The Land of the Lost

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The Land of the Lost

Joined: Oct 7 2017, 11:15 PM

Oct 8 2017, 08:50 PM #1

I have been working on this story for a long time. Twelve years, to be precise. I started soon after reading the novel "Time Trap". I was intrigued by the alternate timeline featured in that book, and wanted to investigate the possibility that it was real.

I focused both on the attempted heroics of the alternate-time Toa Metru, and the deeds of the Matoran who became Toa in the real timeline. Originally, I think I wanted to make some point about the inevitability of destiny. I also knew from the beginning that the story would be a tragedy.

A lot changed over those twelve years. I learned a little more about writing. If I did it over, I probably would not build it around the Tolkien epigraph. But it became too late to change, and the deeper themes moved from vague ideas about destiny to an investigation of what it means to be lost.

There are many ways to lose the way. Some of the characters are simply confused about where they are going. Some know their destination but can't find a path to reach it. Some are certain of, and wrong about, how to get there. And maybe, there are a few who know that there is no way to the goal and the journey is hopeless.

We often think that there is always a "right thing to do". I am not sure that this is always the case. Maybe there are situations where all your options are wrong. Anyone in such a place would truly be lost.

It's good to finally tell this tale. I hope someone enjoys reading it.


The Land of the Lost: Prologue

Long are the paths, of shadow made,
where no foot's print is ever laid,
over the hills, across the seas!
Far, far away are the Lands of Ease,
but the Land of the Lost is further yet,
where the Dead wait, while ye forget.
- J. R. R. Tolkien, Lay of Leithian

The past haunted his dreams every time the exhaustion of his body overcame the restlessness of his mind. Its scenes floated through his field of vision even when he awoke. Carving every word of it onto the great stone wall had only graven it more deeply into his memory. He could feel the pain of his friends and comrades, trapped in crushing grips, or dragged away while helpless. He knew again the first growings of their bewilderment, understood the hopes they had built together, and shook as he recalled the sudden surge of despair. He could see six tall figures defying the danger, feel the heat of the laughing foe's crimson eyes, and hear the faint rattle of a few shards of protodermis skidding across a polished floor. And in front of all these came the memory of his mission, a duty and a destiny stronger than the memories of the most horrific events even a master of shadows could bring about.

The small being stood, focusing his mind on the artifacts that were the only hope of all Matoran. He remembered the day he had taken them to the appointed place, ensuring that the legacy of his fallen heroes would live on. He would not have long to wait now. The wrongs against his people were soon to be righted.

The lone Matoran shook his fist at the shadows creeping down from the mountain as the day reached its end. He was ready to confront the memories. They could no longer hold him back from the future. Taking his carving tool, he walked to the wall where he had inscribed all he knew of the story. Forcing himself to be calm, he began to read, to tell again the tale that had happened, not long ago, on an island called Metru Nui.
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Joined: Oct 7 2017, 11:15 PM

Oct 8 2017, 08:59 PM #2

The Land of the Lost: Chapter 1: Lhikan's Choice

Toa Lhikan, lone guardian of the island city of Metru Nui, paused in the narrow alley between two Ta-Metru foundries. A portion of his mind nagged at him that a Toa ought not run from danger. Lhikan silenced the thought. He had a mission that was of more importance to the city than his own honor. As the protector of Metru Nui, he did not have the right to live with his reputation first, and if he had to die, he would die the same way.

He knew the Dark Hunters would never give up the search. Dark Hunters persevered, as they valued their lives. Sooner or later, their perseverance would pay off. The moment when they would find him would inevitably come. He needed to make sure that moment did not come before he delivered the six stones. Five of them were already in the hands of the proper Matoran.

Lhikan frowned. It had not been easy to decide who the proper Matoran were. The signs had been obvious enough. Lhikan remembered the names that a Ko-Matoran seer had inscribed on the walls of the Great Temple's Kanohi chamber. He had deciphered the tablets of star descriptions kept in the Knowledge Towers. He knew the names of the six who had finally learned the hiding places of the legendary Great Disks.

But there had been the dreams. Six masks had drifted through his sleeping mind time after time. He could feel the weight of their destiny when he awoke. He knew it was a destiny that could not be ignored. And yet he had ignored it. The signs had been obvious.

Lhikan pushed all the doubts from his mind. It was too late to change, and it was time to move on. The Dark Hunters would waste a few hours following the false trail he had crafted through some Le-Metru shipping yards, but there was also the Morbuzakh to worry about. Those vines were almost as dangerous, in their own way.

---

Vhisola inspected the small package Toa Lhikan had dropped on her desk. She had never seen anything like it before. Maybe Nokama had read something about it. Should she take it to Nokama? Maybe it would impress her. Maybe Nokama would finally realize that she ought to spend more time with her friend.

A sudden memory brought Vhisola back to reality. She had to stay away from Nokama, ever since that four-legged being had smashed her lab and ruined all her research notes. Nokama might ask about her progress, and discover that she had nothing to show for months of work. Then Vhisola would be in deep trouble. She was on her own in the quest to learn about Lhikan's package.

Unrolling the metallic covering, Vhisola recognized a picture. It was Mata Nui's temple, the most important building in Ga-Metru, or any metru. The conical stone inside obviously had to be taken to the Great Temple. In about an hour, Nokama's class would finish studying the temple's carvings, and it would be safe for Vhisola to go there. She wondered what she would find and what task Toa Lhikan had planned. And most importantly, why had he chosen her?

---

Ahkmou had tried to conceal his terror when Toa Lhikan had appeared at his carver's table. If Metru Nui's hero knew anything about the Po-Matoran's late-night meetings, Ahkmou would have been very shortly looking up a Vahki's stun staff. Or more accurately, ten stun staffs.

But Lhikan had only left a small, heavy object and vanished as furtively as he had appeared. Ahkmou inspected the metallic foil and the translucent stone, smiling to himself. He had his sources of knowledge, and they had warned him about these objects. Now Onewa would finally have to take second place. Ahkmou wouldn't have to watch for Vahki in every shadow. And he almost looked forward to the four-legged being's next visit.

---

Tehutti had spent the morning cataloging a new room of Fikou spiders. His work as an archivist was beginning to get boring. But things would change. Toa Lhikan had given him a foil-wrapped stone, and if it was what he thought it was, his life was about to take a new direction.

He had always wanted to make a reputation for himself, like Whenua, Onepu, or Mavrah. If he had gotten the two-headed Nui-Jaga, that would have counted for something. He had known, of course, that the offer was a fake, yet he had wanted it to be true so badly that he had gone along with the pretension.

But this would mean even more than being the most respected of archivists. First he had found the Great Disk, and now Lhikan had chosen him. Tehutti's time had come.

---

Another Ussal cart screeched to a stop as its driver shouted angrily. Orkahm tried to focus on directing Pewku. If he forgot to look where he was going, he'd soon be as much of a danger on the roads as Matau or Kongu. But after receiving the strange object from Toa Lhikan, he found it hard to keep his mind on the task before him. What could the green crystal and its protodermic wrapping mean?

One thing was certain. He had to get to the Great Temple. He was headed there as fast as Pewku could take him. That was where the mystery would be revealed. Maybe he would even learn about the threatening anonymous messages. It was frightening that someone knew he had found the Great Disk. The two monstrous beings that had stalked him were even more frightening. And he had been near an unusually high number of Morbuzakh vine strikes recently.

For probably the first time in his life, Orkahm was driving faster than he knew he should, and that was not what worried him.

---

Ehrye knew better than to return to the Knowledge Tower. Though the scholars could likely explain the package Toa Lhikan had just given him, if the Vahki were not waiting for him there, the hulking one-eyed being surely was. It would be difficult to get a scholar's attention anyway. To a scholar, only another scholar was worth noticing, and then just barely.

He didn't need a scholar to tell him one thing. He needed to go to the Great Temple. The picture on the foil was unmistakable. He would have no trouble getting as far as the Coliseum, because the Keerakh knew that it was his job to carry messages. The Vahki in Ga-Metru might need convincing, but he had a message from his friend Ahkmou directed to a Ga-Matoran teacher named Nokama. Unless some recent event had raised their suspicion, they would let him through to the Temple.

---

Molten protodermis hissed and bubbled in the foundry vat. Nuhrii ignored the familiar noise and concentrated on the disk in front of him. It had not been easy to obtain level 8 Kanoka. As far as the city Kanoka Control Authority knew, the disks he was using were still in a vault in the Onu-Metru Archives. Nuhrii was not usually one to buy from smugglers and looters, but he was not about to let his former student show him up. Turaga Dume had chosen Vakama to craft a Mask of Time, completely ignoring Nuhrii's long list of achievements.

But Nuhrii refused to be overlooked. A mysterious message had offered to share secrets that neither Vakama nor any other mask maker could imagine. Nuhrii would complete the legendary mask first, and no one would forget him again.

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of heavy feet on the metallic catwalk. Toa Lhikan was coming toward him, and coming quickly.

"Making masks, Nuhrii?"

"Yes, Toa, that's what I do, and none do it better."

"The city needs your help," said Lhikan, handing Nuhrii a small object covered in metallic protodermis. "Matoran are vanishing. Deceit lurks in the shadows of Metru Nui."

"Toa- so dramatic."

Lhikan spun toward the speaker: a four-legged, insectoid creature advancing along the catwalk. "Always playing the hero," it hissed.

The Toa of Fire drew his twin swords. "Some of us take our duty seriously, Nidhiki." Then he whispered to Nuhrii, "Keep it safe. Get to the Great Temple."

Nidhiki spat energy blasts, which Lhikan narrowly evaded. Nuhrii acted by reflex. Grabbing the nearest disk, he flung it at the Dark Hunter.

His level 8 enlargement Kanoka struck with a flash. Nidhiki swelled to a tremendous size, but the catwalk groaned and dipped under his increased weight. Lhikan jumped back onto the platform as a hulking figure crashed onto the walk where he had just been standing. The force of the impact, added to the weight it already held, was too much for the narrow bridge. The cables snapped, dropping the entire section. Lhikan and Nuhrii watched as the catwalk and the two Dark Hunters disappeared into the tank of molten protodermis below.

"Well done, Nuhrii," said Lhikan. "Now I know I chose rightly. You and I must travel to the Great Temple without delay. And I have many things to explain to you and the others."

...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
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Joined: Oct 7 2017, 11:15 PM

Oct 12 2017, 11:50 PM #3

The Land of the Lost: Chapter 2: Toa Metru!

The fire drone picked up yet another shattered mask and deposited it on the reject cart. Vakama raised his goggles and sighed, as if he could rid himself of weariness by exhaling. His efforts to create a Mask of Time had met with no success. He knew, from the way each hopeful attempt had split, that his disks contained too many impurities to become a Great Mask. He could have made them into a Noble Mask with little difficulty. That was odd; level 8 disks should turn into Great Masks. But nothing Vakama thought he knew about mask-making seemed to apply to the Kanohi Vahi.

Besides, Turaga Dume had not asked for a Noble Mask of Time. Vakama had often wondered what use a Turaga had for a Great Mask. The only explanation he could think of was that Dume expected a Toa to come to Metru Nui in need of it.

A new tempering technique might keep the mask in one piece until it cooled. Nokama was trying to develop a new variety of liquid protodermis for quenching masks, which she said would cause less shock.

Vakama picked up another Kanoka, and a cold weakness flowed over him as images flashed through his mind. A great hand reached down and touched a golden floating mask. Beams of shadow shot from the mask, darkening six Matoran, who dropped the Kanoka they were holding.

He saw Metru Nui in ruins, covered in a cloak of shadow. The six disks flew above the city, merging into one. With a searing flash, the disk broke apart, dispelling the shadows from the city. But out of all the darkness, one shadowy hand remained, and Vakama saw it reaching for him...

---

"Vakama! Vakama!"

Vakama shook his head as the voice pulled him back to reality. For most of his life, these strange visions had come at unexpected moments to worry him with unfamiliar sights. Before he could think about what he had seen, a very excited Matoran burst into the foundry.

"Vakama! Haven't you heard the news?" shouted Jaller. "There are six new Toa! Metru Nui's own Toa! Six of them! Matoran from right here in our city, transformed into Toa! Everyone's watching the viewscreen! Come on!"

Vakama forgot everything else. "Six Toa? Here in Metru Nui? What are Turaga Dume and Toa Lhikan saying?"

"Yes, six new Toa right here in Metru Nui! Come on, let's find a viewscreen!"

---

The announcer was just as excited as everyone in the audience. "Matoran of Metru Nui, this is a great day in our city's history! For the first time ever chronicled, this city has its own Toa! Look at these sketches, just drawn by an amateur Ga-Metru artist!"

Vakama stared at the picture of the Toa of Fire. "It's Nuhrii! My teacher! The ridges over the eyeholes in his mask- I saw him make it that way. It has to be Nuhrii!"

A mask. Three masks, Great Masks. One fading away to nothingness, one golden, shining like the East Sun. And one with a blazing pair of crimson eyes, searching, searching. They swept by Toa Lhikan, passed over Toa Nuhrii... and settled on Vakama.

"What's wrong, Vakama?"

"It was, well, another of my visions, Jaller. My mask must be coming loose. It's never been like this before."

"Hey, Vakama! Our own Toa-heroes! What a happy-cheer day for Metru Nui!"

Vakama looked up. His friend Matau was sitting at the front of a speedy-looking new vehicle. Nokama and Onewa were riding in the back.

"Want a quick-ride? We're going to the Coliseum to see the Toa-heroes!"

Jaller looked eager. "Thanks, Matau. Come on, Vakama."

Onewa greeted the Ta-Matoran and said, "Matau's been looking for an excuse to test this one on the streets since Naming Day. I'd hold tight if I were you."

---

The six spires of Metru Nui's Coliseum shone in the mingled light of the twin suns. Matau parked under a bridge, and the five Matoran passed through a towering gate fashioned into the shape of a Kanohi Hau. Already the stands were packed with the city's clamoring population. An image flickered on the viewscreen. It was Lhikan, but not as they knew him. Shrunken and weakened, Turaga Lhikan had given away his Toa power to the newcomers.

He seemed to be arguing with Turaga Dume. The loudspeakers did not repeat their words, but Vakama could see that Dume was trying to refuse some request. Finally Lhikan turned away and stepped to the podium. Dume stopped him, apparently saying something conciliating. Lhikan smiled and yielded the stand to the elder Turaga.

"Matoran of Metru Nui!" Dume's voice boomed over the speakers. "The Great Spirit has provided us with six new Toa! Once Matoran in this very city, they have been transformed into our protectors, as has been witnessed by our Toa Lhikan, now Turaga like myself. Matoran, these are your guardians: Nuhrii, Toa of Fire! Vhisola, Toa of Water! Orkahm, Toa of Air! Ehrye, Toa of Ice! Tehutti, Toa of Earth! Ahkmou, Toa of Stone!"

The new heroes stepped onto the balcony and stood at attention while the Matoran cheered.

---

Ahkmou frowned. He suspected Dume had some reason for naming him last. Reason enough there was, though how could the Turaga possibly know?

Vhisola smiled. She had no more need to earn Nokama's approval. Beneath the mantle of a Toa, she needed no one. She could rule her own destiny now.

Nuhrii felt only relief. Lhikan had warned him that anything could happen at this moment. But Dume had accepted them. All would be well.

Tehutti felt pride rush through him. As a Toa, he was more than anyone could have imagined. Everyone would know his name by sunsdown.

Orkahm's fears vanished like dust before a gale. He had a strength the Morbuzakh could only dream of. Nothing could overcome a Toa!

Ehrye could still hardly believe it. He felt bewildered. What would he do as a Toa? What would become of his old life?

---

Vakama turned away. "Let's go, Matau. There is nothing else to see." He had another reason. Being this close to Turaga Dume made him feel guilty. Three times he had been unable to deliver the Mask of Time on the Turaga's deadline. His failure added to the weight on his mind.

Matau shrugged. "If you say so. See, the Toa-heroes leave too."

When the Matoran reached Matau's new vehicle, there was a Nuurakh standing beside it. The order enforcer wordlessly presented Matau with a 50-widget ticket for illegal parking. Then it held out to him a longer document.

"Really? For a dumbsimple parking violation?" grumbled Matau.

The Vahki touched the handles of its stun staffs.

Matau signed the foil sheet and handed it back to the Vahki, who then bolted a small box inside the vehicle's bumper. "Speedtracking anchor," Matau complained to none of his friends in particular. "Sharpwatching me everywhere not enough. Now they measure me everytime, everyplace, keeping me to every slowlimit. But at Moto-Hub test track, Le-Matoran can speed as they heartwish!"

As Vakama climbed into the vehicle, it crossed his mind that the departing Vahki walked with a slightly awkward gait.

...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
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Joined: Oct 7 2017, 11:15 PM

Oct 16 2017, 11:33 PM #4

The Land of the Lost: Chapter 3: Destiny Hidden

Surely the visions were getting worse. Vakama had never had three in one day before, and never one like this.

The weathered stone face loomed against the sky. He knew it represented the Great Spirit, Mata Nui. The stone was falling, toppling backward into the sand like a Matoran hit by a Vahki stun staff. The Great Spirit's sightless eyes stared at the stars above, which wheeled and changed places so rapidly that Vakama felt dizzy.

The six new Toa Metru rose out of the earth, surrounding Mata Nui, protecting him from the shadows slithering out of the sand. But they could not protect him against the Shadow sinking down from above. Vakama felt himself lifted into the air, facing the Shadow, standing between it and the small piles of pebbles that the fallen Great Spirit had guarded. Turaga Lhikan appeared beside him, then faded away. Vakama was left alone against the Shadow. Beneath him, the Great Spirit's stone had disappeared in the sand. The Toa stood dazed. The Matoran cowered as their doom came upon them. The Vahki marched across Metru Nui in ranks forty deep. The Morbuzakh vines gripped the spires of the Coliseum. Rahi from the Archives and spider creatures Vakama had never seen before crawled over the rubble.

And then Vakama saw his duty and his destiny.

The images ended. Exhaustion crept over him. Vakama hardly understood anything he had seen, but he knew he had a part to play. He could almost remember what that part was.

---

Once the excitement over the Toa Metru passed, the news returned to its familiar ominous nature. The Morbuzakh vines kept pressing their attack. Neither scholars nor researchers could discover an effective way to kill them. The Matoran reluctantly ceded the entire northeast coast of Ta-Metru. Five Po-Matoran vanished in a single incident. Onu-Matoran archivists debated moving some of the more dangerous exhibits to more secure sublevels. Metru Nui's population officially fell to 914.

It was three days after the coming of the Toa that Vakama looked up from his disks to find Nokama at the foundry door. The tone of her greeting showed she was disturbed, and her eyes kept glancing around nervously.

"You don't look well," he commented. "Have you been too close to a Vahki?"

"I suppose you could say that." Nokama held out a very small bottle. "I came to give you the quenching liquid for your Mask of Time. This is all I can get for you."

"Can't you make more?"

"No, my project has been shut down. No one can do research any more, not without Turaga Dume's permission. This is all I had made when the Vahki closed up my lab."

"There's a new law? Against research?" Vakama hoped he had misunderstood.

"All research is restricted. The Turaga don't want us to discover a new way of turning ourselves into Toa."

"That's ridiculous!" shouted Vakama. "Becoming a Toa is destiny at work! You can't make a law banning destiny!"

"Keep your voice down!" urged Nokama. "There might be Vahki out there listening."

Vakama thanked her for what she had brought, and promised to tell Turaga Dume how important her research was for making the mask.

Nokama did not stay much longer. When she had gone, Vakama stood staring into the flames of his forge. He found the new rules impossible to understand. Why would Turaga Dume want to prevent more Toa from coming into being? He surely knew the value of Toa, having been one himself, and having once called hundreds of Toa to defend the city against the Dark Hunters. Vakama could also remember his speeches praising Ga-Metru research, calling it vital to the future of Metru Nui. Changes had come, and Vakama was worried.

It was foolish to think he could do anything about the changes. He was only a simple mask-maker. Keeping out of the Morbuzakh's reach was all he could do. He would have to leave the real problems to the Turaga, and the Toa, and the Vahki.

But he had been doing just that for the past year. And now the city was being attacked by a vicious piece of shrubbery, the Vahki had become ever more stern and mechanical in enforcement, and Turaga Dume was making strange laws. His last vision had told him there was some duty required of him. There was something he had to do for the city, for the Matoran, for Mata Nui, some task he could almost identify.

---

It nearly came to him later that evening, when a security guard named Kapura appeared at his home. "Hi, Vakama. Just wanted to make sure you got home safely, without any Morbuzakh trouble."

"I'm fine, as you can see," said Vakama. "But isn't making sure we're safe the job of the Vahki?"

"Some of us figure the Vahki can always use a little help. Besides, when was the last time a Vahki knocked on your door just to make sure you were all right?"

Vakama grinned. "Vahki would never knock on a door just for that. So there are more of you, watching out for our safety?"

Kapura nodded. "We're calling ourselves the Ta-Koro Guard. We make sure Ta-Matoran don't disappear. We've got sentries watching for Morbuzakh, safe travel routes, guards to make sure no one goes into dangerous areas, and a few other things. And it's been five days since a Ta-Matoran vanished, while every other metru has lost at least three in that time."

"Why do you say Ta-Koro instead of Ta-Metru?" Vakama wondered.

"We thought a village was more unified, stronger than a city."

"So how many Koro Guards are there?"

Kapura thought. "Well, there are presently 158 Ta-Matoran accounted for, and 17 are in the Guard. Want to join? Jaller's our captain, talk to him."

"I'll think about it."

"Glad to hear it, Vakama. I've got to go check on Takua now. If anyone's missing, it would be him."

---

The next day, Vakama had to deliver some crates of leftover disks to Le-Metru. Since they took up a lot of space, he decided to transport them by Ussal cart instead of paying for a chute shipping container. The crab driver, whose name was Sanso, was in a gloomy mood.

"Now if you ask me, our Toa-hero Orkahm needs to sweep-clear the rotvine out of Sector 3. It's been getting dreadworse for weeks. Lehuko and I don't go through dark-gloom Sector 3 anymore. So I can't take you into Le-Metru over the Protobridge. We'll have to use the Silvertoa Bridge into Sector 2."

The narrow Silver Toa's Bridge spanned the channel between Ta-Metru and Le-Metru about two kio below the Coliseum Circle. Both Vakama and Sanso were surprised to see a barrier set up across it. As they came closer, they could see a sign reading "All Carts to Unload".

A Le-Matoran was standing by a gate. Sanso shouted to him. "Tamaru! Why this mad-crazy signblock?"

"Eversorry, Sanso," answered Tamaru. "But new rules come from Coliseum. All outdistrict carts are banblocked. Carts that outtravel might have closebrush with Morbuzakh, and maybe rotvines then come sharpseeking for them, into Le-Metru."

"Morbuzakh does not follow Ussalcarts," declared Sanso. "Rotvines friendmaking with carts, and then visitknocking at their doors? Ashsticky nonsense!"

"Jokefool idea, suretrue," agreed Tamaru. "But now written in rules. Please unload cargo and carry through gateopening. Shinyclean Le-Metru cart waits otherside."

Sanso grumbled, but he got down and began removing boxes. Then he paused. "Lehuko! Cannot abandon faithful Ussal in flamespitter district!"

"Bring Ussal," Tamaru told him. "Crabs allowed. Rules stop only carts."

One cart was the same as another to Lehuko, but the Matoran left the bridge knowing that something inexplicable had happened. Though there was evidence of Morbuzakh along their way to the Moto-Hub, they arrived without encountering any vines.

---

After delivering the disks, Vakama headed for a chute station. Just as he stepped out of the Moto-Hub, he ran into Matau.

The Le-Matoran was practically overflowing. "Have you heard my eversad storynews, maskmaker? Speedtesting job breezetossed! Testdriving called 'not vital' and 'useless in troubled times'! Clattering Vahkiguards want me in warehouse numbertracking crates!"

"Calm down, Matau. Talk slowly. What's all this about useless Vahki having trouble tracking down crates?"

"I am removed from speedtesting! No more trackracing! New assignment is in Moto-Hub shipping department. I drive nothing faster than heavyloaded Ussal. Dreadboring boxlists all slowdragging day!"

Vakama eventually managed to calm his friend down a little. The Le-Matoran walked off, muttering something about joining Kongu's league.

That caught Vakama's attention, so he followed. "What's this league Kongu is running?"

"Oh. Kongu is a chute-systems engineer. In sparefree time, he builds small airships. He and others in league go flight-patrolling Le-Metru in airships, looking out for rotvines and other troublecauses. They namecall themselves Windriders, and I heartwished to join because their airships fly everquick!"

Vakama saw a connection with the Guard that Kapura had been talking about. He filed the information away in his mind.

The chute trip back to Ta-Metru was thankfully uneventful. Vakama's thoughts brooded on the Mask of Time. He needed a better method of creating it, and he needed one quickly.

...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
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Joined: Oct 7 2017, 11:15 PM

Oct 20 2017, 10:12 PM #5

The Land of the Lost: Chapter 4: Duty Seen Clearly

The city's new regulations became even more bewildering. Five days after the new Toa arrived, every factory and every crafter in Ta-Metru was put on a molten protodermis conservation plan. The pipes would only supply a certain amount each day. It all had to be accounted for at several steps in the crafting process, and the measurements had to be written in a logbook which would be reviewed by a Vahki. Anyone who could not explain where the protodermis had gone would be subject to unspecified penalties. He would not be permitted to work as a crafter anymore, surely. Carefully saving up protodermis was supposed to make the supply less vulnerable to Morbuzakh disruption, but few Ta-Matoran understood the logic.

Vakama was hardly affected, as his allotment was more than he needed and his crafting process was simple. The rule still bothered him, and it made work difficult for most Ta-Matoran. The chute cable factory across the canal only produced half its usual amount of product that day. Worse, Takua, who had used a small amount of molten protodermis to weld another crafter's tool to his table, was hauled away by the Nuurakh. When it was found that he had not taken the protodermis with the intention of destroying the city, Takua was released, but officially demoted from Cable Crafter to Floor Sweeper.

That was probably a mistake on the part of the Vahki. By noon break on his first day as Floor Sweeper, Takua had taught some fire drones to do his job. He spent the rest of the work day in Ga-Metru.

That night, Takua dropped in on Vakama to tell him about the day's exploits. "Nixie and I must have translated half the tablets in the Great Temple. I bet we know more about Metru Nui than Turaga Dume now. Ha, we know more about what the new Toa are supposed to do than the Toa themselves."

This interested Vakama. "What do you mean? Is there some quest our Toa need to accomplish?"

"Well, for one thing, they need to find the six Great Disks. It's the only way to stop the Morbuzakh, not to mention some Great Shadow thing that's going to attack one day. But the new Toa haven't done anything about the Disks, or much else, for that matter."

"The Toa and Turaga Dume have been talking and planning, trying to come up with a way of defeating the vines."

"Talk, talk, talk. It didn't stop the Kanohi Dragon, it didn't stop the Dark Hunter War, and it won't stop the Morbuzakh either. The tablet was quite clear, Vakama. If the Toa don't get those disks, they might as well jump in the fire pits right now."

---

"Welcome to the Guard." Aft, who was called the Supply and Logistics Officer, handed Vakama a badge and a double-pointed spear.

"Your spear is intended to fend off small Rahi," Jaller explained to Vakama and one other recruit. "You may be able to use it to pin down small vines. But it is wiser to use your disk launcher."

He picked up a stack of disks. "The Morbuzakh is averse to cold. This is why over half the disks you carry should have the freezing power. Take a variety from different districts, so you will have different ways to make sure you hit your target.

"There are three things I need you to do now," he went on. "First, go with Aft to study our map. Familiarize yourself with the safe and dangerous areas. Learn the travel routes.

"Second, go to Kapura to learn about the vines. They prefer to attack in certain ways. He can teach you how to predict where they are hiding and what they intend, just by studying the geography and architecture.

"Third, report back to me for your patrol assignment. Welcome to the Guard."

---

At sunsdown two days later, Vakama stood on a protodermis block in front of the akilini practice field. Jaller and Kapura stood below him, carrying their spears. Many curious Matoran had gathered to listen.

"Matoran of Ta-Metru!" Vakama began. "Great danger threatens our city, as you all know. We have been told not to fear, that this concern should be left to the wise and the strong. And we listened.

"Has it worked? The Morbuzakh does not go away when we close our eyes. We trusted the Vahki to deal with the threat, and they have been less successful against the vines than Matoran! We trusted Turaga Dume to deal with it, and all he has done is to vaguely promise, 'All will be well.' We trusted the new Toa to deal with it. But the Toa Metru have been here for eight days now. Have any of you seen them doing anything about the Morbuzakh?"

There was only silence from the crowd, so Vakama went on. "It is time we did something ourselves! You've all seen the Matoran who call themselves the Ta-Koro Guard. Every day, they patrol the streets, looking out for Morbuzakh. Every night, they make sure you return safely. Some of you have even been rescued by a Guard.

"But the Guard needs more help. This metru is too big for nineteen to patrol. We need Ta-Matoran willing to serve the city. If you join, you will be taught how to defend yourself, your friends, and your metru from the vines. You will do something to stop the Morbuzakh! Don't wait for others to protect you until it's too late. Join the Ta-Koro Guard!"

As Vakama finished his speech, the Guards present cheered and banged their spear handles on the ground. A few minutes later, their numbers had risen from nineteen to forty-one.

The weight on Vakama's mind seemed to lighten. He doubted that this was all he needed to do for his city, but it was surely the beginning.

---

Toa Nuhrii stood at a window in the council chamber high above the Coliseum. Far below, his home city, Ta-Metru, stretched out toward the Silver Sea. Refined protodermis bubbled through the pipelines from Ga-Metru. Steam rose from the Great Furnace and the Reclamation Furnace. Carts and conveyors moved from factory to factory, carrying the tools and machinery parts that Metru Nui was built from.

But smoke clouded the horizon. A haze hung over the northeast section of the metru, where the Morbuzakh ruled a kingdom of crumbling buildings, twisted wreckage, and creeping nightmare.

"Not much longer," muttered the Toa of Fire.

"Until what?"

Nuhrii looked down to see Turaga Lhikan. "Until we must deal with the Morbuzakh. While we wait and plan, it grows stronger every day."

"Waiting and planning will end," replied Lhikan. "You know we have almost completed the defense plan. If all goes well, it will be ready to implement tomorrow."

"This defense plan! It doesn't deal with the Morbuzakh. All it does is decide which sectors of the city are defensible and which are not. It tells us which boundaries should be guarded by Vahki, which guardpoints the Toa should defend, and which parts of Metru Nui to abandon! Haven't you noticed, Turaga? The defense plan calls for we Toa, the protectors of this city, to give up on protecting over half of it!"

Lhikan stared out the open window, his eyes burning as they swept the deserted sectors and gloomy shoreline. What memories of old campaigns and forgotten bravery passed through the veteran hero's mind Nuhrii could not guess. Finally he spoke again. "I understand, Nuhrii, I understand. But what else can be done?"

"What I proposed last evening," the Toa answered. "Vhisola suspects the plant has a single root. We need to find it, strike its one vital spot, and put an end to this threat!"

Again Lhikan stared out the window, but this time he seemed to stare into nothingness, as if recalling something seen with the mind and not the eyes. "I know Turaga Dume does not believe you can defeat the vines that way," he said, "but I will not counsel against it. There are just two things you must know. First, the Great Disks. They are real, and you will need them to stop the darkness."

Nuhrii nodded, though he already knew this. "And the second?"

"The Morbuzakh, Nuhrii, is an attack on the heart of Metru Nui. That is what you must save."

A commotion came into sight outside the window. A Rahi bird, chute cable tangled in its claws, flew by with several Vahki Vorzakh in hot pursuit, wildly firing their staffs of erasing. As Nuhrii watched, a stray bolt shot through the window and struck Lhikan in the back, knocking him to the floor. He rose quickly, but Nuhrii could tell by the glazed look in his eyes that he would not be explaining his cryptic advice.

...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
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Joined: Oct 7 2017, 11:15 PM

Oct 26 2017, 01:13 AM #6

The Land of the Lost: Chapter 5: Dangerous Times

It was no use. Vakama had given up.

He had used the best disks to be found in the city. He had tried every mask-making trick he had ever heard of, and invented several dozen of his own. He had tried every cooling and quenching liquid Nokama and her students had been able to create. He had tried everything over and over and over again. Nothing could change the fact that the Mask of Time required more purity than any Kanoka disks ever made.

Vakama dreaded having to admit failure to Turaga Dume, but no other options remained. He had already finished carving the message into a tablet, but he read through it once more. It explained to the Turaga why none of his attempts had worked. It apologized for failing the city. Vakama's eyes rested on the last line: "I regret that I can be of no further assistance to you or Metru Nui."

After having the tablet placed in a cargo container headed for the Coliseum, Vakama looked around his foundry. What was there for him to do? He had failed at the only task he had been given for months. With another Matoran disappearance every day, the last thing needed was more masks. He regretted again that he truly could be of no further assistance to Metru Nui.

Vakama slung his firestaff over his shoulder and began the weary walk home.

---

That evening, Vakama, Jaller, and several other guards gathered at a square near Jaller's hut to watch the viewscreen. According to rumor, the new Toa were doing something about the Morbuzakh vines, and their plans would be announced tonight. Just as expected, the viewscreen flickered, then cleared, and the mask of Turaga Dume appeared.

"Matoran of Metru Nui!" he began. "These are dangerous times indeed. The Morbuzakh vines grow stronger, and more and more Matoran who wander are disappearing."

"Not in Ta-Metru," muttered Jaller. "We've only lost two in eleven days."

The Turaga was still talking. "But we will not lose hope. For just a time such as this, Mata Nui has sent our new Toa. With the help of the Vahki units, they will mount a firm defense of our city."

Some of the Guards muttered that they ought to be included in the list of the city's defenders.

"In difficult times, sacrifices must be made," Dume continued. "I am requiring all Matoran in the outer sectors of the city to move into more secure areas. The Toa and I have planned a defense perimeter enclosing the inner sectors of each metru. From behind this line, we will be able to better focus our protective efforts on our city's vital locations. For your safety, by noon tomorrow, you will need to move into one of the following sectors..."

He began reading from a list of sector numbers. The Ta-Matoran paid slight attention. They were used to having to move away from Morbuzakh infestations. It was only when the Turaga moved on to Ga-Metru that they realized how small was the area designated as safe. Then their voices broke out in protest.

"What is unsafe about sector 17? We have had three vine strikes. In the entire sector. During the entire time the vines have been here."

"If we have to stay inside that line, how are we going to get to the chute systems factory? If that isn't a vital location, I don't know what is!"

"My home is perfectly safe! I'm not going anywhere!"

The viewscreen went blank, and Dume's voice gave way to the shouting of over fifty Ta-Matoran. Looking out at the crowd, Vakama was struck by impulse. Taking Jaller and Kapura, he hurried to the viewscreen and climbed onto some blocks standing beneath it. The crowd grew quiet and turned to listen.

"This is a dangerous time, as our Turaga has already told us. And surely the Turaga understands danger. Our city has faced it many times in the past. He must understand how to defend Metru Nui against attack. Let us listen to our Turaga and go to the safer sectors."

Some of the Guards looked disappointed and confused. Vakama went on.

"But this does not mean we will wait quietly for the vines to find us. After all, we are the Ta-Koro Guard. We can face danger, as Matoran have done before.

"Those of you who must leave your homes, do not worry. We will find ourselves a strong place on the edge of the safe region, where we can defend our metru. All of you can come there, to the new Guard headquarters, and the vines will come no farther. We will wait, we will watch, we will strike back at the Morbuzakh. And someday, we will drive it out of Ta-Metru!" He looked down at Jaller. "Do you know a good place?"

Jaller jumped up beside Vakama and waved his spear. "To the Furnace Factory! Follow me!" Cheering and banging their spearhandles, the Ta-Matoran marched after their captain.

---

In Ga-Metru, a dozen or so Matoran gathered furtively beside a fountain. "We may need to leave our homes, our classrooms, and our labs," said Nokama, "but we cannot abandon Mata Nui's temple."

"We will have to visit secretly, of course," Kotu stated. "We cannot attract the attention of the Vahki, or even other Matoran."

"Then we will have to travel by boat," put in Kai.

While the other Ga-Matoran discussed the plan, Amaya browsed through some maps. Soon she pointed out several locations. "We can moor the boats here, take them through these canals, and sneak under the bridge to the temple. The whole trip will be out of sight."

"Then we will meet at that mooring point tomorrow, one hour before sunsrise," Nokama decided. "Kotu and Kai, bring your boats. There's no more research, so we don't have anything else to do tomorrow."

---

It was already dark in the assemblers' village. Piatra wondered who would be knocking at his hut this late at night.

"It's me, Onewa. Let me in!"

Piatra opened the door. "What brings you here at a time like this?"

"It's a dangerous time, Piatra," began Onewa. "You've heard about everyone having to move toward the center of the city?"

"Of course. I was at the lower village watching the viewscreen. Hafu and the carvers from Striped Jaga Rock were all upset. But it won't bother me."

"Some of us," said Onewa, "aren't happy about abandoning half the metru, most of it perfectly safe. They chose me to go over to Ta-Metru tomorrow and talk to a mask-maker named Vakama. We hear he's got some more effective ideas. I want you to come with me."

"Why me?"

"You've been a security guard. You know something about protecting the metru. And you've helped Nuparu build Vahki."

"Onewa, somehow I know you're not telling me everything. But I'll go with you."

---

Next morning, Onewa, Piatra, and an Onu-Matoran named Whenua stood in front of a block-shaped, solid-looking building, talking to Vakama and Jaller. "This place," the captain proclaimed, "used to be a factory for the plate walls used to build Ta-Metru's furnaces. They tested them here too, so the building is designed to withstand an exploding vat of molten protodermis."

Jaller led the visitors around a corner. "Across that wide canal is the now-closed Chute Sector. We can keep watch from up here, send out patrols, and launch strikes if the vines appear."

"You can strike at the vines and drive them away?" asked Whenua.

"We've done it more than once," said Vakama.

Closer to the factory, a squad of Guards practiced rapid-firing Kanoka at a target of a Morbuzakh painted on the wall. The group walked around them and came upon another strange sight. A Ta-Matoran and Le-Matoran were leading a team of Ussal crabs hitched to a train of carts carrying a load of massive machinery.

"Aft is in charge of our supplies," explained Jaller. "He has devised a way to move the chute systems factory into the basement here. Tamaru from Le-Metru has come over to help out. So Ta-Metru will keep producing replacement parts for Metru Nui's chutes."

Next Jaller led them inside, where a crew of metal workers rearranged the factory equipment. "We've set up guard stations on the catwalks around the outside walls. Any attacker will come under fire from three of them at once. The factory's lifts and conveyers will supply the Guards with disks from the huge stockpile we're collecting in the building's underground storage."

Onewa inspected one of the production lines. "An energized casting system. You should repurpose that for making disks."

"Most of Ta-Metru's disk plants are inside the perimeter," Jaller told him.

"Kanoka disks are vital munitions," Onewa pointed out. "It would be smart to make sure you can always produce them, wherever the threat is coming from."

As they passed through a doorway, the Guard standing there saluted by raising his spear. "This is the command center," Jaller announced. A sculpture map of the city filled most of the room. Wires and pins marked safe routes and danger spots.

While everyone was looking at the map, a Guard handed Jaller a message. He showed it to Vakama. "It's from Kongu. He wants us to send him a chute turbine as soon as we can build one. He's afraid the Vahki Vorzakh won't let the chute engineers move their spare parts out of their warehouse."

"Of course they won't," Onewa muttered. "Mobility is the key to effectiveness. They don't want a working chute system that lets us travel around."

"It's not sensible to say Vahki want or don't want things. They're completely mechanical."

"Don't be technical. They have their primary directives."

Jaller changed the subject. "Come see how we'll deliver the turbine to Le-Metru." He led the group onto the catwalks and up to a trapdoor opening on a broad section of flat roof. "Did you notice those thick beams while we were climbing? The roof is strong enough for airships to land. We can use that crane to load and unload them straight from the production lines in the cellar levels."

Vakama did not join the general enthusiasm. He had noticed a distant floating speck, off toward the center of the city. He blinked, but it had disappeared.

After the tour, Onewa thanked Vakama and Jaller. "You've given me plenty of good ideas. I intend to organize the Po-Matoran like you've done here, and teach them to do the Vahki's job, protecting themselves. We've spent too long letting others stand up for us."

Once the visitors had left, Jaller began thinking aloud. "Onewa may like our ideas, but he seems to have ideas of his own as well."

"I've known him," said Vakama, "and he is often sure of himself and does not take advice." Jaller looked at him questioningly. "To be pointed, yes, he might think he understands how to protect the city better than Turaga Dume, and he might go ahead and try."

"But then, didn't we? Or why would we have started the Ta-Koro Guard?"

...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
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Joined: Oct 7 2017, 11:15 PM

Oct 29 2017, 12:03 AM #7

The Land of the Lost: Chapter 6: The Work Proceeds

Jaller and Aft limped into the command center and flopped down on the benches. "We've finally finished setting up the chute factory machines. What have you been doing all afternoon?"

Vakama turned away from the map. "I've been thinking about the other metru, mostly the Le-Matoran. They don't have a place like this to build and take refuge in. The sudden retreat must have made their lives confusing. So I wrote them an encouraging message."

He began reading, talking about the uncertainty and changes but reminding them that unity did not change. They could still find safety in taking thought for each other and working together. He recommended that they find goals that would let everyone cooperate, and told them to stay in contact with all the other districts. "The Ta-Koro Guard stands with you," he finished, "on the way to our common destiny."

"I like the sound of that," Jaller said. "I have to tell Kongu that we found five more spools of chute cable. I'll send your message along with mine."

Aft stood up. "You should send it to the other metru too. Now I have to go back down to the factory and get the machines started."

---

It had been an eventful first day at the new headquarters, but when Vakama got home, all the events were pushed out of his mind. A message from Turaga Dume was waiting on his doorstep. He did not seem upset with Vakama's failure to produce the Mask of Time. He regretted that there had been so many difficulties, and told him not to give up yet. He promised to make every effort to procure the disks Vakama needed. That was mysterious. Vakama had been using level 8 Kanoka, as the Turaga knew. Did he intend to give Vakama the legendary Great Disks themselves?

He was sure of it at the Guard headquarters next morning, when Kapura called from the command room as he arrived. "Hey, Vakama, more news. The Toa didn't show up at the defense perimeter this morning. They've split into pairs and gone into different metru. Obviously they're on a new mission."

Takua poked his mask in. "It's about time they did something useful."

"Speaking of doing something useful," Jaller said, "we need to get to work adding turrets to the roof. Then we'll really be able to call this place the Citadel. You've built reinforced walls, Takua, so come with me, and stop thinking up excuses."

Vakama chuckled. "I've got something useful to do in Ga-Metru, but if you hear anything else about the Toa, tell me when I get back."

---

Vakama took a chair set against the office wall. "Nokama asked me to speak with you, Director. As long as you assign more tasks to the researchers, they cannot patrol the metru's waterways without being arrested for leaving work."

The Ga-Matoran in charge of research sat straighter behind her desk. "I understand that the researchers want to help keep our city safe. But in Ga-Metru, research has always been the first task. I am glad that they have found ways to use their time after their projects were shut down. But it would be better if they used it to think of new research subjects that the Turaga will approve."

"The Turaga are not going to approve these new research projects. They are too busy with more important matters. And Metru Nui does not need more research at just this moment. It needs the Matoran to cooperate to keep each other safe."

The director looked concerned. "All that is true. I would like to let the Ga-Matoran patrol the district. But it is my duty to make sure that research goes on!"

"Have you forgotten that your duty can change?"

She blinked. Vakama sensed something weighty, hanging in balance, shifting toward being.

"You know it has changed before, under less unusual circumstances."

"You make a good point." The director thought for a minute. "I will give them a chance. I can allow most of the researchers to pursue other activities. But I can't promise that my permission won't be overruled. And if the metallic etching project gets approved, I will need them to return."

As Vakama left, he saw on the wall a picture of the Great Conduit that joined the districts of water and fire. For a moment, it gleamed with an unnatural light, and Vakama knew he had brought about something vital for his city.

---

An airship circled once and hovered down to the Citadel's roof. Aft shouted up to the pilot. "Here for a shiny new chute turbine and a half-kio of cable?"

"Ever correct, firewatcher," answered the Le-Matoran, whose cockpit was marked with the Windrider symbol, three vertical wavy lines.

"We'll have you loaded in a minute. Meanwhile, what news?"

"Sightnews? Some good, some lesscheer. Kongu read Vakama's message to crowdgathering, and Windriders are now twenty more. Ga-Metru ship patrol has visited. Even chillmask Ko-Matoran are startplanning a Guard! But for badnews, rotvines are gathering in Sector 3. Kongu says they will sneakcross to Ta-Metru and strike, so keep sharpeye."

---

The last of the twin suns had faded, and the power of its rays was lost in the vague shapelessness of twilight. Up from the pavement of dark narrow alleys, out from the corners of windowless rooms, up from their underground hiding places, the shadows were rising to resume their nightly rule over the streets of the City of Legends. Within the shadow of the arched entrance to the Protodermis Reclamation Furnace stood two tall, powerful beings.

"Still sure you know the way?" asked Toa Ahkmou.

"This is my home metru," answered Nuhrii. "I've been here a hundred times. Just follow me."

As they climbed to the walkways, Nuhrii spoke again. "Have you seen Turaga Lhikan recently?"

"No, and I don't want to either."

"He does have important things to tell us, if you'd listen. By the way, do you have any idea what the heart of Metru Nui might be?"

"Never heard of it. Have you been spending too much time staring into your forge?"

Nuhrii gave up trying to talk, and led the way over a conveyer belt to the next building, then down into an alley, through a gate in a fence, over a small bridge, and finally to their destination. As they neared the fire pits, the geysers of flame erupted with a deafening roar, momentarily banishing the shadows back to their lairs with a blast of white-hot light.

"And the disk is down one of those pits?" asked Ahkmou. "Sure is a place only a Toa could reach."

Nuhrii used his control over heat to melt holes in the fence. "There's one thing worrying me more than the flames. This is one of the most secured places in the entire city. Where are all the Vahki?"

"Remember the defense plan, Nuhrii. We're in one of the abandoned sectors," Ahkmou said. "Most of the Nuurakh are lined up at the Great Conduit barrier."

Nuhrii arrived at the edge of a dormant pit and peered down the smooth dark shaft. "That was foolish. If the vines damaged the fire pits, all Ta-Metru would lose heat, and all production would stop. Tell me again, why did we plan it that way?"

"The Great Conduit brings the refined protodermis from Ga-Metru. That's vital too. You can't produce anything without raw materials. And the Conduit is closer to the area controlled by the Morbuzakh. Is this the right pit?"

Nuhrii nodded. "I'm going to climb down by melting handholds in the wall. Keep an eye out for Vahki or vines. I'll shout if I need you."

The Toa of Fire climbed over the edge of the pit. He knew he had a few minutes before the flames erupted again. He set to work quickly. It couldn't be far. He glanced down, but saw only the dim circular walls stretching down into darkness. In his mind, he could see two long tendrils slinking up from the depths to tear him from his rough handholds and drag him down to the pits' fiery source. He could almost feel their crushing grip, pinning his limbs helplessly while tearing his Toa tools from his hands.

But all he truly felt was the jagged surface of a crack in the wall, and the thin rounded edge of a Kanoka disk lodged in it.

---

"Power level 9. Nothing else it could be," pronounced Ahkmou.

"Let's get away from here," advised Nuhrii.

The flames did not erupt again until they had returned through the hole in the fence. "Well, that was easy," Ahkmou observed. "No vines, no Vahki, not even a falling rock. Any Matoran with a grappling hook and a bit of courage could have done that."

"That worries me even more," said Nuhrii. "Turaga Dume said the Disks were surrounded by danger. If we know there's danger, but the danger doesn't bother us- you remember the story about the Le-Matoran vault robber?"

"Of course," answered Ahkmou. "Le-Matoran decides he's going to steal some widgets out of a vault in the Archives. He goes into the piping system, and finds all the hatches he needs to get through are unlocked. The Vahki have all left their posts. He starts cutting through the ceiling, and no one pays any attention. He lowers himself in, and his rope breaks. That's when he sees he's not in the widget vault, he's put himself into a holding cell in the Vahki substation."

Nuhrii nodded. "When is our rope going to break?"

---

In the Citadel's command room, Jaller and Vakama were studying the map of Metru Nui, marking the locations of Morbuzakh strikes with small pebbles. They looked up as an Onu-Matoran walked in.

"I'm Taipu. I'm a miner," announced the newcomer. "I'm helping Whenua and Onewa with their Guard plans."

"Glad to see you here," said Jaller. "How are their plans coming along?"

"Onewa says the Po-Matoran guard is organizing well. We Onu-Matoran are having trouble patrolling the Archives, but Onepu says he will find a way to make it easier. Better than that, Nuparu is working for us. That's why I'm here. He has designed a suit of armor for Matoran to wear when fighting the vines. I've got his specifications here. Onewa wants the Ta-Matoran to make prototypes and send them to us."

Jaller looked at the codes Nuparu had carved on the tablet. "We should be able to make you two or three of these by the day after tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow night, if they get the old test foundry running again."

"Very good. Do you have any other messages for Onewa and Whenua?"

Vakama thought for a moment. "Tell them the Ta-Matoran are still defending themselves, and growing stronger with every passing day."

...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
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Joined: Oct 7 2017, 11:15 PM

Oct 31 2017, 11:18 PM #8

The Land of the Lost: Chapter 7: Shifting Sight

"Up twospace!" called a voice among a cluster of chutes high above the ground. Down on the street, a team of Ussal crabs hauled at a line, lifting a turbine into place.

"Hold and fasten!" Matoran dangling from ropes bolted the piece of machinery into place.

"Clear for chutejoin!" Kongu threw some switches, and magnetic energy sheath flickered into existence on both sides of the turbine.

"Readyall... Powerup!" Kongu pulled a lever, and the turbine growled, hummed, and broke out into a mighty roar. Fluid rushed through the chutes. The crew began to cheer.

"Junction powered again, in time for morning cargoload! Welldone!" Matau congratulated the chute engineers.

Kongu grinned. "Truethanks. But are you not timescheduled to fly dawn patrol?"

Matau looked glum. "Vahki stopped me. New rule. No one walkenters hangar after darkfall."

"Dragonteeth! Who flies now?"

"Midnight patrol still watches."

Kongu grimaced. "Still safe. But futuredays, all night patrollers must be in hangar all night. Enough annoybother to schedulemake already."

"I can join Windrider night patrol!" called one of the turbine installers. "And I can groundcrew!" added the Ussal handler.

"Cheerjoy!" The Windrider captain locked the chute control box and packed up his tools. "Sign up at hangar at sunsrise, both."

---

"How do you like it?" asked Jaller. "The crafters have been working all night on it."

Vakama inspected the suit of armor. Light, flexible, but tough, it would well fit the Matoran it was designed for. He ran his hand over the transparent faceplate. Suddenly, there was a mask behind it, and the suit of armor came to life.

The armored Matoran radiated strength and power as he marched through the streets of Ta-Metru. Morbuzakh vines reached to grab him, but he knocked them away. Flashes of energy reflected harmlessly from the suit as he reached the Coliseum and stood triumphantly before its mighty gates. Only then did Vakama see that the Matoran's heartlight was not flashing, and his eyes were glowing with a menacing crimson stare.

"What do you think?"

The vision faded as Vakama searched for an answer to Jaller's question. "I'm sure it will be very useful for the Guards."

---

"Explain to me again," said Toa Vhisola. "What are force spheres, and what is a parking circle?"

"Chutes," answered Toa Orkahm, "are made of magnetic energy sheath, which keeps protodermis inside and makes it quick-move. Sheath can be twistbent around girders and made into chuteshape. If piece breaks off, it is not openheld. Fold-wraps on itself, making sphere shape. Force sphere travels through chutes, sucking up cargo, cannot break loose. If too big-strong, sucks up wallsides, chutes collapse, sphere implodes. Feardread for chute-travelers.

"Parking circle is chute going in circle, everslow. Chute-system engineers put them in, I know not why. We use them to park cargo. Since no chute goes out of parking circles, things floatriding through chutes get stuck in them, go round and round until removed."

"And the Great Disk of Le-Metru is in one of these force spheres, riding through a parking circle?"

"Ever-correct. It has been slowcircling for weeks. Parking circle is under abandoned chute station, so no one visits. Chute engineers clean trapped cargo-junk from circles, but no junk here. Force sphere sucks up all."

"So all we have to do is climb in the sphere, get the disk, and get out?"

"Easy. Except for getting in, and getting out. And maybe seek-finding the disk. Danger is inside force spheres, whirlspinning, nowhere to stand. Very dangerous if it implodes- smash even Toa to bits. But this sphere is small and slowgoing. No imploding."

"Isn't that odd?" Vhisola pointed out. "The disk is in a force sphere, but a relatively safe, easy to find force sphere. We had no trouble getting the Ga-Metru disk out of that sea Rahi skeleton's teeth. Nuhrii's disk was in a dangerous place, but he and Ahkmou retrieved it without any harm. And Tehutti and Ehrye found the Onu-Metru disk sitting in an Archive storage room. It's as if something knows we're looking for the disks and is making it easy. You weren't there, but Toa- I mean Turaga- Lhikan once told Ehrye and me that there were treacherous traps and fearsome guardians surrounding each one of the Great Disks. Speaking of Lhikan, I haven't seen him for five days."

"He is traveling to the Archives to seekfind old stories, I have heard," said Orkahm. "Quick-look! Here is the chute station."

If buildings could wear expressions, the closed station would have stared at the Toa with a look of pure lethargy. Its semicircular front displayed windows shut behind boards like sleepy eyes, the awnings over its platforms swayed slowly and dully, and the pavement had not even enough energy to grow grass in its cracks. Liquid protodermis sloshed sluggishly through a dozen chutes that curved lazily down from the support girders above to hang from the station's walls. Orkahm led the way behind a sagging platform and pulled open a trapdoor, which creaked as if being awakened. The Toa entered a narrow passage under the station building, then climbed down a ladder.

A single dim lightstone revealed enough of their surroundings. They were in a wide cellar space, close to circular, with a shimmering wall that bowed inward in a peculiar way. "A chute," Orkahm whispered, as if not to disturb the sleeping shadows and dust layers. "This is the parking circle."

"I have an idea," the Toa of Water whispered back. "Go into the circle holding one of my aquafins. I'll stand in the middle holding the other end of the cord. Get into the sphere, find the disk, and then I'll pull you out."

"Not simplequick," muttered Orkahm, "but we are Toa-heroes, after all. Tighthold the ladder so you are not pulled in. I cannot shoutcall to you from inside force sphere, so after three minutes, pull me out. If I have not found the disk, I can go in again."

---

Orkahm kept a tight grip on the shaft of Vhisola's aquafin. He was not used to riding chutes in the dark. Come to think of it, he rarely rode the chutes at all, except inside transports. That was dangerous, something Matau or Kongu would do. But it took boldness to be a Toa. There, up ahead- that had to be the force sphere! Without hesitation, the Toa of Air swam toward the swirling bubble that surrounded the Disk.

As he had expected, the sphere's interior was one big vortex, and it was filled with debris. He nearly lost his grip on the aquafin when some large object rammed him, but he ignored his bruised shoulder and clung tighter. The Great Disk was here- he could see it glowing as it traced small circles around the heart of the sphere. He reached for it, but moving through the vortex was like trying to play akilini underwater while tied behind a Takea. Pulling himself onto a container lid, he reached for the center, and once again fell short. There was only one way. Orkahm jumped from the container lid and plunged into the whirlpool at the middle of the sphere.

Being spun around once a second was not at all pleasant. Orkahm was reminded of the time Matau tried to ride a turbine blade. But the disk was there, circling around his body, now bouncing off his foot. He lunged for it, and found himself flying headfirst around the vortex at a ridiculous speed. There was the disk again! As he sped past it, Orkahm reached out and trapped it against his shoulder armor.

That left the problem of getting out of the sphere. He tried to pull himself along the aquafin's cord, but it was worse than climbing up cable by hand with someone hanging onto your feet. Then the cord jerked viciously, and before Orkahm realized what was happening, he had been dragged through two chute walls and was lying, gasping for breath, on the stone floor.

"I'm just fine," he told Vhisola. "Everlong three minutes, but worth the wait." He held up the Le-Metru Disk. "I bet we can quick-return to the Coliseum before any other team gets their second disk."

---

A light breeze brushed a careless path over the waves, scattering droplets of spray onto a boat deck. Marka swung the tiller, steering her craft into the broad waterway between Ga-Metru and Ta-Metru. Just ahead loomed the arches of the Great Conduit, bearing the huge pipelines which funneled refined protodermis to the furnaces and factories of Ta-Metru. A patrol of Nuurakh stood rigidly guarding the pylon at the southern end. Beyond the Conduit, the waterway curved to the port side on its way to the Coliseum circle. Marka cut in close to the Ta-Metru shore.

As she passed a deserted factory at the water's edge, an ominous grinding noise reached her ears. Then, with a rumble and a splash, a section of the factory's wall collapsed, and a scorch-marked creeper unrolled itself and stretched out over the water. Loading her Kanoka launcher, Marka fired a shrinking disk at the Morbuzakh. The tendril was reduced to a harmless size, but three more shot out of the gap. Marka tried to speed away, but two of them wrapped around the boat's stern and lifted the propeller out of the water. They shook the vessel wildly, causing Marka's disk to miss the third vine as it reached for her.

Without even time to yell, Marka was dragged into the water, then lifted clear as the Morbuzakh shook her. The world bounced, spun, and dimmed, finally fading to grey, leaving on Marka a last impression of a still, bubbling sky.

Marka opened her eyes. The sky was actually still, and bubbling, just like the water. At second glance, it was the water after all, and the sky was hanging just below, or rather above, her feet, by which she was dangling from an oddly cold and rigid Morbuzakh vine.

A Kanoka splashed in beneath her, freezing the channel's surface solid. Footsteps approached, and two Ta-Matoran appeared, walking over the icy bridge they had just created. Without speaking, one of them fired a Kanoka of enlargement at the vine, loosening its hold so that Marka fell free. When she recovered, she tried to thank the Ta-Matoran, but they made no reply and simply repaired her boat with restoration disks. Finally she asked the reason for their stubborn silence. One of them held up a tablet carved with the words: "What Must Be Said, Cannot Be Said."

...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
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Joined: Oct 7 2017, 11:15 PM

Nov 4 2017, 11:30 PM #9

The Land of the Lost: Chapter 8: It Cannot Be Said

"It's only been six days," said Jaller, "and this place is already a real stronghold. I'd like to see a Morbuzakh try to break through this wall." He laid a hand on the Citadel's reinforced side.

Vakama watched a column of Guards practicing in their new armor. "I would like to see the Morbuzakh try to fight them too." Nuparu had made additions to his original design. Each suit was now lined with thin silver bars attached to a disk of freezing held on the back. When activated, the bars would become cold enough to deaden any Morbuzakh vine foolish enough to touch them.

Aft walked up to them, raising his spear in salute. "The morning's report, captain. Disk production has nearly doubled. The chute systems factory is in good order. Two airships from Le-Metru picked up their loads and left the latest reports from Kongu. I've put them in the command room. Piatra from Po-Metru has taken the armor we made for them and Onu-Metru. The boat patrol from Ga-Metru has not arrived yet. No major activity from the Morbuzakh has been detected in Ta-Metru so far today."

As Jaller led Vakama inside, he caught sight of several Guards wearing small tablets around their necks, making gestures to each other. "Do you understand what Kapura means with his vow of silence?" he asked.

"I cannot guess what it is they must say, yet cannot say," answered Vakama. "But I think the reason it cannot be said is that no one would believe it."

Inside the command room, a Ko-Matoran looked up as they entered, then returned to studying the map. "This is Nuju," Vakama explained to Jaller. "He joined the Guard in Ko-Metru when his teacher Ihu was taken by the vines. Matoro decided that the other districts' Guards were in need of the scholars' logic and detailed knowledge, so he sent Nuju to advise us."

"We will be glad to have his help," said Jaller. "To begin, Kongu has sent us another list of locations of Morbuzakh strikes. We will have to mark them all on the map." He began looking over the list. "Kongu says they show a pattern which is 'dreadfrightening'."

The three Matoran set to plotting, and soon the pattern began to emerge. Shortly after the Matoran had retreated from the outer sectors, the vines had followed. The Morbuzakh was spending its strength besieging the new defense perimeter. Its former hiding places at the edges of the city had not seen any vine activity for days, as every tendril and stalk was creeping, shoving, and smashing its way toward the Matoran lines.

"Is it possible," asked Nuju, "that we are only perceiving a change in the vine's patterns at the time of the retreat because that is when the Le-Matoran began air patrolling and providing accurate data?"

"Most of the metru guard squads," said Jaller, "were formed because of the retreat and the message Vakama sent out the next day. But the Windriders are older than that. Kongu flew the first patrol two days before the coming of the Toa. They have been patrolling all Le-Metru, Ko-Metru, the Coliseum, and half of Ta-Metru since five days before the retreat."

Jaller and Vakama continued to mark the Morbuzakh's position on the map, but Nuju stepped back. Silent, eyes half closed, he stood and thought deeply, as scholars did.

Eventually he spoke. "That much is obvious."

"What is obvious?" inquired Jaller.

"That the Morbuzakh's purpose is not to seize the city for its own use. Most of Metru Nui is a poor habitat for it anyway. It is harassing the Matoran, following them, penning them in. It will continue to press back the front until it has driven us all to the Coliseum."

"Now why would it want to do that?" Jaller was skeptical.

Vakama studied the map, staring down at the intricate carving of the Coliseum, imagining Matoran from the six districts filing in line over the bridges, all fleeing to the center of the city. He could see them now, hurrying through the arena gates. They stared with puzzlement at the Vahki transports parked on the floor. But they continued to march in line, across the arena, up to the waiting transports, over the sides, into the hatches. One by one, every Matoran in Metru Nui disappeared into a transport, and the Vahki climbed aboard after them. Now the transports were moving, but instead of crawling toward the arena gates, they were sinking through the floor! They had disappeared, and the Matoran were gone! How was that possible? It was making the Coliseum shake! Now the sky was shaking, too. The twin suns were flickering. A bulging pillar of black smoke was rising from the pinnacle of the Coliseum, shrouding the suns, hiding the city, reaching out for Vakama...

Vakama blinked. His sight returned to normal. Nuju was explaining to Jaller that it was not possible to guess at the Morbuzakh's motives, even if a giant plant creature could have motives, which was far from certain.

"It wants to chase us into the center," Vakama broke in, "so we can be captured. It was a vision- I saw the Matoran being loaded into Vahki transports and taken under the Coliseum. Then they sunk and were all lost- we were all lost, Jaller."

"Now that makes even less sense," said Jaller. "What use would the Morbuzakh have for Matoran prisoners? And who would use the power plant as a prison? There are plenty of better places to lock beings up."

"The Vahki were involved, too," explained Vakama. "Maybe they're going to malfunction and decide to arrest everyone."

"That's possible," agreed Jaller. "But it doesn't involve the Morbuzakh."

"These are conjectures," said Nuju. "We know one thing. The vines are trying to drive the Matoran to the center of Metru Nui. And they must be stopped."

"I'm still certain something wants to imprison us all," Vakama insisted.

"You know what?" said Jaller. "I think you've discovered another thing that must be said, but cannot be said."

---

"Take a look at what Vakama just sent out," grumbled Onewa.

Hewkii glanced over the tablet. "It's his normal message. 'Help your city, join the Guard.' The same thing that got us fifteen recruits when I read it to the meeting yesterday. Then he gives some practical advice. What's upsetting you?"

"Look right here. See where he warns us to follow the rules and stay out of the abandoned sectors. How does he expect to get anything done?"

"That's probably wise. We wouldn't make our secret trips to the Edge Sector if we didn't need to recover all those disks."

"We'll find other reasons to go there when we need to go there."

Whenua had listened silently, but now he was confused. "Why would we want to do that?"

"You Onu-Matoran don't need to worry about the future," Onewa told him. "For now, let's get back to planning this Ussal scheme."

---

"This is ridiculous," said Ahkmou. "We've retrieved the six legendary Great Disks, something only Toa like us can do. Why would we keep it a secret?"

"As I just said," explained Nuhrii, "the disks are needed to save the city. We should use them to save the city, not for whatever other purpose someone else may want to put them to."

"But who else wants the disks?" asked Orkahm.

"I don't know. I can't guess why. I just think some other being is using us to get the disks for it."

"So just because you think getting the disks was easy, we can't even tell Turaga Dume," replied Ahkmou. "If we can't trust him, who can we trust?"

"We can trust Turaga Lhikan, can't we? He made us Toa, after all."

"Hold on a moment," the Toa of Stone answered. "If someone wants Toa to get the disks for it, the one who brought the Toa into existence looks like a good suspect."

Nuhrii struggled for words, but all he could stammer was, "That- that can't be- it's impossible-"

Ahkmou left Nuhrii to think of something to say, and turned to Tehutti. "You don't want to keep this a secret, do you? Our first great accomplishment as Toa? We want everyone to know, don't we?"

"Of course!" The Toa of Earth gave the answer Ahkmou knew he would.

"Then come on! Turaga Dume told us to bring him the disks, let's go show him!"

As the other Toa followed Ahkmou, Nuhrii fell into line at the back. Then he stopped, frozen to the ground, with a smile of recognition forming behind his mask. Only Vhisola turned and noticed as he caught up with the others.

"What was that about?" she inquired.

"It all makes sense now," the Toa of Fire answered.

"What makes sense? Something wanting the disks?"

Nuhrii stared at his feet. "Yes, why we're getting the disks. I've got to tell someone. But it's just too impossible to be true- too ridiculous to tell anyone- it can't be said."

...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
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Joined: Oct 7 2017, 11:15 PM

Nov 10 2017, 12:47 AM #10

The Land of the Lost: Chapter 9: A Different Battle

The new defense plan was keeping the Vahki busy guarding the perimeter. The retreat had closed down many factories, meaning that most Ta-Matoran no longer had any work to do. Naturally, Takua thought this a wonderful turn of events. In fact, this was the first time he had returned to the Citadel in three days.

"I'm sure it's the most important set of tablets in the entire city," he was saying. "It's just that neither Nixie or I has any idea how to translate them."

Vakama tried to think of something to say, but the idea of the Matoran being captured was distracting him. Fortunately, Jaller dashed in at that moment. "Vakama! Come look at this!"

---

Deep beneath the Citadel was an abandoned cellar, which the Guard was currently using as a storage space. As Vakama followed Jaller down a ramp, he noticed that a large section of the cellar floor had been lifted out of place, exposing a wide shaft. Short hulking beings were riding Ussal crabs across the floor toward them. As they neared, Vakama realized they were Onu-Matoran, wearing the new suits of armor Nuparu had designed. Onepu was in the lead, and Jaller stepped down to speak with him.

"There you are, Vakama," Onepu greeted him. "We've come through the Archives. This armor and the crabs make a great combination for guarding our metru."

"You said there was other news, too," reminded Jaller.

"Yes, and it's not good," replied Onepu. "We've put together a list of the locations where the Morbuzakh has been seen underground, and they show an alarming pattern."

"Let me guess," said Jaller. "When the Matoran retreated behind the defense perimeter, the vines followed, leaving their old hiding places just to chase us?"

"Yes, but that's not all," Onepu warned. "Kongu must have told you about all the vines moving into Le-Metru sector 3. They're not staying there. They've found some underwater tunnels and are moving toward Ta-Metru. As you know, on the Ta-Metru side, the defense perimeter reaches the channel much farther south than it does on the Le-Metru side. It looks to us like the Morbuzakh is planning to cross the channel behind the Ta-Metru defense perimeter and overrun its western end, where it's least guarded. And it's planning to do it today."

Jaller looked around quickly. "Takua! Go run as fast as you can, and find Aft. Tell him to get five squads moving west to the Spike with all speed." He turned to Onepu. "Are you coming with us?"

Onepu held out his fist. "Until Metru Nui is free."

Jaller tapped Onewa's fist with his own. "Or until we are all lost."

---

The Western Spike was a fort at the end of the defense perimeter in Ta-Metru. When Metru Nui had still traded with other lands, there had been a long row of docks here at the side of the channel. Matoran and beings from other lands had carried their goods through a vast shipping yard at the water's edge. But the docks had long since been torn up. The flats of the cargo yard stood empty, except for the canal through its middle and the hastily built perimeter wall along the canal's edge. And for the tall, thin tower on the point where the canal ran into the channel, its window slits and pointed crown staring across at Le-Metru's Sector 3.

The tower had once been hung with bright red lights, marking the canal's safe entrance for night-voyaging vessels. It had still been lit as a guide for airships after the channel was cleared of obstructions. Vakama remembered seeing its beacons gleaming over the dark factory roofs, back when it had been safe to walk at night. Several years had passed since the yards had closed and the lights had been extinguished, but soon they would be lit again. Jaller planned to turn them into floodlights, so the Morbuzakh could be seen if it tried to attack by night.

Vakama jumped down from his seat on an armored Ussal's carapace. The Guards lined up by the wall, readying their spears and disk launchers. The Ussal riders opened a hatch in the pavement and sent scouts to learn which underground path the vines were taking. High above, an airship waved a pennant at them- a Windrider, certainly. Vakama fell in with a column which Jaller was leading up the tower's steps.

He paused at the top, then turned to look back. Suddenly he realized they were all watching him expectantly. So they wanted another speech? Vakama smiled to himself.

"Defenders of Ta-Metru!" he began. "The time has come to stand up to our enemy. Any moment now, the horde of vines will be upon us, trying to overrun our city. The Morbuzakh is growing bolder. Perhaps it thinks Matoran cannot threaten it. All they can do is send Vahki, which it does not fear. They can send Toa, but there are only six of them. The vines see no reason to be fearful or cautious.

"But today the Morbuzakh will face something it has never fought before. Matoran from different metru have come together to put a stop to the vines. Our equipment, our training, this tower, have all been designed to take advantage of its weaknesses. But we have an even greater strength than that. We have put aside our differences to do what must be done to protect our city. We are here to stand together, as we were meant to do. Let us show this plant what Unity, Duty, and Destiny can accomplish!"

---

It was quiet at the channel's edge. Small wavelets lapped against the seawall with hardly a splash. Nothing was rustled by the hint of a breeze which infrequently wafted by. And the broad paving slabs made no sound as they were slowly lifted from beneath.

The silence did not break until the heavy stone slabs had risen along half the length of the cargo yard's edge. Then the Morbuzakh vines threw them to the ground with a deafening crash and poured out of the newly opened holes toward the buildings of Ta-Metru.

But the cracking and shattering of paving slabs was not the only noise to disturb the abandoned cargo yard that afternoon. The appearing vines were greeted by the yells of nearly a hundred Matoran. The next sound to dispel the quiet was the swish of Kanoka disks flying across the yard like a cloud of angry, stinging insects. The disks met their targets, and another sound filled the air: the crackling of newly formed ice covering the vines, shattering, and flying in all directions as its weight brought the Morbuzakh crashing to the ground.

---

"That will stop them for now!" shouted Jaller. "Ready, Onepu!"

Now came the most dangerous part of the plan. While the vines were immobilized by the ice, the armored Ussalry would charge them with reconstitution and the rarely made increase weight disks. This combination of powers was unreliable, but sometimes it would turn its target to stone. Jaller hoped not only to drive these vines away, but prevent them from ever returning.

The danger was that the reconstitution disks could turn the Morbuzakh into almost anything else. If something particularly dangerous appeared, it would have to be picked off with teleportation or shrinking disks by the squad in the tower or the sharpshooting squad. Vakama had joined the sharpshooters, who were placed near the middle of the line of battle.

He readied his first stack of disks as the Onu-Matoran made their attack. Near the tower, the heavy barrage from the window slits kept the vines under control. Several Morbuzakh were quickly petrified. But in the center of the line, chaos was erupting in a cloud of smoke and dim flashes of light. A Morbuzakh had been hit by several reconstitution disks at once. Slowly the cloud of molecules coalesced into its new form: a floating vine-monster covered in vicious spikes and dripping with ice. It swung a long barbed tendril into the Matoran battle line, sending an Ussal flying onto its back, its rider hurled headfirst into the hard pavement.

"We've got to take it down!" shouted Jaller. "But make sure you don't hit the Onu-Matoran!"

The sharpshooting squad was already flinging Kanoka at the airborne menace. A teleportation disk found its mark, but the vine-monster was only moved a short distance over the channel. It soon floated back, its spiked tendrils whistling through the air with an eerie hum.

Suddenly Vakama was watching something else transform: the dome and spires of Metru Nui's Coliseum. He saw the structure covered in vines and spikes, and something else- some kind of webbing, maybe? Now he was looking through one of the gates at the statue that stood in the arena- but it was no longer Toa Lhikan, it was an unfamiliar, malevolent, hulk. Behind him, he heard a group of light footsteps, and realized Matoran were approaching. A sense of dread filled him as he turned around to see what new horrible form they had taken on.

The roar of battle reached Vakama's ears again, and he saw around him his companions in the sharpshooting squad. But behind him stood a dozen Vahki, the squad leader pointing a staff at him.

"What do you need?" he asked.

The leader made the signal which meant, "You are wanted."

"You'd better go with them," said Jaller. "We can spare you."

The squad leader pointed east. Vakama knew he was expected to walk that direction. As he began to move, the Vahki fell in around him, marching off the cargo yard, leaving the Ta-Koro Guard to defend their city alone.

---

Vakama wondered at the behavior of the Vahki. They said nothing, of course. They directed his steps, occasionally forcing him to move faster. But they were not roughly treating him like a lawbreaker. They arrived at one of their transports, and put him not into the cargo hold, but next to the squad leader at the back of the cockpit.

"Am I under arrest?" he asked.

The squad leader shook its head to say "No".

Vakama looked out a window. The transport was not heading to the Vahki substation, nor to the Coliseum. The route looked familiar, but he did not guess where he was going until they came to a stop in front of his own foundry.

The squad leader pointed outside. Vakama descended, and the squad marched him to the foundry door. More Vahki were stationed around the building. Vakama entered and made his way to his forge. The squad leader saluted, and Vakama realized that the Vahki standing by the forge watching a heavy box was the commanding unit of the Nuurakh. This Vahki scrutinized Vakama intensely before handing him a set of keys and pointing toward the box. The commander then said something in the Vahki communication code, and the Nuurakh all filed out of the foundry.

Vakama's mind held a thousand questions, but he guessed that the answer lay inside the box. Taking the keys, he opened it and removed a layer of padding to reveal a Kanoka disk wrapped in metallic protodermis foil.

He lifted the disk, turned it over- and nearly dropped it. Etched onto its lower edge was the code "159". This was the Great Disk of Ta-Metru.

Realization struck, and he looked back into the box. Sure enough, five more Great Disks were stacked inside, neatly separated by padding and wrapped in foil. Now the Vahki's actions made sense. He was expected to produce the Mask of Time.

Then Vakama glanced into the box again, and noticed another piece of protodermis foil: a small scrap with a few words written on it. Lifting it out, he recognized Turaga Dume's own handwriting.

The Turaga's message read, "You have nine days."

...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
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Joined: Oct 7 2017, 11:15 PM

Nov 14 2017, 12:12 AM #11

The Land of the Lost: Chapter 10: Questions of Unity

The four of them were sitting around the box in the foundry, Vakama and Nuju at one corner, Onewa and Whenua at the one opposite. "We're here," the Po-Matoran was saying, "because this is a war. The Morbuzakh has attacked directly, in mass, in broad daylight. It's time the Guards from the six metru started working together."

"Speaking of the attack," interrupted Vakama, "how was it driven off?"

Whenua told the story. "We kept throwing freezing disks at the spike-vine thing, and turned some of it to stone. Eventually it got so heavy and weighted with ice that it fell to the ground. Then Aft and his squad charged out of the tower and fought the ordinary vines, and Onepu attacked their line from the other end. We turned many of them to stone and drove the rest back underground. Then we hacked the spike-vine to pieces and burnt it."

As he finished, Nokama walked in and took the empty corner between Vakama and Onewa. "I've two incidents to report," she announced.

"First, last night, a few vines tried to attack the Great Temple from the water on the north side. We froze over the ocean, and that put a stop to them. Kai and Kotu are still holding them off, but the vines are giving up and leaving.

"Secondly, early this morning, some more vines attacked an experimental refinery on the defense perimeter. We had been using this refinery as a headquarters, though we didn't suspect the Morbuzakh knew of it. However, only Vahki were on guard at the time, and the vines were able to destroy most of their units. But after taking apart the building and finding no Matoran, they all faded back to keep waiting."

"It's after the Matoran again," muttered Nuju.

"There's something important we can learn from Nokama's story, as Nuju points out," explained Vakama. "This is just more evidence that the real goal of the Morbuzakh is to capture and frighten Matoran."

"There's something else important we can learn," Onewa spoke up. "The Vahki failed to stop the vines from taking an important target. We can't depend on them. Nuparu didn't design them to fight something like the Morbuzakh. And they've been particularly unreliable recently. It's as if they're being badly managed too."

"Badly managed?" Vakama broke in. "Are you implying something about Turaga Dume?"

"If you're going to make me come to the point..." Onewa looked down, then brought his head up sharply. "Yes. I don't think he understands how to fight this kind of a war. Did you hear his message last night, after the battle? He told us all to be careful of 'Matoran activities that provoke vine strikes.' He warned us, 'When the Morbuzakh knows you're looking for it, it comes looking for you.' He didn't mention the Guards by name, but we all know that's what he was talking about. And just after they won the first real victory against the vines by anyone, anywhere! You can try to ignore it, Vakama, but you'll have to face it soon!"

Vakama and Onewa stared at each other across the box holding the Great Disks. The thought first crossed Vakama's mind that the movement he had inspired would not stay under his control.

Fortunately, Matau burst in at that moment, preventing anyone from saying anything dangerous. "Happycheer sightnews! The rotvines in Sector 3 are quickfleeing! All moving back after hardknocking yesterday!"

"Good news, at last!" exclaimed Nokama.

Nuju frowned. "They will be back. They simply need to find a weaker place to attack."

"We are everwatching," responded Matau. "Nearly all metru has joined the Windriders. Many patrols sharpwatch all sectors. Kongu has invented gadgets for bombdropping vines with ice from airships. Everharder for the rotvines, next time.

"But Vahki have tightclosed Balewire Field where northern Windrider flights landed. And they stop our multicontainer shipments. They cite no ruletext, so we know not why."

"What did I tell you?" Onewa muttered.

"Any other news, Matau?" asked Vakama.

"Yes. Tamaru, coming from Coliseum, says Turaga Dume will give speechmessage about battle, hour before sunsdown."

The group agreed to meet later to listen to the message, and then dispersed. Vakama called Nuju back for a moment. "The Turaga said I have until eight days from now to finish the Mask of Time. Do you know of any event due to happen in eight days?"

Nuju thought for a moment. "There might be an eclipse that afternoon, but our calculations aren't accurate enough to say for sure."

Vakama looked into the box of disks. "I might be able to finish by then. I still don't see why he needs it on that day." The disks flew from the box and spun together with a flash, shedding light over Vakama's mind. Suddenly he understood exactly why the Mask of Time was needed before the eclipse. He almost screamed aloud at the horror of the truth. But the vision faded, slipping from the feeble grasp of his memory, lost in an ocean beyond thought.

"What is it?" asked Nuju.

"I can't remember," Vakama answered worriedly. "One more thing that cannot be said."

---

At the proper time, the Council, as Nuju had begun calling the six of them, gathered before a nearby viewscreen. Vakama remembered the last time he had listened to an announcement. He recalled the thrill of the united Guards and their sudden fervor. But as the viewscreen flickered on, he felt only an indistinct dread.

As Dume appeared, a murmur ran through the gathered Matoran. They had seen their Turaga in different moods before: cheerful, jubilant, stern, worried. But none of them had ever seen him in a state of genuine fear. He kept glancing all around him as if doom vipers were likely to drop out of the ceiling. When he spoke, there was evident panic in his voice.

"Matoran of Metru Nui! By now you have all heard of the new fierce attacks of the Morbuzakh vines. It should be obvious to all that a great emergency is upon us. Despite the efforts of our brave Toa and the Vahki squads, the defense perimeter is too large to properly defend. For the protection of us all, I must declare another retreat. By sunsdown tomorrow, all Matoran will need to move to the central Coliseum island. The Vahki will make sure everyone arrives safely."

Vakama stared in disbelief at Nuju, who happened to be closest. "We have to move out of the Citadel. Everything we've built there."

"We Po-Matoran," announced Onewa, "are not just going to walk away from all we've done. We've worked our way too far ahead to turn back now." A grim smile lit his mask.

Nokama glanced at him worriedly. "Onewa, don't do anything foolish."

Onewa looked over his shoulder. "Believe me, I know how to safely do... what I must do." He walked away toward Po-Metru, taking Whenua with him.

Vakama turned toward Matau. "What are you planning?"

"I am speaking to Windrider-meeting. No time to move all vital Moto-Hub operations to the Coliseum. Thoughtplans must be commonlaid." The Le-Matoran marched off toward his home metru as well.

"I would be more worried about him than Onewa," advised Nuju.

"Becoming worried will not accomplish anything," pointed out Nokama. "Those three are already on their own, but let us remain united. The one thing we can do is write a petition to Turaga Dume and ask him to reconsider his plan."

"There is not much hope in that," said Vakama, "but it is better than revolt."

---

Toa Tehutti paced the floor of the council chamber, paying no attention as the glow of sunset filled the room. His companion Ahkmou showed even less interest in the beauties of nature, staring idly at a miniature ornamental sundial.

The Toa of Earth broke the silence. "It took eight days and eight of us to come up with the defense plan. Now at the first sign of trouble, Dume replaces it with something he designed without any help in a single morning. Tell me, how much better do you think it will work?"

"It gets us strategic safety for a moment, surely," replied Ahkmou. "But the Coliseum is not constructed to withstand a siege. We were quite certain of that when we made the last plan."

"We know what Nuhrii and Vhisola would say," said Tehutti. "That we need to deal with the Morbuzakh directly. I've been thinking they have a good point. We're Toa, after all. Toa don't run, they stand together and fight."

As light footsteps approached, Tehutti turned to see Turaga Lhikan. "What do you think of this new defense plan?" he demanded.

Lhikan looked thoughtful. "It is risky," he finally stated. "But I have known Turaga Dume for a long time, and I still trust his wisdom."

---

"Vakama! Vakama!"

Vakama blinked. It was still several hours to sunsrise. Who wanted him at this time of night?

"Vakama!" It was Jaller.

Rising, Vakama crept into the corridor and came mask to mask with Jaller and Kongu.

"Kongu just got here," Jaller explained. "He says he has urgent news."

"Starstruth," said the Le-Matoran. "At Windrider meeting last night, Matau gave speechtalk. He said Windriders could not quickflee, we would stay and fight the rotvines. All cheershouted and made plans to stay. Then at midnight, Vahki came. Arrested Matau for disturbance-making and inciting workleaving. Where they took him, we do not know."

...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
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Joined: Oct 7 2017, 11:15 PM

Nov 19 2017, 12:15 AM #12

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...
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Joined: Oct 7 2017, 11:15 PM

Nov 23 2017, 01:13 AM #13

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...
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Joined: Oct 7 2017, 11:15 PM

Nov 28 2017, 01:17 AM #14

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...
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Dec 5 2017, 01:39 AM #15

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?"

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...
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Joined: Oct 7 2017, 11:15 PM

Dec 10 2017, 12:19 AM #16

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...
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Joined: Oct 7 2017, 11:15 PM

Dec 15 2017, 12:05 AM #17

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...
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Joined: Oct 7 2017, 11:15 PM

Dec 20 2017, 01:13 AM #18

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...
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Joined: Oct 7 2017, 11:15 PM

Dec 28 2017, 12:36 AM #19

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...
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Joined: Oct 7 2017, 11:15 PM

Jan 4 2018, 01:38 AM #20

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...
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Joined: Oct 7 2017, 11:15 PM

Jan 9 2018, 01:16 AM #21

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...
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Joined: Oct 7 2017, 11:15 PM

Jan 13 2018, 11:50 PM #22

The Land of the Lost: Chapter 21: The Sign That Is Silence

The Sanctum Guard nodded to his replacement, who inspected the terrain spread below their tower.  After a pause, the new Guard gestured at a nearby outcropping that shone dimly as dawn approached.  "Any activity?"

"No," answered the Ko-Matoran going off duty.  "They are where Matoro expects them."

As he turned toward the ladder, an airship rushed out of the south, headed straight for the pinnacle where they stood.  Just as they were about to dive down the hatch, the vessel swerved, banking ridiculously and narrowly missing the next tower before the pilot managed to gain altitude.

The Ko-Matoran stared after it but found no need to comment.  They would have had poor odds of making correct guesses at the airship's need for haste.  For the pilot was no Le-Matoran.

Takua was done with hitching rides.

---

Ta-Matoran lined the channel, armor-girt and harpoon-crowned, the fires of the airships at their call.  Jaller approached the barricade at the end of the bridge.  When he reached it, he solemnly laid a hand on its side and turned to the assembled Guards.

"Ta-Metru is free!" he proclaimed.

The clamorous applause put the most dedicated akilini fans to shame.

"Every inch of Ta-Metru now belongs to Ta-Matoran!" Jaller went on.  "Through faithful unity, devotion to duty, and following true destiny, we are free!"

Again the Guards broke into an uproar.

"This is not all," the captain continued.  "By sunsdown tonight, every metru will be free as ours is.  The whole city will be reclaimed- except for one part."  He raised his hand toward the other side of the channel, where waited the ramparts of the Coliseum.

"Defenders of Ta-Metru, are we willing to take the final step?  Are we ready to free this entire city?"

All the Ta-Matoran shouted, "Yes!"

Except the ones who wore small stone tablets hung around their necks.

---

Onewa had likely never been happier in his life.  His footsteps bounced with a proud joy as he showed Nokama and Kai all the preparations the Po-Matoran had made.

"From this lookout point," he explained, "we can signal someone at the chute control hub, and have individual chutes turned on and off whenever we need.  So we can send one of our squads through to the Coliseum, and once they're through, we can instantly switch back to blocking the Vahki out!"

The Ga-Matoran mostly nodded and kept quiet as Onewa showed them ramps for launching transport vehicles across the bridges at top speed.  "As soon as the Ko-Matoran clean up their metru, we'll go over there and install them there too."

A large covered transport crawled into the plaza and stopped nearby.  "Ready at last!" Onewa beamed.  "This is what will really make a difference."  He lifted a hatch and gestured the Ga-Matoran toward the object inside.

It was the shape of a harpoon gun, but as long as the transport's interior and twice as high as a Toa.  On the floor lay a few of the long spears it would fire.  Kai guessed that each conical head would hold twenty-four Kanoka.

"What is it for?" wondered Nokama.

"For breaking through, of course," Onewa responded.  "We don't want to keep the Vahki cooped up in a siege.  They don't need to eat, for one thing.  The giant harpoon gun can concentrate enough energy to smash its way through whatever they're hiding behind.  Then they'll have to fight!"

"You mean you're going to knock down the Coliseum?"

"If we have to, we have to.  We'd need to redecorate it anyway, in the end.  Didn't you always think it was a little ugly?"

Neither Ga-Matoran answered a word.

---

Endless funnels of dust curled themselves over the scorched landscape, every one of them filled with the shadows that had fluttered down in dark rays from the night sky.  They were all waiting for the right moment to break out and engulf Metru Nui, and Vakama knew that moment could not be far off.

The appearance of the surrounding terrain in his vision made him suspect that he was in Po-Metru, in one of the remote desert sectors.  Little more of Metru Nui lay to the north, so he guessed that he did not have much farther to go before reaching his journey's end, wherever it might lie.

He tried not to think about how he was being guided along his way.  If he just kept on toward the heart of the shadow, he would reach it in the end.

Vakama shouted into the wilderness.  Neither his own voice nor any answering call reached his ears.  For Vakama, silence had descended on Metru Nui, a symbol and foretaste of the shadows about to come down upon everyone.

---

Kapura and Nixie simply stared as Takua waved them into the airship's hold.  "When did you learn to drive one of these things?" the Ga-Matoran demanded.

"Last night," Takua smirked.

Kapura gestured at the vessel's cargo, several long racks of metallic spheres.  "I have no idea what those are," Takua explained.  "I was in a hurry, and this ship was the closest."

"To get back to our purpose," said Nixie, "did your trip to Onu-Metru fulfill all our hopes?"

Takua grinned again and opened a small bag.  Six fragments of flat stone slid on the airship's floor.

"At last!" Nixie whispered.  Kapura extended a congratulatory fist.

"All ready, you see."  Takua gathered the stones back into the bag.  "How much time do we have?"

"It's not easy to find a Ko-Matoran scholar who still cares," explained Nixie, "but we don't think it will begin until after noon tomorrow."

Kapura made clock symbols with his arms, then held his hands up and spread them wider and wider.

Takua translated.  "He means we need to be ready with plenty of time to spare."

"We won't be able to use my boat," said Nixie.  "It's been repurposed for transporting ammunition.  Sansa and I are supposed to be fixing turbines right now.  I had to sneak away."

"None of that will matter by tomorrow evening," predicted Takua.  "I've already borrowed this airship.  Borrowing a boat is a small matter.  Let's fly over to Ga-Metru and get one.  Then we're off to the Temple."

The others followed him to the cockpit.  "Strap yourselves in tightly!" Takua cautioned as he activated the lifting mechanism.

---

Matoro walked alone along the narrow rim.  On the one side, twilight beams would normally be filtering through Ko-Metru, but the sky was hazy tonight.  That made no difference to Matoro.  His attention was directed the other way, toward the Coliseum.

At intervals, Matoro passed other vigilant Sanctum Guards, each like him focused on the other side of the channel.  Each time an armored Ko-Matoran saluted as he passed, Matoro simply said, "The circle is closed."

The Coliseum was hemmed in.  Every bridge, every walkway, every chute, every tunnel, was closed off by barricades and armored figures with harpoon guns.  The Vahki kept hidden within, offering no hint of their future plans.

Matoro was approaching the end of his patrol.  The causeway down to Le-Metru was thronged with vehicles, mostly carrying chute equipment upward to the colder district and beyond.  Matoro had always found it striking how closely the six sections came together here, and now the Matoran were all coming together to finish the struggle.

Matoro walked up to the Le-Metru guard post, saluted, and said once more, "The circle is closed."

---

The unreal universe dimmed again.  Vakama was becoming tired.  Though his body was invisible, inaudible, and mostly intangible, he could still feel pain and weariness, and the sensations were more vivid for lacking any familiar points of focus.  He guessed that the suns were setting again, meaning he had been marching into shadow for a whole day and night.

He no longer noticed the insane landscape of scorched sand or the crystal webbing draped over tangled pylons.  Up ahead, the shadows had become solid, a single steady object that never shifted.  It became taller and deeper as he approached, until he stood before a looming portal, its posts made of a jagged shadow-rock, its lintel darkly smooth as a nighted pool.

Vakama walked in.  Despite the blackness, he could see that he was in a high narrow tunnel, roughly cut into the stone.  A short way down the passage, a massive panel stood open in one side.  Vakama stepped through into a broad chamber filled with unfamiliar objects.

He knew where he was going.  He avoided a table piled with tablets and came near to the wall.  He took out his firestaff and began carving into the rock.

A hidden compartment opened.  Something flew out and planted itself on Vakama's mask.  His surroundings, the vision and the reality together, faded away, and a new world took shape.

...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
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Joined: Oct 7 2017, 11:15 PM

Jan 19 2018, 01:21 AM #23

The Land of the Lost: Chapter 22: A City Freed

The attack came at sunsrise.  Both sides knew that at first light, the Matoran would charge across the six mighty bridges and move against the Coliseum itself.  The preparations were obvious.

What would happen after that, neither side knew.  Neither the Vahki commanders' mechanical calculations or Onewa's careful strategies extended past this day.  Neither tried to guess at such an unprecedented situation.

Both were wiser than they knew.

---

No signal was given.  The transports launched themselves from their starting ramps and tore across the bridges from all six metru at the same time.  Disks clattered off their sides as they slid into the barriers at the Coliseum ends.

Hatches opened against the barricades, and Matoran demolition crews went to work.  The Vahki shot blasts from their stun staffs, but few found their marks, and the Matoran were armored.  Other attackers struck back at the Vahki with harpoon guns.

It was the Onu-Matoran who first broke through their barrier, tearing through some wire fencing that had been hastily stretched over a gap between two walls.  Onepu led a charge, and a dozen Matoran ran through into the shelter of some barrels of liquid protodermis.

A squad of Vorzakh scaled down the wall toward them, tossing weakness disks.  But Matoran on the other side noticed and began climbing up to the area the Vahki had vacated.  A Rorzakh squad dashed along the top to stop them, but a volley of harpoons forced them under cover.

Not far away, a group of Ga-Matoran huddled in their transport, firing harpoons out the hatches whenever they found an opening in the hail of disks from the defenses.  Two of them, their masks invisible behind their faceplates, tried to shout over the racket.

"Isn't Nixie supposed to be with us?"

"She ought to be, but I haven't seen her today."

"Look out!"  A disk bounced into the transport.

"This is a waste of time.  We should have used our boats."

"Onewa doesn't understand boats, stonecarver that he is.  And Nokama pays too much attention to him."  The Ga-Matoran dashed to another hatch and sent aloft another harpoon to knock a Bordakh from the rampart.

---

Desolate stillness hung over the streets of Ga-Metru.  The entire district and all its waterways were as lifeless as the abandoned sectors had been in the days of the Morbuzakh.  Except for the Great Temple, where three figures climbed over the rail.

"Here we are again!" Nixie grinned.  Takua stared toward the distant haze that separated sea and sky.  Kapura brought a hand down in the direction of the Temple doors.  The others turned and hurried.

Inside, Kapura led them downward, through deeper and deeper tangles of passages and storage rooms.  "I thought I knew the Temple," Nixie commented, "but I've never been here before."

"Just what I was thinking," Takua added.  He glanced at Kapura with narrowed eyes.  "How did you find this place?"

Kapura bumped fists with himself and pulled open another hatch in the floor.  Then he disappeared through it.  The other Matoran looked at each other for a moment, but they had to follow.

In the vault below, Kapura stood in front of a sloping stone surface covered with carvings.  He gestured at a circular depression in the middle.  Takua opened his pack and took out his flat stone fragments.  Nixie began fitting them one by one into the circle.

Kapura reached over her shoulder and made a turning motion with his hand.  She flipped one fragment over, and Takua fit the last piece into place.  A crack appeared in the stone, widening in a sudden glow.

In a small compartment rested radiant glory in the form of a golden mask.  Its tall, recessed faceplate, its narrow eyeholes, and its long crestpieces flooded the room with blinding brilliance.  Takua cautiously touched the object, lifted it from its hiding place, dropped it into his bag.  Darkness returned, seeming thicker than before to his light-seared eyes.

That was why he had no warning when Nixie grabbed him around the waist and jumped up and down.  "We did it, we did it, we did it!" she squealed.

Takua chuckled.  "That's the hardest puzzle I've ever solved.  But what a reward!"

Kapura stomped on the floor and pointed to the ladder.

"He's right, we're not done yet."  Takua broke free.

Nixie began climbing.  "What about the keystones?"

Takua followed her.  "I don't think we need them anymore.  They'll be safe here."

Kapura spoke.  "Bring them!"

The others stared.  Then Takua obeyed.  "If you think it's so important."

Kapura simply nodded.

---

Aft's squad was the first one to reach the top of the barricade on the Ta-Metru side.  Some Guards flung showers of disks to keep the Vahki back while the others set up two high-powered harpoon guns on tripods.  They began picking off their foes from a distance.  A Vahki transport approached, but the gunners struck its crawling legs with shrinking disks, bringing it to a grinding stop and forcing its passengers to run under fire.  Some of them tried to take back the barricade by flying, but the harpoons were just as effective against airborne Vahki.

Once the walltop was secured, the Ta-Koro Guards shot at the chains that held the gates in place.  When ready, Aft waved a small pennant.

Another transport rushed across the bridge, smashing through the dull metallic bars that could no longer hold it back.  It swerved around a low wall, driving a Nuurakh squad from its shelter with a volley of harpoons.  The last Vahki still contesting the barricade fell back.

Jaller was coming to the Coliseum.

---

"This is taking too long," Onewa grumbled.  "Let's show those crawlers what they have to deal with.  Bring up the big one!"

Piatra waved a flag, and the transport carrying the giant harpoon gun crawled onto the bridge.  Up at the barricade, Hewkii pulled his squad back into their vehicles and moved them out of the way.

When the transport stopped, the superweapon adjusted, taking precise aim.  The sound of its launch was a metallic scraping and rattling, ending in a clang.  Its fearsome arrow flew far too swiftly to be seen.

The center of the barricade crumbled under its own weight.  The projectile had been loaded with weakness disks.

Hewkii and his squad rushed for the gap, but Piatra was not watching them.  A dark shape had left the Coliseum tower, winging its way northward.  He pointed.  "What's that?"

"It's that Rahi hawk Turaga Dume was trying to train last year," Whenua told him.

"Could it be going to bring help?" Piatra wondered.

"Help from who?" Onewa growled.  "The Vahki are all here.  There's nothing else that could stand against us.  Go make sure the chute squad is ready to move."

---

The Ussalry were the first to make contact with the forces from another metru.  One of the mounted Onu-Metru squads found an unguarded path through a chute station and discovered Po-Matoran crouching behind shipping containers.  Not far ahead, Vahki sheltered behind the resiliant walls of a power substation.

Another group of Matoran advanced across the open ground in front of the substation, but they quickly gave up the venture.  The Onu-Matoran fired some harpoons, but the angled walls kept the defenders safe.

One of the armored Po-Matoran waved a signal toward one side.  The giant harpoon gun came crawling into sight.

The weapon's transport and the Vahki holdout faced each other across a broad pavement.  The Vahki shot disks that fell short.  The giant gun gave a clang like a single bell toll.  The wall of the substation erupted like a fountain of rubble and dust.

"They're coming!" a Po-Matoran shouted.

Over the newly spilled rubble charged the Vahki.  Abandoning their defenses, they rushed toward the chute station in a compact group.  The Po-Matoran began firing harpoons in regular volleys, and the Onu-Matoran joined in as the foes came closer.  Some Vahki in the front rank fell, but there were dozens behind to swarm over them.

Then the enforcers broke off in two different directions, both groups rushing away from the front line.  An Onu-Matoran stared after them.  "What are they doing now?"

His squad leader sent a last harpoon into the fleeing force.  "It doesn't matter.  We have to secure the power substation."

---

A transport swerved around some wreckage littering the road.  Kopeke spun in the roof hatch, keeping his aim on his target, but he did not fire.

"Slow down," he shouted to the driver.  "They're too far ahead."

"They're not going to their hive," called another Ko-Matoran.  "They're heading off along that second chute line."

Kopeke studied the Vahki headquarters, standing in front of a row of warehouses.  "Those Onu-Matoran are in range of the hive.  I don't think there are any Vahki in there."

"Why are they dashing around the chutes instead of taking shelter?" the driver wondered.  "Maybe it's a trap."

"Approach the hive slowly," Kopeke ordered.

The transport crept closer to the low, solid building, but nothing happened.  Some Onu-Matoran scouts rode up to the entrance, looked inside, and waved a "clear" signal.

"They've really abandoned it," Kopeke concluded.

---

Jaller's transport made its way up a viaduct, chasing a few Vahki over the edge.  At the top, the vehicle stopped briefly.  The wires and machinery of the power yards stretched in a desolate expanse to the base of the Coliseum.  A few Vahki squads dashed through the tangle with unapparent purpose.

"We're halfway there!" Jaller called to his crew.  As the transport started down, he noticed figures in blue armor rushing upward.  "Who are you?"

"This is Kai," called the Matoran in front.  "Can we get a ride to the Coliseum?"

A Ta-Koro Guard threw open a hatch.  "Welcome aboard."

The Ga-Matoran added their ammunition to the vehicle's stockpile.  Kai sought out Jaller.  "The day goes well.  Onewa didn't expect us to reach this point until noon."

"Alert to the left!"  A squad of Vorzakh was making a rush for the transport.  But the Guards stayed calm, and aimed their harpoons with precision.  The transport crawled on, leaving behind a few heaps of twisted metal.

"I don't understand them," Jaller said.  "They're just charging at random, without any strategy.  They're not even thinking about cover or surprise."

"Look at that!"  A trunk of flame sprouted from a machinery shed, spreading into a canopy of smoke.  The shadow of an airship rushed by.  A minute later, a road burst into flames right under a squad of Vahki.

"We'll finish them in no time!" Kai called to her troops.

"Remember the story about the Le-Matoran vault robber?" one of them answered.

"Oh, the one who tried to steal widgets out of the Archives."  Kai fired some harpoons.  "He had no trouble sneaking past the Vahki.  All the doors had been left unlocked.  He cut through the vault ceiling, lowered himself in, and his rope broke.  Then he saw there was no widget vault, he'd put himself into a Vahki jail cell."

The Ga-Matoran turned toward her captain.  "I think it's time we inspected our rope."

---

In a broad but shrinking area surrounding the Coliseum, the Vahki continued their haphazard maneuvers.  And in the sky, circling, diving, and lifting again, the Windrider airships hunted their prey.  However swift the Vahki's charges, however flawless their military formations, they scattered and melted in the explosions, or fell crushed by ice or rock.  As their numbers dwindled, the Matoran pressed closer, joining their forces into a single collapsing ring.

No one was quite sure when or where the last Vahki fell, but shortly after noon, the Matoran captains came to the great plaza surrounding the Coliseum.  It was empty.

Jaller glanced at the shut and barricaded gates.  "There can't be many left to defend it."

"We've been keeping a careful count," Onewa asserted.  "Every Vahki squad has been accounted for.  Only stragglers are left, and not in there.  The heart of Metru Nui is ours."  He waved for the giant harpoon gun.

Nokama frowned, but she said nothing as the missile smashed in one of the ponderous doors.  The carven Toa by the doorposts rocked with the impact.

Jaller stepped forward.  "All right.  Nokama, Onewa, Whenua, Matoro, and you too, Kongu.  We six will have to go and talk to Turaga Dume."

"Talk to him?"  Onewa wore his disdain like a medal.  "I was thinking of telling him to surrender or run."

...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
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Joined: Oct 7 2017, 11:15 PM

Jan 24 2018, 12:59 AM #24

The Land of the Lost: Chapter 23: The Shadow Falls

Jaller led the way through the Coliseum gate.  Even Onewa kept a nervous silence as they passed the stairways to the stands and stepped into the vast open arena.  Behind the six leaders, the rest of the Matoran first watched, then straggled forward.  Hushed emptiness gave them an inscrutable welcome.

It was Nokama who spotted the figure by the elevator car.  Turaga Dume sat hunched on the arena floor, his cloak tangled, his staff lying forgotten off to the side.  He did not glance up as Jaller raised his faceplate and stepped near.

"Honored Turaga-"

"He lost it," Dume interrupted.

Jaller went on.  "Though these last days have seen many strange and regrettable events, I hope it is still possible for us to speak of the good of Metru Nui."

"It's all lost," Dume repeated.  "He lost it.  Like dust."

"I would still hold to the hope that it is not too late-"

It was Onewa who interrupted this time.  "It's no use, Jaller.  He's talking about his mind."

"All lost," the Turaga chanted.

Nokama sat in front of him and peered into his eyes.  "How was it lost?"

"He wanted it.  He tried to keep it from me.  I wouldn't let him have it.  So he lost it."

She studied his face.  "I think he's been mind-controlled.  He's been fighting for his own mind, and that's what destroyed his sanity."

"Who lost it?" Whenua asked.

Kongu shrieked.

From a door in the arena's side, a being waddled forward.  There was no mistaking the green Mahiki mask with the special aerodynamic shaping.  But the thing wearing the mask was far from resembling Matau or any other Matoran.  Its body was broad and rectangular.  It lurched along on grotesque giant toes and almost no legs.  Its warped arms ended in huge clumsy hands, and its head, set directly on top of its body, was disturbingly below the normal height.

Its voice, though higher in pitch, was eerily similar.  "Lost, lost, lost."

Kongu stood transfixed.  Onewa glanced around uncomfortably.  As other Matoran trailed in, they kept their distance.  Only Jaller approached the twisted being.  "Matau, what happened to you?"

Matau waved his hands in circles and said nothing.

Jaller glared back at Dume.  "How did he come here?  Who did this to him?"

"Lost, lost, lost," the Turaga and the shrunken Matoran chanted in unison.

"I've heard that word too many times!" Jaller shouted.  He looked around at his friends and stared out at the gathering crowd.  "Can't someone explain what is going on?"

A dimness fell around him.  Swooping down from the sky came Dume's Rahi hawk.  Just above the floor, something dropped from its claws, and the bird flapped back up the Coliseum tower.

The dropped object sat up.  It was Vakama.  A rubbery thing covered the front of his mask and hung down over his chest.  Nuju ran to him and pulled at it.  "It's holding too tight!" he cried.

Jaller reached into Vakama's pack and found his firestaff.  "Stand back," he warned as he lit a flame and began incinerating the creature.  It convulsed and slipped loose, but Jaller held the flame to it until it had dissolved into nauseating purplish smoke and greasy ashes.

Vakama blinked blurry eyes and looked at nothing in particular.  Jaller shook him.  "Come back, friend, we need your wisdom."

Vakama seemed to hear him.  "Where am I?  What's happening?"

"We're at the Coliseum.  We beat the Vahki, Vakama!  We won.  And now... Turaga Dume and Matau are... here, and I don't know-"

"What are they all doing here?"  Vakama was staring in horror at the population of Metru Nui, gathered around them on the arena floor.

"They came here."  Jaller was confused.  "We fought our way here."

Vakama jumped to his feet and faced the crowd.  "You!  Heart of Metru Nui!  We fought this whole struggle so you wouldn't have to come to this place!  Get out of here!  Run!  Hide!  Before you're all lost!"

Behind him, machinery hummed, and the elevator car rose a few bio from the ground.  Its passenger stepped into sight.

"Turaga Lhikan!" shouted Jaller.  "We need your help, Turaga!  Tell us what's happening."

"No!" proclaimed Vakama.  "He is the one who-"

The platform's rider chuckled, a deep, unnerving laugh.  "Too late, heroes.  The shadow has arrived."  It reached up and lifted off its golden mask, revealing the true form beneath.

Red light blazed from two eyes set in an ancient Kanohi.  Every Matoran recognized that black angular mask with its high pointed crown.

Only Vakama was unaffected by shock.  "Makuta!  You were sworn to protect us!"

"I shall," answered the shadowy being.  "Just as I have protected Matau."

"We have no need of such protection, or any of your other works!"

"How very bold," Makuta laughed.  "Now embrace the nightfall.  Even the Great Spirit will soon sleep."

He raised his hands, and the elevator shot up the side of the Coliseum tower.  Nine hundred Matoran watched it climb skyward and yelled in panic.  For the twin suns were crossing an invisible horizon, and the sky was blackening like hot metal torn from the forge.

Vakama whirled back to the crowd.  "Get out of here!  All of you!  Now!"

The ground swelled and rolled like a gale-driven sea, tossing the Matoran from their feet and shaking even the Coliseum.  The roar of collapsing buildings and breaking waves rushed over the chaos.  In the gloom overhead, lightning crackled.

Not a single Matoran had been able to flee when the arena gateways swung open.  Every one of them still waited helplessly when spider creatures rushed up from the darkness below.  All hope sunk beneath that sudden flood.

The warriors of Metru Nui did not all fall without resistance.  Onewa rallied about forty Po-Matoran and got them to volley harpoons at a group of the blue spider things.  But a group of Ko-Matoran near the stands was immediately overrun by green spiders.  The creatures could launch spinning wheels of energy from their flat backs, and any Matoran struck by one would lose the ability to move an arm, a leg, or the whole body.  Once their victims were immobilized, the spiders wound them up with sticky webbing and stacked them like cargo at the sides of the arena.

Jaller and Kongu rushed some spiders that had gotten too far ahead, and made the temporary safety of the main crowd, where they found Nuparu standing by a cart.  The engineer handed them both thick tubelike devices of flat black metal.  "Give them all out!  Take one yourself and follow!" Jaller yelled.

Kongu pulled a lever on his device.  A wire-thin beam of liquid light lanced out, splashing over the nearest spider and burning the webbing that it was spitting.  Jaller and a few others leaped past it and began cutting their way toward the only open Coliseum gate.

But a new horror had appeared.  Extra-large spiders, gleaming a chilly blue and white, dragged out sleds loaded with spherical containers.  The spiders gathered the webbed and paralyzed Matoran and began stuffing them into the spheres, closing the prison devices over their heads and shutting them away from the world of life.  Then the occupied spheres were packed back onto the sleds, ready for a journey across unguessable borders.

Vakama sat by Dume and Matau, using his firestaff to warp the Disk of Time.  He occasionally surveyed the scene but paid little attention as the spiders pressed closer upon fewer and fewer Matoran.  Nokama screamed toward him as she tossed several disks.  "Aren't you going to do anything?"

"I've already seen how it ends."  Vakama continued shaping the disk and waiting for his cue.

By then, foreseeing the end required no extraordinary visions.  Just beyond Nokama, a group of Onu-Matoran, having run out of harpoons, were grappling with spiders, using their launchers as clubs.  On the other side, Tamaru, still shouting, was being dragged to a waiting sphere.  In the middle of the arena, the spiders were moving in on Matoran still stunned or dazed from the earthquake.  Across the floor, a group of Ko-Matoran, backed up against the stands, were succumbing to acidic spinners and flying webs.

Jaller and Kongu had led a small company to within fifty bio of the gate.  "If we make it out," the Ta-Koro Guard captain told Kongu, "we will need to keep running until we find airships.  That's the only place we'll be safe."

The fugitives shot light at the last group of spiders between them and freedom.  The monsters jumped aside or were scorched where they stood.  The Matoran broke into a run.

Jaller looked back at the nightmare of the arena.  "We'll return for you!" he shouted.

Something collided with him, knocked him to the ground, covered his arms with sticky cords.  Around him, Matoran were falling for no apparent reason.  A spinner appeared from midair and struck Kongu, rendering him helpless.

"They have invisibility power," the Windrider captain murmured as he lay awaiting his doom.  "I should have dreadguessed."

Vakama watched the futile end of their valiance, saddened but unsurprised.  Nokama and Nuju lay nearby in tangles of webbing.  Whenua had been carried off to a sphere some time ago.  Onewa and a knot of Po-Matoran were being overwhelmed by the surrounding horde, their defeat only moments away.

The gaze of every Matoran still conscious was seized by the hulking red titan that stalked into the arena, and the leaner but more frightening black figure that followed it.  And every last secret hidden hope died at the sight of the procession that followed them.

A double row of giant spiders carried poles between which were slung cocoons of webbing.  The cords were wound tightly, but there were enough gaps where protruded a mighty foot, or an aquafin, or a Great Mask of Power for all the Matoran to know that these victims of the horde were their own Toa Metru.

As they approached the Coliseum tower, Makuta levitated downward to meet them, lightning crackling and shadow swirling around his form designed in imitation of Turaga Lhikan.  "You have served well, king and viceroy of the Visorak," commended the master of shadows.

"Hail to Makuta."  The vicious rulers inclined their heads.

"You have even brought me those accidental Toa," Makuta continued.

"Perhaps they deserve some of the credit for that," the viceroy suggested in her slippery tones.

One of the bundles shook.  "Karzahni rack your treacherous frame, Ahkmou!" shouted its occupant.

"They promised me they wouldn't hurt the Matoran!" protested the Toa of Stone.

Makuta laughed.  "What an ironic end to nobility that never existed.  There is only one remaining use for them.  My current form is not such as befits the new ruler of the universe, and the power I am absorbing requires a more mighty vehicle.  Bind those Toa to the elevator, so they can fall to their deaths at their quickly approaching transformation.  Then I can absorb their powers and use their bodies to construct something far more suitable for bringing about the new order I have planned for all of reality."

"As Makuta commands."  The Visorak king directed his minions to obey.

The elevator car, with its six passengers perilously dangling from the rail, rose on a swirling piller of shadow, then halted.  "One more thing," Makuta announced.  "Vakama?"

The Ta-Matoran maskmaker looked up from where everyone had ignored him.

"I repeatedly ordered you, through that unreliable agent, to create for me a Great Mask of Time.  Today is the final deadline.  Where is it?"

Vakama stood and held up the disk, which now had a vaguely facelike shape.

"Excellent," praised Makuta.  "It will only take you a few minutes to complete it.  Do so now."

Vakama stared at the thing in the guise of his former hero.  He glanced at the sphere which now held Turaga Dume, at Nokama and Nuju tied up under the guard of Visorak, at the captive Toa who had once been his instructor, at the maze of webbing and darkness that had fallen over Metru Nui.  Then he returned a determined gaze to the master of shadows and flung both his hands downward.

The Great Disk of Time struck the ground and shattered with an insane flash of more than light.  All the temporal power it had contained poured free, and the pasts and futures of the million realities that had tormented Vakama's mind loosed themselves upon the universe.

...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
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Joined: Oct 7 2017, 11:15 PM

Jan 28 2018, 12:44 AM #25

The Land of the Lost: Chapter 24: The Long Paths of Shadow

Uncountable possible events displayed themselves as the fragments of the Great Disk of Time slid across the Coliseum floor.  Vague happenings from unguessed epochs intruded into the present reality, and some of them stood out more clearly.

---

Nokama, Toa of Water, rushed across an Onu-Metru street and leaped into the shelter of an excavation.  "Do you think it saw me?" she asked Matau.

"If it noticed you, it would quickfollow," the Toa of Air pointed out.

"You're right, we would see it by now.  It's not at all crafty or subtle."

"We should keep ditchsneaking.  It will return."

Running at a crouch, the Toa followed the excavation's course as it wound among piles of rubble from the district's mines.  Four or five twists later, Nokama poked her head above the side.  "Look!"

The outline of a tall, bulky being stood on the street they had just left, sweeping its single eye over the surroundings.  Matau ducked back down and kept moving.  "I want to know how it always trueguesses where we have gone."

They reached the mouth of a tunnel, a drainage line running off to another part of the metru, a part hopefully closer to their destination and farther from their pursuers.  "What I want to know," Nokama wondered, "is why the Vahki leave it alone.  It's too big to miss and it obviously doesn't belong here."

Matau had no answer, so he began picking his way through the tunnel.  "We just need to ahead-stay until we find the Disk."

"Until we get the Disk," Nokama corrected.  She stared at the Kanoka she carried.  "If recovering it is anything like getting this one was, there's a big difference."

---

Onewa, Toa of Stone, talked over the rush of the wind past the airship.  "We can't let it go on any longer, Kongu.  Something is threatening this city, and the Vahki aren't helping.  You remember how useless they were in the Archive battle."

The Toa of Air nodded from the front seat as he adjusted the craft's altitude.

Onewa went on.  "Dume couldn't give Nuparu a good reason not to shut them down for repairs.  So we're going to have to do it ourselves."

"No heartsorrowing from me," Kongu declared.  "But do we have goodchance?  There are evermany."

"The Matoran guards will help us.  They're tired of having to hide their real defense work from those mechanical frauds."

"But Matoran cannot fight Vahki!  They have erasestaffs, loyalstaffs, too much troublestopping ability."

Onewa grinned.  "I never told you, Kongu.  The Guards' armor makes them immune to stun staffs.  I had Nuparu design it that way."

Kongu spun around in the pilot's seat and stared.  "You knew, fifteen sunspast, that Guards would need to fight Vahki?"

"I have known it since the night before the retreat announcement, when I saw a squad of Zadakh carrying Turaga Lhikan a prisoner across the Po-Metru desert.  Turn around and pay attention to where you're flying this thing."

---

Half a dozen six-legged vehicles stalked along one of the Archives' underground roadways.  Their armored superstructures glinted every time they passed under a lightstone, but no reflection came from the black harpoon guns mounted on top.  Each vehicle carried three of the high-powered launchers, and each harpoon carried three Kanoka in its broad head.

The vehicles also carried three Matoran each.  Kapura had picked the most experienced veterans from Ta-Metru and Onu-Metru for this patrol.  They would need all the skill they had gained from the struggle against the vines and the Vahki revolt.

The lead vehicle made the signal meaning "Alert".  Sound amplifiers scanned the cavern.  One of the vehicles turned toward a low side tunnel that bored downward to unlit regions.  A faint scratching noise echoed between its rough-cut walls.

More signals passed back and forth.  The squadron fell back into line and entered the downward tunnel.  The vehicles marched on through the darkness, guided by some other sight that needed no light.

But as the scratching sound grew louder, light appeared: a pale, sickly blue gleam that made little visible in the wide underground space where it flowed.  The tunnel came to an end high in the wall of a mining gallery.  Far below, the blue illumination flickered as the sources of the scratching sounds passed on their way.

The vehicles descended the sheer wall, their feet boring into the stone.  The one in the lead began signaling frantically.  A horde of spider creatures was marching along the gallery floor, both ends of their column hidden in the pale haze.  The vehicles paused on their perch as their passengers considered the situation.

Then the harpoon launchers spoke.  A spray of projectiles like a cloud of stinging insects swarmed over the spider creatures, and the marching column fell into chaos.  Some were petrified in the act of diving for cover.  Some were torn apart by the combination of enlargement and shrinking disks.  Others disappeared under layers of ice.

A spider detachment began scaling the walls, but the Matoran vehicles had already disappeared back into the tunnel.  Their foes would regroup and march on, but Kapura considered the encounter a success.  The Matoran would return to battle before the spiders reached the surface.  And they would return in greater numbers.

---

"What land is that, Toa Tahu?" Jaller asked.

The fiery hero stared down the land bridge toward the distant mountains.  "An evil land, Matoran.  A dangerous land.  A land that must be overcome if Metru Nui is ever to be safe."

"No other way."  Kopaka was walking toward them, his robotic battlecar trailing behind.

"What lives there?" Jaller wondered.

"Enemies."  Kopaka gripped his sword.

"Are they the ones who sent the Visorak?"

"Yes," Tahu answered, just as Kopaka grunted "No".

The Toa glanced curiously at each other.  "It's a complicated situation, but they had something to do with the Visorak," Tahu told Jaller.  "But the real masterminds are far beyond that land.  The road to vengeance is long."

"They've detected something."  Kopaka gestured at Tahu and jumped onto his battlecar, sliding off toward the mountains.  The Toa of Fire ran after him, calling for his own vehicle.

Soon after, Hahli found Jaller.  "The Matoran army is almost ready to move.  I hope we're in time to help the inhabitants."

"Help them?  What inhabitants are you talking about?"

"The ones in that land."  Hahli pointed toward the mountains.  "Gali told me the beings who live there were conquered and need us to rescue them."

"No one told me about those inhabitants yet," Jaller complained.  "This campaign is too disorganized.  I don't understand why we need to move so quickly."

"Onua said our enemies will only be vulnerable for a brief time.  We have to strike now.  But we can reach that land by tomorrow night."

"Tahu just told me our real enemies aren't in that land, they're far beyond it.  We have a long way to go."

Hahli stared away over the mountains.  "How much of this universe do these Toa plan to conquer?"

---

Takua dug his pick into the stone floor.  All around him, Matoran chipped away and loaded rubble into elevator cars, boring deeper and deeper underground.

Garan passed by, taking some measurements.  "We've made good progress.  Tomorrow we'll stop sinking this shaft and start another level."

"And when that's done, we'll start a seventh shaft," Takua grumbled.  "Even in Metru Nui, we never went deeper than three levels.  We're bound to hit lava sooner or later."

"We keep digging until we get where the Toa need to go," Garan replied.  "But the lava is deep here.  Mount Valmai isn't close."  He made his way toward an elevator.

Takua helped Nixie chop into a vein of especially hard crystalline protodermis.  "Did you hear him?  Does he know where under Voya Nui the Toa want to go?"

"I doubt it."  The Ga-Matoran eyed the departing foreman.  "He's not the sort the Toa would confide in."

"From the way Nuhrii and Ahkmou talk, I suspect they hope to find an object of power down here."

"Oh, sources of power.  Dalu says they never talk about anything else."

Takua went back to swinging his pick, but Nixie kept talking.  "I'm starting to wonder what kind of Toa they really are."

Takua shot her a rapid glance.  "Careful.  You never know when Toa Vhisola might be listening with her spying mask."

"After all these months breaking my back digging this useless tomb, I don't care if they shoot me with the green stuff."

"Don't be foolish.  Whatever they tell us, that goo is not healthy.  Matau still can't talk normally.  I can't imagine how they make it."

"I heard Ahkmou mention a device in the castle that collects it.  It's the kind of thing the Toa Nuva would build."

Takua shuddered.  "You didn't need to mention those spiny things.  Even if they are going to come back someday."

"That's something we shouldn't forget.  When the Toa Nuva come back from their empire building, bringing those artifacts to put together with whatever our Toa find here, that will be something we need to be ready for."

Kapura looked their way.  "If I were you, I'd keep quiet and keep digging."

---

Mata Nui leaned from his iron throne and glared at the approaching group.  Athilmas, his Toa of Fear, stepped forward to announce them.  "Mata Nui, I present the Eighteenth Special Toa Team, returned from their expedition to the Southern Continent."

"You do not need to report, Toa," the Great Spirit stated.  "I am already well aware of the story of your expedition.  What I want from you is an explanation."

Ilkatu, Toa of Illusion, had the unenviable responsibility of being the team leader.  "What do you desire us to explain?" she cautiously offered.

"I want to know why you took so long to exterminate the cell of Hunters.  Because of your delay, several of them escaped to carry valuable information to other cells."

"We were evacuating the Matoran settlement," answered a Toa of Mutation.

"We wanted to get them out of the area before we destroyed the mountain where the Hunters had their fortress," Ilkatu explained.

"And why did you presume that this was more important than putting an end to the menace?" Mata Nui demanded.

"We thought the safety of the Matoran was an important goal.  With all the growing chaos in the universe, we wanted to keep as many Matoran as possible at their work."

Mata Nui's eyes glowed.  "Are you implying that you consider it your duty to take thought for the proper working of the universe?"  The Toa of Fear's head jerked to alertness.

Ilkatu flinched.  "Not at all, Great Spirit.  I have no wish to emulate the career of your so-called brother."

"I'm glad you understand that much.  But I think it would be effective to give you an assignment where misunderstanding of your goals will not jeopardize your mission."  Mata Nui sat back and looked down at the Eighteenth Special Toa Team.  "You are now on boundary duty in the Pit.  You will report to Emptystrand at once."

The Toa took their sentence well, managing to salute and march out in an orderly fashion.  But once they were out of sight in tangled fortress corridors, their unhappiness began to show.

"That's our reward," grumbled the Toa of Sonics.  "Sent to die on an impossible mission, trying to beat back the monsters of the Pit."

"Do you think it's true that the universe is collapsing down there?" asked the Toa of Electricity.

"We'll find out soon enough."

"Does the Great Spirit even care what happens to the universe anymore?" demanded the Toa of Mutation.

Ilkatu pointed out a window at the crumbling skyline of a city long dead and shrouded in gloom, spotted with the faint eerie glows of decay.  "Does he care?  Look at Metru Nui, and tell me whether he cares."

The fifth team member, a Toa of Acid, finally spoke.  "Do you care?"

Scorn filled Ilkatu's laugh.  "I'm doomed to spend the brief rest of my life being corroded, corrupted, and devoured by the horrors of the Pit.  Do you really think the fate of the universe still matters to me?"

---

Okonak, Toa of Disintegration, climbed onto Karzahni's Reef, trailed by his clattering robotic followers.  He dropped wearily onto the solid ground, only nodding in response to the welcome from Kiraghu, Toa of Corruption.

The island's two other inhabitants soon emerged from the darkness, and Okonak sat up.  "What did you find?" asked Nukolta, Toa of Conflict.

"I finally made it to the last refuge capsule."  Okonak sighed.  "It's broken open.  No one was there."

"So that means the Matoran really are extinct."  Kiraghu stared up at the starless sky.  "We all expected it, of course."

"We've known that it's over."  Nukolta glanced nervously at their other companion: the Toa of the Void, who had no name, whose heartlight was emptiness, who wore no mask.

The others understood Nukolta's meaning.  When the Toa of the Void grew stronger, and everything else faded, it was obvious that the end of their reality was near.

"Should we go on another patrol?"  Kiraghu was not really asking a question.

"Why?  With no more Matoran, we have no remaining duty," responded Okonak.

"And unity," Kiraghu mused.  "What is left to have unity with?  Our fading selves, dissolving land, those robots that will soon run out of power."

"That leaves destiny," muttered Nukolta.

The Toa of the Void loomed over them, blackness shining through its eyes.  Its voice was a hollow echo resounding through abysses of final nothingness.

"I am Destiny."

---

The nightmares faded.  A thousand temporal forks and tangles melted away as the shards of the Great Disk of Time slid to a stop and their power dissipated.  Only the familiar reality remained- with one difference.

Six Matoran swung on webbed cocoons from the Coliseum elevator.  On the floor below them stood Vakama, Toa of Fire.  Running to join him were Onewa, Toa of Stone, Whenua, Toa of Earth, and Matau, Toa of Air never twisted.  Nokama, Toa of Water, and Nuju, Toa of Ice, broke free to stand together.  The protectors of Metru Nui, the true protectors, had arrived to rescue the lost.

And around them swarmed the hordes of the Visorak, their mighty king and sinister viceroy directing.  Beyond them lay a thousand captive Matoran, stuffed into the spheres that would corrupt their bodies and minds.  Metru Nui still crumbled around them as the earthquake ran its course.  And presiding over all the ruin, the master of shadows laughed as he sucked the city's power supply into his body disguised as a Turaga with burning red eyes.

...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
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Joined: Oct 7 2017, 11:15 PM

Feb 2 2018, 01:25 AM #26

The Land of the Lost: Chapter 25: Far, Far Away

There was only one way it could possibly have ended.

The Visorak had overrun many lands over their history.  They had overcome Toa.  Their rulers were not easily intimidated.  They had the advantage of numbers.  There would have been little hope even without an impatient Makuta hurling lightning bolts from his perch on the Coliseum tower.

Still, the transformation wrought by the Disk of Time had left the Toa with elemental powers and some skill in using them.  Nokama called together the moisture in the air, bringing streams of water splashing down around the Toa.  As soon as the liquid reached the floor, Vakama flash-boiled it, sending clouds of sudden steam billowing up to hide them from their enemies.  Surprised, the Visorak fell or fled when Onewa charged them swinging his proto pitons.

"Run for the gates!" Vakama muttered to his team, and they slipped through the bewildered spider crowd in the gloom.  Makuta sent an electric jolt into the floor nearby, but it only activated the Coliseum's terrain-shifting machinery, adding to the Visorak confusion.

But the Visorak viceroy was not so easily fooled.  She directed the hordes to surround the steam cloud and prevent the Toa from escaping.

Nuju pointed ahead.  "Those black spiders are waiting for us.  They'll see us if we leave the cloud."

"Then move the cloud!"  Vakama looked at Matau, who began to summon a breeze.

Up above, Makuta noticed the effect and reached downward with a vortex of shadow, sucking away the steam.  As their cover vanished, Whenua began shaking the ground, trying to throw the Visorak off balance.  Nuju and Onewa created barriers of stone and ice just in time to protect them from a crossfire of spinners.

Nokama looked out at the hordes.  "We're surrounded!"

"We have to strike at that!"  Vakama pointed upward, to where Makuta had become a whirlpool of dark energy, engulfing the flying Rahi that had served him.  "Our combined elemental powers might injure it," the Toa of Fire hoped.

One by one, the Toa turned beams of energy upon the whirling menace, spattering its surface with flashes of color.  But Makuta answered by flinging a tremendous lightning blast into the Toa's ring.  Its power launched them through the air and left them lying dazed.

From across the arena, a shadowy purple energy beam cut away at the barriers protecting the Toa.  The Visorak climbed up, stood a moment, and charged.

Vakama struggled up, dragging at a foot already tangled in webbing.  Onewa showered gravel on the first wave, but another wave of red spiders followed, ignoring the danger.  Nuju and Whenua shattered an ice barrier, flinging the Visorak who were scaling it into the next rank.  Matau and Nokama stood back to back, swatting away flying spinners while trying to create another atmospheric disturbance.

Unfortunately, the atmospheric disturbance overhead kept growing larger.  Makuta discharged another arc, striking Matau and Nokama to the floor.  Vakama raised a fiery ring to protect them, but a spinner struck from behind, and he stumbled down, his left side numbed.  Whenua, half-covered in sticky strands, grappled with green Visorak.  Onewa tried to batter the spiders away from the Toa of Earth, but soon his feet were tangled too.

Spinners rained down, too dense to dodge.  Vakama collapsed, tingling energies flashing through his body.  With his eyes fixed open, he could stare and do nothing else as the Visorak crept near.  He could only see Nokama and Nuju, but doubtless the others were just as helpless.

A Visorak approached his paralyzed arm.  He willed it to burst into flame, but his mind was too dazed to control his elemental powers.  The spider stood, clacking its dangerous-looking mandibles.  Then it lunged, sinking them into his shoulder.

Vakama could only draw his breath in sharply as burning pain rushed into his body.  He felt corruption scouring him away from the inside out, filling his mind with more numbness.  The Visorak surrounded him now, nipping him again and again as they covered him with webbing.  His mask was covered, and he could only feel himself being lifted.  The last he knew before delirium extinguished his senses was Makuta's voice, grown deeper and more menacing as it commanded: 

"Hurry!"

---

Vakama awoke dizzy with venom and with the sensation of being dangled something near to head downward.  He guessed he and his fellow Toa Metru were hanging from the elevator, just like their counterparts from before the Disk of Time had broken.

His body now responded to his will, though jerkily and painfully.  He parted the strands over his eyes.  On the Coliseum above- no, below- he saw the Matoran in their spheres, already being carried away.  Physically shrunken, mentally scrubbed, and imprisoned, they would be lost far from the Metru Nui they had been meant to dwell in.

But not as lost as Vakama and the Toa Metru who hung around him.

An agonizing jolt shot through his arm.  It jerked, tearing through the cocoon of webbing around him.  Vakama stared at the limb, unable to acknowledge its twisted shape as his own.  Then the convulsions spread through the rest of his body, bursting apart the sticky threads that held him to his precarious position.

He could see mutated beings that resembled the other Toa, dancing on their strings, their graceless motions foretelling the story of their own doom as the webs that were their safety tore apart.  He could hear Makuta laughing at the performance.  With one last kick, Onewa ripped free and plummeted away.  A moment later, Vakama was falling too.

He glanced back, and saw the other four following him.  He looked ahead, at the Visorak swarming over the Coliseum floor, clearing an open space for his imminent impact.  No past memories intruded into his sight.  No visions of any kind came over him as he looked on the blank flat mask of death.  No thoughts of fear or courage or rage entered his mind.  No words escaped his lips.

Only a profound sigh for a city lost beyond all imagining.

---

"Keep back!" Makuta bellowed from the top of the tower.  The Visorak were not eager to get close to the Toa's battered corpses anyway.  Only their shadowy viceroy needed the urging.  She glanced at the lifeless things, but her attention was upward.  Makuta had absorbed a dangerous amount of energy from the city power plant, and he needed a more stable form quickly.

The master of shadows reached down, and the mutated bodies lofted upward, dangling crookedly in a way that evoked no pity from the surrounding beings incapable of such emotions.  Brief flashes of elemental energies flickered around them, and Makuta hungrily sucked it all into his vortex.

Now both the Visorak rulers kept their gaze fixed upward.  As the Toa's bodies neared the top of the tower, Makuta extended a gigantic shadowy hand.  Like a dull red swirling cloud, it settled toward the heroes, drawing more of their energy.  A shimmering haze of silver sparks covered their bodies, gathering together under the force exerted by the grasping hand.

"Their Toa power," the Visorak viceroy whispered.

The energy gathered into a few bright points, then sparked upward, leaping across the gap toward the eager master of shadows.

Golden light lanced across the top of the Coliseum, smashing a gloom-shattering beam between the corpses and Makuta's shadows.  Down the beam winged an airship, fleeting just over the peak of the roof as it passed under the shadowy hand.  It caught the leaping energy bolt and shot off toward Ga-Metru.

Makuta howled in frustration and hurled more dark hands after the vanishing vessel.  But behind it came a glare that seared through all his shadows.  The Toa's drained bodies crumbled in its brightness to a peaceful dust.

Denied a form to contain his energy, Makuta reached out again, drawing the Visorak king and viceroy into his whirlpool.  "This is the last service I ask of you," mocked the treacherous one.

---

The airship vibrated as Takua drove it to top speed.  Ga-Metru disintegrated while he watched, buildings collapsing, protodermis canals overflowing, chutes toppling, shadows roaming.  The lightning flickering over the Coliseum went out.  Takua peered down, trying to spot his destination in the murk.

After changing course a few times, he found the Great Temple.  But pursuit from the Coliseum was already behind him.  He had never seen the being flapping after him on vicious bladed wings, its black and red body armored and glowing with power.  But Takua recognized the high black mask and the burning red eyes behind it.

He pulled a control lever, diving toward the bridge where two small beings clung to the rail.  Nixie waved.  Kapura pointed toward the pursuer.  Then a wave crashed over the bridge, and the last free Matoran vanished for a moment.

Makuta bounded along the bridge.  Takua steered away, trying to draw the titan out to sea.  But Makuta had noticed the two Matoran.  He sent a shadowy wave gliding ahead of him, and Nixie and Kapura collapsed into oblivion.  The Visorak who had followed Makuta came running to seize them.

Takua circled back and hovered overhead, shouting through the airship's megaphone.  "I'll make you regret that!"

Makuta's new body shook with laughter.  "How foolishly bold, threatening the ruler of the universe."  He sent out another hand of shadow, reaching for the airship.

A beam of golden light cut through the hand, and Takua lifted away.  He had no more need to threaten, or to rescue, for the Visorak were already carrying Nixie and Kapura away.  There was no reason to stay any longer in this dying city.

Makuta hovered after the airship, raising crystalline protodermis pillers from the sea to block its path.  But Takua dodged them and flew still faster.  The airship tore across the Silver Sea, Makuta rushing after, with a few Visorak levitating far behind.

The master of shadows called up obstacle after obstacle, and Takua wove around each one, his airship shining a ray of light to point the way ahead.  Metru Nui faded into the distance, and still they flew.  Finally the sides of the Great Barrier materialized through the mist.  They had appeared right at the mouth of a tunnel.  Takua shot toward the opening.  Makuta put on a burst of speed.

The airship glowed, spreading brilliance over the whole area, stabbing a radiant light at the pursuing titan.  Blinded, Makuta flew past the tunnel and collided with the wall.  The airship disappeared into the opening just as the force of the impact brought the rocks sliding down.

His escape route sealed behind him, Takua flew up the wide tunnel, never looking back.  On the cockpit wall hung the Mask of Light, its beam still directing him onward.  Beneath it rested six flat stones, shimmering with Toa power.  The city's last Matoran still had a quest to complete, one that was taking him far, far away from the Metru Nui that ought to have been.

...but the Land of the Lost is further yet...
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Joined: Oct 7 2017, 11:15 PM

Feb 2 2018, 01:37 AM #27

The Land of the Lost: Epilogue: While Ye Forget

Takua reached the end of the story and laid down his tools.  He had covered a rock wall with writing, but still he had left out much: the caverns he had passed through on his flight, the narrow passage where he had wrecked the airship, this island of sunlight and living things, the mountaintop where he had taken the Toa stones, the beacon.  The story of Metru Nui was enough.

He had laughed as he escaped, but since that day, the past had pressed him down with growing weight.  Like a trickle, like a torrent, there had poured into his mind all the memories that a thousand Matoran imprisoned in spherical cells had lost.  He could see the struggle through the reckless genius and grim despair of Onewa's swinging moods.  He could mourn the innocence of Jaller's quiet, determined strength.  He could feel the torment of Matau and the other captives of the vines, and know that they had only found an early path to the common fate.  He could see a thousand rounded hatches from the inside, and there the memories ended.

He could see how every story fit together, revealing a city lost before anyone had feared, compelled to make itself into what it ought never have been, yet made only more helpless by its effort.  Only one other mind had glimpsed that nightscape.  Only one had seen the warning visions of Matoran blended with their foes, building a city not very different from those foes' dreams, building according to the the plans of a swiftly falling shadow.  Only Vakama had known how lost they had been.

A memory of his own concluded his thoughts of the home he had left so far behind.  Nixie and Kapura and all the others still waited in a city ravaged by disaster, overrun by Visorak, and ruled by a master of shadows.  Not even the real Toa Metru had been able to prevent it.

But the Toa's brief existence had not been useless.  One Matoran had escaped, and his quest was done.  Even a city as lost as Metru Nui was not beyond all hope.  A rescue was on its way.

Takua turned away from the wall of words.  A single sun was climbing over the rim of the ocean.  Its rays glimmered on a long silver canister that had washed up in the surf.

---END---

To anyone who has read this far, thank you.  This story has ended, but the tales of the BIONICLE will last as long as there are any to tell them.

-tE3
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