Gali Nuva was the first to hear the hum. It sounded like a swarm of Nui-Rama in flight, but there was something vaguely more sinister about this sound. By the time the emerald cloud appeared on the horizon, she was already braced for combat.
Pohatu and Lewa ran past her, heading back toward the crater. She thought she heard one of them shouting about Onua sinking into the ground. She glanced to her right and saw Tahu and Kopaka getting into position. Both looked grim, something she could well understand. If two of the enemy could give them such a fight, what if there were three on the island, or more?
The cloud expanded as it flew closer, riveting the attention of all three Toa Nuva. None of them noticed that they were being flanked by the Piraka until a devastating blast of Hakann’s mental energy struck Gali. She had been ready for physical combat, but this struck at her mind in a way nothing else ever had. For a split second, it seemed like all of existence had gone black. When awareness returned to her, it felt like her brain had been savaged.
Hakann didn’t even bother trying to hide. He fired a half dozen balls of lava in her direction, forcing Gali onto the defensive. But he had underestimated her quickness. Even as she dodged his magma missiles, she was using her elemental energies to conjure a sphere of water around her foe.
The crimson-armored Piraka almost panicked. One moment, he was breathing the arid air of Voya Nui, the next his mouth was full of water. Then his years of experience reasserted themselves – he had, after all, slain Toa of Water before. His eyes glowed as beams of heat vision shot out, converting the sphere of water into steam. Hidden by the billowing cloud, he did a backflip onto a rock and fired his heat vision again, this time at Gali.
The Toa of Water felt the aqua axe in her right hand grow scorching hot. Crying out, she dropped it. Hakann followed up with heat vision on a wide beam, bathing her in molten temperatures. Feeling herself weakening, Gali summoned a cooling rain to try to fend off the heat.
“Fire versus water,” Hakann said. “It would seem we are pretty evenly matched. Too bad fire is not the only trick I know.”
A second mental bolt, more powerful than the last, lashed out at Gali. With so much of her mental energy devoted to fighting off the heat, she had no way to defend herself. The pain grew in intensity until her consciousness took the only way out and shut down. She collapsed on the ground.
“One down,” said the Piraka.
Pohatu and Lewa both grabbed one of Onua’s arms and pulled. Their combined strength was enough to free him from the quicksand, but while they were doing that, Reidak climbed out of the crater.
“He’s mine,” said Lewa, tossing aside his lone remaining air katana.
“Lewa, don’t –”
“He’s mine!” Lewa repeated, stalking toward the Piraka.
Reidak charged. Lewa sidestepped and darted out a foot, sending his enemy tumbling onto the rocky ground. Reidak rolled over and kept rolling, bowling over the Toa of Air. He tried to follow it up with a blow to the head, but Lewa dodged in time. A sharp kick bought the Toa some space, and a two-handed smash into Reidak’s grin sent the Piraka flying.
Lewa advanced as Reidak got up on one knee and spat. “Here I thought you Toa were so peace loving,” the Piraka laughed.
“Peace loving,” Lewa replied. “Not weak.”
Reidak suddenly vaulted forward. Lewa sidestepped again, this time grabbing on to the Piraka’s back as he flew by. He hurled his enemy through the air toward Pohatu. The Toa of Stone flipped onto his back and caught the flying Piraka with a kick from his powerful legs. This sent Reidak hurtling toward Onua. Calling on the Mask of Strength, Onua leapt into the air until he was just slightly higher than the speeding Piraka. Then he brought both fists down in a devastating double blow. Reidak dropped like a rock and smashed into the ground.
Before the Piraka could rise again, Lewa was there pinning him to the ground with one knee while he twisted Reidak’s arm behind him. “You broke something of mine,” the Toa of Air said. “Maybe I should quick-return the favor?”
Solid stone bands erupted from the ground to bind the Piraka. Lewa looked up at Pohatu, who was pointing up the slope. “Trouble,” said the Toa of Stone. “Leave this one. The others need our help.”
Avak ducked beneath an ice blast. He had spotted Zaktan and Hakann heading back down this way and decided to join them, orders or not. It wasn’t so much that he thought the other Piraka needed his help. He just didn’t want to let his “allies” out of his sight for too long.
“Do you know what I did when I first joined the Dark Hunters?” asked Avak, dodging a hail of icicles. “I was a jailer. Other Hunters would bring in captives and I would lock them up.”
“You should have saved a cell for yourself,” Kopaka Nuva said.
“But there was one problem,” Avak said, ignoring the Toa’s comment. “Any lock can be picked. Any chain can be snapped. If someone wants to escape from a cell bad enough, they will find a way.”
Avak swung his pickaxe, narrowly missing Kopaka’s head. The Toa Nuva responded by freezing both weapon and hand. If he expected that to stop the Piraka, though, he was mistaken. Avak smashed his hand against a rock wall and shattered the ice.
“Now where was I?” said the Piraka. “Oh, yes, once I realized no escape-proof cell could be built, I went to the head of the Dark Hunters with the problem. He sent me to the Brotherhood of Makuta, and they… did things to me.”
Kopaka hurled hailstones the size of boulders, only to see Avak bat them aside. Then the Piraka paused, as if lost in thought. The next instant, a cage made of flaming bars had sprung into existence around Kopaka.
“Now I make my own cells,” Avak finished. “Any kind I need.”
Despite the intense heat, Kopaka smiled. Tahu Nuva had tried to imprison him in something similar once, and a fraction of his power had been enough to freeze the flames. He unleashed his elemental energies and a thin sheen of frost formed on the fiery bars. Then it just as quickly melted away. Kopaka tried a second and a third time, only to see his efforts fail.
“I forgot to tell you,” said Avak. “The colder you make it in there, the hotter the bars burn. Eventually, you’ll use up your power and the heat will finish you off – if the smoke doesn’t get you first.”
The Piraka grinned as he saw more ice forming on his cell. This Toa may not know when to give up, but it changes nothing, he thought. And that’s two down.
Tahu Nuva watched as the green cloud coalesced into a monstrous figure wielding a three-bladed weapon. The two faced each other on a rocky precipice, with the sea roaring far below.
“I may not know who – or what – you are,” said Tahu. “But I have seen enough to know you and your allies are what Toa exist to battle.”
“Toa,” Zaktan said, a harsh laugh echoing in multiple voices. “You are an anachronism – pure and noble heroes, still striving for right in a universe of chaos, unwilling to admit that your day is long over.”
“And what is going to replace us? Monsters like you?”
Zaktan nodded and raised his weapon. “We will walk over your bodies, Toa, on our way to a new age.”
The Piraka swung his blades. Tahu barely got his twin magma swords up in time to counter the blow. Zaktan pushed him away and then thrust again, forcing Tahu to step back toward the cliff. The Toa of Fire caught Zaktan’s weapon between his two swords and sent waves of heat up the blades. But for each fragment of Zaktan’s sword that melted, pieces flew from the Piraka’s substance to make up the loss.
“It is not so easy as that,” Zaktan said. “I am my weapon. My weapon is me. To destroy it, you must first destroy me.”
“With pleasure,” growled Tahu.
The Toa of Fire advanced now, swinging both his swords, only to find each blow countered by his opponent’s weapon. Zaktan moved impossibly fast. The few times Tahu thought he would land a solid hit, his target flew apart and the blade passed harmlessly through.
“That ‘body made of multiple little pieces’ thing is a neat trick,” said Tahu. “Must be lousy when you sneeze, though.”
“A problem you will no longer face, Toa,” replied the Piraka. “That is, once I have removed your head from your shoulders.”
Zaktan made another thrust, this one checked by the power of Tahu’s Mask of Shielding. The Piraka laughed. “So you hide behind your force shield? Is this the mighty Toa that villains must quake before? I suppose it is true, then – the Toa with the longest careers are those who master the art of running and hiding.”
Tahu’s common sense told him he was being baited, and not to respond. But a glance down the slope revealed that Gali and Kopaka had both fallen. The sight filled him with rage and a determination to wipe that sick smile off the Piraka’s face. He dropped the shield.
Metal clanged against metal, sparks flying everywhere as the two antagonists traded thrusts and slashes. They were both experienced fighters, both leaders, and neither was willing to concede anything. For Tahu, defeat might mean death. For Zaktan, it would certainly mean rebellion by the other Piraka. Thus, both fought as if it were the last battle they would ever know.
Tahu’s two magma swords gave him an advantage, one he did his best to press. But Zaktan’s constantly shifting body and his obvious skill with his blades checked the Toa at every turn. Dodging a thrust, Tahu leapt on top of a boulder, only to have Zaktan’s next slash split the rock in half. Tahu turned his fall into a maneuver, somersaulting in midair and slamming both feet into the startled Piraka. Zaktan dispersed into a cloud of buzzing, swarming protodites that cut off Tahu’s vision. The Toa spun, expecting the Piraka’s arm to suddenly materialize, sword in hand, to strike a killing blow.
Instead, the cloud moved away and reformed into his enemy. “You are on the wrong side in this battle,” said Zaktan. “Join with me and we will rule all together. We can even free your fellow Toa, provided they agree to serve.”
“And what about your allies?”
“Unnecessary, if I have the power of Toa on my side,” the Piraka replied, as coldly as if he were discussing stepping on fikou spiders. “I will even give you the honor of disposing of them.”
“Why don’t I save time and start with you?” said Tahu, charging forward.
Blade clashed with blade once again, while the hungry sea waited to claim the loser. Their weapons locked together, both fighters exerted all their strength to push the other away. It was Zaktan who finally shoved Tahu back, throwing the Toa Nuva slightly off balance. In that instant, Zaktan thrust his blade into a gap in the Toa’s armor.
Tahu expected to feel a piercing wound, but what happened instead was far worse. As the blade struck, it disintegrated into millions of protodites who swarmed through his body, attacking his armor and his organic tissue. The pain was searing, overwhelming, and Tahu Nuva could not help but scream. As unconsciousness claimed him, he teetered on the edge of the cliff and fell.
Zaktan reached out and grabbed the Toa’s arm. “No, my enemy,” the leader of the Piraka hissed. “You do not die so easily. There are still agonies that you have yet to taste.”