The Toa Metru waited in silence. They knew the monster was still in the cavern with them, too small to see, and could strike at any moment. Whenua had suggested that Nuju simply freeze over the floor, but was reminded that the beast fed on elemental energies.
“Perhaps we should seek a narrower tunnel, where its bulk will work against it,” suggested Nokama.
“A good thought, sister,” agreed Onewa. “But then we would be unable to attack it together.”
“And some of us need room to quick-move,” said Matau, smiling. “Maybe I can dazzle it with my style – after all, it worked on you, Nokama.”
“I think we need to get you back above ground,” the Toa of Water replied. “Your brain has frozen.”
The attack, when it came, was too sudden and swift to be defended against. The Rahi Nui shot back up to full size in the midst of the Toa, sending them flying. Whenua was the first to try to rise, only to be smashed almost into unconsciousness by the Rahi Nui’s powerful forearm.
Matau mentally triggered his aero slicers, taking off with the intention of mounting an assault from the air. Seeing the creature moving to finish off Whenua, he dove. But the Rahi Nui’s move had been a ruse to draw the Toa of Air in closer. As soon as he was near, the beast jerked its head and caught Matau on its horns. Then another sudden movement sent the Toa crashing to the hard ground.
Barely fighting a few seconds and we’ve lost a third of our number, thought Vakama. In front of him, Nokama used her hydro blades to fend off the beast’s blows. Onewa and Nuju were attempting to scale opposite sides of the Rahi Nui, hanging on despite the creature’s efforts to shake them off.
The Toa of Fire launched a flame blast at the ceiling above the beast’s head. His fires melted through the stone, bringing a rain of red-hot magma down on the Rahi. Enraged, the beast roared and abruptly grew in size. Nuju managed to jump clear and use an ice slide to reach the ground, but Onewa had almost reached the back of the Rahi. The sudden growth caught him by surprise and he was flung from the monster to plunge to the cavern floor far below.
Nokama spotted the danger and broke into a run. She knew she would have to time her leap perfectly, or both she and Onewa were going to wind up nothing but shattered pieces. At just the right moment, she used her powerful legs to launch herself into the air. She caught the falling Onewa in mid-leap, then hurled a blast of water at the floor. The jet of water acted as a brake, lowering them gently to the ground.
“Next time, hang on tighter,” Nokama said gently. “Or fall closer to Nuju, he would love tossing some ice your way.”
Onewa’s eyes widened. “Nokama, look out!”
The Toa of Stone shoved her hard, but too late. The Rahi Nui’s stinger slammed into Nokama and buried itself in the armor of her back. Onewa’s power surged from him, causing a stone vise to come forth from the floor and grip the monster’s tail. Angered, the Rahi yanked hard to free itself, smashing the rock and at the same time releasing Nokama.
The Toa of Water pitched forward. Onewa caught her before she could hit the ground. Her eyes were dark and her heartlight was flashing erratically. She was barely breathing as Onewa laid her down.
Onewa lifted his eyes, rage filling his heart. He triggered his mask power, but not to try to control the Rahi Nui. No, this time he sent his mental energies like a lance into the monster’s brain. What I can control, I can destroy, the Toa of Stone thought darkly.
The Rahi Nui paused, feeling something strange coming over it. Then a pain more intense than anything it had ever known exploded in its mind. The beast bellowed and staggered as the power of the Mask of Mind Control tore through its thoughts.
“I don’t know what you are, or what you have done before,” Onewa snarled. “But you have never faced anything like me. Feel my power and fall!”
And, indeed, it looked as if that was about to happen. This attack was not something the Rahi Nui could defend against, and it reeled as Onewa increased the pressure, shrinking back to its normal size. But the beast had very little mind to blast, and after what seemed like forever, it suddenly realized the horrible pain would not get any worse. The creature drew strength from that thought. Forcing itself to ignore the blistering attack, the Rahi Nui charged.
Focused completely on tapping the mask’s powers, Onewa could not get out of the way in time. The horned head of the Rahi Nui smashed the Toa of Stone into the wall and sent him down into darkness.
Now only Vakama and Nuju stood against the beast. Ordinarily, there was little that fire and ice could not accomplish when they worked together. But against a creature that could so easily demolish four Toa, what chance did they have?
Vakama turned to see that Nuju had evidently cracked under the strain. With the menace of a massive Rahi looming over them, the Toa of Ice was busy examining the creature’s footprints in the shattered stone.
“Nuju!” he shouted. “You’re not in a Knowledge Tower now! Stop analyzing and start fighting!”
“I think I have the key,” the Toa of Ice said. “Buy me time!”
Vakama threw up a wall of flame, cutting the Rahi Nui off for a moment. Then he raced over to Nuju, still half-convinced the Toa of Ice had simply lost his mind. “What key?”
“Look at these,” said Nuju. “This footprint is from the monster at normal size… this one from when he grew larger. There’s something very curious about the differences between them.”
The Toa of Fire glanced at both. He still didn’t see what Nuju was talking about. “There are no differences. They’re identical.”
“That is what’s very curious,” Nuju replied, rising. “There should be a difference.”
Beams shot out from the Rahi Nui’s eyes, freezing the wall of flame. Then a single blow smashed it into icy shards. But the barrier had done its job, and Nuju’s words had sparked an idea in Vakama’s mind. Perhaps there was a way to defeat this creature, after all…
“We need to make him grow, and I know how,” said the Toa of Fire. He attached his disk launcher to his back, preparing to use it as a rocket pack.
Nuju shook his head. “You saw what happened to Matau. That thing will swat you like a fireflyer.”
“Not if I get high enough, fast enough. What other choice do we have?”
Nuju had to admit that there was none that he could see. Without another word, Vakama activated the launcher and soared into the air. The beast swiped at him as he flew by, but missed. Once Vakama had reached a high enough altitude so as to be out of the creature’s reach, he began tossing fireballs that burst in midair.
Below him, the Rahi Nui grew angry. It was impatient to finish off these last two small ones and feast upon their elemental energies. But this one persisted in buzzing about and filling the air with bright light and heat. Although the Toa-created flames were in fact food for the creature, in its dim mind it still had the instinctive dislike of fire common to most Rahi. Again and again, it lashed out, only to have Vakama dodge its blows.
On the ground, Nuju waited impatiently. He had grasped Vakama’s plan – it was the only course of action that made sense, now that he thought about it – but it depended on the reactions of the beast. If the beast is too simpleminded to realize the best way to stop a flying foe, he thought. Or if Vakama should fly too close…
Nuju thought he glimpsed a change, if a small one. Activating the telescopic lens in his mask, he focused on the Rahi Nui. Yes, it had begun to grow, but slowly. He wondered if the combat with the Toa had begun to tax its energies.
Well, we cannot have that, can we? the Toa of Ice thought to himself, readying his crystal spikes.
High above, Vakama had spotted the monster’s size increasing as well. He gave a signal to Nuju, then launched twin streams of fire from his outstretched hands. At the same time, Nuju hurled ice blast after ice blast at the massive creature. As Vakama expected, this had the same effect as tossing a torch into a Ta-Metru fire pit: It added to the Rahi Nui’s already considerable power. Practically glowing with raw energy, the beast continued to grow larger and larger.
The Toa of Fire narrowly evaded another blow. The monster was easily half the size of the Coliseum now, and its growth rate showed no sign of stopping. For a moment, he wondered if he had been wrong in his guess about the beast’s nature.
If I am, I won’t live to regret it, he knew. One blow from that massive arm and I’ll be shattered into shards.
Caught up in his questions, Vakama never saw the Rahi Nui’s next attack. Moving incredibly fast, its tail stinger slashed through the air, aiming directly for Vakama’s chest. Too late, the Toa spotted the danger and tried to jet out of the way. The stinger descended, death just inches away… it struck… Vakama waited for the pain and the darkness.
But he felt nothing. The Rahi Nui’s stinger had passed through his body as if its owner were a ghost. The beast, still growing, looked confused. It struck again and again with its powerful arms, only to find itself unable to make contact. Vakama could see the creature’s form wavering like a heat mirage. It roared, but the sound was a hollow one.
Vakama dove as the creature continued to grow and its form grew less and less distinct. Now its head and shoulders had disappeared from view, passing through the ceiling of the cave. The two Toa continued to pour elemental energy into the Rahi Nui, even as it grew larger still and faded from view. With a final, mournful wail, the beast was gone, disappearing as if it had never existed.
Nuju cut off his ice blasts and dropped to the ground, exhausted. “Let’s… not… do that again,” he said, making an effort to catch his breath.
“But it worked,” Vakama replied. “You were right, the footprints were the key.”
Nuju ran his hand along the outline of one of the huge imprints the creature had left in the stone. “Increased size without increased weight. Its body was expanding, but not its total mass. So when we made it grow, and then fed it even more power…”
“Its growth outraced its mass,” said Vakama. “It eventually got too big to retain any density, and its atoms drifted apart.”
Nuju glanced around at the damage done to the cave. “Let us hope it takes a long, long time to pull itself together. A thousand years would be just about right.”
Behind them, Matau and Whenua had made it back to their feet. In a corner, Onewa had awakened also and was trying to rouse Nokama. Nuju didn’t need his enhanced vision to see that something was very wrong with the Toa Metru of Water.
Onewa looked up at his friends, panic in his eyes. “She’s dying… Nokama’s dying!”