “All right. I don’t have time to waste talking to Matoran. I’ll see you later, Nokama. Remember what I said.”
The Toa jumped into one of the protodermis canals and swam off. Vakama watched her go. When he turned back, Nokama was walking quickly away from him. He had to run to catch up with her.
“Where are you going?”
“Back to work, Vakama,” she said, not looking at him. “That’s where I belong. I have… classes to teach, and…” Her voice broke.
Vakama put a hand on her shoulder. “What is it, Nokama? What’s the matter?”
“Oh, it’s just… it’s my own fault,” she said. “I was experimenting with energized protodermis, trying to figure out how it does what it does. But I didn’t ask permission of Toa Vhisola first. You know that any new study has to be cleared by the Toa or Turaga Dume.”
“Um, right,” Vakama answered. “Remind me, why was that law passed?”
She looked at Vakama as if he had grown another head. “Why, to keep us from becoming Toa, of course. After Vhisola and the others became Toa Metru using the Toa stones, they convinced the Turaga that six Toa were enough for one city. Just in case there was some other way for a Matoran to become a Toa, they banned all research to make sure no one accidentally discovered it.”
“That’s crazy!” Vakama snapped. When he saw a Ga-Matoran staring at him, he lowered his voice. “Becoming a Toa is destiny at work. You can’t pass a law banning destiny.”
Nokama shrugged. “Tell that to the Toa. My friend Onewa stumbled on an unexplored cave in Po-Metru, and Toa Ahkmou caught him. Ahkmou turned him over to the Vahki, and Onewa hasn’t been the same since. He goes from work to home and back again and jumps at every shadow.”
“Turaga Dume – the real Turaga Dume – would never stand for this,” said Vakama.
“What do you mean, the real Turaga Dume? There’s only one, you know.”
“It’s a long story,” Vakama answered. “Listen, I need your help. I’m trying to research the Mask of Time – what it can and can’t do, that sort of thing. I thought you might know where there are some carvings about it, something the Knowledge Towers don’t have.”
“There might be something in the Great Temple, but I couldn’t take you there,” Nokama said. “If Vhisola or the Vahki caught us –”
“Then they won’t. Maybe Onewa is in no shape to help us, but I’m sure Whenua and Matau would.”
Nokama stopped in her tracks. “Matau? That’s not very funny.”
“Vakama… Matau died a month ago, when the chute he was in was attacked by a Morbuzakh vine. Everyone knows that.”
The two Matoran said nothing to each other for the remainder of the trip to the Great Temple. Vakama was more convinced than ever that someone had misused the Mask of Time and made all this happen. But if Onewa had become a coward and Matau had been killed, he was no longer sure even the mask could set things right again.
And that’s assuming I ever find it, he reminded himself. If I’m right and someone took it from me when I was a Toa, I still have no clue who that someone might have been. It didn’t look like Makuta, but then, who knows what Makuta really looks like?
“So you made the Mask of Time?” Nokama asked. “I mean, that is why you want to research it, right?”
“Yes, I made it.”
“I hope you have a good hiding place for it. Otherwise, the Toa will be sure to take it from you.”
Vakama chuckled. “It’s so well hidden, even I’m not sure where it is.”
“I’m serious,” Nokama said sharply. “Maybe you should tell me where you hid it, just in case. You might think it’s a safe spot and it’s not, and I could suggest a better place. After all, you were never good at hiding things, Vakama – disks, tools, Toa stones, chute passes – I won every game of lose-and-seek we ever played.”
Vakama glanced at his companion and smiled. “Yes, you did, didn’t you? Except for that game near the Great Furnace – if the Vahki had come by that time, we would have both lost.”
Nokama laughed loudly. “Um, yes, you’re right. That was some game! I do remember that.”
“I was sure you would,” Vakama replied. “I’ve lost a lot of games lately. I think it’s time I started winning some.”
The two continued on their journey toward the spiritual center of the city. Vakama got a sudden flash of the Great Temple as a burned-out ruin and the surrounding protodermis canals cracked and leaking. He almost turned to look at Nokama, but then stopped himself, because he was not at all sure what he would see.
Lose-and-seek, he thought. Is that what I’m playing? I lost my Toa power, my friends, my past, my whole reality, but where do I seek it? How do I get it back? And most important of all – who am I playing against?