Sentrakh steered the boat unerringly toward the gateway that led to the Metru Nui Sea. It had been a long journey, but neither he nor the Shadowed One had slept. Having lived among potential enemies far too long to take chances, the Shadowed One rarely closed his eyes except behind locked doors. Sentrakh had no need for sleep or much of anything else beyond his duty.
Virtually all of the sea gates that led from Metru Nui to other lands had been closed by order of Makuta some time ago. Only this one remained open, by virtue of someone, or something, having torn the metal wide open. The Shadowed One guessed this was the work of Krekka, as he and Nidhiki made their way to Metru Nui.
As the boat sailed through the portal, a dull gray object caught the eye of the Dark Hunter leader. He ordered Sentrakh to halt and stepped out onto the narrow rock ledge that bordered the gate. A closer look confirmed his suspicion: This was a Kanohi Mask of Power he had spotted, a Mask of Speed, to be precise.
“Do you know what this is?” he asked Sentrakh. “A Kanohi mask – one of the most valuable possessions of a Toa. It no doubt belonged to some brave hero who ventured here from Metru Nui, looking to close this gate, thinking he was doing what was best for his city. He succeeded, but only after a great battle, and finally succumbed to his injuries. Only his mask was left behind.”
The Shadowed One turned to look at his guardian, who was still staring straight ahead. “Did he find a hero’s grave in these waters, do you think?” The Dark Hunter idly kicked the mask into the sea, watching it disappear beneath the waves. “Or just a final resting place in the mud for a fool?”
Vakama and Nokama knelt beside a canal and eyed the Great Temple. Vahki Bordakh were patrolling the site, just as they always had in the past. Ordinarily, Matoran could come and go as they pleased without too much trouble, provided that they stayed in the public sections. But the Ta-Matoran doubted that was the case in this new, harsher Metru Nui.
“We’ll never make it past them,” Nokama whispered. “This is foolish.”
“No, we’ll get in,” Vakama assured her.
“You sound so confident.”
“Why wouldn’t I? I’m with you,” he said, smiling. “Besides, I know a way in.”
Vakama’s memories of being a Toa Hordika included one occasion when he had slipped into the Great Temple past the Toa guards. It wasn’t a very proud moment. He had gone there to kidnap and intimidate, all in the service of the vile Roodaka. He had been trying hard to forget those events, but he still remembered the route inside.
He led Nokama to a spot at the far end of the bridge leading to the temple. A partially hidden hatchway in the ground led down into an old pipe. It had once been used to transport purified protodermis from the Great Temple to the city but had been replaced years before by newer conduits. The pipe ran underwater and up into the center of the temple.
“You expect me to go in there?” Nokama asked.
“Think of it as a challenge,” said Vakama. “Something to brighten up your quiet, boring Matoran life.”
The pipe was narrow and dark and stank of damp. Little things were crawling along with Vakama and Nokama, but it was impossible to see what they were, which was probably for the best. As the pipe dipped below the sea, the pressure increased until it felt like two great hands pressing against their heads.
Finally, they made it out the other side, emerging in one of the Great Temple’s protodermis purification chambers. Vakama motioned for Nokama to follow him quietly, since there were Ga-Matoran workers in the room who wouldn’t appreciate the sight of intruders. Together, they slipped through the shadows and made their way out into the corridor.
“Now where?” asked Vakama.
“Everything that exists on the Mask of Time is just legends,” Nokama replied, looking around. She was obviously uncomfortable about being here. “No one even knew for certain that it could be made. How did you –?”
“Never mind,” Vakama said. This was no time to go into the origin of a mask that he wasn’t even certain he had created. He had carved the Mask of Time when he was a Toa Metru, but in this new world, he had never been a Toa Metru. That meant the Mask of Time he suspected had caused all this shouldn’t even exist anymore. The paradox made his head hurt.
Nokama led him into a small chamber piled high with stone tablets. “All of this is supposed to go to the Knowledge Towers once it’s translated,” she said. “Most of it was brought by traders from other cities before the sea gates were closed. We’ve barely begun to catalog it, but maybe there is something here.”
Methodically, the two Matoran began going through the tablets. Since Vakama could not read any of the inscribed text, he simply looked at any images carved on the stone to see if they looked like the Mask of Time. If they didn’t, he put the tablet aside and went on to the next one.
After a while, he said, “How bad are things in the city?”
“Bad. Very bad,” Nokama replied. “The Morbuzakh has taken over almost all of Le-Metru. Toa Orkahm made a valiant effort to fight it off, but he waited too long before acting. He’s still recovering from his injuries. Without the work being done in that metru, chutes are breaking down and airships are grounded. The city is coming to a halt.”
“Do the Toa have a plan to stop the Morbuzakh plant?”
“Toa Vhisola said something about finding the Great Disks,” Nokama answered. “But they can’t seem to locate them.”
Another paradox, thought Vakama. I used the Great Disks to make the Mask of Time. In this reality, they evidently don’t exist.
He picked up another tablet, glanced at it, and felt a chill of recognition. The figure carved into its face resembled the being who had taken the Mask of Time from him on the Great Barrier.
“Who is this? What is this?” he asked.
Nokama took the tablet and began to read the carvings. “It’s a… I think the name is Voporak. ‘Very powerful…,’ I can’t read this part, ‘serves the Dark Hunters in order to…’” Nokama’s eyes widened. “Vakama, it was bred to seek out the Mask of Time!”
“What? Tell me everything!”
“It has the ability to sense fluctuations in time, the sort it was believed the mask would create,” she said. “If the Mask of Time came into existence, the Voporak would seek it out wherever it happened to be and seize it for the Dark Hunters.”
Nokama glanced up at Vakama. “Why is this so important? Tell me the truth – have you seen this thing in Metru Nui? Now do you see why I said the hiding place is so important – maybe too important to be entrusted to you?”
Vakama nodded. “Maybe you’re right, Nokama. Come with me. I think it’s time the truth was revealed.”
High atop a Ga-Metru roof, Sentrakh watched Vakama emerge from the protodermis pipe. If the unliving guardian of the Dark Hunter fortress was surprised by the identity of Vakama’s companion, he did not show it. After all, it was not his place to have an opinion, merely to carry out orders.
The Shadowed One stood and pondered the pair of travelers wandering through the metru. At first, the scene made no sense to him. Why was Vakama wandering through a metru not his own? Where were the Toa he expected to find? Surely a Toa of Fire by himself could not have slain two Dark Hunters…
Then an idle thought wandered through the Shadowed One’s complex, twisted mind. He seized upon it, examined it, and followed where it led. He began to see the outlines of a plot almost as devious as one of his own. This Vakama was at its center, whether the native of Ta-Metru knew it yet or not.
“We follow him,” said the Shadowed One. “He will lead us to the answers we are here to find. Once we have those answers, Sentrakh, you will dispose of him… in a way that will haunt the nightmares of Toa everywhere for ages to come.”
“Where are you taking me?” asked Nokama for the sixth time.
“Po-Metru,” Vakama replied. He had found an Ussal cart and persuaded the driver to let him borrow it. Under ordinary circumstances, an Ussal driver would never let his vehicle or his animal out of his sight. But these are far from ordinary circumstances, Vakama reminded himself.
“Is that where the Mask of Time is hidden?”
“Something is hidden there,” he said. “If I’m right, something just as destructive as the mask… something I had hoped never to see again.”
“Speak plainly!” Nokama snarled. “Tell me where we are going and why, fire-spitter, before I –”
“Why, Nokama, calm down,” Vakama answered. “Here I always thought you had the most patience of us all. You don’t want to prove me wrong, do you?”
They crossed the border into Po-Metru. Roads gave way to pathways through the canyons, and buildings were replaced by low warehouses and shacks. The sounds of carvers’ tools striking rock rang out all over the district. In the distance, Vakama could see a small herd of Kikanalo beasts on the move.
“It’s really quite a remarkable place,” Vakama muttered. “It’s a shame we did not appreciate what we had.”
“What are you talking about?”
“All this,” he continued. “The metru. The Rahi beasts. The suns, the sky… Metru Nui was a beautiful place. The universe was well ordered and benevolent, all under the watchful gaze of the Great Spirit Mata Nui. We thought it would always be that way, so we didn’t appreciate it while it lasted. None of us, not even you.”
“Things change,” answered Nokama flatly. “We can’t always know the reasons for it. We have to trust that those with more power know what is right for us all.”
“You mean like Toa Vhisola? I wasn’t aware that Toa power automatically brought wisdom with it.”
Nokama laughed harshly. “I was talking about real power, Vakama. Not the raindrops and wisps of a breeze Toa produce. The power to shape the future… the power to rule… the power to change the lives of others for all time… that is what I mean.”
“What if those others don’t want their lives changed? What if they’re happy as they are?”
Nokama shook her head. “It makes no difference what they want. They will live in whatever world their superiors create for them, because it’s all they know how to do. If Mata Nui had not wanted them herded, he would not have made them so easily led.”
Vakama reined the Ussal cart to a stop. “Well, my leading you is almost at an end. Our destination is that cave over there.”
“The Mask of Time is not in there,” Nokama said stiffly.
“How do you know?”
“I just do. I’m not going in there.”
Vakama was about to comment that it was a good thing, then, that he was the one driving. But before he could speak, the cart rocked violently, throwing him to the rocky ground. He looked up to see a Morbuzakh vine whipping through the air, about to grab him in its powerful embrace.
The sight brought back bad memories. The Morbuzakh plant creature had been created by Makuta as part of his plan to take over Metru Nui. It had taken six Toa Metru armed with Great Kanoka Disks to stop it. Reduced to a Matoran, Vakama would have no chance against it alone. That fact made it all the more disturbing that Nokama was still sitting in the cart as if nothing were wrong.
“Nokama! Do something!” he shouted, narrowly avoiding the vine’s blow.
“This is a bad place,” the Ga-Matoran replied. “We should leave.”
Now, there’s a shocking bit of news, Vakama thought as the Morbuzakh went after him again. He picked up a rock and threw it at the vine. The Morbuzakh caught it in midair and smashed it on the ground. Dust and bits of rock flew into the air, blinding Vakama.
The plant creature saw its chance. Two vines snaked around Vakama and began to pull him toward the hole in the ground from which they had emerged. Vakama dug his feet into the ground and struggled with all his might, but could not break the plant’s grip. In a matter of seconds, he would be below the surface and probably lost forever.
This was enough to rouse Nokama to action. She leaped off the cart with speed and agility Vakama had never seen before, charged the vine, and threw her arms around it. For a moment, he wondered if she seriously believed she could wrestle the Morbuzakh into submission. Then, to his amazement, the vines abruptly dropped him and retreated down the hole, trailing a thin stream of black sap.
Nokama turned to look at Vakama, but did not offer a hand up. “Now can we go?” she asked.
“You can if you like,” Vakama answered, brushing himself off. “I have to see someone about a mask.”
He climbed into the Ussal cart and took the reins. Reluctantly, Nokama took her place again beside him.
In a cavern far below their feet, the plant creature nursed its wound. The blue one had hurt it, although not badly. Still, pain had not been part of the arrangement. It might, the creature thought, be time to reconsider this deal. I play a small role in this grand plot, it’s true, the plant-being continued. And yet I may be the only one who knows the true power behind events. So I will wait, and I will watch… and Vakama will hear from me again.