A jolt of pain awakened the Toa of Fire. Makuta had him by the arm and was dragging him through a stone tunnel like he was a load of broken tools headed for the reclamation furnace. Anger flared in Vakama. He’d had quite enough of being led around by Makuta. He willed the external temperature of his arm to shoot up several thousand degrees. Unprepared, Makuta released him with a cry of pain.
Vakama sprang to his feet, ready to fight. To his surprise, Makuta was laughing.
“You have spirit, little Toa,” the armored figure said. “Spirit we will need in the coming battle.” When Vakama did not respond, he added. “The Dark Hunters have something that belongs to me. I am going to get it back. And you are going to help me.”
Now it was Vakama’s turn to smile. “When Makika toads fly,” he replied. “Why should I help you? What difference does it make to me if the Dark Hunters have it or you do? You’re both foul.”
Makuta grabbed Vakama by the throat and slammed the Toa against the wall. “Don’t assume that all Dark Hunters are bitter ex-Toa like Nidhiki or bumbling masses of muscle like Krekka,” he hissed. “Some of them would be enough to make my flesh crawl… if I had flesh.”
Vakama lifted his arm and summoned a bright burst of fire. The sudden light blinded Makuta, forcing him to let go. As Makuta staggered back, Vakama followed up with more and more flares.
“You’ve been in the darkness too long,” the Toa snapped. “Try a little light for a change!”
Makuta lashed out, striking Vakama and knocking him to the ground. “Enough!” bellowed the master of shadows. “While we squabble like Gukko birds, the mask we both covet may be on its way out of the city.”
Vakama shook his head to clear it. He was lying at Makuta’s feet and at his foe’s mercy, but the giant made no hostile move. “What are you saying?”
Makuta’s eyes glowed bright red. “A truce, Vakama. Neither one of us attacks the other until the Mask of Time has been recovered. Once it is in my hands, if you are bound and determined to die fighting for it… I will oblige you.”
Vakama didn’t trust Makuta for a second. But he also knew that one Toa alone would not be able to defeat a team of Dark Hunters, and if Voporak succeeded in getting the Mask of Time out of Metru Nui, he might never find it again.
Suppressing a shudder of revulsion, Vakama said, “All right. You have a deal.”
The two unlikely allies had been traveling for some time. Although Makuta had the strength to dig his way through the rubble, he was determined not to take a predictable course of action. There was another way out of this lair, he insisted, one that would give them the advantage of surprise.
Vakama found himself wondering where the Rahaga and Keetongu might be, and if they might appear to tip the balance of power. It was possible that they might have left the city to go help Visorak victims elsewhere. But he hoped that was not the case. Any aid would be welcome right now.
Thoughts of absent allies made Vakama wonder about the blue Visorak that had posed as Nokama. It was not trailing behind them. “What happened to the Boggarak?”
“It exited another way,” Makuta answered. “It will show itself to lure the Dark Hunters away, and no doubt be killed for its efforts. The world will not miss one Visorak, more or less.”
“Your attitude is revolting.”
Makuta paused and turned to face Vakama. “The Visorak know their place. They exist to serve those they are not powerful enough to defeat. You could learn from their example.”
The master of shadows resumed walking. Vakama called after him, “As I recall, we did defeat you.”
“A momentary setback, caused by my energies having been divided,” Makuta replied. “Absorbing Nidhiki, Krekka, and Nivawk, and overcoming their collective wills was more… distracting… than I’d expected. To put it in terms your simple mind would understand – I disagreed with something I ate.”
He raised a hand to call a halt to their march. Vakama watched as Makuta grabbed a metal ring on a huge stone slab and began to lift it. Slowly, inch by inch, the rock began to move as Makuta pitted his power against the massive weight.
The Toa of Fire shrugged, pointed, and unleashed a blast of flame that melted the slab into a molten puddle. “Try my way,” he said. “It’s faster.”
Makuta threw the metal ring to the floor of the tunnel. “You do have your uses, I suppose.”
“I must, or you wouldn’t need my help,” said Vakama.
Makuta’s mouth twisted into an evil smile. “Oh, yes, little Toa. You are the best kind of ally – one who is completely expendable.”
Voporak stood, silently watching the buried mouth of the cave. The Shadowed One and Sentrakh had taken the Mask of Time and departed, leaving orders that Voporak should wait and deal with anything that emerged from the rubble.
An idle breeze swept through the canyon and stirred the pile of dust that a short time before had been a Visorak Boggarak. It had chosen a direct attack, evidently ignorant of its foe’s true power. The touch of Voporak’s hand had caused the Boggarak to live out its entire lifespan in a matter of seconds before disintegrating.
Any other being would have been bored or restless doing sentry duty in such a lonely and desolate spot. But Voporak felt no stirrings of discontent or any urge to be someplace else.
It had, after all, nothing but time.
Makuta and Vakama watched Voporak from high atop the rocks. “It doesn’t have the mask,” the master of shadows growled. “You said it did.”
“I said it took the mask from me,” Vakama corrected. “And maybe I could have gotten it back if I hadn’t been playing your mind games.”
“You were instants from drowning. I saved you. You wouldn’t be here arguing now, if not for me.”
Vakama bristled. “My city wouldn’t be in ruins, my friends wouldn’t be trapped in spheres, and the Mask of Time wouldn’t have been at the bottom of the ocean to start with, if not for you!”
“Details. Trivialities. Your mind is cluttered with such things. Focus on the present,” said Makuta. “This prize is too valuable for Voporak to be here alone – I suspect his master, the Shadowed One, is in Metru Nui as well. He must have the mask. Once we are past Voporak, we will run the Shadowed One to ground and take it.”
Makuta waited a moment, then gestured toward Voporak and growled, “What are you waiting for? Destroy him.”
“Toa aren’t killers,” Vakama replied. “If we were, we would have started with you.”
“Very noble. Perhaps that explains why there are so few Toa around these days. Do you think Voporak would be so foolishly merciful? Or the Dark Hunters?” Makuta’s next words were deadly quiet. “Or me?”
Vakama chose not to answer, instead drawing on his elemental power to create a white-hot fireball. He spent a long moment deciding who he would rather throw it at, and then hurled it toward Voporak. It flew straight and true, aimed perfectly to serve as a distraction.
The Toa of Fire readied himself to spring as soon as Voporak’s attention shifted to the fireball. But to his surprise, the flames sputtered and died as soon as they came close to the creature. Voporak never even glanced in the direction of Vakama’s attack.
Frustrated, the Toa tried again. Fire bolts, rains of flame, even a fiery cage, all were extinguished as soon as they came close enough to affect Voporak. Vakama muttered something that would have gotten him tossed out of a Ga-Metru school, which seemed to amuse Makuta.
“Watch,” said the armored giant. He picked up a boulder and threw it at the seemingly invulnerable being. Mere inches away from Voparak’s body, the rock crumbled to dust.
“What kind of power?”
“Time,” answered Makuta. “Any force directed at Voporak ages before reaching it. Anything it touches grows old in its grasp, unless Voporak wills it otherwise. No power is immune to the ravages of the years, little Toa.”
“Then how can it be defeated?”
Makuta’s eyes narrowed. “It is a pawn. It is best handled by other pawns.” The master of shadows gestured toward a canyon to the west. “Behold, Vakama – the sons of Makuta!”
At first, Vakama saw only a cloud of dust as if some great and terrible herd of Rahi were heading toward them. Then he began to make out forms and faces, and a chill ran through him. It was a mob of Rahkshi, the monstrous creatures who dwelled below the Archives. There were hundreds of them, in dozens of different colors, all of them charging headlong at Voporak.
Vakama couldn’t bear to look, and at the same time could not bring himself to look away. The first line of Rahkshi reached their enemy and collapsed as their armor disintegrated and the wormlike kraata inside them withered and died. Another wave followed, only to meet the same fate, followed by another and another. Still, they kept coming, heedless of their brothers’ fates, marching blindly to their doom.
“They are born of my darkness,” Makuta said, with what sounded like pride in his voice. “Each one carries a part of me within their gleaming armor. They live, and they die, in my name.”
“If you controlled this kind of army, then why resort to trickery to capture the Matoran?” Vakama asked, horror-stricken. “Why not just unleash these monsters on the city?”
“If I had, there would have been no city left to rule,” Makuta replied. “Now we must go, while my legions keep Voporak busy by dying at its feet.”
When Vakama hesitated, Makuta grabbed him roughly by the arm and pulled him away from the spectacle. The Toa angrily shrugged off the grip and fell into step behind his hated foe. All through the long march down the mountain, Vakama did his best to ignore the angry hisses of kraata as they died.