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As they burst into the Chamber of Life, the Toa Inika were prepared for an ambush. They were even ready to wrest the Mask of Life away from the Piraka, if they had to. The one thing no one expected was to find four of the Piraka scattered like broken tools, while a rampaging brute and a Piraka atop a monstrous spider looked on. It was an image only a Brotherhood of Makuta member could love.

Vezon’s eyes brightened when he saw the Toa. “How wonderful, more company!” he exclaimed. “The Piraka were amusing guests, but they break so easily. Are you made of sterner stuff? Of course you are. You’re Toa, even with those very strange masks.”

“Who are you? And how do you know who we are?” demanded Toa Jaller.

“I am Vezon, of course. And I know the same way I know everything – the mask tells me,” answered the bizarre figure. “Oh, not directly. But when I put it on, my eyes began to act strangely. You see?”

Twin shafts of red light shot from Vezon’s eyes. In their gleam could be seen the six Toa Inika fighting for their lives against Fenrakk.

“Future sight,” said Vezon. “I can see things – most things – before they happen. Not quite as much fun as making things explode with a glance, but hey, I take what I can get.”

The brutish creature born from the two fused Piraka lumbered toward the Toa, ready for combat. Vezon sighed and fired a bolt of energy from his spear. It struck the creature, splitting it back into Vezok and Reidak. The two Piraka, shocked by the sudden separation, collapsed.

“They call it the Mask of Life,” Vezon said. “But it might as well be a Mask of Death. Ask anyone who has tried to get their hands on it. And in a few moments we’ll have six more for the lava, won’t we, Fenrakk?”

Vezon’s monstrous pet advanced on the Toa. Hewkii snapped off a stalactite and hurled it, blunt end first, at the wall. It ricocheted twice before heading right for the mask. Vezon spotted it out of the corner of his eye at the last second and shifted so that the projectile struck his shoulder. Amazingly, it did not seem to do anything more than annoy him.

“Like to throw things, hmmm?” he said softly. He yanked on the chain and Fenrakk slammed its foreleg onto the ground, sending huge chunks of stone flying straight up in the air. Vezon caught one three feet in diameter and flung it at Hewkii. The Toa ducked as the rock slammed into the wall. A large fragment struck him in the chest and knocked the breath from his lungs.

The other Toa snapped into action. Nuparu and Matoro hurled earth and ice at Vezon, but neither seemed to faze him. Jaller used his flame power to bring down part of the stone ceiling, only to see Vezon bat it away. Then Hahli and Kongu took up the attack, faring no better than their partners. If anything, Vezon and Fenrakk seemed to be getting stronger.

“All done?” asked Vezon. “It’s my turn.”

Fenrakk charged at impossible speed. Vezon caught Jaller with the flat of his spear and hurled the Toa of Fire across the chamber. Nuparu rocketed into the air in time to catch his team leader before Jaller was smashed against the rock. Down below, Hewkii tried to come at Fenrakk from behind, only to be flattened by a blow from one of the spider’s legs.

The battle became a nightmarish blur. Vezon and Fenrakk were everywhere at once, battering the Toa into the ground. The more the Toa fought back, the harder they were struck down. When it looked as if he had easily won, Vezon reined Fenrakk to a halt.

“Poor Toa,” he said. “Relying so much on your strength and your weapons and your elemental powers, and not a one of them will do you any good here. Watch.”

Vezon picked up a rock and struck Fenrakk with it as hard as he could. He did it again, and yet a third time. The Rahi never stirred, but the Toa could have sworn the beast actually looked more powerful.

“The power of motion,” Vezon said, smiling. “Any blow is only as strong as the motion that delivers it, and I feed on the energy that fuels that motion. When you strike me, when I strike you, I get stronger. Oh, and I shared my power with Fenrakk here, of course – it’s only polite.”

Jaller, his body aching, forced himself to stand. “We… didn’t come all this way… only to lose.”

Vezon smiled. “Don’t be silly. Of course you did. Do you know how many have tried to get their hands on this mask over the millennia? And do you know what happened to them? I’ll give you a hint: the lucky ones only went mad.”

“If the mask is so terribly dangerous, why did the Piraka want it so badly?” asked Hahli.

“Because they’re fools!” snapped Vezon. Fenrakk hissed and spat acidic saliva on the stone floor.

“Yet they thought they could get it,” said Matoro. “Or… someone thought they could.”

Vezon beamed. “Smart, smart, smart. Isn’t he just as bright as a new Kanohi mask, Fenrakk? It will almost be a shame to shatter him into ice crystals, won’t it?”

Nuparu staggered to his feet. In the midst of trying to make the room stop spinning, he had caught Matoro’s remark. “So somebody put them up to this? Who? Why?”

“No way to guess the who,” said Jaller. “But the why? You risk death a hundred times trying to make it to the Mask of Life, and evidently you risk worse by actually getting it. The Piraka were expendable. If they died trying to carry out their mission, it would be no great loss, and whoever gave them the idea to do this could just try again.”

“Not if we get the mask,” said Hewkii, now fully recovered. “So let’s swat the spider and take it!”

“Haven’t you learned you can’t defeat me?” said Vezon. “All you can do is amuse me.”

“Then loud-laugh this off, you lunatic,” said Kongu. Summoning his power of air, he created a cyclone centered on Vezon and Fenrakk. Whirling at incredible speed, it sucked the air out of their lungs. The Toa of Air couldn’t maintain it for long, but by the time he stopped, the pair were obviously weakened.

“Your turn, Hahli,” said Kongu.

The Toa lnika of Water called on her power to draw the moisture out of the air around her foes, dehydrating them. At the same time, Matoro made the temperature immediately around Vezon plunge far below zero in a fraction of a second.

“Give it up, Vezon,” said Jaller. “We don’t have to hit you to hurt you.”

Vezon didn’t answer, simply shook his head. Fenrakk was pounding its right foreleg on the stone floor, slowly, over and over again. It would have seemed a harmless gesture, if the Toa didn’t know what they knew.

The impact, Jaller realized. Fenrakk is using the energy behind its blows to the floor to restore its strength!

The knowledge came too late. Fenrakk was already back to full power, charging ahead at the behest of its mad rider. Hahli and Matoro were struck head-on and flung against the walls. Fenrakk went for Kongu next, but Nuparu flew in and grabbed the Toa of Air before the spider’s blow could land.

There was no more time to waste. Toa Jaller took aim with his energized flame sword. “Go ahead!” shouted Vezon. “Sizzle me, shock me – you’ll only make me stronger!”

“Who said I was aiming at you?” Jaller replied, unleashing a blast of flame and lightning. It struck the floor beneath Fenrakk, turning the stone to molten rock. Startled, the massive spider retreated. Suddenly one of its back legs slipped on the ledge of the lava channel. The creature lost its balance.

What followed next was one of the strangest sights the Toa had ever seen. Unable to jump off the Rahi, Vezon seemed instead to be urging it into the lava. Rahi and rider toppled over, vanishing beneath the fiery crimson river without even a scream.

“Mata Nui preserve us,” Nuparu said, shocked. “He… he did that to himself!”

“And took the Mask of Life with him,” added Toa Jaller. “I have to go in there after it.”

“Jaller, no!” said Hewkii. “You won’t last more than ten seconds in that cauldron!”

“That’s ten seconds longer than any of the rest of you would,” the Toa leader answered. “With my natural resistance to heat and flame, maybe I can buy enough time to retrieve the mask and toss it to you. After that… take over as leader, Hewkii. Keep the team together and get the Mask of Life wherever it has to go.”

Jaller turned away and walked to the edge of the lava river. He could feel the intense heat coming up at him in waves. As an experienced lava surfer, he was more than familiar with the sight, the smell, even the sound of molten rock as it flowed – and he also knew all too well what it could do to someone unlucky enough to be exposed to it. He had once seen an injured Kane-Ra bull stumble into a lava pit in Ta-Wahi. It was a sight he would never forget.

If he waited any longer, the others might talk him out of doing what he knew he had to do. He braced himself and prepared to leap. Suddenly something broke the surface of the lava. Jaller couldn’t believe his eyes – it was the Mask of Life! It had floated to the surface, intact! It was close enough to touch! It was… still grafted to a very much alive Vezon.

Jaller stumbled backward in surprise. Vezon was rising out of the lava, looking as if he had just taken a refreshing swim. But the creature he was riding was not Fenrakk. No, the spider Rahi was gone – the even more massive beast emerging from the lava looked like a huge serpent. It casually swiped at Jaller with one of its claws. The force of even this glancing blow sent the Toa flying into Hewkii and almost knocked him unconscious.

“Why so startled?” Vezon asked, glancing at each Toa Inika in turn. “Did you think that I had left you for good?”

The Rahi dragon opened its mouth and exhaled a powerful blast of energy, sufficient to flatten all six Toa. Then it took two great strides forward and looked around, evidently surprised that its small foes were still breathing.

“Who is this, you wonder?” Vezon continued. “Where is Fenrakk? Well, my friends, this is Fenrakk… in a way. It is all part of the mask’s curse. Defeat us however many times you like, we will always come back more powerful than before. Should you drive my new friend here – who I have named Kardas, by the way – down to certain destruction, it will simply rise again, in some worse form. And I will be right there with it.”

Kongu took advantage of Vezon’s boasting to aim and fire an energy bolt. The shaft stung Kardas, who evidently did not share Fenrakk’s ability to absorb the force of the blow. The Rahi responded with a blast of its own, which drove Kongu over the lava channel and into a stone wall. The rock shattered at the impact of his body and the Toa of Air found himself falling through into another chamber.

“Good Kardas,” Vezon cooed, patting his mount on the back of the neck. “Nice devastating monster. Are you my favorite engine of destruction? Yes, you are.” He looked back at the shaken Toa. “Energy – Kardas produces it nonstop. So it’s either release it by blasting you, or else go boom himself. Which did you think we would choose?”

Hahli fired her energy harpoon paired with a powerful blast of water laced with lightning. “And you’re known for your good choices, aren’t you? That’s how you wound up a master of monsters!”

Both of her attacks struck home. Kardas responded with another blast, but Hahli dove beneath it. The energy blew apart a section of the wall behind her.

“Now see what you’re making him do?” Vezon scolded. “I have to live here, you know!”

Kardas charged. Matoro responded by freezing the stone beneath the monster’s feet. As it began to slide, Hewkii triggered his elemental power and made a powerful fist of rock erupt from beneath the ice. It slammed into Kardas, sending beast and Vezon stumbling backward.

“Nice to have something to hit again,” Hewkii said, smiling.

Nuparu took flight, peppering the ground around Kardas with energy bolts from his laser drill. Kardas blasted back, striking Nuparu as he tried to dodge in midair. He plummeted like a rock, only to be caught by Hewkii.

“We have to all strike at once,” said the Toa Inika of Stone. He gathered Hahli and Matoro, but Jaller and Kongu were still out of the fight. The four Toa hurled their elemental powers at Kardas simultaneously. The beast roared and let loose a blast of energy which struck theirs head-on. The two surges of power battled each other for supremacy in the middle of the chamber. At first, the Toa seemed to be winning. But their enemy’s reserves were inexhaustible. Little by little, Kardas’ explosive power overwhelmed them.

“Get down!” Hewkii shouted, but it was too late. The energy hit them like a pile driver and they fell, battered and dazed.

Vezon smiled. “That’s better. Now I wonder what the Spear of Fusion could do with the four of you? Or maybe I should use it on each of you alone, and see if I can split the Matoran you used to be from the arrogant fools you are now?”

Toa Jaller revived in time to hear this and see the danger his friends were in. He glanced to the side and saw Kongu crawling back through the hole in the wall. “I have an idea,” he whispered.

“Good,” Kongu replied. “Hope it starts with, ‘Mata Nui is just taking it easy for a while and he’ll feel better. Let’s go home.’”

“I need you to use your mask in a way you haven’t before,” Jaller said. “I’m not sure, but I think there’s more to the Mask of Life than we know. Remember what Umbra said? It created the protodax to guard it. Kongu, it may be that mask is capable of some kind of thought!”

“So it’s evidently one up on you,” Kongu said. “Masks don’t think.”

“This one does,” Jaller insisted. “Maybe not like we do, but… use your Mask of Telepathy. Try to read the mask’s thoughts and then project them into Vezon’s mind. If you can distract him for a few moments, I think I know how to end this.”

Any idea Toa Kongu had about arguing further was banished by the sight of Vezon aiming his spear at Hahli, Hewkii, Matoro, and Nuparu. Still doubting this idea had any chance of working, he focused the power of his mask on the Mask of Life fused to Vezon. At first, all he “heard” was silence. Then there was a jumble of colors and images and sounds all running together like a fast-moving stream. He almost broke off the contact then, as much out of shock as the difficulty of interpreting what he was encountering.

Kongu took a deep breath and kept on. Now the images were beginning to take on clearer shape. He saw Vezon and Kardas… he saw Matoro… the Mask of Life knew the sacrifice Matoro had been willing to make. It knew that Matoro had long borne the burden of secret knowledge, things he had learned from the Turaga but had been forbidden to share with other Matoran.

The mask knew one thing more as well, something even Kongu had not known. On the journey to Voya Nui, Matoro and the others had traveled through a pitch-dark tunnel. Along the way, Matoro had stumbled over what felt like a living being and had reached out a hand to help. A hand clasped his and Matoro had led what he thought was one of his friends out of the tunnel and into the light. When he made it out the other end, however, he saw that Jaller, Hewkii, and all the rest were already there. Turning around, he saw that no one was holding his hand, even though he still could feel that cold grip. Startled and frightened, he had never told anyone about this.

Now Kongu could see what had truly happened. The power of the Mask of Life was so great that it had reached out to Matoro even over so vast a distance. Even wandering in darkness, Matoro had shown a willingness to help someone he perceived to be in need – never realizing that “someone” was just a manifestation of the mask’s power.

Abruptly, the mask’s feelings became crystal clear. It despised Vezon, thought of the Piraka as less than nothing, barely worthy of the life that infused him. If it were possible, it would have withdrawn its curse and let Vezon take his chances in battle. What it truly wanted was a new guardian: Matoro.

Kongu gasped at that revelation. Then he realized there would be time to be shocked later. He had a job to do. Fighting the strain, he grasped the mask’s thoughts and forced them into Vezon’s mind.

The effect was immediate. Vezon and Kardas stopped dead. Rage and grief warred on Vezon’s face as he realized he had been condemned for eternity to serve a mask that held him in contempt. The object he fought so hard to protect wanted to abandon him like he was trash. It was more than Vezon’s already unstable mind could accept.

“No!” he shouted, his voice ragged. “I did everything you asked! I beat the Piraka! I beat the Toa! No one is touching you, no one is taking you from this place, ever! And I won’t be gotten rid of after all this – I won’t!”

Vezon’s crimson eyes fixed on Matoro. “So it wants you, does it?” he hissed, aiming his spear at the dazed Toa Inika of Ice. “Let’s see if it still does when I’m through with you. You can be the ultimate chamber guard, Toa, once you are fused forever with the lava that courses through this chamber.”

Jaller saw the energies begin to crackle around the head of the spear. Moving faster than he ever had, he loaded the special zamor sphere Axonn had given him. Axonn had said the Toa would need it if they ever hoped to retrieve the Mask of Life. Jaller hoped he was right and that now was the time to use it.

He fired his launcher. The zamor sphere struck Vezon. Instantly, a shimmering glow enveloped both the Piraka and Kardas, freezing them both in mid-motion. Jaller didn’t take time to analyze what had just happened. He motioned to Kongu and they ran to their friends, helping the four Toa to their feet and making sure they were all right.

“I’m okay,” said Hahli. “What did you do to them? Are they… dead?”

“No,” said Jaller. Then seeing the madness and loss reflected on Vezon’s features, he added, “Something much worse – they’re still alive.”

“We have to get the mask now, while we can,” said Hewkii, starting for Vezon.

“Let Matoro do it,” Kongu said.

The other Toa looked at him, puzzled. “Why?” said Hewkii. “What difference does it make who –?”

“Just… just let Matoro do it, okay?”

Hewkii shrugged. Matoro circled behind the frozen figures and reached into the field of energy. Grasping the Mask of Life with both hands, he was ready to pull with all his strength to wrench it free. To his surprise, it came off easily. Although it was a standard Kanohi mask made of metallic protodermis, it felt warm to the touch, almost as if it really was alive.

“I’ve got it! I’ve got it!” he shouted.

“Excellent. And we have you.”

The Toa Inika spun around. Zaktan and the other five Piraka were standing there, ready for battle. “You have defeated Vezon and his monster,” the Piraka leader said. “In gratitude, we will destroy you as quickly and efficiently as possible and take the mask. No need to thank us – that is just the type of beings we are.”

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