To Dalu, it looked as if all the energies of chaos had been unleashed inside the central chamber of the stronghold.
Elemental blasts flew everywhere, countered by the lethal eyebeams of the Piraka. Mortal enemies grappled in the shadows, one side fighting for power and greed, the other for the fate of all existence. It seemed like the uncontrolled blaze of battle, but the Ga-Matoran knew better. Jaller and Hewkii had a plan, and they were putting it into action.
First priority was isolating Brutaka, and that was Toa Hewkii’s job. Using his elemental power, Hewkii erected stone barriers around Brutaka. Each one was swiftly smashed by the powerful being, only to be replaced by another.
“I can do this all day,” Hewkii shouted. “How about you?”
“Do you think you can stop me with pebbles?” Brutaka bellowed in reply. “I have uprooted mountains, Toa. I have ridden the tornado and filled the earthquake with fear. When you were still toiling at your mundane Matoran chores, I and others like me were holding your universe together. Do you really believe your puny powers can threaten a member of the Order of Mata Nui?”
The news shook Hewkii to his core. How could this monster, this potential slayer of Toa, be associated in any way with the Great Spirit Mata Nui? No, it had to be a lie. Brutaka was counting on Hewkii to be distracted and provide him with an opening to attack.
“I’m not falling for that,” said the Toa of Stone. “Why don’t you fall instead?”
Hewkii’s powers ripped open the stone floor of the stronghold and the bedrock below. Taken by surprise, Brutaka fell into the crevice. Hewkii then pulled stone from the walls and ceiling, sending it cascading down on top of Brutaka and effectively sealing the gap.
“Eat rock,” said the Toa of Stone.
Nuparu dodged a vicious thrust of Zaktan’s tri-bladed weapon. “What was the point?” said the Toa of Earth.
“The point of what?” snarled the Piraka.
“All this destruction… enslaving the Matoran… all of it. Why put them to work draining the volcano, when you Piraka could have done it much faster on your own?”
Zaktan smiled. “We don’t like to get our claws dirty.”
“Then you’re going to hate this,” Nuparu said. He triggered his elemental power, drawing the soil from the cracks in the stronghold floor and forming it into a fist. It slammed Zaktan, but when the cloud of dirt settled to the ground, the emerald-armored Piraka stood unharmed.
“You fool,” Zaktan spat. “My power allows me to disperse my substance, allowing each grain of earth to pass through without ever touching me. It’s a shame you can’t do the same, Toa – it might spare you some pain.”
With that, the microscopic protodites that made up Zaktan’s body began to drift apart. Soon, only his head remained solid, the rest of him transformed into a sickly green swarm that headed for Nuparu.
“Tell me, Toa,” Zaktan said softly. “How long do you think it will take for you to go insane once you are in my embrace?”
“Oh, I’ve been crazy for years,” answered Nuparu, grinning. “Ask anybody. After all, who else would do this?”
Calling upon his Kanohi Mask of Flight, Nuparu rocketed into the air straight at Zaktan. Just before he hit the swarm, the Toa of Earth began to rotate in midair, whirling his body faster and faster until he was only a blur. He hit the swarm with the force of a cyclone, pulling the protodites along in his wake as he headed for the chamber ceiling.
“I’m really not very good at this flying stuff,” Nuparu said. He cracked his body like a whip, forcing Zaktan to slam into a wall. “I’m pretty poor at landing, so maybe I should just let you drop.”
Zaktan’s answer was a burst of laser vision that scorched Nuparu’s shoulder armor and damaged the muscle inside. Nuparu yelled in pain and accelerated, heading out the ruined wall and over the island. As he passed the coast, he began a power dive toward Voya Nui Bay.
“Tell me something, Piraka,” he said. “How well do you swim?”
Toa Kongu was in a unique situation. He had to keep his mouth shut.
He had not gone more than two steps when Avak’s power to create the perfect prison enclosed him in what looked like a giant zamor sphere. Kongu barely had time to gulp a mouthful of air before the sphere turned into a vacuum chamber. Now, no matter how much air Kongu created with his elemental power, the sphere absorbed it. Opening his mouth would mean instant death.
“I was hoping for a fire or ice Toa,” said Avak. “Much easier to lock up. But you’ll do. Might as well take a deep breath of nothing and get it over with, Toa.”
Toa Kongu calculated he had about four seconds to live. None of the other Toa were close enough to help, and the Matoran had already left on their special mission. Fortunately, thanks to the Matoran, the Toa Inika knew a great deal more about the Piraka than the Piraka knew about them.
And you picked on the wrong Toa, Kongu thought as he unleashed the power of his Mask of Telepathy. Making contact with Avak’s mind, Kongu sent screaming thoughts into the Piraka. Avak winced as a cacophony of deafening noise overwhelmed his mind. He staggered, dropped to his knees, and Kongu’s prison evaporated along with his concentration.
Kongu gasped for breath. Then he walked over to Avak, grabbed the Piraka by the throat, and hauled him to his feet. “You tried too little air. Let’s try too much.”
So saying, Kongu’s elemental power reached out to encircle Avak. Slowly at first, then more rapidly, the air pressure increased around the startled Piraka. It quickly soared past the point where the internal pressure of Avak’s body could compensate. Just shy of it becoming too much to bear, Kongu cut off the effect and Avak collapsed.
“You’re right, next time maybe you should stick to a fire or ice Toa-hero,” the Toa of Air said. “A lot less pressure.”
Hakann looked around the chamber with increasing worry. Avak and Zaktan were down or gone, and the other Piraka were at best deadlocked with their opponents. Worse, Brutaka had not yet emerged from his makeshift tomb, and if he didn’t, the special zamor sphere Hakann was carrying would go to waste.
It hadn’t been easy to craft, but he had managed to create a sphere that carried a little bit of Vezok’s power. It should have been just enough to accomplish what Hakann needed it to, if he could just find his target. Of course, he had no intention of sharing the reward with anyone else.
There’s only room for one supreme entity on this island, he told himself. And I’m just made for that job.
Toa Jaller spotted Hakann in the shadows, no doubt planning an escape. He couldn’t allow that to happen. The Piraka had to be defeated right here and now and then be made to tell what had happened to the Toa Nuva. Hewkii had joined him to battle Reidak, when Jaller signaled that he was going after Hakann.
“Drop your weapons!” the Toa of Fire shouted at the crimson-armored Piraka. “Don’t make me hurt you.”
“Make you?” Hakann laughed. “Who could stop you? Admit it, Toa, you’d like nothing better than to burn this grin right off my face. You want to be standing on top of our corpses as the conquering hero. Strip off that mask and that high and mighty attitude, and you’re no better than we are.”
Jaller felt the heat rising in him. His flame wanted to leap out of his sword and make Hakann pay for his crimes, but Jaller kept it under control. “I’m nothing like you. We’re fighting for the safety of this universe and the Matoran in it. What are you fighting for?”
Hakann slowly circled Jaller until he was facing the site where Brutaka was buried. “Yes, Toa always fight for the little Matoran, don’t they? And when you win, they all cheer you and shout your name and build statues in your honor. You say you do it for right or justice, but you really do it for the hero worship. And that’s the difference between us, Toa – I don’t care what the Matoran think. I don’t care what the Great Spirit Mata Nui thinks. I don’t care what anyone thinks, and that’s why I’ll always be free and you’ll always be fighting someone else’s fights.”
The Piraka’s words caused Jaller to hesitate. Much as he hated to admit it, Hakann was uncomfortably close to the truth. After all, even before the Toa came to the island of Mata Nui, Jaller and his fellow Matoran had built statues of them and told and retold legends about them. Once they arrived, the Matoran treated them as heroes, maybe even as more than that. They were seen as infallible powerhouses who never knew doubt or fear and could never lose a battle. Even Tahu and the others started to see themselves that way, which was probably not a good thing.
Is it all about being cheered? Jaller wondered. Are some of us thinking more about the reception we’ll get on Metru Nui if we come back victors, when we should be focusing on the mission?
“Somewhere, there are Toa fighting and dying right now, and when they’re gone, no one will even remember their names,” Hakann continued. “How many Matoran do you think recall the names of the Toa who fought in the war against the Dark Hunters? But they remember Makuta and Nidhiki and Roodaka. Good gets forgotten, evil never does.”
“What’s your point?” said Jaller.
“I’m giving you a chance,” said Hakann. “You can keep on fighting us, and maybe even win… and then do it over again next month or next year, against some other foe… and on and on, until you’re too old and tired to fight, and some Rahi turns you into scrap. That can be your life. Or you can join with us and be part of a legend Matoran will be repeating through all the many dark nights to come.”
When Jaller replied, it was in a voice heavy with disgust. “I’m going to do the universe a favor, Piraka. I’m going to shut your mouth for good.”
Hakann’s eyes darted to the left. He could see the pile of rubble shifting as Brutaka dug his way out. An instant later, the head and shoulders of that mighty being forced their way through the jagged shards of stone. He would be free in a moment. The time to strike was now.
“Too bad, Toa. The offer to join us was only good for a limited time and your time just ran out,” the Piraka said.
It was then Jaller realized Hakann was taking aim with his zamor sphere launcher, not at him or the other Toa, but at Brutaka. Loaded in the weapon was a golden sphere which glowed with an unhealthy light. Something clicked in his mind and he suddenly knew what Hakann was about to do.
“No!” shouted Jaller, racing forward.
Nearby, Thok heard Toa Jaller’s shout, saw Hakann taking aim, and knew he had to move. He lashed out and connected with Matoro, sending the Toa of Ice to the ground. Then he ran full speed for Hakann, diving at the last moment, his hands reaching out for the scarlet Piraka’s armor…
It happened so fast. It happened so slowly. Amazingly, both statements were true.
Hakann fired the zamor sphere, even as Thok collided with him and Jaller tried in vain to intervene. Brutaka never saw the sphere coming his way. It struck him in the side, dematerialized, and passed inside him. A second later, Brutaka’s knees buckled as if he had been struck from behind. A bolt of black lightning flashed from Brutaka, striking Hakann, the energy surging through his body and Thok’s.
Hakann roared. Thok staggered, fell back, and clutched the wall for support. Brutaka sagged and hit the floor, looking like he was dead.
Toa Jaller stopped short. Hakann was glowing with raw power. Grinning, the Piraka lightly tapped the Toa of Fire and sent Jaller flying across the length of the room. He struck the stone wall and his world went dark.
“I did it!” Hakann shouted. All over the chamber, Piraka and Toa stopped their battles to see what was happening. Thok had recovered his balance and now stood beside the red Piraka.
“We did it,” said Thok, glaring at Hakann. “You tried to steal all the power for yourself. If I hadn’t spotted you –”
“But you did,” Hakann said. “And now we have the power to take whatever we want from this island. Then we’ll destroy the Toa, the Dark Hunters, yes, even the Brotherhood of Makuta itself!”
Thok could feel how much his natural energies had grown. Using only the barest fraction of his new power, he brought the Piraka stronghold to life. Walls grew arms that reached out and seized the Toa and Piraka. The floor formed stone shackles to bind their legs. The building itself seemed to be laughing as it tightened its grip on its prisoners.
A second application of energy and a great stone hand rose from the floor, lifting Hakann and Thok into the air. From his high perch, Hakann looked down on the field of battle and smiled.
“The old has given way to the new,” he proclaimed. “With the power of Brutaka now ours, we are the new masters of this universe. Now all that remains is to find the Mask of Life!”
“Traitor!” snarled Avak. “Do you think we’ll let you two get away with this? Do you think we won’t find a way to take revenge, even if we have to track you to the very edge of reality?”
“The Toa stand against you as well, Hakann,” Toa Hahli shouted. “As long as we live, you will never have the mask!”
Hakann shrugged. Casually, as if swatting an insect, he unleashed a mental blast that ripped through the minds of all those below. Toa and Piraka alike screamed as the very act of thinking became an unbearable agony.
“Then live no longer,” said the crimson Piraka.