Hakann had a new theory. This new ally of Zaktan’s had a special, secret power: the ability to walk around and around for hours and thoroughly bore any enemies to death.

The Piraka had been following the mysterious figure for hours now, and all he had done had been to wander up and down slopes in a generally westerly direction. There was no sense of urgency or mission about his movements. He seemed like an idle Rahi out for a stroll.

At least, he did until he utterly vanished. One moment he was clearly visible in a flash of lightning, and then the next flash revealed him to be gone. There didn’t seem to be any obvious hiding places, yet he was nowhere to be seen. Hakann slowed his pace, every sense on alert. If this was a trap of some kind, he had no intention of being caught in it.

He was right in the middle of congratulating himself on how cautious he was being when he felt the blade at his throat. He had no more idea how his quarry had gotten behind him than he did how someone so big could move so fast and disappear so well.

“Why have you been following me?” The voice of Hakann’s captor was harsh and ragged.

“Following you?” repeated Hakann. “Not at all. I was merely out enjoying the scenery.”

“What scenery?” the larger being said, tightening his grip. “It’s rock all around, until you reach that puny strip of grass and trees by the coast. So I will ask a second time – why are you following me? And if you lie to me again, I will take you apart, very precisely and very slowly… just slowly enough so you will be awake for all of it. Do you understand?”

Hakann would have nodded, but it would have meant bringing his throat down on the blade. Instead, he said, “Of course. We have no reason to be enemies, you and I. Our mutual foe is back there in the stronghold.”

The stranger released his hold and shoved Hakann forward. The Piraka staggered a few steps and turned, rubbing his throat. “Breathing. I was beginning to miss it,” he muttered.

“I thought you were one of Zaktan’s servants,” said the stranger. “Now you say you oppose him.”

“Servant?” Hakann sputtered, almost choking on the word. “Zaktan has a vivid imagination, I see. No, I serve only myself, and so should you. I don’t know what he is offering you to ally with him, but I am sure I can make a better deal… I’ll even give you the honor of killing him.”

The stranger laughed bitterly. “My name is Brutaka – I know that has no meaning for you. But, at one time, it meant a great deal… to myself, to my homeland, even to an axe-wielding comrade I called friend. Now here I stand, bartering with the sort of miserable Rahi waste I used to hunt down.”

“You have problems, I have problems,” Hakann replied, bored. “We all have problems. Mine is named Zaktan.”

“He controls the zamor spheres,” Brutaka said. “Powerful tools in the right hands… powerful weapons in the wrong ones. They are the currency he has used to buy my services, Piraka. As long as the spheres are his, I won’t oppose him.”

That last sentence was said slowly and deliberately, leaving no doubt in Hakann’s mind that he was being offered a bargain. Wrest control of the vat and the spheres from Zaktan, and this Brutaka would switch sides. That would mean the end of the major obstacle between Hakann and sole possession of the Mask of Life.

Hard as it might be to believe, the Piraka’s fierce smile grew broader.

“Then we have a deal,” said Tahu Nuva.

Garan nodded. “It seems we have no choice. How do you suggest we strike at the Piraka?”

“Simple,” said Lewa Nuva. “They are out track-hunting for us. So while they are scattered and searching, we attack their base and take back our Toa masks.”

“What if they’re leading us into a trap?” protested Dalu.

“I’m trusting you to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Garan replied. “Let’s go. The Piraka stronghold is a long journey from here, and there is no telling what we might face along the way.”

Avak and Thok’s search for the Toa Nuva had brought them south of the volcano, into the mysterious green belt that lined the coast. Here trees, grass, and flowering plants grew, seemingly unaffected by the drought that afflicted the rest of Voya Nui.

“There’s one thing I don’t understand,” said Avak.

“Only one?”

“If there’s so little fresh water here, and everything is bone-dry, how does this area stay so lush and fertile? If there were underground streams, I would have thought the little Matoran creeps would have found them by now.”

“Remind me, how have you survived all these years?” answered Thok. “Think, Avak, think. Why are we here?”

“To steal the Mask of Life.”

“Correct. And what are we surrounded with now? What shouldn’t be present but is, somehow?”

Avak stopped walking and looked around. Comprehension suddenly dawned on his face. “Life. We’re surrounded by life.”

“Exactly. Think there might be some kind of connection?”

Lightning flashed overhead. If it had struck Avak, it could not have done so with as much force as the thunderbolt of realization hitting him now. “Of course there is,” he said. “There has to be. And that means… maybe…”

“Zaktan is betraying us,” Thok finished for him. “He has us and our enslaved Matoran focused completely on the volcano, night and day, when all the while the Mask of Life is somewhere along the coast. Its power is radiating up and bringing life to this region.”

“He knows it’s here,” said Avak, growing angrier by the moment. “While we’re breaking our backs watching the Matoran work, he can sweep in and steal it away! Thok, I think it’s time we had a talk with Zaktan. Let’s head back to the stronghold.”

Thok watched Avak turn and stalk away through the forest. “Go ahead. I’ll be behind you,” he said. Then, smiling, he added softly, “Far, far behind you.”

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