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Highfly Vinesman, Deepwood Wayfinder

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BZPower Fanfic Exchange 2018 for Darth Jaller
 
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Tamaru crouched low, as she sighted her quarry perched on a branch up ahead. The green Kewa was preening her feathers, but looked up as the Le-Matoran walked out from underneath the foliage.

“There you be, Kunono,” Tamaru said softly, as she started to approach the bird. “I have been search-seeking much for you today. Would you be up for a little wind-fly?”

The Kewa Kunono tilted her head slightly at the advancing Matoran. Tamaru took cautious steps forward, taking care to make no sudden movements that might startle the Rahi. Meanwhile, she maintained eye contact with the Kewa, hoping to build upon their bond. But it wasn’t enough; when Tamaru was only three strides away, Kunono suddenly cried out and spread her wings. Before Tamaru could pounce forward, Kunono took to the air and disappeared into the canopy of Le-Wahi.

“Braka-bones,” Tamaru cursed. “I got ever-close that time!”

Tamaru had in fact been tracking down that particular Kewa all day. Kunono had been assigned to her for the Gukko Force. Kewa were normally fairly docile Rahi, and many of the Le-Matoran pilots were able to quickly train them and use them in aerial combat. Tamaru had learned how to groom and feed the other Kewa, but she had never flown one before. Kongu had assigned her Kunono, saying that once she trained her they could join in practicing for the Gukko Force. Yet for whatever reason that particular Kewa was unwilling to put up with Tamaru and refused to bond with her. As such, Tamaru had decided to name her Kunono, which roughly translated to “Stubborn.”

Of course, there were other reasons why Tamaru was reluctant to take flight on a Kewa. She briefly wondered if Kunono could sense her fear of heights and if that was why she wouldn’t let her approach. Tamaru was working very hard to overcome her vertigo, but how could she improve when her assigned Kewa refused to fly with her?

Tamaru’s frustrated thoughts were soon placed aside as she heard something rustling in the forest behind her. She glanced back, wondering if it was a Rahi of some sort. However, from the sound of it, whatever was walking nearby was clumsily moving through the jungle; any native Rahi would be making far less noise, and certain predators would be nearly silent. So who was this outsider who was wandering the dangerous jungle floor of Le-Wahi?

Tamaru drew her bamboo disc and approached through the jungle. She soon sighted the source of the commotion; a short Onu-Matoran was pushing his way through the brush, looking around widely for something.

Tamaru jumped up on a log next to the Onu-Matoran. “Why are you down-tree out here?” she asked. “Ground-path is much-far away, and it ever-dangerous out here.”

The Onu-Matoran yelped out and toppled backwards. As he unsteadily got back to his feet, he asked, “Where did you come from? I swear you weren’t there earlier!”

“I am good leaf-runner,” Tamaru explained. “Make sound-no. Unlike crash-bang Onu-Matoran.” She paused, recognizing his black noble Ruru Kanohi. “You were visitor in tree-bright Le-Koro, right? Survivor of Rama hive?”

The Onu-Matoran nodded. “Yes, I’m Taipu, a digger from Onu-Koro. I’ve seen you in the village before, but I don’t think we’ve met.”

“I am Tamaru, Highfly Vinesman, Deepwood Wayfinder,” Tamaru said, introducing herself. “And I am confused why earth-digger is not in sing-song Le-Koro.”

“I really do like it up there!” Taipu said. “But the thing is. . . well, I have been away from my work for too long. I know Turaga Whenua hasn’t summoned me yet, but I should probably head back home.”

“You have been in Le-Koro for many moon-nights,” Tamaru agreed. “But ground-path to earth-city is far from here. How you up-end in jungle-deep?”

“I’m actually looking for something,” Taipu said. He bowed his head guiltily. “I dropped my pickax when I was up in Le-Koro. It wouldn’t look good if I return without it, so I’ve been trying to find it before I leave. However, the jungle is very confusing down here, so I haven’t had much luck with my search.”

“You’re looking for something you tree-dropped?” Tamaru asked, and she couldn’t hold back a laugh. “Well, you are far-off, friend Taipu. Village not up-tree from us here.”

Taipu frowned. “I was worried about that,” he said. “Le-Koro is so spread out up in the trees, and it’s difficult to tell where everything is from down here.”

Tamaru nodded. “It is ever-confusing, yes. Even some Le-Matoran orient-no when they come down-tree. When most Matoran tree-drop stuff, they deem it lost-gone.”

“But I can’t just give up my pickax!” Taipu said. “It’s sentimental to me, in a way; I used it to dig the tunnel from Onu-Koro to Le-Wahi, and it’s very sturdy, better than most. Plus, it would be very costly to replace, and Onu-Koro doesn’t exactly have the resources to get me a new one. I’d feel like I’d be letting Turaga Whenua, Onepu, and the others down if I return without it.”

“I understand,” Tamaru said, placing a hand on Taipu’s shoulder. After all, she herself felt like she was letting down her fellow villagers by not being on the Gukko Force; she knew that Taipu must be in a similar situation. “What-tell-you, I can ever-help,” she said. “Once Matau tree-dropped Kau Kau staff, so I seek-searched ground and found it for him. Turaga was ever-pleased. Maybe I can same-do for your tool.”

“You’ll help me?” Taipu asked, his spirit rising. “Thank you so much, Tamaru.”

“First, from where did you tree-drop pickax?” Tamaru asked. “Important for seek-searching that is.”

“I had it propped up on a trunk behind the band area,” Taipu described. “But I wasn’t paying attention and accidentally kicked it while dancing, and before I could grab it, it fell over the edge.”

“I know where on ground-level to go to be beneath band platform,” Tamaru said, leading the way. “Me-follow!”

Tamaru did her best to lead Taipu on the easiest route to the spot beneath the village. Taipu had in fact wandered quite a ways away from the trees that housed Le-Koro; if he had continued he would’ve gone deeper into the Fau Swamp, where he could’ve easily turned into a Rahi’s supper. However, Tamaru had heard stories of how the hardy Onu-Matoran had survived in the Nui-Rama hive, so perhaps he was not so foolhardy after all.

Tamaru shuttered at the remembrance of the Nui-Rama attack. Less than a week prior, the jungle village had been besieged by evil Nui-Rama insects, controlled by the Makuta. They had captured most of the Le-Matoran, but Tamaru and a few others had managed to escape. Kongu led a desperate attempt to rescue the others with the Gukko Force, but Tamaru had been one of the few Matoran forced to remain behind. The guilt and shame still ate away at her, even though everyone had eventually been rescued by the Toa.

Tamaru came to a halt at the edge of a shallow marsh. She gestured to a large tree growing out of the swamp, and said, “Tree-bright Le-Koro above. If tree-dropped from band platform, it should be in this area.”

“Ew, you mean it’s in the swamp?” Taipu said, making a face under his mask.

Tamaru nodded, already wading in. “It deep-not, so unless you afraid of mud-grime, nothing to ever-fear,” she said.

Taipu slowly waded in after her, and tried to feel around for something with his feet. “I thought Le-Matoran hated the swamp,” he said. “I heard stories that they fear water.”

“Water is not to be feared,” Tamaru said, reaching her hands into the swamp to search for the pickax. “But further in Fau Swamp, Rahi-beasts hide in deeper waters, and fast-attack Matoran from below. If you want to keep mask in one piece, you avoid being down-tree in Le-Wahi.”

“You don’t seem too afraid down here,” Taipu said.

Tamaru shrugged. “I am good leaf-runner,” she said. “I can out-pace all but the fastest of Rahi-beasts. I even know how to swim-stroke, although I often-not get the chance to.”

“I guess not all Le-Matoran are the same,” Taipu mused.

Tamaru nodded. “You also seem strange-odd for an earth Matoran. I thought you would not like being up-tree.”

“Oh, it doesn’t bother me,” Taipu said. “I don’t have a fear of heights; I have lots of experience with them.”

Tamaru gave him a look. “Please tell-explain.”

“Oh, I mean in the Great Mines,” Taipu said. “There are a lot of very deep drops from where we’ve dug deep pits in our search for protodermis. It’s not uncommon to look down and not see the bottom. However, in the Great Mines, we do put up guard rails along the edges so we don’t accidentally fall over; I noticed there isn’t anything similar in Le-Koro.”

Tamaru chuckled. “No, if Matoran tree-falls, they’re expected to vine-grab on way down.” She paused, and then added, “So you no-fear flying?”

“Well, that’s different,” Taipu said. “Flying is scarier, especially when you’re relying on a Rahi to keep you in the air. Luckily, I was with Toa Onua on the flight back from the Rama hive, so his confidence helped me get by.”

Tamaru couldn’t help but grin; the Onu-Matoran was a lot more like her than she expected. Together, the two continued to search through the marsh, trying to locate Taipu’s fallen pickaxe in the mud. Tamaru was the one who finally made the discovery; her hand closed down on metal, and she pulled the tool up out of the muck. “This yours?” she asked Taipu.

“Yes, you found it!” Taipu exclaimed. “Thank you so much!”

“Problem-no,” Tamaru said, handing the tool over to Taipu, who gleefully started examining it for damage. “I know source of nearby clear-water, where we can off-wash mud-grime.”

Taipu followed Tamaru until they reached a small stream flowing into the edge of the swamp. Although the stream itself was shallow, its waters were clear and ideal for a quick bath for the Matoran.

“Waters off-flow from Mount Ihu and enter Fau Swamp here,” Tamaru explained, washing the mud off her arms. “Rahi come here to drink-sip; good for far-watching.”

“You do know an awful lot about stuff down here,” Taipu said, rinsing off the handle of his pickaxe. “Are all Le-Matoran so knowledgeable about the jungle?”

Tamaru was quiet for a moment. “I know more than most,” she finally said. “Many are not tree-bound as I, so do not come to down-tree as often.”

“What does tree-bound mean?” Taipu asked.

Tamaru sighed; she never liked explaining this part to outsiders. “It means I fly-not. To tree I am bound; sky is out of reach, only for those who can Kewa-fly. For I have heights-fears, so I have trouble learning how to train Kewa.”

“Wait, you have a fear of heights?” Taipu asked, confused. “But you’re just fine up in the canopy.”

“Yes, because if I fall from tree-high, then I can vine-grab,” Tamaru said. “But when sky-bound on Kewa, vine-grab not always possible.”

To her surprise, Taipu nodded. “That totally makes sense,” he said. “But there’s more fun stuff to do on Mata Nui than flying. Maybe someday you can journey to Onu-Koro and I can show you the lightstone mines! I’ve seen a lot of beautiful sights in the jungle, but still nothing quite beats the sight of the lightstone mines.”

“Maybe one day I will journey-take around Mata Nui,” Tamaru said. “But for today, I should really back-get to Le-Koro. I can ever-lead you to the ground-path to Onu-Koro first, so you get lost-no in jungle.”

Taipu sighed. “You’re right, it is time to go home,” he said dejectedly. “Please lead the way, Highfly Vinesman Tamaru.”

Tamaru was about to lead them away from the stream when she heard a twig snap nearby. She froze, and gestured for Taipu to remain silent. Something was in the bushes nearby, and this time it was moving stealthier than Taipu had. This time, it could be a Rahi.

Tamaru drew her disc, even as her eyes scanned the jungle. She heard more sounds; whatever was approaching them was moving slowly, but she knew that the mighty Muaka would often creep up on its prey before pouncing. She waited until she saw a shadow move between the bushes, and then she flung her disc with pinpoint accuracy, hoping to strike whatever was approaching.

There was a rustle in the bushes, and in a blur the figure dodged her disc just before it would’ve struck. But it was not a Rahi who appeared from under the foliage, but rather a Ta-Matoran with a red great Pakari. “Please do not shoot; I mean you no harm,” he said.

Tamaru blinked, surprised to find another foreign Matoran in the jungle. “A fire-spitter?” she asked, confused.

“I am Kapura of the Ta-Koro guard,” the Matoran said, addressing Tamaru. “I am seeking the Chronicler.”

“How did you quick-get here?” Tamaru asked, confused. “You travel through jungle with stealth; it is odd-much for a Ta-Matoran to do.”

“I move slowly to get to where I am not,” Kapura explained. “I was in a forest of black, charred trees. There were no lush, green trees there, but then I am here, and the trees are big and healthy. I am no longer in the Charred Forest.”

“You funny-speak,” Tamaru pointed out. “Why you seek-search for Chronicler?”

Kapura shrugged. “Turaga Vakama wishes an audience with him, but as he is often traveling, it is hard to find him. I have learned how to travel great distances by moving slowly, so I was sent to seek him out.”

“I know the Chronicler!” Taipu said. “He helped me in the mines, and then rescued me from the Nui-Rama! It was quite an adventure.” He waved. “I’m Taipu, by the way, from Onu-Koro. And that’s Tamaru of Le-Koro; she really knows her way around the jungle!”

“That traveler was the Chronicler?” Tamaru mused. “I am sorry to say, but he has been-not to Le-Koro in many moons.”

“Then I shall find him where I am not,” Kapura said. “But I would like to meet with Turaga Matau before I travel on; Turaga Vakama has sent his regards.”

“I should go back to Le-Koro too, one last time,” Taipu added. “Just to say good-bye, of course.”

“Okay, then I will ever-lead you to the village,” Tamaru said, taking off. “Close-stay to me, else you might be attacked by Rahi-beast.”

“I fear not the beasts of Makuta,” Kapura said. “We have fought many in Ta-Koro, and I have the strength to contest them.”

“I’m actually pretty strong too!” Taipu said. “In fact, Onepu said that I’m so strong that I can do the work for both of us in the mines!”

As Tamaru marched through the jungle, she soon became annoyed with the Ta-Matoran. While Taipu was a bit clumsy and slow walking along the jungle floor, Kapura was unreasonably sluggish. His movements were deliberate and consistent, but extremely slow. Tamaru had met some Ta-Matoran before, and she knew they could be quite speedy in their own right, but she had never seen a Matoran dawdle as much as Kapura. She and Taipu had to pause quite a lot to wait for him to catch up. Since Tamaru knew about the dangers of the jungle, she wanted to keep moving as quickly as possible, and so the Ta-Matoran’s lack of haste was both irksome and dangerous.

“We’re nearly to elevator to up-rise to village,” Tamaru said over her shoulder. “If we could quick-hurry, that would be happy-good.”

However, she suddenly paused herself. Something was wrong. The usually noisy jungle had suddenly fallen quiet; all the chattering Rahi has ceased their calls, and Tamaru knew that meant danger was nearby. She strained her ears, trying to detect the sound of a charging Kane-Ra or Ash Bear. Instead, what she heard was a faint buzzing that originated from above the treetops.

Fear gripped her heartlight. “Rama swarm!” she gasped, and took off at a sprint. “They must be attacking the village. We must quick-return and help with defenses!”

Taipu rushed after Tamaru, and they quickly left Kapura behind. Tamaru found the main pathway to Le-Koro and raced down it. However, as they approached the great tree, she saw that the Le-Koro elevator had already been severed, and the wreckage was floating in the swamp.

“Oh no, how do we get up there now?” Taipu asked.

“There’s a vine-ladder round-back of tree,” Tamaru said. “We can use that to up-climb!”

Tamaru led Taipu around the trunk of the tree and reach the ladder, whose steps were woven into the branches of the tree. Above, Tamaru could already hear the sounds of battle; the Gukko Force must already be facing the attacking Nui-Rama swarm. Their defenses were better prepared now, but they would need every Matoran to help, and Tamaru was determined to join in. She may not be able to fly, but she could throw a disc with pinpoint accuracy. She quickly grabbed onto the ladder and shot upwards, even as Taipu struggled to climb up himself.

But Tamaru hadn’t gotten very far before she saw a dark shape descending towards her. Only it wasn’t a Nui-Rama or some other forest beast she was familiar with; rather it was a dark armored canine, and it was clawing its way down the tree trunk right towards her.

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Tamaru was too startled by the appearance of the Rahi that she wasn’t able to react in time. The Rahi charged down the tree and collided with her, sending her falling. Luckily, she had not climbed too far up, and so she was able to safely land in the swamp waters below. However, the fall had disoriented her and left her opened to attack from the Rahi.

As Tamaru pulled herself up, she caught sight of the Rahi, who had turned towards her. The Rahi was built like a wolf, with four strong limbs that ended in clawed feet. The body was narrow and streamline, with a single spike running along the back, and the head sported deep yellow eyes and a large jaw with strong teeth. The beast growled and advanced on Tamaru, but he did not open his jaw and go for her throat. Instead, he looked like he was ready to ram her again.

However, before the beast could pounce, something sharp hit his flank. The Rahi spun around to see Taipu had struck him with his pickaxe, and he was preparing for another swing. “Stay away from my friend, Burnak!” he said.

The Burnak turned his attention to the Onu-Matoran, who was armed and thus deemed to be a greater threat. As he turned, Tamaru caught a glimpse of something on the Burnak’s back; there was a pitted and charred Kanohi mask attached on his back. It was an infected mask, and it meant that the Makuta was controlling this Burnak.

Taipu swung, but this time the Burnak easily avoided his pickax. Before Taipu could recover, the Burnak swiped at Taipu with his claw, sending the Onu-Matoran backwards into the swamp. He raised his paw, ready to sink his claws into Taipu, but then something struck him painfully on the head. He turned his attention now to the new Matoran waiting on the edge of the swamp, Kapura. The Ta-Matoran had suddenly appeared and thrown his disc, knocking the Rahi back in time.

The Burnak charged towards Kapura next, with speed equaling even the great Muaka. But Kapura seemed to blur for a moment, and suddenly he was standing to the side, out of reach of the Burnak. The Burnak turned to attack again, but Kapura had drawn his pike and stabbed it at the beast, forcing it to back up.

Tamaru pulled herself out of the swamp, determined to help. She drew her bamboo disc and aimed, looking to strike at the infected Kanohi attached to the beast’s back. But her disc was waterlogged now, and thus her throw was off. Instead of striking the mask and knocking it off, she merely hit the Burnak’s leg, which barely caused him to flinch.

However, the Burnak was analyzing the situation. Both Tamaru and Taipu had recovered, and Kapura was pressing the attack. The Rahi could easily best the Matoran individually, but together they did pose a threat. With a final growl, the Burnak darted off into the forest, and was soon out of sight.

“What in Karzahni was that?” Tamaru exclaimed. “That beast down-clawed from Le-Koro!”

“That was an Earth Burnak,” Taipu said, steadying himself. “I’ve seen a few before in Onu-Koro; they’re really helpful when trained, but they’re also fairly rare.”

Kapura nodded. “Burnak are a rare species of Rahi on Mata Nui,” he confirmed. “There have been a few fire Burnak sighted in Ta-Wahi before, but they’ve never attacked the village.”

“We’ve never eye-seen Burnak in Le-Koro either,” Tamaru said. “But I saw infected mask on beast; it’s mind-slave of Makuta now.”

Kapura frowned. “The Burnak are known to be an elusive species; this must be the first instance where we have encountered an infected Burnak.”

“How did it even high-climb into Le-Koro?” Tamaru wondered.

“Earth Burnak are actually good climbers,” Taipu said. “They can climb up the steepest cliffs in the Great Mine and other crevasses. Climbing a tree must not be that much different.”

“Well, we need to up-climb and see what has happened in Le-Koro!” Tamaru said, heading back to the ladder. “If Rahi drop-climbed from village, dark-times may have fallen.”

With Tamaru in the lead, the three Matoran started ascending into the forest canopy, and soon reached the upper levels of Le-Koro. It was as Tamaru had feared; she could see the last of the Nui-Rama swam flying away, having attacked the village from the air. There was a lot of damage, but there were still a lot of Matoran scattered about; at the very least, there had not been another mass kidnapping of Le-Matoran.

Tamaru rushed towards the central village platform, where she could see the Matoran gathering around Turaga Matau. The Turaga sighted her and rejoiced. “Tamaru, good joy times! You are one of the last to be accounted for, and you have not been flown to Rama-hive!”

“What happened?” Tamaru asked, looking around. “Why did Rama-swarm attack?”

“To keep us on toe-tips,” Kongu said gruffly, stepping forward. “That’s all Le-Matoran, but we’re still miss-seeking the Onu-Matoran visitor.”

“Taipu was tree-down with me,” Tamaru said, gesturing backwards to where Taipu and Kapura were slowly making their way towards the platform. “Also found fire-spitter, who wants to chat-speak with Turaga.”

“Then all Matoran are safe,” Kongu said. “But much-damage be done. Rama swarm very fierce.”

“Swarm attack was mere distraction,” Turaga Matau said. “Earth beast climb tree, steal from us; I fear that was goal-main.”

Kongu narrowed his eyes. “What did earth-beast steal? Kanohi from Toa Suva? Weapons of Gukko Force?”

“Makoki stone,” Turaga Matau answered.

Kongu snorted. “Makoki stone valuable-not,” he said. “Artifact of Turaga; rare but important-no.”

“Makoki stone is important for Toa Lewa,” Turaga Matau insisted. “We must search-find beast and quick-recover it.”

“We have-not manpower,” Kongu protested. He gestured to the distant Nui-Rama hive, still visible on the horizon. “Gukko Force needs to down-take hive, else Rama more-attack. Not seek-find lost trinket.”

“The trinket is more special that first-seem,” Turaga Matau said. “Help can come from most unlikely sources, and importance not always seen at face level. Best to not underestimate, even if worthiness in question.”

“I’m sorry, Turaga, but we can’t go on chase-wild for stone-Makoki,” Kongu said. “Maybe after we hive-bash Rama. We need attack-counter plans, and off-fly soon.”

As Kongu departed, some of the Matoran dispersed, looking to either prepare for the Gukko Force or to repair the damage to the village. Tamaru, however, stayed by Turaga Matau and introduced Kapura.

“Turaga Vakama sends his greetings,” Kapura said, bowing. “However, he also acknowledges that the Ta-Koro guard is spread too thin; we cannot send any reinforcements to Le-Koro.”

Turaga Matau chuckled. “Kolhii-Head Vakama is, if he thinks fire-spitters can keep up with Le-Koro Gukko Force. Offense-no to your people, but in jungle wind-riders more useful. Let your guards go to where they more-needed.”

Kapura nodded. “I will pass along your words when I next speak with Turaga Vakama. But first, I must seek out the Chronicler.”

“He did stop by and message-pass to me a few days ago,” Turaga Matau confirmed. “But he has since traveled beyond jungle. You will have to journey-much if you wish to catch him.”

“That is my plan,” Kapura said, bowing. “And so I shall take my leave.”

“I should also be going too,” Taipu said. He bowed to Turaga Matau too. “Thank you for letting me visit your beautiful village.”

“You are always back-welcomed,” Turaga Matau said. “If, of course, Le-Koro is still tall-standing after Rahi attacks. Villages are fortifying now; bad time for travelers.”

The Turaga paused as Kapura and Taipu turned to leave. “Jungle floor much-danger now,” he said. “Rama fight in air, and many beasts stalk on ground. I send Tamaru to quick-guide you, so you safe-be.”

“Wait!” Tamaru exclaimed. “Turaga, let me help-serve the Gukko Force. Taipu and Kapura are strong-good Matoran on their own; they need no ground-guide. I can be of use here!”

There was a strange gleam in Turaga Matau’s eye, and he shook his head. “Kongu says we need wind-flyers, and you are tree-bound,” he said. “You are more use tree-down today, Tamaru.”

Tamaru’s mood fell drastically. “If. . . if you say so, Turaga,” she said, keeping her voice emotionless. Then, before Turaga Matau could say anything more, she darted away, back towards the ladder. Taipu and Kapura awkwardly followed.

“Are you okay?” Taipu asked, as the three climbed down out of the canopy. “You seem a little upset by what Turaga Matau said.”

“Why would I be in mood-bad?” Tamaru said with a dejected voice. “Turaga right; I not flyer, best to keep out of air. Worthless Le-Matoran belong tree-down.”

“I don’t think you’re worthless,” Taipu said, as they reached the base of the massive tree. “You know a lot about the jungle, right?”

“Yes, but I no-fly,” Tamaru said, leaping down to the solid ground, where she proceeded to kick a stone into the swamp. “Real Le-Matoran don’t travel tree-down. I try to ever-prove my worth, but they still not-see beyond no-flight. They never have.”

“I’m sorry,” Taipu said, putting a comforting arm on Tamaru. “Maybe Turaga Matau is just stressed. I know Turaga Whenua will occasionally shout at the Mining Guild when they’ve pestered him; even the Turaga can have bad moods sometimes. But you can’t let it get you down.”

“I ever-know,” Tamaru said darkly. “But still, it’s hard to accept.”

Kapura reached the bottom of the ladder behind them, having climbed down at a slower pace. “I must admit, I am confused,” he said. “Your Turaga gave you a special quest, and yet you seem disheartened. Perhaps I am misunderstanding your tree-speech?”

Tamaru sniffed. “Turaga just wanted me to ground-guide you because I’m no-use in high-fly fights.”

“Is that so?” Kapura asked. “I thought Turaga Matau was sending us after the Makoki stone.”

Tamaru blinked. “The Makoki? He say-not anything about that.”

“He insisted that it was a priority, but Kongu didn’t have any Matoran to spare,” Kapura said. “I thought by sending you tree-down he wanted you to track the Burnak who stole the Makoki stone.”

Tamaru still looked uncertain, but Taipu perked up. “Yeah, that’s right, you’re the most knowledgeable Le-Matoran on the jungle floor!” he exclaimed. “Those other Le-Matoran could fly their birds all day and not find the Burnak’s train. But you’re Tamaru Deepwood Wayfinder! Who better to track the Rahi than you?”

Tamaru blinked. “No, the Turaga intended for me to safe-guide you along ground-path,” she said. “I can’t track-find evil Rahi and do that.”

“The Turaga wanted to make sure you kept us safe,” Kapura stated. “You can do that as we join you on your search.”

“Yes, I can help too!” Taipu said. “I’m really strong, you see, and I have some experience with adventures too! I’d like to go on one more before returning to the Great Mines!”

“I appreciate it, but I think-not that the Turaga wanted me to do so,” Tamaru said.

“You said you think the Turaga believes you to be worthless,” Kapura said. “But Turaga Matau just said that worthiness can come from unexpected places. Do you think the Turaga really sent you down here as a punishment?”

“I. . . I don’t know,” Tamaru stated. Thinking back, although she had often been teased by Kongu and some of the others for being tree-bound, Turaga Matau had never once scolded her about her inability to fly. Was she really misunderstanding his intentions after all? Was he actually trying to put her in a position to use her tracking skills, skills which many of the other Le-Matoran lacked?

“Don’t you already have a quest?” Tamaru asked Kapura shrewdly.

“I do,” Kapura said. “But the Chronicler is a difficult Matoran to track down; perhaps we may even encounter him on our journey, as he is likely to pop up in unusual places.”

“Does that mean you’ll join us on an adventure too?” Taipu asked excitedly.

“I would be willing to join,” Kapura stated. “However, whether we embark on this adventure or not ultimately depends on what Tamaru would like to do.”

Tamaru took a deep breath. “Okay, I’ll ever-do it,” she said finally. “I’ll down-track Earth Burnak and back-take Makoki Stone.”

“Yay, I get to go on another adventure!” Taipu exclaimed.

“Thanks for the talk-pep,” Tamaru added briefly to Kapura, who merely shrugged.

“I didn’t talk-pep, I merely stated the facts,” he responded. “I am glad to know that my understanding of tree-speech is indeed accurate.”

“Okay then,” Tamaru said, rubbing her hands together. “Let’s start-get!”

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Tamaru led the way through the forest. Her pace varied as she searched for signs of the passing Burnak. It had started out easy; she had seen where the Burnak raced into the forest, and she was quickly able to locate its paw prints in the mud. But the Rahi had made a beeline out of the jungle, and soon left the swampland where his paw prints were easily discernable. But even on the hard ground, Tamaru was able to find signs of passing of the beast. Broken branches, mangled bushes, and occasionally trampled flowers all indicated that the Burnak had passed through the region recently. After a while, Tamaru could tell that the Rahi was running along a mostly straight line; he would sometimes be forced to divert around natural obstacles, but his trajectory remained the same.

Taipu and Kapura followed behind Tamaru, often at a much slower pace. Taipu indeed found it difficult to move around through the jungle environment; he wasn’t used to meandering around trees and foliage. Kapura was more apt at jungle travel, but he was already maintaining a slow pace.

“We’ve come quite a long way,” Taipu said, to make conversation. “The Burnak must be quite worn out by now.”

“Doubtful,” Kapura said. “Burnak can travel great distances at a time. I have occasionally studied them in Ta-Wahi before.”

“Oh,” Taipu said. He paused, and then asked, “What even is this Makoki Stone that the Rahi stole? I feel like I’ve heard about it before, but I can’t recall where.”

“Makoki does have a common meaning,” Kapura said. “It’s another word for ‘key.’ But the Makoki stones are different; they are pieces of a key, each held by one of the Turaga, who have given them to the Toa.”

“What are they a key to?” Taipu asked.

Kapura shrugged. “Turaga Vakama had not enlightened me on that,” he answered. “But I know that one needs all six Makoki Stones in order to make them work. The loss of one will make the rest useless.”

“But why would the Burnak steal just one Makoki Stone?” Taipu wondered. “Wouldn’t he need all of them to unlock something?”

Kapura nodded. “Indeed. However, I would believe that the Burnak does not want to use the key. The lock is important for the Toa; if the full key cannot be recovered, the Toa cannot unlock the object. That is what the Makuta desires; that is why he sent the Burnak to claim just a piece of the key.”

“So this single stone could halt the Toa’s quest all on its own?” Taipu asked, amazed. “Why didn’t Toa Lewa have it with him, if it’s so important?”

“I cannot speak for Toa Lewa, but I know Toa Tahu has similarly left his Makoki Stone in the care of Ta-Koro,” Kapura said. “The Toa are venturing into dangerous lands where it would be disastrous if they were to lose the Makoki. Better to keep them in the villages, where they could be better protected.”

“But the Burnak stole it from the village!” Taipu protested.

“Indeed, some villages are better protected than others,” Kapura mused. “Le-Koro relies on being in the treetops, but it is perhaps the least well defended village. Even then, the Makuta staged a massive distraction with the Nui-Rama before sending in the elite Burnak to make the theft; he has put a great amount of effort into this. I believe, perhaps, that he is becoming desperate.”

“The Makuta, desperate?” Taipu repeated.

“Rahi have started massing outside of the villages,” Kapura continued. “Le-Koro is not the only one to get attacked, and the village’s defenses are started to strain. But also, the Toa are fulfilling their quests; most of their Kanohi have been collected, and they continue to face the darkness on this island. I am thinking that the Makuta knows this, and knows they will soon enter their endgame. So he is bringing all his powers to bear, and that includes this theft of the Makoki Stone.”

“Why did you not explain this back in the village?” Taipu asked. “You could’ve convinced Kongu to listen to the Turaga!”

“I respect Kongu’s experience as a commander; he also sees the signs, and knows he had to protect the village,” Kapura stated. “Turaga Matau wisely selected Tamaru instead. Kongu would not have been able to follow the Burnak’s tracks while flying in the air on his Kahu.”

“I can ever-hear you, you know,” Tamaru said. “You don’t need to hype-talk me anymore. And what-say you about Le-Koro’s defenses?”

“I was just speculating that Le-Koro’s position in the trees makes it more vulnerable than the other villages. . .” Kapura started, before Taipu nudged him to be quiet.

“So how close are we to the Burnak now?” Taipu asked, abruptly changing the topic.

Tamaru shrugged. “Depends on where Burnak fast-run to? We’re nearly edge-wood of jungle, may be harder to seek-find signs soon.”

Kapura looked up through the thinning trees, and in the distance he could see the looming shape of Mt. Ihu. “We will soon reach the foothills of the mountain,” he said. He paused, and added, “I do not mean to cause any further alarm, but I believe we are being followed.”

“What, where?” Taipu asked, glancing around widely.

Kapura pointed upwards, and Tamaru looked up to catch a glimpse of emerald feathers. “The Kewa has been keeping an eye on us ever since we were deep in the jungle,” he said. “Perhaps it is a minion of Makuta’s?”

“No, she’s infected-no,” Tamaru said. “No Kewa has ever fallen to Makuta’s influence; they are ever-noble species, and stand-no for getting infected. They out-look for each other.”

“But why is this one following us?” Taipu asked, gazing up towards the bird.

Tamaru sighed. “I know-not why she follows, but that is Kunono, my Kewa in training.”

“Oh, I thought you said you didn’t fly,” Taipu said.

“I still tree-bound; have not quick-soared with Kunono yet,” Tamaru explained. “She is ever-challenge to train. But is curious why she fly-follows us now.”

As if on cue, Kunono let out a squawk and took flight, disappearing from sight. However, Tamaru suspected that she was nearby. But why would the troublesome Kewa keep an eye on a Matoran who she refused to let approach her? Tamaru just could not figure out the thought process of that bird.

“Shall we continue?” Kapura asked. “It would be best not to let the Burnak gain any more distance on us.”

“If the Burnak has the Makoki stone, but doesn’t intend to use it, where is he taking it?” Taipu asked.

Kapura shrugged. “Perhaps he will just keep moving to make it more difficult to track him down.”

“Likely-no,” Tamaru retorted. “Burnak may have endurance-great, but still a beast. Will need nourishment and place to rest-lay. Even infected Rahi have to care-take of themselves. This Burnak will rest-stop eventually.” She paused, and added, “I believe he has a destination; he has run in line-straight most of the time. Perhaps a den-home?”

“Indeed, fire Burnak are known to make dens within the crevasses of Ta-Wahi,” Kapura said. “That could be his destination. But where would it be?”

“Then we’ll just have to ever-follow path and we’ll find it,” Tamaru said, pressing forward.

They continued on, even as the jungle thinned around them. They were entering the forests on the foothills of Mt Ihu, which were changing with the higher elevations. There were still trees, but they were thinner and more spread out than in the depths of Le-Wahi. It was becoming harder for Tamaru to track the Burnak; she was mostly relying on the previous trajectory of the beast to determine their route. Luckily, she was able to affirm they were going in the right direction by sighting the occasional claw marking in the dirt.

Finally, Tamaru walked out between a grove of trees and saw a rocky hillside rise up in front of her. They were part way up the mountain now, and this particular slope was too steep for the trees to grow on, so it was only lightly vegetated. However, there was a distinct pathway leading up through the rocks, and it went partway up to an opening in the hillside.

“Is that a cave up there?” Taipu wondered, walking up behind Tamaru.

“I believe so,” Tamaru said. “I cannot true-tell, but I believe Burnak’s route-path led him to that earth-opening.”

She started to move forward, but Taipu grabbed her arm. “We should be careful,” he warned. “There are a lot of Rahi who like living in caves. Some of them, like the Fikou or the Ussal, aren’t too much of a hassle, but you could run into a Vatuka or a swarm of Kofu-Jaga and get into some real trouble.”

“Then we care-proceed,” Tamaru said, drawing her bamboo disc. “And get ready for Rahi fight.”

“We didn’t exactly do well the last time we faced the Burnak,” Taipu reminded her.

“He surprise-caught us,” Tamaru said. “And he ever-fled once we got to feet-up. This time, surprise is on our ever-side.”

Kapura caught up, having already drawn his pike. “We should still not underestimate the beast,” he said. “Burnak can be particularly fierce when cornered.”

“We just need to attention-divert him away from Makoki stone,” Tamaru said. “Then we quick-grab and fast-flee back to Le-Koro.”

Taipu gripped his pickax. “Okay, let’s do this!”

Cautiously, Tamaru led the way up the hillside towards the cave. As she reached the mouth, the afternoon sun allowed her to see far back into its depths; however, there was no Burnak present.

“Where be beast?” Tamaru whispered.

“This could be an opening into the Onu-Wahi cave network,” Taipu responded. “There are a bunch of natural caves beneath Mata Nui; if the Burnak managed to get into them, he could head to nearly any part of the island.”

“This cave doesn’t look that deep,” Kapura commented.

“Yes, but the opening could be quite small and still connect,” Taipu said, shielding his eyes as he squinted. As an Onu-Matoran, he had excellent night vision, but it was hindered quite a bit by the bright sunlight. However, he did notice movement in the back of the cave. “It’s not unoccupied!” he warned.

The shapes moved towards the light, and soon Tamaru and Kapura could make them out too. There were two creatures, and both were larger than the Burnak. They had muscular limbs and large, flat heads with gleaming eyes. As they stepped forward, their white and blue armor gleamed in the sunlight.

Kapura narrowed his eyes. “Kavinika,” he spoke.

Tamaru frowned; she had heard of Kavinika before, but she couldn’t remember the specifics about that particular Rahi off the top of her head. But she didn’t have time to ponder; the lead Kavinika charged forward, lowering his massive head to ram her. Tamaru reflexively drew back her disc, but already she knew she was reacting too slowly. But Taipu wasn’t; he shoved her aside, and took the full brunt of the ram, which threw him painfully into the rock wall.

Kapura swung his pike forward, stabbing at the Kavinika’s head. However, the armor on its forehead was quite tough, and it pushed aside the attack with ease and charged the Ta-Matoran, who somehow managed to dodge aside easily. The second Kavinika now focused on Tamaru and charged towards her. She wasn’t going to be caught off guard again, and she threw her disc, but it also bounced harmlessly off the front of his head. He was about to ram Tamaru, but this time she was ready and jumped up and over it. As the Kavinika skidded and turned around, Tamaru retrieved her fallen disc, but she was still wondering how she was going to defeat it.

There was a sudden cry from the first Kavinika as Kapura jabbed at his head again. This time, Kapura had taken careful aim and struck one of the eyes; this didn’t severely hurt the Kavinika, but it disoriented him for a moment. He aimed to charge at Kapura again, but his vision was disoriented, and he couldn’t tell that Kapura was purposely selecting his location. The Kavinika charged, and Kapura miraculously dodged again, and instead the Kavinika rammed into his partner, sending the two of them sprawling on the cave floor. Still, it only took a few moments for them to recover, and then they turned their attention back on the Matoran.

“I believe a retreat may be in order,” Kapura stated calmly.

“Obvious-yes!” Tamaru shouted. She raced over to help up a disoriented Taipu. “Are you ever-okay?”

“I’ve taken worse hits to the mask,” Taipu said, still slightly delirious. “That only hurt a little.”

“Well, hope you can quick-flee now,” Tamaru said, grabbed onto his arm as she ran outside. They started down the hillside, but behind them she could hear the pounding of feet as the Kavinika chased after them. She glanced backwards, wondering where Kapura was, but she could only see the two charging Rahi. What had happened to the Ta-Matoran?

One of the Kavinika was about to catch up to Tamaru, but suddenly a disc caught it in the head, causing it to misstep and fall back. Tamaru followed the trajectory of the disc as it bounced back towards its owner; Kapura caught it, already at the base of the hill.

“How did you down-get here so fast?” Tamaru wondered, as she and Taipu caught up.

Kapura ignored her question. “Kavinika are very dangerous,” he said. “They are strong and persistent; we can’t fight them head on, and we won’t be able to outrun them either.”

“But can they up-climb?” Tamaru asked.

“I don’t believe so,” Kapura said.

“Then use Le-Koro battle-tactic and get up-tree!” Tamaru said, racing back into the forest. Behind them, the two Kavinika followed.

Unfortunately for Tamaru, the trees around them were relatively thin and had few lower branches, so they were not ideal for climbing. They sprinted through the forest, looking for just the right tree to escape up, but it took them a while to find one. Somehow, Kapura reached it first, and expertly started to climb up into the higher branches. Taipu was next, but he struggled to get a good handhold. Tamaru helped push him up, even as Kapura reached down a helping hand, but the two Kavinika caught up to them.

Tamaru knew what she had to do; abandoning Taipu, she leapt to the side and waved her arms to get the Kavinika’s attention. “Here-over,” she yelled. “Fast-catch me, Rahi beast!”

The two Kavinika turned and raced after her. However, while the forest was not the same as the jungles of Le-Wahi, Tamaru still knew how to leaf-run, and she expertly dodged around the trees and brush to slow down the Kavinika. Finally, she caught sight of a particular tree that would suffice, and quickly scampered to the top of it. The two Kavinika came to a stop at the base, and Tamaru was relieved to see that they didn’t start climbing afterwards. However, the two did start clawing at the trunk, and Tamaru realized they intended to fell the tree just to get to her.

However, something else stepped out of the foliage; it was the Burnak they had been tracking. Tamaru half expected it to climb up after her, but instead the Burnak started barking and growling at the Kavinika, who quickly submitted to it. The three beasts soon turned and retreated.

Despite herself, Tamaru’s curiosity was piqued. She returned to the forest floor and started stalking the beasts. To her surprise, the Burnak was leading the two Kavinika back to the cave, and they obediently walked back inside. Tamaru paused, hidden on the edge of the forest, as she watched the Burnak scanned the horizon before he too disappeared into the cave.

“What is ever-inside there?” she wondered, as she turned to rejoin her two companions.

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The sun was dipping low on the horizon, bathing the landscape in orange light. Tamaru adjusted her position on the top of a tree to get a better look at the cave in the distance. She could barely make out the shapes of the Kavinika standing in the entrance, but there were no signs of the Burnak. With a sigh, she began to climb down and rejoin Kapura and Taipu at the base of the tree.

“Kavinika are still guard-standing,” she reported. “But the Burnak has not returned since he ground-climbed up mountain.”

“Where do you think the Burnak went?” Taipu wondered.

Tamaru shrugged. “I have idea-no. He could be hunting or trying to sneak-steal the other Makoki stones. All I can say is that he’s not near-bound.”
Tamaru had spent the last couple of hours spying on the Rahi and the cave, ever since they had been chased off by the Kavinika. Taipu and Kapura had tried to do some ground recon, but they couldn’t get too close without drawing the attention of the two Kavinika. However, although the Rahi had growled threateningly whenever they sighted the Matoran, they had not resumed chasing them through the forest.

“If I had to guess-say, I think the Kavinika are guard-watching that cave,” Tamaru said. “The Burnak comes and goes, but the Kavinika do not.”

“That makes sense,” Kapura said. “Kavinika are known to be excellent guards.”

Taipu blinked. “How do you know that?”

“We have encountered them in Ta-Wahi before,” Kapura explained. “The Makuta will use them to guard specific places, like passes or storehouses, and even the Ta-Koro guard has difficulty driving them off. I believe Toa Tahu has also encountered some guarding the Kanohi masks of power out in the wild.”

“I guess that sense-makes,” Tamaru agreed. “I know much-not about Kavinika, but I recall that they are territorial and much-aggressive. Good traits for guard Rahi.”

“I believe the Po-Matoran even attempted to train some in the past, but they are too ornery to listen to Matoran,” Kapura continued. “However, they still can be bent to the Makuta’s will.”

“I don’t believe they have infected masks,” Tamaru stated. “Instead they seem to order-take from infected Burnak.”

“Not all Rahi can be controlled with an infected mask,” Kapura stated. “Still, there must be some influence, even if they need to be reminded by the Burnak to stay at their posts.”

“Yes, and that leads to my plan-idea,” Tamaru said. “With Burnak away-gone, we can ever-trick Kavinika to away-leave from cave, and then we can in-slip and see if the Makoki stone is inside.”

“Do we even know if the Makoki stone is in there?” Taipu asked.

Again, Tamaru shrugged. “That’s where Burnak direct-go after stealing it, and the Kavinika quick-guard cave. It seems likely that the stone will be inside.”

“I agree,” Kapura said. “Like how the Toa did not want to travel with the Makoki stones, the Burnak doesn’t want to either, so he has tasked the Kavinika to guard it while he is away.”

“Okay, I guess that makes sense,” Taipu said. “However, how do we get the Kavinika to abandon their posts?”

Tamaru took a deep breath, knowing her idea was quite risky. “We give them Matoran to quick-chase,” she said. “I will attention-get and away-lead them; you and Kapura can in-sneak to cave and quick-find Makoki stone.”

“But you were barely able to outrun them last time!” Taipu exclaimed. “Without the Burnak, they would’ve torn you to shreds.”

“It is risk-big plan, but I ever-think it will work,” Tamaru said, trying her best to sound confident.

“I agree, it is a good plan,” Kapura said. “But I should be the bait instead.”

Tamaru couldn’t stop herself from barking out a laugh. “Sorry, Kapura, but that terrible-bad idea. You’re most bog-footed Matoran I’ve ever seen; they would sure-catch you.”

“I have fled from Rahi before in the Charred Forest,” Kapura said. “I know how to avoid them.”

“But aren’t you kind of slow?” Taipu asked.

“I have learned how to travel great distances by moving very slowly,” Kapura said. “It is a skill I can use to lead the Rahi away.”

“Yes, but persistence doesn’t count as speed in this case,” Taipu pointed out. “Moving slowly won’t stop the Rahi from quickly catching you.”

Tamaru frowned, remembering something from earlier. “You have some funny-odd movements,” she said. “When we fled from cave, you started back-behind us, but then when you disc-throw, you are ahead of us. And you timely appeared when Burnak drop-attacked us in Le-Koro, when we left you slow-walking on trail. How did you quick-appear in places where you not-be?”

“That is part of my training,” Kapura said, not quite understanding Tamaru and Taipu’s confusion. “I focus on where I am not, and by moving slowly I arrive there.”

Tamaru glanced back at Taipu, who shrugged; neither of them understood Kapura’s explanation. Tamaru had no idea how the slow Ta-Matoran had managed such feats, and she highly doubted he could outrun a Koi Turtle, much less a Kavinika. However, she also knew that the Ta-Matoran guard had a reputation as hardy Matoran, so perhaps Kapura did have some techniques that would help him against the Rahi.

“If we do decided to cave-sneak, we should soon-time do it,” Tamaru said, gesturing to the darkening horizon. “Best to get stone before dark-fall, because we’ll have luck-less at night, and we can’t wait until morning because the Rahi may stone-move in darkness.”

“Well, I can operate quite well in the dark,” Taipu claimed. “But I know you two don’t have night vision, so going now would be a good idea. What do you think, Kapura?” He turned to where the Ta-Matoran had previously stood, but was startled to find him gone.

“Where-go did he?” Tamaru asked, surprised. “Did he just quick-sneak away from us?”

In the distance, there was a loud yelp from the Kavinika. “Did he just start the diversion?” Taipu wondered.

Tamaru was already on the move, as she headed towards the edge of the forest. She stopped behind the last tree, and she and Taipu peered around it and spotted Kapura part way up the pathway leading to the cave. The two Kavinika were already stalking towards him.

“This is good-not,” Tamaru said, drawing her disc. “We need to off-go on plan; attack Kavinika when they attack Kapura, or else he’s Rahi-bones.”

The first Kavinika suddenly darted forward, lowering his massive head to ram Kapura. But Kapura sidestepped and the Rahi blew past him. However, the second Kavinika was on top of him, and swiped with his paw. But there was a blur, and Kapura vanished for an instant, reappearing further down the path.

Tamaru blinked. “Did you quick-see that?” she whispered to Taipu.

“Did he just teleport?” Taipu asked back in disbelief.

The two Kavinika charged Kapura again, and again he expertly avoided them. But then the two beasts started using tactics, and took positions on either side of Kapura, blocking his escape. Assured that their quarry was trapped, both Kavinika charged forward to squash Kapura between their large heads. But instead they rammed into each other; in another blur, Kapura reappeared at the bottom of the slope, and started to walk towards the forest. Frustrated, the Kavinika charged after him, but he continued to evade them even as he led them away into the forest.

“Can all Ta-Matoran do that?” Taipu wondered, looking in the direction that Kapura and the Kavinika had gone. “Just instantly moving from one spot to another? I know they’re strong and have heat resistance, but what else can they do?”

“I feeling-have that Kapura is an anomaly,” Tamaru said. “But let us not time-waste; the cave is protected-no!” Without a second thought, she raced up the slope towards the entrance, with Taipu right behind her.

Tamaru entered the dark shadows of the cave cautiously with her disc in hand; she didn’t want to be surprised by any other Rahi guards. But the cave was unoccupied, giving her time to search. Unfortunately, the cave was also a mess; there was a lot of debris littered across the floor, from random shrubbery to broken Matoran tools.

“There’s a lot of clutter in here,” Taipu commented. “Where could they have hidden the Makoki stone?”

“Looks like this be a Rahi nest,” Tamaru speculated. “I not-know if this is for the Kavinika or Burnak, but some Rahi collect-carry objects to secure their sleep-areas. But where they hide-place Makoki?”

“We’d better start looking,” Taipu said, quickly pulling back a large branch. His vision was much better in the dark cave, so Tamaru merely assisted in moving aside the larger objects as Taipu scanned for the Makoki Stone. However, minutes passed and they still had not found it, and a sense of urgency was eating at Tamaru. How long would the Kavinika chase Kapura around before they remembered their guard duty?

“Wait, is that it?” Taipu asked, reaching down underneath a bramble of leaves that had been pushed into the far corner. He picked up a small tan stone, which appeared as a semi-circle.

“That’s it!” Tamaru explained, taking it from Taipu to examine. “Yes, this is it. I only see-view it a few times with Turaga Matau, but I recognize odd-shape. We must return-go at once!”

However, any celebration was quickly cut short as a shadow fell across the cave’s entrance. Tamaru and Taipu looked up just in time to see one of the Kavinika posed at the entrance, his eyes focused on them.

“Uh oh!” Tamaru stated, even as the Kavinika charged. She leapt aside, but she was so far back in the cave that she didn’t have room to dodge; it wouldn’t take much for the beast to corner and ram her.

Yet Taipu was not dodging, and planted his feet sturdily into the ground. He caught the Kavinika’s head as it rammed into him, but this time he was not thrown back; instead Taipu used all his strength and brought the Kavinika’s charge to a halt. Before the Rahi could comprehend the situation, Taipu’s hands gripped the side of its head and he swung it hard into the nearby wall; the force of the impact managed to stun the Kavinika for a moment.

“How did you...” Tamaru started.

“It’s no different than catching a big boulder,” Taipu said, although he sounded winded. “A big, angry, charging boulder. I’ve managed before.”

“Then we need to quick-go before it attack-charges again,” Tamaru said, sprinting for the entrance. “We got what we seek-wanted, now let’s escape-flee!”

But even as she stepped out into the fading sunlight, Tamaru became aware of the presence above her. She caught a glimpse of the Burnak leaping towards her, jaws wide opened, and knew that it had been poised to attack as soon as she made a break for it. But instead of feeling his teeth sink into her mask, she felt a sudden tug and was pulled back into the cave. She looked up to see her savior was none other than Kapura.

“Taipu, block the entrance,” Kapura barked, even as the Burnak spun around to attack again.

“Got it!” Taipu said, grabbing onto the fallen Kavinika and throwing it with all his might. The Rahi collided with the Burnak, pushing them both down the hillside. But it wasn’t far enough for the Matoran to attempt an escape.

“What happened?” Tamaru asked, as she got back to her feet.

“I apologize,” Kapura said. “The Burnak reappeared and ordered the Kavinika back to the cave. I tried to delay them, but was unable to effectively do so.”

“We’re still in-trapped,” Tamaru said, looking around the cavern. The Burnak and Kavinika were at the entrance; there was no escape for them.

Kapura gripped his pike. “I would not like to lose like this, but it is still an honorable way to go,” he said. “I will fight with you to the end.”

“Yes, to the end,” Tamaru said, drawing her bamboo disc. But this was not the end she wanted; a death trapped in a cave, ripped to shreds by infected Rahi.

“Wait!” Taipu exclaimed, moving towards the wall. “There is an opening here! The cave connects to the tunnel system!”

“You can’t be sure of that,” Kapura stated, even as he kept his eyes on the entrance, where the two Kavinika had reappeared, followed by the Burnak.

“It looks legit, and it’s small enough that the Rahi can’t follow us!” Taipu said. “What other choice do we have?”

Kapura hesitated for only an instant. “I trust the earth-dweller,” he stated. “It’s our only means of escape; go!”

Taipu was already pushing himself through what was little more than a crack in the wall. Tamaru turned to follow, despite her many misgivings about it. She was just barely able to squeeze through, as the rock pressed hard against her armor. But there was an opening, and Taipu was already making his way further down, so Tamaru reluctantly followed.

Kapura remained up above for a few more moments to buy them time. He appeared in front of the Kavinika unexpectedly and stabbed at them with his pike. When the Rahi retaliated, Kapura vanished and appeared at the edge of the crack. The Kavinika charged at him, but he slipped between the rocks, leaving the Rahi to claw desperately at the gap. With that, he followed the other two Matoran as they descended into the earth.

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The world around Tamaru was pitch black. She could feel the stone walls under her hands and feet, and smell the cool, moist air around her mask. She could hear the scuffling of Taipu and Kapura beside her, and even the distant scraping of the Rahi trying to follow them. But her eyes picked up nothing; there was no light this far underground, so it felt like she was truly blind.

The small crevasse Taipu had found started to widen, and eventually they found enough opened space that they could stand easily. However, while Taipu was able to walk with ease without sight, Tamaru and Kapura continued to stumble on the jagged rocks. They only came to a rest once they could no longer hear the sounds of the Rahi behind them.

“So,” Taipu said, finally breaking the silence. “We managed to escape, and we even got the Makoki stone. Not too bad, if I say so myself.”

“You ever forget that we’re now trapped in earth-tunnels, with no way to surface above,” Tamaru stated darkly.

“Inconsequential,” Taipu said. “All the caves and tunnels of Mata Nui are interconnected somehow. We just need to continue on and we’ll eventually find another opening.”

“That is perhaps an overly optimistic view of our situation,” Kapura said. “I know that some tunnels do lead to dead ends. The single entrance we are aware of is currently guarded by the Rahi that we just fled; we cannot assume that there will be other ways out.”

“Well, we won’t know unless we try to find them,” Taipu said. Unlike the other two, he sounded mildly excited. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had a chance to explore natural caverns like this!”

“Yeah, well I prefer being able to see-sight when I’m exploring,” Tamaru grumbled. “Not all of us can dark-see like you.”

“Oh, I can’t see anything at the moment,” Taipu responded, and she heard him tap is mask. “My Ruru doesn’t actually work like Whenua’s; underground, even us Onu-Matoran need a light source.”

“I don’t suppose you have a lightstone on you?” Kapura asked.

“Unfortunately, no,” Taipu responded. “We were just recovering from a lightstone shortage, so the supplies we were getting were going to other important sectors and not to individuals.”

“I thought the lightstone mines reopened,” Kapura said.

“I heard they did get through,” Taipu said. “But, well, I’ve been away from Onu-Koro for a while, so I wasn’t around to get a new one.”

“Very well,” Kapura said, and he fumbled with his pack. “I have a couple of Ta-Matoran candles I can use; they won’t be as effective, but they can provide a minor light source for a time.”

It took Kapura a little bit to retrieve his candles and cause a spark to light one of them. The small flame gave off only a little light, but it was enough for Tamaru, who could now gratefully see her own hands again, where she was still clutching the stone that had cause them so much trouble.

“Is that the Makoki stone?” Kapura asked, gesturing to the stone.

Tamaru nodded, and held it up for the Ta-Matoran to see. “We had just found it when Kavinika back-returned,” she said. “But without your diversion-cause, we would not have had chance to seek-find this.”

Kapura nodded. “Stow it away safely,” he said. “Because I believe we still have a long journey ahead of us.” He nodded at Taipu. “Please lead the way, Onu-Matoran.”

“Gladly,” Taipu said, rubbing his hands together. “So we came from that direction, and I can already see that the tunnels have split up a couple of times. Based on my sense of direction, if we head this way we’ll be moving east, where we can hopefully hit more of the tunnels beneath Mt. Ihu and find a passage back to the surface...”

So they started their journey. Taipu took the lead, scampering through the underground tunnels with ease, and seemingly picking their direction with a sense of purpose. Tamaru and Kapura followed closely behind, as they tried to keep Taipu in the candlelight, but he often progressed too far forward and got lost in the darkness, forcing them to call out for him to return. But after hours and hours of walking, they had not found an exit. Taipu had a decent sense of direction underground, so he knew which way they had come and prevented them from doubling back too often, but he was not having any luck finding a route to the surface.

Eventually, they came to a rest in a spacious cavern. Taipu wandered off to check the edges of it, promising to not go too far, while Tamaru and Kapura relaxed in the fading light of the candle. Kapura had already burned through three of his candles, and only had one remaining. Once that was used, they would be stuck in the utter darkness again.

Tamaru sat silently, taking slow, steady breaths. Like most Le-Matoran, she was modestly claustrophobic. It was one thing for her to journey through the dense jungle, but to be entirely trapped in this underground world was very unnerving. It didn’t quite match the same level as her vertigo, but it still put her quite on edge.

Kapura glanced over at Tamaru. “How are you holding up?” he asked.

“I’m good-fine,” Tamaru quickly lied.

“I just know most Matoran have trouble handling being underground,” Kapura said. “The confined space can be quite unsettling.”

Tamaru looked over, her interest piqued. “Are you fan-no of being earth-under?” she asked.

“I do have a strong dislike of traveling through Onu-Matoran tunnels,” Kapura admitted. “I have been on patrol on the underground highway between Ta-Koro and Onu-Koro, and do not like the feeling of earth being all around you. In the guard, we are taught to use our surroundings in combat, but that is very limited underground. I greatly prefer training above ground.”

“You don’t seem to be fear-bound right now?” Tamaru said. “How did you over-get being afraid?”

“It’s not a matter of no longer being afraid,” Kapura said with a shrug. “It’s just being brave enough to acknowledge your fear but face it all the same. I will avoid being underground if I can, but if I must I will use my knowledge and experience and attempt to overcome the difficulties, even if some are merely my own anxieties. Having an Onu-Matoran guide also provided a good morale boost; nobody knows how to handle caverns like them.”

“Face your fears, huh,” Tamaru muttered to herself, her mind wandering. She had tried to face her fear of heights for a long time, to little success. However... she was always chiding herself for her fear, attempting to somehow drive it out of her. Could she instead apply Kapura’s method; don’t deny the fear, but recognize it, learn from it, and then face it all the same?

The candle light flickered as it neared the end of the wick. Kapura frowned. “This one has almost been spent,” he said. “I have but one remaining; I do wonder if we can find a route out in time. I would rather not continue to walk about in complete darkness.”

Tamaru nodded, as she watched the candle’s flame flicker in a hypnotic method. However, something suddenly clicked for her. “What is causing the flames to flick-flutter like that?” she asked.

Kapura gave her a quizzical look. “Flames just do that,” he said.

“Not like that,” Tamaru said, standing up and sticking her hand above her mask. “It is being blown by air current; it is slight, but exist it does. I can ever-feel it.”

“What are you talking about?” Taipu asked, stepping forward into the light. “I found a couple of other tunnels heading off, but I honestly don’t know which to choose from,” he reported.

“There is air blow-moving, and air doesn’t blow-move underground,” Tamaru said, excitement building. “Not unless there’s outside-gap nearby.”

Taipu nodded. “She’s right! But I can’t feel any air movement.”

“I can,” Tamaru said, pointing into the darkness. “It comes from that direction.”

“Can we assume this is not the opening to the Burnak cave?” Kapura asked.

Taipu shook his head. “We have moved quite beyond that region; I think we’ve even climbed up in elevation, although we are still beneath the mountain so that doesn’t say much. But the direction Tamaru is pointing is leading somewhere else; someplace new!”

“Then that sounds like a good lead,” Kapura said. Just before the candle flickered out, he used its remaining flame to ignite his last one. “We have a short while before we lose our light; let us return to the surface.”

They started off again, but although Taipu took the lead, he was now getting directional input from Tamaru, whose Le-Matoran senses gave her greater sensitivity to the airflow in the tunnels, and she used it to help guide them. They quickly found tunnels that led upwards, forcing them to climb across the rocks. As they went on, some of the rocks got damper, but Taipu believed that meant they were approaching the surface, so they pressed on.

Finally, they reached a flat tunnel with loose soil on the floor. Taipu bent down to inspect it in the candlelight. “This tunnel has been trampled much by Rahi,” he said. “That is a good sigh; well used routes by underground Rahi generally lead back to the surface. Or at least Matoran dug tunnels.”

Kapura looked relieved too. “Let us push on,” he said. “Which direction do we travel?”

“That way,” Tamaru said, pointing with confidence. The breeze was stronger now; she didn’t even need to focus to be able to feel it. She knew there was an opening to the surface nearby.

Before the three could continue, Taipu suddenly held up his hand, quieting them. “Do you hear that?” he whispered.

Tamaru concentrated, and realized she could hear faint clicks coming from the opposite direction of the tunnel. “What is that?” she asked.

Taipu looked reluctant to answer. “Hurry up,” he said, taking the lead. “Fast, but quietly. We don’t want to alert a swarm.”

Tamaru and Kapura were anxious of Taipu’s sudden nervousness, and they quickly followed. But the clicks behind them grew louder and more rapid; something was following them.

Tamaru glanced back to see a shape move on the edge of their candlelight. It was a small figure, with six legs and a pointed tail. But it wasn’t alone; more shapes started appearing behind it. And suddenly the tails began to glow.

“Run!” Taipu yelled. The three took off at a sprint, and not a moment too soon; the scorpion-like Rahi launched a small fire blast from its tail, striking the tunnel wall. Soon, more of the creatures were powering up their tails as they chased after the Matoran.

“What-be those?” Tamaru called, sprinting behind Taipu.

“Kofu-Jaga!” Taipu responded. “They were likely attracted by the light and heat of the candle!”

“Kofu-Jaga are not particularly fearsome,” Kapura stated. “They are much easier to defeat than their cousins, the Nui-Jaga.”

“Yeah, but the Kofu-Jaga travel in swarms,” Taipu responded. “Even the Ussalry has trouble dealing with moderate size swarms; the three of us don’t stand a chance!”

Even as they fled from the Kofu-Jaga, Tamaru felt her heart leap at the sight of light up ahead. They had actually found a route to the surface. Although she hadn’t anticipated being chased by a swarm of fire scorpions on her way out.

However, as they burst through the opening, they saw that their situation wasn’t much improved. The opening was along the edge of a deep canyon, with the sound of rushing water below hidden by a shroud of mist. There was a path cut into the cliff side, but it was narrow and jagged, with a deep drop on one side. Above them, the sun was just beginning to rise; they had remained underground all night long, and only returned to the surface as morning began on Mata Nui.

“We are on the eastern slopes of the mountain,” Kapura stated. “I believe below may be the headwaters of the Hura Mafu River.”

“I don’t suppose Kofu-Jaga light-hate, do they?” Tamaru asked, glancing back.

Unfortunately, the Kofu-Jaga did not appear to be dissuaded by the sunlight, and continued to pursue the Matoran along the narrow path. But Kapura decided to go on the offensive; he darted forward and jabbed his pike at the lead Kofu-Jaga, impaling an eye. As the Rahi screeched, he swiped it aside and knocked it off the cliff; it disappeared in the mist and splashed down unseen into the river below.

“They can’t swarm us on this narrow path,” Kapura said. “We can continue to beat them back.”

“Good idea,” Taipu said, swinging his pickaxe and knocking another Kofu-Jaga off the cliff. “We’re good just as long as they don’t use their tails.”

However, Taipu spoke too soon, and a half dozen of the fire scorpions launched blasts of fire at him. Tamaru just managed to yank him back in time to avoid getting him.

“Forget back-fight,” she said. “We are faster at run-climbing; let us put distance-much between us and swarm.” She avoided looking over the edge of the cliff, already uneasy with their position; she didn’t need to further trigger her vertigo.

Tamaru lead the way down the trail as it cut into the cliff’s side. It meandered along the canyon, but did not rise or fall much. The Kofu-Jaga were indeed limited in their pursuit; only two or three could crawl along the trail at a time, so the swarm was spreading out. But the canyon wall was also damp and slippery, and the Matoran couldn’t move as fast as they would’ve liked. Once, Taipu nearly slipped and tumbled over the edge, but Kapura managed to grab him in time.

Still, Tamaru pressed on. Eventually, the path would have to lead them someplace where they could escape, or the Kofu-Jaga would lose interest. To her relief, the path was starting to widen a bit; hopefully soon there would be some place for them to flee where the swarm couldn’t follow. But then there was a small cascade of pebbles falling from above, and Tamaru looked upward as a shadow dropped down.

The Burnak landed on all fours in front of the three Matoran, growling menacingly as it slowly approached them.

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Tamaru froze as the Burnak blocked the path ahead of her. The very Rahi they had stolen the Makoki back from had tracked them down again. Meanwhile, the Kofu-Jaga swarm approached from behind. They were trapped again.

“How did he find us?” Taipu exclaimed.

“Makuta must’ve been tracking us while we were underground,” Kapura stated, gripping his pike. “Maybe he’s in control of the Kofu-Jaga, or maybe he just watched from the shadows.”

“But somehow Burnak ever-knew where to seek-find us,” Tamaru said, reaching for her disc. She was not eager to fight on the narrow cliff-side, especially not against such a dangerous beast.

Before they could act, Kapura pulled them aside as a mini fireball flew towards them; the Kofu-Jaga were still approaching. “I will slow down the fire scorpions,” Kapura said. “You two need to stop the Burnak!”

Kapura suddenly disappeared, as he seemingly teleported back up the path and stabbed the lead Kofu-Jaga. As it screeched out, its brethren turned to attack Kapura, but the Ta-Matoran vanished and reappeared behind them, attacking again. The swarm wasn’t able to keep up with his technique, and they slowed their progress as they tried to catch up to him.

Taipu, meanwhile, drew his pickaxe and charged forward. The Burnak ducked beneath his swing and then swiped out his paw, sending Taipu slamming into the rock wall. Tamaru acted next, throwing her disc, but the Burnak batted it aside too and sent it falling over the side of the cliff, where it disappeared into the mists below.

“Then we do this ever-hard way,” Tamaru muttered to herself. She charged directly at the Burnak, who sought to knock her down just as he had struck Taipu earlier. But Tamaru leapt upward at the last minute, sailing over the Burnak’s paw. She aimed to land on his back, where she might reach the infected Kanohi and release him from Makuta’s influence. But the Burnak was already turning, and Tamaru missed and slammed mask-first into the ground.

The Burnak tried to pounce on Tamaru once she was down, but his jump was brought to a halt when Taipu grabbed onto his back leg. The Burnak swung his head, ready to bring his fangs into play, but Taipu was already swinging his pickaxe, and the thick end collided with the Burnak. The Rahi stumbled; disoriented but not seriously hurt. However, it gave Tamaru time to recover.

Her mind spun as she eyed the scene. Tamaru knew they couldn’t continue this fight with the Burnak; he was just too powerful for them, and the path was too narrow for them to properly fight him. But where could they go, when there was a sharp drop to one side and a steep cliff to the other? Yet an idea came to Tamaru; the cliff had lots of jagged rocks and bramble growing in it; it wasn’t that much different than the trees she was used to climbing.

“Miner, can you up-climb these rocks?” Tamaru shouted to Taipu, even as the Burnak turned on them.

“I think so,” Taipu said hesitantly.

“Then time to high-flee!” Tamaru said, jumping up and grabbing a chunk of the rock wall. With her Le-Matoran grace, she was quickly able to scale the cliff, as if it were no more than a large tree in the jungle. Taipu also climbed up with relative ease, and they were soon out of reach from the Burnak on the path below him.

“I think we’re doing it!” Taipu said, as the Burnak tried to swipe at them from below. “But Kapura is still down there!”

“We need to attention-keep Burnak on us until...” Tamaru started, but paused as the Burnak extended his claws and dug them into the rock. The beast started to scramble his way up the cliff after them.

“Oh no, he can climb too!” Taipu said. But as he was distracted, he lost his footing and slipped, falling back down onto the path with a sharp thud. The Burnak’s eyes watched him for a moment, but then he turned his focus back on Tamaru.

Realization struck her. “He knows I have the Makoki stone,” she said to herself. “He eye-fix on me, ignore others.” She knew what she had to do; she had to lead the beast away from the other two. Kapura and Taipu could hold out together against the Kofu-Jaga, but not the Burnak. She needed him to chase after her.

The Burnak began swiftly climbing the hill after her; he was clearly an expert at rock climbing. But Tamaru was no amateur; she moved from handhold to handhold quickly, staying a few steps ahead of the Burnak. Nevertheless, the rocks were still wet, and inevitably her hand slipped. Tamaru tumbled down the slope and painfully landed on the path below. Behind her, the Burnak descended.

“I’ll just need to speed-run along ground-path now,” Tamaru said, getting to her feet. But then she sighted new shapes appearing further down the trail; the two Kavinika were walking up the trail, ready to block their escape.

Tamaru got to her feet and instinctively took a step back, and her foot brushed against the edge of the cliff. She glanced backwards and realized she was on the edge of a long drop. The mist hid the canyon floor, but she could see the rock walls rising out of it, and her fear started filling her. If she toppled over now, she would not be able to grab onto the canyon wall and climb back up; she would be done for.

Suddenly another thought broke through her fear; the fall would be a one way ticket for the Rahi too. If she could outwit the Burnak and cause him to leap off the cliff, he wouldn’t get a chance to attack them again. This could be her way of truly defeating the beast.

The Burnak growled as it slowly approached Tamaru, but she needed him riled up. She reached into her pack and pulled out the Makoki stone. “Is this what you seek-desire?” she shouted. “If ever-want it you do, then ever-take it from me you must!”

The Burnak’s eyes narrowed and he hunched back on his hind legs. Tamaru recognized the signs; he was about to leap. She tensed up too, ready to dodge herself. Behind the Burnak, she could see Taipu racing towards her; he also recognized the Rahi’s stance, but he was too far away to help. “Look out!” he shouted in warning.

The Burnak darted forward with unexpected speed, jaws opened to clamp down on the Makoki stone in Tamaru’s hands. Yet the Le-Matoran’s quick reflexes aided her as she jumped to the side. Too late, the Burnak realized he had charged into a trap. His hind legs tried to dig into the dirt, but his momentum was too much, and he fell out into the opened air and started to drop. Tamaru tried to dodge, but her own feet slipped, and she started to teeter backwards. Even as she swung out her arms in a desperate measure to regain her balance, she took a glancing blow from the Burnak’s rear paw. It was enough to shift her weight and she too fell over the edge.

There was a rush of red, and Kapura suddenly appeared on the cliff, reaching towards her. But he was too late, and Tamaru’s hand was already out of reach; he couldn’t save her. Yet something else stirred up in Tamaru; she still had the Makoki stone, but she couldn’t allow it to be lost with her. Using her last strength, she threw the stone upwards, and Kapura managed to snatch it out of the air.

And with that, Tamaru fell.

The wind rushed around her, and Tamaru closed her eyes as terror took hold. This was how it was going to end for her after all. Her death wasn’t caused by a Rahi or Makuta; instead gravity would be her undoing. In the end, her death stemmed from her greatest fear.

As she tumbled through the air, she felt a cool rush as she passed through the mist, and allowed herself one last sensation before her life ended. And then she hit the bottom on the canyon... with a splash.

The impact disoriented Tamaru, and she spun around crazily. But despite the pain and dizziness, one thought rose inside her; she was still alive! And she was wet... because she was underwater. She hadn’t slammed into the rocky floor of the canyon, but rather splashed into the river below, and the impact had not killed her.

Tamaru regained her bearings, and realized she had been pushed deep into the river, whose current was dragging her along quite rapidly. Perhaps a normal Le-Matoran would’ve panicked and perished underwater, but not Tamaru. Unlike her fellow villagers in Le-Koro, she knew how to swim. She thrust her arms out and kicked upwards. A few moments later, her mask broke the surface, and she breathed in a mouthful of air. She now heard a new rushing sound; she was being dragged towards a nasty set of rapids. As she bobbed up and down in the water, she saw a small shoreline nearby, and she quickly started to swim towards it. She would be able to pull herself out of the water well ahead of the rapids.

Another sound reached her ears; it was the desperate barking of a creature in need. She turned to see the Burnak thrashing in the water nearby. As strong as the Rahi was, he clearly didn’t know how to swim, and was panicking as he got pushed towards the rapids. For a moment, Tamaru was content to watch him get washed away; he had nearly killed her multiple times, and it would be poetic justice to let him drown. But Tamaru couldn’t ignore the distress in his cries, so she adjusted her stroke and swam towards him. With a steady hand, she grabbed onto his back and started pulling him towards the shore. She struggled at first, because the Burnak was quite heavy and the rapids were very strong. After a few moments, the Burnak realized that he was receiving help, and started kicking at the water to move in the same direction. After an agonizing minute in the water, both of them were able to climb up to dry land.

Tamaru shakily sat down on the small sandbar, but the Burnak next to her completely collapsed from exhaustion. Tamaru turned her gaze towards him, wondering if he was still going to be aggressive, but the Rahi was now only resting. Tamaru’s eyes darted to his back, where a few shards of a mask remained. Somehow, the Burnak had hit a rock in the river after his fall, and it had shattered the infected mask, which also broke Makuta’s influence over him. The Burnak was a free Rahi again.

Tamaru removed the last remaining shards of the infected mask and tossed them back into the water. She gently stroked the Burnak’s head, and he closed his eyes contently and let out a peaceful bark. She knew she didn’t have to worry about him attacking her anymore.

Tamaru’s looked away from the Burnak and glanced upwards. The wall of mist blocked out the sky, but she could still hear vague shrieks and rumbles and the occasional blast of fire. Her two friends were still fighting the Kofu-Jaga and Kavinika, but how could she help them, when she had fallen down here?

She paused again. She had fallen from a great height; higher than she ever had fallen before in Le-Wahi. And yet she had survived. Her fear, her vertigo, was still there, but now it didn’t quite feel as sharp as before. It felt like something she could fight.

Tamaru got back to her feet, and observed the rock wall next to her. She could climb it, just as she had climbed earlier, and by doing so she could reach her two friends and help them. It would be slow going, and she risked slipping and falling again, but she knew she had to try.

Before she could begin, she heard a loud squawk. She turned in surprise to see something drop out of the mist; it was Kunono.

“Why be you here, girl?” Tamaru asked in surprise. Kunono landed on the sand next to her, and tilted her head upward. Tamaru blinked in surprise; that was the standard Kewa sign for their rider to mount them. But she had never been able to stroke Kunono, much less hop on her back.

Tamaru slowly approached and lifted up her hand, which Kunono gently rubbed her beak against. “You were sky-tailing me,” Tamaru said speechlessly. “You’ve been eye-keeping on me this whole time, weren’t you?” She paused, and then said, “My friends up there need spirit-lift; will you high-fly with me?”

Kunono gave off a loud squawk, but didn’t allow Tamaru to mount just yet. Instead, she held up one of her talons, which clutched what Tamaru recognized as her bamboo disc.

“Much thanks,” Tamaru said, retrieving the disc. “I’m going to need this for true-shot.” She reached to pull herself up onto Kunono’s back, but found that her arms were trembling. Kunono was finally trusting her, but was Tamaru really ready to fly? She shook her head to clear it; she was ready. She couldn’t get rid of her fear of heights, but she could still face them head on. She had barely mounted Kunono before the Kewa gave out another loud squawk and spread her wings. Moments later, she was taking to the air, flying out of the mist and into the morning sunlight.

Tamaru felt the rush of wind as they rose up into the air. There was still fear inside her, but it nestled now in her stomach and not her heart. Her arms were still shaking, but she redirected Kunono and headed towards the cliffs, where she could still see her friends in action.

Taipu was in a wrestling match with the second Kavinika; the first one had already been knocked out and was recovering down the trail. The Onu-Matoran was using all his strength to hold back the Rahi’s head, but it was slowly pushing him against the rock wall, hoping to crush him for good. Meanwhile, Kapura was darting between the Kofu-Jaga swarm, still teleporting around them. There were many disabled fire scorpions along the trail, but the swarm continued to advance on the Ta-Matoran, who was clearly tiring. Tamaru could see that he was breathing heavily and the distances were decreasing when he teleported.

As Kunono glided towards them, Tamaru readied her disc. This time, she was not making a hasty throw, but rather was taking time to aim properly. At the right moment, she threw her disc forward, and it slams painfully into the back of the Kavinika’s head. The beast was stunned for a moment, and Taipu managed to push it off him.

Taipu gasped as he looked up and spotted his savor. “Is that Tamaru?” he cried out.

The Kavinika had recovered and charged towards Taipu again, but Kunono was already diving. The Kewa’s talons latched onto the Kavinika’s shoulders and lifted the beast up and over Taipu. The beast was too heavy for Kunono to carry far, but she could haul it for a short distance. Tamaru directed her up the trail, towards the Kofu-Jaga, and signaled for her to release. Kunono let go of the Kavinika, whose body was sent flying towards the swarm of fire scorpions. Kapura glanced over his shoulder at the last minute and spotted the incoming Rahi; he teleported out of the way just in time, and the Kavinika collided the Kofu-Jaga swarm and caused them to scatter.

“Ever-yes!” Tamaru cried out in glee, as she watched the Rahi struggle below. “Is this what fast-flying a Kewa is like? It’s great-good feeling!”

However, she spotted something else out of the corner of her eye; the cliff-side was starting to fracture, likely due to the pounding it had taken from the Kavinika. It was about to collapse!

“Ready for quick up-pick?” Tamaru shouted down as she redirected Kunono back towards the trail. Taipu and Kapura were unsteady as the rocks beneath their feet began to shift. Tamaru didn’t have time to land and have them mount the Kewa with her, so she took a more direct approach. Kunono dove downward and grabbed Taipu in her talons, just as the rocks crumbled out from under him. Kapura darted forward and jumped towards them; Tamaru reached out her hand and just managed to grab him, pulling him onto the Kewa’s back as Kunono flew away. Behind them, the cliff-side crumbled, taking the Kavinika and Kofu-Jaga down with it.

“You survived,” Kapura stated to Tamaru over the roaring winds.

“You’re flying!” Taipu shouted from below.

“Yes I did, and yes I am,” Tamaru said. “You still carry-keep Makoki stone?”

Kapura nodded, patting his own pack. “It has been recovered.” He paused, and added, “I am sorry; earlier I was not fast enough to grab you before falling. I realize sometimes I cannot just move slowly, not when it counts.”

“Worry-not, it out-work for best in end,” Tamaru said. “Now, let us home-get to tree-bright Le-Koro before more Rahi try to quick-steal that stone from us again.”

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A few days later, the alarms sounded in Le-Koro once again. All around, the Matoran scattered as they prepared defenses, and Kongu quickly ran towards Turaga Matau.

“What cause-be for alarm-sound?” Turaga Matau asked.

“Scout-flyers return, speak of buzz-wing Rama swarm fast-flying this direction,” Kongu reported. “We have small-time before they arrive, and defense-set be we must!”

Turaga Matau nodded. “Get all Gukko Force sky-high, and circle-fly in wait. For others, have them disc-armed and defense-set. Rama swarm will have to back-fly in retreat when we are done with them!”

Turaga Matau turned suddenly as he saw Tamaru running towards him and Kongu. “Tamaru, I have special-much task for you. I need you down-tree for task-vital.”

“But Turaga,” Tamaru protested. “Up-tree I can still ever-help with defenses.”

Turaga Matau shook his head. “Tamaru, I ask-not you to down-tree because of skill-lacking,” he said. “Very much the opposite. Of all Le-Matoran, you are skilled on ground-floor. You were one who returned Lewa’s Makoki stone, and you needed not pilot skills. Your destiny is down-tree; let the rest of us protect sing-song Le-Koro.”

Tamaru was still hesitant. “Are you sure?” she asked one last time.

Turaga Matau bowed to Tamaru. “I sure-mean what I say,” he replied. “Now, with quick-speed, you must go. Set defenses and do Le-Koro proud!”

Tamaru bowed in turn to Turaga Matau and quickly departed, still disappointed but with her head held high. Kongu, however, frowned at her departure.

“That is such talent-waste,” he complained to Turaga Matau. “True, Tamaru is still not skilled to be sky-bound, but she could still be much-use in village defenses. She is best true-shot with discs, and her agility is second to none. Down-tree defenses are unnecessary; Le-Koro only needs to worry about sky-attacks.”

Turaga Matau chuckled mischievously. “Tamaru is not going down-tree just to defend Le-Koro. Her skills are much-needed for the Company. Turaga Vakama asked for Matoran to spare, but wind-fly pilot be help-no for what be needed. Tamaru is pick-best.”

“What-be you chat-talk about?” Kongu asked, confused. “What Company?”

Turaga Matau waved his hand. “Matter-not to us now, we must set up tree defenses.”

Below, Tamaru got to work cutting all connections to the jungle village from the ground. The elevator had already been pulled up and stored away, so she merely had to cut off sections of the vine ladder as she descended. Once it was gone, the only way to get to the city would be to fly up to it.

As she worked, she reflected on what had happened at the end of her adventure with Taipu and Kapura. Once they had escaped the canyon of the Hura Mafu River, it had been an easy flight back to Le-Koro. Tamaru had never flown on Kunono before, but the Kewa responded to her directions eagerly, and was able to bear the weight of the three Matoran as they returned to Le-Koro.

Turaga Matau had given them all high praise upon their return, and took to securing the Makoki stone again. A day later, Lewa had returned to the village one last time to take the stone himself. He hinted that he and the other Toa had a plan and it was time for the key stone to be used. Turaga Matau and the rest of Le-Koro had wished him luck on his venture.

Of course, Taipu and Kapura hadn’t stuck around for long; as soon as they knew the Makoki stone was in good hands, they departed Le-Koro as well. Taipu headed back to Onu-Koro to resume work in the Great Mines, although he clearly would’ve preferred another adventure. Kapura, meanwhile, resumed his mission to locate the Chronicler. Tamaru was sad to see them leave, since she had become good friends with them on their journey. But they had destinies too, and theirs did not keep them in Le-Koro.

Tamaru finally reached the ground, and cut back the last of the vine ladder. She heard the scrapping of claws on wood, and turned to see the Burnak walking over the tree’s roots towards her.

“Hello there,” she said kindly to the Rahi. “Appear-be the Turaga wants me to down-join you here.” The Burnak growled affectionately as it nuzzled her, and she patted the top of his head.

Less than a day after the fight in the canyon, the Burnak had returned to the base of Le-Koro. However, he had not come to fight or steal; this time he sought out Tamaru. After interacting with him, Tamaru realized that he recognized her as the Matoran who had saved his life in the river, in addition to freeing him from Makuta’s influence. The Burnak turned out to be very loyal and a dedicated guard; she had watched as he scared off a Muaka who had wandered close to the base of Le-Koro, a feat few other beasts could pull off. With Turaga Matau’s blessing, the Burnak had been allowed to stay as a new ground guard for the village.

“Know-not why Matau down-send me here when you can ever-defend better than I,” Tamaru said, scratching under the Burnak’s chin. “I just redundant-be.”

There was another loud squawk, and Tamaru looked up to sight Kunono in the low branches above her. Tamaru had not flown on Kunono a second time after returning with the Makoki stone, but the Kewa still stayed close to Tamaru and would even let her brush and clean her feathers. Their relationship might not make them ready to join the Gukko Force, but Tamaru was pleased that she had finally connected with her Kewa.

Her thoughts were broken as the Burnak started to growl, glaring at the trail leading to the village’s base. Tamaru tensed up and grabbed her disc; she had learned that the beast’s senses were superior to even her own, and he could tell if intruders were approaching from a distance. But as she started to make out the shadows underneath the foliage, she placed a gentle hand on the Burnak. “It okay-be,” she said. “It’s just Matoran. Although why they jungle-venture now is strange-much.”

As the group moved closer, Tamaru saw that there were six Matoran, and she even recognized half of them. Taipu and Kapura were part of the crowd, and they both waved at Tamaru as they approached. But the party was being led by none other than the Chronicler.

“Greetings, my friend” he said to Tamaru as they approached. “I don’t know if you remember me, but I helped during that Nui-Rama invasion. And I need to speak with Turaga Matau.” He hesitated, looking to where the elevator used to be. “Um, is there still a way to get up into Le-Koro?” he asked sheepishly

“Hello,” Tamaru said, jumping down from her perch to stand next to the other Matoran. “Highbranch home is locked and protected. Matau Singer and Kongu Pilor, up-tree they are. Rama-swarm threatens and all good Le-Matoran fly defense. No way to reach village from down-tree now.”

The Chronicler frowned, not liking the wrinkle in his plan. “But why aren’t you up there with the others?” he asked.

“Down-tree guard am I, sent here because... I fly not,” Tamaru finished lamely, looking away.

“That’s not true!” Taipu said. “We flew together just the other day!”

“My Kewa let us air-fly, but that make-not me good enough to be wind-fly pilot,” Tamaru explained. “Turaga Matau said my skills be better down-tree.”

Kapura offered a warm smile. “I think your Turaga made a wise decision in that regard,” he stated.

“You two know her?” the Chronicler asked, surprised. “There aren’t a lot of Matoran who hang out in different villages.”

The Ga-Matoran behind him huffed. “Well, that’s only because some Turaga keep restricting our travels. I for one have jumped at the chance to get to travel some more.”

“Well, not all of us are as kooky as you,” the Po-Matoran said gruffly. “However, if the other villages knew of my fabulous artwork, they would certainly flock to Po-Koro more often.”

“Tamaru was the Le-Matoran Kapura and I were telling you about,” Taipu said to the Chronicler. “She helped us retrieve the Makoki stone from the evil Rahi!”

“She is indeed very knowledgeable and skilled,” Kapura affirmed. “She would make an excellent companion.”

“What-speak you now?” Tamaru asked, confused.

The Chronicler grinned sheepishly. “So I’m putting together a bunch of Matoran from all the villages to go help the Toa out at the Kini-Nui. It’ll be dangerous, but it’s essential all the same. I was going to ask Turaga Matau who he could spare, although it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. But if you’re half as good as Kapura and Taipu claim you are... I guess what I’m asking is, would you like to join my company?”

Tamaru paused for a moment to consider. Turaga Matau had said she was needed on the forest floor, but he didn’t necessarily say he needed her to be a guard. Despite all the dangers and fear she had faced with Kapura and Taipu, she had felt a greater sense of worth with them than she ever had in Le-Koro, and she had even started to get over her fear of heights. She wanted to adventure across the island again, and further prove her worth.

“Join I will,” she finally said. “Highbranch home safely guarded, no Rahi approach through brush, only from sky. Free am I to quick-travel to Kini-Nui with you.”

“Excellent!” the Chronicler said. He gestured to the other Matoran with him. “Kapura and Taipu you already know, but this is Macku the boat racer from Ga-Koro, Hafu the famed carver from Po-Koro, and the silent Kopeke from Ko-Koro. Welcome to the Company!”

“Are you sure it’s safe for you to leave?” Macku asked, looking around. “I’ve heard stories of the dangerous Rahi in the jungle; surely Le-Koro needs some sort of guard on the ground, right?”

“Being up-tree is best defense,” Tamaru explained. “Even-still, I leave behind guard-good.” She gestured to the Burnak, who cautiously approached the group.

Taipu yelped out and jumped back. “Is that who I think it is?”

Tamaru nodded. “He path-find back to jungle after you left, and have been all happy-smile and guard-good since.”

Kapura chuckled. “You seem to have gained his loyalty after freeing him from the Makuta. I have heard stories that the Burnak can be the most faithful companions. I greatly prefer him to be on our side.”

“I haven’t quite seen a Rahi like him before,” the Chronicler said, slowly approaching the Burnak, who let him pat him on the head. “And I’ve seen a lot of the creatures on this island. He is truly an impressive beast.”

“That be ever-true,” Tamaru said. “I leave down-tree guard behind in good paws with him.”

“With Tamaru, we now have the last member that we were seeking,” Kapura said to the Chronicler. “We should head for the Kini-Nui; the Toa must’ve gathered there by now.”

“That’s going to be quite the walk,” Hafu grumbled. “We’ve already crossed half the island to collect everybody here, but the path to the Kini-Nui is far still.”

“I can cut down the travel time a bit,” the Chronicler said, pulling out a flute. “Turaga Matau gave me this flute song that can summon a Kewa, and it can give us a lift to anywhere on the island.”

“That’s great; then we can just fly over to the Kini-Nui,” Hafu said.

Kopeke the Ko-Matoran shook his head and spoke in a quiet voice. “Storm looms on Mt. Ihu. Flying to the Kini-Nui would be hazardous. Best to approach on foot.”

“Does anybody actually know how to get to the Kini-Nui?” Taipu asked.

“The main trail starts in Ga-Koro,” Macku replied. “I’ve boated there before; I should be able to get us through the waterfall and to the head of the trail.”

“Excuse me, did you just say through the waterfall?” Hafu asked incredulously.

The Chronicler played a few notes on his flute before responding. “We may not be able to fly to the Kini-Nui directly, but we can fly around the storm and reach Ga-Koro with the Kewa.” However, his face fell as a smaller Kewa flew down towards him. “Except I don’t think this particular bird will be able to carry all of us.”

“Fret not, I can summon another,” Tamaru said. She whistled, and Kunono swooped down out of the canopy and landed next to her. “Half of us can fast-fly with you, and the other half with me,” she said.

The Chronicler grinned slyly. “Oh, and here I thought you said you couldn’t fly.”

“I… high-flying no-be my favorite way to travel,” Tamaru said, as she helped Kapura and Taipu on the back of Kunono, while Macku, Hafu, and Kopeke climbed on the back of the other Kewa. “I prefer wind-sprint in jungle instead.”

The Chronicler laughed as he pulled himself up onto the Kewa. “You certainly are one of the stranger Le-Matoran I’ve met, Tamaru, and that’s saying something. But don’t worry; all of us here are the oddballs of our villages; it just makes us that much more unique.”

“Speak for yourself,” Hafu said. “My talents are far superior to anybody else in Po-Koro.”

“Your ego is also the largest there too,” Macku commented.

“The Turaga still selected all of us to join this Company,” Kapura said. “They have faith in us.”

“Yes, plus we all appreciate a fun adventure!” Taipu added.

“Ready to go, Highfly Tamaru?” the Chronicler asked.

Despite herself, Tamaru grinned. “It’s actually Tamaru, Highfly Vinesman, Deepwood Wayfinder,” she corrected, before she and Kunono took to the sky.

The End.

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