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Axonn started at the sight of Brutaka’s eyes flashing back to life. The Toa and Piraka had succeeded, then, at defeating Thok and Hakann, and taking back the power they had stolen. But whether that could be called a “victory” was debatable, for it left Brutaka restored to his full might.

“You were hoping I would die,” Brutaka said, rising. “That way, your conscience would be clear.”

“I think that was your wish,” Axonn replied. “An end to the miserable, empty existence you have made for yourself. But now you have a second chance, Brutaka.”

“At what? Being a good little soldier for the Order of Mata Nui? Serving the will of some entity who’s either dead or dying, depending on whom you talk to? Spending another thousand or ten thousand or a hundred thousand years on this rock, guarding a mask instead of using it for my own benefit?”

“You know what the Mask of Life is meant to be used for,” said Axonn. “And you know who is meant to use it – and it’s not you. What would you do with it?”

Brutaka smiled. “We know what we were told the mask does. What if we were lied to? What if that mask makes its wearer as powerful as the Great Spirit Mata Nui? What if it gives you a universe to rule?”

“Then it would be a monstrous thing,” Axonn replied. “For beings like you and I, even the Toa, could not be trusted with such power. Besides, you know I cannot be deceived. The legend of the Mask of Life is living truth… and you will not taint that mask with your touch.”

Brutaka spun his twin-bladed sword rapidly, passing it from hand to hand faster than Axonn’s eyes could follow. “Cannot be deceived? I guess I should be glad, then, that you can still be destroyed.”

“My life doesn’t matter,” Axonn answered, mighty axe poised to defend himself. “Neither does yours. Only the mask matters, and if I have to fight you for eternity to protect it, then that is what I shall do.”

“Then get ready, old friend,” Brutaka said, eyes shrouded in darkness. “Eternity begins now.”

Toa Hahli was the first to awaken. For a brief moment, she reflected on how glad she was the Toa Inika did not travel with a Chronicler. No Matoran could have survived this, she thought, looking around at the devastation. Not even one with the luck of Takua.

She checked on Nuparu and Kongu. Though hurt, they were both still alive, and a cooling mist revived them. The same applied to Jaller, Hewkii, and Matoro. Of the six, Jaller was in the best shape, his mask having somehow allowed him to dodge most of the blast.

“Where are the Piraka?” he asked, looking around.

“They were gone when I woke up,” said Hahli. “It’s too much to hope that they found wisdom and fled the island, right?”

“We all know where they fled,” Matoro answered. “Into yet another dark tunnel in a universe that seems to be filled with them. Next time we go on a hike, Jaller, remind me to bring some extra lightstones – maybe twenty thousand.”

“We go after them,” said Hewkii. It was a statement, not a question.

“Axonn? The Toa Nuva?” asked Kongu.

“No time,” said Jaller. “Whether or not it was our destiny to find the Mask of Life when we got here, I think it’s our destiny now. There’s no one else to do it.”

“Is that what heroes are, I wonder?” Hahli mused. “Beings who do what they have to do, because they have no other choice?”

“Turaga Nuju once speak-said that no one would ever choose to be a Toa,” said Kongu. “No one except a crazy Le-Matoran, that is.”

“Maybe you don’t choose a destiny like that,” Nuparu said softly. “Maybe it chooses you.”

Together, the six Toa Inika turned toward the entrance to the great stairway leading to the Mask of Life. They were ready to meet any dangers or enemies they might encounter on the way. They were ready to meet their destiny.

Far below, at the bottom of the 777 stairs that led to the Chamber of Life, there was a stirring in a river of lava. To anyone unfamiliar with the place, it might have seemed like a stray current in the molten magma. But for the flying Rahi who infested the ceiling of the chamber, it was a sight to freeze their blood.

A long leg emerged from the lava, its movements both amazingly graceful and thoroughly repulsive. It was followed by another and another, until a monstrous creature had emerged from the fiery liquid. Even more disturbing than the beast was the rider on its back, a masked being whose eyes glittered with madness.

“They’re coming, Fenrakk,” he whispered. “Can you feel them? So many coming to visit us. Do they want to visit, or do they just want the mask? What do you think?”

There was no answer, just the sound of lava dripping off the hair on the creature’s legs and landing on the stone floor with a hiss.

“Yes, you’re right,” said the rider grimly. “They want the mask. But they can’t have it, can they? Oh, no, it’s mine… it’s ours. Without it, what would we have to talk about? Our friendship is based on the mask, after all. Remember what it was like before? My trying to spear you, and your trying to devour me… not at all the way friends behave.”

The Rahi up above had heard enough. They screeched and flew off up the staircase, eager to put distance between themselves and this strange pair. The rider’s eyes narrowed, and he fired a burst of energy from his spear. It struck one of the Rahi, splitting the small flier into two smaller and weaker beings, each with only one wing. Both plunged to the ground and died on impact.

“Tsk, tsk,” the rider said. “I really need to master this spear someday, even if I have to kill everything in sight to do it.”

Beneath him, the creature called Fenrakk tensed. The rider knew well this meant the beast had sensed the approach of enemies.

“What shall we do?” asked the rider. “Hide in the lava and spring upon them? Drop from the ceiling? So few make it down here, we must make the experience entertaining for them. After all, it is the last experience they will ever have.”

The eyes of Fenrakk and its rider were riveted to the bottom of the staircase. Soon, newcomers would emerge through the doorway, provided none of the others up above killed them first. Then it would be time to welcome them properly.

“That’s a good idea,” whispered the rider. “We’ll just stand very still and quiet. When they come, they won’t even notice us. Or if they do, they’ll think, ‘Look how still and quiet they are. They would never harm an insect.’ Yes, they will see how well we behave and not be afraid to come close and then… and then…”

Then it was time to wait. It might be days before the visitors came, or weeks, or they might never come at all. But in this darkened chamber ringed by lava, what else was there to do but long for the presence of another living being, the sound of another voice… even if the being would not be living very long and the voice would sadly be stilled.

After all, thought Vezon, rider of the monstrous Fenrakk. The waiting is half the fun.

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