Gelu, Zaria, Chiara and Orde stood at the edge of a thick forest. Their wrists were bound behind them. Nearby, three Bota Magna Vorox stood, weapons at the ready. A fourth held a flare.
“Good sport,” said one of the guards.
“Haven’t had any like this in a long time,” said another.
Gelu’s mind raced. It had been his job to get these “Toa” through the wilderness in safety, and so far he had failed miserably. They had been netted like amateurs by what turned out to be intelligent Vorox, whose leader, Kabrua, was angered at the treatment of his more barbaric cousins in Bara Magna. Thus he decided his captives would be the quarry in a hunt.
“It’s absurdly simple,” Kabrua explained. “You will be marched to the edge of the woods. At a certain point, your bonds will be cut and you will be free to run. One of my soldiers will light a flare to alert us to your starting point. Then I and my hand-picked trackers will hunt you down and kill you.”
“Why? We’ve done nothing to you,” Gelu had responded.
“Your kind has persecuted mine throughout Bara Magna,” Kabura had said. “That means you forfeit your life. Any who travel with you must share your guilt.”
It was a bad situation, but Gelu knew all hope wasn’t lost. They had taken away his weapon and those of the Toa, apparently not realizing that Toa did not need weapons to use their powers. That was going to give them an edge Kabrua would regret.
One of the guards slashed their bonds. “Run!” he barked.
Zaria glanced at Gelu. The Toa of Iron had wanted to fight as soon as they were freed, but Gelu had vetoed the suggestion. It would be easier to ambush Kabrua and his party in the woods. Gelu gave a nod and the four broke into a run, heading into the thick brush.
Almost immediately, it became clear it would be slow going. Thick growth and a dense concentration of branches meant progress was being made at a crawl. Frustrated, Chiara started using her electrical power to blast a pathway for them. “Stop it!” Gelu ordered. “You might as well be waving a sign telling Kabrua where we are.”
Zaria pointed up ahead to a rocky outcropping. “Chiara and I can take cover under there and blast them when they come by. You and Orde can be the bait.”
“Thanks,” said Orde. “Remind me to do the same for you one day.”
“He’s right,” said Gelu. “It’s a good plan. I can hear them coming up behind us. You two better get ready.”
Zaria and Chiara took up positions. Orde and Gelu stayed out in the open, even slowing their pace to make sure Kabrua could spot them. Within a few moments, the first Vorox tracker broke through the brush behind them and shouted that he had spotted the prey.
Kabrua and the rest of the hunting party were there in an instant. Gelu and Orde started running, with the trackers right behind them. Gelu waited for the sounds of the Toa’s attack … but it never came.
“I see only two of you,” Kabrua shouted. “The other two are in hiding, waiting to launch an ambush. Oh, yes, I know all about Toa power and how it works. As your friends have discovered, I also know how to shut it off.”
“Shut it off?” said Orde, incredulous. “You can’t shut off a Toa’s power. That’s like shutting off the ability to breathe!”
“Don’t look now, but that trick is next on the program,” Gelu replied. “Is your power still working?”
Orde reached out with his mind to try to read the thoughts of the Vorox. All he got back was dead silence. “No,” he answered, desolation in his voice.
“That settles it then,” said Gelu. “Kabrua must have information on the Great Beings. Who else would know how to turn off a Toa?”
Orde picked up a heavy branch. “Then let’s go beat it out of him.”
“No. We run,” Gelu decided. “He hasn’t found Zaria and Chiara. We have to lead the trackers away from them.”
The two started running east, directly away from where the other two Toa were in hiding. Something had been bothering Gelu. If Kabrua could shut down Toa power, why not do it from the start of the hunt? Why was Chiara able to use her power before? The only answer he could think of was that whatever Kabrua was using, it didn’t work at long range.
He looked behind. Kabrua and two of the trackers were following, but the other two had stayed behind. That clinched it. He couldn’t afford to leave the two Toa behind and risk their powers coming back, so he had left some of his soldiers behind, no doubt with the power-dampener.
Orde heard the sound of water rushing up ahead. “River – I think I have an idea.”
The two had managed to get far enough ahead of the trackers that they were nowhere in sight. They ran into the river, but Orde stopped Gelu from crossing all the way. “They’ll spot our tracks on the opposite bank,” the Toa said. “But not if we go up.”
Gelu smiled. With a boost from Orde, he reached a tree branch up above the water. Then he helped the Toa up. The two of them scrambled higher up into the tree where they could not be easily seen from the ground.
“Orde, I want you to do something for me,” said Gelu. “When Kabrua goes by, use your power. He got his information on Bara Magna and you Toa from someone. We need to find out who.”
“He might sense the probe,” warned Orde.
“It’s your mission,” said Gelu. “You can make the call. We can go back and rescue Chiara and Zaria and get out of this valley, just keep searching, if you like. Or we can take a chance and maybe learn something.”
“All right,” said Orde. “But be prepared. This can be a two-way street. He might wind up knowing exactly where we are.”
After a few moments, Kabrua and his trackers appeared. They saw the tracks leading into the river, but couldn’t spot any leaving. “They probably swam,” said Kabrua. “But they have to come out somewhere. We’ll search the banks going upriver and down.”
Up above, Orde closed his eyes. His mind brushed against Kabrua’s and encountered no resistance. He pushed a little harder, peeling away layers as quickly as he could to find the information he sought. Finally, he got a glimpse, no more than that, of the truth. But before he could fully explore it, he could feel Kabrua sensing the intrusion. Orde pulled back swiftly, hoping to escape detection.
He and Gelu waited. The Vorox shook his head, but did not look up in their direction. The Vorox no doubt knew they were somewhere in the area, but didn’t know where.
“What did you learn?” Gelu whispered.
Orde gestured for him to wait. Kabrua was looking around. Then, frowning, the Vorox crossed the river and started to search the opposite bank.
“All right,” said Gelu. “We’ll give it a minute and then head back for the others. What did you find out?”
That was when Gelu noticed the look in Orde’s eyes. Even though they were mechanical receptors of visual stimuli, somehow they still managed to reflect emotion – in this case, shock.
“It’s insane,” Orde muttered. “It’s … more than I can believe.”
The Toa turned to Gelu. “When the Great Beings made Mata Nui … one of them wanted to see, to know, exactly how their creation would function. So, without the knowledge of the others, he … I guess the best word is ‘transferred’ his spirit, his intellect, into one of the bio-mechanical beings they had made to inhabit the Great Spirit.”
Gelu looked puzzled.
“Don’t you see?” Orde said in a harsh whisper. “One of the beings from my universe … one who is on your world now … is really a Great Being. He’s been living among us all this time, hidden, fooling us all.”
“And he gave the information to Kabrua,” Gelu said. “Why?”
“I don’t know,” said Orde. “I had to break contact before I learned who he was. But he’s been waiting over 100,000 years to return here, concealed in another body … and I saw flashes of what he has planned for this world. He has to be stopped, Gelu … if there’s still time.”