The stone slid from Oreius' grasp into the slot, fitting perfectly, clicking into place as though it had been carved for that specific notch in the Suva, and none other. For a moment, nothing happened. The Ta-Matoran stood there, his mind empty, listening to the wind whistle through the leaves far above. There was no other sound.
Then the Stone began to glow, as it had done so many times before. It had glowed when it had Chosen him; he remembered the crimson light spilling through his fingers when Takua had placed the precious stone in his hands. It had shone to lead them when they had sought Onua's Stone; its light had been their compass and their guide. It had shone, too, when it seemed Oreius and Stannis had, at long last, been cornered by Makuta. It had blazed with the fire of the sun, and had burnt away the fear and ice that had held the Ta-Matoran still.
The red light had always signified movement and change. It was fitting: the soul of fire was found in movement. In action. Whereas stone and ice were the elements of sentinels, content to stand watch and act as fortresses, fire was not patient. Like Toa Tahu, the First Toa of Fire, it leapt and attacked and moved, shaping the world around it, burning away stagnation and waste.
Kapura's voice echoed from deep within his memories.
“Courage is the soul of movement.”
It was Oreius' courage that had led him here, to this black obelisk, to accept his destiny and the fate of the world. It was his determination to keep moving, keep fighting, no matter the odds, to protect his home at any cost. It was his courage that had proved him worthy of the fire of Tahu.
The scarlet light became brighter, mixing with the hues of the other Stones, creating a rainbow of coloured light that grew more intense until Oreius was forced to shut his eyes. He felt the brightness on his eyelids.
The blinding light grew ever brighter, until the whole world seemed as bright as the sun, painfully white. And that was the moment when everything changed.
Throughout their journey, Oreius had idly wondered what becoming a Toa would feel like. Would it be an unpleasant stretching or pulling? Would his new body burst out of his armour? Would it be uncomfortable or painful?
It was none of these things. Instead, the Ta-Matoran became aware of an odd sensation travelling over his body. It felt almost as though someone had poured water over his head, and the warm water was trickling down his body, alive with energy, almost like liquid electricity, as though the Stone's crimson light had become physical, and filled him to the brim and over, spilling down his body. It made him recall his stay in Ga-Koro, where he had taught himself to swim. He remembered how, after finishing his last lap, he would pull himself out of the water and feel it running off his body, cleansing and pure.
This sensation was similar, only stronger, hotter, and accompanied not by pain or discomfort, but by a pleasant tingling sensation that covered and filled him, changing him from the inside out.
When the light faded along with the sensations, Oreius opened his eyes.
He stood where he had before, but that was the only thing that hadn't changed. Instead of looking directly at the Essence Stone's niche, he was now several feet taller; the slot was below him.
The Suva Nui, that black obelisk, looked much smaller than it had only a few moments before. Oreius' eyes followed it up to its peak, then continued above it, taking in the remains of the Rama hive in which he stood. The hive, too, seemed smaller. With his perspective having changed, the entire world seemed to have shifted.
Changed, too, were his companions. Some of them stood; others had fallen over from the shock of their transformation, but all were now Toa. Reordin was now tall and lean, his armour a blinding, icy white. Leah's green body had changed to the blue of the sea on a summer's day; she was built gracefully. Korero's armour, too, had shifted colours: the Ko-Matoran was now the green of jungle foliage.
Sulov was a mountain of a Toa; his armour was black as the caves beneath the island, and his eyes glowed green. Stannis stood tall and strong, like a living statue, his features precisely carved; he carried a polearm in one hand.
And Oreius himself... well, he had changed too.
He looked at his hands; they were the last thing he had seen before his transformation. They were bigger, of course, and stronger: the hands of a warrior, and they gently gripped two beautiful swords, sister blades without flaw. His gaze followed along his arms, and examined his chest, waist, legs and feet. His colour scheme was somewhat changed; as though Tahu's fire had been poured directly into his body, the black and red of his armour had been replaced by red and orange, mimicking the colours of burning flames.
Altogether, he was taller and stronger, but those were only the physical changes.
His body felt alive as it never had before, as though a current of energy were running just beneath his skin. His muscles tingled with power; he wrapped his fingers more tightly around the hilts of his swords, and marvelled at how light they were. As a Matoran, one of these blades would have sufficed for a weapon; as a Toa, it was like they weighed nothing at all.
The others began to laugh and talk excitedly as they examined their new forms, revelling in the sensation of nigh-unlimited energy flowing through their veins. But Oreius did not speak; he remained silent, and instead directed his thoughts inward.
A voice answered, but it was not the voice he was used to. As a Matoran, communicating with Inu had been a matter of speaking in images and sensations, and translating those into words that he could understand. The art of conversing had become easier with practice, but it was still occasionally clumsy, as translating sometimes could be.
This voice still spoke in pictures and emotions; it still whispered with sights and sounds and smells and tastes. But the process of translation was gone. Instead of working to understand Inu, Oreius simply knew what he was saying. It was as though he were hearing his own thoughts; the intention behind them was plain.
I am here.
Inu's voice was glad, even relieved. Neither of them had known, after all, what the effects of the transformation would be. Though neither of them had explicitly said it, both had wondered if the Stone's power would only be given to Oreius, violently ripping the parakuka from his spine as his form expanded.
But that hadn't happened. Instead, the two beings seemed to have grown even closer together. Oreius reached over his shoulder, feeling at his back; where before his fingers would have met the chitinous carapace of the parakuka, now he only felt his own armour. Inu seemed to have fused with him, giving him a slight hunch, but nothing else by which anyone would know that there were two beings in this body, not just one.
Their minds, too, had joined even more tightly. Their thoughts were clear to each other; communicating no longer required translation or even much effort at all.
This is amazing.
Inu's familiar warmth blossomed in agreement, but their rejoicing was cut short by a terrible screech. Oreius abruptly withdrew from his mind and looked around in surprise, and, with a burst of adrenaline and uneasy fear, saw six Rahkshi climb out of the Suva Nui.
The chitinous creatures hissed and shook their spines; an ominous rattling filled the burnt remains of the Hive. The monsters quickly split up and each facing an individual Toa. Oreius, ever the soldier, immediately recognized the strategy in this move: the Company's elements were easily identifiable by their colours; the Rahkshi's powers, on the other hand, were an enigma. They could pick whichever Toa they had the biggest advantage over.
The Rahkshi that chose Oreius as its target was a light aquamarine. It carried a staff, as all the Rahkshi did, that was topped at either end with wicked-looking blades that glinted in the sunlight, razor-sharp. It hissed menacingly.
Oreius dropped into a guarded stance, his swords raised and at the ready; they felt like extensions of his body. He kept his eyes on the Rahkshi, waiting for a movement, ready to counter any attack the creature might make.
In the back of his mind, the Toa of Fire was aware of Inu's reaction to the Rahkshi's presence; the parakuka was both friendly and hostile, fighting between his knowledge that the creatures were killers and had come to kill him and his host, and his natural instincts that recognized the Rahkshi as brothers.
Oreius did his best to shut these instincts out; he couldn't afford to let his guard down for even a second in the battle to come. Tales of the Rahkshi's terrible might had circulated the island long before the attack on the Nui-Rama Hive; they were cold and merciless, and strong as three Toa together.
The Company had the power of the First Toa on their side, but they were inexperienced, and only minutes old as Toa. Their skills as Matoran would have to be adapted on the fly to fit their new bodies, and they would have to figure out how to use their elemental abilities as soon as possi-
The Rahkshi struck, a terrible screech tearing from its fanged mouth as it leapt for Oreius, swinging its bladed weapon with inhuman speed and strength. The staff whistled through the air, and the Toa of Fire only just managed to dodge it, leaping backwards out of instinct more than anything.
The son of Makuta continued its assault, spinning its staff around and striking again, trying to catch Oreius off guard. This time, the Toa managed to catch the blade with his swords, the steel sparking, but even with his new strength, the Rahkshi flung him back with apparent ease.
The Toa stumbled backwards; as a Matoran he would have turned the attack into a backwards roll, or some other defensive manoeuvre getting him out of the way quickly, but with his new body, he found himself merely stepping backwards, doing his best to transform the momentum into cohesive movement instead of falling flat on his back. If he did that, it was as good as game over.
The Rahkshi followed up, this time swinging its staff overhead for a powerful downwards strike. Off-balance and flustered, Oreius forgot his training and simply swiped at thin air, his sword not coming anywhere near the monster.
When Takua had said that the Essence Stone might contain ghosts of the First Toa's personality, it seemed he had guessed right. The moment Oreius simply acted instead of thinking, he realized how to activate his powers.
It wasn't difficult; it was almost laughably easy. The power was there, waiting to be used. All the Toa had to do was use it. He didn't have to push it out, or force anything to happen. All he had to do was let it out.
As his sword slashed an invisible line through the air, Oreius simply opened the floodgates, channelling the energy in his veins through the steel of his sword. The sword wasn't a source of his power, but it was a conduit, and it sucked the energy out of his body, slicing a line of fire through the air.
The horizontal arc of fire blasted out from the Toa, catching the Rahkshi mid-strike and carrying it backwards through the air. The creature hit the ground hard, but merely shook itself and got to its feet, the flames on its armour dying out almost immediately, leaving not even a single burn mark. Its red eyes flashed, and it hissed viciously. Maybe it was because of Inu, but Oreius half thought he could understand what the Rahkshi was saying.
And it wasn't very appropriate.
The Rahkshi is resistant to heat, Inu said cautiously. Your fire will not harm it.
Oreius nodded mentally in response. That put a damper on things, but, even so, the Toa's attack had levelled the playing field. Even if he couldn't burn the Rahkshi, he had proved that his attacks could still connect, giving him some space. The two opponents faced each other again, weapons at the ready once more, when a savage scream ripped through the air.
The Toa gasped in pain; the Rahkshi, on the other hand, seemed immune to its brother's powers, and advanced, pressing its advantage. Oreius pushed through the pain, and managed to block its attack again, but instead of staying on the defensive, he pressed the staff to the side with one of his blades and slashed at the Rahkshi with the other.
The blade bit into the creature's leg; the Rahkshi screeched and pushed Oreius back back again. This time, however, the Toa used the momentum to his advantage, and spun to the side. His battle strategy as a Matoran had always been to use his speed and size against his opponents; he wasn't much smaller than the Rahkshi now, but the same plan of attack could still apply. The faster he moved, the more hits he could land, and the less hits the Rahkshi could accurately aim at him.
The creature, after all, was brandishing a long, unwieldy staff, not very effective for close-quarters combat, as Oreius was already demonstrating. Spinning to the side, he slashed twice more at the monster; the first scored a shallow cut, but the Rahkshi turned in time to block the second, its hateful eyes flaring. Having deflected the attack with one end of its staff, it spun the other end around, faster than thought, and struck at Oreius, only for the Toa to catch the blow on his crossed swords.
The two opponents struggled there for a long moment, pressing against each other. Oreius' swords were crossed in an X-shape, with the staff in the centre. Slowly, but surely, the Rahkshi began to push the Toa backwards, leaning over him, forcing him down, towards the ground. As strong as his new body was, the Rahkshi was stronger.
Oreius, Inu said, his voice quivering with battle-lust. You cannot defeat him without me.
Sweat dripped off the Toa of Fire's brow; he gritted his teeth as he pushed with all his might against the son of Makuta.
The golden warmth of Inu's presence exploded in Oreius' mind; the joy of battle filled the Toa, twisting his mouth into a determined smile even as the Rahkshi pushed him down. The warmth coursed through his limbs like liquid fire as the parakuka activated, releasing his reserves of energy. Oreius felt his limbs swell and lengthen with new power; he felt his muscles expand, pushing at his armour; there was a moment of discomfort and then it was gone, and he saw the world with new eyes.
He felt stronger, faster, more powerful. The Rahkshi had shoved him down onto one knee, but its strength no longer seemed as great as it had. It was just another opponent to beat; this was just another battle to win.
With a bellow of rage that rivalled the Rahkshi's screams of hate, Oreius stood to his feet, pushing the creature back as easily as if it were a Matoran trying to hold them down. The Rahkshi hissed in surprise, but by then the Toa was already gone.
They streaked around to the side, circling the Rahkshi, their speed rivalling that of a Kakama user's. The monster turned to defend itself, but it was too late- a parakuka-enhanced punch knocked it to the side; a second threw it off balance; a third sent it sprawling.
Before the Rahkshi could even think of defending itself, Oreius and Inu were on top of it, throwing blow after blow at the creature's face. The chitinous suit of armour began to crumple under the assault; the Rahkshi reached with its claws to do something, anything to stop the attack, but the Toa simply grabbed each arm at the shoulder, and, with a barbaric snarl, simply ripped the limbs from their sockets before returning to their task of utterly destroying the suit of armour.
The head of the Rahkshi was now nothing more than a twisted, crushed lump of metal; Inu and Oreius turned their attention to the body. Jumping to their feet, they began to stomp on the carapace; the kraata managed to shriek once before it was crushed, squirting blood and pulverized flesh out of the mashed armour.
Oreius and Inu were the last Toa to defeat their Rahkshi, but they didn't care or even notice. Their attention was on completely subduing this opponent. Snarling with all the fury of a Muaka, they tore at the shattered exoskeleton, ripping it apart piece by piece and scattering them across the clearing.
Gradually, the fog began to clear from their brain. The two were now one, more so than they ever had been before, and it was intoxicating, but Oreius became aware that Inu was beginning to pull away, sounding a warning in his mind.
We need... stop... too much energy...
The transformation started in reverse as the parakuka reeled his influence back in. The Toa's limbs shrank, bringing them back to normal Toa height. Though they hadn't realized it, they had been standing hunched over, elongated arms ending in razor claws at nearly touched the ground, similar, in a way, to the stance of a lava ape.
Then, in a rush of energy and colour, Oreius' mind was his own again. He managed to look around once, see that the others had also dealt with their Rahkshi, before he crumpled to his knees in them midst of the remains of the Rahkshi he had just slain, a wave of exhaustion rolling over his body.
“We- we're fine,” he managed between gasps, before his companions could worry themselves. “Just... just tired.”
He bent over, putting his head below his heart, pulling in breath after breath until his pulse slowed. When he opened his eyes, he was staring at the crumpled remains of the Rahkshi head, its eyes now lifeless and blank.
We... we did it, he thought. We killed a Rahkshi!
Yes, Inu replied, his voice still buzzing with the thrill of battle and of victory.
We are the real hunter.