"So," said Kotu. "Shall we vote?" Even though she was chairing this meeting, she sat on the metal floor of the forge, like the others.
"Explain what exactly we're voting on," replied Hafu, tapping mindlessly against a nearby bench.
"Weren't you listening?!"
"I was, but there's been so much discussion it's gotten confusing. So if we're going to vote, you should state it clearly."
"Right," Kotu took a moment, her yellow eyes dropping to the ground as she mentally recited her speech. "Each of us will seek ways to hinder the building of new Vahki, or damage their structural integrity. We will coordinate with sympathetic Matoran in our home Metru to conduct this. All those in favor?"
Ten hands went up.
"It's passed unanimously," Kotu announced. "Good, we can wrap up this meeting."
Kopeke sat in the corner, furiously carving the results of the vote onto his stone tablet. The new Chronicler said little in these meetings, but contributed by recording important information in a shorthand code he had developed.
"One last thing," Onepu cut in, holding his hand up. "Tamaru has told me of a warehouse in Le-Metru that's holding numerous Vahki parts. He's scouted it out, and it looks undefended. Tamaru, Macku and I will raze the warehouse tomorrow night."
"'Raze the warehouse?' Don't you think that you're acting rashly?" asked Kotu, mopping her mask. "That seems like a good way to attract the attention of the Vahki."
"We have a chance to strike, and we must take it! Casting brittle Vahki parts and sabotaging the protodermis purification systems won't allow us to end Makuta's rule!"
Kotu looked around the room. "Does anyone else have anything to add to this discussion?"
No hands went up.
"Should we at least vote on this?" asked Kotu.
"I didn't bring this up to debate the benefits of striking at the warehouse," said Onepu. "I will conduct this attack, regardless of what you say."
Tamaru smiled inwardly. This was the Onepu he knew. Brash, brave, unwilling to let others take command. When he set his mind to something, he did it, and he expected others to follow. It was a good thing he was such a capable leader.
"Well then, this meeting is adjourned," Kotu said, a touch of bitterness in her voice.
Tamaru stretched his legs, pulling himself up from the floor. Forge 77 - where he and the rest of The Resistance conducted their meetings - had only one proper stool. Hafu had offered to provide more, but Onepu had shot it down. Too many stools in Kapura's forge would look suspicious. Not that they expected the Vahki to raid the building - they tended to only patrol the streets, at least at this point - but it was better to be safe than to cause someone to ask unwanted questions.
Macku walked up to Kotu. "You did great chairing the meeting tonight! Good job!"
"Thanks, Macku," said Kotu, but she didn't sound thankful. "Do you really have to make this attack tomorrow? I don't want to hear that you found yourself on the wrong end of a Vahki stun staff."
Macku and Kotu were already heading down the stairs, but Tamaru helped Kapura clean up his workplace.
"Glad ever-slow meeting over," said Tamaru. "Long-talk about one topic all agree on, unending until decision finally made."
Kapura was putting away his tablets, carved with plans for Vahki parts. Chassis lay everywhere, ready to be shipped out in the morning. "Meetings are slow, but productive. Good work cannot be rushed, and it is important to ensure our actions are properly planned out."
Tamaru sighed. "Could be stopping Vahki tonight, instead came here."
"And now you have a plan to do that with Onepu and Macku." Kapura locked up the cupboard, and shut off the light. "We are doing good here. We find new ways to fight the Makuta."
"Wish finding ways to battle-flight not involve ever-talking," Tamaru muttered.
Finally, Tamaru and Kapura walked down the stairs, and out into the cold, evening air. Kapura trailed behind - a little slower than Tamaru would like. But Kapura's home was on the way to the chute station that led into Le-Metru, and it was best that a Le-Matoran not be seen walking the streets of Ta-Metru alone.
They were barely out of the shadow of Forge 77 when a Ga-Matoran came running up. Her armor almost glowed, as if she were a sparkling sapphire. But her eyes looked empty, like there was a void in her life.
"Excuse me," she asked. "Can you direct me to the nearest chute station?"
"Of course, watermaiden!" replied Tamaru, excitement creeping into his voice. "I head to Le-Metru myself. Chutestation you need on our way. Now, quick-follow!"
The Ga-Matoran looked frustrated for a moment, as so many strangers did when he spoke. But if Tamaru's thick dialect bothered her, she hid it quickly behind her mask. "Thank you, friend," she said, following Tamaru. "By the way, my name is Gavla. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance."
"I can't stop thinking about the Toa," said Macku, as she gently pushed the airspeeder through the Le-Metru streets. She purposely flew low to the ground, a concession to Tamaru. "Do you think they escaped unharmed?"
"I am certain the Toa will return, Macku," said Onepu. "And Hewkii will most definitely be among them. You have nothing to fear!"
"Matoro left, and never came back. What if this time it's Hewkii?" A silence fell over the trio for a moment. "Oh, what will I do if he doesn't return?"
"Know not what Toa face, but united are strong," said Tamaru. "Never would Gali allow Makuta-beasts to harm Hewkii."
"He left without me before," Macku exclaimed. "I should have been there, Tamaru! I would have gone to Voya Nui with him! All he had to do was ask. And now Hewkii is out there again, doing who-knows-what! I should be a Toa as well! I should be at his side! Why didn't Jaller come to me when he asked Hahli to go to Mahri Nui?" She sobbed for a moment. "Why didn't Hewkii ask me to go?"
The vehicle rounded a corner, and Warehouse 469 stood before them. "You may not be a Toa, Macku," said Onepu. "But you are a great warrior, and a hero to all Matoran."
Macku said nothing for a moment, seemingly focusing on guiding the vehicle to their destination. "I don't want to be a hero. I want to keep Hewkii safe." A moment later, she brought the vehicle to a standstill, parking it just outside their target. Two nights ago, Kekao had mentioned that this warehouse was being used to store vast numbers of Vahki parts before they were shipped out to Po-Metru for assembly.
Each Matoran grabbed a Level 8 Weakening Disk. Macku had been lucky to find a cache of powerful Kanoka Disks abandoned in Ga-Metru, stored before Mata Nui fell asleep 1,000 years ago. Fortunately, they hadn't seen any Vahki on patrol tonight - only dozens had been produced so far, and they couldn't be everywhere. If they didn't do something, that would all change soon.
"Alright. Let's do this," said Macku, wiping her eyes and regaining her composure. The three Matoran jumped out of the airspeeder, each walking to a different corner of the warehouse.
"Three! Two! One! Throw!" shouted Onepu, and the three Matoran threw their weakening disks at the building's supports. Tamaru sprinted back toward their airspeeder.
The building groaned for a moment, and began to collapse under its own weight. Onepu ran after Tamaru - Macku was already ahead of them.
"Hurry up!" Macku shouted.
As Tamaru reached the open door of the hovering vehicle, he hesitated. He glanced over his shoulder - a trio of scuttling Vahki rounded a corner, looking for the source of the commotion.
Onepu shouldered Tamaru into their getaway vehicle. "Retreat!"
The Vahki were on them now, there was no more time. Macku pumped the throttle, and the airspeeder rose into the night sky.
"Haha!" cried Macku, adrenaline overriding her common sense. She quickly weaved around buildings and under chutes. Tamaru glanced behind them - the Vahki had already switched to their flight mode and were in close pursuit.
Tamaru looked out the side window, catching sight of Matoran looking like ants. They were way too high for his comfort, and Macku flew like a maniac. Tamaru had never known a Le-Matoran to be this extreme in the air - who had taught her to fly like this? Although he was an excellent vinesman, true flight still made his belly feel queasy.
A squad of flying Vahki appeared in the front viewport, and Macku banked to evade them. "We're being herded away from Ta-Metru!" she called.
A disk flew past, and Macku began flying even more erratically to evade. Tamaru tried to close his eyes, putting his head in his hands. "Want to be ground-bound again, away from quick-soaring fright-machine!" he wailed.
"We must find a place to hide!" shouted Onepu.
"Tamaru, you know this Metru best," said Macku. "Do you have any ideas?"
Tamaru tried to think, but it was hard with the airspeeder bouncing and lurching, reminding him how high he was. He wished he could go back to vineswinging, instead of flying in these horrid vehicles. The airspeeder swerved, and at the same time, a vision slipped into his mind.
"Airship homes!" he cried. "Room for us, and airspeeder! Quick-turn left!"
"Alright," said Macku, banking too hard - again! Soon they were hurtling toward the industrial district.
"Empty warehouse coming up!" said Tamaru, holding back the urge to hide behind his hands. "No Le-Matoran opened since return to Metru Nui, will be empty. There!" he pointed.
Macku dived and hovered. "Get those doors open!"
Onepu opened the hatch and jumped to the ground. "Come on! Those Vahki won't be far behind!"
Tamaru ran over. A large hole had been ripped in the shutters, and he carefully climbed through it before smacking a switch on the wall. The shutters slowly rose. Rush-hurry, he willed.
Finally, the gap was wide enough for the airspeeder to pass through. The vehicle nudged forward, into the safety of the warehouse. A moment later, Tamaru hit the shutter again, relief flooding through him. "Need help to cover slice-hole," he called to Onepu, looking for something to patch the shutter with. Onepu dragged a bench over to cover it up.
Finally, they could breathe easily again.
"What is this place?" asked Onepu, looking around the warehouse. Dust covered comfortable-looking seats in one corner of the room, but the rest of the warehouse lay bare. Two doors remained closed on the far wall. A sign lay on the bench. Kemirii's Airship Tours.
Macku climbed out of her vehicle.
"Ancient airship-house, I think," answered Tamaru. "When Matoran returned to Metru Nui quick-looked around some. Useful items lying around, some engineers use parts for old ships. Planned to clean eventually but Rahkshi attack made us change-plan."
Tamaru glanced around. A closed door called out to him, as if it were a part of some long-forgotten memory. He reached out and opened it. The room he found himself in looked like a workshop - metal parts lay everywhere, tools left forgotten on benches or dropped on the ground. Most impressively, three enormous mechs lined the far wall.
"What are these for?" asked Macku.
"To fight Makuta's forces, maybe?" suggested Onepu, already climbing into one. "Oh, lovely! It's quite comfortable!"
"Maybe built by Matoran before Mata Nui's ever-slumber?" said Tamaru. "Try powering on!"
Onepu played with the controls. "No, nothing. It won't respond at all."
Tamaru walked around and inspected the machines. "No power-heart, only empty-hole in back."
Onepu climbed down. "The faceplates look like they'd be able to stop most energy attacks. I'd say they were designed to stop Vahki stun blasts. Maybe if we can acquire a power cell, we could power one up." He paused, thinking for a moment. "I should be able to liberate one from the archives. Any ideas for where we might find more?"
"Airspeeder power-heart would work," said Tamaru. "I can sneak-steal one from vehicle fix-shop, then take another from Macku's speeder."
The next night, after Tamaru finished work, he headed toward one of the old airship hangers. No-one had come in today with an airspeeder, and instead of going to Kemirii's he decided to come visit an old friend. After entering the hanger, he walked into the office and opened a hidden shaft beneath the baseboards. He had to pull out a Lightstone to see down, the shaft was so dark. He climbed down the ladder into the hidden basement.
He had to walk deeper again to find who he was looking for. At the far end of the room, another door lay - invisible in the darkness. Tamaru opened the door - Lightstones shone in every corner of the room, giving the room a deep glow. It reminded Tamaru of Onu-Koro. A being sat in the corner of the room.
"Hello, Turaga Matau!" said Tamaru, trying to inject some cheer into his voice.
"Good evening," said Matau, putting down one of the many entertainment carvings Tamaru had brought him over the last weeks. "It is good to see you again! I thought you had ever-forgotten about me, I had not seen you in weeks!" It had only been days, but Matau had recently taken to dramatics to try and keep himself from going mad down here. "Do you bring outside-news?"
"Indeed! Vahki back, Matoran rebel group working to quick-wreck parts to stop dread-machines being built quickly."
"I see. I thought that Ahkmou might make such a hard-effort to control the city. You are doing good to resist him, but be careful. It would deep-pain me if I heard you were captured." Matau gestured to a table with a circular wooden gameboard on it. "Play a game with me, Tamaru. I'm ever-bored of challenging myself."
"But you always win, Turaga. No small-chance I have of beating you!"
"Then you had better practice!" Matau was already sitting down, getting the numerous carvings of various birds in place. "Come, sit! I already have the smart-pieces ready for you."
Tamaru sat down, letting his reluctance show. He wouldn't dream of letting down his Turaga, but he certainly wasn't going to give him the idea that he might enjoy playing Gukkoja. He looked at his pieces, then back up at Matau. "You sneak-stole my Kewa! Here, take back your Taku."
Matau couldn't stop himself from chuckling. "See, Tamaru? You are learning the game already!"
Tamaru had the dark pieces, so he moved first. "More news I bring also. Matoran attacked storage-house full of Vahki parts. While wind-soaring away, found ancient protector armor. Onepu and I working to find new power-hearts to fix!"
"Protector-armor?" Matau asked, moving his own piece. "Why would that be in Metru Nui? Still, it is good you have found it. When it is proper-fixed, you should keep hold of them in case of an emergency. When the Toa return, they may need your help. Speaking of which..."
Tamaru shook his head. "No word from Toa."
"I suppose that means they are probably ever-safe." Matau frowned, but took one of Tamaru's Kahu. "And the other Turaga?"
"Hafu sneak-said he knew where Turaga Onewa was hidden. No word from others, though."
"Quick-finish those mechs. I am certain that the time will come when they come in handy. And… take this." He pulled out a strange device, like a sort of blaster. "You may remember this from Mata Nui. The Volo Lutu launcher… only one was ever built. It far-travelled all around the island in the hands of brave Matoran, used to escape from the clutches of Makuta-beasts. Now, it is your turn to continue that tradition."
"Thank you, Turaga," answered Tamaru, moving a piece out of the zone threatened by Matau's Rama.
Matau moved his Rama forward, taking the Gukko. "I win! Now, quick-reset the board. I will show you how to use the Volo Lutu if you can beat me!"
Morning soon came. Tamaru trudged through the cold streets, heading toward the moto-hub. A stone statue of Makuta's old form looked down upon him, one of the first of many new pieces of 'artwork' installed on Turuga Ahkmou's order. The angry eyes of the Mask of Shadows felt as if they bored into his soul, and a Vahki patrol glanced at him as he passed. Tamaru rushed onward, eager to meet his fellow workers in the safety of the warehouse. Two Toa walked through the streets - Toa Norik and Toa Iruini, laughing and talking without a care in the world. But Tamaru paid them no mind - the Toa Hagah had seemingly gone mad around the time Makuta took over the Universe.
Tamaru was almost running by the time he reached the moto-hub, and he rushed through the open doors. He signed in early, nodding to Boreas, before heading over to his station. An enormous airship was already waiting for his attention. Maintaining the airships was tedious work, and no longer satisfying like it used to be. He quickly got to refueling and re-oiling the heavy freight craft. Despite its size, the airship did not carry the power cell that he needed, instead relying on manipulation of Kanoka disks to ascend or descend, and pressurized protodermis to achieve forward thrust.
After many hours of routine maintenance on airships, a hover speeder finally came in. Tamaru eyed the new craft greedily. This would be perfect - the power cell on a speeder would be both small and resilient enough for the task.
The owner of the hover speeder was a Po-Matoran who transported carving pieces and tools for assembly."Can I get someone to hurry up and take a look at this one?" he demanded, agitation making his voice sharp. "I've got a lot of deliveries to make, and I don't want the Vahki knocking on my door because I've fallen behind again!"
Tamaru dropped the oiling tube where it was, and rushed over. "Happy to quick-fix speeder for you. What flight-worry you have with speeder?"
A look of relief came across the Po-Matoran's eyes. "It's dipping down to the left if you put any more than a little weight on it. Normally I'd ignore it, but it's getting to the point where some deliveries are getting dangerous to make. When do you think it can be done by?"
"May need to swap repulsor, will look at power. Late now, make no promise about fix today. Come look in bright-dawn."
The Po-Matoran soon left, and Tamaru got to work. His first call had been right, the left repulsor was badly clogged up. It was good it was brought in now - much longer and it could have caused an accident. Without question, Tamaru replaced the repulsor with a spare. They would dismantle the damaged one for spare parts. Now for the tricky bit. Tamaru hoped his colleagues weren't paying too close attention. He went to unbolt the power cell from the chassis, quickly twisting the bolts out. He had undone three of the bolts and prepared to work on the forth, when he clumsily dropped his tool. The crash echoed through the motohub.
"Tamaru, are you alright?" called his colleague, Kekao.
Tamaru froze. "All singsong happy-cheer down here. Powercell crash-damaged, will quick-replace!" Oh no. His treespeak always got thicker when he was nervous. He tried to calm himself, gently picking up the wrench.
"You need a hand?" asked Kekao.
Tamaru ripped the power cell from the chassis. "No, no, got this myself. Will run power-tests, then see." Please, quick-leave to your busy-work, he added silently.
"Fine, come find me if you have hard-luck with it." Kekao stepped away. When Tamaru peered around the airspeeder, he was heading back to his own workbench. Tamaru breathed a sigh of relief, taking the cell back to his station. Tomorrow, he would replace the Power Cell with one of the new ones Boreas kept in the backroom, and say he broke this one down for scrap. Tonight, he would have to sneak this out and take it to the warehouse across the Metru - hopefully, no-one would question a Le-Matoran carrying a vehicle component.
If anyone noticed, no-one said anything. Tamaru was soon back at Kemirii's, bolting the power cell into the back of the mech. He was getting ready to connect the power cables when he heard a voice.
"Is someone back there?"
Tamaru almost dropped his wrench for the second time that day. He peered around the enormous machine...
"Ah, it's only you," Onepu said, visibly relaxing. "Did you retrieve the power cell?"
"Yes," said Tamaru, a glint of pride in his voice. "Plugging in power-heart now! Give me a moment, we will activate oak-machine tonight!" Returning to the mech, he connected the cables. Nothing changed. Somehow, he had been expecting it to light up and come to life, but perhaps that was unrealistic. "Onepu, time to test! If you wish to have honor, climb into machine now!"
"Already?" replied Onepu. "You have done well to repair it so quickly. Very well, I shall climb aboard!" A moment later, he was sitting in the belly of the mech, closing the brackets around his legs. They had already modified the machine to better accommodate their forms, and as Onepu clutched the controls in the arm of the mech, it began to seal him inside. The face-shield lowered, although he was still clearly visible through the clear dial. Light flashed up on the face-shield, although Tamaru could only guess what they might represent.
Onepu took a step forward. Thump. It sounded like an ash bear leaping upon her prey! Onepu took another step. Tamaru was relieved they were so deep in the warehouse - if they were in the front room, someone might hear from outside.
"Oh yes, this is a great weapon!" Onepu lifted up his right arm, feeling the weight of the heavy cannon. "It feels like nothing at all, Tamaru! Why, I bet I could wrestle a Kane-Ra in this!"
"What about Vahki-swarm?" asked Tamaru, making sure to keep away from where Onepu was pointing the cannon.
Onepu swung the electro-sword in the mechs left arm through the air, stabbing and thrusting against an invisible foe. "With ease, Tamaru! A squad of Vahki should shake in fear at the sight of one of these!"
Tamaru could hardly wait to test it out for himself. But that could wait a moment. "You also brought power-heart back tonight? We must quick-repair two more mechs!"
"I suppose you are right," Onepu replied, powering down the machine. "Let us work quickly tonight, so we can give the others the news at tomorrow's meeting! I suppose we will need a name for them..."
Tamaru thought for a moment. A force to shield the Matoran of Metru Nui, revived at long last after a thousand years of slumber? There was only one name that would do. "Mangai," he said. Protector.