|Land Of The Lost, By TakuaE3, Chapters 11-20|
Posted by on January 9, 2018 at 05:51 PM CST:
The prologue and chapters 1-10 are available here
The Land of the Lost: Chapter 11: Circling Faster
This was an abandoned sector of Ga-Metru. Matoran weren't supposed to be here, especially Ta-Matoran. The Bordakh understood this quite well, which was why they were hustling around the corner in pursuit of the fugitive.
What the Bordakh did not understand was that the fugitive was no longer around the corner. As soon as they had all disappeared, Takua emerged from the window he had jumped through and continued on his way to the Great Temple.
Reaching the bridge, Takua looked around carefully, then scuttled across the long open walkway. As he had expected, Nixie was waiting just inside the Temple's entrance. "I finally got a copy of Kotu's notes," she told him as they descended a curving stairway. "I think I can begin to translate the important tablets."
"Great, we need them right away," Takua said. "My scholar friend Kopeke showed me some calculations left by a disappeared scholar named Ihu. There's going to be an eclipse in seven days. None of the other scholars believed me, of course, but you don't need to be a scholar to know that eclipses are bad news."
Nixie bent over a tablet. "This is more complicated than I expected," she announced, "but it involves time." She scrutinized the ancient inscriptions more closely. "And creeping."
"What was that?" Takua asked sharply.
"Creeping? I don't understand either."
"No, that noise upstairs!"
Footsteps sounded clearly on the stairway. Nixie ducked behind a set of shelves. Takua, ever curious, hid behind a stack of tablets that allowed him to peek out. His curiosity was soon rewarded as the Toa of Fire and Water descended into the room.
Nuhrii spoke. "Is there any information on the Morbuzakh here?"
"None that I know of," replied Vhisola. "But I have not searched thoroughly."
"There must be some clue to what we Toa must do," said Nuhrii as he scanned a listing of tablets.
Unable to keep silent, Takua jumped onto his tablet stack. "There certainly is, Toa. That tablet over on the shelf will tell you exactly what you need to do."
"Takua!" exclaimed the startled Toa. "What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same question," responded the impetuous Matoran. "What are Toa doing here while Metru Nui is being attacked by shrubbery, deceit lurks in its shadows, and the Shadow looms over it?"
Something Takua had said touched a deep-buried memory in Nuhrii's mind. "What are you talking about?"
"Read the tablet, and you will understand."
Vhisola began to translate the inscriptions. "Strike at the root, you shall know it by the stripes. So it does have a single weak point."
"Didn't you know that already?" Nuhrii asked.
"Well, I wasn't sure."
"You were sure at the meeting three days ago. You only stopped insisting when Ahkmou called you a careless researcher. You can't let him shout you down like that."
"I'll try not to." Vhisola went on reading. "The Great Disks are the city's hope- you were right, it was foolish to turn them over to Vakama without first finding why we needed them. I only hope he has not made them into a mask yet."
It was a worried Council that gathered in the Citadel that morning, with Kongu standing behind Matau's vacant space. Nokama did most of the talking. She brought up the need to make a plan, but no one offered any ideas. Onewa might have had ideas, but he stared resignedly at the table, giving no advice even when asked.
Vakama's mind was adrift. He simply listened as Nokama tried to move the topic to writing a petition to Turaga Dume. "We need to decide what we are petitioning him to do. Should we ask him to cancel the retreat, or to wait a few days and then reconsider it? Should we simply ask that it not be so drastic, or for exceptions for vital activities?"
This provoked a discussion, but only a slow, wandering, inconclusive one. Then Kongu suggested that they petition for Matau's release.
"Too risky," immediately declared Onewa.
"It may put the rest of the petition in danger," admitted Nokama. "But how can we claim to follow unity if we cannot even speak a word on his behalf?"
"We cannot leave him to Vahkijail," said Kongu. "We must thoughtplan something."
"Neverbother," broke in a familiar voice.
The Council all stared in wonder as Matau himself walked in. It was Vakama who first found voice enough to ask the question in each of their minds. "How did you get here?"
"Everquick story. Vahki put me in prisoncell. Sunsrise, Turaga Dume came to prison and ordertold Vahkiguards to set me loose. He said Metru Nui needed truebrave Matoran like me."
"Confusemuddling," commented Kongu.
"Turaga also said there would be an announcement at noon," Matau added.
Vakama and Nuju looked at each other. "Not another one," they said simultaneously.
Kapura held up the stone tablet that symbolized his vow of silence. Kopeke said nothing either.
Kapura held up a picture of a Pakari mask and walked back and forth. "Takua?" Kopeke guessed. The Ta-Matoran nodded and swept his eyes around the room.
"He was here yesterday," Kopeke explained. Kapura brought the picture to a stack of tablets. Kopeke pointed to a different shelf. "He read those."
Kapura spread the tablets on a table. After inspecting them, he pointed to one and gestured at a calendar on the wall.
The Ko-Metru scholar shook his head. "Preliminary guess. Ihu disappeared before he finished calculating."
Kapura lined up the tablets and put the one he had indicated further down the table. He spread his hands over the gap in the middle and pointed to his head. Kopeke blinked in puzzlement.
Kapura shoved the tablets back onto the shelf. Then he held up a key and pretended to throw it into each corner of the room in turn.
Kopeke thought for a moment, then grinned. "Not a true story, but I can let you read it." He led the Ta-Matoran up the stairs.
Once again, the Council stood before the viewscreen nearest the Citadel. A small group of Guards gathered as well.
Vakama studied Dume's image carefully. There was determination in his stance, and a fierce glint in his eyes. His appearance contrasted starkly with the frightened Turaga of yesterday.
"Matoran of Metru Nui!" Dume's firm voice rang over the loudspeaker. "This city has faced many trials and dangers. We have met each one of them bravely, holding to our unity, never shrinking from duty, never fearing our destiny. I am proud to announce that Metru Nui will continue to stand boldly against its enemies. The retreat announced yesterday has been canceled. You are free to go about the city, within the defense perimeter established several days ago.
"I also wish to acknowledge the valiant effort of the Matoran who stopped a massive Morbuzakh strike two days ago. This city will have greater need of such bravery as the days pass."
The Turaga's voice took on a deep and serious tone of resolve. "For there are more threats to this city than the Morbuzakh vines. Even now, danger lurks deep below the Archives, far to the south of the city."
Vakama caught a glimpse of Turaga Lhikan in the background, an expression of panic on his mask. Dume went on. "It will be necessary to meet this great threat." An element of weariness crept into his tone. "I shall soon announce the plans to deal with these dangers, once our noble Toa and I have finalized them. Thank you for your loyalty and courage. Never lose hope."
As the viewscreen faded, the Guards broke into a cheer and thumped their spearhandles in unison. Onewa and Matau joined in with zeal. Nokama frowned at Vakama. "Can't you even be happy for good news?"
But Vakama did not answer. He was staring at the viewscreen, which to his sight had faded not to black, but to a pair of burning crimson eyes.
...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
The Land of the Lost: Chapter 12: Toward A Center
Nuhrii thumped the table. "We're Toa! We have to do something! The longer we allow the Morbuzakh to remain unchallenged, the more tangled our situation will become."
"I've proved the plant has one king root," Vhisola told the others. "Though we don't yet know where that root is, we can still get back the Great Disks and begin looking for it. It's better than doing nothing."
"I'm not so sure about that." Ahkmou wore a worried expression and gave voice to his thoughts with reluctance. "Is it wise to take the Great Disks into danger with us?"
"What do you mean?" Tehutti asked.
"Suppose..." began the Toa of Stone. "Let's say some being wanted us to get the Disks so it could take them from us. What better way to do that than by having us use them to fight some monster whose power we can't guess at, but could most likely destroy us all with little difficulty?"
"Are you trying to tell us you're scared?" interrupted Nuhrii.
Ahkmou stopped speaking and blinked a few times. "I don't want to walk into a trap," he finally muttered. "It's not just our lives at risk, it's the disks too."
"But the purpose of the disks is to save the city," objected Vhisola. "If we use them for that purpose, it can't be a trap."
"How do we know the disks are for saving the city from the Morbuzakh?" Ahkmou shot back. "They might be meant to rescue us from one of the other threats Turaga Dume was talking about."
"Those threats are just as likely to be traps," responded Nuhrii. "Besides, why would he use the Morbuzakh to get the disks from us? Then the Morbuzakh would have them, not the- hypothetical being."
"He can easily get things from the Morbuzakh, suppose," the Toa of Stone suggested.
"Enough endless Kinloka holes of speculation," broke in Tehutti. "Ahkmou, I don't understand why you're scared of a trap. You got your disk off of that balancing mountain trap. We're Toa after all."
"We are Toa-heroes, but not foolbrave," Orkahm countered. "How big is rotvine-root? How powerstrong? How resistant? How dangerous is its lurkplace? How many Vahki armies do we need? No one knows."
"Exactly," said Ahkmou. "Until we learn those answers, we don't know if there is a trap, and rushing in is foolish."
"That's just another reason why we need to look for the root," argued Vhisola.
"But we do not need disks to seekfind the rotroot," pointed out Orkahm. "We can search now, answer questions, then decide on attackplans."
"Good point," agreed Ehrye. "We can't make guesses about disks and traps until we find the root."
"Then what are we waiting for?" asked Tehutti. "I'm going to get the data on vine strike locations and try to guess which metru it's coming from." He stood up, and Ehrye rose to follow.
Nuhrii and Ahkmou were the last to leave. As they filed out, the Toa of Fire spoke in a low tone. "Ahkmou, we both have pieces to this puzzle. If we put them together, maybe we can make sense of the whole."
"I was just guessing at the worst possibility, firespitter," answered the Toa of Stone. "No need to worry about it."
Few Matoran ever visited this particular section of the Onu-Metru archives. Stranded between two levels, its construction had begun as a result of a mistake in measurement, and quickly abandoned when the mistake was discovered. The archivists avoided its heavy barred doors halfway down the stairways. According to their maps, behind these ominous portals was a "contamination zone".
Even fewer Matoran realized that behind these doors lurked a better reason to avoid the area: a squad of Vahki. And behind these ever watchful guards was the secret laboratory where Nuparu designed and maintained the enforcers, and worked on even more secretive projects.
Onewa threw a glance around the workshop while his host checked several pieces of complicated machinery. Two suits of Matoran armor stood against the walls, and components of others lay nearby. Freezing disks were stacked in a corner, and on the tables lay the pieces of the next project. It appeared to be a spear gun which fired arrowlike projectiles with Kanoka disks in their heads.
"The Vahki's orders?" said Nuparu. "It's complicated, but I'll try to answer your questions."
"As you may have heard," began Onewa, "a Vorzakh squad arrested Matau late last night, but he was set free when Turaga Dume in person visited the cells and ordered him released. That seems to me like a strange way of doing things, not usual Vahki procedure at all. Orders are rarely reversed."
Nuparu stood in front of a small viewscreen connected to a Vahki's head. He whispered into a boxlike device which produced the ultrasonic whine the units used for communication. Messages began to flash across the viewscreen.
"There have been a few instances of Vahki acting on forged orders," said the inventor. "But as far as I can tell, the order to arrest Matau was genuine and came from Turaga Dume." He studied some more messages. "That's odd. A few hours later, the Turaga issued an order for his release, but the unit commanding the prison rejected it as containing an invalid authorization code. The Vahki thought it was forged. That explains why he had to go in person."
"The Vahki are ignoring his orders?" Onewa was worried. "That could be dangerous."
"They're not revolting." Nuparu was dismissive. "Dume has been using two different master authorization keys at the same time. It's gotten the entire authorization chain in a tangle. All the Vahki are having trouble figuring out if their orders are genuine. I'll have to redesign some of the system before we can add Turaga Lhikan." He rambled off into some highly technical discourse which made no sense to Onewa.
"All I need then," said the Po-Matoran, "is the plans for the launcher to take to Ta-Metru. Then I've got to get back home quickly."
Nuparu handed him a stack of tablets. "Here they are. I'll show you the way out."
But once Onewa had left the laboratory level, he did not head for Ta-Metru. Instead, he returned to Po-Koro Guard headquarters and sent his lieutenant Hewkii to finish the delivery to the Citadel. Then he and Whenua spent the rest of the day planning. Something important was about to happen, he knew, and the Matoran would need to be ready.
A single Vahki Rorzakh scuttled through a maintenance tunnel far below the city. It moved quickly, carefully, silently. Activity had been detected in this area, unauthorized presences, potentially threatening. Order enforcement procedure demanded that this activity be investigated, and the Rorzakh unit was a properly functioning Vahki. Not like those Bordakh units which allowed their prime directive to be overridden. Not like the squadron of Nuurakh stationed at the Great Conduit, which went into energy conservation mode while on duty. Not like those irregular Vorzakh units which were continually transmitting orders that did not contain authorization codes. No, this Rorzakh was a defender of Metru Nui.
The Rorzakh paused. A large number of beings were located approximately four hundred bio ahead. They appeared to be mostly organic in nature, but conforming to no pattern listed in the Rorzakh's database. A closer investigation was needed. It would be necessary to inform the task force communications officer.
The Rorzakh stopped. Task force communications was not responding. No nearby Vahki activity could be detected. As communications had been broken off without notice contrary to mission directives, it could be deduced that the remainder of the squad was no longer operational. As suspected enemies of the city were known to be in proximity, it could be reasonably guessed that the malfunction was due to hostile activity. Order enforcement procedure demanded that this incident be reported to central task force hive metru subdivision as quickly as possible. An investigation might be carried out if safety permitted.
The Rorzakh proceeded in the direction it had come. The last known location of the remainder of the squad was nearby. Sensors detected possible activity of the unidentified beings here, but these findings were unsupported by visual input. The Rorzakh had arrived at the suspected location of disappearance. No sign of any other Vahki units could be detected. Sensor input indicated a high activity level, but still no visual input confirmed the data. Perhaps this location contained a source of interference.
The Rorzakh turned to leave. There was no response from its mobility subsystem. A malfunction had occurred. There was a sudden discontinuity in visual input. Sensors reported excessively high activity of unidentified beings, then ceased to function. The Rorzakh broadcast an automatic distress signal. Its power subsystem was overloaded. Internal temperature was rapidly rising. Structural integrity would be lost in approximately 4.8 seconds. It would not be possible to report findings to central task for-
...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
The Land of the Lost: Chapter 13: Where Lurks a Monster
Makani loved flying the dawn patrol. There was nothing like watching sunsrise from 3000 bio up. Everything turned to fire: the sky, the sea, the icy roof of Ko-Metru, his airship's windows, all ablaze with the red light of a new day. A cleansing light, Makani thought. Whatever troubles and enemies had assailed Metru Nui in the past, the twin suns burned on. Dangers lurked below, ruthless conquerors attacked from all sides, but the light from above shone pure and unchanging, faithfully returning every morning to cast clarity and hope over the City of Legends. Like the Great Spirit Mata Nui, Makani thought.
The flash of a signal on the Moto-Hub roof brought Makani's mind back to earth. Toa Orkahm was leading a squad of Vorzakh into the twisted wreckage of Sector 3 to test the theory that the dread king root of the Morbuzakh had made its lair in that dismal place. Behind the Toa of Air came Matau and a dozen Matoran on Ussal crabs, bravely following him into the smashed buildings, tangled chutes, and shadowy tunnel system to seek the source of all the destruction. Makani flew low over the column and waved a pennant.
Matau was eager to begin scouting Sector 3. The vines had been secure in their lair far longer than they deserved. It was time to clean them out, and if the king root was here too, so much the better.
The Le-Matoran pressed closer together as they crossed a cargo yard. The only goods being moved today were the dust of abandonment and the rubble of storage sheds. Nothing waited in the crab pens to transport them, except for gaping holes in the pavement which the Morbuzakh had made during its first strike on the area.
Across the cargo yard stood a warehouse where chute repair crews had once stored materials. It was still in surprisingly good condition, only one end marred by cracks in the walls. Orkahm pointed toward the roof. "Good recon-point. I'm handclimbing up."
The Toa of Air clambered up a tangle of chute cable, glanced about him, and gestured for the others to follow. When Matau reached the top, he realized that the building projected above most of the tangled debris, offering an excellent view of the surrounding blocks.
"See that smashwrecked hanger?" Orkahm pointed out a roofless structure. "Someone must go down there and attract the rotvines. We'll sharpwatch to see where they sneakattack from and how quickfast they appear. Then we smartcalculate where they were lurkwaiting. Frightperilous mission. Any truebrave volunteers?"
Matau jumped forward before anyone else could answer. "Me! Me!"
Orkahm grinned. "Take these four Vahkiguards. At first vinesight, quickflee back here. Mata Nui protect you."
Matau jumped off a fallen chute support girder and landed in front of one of the hanger's doors. He set to pushing it, but it refused to budge. Probably rubble was blocking it from the inside. Fortunately, there were other entrances. A nearby section of wall had collapsed. Matau had no difficulty scrambling over the remaining heap of protodermis blocks. Soon he stood inside the hanger, while the Vorzakh units accompanying him waited in the gap in the wall.
Climbing onto the canopy of a disabled airship, Matau noticed that the roofless hanger had a good view of the sky. The suns had just risen high enough to cast their rays over the cluttered floor. Not far above, a Windrider pilot circled and soared on his patrol.
The vigilant airship swept lower. That meant the pilot had sighted something and was investigating more closely. But it soon pulled up sharply and returned to the safety of high altitude. It had probably discovered that vines were in fact present there. They must be quite close; the airship had been practically hovering over the next block.
That was when Matau realized the hanger's back wall was shaking.
"Dragonteeth!" yelled Kongu. "Rotvines come from right behind hangar!"
Orkahm spun to face the spot where Matau was waiting. Already, five scarred, slime-dripping Morbuzakh tendrils were reaching over or through the hangar wall. There was no chance for Matau to escape in time.
There was only one thing to do. Orkahm pulled out his rotorblades, slid down a cable, and began running toward the building where the brave Le-Matoran bait was about to be swallowed.
Makani shoved the lever and sent his airship back down. There was a Matoran inside the hanger, and he needed help! Four Vahki were standing in a gap in the wall, but they gave no sign of having noticed the vines that had already surrounded the Matoran.
Makani put the airship into a dive and pulled a cargo release switch. A solid protodermis doorpost shot out and landed directly on one of the vines. But the others had won a brief struggle and were dragging their victim away.
The wreckage of another airship came flying upward, and Makani realized he was too close. He shot back up out of range, looking for an opportunity for another divebombing.
Orkahm bounded into the hangar just as the vines disappeared out the other side. In three leaps he crossed the wreckage-strewn floor and stood on the far wall. Before him lay a tangle of fallen chutes covering a wide pit. Out of this dim opening slithered a dozen Morbuzakh vines.
Matau was yelling as the vines approached their destination. Orkahm hit one of them with a weakness disk, but another one immediately grabbed Matau and resumed dragging. The Toa of Air created a small whirlwind to batter the Morbuzakh with wreckage. Some of the vines disappeared back down the hole, but the ones holding the Le-Matoran refused to flee.
Matau was at the brink of the pit. The whirlwind would likely injure him. Orkahm sent it away and ran, charging desparately for the vines, brandishing his rotorblades and shouting Matau's name.
It was too late. Matau had disappeared into the chasm. Orkahm was left alone, facing three vines swinging chute girders at him. A fury he had never before felt consumed him, and he swung his rotorblades in a circular motion. A second later, an enormous cyclone materialized, sucking up the vines, dragging them out of the pit, twisting and stretching them mercilessly. Orkahm knelt, grimly gripping his Toa tools, pouring out his elemental power on the vines that had taken Matau. Finally, the tension was too great, and the Morbuzakh burst apart in a shower of decaying vegetable matter.
But not even that could bring back Matau. Orkahm stood and peered into the pit, but there was no sign of the brave Le-Matoran. He turned to see the four Vorzakh that had been assigned to protect Matau. They looked around, scanned the area, peeked over the edge. One of them made the beeping noise that meant "Situation clear, task completed."
With one fierce rotorblade swing, Orkahm knocked the Vahki into the pit. The other three order enforcement robots stared at him and went still.
The protector of Le-Metru sheathed his rotorblades and stalked away, his eyes burning with a light entirely new. The Matoran began asking questions as he rejoined them, but he cut them off. "Matau gone," he said in a hard voice, sad and still raging. "Follow. To the Coliseum."
Again the Toa sat around the table in the Coliseum tower as Orkahm told his tale. "Search too dangerous for Matoran," the Toa of Air concluded. "All Toa must seek the rotroot together. With the Great Disks. If all had been there, we could have saferescued him."
"We've waited too long," pronounced Nuhrii. "Be thankful it's only cost one life. I'm going to get the disks from Vakama, we'll hunt down this root, and we'll attack as soon as we find it."
"Have you still no plan for a trap?" asked Ahkmou. "What if we walk into one?"
"Evermore sorrowpain for the trap," growled Orkahm. "While Nuhrii gets disks, I will map the seeking. Thisnight we begin." He looked around the table. Tehutti, Vhisola, and Ehrye nodded.
Orkahm turned toward the Toa of Stone. "And you? Do you want to ask Turaga advice?"
Ahkmou took a deep breath. "Don't bother him. Tonight we begin."
Nuhrii pushed himself up. "I'll be back with the Disks by sunsdown." He turned to leave, and the Toa followed as one.
Vakama stood by his forge, staring at the intricate green pattern etched into the Great Disk of Le-Metru. His hand slipped, and the disk fell toward the floor. But Vakama was watching another green object fall to great depth, into a twisting black abyss, hurtling past strange pulsing objects, vanishing into the mist below, lost, lost in the immeasurable deep.
...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
The Land of the Lost: Chapter 14: Dark Sowing
Vakama's eyes filled with determination behind his forge goggles. The fire drone clanked as it shifted into low-power mode. The forge softly roared as air rushed through its intake to feed the white-hot flame.
Nuhrii quietly approached, but Vakama did not notice. His eyes and mind were focused on the Great Disk of Le-Metru. It hung above the forge flame, suspended from a low-power disk of levitation, slowly spinning to heat evenly. Nuhrii understood the peculiar arrangement. Vakama was heating the Great Disk until it glowed, and studying the pattern of light it gave off to learn about its properties. When attempting a difficult mask creation, it was vital to measure the characteristics of the disks precisely, especially when they were Great Disks. If Vakama damaged one, there was no second chance.
The Toa of Fire watched as his former student picked up a lens and filter and held them to the rotating edge. As Vakama turned the filter, the light passing through remained steady. This meant there were very few impurities in the disk. Nuhrii guessed that there was a slight taint of oversolidification, not enough to cause any trouble. A moment later, Vakama proved the guess correct by jotting it down on a tablet.
Nuhrii peered over Vakama's shoulder. The light was faintly flickering. He knew this was related to the disk's energy being unevenly distributed. How severe a problem this would cause Nuhrii could not say. He glanced back at the tablet. Vakama was drawing a map of the disk showing its energy concentration. Somehow, he had found a way to decode the flickering pattern. How was he doing it? What good would the map do him? Questions crowded into Nuhrii's mind, but he knew better than to disturb a maskmaker at work. He waited while Vakama finished drawing, laid down his tools, and set the forge to slowly cool. Then he stepped into view.
"Impressive, Vakama, impressive. I regret having to ask to borrow the disks from you."
"But I do not regret lending them," Vakama answered. "In fact, I have been waiting for you."
"Waiting? We only decided two hours ago, and I came here immediately." An expression of confusion crept onto Nuhrii's mask.
Vakama looked bewildered as well. "Takua told me yesterday that you were on your way."
"I did see Takua yesterday morning," admitted Nuhrii, "but he could not have known our plans then. But that is unimportant. The disks are here?"
"All of them," replied Vakama, wrapping the Le-Metru disk and returning it to the box.
The Toa of Fire picked up the box, handling it almost as if it could infect him, or as if he might infect it. As he turned away, Vakama spoke to him again. "Will you be able to return them in four days? Turaga Dume requires the Mask of Time in six days, and I will need two to craft it."
"I cannot promise anything," said Nuhrii. "We Toa must find the root of the Morbuzakh before we can fight it. I hope that will take less than four days. After the battle, we will need the disks no longer, but will we be able to return them? If we are lost, they are lost, and all Metru Nui is lost."
Vakama stared into his forge's dimming flame. All would be lost to the vines, those same vines writhing in the light of his forge, filling its heat chamber, branching everywhere from their great striped stalk, meshing with the walls and the great domed roof, drinking in fire from the fountains of molten protodermis, drawing in strength and energy beyond measuring, reaching out to strangle a city in-
Vakama shook his head, blinked his eyes, settled his mind. "It shouldn't take you long to find the Morbuzakh root. It's in the Great Furnace."
The messenger from Ga-Metru stood before Onewa. Whenua was there too, but it was the Po-Metru captain who did all the talking. "Yes, what you've heard about Matau is true. A Le-Metru pilot got it all in a viewbox. The Vahki just stood there and watched while the vines dragged him away."
"We can't trust them to protect us anymore," deduced the Ga-Matoran.
"We knew that already," asserted Onewa, "but we can prove it now. It's a good thing we've begun to practice defending ourselves. The next few days may be... difficult. If Ga-Metru needs any help, send Po-Metru a message and we will be there."
The entire Windrider force clustered on the roof of the Moto-Hub. "Two sunspast," proclaimed Kongu, "the Vahki arrested him for falsereason. Today they cowardwatched while rotvines killed him. Mightydread need before we trust them again."
"Whoever breaks their lawadded rules, they will not protect!" shouted another Windrider.
"Starstruth," agreed Kongu. "Windriders are rulebreakers, Vahki help us not."
Tamaru bounded up through a hatch. "Everlarge Vahkisquad coming thisways!"
"Wanting what?" wondered someone in the crowd.
"No guessknowing, no heartcaring," said Kongu. "Windriders scramble! Everyone! We wait not for Vahki."
The crowd dispersed, all running for their airships. "Ride as Kongu's Second?" the Windrider captain asked Tamaru.
The Ussal caretaker nodded and followed. "But Vahki will lurkwait for airships' return."
"Windriders will not return." Kongu jumped into his cockpit. "No cargo, no need to land."
Tamaru climbed in, a worried tone in his voice. "Living in airships, no firmground! We are all awayfloating, lost."
Kongu shoved a lever and lifted off. "Better than lostbeing like Matau."
The bridge into Ta-Metru was only lit at the Coliseum end. The first sign of approaching beings was the titanic shadows that coalesced on the Ta-Metru shoreline, looming over buildings like the mighty warriors of ancient tales. But as the shadows became clearer, they lowered and shrunk, until they left the buildings and lost themselves in the gloom of the gutters and crevices. All that remained was the beings who had cast the shadows, now revealed to be neither more nor less than six Toa.
"Three hours to sunsrise," whispered the Toa of Fire at their head. "Then we strike."
No one answered as they moved through the silent streets. There were no signs of vines. Not even small Rahi were stirring. As they crossed the bridge into the Chute Sector, a Ta-Matoran in a suit of armor watched them pass. But the vigilant Guard was hidden behind a low wall, and the Toa did not notice him. It would have made no difference if they had. This Guard had a small stone tablet hung around his neck, and he was as silent as he was invisible.
As the Toa moved on, they began to see evidence of recent Morbuzakh activity in the smashed buildings and upturned streets. Closer to the Furnace they came, until Nuhrii led them into a small casting factory in the shadow of the Great Conduit's end. "We can wait here until morning," he muttered.
The building showed an unexpected lack of damage. The Toa immediately noticed the warmth inside. "The molten protodermis pipelines must still be working," Tehutti guessed.
Vhisola looked over the edge of the casting pit. "The vats are leaking! The whole pit is full of molten protodermis!"
"Don't worry, it was built to contain leaks like this," explained Nuhrii.
Ahkmou, looking about, tugged a chain hanging by a pillar. From somewhere high above, a small hard object fell, bouncing off his shoulder.
"What was that?" he demanded.
Nuhrii picked it up as another one glanced off his mask. "It looks like some kind of seed."
More of the wrinkled spherical objects fell around them. "Not just any kind of seed," Vhisola announced in hushed tones. "These are Morbuzakh seeds!"
One of the seeds split open, flinging out a tiny vine which wrapped itself around Ehrye's foot. He tore it off and covered it with ice.
Nuhrii looked more closely at the ceiling. A track ran around the edge, bearing many slowly circling vats. One of them rocked, spilling another few dozen seeds which struck the floor just beyond the Toa.
Vhisola examined them. "It's a good thing so few of them are ready to sprout."
"Just imagine if they all grew," whispered Nuhrii. "One Morbuzakh plant caused enough trouble. There must be millions of seeds in here!"
"How can we stop them sproutgrowing?" wondered Orkahm.
Ehrye had an idea. "They're thriving on the heat. If we stop the protodermis pipes into the building, they should stop growing. Then we can kill them with ice."
Tehutti dug into the floor by the forge controls. Soon he located and shut off the main valves. Then the Toa left the building, careful not to shake any more of the seed vats. Ahkmou tossed a few boulders through the roof, and Ehrye began covering the rubble with ice.
Nuhrii and Vhisola watched as the others finished their work. "Do you think that will stop them?" the Toa of Water asked.
Nuhrii frowned. "I don't know. But we can't worry about that right now. The suns are coming up. There's at least one Morbuzakh plant alive in Metru Nui, and it's time to deal with it."
...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
The Land of the Lost: Chapter 15: Dark Harvest
Nuhrii and Orkahm braced their feet and tugged open the Great Furnace's doors. Vhisola cautiously peered into the entry chamber, then beckoned the others to follow. Even here, there was no sign of the monster supposedly lurking behind two more walls. "Still believe that firespitter?" Ahkmou asked.
"It's logical," argued Vhisola. "What other heat source is powerful enough to support such a gigantic creature?"
Tehutti swung open the next gate and stepped into the shielding ring which surrounded the actual furnace. A rush of hot air greeted the heroes. Vhisola countered it with a cooling spray.
Ahkmou laid a hand on the massive metallic protodermis door to the furnace chamber. "Here it is. Still sure you want to do this?"
Orkahm gave no answer. He simply gripped his Great Disk and threw a shoulder into the gate. Slowly and silently it swung back, revealing the heart of the Great Furnace.
Vakama stared into the haze that hung above the roofs of Ta-Metru. "There they go. Another hour, and it will all be over."
"Not quite over, Vakama." Nuju stared toward the rising suns. "Even if the Toa triumph, Metru Nui will not be whole."
"Rebuilding the city will be easy," Vakama retorted.
"Vakama," whispered Nuju, "your visions show you the future like no one I have ever heard of. But can you still truly see the future no more than an archivist bound to the past? Have you learned nothing?"
The Toa Metru had known that anything capable of supporting the entire network of Morbuzakh vines would have to be enormous. But such plain facts could not protect them from the shock they felt at first seeing the indescribably vast stalk wreathed in flame and smoke, towering from the seething ocean of molten protodermis to the great domed ceiling, spreading a legion of branches throughout the chamber, winding shoots and tendrils into every chink in the walls and roof.
Nuhrii tried to shout instructions for firing the disks, but neither he nor the others were prepared to hear the king root speak at all, let alone in a voice with the depth, roar, and impact of a collapsing chasm. "Defeat the Morbuzakh? You fools! Have you learned nothing?"
"What are you talking about, Nuju?"
"Look to the future," the scholar repeated. "The new Metru Nui will differ in many ways. It will take more than defeating the Morbuzakh to bring a city back out of rubble, but some of the lost past cannot be brought back at all."
"A hundred Matoran are lost forever," Vakama sadly mused.
"True, Vakama. But I was speaking of us, the lost who still live."
"Ignore the thundershouting!" yelled Orkahm. "Death to rotvines!" Brandishing his Great Disk and a rotorblade, he charged toward the root. A dozen tendrils swept across the floor, striking the Toa of Air with their combined force. The impact launched him back toward his comrades and knocked the disk off in another direction.
Nuhrii and Ehrye stood guard over Orkahm while he recovered. Meanwhile, Ahkmou charged a group of vines that were reaching for the Le-Metru disk. He battered them ferociously with his climbing spikes, and soon came racing back to the others with the rescued Great Kanoka.
They had not been idle. As the Morbuzakh tendrils crawled toward them, Tehutti shook the floor and knocked them about. Then Ehrye slowly moved forward, covering the vines with ice as he went.
"Now I understand you," said Vakama. "Metru Nui can never be the same again, because we are not the same."
"Exactly," Nuju replied. "Nine hundred Matoran have been given a taste of something long forgotten. They know what it means to step out of the safe, trusting life and plan for themselves."
"We've learned to depend less on the Vahki, even on Turaga Dume and the Toa," Vakama expounded, "and more on each other. We may have lost much, but we have gained a new thing."
"It is a new and weighty thing," Nuju intoned, "and it is about to reach into every part of life in this city."
"I reach every part of this city!" thundered the Morbuzakh. "I am in the chutes, the conduits, the factories. The Matoran shall be driven to the center as was ordered, and I shall rule!"
Nuhrii ignored the blustering and fired a stream of weakness disks into a cluster of vines. Tehutti hurled shockwaves at them, while Orkahm summoned a gale to blow away another group of tendrils. Ahkmou guarded from the back, tossing boulders at strategic locations.
The Morbuzakh responded by sending in more vines, battering at the Toa's defenses with the weight of numbers. Waves of heat rolled from the sea of molten protodermis, adding to the strain. And over it all, the roar of the furnace and the king root's voice came pounding through their heads.
"We have brought the Matoran a new unity," said Vakama. "That is a virtuous accomplishment. Why are you worried?"
"We have gained unity by fighting our own battles," Nuju admitted, "but is that all we have gained? We also have these suits of armor, airships that drop fire and ice, and those new Kanoka harpoons. These things will all be more common, and we will invent new ones. We are not merely fighting battles, we are becoming battle-fighters."
"What is wrong with that?"
"Vakama, consider how many powerful beings there are in this universe. Why are the Matoran so small and weak in comparison? It is because Mata Nui intends us to live by the Three Virtues and by his protection, not by force and battle. We are defended by Toa, guided by Turaga, who come when he sends them and leave when he takes them. We were not meant to do these things for ourselves. We may have gained unity by fighting our own battles and making our own plans, but what of our destiny?"
"You have no destiny anymore!" shouted the king root as it threw more vines into the struggle. Nuhrii almost believed it. There were just too many tendrils. No matter how many the Toa struck down, more and more came crowding around them faster and faster. Four of the Toa had nearly reached the edge of the boiling pit, and the Morbuzakh surrounded them like a woven wall.
"Vhisola! Ahkmou!" shouted Nuhrii. "Up here, quickly!"
The Toa of Water charged the tendril wall, slicing into it with her aquafins. Unexpectedly, the vines gave way. But another cluster swept Ahkmou off his feet, tossing him into Vhisola, colliding both of them with the other four in the middle of an even tighter living, writhing wall of corruption.
Slowly the vines shoved them toward the brink of the pit. The wall receded in front of them, revealing the white-hot surface. "We have no further need of Toa," the king root proclaimed.
"What were you expecting us to do?" demanded Vakama. "We had to fight back, with whatever weapons we could create, or the vines would have destroyed us. Our Toa weren't fighting them and our Turaga couldn't decide what to do about them. Do you think it was our duty and destiny to give up and perish?"
"Calm down, Vakama. I said the path we have taken is not a good one. I never said it was not the best one."
"There has to be some plan that works!"
Nuju shook his head. "This is what happens when a city is lost. A choice between destruction and corruption. For peace and safety, there is no chance."
"There's only one chance," muttered Nuhrii. "We've got to fire the disks at the root as soon as we have a clear shot."
"I hope one quickappears," grunted Orkahm, "because this rotvine heartwishes to boil us alive!"
Indeed, Tehutti was already struggling on the brink of the cauldron. Dizzy from the heat, he was clinging to one drill driven into the floor while fending off vines with the other.
Orkahm and Ehrye called on their deep stores of power and unleashed a freezing gale that tore through the wall of tendrils, withering the vines and forcing them aside. "An opening!" shouted Nuhrii. "Ready!" The Toa raised the Great Disks.
Then an amazing thing happened. Without being launched or even tossed, the legendary disks glowed, beams of energy lancing out to strike the king root and coalesce into an enormous sphere. Shearing through root, stalk, and branch, the shimmering bubble enclosed the monster, cutting it off from its energy sources and its suddenly limpening tentacles.
A huge chunk of solid protodermis fell into the cauldron with a splash and a roar. "It's collapsing the roof!" yelled Tehutti. "Run!"
Struggling over piles of dying vines, the Toa pushed their exhausted bodies over the open floor, around falling blocks of ceiling, and out into the street.
Vakama was about to argue back when he spotted a flash of light out over the rooftops. "Look- the Furnace!"
Nuju stared at the distant smear of smoke. "One way or another, that battle is over."
Down by the channel, four vines burst up through the pavement. As the Matoran watched, the Morbuzakh writhed, drooped, and went still.
Vakama grinned. "I believe the time of harvest has come."
Nuhrii had never expected to see the Great Furnace dome, Ta-Metru's landmark, crumble like a sand hut. But it had just happened right before his eyes. The energy sphere floated above the wreckage, still glowing as fiercely as the molten protodermis beneath. Then suddenly it was gone, collapsing in on itself, crushing out of existence everything inside. The king root of the Morbuzakh died without a sound.
The Toa exchanged weary smiles as they marched back toward the Coliseum. Vhisola, Ehrye, Nuhrii and Tehutti were too overcome with exertion and relief to say anything. Orkahm laughed as he kicked at a decomposing vine that had fallen into the street. Ahkmou walked at the back, looking only slightly cheered. "Only two down," he muttered, "and they the easiest."
Vakama descended the ladder to the Citadel catwalks, his mind full of hope and excitement. As a joyful shout broke out below, he quickened his pace, calling for Jaller. One of the Guards began beating on an old drum, blocking from Vakama's ears the faint sound of Nuju muttering behind him.
"Long lies the shade
on the lost city,
dark does it fall
on the depths of minds."
...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
The Land of the Lost: Chapter 16: Moment of Calm
Once again, Vakama and Nuju plodded into the little square to watch another viewscreened speech from Turaga Dume. They skirted a rotting chunk of Morbuzakh and waved to Jaller and Kapura.
"Where's Takua?" Vakama asked.
Kapura waved his hand toward the north. "He didn't tell me where he was going, but it has to be Ga-Metru," Jaller explained.
"This is a great day for Metru Nui," said the loudspeaker in Dume's voice, and the Turaga's mask began to fade in. "It seems the menace of the Morbuzakh has now passed."
"Don't look so glum about it," Jaller muttered.
"I must commend our brave Toa," Dume went on, "though I cannot approve their rashness. It was unwise to take the disks without permission and charge in against an unknown foe. I want all Matoran to realize just how dangerous-"
The Turaga's gaze jerked up. He jumped to his feet, and his voice rang out with new fervor. "This is a great day for Metru Nui! Thanks to our mighty Toa, the menace of the Morbuzakh has come to an end! I declare a citywide holiday!"
Cheering broke out around the square. "I want all Matoran to remain watchful," continued the speech. "There are further dangers lurking beneath this city. But fear not, the Toa and I are planning to meet them. And through Unity, Duty, and Destiny, Metru Nui shall prevail!"
Three Toa Metru crossed the barricade as the Nuurakh waved them through. "I wish we had more details," complained Nuhrii.
"The deeper you go into the Archives," Tehutti explained, "the less you know what you will find. I'm not surprised Turaga Dume can't tell us what this threat is or how we are going to stop it."
"I would feel safer if we had the Disks with us," said Vhisola.
Nuhrii glanced at the box he was carrying. "Vakama needs them now. And it would be unwise to put them at risk again."
Vhisola giggled. "Now you're sounding like Ahkmou, or Dume in his Vahki mood."
As the Toa reached a corner, two Nuurakh popped up, signaled a halt, consulted briefly, and let the Toa proceed. "Speaking of Vahki," Tehutti said, "I never realized there were so many in Ta-Metru."
"We don't need the defense perimeter anymore, so they've been redeployed around the metru." The Toa of Fire turned down a side street, set down his box, and rapped at a forge door.
Vakama stood frozen in place. Horrible twisted beings were crouching on his doorstep! They waved primitive weapons and grunted in a mockery of speech. Mindless Rahi rage glared from their eyes, and venom dripped from the thing they had brought.
This is a vision, Vakama repeated to himself. These must be the Toa, bringing me a... returning the disks, of course!
He forced himself to speak. "Honor to the Toa, for their great victory!"
The monsters shimmered, their faces nearly turning into the masks Vakama knew they truly were. "We owe you some of the credit, Vakama," the red one growled in an almost normal voice.
"I am glad to see the disks are safe," Vakama said. There- now they were just Toa with slightly odd shapes. "Turaga Dume will be pleased."
"That's something we need," Nuhrii replied. "You've heard he's sending us on a mission beneath the Archives?" Vakama nodded.
"It may turn out an even riskier quest," Tehutti told him.
"So if we haven't returned when you finish the Mask of Time..." Nuhrii paused. "Can you make sure first... that Turaga Dume..."
"That he's behaving normally before you give him the mask?" Vhisola finished, the growl fading in and out of her voice.
"I'll try." Vakama stared at the box as corrosion appeared and vanished.
"Good. Then we must be off to another strategy conference." Nuhrii sighed. "Mata Nui's blessing."
As the Toa moved down the street, they were stopped and directed another way by a Vahki. For a brief moment, the monsters were facing a spider creature, and then the vision was gone. But the last flicker showed Vakama something far more alarming as he carried the box into his forge.
In the vision, he had been unable to see himself.
Toa Orkahm gave one final pull on his rope and hauled himself out of the pit. There was a whole cavern system down there, choked with wreckage and rotting Morbuzakh, and he had spent hours sifting through it.
But nowhere had he found a Le-Matoran with a Mahiki-style mask. Matau remained as lost as on that awful morning that had only been yesterday.
"Keep restwaiting," Orkahm whispered into the chasm. "It's not perfect-finished yet."
Tamaru put down his telescope. "The Airtoa comes upshaft alone."
"Then no reason to downland," Kongu declared. "Windriders! Hold altitude! Everpatrolling!"
His airship ceased hovering and headed for the Ko-Metru border. Behind it, the Le-Metru fleet scattered, each ship catching the sunsdown glow as it returned to its unending circuit over the City of Legends.
Whenua threw the mine elevator controls into the downward position. "How long ago?" Onewa asked their passenger.
"Just after noon," answered the Ko-Matoran messenger. "The Keerakh took all the harpoon guns, but we hid a few suits of armor. They told Matoro he would be arrested if he caused any more workleaving." He pounded a fist on the elevator side, a remarkable suspension of Ko-Matoran tranquility.
"Why so upset?" Whenua asked.
"For the end of the Sanctum Guard," was the reply.
"You're a Ko-Matoran," snapped Onewa. "Can't you see the future? This isn't the end. It's the real beginning."
Nokama let go of the boat's tiller and stared at the second sun disappearing into a flaming orange cloudbank. "The storm will be here before sunsrise tomorrow morning," she remarked.
"And it will be a fierce one," Kai predicted. "The sea is already choppy."
"Well spotted. We will need to lash down the boats at the Islet dock- assuming the Vahki haven't impounded them yet."
"They stopped our research, and now they're upset that we're not working," Kai complained. "So they take away our boats just to make sure we can't do anything useful. This city gets a little stranger every day."
Nokama smiled as she glanced westward again. "Soon it will be getting rougher too. Enjoy the one moment of calm."
Kapura held up five fingers. "I know that already," Takua whispered.
Kapura pointed at the fading sunbeams cast high on the wall, then drew a finger across his throat. "I know that too," said Takua.
Kapura held up a staff and crumpled it in his hands, showing Takua that it was only a protofoil replica. "I just learned that," was the only reply.
Kapura extracted a lightstone from his pack and balanced it on his head. Takua instantly became much more attentive. "Where? Show me!"
Kapura took out a tablet and chisel and began carving.
"I wish I knew what really is going on in this city," Ehrye muttered. "We've been drifting lost ever since Lhikan handed us some stones wrapped in foil. No one knows the real purpose of this mission under the Archives, not even the Turaga who planned it!"
The Toa of Stone spoke. "Purpose? It's all a fake, an empty show, just like the defense perimeter that we never actually defended. Just like us."
"What are you talking about? Ahkmou, you've had some strange ideas before, but this is just illogical. Why would we go on a fake useless mission?"
"You want to know why? You want to know what's really going on?" Ahkmou shot back. "We're marching to our doom at sunsrise tomorrow, that's why and what. We're not supposed to come back from this trip beneath the Archives."
"Now you're making even less sense," grumbled the Toa of Ice. "If you think this mission is somebody's evil plot to get us all killed, why were you so enthusiastic about it?"
"You remember the story about the Le-Matoran vault robber?"
"Of course," Ehrye recounted. "A Le-Matoran decided to rob a widget vault in the Archives. No one bothered him on the way. He had no trouble breaking in. He lowered himself through the ceiling, his rope broke, and he realized he had put himself into a Vahki jail cell."
"You've got it right. But what they don't tell you is that he knew exactly what was going to happen, but he never had a choice. Those soulless Vahki were following him every step of the way."
All was silent and still in the maintenance tunnel far below the city. Nothing stirred the waiting air: not the damp on the walls, not the bustling city above, not the patient earth beneath, not the chilly seawater that lay only a kio or so away. Neither the destruction wrought by the Morbuzakh nor the busy labor of the Matoran had disturbed the solitary silence.
But now down the tunnel came a distant echo as cold as death.
It was the echo of thousands of marching feet.
...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
The Land of the Lost: Chapter 17: The Breaking of the Storm
Once again, the wind turned and flung a legion of raindrops against the side of Metru Nui's Coliseum. The resolute building made not the slightest motion, but the wind sent in another gust, calling in reinforcements from the black airfleet above, hurling more water at the unyielding walls. The raindrops charged the great amphitheater's sloping ramparts, rallied together in huge puddles on the smooth pavement, and leaped over gleaming railings to infiltrate the stairway leading down to the chute station.
Nuparu huddled in the shelter of the arch at the bottom of the stairs, watching the attacking stream pour down the steps, break itself against the side of a gutter, and fall through a grate with a gurgling death cry. Grimly he folded his arms against his chest and marched into the mayhem. Sensing a vulnerable target, the storm launched a gale against him, battered him on all sides with rain, even splashed up to wet his feet as he ran. But Nuparu bravely struggled on until he vanished beneath a Coliseum gateway shaped like a Mask of Shielding glaring out in defiance. The storm vented its disappointment by hurling a lightning bolt at a wind-rent cloud and screaming out a deafening thunderclap.
As he climbed the stairs and rode the lift, Nuparu showed neither relief nor cheerfulness over his escape from the wind and rain. It was not just the weather that filled him with fear and gloom. Nuparu was an engineer. Nuparu was an inventor. And Nuparu was about to admit that his greatest and most vital invention had failed.
Turaga Dume looked up as the Onu-Matoran crept into his study. "What is this important topic we must speak of, Nuparu?"
"Surely you must know, Turaga," Nuparu stammered. "The Vahki units are malfunctioning in an alarming way. First the Vorzakh began accepting unauthorized orders. Then they did nothing to help a Le-Matoran named Matau, who was taken by the vines. Then the Keerakh and Zadakh began sending forged orders and accepting them. Yesterday they broke up a gathering of Ko-Matoran called the Sanctum Guard. I gave all available data to a properly working, newbuilt unit, and it determined that the group violated no laws or regulations. Also, the Zadakh have assigned top priority to preventing all access to a location which is nothing but an empty stretch of desert. Finally, last night the other three districts' units began making up orders as well. I am certain that the whole force will soon be failing similarly."
"This seems serious," Dume murmured. "What is it you want me to do?"
"Turaga, I need you to turn off the entire force so they can be repaired. Now that the city is in no immediate danger, we can do without the Vahki for a few days."
Dume frowned. "How many days?"
"Hopefully six, though it may take longer for me to find a way to fix the problem."
"Far too many!" Dume shouted. Then he blinked, shook his head, spoke in a normal voice. "How much longer do you expect them to last?"
"They may continue to work for quite some time," Nuparu admitted, "but they could cause damage if they continue to degrade. And there is the risk of lawbreakers finding a way to control them."
The Turaga stared down at the inventor. "Will they still take orders in four days?"
"Definitely, that isn't a problem. The normal authorization chain, when it is used, is functioning-"
Dume cut him off. "Then don't worry. He will succeed- I mean Metru Nui will- we have bigger problems- no, it's all ready-" He pulled himself together. "Everything will be all right."
Nuparu glanced uneasily toward the door. "But what about fixing them?"
"Fixing what? Oh, the Vahki. We won't need them after- they won't be any use. Four days, yes. Then you can do whatever you like with them. Vakama! Tell Vakama to hurry up, that's the most important part. Without it it's all lost- lost, lost! There's no way out! Run, Nuparu!"
Nuparu did not run, but he did not stay. As he descended to the streets, as he charged through the storm's berserk hosts, as he rode the chutes to Po-Metru, he could still hear Dume's parting shout.
"We're lost, and there's no way out!"
Vakama stared at the six charts that showed him where each Great Kanoka held its energy. Somehow, he had to fit the blotchy patterns together into a single uniform disk, and that would tell him the proper orientations for combining the Great Disks into a Disk of Time. To complicate things, the different disks' energies wouldn't add in a simple way. If Vakama's solution to this nasty puzzle was wrong, the Mask of Time could be ruined.
As Vakama picked up a magnifier, he realized he was invisible again. When he turned back to the Disk, it was glowing. In this vision, he could see the energy pattern without instruments. And more- each disk had an arrow etched across its center. If he lined up all the arrows...
Someone was knocking on the foundry door. "Come in," he called.
The door opened and footsteps approached, but Vakama saw no one. "Another Matoran who doesn't exist in this vision," he thought. "Nuju?" he guessed.
"No, Vakama, it's me, Onewa. Been staring into your forge too long?"
Vakama stared at his feet, imagining their precise appearance until his eyes began to bend to his mind and he flickered back into view. When he looked up, Onewa was visible too.
"I've been staring into the fire for long enough. What's going on?"
"The hour is coming."
Vakama's mind jumped not into vision but into recollection. Those were the last words of Kapura's vow of silence. But Onewa was still talking.
"It is time for the Matoran to stand together and take up a greater duty. It is time we followed our destiny instead of sitting in mindless idleness at the direction of automata we built ourselves."
"Why now?" Vakama wondered.
"The Vahki are behaving so erratically that Nuparu has asked Turaga Dume to shut them down for repairs. And Dume has refused."
"For what reasons?"
"Obviously because the Matoran need to be kept in line. Or more accurately, in incompetently drawn random squiggle, for purposes undoubtedly sinister. They broke up the Sanctum Guard, Vakama! We've been hiding in the mines all day, or they would have tried to stop us too. There's no good reason for it! So we're going to have to shut them down ourselves."
"That's impossible!" Vakama exclaimed. "They outnumber us at least five to one. And they have stun staffs that turn us loyal, confuse us, erase our minds! We wouldn't have a chance."
Onewa broke into a grin. "I never told you, Vakama. Our armor makes us immune to stun staffs. I had Nuparu design it that way."
Vakama blinked in shock. "You knew it would come to this?"
"I have known it since the night of the retreat announcement. Now that you know, will you admit it and stand with us?"
Vakama considered. "I'd have to talk with Jaller."
"I've already talked to him. He and the Guard are with us."
Vakama realized that Onewa had purposely talked to them one at a time. But it was too late to complain. "Then I am with you too. What is the plan?"
"We strike tomorrow morning at sunsrise," Onewa announced. "Jaller is working on the strategy."
Kongu pulled his airship out of the lee of the Ko-Metru highland to face the wrath of the storm. Struggling with the controls, he managed to keep a level course southward. Tamaru peered from a window, trying to make out the rooflines through the rain and gloom.
"There!" At the pinnacle of the Western Spike, a beacon flared to life, flooding the night with red rays. "Light of furyflame," Tamaru pronounced.
Kongu reversed course. "Keep restwaiting, Matau," he whispered. "For the liarguards, sunsrise comes." As the rest of the hovering Windrider fleet came into sight, he began flashing signal lights of his own.
The glow of a dock light danced over small wavelets in the sheltered space beneath a long boathouse. Sansa hammered on a small boat's prow, attaching a spear gun, while Nixie tinkered with the motor. They lifted their heads at a creaking and rattling sound. A moment later, Hahli came onto the wharf, pushing a small cart piled high with harpoons. Behind their sharp points were gaps shaped to hold Kanoka disks.
"These just in from Po-Metru, with news," Hahli announced. "We'll be using them first thing tomorrow morning."
"Told you!" Nixie grinned and began loading the projectiles into the boat's hold.
"What are our courses?" Sansa inquired.
"You're to dock at the Temple," Hahli explained. "Nokama wants you to patrol the Ta-Metru channel. If anything is happening at the Conduit, you're to give support there. If you're not needed, and the sea is calm enough, range down the Ta-Metru coast to lagoon 3 and pick up a load of harpoons from a Windrider."
"Got that. Where are you assigned?"
"I'm running the supply boat. Sorry, I can't stay." She raised one hand. "Until Metru Nui is free."
Sansa and Nixie returned the gesture. "Or until we are all lost."
Two squads of armored Guards lined up on the Citadel floor, rows of red and silver might. Jaller walked among them, distributing a harpoon gun and a sack of disks to each Matoran. As he received his arms, each Guard closed his faceplate, took a step forward, and lifted his spear in salute.
Once finished, Jaller called Vakama over from the crates of Kanoka he was organizing. "Is there anything you'd like to say?"
But before Vakama could speak, Kapura dashed up, waving his arms. He placed a disk launcher on top of his head and pointed toward the gate.
"Vahki, outside? Coming here? How many?"
Kapura pulled out a Ga-Metru disk and pointed to the number.
"Two hundred? Vakama, go beat the alarm drum!" Jaller turned to the Guards. "Defenders of Ta-Metru, it begins an hour earlier than expected. To the defense positions!"
The Guards rushed to the loopholes and turrets, training their eyes and harpoon guns on the broad road where the Vahki were marshaling. One of the enforcers stepped forward, raising one stun staff to the sky and pointing the other straight ahead at the Citadel. Every Matoran knew the meaning of that gesture: "Surrender or Run." The Guards gave no answer. The Vahki brought its staffs together and fired an energy blast at the Citadel's doors.
Up in a turret, Jaller nodded to a sentry. A harpoon flew down and knocked the Vahki onto its back. Its comrades waited no longer. Across the plaza, around the Citadel, up the wall, the guardians of Metru Nui swarmed to attack the defenders of its inhabitants.
...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
The Land of the Lost: Chapter 18: Passing Through
Clamor filled the Citadel floor, raged around its platforms and catwalks, and forced its way up into the turrets. The attacking Vahki failed to do any of these things. The heavy doors were tightly barricaded, and the windows were too small to fit through. Even if they fired their stun staffs through the windows, the Matoran inside were protected by their armor. Some enforcers had landed on the roof and attempted to fight there, but those squads had been caught in the crossfire from all six turrets before they found a chance to force open a hatch.
Vakama loaded some spears and a box of Ga-Metru disks onto one of the turret lifts. Then he dashed back to storage control, where Aft was shouting instructions into a whirlwind of Guard supply runners.
"Slow down on the spear production line! We're saving proto for disks. Nuju! Load a cart with spears and six disk boxes from the Red Two pile, and take it to turret 5. Someone drive that Ussal cart to the left front and load onto the upper platform lift. More disks to turret 4? Coming right up. Kapura! Get crane 2 ready. Vakama, run downstairs and tell them to load crane 2 from room 108. Then get to the cellar and wait for Onu-Metru to deliver a load of disks, and give them the armor we put there for them!"
"There's no one on the Conduit bridges," remarked Sansa.
Nixie looked up from the tiller. "Are the Ta-Matoran still on their way? Or have they already passed?"
"If they had already passed over, they would have left guards," Sansa stated. "But if not, there should still be Vahki on patrol. I don't see either."
Nixie swung the boat under one of the huge protodermis pipelines. "There's a Vahki on the Ta-Metru shore. What was that?"
An armored figure had appeared on one of the catwalks just above. It secured a cable to the railing and rapidly lowered itself over the side as Vahki began running onto the catwalk from both ends. The armored being reached the end of its line and dropped straight into the boat.
Behind its faceplate was Takua's mask. "Get out of here, quick!"
Nixie headed the vessel back toward the open sea, dodging a few Vahki-flung disks. Sansa turned the harpoon gun around and knocked a Nuurakh off its perch.
As the Conduit disappeared, Nixie found opportunity to ask, "Takua, what is going on?"
"The Vahki were all busy at the Citadel," Takua explained, "so I thought it would be a good time to visit Ga-Metru. But when I got to the bridge, there were Bordakh on the other side, and they would have seen me if I had kept going. Then when I turned around, some Nuurakh had come up behind me and were watching the other end! I would have been stuck there all day, but I remembered you would be coming along."
"What do you intend to do now?" wondered Sansa.
"Jaller said you would be getting a delivery from an airship. When they let their cargo down, I'll climb up and get another free ride."
"Have you heard anything about... keys... recently?" asked Nixie.
"Plenty. I'll explain next time I see you. Just wait till you see it!"
"I'm not even going to ask what that means." Sansa began fitting more disks into their stock of harpoons.
Onewa reached up and pulled the lever on a harpoon gun, launching a disk-carrying projectile over a barricade. A clattering sound came from the tunnel on the other side. "Got it. Zadakh are no good at sneaking," he commented.
"Is that all of them?" Taipu wondered.
"All we care about," Onewa replied. "Let's go. Time to let them infiltrate our hideout." He led the way through the narrow mine passages.
After a few turns, they came across Piatra, standing guard over a small hatch in the floor. "Anyone left?" Onewa asked him as he and Taipu squeezed through.
"Not anymore." Piatra climbed in after them and closed the hatch.
"Perfect timing." Onewa pulled out a lightstone, showing the walls of a newly dug tunnel leading far off underground. "Just about now, the Vahki should be storming our bunker and finding we're not there. By the time they find this escape tunnel, we'll be well on our way." He began running.
"Where to?" Taipu asked.
"To take over Po-Metru's central chute stations," Piatra answered.
"If it works," Onewa explained, "the Vakhi will be completely surprised, and they'll start making more mistakes. They'll have to get help from another metru, and then we'll have them. It's a new day in Metru Nui."
"Vorzakh coming up aftways!" shouted Sanso.
Takua cranked the airship's harpoon gun around and fired a shot at their pursuers. The flying Vahki dodged but slowed down in the process. Sanso put on more speed and climbed higher. "Next cargostop, Ko-Metru," he announced.
The spires of Ko-Metru rose to meet them, glowing dimly under a clouded sky. Takua pointed out activity on one of the peaks. "Is that our stop?"
"Wellseen. They need our launcherguns."
When the airship settled on the tower roof, Takua jumped out to find Matoro and a few other Sanctum Guards dropping chunks of ice onto Vahki climbing the sides. The Ko-Metru captain thanked them. "This is exactly what we need."
"Few liarguards," laughed Sanso. "You will be truesafe soon. Takua, do you stay?"
"Is Kopeke here?" Takua asked.
"No, I sent him underground to get more armor from some Ussal riders," Matoro explained.
"Then I'll ride on to Po-Metru," Takua decided.
Waving farewell, the airship lifted off again. As it gained altitude, Takua pointed to another tower. "Look! The Keerakh have climbed up there to attack the Guards' tower!"
Sanso's eyes narrowed as he put the airship into a dive. "For truebrave Matau!" he whispered as he pulled a lever, sending a dark object hurtling downward.
A pillar of flame erupted on the tower roof, scattering the squad of Vahki into empty space. The airship flew on.
Vakama leaned against a column, enjoying the relative quiet. The Vahki had given up trying to take the Citadel by storm, and the clamor and bustle of the supply lines had faded into a cautious calm. All around the Matoran stronghold, the enforcer squads were settling in for a siege, taking shelter behind barricades, and placing sentries on surrounding rooftops.
"We have little to fear from them now," Nuju predicted. "But before long, they will realize that our supply routes are underground. Then we will have to fight them in the tunnels."
Through the narrow window, Vakama watched spider creatures lurking in wait. He tried to picture them as the Vahki they really were, but they kept under cover too furtively for him to see them properly. If he concentrated enough, though, he could see them anyway. Behind a storage building, four of them were climbing a wall. Two of them were searching a cellar, probably trying to get down to the Archives. Another one was coming from farther up the metru, running up to some units who seemed to be directing things.
A few minutes later, dozens of them broke away, heading northward. For a moment, they were Vahki again, and then the buildings got in the way and hid the manuevers from his eyes.
"You were right about the other Vahki squads," Jaller said. "We've got a sentry hidden farther north, near the Pipeline Forks. He reported the squads heading back toward the Coliseum."
"Why did they leave?" wondered Nuju.
"Probably to stop whatever trouble Onewa is causing in Po-Metru," Jaller explained. "Onewa is good at causing trouble."
"How many Vahki are left watching us?" asked Vakama.
"About a hundred and fifty, few enough for us to handle."
"Then can we attack and break the siege now?"
"No." Jaller smiled. "First we have to wait for those Vahki that left to get too far away to return in time to stop us."
A breath of wind drifted through the small Ta-Metru square, fanning nothing as it passed by. The recent storm had driven all the insects and small Rahi into hiding, and the storm of battle had drawn away all the Matoran. Nothing moved in the square but the breeze, and the breeze was not listening to anything Turaga Dume said over the viewscreen.
"Matoran of Metru Nui, this is a time of great sadness," Dume intoned, "but this is no time to put aside our unity. We cannot risk being weakened by division in the face of such perils! Believe me, friends, there is no safety in chaos."
His voice rose. "It is not a great thing I ask of you. Only a few days! If the peril then passes, I will listen to your concerns, I assure you. When have I ever failed to address Metru Nui's needs? Only a few days, to bring us back to safety!"
The viewscreen faded. The breeze was long gone. The square remained as empty as it had ever been.
...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
The Land of the Lost: Chapter 19: Comes the Power
Aft passed two harpoon guns into the tunnel. Kapura acknowledged them with a wave and handed one to Vakama. The Ta-Matoran made their way toward the distant glow of a lightstone, trying to keep their feet from clanking on the metallic floor.
Vakama kept a close watch, but no moving forms showed themselves against the light ahead. They reached an intersection of two narrow corridors and saw nothing in any direction.
Kapura pointed down the right-hand tunnel. Vakama trotted in that direction. Just before reaching a corner, he ducked into an alcove, where a narrow ladder vanished through a dark hole in the floor. Kapura arrived and began a cautious descent.
The level below was just the same: metallic protodermis corridors with access hatches in the walls and too few lightstones to dispel the gloom. The unvarying hum of machinery complemented the bleak appearance.
Kapura pointed, and Vakama began leading the way toward another distant right angle in the corridor. They slipped in and out of a flickering circle of light, harpoon guns gripped tight. Gradually they became aware of low, repeated thudding sounds echoing along the passageway from up ahead. Something was approaching the corner from the other direction.
There were no nearby openings in the precisely regular plane of the tunnel walls. The ladder they had come down was too far away to reach in time. Vakama focused his mind on the spot where the cause of the sounds must have been. Soon it appeared: a Nuurakh, crawling on four legs. Vakama reached for a disk, and experienced the extraordinary sensation of having no hands.
"This is a vision," he reminded himself. But in his visions, Vahki usually appeared as spider creatures. Whatever was around the corner looked like a Vahki to his inner sight, but might not actually be one. Vakama tried to visualize his hand until it reappeared. Now he would be able to see the possible Vahki without illusion- once it came around the corner. He lifted his harpoon gun and stepped forward as the mystery became visible.
It was an Onu-Matoran riding an Ussal.
Piatra peered between two chute shipping containers. "Three left! One and a half down!"
The Po-Matoran gunner adjusted his weapon and let fly. A harpoon flew over the shipping yard, shot through the narrow gap between two pillars, and delivered a level 5 freezing disk to a Vahki Rorzakh.
"Got it!" Piatra yelled. "Next one's in the gateway of the Flight Systems Finishing building. Start at eight-one left, height two-six!" A disk and a few stun blasts flew overhead. "Keep your head down and leave the looking to me!"
A carver named Hafu came over a platform at a running crawl and dived into the shelter of their containers just as they scored a hit on the next Vahki target. "Good work!" Hafu shouted. "See that little hut off to the right, one platform forward? That's a chute control substation. Onewa says if the Vahki get in there, they can restore power to the chutes and ride them into the depot. So don't let them near it!"
"We understand!" the gunner answered. Hafu sprinted off, jumped over some boxes, and gained the shelter of a low wall.
Onewa paced back and forth in the depot's observation tower. "This is the most important part of the whole plan!" he muttered to no one in particular. "We've got to stop them using the chutes and keep them pinned down!"
"There's a message just in," Whenua ventured. "Our Fourth Squad has shut down the Archive Hub and blocked the Onu-Metru bridges."
"That's good, I was expecting it," Onewa growled. "But what we really need is to hold them back here at the Construction Fields!" He picked up his harpoon gun and walked out onto the balcony.
Takua was crouching behind the balustrade, looking southward. "How did you get here?" Onewa demanded.
"I came in on an airship with a load of harpoons," Takua explained. "I'm here to get a look at the Sculpture Fields."
Onewa tossed him a sharp glance. "I don't expect you'll find the weather good for sightseeing." He called back through the door. "Signal Platform 2 and tell them to get down to the barricade! There's sure to be a Vahki transport coming up the road any minute!"
Mata Nui's temple cast a long shadow over cold water. Nixie stood in the center of the boat and waved several times. The signal summoned a larger vessel from a narrow channel hidden behind the Temple causeway.
Sansa peered through a spyglass. "Right on time, and Kai's troops have armor."
"Then off we go." Nixie started the motor.
As the Great Conduit appeared ahead, Sansa kept a careful hand on the boat's harpoon gun. Her eyes kept scanning the pipelines and walkways, but nothing moved. Only when she peered intently at the pump house at the southern end did she see a Nuurakh's head poking up from behind some machinery. She pointed it out, and Nixie changed course, directing the other boat to a half-ruined dock on the Ta-Metru shore.
Kai's vessel pulled up, and six armed and armored Matoran jumped out, their identities hidden behind reflective faceplates, the glow of their eyes and heartlights shrouded in the aura of beings made powerful. "Squad, off the dock and under cover!" Kai barked. "Pilots, watch the boats and have them ready to go at any moment!" She dashed after her already hidden troops.
Sansa and Nixie waited in silence, glancing at the Conduit from time to time. After a few minutes, they heard, far off but distinct, several impacts. Three Vahki fell over the rail, plunged into the water, and sunk out of sight.
Not long after, an armored Ga-Matoran walked back onto the dock. "The bridge is secure. Kai wants you two to move up there. I'll watch the boats."
When they were out of earshot, Sansa wondered aloud, "Was that Hahli?"
"Her voice was familiar," Nixie answered, "but I think she's... what's her name... remember the assistant in the viscosity lab who wore a light Pakari?"
"I know who you mean, but I can't remember her name either."
They reached a ladder nestled among half a dozen monstrous pipelines. Another Ga-Matoran stood at the bottom. "Go up to the bridge. Take this harpoon gun. Get in the pump house if there's any trouble. Stay there until Nokama sends someone over from our metru." She marched off.
Once on top, Nixie and Sansa found a place with a view and kept a nervous watch on all their surroundings. Kai and her squad had disappeared into the Ta-Metru streets. Far to the south, a few specks moved in the sky around the Coliseum. The twin suns dropped toward the glinting heights of Ko-Metru. Sansa glanced down at the water. "If this is what war is like..."
She was interrupted by the crash of a hatch flying open at her feet. As Nixie grabbed the harpoon gun, two Matoran popped up, waving disk launchers in every direction. They saw the Ga-Matoran and climbed out, lowering their weapons.
Some others followed. There seemed to be four Ta-Matoran and one Onu-Matoran, but three of them dashed down the ladder. One of the two who stayed held up a small tablet. But the Ga-Matoran knew about the silent vow already. His companion raised his faceplate. "Vakama. Glad to find Matoran here." Weariness drifted through his voice.
The Ga-Matoran introduced themselves. "It's good to meet the famous orator," Sansa added.
Vakama sighed. "I'll make no more speeches, I fear. The time for words has ended." He walked to the rail and stared seaward.
Dusk hastened down. The landmarks of the City of Legends began to fade. Two rockets rose over Ta-Metru and flashed red. "See that, Kapura?" Vakama called to his companion. "Jaller's driven them back to their second line. We'll have them soon."
The silent Ta-Matoran shook his head and pointed at the distant bulk of the Coliseum.
Down the highway came the Vahki transports. Zadakh, Nuurakh, and enforcers from the other metru filled the cargo spaces and clung to the sides. The convoy of many-legged vehicles crawled on toward the factories clustered around the shipping depot that had just become Po-Metru's most important chute hub.
By the end of the highway stood a huge sculpture of a charging Kikanalo. As the transports came near, it swelled irregularly, becoming a gigantic distorted monster. Then the hidden Matoran switched from expansion disks to weakness disks, and the whole mass crashed onto the road. Transports and their passengers vanished under a fallen hill of rubble.
But behind the wreckage the rest of the line of transports still stretched down the highway into the gloom of a night in a lost city. And over and around the rock pile marched the Vahki horde. The shipping yard they came through was a sea of metallic grey. Nearly a third of Metru Nui's entire force had marshalled to crush the Matoran insurrection into pieces smaller than the gravel and dust that moments ago had been one of Po-Metru's proudest symbols.
The hum of flying disks filled Hafu's ears as he dashed back from the ambush. He hoped the Vahki were firing randomly into the dark. The first shelter he found was the control hut for some cranes that loaded shipping containers into the chutes. An Onu-Matoran was already inside, holding his harpoon gun to a ventilation slot. Hafu peered across the wide platform outside. A dozen Vahki scrabbled up the stairs in four-legged mode. Off to the right, a lone Matoran dived into a culvert. The Onu-Matoran fired, knocking down the nearest Vahki, but it staggered up again. The others rushed the hut. Hafu barred the door and began shooting out a window.
They took a few enforcers out of commission, but a squad of Nuurakh noticed the commotion and came charging down the platform. A few disks flew out of the night and struck among them with little effect. The newcomers swarmed up to the hut and began slamming into the shutters.
Hafu fired his last few harpoons. Then something heavy crashed into the door and bent it. "Time to run!" the Onu-Matoran shouted, and pulled open a hatch in the floor.
The passage below appeared to be a service duct for chute cables. Hafu crawled in what he guessed was the safer direction. The hatch slammed shut. "Should have brought a lightstone," grumbled the Onu-Matoran.
They bumped along in the dark for long enough that the dread of getting lost pushed aside fear of the Vahki. Finally Hafu felt ladder rungs leading upward. He pushed open a trapdoor and saw a dim room full of chute machinery. Climbing out, he found three armored Po-Matoran launching disks out the windows in grim silence. They paid no attention to Hafu for a few moments. Then one turned an inscrutable faceplate toward him and grunted, "If you don't know how to be useful, you could go over that catwalk and bring us more harpoons."
The two climbed to the ceiling, squeezed through a small door, and hustled along a truss that led back to a large factory. A disk struck some bars near Hafu's feet, turning the metal to brittle blue crystal. "A weak reconstitution Kanoka," shouted the Onu-Matoran. "Hurry up!"
As they reached the safety of the other end, Hafu looked back. The shipping yards and chute platforms glowed in an eerie blast of light from dozens of reflector lamps. An innumerable throng of Vahki swarmed over fences, climbed walls, charged across open spaces, and dived for cover. Wherever they went, a hail of disks and harpoons battered at them, but still they came on, their numbers not visibly affected. Hafu hoped the throwers of disks and harpoons had as much opportunity to escape as he had.
"We're not going anywhere," yelled Onewa. "If those clattering contraptions are going to take this depot, they will feel and know and remember the anger of free Matoran! Hewkii, take Striker Two to the cart factory and clear the yard out! We can't have them getting on any of the roofs!"
Hafu stuck his head up the stairs. "Do we have any harpoons left?"
"If we do, they're on the lower level, stairwell 2," Onewa snapped. "Not enough of them, curse slow production lines! If there's anyone left at the stockpile, tell all but one of them to get to the main turbine hall! We can't have them taking back control of the chute system. Not until we've lost whatever hope we still have. Whenua! Where's my telescope?"
He studied the scene below, then hurled the instrument to the floor. "They've gotten over the second back wall! They'll have us surrounded now. Karzahni consume their soulless minds, there aren't enough of us to hold them back over the whole perimeter."
The Po-Metru captain picked up his harpoon gun and closed his faceplate. "Look at the Matoran of Metru Nui, come through wars, disasters, and monsters, just to die at the hands of our own creations. But at least the knowledge and skill that made them will perish with us. It'll be as lost as we will. Come on, Whenua, we're all lost!"
Tamaru looked down. "Vahki bugswarming all over depot. Matoran quickfleeing to buildings."
Kongu laughed. "Then time for new drumpattern. One with more crashbang!" As the airship glided low over a platform, he pulled a release lever. A moment later, an explosion rocked the platform and scattered the Vahki, lofting them in graceful arcs to dash them against walls and roofs.
The orange glare of Kongu's bombs lit the factory walls and reflected from the clouds. And like moths to a lightstone, like Takea to a bleeding sea Rahi, the Windrider fleet swooped in. From building to building, from platform to highway, explosions poured down.
"Revenge and blastfire!" shrieked Tamaru. "Furyflame upon the liarguards, for truebrave Matau!"
Onewa raised his hands to the sky and howled. "Doom from above! Metru Nui shall live again!" He collapsed against a wall and laughed with the release of days of built-up tension. "Look at that, Whenua! Isn't it a beautiful sight? Hail the wild merciless flame!"
All around them, Vahki shattered, scorched, and fled. The chaos of the rout stood out in a constantly shifting light as more bombs added more sources of glare. And over it all hung the dark orbs of Le-Metru's airships, featureless voiceless symbols of Matoran made strong, wordlessly writing onto the tablet of this shipping hub the commands of a new power in Metru Nui.
The airship tore over the Citadel, a small package dropping onto the roof as it passed. Jaller ripped it open and read the message inside. "It worked! It worked, Vakama! The Windriders caught the whole force! We're free at last, Vakama!"
But at that moment, Vakama was watching other objects fall. Six smooth stones plummeted into an abyss, into a writhing mass of vines and webs, vanishing in a poisonous haze. They were gone.
...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
The Land of the Lost: Chapter 20: A New and Stranger City
The twin suns rose on a city very different from the one they had risen on the day before. The new Metru Nui was patrolled and ordered by armored Matoran, and it was the Vahki who armed themselves furtively in a few secret lairs. In every district, the victors were returning wreckage and combat zones to useful purposes, working with sincere enthusiasm to create their new home. If the Morbuzakh had risen from the rubble of the Great Furnace, it would surely have recognized that it had been transplanted to a new city.
Of course, the suns that shone on Metru Nui were not quite the same suns that had risen the day before. But this subtlety would have escaped the Morbuzakh, as it escaped many others lost in that land.
Kongu adjusted the airship's angle and triggered a slow descent. "Twenty bio... ten..." called Tamaru. The Moto-Hub roof tapped gently against their landing gear. Other Windrider vessels were settling all around.
Climbing onto the airship's prow, Kongu began calling to the other pilots. "Four sunspast, we freedrifted from city of rotvines and rubblesmashing. All Le-Matoran dreadfeared liarguards, broken traitor Vahki. We had no hope but fearflight.
"Four wonderstrange days! Le-Matoran learned unity with other metru, thoughtplanning, sharing inventions, rescuing others from strongdanger. We learned duty to each other, to metru, to city. We learned destiny, newlife in new city beginning today.
"Windriders downland today in new Le-Metru, new Metru Nui, city for Matoran, free from broken liarguards, confusion, helplessness. Free to build, live, remember Three Virtues. In new city, Moto-Hub needs newnaming. For truebrave Windrider, who made unity, remembered duty, sharpsaw destiny, but never saw newlife in new Metru Nui." He lifted his arms. "Matau's Hub!"
Each pilot raised a hand in silent honor.
After a moment, they dispersed, some back to their airships to continue the watch, some to find supplies. "Do we ride again?" Tamaru asked Kongu.
"No, Vahki still quickflee north," Kongu explained. "Only small squadron needed."
"Then I go to carefeed Ussal," announced Tamaru. "I plan to use them for rubbleclearing in Sector 3."
"Take armorsuit," Kongu suggested. "Onu-Matoran left some cellarlevel."
"I do not heartlike to be tightboxed. And armorsuits too heavy for hardworking."
"But still many dangerthreats in Le-Metru. And good to practice armorwearing. In new city, maybe even Le-Matoran often need it."
Tamaru sighed. "Still I wear not maskhiding suits." He said farewell and walked off toward a sector and a life that would never be the same again.
The windows of the foundry were covered. The forge only gave a dim glow. Vakama could see well enough by the gleam of the Great Disks. They rested in a row while he studied his maps of their energy patterns. If he lined up the arrows he could see etched into the Kanoka, the energies would all balance, and the combined disk would be suitable for maskmaking. It was strange how the solution was really so simple.
Vakama lowered the Le-Metru disk onto the Ta-Metru disk, listening to the humming sound they made as they touched each other. The Kanoka combined and fell into perfect silence. One by one, he aligned the Ga-Metru disk, the Po-Metru disk, and the Onu-Metru disk, and added them to his creation. As the Ko-Metru disk slid into place, the pattern Vakama could see on the disk faces dissolved into a uniform glow. The puzzle was solved. Vakama picked up the Great Disk of Time.
It would not be worth the effort to draw a pattern on the new disk. Besides, that would make it harder to look through the disk and see what was on the other side of the beam of light it was producing.
Vakama soon realized that being able to see what was on the other side of the window of light that was the disk was not such a desirable thing. A marching horde was never a pleasant sight, and this one was made of beings with no fixed form or features, dissolving and reassembling every time he tried to look closely at them. But their evil will was clear enough, and he had no difficulty sensing the aura of power and fear coming from their leaders. And he could easily see where they were marching: to Metru Nui, the city above which floated the Mask of Time, the mask Vakama was making.
The view through the disk shifted. The mask floated above helpless sleeping beings, things imprisoned in armored casings that hid their shape, pinned down by harpoons. They slept on, oblivious to the marchers and the mask and the shadows seeping down.
The disk's light faded. The shadow hovered above the floating mask, spreading over the sleepers, drawing the marchers onward. Vakama could hear it thinking and plotting. None of its thoughts made sense to him, but he could guess at the twisted depths of darkness lying behind them. And he could tell how vital to all its plots was the Mask of Time.
The light and the view faded, but Vakama continued to stare at the disk that had seared his mind with the image of a lightless haunted city.
The boat rocked along its way among the islands of southern Ga-Metru. Jaller scarcely glanced at the scenery. The Ga-Matoran tried to stay vigilant, but they were almost as short on sleep as he was.
A rack of pipelines reached from one island to another on a row of pilings. There was activity on top, but Jaller recognized Matoran and did not bother to look again. When the boat reached a footing, he climbed a ladder mechanically and stood silent until Onewa bumped fists with him.
Nokama was there too, and she said something about Ga-Metru returning to the Ga-Matoran. Jaller knew that already, but he managed to cheer along with the crew from his boat.
Onewa announced that Po-Metru would always be ready to stand with the other districts, and there was more cheering. Jaller repeated something about the Three Virtues that Vakama had said a long time ago, but the applause was a little forced. Jaller did not care.
Finally, Onewa seemed to be leaving, so Jaller walked back to the ladder. Then Whenua, whom he hadn't noticed before, tried to talk to him about a message from Ko-Metru. Jaller promised to ask Nuju about it and got back into his boat before anyone else came up to him. As the vessel pulled away, he tried to think of what he would do when he got back to the Citadel, but fell asleep before he could make any plans for the future.
By late afternoon, the Keerakh had stopped running. Kopeke kept his eyes on them from across an icy canyon. They crouched behind large crystal blocks and watched the narrow suspension bridge they had crossed over. Matoro would not be crossing the bridge after them today, Kopeke knew. There was enough for the Sanctum Guard to do elsewhere in the district.
Behind him, the pinnacles of high Ko-Metru split beams of the suns into a shimmering haze. To Kopeke, the icy light symbolized faithfulness and a patient invincibility. Whatever storms clouded the skies for a day, the suns would return unperturbed to light Ko-Metru's snowy heights again. Some of the scholars were predicting an eclipse in two days, but Kopeke had done his own calculations. He was confident the suns would continue to shine over the new Metru Nui.
The Rahkshi scuttled down the tunnel, pausing at a fork. The directions carved under the lightstone conveyed nothing to its limited mind. The left passage led downward, and that probably meant stone rats. But there was noise coming from the right passage. That might mean Matoran. The Rahkshi had no memory of being put into stasis and no idea how it had gotten free, but it associated Matoran with its captivity.
Another sound brought the Rahkshi to full alertness. It stared at the tunnel behind with beams of heat vision, then dashed down the left fork. But the two disks that followed it proved themselves faster. The Rahkshi fell immobilized.
Three armor-clad archivists walked up, inspected their quarry, and loaded it onto a cart equipped with a temporary stasis unit. "Is this the one from 3112?" one of them asked.
"It matches the description," another answered. "That makes five. Eight more to go."
"Do you really think the Vahki set them loose?" the first one asked. "They've never liked Rahkshi."
"I doubt it," the other replied. "The stasis containers likely broke from the power surge when the sublevel 5 distributor went down."
"Vahki would never release exhibits anyway. That would just cause more disorder."
The third archivist shook his head and spoke slowly. "Stranger things have happened in normal times."
The restless clouds heaved and tossed on all sides. Nothing solid blocked Vakama's view of the horizon where the two suns disappeared into the sea. There was nothing to cast shadows, but he could see them anyway, growing sharper and darker with every step.
He had no idea where he was or where he was going. He had no idea why he had not walked into a building or fallen from a bridge. He was following a path through the vision, and it seemed to correspond to a safe path through the real world as well.
The suns were gone. All about the shimmering sky, a thousand points of darkness faded into sight. They were the sources of the shadows, casting down glossy black rays. A great orb threaded its way among them as it traversed the vault.
Vakama was following the shadow cast by the Disk of Time in his backpack. He had to find the truth behind its terrifying revelations. He had to find out why his city was lost.
The wind came whistling out of the night, harsh piercing notes, yet the tune reminded Vakama of Le-Metru musicians in the time before the Morbuzakh first appeared. But the shadows still crept down, fluttering like rags in the breeze, deadening all sound. The music was gone before Vakama could hear how it should have ended.
Vakama was marching to the place where the shadow lay thickest. If there was anything to learn, anything comprehensible, that was the place to learn it. If there was any hope left for the city, that was where he would find it.
Vakama muttered to himself, then broke off in dread. Nothing of his voice had reached his ears. He could not hear himself any more than he could see himself. His own existence was a thing he could no longer sense.
As the secrets he sought came ever closer, Vakama wondered if he would be able to bring any discovery back to the other Matoran. By the time he reached his destination, perhaps he would be lost beyond recall, like many others in this new city.
...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...