“Um, Kongu,” said Hewkii. “We’re underwater, right?”
“Yes,” Kongu answered, sounding thoroughly disgusted. He had always hated the water.
“But we’re breathing… and talking… and I haven’t sunk to the bottom yet,” said Hewkii. “Oh, and there’s a giant eel heading right for us. This is another one of those illusions, right?”
Kongu looked down at himself. His armor was different, his weapons were gone, and he could feel a pair of tubes running from his back to the front of his mask. He felt different in other ways, too. The raw energy that had coursed through his body since he became a Toa was gone.
“Don’t think so,” answered Kongu. “No one’s mad-twisted enough to conjure up anything this weird… or this wet.”
“Kongu!” Jaller shouted. “Save the conversation for later. Use your mask and read that creature’s mind – find out what it wants.”
“That should be a quick read,” Kongu muttered. He mentally triggered his Kanohi mask, all the while concentrating on the monstrous eel in front of him. As soon as he did it, he knew something was wrong. His Mask of Telepathy should have been reaching into the creature’s mind and revealing whatever was there. But Kongu wasn’t “hearing” any thoughts – instead he was suddenly surrounded by hundreds of smaller versions of the creature. One second, they hadn’t been there, the next they were. He let out a yell of surprise and bolted away.
But the school of eels wasn’t interested in Kongu or any of the other Toa. Instead, they were charging their larger cousin, mounting what had to be a doomed attack. Sure enough, the giant eel swallowed the lot of them in one gulp, then turned its attention back to the Toa.
Toa Matoro wasn’t sure what good his mask power would be in this situation. After all, freeing his spirit from his body didn’t add much in combat. At best, he could do a quick scout and find someplace the Toa could make a stand against this horror. He called on his mask power… and nothing happened… or, at least, nothing like what he had expected.
Down below, the long-dead hulk of a huge shark stirred. Its eyes opened and it began to swim stiffly toward the Toa and their monstrous foe. It wasn’t alive again, not really, but the energy that made it move could be called an artificial spark of existence. While it didn’t have the deadly grace of a Takea shark – moving more like a grotesque puppet – its teeth were still intact and sharp, as the giant eel found out when they sank into its side.
Matoro didn’t waste time questioning. He summoned his elemental power, even knowing the lightning that was part of it might pose a risk to the other Toa in the water. But all that shot from his hands was ice – no energy. This is impossible, he thought. I’m a Toa Inika! Our bodies are full of energy… Where did it all go?
The venom eel didn’t care about any of that. It felt ice forming on its body, weighing it down, and it didn’t like the sensation. It snapped its huge body like a whip, shattering the ice and hurling the shark away. Chunks of ice slammed into Matoro and Kongu. Jaller tried using his mask to dodge the chunks, only to find that he was suddenly hearing sounds bouncing off nearby objects.
This is bad, he thought. Our weapons are gone, our masks have changed powers – and if we don’t get a handle on what we can do now, we’re going to be fish food.
Something shot past him on the left side. It was Hahli, swimming at high speed around and around the eel and hurling bolts of electricity from her hands. Nuparu suddenly faded into view above the eel’s head, calling on earth from the ocean floor to slam into the creature. Jaller decided to put off his questions until later, instead sending a rain of fire bolts at the beast.
All the Toa’s efforts were managing to do was enrage the monster. At its size, their attacks felt like the stings of a trifle fish. It charged forward, slamming into the assembled heroes and scattering them. Hahli and Nuparu were left in its wake, but it was already turning to go after them. They were hardly big enough to make a meal out of, but at least once swallowed they would stop being such an annoyance.
The eel swam as swiftly as it could, anticipating the end of the hunt. Then its dim brain noticed that no matter how much it tried, it wasn’t getting any closer to its prey. In fact, it was taking much more effort to move forward at all. Its body felt heavy, and was growing heavier by the moment. Now it couldn’t swim at all anymore but only sink rapidly toward the bottom. It slammed into the ocean floor with an impact that rattled the surrounding undersea mountains, stunned into unconsciousness.
Mystified, Hahli watched the whole thing happen. Then she glanced up to see a smiling Hewkii swimming awkwardly toward her, pointing at his mask.
“This is more like it,” he said. “Hey, a Toa of Stone ought to be able to make something sink like a rock, right?”
* * *
Even as I pause to write down my memories of recent events, I find it hard to believe we Toa Nuva have done what we have done.
The information we found in the Great Temple of Metru Nui was in the form of a list. Each item on it was an action we were supposed to take to prepare the universe for the return of the Great Spirit. But the first item on that list was to free the monstrous Bahrag and unleash the Bohrok swarms on the island of Mata Nui!
Although some of us doubted the wisdom of this – Pohatu especially – in the end, we did what it seemed we had to do. Even now, I imagine the swarms are descending on the island above, burning, wrecking, and destroying. I do not know how this can be a good thing, or part of the Great Spirit’s plan.
Our next task demanded that we retrieve an ancient artifact, the Staff of Artakha, from its hiding place in the Metru Nui Archives. But when we traveled there, it was not to be found. Onua recalls Turaga Whenua saying that the staff was stolen long ago by the band of thieves and killers called the Dark Hunters.
It took us only a few seconds to decide our next course of action. We must seek out the Dark Hunters’ base and retrieve the Staff, even if we must battle each and every one of them to do it.
* * *
It was Nuparu, his eyes accustomed to seeing in the dark, who spotted the Matoran village resting on a plateau. There were no lights anywhere to be seen, but he could spot movement among the buildings. Matoran? he wondered. How could they survive down here? Then again, how are we doing it?
He was pretty sure he knew what his mask did now. Its effects matched the description of the Mask of Stealth once worn by Toa Nidhiki. He could fade into the background and make virtually no noise as he swam. It was perfect for scouting out the village.
It wasn’t like any place Nuparu had ever seen. The buildings were surrounded by giant bubbles of air, and the Matoran swam inside of much smaller bubbles that conformed to the shape of their bodies. Right now, the mood in the underwater city was tense, with citizens manning strange weapons and waiting for an attack. Nuparu decided that six Toa suddenly charging in wouldn’t be a good idea. He backed well away from the border and turned off his mask power, allowing the Matoran to see him clearly.
Their reaction was immediate. Weapons opened fire, hurling spheres of solidified air at the Toa of Earth. One struck Nuparu and dissolved into a cloud of pure air. He choked as the gas entered his lungs. More shots followed as the Matoran tried to drive him away. He couldn’t catch his breath long enough to tell them who he was and that he meant no harm.
A jet of super-hot flame came down from above, striking the launcher and melting it into slag. Nuparu looked up to see Jaller and the others swimming toward him. The Matoran saw them, too, and fled, but not in panic. Instead, they got their hands on another launcher and began dragging it back toward their post.
“Hold it!” Jaller shouted. “We’re not here to fight you!”
“Got a funny way of showing it,” one Po-Matoran shot back, pointing at the ruined launcher. “We know what you Pit types are like – bunch of liars and murderers. Well, you’re not getting into Mahri Nui!”
“Pit? Mahri Nui? What are you talking about?” asked Hahli. “We were told there was a Matoran village down here that needed saving, and –”
“We can save ourselves,” said the Po-Matoran. “Next thing, you’ll be telling me you’re not from the Pit – that you’re Toa, or some black water like that.”
“We are Toa,” said Nuparu.
“Yeah,” added Kongu. “Who else dresses like this?”
“Then where were you?” the Po-Matoran asked, pain and anger in his voice. “Where were you when Mahri Nui sank? Where have you been all this time, when Barraki were picking us off one by one for the fun of it?”
“Enough.” The command came from a Le-Matoran who had approached from the village. He put a hand on the Po-Matoran’s shoulder and then nodded to two others. They came and gently led the villager away. Once he was gone, the Le-Matoran looked at the Toa. “My name is Defilak. I am the leader of Mahri Nui’s council for this span-time. What do you want here?”
“I am Toa Matoro,” said the Toa of Ice. “We came to your village seeking a mask that has been lost. It is vital that we recover it.”
Defilak frowned. “You are the second being to ask me about a mask in the last day. The first followed up his question by killing one of my friends, just to show-scan that he could do it.”
“I’m… sorry,” said Matoro.
“One of you may enter the village,” Defilak said. “The rest of you – if you really are heroes – defend Mahri Nui. The fields of air are held hostage by ever-dangerous Rahi. Free them, and perhaps my people will see you for what you speak-say you are.”
Matoro swam forward, passing through the skin of an air bubble as he followed Defilak. Immediately, he faltered. He couldn’t breathe! Hearing his gasps, Defilak turned around and shoved him roughly back out of the bubble. After a few moments, Matoro found he was all right again.
“I don’t understand,” said the Toa of Ice. “What just happened?”
“How can you not know?” asked Defilak. “You are a creature of the sea, Matoro. You must have known you can’t breathe air.”
Matoro, shocked, didn’t answer. All he could think of was the words “can’t breathe air” – if that was the case, how could he and the others ever return to Metru Nui, their home? Had the search for the Mask of Life doomed them to life under the sea?
“This shouldn’t be too difficult,” Toa Hahli said, pointing to the vast fields of air. At first, it had seemed as if the strange plants were moving. A closer look revealed that nasty-looking Rahi crabs were everywhere in the fields, easily fighting off Matoran attempts to dislodge them.
“Five of us, five thousand of them,” said Kongu. “I like your idea of fair odds. And what’s with the fins?”
“You have fins. They look kind of like wings. And a big claw.”
“Have you looked at yourself lately?” asked Hahli. “Or any of the others? We’ve all changed.”
“I dodged the fins thing, though.”
“The Mask of Life,” said Jaller. “I… heard it… felt it… when we entered the water. It must have done this to us so we could survive down here.”
“Then it’s officially off my Naming Day gift list,” grumbled Kongu.
“The one thing I hoped we might get out of being underwater is that Kongu wouldn’t be able to talk,” said Hewkii. “Come on, we have a job to do.”
“Um, maybe we don’t. Look,” said Nuparu, pointing to the fields.
Jaller had to summon his flame to provide enough light for the Toa to see. What the glow revealed was the amazing sight of thousands of keras crabs crawling out of the fields they had been infesting. They weren’t fleeing but backing slowly away from the stalks of airweed, then stopping about twenty yards from the fields. The crabs stood right on the edge of the landmass, their backs to the black water. Then they were joined by other creatures – sharks, squid, venom eels, rays, and other Rahi of the deep. The beasts made no threatening moves, just hovered in the water, silently regarding the Toa.
“Okay, Hahli, you’re the one with water on the brain,” said Hewkii. “Do sea Rahi like this normally act this way, or is it what it looks like – really creepy?”
“No, it’s not normal,” Hahli replied. “This is weird… ‘Makuta comes up and gives you a hug’ weird. It’s almost like they’re… waiting for something… or someone.”
“And so they are.”
The Toa turned as one. Floating before them were six strange beings, shaped vaguely like Toa but with mutations that made them look like bizarre sea monsters. Behind them were gathered more killers of this underwater world, tails slashing the water, tentacles eager to squeeze fresh prey.
“And people wonder why I hate the water,” said Kongu.