|Land Of The Lost, By TakuaE3, Chapters 1-10|
Posted by on December 28, 2017 at 11:04 PM CST:
I have been working on this story for a long time. Twelve years, to be precise. I started soon after reading the novel "Time Trap". I was intrigued by the alternate timeline featured in that book, and wanted to investigate the possibility that it was real.
I focused both on the attempted heroics of the alternate-time Toa Metru, and the deeds of the Matoran who became Toa in the real timeline. Originally, I think I wanted to make some point about the inevitability of destiny. I also knew from the beginning that the story would be a tragedy.
A lot changed over those twelve years. I learned a little more about writing. If I did it over, I probably would not build it around the Tolkien epigraph. But it became too late to change, and the deeper themes moved from vague ideas about destiny to an investigation of what it means to be lost.
There are many ways to lose the way. Some of the characters are simply confused about where they are going. Some know their destination but can't find a path to reach it. Some are certain of, and wrong about, how to get there. And maybe, there are a few who know that there is no way to the goal and the journey is hopeless.
We often think that there is always a "right thing to do". I am not sure that this is always the case. Maybe there are situations where all your options are wrong. Anyone in such a place would truly be lost.
It's good to finally tell this tale. I hope someone enjoys reading it.
The Land of the Lost: Prologue
Long are the paths, of shadow made,
where no foot's print is ever laid,
over the hills, across the seas!
Far, far away are the Lands of Ease,
but the Land of the Lost is further yet,
where the Dead wait, while ye forget.
- J. R. R. Tolkien, Lay of Leithian
The past haunted his dreams every time the exhaustion of his body overcame the restlessness of his mind. Its scenes floated through his field of vision even when he awoke. Carving every word of it onto the great stone wall had only graven it more deeply into his memory. He could feel the pain of his friends and comrades, trapped in crushing grips, or dragged away while helpless. He knew again the first growings of their bewilderment, understood the hopes they had built together, and shook as he recalled the sudden surge of despair. He could see six tall figures defying the danger, feel the heat of the laughing foe's crimson eyes, and hear the faint rattle of a few shards of protodermis skidding across a polished floor. And in front of all these came the memory of his mission, a duty and a destiny stronger than the memories of the most horrific events even a master of shadows could bring about.
The small being stood, focusing his mind on the artifacts that were the only hope of all Matoran. He remembered the day he had taken them to the appointed place, ensuring that the legacy of his fallen heroes would live on. He would not have long to wait now. The wrongs against his people were soon to be righted.
The lone Matoran shook his fist at the shadows creeping down from the mountain as the day reached its end. He was ready to confront the memories. They could no longer hold him back from the future. Taking his carving tool, he walked to the wall where he had inscribed all he knew of the story. Forcing himself to be calm, he began to read, to tell again the tale that had happened, not long ago, on an island called Metru Nui.
The Land of the Lost: Chapter 1: Lhikan's Choice
Toa Lhikan, lone guardian of the island city of Metru Nui, paused in the narrow alley between two Ta-Metru foundries. A portion of his mind nagged at him that a Toa ought not run from danger. Lhikan silenced the thought. He had a mission that was of more importance to the city than his own honor. As the protector of Metru Nui, he did not have the right to live with his reputation first, and if he had to die, he would die the same way.
He knew the Dark Hunters would never give up the search. Dark Hunters persevered, as they valued their lives. Sooner or later, their perseverance would pay off. The moment when they would find him would inevitably come. He needed to make sure that moment did not come before he delivered the six stones. Five of them were already in the hands of the proper Matoran.
Lhikan frowned. It had not been easy to decide who the proper Matoran were. The signs had been obvious enough. Lhikan remembered the names that a Ko-Matoran seer had inscribed on the walls of the Great Temple's Kanohi chamber. He had deciphered the tablets of star descriptions kept in the Knowledge Towers. He knew the names of the six who had finally learned the hiding places of the legendary Great Disks.
But there had been the dreams. Six masks had drifted through his sleeping mind time after time. He could feel the weight of their destiny when he awoke. He knew it was a destiny that could not be ignored. And yet he had ignored it. The signs had been obvious.
Lhikan pushed all the doubts from his mind. It was too late to change, and it was time to move on. The Dark Hunters would waste a few hours following the false trail he had crafted through some Le-Metru shipping yards, but there was also the Morbuzakh to worry about. Those vines were almost as dangerous, in their own way.
Vhisola inspected the small package Toa Lhikan had dropped on her desk. She had never seen anything like it before. Maybe Nokama had read something about it. Should she take it to Nokama? Maybe it would impress her. Maybe Nokama would finally realize that she ought to spend more time with her friend.
A sudden memory brought Vhisola back to reality. She had to stay away from Nokama, ever since that four-legged being had smashed her lab and ruined all her research notes. Nokama might ask about her progress, and discover that she had nothing to show for months of work. Then Vhisola would be in deep trouble. She was on her own in the quest to learn about Lhikan's package.
Unrolling the metallic covering, Vhisola recognized a picture. It was Mata Nui's temple, the most important building in Ga-Metru, or any metru. The conical stone inside obviously had to be taken to the Great Temple. In about an hour, Nokama's class would finish studying the temple's carvings, and it would be safe for Vhisola to go there. She wondered what she would find and what task Toa Lhikan had planned. And most importantly, why had he chosen her?
Ahkmou had tried to conceal his terror when Toa Lhikan had appeared at his carver's table. If Metru Nui's hero knew anything about the Po-Matoran's late-night meetings, Ahkmou would have been very shortly looking up a Vahki's stun staff. Or more accurately, ten stun staffs.
But Lhikan had only left a small, heavy object and vanished as furtively as he had appeared. Ahkmou inspected the metallic foil and the translucent stone, smiling to himself. He had his sources of knowledge, and they had warned him about these objects. Now Onewa would finally have to take second place. Ahkmou wouldn't have to watch for Vahki in every shadow. And he almost looked forward to the four-legged being's next visit.
Tehutti had spent the morning cataloging a new room of Fikou spiders. His work as an archivist was beginning to get boring. But things would change. Toa Lhikan had given him a foil-wrapped stone, and if it was what he thought it was, his life was about to take a new direction.
He had always wanted to make a reputation for himself, like Whenua, Onepu, or Mavrah. If he had gotten the two-headed Nui-Jaga, that would have counted for something. He had known, of course, that the offer was a fake, yet he had wanted it to be true so badly that he had gone along with the pretension.
But this would mean even more than being the most respected of archivists. First he had found the Great Disk, and now Lhikan had chosen him. Tehutti's time had come.
Another Ussal cart screeched to a stop as its driver shouted angrily. Orkahm tried to focus on directing Pewku. If he forgot to look where he was going, he'd soon be as much of a danger on the roads as Matau or Kongu. But after receiving the strange object from Toa Lhikan, he found it hard to keep his mind on the task before him. What could the green crystal and its protodermic wrapping mean?
One thing was certain. He had to get to the Great Temple. He was headed there as fast as Pewku could take him. That was where the mystery would be revealed. Maybe he would even learn about the threatening anonymous messages. It was frightening that someone knew he had found the Great Disk. The two monstrous beings that had stalked him were even more frightening. And he had been near an unusually high number of Morbuzakh vine strikes recently.
For probably the first time in his life, Orkahm was driving faster than he knew he should, and that was not what worried him.
Ehrye knew better than to return to the Knowledge Tower. Though the scholars could likely explain the package Toa Lhikan had just given him, if the Vahki were not waiting for him there, the hulking one-eyed being surely was. It would be difficult to get a scholar's attention anyway. To a scholar, only another scholar was worth noticing, and then just barely.
He didn't need a scholar to tell him one thing. He needed to go to the Great Temple. The picture on the foil was unmistakable. He would have no trouble getting as far as the Coliseum, because the Keerakh knew that it was his job to carry messages. The Vahki in Ga-Metru might need convincing, but he had a message from his friend Ahkmou directed to a Ga-Matoran teacher named Nokama. Unless some recent event had raised their suspicion, they would let him through to the Temple.
Molten protodermis hissed and bubbled in the foundry vat. Nuhrii ignored the familiar noise and concentrated on the disk in front of him. It had not been easy to obtain level 8 Kanoka. As far as the city Kanoka Control Authority knew, the disks he was using were still in a vault in the Onu-Metru Archives. Nuhrii was not usually one to buy from smugglers and looters, but he was not about to let his former student show him up. Turaga Dume had chosen Vakama to craft a Mask of Time, completely ignoring Nuhrii's long list of achievements.
But Nuhrii refused to be overlooked. A mysterious message had offered to share secrets that neither Vakama nor any other mask maker could imagine. Nuhrii would complete the legendary mask first, and no one would forget him again.
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of heavy feet on the metallic catwalk. Toa Lhikan was coming toward him, and coming quickly.
"Making masks, Nuhrii?"
"Yes, Toa, that's what I do, and none do it better."
"The city needs your help," said Lhikan, handing Nuhrii a small object covered in metallic protodermis. "Matoran are vanishing. Deceit lurks in the shadows of Metru Nui."
"Toa- so dramatic."
Lhikan spun toward the speaker: a four-legged, insectoid creature advancing along the catwalk. "Always playing the hero," it hissed.
The Toa of Fire drew his twin swords. "Some of us take our duty seriously, Nidhiki." Then he whispered to Nuhrii, "Keep it safe. Get to the Great Temple."
Nidhiki spat energy blasts, which Lhikan narrowly evaded. Nuhrii acted by reflex. Grabbing the nearest disk, he flung it at the Dark Hunter.
His level 8 enlargement Kanoka struck with a flash. Nidhiki swelled to a tremendous size, but the catwalk groaned and dipped under his increased weight. Lhikan jumped back onto the platform as a hulking figure crashed onto the walk where he had just been standing. The force of the impact, added to the weight it already held, was too much for the narrow bridge. The cables snapped, dropping the entire section. Lhikan and Nuhrii watched as the catwalk and the two Dark Hunters disappeared into the tank of molten protodermis below.
"Well done, Nuhrii," said Lhikan. "Now I know I chose rightly. You and I must travel to the Great Temple without delay. And I have many things to explain to you and the others."
...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
The Land of the Lost: Chapter 2: Toa Metru!
The fire drone picked up yet another shattered mask and deposited it on the reject cart. Vakama raised his goggles and sighed, as if he could rid himself of weariness by exhaling. His efforts to create a Mask of Time had met with no success. He knew, from the way each hopeful attempt had split, that his disks contained too many impurities to become a Great Mask. He could have made them into a Noble Mask with little difficulty. That was odd; level 8 disks should turn into Great Masks. But nothing Vakama thought he knew about mask-making seemed to apply to the Kanohi Vahi.
Besides, Turaga Dume had not asked for a Noble Mask of Time. Vakama had often wondered what use a Turaga had for a Great Mask. The only explanation he could think of was that Dume expected a Toa to come to Metru Nui in need of it.
A new tempering technique might keep the mask in one piece until it cooled. Nokama was trying to develop a new variety of liquid protodermis for quenching masks, which she said would cause less shock.
Vakama picked up another Kanoka, and a cold weakness flowed over him as images flashed through his mind. A great hand reached down and touched a golden floating mask. Beams of shadow shot from the mask, darkening six Matoran, who dropped the Kanoka they were holding.
He saw Metru Nui in ruins, covered in a cloak of shadow. The six disks flew above the city, merging into one. With a searing flash, the disk broke apart, dispelling the shadows from the city. But out of all the darkness, one shadowy hand remained, and Vakama saw it reaching for him...
Vakama shook his head as the voice pulled him back to reality. For most of his life, these strange visions had come at unexpected moments to worry him with unfamiliar sights. Before he could think about what he had seen, a very excited Matoran burst into the foundry.
"Vakama! Haven't you heard the news?" shouted Jaller. "There are six new Toa! Metru Nui's own Toa! Six of them! Matoran from right here in our city, transformed into Toa! Everyone's watching the viewscreen! Come on!"
Vakama forgot everything else. "Six Toa? Here in Metru Nui? What are Turaga Dume and Toa Lhikan saying?"
"Yes, six new Toa right here in Metru Nui! Come on, let's find a viewscreen!"
The announcer was just as excited as everyone in the audience. "Matoran of Metru Nui, this is a great day in our city's history! For the first time ever chronicled, this city has its own Toa! Look at these sketches, just drawn by an amateur Ga-Metru artist!"
Vakama stared at the picture of the Toa of Fire. "It's Nuhrii! My teacher! The ridges over the eyeholes in his mask- I saw him make it that way. It has to be Nuhrii!"
A mask. Three masks, Great Masks. One fading away to nothingness, one golden, shining like the East Sun. And one with a blazing pair of crimson eyes, searching, searching. They swept by Toa Lhikan, passed over Toa Nuhrii... and settled on Vakama.
"What's wrong, Vakama?"
"It was, well, another of my visions, Jaller. My mask must be coming loose. It's never been like this before."
"Hey, Vakama! Our own Toa-heroes! What a happy-cheer day for Metru Nui!"
Vakama looked up. His friend Matau was sitting at the front of a speedy-looking new vehicle. Nokama and Onewa were riding in the back.
"Want a quick-ride? We're going to the Coliseum to see the Toa-heroes!"
Jaller looked eager. "Thanks, Matau. Come on, Vakama."
Onewa greeted the Ta-Matoran and said, "Matau's been looking for an excuse to test this one on the streets since Naming Day. I'd hold tight if I were you."
The six spires of Metru Nui's Coliseum shone in the mingled light of the twin suns. Matau parked under a bridge, and the five Matoran passed through a towering gate fashioned into the shape of a Kanohi Hau. Already the stands were packed with the city's clamoring population. An image flickered on the viewscreen. It was Lhikan, but not as they knew him. Shrunken and weakened, Turaga Lhikan had given away his Toa power to the newcomers.
He seemed to be arguing with Turaga Dume. The loudspeakers did not repeat their words, but Vakama could see that Dume was trying to refuse some request. Finally Lhikan turned away and stepped to the podium. Dume stopped him, apparently saying something conciliating. Lhikan smiled and yielded the stand to the elder Turaga.
"Matoran of Metru Nui!" Dume's voice boomed over the speakers. "The Great Spirit has provided us with six new Toa! Once Matoran in this very city, they have been transformed into our protectors, as has been witnessed by our Toa Lhikan, now Turaga like myself. Matoran, these are your guardians: Nuhrii, Toa of Fire! Vhisola, Toa of Water! Orkahm, Toa of Air! Ehrye, Toa of Ice! Tehutti, Toa of Earth! Ahkmou, Toa of Stone!"
The new heroes stepped onto the balcony and stood at attention while the Matoran cheered.
Ahkmou frowned. He suspected Dume had some reason for naming him last. Reason enough there was, though how could the Turaga possibly know?
Vhisola smiled. She had no more need to earn Nokama's approval. Beneath the mantle of a Toa, she needed no one. She could rule her own destiny now.
Nuhrii felt only relief. Lhikan had warned him that anything could happen at this moment. But Dume had accepted them. All would be well.
Tehutti felt pride rush through him. As a Toa, he was more than anyone could have imagined. Everyone would know his name by sunsdown.
Orkahm's fears vanished like dust before a gale. He had a strength the Morbuzakh could only dream of. Nothing could overcome a Toa!
Ehrye could still hardly believe it. He felt bewildered. What would he do as a Toa? What would become of his old life?
Vakama turned away. "Let's go, Matau. There is nothing else to see." He had another reason. Being this close to Turaga Dume made him feel guilty. Three times he had been unable to deliver the Mask of Time on the Turaga's deadline. His failure added to the weight on his mind.
Matau shrugged. "If you say so. See, the Toa-heroes leave too."
When the Matoran reached Matau's new vehicle, there was a Nuurakh standing beside it. The order enforcer wordlessly presented Matau with a 50-widget ticket for illegal parking. Then it held out to him a longer document.
"Really? For a dumbsimple parking violation?" grumbled Matau.
The Vahki touched the handles of its stun staffs.
Matau signed the foil sheet and handed it back to the Vahki, who then bolted a small box inside the vehicle's bumper. "Speedtracking anchor," Matau complained to none of his friends in particular. "Sharpwatching me everywhere not enough. Now they measure me everytime, everyplace, keeping me to every slowlimit. But at Moto-Hub test track, Le-Matoran can speed as they heartwish!"
As Vakama climbed into the vehicle, it crossed his mind that the departing Vahki walked with a slightly awkward gait.
...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
The Land of the Lost: Chapter 3: Destiny Hidden
Surely the visions were getting worse. Vakama had never had three in one day before, and never one like this.
The weathered stone face loomed against the sky. He knew it represented the Great Spirit, Mata Nui. The stone was falling, toppling backward into the sand like a Matoran hit by a Vahki stun staff. The Great Spirit's sightless eyes stared at the stars above, which wheeled and changed places so rapidly that Vakama felt dizzy.
The six new Toa Metru rose out of the earth, surrounding Mata Nui, protecting him from the shadows slithering out of the sand. But they could not protect him against the Shadow sinking down from above. Vakama felt himself lifted into the air, facing the Shadow, standing between it and the small piles of pebbles that the fallen Great Spirit had guarded. Turaga Lhikan appeared beside him, then faded away. Vakama was left alone against the Shadow. Beneath him, the Great Spirit's stone had disappeared in the sand. The Toa stood dazed. The Matoran cowered as their doom came upon them. The Vahki marched across Metru Nui in ranks forty deep. The Morbuzakh vines gripped the spires of the Coliseum. Rahi from the Archives and spider creatures Vakama had never seen before crawled over the rubble.
And then Vakama saw his duty and his destiny.
The images ended. Exhaustion crept over him. Vakama hardly understood anything he had seen, but he knew he had a part to play. He could almost remember what that part was.
Once the excitement over the Toa Metru passed, the news returned to its familiar ominous nature. The Morbuzakh vines kept pressing their attack. Neither scholars nor researchers could discover an effective way to kill them. The Matoran reluctantly ceded the entire northeast coast of Ta-Metru. Five Po-Matoran vanished in a single incident. Onu-Matoran archivists debated moving some of the more dangerous exhibits to more secure sublevels. Metru Nui's population officially fell to 914.
It was three days after the coming of the Toa that Vakama looked up from his disks to find Nokama at the foundry door. The tone of her greeting showed she was disturbed, and her eyes kept glancing around nervously.
"You don't look well," he commented. "Have you been too close to a Vahki?"
"I suppose you could say that." Nokama held out a very small bottle. "I came to give you the quenching liquid for your Mask of Time. This is all I can get for you."
"Can't you make more?"
"No, my project has been shut down. No one can do research any more, not without Turaga Dume's permission. This is all I had made when the Vahki closed up my lab."
"There's a new law? Against research?" Vakama hoped he had misunderstood.
"All research is restricted. The Turaga don't want us to discover a new way of turning ourselves into Toa."
"That's ridiculous!" shouted Vakama. "Becoming a Toa is destiny at work! You can't make a law banning destiny!"
"Keep your voice down!" urged Nokama. "There might be Vahki out there listening."
Vakama thanked her for what she had brought, and promised to tell Turaga Dume how important her research was for making the mask.
Nokama did not stay much longer. When she had gone, Vakama stood staring into the flames of his forge. He found the new rules impossible to understand. Why would Turaga Dume want to prevent more Toa from coming into being? He surely knew the value of Toa, having been one himself, and having once called hundreds of Toa to defend the city against the Dark Hunters. Vakama could also remember his speeches praising Ga-Metru research, calling it vital to the future of Metru Nui. Changes had come, and Vakama was worried.
It was foolish to think he could do anything about the changes. He was only a simple mask-maker. Keeping out of the Morbuzakh's reach was all he could do. He would have to leave the real problems to the Turaga, and the Toa, and the Vahki.
But he had been doing just that for the past year. And now the city was being attacked by a vicious piece of shrubbery, the Vahki had become ever more stern and mechanical in enforcement, and Turaga Dume was making strange laws. His last vision had told him there was some duty required of him. There was something he had to do for the city, for the Matoran, for Mata Nui, some task he could almost identify.
It nearly came to him later that evening, when a security guard named Kapura appeared at his home. "Hi, Vakama. Just wanted to make sure you got home safely, without any Morbuzakh trouble."
"I'm fine, as you can see," said Vakama. "But isn't making sure we're safe the job of the Vahki?"
"Some of us figure the Vahki can always use a little help. Besides, when was the last time a Vahki knocked on your door just to make sure you were all right?"
Vakama grinned. "Vahki would never knock on a door just for that. So there are more of you, watching out for our safety?"
Kapura nodded. "We're calling ourselves the Ta-Koro Guard. We make sure Ta-Matoran don't disappear. We've got sentries watching for Morbuzakh, safe travel routes, guards to make sure no one goes into dangerous areas, and a few other things. And it's been five days since a Ta-Matoran vanished, while every other metru has lost at least three in that time."
"Why do you say Ta-Koro instead of Ta-Metru?" Vakama wondered.
"We thought a village was more unified, stronger than a city."
"So how many Koro Guards are there?"
Kapura thought. "Well, there are presently 158 Ta-Matoran accounted for, and 17 are in the Guard. Want to join? Jaller's our captain, talk to him."
"I'll think about it."
"Glad to hear it, Vakama. I've got to go check on Takua now. If anyone's missing, it would be him."
The next day, Vakama had to deliver some crates of leftover disks to Le-Metru. Since they took up a lot of space, he decided to transport them by Ussal cart instead of paying for a chute shipping container. The crab driver, whose name was Sanso, was in a gloomy mood.
"Now if you ask me, our Toa-hero Orkahm needs to sweep-clear the rotvine out of Sector 3. It's been getting dreadworse for weeks. Lehuko and I don't go through dark-gloom Sector 3 anymore. So I can't take you into Le-Metru over the Protobridge. We'll have to use the Silvertoa Bridge into Sector 2."
The narrow Silver Toa's Bridge spanned the channel between Ta-Metru and Le-Metru about two kio below the Coliseum Circle. Both Vakama and Sanso were surprised to see a barrier set up across it. As they came closer, they could see a sign reading "All Carts to Unload".
A Le-Matoran was standing by a gate. Sanso shouted to him. "Tamaru! Why this mad-crazy signblock?"
"Eversorry, Sanso," answered Tamaru. "But new rules come from Coliseum. All outdistrict carts are banblocked. Carts that outtravel might have closebrush with Morbuzakh, and maybe rotvines then come sharpseeking for them, into Le-Metru."
"Morbuzakh does not follow Ussalcarts," declared Sanso. "Rotvines friendmaking with carts, and then visitknocking at their doors? Ashsticky nonsense!"
"Jokefool idea, suretrue," agreed Tamaru. "But now written in rules. Please unload cargo and carry through gateopening. Shinyclean Le-Metru cart waits otherside."
Sanso grumbled, but he got down and began removing boxes. Then he paused. "Lehuko! Cannot abandon faithful Ussal in flamespitter district!"
"Bring Ussal," Tamaru told him. "Crabs allowed. Rules stop only carts."
One cart was the same as another to Lehuko, but the Matoran left the bridge knowing that something inexplicable had happened. Though there was evidence of Morbuzakh along their way to the Moto-Hub, they arrived without encountering any vines.
After delivering the disks, Vakama headed for a chute station. Just as he stepped out of the Moto-Hub, he ran into Matau.
The Le-Matoran was practically overflowing. "Have you heard my eversad storynews, maskmaker? Speedtesting job breezetossed! Testdriving called 'not vital' and 'useless in troubled times'! Clattering Vahkiguards want me in warehouse numbertracking crates!"
"Calm down, Matau. Talk slowly. What's all this about useless Vahki having trouble tracking down crates?"
"I am removed from speedtesting! No more trackracing! New assignment is in Moto-Hub shipping department. I drive nothing faster than heavyloaded Ussal. Dreadboring boxlists all slowdragging day!"
Vakama eventually managed to calm his friend down a little. The Le-Matoran walked off, muttering something about joining Kongu's league.
That caught Vakama's attention, so he followed. "What's this league Kongu is running?"
"Oh. Kongu is a chute-systems engineer. In sparefree time, he builds small airships. He and others in league go flight-patrolling Le-Metru in airships, looking out for rotvines and other troublecauses. They namecall themselves Windriders, and I heartwished to join because their airships fly everquick!"
Vakama saw a connection with the Guard that Kapura had been talking about. He filed the information away in his mind.
The chute trip back to Ta-Metru was thankfully uneventful. Vakama's thoughts brooded on the Mask of Time. He needed a better method of creating it, and he needed one quickly.
...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
The Land of the Lost: Chapter 4: Duty Seen Clearly
The city's new regulations became even more bewildering. Five days after the new Toa arrived, every factory and every crafter in Ta-Metru was put on a molten protodermis conservation plan. The pipes would only supply a certain amount each day. It all had to be accounted for at several steps in the crafting process, and the measurements had to be written in a logbook which would be reviewed by a Vahki. Anyone who could not explain where the protodermis had gone would be subject to unspecified penalties. He would not be permitted to work as a crafter anymore, surely. Carefully saving up protodermis was supposed to make the supply less vulnerable to Morbuzakh disruption, but few Ta-Matoran understood the logic.
Vakama was hardly affected, as his allotment was more than he needed and his crafting process was simple. The rule still bothered him, and it made work difficult for most Ta-Matoran. The chute cable factory across the canal only produced half its usual amount of product that day. Worse, Takua, who had used a small amount of molten protodermis to weld another crafter's tool to his table, was hauled away by the Nuurakh. When it was found that he had not taken the protodermis with the intention of destroying the city, Takua was released, but officially demoted from Cable Crafter to Floor Sweeper.
That was probably a mistake on the part of the Vahki. By noon break on his first day as Floor Sweeper, Takua had taught some fire drones to do his job. He spent the rest of the work day in Ga-Metru.
That night, Takua dropped in on Vakama to tell him about the day's exploits. "Nixie and I must have translated half the tablets in the Great Temple. I bet we know more about Metru Nui than Turaga Dume now. Ha, we know more about what the new Toa are supposed to do than the Toa themselves."
This interested Vakama. "What do you mean? Is there some quest our Toa need to accomplish?"
"Well, for one thing, they need to find the six Great Disks. It's the only way to stop the Morbuzakh, not to mention some Great Shadow thing that's going to attack one day. But the new Toa haven't done anything about the Disks, or much else, for that matter."
"The Toa and Turaga Dume have been talking and planning, trying to come up with a way of defeating the vines."
"Talk, talk, talk. It didn't stop the Kanohi Dragon, it didn't stop the Dark Hunter War, and it won't stop the Morbuzakh either. The tablet was quite clear, Vakama. If the Toa don't get those disks, they might as well jump in the fire pits right now."
"Welcome to the Guard." Aft, who was called the Supply and Logistics Officer, handed Vakama a badge and a double-pointed spear.
"Your spear is intended to fend off small Rahi," Jaller explained to Vakama and one other recruit. "You may be able to use it to pin down small vines. But it is wiser to use your disk launcher."
He picked up a stack of disks. "The Morbuzakh is averse to cold. This is why over half the disks you carry should have the freezing power. Take a variety from different districts, so you will have different ways to make sure you hit your target.
"There are three things I need you to do now," he went on. "First, go with Aft to study our map. Familiarize yourself with the safe and dangerous areas. Learn the travel routes.
"Second, go to Kapura to learn about the vines. They prefer to attack in certain ways. He can teach you how to predict where they are hiding and what they intend, just by studying the geography and architecture.
"Third, report back to me for your patrol assignment. Welcome to the Guard."
At sunsdown two days later, Vakama stood on a protodermis block in front of the akilini practice field. Jaller and Kapura stood below him, carrying their spears. Many curious Matoran had gathered to listen.
"Matoran of Ta-Metru!" Vakama began. "Great danger threatens our city, as you all know. We have been told not to fear, that this concern should be left to the wise and the strong. And we listened.
"Has it worked? The Morbuzakh does not go away when we close our eyes. We trusted the Vahki to deal with the threat, and they have been less successful against the vines than Matoran! We trusted Turaga Dume to deal with it, and all he has done is to vaguely promise, 'All will be well.' We trusted the new Toa to deal with it. But the Toa Metru have been here for eight days now. Have any of you seen them doing anything about the Morbuzakh?"
There was only silence from the crowd, so Vakama went on. "It is time we did something ourselves! You've all seen the Matoran who call themselves the Ta-Koro Guard. Every day, they patrol the streets, looking out for Morbuzakh. Every night, they make sure you return safely. Some of you have even been rescued by a Guard.
"But the Guard needs more help. This metru is too big for nineteen to patrol. We need Ta-Matoran willing to serve the city. If you join, you will be taught how to defend yourself, your friends, and your metru from the vines. You will do something to stop the Morbuzakh! Don't wait for others to protect you until it's too late. Join the Ta-Koro Guard!"
As Vakama finished his speech, the Guards present cheered and banged their spear handles on the ground. A few minutes later, their numbers had risen from nineteen to forty-one.
The weight on Vakama's mind seemed to lighten. He doubted that this was all he needed to do for his city, but it was surely the beginning.
Toa Nuhrii stood at a window in the council chamber high above the Coliseum. Far below, his home city, Ta-Metru, stretched out toward the Silver Sea. Refined protodermis bubbled through the pipelines from Ga-Metru. Steam rose from the Great Furnace and the Reclamation Furnace. Carts and conveyors moved from factory to factory, carrying the tools and machinery parts that Metru Nui was built from.
But smoke clouded the horizon. A haze hung over the northeast section of the metru, where the Morbuzakh ruled a kingdom of crumbling buildings, twisted wreckage, and creeping nightmare.
"Not much longer," muttered the Toa of Fire.
Nuhrii looked down to see Turaga Lhikan. "Until we must deal with the Morbuzakh. While we wait and plan, it grows stronger every day."
"Waiting and planning will end," replied Lhikan. "You know we have almost completed the defense plan. If all goes well, it will be ready to implement tomorrow."
"This defense plan! It doesn't deal with the Morbuzakh. All it does is decide which sectors of the city are defensible and which are not. It tells us which boundaries should be guarded by Vahki, which guardpoints the Toa should defend, and which parts of Metru Nui to abandon! Haven't you noticed, Turaga? The defense plan calls for we Toa, the protectors of this city, to give up on protecting over half of it!"
Lhikan stared out the open window, his eyes burning as they swept the deserted sectors and gloomy shoreline. What memories of old campaigns and forgotten bravery passed through the veteran hero's mind Nuhrii could not guess. Finally he spoke again. "I understand, Nuhrii, I understand. But what else can be done?"
"What I proposed last evening," the Toa answered. "Vhisola suspects the plant has a single root. We need to find it, strike its one vital spot, and put an end to this threat!"
Again Lhikan stared out the window, but this time he seemed to stare into nothingness, as if recalling something seen with the mind and not the eyes. "I know Turaga Dume does not believe you can defeat the vines that way," he said, "but I will not counsel against it. There are just two things you must know. First, the Great Disks. They are real, and you will need them to stop the darkness."
Nuhrii nodded, though he already knew this. "And the second?"
"The Morbuzakh, Nuhrii, is an attack on the heart of Metru Nui. That is what you must save."
A commotion came into sight outside the window. A Rahi bird, chute cable tangled in its claws, flew by with several Vahki Vorzakh in hot pursuit, wildly firing their staffs of erasing. As Nuhrii watched, a stray bolt shot through the window and struck Lhikan in the back, knocking him to the floor. He rose quickly, but Nuhrii could tell by the glazed look in his eyes that he would not be explaining his cryptic advice.
...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
The Land of the Lost: Chapter 5: Dangerous Times
It was no use. Vakama had given up.
He had used the best disks to be found in the city. He had tried every mask-making trick he had ever heard of, and invented several dozen of his own. He had tried every cooling and quenching liquid Nokama and her students had been able to create. He had tried everything over and over and over again. Nothing could change the fact that the Mask of Time required more purity than any Kanoka disks ever made.
Vakama dreaded having to admit failure to Turaga Dume, but no other options remained. He had already finished carving the message into a tablet, but he read through it once more. It explained to the Turaga why none of his attempts had worked. It apologized for failing the city. Vakama's eyes rested on the last line: "I regret that I can be of no further assistance to you or Metru Nui."
After having the tablet placed in a cargo container headed for the Coliseum, Vakama looked around his foundry. What was there for him to do? He had failed at the only task he had been given for months. With another Matoran disappearance every day, the last thing needed was more masks. He regretted again that he truly could be of no further assistance to Metru Nui.
Vakama slung his firestaff over his shoulder and began the weary walk home.
That evening, Vakama, Jaller, and several other guards gathered at a square near Jaller's hut to watch the viewscreen. According to rumor, the new Toa were doing something about the Morbuzakh vines, and their plans would be announced tonight. Just as expected, the viewscreen flickered, then cleared, and the mask of Turaga Dume appeared.
"Matoran of Metru Nui!" he began. "These are dangerous times indeed. The Morbuzakh vines grow stronger, and more and more Matoran who wander are disappearing."
"Not in Ta-Metru," muttered Jaller. "We've only lost two in eleven days."
The Turaga was still talking. "But we will not lose hope. For just a time such as this, Mata Nui has sent our new Toa. With the help of the Vahki units, they will mount a firm defense of our city."
Some of the Guards muttered that they ought to be included in the list of the city's defenders.
"In difficult times, sacrifices must be made," Dume continued. "I am requiring all Matoran in the outer sectors of the city to move into more secure areas. The Toa and I have planned a defense perimeter enclosing the inner sectors of each metru. From behind this line, we will be able to better focus our protective efforts on our city's vital locations. For your safety, by noon tomorrow, you will need to move into one of the following sectors..."
He began reading from a list of sector numbers. The Ta-Matoran paid slight attention. They were used to having to move away from Morbuzakh infestations. It was only when the Turaga moved on to Ga-Metru that they realized how small was the area designated as safe. Then their voices broke out in protest.
"What is unsafe about sector 17? We have had three vine strikes. In the entire sector. During the entire time the vines have been here."
"If we have to stay inside that line, how are we going to get to the chute systems factory? If that isn't a vital location, I don't know what is!"
"My home is perfectly safe! I'm not going anywhere!"
The viewscreen went blank, and Dume's voice gave way to the shouting of over fifty Ta-Matoran. Looking out at the crowd, Vakama was struck by impulse. Taking Jaller and Kapura, he hurried to the viewscreen and climbed onto some blocks standing beneath it. The crowd grew quiet and turned to listen.
"This is a dangerous time, as our Turaga has already told us. And surely the Turaga understands danger. Our city has faced it many times in the past. He must understand how to defend Metru Nui against attack. Let us listen to our Turaga and go to the safer sectors."
Some of the Guards looked disappointed and confused. Vakama went on.
"But this does not mean we will wait quietly for the vines to find us. After all, we are the Ta-Koro Guard. We can face danger, as Matoran have done before.
"Those of you who must leave your homes, do not worry. We will find ourselves a strong place on the edge of the safe region, where we can defend our metru. All of you can come there, to the new Guard headquarters, and the vines will come no farther. We will wait, we will watch, we will strike back at the Morbuzakh. And someday, we will drive it out of Ta-Metru!" He looked down at Jaller. "Do you know a good place?"
Jaller jumped up beside Vakama and waved his spear. "To the Furnace Factory! Follow me!" Cheering and banging their spearhandles, the Ta-Matoran marched after their captain.
In Ga-Metru, a dozen or so Matoran gathered furtively beside a fountain. "We may need to leave our homes, our classrooms, and our labs," said Nokama, "but we cannot abandon Mata Nui's temple."
"We will have to visit secretly, of course," Kotu stated. "We cannot attract the attention of the Vahki, or even other Matoran."
"Then we will have to travel by boat," put in Kai.
While the other Ga-Matoran discussed the plan, Amaya browsed through some maps. Soon she pointed out several locations. "We can moor the boats here, take them through these canals, and sneak under the bridge to the temple. The whole trip will be out of sight."
"Then we will meet at that mooring point tomorrow, one hour before sunsrise," Nokama decided. "Kotu and Kai, bring your boats. There's no more research, so we don't have anything else to do tomorrow."
It was already dark in the assemblers' village. Piatra wondered who would be knocking at his hut this late at night.
"It's me, Onewa. Let me in!"
Piatra opened the door. "What brings you here at a time like this?"
"It's a dangerous time, Piatra," began Onewa. "You've heard about everyone having to move toward the center of the city?"
"Of course. I was at the lower village watching the viewscreen. Hafu and the carvers from Striped Jaga Rock were all upset. But it won't bother me."
"Some of us," said Onewa, "aren't happy about abandoning half the metru, most of it perfectly safe. They chose me to go over to Ta-Metru tomorrow and talk to a mask-maker named Vakama. We hear he's got some more effective ideas. I want you to come with me."
"You've been a security guard. You know something about protecting the metru. And you've helped Nuparu build Vahki."
"Onewa, somehow I know you're not telling me everything. But I'll go with you."
Next morning, Onewa, Piatra, and an Onu-Matoran named Whenua stood in front of a block-shaped, solid-looking building, talking to Vakama and Jaller. "This place," the captain proclaimed, "used to be a factory for the plate walls used to build Ta-Metru's furnaces. They tested them here too, so the building is designed to withstand an exploding vat of molten protodermis."
Jaller led the visitors around a corner. "Across that wide canal is the now-closed Chute Sector. We can keep watch from up here, send out patrols, and launch strikes if the vines appear."
"You can strike at the vines and drive them away?" asked Whenua.
"We've done it more than once," said Vakama.
Closer to the factory, a squad of Guards practiced rapid-firing Kanoka at a target of a Morbuzakh painted on the wall. The group walked around them and came upon another strange sight. A Ta-Matoran and Le-Matoran were leading a team of Ussal crabs hitched to a train of carts carrying a load of massive machinery.
"Aft is in charge of our supplies," explained Jaller. "He has devised a way to move the chute systems factory into the basement here. Tamaru from Le-Metru has come over to help out. So Ta-Metru will keep producing replacement parts for Metru Nui's chutes."
Next Jaller led them inside, where a crew of metal workers rearranged the factory equipment. "We've set up guard stations on the catwalks around the outside walls. Any attacker will come under fire from three of them at once. The factory's lifts and conveyers will supply the Guards with disks from the huge stockpile we're collecting in the building's underground storage."
Onewa inspected one of the production lines. "An energized casting system. You should repurpose that for making disks."
"Most of Ta-Metru's disk plants are inside the perimeter," Jaller told him.
"Kanoka disks are vital munitions," Onewa pointed out. "It would be smart to make sure you can always produce them, wherever the threat is coming from."
As they passed through a doorway, the Guard standing there saluted by raising his spear. "This is the command center," Jaller announced. A sculpture map of the city filled most of the room. Wires and pins marked safe routes and danger spots.
While everyone was looking at the map, a Guard handed Jaller a message. He showed it to Vakama. "It's from Kongu. He wants us to send him a chute turbine as soon as we can build one. He's afraid the Vahki Vorzakh won't let the chute engineers move their spare parts out of their warehouse."
"Of course they won't," Onewa muttered. "Mobility is the key to effectiveness. They don't want a working chute system that lets us travel around."
"It's not sensible to say Vahki want or don't want things. They're completely mechanical."
"Don't be technical. They have their primary directives."
Jaller changed the subject. "Come see how we'll deliver the turbine to Le-Metru." He led the group onto the catwalks and up to a trapdoor opening on a broad section of flat roof. "Did you notice those thick beams while we were climbing? The roof is strong enough for airships to land. We can use that crane to load and unload them straight from the production lines in the cellar levels."
Vakama did not join the general enthusiasm. He had noticed a distant floating speck, off toward the center of the city. He blinked, but it had disappeared.
After the tour, Onewa thanked Vakama and Jaller. "You've given me plenty of good ideas. I intend to organize the Po-Matoran like you've done here, and teach them to do the Vahki's job, protecting themselves. We've spent too long letting others stand up for us."
Once the visitors had left, Jaller began thinking aloud. "Onewa may like our ideas, but he seems to have ideas of his own as well."
"I've known him," said Vakama, "and he is often sure of himself and does not take advice." Jaller looked at him questioningly. "To be pointed, yes, he might think he understands how to protect the city better than Turaga Dume, and he might go ahead and try."
"But then, didn't we? Or why would we have started the Ta-Koro Guard?"
...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
The Land of the Lost: Chapter 6: The Work Proceeds
Jaller and Aft limped into the command center and flopped down on the benches. "We've finally finished setting up the chute factory machines. What have you been doing all afternoon?"
Vakama turned away from the map. "I've been thinking about the other metru, mostly the Le-Matoran. They don't have a place like this to build and take refuge in. The sudden retreat must have made their lives confusing. So I wrote them an encouraging message."
He began reading, talking about the uncertainty and changes but reminding them that unity did not change. They could still find safety in taking thought for each other and working together. He recommended that they find goals that would let everyone cooperate, and told them to stay in contact with all the other districts. "The Ta-Koro Guard stands with you," he finished, "on the way to our common destiny."
"I like the sound of that," Jaller said. "I have to tell Kongu that we found five more spools of chute cable. I'll send your message along with mine."
Aft stood up. "You should send it to the other metru too. Now I have to go back down to the factory and get the machines started."
It had been an eventful first day at the new headquarters, but when Vakama got home, all the events were pushed out of his mind. A message from Turaga Dume was waiting on his doorstep. He did not seem upset with Vakama's failure to produce the Mask of Time. He regretted that there had been so many difficulties, and told him not to give up yet. He promised to make every effort to procure the disks Vakama needed. That was mysterious. Vakama had been using level 8 Kanoka, as the Turaga knew. Did he intend to give Vakama the legendary Great Disks themselves?
He was sure of it at the Guard headquarters next morning, when Kapura called from the command room as he arrived. "Hey, Vakama, more news. The Toa didn't show up at the defense perimeter this morning. They've split into pairs and gone into different metru. Obviously they're on a new mission."
Takua poked his mask in. "It's about time they did something useful."
"Speaking of doing something useful," Jaller said, "we need to get to work adding turrets to the roof. Then we'll really be able to call this place the Citadel. You've built reinforced walls, Takua, so come with me, and stop thinking up excuses."
Vakama chuckled. "I've got something useful to do in Ga-Metru, but if you hear anything else about the Toa, tell me when I get back."
Vakama took a chair set against the office wall. "Nokama asked me to speak with you, Director. As long as you assign more tasks to the researchers, they cannot patrol the metru's waterways without being arrested for leaving work."
The Ga-Matoran in charge of research sat straighter behind her desk. "I understand that the researchers want to help keep our city safe. But in Ga-Metru, research has always been the first task. I am glad that they have found ways to use their time after their projects were shut down. But it would be better if they used it to think of new research subjects that the Turaga will approve."
"The Turaga are not going to approve these new research projects. They are too busy with more important matters. And Metru Nui does not need more research at just this moment. It needs the Matoran to cooperate to keep each other safe."
The director looked concerned. "All that is true. I would like to let the Ga-Matoran patrol the district. But it is my duty to make sure that research goes on!"
"Have you forgotten that your duty can change?"
She blinked. Vakama sensed something weighty, hanging in balance, shifting toward being.
"You know it has changed before, under less unusual circumstances."
"You make a good point." The director thought for a minute. "I will give them a chance. I can allow most of the researchers to pursue other activities. But I can't promise that my permission won't be overruled. And if the metallic etching project gets approved, I will need them to return."
As Vakama left, he saw on the wall a picture of the Great Conduit that joined the districts of water and fire. For a moment, it gleamed with an unnatural light, and Vakama knew he had brought about something vital for his city.
An airship circled once and hovered down to the Citadel's roof. Aft shouted up to the pilot. "Here for a shiny new chute turbine and a half-kio of cable?"
"Ever correct, firewatcher," answered the Le-Matoran, whose cockpit was marked with the Windrider symbol, three vertical wavy lines.
"We'll have you loaded in a minute. Meanwhile, what news?"
"Sightnews? Some good, some lesscheer. Kongu read Vakama's message to crowdgathering, and Windriders are now twenty more. Ga-Metru ship patrol has visited. Even chillmask Ko-Matoran are startplanning a Guard! But for badnews, rotvines are gathering in Sector 3. Kongu says they will sneakcross to Ta-Metru and strike, so keep sharpeye."
The last of the twin suns had faded, and the power of its rays was lost in the vague shapelessness of twilight. Up from the pavement of dark narrow alleys, out from the corners of windowless rooms, up from their underground hiding places, the shadows were rising to resume their nightly rule over the streets of the City of Legends. Within the shadow of the arched entrance to the Protodermis Reclamation Furnace stood two tall, powerful beings.
"Still sure you know the way?" asked Toa Ahkmou.
"This is my home metru," answered Nuhrii. "I've been here a hundred times. Just follow me."
As they climbed to the walkways, Nuhrii spoke again. "Have you seen Turaga Lhikan recently?"
"No, and I don't want to either."
"He does have important things to tell us, if you'd listen. By the way, do you have any idea what the heart of Metru Nui might be?"
"Never heard of it. Have you been spending too much time staring into your forge?"
Nuhrii gave up trying to talk, and led the way over a conveyer belt to the next building, then down into an alley, through a gate in a fence, over a small bridge, and finally to their destination. As they neared the fire pits, the geysers of flame erupted with a deafening roar, momentarily banishing the shadows back to their lairs with a blast of white-hot light.
"And the disk is down one of those pits?" asked Ahkmou. "Sure is a place only a Toa could reach."
Nuhrii used his control over heat to melt holes in the fence. "There's one thing worrying me more than the flames. This is one of the most secured places in the entire city. Where are all the Vahki?"
"Remember the defense plan, Nuhrii. We're in one of the abandoned sectors," Ahkmou said. "Most of the Nuurakh are lined up at the Great Conduit barrier."
Nuhrii arrived at the edge of a dormant pit and peered down the smooth dark shaft. "That was foolish. If the vines damaged the fire pits, all Ta-Metru would lose heat, and all production would stop. Tell me again, why did we plan it that way?"
"The Great Conduit brings the refined protodermis from Ga-Metru. That's vital too. You can't produce anything without raw materials. And the Conduit is closer to the area controlled by the Morbuzakh. Is this the right pit?"
Nuhrii nodded. "I'm going to climb down by melting handholds in the wall. Keep an eye out for Vahki or vines. I'll shout if I need you."
The Toa of Fire climbed over the edge of the pit. He knew he had a few minutes before the flames erupted again. He set to work quickly. It couldn't be far. He glanced down, but saw only the dim circular walls stretching down into darkness. In his mind, he could see two long tendrils slinking up from the depths to tear him from his rough handholds and drag him down to the pits' fiery source. He could almost feel their crushing grip, pinning his limbs helplessly while tearing his Toa tools from his hands.
But all he truly felt was the jagged surface of a crack in the wall, and the thin rounded edge of a Kanoka disk lodged in it.
"Power level 9. Nothing else it could be," pronounced Ahkmou.
"Let's get away from here," advised Nuhrii.
The flames did not erupt again until they had returned through the hole in the fence. "Well, that was easy," Ahkmou observed. "No vines, no Vahki, not even a falling rock. Any Matoran with a grappling hook and a bit of courage could have done that."
"That worries me even more," said Nuhrii. "Turaga Dume said the Disks were surrounded by danger. If we know there's danger, but the danger doesn't bother us- you remember the story about the Le-Matoran vault robber?"
"Of course," answered Ahkmou. "Le-Matoran decides he's going to steal some widgets out of a vault in the Archives. He goes into the piping system, and finds all the hatches he needs to get through are unlocked. The Vahki have all left their posts. He starts cutting through the ceiling, and no one pays any attention. He lowers himself in, and his rope breaks. That's when he sees he's not in the widget vault, he's put himself into a holding cell in the Vahki substation."
Nuhrii nodded. "When is our rope going to break?"
In the Citadel's command room, Jaller and Vakama were studying the map of Metru Nui, marking the locations of Morbuzakh strikes with small pebbles. They looked up as an Onu-Matoran walked in.
"I'm Taipu. I'm a miner," announced the newcomer. "I'm helping Whenua and Onewa with their Guard plans."
"Glad to see you here," said Jaller. "How are their plans coming along?"
"Onewa says the Po-Matoran guard is organizing well. We Onu-Matoran are having trouble patrolling the Archives, but Onepu says he will find a way to make it easier. Better than that, Nuparu is working for us. That's why I'm here. He has designed a suit of armor for Matoran to wear when fighting the vines. I've got his specifications here. Onewa wants the Ta-Matoran to make prototypes and send them to us."
Jaller looked at the codes Nuparu had carved on the tablet. "We should be able to make you two or three of these by the day after tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow night, if they get the old test foundry running again."
"Very good. Do you have any other messages for Onewa and Whenua?"
Vakama thought for a moment. "Tell them the Ta-Matoran are still defending themselves, and growing stronger with every passing day."
...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
The Land of the Lost: Chapter 7: Shifting Sight
"Up twospace!" called a voice among a cluster of chutes high above the ground. Down on the street, a team of Ussal crabs hauled at a line, lifting a turbine into place.
"Hold and fasten!" Matoran dangling from ropes bolted the piece of machinery into place.
"Clear for chutejoin!" Kongu threw some switches, and magnetic energy sheath flickered into existence on both sides of the turbine.
"Readyall... Powerup!" Kongu pulled a lever, and the turbine growled, hummed, and broke out into a mighty roar. Fluid rushed through the chutes. The crew began to cheer.
"Junction powered again, in time for morning cargoload! Welldone!" Matau congratulated the chute engineers.
Kongu grinned. "Truethanks. But are you not timescheduled to fly dawn patrol?"
Matau looked glum. "Vahki stopped me. New rule. No one walkenters hangar after darkfall."
"Dragonteeth! Who flies now?"
"Midnight patrol still watches."
Kongu grimaced. "Still safe. But futuredays, all night patrollers must be in hangar all night. Enough annoybother to schedulemake already."
"I can join Windrider night patrol!" called one of the turbine installers. "And I can groundcrew!" added the Ussal handler.
"Cheerjoy!" The Windrider captain locked the chute control box and packed up his tools. "Sign up at hangar at sunsrise, both."
"How do you like it?" asked Jaller. "The crafters have been working all night on it."
Vakama inspected the suit of armor. Light, flexible, but tough, it would well fit the Matoran it was designed for. He ran his hand over the transparent faceplate. Suddenly, there was a mask behind it, and the suit of armor came to life.
The armored Matoran radiated strength and power as he marched through the streets of Ta-Metru. Morbuzakh vines reached to grab him, but he knocked them away. Flashes of energy reflected harmlessly from the suit as he reached the Coliseum and stood triumphantly before its mighty gates. Only then did Vakama see that the Matoran's heartlight was not flashing, and his eyes were glowing with a menacing crimson stare.
"What do you think?"
The vision faded as Vakama searched for an answer to Jaller's question. "I'm sure it will be very useful for the Guards."
"Explain to me again," said Toa Vhisola. "What are force spheres, and what is a parking circle?"
"Chutes," answered Toa Orkahm, "are made of magnetic energy sheath, which keeps protodermis inside and makes it quick-move. Sheath can be twistbent around girders and made into chuteshape. If piece breaks off, it is not openheld. Fold-wraps on itself, making sphere shape. Force sphere travels through chutes, sucking up cargo, cannot break loose. If too big-strong, sucks up wallsides, chutes collapse, sphere implodes. Feardread for chute-travelers.
"Parking circle is chute going in circle, everslow. Chute-system engineers put them in, I know not why. We use them to park cargo. Since no chute goes out of parking circles, things floatriding through chutes get stuck in them, go round and round until removed."
"And the Great Disk of Le-Metru is in one of these force spheres, riding through a parking circle?"
"Ever-correct. It has been slowcircling for weeks. Parking circle is under abandoned chute station, so no one visits. Chute engineers clean trapped cargo-junk from circles, but no junk here. Force sphere sucks up all."
"So all we have to do is climb in the sphere, get the disk, and get out?"
"Easy. Except for getting in, and getting out. And maybe seek-finding the disk. Danger is inside force spheres, whirlspinning, nowhere to stand. Very dangerous if it implodes- smash even Toa to bits. But this sphere is small and slowgoing. No imploding."
"Isn't that odd?" Vhisola pointed out. "The disk is in a force sphere, but a relatively safe, easy to find force sphere. We had no trouble getting the Ga-Metru disk out of that sea Rahi skeleton's teeth. Nuhrii's disk was in a dangerous place, but he and Ahkmou retrieved it without any harm. And Tehutti and Ehrye found the Onu-Metru disk sitting in an Archive storage room. It's as if something knows we're looking for the disks and is making it easy. You weren't there, but Toa- I mean Turaga- Lhikan once told Ehrye and me that there were treacherous traps and fearsome guardians surrounding each one of the Great Disks. Speaking of Lhikan, I haven't seen him for five days."
"He is traveling to the Archives to seekfind old stories, I have heard," said Orkahm. "Quick-look! Here is the chute station."
If buildings could wear expressions, the closed station would have stared at the Toa with a look of pure lethargy. Its semicircular front displayed windows shut behind boards like sleepy eyes, the awnings over its platforms swayed slowly and dully, and the pavement had not even enough energy to grow grass in its cracks. Liquid protodermis sloshed sluggishly through a dozen chutes that curved lazily down from the support girders above to hang from the station's walls. Orkahm led the way behind a sagging platform and pulled open a trapdoor, which creaked as if being awakened. The Toa entered a narrow passage under the station building, then climbed down a ladder.
A single dim lightstone revealed enough of their surroundings. They were in a wide cellar space, close to circular, with a shimmering wall that bowed inward in a peculiar way. "A chute," Orkahm whispered, as if not to disturb the sleeping shadows and dust layers. "This is the parking circle."
"I have an idea," the Toa of Water whispered back. "Go into the circle holding one of my aquafins. I'll stand in the middle holding the other end of the cord. Get into the sphere, find the disk, and then I'll pull you out."
"Not simplequick," muttered Orkahm, "but we are Toa-heroes, after all. Tighthold the ladder so you are not pulled in. I cannot shoutcall to you from inside force sphere, so after three minutes, pull me out. If I have not found the disk, I can go in again."
Orkahm kept a tight grip on the shaft of Vhisola's aquafin. He was not used to riding chutes in the dark. Come to think of it, he rarely rode the chutes at all, except inside transports. That was dangerous, something Matau or Kongu would do. But it took boldness to be a Toa. There, up ahead- that had to be the force sphere! Without hesitation, the Toa of Air swam toward the swirling bubble that surrounded the Disk.
As he had expected, the sphere's interior was one big vortex, and it was filled with debris. He nearly lost his grip on the aquafin when some large object rammed him, but he ignored his bruised shoulder and clung tighter. The Great Disk was here- he could see it glowing as it traced small circles around the heart of the sphere. He reached for it, but moving through the vortex was like trying to play akilini underwater while tied behind a Takea. Pulling himself onto a container lid, he reached for the center, and once again fell short. There was only one way. Orkahm jumped from the container lid and plunged into the whirlpool at the middle of the sphere.
Being spun around once a second was not at all pleasant. Orkahm was reminded of the time Matau tried to ride a turbine blade. But the disk was there, circling around his body, now bouncing off his foot. He lunged for it, and found himself flying headfirst around the vortex at a ridiculous speed. There was the disk again! As he sped past it, Orkahm reached out and trapped it against his shoulder armor.
That left the problem of getting out of the sphere. He tried to pull himself along the aquafin's cord, but it was worse than climbing up cable by hand with someone hanging onto your feet. Then the cord jerked viciously, and before Orkahm realized what was happening, he had been dragged through two chute walls and was lying, gasping for breath, on the stone floor.
"I'm just fine," he told Vhisola. "Everlong three minutes, but worth the wait." He held up the Le-Metru Disk. "I bet we can quick-return to the Coliseum before any other team gets their second disk."
A light breeze brushed a careless path over the waves, scattering droplets of spray onto a boat deck. Marka swung the tiller, steering her craft into the broad waterway between Ga-Metru and Ta-Metru. Just ahead loomed the arches of the Great Conduit, bearing the huge pipelines which funneled refined protodermis to the furnaces and factories of Ta-Metru. A patrol of Nuurakh stood rigidly guarding the pylon at the southern end. Beyond the Conduit, the waterway curved to the port side on its way to the Coliseum circle. Marka cut in close to the Ta-Metru shore.
As she passed a deserted factory at the water's edge, an ominous grinding noise reached her ears. Then, with a rumble and a splash, a section of the factory's wall collapsed, and a scorch-marked creeper unrolled itself and stretched out over the water. Loading her Kanoka launcher, Marka fired a shrinking disk at the Morbuzakh. The tendril was reduced to a harmless size, but three more shot out of the gap. Marka tried to speed away, but two of them wrapped around the boat's stern and lifted the propeller out of the water. They shook the vessel wildly, causing Marka's disk to miss the third vine as it reached for her.
Without even time to yell, Marka was dragged into the water, then lifted clear as the Morbuzakh shook her. The world bounced, spun, and dimmed, finally fading to grey, leaving on Marka a last impression of a still, bubbling sky.
Marka opened her eyes. The sky was actually still, and bubbling, just like the water. At second glance, it was the water after all, and the sky was hanging just below, or rather above, her feet, by which she was dangling from an oddly cold and rigid Morbuzakh vine.
A Kanoka splashed in beneath her, freezing the channel's surface solid. Footsteps approached, and two Ta-Matoran appeared, walking over the icy bridge they had just created. Without speaking, one of them fired a Kanoka of enlargement at the vine, loosening its hold so that Marka fell free. When she recovered, she tried to thank the Ta-Matoran, but they made no reply and simply repaired her boat with restoration disks. Finally she asked the reason for their stubborn silence. One of them held up a tablet carved with the words: "What Must Be Said, Cannot Be Said."
...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
The Land of the Lost: Chapter 8: It Cannot Be Said
"It's only been six days," said Jaller, "and this place is already a real stronghold. I'd like to see a Morbuzakh try to break through this wall." He laid a hand on the Citadel's reinforced side.
Vakama watched a column of Guards practicing in their new armor. "I would like to see the Morbuzakh try to fight them too." Nuparu had made additions to his original design. Each suit was now lined with thin silver bars attached to a disk of freezing held on the back. When activated, the bars would become cold enough to deaden any Morbuzakh vine foolish enough to touch them.
Aft walked up to them, raising his spear in salute. "The morning's report, captain. Disk production has nearly doubled. The chute systems factory is in good order. Two airships from Le-Metru picked up their loads and left the latest reports from Kongu. I've put them in the command room. Piatra from Po-Metru has taken the armor we made for them and Onu-Metru. The boat patrol from Ga-Metru has not arrived yet. No major activity from the Morbuzakh has been detected in Ta-Metru so far today."
As Jaller led Vakama inside, he caught sight of several Guards wearing small tablets around their necks, making gestures to each other. "Do you understand what Kapura means with his vow of silence?" he asked.
"I cannot guess what it is they must say, yet cannot say," answered Vakama. "But I think the reason it cannot be said is that no one would believe it."
Inside the command room, a Ko-Matoran looked up as they entered, then returned to studying the map. "This is Nuju," Vakama explained to Jaller. "He joined the Guard in Ko-Metru when his teacher Ihu was taken by the vines. Matoro decided that the other districts' Guards were in need of the scholars' logic and detailed knowledge, so he sent Nuju to advise us."
"We will be glad to have his help," said Jaller. "To begin, Kongu has sent us another list of locations of Morbuzakh strikes. We will have to mark them all on the map." He began looking over the list. "Kongu says they show a pattern which is 'dreadfrightening'."
The three Matoran set to plotting, and soon the pattern began to emerge. Shortly after the Matoran had retreated from the outer sectors, the vines had followed. The Morbuzakh was spending its strength besieging the new defense perimeter. Its former hiding places at the edges of the city had not seen any vine activity for days, as every tendril and stalk was creeping, shoving, and smashing its way toward the Matoran lines.
"Is it possible," asked Nuju, "that we are only perceiving a change in the vine's patterns at the time of the retreat because that is when the Le-Matoran began air patrolling and providing accurate data?"
"Most of the metru guard squads," said Jaller, "were formed because of the retreat and the message Vakama sent out the next day. But the Windriders are older than that. Kongu flew the first patrol two days before the coming of the Toa. They have been patrolling all Le-Metru, Ko-Metru, the Coliseum, and half of Ta-Metru since five days before the retreat."
Jaller and Vakama continued to mark the Morbuzakh's position on the map, but Nuju stepped back. Silent, eyes half closed, he stood and thought deeply, as scholars did.
Eventually he spoke. "That much is obvious."
"What is obvious?" inquired Jaller.
"That the Morbuzakh's purpose is not to seize the city for its own use. Most of Metru Nui is a poor habitat for it anyway. It is harassing the Matoran, following them, penning them in. It will continue to press back the front until it has driven us all to the Coliseum."
"Now why would it want to do that?" Jaller was skeptical.
Vakama studied the map, staring down at the intricate carving of the Coliseum, imagining Matoran from the six districts filing in line over the bridges, all fleeing to the center of the city. He could see them now, hurrying through the arena gates. They stared with puzzlement at the Vahki transports parked on the floor. But they continued to march in line, across the arena, up to the waiting transports, over the sides, into the hatches. One by one, every Matoran in Metru Nui disappeared into a transport, and the Vahki climbed aboard after them. Now the transports were moving, but instead of crawling toward the arena gates, they were sinking through the floor! They had disappeared, and the Matoran were gone! How was that possible? It was making the Coliseum shake! Now the sky was shaking, too. The twin suns were flickering. A bulging pillar of black smoke was rising from the pinnacle of the Coliseum, shrouding the suns, hiding the city, reaching out for Vakama...
Vakama blinked. His sight returned to normal. Nuju was explaining to Jaller that it was not possible to guess at the Morbuzakh's motives, even if a giant plant creature could have motives, which was far from certain.
"It wants to chase us into the center," Vakama broke in, "so we can be captured. It was a vision- I saw the Matoran being loaded into Vahki transports and taken under the Coliseum. Then they sunk and were all lost- we were all lost, Jaller."
"Now that makes even less sense," said Jaller. "What use would the Morbuzakh have for Matoran prisoners? And who would use the power plant as a prison? There are plenty of better places to lock beings up."
"The Vahki were involved, too," explained Vakama. "Maybe they're going to malfunction and decide to arrest everyone."
"That's possible," agreed Jaller. "But it doesn't involve the Morbuzakh."
"These are conjectures," said Nuju. "We know one thing. The vines are trying to drive the Matoran to the center of Metru Nui. And they must be stopped."
"I'm still certain something wants to imprison us all," Vakama insisted.
"You know what?" said Jaller. "I think you've discovered another thing that must be said, but cannot be said."
"Take a look at what Vakama just sent out," grumbled Onewa.
Hewkii glanced over the tablet. "It's his normal message. 'Help your city, join the Guard.' The same thing that got us fifteen recruits when I read it to the meeting yesterday. Then he gives some practical advice. What's upsetting you?"
"Look right here. See where he warns us to follow the rules and stay out of the abandoned sectors. How does he expect to get anything done?"
"That's probably wise. We wouldn't make our secret trips to the Edge Sector if we didn't need to recover all those disks."
"We'll find other reasons to go there when we need to go there."
Whenua had listened silently, but now he was confused. "Why would we want to do that?"
"You Onu-Matoran don't need to worry about the future," Onewa told him. "For now, let's get back to planning this Ussal scheme."
"This is ridiculous," said Ahkmou. "We've retrieved the six legendary Great Disks, something only Toa like us can do. Why would we keep it a secret?"
"As I just said," explained Nuhrii, "the disks are needed to save the city. We should use them to save the city, not for whatever other purpose someone else may want to put them to."
"But who else wants the disks?" asked Orkahm.
"I don't know. I can't guess why. I just think some other being is using us to get the disks for it."
"So just because you think getting the disks was easy, we can't even tell Turaga Dume," replied Ahkmou. "If we can't trust him, who can we trust?"
"We can trust Turaga Lhikan, can't we? He made us Toa, after all."
"Hold on a moment," the Toa of Stone answered. "If someone wants Toa to get the disks for it, the one who brought the Toa into existence looks like a good suspect."
Nuhrii struggled for words, but all he could stammer was, "That- that can't be- it's impossible-"
Ahkmou left Nuhrii to think of something to say, and turned to Tehutti. "You don't want to keep this a secret, do you? Our first great accomplishment as Toa? We want everyone to know, don't we?"
"Of course!" The Toa of Earth gave the answer Ahkmou knew he would.
"Then come on! Turaga Dume told us to bring him the disks, let's go show him!"
As the other Toa followed Ahkmou, Nuhrii fell into line at the back. Then he stopped, frozen to the ground, with a smile of recognition forming behind his mask. Only Vhisola turned and noticed as he caught up with the others.
"What was that about?" she inquired.
"It all makes sense now," the Toa of Fire answered.
"What makes sense? Something wanting the disks?"
Nuhrii stared at his feet. "Yes, why we're getting the disks. I've got to tell someone. But it's just too impossible to be true- too ridiculous to tell anyone- it can't be said."
...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
The Land of the Lost: Chapter 9: A Different Battle
The new defense plan was keeping the Vahki busy guarding the perimeter. The retreat had closed down many factories, meaning that most Ta-Matoran no longer had any work to do. Naturally, Takua thought this a wonderful turn of events. In fact, this was the first time he had returned to the Citadel in three days.
"I'm sure it's the most important set of tablets in the entire city," he was saying. "It's just that neither Nixie or I has any idea how to translate them."
Vakama tried to think of something to say, but the idea of the Matoran being captured was distracting him. Fortunately, Jaller dashed in at that moment. "Vakama! Come look at this!"
Deep beneath the Citadel was an abandoned cellar, which the Guard was currently using as a storage space. As Vakama followed Jaller down a ramp, he noticed that a large section of the cellar floor had been lifted out of place, exposing a wide shaft. Short hulking beings were riding Ussal crabs across the floor toward them. As they neared, Vakama realized they were Onu-Matoran, wearing the new suits of armor Nuparu had designed. Onepu was in the lead, and Jaller stepped down to speak with him.
"There you are, Vakama," Onepu greeted him. "We've come through the Archives. This armor and the crabs make a great combination for guarding our metru."
"You said there was other news, too," reminded Jaller.
"Yes, and it's not good," replied Onepu. "We've put together a list of the locations where the Morbuzakh has been seen underground, and they show an alarming pattern."
"Let me guess," said Jaller. "When the Matoran retreated behind the defense perimeter, the vines followed, leaving their old hiding places just to chase us?"
"Yes, but that's not all," Onepu warned. "Kongu must have told you about all the vines moving into Le-Metru sector 3. They're not staying there. They've found some underwater tunnels and are moving toward Ta-Metru. As you know, on the Ta-Metru side, the defense perimeter reaches the channel much farther south than it does on the Le-Metru side. It looks to us like the Morbuzakh is planning to cross the channel behind the Ta-Metru defense perimeter and overrun its western end, where it's least guarded. And it's planning to do it today."
Jaller looked around quickly. "Takua! Go run as fast as you can, and find Aft. Tell him to get five squads moving west to the Spike with all speed." He turned to Onepu. "Are you coming with us?"
Onepu held out his fist. "Until Metru Nui is free."
Jaller tapped Onewa's fist with his own. "Or until we are all lost."
The Western Spike was a fort at the end of the defense perimeter in Ta-Metru. When Metru Nui had still traded with other lands, there had been a long row of docks here at the side of the channel. Matoran and beings from other lands had carried their goods through a vast shipping yard at the water's edge. But the docks had long since been torn up. The flats of the cargo yard stood empty, except for the canal through its middle and the hastily built perimeter wall along the canal's edge. And for the tall, thin tower on the point where the canal ran into the channel, its window slits and pointed crown staring across at Le-Metru's Sector 3.
The tower had once been hung with bright red lights, marking the canal's safe entrance for night-voyaging vessels. It had still been lit as a guide for airships after the channel was cleared of obstructions. Vakama remembered seeing its beacons gleaming over the dark factory roofs, back when it had been safe to walk at night. Several years had passed since the yards had closed and the lights had been extinguished, but soon they would be lit again. Jaller planned to turn them into floodlights, so the Morbuzakh could be seen if it tried to attack by night.
Vakama jumped down from his seat on an armored Ussal's carapace. The Guards lined up by the wall, readying their spears and disk launchers. The Ussal riders opened a hatch in the pavement and sent scouts to learn which underground path the vines were taking. High above, an airship waved a pennant at them- a Windrider, certainly. Vakama fell in with a column which Jaller was leading up the tower's steps.
He paused at the top, then turned to look back. Suddenly he realized they were all watching him expectantly. So they wanted another speech? Vakama smiled to himself.
"Defenders of Ta-Metru!" he began. "The time has come to stand up to our enemy. Any moment now, the horde of vines will be upon us, trying to overrun our city. The Morbuzakh is growing bolder. Perhaps it thinks Matoran cannot threaten it. All they can do is send Vahki, which it does not fear. They can send Toa, but there are only six of them. The vines see no reason to be fearful or cautious.
"But today the Morbuzakh will face something it has never fought before. Matoran from different metru have come together to put a stop to the vines. Our equipment, our training, this tower, have all been designed to take advantage of its weaknesses. But we have an even greater strength than that. We have put aside our differences to do what must be done to protect our city. We are here to stand together, as we were meant to do. Let us show this plant what Unity, Duty, and Destiny can accomplish!"
It was quiet at the channel's edge. Small wavelets lapped against the seawall with hardly a splash. Nothing was rustled by the hint of a breeze which infrequently wafted by. And the broad paving slabs made no sound as they were slowly lifted from beneath.
The silence did not break until the heavy stone slabs had risen along half the length of the cargo yard's edge. Then the Morbuzakh vines threw them to the ground with a deafening crash and poured out of the newly opened holes toward the buildings of Ta-Metru.
But the cracking and shattering of paving slabs was not the only noise to disturb the abandoned cargo yard that afternoon. The appearing vines were greeted by the yells of nearly a hundred Matoran. The next sound to dispel the quiet was the swish of Kanoka disks flying across the yard like a cloud of angry, stinging insects. The disks met their targets, and another sound filled the air: the crackling of newly formed ice covering the vines, shattering, and flying in all directions as its weight brought the Morbuzakh crashing to the ground.
"That will stop them for now!" shouted Jaller. "Ready, Onepu!"
Now came the most dangerous part of the plan. While the vines were immobilized by the ice, the armored Ussalry would charge them with reconstitution and the rarely made increase weight disks. This combination of powers was unreliable, but sometimes it would turn its target to stone. Jaller hoped not only to drive these vines away, but prevent them from ever returning.
The danger was that the reconstitution disks could turn the Morbuzakh into almost anything else. If something particularly dangerous appeared, it would have to be picked off with teleportation or shrinking disks by the squad in the tower or the sharpshooting squad. Vakama had joined the sharpshooters, who were placed near the middle of the line of battle.
He readied his first stack of disks as the Onu-Matoran made their attack. Near the tower, the heavy barrage from the window slits kept the vines under control. Several Morbuzakh were quickly petrified. But in the center of the line, chaos was erupting in a cloud of smoke and dim flashes of light. A Morbuzakh had been hit by several reconstitution disks at once. Slowly the cloud of molecules coalesced into its new form: a floating vine-monster covered in vicious spikes and dripping with ice. It swung a long barbed tendril into the Matoran battle line, sending an Ussal flying onto its back, its rider hurled headfirst into the hard pavement.
"We've got to take it down!" shouted Jaller. "But make sure you don't hit the Onu-Matoran!"
The sharpshooting squad was already flinging Kanoka at the airborne menace. A teleportation disk found its mark, but the vine-monster was only moved a short distance over the channel. It soon floated back, its spiked tendrils whistling through the air with an eerie hum.
Suddenly Vakama was watching something else transform: the dome and spires of Metru Nui's Coliseum. He saw the structure covered in vines and spikes, and something else- some kind of webbing, maybe? Now he was looking through one of the gates at the statue that stood in the arena- but it was no longer Toa Lhikan, it was an unfamiliar, malevolent, hulk. Behind him, he heard a group of light footsteps, and realized Matoran were approaching. A sense of dread filled him as he turned around to see what new horrible form they had taken on.
The roar of battle reached Vakama's ears again, and he saw around him his companions in the sharpshooting squad. But behind him stood a dozen Vahki, the squad leader pointing a staff at him.
"What do you need?" he asked.
The leader made the signal which meant, "You are wanted."
"You'd better go with them," said Jaller. "We can spare you."
The squad leader pointed east. Vakama knew he was expected to walk that direction. As he began to move, the Vahki fell in around him, marching off the cargo yard, leaving the Ta-Koro Guard to defend their city alone.
Vakama wondered at the behavior of the Vahki. They said nothing, of course. They directed his steps, occasionally forcing him to move faster. But they were not roughly treating him like a lawbreaker. They arrived at one of their transports, and put him not into the cargo hold, but next to the squad leader at the back of the cockpit.
"Am I under arrest?" he asked.
The squad leader shook its head to say "No".
Vakama looked out a window. The transport was not heading to the Vahki substation, nor to the Coliseum. The route looked familiar, but he did not guess where he was going until they came to a stop in front of his own foundry.
The squad leader pointed outside. Vakama descended, and the squad marched him to the foundry door. More Vahki were stationed around the building. Vakama entered and made his way to his forge. The squad leader saluted, and Vakama realized that the Vahki standing by the forge watching a heavy box was the commanding unit of the Nuurakh. This Vahki scrutinized Vakama intensely before handing him a set of keys and pointing toward the box. The commander then said something in the Vahki communication code, and the Nuurakh all filed out of the foundry.
Vakama's mind held a thousand questions, but he guessed that the answer lay inside the box. Taking the keys, he opened it and removed a layer of padding to reveal a Kanoka disk wrapped in metallic protodermis foil.
He lifted the disk, turned it over- and nearly dropped it. Etched onto its lower edge was the code "159". This was the Great Disk of Ta-Metru.
Realization struck, and he looked back into the box. Sure enough, five more Great Disks were stacked inside, neatly separated by padding and wrapped in foil. Now the Vahki's actions made sense. He was expected to produce the Mask of Time.
Then Vakama glanced into the box again, and noticed another piece of protodermis foil: a small scrap with a few words written on it. Lifting it out, he recognized Turaga Dume's own handwriting.
The Turaga's message read, "You have nine days."
...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
The Land of the Lost: Chapter 10: Questions of Unity
The four of them were sitting around the box in the foundry, Vakama and Nuju at one corner, Onewa and Whenua at the one opposite. "We're here," the Po-Matoran was saying, "because this is a war. The Morbuzakh has attacked directly, in mass, in broad daylight. It's time the Guards from the six metru started working together."
"Speaking of the attack," interrupted Vakama, "how was it driven off?"
Whenua told the story. "We kept throwing freezing disks at the spike-vine thing, and turned some of it to stone. Eventually it got so heavy and weighted with ice that it fell to the ground. Then Aft and his squad charged out of the tower and fought the ordinary vines, and Onepu attacked their line from the other end. We turned many of them to stone and drove the rest back underground. Then we hacked the spike-vine to pieces and burnt it."
As he finished, Nokama walked in and took the empty corner between Vakama and Onewa. "I've two incidents to report," she announced.
"First, last night, a few vines tried to attack the Great Temple from the water on the north side. We froze over the ocean, and that put a stop to them. Kai and Kotu are still holding them off, but the vines are giving up and leaving.
"Secondly, early this morning, some more vines attacked an experimental refinery on the defense perimeter. We had been using this refinery as a headquarters, though we didn't suspect the Morbuzakh knew of it. However, only Vahki were on guard at the time, and the vines were able to destroy most of their units. But after taking apart the building and finding no Matoran, they all faded back to keep waiting."
"It's after the Matoran again," muttered Nuju.
"There's something important we can learn from Nokama's story, as Nuju points out," explained Vakama. "This is just more evidence that the real goal of the Morbuzakh is to capture and frighten Matoran."
"There's something else important we can learn," Onewa spoke up. "The Vahki failed to stop the vines from taking an important target. We can't depend on them. Nuparu didn't design them to fight something like the Morbuzakh. And they've been particularly unreliable recently. It's as if they're being badly managed too."
"Badly managed?" Vakama broke in. "Are you implying something about Turaga Dume?"
"If you're going to make me come to the point..." Onewa looked down, then brought his head up sharply. "Yes. I don't think he understands how to fight this kind of a war. Did you hear his message last night, after the battle? He told us all to be careful of 'Matoran activities that provoke vine strikes.' He warned us, 'When the Morbuzakh knows you're looking for it, it comes looking for you.' He didn't mention the Guards by name, but we all know that's what he was talking about. And just after they won the first real victory against the vines by anyone, anywhere! You can try to ignore it, Vakama, but you'll have to face it soon!"
Vakama and Onewa stared at each other across the box holding the Great Disks. The thought first crossed Vakama's mind that the movement he had inspired would not stay under his control.
Fortunately, Matau burst in at that moment, preventing anyone from saying anything dangerous. "Happycheer sightnews! The rotvines in Sector 3 are quickfleeing! All moving back after hardknocking yesterday!"
"Good news, at last!" exclaimed Nokama.
Nuju frowned. "They will be back. They simply need to find a weaker place to attack."
"We are everwatching," responded Matau. "Nearly all metru has joined the Windriders. Many patrols sharpwatch all sectors. Kongu has invented gadgets for bombdropping vines with ice from airships. Everharder for the rotvines, next time.
"But Vahki have tightclosed Balewire Field where northern Windrider flights landed. And they stop our multicontainer shipments. They cite no ruletext, so we know not why."
"What did I tell you?" Onewa muttered.
"Any other news, Matau?" asked Vakama.
"Yes. Tamaru, coming from Coliseum, says Turaga Dume will give speechmessage about battle, hour before sunsdown."
The group agreed to meet later to listen to the message, and then dispersed. Vakama called Nuju back for a moment. "The Turaga said I have until eight days from now to finish the Mask of Time. Do you know of any event due to happen in eight days?"
Nuju thought for a moment. "There might be an eclipse that afternoon, but our calculations aren't accurate enough to say for sure."
Vakama looked into the box of disks. "I might be able to finish by then. I still don't see why he needs it on that day." The disks flew from the box and spun together with a flash, shedding light over Vakama's mind. Suddenly he understood exactly why the Mask of Time was needed before the eclipse. He almost screamed aloud at the horror of the truth. But the vision faded, slipping from the feeble grasp of his memory, lost in an ocean beyond thought.
"What is it?" asked Nuju.
"I can't remember," Vakama answered worriedly. "One more thing that cannot be said."
At the proper time, the Council, as Nuju had begun calling the six of them, gathered before a nearby viewscreen. Vakama remembered the last time he had listened to an announcement. He recalled the thrill of the united Guards and their sudden fervor. But as the viewscreen flickered on, he felt only an indistinct dread.
As Dume appeared, a murmur ran through the gathered Matoran. They had seen their Turaga in different moods before: cheerful, jubilant, stern, worried. But none of them had ever seen him in a state of genuine fear. He kept glancing all around him as if doom vipers were likely to drop out of the ceiling. When he spoke, there was evident panic in his voice.
"Matoran of Metru Nui! By now you have all heard of the new fierce attacks of the Morbuzakh vines. It should be obvious to all that a great emergency is upon us. Despite the efforts of our brave Toa and the Vahki squads, the defense perimeter is too large to properly defend. For the protection of us all, I must declare another retreat. By sunsdown tomorrow, all Matoran will need to move to the central Coliseum island. The Vahki will make sure everyone arrives safely."
Vakama stared in disbelief at Nuju, who happened to be closest. "We have to move out of the Citadel. Everything we've built there."
"We Po-Matoran," announced Onewa, "are not just going to walk away from all we've done. We've worked our way too far ahead to turn back now." A grim smile lit his mask.
Nokama glanced at him worriedly. "Onewa, don't do anything foolish."
Onewa looked over his shoulder. "Believe me, I know how to safely do... what I must do." He walked away toward Po-Metru, taking Whenua with him.
Vakama turned toward Matau. "What are you planning?"
"I am speaking to Windrider-meeting. No time to move all vital Moto-Hub operations to the Coliseum. Thoughtplans must be commonlaid." The Le-Matoran marched off toward his home metru as well.
"I would be more worried about him than Onewa," advised Nuju.
"Becoming worried will not accomplish anything," pointed out Nokama. "Those three are already on their own, but let us remain united. The one thing we can do is write a petition to Turaga Dume and ask him to reconsider his plan."
"There is not much hope in that," said Vakama, "but it is better than revolt."
Toa Tehutti paced the floor of the council chamber, paying no attention as the glow of sunset filled the room. His companion Ahkmou showed even less interest in the beauties of nature, staring idly at a miniature ornamental sundial.
The Toa of Earth broke the silence. "It took eight days and eight of us to come up with the defense plan. Now at the first sign of trouble, Dume replaces it with something he designed without any help in a single morning. Tell me, how much better do you think it will work?"
"It gets us strategic safety for a moment, surely," replied Ahkmou. "But the Coliseum is not constructed to withstand a siege. We were quite certain of that when we made the last plan."
"We know what Nuhrii and Vhisola would say," said Tehutti. "That we need to deal with the Morbuzakh directly. I've been thinking they have a good point. We're Toa, after all. Toa don't run, they stand together and fight."
As light footsteps approached, Tehutti turned to see Turaga Lhikan. "What do you think of this new defense plan?" he demanded.
Lhikan looked thoughtful. "It is risky," he finally stated. "But I have known Turaga Dume for a long time, and I still trust his wisdom."
Vakama blinked. It was still several hours to sunsrise. Who wanted him at this time of night?
"Vakama!" It was Jaller.
Rising, Vakama crept into the corridor and came mask to mask with Jaller and Kongu.
"Kongu just got here," Jaller explained. "He says he has urgent news."
"Starstruth," said the Le-Matoran. "At Windrider meeting last night, Matau gave speechtalk. He said Windriders could not quickflee, we would stay and fight the rotvines. All cheershouted and made plans to stay. Then at midnight, Vahki came. Arrested Matau for disturbance-making and inciting workleaving. Where they took him, we do not know."
...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
The story continues with Chapters 11-20, available here