Chapter 22: Going Down the River of Shadow
Akuna was having difficulties moving her oar because of its weight. She had to lift it up, turn it around, and then pull it back to keep it going at the same speed as the rest of the oars, although she could tell that her friends were having an equally hard time moving theirs.
The bottom of the ship where the oars were was quite large. It looked like it could hold at least twenty Kra-Matoran villagers, all of whom were supposed to row the oars. But since it was just these four Toa with only their raw strength to move it they found that they had a hard time getting it moving, since the oars seemed to weigh about a ton each and the ship seemed even heavier.
Still, they were making progress at least, and that was what mattered most to her. As long as they kept rowing the oars and as long as Barilo and Nastan kept a watch out for any Kra-Matoran, she was sure that they would be getting out of Wyoko very soon.
A new thought popped into her bran as she rowed her oar. Why did Addis put Nastan and Barilo on the surface? Doesn’t he know how distrustful Nastan is of Barilo? she thought as she rowed. Maybe he is trying to get Nastan to trust Barilo so we will have true unity. After all, they do have a major trust issue going on and they will have some alone time up there so they can talk it over, hopefully.
They had been rowing the ship for hours upon hours, with Nastan or Barilo occasionally coming down to give a report on where they were headed. They had already gone down several forks in the river, each way directed by Nastan or Barilo so that they would be heading toward The Door, which seemed to be getting closer according to the two watchers.
It seemed to Akuna that there weren’t any villages near the river, otherwise Barilo and Nastan would have told them. So perhaps that meant that they would get to The Door with little to no mishaps, which was a relief to Akuna. She didn’t want to have to fight any villagers on their way to The Door because she wasn’t so sure that they could win, especially if they had to fight on the river.
Suddenly, the ship lurched sharply to the left, then to the right, and then to the left again. Akuna and the others tried to keep it steady, but it kept shifting itself all of the time and they had no way to stop it at all. Addis gave up try and looked over his shoulder at his three friends and he said, “Okay, who’s rocking the boat?”
All of them shrugged, indicating that they weren’t doing anything and that they hadn’t a clear idea of what was happening, either.
“Maybe we got caught in a current,” Nonzra suggested.
“I hope not,” Addis replied as the ship lurch again, this time more aggressively than before. “It may have swept us off course toward The Door.”
All of a sudden, they felt something brush against the side of The Endless Shade and then the wall burst open as a giant squid tentacle and water-like shadow came gushing in, causing the four Toa Shika to get knocked off their feet, and the next thing that Akuna knew she saw the squid tentacle coming toward them menacingly, ready to kill them all.
“That is what caused the shifting, Addis,” Nonzra said as he looked at the appendage in surprise and fear.
A few minutes ago. . . .
Nastan and Barilo were sitting on deck, looking over the dirty, run-down ship and over to the shoreline, where they didn’t even see so much as a Rahi walking along it. Why weren’t there any villages or animals? They could see roads, but none of them had any Kra-Matoran traveling them.
Ah well, Nastan thought as he watched. Better to have no Kra-Matoran than a hundred, eh?
Both of the two Toa had been quiet the entire time, barely speaking to each other. Nastan was feeling rather angry at Addis for pairing him up with Barilo and Barilo didn’t particularly like Nastan, either. Occasionally they went down below deck to tell the others the progress of their journey but other than that they tried to keep out of sight as much as possible in order to avoid being detected by any Kra-Matoran.
In the distance they could see The Door coming closer and closer as The Endless Shade sailed smoothly over the surface of the dark river. They were getting closer, and that was what mattered most to Nastan at the moment rather than some personal grudge that he had against Barilo.
No, it’s not a just ‘some’ personal grudge against Barilo, Nastan thought. It’s a real issue, one that I honestly am thinking we’ll have to deal with eventually.
He remembered his little talk with Akuna about his trust issues with Barilo, but he wasn’t so sure that he was ready to talk with Barilo. After all, the Toa of Gravity tried to kill him once before and what if he tried it again when Nastan tried to talk to him? So he simply sat there and listened to the sound of the river rushing by him.
Barilo looked a little uncomfortable, too, and didn’t seem to want to talk. But then suddenly, he said, “So. . . . How’s life been treating you?”
“Horribly, I guess,” Nastan replied. “Can’t say I like being stuck down here in this weird place, but hey, at least Akuna is with me, so I’ll be okay.”
There was silence again and then Barilo said, “Nastan, I don’t think we should keep dodging the issue.”
“What issue?” asked Nastan, though he thought he already knew.
“The trust issue,” said Barilo. “If we’re going to be working together from now on, we have to trust each other.”
Nastan seemed slightly surprised by this, but he answered anyway, saying, “Well, to be frank, Barilo, I don’t trust you as much as the others and I don’t know if I can trust you. I mean, I trust you over the Shodios, certainly, but among us, well, I just don’t feel comfortable around you because of what you tried to do to me in the past. It’s hard to trust someone who almost killed you, you know?”
“I understand,” said Barilo, nodding. “I would lose trust in a person, too, if he tried to kill me.” He paused, as if lost in thought, then said, “Well, how can I earn your trust? I realize the mistake of what I did in the past and now I want to rectify it. I just want to trust all of my teammates and since you’re on the same team as I, I think that we should trust each other, you know?”
Nastan was surprised. Barilo really wanted his trust? That seemed an odd thing for Nastan to hear him say. But then, Nastan thought, maybe Barilo really had seen his mistakes and really wanted to become friends with Nastan again. But something inside the Toa of The Green was holding back that forgiveness for some reason. What if it were all a trick? He knew just how ridiculous and paranoid that would have sounded to anyone else, but he knew that Barilo was certainly capable of fooling others.
“I don’t know,” Nastan said slowly. “I mean, I don’t know what you should do to regain my trust. Save my life, maybe? It isn’t easy to mend one’s wounds so easily just by saying ‘I forgive you.’ “
“So there isn’t a way to regain your trust?” Barilo asked, sounding slightly disappointed. “Why can’t we just be friends?”
“Because, Barilo, when someone tries to kill you, you don’t usually forgive them just like that.” Nastan snapped his fingers. “It isn’t something you forget easily.”
“Oh, okay,” said Barilo. “I understand.” Although he didn’t seem to really understand it at all in Nastan’s opinion.
All of a sudden, however, the ship lurched to the left, then to the right, and then to the left again. Barilo stomped his foot on the ground and shouted, “Hey! What’s going on down there? Are you guys trying to throw us off or something?”
He heard no answer. Instead, there were a few more abrupt shifts and then they heard a loud crashing noise like someone had burst through a wall and then they heard a loud scream. Nastan recognized the scream as Akuna’s, and it sounded horrified.
“What’s wrong?” asked Barilo, looking at Nastan with a worried face. “Was that Akuna who screamed?”
“Think so,” Nastan replied, jumping to his feet and running to the lower deck.
Just as he got to the door, it burst open and the other four Toa came running out of it, their armor drenched in shadow, followed by what sounded like a crashing sound below. Addis, Akuna, Chimoy, and Nonzra looked like they had just been swimming, for they were wet and were panting hard but had their weapons out just the same.
“What happened?” asked Nastan. “Why are you guys wet?”
“Giant squid,” Addis answered. “Attacked us. Nearly killed us all. . . .”
“Giant squid?” Barilo repeated, walking over to them, his gravity axe out. “You’re sure?”
“Positive,” Akuna replied, now standing up straight as a rod. “It broke through the hull and is now going after us. We barely got out in time!”
Just as she said that, several giant tentacles shot out from the shadow around them, surrounding the ship immediately. Nastan drew his bow and shot off several arrows into one of the tentacles, each one hitting on target because he was using the power of his Kanohi Sanok, the Mask of Accuracy. That tentacle went down back into the shadow, but just as it did that, a giant beak broke through the floor of the ship, breaking The Endless Shade into hundreds of pieces, sending all six of the Toa Shika flying into different directions.
Barilo landed on the shadow and floated there for a bit before the squid reached out with a tentacle and grabbed him, holding the Toa of Gravity high above the river. Barilo was hitting his axe against the squid’s tentacle, but it kept bouncing off its soft, squishy surface, although he saw that it was still doing some damage. He could see the squid looking at him with one of its evil red eyes, a sort of hunger in its gaze.
In the river itself, the rest of the Toa Shika were trying to fight and swim at the same time, but were having no luck. Addis was trying to fire plasma balls but kept missing and instead they went into the shadow, while Chimoy and Nonzra had been captured by the squid like Barilo had been and were attacking the tentacles, trying to cut them off. Akuna and Nastan, meanwhile, were both holding onto a large piece of debris, shooting lightning bolts and plant life at any tentacles that came too close.
“How are we going to get out of this one?” Nastan asked as he used his powers to create a thick vine around one of the tentacles, causing it to start flailing around in order to get the tight plant off. “It’s got more tentacles than we have Toa!”
“Maybe I should electrocute the shadow, see if it will get knocked out,” Akuna suggested as she expertly stabbed an appendage with the sharp point of her staff.
“Akuna, the idea is good, but you might hurt the others,” Nastan replied as he hit one of the tentacles with a well-aimed punch. “Also, you shouldn’t worry about knocking it out. If we’re going to survive we’re going to need to kill it, at least.”
“But isn’t it in the Toa code not to kill our enemies?”
“Yeah, but Rahi are the exception,” Nastan answered. “Although I admit, being a Toa of The Green, the idea of killing an animal, even if it tried to kill us first, seems a little disgusting to me.”
“But you are right,” Akuna said as she shot another lightning bolt at a tentacle. “I may need to kill it, although I don’t know how I can do that without hurting the others.”
“Just shot it in the eye,” Nastan said, temporarily letting his guard down.
Because he wasn’t paying attention, a tentacle shot forward and smashed into the Toa’s mask, knocking him out and sending him falling deep beneath the shadow.
“Nastan!” Akuna shouted worriedly just as a tentacle wrapped itself around her body and lifted her out of the water. “Nastan! Don’t be dead! Nastan!”
The Door to The Light was an ancient relic, said to have been designed and crafted by Artakha himself. It was made out of extremely thick protosteel and was the only thing that was keeping the Shodios, Turaga Krashadi, and the entirety of the Kra-Matoran Empire from escaping and restarting their conquest of the universe. It was a sight universally hated by all Kra-Matoran, yet also revered as well, for no one had been able to destroy it at all during the 100,000 years that they had been in Wyoko. Even when all of the Shodios had teamed up and used their powers as one upon The Door, its Toa Seal that had been created by the Toa Avha had merely deflected the attack.
Now it was open for the first time in over 100,000 years, although the Shodios weren’t going to leave just yet, despite the fact that they were all there in the forest of shadow that surrounded the place. Instead, they were waiting for the Toa Shika to arrive, planning to kill the six Toa once they appeared there.
They were not alone. With them were at least 50 well-armed Kra-Matoran and Turaga Krashadi, too. No one thought it odd that a Turaga wanted to participate in what was sure to be a quick and bloody battle, for Krashadi always got what he wanted.
Currently that Turaga was examining The Door, his hand upon its cold, hard, old and smooth surface. He had seen it many times in the past, yet now it looked new to him, since it was open now, but it still emitted that strangely electric blue light that always reminded him where to look for The Door whenever he needed it.
I sincerely hope that the Toa Shika get here soon, Krashadi thought as he ran his hand along its metallic surface. I have waited 100,000 years, maybe even more, for this day when I would be free. If those pathetic Toa are going to dwindle and never arrive, then I will personally hunt them down.
Nearby, Teivel was leaning up against a tree, his mutilated eyes closed. None of the Kra-Matoran soldiers were near him, for they thought he looked weird and scary and so therefore they didn’t want to bother him, even after they had heard the explanation as to why he looked the way he did now.
Tikcah and Ira were sitting nearby, talking to each other, though it wasn’t very loud and it didn’t sound interesting whatever it was they were conversing about, though Tikcah kept shooting worried glances over to Teivel for some reason. Rhatara had his chain length out and was casually waving it in the air, although he looked quite impatient and mad. Jero, meanwhile, was sitting up against a tree, apparently studying some notes.
All of the 50 Kra-Matoran that they had brought with them were talking, comparing weapons, and tending to their Rahi that they had brought with them. The tone of the forest was one of excitement and seriousness, for they were all excited for the chance to be some of the first to leave Wyoko forever, but they also knew that they had to be quiet so the Toa Shika wouldn’t hear them if they were nearby.
Yes, it was true. Krashadi and the remaining Shodios had already decided that, after they killed the Toa Shika (which they were sure would be a quick battle), they would take this group of Kra-Matoran and leave Wyoko at once and secure Shika Nui. After that they would send some messengers back to Wyoko, gather the remaining villagers, and then take them back to Shika Nui. Then their conquest of the universe would begin anew once they set up a fortress on the island and got some ships built.
All we need now is for the Toa Shika to arrive, Turaga Krashadi thought. They will be the final piece to the plan, and once they are out of the way for good, no one in the known universe will be able to stop us.
Little did Krashadi know, however, that right now that the Toa Shika were all probably going to die at the tentacles of a beast.
Addis didn’t think any of them would survive. Akuna, Nonzra, Chimoy, and Barilo were caught by the behemoth and trying and failing to get out of its grasp, while Nastan was unconscious at the bottom of the river somewhere. He himself was holding onto a piece of driftwood while viciously firing plasma everywhere to scare the squid’s tentacles off, but they were started to get braver and he was starter to get more tired and he didn’t know how much longer he could hold onto the debris and shoot plasma.
It seems almost pointless, Addis thought tiredly. Practically all of my team is out of commission and I myself am almost ready to kick the bucket. Is this the end for us? Were we all destined to die at the hands of a giant, ugly squid?
Even as such undesirable and miserable thoughts entered his mind, he suddenly saw, several hundred feet above him that something big was flying down from the dark sky of Wyoko. It was swooping so fast that it was almost a blur, but he thought he recognized it.
A . . . Cracko? he thought, puzzled. Why’s a Cracko coming down here? Is it friends with the squid and wants to help it eat us?
As it turned out, however, the Cracko wasn’t very interested in eating them. Instead, the giant bat-like creature began clawing and screeching at the squid with its sharp toes and wings and the squid, Addis forgotten, began to swat at it with its tentacles. The rest of its slimy appendages, the ones that had been attacking Addis, all quickly began trying to hit the Cracko, but the flying rodent was moving too fast for it to hit, frustrating the river monster even more, though it still wasn’t letting go of the other Toa.
Now’s my chance! Addis thought, aiming his plasma cannon at the squid’s tentacles.
He shot off four balls of plasma, each one striking one of the tentacles that held the other Toa, dropping his friends into the shadow and causing the squid to shriek with pain at the same time. He saw the rest of the Shika break the surface and begin swimming toward him and away from the frightening beasts that were beating the stuffing out of each other.
“Nice shot, Addis,” Barilo said as he grabbed onto the same piece of flotsam as Addis. “Although it was really hot and I nearly got my mask melted off.”
“Well, it’s good that you guys are still safe,” said Addis, nodding. “By the way, anyone have any idea why that Cracko suddenly decided it would be fun idea to pick a fight with a giant, hungry squid?”
“That was me,” Nonzra replied, sharing a piece of wood with Chimoy. “Thought I’d use my Zatth and see what happened. Either that, or it was a stupid Cracko, though I’m betting that my mask had something to do with it.”
“Did you go for Nastan?” Akuna asked, also sharing the same piece as Barilo and Addis. “He’s under the shadow you know!”
“No, I didn’t,” Addis admitted. “I was more concerned for you guys-“
“Then I’m going after him,” Akuna replied, pulling out her staff. “And I’m going to rescue him.”
“Akuna, no!” Barilo shouted, but the Toa of Lightning had already dived beneath the waves and was gone from view in seconds. “Mata Nui, what’s up with her?”
“Love must make people act stupid,” said Nonzra. “She loves the guy and wants to save him, although it is a rather stupid thing for her to do in my opinion.”
“No, it’s not stupid,” Chimoy said, shaking his head. “It’s what Toa are supposed to do. Not only do we save others, but we should save ourselves.”
“Sounds like something Nastan would say,” Addis remarked. “But you’re right. Akuna may need help under there. Who wants to go and help her?”
“I will,” Barilo volunteered.
“Then go!” Addis barked, pointing at the shadow. “If the Cracko or squid try to get us we’ll let you know by having Nonzra send a wave of sound down, okay?”
Nodding, Barilo took a deep breath and then dove under the shadow.
It was a very black and dark world underneath the surface of the river. If he thought that Wyoko was the epitome of shadow, then he was wrong. This shadow made Wyoko look like the core of the universe it was so deep. He could not see more than an inch ahead of him and he had no idea where Akuna and Nastan might be. Worse yet, it really did feel like he was underwater, since he could see bubbles everywhere he moved his limbs and he could feel the cold creeping into his body.
Please let Akuna have her mask on, Barilo thought hopefully as he swam. If she doesn’t then I won’t be able to find her or Nastan!
It was also very cold under the river, almost cold enough to make him want to retreat, but he didn’t. Still, more than once he had to rise up and get a quick breath of air before continuing his seemingly-fruitless search.
Finally, after what seemed like hours of swimming and searching, he saw a small point of light ahead, though he thought it was the most glorious and beautiful he had ever seen after having seen nothing but shadow and darkness everywhere for the last few minutes. So he picked up speed and swam faster, his eyes fixed on the light.
He finally arrived at the light to find Akuna swimming a few feet above Nastan, who was unconscious. Akuna, despite being a strong Toa herself, was having a hard time lifting Nastan up, who seemed to have become nothing more than deadweight now. When Barilo swam into the light, Akuna first thought he was some kind of sea creature and tried to spear him with her staff until she recognized him.
They could not talk, for if they did they would let shadow into their lungs and lose air and drown. So Barilo communicated with hand gestures to her until Akuna finally figured out what he was telling her what he was going to do. The Toa of Gravity grabbed Nastan’s other arm, while Akuna still clung to the other. Now it was time for Barilo’s plan.
He activated his gravity powers and focused on Nastan, lightening his personal gravity until he began to float upwards very fast, but not fast enough. So he extended the field of light gravity to himself and Akuna until they were moving so fast that Barilo was afraid they might fly straight out of the shadow. Akuna was looking upward, her Mask of Night Vision still on.
It was then that Barilo realized that he was beginning to run out of air and by the look on her face, Akuna was, too. He couldn’t decrease their gravity anymore and he wasn’t sure if they would make it up to the surface in time or if they would end up drowning. So he and Akuna began kicking their legs to increase the speed, although it was obvious that it wasn’t really helping much, if at all.
But finally, just when Barilo had given up any hope of surviving, the three Toa broke the surface of the river of shadow and Barilo cut off his gravity power, allowing them to float gently on its surface. Akuna and Barilo were gulping for air, but he thought that they were both okay. He looked around wildly until he spotted Chimoy, Nonzra, and Addis swimming toward them, the squid and Cracko nowhere in sight.
“Help us!” Akuna shouted, her voice sounding hoarse as she coughed out shadow. “We gotta get Nastan to the shore!”
Nodding, the other three Toa quickly grabbed Nastan and the five Toa Shika began pulling the Toa of The Green to the shoreline until finally they reached it and hauled Nastan onto the sand, flopping him face up. He did not look good at all.
“He’s not breathing!” Chimoy shouted. “Somebody needs to get air into his lungs now!”
Without so much as volunteering, Akuna bent down and put her lips to Nastan’s, putting air into his mouth. Then she stopped and began pumping his chest very hard with her hands, hoping against hope that he was still alive. This went on for some time as the other Toa watched helplessly, hoping that Nastan was not dead. Finally, after several long minutes of Akuna pumping his chest and giving the Toa some more air, Nastan sputtered and coughed and Akuna pulled back, looking surprised that he had woken up so suddenly.
He was coughing up shadow as if it was water and he was breathing very deeply. He opened his eyes but did not sit up. Instead, he looked around at them with a weak expression in his orbs.
“What happened?” Nastan muttered in a hoarse voice. “Did I drown? Is this Paradise?” He looked around at the wet Toa, the debris of The Endless Shade out on the river, and at his own dented armor and then asked, “Why does Paradise look so much like Wyoko?”
Akuna merely happily smiled at him, and then, for the second time in 24 hours, hugged him tightly although this time he hugged her back without hesitation. They were like this for while, until Addis, now feeling slightly impatient, said, “If you two are done, we’re very close to The Door now. We can probably walk the rest of the way there.”
“Oh, yes,” Nastan said, quickly separating from Akuna and looking up at Addis. “Yes. Let’s do that. I am sick of seeing shadow and darkness and death everywhere, although I suppose it isn’t all bad. . . .” He looked at Akuna in the eyes as he said that.
So the two lovers quickly got back up to their feet (Nastan had a hard time balancing properly because of how weak and tired his limbs were) and then they rejoined their fellow Toa and soon they were walking again, this time toward The Door, which was within walking distance as Addis had said. They could see the forest of shadow, sitting at the foot of The Door to The Light, the trees silently shaking in the cold wind. They all knew that they would be returning home very soon and that thought, more than any other, gave them the courage and strength and encouragement to keep going. What they did not know, however, was what was waiting in the very heart of the wood itself. The remaining five Shodios, Turaga Krashadi himself, and about 50 well-armed and well-trained Kra-Matoran were all awaiting the Toa Shikas’ eventually arrival, ready to kill them and restart their conquest of the universe as they had done 100,000 years ago.
But even if the Toa had known that, they would still have confidently walked on to The Door anyway, preparing to meet their destiny.