Where Wisdom and Valor Fail

Where Wisdom and Valor Fail

Part I: The Places Loved

“The town does not exist

except where one black-haired tree slips

up like a drowned woman into the hot sky.

The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars.   

Oh starry starry night! This is how

I want to die.”

Walking the moonlit beaches of the Charred Forest, Kapura peered out at the ocean, looking for something in the depths. He was not sure what he was looking for, only that he was looking for something, according to Turaga Vakama. Yet the ocean remained uninterrupted, not even the light breeze rippling its seamless surface. Nothing could be seen out there tonight gleaming in the moonlight that suggested that there was anything on the beach besides the Ta-Matoran himself. He could not even distinguish the village of Ga-Koro under the night’s sky, the fishermen of the town in bed for a few more hours. As he watched the scene, Kapura felt some resonating peace, feeling in the deepest hours of the night a quiet that he rarely knew.

This was a night where the shadows were not to be feared, an occasion seldom found on Mata Nui, especially in these “Dark Times”, as the Turaga called them. Makuta had used the Rahi and the very island against the Matoran, and months and years of fighting had left the villagers in a chaotic mind state; they now knew no rest, so paranoid that the Makuta lurked in every shadow that they even carried out their chores in a raging fashion.

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According to the myths of Ta-Koro, not even the burnt trees behind Kapura were safe. Too much propaganda had built up in the villages of the enemy to where it was said with certainty of truth and little proof. But out on this still ocean, out where all of the worries had not littered, Kapura was certain that the shadows were nothing more than shadows. Makuta could only control the island, the Ta-Matoran knew; The tyrant’s grip could not brush the stars.

Surrounded by paradise, he did not want to leave. The sand seemed to nuzzle his body as he sat against a tree of the forest, procuring him to stay and watch this starry night until the sun rose over the ocean. But Vakama would worry, not understanding that some shadows were nothing more than shadows. Reluctantly picking himself up, with nothing to report of tonight, he turned to the path from where he came.

He unsheathed his throwing disk as he saw the glow in the forest, which had not been present when Kapura had come this way. Something up ahead illuminated the path of packed ash, unmoving as he took blatant steps toward it. The stillness would have put any other Matoran on edge, nervous for a possible meeting with a new infected Rahi, but the Ta-Matoran was as stoic as the ocean behind him, snaking his way off the path to reproach from a more cautious angle.

It was no new Rahi, but a stone that sat embedded in between the roots, glowing red about the dark wood. There were no signs of it having been placed, per lacking fresh tracks leading away from it. Though a bit puzzled on why it was here, Kapura knew exactly what it was, and what the Turaga had said about anyone that might find it. They’d been lost months ago, when the exiled Takua was caught in an ambush set by the Makuta and his Rahi in Kini-Nui, and now Kapura looked around warily for any monsters that might be lurking in the shadows. There were none, he assured himself, but as the stone pulsated, its power within reverberating through the rock, Kapura suddenly knew the night was not as still as it seemed.

***

He came back to the village in the dead of night, without a sound, yet the blushing glow of the Toa Stone brought everyone from their beds. Kapura could feel the eyes of Ta-Koro anxiously watching him, and as he crossed the village square to the suva, he felt more nervous than he had ever remembered having been; but he had walked the charred forest for years, with the Rahi hidden, watching in fear, and through them, the Makuta. The villager’s eyes were nothing more, so why should he be nervous? Yet as he approached the suva, he remembered all of the nights he had thought of it as nothing more than ornamental; but with this stone in hand, he finally felt the holy aura that had been long forgotten.

He emerged moments later, feeling as when he had awakened for the first time on the beaches of Ga-Wahi. Though he walked with the same stride as he did when practicing, Kapura felt taller and more agile than the Ta-Matoran he had just been. Through his being pulsated a power, remnants of the stone, something that he had not felt earlier in the evening.

“Turaga, what does this mean?” the new Toa of Fire asked, crimson hands reaching toward the elder for answers.

“Hope, I think,” Vakama replied with a smile, his joyful mask an orange candle in the blackness of the night.

***

He was on lookout once again, this time pacing above the walls of Ta-Koro with the uncanny feeling of vertigo, as he was now considerably taller than the rest of the guard. Discontent with walking aimlessly along the pathway, Kapura propped himself on a ledge, while Matoran were nestled in their posts.

A colony of Nui Rama had been sighted out in the Wahi that afternoon, and a scout had been reported missing not long after. Jaller and Vakama had put the Guard on full alert, and Kapura had returned immediately to his old post. The two officials had mentioned nothing, as if the transformation had not occurred. Though presence of a Toa was a novelty on the island, he and the villagers would have time to marvel at it later. But wasn’t it the job of a Toa to save others? Kapura thought once he had settled into the watch, curious if they were going to pull him for some other job.

Fog was making its way from the charred forest in the distance to the path of the village, and everyone was holding their breath for the Ta-Koran to walk out of it, safe and sound. The order was for a search party provided he was not found by nightfall, but somehow Kapura felt it was far past the time when a party should have been sent out. As all eyes waited for motion from the gloom, the unsure Toa let his own vision wander. The darkening skies of Ta-Wahi were clear of anything dangerous, and the ground was still… but the lava caught Toa Kapura’s eye. The Lake of Fire seemed to pour towards the Koro, the village being some plug that had been pulled from a great drain at the bottom. The lava didn’t usually flow like that toward the village, unless…

“Captain,” Kapura spoke up. The yellow Hau jolted in his direction, the breaking of the silence startling him.

“What do you see, Kapura?” he asked.

“The water drains from a sealed bowl,” he riddled the Matoran, gesturing to the lava. Cocking his head in confusion, Jaller scanned the lake as Kapura had done, and seeing what the Toa saw, he cursed. Red armored Rahi were sneaking their way to the city gates, hovering across the lava they blended into. If they didn’t act now, the beasts would be swarming Ta-Koro soon. Jaller began to issue hand signals, with Kapura relaying them to the Matoran who could not see the orders. The company took aim, and with a mighty heave, the disks flew.

As quickly as the projectiles soared away, their targets jumped from their camouflage to come flying back. Wings were beating fast enough to deflect the bamboo as a swarm of Nui-Rama charged in a beeline towards the guards, and all was chaos. Angry buzzing filled the air as they swept on top of the guards with sharp claws. More disks and staffs were unsheathed to beat the creatures back, landing solid blows to counter the Rahi; and though they jabbed back with the fury of a bonfire, the Nui Rama had the edge in size.

Kapura leveled the playing field with that factor as he tackled one of the flyers away from a Matoran, almost too fast to see. The time for moving slow was past, and now he dove in with speed enough to match the Rahi’s own, as they spilled onto the ground of the village. The Toa of Fire landed on bottom and was forced to stare into the eyes of a rusted Kanohi mask as the beast snarled at him, revolted as they grappled face to face, and that was enough motivation to kick the beast off of him. It tried flying away, but he snatched its wing with blinding speed and delivered a blow that subjugated the Rama. He would deal with that one later, Kapura thought as he felt the strength of a Toa coursing within him.

With the use of his old tricks he was on the wall again, dropping in on another beast as they swarmed over the rest of the Guards. Landing on the back of a beast, he sent it crashing down to the ground with a screech, the shock of its fall leaving it immobilized. Spotting another about to descend on him, he grabbed the stunned creature, spinning it once, twice, and then… he let it go, crashing into the advancing attack, and sent the duo soaring away from the battlefield.

The hot flash on his face as he ran back to battle was not from the flush of embarrassment from the bewildered Matoran who had seen that, Kapura figured as he bashed back another invader. He could feel something more behind his punch than had been there before, as if an extra vein of energy was flowing through his arms. His Kanohi had been activated, Kapura realized, his fist collided with another Nui Rama head, nearly cracking its infected mask as he landed the blow. Momentum was building in him, letting his adrenaline rise as his attacks became more furious, throwing punches faster and faster. He could feel the power rising, but he could not muster it down. He was out of control now, even the Matoran backing away as to not get sideswiped. He could hear Jaller yelling his name, see the flames from the lake of fire, a Nui Rama coming at him with high speed…

He could not block this one as it came at him, and it felt as if his vision cracked. A claw threw Kapura back, making him blink in pain, but as he hit the stone ground behind him, his eyelids would not come up.

***

He awoke to birdsong, though something did not register in his mind that there were no birds in Ta-Koro. A long call made him open his eyes, and all at once fire leapt into his vision. He was flying high above an ocean of lava, clutched onto the tail of a phoenix. Kapura wanted to scream, as he felt nothing but the feathers keeping him from falling to the fire. They were nowhere near any shores, letting the Toa of Fire wonder how long the bird had been towing him for.

He could see them struggling, down below; two titans on a slab of rock, fighting something that swarmed above their heads. One possessed the armor of a jungle warrior, coated in plates of the green of the treetops, the blues of the oceans, and the white of the snow, while the other was in darker hues, the red of the lava and the brown of the rock accompanied by the black of a dark night. He had spent countless nights finding nothing out on the shores of Ta-Wahi, and now he knew why, because these were the figures he had been seeking; they had been in this ocean of fire the entire time, not in the water.

The latter Kapura sensed was part fire, like himself, but was struggling to control the rock’s stability in the lava flow. From up in the air Kapura watched them wobble; as if sensing his thoughts, the bird dove, and dropped him in the midst of the battle. The two titans took notice, but too distracted by their own struggle to heed him any greeting. Kapura focused on keeping them steady, and before they could fathom what was going on, Kapura was dragging them up a bank of rock that had appeared off to the side.

Toa_Kaita_Statues

Whatever it was attacking the two could not follow them to the bank, and as the Toa of Fire yanked them from the slab, they were freed from what only they could see. Picking themselves up off the ground, they turned to Kapura, eyeing him  with equal parts of curiosity and caution as he himself stared up in awe. “Who are you?” he asked them.

“More than any one Toa, their unity come to physical form,” the darker one spoke with a hard gaze. “But a pulse comes from within you that has a greater sense of wholeness then either of our own. Rather, it is us who should be asking who you are, since you are to complete the journey we had set out on.”

“Our time is yet to come, Akamai. He may be whole, but he is incomplete, though not by much,” the lighter figure pointed out to his partner. “He still has pieces of himself missing.”

“He will have a counter to help him, Wairuha,” replied Akamai. “Though you are as great as we are, Toa Kapura, you will have someone else out there. Whether it be someone to lean on or to rise against, you will not face your troubles alone.” The two titans nodded to him, and then turned toward the rock plain before them.

“Wait!” Kapura called. “What was it that you were fighting?”

“The same thing that you will,” Akamai responded. Kapura was about to ask what he meant by that, but the bird swept in to take him away, and a yell of fright and surprise was all he could manage. He was then pulled away, as the phoenix began to rise into the black abyss above the lava.

***

Though he felt the heat on his face that came from nearby, he felt strangely cold and weak; his chest quivering as he pulled himself up, Kapura opened his eyes to a strained sight, anything beyond what must have been the Sacred Fire a dark, unclear fuzz. Reaching up to his clammy face, he found his Kanohi Pakari gone. His mind felt distracted without it, as if he were unable to focus on anything more than slumping against the wall.

The voice of Turaga Vakama sharpened his senses, however, his posture snapping to attention as the elder saw he was awake. He coaxed the Toa back against the wall, offering him a cup, which Kapura thankfully took. “What happened?” he managed to groan between gulps.

“You were overwhelmed,” Vakama reported. “You were so engrossed in you mask power that when one of the Rahi shattered it, the sudden loss of all of your strength took you out. I am sorry Kapura, but your Kanohi is gone.”

“My… my mask…” he breathed, setting down the now empty cup. “How will I do without it?”

“The Suva had minor damage, and I am missing Kanohi as well, but I still have some Noble masks to spare. I will lend you one, for now.” The Turaga passed a mask into his hand, and Kapura fitted it onto his face. His vision cleared, and now he could see the beyond the fire as if it were a sunny day. Kanohi Ruru. Blinking a few times to adjust to the mask, he could see Vakama staring into space with a look of sadness he’d never known the Turaga to possess. “What troubles you, Turaga?” Kapura asked. When all Vakama did was stare for a few moments, the silence lasting longer than Kapura would have preferred, he asked once more.

“I want to send you out there, and I know you want to go, but I am afraid of losing you to something greater than a swarm of Nui Rama, that you may disappear into the shadows as the villagers have.”

“The fisherman never learned to cast while someone else was holding the rod,” the left hand reminded the elder.

“And that is why I must let you go,” Vakama agreed, seeing wisdom in Kapura far beyond his years. “If you’re to journey out there, however, you need more power.”

“And how am I to acquire more power?”

“Long before you remember, when we Turaga were much younger, we discovered masks hidden around the island. No doubt that now they are guarded by Rahi, but there is a chance that some of them may be missed by the Makuta. If you can somehow find some of these masks whilst in pursuit of our missing brothers, then you would be taking the first step to prove yourself as a true Toa.”

“Where would I look for these masks?” Kapura asked excitedly.

“In places that only a Toa could reach,” the elder responded. “Places that the rest of the Matoran only see with wonder… or fear.”

Part II: The Places Feared

“It moves. They are all alive.

Even the moon bulges in its orange irons   

to push children, like a god, from its eye.

The old unseen serpent swallows up the stars.   

Oh starry starry night! This is how   

I want to die”

The lava flows of Ta-Koro were gone in the blink of an eye, replaced by a sea of emerald leaves on the treetops above Le-Koro. A feeling of nervousness filled Kapura as he sat behind Kongu atop his Gukko Ka; as they prepared for flight, a runway Matoran was instructing the bird to flap its skeletal wings. Once, twice, harder each time, until a sheet of energy appeared on the wings. Kapura felt the tension build in the bird’s muscles, and clutched the seat tightly as he and Kongu exploded into the sky.

The throttle behind the bird’s flight left Kapura sitting tight jawed in the second’s seat, one hand pressed firmly on his pack. Beneath the layer of leather, he could still feel the two Kanohi sitting snugly, but he feared for them slipping out and into the forest below. He’d found a Pakari in a swamp cave, in Le-Wahi with the assistance of a ground scout named Tamaru, and a Kaukau in the branches of a Charred Forest tree that he’d always noticed as a Matoran. However, looking at it as a Toa, there was something different about it, and in the topmost part of the web, Kapura had spied the mask, its unworn sheen of grey blending in with the forest. It had taken some climbing to reach, and at the very top of the tree he had been more nervous than he ever had in his life. Now, as he skyrocketed above the tallest trees on the entire island, he couldn’t believe he’d been afraid at the peak of a sapling compared to where he was now. Rocketing through the open sky, he looked ahead to where the Nui-Rama nest stood, but also to the open space that was all around them, where they could easily be knocked into the treetops below.

“Here they come!” Kongu shouted above the wind in their faces, pointing toward several specks flying their way. The Nui-Rama flew to meet the approaching Gukko Force, ready to fend off the invaders. Unsheathing a disk from the cache Kongu had given him, he began to fire on the Rahi. Having never shot from other than a still wall, the first few were lost to the trees below, and Kapura had to force himself to not glance the disks falling into the green; but his misses had allowed the creatures to bunch in, granting him a better target. The next few were more accurate, clipping a wing of several Rahi.

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As Kongu steered, Ka moved with an agility matched by only his pilot, dipping under the claws as they swooped at the Gukko. He thrusted forward, the trees speeding past their vision as they soared toward the hive. “They’re plenty mad-angry!” Kongu shouted.

They were almost there when a Rama came down upon the Gukko’s wing. It came from behind, twisting its talons into Ka until the energy sheet covering his skeletal wing flickered into nonexistence. The burdened bird went off balance, contesting to stay aloft whilst Kongu pulled at the reins, keeping straight and true for as long as possible. Kapura was a maelstrom of lashing as he fought off other attacks as treacherous, eyes fixated on the Rama as he felt Ka’s descent.

Out of the corner’s of his vision, he could see the treetops and the shadows below them, but he would not look at the ground, he would not look at the ground…

Ka’s flight failed at the rim of the nest’s opening; crashing against the side, the bird spun, and unable to uphold itself and passengers any longer, it dove, taking Toa and Matoran alike as he dipped into the darkness.

Kongu slipped off of Ka and onto the floor of the catacombed hive, stunned from the fall. The Gukko slumped, having taken the brunt of the landing, but other than his attacked wing, was unharmed. Looking to the second’s seat, Kongu grew troubled, seeing Kapura was not there. He looked around the area, but the Le-Matoran’s eyesight was poor in the darkness of the hive.

A screech from above caught his attention, and squinting, Kongu could see fleeting bursts of orange, in the dark beneath the pinprick of white that was the sky beyond the hive. Dots flitted in and out of that spot, but were they Rama beasts, Kongu wondered, or flanking Gukko Force? He silently prayed for the latter, as he got glimpses of the skirmish above.

“Is it just you?” a voice called. Kongu startled, whirling to see the frightened mask peeking out from one of the catacombs.

“No, up there!” he exclaimed. “I know not how he high-flies, but it is Toa Kapura! Fellow guardsmen distance-followed us as we entered the hive, and we’re here to spirit-send you to Ta-Koro!”

“I hope you don’t mean that in a literal sense,” the guardsmen replied, spotting the small sparks of fire that signaled Kapura up in the heights of the hive. “But is it really the Toa?” he asked warily, gripping a Ta-Koran staff.

“How could it not be?” Kongu asked.

Whatever the Matoran had to say was cast aside as he pointed behind Kongu, as a Nui-Rama could be seen soaring toward the ground. They each readied their tools, but it was not flying, instead tumbling into the ground with a crunch. The two sat tense as they watched it still for several moments, before its wings began to move. Kongu was about to throw his disk when the wings fell again, and Kapura climbed off of the Rahi’s back, his Kanohi changing back to the Noble Ruru.

“Turaga Vakama still had his Komau,” he remarked to the two, shaking his head at the fallen Rahi. “There is something in the swarm’s mind, consuming them in the same way as the fires did the forests. Where is the guard?”

The tunnel they followed had rotted into existence, decaying bits of hive material stemming off aged pockets of stone. A sickening green, the material was incredibly stiff, strong enough to support the entire hive, yet it crackled like straw when a lick of flame caught a low hanging strand. Kapura snuffed it out as he crawled behind the Ta-Matoran guide, Kongu giving the place a look of revolt. Kapura wanted to burn his way out, slice through the material with his fire, but the thought of what else might be lurking in the walls kept him at bay.

An amber glow came from a hollow in the tunnel, a small campfire burning inside between a dozen or so Ta-Matoran. Their yellow toned eyes seemed to brighten upon seeing whom the scout had brought back, and they excitedly thrusted their two-pronged spears into the air as they gave the Ta-Koro salute. “How did you get in?” one of them asked. “We have been sending scouts searching for tunnels to the surface, even perhaps down to Onu-Koro, but to no avail!”

“We flew down on Ka,” Kapura explained, gesturing to Kongu beside him. “The rest of the Gukko Force is on its way, and we’re going to fly you out. Is everyone here?”

“Only one scout we sent at a time, so this should be everyone,” another called, initiating a roll call. “We are all here, armed and ready. But you, Toa Kapura, look like you need a weapon, if you are to fight the Rama again. Have my staff, and use it as well as you did in the Guard.” Kapura took it, and jabbed into the tunnel, giving it a test. With only a fraction of his power he sent a shot of flame from the twin prongs, producing a whoop from the company.

“That is not all though. You must also have this.”

The whoops dropped to murmurs, as something else was passed forward, and an emerald stone made its way to Kapura’s hand. Another? he thought, looking at it quizzically. “We found it a few patrols ago, off in another tunnel. It might be best if you held onto it for now.” The Toa nodded, putting it in his pack, and pulling out the Kanohi Pakari, letting it melt into his face. If more Nui-Rama were waiting outside, it would be of some use provided his own strength was not enough. 

A twisted figure stood in Kapura’s likeness at the mouth of the tunnel, and Kongu was suddenly reminded of the Ta-Matoran’s suspicious words when he had arrived. The Nui-Rama that the Toa had crashed in on had risen, but it was no longer a flying beast— skeletal legs standing on clawed feet, and a body draped in the rotting wisps of the hive, it was now a monster. The head was an amalgam of the two infected masks the Rama had worn, snarling empty eyed at the rescue party; The debauched body looked as if it could not move without disintegrating on itself, but it smoothly raised a slender arm, hook bared at the Toa of Fire, as if to challenge him as an equal. Too nauseated to look longer at the newest underground abomination, Kongu retreated to the back of the company.

The rocking flight into the nest had not sickened Kapura, nor had the rotting vibe of the tunnels. But it was the wisps of shadow that seemed to hang about it that made the creature repulsive, something darker than normal shade that his Mask of Night Vision could not dispel. This was no undiscovered Rahi, he somehow knew. It was the same force in the mind of the swarm, independent and far more sinister than an animal’s survival instinct. His grip tightening on the staff he had been given, Kapura jumped at the beast.

He went toward the thing in an upward feint, but it followed the arc of the pronged staff, leaping upward and over the Toa. Surprise from the move slowed him a moment too long, and it lunged at him, a hook swinging at his shoulder. The prongs caught it, momentum shoving it back towards its owner. The other hook was swung, his entire other side left open, but it was met with the spear again, and this time it was the creature’s turn to be surprised. Snarling, he shoved at the monster, and swinging his staff, let loose on the creature.

Twirling the staff with a double-handed grip, Kapura swung at the masked head, throwing all his force into the blow, but the creature ducked and knocked his feet out from under him. Rolling away as the hooks came down, Kapura sprung up and lunged again, but the hooks came down on the staff; his momentum kept him moving however, and with the raise of an elbow, smashed the creature in the face and leapt over it as it reeled. Spinning, he jabbed at its abdomen, sending a jolt of fire— the responding screech was of anger, and it lashed forward— but it could not land a blow, for the staff went spinning in the Toa’s hands, the monster unable to differentiate what end of the staff was which. Kapura used that confusion to deflect its blows, slashing downward toward its right side and then coming back up to hit the same spot, leading with a parallel hit to one of the masks.

The Rama beast was in pain now, its screeching emanating its rage. The novice Toa had gotten lucky with the first few blows, but was unprepared for the force with which its hooks came at him. A shoulder caught Kapura in the chest, and he was forced backwards, his staff spinning now on the defensive. The hooks caught on the prongs, and shoved the Toa again, a lash sent the spear smashing back into Kapura’s own mask. The Rama monster connected one of the hooks with his open shoulder, and Kapura could feel as it dug in. Holding the spear one handed, he swung it into the creature’s arm, before it could dig the hook deeper, and the two tumbled away from each other.

Blasts of fire leapt from the dark, cover fire as Kapura charged again, flames crackling from between the prongs of his staff. The creature responded as shadow energy crackled between its hooks, the energies neutralizing as they hit each other. Sending a slash of flame at the abomination’s face, cutting off its vision, he jabbed at its abdomen, and kicked out its feet. But the hooks once again grasped the staff, twisting Kapura’s wrist as they did so. He gave into the monster’s move, and moved with his staff, ducking under the controlling arm. Raising his foot, he kicked at the vulnerable shoulder, before a pain was sent up his forearm, and he backed off. Shadow energy crackled in the “Rahi”’s claw, grazing Kapura’s limb. He yelled in agony, slowly burning the pain off as he charged the hand with fire. Sending a stream into the beast’s face, he jabbed towards its waist, sending more flame into its torso. A screech let him think he was winning, but the blindsided swipe of a hook sent the Toa reeling.

Toa and monster were flashes in the dark as the Matoran assemblage watched, the battle disappearing and reappearing all around the cave. Kongu watched with a burning intensity, with the hope to glimpse Ka; as there was no sign of the Gukko Force flank, he hoped to glimpse his bird somewhere in the milliseconds of light. But the shadows engulfed the place, something darker in the air that had come with the arrival of the beast. We have to leave, the Gukko pilot thought as he felt the ground trembling while the fight advanced. It was becoming too dangerous to stay, and if they didn’t escape soon, they would have jumped into their own grave. They had to find a way out, to get out of the way of the danger, and if Ka was up to it, the bird was, at the moment, the only option. It was a futile attempt, to watch streams of fire be extinguished by the shadows they sought to fight off, but the Le-Matoran was also worried, uncertain of how much longer Kapura could hold the beast off. Could he buy enough time for them to escape?

The monster had Kapura pinned to the ground, its hooks pushing the staff towards his throat, but the Mask of Strength was holding up. Kapura grunted as he matched the beast’s brawn, attempting to break the stalemate. In desperation, he threw his strength to the side, and they rolled, Toa and monster switching positions. Fire from his palm shot to meet an ascending hook, reducing it to slag. The creature screamed mercilessly, finally admitting agony, and was distracted enough for the Toa to deliver a solid punch, fragmenting its already contorted face. Writhing, it lashed out, knocking Kapura across the hive, and he hit the wall of a catacomb, collapsing onto all fours; as he rose, he wasn’t sure if it were him or the ground shaking harder.

The warped Rama jumped at him with enough force that it looked like it was flying, hooks ready to tear the Toa to shreds. Kapura mentally screamed— it was closing in too fast for him to concentrate, he wouldn’t be able to use his speed to escape…

The ground erupted between the two, and the monstrosity never made it to its target. Shards flew up in the air in all directions as a hole ripped itself into existence, one of them shooting right into the creature’s chest. The impaling rock cut its flight short, and it collapsed then and there, face a mix of agony and rage as it died. He was transfixed by it, not even stirred by the shapes climbing from the hole, nor the hand reaching for him.

“Come, Toa, it is time to leave.”

***

The Matoran had escaped, and except for the buzzing of the wings amongst the catacombs, the hive was quiet once more. The Gukko Force reinforcements never arrived, having been driven off by a more formidable part of the swarm that inhabited the top of the hive; the Rama there now flew around robotically, as though back to business as usual.

A few of the flyers hovered above the hole that had broken into the floor of the hive, where their mutilated “cousin” lay impaled by a rock. The Matoran and their Toa had escaped through here, but none of the creatures dared to follow in pursuit. No, the darkness was a rein that tugged tightly if they even tried. All they could do was look at the corpse, and the dark hole that the above creatures had retreated to.

So it is true then, a voice whispered through the minds of all the infected Rahi. The Toa has arisen. A wall of dark thought wavered through them, making them screech in pain; then the darkness shallowed, and all was quiet again.

***

The descent had brought him to one of the deepest levels of the Great Mine, where the sounds of battle had long faded away into the digging of the miners. The rhythm of it eased his mind, as his thoughts were still worried about the Ta-Matoran. The Ussalry would take care of them, their Onu-Koran rescuers had reassured him, as he was taken down a different tunnel than his people. The elevator he was now on shook as it descended, but it lent a view to the rest of the mine that ultimately calmed Kapura; From this deep down, the glow of the shelves that each Matoran worked on were faint stars in an underground night, he observed as he stepped off the elevator, remembering the stars on the beach in the early hours of the morning.

Taipu led him to where a handful of Onu-Matoran leaned over the edge of a pit, lightstones posted to illuminate its contents. They scribbled into tablets as they studied, their mining tools discarded and broken near machines sitting still in the shadows. His footsteps unfamiliar, they looked up from their study, heads askew at the sight of a Toa.

“It is embedded in some sort of layer our mining equipment cannot break through,” one of them explained, gesturing at the sundial at the bottom of the shallow pit. “But it is of entirely different rock than the surrounding layer. Which would mean it was placed there, and is therefore easy to remove, does it not?”

“And why would one put a sundial underground in the first place?” another Onu-Matoran asked, scratching his head. Kapura’s brow raised, and he filled his hand with fire as he leaned down to see what the miners spoke of.

A slab of the Matoran day cycle, eighteen hours, sat there, embedded in the rock, as ordinary as anything, except for being placed where no light could reach. And was that… the faint whisper of the wind? Leaning closer, he peered at the edges of the circle. Miniscule cracks separated the timepiece and the rest of the rock, air floating through the cracks and brushing Kapura’s arm. If it did not go around the entire ring, he would’ve thought it as a natural fault, but he saw what the Matoran had— the sundial was placed there, and there was nothing to bring it up from the earth.

“We need to figure out how to extract this so we can keep digging,” the first miner said. “But we can’t scratch through a single inch of this layer. So if there’s no way to dig through it or blow it up, how else do we progress?”

The light posts that the miners had set up casted illumination evenly along the sundial, but the fire in Kapura’s hand danced, an uneven lick of shade falling on the rock, shifting as he strode around the circle. Raising his hand as he walked, the height of the fire casted a long shadow with Kapura’s Kanohi. It passed over each hour increment— seventeen, eighteen, one, two, three…

But when Kapura’s shadow passed over four, the darkness of the niches on the tile began to deepen, before intensifying into a bright glow. Startled, he stumbled backwards, the fire in his palm extinguishing itself, and the even illumination of the floodlights manifested once more. The miners looked to him in surprise. “What was that?” the first one asked. “Do it again!” The Toa of Fire nodded, relighting his palm. Concentrating on making a shadow at the four o’clock mark, it began to shine once more, and the rest of the symbols followed suit. With a singular flash from all the symbols, they began to sink, some mechanism from below pulling the sundial down. The miners scribbled on their tablets furiously as the edges of the pit formed a staircase, descending down into a blinding white column.

They headed down the staircase with caution— though nothing protruded from the icy blue walls of the place, Kapura was still on the lookout for traps, but something told him that this was not a place that would be rigged. It may not be a suva, Kapura thought, but there was a palpation he felt that could not be broken by the miner’s industrial mindset, as they theorized amongst themselves what this could be.

At the bottom of the staircase was a pedestal, a golden Kanohi Hau floating upon it. Around the mask was a hologram of the sundial, which morphed into a single word in Matoran- Rahi. Kapura eyed the mask, as the Matoran stood surrounding it, in scripting their finding. A Hau.… Just like the minerals that the Onu-Matoran needed to mine, this was what Kapura needed to dig up, a mask that he had not had, that would have been useful in the fight with the shadow creature… But how had it been placed here, miles below the surface in a place that had only been recently uncovered, in almost a thousand years of mining?

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A Matoran reached up to remove the mask from the pedestal, but his hand passed right through. He tried it a few more times, refusing to believe that it was an illusion. Puzzled, Kapura stepped forward to reach for the mask…

…and made contact with it.

Kapura reeled as his vision exploded, scorching fire and lava replacing the Matoran miners and the staircase. He was elsewhere, watching the swinging fire sword of Akamai as he and Wairuha fought a legion of crab-like creatures in the darkness. The Toa of Fire wanted desperately to help, to fight alongside, but could not leap into the scene. They struggled, and once the Kaita even fell. Then sparks showered over the two, and Kapura was eye to eye with a rusted, pitted mask just like the ones the Nui Rama wore. But where the eyeholes on the masks of the Rahi were dead, a pair of crimson eyes glared at him, before forming a claw that reached at him. But another light came from somewhere else, before—

“Toa Kapura!” somebody called. He was sprawled on the bottom of the staircase, once again seeing the white and blue walls that surrounded him. A Matoran peered at him from above, worry on his mask as he saw the Toa laying on the steps, and another lightly shook his arms. “Kapura, are you alright?”

He nodded, righting himself as he sat on the stairs, the Kanohi Hau still clutched in his hand. “You don’t want to dig deeper here,” he answered him, his eyes insisting they returned to the mines. Letting the mask melt into the face, he urged the Matoran back up the steps. “You want to… dig up, toward the light.”

A small smile was on Vakama’s mask as he watched Kapura walk though the Ta-Koro gate, the newly restored guards raising their staffs in salute to their rescuer. He could not have been happier to see the Toa; while he still walked in that slow stride he always practiced in, there was a new swagger that the Turaga’s left hand possessed, an air of experience that had not been there when he’d left on his mission. For all his happiness though, Vakama looked back into the depths of his dwelling, an anxiousness entering his chest. Maybe this is it, he thought nervously, returning his gaze to the Toa of Fire. Maybe he is ready.

“I did it, Turaga,” Kapura said in his raspy voice. “Practice has paid off, like you said it would, and it helped me find the Kanohi.”

“Indeed it has, and I congratulate you,” Vakama nodded, his fingers fidgeting on his staff. “I have watched the suva fill with great pleasure in your absence. You have done well.” He was speaking vaguely, he knew, but his mind was elsewhere, as a decision was tearing at the Turaga. Now was the time to choose— not only if Kapura was ready to bear it, but if Vakama was willing to finally pass on the responsibility. Yes, it is time. “But there is still more we need to discuss on that matter. Please, come inside.”

The fires of the hut burnt low around them, crackles of flame filling the air as the two sat with a table between them. “The Guard has informed me about what happened in the Nui-Rama hive,” Vakama began, “and now I fear of what else is on this island that we are ignorant of. The Matoran’s stake here dwindles as we remain in our villages, while Makuta becomes bolder.”

“I can feel him out there, Turaga,” Kapura agreed. “His spirit is in the Charred Forest, and other places of destruction, where wisdom and valor have failed. The Makuta is out there, on those verges. But isn’t our discovery of the infected masks an advance for our side?”

“It is, but there are creatures out there, in corners of this island that I hope you never have to visit, where the Rahi are loyal to the Makuta even without one of those masks,” Vakama woed. “But, given your success so far, I think you are ready to face them.”

“Turaga, what of the other Toa stone that was found?” Kapura queried. “Is it possible that there is another Matoran out there that Mata Nui would want to be a Toa?”

“There could be,” Vakama supposed, reaching into the shadows of a slot in the wall. “But they would not be the Toa that you are.” Coming back to the table, he placed an object in front of Kapura. It was a dull orange, but shined with a golden hue from the fires that reflected off of its surface.

“It looks like a Kanohi mask, but it is not one anyone else on Mata Nui wears,” Kapura commented.

“You have gathered the many masks of the island, but this is one mask that you will not find out there,” Vakama murmured to Kapura. “This is the Kanohi Vahi, the Mask of Time; I would call it a Great Mask, if it were not far beyond the levels of a Kanohi Pakari or Hau. This is the most powerful mask on the island, Kapura, and its power is like no other force that you will ever know.”

“Greater than a Great Mask?” he pondered. “How did you come upon it?”

“I wasn’t always just a village leader, or a storyteller,” the elder smiled. “There was a time before this time, when I did… other things.” He did not say any more on the subject, and upon silent agreement, Kapura did not ask. “But the Vahi, yes, it is greater than a Great Mask, Toa, which also means it is harder to control. But with your conquering of the Great Masks so easily, it is a mask I hope that only you can control.”

“M-Me?” Kapura stammered, taken aback. “Why would you expect only me to be able to control it?”

“That is what I mean when I said no other Matoran could be the Toa you are— your mind is different from the other villagers, something I saw on the day we came to our island home. You have trained your body and mind as you practiced going slow in order to move fast. The discipline to do that is possessed by none in this village, perhaps even the island, other than you. The Vahi will slow one’s movement, and since you have already learned how to operate under the condition, you can overcome that particular setback of the mask. It is something you have trained for in all your time here, and I believe it is your destiny to master the Kanohi.”

Kapura looked into Vakama’s eyes, remembering all the practice they’d done together in the first year; it had never made sense, articulating all of the parts of the stride Kapura was now fluent in. He’d never been sure of what it was for, but he did it anyway, and it went from an idea of Vakama’s to Kapura’s whole philosophical idea of life. But he saw now the plan that was in place, and as much as the Toa wanted to shake the dark thought of being used, he couldn’t. The training was woven through his being, physically and mentally, but there was something deep inside Kapura that disagreed with what was progressing. “This mask, it would not be used against common infected Rahi,” Kapura guessed, tracing his finger over the edge of the Vahi.

“A long time ago, it was to be used only in emergency,” Vakama said. “For this mask’s power… he who controls time controls everything. And with the Makuta taking steps to gain control of the island, he is getting closer to controlling everything.” He smiled bashfully as he let the comment sink in. “This is not something easy I am asking you to do, Kapura, and to have to do it alone is not any easier. If you don’t want to, I understa—“

“No,” Kapura blurbed, and then shook his head. “I mean… I just need some time to think about it.”

“That is fine,” the Turaga consented. “You risked your life to save our villagers. Perhaps… yes perhaps you need some time to yourself. Go, and come back when you have a decision ready.”

Part III: The Places Where We Have To Go

The Turaga had always explained everything, and from that Kapura had grown to trust him. But the Toa should’ve connected these dots on his own, he knew, picturing the Vahi in his mind. He could not imagine himself wearing it— no, what was in Kapura’s mind was where he was not, where he thought he would always be practicing and on patrol. He never imagined he would be training for something bigger than the Guard— Jaller and Nuhrii had always been the more responsible ones, the most capable and competent of the Guard, while Kapura had been on his own in the forest. So why had they not been chosen to be a Toa? Why had Vakama placed such a huge investment on him?

He did not go to the Charred Forest, where he had gone to figure out dilemmas in the past. The place would be compromised, he reasoned. Before he had become a Toa, Kapura had visitors, but they would never linger longer than a few moments before going on their way. Now did not want those visitors; while he could easily get away, he reasoned that he should not have to. 

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So he had retreated below Ta-Koro, to where the lava farmers labored, well after the last of them had left for the day. Staring hard into the lava, he tried to glean some vision of Akamai and Wairuha from it, but all he caught was the sight of several protodrakes as they basked in the heat. The Kaita were not simply characters in a vision, Kapura was certain. He would have to face the Makuta, he knew that for a long while, but how could he alone succeed where those two, essentially six Toa, had failed? And with the Makuta’s spirit in the forest, watching the Toa’s every move, Kapura could not fathom how he could possibly have the element of surprise, even with the Vahi.

A skittering brought him out of his thoughts, something from a nearby tunnel catching Kapura’s acute sense of attention. It was probably a cave crawler, but… there was an accompanying  voice, which held the Toa’s attention. There wouldn’t be a Matoran down here at this hour, would there? Kapura thought, cautiously climbing off the outcropping he’d taken post on. He watched from the banks, listening hard, until a Matoran atop a Ussal crab emerged, his head bowed as he seemed to be in conversation with the Rahi. It gave a few clicks, perhaps a warning, and the villager looked up, his blue Pakari surprised to see he was not alone.

“Toa Kapura!” he blurbed. “What brings you down here? I didn’t expect anyone else to…”

“I had thought the same, Takua,” Kapura said. “This place is supposed to be abandoned after the farmers are gone. Doing a little sight seeing?”

“A little bit,” the Matoran confessed. He then pointed downriver, to where a series of stepping stones protruded from the lava. On the other side a pedestal holding a totem stood high up shore, which Kapura could see caught the Ta-Matoran’s eye as he dismounted the crab. “There’s a series of those all throughout the tunnel system,” Takua piped, “and at first I thought they were trail markers, but there was some old Matoran dialect on one of them that suggested something else. I know I’m not supposed to be down here, but if you didn’t tell Vakama, I would—“

“You will be in no trouble by my hand,” he told the villager. “But what interests you about the totem?”

“I’ve mapped out most of the totems, and they all seem to lead somewhere, except the inscriptions don’t say where,” he explained. “Not a very good marker then, wouldn’t you say?”

“You seem to have a fascination with stones,” Kapura nodded.

“Maybe I’ve got a little bit of Po-Matoran in me,” Takua laughed, and shook his head. “I used to think rocks were the most boring thing on the island. When they gave me an excuse to travel, well, that’s when I got interested.”

“What happened in your travel to Kini-Nui?” Kapura asked him.

“It was unguarded,” he shrugged. “I’ve been alright against Rahi before, but this was an ambush. Vakama warned me that I should’ve formed a Company to go with, and I should have listened. There was a Muaka, a Kane-Ra, all sorts of beasts… I was examining Kini-Suva, and when I looked up, a Taravaka was lashing out at my mask. When I woke, all of the stones were gone. But you— you happened to just find one in the forest?”

“I was heading home for the night, and it was just there, behind a tree,” Kapura remembered. “It wasn’t there when I travelled that path, but when I was heading back, there were no tracks leading away… it was just as if it appeared there.”

“Maybe whatever Rahi had stolen that one had dropped it,” the Matoran suggested, laying his pack on the Ussal’s shell and handing a map of his findings to the Toa. “The Guard said they found the Le-Koro stone in captivity, is it true? Is it possible I could have a look at it?”

“You might just be a bit Onu-Matoran as well,” Kapura smiled. “Be careful going across there.”

“Now where’s the sport in that?” Takua yelled, already halfway across. Kapura watched to make sure the Matoran made it to the other side, before sitting down and examining the map he had been handed. The wanderer was certainly on to something, making a point in his observations. From what the carving suggested, it seemed like the tunnels followed the totems, instead of vice versa. But what did it lead to?

A rumble made him look up. The lava flows were increasing, and overtaking the stepping stones that Takua had crossed on. Takua was fumbling with the totem, losing his balance in the small quake, and Kapura watched him drop it, the stone rolling toward the lava as the Matoran lay sprawled on the slope. “Are you alright?” he called over the river.

“I’m fine, but I lost the totem,” came a bitter reply. “But I’m stu—“ Whatever Takua was about to say was cut off as something blinding emerged from his side of the bank. The Toa’s first assumption was that it was a Rahi or a lava flare that would sometimes burst from the flows, which could temporarily blind a Matoran, but this seemed like something far greater.

“What is that?” Kapura called, throwing his hand up to block the glare.

“A Great Kanohi mask!” Takua exclaimed, picking something out of the stream. The light subsided, and Kapura could see the spiked, block like mask that Takua held, looking at the inside in fascination. From afar, the mask seemed to glow like a lightstone, but it could’ve just been the reflection of the lava against the protodermis. “I’ve never seen anything like this!” the Matoran exclaimed. “I don’t know what kind of mask this is, but you’ll want to see it!” Grabbing a makeshift lava board, Takua tossed it onto the lava, and began to surf over, Kapura using his powers to accelerate the currents.

The Toa’s power over lava let him know another surge was coming, though this one was more than enough to cover a set of stepping stones. Barreling from upriver, it burst into the cavern, rapidly making its way toward Takua. Kapura threw his arms up to check the oncoming wave, while still maintaining control over the currents. The lava obeyed, but it still spilled forward, and Kapura knew he had to focus harder to control it. How can Vakama expect me to have control over time, if a lava flow is a struggle? Kapura thought, as the Matoran’s momentum slowed to a crawl. The lava would be on the villager soon. Kapura pushed his willpower against the surge, until Takua was only a few bio out from shore. The Matoran was preparing to jump, and flew across the lava just as Kapura relinquished his control over the magma.

Light flooded his vision as the lava surged downriver again, but it wasn’t the flow that was flashing blindingly. Kapura looked back to see that the Matoran was out of harm’s way, but Takua was no longer a Matoran— standing as tall as Kapura himself, layered in armor of golden and white hues, another figure was there in his place.

“All I did was put the mask on my face,” he said, the Kanohi he had found covered in an expression of confusion.

… “so I wouldn’t damage it jumping to shore.”

The two of them stood shoulder to shoulder in front of the Sacred Fire, silent as they waited for the pacing Turaga to speak. Takua shifted nervously from foot to foot, anxious for what the Turaga had to say; the Toa of Fire was still, eyes on the niche where the Vahi was stored.   

“You have to strike now,” the elder finally said. “There is too much at stake that the Makuta knows not of, and if we let this moment pass it will never come again.”

Kapura nodded, letting Vakama know he was ready to accept his duty. He wouldn’t have to do it alone, he knew, and that took the weight of the world off of his shoulders. He had faith in the newer Toa to his side; while the wanderer had always been slightly irresponsible, Kapura trusted that Takua would take this mantle with some weight. Vakama smiled as he handed over the Vahi, and watched the mask melt into Kapura’s face as it joined the others in Ta-Suva.

“Two Toa to challenge Makuta? A Toa of Fire, and… what am I?” Takua asked, blurting out what was on his mind.

“You were always… different,” Vakama said. “And it looks like you were truly one of a kind after all. Some of us look to the fire for heat, while others see the light. That, Takua is the part of the fire that you are.”

“How are we to challenge the Makuta?” Takua asked.

“The way is through Kini-Nui, but you cannot go together,” Vakama said flatly. Kapura gave him a look of surprise, while fear entered Takua’s gaze, his last encounter in the temple still fresh in his mind. “If you go together, then moment he sees two Toa to challenge him we will lose the element of surprise. You have to go staggered. Kapura will go, and Takua will follow a few hours later.”

“Turaga, no, you don’t understand,” Takua pleaded, his voice shaking. “I cannot go to Kini Nui alone again, I refuse to. There has to be some other way.”

“There are numerous tunnels throughout the island,” Vakama supposed, “but I know not which ones go exactly to the Mangaia, nor how long the journey will take. I’m sorry Takua, but for now, there is only one way.”

“No,” Kapura piped, a grim smile on his face as he thought of the visit to the Onu-Koro mines. “There is one other.”

***

And Kapura was alone again, making his way through the underground beneath Kini Nui. His Ruru let him feel his way through the darkness, but as he grew closer to Makuta’s lair, it became harder to see; here was where the shadows became thicker, more than the dimness beyond the glow of a light stone. Everything on the path was harder to glimpse the further he went, features of the tunnels now grey outlines blending into the darkening backdrop of the tunnel. 

He should have been fearful as he walked here, recalling what Vakama had said about the place, yet the Toa of Fire was strangely calm, pacing the tunnel as he did the Charred Forest. The ambiance of the two places were the same, and so Kapura felt as though he were only strolling in that stretch of coastline woods on a starless night. He had always felt the presence of the Makuta there, in the deadness of the burnt trees, in the ashy soil, even in the infected Rahi that lurked just out of sight, perhaps so often that he had come to think of the tyrant as just as much as part of the island as was the woods themselves.

His memory was brought back to how the forest had been burnt. It was during a battle long ago, and he remembered not how it started, but before anyone knew it, the Great Takara was dancing its way through the shrubbery there, disassembling both armies in the process. The Makuta’s Rahi were retreating, their orders from their master fulfilled, as they left the Guard to die. The Captain, Kapura remembered, was yelling, trying to direct a column of Guardsmen to safety; but Kapura was far from the chain, in the middle of a path that led straight to the ocean. Finding himself on the sands, in-between the glasslike water and the raging fire, he watched the timberland burn, thinking the disaster and destruction enchanting.

“I think the forest looks very beautiful this way too,” he had told someone shortly after.

Destruction, a voice somewhere said. The people of this world revel in it, just as much as they do creation. The Matoran carry it in their hearts just as heavily as their precious unity. Even you embrace it, in the ruined forest you stride through every night. I have seen it in your heart–you wish to destroy me.

“Makuta,” Kapura breathed. His walking had brought him into a large cavern, the emerald glow from its columns casting itself throughout the lair. Deeper in, a pool in the shape of the three virtues was embedded in the floor, a silvery substance sloshing violently within. This was the Mangaia, the Toa knew, but as he scanned with his Ruru, there was no sign of the master of shadows. Nervousness ran through his being as he kept walking further into the lair; with no sign of Takua, it looked like he would be on his own. “I see through your shadows now, and you cannot hide,” he spoke, hoping he didn’t sound as nervous as he felt. “Show yourself, Makuta.”

“You never see through the shadows, Toa,” came a rumble. “You simply see where I am not. And understand this: I do not need to hide.”

He was simply there then, appearing where he was not, just as Kapura would. The Makuta was massive, easily thrice the size of the Toa. His armor was old and rusted, yet the faded maroon and black metal seemed to hug the titan’s rippling muscles. He strode forward proudly, a deadly longstaff in hand, as his crimson eyes glowed with glee behind his Mask of Shadows. “I have been waiting for you, and so you have come,” he said. “You have made it through my Rahi and my pawns, and for what?”

“The crop cannot fight the cloud for the sun it needs,” Kapura replied, “but the wind can put its cloud in its place.”

“I gave Vakama the year of peace he bargained for, and no more,” Makuta shook his head.

“You have terrorized the Matoran for too long, and turned them into hiders behind the walls,” Kapura spat. “This island was meant for us to live on, not a chessboard to play your games. Your shadow needs to give way.”

“You think the island is your peoples’?” The Makuta bellowed, raising his staff. “The Matoran are the crop, who know nothing of the true powers that cause them to grow. You know nothing of the power you come from, or what forces are around you. Those who do know what powers are here have the right to take control of it, and those who don’t will make a path for them.” He brought his staff down, shooting a beam of shadow at the Toa of Fire. It dissipated as it hit the forcefield of the Kanohi Hau, and as it recessed, column of fire twirled around Kapura, the Toa surrounding himself in his element. Makuta sent chain lightning leaping from the depths of the chamber to strike the inferno, crashing down and electrifying the fire, but as the fire sizzled out, a stunned Kapura was nowhere in the ashes.

Makuta cringed as a barrage of fireballs hit him from the side, and Kapura was speeding towards him from the side, having used the fire as a distraction to slip through the shadows. He ducked under the energies the master of shadows fired at him, and popped up, longstaff driving up towards his enemy’s armor. The staff of shadows clanged as it checked the Ta-Koran weapon, and the two withdrew from each other to strike again. Kapura spun as he went to lunge from the other direction, twin prongs aiming straight and true at the armor, but the opponent dodged, swinging down on the Toa tool. The two traded a series of quick blows, each weapon meeting the other, not letting one get closer to the other’s wielder.

Makuta pushed with more of his elemental energy, hoping to drown the red armored challenger in darkness, but Kapura resisted, absorbing the energy into his Toa tool. He shot a focused beam of fire back at Makuta, hot enough to melt any metal on the island, but it seemed to bounce off of the Makuta’s staff, hardly scorching it. He shot again, circling Makuta to find a weak spot, but the fire ran off of him like water would Kapura’s armor.

“Fire alone cannot defeat me,” the Makuta’s voice rang.

“Fire is not all I have,” Kapura responded, his Kanohi changing until the Vahi emerged. He braced himself, knees bent slightly as he glared at the Makuta. A mix of emotions seemed to slip into his eyes, a small smile appearing on the Kraahkan.

“The Mask of Time,” he breathed. “It has come to plague me again. That mask and I have been separated on far too many occasions, and it has come to me again. Do you know how to use it, little one? I do. Give it to me, Kapura, and I will show you true power.” He offered his claw forward, a sight that gave Kapura dread, and he knew what he had to do.

“Your time as tyrant is over,” Kapura announced as he let the energies of the Mask of Time flow.

A golden stream seeped from the Kanohi, enveloping itself around the Makuta. It wrapped itself completely around the master of shadows, slowing his perception until stood as a statue in the middle of his own lair. From the expression on his face, Makuta was gone from reality, unable to see true time; Kapura could feel the mask’s energies, slowing his perception as it tried tugging at his own mind. This was the danger of the power that Vakama had told him of, and he took a deep breath as he focused himself.

As the mask pommeled Makuta with the forces of time, Kapura could feel resistance as he circled his enemy. He felt moving was harder, his reflexes harder to come by… but this was the resistance that he had trained himself for all these years. He felt his training initiate itself as the Vahi tried to take its toll on him, but Kapura was prepared for the strain. So as the Makuta was frozen, he was free to move openly as he walked around his enemy, examining for a weak spot. Seeing the time field fully integrated, he charged up his palms, and sent searing fire into the field. As it hit, it slowed, but it still made its way toward the Makuta. He watched it travel, hopeful that the forces of fire would be impervious to time… but as it came close to the trapped opponent, it slowed to a stop. No, Kapura thought. This isn’t supposed to happen. Fire is supposed to work! If he’s trapped, he can’t resist, and there’s nothing stopping the momentum… The fire would not work, he could not burn the master of shadows to a crisp.

He could not be in this stalemate forever, and if his firepower could not permeate the field, he needed to figure out some other ends. It was a risky idea, he knew, and if it didn’t work, the Makuta would not be so slow to be caught in the field again. But if Kapura could produce a bubble of time, one that would trap Makuta indefinitely… taking a deep breath, Kapura gave the Kanohi’s power one more surge, before cutting off its power. The wave of power began to trickle toward Makuta, as space opened up between him and Makuta. The energies of the mask traveled toward him, and Kapura watched breathlessly for it to stop, to form a cage of time…

But like the fire, it ran off of him, the energy field vanishing to Kapura’s dismay. First his claw, and then arm, then his body… and Makuta stumbled forward, unleashing a barrage of shadow bolts as he came back to real time. His head shook as he looked around, until he saw a flash of Kapura’s fire coming at him. Unable to block the attack, Makuta was blinded, stumbling around as the attack seared him. He could feel more charges being fired at him, but they cast no damage, but this attack had slipped past the cracks in the mask to where he was most vulnerable. Makuta closed his eyes tight, until the burning feeling passed, and he opened his eyes, able to see again. Kapura was there, furiously firing his energy, until Makuta had enough, and threw a shadow hand out, smashing the Toa of Fire into a column. “Your power has no effect, and the Vahi could not defeat me— so why do you persist?” Makuta asked.

“You have kidnapped my friends, and destroyed my sanctuary. You’re a monster that needs to be destroyed.”

“Destroy me?” the Makuta chuckled. “How can you destroy me, when I am everything? I am the soil you walk on, I am in the branches of the trees; I am just as much a part of the island as my brother Mata Nui. I bore you, for I am everything. How else do you think the stone came to you— You think it simply appeared? I knew what Vakama had in store for you, and had one of my Rahi place it in the forest on your stroll. That’s why I stole the stones at Kini-Nui! I guessed, and I planned and waited, and my guesses usually turn out right.”

Kapura stumbled to his feet, eyes wild as he comprehended what his enemy was saying. It was ludicrous, and as much he wanted to say impossible, he couldn’t. No, he was not a Toa as a result of the Makuta, it had been the will of Mata Nui… it couldn’t be true…

Makuta grinned sinisterly as he watched the Toa try to deny the truth of what he was hearing. Off balance and distracted, Kapura was defenseless against twin tentacles that leapt from the shadows, hoisting him in the air until he and the Makuta were mask to mask. He kicked and squirmed as he tried to escape, but the Makuta’s grip was too strong; the pressure pinning his arms was beginning to push his armor in, the tyrant squeezing the very air out of him. Don’t let him get the Vahi, he thought, switching to the Pakari as Makuta’s claw reached for the artifact. It was a futile attempt, the Toa knew as he felt himself slipping away, but he could not let his enemy get the Mask of Time.

“Once I pry that mask from you, I really should send your body back to the Turaga as a thanks, a nod to them for all of the safekeeping of this mask they have done over the years,” the Makuta taunted, laughter beginning to rumble from him as he sensed victory. “Vakama had hope for you, but it was simply because you are mature for your stature,and I have beaten my fair share of ‘mature’ Toa in my time. So is that all you have, Kapura— your fire power, and a mask you can barely control?”

“He’s got me.”

The laughing stopped, and Kapura thought he had finally passed into unconsciousness, as the tentacles relinquished their grip, letting him crumple to the floor. But Makuta was on his back, not far away, a hand covering part of his shoulder armor. Wheezing, Kapura returned to his feet, and as he looked around, more than just air returned to his lungs.

Takua had arrived, stepping out from behind a column to strike the master of shadows with a beam of elemental light. White and gold armor shining in the gloom of the Mangaia, a glare was on his mask as he watched at the fallen titan, and Kapura nodded to let him know he was alright. Between them, the Makuta stirred, and Takua gripped his staff, ready to strike again. 

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It was the Makuta’s turn to be stunned now, as he turned to see his anonymous attacker. He had expected some Matoran to be behind him, come to perish with the Toa, but what he saw was probably the last thing he ever expected. “H-How—That’s impossible!” he bellowed, something between rage and fear appearing in his eyes. All the overconfidence that he had possessed a moment before was gone now, and he began to stumble over his words at the sight of the Kanohi Avohkii upon Takua’s face.

They gave him no more time to react as they charged, peppering Makuta with bolts of flame and light that forced him further into his lair. Together the two swung their tools at the titan, throwing everything they had into the blow. He parried, catching them on both ends of his staff, and shoved them away before advancing. They responded by whirling their tools to aggressively come down on him again, but as quick as they were, the Makuta’s staff was there to meet them. Takua flipped over the titan to strike him from behind, while Kapura was left to face him head on solo; the enemy was fast, intercepting the Toa of Light’s move while looking directly at the Toa of Fire.

Kapura feinted at the master of shadows, giving short, rapid jabs with his longspear, keeping a sideways stance to leave no openings. The Makuta laughed, swatting them away with his own staff. Kapura jabbed once, twice, thrice more before cutting up with the bottom of his weapon. The Makuta came down on it, the tail end of his staff checking Takua behind him, but he had left an opening for Kapura to unleash a white hot blast of fire at the titan’s shoulder. The Makuta grimaced, spinning to deal with the Toa of Light, attempting to kick Kapura in the process. But to his surprise, the Toa of Fire was gone, and Makuta’s mask whirled to see Takua in the air, scythe-like staff in the middle of a long arcing blow at the heated shoulder. Makuta grunted and fell back, bracing his staff in defense for another blow.

Two elemental bursts jolted the Makuta, and he recoiled as the elemental light stung him. Giving a mighty shove, the titan telekinetically forced the Toa down, his staff descending on a stumbling Takua. But Kapura had leapt in between, and the staff came down on the forcefield of the Kanohi Hau. As it bounced up back toward its owner, so did the Toa, leaping in the air to swing and strike their enemy and jump over him. The Makuta pivoted to unleash a fury of shadow bursts, which they responded with firing their own elements. The attacks cancelled, but Kapura fired a stream of steady fire at his enemy’s chest. Too off balance to absurd it, the wound in his shoulder leaking a greenish substance, the Makuta grunted and took the blow. 

And they were parrying him again, sparks flying and metal clanging against metal in the dimness of the lair. Each opponent slashed at one another, Takua and Kapura slipping low and high strikes at their enemy with a savage, animalistic fury, determined to get an opening. Teeth bared, Kapura’s hands were nothing but a blur as his spear danced, stabbing wherever the Makuta’s defense was empty.

Makuta’s expression grew grim, as redirecting the two of their feints was proving more difficult. This skirmish has gone on for far too long— the Vahi wasn’t supposed to be this hard to require, he cursed, but if it means securing the Avohkii as well, the mess will be worth it. Taking a huge stride back from the Toa, and with enormous willpower, a shadow fist burst from his chest to strike Kapura dead on, and the Toa went flying away from himself and the Toa of Light, crashing into a column. There was no way he’s returning to the fight after that, he told himself as he turned to Takua. Two Toa were distracting… but one was target practice. The Vahi will be  mine, as this one’s Kanohi might be soon.

Kapura tried to get up, as he had a dozen times before, but Makuta’s punch had finally broken him; even with the assistance of his Pakari, his arms trembled violently in attempt to push himself to his feet. He slumped in the rubble, struggling to lift his eyes to watch Takua battle. All he could hear now was his own ragged breathing, the sounds of clashing spears becoming distant as Kapura felt himself fading. They had landed a few blows against Makuta, but no matter what powerful Kanohi they were able to use against him, the two Toa were both terribly inexperienced. What else was he to do?

Where wisdom and valor fail, all that remains is faith, and it can overcome all, a voice rang in Kapura’s mind. His head perked; these were the words of Akamai, but at the same time a different being entirely, as the Toa of Valor’s mask came to his mind’s eye. Suddenly the world was sharp again, full of noise and metal against metal, and the Toa of Fire knew what had to come next.

“Kapura, the mask!” Takua called, his voice piercing Kapura’s mental haze. “Use it now!”

Kapura concentrated hard on the Makuta, a difficult task in his weakened state; at first only a few bursts of time energy came out, briefly brushing him as the Toa struggled to activate the mask. But as the small bursts hit the titan, he was suddenly tripping over himself, looking around confusedly, as if…his perception of time was knocked back a few seconds. Kapura’s excitement grew, and the stream of time energy finally flowed from the mask, enveloping itself around an unprepared enemy who was questioning what had gone wrong with his reality.

The master of shadows was frozen in mid lunge, his injured shoulder exposed and defenseless, and Takua was about to waste none of the time that was in front of him as he fired a beam of light into the forcefield. It struck the wound, hitting the green substance leaking from the armor— whatever it was could not resist the light, the substance sizzling and burning rapidly even in the slowed reality. Takua persisted with his power, and elemental light pierced Makuta more than any blade ever could.

It drove into him and shined through the cracks in his armor, and the Makuta shuddered within the grasp of the Vahi, as he felt the combined two forces of the Toa take their toll on him. An expression of despair morphed onto the Kraahkan’s features— this was the one thing he had never anticipated, the one thing he had not forseen, and it was not something he could fight through. There was no escape plan, and not one of his powers were able to assist him as they had for over a thousand years.

Unable to hold on any longer, Kapura relinquished the power of the mask. The force field around Makuta dissipated, and a long shout of defeat that had emerged within the Vahi’s power now roamed throughout the lair. It echoed and rebounded, adding to the crash that his armor made as it fell to the floor of the lair. Their enemy lay there defeated, with nothing else leaking from his armor, and uttered one last gasp before the crimson eyes behind his Mask of Shadows faded to black. The two Toa looked at one another, panting from their fight, nothing but the sound of their breathing in the chamber.

And the Mangaia was quiet once more.

into that rushing beast of the night,   

sucked up by that great dragon, to split   

from my life with no flag,

no belly,

no cry.”

Anne Sexton, “The Starry Night” from The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981). Copyright © 1981 by Linda Gray Sexton and Loring Conant, Jr. Reprinted with the permission of Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc.

Source: The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1981)

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