Days passed. It was no longer safe for Kapura or Tamaru to roam the streets, and so they remained at Kemirii's abandoned warehouse. Macku regularly brought them news when she could, and Onepu encouraged training in the mechs. Kapura kept busy by practicing moving quickly from one end of the warehouse to the other.
Tamaru sat in his mech, the electro-sword left powered down as he slowly ran through a set of slashes Onepu had shown him. Up, right, thrust. Down, left, parry. Attacks using the Mangai would be powerful and devastating, regardless of technique. But Tamaru had little else to do these days, and spent most of his time either tinkering with the mechs or training.
Each strike cut smoothly through the air. Tamaru was good at this part. His technique was powerful and poised. Never over-committed, always ready to back up and start anew. To block and deflect blows that came his way. To dodge and weave. He gracefully moved his blade over his head, spinning to strike behind him in a single movement.
When the sequence ended, he immediately repeated it, faster this time. Each slash cut through the air, each parry deflecting an imaginary weapon. The image of the leering Vahki that rained its foot down upon him danced in his mind. He struck harder, more ferociously. The imaginary Vahki was ripped in two.
It wasn't enough. He needed to be better. To never allow himself nor his friends to be captured. The Vahki captured him once with ease. That would never happen again, not if he could help it.
An image of Gavla appeared, offering a hand out to him in a gesture of friendship. Tamaru slashed off her treasonous wings, crippling her. She begged for forgiveness. He sliced off her head. Her body fell to the ground.
Behind Tamaru, a shadow taunted him. "I will lead Turaga Ahkmou to your friends. To the Resistance members. All will be captured and tortured. And then, I will slice-kill Turaga Matau myself."
Tamaru gripped the control of his mech in anger, feeling as though he could crush the handle if he used any more force. Turning, he struck at his shadow. His opponent dived out of the way, thrusting out with his own blade. Tamaru knew his every move. He slashed at his opponent. His shadow slipped to the right. Tamaru stabbed. The shadow deflected. They dodged and thrust, parried and sliced.
He couldn't beat the imaginary foe through skill or speed, but he had power - the power of the Mangai. He brought his sword over his head. A moment passed. Tamaru slashed, and slashed, and slashed. He forgot all technique. The shadow was unable to defend himself. His blade dropped. He fell to the ground. He looked up in horror. Tamaru stabbed with all his might.
His blade struck through the workbench, sending tools clattering to the ground. His head pounding, Tamaru found himself alone in the workshop. There was no Vahki. No Gavla. No evil shadow clones of himself. The only sounds were his own hurried panting, and of Kapura's unceasing pacing in the next room.
He stripped out of the mech and prepared to clean up the mess he had made. The bench was split in two, completely ruined. He knelt down and picked up a sander that had falled off, flicking the switch to test it. It turned on and didn't look out of alignment. He was relieved that he had the presence of mind to unplug the power to the electro-sword before he started training - a dozen power tools would be completely fried had it discharged through the bench.
Onepu would give him a lecture in technique if he caught Tamaru training like that. Tamaru would probably be lectured from Macku for damaging useful equipment anyway.
Some days later, all four of them - Kapura, Onepu, Macku, and Tamaru - sat together in the waiting room. It was rare for them to find time to spend together like this. Any time Onepu and Macku were in the same room, Onepu would insist on training the three of them in Mangai sword routines before encouraging them to work on target practice in their own time.
Tamaru skimmed over a news-carving Macku had brought in. The front page congratulated the Po-Metru team on winning a Kohlii match, while criticizing the Ko-Metru for poor goalkeeping. It seemed trivially unimportant to him now. Tamaru flipped over the carving, finding a much more interesting article to read.
Any information that leads to the capture of the following beings will be rewarded.
Turaga Vakama: 2,000 widgets
Turaga Nokama: 1,000 widgets
Turaga Whenua: 1,000 widgets...
The list went on. Tamaru's name was listed below the Turaga, the reward a measly 200 widgets. Even Kapura's name was listed for 300! Tamaru tossed the carving aside in disgust. "Macku, what news on Turaga Nokama?"
"You know I couldn't answer that even if I did know where she was," she answered, absorbing the energy from a fish she had caught earlier. Strictly speaking, there was no reason for her to be eating at all - she could recharge at any time in the charging stations. But Macku said she enjoyed the taste, and a lucrative market for fish and berries caught and grown in Ga-Metru had developed since the Matoran had returned to Metru Nui.
Tamaru chose not to voice his thoughts on eating the remains of a once-living being. "How is work?" he asked awkwardly.
Macku glanced up. "Much the same. More and more Ga-Matoran are being pulled into the protodermis purification labs. I suspect we are sending it to Ta-Metru so that more Vahki parts can be forged." She sighed for a moment, looking toward the shutters. "Oh, but the last of the Rahkshi have left the city! That's something to be cheerful about!"
"Matoran singsong for Rahkshi leaving," Tamaru agreed. "But Vahki presence lingers. Vahki smart-cunning, Matoran will be fearful. Makuta's tight-grip on Metru Nui increases as Matoran accept this way of life."
"We're aren't out of the fight yet," said Onepu. "Hafu has a friend who still sabotages assemblies of Vahki. And if what I've heard is true, more and more Ta-Matoran are intentionally forging components that shatter easily."
"Kotu and I are working in the protodermis purification plants as well," said Macku, absorbing the last of the energy from her fish. "Whenever we hear that another order of Vahki parts goes through, we make sure that Ta-Metru gets a lower grade of protodermis!"
Kapura looked to each of them. "You do well to resist the Makuta. I hope the Toa will -"
A faraway rumble stopped him mid-sentence, and a distant whining sound could be heard outside.
Onepu was already sliding the shutters open, peering outside. Light flashed outside like lightning - but with no thunder. After a moment, Tamaru decided to look as well.
"See anything?" Tamaru asked.
"Nothing yet," replied Onepu, scanning for signs of an attack.
Matoran in the streets scrambled this way and that, some trying to get a better view, others to escape whatever danger might have entered the city. Moments passed, until finally, in the distance, Tamaru caught sight of a red object flying in the distance. He wasn't sure, but it looked almost like the Axalara.
"If there's a time for those mechs, this is it," Onepu barked. "Let's get mounted up."
It took them only moments to enter the workshop. Kapura opened the hanger doors to allow the heavy mechs to exit, and Tamaru opened the workshop doors wide. Onepu was already climbing into the cockpit of the central mech. Tamaru gripped the sides of his cockpit, pulling himself inside and closing the protective faceplate. Macku climbed into the third, and final, mech. Like he had done a dozen times before, Tamaru strapped himself in and gripped the controls. The heavy armor came to life, responding to Tamaru's own movements, standing proud and tall. Onepu was already leading his mech out the workshop door, and Tamaru and Macku soon followed behind.
Kapura brought up the rear. "I will find Hafu and Kopeke and bring them here. We will need all those we can gather."
"Find Kotu, too!" said Macku.
Tamaru turned to face the Ta-Matoran, but he had already vanished.
Onepu skillfully covered the exit of the warehouse with his heavy arm-mounted cannon, as the trio led the mechs into the daylight for the first time. Lumbering down the city streets towards the Southern shores, Tamaru soon caught sight of the Axalara again. This time, he could make out the silhouette of a green-armored pilot. "Kongu! It's Kongu!" he shouted with a mix of excitement and relief.
"Do you think Hewkii is here as well?" Macku squeaked.
"Of course he is!" affirmed Onepu, but Tamaru knew he couldn't be sure.
Bursts of light shone from the edge of the city, now mixing with the sound of metal striking metal. "Keep up the pace!" Onepu shouted, leading the trio to the beach.
Fleeing Matoran looked up in awe at the huge mechs lumbering through the city. "Tamaru!" one Le-Matoran shouted. "And Macku!" Matoran murmured among themselves as they recognized the Matoran as veterans of the Makuta Wars on Mata Nui.
Before they rounded a corner, a squad of Vahki appeared before them. Tamaru felt his heartlight flash rapidly. Despite all the training, were they really ready for this? Was he ready? They were outnumbered eight to three.
The Vahki aimed their staffs at the Mangai and fired their mind-altering blasts. Tamaru flinched even as the energy dispersed harmlessly across the mech's faceplate. Standing uselessly in shock for a moment, he began to feel invincible. He lifted his arm up, aiming his cannon. The Vahki began summoning their disks, trying a new tactic after their stun staffs failed. Tamaru opened fire. A moment later, the cannons on the other two Mangai blasted as well. Tamaru fired three more blasts in quick succession. The dust cleared, and the Vahki were nothing more than scrap metal.
Matoran peeked out behind corners and out of buildings.
Onepu climbed on top of the wreckage, facing the onlookers. "We must fight as one! Grab your weapons, your disks! If you have no weapon, make one!" He kicked the corpse of a Vahki, sending its stun staff flying. "United, we outnumber them a hundred to one! It is our duty to take up arms against the tools of our invaders! Together, let us achieve our destiny, and retake our home!" Onepu turned and began marching toward the shores. "Metru Nui belongs to the Matoran!"
Macku and Tamaru began to echo his statement. "Metru Nui belongs to the Matoran! Metru Nui belongs to the Matoran!" The onlookers began to join in the chant, and a growing group fell into step behind the Mangai. Some carried disk launchers, more held disks to throw. Others carried spears carved from wood, or axes brought from their homes. A handful wielded dismembered Vahki limbs and staffs.
"Metru Nui belongs to the Matoran!"
Soon, the force reached the edge of Le-Metru. Ahead of them, row upon row of Vahki lined up in formation, firing stunning beams at their opponents. Near the perimeter wall, over two dozen Toa gathered, hurling elemental powers at the never-ending mass of Vahki. A blue-and-gold armored Toa kept to the back, shouting orders and watching for any signs of mental disorientation among her comrades.
A Ko-Matoran with a Southern build nimbly ducked between the Vahki, dismembering them one by one with his enormous blade. Two vehicles flew by overhead, scattering squads of Vahki with the blasts from their Skyblasters.
"Hewkii! Hewkii!" squeaked Macku, pointing toward the yellow-and-black armored Toa as he thrust his fist to the ground. Three Vahki found themselves hovering uncontrollably in the air, easy targets for Hewkii's precise shots with his blaster.
Onepu didn't stop to stare. "Stay as a group!" he ordered as they continued to approach. "Open fire!" Onepu shouted, and the three mechs blasted their cannons into the undefended backsides of Vahki. Kanoka disks hurled by the masses of Matoran flew overhead, striking their targets. Some Vahki shattered, others froze.
"Charge!" ordered Onepu, startling Tamaru with the sudden change of tactics.
Regardless, he rushed in, electro-blade poised to strike. He crushed damaged Vahki components beneath the heel of the heavy mech, stabbing a Vahki through the back. He grinned as the discharge overloaded its circuits. Kicking the Vahki back, he pulled the blade out and spun to slice the head off a second.
The Vahki screamed in their unintelligible language, opening fire at their attackers. One blast hit Tamaru's mech. It didn't matter. Vahki stun blasts were useless against a Mangai. But Tamaru brought his blade into an uppercut, punishing the Vahki for daring to try and control his mind.
To his left, Tamaru caught sight of more Vahki stun blasts. No more! He blasted them to smithereens.
More Vahki rushed in, ready to fill the gaps in their line that their fallen brethren had left. Tamaru would destroy them all. He was practically invincible! With each swing of his blade, a Vahki was sliced, crushed, or overloaded with electricity. Every single one of the enforcers was complicit in harming Matoran. In attacking his friends. In hurting him.
"Tamaru, get back here!"
Tamaru pushed further into Vahki lines, and soon he was surrounded by the enforcers. Good - more for him to destroy. Two fell against his blade. Something struck against the back of the mech, but Tamaru could barely feel it. He aimlessly slashed at another Vahki. The Vahki sidestepped the attack and countered with its staff, smashing between the plates on Tamaru's arm. Tamaru cried out in a mixture of pain and shock.
Vahki staffs, smashing him into the wall.
A moment later, Tamaru felt a strike from behind. It was ineffective against his heavily armored Mangai, but he was caught fighting two Vahki at once. Tamaru brought the mech's arms up, trying to shield himself with his blade and cannon. But two attackers turned to three, then four. Metal weapons struck him on all sides.
Vahki feet, stomping him into the ground.
Another Mangai rushed passed, accurately piercing two of Tamaru's attackers. "Fight back, Tamaru!" a shout came.
But Tamaru couldn't bring himself to move, and simply covered his shielded face with his arms. The sounds of metal striking metal continued, but the onslaught of staffs striking his mech ceased.
"You are safe now!" came Onepu's voice. It sounded so far away. "Join our defense!" Tamaru peered between the arms of the mech, watching the battle raging.
A hundred bodies of scrapped Vahki lay scattered around the battlefield. Nearby, a Matoran was struck by a stun blast. He began aimlessly shambling around the battlefield, unaware of his surroundings. Vahki approached the squad. But Macku dived in, seemingly from nowhere, using the bulk of her mech to shield the Matoran. A slash of her blade crushed another Vahki, giving Hafu time to pull the confused Matoran down and get him away from the line of fire. Macku continued fighting, keeping an eye out for Vahki who were getting too close to unarmored Matoran. Her strikes were weak, her blasts inaccurate, but she charged nimbly around the battlefield, ensuring no Vahki would get past her.
Mangai arms grabbed Tamaru's waist, dragging him away from the fighting. He could have fought back if he found the willpower. He should get back into the fight. Protect his friends. Onepu was saying something, trying to calm him down, but Tamaru couldn't make sense of the words.
Someone grabbed his arms, pulling them down.
Macku couldn't be everywhere at once. A Matoran Tamaru didn't recognize was struck by a Vahki staff, her mask went flying, and she panicked. The Vahki beat her again, kicking her into the pavement, and Tamaru couldn't bring himself to look away.
The mech's faceplate was unsealed and lifted up. Arms removed the brackets, pulling him out of his mech.
A Vahki smashed its weapon into a Matoran, and the Matoran began shrieking and wailing on the ground, even as his face was struck. His mask went flying, lost somewhere in the piles of broken machinery, maybe never to be found again.
Gentle hands pulled Tamaru out of the mech. He looked at his rescuer. Kapura looked back, trying to tell him something. The words were lost against the screams and blasts around him.
"No," Tamaru said. "I keep battle-fighting." He tried to pull away, back towards the mech, but Kapura held him back.
"Tamaru, it is time to go. You are not well. You can't help them now."
Tamaru's mech steadily headed back into the battle - had someone else climbed into it? The Mangai jumped in front of a group of Matoran wielding disk launchers, blocking a stun blast. Was that Hafu in the pilot seat?
Kapura held Tamaru, pulling him away from the battle inch by inch.
The Mangai was struck by a staff but quickly sliced the offending Vahki in two.
The world changed pace, and a moment - or an eternity - later, Tamaru was somewhere far away. The gentle sound of waterfalls crashed in the distance.