Nowhere sees somewhere. Nothing perceives things.
—r is openin—
—g. Yes. Ye—
—s! The life fl—
—ows and I—
The alchemy transpired so quickly that Rayuke hardly registered it.
Still standing with its tip plunged deep into the Vault’s crystal podium, the Imperial Executioner’s broadsword started to change. It narrowed, and its keen edges morphed from impeccably straight to wavy, like it was being bent by a mirage. The handle of the sword shrunk from a two-handed grip down to a hand-and-a-half design. Most astonishing of all, though, was that the very substance of the sword transmuted. The polished metal of its blade seemed to melt away to instead reveal cold, clear crystal. Dasakan crystal.
Out of a shadowy wisp a sword unlike any Heuani had ever seen materialized before him. It had a sturdy, elegant metal hilt – a basic T-shaped crossbar, an unadorned ovular pommel, all crafted out of smooth lines – but what was remarkable about the weapon was its transparent, rippling blade. Heuani plucked the sword from the air and felt its balance suit him excellently, as though it had been made for his arm.
The blade looked like it was made of glass, and its edge was so sharp it almost disappeared into the shade around it. He pulled the flat of the flamberge close to his face and noted that its seemingly smooth surface was actually comprised of exceedingly minute flat polygons that bent so subtly that their edges were imperceptible unless closely examined. Inside the blade, Heuani’s acute vision made out a tiny crevice, an angular-looking air bubble; it was, as far as he could see, the sword’s only flaw.
Side banter died as the Matoran took in the changed blade. Rayuke had never seen this flamberge before, but others in the group knew it at once.
“I know that sword!” Leli gasped. “It’s—”
“—Is it?” Tarnok murmured. “Could it be?”
“—the Dark Toa Heuani’s sword!” Leli finished.
“Hey-you… hey-who… whose?” Soraya asked.
“I saw it at the Battle of the Hive,” Leli clarified. “It was the weapon of Makuta’s most despicable lieutenant.”
“It felled some of our friends,” Tarnok growled. “That’s not the kind of weapon you forget.”
The group didn’t have much time to muse on the weapon, though, or to speculate as to how it had arrived, before the reason for its presence announced itself.
The dot of the Red Star’s light, which had bounced uselessly off of the blade of Rayuke’s metal sword an instant before, interacted quite differently with the crystalline one. The red pinpoint shone through the flamberge, passing right into the prismatic bubble close to the sword’s hilt. This, the famous flamberge’s only “imperfection”—which had been noticed by a handful of its previous owners—suddenly announced itself as anything but: it had long been destined to act as the intricate key for a complex refractive sequence.
The sequence transpired at the speed of light. Red starlight passed through the key chamber in the flamberge; it entered the white crystalline podium before the sword, making the quartz there glow with refracted light; that light surged down and lit up the whole amethyst platform beneath the Matoran party’s feet; surfaces within the platform bounced brilliant rays of light out to hit the crystal pillars on every side; and the crystal pillars, lit like towers of daylight, shot identical beams towards the rough nodule of crystal which was the only blemish on the Vault door’s smooth, blank face.
Rayuke, resident of the crystalline city of Sado, knew enough about crystal to know that light refracting through it should become dimmer, not brighter. And yet, the small, dim glow of the Red Star had grown brighter and brighter as it moved through the Vault’s mechanism. Forces beyond those of nature were at play in this moment.
“Mata Nui…” Seven marvelled behind him, her hands to her mouth in amazement.
The crystal nodule in the doorway soaked in luminance like a sponge. It glowed brighter and brighter, becoming too brilliant to look at. The nodule glowed like the sun, resculpting Koshiki’s crater into patches of stark light and sharp shadow.
Everyone present squinted and averted their eyes. Soraya ducked under her scarf. Kellin tried his best to shelter Cancer’s eye stalks with his hands. Meanwhile Rayuke’s eyelids offered him little protection; he blocked his face with his huge palms, but these provided no more relief. He feared the inescapable light would blind him. Only the Abettor kept its gaze on the Vault door, the empty sockets of its Kanohi seemingly impervious to even the brightest light.
Finally, as if it could take no more, the crystal nodule shattered, and its light died with it. Its keystone obliterated, the face of the Vault’s door lost its composure, too. It crumbled—incredibly quickly—into dust-sized particles that seemed to be sucked… inward?
As more and more of the door disappeared, the origin of the suction became clear: behind the sheer stone wall was a vertical pond of swirling, multicolored energy. Its pattern was ever-shifting, flowing like a lazy whirlpool where colorful tendrils chased each other in an endless dance. It cast a magnificent, gentle glow over all that stood before it. When the granules of the dissolving stone door met the surface of the rainbow pool, the fluid around them fizzed a little, returning to placidity once the particles had passed beyond its surface.
It was, unmistakably, the fabled portal.
The group of Matoran, stunned and silent with awe for a few moments, burst out into cheers and whoops. Bouncing up and down with excitement, they seized one another, grabbed wrists, hugged, shed tears of joy. They had done it! By their cleverness, diligence, solidarity, and courage, the first of the great Veins of the Universe was open… and they were one step closer to waking the Great Spirit. Seeing the little beings celebrate around him—and having a few of them try, completely unsuccessfully, to tackle him to the earth with bear hugs—Rayuke felt his throat rise into his mouth with emotion. He felt a tremendous sense of relief.
But, like many peaceful moments in Rayuke’s life, the relief, pride, joy, and happiness surging through his heart were destined to be short-lived.
Mere moments after the heroic party began to celebrate, the last of the Vault’s old stone wall was finally sucked into the multicolored pool, leaving the portal completely unobstructed for the first time in countless years. The second this occurred, things started to go wrong.
A gap rends nowhere. A gap only large enough for one half of nothing.
Following its agreement, the nothingness redivides itself.
I have kept my promise. Now, keep yours.
I will make you pay.
I will obliterate everything you love.
And, for now, I cannot stop you. But you cannot stop this.
Good riddance, sister.
For an instant, the rainbow currents of the portal flowed naturally. Then, all at once, they began to froth wildly again, as if they were consuming a second stone wall at ten times the previous rate. This time, however, nothing was passing into the portal.
Something, it turned out, was emerging.
Hurricane winds, icy-cold and heavy with hate, assaulted all that stood before the portal, hurling the group of Matoran, Cancer the crab, Rayuke, and even the monumental Abettor back off the amethyst podium. All of them crashed into the glassy sands of Koshiki’s lakeshore, easily 20 yards from where they’d stood.
The early evening sky, which had been painted expressionistically by the dying breath of the sun and speckled with white-blue stars, grew overcast and totally dark. The air ionized, crackled, suddenly smelled of burnt ozone. And a terrible, bodiless, sourceless, invisible, awful, malicious presence squeezed forth from the portal.
It filled the whole crater. It filled the air in their lungs. It filled the whole world.
“Free,” the presence murmured.
Its whisper shook the old volcano and made the crater’s poison lake slosh violently. A few droplets of splashing acid rained on Rayuke and the others, making them yelp with pain. Nobody dared inch away from the shoreline though, because to do so would mean voluntarily approaching the awful presence before them. They were paralyzed with animal fear.
“I am… free.” On the last word, the presence coiled up towards the sky, stretching exultantly. The crystal pillars of the Vault fell to earth, cracked and splintered as easily as hard candy by the touch of the horrible being. The amethyst podium sank into the sand, as if being devoured by a hungry maw in the ground.
The presence extended itself in one direction, then the other, and lightning crackled in the sky. These forks of electricity sparked fires all over Kentoku. Faster than anyone would have believed possible, the jungles of the islands caught the blaze, filling air all around the archipelago with thick, wet smoke.
The presence’s invisible eye—or its something, unknown and indescribable, something that could perceive the world around it—fixed itself on Rayuke and his party. Being examined by the spirit felt like being in boiling water and a block of ice at the same time, while pierced and chained in place by unbreakable bonds. Nobody could speak in the face of such a potent gaze.
“Hello, little ones,” the presence said, a cruel smile edging into its voice. It was the kind of smile that curdles blood and splits the earth. Indeed, the very ground started to fracture beneath the heroic party. “Are you pleased to see me?”
Nobody could respond… save, it seemed, the Abettor.
“Why are you here,” the Vault’s old guardian clacked routinely, seemingly unfazed or unaware that its newest visitor could probably crush its can-like body underfoot with a single toe.
“I am here because you have freed me,” the presence answered, an amused snort in its voice. The cruelty in it made Rayuke’s bones want to jump out of his body, run away, and dive irretrievably into the sea. “For that, I must offer you my... gratitude.”
“We do not accept bribes,” the Abettor countered, managing to stand. Its mask-wheel cycled through to a Kanohi Hau.
A moment later, the Abettor had been flicked through the air by a force unseen. It sailed over the beach, crashing into the steep inner cliff of the crater. The impact left a huge dent on the Abettor’s cylindrical body; the guardian started to right itself, but one of its double-jointed knees gave out, and it fell back to earth. It tried and tried again to regain its footing, seeming to expect a different outcome than collapse every time. Rayuke wondered if something in its brain had short-circuited.
The presence’s focus returned with broiling force to Rayuke and the Matoran, pinning them to earth with renewed vigor. “Out of gratitude for the service you have rendered me,” the awful voice rumbled, “I shall not touch you— any of you. I will spare your little lives.”
Behind, or perhaps within, the presence, the multicolored portal’s currents started to froth again. Rayuke and the Matoran could clearly see what was coming out of the gateway, this time. Dozens and dozens of Dasaka-sized beings in myriad colors started to spill haphazardly out of the portal. Rayuke could tell at once that these were no Dasaka, though—nor were they Toa from Mata Nui. These creatures had hunched backs, savage claws, and tall dorsal spines. Each carried a long staff with ornate spear-points at either end.
Although the former Imperial Executioner had never seen these revolting beings before, all the Mata Nuians behind him recognized them at once. The fear of these familiar monsters helped shake them out of the terrified stupor imposed by the presence’s terrible voice.
“Rahkshi!” shouted Lekua.
“I will spare your lives,” the presence repeated, its voice booming and vast. “But my sons owe you no thanks.”
As the evil presence chuckled—the earthquake of its laugh causing a landslide down one side of the crater—the horde of Rahkshi let loose an earsplitting chorus of shrill shrieks and screeches. They started to amble towards the adventurers.
“We need to leave,” Tarnok cried, standing and shedding his heavy pack. “We need to leave now!”
“Run!” seconded Soraya, helping Leli up.
“Rayuke!” Seven cried. “We have to go! Get up!”
Rayuke found himself still unable to move. He was in shock. How could this have happened? They followed the prophecy to the letter. The Vault had opened just as it was supposed to. Everything had gone according to plan... He did not understand. He did not understand. It made no sense; he did not understand...
Was Destiny playing some kind of sick joke on him?
The Rahkshi continued their advance. Luckily for the Matoran, their progress was slow. The creatures seemed discombobulated or, perhaps, just dizzy from their voyage through the portal. A few of the Rahkshi accidentally veered towards one another and collided, bristling with anger at each other when they did so. Rayuke could only watch as they came closer; he was outside himself, and simply could not budge.
As the first few got in striking reach, raising their staves to wield dark powers against Rayuke and the Matoran, something astonishing happened.
Its Kanohi Rau in place—apparently so it could bellow like a dragon once again—the Abettor hurtled forward, limping as fast as it could go. It cut off the tide of Rahkshi in spectacular fashion, charging through them like a battering ram. A handful of Rahkshi went flying. Before their ranks could regroup, the crystal formation fused to one of the Abettor’s forearms glowed with light. Pulses of bluish energy shot forth, and melting every Rahkshi they struck into a pile of elemental rubbish. Here a puddle of water, there a mound of earth; here a temporary inferno, there a heap of snow.
It was Cancer the Ussal who saved Rayuke. At Kellin’s behest, Cancer’s claw snapped Rayuke on the ankle. The pain jolted him to his senses. He and his friends were in danger. With agility that belied his size, the Dasakan warrior sprung to his feet.
“Over there!” he bellowed, voice raised above the din of battle at his back. He pointed at the freshly-fallen landslide. “It may not be stable, but we can climb it faster!”
Letting the Matoran sprint ahead of him, Rayuke ushered them towards the fall of rocks. The Abettor, amazingly, still seemed to be holding back the tide of Rahkshi with a combination of intimidation, brute force, and its deadly crystal arm. Nevertheless, Rayuke knew that he and the others did not have much time.
As fast as they could, the party scrambled up the loose boulders of the landslide. There were a few close calls—Rayuke had to catch an off-balance Matoran on more than one occasion—but all of them managed to make it back up to the ridge of the crater. Rayuke stole a glance behind him, and caught a glimpse of the Abettor falling under a dogpile of Rahkshi, overrun by the creatures at last. The forward Rahkshi, regaining their normal coordination, had begun to pour past the formidable guardian’s shell in pursuit of Rayuke and the Matoran.
Using his Mindarm powers, Rayuke removed a few key boulders from the landslide, massively destabilizing it. A handful of Rahkshi were buried under falling rock, while the others lost their easiest means of pursuit.
As Rayuke and the Matoran ran down the mountainside, down into the flaming jungle and back towards their docked boat, Rayuke felt drops of water forming in the corners of his eyes. He made no sound, and since none of the Matoran ahead of him turned back to see him, his tears were private. Rayuke still could not believe what had happened.
What was happening in this moment.
What would happen.
Zataka was on Kentoku, and she would make it hers.
Nowhere is nowhere, but nothing does not mind.
Four to go.