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I should have done this centuries ago, thought Hakann happily. What power! I can’t imagine why, with this sort of energy coursing inside him, Brutaka would have chosen to stay on this miserable spit of land.

A small, climbing Rahi scurried through the trees above. With a casual thought, Hakann struck the creature with a mental blast and fried its mind. It tumbled from the trees and fell dead at the Piraka’s feet.

Life is good, Hakann said to himself. But for some beings, the alternative is better.

Behind him, Thok’s thoughts were not quite so cheerful. True, he was enjoying the increased power and even toyed with the idea of bringing a mountain to life just to see what that would be like. But he also knew he could not turn his back on Hakann for even a moment. His “ally” would gladly strike him down or somehow steal all the power for himself, given half a chance.

So maybe I should do it first. He considered the idea. It was true that he might need Hakann’s help to get the Mask of Life, but once they had it, one of them would have to go, anyway. If that’s the case, it might as well be Hakann, and it might as well be now, Thok decided.

The timing was perfect. Hakann had his back turned and was absorbed in his own thoughts. All Thok had to do was bring a slab of rock to life and –

Hakann’s lava launcher suddenly flipped backward on his arm and fired. A massive ball of magma struck Thok dead-on, sending him hurtling through the trees. The strange forest caught on fire, flames eating away at centuries-old trees. A stunned Thok could see Hakann approaching through the smoke and flames.

“Thok, you poor, pathetic excuse for a schemer,” said Hakann. “You couldn’t defeat me when I was merely a Dark Hunter. You didn’t even have the courage to try when I was a Piraka. And now you think you can strike me down, when so much power is at my command?”

Thok didn’t waste energy replying. Instead, he let his power flow out of him and into the trees, the rocks – even the flames themselves. All of these things became his to command, and all directed their fury at Hakann. Taken by surprise, the crimson-armored Piraka was forced back, giving Thok time to rise to his feet and get away from the blaze.

“This island is mine to use,” Thok shouted. “All of it! And if I keep battering you with wood, rock, and fire, you won’t be able to concentrate enough to use your mental blasts, Hakann. Think about it – here you are, almost within reach of the Mask of Life, but you’ll never live to see it.”

There was truth in Thok’s words, though Hakann refused to accept it. Desperately, he lashed out with mind blasts at the animated creatures attacking him. But the beings of wood and rock and flame had no minds to blast. They existed only because Thok had willed them to exist.

Willed them… and controls them, Hakann thought. And he can’t control what he can’t see.

Aiming his lava launcher at the ground, Hakann hurled three giant bursts of magma. When they hit, the result was a firestorm that turned the forest to ash and effectively blocked Hakann off from Thok’s sight. Instantly, the attacks on Hakann ceased, and Thok’s creations went back to being inanimate.

Now the two Piraka both went into motion, each trying to spot the other through the flames. Neither shouted any boasts or threats. There was no point in giving one’s position away by talking.

Then Thok caught a break. He spotted Hakann maneuvering toward a better position on some high ground. From there, he would have a clear shot with his zamor sphere launcher and Thok would end up no better than a slave.

Thok tracked Hakann carefully, and at the right moment, his eyebeams lanced out at his foe. Instantly, Hakann’s world began to spin crazily around as Thok’s spellbinder vision robbed him of his sense of balance. He couldn’t use any of his weapons or abilities, since he had no way to aim them. Just trying to take a step forward resulted in Hakann’s falling face down on the ground.

Thok laughed at the sight. Striding up to the fallen Piraka, he said, “That’s where you belong, groveling in the dirt. Who knows? Maybe a few more blasts and the effect will be permanent.”

Hakann growled in frustration. To have Thok so close and not be able to do anything. Mental blasts, lava launcher, heat vision, all useless, all –

Hakann stopped. He smiled – not easy to do when your face is in the dirt. There was a chance, maybe a slim one, and if his plan worked, he would probably wind up dead. But with any luck, Thok will go first, Hakann thought.

Hakann unleashed the power of his heat vision. He fired twin blasts into the earth, willing them to penetrate through soil and rock. In his mind’s eye, he pictured the searing beams of heat melting everything in their path until they reached the target he hoped was down below.

Then the time for hoping and wishing was over, as a cataclysmic explosion tore the ground to pieces and sent both Piraka hurtling into the air. Of the two, only Hakann was smiling about it.

Toa Jaller saw the flames in the distance, followed by the huge explosion. “Well, at least they aren’t making it hard to track them.”

Nuparu took off into the sky and zoomed over the devastated area. He couldn’t see either of the Piraka in all the smoke and dust, but he knew the two of them being disintegrated was too much to hope for. He turned back and landed beside Jaller and Hahli.

“I’m surprised that didn’t happen before,” said the Toa of Earth. “A Piraka with heat vision on a volcanic island probably riddled with gas pockets. One glance in the wrong direction and boom.”

Toa Kongu ran toward them. “They’re both alive, but thought-jumbled. We need to strike now!”

Jaller turned to the others. “We move in. Kongu, you’re with Nuparu; Hahli, with Hewkii; Matoro, with me; and the Piraka –”

“Will see to themselves,” Zaktan finished harshly. “We agreed to help you for our own reasons. We did not agree to take your orders, Toa.”

“Maybe you’d rather go for another swim?” asked Nuparu, smiling.

Zaktan’s answer was a snarl and a glare of pure hatred. Then he and the other Piraka left the path, vanishing among the rocks.

“Should we just let them go?” asked Hahli.

“They may be taking a different route, but they’re headed the same place we are,” answered Jaller. “Straight into the fire.”

Even with Brutaka’s power added to his own, Hakann hurt. Not surprising, considering the explosion had vaporized a huge chunk of forest and sent up a fireball that could be seen all over the island. It was amazing that he had survived, and it would be a miracle if Thok had done the same. Good thing Piraka don’t believe in miracles, he thought.

In addition to probably killing Thok, the explosion had produced one other happy circumstance: It had blown away the false rock wall that concealed the entrance to a long and winding staircase that led beneath the island. He remembered Brutaka’s words, then.

“A stairway… ancient and seemingly unending,” Brutaka had said, as the two Piraka hovered over him. “It leads down, down below the volcano and its lake of lava, all the way to the Chamber of the Mask. But you won’t make it that far… the guardians of the Mask of Life will grind you into atoms and scatter you in the magma.”

Hakann’s recollection stopped there. He took a few steps toward the opening and then stopped. “You know, it is almost a shame I left the other Piraka behind,” he said to himself. “Zaktan and the rest could have gone first – that way, if there was atom-grinding to be done, it would have happened to them.”

“Always thinking of others, aren’t you?” said Zaktan.

Hakann whirled to see the four Piraka assembled before him, weapons at the ready. They looked so fierce, yet their power was so insignificant next to his, that he found it hard not to laugh.

“I wondered when you would show up,” he said. “I hope you stopped to kill those annoying Toa before you left the stronghold. Masks and morality are such a boring combination.”

Avak struck first. Using his power to create a living prison, he brought a cage of ice into being around Hakann. He then gave the bars a solid whack, causing them to vibrate and give off a loud hum. The sonics were meant to distract the captive and keep him from using his mental blasts.

“Very… effective,” Hakann said slowly. “There’s only… one problem with a cage… designed to hold Hakann…”

The crimson Piraka lashed out with his fist and smashed the ice bars to pieces.

“It wouldn’t hold Brutaka,” he finished.

Zaktan hurled part of his substance at Hakann, the buzzing protodites making right for his foe’s smiling face. Hakann responded by using his enhanced powers to raise the body temperature of the first thousand or so by several hundred degrees. One by one, they combusted, vanishing in puffs of smoke.

“I love the smell of burning protodite,” Hakann growled. “Don’t you?”

The powerful Piraka took a few steps forward, raising his lava launcher. “Now why don’t I be a merciful being and finish you off?”

The ball of magma appeared in the weapon, ready to shoot out and eliminate Hakannn’s former teammates. Then a thick coating of ice suddenly appeared around the launcher, heavy enough to throw Hakann off balance. Reidak didn’t stop to ask how that was possible. He simply launched himself at Hakann, slamming into him and sending him stumbling backward.

Vezok turned to see Thok approaching, wisps of frost still coming from his ice weapon. “Thanks for the save,” Vezok said.

“Don’t be silly,” Thok replied. His weapon fired again, freezing Vezok solid. “I’m not on your side.”

A blast of fire cut across Thok’s path. Toa Jaller stood on a rocky outcropping, looking down upon him. “Then maybe it’s time you were on no side at all, Piraka,” Jaller said.

“You wish,” snarled Thok, raising his ice weapon. Before he could fire it, energy bolts began raining down on him from the air. He looked up to see Toa Nuparu in flight, carrying Toa Kongu and his energy crossbow.

Thok didn’t give up easily. He hurled a bolt of ice at Jaller and Matoro, but the two Toa Inika were ready for him. They matched his blast with ones of their own – lightning mixed with fire and frost.

“Great thing about ice,” Toa Nuparu shouted down from above. “It’s just frozen water.”

Jaller and Matoro’s blasts struck Thok’s ice bolt. The Piraka’s powers checked theirs, but the lightning that was interlaced with the Toa’s energy could not be stopped.

“And water is a great conductor of electricity,” Nuparu continued.

The lightning bolts traveled up the ice and back to Thok, blowing him off his feet. He flew 50 feet and slammed into a hillside.

“Or did you already know that?” added Nuparu.

On the other side of the battle, Hakann had succeeded in tearing Reidak off him. “Last time, you threw me into a battle,” said the crimson Piraka. “Now I’ll return the favor.”

With blinding speed, Hakann hurled Reidak at the other Piraka. Avak couldn’t dodge in time and took the impact full on. Zaktan saw what was coming and managed to shift his protodite substance out of the way.

“The Toa will take care of Thok,” Zaktan hissed. “But you’re mine.”

Zaktan fired his laser vision. Hakann responded with his heat vision. Halfway between the two, the beams impacted each other. The resulting burst of energy staggered and blinded both. Hakann’s sight recovered first and he lunged for Zaktan.

Or, rather, he tried to – a pair of strong hands erupted from underground, grabbing his ankles. “That’s not very sporting,” said Toa Hewkii, head popping up from the soil. “If you’re not going to play by the rules, you’ll have to be penalized!”

Hewkii gave an enormous shove and let go, sending Hakann hurtling into the air. The Piraka wheeled in midflight to fire his heat beams, only to be met by a blast of water laced with lightning.

Thok was back on his feet. Although he knew the Toa and Piraka were the immediate problem, he couldn’t waste the chance to strike at Hakann. Using his power, he froze Toa Hahli’s column of water, trapping Hakann in a tower of ice. Then Thok marched forward, casually smashing the tower with a sweep of his fist as he went by. A few seconds later, he heard Hakann slam into the ground behind him.

Toa Nuparu spotted Thok on the move and tried to warn Kongu, but it was too late. Thok’s spellbinder vision struck the Toa of Earth, destroying his ability to see straight. His flight out of control, he plunged toward the ground.

“This is why miners shouldn’t drive,” Kongu grumbled as he called on his elemental power of air. There wasn’t enough time to create an updraft that would keep them afloat. The best he could do was a cushion of air so that their impact wouldn’t leave them a pile of shattered armor. An instant later, they hit hard.

“That’s two down,” said Thok. “Maybe I should bring the earth and rocks to life and bury them, Toa. What do you think?”

“Who says you’ll get the chance?” Toa Jaller answered.

Beside Jaller, Matoro suddenly collapsed. Thok laughed saying, “Toa fainting from fear – this is a day that will live in legend!”

Not for the reason you think, Matoro said to himself as his spirit raced across the battlefield. He was counting on Hahli’s ability to see and talk with him even in this form. He spotted her and, more importantly, she spotted him. As quickly as he could, he told her his plan.

“I would call this a stalemate,” said Thok. “You Toa back off – all the way off Voya Nui – or your two friends become permanent parts of the island. And you know I’ll do it.”

“Of course you would,” Jaller replied. “You’re a Piraka. In place of honor, you have greed; in place of duty, you have treachery; and in place of a heart, you have an empty black pit. Even the Mask of Life couldn’t change the fact that you’re dead inside, Thok, and always will be.”

“Words,” spat Thok. “You Toa are always so good with words, when it’s actions that matter.”

“Then how’s this?” asked Hahli. Triggering her elemental power, she turned the ground beneath Thok into a swamp. The Piraka sank like a rock up to his neck.

“Go ahead and freeze it,” Hahli continued. “Or can’t you break out of your own ice?”

Thok struggled to find his footing in the soft mud. There was no way to get any leverage to push himself out. That left freezing, then shattering the swamp, if the power stolen from Brutaka was up to doing that. He couldn’t be sure.

The next moment, someone had seized Thok by the spine and hauled him out of the mud. It was a battered and bruised Hakann, armor chipped and cracked, who looked at Thok with undisguised contempt.

“Here I give you the chance to go down in history as the being who defeated six Toa, and what do you do?” Hakann said. “You fall in a mud puddle. Pathetic.”

“Says the being who looks like he’s been playing tag with a Kikanalo herd,” Thok answered.

“We both have half of Brutaka’s power,” Hakann said. “If we want to devastate these Toa, we have to work together, as much as it disgusts me to admit it.”

“Side-by-side, hitting with all our powers at once,” agreed Thok.

The two Piraka turned to face Jaller, Hahli, Hewkii, and the now-revived Matoro. Strangely, Zaktan was nowhere to be seen, but they knew they could deal with him later. Summoning all of their own energies and those they had stolen from Brutaka, they readied the one blow that would destroy all of their enemies.

It was the moment Toa Hewkii had been waiting for. Even as the Piraka’s blasts sped toward him and the others, he launched the special zamor sphere Zaktan had created. It struck Thok and Hakann in the one tiny spot where each of their armor had made contact.

The Piraka’s energies struck home, scattering the four Toa like dry leaves in a cyclone. At the same time, the zamor sphere hit, ripping away the stolen power in a flash of black lightning and sending it speeding back to its rightful owner. Shocked by the sudden loss of power, both Piraka sank to the ground and passed out.

Thus, there was no one still conscious on the battlefield to see Zaktan’s protodites slowly drift together above the bodies of Hakann and Thok. And there was no one to hear the Piraka leader say, “Now, my treacherous companions, my hunters in the dark… now the true battle begins.”

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